As a United Nations working group negotiates a set of “sustainable development goals,” 10 scientists and development analysts, in a commentary published today in Nature, have proposed a fundamentally different way to frame this concept. (Click here for relevant Dot Earth posts.) Over the last several decades, sustainable human development has been conceived largely as the outcome of balanced work on three “pillars” — economic and social development and environmental protection. The authors, building on arguments that have been brewing for awhile, say that these concepts are instead nested one inside the next, not separate free-standing realms. Here’s how one author put it in a statement released today: “As the global population increases towards nine billion people sustainable development should be seen as an economy serving society within Earth’s life support system, not as three pillars,” says co-author Dr. Priya Shyamsundar from the South Asian Network for Development and Environmental Economics, Nepal. Owen Gaffney, an author of the commentary and communications director for the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, sent a “Your Dot” contribution offering more background on this proposal:
Here’s Gaffney’s piece:
Redefining Sustainable Development in the Anthropocene
Last week, the UN’s 2013 Human Development Report issued a stark warning: “Environmental inaction, especially regarding climate change, has the potential to halt or even reverse human development progress.” Thanks to the unstoppable rise of the South, that progress has been spectacular to date. Both India and China have doubled their output per person in less than 20 years. But how can development continue without it costing the Earth? Air pollution in China is so bad that many cities are permanently shrouded in a toxic cloud, and lung cancer rates have soared in the past decade. There are no easy solutions.
At the United Nations Rio+20 Earth summit last year, 192 countries agreed to create a set of universal Sustainable Development Goals. These are set to follow the Millennium Development Goals, due to end in 2015, which successfully focused significant funds and political energy towards eight poverty-related goals. New goals could change the playing field for social and economic development in the coming decades. As nations gear up to formulate these goals they need to acknowledge the state of planet and the scale of civilization. We use an area the size of South America to grow our crops. An area the size of Africa is cleared for our livestock. Humans are profoundly altering the face of Earth. But it goes much further than this. We are altering the carbon, nitrogen, water and phosphorus cycles. We are now the dominant force changing Earth’s life support system – the atmosphere, oceans, waterways, forests, ice sheets and biodiversity that allow us to thrive and prosper. These changes underwrite a whole new understanding of our place in the world. That change is encapsulated in the concept of the Anthropocene – that we have pushed Earth into a new geological epoch of our own creation.
Our number one task as a global species with an almighty footprint is how to maintain Earth’s life support system while providing food and a decent quality of life to seven billion people climbing to nine or more. So now comes the hard part. Somehow the development goals must connect the dots between development and protection of Earth’s life support system. Also, very practically, the goals must be simple, easy to communicate and have buy-in from everyone. Albert Einstein once said that if he had a problem to solve in just one hour, and it was terribly difficult, and his life depended upon it, he would spend the first 55 minutes framing the problem. The way we define a problem illuminates the solution. For the past 26 years, a single definition of sustainable development has ruled: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” And a single concept has shaped international policy: the three pillars of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental.
In the Anthropocene we must abandon old thinking. We need to redefine the problem. By replacing the three pillars with a clear and simple idea: an economy, within society, within Earth’s life support system. A healthy planet is a prerequisite for healthy, thriving, prosperous lives. From this we need a new definition for sustainable development: “development that meets the needs of the present while safeguarding Earth’s life-support system, on which the welfare of current and future generations depends”. To deliver on this new definition, we need measurable and achievable sustainable development goals. Moreover, the goals must not stop at the nation state. They need to inspire countries, states, cities, organizations, companies and people everywhere. These should be goals for humanity.
Ultimately the goals are a political decision, but science can help to ensure they meet these core objectives.
This week an international team of scientists and experts including myself produced an analysis of how it’s possible. The group identified six universal goals: Lives and Livelihoods, Food Security, Water Sustainability, Clean Energy for All, Healthy Ecosystems and Effective Governance. Each goal will be met by reaching a set of quantifiable targets beneath the goal such as halving the number of people living on less than a dollar a day, improving the lives of slum-dwellers, or reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Much more work will need to be done to create sound, measurable targets. Targets for each goal will span economic, social and environmental domains. For instance, food security should seek to end hunger and improve the efficiency of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers. Poverty elimination is addressed by providing food, water and energy – the basic needs – plus, gainful employment through the goal on lives and livelihoods. Energy for all is linked to ending harmful subsidies on fossil fuels and unsustainable agriculture. And economic growth must be based on sustainable production and consumption: we need to change the global economic playing field.
Success for the universal Sustainable Development Goals is contingent upon two things: bottom-up support from all sectors of our global society plus strong leadership. In our highly interconnected and networked world, we need the power of self organization to drive global leadership. ….
Invasive species: Understanding the threat before it’s too late (March 22, 2013) — Catching rides on cargo ships and fishing boats, many invasive species are now covering our shorelines and compromising the existence of our native marine life. Scientists have examined what factors allow some invasive species to survive in their new environments and others to fail. … > full story
Losing wetlands to grow crops (March 24, 2013) — Getting enough to eat is a basic human need – but at what cost to the environment? New research demonstrates that as their crops on higher ground fail due to unreliable rainfall, people in countries like Uganda are increasingly relocating to wetland areas. Unless the needs of these people are addressed in a more sustainable way, overuse of wetland resources through farming, fishing, and hunting will continue. … > full story
Acoustic monitoring of Atlantic cod reveals clues to spawning behavior (March 23, 2013) — For decades researchers have recorded sounds from whales and other marine mammals, using a variety of methods including passive acoustic monitoring to better understand how these animals use sound to interact with each other and with the environment. Now, for the first time, researchers report using this technology to record spawning cod in the wild. … > full story
Redfern, J. V., M. F. McKenna, T. J. Moore, J. Calambokidis, M. L. DeAngelis, E. A. Becker, J. Barlow, K. A. Forney, P. C. Fiedler, and S. J. Chivers. 2013. Assessing the risk of ships striking large whales in marine spatial planning. Conservation Biology 27:292-302.
“Humanity now stands at Peak Farmland, and the 21st century will see release of vast areas of land, hundreds of millions of hectares, more than twice the area of France for nature,” declared Jesse Ausubel, the director of the Program for the Human Environment at Rockefeller University, in a December lecture. Ausubel was outlining the findings in a new study he and his collaborators had done in the Population and Development Review. Unlike other alleged resource “peaks,” peak farmland reflects not the exhaustion of resources but the fruits of human intelligence and growing affluence.
Nature versus nurture: Better looking birds have healthier babies, finds study of great tits (March 24, 2013) — A female great tits’ (Parus major) appearance is shown to signal healthy attributes in offspring in a new paper. The black stripe across her breast and white patches on her cheeks correlate to a chick’s weight at two weeks and immune strength respectively — though the former seems to signal a genetic benefit and the latter can affect an ‘adopted’ chick’s health, suggesting nurture is involved. … > full story
Homeowner groups can support native species in suburbia (March 25, 2013) — Although it’s known that home construction in suburban areas can have negative impacts on native plant and animals, a recent study suggests that well-managed development such as provided by homeowners associations can support native wildlife and promote species diversity. … > full story
Uncovering Africa’s oldest known penguins (March 26, 2013) — Africa isn’t the kind of place you might expect to find penguins. But one species lives in Africa today, and new fossils confirm that as many as four penguin species coexisted on the continent in the past. Exactly why African penguin diversity plummeted is still a mystery, but changing sea levels may be to blame. The fossils represent the oldest evidence of penguins in Africa, predating previously described fossils by 5 to 7 million years. … > full story
The sprinklings of rain and dustings of snow that will fall on California over the next few days are not going to make up for three of the most remarkably dry months in state history, water resources officials said Thursday. The mountains of the Sierra, which were buried in giant mounds of snow as the new year began, are now comparatively bare. The monthly measurement of the state’s frozen water supply Thursday found 52 percent of the normal snowpack for April 1. “This is more gloomy news for our summer water supply,” said Mark Cowin, director of the California Department of Water Resources. “This is more gloomy news for our summer water supply,” said Mark Cowin, director of the California Department of Water Resources. The amount of water in the snowpack at this time of year is extremely important, he said, because the largest proportion of the ice that melts in the Sierra after April 1 is captured in nearby reservoirs. That water used to irrigate millions of acres of farmland and quench the thirst of most of California’s 37.8 million people. Paltry precipitation has been a statewide issue over the past three months, which is unusual because those 90 days are normally the rainiest time of the year, said Jan Null, a meteorologist for Golden Gate Weather Services and an adjunct professor of meteorology at San Francisco State University.
Driest on record
Null, a former lead forecaster for the National Weather Service, said that as of Thursday, a total of 1.72 inches of rain had fallen in San Francisco in January, February and March, the driest first three months of the year in the city since records began in 1850. That’s compared with a long-term average of 12.39 inches for those three months, which accounts for more than half of San Francisco’s average annual rainfall of 23.65 inches, he said. “Those three months are critical,” he said.
High ridge lingers
The unusually dry weather was caused by a ridge of high pressure that has lingered over the West Coast, pushing storms north of California and over the eastern half of the country. It is why the Plains and Eastern United States have been pounded by storms and, in some cases, record cold.Null said San Francisco is usually a good gauge of statewide precipitation trends. The city also has the longest consecutive rainfall record in the state. The snow water content in the Central Sierra, which includes the Lake Tahoe area, is now 57 percent of normal, based on the average of 40 electronic monitoring stations. That’s compared with 90 percent of normal two months ago and 134 percent of normal on Jan. 2, when the first snow survey of the year was conducted. The Northern Sierra is at 55 percent of normal, and the Southern Sierra at 40 percent of normal. Only 13 inches of snow – 32 percent of the long-term average – was measured Thursday in the meadow behind Phillips Station, a historic, privately owned cabin near Echo Summit. That’s compared with 4 feet three months ago. An average of 15 inches of water was found in the snow throughout the Sierra, based on measurements from more than 300 sites.
Not all bad
Still, Null said, things aren’t all bad. Despite three months of dry weather, San Francisco has still gotten 71 percent of normal precipitation for the season, which goes from July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013, thanks to an abnormally wet November and December. The state’s water supply is also in good shape – at least right now – for the same reason. Lake Oroville, the primary storage reservoir for the State Water Project, is at 83 percent of its capacity, which is 108 percent of average for this time. The water project provides water to 29 public agencies, which supply more than 25 million Californians and irrigate nearly a million acres of farmland. Shasta Lake, which is part of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation‘s Central Valley Project and is the largest reservoir in the state, is at 82 percent of capacity, or 102 percent of normal. Nevertheless, pumping restrictions between November and February designed to protect migrating fish reduced the supply at the San Luis Reservoir – an important summer supply pool for both the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project, according to Cowin. The reservoir is only 63 percent full, he said.
Published: March 26th, 2013 , Last Updated: March 26th, 2013
By Andrew Freedman and Michael D. Lemonick
The skin of sea ice that covers the Arctic Ocean has reached its maximum extent for 2013, the National Snow and Ice Data Center announced Monday, and the annual melt season has begun. As of March 15, ice covered 5.84 million square miles of ocean, the sixth-lowest since satellite observations began in the 1970′s, and 283,000 square miles lower than the 1979-2000 average. Reflecting the influence of global warming, the 10 lowest sea ice maximums have all occurred over the past 10 years.
Last summer’s ice minimum, moreover, was the lowest on record, with 2007 coming in a distant second. Taken together, it’s one more sign that the planet is warming under the influence of heat-trapping greenhouse gases….
“There are very strong indications that the current rate of species extinctions far exceeds anything in the fossil record.” That’s from a 2010 special issue on climate change and biodiversity from the UK’s Royal Society. In 2011, a Nature Geoscience study found humans are spewing carbon into the atmosphere 10 times faster now than 56 million years ago, the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), a time of 10°F warming and mass extinction.
An even more ancient extinction is the subject of a new study in Science (subs. req’d), with the tongue-twister title, “Zircon U-Pb Geochronology Links the End-Triassic Extinction with the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province.”
Some 200 million years ago, an increase in atmospheric CO2 caused acidification of the oceans and global warming that killed off 76 percent of marine and terrestrial species on Earth.
Whereas human activity is the source of the rapid surge in CO2 emissions today, the source of the surge 200 million years ago is now widely thought to be volcanoes:
… most scientists agree on a likely scenario: Over a relatively short period of time, massive volcanic eruptions from a large region known as the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP) spewed forth huge amounts of lava and gas, including carbon dioxide, sulfur and methane. This sudden release of gases into the atmosphere may have created intense global warming and acidification of the oceans that ultimately killed off thousands of plant and animal species.
Now researchers at MIT, Columbia University and elsewhere have determined that these eruptions occurred precisely when the extinction began, providing strong evidence that volcanic activity did indeed trigger the end-Triassic extinction.
Today, of course, notwithstanding the claims of some disinformers, “Humans emit 100 times more CO2 than volcanoes,” as Skeptical Science explains in one of their classic myth-debunking posts.
So what is the connection between what happened in the End-Triassic Extinction and our current mass extinction? As ClimateWire (subs. req’d) explains:
“In some ways, this event is analogous to the present day,” said study lead author Terrence Blackburn, of the Carnegie Institution for Science.
Morgan Schaller, a research associate in earth systems history at Brown University, has previously published work in Science showing that these massive eruptions led to a doubling of carbon dioxide levels from 2,000 parts per million to 4,400 ppm.
Although researchers are not sure how quickly this doubling occurred, it could have been within a period as short as 1,000 years.
This leads them to draw analogies between today’s rapid CO2 increase and the past. Even though the base-line levels of CO2 were much higher 200 million years ago, a doubling of carbon dioxide concentrations leads to a 3 degree Celsius increase whether it’s from 2,000 to 4,000 ppm or from 280 to 560 ppm, Schaller said….
Paul Olsen, a geologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and a co-author on the paper released yesterday, said the extinction, however it happened, occurred in 20,000 years or less — but like the speed of the carbon dioxide doubling, it could have been a lot less.
In any case, what humans are doing to the biosphere today is mostly without precedent in the geologic record and poised to be far worse than most previous extinctions, according to recent research:
Nature Climate Change: “The proportion of actual biodiversity loss should quite clearly be revised upwards: by 2080, more than 80% of genetic diversity within species may disappear in certain groups of organisms”
Scientist: “When CO2 levels in the atmosphere reach about 500 parts per million, you put calcification out of business in the oceans”
A 2009 study in Nature Geoscience warned that global warming may create expanding “dead zones” in the ocean that would be devoid of fish and seafood and ”remain for thousands of years.”
“Ocean acidification,” the shifting of the ocean’s water toward the acidic side of its chemical balance, has been driven by climate change and has brought increasingly corrosive seawater to the surface along the West Coast and the inlets of Puget Sound …
There is widespread confusion about the near-term benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and that misunderstanding may be complicating the formidable task of reducing manmade global warming, argue two climate researchers in Thursday’s issue of the journal Science.
The scientists, Damon Matthews of Concordia University in Montreal and Susan Solomon of MIT, make the case that policymakers, the media, and to some extent the public have misunderstood the implications of two key concepts — the “irreversibility” of climate change, and the amount of global warming already in the pipeline due to historical greenhouse gas emissions.
The duo challenge what they say have become pervasive misinterpretations of recent scientific results, including findings from a 2010 National Research Council report they helped write that said that the amount of global warming to date is essentially irreversible on the timescale of about 1,000 years. That study has been repeatedly cited by policymakers to justify delays in tackling carbon emissions by making global warming appear to be inexorable, regardless of what actions are taken.
But Matthews and Solomon rebut that justification, writing instead that, “the irreversibility of past changes does not mean that future warming is unavoidable.”
In addition, they said the notion that global warming would continue to take place even if the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere were to be frozen at current levels — rather than increasing year-after-year as they are now — has also helped justify inaction.
These findings have “been misinterpreted to mean that the rate of increase in Earth’s global temperature is inevitable, regardless of how much or how quickly emissions decrease,” the Science article said.
In an interview, Matthews said that confusion over the irreversibility and the amount of future warming that is already baked into the climate system has been widespread, and is serving to overcomplicate the global-warming issue, which is already challenging. “Anything that makes the problem seem more complicated than it is, is disempowering I think,” Matthews said.
U.S. Drought Monitor map from March 19, 2013, courtesy of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center
Drought conditions in more than half of the United States have slipped into a pattern that climatologists say is uncomfortably similar to the most severe droughts in recent U.S. history, including the 1930s Dust Bowl and the widespread 1950s drought. The 2013 drought season is already off to a worse start than in 2012 or 2011—a trend that scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) say is a good indicator, based on historical records, that the entire year will be drier than last year, even if spring and summer rainfall and temperatures remain the same. If rainfall decreases and temperatures rise, as climatologists are predicting will happen this year, the drought could be even more severe. The federal researchers also say there is less than a 20 percent chance the drought will end in the next six months. “There were certainly pockets of drought as we went into spring last year, but overall, the situation was much better than it is now,” said Tom Karl, a climatologist and director of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. “We are going to have to watch really closely … Last year was bad enough.”….
One often hears the statement in the media that global warming stopped in 1998, or that there has been no global warming for the past 16 years. Why pick 16 years? Why not some nice round number like 20 years? Or better yet, 30 years, since the climate is generally defined as the average weather experienced over a period of 30 years or longer? Temperatures at Earth’s surface undergo natural, decades-long warming and cooling trends, related to the La Niña/El Niño cycle and the 11-year sunspot cycle. The reason one often hears the year 1998 used as a base year to measure global temperature trends is that this is a cherry-picked year. An extraordinarily powerful El Niño event that was the strongest on record brought about a temporary increase in surface ocean temperatures over a vast area of the tropical Pacific that year, helping boost global surface temperatures to the highest levels on record (global temperatures were warmer in both 2005 and 2010, but not by much.) But in the years from 2005 – 2012, La Niña events have been present for at least a portion of every single year, helping keep Earth’s surface relatively cool. Thus, if one draws a straight-line fit of global surface temperatures from 1998 to 2012, a climate trend showing little global warming results. If one picks any year prior to 1998, or almost any year after 1998, a global warming trend does result. The choice of 1998 is a deliberate abuse of statistics in an attempt to manipulate people into drawing a false conclusion on global temperature trends. One of my favorite examples of this manipulation of statistics is shown an animated graph called “The Escalator”, created by skepticalscience.com (Figure 1)…..
Predictions of climate impacts on fisheries can be a mirage (March 25, 2013) — In the early 1940s, California fishermen hauled in a historic bounty of sardine that set the backdrop for John Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row” novel. But by the end of the decade the nets came up empty and the fishery collapsed. Where did they all go? According to a new study, the forces behind the sardine mystery are a dynamic and interconnected moving target. … > full story
Millions around the world wake up and brew a cup of coffee before they start their day. But for many involved in the industry, a caffeine buzz isn’t keeping them up at night—instead, what’s causing insomnia is the increasing difficulty that climate …..
Tonight, 62 Senators voted for an amendment to the Fiscal 2014 Budget Resolution that attempts to give Congress the power to approve the Keystone pipeline. This is despite the fact that the pipeline would do nothing to make the country more energy independent, and would create far fewer jobs than its supporters claim.
While some conservatives may claim the pipeline would create “more than 20,000 direct jobs,” the most recent State Department impact assessment found that the pipeline would directly create only “3,900″ temporary construction jobs. After construction is complete, the operation of the pipeline would only support 35 permanent and 15 temporary jobs, with “negligible socioeconomic impacts.” Moreover, only 10 percent of the total workforce would be hired locally. For perspective, our country had 3.4 million green energy jobs in 2011 and it was the fastest-growing industry in the country.
The park service faces an approximately 6 percent cut under sequestration and a recently-passed funding bill which means major impacts on how the parks function and the visitor experiences at them. A memo from park service Director Jon Jarvis on March 8 warned that permanent positions will not be filled, and he wrote:
… we will hire over 1,000 less seasonal employees this year. Seasonal employees are our utility infielders, the “bench” we turn to when fires break out, search and rescue operations are underway, and every other collateral duty. Many of these folks return year after year — they are the repositories of amazing institutional knowledge.
In total, 3,000 jobs at the agency may be affected. Here are some of the national park superintendents who are being forced to make hard choices about their parks and staffs:….
President Obama will release his budget on April 10, principal deputy White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday. The president’s budget is formally due on the first Monday in February, but the White House has said that its two-month delay was in part due to the administration’s focus on sequestration.
What’s the simplest way to tackle global warming? Make sure that fossil fuels are priced properly and not subsidized. Is it really that easy?
That’s the core idea behind a large new report (pdf) from the International Monetary Fund, which argues that the world “misprices” fossil fuels to the tune of some $1.9 trillion per year.
Eliminating these subsidies, the IMF argues, and replacing them with appropriate carbon taxes could cut global greenhouse-gas emissions by 13 percent, curtail air pollution, and shore up the finances of many poorer countries now in debt trouble.
So let’s take a closer look at the IMF’s numbers. Energy subsidies, the report argues, come in two very different flavors:…
WASHINGTON – A new national survey says 82 percent of Americans want to prepare now for rising seas and stronger storms from climate change. But most are unwilling to spend the money to keep the beach where it is. The poll by Stanford University …
This video produced by the Climate Reality Project featuring Reggie Watts demonstrates the argument that because carbon pollution costs us money, the world should put a price on carbon.
It’s important to remind viewers that it should be the polluters paying for what their products cost all of us — that they should not simply pass on the costs to everyone else. These companies already know carbon emissions will affect their bottom lines. But it’s difficult to ask consumers to pay double for fossil fuel addiction when these large companies and utilities slow-walk toward renewable energy. Especially when polluters’ products cause so many dangerous and expensive impacts.
So what’s the answer? The Center for American Progress has a report detailing what a carbon tax should look like, including ways to “minimizing harm to vulnerable consumers and businesses, growing the economy with investments in clean energy infrastructure and other infrastructure that makes communities more resilient in the face of climate change, and reducing the deficit burden on future generations.”
What do you think a price on carbon should look like?
Audubon Birds is a good place to start for beginner and intermediate birders. This National Audubon Society app works as a field guide, with 3,200-plus images of 820 birds. Like most of the apps in this list, it features recordings of bird songs. Even regional variations—”bird dialects”—are accounted for. ($15, iOS; $3, Android)
Sibley eGuide to the Birds of North America details 813 bird species and offers “beginner-friendly features that compare birds by such things as size and plumage.” ($20, iOS and Android)
National Geographic Birds: Field Guide to North America depicts 995 birds “in a range of eye-catching illustrations.” ($6, iOS)
BirdsEye is the iPhone app for “experienced birders who travel to view birds.” Updated frequently, the app notifies users of sightings by region. ($20, iOS)
Source: The Washington Post
RENEWABLES, ENERGY AND RELATED
Clean electricity from bacteria? Researchers make breakthrough in race to create ‘bio-batteries’ (March 25, 2013) — Scientists have made an important breakthrough in the quest to generate clean electricity from bacteria. New findings show that proteins on the surface of bacteria can produce an electric current by simply touching a mineral surface. The research shows that it is possible for bacteria to lie directly on the surface of a metal or mineral and transfer electrical charge through their cell membranes. This means that it is possible to ‘tether’ bacteria directly to electrodes – bringing scientists a step closer to creating efficient microbial fuel cells or ‘bio-batteries.’ … > full story
Climate Progress recently reported on a study that found both economic and environmental benefits if homes in the northeastern United States upgraded older heating systems by moving from heating oil to switchgrass. However, one point to emphasize was the findings were specific to those circumstances — the region, the homes, and that particular use. Switchgrass was not nearly as good an idea for electricity generation or transportation fuel. Further confirming the need for a diversity of renewable solutions to our energy needs, a recent study determined that electricity generated by solar beats out biofuels for powering cars under myriad scenarios. The report, put together by a team from the University of California, Santa Barbara and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and published in Enviornmental Science and Technology, compared five different approaches to see what was the most efficient way to power a compact passenger vehicle for every 100 kilometers driven:
Battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) run on electricity from solar power.
Battery-electric vehicles run on electricity from switchgrass.
Internal combustion vehicles (ICVs) run on switchgrass biofuel.
Battery-electric vehicles run on electricity from corn.
Internal combustion vehicles run on corn-based biofuel.
The analysis considered land-use, greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuel use, and took into account the production and use life cycles of both the fuels themselves and the vehicles they power….
Between directly lowered prices, tax breaks, and the failure to properly price carbon, the world subsidized fossil fuel use by over $1.9 trillion in 2011 — or eight percent of global government revenues — according to a study released this week by the International Monetary Fund.
The biggest offender was by far the United States, clocking in at $502 billion. China came in second at $279 billion, and Russia was third at $116 billion. In fact, the problem is so significant in the U.S. that the IMF figures correcting it will require new fees, levies, or taxes totaling over $500 billion a year, or more than 3 percent of the economy. The most significant finding is that most of the problem — a little over $1 trillion worth — is the failure to properly price carbon pollution. Global warming is the ultimate example of a “negative externality” — a market failure in which one market actor enjoys the benefits of an exchange while another actor pays the costs….
A marine animal to feed your eco-car (March 25, 2013) — The marine animal tunicate can be used both as biofuel and fish food, according to new research. On the ocean floor, under the pier, and on ship ropes – that’s where the tunicates
A Silicon Valley solar company has developed a method for manufacturing light, ultra-thin, flexible, and durable solar cells that manage to convert a record 30.8 percent of the energy in light into electricity. The company, Alta Devices, previously set a record of 28.8 percent conversion efficiency with another form of solar cell.
It hopes its latest creation could be adapted to fit small mobile devices such as smartphones and iPad tablets, which until now have only been able to fit conventional solar cells that are much less efficient and charge slowly.
Alta Devices has announced a record 30.8 percent efficiency with its latest generation dual-junction thin-film solar cell, a breakthrough the company says has the potential to vastly improve the battery life of mobile systems…..
After pulling massive amounts of fossil fuels out of the Earth’s crust so we can burn it up into our atmosphere, we have a good sense of where the stuff goes. Our oceans. A global greenhouse. Our lungs. But what happens to the ground formerly occupied by those fossil fuels?
WELLINGTON, March 27 (Xinhua) — One of the world’s rarest birds appears to have recovered in numbers after New Zealand’s worst-ever maritime environmental disaster, experts announced Wednesday. Monitoring of the New Zealand dotterel population, which is endangered and estimated to number just 1,700 in the wild, showed birds captured after the oil spill from a Liberian-registered cargo ship in October 2011 had recovered well, according to the Massey University…
Trees used to create recyclable, efficient solar cell (March 26, 2013) — Researchers have developed efficient solar cells using natural substrates derived from plants such as trees. Just as importantly, by fabricating them on cellulose nanocrystal (CNC) substrates, the solar cells can be quickly recycled in water at the end of their lifecycle. … > full story
New evidence ancient asteroid caused global firestorm on Earth (March 27, 2013) — A new look at conditions after a Manhattan-sized asteroid slammed into a region of Mexico in the dinosaur days indicates the event could have triggered a global firestorm that would have burned every twig, bush and tree on Earth and led to the extinction of 80 percent of all Earth’s species, says a new study. … > full story
Is spring actually here? We are definitely getting tired of snow stories. It’s time for some sun. And then the drought stories!
