Archive | July 2014

White House Issues Bold Climate Change Warning

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The White House said Tuesday in releasing a report meant to bolster a series of actions President Barack Obama has proposed to address global warming that putting off expensive measures to curb climate change will only cost the United States more in the long run.

“Each decade we delay acting results in an added cost of dealing with the problem of an extra 40 percent,” said Jason Furman, chairman of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. “We know way more than enough to justify acting today,” Furman told reporters.

The report drew its conclusions from 16 economic studies that modeled the costs of climate change. It was released as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency holds public hearings on its plan to cut carbon emissions from power plants – the centerpiece of Obama’s climate action plan.

Last month, a bipartisan report commissioned by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and environmentalist Tom Steyer forecast a multibillion-dollar price tag for climate costs, such as property losses from storms, declining crop yields and soaring power bills during heatwaves.

At a Senate budget committee hearing on Tuesday examining the costs of not addressing climate change, Republican Senator Jeff Sessions said the United States must also weigh the consequences of acting on climate.

Because of the estimated 3 degree rise in Earth’s temperature, the U.S. government is instilling mandates now to avoid paying $150 billion annually because of climate change damage.

The battle with climate change has already resulted in 200 municipalities being named in a class-action lawsuit initiated by Farmers Insurance Group for “failure to prepare for climate change.”

Michael Gerrad, director of the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, said “one could easily imagine architects and engineers being accused of professional malpractice for designing structures that don’t withstand foreseeable climate-related events.”

In 2013, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed a $20 billion dollar project to combat climate change and the threat of rising sea levels with the construction of flood gates and levees.
At the time, Bloomberg said : “Whether you believe climate change is real or not is beside the point. The bottom line is: We can’t run the risk.”

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee added cities need to become “climate change friendly”. Construction needs to withstand extreme weather, power needs to be rerouted during outages, and cities need to be protected from flooding and provide assistance to their residents in moving out of badly affected areas.

In the report entitled, “Risky Business”, climate change is viewed as a catalyst of a coming financial crisis.

Contributor Hank Paulson, former Secretary of the US Treasury and CEO of Goldman Sachs said: “The good news is if we act immediately we can avoid the very worst outcomes. So a huge takeaway here is that taking a cautious approach, waiting for more information, a business as usual approach, is actually radical risk taking. It is very important that government and business act soon.”

Hopefully, those actions will be taken sooner rather than later.

Sources: HuffingtonPost.com and Investigative Headline News for July 29, 2014

Al Gore Gets it Wrong

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In the July 3 – 17 issue of Rolling Stone magazine, former vice president Al Gore states: “it is now clear that we will ultimately prevail” in the fight against global warming induced climate change. “The only question is how quickly we can accelerate and complete the transition to a low-carbon civilization”, adds Gore in leading off his article entitled “The Turning Point: New Hope for the Climate“.

In addition to understating the tremendous roll that oil burning transportation plays in sending greenhouse gases to our atmosphere (35% of global fossil fuel CO2 comes from burning oil, which is used to make various transportation fuels, including jet fuel, a major contributor), Gore’s article also provides no basis whatsoever for the conclusion that humankind will “ultimately prevail”.

Based on the progress made so far (minimal), and the compounding effects of global warming positive feedbacks (accelerating “natural” global warming, such as the thawing of the permafrost region, which is resulting in the release of massive amounts of methane gas, a more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2), there is no evidence that civilization will be spared from the ravages of human caused global warming.

For example, Gore makes the assertion we can all be driving electric cars powered by solar energy. In a pig’s eye! The average age of cars and light trucks on the road in the U.S. has reached a record high of 11.4 years and virtually all are powered by burning diesel fuel or gasoline. There were 247 million cars and light trucks registered in the U.S. as of January 2013, and the world has passed the billion mark already.

What Gore should have said is that we all need to drive and fly LESS, particularly long distance travel and commutes, and walk, bike and use transit instead, in addition to converting to solar and wind energy in power plants, homes and business, and that our government needs to step it up by providing positive financial incentives to make that happen before it’s TOO LATE!

June 2014 was Earth’s Warmest on Record

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that June was the earth’s warmest June in 134 years of records, following a month of May that was also the hottest on record. The records are feeding anticipation that 2014 could become the warmest year on record, according to The Washington Post’s Angela Fritz, the Deputy Weather Editor.

In no month on record have ocean temperatures deviated more from normal than June, .
The oceans achieved this record warmth prior to the declaration of El Nino, which would signal substantial warming of the tropical Pacific. Should the Pacific achieve El Nino conditions, it would push ocean temperatures even higher.

