Ecology, Climate Change and Related News

Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Conservation Science News February 22, 2013

Leave a Comment

Highlight of the WeekRapidly Shrinking Arctic Ice Cap









Highlight of the Week– Rapidly Shrinking Arctic Ice Cap


Scientists alarmed by rapidly shrinking Arctic ice cap

David Kramer Physics today February 2013, page 17

In September 2012 Arctic sea-ice extent fell to its lowest level since the first satellite records in 1979. At 3.4 million km2, the area was roughly half the median minimum coverage that occurred from 1979 to 2000. A 2011 MIT model showed the sea ice is thinning at four times the rate the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated in 2007. The Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System model developed at the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory showed last year’s minimum volume at 3263 km3, roughly half the volume it had in 2007, the year of the previous record low. Some climate scientists are now warning that an ice-free summer Arctic Ocean could appear within a few years—more than a decade sooner than existing climate models have predicted…..



Arctic Death Spiral Bombshell: CryoSat-2 Confirms Sea Ice Volume Has Collapsed

By Joe Romm on Feb 14, 2013 at 6:28 pm

The sharp drop in Arctic sea ice area has been matched by a harder-to-see, but equally sharp, drop in sea ice thickness. The combined result has been a collapse in total sea ice volume — to one fifth of its level in 1980.

Arctic sea ice volume in 1000s of cubic kilometers (via Robinson)

Back in September, Climate Progress reported that the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 probe appeared to support the key conclusion of the Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS) at the University of Washington’s Polar Science Center: Arctic sea ice volume has been collapsing much faster than sea ice area (or extent) because the ice has been getting thinner and thinner.

Now the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the UK’s primary agency for funding and managing environmental sciences research, has made it official. In a Wednesday press release, they report:…

Many experts now say that if recent volume trends continue we will see a “near ice-free Arctic in summer” within a decade. And that may well usher in a permanent change toward extreme, prolonged weather events “Such As Drought, Flooding, Cold Spells And Heat Waves.” It will also accelerate global warming in the region, which in turn will likely accelerate both the disintegration of the Greenland ice sheet and the release of the vast amounts of carbon currently locked in the permafrost. The findings were published online in Geophysical Research Letters (subs. req’d). In a U. of Washington news release, polar scientist and coauthor Axel Schweiger said:”Other people had argued that 75 to 80 percent ice volume loss was too aggressive. What this new paper shows is that our ice loss estimates may have been too conservative, and that the recent decline is possibly more rapid.”


Reduced sea ice disturbs balance of greenhouse gases
(February 18, 2013) — The widespread reduction in Arctic sea ice is causing significant changes to the balance of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. …
“Changes in the balance of greenhouse gases can have major co
nsequences because, globally, plants and the oceans absorb around half of the carbon dioxide that humans release into the air through the use of fossil fuels. If the Arctic component of this buffer changes, so will the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” says Dr Frans-Jan Parmentier, a researcher at Lund University, Sweden. …> full story


Frans-Jan W. Parmentier, Torben R. Christensen, Lise Lotte Sørensen, Søren Rysgaard, A. David McGuire, Paul A. Miller, Donald A. Walker. The impact of lower sea-ice extent on Arctic greenhouse-gas exchange. Nature Climate Change, 2013; DOI: 10.1038/nclimate1784






Flooded rice field is tested as salmon nursery in Yolo Bypass



By Matt Weiser Sacramento Bee Published: Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 – 12:00 am | Page 1A Decades of experience have proved that Sacramento Valley rice farmers can use their fields to grow healthy ducks. Now, research under way in the Yolo Bypass aims to find out if they can grow salmon, too. On Tuesday, researchers from UC Davis, the California Department of Water Resources and a nonprofit fisheries group released 50,000 juvenile salmon into a 20-acre rice field north of Woodland…



A pair of sandhill cranes forage on a farm in Staten Island, California. Photograph courtesy Cynthia Tapley, The Nature Conservancy

for National Geographic News

Bird-friendly Farms Catching On in California

Migratory birds find refuge on farms as part of conservation plan.

Published February 20, 2013

On a recent bright afternoon in late January, scattered flocks of geese, sandhill cranes, and other birds foraged for food in cornfields on Staten Island (map) in California‘s Central Valley.

“Some farmers, if they had this concentration of geese, will put out the shotguns and use the sound to distract them,” said Brent Tadman, who manages the 9,200-acre (3,700-hectare) Conservation Farms and Ranches on the island. But birds on Staten Island are allowed to forage in peace, because this is no ordinary farm. Located about 80 miles (130 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, Staten Island was purchased by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in 2002 in order to create a place where agriculture and conservation can coexist. (Related: “‘Walking Wetlands’ Help Declining Birds, Boost Crops.”) TNC hopes bird-friendly practices developed and tested on Staten Island will set an example for other farmers for how they can keep their land productive and profitable—while creating habitat for birds traveling along the Pacific Flyway, one of four primary migratory routes in North America.



Monster goldfish in Lake Tahoe threaten trout

Los Angeles Times February 22, 2013

The monster goldfish that researchers retrieved from Lake Tahoe is the latest discovery that warns of the breakdown of ecological systems if people don’t stop dumping their aquarium pets into lakes, rivers and the ocean.


Mutant champions save imperiled species from almost-certain extinction
(February 19, 2013) — Species facing widespread and rapid environmental changes can sometimes evolve quickly enough to dodge the extinction bullet. Scientists consider the genetic underpinnings of such an “evolutionary rescue.” … > full story


Common swifts make mysterious twilight ascents
(February 21, 2013) — Common swifts climb to altitudes of up to 2.5 km both at dawn and dusk. This unexpected behavior was discovered by a geo-ecologist. … > full story

How seals sleep with only half their brain at a time
(February 19, 2013) — Biologists have identified some of the brain chemicals that allow seals to sleep with half of their brain at a time. … > full story


Antarctic biodiversity data gathered by 90 expeditions since 1956 summarized
February 19, 2013) — A new article describes a comprehensive database of macrobenthic assemblages from the seas around the Antarctic. The article is a valuable collection of unique georeferenced biological information that could be useful for the planning of future biodiversity research and conservation activities. … > full story


Key to Cleaner Environment May Be Right Beneath Our Feet

Feb. 17, 2013 ScienceDaily — While many people recognize that clean water and air are signs of a healthy ecosystem, most do not realize that a critical part of the environment is right beneath their feet, according to a Penn State hydrologist. The ground plays an important role in maintaining a clean environment by serving as a natural water filtration and purification system, said Henry Lin, professor of hydropedology and soil hydrology. Understanding the components that make up this integral part of the ecosystem can lead to better groundwater management and smarter environmental policy.

“We look at nature and we see all the beauty and all the prosperity around us,” said Lin, “But most people don’t know or tend to forget that the key to sustainability is right underground.”

Lin, who reports on his research Feb. 17 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston, said that Earth’s outer layer — from the top vegetation canopy to the strata of soils and layers of underground material — helps soak up and purify water by extracting excess nutrients, heavy metals and other impurities. The ground can also act as a storage container for freshwater. About 60 percent of the world’s annual precipitation ends up in this zone, Lin said. “In fact, there is more water under the ground than there is in the so-called ‘blue waters,’ such as lakes and rivers,” said Lin.

Besides using freshwater for drinking, people use large amounts of water to irrigate agricultural fields and as part of industrial operations. The researcher said that just as a global green revolution raised awareness about food security, a “blue revolution” may lead to efforts to water security with clean, safe water supply around the globe. “Without water there is no life,” Lin said. “Without groundwater, there is no clean water.” Lin said that the system is currently under threat from poor land management practices that fail to consider how ground water is affected by land uses, such as new building projects, underground storage and agricultural operations. Planners should consider, for example, how the ground and plants in an area can affect water run-off. In some cases, not taking the ground and underground features of an area into consideration can lead to flooding, or to the addition of impurities into drinking water supplies. Besides reaching out to managers and planners, Lin said that the general public also must become more aware of groundwater management issues.”In a lot of cases, for the general public and even people from government agencies and funding agencies, it’s out of sight, out of mind,” Lin said. “But, ben



The wolf issue: What science suggests; the players, and our role.
By Norman A. Bishop Feb 10 2013

I will briefly sample a few recent studies, many of which were enabled by wolf restoration that may inform the issue of wolf management in the greater Yellowstone area. Then I’ll discuss the way the wolf issue is playing out in Montana, and how we can get involved. I’m open to questions following the talk. It may be useful to put three issues in perspective before we move on to the science that suggests a fresh look at our relationship to wolves: livestock depredation, human safety, and effects on big game hunting.

