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Conservation Science News October 26, 2012

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Highlight of the Week









Highlight of the Week







Forestry’s waste wood offers habitat for small forest-floor animals
October 24, 2012) — The wood that remains after a tree harvesting operation is often burned to reduce the hazard of fire or is removed for bioenergy production. But another option should be considered—leaving the wood for forest wildlife whose habitat has been disturbed during clear-cut forestry operations. Woody debris on the floor of the forest is essential for maintaining biodiversity and long-term ecosystem productivity. … > full story

Thomas P. Sullivan, Druscilla S. Sullivan, Pontus M. F. Lindgren, and Douglas B. Ransome. If we build habitat, will they come? Woody debris structures and conservation of forest mammals. Journal of Mammalogy, Vol. 93, No. 6, 2012 DOI: 10.1644/11-MAMM-A-250.1

Satellite images tell tales of changing biodiversity
(October 24, 2012) — Analysis of texture differences in satellite images may be an effective way to monitor changes in vegetation, soil and water patterns over time, with potential implications for measuring biodiversity as well, according to new research. … > full story


Invasive Grasses as Biofuel? Scientists Protest

By JOANNA M. FOSTER NYTimes October 23, 2012

I.F.A.S., University of FloridaArundo donax, or giant reed, growing near Belle Glade, Fla.


More than 200 scientists from across the country have sent a letter to the Obama administration urging the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider a rule, in the final approval stages, that would allow two invasive grasses, Arundo donax and Pennisetum purpureum, to qualify as advanced biofuel feedstock under the nation’s renewable fuel standard. “As scientists in the fields of ecology, wildlife biology, forestry and natural resources, we are writing to bring your attention to the importance of working proactively to prevent potential ecological and economic damages associated with the potential spread of invasive bioenergy feedstocks,” the scientists write. “While we appreciate the steps that federal agencies have made to identify and promote renewable energy sources and to invest in second- and third-generation sources of bioenergy, we strongly encourage you to consider the invasive potential of all novel feedstock species, cultivars, and hybrids before providing incentives leading to their cultivation.” Invasive species currently cost the nation $120 billion each year…..



Conservation scientists look beyond greenbelts to connect wildlife sanctuaries

Landscape corridors and connectivity in conservation and restoration planning

October 18, 2012 Ecological Society of America

We live in a human-dominated world. For many of our fellow creatures, this means a fragmented world, as human conduits to friends, family, and resources sever corridors that link the natural world. Our expanding web of highways, cities, and intensive agriculture traps many animals and plants in islands and cul-de-sacs of habitat, held back by barriers of geography or architecture from reaching mates, food, and wider resources. A team of researchers, managers, and ecological risk assessors review the current state-of-the-art in landscape connectivity planning, offering models, case studies, and advice for coping with the uncertainty inherent in dynamic, real-world conditions in the Ecological Society of America’s 16th volume of Issues in Ecology. ….


(a) Connectivity models can be combined with least-cost or circuit theory economic models to help conservators make decisions about investment in land acquisition. From figure 5 of the report.

(b) A wildlife overpass on the Trans-Canada Highway helps wildlife and vehicles avoid lethal connections in Banff National Park, British Columbia. The park is a leader in highway mitigation, part of…

The role of landscape connectivity in planning and implementing conservation and restoration priorities.Issues in Ecology 16, Fall 2012. Deborah A Rudnick, Sadie J Ryan, Paul Beier, Samuel A Cushman, Fred Dieffenbach, Clinton W Epps, Leah R Gerber, Joel Hartter, Jeff S Jenness, Julia Kintsch, Adina M Merenlender, Ryan M Perkl, Damian V Preziosi, and Stephen C. Trombulak.


Scientists seek national wildlife conservation network
October 22, 2012) — Wildlife conservation efforts in the United States are facing habitat loss, climate change and major reductions in funding. To address these threats, a group of prominent wildlife biologists and policy experts is recommending the formation of a state-based national conservation-support network. … >


Flycatchers’ genomes explain how one species became two
(October 24, 2012) — Just how new species are established is still one of the most central questions in biology. Biologists now describe how they mapped the genomes of the European pied flycatcher and the collared flycatcher and found that it is disparate chromosome structures rather than separate adaptations in individual genes that underlies the separation of the species. … > full story


Mississippi river diversion helped build Louisiana wetlands, geologists find
(October 21, 2012) — Geologists used the occasion of the Mississippi River flood of the spring of 2011 to observe how floodwaters deposited sediment in the Mississippi Delta. Their findings offer insight into how new diversions in the Mississippi River’s levees may help restore Louisiana’s wetlands. … > full story




Voice software helps study of rare Yosemite owls
TRACIE CONE | October 22, 2012 09:11 AM EST |

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. — In the bird world, they make endangered condors seem almost commonplace. The unique Great Gray Owls of Yosemite, left to evolve after glacial ice separated them from their plentiful Canadian brethren 30 millennia ago, are both a mystery and concern to the scientists charged with protecting them. With fewer than 200 in existence in this small pocket of the Sierra Nevada, the slightest disturbances by humans can drive the extremely shy birds from their nests, disrupting sporadic mating cycles that ebb and flow annually depending upon food availability.

So this summer, researchers found a way to abandon their traditional heavy-handed trapping, banding and the blasting of owl calls in favor of the kind of discrete, sophisticated technology used by spies and forensic scientists. They hope to lessen human influence on this subspecies of owls prized for the potential insights their survival offers into habitat-specific evolution.

“Even if it takes only 15 minutes to trap a bird, it’s traumatic for them in the long term,” said Joe Medley, a PhD candidate in ecology at UC Davis who perfected computer voice recognition software to track the largest of North America’s owls. “With a population this small, we want to err on the side of caution in terms of the methods we use to get data.”

Medley placed 40 data-compression digital audio recorders around the mid-elevation meadows typically favored by the owl known as Strix nebulosa Yosemitensis, hoping to identify them by their mating, feeding and territorial calls. He ended up with 50 terabytes of owl calls mixed with airplanes flying overhead, frogs croaking, coyotes yipping, bears growling and even the occasional crunch of fangs on pricy microphones – so much data it would have taken seven years to play back. He then designed algorithms for an existing computer program that would search for the specific frequency and time intervals of the Great Gray Owls’ low-pitched hoot “whooo-ooo-ooo-ooo.” The program could discern males and females from juveniles, and even identify nesting females calling for food to help determine reproduction success. The results are still being analyzed…..



