Friday, July 20, 2012


The Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media has a June 28 article titled, National Academy, USGS See Above Normal U.S. Sea Level Rises.  The report cites findings by the National Academy of Sciences about the U.S. Pacific Coast and by the U.S. Geological Survey about the Atlantic Coast.  In both cases sea level rise relative to the land will be greater than the global average for a number of reasons, including subsidence of the land and a decrease in water density in some areas due to fresh water from melting ice.  USGS quoted its study’s principal author, Asbury Sallenger, saying, “Cities in the hotspot, like Norfolk, New York, and Boston already experience damaging floods during relatively low intensity storms.” “Ongoing accelerated sea level rise in the hotspot will make coastal cities and surrounding areas increasingly vulnerable to flooding by adding to the height that storm surge and breaking waves reach on the coast.”  At:
GreenFaith - Interfaith Partners for the Environment has posted a piece titled, 6 Steps for Getting Started in Your House of Worship.  It gives practical ideas for organizing for the environment in your faith community, educating members of your congregation, and saving money while helping to protect God’s Creation.  At: believe that faith communities can provide a powerful witness.  Climate change is, after all, one of the most profound moral and ethical issues of our time.
On July 12 The Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media described a report titled, Americans’ Actions to Conserve Energy, Reduce Waste, and Limit Global Warming March 2012.  Here are some highlights:
  • In the past year, more than half of Americans (56%) say they have attempted to reduce their family’s energy consumption.
  • Over the next 12 months, 52% intend to reward or punish companies for their global warming-related behaviors by either buying or boycotting their products.
  • 15% of Americans say they have volunteered or donated money to an organization working to reduce global warming. One in ten Americans (11%) has written a letter, email, or phoned a government official about global warming. Of these, 77% urged officials to take action to reduce global warming; 19% urged them not to take action.
The full report can be downloaded in pdf format.  At: 
Ramit  Plushnick-Mastii posted an item o MSNBC News on July 12 titled, Texas judge rules atmosphere, air is public trust.  In it he reported that a Texas District Court Judge Gisela Triana has ruled that the atmosphere, like water, must be protected for public use.  “The lawsuit was brought by the Texas Environmental Law Center, and is part of a court campaign in a dozen states by an Oregon-based nonprofit, Our Children's Trust. The group is using children and young adults as plaintiffs in the lawsuits — some state and some federal — filed in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas and Washington.”  This is an important and potentially historic decision.  At: 
Our Children’s Trust ( has produced a 7-minute video - very well done - featuring an 11-year old girl in Colorado.  At:
The July 13 issue of Science had an article by A. Dutton and K. Lambeck titled, Ice Volume and Sea Level During the Last Interglacial.  The last interglacial was a period about 125,000 years ago when the global average temperature was 1-2 degrees C warmer than now and sea level was several meters (5.5 to 9 m) higher, much more than previously assumed.  (A meter is about 40 inches).  This means that sea level is much more sensitive to average temperature than people thought.  At:
With the current 400 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere we already have enough to raise global average temperature between 1.5 and 3 degrees C. 
On July 13 Moni Basu of CNN posted an article titled, Drought stretches across America, threatens crops.  It said that 1016 counties in 26 states are considered natural disaster areas.  A county is considered a natural disaster area if it has suffered severe drought for eight consecutive weeks. As of July 10,  61% of land in the lower 48 states was experiencing drought conditions -- stretching from Nevada to South Carolina -- the highest percentage in the 12-year record of the U.S. Drought Monitor.  30% of the corn in the 18 primary corn-growing states is now in poor or very poor condition,  Corn prices have already climbed 45% in expectation of low yields.  In the past three weeks 3.1 million acres  - mostly in the West - have been scorched by wildfires.  At: 
Dr. Lawrence Kalkstein is the Director of the Synoptic Climatology Laboratory of the Department of Geology and Regional Studies at the University of Miami.  The laboratory focuses on how climate affects humans and other organisms around the world.  His web site includes links to a number of studies, including health/health warning systems and the relationship between climate change and heat deaths.  At: 
The NY Times for July 14 had an op-ed by Roger Bradbury titled, A World Without Coral Reefs.  In it he points out that a combination of ocean acidification - by uptake of carbon dioxide from its increasing concentration in the atmosphere - overfishing and pollution is destroying the world’s coral reefs, which now provide an important source of food for many of the world’s poor people.  Coral reefs have been called the rain forests of the sea, because of their rich biological diversity.  As seems typical, we are ignoring the value of this wonderful resource and not planning ahead for the suffering and loss to come.  At: 
The July 15 issue of Nation of Change has an article by Zo Casey titled, Wind Turbines Waste Much Less Energy Than Fossil Fuels.  Casey points out that electricity generation by burning fossil fuels wastes a large fraction of the chemical energy in the fuel as waste heat.  Losses are 54% for natural gas, 65% for nuclear, 66% for coal, and 77% for oil.  Wind energy is said to lose only about 1% in its conversion to electricity.  It also has the advantage of avoiding the emission of pollutants or the long term storage of coal ash or nuclear waste.  At:
The following items are from the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), Carol Werner, Executive Director. Past issues of its newsletter are posted on its website under "publications"
EESI’s newsletter is intended for all interested parties, particularly the policymaker community. 

