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Archive for May, 2013

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.

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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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Memorial Day is just about here, and summer is peaking around the corner. BBQs, tubing trips, baseball games, sleepovers, and pool parties (Hot Child in the City) are in your near future and you need a couple summer reminders. As you already know, I think everything in our environment, and all the actions we take are interconnected and affect our health and well-being and our wallet.

I came across this Top Ten List on the benefits of local food from Fox News (omg yes Fox News, everything is ok). You can find the full list here, but here are a few of my favorites:

1. Locally grown. Items at farmer’s markets have not “travelled” far. The carbon footprint to transport from nearby farms is teeny compared to what’s consumed over hundreds and thousands of miles by sea, air or long-distance trucking. Also, local produce is stacked in wooden crates, which avoids the environmentally polluting packaging, which protects produce from bruising or extends its time before perishing in long-distance transport.

2. Cleaner and safer. Farmer’s markets produce is grown organically or with far less use of chemicals. Produce sold in regular stores is full of toxic pesticides, fungicides, and other chemical fertilizers and sprays. Similarly, breads & baked goods aren’t pumped full of unhealthy preservatives that extend shelf life.

3. Keeps our communities healthy, too. The more we support local farmers who grow food in healthy ways, the more they–and their beautiful farmland–will flourish. Buying at local markets puts money directly into the pockets of local farmers and craftspeople rather than industrial conglomerates.

4. Free exercise. We can often walk or bike to the markets, getting free exercise. Besides, simply walking in the open air is a good way to get vitamin D.

Lastly, on biking and how it does a body good (which I’m sure you’re in the know about), D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare company released the results of its recent membership survey.  I admit I have a love affair with Capital Bikeshare; although its riders may be nuts, I appreciate what the company has accomplished (remember when I posted about Capital Bikeshare last year?). Riders saved an estimated $800 on transportation costs annually!  After obtaining a membership they were 76% more likely to ride to work.  Membership is still mostly within D.C., and now the company hopes to expand to areas like the Anacostia (Northeast D.C.) so that those neighborhoods can see the health benefits as well.  All communities should have access to safe and healthy transportation options.

Here is a summary of a few of the health benefits from the bikeshare survey: “Nearly 27 percent reported improved stamina after joining the system, 31.5 percent said their stress levels diminished, and 18.4 percent reported losing weight thanks to bicycle sharing. The numbers of members who consider themselves in good or excellent condition increased, while figures for those who consider themselves in poor, average, or fair health decreased.”  You can read the full article here.

Enjoy those tasty local foods, and bike/walk/public transit more. Cheers.

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First of all, happy bike to work day, everyone! DC was pretty ideal for a ride today – although, personally, I think that more or less every day is a great day to bike to work.  It’s actually faster than getting around by car, saves a ton of money on gas, parking, and public transit fares, and best of all – no emissions.  That last bit, while I don’t harp on it ALL the time – is a pretty key point in light of some news today. I don’t usually talk climate – our meteorologist and climate expert El Nino more often covers that – but today is an exception.  Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have officially reached 400 ppm, the highest they have been since the Pliocene Epoch (which ended 2.588 million years ago) – an age where the Arctic had virtually no ice caps and Earth’s surface in sum was significantly warmer. 

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CO2 levels as measured at Mauna Loa, HI. Concentration in ppm.

While much of the news media and public opinion portrays the causes of this as up for scientific debate, a study conducted by skepticalscience.com that reviewed over 12,000 scientific papers from 1991 – 2011 found that fully 97% of the worldwide scientific community considers this warming to be anthropogenic. 

Let me repeat that: 97% of published, peer-reviewed scientific papers agree that global warming is caused by humans.  This is such a big deal that even Barack Obama tweeted about it. 

It gets better – or worse.

Remember during this past campaign year, when then-Presidential candidate Mitt Romney said the following?

“My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet,” he said, according to CBS. “And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.”

Well, Mitt – turns out there’s a saying about an ounce of prevention.  A United Nations report today indicated that during the past decade, losses from natural disasters have exceeded $2.5 trillion dollars worldwide.  Paying for the results of climate-related disasters cost the American taxpayer more in 2012 than any other non-defense, discretionary budget item – totaling around $100 billion.  Just during the past two years (2011 – 2012) there were more than twenty five climate related disasters (storms, heat waves, drought, and other extreme events) that cost upwards of $1 billion each.  

There’s a message in here, and it’s not that the world is ending.  The truth is, we can’t afford climate change.  Maybe not everyone is going to care about hundreds of species that may go extinct from the impacts of shifting temperatures and water patterns.  Maybe not everyone cares about the destruction of coral reefs from climate related ocean acidification or the loss of tropical islands such as the Pearl Cays or Kiribati.

But $2.5 trillion is hard to argue with – especially when 97% of experts agree that it’s our fault.  Maybe, just maybe, it’s finally time to do something about it.

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Tomorrow, May 17th, is Bike to Work Day in DC! Those of you who registered can meet up at locations around the city to grab a free t-shirt, meet up with other bike commuters, and enjoy what should be a great day for a ride .  Even if you’re not “officially” participating, it’s May in DC and the weather is finally warm – so go ahead, get out, and enjoy your commute rather than sitting in traffic on in a cramped metro car. 