At which point we will ask ourselves: What ever happened to worrying about global warming? You may remember what a big deal President Obama made about climate change in his Inaugural Address. It definitely looked as if the ozone layer was making a comeback. Later, in the State of the Union speech, Obama came back to his battle cry again and urged Congress “to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago.”
Urging the House and Senate to follow the lead of the two most notorious shape shifters in recent political history was perhaps not a favorable omen.
Nor was the fact that earlier this month, a deeply noncontroversial Senate resolution commemorating International Women’s Day had to be taken back and edited because someone objected to a paragraph — which had been in an almost identical version passed in the last Congress — stating that women in developing countries “are disproportionately affected by changes in climate because of their need to secure water, food and fuel for their livelihood.”
Highlight of the Week- Hydraulic Fracturing or Fracking
Fracking in California: Questions and ConcernsCalifornia is threatened with an impending fracking boom. But what is fracking, really? And what risks does it pose to the Golden State? Why do we believe fracking is simply too risky to our water, air, wildlife and climate?
Q: What is fracking?
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a method of oil and gas production that involves blasting millions of gallons of water, mixed with sand and toxic chemicals, under high pressure deep into the earth. Fracking breaks up rock formations to allow oil and gas extraction. But it can also pollute local air and water and endanger wildlife and human health.
Q: Where is fracking being done in California?
Fracking has been documented in nine California counties — Colusa, Glenn, Kern, Los Angeles, Monterey, Sacramento, Santa Barbara, Sutter and Ventura — as well as in state waters off Los Angeles. In Kern County, California’s major oil-producing county, Halliburton estimates that 50 percent to 60 percent of new oil wells are fracked. But fracking is likely being done elsewhere in California, going unmonitored and untracked by state officials.
Q: How can fracking contaminate water?
Fracking requires an enormous amount of water — up to 5 million gallons per well. Fracking routinely employs numerous toxic chemicals, including methanol, benzene, naphthalene and trimethylbenzene. It can also expose people to harm from lead, arsenic and radioactivity that are brought back to the surface with fracking flowback fluid. About 25 percent of fracking chemicals could cause cancer, according to scientists with the Endocrine Disruption Exchange, the only organization that focuses primarily on the human health and environmental problems caused by low-dose and/or ambient exposure to chemicals that interfere with development and function, called endocrine disruptors. Evidence is mounting throughout the country that these chemicals are making their way into aquifers and drinking water.
Water quality can also be threatened by methane contamination tied to drilling and the fracturing of rock formations. This problem has been highlighted by footage of people in fracked areas setting fire to methane-laced water from kitchen faucets.
Q: How can fracking contaminate air?
Fracking can release dangerous petroleum hydrocarbons, including benzene, toluene and xylene. It can also increase levels of ground-level ozone, a key risk factor for respiratory illness. Air pollution caused by fracking may contribute to health problems in people living near natural-gas drilling sites, according to a study by researchers with the Colorado School of Public Health.
Q: How does fracking worsen climate change?
Fracking often releases large amounts of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas. Fracking also allows access to huge fossil fuel deposits once beyond the reach of drilling. In California,rising oil prices are driving up interest in fracking on the Monterey Shale, a geological formation under the San Joaquin and the Los Angeles basins that holds an estimated 15 billion barrels of recoverable shale oil. As California strives to lead the fight to avoid a climate-change catastrophe, why should we facilitate the release of carbon in billions of barrels of oil now safely sequestered in our shale formations? We shouldn’t.
Q: How does fracking threaten wildlife?
Endangered species like the California condor, San Joaquin kit fox and blunt-nosed leopard lizard live in places where fracking is likely to expand. These animals can be harmed and killed in many ways by fracking and the industrial development that accompanies it.
Q: Don’t state and federal laws protect our wildlife, and us, from fracking?
Fracking is poorly regulated. In 2005, Congress exempted fracking from the federal Safe Water Drinking Act, severely limiting protections for water quality.
The industry has also been free, until recently, to spew essentially unlimited air pollution during fracking. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency just finalized new rules called the “New Source Performance Standards” under the Clean Air Act that will limit air pollutants from fracked gas wells, but the rules don’t cover oil wells, don’t set limits on methane release — and won’t take effect until 2015.
California officials have paid little attention to the issue of fracking until recently. The Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources acknowledges that it doesn’t even monitor — let along regulate — fracking. California regulators don’t keep track of when or where fracking is being done in the state — or what chemicals are being used in the process.
As controversy has grown, state regulators have released “discussion draft” regulations — but the proposal is extremely weak. Meanwhile, state regulators are failing to enforce existing provisions of California oil and gas law and the California Environmental Quality Act that require regulation and environmental disclosure relating to fracking.
Q: But hasn’t fracking been done in California for many years?
Yes, but today’s fracking techniques are new and pose new dangers. Technological changes have facilitated an explosion of drilling in areas where, even a decade ago, companies couldn’t recover oil and gas profitably.
Directional drilling, for example, is a new technique that has greatly expanded access to rock formations. Companies also employ high fluid volumes to fill horizontal “well bores” that sometimes extend for miles. And oil and gas producers are using new chemical concoctions collectively called “slick water” that allow injection fluid to flow rapidly enough to generate the high pressure needed to break apart rock.
As fracking methods have changed and fracking has expanded, so has the threat to public health and the environment.
By Climate Guest Blogger on Mar 19, 2013 at 11:53 am By Jane Dale Owen via chron.com
All the hype by the fossil fuel industry about energy independence from fracking (hydraulic fracturing) in tight gas reservoirs like the Barnett Shale has left out the costs in energy, water and other essential natural resources.
Furthermore, a recent report from the Post Carbon Institute finds that projections for an energy boom from non-conventional fossil fuel sources is not all it’s cracked up to be.
The report cites a study by David Hughes, Canadian geologist, who says the low quality of hydrocarbons from bitumen – shale oil and shale gas – do not provide the same energy returns as conventional hydrocarbons due to the energy needed to extract or upgrade them. Hughes also notes that the “new age of energy abundance” forecast by the industry will soon run dry because shale gas and shale oil wells deplete quickly. In fact, the “best fields have already been tapped.”
“Unconventional fossil fuels all share a host of cruel and limiting traits,” says Hughes. “They offer dramatically fewer energy returns; they consume extreme and endless flows of capital; they provide difficult or volatile rates of supply over time and have large environmental impacts in their extraction.”
We must ask, is it worth the cost when it takes from 3 million to 9 million gallons of water per fracture to extract this fuel? The withdrawal of large quantities of surface water can substantially impact the availability of water downstream and damage the aquatic life in the water bodies, says Wilma Subra, scientist and national consultant on the community and environmental impact of fracking. When groundwater resources are used, aquifers can be drawn down and cause wells in the area to go dry.
“Once water is used for fracking, it is lost to the water cycle forever,” Subra says…..
A sign from the oil company Venoco marks a spot where a test well for potential fracking was dug in Monterey County’s Hames Valley in September. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle
David R. Baker Published 8:00 pm, Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Fracking for oil and natural gas in California could slam to a halt, at least temporarily, under legislation circulating in Sacramento.
One bill calls for a moratorium on the practice until the state conducts a sweeping study of fracking’s benefits and risks, including the potential for groundwater contamination.
Another piece of legislation would allow fracking while the state conducts such a study. But the same bill, from Sen. Fran Pavley, would slap a moratorium on fracking if the study isn’t finished by 2015.
“What I’m trying to do is say to the oil companies, ‘Look, if there’s never been a problem with fracking, if it’s safe, you need to prove that to the public,’ ” said Pavley, D-Agoura Hills (Los Angeles County).
The proposals come as the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, spreads across California. The process – which pumps pressurized water, sand and chemicals underground to crack rocks – has touched off a boom in U.S. oil and natural gas production. But environmentalists blame it for tainting water supplies, worsening air pollution and turning farms into oil fields.
Vast geologic formation
In California, a growing list of companies use fracking to wrest oil from the Monterey Shale, a vast geologic formation estimated to hold 15 billion barrels of petroleum.
The practice hasn’t taken off here the way it has in North Dakota or Texas. But at least 759 wells in the state have been fracked in recent years, according to a national website that compiles fracking data from oil companies. A study last week from the University of Southern California estimated that developing the Monterey Shale could add $24.6 billion in state and local tax revenue by 2020.
The state office that oversees oil drilling is drafting its first regulations to govern fracking. But many environmentalists have been pushing for an outright ban, convinced that the practice is too risky.
“State regulators don’t seem concerned about fracking’s dangers, so it’s up to lawmakers to stop oil companies from polluting our air, contaminating our water and undermining our fight against climate change,” said Patrick Sullivan of the Center for Biological Diversity. ….
Natural gas is cleaner than coal and oil, helping make it the hottest fossil fuel in America lately. But a controversial drilling technique known as ‘fracking’ has some wondering if a U.S. natural gas boom is worth the risks.
Jean-Michel Roberge, Mikko Mönkkönen, Tero Toivanen, Janne Kotiaho. Retention forestry and biodiversity conservation: a parallel with agroforestry. Nature Conservation, 2013; 4 (0): 29 DOI: 10.3897/natureconservation.4.5116
The Wild Nature Institute is pleased to share with you our new video “Forests Born of Fire.” Western US forests burned by high-intensity fire are important and rare wildlife habitat — but widespread policies of salvage logging and logging intended to prevent the likelihood of fire on private and public lands harms this habitat. Our video demonstrates the beauty and life found where burned forests are left to wild nature. The video was filmed in burned forests of the Lassen National Forest of California. The idea was conceived, the script written, the footage gathered, and the video narrated and edited entirely by biologists studying wildlife that use burned forests! Thanks to everyone involved in making this video.
March 21, 2013 — Conservationists have renewed urgent calls for effective marine protection in European waters, after a new study revealed that the recent EU ban on fish discards could have a significant short-term effects on seabirds. The research, led by scientists from Plymouth University in collaboration with RSPB and with funding from NERC, found the new EU policy, outlawing the dumping of fish at sea, is unlikely to pose a serious lasting threat to most seabirds, but recommends the need to build resilience into seabird populations by protecting habitats and ensuring a sufficient supply of food. For several decades, a number of seabird species have grown accustomed to feeding on discards, the excess catch thrown back into the sea mostly because fishermen have exceeded their quotas. Buoyed by this bonanza, populations of several seabird species have boomed. However, in the biggest change in European fisheries management for a generation, last month the European Parliament voted to scrap the controversial practice of discarding…. > full story
Where, oh where, has the road kill gone? (March 18, 2013) — Millions of birds die in the US each year as they collide with moving vehicles, but things have been looking up, at least in the case of cliff swallows. Today’s swallows are hit less often, thanks to shorter wingspans that may help them take off more quickly and pivot away from passing cars. … > full story
Swarm intelligence: New collective properties of swarm dynamics uncovered (March 15, 2013) — A new study of animal swarms uncovers some new features of their collective behavior when overcrowding sets in. Swarming is the spontaneous organized motion of a large number of individuals. It is observed at all scales, from bacterial colonies, slime molds and groups of insects to shoals of fish, flocks of birds and animal herds. Now physicists have uncovered new collective properties of swarm dynamics. … > full story
Throughout humankind’s history, we’ve driven species after species extinct: the passenger pigeon, the Eastern cougar, the dodo … But now, says Stewart Brand, we have the technology (and the biology) to bring back species that humanity wiped out. So — should we? Which ones? He asks a big question whose answer is closer than you may think. More at: http://longnow.org/revive/
Beekeepers from California and across the United States filed suit Thursday in federal court in San Francisco. They’re suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failing to protect bees from dangerous pesticides. This is the season when delicate pink blooms are exploding on California’s almond trees. But beekeepers are scrambling to find enough insects to pollinate the crops. And some of them are homing in on pesticides as a possible factor in unusually high rates of bee deaths. They’re particularly worried about pesticides called “neonicotinoids,” which are applied to seeds, helping them grow into more pest-resistant plants. The EPA says these pesticides are safer for humans and mammals than chemicals sprayed on crops.But beekeepers point to research showing the chemicals harm bees, and say federal regulators have been slow to re-evaluate the pesticides. The beekeepers are suing to compel the EPA to reclassify the chemicals as an “imminent hazard” to bees, and move swiftly to restrict their use…
Carolyn Lochhead San Francisco Chronicle Mar 21 2013
Several U.S. grocery chains have agreed not to sell a genetically engineered salmon that is nearing approval from the Food and Drug Administration after 17 years of development, a group of environmental and consumer groups said Wednesday. Food… more »
[...] Salazar said the joint federal-state wetlands protection initiative that began here in 2007 is a model for continued efforts to restore the Gulf Coast, after decades of erosion and negligence that preceded even Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and… more »
March 20, 2013 — Scientists are arguing for a set of six Sustainable Development Goals that link poverty eradication to protection of Earth’s life support. The researchers argue that in the face of increasing … > full story
CLIMATE CHANGE AND EXTREME EVENTS
Pakistani flood victims move to higher grounds in 2011. (Photo credit: AAP)
Posted: 21 Mar 2013 07:38 AM PDT By Vladimir Petoukhov and Stefan Rahmstorf, via The Conversation
The northern hemisphere has experienced a spate of extreme weather in recent times. In 2012 there were destructive heat waves in the U.S. and southern Europe, accompanied by floods in China. This followed a heat wave in the U.S. in 2011 and one in Russia in 2010, coinciding with the unprecedented Pakistan flood — and the list doesn’t stop there. Now we believe we have detected a common physical cause hidden behind all these individual events: Each time one of these extremes struck, a strong wave train had developed in the atmosphere, circling the globe in mid-latitudes. These so-called planetary waves are well-known and a normal part of atmospheric flow. What is not normal is that the usually moving waves ground to a halt and were greatly amplified during the extreme events. Looking into the physics behind this, we found it is due to a resonance phenomenon. Under special conditions, the atmosphere can start to resonate like a bell. The wind patterns form a regular wave train, with six, seven or eight peaks and troughs going once around the globe (see graph). This is what we propose in a study published this week together with our colleagues of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)…..
….However, during several recent extreme weather events these planetary waves almost froze in their tracks for weeks. So instead of bringing cool air after having brought warm air before, the heat just stays. And stays. And stays. In fact, we detected a strong amplification of the usually weak, slowly moving component of these waves. Time is critical here: two or three days of 30°C are no problem, but 20 or more days lead to extreme heat stress. Since many ecosystems and cities are not adapted to this, prolonged hot periods can result in a high death toll, forest fires, and devastating harvest losses.
…..What does climate change have to to with it?
Climate change caused by greenhouse-gas emissions from fossil-fuel burning does not bring a uniform global warming. In the Arctic, the warming is amplified by the loss of snow and ice. This in turn reduces the temperature difference between the Arctic and, for example, Europe. Yet temperature differences are a main driver of air flow, thereby influencing the planetary waves. Additionally, continents generally warm and cool more readily than the oceans.
These two factors are crucial for the mechanism now detected. They result in a changing pattern of the mid-latitude air flow, so that for extended periods the slow waves get trapped. The irregular surface temperature patterns disturb the global air flow. This analysis is based on equations that our team of scientists developed, mathematically describing the wave motions in the extra-tropical atmosphere. The conclusions drawn from the equations were tested using standard daily weather data from the US National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP).
During recent periods in which several major weather extremes occurred, the trapping and strong amplification of particular waves — like “wave seven” (which has seven troughs and crests spanning the globe) — was observed. The data show an increase in the occurrence of these specific atmospheric patterns.
This analysis helps to explain the increasing number of unprecedented weather extremes. It complements previous research that already showed that climate change strongly increases the number of heat records around the world, but which could not explain why previous records were broken by such stunning margins. The findings should significantly advance the understanding of weather extremes and their relation to man-made climate change.
The new data show that the emergence of extraordinary weather is not just a linear response to the mean warming trend, and the proposed mechanism could explain that.
Still, things are not at all simple. The suggested physical process increases the probability of weather extremes, but additional factors certainly play a role as well, including natural variability. Also, the 32-year period studied in the project provides a good indication of the mechanism involved, yet is too short for definitive conclusions.
So there’s no smoking gun on the table yet — but quite telling fingerprints all over the place.
Ten times more hurricane surges in future [with 2C warming], new research predicts (March 18, 2013) — How much worse will the frequency of extreme storm surges get as temperatures rise in the future? How many extreme storm surges like that from Hurricane Katrina, which hit the U.S. coast in 2005, will there be as a result of global warming? New research shows that there will be a tenfold increase in frequency if the climate becomes two degrees Celsius warmer. … > full story
Posted: 19 Mar 2013 03:53 AM PDT Project status: This project began in January, 2012 and is projected to be completed in December, 2015
We are supporting the development of a management model to predict impacts of ocean acidification on food webs and the fishing economy in the California Current. The model will project how effects of ocean acidification, low oxygen, temperature changes, and fishing pressure might interact to influence fish populations and fishing economies…..
According to the historical record dating back to 1895, 2012 was the hottest year this country has ever seen. But it’s not just that the temperature has risen — from deadly tornadoes to the widespread coastal damage inflicted by Superstorm Sandy, we seem to be living through a period of intensified and heightened weather extremes……Gillis notes that there is “robust, healthy science” that provides evidence of climate change. Within the scientific mainstream, however, he says there is a considerable range of views about the risks we’re running by causing what is essentially (on …
March 21, 2013 NOAA issued the three-month U.S. Spring Outlook today, stating that odds favor above-average temperatures across much of the continental United States, including drought-stricken areas of Texas, the Southwest and the Great Plains. Spring promises little drought relief for most of these areas, as well as Florida, with below- average spring precipitation favored there. Meanwhile, river flooding is likely to be worse than last year across the country, with the most significant flood potential in North Dakota.”This outlook reminds us of the climate diversity and weather extremes we experience in North America, where one state prepares for flooding while neighboring states are parched, with no drought relief in sight,” said Laura Furgione, deputy director of NOAA’s National Weather Service. “We produce this outlook to help communities prepare for what’s likely to come in the next few months and minimize weather’s impacts on lives and livelihoods. A Weather-Ready Nation hopes for the best, but prepares for the worst.” The U.S. Spring Outlook identifies the likelihood of spring flood risk and expectations for temperature, precipitation and drought. The outlook is based on a number of factors, including current conditions of snowpack, drought, soil moisture, streamflow, precipitation, Pacific Ocean temperatures and consensus among climate forecast models….
Yes, The Modern Instruments Are Right. Just Ask The Coral. Or The Caves. Or The Ice Cores. Or The….
Posted: 20 Mar 2013 12:17 PM PDT
Here’s some good news for science: NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, the University of South Carolina, the University of Colorado, and the University of Bern in Switzerland have found that the warming trend can be revealed using not a single thermometer: A new compilation of temperature records etched into ice cores, old corals, and lake sediment layers reveals a pattern of global warming from 1880 to 1995 comparable to the global warming trend recorded by thermometers. This finding, reported by a team of researchers from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, the University of South Carolina, the University of Colorado, and the University of Bern in Switzerland, resolves some of the uncertainty associated with thermometer records, which can be affected by land use changes, shifts in station locations, variations in instrumentation, and more…..
Anderson, D. M., E. M. Mauk, E. R. Wahl, C. Morrill, A. J. Wagner, D. Easterling, and T. Rutishauser (2013), Global warming in an independent record of the past 130 years. Geophys. Res. Lett., 40, 189–193, doi:10.1029/2012GL054271. Jan 16 2013
 The thermometer-based global surface temperature time series (GST) commands a prominent role in the evidence for global warming, yet this record has considerable uncertainty. An independent record with better geographic coverage would be valuable in understanding recent change in the context of natural variability. We compiled the Paleo Index (PI) from 173 temperature-sensitive proxy time series (corals, ice cores, speleothems, lake and ocean sediments, historical documents). Each series was normalized to produce index values of change relative to a 1901–2000 base period; the index values were then averaged. From 1880 to 1995, the index trends significantly upward, similar to the GST. Smaller-scale aspects of the GST including two warming trends and a warm interval during the 1940s are also observed in the PI. The PI extends to 1730 with 67 records. The upward trend appears to begin in the early 19th century but the year-to-year variability is large and the 1730–1929 trend is small.
Sustainable Development Goals must sustain people and planet, experts say (March 20, 2013) — Scientists are arguing for a set of six Sustainable Development Goals that link poverty eradication to protection of Earth’s life support. The researchers argue that in the face of increasing pressure on the planet’s ability to support life, adherence to out-dated definitions of sustainable development threaten to reverse progress made in developing countries over past decades. … > full story
If you’ll forgive me for stating the obvious: Most people don’t understand climate change very well. This includes a large proportion of the nation’s politicians, journalists, and pundits — even the pundits who write about it. (I’m looking at you, Joe Nocera.)
One reason for the widespread misunderstanding is that climate change has been culturally coded as an “environmental problem.” This has been, in all sorts of ways, a disaster. Lots of pundits, especially brain-dead “centrist” pundits, have simply transferred their framing and conception of environmental problems to climate. They approach it as just another air pollution problem.
However, there are two features of climate change that make it importantly different from other environmental problems, not just in degree but in kind. And these differences have important public policy implications.
The first difference is that carbon dioxide is not like other pollutants.
To make this clear, let’s use the old bathtub analogy. The faucet is the source of the pollutant. The tub is the environment. And the drain represents the means by which the pollutant exits the environment. The key fact to remember: The damage to public health is determined by the total amount of pollutant in the tub.
Take a familiar air pollutant like particulate matter. We are spewing it into the air from tailpipes and smokestacks (the faucet). It leaves the air through simple gravity (the drain). Most of it falls to earth in days or weeks. So when it comes to the particulate-matter bathtub, the drain is very large. We can reduce the total level of particulate matter in the tub any time we want; all we have to do is turn the faucet down, or off, and the tub will drain rapidly.
Carbon dioxide is not like that. Once it’s in the tub, it stays there for up to 100 years before it drains out. And the drain in the bathtub (so-called “sinks” that absorb carbon out of the air, like oceans and forests) is comparatively small relative to the enormous amounts coming out of the faucet. And by the way, we’re actively making the drain smaller by cutting down forests and carbon-loading the oceans.
This makes for a very different situation. Even if we cut our emissions by a third tomorrow, we would still be increasing the total amount in the bathtub:
The typical climate-policy targets that get thrown around — reducing emission rates by 80 percent by 2050, for example — are relatively meaningless. They focus on the rate of flow from the faucet. But that’s not what matters. What matters is the amount in the tub. If the tub fills up enough, global average temperature will rise more than 2 degrees C and we’ll be in trouble. Avoiding that — staying within our “carbon budget” — is the name of the game.
The public-policy implications are straightforward: Because CO2 is slow to drain, and the damages are cumulative, we need to reduce the amount of CO2 we’re spewing out of the faucet now, as much as possible, as quickly as possible. Yes, we’ll need new technologies and techniques to drive emissions down near to zero, and we should R&D the hell out of them. But we absolutely cannot afford to wait. There is no benign neglect possible here. Neglect is malign.
The second difference is that climate change is irreversible.
As Joe Romm notes in a recent post, New York Times columnist Joe Nocera slipped up in his latest column and referred to technology that would “help reverse climate change.” I don’t know whether that reflects Nocera’s ignorance or just a slip of the pen, but I do think it captures the way many people subconsciously think about climate change. If we heat the planet up too much, we’ll just fix it! We’ll turn the temperature back down. We’ll get around to it once the market has delivered economically ideal solutions.
This paper shows that the climate change that takes place due to increases in carbon dioxide concentration is largely irreversible for 1,000 years after emissions stop. Following cessation of emissions, removal of atmospheric carbon dioxide decreases radiative forcing, but is largely compensated by slower loss of heat to the ocean, so that atmospheric temperatures do not drop significantly for at least 1,000 years. [my emphasis]
This is not the time cycle of particulate pollution — days or weeks — it is the time cycle of the Earth’s basic biophysical systems, which move much more slowly. A thousand years is not “forever,” but in terms of human agency it might as well be.
The damage we’re doing now is something the next 40 to 50 generations will have to cope with, even if we stop emitting CO2 tomorrow. And the CO2 we’ve already released has locked in another 50 or 100 years of damage (because of the slow draining). There is no “reversing” climate change. There is only reducing the amount we change the climate.
Both these facts about climate change set it apart from other environmental problems. They also, for what it’s worth, set it apart from social problems like poverty, crime, or poor health care. All of those problems are serious; they all have an impact on public health. But they can all be measurably affected by public policy within our lifetimes. They are bad but they are not cumulative. They are not becoming less solvable over time.
New Report on Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Opportunities ReleasedMarch 21, 2013
U.S. agriculture consists of more than 2 million farms that collectively manage more than 922 million acres of cropland, grassland pasture, and range. These farms exhibit immense diversity across a
wide array of economic, production, socio-demographic, geographic, and environmental characteristics. This diversity can and will affect where and when producers and land managers choose to adopt specific technologies and practices that mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Under contract with USDA’s Climate Change Program Office, ICF International has prepared a report identifying and describing specific technologies and practices that individual farm operations could adopt in their crop and livestock production systems and in their land management decisions that would result in greenhouse gas benefits. The report examines how this set of GHG mitigation options could be implemented by farm size, commodity produced, and region of the country. For each option, the report contains:
1. A detailed technical description of the technology or practice;
2. Estimates of farm-level costs for implementing the technology or practice for a set of typical farms;
3. Estimates of the farm-level GHG mitigation potential associated with adoption; and
4. Estimates of the costs required for implementation…
California should start a state-run bank to finance economic development that’s less polluting and more environmentally friendly, financed by auctions of greenhouse-gas carbon credits, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom said. The Green Infrastructure Bank, which would make low- interest loans to local governments or private business for projects that would help reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, would have the authority to sell tax-exempt and taxable municipal revenue bonds, according to legislation sponsored by Newsom, a Democrat and former San Francisco mayor.
California’s first-in-the-nation law sets a maximum for carbon emissions from power generators, oil refineries and others, to lower greenhouse gases. Under the legislation’s cap- and-trade program, industries that can’t make the required reductions can buy allowances allocated and auctioned by the state and a limited number of offset credits generated from projects that reduce emissions.
“The intent of the legislation is to centralize greenhouse gas-reducing financing to a central bank which can leverage private capital to mitigate risk and exponentially increase infrastructure financing,” Newsom, 46, said in a statement yesterday. The state Air Resources Board sold 23.1 million allowances at $10.09 each during its first auction Nov. 14 and another 12.9 million at $13.62 during its second in February.
The suit contends the Clean Water Act specifically says water running through ditches and culverts built to handle storm water from logging roads is a source of pollution when it flows directly into a river. Activists could cite different… more »
Billionaire Democratic philanthropist Tom Steyer, who’s bankrolled two successful California environmental ballot measures, is making an aggressive new political play — putting his money and muscle into a combative Massachusetts Senate race sure to highlight the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline.
