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Conservation Science News March 22, 2013

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Highlight of the WeekHydraulic Fracturing or Fracking









Highlight of the Week– Hydraulic Fracturing or Fracking





Fracking in California: Questions and ConcernsCalifornia is threatened with an impending fracking boom. But what is fracking, really? And what risks does it pose to the Golden State? Why do we believe fracking is simply too risky to our water, air, wildlife and climate?


Q: What is fracking?

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a method of oil and gas production that involves blasting millions of gallons of water, mixed with sand and toxic chemicals, under high pressure deep into the earth. Fracking breaks up rock formations to allow oil and gas extraction. But it can also pollute local air and water and endanger wildlife and human health.


Q: Where is fracking being done in California?

Fracking has been documented in nine California counties — Colusa, Glenn, Kern, Los Angeles, Monterey, Sacramento, Santa Barbara, Sutter and Ventura — as well as in state waters off Los Angeles. In Kern County, California’s major oil-producing county, Halliburton estimates that 50 percent to 60 percent of new oil wells are fracked. But fracking is likely being done elsewhere in California, going unmonitored and untracked by state officials.


Q: How can fracking contaminate water?

Fracking requires an enormous amount of water — up to 5 million gallons per well. Fracking routinely employs numerous toxic chemicals, including methanol, benzene, naphthalene and trimethylbenzene. It can also expose people to harm from lead, arsenic and radioactivity that are brought back to the surface with fracking flowback fluid. About 25 percent of fracking chemicals could cause cancer, according to scientists with the Endocrine Disruption Exchange, the only organization that focuses primarily on the human health and environmental problems caused by low-dose and/or ambient exposure to chemicals that interfere with development and function, called endocrine disruptors. Evidence is mounting throughout the country that these chemicals are making their way into aquifers and drinking water.


Water quality can also be threatened by methane contamination tied to drilling and the fracturing of rock formations. This problem has been highlighted by footage of people in fracked areas setting fire to methane-laced water from kitchen faucets.


Q: How can fracking contaminate air?

Fracking can release dangerous petroleum hydrocarbons, including benzene, toluene and xylene. It can also increase levels of ground-level ozone, a key risk factor for respiratory illness. Air pollution caused by fracking may contribute to health problems in people living near natural-gas drilling sites, according to a study by researchers with the Colorado School of Public Health.


Q: How does fracking worsen climate change?

Fracking often releases large amounts of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas. Fracking also allows access to huge fossil fuel deposits once beyond the reach of drilling. In California,rising oil prices are driving up interest in fracking on the Monterey Shale, a geological formation under the San Joaquin and the Los Angeles basins that holds an estimated 15 billion barrels of recoverable shale oil. As California strives to lead the fight to avoid a climate-change catastrophe, why should we facilitate the release of carbon in billions of barrels of oil now safely sequestered in our shale formations? We shouldn’t.


Q: How does fracking threaten wildlife?

Endangered species like the California condor, San Joaquin kit fox and blunt-nosed leopard lizard live in places where fracking is likely to expand. These animals can be harmed and killed in many ways by fracking and the industrial development that accompanies it.


Q: Don’t state and federal laws protect our wildlife, and us, from fracking?

Fracking is poorly regulated. In 2005, Congress exempted fracking from the federal Safe Water Drinking Act, severely limiting protections for water quality.


The industry has also been free, until recently, to spew essentially unlimited air pollution during fracking. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency just finalized new rules called the “New Source Performance Standards” under the Clean Air Act that will limit air pollutants from fracked gas wells, but the rules don’t cover oil wells, don’t set limits on methane release — and won’t take effect until 2015.


California officials have paid little attention to the issue of fracking until recently. The Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources acknowledges that it doesn’t even monitor — let along regulate — fracking. California regulators don’t keep track of when or where fracking is being done in the state — or what chemicals are being used in the process.


As controversy has grown, state regulators have released “discussion draft” regulations — but the proposal is extremely weak. Meanwhile, state regulators are failing to enforce existing provisions of California oil and gas law and the California Environmental Quality Act that require regulation and environmental disclosure relating to fracking.


Q: But hasn’t fracking been done in California for many years?

Yes, but today’s fracking techniques are new and pose new dangers. Technological changes have facilitated an explosion of drilling in areas where, even a decade ago, companies couldn’t recover oil and gas profitably.


Directional drilling, for example, is a new technique that has greatly expanded access to rock formations. Companies also employ high fluid volumes to fill horizontal “well bores” that sometimes extend for miles. And oil and gas producers are using new chemical concoctions collectively called “slick water” that allow injection fluid to flow rapidly enough to generate the high pressure needed to break apart rock.


