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Conservation Science News February 15, 2013

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Highlight of the WeekNetherlands: “controlled flow” working with nature instead of sea barriers









Special Section: Keystone XL Pipeline- perspectives


Highlight of the Week– Netherlands: “controlled flow” working with nature instead of sea barriers


Going With the Flow

By MICHAEL KIMMELMAN NY Times February 13, 2013

The Netherlands has held back the sea for centuries; now it is letting it in, as the Dutch realize they are facing a losing battle…. It has been to the Netherlands, not surprisingly, that some American officials, planners, engineers, architects and others have been looking lately. New York is not Rotterdam (or Venice or New Orleans, for that matter); it’s not mostly below or barely above sea level. But it’s not adapted to what seems likely to be increasingly frequent extreme storm surges, either, and the Netherlands has successfully held back the sea for centuries and thrived.

After the North Sea flooded in 1953, devastating the southwest of this country and killing 1,835 people in a single night, Dutch officials devised an ingenious network of dams, sluices and barriers called the Deltaworks. Water management here depends on hard science and meticulous study. Americans throw around phrases like once-in-a-century storm. The Dutch, with a knowledge of water, tides and floods honed by painful experience, can calculate to the centimeter — and the Dutch government legislates accordingly — exactly how high or low to position hundreds of dikes along rivers and other waterways to anticipate storms they estimate will occur once every 25 years, or every 1,000 years, or every 10,000.

And now the evidence is leading them to undertake what may seem, at first blush, a counterintuitive approach, a kind of about-face: The Dutch are starting to let the water in. They are contriving to live with nature, rather than fight (what will inevitably be, they have come to realize) a losing battle. Why? The reality of rising seas and rivers leaves no choice. Sea barriers sufficed half a century ago; but they’re disruptive to the ecology and are built only so high, while the waters keep rising. American officials who now tout sea gates as the one-stop-shopping solution to protect Lower Manhattan should take notice. In lieu of flood control the new philosophy in the Netherlands is controlled flooding.

….Another way to phrase it is that hard decisions need to be made to cope with rising waters and severe weather. Notwithstanding the obvious difference between a group of farmers on a Dutch polder and communities in the Rockaways or Coney Island, good government makes those decisions while giving affected residents adequate knowledge and agency: the ability to make choices, and the responsibility to live by them. Politically that may be trickier than commissioning sea barriers or making dikes into boardwalks or redesigning waterfronts and neighborhoods to accommodate floods and storms. But it’s necessary. And it may be the most important lesson that the Netherlands has to offer at the moment.






PRBO in the news:


Second grade students James Thebaut, front, and Jonah Denison from Pleasant Valley Elementary in…

Novato students help bring old runway back to nature

By Mark Prado Marin Independent Journal Posted:   02/14/2013 04:33:33 PM PST

More than 80 second graders from Pleasant Valley Elementary School in Novato got their hands dirty for a good cause Thursday morning as they worked to put plants on top of what once was an Air Force landing strip.

The effort was part of ongoing wetlands restoration work at the old Hamilton Airfield, a 760-acre tract the military decommissioned in 1974. The work is being led by the state’s Coastal Conservancy and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

PRBO Conservation Science — formerly the Point Reyes Bird Observatory — sponsored the Thursday event through its Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed — or STRAW program. Toyon, California rose, coyote brush, mugwort, coast live oaks and buckeye were some of the plantings put in soil that now covers the old airstrip. That sand and soil was pulled from the bottom of the Port of Oakland and piped to Marin over the past few years.



Ecosystem Services May Shape Regulations, Report Finds February 11, 2013

Ecosystem services – benefits provided by functioning ecosystems – may shape future policy and regulations as well as government expectations of the private sector, particularly on public lands, according to a report by BSR. The report, “Global Public Sector Trends in Ecosystem Services, 2009-2012,” is based on four years of research by BSR’s Ecosystem Services Working Group. It documents government action, voluntary programs formed, administration decisions issued and new regulations that have passed. The report is especially relevant to companies that have, or are in the midst of crafting, internal policies on biodiversity and ecosystem services, BSR said. BSR identified several emerging trends, such as national governments that are considering expanding GDP measures to include natural capital. The report also found that public-sector exploration of ecosystem services valuation is on the rise and governments are interested in attracting investment in the concept, through eco-compensation mechanisms and payments for ecosystem services


Study: Fish
drugtainted water
suffer reaction

San Francisco Chronicle ‎- February 15, 2013

BOSTON (AP) — What happens to fish that swim in waters tainted by traces of drugs that people take? When it’s an anti-anxiety drug, they become hyper, anti-social and aggressive, a study found. They even get the munchies. It may sound funny, but it could threaten the fish population and upset the delicate dynamics of the marine environment, scientists say. The findings, published online Thursday in the journal Science, add to the mounting evidence that minuscule amounts of medicines in rivers and streams can alter the biology and behavior of fish and other marine animals. “I think people are starting to understand that pharmaceuticals are environmental contaminants,” said Dana Kolpin, a researcher for the U.S. Geological Survey who is familiar with the study. Calling their results alarming, the Swedish researchers who did the study suspect the little drugged fish could become easier targets for bigger fish because they are more likely to venture alone into unfamiliar places. “We know that in a predator-prey relation, increased boldness and activity combined with decreased sociality … means you’re going to be somebody’s lunch quite soon,” said Gregory Moller, a toxicologist at the University of Idaho and Washington State University. “It removes the natural balance.”…


Under The Label: Sustainable Seafood

Is Sustainable-Labeled Seafood Really Sustainable?

NPR Feb 11, 2013 Industry demand for the “sustainable seafood” label, issued by the Marine Stewardship Council, is increasing. But some environmentalists fear fisheries are being certified despite evidence showing that the fish population is in trouble — or when there’s not enough information to know the impact on the oceans.



Marsh plants actively engineer their landscape
(February 13, 2013)
Marsh plants, far from being passive wallflowers, are “secret gardeners” that actively engineer their landscape to increase their species’ odds of survival, say scientists. …
But this team found intertidal marsh plants in Italy’s famed Venetian lagoon were able to
subtly tune, or adjust, their elevations by producing different amounts of organic soil, and trapping and accumulating different amounts of inorganic sediments as part of a complex interplay with the environment. “Our study identifies the visible signature of a two-way feedback occurring between the vegetation and the landscape,” said Marco Marani, professor of ecohydrology at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment and Pratt School of Engineering. “Each species builds up the elevation of its substrate to within a favorable range for its survival, much the way corals in the animal kingdom do.” The finding may help scientists better predict marsh ecosystems’ resilience to climatic changes such as sea level rise…. Scientists have long known that biodiversity plays an important role in a marsh ecosystem’s long-term health and survival, “but this paper provides a clear causal link suggesting how and why,” he said. “The take-home message is that the more species you have colonizing different levels within a marsh, the more resilient to abrupt change the marsh as a whole will be.” He said that marshes in which an invasive species, such as cordgrass, has pushed out other species will be less resilient to climatic changes.full story


M. Marani, C. Da Lio, A. D’Alpaos. Vegetation engineers marsh morphology through multiple competing stable states. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2013; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1218327110



Q&A With Kemba Shakur on Urban Reforestation
In 1990, when Kemba Shakur moved to Oakland, there was not a single tree on her block. So she began to plant them herself. Now her organization, Urban Releaf, has planted over 15,000 trees throughout East Bay communities, working to improve the quality of life in ecologically disadvantaged neighborhoods and at the same time enhance community involvement and employment, especially amongst at-risk youth. Sierra Magazine sat down with Shakur, locally known as “Tree Lady,” at her quaint neighborhood office in Oakland.



Geologists quantify, characterize sediment carried by Mississippi flood to Louisiana’s wetlands
(February 13, 2013) — The spring 2011 flood on the Mississippi was among the largest floods ever, the river swelling over its banks and wreaking destruction in the surrounding areas. But a new study also shows that the floods reaped environmental benefits — transporting and laying down new sediment in portions of the Delta — that may help maintain the area’s wetlands. … > full story

Large, Ancient Landslides Delivered Preferred Upstream Habitats for Coho Salmon



February 11, 2013 ScienceDaily— A study of the Umpqua River basin in the Oregon Coast Range helps explain natural processes behind the width of valleys and provides potentially useful details for river restoration efforts designed … > full story

Oregon: Large, Ancient Landslides Delivered Preferred Upstream Habitats for Coho Salmon
A study of the Umpqua River basin in the Oregon Coast Range helps explain the natural processes behind various widths of valleys and provides potentially useful details for river restoration efforts designed to improve habitats for coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch). While geologists and hydrologists long ago documented how river-channel width and depth varies, little had been done to understand how valleys beyond the channels form, and why they may be narrow or wide. The study — appearing online ahead of print in the journal Geology — combined on-the-ground observations and a remote-sensing technology known as airborne Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR).


TEEB: For Water and Wetlands
Wetlands are a fundamental part of local and global water cycles and are at the heart of this nexus, providing numerous ecosystem services to humankind. Nonetheless, wetlands continue to be degraded or lost and, in many cases, policies and decisions do not sufficiently take into account these interconnections and interdependencies. This report presents insights on critical water-related ecosystem services in order to encourage additional policy momentum, business commitment, and investment in the conservation, restoration, and wise use of wetlands. It presents recommendations on how the value of water and wetlands can be translated into solid decision making processes.


Amphibian study shows how biodiversity can protect against disease
(February 13, 2013) — The richer the assortment of amphibian species living in a pond, the more protection that community of frogs, toads and salamanders has against a parasitic infection that can cause severe deformities, including the growth of extra legs, according to a new study. … > full story



How Birds Got Their UV Vision

Tanya Lewis, LiveScience Staff Writer Date: 11 February 2013 Time: 07:52 AM ET

If optimists see the world through rose-colored lenses, some birds see it through ultraviolet ones. Avians have evolved ultraviolet vision quite a few times in history, a new study finds. Birds depend on their color vision for selecting mates, hunting or foraging for food, and spotting predators. Until recently, ultraviolet vision was thought to have arisen as a one-time development in birds. But a new DNA analysis of 40 bird species, reported Feb. 11 in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology, shows the shift between violet (shorter wavelengths on the electromagnetic spectrum) and ultraviolet vision has occurred at least 14 times. “Birds see color in a different way from humans,” study co-author Anders Ödeen, an animal ecologist at Uppsala University in Sweden, told LiveScience. Human eyes have three different color receptors, or cones, that are sensitive to light of different wavelengths and mix together to reveal all the colors we see. Birds, by contrast, have four cones, so “they see potentially more colors than humans do,” Ödeen said. Birds themselves are split into two groups based on the color of light (wavelength) that their cones detect most acutely. Scientists define them as violet-sensitive or ultraviolet-sensitive, and the two groups don’t overlap, according to Ödeen. Birds of each group would see the same objects as different hues. [Vision Quiz: What Can Animals See?]


Fish and Wildlife Service The greater sage grouse.

Ouster Sharpens Debate on the Sage Grouse

By NATE SCHWEBER February 5, 2013, 6:22 pm12 Comments

The ouster of a Nevada wildlife official has fanned a debate over whether the sage grouse can best be kept off the Endangered Species List by protecting its habitat or by killing more of its predators.

