July 4th (or any day!) is a Good Day to Initiate Positive Changes in our Economy and Environment
This post is being offered as a work in process. Readers are encouraged to submit constructive comments, all of which will be considered in final development of the post.
The inspiration for this post has come from: University of Wisconsin professor Bassam Shakhashiri, who has informed so many children and adults in the Madison area through his “Science is Fun” shows.
The post is also inspired by the Steve Miller Band’s performance of the song “Fly Like an Eagle”, played to a full capacity Breese Steven Field venue in Madison, Wisconsin, on July 1, 2016. The song can be heard and the lyrics read by clicking on the above description. It is well worth listening too and applies more now due to all the strife in the world than ever before.
Due to wars, poverty and the threatening and dangerous changes to climates around the world (23 people died from extreme rain fall and flooding in West Virginia), president Obama and other world leaders have told us actions to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are “urgent”. Certainly, former Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson (1916 – 2005) founder of the first Earth Day, held April 22, 1970 (and every 46 years thereafter on April that same date), would see little to celebrate our country’s 240th birthday today.
Record levels of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere and oceans, leading to deadly heatwaves, storms, and record levels of global average temperature. Travel via driving and flying contribute more than one-third of the U.S.’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.
According to a study by Sabrina McCormick, Jaime Madrigano, and Emma Zinsmeister: “Preparing for Extreme Heat Events: Practices in Identifying Mortality”, published in April 2016 in the journal Health Security, the authors make the following assertion:
“Climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of extreme heat events. These events affect cities in increasingly abrupt and catastrophic ways; yet, many of the deaths caused by exposure to heat have gone unnoticed or are inaccurately identified, resulting in a lack of urgency in addressing this issue. We aim to address this under-identification of deaths from heat waves in order to better assess heat risk. We investigated death records in New York City from 2010 to 2012 to identify characteristics that vary between deaths officially categorized as caused by heat wave exposure (oHDs) and those possibly caused by heat (pHDs). We found that oHDs were more often black and of a younger age than would typically be expected. We also found that there was a lack of evidence to substantiate that an oHD had occurred, using the NYC official criteria. We conclude that deaths from heat waves are not being accurately recorded, leading to a mis-estimation….”
Science shows us that the global warming is contributing to higher sea levels and a 30 per cent increase in the acidity of the oceans, leading to declines of species and in losses to fishing and tourism industries, worldwide.
Meanwhile, poverty and income inequality in the United States and elsewhere are having devastating effects on millions of individuals, families and so many unfortunate children. A recent study shows children growing up in poverty suffer permanent brain damage.
President John F. Kennedy told us in 1961 to”Ask not what your country can do for, ask what you can do for your country”. The best thing U.S. citizens can do everyday is to minimize their daily and annual greenhouse gas emissions.
The Declaration of Independence, adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, reads as follows: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed …”
Our government officials at the state and federal level have failed in not passing legislation that meaningfully reduces Wisconsin and the U.S.’ catastrophic levels of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. What is needed is that our government at the federal and state level should by now have enacted programs which offer meaningful positive financial incentives (dollars) to the public to reduce total annual motor vehicle driving, flying, and using electricity and heating that have been derived through fossil fuel burning.
Reducing the amount of fossil fuel burning in the state and country would have “cost reducing” benefits as well, such as reductions in oil spills, train derailment explosions, and the financial and cost of expanding highways, airports and fossil fuel fired power plants.
Burning fossil fuels, whether this is done in highway motor vehicles, jet airplanes, sea going ships, recreational motor boats, gas or coal-fired electricity generation plants, or in furnaces to heat one’s home, has a pronounced adverse effect on public and animal health, worldwide, by increasing breathable air particle pollution while at the same time adding to the record high and ever growing, catastrophe creating, quantities of heat generating greenhouse gas volumes in the atmosphere.
The mounting volumes of these gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide) are known to be warming the planet, accelerating rising sea levels around the world, causing more acidic and warmer oceans (bad for sea life and coral reefs), stronger and more costly and deadly storms (Hurricane Sandy, Houston, TX and West Virginia floods), and unparalleled drought and wildfires (California , Alberta Canada, Africa, Australia, Middle East, which has led to major upheavals in countries’ economies, population migrations and known calamities of major human and other life fatalities.
