Focus of the Week – “Natural Capital” and Economic Growth
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Focus of the Week– “Natural Capital” and Economic Growth
‘Natural capital’ of resources viewed as more vital than economic growth
By Carolyn Lochhead SF Chronicle Page 1 January 5, 2014
Fresh-faced tech millionaires snap up glitzy new condos in San Francisco. Across America, construction is up and unemployment is down. Consumers are buying. The economy is growing.
Yet instead of applause, voices from across the political spectrum – Berkeley activists and Beltway conservatives, Pope Francis and even some corporate CEOs – offer a critique of economic growth and its harm to the well-being of humans and the planet. Ecologists warn that economic growth is strangling the natural systems on which life depends, creating not just wealth, but filth on a planetary scale.
Carbon pollution is changing the climate. Water shortages, deforestation, tens of millions of acres of land too polluted to plant, and other global environmental ills are increasingly viewed as strategic risks by governments and corporations around the world.
“The physical pressure that human activities put on the environment can’t possibly be sustained,” said Stanford University ecologist Gretchen Daily, who is at the forefront of efforts across the world to incorporate “natural capital,” the value of such things as water, topsoil and genetic diversity that nature provides, into economic decision making.
The efforts are “mostly behind the scenes,” Daily said. “No one is going out really trumpeting this work. It’s kind of quiet, but really rapid and intensive innovation” around the world.
“Everybody basically understands why we need to change our ways,” she said. “The big question now is how.”
Mainstream economists universally reject the concept of growth limits. As Larry Summers, a former adviser to President Obama, once put it, “The idea that we should put limits on growth because of some natural limit is a profound error, and one that, were it ever to prove influential, would have staggering social costs.”
Since World War II, the overarching goal of U.S. policy under both parties has been to keep the economy growing as fast as possible, forever. Growth is seen as the base cure for every social ill, from poverty and unemployment to a shrinking middle class. It is seen even by some as the path to a cleaner environment, generating the means for pollution cleanup.
Last month, Obama offered a remedy to widening income inequality: “We’ve got to grow the economy even faster.”
Yet from the Bay Area to Beijing, many leading thinkers are questioning the premise that growth, with no consideration for its environmental consequences, automatically equals prosperity.
Officials in Seoul are promoting sharing over ownership to help address pollution as well as parking, transportation and housing shortages. China, the bad boy of soaring economic growth and rapacious environmental destruction, is developing a companion metric to gross domestic product that would measure the value of nature. If approved in March, the new indicator would be used alongside GDP to gauge the performance of local and regional Chinese officials, with potentially far-reaching implications, Daily said.
As the world economy grows relentlessly, ecologists warn that nature’s ability to absorb wastes and regenerate natural resources is being exhausted. “We’re driving natural capital to its lowest levels ever in human history,” Daily said.
For example, scientists estimate that commercial fishing, if it continues at the current rate, will exhaust fisheries within the lifetime of today’s children. The global “by-catch” of discarded birds, turtles and other marine animals alone has reached at least 20 million tons a year.
“It’s not just a bummer for us to not get sushi,” said Annie Leonard, founder of the Story of Stuff project, a Berkeley effort to curb mass consumption. “We are approaching the planet’s limitations. So when I see the media barrage about buying more stuff, it’s almost like a science fiction movie where there is this huge contextual information, we are undermining the very ecological systems which allow life to continue, but no one’s allowed to talk about it.”
A full world
Nineteenth century economists assumed that the economy would stop growing naturally, reaching “a very pleasant steady state,” said UC Berkeley economist Richard Norgaard, chairman of the Delta Independent Science Board advising California on water issues, and a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “People would have more time for the arts and less time spent working.”
Sometime in the 20th century, the idea that the economy must grow became a truism, he said, yet “there is no theoretical reason why the economy has to keep growing.” An economic model pioneered by University of Maryland economist Herman Daly provides an alternative, if untested, path. A former senior World Bank economist, Daly believes that economic growth has transformed what was an “empty world,” where nature was abundant and the human presence small, into a “full world” where human activity has reached the limits of Earth’s capacity to absorb wastes and generate resources.
“It’s really just common sense once you think about it,” said Paul Craig Roberts, an assistant Treasury secretary in the Reagan administration and one of the founding theoreticians of supply-side economics. “Of course for most economists, paying attention to ecology is not anything they do.” Modern economic theory treats nature as a free good. The planet delivers resources such as air and water, and absorbs the wastes of economic activity, allowing perpetual economic growth and ever-rising consumption. “It’s an assertion that finite resources can support infinite growth,” Roberts said. “This of course contradicts physics,” he said, and represents a “very stunning shortcoming” of modern economics. Daly proposes a “steady state” economy for countries that have achieved material wealth. Using tools such as carbon taxes on fossil fuels, the economy’s material production and consumption would be capped at the Earth’s capacity to cleanse and replenish itself. Higher consumption would be replaced by higher quality of life.
In Daly’s concept of an empty world, fish catches were limited by the number of boats in the water, reflecting a scarcity of man-made capital. In today’s full world, boats are abundant, but the fish catch is limited by the fish remaining in the sea. It is nature’s capital that has become scarce. This is not a theoretical concept.
In October, Florida sued drought-stricken Georgia, accusing the state of siphoning upstream water to quench the booming Atlanta suburbs. The water withdrawals killed the oyster beds in Apalachicola Bay and the livelihoods of people who depended on them.
Worried about climate-induced sea level rise and water shortages, Dow Chemical is conducting a pilot project at its plant in Freeport, Texas, the largest single-company chemical complex in North America, to assess how nature contributes to its bottom line. In a first-ever collaboration with an environmental group, the Nature Conservancy, the company is exploring coastal marsh and dune restoration to shield its plant against storm surges, and paying nearby homeowners to switch from lawns to native landscaping. Water “was previously considered an almost limitless, free or low priced commodity,” said Dow’s latest report on the project. “It is simply not an option to run out of water.”
Some experts point to rapid growth in the so-called sharing economy as a way to reduce consumption and ease pressure on the environment. Battered by the recession, young people in some cities are sharing cars instead of buying them, noted Julian Agyeman, a professor of urban and environmental policy at Tufts University near Boston. He thinks this model could spread to many consumer goods, such as power tools that sit unused in people’s basements.
“How about having the utility of these wonderful products that technology and science have given us, but not necessarily owning them?” Agyeman said.
Mainstream economists dismiss such schemes as utopian.
“We keep expanding and we keep growing, and I’ve not heard one president say we’ve got to go to zero growth, with higher unemployment, and live on a simpler scale,” said Sterling Burnett, an analyst with the conservative National Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas.
Conservatives acknowledge that markets fail to reflect environmental costs, but insist that when nature becomes scarce enough, markets will assign value to its benefits, just as farmers pay beekeepers to pollinate their crops.
A different gauge
Burnett said a monetary value could be placed on some things in nature, “maybe the waste-cleaning of a stream,” but not whole ecosystems.
“Values develop in markets as resources become scarce,” he said. “We’ve proven time after time that we can drastically alter ecosystems so that they are no longer recognizable, such as New York City or any modern metropolitan area, and yet humans don’t only survive, they thrive.”
Still, some governments in the U.S. and around the world are taking steps to assign value to nature’s “goods.”
Maryland and Vermont have adopted a genuine progress indicator, or GPI, which includes environmental factors. Sean McGuire, leader of the Maryland GPI Project, said the measure highlights how economic growth contributes to such things as pollution in Chesapeake Bay or increased traffic congestion. Oregon, Utah, Colorado and several other states are looking at the measure.
The United Kingdom, led by conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, has pledged to make natural capital “hardwired into economic decision making.” Bhutan pioneered a “gross national happiness” indicator that includes pollution and wildlife. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is working on models to incorporate environmental concerns into economic policy.
Stanford’s Daily pointed to efforts in Latin America, funded by governments and corporations, to pay farmers to restore and protect watersheds. The approach may soon be tested in Kenya and India.
China is paying 120 million households to restore watersheds after disastrous flooding in 1998 that was magnified by deforestation and farming on steep slopes. Daily called China’s efforts “really quite staggering.”
The biggest-ever U.S. project in restoring natural capital is under way in the Gulf of Mexico, where Hurricane Katrina and the British Petroleum oil spill awakened concern about the environmental vulnerability of 50 million people, 600,000 jobs and $234 billion in economic activity in oceanfront states.
The region receives 40 percent of the drainage from the continental United States, mainly from the radically re-engineered Mississippi River. Marshlands and barrier islands that protect the gulf states are rapidly turning to open water. Each year, fertilizer runoff from the Corn Belt forms a giant dead zone in the gulf.
Just 0.1 percent of the gulf region’s old-growth cypress forests remain, and just 20 percent of its bottomland hardwood forests. Eighty-five percent of its oyster reefs have been destroyed.
Under legislation called the Restore Act, recently passed by Congress with bipartisan support, billions of dollars in criminal and civil penalties from the BP oil spill will go to environmental restoration. The states are awaiting a court decision on as much as $29 billion in civil damages under the Clean Water Act, said Robert Bendick, director of the Gulf of Mexico program for the Nature Conservancy.
Expanding such efforts would be a departure from the current U.S. economic growth model. But economies are not fixed and unchangeable, said UC Berkeley’s Norgaard. Efficient economies come in many different forms, he said. The United States had a centrally planned economy in World War II, then a mixed Cold War economy that built the Interstate Highway System and established social welfare programs like Medicare. Today’s more free-market economy took root in the 1980s. “Economies aren’t natural,” Norgaard said. “We build them to do what we need to do, and we built the economy we have.”
Loss of large carnivores poses global conservation problem
(January 9, 2014) — In ecosystems around the world, the decline of large predators such as lions, dingoes, wolves, otters, and bears is changing the face of landscapes from the tropics to the Arctic — but an analysis of 31 carnivore species shows for the first time how threats such as habitat loss, persecution by humans and loss of prey combine to create global hotspots of carnivore decline. More than 75 percent of the 31 large-carnivore species are declining, and 17 species now occupy less than half of their former ranges, the authors reported. Southeast Asia, southern and East Africa and the Amazon are among areas in which multiple large carnivore species are declining. With some exceptions, large carnivores have already been exterminated from much of the developed world, including Western Europe and the eastern United States. “Globally, we are losing our large carnivores,” said William Ripple, lead author of the paper and a professor in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society at Oregon State University. “Many of them are endangered,” he said. “Their ranges are collapsing. Many of these animals are at risk of extinction, either locally or globally. And, ironically, they are vanishing just as we are learning about their important ecological effects.” Ripple and colleagues from the United States, Australia, Italy and Sweden called for an international initiative to conserve large predators in coexistence with people. They suggested that such an effort be modeled on the Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe, a nonprofit scientific group affiliated with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature…. The authors call for a deeper understanding of the impact of large carnivores on ecosystems, a view that they trace back to the work of landmark ecologist Aldo Leopold. The classic concept that predators are harmful and deplete fish and wildlife is outdated, they said. Scientists and wildlife managers need to recognize a growing body of evidence for the complex roles that carnivores play in ecosystems and for their social and economic benefits.
Leopold recognized such relationships between predators and ecosystems, Ripple said, but his observations on that point were largely ignored for decades after his death in 1948. “Human tolerance of these species is a major issue for conservation,” Ripple said. “We say these animals have an intrinsic right to exist, but they are also providing economic and ecological services that people value.” Among the services that have been documented in other studies are carbon sequestration, riparian restoration, biodiversity and disease control.
Where large carnivores have been restored — such as wolves in Yellowstone or Eurasian lynx in Finland — ecosystems have responded quickly, said Ripple. “I am impressed with how resilient the Yellowstone ecosystem is. It isn’t happening quickly everywhere, but in some places, ecosystem restoration has started there.” In those cases, where loss of vegetation has led to soil erosion, for example, full restoration in the near term may not be possible, he said. “Nature is highly interconnected,” said Ripple. “The work at Yellowstone and other places shows how one species affects another and another through different pathways. It’s humbling as a scientist to see the interconnectedness of nature.”… > full story
W. J. Ripple, et al. Status and Ecological Effects of the World’s Largest Carnivores. Science, 2014; 343 (6167): 1241484 DOI: 10.1126/science.1241484
79 years of monitoring demonstrates dramatic [Sierra Nevada] forest change
(January 6, 2014) — Long-term changes to forests affect biodiversity and how future fires burn. A team of scientists found dramatic differences in forests today compared to historic conditions prior to logging and fire suppression. … In many forests of the western US, increased potential for fires of uncharacteristic intensity and severity is frequently attributed to structural changes brought about by fire exclusion, past land management practices, and climate. Extent of forest change and effect on understory vegetation over time are not well understood, but such information is useful to forest management focused on restoring biodiversity and resilience to these ecosystems…..> full story
Knapp, Eric E.; Skinner, Carl N.; North, Malcolm P.; Estes, Becky L. Long-term overstory and understory change following logging and fire exclusion in a Sierra Nevada mixed-conifer forest. Forest Ecology and Management, 310: 903%u2013914
Snowball effect of overfishing highlighted
(January 7, 2014) — Researchers have completed a major review of fisheries data that examines the domino effect that occurs when too many fish are harvested from one habitat. Florida State University researchers have spearheaded a major review of fisheries research that examines the domino effect that occurs when too many fish are harvested from one habitat. The loss of a major species from an ecosystem can have unintended consequences because of the connections between that species and others in the system. Moreover, these changes often occur rapidly and unexpectedly, and are difficult to reverse. “You don’t realize how interdependent species are until it all unravels,” said Felicia Coleman, director of the Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory and a co-author on the study. Coleman and her co-authors, led by FSU biology professor Joe Travis, examined case studies of several distressed ecosystems that had been thoroughly changed over the years because of overfishing. For example, in the Northern Benguela ecosystem off Namibia, stocks of sardine and anchovy collapsed in the 1970s from overfishing and were replaced by bearded goby and jellyfish. But the bearded goby and jellyfish are far less energy-rich than a sardine or anchovy, which meant that their populations were not an adequate food source for other sea animals in the region such as penguins, gannets and hake, which had fed on the sardines and anchovies. African penguins and Cape gannets have declined by 77 percent and 94 percent respectively. Cape hake and deep-water hake production plummeted from 725,000 metric tons in 1972, to 110,000 metric tons in 1990. And the population of Cape fur seals has fluctuated dramatically. “When you put all these examples together, you realize there really is something important going on in the world’s ecosystems,” Travis said. “It’s easy to write off one case study. But, when you string them all together as this paper does, I think you come away with a compelling case that tipping points are real, we’ve crossed them in many ecosystems, and we’ll cross more of them unless we can get this problem under control.” The full study appears in the Dec. 23 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences … > full story
J. Travis, F. C. Coleman, P. J. Auster, P. M. Cury, J. A. Estes, J. Orensanz, C. H. Peterson, Mary E. Power, R. S. Steneck, J. T. Wootton. Integrating the invisible fabric of nature into fisheries management. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2013; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1305853111
Spectacular herring hordes return
Peter Fimrite SF Chronicle January 10, 2014
Sea lions, porpoises and tens of thousands of birds are jockeying for position with fishermen this week as the annual herring run splashes into San Francisco Bay, a spectacular marine wildlife showcase that conservationists say is one of the largest in North America. The schools of herring, which surge into the bay in several waves, have attracted as many as 70,000 birds to the region, particularly to Richardson Bay in Marin County, a spawning hot spot for the squiggling hordes. The fish arrived en masse beginning last week to lay and fertilize eggs, or roe – a delicacy for a wide variety of species, including sushi-loving humans. Fishermen are rushing out every morning to cast their nets before the menagerie of honking, squawking ducks, pelicans and diving birds can devour all the good stuff. “We’re the last predators to get a crack at those fish. Everyone else has come to the table, and we get the leftovers,” said Nick Sohrakoff, a herring fisherman and chairman of the local herring advisory committee. “There’s a lot of fish in the bay, and they seem this year to be a little bit bigger than they were in the past few years.” The riotous reception is a good sign that the bay’s once-thriving herring runs, which collapsed four years ago, are returning to glory. The San Francisco run – the last urban fishery in the United States – is the only big-time fishing operation where spectators can actually sit on shore and watch commercial boats haul in the catch. The herring, which live up to nine years and can grow to more than 12 inches long, spend most of their lives in the open ocean. They come to spawn in the bay and its estuaries starting in November, when the females lay their eggs on rocks, seaweed, riprap or pilings, and the males fertilize the eggs with what’s called their milt. The fish normally surge into the bay in as many as 14 waves until about mid-March. The herring fishing season officially began Jan. 1…..
