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Conservation Science News February 1, 2013

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Highlight of the Week Major Climate Changes Looming—and Green “Infrastructure” –Nature-based Solutions









Highlight of the Week– Major Climate Changes Looming—and Green “Infrastructure” –Nature-based Solutions


Excellent overview (front page SF Chronicle):


Major climate changes looming

Carolyn Lochhead Updated 11:10 pm, Sunday, January 27, 2013

Greenhouse gases rise from a coal-burning plant in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, contributing to warming. Photo: Martin Meissner, Associated Press


Washington — In his inaugural address last Monday, President Obama made climate change a priority of his second term. It might be too late. Within the lifetimes of today’s children, scientists say, the climate could reach a state unknown in civilization. In that time, global carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels are on track to exceed the limits that scientists believe could prevent catastrophic warming. CO{-2} levels are higher than they have been in 15 million years. The Arctic, melting rapidly and probably irreversibly, has reached a state that the Vikings would not recognize. “We are poised right at the edge of some very major changes on Earth,” said Anthony Barnosky, a UC Berkeley professor of biology who studies the interaction of climate change with population growth and land use. “We really are a geological force that’s changing the planet.”

Wholesale shift needed

The Arctic melt is occurring as the planet is just 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degree Celsius) warmer than it was in preindustrial times. At current trends, the Earth could warm by 4 degrees Celsius in 50 years, according to a November World Bank report. The coolest summer months would be much warmer than today’s hottest summer months, the report said. “The last time Earth was 4 degrees warmer than it is now was about 14 million years ago,” Barnosky said. Experts said it is technically feasible to halt such changes by nearly ending the use of fossil fuels. It would require a wholesale shift to renewable fuels that the United States, let alone China and other developing countries, appears unlikely to make, given that many Americans do not believe humans are changing the climate.

Science is not opinion, it’s not what we want it to be,” said Katharine Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian and climatologist at Texas Tech University who was lead author of a draft report on U.S. climate change issued this month by the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee, which was created by the federal government.

You can’t make a thermometer tell you it’s hotter than it is,” said Hayhoe, who with her husband, a linguist and West Texas pastor, has written a book on climate change addressed to evangelicals.

And it’s not just about thermometers or satellite instruments,” she said. “It’s about looking in our own backyards, when the trees are flowering now compared to 30 years ago, what types of birds and butterflies and bugs that … used to be further south.” Robins are arriving two weeks early in Colorado. Frogs are calling sooner in Ithaca, N.Y. The Sierra Nevada snowpack is melting earlier. Cold snaps, like the one gripping the East, still happen, but less often. The frost-free season has lengthened 21 days in California, nine days in Texas and 10 in Connecticut, according to the draft climate report.


Extreme weather

Scientists are loath to pin a specific event, such as Hurricane Sandy, to global warming. But “the risk of certain extreme events, such as the 2003 European heat wave, the 2010 Russian heat wave and fires, and the 2011 Texas heat wave and drought has … doubled or more,” said Michael Wehner, a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and co-author of the climate report. “Some of the changes that have occurred are permanent on human time scales.” Last year, the continental United States was the hottest it has ever been in the 118 years that records have been kept. Globally, each of the first 12 years of the 21st century were among the 14 warmest ever. Connecticut was 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 20th century average. At current rates of CO{-2} emissions, scientists expect New England to have summers resembling the Deep South within decades. The pine bark beetle, held in check by winter freezes, is epidemic over millions of acres of forests from California to South Dakota. Oceans, which absorb CO2, have increased in acidity, damaging coral reefs, shellfish and organisms at the bottom of the food chain. Washington state shellfish growers have seen major failures in oyster hatcheries because the larvae don’t form shells. A report this month by the National Research Council, a public policy branch of the National Academies, said such changes in ocean chemistry in the geologic past were accompanied by “mass extinctions of ocean or terrestrial life or both.”

Tipping point

A key question is when greenhouse gas emissions might reach a point where changes become self-reinforcing and out of human control. Arctic sea ice reflects the sun. As it melts, the dark ocean absorbs more solar heat, raising temperatures. Similarly, the Greenland ice sheet is melting rapidly, reducing reflectivity and heating the Earth faster, possibly speeding up the melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet. The northern permafrost is thawing, with the potential to release methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and CO{-2} stored in soils. These can produce sudden changes that are hard to predict.”We could be at a tipping point where the climate just abruptly warms,” said Mark Z. Jacobson, director of Stanford University’s atmosphere/energy program.

Changes over time

UC Berkeley’s Barnosky said tipping points could come earlier than anticipated when factoring in population growth and land use. More than 40 percent of the Earth’s land surface has been covered by farms and cities. Much of the rest is cut by roads. By 2025, that footprint could reach 50 percent, a level that on smaller scales has led to ecological crashes, such as a fisheries collapse or an ocean dead zone. “It’s just sort of simple math: The more people, the more footprint,” Barnosky said. “If we’re still on a fossil fuel economy in 50 years, there is no hope for doing anything about climate change. It will be here in such a dramatic way that we won’t recognize the planet we’re on.” Not all climate scientists are so gloomy. Ashley Ballantyne, a bioclimatologist at the University of Montana who studies paleoclimate records, said the climate has always changed, with ice ages, warmings and mass extinctions. At current CO{-2} concentrations, the Arctic and Greenland are likely to become ice free, as they were 4 million years ago, he said. Polar bears are poorly adapted to such conditions, he said, “but it wasn’t bad for boreal trees. They were quite happy.” An international political consensus set as a danger zone a global temperature increase of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), which is expected in 25 years based on current trends and when atmospheric concentration of CO{-2} reaches 450 parts per million. It is now almost 400 parts per million.

Two degrees Celsius is “an arbitrary number,” said Alan Robock, director of the Center for Environmental Prediction at Rutgers University. “On our current path, we will go zooming way past that.”

Climatologist James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and activist Bill McKibben, founder of, believe the only way to preserve the Holocene climate humans are used to is to cut CO{-2} concentrations to 350 parts per million, last seen around 1988.

Ballantyne dismissed the 350 goal: “That’s like a 70-year-old alcoholic saying, ‘I’m going quit drinking when I’m 60 years old.’ “

McKibben and Hansen propose a tax on fossil fuels at their source, to be reimbursed to all U.S. residents, as Sen. Bernie Sanders, independent-Vt., plans to propose in a “fee and dividend” scheme modeled on Alaska’s oil royalty rebates to state residents.


Carbon tax unlikely

White House press secretary Jay Carney, asked Wednesday about the Sanders bill, said: “We have not proposed and have no intention of proposing a carbon tax.”

It would have to be a big tax, McKibben said, “that drives up the price quickly. Maybe you go to the pump someday and you’re paying what people in Europe pay for gasoline, which is good, because then it reminds you every time you go to the pump that you don’t really need a semi-military vehicle to go to the grocery store.” Stanford’s Jacobson maintains that wind and solar could power the world many times over. He calculated that the world would need to install 1.7 billion solar rooftops and 4 million wind turbines. Jane Long, chair of the California Council on Science and Technology, said any such conversion would be costly and difficult at best. Still, she said, “one way to get out of the hole is to stop digging.”


Carolyn Lochhead is The San Francisco Chronicle’s Washington correspondent. E-mail:



Green vs. Gray Infrastructure: When Nature Is Better than Concrete

Submitted by John Talberth and Craig Hanson on June 19, 2012

Infrastructure is essential for economic growth. But as governments debate the future of sustainable development at the Rio+20 conference, there is one infrastructure solution that can provide a good return on investment: nature.
People often don’t think of forests, wetlands, coral reefs, and other natural ecosystems as forms of infrastructure. But they are. Forests, for instance, can prevent silt and pollutants from entering streams that supply freshwater to downstream cities and businesses. They can act as natural water filtration plants. As such, they are a form of “green infrastructure” that can serve the same function as “gray infrastructure,” the human-engineered solutions that often involve concrete and steel. This example is not alone (see Table 1).



Examples of public and private investments in green infrastructure already exist. For instance, Bogotá, Columbia is pursuing upstream landscape conservation and restoration as an alternative to more conventional water treatment technologies. Ho Chi Minh City restored mangroves instead of building dikes in order to protect shorelines from storm damage. And a chemical facility in Texas built a wetland instead of using deep well injection to treat wastewater.

Costs of Green vs. Gray Infrastructure — What should be of particular interest to finance ministers, CFOs, and conservationists alike is that, in many instances, investments in green infrastructure can be much less expensive than those in gray infrastructure. For instance, New York City evaluated two schemes to manage its stormwater flows. One was a green infrastructure plan that emphasized stream buffer restoration, green roofs, and bio-swales , landscape elements designed to remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water. The other was a gray infrastructure plan involving tunnels and storm drains. The green infrastructure option presented a cost savings of more than $1.5 billion. Decision-makers in Idaho and North Carolina found similar cost savings through green infrastructure (see Figure 1).

If green infrastructure can provide comparable benefits to gray infrastructure at reduced costs, then the financial case can be made for investing in the conservation, sustainable management, and/or restoration of natural ecosystems to achieve development goals.

