Are snow-making machines an example of climate adaptation, or an example of an emissions feedback loop? Does the fire risk posed by planting trees outweigh the benefits of their use as a carbon sink? Can the team talk big planet problems and still leave room for bad puns? We’ll answer these questions and more climate queries on this special edition of Ask Sam.
Editor’s Note: We strongly recommend you listen to this story, where you can hear the answer to these questions discussed in more depth (and with more jokes).
Melissa from Santa Rosa, California, asks: “Hi Sam… I was listening to your episode on The Carrington Event, and you said something really fast that brought up a lot of questions in my mind… “megadroughts”. I was wondering, is the United States doing anything to prepare for a megadrought?”
In some places, the answer is: yes. A megadrought is a dry period that lasts at least a decade, and by that definition some areas in the western United States currently qualify (even though there was a wet year recently, megadroughts are not broken by a single wet year). We also know from tree ring data that there have been several megadroughts in the past millennium – so they may be a little more common than the name might indicate.
Still, anthropogenic climate change is making drought conditions worse – and that’s especially concerning, because a lot of water use policy was implemented during the 1800s, during a historic wet period.
But here’s the good news: Areas of the country that have been in megadraught or close to megadrought conditions have used different tools to keep water running. In Austin, Texas, which only recently saw the end of an eight year drought cycle, planners have been setting up efficiency programs that target old water fixtures, and wastewater recycling efforts that clean up sewage and distribute it for non-drinking uses. Now folks like Marisa Flores Gonzalez at Austin Water are investigating ways of recharging underground aquifers during wet years to keep in reserve for future droughts.
“It’s kind of like decision trees,” Gonzalez says. “Decision trees kind of tell you, if you reach this point go – if you don’t reach this point don’t go, and tell you which pathways you should be following.”
Ben from Clarksville, MD, asks: A question about “Renewable Energy Certificates”, sometimes known by their acronym RECs. Are these intangibles helping actuate the pivot to a decarbonized energy world, or are they a hindrance?
It depends how you look at it. RECs are generated when renewable energy is generated, and can be sold to utilities who need to meet renewable energy mandates, or folks looking to burnish their environmental cred. In essence, they operate as a market-based subsidy. They’re used as an important accounting tool to show that utilities are complying with renewable energy laws (called “Renewable Portfolio Standards”) that obligate them to produce a certain amount of renewable…
Read more:: Outside/In: Ask Sam … Climate Edition!