NEW POINT BLUE PUBLICATIONS:
Shuford, W. D., G. W. Page, G. M. Langham, and C. M. Hickey. 2013. The importance of agriculture to Long-billed Curlews in California’s Central Valley in fall. Western Birds 44:196–205.
ABSTRACT: The Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus)—a large shorebird of continental conservation concern—is a migrant and winter resident in California’s Central Valley. The size of the curlew’s North American breeding population has been estimated recently, but little is known about its abundance and habitat needs at migratory stopovers and wintering areas. Following two broad-scale surveys of the curlew in the central and southern portions of the Central Valley in fall in 2007 and 2008, we coordinated a survey of it throughout the valley in August 2009, recording 20,469 curlews in 195 flocks. On all three surveys, during this otherwise arid season, curlews were found primarily in irrigated alfalfa and irrigated pasture. There was a strong, positive relationship between curlew abundance by subregion of the Central Valley and the subregion’s proportion of the entire valley’s acreage of both alfalfa and irrigated pasture. Identifying the habitat features important to curlews at both fine and landscape scales, documenting the birds’ movements (within and between seasons) in the Central Valley, and monitoring their populations is needed to aid in the conservation of this shorebird at risk.
Gary W. Page , Nils Warnock , T. Lee Tibbitts , Dennis Jorgensen , C. Alex Hartman , and Lynne E. Stenzel The Condor 116(1):50-61. 2014
ABSTRACT Effective conservation of migratory species requires comprehensive knowledge of annual movement patterns. Such information is sparse for the Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus), a North American endemic shorebird of conservation concern. To test hypotheses about individual and area differences in migratory patterns across western North America, we tagged 29 curlews with satellite transmitters at breeding sites in Oregon, Nevada, and Montana. Transmissions from 28 birds for up to 4 years demonstrated that all wintered within the species’ known winter range,
including 9 from Oregon tracked to agricultural areas of California’s Central Valley; 5 from Nevada tracked to the Central Valley, northern Gulf of California, or west coast of Baja California, Mexico; and 14 from Montana that wintered inland, from the Texas Panhandle south to the Mexican Plateau, or near the Gulf of Mexico. Montana breeders migrated east of the Rocky Mountains and traveled more than twice the distance of Oregon and Nevada breeders. Montana birds also stopped more often and longer during most passages. As a group, curlews arrived on their Oregon breeding grounds earlier than in Montana, while males preceded females in Montana and possibly Oregon. No consistent pattern emerged between sexes in departure from breeding areas, although within pairs males departed later than their mates. Individuals exhibited strong fidelity to breeding and wintering sites, and many birds showed a strong propensity for agricultural regions during winter. Our results underscore the importance of studying migration behavior across the breeding range to adequately capture variation in migratory patterns of a species.
….Today, Pyle, now working with the Institute for Bird Populations in Point Reyes, remembers his many seasons at the islands with a strange blend of sweet nostalgia and dread that makes the skin crawl—for the islands, now as then, are crawling with house mice. The animals are non-native, introduced accidentally more than a century ago by boaters, and every summer and fall their population explodes to grotesque numbers on two of the islands—namely, Southeast Farallon Island and an abutting crag called West End that becomes separated from the bigger island at high tide.
“They’re just crawling around everywhere,” says Pyle, who was working with the Point Reyes Bird Observatory during his years of island research. “It’s like some invasion-of-the-rats movie.”…. It may sound like an unlikely prospect—eradicating invasive rodents from a place where the ground appears to crawl with them. Yet this has been successfully achieved on many small islands worldwide. For instance, Anacapa Island, off of Santa Barbara, was successfully cleared of rats in 2001 using grain-based pellets laced with a powerful rodenticide called brodifacoum.
This is likely the poison that would be used at the Farallones. A tiny amount would be applied, according to Cordell. He says the pellets under consideration contain just 0.005 percent rodenticide—such a low density, Cordell says, that any bait pellets that drift into the ocean would dissolve and be rendered virtually harmless. The pellets would not be aimlessly scattered either, according to Jaime Jahncke, a researcher with Point Blue Conservation Science, formerly the Point Reyes Bird Observatory. Jahncke, who backs the poisoning plan, says the pellets would be dropped from a low-flying helicopter and directed away from the tidal zone via a deflector at the mouth of the dispenser. This, he says, would minimize the number of pellets that reach the water….
Environment affects an organism’s complexity
(January 3, 2014) — Scientists have demonstrated that organisms with greater complexity are more likely to evolve in complex environments according to research published this week in PLOS Computational Biology. The researchers, based at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and University of Vermont, created a programme that simulated the evolution of virtual creatures in a variety of landscapes. … Overall, the researchers found that the investigated environments actively induced selection on the body plans and nervous systems of the simulated creatures. More complex landscapes led to more complex organisms than simpler environments due to the cost inherent in morphological complexity: evolution only produces complex body shapes in environments that demand them. > full story
Joshua E. Auerbach, Josh C. Bongard. Environmental Influence on the Evolution of Morphological Complexity in Machines. PLoS Computational Biology, 2014; 10 (1): e1003399 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003399
Oceanographer Examines Pollutants in Antarctic Seal Milk
January 8, 2014 — An oceanographer is analyzing the milk from Antarctic fur seals to determine the type and quantity of pollutants the seals are accumulating and passing on to their … > full story
Posted: 08 Jan 2014 09:41 PM PST
Great white sharks — top predators throughout the world’s ocean — grow much slower and live significantly longer than previously thought, according to a new study.… In the first successful radiocarbon age validation study for adult white sharks, researchers analyzed vertebrae from four females and four males from the northwestern Atlantic Ocean. Age estimates were up to 73 years old for the largest male and 40 years old for the largest female. “Our results dramatically extend the maximum age and longevity of white sharks compared to earlier studies,” said Li Ling Hamady, MIT/WHOI Joint Program student and lead author of the study published in PLOS ONE. “Understanding longevity of the species, growth rate, age at sexual maturity, and differences in growth between males and females are especially important for sustainable management and conservation efforts.”….
Sun Sentinel | By KEN KAYE Posted: 01/01/2014 8:00 am EST | Updated: 01/02/2014 8:41 am EST
Researchers are looking to the sun to give hunted and overfished sharks a new ray of hope. Using a special solar-powered tag, marine scientists now can study a shark’s movements for up to two years by way of data beamed to satellites. Previously, researchers relied on tags that ran on batteries and sometimes died before all the information could be transmitted. The new tags are like “a smartphone for marine animals,” said Marco Flagg, CEO of Desert Star, a Marina, Calif., company that offers the solar devices. “Just like smartphones, the tags have many sensors and communication capability….
Oct 5th 2013 |From the print edition The Economist
IN 1996 Alan Sokal, a physicist at New York University, submitted a paper to Social Text, a leading scholarly journal of postmodernist cultural studies. The journal’s peer reviewers, whose job it is to ensure that published research is up to snuff, gave it a resounding thumbs-up. But when the editors duly published the paper, Dr Sokal revealed that it had been liberally, and deliberately, “salted with nonsense”. The Sokal hoax, as it came to be known, demonstrated how easy it was for any old drivel to pass academic quality control in highbrow humanities journals, so long as it contained lots of fancy words and pandered to referees’ and editors’ ideological preconceptions. Hard scientists gloated. That could never happen in proper science, they sniffed. Or could it? Alas, as a report in this week’s Science shows, the answer is yes, it could. John Bohannon, a biologist at Harvard with a side gig as a science journalist, wrote his own Sokalesque paper describing how a chemical extracted from lichen apparently slowed the growth of cancer cells. He then submitted the study, under a made-up name from a fictitious academic institution, to 304 peer-reviewed journals around the world. Despite bursting with clangers in experimental design, analysis and interpretation of results, the study passed muster at 157 of them. Only 98 rejected it. (The remaining 49 had either not responded or had not reviewed the paper by the time Science went to press.) Just 36 came back with comments implying that they had cottoned on to the paper’s sundry deficiencies, though Dr Bohannon says that 16 of those eventually accepted it anyway. The publications Dr Bohannon selected for his sting operation were all open-access journals. These make papers available free, and cover their costs by charging authors a fee (typically $1,000-2,000). Policymakers have been keen on such periodicals of late. Since taxpayers already sponsor most academic research, the thinking goes, providing free access to its fruits does not seem unreasonable. But critics of the open-access model have long warned that making authors rather than readers their client risks skewing publishers’ incentives towards tolerating shoddy science. Dr Bohannon has shown that the risk is real. Researchers can take comfort that the most prestigious open-access journals, such as those published by the Public Library of Science, an American outfit, did not fall for the jape. But plenty of periodicals run by other prominent publishers, such as Elsevier, Wolters Kluwer and Sage, did. With the number of open-access papers forecast to grow from 194,000 in 2011 (out of a total of 1.7m publications) to 352,000 in 2015, the Bohannon hoax ought to focus editors’ minds-and policymakers’, too.
Iconic Australasian trees found as fossils in South America
(January 9, 2014) — Today in Australia they call it Kauri, in Asia they call it Dammar, and in South America it does not exist at all unless planted there. But 52 million years ago the giant coniferous evergreen tree known to botanists as Agathis thrived in the Patagonian region of Argentina, according to an international team of paleobotanists, who have found numerous fossilized remains there. … > full story
– January 9 2014
A new study says tourists who are taking seemingly abandoned seashells home from vacation are harming natural habitats and damaging the natural ecosystem. Researchers from the U.S. and Spain said 70% of mollusk shells disappeared from beaches on …
CA BLM WILDLIFE TRIVIA QUESTION of the WEEK
Which of the following western gray squirrel stereotypes is false?
(b.) They hide acorns underground to dig up later for food.
(c.) They sleep and nest in holes in trees.
(d.) They prefer to jump from tree to tree rather than travel on the ground.
(e.) They were the subject of the second-most-read story ever on the World Weekly News’ website: “Gray squirrels really space aliens in disguise; May control your neighbors’ thoughts with radio wave ‘acorns.'”
——> See answer near the end of this News.bytes.
NBC News January 8, 2014
Emperor penguins may be one of the most awkward birds on land, but it turns out they can clamber up Antarctica’s steep ice cliffs and start new breeding colonies if their sea ice homes disappear, a new study of the birds’ behaviors finds. “This is a new breeding behavior we’re witnessing here,” said Peter Fretwell, a geographer with the British Antarctic Survey and lead study author. “This has totally taken us by surprise. We didn’t know they could go and breed up on the ice shelves,” Fretwell told LiveScience. Emperor penguins are famous for their nesting behavior — males huddle together through winter, each warming a single, precious egg while the females hunt. Between 2008 and 2012, Fretwell and his colleagues discovered two emperor-penguin colonies permanently established on Antarctic ice shelves, which are floating tongues of ice extending into the ocean from glaciers on land. Until now, scientists have only seen emperor penguins breeding on “fast” sea ice, which is sea ice attached to the shoreline. Two more colonies temporarily moved to ice shelves when sea ice formed too late for breeding. Their findings were published today (Jan. 8) in the journal PLOS ONE. Though the Antarctic sea ice hit a record maximum this year, the sea-ice distribution around the continent is changing. The two ice-shelf colonies are at the warmest reaches of the emperor penguin’s range, where large ice shelves collapsed and disappeared in recent decades. Because of predictions of further ice loss in coming decades, the emperor penguin is listed as “near threatened” on the Red List of Threatened Species maintained by the International Union for Conservation of Nature….
Bats fall to extreme weather amid widespread decline. January 10, 2014 Toronto Star
Frigid cold in Toronto and extreme heat in Australia has reduced bat populations, which are already severely weakened in North America.
Joel Eastwood Staff Reporter, Published on Fri Jan 10 2014
Trish Wimberley / AP Who says bats aren’t cute? In this photo released by the Australian Bat Clinic, fifteen heat-stressed baby Flying Foxes (a type of bat) are lined up ready to feed at the Australia Bat Clinic near the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia.
Thousands of bats near Brisbane and the Gold Coast have succumbed to the extreme heat, falling out of trees and dying during Australia’s hottest year on record. Despite their mythical portrayal as malevolent bloodsuckers — and a more modern connection with vengeance-minded superheroes — bats on both sides of the planet are fighting for survival against a more banal foe: extreme temperatures. Rescue workers at the Toronto Wildlife Centre are caring for 68 bats, including a colony from Newmarket that was found freezing to death during the ice storm.