Court Strikes Down Challenge to New York Cap and Trade Program
On June 13, the New York State Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit aimed at blocking the state’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) cap and trade program. The lawsuit was filed by two New York business executives and backed by the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Americans for Prosperity, arguing that the state joined RGGI without the support of the state legislature. The court ruled that the plaintiffs had no grounds to challenge the program. "This is a significant victory for those of us who take the threat of climate change seriously, and want to mitigate its harmful effects," said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. "I applaud the court for soundly rejecting this attempt—backed by out-of-state political interests—to stop New York from protecting its own citizens against the potentially devastating impacts of climate change.” RGGI, formed in 2005 by a group of northeastern and mid-Atlantic states, establishes a cap and trade system for fuel-burning power plants. The New York RGGI regulations aim to reduce overall CO2 emissions in the power sector to 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2018.
For additional information see: Chicago Tribune, Reuters, Energy Biz
Note:  In Delaware an effort to get a bill through the legislature that would pull the state out of RGGI - probably funded by fossil fuel interests outside the state - failed to gain traction.  Although the goal of RGGI is modest, it seems to threaten the financial interests of those who profit from the burning of fossil fuels.

States Differ on Use of Sea Level Rise Data
The Virginia state legislature recently commissioned a study on coastal flooding, but only after all references to climate change were removed from the funding proposal. Republican state lawmakers objected to the proposal’s original language, which referred to global warming and sea level rise, forcing the proposal to be modified with phrases such as “increased flooding risk”. This comes a week after the North Carolina state senate passed a bill banning the use of peer-reviewed sea level rise projections for planning purposes. In contrast, a survey of 600 California coastal planners and resource managers found that a majority of them believe in the threats posed by climate change. The survey, conducted by Stanford University, also showed an increase in city planning and adaptive measures to combat climate change in the six years since the last such survey.

In a related story, rising sea levels are becoming a major threat to Norfolk, Virginia. Built on sinking ground and surrounded by waterways, Norfolk has experienced frequent flooding in recent years from storm surges, high tides and heavy rains. The floods have already forced the city to buy and condemn about 20 homes in a particularly vulnerable neighborhood. Scientists say that Chesapeake Bay has risen a few inches around Norfolk every year, and the spring high tide is sometimes a foot or more above normal levels. To combat the problem, the city has brought in planners, engineers, and a Netherlands-based firm to develop ways to hold back the rising waters. Aware that they may soon face a similar crisis, other cities in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and Florida are closely following Norfolk’s adaptation efforts.

Arctic Sea Ice on Pace for Record-Low Year
Arctic sea ice coverage is dropping rapidly this month, indicating that the Arctic may soon experience its lowest ice levels on record. The record was set in September 2007, with 1.65 million square miles of sea ice. The Arctic is on pace to break this record. The region currently has 4.0 million square miles of sea ice coverage; the same period in 2007 saw 4.3 million square miles of sea ice. The baseline, or average for 1979-2000, for mid-June is 4.6 million square miles. "We are seeing a lot of areas opening up within the Arctic Ocean, and along coastlines that normally are still ice covered," said Walt Meier of the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center. The Arctic is almost certain to experience a low-ice year, but several factors will determine whether the record will be broken this September, when the annual sea ice cycle historically reaches its lowest point. Regional cloud cover, wind patterns, snowfall totals, soot levels, the flow of water through the Bering Strait all influence the rate of sea ice melt. Lower ice coverage this early in the summer will amplify melting, as dark open water absorbs more solar energy than the reflective ice. This year continues the recent trend of reduced sea ice in the Arctic, which scientists attribute to a combination of climate change and natural weather fluctuations.

