Friday, January 26, 2018



There is a video on You Tube whose first 16 minutes is called When the Earth Melts.  It describes the methane that is released when the permafrost melts, and shows a big flame of burning methane when a hole is made in an ice covered lake in the presence of a source of ignition.  Russia has the largest area of permafrost of any country in the far north.  Release of the methane as the earth warms as a result of burning fossil fuels could drive the global average temperature substantially higher, in what is called a positive feedback in the climate system.

On Oct. 10, 2016 ScienceDirect published an article by Uwe Brand and eight other authors titled. Methane Hydrate: Killer cause of Earth’s greatest mass extinction.  This is what they wrote in the Abstract:
The cause for the end Permian mass extinction, the greatest challenge life on Earth faced in its geologic history, is still hotly debated by scientists. The most significant marker of this event is the negative δ13C shift and rebound recorded in marine carbonates with a duration ranging from 2000 to 19 000 years depending on localities and sedimentation rates. Leading causes for the event are Siberian trap volcanism and the emission of greenhouse gases with consequent global warming. Measurements of gases vaulted in calcite of end Permian brachiopods and whole rock document significant differences in normal atmospheric equilibrium concentration in gases between modern and end Permian seawaters. The gas composition of the end Permian brachiopod-inclusions reflects dramatically higher seawater carbon dioxide and methane contents leading up to the biotic event. Initial global warming of 8–11 °C sourced by isotopically light carbon dioxide from volcanic emissions triggered the release of isotopically lighter methane from permafrost and shelf sediment methane hydrates. Consequently, the huge quantities of methane emitted into the atmosphere and the oceans accelerated global warming and marked the negative δ13C spike observed in marine carbonates, documenting the onset of the mass extinction period. The rapidity of the methane hydrate emission lasting from several years to thousands of years was tempered by the equally rapid oxidation of the atmospheric and oceanic methane that gradually reduced its warming potential but not before global warming had reached levels lethal to most life on land and in the oceans. Based on measurements of gases trapped in biogenic and abiogenic calcite, the release of methane (of ∼3–14% of total C stored) from permafrost and shelf sediment methane hydrate is deemed the ultimate source and cause for the dramatic life-changing global warming (GMAT > 34 °C) and oceanic negative-carbon isotope excursion observed at the end Permian. Global warming triggered by the massive release of carbon dioxide may be catastrophic, but the release of methane from hydrate may be apocalyptic. The end Permian holds an important lesson for humanity regarding the issue it faces today with greenhouse gas emissions, global warming, and climate change.”

NOTE: GMAT > 34 °C means a global mean average temperature above 93 °F.  The End Permian Extinction that the authors refer to is the greatest extinction event in geologic history, about 252 million years ago, when up to 96% of marine species and 70% of terrestrial vertebrate species became extinct.  The “negative δ13C spike” referred to above, means a relative rapid decrease in the ratio of 13C/12C (the two non-radioactive isotopes of carbon), which paleontologists have taken to mean an addition to the atmosphere of massive amounts of methane released by the thermal decomposition of methane hydrates by global warming.  A similar but less extensive extinction event occurred about 55.5 million years ago, called the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) also accompanied by a negative δ13C spike and a temperature increase of 5-8 °C.
The significance of this for us is that continued burning of fossil fuels may be able to initiate a runaway situation that we would not be able to stop.
More about the interaction of climate change and methane hydrate can be found here.
The total mass of methane in the methane hydrate on the continental shelves of the world is estimated to be between 1 and 5 x 1012 metric tons - about the same as the 3 x 1012 metric tons of CO2 in the atmosphere (in 2007)!  About 10 years ago I wrote a paper for the League of Women Voters titled, Positive Feedbacks and Climate Runaway - the Need to Act Without Delay.

Stephen Fesler posted and article in The Urbanist on Jan. 10 titled, $20 Per Ton: Governor Inslee Proposes Carbon Tax.  In it the author wrote that Gov. Inslee of Washington State, in his recent State of the State speech, said that he favored a tax on carbon emissions, starting at $20/ ton of CO2 and increasing by 3.5% plus inflation per year.

NOTE: An increasing price on carbon - through a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system - is one of the most effective ways to reduce CO2 emissions - the primary source of global warming.