According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), monthly global average temperatures for May 2016 were the highest recorded monthly average global temperatures recorded since the agency initiated monitoring Earth’s monthly temperature values in 1880, setting a string of consecutive record high monthly average temperatures for our Earth’s combined global ocean and land surfaces in the 137-year record.
May 2016 was characterized by warmer to much warmer than average conditions across Alaska, Canada, Mexico, Central America, northern South America, northern Europe, Africa, Oceania, and parts of southern and eastern Asia, according to the Land & Ocean Temperature Percentiles map above. Areas with record warmth included much of Southeast Asia and parts of northern South America, Central America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and northern and eastern Australia. Near- to cooler-than-average conditions were present across much of the contiguous U.S., central and southern South America, and much of central Asia.
The sooner that people living today accept the fact that their own actions – such as driving gasoline and other greenhouse gas emitting fuels powering their highway motor vehicles, and choosing to fly today’s jet fuel (a fossil fuel) powered airplanes, and using electricity derived from burning fossil fuels and burning natural gas (another fossil fuel) – and deforestation and cement paving and other human activities that are known to be adding to the already known dangerous and abnormally high concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and warming and acidifying of the earth’s oceans – the better off things will be for all future life on Earth.
Pope Calls for Swift Actions to Save the Planet from Environmental Ruin
“The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophe”.
Pope Francis, June 18, 2015
In his long-awaited encyclical on the environment and climate change publicly released last week, Pope Francis called for swift action to save the planet from environmental ruin, urging world leaders to hear “the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.” He called for a change of lifestyle in rich countries steeped in a “throwaway” consumer culture, and an end to “obstructionist attitudes” that sometimes put profit before the common good. Pope Francis said protecting the planet is a moral and ethical “imperative” for believers and nonbelievers alike that should supersede political and economic interests.
A major theme of the encyclical is the disparity between rich and poor. “We fail to see that some are mired in desperate and degrading poverty, with no way out, while others have not the faintest idea of what to do with their possessions, vainly showing off their supposed superiority and leaving behind them so much waste which, if it were the case everywhere, would destroy the planet,” he said.
“Our house is going to ruin, and that harms everyone, especially the poorest. Mine is therefore an appeal for responsibility, based on the task that God has given to man in creation: “till and keep the garden” in which he was placed. I invite everyone to accept with open hearts this document, which follows the church’s social doctrine”, the pope said.
In a transcript of the pope’s encyclical on the DemocracyNow.org website, Pope Francis said protecting the planet is a moral and ethical imperative, for believers and nonbelievers alike, that should supersede political and economic interests. He also dismissed those who argue that technology will solve all environmental problems and that global hunger and poverty will be resolved simply by market growth.
A major theme of the encyclical is the disparity between rich and poor. “We fail to see that some are mired in desperate and degrading poverty, with no way out, while others have not the faintest idea of what to do with their possessions, vainly showing off their supposed superiority and leaving behind them so much waste which, if it were the case everywhere, we destroy the planet.”
Climate change is already happening, and its effects have already been disastrous on the poorest countries and the poorest people, who don’t have the means to defend themselves from it. They are also part of the human population who have the least responsibility for what is happening, being that they consume less fossil fuels.
Author Naomi Klein said on Democracy Now Thursday that “this encyclical, we can’t overstate the importance of it, the impact that it will have. It’s hard to respond to a document that runs close to 200 pages, when it was just released in non-draft form a few hours ago. We’re all still digesting it, Amy. But it is very clear that a door has just been opened, and a gust of wind is blowing through, where it is now possible to say some very powerful truths about the real implications of climate change, really the root causes.”
“And I think a lot of the discussion about the encyclical in the U.S. media cycle has focused and will continue to focus on the impact on Republicans and on climate deniers, many of whom are Catholic. And it is certainly a challenge to that demographic in the United States, because the pope is coming out so clearly on the side of climate science in saying this is real and this is happening. But I think that it’s too easy to say that this is just a challenge to Rick Santorum and Jeb Bush. Frankly, it is also a challenge to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and to large parts of the green movement, because it is a rebuke of slow action. It very specifically says that climate denial is not just about denying the science, it’s also about denying the urgency of the science. The document is very strong in condemning delays, half-measures, so-called market solutions. It very specifically criticizes carbon markets, the carbon offsetting, as an inadequate measure that will encourage speculation and rampant consumption.