Kenneth Mayer, who had been the director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife and serves on regional and national committees that deal with sage grouse conservation, startled environmentalists and many Nevadans last week by announcing that Gov. Brian Sandoval had demanded his resignation.

The federal Fish and Wildlife Service is assessing sage brush populations throughout the country and is expected to decide by the end of 2015 whether the bird should be listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Mr. Mayer maintained that it was his top priority to keep sage grouse populations healthy enough not to need federal protection. Many Nevadans fear that endangered status for the bird could mean restrictions on agriculture, development and energy production.

Mr. Mayer’s supporters had praised his ability to navigate the often-conflicting interests of ranchers, farmers, environmentalists, miners, energy developers and hunters in seeking to keep the sage grouse off the list. But critics said that his steps to protect its habitat went too far and risked hurting the economy. In one of his last acts, Mr. Mayer’s department mapped nine million acres of remaining sagebrush ecosystems in Nevada and identified core areas of the birds’ most vital habitat, as well as places with sparse numbers of sage grouse that it considered better candidates for development.


New owl species discovered in Indonesia is unique to one island
(February 13, 2013) — A new owl is the first endemic bird species discovered on the island of Lombok, Indonesia, according to new research. … > full story

Kids teach parents to respect the environment
(February 12, 2013) — A child can directly influence the attitude and behavior of their parents towards the environment without them even knowing it. Researchers have, for the first time, provided quantitative support for the suggestion that environmental education can be transferred between generations and that it can actually affect behavior. … > full story

AP Photo/Daily Inter Lake, Karen Nichols, File

Controversial coyote hunt under way in Modoc Co.

By John S. Marshall Associated Press Posted February 10, 2013 at 7:04 p.m.

FILE – A coyote stands in a field in this undated file photo. Hunters are tromping through the countryside of a remote Northern California county Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013, as they compete in a controversial contest to see who can kill the most coyotes. Organizers of the hunt have not said how many hunters are taking part in the weekend hunting contest in rural Modoc County, but opponents estimate about 200 people have signed up for the hunt. (AP Photo/Daily Inter Lake, Karen Nichols, File)

SAN FRANCISCO — Hunters were tromping through the countryside of a remote Northern California county over the weekend as they competed in a controversial contest to see who could kill the most coyotes.

Organizers of the hunt remain secretive of the event, but opponents estimate about 200 hunters were taking part in the seventh annual hunting contest near tiny Adin in Modoc County.

Opponents of the hunt — which began Friday evening and was scheduled to run through Sunday afternoon — said the contest is inhumane and that the killing of what’s expected to be dozens of coyotes contradicts wildlife management practices.


San Mateo Creek: Water leak kills fish

Peter Fimrite and Kevin Fagan February 11, 2013

A broken pipe sent thousands of gallons of drinking water cascading into San Mateo Creek over the weekend, killing scores, possibly thousands, of fish from chlorine poisoning. The dead fish began floating to the surface Saturday when a thousand gallons a minute of chlorinated water flowed down a forested hillside into the creek about a half-mile below Crystal Springs Reservoir, according to utility officials and residents…..The exact death toll has not yet been determined, but at least 30 fish could be seen lying on the bottom and floating along a 100-yard section of the creek, which rolls past stately homes beneath towering oak trees. Rare steelhead trout, which have been listed as threatened along the Central Coast under the Endangered Species Act since 1997, were believed to have been killed….


US$8.17 Billion Spent in 2011 to Safeguard Drinking Water & Supplies by Protecting Watersheds

The number of initiatives that protect and restore forests, wetlands, and other water-rich ecosystems has nearly doubled in just four years as governments urgently seek sustainable alternatives to costly industrial infrastructure, according to a new report from Forest Trends’ Ecosystem Marketplace. The report entitled “State of Watershed Payments 2012”, is the second installment of the most comprehensive inventory to date of initiatives around the world that are paying individuals and communities to revive or preserve water-friendly features of the landscape. Such features include wetlands, streams, and forests that can capture, filter, and store freshwater.




Creating science-based tools for on-the-ground climate change planning and adaptation — 9 tales of change February 2013 Ariel Rubissow Okamoto

It’s been the hottest year on record, and California’s long past questioning the science on climate change and hell bent on developing electric cars, building bullet trains, trading carbon, and designing the habitats of the future, both human and wild. We’re not running from the idea that temperatures may rise by 5-10 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, and sea level by more than five feet. “Climate change is real, it’s now, and it can’t be ignored. If land and resource managers stay stuck in the day-to-day, they could really miss the boat as far being prepared, and conducting actions now that are going to set them up for success in the future,” says Rebecca Fris of the California Landscape Conservation Cooperative. Inside this special issue on Left Coast climate change, you’ll read about tools for bay marshes to adapt to accelerating sea level rise, ideas for managed retreat, acid ocean effects on oyster shells, flood control channels as sediment sources for restoration, and more, including a 12-page progress report from the California Landscape Conservation Cooperative. ….


Busy beavers give Canada geese a lift, study shows
(February 13, 2013)
A new study shows that busy beavers are helping Canada geese get an earlier start when the birds fly home and begin spring nesting. ..
Ponds in Alberta where beavers were active tended to result in earlier thaw of winter snowpack, giving the geese a better chance at reproductive success, according to the study, published recently in Mammalian Biology. The study is the first to link beavers to early season nesting habits of Canada geese in a Northern climate….. > full story


As permafrost ice melts, the soil collapses and either creates an erosional hole in the tundra or a landslide such as this one. These features are called thermokarst failures. Exposure to “sunlight may act as an amplification factor in the conversion of frozen C [carbon] stores to C gases in the atmosphere.” Picture: George Kling.

Sunlight Stimulates Release of Climate-Warming Gas from Melting Arctic Permafrost

Feb. 11, 2013 — Ancient carbon trapped in Arctic permafrost is extremely sensitive to sunlight and, if exposed to the surface when long-frozen soils melt and collapse, can release climate-warming carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere much faster than previously thought.

University of Michigan ecologist and aquatic biogeochemist George Kling and his colleagues studied places in Arctic Alaska where permafrost is melting and is causing the overlying land surface to collapse, forming erosional holes and landslides and exposing long-buried soils to sunlight.

They found that sunlight increases bacterial conversion of exposed soil carbon into carbon dioxide gas by at least 40 percent compared to carbon that remains in the dark. The team, led by Rose Cory of the University of North Carolina, reported its findings in an article to be published online Feb. 11 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. …”What we can say now is that regardless of how fast the thawing of the Arctic permafrost occurs, the conversion of this soil carbon to carbon dioxide and its release into the atmosphere will be faster than we previously thought,” Kling said. “That means permafrost carbon is potentially a huge factor that will help determine how fast the Earth warms.” Tremendous stores of organic carbon have been frozen in Arctic permafrost soils for thousands of years. If thawed and released as carbon dioxide gas, this vast carbon repository has the potential to double the amount of the heat-trapping greenhouse gas in the atmosphere on a timescale similar to humanity’s inputs of carbon dioxide due to the burning of fossil fuels….Already, the melting of ground ice is causing land-surface subsidence features called thermokarst failures. A thermokarst failure is generated when ice-rich, permanently frozen soils are warmed and thawed. As the ice melts, the soil collapses and either creates an erosional hole in the tundra or — if the slope is steep enough — a landslide…..

Rose M. Cory, Byron C. Crump, Jason A. Dobkowski, and George W. Kling. Surface exposure to sunlight stimulates CO2 release from permafrost soil carbon in the Arctic. PNAS, February 11, 2013 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1214104110

Melting ‘Permafrost’ Releases Climate-Warming CO2 Even Faster Than We Thought

By Climate Guest Blogger on Feb 12, 2013 at 11:35 am

We’ve known for a while that “permafrost” was a misnomer (see Thawing permafrost feedback will turn Arctic from carbon sink to source in the 2020s” and links below). The defrosting permamelt will likely add 0.4°F – 1.5°F to total global warming by 2100. A new study, “Surface exposure to sunlight stimulates CO2 release from permafrost soil carbon in the Arctic” suggests the process may happen even faster than we thought…..


GAO: Climate change poses big financial risk to US government (blog)   Feb 15 2013‎

The report said the federal government faces financial challenges from climate change, including the costs of weather-related damage to property it owns, losses through flood insurance and crop support programs, and costs of emergency aid in disasters.


Warming Effect of Urban Activities Felt Widely

By DOUGLAS QUENQUA (NYT) February 12, 2013 Compiled: 12:58 AM

Scientists studying weather and energy consumption have found that activities from urban areas can warm the air by nearly 2 degrees as far as 1,000 miles away.


Security Risks of Extreme Weather and Climate Change



February 11, 2013 — A new study, conducted specifically to explore the forces driving extreme weather events and their implications for national security planning over the next decade, finds that the early ramifications of climate extremes resulting from climate change are already upon us and will continue to be felt over the next decade, directly impacting U.S. national security interests. “Lessons from the past are no longer of great value as a guide to the future,” said co-lead author Michael McElroy, Gilbert Butler Professor of Environmental Studies at Harvard University. “Unexpected changes in regional weather are likely to define the new climate normal, and we are not prepared.”

Changes in extremes include more record high temperatures; fewer but stronger tropical cyclones; wider areas of drought and increases in precipitation; increased climate variability; Arctic warming and attendant impacts; and continued sea level rise as greenhouse warming continues and even accelerates. These changes will affect water and food availability, energy decisions, the design of critical infrastructure, use of the global commons such as the oceans and the Arctic region, and critical ecosystem resources. They will affect both underdeveloped and industrialized countries with large costs in terms of economic and human security. The study identifies specific regional climate impacts — droughts and desertification in Mexico, Southwest Asia, and the Eastern Mediterranean, and increased flooding in South Asia — that are of particular strategic importance to the United States.

The report concludes that the risks related to extreme weather require that the U.S. sustain and augment its scientific and technical capacity to observe key indicators, monitor unfolding events, and forewarn of impending security threats as nations adapt to a changing climate. The study recommends a national strategy for strategic observations and monitoring — including greenhouse gas and aerosol emissions, ocean temperatures, and satellite observations of the Arctic — and improved forecast models. …The report grew out of a series of workshops with an international group of leading climate scientists held at the National Academy of Sciences, Columbia University, and the Harvard University Center for the Environment. The study was conducted with funds provided by the Central Intelligence Agency. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the CIA or the U.S. Government…..