Twitter principles of social networking increase family success in nesting birds
(October 23, 2012) — New research reveals for the first time the importance of social networking in producing a successful family. The study found that, regardless of how big and healthy individual chicks are, what really matters to their chances of surviving and breeding is how siblings in the nest interact with each other, with cooperative families faring best. … > full story

Fossil study helps pinpoint extinction risks for ocean animals: When it comes to ocean extinctions, range size matters most
(October 23, 2012) — What makes some ocean animals more prone to extinction? An analysis of roughly 500 million years of fossil data for marine invertebrates reveals that ocean animals with small ranges have been consistently hard hit, whereas population size has little effect. This means that reductions in range size — such as when a species’ habitat is destroyed or degraded — could mean a big increase in long-term extinction risk, even when remaining populations are large, the authors say. … > full story


Smithsonian launches marine effort with $10M gift



BRETT ZONGKER, Associated Press Associated Press October 25, 2012

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Smithsonian is launching a new initiative to study coastal waters and create the first global network monitoring climate change and human impacts on ocean life with a $10 million gift. Los Angeles hedge fund manager Michael Tennenbaum is announcing the donation Thursday. He says long-term data is needed to raise the level of dialogue about climate change and biodiversity.

Biologists record increasing amounts of plastic litter in the Arctic deep sea
(October 23, 2012) — The sea bed in the Arctic deep sea is increasingly strewn with litter and plastic waste, according to researchers. … > full story

California Conservation Investment on Farms and Ranchland Reaches $250 Million in 2012 (source NRCS)
California’s air, water, wetlands and wildlife habitat all received a significant boost in 2012 as private landowners partnered with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to voluntarily invest approximately a quarter billion dollars in protecting and restoring natural resources. “Despite the difficult economic times, California’s farmers, ranchers, non-industrial private forest owners, and conservation partners prioritized conservation in their 2012 operating plans. This commitment made it possible to successfully add more than 7,000 conservation practices across the California landscape and enhance the environment that we all share,” said Jeff Burwell, acting state conservationist for NRCS. Burwell pointed out that most of the Farm Bill programs require a match by the landowner that is typically about half the cost of applying the conservation practice. Additionally two of the conservation programs, the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP) and the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI), depend upon partners to partially plan and administer them. California leads the Nation in the number of AWEP projects investing in water conservation and water quality on private lands. Partnerships with California farmers and ranchers are improving resource management and habitat for species such as sage grouse, tri-colored blackbirds and southwest willow flycatcher.  In addition three easement programs provided $41.5 million to landowners who voluntarily elected to protect important landscapes such as farmland, grazing land, and wetlands.


Rainbow trout: Survival of the shyest?
(October 22, 2012) — A fish’s personality can influence how it responds to, and learns from threats, according to a new study. The work, looking at how personality influences a fish’s memory of a predator threat, shows that bold trout forget predator odor, and hence potentially predator threat, quicker than shy trout. … > full story

Saving Coral Reefs, One Fragment at a Time

Posted: 22 Oct 2012 06:30 AM PDT

Coral reefs are among the most valuable ecosystems on Earth, providing a home and nursery for 25% of the world’s marine life. For many coastal areas, healthy coral reefs provide an important barrier against destructive storms.


Speed Limits on Cargo Ships Could Reduce Their Pollutants by More Than Half



October 24, 2012 — Putting a speed limit on cargo ships as they sail near ports and coastlines could cut their emission of air pollutants by up to 70 percent, reducing the impact of marine shipping on Earth’s climate … > full story



NOAA, NASA: Antarctic ozone hole second smallest in 20 years

Warmer air temperatures high above the Antarctic led to the second smallest seasonal ozone hole in 20 years, according to NOAA and NASA satellite measurements. This year, the average size of the ozone hole was 6.9 million square miles (17.9 million square kilometers). The ozone layer helps shield life on Earth from potentially harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation that can cause skin cancer and damage plants. The Antarctic ozone hole forms in September and October, and this year, the hole reached its maximum size for the season on Sept. 22, stretching to 8.2 million square miles (21.2 million square kilometers), roughly the area of the United States, Canada and Mexico combined. In comparison, the largest ozone hole recorded to date was in 2000 at 11.5 million square miles (29.9 million square kilometers). The Antarctic ozone hole began making a yearly appearance in the early 1980s, caused by chlorine released by manmade chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs. The chlorine can rapidly break apart ozone molecules in certain conditions, and the temperature of the lower stratosphere plays an important role. “It happened to be a bit warmer this year high in the atmosphere above Antarctica, and that meant we didn’t see quite as much ozone depletion as we saw last year, when it was colder,” said Jim Butler with NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo…


Archer fish hunt insects with water jet six times stronger than their muscular power
(October 24, 2012) — Archer fish knock their insect prey out of overhanging vegetation with a jet of water several times more powerful than the fish’s muscles. New research now shows that the fish generate this power externally using water dynamics rather than with any specialized internal organs. The research provides the first explanation for how archer fish can generate such powerful jets to capture their prey. … > full story




Climate-changing methane ‘rapidly destabilizing’ off East Coast, study finds

NOAA–In this visualization, the Gulf Stream is seen as the dark red current coming into the Atlantic from the Gulf of Mexico.

By Miguel Llanos, NBC News October 25, 2012 A changing Gulf Stream off the East Coast has destabilized frozen methane deposits trapped under nearly 4,000 square miles of seafloor, scientists reported Wednesday. And since methane is even more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming gas, the researchers said, any large-scale release could have significant climate impacts.

Temperature changes in the Gulf Stream are “rapidly destabilizing methane hydrate along a broad swathe of the North American margin,” the experts said in a study published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed journal Nature.
Using seismic records and ocean models, the team estimated that 2.5 gigatonnes of frozen methane hydrate are being destabilized and could separate into methane gas and water. It is not clear if that is happening yet, but that methane gas would have the potential to rise up through the ocean and into the atmosphere, where it would add to the greenhouse gases warming Earth…. And it’s not just under the seafloor that methane has been locked up. Some Arctic land area are seeing permafrost thaw, which could release methane stored there as well.