In related news, last week The Economist published a special report on the Arctic entitled “The Melting North.” The report discusses the geopolitical, economic and environmental impacts of an increasingly warmer and ice-free Arctic. Arctic nations are largely working together to pursue new economic opportunities, such as northward expansion of fossil fuel extraction and new shipping lanes. Last August, a Russian tanker delivered its cargo from the northwest corner of Russia to Thailand in seven days, one of 34 ships to use the Northern Sea Route along Russia’s northern shore and through the Bering Strait. This route, made possible by reduced sea ice, cut the ship’s travel time and distance nearly in half from the traditional route through the Suez Canal. The report notes that such opportunities are largely the result of climate change and come at additional environmental cost.
For additional information see: Discovery News, The Economist

Study Analyzes Climate Change Impacts in Southwestern United States
At the recent Southwest Climate Summit, conference organizers released the executive summary of the upcoming report, Assessment of Climate Change in the Southwest United States. The conference and report were both overseen by the Southwest Climate Science Center of the University of Arizona. Developed as a regional-scale companion to the climate change reports released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the 800 page report includes contributions from over 100 researchers. The study finds that the second half of the 20th century was the region’s warmest period in 600 years and predicts increased periods of severe drought that will further decline river flows and soil moisture. Said lead author Jonathan Overpeck, “We need to be worried about climate change because it’s clearly already affecting our region in ways that impact many areas—we’re seeing landscapes burning, dying because of heat and dryness.” The report includes a section on the region’s Native American tribes, which finds that tribal lands and culture will be disproportionately impacted by climate change. The report explains that tribes are at particular risk due to marginalized lands, limited water rights, minimal political influence, and endangered cultural practices. The full report will be released in August.
For additional information see: Arizona Daily Star, Indian Country Today

International Network to Monitor Ocean Acidification
The new International Coordinating Office for Ocean Acidification was launched this weekend at the Rio+20 Earth Summit. The monitoring network will be the first international entity to track the effects of ocean acidification. The world’s oceans absorb 20 to 30 percent of carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the atmosphere, and increased CO2 levels in the water have lowered the average pH by 0.1, making the ocean 30 percent more acidic compared to preindustrial levels. The impacts of this acidification on marine animals and ecosystems are still largely unknown. “We really need to get probes into the water and see what’s going on,” Lisa Suatoni, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said. “This will help to acknowledge that ocean acidification is a major global threat to ocean resources.” The office will be part of the Environment Laboratories in the International Atomic Energy Agency in Monaco. The United States has pledged $1 million to the network over the next three years.

In related news, a new study has concluded that rising ocean temperatures are largely due to increased greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere. The study, published in Nature Climate Change, found that natural variations in currents and volcanic activity could account for 10 percent of the temperature increase, but the primary cause was greenhouse gas emissions from human activity. “We can actually say that we're virtually certain that the oceans have warmed, and that warming is caused not by natural processes but by rising greenhouse gases primarily," said Nathan Bindoff of the Institute for Marine and Arctic Studies. "Ninety per cent of the temperature change stored in the whole of the Earth's system is stored in the ocean, so global warming is really an ocean warming problem."
For additional information see: Washington Post, ABC News Australia

