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So, it turns out I read a lot of weird news stories at work, probably because I am often still half away in the morning and procrastinating my important tasks until after that second (or fourth….) cup of coffee.  Writing emails is hard, y’all. And while reading those weird news stories (or just scolling through buzzfeed) it’s been pretty surprising to see the stories popping up about…bees. Especially in places like Business Insider or, yup, buzzfeed.

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Suddenly we all care about bees!

I’m going out on a limb with this post, because I’ll be the first to admit that agriculture is one of my weak areas when it comes to environmental fields.  It’s not something I’ve spent time working on, so my knowledge base is cursory.  Yet, it’s such a hot topic that I couldn’t leave it alone.  See, the buzz in the news is about Colony Collapse Disorder, an affliction first identified in 2005 that causes entire bee colonies to – well – collapse.  It’s been on the rise in recent years, with reports this summer of massive bee losses in the U.S., Canada, and Europe.  During the years from 2006 – 2011, bee populations in commercial honeybee farms have reported losses of up to 33% (that’s 1/3 of their hives) from the disorder.  What’s causing it?  Studies have linked a certain category of widely used pesticide, neonicotinoids, to the bee deaths, citing both the impact of the pesticides on bees as well as the near-perfect tracking between increased use of these pesticides and the bee deaths.  Evidence is strong enough that in Europe, the E.U. placed a two year moratorium on use of the pesticides beginning in April 2013, and a coalition of beekeepers have actually sued the US EPA to do the same.

But they’re just bees, right? I mean, who cares about them? They sting people and pollinate flowers and, whatever.

Wrong.  Bee populations are experiencing a massive decline worldwide, which is seriously bad news for agriculture. That is, the food that you and I like to eat. Cherries, blueberries, almonds, peaches, apples, soy, and worst of all, COFEE – are among the crops impacted because they are dependent on bee pollination.  USDA summarized the impacts with this chart:

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Yeah. Read it, and then go hug a frickin’ bee.

I’m a bit in over my head in terms of coming up with a bottom line for this post (sorry guys, I’m honest), largely because I also have many unanswered questions.  How strong is the link between these pesticides and bee populations? How widely used are these pesticides? Do we have effective replacements?  But, as far as I can tell, this is another tick in the box for moving beyond our chemically-dependent agro-business practices (within reason, of course – I recognize that going back to subsistence farming isn’t really an option) and more towards options that don’t do this kind of longterm damage.  Ecology teaches that populations affected on a widespread scale often have a rough time recovering after a certain percentage of the population has been decimated.  It’s probably a pipe dream to hope that we could be more proactive in the future to prevent this kind of loss, but at least there’s a lesson in here: sometimes, the consequences of our decisions mean real losses for business and for us.  I mean – it’s on the Lululemon bags, for crying out loud – what we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves.

Comments are welcome from anyone who has expertise in this area – or who wants to chime in about the impacts of the declining bee populations on agriculture and what we can or should do about it.  As always, keep it friendly.

Greetings, greenies!  My good friend and former classmate, El Chupacabra, has been encouraging me to write a guest post for a long time and I have finally caved (read: I stopped being lazy). Plus, this post is going to be about one of her favorite pastimes – running!  Well, sort of. We’ll get to that. Since I’m not an official spinach-head though, we’ll just call this…zucchini. YUM.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably noticed how much running and road races have gained in popularity over the last decade or so. Not only has the number of road race finishers increased by 170% since the early 90’s, but you can now run through mud, rainbows, and even away from zombies. So what does this have to do with the environment? Welllll, I did my first triathlon this weekend! (Shameless plug. Ahem)

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See, I’m the one in the pink cap!