About 2.6 million cattle, including calves, live in Montana. Seventy-four killed by wolves in 2011 out of 2.6 million is less than 0.003 percent. Western Montana, where most wolves live, has fewer cattle than the east side of the state. As of 2009, there were 494,100 cattle there. Seventy-four of these animals were killed by wolves, or less than 0.015 percent of the western Montana cattle population. Similar percentages apply to sheep. There were approximately 33,000 sheep, including lambs, in western Montana in 2009. Wolves were documented to have killed 11 of these animals, or 0.03 percent, in 2011. In that same year, 64 wolves were killed in response, plus 166 were taken in the 2011 hunt, leaving 653 at year’s end (Mallonee, 2011). This is not to say that the loss of a teenager’s 4H calf or a small operator’s animals are not devastating; just that the industry is not at risk. Keefover (2012) compares Montana cattle losses reported to NASS (USDA 2011) versus those verified by USDI Fish and Wildlife Service (USDI 2011).

..From 1987 to 2010, Defenders of Wildlife provided a wolf compensation program to reimburse ranchers for livestock lost to wolves. In 23 years, they invested more than $1.4 million in an effort to build trust and promote tolerance within the livestock community. The state is compensating now, using federal funds. Meanwhile, federal agencies spend at least $123 million a year to keep U.S. public lands open to livestock grazing, and Wildlife Services spends $126.5 million annually to kill wolves and other animals on behalf of agriculture.

Another bogus issue is the danger that wolves pose to humans. During a 4 year period last decade, livestock killed 108 people in 4 states and this does not include people killed by vehicle and cattle interactions (CDC, 2009). During this same time period, wild wolves in the lower 48 states killed no one. In the last 80 years, two fatalities, one in Saskatchewan, and one in Alaska, may have been wolf-caused.

As of 2012, the Montana elk population statewide was doing well, with numbers at an all-time high of 112,000. The state management objective calls for 90,000, so they are about 22,000 elk over objective.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks researchers and several scientists from MSU have contributed to our knowledge of large predator effects on the Gallatin elk herd. Hamlin and Cunningham (2009) concluded:

“Even where intensive data has been collected, there has been scientific and public debate concerning the impacts of wolf restoration on ungulate populations. Disagreement generally does not occur about the fact of declines in numbers of some ungulate populations, but disagreement about cause(s) or proportional shares of cause continues to exist.” And,…






Coldness triggers northward flight in monarch butterflies: Migration cycle may be vulnerable to global climate change
(February 21, 2013) — Each fall millions of monarch butterflies migrate south in order to escape frigid temperatures, traveling up to 2,000 miles to an overwintering site in a specific grove of fir trees in central Mexico. A new study suggests that exposure to coldness found in the microenvironment of the monarch’s overwintering site triggers their return north every spring. Without this cold exposure, the monarch butterfly would continue flying south. … > full story



Caves point to thawing of Siberia: Thaw in Siberia’s permafrost may accelerate global warming
February 21, 2013) — Evidence from Siberian caves suggests that a global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius could see permanently frozen ground thaw over a large area of Siberia, threatening release of carbon from soils, and damage to natural and human environments.
A thaw in Siberia’s permafrost (ground frozen throughout the year) could release over 1000 giga-tonnes of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, potentially enhancing global warming. The data comes from an international team led by Oxford University scientists studying stalactites and stalagmites from caves located along the ‘permafrost frontier’, where ground begins to be permanently frozen in a layer tens to hundreds of metres thick. Because stalactites and stalagmites only grow when liquid rainwater and snow melt drips into the caves, these formations record 500,000 years of changing permafrost conditions, including warmer periods similar to the climate of today. Records from a particularly warm period (Marine Isotopic Stage 11) that occurred around 400,000 years ago suggest that global warming of 1.5°C compared to the present is enough to cause substantial thawing of permafrost far north from its present-day southern limit. … > full story


Nearing a Tipping Point on Melting Permafrost?

Published: February 21st, 2013 By Michael D. Lemonick

Nearly a quarter of the Northern Hemisphere’s land surface is covered in permanently frozen soil, or permafrost, which is filled with carbon-rich plant debris — enough to double the amount of heat-trapping carbon in the atmosphere if the permafrost all melted and the organic matter decomposed.

According to a paper published Thursday in Science, that melting could come sooner, and be more widespread, than experts previously believed. If global average temperature were to rise another 2.5°F (1.5°C), say earth scientist Anton Vaks of Oxford University, and an international team of collaborators, permafrost across much of northern Canada and Siberia could start to weaken and decay. And since climate scientists project at least that much warming by the middle of the 21st century, global warming could begin to accelerate as a result, in what’s known as a feedback mechanism.

How much this will affect global temperatures, which are currently projected to rise as much as 9°F by 2100, is impossible to say. It all depends on how quickly the permafrost melts, and how quickly bacteria convert the plant material into carbon dioxide and methane gas, and nobody knows the full answer to that. But since climate scientists already expect a wide range of negative consequences from rising temperatures, including higher sea level, more weather extremes and increasing risks to human health, anything that accelerates warming is a concern.

While the rate at which melting permafrost will add carbon to the atmosphere is largely unknown, a study released February 11 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences at least begins to tackle the problem. It shows that when the permafrost does melt, carbon dissolved in the meltwater decomposes faster after it’s been exposed to the ultraviolet component of sunlight.

In any case, there’s no doubt that the permafrost will melt, at least in part, since it’s already starting to do so. In some parts of the Arctic, trees, buildings and roadways have started listing to one side, or even collapsing, as soil that was once hard as a rock has softened from the warming that’s already taken place….



How Bad Will It Be When the Permafrost Melts?

Truthdig February 22, 2013

If the Earth’s average global temperature rises by another few tenths of a degree, a large area of Siberian permafrost will start to melt uncontrollably, releasing 160 to 290 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in the years that follow.

Permafrost and climate change – interactive

The Guardian UK February 22, 2013

Permafrost and climate change – interactive. Permafrost, soil that has remained below 0C for more than two years, occurs in a quarter of the Earth’s land surface.



‘Uneven’ global sea-level rise predicted
(February 19, 2013) — Sophisticated computer modeling has shown how sea-level rise over the coming century could affect some regions far more than others. The model shows that parts of the Pacific will see the highest rates of rise while some polar regions will actually experience falls in relative sea levels due to the ways sea, land and ice interact globally.. The study focused on three effects that lead to global mean sea-level rise being unequally distributed around the world. Firstly, land is subsiding and emerging due to a massive loss of ice at the end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago when billions of tons of ice covering parts of North America and Europe melted. This caused a major redistribution of mass on Earth, but the crust responds to such changes so slowly that it is still deforming. Secondly, the warming of the oceans leads to a change in the distribution of water across the globe. Thirdly the sheer mass of water held in ice at the frozen continents like Antarctica and Greenland exerts a gravitational pull on the surrounding liquid water, pulling in enormous amounts of water and raising the sea-level close to those continents. As the ice melts its pull decreases and the water previously attracted rushes away to be redistributed around the globe. Co-author Professor Giorgio Spada says, “In the paper we are successful in defining the patterns, known as sea level fingerprints, which affect sea levels. “This is paramount for assessing the risk due to inundation in low-lying, densely populated areas. The most vulnerable areas are those where the effects combine to give the sea-level rise that is significantly higher than the global average.”… > full story


G. Spada, J. L. Bamber, R. T. W. L. Hurkmans. The gravitationally consistent sea-level fingerprint of future terrestrial ice loss. Geophysical Research Letters, 2013; DOI: 10.1029/2012GL053000






Rates of warming (°F per decade) for average winter (Dec.-Feb.), 1970-2012.


Climate central February 22, 2013 A dramatic winter warming trend has developed since 1970, with the coldest states warming the fastest, according to an analysis of 101 years of temperature records. The data, collected from thousands of government weather stations, is analyzed in our latest report Warming Winters. The report includes a state-by-state interactive illustrating how winter temperatures have warmed since both 1970 and 1912. An analysis of data from the U.S. Historical Climatology Network of weather stations shows that the coldest states are warming the fastest, and across the country winter warming since 1970 has been more than four-and-a-half times faster per decade than over the past 100 years. Winter nights across the country have warmed about 30 percent faster than nights over the whole year. Some states cooled or failed to join the warming trend over the past 100 years, but since 1970, every state has shown winter-warming.

Click Here to Explore the Interactive



(Charles Krupa/ Associated Press ) – FILE – In this Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013 file photo, Mike Brown of Boston cross country skis past snow-covered cars through the Chinatown neighborhood of Boston. Scientists point to both scant recent snowfall in parts of the country and this month’s whopper of a Northeast blizzard as potential signs of global warming. It may seem like a contradiction, but the explanation lies in atmospheric physics.