An expert who was not part of the study said it suggests that methane could become a bigger climate factor than carbon dioxide. “We may approach a turning point” from a warming driven by man-made carbon dioxide to a warming driven by methane, Jurgen Mienert, the geology department chair at Norway’s University of Tromso, told NBC News. “The interactions between the warming Arctic Ocean and the potentially huge methane-ice reservoirs beneath the Arctic Ocean floor point towards increasing instability,” he added.



Helping North America’s marine protected areas adapt to a changing climate
(October 23, 2012) — T
op marine predators like tuna and sharks are suffering from the effects of climate change as the availability of prey decreases and the spatial distribution of their prey shifts. Countless other marine plants and animals are also affected. One way to adap
t to or mitigate these changes is to design marine protected areas (MPA) and MPA networks that integrate these and other climate-related considerations. Accordingly, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) has published Scientific Guidelines for Designing Resilient Marine Protected Area Networks in a Changing Climate
in collaboration with the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and based on the work of thirty-three of North America’s top experts. The published guidelines were launched today at the Restore America’s Estuaries Conference in Tampa, Florida. Climate change is affecting Earth’s oceans and many of the species that depend on them. Warmer ocean temperatures are being associated with smaller populations of phytoplankton and zooplankton, an important food source for fish and marine mammals. Rising coastal sea levels may impact nesting sites for turtles and habitat for marine birds. Also, the carbon cycle is being impacted by warmer temperatures and ocean acidification. This bleaches and kills coral reefs, a major undersea habitat and nursery for countless species of fish, shellfish and crustaceans of vital importance to us, and is negatively influencing natural carbon sinks such as mangroves, salt marches, seagrasses, and tidal wetlands, reducing their ability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. MPA size, placement, and their respective role in reducing pressures such as fishing and coastal habitat conversion, are just some of the considerations for designing resilient MPAs in light of climate change…. The CEC’s practical set of guidelines will help scientists, MPA planners and managers improve their ability to design, connect, manage, assess and adapt MPAs and MPA networks to potential climate change at national and continental scales. The guidelines are broken down into four sections:

  1. Protect species and habitats with crucial ecosystem roles, or those of special conservation concern
  2. Protect potential carbon sinks
  3. Protect ecological linkages and connectivity pathways for a wide range of species
  4. Protect the full range of biodiversity present in the target biogeographic area

In November 2012 the CEC will be publishing a companion piece — a practical guide for MPA managers and network planners on how to implement these guidelines…..


Climate change may alter amphibian evolution



Phys.Org – ‎October 25, 2012

Justin Touchon, post-doctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, discovered that climate change in Panama may be altering frogs’ course of evolution…. Most of the more than 6,000 species of frogs in the world lay their eggs in water. But many tropical frogs lay their eggs out of water. This behavior protects the eggs from aquatic predators, such as fish and tadpoles, but also increases their risk of drying out. Justin Touchon, post-doctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, discovered that climate change in Panama may be altering frogs’ course of evolution. By analyzing long-term rainfall data collected by the Panama Canal Authority, Touchon discovered that rainfall patterns are changing just as climate-change models predict. Climate change may alter amphibian evolution “Over the past four decades, rainfall has become more sporadic during the wet season,” said Touchon. “The number of rainy days decreased, and the number of gaps between storms increased.” The eggs of the pantless treefrog, Dendropsophus ebraccatus, are extremely susceptible to drying. The embryos die within a day when there is no rain. Heavy rains trigger breeding, so as storms become sporadic, the chance of rain within a day of being laid decrease and so does egg survival. As weather patterns have changed, the advantage of laying eggs out of water has decreased, not only for pantless treefrogs but potentially for many species.
“Pantless treefrogs can switch between laying eggs in water or on leaves, so they may weather the changes we are seeing in rainfall better than other species that have lost the ability to lay eggs in water,” said Touchon. “Being flexible in where they put their eggs gives them more options and allows them to make decisions in a given habitat that will increase the survival of their offspring….


Opposite behaviors? Arctic sea ice shrinks, Antarctic grows
(October 23, 2012) — The steady and dramatic decline in the sea ice cover of the Arctic Ocean over the last three decades has become a focus of media and public attention. At the opposite end of Earth, however, something more complex is happening.
A new NASA study shows that from 1978 to 2010 the total extent of sea ice surrounding Antarctica in the Southern Ocean grew by roughly 6,600 square miles every year, an area larger than the state of Connecticut. And previous researc
h by the same authors indicates that this rate of increase has recently accelerated, up from an average rate of almost 4,300 square miles per year from 1978 to 2006. “There’s been an overall increase in the sea ice cover in the Antarctic, which is the opposite of what is happening in the Arctic,” said lead author Claire Parkinson, a climate scientist with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. “However, this growth rate is not nearly as large as the decrease in the Arctic.”

Earth’s poles have very different geographies. The Arctic Ocean is surrounded by North America, Greenland and Eurasia. These large landmasses trap most of the sea ice, which builds up and retreats with each yearly freeze-and-melt cycle. But a large fraction of the older, thicker Arctic sea ice has disappeared over the last three decades. The shrinking summer ice cover has exposed dark ocean water that absorbs sunlight and warms up, leading to more ice loss. On the opposite side of the planet, Antarctica is a continent circled by open waters that let sea ice expand during the winter but also offer less shelter during the melt season. Most of the Southern Ocean’s frozen cover grows and retreats every year, leading to little perennial sea ice in Antarctica.

… > full story


New Understanding of Antarctica’s ‘weight loss’: Sea level is rising with little apparent contribution from Antarctica
22, 2012) — Scientists have found that the present sea level rise is happening with apparently very little contribution from Antarctica as a whole. The large amount of water flowing away from West Antarctica through ice-melt has been partly cancelled out by the volume of water falling onto the continent in the form of snow, suggesting some past studies have overestimated Antarctica’s contribution to fast-rising sea levels. … > full story


Seminal Study: Climate Change ‘Footprint’ In North America, ‘The Continent With The Largest Increases in Disasters’

Posted: 21 Oct 2012 09:21 AM PDT

Climate-driven changes are already evident over the last few decades for severe thunderstorms, for heavy precipitation and flash flooding, for hurricane activity, and for heatwave, drought and wild-fire dynamics in parts of North America.” So concludes Munich Re, a top reinsurer, in a major new study that, for the first time, links the rapid rise in North American extreme weather catastrophes to manmade climate change.