And wouldn’t you know, the entire event was ZERO WASTE. How cool is that?! Turns out the race directors worked with a company called Evergreen Events that provides bins, compostable products, and consulting services to reduce/eliminate waste from all different kinds of events. It’s part of an initiative to keep Compostable Organics Out of Landfills. So, quite literally, COOL. Those cups of water and Gatorade the volunteers hand out to the runners? Composted.  The plates and utensils in the food tent ?(Yes, there was a food tent.) Composted.  They even collected the wrappers from energy bars, gels, etc. for either recycling or composting. That’s a lot of could-be trash not getting thrown away, not ending up in a landfill, and not polluting the atmosphere as it decays. I had no idea just how much of a difference it made to compost organic products rather than throw them out (they’re biodegradable, they’ll just decompose in that landfill right?), but check out these stats from the Ohio EPA:

                “Up to 90 percent of waste thrown out by supermarkets and restaurants is food scraps. In fact, food scraps are the third largest segment of the waste stream with nearly 26 million tons generated each year. Unfortunately, it is also the least recovered. If the 26 million tons of food scraps generated annually were composted rather than landfilled, greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by more than 21.5 million metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent. This savings is equivalent to the removal of more than 4 million cars from the roadways each year, conserving more than 2 billion gallons of gasoline, or providing annual electricity needs to more than 2.5 million homes!”

So kudos to Boulder, CO, Ironman, and Evergreen Events for creating a waste-free race! And next time you’re running past that last mile marker, downing that half-a-cup of magic electrolyte juice the volunteer just handed you then smashing and throwing it on the ground like the badass you are, think about all that trash and what it can do to the environment and our climate. Then send the race director a suggestion for next time. Tell them to check out Evergreen Events or find a similar service near you. With nearly 14 million people finishing road races each year (and that’s just running!), imagine what an impact converting all that waste to recyclables or compost could do!

 

Snowden is missing.  The IRS scandal is ongoing. SCOTUS struck down DOMA and punted on affirmative action. A Texas filibuster over a proposed abortion bill was picked up by a historic crowd at the state capitol who effectively blocked the legislation through sheer willpower. A red panda went missing from the National Zoo. DC United won a game. It’s been a hell of a week, and it’s only Wednesday.

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I feel ya, buddy.

In the middle of it all, President Obama delivered the policy speech that environmentalists have been waiting for since the day he took office: the one on climate change. The President’s agenda outlined broad goals for the U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, invest in renewable energy, respond to the ongoing impacts of climate change, and finally, lead the international community in all of those areas, too. The official White House fact sheet is available here. But what about the details?

Coal, more than any other industry, took it on the chin in this one – not surprising given just how much pollution is generated by coal-fired power plants.  The plan directs EPA to move forward with regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants by June 2014.  The plan also included expanded effort to fund renewable energy and use public lands for renewable energy sources, efficiency initiatives, and reforestation measures.

The plan was met with mixed reactions.  Commentators were quick to judge the measures as a scaled-back version of the lofty goals that Obama set at the outset of his Presidency, and not surprisingly, many Republicans continued the drumbeat of erroneously pitting environmental initiatives against economic goals. (Side note: when will they give up, and realize the renewable energy can also create jobs? Sigh.)  Coal stocks responded by plummeting.  Many environmental groups, including Sierra Club and 350.org applauded the measures as the long-awaited concrete action to back up the President’s constant promises to tackle climate change.  Former Vice President and environmental advocate Al Gore called the speech “terrific and historic,” responding optimistically to the steps proposed in the President’s plan as well as his willingness to finally move forward on a longstanding issue.  The mention of the infamous Keystone XL pipeline caught many by surprise, as did the President’s comments that the pipeline will not go forward if it is found to increase GHG emissions.  That of course, is a finding that in reality is stupid – of course expanded tar sands development, and continuing to enable fossil fuel exports, will increase emissions and accelerate climate change.  But, the “official” outcome could go either way depending on how groups calculate the emissions and how directly they tie the impacts to the pipeline itself.  You know the saying- lies, damned lies, and impact assessments.  Another surprising feature was the mention of fossil fuel subsidies, which was included in the President’s international goals, but not within his steps to curb emissions in the US.  (Honestly, I don’t know why nobody listens to me on this one.  Cut fossil fuel subsidies, cut federal spending, and cut emissions by forcing people to think about how much and how often they drive and make better choices. Oh well.)