….But on Monday morning, Steyer will publicly challenge Lynch on that front — issuing a formal a letter accusing him of making false claims about Keystone, including how many jobs it will produce. The letter charges that a recent U.S. State Dept. report has “identified only 35 permanent jobs that will be created by Keystone.” Steyer and environmentalists want Lynch to respond to that claim, and to provide sworn evidence that the Keystone produced oil will stay in the U.S. They’re giving Lynch until Friday at high noon to respond, according to their letter.
And if he doesn’t, the real campaign begins, the letter says. Steyer backers say he promises ”a robust field effort” to target climate change voters, an education campaign using “guerilla marketing tools” to inform Bay State voters on the issues, and releasing a series of studies and investigative reports on Lynch — and the issue.
On Monday the Senate held a symposium under the auspices of Sen. Tom Carper’s (D-DE) office — “Climate Change Actions under the Clean Air Act: Reducing Power Plant Emissions without Harming the Economy” — bringing together representatives from both clean energy groups and the energy industry to explore how greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing power plants could be regulated under the Clean Air Act. The Supreme Court has ruled that under that law, the Environmental Protection Agency must regulate carbon dioxide emissions if it finds them to be a danger to public health and the environment — which it has. The EPA is already finalizing rules for new power plants, with rules for existing plants anticipated to be in the works, which brings us to the symposium’s question of just how to apply those powers….. The three main parts are:
1. Set a different carbon emission rate for each individual state…
2. Allow plants an array of tools for meeting their emission rate….
3. Allow energy efficiency to also earn credits. … To qualify, these energy efficiency programs would have to meet rigorous standards laid out in NRDC’s report….
RESOURCES and REFERENCES
Climate Change with John Steinbruner, Director, Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland, University of Maryland
Event Start Time: 1:00 PM Central Time (CT) – Chicago/Dallas
Event Length: 1-1.5 hours
Event Capacity: 1500 Attendees
Participant Instructions: The web conference is scheduled to begin at 1:00 PM Central Time on March 26, 2013. You may join the web conference 15 minutes prior to the scheduled start by clicking Webinar Login: http://emsp.intellor.com/login/411822 Dial-in: After you’ve connected your computer, audio connection instructions will be presented If you need technical support or additional information regarding our events, please visit our portal at http://emsp.intellor.com/portal/usdanrcsevents3 or contact AT&T Connect Support at 1-888-796-6118 If you are unable to join the web conference from a computer, you can find audio only instructions at http://events.uc.att.com/events/integrate/PhoneAccessPage/OCCSAccessNumbers.asp?ExEventID=411822 Preparing your computer: If you do not prepare ahead, please join 15 minutes before the session begins as the AT&T Connect Participant Software will be loaded as you join the event. Please use this link to prepare your computer: http://www.uc.att.com/support/download_attc_participant.html
Dr. James Strittholt and Dr. Tosha Comendant will present an overview of the Data Basin platform (www.databasin.org). The presentation will include specific examples of LCCs in the Southeast US who are using Data Basin as their conservation data sharing and planning platform. The existing LCC sites are focused on giving casual GIS users (e.g., managers, biologists, coordinators, administrators, etc) better access to consistent and compatible spatial datasets and simple geoprocessing tools. We will also discuss efforts at the National LCC level to connect data sharing and web-based tools with LC Map.
Title: Powered by Data Basin: Supporting the LCCs with Spatial Data, Analytical Tools, and Social Networks
Date: Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Time: 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM PDT
Managing for resilience in the face of climate change: a scientific approach to targeted oyster restoration in San Francisco Bay and Elkhorn Slough, California
Workshop Date: Wed April 17 Time: 10 am – 3 pm Location: State Coastal Conservancy, 11th floor conf room, 1330 Broadway, Oakland CA (steps from 12th St. BART and meter and lot parking)
Workshop Goals: To provide updates on data collected over the past year, and get feedback from end-users working on native oyster protection and restoration on the desired analyses and development of final products. We want this data to be useful to YOU!
* Climate change- brief presentation on downscaled predictions for region as relevant for oysters
* Field monitoring, Lab experiments, and Connectivity results to date
* Decisions end-users are making with native oyster projects, and their general info needs
* Examples of decision support tools and how you can apply them to your work
* Your feedback throughout so we can learn what sort of tools and products would be most likely to be used
Arlington, Virginia (March 14, 2013)—The potential impacts of climate change are already influencing the choices that coastal communities, resource managers, and conservation practitioners are making for ecosystems and infrastructure. To help planners and managers prepare for the far-reaching effects of these changes, the EBM Tools Network today released a free publication, Tools for Coastal Climate Adaptation Planning: A guide for selecting tools to assist with ecosystem-based climate planning
The guide is designed to assist practitioners responsible for understanding and preparing for climate-related effects. By focusing on software and web-based applications that leverage geospatial information, Tools for Coastal Adaptation Planning will help these professionals account for the health and well-being of ecosystems and human communities in projects and plans.
The guide targets practitioners and decision makers involved in conservation, local planning, and the management of coastal zones, natural resources, protected areas, habitat, and watersheds in the coastal United States including the Great Lakes. In addition to detailed information about a key collection of visualization, modeling, and decision support tools, Tools for Coastal Climate Adaptation Planning offers instructive case studies about how other professionals have successfully applied the tools in a several coastal communities in the United States. Professionals from inland and international regions will also benefit from the guide’s tool information and lessons. Funded with the support of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Keith Campbell Foundation for the Environment, Tools for Coastal Climate Adaptation Planning can be downloaded for free at www.natureserve.org/climatetoolsguide.
June 23-29, 2013 ~ Shepherdstown, West Virginia 9-12th grades
The Green Schools Alliance (GSA) in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is accepting applications and nominations for the 2013 Student Climate & Conservation Congress (Sc3), the nation’s premier week-long environmental leadership training program. All students entering 9-12th grade, and a limited number of school faculty or staff, who have demonstrated outstanding leadership in their schools or communities are invited to apply to become a U.S. Green School Fellow and attend this extraordinary event at the nation’s premier training facility, the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, WV.
The CA Coastal Conservancy is soliciting applications for grants for projects that facilitate and enhance the public’s opportunities to “Explore the Coast.” This includes projects that enhance visitors’ ability to learn about natural, recreational, cultural and historic resources of the California and San Francisco Bay shorelines. Explore the Coast grants will support a wide range of activities including communication and outreach, economic development related to coastal tourism, and development of interpretive information and/or education materials. The grants are for up to $50,000 and proposals must be submitted by May 10th, 2013.
TED Talks—the way we think about charity is dead wrong
A THOUGHT FOR TODAY: We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy — sun, wind and tide. … I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that. -Thomas Edison, inventor (1847-1931)
Elementary School Students Crowdfund Their Own Solar-Powered Classroom
March 20, 2013 A class of elementary school students in Durham, North Carolina recently set out on a mission to make their classroom 100% solar powered. The fourth grade class started a Kickstarter campaign: Our Solar Powered Classroom for that purpose, and they greatly exceeded their goal. The class has stated that the extra funds will be used to purchase a larger system, which will then sell back electricity to the community. As you’ll see below, the class whizzed past their initial goal….
Like the blooms, always fickle in a drought, you never know what might happen. [...] to know that lots of poppies are blooming this week along North Gate Road at Mount Diablo State Park and that the vicinity of Murchio Gap near Donner Falls out… more »
Does Greek coffee hold the key to a longer life? (March 18, 2013) — The answer to longevity may be far simpler than we imagine; it may in fact be right under our noses in the form of a morning caffeine kick. The elderly inhabitants of Ikaria, the Greek island, boast the highest rates of longevity in the world, and many scientists turn to them when looking to discover the ‘secrets of a longer life’. … > full story
San Francisco billionaire, investor, philanthropist and environmentalist Tom Steyer has emerged as a political force in California in recent years, backing two successful environmental ballot measures. Now the former hedge fund manager is taking a greater role on the national stage, particularly in the fight against climate change. He was even in the running to become President Obama’s next energy secretary. Host: Michael Krasny Guests: Thomas Steyer, co-founder Next Generation, a research and communications organization focused on climate change and families; founder and former co-managing partner of Farallon Capital Management….
Over 12,000 people have signed a petition started by a 15-year-old girl to keep climate change in the national curriculum for under 14-year-olds.
IMAGES OF THE WEEK
Weather Extremes: Atmospheric Waves And Climate Change The northward wind speed (negative values, blue on the map, indicate southward flow) in the mid-latitudes of the northern hemisphere. During the extreme event (a record-breaking heat wave in the US), the normally weak and irregular waves were replaced by a strong and regular wave pattern. (Credit: Vladimir Petoukhov)
Sometime, about one year from now, the front pages of whatever decent newspapers are left will carry a headline like the one above, announcing that for the first time in human existence (or in nearly a million years, or 3 million years, or 15 million years), the global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide — the principal gas causing climate change — will have passed 400 parts per million (ppm).
That’s a significant and shocking figure. Unfortunately, it’s only a temporary marker on the way to even higher and higher levels. Here are the most recent (March 2013) data from the Mauna Loa observatory showing the inexorable increase in atmospheric CO2 and the rapid approach to 400 ppm.
There is a range of estimates around the detailed time record of atmospheric composition, and the study of changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations over the billions of years of the Earth’s existence is an exciting area for research. A commonly cited figure with strong evidence comes from measurements of air trapped in ancient ice cores obtained from Antarctic ice. We now have a detailed 800,000 year record, which shows clearly that atmospheric CO2 levels never approached 400 ppm during this period.
In December 2009, a research team from UCLA published a paper in Science that suggested we would have to go back at least 15 million years to find carbon dioxide levels approaching today’s levels. This research used isotopic analysis of shells in deep sea sediments, and reported that CO2 concentrations may not have exceeded 400 parts per million since the Mid-Miocene Climatic Optimum (MMCO) — between 16 and 14 million years ago. The MMCO was associated with reduced planetary ice volumes, global sea levels 25 to 40 meters higher than today, and warmer ocean temperatures. Decreasing CO2 concentrations after that were associated with substantial global cooling, glaciations, and dropping sea levels.
Gavin Schmidt of NASA’s GISS has pointed me to research in a December 2011 article in the journal Paleoceanography by Gretta Bartoli, Bärbel Hönisch, and Richard E. Zeebe, reporting on paleoclimatic records that suggest CO2 concentrations (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) may have been around 400 ppm between 2 and 4.6 million years ago. This evidence comes from isotopes measured in planktic foraminifer shells spanning 2.0 to 4.6 million years ago and indicates that atmospheric CO2 estimates during the Pliocene gradually declined from just above 400 ppm to around 300 ppm in the early Pleistocene 2 million years ago.
800,000 years ago? Three million years ago? 15 million years ago? More research will continue to clarify the variability of Earth’s atmospheric composition over time, as well as the impacts for the planet as a whole of screwing with it. (That’s a technical term…)
But the more important point to remember is that never in the history of the planet have humans altered the atmosphere as radically as we are doing so now. And the climatic consequences for us are likely to be radical as well, on a time-scale far faster than humans have ever experienced.
– Dr. Peter Gleick is a climatologist. This post originally appeared on Science Blogs and is reprinted here with permission.
… Here’s an ugly addendum. A colleague has pointed to a new paper in PNAS that concludes:
“with CO2 stabilized at 400–450 ppm (as required for the frequently quoted “acceptable warming” of 2 °C), or even at AD 2011 levels of 392 ppm, we infer a likely (68% confidence) long-term sea-level rise of more than 9 m above the present. Therefore, our results imply that to avoid significantly elevated sea level in the long term, atmospheric CO2 should be reduced to levels similar to those of preindustrial times.” http://www.pnas.org/content/110/4/1209.abstract.
Marine diversity study proves value of citizen science (March 12, 2013) — Citizen science surveys compare well with traditional scientific methods when it comes to monitoring species biodiversity, according to researchers. A new study shows that methods to record marine diversity used by amateurs returned results consistent with techniques favored by peer-reviewed science. … He said: “The results of this study are important for the future of citizen science and the use of data collected by these programs. Allowing volunteers to use flexible and less standardised methods has important consequences for the long term success of citizen science programs. Amateur enthusiasts typically do not have the resources or training to use professional methodology. Our study demonstrates the quality of data collected using a volunteer method can match, and in some respects exceed, protocols used by professional scientists. Enlisting the help of a large pool of volunteers helps professional researchers collect valuable data across many ecosystems. The popularity of SCUBA diving has resulted in monitoring of the underwater environment on a scale that was previously impossible. For example, the REEF method has been used by volunteers in more than 160,000 underwater surveys across the world. It would have cost many millions of pounds for professionals to have undertaken the same work.Very few, if any, scientific groups can collect data on the scale that volunteer groups can, so our proof that both methods return consistent results is very encouraging for citizen science in general. I think we will really see the value of volunteer schemes increase in future. We’re living in a world that’s changing very significantly. Environmental changes are having a big impact on ecosystems around us so we need to harness new ways of measuring the effect….” > full story
Ben G. Holt, Rodolfo Rioja-Nieto, M. Aaron MacNeil, Jan Lupton and Carsten Rahbek. Comparing diversity data collected using a protocol designed for volunteers with results from a professional alternative. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 2013; DOI: 10.1111/2041-210X.12031
VIDEO: How Cows Could Repair the World – Allan Savory at TED For decades people have pointed to overgrazing by cattle as the main cause of once-fertile grasslands turning to rapidly eroding, nearly lifeless deserts. These desertified landscapes are then incapable of supporting the livestock themselves, agriculture, or large wild animals that once lived in great numbers on the same land. This is what has led to famine and conflict in different areas around the world. Growing up in Kenya, Allan Savory was terribly moved by this. In his recent TED talk, Savory talked about his experiences with desertification. The failure of earlier attempts to halt desertification combined with his estimation that two-thirds of Earth is now desertifying inspired Savory to search for a new approach to protecting and restoring grasslands.
Logging debris gives newly planted Douglas-fir forests a leg-up (March 12, 2013) — The downed limbs and other woody debris that are inevitable byproducts of timber harvest could be among the most important components of post-harvest landscapes, according to a new study. … “At levels typically left after forest harvesting, where 40 percent of the ground is covered by logging debris, we found that debris inhibited the growth of competing herbaceous vegetation and so preserved soil water,” said Tim Harrington, a research forester with the station and the study’s lead. “This means that just leaving typical levels of debris in place after forest harvesting helps new Douglas-fir seedlings to become established.” > full story
Timothy B. Harrington, Robert A. Slesak, Stephen H. Schoenholtz. Variation in logging debris cover influences competitor abundance, resource availability, and early growth of planted Douglas-fir. Forest Ecology and Management, 2013; 296: 41 DOI: 10.1016/j.foreco.2013.01.033
Spain: Technologies At the Service of Ecosystem Restoration Researchers at the Universidad Politecnica of Madrid have developed techniques for species recovery of damaged ecosystems in dry Mediterranean regions. The ecosystem restoration in semidry areas is a priority and a complex challenge due to the difficulties presented by natural agents to restoration. The massive implantation of vegetal covers over the whole field would be a solution, but it is an expensive task and it has high failure rates. Therefore, searching for other possible solutions, a researcher at the School of Forestry of the UPM along with experts from other institutions have launched a strategy to boost the restoration process by introducing key species in specific areas or in diversity in the shape of islands.
Mosquitos by the droves. Polluted coastal waters. Increased storm surge vulnerability. Loss of habitat for crabs, shellfish and vast numbers of beautiful bird species including sparrows and rails . These are just some of the potential consequences of loss of salt marshes around the country, many of which are now listed as “habitats of concern.”
Salt marshes are among the most ecologically productive and diverse ecosystems in the United States. They provide important services such as floodwater storage and storm protection for coastal cities such as New Orleans. Healthy marshes also serve essential roles in carbon sequestration, a service of primary concern at current emission rates of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, nutrient removal and water purification.
However, global climate change and sea level rise, agricultural and industrial development and loss of sediment supply are contributing to dramatic rates of wetland loss worldwide. In the Gulf Coast region, these and other factors – many still largely under-studied – are driving salt marsh loss at unprecedented rates. While salt marches are famously valued for their function in nutrient removal, improving water quality by filtering runoff and removing sediment, nutrients, pesticides, metals, and other pollutants , new research suggests that these marshes are not impervious to the damaging effects of natural and artificial nutrient accumulation…..
“We wanted to understand the impacts of increased nutrients including nitrogen and phosphorus – also known as coastal eutrophication – on all aspects of saltmarshes, from plant production, to decomposition, to food webs that lead to fish and birds, to the long-term ability of marshes to keep up with sea-level rise,” Deegan said.
In a nine-year whole-ecosystem experiment, Deegan and colleagues used a microcomputer to add controlled amounts of a solution of concentrated nitrogen and phosphorous to incoming tidal water in tidal creeks in Plum Island Estuary , allowing the water to flood the marsh the way enriched coastal waters would in real-world processes. The site of the study, a large marsh in northeastern Massachusetts, is otherwise generally untouched by nutrient pollution. The experiment involved adding nutrients to the twice-daily flooding tides for a total of nine years, from 2004 to 2012, during growing seasons, enriching about 30,000 square meters of marsh in several experimental creek systems. In this way, the researchers could definitively study the impacts of nutrient addition on salt marsh health.
“This experiment is unique in the world – and given some of the difficulties we encountered we have a better appreciation for why!” Deegan said. “For example, it can be challenging to keep electrical components and computers working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week during the growing season for 9 years in a salt water environment.”
Despite physical challenges, the whole-ecosystem experiment paid off in a big way, providing results not predicted by previous marsh models based on small plot experiments.
“Our biggest success is that we have found responses that simply would not be observed if we had added dried fertilizer to small sections of the marsh as is typically done. Our experiment allowed the interaction of many parts of the marsh resulting in an unexpected response – the creek banks fell apart.”
“In only five to seven years, the edge of the marsh is literally falling apart,” Fleeger said in an official university press release ……
Whale’s streaming baleen tangles to trap food (March 13, 2013) — Many whales filter food from water using racks of baleen plates in their mouths, but no one had ever investigated how baleen behaves in real life. According to an expert, baleen was viewed as a static material, however, he discovered that baleen streams in water just like long hair and fringes from adjacent baleen plates tangle to form the perfect net for trapping food at natural whale swimming speeds. … > full story
By Ron Meador | 09:37 am March 2013A magazine devoted to the single subject of “Why Birds Matter” might have proved irresistible even if it weren’t an issue of Audubon, which certainly knows the territory. And then there was the gorgeous, approximately life-size cover photo of a Florida grasshopper sparrow, about to follow the passenger pigeon into history.
So when the March-April issue turned up a few days ago, this novice birder parked by a sunny window with a view of the suet feeders and read it from cover to cover, learning that birds matter to Audubon writers and editors because:
They are essential to the function of healthy ecosystems, transferring pollen and distributing seeds and disposing of carrion (including road kill, which also carries a financial benefit to many a municipal budget).
Because they perform important functions in agriculture, like pest control. For example, the coffee-berry borers in Jamaica’s Blue Mountains can’t be fought with pesticides, wasps or any other reliable means save the black-throated blue warblers nature has conveniently placed there.
Because they inspire us to innovation in technology and design, from Alexander McQueen’s feathery fashions to a new style of jet aircraft with adjustable wings.
Because birds and birding are economic engines, driving significant business in tourism, manufacturing and, of course, publishing:
In an economic analysis released in 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service calculated that, based on a 2006 survey, birders spend $12 billion annually on travel, plus an additional $24 billion on equipment like binoculars, camping gear and nest boxes. That money ripples through the economy and generates $82 billion in output, employs 671,000 people, and enriches state and federal governments by $10 billion.
These ways of valuing species are of course familiar to the conservation-minded, whether or not their particular interests run to birding, though I imagine there are fresh examples for almost every reader.
Some Primitive Birds Flew With 4 Wings, Study Says
New York Times
- Mar 15 2013
First, paleontologists spread the word that modern birds are actually living dinosaurs. Then came the news from China that some dinosaurs and related reptiles long ago seemed to be marvelous four-winged creatures, seemingly on standby at some runway …
Ornithologists agree that in the United States no group of birds is declining faster than the grassland species that live in or migrate through agricultural areas…. But a new study by two Canadian toxicologists raises an old specter. They found that collapsing bird populations were more strongly correlated with insecticide use than with habitat alteration — that, in fact, pesticides were four times more likely to be linked with bird losses than any other cause…..
Farmers who commit totally to sell locally can make a profit (March 8, 2013) — Farmers can make a profit selling their produce directly to local businesses, but they must not let possible new costs weaken their commitment to the new venture, according to an international team of researchers. … Farmers can capture additional revenue for the venture through higher prices and improved sales margins, the researchers said. “The local foods movement is huge and retailers are wishing to meet the desires of their customers,” Sharma said. “Other research conducted by our team has found that 40 percent or more of people will pay a premium for identified local ingredients.” Most local outlets can charge a slightly higher price for goods, giving farmers a premium on products sold to those businesses. Selling produce themselves, instead of through a distribution company, may also improve margins for the farmers, since they are not losing revenue to the distributor.
“Farmers may find that their margins may be higher when they sell locally,” Sharma said. “They are cutting out the middleman.”….> full story
Turning Off the Dams and Letting Rivers Come Alive River restoration is a societal goal in the United States. As a new book contributing to the GSA’s Reviews in Engineering Geology series was about to be submitted for publication, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation turned off the generators to the Elwha Dam in Washington State. This collection of 14 research papers focuses on what is currently known about the impacts of removing dams and the role of dam removal in the larger context of river restoration. Editors Jerome De Graff of the U.S. Forest Service and James Evans of Bowling Green State University write, “It seems fitting that publication of this volume and the actual start of restoration on the Elwha River should coincide.” The book has 14 chapters grouped by topic with a numerous case studies about specific river restoration projects around the United States.
Monarch butterflies numbers down again (March 13, 2013) — Bad news again for the Monarch butterfly: Drought conditions and historic wildfires the past few years continue to decrease their numbers as they wing across Texas this spring. Worse news: milkweed plants – the only kind they need to survive – are also not in plentiful supply. … > full story
Aging sewer systems are spilling a considerable amount of nitrogen into urban watersheds, diminishing both the quality of water and ecosystems’ habitats. However, many studies documenting the impacts of nitrogen on urban environs have not properly …
Fungi may be able to replace plastics one day (March 12, 2013) — Fungi, with the exception of shitake and certain other mushrooms, tend to be something we associate with moldy bread or dank-smelling mildew. But they really deserve more respect, say researchers. Fungi have fantastic capabilities and can be grown, under certain circumstances, in almost any shape and be totally biodegradable. And, if this weren’t enough, they might have the potential to replace plastics one day. The secret is in the mycelia. … > full story
BRIDGEWATER, N.J. (AP) — The dead vulture’s feathers snap and crack, breaking apart as its frozen wings are spread for one last flight.
It will soon soar gracefully — albeit briefly — into a tree in this hilly New Jersey suburb, hoisted to a branch where it will hang, upside down, until spring.
Wildlife officials say it’s a sure-fire way to get an estimated 100 black and turkey vultures from roosting in the neighborhood, leaving behind foul-smelling and acidic droppings on roofs and lawns, creeping out residents and even their pets. Before the black vulture’s carcass is strung up, nearly a dozen vultures glide over Bridgewater on a cool, gray Monday morning. Some perch in trees. One rests on a chimney-top. Neighborhood residents watched as wildlife specialist Terri Ombrello launched a weighted fishing line over a branch with a sling shot. She took turns with partner Nicole Rein tying the bird’s legs with another line then pulled the bird about 30 feet off the ground. Vultures may like to eat road kill but it turns out they don’t like the sight of their own dead upside down…..
CLIMATE CHANGE AND EXTREME EVENTS
Plankton adjusts to changing ocean temperatures (March 8, 2013) — 3-D imaging reveals that marine plankton automatically adjusts swimming technique in dense viscosity, but only due to temperature changes, not pollution. … “The purpose of the study was in trying to determine the effects of climate change at the very base of the food chain,” Sheng said…..As one of the most abundant animal groups on the planet, many species, including many commercially important fish species, rely on planktonic copepod nauplii at some point during their life cycle. Understanding the ability of these animals to respond to changes in the environment could have direct implications into understanding the future health of our oceans. By independently varying temperature and viscosity, Sheng recorded their movements with 3-D high speed holographic techniques developed by the Sheng lab at Texas Tech. “At 3,000 frames per second, it was like tracking a racecar through a microscope,” Sheng said. “We were able to determine that the plankton adapted to changes in viscosity by altering the rhythm of its pulsing appendage.” The response, built-in to its natural muscle fiber, was only triggered by changes in temperature, Sheng said. It could not compensate for changes in viscosity due to environmental pollution, such as algae blooms or oil spills.> full story
Amplified greenhouse effect shaping North into South (March 10, 2013) — As the cover of snow and ice in the northern latitudes has diminished in recent years, the temperature over the northern land mass has increased at different rates during the four seasons, causing a reduction in temperature and vegetation seasonality in this area. In other words, the temperature and vegetation at northern latitudes increasingly resembles those found several degrees of latitude farther south as recently as 30 years ago, new research shows. . On the amplified greenhouse effect, Prof. Ranga Myneni, Department of Earth and Environment, Boston University and lead co-author says “A greenhouse effect initiated by increased atmospheric concentration of heat-trapping gasses — such as water vapor, carbon dioxide and methane — causes the Earth’s surface and nearby air to warm. The warming reduces the extent of polar sea ice and snow cover on the large land mass that surrounds the Arctic ocean, thereby increasing the amount of solar energy absorbed by the no longer energy-reflecting surface. This sets in motion a cycle of positive reinforcement between warming and loss of sea ice and snow cover, thus amplifying the base greenhouse effect.”"The amplified warming in the circumpolar area roughly above the Canada-USA border is reducing temperature seasonality over time because the colder seasons are warming more rapidly than the summer,” says Liang Xu, a Boston University doctoral student and lead co-author of the study. “As a result of the enhanced warming over a longer ground-thaw season, the total amount of heat available for plant growth in these northern latitudes is increasing. This created during the past 30 years large patches of vigorously productive vegetation, totaling more than a third of the northern landscape — over 9 million km2, which is roughly about the area of the USA — resembling the vegetation that occurs further to the south,” says Dr. Compton Tucker, Senior Scientist, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland... > full story
Heat-stressed cows spend more time standing (March 12, 2013) — Animal scientists have found that cows stand for longer bouts of time on hot days. Standing allows cows to cool off, but standing also uses up more energy. If cows are encouraged to lie down, they may be more healthy and productive. … > full story
Monsoon failure key to long droughts in Southwest (March 11, 2013) — Long-term droughts in the Southwestern North America often mean failure of both summer and winter rains, according to new tree-ring research. For the severe, multi-decadal droughts that occurred from 1539 to 2008, both winter and summer rains were sparse year after year. The finding contradicts the commonly held belief that a dry winter rainy season is generally followed by a wet monsoon season, and vice versa. … > full story
The last decade was the hottest on record. And the data make clear the planet is still warming, despite deniers’ disinformation to the contrary. But a new study does explain one reason surface temperatures did not rise quite as much as scientists expected in the past decade – JR.