Analyzing Green Infrastructure’s Costs and Benefits- To help make this financial case, we need a method for evaluating green and gray costs in a manner that compares apples-to-apples and focuses on incurred expenses. Working with a number of partners, WRI developed such a “Green-Gray Analysis” approach and applied it in the Sebago Lake watershed, which provides water to Portland, Maine (check out our issue brief, Insights from the Field: Forests for Water). The Portland Water District (PWD) currently qualifies for filtration avoidance under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 1989 Surface Water Treatment Rule. This rule waives public water systems from needing to install water filtration systems so long as beneficial land use practices keep concentrations of particulates and contaminants at or below regulatory baselines. However, recent upstream development, forest clearing, and population growth may jeopardize the filtration waiver, potentially forcing PWD to install a conventional membrane filtration system–an expensive proposition…..

Green Infrastructure and Sustainable Development- The lesson here is that instead of automatically defaulting to dikes and pipes to control flooding, we first should look at restoring wetlands. Rather than building sea walls, we need to think about conserving sand dunes and coral reefs. And before building more water filtration systems, we could first consider rehabilitating upstream watersheds. Although green infrastructure may not always be the most cost-effective approach, with a robust methodology in hand, planners can compare green to gray and identify new opportunities for investing in nature.
As planners—especially those at Rio+20— look to meet infrastructure demands of the 21st century, the lesson is clear: Think about green before investing in gray.







PRBO in the News:

Mid-Valley rice farmers can provide habitat for waterbirds

By Michael Hatamiya/Appeal-Democrat January 27, 2013

Mid-Valley rice growers can take part in a program to improve habitat for waterbirds on their land and receive federal assistance toward that end. The Waterbird Habitat Enhancement Program is conducted by the US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“To help wildlife resources — that’s the whole reason for the program,” said Paul Buttner, manager of environmental affairs for the California Rice Commission. “Our industry holds wildlife habitat dear, and we appreciate these types of programs that give us an opportunity to expand these practices,” he said last week.

The Central Valley is an integral part of the Pacific Flyway, which serves as seasonal or year-round breeding and wintering grounds for waterfowl from ducks and geese to egrets, herons and shorebirds such as plovers and sandpipers. Since the Gold Rush, the Central Valley’s 4 million acres of wetlands have been reduced to 5 percent of that total, or 200,000 acres, according to Monica Iglecia, Audubon California conservation project director who is involved with the Waterbird Habitat Enhancement Program.

“In the Sacramento Valley, 80 percent of flooded habitat consists of rice fields and 20 percent is managed wetlands,” she said at a workshop in Yuba City last week to educate rice growers about the program.The tailwater from rice fields drained before harvest plays a major role in sustaining wetlands, and the flooded paddies themselves serve as habitat. “The program is designed to change what growers are doing in order to provide habitat on a working landscape for waterbirds,” said Tim Hermansen, a wildlife biologist with the NRCS in Colusa. “The practices were made available through research and analysis.”

The practices, which are intended to provide shallow-water wetlands, mudflats and nesting areas, include maintaining flooded fields at specific levels and releasing water at specified times of the year, keeping stubble at a certain height, building islands in paddies for birds to rest on, creating ponds, cultivating ground cover by seeding native vegetation in hedgerows, between fields or on retired land, and erecting nesting boxes. Growers sign contracts for one to three years and are monitored by NRCS officials. ….With the California Rice Commission as the industry partner, the scientific team includes Audubon California, PRBO Conservation Science and The Nature Conservancy.

In 2011, the program was implemented on a small scale with a pilot program in the Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District. In 2012, it was widened to six counties in the Sacramento Valley. Now, in its third year, eight counties are included in the program: Yuba, Sutter, Colusa and Butte as well as Glenn, Sacramento, Yolo and Placer. About 125 rice growers on 45,000 acres participated in the program in 2012. “We got involved because Montna Farms is involved in a lot of conservation work, and this was a program that can help with practices on the ground and enhance the population of shorebirds, wading birds and waterfowl,” said Jon Munger, operations manager and rice farmer with Montna Farms. “We enjoy seeing the variety of birds that visit our fields.”

Montna Farms, with rice holdings in the Dingville area of Sutter County, has employed the water management regime, modified equipment to create optimum checks for nesting, cultivated cover along ditches, and set up nesting boxes in line with the program. The deadline for rice growers to file applications for 2013 is Feb. 15; they are encouraged to turn in paperwork well before the rush at the deadline. For more information and application materials, prospective participants should contact the Natural Resources Conservation Service office in their respective counties.




A project of PRBO Conservation Science—Interview with Laurette Rogers



San Francisco Bay named ‘wetland of importance’

ASSOCIATED PRESS Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 4:50 p.m. SAN FRANCISCO — The San Francisco Bay estuary has been added to a list of protected wetlands under a 1971 international treaty among 163 countries meant to limit damaging development along ecologically important waterways. Ramsar Convention officials on Friday announced the U.S. government had added the bay as the nation’s 35th “wetland of importance” under the treaty. The designation means the country is committed to not promoting projects that alter designated ecosystems.

The San Francisco Bay estuary is the largest on the U.S. Pacific coast, and comprises 77-percent of California’s remaining wetland areas. It is home to more than 1,000 animal species.

Melissa Pitkin, spokeswoman for PRBO Conservation Science, said decades of research informed this designation, and while it doesn’t come with new regulations, it helps bolster local conservation efforts through international pressure.

Least sandpiper. Photo: Steve Tucker

The Smallest Sandpipers

by Joe Eaton on January 15, 2013 in Wildlife: Birds, Mammals, Fish

They’re known as peeps for their high-pitched voices. They’re the runts of the Scolopacidae, the shorebird family that includes sandpipers, yellowlegs, willets, turnstones, curlews, godwits, dowitchers, and phalaropes. The aptly named least sandpiper (Calidris minutilla) is sparrow-size and weighs about three-quarters of an ounce (equal to a dollar in quarters); the western sandpiper (C. mauri) is only a bit larger. Those two species are by far our most common peeps. But it can be a challenge to tell them apart. Westerns tend to forage at the water’s edge, leasts on drier ground, but they frequently overlap and mixed flocks are not uncommon. “Leasts are more likely to be back in the tidal channels, in more vegetated areas,” says PRBO Conservation Science biologist Dave Shuford. “They tend to occur in smaller flocks and are less prone to flush, more likely to freeze when a raptor goes over.” Both engage in dazzling synchronized flight, often provoked by a passing raptor.  William L. Dawson (Birds of California) describes the flight of a western sandpiper flock: “[T]hey weave and twist about, now flashing in the sunlight, now darkening to invisibility, charge and recharge, feint and flee, all as a single bird.”….



The number of eagles, kestrels, burrowing owls and red-tailed hawks killed each year by flying into the wind generators at Altamont Pass in Alameda County has fallen roughly 50 percent since 2005, a study shows. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

Altamont Pass turbines kill fewer birds

David R. Baker San Francisco Chronicle January 29, 2013

For decades, wind turbines straddling the Altamont Pass have generated clean electricity for California – at the cost of killing thousands of birds. The tall, grassy hills, raked by stiff winds in spring and summer, offer prime hunting territory… But efforts to curb the bloodshed may be starting to work. A new study suggests that the number of eagles, kestrels, burrowing owls and red-tailed hawks killed at Altamont each year has fallen roughly 50 percent since 2005. Reaching that level has been a long-term goal of local environmentalists and government officials, as well as the energy companies running turbines in the pass. “We’re pretty pleased with the results,” said Sandra Rivera, assistant planning director for Alameda County. “It’s a fine balance between having the renewables we all want to have in California and keeping the wildlife safe. That’s what we’ve all been trying to achieve.” Bird lovers who sued both the county and the wind companies in 2006 say they’re encouraged by the numbers, although they don’t want to declare victory yet. The steps taken to protect birds at Altamont – shutting down turbines for several months in the winter, replacing small, fast-spinning older models with larger ones that are easier for birds to avoid – appear to be working. But Michael Lynes, executive director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society, said he wants to keep pushing the numbers lower. “We’re not celebrating, put it that way,” said Lynes, whose Audubon chapter was one of four filing the suit. “Because as long as wind turbines are operating out there, there’s going to be mortality to wildlife. We see this as a good step toward reducing mortality.”
The study comes from consulting firm ICF International and examines bird deaths from 2005 to 2010. It focuses in particular on four species that were at the heart of the lawsuit – American kestrels, burrowing owls, golden eagles and red-tailed hawks.
At the start of the study period, deaths of all those species combined averaged 1,245 per year. By the end, the total had fallen to 625. (Those numbers represent three-year, rolling averages, considered useful because the number of birds in the pass can vary from one year to another for reasons that have nothing to do with turbines.)….more »



James Morton A domestic cat with a European rabbit. Domestic and feral cats are significant predators of a wide range of prey species, including rabbits.