Experts: Global warming can strangely trigger less yearly snowfall, but more potent blizzards

By Associated Press, Published: February 18 | Updated: Tuesday, February 19, 12:01 AM

WASHINGTON — With scant snowfall and barren ski slopes in parts of the Midwest and Northeast the past couple of years, some scientists have pointed to global warming as the culprit.

Then, when a whopper of a blizzard smacked the Northeast with more than 2 feet of snow in some places earlier this month, some of the same people again blamed global warming.

How can that be? It’s been a joke among skeptics, pointing to what seems to be a brazen contradiction.

But the answer lies in atmospheric physics. A warmer atmosphere can hold, and dump, more moisture, snow experts say. And two soon-to-be-published studies demonstrate how there can be more giant blizzards yet less snow overall each year. Projections are that that’s likely to continue with manmade global warming.


— The United States has been walloped by twice as many of the most extreme snowstorms in the past 50 years than in the previous 60 years, according to an upcoming study on extreme weather by leading federal and university climate scientists. This also fits with a dramatic upward trend in extreme winter precipitation — both rain and snow — in the Northeastern U.S. charted by the National Climatic Data Center.

— Yet the Global Snow Lab at Rutgers University says spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has shrunk on average by 1 million square miles in the past 45 years.

— And an upcoming study in the Journal of Climate says computer models predict annual global snowfall to shrink by more than a foot in the next 50 years. The study’s author said most people live in parts of the United States that are likely to see annual snowfall drop between 30 percent and 70 percent by the end of the century.

“Shorter snow season, less snow overall, but the occasional knockout punch,” Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer said. “That’s the new world we live in.”

Ten climate scientists say the idea of less snow and more blizzards makes sense: A warmer world is likely to decrease the overall amount of snow falling each year and shrink the snow season. But when it is cold enough for a snowstorm to hit, the slightly warmer air is often carrying more moisture, producing potentially historic blizzards…..


University of Adelaide news release

Après Nous, Le Déluge: Extreme Rainfall Rises With Global Temperatures

Posted: 17 Feb 2013 05:15 AM PST

A worldwide review of global rainfall data led by the University of Adelaide has found that the intensity of the most extreme rainfall events is increasing across the globe as temperatures rise.

In the most comprehensive review of changes to extreme rainfall ever undertaken, researchers evaluated the association between extreme rainfall and atmospheric temperatures at more than 8000 weather gauging stations around the world. Lead author Dr Seth Westra said, “The results are that rainfall extremes are increasing on average globally. They show that there is a 7% increase in extreme rainfall intensity for every degree increase in global atmospheric temperature. “Assuming an increase in global average temperature by 3 to 5 degrees Celsius by the end of the 21st century, this could mean very substantial increases in rainfall intensity as a result of climate change.” Dr Westra, a Senior Lecturer with the University of Adelaide’s School of Civil, Environmental and Mining Engineering” and member of the Environment Institute, said trends in rainfall extremes were examined over the period from 1900 to 2009 to determine whether they were becoming more intense or occurring more frequently. “The results show that rainfall extremes were increasing over this period, and appear to be linked to the increase in global temperature of nearly a degree which also took place over this time. “If extreme rainfall events continue to intensify, we can expect to see floods occurring more frequently around the world,” Dr Westra said. The strongest increases occurred in the tropical countries, although some level of increase seems to be taking place at the majority of weather gauging stations. Dr Westra said, “Most of these tropical countries are very poor and thus not well placed to adapt to the increased risk of flooding, which puts them in a larger threat of devastation.” This work is being published in the Journal of Climate and can be seen online.



Preparing for climate change-induced weather disasters
(February 17, 2013) — The news sounds grim: Mounting scientific evidence indicates climate change will lead to more frequent and intense extreme weather that affects larger areas and lasts longer. However, we can reduce the risk of weather-related disasters with a variety of measures, according to scientists. … While climate change’s role in tornadoes and hurricanes remains unknown, Field says, the pattern is increasingly clear when it comes to heat waves, heavy rains and droughts. Field explains that the risk of climate-related disaster is tied to the overlap of weather, exposure and vulnerability of exposed people, ecosystems and investments.

While this means that moderate extremes can lead to major disasters, especially in communities subjected to other stresses or in cases when extremes are repeated, it also means that prepared, resilient communities can manage even severe extremes. During the past 30 years, economic losses from weather-related disasters have increased. The available evidence points to increasing exposure (an increase in the amount and/or value of the assets in harm’s way) as the dominant cause of this trend. Economic losses, however, present a very incomplete picture of the true impacts of disasters, which include human and environmental components. While the majority of the economic losses from weather-related disasters are in developed world, the overwhelming majority of deaths are in developing countries. Withstanding these increasingly frequent events will depend on a variety of disaster preparations, early warning systems and well-built infrastructure, Field says. The most effective options tend to produce both immediate benefits in sustainable development and long-term benefits in reduced vulnerability. Solutions that emphasize a portfolio of approaches, multi-hazard risk reduction and learning by doing offer many advantages for resilience and sustainability. Some options may require transformation, including questioning assumptions and paradigms, and stimulating innovation. > full story



Jurassic records warn of risk to marine life from global warming
(February 19, 2013) — The risk posed by global warming and rising ocean temperatures to the future health of the world’s marine ecosystem has been highlighted by scientists studying fossil records. …

The team found a ‘dead zone’ recorded in the rock, which showed virtually no signs of life and contained no fossils. This was followed by evidence of a return to life, but with new species recorded. Professor Twitchett added: “The results show in unprecedented detail how the fossil Jurassic communities changed dramatically in response to a rise in sea level and temperature and a decline in oxygen levels. “Patterns of change suffered by these Jurassic ecosystems closely mirror the changes that happen when modern marine communities are exposed to declining levels of oxygen. Similar ecological stages can be recognised in the fossil and modern communities despite differences in the species present and the scale of the studies.”…full story

Nesting site protection ‘key to save turtles from climate change’
February 19, 2013) — International marine scientists warned it will be vital to protect key marine turtle nesting grounds and areas that may be suitable for turtle nesting in the future to ensure that the marine reptiles have a better chance of withstanding climate change. … > full story



Climate Change Poll: Americans Think Government Can Affect The Climate

Huffington Post  – ‎Feb 21, 2013‎

A week after Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) responded to President Barack Obama’s climate change push by arguing that “the government can’t change the weather,” a new poll shows that most Americans think the U.S. government can make some difference in combating climate change. But polls also show that people consider climate change to be a relatively low priority, underscoring the political difficulty of taking action on the issue. According to a new HuffPost/YouGov poll, Americans are divided over whether climate change is caused primarily by human actions or by natural patterns in the Earth’s environment, with 41 percent choosing each option. Still, most agree that the U.S. government can have at least some effect in reducing the impact of climate change, though they’re divided on whether the government can make a major or minor difference. Twenty-nine percent of respondents said that U.S. policies can make a major difference, 30 percent said they can make a minor difference, and 28 percent said they can make no difference at all.


A coal mining operation in West Virginia where operators have blasted off a mountaintop to uncover valuable, low-sulphur coal seams. After the coal is removed, leftover rock and dirt is dumped into nearby valleys and streams. (Pete Souza, Chicago Tribune / December 1, 2003)

Activist investors put climate-change issue up for vote at bank

PNC Financial Services Group shareholders will consider the resolution at the April 23 annual meeting. It seeks a review of how its loans lead to greenhouse gas. By E. Scott Reckard, Los Angeles Times

February 21, 2013

Activist investors have succeeded for the first time in placing a shareholder resolution on the risks of greenhouse-gas emissions up for a vote at a major bank, a step toward making climate change an important consideration for corporations.

The resolution, which follows years of protests over banks financing certain coal operations, is to be included in proxy material being sent to shareholders of PNC Financial Services Group of Pittsburgh before the bank’s April 23 annual meeting.

It asks PNC to assess and report back to shareholders on how its lending results in greenhouse gas emissions that can alter the climate, posing financial risks for its corporate borrowers and risks to its own reputation.


Landmark carbon assessment developed for Australia
CSIRO 20 February 2013

The Australian landscape soaked up one third of the carbon emitted by fossil fuels in Australia over the past twenty years, according to a new CSIRO study released last week. The study, which marks a significant milestone in Australian atmospheric science, also found that Australia exported 2.5 times more carbon in fossil fuels in 2009-2010 than was emitted from fossil fuels burned within Australia…….