In the search for clues as to why Earth did not warm as much as scientists expected between 2000 and 2010, researchers have discovered the answer is hiding in plain sight. The study, led by a scientist from NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), showed that dozens of volcanoes spewing sulfur dioxide have tempered the warming.
The findings essentially shift the focus away from Asia, including India and China, two countries that are estimated to have increased their industrial sulfur dioxide emissions by about 60 percent from 2000 to 2010 through coal burning, said lead author Ryan Neely, a CIRES scientist working at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory. Small amounts of sulfur dioxide emissions from Earth’s surface eventually rise 12 to 20 miles into the stratospheric aerosol layer of the atmosphere, where chemical reactions create sulfuric acid and water particles that reflect sunlight back to space, cooling the planet.
Neely said previous observations suggest that increases in stratospheric aerosols since 2000 have counterbalanced as much as 25 percent of the warming scientists attribute to human greenhouse gas emissions. “This new study indicates it is emissions from small to moderate volcanoes that have been slowing the warming of the planet,” said Neely.
A paper on the subject was published online in Geophysical Research Letters, a publication of the American Geophysical Union. Co-authors include Professors Brian Toon and Jeffrey Thayer from CU-Boulder; Susan Solomon, a former NOAA scientist now at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Jean Paul Vernier from NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.; Christine Alvarez, Karen Rosenlof and John Daniel from NOAA; and Jason English, Michael Mills and Charles Bardeen from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder.
The new study relies on long-term measurements of changes in the stratospheric aerosol layer’s “optical depth,” which is a measure of transparency, said Neely. Since 2000, the optical depth in the stratospheric aerosol layer has increased by about 4 to 7 percent, meaning it is slightly more opaque now than in previous years.
“The biggest implication here is that scientists need to pay more attention to small and moderate volcanic eruptions when trying to understand changes in Earth’s climate,” said Toon of CU-Boulder’s Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. Overall these eruptions are not going to counter the human caused greenhouse warming, he said. ”Emissions of volcanic gases go up and down, helping to cool or heat the planet, while greenhouse gas emissions from human activity just continue to go up.”….
Canadian Arctic glacier melt accelerating, irreversible, projections suggest (March 12, 2013) — Ongoing glacier loss in the Canadian high Arctic is accelerating and probably irreversible, new model projections suggest. The Canadian high Arctic is home to the largest clustering of glacier ice outside of Greenland and Antarctica — 146,000 square kilometers (about 60,000 square miles) of glacier ice spread across 36,000 islands. … > full story
Dried sunflowers are seen in a field near the Bulgarian capital Sofia in August 2012. After the harshest winter in decades, the Balkans were facing the hottest summer and the worst drought in nearly 40 years. The record-setting average temperatures — steadily rising over the past years as the result of the global warming — have ravaged crops, vegetable, fruit and power production in the region which is already badly hit by the global economic crisis. (AP Photo/Valentina Petrova)
A new study published in the journal Science provides context for just how dramatic our planet’s recent warming trend is. In the last century, during which humans have been burning fossil fuels on a widespread scale, the planet’s temperatures have changed more dramatically than they had during all of recorded human history — more dramatically than they had since the last ice age ended.
“We already knew that on a global scale, Earth is warmer today than it was over much of the past 2,000 years,” said Shaun Marcott of Oregon State University, the paper’s lead author. “Now we know that it is warmer than most of the past 11,300 years.” The planet’s gradual warming and cooling phases are largely caused by the Earth’s tilt as it orbits around the sun. During the period the OSU and Harvard University research team reconstructed, temperatures increased gradually until about 7,000 years ago, then began decreasing again. If not for human influence, Earth would be in a very cold period today. But soon after the industrial revolution happened, the planet began to warm.
“This research shows that we’ve experienced almost the same range of temperature change since the beginning of the industrial revolution as over the previous 11,000 years of Earth history — but this change happened a lot more quickly,” said Candace Major, program director in the National Science Foundation, which helped fund the study.
Researchers said that if this trend continues, the planet will be warmer in 2100 than at any point during the last 11,300 years for which they have data.
What will that mean for America?
A draft of a report released by a government advisory committee in January gives us some idea. The analysis, by the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee (NCADAC), details how climate change will devastate different regions of the U.S. and specific sectors of the American economy. Some examples: Areas where agriculture takes place will shift, and by 2050, most of climate change’s impacts on American agriculture will be negative. Summer droughts will intensify because of changes in precipitation and rising temperatures. In the long run, many southern American states and Hawaii could experience water shortages because of rising temperatures and falling levels of rainfall. America’s transportation infrastructure will be incapacitated. Current health crises will be amplified and new ones will emerge. Plant and wildlife in some regions will change so much as to make the given region “almost unrecognizable.” The list of what America has to prepare for is long, and communities around the country will experience their own spectra of different, devastating effects…..
Hurricane Sandy approaches the Atlantic coast of the U.S. in the early morning hours of October 29, 2012. (NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon, using VIIRS Day-Night Band data from the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership.)
Scientists Investigate How Climate Change Affects Extreme Weather
By Adam Voiland Design by Robert Simmon March 5, 2013 NOAA Earth Observatory
Few images are as beautiful and as terrifying as a satellite view of a hurricane about to make landfall. On October 29, 2012, the Suomi NPP satellite captured an ominous nighttime view of Sandy—an enormous hybrid storm that was part hurricane, part Nor’easter—churning off the coast of New Jersey. The string of city lights that stretches from Washington to Boston was mostly gone, blanketed by thick, ghostly storm clouds. One of the most brightly lit cities in the world, New York, was little more than a faint smudge through Sandy’s clouds. In a matter of hours, that smudge of light would go dark. Large swaths of Manhattan were under water. The Rockaways were on fire. Rooftops along the New Jersey shore became temporary islands for people escaping a wall of seawater that surged inland…..
Mar. 14, 2013 – Geoengineering, the use of human technologies to alter Earth’s climate system — such as injecting reflective particles into the upper atmosphere to scatter incoming sunlight back to space — has emerged as a potentially promising way .
By Kerry Sanders, NBC News Correspondent March 11, 2013
It’s hard to believe when each day of a trip tops the last, but Antarctica was just that: A show-stopper every day.
The weather shifted on our second day. The wind picked up and the temperatures dropped. We hit about 31 degrees, and it started to flurry. But with a steady 17-mph wind, and some gusts into the 30-mph range, it became uncomfortable. Of course, I was aboard the Quark Expedition ship, a 400-foot long ice-resistant vessel, where it’s only a few steps away from the deck to the warmth inside the cabins. I had hoped to experience a landing at Planeau Bay, but the weather remained uncooperative. We did venture out in choppy two-foot swells by way of the smaller Zodiac vessels….
…..Today, legislators from the House and Senate responded to the President’s call. Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) released a discussion draft of a bill that would charge polluters for the carbon pollution they release into the air, reducing the pollution responsible for fight climate change.
Be sufficiently robust that it leads to meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas pollution, getting us on a path that helps us avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change. In addition to being high enough to affect pollution rates, the tax should also increase over time and be applicable to non-carbon-dioxide greenhouse gases such as methane. This would both ensure a continuing reduction in the release of carbon dioxide and also encourage companies to move toward cleaner energies instead of different dirty ones.
Encourage businesses to make new investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This will stimulate the economy and put people back to work in the burgeoning clean-tech and green-jobs sectors.
Reduce—not increase—economic vulnerability of low-income households by ensuring that they are fairly compensated for any increase in energy prices.
Have appropriate mechanisms to protect existing American businesses and prevent so-called pollution leakage to countries without similar systems in place. Leakage occurs if highly polluting industries simply move to other countries that don’t have a comparable limit on pollution; in this way, they can continue business as usual without stricter environmental regulations. Leakage can also happen if domestic industries shut down, causing us to import goods from other countries.
Reduce the budget deficit to prevent draconian cuts in vital domestic programs by raising revenue from the tax.
The draft bill from Waxman, Whitehouse, Blumenauer, and Schatz meets these principles. It suggests a price of $15-30 per ton of carbon dioxide, which is sufficient to significantly reduce pollution. The bill collects the fee from midstream entities that already report greenhouse gas pollution data to the government, so it creates no large new bureaucracy. The draft also seeks comment on the best ways to spend the revenue, including consumer protection and deficit reduction.
By Ben Geman and Zack Colman – 03/12/13 06:59 PM ET
The conservative House Republican Study Committee and a number of outside groups will continue a trend: publicly slamming carbon tax proposals that already lack political traction. Their Capitol Hill press conference will feature lawmakers and groups like Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform and Americans for Prosperity, and discuss the “harmful impacts of a carbon tax on American families and small businesses,” an advisory states. The House lawmakers will introduce a resolution “opposing efforts to implement a national carbon tax.” The White House has said repeatedly that it’s not going to pitch a carbon tax, and the concept lacks enough support to clear either chamber of Congress. But the idea has gained more currency in policy-wonk circles of late as a way to address emissions and, perhaps, help tackle the deficit (although some plans would offset the revenue with cuts to other taxes)….
The State Department’s latest environmental assessment of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline makes no recommendation about whether President Obama should approve it. Here is ours. He should say no, and for one overriding reason: A president who has repeatedly identified climate change as one of humanity’s most pressing dangers cannot in good conscience approve a project that — even by the State Department’s most cautious calculations — can only add to the problem.
The 875-mile pipeline avoids the route of an earlier proposal that traversed the ecologically sensitive Sand Hills of Nebraska and threatened an important aquifer. It would carry 830,000 barrels a day of crude oil from the tar sands of Alberta to pipelines in the United States and then onward to refineries on the Gulf Coast. From there, most of the fuel would be sent abroad.
To its credit, the State Department acknowledges that extracting, refining and burning the oil from the tar-laden sands is a dirtier process than it had previously stated, yielding annual greenhouse gas emissions roughly 17 percent higher than the average crude oil used in the United States. But its dry language understates the environmental damage involved: the destruction of the forests that lie atop the sands and are themselves an important storehouse for carbon, and the streams that flow through them. And by focusing on the annual figure, it fails to consider the cumulative year-after-year effect of steadily increasing production from a deposit that is estimated to hold 170 billion barrels of oil that can be recovered with today’s technology and may hold 10 times that amount altogether.
It is these long-term consequences that Mr. Obama should focus on. Mainstream scientists are virtually unanimous in stating that the one sure way to avert the worst consequences of climate change is to decarbonize the world economy by finding cleaner sources of energy while leaving more fossil fuels in the ground. Given its carbon content, tar sands oil should be among the first fossil fuels we decide to leave alone.
Supporters of the pipeline have argued that this is oil from a friendly country and that Canada will sell it anyway. We hope Mr. Obama will see the flaw in this argument. Saying no to the pipeline will not stop Canada from developing the tar sands, but it will force the construction of new pipelines through Canada itself. And that will require Canadians to play a larger role in deciding whether a massive expansion of tar sands development is prudent. At the very least, saying no to the Keystone XL will slow down plans to triple tar sands production from just under two million barrels a day now to six million barrels a day by 2030.
The State Department will release a fuller review in early summer, and at some point after that the White House will decide. That decision will say a lot about whether Mr. Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry, are willing to exert global leadership on the climate change issue. Speaking of global warming in his State of the Union address, Mr. Obama pledged that “if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.” Mr. Kerry has since spoken of the need to safeguard for coming generations a world that is not ravaged by rising seas, deadly superstorms, devastating droughts and other destructive forces created by a changing climate.
In itself, the Keystone pipeline will not push the world into a climate apocalypse. But it will continue to fuel our appetite for oil and add to the carbon load in the atmosphere. There is no need to accept it.
A version of this editorial appeared in print on March 11, 2013, on page A20 of the New York edition with the headline: When to Say No.
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A summit of city mayors will convene in February of next year in Johannesburg, to discuss ways to fight global climate change. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who serves as chairman of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, announced plans Tuesday along with Johannesburg Mayor Parks Tau for the fifth biennial C40 Cities Mayors Summit. “Cities around the world, particularly C40 cities, are taking meaningful actions that have quantifiable outcomes. As a result – as our research shows – we are having a real impact combating the impacts of global climate change,” Bloomberg said in a news release. “While nations and international bodies meet to talk about these issues, the C40 Cities Mayors Summit is focused on the concrete actions we can take to protect the planet and grow our cities.” C40 was started in 2005 and is a network of cities around the world looking to implement local actions that can impact climate change.
The group notes that while cities only occupy 2 percent of the whole land mass of the earth, they contain more than 50 percent of its population. Cities also use two thirds of the earths’ energy and generate over 70 percent of its carbon emissions…..
After Hurricane Katrina, the Army Corps of Engineers worked on levee improvements in New Orleans to avoid the construction shortfalls that occurred during the 2005 storm. Climate adaptation is becoming part of business for federal agencies such as the Army Corps of Engineers, which is building new levees, dams and buildings to withstand higher sea-level rise and extreme weather events.
As Congress remains unwilling and unable to deal with climate change, federal government agencies — even without the blessing of lawmakers — have been thinking about, and quietly acting on, climate change for years. The Army Corps of Engineers, for instance, is building new levees, dams, buildings and other infrastructure to withstand higher sea-level rise and more extreme weather events. The Defense Department is making decisions about its current and future installations based on the expectation that sea levels will rise. And NASA has assessed its sites and is considering how to manage higher water at places such as Cape Canaveral, Fla. Climate adaptation is becoming part of the normal course of business for some federal agencies.
“If you get the processes into the bones of the organization, you can weather out the political climate,” said William D. Goran, director of the Army Corps of Engineers’ Center for the Advancement of Sustainability Innovations. Adapting to climate change is easier to tackle than mitigating the causes of global warming because efforts to stem greenhouse gas emissions have to be undertaken globally to have an effect. Adaptation consists of actions that each agency can take on its own. “For the future,” Goran said, “we are going to have to adapt.”
There are signs that the political climate is becoming more receptive to addressing climate adaptation. The supplemental bill to assist areas affected by Superstorm Sandy required the Army Corps of Engineers to assess and evaluate its infrastructure for future storms….
House Democrats will make a series of speeches on the House floor in the coming weeks to call for a congressional response to climate change.
“There are a number of us who plan on speaking every day on the House floor on the need for Congress to take action on climate change,” Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) said on the House floor.
“We’re making this commitment because this chamber is filled with such a large collection of climate deniers,” he said. “It’s here in Congress, though, where a long-term strategy to address this issue will have to be crafted if we’re to avoid the worst-case scenario and the catastrophic consequences of climate change.
“There should be complete consensus on the science of climate change — that the higher concentrations of greenhouse gasses over the past 50 years are due to human activity, that the rapid increase in global temperature could not have been caused by natural factors alone, and that the severe temperatures and extreme weather events we’ve experienced in recent years, including the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy, all fit into the predictive pattern of global climate change.”
The commander of the US Navy’s Pacific operations is warning that the impact of climate change will be the biggest new security threat to the region, which is already volatile due to threats by North Korea’s government and China’s growing military power.
Republican eminence grise George Shultz addressed a packed room on Capitol Hill Friday to press for a carbon tax. He spent three days in Washington with scientists from MIT and Stanford to talk about advances in alternative fuels, including a potential “game changing” breakthrough under way at Stanford that could quadruple the driving range of lithium ion batteries, putting electric cars on a par with internal combustion engines. A Californian now at the conservative Hoover Institution who taught economics at MIT and the University of Chicago and is one of only two people ever to hold four cabinet posts, Shultz proposed putting all forms of energy “on a level playing field” by incorporating the cost of the carbon pollution they emit by taxing carbon at its source. Not including carbon emissions in the price of energy, he said, is like a football game where Cal gets 6 downs and Stanford gets two.
Once carbon pollution is included in energy prices, Shultz would “wipe out” subsidies to all fuels, fossil, nuclear and renewable, and let market forces determine the mix. Carbon tax revenues under his plan would be remitted to consumers periodically in the form of a “carbon dividend check.” Modeled on Alaska’s Permanent Fund, the plan is similar in concept to legislation proposed by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) except that it would remit all revenues to consumers…..
RESOURCES and REFERENCES
Webinar: Understanding and Overcoming Barriers to Adopting Living Shorelines Thursday March 21, 2013 from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM EDT – an online event.
Living shorelines provide a “softer,” more natural response to flooding and erosion. However, this type of response is often more difficult to implement than “hard armoring” (such as levees). Please join us for a webinar on March 21 as experts discuss a Georgetown Climate Center report that analyzes the regulatory challenges to implementing living shorelines and presents different methods states could use to encourage these types of projects. Practitioners in Maryland and Alabama will also discuss their experiences integrating living shorelines into their own state programs. This is the second webinar in a series that features planning and policy experts who seek to help coastal communities make the tough decisions necessary to adapt to climate change. Please RSVP for the webinar below. To receive the call-in number, materials, and webinar details, please complete the registration process.
Register Now! http://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/eventReg?llr=jqyxyciab&oeidk=a07e75zfflm81ddebb0&oseq=a022evgubo320b EPA –Webcast #1: Achieving Buy-In for Adaptation
The first webcast will be held from 1:00pm-2:30pm EDT on Thursday, March 21st and will address the challenge of achieving community buy-in for adaptation projects. Through presentations on best practices, case studies, and an interactive panel, experts will discuss how to integrate resilience considerations into mainstream decision-making and how to simultaneously address mitigation and adaptation. Register now.
Overview: What is risk communication? Who should be on board? What types of stakeholders in your community should reach out to for project support? (Cara Pike, The Social Capital Project)
Best Practices: Educating the community on climate impacts using best available science (Cynthia Rosenzweig, NASA)
Case Study: How to communicate risk to key communities (Nancy Gilliam/Gwen Griffith, Climate Solutions University)
Case Study: How to establish community buy-in (Jonathan Lockman, Catalysis Adaptation Partners)
Facilitated Panel Discussion
Webcast #2: Overcoming the Uncertainty Barrier to Adaptation
The second webcast will be held later in the spring (date/time TBD) and will address the challenge of planning for climate change in the face of uncertainty. Through presentations on best practices, case studies, and an interactive panel, experts will discuss how to look at historical information to understand future vulnerability and how to use downscaling tools that are appropriate for local governments of various sizes and capacities.
Webcast #3: Attracting Funding for Adaptation
The third webcast will be held later in the spring (date/time TBD) and will focus on how to secure funding for adaptation. The presentations will provide examples of how communities of various sizes have attracted funding and provide available resources for participants to identify appropriate funds. The experts who present on this webcast will discuss how to maximize funding by mainstreaming adaptation planning and how to simultaneously address adaptation and mitigation.
PROJECT BACKGROUND: The Sierra Nevada foothills wildlife connectivity project focuses on the northern Sierra Nevada foothills (NSNF), encompassing a narrow band of low to mid-elevation habitat approximately 275 miles long that runs from Shasta County to Madera County. The NSNF represents an important movement corridor between the low elevations of the Central Valley and the mountains of the Sierra Nevada. The foothills provide key habitat areas for species such as mule deer that migrate seasonally between high elevations in the Sierra’s during the summer and lower elevations in the foothills during the winter. The oak woodlands in the foothills also provide an important food source (acorns) for many species ranging from birds, to rodents, to large mammals.
PROJECT OBJECTIVES: The objective of this project is to build on the statewide California Essential Habitat Connectivity model completed in 2010. This project will take a finer-scale look at connectivity within the NSNF and between the NSNF and adjacent protected lands in the Central Valley and Sierra Nevada, using species-specific data to model connections between blocks of protected lands.
MEETING GOAL is to identify wildlife connectivity areas (wildlife linkages) across the foothills ecoregion. We need to have participation from interested organizations/agencies/individuals to identify lands to connect the Sierra Nevada Mountains, foothills and Central Valley. We intend to make the resulting wildlife linkages map widely available for incorporation into conservation planning activities including wildlife crossings, conservation prioritization and land-use planning.
EXPERTISE IS NEEDED from local land trusts, agencies, universities and other organizations to identify lands that are vital for wildlife connectivity. The workshop will provide a forum for gathering local and regional knowledge about wildlife movement patterns and important conservation lands across the ecoregion. Please bring any land ownership/management GIS data that may help identify boundaries of conservation lands.
August 27-29, 2013 – “Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment” ALC3184
October 28-November 1, 2013 – “Climate Smart Conservation” ALC3195 – development led by the National Wildlife Federation.
Registration for these courses is through DOILearn at http://training.fws.gov/
2013 Conservation Easement Applications for Wetlands and Grasslands- Due April 5 The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in California has set April 5, 2013, as the deadline for considering projects for the 2013 Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) and Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) funding. WRP is a voluntary program that provides farmers, ranchers and other private landowners compensation for land placed in wetland conservation easements, and cost-share funding for restoring degraded wetlands. WRP includes permanent easements that pay 100 percent of the easement value and restoration costs, and 30-year easements that pay up to 75 percent of the easement value and restoration costs. WRP also offers a 10-year restoration-only option without an easement.
The Coastal-Marine Ecosystem-Based Management Tools Network (www.ebmtools.org) is a respected global network of conservation and resource management practitioners coordinated by NatureServe. The network promotes methods and tools for improving conservation and management in coastal and marine environments and their watersheds.
NatureServe (www.natureserve.org) is an international conservation nonprofit dedicated to providing the scientific basis for effective conservation action. Its network of more than 80 member organizations collects and maintains a unique body of knowledge about the species and ecosystems of the Western Hemisphere. Its scientists, technologists, and other professionals build on this scientific information to provide information products, data management tools, and biodiversity expertise that helps meet local, national, and global conservation needs throughout the Americas and around the world.
A new study out of Stanford University, scheduled to be published in the journal Energy Policy, argues that New York State can eliminate fossil fuels from its energy mix entirely by 2050. Written by Mark Z. Jacobson and Mark A. Delucchi — who helped produce a similar plan for the world as a whole in 2009 — along with several other coworkers, the report suggests that New York State’s end-use power could be supplied by a mix of various forms of solar, wind power, and water-based and geothermal sources. That goal could be met as early as 2030, and all conventional fossil fuel generation would be phased out no later than 2050….
major points of the plan are:
Replace all fossil fuel electricity with solar, wind, and other renewables. This would include mostly offshore wind and some onshore, together supplying about half the state’s energy needs. Standard solar arrays and concentrated solar power systems, plus wide deployment of residential rooftop solar (a goal already getting a boost from third-party leasing, among other things) as well as commercial and governmental rooftop solar, would deliver another 38 percent of the state’s energy. A mix of hydroelectric, wave, tidal, and geothermal would fill in the rest. The offshore wind would arguably be the most dramatic project, requiring an area of ocean surface equivalent to about 4.6 percent of New York State’s land area.
Replace all combustion-driven transportation with electricity and hydrogen. Standard passenger cars would go electric, while most larger road vehicles, non-road machines, ships, and trains would be driven by hydrogen fuel cells and hydrogen combustion. Electricity and ground sources would provide heating and air conditioning, and electricity and hydrogen combustion would power industrial processes.
Efficiency retrofits to reduce energy demand. Residential, commercial, institutional, and government buildings would be updated with improved insulation, lighting, and heat and filtration systems. Solar power would be more broadly used for lighting, water heating, and passive seasonal heating and cooling. Future infrastructure would be framed towards encouraging public transit use and telecommuting.
Delucchi went into more detail with NY Times blogger Andrew Revkin on how the study’s authors think these goals could be hit in practical terms.
The plan also involves deploying a smart grid to manage these various energy sources, as well as integrating weather forecasting into operations. The researchers chose not to include natural gas since it remains an emitter of carbon dioxide and methane, and because the extraction of natural gas remains highly carbon-intensive. More interestingly, they decided not to include biofuels either, due to their inefficiency in comparison to electricity for transportation, the high land-use required to grow either corn or cellulosic feedstocks in comparison to land-use of wind, and because the agricultural production of biofuel crops offsets a lot of the carbon reduction and creates other pollution.
According to Stacy Clark at HuffPost, Jacobson estimated the total cost for the project at $600 billion — no small ask. However, Jacobson and his co-authors also estimate the project would create 4.5 million jobs during construction, and maintain 58,000 permanent jobs thereafter. Using rough metric’s economists have developed for estimating the financial value of a human life, as well as the costs to New York State from deaths due to pollution-induced illnesses, they also estimate the project would pay for itself in 17 years.
By JUSTIN GILLIS (NYT) March 12, 2013 Compiled: 12:55 AM
At a legendary but secretive laboratory in California, Lockheed Martin is working on a plan that some employees hope might transform the world’s energy system: a practicable type of nuclear fusion. Some 900 miles to the north, Bill Gates and another Microsoft veteran, Nathan Myhrvold, have poured millions into a company developing a fission reactor that could run on today’s nuclear waste. And on the far side of the world, China has seized on discarded American research to pursue a safer reactor based on an abundant element called thorium.
Beyond the question of whether they will work, these ambitious schemes pose a larger issue: How much faith should we, as a society, put in the idea of a big technological fix to save the world from climate change? A lot of smart people are coming to see the energy problem as the defining challenge of the 21st century. We have to supply power and transportation to an eventual population of 10 billion people who deserve decent lives, and we have to do it while limiting the emissions that threaten our collective future.
Yet we have already poured so much carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere that huge, threatening changes to the world’s climate appear to be inevitable. And instead of slowing down, emissions are speeding up as billions of once-destitute people claw their way out of poverty, powered by fossil fuels. Many environmentalists believe that wind and solar power can be scaled to meet the rising demand, especially if coupled with aggressive efforts to cut waste. But a lot of energy analysts have crunched the numbers and concluded that today’s renewables, important as they are, cannot get us even halfway there. “We need energy miracles,” Mr. Gates said in a speech three years ago introducing his approach, embodied in a company called TerraPower. ….
WASHINGTON – With few options available for financing his clean-energy ambitions, President Obama on Friday will propose diverting $2 billion in revenue from federal oil and gas leases over the next decade to pay for research on advanced vehicles, …
By SUSAN L. BRANTLEY and ANNA MEYENDORFF (NYT) March 14, 2013 Compiled: 12:57 AM
Environmentalists should consider the pros and cons of fracking in comparison with other technologies. …So, should the United States and Europe encourage fracking or ban it? Short-run economic interests support fracking. In the experience of Pennsylvania, natural gas prices fall and jobs are created both directly in the gas industry and indirectly as regional and national economies benefit from lower energy costs. Europe can benefit from lessons learned in Pennsylvania, minimizing damage to the local environment. The geopolitical shift that would result from decreasing reliance on oil, and more specifically on Russian oil and gas, is one that European politicians might not want to ignore. And if natural gas displaces coal, then fracking is good not only for the economy but also for the global environment. But if fracked gas merely displaces efforts to develop cleaner, non-carbon, energy sources without decreasing reliance on coal, the doom and gloom of more rapid global climate change will be realized.
