State of Florida loses yet another major homeowner’s insurance company

With hurricane season pressing down on Florida, yet more state residents are suddenly finding themselves without home insurance.

One of Florida’s largest home insurers is exiting the market, leaving thousands of homeowners scrambling to find new coverage as options continue to dwindle in the Sunshine State.

United Property & Casualty Insurance Company, based in St. Petersburg, announced Thursday that it filed a plan of withdrawal in Florida and also plans to exit three other states.

It comes right in the middle of hurricane season and amid an exodus of companies from the market.

Dr. Allen Lavina and his wife purchased a home in Sunrise back in 2019. The first-time homeowners were able to secure insurance and made their mortgage payments on time. But, recently, the couple was given a notice from their insurance company: “we’re reducing exposure in the area.”\

Homeowners said the state needs to do more.

“If they try to put some patches or Band-Aids on it, we still have an existential dilemma,” Quinones said. “Like, how are we going to live in Florida?”

Homeowner Neal Bloom also expressed disappointment in the government’s response.

“I’m very disappointed the Florida government refuses to acknowledge or do anything for relief,” Bloom said. “I’ve sent emails to my congressman but none of their replies was what I wanted to hear. We have a small mortgage on our home, very high credit scores, pay our bills on time. So I think it’s unfair that people in our situation are penalized because others decided to file fraudulent claims for new roofs from prior hurricanes, which was the excuse I’m getting as to why we were dropped just like that.”

These people might consider that hurricanes are the primary causative factor in the insurance dilemma, and not the roof repairs done after the hurricanes.

I know about 8 families personally who’ve moved to Florida in the last few years.

I get it. Sunshine and warmth in the winter.

But state and local governments seem unable or unwilling to stop rampant construction in large swaths of the state that should be development-free zones.

Guess the insurance companies are going to make those decisions for them.

You might want to think again about buying that waterfront property

Below is a screen grab of an article in today’s WaPo.

Click on screen grab to go to the article.

Some suckers … Oops, I mean, real estate buyers are going to be the ones holding the bag when waterfront real estate prices start to crash because your neighbors’ houses are washing into the sea, or you can no longer afford/get flood insurance, or any number of other reasons that seaside homes will become unsellable/unlivable.

And the Greenland ice sheet is only one factor involved in rising sea levels and coastal flooding.

Great Q&A to catch you up on the worsening water crisis around the U.S.

I tend to voraciously read anything well-written I come across concerning the climate-change-induced water crisis in the United States and around the world.

I am old enough that I suspect I will not witness the worst of it: famines, global food disruption, and subsequent wars over water.

I get the impression that most people are aware of the crisis, but are hoping or assuming it’s temporary or being taken care of by governments somewhere. Or they just have more immediate concerns, not realizing that soon farmers in California, the source of much of our food in America, will be forced to go out of business or severely limit what, and how much, they can plant.

Young people, on the other hand, seem more keenly aware than anyone else about the climate disasters that the older folks are leaving for them. That gives me some hope.

ProPublica has a new Q&A piece up by writer Abrahm Lustgarten that examines the worsening water disaster in the American west and southwest:

I recently sat down with Jay Famiglietti, the executive director of the Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan, to talk about what comes next and what the public still doesn’t understand about water scarcity in the United States. Before moving to Canada, Famiglietti was a lead researcher at NASA’s water science program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and a member of the faculty at the University of California, Irvine. He pioneered the use of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites to peer into the earth’s mass and measure changes in its underground water supplies. The Colorado River crisis is urgent, Famiglietti said, but the hidden, underground water crisis is even worse. We talked about what U.S. leaders either won’t acknowledge or don’t understand and about how bad things are about to get.

Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Let’s start with the Colorado River because it’s in the news. The federal government has put some extraordinary numbers out there, suggesting water users cut between 2 and 4 million acre-feet of water usage starting this year — roughly 40% of the entire river’s recent flow. How could that possibly happen?

It’s going to be really hard. We’re looking at drastically reduced food production and the migration of agriculture to other parts of the country and real limits on growth, especially in desert cities like Phoenix. My fear is that groundwater will, as usual, be left out of the discussion — groundwater is mostly unprotected, and it’s going to be a real shit show.

Remind us how that happens. States and farmers cut back on the Colorado River, and California and Arizona just start pumping all the water out of their aquifers?

Yeah. This started with the drought contingency plan [the 2018 legal agreement among the states on the Colorado River]. Arizona had to cut nearly 20% of its Colorado River water. To placate the farmers, the deal was that they would have free access to the groundwater. In fact, something like $20 million was allocated to help them dig more wells. So, it was just a direct transfer from surface water to groundwater. Right away, you could see that the groundwater depletion was accelerating. With this latest round, I’m afraid we’re just going to see more of that.