Overall, while the actions were not as bold as some groups hoped, the result of the speech was a net positive – an acknowledgement that climate change is real, here, and happening, and a specific plan for moving forward.  Let’s hope that the follow-through is real.

A summary of the main points of the plan is available through Grist.org right here. A full transcript of the President’s speech is available here. As for Team Spinach, a detailed analysis of the plan by our resident climate expert, El Nino, will follow soon.

Hi all!

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I think everyone was busy last week worrying the NSA is judging them for not calling their grandmother more often.  I know I was.  Which is why it took me a bit to get this post up, and also why so many fascinating things happened in the energy and climate world that I had to talk about them all in one post.

First of all, our least favorite pipeline that doesn’t even exist yet is back in the news.  The Sierra Club has quietly taken the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline over to the judicial branch.  The litigious environmental nonprofit (for those of you who don’t know, Sierra Club has acted as plaintiff for some of the nation’s most pivotal and groundbreaking environmental lawsuits – it’s one of their specialties as an organization) filed suit against the State Department last week regarding the sketchy-as-all-hell (from what I’ve read) environmental impact statement that the agency issued about the pipeline.  The impact statement – which suggests the pipeline will have no negative impacts – was prepared by a third-party contractor that has an active membership in the American Petroleum Institute, which Sierra Club and other environmental groups widely regard as evidence of a conflict of interest.  Perhaps more critically, the State Department did not respond to requests to produce documentation proving that the department screened for such a conflict of interest.  The lawsuit is seeking access to those documents and extension of the public comment period for the agency to finalize the determination so that the documents can be considered.  In the continued debate, Al Gore weighted in on the pipeline in a recent interview, stating that the project was ‘an atrocity.’  

Meanwhile, climate change is happening, you guys.  A five year study by FEMA that was just released has predicted a 45% increase in flooding in the United States during the coming decades – as a result of climate change.  (Except in North Carolina, of course, where flooding and climate change is illegal.  I suppose all the hurricanes will have to stick to Florida and South Carolina this year?) FEMA, which manages disaster relief, is expecting to have to insure 80% more properties, with a 90% increase in the average cost of a claim when filed.  But, this is all totally worth it, because it was definitely too expensive for us to regulate carbon through a cap-and-trade or tax system, and it was also definitely too expensive to make some of those fossil fuel companies maybe pay a little instead of collecting government subsidies.  What? Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit?

Fine. I’ll end on a good note.  Behold, Robert Redford for NRDC:

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Still better looking than you.

Redford, an environmental activist and partner to National Resources Defense Council, has put together a series of short ads calling for action on climate change and clean energy initiatives.  You should watch them.  Because it’s Robert Redford.  And, he’s got something really important to say.  And then you should send them to everyone you know.

That’s all for now folks.  I’ll be back next week, and maybe I’ll be less cranky.

Yesterday New York City’s Panel on Climate Change released their updated projections of what the future climate will likely hold for the city, and in a world that has seen the last 339 consecutive months of globally averaged temperatures exceed the 20th century average (that’s right, anyone under the age of 28 is yet to experience a month in their lives of at or below average temperatures!), it should come as no surprise that the outlook has worsened from the Panel’s previous projections made only three years ago.

In roughly 40 years from now the city could have more than 800,000 of its residents living in flood zones — an 101% increase from those presently living in flood zones over an area that will cover more than 1/4 of the entire city.  The one to two and a half foot rise from present day sea-level by the 2050′s will not only cause almost 10% of the city to potentially flood at high tide, which occurs twice daily, but help cause the storm surge of a once-in-a-century storm to exceed the record 14-foot storm surge generated by Hurricane Sandy by 5 or more feet.