“And I think probably the most significant part of it, the big picture, is the foregrounding of the culture of frenetic consumption in the wealthy world and among the wealthy. And this is really significant, because I think large parts of the climate change discussion tries to have it all ways and say, “No, we’ll just have green growth. We’ll just have—we’ll consume green products.” And, you know, this goes a lot deeper than that and says, no, we need to get at the underlying values that are feeding this culture of frenetic consumption that is entirely unsustainable.”
In the encyclical, the pope states that: “In a corrupt culture, we can’t believe that laws will be enough to change behaviors that affect the environment.” Naomi Kline responds: Well, I think, when he’s referring to corruption, I believe he’s referring to the influence of polluting companies, of multinational corporations, which he also goes after in the encyclical. And I think this is one of the most significant things about the document. One might expect of a religious document about climate change to erase difference, right? to say, “Well, we’re all in this together,” and certainly it talks about the Earth as our common home. But it also recognizes explicitly the power dynamics in capitalism, which is to say that there are forces within the system that are actively working against change. And that is probably what he’s referring to when he’s talking about how there may be laws, but the laws aren’t enforced. And, you know, indeed the laws are also inadequate, which is also addressed in the document, and it has some very specific calls for another level of environmental law, which is a part of the document that I haven’t been able to look at, you know, closely enough.
And another thing I have to say is, you know, I am—I have accepted this invitation to speak at a conference which is about digging more deeply into the document, because there’s an understanding that it does take time to digest a document of this length, this multilayered, and it requires that kind of deeper analysis. And I think that this intervention, five months ahead of U.N. climate conference in Paris, is tremendously significant. It’s going to push political leaders to go further. It’s going to be a tool for social movements.
A lot of the language of the climate justice movement has just been adopted by the pope—I mean, even of phrases like “ecological debt.” The pope is talking about the debt that the wealthy world owes to the poor. I mean, this is a framing that comes originally from Ecuador, from the movement against drilling in the Amazon. And, you know, this is a phrase that was never heard in mainstream circles until just now, actually. I mean, I’ve never seen such a mainstream use of that term.
So, it is very important in that way. But, I mean, I have to say, on a personal level, that as thrilled as I am that the Vatican is leading in this way and that this pope is leading in this way and bringing together the fight against poverty with the fight to act on climate change, that doesn’t mean that there’s a complete merger between the climate justice movement and the Vatican here. I mean, obviously there are huge differences that remain over issues like marriage equality, reproductive rights and freedom, to name just a few.”
Nathan Schneider, columnist with the Catholic weekly, America, who has been covering Catholic engagement with climate change, talks about what the encyclical means for the Catholic community and the number of languages it’s been released in and how large the document is: “Well, this is really the first Third World encyclical. You know, this is coming from a pope who was shaped in really significant ways by economic crises during the Cold War in Argentina and being in the middle of a battleground between the First and Second World powers. It was drafted by a cardinal from Ghana. So this is coming from the side of the world that we don’t normally hear from. And it’s very much in line with things that popes have been saying for decades, you know, going back to Paul VI, then John Paul II, Benedict XVI. So, a lot of the content is actually not so new for Catholics, but the emphasis and that—the language of climate debt, the language—the recognition that there is a divide here between the rich countries and the poor. And this is a cry from the developing world, from what has been labeled the Third World, for change.”
“The pope is calling here for us to change how we live, how we—what we do with our resources. You know, this is not just moving from one kind of consumerism to another. This is a kind of spiritual renewal and also a material renewal, that—in which we turn ourselves toward an economy that’s sustainable, that’s life-giving, both for humanity and the rest of the world.”
Wisconsin Group Hosts “Bee Fest” to Encourage Pollination in Madison
Madison’s “Bee Fest” kicks off the beginning of Pollinator Week, June 15 – 21, 2015, a week dedicated to highlighting the importance of bees, bats, birds, butterflies and other pollinators.
