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Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

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.

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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.

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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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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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I appreciate the recent blog post by the EPA Office of Environmental Justice. First, because it is outgoing Administrator Lisa Jackson’s recap on her top priority while she was at EPA and second, because it pays homage to a great community leader.  Though I may not be the protesting type, I strongly support those who organize and stand up for fair treatment, which all U.S. citizens deserve.  When it comes to environmental protection I support those who stand up for fair treatment even more.

In her final video message, Lisa Jackson spoke about the work of Hazel Johnson.  A founder of a Chicago nonprofit called “People for Community Recovery”, Hazel Johnson was often called the “Mother of Environmental Justice.”  If you’re new to the term of environmental justice (you haven’t been reading my old posts) it typically refers to the fair and equal treatment of all races so that people do not bare disproportionate environmental impacts such as air, water, and soil pollution.

During Lisa Jackson’s term as Administrator I too have seen a renewed focus on environmental justice.  The EPA Office of Environmental Justice released Plan EJ 2014, and 17 federal agencies have continually met to form the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice.  I presume Hazel would have been very supportive of Lisa Jackson’s work on EJ, but still concerned that these issues are ongoing.  Hazel coined the term “toxic donut” a term referring to encircling industries that were polluting in her Chicago neighborhood.  Lisa Jackson saw (as did I during my undergraduate degree) a similar pattern in Cancer Alley, a stretch of industries from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, Louisiana; many of these types of patterns are all across the U.S. from Texas to California to New Jersey.

Hazel’s top priority was for communities to be brought to the decision table when siting industrial facilities.  To me that seems like common sense. Sometimes that’s not the case and many community residents are ignored. But progress has been made and toxic sites have been cleaned up, so that should be applauded.  However the work is never done.  Not until Americans take a strong unified stance on how they use and obtain energy.  Open conversations about consumption and energy sources are the only ways to prevent things that Hazel and Lisa have so commonly seen.  You can see the EPA Blog post and video here.

A few weeks ago, the largest environmental march to date was organized in Washington D.C.; it was a march from the Washington Monument to the White House to tell President Obama to deny the Keystone Pipeline and reduce our use of fossil fuels.  It was organized by the Sierra Club and many local environmental groups across the nation.  I wanted to see it for my own eyes so I braved the cold and watched for 30 minutes.  The march was organized and civil, and many had signs to reject the Pipeline.  After the State Department’s release of a draft environmental impact statement, I don’t think pro-enviros are too happy.  I took a couple photos just so you could feel like you were there:

"Obama how dare you frack your momma" - said the crowd

“Obama how dare you frack your momma” – said the crowd

En route to the Washington Monument

En route to the Washington Monument

I presume warmth was the motivation for the get up.

I presume warmth was the motivation for the get up.

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Climate change isn’t real…Right?  After this past year, that’s definitely not a question I would ask Mother Nature if I were you.  If she finds out we didn’t get the message in 2012 that climate change is occurring, I don’t want to know what her fists of fury are going to bring in the years to come to get the point across. To help bring her message home, here is a breakdown of the more impressive record extreme weather/climate events and impacts of 2012:

 

EXTREME WEATHER

  • As of December 20, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimated that the United States experienced 11 extreme weather events in 2012 that caused at least $1 billion in losses.  This is the second highest number of extreme weather events to occur in one year — record year 2011, and expected to be the second costliest year in aggregate losses from extreme weather events — record year 2005.
  • Hurricane Sandy was the largest hurricane ever observed in Atlantic Basin.

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  • A record 65.5% of the continental United States experienced drought in September.
  • 300,000 acres were burned in the largest wildfire ever recorded in New Mexico.

 

 TEMPERATURES

  • Hottest year on record for the United States.

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  • Through November 2012, the global average temperature was warmer than the long-term average for a record 333rd consecutive month. To put this into perspective, those who are 27 years old and younger are yet to live during a month when global temperatures were below the 20th century average. (Official December data is still forthcoming, but will undoubtedly extend the streak to 334).
  • U.S. weather stations recorded 356 all-time temperature highs either tied or broken. (Conservative preliminary results. Some analysis suggests 362 all-time highs were observed.)
  • Record 5 to 1 ratio of daily record highs to daily record lows in 2012. (see note for explanation of “all-time” versus “daily”)

NOTE: “All-time” records represent the hottest temperature ever recorded at individual stations.  This is not the same as “daily” record highs and lows, which represent the warmest (or coldest) temperatures recorded for any given day of the year (e.g., the day of January 8th).

 

MELTING & SEA-LEVEL RISE

  • Arctic Sea Ice extent reached the lowest level in recorded satellite history.

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  • Northern Hemisphere land snow coverage was the least amount ever recorded.
  • The Greenland Ice Sheet experienced the largest melt extent in recorded satellite history.
  • Researchers concluded global sea-level rose 60% faster during the last 20 years than projected in the latest assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
  • Sea-level rise rates along the northern half of U.S. eastern seaboard are the highest in the world.

 

So after soaking in the catastrophic factoids of 2012, can we all agree that this is not a future world we want — or can afford — to live in? While there’s no chance I give up alcohol in 2013, I hope you’ll join me in a New Year’s resolution to move on from the “ignorance is bliss” and “instant gratification” mentality that has left us +20 pounds overweight and in this climate change mess.  Instead, let’s take up Nike’s “Just Do It” attitude this year and tackle those long-term challenges by joining the gym and committing to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  Noticeable results won’t come easy or overnight in either case, but we’ll end up looking better and living longer in the long run.

richard_simmons

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