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February 26 2014

19:41

February 24 2014

19:17
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February 14 2014

00:43

Refuting the 9 Reasons Why the Keystone XL will be Approved

Despite all of the efforts being made to resist the construction of the Keystone XL, it will likely gain the approval of U.S. President Barack Obama. Supporting evidence for the notion that we will move ahead with the Keystone XL comes from the corporate sector. Powerful corporate interests have considerable resources that often enable them to ascertain the outcome of political decisions well ahead of the general public. Berkshire Hathaway has made a move that indicates that they believe the pipeline will be approved. Berkshire controls BNSF which is comprised of nearly 400 different railroad lines that merged or were acquired. Despite its rail holdings, since the end of 2013, Berkshire has been greedily buying shares of Phillips 66 Pipeline Flow Improver in a stock deal valued at about $1.4 billion.

Will the Keystone XL pipeline be approved? If so, it's for all the wrong reasonsThe logic to move forward will be based primarily on nine major points:

First is the way the question was framed in the State Department’s most recent report. When faced with the choice between pipe and rail, the former is the better option from a total carbon emission point of view. Rail takes far more energy to move oil compared to a pipeline. Oil moved by rail increases greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 27.8 – 39 percent and if the oil is transported to the Gulf of Mexico, GHG emissions would rise to about 41.2 percent. What this assessment does not factor is the issue associated with the increasing exploitation of tar sands oil, which has a far worse emissions profile than conventional crude.

The second issue concerns safety and when presented with the false dichotomy between pipe and rail, the former is once again the better option. As explained by the Manhattan Institute, pipe is the safest way to move oil. While pipe is superior from an environmental safety point of view, this is another false choice, as moving oil by any means is not safe.

Third is the economic argument, moving oil through a pipeline is more cost effective than rail. The State Department has indicated that there will be as many as 42,100 (direct, indirect and induced) jobs from the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. However, a number of independent analysis, including one from Cornell University, have refuted this number. The President himself has rebuffed the economic and jobs benefits of the Keystone XL and he stated that very few permanent jobs would be created. Some have even suggested that the pipeline will have a harmful economic impact due to increased fuel costs. In the final analysis, the costs of climate change will utterly eclipse any short term economic gain.

The fourth rational has to do with political considerations. The Keystone has been a fund raising bonanza for pro-oil Republicans and some Democrats, so this issue is at the forefront of their midterm campaign strategies. As we head into the 2014 midterms, denying the Keystone would be political suicide for many Democrats up for reelection. Despite the President’s go it alone strategy, there is only so much he can do with Executive Orders. He cannot afford to lose control of the Senate or lose ground in the House. However, there are times when a President must lead rather than succumb to the the short-sighted math of political equations.

A fifth reason is President Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy which he reiterated in his most recent State of the Union address. The President has repeatedly stated that he seeks energy independence and the Keystone XL may be construed as a means of achieving this objective. Climate activists would prefer that he abandoned his all of the above strategy and adopt a “best of the above” approach.

The sixth reason is the demand for oil and heavy bituminous oil in particular. Heavy bituminous oil is critical for operations at U.S. refineries because light crude does not have the carbon content to make anything other than diesel and gasoline. Bituminous oil is used to make a far larger number of products. Currently, heavy oil is being shipped to the U.S. from Venezuela, but those reserves are expected to be depleted in the next five years. What this argument does not factor is that tar sands oil is far more environmentally destructive and demand needs to be curtailed rather than expanded.

A seventh reason arises from the claims that suggest if this oil is not used by the U.S. it will be shipped to China. The fact is that this is not accurate. The Canadian government has not been able to gain approval for the Northern Gateway pipeline which would ferry the bitumen to the west coast for transport to China. Further, the U.S. should not be phased by investment groups invovled in Alberta’s tar sands as they are driven by profits that will be generated from shipping the oil to the U.S, not moving tar sands oil to China.

An eighth reason involves the fact that because oil is already being moved by pipelines across the country, one more will not make a difference, even if it traverses the Ogallala aquifer. Proponents of the Keystone point to the pipelines, gas stations and chemical plants that are already on top of the aquifer. What this assessment ignores is the vast number of massive oil spills that have occurred and the fact that pipelines inevitably spill oil. A pipeline as large and as dangerous as the Keystone XL represents an unacceptable level of risk. At a time when we should be scaling back fossil fuel pipelines, we should not build another simply because this is what we have done in the past.

A ninth factor and perhaps the most salient issue involves the fact that shutting down the Keystone XL would be a blow to the fossil fuel industry, the most powerful and lucrative industry on earth. The fact remains that we cannot be held hostage to an industry that threatens to destroy our civilization. If we are not be able to curb our consumption of petrochemicals, we will not be able to reduce our GHGs. The result will be runaway climate change. Simply put, we cannot afford to ramp up oil production, particularly oil as destructive as that which comes from the tar sands.

As Bill McKibben pointed out early last year,

“Physics…takes the carbon dioxide we produce and translates it into heat, which means into melting ice and rising oceans and gathering storms. And unlike other problems, the less you do, the worse it gets.  Do nothing and you soon have a nightmare on your hands. With climate change, unless we act fairly soon in response to the timetable set by physics, there’s not much reason to act at all.”

McKibben concludes by saying that we cannot afford to wait for President to reign in the fossil fuel industry, “we’re not waiting for him. We can’t.”

While it may be tragically unfortunate, the Keystone will likely win the approval of the President, albeit for all the wrong reasons. Those who understand the environmentally perilous course of expanding Alberta’s tar sands know that the Keystone XL pipeline fails the President’s own climate test, which he outlined in his speech at Georgetown last year.

The large body of climate science clearly tells us that we cannot continue to burn fossil fuels, particularly not oil as destructive as that which comes from the tar sands. It would be far better to shut down the Keystone XL and allow the combination of government regulations and market forces to wean America off of fossil fuels. This could in turn drive massive investment in renewable energy which is both clean and abundant.
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Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Shannon Ramos, courtesy flickr

The post Refuting the 9 Reasons Why the Keystone XL will be Approved appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

February 11 2014

20:17

EPA Leader McCarthy Talks Good Jobs, Green Jobs at D.C. Conference

Global warming, job creation and the growing divide in incomes and wealth – three controversial, divisive issues that have come to take center stage in U.S politics and society since the dawn of the new millennium. Though his efforts have wholly pleased neither left nor right, Democrat or Republican, oil industry executive or environmentalist, President Obama and his administration have sought to address all three, and in an integrated manner, to a greater degree than any of his predecessors.

Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference highlights the benefits of the green economyHeard, read about and seen in various guises – sustainable development, the green economy or low-carbon society – the President has been assembling the elements of a new self-organizing paradigm for the U.S. economy and society in the 21st century, one that recognizes that while economic development and growth are vital to the health and well-being of society, so is a fair, equitable and inclusive distribution of income and wealth, and so are clean air, clean waters, biodiversity and healthy ecosystems.

Taking this green economy platform out to the public, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is one of a host of prominent Americans speaking today and tomorrow at the eighth Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference in Washington, D.C.

Environment, economy, ethics

In the Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference’s first plenary session, a panel that included United Steelworkers International president Leo W. Gerard, BlueGreen Alliance Foundation President David Foster, and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar discussed U.S. infrastructure needs.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy was the featured speaker in an afternoon panel session that also included Maryland Congresswoman Donna Edwards. Ms. McCarthy opened with a strong statement of values and environmental ethics:

“Whether it’s the teachers union or the steelworkers, the moral of the story is the same, our work and our family values have little value without fair protections that keep us all safe and healthy. At the end of the day, what is economic productivity worth if our water is too dirty to drink and our air is too dirty to breathe?”

The terrible, and rising, costs of climate change inaction

Times they are a’changing, the EPA Administrator continued, highlighting the emergence of a new, clean energy economy and the growing costs and threats posed by climate change. “Climate impacts are not only hurting our people and our planet, they are a threat to our economy.”

By how much exactly?  Emergency and disaster relief cost the U.S. government and taxpayer $110 billion in 2012, the second highest price tag in American history, “all off budget,” Ms. McCarthy highlighted.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka earlier this month talked about the already high and terrible costs of climate change inaction, Ms. McCarthy noted. Repeating Trumka for emphasis, “The nation that goes all in on innovation today will own the global energy [of] tomorrow,” she stated.

“That’s what this president, President Obama, said in his State of the Union. President Trumka, President Obama know what they’re talking about. They agree on these issues. That’s why we need to work together to explore creative approaches to meet our energy demands.

Making lemonade

“That’s why President Obama reiterated his commitment to climate action in the State of the Union. And we need to take action without sacrificing the health protections, without sacrificing jobs in our communities, and without sacrificing a reliable, affordable energy system. And we need to do it with every sensitivity to the workers who have brought energy to American families for decades.

“It’s not just about jobs, it is about fairness, it is about communities, communities where those workers live, and we need to be sensitive to those issues as we struggle to find the right solutions moving forward.”

Strong words. Good words. Positive words, delivered with what sure looks like hones belief and genuine commitment. Tune in and listen to Ms. McCarthy’s entire speech

*Image credit: Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference

The post EPA Leader McCarthy Talks Good Jobs, Green Jobs at D.C. Conference appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

February 10 2014

19:19

EarthTalk: Harsh Winters and Global Warming

EarthTalk® is a weekly environmental column made available to our readers from the editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: Does the fact that we’ve had such a cold and snowy winter mean that global warming might not be such a big problem after all? – Lacey L., Lynchburg, VA

Does the record-breaking cold weather in parts of North America mean the end of global warming? Unfortunately, no. It’s tempting to think that the cold air and snow outside augur the end of global warming, but don’t rejoice yet. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), weather and climate are two very different beasts: “Weather is what’s happening outside the door right now; today a snowstorm or a thunderstorm is approaching. Climate, on the other hand, is the pattern of weather measured over decades.”