A dramatic drop in the number of honeybee colonies in recent years drew dozens to the UW Arboretum on Sunday to understand that trend and how to encourage more pollination in Madison.
About 60 people spent their Sunday learning about pollinating insects and animals — which are not restricted to bees — and how to monitor their numbers in to help researchers track them.
The event was hosted by the Wisconsin chapter of the Society for Conservation Biology and is part of a larger effort to track populations of pollinating insects in the city.
More than 60 percent of Wisconsin’s honeybee hives have died since April of last year — higher than the national average, according to a recent survey conducted by a partnership that includes the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Now, the group is cataloging different species of pollinating insects with a focus on the rare rusty-patched bees and yellow-banded bumblebees in the Lakeshore Nature Preserve, which stretches along Lake Mendota’s University Bay between Muir Woods and Picnic Point.
Sunday’s event was the kickoff of that effort, chapter member and event organizer Wynne Moss said.
“One thing that’s challenging about studying changes in communities over time is that we often don’t have baseline data,” said Jesse Miller, a UW-Madison graduate student and botanist who researches grasslands and biodiversity patterns.
“This hopefully will be a long-term project that allows us to track changes year to year so we know what species were there in 2015, and how did that change in 2016,” Miller said. “And that can become incredibly valuable because these long-term data sets are so rare.”
Many of those attending Sunday’s event learned how to catch and identify insects using nets, special insect vacuums and by creating traps in cups of soapy water.
Attendee Keefe Keeley is the executive director of the Savanna Institute, a nonprofit based in Urbana, Illinois, that is focused on developing restorative agricultural systems.
Keeley said the effort will help ongoing research into bee hive collapse.
Anitra Johnson of Madison, a retired landscape gardener, plans to help monitor the insects, too.
On Sunday, she caught three species of bees that were drawn to baptisia and wild rose plants.
A major contributing factor to the declining bee population is a reduction in native plants they prefer, Miller said.
“In order to conserve pollinators, we have to conserve our natural habitats, and native plant gardens can be one way to do that, in addition to conserving the wild lands,” Miller said.
Miller said agricultural land has largely replaced savannas and prairie lands, especially in southern Wisconsin, diminishing the number of plants that flower at various times throughout the year.
“It’s not only having a native habitat but having a diverse enough native habitat that you have nectar throughout the summer, and that’s hard for a lot of gardeners to recognize and know when things bloom,” Moss said.
Source: Molly Beck firstname.lastname@example.org
EPA is joining other federal agencies, the National Wildlife Federation, the Pollinator Partnership (pollinator.org) and many more organizations in the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge (http://millionpollinatorgardens.org/) to promote pollinator health.
IPCC Releases Final Report on Global Warming and Climate Change
In a word: “dire” – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The window of opportunity for doing something positive about it – closing. The time to start action on quickly reducing human causes releases of greenhouse gases – NOW!
From the Huffington Post (November 3, 2014):
COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Climate change is happening, it’s almost entirely man’s fault and limiting its impacts may require reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero this century, the U.N.’s panel on climate science said Sunday.
The fourth and final volume of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s giant climate assessment offered no surprises, nor was it expected to since it combined the findings of three reports released in the past 13 months.
But it underlined the scope of the climate challenge in stark terms. Emissions, mainly from the burning of fossil fuels, may need to drop to zero by the end of this century for the world to have a decent chance of keeping the temperature rise below a level that many consider dangerous.
The IPCC didn’t say exactly what such a world would look like but it would likely require a massive shift to renewable sources to power homes, cars and industries combined with new technologies to suck greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
The report warned that failure to reduce emissions could lock the world on a trajectory with “irreversible” impact on people and the environment. Some impacts already being observed included rising sea levels, a warmer and more acidic ocean, melting glaciers and Arctic sea ice and more frequent and intense heat waves.
The science has spoken. There is no ambiguity in their message. Leaders must act. Time is not on our side,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at the report’s launch in Copenhagen.
Amid its grim projections, the report said the tools are there to set the world on a low-emissions path and break the addiction to burning oil, coal and gas which pollute the atmosphere with heat-trapping CO2, the chief greenhouse gas.
