Monthly Archives: June 2012

June heat, floods, fires–is it climate change?

This post by Joe Romm on Climate Progress confirms the link between the hottest June on record ever, on the mainland; the worst-ever forest fires in Colorado; and recent devastating floods in Minnesota–while also chastising the media for scarcely mentioning the role of climate change in these disastrous weather events. Be sure to read the comments on this post; the first commenter points to a chain of causes of the Colorado fires, also ignored by the media: They’ve had a pine beetle epidemic (caused by global warming) which kills the trees, providing plenty of dry wood to feed the flames and ignite when struck by lightning in the next storm. (Reminds me of that nursery rhyme: this is the pine beetle that ate the tree that fed the flames that were caused by the more frequent storms that came in the heat that global warming built.)

Romm quotes a Twin Cities meteorologist on the floods there: “People who say ‘you can’t link any one event with climate change’ are missing the point. Climate and weather are now hopelessly intertwined, linked — flip sides of the same coin. It’s basic physics: a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor.  If there’s more water floating overhead you increase the potential for these extreme rainfall events. . . . ” See also Romm’s June 14 post in which a similar point was made by a climate analyst at NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research). A pull quote for you: “it’s unfortunate that the public is not associating these [events like the 2010 Nashville flood] with the fact that this is one manifestation of climate change.”

How will I balance this sensational story with some better news? If only I could say, people are making the connection and demanding coverage of climate change from their news outlets–and bold action from our leaders: are you listening, President Obama and Congress?

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Federal Court Ruling a Victory for EPA–and the Planet

A third big court ruling this week that you may have overlooked in the drama over the Supreme Court decisions on the Affordable Care Act and Arizona’s immigration law: a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on June 26 upheld the right of the EPA to control greenhouse gases as pollutants and harmful to Americans’ health. Industry groups and 14 states had sued, hoping to not be bound by regulations put in place by the EPA in desperation at Congress’s foot-dragging over any effective climate legislation. But really: if legislators were doing their job in protecting the people, the executive branch would not have had to step in. The brilliance of the EPA’s regulation is revealed in labeling global-warming emissions “pollutants”; the fossil-fuel industry thus became polluters. In more formal language, the basis for the rules that emissions were pollutants and could be controlled is the agency’s finding that “carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions constitute a danger to public health and [can] thus be regulated under the Clean Air Act.” And so by supporting the EPA’s authority to regulate emissions, the court dealt what a New York Times editorial called “a devastating blow to polluters.” Science and rational thought were also victors, as the federal court found that “the agency had based its case on careful research and sound science.”

More good news from the Earth Summit, despite overall failure

Clearly, no major milestones toward sustainable development came out of the three-day Earth Summit in Rio: no binding commitments to reduce carbon emissions, no treaty, no pledges of monetary support by rich nations to enable developing countries to industrialize through green energy–and only a weak, non-binding agreement to end fossil-fuel subsidies. But there are several positive signs that people aren’t waiting for governments to tame rapacious corporations or act sensibly in time to save the Earth. (The stated goal of Rio+20 was sustainable development, although slowing global warming by reducing carbon emissions was the crucial objective.)

To go with two recent posts about action taken beyond the framework of a global treaty and beyond Rio+20 at the grass-roots level, here is news about a coalition of 16 nations including the US working to combat short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) such as black carbon, soot, methane, and hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs. As reported in Climate Progress, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition has in just four months developed a model of international cooperation to tackle SLCPs using existing solutions. The group claims to be on track to cut cut the rate of global warming in half in the short term. (SLCPs are short-lived but potent, so the effect of shutting them off is dramatic.) This bodes well for the health of people as well as of the Earth, because SLCPs cause respiratory disease and premature death of millions each year, and they cause crop losses as well as Arctic ice to melt. See my post of a few months back that presented two perspectives on whether reducing SLCPs such as black carbon from cookstoves was the way to go or if focusing on this goal  would mean neglecting the longer-lasting pollutant, carbon dioxide. Entitled “Don’t let good news on one climate-change front cause neglect of the main chance” this post quoted from a summary that asked, “Should we fight soot instead of CO2?” If you don’t want to go back to the archive, the answer is, “it’s not a choice–we must fight both.”