The superlative that everyone has their eye on is warmest year on record, which 2014 could challenge. Compared to the top five warmest years on record, 2014 ranks third year-to-date and is on an upward trajectory. If El Nino kicks in, it would likely increase the global temperature average toward the end of the year, and would make 2014 a viable candidate for warmest on record, says NOAA. The Climate Prediction Center is maintaining a 70 percent chance that an El Nino event will develop in 2014.

There is overall consensus that Earth is breaking temperature records. All of the past five Junes have ranked among the top 10 warmest on record, according to the report. June 2014 was the 38th consecutive June and 352nd straight month of above average temperature. The June heat was felt across the globe, with record warmth being felt in Greenland, northern South America, eastern and central Africa, and southeast Asia. New Zealand also recorded its warmest June since records began in 1909.

According to NOAA’s National Snow and Ice Data Center, the rate of sea ice loss in the second half of June was the second fastest on record. “In general there has been a trend over the satellite data record towards earlier melt onset in the Arctic. Melt usually now begins an average of 7 days earlier than in the late 1970s and early 1980s, or at a rate of about 2 days earlier per decade. However, in regions such as the Kara and Barents seas, melt has begun on average 5 to 7 days per decade earlier, totaling 18 to 25 days earlier since 1979, helping to foster earlier development of open water in those regions”.

California Up in Flames — Global-Warming-Induced Climate Change the Likely Cause

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“With California mired in its worst drought on record, it was only a matter of time before something, or someone, sparked more fires in the tinder that now covers the state”, says Eric Zerkel of The Weather Channel. Now firefighters just hope that they can contain the latest round of blazes before more homes and livelihoods are lost.

The Sand Fire, sparked July 25 by a vehicle that drove over dry brush, has already claimed 17 structures, including 10 homes, in an area to the east of Sacramento, California. The fire, fueled by hot, dry, windy conditions ballooned to around 4,000 acres and was 35 percent contained Sunday, in an area five miles north of the town of Plymouth, California, despite a show of force by firefighters.

Nearly 1,500 firefighters, along with aircraft, battled the flames as they encroached upon the community of River Pines Estates in Amador County, California. More than 500 homes in the community were evacuated Saturday under the lingering threat from the fire.

“The fire’s moving in and around homes in the area,” Lynn Tolmachoff, a spokesperson for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told the Associated Press. “The leading edge is bumping up against residences as we speak.”

According to weather.com meteorologist Ari Sarsalari, the forecast might not help firefighters contain the inferno.

“Unfortunately there’s no rain in the forecast for the area over the next several days, with temperatures approaching triple digits,” said Sarsalari. “The good news is that winds have died down, which could aid containment efforts.”

Another 200 people were evacuated in Yosemite National Park when a new fire developed Saturday afternoon, scorching 2,100-plus acres of terrain around the Foresta, California, community, the Fresno Bee reports. All 45 homes in Foresta were included within the evacuation order as the blaze moved northeast toward the community.

The cause of the fire is under investigation. However, one resident in the area told the Fresno Bee that they heard “an electric line shorting” and shortly thereafter spotted the flames from the fire.

Both fires come on the heels of the announcement of the full containment of the Bully Fire, which scorched more than 12,500 acres of Shasta County, California, land over a 15 day period. Earlier this year at least 10 wildfires broke out in the San Diego area, burning at least 47 homes along with businesses and an apartment complex.

And with California’s record-setting drought only worsening and triple digit temperatures, more disastrous fires seem inevitable for the state.

All Good Things Don’t Have to Come to and End

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Unfortunately, our government officials in the U.S. Congress are acting like kangaroos by continuing with their “business as usual” policies and programs which not only underestimate the current existence and future calamity of more global warming, but they continue to subsidize it by giving tax relief to the already rich fossil fuel industry.

The current cost of this years climate change is reflected by the numerous areas of drought and massive wildfires occurring in many western U.S. states:

Arizona (6)
California (2)
Colorado (2)
Idaho (2)
Nevada (3)
Oregon (15)
Utah (5)
Washington (4)

The Carlton Complex fire in the state of Washington, the largest wildfire in the state’s history is a collection of four fires burning in north-central Washington since July 14. Nearly 3,000 firefighters from around the U.S. are working to contain the blaze, which has already burned up more than 150 homes. Another fire near the city of Leavonworth, Washington, has burned 12,000 acres and has 1,000 firefighters working to contain the blaze the scene.

The National Interagency Fire Center predicts above normal fire potential in August, for most of California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

As the world heats up, Australia on July 17 became the first country to repeal a carbon tax.

According to an article by Julia Baird of The New York Times, posted by St. Paul’s Star Tribune on July 25, 2014, the deputy leader of the Greens Party, Adam Bandt, said it was “the Australian Parliament’s asbestos moment, our tobacco moment – when we knew what we were doing was harmful, but went ahead and did it anyway.”

