In California, officials in coastal cities are becoming increasingly aware of the potential impacts of climate change, and they're preparing to deal with them.
Not so in Virginia, where even the words "sea level rise" and "climate change" are verboten. Earlier this year, state lawmakers found they could not use those phrases in requesting a study on potential impacts on Virginia's coastal cities. Reporter Scott Harper of the Virginian-Pilot said Republicans objected, fearing it would stir up conservative activists, some of whom believe such terms are liberal code words.
And in North Carolina, officials are hiding their heads in what comedian Stephen Colbert called the "soon-to-be-underwater sand."
Out in California, a survey published by Stanford University's Center for Ocean Solutions and the California Sea Grant found that a majority of California's coastal planners and resource managers now believe the threats from climate change, including rising sea levels, more floods, beach erosion and loss of coastal access, are substantive enough that steps must be taken to deal with them.
The survey of 600 coastal professionals showed a big jump in acknowledgement and planning for climate change since the last time the poll was taken.
"Six years ago, just a handful of communities had begun to talk about climate change and had plans to address it," Susanne Moser, a researcher who worked on the survey and has studied how communities respond to climate-change impacts since the 1990s, told InsideClimate News. "This time, 93 percent of the respondents said they were on this issue. It's unbelievable the shift in attention."
Moser, who does research at Stanford University and the University of California Santa Cruz and runs her own consulting company, said many cities are in the process of gearing up for adaptive measures to deal with climate change impacts. However, few are actively doing something on the ground because of financial and other obstacles.
"I'm actually quite convinced we could do this financially," she said. "It's not all about money."
Studies have shown that for every dollar spent on disaster preparedness, cities save $4, Moser said. But with cities having to parse out declining funds for a variety of causes, the out-front cost of preparedness doesn't look like a good deal - until after the disaster hits.
In North Carolina, the state legislature appears to not only have no interest in preparing, it prefers to say there's nothing to prepare for. Last Thursday, the state Senate's environmental committee OK'd a measure, pushed by developers, that would downplay or disregard scientists' warnings of major sea-level rise. With virtually no debate, the full Senate approved the bill Tuesday on a 34-11 vote. It now goes back to the House for a vote.
Scientists estimate a 3-foot rise in sea level by 2100, driven mostly by climate change, which would wipe out 2,000 square miles of coastland in North Carolina alone. But the bill approved by the committee states that only N.C. Coastal Resource Commission can calculate how fast sea levels are rising. At one point, the bill stated only historic trends over the last century could be used in the calculation, which would project a rise of only 8 inches and the loss of far less coastal land.
Moser said North Carolina's refusal to accept scientific evidence is not going to prevent the sea level from rising.
"Reality is still out there," she said. "I'm not giving up on that."
Said Colbert last week: "Now folks, I think that is a brilliant solution. If your science gives you a result that you don't like, pass a law saying that the result is illegal. Problem solved. (E = MC Scared)"
The Achilles' Heel of Nuclear Power
Yet another climate change boogeyman is lurking.
Rising temperatures could make nuclear and fossil fuel-fired power plants harder to operate in the future, and that could mean less power will be available when it will be needed most: in summers made even hotter by global warming.
These so-called thermoelectric plants, which produce 91 percent of the electricity in the United States, may have to shut down more frequently due to a shortage of cool, fresh water to cool the plants. Generating capacity at these facilities in the United States could fall by 4 to 16 percent between 2031 and 2060, according to a study by researchers at the University of Washington and in Europe.
And, as is often the case, the cost of dealing with the increased risk of outages and alternatives will fall on consumers in the form of higher electricity rates.
The power plants that will be most affected use what is called a once-through cooling system. They divert water from rivers and lakes, use it to cool the plants, then return it to the waterways.
Dennis Lettenmaier, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Washington and one of the co-authors of the study, told InsideClimate News the problems will be twofold.