Court Upholds EPA Emission Rules
On June 26, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit declared that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was “unambiguously correct” using its authority to limit emissions from power plants and automobiles in order to reduce the level of greenhouse gas released into the atmosphere. The ruling upheld four aspects of the rules, including the “tailoring rule” and the “endangerment finding” rule. Fourteen states, including Virginia and Texas, challenged the EPA’s ruling, stating that the EPA overstepped its authority when it declared that carbon emissions endangered human health and that it intended to regulate these emissions under the Clean Air Act. Manufacturing, oil, and gas industry groups also challenged the ruling, claiming that regulating greenhouse gases is “complex and burdensome.” Fifteen states, including California, New York, and Massachusetts, testified in court in support of the EPA ruling. Numerous automakers also supported the decision, stating that car companies across the nation have made great strides in improving fuel economy standards, and that reducing carbon dioxide emissions were one of their top priorities. The appeals court wrote that the Clean Air Act "speaks in terms of endangerment, not in terms of policy, and EPA has complied with the statute."
For additional information see: New York Times, Miami Herald, E & E Publishing, National Journal

Exxon Chief Says Elimination of Fossil Fuels not Solution to Climate Change
In a speech Wednesday, Exxon Mobile CEO Rex Tillerson said that global efforts to address climate change should focus on adapting to rising sea levels and shifting weather patterns, not the elimination of fossil fuels. "Changes to weather patterns that move crop production areas around - we'll adapt to that. It's an engineering problem and it has engineering solutions," Tillerson said in his speech to the Council on Foreign Relations. Under Tillman, Exxon has acknowledged that human emissions are contributing to warming temperatures, a break from the company’s longstanding policy of climate change denial. He did, however, express doubts over the ability of climate models to accurately project future impacts. Tillerson also argued that fear over climate change should not keep governments from allowing new oil and gas explorations, as energy from fossil fuels raises the quality of life for people around the globe. He also addressed public concerns over new drilling techniques, and said the risks involved are small and manageable.
For additional information see: Associated Press, Reuters

Minnesota City Looks to Build Climate-Resilient Infrastructure
Recent flash floods have left Duluth, Minnesota with the task of repairing and upgrading its storm water removal system. However, the city wants to be sure that any upgrades to the 400 miles of pipes and drains incorporate climate change forecasts that predict more precipitation and more severe thunderstorms in the Midwest. This requires city planners to make expensive guesses on Duluth’s future weather patterns to ensure a resilient infrastructure. Minnesota experienced twice as many two-inch rainfalls between 1991 to 2010 over the historical average. One recent storm totaled up to ten inches of rain in 24 hours – twice the city’s threshold for a 100-year storm. "The big question is: Do you build it the same way, or build it to somehow manage for bigger events, like we seem to be seeing more and more often?" said Jesse Schomberg of the Minnesota Sea Grant. "But then the question is: How much bigger? That's something we don't really know yet." The communities of the Duluth metro area have commissioned a study to come up with new storm water management strategies, including larger pipes and underground precipitation storage, to handle larger and more frequent storms.
For additional information see: Minneapolis Star Tribune

Canadian Bird Species on the Decline
A new study entitled “The State of Canada’s Birds 2012” reports a 12 percent drop in Canadian bird populations since 1970. According to the study, 44 percent of the country’s more than 460 bird species have experienced declines. Sixty-six species have suffered enough losses to warrant consideration for endangered protections. The study cites climate change and habitat loss as likely reasons for the declines, especially for birds classified as aerial insectivores (birds that catch insects in the air). Warming temperatures may be causing insect populations to peak earlier in the year, before migratory birds return to Canada. These species now arrive too late to take full advantage of their main food source. The report also finds that conservation efforts and regulations on DDT and other hazardous chemicals have been successful in sustaining some of Canada’s bird populations, but that the pervasive threat posed by climate change will be difficult to manage through such traditional means. Furthermore, the general decline in bird populations may demonstrate danger to the country’s wildlife as a whole, as birds often serve as indicators of widespread environmental decline.
For additional information see: CBC

Scientists Argue Extreme Weather Is Result of Climate Change
This year has already seen record-breaking temperatures, devastating wildfires, massive storms and widespread drought. While it is difficult to link individual weather events to climate change, scientists submit that recent weather offers a proof of theworld’s changing weather patterns. “It’s really dramatic how many of the patterns that we’ve talked about as the expression of the extremes are hitting the U.S. right now,” said Dr. Chris Field of Stanford University, lead author of a recent special report on extreme events and disasters by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). "What we're seeing now is the future. We're going to be seeing a lot more weather like this, a lot more impacts like we're seeing from this series of heat waves, fires and storms," added Dr. Jeff Masters, Director of Meteorology at the Weather Underground. The United States already has set 40,000 heat-related temperature records this year. More than two-thirds of the country is under a severe drought, contributing to wildfires in Colorado and New Mexico that have ravaged millions of acres. A devastating derecho storm, with five times the energy of a normal thunderstorm, was linked to more than 20 deaths and left millions without power from Chicago to Washington, DC.
For additional information see: Guardian, Washington Post