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN NY Times Published: March 9, 2013
I HOPE the president turns down the Keystone XL oil pipeline. (Who wants the U.S. to facilitate the dirtiest extraction of the dirtiest crude from tar sands in Canada’s far north?) But I don’t think he will. So I hope that Bill McKibben and his 350.org coalition go crazy. I’m talking chain-themselves-to-the-White-House-fence-stop-traffic-at-the-Capitol kind of crazy, because I think if we all make enough noise about this, we might be able to trade a lousy Keystone pipeline for some really good systemic responses to climate change. We don’t get such an opportunity often — namely, a second-term Democratic president who is under heavy pressure to approve a pipeline to create some jobs but who also has a green base that he can’t ignore. So cue up the protests, and pay no attention to people counseling rational and mature behavior. We need the president to be able to say to the G.O.P. oil lobby, “I’m going to approve this, but it will kill me with my base. Sasha and Malia won’t even be talking to me, so I’ve got to get something really big in return.”
Face it: The last four years have been a net setback for the green movement. While President Obama deserves real praise for passing a historic increase in vehicle mileage efficiency and limits on the emissions of new coal-fired power plants, the president also chose to remove the term “climate change” from his public discourse and kept his talented team of environmentalists in a witness-protection program, banning them from the climate debate. This silence coincided with record numbers of extreme weather events — droughts and floods — and with a huge structural change in the energy marketplace.
What was that change? Put simply, all of us who had hoped that scientific research and new technologies would find cheaper ways to provide carbon-free energy at scale — wind, solar, bio, nuclear — to supplant fossil fuels failed to anticipate that new technologies (particularly hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling at much greater distances) would produce new, vastly cheaper ways to tap natural gas trapped in shale as well as crude oil previously thought unreachable, making cleaner energy alternatives much less competitive.
It’s great that shale gas is replacing coal as a source of electricity, since it generates less than half the carbon dioxide. As the oil economist Philip Verleger Jr. notes in the latest edition of the journal International Economy, these breakthroughs will also lead to much more oil and gas at lower prices, which will help American consumers, manufacturers and jobs. But, he adds, “it will be harder and harder to push for renewable energy programs as hydrocarbon prices fall,” and “the new technologies that allow us to tap shale oil and shale gas could release vast quantities of methane” if not done properly. Methane released in the atmosphere contributes much more to climate change than CO2.
If Keystone gets approved, environmentalists should have a long shopping list ready, starting with a price signal that discourages the use of carbon-intensive fuels in favor of low-carbon energy. Nothing would do more to clean our air, drive clean-tech innovation, weaken petro-dictators and reduce the deficit than a carbon tax. One prays this will become part of the budget debate. Also, the president can use his authority under the Clean Air Act to order reductions in CO2 emissions from existing coal power plants and refiners by, say, 25 percent. He could then do with the power companies what he did with autos: negotiate with them over the fairest way to achieve that reduction in different parts of the country. We also need to keep the president’s feet to the fire on the vow in his State of the Union address to foster policies that could “cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next 20 years.” About 30 percent of energy in buildings is wasted.
Finally, the president could make up for Keystone by introducing into the public discourse the concept of “natural infrastructure,” argues Mark Tercek, the president and chief executive of The Nature Conservancy, and the co-author of “Nature’s Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature. “Forests, wetlands and other ecosystems are nature’s infrastructure for controlling floods, supplying water, and doing other things we need to adapt to climate change,” Tercek wrote in an e-mail. “Before Hurricane Sandy, Cape May, N.J., had the foresight to restore its dunes and wetlands to provide storm protection and wildlife habitat. When Sandy struck, Cape May was spared the damage that neighboring towns suffered.”
Since the president is rightly calling for infrastructure investment, which makes sense at a time of high unemployment, added Tercek, “he should emphasize natural infrastructure as well. Federal programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Farm Bill can be expanded to make communities more resilient; changes in the tax code and other federal rules can incentivize private investment.” So, sure, we need to be realistic about our near-term dependence on fossil fuels, or we will pay a big price. But we also need to be realistic about the need to keep building a bridge to a different energy future, or we will pay an even bigger price. Let’s make sure we don’t forget the latter in the Keystone debate.
Sean Lennon, Yoko Ono, and a flotilla of celebrities sing a song titled “Don’t Frack My Mother” that opposes fracking in New York State. The video has some actual information in it, but you’ll get distracted by the sustained barrage of familiar faces. And the fact that they rhyme:
Now we can’t afford for this world to get hotter
And we can’t afford polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons in our water
That’s gotta be a first time PAHs have appeared in a pop song
Graph of temperature change over past 11,300 years (via Science, 2013).
A stable climate enabled the development of modern civilization, global agriculture, and a world capable of sustaining billions of people. Now, the most comprehensive “Reconstruction of Regional and Global Temperature for the Past 11,300 Years” ever done reveals just how stable the climate has been — and just how destabilizing manmade carbon pollution has been and will continue to be unless we dramatically reverse emissions trends. Researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) and Harvard University their findings today in the journal Science (subs. req’d). The National Science Foundation, which funded the work, has a news release:
With data from 73 ice and sediment core monitoring sites around the world, scientists have reconstructed Earth’s temperature history back to the end of the last Ice Age.
The analysis reveals that the planet today is warmer than it’s been during 70 to 80 percent of the last 11,300 years.
… during the last 5,000 years, the Earth on average cooled about 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit–until the last 100 years, when it warmed about 1.3 degrees F.
In short, thanks primarily to carbon pollution, the Earth is warming 50 times faster than it has during the time modern civilization and agriculture developed, a time when humans figured out where the climate conditions — and rivers and sea levels — were most suited for living and farming. We are headed for 7 to 11°F warming this century on our current emissions path — increasing the rate of change 5-fold yet again. By the second half of this century we will have some 9 billion people, a large fraction of the whom will be living in places that simply can’t sustain them — either because it is too hot and/or dry, the land is no longer arable, the glacially fed rivers have dried up, or the seas have risen too much.
Lead author Shaun Marcott of OSU told NPR that the paleoclimate data reveal just how unprecedented our current warming is: “It’s really the rates of change here that’s amazing and atypical.” He noted with the AP, “Even in the ice age the global temperature never changed this quickly.”
And the rate of warming is what matters most, as Mann noted in an email to me: This is an important paper. The key take home conclusion is that the rate and magnitude of recent global warmth appears unprecedented for *at least* the past 4K and the rate *at least* the past 11K. We know that there were periods in the past that were warmer than today, for example the early Cretaceous period 100 million yr ago. The real issue, from a climate change impacts point of view, is the rate of change—because that’s what challenges our adaptive capacity. And this paper suggests that the current rate has no precedent as far back as we can go w/ any confidence—11 kyr arguably, based on this study.
Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University, told the AP:
“We have, through human emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases, indefinitely delayed the onset of the next ice age and are now heading into an unknown future where humans control the thermostat of the planet.”
Unfortunately, we have decided to change the setting on the thermostat from — “very stable, don’t adjust” to “Hell and High Water.” It is the single most self-destructive act humanity has ever undertaken — but there is still time to avoid the worst.
Reconstruction of Earth climate history shows significance of recent temperature rise (March 7, 2013) — Using data from 73 sites around the world, scientists have been able to reconstruct Earth’s temperature history back to the end of the last Ice Age, revealing that the planet today is warmer than it has been during 70 to 80 percent of the time over the last 11,300 years. … Of even more concern are projections of global temperature for the year 2100, when virtually every climate model evaluated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that temperatures will exceed the warmest temperatures during that 11,300-year period known as the Holocene — under all plausible greenhouse gas emission scenarios… Marcott said that one of the natural factors affecting global temperatures over the past 11,300 years is gradual change in the distribution of solar insolation associated with Earth’s position relative to the sun. “During the warmest period of the Holocene, the Earth was positioned such that Northern Hemisphere summers warmed more,” Marcott said. “As the Earth’s orientation changed, Northern Hemisphere summers became cooler, and we should now be near the bottom of this long-term cooling trend — but obviously, we are not.” Clark said that other studies, including those outlined in past IPCC reports, have attributed the warming of the planet over the past 50 years to anthropogenic, or human-caused activities — and not solar variability or other natural causes.
Surface temperature reconstructions of the past 1500 years suggest that recent warming is unprecedented in that time. Here we provide a broader perspective by reconstructing regional and global temperature anomalies for the past 11,300 years from 73 globally distributed records. Early Holocene (10,000 to 5000 years ago) warmth is followed by ~0.7°C cooling through the middle to late Holocene (<5000 years ago), culminating in the coolest temperatures of the Holocene during the Little Ice Age, about 200 years ago. This cooling is largely associated with ~2°C change in the North Atlantic. Current global temperatures of the past decade have not yet exceeded peak interglacial values but are warmer than during ~75% of the Holocene temperature history. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change model projections for 2100 exceed the full distribution of Holocene temperature under all plausible greenhouse gas emission scenarios.
Bats not bothered by forest fires, study finds (March 6, 2013) — A survey of bat activity in burned and unburned areas after a major wildfire in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains found no evidence of detrimental effects on bats one year after the fire. The findings suggest that bats are resilient to high-severity fire, and some species may even benefit from the effects of fire on the landscape. … > full story
The scientist dubbed “Dr. Doom” for his dire pronouncements about California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is retiring after 33 years working on the troubled ecosystem that’s central to California’s water supply.
Posted by NPR Food Farmers and farms | Mar 01, 2013
When it comes to pollinating our favorite crops — from coffee to watermelon — honeybees can’t do it alone. Wild bees in the field play a critical role in creating bumper crops, a massive new study reports. But these bees are disappearing, and scientists say the rise of crop monocultures is partly to blame.
‘Climate-smart strategies’ proposed for spectacular US-Canadian landscape (March 7, 2013) — A new report creates a conservation strategy that will promote wildlife resiliency in the Southern Canadian Rockies to the future impacts of climate change and road use. The report’s “safe passages and safe havens” were informed in part by an assessment of six iconic species — bull trout, westslope cutthroat trout, grizzly bears, wolverines, mountain goats and bighorn sheep — five of which were ranked as highly vulnerable to projected changes. Nestled between Glacier National Park in Montana and Banff National Park in Canada, the Southern Canadian Rockies (SCR) has been overshadowed by these towering icons of mountain splendour. Yet this southern section contains spectacular landscapes, supports one of the most diverse communities of carnivores and hoofed mammals in North America, and is a stronghold for the six vulnerable species that have been vanquished in much of their former range further south. In the report entitled Safe Havens, Safe Passages for Vulnerable Fish and Wildlife: Critical Landscapes in the Southern Canadian Rockies British Columbia and Montana, WCS Conservation Scientist John Weaver notes that wildlife will need ‘room to roam’ to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Complicating those climate-related transitions are major highways and an expansive network of forest roads that have fragmented the SRC landscape. “Providing ‘safe havens’ of secure and diverse habitats and ‘safe passages’ across the highways are climate-smart strategies,” says Weave … > full story
(Phys.org) —The effect that global warming will have on plants is now better understood thanks to advanced modelling provided by The University of Queensland’s (UQ) Professor Graeme Hammer, one of Australia’s leading crop scientists….
…Below average flood potential expected for California this spring… the spring flood potential outlook is below average for all basins in California. Dry antecedent soil moisture conditions and low snowpacks are minimizing the potential for spring snowmelt flooding.
much of the region has experienced very dry conditions after a very productive November and December. Many locations have recorded precipitation among the top ten lowest on record for the combined months of January and February. This has reduced the statewide snowpack water content from 134 percent of average near the start of January to about 66 percent for this time of the year. Some relief occurred during the early part of March…mostly in the northern and central regions of the state. However…it will take a series of strong storm systems to return the snowpack to normal conditions by April 1st… which is the typical time of maximum snowpack accumulation. It appears very unlikely that snowpacks can recover from the current deficit this late into the wet season. Note that flooding could still result from heavy rainfall alone or combined with snowmelt anytime between now and early April.
The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere underwent one of its biggest single-year jumps ever in 2012, according to researchers at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. Between the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2013, carbon dioxide levels increased by 2.67 parts per million — a rise topped only by the spike in 1998.
By comparison, global carbon levels averaged a yearly rise of just under 2 parts per million from 2000 to 2010, and increased by less than 1 part per million in the 1960s. The 2012 rise makes it that much more unlikely that global warming can be limited to the 2 degree Celsius threshold most scientist agree is the bare minimum necessary to avoid truly catastrophic levels of climate change. The Associated Press has the report:
Carbon dioxide levels jumped by 2.67 parts per million since 2011 to total just under 395 parts per million, says Pieter Tans, who leads the greenhouse gas measurement team for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
That’s the second highest rise in carbon emissions since record-keeping began in 1959. The measurements are taken from air samples captured away from civilization near a volcano in Mauna Loa, Hawaii.
More coal-burning power plants, especially in the developing world, are the main reason emissions keep going up – even as they have declined in the U.S. and other places, in part through conservation and cleaner energy.
At the same time, plants and the world’s oceans which normally absorb some carbon dioxide, last year took in less than they do on average, says John Reilly, co-director of Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change. Plant and ocean absorption of carbon varies naturally year to year.
Saharan and Asian dust, biological particles end global journey in California (March 1, 2013) — A new study is the first to show that dust and other aerosols from one side of the world influence rainfall in the Sierra Nevada. … The CalWater field campaign, funded by the California Energy Commission and led by UC San Diego and NOAA, could help western states better understand the future of their water supply and hydropower generation as climate change influences how much and how often dust travels around the world and alters precipitation far from its point of origin. .. “We were able to show dust and biological aerosols that made it from as far as the Sahara were incorporated into the clouds to form ice, then influenced the formation of the precipitation in California,” said Creamean, who conducted the fieldwork as a UCSD graduate student under Prather, the study leader. “To our knowledge, no one has been able to directly determine the origin of the critical aerosols seeding mid-level clouds which ultimately produce periods with extensive precipitation typically in the form of snow at the ground.”… Besides dust, aerosols can be composed of sea salt, bits of soot and other pollution, or biological material. Bacteria, viruses, pollen, and plants, of both terrestrial and marine origin, also add to the mix of aerosols making the transcontinental voyage. The researchers’ analysis of winter storms in 2011 found that dust and biological aerosols tend to enhance precipitation-forming processes in the Sierra Nevada. In previous studies, researchers have found that pollution particles have the opposite effect, suppressing precipitation in the Sierra Nevada….> full story
J. M. Creamean, K. J. Suski, D. Rosenfeld, A. Cazorla, P. J. DeMott, R. C. Sullivan, A. B. White, F. M. Ralph, P. Minnis, J. M. Comstock, J. M. Tomlinson, K. A. Prather. Dust and Biological Aerosols from the Sahara and Asia Influence Precipitation in the Western U.S.. Science, 2013; DOI: 10.1126/science.1227279
SYDNEY, Australia – Climate change was a major driving force behind a string of extreme weather events that alternately scorched and soaked large sections of Australia in recent months, according to a report issued Monday by the government’s Climate …\
Although this is the climatological dry season for Florida, the current level of dryness is more intense than in normal years. Since Nov. 1, 2012, Daytona Beach has received just a little more than 40 percent of its normal rainfall, making it the 7th driest period in 80 years. Credit: National Drought Mitigation Center
Drought expanded in two key areas of the country last week – Florida and West Texas – where several weeks of low rainfall have allowed already dry conditions to intensify, according to an update to the U.S. Drought Monitor released Thursday.
While much of the East Coast has seen heavy precipitation over the past two weeks, very little of that has extended into the Florida peninsula. According to the Drought Monitor, “abnormal dryness” pushed into all of southern Florida, while conditions of “severe drought” expanded in the eastern and central parts of the state. Meanwhile, relatively wet conditions in the Florida Panhandle have kept the northwestern part of the state out of drought.
A clear change in salinity has been detected in the world’s oceans, signaling shifts and acceleration in the global rainfall and evaporation cycle tied directly to climate change. In a paper published [last spring] in the journal Science, Australian scientists from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory reported changing patterns of salinity in the global ocean during the past 50 years, marking a clear symptom of climate change. Lead author Paul Durack said that by looking at observed ocean salinity changes and the relationship between salinity, rainfall and evaporation in climate models, they determined the water cycle has become 4 percent stronger from 1950-2000. This is twice the response projected by current generation global climate models. “These changes suggest that arid regions have become drier and high rainfall regions have become wetter in response to observed global warming,” said Durack, a post-doctoral fellow at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Scientists monitor salinity changes in the world’s oceans to determine where rainfall has increased or decreased. “It provides us with a gauge — a method of monitoring how large-scale patterns of rainfall and evaporation (the climate variables we care most about) are changing,” Durack said. With a projected temperature rise of 3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, the researchers estimate a 24 percent acceleration of the water cycle is possible. [JR: Actually the projected warming by century's end is closer to 5°C -- see review of literature here -- which would yield a stunning 40% acceleration of the water cycle.] Scientists have struggled to determine coherent estimates of water cycle changes from land-based data because surface observations of rainfall and evaporation are sparse. According to the team, global oceans provide a much clearer picture. “The ocean matters to climate — it stores 97 percent of the world’s water; receives 80 percent of all surface rainfall, and it has absorbed 90 percent of the Earth’s energy increase associated with past atmospheric warming,” said co-author, Richard Matear of CSIRO’s Wealth from Oceans Flagship. “Warming of the Earth’s surface and lower atmosphere is expected to strengthen the water cycle largely driven by the ability of warmer air to hold and redistribute more moisture.”…
Special report: USA TODAY will explore how climate change is affecting Americans in a series of stories this year.
Everything from your health to your home to the economy comes into play
Water is the key: Too much in some places, not nearly enough in others
Where do we go from here? Technology and humanity will likely determine that
More American children are getting asthma and allergies, and more seniors are suffering heat strokes.
Food and utility prices are rising. Flooding is overrunning bridges, swamping subways and closing airport runways.
People are losing jobs in drought-related factory closings. Cataclysmic storms are wiping out sprawling neighborhoods. Towns are sinking.
This isn’t a science-fiction, end-of-the-world scenario. Though more anecdotal than normal — today, at least — these scenes are already playing out somewhere in the United States, and they’re expected to get worse in years ahead. In fact, a remaking of America is likely in our lifetimes — a flicker in geological time. This will transform how and where we live, work and play.
Columbia Journalism Review slams Times for “outright lie” about its commitment to environmental coverage. This weekend two of the premier newspapers in the country basically abandoned the story of the century — climate change — as a specialized beat. The NY Times shut down its Green Blog (fast on the heels of dismantling its environment desk) and the Washingon Post is switching its lead climate reporter, Juliet Eilperin, off the environment beat. These epic blunders in editorial judgment essentially signal the end of the era of great national newspapers — certainly neither the New York Times nor Washingon Post qualify anymore. One can hardly be a great national newspaper while moving to slash coverage of the single most important story to the nation (and the world), the story that will have the biggest impact on the lives of readers and their children in the coming decades….
Posted: 07 Mar 2013 09:26 AM PST By Kelly Levin, via WRI Insights.
After a year of extreme weather events and recent studies outlining climate change’s impacts, it’s become increasingly clear that we must understand what emissions reduction pathways are necessary to avoid these risks. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) last Assessment Report, for example, outlined the emissions reductions needed from developed countries to stabilize concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHG) consistent with limiting warming to 2°C. Further research has continued to examine the global GHG emissions reductions necessary to avert dangerous climate change. And as countries implement existing policies and consider new ones, the scale of required emissions cuts is a fundamental question. In fact, it’s one of the most pressing questions facing the international climate change community. One new study shows that we have to reduce emissions even more than scientists initially thought in order to avoid climate change’s worst impacts. A paper published in Energy Policy on February 20 by Michel den Elzen and colleagues examines new information on likely future emissions trajectories in developing countries. This includes recent clarification of assumptions and conditions related to developing country pledges. In addition, countries have also come forward with further information on their emissions projections. As a result, the report finds that developed countries must reduce their emissions by 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 if we are to have a medium chance of limiting warming to 2°C, thus preventing some of climate change’s worst impacts.
Because nothing was done to reform cotton subsidies, the U.S. will continue to send $150 million in 2013 to Brazilian cotton farmers.
Outside of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign to urge kids to exercise more and eat better, this administration remains largely indifferent to the disaster that is the country’s outdated food and agriculture policy. U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently argued that rural America has become politically irrelevant—a possible explanation for why the House refused to even consider a vote on a new Farm Bill last year. Maybe it’s something else. It could be that the present Congress and administration are simply clueless about the severity of our food and farming crises.
Riding the coattails of the fiscal cliff bargain, the 2008 Farm Bill—three months past its “renew by” date—got a nine-month extension shortly after New Year’s Day. The extension could have included funds to preserve programs that help rural America and rebuild a food and farming system around the challenges of the 21st century. Instead, the policy—concocted in backdoor fashion without any public input—might as well have been written by lobbyists from the crop insurance, finance and agrochemical industries.
The Farm Bill extension bears little resemblance to the plan hotly debate and passed by the Senate last summer. While by no means ideal, that Senate plan would have clipped excessive commodity subsidies and reduced but still preserved important programs for conservation, organic agriculture, and rural development. This Farm Bill extension will continue sending $5 billion in direct payments to landowners whether they farm or not, whether they experience losses or not. (Both Republicans and Democrats favor eliminating such subsidies.) By extending rather than writing a new five-year Farm Bill, Congress did, however, manage to avert the dreaded “dairy cliff.” This would have reverted to a 1949 dairy subsidy program causing milk prices to spike to about $7 a gallon. …\
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama filled in more pieces of his second term leadership team Monday, nominating a trio of new advisers to lead the Energy Department, Environmental Protection Agency and budget office.
The nominations signal the White House’s desire to get back to normal business after the president and Congress failed to avert the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts that started taking effect Friday. While the president has warned of dire consequences for the economy as a result of the cuts, the White House does not want the standoff with Congress to keep Obama from focusing on other second term priorities, including making nominations for top jobs and pursuing stricter gun laws and an overhaul of the nation’s immigration system.
Two of Obama’s new nominees will also focus on another second term priority — tackling the threat of climate change. To head that effort, Obama promoted current EPA official Gina McCarthy to lead the agency and MIT scientist Ernest Moniz to run the Energy Department.
Canada’s oil sands will be developed even if President Obama denies a permit to the pipeline connecting the region to Gulf Coast refineries, the analysis said. Such a move would also not alter U.S. oil consumption, the report added. The lengthy assessment did not give environmentalists the answer they had hoped for in the debate over the project’s climate impact. Opponents say a presidential veto of the project would send a powerful message to the world about the importance of moving away from fossil fuels and make it more difficult for Canada to export its energy-intensive oil.
But the detailed environmental report — which runs close to 2,000 pages long — also questions one of the strongest arguments for the pipeline, by suggesting America can meet its energy needs over the next decade without it. The growth in rail transport of oil from western Canada and the Bakken Formation on the Great Plains and other pipelines, the analysis says, could meet the country’s energy needs for the next decade, even if Keystone XL never gets built.…..
The president is not likely to make a final decision on TransCanada’s permit application until mid-summer at the earliest. The analysis will be subject to at least 45 days of public comment once it is published next week in the Federal Register, and the State Department will have to respond to hundreds of thousands of comments before finalizing its environmental impact statement. The State Department will also have to conduct a separate analysis of whether the project is in the national interest, a question on which eight other agencies will offer input over 90 days.
Jim Lyon, vice president for conservation policy at the National Wildlife Federation, challenging the department’s analysis, saying it “fails in its review of climate impacts, threats to endangered wildlife like whooping cranes and woodland caribou, and the concerns of tribal communities.”
By vetoing the project, Lyon added, “President Obama can keep billions of tons of climate-disrupting carbon pollution locked safely in the ground. . . . Without access to major U.S. export terminals from Keystone XL and other routes, tar sands production will be substantially slowed.”….
Shipping routes across the Arctic Ocean — which have been ice-covered and impassable since humans first invented ships millennia ago — could be open to ships by mid-century.
Who said global warming is all bad? Shipping routes across the Arctic Ocean — which have been ice-covered and impassable since humans first invented ships millennia ago — could be open to ships for the first time by mid-century, thanks to climate change, a new study suggests.
This includes shipping directly across the North Pole and through the famed Northwest Passage, a sea route from Newfoundland toward the Bering Strait, neither of which has ever been done. The study appears in Monday’s edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Plus. “Nobody’s ever talked about shipping over the top of the North Pole,” according to study lead author Laurence C. Smith, a geography professor at UCLA. “This is an entirely unexpected possibility.” The earliest that sea routes would be taken directly over the North Pole and through the famed Northwest Passage would likely be in the 2040s or 2050s, Smith says. This sort of shipping would also only occur in late summer and early autumn, he adds: The prime month would be September, when Arctic sea ice is at its annual minimum. “The development is both exciting from an economic development point of view and worrisome in terms of safety, both for the Arctic environment and for the ships themselves,” says Smith.
USA TODAY announced in its cover story today that it will be doing a year-long series on climate change, sending reporters around the U.S. to examine how climate change is already affecting Americans. The series, “Weathering The Change,” comes at a time when climate change coverage – including at USA TODAY – has been relatively low in the U.S.
USA TODAY covered climate change the least of the major national newspapers in the context of the 2012 presidential election. It entirelyignored how climate change has worsened fire risks in the Western U.S. in its print coverage of the destructive 2012 wildfires. It only mentioned ocean acidification once between January 2011 and June 2012, and ignored a study that found that the Great Barrier Reef has declined by 50 percent in the past 27 years largely due to human activities. And it closed its green blog in September 201
By combining aquaculture with wet paddy farming in its coastal areas Bangladesh can meet food security and climate change issues, says a report. The approach promises more nutritious food without causing environmental damage, and has the potential for a “blue-green revolution” on Bangladesh’s existing crop areas, extending to about 10m hectares (25m acres) and an additional nearly 3m hectares that remain waterlogged for four to six months. “The carrying capacities of these additional lands and waters, when fully utilised, can increase food production and economic growth,” said Nesar Ahmed, author of the report published last month in Ocean & Coastal Management. Ahmed, a researcher in fisheries management at the Bangladesh Agricultural University, Mymensingh, told SciDev.Net there was a “vital link between prawn and shrimp farming in coastal Bangladesh and a ‘green economy’ that addresses the current environmental and economic crisis”.
Enamul Hoq, senior scientist at the Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute, agrees that the blue-green revolution “not only holds out huge economic benefits but also solves the growing climate change crisis”.
Until there is an obvious, sudden and perhaps cataclysmic event, such as a loss of part of the Antarctic ice sheet, the odds would seem to be stacked heavily against climate change legislation, says Harvard’s Rob Stavins. But the picture is not nearly so dark as one might think. Photo by KEENPRESS/Getty Images.
A Note from Paul Solman: A professor of envinromental economics at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Rob Stavins is one of the country’s leading thinkers on climate policy. Climate wonks regularly read his blog, One Economist’s Perspective on Environmental and Natural Resource Policy, as do I. In the wake of President Obama’s strong push for action on climate change during his second term, I asked Rob to comment for a broader audience here at the Business Desk. He was kind enough to do so.
Rob Stavins: In his 2013 inaugural address, President Obama surprised many people, including me, by the intensity and the length of his comments on global climate change. Since then, there has been a great deal of discussion about what climate policy initiatives will be forthcoming from the administration in its second term.
Although I was surprised by the strength and length of what the President said, it did not change my thinking about what we should expect from the second term. I would say the same about the President’s State of the Union address.