Other results include:

•    On average 2.2 billion tonnes of carbon is taken up by plants per year (1990-2011)

•    Across Australia, grassy vegetation (dominant in dry and savanna regions) accounts for 56% of carbon uptake while woody vegetation accounts for 44%

•    In wet (high-growth) years, the Australian biosphere ‘breathes in’ a vast amount of carbon from the atmosphere, exceeding the total of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, while in dry years, the biosphere ‘breathes out’ a nearly equal amount of carbon back to the atmosphere – this variability is associated with Australia’s highly variable climate; and

•    Carbon uptake from 1990-2011 was high compared with the rest of the twentieth century due largely to carbon dioxide fertilisation.



Australia’s first rainforest research ‘Supersite’ opens for business

February 18, 2013

Following three years of research and planning, CSIRO and the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN) have opened Australia’s first large-scale rainforest research plot.

The plot, which is located at Robson Creek on the Atherton Tablelands near Cairns, will allow scientists to monitor the rainforest over the long term and answer questions about the health of this unique Australian environment and any impacts that might arise from climate change. ‘In preparing the plot for research, we established baseline data by identifying, mapping and measuring every tree that was greater than 10cm in diameter so we can continue to monitor them. We censused over 23 000 stems from 212 different species and there is estimated to be more than 400 plant species represented on the plot,’ said Matt Bradford, a field botanist who manages the Robson Creek site for the CSIRO. ‘It’s been a huge effort, but it’s a great place to be working. There’s such a diversity of life and some of the trees on site are well over a thousand years old.’ TERN and CSIRO are now inviting scientists from Australia and across the world to undertake research at the Robson Creek site, which is the largest rainforest plot that has ever been set up in Australia….





Obama Administration Moves Forward on Climate Change Without Congress

Forthcoming regulation likely means no new coal-fired power plants will be built in the United States

US News and World Report By Rebekah Metzler
February 22, 2013
RSS Feed Print

President Barack Obama is tired of waiting for Congress to move on legislation to reduce carbon emissions, and his administration is poised to move forward on actions to do just that—including a move that will effectively eliminate the possibility of any new coal plant opening in the United States, experts say.

“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,” Obama said during his State of the Union address. “Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science—and act before it’s too late.”



UK Climate Change Secretary Slams Deniers As ‘Dogmatic And Blinkered’

Posted: 18 Feb 2013 09:13 AM PST

At a UK Royal Society symposium last week, Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy & Climate Change, was as blunt on the reality of climate science as he was critical of those who deny it. His full remarks are here.

Some excerpts on the science:

But as the Prime Minister set out last week, reaffirming our shared commitment to being the greenest government ever:

And on those who deny the science:

Hear, hear! Act, act!


Kerry comes out swinging on climate change

By Ben Geman – 02/20/13 01:04 PM ET The Hill

John Kerry used his first major speech as secretary of State to make that case that failing to confront climate change means missing big economic opportunities — and worse. “If we waste this opportunity, it may be the only thing our generation — generations — are remembered for. We need to find the courage to leave a far different legacy,” Kerry said in a wide-ranging address Wednesday at the University of Virginia. Kerry again signaled that he hopes to use his role as top diplomat to promote green energy technologies, arguing they can provide a major boost to U.S. industries in the “next great revolution in our marketplace.” He also cited the prospect of new markets for “America’s second-to-none innovators and entrepreneurs.” “We need to commit ourselves to doing the smart thing and the right thing and to truly take on this challenge, because if we don’t rise to meet it, then rising temperatures and rising sea levels will surely lead to rising costs down the road. Ask any insurance company,” he said. The Hill’s Julian Pecquet has much more on the speech here….



Agencies Release Sustainability Plans, Include Climate Change Adaptation

Bloomberg BNA  – ‎Feb 8, 2013‎

Federal agencies Feb. 7 released their third annual sustainability plans, which for the first time include steps to adapt to climate change. The adaptation plans outline initiatives to reduce the vulnerability of federal assets, programs, and ..



Welcome to the Politics of Climate Change: Adapt and Avert

by Mark Hertsgaard Feb 19, 2013 9:45 AM EST

While thousands converged on Washington to rally for climate change, the U.S. government was building a levee to protect the National Mall against Katrina-like flooding. Whether we like it or not, we’re going to have to adapt while also averting total disaster, writes Mark Hertsgaard.

Braving frigid cold, at least 35,000 demonstrators gathered in Washington on Sunday for the largest climate change rally in history. With a second climate and clean energy rally planned for Earth Day on April 22, Sunday’s demonstration had the feel of a first act, an opening statement of what the burgeoning U.S. climate movement is demanding from a government that for decades has denied and delayed action on the most urgent problem of our age.

The primary aim of the demonstrators was to press President Obama to make good on his pledge in the State of the Union address to “do more to combat climate change.” Above all, they urged him to say no to the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport carbon-heavy tar sands oil from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast. Building that pipeline would be like lighting a fuse to the second-largest pool of carbon on earth, according to writer Bill McKibben, whose group co-sponsored the rally with the Sierra Club, America’s oldest and largest grassroots environmental group.

“Keystone isn’t simply a pipeline in the sand for the swelling national climate movement,” says K.C. Golden, the policy director at Climate Solutions, a clean energy group in Seattle. “It’s a moral referendum on our willingness to do the simplest thing we must do to avert catastrophic climate disruption: stop making it worse.”

Environmentalists aren’t alone in making this argument. A recent report by the eminently establishment International Energy Agency warned that two thirds of the world’s fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground if humanity is to have a 50-50 chance of limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius.
That 2C used to be considered a relatively safe limit, but scientists now consider it the boundary between “dangerous” and “extremely dangerous” climate change. After all, they point out, look at the impacts already being experienced today, after we’ve experienced only 1C of warming. In 2012 alone, the United States endured its hottest summer on record, its worst drought in 50 years, and the superstorm horrors of Hurricane Sandy.

One disquieting sign of the dangers climate change is already posing was evident right under demonstrators’ feet on Sunday, on the grounds of the Washington Monument, where they assembled before marching to the White House. Just south of Constitution Avenue, a new levee is being built, linking the grounds of the monument with those of the World War II Memorial. Its purpose? To protect the White House, the National Archives, buildings containing the Justice Department, the FBI, the Environmental Protection Agency, the IRS, the Commerce Department, and other key federal agencies from flooding caused by torrential rains or hurricanes.

A study by the Federal Emergency Management Administration had determined that this section of Washington, known as the Federal Triangle, had less than 100-year flood protection. In other words, the heart of the nation’s capital was roughly as vulnerable to flooding as much of New Orleans was prior to Katrina. Hence, the new levee….

USA Today On Keystone XL Rally: ‘Tens Of Thousands Demand Action On Climate Change’

Posted: 17 Feb 2013 02:12 PM PST Joe Romm

So that was a heck of a rally. I welcome readers who attended to share their thoughts and pics. If you missed it, you can get details from USA Today‘s story “Tens of thousands demand action on climate change.” Or from the Sierra Club news release, “More Than 35,000 Strong March on Washington for Climate Action.” And then there’s always the Climate Progress twitter feed — my first mass tweeting from an iPhone.

I loved the combination of passion and knowledge that was driving the day. I had the chance to talk to a bunch of the speakers and was impressed by the strength of their commitment on climate in general and Keystone XL in particular. Van Jones made clear that all of President Obama’s other accomplishments would be wiped away if he approves Keystone, since future generations are going to judge all of us on the basis of the actions we take on climate. I was very impressed with the celebrities who came, that they had substance to go with the style. How great to have Rosario Dawson explain that it is called “tar sands” and not “oil sands.” And in chatting with her afterwards, it’s clear she also understands the spectrum of clean energy solutions. And Evangeline Lilly (aka Kate Austen from Lost) was there as a Canadian to apologize to all the Americans in the audience for her country’s ceaseless efforts to send the dirtiest of fuels our way. …. I had a long talk with Tom Steyer, the billionaire hedge-fund manager who helped lead the “No on Prop 23″ campaign to save California’s climate law in 2010. He is also on the board of CAP (Center for American Progress0. He is full throttle that we have to act — and act now — if we are to avert catastrophe. He said to the crowd that he has spent a lot of time reviewing investments and Keystone is a bad investment for this country. It is good to see a movement with passion from the top all the way down to the roots.


Thousands protest pipeline in SF

February 18, 2013 SF Chronicle

Rallies in downtown SF and other major cities urge President Obama to reject construction of the $7B Keystone XL oil pipeline.


Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press A protest on Sunday against the Keystone oil pipeline, a project that Canada is counting on and that environmentalists oppose.