Sandy_Taxi_flooding

For those not directly impacted by rising seas in NYC, you get to look forward to a mid-century climate that will resemble the deep south more than what’s outside today. In a city that already sees it’s fair share of unbearable heat during the summer, by 2050 the number of 90-degree days per year in NYC could increase to what is now normal for Birmingham, AL. Even on a daily basis, average temperatures by mid-century could be as much as 7 degrees hotter than today.

In the face of these stark projections, Mayor Bloomberg announced plans today that outline adaptation and resiliency measures to enhance the city’s defenses against human-induced changes in climate that already (notice, this is not a problem for future generations but one we face today) threaten the city’s (and anyone living just about anywhere…) sustainability and livelihood — which will be drastically amplified by mid-century should man-made GHG emissions continue to go unmitigated. In a world that has been historically “reactive” to the impacts of climate change instead of “proactive” in an effort to reduce damages, costs and loss of life, it was a nice breath of fresh air to hear “[we] have to look ahead and anticipate any and all future threats, not only from hurricanes and other coastal storms but also from droughts, heavy downpours and heat waves – many of which are likely to be longer and more intense in the years to come” from the mayor.

While his plan will cost an aggregate of $20 billion over 10 years in what would initially appear to be another typical hefty price tag that those hesitant to address climate change typically point to, it’s essential to take into consideration the reality that Sandy (one storm) cost the city $19 billion in a matter of days, and is estimated to cost $90 billion if a similar storm were to occur roughly 30 years from now.  In a country and world of extreme weather and climate events that are occurring in greater frequency and intensity as a result of man-made climate change — and the overwhelming consensus from climate scientists is that this trend will continue in a warming world –

NOAA_extreme_weather_events_chart

the cost-benefit analysis makes this plan a sound, viable investment for NYC that can serve as a model for what other cities, states, and even nations should be doing.

If I were a climate change skeptic my standard follow-up question to any case being made for a substantial investment to address impacts of climate change would be “where’s the money for this going to come from?” While I fight the urge to write a few paragraphs addressing the “beliefs” of climate change skeptics (and present the scientific facts), this is a great question, and the answer in this case is yet another reason I love the mayor’s plan. Unlike some comprehensive proposals to address climate change that have hand-wavy explanations as to where the necessary funding would come from, the mayor clearly outlines that roughly half of the investment over a 10-year period will be covered by federal and city money already allocated in the capital budget, and from $5 billion in appropriations already committed to by Congress through programs developed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. This leaves $5 billion to be accounted for, and while I’m yet to be able to fully absorb the 430-page document it is already widely reported that the plan outlines numerous additional ways to raise funds to account for the remaining cost, and in the grand scheme of things finding an average of  $500 million a year (i.e. less than 0.6% of the NYC’s annual budget) over the next 10 years doesn’t strike me as an insurmountable challenge. Also worth noting is that for each $1 invested in the city’s resiliency to climate change there are monetary savings each time sections of the city are spared from what would be otherwise costly impacts if not for these renovations.

While describing aspects of his new climate plan Mayor Bloomberg’s speech highlighted a key message that needs to be better understood by the American people and other developed countries: climate change is not a problem to be faced by future generations in a third-world country, but is instead a destructive beast that we not only created but injected with steroids and let lose in our own backyard. Looking close enough you might just make out the “S” under the mayor’s shirt or part of the untucked cape showing below his jacket,

superman_Bloomberg

but if we’re going to defeat this three-headed monster we’ve all had a hand in creating…

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we’ll need more than a super-man to address climate change…we’ll need you.

We haven’t talked much about Keystone XL here at Spinach HQ for a while now, mostly becauase the news on that front continues to be more of the same – and more depressing.  Quite frankly, I’m not sure whether or not the general public (those of you outside the environmental field, that is) are sick of hearing about Keystone or not.  False claims and an incredibly convoluted regulatory and political process regarding approval of the environmental impact determination as well as the pipeline itself have slowly muddied the waters better than an oil spill.  I’ll be honest, even I’ve had a hard time keeping track of the timeline and the number of times the pipeline has been resurrected and then killed.