The tax, or carbon-pricing mechanism, had defined three elections, destabilized three Australian prime ministers and dominated public debate in for eight years. Finally, the leader of the center-right Liberal Party, Tony Abbott, fought the last election on a pledge to “ax the tax.” Abbott is famous for his fitness and his muscular approach. As a student at Oxford, he won a “blue” at boxing for the university and was known for his all-out, flailing attacks. When the carbon pricing scheme was cast in law in 2011, he vowed to lead a “people’s revolt” and “fight this tax every second of every minute of every day.” It worked.

His political success was not, in fact, a result of the failure of the policy. The scheme was, in at least the most important sense, working, since emissions were declining. The initial public opposition was fading. But the Labor government that introduced it had failed to sell the policy. Critics portrayed it as an onerous burden that would hurt businesses and cost households, instead of one that would cut pollution and ensure a more secure future for our children. It was the misleading old cliché – the economy versus the environment – but politicians staked their careers on it, and won.

In 2010, the Labor prime minister, Julia Gillard, said she would look at carbon-pricing proposals, but also promised, “There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.” Then, under pressure to form a minority government, she made a deal with the Greens and agreed to legislate a carbon price: a tax by any other name.

The heat, anger and vitriol directed at her as a leader – and as Australia’s first woman to be prime minister – coalesced around the promise and the tax. It grew strangely nasty. She was branded by a right-wing shockjock as “Ju-Liar,” a moniker she struggled to shake. The political cynicism surrounding the carbon tax certainly reduced Gillard’s political capital, but it was a perceived lack of conviction in the policy itself that damaged the pricing scheme’s credibility.

Business leaders opposed what Abbott called a “useless, destructive tax,” even though just 0.02 percent of Australia’s 3 million businesses were affected (the top 500 polluters). But Australia is one of the world’s biggest producers of coal, and the industry is worth about $60 billion and supports an estimated 200,000 jobs. A powerful triumvirate campaigned against the law: mining companies, the conservative coalition parties and Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers. A study found that 82 percent of articles on the carbon tax in News Corporation’s Australian papers were negative.

Gillard now believes she made a crucial error in framing. After losing office in June 2013, she wrote: “I erred by not contesting the label ‘tax’ for the fixed price period of the emissions trading scheme I introduced.” With Labor plummeting in the polls, her leadership was challenged and she lost the vote to the party’s previous leader, Kevin Rudd. (Rudd’s victory was short-lived; less than three months later, he was defeated in the general election by Abbott.) “I made the wrong choice,” Gillard ruefully conceded, “and, politically, it hurt me terribly.”

Opposition to the carbon tax trailed off after Gillard’s ouster, and public concern about climate change has grown. A recent poll found that almost two-thirds of Australians believe there should be carbon pricing for major emitters, but 42 percent agreed with the repeal of the tax (against 36 percent who did not). We did, after all, elect a government that promised to ax it. So we’re a hot mess of contradictions.

Abbott’s claim that households will be better off by 550 Australian dollars, or $520, a year following the repeal has been greeted with skepticism. Electricity prices did go up after carbon pricing came in, but this was mostly because of investment in infrastructure. Consumers are likely to see no effect now – unless they’re paying less simply because they’re using less electricity. An Australian National University study reported that carbon dioxide emissions from the power generation sector had been cut by 1 to 2 percent as a result of the tax.

So carbon pricing was working, yet the law was repealed. Now Australia has no clear climate policy, even though Abbott says climate change is occurring and he takes it “very seriously.”

What’s clear is that Australia has proved again that politicians rarely choose to take the lead on tackling climate change. When the public is conflicted, our leaders too often whip up fear, and reason and evidence go out the window. The shame is that when the tax was axed, so were the facts.

Meanwhile, our U.S. Congress has one more week to go until it takes a month long break in August. It is unlikely to pass any legislation that shows it’s up to the task of leading any fight against global warming. But it should know that the time to act is running short; it needs to act now, and show its citizens and citizens of other countries that the U.S. has the courage to join in on the fight against global warming. Maybe if the U.S. had acted more responsibly to the growing threats associated with global warming, Australia would not have repealed its tax on carbon?

Seen Any Monarch Butterflies Lately?

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I did, yesterday, but I had to go to Olbrich Botanical Gardens “Blooming Butterflies” event in Madison to see them.

It use to be that every year, hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies would about now be on their way on what is believed to be the world’s longest insect migration, traveling between the length of North America and central Mexico – some 3,000 miles.

Yet the great monarch migration is in peril, a victim of rampant herbicide use in faraway corn and soybean fields, extreme weather, a tiny microbial pathogen and deforestation. Monarch butterfly populations are plummeting. The dense colonies of butterflies on central Mexican peaks were far smaller this past winter than ever before.