On Jan. 9 Jeff Tollefson pasted and article in Nature titled, Climate scientists unlock secrets of ‘blue carbon’.  (The article is on an encrypted website.). Blue Carbon is the term used to describe the carbon stored in coastal wetlands, which is substantial.  The author writes, “Tidal wetlands come in many forms, but they could be more alike below the surface than anyone realized. Whether it’s a mangrove forest in Florida, a freshwater swamp in Virginia or a saltwater marsh in Oregon, the amount of carbon locked in a soil sample from each of these coastal ecosystems is roughly the same.”
A report that the EPA released in April last year, found that the United States’ 3.8 million hectares of coastal wetlands soak up 8.1 million tonnes of CO2 each year.

On Jan. 10 the NY Times published an article by Karen Weintraub titled, More Female Sea Turtles Born as Temperatures Rise.  She wrote,
Male sea turtles are disappearing from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.  A new study of gender ratios found that 99 percent of immature green turtles born in the northern part of the reef are female. Among adult turtles, 87 percent are female, suggesting that there has been a shift in gender ratios over the last few decades.
A sea turtle’s sex is determined by its nesting environment. As sands warm, more females will hatch relative to males; if the sand temperature tops 84.7 degrees during incubation, only females will emerge.
The gender shift suggests that climate change is having a significant effect on one of the biggest green turtle populations in the world, said Michael Jensen, lead author of the new study, published in Current Biology.
“The group conducted its research over 16 days in July 2014, plying small boats around the Howick Group of islands in the north Great Barrier Reef — “an absolutely magical place,” according to Dr. Jensen. They captured 411 foraging turtles, one at a time, drawing blood to measure gender hormones and taking skin samples for DNA. The genetic analysis allowed them to determine whether the turtle had been born in the northern or southern parts of the reef, which are separated by about 1,200 miles.’
“Turtles born in the cooler south were only biased 65 to 69 percent female, the study showed. Researchers still don’t know the ideal ratio, or how many males to females it takes to effectively sustain the population, Dr. Jensen said.
Without the new study, he said, scientists might not have recognized the gender skewing in the north for decades — perhaps missing the window to make a difference.
“The result is definitely alarming,” Dr. Jensen said. “But now we know and can focus our research on the right questions and start thinking about what can be done. So I’m hopeful as well.””

On Jan. 11 Bloomberg published an article by Christopher Flavelle titled, Disaster Mitigation Targeted by Trump Saves $6 for Every $1 Spent, Report Says.  The author wrote,
The report, released Thursday by the National Institute of Building Sciences, found that every $1 the federal government spends on so-called mitigation projects, such as elevating homes at risk of flooding, improving stormwater management systems or strengthening buildings against earthquakes, reduces future costs by an average of $6.”
“Trump’s first budget request called for cutting many of the programs designed to protect Americans from the effects of climate change. He and some of his cabinet members have questioned the science of global warming, rolling back many of the programs and regulations established by President Barack Obama to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
“Yet 2017 went on to become the most expensive year on record for natural disasters, with $306 billion in damage (emphasis added) and 362 deaths in the U.S. led by hurricanes in the southeast and wildfires in the west. The results have drawn scrutiny to whether the government does enough to prepare for those disasters, especially as much of Puerto Rico remains without electricity. And they have focused new attention on the costs of those disasters to federal taxpayers, not least from Republicans in Congress, and how to reduce those costs.”
On January 11 106 bipartisan members of he U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to President Trump on the importance of climate change to our national security.  Here is part of what they wrote:

“As Members of the House of Representatives with a deep interest in the many dimensions of our national security, we write to express our concern about your National Security Strategy, which fails to recognize climate change as a threat to the United States..
We have heard from scientists, military leaders and civilian personnel who believe that climate change is a direct threat to America’s national security and to the to the stability of the world at large.  As global temperatures become more volatile, sea levels rise, and landscapes change, our military installations and our communities are increasingly at risk of devastation.  It is imperative that the United States addresses this growing geopolitical threat.”

 On Jan. 16 Sarah Parsons of the World Resources Institute wrote an article titled, 
Bad Air to Better Oceans: 6 Environment and Development Stories to Watch in 2018 I’ll give the detail for just two.  Click on the link above to see the others.