Which is why I was somewhat surprised (but excited!) to wander into the Foggy Bottom Metro stop in D.C. on Tuesday and be greeted by something that looked like this:

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I couldn’t capture the whole ad in my camera phone (especially while trying not to look like some creeper taking a picture of the metro floor during rush hour….) but activist group SumOfUs.org is continuing to fight the good fight not just against Keystone XL, but against the expanded Tar Sands extraction that would come with it.

The ads direct you to the SumOfUs anti-tar-sands site, where they have already collected more than 17,000 of their goal level of 20,000 signatures for a petition to President Obama regarding the pipeline and expanded tar sands extraction.  Rather than solely attacking Keystone XL, the group is focusing on the impacts of the recent ExxonMobil tar sands oil spill in Arkansas.  Exxon’s response to the spill has been heavily criticized, with many community members voicing their doubts that the spill is contained or that Exxon is truly doing their part to take responsibility for the spill, contain it, and mitigate damages.

While the Keystone XL pipeline is likely to be decided by politics and not environmental impacts, the statement made by SumOfUs here is clear – and is taking the debate one step farther.  Instead of focusing on the impacts of the pipeline alone, the group is working to inform regarding some of the inherent risks (both environmental and economic) to expanded tar sands oil use as an energy source.  I’m happy to see these ads placed front and center in several key metro stations – maybe it’s a chance to finally have some dialogue about the real issue here, which is the overall direction of our energy future, and not one single pipeline.

Happy Memorial Day weekend folks! Summarizing my posting efforts of late as “slacking” would be a compliment, but this week’s vacation to Sandbridge, VA has got my climate change blood a flowin’!

A born and raised Virginian who’s family ties to the state date back far enough that my first name comes from an ancestor who was a nurse (fun childhood growing up as a boy with a girls name…) at Bull Run during the Civil War, you could say I think the most populated state WITHOUT a major sports franchise (how is this possible?!) is kind of a big deal. So while I keep track of all things Virginia personally and all things climate and weather professionally, I somehow overlooked how sea-level rise has been impacting the state until my trip to Sandbridge, VA this week.  My oversight of these local scale impacts of climate change highlight a common misperception throughout the United States that impacts of climate change are a next generation or third-world country problem. The reality is that the costs and impacts of climate change are already draining our wallets and are in our backyards, have been for some time, and will become more amplified the longer we wait to comprehensively address the issue both domestically and abroad.

As for my “awakening” to the issue in VA, turns out that sea-level rise is occurring faster in the Hampton Roads area than anywhere along the East Coast, rising 14.5 inches in the last 80 years — 80% more than the 8 inches of average global sea level rise over the last 140 years.  The rising sea combined with sinking land (in part due to a ginormous crater caused by a meteor, which actually created the Chesapeake Bay) along the Virginia coast has been threatening the existence of coastal communities like Sandbridge, VA for decades, resulting in local home owners now paying a special tax that funds beach renourishment projects critical to their survival. What is beach renourishment you ask? Well, the short version is a multi-million dollar operation that takes place all 24 hours of the day in front of the beach house you rented for a week without being given any notice by the real estate company eight months ago when you made the reservations (any lawyers reading this?).

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The project I’ve been given a front row seat to this week has a price tag of $15 million. So while enjoying my beachfront view of porta johns and pipes these last few days I was inspired to dig deeper into sea-level rise and how it’s impacting the state.  A bit choppy due to intermittent breaks for beer pong, Canasta, and making a family Harlem Shake video, but here we go:

Hampton Roads possesses the second largest concentration of military capacity and activities in the United States, and is home to the world’s largest naval base – Naval Station Norfolk. According to the former Commanding Officer of Naval Station Norfolk, Joe Bouchard, almost all major military facilities in Hampton Roads are threatened by sea-level rise, and as sea level continues to rise so will the likelihood that some of those facilities will need to be relocated. Since 46% of the local economy comes from Department of Defense spending, this makes Hampton Roads uniquely vulnerable to sea-level rise. In addition, the Hampton Roads area is second only to New Orleans, LA, as the largest population center at risk from sea-level rise in the country.

