Southeast As A Region Lags In Coming To Grips With Climate Change


Inside Climate News published over the weekend, in collaboration with 9 newspapers across 7 Southeastern states, a series of stories called “Caught Off Guard” describing how and why the region lags behind others in renewable electricity even though it faces some of the biggest global warming threats in the nation.  What these news outlets found was similar across the region — “communities struggling with funding, or with a lack of political will, and the need for technological breakthroughs to meet climate change head-on.”

Why This Matters:  The Southeast is particularly vulnerable on its coast due to increasingly severe storms and flooding, but the region’s problems extend far inland tooOne of the problems is an unwillingness by the region’s utilities to switch to renewables now that solar power is more affordable — many cities have not made significant commitments to cut carbon emissions.  In addition, there is a misconception that only the coastlines have climate change concerns and many people in the region are unaware that they are significantly at risk in many areas due to increasing precipitation causing inland flooding that is made worse by aging infrastructure.  And politics are a big problem too — Republican elected officials in southern states and cities are under the false impression that the private sector will do what is needed to adapt without additional regulations.  But of course, if that were true, they would have done more already.  With the South Carolina primary coming up later this month, it is a good time to start the education process and to find ways to ramp up solar development across the region.  

Take Alabama, For Example

Many Alabama cities are making carbon-cutting goals without ever mentioning the words carbon or climate.  The coastal region is vulnerable to storms in the Gulf of Mexico and dead zones caused by nutrient pollution and warming ocean temperatures.  But progress on mitigation and adaptation in the state is slow.  Birmingham Watch reported that even though Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin promised in December to pivot toward prioritizing sustainability, local non-profits are frustrated because “the city doesn’t have a strategy for addressing sustainability or environmental justice or climate change or anything related to those issues.”  And the lack of a plan has real consequences for low-income residents because they are unduly impacted by pollution and high energy costs resulting from a failure to switch to cheaper new renewable energy.  The city has other big environmental problems too — from water pollution to industrial blight to traffic.  Still, many locals suspect that Alabama Power is also a big impediment.

Kentucky Stuck on Coal

Cities like Louisville, Kentucky, whose mayor, Mayor Greg Fischer “has declared a climate emergency, proposed a climate action plan and set a goal of reducing citywide carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050.”  But Louisville Gas and Electric, the local utility, depends on coal and they’re not making hard and fast carbon reduction commitments so Fischer is stuck, even though his local city council is pressuring him to pressure the utility to cut emissions.  The numbers are daunting — currently, the utility runs on 80% coal, 19% natural gas, and together hydro and solar comprise only one percent of its power generation.

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