Bad Air Days
The Future of Oil
Progress on International Climate Action
Negative Emissions

Water and Conflict
Most people point to sociopolitical dynamics and economics as the reasons behind humanitarian crises, but water stress is often another underlying and underreported trigger. Drought preceded Syria’s civil war. The drying up of Lake Chad led to the displacement of more than 2 million people. Without interventions, the situation is poised to worsen: Projections show that 33 countries will face extremely high water stress by 2040.
At the same time, the world is making major progress in monitoring the world’s water. Can early warnings prevent future conflict?
The UN Security Council may take up a climate resolution later this year, which would formally recognize water scarcity’s role in conflict prevention. Emerging platforms like the Aqueduct mapping tool can provide data to support better resource management: It evaluates current and future water stress, and will soon analyze water availability’s potential impact on staple crops in every region of the world.

Ocean Rising
Half the world’s corals have been lost to bleaching; nearly 60 percent of fisheries have been fished to capacity; and experts predict the oceans will hold more plastic than fish by 2050. “This is a tragedy of the commons writ large,” Steer said.
Oceans are rising — literally, in terms of sea levels — and also  on political agendas. Will it be enough to save the seas?
Forty countries have already banned or restricted the use of plastic bags that often end up in the water. Last year, the UN appointed a Special Envoy for Oceans, while countries made 1,400 commitments to ocean protection at the UN Ocean Conference.
This year, Canada has promised to put oceans on the agenda for the upcoming G7 meeting. We will see new initiatives introduced to improve ocean management at theWorld Economic Forum later this month. And negotiations may begin for a UN Treaty on the High Seas. Research shows that world needs to bring 30 percent of the world’s oceans under protection in order to achieve sustainability. Political and business leaders would do well to pay attention—key ocean assets are worth a whopping $24 trillion.”

On Jan. 17 Bloomberg News posted an article by Gerald Silverman titled, Northeast States Tap the Gas Pump for Carbon Emissions Cuts
The seven states that are part of the Transportation and Climate Initiative - Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont—and the District of Columbia are seriously considering pricing carbon emissions through a cap-and-trade system like that used in RGGI (the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative) for power plant emissions and to which the seven states already belong.  RGGI has decreased emissions from the electric sector by over 40% since 2009, so that transportation now makes a larger contribution than electricity generation in several RGGI states. The author wrote,
“The policy framework for the program was laid out in a report from the Transportation and Climate Initiative, which outlines the key options and the benefits and drawbacks from different approaches. The report didn’t make a specific recommendation but favored a cap-and-trade program that covers a minimum of gasoline and on-road diesel fuels.”

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. 

Negotiations between Senate staff, consumer advocates, mortgage companies, and clean energy supporters have yielded a compromise on the Property Assessed Clean Energy program (PACE). The compromise, devised by the Senate Banking Committee to address fraud concerns, would grant the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau the authority to regulate PACE and establish lending and repayment standards. The program has assisted more than 180,000 homeowners in financing solar panels and energy efficient appliances through their local tax bills. PACE is not a federal program, but is instead administered at the local level and often facilitated by state legislation. The PACE model was originally used for financing the replacement of infrastructure before being adapted as a tax assessment for individual energy projects. Repayment of the tax assessment is the responsibility of the homeowner, comes at no cost to other taxpayers, and can be passed on to a new owner if a property is sold. Energy savings resulting from the upgrades are often enough to cover the cost of borrowing for property owners.

For more information see:

pastedGraphic.pdfEPA Is Shedding Scientists and Other Employees, with Replacements Unlikely
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has seen its workforce decline by more than 700 people since the start of the Trump administration. More than 200 of these departed employees were scientists, with another 96 categorized as "environmental protection specialists," a broad job set that can deal with the analysis and investigation of pollution levels. Dozens of attorneys and program managers, as well as nine department directors have also left. The employees have quit, retired, or been bought out and most are not being replaced. The Trump administration has publicly declared its desire to reduce the agency's workforce by 20 percent (3,200 jobs). Republican-led budget cuts caused EPA to shrink to about 15,000 employees during the Obama administration. EPA offices that deal with science and research have been hit particularly hard, causing observers to worry that EPA's capabilities in these fields will be diminished over the long-term and hinder its ability to safeguard public health.