Virginia’s state and local governments have recently taken the initiative to assess the threat of sea-level rise and increased coastal flooding, but it’s clear that much more is needed. If Virginia’s coastal communities are to withstand rising seas in the coming decades, initiatives that proactively address the threat of sea-level rise will be necessary. This is especially important around Hampton Roads, given that around half of historical sea-level rise in the area has been from the sinking of land (i.e., subsidence), which is anticipated to remain constant in the region while sea-level rise caused by climate change is expected to accelerate in the future.

VIRGINIA’S VULNERABILITY AND COST ESTIMATES

- Hampton Roads is second only to New Orleans as the area in the country most impacted by sea-level rise.

- The Norfolk-Virginia Beach Metropolitan Area ranks 10th in the world in value of assets exposed to an increase in flooding from sea-level rise.

- The 1933 hurricane – widely known as the “Storm of the Century” – was significantly more powerful than Hurricane Isabel in 2003. While the 1933 hurricane produced a storm surge in Hampton Roads 21 percent higher than Isabel, the maximum water level for both storms was roughly the same. This was a result of the average monthly sea level being 1.4 feet higher during Hurricane Isabel than during the 1933 hurricane, which was mostly due to the increase in sea-level rise that occurred in the 70 years between the two storms.

- Although Hurricane Isabel made landfall in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Virginia still experienced $925 million in damages to insured properties.

- According to the former Commanding Officer of Naval Station Norfolk, Joe Bouchard, the base would need to spend up to $460 million to replace old piers already degraded by sea-level rise and hundreds of millions more to protect onshore infrastructure critical to the base’s maintenance, training, and logistics missions.

- Ron Williams Jr., Assistant City Manager of Norfolk, said the city needs a total investment of $1 billion in the coming decades, including $600 million to replace current infrastructure, to keep the water in its place and help make homes and businesses more resilient.

- Paul Fraim, Mayor of Norfolk:“We deal with storm­water flooding in the city now on a monthly basis.”19 “A severe Category 2 or Category 3 storm, if we were to receive a direct hit, almost all of the city would be underwater.”

- According to the recent Old Dominion University study “Climate Change, Global Warming and Ocean Levels,” when assuming a mid-range estimate of a 3.7-foot increase in local sea level by 2100: “From north to south, vast areas of Mathews, Gloucester and York counties, most of Poquoson, and much of the cities of Hampton, Norfolk, Chesapeake and the Virginia Beach oceanfront will be under­water unless protected by dikes and levees.”

- According to a recent study by the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission (HRPDC), costs from three feet of sea-level rise in the Hampton Roads region are expected to range between $12 billion and $87 billion.

LOCAL CONCERNS AND GOVERNMENT RESPONSES TO SEA-LEVEL RISE

During a project led by the University of Virginia’s Institute for Environmental Negotiation, Virginia Beach residents surveyed about sea-level rise stated that the issue:

- Is a long-term problem – 98%

- Should be a priority for local governments – 92%

- Requires immediate action to be taken to deal with the effects – 86%

- Is a very important issue in the Virginia Beach area – 86%

An HRPDC study focused on analyzing the potential future impacts of sea-level rise on the region’s population, built environment, infrastructure, economy, and natural environment.

Key Findings

Residents currently living in or near areas that could be inundated, permanently or regularly, by 3 feet of sea-level rise:

- Low estimate: 59,059 residents (or the equivalent of more than four times the estimated population of Williamsburg, VA)

- High estimate: 176,124 residents (or the equiva­lent of 84 percent of the estimated population of Richmond, VA)

Roads currently in or near areas that could be inundated, permanently or regularly, by 3 feet of sea-level rise:

- Low estimate: 162 miles (or more miles than driving from Charlottesville, VA to Newport News, VA)

- High estimate: 877 miles (or more than four times the miles travelled when driving from Washington, DC to Virginia Beach, VA)

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