Report: Climate Extremes: Recent Trends with Implications for National Security at

Tree Die-Off Triggered by Hotter Temperatures



February 11, 2013 — Scientists have determined that the recent widespread die-off of Colorado trembling aspen trees is a direct result of decreased precipitation exacerbated by high summer temperatures. The die-off, … > full story


Moose photo by Rick Libbey

Climate Crisis Deepens for America’s Moose

from Wildlife Promise NWF 2/6/2013

Alarming news from Minnesota today about the health of the state’s moose population being driven to the brink by climate change. Today, officials revealed the northeast Minnesota population of the iconic animal has fallen a shocking 35 percent just since last year and they’re canceling the 2013 fall hunting season entirely:


Arctic Ocean is on thin ice: European satellite confirms numbers
(February 13, 2013) — The September 2012 record low in Arctic sea-ice extent was big news, but a missing piece of the puzzle was lurking below the ocean’s surface. What volume of ice floats on Arctic waters? And how does that compare to previous summers? These are difficult but important questions, because how much ice actually remains suggests how vulnerable the ice pack will be to more warming. New satellite observations confirm an analysis that for the past three years has produced widely quoted estimates of Arctic sea-ice volume. Findings based on observations from a European Space Agency satellite show that the Arctic has lost more than a third of summer sea-ice volume since a decade ago, when a U.S. satellite collected similar data. … > full story


Thinning Ice Is Turning Arctic into an Algae Hotspot

Lauren Morello February 14th, 2013

Shrinking, thinning Arctic sea ice appears to be accelerating the growth of algae in polar waters, a new study finds, a development that could alter the region’s ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere. Scientists cruising central Arctic waters last summer aboard the research ship Polarstern were stunned to discover dense, shaggy deposits of the algae Melosira arctica clinging to the bottom of sea ice…\



Wetland trees a significant overlooked source of methane
(February 13, 2013) — Wetland trees are a significant overlooked source of the potent greenhouse gas methane, according to a new study. The study may help to resolve an ongoing controversy about the origins of methane in the tropics. … > full story


NOAA: February 2012 to January 2013 Warmest on Record

By Lauren Morello
Published: February 14th, 2013

January was warmer and wetter than average in the contiguous U.S., despite the persistent drought in the nation’s heartland, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday. The average temperature in the lower 48 states reached 32.0°F last month. At 1.6°F above the 20th century average, January 2013 ties 1958 as the 39th-warmest January on record….


Drought expands in key U.S. farm states

Reuters 2:20 p.m. CST, February 7, 2013

* Severe drought still grips 87 pct of High Plains

* Conditions worsen in Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado

* Nebraska remains most drought-stricken state

Harsh drought conditions expanded in key farm states in the nation’s midsection over the last week, climate experts said on Thursday.

There has been some recent precipitation through the Plains region but the frozen ground did not allow for much moisture to penetrate into parched soils, according to the Drought Monitor report, a weekly analysis of drought conditions put together by a consortium of state and federal climate experts. …..Fully 100 percent of the land area in Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska and Oklahoma remained engulfed in severe drought or worse, according to the Drought Monitor. Oklahoma did see some easing of drought over the last week thanks to storms through the state in late January…..


It’s Cold and My Car is Buried in Snow. Is Global Warming Really Happening?

Union of Concerned Scientists February 9, 2013

For years, climate contrarians have pointed to snowfall and cold weather to question the scientific reality of human-induced climate change. Such misinformation obscures the interesting work scientists are doing to figure out just how climate change is affecting weather patterns year-round. Understanding what scientists know about these effects can help us adapt. And, if we reduce the emissions that are driving climate change, we can dramatically reduce the pace of change and better prepare for the consequences in the future.

What is the relationship between weather and climate?

Weather is what’s happening outside the door right now; today a snowstorm or a thunderstorm is approaching. Climate, on the other hand, is the pattern of weather measured over decades. NASA and NOAA plus research centers around the world track the global average temperature, and all conclude that Earth is warming. In fact, the past decade has been found to be the hottest since scientists started recording reliable data in the 1880s. These rising temperatures are caused primarily by an increase of heat-trapping emissions in the atmosphere created when we burn coal, oil, and gas to generate electricity, drive our cars, and fuel our businesses. Hotter air around the globe causes more moisture to be held in the air than in prior seasons. When storms occur, this added moisture can fuel heavier precipitation in the form of more intense rain or snow. At the same time, because less of a region’s precipitation is falling in light storms and more of it in heavy storms, the risks of drought and wildfire are also greater. Ironically, higher air temperatures tend to produce intense drought periods punctuated by heavy floods, often in the same region. These kinds of disasters may become a normal pattern in our everyday weather as levels of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere continue to rise.

The United States is already experiencing more intense rain and snowstorms. The amount of rain or snow falling in the heaviest one percent of storms has risen nearly 20 percent, averaged nationally—almost three times the rate of increase in total precipitation between 1958 and 2007. Some regions of the country have seen as much as a 67 percent increase in the amount of rain or snow falling in the heaviest storms — and an updated version of this figure from the draft National Climate Assessment suggests this increase may have risen to 74 percent between 1958 and 2011.

Overall, it’s warming, but we still have cold winter weather.

The seasons we experience are a result of the Earth’s tilted axis as it revolves around the Sun. During the North American winter, our hemisphere is tilted away from the Sun and its light hits us at a different angle, making temperatures lower. While climate change won’t have any impact on Earth’s tilt, it is significantly shifting temperatures and causing spring weather to arrive earlier than it used to. Overall, spring weather arrives 10 days earlier than it used to, on average. “Spring creep” is something scientists projected would happen as the globe continues to warm.

The Arctic connection.

Winters have generally been warming faster than other seasons in the United States and recent research indicates that climate change is disrupting the Arctic and ice around the North Pole. The Arctic summer sea ice extent broke all records during the end of the 2012 sea ice melt season. Some researchers are pointing to a complex interplay between Arctic sea ice decline, ocean patterns, upper winds, and the shifting shape of the jet stream that could lead to extreme weather in various portions of northern mid-latitudes — such that some places get tons of snow repeatedly and others are unseasonably warm. In the Arctic, frigid air is typically trapped in a tight loop known as the polar vortex. This super-chilled air is not only cold, it also tends to have low barometric pressure compared to the air outside the vortex. The surrounding high-pressure zones push in on the vortex from all sides so the cold air is essentially “fenced in” above the Arctic, where it belongs. As the Arctic region warms faster than most other places, however, the Arctic sea ice melts more rapidly and for longer periods each year, and is unable to replenish itself in the briefer, warmer winter season. This can destabilize the polar vortex and raises the barometric pressure within it.

For two winter seasons (2009/2010 and 2010/2011), the polar vortex was notably unstable. In addition, another measurement of barometric pressure—the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO)—was in negative mode, weakening part of the barometric pressure “fence” around the polar vortex. This instability allows the cold Artic air to break free and flow southward, where it collides with warmer, moisture-laden air. This collision can produce severe winter weather in some regions and leave milder conditions in other parts of the northern hemisphere. The winter of 2009/2010 recorded the second lowest negative phase of the NAO since the 1970s, which helps to explain the record snowfalls across the northeastern United States. The 2010/2011 winter also trended toward a strong negative phase. During the 2011/2012 winter, there was a shift in the position of the jet stream, which separates cold arctic air from warmer air. Typically New England, the Great Lakes, and parts of the Great Plains sit north of the jet stream and remain cold in the winter season. However, the 2011/2012 winter jet stream position meant these regions were south of it for most of the winter, which helped produce the fourth warmest U.S. winter on record. It’s not clear how much impact this trend will have in the future, especially as the Arctic ice continues to lose mass.

It’s not too late.

The choices we make today can help determine what our climate will be like in the future. Putting a limit on heat-trapping emissions, encouraging the use of healthier, cleaner energy technologies, and increasing our energy efficiency are all ways to help us to avert the worst potential consequences of global warming, no matter what the season.


Boulder NCAR scientist says climate change worsens Northeast storm

Warmer ocean, moisture in atmosphere to boost accumulations up to 10 percent

By Charlie Brennan Camera Staff Writer Updated:   02/08/2013 09:30:10 PM MST

Climate change will likely add to the final snowfall totals from the monster winter storm lashing the Northeast by 5 to 10 percent, according to a leading expert on climate change at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Kevin Trenberth, a distinguished senior scientist in the Climate Analysis Section at NCAR, said Friday that snowfall totals from the storm are being influenced by both warmer air temperatures, leading to the atmosphere retaining more moisture, and a 1-degree increase in ocean temperatures since 1970.

That will give you about 5 to 10 percent more snow than if you would have had the same snow back in 1980,” Trenberth said.

“This relates to the idea that out here, there’s the saying, ‘It’s too cold to snow.’ You freeze-dry the snow. The biggest snowfalls occur when the temperatures are just below freezing — not when it’s really cold.” That is why, Trenberth said, the Rocky Mountain region tends to see its highest snowfalls in March and April, when temperatures are higher.

In fact, he said, even the timing of this storm can also likely be somewhat attributed to climate change. A storm of this nature, historically, would be more likely to savage the Northeast coastal states in March, when it’s typically somewhat warmer, than in mid-February.


Epic Blizzard Poised to Strike New England: What Role Is Climate Change Playing?

Posted: 08 Feb 2013 09:33 AM PST

An epic blizzard is bearing down on New England — fed in part by relatively warm coastal waters.

I asked Dr. Kevin Trenberth, former head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, to comment on the role climate change has on this storm. He explained:

This is a perfect set up for a big storm, with the combination of two parts: a disturbance from the Gulf region with lots of moisture and a cold front from the west.

Ingredients for a big snow storm include temperatures just below freezing. In the past temperatures at this time of year would have been a lot below freezing but the ability to hold moisture in the atmosphere goes down by 7% per degree C (4% per deg F), and so in the past we would have had a snow storm but not these amounts.

The moisture flow into the storm is also important and that is enhanced by higher than normal sea surface temperatures (SSTs). These are higher by about 1 deg C [almost 2°F] than a normal (pre-1980) due to global warming and so that adds about 10% to the potential for a big snow.

Every storm and “event” is unique. It always has unique ingredients. So it is hard if not impossible to take apart, because any piece missing means the storm behaves differently. So event attribution is not well posed. Instead we look for the environment in which the storm is occurring and how that has changed to make conditions warmer and moister over the oceans.

As Trenberth wrote in his must-read analaysis, “How To Relate Climate Extremes to Climate Change,” the “answer to the oft-asked question of whether an event is caused by climate change is that it is the wrong question. All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be.”

On the warmer SSTs, Climate Central’s Andrew Freedman explains:

As was the case when Hurricane Sandy struck in late October, sea-surface temperatures are running a couple degrees above average off the East Coast, which according to climate scientists may reflect both natural climate variability and the effects of manmade global warming.

The presence of unusually warm waters could aid in the rapid development of the storm system, and infuse it with additional moisture, thereby increasing snowfall totals.

Heavy precipitation events in the Northeast, including both rain and snowstorms, have been increasing in the past few decades, in a trend that a new federal climate report links to manmade global climate change. As the world has warmed, more moisture has been added to the atmosphere, giving storms additional energy to work with, and makingprecipitation extremes more common in many places.

Trenberth’s second point is an important one — warmer than normal winters favor snow storms (See “We get more snow storms in warm years“). A 2006 study, “Temporal and Spatial Characteristics of Snowstorms in the Contiguous United States” found we are seeing more northern snow storms and that we get more snow storms in warmer years:

The temporal distribution of snowstorms exhibited wide fluctuations during 1901-2000…. Upward trends occurred in the upper Midwest, East, and Northeast, and the national trend for 1901-2000 was upward, corresponding to trends in strong cyclonic activity….

Assessment of the January-February temperature conditions again showed that most of the United States had 71%-80% of their snowstorms in warmer-than-normal years….  a future with wetter and warmer winters, which is one outcome expected (National Assessment Synthesis Team 2001), will bring more snowstorms than in 1901-2000. Agee (1991) found that long-term warming trends in the United States were associated with increasing cyclonic activity in North America, further indicating that a warmer future climate will generate more winter storms.