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_1.pdfNatural Disasters Took a Historic Toll on U.S. Communities in 2017
A steady stream of hurricanes, wildfires, heat waves, tidal flooding, and extreme rainfall have put 2017 on track to be the costliest year in American history in terms of natural disasters. Property damage to residences, transportation infrastructure, and the electrical grid has stressed government programs, insurance agencies, and individuals. Hurricane Maria alone is estimated to have caused $40 billion in lost economic output and $55 billion in property damage. The U.S. territory of Puerto Rico was among the locales hardest hit by the storm, with the government still struggling to restore basic utility services. California's wildfires have caused $9.4 billion in damages so far this year, even with the damage from ongoing wildfires in the southern portion of the state not yet accounted for. There were at least 15 extreme weather events costing at least a billion dollars each in 2017, with the cumulative damages eliminating 0.2-0.3 percent of U.S. wealth. Another consequence is the long-term shuttering of local businesses and the evacuation of residents, placing a community's jobs and growth on hold.

For more information see:

Study: Europe Could See Significant Increase in Asylum Seekers Due to Climate Change
According to a new study in the journal Science, Europe could see a significant increase in asylum seekers due to climate change by 2100. Under current climate change scenarios, the continent would have three times as many migrants applying for asylum versus today's levels, independent of other political and economic factors. Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change, said, "Hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of people will be exposed to coastal sea level rise and shifts in extreme weather that will cause mass migrations away from the most vulnerable locations. We know from human history that such migrations often lead to conflict and war." Ward added that models examining the economic impacts of climate change often neglect to account for migration-related conflicts. Europe could be a particularly attractive destination for asylum seekers due to its economy, climate resilience, and infrastructure. The study examined asylum requests for the European Union over a 14-year period and determined that people from countries with greater climate stressors tended to submit more applications.

For more information see:

Texas Continues to Reap the Benefits of Wind Energy
The wind industry has transformed the landscape in Texas, a state historically known for its oil and gas production. Past governors George W. Bush and Rick Perry helped create a regulatory path for wind farms to spring up in Nolan County back in 2001. The installation of key infrastructure and Texas' near-autonomous electric grid also facilitated the wind industry's growth, while production tax credits brought federal incentives for capital investment. If it were an independent nation, Texas would be the sixth-largest wind energy producer in the world, with Nolan County accounting for a significant chunk of the electricity generated. As of 2016, at least one-fifth of the country's 100,000 wind industry jobs were based in Texas. The industry's growth has led to substantial benefits for the region. Ken Becker, executive director of the Sweetwater Economic Development Corp, said, "In pre-wind, our county taxable value was $500 million. In 2008, it was $2.8 billion," funding education and healthcare improvements and providing a source of steady income for landowners that host the turbines.

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_2.pdfFlorida's Exemption from Offshore Oil Drilling Draws Protests from Coastal Governors

Governors and legislators of both parties have expressed criticism and dismay over the Trump administration's exemption of Florida from offshore oil drilling. Florida is the sole state to be exempted from the new policy, just four days after it was first announced. Critics cite the political nature of the January 9 move, given that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke flew to Florida afterward for a public appearance with presumptive Senate candidate and current Governor Rick Scott (R). In 2010, Scott expressed support for offshore drilling, but walked back that support after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. To gain the same drilling exemption, other states may turn to the Administrative Procedure Act, which prevents agencies from acting in an "arbitrary and capricious manner." Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said, "Virginia's governor (and governor-elect) have made this same request [as Florida], but we have not received the same commitment." Twenty-two senators from 12 states, as well as the Republican governor of South Carolina, have also requested drilling exemptions.

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_3.pdfWashington Gov. Inslee Unveils Carbon Tax Proposal

On January 9, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced plans for a state-wide carbon tax. The proposal would set a $20 per ton price on carbon emissions, with the price rising 3.5 percent annually above the rate of inflation. The plan would be implemented in the 2020 budget year, with projected revenue of $726 million generated in the first year and a total of $3.3 billion in revenue over the initial four year period. According to analysis from the governor's office, residential natural gas prices would rise 10 percent, gasoline prices would rise 6-9 percent, and electricity costs could increase by 4-5 percent by 2020. The tax would be placed on businesses that use fossil fuels, with some exemptions such as aircraft and agricultural fuels. Utilities would be allowed to invest in emission reduction projects in exchange for tax credits. Republican legislators are strongly opposed to a carbon tax, while Democrats have different opinions on its implementation and how to spend revenue. British Columbia implemented its own carbon tax in 2008, which is now priced at $30 Canadian per ton.