At the same time non-climatic events (earthquakes, volcanos, tsunamis) have hardly changed, as the figure shows.

Prof. Peter Höppe, who heads Munich Re’s Geo Risks Research unit, said: “In all likelihood, we have to regard this finding as an initial climate-change footprint in our US loss data from the last four decades. Previously, there had not been such a strong chain of evidence. If the first effects of climate change are already perceptible, all alerts and measures against it have become even more pressing.”

The 274-page study, “Severe weather in North America” draws on “the most comprehensive natural catastrophe database worldwide,” though my favorite part is four words at the bottom of the back jacket:


This study builds on a September 2010 analysis by Munich Re, “Large number of weather extremes as strong indication of climate change,” which concluded:

… it would seem that the only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change. The view that weather extremes are more frequent and intense due to global warming coincides with the current state of scientific knowledge At the time Höppe, explained to me what had persuaded him of the causal link:

For me the most convincing piece of evidence that global warming has been contributing already to more and more intense weather related natural catastrophes is the fact that while we find a steep increase in the number of loss relevant weather events (about tripling in the last 30 years) we only find a slight increase in geophysical (earthquake, volcano, tsunami) events, which should not be affected by global warming. If the whole trend we find in weather related disaster should be caused by reporting bias, or socio-demographic or economic developments we would expect to find it similarly for the geophysical events. And that was before two years of off-the-charts extreme weather catastrophes, particularly in North America (see NOAA Chief 11/11: U.S. Record of a Dozen Billion-Dollar Weather Disasters in One Year Is “a Harbinger of Things to Come”). And that was before multiple studies linking that surge extreme weather to global warming, particularly in North America (see NOAA Bombshell: Warming-Driven Arctic Ice Loss Is Boosting Chance of Extreme U.S. Weather and links therein and below).

The new study finds: Nowhere in the world is the rising number of natural catastrophes more evident than in North America. The study shows a nearly quintupled number of weather-related loss events in North America for the past three decades, compared with an increase factor of 4 in Asia, 2.5 in Africa, 2 in Europe and 1.5 in South America. The study draws on a forthcoming journal article on how global warming is driving up “large-scale thunderstorm forcing”: The results of the study indicate that climatic changes have driven up multiyear averages of thunderstorm-related normalized losses since 1970 and that anthropogenic climate change, most likely responsible for increasing levels of humidity over time, is fully consistent with this change….

The scientific literature is also clear that we can expect an increase in thunderstorm intensity and destructiveness as greenhouse gas concentrations rise (see, for instance, here). And so the Munich Re study concludes: Based on studies projecting the number of days with high thunderstorm poten tial to further increase with climate change, it can be expected that the number of large loss events will continue to rise. This translates into an imperative to take account of increasing losses over time in natural hazard risk management.

After all, we have warmed “only” about 1.4° Fahrenheit in the past century. We are poised to warm more than 5 times that this century. And that means — if we are foolish enough to stay anywhere near our current emissions path — we ain’t seen nothing yet.

Related Posts:


Rice agriculture accelerates global warming: More greenhouse gas per grain of rice
October 21, 2012) —
More carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and rising temperatures cause rice agriculture to release more of the potent greenhouse gas methane (CH4) for each kilogram of rice it produces, new research published in this week’s online edition of Nature Climate Change reveals.

“Our results show that rice agriculture becomes less climate friendly as our atmosphere continues to change. This is important, because rice paddies are one of the largest human sources of methane, and rice is the world’s second-most produced staple crop,” said Dr Kees Jan van Groenigen, Research Fellow at the Botany Department at the School of Natural Sciences, Trinity College Dublin, and lead author of the study. Van Groenigen, along with colleagues from Northern Arizona University and the University of California in Davis, gathered all published research to date from 63 different experiments on rice paddies, mostly from Asia and North America. The common theme in the experiments was that they measured how rising temperatures and extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere affect rice yields and the amount of methane that is released by rice paddies. The research team used a technique called meta-analysis, a statistical tool for finding general patterns in a large body of experimental data. “Two strong patterns emerged when we analysed all the data: first, more CO2 boosted emissions of methane from rice paddies, and second, higher temperatures caused a decline in rice yields,” explained Professor Bruce Hungate of Northern Arizona University and co-author of the study.

Methane in rice paddies is produced by microscopic organisms that respire CO2, like humans respire oxygen. More CO2 in the atmosphere makes rice plants grow faster, and the extra plant growth supplies soil microorganisms with extra energy, pumping up their metabolism. Increasing CO2 levels will also boost rice yields, but to a smaller extent then CH4 emissions. As a result, the amount of CH4 emitted per kilogram of rice yield will increase. Rising temperatures were found to have only small effects on CH4 emissions, but because they decrease rice yield, they also increase the amount of CH4 emitted per kilogram of rice. “Together, higher CO2 concentrations and warmer temperatures predicted for the end of this century will about double the amount of CH4 emitted per kilogram of rice produced.,” explained Professor Chris van Kessel of the University of California in Davis and co-author of the study.