The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) U.S. Climate Impacts Report from 2009 reviewed that literature and concluded, “Cold-season storm tracks are shifting northward and the strongest storms are likely to become stronger and more frequent.

So it is no surprise that a 2012 study found extreme snowstorms and deluges are becoming more frequent and more severe. Freedman points out:

For the northern hemisphere as a whole, winter storms have become more common and intense during the past 50 years, according to the draft federal report. Observed changes in winter air circulation in the northern hemisphere, possibly related to Arctic sea ice loss, has been linked to large swings in seasonal snowfall from one winter to the next in the Northeast. Other studies indicate that as global warming continues, nor’easters such as the one about to hit New England may become more frequent in this region, and less common in the Mid-Atlantic states, as storm tracks shift closer to the poles.

…People should take the weather forecasts of this storm seriously and act accordingly.

Similarly, the nation should take seriously the climatic projections of ever worsening storms from global warming — and act accordingly.

Jane Goodall on climate change: ‘We’ve just been stealing, stealing, stealing from our children, and it’s shocking’

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, February 10, 2013 0:15 EST

….She spoke of the explosion in the planet’s human population, of the ever greater need for land, food and housing, and evoked the scarcity of water as well as global warming.

“When I first came to Africa and I flew over Kilimanjaro, even in the height of the summer there was a great cap of snow. The snows of Kilimanjaro,” she recalled.

“I just read the other day that we should rather be talking about the dusts of Kilimanjaro. That is just one signal and this is all around the world that the glaciers are melting,” she went on. For Goodall, one of the world’s leading chimpanzee experts, “something has gone wrong” in the relationship between man and the planet. “We’ve just been stealing, stealing, stealing from our children, and it’s shocking. But is it true that there’s nothing that can be done? No absolutely not,” she goes on, explaining how her latest project, Roots and Shoots, began. The project, which now spans 132 countries, began in Tanzania, where Goodall, the first scientist to name the animals she was studying — a practice that sparked controversy, started observing chimpanzees, with just 12 students from nine different high schools. Roots and Shoots is aimed at sensitising young people to the importance of the environment and fauna….






SER (Society for Ecological Restoration) Urges Obama to Hold a National Summit on Climate Change
On February 8th SER’s Executive Director, Steven Bosak, joined with the leaders of the Society for Conservation Biology, American Fisheries Society, The Wildlife Society, American Meteorological Society, and the Ecological Society of America in order to ask President Obama to hold a national summit on climate change. In a letter to the White House, our organizations – representing thousands of scientists and professional members – urged the President to consider a summit to identify policies and actions that federal agencies, state and local governments can implement to address the causes and effects of climate change. To read our full letter to President Obama, click here.


GOP bills target ‘overreaching’ EPA

By Ben Goad – 02/14/13 03:25 PM ET

A series of new bills introduced this week in the Senate seek to limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory reach and would subject the agency to penalties for missing reporting deadlines. Offered by Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), the legislation reflects the latest in a series of Republican attempts to rein in an EPA that GOP lawmakers say has run amok and must be held accountable.  Johanns took to the Senate floor Wednesday, saying the people of his home state are fed up with the EPA’s actions during the Obama administration. “And their message is very loud, clear, and unmistakable,” he said. “EPA is overreaching, overbearing, and overstepping boundaries that have long existed.”… Johanns introduced four separate bills. The first targets EPA’s use of guidance documents, rather than formal rules, to enforce actions. Such guidance is not subject to congressional oversight, but Johanns’s bill would remedy that by bringing them under the scope of the Congressional Review Act, he said. The second would require the EPA’s Inspector General to report to Congress twice a year on the agency’s progress toward meeting deadlines that, Johanns said, are now being skirted. The third measure would reduce EPA’s budget by $20,000 every week until the agency meets its agenda setting deadlines. The last bill would force EPA to provide timely information and technical assistance to states working to comply with federal mandates…


Insider Emerges as Top Contender for EPA Job


WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama is moving toward naming a veteran clean-air expert to head the Environmental Protection Agency, in a signal of his intent to make climate change a priority in his second term.

Gina McCarthy, a 58-year-old Boston native who once worked for Gov. Mitt Romney, has emerged as the top contender to take over the EPA, according to people familiar with the matter. She would formally succeed Lisa Jackson, who officially left the agency’s top post Thursday.

A McCarthy nomination would likely face opposition from Republicans, over the agency’s actions in general and the role she played in directing …


Oregon Land Use Bills Aim to Limit Wetland Restoration
Three Oregon legislators have introduced bills on behalf of the Oregon Farm Bureau that will require the retention of land use permits for wetland restoration on farmland. As noted in this article, the Farm Bureau believes that this legislation is necessary to prevent restoration activities from taking land out of agricultural production. House Bill 2173 and Senate Bill 338 would make “creation, restoration or enhancement of wetlands” a conditional use in the Exclusive Farm Use (EFU) zone.


Be persuasive. Be brave. Be arrested (if necessary)

A resource crisis exacerbated by global warming is looming, argues financier Jeremy Grantham. More scientists must speak out.

14 November 2012 NATURE

I have yet to meet a climate scientist who does not believe that global warming is a worse problem than they thought a few years ago. The seriousness of this change is not appreciated by politicians and the public. The scientific world carefully measures the speed with which we approach the cliff and will, no doubt, carefully measure our rate of fall. But it is not doing enough to stop it. I am a specialist in investment bubbles, not climate science. But the effects of climate change can only exacerbate the ecological trouble I see reflected in the financial markets — soaring commodity prices and impending shortages. ….. …

The damaging effects of climate change are accelerating. James Hansen of NASA has screamed warnings for 30 years. Although at first he was dismissed as a madman, almost all his early predictions, disturbingly, have proved conservative in relation to what has actually happened. In 2011, Hansen was arrested in Washington DC, alongside Gus Speth, the retired dean of Yale University’s environmental school; Bill McKibben, one of the earliest and most passionate environmentalists to warn about global warming; and my daughter-in-law, all for protesting over a pipeline planned to carry Canadian bitumen to refineries in the United States, bitumen so thick it needs masses of water even to move it. From his seat in jail, Speth said that he had held some important positions in Washington, but none more important than this one.

President Barack Obama missed the chance of a lifetime to get a climate bill passed, and his great environmental and energy scientists John Holdren and Steven Chu went missing in action. Scientists are understandably protective of the dignity of science and are horrified by publicity and overstatement. These fears, unfortunately, are not shared by their opponents, which makes for a rather painful one-sided battle. Overstatement may generally be dangerous in science (it certainly is for careers) but for climate change, uniquely, understatement is even riskier and therefore, arguably, unethical.

It is crucial that scientists take more career risks and sound a more realistic, more desperate, note on the global-warming problem. Younger scientists are obsessed by thoughts of tenure, so it is probably up to older, senior and retired scientists to do the heavy lifting. Be arrested if necessary. This is not only the crisis of your lives — it is also the crisis of our species’ existence. I implore you to be brave.

Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA – Members of the Sierra Club, and Committed Citizens, including actress Daryl Hannah, demonstrate in front of the White House against the Keystone XL pipeline on Feb.

Activists arrested at White House protesting Keystone pipeline

By Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson, Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 1:11 PM When President Obama spoke about climate change in the State of the Union on Tuesday night, he failed to mention the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which aims to transport heavy crude oil from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast and which needs his approval for a construction permit. But that controversial project — which ranks as one of the top climate decisions the president will have to make this year — took center stage Wednesday as 48 activists engaged in civil disobedience at the gates of the White House. Shortly after noon, D.C. police began arresting the protesters, who included actress Daryl Hannah as well as prominent climate scientist James E. Hansen, Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune and civil rights veteran Julian Bond. Some of the activists tied themselves to the gates with plastic handcuffs; others sat and refused to budge despite officers’ repeated requests. Bill McKibben, co-founder of, which has helped galvanize significant grass-roots opposition to the plan, said Obama cannot ignore that the carbon-intensive process of extracting crude from Alberta’s oil sands will destabilize the planet.

February 13th, 2013

Activists arrested at WH over climate change protest

Posted by CNN Political Reporter Shannon Travis Feb 13, 2013

Washington (CNN) – Dozens of environmental activists – including Bobby Kennedy Jr. and actress Daryl Hannah – cuffed themselves to a White House gate on Wednesday in a climate change protest that ultimately resulted in their arrests…

For more information, visit

Tons of Californians arrested at White House climate change protest

Joe Garifoli Feb 13 2013 SF Gate

Shortly before 1 p.m. West Coast time Wednesday, 48 environmental activists — including a ton of Bay Area residents including San Franciscans like Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune and Adam Werbach, St. Mary’s College professor Brenda Hillman and her husband UC-Berkeley professor and former poet laureate Bob Haas — were arrested after chaining themselves to a fence outside the White House to protest the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline…. On Sunday there will be a mass demonstration in Washington — and here in San Francisco — on the same topic. The details are here. The DC gig is expected to be the largest climate change demonstration ever, featuring tens of thousands of folks.




A groundswell on climate change

Social action, rather than government edict, may break policy logjam, panel says

By Alvin Powell

Harvard Staff Writer

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer

Activism for climate change has been a disappointment compared with other social movements, the panelists said.

By Alvin Powell Harvard Staff Writer Thursday, February 14, 2013

If you seek change — as today’s climate change activists do — you can’t shrink from conflict, because the two go hand-in-hand in a democracy, according to a Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) authority on social organizing.

Marshall Ganz, an HKS senior lecturer in public policy, drew on his decades of experience in the Civil Rights Movement and as a community organizer to offer lessons for those seeking change.

“The idea that democracy is about consensus, I don’t know where that idea came from,” Ganz said. “Democracy is about contention, about constructive contention.”

Ganz was among panelists considering social activism on climate change during “Climate Change and Social Action,” a discussion Monday at Sanders Theatre sponsored by the Harvard University Center for the Environment.

Other panelists included Theda Skocpol, Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology; Government Professor Stephen Ansolabehere; McArthur University Professor Rebecca Henderson; and Andrew Hoffman of the University of Michigan. The moderator was Daniel Schrag, director of the Center for the Environment, Sturgis Hooper Professor of Geology, and professor of environmental science and engineering. Harvard President Drew Faust offered comments at the program’s end.

The panelists gave the climate change movement low marks compared with major social movements of the past, such as those that ended slavery, fostered civil rights, fought tobacco use, and abolished apartheid.


Climate Change: Congress Warned By GAO That Weather Is Changing

Huffington Post

Feb 14, 2013

Written by

Michael McAuliff

“Limiting the federal government’s fiscal exposure to climate change is one of the new areas we have on the list,” Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, the head of the GAO, told reporters at a Capitol Hill press conference.


Climate Change Battle Heats Up Again

By Keith Johnson February 14, 2013, 1:41 PM

Just two days after President Barack Obama challenged Congress to act on climate change in his State of the Union address, the political battle has begun.

Sens.  Barbara Boxer (D., Calif) and Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) introduced legislation Thursday that would put a price on carbon emissions and use the proceeds to roll out more clean energy and pay down some debt. It won’t go anywhere—and leading Republican lawmakers were quick to explain why—but that’s not the point. The two were responding to Mr. Obama’s ultimatum. “But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will,” he said Tuesday night. “I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy. Congress last took a serious stab at climate legislation in 2009, when the House, then controlled by Democrats, passed the Waxman-Markey bill, which would have created a cap-and-trade scheme to curb emissions of greenhouse gases. That bill died in the Senate, thanks to bipartisan opposition; plenty of Democrats from coal-friendly and manufacturing-heavy states were leery of what the bill would do to the U.S. economy…..