That Cuddly Kitty Is Deadlier Than You Think

By NATALIE ANGIER NY TIMES Published: January 29, 2013 752 Comments

….In a report that scaled up local surveys and pilot studies to national dimensions, scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that domestic cats in the United States — both the pet Fluffies that spend part of the day outdoors and the unnamed strays and ferals that never leave it —[cats] kill a median of 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals a year, most of them native mammals like shrews, chipmunks and voles rather than introduced pests like the Norway rat. The estimated kill rates are two to four times higher than mortality figures previously bandied about, and position the domestic cat as one of the single greatest human-linked threats to wildlife in the nation. More birds and mammals die at the mouths of cats, the report said, than from automobile strikes, pesticides and poisons, collisions with skyscrapers and windmills and other so-called anthropogenic causes. Peter Marra of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and an author of the report, said the mortality figures that emerge from the new model “are shockingly high.” ….. “The number of free roaming cats is definitively growing,” Dr. Fenwick of the bird conservancy said. “It’s estimated that there are now more than 500 TNR colonies in Austin alone.”

They are colonies of subsidized predators, he said, able to survive in far greater concentrations than do wild carnivores by dint of their people-pleasing appeal. “They’re not like coyotes, having to make their way in the world,” he said.

Yet even fed cats are profoundly tuned to the hunt, and when they see something flutter, they can’t help but move in for the kill. Dr. Fenwick argues that far more effort should be put into animal adoption. “For the great majority of healthy cats,” he said, “homes can be found.” Any outdoor colonies that remain should be enclosed, he said. “Cats don’t need to wander hundreds of miles to be happy,” he said.

Irrigation in California’s Central Valley intensifies rainfall, storms across the Southwest
(January 28, 2013)Agricultural irrigation in California’s Central Valley doubles the amount of water vapor pumped into the atmosphere, ratcheting up rainfall and powerful monsoons across the interior Southwest, according to a new study by UC Irvine scientists..
Moisture on the vast farm fields evaporates, is blown over the Sierra Nevada and dumps 15 percent more than average summer rain in numerous other states. Runoff to the Colorado River increases by 28 percent, and the Four Corners region experiences a 56 percent boost in runoff. While the additional water supply can be a good thing, the transport pattern also accelerates the severity of monsoons and other potentially destructive seasonal weather events. “If we stop irrigating in the Valley, we’ll see a decrease in stream flow in the Colorado River basin,” said climate hydrologist Jay Famiglietti, senior author on the paper, which will be published online Jan. 29, in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. The basin provides water for about 35 million people, including those in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Phoenix. But the extra water vapor also accelerates normal atmospheric circulation, he said, “firing up” the annual storm cycle and drawing in more water vapor from the Gulf of Mexico as well as the Central Valley…..full story

Min-Hui Lo and James S. Famiglietti. Irrigation in California’s Central Valley Strengthens the Southwestern U. S. Water Cycle. Geophysical Research Letters, 12 JAN 2013 DOI: 10.1002/grl.50108

How plant communities endure stress
(January 30, 2013) — The Stress Gradient Hypothesis holds that as stress increases in an ecosystem, mutually supportive interactions become more significant and negative interactions, such as competition, become less so. The idea has been hotly debated but is now backed by a review of hundreds of studies co-authored in Ecology Letters by Mark Bertness, professor of biology at Brown, who first formally proposed the hypothesis in 1994. The time has come, he said, to test its application and predictive value. … > full story


Ancient Caribbean Tsunami Likely Altered Ecosystems

Yahoo! News (blog)  – ‎Jan 30, 2013‎

An ancient tsunami caused dramatic long-term ecological changes in the Caribbean more than 3,000 years ago, new research suggests.



Most Pigeons Came From Escaped Racing Birds

Discovery News Jan 31 2013

Much of the world’s pigeon population descends from escaped racing birds from the Middle East, confirms one of the most extensive DNA studies on the now ubiquitous bird. The study, published in the journal Science, decoded the genetic blueprint of the ..


What Is pH and Why Do We Care?

Publication Number: 8488 M. J. SINGER,H. A. GEORGE, ET AL.
Inventory Type: PDF File
Language: English
ISBN-13: 978-1-60107-827-8
Copyright Date: 2012
Length: 3 pp

pH is a system for rating acidity and alkalinity. It is a critical factor in farming, gardening, natural resource work, and many other fields. Here is a brief, straightforward explanation of what pH is, what it means, and why it matters to all of us.

Invasive Bug puts San Diego Ecosystems in Peril

KPBS Jan 23, 2013 Written by Katie Euphrat

An invasive bug the size of a grain of rice is wiping out thousands of acres of oak trees in San Diego County. KPBS reporter Susan Murphy tells us exotic insect invasions are a growing problem in our region.

Cultural evolution changes bird song
January 29, 2013) — Thanks to cultural evolution, male Savannah sparrows are changing their tune, partly to attract “the ladies.” According to a study of more than 30 years of Savannah sparrows recordings, the birds are singing distinctly different songs today than their ancestors did 30 years ago — changes passed along generation to generation, according to a new study. … > full story


Penicillin’s kin found in ocean ‘dead’ spot

Futurity: Research News  – ‎Jan 24 2013‎

“We were amazed that these fungi were alive and they could possibly be 100 million years old,” says oceanographer Heath Mills.


Tomorrow’s life-saving medications may currently be living at the bottom of the sea
January 29, 2013) — Two new research articles demonstrate how the next class of powerful medications may currently reside at the bottom of the ocean. In both cases, the researchers were focused on ocean-based mollusks – a category of animal that includes snails, clams and squid and their bacterial companions. … > full story


Study discovers high levels of air-cleansing compound over ocean

Phys.Org Jan 25 2013

The research aircraft flies over the Pacific Ocean with its wing-mounted instrument. Credit: Rainer Volkamer. (—Researchers have detected the presence of a pollutant-destroying compound iodine monoxide in surprisingly high levels high above …


Stable fisher population found in the Southern Sierra Nevada
(January 28, 2013) — After experiencing years of population decline on the West Coast, a recent study examining fisher populations found that — at least in the southern Sierra Nevada — the animal’s numbers appear to be stable. … > full story


Depression-era drainage ditches emerge as sleeping threat to Cape Cod salt marshes
(January 25, 2013) — Cape Cod, Massachusetts has a problem. The iconic salt marshes of the famous summer retreat are melting away at the edges, dying back from the most popular recreational areas. The erosion is a consequence of an unexpected synergy between recreational over-fishing and Great Depression-era ditches constructed by Works Progress Administration in an effort to control mosquitoes. … > full story


Dung Beetles Navigate Via Milky Way

Indian Country Today Media  – ‎Jan 25 2013‎

Human beings have long navigated by the stars. A new study shows that at least one member of the animal kingdom, the dung beetle, does so as well—using the Milky Way, as it turns out.



Bugs in the atmosphere: Significant microorganism populations found in middle and upper troposphere
(January 28, 2013) — In what is believed to be the first study of its kind, researchers used genomic techniques to document the presence of significant numbers of living microorganisms — principally bacteria — in the middle and upper troposphere, that section of the atmosphere approximately four to six miles above Earth’s surface. … > full story



Almost 500 new species discovered at Senckenberg: Newly discovered species in 2011 and 2012
January 25, 2013) — In the last two years scientists at the Senckenberg research institutes have discovered and described almost 500 new species. … > full story


Why are there redheads? Birds might hold the clues
(January 28, 2013) — Biologists examined the survival rates and chestnut feather coloration of barn swallows and other species of birds, to unearth factors favoring the evolution of pheomelanin in spite of its costs. They found that under conditions of low stress, birds with larger amounts of pheomelanin survived better, suggesting the pigment may serve a beneficial role. … > full story


Owl mystery unravelled: Scientists explain how bird can rotate its head without cutting off blood supply to brain
(January 31, 2013) — Medical illustrators and neurological imaging experts have figured out how night-hunting owls can almost fully rotate their heads — by as much as 270 degrees in either direction — without damaging the delicate blood vessels in their necks and heads, and without cutting off blood supply to their brains. … > full story


Disappearing homing pigeon mystery solved
(January 30, 2013) — Homing pigeons are remarkable navigators. Although they are able to find their loft from almost any location, they do get lost occasionally. The reason why had been a mystery until a scientist wondered if the birds use the loft’s infrasound signature as a homing beacon to get their bearings. He discovered that the atmosphere misdirected the loft’s infrasound signal on days when pigeons were lost, preventing them from finding the correct bearing home. … > full story


Giant Squid: Still a Deep Mystery

Discovery News  – ‎Jan 25 2013‎

The recent unprecedented video footage of a giant squid filmed in its deep ocean habitat has renewed interest in the enormous — and yet still mysterious — species


Measuring the consequence of forest fires on public health
(January 27, 2013) — Pollution from forest fires is impacting the health of people with asthma and other chronic obstructive lung diseases, finds a new study. This study uses data from pharmacies and dispensaries to measure the increase in drugs needed to alleviate symptoms associated with pollution. … > full story


Microsoft Builds Global Ecosystem Computer Model
January 18, 2013

Microsoft Research is building a giant computer model for terrestrial and marine ecosystems, which the scientists hope policy makers will use to better manage natural resources.

