New national climate report shows more action is needed in Nevada

A man lies in partial shade along the Las Vegas Strip in the heat, Thursday, July 13, 2023, in Las Vegas. Even desert residents accustomed to scorching summers are feeling the grip of an extreme heat wave smacking the Southwest this week. Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Southern California are getting hit with 100-degree-plus temps and excessive heat warnings. (AP Photo/John Locher)

By Isabel Soisson

November 30, 2023

A new national climate assessment has revealed that over the next decade, climate change will continue to intensify severe weather events, spread disease, drive food shortages, and threaten public infrastructure in Nevada and throughout the Southwest.

The Fifth National Climate Assessment states that although greenhouse gas emissions are decreasing in the United States, they’re not decreasing fast enough to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius; scientists have warned for years that beyond this point, life on Earth will struggle to survive.

Climate Change is Taking a Financial Toll on Nevada

The assessment found that Nevada and the Southwest can expect drought and rising temperatures to affect agricultural productivity, which will in turn lead to those food shortages and higher prices, according to the report. Low income communities will also feel the effects of these disruptions most acutely.

Additionally, the report states that between 2018 and 2022, climate-related extreme weather events cost the United States at least $150 billion a year. In Nevada, these sorts of events have cost the state up to $5 billion in structural damage over the last five years.

In 2017 alone, floods cost the state of Nevada over $33 million in damages to infrastructure. In 2018, the Martin fire, the largest wildfire in state history, destroyed six ranches, grazing land, animal habitats, and more. It cost the state $10.3 million in damages. And just this past summer, flooding cost the state a combined $20 million in damages to state infrastructure, according to the Nevada Division of Emergency Management.

The cost of these severe weather events tends to fall on rural and tribal communities who have less resources to adapt to an ever-changing climate.

“Climate change affects us all, but it doesn’t affect us all equally,” Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, chief scientist at The Nature Conservancy and one of the authors of the report, said in a statement. “This new assessment provides a more comprehensive understanding of how climate impacts disproportionately affect those who have done the least to cause the problem. These impacts exacerbate social inequities, including racial and gender-based disparities; and they emphasize how climate solutions must also be solutions for justice and equity.”

Drought, Floods, and Extreme Heat Threaten Nevada

Drought and flooding have also increased simultaneously in the Southwest, according to the report. The uptick in flooding has been caused by extreme storms and rapidly melting snow, which are in turn affecting water infrastructure throughout the region, with some of the most notable recent examples happening this year.

Runoff from melting snow caused severe structural damage to the Weber Reservoir Dam near Schurz in Northern Nevada during the spring. The Lahontan Dam also struggled to hold more water than it was designed to. Hurricane Hilary, the first tropical storm to hit Southern California in over eight decades, made its way to Southern Nevada, causing intense flooding and additional structural damage.

Changes to the timing of precipitation and reduced snowpacks are also having effects on the Southwest. For example, receding water levels at the Lake Mead reservoir have begun to threaten water deliveries and power production at the Hoover Dam. Water supplies also continue to shrink in the Colorado River, reducing the amount of available water for some of the most populated cities in the region, such as Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Phoenix.

A changing climate is also having effects on the health of those that live in the Southwest. Between 2016 and 2020, 7,687 hospitalizations in the region were due to heat and heat-related illnesses, a 40% increase over the prior five years.

In 2017 alone, floods cost the state of Nevada over $33 million in damages to infrastructure. And just this past summer, flooding cost the state a combined $20 million in damages to state infrastructure, according to the Nevada Division of Emergency Management.

As climate change worsens, the Southwest can also expect to see more smoggy days going forward, drier soils caused by drought that will lead to more severe dust storms, hotter and more severe wildfires, and more.

Biden’s Big Investments in Fighting Climate Change

The Biden administration has taken several steps to address climate change since the president has been in office, including in Nevada.

Most recently, and in response to the Fifth National Climate Assessment, the White House announced more than $6 billion in new investments— funded by Biden’s 2021 infrastructure law and the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act—to make communities across the United States more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

These funds will go towards boosting climate resiliency efforts, strengthening America’s aging electric grid infrastructure, supporting conservation efforts, advancing environmental justice, and reducing flood risk to communities.