Major Climate Change Bill Coming to the Senate

George Zornick on February 12, 2013 – 8:06 PM ET

Only an hour before President Obama is expected to deliver his State of the Union address—in which he might “go big” on the issue of combating climate change—two Senators announced they will introduce comprehensive climate change legislation this week, presenting a possible vehicle in the Senate for Obama’s ambitions.

Senators Bernie Sanders and Barbara Boxer will outline the legislation on Thursday morning. Details are scant, though it’s being billed as “major” and “comprehensive” legislation, and will have a carbon tax, per a statement from Sanders’ office:

Under the legislation, a fee on carbon pollution emissions would fund historic investments in energy efficiency and sustainable energy technologies such as wind, solar, geothermal and biomass. The proposal also would provide rebates to consumers to offset any efforts by oil, coal or gas companies to raise prices.

Boxer is the chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, so this is not a fringe effort by any means. And some heavy environmental and institutional groups will be on hand Thursday, including Bill McKibben of and representatives from the Center for American Progress, Sierra Club, Public Citizen, and the National Community Action Foundation.

We reported last month that Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Representative Henry Waxman launched a Congressional task force, which aims to push the executive branch on new regulations, and to serve as a laboratory for new legislation—and while it’s not clear if Boxer is acting through this working group, the legislation is clearly ready to go.


Climate Hawk Obama: ‘If Congress Won’t Act Soon To Protect Future Generations, I Will’

By Joe Romm on Feb 12, 2013 at 9:27 pm

President: Warming-Driven Extreme Weather Demands We “Act Before It’s Too Late.” Below are Obama’s extensive remarks on energy and climate in his State of the Union address. The President has expanded on his strong remarks in his Second Inaugural, asserting “if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.”

Below the jump is the energy portion of his just-released “Plan for A Strong Middle Class & A Strong America.”  There’s a call for doubling renewable electricity (yet again!) by 2020 — and for doubling energy productivity by 2030 (“a new Energy Efficiency Race to the Top for states”). But who knew he’d call for Congress to pass cap-and-trade?

Here is the key part of the speech (as delivered):

Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race. And today, no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy.

After years of talking about it, we are finally poised to control our own energy future. We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years. We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas, and the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar – with tens of thousands of good, American jobs to show for it. We produce more natural gas than ever before – and nearly everyone’s energy bill is lower because of it. And over the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen.

But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods – all are now more frequent and more intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.

Now the good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

Four years ago, other countries dominated the clean energy market and the jobs that came with it. We’ve begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let’s generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year – let’s drive costs down even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.

In the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that. That’s why my Administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits. That’s got to be a part of an all-of-the-above plan. But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and water.

In fact, much of our new-found energy is drawn from lands and waters that we, the public, own together. So tonight, I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good. If a non-partisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals can get behind this idea, then so can we. Let’s take their advice and free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in gas prices we’ve put up with for far too long. I’m also issuing a new goal for America: let’s cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next twenty years. The states with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make that happen.

Wow! Looks like I’ll be needing a stomach pump — after drinking all this beer, Hurricanes, Damn-The-Weather cocktails, espressos, energy drinks, and, I’m afraid, fracking fluid from Haliburton.

His remarks on climate are very strong. So is his plan for action. Yes, both are four years late, but still….

UPDATE: Carol M. Browner, CAP Distinguished Senior Fellow and former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said:

“Tonight’s speech is a big win for those who want action on climate change and believe now is the time to act.  The president was clear about the magnitude of the challenge and resolute in his determination to use his executive authority to take action, especially if Congress won’t.  He pledged to build on the achievements of his first term, including historic standards for clean cars and energy efficiency, and he laid down a strong marker that he intends to continue investments in clean energy technology as part of our economic recovery.”

Comparing the texts with the actual speech, Obama ad-libbed “That’s got to be a part of an all-of-the-above plan.” Sad. “All of the above” is not a plan. It is more of the same — literally….


It’s Not Easy Being Green

By DAVID LEONHARDT (NYT Washington Bureau Chief) February 10, 2013

The strongest argument for a major government response to climate change is the obvious argument: climate change….. The most intriguing choice facing Mr. Obama is whether to resuscitate a version of the centerpiece of the Democrats’ failed 2009 climate push: a cap-and-trade program. He has little chance of creating such an economy wide program, because Republicans and some coal-state Democrats oppose it. But he may be able to create a scaled-down version specifically for power plants — no small thing, given that power plants produce about one-third of the country’s carbon emissions. To economists, the best climate policies are those that allow market incentives to work, and the most damaging tend to be those heavy on mandates. “Telling companies they have to install this or that equipment is the more expensive way to proceed,” says Michael Greenstone, an M.I.T. economist and former Obama administration adviser. “Instead of a one-size-fits-all solution, you should allow companies to find the least-cost solution.” Mandating that every power plant use turbines with a minimum efficiency, for instance, is likely to impose large costs on some. Perhaps the plants are designed in a way that makes it easier — and cheaper — for them to use their old turbines and reduce emissions another way. A turbine mandate could force them to raise prices for consumers more than necessary to achieve the same climate benefit. A cap-and-trade system works differently. It requires companies to buy permits for their emissions and allows the companies to decide how best to meet their targets. A company that finds inexpensive ways to reduce emissions can sell its unused permits to companies that would have had to spend large sums to reduce emissions, lowering prices for everyone. In previous decades, the United States reduced acid rainfall and the levels of lead in gasoline through similar approaches, both at lower costs than predicted. …

….Beyond a market-based system, financing for research is a second major way Washington can try to slow climate change without harming economic growth. The federal government will spend $3.8 billion this year on clean-energy research and development, according to the Brookings Institution. It is a tiny sum relative to the $30 billion for medical research or the $15 billion for agriculture subsidies, let alone the $800 billion for Social Security. A cross-ideological report, from the American Enterprise Institute, the Breakthrough Institute and the Brookings Institution, has recommended an additional $25 billion a year for alternative energy. …. In the end, the strongest economic argument for an aggressive response to climate change is not the much trumpeted windfall of green jobs. It’s the fact that the economy won’t function very well in a world full of droughts, hurricanes and heat waves.


Washington Post On Climate: Obama Must ‘Discuss The Science, The Real Reason To Cut Carbon Emissions’

Posted: 11 Feb 2013 09:28 AM PST Joe Romm

Obama surprised almost everyone when he channeled his inner climate hawk in his powerful second inaugural address. Now everyone is wondering what he will say in his State of the Union address Tuesday.

This weekend, the Washington Post editorial board weighed in:

President Obama will deliver his 2013 State of the Union address on Tuesday, and expectations are high that he will devote significant time to climate change. We hope that he adopts a different approach to explaining the need for action than he did in much of his first term.

In past addresses, talking about green jobs didn’t work, nor did talking about energy independence. The credible way to justify fighting climate change is to discuss the science, the real reason to cut carbon emissions. There is overwhelming evidence that the planet is warming. The widespread burning of fossil fuels, meanwhile, pumps heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every second….



SOURCE: AP/Mel Evans Rough surf of the Atlantic Ocean breaks over the beach and across Beach Avenue, Monday, October 29, 2012, in Cape May, New Jersey, as high tide and superstorm Sandy begin to arrive.

Going to Extremes: The $188 Billion Price Tag from Climate-Related Extreme Weather

By Daniel J. Weiss and Jackie Weidman | February 12, 2013

The United States was subjected to many severe climate-related extreme weather over the past two years. In 2011 there were 14 extreme weather events—floods, drought, storms, and wildfires—that each caused at least $1 billion in damage. There were another 11 such disasters in 2012. These extreme weather events reflect part of the unpaid bill from climate change—a tab that will only grow over time. CAP recently documented the human and economic toll from these devastating events in our November 2012 report “Heavy Weather: How Climate Destruction Harms Middle- and Lower- Income Americans.” Since the release of that report, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, has updated its list of “billion-dollar”-damage weather events for 2012, bringing the two-year total to 25 incidents. From 2011 to 2012 these 25 “billion-dollar damage” weather events in the United States are estimated to have caused up to $188 billion in total damage.[1] The two costliest events were the September 2012 drought—the worst drought in half a century, which baked nearly two-thirds of the continental United States—and superstorm Sandy, which battered the







EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator

Other Calculators — There are a number of other web-based calculators that can estimate greenhouse gas emission reductions for

individuals and households, waste, and transportation. For basic information and details on greenhouse gas emissions, visit the Emissions section of EPA’s climate change site.

UPDATED October 2012. Most of the equivalency conversion factors have been updated with newer or revised values. See the revision history page for more details.

Did you ever wonder what reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 1 million metric tons means in everyday terms? The greenhouse gas equivalencies calculator can help you understand just that, translating abstract measurements into concrete terms you can understand, such as “equivalent to avoiding the carbon dioxide emissions of 183,000 cars annually.”

This calculator may be useful in communicating your greenhouse gas reduction strategy, reduction targets, or other initiatives aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions….






American Geophysical Union (AGU):

Impact Lives on a National Scale: Become a Presidential Innovation Fellow

In his inaugural address President Obama said “We must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government,” and the Presidential Innovation Fellows program is a way to do just that. The program pairs innovators from the private sector, non-profits, and academia with top innovators in government in order to develop solutions to national issues.
Presidential Innovation Fellows serve 6-12 month “tours of duty” during which they collaborate with their team and a community of interested citizens on one of nine potential projects.  Whether you’re interested in disaster response or empowering patients through systems that allow them to own and track their health histories, there is a project for you!
Applications for the second round of fellowships are being accepted until 17 March 2013. Becoming a Presidential Innovation Fellow is an amazing opportunity to serve the nation and have an impact on a massive scale. To learn more about the projects and apply, visit the website today!



Excellent resources: including smart phone apps and weekly news highlights



California Tiger Salamander Workshop 2013

April 25, 8:30-3:30

Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve

1700 Elkhorn Road, Watsonville

Field session: April 25, 4:30-8:30 or April 26, 9:00-1:00

Workshop Objectives: To provide participants a working understanding of the complex biology of California tiger salamanders (CTS), including discussion of research studies focused on this species. Participants should also gain an appreciation for how this information can be applied to habitat management for this species. The information conveyed will be useful in large-scale and local conservation planning efforts. Topics: The geographic distribution of California tiger salamanders and hybrid populations, upland and aquatic habitats and their management, movements, population and community ecology, survey methods, and methods for assessing potential project impacts and approaches for avoidance and minimization. Participants will receive field training in species identification, sampling techniques, and habitat requirements of the California tiger salamander. Please visit our website now to register yourself (we discourage 3rd party registrations to avoid errors) and learn more about this exciting training:


Igniting the Green Fire: Finding Hope in Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic

March, 15, 16 & 17, 2013
The Father of the Modern Conservation Movement Inspires Weekend Gathering in West Marin

Point Reyes Books presents the 2013 Geography of Hope Conference, “Igniting the Green Fire: Finding Hope in Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic,” on March 15, 16, and 17, 2013, in Point Reyes Station. It is the first West Coast gathering of the world’s foremost Aldo Leopold experts and the only opportunity to meet and hear from the creators and stars of Green Fire, the 2012 Emmy Award-winning film about Aldo Leopold‘s life and conservation legacy which will be screened at the conference.