Company researchers describe the general ecosystem model (GEM) in the Microsoft Green blog and also have published an article in the journal Nature (paid access) arguing for other scientists to get involved in a project they say will better support conservation and biodiversity. A global data-gathering program is expensive, and Microsoft Research says it and other GEM supporters are calling on governments worldwide to support programs that collect and manage ecological and climate data.

A general circulation model (GCM), the blog explains, is a mathematical model that imitates the earth’s land, ocean and atmosphere, and can be used for weather forecasting as well as understanding and predicting climate change. A GEM takes the technology a step further and uses computer modeling to help scientists and policy makers understand terrestrial and marine ecosystems.

Microsoft Research and the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Center (UNEP-WCMC) have spent the past two years developing a prototype GEM. It’s called the Madingley Model, and it builds on the group’s recently finished global carbon cycle model, and mimics all animal life on land and in the sea. According to Drew Purves, head of Microsoft’s Computational Ecology and Environmental Science Group, the end goal is to enable conservationists to use data from GEMs and other models to guide global conservation policy…..



New Science-Policy Platform Takes Big Steps for Biodiversity and Ecosystem …

Ecoseed – ‎Jan 29, 2013‎

Bonn – A new international science-policy platform on biodiversity and ecosystems, set up to assist governments and citizens to better understand the state, trends and challenges facing the natural world and humanity in the 21st century, has today put .



Vegetation changes in cradle of humanity: Study raises questions about impact on human evolution
(January 31, 2013) — What came first: the bipedal human ancestor or the grassland encroaching on the forest? A new analysis of the past 12 million years’ of vegetation change in the cradle of humanity is challenging long-held beliefs about the world in which our ancestors took shape — and, by extension, the impact it had on them. … > full story





Groundwater depletion linked to climate change
(January 28, 2013) — Climate change may be exacerbating many countries’ experience of water stress, according to new research. Experts explain how several human-driven factors, if not rectified, will combine with climate change to significantly reduce useable groundwater availability for agriculture globally.
The authors note that inadequate groundwater supply records and mathematical models for predicting climate change and associated sea-level-rise make it impossible to forecast groundwater’s long-range fate globally. “Over-pumping of groundwater for irrigation is mining dry the world’s ancient Pleistocene-age, ice-sheet-fed aquifers and, ironically, at the same time increasing sea-level rise, which we haven’t factored into current estimations of the rise,” says Allen. “Groundwater pumping reduces the amount of stored water deep underground and redirects it to the more active hydrologic system at the land-surface. There, it evaporates into the atmosphere, and ultimately falls as precipitation into the ocean.”….full story

Ground water and climate change



ABSTRACT: As the world’s largest distributed store of fresh water, ground water plays a central part in sustaining ecosystems and enabling human adaptation to climate variability and change. The strategic importance of ground water for global water and food security will probably intensify under climate change as more frequent and intense climate extremes (droughts and floods) increase variability in precipitation, soil moisture and surface water. Here we critically review recent research assessing the impacts of climate on ground water through natural and human-induced processes as well as through groundwater-driven feedbacks on the climate system. Furthermore, we examine the possible opportunities and challenges of using and sustaining groundwater resources in climate adaptation strategies, and highlight the lack of groundwater observations, which, at present, limits our understanding of the dynamic relationship between ground water and climate.



Climate vulnerability assessments may fall short for migratory bird species

Nature Climate Change, 2013. DOI: 10.1038/nclimate1810 (About DOIs).

Ars Technica  – ‎ January 30, 2013‎

It’s been estimated that up to one in ten species could go extinct by the end of this century as a result of climate change. Conservation professionals are working hard to understand how climate change will influence species and to develop strategies to manage the risks, but migratory species pose a particular challenge. These long-distance migrants spend parts of their annual cycle in different habitats, at different latitudes, and often cross geopolitical boundaries. Migration is an adaptive response to geographic and seasonal variation in resources, but climate change may disrupt the longstanding, and sometimes impeccably timed, relationships between migratory species and their environment. Changes in ecological conditions may be taking place on both ends of a migratory route, making it difficult to predict how climate alterations will affect a species or affect it across its range.

Current assessments fall short in predicting the vulnerability of migratory species to climate change, neglecting to look at the species’ migratory status or consider factors that impact the species outside of their breeding grounds. …By overlooking a significant portion of a species’ annual cycle, key aspects of their biology are overlooked, leading to climate-risk scenarios that are oversimplified. These shortcomings could fail to detect risk to species or population and mislead conservation efforts. The authors note that although current efforts to assess species’ vulnerability to climate change are commendable, efforts must be taken to update the methods so that they better capture the full annual cycle for migratory species. “We fear that getting it wrong will have enormous costs—the foremost being missed opportunities to take conservation action at the right times and places for those species most likely to be vulnerable.”

Stacy L. Small-Lorenz, Leah A. Culp, T. Brandt Ryder , Tom C. Will, & Peter P. Marra. A blind spot in climate change vulnerability assessments. Nature Climate Change 3, 91–93 (2013) doi:10.1038/nclimate1810 Published online 27 January 2013


In beef production, cow-calf phase contributes most greenhouse gases
(January 30, 2013)A new study shows that nursing cows are a major source of methane in beef production. By better understanding cattle nutrition and methane emissions, the beef industry could reduce environmental impact. They show that, depending on which production system farmers used, beef production has a carbon footprint ranging from 10.7 to 22.6 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent per kg of hot carcass weight. According to study co-author Frank Mitloehner, an associate professor in the Department of Animal Science at UC Davis, one source of greenhouse gases was surprising. “If you look at everything that contributes to greenhouse gases through the beef supply chain, then it is the cow-calf that produces the greatest greenhouse gases,” Mitloehner said. In the cow-calf phase, the cow gives birth and nurses the calf until the calf is six to 10 months old. During this time, the cow eats rough plants like hay and grasses. The methane-producing bacteria in the cow’s gut thrive on these plants. “The more roughage is in the diet of the ruminant animal, the more methane is produced by the microbes in the gut of the ruminant, and methane comes out the front end,” Mitloehner said. In feedlots, by contrast, cattle eat mostly corn and grains, which the methane-producing bacteria cannot use as effectively.

Methane is one of the most important greenhouse gases. Methane has a greater capacity to trap heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. The beef industry has been paying close attention to greenhouse gas emissions in recent years. “We are doing a lot to measure and mitigate our impact,” said Chase Adams, director of communications for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. In a 2011 paper for the Journal of Animal Science, researcher Jude Capper showed that the beef industry today uses significantly less water and land than 30 years ago. The industry has also reduced its carbon footprint by 16.3 percent per billion kilograms of beef produced. According to Mitloehner, beef producers can further reduce their carbon impact by using new technologies like growth promotants. However, consumers are often uncomfortable with these methods, and they choose organic beef or beef with reduced amounts of growth promotants. “The technologies many consumers are critical of are those that help us receive the greatest environmental gains,” Mitloehner said.…. > full story

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by American Society of Animal Science, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.


Spring forecast: Drought to persist in Plains

Doyle Rice, USA TODAY8:18a.m. EST February 1, 2013

Winter will hold on the longest, well into March, across the Northeast and Northwest.

The catastrophic drought in the central USA — which has cost the nation at least $35 billion, according to a report last week — shows no signs of abating as the nation enters the final full month of winter and moves toward spring. Parts of every state west of the Mississippi River — except for Washington — are enduring drought conditions, according to Thursday’s U.S. Drought Monitor, a government website that tracks drought and is updated weekly.
“The drought is firmly entrenched as we roll toward February,” climatologist Mark Svoboda of the National Drought Mitigation Center writes in the monitor.
A warm, dry spring seems likely: “Unfortunately for the western Plains and eastern Rockies, I think the drought is going to persist, and it is going to be strong going into the springtime,” AccuWeather meteorologist Paul Pastelok says. “In the heart of the drought, it doesn’t look good right now.”



Report: Climate change a threat to wildlife

USA TODAY  – ‎20 hours ago‎

Climate change is the biggest threat wildlife will face this century,” says the report released today by the National Wildlife Federation, an environmental group based in Reston, Va.

Download full report at:


Why Climate Scientists Have Consistently UNDERestimated Key Global Warming Impacts

By Joe Romm on Jan 31, 2013 at 6:12 pm

Climate Scientists Erring on the Side of Least Drama

by Dana Nuccitelli, via Skeptical Science

A paper recently published in Global Environmental Change by Brysse et al. (2012)
examined a number of past predictions made by climate scientists, and found that that they have tended to be too conservative in their projections of the impacts of climate change.  The authors thus suggest that climate scientists are biased toward overly cautious estimates, erring on the side of less rather than more alarming predictions, which they call “erring on the side of least drama” (ESLD). In this paper, Brysse et al. examined research evaluating past climate projections, and considered the pressures which might cause climate scientists to ESLD. While we have recently shown that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) temperature projections have been exceptionally accurate, several other projections in the IPCC reports have been far too conservative. For example, Rahmstorf (2007) and more recently Rahmstorf et al. (2012) showed that sea level is rising at a rate inconsistent with all but the highest IPCC scenarios (Figure 1).  Rahmstorf et al. (2012) concluded….