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_4.pdfUN Program Helps Fiji's Farmers Adapt to Climate Impacts

In February 2016, the most powerful cyclone ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere devastated the islands that make up the country of Fiji. Cyclone Winston destroyed more than 30,000 homes and displaced more than 150,000 people. Persistent rain brought by the storm caused flooding, landslides, and soil erosion. These impacts hit the country's farmers particularly hard. Farmer Adi Alesi Nacoba saw all of her crops wiped out that year. Over a six-month period, she rebuilt her business using climate-resilient methods learned from a United Nations Women Markets for Change program. The adaptations included crop diversification and staggered planting to better ensure crop survival. Terraced plots have also helped to protect crops from wind and flooding. In addition to reserving seeds, farmers have also begun to rely on banks to protect their savings. Sandra Bernklau with Fiji's UN Women office said, "I know that a lot of women farmers are saving more. They're much more conscious of having some money in the bank when things go wrong."

For more information see:

New York City Sues Fossil Fuel Industry Over Contributions to Climate Change

The City of New York is suing to hold the energy industry accountable for its contributions to anthropogenic climate change. BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon, and Shell were all named in the suit. New York's effort will follow the example of recent cases in California, as well as past legal challenges against producers of cigarettes, asbestos, and lead paint. The city is building its argument on the legal tenants of "public" and "private nuisance," which address illegal impacts on a community's welfare or its land. Representatives for Chevron and Exxon have expressed strong resistance to the case. New York City attempted to use federal public nuisance law against companies operating fossil fuel-fired power plants in 2011, but the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that federal law grants the EPA (not city and state governments) regulatory power over greenhouse gas pollutants. New York City also announced it would be divesting $5 billion in fossil fuel assets from its five pension funds, which are valued at $189 billion overall.

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_5.pdfPush to Lease Public Lands for Drilling Draws Diminished Interest from Energy Industry

Despite a concerted effort by the Trump administration to expand the development of oil and natural gas resources in the United States, the energy industry's actual response has been fairly tepid. A March 2017 executive order was issued with the goal of slashing "regulatory burdens" and increasing the scale of federal oil and gas lease auctions. However, activity has been limited beyond a few specific lease sales in regions such as Wyoming and New Mexico. For instance, a December auction in Alaska's North Slope saw only seven of 900 parcels receive any bids at all. The highest bid from that auction was $14.99 per acre, versus hundreds or thousands of dollars per acre elsewhere. This trend has played out in other auctions across the country, with industry experts citing America's lessened demand for oil and the high cost of drilling public lands with uncertain production prospects. According to a spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management, the agency is "required to hold auctions by regulation," regardless of the current industry response.

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_6.pdfOil and Gas Companies Investing in More Offshore Wind Energy Projects

The growing demand for offshore wind projects, combined with the steady transition of major markets away from gasoline, has led oil and gas companies to begin diversifying their portfolios. Major fossil fuel extraction companies are applying their experience constructing and maintaining offshore drilling rigs toward the development of offshore wind turbines. Senior vice president at Statoil, Stephen Bull, said, "We see a similar supply chain and skill set and can grow within this area." The Norwegian company is developing a floating wind farm off the coast of Scotland and has leased 80,000 acres off New York's coast for wind energy. Meanwhile, Ørsted (formerly DONG Energy) is investigating wind development near Massachusetts and New Jersey. Offshore wind accounts for 17.6 gigawatts of generating capacity worldwide, with most of that concentrated in Europe. The U.S. market has been slower to develop and currently has just one wind farm operating off the coast of Rhode Island. Analysts hope that the involvement of oil and gas companies in the U.S. wind market could jumpstart projects and mirror Europe's growth.

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_7.pdfReport: China Moving into Pole Position on Renewable Energy Investment

According to a new report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), China is on track to become the leading nation in international renewable energy investment. The report states, "As battery storage and electric vehicles technologies pick up momentum, China is setting itself up to dominate these sectors globally over the next several decades of this century." China's "One Belt One Road" policy has been a major economic driver, including $8 billion in solar equipment exports since it began. China also moved past the United States and Germany as the leading exporter of environmental goods and services. The report found that China has been leapfrogging other nations in securing supplies of lithium, nickel, and cobalt - essential elements in battery and electric vehicle manufacturing. Under the Paris Agreement, China committed to peak its emissions by 2030 and generate 20 percent of its electricity from renewable or nuclear energy sources within that timeframe.