Isolated weather events and even seasonal trends are not an indication of global warming’s existence one way or another, and most climatologists agree that the carbon pollution we have been spewing into the atmosphere for the past century is leading to more frequent and intense storms of every kind and causing greater temperature swings all around the planet. In short, the harsh winter we are having shouldn’t be viewed as a refutation of global warming, but rather as further evidence of a growing problem.

“There is a clear long-term global warming trend, while each individual year does not always show a temperature increase relative to the previous year, and some years show greater changes than others,” reports the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The agency chalks up these year-to-year fluctuations to natural processes such as El Niño or volcanic eruptions, but points out that, regardless, the 20 warmest years on record have occurred since 1981, while the 10 warmest were in the past 12 years. And global average temperatures have risen by 1.4°F overall since the early 20th century.

According to Becky Oskin of LiveScience.com, shrinking polar ice caps as a result of global warming in recent decades are one factor that may be contributing to the cold weather in North America this winter.

“One way the shrinking ice changes weather is by pushing winter air south,” she reports. “When the stored ocean heat gradually escapes in autumn, it changes the pattern of an atmospheric wind called the polar vortex, streaming frigid Arctic air into North America and Europe.”

Meanwhile, a 2012 study by researchers Jennifer Francis and Stephen Vavrus concluded that intense warming in the Arctic has caused changes to the jet stream that regulates air circulation around the planet, potentially leading to stronger winter storms hitting the eastern seaboard of the U.S.

And what about all that snow? “Hotter air around the globe causes more moisture to be held in the air than in prior seasons,” reports UCS. “When storms occur, this added moisture can fuel heavier precipitation in the form of more intense rain or snow.” The U.S. is already enduring more intense rain and snowstorms, says the group: “The amount of rain or snow falling in the heaviest one percent of storms has risen nearly 20 percent, averaged nationally—almost three times the rate of increase in total precipitation between 1958 and 2007.” And some regions of the country “have seen as much as a 67 percent increase in the amount of rain or snow falling in the heaviest storms.”

And Oskin points out that while we may be bundling up and shoveling out in the U.S., it’s turned into another scorcher of a summer in the Southern Hemisphere: 2013 was Australia’s hottest year on record, and 2014 has started off even hotter, with temperatures soaring to 125°F and severe fire warnings issued in at least two states there. Apparently global warming is still on.

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EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E – The Environmental Magazine.

Image credit: Marques Stewart, courtesy flickr

The post EarthTalk: Harsh Winters and Global Warming appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

February 07 2014

20:27

Keystone XL vs. Renewable Energy

tar-sands-vs-renewable-energy-main

A head-to-head comparison demonstrates the overwhelming superiority of renewable energy over the Keystone XL. If approved, the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline will carry 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day from Alberta to the Gulf Coast in Texas. In addition to risks from spills and potential water impacts, the pipeline will facilitate the mass extraction of Canada’s global warming causing tar sands.

The Earth is getting warmer and we know that this will have calamitous costs, we also know that fossil fuels are the principle source of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Increased levels of GHGs have significant harmful impacts on our health, our environment, and our climate.

We are currently on track for catastrophic global warming if we continue with business as usual. If we want to have a shot at keeping global temperature increases under the internationally agreed upon upper threshold of 2 degrees Celsius, we must radically reduce our consumption of fossil fuels.

We cannot afford to add more than 310 gigatons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere, if we are to keep warming within two degrees C. We have already emitted 530 gigatons of carbon, and according to the IPCC’s latest report we can only add a total of 840 gigatons of carbon, that leaves us with a carbon budget of 310 gigatons. We will not be able to stay within our carbon budget and move forward if we move ahead with the Keystone XL.

To keep global temperatures below this threshold we will need to abandon much of the world’s fossil fuel reserves. This is particularly true of tar sands oil which has a far higher emissions profile than traditional oil.

If we are to meet growing energy needs, we will need to ramp up our use of renewables. While this entails considerable investment, it is far less than the combined costs of a significantly warmer world.

Emissions from the tar sands

If approved the Keystone XL pipeline will be a game changing contributer to climate change causing emissions. According to the NRDC report, tar sands oil emits 81 percent more emissions than conventional oil. If the Keystone XL goes forward a Sierra report claims it will generate 181 million metric tons of carbon, an emission load which is the yearly equivalent of building 51 new coal-fired power plants or putting 37 million additional cars on the road.

The State Department report

The State Department’s latest report on the Keystone XL does a very poor job of detailing the pipeline’s emissions, oil spill risks, and threats to water resources. The NRDC showed how the pipeline would increase U.S. carbon emissions by between 935 million and 1.2 billion metric tons over the project’s 50-year timeline. This is far more than indicated in the State Department’s report.

The Canadian province of Alberta, home of the tar sands, has a long history of pipeline explosions and spills. In the case of the Keystone XL, a spill could jeopardize a number of rivers and the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides drinking water and irrigates agriculture in parts of eight states. In 2013 alone, TransCanada, the company charged with building the Keystone XL, had 14 U.S. spills in a single year.

Pipelines are not only dangerous for the environment, they also kill and injure people. Since 1986, according to a ProPublica investigation, U.S. pipeline accidents have killed more than 500 people, injured over 4,000, and cost nearly $50 billion in property damages.

The State Department report claims that Canada’s tar sands will be exploited whether or not the pipeline is built. However, this is refuted by a Sierra article which states that the Royal Bank of Canada believes blocking Keystone XL would significantly inhibit Canada’s tar sands development.

Overview of the benefits of renewable energy

Renewable energy provides substantial environmental and economic benefits, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists this includes:

  1. Little or no greenhouse gas emissions: According to data aggregated by the International Panel on Climate Change, life-cycle global warming emissions associated with renewable energy which includes manufacturing, installation, operation and maintenance, and dismantling and decommissioning are minimal. A study by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) explored the feasibility and environmental impacts associated with generating 80 percent of the country’s electricity from renewable sources by 2050 and they found that global warming emissions from electricity production could be reduced by approximately 81 percent.
  2. Improved public health: Implementing renewable energy and transitioning away from fossil fuels will significantly reduce air and water pollution from fossil fuels which lead to breathing problems, neurological damage, heart attacks, and cancer. There is evidence to show that replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy can increase worker productivity, decrease premature mortality and significantly reduce overall healthcare costs.
  3. Vast inexhaustible supply of energy: The 2012, NREL study found that renewable energy can supply 482,247 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually which amounts to 118 times the nation’s annual electricity consumption.
  4. Stable energy prices: Unlike fossil fuels, renewable energy is providing affordable electricity across the country right now, and can help stabilize energy prices in the future. While renewable facilities require upfront investments to build, once built they operate at very low cost and, for most technologies, the fuel is free. As a result, renewable energy prices are relatively stable over time. Prices will also benefit from the increased competition that is afforded by scaling renewables. Further, renewable would decrease costs to utility companies that currently spend millions of dollars on financial instruments to hedge themselves against fossil fuel price volatility.
  5. Reliable and resilient energy system: Wind and solar are less prone to large-scale failure than fossil fuel powered systems because they are distributed and modular. To illustrate the point, a Renewable Energy World article cites a study which showed how Hurricane Sandy damaged and disrupted fossil fuel powered electricity generation and distribution in New York and New Jersey, while renewable energy projects in the Northeast weathered the storm with minimal damage or disruption. This is of great importance as we expect to experience more extreme weather due to climate change. Unlike fossil fuel or nuclear power, wind and solar do not require water to generate electricity which makes them better able to deal with issues of water scarcity.

Pros and cons of renewable energy

While there are many very serious problems associated with the Keystone XL pipeline and the dirty bitumen it will carry, a balanced assessment of renewables make a strong case for clean energy. As summarized in an EEP article, renewable energy offers a slew of useful benefits.

Wind

Pros: U.S. onshore wind resources have the potential to generate almost 10,500 GW of electricity, 175 times more than the current installed capacity of 60 GW. Based on the average U.S. electricity fuel mix, a one MW wind turbine can displace 1,800 tons of CO2 emissions per year. With a wind power capacity of 300 GW, 825 million metric tons of CO2 emissions could be avoided annually. Most importantly, wind turbines generate very little emissions. Wind emits only 0.02 to 0.04 pounds of CO2E/kWh.

Cons: They generate noise pollution and can prove deadly to bats and birds.

Solar

Pros: Solar photovoltaic (PV) modules covering 0.6 percent of U.S. land area could meet national electricity demand. While solar PV modules produce no emissions during operation. Solar emits only 0.07 to 0.2 pounds of CO2E/kWh.

Cons: Solar PV modules require toxic substances (e.g., cadmium and selenium) in their manufacturing.

Biomass

Pros: Biomass has low net C02 emissions in comparison to fossil fuels. At combustion, it releases only the CO2 it previously removed from the atmosphere.

Cons: Additional emissions are associated with processing. Land use is another problem as it requires 124 acres of land to generate one GWh of energy per year and using crop land to grow fuel can adversely impact global food production.

Geothermal

Pros: U.S. geothermal power offsets the emission of 22 million metric tons of CO2, 200,000 tons of nitrogen oxides, and 110,000 tons of particulate matter from coal-powered plants each year. Geothermal emits only 0.1 to 0.2 pounds of CO2E/kWh.

Cons: Some geothermal facilities produce solid waste such as salts and minerals that must be disposed of in approved sites, but some byproducts can be recovered and recycled.

Hydropower

Pros: Electricity generated from hydropower is virtually emission free. Hydroelectric power emits between 0.1 and 0.5 pounds of CO2E/kWh.

Cons: significant levels of methane and CO2 may be emitted through the decomposition of vegetation that is flooded by the dam. Other environmental concerns include fish injury and mortality, habitat degradation, and water quality impairment. However there are technologies that can help to minimize some of the adverse consequences including “fish-friendly” turbines and smaller dams.