Cities affect temperatures for thousands of miles
(January 27, 2013) — Even if you live more than 1,000 miles from the nearest large city, it could be affecting your weather. New research shows that the heat generated by everyday activities in metropolitan areas influences major atmospheric systems, raising and lowering temperatures over thousands of miles. In a new study that shows the extent to which human activities are influencing the atmosphere, scientists have concluded that the heat generated by everyday activities in metropolitan areas alters the character of the jet stream and other major atmospheric systems. This affects temperatures across thousands of miles, significantly warming some areas and cooling others, according to the study this week in Nature Climate Change.

The extra “waste heat” generated from buildings, cars, and other sources in major Northern Hemisphere urban areas causes winter warming across large areas of northern North America and northern Asia. Temperatures in some remote areas increase by as much as 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit), according to the research by scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography; University of California, San Diego; Florida State University; and the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

At the same time, the changes to atmospheric circulation caused by the waste heat cool areas of Europe by as much as 1 degree C (1.8 degrees F), with much of the temperature decrease occurring in the fall. The net effect on global mean temperatures is nearly negligible — an average increase worldwide of just 0.01 degrees C (about 0.02 degrees F). This is because the total human-produced waste heat is only about 0.3 percent of the heat transported across higher latitudes by atmospheric and oceanic circulations.

However, the noticeable impact on regional temperatures may explain why some regions are experiencing more winter warming than projected by climate computer models, the researchers conclude. They suggest that models be adjusted to take the influence of waste heat into account…. > full story


U.S. urban water supply not as threatened as believed, study finds
(January 30, 2013) — A research study adds a new twist to previous studies of the nation’s water supplies. The study finds that when infrastructure is included in the mix (reservoirs, dams, etc.), water vulnerability is less of a threat than previously believed. … A website that ranks the 225 largest U.S. urban areas based on water availability and vulnerability can be found at The list is a combination of results of where each city falls on a 0-to-100 water-accessibility scale as well as a water-vulnerability rating of low, medium or high….”As population growth increases, we don’t have more resources to tap — we can’t just find another lake or another river to dam,” she said. “It’s going to come down to sharing, conservation and efficiency.” Rob McDonald, senior scientist for sustainable land use with The Nature Conservancy, said the study adds to what scientists know about urban water use in the U.S. and raises intriguing questions about whether large cities’ infrastructure will be ready for conditions brought on by climate change. “To me, it shows that infrastructure matters,” he said. “Do cities go out even further for water? If a city is dependent on snow melts from the mountains for its water, what happens if it gets warm enough that there isn’t a snowpack?”


How climate change spells disaster for UK fish industry

The Guardian  – ‎January 26 2013‎

When Graham Hall started out as a trawlerman, the port of Grimsby was crammed with so many boats that local legend had it you could walk from deck to deck across the entire harbour.


Planting trees may not reverse climate change but it will help locally

EurekAlert (press release)  – ‎January 31 2013‎

Afforestation, planting trees in an area where there have previously been no trees, can reduce the effect of climate change by cooling temperate regions finds a study in BioMed Central’s open access journal Carbon Balance and Management. Afforestation


Cyclone Did Not Cause 2012 Record Low for Arctic Sea Ice



January 31, 2013 — It came out of Siberia, swirling winds over an area that covered almost the entire Arctic basin in the normally calm late summer. It came to be known as “The Great Arctic Cyclone of August 2012,” and … > full story

Ozone Thinning Has Changed Ocean Circulation



January 31, 2013 ScienceDaily– A hole in the Antarctic ozone layer has changed the way that waters in the southern oceans mix, a situation that has the potential to alter the …  > full story


New evidence highlights threat to Caribbean coral reef growth: Many Caribbean coral reefs are starting to erode
(January 29, 2013) — Coral reefs build their structures by both producing and accumulating calcium carbonate, and this is essential for the maintenance and continued vertical growth capacity of reefs. Researchers have discovered that the amount of new carbonate being added by Caribbean coral reefs is now significantly below rates measured over recent geological timescales, and in some habitats is as much as 70 percent lower. …
“It is most concerning that many coral reefs across the Caribbean have seemingly lost their capacity to produce enough carbonate to continue growing vertically, whilst others are already at
a threshold where they may start to erode. At the moment there is limited evidence of large-scale erosion or loss of actual reef structure, but clearly if these trends continue, reef erosion looks far more likely. Urgent action to improve management of reef habitats and to limit global temperature increases is likely to be critical to reduce further deterioration of reef habitat.”…. They discovered that declines in rates of carbonate production were especially evident in shallow water habitats, where many fast growing branching coral species have been lost. The study compared modern day rates with those measured in the region over approximately the last 7,000 years. In key habitats around the Caribbean, the findings suggested that in waters of around five metres in depth, reef growth rates are now reduced by 60-70% compared to the regional averages taken from historical records. In waters of around 10 metres in depth, the rates are reduced by 25%….full story


Chris T. Perry, Gary N. Murphy, Paul S. Kench, Scott G. Smithers, Evan N. Edinger, Robert S. Steneck, Peter J. Mumby. Caribbean-wide decline in carbonate production threatens coral reef growth. Nature Communications, 2013; 4: 1402 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms240

Antarctic lake beneath the ice sheet tested
(January 29, 2013) — In a first-of-its-kind feat of science and engineering, scientists have successfully drilled through 800 meters (2,600 feet) of Antarctic ice to reach a subglacial lake and retrieve water and sediment samples that have been isolated from direct contact with the atmosphere for many thousands of years. … > full story


Climate change projected to alter Indiana bat maternity range
(January 28, 2013) — Scientists have forecast profound changes over the next 50 years in the summer range of the endangered Indiana bat. Researchers now discuss the findings of one of the first studies designed to forecast the responses of a temperate zone bat species to climate change. … > full story

Shedding light on role of Amazon forests in global carbon cycle
(January 28, 2013) — Scientists have devised an analytical method that combines satellite images, simulation modeling and painstaking fieldwork to help researchers detect forest mortality patterns and trends. This new tool will enhance understanding of the role of forests in carbon sequestration and the impact of climate change on such disturbances. … > full story


Climate change impacts to U.S. coasts threaten public health, safety and economy, report finds
(January 28, 2013) — According to a new technical report, the effects of climate change will continue to threaten the health and vitality of US coastal communities’ social, economic and natural systems. … > full story

Spring may come earlier to North American forests, increasing uptake of carbon dioxide
(January 29, 2013) — Trees in the continental US could send out new leaves in the spring up to 17 days earlier in the coming century than they did before global temperatures started rising, according to a new study. . These climate-driven changes could lead to changes in the composition of northeastern forests and give a boost to their ability to take up carbon dioxide. … > full story



The Biggest Carbon Sin: Air Travel

By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL (NYT) January 27, 2013 Compiled: 1:04 AM

With President Obama declaring climate change a part of his second-term agenda, all eyes are on the United States on the matter of airlines’ carbon emissions.


Enjoying Snow, While We Still Have It

By MARK VANHOENACKER (NYT) January 27, 2013

Scientists warn that future winters may be less white.






Al Gore: Very Significant Obama Put Climate Change in his Inaugural Address

MSNBC  – ‎Jan 31 2013‎

Former Vice President Al Gore, arguably the loudest voice on the issue of climate change, told Andrea Mitchell that he thinks there is still time to avoid the worst effects of the changing climate.


Why John Kerry Needs to Treat Climate Change as a National Security Priority

The incoming secretary of State understands the security risk that climate change poses. He will be uniquely positioned to broker action through diplomacy.

By Coral Davenport National Journal January 31, 2013 | 8:15 p.m.

For centuries, the glaciers of the Western Himalayas have fed the Indus River, which flows down the mountains through India and into Pakistan, where it runs the length of the country to the Arabian Sea. In both countries, the river is a crucial source of water for livestock, irrigation, drinking—essential to life and livelihood for millions of people.

But as climate change causes global temperatures to rise, the glaciers that feed the Indus are receding. A series of scientific reports indicates that in the coming decades, the river’s water levels could drop by as much as 40 percent. Already, some Indian policymakers are raising the idea of damming that water off for their own country. That could save the lives of millions of Indians, while threatening millions of Pakistanis. Pakistan lacks the economic, political, or conventional military leverage to retaliate against India if that happens; it matches its neighbor only in nuclear weapons.

National security agencies around the world, including the Pentagon and the CIA, are watching the situation closely, nervous that climate change could one day ignite a nuclear face-off between these two volatile neighbors. That’s exactly the type of event John Kerry, who is set to be sworn in shortly might want to update thisas secretary of State, was referring to during his Senate confirmation hearing, when he called climate change a “life-threatening issue” of national security. Kerry, a Vietnam veteran, has long been a so-called climate hawk, framing his drive to stop global warming in terms of curbing a force that inflames conflicts around the world to the detriment of U.S. safety. In an impassioned Senate floor speech in August, Kerry compared the potential peril from climate change to the threat of war. “I believe that the situation we face [with climate change] is as dangerous as any of the sort of real crises that we talk about” in Iran, Syria, and other trouble spots, he said.