Keystone Pipeline Decision Risks New Problems

By JOHN M. BRODER, CLIFFORD KRAUSS and IAN AUSTEN Published: February 17, 2013 557 Comments

President Obama faces a knotty decision in whether to approve the much-delayed Keystone
oil pipeline: a choice between alienating environmental advocates who overwhelmingly supported his candidacy or causing a deep and perhaps lasting rift with Canada. In deciding whether to approve the Keystone oil pipeline, President Obama faces a choice between alienating environmental advocates or … But this is also a decisive moment for the United States environmental movement, which backed Mr. Obama strongly in the last two elections. For groups like the Sierra Club, permitting a pipeline carrying more than 700,000 barrels a day of Canadian crude into the country would be viewed as a betrayal, and as a contradiction of the president’s promises in his second inaugural and State of the Union addresses to make controlling climate change a top priority for his second term. On Sunday, thousands rallied near the Washington Monument to protest the pipeline and call for firmer steps to fight emissions of climate-changing gases. Groups opposing coal production, nuclear power and hydraulic fracturing for natural gas were prominent; separate groups of Baptists and Catholics, as well as an interfaith coalition, and groups from Colorado, Toronto and Minneapolis joined the throng…..One speaker, the Rev. Lennox Yearwood, compared the rally to Martin Luther King’s 1963 March on Washington for civil rights, but, he said, “while they were fighting for equality, we are fighting for existence.” In front of the stage was a mock-up of a pipeline, looking a bit like the dragon in a Chinese new year parade, with the motto, “separate oil and state.”

Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, predicted that Mr. Obama would veto the $7 billion project because of the adverse effects development of the Canadian oil sands would have on the global climate. “It’s rare that a president has such a singular voice on such a major policy decision,” Mr. Brune said. “Whatever damage approving the pipeline would do to the environmental movement pales in comparison to the damage it could do to his own legacy.” Mr. Brune was one of about four dozen pipeline protesters arrested at the White House on Wednesday, in an act of civil disobedience that was a first for the 120-year-old Sierra Club. So far, Mr. Obama has been able to balance his promises to promote both energy independence and environmental protection, by allowing more oil and gas drilling on public lands and offshore while also pushing auto companies to make their vehicles more efficient. But the Keystone decision, which is technically a State Department prerogative but will be decided by the president himself, defies easy compromise.



Keystone XL decision will define Barack Obama’s legacy on climate change

Does the president have courage to say ‘no’ to a project that will lock us into decades of dependency on this dirty energy?

February 22, 2013 – by John Abraham, associate professor in the school of engineering, University of St Thomas in Minnesota

Very few of us have the opportunity in life to look forward to our legacy. However, sometimes events occur that we just know will shape how history will judge us.

One of those events is about to happen to President Barack Obama. This year, his administration is expected to make a decision on whether to allow the construction of a massive pipeline that would be used to export tar sands from Alberta, Canada. The so-called Keystone XL pipeline would essentially bisect the United States to bring the tar substance (bitumen) to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. From there, it could be exported around the world.


Op-Ed Contributor

How Not to Fix Climate Change

By JOE NOCERA Published: February 18, 2013 327 Comments

After much back and forth, James E. Hansen and I had agreed on a date to meet. Hansen, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, is the scientist most closely associated with climate change activists like Bill McKibben, who has led the charge against the Keystone XL pipeline, and Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club. In Hansen’s view, the country needs to start moving away from fossil fuels now, before the damage becomes irreversible. As regular readers know, I believe the Obama administration should approve the Keystone pipeline, which would transport oil mined and processed from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. Like it or not, fossil fuels are going to remain the world’s dominant energy source for the foreseeable future, and we are far better off getting our oil from Canada than, say, Venezuela. And the climate change effects of tar sands oil are, all in all, pretty small. I had the strong sense that Hansen hoped that once we met, I would begin to see the error of my ways…..




A Fork in the Road  19 February 2013

A response to Joe Nocera’s column in today’s New York Times is available here–  or on my web site-   Apologies to Bill McKibben for the comment that could be misconstrued — I do not question the efforts to wake up the public to the situation at hand, and pressure elected officials to serve the public interest, not special interests.


“We stand at a fork in the road. Conventional oil and gas supplies are limited. We can move down the path of dirtier more carbon-intensive unconventional fossil-fuels, digging up the dirtiest tar sands and tar shales, hydrofracking for gas, continued mountain-top removal and mechanized destructive long-wall coal mining. Or we can choose the alternative path of clean energies and energy efficiency.

The climate science is crystal clear. We cannot go down the path of the dirty fuels without guaranteeing that the climate system passes tipping points, leaving our children and grandchildren a situation out of their control, a situation of our making. Unstable ice sheets will lead to continually rising seas and devastation of coastal cities worldwide. A large fraction of Earth’s species will be driven to extinction by the combination of shifting climate zones and other stresses. Summer heat waves, scorching droughts, and intense wildfires will become more frequent and extreme. At other times and places, the warmer water bodies and increased evaporation will power stronger storms, heavier rains, greater floods.

The economics is crystal clear. We are all better off if fossil fuels are made to pay their honest costs to society. We must collect a gradually rising fee from fossil fuel companies at the source, the domestic mine or port of entry, distributing the funds to the public on a per capita basis. This approach will provide the business community and entrepreneurs the incentives to develop clean energy and energy-efficient products, and the public will have the resources to make changes.

This approach is transparent, built on conservative principles. Not one dime to the government.

The alternative is to slake fossil fuel addiction, forcing the public to continue to subsidize fossil fuels. And hammer the public with more pollution. The public must pay the medical costs for all pollution effects. The public will pay costs caused by climate change. Fossil fuel moguls get richer, we get poorer. Our children are screwed. Our well-oiled coal-fired government pretends….”



Cross-posted from the Sierra Club

One-Sided Keystone XL Poll Tells the Story Big Oil Wants You To Hear

Posted: 22 Feb 2013 07:45 AM PST

After a weekend during which tens of thousands of Americans took to the streets to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline and demand solutions to the climate crisis, the American Petroleum Institute (API) is touting a one-sided poll they claim shows Americans supporting the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline.

However, a closer look at their poll questions unveils a biased survey which failed to equip respondents with the basic facts of the project before asking them to form an opinion. Instead, API crafted a poll to ensure they got the types of answers they were looking for by totally ignoring the environmental and economic realities of the toxic pipeline from Canada.

You can see the questionnaire for yourself here (PDF). And you’ll notice that poll respondents are presented with all types of arguments for the pipeline, but not a single argument against Keystone XL. In fact, the survey doesn’t even mention the words “tar sands” at all. Without the proper context, people who had never heard of Keystone XL before could easily associate the pipeline with conventional oil — not the toxic, more carbon-intensive tar sands oil that Keystone XL would transport. Furthermore, there is no mention of the grave risks Keystone XL poses. API’s survey ignores any discussion of possible oil spills, drinking water contamination, or climate-disrupting pollution — just to name a few….



Change for good

The United States must boost energy spending to make its mark on the climate debate.

January 29, 2013 NATURE Editorial

Environmentalists lauded US President Barack Obama when he raised the issue of global warming in his second inaugural address on 21 January, but the truth is that he said nothing new. Obama kept it simple, short and vague, discussing climate change as a moral imperative while declaring clean energy a battleground for innovation. It was a generic vision for a pragmatic president, which is to his credit. But if Obama truly wants to leave his mark on the climate debate, he will need to break out of the mold and lay the foundation for something larger….



Thousands of protestors gather at the National Mall in Washington calling on President Barack Obama to reject the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada, as well as act to limit carbon pollution from power plants and ‘move beyond’ coal and natural gas, Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)


Solutions for Climate Change Aren’t Either/Or

February 20, 2013 by Michael Brune, Executive Director, Sierra Club

Last week, we posted a video interview with Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, in which he explained why the organization had decided to break a 120-year prohibition on civil disobedience to protest the Keystone pipeline. In this guest post, Brune shares his thoughts on Sunday’s climate change rally and responds to some of the critics who question whether Keystone is the right focus for the environmental movement right now.

On Sunday, over 35,000 Americans from across the nation and from all walks of life took to the streets of Washington, D.C., to demand action to solve the climate crisis. Ranchers, scientists, doctors, investors, students, mothers and fathers — we all stood together in the shadow of the Washington Monument united in our demand that our leaders stop listening to the special interests and start taking action to address climate disruption. And we were joined in spirit by thousands more at solidarity rallies across the country.