ImageMost you know by now that I’m a regular bike commuter – something which I love, but which is not exactly free of certain perils.  Just two days ago, I was two blocks from my apartment when some #*((#*&&^ neighbor decided to creep up behind me, rev his engine, then swerve around me – coming within four inches of my right pedal and almost sideswiping a parked car in the process.  As he nearly knocked me over, he also saw fit to flip me the bird and yell, “Get out of the road!!” The best part?  We were in front of an elementary school and local park/playground. I seriously hope that there is some logical explanation for this behavior (maybe he really had to pee?), but sadly it isn’t the only time it’s happened.  

While we can’t eliminate all the a**holes in DC (oh, how I wish…), there are certain things you can do as a biker to minimize your risk of incidents. Here’s my (very short) list for those of you biking to work tomorrow, as well as some much more well developed resources:

(1) DC and Arlington County are very bike friendly places, but understand where you belong.  When you are a biker, you are considered a vehicle.  Let me repeat that for all of you, both bikers and drivers: bikes are considered vehicles. So, all you jerks who think we should be on sidewalks….do you drive your car on a sidewalk? No, you don’t.  We don’t ride our bikes there either.  But, for all of you crazy bikers, this means behaving the way that a car would.  Take up a whole lane- just do it, and let the aggravated folks behind you suck it up.  They are required by law to give three feet on all sides, and there’s nowhere in the city where you need to be going *that* fast.

(2) Pedal Predictably.  Signal when you’re about to turn. Don’t swerve between cars, as tempting as it is in heavy traffic. Stop completely for stop signs and red lights.  Check for pedestrians and turning cars. The usual.  It’s amazing how well people do this when they drive, but forget immediately once on a bike.  I know it’s tempting to just zip ahead of traffic, but that’s how most collisions occur – and if a car hits you, even if they’re the one who is wrong, you’re the one  getting hurt.

(3) Be proactive and be prepared.  This means make sure your bike is in good working order and not doing strange things like slipping gears that could cause you to move unpredictably in heavy traffic.  Check your tires and gears before you head out on the road.  Helmet and lights are a must.  Seriously – I’ve had several friends involved in collisions where a helmet saved their life.  Carry the things you might need for simple repairs on long rides.

For more details on any of these points, and to be a better biker, check out any of the following awesome resources.  The DC Metro Area is one of the worst places in the country for traffic, and it’s great to be a biker around here – just be sure to be safe and enjoy the ride!

Potomac Peddlers, List of DC, Maryland, and VA Bike Laws: http://www.potomacpedalers.org/?page=bikelaws

Bike Arlington, and Bike Arlington’s PDF Document on Bike Safety: http://www.bikearlington.com/

http://www.bikearlington.com/tasks/sites/bike/assets/File/Safe_Bicycling.pdf

Capital Bikeshare Bike Safety Resources:

http://www.capitalbikeshare.com/safety

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It’s been a busy couple of weeks for all of us at Team Spinach, so apologies for the long hiatus.  For my part, travel to some exotic locations (Costa Rica & Nicaragua – photos to come) and some very not exotic locations (Nebraska & Ohio) interrupted my posting schedule.  But, we always manage to resurface, and I thought I’d kick off with some good news rather than a rant.

As you guys know, I have a serious thing for the Tesla Model S.  I mean – just look at it.

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This image is probably copyrighted, so I’ll just write here that clearly I didn’t take this picture. I also don’t own a Tesla, which is sad. SOMEDAY.

Well, chappies, it seems I am not the only one who has a thing for the Model S.  It’s been a banner week for the budding company, and despite some bad press from a highly shady NYTimes review (which the company rebutted), Tesla not only posted an unexpected profit in the first quarter of 2013 but has increased their estimated sales of the Model S from 20,000 to 21,000. Not only that, but Consumer Reports review of the car earned an astonishing score of 99 out of 100 in the latest review – the only point deducted for the fact that the car takes longer than 3 minutes to recharge on long drives.  In the first quarter of 2013, the Tesla Model S outsold similarly-priced gasoline guzzlers from German luxury car manufacturers Mercedes, Audi, and BMW.  

The success of Tesla is a huge PR boost for eco-friendly startups, which have been plagued in the press by highly-profiled failure stories of a few notable electric car manufacturers and alternative energy companies.  It’s been depressing to watch the faltering progress of a few companies be used by closed-minded individuals in the press and political forums to argue that environmentally innovative businesses don’t have a place in the mainstream or can’t compete with established companies (which is both false, and a logical fallacy.)  Tesla is bucking the naysayers and even exceeding the performance predicted by Wall Street.  What’s even better about Tesla is that they’re also changing the image of what an innovative, environmentally friendly product can look like.  It’s an American brand.  It’s a luxury car.  It’s a sweet ride that looks every bit as sexy as other high-end cars.  It doesn’t compromise on performance.

And that, my friends, is what environmental innovation should look like.  We can do it better, and it doesn’t mean giving up on the things we love.  It just means being more thoughtful about how we do them.

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