“Every winter, this does happen with some bats; it’s just this is more bats than usual this winter,” said Nathalie Karvonen, the centre’s executive director. Half a world away, a scorching heat wave in Australia has killed tens of thousands of bats. Experts say there are parallels. “Small body size is the big factor in both cases,” said Kenneth Welch Jr., who teaches biology at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus. Welch said their diminutive size — the species known as big brown bats, being sheltered at the wildlife centre, weigh a mere 15 grams each — makes the animals very sensitive to changes in their environment…..
Climate change: How does soil store carbon dioxide?
(January 8, 2014) — Global carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise — in 2012 alone, 35.7 billion tons of this greenhouse gas entered the atmosphere. Some of it is absorbed by the oceans, plants and soil. They provide a significant reservoir of carbon. Scientists have now discovered how organic carbon is stored in soil: The carbon only binds to certain soil structures. This means that soil’s capacity to absorb CO2 needs to be re-assessed and incorporated into today’s climate models. … Previous studies have established that carbon binds to tiny mineral particles. In this latest study, published in Nature Communications, researchers of the Technische Universität München (TUM) and the Helmholtz Zentrum München have shown that the surface of the minerals plays just as important a role as their size. “The carbon binds to minerals that are just a few thousandths of a millimeter in size — and it accumulates there almost exclusively on rough and angular surfaces,” explains Prof. Ingrid Kögel-Knabner, TUM Chair of Soil Science.
The role of microorganisms in sequestering carbon
It is presumed that the rough mineral surfaces provide an attractive habitat for microbes. These convert the carbon and play a part in binding it to minerals. “We discovered veritable hot spots with a high proportion of carbon in the soil,” relates Cordula Vogel, the lead author of the study. “Furthermore, new carbon binds to areas which already have a high carbon content.” These carbon hot spots are, however, only found on around 20 percent of the mineral surfaces. It was previously assumed that carbon is evenly distributed in the soil. “Thanks to our study, we can now pin-point the soil that is especially good for sequestering CO2,” continues Kögel-Knabner. “The next step is to include these findings in carbon cycle models.”…. > full story
Cordula Vogel, et al. Submicron structures provide preferential spots for carbon and nitrogen sequestration in soils. Nature Communications, 2014; 5 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms3947
Jan. 5, 2014 — Stable population trends are a prerequisite for species’ range expansion, according to new research led by scientists at the University of York. The climate in Britain has warmed over the last four decades, and many species, including butterflies, have shifted their distributions northwards. The extent of distribution changes has varied greatly among species, however, with some showing rapid expansion and others showing none at all. But this variation can be explained by taking into account the abundance trends of species. The study by researchers in Department of Biology at York, Butterfly Conservation and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Centre for Ecology and Hydrology showed that butterflies were able to expand their distributions only if they had stable (or increasing) abundance trends. It is published by Nature Climate Change. For those species with stable or increasing population trends that have been expanding their distributions, the amount of suitable habitat available in the landscape is important. The more habitat that is available, the faster a species can expand its distribution area…. Louise Mair says: “My previous research revealed huge variation among butterflies in relation to their range expansion rates. It’s now clear from our new research that much of this variation can be accounted for once species’ population trends are known.” Professor Jane Hill at York says: “Increasing habitat availability in the landscape has been suggested as a way to help species respond to climate change, but our research shows this will only be effective for species whose abundances are stable or increasing.” Dr Richard Fox at Butterfly Conservation says: “We are grateful to the thousands of volunteer recorders who have collected these butterfly data over the past years. Their efforts and the information they’ve gathered are proving crucial to our understanding of the impacts of climate change on British butterflies. These latest research findings have important implications for our work to conserve threatened butterflies.” Dr Marc Botham, at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, says: “Our research highlights the importance of the long-running UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme for developing effective conservation measures for British butterflies.” Chris Thomas, Professor of Conservation Biology at York, adds: “Conservation management to increase species’ abundances within their ranges is a vital step in the process of helping species respond to climate changes.”
Mair, L., Hill, J. K., Fox, R., Botham, M., Brereton, T. & Thomas, C. D. Abundance changes and habitat availability drive species’ responses to climate change. Nature Climate Change, January 2014
Jim Wilson/The New York Times To help the Colorado, federal authorities this year will for the first time reduce the water flow into Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, created by Hoover Dam.
By MICHAEL WINES NYTimes Published: January 5, 2014
LAKE MEAD, Nev. — The sinuous Colorado River and its slew of man-made reservoirs from the Rockies to southern Arizona are being sapped by 14 years of drought nearly unrivaled in 1,250 years.
Graphic ; Southwest’s Dwindling Water Supply
The once broad and blue river has in many places dwindled to a murky brown trickle. Reservoirs have shrunk to less than half their capacities, the canyon walls around them ringed with white mineral deposits where water once lapped. Seeking to stretch their allotments of the river, regional water agencies are recycling sewage effluent, offering rebates to tear up grass lawns and subsidizing less thirsty appliances from dishwashers to shower heads. But many experts believe the current drought is only the harbinger of a new, drier era in which the Colorado’s flow will be substantially and permanently diminished. Faced with the shortage, federal authorities this year will for the first time decrease the amount of water that flows into Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, from Lake Powell 180 miles upstream. That will reduce even more the level of Lake Mead, a crucial source of water for cities from Las Vegas to Los Angeles and for millions of acres of farmland. Reclamation officials say there is a 50-50 chance that by 2015, Lake Mead’s water will be rationed to states downstream. That, too, has never happened before. “If Lake Mead goes below elevation 1,000” — 1,000 feet above sea level — “we lose any capacity to pump water to serve the municipal needs of seven in 10 people in the state of Nevada,” said John Entsminger, the senior deputy general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. Since 2008, Mr. Entsminger’s agency has been drilling an $817 million tunnel under Lake Mead — a third attempt to capture more water as two higher tunnels have become threatened by the lake’s falling level. In September, faced with the prospect that one of the tunnels could run dry before the third one was completed, the authority took emergency measures: still another tunnel, this one to stretch the life of the most threatened intake until construction of the third one is finished. These new realities are forcing a profound reassessment of how the 1,450-mile Colorado, the Southwest’s only major river, can continue to slake the thirst of one of the nation’s fastest-growing regions. Agriculture, from California’s Imperial Valley to Wyoming’s cattle herds, soaks up about three-quarters of its water, and produces 15 percent of the nation’s food. But 40 million people also depend on the river and its tributaries, and their numbers are rising rapidly. …
Unfortunately, the Colorado during most of Lake Mead’s 78-year history was not normal at all. Studies now show that the 20th century was one of the three wettest of the last 13 centuries in the Colorado basin. On average, the Colorado’s flow over that period was actually 15 percent lower than in the 1900s. And most experts agree that the basin will get even drier: A brace of global-warming studies concludes that rising temperatures will reduce the Colorado’s average flow after 2050 by five to 35 percent, even if rainfall remains the same — and most of those studies predict that rains will diminish. Already, the drought is upending many of the assumptions on which water barons relied when they tamed the Colorado in the 1900s….
…The Southern California region using Colorado water is expected to add six million people to the existing 19 million in the next 45 years, and its other water source — the Sierra Nevada to the north — is suffering the same drought and climate problems as the Colorado basin. “The basic blueprint of our plan calls for a reliable foundation that we then build upon, and that reliable foundation is the Colorado River and Northern California water,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, the general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. “To the extent we lose one of those supplies, I don’t know that there is enough technology and new supplies to replace them.”
There may be ways to live with a permanently drier Colorado, but none of them are easy. Finding more water is possible — San Diego is already building a desalination plant on the Pacific shore — but there are too few sources to make a serious dent in a shortage. That leaves conservation, a tack the lower-basin states already are pursuing. Arizona farmers reduce runoff, for example, by using laser technology to ensure that their fields are table flat. The state consumes essentially as much water today as in 1955, even as its population has grown nearly twelvefold.
Working to reduce water consumption by 20 percent per person from 2010 to 2020, Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District is recycling sewage effluent, giving away high-efficiency water nozzles and subsidizing items like artificial turf and zero-water urinals.
Southern Nevada’s water-saving measures are in some ways most impressive of all: Virtually all water used indoors, from home dishwashers to the toilets and bathtubs used by the 40 million tourists who visit Las Vegas each year, is treated and returned to Lake Mead. Officials here boast that everyone could take a 20-minute shower every day without increasing the city’s water consumption by a drop. Moreover, an intensive conservation program slashed the region’s water consumption from 2002 to 2012, even as the area added 400,000 residents.
Even after those measures, federal officials say, much greater conservation is possible. Local officials say they have little choice.
“The era of big water transfers is either over, or it’s rapidly coming to an end,” said Mr. Entsminger, the southern Nevada water official. “It sure looks like in the 21st century, we’re all going to have to use less water.” …
Debra Kahn, E&E reporter Greenwire: Friday, January 3, 2014 FIREBAUGH, Calif. –
A large swath of Central Valley is sinking as farms pump groundwater in the face of searing drought, sparking a scramble for solutions as forecasts show no end to dry conditions.
So says the U.S. Geological Survey, whose research shows land near the San Joaquin River sank by nearly a foot per year from 2008 to 2010, one of the most dramatic rates ever measured in the San Joaquin Valley.
Using satellite imagery, scientists identified a sinking bowl that sprawls more than 1,200 square miles and includes five towns, part of the San Joaquin River and a network of canals used for irrigation and flood control. USGS had studied the area a half-century or so ago.
Subsidence is causing the sides of the Delta-Mendota Canal to buckle. Photo by Debra Kahn.
“We’d largely stopped measuring subsidence about 30 years ago because it wasn’t a problem anymore,” hydrologist Michelle Sneed said. “We were really surprised about the large size of the area and the high rate of subsidence measured as part of the recent study.” The most recent subsidence has buckled concrete liners in the Delta-Mendota Canal, which distributes water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The Central California Irrigation District has spent $5 million in recent years on shoring up leaks in a canal that has lost nearly half its capacity…..The sinking points to an important issue for California: unregulated groundwater withdrawals. Water experts say California lives up to its “Wild West” reputation in groundwater management with a patchwork of more than 2,500 water service providers that may or may not have authority over a resource that supplies roughly 35 percent of agricultural and urban water usage.“We may have the least [groundwater regulation] of any state,” said Felicia Marcus, head of the State Water Resources Control Board. “It’s probably a tie with Texas at the state level.”…. The construction of huge state-funded and federally funded canals in the mid-20th century had managed to halt subsidences by bringing water from rivers to farmers and cities. But recent drought and regulatory cutbacks in water deliveries to protect endangered fish have forced farmers to turn back to large-scale groundwater pumping. Groundwater conditions vary according to topography — there are 515 groundwater basins in the state — and local regulatory structures, making it a regional problem. “There’s plenty that you can do to manage around subsidence, but it requires some really specific local knowledge about supplies,” the Central California Irrigation District’s White said. “It’s so site-specific, what the problem might be, that a state agency just has so many different types of areas to deal with; it’s better dealt with on the local level.” Officials are trying to encourage regional authorities to exercise more power over groundwater withdrawals. The state water board released a draft in October suggesting that agencies set water quantity and quality standards for the most at-risk water basins and then monitor groundwater to ensure that the standards are being met. The state would step in only in those cases where local or regional agencies could not.
“If you’re managing groundwater at the regional level, you don’t need the state to do it,” said Marcus of the water board. But “it’s sort of been an underground, ‘You can’t see it’ issue. We’re going to have to figure out collectively how to better manage water both above and below ground in the face of climate change and population growth. We’re going to have to be better at all of it — more efficient and just more real about using it more than once.”
“The fix to the problem would be to maintain groundwater levels,” USGS’s Sneed said. “That’s easier said than done in a state with very little laws about what you can pump.”
But Marcus pointed to some success stories. In San Jose, which subsided about 13 feet between 1915 and 1970, for example, the Santa Clara Valley Water District not only monitors its groundwater quality and levels but also uses water recycling and reinjects treated water. Solutions are difficult in the Central Valley because the area of subsidence is outside any water district’s current jurisdiction. But White said landowners have stepped up to conserve water. “They’ve managed their groundwater differently over the last year and a half and cut subsidence in half,” he said. “The idea is to get it down to zero.”
Cloud seeding tower at the summit of Alpine Meadows ski area near Lake Tahoe, California. (Lauren Sommer/KQED)
California’s snowpack is just 20 percent of normal for this time of year, according to snow survey results released on Friday. That’s not surprising after 2013 ended as the driest year ever recorded in many parts of the state, but it’s fueling concerns about California’s water supply. With rationing looking likely, water managers are hoping to squeeze every last drop out of Mother Nature with cloud seeding. The decades-old technology is designed to wring extra moisture out of storm systems, though the storms have to appear in the first place. “There’s only so much we can do,” says Jeff Tilley, who runs the cloud seeding program at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada. “If we could make the clouds appear out of the thin air, we would, but we can’t do that yet.” This time of year, Tilley and his team are scouring weather imagery, waiting for the right conditions to turn on five ground-based cloud seeding towers. One sits at the summit of the Alpine Meadows Ski Resort, north of Lake Tahoe, right where the chairlift drops off. The large metal bunker with a chimney on top goes mostly unnoticed by skiers zipping by. It’s not a snow-making machine, like those the ski areas are relying on this winter. The chimney releases tiny particles of silver iodide – the seeds that rise thousands of feet into the clouds. “Water needs some sort of substance to condense upon,” says Tilley. Clouds are made of millions of tiny water droplets, but the droplets don’t automatically fall as rain or snow. They stick to tiny particles like dust……
The silver iodide eventually ends up in the local environment, where some worry it’s a contaminant, though Tilley says tests show it’s only a trace amount….. Cloud seeding has been used for six decades in California. In the early days, it was closer to “magical thinking,” an idea Tilley says has stuck around. “We get voodoo,” he says. “We get Dr. Frankenstein. We get all sorts of things. But we’ve been able to refine the technology.” “For a long time there’s been hope that we could somehow figure out of a way to squeeze more water out of nature,” says Peter Gleick, president of The Pacific Institute, a water policy think tank. Gleick says the problem with cloud seeding is that it’s tough to measure or verify how much water it produces and if it’s worth the investment. A review by the National Academy of Sciences in 2003 found that more research needs to be done to prove its effectiveness.