3 States Are Pushing a Bill to Require Teaching Climate Change Denial in Schools

PolicyMic  – ‎ January 31, 2013‎

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) – known by its critics as a “corporate bill mill” – has hit the ground running in 2013, pushing “models bills” mandating the teaching of climate change denial in public school systems. January hasn’t


Charities’ Funnel Millions to Climate-Change Denial

By Marc Lallanilla, Assistant Editor | – January 28, 2013

A British newspaper claims to have discovered the convoluted way oil billionaires in the United States can funnel huge amounts of cash toward climate change-denial campaigns, while reaping tremendous tax advantages in the process. A shadowy group called the Donors Trust is largely funded by billionaire Charles Koch and his wife Liz, according to an investigation by The Independent. The trust indirectly receives millions of dollars in funding from a third-party group called the Knowledge and Progress Fund, which the Koch family operates, the paper claims…“Climate-change denial, despite the great degree of funding and organization behind it, is simply no longer credible to the vast majority of the public,” Mann said. “It is my hope — and my expectation — that we will soon transition from the unworthy debate about whether the problem even exists to the worthy debate to be had about what to do about it.”


The U.S. has some of the lowest energy taxes in the developed world

Posted by Brad Plumer on January 31, 2013 at 1:56 pm Washington Post

Economists often argue that there’s an elegant solution to all the pollution caused by our energy use — just tax the stuff.

Everyone does it. Sort of. A well-designed tax on fossil fuels could, in theory, help curb wasteful use and allow society to recoup the damages wrought by, say, heat-trapping carbon pollution. It’s also a way to raise revenue. That’s the argument, at least. But when countries try to put this idea into practice, the reality is often much messier. big new report from the OECD looks at how developed countries actually tax their energy use and carbon emissions. Here are three notable takeaways:

1) The United States taxes fossil fuels less than just about every other developed country:

Congress does impose an 18.4-cents-per-gallon tax on gasoline and a similar tax on diesel fuel. But that’s about it at the federal level. For every ton of fossil-fuel carbon that’s emitted inside the United States, the federal government collects just $6.50 in tax revenue….


Cities Lead Over Feds on Climate Change Adaptation  – ‎ January 28 2013‎

Superstorm Sandy offered another reminder of how vulnerable communities around the world are – and will be – to the impacts of climate change. So it’s hardly surprising that cities are being more proactive than federal governments – in fact, two-thirds of cities around the world are actively planning for the impacts of global warming, says the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Unfortunately, cities in the US lag on this, despite the fact that the weather was the most extreme ever in 2012, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The most active cities are in Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, but ICLEI’s analysis shows that planning is just getting started in general. 59% of US cities are developing climate adaptation strategies, just 13% have even completed a risk assessment of their vulnerabilities. Athough cities outside the US are further ahead, with 68% in the planning stage, a modest 19% of them have gotten beyond the risk assessment stage. …


Read ICLEI’s report, Urban Climate Adaption Planning:


ICLEI highlights the efforts of 20 US communities that are taking the leading in building more resilient communities.

Some of the examples are ones we have written about, such as New York City’s wide-ranging PlaNYC, which includes $2.4 billion in green infrastructure that captures rainwater using natural methods before it can flood. The city requires climate risk assessments for new developments in vulnerable areas, and is restoring 127 acres of wetlands that serve as a natural storm barrier.
Similar efforts are underway in Chicago, such as the greenest street in America. It boasts the most green roofs of any US city, since that’s become mandatory for all new buildings.


Nicholas Stern: ‘I got it wrong on climate change – it’s far, far worse’

Author of 2006 review speaks out on danger to economies as planet absorbs less carbon and is ‘on track’ for 4C rise

By Heather Stewart and Larry Elliott
The Observer, UK, Saturday 26 January 2013 15.24 EST

Lord Stern, author of the government-commissioned review on climate change that became the reference work for politicians and green campaigners, now says he underestimated the risks, and should have been more “blunt” about the threat posed to the economy by rising temperatures. In an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Stern, who is now a crossbench peer, said: “Looking back, I underestimated the risks. The planet and the atmosphere seem to be absorbing less carbon than we expected, and emissions are rising pretty strongly. Some of the effects are coming through more quickly than we thought then.” The Stern review, published in 2006, pointed to a 75% chance that global temperatures would rise by between two and three degrees above the long-term average; he now believes we are “on track for something like four “. Had he known the way the situation would evolve, he says, “I think I would have been a bit more blunt. I would have been much more strong about the risks of a four- or five-degree rise.”

He said some countries, including China, had now started to grasp the seriousness of the risks, but governments should now act forcefully to shift their economies towards less energy-intensive, more environmentally sustainable technologies. “This is potentially so dangerous that we have to act strongly. Do we want to play Russian roulette with two bullets or one? These risks for many people are existential.

Stern said he backed the UK’s Climate Change Act, which commits the government to ambitious carbon reduction targets. But he called for increased investment in greening the economy, saying: “It’s a very exciting growth story.”…..Stern’s comments came as Jim Yong Kim, the new president of the World Bank, also at Davos, gave a grave warning about the risk of conflicts over natural resources should the forecast of a four-degree global increase above the historical average prove accurate. “There will be water and food fights everywhere,” Kim said as he pledged to make tackling climate change a priority of his five-year term. Kim said action was needed to create a carbon market, eliminate fossil-fuel subsidies and “green” the world’s 100 megacities, which are responsible for 60 to 70% of global emissions.
He added that the 2012 droughts in the US, which pushed up the price of wheat and maize, had led to the world’s poor eating less. For the first time, the bank president said, extreme weather had been attributed to man-made climate change. “People are starting to connect the dots. If they start to forget, I am there to remind them.

“We have to find climate-friendly ways of encouraging economic growth. The good news is we think they exist”. Kim said there would be no solution to climate change without private sector involvement and urged companies to seize the opportunity to make profits: “There is a lot of money to be made in building the technologies and bending the arc of climate change.”





Obama faces angry liberals over pipeline

Joe Garofoli SF Chronicle Updated 10:45 pm, Thursday, January 31, 2013

As he begins his second term, President Obama is barreling toward what one Bay Area activist predicts could be “all out warfare” with environmentalists who want him to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline, the transcontinental conduit for tar sands fuel from Canada that many scientists say could expedite climate change. Obama’s political dilemma lies in the pipeline’s potential upside: The State Department projects that it could deliver 6,000 temporary jobs to the U.S., where 12.2 million people are unemployed. Bay Area liberals leading the Keystone opposition say Obama has only one choice.

“If he doesn’t reject it,” said Piedmont attorney Guy Saperstein, a former Sierra Club Foundation president and prominent liberal donor, “then I think it should be all out warfare for the next four years.”

Environmentalists are drawing a line in the tar sands with a series of high-profile demonstrations planned this month in Washington. The timing of the protests is crucial because sometime before April, Obama will receive the State Department’s recommendation on whether to green-light the 1,700-mile Canada-to-Texas pipeline, forcing him to make a decision he delayed
during last year’s presidential campaign to avoid alienating his liberal base. Liberals who bided their time through four years of little action from the White House on climate change, and who bit their tongues during the 2012 campaign, expect payback.

Civil disobedience

Obama will feel heat from them in the nation’s capital, where the Sierra Club, based in San Francisco, plans to participate in civil disobedience for the first time in its history to call attention to the issue.

Saperstein has contributed $50,000 toward the protests, which include a Feb. 17 demonstration on climate change that is expected to be the largest of its kind in U.S. history. The nonviolent civil disobedience, which will occur on an undisclosed date, will involve only a couple of dozen invited participants, organizers said. The nature of the action hasn’t been revealed. Among those participating will be Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, club board President Allison Chin, and Michael Kieschnick, the president and co-founder of Credo Mobile, the San Francisco cellular phone company that has given more than $75 million to progressive causes over a couple of decades…..


Recommended reading (excerpts below):

The Second Term of the Obama Administration

Posted on January 27, 2013 by Robert Stavins Harvard Kennedy School of Govt.

In his inaugural address on January 21st, President Obama surprised many people – including me – by the intensity and the length of his comments on global climate change.  Since then, there has been a great deal of discussion in the press and in the blogosphere about what climate policy initiatives will be forthcoming from the administration in its second term.

Given all the excitement, let’s first take a look at the transcript of what the President actually said on this topic:

“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.  The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But American cannot resist this transition.  We must lead it.  We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries.  We must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure, our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow capped peaks.  That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God.”