The media coverage of what will now be known as the largest climate rally in U.S. history rang out across the globe, featuring Americans from across the country who braved the bitter cold to call on President Obama to reject dirty fossil fuels and go all in on clean energy and climate solutions.

We were loud, we were clear and we know our voices were heard. <–more–>

But while tens of thousands of Americans raised their voices outside the White House gates, a few critics who stayed home decided to throw rocks after the fact. For example, Joe Nocera took to the pages of The New York Times to criticize our opposition to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, while others argued that the climate action movement that came to life on Sunday should focus on other goals, like stopping pollution from coal-fired power plants. To present opposing Keystone XL and promoting other climate solutions as an “either/or” proposition is a false dichotomy. The reality is we need to do both — and more.

During the past year, Americans have had their lives shaken by record droughts, record floods, record wildfires and record storms fuelled by the climate crisis. The threat of climate disruption has become a dangerous reality. We cannot settle for half measures taken at a “business as usual” pace.

The threat of climate disruption has become a dangerous reality. We cannot settle for half measures taken at a “business as usual” pace.

The thing about Mr. Nocera and others who criticize our focus on tar sands don’t seem to be aware of is that the Sierra Club and our allies in the Forward on Climate movement have been fighting the climate crisis from all angles for many years. Around the country, the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal activists have retired or stopped 314 coal plants — helping to drop our nation’s climate-disrupting carbon emissions to their lowest level since 1994. What’s more, we’ve advocated passionately for the EPA to finalize its carbon pollution standards from new power plants, and to release a strong proposal for carbon pollution standards from existing plants. We’re also fighting to keep dirty energy companies out of America’s pristine Arctic — protecting that area not just from destructive drills but also from an even more destabilized climate brought on by the extraction and burning of dirty fuels. And we’re standing up to curb the poisoned water and climate pollution created by fracked gas.

More than that, the tens of thousands who stood up for climate action, and the millions more they represent, know that fighting the climate crisis means more than just stopping the sources of dirty energy — it also means fighting to lessen our nation’s dependence on dirty fuels while investing in our new clean energy economy. That’s why the Sierra Club worked side-by-side last year with automakers, auto workers and the Obama administration to implement new vehicle fuel efficiency standards that will cut our nation’s fuel usage for cars and light trucks by 3.1 million barrels a day in 2030. That step alone will create more than half a million new jobs and cut the number of times families have to go to the pump in half. That’s also why we are vocal in our support for President Obama’s stated goal of doubling our nation’s clean-energy capacity, building on a thriving wind and solar industry that already supports tens of thousands of good-paying American jobs.

President Obama’s decision on Keystone XL is at the top of our list because it’s the most immediate decision he can make to fight climate disruption. The reason why Americans want to stop tar sands is because they recognize something that short-sighted critics seem to have overlooked: The president cannot be serious about fighting climate disruption and approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. This pipeline would open the floodgates for one of the filthiest fuel sources in the world. It would pump some of the filthiest, most carbon-intensive fuels through our country and onto the world market. President Obama can’t have it both ways.


New Outdoor Industry Data Show The Power Of The Recreation Economy In Every State

Posted: 15 Feb 2013 08:04 AM PST By Jessica Goad

The outdoor recreation economy is big business in America. Data released today by the Outdoor Industry Association show the fiscal impacts of recreation in all 50 states, from consumer spending to direct jobs to wages and salaries. The top five states for consumer spending on outdoor recreation are: California ($85.4 billion), Florida ($38.3 billion), New York ($33.8 billion), Texas ($28.7 billion), and Georgia ($23.3 billion).

Additionally, every state in the union benefits from between 28,000 direct jobs (North Dakota) to 732,000 direct jobs (California) in the industry.

In total, outdoor recreation provides $646 billion in economic impacts and 6.1 million direct jobs every year (three times that of the oil and gas industry). These data incorporate the various sectors the outdoor recreation industry relies on, including manufacturing, retail and sales, transportation and warehousing, and accommodation and services near outdoor recreation sites.

A number of western state legislatures are attempting to “reclaim” federal public lands in order to exploit their resources more easily. But Frank Hugelmeyer, CEO of the Outdoor Industry Association, noted that for the industry’s economic influence to increase, political leaders must balance the use of public lands for energy while implementing policies that protect them:

Outdoor recreation is good for the American economy and our future. When we invest in the nation’s network of public lands and waters, we are protecting and enhancing outdoor experiences for the benefit of the thousands of businesses, communities and families whose livelihoods depends on the outdoor recreation economy.

More than 140 million Americans participate in some sort of outdoor activity every year. While the value of such recreation has long been suspected, only in the last several years has it actually been quantified. As Greg Hanscom writes in Grist:

After decades of being blown off as dirty hippie backpacker types, [environmentalists]  can finally declare, with a straight face and data to back them up, that protecting the public lands from oil and gas drilling and other ecological insults is not just the right thing to do — it’s also good for business…




(Jahi Chikwendiu/ The Washington Post ) – Tom Steyer poses for a portrait on Saturday, January 26, 2012, in Washington, D.C. The San Francisco billionaire has President Obama’s ear when it comes to energy and climate change.

Billionaire has unique role in official Washington: climate change radical

By Juliet Eilperin, Published: February 17


When Thomas Steyer — a San Francisco billionaire and major Democratic donor — discusses climate change, he feels as if one of two things is true: What he’s saying is blindingly obvious, or insane.

“I feel like the guy in the movie who goes into the diner and says, ‘There are zombies in the woods and they’re eating our children,’ ” Steyer said during a recent breakfast at the Georgetown Four Seasons, his first appointment in a day that included meetings with a senator, a White House confidant and other D.C. luminaries. It’s a somewhat shocking statement for someone who’s in the running to succeed the cerebral Steven Chu as energy secretary. Granted, he’s a long shot — the leading contender is MIT professor Ernest Moniz, who served as the department’s undersecretary during the Clinton administration — but his backers say his strength lies in combining business savvy with an activist’s passion. John Podesta, who chairs the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, said Steyer has “got the right skill set, the understanding and attitude to lead an energy transformation in this country.” “I think he would be a fabulous choice for energy secretary,” Podesta added, “and I’ve let my friends in the administration know that.”


But it’s not as if Steyer, 55, needs an official government perch to make an impact. Armed with his wealth and his political connections, Steyer has played a critical behind-the-scenes role in helping shape the country’s national energy policy. He has helped bankroll two successful ballot initiative campaigns in California since 2010, including one last fall that closes a corporate tax loophole and steers $500 million toward energy-efficiency projects for each of the next five years. He has funded initiatives at the Brookings Institution and the Center for American Progress, along with major research centers at Yale and Stanford. And he has spoken with President Obama about how to pursue climate and energy policy in a second term.

But Steyer is taking on a more prominent public role. On Sunday, he spoke to a crowd that organizers estimated at 35,000, gathered on the Mall to call for a stronger national climate policy.“I’m not the first person you’d expect to be here today. I’m not a college professor and I don’t run an environmental organization,” he said. “For the last 30 years I’ve been a professional investor and I’ve been looking at billion-dollar investments for decades and I’m here to tell you one thing: The Keystone pipeline is not a good investment.”

The move stems from an uncomfortable conclusion Steyer has reached: The incremental political victories he and others have been celebrating fall well short of what’s needed to avert catastrophic global warming. “If we can win every single battle and lose the war, then we’re doing something wrong,” he said, moments after consuming two mochas on the table before him.

The simultaneous mocha-drinking is understandable: Steyer had arrived just hours before on the red-eye, which he chooses over a private jet to reduce his carbon footprint. He may have built one of the nation’s most successful hedge funds — Farallon Capital Management, named after the waters off San Francisco Bay teeming with great white sharks — but he’s not flashy.

Dressed in a blue button-down shirt, a tan houndstooth blazer and black-and-green neon tennis shoes (when asked the brand, Steyer replies, “They’re the kind of sneakers they sell in the tennis club store when you show up at the club and you’ve forgotten your tennis shoes”), Steyer doesn’t appear radical. He excelled at Phillips Exeter Academy, Yale and Stanford Business School; Steyer and his immediate family are responsible for more than $1.1 million in donations to Democratic candidates since 1990, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

And while plenty of people seek audiences with Obama on their issue of choice, Steyer is one who can claim at least some degree of influence. Steyer, who has prioritized increasing buildings’ energy efficiency in his work, discussed the matter with Obama during a small dinner in October when the president was on a fundraising swing through Northern California; a couple of weeks later during an MTV interview the president mentioned the idea as a key pillar in how the United States can address global warming . “The next step is to deal with buildings and really ramp up our efficiency in buildings,” Obama said. “If we had the same energy efficiency as Japan, we would cut our energy use by about 20 percent. That means we’d be taking a whole lot of carbon out of our atmosphere.”