“But even more importantly, it’s limited no matter what,” says Gleick. “We get a certain number of clouds with moisture in them. If we can wring a little more out of those clouds, that’s sort of the idea behind cloud seeding. But we’re not going to wring a lot more out of those clouds “So it’s not a silver bullet,” he says. “There is no silver bullet for California’s water problems.” Nine other western states also use cloud seeding, where it’s commonly done with airplanes. The Desert Research Institute is also looking into using drones, potentially cutting the cost of flights. Across California, water agencies and utilities spend $3-to-5 million a year on seeding, which is estimated to boost runoff by around four percent. That might not sound like much, but these days when every drop counts, Jeff Tilley says cloud seeding getting a second wind. “I think for the entire Intermountain West, it’s becoming more important,” he says. “It’s not going to be the whole answer but it can be one tool in the toolkit and it’s a cost-effective one.”
Improving cloud seeding may depend on scientists unraveling something that’s still mysterious: what exactly makes it rain? “It’s incredibly complicated,” says Kim Prather, who studies atmospheric chemistry at the University of California-San Diego. Prather wanted to know why some clouds produce snow in the Sierra Nevada and others don’t. So, she and her team flew an airplane through the clouds, testing them to see what kinds of tiny particles were forming snowflakes. What she found was a big surprise. On snowy days, the clouds contained dust from a faraway source. “Dust had made its way across the Pacific, clear from Asia and even Africa, the Middle East where there are these big dust storms,” she says. “Takes about 7-to-10 days to get here, but it makes it. It’s not a lot of dust. It’s just the right amount of dust that seeds the very top of the clouds.” Prather says that type of dust can boost snowfall, but other kinds of particles seem to have the opposite effect. Air pollution, from California sources and all the way from Asia, could be adding too many tiny cloud seeds. “There’s only so much water available and in order to get rain, you have to have big enough droplets for them to fall. The more seeds you have, you have many more tiny droplets. If you have too many seeds, you’re not going to get precipitation out of that cloud.” “Potentially it’s us affecting our own water supply,” she says. “Potentially it’s stuff coming from much farther away and to be able to sort that out, we’re just at the tip of the iceberg. Prather says understanding that process could improve cloud-seeding techniques or show when it may not be effective, something that could be key as California relies more than ever on every last raindrop.
San Francisco Chronicle - January 3, 2014 Peter Fimrite
High-country vacationers have been enjoying brilliant blue skies and 50-plus-degree temperatures throughout the holidays at Tahoe, where …
Dust on Rockies snow quickens melting, disrupts water supplies. January 8, 2014 Wall ST Journal Dusty air blowing in from the drought-parched Southwest is subtly changing the color of the snow on the Rocky Mountains, affecting water supplies for millions of people in more than half a dozen states.
Los Angeles storms to grow more destructive as sea level rises, study says. January 8, 2014 LA Times Major storms will be more destructive to coastal areas of Los Angeles as sea-level rise accelerates over the century, according to a new study the city of Los Angeles commissioned to help it adjust to climate change.
Scientists: Americans are becoming weather wimps. January 10, 2014 AP
When a deep freeze strikes, scientists say, it seems more unprecedented than it really is. An Associated Press analysis of the daily national winter temperature shows that cold extremes have happened about once every four years since 1900. Until recently….
Huffington Post | By Andrew Perez Posted: 01/08/2014 6:44 pm EST
The Obama administration responded Wednesday to conservatives who say the historic cold snap affecting the United States proves that climate change is not real. The White House released a new video featuring Dr. John Holdren, the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, who explains that the “polar vortex” does not invalidate scientific consensus. “If you’ve been hearing that extreme cold spells, like the one that we’re having in the United States now, disprove global warming, don’t believe it,” Holdren said. “The fact is that no single weather episode can either prove or disprove global climate change.”….
The Guardian Jan 7 2014- Scientists said the deep freeze gripping the U.S. does not indicate a halt or reversal in global warming trends, either. In fact, it may be a counterintuitive example of global warming in action. Researchers told Climate Central that the weather pattern driving the extreme cold into the U.S. — with a weaker polar vortex moving around the Arctic like a slowing spinning top, eventually falling over and blowing open the door to the Arctic freezer — fits with other recently observed instances of unusual fall and wintertime jet stream configurations.…
By Brad Plumer Washington Post January 6 at 2:44 pm
It’s quite cold across much of the United States right now, thanks to the dread “polar vortex.” Bitterly cold. Horrifically cold! So what does this tell us about global warming? Not very much. Sorry. A single cold snap in the U.S. doesn’t disprove global warming any more than the record heat waves currently hitting Australia prove that it’s happening. But since a lot of people — like Donald Trump — seem confused on this point, it’s worth recapping a few basics:
1) Global warming refers to the whole planet, not just the United States. The term “global warming” typically refers to the rise in the average temperature of Earth’s climate system since the late 19th century, as well as predictions for future warming. A key bit there is “Earth’s average temperature.” It can be very cold in one part of the world and very hot in another at the exact same time. (Sometimes the exact same weather event can do both: The jet stream is currently making some parts of the U.S. unusually hot and some parts unusually cold.)
What we’re interested in is whether the global average is changing over a longer period. That’s impossible to judge from a single point in time in a small area — the continental United States is less than 2 percent of the Earth’s surface.
2) For example: December 2013 was an unusually warm month even though it was colder in the U.S. So let’s take this past December as an example. North America was colder than the average over the past decade. But Europe and Russia were much hotter than average. India was cooler than average. Australia was warmer than average. And so on:
What happens when you add it all up? Early data suggests that December 2013 was tied for the 2nd-hottest December on record since 1979, the beginning of satellite measurements, according to data from the University of Alabama-Huntsville. Meanwhile, global average temperatures for all of 2013 are expected to be among the 10 highest since 1850 (though we still don’t have a final count yet). So you couldn’t really infer all that much from a cool month in the United States.
3) The global temperature won’t necessarily go up every year. Focus on long-term trends. Sort of a corollary to #1 and #2. This is a good chart to watch:
The global average surface temperature has clearly gone up since the 19th century, by more than half a degree Celsius. But there’s also fair bit of variation year to year. Climate scientists are quite sure that if we keep adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, that will trap more heat at the Earth’s surface and the global average temperature will continue to rise over time. But carbon dioxide isn’t the only force affecting Earth’s climate. There are El Niño and La Niña cycles, which can shift heat into and out of the ocean. There are volcanoes. There’s air pollution. There are changes in solar activity. And so forth. Scientists are currently debating which of those other factors might be responsible for the slower pace of surface warming since 1998. And the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) expects that these natural fluctuations will continue to be significant until about mid-century. But in the long run, the IPCC says, global average temperatures should trend upward with an increase in greenhouse gases.
4) Global warming isn’t expected to abolish winters in the U.S. anytime soon. Right now, climate experts are worried about a 2°C to 4°C rise in global average temperatures by the end of the century. That would create all sorts of disruptive changes. But those few degrees aren’t enough to completely undo the larger swings in temperature we see each year between summer and winter in many parts of the world.
Indeed, many climate models suggest that we’ll still see record cold snaps in the United States as the planet heats up. They’ll just become much less frequent over time — while record heat waves will become increasingly common. See this paper in Geophysical Research Letters from 2009: Over the past decade, it notes, the U.S. has experienced about two daily record high temperatures for every record low. If the planet keeps heating up, that ratio will shift to 20:1 by mid-century. There will still be record lows in many areas. They’ll just be rarer. Like so:
5) Heavy snowstorms will also still be possible as the planet warms. This sounds bizarre, but it makes some intuitive sense. As seen above, global warming isn’t going to eradicate winter temperatures in the United States anytime soon. But a warmer planet will allow the air to hold more moisture on average. So, in theory, you could have the ingredients for more intense winter storms. Will they still be as frequent? That’s less clear. One 2006 study found an increase in winter storm activity in the Midwest and Northeastern United States over the past century, as the Earth has warmed. And the IPCC says that heavy precipitation events in the Northern Hemisphere are expected to increase as the planet heats up. But that prediction is for all seasons, not just winter, and there’s less certainty on more fine-grained forecasts.
6) Yes, there is a theory for how global warming could cause severe cold in the U.S. — but it’s still heavily debated. Right now, the Arctic region is warming rapidly. And a few scientists think this could cause the jet stream to slow down and weaken and meander all over the place more often.
(The Washington Post)
That could have lots of unpredictable effects. It might cause storms or heat waves to linger in one place for longer periods of time. Or it could allow bigger blasts of frigid Arctic air to travel down to the United States — as is happening right now. But key caveat: This is a relatively new idea, and there’s still a whole lot of debate over the link between Arctic warming and extreme weather. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers sketched out the theory here. In August, Elizabeth Barnes of Colorado State disputed the link (and Francis responded here). No doubt there will be a lot more research done.
For now, the consensus view still holds that global warming will bring fewer cold snaps to places like the U.S., not more. The IPCC in 2007 predicted that there was “likely to be a decline in the frequency of cold air outbreaks… in [northern hemisphere] winter in most areas.”
7) A few points on Antarctic sea ice. Occasionally we’ll hear that sea ice in Antarctica has been expanding lately and that’s an inconvenient problem for the theory of global warming. This came up recently after a bunch of climate researchers on a ship got themselves stuck in Antarctic sea ice. But it’s worth putting this in context. Note that there are two types of ice in Antarctica. First, there’s sea ice, which is the ice floating in the ocean around the continent. For reasons that are still unclear, the extent of Antarctic sea ice has indeed been growing in recent years. This increase is less drastic than the long-term decline of summer sea ice up north in the Arctic, but it’s real nonetheless. And it’s still a mystery. But that’s not the only thing going on down in Antarctica. There’s also land ice. This is the snow and ice that sits on top of land in large ice sheets. And it’s arguably more relevant from a practical standpoint, since when that ice melts and falls into the ocean, it pushes up sea levels. (Changes in sea-ice extent, by contrast, don’t directly affect sea levels very much — though they can have indirect effects.) And current estimates suggest that Antarctica is losing land ice:
So there you go. It’s horribly cold outside. The planet’s still warming. Strange but true. Now here’s a fun video of how Canadians are entertaining themselves in subzero temperatures. Further reading: As always, our colleagues at Capital Weather Gang have indispensable coverage of the polar vortex and the current cold weather.
By Emily Atkin on January 6, 2014 at 1:27 pm
A person struggles to cross a street in blowing and falling snow Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, in St. Louis. CREDIT: AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
On Sunday night, a reporter for The Weather Channel stood in a Minnesota snowstorm, talking about local efforts to move homeless children into heated shelters. “How cold is it supposed to get?” the anchor, back in the studio, asked. The reporter replied: “Colder than Mars.” Indeed, recent temperatures across the U.S. have been Mars-like. Forecasts in the midwest call for temperatures to drop to 32 below zero in Fargo, N.D.; minus 21 in Madison, Wis.; and 15 below zero in Minneapolis, Indianapolis and Chicago. Wind chills have been predicted to fall to negative 60 degrees — a dangerous cold that could break decades-old records. All of which begs the question — if climate change is real, then how did it get so cold?
The question is based on common misconceptions of how cold weather moves across the planet, said Greg Laden, a bioanthroplogist who writes for National Geographic’s Scienceblog. According to Laden, the recent record-cold temperatures indicate to many that the Arctic’s cold air is expanding, engulfing other countries. If true, this would be a perfect argument for a “global cooling” theory. The Arctic’s coldness is growing. Laden asks, “How can such a thing happen with global warming?”
The answer, he writes, is that the Arctic air that usually sits on top of our planet is “taking an excursion” south for a couple of days, leaving the North Pole “relatively warm” and our temperate region not-so-temperate. “Go Home Arctic, You’re Drunk,” he titled the explanation.
“The Polar Vortex, a huge system of moving swirling air that normally contains the polar cold air, has shifted so it is not sitting right on the pole as it usually does,” Laden writes. “We are not seeing an expansion of cold, an ice age, or an anti-global warming phenomenon. We are seeing the usual cold polar air taking an excursion. So, this cold weather we are having does not disprove global warming.”
In fact, some scientists have theorized that the influx of extreme cold is actually fueled by effects of climate change. Jennifer Francis, a research professor at Rutgers University’s Institute of Marine and Coastal Science, told ClimateProgress on Monday that it’s not the Arctic who is drunk. It’s the jet stream.
The “drunk” jet stream on Jan. 6, 2014. CREDIT: intellicast.com
“The drunk part is that the jet stream is in this wavy pattern, like a drunk walking along,” Francis, who primarily studies Arctic links to global weather patterns, said. “In other places, you could see the tropics are drunk.” Arctic warming, she said, is causing less drastic changes in temperatures between northern and southern climates, leading to weakened west-to-east winds, and ultimately, a wavier jet stream. The stream’s recent “waviness” has been taking coldness down to the temperate United States and leaving Alaska and the Arctic relatively warm, Francis said. The same thing has been happening in other countries as well. Winter storms have been pounding the U.K., she noted, while Scandinavia is having a very warm winter. “This kind of pattern is going to be more likely, and has been more likely,” she said. “Extremes on both ends are a symptom. Wild, unusual temperatures of both sides, both warmer and colder.” Francis’ research, however, is still disputed. Dr. Kevin E. Trenberth, a distinguished senior climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told ClimateProgress on Monday that he was skeptical of Francis’ assessment. “Jennifer’s work shows a correlation, but correlation is not causation,” he cautioned. “In fact it is much more likely to work the other way around.”
Instead of Francis’ theory that a warm Arctic moves the jet stream, Trenberth said it could be that the jet stream moves, leading to a warmer Arctic. And Francis’ theory could work if the Arctic was, in fact, particularly warm and iceless — at the moment, in winter, the Arctic is cooler and icier. “I am not saying there is no [climate change] influence, but in midwinter, the energy in these big storms is huge and the climate change influence is impossible to find statistically,” he said. “So we have to fall back on understanding the processes and mechanisms.” Still, Trenberth — based in Boulder, CO., — just had 11 inches of snow on Saturday, which he said is the third largest ever for the month. Normally the area gets only light, fluffy snow. But, he said temperatures on Friday were 62 degrees, making for extra moisture and heat, “probably” contributing to the extra snow. The incident mimics what Trenberth’s research has shown — that increased moisture and heat from climate change has an effect on weather events. “The answer to the oft-asked question of whether an event is caused by climate change is that it is the wrong question,” he has written. “All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be.”
– January 6, 2014
This week’s intense cold could result in some surprising bird sightings, experts say. For some species it’s just too cold to stay put.
Tim Roberts Photography/Shutterstock
By Tom Kenworthy on January 8, 2014 at 11:41 am BISMARCK, NORTH DAKOTA — To the uneducated eyes of a visitor traveling along secondary roads in central North Dakota, it seems like farmers there are harvesting boulders. But the big rock piles frequently seen at the edges of new agricultural fields are actually signs of a massive change in land use in recent years. Dramatic alterations to this region’s lands have important implications, not just for wildlife in a place vital for waterfowl and other birds, but also for climate change.