Scientists say Mexico’s monarch butterfly colonies, as many as several million butterflies in one acre, are on the cusp of disappearing. If the species were to vanish, one of the few creatures emblematic of all North America, a beloved insect with powerhouse stamina that even school kids can easily identify, would be gone.

“We see these things as so delicate. But if they migrate a distance of some 2,000 miles, from Canada all the way down to Mexico, they are pretty tough,” said Craig Wilson, a scientist at Texas A University, in a recent article in The Kansas City Star by Tim Johnson.

Scientists who are studying the monarchs’ decline cite many possible reasons, but they’re focusing now on one major one: the decline in the United States of milkweed, a lowly broadleaf plant that’s widely treated as a weed to be eradicated, doused with herbicides in farmlands and along highway shoulders. Milkweed is most common in the high-grass prairies of the Canadian and U.S. Midwest but its 70 varieties also grow along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, in the Caribbean and elsewhere.

Monarchs can’t survive without milkweed.

Female monarchs lay eggs on milkweed. When they hatch, the larvae grow into caterpillars that feed on the milkweed’s leaves. Those leaves contain a poison that inoculates the monarchs from their predators. The caterpillars then form chrysalises and emerge as butterflies.

Over the past decade, U.S. fields containing milkweed have declined sharply. Orley “Chip” Taylor, a monarch expert at the University of Kansas, calls the loss “massive.”

“We’ve lost something like 24 million acres because of conversion of land to cropland. That’s an area the size of Indiana,” he said.

The advent of genetically modified corn and soybean varieties that can withstand herbicides has added to that loss. Now farmers employ glyphosate herbicides, such as Monsanto’s Roundup, that kill weeds with a vengeance. It’s had a huge impact on milkweed, which before could grow among crops or at the edges of fields.

“The crops survive but any weeds, including milkweed, don’t,” Wilson said.

Faced with vast reductions in milkweed, the size of the colonies of monarchs escaping northern winters has shrunk radically in central Mexico.

Nearly two decades ago, in the winter of 1996-97, dense monarch colonies covered 44.9 acres of oyamel fir forest. In the 2013-14 winter, the colonies covered only 1.7 acres, a plunge of nearly 44 percent from the previous year. The trend seems inexorable, experts said.

“We must turn the tide for monarchs,” said Omar Vidal, the president of WWF-Mexico, a branch of the Switzerland-based World Wide Fund for Nature.

Most monarchs live only a little more than a month. But one generation each year lives seven or eight months, long enough to migrate to central Mexico before winter sets in, where the butterflies settle into a semi-dormant state, often clustering around the same fir trees as their forebears, perhaps drawn by chemical cues. In the spring, the monarchs return to the north, where they lay eggs on milkweed and die, giving way to a new generation.

Other factors may be hurting the monarch population, including extreme conditions associated with climate change. A debilitating protozoan parasite, known in scientific shorthand as OE, also has exploded since 2002 and now affects 10 to 15 percent of monarchs, said Sonia Altizer, an ecologist at the University of Georgia who’s studied monarchs for two decades.

While the dwindling monarch colonies worry scientists, who fear they may also be a warning of other environmental crises, in this region of Mexico the decline threatens people’s livelihood. Butterfly tourism has grown since scientists first came across the dense winter colonies in 1975.

Indigenous people had long known of the butterflies. The Purepecha people called the monarchs the “souls of the departed” because their arrival in early November coincided with festivals honoring the dead.

Taylor has been instrumental in the Monarch Waystation program, which encourages people to recolonize areas as small as their yards with milkweed to serve as stopping points for migrating butterflies. More than 7,500 “Waystations“ now exist, including 400 in Texas alone, and boosters urge federal and state governments to let milkweed grow undisturbed along highways rather than mow it down.

Despite decades of scientific study, mystery still surrounds the monarch, including how it migrates to the same fir patch colonized by earlier generations.

Some experts worry about a variation of “the butterfly effect,” the concept coined by Edward Norton Lorenz, an American meteorologist and pioneer of chaos theory, who suggested that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings could trigger a hurricane on the other side of the globe weeks later.

That theory of interdependence now seems turned on its head. The question today is: What occurs when the monarch stops flapping its wings?

“If monarchs are in trouble _ and they are a really robust species _ you can practically be assured that there are a number of species like pollinators and birds that also are in trouble because they rely on the same habitats as monarchs,” Altizer said.

Many scientists are concerned about the eastern population of monarchs, which spend summer east of the Rocky Mountains. This group is occurring in ever smaller numbers, and its survival may be threatened by a series of natural disasters in the Mexican wintering grounds, as well as by reduced acreage of milkweed plants in their summer home, according to Natural Geographic’s website.