What's climate change ruining today?

Barring a seriously crazy shift that plunges us quickly into an especially cold winter, 2012 will likely go down as the hottest year on record in the United States. More importantly, this broken record is part of a larger pattern that affects the whole world—record-breaking high temperatures are becoming, themselves, a bit of a broken record. On a global scale, counting average land and water temperatures, 2012 is (so far) the 11th warmest year on record—almost a full degree hotter than the 20th century average. Of the 12 warmest years on record, all of them have happened since 1998 (and the top 20 is made up of years since 1987).

Over time, that kind of long-term trend takes a toll. But for those of us who are lucky enough to live with relatively high levels of wealth, air conditioning, supermarkets, and all the luxuries of modern life, that toll is not always obvious. Sometimes, you have to look a little deeper to see how climate change is already affecting the American way of life.

So, what's climate change ruining today? How about electricity generation? Juliet Eilperin at The Washington Post has a story about how a consistent trend of high temperatures and drought has affected water reserves, and how those diminished reserves affect our ability to produce electricity.

Electric generation accounts for 40 percent of water use in this country, and that's not just talking about hydroelectric power plants.

... low water levels affect coal-fired and nuclear power plants’ operations and impede the passage of coal barges along the Mississippi River.

Warmer and drier summers mean less water is available to cool nuclear and fossil-fuel power plants. The Millstone nuclear plant in Waterford, Conn., had to shut down one of its reactors in mid-August because the water it drew from the Long Island Sound was too warm to cool critical equipment outside the core. A twin-unit nuclear plant in Braidwood, Ill., needed to get special permission to continue operating this summer because the temperature in its cooling-water pond rose to 102 degrees, four degrees above its normal limit; another Midwestern plant stopped operating temporarily because its water-intake pipes ended up on dry ground from the prolonged drought.

Read the rest of Juliet Eilperin's story at The Washington Post

Read More About Warming Trends
2012 set to be the hottest year on record in the United States
NOAA's State of the Climate report, updated monthly.
The global warmest years on record.

Climate change ruins high school football and chocolate
Climate change ruins beachfront vacations

Image: Coal power plant, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from 48722974@N07's photostream


  1. If they’re lucky and have some money to invest in new infrastructure, they can draw directly from water table and recharge it with water from the cooling pond, or just put intake pipes out into deeper water (near lakes).  True, there are some potential problems with that, but usually nothing that’s impossible to resolve.

    Some power facilities are involved with the installation of pipes between themselves and wastewater treatment plants, where they can draw off treated effluent in order supplement or replace their other water sources.  Of course, the treatment plants needs to be modern enough to produce sufficiently clean effluent, and effluent temperature needs to be low enough to be useful.

    I’d like to see some massive geothermal projects to address these problems, or the encouragement of teaming up with other industries that could use the waste heat, which has been tried at many places but poorly thought out and/or executed.

    1. Now that I think about it, you could use the waste heat to warm up a geothermal volume, and then buildings around that geothermal volume could draw from it as they please.  Then of course, district heating might be simpler, or a combination of the two.

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