“Because global demand for rice will increase further with a growing world population, our results suggest that without additional measures, the total CH4 emissions from rice agriculture will strongly increase…” However, the authors point out that there are several options available to reduce CH4 emissions from rice agriculture. For instance, management practices such as mid-season drainage and using alternative fertilizers have been shown to reduce CH4 emissions from rice paddies. Moreover, by switching to more heat tolerant rice cultivars and by adjusting sowing dates, yield declines due to temperature increases can largely be prevented, thereby reducing the effect of warming on CH4 emissions per yield. “These findings, together with our own results really stress the need for mitigation and adaptation measures to secure global food supply while at the same time keeping greenhouse gas emissions in check.” van Groenigen concluded.

full story

Kees Jan van Groenigen, Chris van Kessel, Bruce A. Hungate. Increased greenhouse-gas intensity of rice production under future atmospheric conditions. Nature Climate Change, 2012; DOI: 10.1038/nclimate1712




Food and Climate: A New Warning

October 23, 2012, 7:18 am

As we have noted many times, one of the major questions about climate change is what it will do to the world’s food supply. Competing factors are at work. On the one hand, the rising level of carbon dioxide in the air significantly bolsters the growth of plants, potentially raising yields. Conversely, rising heat and, in some places, additional weather extremes like drought and heavy rains threaten to reduce yields. Climate contrarians like to cite the upside potential of rising carbon dioxide while largely ignoring the risks. And early research, often done under artificial conditions, did indeed suggest the gains were likely to outweigh the losses.
But a growing body of research conducted under more realistic field conditions suggests the opposite may often be the case. Now comes an interesting new entry in the literature. Kees Jan van Groenigen, a scientist at Trinity College in Dublin, and colleagues synthesized the results of 63 studies to determine what would happen to rice cultivation on a warming planet. Their paper was released over the weekend in the journal Nature Climate Change. (A summary is here, the full paper is here for those with access to the journal, and the associated news release is here.) If growing practices and rice varieties remained the same, they found, rising carbon dioxide levels would not entirely offset the effects of heat -– and would, moreover, contribute to increased releases of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from rice paddies.


The Adaptation for Conservation Targets (ACT) Framework: A Tool for Incorporating Climate Change into Natural Resource Management

Environmental Management, Volume 50, Number 3 (2012), 341-351, July 2012

DOI: 10.1007/s00267-012-9893-7

Molly S. Cross, Erika S. Zavaleta, Dominique Bachelet, Marjorie L. Brooks, Carolyn A. F. Enquist, Erica Fleishman, Lisa J. Graumlich, Craig R. Groves, Lee Hannah and Lara Hansen, et al.

ABSTRACT: As natural resource management agencies and conservation organizations seek guidance on responding to climate change, myriad potential actions and strategies have been proposed for increasing the long-term viability of some attributes of natural systems. Managers need practical tools for selecting among these actions and strategies to develop a tailored management approach for specific targets at a given location. We developed and present one such tool, the participatory Adaptation for Conservation Targets (ACT) framework, which considers the effects of climate change in the development of management actions for particular species, ecosystems and ecological functions. Our framework is based on the premise that effective adaptation of management to climate change can rely on local knowledge of an ecosystem and does not necessarily require detailed projections of climate change or its effects. We illustrate the ACT framework by applying it to an ecological function in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, USA)—water flows in the upper Yellowstone River. We suggest that the ACT framework is a practical tool for initiating adaptation planning, and for generating and communicating specific management interventions given an increasingly altered, yet uncertain, climate.


Oxygen’s ups and downs in early atmosphere and ocean
(October 23, 2012) — Geochemists challenge the simple notion of an up-only trend for early oxygen on Earth, and provides the first compelling direct evidence for a major drop in oxygen after the gas’s first rise. This drop, they say, may have ushered in more than a billion years that were marked by a return to low-oxygen concentrations at Earth’s surface, including the likelihood of an oxygen-free deep ocean. … > full story

Portrait Of A Drought: Finding Water Where It Ain’t

By Peyton Fleming on Oct 19, 2012 at 2:44 pm

Peyton Fleming, Strategic Communications Director at Ceres, is attending the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) annual conference in Lubbock, Texas. This piece was originally published at Ceres and was reprinted with permission.

Photo: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

I’m on a bus driving across West Texas and all appears well. Miles and miles of white-speckled cotton fields line both sides of the road. Splotches of green grassland are a welcome sign from last year’s devastating drought. Dozens of giant wind turbines churn away far off in the distance. But appearances are deceiving.

West Texas is on the front lines of a changing climate, and scarce water is the most obvious symptom. Everyone – ranchers, farmers, water engineers – is talking about it.

A cyclone of hotter temperatures, more people, water-sapping cotton farming and a devastating 2011 drought have crippled groundwater supplies. And, though the drought has lifted, West Texans are being forced to change their ways like never before. “It’s quite emotional today,” said Jim Conkwright, general manager of the High Plains Underground Conservation Water District #1, headquartered in Lubbock. Conkwright is referring to parched conditions across much of the vast Ogallala Aquifer, which have forced first-ever limits on how much water farmers can pump from their wells. This year’s limit is 21 inches per acre per year; in 2014, it drops to 18 inches. Adding salt to the wound, farmers are being required to install water meters to ensure they don’t exceed  their limits. “These are dirty words,” Conkwright said, of the new rules. “This is a very very hot topic. It may result in board members being unseated.”

Farmers aren’t the only ones being affected by the new norm of drier, hotter weather in this historically arid region. Ranchers at Koch Industries’ Matador Ranch – owned by climate contrarians the Koch Brothers – cut their cattle herd in half and are using a new more resilient grass seed – instead of native grass – on several thousand acres of the 130,000-acre ranch. Ranch managers attribute the changes more to the vicissitudes of changing weather, not to a warming planet……”Water conservation is something we’ll want to stress continuously, not just during droughts,” Spear said.

Conkwright expressed similar disappointment that a two-year moratorium is in place for assessing civil penalties against farmers who don’t install water meters and report their water use. “It sends the wrong signal,” he said. As for West Texas farming in the future, he says, “dry-land farming.”



Americans’ Global Warming Beliefs and Attitudes in September 2012



October 18, 2012

Download the PDF



Feeling hot, hot, hot: Climate shapes distribution and movement of humans as it does other animals
(October 24, 2012) — Research shows importance of population movement and growth in shaping climate change over the past century in the United States … > full story






Congressmen rip Park Service for huge Calif. blaze

DON THOMPSON, Associated Press Updated 3:46 p.m., Wednesday, October 24, 2012

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Two California congressmen blasted the National Park Service on Wednesday for letting a wildfire burn despite extreme conditions last summer, a decision that conflicted with the practices of other state and federal agencies. U.S. Reps. Wally Herger and Tom McClintock, both Republicans from Northern California, criticized Lassen Volcanic National Park officials for decisions that allowed the Reading fire to eventually erupt into an inferno that scorched more than 42 square miles and cost $15 million to suppress. It destroyed private property, hurt the region’s logging industry and devastated prime tourism destinations in an area known for its remote beauty. Herger said the officials responsible for allowing the fire to burn during “a terrible fire season” should be removed and changes made to the national policy that uses managed wildfires as a tool to clear out forests and improve wildlife habitat. McClintock used the hearing to advocate for a resumption of widespread logging. He said clear-cutting can have the same effect as fires that leave behind a “moonscape” of devastation, though he later said he is not advocating clear-cutting. Massive wildfires cause air pollution, environmental damage and threaten people and wildlife, McClintock said….