Some of that groundwater actually gets used to grow feed for cattle in the Middle East or China, right?There’s Saudi-owned agriculture firms planting alfalfa, which uses more water than just about anything, and it’s not for American food supply. Do I have that right?

There’s been other buyers from other countries coming in, buying up that land, land grabbing and grabbing the water rights. That’s happening in Arizona.

It’s not a happy interview. At least it does point to some things that can still be done. But, as Famiglietti points out, we are past the point of stopping these problems. We can only mitigate.

You can read the rest of the interview at this link.

In related news, Nevada has finally, after all this time. started discussing ways to limit attractions such as golf courses, giant water fountains, and other ginormous water features in and around Las Vegas.

Isn’t that crazy? The city’s main source of water is drying up before their eyes, and Las Vegas is finally getting around to telling casinos they can’t recreate the canals of Venice just to entice gamblers.

See video below of renowned scientist Carl Sagan testifying in 1985 about the looming climate change crisis.

Northwestern scientists may have found a way to break down some “forever” chemicals

PFAS — so-called “forever chemicals” — are everywhere. So much so that you or someone (or someones) you love are probably already carrying toxic levels of the chemicals, and will likely have some adverse health effects because of that contamination. (It’s not even clear how much of an exposure means you increase levels of, for example, certain cancers or endocrine disruption diseases.)

An estimated 26,000 U.S. sites are contaminated with some form of PFAS. At least six million Americans are estimated to have drinking water containing some form of PFAS above the existing safe limits recommended by the U.S. EPA.

Coming up with ways rid of these PFAS chemicals from our environment has been difficult because the properties that make them so durable in everyday use are the same ones that make them tough to destroy.

For over a century, our world has been made of plastic. It’s in everything from firefighting foam to water bottles to nonstick pans, yielding convenient products that last. But in the long run, plastic releases hazardous chemicals, called Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), that seep into the soil and groundwater. These “forever chemicals” are everywhere today: in our drinking supplies, our food, the air, and even our bodies, where they can lead to unwelcome consequences, including cancer, infant development problems, and weakened immunity.

Scientists have been working on ways to destroy PFAS chemicals that permeate our environment, but no easy method exists. That’s because these standoffish compounds don’t react to anything—not biological or other chemical agents. They stick only to each other and resist being torn apart. Current methods require“very harsh conditions to decompose these compounds,” according to chemists at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Until now, how to break those PFAS bonds has been unclear.

That team’s recent work, published in the journal Science on August 18, proves that the stubborn power of PFAS bonds can, in fact, be broken. The scientists discovered a way to disintegrate two concentrated, toxic forms of PFAS into smaller, innocuous compounds that decompose. Using low heat, a solvent, and sodium hydroxide (lye, the basis of some soaps), the method is both simple and inexpensive. It works for two major categories of PFAS permeating the environment today: perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and one of its common replacements, known as GenX.

The traditional difficulty in destroying a PFAS compound lies in its many carbon-fluorine bonds, which organic chemists know as the strongest bonds. They require immense heat (about 400 degrees Celsius) and pressure to break, which can lead to cases of air contamination during incineration, William Dichtel, the lead author of the new study, explains in a news release. “In New York state, a plant claiming to incinerate PFAS was found to be releasing some of these compounds into the air,” says Dichtel, a professor of chemistry. “The compounds were emitted from the smokestacks and into the local community.” And burying PFAS just causes them to contaminate the environment after a few decades, he adds.

You can read the rest of the article here.

World experiencing high lithium prices partially because indigenous people are blocking billionaires from mining it

Indigenous peoples and progressive governments in this part of South America (dubbed the “Lithium Triangle”) are making it difficult for multinational corporations to take advantage of locals the way they have in the past:

[T]his California-sized chunk of terrain accounts for some 55% of the world’s known deposits of the metal, a key component in electric-vehicle batteries.

As the Chinese EV giant BYD Co. recently learned, tapping into that resource can be a challenge. Earlier this year, after BYD won a government contract to mine lithium, indigenous residents took to the streets, demanding the tender be canceled over concerns about the impact on local water supplies. In June, the Chilean Supreme Court threw out the award, saying the government failed to consult with indigenous people first.

“They want to produce more and more lithium, but we’re the ones who pay the price,” said Lady Sandón, president of one of two Atacameño indigenous hamlets that filed a lawsuit against the auction. A BYD spokeswoman declined to comment.