As climate change projections become more dire, cutting carbon emissions becomes ever more crucial. While more efficient buildings and vehicles, rapid deployment of clean energy, and reduced dependence on fossil fuels are common solutions, an important piece of the carbon sequestration puzzle lies in protecting the ability of natural systems to store carbon. Here in the northern reaches of America’s Great Plains, vast areas of grasslands have in recent years been converted to the production of corn and soybeans, a dramatic change that is eating away at our carbon storage reserves. Driven by rising prices that reflect increased worldwide demand for food and energy crops, as well as federal farm policies and new crop technology that has allowed the corn belt to march west into more arid country, farmers and ranchers in the northern Great Plains have undertaken one of the great land conversions in recent U.S. history. “We are looking at rates of conversion that exceed the rates of [tropical] rain forest loss at their peak,” said Joe Fargione, science director for the North American region of The Nature Conservancy. “It is a globally significant hot spot of habitat loss.” Most people don’t realize how much carbon is stored in a a prairie. A study published early this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that 1.3 million acres of grassland had been converted to corn and soybeans between 2006 and 2011 in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa. Native prairie — whose plants have deep and extensive root systems — is a very effective carbon sink if not cultivated, but plowing and converting that land to annual row crops leads to the emission of 20 to 75 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per acre. As a point of comparison, a typical passenger car emits about 5.1 tons of carbon dioxide a year. Even if that converted land is devoted fully to the production of corn for ethanol that replaces fossil fuels, the study found, it would take 30 years to make up for the loss of carbon sequestration. “Most people don’t realize how much carbon is stored in a a prairie,” said Fargione. “It’s in the roots of the plants and also in the soil. When you look at a prairie, you see grasses waving back and forth. But there’s five times as much biomass below ground in the roots. So there is a lot more carbon in the roots and even more in the soil. When that soil is plowed up you lose about 40 percent of the carbon in the top foot of soil.“…
Andrew Peacock/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images The Akademik Shokalskiy was trapped in the ice off East Antarctica after shifting winds caused loose pack ice to jam against the vessel.
By HENRY FOUNTAIN NYTIMES Published: January 6, 2014
When a ship carrying scientists and adventure tourists became stuck in ice in the Antarctic late last month, climate change skeptics had a field day. On Twitter and other social media sites, they pointed out that a group whose journey was meant to highlight the effects of global warming was trapped by a substance that was supposed to be melting. ….. “We’re constantly struggling against that statement, that Antarctic ice is increasing,” said Sharon E. Stammerjohn, a scientist at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at the University of Colorado. “It misses key changes that are happening. And there are really strong climate signals in those changes.” Most of the sea ice changes are occurring in an area covering about a third of the Antarctic coast, from the Ross Sea to the Bellingshausen Sea and the Antarctic Peninsula, said Paul Holland, a researcher with the British Antarctic Survey. Areas around the Ross Sea, for example, have seen large increases in ice, while in the Bellingshausen and along the peninsula, ice cover has declined sharply. (The area where the research ship became stuck, west of the Ross Sea, has had a slight increase in ice cover over the past 35 years.) Researchers agree that the changes in those seas are related to north-south winds that circulate clockwise around a stationary zone of increasingly lower-pressure air. That brings warmer air from the north into the Bellingshausen Sea and peninsula, pushing ice against the coast and melting some of it, and colder air from the south into the Ross Sea, which spreads the ice away from the coast and creates more of it. But why that low-pressure air is getting lower is still a subject of debate.
Scientists say that increases in greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere, as well as depletion of atmospheric ozone, have changed temperature gradients from the tropics to the poles, which affects atmospheric circulation. “There are clear signals of winds increasing due to climate change” in the Southern Ocean around the Antarctic, Dr. Stammerjohn said. Those intensifying winds might be affecting the low-pressure zone, she said, but there are also other factors that do not rule out natural variability. “The jury is definitely still out on that,” Dr. Stammerjohn said. Whatever the explanation, much of the Bellingshausen is now ice free for long periods each summer. That allows the relatively warmer waters of the Southern Ocean to flow more freely to the more permanent ice that extends from the land in glaciers and sheets. “The combination of the warm ocean and the effects of waves on these glaciers may increase the rate of loss of glacial ice,” Dr. Maksym said. The consensus now is that there is a net loss of ice from Antarctica’s ice sheets and glaciers, Dr. Maksym added, and it is the melting of this ice, rather than any loss of sea ice, that concerns scientists who study sea-level increases. He cautioned that there was still a lot unknown about Antarctic sea ice, which has been studied far less than Arctic ice. In many ways the regions are opposites — the Arctic is an ocean largely hemmed in by land, while Antarctica is a land mass surrounded by a vast open ocean — so lessons learned from studying one do not necessarily apply to the other. “The skeptics do have a good point,” Dr. Maksym said. “Why are we not paying as much attention to what’s going on in the Antarctic? There are good reasons to figure out why these changes are happening.”
The global warming Hot List for 2014.
Daily Climate Tracking the year through the Daily Climate archives, it’s easy to spot 2013’s winners and losers – climate change’s version of nerds and prom kings, arena acts and wedding singers. These are the people and issues who will – and will not – be driving the news in 2014. This is not peer-reviewed.
Quiet year for disasters in USA; not so in Europe. January 7, 2014 USA Today
For the first time in two decades, the world’s costliest natural disasters in 2013 were not in the U.S., according to a report released today by Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurance firm….
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA 918 PM PST MON JAN 6 2014 [what happens when the weather forecasters get bored of the same old drought weather conditions!!]
AREA FORECAST DISCUSSION…AS OF 9:18 PM PST MONDAY…THE WEATHER HAS BECOME SO BANAL THAT MID AND HIGH LEVEL CLOUDS NOW COUNT AS INTERESTING…. IN GENERAL NOT EXPECTING MUCH CHANGE IN THE WEATHER FOR TUESDAY WITH HIGH PRESSURE AND SCATTERED MID AND HIGH LEVEL CLOUDS ACROSS THE REGION….. STRONG HIGH PRESSURE WILL QUICKLY BUILD OVER THE BAY AREA FOR FRIDAY WITH SUNNY SKIES AND ABOVE NORMAL TEMPS ONCE AGAIN. THE PATTERN REMAINS ACTIVE TO OUR NORTH WITH ANOTHER SYSTEM INTO FAR NORTHERN CALIFORNIA BY SATURDAY BUT ALL SIGNS SHOW THE RAIN FALLING APART AS IT REACHES THE NORTH BAY SOMETIME SATURDAY AFTERNOON WITH LITTLE OR NO CHANCE SOUTH OF THE GOLDEN GATE. NO SENSE IN FIGHTING PERSISTENCE OR MOTHER NATURE AT THIS POINT. ABOVE AVERAGE CONFIDENCE AND MODEL AGREEMENT THAT STRONG HIGH PRESSURE WILL BRING ABOVE NORMAL TEMPS AND CONTINUED DRY WEATHER FROM SUNDAY THROUGH MOST OF NEXT WEEK WITH LONG RANGE GUIDANCE SUGGESTING DRY CONDITIONS RIGHT THROUGH MLK WEEKEND.
BRAIN TEASER FOR TONIGHT: ROSSBY WAVE THEORY SUGGESTS WHEN A STRONG RIDGE IS IN PLACE OVER THE WEST COAST AN EQUALLY STRONG TROUGH WILL BE IN PLACE OVER THE EASTERN HALF OF AMERICA. THUS WHILE THE BAY AREA AND MOST OF CALIFORNIA HAVE SEEN A WARM AND MILD JANUARY MUCH OF THE EAST COAST HAS BEEN BRUTALLY COLD AND SNOWY. RELIABLE CLIMATE DATA RECORDS IN DOWNTOWN SAN FRANCISCO GO ALL THE WAY BACK TO 1850 WHILE MADISON WISCONSIN HAS CLIMATE RECORDS BACK TO 1871. ON JANUARY 6TH 1887 DOWNTOWN SAN FRANCISCO SET A RECORD HIGH OF 73 DEGREES THAT STILL STANDS TODAY WHILE ON JANUARY 7TH 1887 MADISON WISCONSIN FELL TO -29 DEGREES WHICH STILL REMAINS A RECORD LOW. IN JANUARY OF 1887 DOWNTOWN SF RECEIVED 1.90 INCHES OF RAIN WITH NEARLY ALL OF IT FALLING IN A TWO DAY WINDOW FROM JANUARY 18-19. LITTLE OR NO RAIN FELL THE REST OF THE MONTH. SO WHAT HAPPENED IN FEBRUARY OF 1887 IN DOWNTOWN SF? 9.24 INCHES OF RAIN FELL (ALONG WITH 3.7 INCHES OF SNOW ON FEB 5TH). NOT HARD SCIENCE HERE FOLKS BUT STILL HOPE AS MANY OF OUR READERS ARE ACHING FOR RAIN AND MOUNTAIN SNOW.
Rethinking How to Split the Costs of Carbon- Life Cycle Carbon Accounting
Apple expects an iPhone 5S to inject 70 kilograms – about 154 pounds — of CO2 equivalent into the atmosphere over its lifetime, 11 pounds less than the iPhone 5 that Apple introduced last year.; Justin Sullivan / Getty Image
By EDUARDO PORTER NY Times December 24, 2013
It is probably a safe bet that very few Americans unwrapping a brand-new iPhone left under their Christmas tree are thinking about its impact on the global climate. I have some good news for them, and some bad. No, Apple hasn’t managed to produce the device without adding heat-trapping carbon to the air. The company expects an iPhone 5s to inject 70 kilograms — about 154 pounds — of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere over its lifetime, 11 pounds less than the iPhone 5 that Apple introduced last year. The “good” news is that under the standard accounting of carbon emissions bandied about at climate talks, it’s not, mostly, Americans’ fault. About three-quarters of the carbon dioxide is considered the responsibility of other people — in places like China and Taiwan, South Korea and Inner Mongolia — where the phone and its parts were made.
The bad news is not just that the effort to curb global warming is as stuck as ever, but that, whether we like it or not, we’re all in this together. The obstacles remain significant. Countless summit conferences since the Kyoto Protocol on climate change was adopted more than 15 years ago have failed to budge the fundamental roadblocks standing in the way of collective action: How should the costs be divided? Who did what to whom? Globalization — which in the process of “exporting” production and jobs from rich to poor countries also “exported” the carbon dioxide emitted to make the products consumed by the rich countries — adds another complex twist to allocating responsibility for the carbon in the air. The disquieting question is this: Are emissions the responsibility of the countries that made them or of the countries for whom the products were made?
Two years ago, some of the greenest constituencies in the country asked Elizabeth Stanton and colleagues at the Stockholm Environment Institute-U.S. Center to perform a set of calculations on their carbon emissions. Rather than tally the carbon they produced, they wanted an inventory of the emissions generated in making, transporting, using and disposing of what they consumed. They were in for a surprise. San Francisco, for example, generated only eight million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2008. The city’s consumption, by contrast, added nearly 22 million tons of carbon to the air. Using consumption-based measurements, Oregon’s emissions in 2005 jumped to 78 million tons from 53 million.
“The people who hired us to do it saw themselves as so green and innovative,” said Frank Ackerman, who led the Climate Economics Group at the center at the time and now works with Ms. Stanton at Synapse Energy Economics, a consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass. “They thought that because they had nice initiatives going on they would come out lower, never mind the fact that a lot of the manufactures they consumed were made abroad.”
The focus on consumption makes sense. Understanding its impact on climate change is a necessary first step for families, and municipalities, to take concrete action to mitigate carbon emissions. This sort of recalculation, however, could have an unforeseen effect on the international politics of climate change by shifting responsibility on a global scale…..But if the world is to prevent catastrophic climate change from eventually undermining civilization, somebody — somewhere — must pay the cost of consuming less carbon. And nobody is volunteering.
Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @portereduardo
By Editorial Board, Washington Post Published: January 4 2014
JUST HOW much will the Earth heat up over the next 100 or 200 years? Climate scientists are not able to predict with high certainty. They have estimated that average global temperatures will increase by 1.5 to 4.5 degrees Celsius — 2.7 to 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit — given a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. That range of estimates for “climate sensitivity” would mean the difference between relatively small effects and significant consequences for human welfare… A new paper in the journal Nature suggests … — that the consequences of climate change are likely to be toward the middle or higher end of the predicted temperature range. “This new research takes away the lower end of climate sensitivity estimates… That translates into a rise of 4 degrees Celsius by the year 2100 and perhaps 8 degrees Celsius by 2200, barring a reduction in carbon dioxide output.”….Next year, international negotiators will gather in Paris in another attempt to create a working international anti-carbon system. It’s important to invest diplomatic capital in that effort. But leaders cannot rely on that forum to produce the action the world needs. The United States needs to lead the way with a smarter climate policy and then encourage a global response.
NY Times Editorial
Published: January 7, 2014
On Dec. 17, the European Union drafted important legislation to cut hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, by 79 percent by 2030. This is the most concrete move yet to rein in HFCs, which are potent greenhouse gases used in refrigerators and air-conditioners. In June, the United States and China reached an agreement to reduce these gases, and in September leaders of the Group of 20 nations pledged to do their share. With Europe’s move, the goal of a global agreement on the gases is closer than ever. Global support has been growing for tackling HFCs through the Montreal Protocol — which phased out chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, that were destroying the ozone layer — rather than through the broader and more cumbersome United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. While HFCs, developed to replace CFCs in refrigeration and air-conditioning, do not harm the ozone layer, they are fast becoming a significant contributor to global warming….. The United Nations Environment Program projects that HFCs, only 1 percent of greenhouse gases today, will make up 20 percent by 2030 if nothing is done. Eliminating HFCs would be the equivalent of taking 100 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. HFCs have higher global warming potential than carbon dioxide, but they disappear from the atmosphere much more quickly. Global negotiations on limiting more persistent greenhouse gases must continue, but eliminating HFCs will help. New technologies exist to replace HFCs. The European legislation proposes phasing out consumer refrigerators using HFCs in 2015 and imposing additional bans on a range of commercial refrigeration and air-conditioning products that use the most potent HFCs in 2020 and 2022. With this breakthrough in Europe, India, one of the fastest-growing markets for coolants, is now the last big holdout on reduction of HFCs. Despite joining the G-20 pledge, India has reiterated its opposition to tackling HFCs through the Montreal Protocol. The United States and India should continue bilateral talks to address concerns about costs so that India can join the international effort. The European Union should move quickly now to pass into law the draft legislation to give industry a clear timeline to begin the necessary transition.