Solutions to climate change must come from us

A June 22 New York Times op-ed by the leaders of two environmental organizations signals a recent shift in attitude: we can plainly not count on global leaders to make binding commitments to reduce carbon emissions. As their title reads, “We Have Met the Solution and It  Is Us.” Frances Beinecke, head of the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Trip Van Noppen is president of Earthjustice. (I love their slogan: “Because the Earth needs a good lawyer.”) In brief, they argue that action must come from the grass roots, and the good news is, it already has started. They point to announcements and proclamations related to the summit, which 50,000 people attended and blogged, tweeted, and reported about to thousands more, about what countries are doing now without a UN document: “World development banks agreed to invest in a cleaner transportation network. . . . Developing countries agreed to phase out incandescent light bulbs. Australia, Mexico and other coastal countries committed to protecting their irreplaceable seas.”

The writers insist that despite a meaningful agreement and watered-down proclamations issuing from Rio, the Earth Summit was not a failure but rather “a catalyst. It is the starting point for change, not the finish line.” They call for actions on the collective level, of course–to “force our government leaders and our corporations to do what is right for our planet and its resources,” to implement commitments they have made at Rio and elsewhere, and then to” hold them accountable when they don’t”–but also for each one of us to engage.

As they say, “Individually, we must be efficient with the energy and the natural resources we consume and be ever cognizant of what the decisions we make today will mean for our children’s planet tomorrow.” I will follow with a series of posts outlining the many steps each of us can take to make a difference, to be part of the global grass-roots movement for change that will solve this problem. I’ll feature books and websites, and more reports of changes that are making a difference, such as my earlier post on the growth of wind and solar as alternative energy sources.

Tsunami debris hits Oregon early, bringing alien species

NPR has some of the best stories on the huge dock that traveled from Japan to wash up on Agate Beach, near Newport, Oregon, 15 months after the devastating tsunami.

Here’s one from AP, which details painstaking efforts made to remove alien species that arrived with the 70-foot dock and that might gain a foothold and threaten native seaweed and shellfish. A similar story about scouring and even blowtorching the metal to remove the aliens that aired on NPR (and you can listen to it as well) has residents suggesting that the dock may attract tourists to the Newport area.

My favorite story, from All Things Considered on June 19, tells what it’s like to patrol the beach in Oregon or Washington, watching for plastic bottles with Japanese writing. The reporter, Martin Kaste, quotes Carey Morishige, Pacific Islands coordinator of NOAA’s marine debris program, who works out of Honolulu and does a very big job with a very small staff (and the North Pacific is a very big place). The best description of the dock with its hitchhiking species is by an Oregon State University biologist specializing in invasive species; he calls it “an island that had drifted across from Asia.” This metaphorical island came with real residents, however, and unwelcome ones judging by the hostility of their reception.

iPad and iPhone users*–use Zite to read climate news

Zite (rhymes with “kite”) is an app that creates a customized magazine for you, depending on topics you choose and your interests as indicated by  your online reading and social networking habits. Get it for free on iTunes or the app store; see this review from its early days, headlined “A Digital ‘Magazine’ with One Subscriber.” Choose “climate change” as a topic and you’ll get 3 dozen articles and posts from all over the web. I would have missed many of the climate articles I’ve posted about if I hadn’t been reading it–even the Times op-ed on my June 20 post, because there’s simply too much to read and if it isn’t among the “most emailed” on the NYT site I may miss it.

You can personalize Zite even further by saying “No, I didn’t enjoy reading this [rant] from Fox.com,” and please block that source. You can share the articles via Twitter, Facebook, or email. There’s no archive, so create your own using Instapaper or other reader. Zite was recently bought by CNN, and so some users are a bit worried that it will become CNN-heavy. Zite’s CEO insists that its algorithm will continue to be “source neutral.” Let’s hope so.

*It’s also available for Android users.

Good news as Rio+20 begins

Most of the news from the global summit is grim indeed, as most of the pledges countries made at the first Earth summit in Rio de Janeiro two decades ago have not been kept. But here’s some good news from the New York Times–an op-ed by a Swedish energy specialist and two economists at the Environmental Defense Fund. They believe that “the seeds of an energy revolution are being sown,” noting that solar and wind energy are developing faster than anyone predicted. They don’t downplay the challenge, given the even faster rise in fossil fuels. They call for a price or cap on carbon emissions and for subsidies to go to renewables such as solar energy.

As reasons to be optimistic by Rio + 30, the writers point to the European Union’s cap on carbon pollution, a cap-and-trade system in 7 cities in China (including Beijing), India’s coal tax, Australia’s tax on carbon, and South Korea’s direct carbon cap. It’s not happening just in other countries; they close their list of innovative entities with California, which “is readying America’s first comprehensive cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, combined with direct subsidies like its successful Solar Initiative.”