In the tradition of past Geography of Hope conferences, the weekend features spirited conversations and presentations by prominent authors, naturalists, and conservation leaders, including: Aldo Leopold biographer Curt Meine; Aldo Leopold Foundation director Buddy Huffaker; former Natural Resources Conservation Service chief Paul Johnson; Center for Humans and Nature president Brooke Hecht; Quivira Coalition executive director Courtney White; Leopold scholars Susan Flader and J. Baird Callicott; geologist and author Lauret Savoy; U.S. Forest Service Deputy Chief Leslie Weldon; poet Robert Hass; author Gary Nabhan and “Planet Walker” John Francis; and Center for Whole Communities founder Peter Forbes (partial list).

They’ll examine Leopold’s legacy as a foundation for hope and for future conservation ideas and action. Naturalist-led field trips to Point Reyes National Seashore will allow participants to experience Leopold’s land ethic firsthand on some of the 71,000 acres of wilderness and ranchlands that comprise the park. Additional field trips go to privately owned farms and ranches in West Marin. Meals served during the weekend will feature food from Marin’s farms and ranches.


April 2-4: National Adaptation Forum, Denver, CO.  This is an inaugural convening of climate change adaptation practitioners and experts from around the country focused on moving from adaptation planning to adaptation action. FWS R1 employees: please contact David Patte ASAP regarding conference approval requirements.

April 15-18: 2013 Western Division of the American Fisheries Society Annual Meeting , Boise, ID features a
climate-aquatics symposium organized by Dan Isaak and colleagues, titled “New information regarding climate effects on aquatic resources: how do we use this information?”  A 1-day workshop on spatial statistical model for stream networks will be a held in conjunction with the meeting.  Jay Ver Hoef (NOAA) and Erin Peterson (CSIRO in Australia), who will conduct the workshop, have developed the statistical theory for these models over the last decade and have recently developed freeware statistical software for the R environment to make implementation of the models convenient. The spatial statistical models are applicable to a wide variety of data types commonly collected from streams (water quality parameters, habitat conditions, biological attributes), provide improved estimation relative to traditional statistical models, and even enable new types of analyses that were not previously possible for streams. Contact Dan Isaak for online participation if you cannot attend or for more info:


Fifth International Partners in Flight Meeting Set for Utah, August 25 – 28



American Geophysical Union Chapman Conference

Communicating Climate Science: A Historic Look to the Future June 8-13, 2013, Snow Mountain Ranch, Granby, CO, USA

The AGU Chapman Conference (AGUCC) will focus on communication about climate science to all sectors of society.  The Climate Change Community must move forward on multiple pathways to convey climate change research, mitigation and adaptation plans and policies and technologies to policy makers, planners, and society at all levels.  As climate science has developed over time, there has been a significant shift in relations between the science and political aspects thereof; where previously the development of the science was exclusively prioritized, now the focus lies in communicating the science to society. It is imperative that we determine an appropriate balance between these two elements, ensuring that neither is too shallow or deep.

….The abstract submission deadline is February 5, 2013.  To submit an abstract and/or register please visit the conference website:







California oil fields don’t all meet standard

David R. Baker San Francisco Chronicle February 11, 2013

Environmentalists often call oil from Canada’s tar sands the dirtiest fuel on Earth, because the complex process of extracting it spews huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the air. […] California refineries might also have to stop using somemore »



The boom in U.S. oil drilling hasn’t lowered gas prices

Posted by Brad Plumer on February 11, 2013 at 10:58 am Washington Post

Last year, the world  pumped more oil out of the ground than ever before in history, and nearly half of that increase came from new drilling in the United States. Yet Brent crude is still trading for around $120 per barrel, higher than it was two years ago….


Carbon Sponge Could Soak Up Coal Emissions



February 12, 2013 ScienceDaily Emissions from coal power stations could be drastically reduced by a new, energy-efficient material that adsorbs large amounts of carbon dioxide, then releases it when …  > full story


Solar industry grapples with hazardous wastes

JASON DEAREN, Associated Press Associated Press February 10, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Homeowners on the hunt for sparkling solar panels are lured by ads filled with images of pristine landscapes and bright sunshine, and words about the technology’s benefits for the environment — and the wallet… The records also show several other Silicon Valley solar facilities created millions of pounds of toxic waste without selling a single solar panel, while they were developing their technology or fine-tuning their production. While much of the waste produced is considered toxic, there was no evidence it has harmed human health. The vast majority of solar companies that generated hazardous waste in California have not been cited for waste-related pollution violations, although three had minor violations on file. In many cases, a toxic sludge is created when metals and other toxins are removed from water used in the manufacturing process. If a company doesn’t have its own treatment equipment, then it will send contaminated water to be stored at an approved dump. According to scientists who conduct so-called “life cycle analysis” for solar, the transport of waste is not currently being factored into the carbon footprint score, which measures the amount of greenhouse gases produced when making a product. Life cycle analysts add up all the global warming pollution that goes into making a certain product — from the mining needed for components to the exhaust from diesel trucks used to transport waste and materials. Not factoring the hazardous waste transport into solar’s carbon footprint is an obvious oversight, analysts said. “The greenhouse gas emissions associated with transporting this waste is not insignificant,” Mulvaney said…..

Tesla’s Elon Musk slams New York Times review

By Hayley Tsukayama, Updated: Tuesday, February 12, 6:19 AM Washington Post

Tesla chief executive Elon Musk is taking the New York Times to task for what he says is an unreasonable review of the Tesla Model S.

The prominent entrepreneur, also known for founding SpaceX and PayPal, said that a Times reviewer did not follow instructions during his review of the Tesla Model S and did not include important portions of the trip in the resulting article — accusations the paper calls “flatly untrue.”

The electric car, which is supposed to offer the ride of a high-end sedan, is advertised with a 265-mile range per charge. The company says that can get up to 300 miles, in ideal conditions. But the New York Times reviewer had several problems completing the journey between the company’s two East Coast charging stations. In fact, the car actually shut down on him during the drive after he repeatedly called Tesla personnel for help, forcing him to coast off the highway and call a tow service.

Musk questioned the reviewer’s actions, however. He said diagnostic data from the test model shows the article left out several key points, including the fact that the reviewer reportedly took an undisclosed detour through city traffic instead of the more fuel-efficient highway.

The executive also said that the reviewer didn’t properly charge the car, and drove too fast.

“He did not charge up the car to full capacity; not even close,” Musk said in an interview with Bloomberg West.

He said that the company was able to check the newspaper’s review by checking diagnostic data from the car. Generally speaking, Musk said, the company only turns on the tracking tool by request, but always keeps the tool on during press reviews.


Renewables now cheaper than coal and gas in Australia

By Giles Parkinson on 7 February 2013

A new analysis from research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance has concluded that electricity from unsubsidised renewable energy is already cheaper than electricity from new-build coal and gas-fired power stations in Australia. The modeling from the BNEF team in Sydney found that new wind farms could supply electricity at a cost of $80/MWh –compared with $143/MWh for new build coal, and $116/MWh for new build gas-fired generation. These figures include the cost of carbon emissions, but BNEF said even without a carbon price, wind energy remained 14 per cent cheaper than new coal and 18 per cent cheaper than new gas.

“The perception that fossil fuels are cheap and renewables are expensive is now out of date”, said Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance.



Cool steps help fight global warming

James Temple San Francisco Chronicle February 10, 2013

When it comes to high-tech possibilities for counteracting climate change, the headlines tend to focus on the seemingly sci-fi stuff: brightening clouds, pumping particles into the stratosphere and launching giant mirrors into space. But there are down-to-earth versions of the same basic concept, approaches as simple as painting roofs white or using light-colored pavement to cast away more heat from the Earth. A group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories is exploring how big an impact this approach could have on global warming, as well as developing next-generation building materials that could reflect more light. Compared with more unconventional strategies, the advantages of white roofs and related concepts are that they’re proven, cheap and relatively noncontroversial. Indeed, the basic idea has been employed in sweltering parts of the world since at least the time of the pharaohs….. But making roofs white can be done today, without the risks and uncertainties associated with more audacious approaches.

Moreover, what’s abundantly clear to anyone studying climate change is that there are no silver bullets. Effectively confronting the enormous challenge of global warming will demand a wide range of responses: aggressively expanding clean-energy options, rapidly developing more efficient alternatives, enacting laws that discourage greenhouse gas emissions and quite possibly using “geoengineering” options for sucking greenhouse gases out of the sky or reflecting away heat. “Almost every potential step we take is a partial solution,” said Ronnen Levinson, the staff scientist who leads the Heat Island Group. “White roofs can by no means reverse global warming, but the cooling benefit is substantial and it’s something that’s easily within reach.” An important caveat: Whitening roofs doesn’t directly remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so other dangerous consequences of rising greenhouse gases levels remain, notably ocean acidification. The CO{-2} dissolved in oceans, lakes and rivers can harm critical components of underwater ecosystems, including coral reefs and plankton…..


The New Sustainable Energy Factbook: A Strong Case for Consistent Policy

Posted: 10 Feb 2013 06:06 AM PST

By Rebecca Lefton and Julius Fischer

Easy to read, reliable and current data can be hard to come by. The new Sustainable Energy in America 2013 Factbook produced by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), and commissioned by the Business Council on Sustainable Energy (BCSE), provides detailed information on topics ranging from US energy consumption, to the boom in natural gas and renewable energies, the diversification of our energy sector, improved efficiency, and better air quality. The report provides a detailed account of the energy market for investors and policymakers making a strong case for the role of stable policies in leveling the playing field for clean energy technologies in the evolving energy landscape.



Birds of Prey Delay Polish Fracking Boom

By Bloomberg – Feb 11, 2013 4:04 AM PT

Poland’s path to energy independence through shale gas is being delayed by skylarks, red kites and local farmers hesitant to grant access to their land. The nation is sitting on the European Union’s biggest reserves of the fuel, enough to last at least 50 years and free it from dependence on Russia, according to the Polish Geological Institute… Poland imports about two-thirds of its gas from Russia’s OAO Gazprom, and plans to double domestic production by 2019…








REMARKS AT THE WHITE HOUSE 15 January 2013 James Hansen

Let us return for a moment to election night 2008. As I sat in our farm house in Pennsylvania, watching Barack Obama’s victory speech, I turned my head aside so my wife would not see the tears in my eyes. I suspect that millions cried. It was a great day for America.

It is not easy to find an Abraham Lincoln or a Winston Churchill. But we are here today looking to find that in you, Mr. President. And until you summon it within yourself, let me assure you that we will return, and our numbers will grow.

Mr. President, we will be here until the promise of a safe world for our children and grandchildren, and your children and grandchildren – is not a dream. We will be here until we are assured that the history books will rightfully record – that you were the person we were looking for – the person who turned these dreams…into reality.