What are the top priorities for environmental policy during the second term?
The Obama administration needs to find balance among four competing forces:
Demands from some constituencies for more aggressive environmental policies, including on climate change;
Demands from other constituencies — principally in the Congress — for progress on so called “energy security;
Recognition that nothing meaningful is likely to happen if the country’s economic problems are not addressed;
The reality that a set of other policy initiatives outside of the environmental realm are considered to be more important than climate change both by the administration and by the population at large, including immigration reform and gun control, not to mention the dozen other areas the President highlighted in his State of the Union address.
What are the roadblocks that would prevent the President from addressing these priorities? ….
News Fix | Mar 01, 2013Tourism to Point Reyes, seen here on a low-traffic day during a winter storm, brings an economic boon to local communities. (Dan Brekke/KQED)Point Reyes Station, a pastoral West Marin outpost, has a population of 848. But on one recent weekday, … Continue reading »
Today we are releasing the fifth report from our latest national survey. In Global Warming’s Six Americas, September 2012 we report that the Alarmed have grown from 10 percent of the American adult population in 2010 to 16 percent in 2012. At the same time, the Dismissive have decreased in size, from 16 percent in 2010 to 8 percent in 2012.
Please help spread the word about DFW’s next Climate College Lecture March 12th from 1:30-2:30PM in the Natural Resources Building Auditorium in Sacramento. Our guest speaker is Ashley Conrad-Saydah, Assistant Secretary for Climate Policy, Cal EPA who will focus on climate action co-benefits for natural resource conservation. Please join us in person or via WebEx. We strongly encourage those in the Sacramento area to attend in person. More information on the climate college or instructions for WebEx registration http://www.dfg.ca.gov/Climate_and_Energy/Climate_Change/Climate_College/
Dr. Kristin Byrd, Physical Scientist, USGS Western Geographic Science Center To join this webinar, visit the CA LCC webinar page
Kristin Byrd will highlight her research to aid conservation of California rangelands by identifying future integrated threats of climate change and land use change. This project will quantify two main co-benefits of rangeland conservation – water supply and carbon sequestration. Through a multi-stakeholder partnership, the project proponents will develop integrated climate change/land use change scenarios for the Central Valley and Chaparral and Oak Woodland eco-regions, and disseminate information about future potential threats to high priority conservation areas within the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition (CRCC) study area, which includes the foothills around the Central Valley and most of the southern Inner Coast Range.
Erika Zavaleta, Ph.D. University of California Santa Cruz Environmental Studies Department
OFFICE OF THE SCIENCE ADVISOR WEB CONFERENCE SERIES U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This program is being facilitated by the USFWS’s National Conservation Training Center (NCTC).
Description: Climate change sets an unprecedented challenge to biodiversity conservation, especially against a backdrop of many other environmental stresses. However, it also creates an opportunity to examine and improve long-term, collaborative strategies for the stewardship of nature. Our knowledge about climate change is extensive and growing; how can we apply it to guide effective decision-making about the best way to conserve resilient, diverse ecosystems through the coming centuries?
From snowpack to regional groundwater, water resources are essential for all life, including drinking water, the food supply, ecosystems, and recreation. Meeting these multiple, often conflicting needs will only become more challenging under climate change. An essential element will be improving connections between scientific disciplines and the exchange between science, management, and policy. Join physical and social scientists, water managers, and policymakers at the Future of Water Workshop to discuss how California can meet these challenges. Keynote speakers include Ben Santer and Phil Isenberg, with additional flash talks on current science and policy, panel and roundtable discussions, and a poster session open to all. For more information, please see the workshop website: http://ccwas.ucdavis.edu/State_of_the_Science_and_Policy_Workshop/2013/
Want to know what goes on at those Bay Delta Conservation Plan meetings you are too busy to attend? Interested in following the Delta Stewardship Council and the development of the Delta Science Plan but you don’t want to sit through the webcast? Then visit Maven’s Notebook and find out what you’ve been missing
WWF Summer 2013 Internships
The following internships are available at the World Wildlife Fund – United States. They are designed typically for graduate students, although some may be appropriate for advanced undergraduates. Projects can be undertaken over the summer (with extensions, as necessary, into the fall semester). Most projects could also be extended over the course of one or two semesters as part of a student’s course work or thesis requirements; advance arrangements would be necessary with faculty advisors. Internships are typically unpaid unless otherwise noted, but facilities, library resources, and computers at WWF headquarters are available. Hours are flexible. To qualify for an unpaid internship, the student must provide documentation that they are receiving credit from their university, or that the work they will be performing is consistent with a course requirement.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Sacramento District, is soliciting proposals to fund projects that result in the rehabilitation, re-establishment, establishment, or enhancement of aquatic resources in the California Central Valley and Sierra Nevada.
The primary purpose of the Fund is to collect monies generated by in-lieu fee funding requirements under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act or Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act for authorized activities, as well as monies generated by enforcement and compliance actions initiated by the Sacramento District, and to serve as a funding source for the rehabilitation, re-establishment, establishment, enhancement, or in exceptional circumstances preservation of wetlands and other aquatic resources, and their associated habitats.
Crowdfunding is nothing new. Companies such as Kickstarter have allowed individuals to fund everything from their next indie film to extensive out of pocket medical bills with pooled donations from family, friends, and other supporters. But thanks to last year’s JOBS Act, debt-based crowdfunding is now an option as well, in which investors come together to fund startups and small businesses in return for repayment plus interest from a company like Mosaic.
It’s inclusive, meaning that investors of all shapes and sizes can get into the game. And it currently makes for a good, low-risk investment. Mosaic — with more than $1.1 million invested in solar projects to date — boasts 4.5 to 6.5 percent risk-adjusted annual returns, besting the latest interest rates on 30-year Treasury bonds…..
Yesterday, we found out via Inside Climate News and Brad Johnson over at Grist that the environmental impact statement the State Department just released on the Keystone XL pipeline was written by a private consulting firm being paid by the pipeline’s owner.
This obviously raises concerns about conflicts of interest with the report itself, but it also highlights the problems with turning government work and analysis over to private firms with possible financial ties to other private entities who may be affected by that work and analysis — a phenomenon that’s been underway since the 1990s. State’s report, which found that the pipeline was “unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in the oil sands,” and will “not likely result in significant adverse environmental effects,” was written by Environmental Resources Management (ERM). Several years ago, Cardno Entrix, another private consultancy, was contracted by TransCanada to handle the State Department’s initial draft of the environmental impact statement, the Department’s hearings on the pipeline, and even its Keystone XL website.
By Andrew Light, Mari Hernandez, and Adam James, via the Center for American Progress. Endnotes and citations are available in the PDF version of this issue brief.
In the past several years, small groups of some of the world’s largest carbon polluters have joined forces to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions as part of their overall efforts to slow the pace of dangerous global warming. These efforts include the G20 leaders’ 2009 pledge to phase out fossil-fuel subsidies; the launch of a number of efforts on clean energy cooperation through the global Clean Energy Ministerial starting in 2010; and the creation of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants a year ago, which started with six nations and has now grown to 27 countries plus the European Union.
OTHER NEWS OF INTEREST
Internships become the new job requirement
by Amy Scott Marketplace Morning Report for Monday, March 4, 2013
By the time most kids are in high school, they’ve probably heard some career advice along these lines: get into a good college, pick a marketable major, keep those grades up, and you’ll land a good job. But that doesn’t quite cover it anymore. In a survey out today from Marketplace and The Chronicle of Higher Education, employers said what matters most to them actually happens outside the classroom. “Internships came back as the most important thing that employers look for when evaluating a recent college graduate,” says Dan Berrett, senior reporter at the Chronicle. “More important than where they went to college, the major they pursued, and even their grade point average.”
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN (NYT) March 3, 2013 Compiled: 1:08 AM
The brutal winter drought in China is connected to a global wheat shortage is connected to the Arab Spring is connected to … “The Arab Spring and Climate Change” doesn’t claim that climate change caused the recent wave of Arab revolutions, but, taken together, the essays make a strong case that the interplay between climate change, food prices (particularly wheat) and politics is a hidden stressor that helped to fuel the revolutions and will continue to make consolidating them into stable democracies much more difficult…. “Bread provides one-third of the caloric intake in Egypt, a country where 38 percent of income is spent on food,” notes Sternberg. “The doubling of global wheat prices — from $157/metric ton in June 2010 to $326/metric ton in February 2011 — thus significantly impacted the country’s food supply and availability.” Global food prices peaked at an all-time high in March 2011, shortly after President Hosni Mubarak was toppled in Egypt…. Ditto in Syria and Libya. In their essay, the study’s co-editors, Francesco Femia and Caitlin Werrell, note that from 2006 to 2011, up to 60 percent of Syria’s land experienced the worst drought ever recorded there — at a time when Syria’s population was exploding and its corrupt and inefficient regime was proving incapable of managing the stress. In 2009, they noted, the U.N. and other international agencies reported that more than 800,000 Syrians lost their entire livelihoods as a result of the great drought, which led to “a massive exodus of farmers, herders, and agriculturally dependent rural families from the Syrian countryside to the cities,” fueling unrest. The future does not look much brighter. “On a scale of wetness conditions,” Femia and Werrell note, ” ‘where a reading of -4 or below is considered extreme drought,’ a 2010 report by the National Center for Atmospheric Research shows that Syria and its neighbors face projected readings of -8 to -15 as a result of climatic changes in the next 25 years.” Similar trends, they note, are true for Libya, whose “primary source of water is a finite cache of fossilized groundwater, which already has been severely stressed while coastal aquifers have been progressively invaded by seawater.” … as much as one-fifth of some Arab state budgets go to subsidizing gasoline and cooking fuel — more than $200 billion a year in the Arab world as a whole — rather than into spending on health and education. Meanwhile, locally, Arab states are being made less resilient by the tribalism and sectarianism that are eating away at their democratic revolutions. As Sarah Johnstone and Jeffrey Mazo of the International Institute for Strategic Studies conclude in their essay, “fledgling democracies with weak institutions might find it even harder to deal with the root problems than the regimes they replace, and they may be more vulnerable to further unrest as a result.” Yikes.
About 69 percent of American adults are overweight or obese, and more than four in five people say they are worried about obesity as a public health problem. But a recent poll conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health revealed a curious schism in our national attitudes toward obesity: Only one in five kids had a parent who feared the boy or girl would grow up to be overweight as an adult. Put another way, assuming current trends persist, parents of 80 percent of American children think all these kids will somehow end up being among the lucky 31 percent of adults who are not overweight. Tali Sharot is a neuroscientist at University College London who studies why large numbers of people — faced with a large number of different kinds of risks — believe they and their family members will dodge the odds.
“People underestimate their likelihood of experiencing all kinds of negative events, including medical illnesses,” she says. “And they do that for their family members as well. So not only do we think we are immune more than other people, we think that our kids are also more immune than other kids.”… “The optimism bias is our tendency to overestimate our likelihood of experiencing positive events in our lives, and underestimating the likelihood of experiencing negative events in our lives, such as divorce or cancer,” Sharot says….But if people don’t believe bad news applies to them, they seem readily willing to take in positive news. People readily change their views when you tell them they’ve been too pessimistic….In a series of brain experiments, Sharot has identified two areas in the frontal lobe — the left inferior frontal gyrus and the right inferior frontal gyrus — that appear to regulate how people process good and bad news. When she temporarily disables the normal functioning of the brain areas using a magnetic field, Sharot finds that the bias disappears. People stop being overly optimistic. They start to take risks seriously. Now, this bias isn’t a brain defect. In fact, multiple studies have shown the optimism bias produces a variety of positive life outcomes. We do better in life when we expect to do well. The trouble arises when it comes to major public health problems like childhood obesity. [and climate change!!]
By Chris Kirk|Posted Monday, March 4, 2013, at 1:00 PM
If you’re exhausted by climate change shouting matches or so flummoxed by confronting scientific ignorance that you suffer in silence, this chart might be for you. It provides responses to three of the common stages of climate change disbelief: that climate change isn’t happening, that scientists can’t decide whether it’s happening, and that it’s happening but not caused by mankind.
In Brief: Substitution of nature’s services with technological alternatives has been pursued with almost religious zeal as societies have industrialized over the past three centuries. But the time for reverse substitution may be upon us. In a wide variety of settings, from water purification to climate change adaptation, investors are increasingly considering the worthiness of green infrastructure solutions, such as mangrove restoration, rather than conventional gray investments, such as sea walls, to achieve the same environmental quality outcomes. But in times of fiscal austerity, cost-effectiveness is paramount. The problem is that infrastructure investors do not have a consistent and robust way to compare gray with green infrastructure in an apples-to-apples manner that is convincing to budget hawks. In addition, uncertainty is greater with “unproven” green infrastructure approaches. As a result, green solutions are often neglected. Here, we present the contours of a general methodology called green-gray analysis (GGA) and demonstrate its usefulness in a green-gray trade-off facing the Portland Water District in Maine. Results provide evidence for the superiority of green investments in several scenarios, purely on financial terms. When ancillary benefits, such as carbon sequestration or passive-use values for Atlantic salmon are factored in, the case becomes even more compelling. A replicable GGA methodology can be one important solution for scaling up green infrastructure investments worldwide.
Investments in “green” infrastructure solutions, such as agricultural and forestry best-management practices, are increasingly recognized as cost-effective ways to achieve environmental quality outcomes over a long time-horizon relative to traditional investments in “gray” infrastructure, such as wastewater treatment or water filtration plants.
Despite this, there is no consistent and accessible methodology available to decision makers for investigating the financial trade-offs.
This paper suggests such a methodology—green-gray analysis (GGA)—and demonstrates its application by considering a green-gray case study involving the Portland Water District (PWD) in Maine.
This application suggests that investing in five green infrastructure options could represent either a cost savings of up to 71 percent over constructing a new filtration plant or a cost increase of up to 44 percent. Uncertainty over green infrastructure efficacy and costs accounted for this wide range of outcomes in six modeled scenarios. The PWD analysis demonstrates the usefulness of a general methodology, but also identifies significant data gaps that need to be filled to make GGA more widely applicable.
By working out the details of a replicable methodology, it is our hope that infrastructure investors who typically opt for gray can routinely evaluate the financial and economic benefits of green in their formal decision-making process.
For almost a century, New York City has drawn its drinking water from the Catskill Mountains, more than 100 miles to the north. In April of 2007, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the results of a several-year review of the city’s ongoing program to maintain clean drinking water supplies with forest and open space conservation in the Catskills rather than the construction of filtration plants. The results were encouraging. The EPA concluded that as long as the city agreed to set aside $300 million over the next 10 years to acquire land and restrain upstate development that causes runoff and pollution, the agency would exempt New York from having to build an $8 billion filtration plant.1 The Catskills aqueduct has been held up as the quintessential example of green infrastructure trumping gray and has prompted cities worldwide to consider alternative solutions to the infrastructure demands of the twenty-first century.
Green infrastructure is increasingly recognized as a superior investment. Cities around the country are starting to realize the economic—to say nothing of environmental—benefits of this shifting reality. A recent analysis by New York City found that green roofs and bioswales could help meet water-quality goals with savings of more than $1 billion compared to conventional infrastructure; the Chesapeake Bay could reduce nitrogen loading at less than half the price by using cover crops instead of upgraded wastewater plants. The City of Philadelphia found that the net present value of green infrastructure for storm-water control ranged from $1.94 to $4.45 billion, while gray infrastructure benefits ranged from only $0.06 to $0.14 billion over a 40-year period.2 And using a system of wetlands, North Carolina could minimize storm-water runoff for 47 cents per thousand gallons treated. Using conventional storm-water controls, this figure jumps to $3.24 per thousand gallons.3-5
An emerging hypothesis in environmental management settings is that investment in ecosystem-based green infrastructure solutions provides economically superior environmental quality outcomes when compared to investments in technology-based or “gray” infrastructure. As noted by economists Lucy Emerton and Elroy Bos, “It is increasingly apparent that investment in ecosystems now can safeguard profits in the future, and save considerable costs”…….
….Three Common Investment Objectives for Considering Green Infrastructure Alternatives
Minimizing the costs of mitigation plus the expected value of losses from natural and human disturbances. Take the example of coastal flooding from storm surge events. Relevant gray investments may include sea walls, dikes, levees, pumping facilities, and floodways. Relevant green infrastructure investments may include restoring mangroves, dunes, and wetlands. In these and other disaster-risk cases, the public investment objective is to reduce the expected value of the loss, which is simply the probability of a disaster or disturbance occurring multiplied by the value of the loss should the event occur.
Minimizing the cost of meeting a regulatory or planning objective. Reducing the delivery of nitrogen and phosphorous pollution entering receiving water to a target specified by a wastewater treatment plant’s Clean Water Act permit is one example. The nutrient load target can be achieved by upgrading plant technology or capacity, or by financing best management practices on farms upstream.
Maximizing the net public benefits of infrastructure investments. An example is a fisheries management agency seeking ways to enhance high-value recreational fish resources through either investment in hatcheries (gray) or dam removal and stream restoration (green). Importantly, under this objective, all categories of benefits and costs apply, including both market and nonmarket benefits that may be ancillary to the primary infrastructure investment rationale. These ancillary benefits represent an important component in many existing GGA applications and are critical to efficient investment in environmental management. In particular, investment decisions made on the basis of cost alone undervalue additional ecosystem service benefits produced by green infrastructure and hence may lead to suboptimal investment decisions……
River regulation influences land-living animals (February 28, 2013) — Forest-living insects and spiders become less abundant and birds are adversely affected along regulated rivers. Three different studies by ecologists show that river regulation has a negative effect also on land-living animals. … The research team also shows that birds are adversely affected by river regulation. Besides a standardised bird survey, nest boxes were used to investigate breeding success of insectivorous birds. The study species, the Pied Flycatcher, is a relatively common species and prefers to use nest boxes.The results show that adult Pied Flycatchers breeding along regulated rivers lost more weight after their eggs were hatched and fewer of the chicks survived, because their food resource — the insects — was less abundant. Along one of the regulated rivers, the survival of the chicks was even lower than what is required for the species to persist. There were also signs of whole bird communities being impacted by river regulation. Aquatic insect emerge and fly onto land before terrestrial insects peak in numbers. The aquatic insects are therefore an important food resource for birds early in the season, while, normally, birds are seen foraging away from aquatic systems later in the season. “We could see that such seasonal movements of whole bird communities differed between regulated and free-flowing rivers,” says Micael Jonsson. That the effects are still visible half a century after regulation of these rivers was initiated clearly indicates that the changes are permanent. The studies also highlight the fact that different types of ecosystems influence each other via resource flows, and that changes in one ecosystem therefore affect plant and animals in nearby ecosystems….>full story
M. Jonsson, P. Deleu, B. Malmqvist. PERSISTING EFFECTS OF RIVER REGULATION ON EMERGENT AQUATIC INSECTS AND TERRESTRIAL INVERTEBRATES IN UPLAND FORESTS. River Research and Applications, 2012; DOI: 10.1002/rra.2559
Darius Strasevicius, Micael Jonsson, Erik Nyholm, Björn Malmqvist. Reduced breeding success of Pied Flycatchers Ficedula hypoleuca along regulated rivers. Ibis, 2013 DOI: 10.1111/ibi.12024
Micael Jonsson, Darius Strasevicius, Björn Malmqvist. Influences of river regulation and environmental variables on upland bird assemblages in northern Sweden. Ecological Research, 2012. 27: 945-954
Leatherback sea turtle could be extinct within 20 years at last stronghold in the Pacific Ocean (February 26, 2013) — An international team led by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) has documented a 78 percent decline in the number of nests of the critically endangered leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) at the turtle’s last stronghold in the Pacific Ocean. … “If the decline continues, within 20 years it will be difficult if not impossible for the leatherback to avoid extinction,” said Wibbels, who has studied marine turtles since 1980. “That means the number of turtles would be so low that the species could not make a comeback. “The leatherback is one of the most intriguing animals in nature, and we are watching it head towards extinction in front of our eyes,” added Wibbels. Leatherback turtles can grow to six feet long and weigh as much as 2,000 pounds. They are able to dive to depths of nearly 4,000 feet and can make trans-Pacific migrations from Indonesia to the U.S. Pacific coast and back again.
While it is hard to imagine that a turtle so large and so durable can be on the verge of extinction, Ricardo Tapilatu, the research team’s lead scientist who is a Ph.D. student and Fulbright Scholar in the UAB Department of Biology, points to the leatherback’s trans-Pacific migration, where they face the prevalent danger of being caught and killed in fisheries. “They can migrate more than 7,000 miles and travel through the territory of at least 20 countries, so this is a complex international problem,” Tapilatu said. “It is extremely difficult to comprehensively enforce fishing regulations throughout the Pacific.” > full story
Restoring San Francisco Bay’s tidal marshes is one of the best and most inexpensive ways to protect valuable shoreline development from sea level rise during the next several decades. By using tidal marshes in combination with earthen levees construction and maintenance costs can be reduced by almost 50%. The Horizontal Levee, The Bay Institute’s groundbreaking study about the economic value of tidal marshes, demonstrates conclusively that nature performs critical functions for society. During the current era of sea level rise, the forgotten marshlands of San Francisco Bay have become a critical adaptation tool. Study Overview The Horizontal Levee, The Bay Institute Complete Report: Analysis of the Costs and Benefits of Using Tidal March Restoration as a Sea Level Rise Adaptation Strategy in San Francisco Bay Related Links: Sea-Level Rise for the Coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington: Past, Present, and Future National Academy of Sciences Report | Video Going with the Flow – The Netherlands has held back the sea for centuries; now it is letting it in, as the Dutch realize they are facing a losing battle. New York Times
As global warming escalates, San Francisco Bay’s existing flood protection system will be no match for rising sea levels. But according to a new report by a Bay Area environmental group, fortifying the bay’s shoreline with levees fronted by restored tidal marshes will be a cheaper, more aesthetic and ecologically sensitive alternative to traditional levees. The Bay Institute’s report proposes restoring tidal marshes with sediment from local flood control channels and irrigating the marshes with treated wastewater. The plan also calls for “horizontal levees” that are a hybrid of traditional earthen levees and restored marshes. Tidal marsh restoration in the bay has been a priority for environmental groups since “Climate Change and Coastal Communities” is a media series about protecting the bay’s coastline in the face of sea level rise. One story in the series, “Hard Choices,” explores levees, wetlands and other options. … More than 5,000 acres have been restored in the past two decades, with another 30,000 acres purchased and slated for restoration. “Marshes act as the lungs of the bay,” said John Bourgeois, manager of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project. “They can clean and filter the water that comes down our tributaries before it hits the bay.”….
Fish migrate to escape predators (March 1, 2013) — By individually tagging fish in a lake and following their movements, a research team has shown that migration is a very effective defense against being eaten. … > full story
Where the wild things go … when there’s nowhere else (February 28, 2013) — The presence of endangered cats and primates in swamp forests might be seriously overlooked. Recent research concludes that swamp forests beg further exploration as places where endangered species have preserved their numbers — and where humans could potentially preserve them into the future. … > full story
Washington: Case Study Report: Socioeconomic Benefits of the Fisher Slough Marsh Restoration The Fisher Slough marsh restoration project in Washington State improved fish passage to 15 miles of stream and restored 60 acres of freshwater marsh habitat. The habitat improvements had the immediate benefit of supporting 23 jobs and increasing flood protection for local farmers and their neighbors. In fact, a recent study found that the $7.7 million invested in the project may provide $8-$21 million in benefits to the community over the next several decades. The improvements made at Fisher Slough are estimated to support an additional 16,000 young Chinook salmon
Ship noise makes crabs get crabby (February 26, 2013) — A new study found that ship noise affects crab metabolism, with the largest crabs faring the worst, and found little evidence that crabs acclimatize to noise over time. … > full story
Loss of wild insects hurts crops around the world (February 28, 2013) — Researchers studying data from 600 fields in 20 countries have found that managed honey bees are not as successful at pollinating crops as wild insects, primarily wild bees, suggesting the continuing loss of wild insects in many agricultural landscapes has negative consequences for crop harvests. … > full story
Ontario: The Greater The Biodiversity, The Better The Grassland Restoration
University of Guelph researchers are recommending growers consider adding several species of vegetation if considering restoring marginal fields to grasslands. Dr. Andrew MacDougall, a professor and grasslands specialist at the university said a 10-year study conducted on Vancouver Island shows that encouraging several species of vegetation on marginal fields and woodlots will provide a beneficial crop cover, whereas having just one or two species of plants may not survive in the case of a major disturbance such as fire, flood or drought. Researchers wanted to determine what, if any, were the effects of the loss of biodiversity.
New maps depict potential worldwide coral bleaching by 2056 (February 25, 2013) — New maps by scientists show how rising sea temperatures are likely to affect all coral reefs in the form of annual coral bleaching events under different emission scenarios. If carbon emissions stay on the current path most of the world’s coral reefs (74 percent) are projected to experience coral bleaching conditions annually by 2045, results of the study show. … > full story
Enlarge image Cranes fly at sunset above the Hula Valley of northern Israel in January. Millions of birds pass through the area as they migrate south every winter from Europe and Asia to Africa. Some now stay in the Hula Valley for the entire winter. Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images
Like many countries, Israel tried to drain many of its swamplands, then realized it was destroying wildlife habitats. So the country reversed course, and has been restoring the wetlands of the Hula Valley in the north. The effort has had a huge and rather noisy payoff. Unlike many birding sites, where the creatures take off when you approach them, you can practically touch the cranes that inhabit the Hula Valley. The thousands upon thousands of the common cranes are about as tall as a toddler and have a 6-foot wingspan. They seem unperturbed by the sudden arrival of hundreds of gawking tourists, riding in what amounts to a grandstand on wheels. The grandstand is pulled by a noisy tractor. The driver is a young tour guide. She’s explaining that these birds fly thousands of miles from Europe and Asia, stopping here in the Hula Valley for rest and fuel before they head to Africa. Each time the tractor stops, the din of the birds takes over. They coo and gurgle, while the tourists make their own appreciative noises. Why aren’t these normally timid birds taking to the air? Well, they associate these big wagons, and the tractors, with food.
Restoring The Wetlands
In the 1990s, as Israel started to restore this marsh, more cranes began to stop here; many decided to spend the winter. They started to eat local crops — especially peanuts. Biologist Omri Bonneh, with the Jewish National Fund, says the farmers didn’t like that. “In very short time, 30,000 cranes decided to stay here all winter long. We needed to find some solution in order to avoid conflict between farmers and cranes that cause damage to crop fields,” he said. The solution was to set out a buffet of corn and other feed, using tractors and wagons just like the ones the tourists ride in. Now, biologists don’t usually like to mess with the feeding habits of wildlife. But the strategy has attracted lots of paying tourists, who help pay for all that bird food, and for maintenance of this refuge — creating a home for hundreds of other species…..