Similar setbacks are occurring around the so-called Lithium Triangle, which overlaps parts of Chile, Bolivia and Argentina. Production has suffered at the hands of leftist governments angling for greater control over the mineral and a bigger share of profits, as well as from environmental concerns and greater activism by local Andean communities who fear being left out while outsiders get rich.

At a time of exploding demand that has sent lithium prices up 750% since the start of 2021, industry analysts worry that South America could become a major bottleneck for growth in electric vehicles.

“All the major car makers are completely on board with electric vehicles now,” said Brian Jaskula, a lithium expert at the U.S. Geological Survey. “But the lithium may just not be enough.”

In Bolivia, the government nationalized its lithium industry years ago and has yet to produce meaningful amounts of the metal. Mexico, a smaller player, also recently nationalized lithium. In Argentina, output is only starting to take off.

It will be difficult for some government officials, left-wing or not, to resist the allure of big riches to those who cave to the mining companies. Somebody, somewhere is going to cut a back-room deal, eventually. It’s human nature to be greedy.

So it’s good to know that much of the bottleneck holding the millionaires and billionaires back from exploiting the land and the people is judicial and not legislative. That decision by the Chilean Supreme Court was huge.

You can read the rest of Ryan Dube’s Wall Street Journal article here.

You can read an article about the dangers of lithium mining in South America at this link. And another at this link.

A lithium evaporation pool in the Lithium Triangle.

How a Trump-supporting deep red community became a test case in the fight against the dangers of fracking

Grant Township (PA) is not populated by a bunch of college-educated suburban liberals. Quite the opposite. But it’s become famous in environmental circles for a fracking NIMBY court case with national ramifications for community-inspired environmental crusading.

David V. Goliath (his real name) writes about the case in The New Republic:

Like most of exurban Pennsylvania, [Grant Township[ is also Trump country: In stark contrast to the so-called “urban liberals” of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, many area residents have long condoned, if not supported, domestic oil and gas extraction; oppose a ban on “fracking” in the state; and have a dim view of environmental regulation.

But something surprising happened after the Environmental Protection Agency approved permits in 2013 for the petroleum company Pennsylvania General Energy to place a fracking wastewater injection well in the area. Residents became a cause célèbre of progressive environmentalists by voting to create a Community Charter that, among other things, asserts the township’s right to create its own environmental regulations and bans injection wells within the township. “You will get sued, and you will lose,” PGE lawyers in crisp suits warned residents before the first vote in 2014, Aaron Skirboll reported for Sierra magazine. Residents voted almost unanimously in favor anyway. “Our ordinance is passed,” a township supervisor said to the corporate attorneys. “You boys know where we’re at. If there’s a problem, go at it.”

PGE did indeed sue, as did the state Department of Environmental Protection. Both parties argue that only the state—not any individual municipality—has the authority to regulate oil and gas development. Grant residents doubled down, filing a counterclaim against the DEP and voting to legalize nonviolent direct action against any state or corporate entity that infringes upon the community’s right to self-government. The message was clear: That injection well is going in over our dead bodies. Eight years on, the legal showdown seems headed for trial in Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court (a preliminary hearing occurred in April).

What’s at stake is the well-being of not just Grant’s 700 residents but democracy itself.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Another explanation as to why that SCOTUS decision about EPA was so radical

I have a pretty good idea what happened and why when the Supreme Court ruled against the EPA in that West Virginia case.

But even when I think I understand something I will often find something that clarifies or expands on my understanding of a given subject.

This article from The Atlantic by Georgetown University law professor Liza Heinzerling gives me some additional understanding about why that decision was so important — and what it portends for tackling major problems facing our country:

Like many governmental agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency has an elaborate process for developing important rules. As I saw during the Obama administration, when I headed the EPA office that oversees this process, getting a major rule over the finish line can take years. Almost every step of the way offers obstacles to addressing any serious environmental problem.

This work just got much harder, if not altogether impossible. In West Virginia v. EPA, the Supreme Court held that Congress may not authorize an administrative agency like the EPA to address an issue of great economic and political significance—in the Court’s parlance, a “major question”—unless Congress speaks extremely precisely in doing so. Broad statutory language, written with the aim of empowering an agency to take on new problems in new ways, will no longer suffice.

The Court’s major-questions doctrine will make effective governance of this country even harder than it has long been. Somewhat ironically, the first victim is Congress itself. Congress has long addressed important problems by empowering agencies to regulate based on newly developed scientific and technical information. That is what Congress did in the Clean Air Act and in the public-health and workplace-safety statutes the Court narrowed in the COVID cases. All laws with a similar structure, passed in at least implicit reliance on a different interpretive framework from the one the Court has embraced, are now vulnerable to severe judicial cropping. So while the Court is purporting to hand Congress the baton, in reality it’s creating a major hurdle that will stand in the way of Congress’s work.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Noted giraffe and lion trophy hunter gunned down in South Africa

Let’s call it rough justice:

Riaan Naude, 55, owner of Pro Hunt Africa, was found dead next to his truck in Marken Road, Limpopo.