By Jonathan Chait January 3, 2014 NY Magazine
When President Obama leaves office three years from now, the major policy story of his second term — barring some kind of unforeseen invasion — is likely to be climate change. I made this argument at feature length last year, and the evidence continues to mount. Coral Davenport reports today about Secretary of State John Kerry’s “systematic, top-down push to create an agencywide focus on global warming.” Kerry is a longtime climate obsessive. (Ten years ago, I attended an off-the-record discussion with Kerry alongside several journalists, and our main takeaway was that he understood and cared about climate change more than any other issue.) His appointment to run the State Department is one of several Obama second-term moves that signal the high priority he assigns the issue. This is true not only of the figures Obama has appointed to posts that inherently concern climate change, like the his green appointees to run the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, but also to general political advisers, like Denis McDonough and John Podesta, both committed environmentalists who will drive Obama’s climate focus. The EPA’s new climate regulations are due to come out this June. They will face a certain legal challenge from conservatives. The main driving goal of Senate Democrats’ rule changes last year was to allow Obama to appoint judges to the D.C. Circuit, which will rule on those regulations. Meanwhile, the State Department today released its Climate Action Report, which reconfirms the administration’s commitment to issue new regulations of existing power plants, and further argues that such a plan could bring the United States into compliance with its international greenhouse gas reductions. Kerry has already negotiated an agreement with China to phase out hydrofluorocarbons. After the EPA’s regulations come out, the next step is for Kerry to negotiate the next international climate accord in 2015. As Brad Plumer correctly notes, with characteristic pessimism, a climate treaty is merely a necessary but insufficient step toward averting catastrophic climate change, with more reductions necessary. But that necessary first step is exactly what Obama is doing everything in his power to take with his remaining time.
By JOSHUA S. REICHERT Opinion NYTimes Published: December 30, 2013
WASHINGTON — In 1971, an unexpected series of interactions between international table tennis players turned out to be the first indication of China’s willingness to engage with the United States after decades of estrangement. It presaged President Richard M. Nixon’s watershed visit to the country. This unlikely set of events later came to be known as Ping-Pong diplomacy. Now we could be witnessing the equivalent — call it shark-fin diplomacy — by which China signifies to the world that it is ready to step forward into new arenas of environmental protection.
The world’s most populous nation faces serious issues: Air pollution has become a growing concern, with recent emissions of particulate matter so high in the northeastern city of Harbin that its official website stated, “You can’t see your own fingers in front of you.” Meanwhile, supplying wood for more than 80 billion sets of disposable chopsticks each year has decimated forests, and water pollution renders large sections of major rivers unfit for drinking and swimming. International concerns also loom large: Greenhouse gas emissions don’t respect borders. And trade in endangered plants and animals threatens to undermine the global ecosystems. Oceans, in particular, are at great risk because they are increasingly overfished, polluted and stressed by rising temperatures and acidification resulting from climate change.
Fortunately, China has begun to take steps. The country consistently ranks No.1 or 2 in attracting private investment in clean energy. It has a national renewable-energy standard and has adopted some of the strongest vehicle fuel efficiency regulations on the planet. People have been called on to reuse chopsticks. And the government has announced a policy that will help stem the killing of a crucial ocean species: sharks.
The new attitude toward sharks is particularly instructive, since shark-fin soup has long been considered a delicacy in China, served at banquets and weddings. But its popularity has contributed to a sharp decline in the worldwide populations of these apex predators, which help maintain healthy marine ecosystems. It is estimated that 100 million sharks are killed each year, primarily for their fins…..
The first sign of a shift came in February, when President Xi Jinping issued instructions to all levels of the Chinese government that high-cost ingredients, including shark fins and specialties culled from other protected species, were not to be consumed at official meetings. In large part, this regulation stems from a crackdown on corruption and lavish spending, since shark-fin soup is expensive and has often represented a display of wealth. But language in the notice also acknowledged the importance of promoting “green, eco-friendly and low-carbon” consumption habits.
Then, in September, came news from Hong Kong that the city government would ban shark fins from official functions there to “demonstrate its commitment to green living and sustainability.” Since 50 percent of the world’s annual trade in shark fins passes through Hong Kong, the move was highly encouraging.
Together, those decisions are expected to reduce the global trade in fins and aid conservation initiatives, such as the establishment of shark sanctuaries. In those sanctuaries, which encompass 12.5 million square kilometers, catching, possessing and trading in shark products are prohibited. Open sea-dwelling species of sharks swim vast distances each year, passing in and out of national territorial waters where they are caught and killed. Sanctuaries will help to reduce the risk to these imperiled animals, which are slow growing, bear few young and play a vital role in ocean ecologies.
Given China’s immense size and expanding influence, it has the potential to play a key role in helping to solve the problems of climate change, overfishing, pollution and conservation. The new shark-fin diplomacy may prove to be a pivotal event — but only if China adopts the environmental leadership that the world so desperately needs.
Joshua S. Reichert is the executive vice president of the Pew Charitable Trusts, directing Pew’s environmental work.
By Heather Timmons and Gang Yang January 9, 2014
….Sumatra and Malaysia’s bird’s nest farmers. Birds nest and sharks fin soup, among other celebratory treats, were banned from official banquets last month. China buys an estimated 60% of the world’s edible birds nests, mostly from Malaysia and Indonesia, where nests are cultivated in large windowless buildings. Annual revenues from the sale of the protein-rich nests of the swiftlet were estimated at $5 billion before the ban….
SF Chronicle Editorial Published 12:17 pm, Sunday, January 5, 2014
Shasta Lake was at 37 percent of its 4.5 million acre-foot capacity on Dec. 31. Photo: Andreas Fuhrmann, Associated Press
It’s a fact of life in California that we have dry spells and wet years, and living in this Mediterranean climate means figuring out how to adapt when we don’t get wet weather. Typically, our state makes progress on evolving water management only in dry years, and thus 2014 promises to be a banner year for innovation.
Snowpack, nature’s water storage system that we rely on, so far this year is 20 percent of average, according to Friday’s statewide survey. This follows 2012, a year when the snowpack also measured 20 percent of average – and was the driest year on record. The other fact of life here is that dry years affect regions differently. As a result of aggressive investments in management, storage, recycling and conservation, the mighty Metropolitan Water District in Southern California has no need to ration this year. “We’re prepared for multiyear drought cycles,” said Jeff Kightlinger, district general manager.
Yet, Folsom, a Sierra foothill city between the American and Sacramento rivers in Northern California, has asked residents to cut water use by 20 percent.
Meeting water demand this year and very likely next will require innovation. More communities (and more Northern California communities) need to invest in modern tools to recycle, reuse, restrict waste and conserve water. For example, computer analytics, typically (and successfully) used to help electric customers conserve, could do the same for water customers.
The state needs to step up its efforts to help communities manage groundwater. Overdrafts already have resulted in sinking land in some regions. While local water agencies have started mapping and reporting to the state how much groundwater is in storage, the effort is insufficient. The Legislature needs to address what it can do to help.
Ultimately, recycling and more efficient use can only help manage what water a community has. The state could help communities that import water, such as San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Jose, by streamlining water transfers.
This is the time for the Legislature to reshape the November water bond to prioritize investments that address these concerns.
While the state has not declared a drought, its Drought Task Force will discuss on Tuesday how to prepare for a third dry year. This is no crisis – it is an opportunity to weigh how we use our state’s most precious resource.
SF Chronicle January 10, 2014
As record-breaking dry spell continues, citizens are facing cutbacks which, while modest now, could soon become very expensive.
Water bonds shrivel as California sees driest year.
Bloomberg News January 3, 2014 The driest year on record for Los Angeles and San Francisco is threatening water supplies to the world’s most productive agricultural region and almost doubling borrowing costs on some bonds issued by California water agencies.
Koch-backed political network, built to shield donors, raised $400 million in 2012 elections.
Washington Post The political network spearheaded by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch has expanded into a far-reaching operation of unrivaled complexity, built around a maze of groups that cloaks its donors, according to an analysis of new tax returns and other documents.
Stacy Finz SF Chronicle Updated 10:36 pm, Tuesday, January 7, 2014
A new statewide coalition is putting pressure on politicians to pass progressive food and farm legislation in the hopes that it will “fix” California’s health, environmental and economic challenges.
And it’s doing it the old-fashioned way: tracking legislators’ voting records and spreading the word. In its first report, released Wednesday, the California Food Policy Council analyzed 27 bills that they say were critically important in 2013 to California food reform.
Of those, 11 made it to the floor for voting, and five were passed and signed by the governor. “A lot more can be done that hasn’t been done,” said Michael Dimock, the group’s strategic adviser and president of Roots of Change, a nonprofit dedicated to revamping food policy. “We think California is a bellwether for food and agriculture policy and Californians are more interested than ever in local food systems.” It won’t be long before voters in this state are backing candidates and legislators based on their food and farm platforms, Dimock said. The California Food Policy Council hopes to be a significant resource for voters as well as to politicians and policy circles that need guidance on what the public wants. Legislation such as making food stamps available to Medi-Cal recipients, taxing soda and supporting more farm-to-fork programs are just a few of the types of bills they’re monitoring….
By Katie Valentine on January 7, 2014 at 9:29 am
A group of California lawmakers is calling on Governor Jerry Brown to ban fracking until more research is done on the health and environmental impacts of the practice. Four California assemblymembers sent a letter to their governor asking him to put a hold on fracking while the state “fully investigate[s] the science behind fracking for oil production.” “The vast public health and safety implications of fracking, as well as the tremendous public concern over this practice, require our collective and urgent action,” the assemblymembers write. “We believe it is time to join with Californians who disapprove of the dangers fracking poses to their communities.” The letter is part of a CREDO Action campaign to enact a moratorium on fracking in California. The letter is signed by assemblymembers Das Williams, Adrin Nazarian, Richard Bloom and Marc Levine, who last year introduced unsuccessful legislation on fracking. “I don’t believe we have as much information as we need to continue allowing the oil industry to work unfettered before those regulations are in place,” Levine told the Sacramento Bee. Last year, California adopted SB 4, the state’s first fracking bill, as law, and it went into effect at the beginning of 2014. The law drew the ire of environmentalists in the state, who say it doesn’t go far enough in protecting Californians from the possible dangers of fracking. The law does require oil and gas companies to disclose the chemicals they use in the fracking process, and will require oil and gas companies to get a permit for fracking, notify neighbors before drilling, and monitor ground water and air quality. The law also stipulates that state officials will have to complete a study by 2015 that evaluates the risk of fracking, but does not impose a moratorium on the process until that study is completed. The LA Times Editorial Board called SB 4′s regulations “so watered down as to be useless.” Following the adoption of SB 4, a group of scientists also called on Gov. Brown to adopt a moratorium on fracking while research was conducted. Twenty scientists — including James Hansen, former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and vocal advocate of taking action on climate change, and Michael Mann, professor of meteorology at Penn State University — signed the letter, which outlined the emissions impact, threat of dangerous pollution, and the vast water requirements of extracting gas and oil from California’s shale reserves. Despite these letters, Gov. Brown’s office hasn’t signaled that it will consider a moratorium in the state…..
This is a reminder that Commission Staff will be presenting and accepting verbal comments on the Draft Sea-Level Rise Policy Guidance at the January Coastal Commission Hearing at the Catamaran Resort Hotel in San Diego. The presentation is scheduled for January 9th and will review material that was presented at the December Commission Hearing and include additional information on the comments received to date. For more information on the Commission Hearing, or to view a recording of the December Hearing, please visit: http://www.coastal.ca.gov/mtgcurr.html
Comment Period Extension
Additionally, please be aware that the public comment period for the Draft SLR Policy Guidance has been extended until 5:00 pm PST on February 14, 2014. Comments can be submitted by email to SLRGuidanceDocument@coastal.ca.gov or in writing to:
California Coastal Commission c/o Sea-Level Rise Working Group
45 Fremont Street, Suite 2000 San Francisco, CA 94105
To download the Draft Guidance or to watch a previously recorded presentation of the document, please visit: http://www.coastal.ca.gov/climate/SLRguidance.html
Will Kane Updated 11:15 pm, Thursday, January 9, 2014
A new UC Davis study found that Caltrans could do more to stop deer and other animals from wandering onto parts of Interstate 280 and getting hit by cars, but the transportation agency is “paralyzed in the ‘don’t know what to do’ state,” the study’s author said. Caltrans should build deer-proof fences, wildlife tunnels and overpasses accessible to animals along a stretch of I-280 that is notorious for deer crossings that cause collisions of car and beast and crashes by drivers swerving to avoid deer. Researchers at the UC Davis Road Ecology Center made these recommendations to Caltrans after spending 30 months analyzing roadkill, accident reports and wildlife habits along I-280 from San Bruno to Menlo Park to determine how and why so many cars strike deer and other wild animals. “There were places that there were more crashes and I think it is because at those places there was more accessibility” to the freeway, said study author Fraser Shilling, director of the ecology center. “The recommendation would be that you fence off the highway from the habitat and provide a place for the animals to cross.” There are roughly a dozen underpasses and bridges that animals can use to cross the busy freeway, Shilling said. Some were installed for wildlife but some, like those that are actually underpasses for roads or human walking trails, are not always a good fit for wild animals…..
Simple, cheap way to increase solar cell efficiency
(January 3, 2014) — Researchers have found an easy way to modify the molecular structure of a polymer commonly used in solar cells. Their modification can increase solar cell efficiency by more than 30 percent. … > full story
Wildlife researchers and industry are collaborating on new approaches—some proven, some experimental and even far-fetched.
—By Roger Drouin| Mon Jan. 6, 2014 3:00 AM GMT Mother Jones
Hundreds of thousands of birds and bats are killed by wind turbines in the US each year, including some protected species such as the golden eagle and the Indiana bat. That’s only a small fraction of the hundreds of millions killed by buildings, pesticides, fossil-fuel power plants, and other human causes, but it’s still worrying—especially as wind power is experiencing record growth.