Australia: Pasture Cropping: A Regenerative Solution from Down Under
Since the late 1990s, Australian farmer Colin Seis has been successfully planting a cereal crop into perennial pasture on his sheep farm during the dormant period using no-till drilling, a method that uses a drill to sow seeds instead of the traditional plow. He calls it pasture cropping and he gains two crops this way from one parcel of land-a cereal crop for food or forage and wool or lamb meat from his pastures-which means its potential for feeding the world in a sustainable manner is significant. As Seis tells the story, the idea for pasture cropping came to him and a friend from the bottom of a beer bottle. Ten of them, in fact.
The loss of habitat is real in the corn belt, as are its potential effects on a host of grassland bird species, some hunted, some not……new study led by a preeminent Canadian toxicologist identifies acutely toxic pesticides as the most likely leading cause of the widespread decline in grassland bird numbers in the United States, a finding that challenges the widely-held assumption that loss of habitat is the primary cause of those population declines. The scientific assessment, which looked at data over a 23-year period – from 1980 to 2003 – was published on February 20, 2013 in PLOS One, an online peer-reviewed scientific journal. The study was conducted by Dr. Pierre Mineau, recently retired from Environment Canada, and Mélanie Whiteside of Health Canada. The study looked at five potential causes of grassland bird declines besides lethal pesticide risk: change in cropped pasture such as hay or alfalfa production, farming intensity or the proportion of agricultural land that is actively cropped, herbicide use, overall insecticide use, and change in permanent pasture and rangeland. “What this study suggests is that we need to start paying a lot more attention to the use of pesticides if we want to reverse, halt or simply slow the very significant downward trend in grassland bird populations. Our study put the spotlight on acutely toxic insecticides used in our cropland starting after the Second World War and persisting to this day – albeit at a lower level. The data suggest that loss of birds in agricultural fields is more than an unfortunate consequence of pest control; it may drive bird populations to local extinction,” Mineau said…..
Mineau P, Whiteside M (2013) Pesticide Acute Toxicity Is a Better Correlate of U.S. Grassland Bird Declines than Agricultural Intensification. PLoS ONE 8(2): e57457. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0057457
Common agricultural birds are in decline, both in Europe and in North America. Evidence from Europe suggests that agricultural intensification and, for some species, the indirect effects of pesticides mediated through a loss of insect food resource is in part responsible. On a state-by-state basis for the conterminous Unites States (U.S.), we looked at several agronomic variables to predict the number of grassland species increasing or declining according to breeding bird surveys conducted between 1980 and 2003. Best predictors of species declines were the lethal risk from insecticide use modeled from pesticide impact studies, followed by the loss of cropped pasture. Loss of permanent pasture or simple measures of agricultural intensification such as the proportion of land under crop or the proportion of farmland treated with herbicides did not explain bird declines as well. Because the proportion of farmland treated with insecticides, and more particularly the lethal risk to birds from the use of current insecticides feature so prominently in the best models, this suggests that, in the U.S. at least, pesticide toxicity to birds should be considered as an important factor in grassland bird declines.
Hummingbird flight: Two vortex trails with one stroke (February 25, 2013) — As of today, the Wikipedia entry for the hummingbird explains that the bird’s flight generates in its wake a single trail of vortices that helps the bird hover. But after conducting experiments with hummingbirds in the lab, researchers propose that the hummingbird produces two trails of vortices — one under each wing per stroke — that help generate the aerodynamic forces required for the bird to power and control its flight. … > full story
The Audubon Society will release its Connecticut State of the Birds 2013 report entitled “The Seventh Habitat and The Decline of Our Aerial Insectivores.
Songbirds’ brains coordinate singing with intricate timing (February 27, 2013) — As a bird sings, some neurons in its brain prepare to make the next sounds while others are synchronized with the current notes—a coordination of physical actions and brain activity that is needed to produce complex movements. The finding that may lead to new ways of understanding human speech production. … > full story
Cormorants nesting on the old Eastern Span of the Bay Bridge. (Caltrans/CBS)
OAKLAND (KPIX 5) – In the steel rafters of the old Bay Bridge, a flock of fowl you may never have noticed has built its home; but those homes will have to come down as the old section of roadway is replaced.
The colony of cormorants has constructed roughly 400 nests hidden along a mile-long stretch of the eastern span. “They like it. They like the Bay Bridge. They’ve been there for at least 20 years, since the 1980′s,”said Stefan Galvez-Abadia District Branch Chief of the California Department of Transportation. Caltrans saw the problem coming, and has spent about a half a million dollars building small platforms into the new span. They are being called cormorant condos, designed as a place where the birds can make a new home. But birds of a feather are apparently picky about where they flock together. “We haven’t observed any birds moving over yet,” said Galvez-Abadia. Last year, Caltrans started wooing the birds, first with fake nets, then with decoys. “We did not have any birds moving over,” said Lauren Bingham, the Caltrans biologist heading up the relocation project. “We had to get creative.” Caltrans has now installed speakers beneath the bridge to blast the mating call of the cormorant, hoping that will convince them to make the switch. The installation is going into place just in time for the cormorant mating season, which runs from March to August. “We have put in the time and the research to design something that should potentially work, but it may not, because they’re birds and you can’t predict exactly what they’re going to do,” said Bingham. Caltrans said time is on their side. The nesting section of the old bridge isn’t scheduled for demolition until 2015.
A groundbreaking network of marine reserves off the California coast are showing promising results, according to scientists meeting in Monterey this week. The results come five years after the state set up the first group of “marine protected areas”—zones where fishing is either limited or banned all together. Several fish species seem to be rebounding in the 29 marine protected areas that stretch from Santa Cruz to Santa Barbara, including black rockfish, grass rockfish, perch and lingcod. Threatened black abalone are also appearing in higher numbers.
The protected areas mark a new conservation approach for the state, moving away from traditional species-by-species fishing limits. The areas were designed to protect the ecosystem as a whole, allowing fish and marine life to reproduce and recover. Scientists believe as populations increase inside the zones, they’ll spread into surrounding areas, acting as “marine savings accounts” for the entire coast….
Why have white storks stopped migrating? (February 27, 2013) — A new project to find out why storks are changing their migratory patterns has been launched. In folklore, storks’ strong white wings would carry babies to parents around the world. But since the mid 1980s increasing numbers of storks have stopped their annual migration from Northern Europe to Africa for the winter. Instead, many are living in Spain and Portugal the whole year round – feeding on ‘junk food’ from rubbish dumps. … > full story
Peter Fimrite San Francisco Chronicle March 1, 2013
There are certain benefits to having two full months of beach and barbecue weather in the middle of the winter. Drinking water is not one of them.
Snow surveyors with the California Department of Water Resources tromped out under brilliant blue skies and alarmingly warm weather Thursday to measure what is left of the Sierra snowpack near Echo Summit. Let’s just say it was a good day for a stroll. Only 29 inches of snow was measured in the meadow behind Phillips Station, a historic, privately owned cabin near Echo Summit. That’s compared with 4 feet two months ago. But that’s only part of the bad water dream in California, which just had the driest January-February on record. The Central Sierra, which includes the Lake Tahoe area, was only 67 percent of normal, based on the average of 40 electronic monitoring stations. That’s compared with 90 percent of normal last month and 134 percent of normal on Jan. 2, when the first snow survey of the year was conducted.
The entire Sierra, from south to north, had an average of only 16 inches of water in the snow, based on measurements from more than 300 sites. That’s 66 percent of normal and 57 percent of the average snowpack on April 1, which is typically the peak time for water officials because all the water that melts after that date is captured in reservoirs.
The snowpack, dubbed California’s “frozen reservoir” by water officials, normally provides about a third of the water for California’s farms and communities. But only 2.2 inches of rain has fallen since December in the mountainous regions from Shasta Lake to the American River, just 13 percent of average. The next driest first two months of the year occurred in 1991, when 4 inches of precipitation fell, water department officials said. There would have to be several big, icy storms over the next month to get the state close to normal precipitation this year, but no precipitation is currently forecast.
Mark Cowin, the state’s water resources director, said the situation is more difficult as a result of restrictions on the amount of water that can be taken out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in order to protect the delta smelt and other endangered fish. He touted as a possible solution the highly controversial proposal to build a pair of tunnels underneath the delta.
“Near-record dry weather combined with pumping restrictions to protect delta smelt are making this a gloomy water supply year,” Cowin said. “This scenario is exactly why we need an alternative water conveyance system as proposed in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to both protect fish species and give California a reliable water supply.”….more »
T. Lynne Pixley for The New York Times
The Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad, Calif., where a $1 billion desalination plant expected to supply 7 percent of the county’s water is being built.
CARLSBAD, Calif. — On a calm day, a steady rain just about masks the sound of Pacific Ocean water being drawn into the intake valve from Agua Hedionda Lagoon. Listen hard, and a faint sucking sound emerges from the concrete openings, like a distant straw pulling liquid from a cup. At the moment, the seawater is being diverted from the ocean to cool an aging natural-gas power plant. But in three years, if all goes as planned, the saltwater pulled in at that entryway will emerge as part of the regional water supply after treatment in what the project’s developers call the newest and largest seawater desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere. Large-scale ocean desalination, a technology that was part of President John F. Kennedy’s vision of the future half a century ago, has stubbornly remained futuristic in North America, even as sizable plants have been installed in water-poor regions like the Middle East and Singapore. The industry’s hope is that the $1 billion Carlsbad plant, whose builders broke ground at the end of the year, will show that desalination is not an energy-sucking, environmentally damaging, expensive white elephant, as its critics contend, but a reliable, affordable technology, a basic item on the menu of water sources the country will need. Proposals for more than a dozen other seawater desalination plants, including at least two as big as Carlsbad — one at Huntington Beach, 60 miles north of here, and one at Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps base — are pending along shorelines from the San Francisco Bay Area southward. Several of these are clustered on the midcoast around Monterey and Carmel. …
Weather extremes provoked by trapping of giant waves in the atmosphere (February 25, 2013) — The world has suffered from severe regional weather extremes in recent years, such as the heat wave in the United States in 2011. Behind these devastating individual events there is a common physical cause, propose scientists in a new study. It suggests that human-made climate change repeatedly disturbs the patterns of atmospheric flow around the globe’s Northern hemisphere through a subtle resonance mechanism. “An important part of the global air motion in the mid-latitudes of the Earth normally takes the form of waves wandering around the planet, oscillating between the tropical and the Arctic regions. So when they swing up, these waves suck warm air from the tropics to Europe, Russia, or the US, and when they swing down, they do the same thing with cold air from the Arctic,” explains lead author Vladimir Petoukhov. “What we found is that during several recent extreme weather events these planetary waves almost freeze in their tracks for weeks. So instead of bringing in cool air after having brought warm air in before, the heat just stays. In fact, we observe a strong amplification of the usually weak, slowly moving component of these waves,” says Petoukhov. Time is critical here: two or three days of 30 degrees Celsius are no problem, but twenty or more days lead to extreme heat stress. Since many ecosystems and cities are not adapted to this, prolonged hot periods can result in a high death toll, forest fires, and dramatic harvest losses.
Anomalous surface temperatures are disturbing the air flows
Climate change caused by greenhouse-gas emissions from fossil-fuel burning does not mean uniform global warming — in the Arctic, the relative increase of temperatures, amplified by the loss of snow and ice, is higher than on average. This in turn reduces the temperature difference between the Arctic and, for example, Europe, yet temperature differences are a main driver of air flow. Additionally, continents generally warm and cool more readily than the oceans. “These two factors are crucial for the mechanism we detected,” says Petoukhov. “They result in an unnatural pattern of the mid-latitude air flow, so that for extended periods the slow synoptic waves get trapped.”… “Our dynamical analysis helps to explain the increasing number of novel weather extremes. It complements previous research that already linked such phenomena to climate change, but did not yet identify a mechanism behind it,” says Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of PIK and co-author of the study. “This is quite a breakthrough, even though things are not at all simple — the suggested physical process increases the probability of weather extremes, but additional factors certainly play a role as well, including natural variability.” Also, the 32-year period studied in the project provides a good indication of the mechanism involved, yet is too short for definite conclusions. Nevertheless, the study significantly advances the understanding of the relation between weather extremes and human-made climate change. Scientists were surprised by how far outside past experience some of the recent extremes have been. The new data show that the emergence of extraordinary weather is not just a linear response to the mean warming trend, and the proposed mechanism could explain that. > full story
Petoukhov, V., Rahmstorf, S., Petri, S., Schellnhuber, H. J. Quasi-resonant amplification of planetary waves and recent Northern Hemisphere weather extremes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2013 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1222000110
(Reuters) – Global warming may have caused extreme events such as a 2011 drought in the United States and a 2003 heatwave in Europe by slowing vast, wave-like weather flows in the northern hemisphere, scientists said on Tuesday.
The study of meandering air systems that encircle the planet adds to understanding of extremes that have killed thousands of people and driven up food prices in the past decade.
Such planetary air flows, which suck warm air from the tropics when they swing north and draw cold air from the Arctic when they swing south, seem to be have slowed more often in recent summers and left some regions sweltering, they said.
“During several recent extreme weather events these planetary waves almost freeze in their tracks for weeks,” wrote Vladimir Petoukhov, lead author of the study at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.
“So instead of bringing in cool air after having brought warm air in before, the heat just stays,” he said in a statement of the findings in the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
A difference in temperatures between the Arctic and areas to the south is usually the main driver of the wave flows, which typically stretch 2,500 and 4,000 km (1,550-2,500 miles) from crest to crest.
But a build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, blamed on human activities led by use of fossil fuels, is heating the Arctic faster than other regions and slowing the mechanism that drives the waves, the study suggested.
Weather extremes in the past decade include a European heatwave in 2003 that may have killed 70,000 people, a Russian heatwave and flooding in Pakistan in 2010 and a 2011 heatwave in the United States, the authors added.
“Here, we propose a common mechanism” for the generation of waves linked to climate change, they wrote.
Past studies have linked such extremes to global warming but did not identify an underlying mechanism, said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute and a co-author.
“This is quite a breakthrough,” he wrote. The scientists added that the 32-year-period studied was too short to predict future climate change and that natural variations in the climate had not been ruled out completely as a cause.
The study only considered the northern part of the globe, in summertime. Petoukhov led another study in 2010 suggesting that cold snaps in some recent winters in Europe were linked to low amounts of ice in the Arctic Ocean…..
Richard Alley’s studies of the role of ice sheets in climate change have earned him various awards, a PBS special, and have made him a repeat performer at the meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. When I first saw him speak a few years ago, he argued that the ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland play a huge role in controlling sea levels. Mountain glaciers don’t hold nearly as much water, while the thermal expansion of water in the oceans is a slower and more predictable process.
The ice sheets, in contrast, have been a big unknown. At the time, we didn’t yet fully understand how much of them might melt, or how quickly they might dump water into the oceans.
Alley was back at this year’s meeting, and his news was mixed. As he predicted in his earlier appearance, a few years of intensive study have helped narrow down some of the uncertainties. And, while the news is (relatively) good in Greenland, some of the results from Antarctica are decidedly worrying.
Alley described an ice sheet as a big pile of ice that wants to spread slowly, a spreading that would put more of its mass into the oceans and raise sea levels. Anything that speeds up that spreading is bad news for us, since it would give us less time to get carbon emissions under control and create a more sudden rise in sea levels that would be harder to adapt to. Two of the big unknowns that Alley’s been studying can help accelerate the spread of the ice cap into the oceans. In Greenland, the summer melt creates large lakes of meltwater on the ice cap’s surface, which drain suddenly, pouring huge volumes of water to the base of the ice. This can lubricate its flow over the underlying rocks, and accelerate the ice cap’s spread. In Antarctica, this sort of melting isn’t as much of an issue; instead, exit glaciers carry ice from the continent’s interior to the ocean. Because these flow slowly through narrow outlets, he compared them to flying buttresses, the architectural features that hold up the pile of rocks that comprise Medieval cathedrals….
…..The problem is that, when the feedbacks are finally overcome, the grounding line fails catastrophically, and the ice tends to retreat rapidly to the next potential grounding line. This behavior shows up in models of the glacier’s behavior, and it’s apparent in imaging of the ground under the ice, where there’s little sign of retreat from past melts outside a handful of grounding lines.
What does this mean for the particular glacier Alley chose to focus on? If its current grounding line fails, there’s another a bit behind it that it will likely retreat to. If that one fails, however, there’s enough ice between it and the one behind that to raise sea levels by two meters. And, from a geological perspective, that retreat could occur in a flash—fast enough to obviate any long term plans for adaptation…..
….That’s worrying on its own. But it’s a special problem, Alley argued, because of the way policy makers have approached sea level rise. To begin with, they’ve tended to assume that any rise will be gradual and slow. Alley blamed this in part on the reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—its most recent report provided a conservative estimate, and failed to convey the large uncertainties in what we know about ice sheet behavior. The other problem, in his view, is that economists also assumed that people would be rational actors, and either take preventative measures or stop investing any money in property that would inevitably wind up under water. Neither of those have happened. Alley said that he and many others had been teaching introductory geology classes that discuss how conditions in New Orleans made something like Katrina inevitable, but that didn’t actually result in any investment in infrastructure to handle the problems. Similarly, some of the problems New York City faced during Sandy had been accurately predicted a number of years in advance.
The lack of economic rationality, however, is also apparent after the events have occurred. Rather than focus on a rational evaluation of future risks, we’ve generally pumped money into rebuilding in precisely the same places that have just been wiped out.
A better model for how to deal with this risk, in Alley’s view, is how we handle road safety. For most of us, the typical commute involves, at worst, being stuck in a bit of traffic and having the radio play some awful music. The worst case is a long, bumper-to-bumper crawl during an hour-long test of the emergency broadcast system. Only very rarely does any of us get smacked into by a drunk driver. And yet we put a tremendous effort into dealing with that rare possibility, including funding awareness campaigns, dedicating police enforcement activity, and designing safety features into our vehicles.
Given what he’s seen in the Antarctic, Alley thinks we should be following something more like the drunk driver model.
A sampling of the myriad factors typically included in a climate change model (Image: Maslin and Austin, Nature, 2012, 486, 183)
One of the perpetual challenges in my career as a modeler of biochemical systems has been the need to balance accuracy with reliability. This paradox is not as strange as it seems. Typically when you build a model you include a lot of approximations supposed to make the modeling process easier; ideally you want a model to be as simple as possible and contain as few parameters as possible. But this strategy does not work all the time since sometimes it turns out that in your drive for simplicity you have left a crucial factor out. So now you include this crucial factor, only to find that the uncertainties in your model go through the roof. What’s happening in such unfortunate cases is that along with including the signal from the previously excluded factors, you have also inevitably included a large amount of noise. This noise can typically result from an incomplete knowledge of the factor, either from calculation or from measurement. Modelers of every stripe thus have to tread a fine balance between including as much of reality as possibility as possible and making the model accurate enough for quantitative explanation and prediction.
It seems that this is exactly the problem that has started bedeviling climate change models. A recent issue of Nature had a very interesting article on what seems to be a wholly paradoxical feature of models used in climate science; as the models are becoming increasingly realistic, they are also becoming less accurate and predictive because of growing uncertainties. I can only imagine this to be an excruciatingly painful fact for climate modelers who seem to be facing the equivalent of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle for their field. It’s an especially worrisome time to deal with such issues since the modelers need to include their predictions in the next IPCC report on climate change which is due to be published this year….
Historic datasets reveal effects of climate change and habitat loss on plant-pollinator networks (February 28, 2013) — Two biologists at Washington University in St. Louis were delighted to discover a meticulous dataset on a plant-pollinator network recorded by Illinois naturalist Charles Robertson between 1884 and 1916. Re-collecting part of Robertson’s network, they learned that although the network has compensated for some losses, battered by climate change and habitat loss it is now weaker and less resilient than in Robertson’s time. … > full story
Improving climate protection in the agricultural sector (February 28, 2013) — Agriculture is responsible for around 10 to 12 percent of all greenhouse gases attributable to human activities. This raises the question of how these emissions could be reduced. A recent study has investigated — for the first time — the full range of factors that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, namely soil and climate conditions, the agricultural model and the farming intensity on both organic and conventional holdings. The study has enabled scientists to develop a new model that will allow agricultural landholders to determine and improve their climate balance….Fossil fuels, above all diesel, are one of the main sources of CO2 emissions in agriculture. However, greenhouse gases are also emitted during the manufacture of mineral nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides, agricultural machines and equipment….In crop farming, increasing nitrogen efficiency is a key factor. High levels of nitrous oxide are released into the environment if crops are unable to utilize all of the nitrogen fertilizer that was spread. The production of nitrogen fertilizer is also energy intensive, which further increases the climate balance of unused nitrogen. In contrast, the greenhouse gas CO2 can be stored long term as humus in the soil, and thus eliminated from the climate balance. “This can be achieved by planting legumes as part of a diversified crop rotation strategy,” explains Professor Gerold Rahmann at the Thünen Institute. “Using soil less intensively and applying organic fertilizer also helps.” Organic farming is more energy efficient and produces less land-specific CO2 emissions. This advantage, however, is offset by the significantly lower yields achieved through organic farming practices. The pilot organic crop farms produce around twenty percent less emissions per yield unit than conventional holdings.… > full story
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has launched a program to update some of its nautical charts, thanks largely to climate change. The revisions affect Alaska’s coast, which has America’s only Arctic seafront. As a result of global warming, ice that has historically blocked Arctic waters, even in summer, has been plummeting in recent years, with 2012 ice melting back to the smallest extent since satellite records began. And as sea ice recedes, said NOAA Coast Survey director Rear Admiral Gerd Glang in a press release, “vessel traffic is on the rise.” That’s an understatement. The world as a whole is warming due to heat trapped by greenhouse gas emissions, but the Arctic is warming faster than average thanks to something called “Arctic Amplification“: as bright, reflective sea ice melts, it exposes darker ocean waters, which absorb the Sun’s heat. That heat warms the air, which makes new, thick ice harder to form, setting the stage for even greater warming the following season. By 2030, or perhaps even earlier, the Arctic Ocean could be largely ice-free during part of each summer. Already by 2010, both the Northwest Passage across the Arctic coast of Canada and the Northern Sea Route, across Russia, had been ice-free simultaneously for an unprecedented third year in a row, encouraging a flurry of interest by commercial ship companies. Last summer a Chinese ship navigated the even more reliably frozen route right across the North Pole. It’s no surprise, since a shortcut through the Arctic Ocean shaves many thousands of miles off the normal shipping routes between Europe and Asia, through the Panama or Suez canals. And while an easier-to-navigate Arctic Ocean and surrounding waters are raising national security concerns for nations that border that chilly sea, NOAA’s job, in part, is to make the area safe for commercial vessels.
Under some climate change scenarios, Lake Powell is at risk, according to a new study from the US. Forest Service. Photo courtesy Mission 31, ISS, via the Wikimedia Commons.
By Summit Voice Posted on February 24, 2013 by Bob Berwyn FRISCO — Some of the West’s biggest reservoirs could dry up completely as the region gets warmer and drier in coming decades, and major increases in storage capacity probably won’t help address regional water shortages, according to a new study authored by researchers with Colorado State University, Princeton and the U.S. Forest Service. In the Colorado River Basin, “Lakes Powell and Mead are projected to drop to zero and only occasionally thereafter add rather small amounts of storage before emptying again,” the scientists concluded, adding that smaller upstream reservoirs might still be useful. The report, published by the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, combined climate projections with socio-economic scenarios of population growth and water use to determine future water supply and demand, to assess the likelihood of future water shortages region by region. After analyzing the data, the researchers concluded that most of the Southwest, parts of California and the southern and central Great Plains will be the most vulnerable areas in the nation to water shortages during the next 60 years. Climate change will substantially increase water demand and cause decreases in water supply in those regions of the United States, even as cities, farms and thermoelectric facilities become more efficient in their water usage…..
Global tipping point not backed by science, experts argue (February 28, 2013) — A group of international ecological scientists have rejected a doomsday-like scenario of sudden, irreversible change to the Earth’s ecology. In a new paper, the scientists from Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom argue that global-scale ecological tipping points are unlikely and that ecological change over large areas seem to follow a more gradual, smooth pattern. In a paper published Feb. 28 in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution, the scientists from Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom argue that global-scale ecological tipping points are unlikely and that ecological change over large areas seem to follow a more gradual, smooth pattern.
This opposes recent efforts to define ‘planetary tipping points’ ‒ critical levels of biodiversity loss or land-use change that would have global effect ‒ with important implications for science and policy-makers…..
Climate change is increasing the risk of forest death through wildfires, insect infestations, drought, and disease outbreaks, according to a 1,000-plus-page draft of the third National Climate Assessment, released by the U.S.
NOAA’s latest seasonal drought outlook projects historic drought will persist.
Time is running out to avert a third summer of drought in much of the High Plains, West and Southwest, federal officials warned Thursday.
Without repeated, significant bouts of heavy snow and rain in the remaining days of winter, a large part of the country will face serious water supply shortages this spring and summer, when temperatures are hotter and average precipitation is normally low. The drought already ranks as the worst, in terms of severity and geographic extent, since the 1950s. Though it’s not over yet, its economic impact appears to be severe, said Brad Rippey, a meteorologist at the Agriculture Department’s Office of the Chief Economist. It “will probably end up being a top-five disaster event” on the government’s ranking of the costliest weather events of the past three decades, he said at a Capitol Hill briefing Thursday.
NOAA does forecast improvements in drought conditions in the Upper Midwest and Southeast, areas that have received beneficial precipitation in recent weeks.
“The next couple of months will kind of determine how the spring and summer plays out in that part of the country,” said Jake Crouch, a climate scientist at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. Crouch said that continued drought conditions could threaten water supplies in many areas, particularly in the Southwest.
Dwindling Water Supplies
With drought extending into its second or even third year in some areas, the main concerns are shifting from agriculture and recreation to water supplies as rivers run dry and reservoirs shrink.
Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston on Feb. 15, Texas state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said water managers are especially concerned about the situation in West Texas, where emergency conservation plans have gone into effect as water supplies dwindle.
In the western U.S., low mountain snowpack is once again a concern, especially in portions of Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming that feed the Platte and Arkansas rivers, said Mike Strobel of USDA’s National Resources Conservation Service….
A meticulous new analysis of Antarctic ice suggests that the sharp warming that ended the last ice age occurred in lock step with increases of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the latest of many indications that the gas is a powerful influence on the earth’s climate. Previous research suggested that as the world began to emerge from the depths of the ice age about 20,000 years ago, warming in Antarctica preceded changes in the global carbon dioxide level by something like 800 years. That relatively long gap led some climate-change contrarians to assert that rising carbon dioxide levels were essentially irrelevant to the earth’s temperature — a side effect of planetary warming, perhaps, but not the cause. Mainstream climate scientists rejected that view and argued that carbon dioxide, while it certainly did not initiate the end of the ice age, played a vital role in the feedback loops that caused a substantial warming. Still, a long gap between initial increases of temperature and of carbon dioxide was somewhat difficult for the scientists to explain. A wave of new research in the last few years has raised the likelihood that there was actually a small gap, if any. The latest paper was led by Frédéric Parrenin of the University of Grenoble, in France, and is scheduled for publication on Friday in the journal Science. Using relatively new, high-precision chemical techniques, his group sought to reconstruct the exact timing of the events that ended the ice age.