Strong and plentiful words.  Although I was certainly surprised by the strength and length of what the President said in his address, I confess that it did not change my thinking about what we should expect from the second term.  Indeed, I will stand by an interview that was published by the Harvard Kennedy School on its website five days before the inauguration (plus something I wrote in a previous essay at this blog in December, 2012).  Here it is, with a bit of editing to clarify things, and some hyperlinks inserted to help readers:


The Second Term: Robert Stavins on Energy and Environmental Policy

January 16, 2013
By Doug Gavel, Harvard Kennedy School Communications

…..We spoke with Robert Stavins, Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government, and Director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program, about energy and environmental policy issues the president will face in the next four years…..

….environmental and energy debates from the 1970s through much of the 1990s typically broke along geographic lines, rather than partisan lines, with key parameters being degree of urbanization and reliance on specific fuel types, such as coal versus natural gas. The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 passed the U.S. Senate by a vote of 89-11 with 87 percent of Republican members and 91 percent of Democrats voting yea, and the legislation passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 401-21 with 87 percent of Republicans and 96 percent of Democrats voting in support. But, 20 years later when climate change legislation was receiving serious consideration in Washington, environmental politics had changed dramatically, with Congressional support for environmental legislation coming mainly to reflect partisan divisions. In 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (H.R. 2454), often known as the Waxman-Markey bill, that included an economy-wide cap-and-trade system to cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The Waxman-Markey bill passed by a narrow margin of 219-212, with support from 83 percent of Democrats, but only 4 percent of Republicans….

….What remains most likely to happen is what I’ve been saying for several years, namely that despite the apparent inaction by the Federal government, the official U.S. international commitment — a 17 percent reduction of CO2 emissions below 2005 levels by the year 2020 – is nevertheless likely to be achieved!  The reason is the combination of CO2 regulations which are now in place because of the Supreme Court decision [freeing the EPA to treat CO2 like other pollutants under the Clean Air Act], together with five other regulations or rules on SOX [sulfur compounds], NOX [nitrogen compounds], coal fly ash, particulates, and cooling water withdrawals. All of these will have profound effects on retirement of existing coal-fired electrical generation capacity, investment in new coal, and dispatch of such electricity. Combined with that is Assembly Bill 32 (AB 32) in the state of California, which includes a CO2 cap-and-trade system that is more ambitious in percentage terms than Waxman-Markey was in the U.S. Congress, and which became binding on January 1, 2013.  Add to that the recent economic recession, which reduced emissions. And more important than any of those are the effects of developing new, unconventional sources of natural gas in the United States on the supply, price, and price trajectory of natural gas, and the consequent dramatic movement that has occurred from coal to natural gas for generating electricity.  In other words, there will be actions having significant implications for climate, but most will not be called “climate policy,” and all will be within the regulatory and executive order domain, not new legislation…..

…..Nearly all our major environmental laws were passed in the wake of highly publicized environmental events or “disasters,” including the spontaneous combustion of the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1969, and the discovery of toxic substances at Love Canal in Niagara Falls, New York, in the mid-1970s. But note that the day after the Cuyahoga River caught on fire, no article in The Cleveland Plain Dealer commented that the cause was uncertain, that rivers periodically catch on fire from natural causes. On the contrary, it was immediately apparent that the cause was waste dumped into the river by adjacent industries. A direct consequence of the observed “disaster” was, of course, the Clean Water Act of 1972. But climate change is distinctly different. Unlike the environmental threats addressed successfully in past U.S. legislation, climate change is essentially unobservable to the general population. We observe the weather, not the climate.  Notwithstanding last year’s experience with Super Storm Sandy, it remains true that until there is an obvious, sudden, and perhaps cataclysmic event – such as a loss of part of the Antarctic ice sheet leading to a dramatic sea-level rise – it is unlikely that public opinion in the United States will provide the tremendous bottom-up demand that inspired previous congressional action on the environment over the past forty years.

That need not mean that there can be no truly meaningful, economy-wide climate policy (such as carbon-pricing) until disaster has struck.  But it does mean that bottom-up popular demand may not come in time, and that instead what will be required is inspired leadership at the highest level that can somehow bridge the debilitating partisan political divide.

Bay Conservation and Development Commission Executive Director Larry Goldzband (left) and Chairman Zachary Wasserman. Photo: Liz Hafalia, The Chronicle

Rising seas shift bay agency’s mission

John King Published 9:38 pm, Sunday, January 27, 2013

Leadership changes in regional agencies rarely attract attention, so it wasn’t a big story last year when new people stepped into the top two posts at the Bay Conservation and Development Commission.

But this is an era when the commission’s original reason for being – to keep vast portions of San Francisco Bay from being filled by subdivisions and land-hungry local governments – is less of a threat than the rising sea levels that almost certainly lie ahead. This ecological shift demands a response, said the commission’s new chairman and executive director, and it could place the 48-year-old agency back in the public spotlight. “The challenge isn’t to stand and fight but to figure out how to stand and where to retreat,” said Larry Goldzband, who stepped into the post of executive director in July after serving seven years on the 27-member commission. “We also need to frame the issue in a regional way, rather than take a city-by-city or county-by-county approach.”


Yale Poll Finds Climate Change Action Is A Political Winner

ThinkProgress  – ‎January 29, 2013‎

Climate change is a political winner, recent polls make clear (see links below). It is a wedge issue that divides Tea Party extremists from Democrats, independents, and even moderate/liberal Rebuplicans.







February 2013 issue of ESTUARY News 

a special issue on local and Northern California climate change planning. Inside, you will find nine fascinating stories – some of these projects are yours – about sea level rise impacts on San Francisco Bay’s tidal marshes, habitat connectivity in the Sierras, fire impacts on native shrubs, the work of BAECCC, testimony by our vice-chair Ellie Cohen, and much more.

Please forward this issue to your friends and colleagues who may be interested.  



Today the Air Resources Board announced that it will hold three workshops in late February to take public input on the development of a draft 3-year investment plan for Cap & Trade auction proceeds. In addition, ARB will accept written comments until 5 pm on March 8, 2013. CSG will strategize with you on how to best engage in the public comment process. Once ARB and Department of Finance have completed the draft investment plan, a second round of public workshops will take place.  The second round of workshops are tentatively scheduled for late April.  The final investment plan is due to the Legislature in May 2013. The first round of workshops are scheduled as follows:





Effects of climate change on California’s working forests and rangelands –from Thursday, January 10, 2013

CalFire’s Forest and Rangeland Assessment Plan– Meeting notes, speaker presentations and extra materials on our website. Our next meeting will be Thursday, April 4th, 2013 in Davis, California. The topic is wildland fire. Please check our website for current information: .

Panel Speaker Presentations and Discussion



Third National Climate Assessment Report- DRAFT

January 11, 2013 Today, the National Climate Assessment Development and Advisory Committee (NCADAC), the federal advisory committee for the National Climate Assessment, approved their draft of the Third National Climate Assessment Report for release for public comment. The draft report is available for download – both as a single document and by chapter – at . The public comment period for the report will run January 14 – April 12, 2013. All comments must be submitted via the online comment tool that will be available from beginning on January 14. The draft will be undergoing review by the National Research Council at the same time. The draft report is a product of the NCADAC and is not a product of the federal government. The authors of the report will use the comments received during the public comment period to revise the report before submitting it to the government for consideration…..



The National Climate Assessment Report:  A briefing on the Public Review Draft with a focus on Ecosystems and Biodiversity


Wednesday, February 06, 1:00-2:30 PM Eastern

Description:  This webinar will provide participants with an overview of 1,100+ page National Climate Assessment report that was posted for 90-day public review on January 14, 2013. The scenarios used for the assessment and the approach for assessing impacts on U.S. sectors and regions will be presented, as well as the mechanism for providing comments. The second part of the webinar will be devoted to a presentation of the key findings of a report by 60 co-authors that was written to underpin the Ecosystems, Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services chapter of the National Climate Assessment.


1)      Before the webinar test your connection at:

a.      Note: You do not have to send your test results

2)      At the start of the webinar please go to:

3)      Click Enter as “Guest”

a.      Note: “Guests are not admitted into this meeting” will appear until the start of the webinar

4)      In the Name box-please enter your “full name” – “your agency” – “# of people watching with you”.