Conviction of Italian Scientists May Hinder Open Discussion of Seismic Risk
On 23 October 2012, AGU issued the following statement:

The verdict and prison sentences delivered on 22 October in the trial of six Italian scientists and one government official charged with manslaughter in connection with the L’Aquila earthquake are troubling and could ultimately be harmful to international efforts to understand natural disasters and mitigate associated risk. While the facts of the L’Aquila case are complex, the unfettered exchange of data and information, as well as the freedom and encouragement to participate in open discussions and to communicate results, are essential to the success of any type of scientific research. For scientists to be effective, they must be able to make good faith efforts to present the results of their research without the risk of prosecution. Outcomes such as the one seen in Italy could ultimately discourage scientists from advising their governments, from communicating the results of their research to the public, or even from studying and working in various fields of science. The most appropriate response to natural disasters such as the L’Aquila earthquake is a renewed commitment on the part of scientists, engineers, and government officials to continue working together to more accurately understand and communicate the best available science and information for what can be done to protect the public.
Squeezing Blood From the Desert: The West Grapples With Less Water

Posted: 24 Oct 2012 09:00 AM PDT by Peyton Fleming

No matter the place — California’s Central Valley, southern Nevada, the Colorado River, the Southern Plains — water is harder to find across much of the West. And, with energy demand and populations growing, once-unfathomable choices about water pricing and the future of agriculture are unavoidable.

“Agriculture cannot be sustained in the Southern High Plains,” Judy Reeves, senior hydrogeologist at Texas-based Cirrus Associates said flatly, speaking at the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) conference in water-stressed Lubbock, Texas where drought is still a daily topic. “We really need to start talking about the next economy here.”

“Water from the Colorado River is over-allocated. Legally, there is no water left,” added Kristen Averyt, associate director for science at the University of Colorado. “You really have to ask, ‘Will there be enough water to go around?'”

Chilling words. Reeves noted that the Ogallala Aquifer, the vast groundwater supply for the Southern High Plains, is losing a foot of water each year; during last year’s devastating drought, it lost more than two feet. Even with new first-ever limits on agriculture withdrawals from the aquifer, Reeves believes West Texas farming does not have a long-term future.

But what can water managers in West Texas and elsewhere in the arid West do to navigate these dire water challenges? Some interesting — and surprising — answers were provided at last week’s SEJ workshop, “Squeezing Blood from a Desert.”

Reality-based water pricing is a critical first step. Western water has historically been under priced, in large part because the federal government financed most of the region’s expensive water infrastructure, including pipelines and dams. But, as Sharene Leurig, water program manager at sustainability advocacy group Ceres said, “the era of federal largesse has passed.” That means Western utility water rates and revenues will need to be aligned with short- and long-term expenses. That means higher water rates.

But tools are available to curb water price inflation. Among the most appealing are strong demand management programs. By using carrots and sticks to reduce water use — especially for water-sapping lawns and landscaping — utilities can avoid having to finance expensive new water supplies.

There are many success stories to point to. Lubbock reduced household water use by 25 percent by using drought restrictions and tiered pricing. San Antonio reduced its water use by 100 million gallons a day without having to raise its water rates. These efforts had enormous benefits in helping both cities weather last year’s drought…..


What about climate change?
Baltimore Sun Editorial

Our view: President Obama’s failure to raise an environmental issue of paramount importance may be costing him support from a critical segment of the electorate

October 18, 2012

Last month, a Republican-aligned polling firm called on hunters and fishermen nationwide to get their views. Some of the results were unsurprising: Outdoorsmen regard themselves as politically conservative and register Republican over Democratic by a more than 2-to-1 ratio. But here’s one response that may have caught President Barack Obama and his re-election team by surprise, if they noticed it at all: A majority of these sportsmen believe global warming is the cause of this past summer’s high temperatures and want the White House and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to limit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions….



David Attenborough: US politicians duck climate change because of cost

The naturalist warned it would take a terrible example of extreme weather to wake people up to global warming

Adam Vaughan and Camila Ruz, Thursday 25 October 2012 07.37 EDT

The broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough says scientists and environmentalists have been cautious of overstating the dangers of global warming Link to this video

One of the world’s leading naturalists has accused US politicians of ducking the issue of climate change because of the economic cost of tackling it and warned that it would take a terrible example of extreme weather to wake people up to the dangers of global warming. Speaking just days after the subject of climate change failed to get a mention in the US presidential debates for the first time in 24 years, Sir David Attenborough told the Guardian: “[It] does worry me that most powerful nation in the world, North America, denies what the rest of us can see very clearly [on climate change]. I don’t know what you do about that. It’s easier to deny.” Asked what was needed to wake people up, the veteran broadcaster famous for series such as Life and Planet Earth said: “Disaster. It’s a terrible thing to say, isn’t it? Even disaster doesn’t do it. There have been disasters in North America, with hurricanes and floods, yet still people deny and say ‘oh, it has nothing to do with climate change.’ It visibly has got [something] to do with climate change.” But some US politicians found it easier to deny the science on climate change than take action, he said, because the consequence of recognising the science on man-made climate change “means a huge section from the national budget will be spent in order to deal with it, plenty of politicians will be happy to say ‘don’t worry about that, we’re not going to increase your taxes.'” Neither Barack Obama or Mitt Romney mentioned climate change in three TV debates, despite a summer of record temperatures and historic drought in the US…


Climate change still a no-show at debates

Politico – ‎October 23, 2012‎

“Given that climate change may be the greatest challenge we face in the decades ahead, to be silent on the issue over the course of four debates does a real disservice to the country,” Penn State climate researcher Michael Mann said in an email


Obama, Mitt Romney Largely Leave … Climate Change On Election Sidelines


WASHINGTON — Of the roughly 50,000 words spoken in this month’s three presidential debates, none were “climate change,” “global warming” or “greenhouse gas.”