Overall the pros of renewable energy far outweigh the costs.

Declining cost of renewables

The cost of renewable energy has been steadily declining and as we scale renewables this price will continue to decline. The more we produce the lower the cost. As it stands now wind power is currently competitive with fossil fuels and solar has achieved grid parity with coal. Long-term wind contracts are now more than 40 percent cheaper than they were just three years ago and the average price of a solar panel has dropped almost 60 percent since 2011. The cost of generating electricity from wind dropped more than 20 percent between 2010 and 2012 and more than 80 percent since 1980. The cost of renewable energy will decline even further as markets mature and companies increasingly take advantage of economies of scale. These costs could be further reduced with the help of standards. A 25 percent renewable electricity standard would lead to 7.6 percent lower electricity prices by 2030.

Renewable energy currently provides only a tiny fraction of its potential electricity output in the U.S. But a plethora of studies have demonstrated that renewable energy can be rapidly deployed to provide a significant share of future electricity needs.

Rather than supporting Canada’s exploitation of the tar sands, the U.S. should be resisting their northern neighbor’s reckless obsession with hydrocarbons. In addition to scaling renewable energy, the most important single thing that the U.S. can do is to deny Canada a market for its dirty fuel.

While the rampant exploitation of Canada’s tar sands oil means “game over” for efforts to combat climate change, renewable energy offers a secure, clean, and healthy solution to America’s energy needs.

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Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: lamoix, Howl Arts Collective, courtesy flickr

 

The post Keystone XL vs. Renewable Energy appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

February 03 2014

16:20

17 Foundations Divest from Fossil Fuels

Seventeen U.S. nonprofit grantmaking charities have announced they are divesting from fossil fuel investments.  For those new to this world, foundations are typically funded by endowments created by a benefactor or family legacy.  These funds are invested, usually in a combination of mutual funds, stocks, hedge funds and bonds.  The foundations distribute a portion of the profits as grants and use the rest to pay for operations and reinvestment into the endowment.

17 foundations are divesting their holdings away from dirty energy companies. Will the fossil fuel divestment movement grow to have real impact in our energy economy?As even the most novice investor would tell you, there are many different strategies for investing.  However, there is a growing belief that we can do good with our money by choosing investments wisely.  By investing in companies that are doing good, we are furthering our own values; be they social, environmental or community-driven.  By selling our shares in companies we perceive to be harming things we believe in, we can have a different kind of impact.  The latter strategy is called “negative screening” and the former “positive screening”.

Negative screening has been in the news a lot lately, in the form of prominent investors “divesting” in particular companies or funds.  350.org, perhaps the most notable grassroots organization fighting against climate change, has led the charge against institutional investments in fossil fuels and other environmentally harmful industries.

Named for the maximum safe concentration of carbon in the atmosphere (350 parts-per-million), 350.org has organized over 500,000 people globally in the fight against global warming.  Their latest win is successfully convincing 17 major foundations it was worth shedding their investments in dirty companies.  350.org and their partner gofossilfree.org maintain a list of the top 200 companies that deal in dirty fossil fuels.

So what’s the big deal if 17 of the thousands of foundations choose to shift their money?  Collectively they manage $1.8 billion in assets.  Not much next to Warren Buffet.  But quite a hefty amount of money nonetheless.

There is a strong argument from traditional investment advisors that divesting in a particular company has very little (if any) impact on that company’s behavior unless it is a magnitude of dollars very few people control.  This may be true.  But at this point, we are early in the institutional divestment movement and every action sends a message.

Recent efforts to convince the largest institutional investors such as Harvard and Yale to divest in fossil fuels have failed.  But the popular opinion is quickly shifting about these dirty fuel sources.  Some major donors to university endowments have actually started placing restrictions on their funds, limiting them to clean and/or renewable energy investments only.  Now that’s putting your money where your mouth is.

Image credit: Seven Days VT

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January 30 2014

22:51

The Perilous Contradictions in the President’s 2014 State of the Union Address

Staying within prescribed climate change limits will be difficult under Obama’s all-of-the-above strategy. Although Obama may be the greenest President in American history he is not doing enough to stave off the worst impacts of climate change. In his State of the Union address, he did talk about the veracity of climate change and the need to further reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions, however his ongoing support for fossil fuel extraction is dangerous and imperils hopes that we can tackle the issue of climate change before we reach irreversible tipping points.

The President made many laudable points during his address including his desire to increase protections for air, water, land and American communities. He quite correctly explained that, “we have to act with more urgency because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought and coastal cities dealing with floods.”

In his state of the union address, Obama touted his The President touted the growth of solar power saying: “[W]e’re becoming a global leader in solar too. Every four minutes another American home or business goes solar, every panel pounded into place by a worker whose job can’t be outsourced.”

The President has repeatedly stated his desire to put an end to tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry and use that money for fuels of the future (ie renewables). A point which he reiterated in his State of the Union address.

The President also touted his efficiency efforts including efficiency standards for new cars. He went on to suggest that he will be imposing new fuel efficiency standards for medium and heavy weight trucks. However, their is an irreconcilable paradox between efficiency and the expansion of fossil fuel.

The President indicated that he wants to “cut red tape” to help businesses build factories that use natural gas. As he explained, “If [natural gas is] extracted safely, it’s the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change.”

While natural gas could be made far less destructive if we could eradicate (or substantially reduce) methane leaks associated with extraction, it is easier said than done.

The President made the point that the U.S. has reduced its carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth over the last 8 years. He further indicated that he wants to set new standards for power plants which would tighten restrictions on CO2 emissions.

All of the above – Obama can’t have it both ways

While efforts to reduce GHGs are beyond reproach, his overall strategy conceals an irreconcilable contradiction. Reducing GHGs is at odds with increasing domestic dirty energy exploitation. The simple fact is he cannot have it both ways.

Despite pleas from the leading U.S. environmental organizations to stop fossil fuel extraction, President Obama’s State of the Union address indicates that he intends to move forward with his “all of the above” energy strategy.

The reliance on natural gas and oil may undermine efforts to stay within prescribed scientific limits. The first limit concerns temperature increases, the second involves greenhouse gas emissions. If we are to keep warming below the internationally agreed upon upper threshold limit of 2°C, we will need to stop pumping greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. It is widely known that the primary contributors of GHGs are fossil fuels.

This is the conclusion reached by numerous studies including the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which was published late in September 2013. According to the IPCC report, we cannot add more than another 140 gigatons of carbon globally (500 GtCO2).

If we continue to exploit and burn fossil fuels at the current rate, we will considerably exceed these limits. If we burn only 20 percent of estimated available carbon reserves we will have already reached the upper allowable limit of carbon emissions. If the remaining reserves are exploited there will be no way to stop runaway climate change.

We cannot afford to move forward with planned coal projects or the tar sands, nor can we afford President Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy.

In fairness, President Obama acknowledges the veracity of climate change but he is constrained by the Republicans in congress and the general ignorance of many Americans. We cannot appreciate efforts to engage climate concerns without factoring political considerations. Obama may be advancing domestic fossil fuels for political reasons, not the least of which is the impending midterms. If he loses control of the Senate, his efforts to manage climate change will suffer a serious blow.

A Ceres report titled, “Inaction on Climate Change: The Cost to Taxpayers.” sees political factors as a major part of inaction. “[T]he reason for our collective shortsightedness is that the issue of climate change, and what to do about it, has become politicized in the U.S,” the report said.

Despite his considerable efforts (not the least of which is his climate action plan), the President can be faulted for failing to lead efforts to educate Americans. To create the political support we need to see, Americans need to be apprized of the implications of failing to act. Obama’s State of the Union address focused on education and this could be expanded to include efforts to explain the rationale for action and expose the ignorance of climate denying Republicans who control the House.

More than any other single factor, people respond to economic considerations. The focus on the economy and jobs in the President’s State of the Union speech is a reflection of this understanding. He needs to do a better job informing Americans about the price associated with climate change.

The President can do far more to help Americans apprehend the scope of the costs of failing to stay within the prescribed limits. Failing to heed these limits will result in a massive price tag that will cripple the U.S. (and global) economy and ultimately, irrevocably change life on Earth.

The costs of climate change

Evidence for these costs are not just part of some apocalyptic future, they are with us here and now. According to the the Ceres report, Federal and state disaster relief payouts are estimated to have cost every person in the U.S. more than $300. According to the report, the costs of climate change to taxpayers going forward will get worse and ultimately be “debilitating.” A cogent argument can be made for acting now, as one dollar spent on prevention saves four dollars in damages. From this perspective mitigation efforts are a far better investment than adaptation.

“Continuing to ignore these escalating risks may be more comfortable than confronting the challenges of climate change, but inaction is the far riskier and more expensive path,” the Ceres report concluded.

“[T]he debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did,” the President said.

However, “booming” oil and natural gas production is inconsistent with efforts to combat climate change. Reducing emissions while boosting domestic oil and gas production is a contradictory policy position. At a time when we most need the President to lead, we really got nothing new in this state of the Union speech.

The U.S. cannot simultaneously be a leading producer of fossil fuels and at the forefront of efforts to combat climate change. Selling the facts to the American public will not be easy, but it is necessary.

“The the shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require some tough choices along the way,” the President said. The question is whether he is prepared to make those tough choices.
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Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: scatteredView, courtesy flickr

The post The Perilous Contradictions in the President’s 2014 State of the Union Address appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

January 23 2014

20:21

What is Wrong with Star Powered Environmental Advocacy

Environmental advocacy and star power

What harm can there be from celebrities who provide material support, raise environmental awareness and encourage ecological action? We live in a culture of celebrity worship, we are bombarded with their images in advertising, film, television and online. Whether we are consumers of pop culture or not, there is no denying that celebrities hold a lot of sway with the general public.  The fact is that television, movie and music personalities have vastly larger audiences than the most popular climate scientists.