Both the wind industry and the federal government have been under intense public scrutiny over the issue in recent weeks. In late November, the Obama administration fined Duke Energy Renewables $1 million for illegally killing birds, the first time a wind company has been prosecuted under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Then, just two weeks later, the administration announced a controversial new rule that will allow energy companies to get 30-year permits for non-intentional eagle deaths at wind farms. The feds emphasize that the new rule requires additional conservation measures, but it still angered many conservationists. The pressure is now on for wind energy companies to reduce bird and bat mortality. Lindsay North, outreach manager for the American Wind Energy Association, which lobbies for the industry, says wind developers are committed to “doing our best to try to have the lowest impact on birds.” The industry is collaborating with wildlife researchers on promising technologies and approaches that are already being field-tested, and on some experimental and even far-fetched ideas that could help reduce mortality in the long term. “I am very optimistic we can make significant progress,” said biologist Taber Allison, director of research at the American Wind Wildlife Institute, a nonprofit partnership of wind companies, scientists, and environmental organizations such as the National Audubon Society and the Sierra Club.
Here are eight things the industry is trying or considering in an effort to reduce bird and bat mortality.
1. Smarter siting….
3. GPS tracking……
4. Ultrasonic acoustics…..
5. Leaving turbines off when wind speeds are low….
6. Painting turbines different colors…..
7. Designing new turbine shapes….
8. Strike detection….
Reducing wind development’s impact on endangered species and other wildlife would help the industry avoid problems with the federal government and boost wind power’s public image. Allison believes there is also another motive: “They want to do it because they are conservation-mined, too. Many people in the wind industry work in the industry because they believe they’re doing something to reduce the impacts of climate change, which many believe is the single biggest threat.”
By Emily Atkin on January 8, 2014 at 5:22 pm
What if we could stop making plastic out of oil, and start making it out of carbon pollution floating around in the atmosphere?
It’s a particularly intriguing idea, posed Tuesday in a report from sustainable business website Triple Pundit on a company called Newlight Technologies. The company’s mission, as stated on its website, is to replace oil-based plastics with so-called “air-based plastics” on an unprecedented global scale. In doing so, the company hopes to “stabilize and end climate change.” Newlight’s product, called AirCarbon, has been around since 2012. But it is just recently starting to get more attention. Last month, USA Today reported on the product hitting the U.S. market, and CleanTechnica lauded it as an alternative to the Keystone XL pipeline this week. Chairs, food containers and automotive parts made from the plastic will soon appear on shelves. Next year, the plastic will form cellphone cases for Virgin Mobile…. “This is the kind of thing that sounds good but is ultimately nearly useless in the effort to combat climate change,” Ken Caldeira, an atmospheric scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Department of Global Ecology, told Climate Progress. “Every molecule you put in, you have to take back out.” According to Caldeira, the process of converting oxidized carbon dioxide (CO2) to reduced carbon (C +O2) requires energy from combustion, effectively canceling out the energy saved by taking that carbon out of the atmosphere. Combustion still uses a good amount of energy — at least as much as a normal effort to make plastics would require — even if that energy is renewable. So the question remains — why use the extra energy on this, instead of powering the grid with that extra energy, and burning less fossil fuels? “It is much easier to avoid putting our CO2 pollution in the atmosphere in the first place than to spoil the atmosphere and try to clean it up later,” Caldeira said…..
Dennis Schroeder, NREL
While the news about climate change seems to get worse every day, the rapidly improving technology, declining costs, and increasing accessibility of clean energy is the true bright spot in the march toward a zero-carbon future. 2013 had more clean energy milestones than we could fit on one page, but here are thirteen of the key breakthroughs that happened this year.
1. Using salt to keep producing solar power even when the sun goes down.
Helped along by the Department of Energy’s loan program, Solana’s massive 280 megawatt (MW) solar plant came online in Arizona this October, with one unique distinction: the plant will use a ‘salt battery’ that will allow it to keep generating electricity even when the sun isn’t shining. Not only is this a first for the United States in terms of thermal energy storage, the Solana plant is also the largest in the world to use to use parabolic trough mirrors to concentrate solar energy.
2. Electric vehicle batteries that can also power buildings. Nissan’s groundbreaking ‘Vehicle-To-Building‘ technology will enable companies to regulate their electricity needs by tapping into EVs plugged into their garages during times of peak demand. Then, when demand is low, electricity flows back to the vehicles, ensuring they’re charged for the drive home. With Nissan’s system, up to six electric vehicles can be plugged into a building at one time. As more forms renewable energy is added to the grid, storage innovations like this will help them all work together to provide reliable power.
3. The next generation of wind turbines is a gamechanger. May of 2013 brought the arrival of GE’s Brilliant line of wind turbines, which bring two technologies within the turbines to address storage and intermittency concerns. An “industrial internet” communicates with grid operators, to predict wind availability and power needs, and to optimally position the turbine. Grid-scale batteries built into the turbines store power when the wind is blowing but the electricity isn’t needed — then feed it into the grid as demand comes along, smoothing out fluctuations in electricity supply. It’s a more efficient solution to demand peaks than fossil fuel plants, making it attractive even from a purely business aspect. Fifty-nine of the turbines are headed for Michigan, and two more will arrive in Texas.
4. Solar electricity hits grid parity with coal. A single solar photovoltaic (PV) cell cost $76.67 per watt back in 1977, then fell off a cliff. Bloomberg Energy Finance forecast the price would reach $0.74 per watt in 2013 and as of the first quarter of this year, they were actually selling for $0.64 per watt. That cuts down on solar’s installation costs — and since the sunlight is free, lower installation costs mean lower electricity prices. And in 2013, they hit grid parity with coal: in February, a southwestern utility, agreed to purchase electricity from a New Mexico solar project for less than the going rate for a new coal plant. Unsubsidized solar power reached grid parity in countries such as Italy and India. And solar installations have boomed worldwide and here in America, as the lower module costs have driven
down installation prices.
5. Advancing renewable energy from ocean waves. With the nation’s first commercial, grid-connected underwater tidal turbine successfully generating renewable energy off the coast of Maine for a year, the Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) has its sights set on big growth. The project has invested more than $21 million into the Maine economy and an environmental assessment in March found no detrimental impact on the marine environment. With help from the Department of Energy, the project is set to deploy two more devices in 2014. In November, ORPC was chosen to manage a wave-energy conversion project in remote Yakutat, Alaska. And a Japanese delegation visited the project this year as the country seeks to produce 30 percent of its total power offshore by 2030.
6. Harnessing ocean waves to produce fresh water.
CREDIT: (AP Photo / Robert F. Bukaty)
This year saw the announcement of Carnegie Wave Energy’s upcoming desalination plant near Perth, Australia. It will use the company’s underwater buoy technology to harness ocean wave force to pressurize the water, cutting out the fossil-fuel-powered electric pumps that usually force water through the membrane in the desalination process. The resulting system — “a world first” — will be carbon-free, and efficient in terms of both energy and cost. Plan details were completed in October, the manufacturing contract was awarded in November, and when it’s done, the plant will supply 55 billion litters of fresh drinking water per year.
7. Ultra-thin solar cells that break efficiency records. Conversion efficiency is the amount of light hitting the solar cell that’s actually changed into electricity, and it’s typically 18.7 percent and 24 percent. But Alta Devices, a Silicon Valley solar manufacturer, set a new record of 30.8 percent conversion efficiency this year. Its method is more expensive, but the result is a durable and extremely thin solar cell that can generate a lot of electricity from a small surface area. That makes Alta’s cells perfect for small and portable electronic devices like smartphones and tablets, and the company is in discussions to apply them to mobile phones, smoke detectors, door alarms, computer watches, remote controls, and more.
8. Batteries that are safer, lighter, and store more power. Abundant and cost-effective storage technology will be crucial for a clean energy economy — no where more so than with electric cars. But right now batteries don’t always hold enough charge to power automobiles for extended periods, and they add significantly to bulk and cost. But at the start of 2013, researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory successfully demonstrated a new lithium-ion battery technology that can store far more power in a much smaller size, and that’s safer and less prone to shorts. They used nanotechnology to create an electrolyte that’s solid, ultra-thin, and porous, and they also combined the approach with lithium-sulfur battery technology, which could further enhance cost-effectiveness.
9. New age offshore wind turbines that float. Offshore areas are prime real estate for wind farms, but standard turbines require lots of construction and are limited to waters 60 meters deep or less. But Statoil, the Norwegian-based oil and gas company, began work this year on a hub of floating wind turbines off the coast of Scotland. The turbines merely require a few cables to keep them anchored, and can be placed in water up to 700 meters. That could vastly expand the amount of economically practical offshore wind power. The hub off Scotland will be the largest floating wind farm in the world — and two floating turbines are planned off the coast of Fukushima, Japan, along with the world’s first floating electrical substation.
10. Cutting electricity bills with direct current power. Alternating current (AC), rather than direct current (DC) is the dominant standard for electricity use. But DC current has its own advantages: its cheap, efficient, works better with solar panels and wind turbines, and doesn’t require adaptors that waste energy as heat. Facebook, JPMorgan, Sprint, Boeing, and Bank of America have all built datacenters that rely on DC power, since DC-powered datacenters are 20 percent more efficient, cost 30 percent less, and require 25 to 40 percent less floorspace. On the residential level, new USB technology will soon be able to deliver 100 watts of power, spreading DC power to ever more low voltage personal electronics, and saving homes inefficiency costs in their electricity bill.
11. Commercial production of clean energy from plant waste is finally here. Ethanol derived from corn, once held up as a climate-friendly alternative to gasoline, is under
increasing fire. Many experts believe it drives up food prices, and studies disagree on whether it actually releases any less carbon dioxide when its full life cycle is accounted for. Cellulosic biofuels, promise to get around those hurdles, and 2013 may be when the industry finally turned the corner. INOES Bio’s cellulosic ethanol plant in Florida and KiOR’s cellulosic plant in Mississippi began commercial production this year. Two more cellulosic plants are headed for Iowa, and yet another’s being constructed in Kansas. The industry says 2014′s proposed cellulosic fuel mandate of 17 million gallons will be easily met.
12. Innovative financing bringing clean energy to more people. In DC, the first ever property-assessed clean energy (PACE) project allows investments in efficiency and renewables to be repaid through a special tax levied on the property, which lowers the risk for owners. Crowdfunding for clean energy projects made major strides bringing decentralized renewable energy to more people — particularly the world’s poor — and Solar Mosaic is pioneering crowdfunding to pool community investments in solar in the United States. California figured out how to allow customers who aren’t property owners or who don’t have a suitable roof for solar — that’s 75 percent of the state — to nonetheless purchase up to 100 percent clean energy for their home or business. Minnesota advanced its community solar gardens program, modeled after Colorado’s successful initiative. And Washington, DC voted to bring in virtual net metering, which allows people to buy a portion of a larger solar or wind project, and then have their portion of the electricity sold or credited back to the grid on their behalf, reducing the bill.
13. Wind power is now competitive with fossil fuels. “We’re now seeing power agreements being signed with wind farms at as low as $25 per megawatt-hour,” Stephen Byrd, Morgan Stanley’s Head of North American Equity Research for Power & Utilities and Clean Energy, told the Columbia Energy Symposium in late November. Byrd explained that wind’s ongoing variable costs are negligible, which means an owner can bring down the cost of power purchase agreements by spreading the up-front investment over as many units as possible. As a result, larger wind farms in the Midwest are confronting coal plants in the Powder River Basin with “fairly vicious competition.” And even without the production tax credit, wind can still undercut many natural gas plants. A clear sign of its viability, wind power currently meets 25 percent of Iowa’s energy needs and is projected to reach a whopping 50 percent by 2018.
Review in four gas drilling states finds confirmation of water contamination in some. AP In at least four states, hundreds of complaints have been made about well-water contamination from oil or gas drilling, and pollution was confirmed in a number of them, according to a review that casts doubt on industry suggestions
that such problems rarely happen…
http://www.dailyclimate.org/ — free and excellent daily summary of climate change related news
The plan updates the 2009 California Climate Adaptation Strategy. The meetings are an opportunity for the public to learn more about the plan and provide their ideas on how the state can best prepare for climate risks. Natural Resources agency staff will provide a presentation on development of the Safeguarding California Plan and the vision for the 2013 update. The workshop will also include an open house with an opportunity for attendees to interact with state agency staff to discuss the various chapters, climate risks, accomplishments, and strategies for moving forward. Following the open house there will be the opportunity for formal public input and comment. The public is welcome to attend the meetings at any time during the duration. The final plan is expected to be completed in spring 2014.
The meetings will be held at the following dates, times and locations:
Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014 9 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Sacramento
California Energy Commission Hearing Room A 1516 Ninth Street Sacramento, CA 95814
This meeting will be webcast for those unable to attend in person. The broadcast can be accessed on the day of the workshop http://resources.ca.gov/climate_adaptation/regional_public_workshops/schedule.html.
Monday, Jan. 27, 2014 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. San Francisco
Milton Marks Conference Center San Francisco State Building 455 Golden Gate Avenue San Francisco, CA 94102
How do changes in habitat management and climate effect shorebird populations at local, regional and hemispheric scales? The Pacific Flyway Shorebird Survey project, let by Matt Reiter, PhD, of Point Blue Conservation Science, seeks to answer this question.
Click here for more information on this CA LCC webinar. To join this webinar:
1. Click here at the scheduled time.
2. If a password is required, enter the meeting password: calcc
3. Call in number: 866-737-4154; passcode: 2872670
Elkhorn Slough Coastal Training Program and Center for Integrated Spatial Research at the University of California, Santa Cruz Registration fee: $500 Instructor: Barry Nickel, Director of the Center for Integrated Spatial Research
This course is an introduction to the concepts and application of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). The course presents conceptual and practical discussions of the analysis of spatial information with the addition of exercises using the ESRI ArcGIS suite of applications. The class is designed to provide a basic introduction to GIS including spatial data structures and sources, spatial tools, spatial data display and query, map generation, and basic spatial analysis using ArcGIS software. It is the foundation for the rest of the classes offered in our GIS series.
Course Format: Approximately 50% lecture and 50% lab exercise. Please Note – There is a lot of information presented in this workshop in a short amount of time. We will maintain a fast pace, so please be prepared.
Date CHANGED! : Rangeland Coalition Summit 2014 January 21-22, 2014 Oakdale, CA Please note that the dates have been changed for the 9th Annual California Rangeland Conservation Coalition Summit to be hosted at the Oakdale Community Center. Mark your calendar for January 21-22, 2014, more details will be coming soon! The planning committee will have a conference call on September 11 at 9:00 AM to start planning for the event. If you are interested in serving on the planning committee or being a sponsor please contact Pelayo Alvarez: firstname.lastname@example.org.