As fracking methods have changed and fracking has expanded, so has the threat to public health and the environment.

Long-Term Costs Of Fracking Are Staggering

By Climate Guest Blogger on Mar 19, 2013 at 11:53 am By Jane Dale Owen via

All the hype by the fossil fuel industry about energy independence from fracking (hydraulic fracturing) in tight gas reservoirs like the Barnett Shale has left out the costs in energy, water and other essential natural resources.

Furthermore, a recent report from the Post Carbon Institute finds that projections for an energy boom from non-conventional fossil fuel sources is not all it’s cracked up to be.

The report cites a study by David Hughes, Canadian geologist, who says the low quality of hydrocarbons from bitumen – shale oil and shale gas – do not provide the same energy returns as conventional hydrocarbons due to the energy needed to extract or upgrade them. Hughes also notes that the “new age of energy abundance” forecast by the industry will soon run dry because shale gas and shale oil wells deplete quickly. In fact, the “best fields have already been tapped.”

“Unconventional fossil fuels all share a host of cruel and limiting traits,” says Hughes. “They offer dramatically fewer energy returns; they consume extreme and endless flows of capital; they provide difficult or volatile rates of supply over time and have large environmental impacts in their extraction.”

We must ask, is it worth the cost when it takes from 3 million to 9 million gallons of water per fracture to extract this fuel? The withdrawal of large quantities of surface water can substantially impact the availability of water downstream and damage the aquatic life in the water bodies, says Wilma Subra, scientist and national consultant on the community and environmental impact of fracking. When groundwater resources are used, aquifers can be drawn down and cause wells in the area to go dry.

Once water is used for fracking, it is lost to the water cycle forever,” Subra says…..


A sign from the oil company Venoco marks a spot where a test well for potential fracking was dug in Monterey County’s Hames Valley in September. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

California bills could delay fracking

David R. Baker Published 8:00 pm, Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Fracking for oil and natural gas in California could slam to a halt, at least temporarily, under legislation circulating in Sacramento.

One bill calls for a moratorium on the practice until the state conducts a sweeping study of fracking’s benefits and risks, including the potential for groundwater contamination.

Another piece of legislation would allow fracking while the state conducts such a study. But the same bill, from Sen. Fran Pavley, would slap a moratorium on fracking if the study isn’t finished by 2015.

“What I’m trying to do is say to the oil companies, ‘Look, if there’s never been a problem with fracking, if it’s safe, you need to prove that to the public,’ ” said Pavley, D-Agoura Hills (Los Angeles County).

The proposals come as the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, spreads across California. The process – which pumps pressurized water, sand and chemicals underground to crack rocks – has touched off a boom in U.S. oil and natural gas production. But environmentalists blame it for tainting water supplies, worsening air pollution and turning farms into oil fields.

Vast geologic formation

In California, a growing list of companies use fracking to wrest oil from the Monterey Shale, a vast geologic formation estimated to hold 15 billion barrels of petroleum.

The practice hasn’t taken off here the way it has in North Dakota or Texas. But at least 759 wells in the state have been fracked in recent years, according to a national website that compiles fracking data from oil companies. A study last week from the University of Southern California estimated that developing the Monterey Shale could add $24.6 billion in state and local tax revenue by 2020.

The state office that oversees oil drilling is drafting its first regulations to govern fracking. But many environmentalists have been pushing for an outright ban, convinced that the practice is too risky.

“State regulators don’t seem concerned about fracking’s dangers, so it’s up to lawmakers to stop oil companies from polluting our air, contaminating our water and undermining our fight against climate change,” said Patrick Sullivan of the Center for Biological Diversity. ….



More info and links:

Bills Introduced To Close Two (Of Many) Loopholes In Environmental Laws Benefitting Oil And Gas Companies

By Jessica Goad, Guest Blogger on Mar 15, 2013 at 1:57 pm




Facts On Fracking, Pros & Cons of Hydraulic Fracturing For Natural Gas (Infographic)







Suggestions for a middle ground between unlogged forest and intensively managed lands
(March 18, 2013) — In the world’s forested regions, two management systems — retention forestry and agroforestry — are being used to alleviate conflicts between preserving biodiversity and addressing human needs in production landscapes. A new article draws a parallel between the ecological effects of the two systems. … > full story


Jean-Michel Roberge, Mikko Mönkkönen, Tero Toivanen, Janne Kotiaho. Retention forestry and biodiversity conservation: a parallel with agroforestry. Nature Conservation, 2013; 4 (0): 29 DOI: 10.3897/natureconservation.4.5116



The Wild Nature Institute is pleased to share with you our new video “Forests Born of Fire.”  Western US forests burned by high-intensity fire are important and rare wildlife habitat — but widespread policies of salvage logging and logging intended to prevent the likelihood of fire on private and public lands harms this habitat.  Our video demonstrates the beauty and life found where burned forests are left to wild nature. The video was filmed in burned forests of the Lassen National Forest of California.  The idea was conceived, the script written, the footage gathered, and the video narrated and edited entirely by biologists studying wildlife that use burned forests!  Thanks to everyone involved in making this video.