Two hunting rifles were among items found in his car in an area which includes part of the Kruger National Park wildlife reserve, local outlet Maroela Media reported.

Naude, from Phalaborwa, Limpopo, had previously uploaded pictures of himself posing next to dead animals, including lions, elephants and giraffes.

Police spokesperson Lt.col. Mamphaswa Seabi said officers found his body after being called to the scene.

He said: ‘The man was lying with his face up and there was blood on his head and face.’

It must have been awful for him to lie there, shot in the hot sun, terrified as the life drained out of him. Sort of like the innocent animals he made a living killing.

You can read the rest here.

Marjorie Taylor Greene is too stupid to know she argues against herself on climate change

Oh, Marjorie. You’re a shining example of how poor science education is ruining public discourse:

Marjorie Taylor Greene has asked why thousands of cattle perished during an extreme heatwave in Kansas just weeks after saying that climate change would be good for food production.

“Why did thousands of cattle all die in a heat wave?” the Republican congresswoman from Georgia wrote on Twitter on June 29. “Usually just the old, sick, or weak die in stressful conditions, not the whole herd. Food security is national security.”

The Newsweek article goes on to note:

“This was a true weather event, it was isolated to a specific region in southwestern Kansas,” A.J. Tarpoff, a cattle veterinarian with Kansas State University, told the Associated Press. “Yes, temperatures rose, but the more important reason why it was injurious was that we had a huge spike in humidity … and at the same time wind speeds actually dropped substantially, which is rare for western Kansas.”

Stop this ride. I want to get off.

Light and sound pollution and their effects on the natural world

Cambridge-educated science journalist Ed Yong wrote the cover story in the current edition of The Atlantic, and it’s all about the disastrous effects that light and sound pollution are having on the natural world.

Just one example from the article:

Every year on September 11, the sky above New York City is pierced by two columns of intense blue light. This annual art installation, known as Tribute in Light, commemorates the terrorist attacks of 2001, with the ascending beams standing in for the fallen Twin Towers. Each is produced by 44 xenon bulbs with 7,000-watt intensities. Their light can be seen from 60 miles away. From closer up, onlookers often notice small flecks, dancing amid the beams like gentle flurries of snow. Those flecks are birds. Thousands of them.

This annual ritual unfortunately occurs during the autumn migratory season, when billions of small songbirds undertake long flights through North American skies. Navigating under cover of darkness, they fly in such large numbers that they show up on radar. By analyzing meteorological radar images, Benjamin Van Doren showed that Tribute in Light, across seven nights of operation, waylaid about 1.1 million birds. The beams reach so high that even at altitudes of several miles, passing birds are drawn into them. Warblers and other small species congregate within the light at up to 150 times their normal density levels. They circle slowly, as if trapped in an incorporeal cage. They call frequently and intensely. They occasionally crash into nearby buildings.

It’s an excellent article, although it’s probably not surprising that a man would write an article condemning light pollution without apparently thinking about the relationship of women to walking outside in the dark. To be a woman in today’s urban environments is to be crossing streets so that you can walk under streets lights so that you feel safer.

Do street lights reduce crime?

The most often cited 2015 study out of the UK says no. But a subsequent study out of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, U-Penn and the University of Oregon, says yes:

The LIGHTS study found that the developments that received new lights experienced crime rates that were significantly lower than would have been the case without the new lights. Among other findings, the study concluded that increased levels of lighting led to a 36% reduction in “index crimes” — a subset of serious felony crimes that includes murder, robbery and aggravated assault, as well as certain property crimes — that took place outdoors at night in developments that received new lighting, with an overall 4% percent reduction in index crimes.

I am guessing it would be difficult to conduct a well-designed study to measure how much keeping the lights on at businesses at night prevents or reduces burglaries, but it makes sense that burglars would choose to break into dark businesses (and homes) over well-lit ones.

To speak convincingly about light pollution to a wide swath of the population, academics would have to, at the very least, show that they gave real-world issues such as these some thought.

Otherwise, business owners would look at you with disbelief and say, “It’s all well and good that you want to save budgies and bats, and people who want to see the Milky Way at night, but I’ve got a business to run and protect.”

Nonetheless, Yong’s article is interesting and very well done, and suggests avenues for at least beginning to meld light and sound pollution considerations into urban planning.