January 22-24, 2014 Pacific Grove, CA
This year’s conference features Temple Grandin as a plenary speaker and workshop presenter. The special workshop Integrating Stockmanship with Range Management, on January 23 will teach participants how to incorporate stockmanship, the skillful handling of livestock in a safe, efficient, low-stress manner, into range and pasture management for economic and environmental benefits. Presenters will discuss opportunities for how stockmanship can reduce predation from herding and restore native grasslands. Other ranching topics include Managing Pastures for Optimal Forage Quality and Improved Nutrition of Meat, Milk and Eggs, Safe, Wholesome Raw Milk From Your Farm, among others. Farmer/rancher scholarships and discounts are available now on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014 11:30 AM to 1:30 PM PST University of California Center Sacramento 1130 K Street, Suite LL22, Sacramento, CA 95814
Presented by the UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, Environment and the Economy and the National Center for Sustainable Transportation.The Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008 (SB 375) aims to help California reach its AB 32 greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets by creating incentives for smarter land use and transportation planning with the ultimate goal of creating more sustainable communities. This forum series consists of four sessions that will bring together researchers, policy-makers, and stakeholders to discuss and explore the latest research and real-world experience with implementation of SB 375 and related policies. Each forum session will include short presentations, discussion and opportunity to ask questions.This first forum session will present the policy landscape and current activities relating to sustainable communities. Speakers will address the role of SB 375 in meeting the state’s climate, environmental quality, public health, economic and housing needs. The program will begin with lunch at 11:30am and will conclude at 1:30pm. Due to limited space, please RSVP as soon as possible by clicking the link below. Register Now!
California Drought Forum, planned for February 19-20, in Sacramento, California
We would like to invite you to the California Drought Forum, planned for February 19-20, in Sacramento, California. The Forum is being co-organized and co-sponsored by the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) and California partners.This two-day event will cover a range of critical drought topics, including current drought conditions, the outlook for continued drought, impacts and responses among different sectors, drought forecasting and monitoring, early warning information needs and resources, and opportunities to improve drought preparedness, resilience, and readiness. More details will be coming soon. For now, please hold the dates, and we look forward to seeing you at the Forum.
Anne Steinemann, Scripps Institution of Oceanography; University of California, San Diego; CIRES / NIDIS University of Colorado, Boulder
February 25-27, 2014
This workshop will focus on answering urgent questions such as: How do managers “build resilience” when ecosystems are undergoing rapid change? What are our options when megafires remove huge swaths of forests not well adapted to this disturbance?
Click here for more information or to register.
Climate-Smart Conservation NWF/NCTC ALC3195
March 4-6, 2014 Sacramento State University – Modoc Hall. Sacramento, CA 3 days /no tuition for this class.
The target audience includes conservation practitioners and natural resource managers working at multiple scales to ensure the ongoing effectiveness of their work in an era of climate change. This course is based on a forthcoming guide to the principles and practice of Climate-Smart Conservation. This publication is the product of an expert workgroup on climate change adaptation convened by the National Wildlife Federation in collaboration with the FWS’s National Conservation Training Center and other partners (see sidebar). The course is designed to demystify climate adaptation for application to on-the-ground conservation. It will provide guidance in how to carry out adaptation with intentionality, how to manage for change and not just persistence, how to craft climate-informed conservation goals, and how to integrate adaptation into on-going work. Conservation practitioners and natural resource managers will learn to become savvy consumers of climate information, tools, and models. Register online at http://training.fws.gov . In partnership with staff from National Wildlife Federation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, National Park Service, Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Forest Service, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Conservation Society, The Nature Conservancy, EcoAdapt, Geos Institute, and Point Blue Conservation Science.
Contact for Registration Questions: Jill DelVecchio at 304/876-7424 or email@example.com
Contact for Content Questions: Christy Coghlan at 304/876-7438 or firstname.lastname@example.org
San Francisco Bay NERR March 4, 2014 Contact: Heidi Nutters, 415-338-3511 -or-
Elkhorn Slough NERR March 6, 2014
Contact: Virginia Guhin, 831-274-8700 Please read the details carefully as this 1-day training is being offered in two locations!
Sponsored by: Elkhorn Slough and San Francisco Bay Coastal Training Programs Instructor: Cara Pike, TRIG’s Social Capital Project/Climate Access
Most Americans accept the reality of climate disruption and climate impacts are beginning to act as a wake-up call for many. Engaging key stakeholders and the public in preparing for and reducing the risks from these impacts is essential. This engagement requires approaches that recognize how people process risk, such as the importance of values, identities, and peer groups. Join environmental communication expert Cara Pike for an in-depth training in public engagement best practices for climate change. Participants will have an opportunity to design strategies for reaching and motivating target audiences, and be part of a unique problem-solving approach where a common public engagement challenge is tackled collaboratively.
Coastal resource managers, government staff, public engagement staff, outreach specialists and environmental interpreters
Workshop Format: This one-day workshop will be held in two locations, the registration fee is $60 for either, and includes your attendance in a follow-up webinar that will take place on March 19, 2014 more details to follow. The fee also includes lunch and materials.
Important Registration and Payment Details Please note, you must pre-register, and we must receive your payment no later than 5 p.m. on February 10, 2013 for us to reserve a spot for you at the workshop. Your registration will not be completed without payment received by this date. Please pay by credit card from this site or, if sending a check, make it payable to Elkhorn Slough Foundation. Mail to: Elkhorn Slough Foundation ATTN: Virginia Guhin 1700 Elkhorn Road Watsonville, CA 95076
Follow-up Webinar – March 19 from 10:00am-11:30am (for all workshop attendees) additional details will be emailed to registered attendees and shared at workshop. This workshop is complementary to the February 4 and February 6 training (Communicating Climate Change: Effective skills for engaging stakeholders, partners and the public.)
Soil Science Society of America ecosystems services conference–abstracts are now being invited and are due by 12/1/2013.
March 6-9, 2014 Sheraton Grand Hotel, Sacramento, CA Sponsored by the Ecological Society of America, American Geophysical Union, and US Geological Survey. More info is available here: https://www.soils.org/meetings/specialized/ecosystem-services
WATER RESOURCES MANAGEMENT 2014 Conference
North Bay Watershed Association Friday, April 11, 2014 NOVATO, CA 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM PDT
The conference will bring together key participants from around the North Bay to focus on how we can work together to manage our water resources.
- Mark Cowin, Director, CA Department of Water Resources
- Jared Huffman, U.S. Congressman, California 2nd District
- Felicia Marcus, Chair, State Water Resources Control Board
For more information or questions contact: Elizabeth Preim-Rohtla North Bay Watershed Association email@example.com 415-945-1475
By now we are all familiar with our collective role in polluting the planet, the ocean included. But we are also critical for the many potential solutions. Please join us for a morning of lively discussions about the many scales of problems and solutions, ranging from the small plastic nurdles to a state-size garbage patch, from the deep sea to the intertidal, from local policies to the international arena. Discussions will occur around plenary sessions featuring internationally-recognized scientists, a research poster session, and exhibitry throughout the day.
Research Posters: Call for abstracts will occur in January. Visit the Sanctuary Currents Symposium website for updates and information: Sanctuary Currents Symposium
99th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America
Sacramento, California August 10-15, 2014 http://www.esa.org/sacramento
Point Blue Conservation Science is a renowned, award-winning non-profit working to reduce the impacts of accelerating changes in climate, land-use and the ocean on wildlife and people while promoting climate-smart conservation. At the core of our work is ecosystem science using long-term data to identify and evaluate both natural and human-driven changes over time. We work hand-in-hand with public and private natural resource managers from the Sierra to the sea and Alaska to Antarctica studying birds and ecosystems. Founded in 1965 as Point Reyes Bird Observatory, the organization has tripled in size over the last decade, and currently has a $10M annual budget with significant growth expected to continue. We seek a qualified CFO, who is passionate about our mission and vision, to join a team of 140+ scientists, informatics experts and educators.
The Senior Policy Representative (Climate & Energy) will help define and support efforts to implement National Wildlife Federation’s national climate and energy policy initiatives, including securing carbon controls under existing statutes, and devising strategies to advance new federal policies. This position will require initiating meetings and briefings with decision makers, conducting policy analysis, preparing electronic communications, and developing resource materials, including reports, blogs, fact sheets, and presentations.
California Park & Recreation Society (CPRS) (pdf) Executive Director
CPRS is a nonprofit, professional and public interest organization with more than 3,000 members. CPRS supports its members who provide recreational experiences to individuals, families and communities with the goal of fostering human development, health and wellness, and cultural unity. As the largest state society of park and recreation professionals in the United States, CPRS has the collective strength in numbers to be able to advance the positive impact and value of the profession on society. CPRS is the organization that furthers careers of those who know that Parks Make Life Better™.
Karen T. Litfin ISBN: 978-0-7456-7949-5 224 pages December 2013, Polity
In a world of dwindling natural resources and mounting environmental crisis, who is devising ways of living that will work for the long haul? And how can we, as individuals, make a difference? To answer these fundamental questions, Professor Karen Litfin embarked upon a journey to many of the world’s ecovillages, intentional communities at the cutting-edge of sustainable living. From rural to urban, high tech to low tech, spiritual to secular, she discovered an under-the-radar global movement making positive and radical changes from the ground up. In this inspiring and insightful book, Karen Litfin shares her unique experience of these experiments in sustainable living through four broad windows – ecology, economics, community, and consciousness – or E2C2. Whether we live in an ecovillage or a city, she contends, we must incorporate these four key elements if we wish to harmonize our lives with our home planet. Not only is another world possible, it is already being born in small pockets the world over. These micro-societies, however, are small and time is short. Fortunately – as Litfin persuasively argues – their successes can be applied to existing social structures, from the local to the global scale, providing sustainable ways of living for generations to come.
- OTHER NEWS OF INTEREST
To Curb China’s Haze, Air Pollution, Use Water
January 6, 2014 — A new idea to cut back on air pollution: spray water into the atmosphere from sprinklers atop tall buildings and towers, similar to watering a garden. In an article published, a researcher suggests … > full story
For your carbon footprint, it’s location, location, lifestyle.
Daily Climate January 7, 2014
Attention city dwellers: There’s consolation for your cramped apartments and crowded subway cars. Your carbon footprint might be a quarter the size of your suburban counterparts, with their green lawns, separate kid rooms and drives to get groceries and coffee.
Green spaces deliver lasting mental health benefits
(January 7, 2014) — Green space in towns and cities could lead to significant and sustained improvements in mental health, finds a new study. Analyzing data that followed people over a five year period, the research has found that moving to a greener area not only improves people’s mental health, but that the effect continues long after they have moved. … > full story
Posted: 07 Jan 2014 10:57 AM PST
Fetal exposure to a commonly used plasticizer found in products such as water bottles, soup can liners and paper receipts, can increase the risk for prostate cancer later in life, according to a study.
By ANDREW C. REVKIN January 4 2014 NY Times
In case you missed the coverage and commentary yesterday (the Twitter flow is here), you can now watch Mark Lynas, the British writer and environmentalist who once helped drive Europe’s movement against genetically engineered crops, apologize for those actions and embrace this technology as a vital tool for ending hunger and conserving the environment. He spoke yesterday at the Oxford Farming Conference at Oxford University. (Many other fascinating presentations are now online.) … The arc of Lynas’s fascinating career is in some ways neatly encapsulated by two acts at Oxford — throwing a cream pie in the face of Bjorn Lomborg, the skeptic of eco-calamity, at a book signing there in 2001, yelling “pies for lies” (see photo below), and now echoing more than a few of Lomborg’s assertions in his lecture at the Oxford Farming Conference on Thursday.In doing so, he has displayed an encouraging — and still rare — capacity to shed dogma in favor of data. His valuable 2011 book “The God Species” (a host of reviews here) was the first big sign of this transformation….
So I did some reading. And I discovered that one by one my cherished beliefs about GM turned out to be little more than green urban myths.
I’d assumed that it would increase the use of chemicals. It turned out that pest-resistant cotton and maize needed less insecticide.
I’d assumed that GM benefited only the big companies. It turned out that billions of dollars of benefits were accruing to farmers needing fewer inputs.
I’d assumed that Terminator Technology was robbing farmers of the right to save seed. It turned out that hybrids did that long ago, and that Terminator never happened.
I’d assumed that no one wanted GM. Actually what happened was that Bt cotton was pirated into India and roundup ready soya into Brazil because farmers were so eager to use them.
I’d assumed that GM was dangerous. It turned out that it was safer and more precise than conventional breeding using mutagenesis for example; GM just moves a couple of genes, whereas conventional breeding mucks about with the entire genome in a trial and error way.
But what about mixing genes between unrelated species? The fish and the tomato? Turns out viruses do that all the time, as do plants and insects and even us – it’s called gene flow.
But this was still only the beginning. So in my third book The God Species I junked all the environmentalist orthodoxy at the outset and tried to look at the bigger picture on a planetary scale. [The full text is here.] ….
Posted by firstname.lastname@example.org (Caleb Garling) Friday, January 3 at 9:38am
Predictions on the future have always been something of a cottage industry. With the Internet, experts (and otherwise) have stood on an even bigger platform to provide their take on what’s to come. But few of those experts will likely reach the prestige of Isaac Asimov. Through stories like The Final Question, collections […] [Read More]
– January 3, 2014
Dogs don’t need a compass: Your best friend can sense Earth’s magnetic field, say researchers who report that dogs preferentially align themselves facing north or south to do their business.
Photographer Tory Kallman Gets His Orca Breach And Bay Nature gets its Cover
by Alessandra Bergamin on January 09, 2014
In the Monterey Bay, an orca breaches in pursuit of a sea lion. Photo: Tory Kallman
Posted on January 9, 2014 | By email@example.com (David R. Baker)
WILDLIFE TRIVIA answer and related websites
Which of the following western gray squirrel stereotypes is false?
(a.) They seem to be everywhere, because their population just keeps growing.
Note: While answer (e.) may also be false, it is not a common stereotype.
What on earth is a Spadefoot?
SOURCE: “Western Gray Squirrel – Sciurus griseus”
(BLM California wildlife database)
Gray squirrels typically occur in oak-conifer woodlands from California up to Washington. The range was expanded as people started planting more oak and walnut trees, but recently their range has been decreasing. The populations are becoming smaller and fragmented as urban sprawl and other developments destroy their habitat. In addition, introduced species are taking over prime habitat.
To subscribe to CA BLM’s News.bytes, visit our News.bytes subscription page at: http://www.blm.gov/ca/caso/getnewsbytes.html.
Ellie Cohen, President and CEO
Point Blue Conservation Science (formerly PRBO)
3820 Cypress Drive, Suite 11, Petaluma, CA 94954
Point Blue—Conservation science for a healthy planet.