A new Stanford University study led by Stanford/LSHTM Planetary Health Postdoctoral Fellow Minghao Qiu finds that increased reliance on fossil fuel plants in the American West during drought dramatically increases carbon emissions, methane leakage, and local air pollution and deaths caused by poor air quality.
This is because, when drought-stricken rivers and reservoirs dry up or run low, utilities that relied on hydropower must fire up hundreds of power plants that burn fossil fuels to keep up with demand for electricity, Stanford News reports. Ironically, this demand for electricity increases during the heat waves often associated with drought, when people may run air conditioners more frequently to keep cool.
“If we want to solve this issue, we need an even greater expansion of renewable energy alongside better energy storage, so we don’t need to tap into fossil fuels as much,” Qiu told Stanford News. “Ultimately, to limit future warming and the drought risks that come with it, we need to reduce our emissions.”