       For example: Ashley Fortune-FWS-1

This webinar will be recorded  If you cannot attend the webinar it will be recorded, edited, and posted approximately 2 weeks after the presentation is given and posted on our Climate Change website:

Safeguarding Wildlife from Climate Change Web Conference Series (ALC3209)-A partnership between the National Wildlife Federation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service





Call for Abstracts: The Society for Ecological Restoration (SER)

The Society for Ecological Restoration (SER), a non-profit professional organization with members in more than 70 countries, is now accepting abstracts for oral and poster presentations at its 5th World Conference on Ecological Restoration, to be held October 6-11, 2013 in Madison, Wisconsin, USA. We welcome abstracts from restoration practitioners, researchers, and advocates addressing any aspect of ecological restoration, especially those that directly relate to the conference theme, Reflections on the Past, Directions for the Future.  The final deadline for abstract submissions is May 1, 2013. Program space is limited, however, and the Scientific Program Committee will review submissions on a rolling basis. We therefore encourage you to submit your abstract as soon as possible.  Please visit the conference website for more information and a link to the online submission form:


 Fact Sheet on Local Governments, Extreme Weather and Climate Change 2012



ICLEI has developed a fact sheet detailing how 20 leading cities and counties have experienced extreme weather in 2012—as well as the past several years—and what actions they are taking to protect their community members, infrastructure, and economic assets. Click to view examples from Norfolk and Broward County to Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Eugene, OR.
Get the Fact Sheet (pdf)


31st Annual Salmonid Restoration Conference
The Salmonid Restoration Federation is pleased to host the 31st Annual Salmonid Restoration Conference at the River Lodge in Fortuna, California on March 13-16, 2013. This conference promises to be an exciting one, with some especially interesting field tours and great line-up for our Plenary Session, including Chuck Bonham, Director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. SRF would greatly appreciate your help in getting the word out about the conference by including a small blurb (pasted below) about the conference in your event calendar or enewsletter. I am also including a longer article in case you have the space.
The link to the SRF conference information is:


Nevada: Resilient Landscapes: Planning for Floor, Drought & Fire July 21-24, 2013

2013 International Congress for Conservation Biology July 21-25, 2013

5Th National Conference on Ecosystem Restoration (NCER)- July 9- Aug 2, 2013

SER2013: 5th World Conference on Ecological Restoration– October 6-11, 2013
SER will hold its 5th World Conference on Ecological Restoration in Madison, Wisconsin, USA, on October 6-11, 2013. This event marks the 25th Anniversary of SER and will celebrate the conference theme of “Reflections on the Past, Directions for the Future.”






Barge hits Mississippi
bridge, spills oil

San Francisco Chronicle ‎- January 28, 2013

A barge carrying 80,000 gallons of oil hit a railroad bridge in Vicksburg on Sunday, spilling light crude into the Mississippi River and closing the waterway for 8 miles in each direction, the Coast Guard said. A second barge was damaged. Investigators did not know how much oil had spilled, but a sheen was reported as far as 3 miles downriver from Vicksburg after the 1:12 a.m. accident, said Coast Guard Lt. Ryan Gomez. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the second barge also hit the bridge or if it ran into the first barge, he said. The first barge was still leaking Sunday night, and emergency workers set out booms to absorb and contain the oil, Gomez said. The river’s closure halted at least five northbound and two southbound vessels….


The cost of not using renewable energy

By David Roberts GRIST January 31, 2013

A clever new study [PDF] from the World Future Council attempts to do something I haven’t seen before: quantify the cost of not using renewables. The idea is pretty simple. When we use finite fossil fuels to generate energy, rather than the inexhaustible, renewable alternatives, we make those fossil fuels unavailable for non-energetic uses (think petrochemicals) in the future. In other words, when we burn fossil fuels for energy, we are needlessly destroying valuable industrial capital stock.

You can read the paper for more on methodology and assumptions. The paper uses current market values for fossil fuels rather than attempting to predict future prices, so the estimates are likely conservative.

Here’s the conclusion:

Protecting the use of increasingly valuable fossil raw materials for the future is possible by substituting these materials with renewables. Every day that this is delayed and fossil raw materials are consumed as one-time energy creates a future usage loss of between 8.8 and 9.3 billion US Dollars. Not just the current cost of various renewable energies, but also the costs of not using them need to be taken into account. [my emphasis]

Got that? Every day we use fossil fuels for energy, we steal $9 billion from future people who will need those fossil fuels for non-substitutable industrial uses….


Study: Energy Industry Water Use Set To Double By 2035

By Jeff Spross on Jan 31, 2013 at 4:30 pm

The International Energy Agency concluded that freshwater use is becoming an increasingly crucial issue for energy production around the world in its 2012 World Energy Outlook.

Between steam systems for coal plants, cooling for nuclear plants, fracking for natural gas wells, irrigation for biofuel crops, and myriad other uses, energy production consumed 66 billion cubic meters (BCM) of the world’s fresh water in 2010. That is water removed from its source and lost to evaporation, consumption, or transported out of the water basin — as opposed to water withdrawn, used, and then returned to its source for further availability, which is a far larger amount.

According to figures it shared with National Geographic, IEA anticipates this water consumption will double from 66 BCM now to 135 BCM by 2035 with most of the growth accounted for by coal and biofuels: If today’s policies remain in place, the IEA calculates that water consumed for energy production would increase from 66 billion cubic meters (bcm) today to 135 bcm annually by 2035.

That’s an amount equal to the residential water use of every person in the United States over three years, or 90 days’ discharge of the Mississippi River


New ‘Rock Candy’ Process To Manufacture Silicon Could Make Solar Power Even Cheaper

Posted: 25 Jan 2013 11:18 AM PST

By Tina Casey Via Clean Technica

Researchers at the University of Michigan have come up with a low-cost way to manufacture high-grade silicon, based on a concept familiar to anyone who has tried to make rock candy at home. If the breakthrough can be translated into a commercially viable process, it would make ultra-cheap solar tech like V3Solar’s Spin Cell (which we were just raving about the other day) even cheaper.





NASA Retirees Who Have No Climate Expertise Try To Debunk NASA Scientists Who Do

Posted: 28 Jan 2013 11:51 AM PST

by Dana Nuccitelli, via Skeptical Science

In April of 2012, 49 former NASA employees sent a letter to the current NASA administrator requesting that he effectively muzzle the climate scientists at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). None of those former NASA employees have conducted any climate science research, but based on their own lack of understanding of the subject, they objected to the conclusions drawn by the climate experts at NASA GISS. This letter drew media attention because folks who have worked at NASA are well-respected (and rightly so), but there was really no substance to it, or any particular reason to lend it credence. Astronauts and engineers are not climate experts. Now in January of 2013, a group of 20 “Apollo era NASA retirees” has put together a rudimentary climate “report” and issued a press release declaring that they have decided human-caused global warming is not “settled” and is nothing to worry about. This time around they have not listed the 20 individuals who contributed to this project, but have simply described the group as being: “…comprised of renowned space scientists with formal educational and decades career involvement in engineering, physics, chemistry, astrophysics, geophysics, geology and meteorology. Many of these scientists have Ph.Ds.” The project seems to be headed by H. Leighton Steward, a 77-year-old former oil and gas executive. The press release also links the NASA group to his website, “co2isgreen”, which also has an extensive history of receiving fossil fuel industry funding……


Eating deep-fried food linked to increased risk of prostate cancer
(January 28, 2013) — Regular consumption of deep-fried foods such as French fries, fried chicken and doughnuts is associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer, and the effect appears to be slightly stronger with regard to more aggressive forms of the disease, according to a new study. … > full story


New device traps particulates, kills airborne pathogens
(January 31, 2013) — A new device called a soft X-ray electrostatic precipitator protected immunocompromised mice from airborne pathogenic bacteria, viruses, ultrafine particles, and allergens, according to a new article. … > full story


SF Climate Change Rally, on Sunday 2/17 at 1 pm Embarcadero Plaza in support of/solidarity with the Sierra Club DC rally.

Hope, Faith and Fighting Climate Change

An evening with noted journalist and author, Mark Hertsgaard

Tuesday March 5th 2013 – 7 till 9 pm

290 Dolores Street, San Francisco


Climate change is often seen as a political or economic issue, but for many of us this is also the primary moral and spiritual issue of our time. Please join us for an evening with Mark Hertsgaard, whose book Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth is both a heartfelt call for all of us to make a difference and a guidebook for how we can do so. Mark has covered politics, culture, and the environment for many years in his six books and publications including the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Newsweek, and the Nation, where he is the environment correspondent. He has co-founded a group called Climate Parents. Please follow this link to learn more and watch a short video by clicking on “About”: The enormity of the climate problem inspires our faith communities to band together, and this free event is sponsored by Congregation Sha’ar Zahav and the First Mennonite Church of San Francisco, who share a building. Please feel free to invite others in the Bay Area faith communities to this important evening.



Super Bowl Teams and Fans Blitz Global Warming

Discovery News Jan 31 2013

Currently, football fans have pledged to save approximately 22,500,000 pounds of carbon dioxide. New Orleans fans are proving to be saints by pledging the most so far.












500 Million Migrating Birds Can’t Be Wrong
Bird watchers in Israel can never cry fowl
By Adam Chandler|January 28, 2013 11:17 AM|1comment

In case you didn’t know (or perhaps you have such acute ornithophobia that you’ve blocked it out), Israel–at the crossroads of three continents–boasts one of the largest bird migrations IN THE WORLD.

Each year, one billion birds soar above this tiny stretch of ancient land, where Africa, Europe and Asia meet. Second only to Panama, this geographical intersection is one of the world’s largest bird migration paths, with more than 540 species traversing the airspace each autumn and spring. Dr Yossi Lesham, director of Israel’s International Centre for the Study of Bird Migration, explained that per square mile, the country has one of the highest concentrations of bird traffic in the world. “In one morning, we can see maybe 10,000 eagles. Just in one morning,” he said. In other words, bird migration in the Levant would make Alfred Hitchcock blush. The above picture of the great migration was taken over the weekend.

Where birds know no borders [BBC]


 Rox Chast

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