For more information see:

Scorching Temperatures Pose Deadly Threat to Australia's Bat Population

On January 7, Sydney, Australia experienced its hottest day since 1939, with temperatures reaching 117 degrees Fahrenheit. Searing summer heat waves have led to a 10 percent increase in ambulance calls and deaths. While humans are typically able to seek shelter from the heat, many animals are unable to adapt quickly enough. Specialists have sought to deliver relief to at-risk animals, but hundreds of flying fox bats have died so far due to a lack of shade, with the death toll expected to accumulate in the thousands. The fruit-eating bats are key pollinators and seed dispersers and are one of four types of vulnerable bat species that populate Australia's east coast. A 2014 heat wave in Queensland saw 100,000 bats perish. At the time, bat ecologist Micaela Jemison wrote, "This is of great concern to scientists not only due to the increased risk of these 'die off' events, but also for the long term impact it will have on the recovery of several of these already threatened species."

For more information see:

Washington and Oregon Consider Joining California in Regulating Carbon Emissions

The next wave of greenhouse gas emission reduction policies could lead to a price on carbon for the entire west coast of the United States. On January 9, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee proposed a state-wide carbon tax, calling for action against the "damaging health effects of carbon pollution." Inslee's proposal would place a $20 per ton tax on carbon, with that valuation increasing 3.5 percent annually above the rate of inflation. Oregon's legislature is slated to consider a "cap and invest" system, which would limit the amount of carbon industrial polluters can emit before having to purchase emission allowances. Advocates see Oregon's 2018 legislative session as the best opportunity yet to adopt the system, though specific details of the plan are still under development. California had previously approved its own cap-and-trade program. Some critics of Washington's tax have called for more of the revenue generated to be reinvested in communities that will be disproportionately affected by higher energy prices and climate impacts.

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_8.pdfDecline in Seasonal Snowpack Poses Water Supply Concerns for Western States

Dozens of basins across the western United States have experienced snowpack 50 percent lower than average for this time of year. The snow melt feeds into the Colorado River, which provides water for 40 million people stretching from Denver to Los Angeles. The west's growing population has strained water supplies, but the decline in snow is making a difficult situation worse. The snowpack's usual pattern of freezing and gradual melting is being disrupted by higher temperatures. As the snow line recedes, precipitation is taking the form of rain instead of snow, resulting in less stored water to draw from later. Many reservoirs lack the capacity to accommodate the extra rain, forcing managers to release it to avert flooding. Climatologists caution that there have been down snow seasons before and further study is needed, but the overall trend is troubling. According to a 2017 study in Nature, western snowpack could decrease by an average of 60 percent over the next 30 years due to a combination of anthropogenic and natural warming.

For more information see:

United Kingdom Could Provide a Model to New England States Seeking Wind Development

The United Kingdom currently leads the world in offshore wind energy development and could offer practical lessons to coastal communities in the United States hoping to jump-start their economies. Massachusetts plans on generating 1,600 megawatts of electricity from offshore wind by 2027, despite having no such generating capacity today. Three different companies have submitted proposals for the state's first offshore wind farm, which would cover a quarter of the state's goal. For Grimsby, England, a fishing town struggling to stay afloat, the seven wind farms that have been constructed off its coast to date invigorated the local economy. The town's port is now full of crews responsible for operating and maintaining the offshore turbines. Martyn Boyers, operator of the Grimsby fish market, said the fishing community was skeptical at first, but soon embraced the economic benefits of wind. Boyers said, "If we can do it in a place like Grimsby, which was steeped in history, and only fish, you can do it anywhere. It's an opportunity."