Last Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2013, 10:18
With the weather becoming erratic and a clear variation in temperature, snowfall and rainfall pattern being recorded, apple crops are no more getting the appropriate agro-climatic requirements, horticulturists and climate change experts say.
“Kashmiri apples are sweet because the rainfall is low. But in Arunachal, sometimes it rains very heavily which dilutes the sugar content of the crop affecting its taste,” Dr Nazeer Ahmad, director of Central Institute of Temperate Horticulture (CITH) in Srinagar, said.
For optimum growth and fruiting, apple trees need 100-125 cm of annual rainfall, evenly distributed during the growing season.
MUMBAI: About 45 to 88 per cent of bird species in Asia will decline in suitable habitats. According to a study conducted by Durham university and BirdLife International, bird species are at a peril due to climate change and will need special …
Yes, that’s right. We expect to set a low rainfall record this year for the January-February time frame even though our reservoir storage levels are above average. With only 2.07 inches of rain received at Lake Lagunitas since the first of the year, and no rain in the forecast for the remaining days of February, we are on track to set a new record low for January-February rainfall. The previous low of 3.43 inches dates back to 1920. Average rainfall for January and February combined is about 20 inches. Paradoxically, our reservoir storage levels are actually above average at 97 percent of capacity today compared to the average of 88 percent. Why? Two reasons: one, we entered the rainy season last fall with above-average storage and two, we had an extremely rainy November and December. We received 29.27 inches in the last two months of 2012, nearly double the average of 15 inches for that two-month period.
Here are the current water statistics:
Reservoir Levels – As of February 25 reservoir storage is 77,196 acre-feet,* or 97 percent of capacity. The average for this date is 70,074 acre-feet, or 88 percent of capacity. Total capacity is 79,566 acre-feet.
Rainfall – Rainfall this year (July 1, 2012 to February 25, 2013) is 35.38 inches. Last year for the same period we had 18.45 inches; average is 38.45 inches.
Water Use – Water use for the week ending February 25 averaged 17.4 million gallons per day, compared to 17.1 million gallons per day for the same week last year.
Creek Releases – During the month of January 2013 MMWD released 376 million gallons, or a total of 1,155 acre-feet, into Lagunitas and Walker creeks in west Marin. We release water throughout the year to maintain adequate flows for the fishery per our agreement with the State of California.
Current water use and reservoir figures can be found on the homepage of our website.
The White House has issued a new memo guiding agencies on how to implement the $85 billion budget sequester that goes into effect on Friday.
Congress has left Washington, guaranteeing that the sequester will go into effect at least temporarily.
The memo dated Wednesday from Office of Management and Budget Controller Danny Werfel says that OMB now estimates a 9 percent cut to affected domestic agency budgets and a 13 percent cut to defense. It also makes clear that the White House is giving agencies leeway in implementing the cuts.
“Agencies’ planning efforts must be guided by the principle of protecting the agency’s mission to serve the public to the greatest extent practicable. Planning efforts should be done with sufficient detail and clarity to determine the specific actions that will be taken to operate under the lower level of budgetary resources required by sequestration,” Werfel wrote.
For the first time, OMB emphasizes that agencies should look to restrict hiring, employee bonuses and travel to meet the budget goals.
That decision was praised by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who this week wrote to Budget Director Jeff Zients pointing out apparently non-essential positions being advertised as open in the federal government for hiring.
“I applaud the White House’s decision to reverse its opposition to using options like a hiring freeze and travel restrictions to avoid inflicting pain on the American people through their sequestration policy. OMB today reaffirmed the administration’s flexibility to make common sense budget choices instead of senseless across-the-board cuts. If the administration would like additional flexibility to avoid harmful consequences I would encourage them to seek that authority from Congress,” Coburn said.
The memo reminds agencies that it must negotiate with unions where they represent employees. It also says that procurement will be affected.
“Due to the government’s large acquisition footprint, sequestration will inevitably affect agency contracting activities and require agencies to reduce contracting costs where appropriate,” Werfel writes.
It also says financial assistance will take a hit in places.
“In light of sequestration, agencies may also consider delaying awarding of new financial assistance obligations, reducing levels of continued funding, and renegotiating or reducing the current scope of assistance. Agencies may be forced to reduce the level of assistance provided through formula funds or block grants,” the memo states.
Now that sequestration is upon us, it seems like a good time to relink to my column about why sequestration will probably be a bust and most people won’t notice. The key issue here isn’t that 8 percent across-the-board cuts to domestic discretionary programs will have no impact on Americans’ everyday lives. It’s that they won’t have much impact on American’s everyday lives over the month of March.
Agencies have seen this coming, and even the very stringent terms of sequestration leave some flexibility in place. Life will go on today, and life will go on next week.
The real issue is that the Continuing Resolution that funds the discretionary functions of the government expires on March 27. If that expires with no replacement we get a government shutdown—you’ll notice that. But if Democrats and Republicans reach an agreement on how much to spend in the replacement CR, then that legislation will almost certainly supersede the sequestration rules. Which isn’t to say it’ll eliminate the problems associated with sequestration. …. The game is whether we have a government shutdown in late March and whether avoiding a government shutdown involves entrenching very low levels of spending on things other than Medicare and Social Security…..
By Avery Fellow Feb 28, 2013 8:35 AM PT Bloomberg BNA – President Obama will announce in the upcoming weeks and months decisive actions the administration is planning to combat climate change, a senior White House adviser said Feb. 27.
Climate change is “one of the clearest and most urgent challenges of our time,” and Obama will soon discuss steps the administration will take to address it, said Heather Zichal, deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change.
Zichal spoke at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event on current issues in energy and environmental policy.
“We hope Congress will act soon on a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change,” Zichal said. She said the technologies are already available to transition to a low-carbon economy, but the challenge in addressing climate change is thinking long-term. She said Obama would keep his promise to take action if Congress does not.Zichal also said efforts to address climate change must not come from the federal government alone. “I want to make clear that response to climate change can’t be a Washington-centric solution,” she said, calling for state and local governments to act. Obama is proposing to use $2 billion in revenue from oil and gas development to transition cars from fossil fuels. The administration is interested in promoting safe and responsible development of natural gas, Zichal said. The Interior Department will soon finalize new rules requiring the disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing on public land, she said….
South Carolina news outlet TheState.com reported on Sunday that an official, comprehensive assessment of dramatic climate change impacts looming large in South Carolina’s future was buried and barred from release, apparently due to political pressure.
The test of President Obama’s seriousness about addressing climate change is not his pending decision on the much-debated Keystone XL pipeline. It’s whether he effectively consigns coal-fired power plants — one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions — to the ashcan of history.
Since his reelection, Obama has signaled a new focus on climate change. “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms,” he said in an inaugural address that devoted eight sentences to the issue, more than he spent on any other item on his policy agenda.
Global warming worries Californians but…
Peter Fimrite SF Chron Published 12:03 am, Monday, February 25, 2013
Two-thirds of California voters believe global warming is a threat and measures need to be taken to stop it, but the level of concern has dropped significantly over the past six years, according to a Field Poll released Monday. The poll found that 64 percent of Californians believe global warming is happening and something should be done to fight it, with more than half of the respondents, 37 percent, deeming it a serious problem worthy of immediate action. The survey of 834 registered voters shows that Californians are still very much concerned about global warming, particularly after a series of unusual weather events over the past year, including flooding, Superstorm Sandy and record-level heat and drought across the middle of the country…..
Jeffrey D. Sachs, Professor of Sustainable Development, Professor of Health Policy and Management, and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, is also Special Adviser to the United …
Feb. 28, 2013 New YORK – Of all major world regions, Europe has worked the hardest to implement policies aimed at countering human-caused climate change. Yet the cornerstone of Europe’s approach – a continent-wide emissions trading system for the greenhouse gases that cause climate change – is in trouble. That experience suggests a better strategy for both Europe and the rest of the world.…..The problem is that the permits’ market price has plummeted in the midst of Europe’s economic slowdown. Permits that used to sell for more than $30 per ton before the crisis now trade for under $10. At this low price, companies have little incentive to cut back on their CO2 emissions – and little faith that a market-based incentive will return. As a result, much of European industry continues on a business-as-usual energy path, even as Europe tries to lead the world in this transformation. But there is a much better strategy than tradable permits. Each region of the world should introduce a tax on CO2 emissions that starts low today and increases gradually and predictably in the future. Part of the tax revenue should be channeled into subsidies for new low-carbon energy sources like wind and solar, and to cover the costs of developing CCS. These subsidies could start fairly high and decline gradually over time, as the tax on CO2 emissions rises and the costs of new energy technologies fall with more experience and innovation. With a long-term and predictable carbon tax and subsidy system, the world would move systematically toward low-carbon energy, greater energy efficiency, and CCS. Time is short. The need for all major world regions to adopt practical and far-sighted energy policies is more urgent than ever.
Jack Lew, the White House nominee for Treasury secretary, says President Obama’s second-term vow to confront climate change will not lead to proposals to tax carbon dioxide emissions.
“The administration has not proposed a carbon tax, nor is it planning to do so,” Lew said in written responses to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, which will vote on Lew’s nomination Tuesday.
Carbon taxes or fees are generating new interest among climate advocates and some liberal lawmakers, especially amid debates about how to curb the deficit and overhaul the tax code
A team of state scientists has outlined serious concerns about the damage South Carolina will suffer from climate change – threats that include invading eels, dying salt marshes, flooded homes and increased diseases in the state’s wildlife.
But few people have seen the team’s study. The findings are outlined in a report on global warming that has been kept secret by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources for more than a year because agency officials say their “priorities have changed.”
DNR board members never put the study out for public review as planned. The State newspaper recently obtained a copy…..
New Recreational Groundfish Regulations Effective March 1 (California Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2/22/13)
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is announcing several changes to recreational groundfish regulations that apply to state waters, zero to three miles from shore. The new recreational regulations were adopted by the Fish and Game Commission and will take effect on
San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts on March 4 at 7:30. The talk is sponsored by the Simons Foundation and will be hosted by the American Institute of Mathematics and the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute. Tickets are $8.50; complimentary tickets are available here — just enter the discount code earth. The Mathematics of Planet Earth initiative is being launched to help integrate and promote the use of mathematics to understand and explain the world’s most critical issues, including climate change and sustainability, geophysics, ecology and epidemiology, biodiversity, as well as the global organization of the planet by humans. How does GPS work? Exactly how old is the Earth? Check it all out at the Mathematics of Planet Earth.
The North Pacific LCC is pleased to host a webinar discussing how wildlife managers can develop strategies based on models predicting how distribution and abundance of bird species will be affected by climate change. During the webinar, you will hear about a NPLCC-funded project that integrated various data sources and associated models into a readily accessible decision support system. You will learn how this tool can be used in climate adaptation planning efforts. To attend the webinar, click here and call in at 1-866-628-1318 (passcode: 6959549). You can also add this webinar to your calendar by clicking the button below. Dr. Sam Veloz, PRBO Conservation Science and Dr. John Alexander, Klamath Bird Observatory
sessions on the evenings of either May 15 or May 16. Night training is from 8:00 pm until midnight. All field sessions are at Elkhorn Ranch and Native Plant Nursery, 1957B Highway 1, Moss Landing. More information on the field training sessions can be found on the Coastal Training Program website.
This Colloquium builds on an earlier one held in October 2011 on Climate Change in the Southern California Bight. In parallel, we have also sponsored a series of workshops, previously held at USC, aimed at networking the research community studying climate change in the region ( dornsifecms.usc.edu/socal-climate-change/ ). The goals of this upcoming Colloquium are to provide a forum to foster:
Understanding of the interplay among climate change, ocean health and human dimensions.
Understanding how social vulnerability can be mitigated through effective adaptation and how communities can build resilience to climate change.
Please RSVP to ( firstname.lastname@example.org) by March 5, 2013 if you are interested in attending. Those who registered will receive additional information next week.
Climate-Smart Agriculture Global Science Conference March 20-22 2013 at UC Davis.
SER2013: 5th World Conference on Ecological Restoration- October 6-11, 2013 SER will hold its 5th World Conference on Ecological Restoration in Madison, Wisconsin, USA, on October 6-11, 2013. This event marks the 25th Anniversary of SER and will celebrate the conference theme of “Reflections on the Past, Directions for the Future.”
Researchers have discovered a new process that enables natural resource managers to better conserve particular wildlife, plants, and ecosystems as the climate continues to change.
Feb 28, 2013
The Adaptation for Conservation Targets (ACT) framework is a practical approach to assessing how future changes in air and water temperatures, precipitation, stream flows, snowpack, and other environmental conditions might affect natural resources. ACT enables scientists and managers to work hand-in-hand to consider how management actions may need to be adjusted to address those impacts.
The ACT framework was tested during a series of workshops at four southwestern United States landscapes that brought together 109 natural resource managers, scientists, and conservation practitioners from 44 local, state, tribal and federal agencies, and organizations. One example comes from the Bear River basin in Utah, where workshop participants looked at how warmer air and water temperatures and decreased summer stream flow might affect native Bonneville cutthroat trout habitat and populations.
“The ACT process helps workshop participants move beyond the paralysis many feel when tackling what is a new or even intimidating topic by creating a step-by-step process for considering climate change that draws on familiar conservation planning tools,” said WCS Conservation Scientist, Dr. Molly Cross. “By combining traditional conservation planning with an assessment of climate change impacts that considers multiple future scenarios, ACT helps practitioners lay out how conservation goals and actions may need to be modified to account for climate change.”
Editorial: How to strangle California’s oil industry (Orange County Register, 2/26/13)
“Sacramento’s Democratic leadership ought to take its time and consider a grand strategy for encouraging oil extraction in the most environmentally sensitive and economically fruitful ways rather than to clamp down on it before the state has a chance to tap into a gusher of new revenue.”
The utility giant American Electric Power (AEP) will stop burning coal at three power plants by 2015 under a settlement agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), several states and a handful of environmental and civil groups.
The Sierra Club said Monday that 2,011 megawatts of coal-generated electricity will come offline at facilities in Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.
“This agreement is only the latest sign of progress as our country continues to transition away from dirty, dangerous and expensive coal-fired power plants,” Jodi Perras, Indiana campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, said in a Monday statement.
AEP agreed to install 200 megawatts of wind and solar energy by 2015 in Michigan and Indiana to partially offset the loss of coal-fired power. It also will add pollution-control technology to a power plant in southern Indiana — though AEP would need to shut parts of the plant down beginning in 2025 if it cannot sufficiently lower sulfur dioxide emissions.
Posted: 24 Feb 2013 08:03 AM PST By Kenneth Bossong
According to the latest “Energy Infrastructure Update” report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Energy Projects, 1,231 MW of new in-service electrical generating capacity came on line in the United States in January 2013 — all from wind, solar, and biomass sources.
This represents a nearly three-fold increase in new renewable energy generating capacity compared to the same month in 2012 when wind, solar, and biomass provided 431 MW of new capacity….
Posted: 28 Feb 2013 09:00 AM PST John Farrell via ILSR
Suddenly everyone knows about Germany’s solar power dominance because Fox News …, suggesting that the country is a sunny, tropical paradise. Most media folks have figured out that there are some monster differences in policy (e.g. a feed-in tariff), but then latch on to the “Germans pay a lot extra” meme. Germans do, and are perfectly happy with it, but that’s still not the story.T he real reason Germany dominates in solar (and wind) is their commitment to democratizing energy. Half of their renewable power is owned by ordinary Germans, because that wonky sounding feed-in tariff (often known as a CLEAN Contract Program in America) makes it ridiculously simple and safe for someone to park their money in generating solar electricity on their roof instead of making pennies in interest at the bank. It also makes their “energy change” movement politically bulletproof. Germans aren’t tree-hugging wackos giving up double mochas for wind turbines. They are investing by the tens of thousand in a clean energy future that is putting money back in their pockets and creating well over 300,000 new jobs (at last count). Their policy makes solar cost half as much to install as it does in America, where the free market’s red tape can’t compete with their “socialist” efficiency. Fox News’ gaffe about sunshine helps others paper over the real tragedy of American energy policy. In a country founded on the concept of self-reliance (goodbye, tea imports!), we finance clean energy with tax credits that make wind and solar reliant on Wall Street instead of Main Street. We largely preclude participation by the ordinary citizen unless they give up ownership of their renewable energy system to a leasing company. We make clean energy a complicated alternative to business as usual, while the cloudy, windless Germans make the energy system of the future by making it stupid easy and financially rewarding. I’m all for pounding the faithless fools of Fox, but let’s learn the real secret to German energy engineering and start making democratic energy in America….
The latest cover story of Mother Jones magazine — and, relatedly, the latest Climate Desk Live briefing, occurring this Wednesday in D.C. — are focused on one of the “good news” energy stories that we don’t hear often enough: How the U.S. military in general, and particularly the Navy, are taking the energy challenge head-on for good, strategic reasons. The piece begins, memorably enough, with environmental correspondent Julia Whitty’s gut-tightening high speed landing on-board the USS Nimitz. A 1,092 foot aircraft carrier, the Nimitz was involved last summer in the “Great Green Fleet” demonstration, in which five ships and 71 aircraft were operated using biofuel blends or nuclear power. As Whitty reports, the Defense Department uses over 12 million gallons of oil daily in its operations. About a third of that use is attributable to the Navy. That makes thinking about the global energy future — and where affordable fuel is going to come from in the future — a national security necessity. As Navy Secretary David Mabus, a biofuels champion, has put it, “Too many of our platforms and too many of our systems are gas hogs.” In particular, the lesson of past oil price spikes has been a telling one — Navy fuel costs can rise by dollar amounts in the billions because of market fluctuations. That’s a reality impossible for strategic planners to ignore. So while Washington fights endlessly over climate and energy, the Navy just starts solving problems.
Whitty’s piece goes into great depth about how the Navy has, historically, been an energy and navigational technology innovator. This is not the first time: the Great Green Fleet descends from Teddy Roosevelt’s “Great White Fleet,” which back in 1907 sailed around the world in newfangled ships made of steel and powered by coal. Before that, there were those who resisted (yes) switching from sails to steam engines. The Navy was on the right side of that fight, too.
The most important point of Whitty’s article is that when the Navy moves — and it is moving — the rest of the world follows. It is such a massive institution — the Great Green Fleet exercise required a government purchase of 900,000 gallons of 50-50 biofuel blend — that when it demands innovations, the civilian world and industry quickly come to heel, asking for their orders. On Wednesday in D.C., the Climate Desk Live will focus on Whitty’s article and the significance of the Navy’s transformation, featuring the author herself and three additional speakers: Dr. David Titley, the retired naval officer who led the Navy’s Task Force on Climate Change, Capt. James Goudreau, director of the Navy’s Energy Coordination Office, and Dr. D. James Baker, who is the former administrator of NOAA, the current director of the Global Carbon Measurement Program of the William J. Clinton Foundation, and the co-author of a new report on the relationship between weather extremes and national security. You can learn more about the event at these links — and watch a live stream if you can’t attend in person.
Chris Mooney is a science and political journalist at Mother Jones. Julia Whitty is an award-winning author and a former documentary filmmaker.
The task of understanding humanity is too important and too daunting to leave to the humanities. Their many branches, from philosophy to law to history and the creative arts, have described the particularities of human nature with genius and exquisite detail, back and forth in endless permutations. But they have not explained why we possess our special nature and not some other out of a vast number of conceivable possibilities. In that sense, the humanities have not accounted for a full understanding of our species’ existence.
So, just what are we? The key to the great riddle lies in the circumstance and process that created our species. The human condition is a product of history, not just the six millenniums of civilization but very much further back, across hundreds of millenniums. The whole of it, biological and cultural evolution, in seamless unity, must be explored for an answer to the mystery. When thus viewed across its entire traverse, the history of humanity also becomes the key to learning how and why our species survived
By Joe Romm on Feb 28, 2013 at 5:30 pm climateprogress.org
MY DIAGNOSIS AND PROGNOSIS
My prognosis is very likely to be very good, despite the ominous sounding diagnosis — a small well-defined pancreatic neuro-endocrine tumor (PNET). Today, Thursday, I had surgery at Johns Hopkins to remove it. It wasn’t causing symptoms (that I’m aware of).
A PNET may or may not be cancer depending on your definition of cancer. In any case, it’s not what people normally think of when they hear the word cancer, particularly pancreatic cancer. You can read a “layman’s guide” to PNETs by Matthew Dallek at Slate.
I don’t generally blog about my health, in part since it takes a lot to stop me from blogging, but this is blogworthy, I think for a few reasons:
There are many analogies between dealing with early stage climate change and dealing with early stage diseases, analogies I’ve often made myself. As you can imagine, I’ve thought of a few more in the last several weeks….
What might you expect to find in communities where “family values” are the strongest? More churches? More parents helping out in classrooms? Maybe more bake sales? Yes, perhaps. But there’s one thing you would definitely find: solar panels.
Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder shows that one modern marker of communities with greater “family interdependence” — a social science term that indicates the value a person places on time spent with their family — is that more new solar energy businesses take root. Further, where state solar incentives are in place, high levels of family interdependence seem to supercharge the effectiveness of those incentives.
These aren’t just weird facts. The information is mind-blowing. It suggests that if government cares about solving climate change, or clean energy jobs, or entrepreneurship, then social norms — the unwritten rules of community conduct — might matter as much as rebates and incentives.
In short, for President Obama to meet his goal of responding to the threat of climate change and sow the seeds of clean energy development, he may not only need to build consensuses in Congress and implement the right economic policies. He might also need to rebuild Mayberry; to increase societal cohesion, neighborliness, family relationships, and community-mindedness. In fact, bolstering civic participation and fostering communities that value family might be just as important as economic policy in fixing climate change…..
It’s obvious how this should end. You’ve got the richest industry on earth, fossil fuel, up against some college kids, some professors, a few environmentalists, a few brave scientists. And it’s worse than that. The college students want their universities to divest from fossil fuel – to sell off their stock in Exxon and…..Hence divestment. Sometimes, colleges can exert influence without selling stock – on many issues, like sweatshop labor, they may have been smarter to keep their stock, so they could use their position as shareholders to influence corporate decision-making. “But when we were talking about sweatshops, it wasn’t because we were opposed to t-shirts. We just needed some changes in how companies operated,” says Klein. Adds Dan Apfel, who as head of the Responsible Endowments Coalition has coordinated much of the emerging divestment furor, “If you’re Apple, we want you to produce your computers in ways that are good. But we like computers. The fossil fuel industry, though – its existence is fundamentally against our existence. We can’t change them by investing in them, because they’re not going to write off reserves. There’s no way they can be made sustainable, in the same way tobacco can’t be made healthy.”….3) Faced with this kind of irrefutable evidence, colleges have led in the past, conceding that their endowments, in extreme cases, can’t seek merely to maximize returns.
In the 1980s, 156 colleges divested from companies that did business in apartheid South Africa, a stand that Nelson Mandela credited with providing a great boost to the liberation struggle. “I remember those days well,” says James Powell, who served as president of Oberlin, Franklin and Marshall, and Reed College. “Trustees at first said our only job was to maximize returns, that we don’t do anything else. They had to be persuaded there were some practices colleges simply shouldn’t be associated with, things that involved the oppression of people.” Since then, colleges have taken stances with their endowments on issues from Sudan to sweatshops. When Harvard divested from tobacco stocks in 1990, then-president Derek Bok said the university did not want “to be associated with companies whose products create a substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm to other human beings.” Given that the most recent data indicates fossil fuel pollution could kill 100 million by 2030, the coal, oil and gas industry would seem to pass that test pretty easily; it’s also on the edge of setting off the 6th great extinction crisis, so everyone over in the biology lab studying non-human beings has a stake too. Here’s how Desmond Tutu, Mandela’s partner in the liberation of South Africa, put it in a video he made for the DotheMath tour: “The corporations understood the logic of money even when they weren’t swayed by the dictates of morality,” the Nobel Peace Prize-winner explained. “Climate change is a deeply moral issue, too, of course. Here in Africa, we see the dreadful suffering of people from worsening drought, from rising food prices, from floods, even though they’ve done nothing to cause the situation. Once again, we can join together as a world and put pressure where it counts.” Or, you know, not.
…..At some schools, some of the money can be re-invested in the college itself – in making the kind of green improvements that save substantial sums. Jeff Orlowski, head of the Sustainable Endowments Institute, just published a report showing that the average annual return on investment for a thousand efficiency projects at campuses across the country was just under 30 percent, which makes the stock market look anemic. “College trustees often think of a new lighting system as an ‘expense,’ not an investment, but it’s not,” he says. “If you invest a million and can expect to clear $2.8 million over the next decade, that’s the definition of fiduciary soundness.” At colleges – and elsewhere – the potential for significant reinvestment is large: the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, for instance, is considering urging its pension fund to divest a billion dollars. That could do some serious re-greening.
It’s also possible that the insights into the future supplied by aroused student activists might actually make for savvy investing advice. As hedge fund founder Tom Steyer, who has advised trustees to divest their stock, put it, “From a selfish point of view, it’s very good for colleges that they know something about the future that others don’t. Because investing is not about what’s happened in the past – all prices are really anticipations of what’s going to happen in the future. As soon as the trouble we face is really common knowledge it’s going to be reflected in the price. But it’s not reflected in the price yet.”Steyer’s a good investor – his net worth puts him on the Fortune 400 list, meaning he’s worth far more than most college endowments. What he’s saying is: Colleges are lucky to have physics departments not just because physics is a good thing. In a sense, universities have insider information – they know how bad global warming is going to be, and hence can get the hell out of fossil fuel stocks before, not after, governments intervene to make them keep their reserves underground. “Once the scientific research filters into the minds of investors around the world, the price won’t stand,” he says. But since the average investor relies on, say, the Wall Street Journal, which has served as an unending mouthpiece for climate denial, colleges have the advantage. “The only way you gain an investing advantage over the rest of the world is when you have an edge.” As for those who think they’ll wait until the last minute, just before the carbon bubble bursts, “That’s one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard. No one ever gets out at the top. It’s worth missing another couple of good years of Exxon to avoid what’s coming.”
….The fossil fuel industry may be dominant in the larger world, but on campus, it’s coming up against some of its first effective opposition. Global warming has become a key topic in every discipline from theology to psychology to accounting, from engineering and anthropology to political science. It’s the greatest intellectual and moral problem in human history – which, if you think about it, is precisely the reason we have colleges and universities.
You’ve heard of pink slime. You know trans fats are cardiovascular atrocities. You’re well aware that store-bought orange juice is essentially a scam. But, no matter how great of a processed-food sleuth you are, chances are you’ve never set food inside a processing plant to see how many of these products are actually made. Writer Melanie Warner, whose new exposé-on-the-world-of-processed-foods book, Pandora’s Lunchbox, is out this week, spent the past year and a half doing exactly that. In her quest to explore the murky and convoluted world of soybean oil, milk protein concentrates (a key ingredient in processed cheese), and petroleum-based artificial dyes, she spoke to food scientists, uncovered disturbing regulatory loopholes in food law, and learned just how little we know about many of the food products on supermarket shelves.