Hanging on every word. Despite their best intentions, does star-powered environmental advocacy run the risk of succumbing to the fickle and shallow tendencies in our society?Many of these stars do more than pay lip service to green lifestyles, they show their concern for the environment by driving hybrid cars, living in green homes or changing their dietary habits. A few have even become stalwart activists.

Leonardo DiCaprio is an environmental advocate who serves on the boards of several environmental organizations. He co-wrote, produced and narrated the documentary film the 11th Hour, in which he called global warming “the number-one environmental challenge”. He has been known to drive electric vehicles including a Toyota Prius, Tesla Roadster and Fisker Karma. He has also installed solar panels on his house. He has his own foundation that is dedicated to protecting the Earth’s wild places.  He is a passionate supporter of tigers and he actively works on protecting their habitats particularly in Nepal. In November 2010, DiCaprio donated $1,000,000 to the Wildlife Conservation Society at Russia’s tiger summit. In 2011, DiCaprio joined the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s campaign to free a tiger who was languishing at a Truck Stop in Louisiana.  He has also advocated for a number of other environmental causes including access to clean water, renewable energy and forest preservation.

Matt Damon is a celebrity best known to environmentalists for his water advocacy. Recently in Davos, the movie star was honored by the World Economic Forum for his work as co-founder of Water.org, a nonprofit organization whose motto is “safe water and the dignity of a toilet for all.” During his acceptance speech he said that Water.org is extending “water credit” to poor families so they can afford to install a toilet or connect their homes to a waterline that for them is “literally a lifeline.”  Water.org has already helped more than 5 million people, and he noted that McKinsey consultants have estimated his organization could reach 100 million by 2020.

Daryl Hannah is serious about her green activism and involvement. In February 2013, Hannah was arrested in front of the white house for protesting against the Keystone XL. Hannah has been an environmental advocate for years. She has participated in many  environmental protests, including two tree sit-ins. In 2012, she spoke out against the fallacy of ‘ethical oil’, ‘clean coal’ and ‘natural gas.’ She is also the founder of the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance (SBA), and sits on several environmental advocacy boards such as the Environmental Media Association (EMA), Sylvia Earle Alliance, Mission Blue and the Action Sports Environmental Coalition. Her website dhlovelife.com provides solutions for living a green lifestyle.

Ed Begley jr. is a longtime environmental advocate who lives in a solar-powered home and drives an electric car. Begley and his family are currently documenting the construction of a LEED Platinum-certified home for Begley Street, a television and Web series.

Cameron Diaz is another celebrity well known for her green activism. Her sustainability advocacy even attracted the attention of unlikely publications like Vogue magazine. Diaz also worked with Al Gore to raise awareness about climate change and she is allegedly one of the first celebs to buy an electric vehicle.

Hayden Panettiere has been involved in the fight to protect whales and other marine life since she was 15 years old. She filmed the slaughter of dolphins and the footage appeared in the acclaimed documentary The Cove. She is a spokesperson for the Whaleman Foundation, which works to protect whales and dolphins from the impact of climate change and fishing, and has also appeared before the U.S. Congress.

Edward Norton is very vocal about environmental concerns and he has served as the United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity.

Natalie Portman has a long history of ecological advocacy. She is a vegetarian who has designed a line of vegan shoes. She also participated in a documentary film about gorillas.

Sting is a longtime supporter of the Amazon’s rainforests and he has established a charity called the Rainforest Foundation, which is dedicated to the protection of the rainforests and their inhabitants.

Brad Pitt has helped with rebuilding New Orleans by contributing green building materials after the city was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Don Cheadle has taken action against the genocide in Darfur, and he has also worked with the United Nation on climate change concerns.

Alicia Silverstone owns a home made of sustainable materials, she’s vegan and she has written a book about sustainability.

Pamela Anderson has advocated for animal rights and forest preservation. She has worked with the Inga Foundation which fights the “slash-and-burn” process of clearing land. She has also supported efforts to ban oil tankers off of Canada’s west coast.

Mark Ruffalo is a vocal opponent of horizontal hydraulic fracturing (fracking), and he co-founded waterdefense.org to educate the public about fracking concerns.

Ted Danson is involved in ocean activism and he even started his own charity.

American actor Robert Redford and Canadian rocker Neil Young have been vocal opponents of Alberta’s tar sands. Redford appears in a video released by the National Resources Defense Council saying the tarsands are “destroying our great northern forests at a terrifying rate” and “killing our planet.” Neil Young put together a concert tour to help the indigenous people who are suffering from the effects of the tar sands in Alberta. He also speaks out against the Canadian government’s unconscionable support for oil interests.

There are a host of other stars who have come out in support of environmental causes including:

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • Bonnie Raitt
  • Christie Brinkley
  • George Clooney
  • Jessica Alba
  • Jon Bon Jovi
  • Julia Louis Dreyfus
  • Pierce Brosnan
  • Sir Paul McCartney
  • Tony Hawk

These are just a few of the many famous people who advocate for the environment. So how could there be anything wrong with stars who support environmental issues?

Even though our culture appears to venerate stardom, celebrities are treated like disposable commodities which are worshiped one day and forgotten the next. The hollow and transient nature of celebrity worship is at odds with the attitude required to foster global action. While the popularity of celebrities is superficial and fleeting, the environmental challenges we face demand that we very seriously take the long view.

We require the type of perspective that enables us to appreciate and act on behalf of that which is most important. Our veneration of people who are famous is a colossal bastardization of a balanced understanding of the fundamentally prescient elements that constitute a healthy planet.

Some celebrities clearly work hard on behalf of noble causes, while others may be involved for more selfish reasons. Celebrity is all about popularity, they engage a phalanx of press agents to advise them on what kind of public statements are the most politically correct for the demographic they are playing to. Few know what they really think. Regardless of what they may actually believe, people who are household names have been co opted by the public and as such, they are deprived of their identity apart from their characterizations in the popular media. They become two dimensional cutouts.

By contrast, our appreciation of climate change and other environmental issues requires that we go beyond glossy exteriors so that we can collectively get our heads around the scope of the challenges that confront us.

While some stars may know what they are talking about, others appear to have a passing interest that may be more about generating good press than genuine concern. That is not to deny that those in the public eye can sometimes help the average person to come to a better understanding of complex issues.

The point is that star worship is a reflection of our own shallowness. We do not really know these people, although we may come to know a two dimensional character they play, or what their publicists feel would be good for their careers.

It is a sad reflection on our society, but our preoccupation with celebrity is born from the same place as the impulse to exploit and dispose of our world. Our values and our priorities are out of balance and the veneration of stardom is a comes from the same mass confusion that created the ecological crisis we now face. Our interest in the lives of the rich and famous is part of the same mindlessness as the environmental nightmare we are perpetrating against ourselves and future generations.

A 2010 national survey by Rasmussen indicated that 84 percent of Adults admit that Americans pay too much attention to celebrity news and not enough attention to news that has real impact on their lives.

Our preoccupation with the habits of celebrities detracts from our appreciation of the issues that are most pressing. We do not have the luxury of willful negligence, nor can we afford to succumb to paralysis if we do pay heed to the most pressing concerns of our times. The fact is that when we feel overwhelmed or hopeless we commonly indulge in escapism which is at the heart of what celebrity worship is all about.

We need to get real and take a serious look at what is happening to the world we live in. How are we to come to terms with the work that needs to be done if we refuse to take a hard look at the facts?

Stars may be well meaning supporters of noble causes, but the way that the general public co opts their identity, artificially elevates them (and ultimately drops them), make them less than ideal representatives for environmental activism.

The cult of celebrity feeds into all that is wrong with our world. It is not that celebrities are inherently untrustworthy, the problem is that star culture exacerbates the valueless and fickle myopia of the public eye.

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Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Gordon Vasquez, courtesy flickr

 

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January 20 2014

22:45

Forest Management, Cultivation Key for Sustainability and a Healthy Planet

By Stephen Roshy

Well maintained forests play a vital role in controlling and mitigating the effects of global warming. Forests not only help slow down climate change, but also provide a sustainable means of living for many living beings. Forests have a multitude of benefits that are often overlooked by many; it is more than just a wood commodity or natural beauty (though natural beauty is important to human health).

A well managed forest is essential for a healthy planet and sustainable futureForests Promote Sustainable Living

In many countries, forests are home to some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. Well-managed and preserved forests play an important societal and economic role for these people, and are key to alleviating poverty. A healthy forest ecosystem provide indigenous people with goods for household consumption as well as items for trade.

The Urgent Need for Forest Cultivation

Even under the best of circumstances, climate change is expected to increase in the coming decades. This requires increasing cultivation of forests and green habitats. According to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), billion of people are at risk from water and food shortages and poor health from deforestation and climate change. Preserving and restoring forest habitat is urgent and essential for these communities.

Forests Conserve Nature

It is generally well-understood that forests act as a carbon sink, absorbing CO2 in the process of photosynthesis. A major concern is how warming temperatures causes more rapid decomposition of organic material in soils, leading to an increase in CO2 released into the atmosphere.

A recent study done by Harvard University produced the surprising finding that these same warming temperatures may stimulate the ability of healthy trees to absorb carbon, thus offsetting some of the increased CO2 released from decomposition.

Forest Restoration

The benefits of reforestation - or avoiding the destruction of forests in the first place – are numerous; from helping to mitigate climate change, protecting habitats and species, and as an economic lifeline for communities dependent upon them. Forest restoration is urgent and vital to preserve vital ecosystems and reduce global warming.

Decrease Carbon Footprint by Forests and Trees

While the rate of deforestation may be decreasing, millions of hectares of forests have been – and continue to be – lost to mismanagement, disease and wanton destruction. These forests can be restored with dedication and rehabilitated to restore and preserve biodiversity and help stabilize CO2 in the atmosphere .

Forests are the lungs of the planet, greatly influencing the global climate. Increased reforestation can prevent temperatures from rising, increase sustainability and ensure a healthy livelihood for forest-dependent people across the globe.

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Stephen Roshy is a professional writer and he writes quality and informative content on Feeney’s Garden Center . You can find him on Facebook , Twitter and Google+

Image credit: ? is for äp?L, courtesy flickr

 

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January 08 2014

18:38

NY Governor Launches $17B Plan to Enhance Resiliency to Extreme Weather

Hammered by an unprecedented nine federally declared disasters since he took office three years ago and with much of the state now frozen solid as a result of the southward drifting polar vortex, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled details of a far reaching rebuilding plan that aims to enhance New York state’s resiliency to climate change and its emergency preparedness.

Dubbed “Reimagining New York for a New Reality,” the $17 billion plan will see the state invest a wide range of projects “that will transform New York’s infrastructure, transportation networks, energy supply, coastal protection, weather warning system and emergency management system to better protect New Yorkers from future extreme weather,” the governor’s office explained in a press release.

Credit: New York State Office of the Governor

Extreme weather is “The New Reality”

Along with its own funds, the state government is putting federal disaster funds granted in response to 2012′s Superstorm Sandy and 2011′s Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee to work to implement the far reaching plan to enhance New York’s climate change resiliency and emergency preparedness. Its key aspects include:

  • Building the most advanced weather detection system in the nation, with 125 interconnected weather stations to provide real-time warnings of local extreme weather and flood conditions;
  • Launching the nation’s first College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security, and Cybersecurity;
  • Replacing and repairing 104 older bridges at risk due to increasing flooding;
  • Implementing the largest reconstruction of the state’s transit system in 110 years with $5 billion of federal funds;
  • Creating a statewide Strategic Fuel Reserve, and statewide gas station back-up power on critical routes throughout the state;
  • Hardening the state’s electric grid and creating 10 “microgrids” (independent community-based electric distribution systems);
  • Building new natural infrastructure to protect the New York’s coastline, and provide advanced flood control for inland waterways;
  • Training a new Citizen First Responder Corps to make New York residents the best prepared in the nation to deal with emergencies and disasters; and
  • Expanding the $650 million NY Rising Community Reconstruction program to allow 124 communities around the state to create their own individualized storm resilience plans.
  • Issuing special license plates for first responders

Avoiding climate change catastrophe

Besides enhancing New York’s emergency preparedness and climate change resiliency, carrying out the $17 billion plan is sure to provide the state economy with a big, much needed, economic boost.

Unveiling the strategic plan at a press conference in Albany, the state capitol, Governor Cuomo highlighted the new reality of more frequent extreme weather events and recounted the unprecedented disruption and devastation that resulted, both downstate, in and around New York City, as well as across the length and breadth of upstate New York.

Of the one-year process that resulted in creation of the plan, the governor stated,

“This was a special challenge for us, because it called for us to literally reimagine the state in light of what we went through with Hurricane Sandy, Superstorm Sandy, storms Irene and Lee, and taking those lessons, and taking really that trauma, and reshaping our vision of New York through that experience. We call it ‘Reimagining New York’ because we are now facing a new reality after what we went through.”

 

“Extreme weather is the new reality, like it or not. What caused it is a separate discussion for a separate day, but the reality is extreme weather and we have to deal with it.”

The governor also acknowledged that the plan couldn’t have come to fruition without extraordinary support and assistance from the Obama Administration and federal government, as well as local leaders throughout New York State.

Joining Governor Cuomo at the press conference, Vice President Joe Biden praised the plan and Governor Cuomo. “Governor, I am delighted to be able to be here with you today,” the vice president began.

“I think you rebuilding New York, reimagining a future is exactly what we have to do in this country. And once again, in the tradition of this state and the tradition of Andrew Cuomo, you’re leading. You’re not just leading in New York, you’re leading the country. And I think a lot of governors and a lot of folks can learn an awful lot from what they see and what you do here.”

For more on this, check out the Office of the Governor’s press release or watch the press conference below:

Image credit: New York State Office of the Governor

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December 31 2013

18:42

2013 A Promising Start for California’s Carbon Cap-and-Trade Program

If California were a nation, its economy would be the twelfth largest in the world. Not only does the Golden State have the largest and one of the most diverse economies in the U.S., it has been at the leading, even cutting, edge of efforts aimed at forging a leaner, cleaner, low-carbon society for the 21st century.

When it comes to government-led efforts to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate and adapt to the potentially devastating effects of rapid climate change, 2013 marked another path-setting year for California. In 2013, its first full year of operation, the value of carbon allowances traded under the state’s pioneering carbon emissions Cap-and-Trade Program totaled $1.1 billion and brought nearly $500 million in much needed revenue to a fiscally challenged state government.

California's first year of its cap-and-trade program is a successSetting a price on carbon pollution

As  News10 ABC reported, California’s climate change law sets annual caps on greenhouse gas emissions for heavy polluters, such as coal-fired power plants, oil refineries, and industrial companies. The carbon/greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions pollution cap will slide lower 3 percent each year beginning in 2013.

Those that cannot reduce their GHG emissions to the cap level or below are required to offset their emissions by investing in cleaner, less polluting operations, such as reforestation projects, or purchase carbon emission offset allowances on the cap-and-trade market. These are offered by companies whose emissions fall below the cap or issuers that have developed projects that effectively offset quantifiable amounts of carbon and GHG emissions.

Auctions of carbon cap-and-trade allowances brought in nearly $477 million for the California treasury in 2013, News10 ABC reported. “Those pollution allowances are selling like hotcakes,” commented political editor John Myers.

California’s carbon cap-and-trade program “brings together the best aspects of regulation and using the market to drive flexible mechanisms,” added Stanley Young of the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Resources Board (CARB).

Making polluters pay for pollution

As CARB explains on its website,

“Market forces spur technological innovation and investments in clean energy. Cap-and-trade is an environmentally effective and economically efficient response to climate change.”

As originally enacted, California’s cap-and-trade auction revenues were earmarked to be invested in efforts to combat climate change. Struggling to balance the state’s budget, the governor and state congress suspended that aspect of the legislation and used them to help balance the state’s budget, however.

With huge budget surpluses projected in coming years, proponents and supporters of the cap-and-trade bill are now urging Governor Jerry Brown and state legislators to repay that money and invest it in the type of projects for which it was originally intended.

“Let’s spend the climate change revenues to reduce the pollution that causes climate change,” Bill Magavern of the Coalition for Clean Air stated in an News10 interview, such as home weatherization or subsidizing solar panel installations for low-income households.

Moreover, even more in the way of cap-and-trade revenue would have come the state’s way had oil companies and other big polluters not been given carbon emissions allowances for free, Magavern noted.

“The oil companies are essentially getting off the hook…I think politics has everything to do with it,” he commented.

Other governments are now looking to emulate and/or link to California’s carbon cap-and-trade market. Quebec looks like it will be the first. An announcement was made back in October that representatives from the respective U.S. state and Canadian provincial governments had signed “an agreement outlining steps and procedures to fully harmonize and integrate the two programs.”

With some luck, opposition legislators in Washington D.C. may finally see the light and hold polluters responsible for the pollution they create and the health and environmental damage that results. Enacting a national carbon emissions cap-and-trade program, or perhaps even a national carbon emissions tax, would be a historic step in that direction.

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December 30 2013

23:48

Will Our Cities Save Us? Municipalities at the Nexus of Change

Editor’s note: The following post is adapted from several previous posts published in GWIR over the past year about how cities are often the best examples of furthering sustainable development, resilience and adaptation in a climate-changed world. This post has been entered in the Masdar Engage blogging contest for the upcoming Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week

At the national and international level climate action is stalled under the unyielding weight of factionalism and meeting the diverse agenda of a global community. At the personal level the issues of climate change and building a sustainable future for our children seems overwhelming; whatever efforts we can lend to the cause feels too small and inadequate.

In many ways meeting the challenge of climate change and sustainable development is often most effective at the municipal level. Cities strike a balance between meeting the diverse needs of its inhabitants with the ability to adopt and adapt to the realities and challenges of global warming, development, infrastructure and energy.

Cities offer the best opportunities for sustainability and resilience in the 21st century. Climate adaptation for cities

In the wake of the devastating storms of 2012, including Hurricane Sandy in the United States, the need for municipal-level adaptation and resilience became clearer than ever. With Sandy, New York and New Jersey saw communities destroyed and lives devastated due in part to decades of poor planning and decimation of natural infrastructure. Urban communities often take the brunt of not only extreme weather events, but the consequences of poor planning and development. The extreme weather trend has only continued globally in 2013, with drought, unprecedented storms and record temperatures in every part of the world.

Coming to grips with the risks, especially as climate change bears down on urban centers with more intense storms, there are a growing number of initiatives aimed at building resiliency in the urban environment. Earlier this year the Rockefeller Foundation announced support for RE.Invest, a new public-private partnership at helping cities across the US integrate increased resiliency in urban infrastructure and adapt effectively to extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy. The Foundation, in partnership with c.dots development and CH2H Hill, has pledged $3 million in the effort.

Initially, RE.Invest will select eight US cities through a national application process to provide seed money and technical support to create “community investment vehicles” that leverage private investment in local municipal water infrastructure.

“Using innovative sustainable infrastructure such as replacing concrete with porous pavement, restoring creeks and wetlands, and increasing tree cover can help cities manage storm water often at a fraction of the cost of upgrading traditional concrete infrastructure.  These projects can also save significant taxpayer money, beautify communities, and make them more attractive to businesses and investor and more resilient to extreme weather,” said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, in a press release.

“As we focus on ensuring the federal government makes it easier for cities to build and invest in sustainable infrastructure, the RE.invest Initiative is a great example of how private organizations can forge creative partnerships that leverage private investment to support clean and healthy cities, and save taxpayer dollars.”

The city as an agent of change

But cities also represent the best, most effective means of implementing proactive change. Dr. Emma Stewart, head of Sustainability Solutions at Autodesk, sees the urbanization of human populations as a “tipping point” for change:

“We are now an urban species by definition,” says Stewart. It took until 1960 to reach 1 billion people living in cities, another 25 years for the second billion, 18 years for the third, and “if projections are right only 15 years to add a fourth.”

From a sustainability aspect there are “significant positives in terms of this tipping point we’ve reached,” explains Stewart:

“So on the social side, cities have been a boon, really, to humans. On the resources side cities also, theoretically, provide us economies of scale delivering basic services like utilities or water, or even health care, safety, security.

As well as investing for adaptation to climate change, many cities and urban planners are adopting methods and policies for creating the “sustainable city of the future.” Initiatives like the CDPCities Program, the Cascadia Center for Sustainable Design and Construction or the Sustainable Cities Institute at the National League of Cities are but a few examples of motivated action on climate action and the future of human development.

Resilient cities

In the face of changing climate, growing resource constraints and increasing population, the conversation lately centers on the idea of resiliency as the new sustainability.  Writing in the New York Times, Andrew Zolli describes resiliency as “how to help vulnerable people, organizations and systems persist, perhaps even thrive, amid unforeseeable disruptions. Where sustainability aims to put the world back into balance, resilience looks for ways to manage in an imbalanced world.” 

It’s a broad-spectrum agenda that, at one end, seeks to imbue our communities, institutions and infrastructure with greater flexibility, intelligence and responsiveness to extreme events and, at the other, centers on bolstering people’s psychological and physiological capacity to deal with high-stress circumstances,” writes Zolli.

Cities are ground-zero for this new resiliency-focused thinking and planning in our chaotic times. And partnerships between cities help shepherd the best ideas across international borders and economic sectors.

On December 3rd, 2013 the Rockefeller Foundation named the first 33 cities for its 100 Resilient Cities Centennial Challenge. Each city was selected based on its vision, need and plan for building resilience in a manner that connects government, citizens and the private sector. The Challenge is an example of how cities working together can develop and share ideas, innovations and best practices for meeting the common challenges we all face in the 21st century as individuals as well as members in local and global communities.

Will our cities save us?

Is it enough? Can we depend on local governments and private organizations to meet the challenges we face without national and international policy action and individual effort?

In the end the global community will need to step up and do its part and individuals will need to embrace how their singular understanding and action feeds the collective effort to create a livable future. But, as Stewart says, we are an urban species, and it is in the cities where ideas can take root and the great challenge of our times will be met.

Will our cities save us? To the extent that cities, and networks of cities, represent the best collective effort toward a better future, they are the best catalyst of change for a sustainable, resilient future.

In cities we can most effectively plan for the worst and hope (and work toward) the best.

Image credit: Nicola since 1972, courtesy flickr

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December 27 2013

01:35

Roundup of U.S. Environmental Achievements in 2013

In 2013, concerned people, organizations and companies in the U.S. and around the world helped move environmental causes forward. From new legislation to the protection of habitats and ecosystems, here is a sampling of U.S. environmental achievements in 2013.

The environmental achievements  of 2013 show that we can act as good stewards of the planetEnvironmental success stories

A new study showed that a solid majority of Americans accept the reality of global warming and are calling for action on climate change.

U.S. President Obama launched the most ambitious government wide climate action plan in the history of the nation. In the summer of 2013, Obama said, “As a president, as a father, and as an American, I’m here to say we need to act.” The President’s Climate Action Plan includes limiting pollution from power plants, new standards for energy efficiency on public lands, doubling renewable energy, and working on leading efforts to forge international action.

The EPA’s new standards to reduce emissions from U.S. power plants are of great importance as these plants produce approximately 40 percent of American greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The U.S. joined the U.K. and the World Bank in a decision to limit financing to coal power plants around the world. The U.S. Treasury Department indicated that except for some rare circumstances, it will not finance any new coal projects.

A study published this summer suggested that global warming may have slowed somewhat over the past 15 years. The observed slow down may be at least partly attributable to a global phase out of potent greenhouse-trapping gases called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). The eradication of CFCs is attributable to the Montreal Protocol. This finding can be interpreted as evidence that international agreements can be effective at reducing climate change causing GHGs.

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), another GHG have largely replaced CFCs and these are also being phased out. President Obama and his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping, forged a new historic agreement that outlines critical steps both nations will take to end the use of HFCs. Other world leaders are following suit.

The WWF highlighted a dozen environmental success stories in 2013. Here is a their summary of U.S. achievements:

  • People are getting involved with events designed to raise awareness and increase actions that will help reduce our environmental impacts. One such event was Earth Hour. On March 23, 2013, Americans joined hundreds of millions of people around the world who switched off their lights for one hour to show their commitment to the planet. American cities are among the 60 cities worldwide that are participating in the 2013 Earth Hour City Challenge. This challenge involves quantifiable actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, expand renewable energy, and/or increase energy efficiency.
  • The U.S. is also taking action in support of native people’s land and animal stewardship. One such initiative is the first tribal national park for Oglala Sioux in South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. This park will more than double the number of Bison stewarded by the tribe.
  • Responsible forest management and trade practices were adopted by International Paper. This brings the number of companies and communities involved in the WWF’s Global Forest & Trade Network to 200 worldwide.
  • In Alaska, Royal Dutch Shell shelved a plan to drill for oil and gas in mammal-rich Beaufort and Chukchi seas in 2013.
  • In July, U.S.-based multinational Coca-Cola renewed an agreement with the WWF through 2020 that will help to conserve the world’s freshwater resources and measurably improve Coca-Cola’s environmental performance across the company’s value chain. This includes agriculture, climate, packaging and water efficiency impacts.
  • President Obama is working to address wildlife crime including poaching and trafficking around the world and in Africa in particular.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services in Denver crushed six tons of illegal elephant ivory tusks, trinkets and souvenirs. This event highlighted U.S. intolerance to ivory trafficking and wildlife crime.

Here is a summary of the Sierra Club’s list of 10 clean energy success stories in 2013.

  • The American Electric Power announced it would add enough wind energy to power 200,000 homes in Oklahoma while providing substantial savings to customers.
  • Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado signed into law new legislation that will double the state’s renewable energy standard. Under the new law, 20 percent of the state’s energy will from clean sources.
  • In Minnesota, comprehensive legislation passed the state legislature that will boost the state’s solar electricity from 13 megawatts (MW) to 450 MW by 2020. This represents an increase of more than 1,200 percent.
  • Facebook announced that its Altoona, Iowa data center will be fully powered by wind by early 2015 due to a 138 megawatt wind farm in Wellsburg.
  • Nebraska’s huge wind potential is being tapped after Governor Dave Heineman signed progressive wind energy legislation.
  • The Nevada state legislature passed legislation to retire the Reid Gardner coal-fired power plant and bring an end to the importing of coal power from Arizona. The state will also expand local clean energy development.
  • California’s growing solar industry reached a major milestone with more than 150,000 homes and businesses with rooftop solar installations.
  • Environmental groups and Georgia’s Tea Party teamed up to create the Green Tea Coalition. The group pushed for the Georgia Public Service Commission to approve Georgia Power’s proposal to retire 20 percent of its coal plants and add 525 MW of solar power to Georgia by 2016.
  • The Long Island Power Authority is investing in 100 MW of new solar power on the island, and they have plans to add an additional 280 MW of renewable energy. This is the single largest investment in renewable energy in New York history. New York City also announced a 10 MW project at Staten Island’s Freshkills Park, once known as the world’s largest landfill.
  • Maryland is moving forward with clean energy legislation known as the Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013 and Prince George’s County Council voted to require renewable energy in all new and renovated governmental facilities.

The Wilderness Society is at the forefront of efforts to protect forests, parks, refuges and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands. Here is thier summary of their environmental success stories for 2013.

  • President Obama designated 5 new national monuments in March.
  • California’s Pinacles National Park, was upgraded from national monument status.
  • Washington state legislature passed a bill that protects 50,000 acres of land in the Teanaway River Valley, east of Seattle.
  • Sensitive areas in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska gained protection from oil and gas drilling when the Department of the Interior issued a final management plan that will protect 11 million acres of “Special Areas.” The BLM also announced a strategic plan to clean up more than 130 abandoned oil and gas well sites.
  • Utah’s red rock lands were protected by a federal judge who struck down a management plan that prioritized off-roading over Utah’s wildlands.
  • Yosemite National Park was removed from a logging bill after a public outcry.
  • A ban on new uranium mining was upheld by the court’s ruling on the Greater Grand Canyon
  • In Montana a bill introduced by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) is moving forward. The bill will add 67,000 acres to protected areas in that state’s eastern fringe of the existing Bob Marshall and Scapegoat Wilderness Areas.
  • The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is safe for another year despite repeated efforts by Governor  Parnell (R-AK) to launch seismic testing to search for oil and gas in the refuge. All three of Parnell’s attempts were rejected by the Interior Department.

Taken together, these victories give us reason to hope that we are capable of acting more responsibly to defend the planet for future generations.
——————-
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Chauncey Davis, courtesy flickr

The post Roundup of U.S. Environmental Achievements in 2013 appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

December 19 2013

20:09

All I Want for Christmas is a Price on Carbon

As 2013 winds down, there are promising signs that we may actually see a price on carbon in the U.S. In 2010, the cap-and-trade bill was killed in the Senate by the fossil fuel industry’s ubiquitous misinformation campaigns. However, a confluence of events have renewed hopes that we may yet see carbon pricing legislation that could significantly reduce U.S. carbon emissions.

Implementing a carbon tax is no longer a pipe dream but understood as a coming - and much needed - realityWhy we need a carbon tax

Paying for carbon pollution is the best way to put free markets to work to reign in emissions that cause global warming. There is a virtual consensus among economists who say that putting a price on carbon is the most effective way to fight global warming. The case for carbon pricing is strong, this point has been repeatedly made by the World Bank and a number of economists including a team from the London School of Economics.