For more information see:

pastedGraphic_9.pdfProlonged Drought and Public Health Impacts Stir Activism in Iran

In western Iran, years of declining water resources and unpopular water transfer projects sparked a protest of 200 people outside a provincial governor's office. The protest was part of a nation-wide movement in response to a variety of societal and economic issues, but some experts argue that climate change and the government's approach to water scarcity played a noteworthy role. The dramatic decline in precipitation and an increase in temperatures have dried up lakes, created dust storms, and caused struggling farmers to seek out employment in cities. Environmental activist Yusef Farhadi Babadi, said, "People in my area do not want to politicize their environmental concerns, but water shortages and pollution of the air and rivers are seen as political crises." According to Iran's Drought and Crisis Management Center, 96 percent of the country's land area is experiencing "prolonged drought conditions." Protests over water diversion practices, dam construction, and pollution in Iran's agricultural regions have led to the involvement of government military units to quash dissent.

For more information see:

NOTE: Increasing shortages of water as climates change are likely to increase conflicts both within nations and among them.

pastedGraphic_10.pdfDepartment of Defense and President Trump Draw a Stark Contrast on Climate Change

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has continued to assert its position that climate change is a serious national security threat and the military must prepare for these impacts accordingly. This view is in direct conflict with President Trump, who has sought to withdraw the nation from the Paris Climate Agreement and slash funding for domestic and international climate programs. Although DOD is working to reduce its carbon footprint and become more resource efficient (it remains the single largest institutional user of fossil fuels in the world), some key members of Congress are trying to increase the size of the military even further. However, the latest National Defense Authorization Act to fund the military was signed into law containing language naming climate change as a "direct threat" to national security and a congressional reporting requirement on military installation vulnerabilities. Past DOD reports have noted climate change's role as a "threat multiplier," contributing to food and water scarcity, the spread of disease, and mass migration, which can amplify the chance of conflict in already unstable regions. A study by the American Security Project found that 70 percent of the world's nations recognize climate change as a threat to their own security.

For more information see:

BlackRock's Chief Executive Urges Financial Firms to Be More Socially Conscious with Investments

Laurence Fink, the founder and chief executive of the investment firm BlackRock, published a letter on January 16 calling upon financial leaders to take a more active role in addressing societal issues. The letter said, "Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose. To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society." BlackRock is the largest investor in the world and manages more than $6 trillion in assets, making Fink's voice highly influential in the global financial sector. BlackRock will purportedly add staff to monitor whether companies act upon Fink's call to action. Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, associate dean at the Yale School of Management, observed, "It is huge for an institutional investor to take this position across its portfolio," calling it "a lightning rod." A past example of BlackRock's influence came in 2017, when the firm supported a shareholder proposal to override Exxon's disclosure policy on climate change to expose the company's strategy and risk exposure.

For more information see:

New Cost-Effective Satellite to Provide Wealth of Greenhouse Gas Data

The new Geostationary Carbon Cycle Observatory (GeoCARB) satellite currently under development stands to significantly improve the scientific community's capacity to study the global movement of greenhouse gases. The satellite is scheduled to launch in the early 2020s and will collect 10 million observations daily of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and solar-induced fluorescence for use by researchers. GeoCARB will also be able to measure methane leaks, a problem that costs the natural gas industry up to $10 billion annually. The satellite's low-Earth orbit will focus on a geographic area ranging from the tip of South America to Hudson Bay in Canada. GeoCARB will be only a third or a quarter of the cost of a traditional mission because it will rent space on a commercial communications satellite, making it an appealing project amidst today's constrained federal budget priorities. David Crisp, a senior scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said, "Our job is to actually make the tools that the policymakers need so that they can make good decisions."

For more information see:

Bacterial Outbreak Caused by Uncharacteristic Heatwave Pushes Ancient Saiga to Brink of Extinction

A new paper in the journal Science Advances has uncovered additional details behind a massive animal die-off, where unusually high temperatures served as the catalyst. Over the course of three weeks in 2015, more than 200,000 saiga antelope died without warning in central Kazakhstan. A bacteria called Pasteurella multocida type B was known to be present in the adult saiga at the time. The latest evidence states that a 10-day stretch of high heat and humidity caused the bacteria in the saiga to multiply rapidly, leading to hemorrhagic septicemia and a swift death. Richard Kock, a professor at the Royal Veterinary College in London, recalled, "You went from one or two animals to within three or four days - thousands. And then they were all dead by the seventh day." The 30,000 surviving saiga were thought to have been outside of the "climate envelope" that initiated the outbreak. Kock added that a similar event for the critically endangered saiga could result in "total extinction."

For more information see:

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Chad A. Tolman
New Castle County Congregations of Delaware Interfaith Power and Light