Seabirds Need Effective Marine Conservation in Wake of Discard Ban, Warns Study

March 21, 2013 — Conservationists have renewed urgent calls for effective marine protection in European waters, after a new study revealed that the recent EU ban on fish discards could have a significant short-term effects on seabirds. The research, led by scientists from Plymouth University in collaboration with RSPB and with funding from NERC, found the new EU policy, outlawing the dumping of fish at sea, is unlikely to pose a serious lasting threat to most seabirds, but recommends the need to build resilience into seabird populations by protecting habitats and ensuring a sufficient supply of food. For several decades, a number of seabird species have grown accustomed to feeding on discards, the excess catch thrown back into the sea mostly because fishermen have exceeded their quotas. Buoyed by this bonanza, populations of several seabird species have boomed. However, in the biggest change in European fisheries management for a generation, last month the European Parliament voted to scrap the controversial practice of discarding…. > full story


Where, oh where, has the road kill gone?
(March 18, 2013) — Millions of birds die in the US each year as they collide with moving vehicles, but things have been looking up, at least in the case of cliff swallows. Today’s swallows are hit less often, thanks to shorter wingspans that may help them take off more quickly and pivot away from passing cars. … > full story


Researchers devise hidden dune filters to treat coastal stormwater runoff
March 19, 2013) — When it rains, untreated stormwater can sweep pollutants into coastal waters, potentially endangering public health. Now researchers have developed low-cost filtration systems that are concealed beneath sand dunes and filter out most of the bacteria that can lead to beach closures. … > full story

Fossil Bird Study on Extinction Patterns Could Help Today’s Conservation Efforts

March 21, 2013 — A new study of nearly 5,000 Haiti bird fossils shows contrary to a commonly held theory, human arrival 6,000 years ago didn’t cause the island’s birds to die … > full story


Global nitrogen availability consistent for past 500 years linked to carbon levels
March 21, 2013) — Despite humans increasing nitrogen production through industrialization, nitrogen availability in many ecosystems has remained steady for the past 500 years, a new study finds. … > full story


Swarm intelligence: New collective properties of swarm dynamics uncovered
(March 15, 2013) — A new study of animal swarms uncovers some new features of their collective behavior when overcrowding sets in. Swarming is the spontaneous organized motion of a large number of individuals. It is observed at all scales, from bacterial colonies, slime molds and groups of insects to shoals of fish, flocks of birds and animal herds. Now physicists have uncovered new collective properties of swarm dynamics. … > full story


Stewart Brand: The dawn of de-extinction. Are you ready?
TED Feb 2013

Throughout humankind’s history, we’ve driven species after species extinct: the passenger pigeon, the Eastern cougar, the dodo … But now, says Stewart Brand, we have the technology (and the biology) to bring back species that humanity wiped out. So — should we? Which ones? He asks a big question whose answer is closer than you may think. More at:

Related: The condor recovery debate, 30 years later | Golden Gate Audubon …

Feb 7, 2013 – By Burr Heneman Rich Stallcup was the giant of birding in Northern The condor population was falling steadily and had dwindled to 22 birds


Tourist-fed stingrays change their ways
(March 18, 2013) — Study of world-famous Stingray City finds human interaction drastically alters stingray behavior. … > full story


It’s squid pro quo when it comes to mating of ocean giants (blog)  – ‎Mar 20 2013‎

They dwell in the deep ocean, making them difficult to observe in their natural habitats. In fact, no one had observed a live giant squid in the wild until 2004.