The White House also recently announced $1.3 billion in new federal funding—also through the infrastructure law and Inflation Reduction Act—to create three new, massive electrical transmission lines, including one between Nevada and Utah.

Once constructed, the line is expected to deliver 1,500 megawatts of additional electrical capacity to the Southwest, according to the Dept. of Energy’s Grid Deployment Office.

Most of that power will come from solar generation in the state of Nevada. The renewable power delivered through this line is projected to have the capacity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 19.5 million tons of carbon dioxide between the years 2028 and 2050. It’s also expected to create 4,100 jobs and stimulate roughly $761 million in total economic activity.

“Many of these are good-paying union jobs that are filled by minorities,” Cinthia Moore, coalition coordinator with the Nevada Environmental Justice Coalition, said in a statement.

These projects and investments represent just the latest benefits of Biden’s legislative policies.

The Inflation Reduction Act represented the largest-ever American investment in fighting climate change. The legislation included provisions to reduce emissions that cause climate change and drive extreme weather events. The law aims to do this by establishing a mix of tax credits for companies and rebates for consumers in order to make the manufacturing and consumption of clean energy technologies and products cheaper.

In other words: by making clean energy—like solar, wind, and hydropower—cheaper to produce and use, the IRA seeks to hasten the transition away from fossil fuels that are one of the biggest sources of emissions.

The law’s various measures are expected to lead to a clean energy jobs boom and the IRA could create up to nine million jobs over the next decade. In Nevada, 40,000 jobs are projected to be created in that time frame–nearly 16,000 of which have already been created, according to data from Climate Power, a nonprofit climate advocacy group. More than $12 billion in investments have already been funneled into the state of Nevada alone since the legislation was passed just 15 months ago, with much of those funds going towards investments in communities of color.

“We need to make sure that no community is left behind from having access to participating and benefitting from green energy,” Moore said. “Moving away from fossil fuels and towards clean renewable energy is the right step to take, but we need to understand that not everyone can move forward at the same speed.”

There’s Still More Work to Do

Despite these efforts, the report states that of all the Colorado River Basin states, Nevada has taken the least action to protect its population from the effects of climate change–especially considering the fact that Las Vegas and Reno are two of the fastest-warming metros in the United States.

“Whether you are in Austin, Elko, Ely, Reno, or Las Vegas, all Nevadans are feeling the effects of climate change,” Jaina Moan, Nevada external affairs director for The Nature Conservancy, said in a statement provided to The Nevadan.

Jennifer Helgeson, a research economist who contributed to the report, told the Nevada Current that states and cities need to have strong adaptation plans in place to “put people and communities in the best position to thrive in the face of current and future climate change.”

She suggests improving school district cooling system designs and designing infrastructure differently, so that air temperatures indoors don’t reach dangerous levels.

The Nature Conservancy encourages a similar approach.

We think it is imperative that the climate solutions we implement are sustainable and equitable,” their statement goes on. “We are encouraging communities to adopt a smart-from-the-start approach to energy and climate infrastructure where renewable energy generation, transmission, and storage and mineral extraction can be deployed with as little impact as possible to natural lands, cultural resources, recreation, and other resources that support vibrant communities.”

Nevada has taken some steps to mitigate climate change through low-carbon technologies, renewable energy development, and electrification. For example, the use of electric vehicles is on the rise in the state. In 2021, there were 17,400 registered electric vehicles in the state. In Dec. 2022, there were 32,950, a nearly 90% increase in just one year.

The state and its utility companies are also investing billions of dollars into a grid modernization project: Greenlink Nevada; this is a new renewable energy and electrical infrastructure initiative that will connect all of Nevada’s renewable energy sources together, moving the state that much closer to “a future powered by 100% renewable energy and reducing Nevada’s carbon footprint.”

  • Isabel Soisson

    Isabel Soisson is a multimedia journalist who has worked at WPMT FOX43 TV in Harrisburg, along with serving various roles at CNBC, NBC News, Philadelphia Magazine, and Philadelphia Style Magazine.

CATEGORIES: CLIMATE | POLITICS

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