Chris Lehane, one of Steyer’s political advisers and a former aide to both Bill Clinton and Al Gore, said Obama administration officials appreciate the fact that Steyer has not only been a generous financial supporter but also has combined his business and political acumen to score electoral wins.”There are not many donors who have gone out there and been successful in the political world,” Lehane said. Steyer, who made his initial fortune engaging in arbitrage, has employed unconventional tactics at times to achieve his goals. In 2010 he teamed up with former Reagan secretary of state George P. Shultz to defeat a proposition financed by Texas oil firms to reverse California’s law capping greenhouse gas emissions. The two men learned a month before the election that they were assured of victory. But rather than save the $10 million they still had on handfor the campaign, Steyer and Shultz decided to spend it so they could win by an even larger margin.

“We didn’t just want to beat it, we wanted to beat it big time,” Shultz said in an interview. In 2012, Steyer targeted a handful of companies exempted from California taxes, spending $32 million on a ballot initiative toclose that loophole and funnel the money to energy efficiency and education initiatives. He convinced the firms directly affected by the change — General Motors, Kimberly-Clark, Chrysler, International Paper and Procter & Gamble — that their image would suffer if they fought it. “It just blew me away that he was able to persuade these CEOs of major corporations to say, ‘Guys, we’re going to back away from this,’ ” said Art Pulaski, who heads the California Labor Federation.

Not all Californians are as pleased with Steyer’s efforts, even if they’re impressed by his record. Gino DiCaro, spokesman for the California Manufacturers & Technology Association, said Steyer’s push to wean the state off fossil fuels has raised the cost of manufacturing for its member companies. “Some of the stuff he’s done doesn’t really take into account the challenges our industry has out here in terms of competing and growing,” DiCaro said. “He hasn’t made it easy on us.”

In the past Steyer had dabbled in politics while simultaneously heading a $20 billion hedge fund. But he stepped down from Farallon Capital at the end of 2012, and he is devoting himself primarily to the Center for the Next Generation — the nonprofit organization that he and his brother Jim established. Steyer is convinced that global greenhouse gas emissions will have to begin to fall within the next few years or the world will suffer catastrophic consequences. Butwhen he talks to many in his circle— including business leaders and prominent politicians — he finds them oblivious to what he sees as a monumental threat.”I feel as if people have a completely different time frame than I do,” he said, adding that while U.S. leadership is essential in curbing the world’s carbon output, “We’re not going to lead the world on this unless the American people understand why we’re doing this. . . . Have the American people declared war on carbon? No . . . way.”

Steyer has. On Sunday he returned to Washington to speak at a climate rally urging Obama to block construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport crude oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries. He is preparing to launch a report that will quantify how much inaction on climate change will cost the United States, akin to the 2006 report by Sir Nicholas Stern that estimated climate effects ranging from extreme weather to hotter temperatures could sap between 5 and 20 percent from the world’s future annual economic output.

And Steyer is trying to figure out who can communicate this message in a way that Americans will trust, so they don’t see him and others as people straight out of a zombie movie.

“When you talk about global warming, you’ve lost 90 percent of the public unless you make it real to them,” he said.

Steyer may face long odds, but he seems prepared to approach the situation with a sense of humor. He dons Scottish ties every day — although not those bearing the tartan of his own clan, Murray, because he said it was too ugly. “You gotta dress up for a fight,” he said.Although he and his college-age daughter braved freezing temperatures at Sunday’s climate rally in Washington, he’s not a masochist. While marching with his daughter and her classmates en route to the White House, he declared, “I look forward to buying everyone a warm drink at the Willard [Hotel]” — proof that perhaps he could fit neatly into the Washington establishment after all.


Alice R. Crites and Steven Mufson contributed to this report.







Free Print Versions of EPA’s Climate Change Indicators in the United States 2012 Now Available

The Earth’s climate is changing. Temperatures are rising, snow and rainfall patterns are shifting, and more extreme climate events—such as heavy rainstorms and record high temperatures—are taking place. These types of changes can bring about fundamental disruptions in ecosystems, affecting plant and animal populations, communities, and biodiversity. Such shifts can also affect society, including where people can live, what kinds of crops farmers can grow, and what kinds of businesses can thrive in certain areas. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Change Indicators in the United States, 2012 report presents a set of 26 indicators tracking observed signs of climate change in the United States. EPA has worked in partnership with other agencies, organizations, and individuals to collect and communicate useful data about five categories of climate indicators: greenhouse gases, weather and climate, oceans, snow and ice, and society and ecosystems. The report, Climate Change Indicators in the United States, 2012 is designed to be useful for scientists, analysts, decision-makers, educators, and others who can use climate change indicators as a tool for:

If you  are interested in ordering some print copies of Climate Change Indicators in the United States, 2012, please write to There is no charge for these reports, but we would love to hear how you’ll be using the report to support your own climate change work on a state or local level.






Watershed Valuation: A Closer Look
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
1:00pm – 3:00pm PST


Dr. Rosalind Bark – Resource Ecological Specialist, CSIRO Ecosystem Services

Shawn B. Komlos, P.G. – Physical Scientist, US Army Corps of Engineers, Institute for Water Resources

Rowan Schmidt – Research Analyst, Earth Economic

Dr. Holly Hartmann – Director, Arid Lands Information Center, University of Arizona/CLIMAS

Dr. Kiyomi Morino – Research Associate, University of Arizona


Join the Academy’s first extended webinar taking a closer look at how to value watersheds and the services they provide to downstream users. Investment in watersheds expands the portfolio of risk management options available to water utilities as they plan for the effects of climate change on their water systems. Implementing a watershed valuation study informs the structure of, and determines possible sources of funding for, ongoing watershed investment programs. Watershed valuation helps answer some of the questions of what services watersheds provide, and how to account for them – for example, what are the costs of providing those services through some other mechanism or what costs can be avoided by investing in watersheds? Dr. Rosalind Bark returns to discuss the recent valuation of Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin. Rowan Schmidt, Earth Economics, will share his experience with ecosystem services valuation and cost benefit analysis. Shawn Komlos, US Army Corps of Engineers, will give an overview of the Institute for Water Resources Planning Suite tool, which conducts cost effectiveness and incremental cost analyses. REGISTER NOW



Archiving and Accessing your Ocean Data for the Long Term: NOAA’s National Oceanographic Data Center (NODC) Today

February 27, 2013; 12:00-13:00 Eastern Time;  NOAA HQ SSMC-4 Room 8150; (Add to Google Calendar)

Tracking Climate Change in the Northern California Current Pelagic Ecosystem: Response of Zooplankton in the Oregon Upwelling Zone to Large-Scale Climate Forcing with Thoughts on the Looming Problems of Hypoxia and Ocean Acidification

February 28, 2013; 11:00-12:00 Pacific Time; NOAA NWFSC
Auditorium (Seattle, WA);  (Add to Google Calendar)


Small Pelagic Fish and Climate
March 7, 2013; 11:00-12:00 Pacific Time; NOAA NWFSC
Auditorium (Seattle, WA); (Add to Google Calendar)

Drought Prediction
March 12, 2013, 13:00 – 14:15h Eastern Time; NOAA HQ SSMC-3 12th Floor Fishbowl; (Add to Google Calendar)

From Ridge Tops to Wave Tops; Exploring The Life History of Central California Steelhead in Stream, Estuarine and Ocean Habitats
March 14, 2013; 11:00-12:00 Pacific Time; NOAA NWFSC
Auditorium (Seattle, WA); (Add to Google Calendar)



COAST Student Internships Summer 2013

Application Deadline: March 18 2013, 5:00 pm Pacific time

Want to get paid to collect abalone, test new marine technology or sample beautiful streams in northern California? Then apply for a
COAST Student Summer Internship today!

The CSU Council on Ocean Affairs, Science and Technology (COAST), with generous support from California Sea Grant, is offering paid internships for continuing CSU undergraduate and graduate students for Summer 2013. Interns will be placed with one of several host institutions where they will work side-by-side with professional scientists on current research projects. This is an excellent opportunity for CSU students to gain valuable experience and technical skills while working with experts in fisheries, marine ecology, eco-toxicology and marine technology!

Fourteen individual internship positions are available. Host institutions are the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), Marine Applied Research & Exploration (MARE), Pacific Coast Environmental Conservancy (PCEC) and PRBO Conservation Science (PRBO).







Electric cars fight to thrive

February 18, 2013 SF Chronicle Carolyn Lochhead

Their owners gush, but with sales weak, can these plug-in vehicles stave off oblivion?



