The District of Columbia, or Washington D.C., is not a state although there is a political movement to make it one. In the meantime, it is our nation’s capital and a city of around 706,000 people. Although some politicians like to say that D.C. is a swamp, this is actually not scientifically correct. The city was built on a firm and dry riverbank. The city is, however, mostly in a humid subtropical zone with steaming summers and winters featuring snow and ice.
D.C. is absolutely no stranger to climate change. Since the city was founded (as part of Alexandria, Virginia in 1749), the Potomac River has risen roughly one foot, twice as fast as the global average for sea level rise. Although DC is not on the ocean, the Potomac and Anacostia rivers are influenced by sea level. The rivers seem to be rising extra fast because land in DC is also sinking due to a geological phenomenon called subsidence. Flooding has become a part of life for the city’s residents, and it’s only going to get worse.
Storms are also accelerating in Washington. There have been plenty of tropical cyclones, like the derecho of 2012, and a storm on a random Monday in July of 2019 dumped a month’s worth of rain on the city in one hour. Suffice to say, this isn’t normal and the future doesn’t look better.
Climate change has already caused a rise of 2°F over the last 50 years, more than the national average. Summers are also 5-10% more humid in 2019 than they were in the 1970s. Scientists project that, if current trends continue, the capital’s climate is going to feel like that of the Deep South by 2080, specifically Paragould, Arkansas in the best case scenario, and the way hotter Greenwood Mississippi if we continue on our current path. Already in D.C. there are around 20 summer days per year classified as “heat emergency” days. By 2080, almost every day of the entire summer is projected to be a “heat emergency” day. And, summers aren’t the only season that’s warming, winters are warming as well, creating new challenges such as mosquito populations exploding and potentially transmitting tropical diseases.
Thankfully, Washington D.C. has been taking action. Already in 2005, the District adopted a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) which has been amended several times subsequently. In 2016, the District expanded their commitment to require that 50% of all retail electricity sales in the District come from renewable sources by 2032, with no less than 5% of retail electricity sales generated by solar sources. Additionally, they drafted Climate Ready DC, a comprehensive plan to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The plan covers water management systems, resilience of energy, communication, and transportation infrastructure in regards to more common, more powerful storms. The plan also addresses ways to combat extreme heat, like increasing green space and tree cover.
In 2018 the city passed the Clean Energy D.C. Act, accelerating the District ‘s move to 100% renewable energy by 2032, with the solar energy requirement increasing to 5.5% by 2032 and to 10% by 2041, an ambitious goal. The measure incentivizes electric vehicle purchases and toughens efficiency requirements for new and existing buildings, even helping to fund some of these upgrades.
Washington D.C. generates little of its own electricity and none of its own gas or petroleum. Already in 2018, almost half of the renewable electricity generated in the District came from solar panels located on homes and commercial buildings throughout the city, with a third coming from biomass-generated energy and the rest of D.C.’s power comes from natural gas.
Although the District consumes more energy than it produces, it still consumes less than any state except Vermont. Most of the energy used in the District is consumed by the commercial sector, which includes federal buildings, museums, and universities. Because of its heat and humidity, air conditioning is a significant chunk of energy usage in the city.
D.C. has become a significant market for electric vehicles with more electric vehicle charging stations than motor gasoline stations, resulting in the city’s per capita gasoline expenditures to be lower than those of any state. That is also influenced by more that 460 city buses fueled by compressed natural gas (instead of petroleum) with more on the way.