Housing was discussed in the first debate, but the word “foreclosure” was mentioned in none. Nor was gay marriage. The 2012 presidential campaign, not just the debates, has focused heavily from the start on jobs, pushing other once high-profile issues to the sidelines. It dismays activists who have spent decades promoting environmental issues, gay rights, gun control and other topics, sometimes managing to lift them to the top tiers of national attention and debate. With fewer than half of Americans believing that human activity contributes to global warming, according to Pew Research, President Barack Obama talks far less about climate change than he did four years ago. When he locked up the Democratic nomination in June 2008, he said future generations would recall “this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” Obama hasn’t come close to making such claims in recent months. Last June, 3,100 U.S. temperature records were broken and much of the nation was in drought, said Daniel Kessler, spokesman for 350 Action Fund, which tries to raise awareness of global warming. And yet the three presidential debates, and the sole vice presidential forum, produced “absolute silence on climate science,” Kessler said…..




TIMELINE: Fox News’ Role In The “Climate Of Doubt”


PBS’ Frontline recently aired a documentary titled “Climate of Doubt,” examining how conservative groups, frequently funded by the fossil fuel industry, have pushed Republicans to reject the scientific consensus on manmade global warming. Here, Media Matters looks back at how Fox News has contributed to that “Climate of Doubt,” often teaming up with industry to misrepresent science and attack all efforts to address this threat.


Levi’s Quietly Announces Climate Change Strategy

Triple Pundit – ‎October 22, 2012‎

So earlier this month, when Levi Strauss & Company (LS&CO) released their 2012 Climate Change Strategy (view announcement or download the PDF), it seems counter-intuitive that so little media fanfare accompanied the launch.



An Answer To ‘Drill, Baby Drill’: Countering The American Petroleum Institute’s Plan For Climate Disaster

By Stephen Lacey on Oct 19, 2012 at 12:29 pm

The American Petroleum Institute’s vision for America. If you’ve turned on the television, walked by a bus stop, or visited a social networking site in the last 10 months, there’s a very good chance you’ve been targeted by the American Petroleum Institute’s “Vote 4 Energy” campaign. It’s one of the most prominent and consistent ad buys amongst the tidal wave of spending from fossil fuel groups this election season. Launched at the beginning of the year, the campaign was rolled out in conjunction with an energy plan that calls for unrestrained oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, Outer Continental Shelf, onshore and offshore in the Arctic, and public lands around the country. The plan also calls for developing the Keystone XL pipeline and increasing production of tar sands — one of the most environmentally-destructive and carbon-intensive resources — by 250 percent.


Recession drives down U.S. national park visitation
(October 19, 2012) — A national recession doesn’t just affect Americans’ wallets. It also impacts their travel to national parks, a new study has found. Recent visitation statistics released by the US Department of Interior already noted the significant decrease in national park visitation — dropping nearly 10 million since 1998 to 278 million visitors — but this is the first study to link the drop to a bad economy. … > full story


Addressing Climate Change Is Pro-Business

ThinkProgress – ‎October 21, 2012‎

There is a particular concern among our members about the consequences of human-induced climate change. As the World Bank’s World Development Report 2010 argues, “Economic growth alone is unlikely to be fast or equitable enough to counter threats ..







Terra Global invites you to a webcast entitled “The California Carbon Market and the Role of International Forests: A Primer on the Risks and Opportunities for Institutional Investors” on October 30, at 2pm EST. The webcast is funded by the United States Agency for International Development under the Forest Carbon, Markets and Communities Program implemented by Tetra Tech-ARD and a number of partners including, Terra Global Capital.



Language Intelligence Event: Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, Churchill, Dylan and Lady Gaga

Posted: 20 Oct 2012 11:19 AM PDT

Joe Romm–52-minute interview of me on Miami Public Radio’s “Topical Currents” show (audio here).






U.S. Poised To Be World’s Top Oil Producer, Part Of ‘The New Middle East’. The Bad News: We’ll Also Have Their Climate.

Posted: 23 Oct 2012 03:50 PM PDT

This is a good news, bad news story, which the media, characteristically, gets half right. The AP reports today: “U.S. oil output is surging so fast that the United States could soon overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s biggest producer. Driven by high prices and new drilling methods, U.S. production of crude and other liquid hydrocarbons is on track to rise 7 percent this year to an average of 10.9 million barrels per day. This will be the fourth straight year of crude increases and the biggest single-year gain since 1951…. The increase in production hasn’t translated to cheaper gasoline at the pump, and prices are expected to stay relatively high for the next few years because of growing demand for oil in developing nations and political instability in the Middle East and North Africa.”….


Offsetting global warming: Targeting solar geoengineering to minimize risk and inequality
(October 21, 2012) — By tailoring geoengineering efforts by region and by need, a new model promises to maximize the effectiveness of solar radiation management while mitigating its potential side effects and risks. … > full story

The art of sustainable development
(October 19, 2012) — Einstein said that we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking used when we created them. Wise words, except few people heed them when it comes to sustainable solutions for our ailing planet. Despite decades of scientific research into everything from air pollution to species extinction, individuals are slow to act because their passions are not being ignited. … > full story


Let it snow! Solar panels can take it
(October 24, 2012) — Even if the weather outside is frightful, solar cells can still generate a delightful amount of electricity. … > full story


Large-Scale Production of Biofuels Made from Algae Poses Sustainability Concerns



October 24, 2012 — Scaling up the production of biofuels made from algae to meet at least five percent — approximately 39 billion liters — of US transportation fuel needs would place unsustainable demands on energy, … > full story


Air conditioning consumes one third of peak electric consumption in the summer
(October 22, 2012) — Air conditioning in homes may account for up to one third of electricity use during periods in the summer when the most energy is required in large cities, according to a study carried out in Spain. The research attempts to determine not only the amount of energy that is consumed, but also its environmental impact. … > full story


Americans Use More Efficient and Renewable Energy Technologies



October 24, 2012 — Americans used less energy in 2011 than in the previous year due mainly to a shift to higher-efficiency energy technologies in the transportation and residential sectors. Meanwhile, less coal was … > full story


Greener and quieter tires
(October 22, 2012) — Researchers in Spain have shown that introducing new materials and modifying the manufacturing process of tires, drivers can save fuel and reduce noise generated by their vehicles. … > full story


How one engineer’s birdwatching made Japan’s bullet train better

By Tom McKeag Published October 19, 2012 The Biomimicry Column

What is the connection between an engineer going bird watching and his saving millions of dollars for his company?