Geoengineering by Coalition to Mitigate Global Warming

Science Daily (press release)  – ‎Feb 21, 2013‎

Solar geoengineering is a proposed approach to reduce the effects of climate change due to greenhouse gasses by deflecting some of the sun’s incoming radiation.




Turning pine sap into ‘ever-green’ plastics
(February 20, 2013) — Scientists are developing new plastics that are “green” from the cradle to the grave. Given that the new polymers they are working on often come from pine trees, firs and other conifers, they are giving the word “evergreen” added resonance. … > full story





Exxon Cease-And-Desist Order Gets Climate Change Ad Pulled From State Of The Union Coverage see VIDEO here

Posted: 02/15/2013 4:13 pm EST  |  Updated: 02/15/2013 6:51 pm EST

A still from the ‘Exxon Hates Your Children’ ad, which was ordered off the air just hours before it was supposed to be broadcast on Fox News during the State of the Union. (photo credit: The Other 98%)

Exxon Mobil gave a cease-and-desist order to Comcast, forcing the cable provider to pull an ad about climate change from Fox News’ coverage of the State of the Union address in some areas Tuesday night, according to emails provided to The Huffington Post by one of the groups responsible for the ad.

The satirical spot, which is brazenly titled “Exxon Hates Your Children” and urges Congress to eliminate fossil fuel industry subsidies, was produced by progressive advocacy groups Oil Change International, The Other 98% and Environmental Action. Having already aired on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” and “Up With Chris Hayes”, the video has also been viewed more than 170,000 times on YouTube. The ad was scheduled to air Tuesday in Houston, Texas, and Denver, Colo., during Fox’s State of the Union coverage. However, a few hours before the event began, a senior vice president of Universal McCann, which handles global media duties for Exxon, fired off an email to Comcast, which provides Fox programming
in those areas…..



Common chemicals linked to osteoarthritis
(February 14, 2013) — A new study has linked exposure to two common perfluorinated chemicals with osteoarthritis. The study is the first to look at the associations between perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, and osteoarthritis, in a study population representative of the United States. PFCs are used in more than 200 industrial processes and consumer products including certain stain- and water-resistant fabrics, grease-proof paper food containers, personal care products, and other items. Because of their persistence, PFCs have become ubiquitous contaminants of humans and wildlife. The study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, is the first to look at the associations between perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), and osteoarthritis, in a study population representative of the United States…. > full story



Will global warming drive us extinct? A review of Peter Ward’s “Under a Green Sky”

Posted on October 13, 2011 by energyskeptic A review of: Ward, Peter D. 2007. Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Can Tell Us About Our Future.

There’ve been five major extinctions where 50-95% of life died.  Below is a list of the mass extinctions Ward believes were caused by global warming – and he wrote this book to explain why human-caused global warming is probably going to cause another major extinction, probably the second worst in Earth’s history (the worst being the Permian).  Major extinctions are in capitals…



Review: Under a Green Sky

Alex Steffen, 27 Apr 07

….Ward takes us into the deep past, to the end of the Triassic, as a guide to what atmospheric carbon of 1,000 ppm (a concentration we will hit within the century if we don’t change our ways) might be like if we believe the paleontological record:

“Waves slowly lap on the quiet shore, slow-motion waves with the consistency of gelatin. Most of the shoreline is encrusted with rotting organic matter, silk-like swathes of bacterial slick now putrefying under the blazing sun… [W]e look out on the surface of the great sea itself, and as far as the eye can see there is a mirrored flatness, an ocean without whitecaps. Yet that is not the biggest surprise. From shore to the horizon, there is but an unending purple color — a vast, flat, oily purple. No fish break its surface, no birds or any other kind of flying creatures dip down looking for food. The purple color comes from vast concentrations of floating bacteria, for the oceans of Earth have all become covered with a hundred-foot thick veneer of purple and green bacterial soup. …There is one final surprise. We look upward, to the sky. … We are under a pale green sky, and it has the smell of death and poison. We have gone to Nevada of 200 million years ago only to arrive under the transparent atmospheric glass of a greenhouse extinction event, and it is poison, heat and mass death that are found in this greenhouse.”

In other words, despite what some conservative pundits have written, you might not want to vacation in an extreme greenhouse world, after all. Forget “breeding couples” camping out in the Arctic, we may not have flowering plants or any but the toughest insects left (the cockroaches from my first apartment will almost certainly make it). The basic take away? Climate can go crazy, and when it does, you don’t want to be in the room (or on the planet). As Wallace Broecker says, “”The climate is an angry beast, and we are poking it with sticks” Or, as Ward tells it:”Our world is hurtling toward carbon dioxide levels not seen since the Eocene epoch of 60 million years ago, which, importantly enough, occurred right after a greenhouse extinction.”

This could begin to happen as soon as 2100, Ward says. Many babies today will be alive then. This is not some woo-woo future: this is the world we may be cooking up for our children.

Which is not to say that we are certain to bake our planet into a nearly lifeless, anoxic swamp. We have the time and capacity for innovation and mobilization to create one planet lives with a carbon footprint of 400 ppm or less — which is the baseline standard around which a new consensus seems to be emerging. Even if we are too greedy and stupid to change, we might get lucky and dodge the bullet of a climate extinction. Scientists have been wrong before (though since we’re looking at an ice-free world with massive sea-level rise, I wouldn’t buy any beach-front property).

The warnings are ever-clearer, and ever-more-dire. We can now see catastrophe drawing near: but we can see, too, a new day at hand. Forewarned is fore-armed. We know how much we have to change, and we know such change is possible: what we don’t yet know is how to get there. That voyage, from catastrophic stupidity to ecological intelligence in a few short decades, is the greatest adventure upon which humanity has embarked since we captured fire, learned to gossip and set out to see the world. We know the cost of failure. Let’s find the bounty of success. With a grim understanding of the costs of defeat, let’s imagine victory.



How Many People Have Been Killed by Guns Since Newtown?

Slate partners with @GunDeaths for an interactive, crowdsourced tally of the toll firearms have taken since Dec. 14.

By Chris Kirk and Dan Kois Posted Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, at 12:00 AM

The answer to the simple question in that headline is surprisingly hard to come by. So Slate and the Twitter feed @GunDeaths are collecting data for our crowdsourced interactive. This data is necessarily incomplete. But the more people who are paying attention, the better the data will be. You can help us draw a more complete picture of gun violence in America. If you know about a gun death in your community that isn’t represented here, please tweet @GunDeaths with a citation. (If you’re not on Twitter, you can email And if you’d like to use this data yourself for your own projects, it’s open. You can download it here.


New clues to Epstein-Barr virus
(February 21, 2013) — Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) affects more than 90 percent of the population worldwide and was the first human virus found to be associated with cancer. Now, researchers have broadened the understanding of this widespread infection with their discovery of a second B-cell attachment receptor for EBV. … > full story



Effects of human exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals examined in landmark United Nations report
(February 19, 2013) — Many synthetic chemicals, untested for their disrupting effects on the hormone system, could have significant health implications according to the State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and WHO. … > full story



Great Backyard Bird Count goes global, shatters records
(February 21, 2013) — Bird watchers from 101 countries made history in the first global Great Backyard Bird Count, Feb. 15 to 18. In the largest worldwide bird count ever, bird watchers set new records, counting more than 25 million birds on 116,000 checklists in four days — and recording 3,138 species, nearly one-third of the world’s total bird species. … > full story

Organic tomatoes accumulate more vitamin C, sugars than conventionally grown fruit
(February 20, 2013) — Tomatoes grown on organic farms accumulate higher concentrations of sugars, vitamin C and compounds associated with oxidative stress compared to those grown on conventional farms, according to new research. … > full story







Joel Pett / Lexington Herald-Leader (February 18, 2013) MCCLATCHY Read more here:



Energy Tomorrow is brought to you by the American Petroleum Institute (API),” in case you were wondering.

We all need to “imagine life without fossil fuels,” since that is where we will are going to end up this century one way or another:

Either we will make the decision by choice fast enough to stabilize near  2°C (3.6°F) warming to avoid the very worst impacts — and that means the rich countries in particular will be essentially off fossil fuels by mid-century (see “Study Confirms Optimal Climate Strategy: Deploy, Deploy, Deploy, Research and Develop, Deploy, Deploy, Deploy.”

Or we will be forced off fossil fuels soon after that by the ever-worsening reality of climate change — when we realize that we are headed toward 10+°F warming and a planet with a carrying capacity far below 9 billion (see “An Illustrated Guide to the Science of Global Warming Impacts“).

View all articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *