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Conservation Science News March 1, 2013

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Highlight of the Week









Highlight of the Week




Green versus Gray: Nature’s Solutions to Infrastructure Demands

By John Talberth, Erin Gray, Logan Yonavjak, Todd Gartner SOLUTIONS Volume 1 | Issue 4 | Feb 2013

In Brief: Substitution of nature’s services with technological alternatives has been pursued with almost religious zeal as societies have industrialized over the past three centuries. But the time for reverse substitution may be upon us. In a wide variety of settings, from water purification to climate change adaptation, investors are increasingly considering the worthiness of green infrastructure solutions, such as mangrove restoration, rather than conventional gray investments, such as sea walls, to achieve the same environmental quality outcomes. But in times of fiscal austerity, cost-effectiveness is paramount. The problem is that infrastructure investors do not have a consistent and robust way to compare gray with green infrastructure in an apples-to-apples manner that is convincing to budget hawks. In addition, uncertainty is greater with “unproven” green infrastructure approaches. As a result, green solutions are often neglected. Here, we present the contours of a general methodology called green-gray analysis (GGA) and demonstrate its usefulness in a green-gray trade-off facing the Portland Water District in Maine. Results provide evidence for the superiority of green investments in several scenarios, purely on financial terms. When ancillary benefits, such as carbon sequestration or passive-use values for Atlantic salmon are factored in, the case becomes even more compelling. A replicable GGA methodology can be one important solution for scaling up green infrastructure investments worldwide.

Key Concepts

For almost a century, New York City has drawn its drinking water from the Catskill Mountains, more than 100 miles to the north. In April of 2007, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the results of a several-year review of the city’s ongoing program to maintain clean drinking water supplies with forest and open space conservation in the Catskills rather than the construction of filtration plants. The results were encouraging. The EPA concluded that as long as the city agreed to set aside $300 million over the next 10 years to acquire land and restrain upstate development that causes runoff and pollution, the agency would exempt New York from having to build an $8 billion filtration plant.1 The Catskills aqueduct has been held up as the quintessential example of green infrastructure trumping gray and has prompted cities worldwide to consider alternative solutions to the infrastructure demands of the twenty-first century.

Green infrastructure is increasingly recognized as a superior investment. Cities around the country are starting to realize the economic—to say nothing of environmental—benefits of this shifting reality. A recent analysis by New York City found that green roofs and bioswales could help meet water-quality goals with savings of more than $1 billion compared to conventional infrastructure; the Chesapeake Bay could reduce nitrogen loading at less than half the price by using cover crops instead of upgraded wastewater plants. The City of Philadelphia found that the net present value of green infrastructure for storm-water control ranged from $1.94 to $4.45 billion, while gray infrastructure benefits ranged from only $0.06 to $0.14 billion over a 40-year period.2 And using a system of wetlands, North Carolina could minimize storm-water runoff for 47 cents per thousand gallons treated. Using conventional storm-water controls, this figure jumps to $3.24 per thousand gallons.3-5

An emerging hypothesis in environmental management settings is that investment in ecosystem-based green infrastructure solutions provides economically superior environmental quality outcomes when compared to investments in technology-based or “gray” infrastructure. As noted by economists Lucy Emerton and Elroy Bos, “It is increasingly apparent that investment in ecosystems now can safeguard profits in the future, and save considerable costs”…….

….Three Common Investment Objectives for Considering Green Infrastructure Alternatives

  1. Minimizing the costs of mitigation plus the expected value of losses from natural and human disturbances. Take the example of coastal flooding from storm surge events. Relevant gray investments may include sea walls, dikes, levees, pumping facilities, and floodways. Relevant green infrastructure investments may include restoring mangroves, dunes, and wetlands. In these and other disaster-risk cases, the public investment objective is to reduce the expected value of the loss, which is simply the probability of a disaster or disturbance occurring multiplied by the value of the loss should the event occur.
  2. Minimizing the cost of meeting a regulatory or planning objective. Reducing the delivery of nitrogen and phosphorous pollution entering receiving water to a target specified by a wastewater treatment plant’s Clean Water Act permit is one example. The nutrient load target can be achieved by upgrading plant technology or capacity, or by financing best management practices on farms upstream.
  3. Maximizing the net public benefits of infrastructure investments. An example is a fisheries management agency seeking ways to enhance high-value recreational fish resources through either investment in hatcheries (gray) or dam removal and stream restoration (green). Importantly, under this objective, all categories of benefits and costs apply, including both market and nonmarket benefits that may be ancillary to the primary infrastructure investment rationale. These ancillary benefits represent an important component in many existing GGA applications and are critical to efficient investment in environmental management. In particular, investment decisions made on the basis of cost alone undervalue additional ecosystem service benefits produced by green infrastructure and hence may lead to suboptimal investment decisions……

Kelley Dodd






River regulation influences land-living animals
(February 28, 2013)
Forest-living insects and spiders become less abundant and birds are adversely affected along regulated rivers. Three different studies by ecologists show that river regulation has a negative effect also on land-living animals. …
The research team also shows that birds are adversely affected by river regulation. Besides a standardised bird survey, nest boxes were used to investigate breeding success of insectivorous birds. The study species, the Pied Flycatcher, is a relatively common species and prefers to use nest boxes.The results show that adult Pied Flycatchers breeding along regulated rivers lost more weight after their eggs were hatched and fewer of the chicks survived, because their food resource — the insects — was less abundant. Along one of the regulated rivers, the survival of the chicks was even lower than what is required for the species to persist. There were also signs of whole bird communities being impacted by river regulation. Aquatic insect emerge and fly onto land before terrestrial insects peak in numbers. The aquatic insects are therefore an important food resource for birds early in the season, while, normally, birds are seen foraging away from aquatic systems later in the season. “We could see that such seasonal movements of whole bird communities differed between regulated and free-flowing rivers,” says Micael Jonsson. That the effects are still visible half a century after regulation of these rivers was initiated clearly indicates that the changes are permanent. The studies also highlight the fact that different types of ecosystems influence each other via resource flows, and that changes in one ecosystem therefore affect plant and animals in nearby ecosystems….> full story

Journal References:

  2. Darius Strasevicius, Micael Jonsson, Erik Nyholm, Björn Malmqvist. Reduced breeding success of Pied Flycatchers Ficedula hypoleuca along regulated rivers. Ibis, 2013 DOI: 10.1111/ibi.12024
  3. Micael Jonsson, Darius Strasevicius, Björn Malmqvist. Influences of river regulation and environmental variables on upland bird assemblages in northern Sweden. Ecological Research, 2012. 27: 945-954



How the Ocean loses nitrogen: Scientists identify key factor that controls nitrogen availability in the Ocean
(February 24, 2013) — During an expedition to the South Pacific Ocean, scientists discovered that organic matter derived from decaying algae regulates nitrogen loss from the Ocean’s oxygen minimum zones. … > full story


Leatherback sea turtle could be extinct within 20 years at last stronghold in the Pacific Ocean
(February 26, 2013) — An international team led by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) has documented a 78 percent decline in the number of nests of the critically endangered leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) at the turtle’s last stronghold in the Pacific Ocean. …
“If the decline continues, within 20 years it will be difficult if not impossible for the leatherback to avoid extinction,” said W
ibbels, who has studied marine turtles since 1980. “That means the number of turtles would be so low that the species could not make a comeback. “The leatherback is one of the most intriguing animals in nature, and we are watching it head towards extinction in front of our eyes,” added Wibbels. Leatherback turtles can grow to six feet long and weigh as much as 2,000 pounds. They are able to dive to depths of nearly 4,000 feet and can make trans-Pacific migrations from Indonesia to the U.S. Pacific coast and back again.

While it is hard to imagine that a turtle so large and so durable can be on the verge of extinction, Ricardo Tapilatu, the research team’s lead scientist who is a Ph.D. student and Fulbright Scholar in the UAB Department of Biology, points to the leatherback’s trans-Pacific migration, where they face the prevalent danger of being caught and killed in fisheries. “They can migrate more than 7,000 miles and travel through the territory of at least 20 countries, so this is a complex international problem,” Tapilatu said. “It is extremely difficult to comprehensively enforce fishing regulations throughout the Pacific.” full story



The Horizontal Levee

Restoring San Francisco Bay’s tidal marshes is one of the best and most inexpensive ways to protect valuable shoreline development from sea level rise during the next several decades. By using tidal marshes in combination with earthen levees construction and maintenance costs can be reduced by almost 50%. The Horizontal Levee, The Bay Institute’s groundbreaking study about the economic value of tidal marshes, demonstrates conclusively that nature performs critical functions for society. During the current era of sea level rise, the forgotten marshlands of San Francisco Bay have become a critical adaptation tool. Study Overview The Horizontal Levee, The Bay Institute
Complete Report:
Analysis of the Costs and Benefits of Using Tidal March Restoration as a Sea Level Rise Adaptation Strategy in San Francisco Bay
Related Links:
Sea-Level Rise for the Coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington: Past, Present, and Future National Academy of Sciences Report | Video
Going with the Flow – 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. New York Times


Bay Area environmental group proposes hybrid levees for bay

By Chris Palmer Posted:   02/23/2013 07:20:34 PM PST Updated:   02/24/2013 11:31:11 PM PST

As global warming escalates, San Francisco Bay’s existing flood protection system will be no match for rising sea levels. But according to a new report by a Bay Area environmental group, fortifying the bay’s shoreline with levees fronted by restored tidal marshes will be a cheaper, more aesthetic and ecologically sensitive alternative to traditional levees. The Bay Institute’s report proposes restoring tidal marshes with sediment from local flood control channels and irrigating the marshes with treated wastewater. The plan also calls for “horizontal levees” that are a hybrid of traditional earthen levees and restored marshes. Tidal marsh restoration in the bay has been a priority for environmental groups since “Climate Change and Coastal Communities” is a media series about protecting the bay’s coastline in the face of sea level rise. One story in the series, “Hard Choices,” explores levees, wetlands and other options. … More than 5,000 acres have been restored in the past two decades, with another 30,000 acres purchased and slated for restoration. “Marshes act as the lungs of the bay,” said John Bourgeois, manager of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project. “They can clean and filter the water that comes down our tributaries before it hits the bay.”….


Fish migrate to escape predators
(March 1, 2013) — By individually tagging fish in a lake and following their movements, a research team has shown that migration is a very effective defense against being eaten. … > full story


Where the wild things go … when there’s nowhere else
February 28, 2013) — The presence of endangered cats and primates in swamp forests might be seriously overlooked. Recent research concludes that swamp forests beg further exploration as places where endangered species have preserved their numbers — and where humans could potentially preserve them into the future. … > full story


Washington: Case Study Report: Socioeconomic Benefits of the Fisher Slough Marsh Restoration
The Fisher Slough marsh restoration project in Washington State improved fish passage to 15 miles of stream and restored 60 acres of freshwater marsh habitat. The habitat improvements had the immediate benefit of supporting 23 jobs and increasing flood protection for local farmers and their neighbors. In fact, a recent study found that the $7.7 million invested in the project may provide $8-$21 million in benefits to the community over the next several decades. The improvements made at Fisher Slough are estimated to support an additional 16,000 young Chinook salmon


Ship noise makes crabs get crabby
(February 26, 2013) — A new study found that ship noise affects crab metabolism, with the largest crabs faring the worst, and found little evidence that crabs acclimatize to noise over time. … > full story


Loss of wild insects hurts crops around the world

(February 28, 2013) — Researchers studying data from 600 fields in 20 countries have found that managed honey bees are not as successful at pollinating crops as wild insects, primarily wild bees, suggesting the continuing loss of wild insects in many agricultural landscapes has negative consequences for crop harvests. … > full story


Ontario: The Greater The Biodiversity, The Better The Grassland Restoration
University of Guelph researchers are recommending growers consider adding several species of vegetation if considering restoring marginal fields to grasslands. Dr. Andrew MacDougall, a professor and grasslands specialist at the university said a 10-year study conducted on Vancouver Island shows that encouraging several species of vegetation on marginal fields and woodlots will provide a beneficial crop cover, whereas having just one or two species of plants may not survive in the case of a major disturbance such as fire, flood or drought. Researchers wanted to determine what, if any, were the effects of the loss of biodiversity.


New maps depict potential worldwide coral bleaching by 2056
(February 25, 2013) — New maps by scientists show how rising sea temperatures are likely to affect all coral reefs in the form of annual coral bleaching events under different emission scenarios. If carbon emissions stay on the current path most of the world’s coral reefs (74 percent) are projected to experience coral bleaching conditions annually by 2045, results of the study show. … > full story


Enlarge image
Cranes fly at sunset above the Hula Valley of northern Israel in January. Millions of birds pass through the area as they migrate south every winter from Europe and Asia to Africa. Some now stay in the Hula Valley for the entire winter.
Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images

Israel Restores Wetlands; Birds Make It Their Winter Home

by Larry Abramson NPR February 24, 2013 5:46 AM Listen to the Story
Weekend Edition Sunday 3 min 24 sec Playlist

Like many countries, Israel tried to drain many of its swamplands, then realized it was destroying wildlife habitats. So the country reversed course, and has been restoring the wetlands of the Hula Valley in the north. The effort has had a huge and rather noisy payoff. Unlike many birding sites, where the creatures take off when you approach them, you can practically touch the cranes that inhabit the Hula Valley. The thousands upon thousands of the common cranes are about as tall as a toddler and have a 6-foot wingspan. They seem unperturbed by the sudden arrival of hundreds of gawking tourists, riding in what amounts to a grandstand on wheels. The grandstand is pulled by a noisy tractor. The driver is a young tour guide. She’s explaining that these birds fly thousands of miles from Europe and Asia, stopping here in the Hula Valley for rest and fuel before they head to Africa. Each time the tractor stops, the din of the birds takes over. They coo and gurgle, while the tourists make their own appreciative noises. Why aren’t these normally timid birds taking to the air? Well, they associate these big wagons, and the tractors, with food.

Restoring The Wetlands

In the 1990s, as Israel started to restore this marsh, more cranes began to stop here; many decided to spend the winter. They started to eat local crops — especially peanuts. Biologist Omri Bonneh, with the Jewish National Fund, says the farmers didn’t like that. “In very short time, 30,000 cranes decided to stay here all winter long. We needed to find some solution in order to avoid conflict between farmers and cranes that cause damage to crop fields,” he said. The solution was to set out a buffet of corn and other feed, using tractors and wagons just like the ones the tourists ride in. Now, biologists don’t usually like to mess with the feeding habits of wildlife. But the strategy has attracted lots of paying tourists, who help pay for all that bird food, and for maintenance of this refuge — creating a home for hundreds of other species…..


Australia: Pasture Cropping: A Regenerative Solution from Down Under
Since the late 1990s, Australian farmer Colin Seis has been successfully planting a cereal crop into perennial pasture on his sheep farm during the dormant period using no-till drilling, a method that uses a drill to sow seeds instead of the traditional plow. He calls it pasture cropping and he gains two crops this way from one parcel of land-a cereal crop for food or forage and wool or lamb meat from his pastures-which means its potential for feeding the world in a sustainable manner is significant. As Seis tells the story, the idea for pasture cropping came to him and a friend from the bottom of a beer bottle. Ten of them, in fact.


Pesticides, not habitat loss, leading cause of grassland grassland birds’ decline, study says Pioneer Press blog February 25, 2013

The loss of habitat is real in the corn belt, as are its potential effects on a host of grassland bird species, some hunted, some not……new study led by a preeminent Canadian toxicologist identifies acutely toxic pesticides as the most likely leading cause of the widespread decline in grassland bird numbers in the United States, a finding that challenges the widely-held assumption that loss of habitat is the primary cause of those population declines. The scientific assessment, which looked at data over a 23-year period – from 1980 to 2003 – was published on February 20, 2013 in PLOS One, an online peer-reviewed scientific journal. The study was conducted by Dr. Pierre Mineau, recently retired from Environment Canada, and Mélanie Whiteside of Health Canada. The study looked at five potential causes of grassland bird declines besides lethal pesticide risk: change in cropped pasture such as hay or alfalfa production, farming intensity or the proportion of agricultural land that is actively cropped, herbicide use, overall insecticide use, and change in permanent pasture and rangeland. “What this study suggests is that we need to start paying a lot more attention to the use of pesticides if we want to reverse, halt or simply slow the very significant downward trend in grassland bird populations. Our study put the spotlight on acutely toxic insecticides used in our cropland starting after the Second World War and persisting to this day – albeit at a lower level. The data suggest that loss of birds in agricultural fields is more than an unfortunate consequence of pest control; it may drive bird populations to local extinction,” Mineau said…..

Mineau P, Whiteside M (2013)
Pesticide Acute Toxicity Is a Better Correlate of U.S. Grassland Bird Declines than Agricultural Intensification
. PLoS ONE 8(2): e57457. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0057457


Common agricultural birds are in decline, both in Europe and in North America. Evidence from Europe suggests that agricultural intensification and, for some species, the indirect effects of pesticides mediated through a loss of insect food resource is in part responsible. On a state-by-state basis for the conterminous Unites States (U.S.), we looked at several agronomic variables to predict the number of grassland species increasing or declining according to breeding bird surveys conducted between 1980 and 2003. Best predictors of species declines were the lethal risk from insecticide use modeled from pesticide impact studies, followed by the loss of cropped pasture. Loss of permanent pasture or simple measures of agricultural intensification such as the proportion of land under crop or the proportion of farmland treated with herbicides did not explain bird declines as well. Because the proportion of farmland treated with insecticides, and more particularly the lethal risk to birds from the use of current insecticides feature so prominently in the best models, this suggests that, in the U.S. at least, pesticide toxicity to birds should be considered as an important factor in grassland bird declines.

Hummingbird flight: Two vortex trails with one stroke
(February 25, 2013) — As of today, the Wikipedia entry for the hummingbird explains that the bird’s flight generates in its wake a single trail of vortices that helps the bird hover. But after conducting experiments with hummingbirds in the lab, researchers propose that the hummingbird produces two trails of vortices — one under each wing per stroke — that help generate the aerodynamic forces required for the bird to power and control its flight. … > full story


Shocking decline seen in birds that eat insects in flight

Ct Post February 23, 2013

The Audubon Society will release its Connecticut State of the Birds 2013 report entitled “The Seventh Habitat and The Decline of Our Aerial Insectivores.


Songbirds’ brains coordinate singing with intricate timing
(February 27, 2013) — As a bird sings, some neurons in its brain prepare to make the next sounds while others are synchronized with the current notes—a coordination of physical actions and brain activity that is needed to produce complex movements. The finding that may lead to new ways of understanding human speech production. … > full story


Cormorants nesting on the old Eastern Span of the Bay Bridge. (Caltrans/CBS)

Caltrans Trying To Lure Nesting Birds To New Bay Bridge

February 27, 2013 10:13 AM

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) – In the steel rafters of the old Bay Bridge, a flock of fowl you may never have noticed has built its home; but those homes will have to come down as the old section of roadway is replaced.

The colony of cormorants has constructed roughly 400 nests hidden along a mile-long stretch of the eastern span. “They like it. They like the Bay Bridge. They’ve been there for at least 20 years, since the 1980′s,”said Stefan Galvez-Abadia District Branch Chief of the California Department of Transportation. Caltrans saw the problem coming, and has spent about a half a million dollars building small platforms into the new span. They are being called cormorant condos, designed as a place where the birds can make a new home. But birds of a feather are apparently picky about where they flock together. “We haven’t observed any birds moving over yet,” said Galvez-Abadia. Last year, Caltrans started wooing the birds, first with fake nets, then with decoys. “We did not have any birds moving over,” said Lauren Bingham, the Caltrans biologist heading up the relocation project. “We had to get creative.” Caltrans has now installed speakers beneath the bridge to blast the mating call of the cormorant, hoping that will convince them to make the switch. The installation is going into place just in time for the cormorant mating season, which runs from March to August. “We have put in the time and the research to design something that should potentially work, but it may not, because they’re birds and you can’t predict exactly what they’re going to do,” said Bingham. Caltrans said time is on their side. The nesting section of the old bridge isn’t scheduled for demolition until 2015.



California Ocean Reserves Show Promising Results for Marine Life

February 28, 2013, 11:27 am • Posted by Lauren Sommer

A groundbreaking network of marine reserves off the California coast are showing promising results, according to scientists meeting in Monterey this week. The results come five years after the state set up the first group of “marine protected areas”—zones where fishing is either limited or banned all together. Several fish species seem to be rebounding in the 29 marine protected areas that stretch from Santa Cruz to Santa Barbara, including black rockfish, grass rockfish, perch and lingcod. Threatened black abalone are also appearing in higher numbers.

The protected areas mark a new conservation approach for the state, moving away from traditional species-by-species fishing limits. The areas were designed to protect the ecosystem as a whole, allowing fish and marine life to reproduce and recover. Scientists believe as populations increase inside the zones, they’ll spread into surrounding areas, acting as “marine savings accounts” for the entire coast….



Bette Midler’s New York Restoration Project Aims To Plant One Million New Trees By 2017
This March, residents of New York City’s five boroughs will have the opportunity to receive free trees for their yards and neighborhoods courtesy of the New York Restoration Project, which aims to plant a million trees in the city by 2017, and Toyota, which sponsored 4,500 trees for this year’s effort.


Why have white storks stopped migrating?
(February 27, 2013) — A new project to find out why storks are changing their migratory patterns has been launched. In folklore, storks’ strong white wings would carry babies to parents around the world. But since the mid 1980s increasing numbers of storks have stopped their annual migration from Northern Europe to Africa for the winter. Instead, many are living in Spain and Portugal the whole year round – feeding on ‘junk food’ from rubbish dumps. … > full story





California sees record dry start in ’13

Peter Fimrite San Francisco Chronicle March 1, 2013

There are certain benefits to having two full months of beach and barbecue weather in the middle of the winter. Drinking water is not one of them.

Snow surveyors with the California Department of Water Resources tromped out under brilliant blue skies and alarmingly warm weather Thursday to measure what is left of the Sierra snowpack near Echo Summit. Let’s just say it was a good day for a stroll. Only 29 inches of snow was measured in the meadow behind Phillips Station, a historic, privately owned cabin near Echo Summit. That’s compared with 4 feet two months ago. But that’s only part of the bad water dream in California, which just had the driest January-February on record. The Central Sierra, which includes the Lake Tahoe area, was only 67 percent of normal, based on the average of 40 electronic monitoring stations. That’s compared with 90 percent of normal last month and 134 percent of normal on Jan. 2, when the first snow survey of the year was conducted.

The entire Sierra, from south to north, had an average of only 16 inches of water in the snow, based on measurements from more than 300 sites. That’s 66 percent of normal and 57 percent of the average snowpack on April 1, which is typically the peak time for water officials because all the water that melts after that date is captured in reservoirs.

The snowpack, dubbed California’s “frozen reservoir” by water officials, normally provides about a third of the water for California’s farms and communities. But only 2.2 inches of rain has fallen since December in the mountainous regions from Shasta Lake to the American River, just 13 percent of average. The next driest first two months of the year occurred in 1991, when 4 inches of precipitation fell, water department officials said. There would have to be several big, icy storms over the next month to get the state close to normal precipitation this year, but no precipitation is currently forecast.

Mark Cowin, the state’s water resources director, said the situation is more difficult as a result of restrictions on the amount of water that can be taken out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in order to protect the delta smelt and other endangered fish. He touted as a possible solution the highly controversial proposal to build a pair of tunnels underneath the delta.

“Near-record dry weather combined with pumping restrictions to protect delta smelt are making this a gloomy water supply year,” Cowin said. “This scenario is exactly why we need an alternative water conveyance system as proposed in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to both protect fish species and give California a reliable water supply.”….more »


T. Lynne Pixley for The New York Times

The Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad, Calif., where a $1 billion desalination plant expected to supply 7 percent of the county’s water is being built.

In California, What Price Water?

By FELICITY BARRINGER NY Times Published: February 28, 2013

CARLSBAD, Calif. — On a calm day, a steady rain just about masks the sound of Pacific Ocean water being drawn into the intake valve from Agua Hedionda Lagoon. Listen hard, and a faint sucking sound emerges from the concrete openings, like a distant straw pulling liquid from a cup. At the moment, the seawater is being diverted from the ocean to cool an aging natural-gas power plant. But in three years, if all goes as planned, the saltwater pulled in at that entryway will emerge as part of the regional water supply after treatment in what the project’s developers call the newest and largest seawater desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere. Large-scale ocean desalination, a technology that was part of President John F. Kennedy’s vision of the future half a century ago, has stubbornly remained futuristic in North America, even as sizable plants have been installed in water-poor regions like the Middle East and Singapore. The industry’s hope is that the $1 billion Carlsbad plant, whose builders broke ground at the end of the year, will show that desalination is not an energy-sucking, environmentally damaging, expensive white elephant, as its critics contend, but a reliable, affordable technology, a basic item on the menu of water sources the country will need.
Proposals for more than a dozen other seawater desalination plants, including at least two as big as Carlsbad — one at Huntington Beach, 60 miles north of here, and one at Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps base — are pending along shorelines from the San Francisco Bay Area southward. Several of these are clustered on the midcoast around Monterey and Carmel. …


Weather extremes provoked by trapping of giant waves in the atmosphere
(February 25, 2013) — The world has suffered from severe regional weather extremes in recent years, such as the heat wave in the United States in 2011. Behind these devastating individual events there is a common physical cause, propose scientists in a new study. It suggests that human-made climate change repeatedly disturbs the patterns of atmospheric flow around the globe’s Northern hemisphere through a subtle resonance mechanism.
“An important part of the global air motion in the mid-latitudes of the Earth normally takes the form of waves wandering a
round the planet, oscillating between the tropical and the Arctic regions. So when they swing up, these waves suck warm air from the tropics to Europe, Russia, or the US, and when they swing down, they do the same thing with cold air from the Arctic,” explains lead author Vladimir Petoukhov. “What we found is that during several recent extreme weather events these planetary waves almost freeze in their tracks for weeks. So instead of bringing in cool air after having brought warm air in before, the heat just stays. In fact, we observe a strong amplification of the usually weak, slowly moving component of these waves,” says Petoukhov. Time is critical here: two or three days of 30 degrees Celsius are no problem, but twenty or more days lead to extreme heat stress. Since many ecosystems and cities are not adapted to this, prolonged hot periods can result in a high death toll, forest fires, and dramatic harvest losses.

Anomalous surface temperatures are disturbing the air flows

Climate change caused by greenhouse-gas emissions from fossil-fuel burning does not mean uniform global warming — in the Arctic, the relative increase of temperatures, amplified by the loss of snow and ice, is higher than on average. This in turn reduces the temperature difference between the Arctic and, for example, Europe, yet temperature differences are a main driver of air flow. Additionally, continents generally warm and cool more readily than the oceans. “These two factors are crucial for the mechanism we detected,” says Petoukhov. “They result in an unnatural pattern of the mid-latitude air flow, so that for extended periods the slow synoptic waves get trapped.” “Our dynamical analysis helps to explain the increasing number of novel weather extremes. It complements previous research that already linked such phenomena to climate change, but did not yet identify a mechanism behind it,” says Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of PIK and co-author of the study. “This is quite a breakthrough, even though things are not at all simple — the suggested physical process increases the probability of weather extremes, but additional factors certainly play a role as well, including natural variability.” Also, the 32-year period studied in the project provides a good indication of the mechanism involved, yet is too short for definite conclusions. Nevertheless, the study significantly advances the understanding of the relation between weather extremes and human-made climate change. Scientists were surprised by how far outside past experience some of the recent extremes have been.
The new data show that the emergence of extraordinary weather is not just a linear response to the mean warming trend, and the proposed mechanism could explain that. full story



Petoukhov, V., Rahmstorf, S., Petri, S., Schellnhuber, H. J. Quasi-resonant amplification of planetary waves and recent Northern Hemisphere weather extremes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2013 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1222000110



Global warming may cause extremes by slowing “planetary waves”

By Environment Correspondent Alister Doyle

OSLO | Mon Feb 25, 2013 3:13pm EST

(Reuters) – Global warming may have caused extreme events such as a 2011 drought in the United States and a 2003 heatwave in Europe by slowing vast, wave-like weather flows in the northern hemisphere, scientists said on Tuesday.

The study of meandering air systems that encircle the planet adds to understanding of extremes that have killed thousands of people and driven up food prices in the past decade.

Such planetary air flows, which suck warm air from the tropics when they swing north and draw cold air from the Arctic when they swing south, seem to be have slowed more often in recent summers and left some regions sweltering, they said.

During several recent extreme weather events these planetary waves almost freeze in their tracks for weeks,” wrote Vladimir Petoukhov, lead author of the study at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

“So instead of bringing in cool air after having brought warm air in before, the heat just stays,” he said in a statement of the findings in the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A difference in temperatures between the Arctic and areas to the south is usually the main driver of the wave flows, which typically stretch 2,500 and 4,000 km (1,550-2,500 miles) from crest to crest.

But a build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, blamed on human activities led by use of fossil fuels, is heating the Arctic faster than other regions and slowing the mechanism that drives the waves, the study suggested.


Weather extremes in the past decade include a European heatwave in 2003 that may have killed 70,000 people, a Russian heatwave and flooding in Pakistan in 2010 and a 2011 heatwave in the United States, the authors added.

“Here, we propose a common mechanism” for the generation of waves linked to climate change, they wrote.

Past studies have linked such extremes to global warming but did not identify an underlying mechanism, said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute and a co-author.

“This is quite a breakthrough,” he wrote. The scientists added that the 32-year-period studied was too short to predict future climate change and that natural variations in the climate had not been ruled out completely as a cause.

The study only considered the northern part of the globe, in summertime. Petoukhov led another study in 2010 suggesting that cold snaps in some recent winters in Europe were linked to low amounts of ice in the Arctic Ocean…..


Antarctica’s exit glaciers: The drunk drivers of climate change

In geologist Richard Alley’s view, we need to plan for a rapid, 2 meter rise.

by John TimmerFeb 27 2013, 6:00am PST

Richard Alley’s studies of the role of ice sheets in climate change have earned him various awards, a PBS special, and have made him a repeat performer at the meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. When I first saw him speak a few years ago, he argued that the ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland play a huge role in controlling sea levels. Mountain glaciers don’t hold nearly as much water, while the thermal expansion of water in the oceans is a slower and more predictable process.

The ice sheets, in contrast, have been a big unknown. At the time, we didn’t yet fully understand how much of them might melt, or how quickly they might dump water into the oceans.

Alley was back at this year’s meeting, and his news was mixed. As he predicted in his earlier appearance, a few years of intensive study have helped narrow down some of the uncertainties. And, while the news is (relatively) good in Greenland, some of the results from Antarctica are decidedly worrying.

Alley described an ice sheet as a big pile of ice that wants to spread slowly, a spreading that would put more of its mass into the oceans and raise sea levels. Anything that speeds up that spreading is bad news for us, since it would give us less time to get carbon emissions under control and create a more sudden rise in sea levels that would be harder to adapt to. Two of the big unknowns that Alley’s been studying can help accelerate the spread of the ice cap into the oceans. In Greenland, the summer melt creates large lakes of meltwater on the ice cap’s surface, which drain suddenly, pouring huge volumes of water to the base of the ice. This can lubricate its flow over the underlying rocks, and accelerate the ice cap’s spread. In Antarctica, this sort of melting isn’t as much of an issue; instead, exit glaciers carry ice from the continent’s interior to the ocean. Because these flow slowly through narrow outlets, he compared them to flying buttresses, the architectural features that hold up the pile of rocks that comprise Medieval cathedrals….

…..The problem is that, when the feedbacks are finally overcome, the grounding line fails catastrophically, and the ice tends to retreat rapidly to the next potential grounding line. This behavior shows up in models of the glacier’s behavior, and it’s apparent in imaging of the ground under the ice, where there’s little sign of retreat from past melts outside a handful of grounding lines.

What does this mean for the particular glacier Alley chose to focus on? If its current grounding line fails, there’s another a bit behind it that it will likely retreat to. If that one fails, however, there’s enough ice between it and the one behind that to raise sea levels by two meters. And, from a geological perspective, that retreat could occur in a flash—fast enough to obviate any long term plans for adaptation…..

….That’s worrying on its own. But it’s a special problem, Alley argued, because of the way policy makers have approached sea level rise. To begin with, they’ve tended to assume that any rise will be gradual and slow. Alley blamed this in part on the reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—its most recent report provided a conservative estimate, and failed to convey the large uncertainties in what we know about ice sheet behavior. The other problem, in his view, is that economists also assumed that people would be rational actors, and either take preventative measures or stop investing any money in property that would inevitably wind up under water. Neither of those have happened. Alley said that he and many others had been teaching introductory geology classes that discuss how conditions in New Orleans made something like Katrina inevitable, but that didn’t actually result in any investment in infrastructure to handle the problems. Similarly, some of the problems New York City faced during Sandy had been accurately predicted a number of years in advance.

The lack of economic rationality, however, is also apparent after the events have occurred. Rather than focus on a rational evaluation of future risks, we’ve generally pumped money into rebuilding in precisely the same places that have just been wiped out.

A better model for how to deal with this risk, in Alley’s view, is how we handle road safety. For most of us, the typical commute involves, at worst, being stuck in a bit of traffic and having the radio play some awful music. The worst case is a long, bumper-to-bumper crawl during an hour-long test of the emergency broadcast system. Only very rarely does any of us get smacked into by a drunk driver. And yet we put a tremendous effort into dealing with that rare possibility, including funding awareness campaigns, dedicating police enforcement activity, and designing safety features into our vehicles.

Given what he’s seen in the Antarctic, Alley thinks we should be following something more like the drunk driver model.



A sampling of the myriad factors typically included in a climate change model (Image: Maslin and Austin, Nature, 2012, 486, 183)

Are climate change models becoming more accurate and less reliable?

Scientific American (blog) February 27, 2013

One of the perpetual challenges in my career as a modeler of biochemical systems has been the need to balance accuracy with reliability. This paradox is not as strange as it seems. Typically when you build a model you include a lot of approximations supposed to make the modeling process easier; ideally you want a model to be as simple as possible and contain as few parameters as possible. But this strategy does not work all the time since sometimes it turns out that in your drive for simplicity you have left a crucial factor out. So now you include this crucial factor, only to find that the uncertainties in your model go through the roof. What’s happening in such unfortunate cases is that along with including the signal from the previously excluded factors, you have also inevitably included a large amount of noise. This noise can typically result from an incomplete knowledge of the factor, either from calculation or from measurement. Modelers of every stripe thus have to tread a fine balance between including as much of reality as possibility as possible and making the model accurate enough for quantitative explanation and prediction.

It seems that this is exactly the problem that has started bedeviling climate change models. A recent issue of Nature had a very interesting article on what seems to be a wholly paradoxical feature of models used in climate science; as the models are becoming increasingly realistic, they are also becoming less accurate and predictive because of growing uncertainties. I can only imagine this to be an excruciatingly painful fact for climate modelers who seem to be facing the equivalent of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle for their field. It’s an especially worrisome time to deal with such issues since the modelers need to include their predictions in the next IPCC report on climate change which is due to be published this year….



Historic datasets reveal effects of climate change and habitat loss on plant-pollinator networks
(February 28, 2013) — Two biologists at Washington University in St. Louis were delighted to discover a meticulous dataset on a plant-pollinator network recorded by Illinois naturalist Charles Robertson between 1884 and 1916. Re-collecting part of Robertson’s network, they learned that although the network has compensated for some losses, battered by climate change and habitat loss it is now weaker and less resilient than in Robertson’s time. … > full story


Improving climate protection in the agricultural sector
(February 28, 2013) — Agriculture is responsible for around 10 to 12 percent of all greenhouse gases attributable to human activities. This raises the question of how these emissions could be reduced. A recent study has investigated — for the first time — the full range of factors that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, namely soil and climate conditions, the agricultural model and the farming intensity on both organic and conventional holdings. The study has enabled scientists to develop a new model that will allow agricultural landholders to determine and improve their climate balance….Fossil fuels, above all diesel, are one of the main sources of CO2 emissions in agriculture. However, greenhouse gases are also emitted during the manufacture of mineral nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides, agricultural machines and equipment….In crop farming, increasing nitrogen efficiency is a key factor. High levels of nitrous oxide are released into the environment if crops are unable to utilize all of the nitrogen fertilizer that was spread. The production of nitrogen fertilizer is also energy intensive, which further increases the climate balance of unused nitrogen. In contrast, the greenhouse gas CO2 can be stored long term as humus in the soil, and thus eliminated from the climate balance. “This can be achieved by planting legumes as part of a diversified crop rotation strategy,” explains Professor Gerold Rahmann at the Thünen Institute. “Using soil less intensively and applying organic fertilizer also helps.” Organic farming is more energy efficient and produces less land-specific CO2 emissions. This advantage, however, is offset by the significantly lower yields achieved through organic farming practices. The pilot organic crop farms produce around twenty percent less emissions per yield unit than conventional holdings.… > full story


NOAA to Map Alaska’s Increasingly Ice-Free Arctic Waters

Published: February 27th, 2013 By Michael D. Lemonick

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has launched a program to update some of its nautical charts, thanks largely to climate change. The revisions affect Alaska’s coast, which has America’s only Arctic seafront. As a result of global warming, ice that has historically blocked Arctic waters, even in summer, has been plummeting in recent years, with 2012 ice melting back to the smallest extent since satellite records began. And as sea ice recedes, said NOAA Coast Survey director Rear Admiral Gerd Glang in a press release, “vessel traffic is on the rise.” That’s an understatement. The world as a whole is warming due to heat trapped by greenhouse gas emissions, but the Arctic is warming faster than average thanks to something called “Arctic Amplification“: as bright, reflective sea ice melts, it exposes darker ocean waters, which absorb the Sun’s heat. That heat warms the air, which makes new, thick ice harder to form, setting the stage for even greater warming the following season. By 2030, or perhaps even earlier, the Arctic Ocean could be largely ice-free during part of each summer. Already by 2010, both the Northwest Passage across the Arctic coast of Canada and the Northern Sea Route, across Russia, had been ice-free simultaneously for an unprecedented third year in a row, encouraging a flurry of interest by commercial ship companies. Last summer a Chinese ship navigated the even more reliably frozen route right across the North Pole. It’s no surprise, since a shortcut through the Arctic Ocean shaves many thousands of miles off the normal shipping routes between Europe and Asia, through the Panama or Suez canals. And while an easier-to-navigate Arctic Ocean and surrounding waters are raising national security concerns for nations that border that chilly sea, NOAA’s job, in part, is to make the area safe for commercial vessels.



Under some climate change scenarios, Lake Powell is at risk, according to a new study from the US. Forest Service. Photo courtesy Mission 31, ISS, via the Wikimedia Commons.

Water: Lake Powell may dry up within a few decades
Southwest, Great Plains most vulnerable to future water shortages

By Summit Voice Posted on February 24, 2013 by Bob Berwyn FRISCO — Some of the West’s biggest reservoirs could dry up completely as the region gets warmer and drier in coming decades, and major increases in storage capacity probably won’t help address regional water shortages, according to a new study authored by researchers with Colorado State University, Princeton and the U.S. Forest Service. In the Colorado River Basin, “Lakes Powell and Mead are projected to drop to zero and only occasionally thereafter add rather small amounts of storage before emptying  again,” the scientists concluded, adding that smaller upstream reservoirs might still be useful. The report, published by the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, combined climate projections with socio-economic scenarios of population growth and water use to determine future water supply and demand, to assess the likelihood of future water shortages region by region. After analyzing the data, the researchers concluded that most of the Southwest, parts of California and the southern and central Great Plains will be the most vulnerable areas in the nation to water shortages during the next 60 years. Climate change will substantially increase water demand and cause decreases in water supply in those regions of the United States, even as cities, farms and thermoelectric facilities become more efficient in their water usage…..

Foti, Romano; Ramirez, Jorge A.; Brown, Thomas C.  2012.  Vulnerability of U.S. water supply to shortage: a technical document supporting the Forest Service 2010 RPA Assessment.   Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-295. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 147 p.

Restoration planned for shoreline protecting NASA’s Kennedy Space Center infrastructure
(February 25, 2013) — Late last October, one of the most destructive storms ever to hit the United States bashed the beaches of Brevard County in Florida, including the shoreline of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Scientists are assessing damage along a 1.2 mile stretch of shoreline near Launch Pads 39A and B and developing restoration plans. … > full story

Circulation changes in a warmer ocean
(February 22, 2013) — In a new study, scientists suggest that the pattern of ocean circulation was radically altered in the past when climates were warmer. … > full story


Forecast is for more snow in polar regions, less for the rest of us
(February 22, 2013) — A new climate model predicts an increase in snowfall for Earth’s polar regions and highest altitudes, but an overall drop in snowfall for the globe, as carbon dioxide levels rise over the next century. … > full story


Global tipping point not backed by science, experts argue
(February 28, 2013) — A group of international ecological scientists have rejected a doomsday-like scenario of sudden, irreversible change to the Earth’s ecology. In a new paper, the scientists from Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom argue that global-scale ecological tipping points are unlikely and that ecological change over large areas seem to follow a more gradual, smooth pattern. In a paper published Feb. 28 in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution, the scientists from Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom argue that global-scale ecological tipping points are unlikely and that ecological change over large areas seem to follow a more gradual, smooth pattern.

This opposes recent efforts to define ‘planetary tipping points’ ‒ critical levels of biodiversity loss or land-use change that would have global effect ‒ with important implications for science and policy-makers…..


NASA: Climate change thins forests in eastern US

USA TODAY  – ‎Feb 26, 2013‎

Climate change is increasing the risk of forest death through wildfires, insect infestations, drought, and disease outbreaks, according to a 1,000-plus-page draft of the third National Climate Assessment, released by the U.S.



NOAA’s latest seasonal drought outlook projects historic drought will persist.

Dust Bowl Days: Historic U.S. Drought Projected To Persist For Months, Worsened By Thin Western Snowpack

By Climate Guest Blogger on Feb 23, 2013 at 11:33 am

By Lauren Morello and Andrew Freedman via Climate Central. See also the NY Times piece, “Thin Snowpack in West Signals Summer of Drought

Time is running out to avert a third summer of drought in much of the High Plains, West and Southwest, federal officials warned Thursday.

Without repeated, significant bouts of heavy snow and rain in the remaining days of winter, a large part of the country will face serious water supply shortages this spring and summer, when temperatures are hotter and average precipitation is normally low. The drought already ranks as the worst, in terms of severity and geographic extent, since the 1950s. Though it’s not over yet, its economic impact appears to be severe, said Brad Rippey, a meteorologist at the Agriculture Department’s Office of the Chief Economist. It “will probably end up being a top-five disaster event” on the government’s ranking of the costliest weather events of the past three decades, he said at a Capitol Hill briefing Thursday.

There is little relief predicted in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) latest three-month drought outlook, which the agency released Thursday. Federal forecasters predict that drought will persist in the Rocky Mountain and Plains states, expand throughout northern and southern California and return to most of Texas, a state that has been mired in drought since 2011.

NOAA does forecast improvements in drought conditions in the Upper Midwest and Southeast, areas that have received beneficial precipitation in recent weeks.

“The next couple of months will kind of determine how the spring and summer plays out in that part of the country,” said Jake Crouch, a climate scientist at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. Crouch said that continued drought conditions could threaten water supplies in many areas, particularly in the Southwest.

Dwindling Water Supplies

With drought extending into its second or even third year in some areas, the main concerns are shifting from agriculture and recreation to water supplies as rivers run dry and reservoirs shrink.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston on Feb. 15, Texas state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said water managers are especially concerned about the situation in West Texas, where emergency conservation plans have gone into effect as water supplies dwindle.

In the western U.S., low mountain snowpack is once again a concern, especially in portions of Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming that feed the Platte and Arkansas rivers, said Mike Strobel of USDA’s National Resources Conservation Service….


Study of Ice Age Bolsters Carbon and Warming Link

By JUSTIN GILLIS NY TIMES Published: February 28, 2013

A meticulous new analysis of Antarctic ice suggests that the sharp warming that ended the last ice age occurred in lock step with increases of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the latest of many indications that the gas is a powerful influence on the earth’s climate. Previous research suggested that as the world began to emerge from the depths of the ice age about 20,000 years ago, warming in Antarctica preceded changes in the global carbon dioxide level by something like 800 years. That relatively long gap led some climate-change contrarians to assert that rising carbon dioxide levels were essentially irrelevant to the earth’s temperature — a side effect of planetary warming, perhaps, but not the cause. Mainstream climate scientists rejected that view and argued that carbon dioxide, while it certainly did not initiate the end of the ice age, played a vital role in the feedback loops that caused a substantial warming. Still, a long gap between initial increases of temperature and of carbon dioxide was somewhat difficult for the scientists to explain. A wave of new research in the last few years has raised the likelihood that there was actually a small gap, if any. The latest paper was led by Frédéric Parrenin of the University of Grenoble, in France, and is scheduled for publication on Friday in the journal Science. Using relatively new, high-precision chemical techniques, his group sought to reconstruct the exact timing of the events that ended the ice age.


Arunachal apples losing taste due to climate change

Last Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2013, 10:18
With the weather becoming erratic and a clear variation in temperature, snowfall and rainfall pattern being recorded, apple crops are no more getting the appropriate agro-climatic requirements, horticulturists and climate change experts say.
“Kashmiri apples are sweet because the rainfall is low. But in Arunachal, sometimes it rains very heavily which dilutes the sugar content of the crop affecting its taste,” Dr Nazeer Ahmad, director of Central Institute of Temperate Horticulture (CITH) in Srinagar, said.

For optimum growth and fruiting, apple trees need 100-125 cm of annual rainfall, evenly distributed during the growing season.


Bird species in peril due to climate change

Times of India –February 27 2013

MUMBAI: About 45 to 88 per cent of bird species in Asia will decline in suitable habitats. According to a study conducted by Durham university and BirdLife International, bird species are at a peril due to climate change and will need special



Marin Municipal Water District News  February 27, 2013

Yes, that’s right. We expect to set a low rainfall record this year for the January-February time frame even though our reservoir storage levels are above average. With only 2.07 inches of rain received at Lake Lagunitas since the first of the year, and no rain in the forecast for the remaining days of February, we are on track to set a new record low for January-February rainfall. The previous low of 3.43 inches dates back to 1920. Average rainfall for January and February combined is about 20 inches. Paradoxically, our reservoir storage levels are actually above average at 97 percent of capacity today compared to the average of 88 percent. Why? Two reasons: one, we entered the rainy season last fall with above-average storage and two, we had an extremely rainy November and December. We received 29.27 inches in the last two months of 2012, nearly double the average of 15 inches for that two-month period.

Here are the current water statistics:

Current water use and reservoir figures can be found on the homepage of our website.





White House offers sequester guidance

By Erik Wasson – 02/28/13 03:57 PM ET The Hill

The White House has issued a new memo guiding agencies on how to implement the $85 billion budget sequester that goes into effect on Friday.

Congress has left Washington, guaranteeing that the sequester will go into effect at least temporarily.

The memo dated Wednesday from Office of Management and Budget Controller Danny Werfel says that OMB now estimates a 9 percent cut to affected domestic agency budgets and a 13 percent cut to defense. It also makes clear that the White House is giving agencies leeway in implementing the cuts.

“Agencies’ planning efforts must be guided by the principle of protecting the agency’s mission to serve the public to the greatest extent practicable. Planning efforts should be done with sufficient detail and clarity to determine the specific actions that will be taken to operate under the lower level of budgetary resources required by sequestration,” Werfel wrote.

For the first time, OMB emphasizes that agencies should look to restrict hiring, employee bonuses and travel to meet the budget goals.

That decision was praised by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who this week wrote to Budget Director Jeff Zients pointing out apparently non-essential positions being advertised as open in the federal government for hiring.

“I applaud the White House’s decision to reverse its opposition to using options like a hiring freeze and travel restrictions to avoid inflicting pain on the American people through their sequestration policy. OMB today reaffirmed the administration’s flexibility to make common sense budget choices instead of senseless across-the-board cuts. If the administration would like additional flexibility to avoid harmful consequences I would encourage them to seek that authority from Congress,” Coburn said.

The memo reminds agencies that it must negotiate with unions where they represent employees. It also says that procurement will be affected.

“Due to the government’s large acquisition footprint, sequestration will inevitably affect agency contracting activities and require agencies to reduce contracting costs where appropriate,” Werfel writes.

It also says financial assistance will take a hit in places.

“In light of sequestration, agencies may also consider delaying awarding of new financial assistance obligations, reducing levels of continued funding, and renegotiating or reducing the current scope of assistance. Agencies may be forced to reduce the level of assistance provided through formula funds or block grants,” the memo states.


Sequestration Is Here: Don’t Expect Anything To Happen

By Matthew Yglesias SLATE Posted Friday, March 1, 2013, at 9:02 AM

Now that sequestration is upon us, it seems like a good time to relink to my column about why sequestration will probably be a bust and most people won’t notice. The key issue here isn’t that 8 percent across-the-board cuts to domestic discretionary programs will have no impact on Americans’ everyday lives. It’s that they won’t have much impact on American’s everyday lives over the month of March.

Agencies have seen this coming, and even the very stringent terms of sequestration leave some flexibility in place. Life will go on today, and life will go on next week.

The real issue is that the Continuing Resolution that funds the discretionary functions of the government expires on March 27. If that expires with no replacement we get a government shutdown—you’ll notice that. But if Democrats and Republicans reach an agreement on how much to spend in the replacement CR, then that legislation will almost certainly supersede the sequestration rules. Which isn’t to say it’ll eliminate the problems associated with sequestration. …. The game is whether we have a government shutdown in late March and whether avoiding a government shutdown involves entrenching very low levels of spending on things other than Medicare and Social Security…..



Daryl Hannah denounces Keystone pipeline – Video on NBCNews … February 23, 2013

Video on Actress and activist Daryl Hannah joins MSNBC’s Alex Witt to explain her opposition to the Keystone Pipeline



A waterfall, created by a melting iceberg in Svalbard, Norway. Photographer: Art Wolfe

Obama to Tackle Climate Change Soon, Advisor Says

By Avery Fellow Feb 28, 2013 8:35 AM PT Bloomberg BNA — President Obama will announce in the upcoming weeks and months decisive actions the administration is planning to combat climate change, a senior White House adviser said Feb. 27.

Climate change is “one of the clearest and most urgent challenges of our time,” and Obama will soon discuss steps the administration will take to address it, said Heather Zichal, deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change.

Zichal spoke at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event on current issues in energy and environmental policy.

“We hope Congress will act soon on a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change,” Zichal said. She said the technologies are already available to transition to a low-carbon economy, but the challenge in addressing climate change is thinking long-term. She said Obama would keep his promise to take action if Congress does not.Zichal also said efforts to address climate change must not come from the federal government alone. “I want to make clear that response to climate change can’t be a Washington-centric solution,” she said, calling for state and local governments to act. Obama is proposing to use $2 billion in revenue from oil and gas development to transition cars from fossil fuels. The administration is interested in promoting safe and responsible development of natural gas, Zichal said. The Interior Department will soon finalize new rules requiring the disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing on public land, she said….


Suppressed South Carolina Climate Change Report Warns of Big Impacts

ThinkProgress  – ‎Feb 26, 2013‎

South Carolina news outlet reported on Sunday that an official, comprehensive assessment of dramatic climate change impacts looming large in South Carolina’s future was buried and barred from release, apparently due to political pressure.


Obama has the power to act on global warming

By Eugene Robinson, Published: February 25

The test of President Obama’s seriousness about addressing climate change is not his pending decision on the much-debated Keystone XL pipeline. It’s whether he effectively consigns coal-fired power plants — one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions — to the ashcan of history.

Since his reelection, Obama has signaled a new focus on climate change. “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms,” he said in an inaugural address that devoted eight sentences to the issue, more than he spent on any other item on his policy agenda.

Global warming worries Californians but…

Peter Fimrite SF Chron Published 12:03 am, Monday, February 25, 2013

Two-thirds of California voters believe global warming is a threat and measures need to be taken to stop it, but the level of concern has dropped significantly over the past six years, according to a Field Poll released Monday. The poll found that 64 percent of Californians believe global warming is happening and something should be done to fight it, with more than half of the respondents, 37 percent, deeming it a serious problem worthy of immediate action. The survey of 834 registered voters shows that Californians are still very much concerned about global warming, particularly after a series of unusual weather events over the past year, including flooding, Superstorm Sandy and record-level heat and drought across the middle of the country…..


A Better Way to Fight Climate Change

Jeffrey D. Sachs, Professor of Sustainable Development, Professor of Health Policy and Management, and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, is also Special Adviser to the United …

Feb. 28, 2013 New YORK – Of all major world regions, Europe has worked the hardest to implement policies aimed at countering human-caused climate change. Yet the cornerstone of Europe’s approach – a continent-wide emissions trading system for the greenhouse gases that cause climate change – is in trouble. That experience suggests a better strategy for both Europe and the rest of the world.…..The problem is that the permits’ market price has plummeted in the midst of Europe’s economic slowdown. Permits that used to sell for more than $30 per ton before the crisis now trade for under $10. At this low price, companies have little incentive to cut back on their CO2 emissions – and little faith that a market-based incentive will return. As a result, much of European industry continues on a business-as-usual energy path, even as Europe tries to lead the world in this transformation. But there is a much better strategy than tradable permits. Each region of the world should introduce a tax on CO2 emissions that starts low today and increases gradually and predictably in the future.
Part of the tax revenue should be channeled into subsidies for new low-carbon energy sources like wind and solar, and to cover the costs of developing CCS. These subsidies could start fairly high and decline gradually over time, as the tax on CO2 emissions rises and the costs of new energy technologies fall with more experience and innovation. With a long-term and predictable carbon tax and subsidy system, the world would move systematically toward low-carbon energy, greater energy efficiency, and CCS. Time is short. The need for all major world regions to adopt practical and far-sighted energy policies is more urgent than ever.


Lew: White House won’t propose carbon tax

By Ben Geman – 02/25/13 01:36 PM ET

Jack Lew, the White House nominee for Treasury secretary, says President Obama’s second-term vow to confront climate change will not lead to proposals to tax carbon dioxide emissions.
“The administration has not proposed a carbon tax, nor is it planning to do so,” Lew said in written responses to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, which will vote on Lew’s nomination Tuesday.
Carbon taxes or fees are generating new interest among climate advocates and some liberal lawmakers, especially amid debates about how to curb the deficit and overhaul the tax code



Secret climate report calls for action in SC

By SAMMY FRETWELL February 24 2013 —

A team of state scientists has outlined serious concerns about the damage South Carolina will suffer from climate change – threats that include invading eels, dying salt marshes, flooded homes and increased diseases in the state’s wildlife.

But few people have seen the team’s study. The findings are outlined in a report on global warming that has been kept secret by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources for more than a year because agency officials say their “priorities have changed.”

DNR board members never put the study out for public review as planned. The State newspaper recently obtained a copy…..


New Recreational Groundfish Regulations Effective March 1 (California Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2/22/13)
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is announcing several changes to recreational groundfish regulations that apply to state waters, zero to three miles from shore. The new recreational regulations were adopted by the Fish and Game Commission and will take effect on




Dr. Emily Shuckburgh’s “Climate Disruption: What Math and Science Have to Say

San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts on March 4 at 7:30. The talk is sponsored by the Simons Foundation and will be hosted by the American Institute of Mathematics and the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute. Tickets are $8.50; complimentary tickets are available here — just enter the discount code earth. The Mathematics of Planet Earth initiative is being launched to help integrate and promote the use of mathematics to understand and explain the world’s most critical issues, including climate change and sustainability, geophysics, ecology and epidemiology, biodiversity, as well as the global organization of the planet by humans. How does GPS work? Exactly how old is the Earth? Check it all out at the Mathematics of Planet Earth.



How will climate change affect bird distribution and abundance in the Pacific Northwest?
March 12, 2013 | 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. PST

The North Pacific LCC is pleased to host a webinar discussing how wildlife managers can develop strategies based on models predicting how distribution and abundance of bird species will be affected by climate change. During the webinar, you will hear about a NPLCC-funded project that integrated various data sources and associated models into a readily accessible decision support system. You will learn how this tool can be used in climate adaptation planning efforts. To attend the webinar, click here and call in at 1-866-628-1318 (passcode: 6959549). You can also add this webinar to your calendar by clicking the button below. Dr. Sam Veloz, PRBO Conservation Science and Dr. John Alexander, Klamath Bird Observatory


sessions on the evenings of either May 15 or May 16.  Night training is from 8:00 pm until midnight.  All field sessions are at Elkhorn Ranch and Native Plant Nursery, 1957B Highway 1, Moss Landing.  More information on the field training sessions can be found on the Coastal Training Program website.



Human Dimensions and Ocean Health in a Changing Climate.
USC — March 12, 2013.

This Colloquium builds on an earlier one held in October 2011 on Climate Change in the Southern California Bight.  In parallel, we have also sponsored a series of workshops, previously held at USC, aimed at networking the research community studying climate change in the region  ( ).
The goals of this upcoming Colloquium are to provide a forum to foster:

Please RSVP to ( ) by March 5, 2013 if you are interested in attending. Those who registered will receive additional information next week.


Climate-Smart Agriculture Global Science Conference March 20-22 2013 at UC Davis.


National Adaptation Forum,
Denver, CO.  April 2-4

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.
Open Range, Open Parks, Open Minds: Opportunities for Outreach in Grazed Parks and Ranches
Meeting Thursday, April 18 8:30 – 5:00

Central Coast Rangeland Coalition Spring 2013

Board of Trustees Meeting Room, Student Services Center, Ohlone College -with afternoon field activities at-

Mission Peak Regional Preserve, East Bay Regional Parks District Fremont, California



California Red-Legged Frog Workshop and Field Session 2013

May 16, 2013

Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve

1700 Elkhorn Road, Watsonville Registration fee: $450

Presenters: Norman Scott, Ph.D. and Trish Tatarian, M.Sc.

Intended audience includes:  biological consultants, land managers, researchers, and regulatory agency personnel.

Workshop Details: Workshop registration includes a classroom lecture and afternoon field component on May 16.  Registration also includes attendance at one of two night time field training


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


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


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


New Protection Against Climate Change for Ecosystems

Researchers have discovered a new process that enables natural resource managers to better conserve particular wildlife, plants, and ecosystems as the climate continues to change.

Feb 28, 2013

The Adaptation for Conservation Targets (ACT) framework is a practical approach to assessing how future changes in air and water temperatures, precipitation, stream flows, snowpack, and other environmental conditions might affect natural resources. ACT enables scientists and managers to work hand-in-hand to consider how management actions may need to be adjusted to address those impacts.

The ACT framework was tested during a series of workshops at four southwestern United States landscapes that brought together 109 natural resource managers, scientists, and conservation practitioners from 44 local, state, tribal and federal agencies, and organizations. One example comes from the Bear River basin in Utah, where workshop participants looked at how warmer air and water temperatures and decreased summer stream flow might affect native Bonneville cutthroat trout habitat and populations.

“The ACT process helps workshop participants move beyond the paralysis many feel when tackling what is a new or even intimidating topic by creating a step-by-step process for considering climate change that draws on familiar conservation planning tools,” said WCS Conservation Scientist, Dr. Molly Cross. “By combining traditional conservation planning with an assessment of climate change impacts that considers multiple future scenarios, ACT helps practitioners lay out how conservation goals and actions may need to be modified to account for climate change.”





Windmills at sea can break like matches
(February 26, 2013) — Medium-sized waves can break wind turbines at sea like matches. These waves occur even in small storms, which are quite common in the Norwegian Sea. … > full story


Scientists develop a whole new way of harvesting energy from the sun
(February 24, 2013) — A new method of harvesting the sun’s energy is emerging. Though still in its infancy, the research promises to convert sunlight into energy using a process based on metals that are more robust than many of the semiconductors used in conventional methods. … > full story


Editorial: How to strangle California’s oil industry (Orange County Register, 2/26/13)
“Sacramento’s Democratic leadership ought to take its time and consider a grand strategy for encouraging oil extraction in the most environmentally sensitive and economically fruitful ways rather than to clamp down on it before the state has a chance to tap into a gusher of new revenue.”


UN sustainable energy initiative could put world on a path to climate targets
(February 24, 2013) — The UN’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative, if successful, could make a significant contribution to the efforts to limit climate change to target levels, according to a new analysis. … > full story


Utility settles with EPA, agrees to stop burning coal at three sites

By Zack Colman – 02/25/13 12:37 PM ET

The utility giant American Electric Power (AEP) will stop burning coal at three power plants by 2015 under a settlement agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), several states and a handful of environmental and civil groups.

The Sierra Club said Monday that 2,011 megawatts of coal-generated electricity will come offline at facilities in Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.

“This agreement is only the latest sign of progress as our country continues to transition away from dirty, dangerous and expensive coal-fired power plants,” Jodi Perras, Indiana campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, said in a Monday statement.

AEP agreed to install 200 megawatts of wind and solar energy by 2015 in Michigan and Indiana to partially offset the loss of coal-fired power. It also will add pollution-control technology to a power plant in southern Indiana — though AEP would need to shut parts of the plant down beginning in 2025 if it cannot sufficiently lower sulfur dioxide emissions.


Estimates reduce amount of additional land available for biofuel production by almost 80%
(February 27, 2013) — Amid efforts to expand production of biofuels, scientists are reporting new estimates that downgrade the amount of additional land available for growing fuel crops by almost 80 percent. … > full story


Urbanites combat climate change with rooftop farms

MSNBC  – ‎Feb 23, 2013‎

President Obama brought the issue of climate change out of exile during his State of the Union address by issuing a demand for Congress: if they don’t act swiftly, he will.



Wind, Solar, Biomass Provide All New U.S. Electrical Generating Capacity In January 2013

Posted: 24 Feb 2013 08:03 AM PST By Kenneth Bossong

According to the latest “Energy Infrastructure Update” report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Energy Projects, 1,231 MW of new in-service electrical generating capacity came on line in the United States in January 2013 — all from wind, solar, and biomass sources.

This represents a nearly three-fold increase in new renewable energy generating capacity compared to the same month in 2012 when wind, solar, and biomass provided 431 MW of new capacity….


Fox News Mocks German Solar Power, But It’s Still A Winning Strategy

Posted: 28 Feb 2013 09:00 AM PST John Farrell via ILSR

Suddenly everyone knows about Germany’s solar power dominance because Fox News …, suggesting that the country is a sunny, tropical paradise. Most media folks have figured out that there are some monster differences in policy (e.g. a feed-in tariff), but then latch on to the “Germans pay a lot extra” meme. Germans do, and are perfectly happy with it, but that’s still not the story.T he real reason Germany dominates in solar (and wind) is their commitment to democratizing energy.
Half of their renewable power is owned by ordinary Germans, because that wonky sounding feed-in tariff (often known as a CLEAN Contract Program in America) makes it ridiculously simple and safe for someone to park their money in generating solar electricity on their roof instead of making pennies in interest at the bank. It also makes their “energy change” movement politically bulletproof. Germans aren’t tree-hugging wackos giving up double mochas for wind turbines. They are investing by the tens of thousand in a clean energy future that is putting money back in their pockets and creating well over 300,000 new jobs (at last count). Their policy makes solar cost half as much to install as it does in America, where the free market’s red tape can’t compete with their “socialist” efficiency. Fox News’ gaffe about sunshine helps others paper over the real tragedy of American energy policy. In a country founded on the concept of self-reliance (goodbye, tea imports!), we finance clean energy with tax credits that make wind and solar reliant on Wall Street instead of Main Street. We largely preclude participation by the ordinary citizen unless they give up ownership of their renewable energy system to a leasing company. We make clean energy a complicated alternative to business as usual, while the cloudy, windless Germans make the energy system of the future by making it stupid easy and financially rewarding. I’m all for pounding the faithless fools of Fox, but let’s learn the real secret to German energy engineering and start making democratic energy in America….


The Navy Goes Green: Mother Jones And The Climate Desk Highlight A Major Energy Transformation In Our Military

Posted: 26 Feb 2013 08:36 AM PST

By Chris Mooney and Julia Whitty

The latest cover story of Mother Jones magazine — and, relatedly, the latest Climate Desk Live briefing, occurring this Wednesday in D.C. — are focused on one of the “good news” energy stories that we don’t hear often enough: How the U.S. military in general, and particularly the Navy, are taking the energy challenge head-on for good, strategic reasons. The piece begins, memorably enough, with environmental correspondent Julia Whitty’s gut-tightening high speed landing on-board the USS Nimitz. A 1,092 foot aircraft carrier, the Nimitz was involved last summer in the “Great Green Fleet” demonstration, in which five ships and 71 aircraft were operated using biofuel blends or nuclear power. As Whitty reports, the Defense Department uses over 12 million gallons of oil daily in its operations. About a third of that use is attributable to the Navy. That makes thinking about the global energy future — and where affordable fuel is going to come from in the future — a national security necessity. As Navy Secretary David Mabus, a biofuels champion, has put it, “Too many of our platforms and too many of our systems are gas hogs.” In particular, the lesson of past oil price spikes has been a telling one — Navy fuel costs can rise by dollar amounts in the billions because of market fluctuations. That’s a reality impossible for strategic planners to ignore. So while Washington fights endlessly over climate and energy, the Navy just starts solving problems.

Whitty’s piece goes into great depth about how the Navy has, historically, been an energy and navigational technology innovator. This is not the first time: the Great Green Fleet descends from Teddy Roosevelt’s “Great White Fleet,” which back in 1907 sailed around the world in newfangled ships made of steel and powered by coal. Before that, there were those who resisted (yes) switching from sails to steam engines. The Navy was on the right side of that fight, too.

The most important point of Whitty’s article is that when the Navy moves — and it is moving — the rest of the world follows. It is such a massive institution — the Great Green Fleet exercise required a government purchase of 900,000 gallons of 50-50 biofuel blend — that when it demands innovations, the civilian world and industry quickly come to heel, asking for their orders. On Wednesday in D.C., the Climate Desk Live will focus on Whitty’s article and the significance of the Navy’s transformation, featuring the author herself and three additional speakers: Dr. David Titley, the retired naval officer who led the Navy’s Task Force on Climate Change, Capt. James Goudreau, director of the Navy’s Energy Coordination Office, and Dr. D. James Baker, who is the former administrator of NOAA, the current director of the Global Carbon Measurement Program of the William J. Clinton Foundation, and the co-author of a new report on the relationship between weather extremes and national security. You can learn more about the event at these
links — and watch a live stream if you can’t attend in person.

Chris Mooney is a science and political journalist at Mother Jones. Julia Whitty is an award-winning author and a former documentary filmmaker.







The Riddle of the Human Species



By EDWARD O. WILSON NY Times February 26, 2013

The task of understanding humanity is too important and too daunting to leave to the humanities. Their many branches, from philosophy to law to history and the creative arts, have described the particularities of human nature with genius and exquisite detail, back and forth in endless permutations. But they have not explained why we possess our special nature and not some other out of a vast number of conceivable possibilities. In that sense, the humanities have not accounted for a full understanding of our species’ existence.

So, just what are we? The key to the great riddle lies in the circumstance and process that created our species. The human condition is a product of history, not just the six millenniums of civilization but very much further back, across hundreds of millenniums. The whole of it, biological and cultural evolution, in seamless unity, must be explored for an answer to the mystery. When thus viewed across its entire traverse, the history of humanity also becomes the key to learning how and why our species survived



The First Rule: Eat When You Can, Sleep When You Can, And Don’t Screw With The Climate!

By Joe Romm on Feb 28, 2013 at 5:30 pm


My prognosis is very likely to be very good, despite the ominous sounding diagnosis — a small well-defined pancreatic neuro-endocrine tumor (PNET). Today, Thursday, I had surgery at Johns Hopkins to remove it. It wasn’t causing symptoms (that I’m aware of).

A PNET may or may not be cancer depending on your definition of cancer. In any case, it’s not what people normally think of when they hear the word cancer, particularly pancreatic cancer. You can read a “layman’s guide” to PNETs by Matthew Dallek at Slate.

I don’t generally blog about my health, in part since it takes a lot to stop me from blogging, but this is blogworthy, I think for a few reasons:

There are many analogies between dealing with early stage climate change and dealing with early stage diseases, analogies I’ve often made myself. As you can imagine, I’ve thought of a few more in the last several weeks….


Can Strong Communities Help Build Solutions To Climate Change?

By Climate Guest Blogger on Feb 28, 2013 at 2:45 pm

By Auden Schendler and Jeffrey York via Denver Post

What might you expect to find in communities where “family values” are the strongest? More churches? More parents helping out in classrooms? Maybe more bake sales? Yes, perhaps. But there’s one thing you would definitely find: solar panels.

Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder shows that one modern marker of communities with greater “family interdependence” — a social science term that indicates the value a person places on time spent with their family — is that more new solar energy businesses take root. Further, where state solar incentives are in place, high levels of family interdependence seem to supercharge the effectiveness of those incentives.

These aren’t just weird facts. The information is mind-blowing. It suggests that if government cares about solving climate change, or clean energy jobs, or entrepreneurship, then social norms — the unwritten rules of community conduct — might matter as much as rebates and incentives.

In short, for President Obama to meet his goal of responding to the threat of climate change and sow the seeds of clean energy development, he may not only need to build consensuses in Congress and implement the right economic policies. He might also need to rebuild Mayberry; to increase societal cohesion, neighborliness, family relationships, and community-mindedness. In fact, bolstering civic participation and fostering communities that value family might be just as important as economic policy in fixing climate change…..


Brain-to-brain interface allows transmission of tactile and motor information between rats
(February 28, 2013) — Researchers have electronically linked the brains of pairs of rats for the first time, enabling them to communicate directly to solve simple behavioral puzzles. A further test of this work successfully linked the brains of two animals thousands of miles apart — one in Durham, N.C., and one in Natal, Brazil. … > full story


Politics: The Case for Fossil-Fuel Divestment
Bill Mckibben
February 22, 2013 | 3:40pm EST

It’s obvious how this should end. You’ve got the richest industry on earth, fossil fuel, up against some college kids, some professors, a few environmentalists, a few brave scientists. And it’s worse than that. The college students want their universities to divest from fossil fuel – to sell off their stock in Exxon and…..Hence divestment. Sometimes, colleges can exert influence without selling stock – on many issues, like sweatshop labor, they may have been smarter to keep their stock, so they could use their position as shareholders to influence corporate decision-making. “But when we were talking about sweatshops, it wasn’t because we were opposed to t-shirts. We just needed some changes in how companies operated,” says Klein. Adds Dan Apfel, who as head of the Responsible Endowments Coalition has coordinated much of the emerging divestment furor, “If you’re Apple, we want you to produce your computers in ways that are good. But we like computers. The fossil fuel industry, though – its existence is fundamentally against our existence. We can’t change them by investing in them, because they’re not going to write off reserves. There’s no way they can be made sustainable, in the same way tobacco can’t be made healthy.”….3) Faced with this kind of irrefutable evidence, colleges have led in the past, conceding that their endowments, in extreme cases, can’t seek merely to maximize returns.

In the 1980s, 156 colleges divested from companies that did business in apartheid South Africa, a stand that Nelson Mandela credited with providing a great boost to the liberation struggle. “I remember those days well,” says James Powell, who served as president of Oberlin, Franklin and Marshall, and Reed College. “Trustees at first said our only job was to maximize returns, that we don’t do anything else. They had to be persuaded there were some practices colleges simply shouldn’t be associated with, things that involved the oppression of people.” Since then, colleges have taken stances with their endowments on issues from Sudan to sweatshops. When Harvard divested from tobacco stocks in 1990, then-president Derek Bok said the university did not want “to be associated with companies whose products create a substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm to other human beings.” Given that the most recent data indicates fossil fuel pollution could kill 100 million by 2030, the coal, oil and gas industry would seem to pass that test pretty easily; it’s also on the edge of setting off the 6th great extinction crisis, so everyone over in the biology lab studying non-human beings has a stake too. Here’s how Desmond Tutu, Mandela’s partner in the liberation of South Africa, put it in a video he made for the DotheMath tour: “The corporations understood the logic of money even when they weren’t swayed by the dictates of morality,” the Nobel Peace Prize-winner explained. “Climate change is a deeply moral issue, too, of course. Here in Africa, we see the dreadful suffering of people from worsening drought, from rising food prices, from floods, even though they’ve done nothing to cause the situation. Once again, we can join together as a world and put pressure where it counts.” Or, you know, not.

…..At some schools, some of the money can be re-invested in the college itself – in making the kind of green improvements that save substantial sums. Jeff Orlowski, head of the Sustainable Endowments Institute, just published a report showing that the average annual return on investment for a thousand efficiency projects at campuses across the country was just under 30 percent, which makes the stock market look anemic. “College trustees often think of a new lighting system as an ‘expense,’ not an investment, but it’s not,” he says. “If you invest a million and can expect to clear $2.8 million over the next decade, that’s the definition of fiduciary soundness.” At colleges – and elsewhere – the potential for significant reinvestment is large: the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, for instance, is considering urging its pension fund to divest a billion dollars. That could do some serious re-greening.

It’s also possible that the insights into the future supplied by aroused student activists might actually make for savvy investing advice. As hedge fund founder Tom Steyer, who has advised trustees to divest their stock, put it, “From a selfish point of view, it’s very good for colleges that they know something about the future that others don’t. Because investing is not about what’s happened in the past – all prices are really anticipations of what’s going to happen in the future. As soon as the trouble we face is really common knowledge it’s going to be reflected in the price. But it’s not reflected in the price yet.”Steyer’s a good investor – his net worth puts him on the Fortune 400 list, meaning he’s worth far more than most college endowments. What he’s saying is: Colleges are lucky to have physics departments not just because physics is a good thing. In a sense, universities have insider information – they know how bad global warming is going to be, and hence can get the hell out of fossil fuel stocks before, not after, governments intervene to make them keep their reserves underground. “Once the scientific research filters into the minds of investors around the world, the price won’t stand,” he says. But since the average investor relies on, say, the Wall Street Journal, which has served as an unending mouthpiece for climate denial, colleges have the advantage. “The only way you gain an investing advantage over the rest of the world is when you have an edge.” As for those who think they’ll wait until the last minute, just before the carbon bubble bursts, “That’s one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard. No one ever gets out at the top. It’s worth missing another couple of good years of Exxon to avoid what’s coming.”

….The fossil fuel industry may be dominant in the larger world, but on campus, it’s coming up against some of its first effective opposition. Global warming has become a key topic in every discipline from theology to psychology to accounting, from engineering and anthropology to political science. It’s the greatest intellectual and moral problem in human history – which, if you think about it, is precisely the reason we have colleges and universities.

Higher levels of several toxic metals found in children with autism
(February 25, 2013) — Researchers have found significantly higher levels of toxic metals in children with autism, compared to typical children. They hypothesize that reducing early exposure to toxic metals may help lessen symptoms of autism, though they say this hypotheses needs further examination. … > full story


Contaminated diet contributes to exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals: Phthalates and BPA
(February 27, 2013) — While water bottles may tout BPA-free labels and personal care products declare phthalates not among their ingredients, these assurances may not be enough. According to a new study, we may be exposed to these chemicals in our diet, even if our diet is organic and we prepare, cook, and store foods in non-plastic containers. Children may be most vulnerable. … > full story

Work in the office – or quit

February 26, 2013 Why Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer has banned remote work. Why Marissa Mayer is right

Too much vitamin D during pregnancy can cause food allergies, research suggests
(February 27, 2013) — Pregnant women should avoid taking vitamin D supplements, new research suggests. Substitution appears to raise the risk of children developing a food allergy after birth. … > full story


Opening Pandora’s Lunchbox: Processed foods are even scarier than you thought

By Andy Bellatti

You’ve heard of pink slime. You know trans fats are cardiovascular atrocities. You’re well aware that store-bought orange juice is essentially a scam. But, no matter how great of a processed-food sleuth you are, chances are you’ve never set food inside a processing plant to see how many of these products are actually made. Writer Melanie Warner, whose new exposé-on-the-world-of-processed-foods book, Pandora’s Lunchbox, is out this week, spent the past year and a half doing exactly that. In her quest to explore the murky and convoluted world of soybean oil, milk protein concentrates (a key ingredient in processed cheese), and petroleum-based artificial dyes, she spoke to food scientists, uncovered disturbing regulatory loopholes in food law, and learned just how little we know about many of the food products on supermarket shelves.







By David Horsey, “Even deadly meteors and asteroids may not unite the human race“:





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