Or, what does catching flies have to do with preventing plane crashes? How will locust swarms change the nature of our highways? Can a mold do a better job of plotting our mass transit systems than a team of engineers and planners? The common thread in all these scenarios: Deep observation and analysis of the natural world can lead to amazingly creative innovations. I will write about all these things in this series on transportation, but first let’s take a look at a how a couple of interesting birds inspired a sleek design. Eiji Nakatsu was the general manager of the technical development department for the so-called “bullet” trains of Japan, famed for their speed and safety record. After attending a 1990 lecture on birds by an aviation engineer, Nakatsu, who is also an engineer, realized studying the flight of birds could bring his train, and us, into the future……




Can Cities Be “Resilient” and “Sustainable” at the Same Time?

The urban areas of the next 100 years will have to be both. But that’s tricky.

By David Biello|Posted Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, at 3:08 PM ET

If you’ve successfully flushed a toilet recently, then you appreciate (at least subconsciously) the workings of a good sewer system. Waste disappears, no matter what time of day or night, or what the weather’s like. But weather is actually a challenge for a sewer system, especially precipitation. That New York City’s sewers can handle the waste of more than 8 million residents on a daily basis—plus the occasional downpour or major storm like Hurricane Irene—is a testament to its resilience.

How does New York do it? Simple: combined sewer outflows. When there’s simply too much water in the sewers for the city’s wastewater treatment plants to cope, the proverbial flood gates are opened and rainfall mixed with sewage flows into area waterways, such as Newtown Creek or the Gowanus Canal.

That’s great for keeping sewage from finding other places to go—like back up into your toilet. But it’s less good for places that consistently see such overflows, like the Gowanus Canal. The canal, affectionately called “Lavender Lake” by locals for the multi-hued sheen of its near constant water pollution, carries a raging case of gonorrhea thanks to all that outflow as well as some of the most toxic sludge in the country. In fact, an industrial legacy paired with these “combined sewer outflows” has been enough to turn the canal into a Superfund site—or one of the nation’s most polluted localities.

That isn’t exactly sustainable. Especially once you consider that downpours and the like are predicted to be on the increase as a result of climate change, as are little threats like sea level rise that could turn outflows into inflows.

In fact, though resilience and sustainability—two of the hottest buzzwords in urban planning—are used practically interchangeably, they are in fact in some tension with each other. A resilient system bounces back from challenges, unharmed, and a big part of building in resilience includes building in ways to fail safely, such as the combined sewer outflows. So, for example, the blackout of 2003 showed how the U.S. power grid remains less than resilient to challenges like untrimmed trees and power lines sagging in the heat. An example of a more resilient technological system is the Internet here in America, where if one route for data fails, another is found.

Sustainability, on the other hand, means efficiency, at least in part, as designers strive to strike a balance between human needs and environmental impacts. This century, the world’s megacities will swell to become gigalopolises—vast tracts of urbanized land, like the metropolitan corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C., or the predicted one between Hangzhou and Shenyang. Efficiency in the construction of infrastructure will be vital as the world attempts to build in the next few decades the same amount of urban infrastructure we’ve cobbled together over the last several millennia. Does that mean foregoing a built-in margin of safety? The Internet may be resilient in the United States, but a reliance on single lines of connection to the rest of the world has disconnected countries across Africa, from Egypt to Uganda. Imagine the same thing happening to an “efficient” sewer system.

Some of the most obvious ways to become more resilient are not sustainable….







Herbal and dietary supplements can adversely affect prescribed drugs, says extensive review
(October 24, 2012) — A number of herbs and dietary supplements (HDS) can cause potentially harmful drug interactions, particularly among people receiving medication for problems with their central nervous or cardiovascular systems. Researchers examined 54 review articles and 31 original studies. They found that the greatest problems were caused by interactions between prescribed drugs and HDS that included ingredients such as St John’s Wort, magnesium, calcium, iron or ginkgo. … > full story


American Academy of Pediatrics Weighs in for First Time On Organic Foods for Children

ScienceDaily (Oct. 22, 2012) — Parents know it’s important for children to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains. But it’s less clear whether spending the extra money on organic foods will bring a significant benefit to their children’s health.

To offer guidance to parents — and the pediatricians caring for their children’s health — the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has conducted an extensive analysis of scientific evidence surrounding organic produce, dairy products and meat. The conclusion is mixed: While organic foods have the same vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, proteins, lipids and other nutrients as conventional foods, they also have lower pesticide levels, which may be significant for children. Organically raised animals are also less likely to be contaminated with drug-resistant bacteria because organic farming rules prohibit the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics. However, in the long term, there is currently no direct evidence that consuming an organic diet leads to improved health or lower risk of disease. No large studies in humans have been performed that specifically address this issue.

“What’s most important is that children eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products, whether those are conventional or organic foods. This type of diet has proven health benefits,” said Janet Silverstein, MD, FAAP, a member of the AAP Committee on Nutrition and one of the lead authors of the report. “Many families have a limited food budget, and we do not want families to choose to consume smaller amounts of more expensive organic foods and thus reduce their overall intake of healthy foods like produce….








The Presidential Candidates are Silent on the Essential Facts of Climate Change



Although Barack Obama and Mitt Romney sprinkle their speeches with mentions of energy and climate, they have remained stubbornly silent on the immediate and profound task of phasing out a carbon-based economy. Their failure to connect the dots and do the math imperils our nation and prevents the development of a national and global plan to respond to the most urgent challenge of our era. It’s time for their climate silence to end…..



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