2012 U.S. Shark Attacks Highest Since 2000



February 11, 2013 — Shark attacks in the U.S. reached a decade high in 2012, while worldwide fatalities remained average, according to a new … > full story


‘This Clement World,’ a Play About Climate Change

By JASON ZINOMAN (NYT) February 10, 2013 Compiled: 1:05 AM Works like “This Clement World,” a new play at St. Ann’s Warehouse, could start to transform the theater world’s attitude about climate change.

‘This Clement World’ at St. Ann’s Warehouse

By CHARLES ISHERWOOD (NYT) ebruary 11, 2013 Compiled: 12:47 AM Chythia Hopkins’s latest piece, “This Clement World,” includes original songs and video footage that she shot during a three-week Arctic expedition.


Study Confirms Tea Party Was Created by Big Tobacco and Pollutocrat Kochs

Posted: 11 Feb 2013 12:49 PM PST

By Brendan DeMelle via DeSmogBlog

A new academic study confirms that front groups with longstanding ties to the tobacco industry and the billionaire Koch brothers planned the formation of the Tea Party movement more than a decade before it exploded onto the U.S. political scene.

Far from a genuine grassroots uprising, this astroturf effort was curated by wealthy industrialists years in advance. Many of the anti-science operatives who defended cigarettes are currently deploying their tobacco-inspired playbook internationally to evade accountability for the fossil fuel industry’s role in driving climate disruption. The study, funded by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institute of Health, traces the roots of the Tea Party’s anti-tax movement back to the early 1980s when tobacco companies began to invest in third party groups to fight excise taxes on cigarettes, as well as health studies finding a link between cancer and secondhand cigarette smoke. Published in the peer-reviewed academic journal, Tobacco Control, the study titled, ‘To quarterback behind the scenes, third party efforts’: the tobacco industry and the Tea Party, is not just an historical account of activities in a bygone era. As senior author, Stanton Glantz, a University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) professor of medicine, writes:

“Nonprofit organizations associated with the Tea Party have longstanding ties to tobacco companies, and continue to advocate on behalf of the tobacco industry’s anti-tax, anti-regulation agenda.”

The two main organizations identified in the UCSF Quarterback study are Americans for Prosperity and Freedomworks. Both groups are now “supporting the tobacco companies’ political agenda by mobilizing local Tea Party opposition to tobacco taxes and smoke-free laws.” Freedomworks and Americans for Prosperity were once a single organization called Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE). CSE was founded in 1984 by the infamous Koch Brothers, David and Charles Koch, and received over $5.3 million from tobacco companies, mainly Philip Morris, between 1991 and 2004.


Nearly 1000 injured as meteor falls in Russia
Feb 15 2013




Special Section: KEYSTONE PIPELINE Analyses


Photo montage by Peter Gleick 2013. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

The Keystone XL Pipeline: Red herring, symbol, or a piece of a puzzle?

Posted by Peter Gleick on February 10, 2013

It is time we just said “no.” There is growing attention to climate change in the media; and there is a growing realization that decisions we make today will have a lasting effect on the world’s climate tomorrow. But there is still a gap – a chasm really – between the reality of climate change and our day-to-day choices, investments, and public debates about water, energy, food, and resources.

Here is the reality: the burning of fossil fuels is the leading contributor of gases that are already changing the planet’s delicate climate, and the climate will continue to change in an exponentially increasing and worsening way unless we reduce emissions.

Here is the gap: we continue to make decisions in every phase of our lives ignoring the reality of climate change. Incrementally, each of our decisions might be, or at least appear to be, minor in the grand scheme of things. Combined, they propel us forward on a path to disaster.

This kind of gap is inevitable and understandable: the problem over global climate change is complicated and unprecedented; there is a massive well-funded effort to confuse the public about basic facts by those vested in the status quo (as there was in the tobacco debate and is in the gun safety debate); and the global or even national transitions needed require political courage that seems to be in short supply. This doesn’t bode well for the ability of society to make short-term choices that are in our own long-term interest.

A key, timely example: The Keystone XL Pipeline.

What is the Keystone XL pipeline? For those who haven’t been following the news in this area, very simply, this is a proposed large pipeline project to expand the capacity to bring fossil fuels derived from the Athabasca oil sands region in Alberta, Canada south through the United States to refineries and transportation hubs along the Texas Gulf Coast.

There are important and complex pros and cons to the project and these have been and continue to be argued in local, state, and national forums. Many in the environmental community are lobbying hard for President Obama and the State Department to withhold permission to expand the pipeline. In August 2011, a group of climate scientists sent a letter urging the President to reject the pipeline. A second letter was sent in early 2013. There have been public protests at the White House, along the proposed route, and by landowners in Texas. The state of Nebraska originally opposed the pipeline because of concerns about the threat of groundwater contamination and accidents.

The fossil fuel industry, major Republicans (and some Democrats), Texas politicians, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and many others are urging quick approval.

Like most complicated environmental issues, this one is, well, complicated. Supporters argue that the oil sands in Canada will be exploited no matter whether US markets open or not, that pipelines can be built and operated safely, and that the incremental threat to global climate is small. Opponents cite concerns about pipeline spills and safety, major water contamination and consumption during production and transportation, greenhouse gas emissions, and expanded dependence on fossil fuels. Even the science and environmental communities are split. Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, who has long expressed concern about climate change, recently suggested that the major focus on the pipeline “seems somewhat misguided” (“At best, [the Keystone XL pipeline] is a bit of a sideshow. At worst, it’s a distraction from the bigger issues that contribute to climate change”]. He goes on to argue that the President has other ways to be effective on the issue of climate change and should “stay focused on real and immediate emissions reductions, and not get distracted by his friends or foes into playing Washington games.”

In some ways, this is a good point. The Keystone XL Pipeline, considered in isolation, is not a game changing or planet-threatening project. According to some estimates, obtaining and using oil from tar sands produces 14 to 20 percent greater greenhouse gas emissions than the average oil now used in the U.S. for transportation. In a report to Congress, the estimated effect of the pipeline on the U.S. greenhouse gas footprint would be an increase of 3 million to 21 million metric tons of GHG emissions annually – less than one percent of U.S. emissions. The tar sands in Canada are an environmental disaster in other ways, but the incremental emissions of greenhouse gases are small compared to the far greater threat of massive coal expansion in China, or potential fugitive emission of methane from fracking, or massive deforestation in Indonesia and Latin America, or any number of other major sources of greenhouse gases. In that sense, arguments that the Keystone pipeline is just a “distraction” or “red herring” have some merit.


But. But. But. Here’s my problem: when do we finally just say “no more?”  When are we and our elected officials going to look at the complete picture created by our individual choices and decisions?

How can we read the relentless and convincing news from scientists about climate change, and then turn to the financial pages and read arguments to accelerate investment in old-style technologies, fossil fuels, and land developments along coasts that ignore climate factors? How can we suffer the devastating impacts of a Superstorm Sandy and then just turn around and rebuild the same vulnerable infrastructure in exactly the same places without addressing future sea-level rise? How can we cheer at the profits being made by energy companies in our investment portfolios or institutional endowments when those profits come at the expense of our own and our children’s planetary health?

Every individual choice, every long-term development project, every purchase we make, every financial investment in infrastructure or technology may, in isolation, be relatively innocent and modest. But our choices are additive. Society’s decisions must no longer be divorced from the recognition of the threats of climate change.

Imagine a jigsaw puzzle with a thousand pieces. Each little piece might tell us almost nothing about the full picture; every little piece is a tiny, almost unimportant part of that full picture. But every piece added builds up to an inevitable end. The Keystone XL Pipeline may be just a minor puzzle piece of a far larger picture, but that picture, when all the pieces are combined, is one of potential planetary disaster.

The pipeline is just a piece in a much larger puzzle. It is time to stop putting these pieces together and work on a different picture all together. That is the decision facing the President, and each of us. It is time we just said “no.”



An Updated Look at What Keystone XL and Alberta Tar Sands Mean for the Climate
Posted on 8 February 2013 by dana1981

We have twice
previously examined the various environmental (including climate) impacts of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport oil from the Alberta tar sands in Canada to American refineries at the Gulf of Mexico, where it would then be distributed internationally.  Pressure has been ratcheting up for the Obama Administration to both approve and reject the pipeline.

In support:

In opposition:    

There is also a climate/anti-Keystone XL rally scheduled at the National Mall in Washington D.C. at noon on Sunday February 17th.  Given these events, it seems a fitting time to re-examine the climate impacts associated with the Keystone XL pipeline. The calls for approval of the pipeline have generally been supported with political arguments, whereas the objections generally express concern about the pipeline’s implications for climate change.  There are other environmental concerns as well, because these types of pipelines frequently leak and cause significant impacts to local environmental and human health.  However, here we will focus on the climate impacts of Keystone XL and tar sands oil in general. What is the Potential Climate Impact of Keystone XL?

….But the oil flowing through the pipeline won’t be 100% bitumen, so overall 7 billion metric tons of CO2-equivalent from the Keystone XL pipeline over the next 40 years is a reasonable estimate. To put that in context, according to the Potsdam Institute and Australian Climate Commission, in order to remain below the 2°C warming “danger limit”, we likely have a remaining ‘carbon budget’ [globally] of less than 700 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions between 2010 and 2050 [~16-17 billion metric tons per year on average].  So it could be argued that the Keystone XL pipeline represents a relatively small fraction, at just over 1% of our overall budget. Additionally, as Andrew Leach notes, this 7 billion metric ton estimate is in an ideal world where the oil transported by Keystone XL would not otherwise be either shipped elsewhere or replaced with some other source.  The EPA has estimated that the “extra” emissions associated with Keystone XL as compared to a no-Keystone XL world with realistic assumptions is in the range of 1 billion metric tons of CO2 over 50 years.  If these assumptions are correct, constructing Keystone XL only represents closer to 0.2% of our carbon budget.

…..If these assumptions are correct, constructing Keystone XL only represents closer to 0.2% of our carbon budget. However, Keystone XL is really a problem from a big picture perspective.  Given our remaining budget, we can only emit around 15 to 16 billion metric tons of CO2 per year, on average between now [2013] and 2050, in order to remain within our budget.  We are currently emitting CO2 at double that rate, at over 30 billion metric tons per year
and rising (Figure 1).

We need to turn this around fast and start reducing our overall emissions, or we will blow through our budget and into the realm of very dangerous climate change.  Doing so will require leaving as much of the world’s fossil fuel reserves in the ground as possible.  On the contrary, Keystone XL and the tar sands involve exploiting not only conventional fossil fuel reserves, but also unconventional sources.  It is a completely backwards approach and takes us on the wrong path.

…The Costs of Keystone Carbon

We can also examine the tar sands from a purely economic perspective via the social cost of carbon (how much economic damage our emissions cause via climate change, or how much it will cost us to adapt to climate change).  Various US government agencies including the EPA have a central estimate of the social cost of carbon at $21 per metric ton, although Johnson and Hope (2012) argues that it should be closer to $100 per metric ton. Thus the net cost of CO2 emissions from Keystone XL is probably in the range of $3.6 billion to $17.5 billion per year.  If we just look at the added cost as compared to the realistic non-Keystone XL world as estimated by the EPA (approximately 1 billion metric tons of CO2 over 50 years), the cost is $420 million to $2 billion per year in climate damage from the associated carbon emissions.  Of course, those external costs are spread across the global population, but they are nevertheless an immense cost which is completely ignored by those who argue for the economic importance of exploiting the tar sands.  From a purely economic global perspective, we would be better off leaving the tar sands in the ground.