Cost Reduction Efforts on Carbon Capture and Storage Ineffective
A new report by the U.S. Congressional Budget Office concludes that government efforts to drive down the cost of carbon capture and storage (CCS) have not been effective and the technology is still too expensive to be commercially viable. Since 2005, the U.S. government has spent $6.9 billion developing several large-scale CCS demonstration projects, with little effect on the cost of CCS. The report says that without emissions restrictions or a price on carbon emissions, utilities have little incentive to invest in CCS. Electricity from coal plants using CCS currently costs about 75 percent more than power from conventional power plants. The report says that federal money would be better spent on basic research and development of CCS, in hopes of generating cost-reducing technological breakthroughs.
For additional information see: Washington Post, Bloomberg

Greenland Ice Sheet Could Reach Melting Threshold
Scientists have concluded in a recent report that the Greenland Ice Sheet will continue to melt at record levels this summer. Rising land and ocean temperatures are causing more of Greenland’s terrain to show through the remaining ice sheet, causing the remaining ice to lose some of its reflective properties and melt at a faster rate than expected. Scientists have also found that the snow crystals in the ice pack lose their shape and reflective properties as they heat and cool over long periods of time, absorbing more sunlight and in turn warming the area around them. Lead author Dr. Jason Box of Ohio State University explains, “It appears that we’re about to cross a threshold in summer . . . you might even call it a tipping point as we go into a net energy absorption [of the higher elevations.] Then we’ll see the melt area expanding abruptly and potentially covering the entire ice sheet in summer for the first time in observations.”
For additional information see: Climate Central, NOAA, Report

Last 12 Months the Hottest on Record in United States
The 12-month period from July 2011 to June 2012 was the hottest in US recorded history, according to statistics released last week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Every state in the contiguous United States, except Washington, experienced higher than average temperatures during that period. The record-breaking temperatures coincide with a drought that now covers 56 percent of the continental United States, which NOAA says is the largest drought footprint of the 21st century. In Colorado, these extremely hot and dry conditions led to the outbreak of several devastating wildfires, including the Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs that blazed uncontrolled for weeks, and destroyed several hundred homes. Across the country, wildfires burned more than 1.3 million acres during June.

In other news, drought conditions across the Midwest have driven up the price of some commodities, such as corn and soybeans, to near record levels. The National Weather Service predicts the drought will continue or even intensify over the next three months in much of the lower Midwest. However, not all of the Midwest is under drought conditions, with Duluth, Minnesota, experiencing a storm last week that brought 7.2 inches of rain in a 24-hour period and caused over $100 million of damage due to flooding.
For additional information see: Forbes, Reuters, Climate Central, Wall Street Journal

Rocky Mountain National Park’s Landscape Affected by Climate Change
Drought and climate change are altering the landscape of Rocky Mountain National Park. Mountain slopes that are normally covered in snow are currently barren. Wildflower numbers are down due to lack of rain and snowmelt. But the most dramatic change is the vast numbers of pine trees that have been killed by bark beetles. Snow and below-freezing temperatures historically keep bark beetles out of the northern parts of the Rocky Mountain range, but warming temperatures over the past 70 years are allowing the invasive bark beetle to devastate forests that were previously unreachable. “The fact that the trees are several hundred years old and dying of bark beetles, yes, I’d say that’s climate change,” said Judy Visty, Director of Rocky Mountain National Park’s Research Learning Center. “Those forests, at least for me, won’t look like they did in my lifetime ever again. I’ve lost that.” The Kawuneeche Valley in Rocky Mountain National Park has gradually become warmer with more than 300 days of above freezing temperatures recorded in 2010. Compared to temperature records in 1940, Rocky Mountain National Park has seen an annual increase of 50 additional days above freezing levels.
For additional information see: Coloradoan
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Chad A. Tolman
Coalition for Climate Change Study and Action

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