“All we need is the will to change, which we trust will be motivated by knowledge and an understanding of the science of climate change,” IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri said.
The IPCC was set up in 1988 to assess global warming and its impacts. The report released Sunday caps its latest assessment, a mega-review of 30,000 climate change studies that establishes with 95-percent certainty that most of the warming seen since the 1950s is man-made. The IPCC’s best estimate is that just about all of it is man-made, but it can’t say that with the same degree of certainty.
Today only a small minority of scientists challenge the mainstream conclusion that climate change is linked to human activity.
Global Climate Change, a NASA website, says 97 percent of climate scientists agree that warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities.
The American public isn’t as convinced. A year-old survey by Pew Research showed 67 percent of Americans believed global warming is occurring and 44 percent said the earth is warming mostly because of human activity. More recently, a New York Times poll said 42 percent of Republicans say global warming won’t have a serious impact, a view held by 12 percent of Democrats and 22 percent of independents.
Sleep-deprived delegates approved the final documents Saturday after a weeklong line-by-line review that underscored that the IPCC process is not just about science. The reports must be approved both by scientists and governments, which means political issues from U.N. climate negotiations, which are nearing a 2015 deadline for a global agreement, inevitably affect the outcome.
The rift between developed and developing countries in the U.N. talks opened up in Copenhagen over a passage on what levels of warming could be considered dangerous. After a protracted battle, the text was dropped from a key summary for policy-makers — to the disappointment of some scientists.
“If the governments are going to expect the IPCC to do their job,” said Princeton professor Michael Oppenheimer, a lead author of the IPCC’s second report, they shouldn’t “get caught up in fights that have nothing to do with the IPCC.”
The omission meant the word “dangerous” disappeared from the summary altogether. It appeared only twice in a longer underlying report compared to seven times in a draft produced before the Copenhagen session. The less loaded word “risk” was mentioned 65 times in the final 40-page summary.
“Rising rates and magnitudes of warming and other changes in the climate system, accompanied by ocean acidification, increase the risk of severe, pervasive, and in some cases irreversible detrimental impacts,” the report said.
World governments in 2009 set a goal of keeping the temperature rise below 2 degrees C (3.6 F) compared to before the industrial revolution. Temperatures have gone up about 0.8 C (1.4 F) since the 19th century.
Emissions have risen so fast in recent years that the world has used up two-thirds of its carbon budget, the maximum amount of CO2 that can be emitted to have a likely chance of avoiding 2 degrees of warming, the IPCC report said.
“This report makes it clear that if you are serious about the 2-degree goal … there is nowhere to hide,” said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group. “You can’t wait several decades to address this issue.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the report demands “ambitious, decisive and immediate action.”
“Those who choose to ignore or dispute the science so clearly laid out in this report do so at great risk for all of us and for our kids and grandkids,” Kerry said in a statement.
The IPCC said the cost of actions such as shifting to solar and wind power and other renewable sources and improving energy efficiency would reduce economic growth only by 0.06 percent annually.
Pachauri said that should be measured against the implications of doing nothing, putting “all species that live on this planet” at peril.
The report is meant as a scientific roadmap for the U.N. climate negotiations, which continue next month in Lima, Peru. That’s the last major conference before a summit in Paris next year, where a global agreement on climate action is supposed to be adopted.
The biggest hurdle is deciding who should do what. Rich countries are calling on China and other major developing countries to set ambitious targets; developing countries saying the rich have a historical responsibility to lead the fight against warming and to help poorer nations cope with its impacts. The IPCC avoided taking sides, saying the risks of climate change “are generally greater for disadvantaged people and communities in countries at all levels of development.”
AP: By KARL RITTER
Posted: 11/02/2014 7:35 am EST Updated: 11/03/2014 12:59 pm EST
IPCC Sounds Fresh Alarm as Fossil Fuel Interests Tighten Grip on Congress
The leading international network of climate scientists is urging a rapid shift away from fossil fuels, just as allies of coal, oil and natural gas industries in the United States appear poised to tighten their grip on Congress—where opposition to cleaner energy is already entrenched.
That outcome of Tuesday’s midterm election would spell trouble for advocates of a strong international climate accord. Treaty negotiations are supposed to pick up in the next few months and culminate in Paris just over a year from now.
This weekend, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a synthesis report that sums up its years-long review of the climate crisis and what to do about it. The report called for the near-complete elimination of fossil fuel-burning by the end of the century. This, it said, is what is needed to have a reasonable chance of avoiding the most severe risks of man-made changes to the world’s climate.
Nothing could be further from the agenda of Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the coal-state Republican who on the eve of the election appears to have significantly better than even odds of becoming the next majority leader. (Though, as the IPCC might put it, until the last votes are tallied any forecast of which party will prevail deserves only “medium confidence.”)
Even if the Republicans don’t gain a majority in the Senate on Nov. 4, they are likely to gain strength in that chamber as well as in the House—an election outcome that would undermine President Obama’s entire climate agenda, not just his influence in the Paris talks.
From the Keystone XL pipeline decision and so-called “war on coal,” to a carbon tax and the very foundations of climate science, Congressional Republicans have opposed Obama on anything having to do with global warming from his first days in office.
Just last year, on the day the IPCC released one of three exhaustive treatments that formed the basis of this week’s synthesis report, McConnell co-sponsored an amendment to block the EPA from regulating fossil fuels in electric power plants, the largest single source of carbon emissions in this country.
His co-sponsor, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, offered another amendment at the same time. It would have prohibited the administration from participating in international climate negotiations “unless the U.S. offers an addendum to the latest IPCC report stating that anthropogenic climate change is a scientifically unproven theory.” Inhofe, who reportedly aspires to be chairman of the environment committee in a Republican Senate, calls the whole IPCC enterprisea “conspiracy” and “a hoax.”
Their ascent would alarm participants in the climate talks who agree with IPCC chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, that the climate crisis could be solved if action is quick and decisive. “All we need,” Pachauri said as he released the new synthesis report, “is the will to change, which we trust will be motivated by knowledge and an understanding of the science of climate change.”
Emissions must fall by 40 to 70 percent between 2010 and 2050, and then to zero by 2100, he explained at a news conference.
Those are fighting words to anyone committed to defending the coal industry in Kentucky, the oil and gas industry in Oklahoma, or campaigning in any fossil fuel stronghold—from the Marcellus shale to the Bakken light oil play. And it helps explain why the politics of carbon are a feature of so many swing elections in states like West Virginia, Colorado, Louisiana and Alaska.
The contrast between this increasingly partisan American political divide and the increasingly solid international scientific consensus could hardly be starker.
“The scientists have done their jobs and then some,” said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who has tracked the negotiations for decades. “Politicians can either dramatically reduce emissions or they can spend the rest of their careers running from climate disaster to climate disaster.”
Other environmental advocates, too, issued statements emphasizing that the synthesis report—including its summary for policymakers, expressly designed to guide them toward early action —was as significant politically as it was scientifically.
“The report is alarming and should be a wake-up call to government leaders,” said Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, a group that encourages businesses to show leadership on climate issues. Her statement called on them to “ramp up the pressure…especially in Washington.”
“The critical missing link is the oil and gas industry, which is doing its best to thwart concrete action,” she said.
The Sierra Club’s Michael Brune aimed a jibe at the Koch brothers and their favored candidates, saying that “we don’t have any more time to coddle fossil fuel billionaires or politicians who will eschew responsibility at every corner.”
Big environmental groups have spent heavily in this campaign, too—$85 million on state and federal races, according to Daniel Weiss of the League of Conservation Voters, including $40 million on just six key Senate races. And in the closing days, they were knocking on millions of doors to bring out a green vote.
The organizations released results from a Hart Research Associates poll taken in late October in swing states suggesting that the climate issue could break in their favor.
“The survey suggests that Republican candidates are losing ground as a result of their climate science denial and opposition to climate pollution reductions,” Hart reported. “This is true among independent swing voters, and particularly among women and younger voters.”
But only about 40 percent of those surveyed said they had heard much of candidates’ views on climate. A majority had heard about energy issues, but far more about abortion, jobs and Obamacare.
Seen Any Monarch Butterflies Lately?
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.