According to most analyses, carbon pricing is the most powerful regulatory mechanism we have to bring down emissions without wreaking havoc on the economy. Putting a price on carbon will allow market forces to drive down demand for carbon rich industries like fossil fuels and help to buoy cleaner low carbon technologies like renewable energy.

On a very pragmatic level, carbon pricing could enable the U.S. to achieve the pledges it has made at UN climate talks. This includes carbon emissions cuts of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and 80 percent by 2050.

Corporate juggernauts are onboard for putting a price on carbon

One of the reasons to be hopeful comes from a Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) report which indicates that at least 29 big American corporations are actively preparing for a carbon tax. The companies in the CDP report include powerhouses like American Electric Power, ConAgra Foods, Delta Air Lines, Duke Energy, DuPont, Google, General Electric, Microsoft, Walmart, Walt Disney and Wells Fargo.

What is most surprising is that this list also includes five major oil companies (BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell). While they can hardly be called champions of a low carbon economy, they are, if nothing else, economic realists. They see the writing on the wall, and their actions are a strong indication that they see some form of carbon tax as inevitable.

Make no mistake about it, fossil fuel companies are not embracing the common good, they are acting in their own best interest. Preparing for the expense of a carbon tax is simply good business and for many, it represents a great opportunity. To illustrate the point, ExxonMobil, America’s wealthiest corporation supports a carbon tax because it has a vested interest. As the nation’s biggest producer of natural gas, it would profit from carbon pricing. Such a scheme would inflate the costs to the coal and crude oil industries far more than natural gas.

Republicans may be left out in the cold

Support for a carbon tax from corporate interests including fossil fuel companies could be a real problem for the GOP’s political future. Republican opposition is a salient reason for the failure of cap-and-trade legislation in 2010. The GOP’s climate denial was underscored during the 2012 presidential elections and they continue to beat the climate denial drum to this day. As recently as Wednesday December 11, their ignorance was on display for all America to see. On this day, Republicans in the House of Representatives held sham hearings that called upon climate change denying scientists to reinforce their subterfuge.

Corporate interests are the traditional support base for Republicans, but as they embrace a carbon tax, Republicans will be left out of the cold if the companies responsible for global warming are seeking a carbon tax.

The Koch brothers may be the only friends that the GOP has left. The only U.S. supporters from big oil still onside with climate denial is Koch Industries, who continues to pressure Republicans to stay onboard the denial train. In 2012, all of the GOP’s presidential candidates had ties to the owners of Koch industries. Koch continues to use its various front groups to oppose science and resist any form of carbon tax. However, this oil company has repeatedly been exposed as the nation’s biggest purveyor of misinformation. Koch industries is a pariah even in the dirty and destructive fossil fuel industry. Republicans who embrace Koch may undermine their own election hopes and further tarnish the GOP’s already badly battered brand.

According to the latest research, Americans, including supporters of the Republican party, embrace the veracity of climate change and want government to do something about it. A Stanford University study showed that all states, even traditionally Republican states, acknowledge global warming and would like government to find ways to reduce climate change causing emissions. Recent election and ballot initiatives may also signal a change in American attitudes.

Republicans have effectively painted themselves into a corner. Changing public and corporate attitudes are stranding GOP policy positions. If Republican support is eroded they may not have enough political representation to thwart progress and this could in turn pave the way for carbon pricing.

Carbon trading in place and calls for emissions reduction from U.S. state governments

Carbon trading is increasing around the world with emissions trading schemes now operating in 35 countries, 13 states, provinces and cities. Europe already has the world’s biggest emissions market and China is launching its own schemes. In North America, new additions to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) doubled carbon trading in 2012. There are now 48 schemes internationally and when added to the 7 in China, a total of 880 million people, representing about 20 percent of global emissions will be part of some form of carbon pricing.

As reported by Reuters on December 16, fifteen U.S. states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington) are asking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to adopt their carbon-cutting policies.

As part of President Barack Obama’s climate change strategy announced in June, the EPA has been directed to develop federal emissions standards for existing power plants. Now a coalition of states have told the EPA that they would like to see a “system-wide” approach to cutting emissions rather than working on individual power plants.

The Clean Air Act has stipulated that states must develop their own plans to meet EPA standards. States have been asked to provide feedback ahead of a planned June 2014 proposal which is scheduled to be finalized a year later. States that are part of carbon pricing schemes want to make sure that the EPA gives them credit for being early adopters.

Benefits of price on carbon far outweigh cost

The most frequently cited argument against carbon pricing and carbon taxes is the cost. According to the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the introduction of a carbon tax could cause fossil fuel companies to lose between $9 trillion an $12 trillion in profits by the end of the century. That is because a carbon tax would drive up costs and decrease demand, as the demand was reduced the prices would fall.

However, the Potsdam Research indicates that the cost to fossil fuel companies would be more than compensated for by carbon taxes (or carbon auction revenues). Their analysis reveals that such taxes would generate revenues equaling $21 trillion to $32 trillion by the end of the century. That translates to a net economic benefit of around $20 trillion, in addition to potentially staving off the worse impacts of climate change and providing citizens with cleaner air and water. The profits from carbon taxes could be used for green-energy projects and climate adaptation efforts.

There was a time in the recent past when putting a price on carbon was dismissed as a utopian dream, however, the overwhelming logic is becoming increasingly undeniable, even in the most unlikely places.

The introduction of a carbon tax is unlikely to occur without a political fight, but the weight of the evidence will inevitably triumph over ignorance.

——————
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Gustavo Madico, courtesy flickr

The post All I Want for Christmas is a Price on Carbon appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

December 13 2013

19:54

Video Friday: Graham Nash – On the Impacts of Climate Change

Speaking at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, music legend Graham Nash tells a Climate One gathering on his own experience witnessing climate change over the past few decades. While on tour in Europe recently he made a concerted effort to talk with roadies, sound engineers and other production personnel he encountered on their own experience of the impacts of climate change:

To a man and to a woman, they had no idea what was going on with their weather. They had never seen it like that, they had never seen it so cold, they had never seen it so hot, they had never seen it so rainy. It’s happening. Global warming is a reality. All the Koch brothers that are paying scientists to tell you that it’s not happening, they’re doing you an incredible disservice.

 

Featured image credit: Chris Boland, courtesy flickr

The post Video Friday: Graham Nash – On the Impacts of Climate Change appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

December 10 2013

23:31

EPA Launches 2013 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on December 5 released its 2013 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan as it looks to build on four years of efforts to streamline operations, cut expenditures, and reduce waste and the carbon footprint of federal government operations.

The inaugural Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan for the federal government was produced in October 2009 in the wake of President Obama issuing Executive Order 13514 on Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance, which set “aggressive targets for reducing waste and pollution in Federal operations by 2020,” according to an EPA press release.

The EPA launches its Strategic Sustainability Performance PlanThe Federal government’s Green Economy leadership

Strengthening the federal government’s leadership in forging a “greener,” more dynamic economic model, the President this past June launched the nation’s first Climate Action Plan.

Coincident with the release of EPA’s 2013 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan, the President on December 5 issued a Presidential Memorandum that further reduces federal government waste and pollution by setting a target of more than doubling the amount of renewable energy consumed to 20% by 2020.

The 2013 Strategic Sustainability Plan adds impetus to and seeks to realize the aims of these initiatives, providing “an overview of how the agency is saving taxpayer dollars, reducing carbon emissions, and saving energy.

“Meeting this renewable energy goal will reduce pollution in our communities, promote American energy independence, and support homegrown energy produced by American workers,” the EPA stated.

As the EPA highlighted, in just the past four years, the Obama Administration’s waste, energy efficiency and renewable energy initiatives have:

  • Reduced energy use by almost 8 percent; allowing EPA to avoid $1.5 million in utility costs annually. Compared to the 2003 baseline, EPA has reduced energy by more than 25 percent
  • Used renewable energy and purchased Green Power Renewable Energy Credits equal to 100 percent of its conventional electricity use. Use of Green Power, coupled with energy conservation and fleet management efforts, reduce EPA Scope 1 and 2 Greenhouse Gas emissions by nearly half from FY 2008 levels.
  • Reduced annual water use by more than 25 percent – that’s more than 30 million gallons per year.

The principal goals the EPA aims to achieve in the 2013 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan include:

  • Pursuing reconstruction of key EPA research infrastructure. Projects completed at the Cincinnati, OH, A.W. Breidenbach Environmental Research Center, EPA’s second largest research center, have already reduced energy use by more than 30 percent.
  • Consolidating the Research Toxicology Laboratory in Durham, NC into the Main laboratory at Research Triangle Park, NC. This project will reduce agency rent costs, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and result in a net reduction in EPA space without impacting research capacity.
  • Continuing work on EPA’s award winning water conservation program.

The EPA has published Strategic Sustainability Performance Plans for federal agencies online.

The post EPA Launches 2013 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

01:00

Shrimp Fishery Collapse in Gulf of Maine

Shrimp moratorium

A moratorium for the 2014 shrimp fishing season was announced for the US Northeastern Gulf of Maine shrimp fishery last week as stocks of shrimp for 2012 hit record lows. The last time the shrimp catch was halted was 35 years ago in 1977.

“The Northern Shrimp Technical Committee has considered the Gulf of Maine northern shrimp stock to have collapsed with very little hope for recovery in the near future,” Kelly Whitmore, chairwoman of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission told members of a section advisory panel on December 3rd, effectively halting all shrimping activities for the 2014 season, usually lasting from December through May. “There are no small shrimp around right now,” added Whitmore, “it doesn’t bode well for the future.”

shrimp-fishery-collapseDeclining shrimp stocks became strikingly apparent in 2012, with the annual survey last year showing the lowest number of adult shrimp ever recorded in the survey’s 30 year history.  Despite pressure to halt the 2013 season, fishing went ahead with a reduced catch limit of  625 tons, or a 72 percent decrease from the allowable catch set for 2012. Even then, shrimpers only caught 307 tons for the 2013 season.

