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Climate Crisis In Nevada: What's Being Done?

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

This March 26, 2019 photo shows the water level of the Colorado River, as seen from the Hoover Dam, Ariz. For the seven states that rely on the Colorado River that carries snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of California, that means a future with increasingly less water for farms and cities although climate scientists say it's hard to predict how much less. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, will release its projections for next year's supply from Lake Mead, which feeds Nevada, Arizona and California.

Nevadans north and south are starting to feel the effects of climate change.

It’s the heat—In Las Vegas, August set a record for consecutive days over 105… it’s heat-related deaths, which jumped 500 percent in Clark County between 2014 and 2017.

It’s oddities in weather: a very wet spring this year, then a very cool June. And massive snowfall in the mountains around Reno.

Climate change is becoming so noticeable, students in Reno and Las Vegas are taking to the streets today demanding changes.

Nevada lawmakers took several steps this past legislative session to start to address the causes of climate change.

Legislators passed an increase in Nevada's Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires the state to have 50 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. 

But that is only the beginning, according to the director of Governor's Office on Energy, David Bobzien. He also pointed to a bill that aligns the state with greenhouse gas reduction targets in line with the Paris Climate Accord.

Under the accord, the state must be at zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Bobzien also applauded Governor Steve Sisolak's decision to have the state join the U.S. Climate Alliance, which is a group of states that have agreed to cooperate on addressing climate change.

"This is the first sort of stop on a long journey that I think that Nevada has now embarked upon and that is to try to figure out the policies, the mechanisms, the solutions, the partnerships and the opportunities for achieving those greenhouse gas reductions."

Bobzien said it is important that people understand it is no longer just about reducing emissions from energy production, because Nevada has embraced renewable energy sources, but it is also about addressing other problems like the transportation, commercial sectors, the built environment, and land use. 

He said progress has been made already in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from energy production but the next steps are going to take more thought.

"But beyond that, going to those next levels of greenhouse gas reductions is going to take a lot of creativity to find the path forward," he said.

Officials from Nevada recently met with leaders from 24 other states to plan out how to move against climate change because the federal government won’t.

Bobzien said those 24 states, which are part of the U.S. Climate Alliance, represent 55 percent of the country's population and $11 trillion in economic power.

He said that economic power can be leveraged to send signals to the marketplace about electrifying the transportation sector, which he says is the next frontier for addressing climate change. 

This week the Trump Administration announced it would no longer give waivers to California to set its own emission standards for cars. While it seems like a set back for those fighting to reduce greenhouse gases, Bobzien said federal rollbacks actually galvanize lawmakers.

"This entrenchment from Washington, D.C. has done nothing but inspire policymakers in Nevada and elsewhere to say, 'okay, well we're going to step into the breach and we're going to figure a way forward,'" he said.

And a majority of scientist across the globe say that the path forward is becoming more and more urgent.

Kristen Averyt is one of those researchers. She is a research professor at UNLV.

Averyt said scientists have set the global warming limit at 2 degrees celsius and it is already halfway there, which translates to 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit.

"I think the situation is fairly dire and I really don't like having to use that word but that's truly where we're at," she said.

And while a two-degree rise seems small, Averyt said it is having big impacts on the climate because the atmosphere can hold more water when it's warmer than it can when its cooler she said. That translates into drier drys and wetter wets.

Averyt said UNLV is doing its part in addressing climate change with a new initiative called the Climate Resiliency and Urban Sustainability project. The project will start with a survey of all the activity going on across the university having to do with climate change and addressing it.

She said the idea is to connect all those projects together and then connect that network to policymakers.

"I think this will be very good for Las Vegas because it means we are going to be at the forefront truly leading again with respect to sustainability and what we can do," she said, "Nevada is the get-it-done state and we will continue to be a get-it-done community." 

Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones is taking on climate change with a new plan for the county.

Jones told KNPR's State of Nevada that climate has been a passion of his since he read former Vice President Al Gore's book "Earth in the Balance" when he was in college.

Now, he's excited to be able to take that passion for preserving the Earth to the Clark County Commission.

"One of my proposals this week was to get back to where we started in 2008, fund a full-time sustainability director... and move forward over the next year towards a climate action plan," he said, "I'm really excited about the opportunity of working with Clark County to be a partner in the statewide efforts in addressing climate change."

Jones said the county is already working on changing its fleet of county vehicles to electric. Besides that, he believes the county can make changes to design requirements, address zoning issues and work to improve transportation all with an eye to addressing the causes of climate change and improving Southern Nevada's adaption to a changing climate.

While impacts of climate change often seem insurmountable, Averyt said she is optimistic because there are answers. 

"Quite frankly, what gives me the most optimism... is what's happening this week and what's happening today," she said, "The fact that the kids and the younger adults within our communities, they are putting a face and really talking about climate as an ethical issue and talking about it from value-proposition standpoint. It's not just about numbers and statistics, and metrics, it is really something that is so important to them and that gives me so much hope about what we're going to be able to do moving forward."  

This week, along with news organizations from television, radio and papers across the country, Nevada Public Radio begins at least a year-long commitment to covering climate change -- not just where or how change is happening, but how science, leaders and individuals can work to both slow it down and adapt to it.


David Bobzien, director, Governor's Office of Energy; Justin Jones, Clark County Commissioner, District F; Kristen Averyt, research professor, UNLV


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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.