Keystone XL is a Litmus Test

Ultimately, as a Reuters article noted, “The pipeline is also a litmus test for what you think is the most important problem in the early 21st century.” If Keystone XL is approved, it is an indicator that the United States is still not taking climate change remotely as seriously as it needs to.  It would be a step along the wrong path, exploiting as much of the world’s conventional and unconventional fossil fuel reserves as possible rather than looking for ways to leave as much as possible in the ground. The tar sands present an even bigger test of Canada.  If they continue with their efforts to maximize the tar sands extraction, they will cripple any efforts to reduce their own country’s greenhouse gas emissions, and also become an enabler for the rest of the world to continue increasing overall emissions. Continuing to develop Keystone XL and the tar sands in general will keep us on a path towards a future with very dangerous and potentially catastrophic climate change.  It’s time for the USA to take a climate leadership role and signal that the world needs to take a different path by rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline project.



Keystone XL: Game over?
— raypierre @ 2 November 2011

The impending Obama administration decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would tap into the Athabasca Oil Sands production of Canada, has given rise to a vigorous grassroots opposition movement, leading to the arrests so far of over a thousand activists. At the very least, the protests have increased awareness of the implications of developing the oil sands deposits. Statements about the pipeline abound.

Jim Hansen has said that if the Athabasca Oil Sands are tapped, it’s “essentially game over” for any hope of achieving a stable climate. The same news article quotes Bill McKibben as saying that the pipeline represents “the fuse to biggest carbon bomb on the planet.” Others say the pipeline is no big deal, and that the brouhaha is sidetracking us from thinking about bigger climate issues. David Keith, energy and climate pundit at Calgary University, expresses that sentiment here, and Andy Revkin says “it’s a distraction from core issues and opportunities on energy and largely insignificant if your concern is averting a disruptive buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere”. There’s something to be said in favor of each point of view, but on the whole, I think Bill McKibben has the better of the argument, with some important qualifications. Let’s do the arithmetic.

There is no shortage of environmental threats associated with the Keystone XL pipeline. Notably, the route goes through the environmentally sensitive Sandhills region of Nebraska, a decision opposed even by some supporters of the pipeline. One could also keep in mind the vast areas of Alberta that are churned up by the oil sands mining process itself. But here I will take up only the climate impact of the pipeline and associated oil sands exploitation. For that, it is important to first get a feel for what constitutes an “important” amount of carbon.

That part is relatively easy. The kind of climate we wind up with is largely determined by the total amount of carbon we emit into the atmosphere as CO2 in the time before we finally kick the fossil fuel habit (by choice or by virtue of simply running out). The link between cumulative carbon and climate was discussed at RealClimate here when the papers on the subject first came out in Nature. A good introduction to the work can be found in this National Research Council report on Climate Stabilization targets, of which I was a co-author. Here’s all you ever really need to know about CO2 emissions and climate:

Assuming a 50-50 chance that climate sensitivity is at or below this value, we thus have a 50-50 chance of holding warming below 2C if cumulative emissions are held to a trillion tonnes. Including deforestation, we have already emitted about half that, so our whole future allowance is another 500 gigatonnes….

So yes, the Keystone XL pipeline does tap into a very big carbon bomb indeed.

…..But comparison of the Athabaska Oil Sands to an individual coal deposit isn’t really fair, since there are only two major oil sands deposits (the other being in Venezuela) while coal deposits are widespread. Nehring (2009) estimates that world economically recoverable coal amounts to 846 gigatonnes, based on 2005 prices and technology. Using a mean carbon ratio of .75 (again from Table 6 here), that’s 634 gigatonnes of carbon, which all by itself is more than enough to bring us well past “game-over.” The accessible carbon pool in coal is sure to rise as prices increase and extraction technology advances, but the real imponderable is how much coal remains to be discovered. But any way you slice it, coal is still the 800-gigatonne gorilla at the carbon party.

Commentators who argue that the Keystone XL pipeline is no big deal tend to focus on the rate at which the pipeline delivers oil to users (and thence as CO2 to the atmosphere). To an extent, they have a point. The pipeline would carry 500,000 barrels per day, and assuming that we’re talking about lighter crude by the time it gets in the pipeline that adds up to a piddling 2 gigatonnes carbon in a hundred years (exercise: Work this out for yourself given the numbers I stated earlier in this post). However, building Keystone XL lets the camel’s nose in the tent. It is more than a little disingenuous to say the carbon in the Athabasca Oil Sands mostly has to be left in the ground, but before we’ll do this, we’ll just use a bit of it. It’s like an alcoholic who says he’ll leave the vodka in the kitchen cupboard, but first just take “one little sip.”

So the pipeline itself is really just a skirmish in the battle to protect climate, and if the pipeline gets built despite Bill McKibben’s dedicated army of protesters, that does not mean in and of itself that it’s “game over” for holding warming to 2C. Further, if we do hit a trillion tonnes, it may be “game-over” for holding warming to 2C (apart from praying for low climate sensitivity), but it’s not “game-over” for avoiding the second trillion tonnes, which would bring the likely warming up to 4C. The fight over Keystone XL may be only a skirmish, but for those (like the fellow in this arresting photo ) who seek to limit global warming, it is an important one. It may be too late to halt existing oil sands projects, but the exploitation of this carbon pool has just barely begun. If the Keystone XL pipeline is built, it surely smooths the way for further expansions of the market for oil sands crude. Turning down XL, in contrast, draws a line in the oil sands, and affirms the principle that this carbon shall not pass into the atmosphere.

* Note added 4/11/2011: Prompted by Andrew Leach’s comment (#50 below), I should clarify that the working paper cited refers to recovery of bitumen-in-place on a per-project basis, and should not be taken as an estimate of the total amount that could be recovered from oil sands as a whole. I cite this only as an example of where the technology is headed.




SIERRA CLUB: YOU Can Make History On President’s Day Weekend

Tens of thousands of citizens will converge on Washington, D.C., on February 17 for the Forward on Climate rally to tell the president we need his ambition to meet the scale of the challenge in transitioning to a clean-energy economy. “There’s only one thing that will defeat the tar sands pipeline and ignite a clean-energy revolution in this country,” says Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune in this video. “It’s not another symposium, think tank, or government study — it’s you.”  Buses are coming from over 20 states. RSVP, then find a ride near you.   Check out our new Make History video!  Watch this clip of Sierra Club youth ambassador Nolan Gould, star of the smash sitcom Modern Family, telling Ellen DeGeneres why he’ll be at the rally.  Read this impassioned piece by syndicated columnist Javier Sierra about how the actions we take now will shape the world our children and grandchildren will inherit….
Thunderclap is a new social media tool for “amplifying your Tweet into a sonic boom.” You can join a virtual “hurray” by scheduling a Thunderclap post from Facebook or Twitter to show your support for those on the ground. Every Thunderclap post will go up at the same time on February 17, creating one of the biggest joint social media posts ever. Schedule your Thunderclap today — the climate needs the noise!  The Sierra Club is also hosting Solidarity Rallies on February 17 — mostly in the far West — for those who want to participate but simply cannot make it to the nation’s capital.

Recognizing the imminent danger posed by climate disruption, and the fact that President Obama will soon decide on the fate of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, the Sierra Club will participate in a one-time act of peaceful civil disobedience for the first time in the organization’s 120-year history. “For civil disobedience to be justified, something must be so wrong that it compels the strongest defensible protest,” says Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.  “The burning of dirty tar sands crude is a battle we can’t afford to lose — this is something Obama simply must reject.” “This decision is not one we take lightly,” says Sierra Club President Allison Chin. “Allowing the production, transport, and burning of the dirtiest fuel on earth now would be a giant leap backwards. We are answering the urgency of this threat



On Sunday, February 17, the largest climate rallies in U.S. history will take place in Washington, DC; San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Monterey; Seattle and Olympia, Washington; Medford, Oregon;  Denver; Chicago;  Ames, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Waterloo, Dubuque and Davenport, Iowa; Fenton, Michigan; Bozeman and Missoula, Montana; and Austin, Texas. That is of today, and the number grows daily.  We hope you will join us in San Francisco, at Justin Herman Plaza, right across from the ferry terminal, from 1-3 PM. We plan to take the Larkspur Landing ferry at 11:45 AM and return on the 3:45 PM.  We could plan a late lunch rendezvous at the Marin Brewing Company for those who have become dehydrated.  Please join us! Let us know if you are coming. Let the organizers know here. Get your ferry tix early and BE early since it may be (hopefully) crowded with folks like us. If you care to make a sign expressing your concerns, some suggestions can be found here, along with the event logistics. Evidently there will be some marching but not far.

Why you should do this:

President Obama vowed to “slow the rising of the seas and heal the planet” on the night he won in 2008. Not much happened. He omitted mention of climate change from his campaign.

Then something big did happen: Superstorm Sandy. His good performance as CEO probably swung some voters in his direction. Half of Peter’s home town of Freeport, Long Island, was severely impacted.

President Obama again vowed to take significant action in his second Inaugural Address. Now something really significant needs to happen, because we’re quickly running out of time to control runaway carbon emissions and the threat of catastrophic climate change. We need to “Make him do it,” to paraphrase FDR.  We need to show President Obama that the public wants climate action and will back him up when he gets in the face of the powerful forces behind inaction. We must be his tailwind as he faces ferocious headwinds. The same message needs to be heard in Congress, where good people are waiting for the winds to shift. (We are writing this before the SOTU speech, which might well be a make-or-break moment for him. We are holding our breath.)  Since we have children and grandchildren we love and cherish, we do not allow ourselves to feel hopeless. Our hope is that the power of a united citizenry of the United States of America can actually make an impact on the course of history. It’s time for our country to lead the way, and time, alas, is not on our side.







CO2 and Ocean Acidification

Posted by Greg Laden on February 11, 2013 This graphic is from GRID-Arendal, a Norwegian Foundation collaborating with the UN Environment Programme. It shows CO2 concentrations in the ocean going up over a period of 20 years, and the corresponding drop in pH over the same time period. Ocean acidification is a serious effect of climate change.

As carbon concentrations in the atmosphere increase, so do concentrations in the ocean, with resultant acidification as a natural chemical process.There are more climate change related graphics HERE.






A greener, greater New York Bruce McCall


Hungover Energy Secretary Wakes Up Next To Solar Panel The Onion

NEWS IN BRIEF • Science & Technology • ISSUE 49•06 • Feb 7, 2013

WASHINGTON—Sources have reported that following a long night of carousing at a series of D.C. watering holes, Energy Secretary Steven Chu awoke Thursday morning to find himself sleeping next to a giant solar panel he had met the previous evening. “Oh, Christ, what the hell did I do last night?” Chu is said to have muttered to himself while clutching his aching head and grimacing at the partially blanketed 18-square-foot photovoltaic solar module whose manufacturer he was reportedly unable to recall. “This is bad. I really need to stop doing this. I’ve got to get this thing out of here before my wife gets home.” According to sources, Chu’s encounter with the crystalline-silicon solar receptor was his most regrettable dalliance since 2009, when an extended fling with a 90-foot wind turbine nearly ended his marriage.




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