“I think everyone was startled by what we saw in 2012, and there was a lot of pressure to close down the fishery for the 2013 season,” said Chief Scientific Officer John Annala of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. “The survey this summer found just 20 percent of the 2012 record low, so it has fallen off incredibly sharply.”

Of particular concern is the fact that no juvenile shrimp have shown up in any of of the surveys since 2010. Shrimp in the Gulf of Maine live for only about five years so the lack of any young shrimp for the past three years portends trouble for the future of the fishery for many years to come.

Overfishing, warming ocean waters

The sharp decline in shrimp in the region is largely attributed to overfishing and warming ocean waters.

“During the last ten years the water temperature in the Gulf of Maine has been running about 2.5 degrees Celsius or about 5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the previous one hundred year average,” Annala said. “We don’t know what the thermal threshold of this species is, but the Gulf of Maine has always been the southernmost extreme of their range, so we probably don’t have much wiggle room.”

Even if shrimp prove  heat tolerant, which shouldn’t be assumed, the warming oceans of the Gulf of Maine are deadly to tiny zooplankton, the shrimp’s principal food supply. Warmer water also make the region more hospitable to predators of shrimp like dogfish and red hake.

Other species upon which the northeastern fisherman depend are also feeling the heat. The iconic lobster has been heading steadily northward in recent years in search of colder waters.

For the shrimp, the future remains tenuous. At this point, nobody is confident that 2014 will be the end of the moratorium.

“Decisions like this one show how fishermen are on the front lines of the battle against climate change,” said Michael Conathan, Director of Ocean Policy at the Center for American Progress. “This is not a nebulous, maybe-someday-in-the-future problem. This is unchecked carbon pollution affecting livelihoods here in Maine today.”

 

Image credit: Doug DuCap, courtesy flickr

 

The post Shrimp Fishery Collapse in Gulf of Maine appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

December 05 2013

22:41

Massive US Temperature Fluctuations and Climate Change

The increasingly wide temperature fluctuations over short periods of time indicate we could be approaching climate tipping points. What are the implications of wild swings in temperature for the veracity of climate change? Everyone who follows climate science knows that the planet is warming, but many are unaware of how temperature fluctuations may also be a part of the climate change picture. Scientific observations provide an overwhelmingly compelling body of evidence for global warming. Many lines of scientific evidence show that as a consequence of global warming, the Earth’s climate is changing,  however, increasing global mean temperature is only one element of observed climate change phenomena.

Evidence of global warming can be seen in a number of scientific observations including melting ice and sea level rises. Anomalies like increased precipitation and extreme weather events support the data generated by climate models. However, radical temperature fluctuations are another dimension of climate change that is often overlooked.

Both Dallas and Colorado recently experienced some of the most extreme temperature fluctuations on record. After enjoying balmy temperatures, Dallas was hit with a powerful cold front that caused temperatures to plummet below freezing. On Wednesday December 4, the observed high was 80 degrees, on Saturday December 7, the temperature plunged to just over 30 degrees. That is a temperature change of 50 degrees. Similarly, Denver went from being 67 degrees on Monday to 14 degrees on Wednesday. This represents a temperature difference of 53 degrees.

During the first week of December, 33 million Americans in 27 states were hit by a cold spell. Deniers have commonly looked at cold weather as evidence that disproves global warming. However, when examined over much longer time spans we see a clear warming trend. Further, high and low temperature data from recent decades show that new record highs occur nearly twice as often as new record lows.

Of course, individual temperature readings over the course of a few days cannot be taken as evidence for or against climate change. However, the anomalous temperature fluctuations are part of a trend that is consistent with what many scientists predict will occur as the planet warms.

As H.J. Weaver and his colleagues at the Australian National University explained, “Climate change is predicted to alter the physical environment through cumulative impacts of warming and extreme fluctuations in temperature and precipitation, with cascading effects on human health and well being, food security and socioeconomic infrastructure.”

A NOAA report (PDF) on the 2009/2010 Cold Season stated that a changing climate produced “Extreme fluctuations in temperature and precipitation in the mid-latitudes in 2009 and 2010.”

The winters of 2010 and 2011 in the northern hemisphere have resulted in the record-setting freezes and warm spells. According to an analysis of the past 63 winters from the American Geophysical Union, the warm extremes were more widespread and severe than the cold extremes in the winters of 2009-2010 and 2010-2011. Natural variability may explain the cold temperatures, but researchers concluded the extreme warmth cannot be explained by natural cycles, suggesting a possible role of climate change. The report’s co-author Alexander Gershunov and Scripps climate researchers indicated that these temperature swings are consistent with global warming trends.

In Nowata Oklahoma, in the winter of 2011,  the temperature went from a low of -31 degrees on February 10 (the all-time coldest temperature ever recorded in Oklahoma) to a record high of 79 degrees on February 17. According to the National Weather Service in Tulsa, Okla., this 110-degree temperature rise is the greatest change within seven days in Oklahoma history.

A 2011 report out of the UK examined the possible infrastructure impacts of climate change and indicated that extreme temperature fluctuations are likely.

A July 2013 study on plant physiology and climate change talked about “expected extreme fluctuations in temperature and global warming in general.”

It is important to understand as we approach irreversible tipping points that the impacts of climate change may at times appear to be counterintuitive. Far from disproving global warming, radical fluctuations in temperature are another dimension of the same problem.
——————-
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Ted Eytan, courtesy flickr

The post Massive US Temperature Fluctuations and Climate Change appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

November 26 2013

19:15

Ocean Acidity Rising 10x Faster Than At Any Time in the Past 55 Million Years

Credit: Christopher Krembs, TAMU

Ocean acidification continues to rise at a rate “unprecedented in Earth’s history,” a direct result of past and current increases in carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, posing significant threats to the health and integrity of marine ecosystems and the diverse range of products and services they provide the world over, according to a report produced by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR) and released for the Third Symposium on the Ocean in a High CO2 World..

The latest scientific research on ocean acidification indicates the pH of the oceans is decreasing 10-times faster than at any time in the past 55 million years and may be decreasing faster “than at any time in the last 300 million years,” according to “Ocean Acidification: A Summary for Policymakers” presented at the Third Symposium on the Ocean in a High CO2 World.

The culprit: rising anthropogenic (human) emissions of CO2. The amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere has risen 40 percent since the start of the Industrial Revolution. The oceans historically have absorbed about ¼ of all the CO2 released into the atmosphere by humans since that time. Today, they absorb some 10 million metric tons of CO2 on a daily basis, the report authors note in an executive summary. To date, those emissions have led ocean acidity to increase 26 percent.

Ocean acidification: Rising human carbon emissions the culprit

Increasing ocean acidification lowers the capacity of the oceans to absorb seawater and hence also threatens the viability of marine ecosystems. That spells potential trouble for already troubled ocean plant and animal species, many of which are of vital importance to human societies the world over.

As the authors highlight, the gathering of 540 experts from 37 countries in Monterey, California for the Third Symposium on the Ocean in a High CO2 World attests to the growing amount of interest, scientific research, and sense of urgency, regarding “ocean acidification, its impacts on ecosystems, socio-economic consequences and implications for policy.”

What do we need to do in respone to what amounts as a “clear and present danger” to the health and integrity of marine ecosystems? The report authors state the solution plainly and succinctly:

“Reducing CO2 emissions is the only way to minimise long-term, largescale risks.”

Source:

Source: “Ocean Acidification Summary for Policymakers”

Considerations for Policy Makers

In the executive summary, they go on to highlight a summary of considerations they recommend policy makers take into account in their decision making:

  • The primary cause of ocean acidification is the release of atmospheric CO2 from human activities. The only known realistic mitigation option on a global scale is to limit future atmospheric CO2 levels.
  • Appropriate management of land use and land-use change can enhance uptake of atmospheric CO2 by vegetation and soils through activities such as restoration of wetlands, planting new forests and reforestation.
  • Geoengineering proposals that do not reduce atmospheric CO2 – for example, methods that focus solely on temperature (such as aerosol backscatter or reduction of greenhouse gases other than CO2) – will not prevent ocean acidification. Adding alkaline minerals to the ocean would be effective and economically feasible only on a very small scale in coastal regions, and the unintended environmental consequences are largely unknown.
  • The impacts of other stressors on ocean ecosystems such as higher temperatures and deoxygenation – also associated with increasing CO2 – will be reduced by limiting increases in CO2 levels.
  • The shellfish aquaculture industry faces significant threats and may benefit from a risk assessment and analysis of mitigation and adaptation strategies. For example, seawater monitoring around shellfish hatcheries can identify when to limit the intake of seawater with a lower pH, hatcheries can be relocated, or managers can select larval stages or strains that are more resilient to ocean acidification for breeding.
  • At local levels, the effects of ocean acidification on ecosystem resilience may be constrained by minimising other local stressors3,4,5 through the following:
  1. Developing sustainable fisheries management practices such as regulating catches to reduce overfishing and creating long-term bycatch reduction plans. If implemented and enforced, this type of management has been shown to sustain ecosystem resilience.
  2. Adopting sustainable management of habitats, increased coastal protection, reduced sediment loading and application of marine spatial planning.
  3. Establishing and maintaining Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that help manage endangered and highly vulnerable ecosystems to enhance their resilience against multiple environmental stressors.
  4. Monitoring and regulating localised sources of acidification from runoff and pollutants such as fertilisers.
  5. Reducing sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions from coal-fired power plants and ship exhausts that have significant acidifying effects locally.

Main image credit: Christopher Krembs, TAMU

The post Ocean Acidity Rising 10x Faster Than At Any Time in the Past 55 Million Years appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

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