Beekeepers File Lawsuit on Behalf of Their Insects

by Sasha Khokha | March 21, 2013 — 7:38 PM

Beekeepers from California and across the United States filed suit Thursday in federal court in San Francisco. They’re suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failing to protect bees from dangerous pesticides. This is the season when delicate pink blooms are exploding on California’s almond trees. But beekeepers are scrambling to find enough insects to pollinate the crops. And some of them are homing in on pesticides as a possible factor in unusually high rates of bee deaths. They’re particularly worried about pesticides called “neonicotinoids,” which are applied to seeds, helping them grow into more pest-resistant plants. The EPA says these pesticides are safer for humans and mammals than chemicals sprayed on crops.But beekeepers point to research showing the chemicals harm bees, and say federal regulators have been slow to re-evaluate the pesticides. The beekeepers are suing to compel the EPA to reclassify the chemicals as an “imminent hazard” to bees, and move swiftly to restrict their use…


Special sea slug poised to make a comeback off California
(March 18, 2013) — After almost four decades of absence from local waters, a special sea slug appears to be making a comeback, and marine scientists are eagerly anticipating its return. … > full story


Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s ban GMO salmon

Carolyn Lochhead San Francisco Chronicle Mar 21 2013

Several U.S. grocery chains have agreed not to sell a genetically engineered salmon that is nearing approval from the Food and Drug Administration after 17 years of development, a group of environmental and consumer groups said Wednesday. Food… more »



Land use: A global map for road building ▶NATURE
Roads are proliferating across the planet. Located and designed wisely, they can help rather than harm the environment, argue William F. Laurance and Andrew Balmford.

Salazar sees Gulf Coast restoration Jennifer A. Dlouhy San Francisco Chron Mar 21 2013

[…] Salazar said the joint federal-state wetlands protection initiative that began here in 2007 is a model for continued efforts to restore the Gulf Coast, after decades of erosion and negligence that preceded even Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and… more »



Radio collars on wild quail help assess birdsfuture in Missouri

Springfield News-Leader- Mar 21 2013

During the early months of spring, bird watchers in the field rejoice at hearing the familiar “bob WHITE” whistle the fat little creatures are known


Promoting habitat restoration on private lands in the Pajaro Valley

Register Pajaronian-Mar 18, 2013

The Triple-M ranch, located one-mile upstream from the upper Elkhorn Slough, is the site of a 40-acre voluntary wetland restoration project that

Sustainable Development Goals Must Sustain People and Planet, Experts Say

March 20, 2013 — Scientists are arguing for a set of six Sustainable Development Goals that link poverty eradication to protection of Earth’s life support. The researchers argue that in the face of increasing … > full story





Pakistani flood victims move to higher grounds in 2011. (Photo credit: AAP)

Weather Extremes: Atmospheric Waves And Climate Change

Posted: 21 Mar 2013 07:38 AM PDT By Vladimir Petoukhov and Stefan Rahmstorf, via The Conversation

The northern hemisphere has experienced a spate of extreme weather in recent times. In 2012 there were destructive heat waves in the U.S. and southern Europe, accompanied by floods in China. This followed a heat wave in the U.S. in 2011 and one in Russia in 2010, coinciding with the unprecedented Pakistan flood — and the list doesn’t stop there. Now we believe we have detected a common physical cause hidden behind all these individual events: Each time one of these extremes struck, a strong wave train had developed in the atmosphere, circling the globe in mid-latitudes. These so-called planetary waves are well-known and a normal part of atmospheric flow. What is not normal is that the usually moving waves ground to a halt and were greatly amplified during the extreme events. Looking into the physics behind this, we found it is due to a resonance phenomenon. Under special conditions, the atmosphere can start to resonate like a bell. The wind patterns form a regular wave train, with six, seven or eight peaks and troughs going once around the globe (see graph). This is what we propose in a study published this week together with our colleagues of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)…..

….However, during several recent extreme weather events these planetary waves almost froze in their tracks for weeks. So instead of bringing cool air after having brought warm air before, the heat just stays. And stays. And stays. In fact, we detected a strong amplification of the usually weak, slowly moving component of these waves. Time is critical here: two or three days of 30°C are no problem, but 20 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 devastating harvest losses.

…..What does climate change have to to with it?

Climate change caused by greenhouse-gas emissions from fossil-fuel burning does not bring a uniform global warming. In the Arctic, the warming is amplified by the loss of snow and ice. This in turn reduces the temperature difference between the Arctic and, for example, Europe. Yet temperature differences are a main driver of air flow, thereby influencing the planetary waves. Additionally, continents generally warm and cool more readily than the oceans.

These two factors are crucial for the mechanism now detected. They result in a changing pattern of the mid-latitude air flow, so that for extended periods the slow waves get trapped. The irregular surface temperature patterns disturb the global air flow. This analysis is based on equations that our team of scientists developed, mathematically describing the wave motions in the extra-tropical atmosphere. The conclusions drawn from the equations were tested using standard daily weather data from the US National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP).

During recent periods in which several major weather extremes occurred, the trapping and strong amplification of particular waves — like “wave seven” (which has seven troughs and crests spanning the globe) — was observed. The data show an increase in the occurrence of these specific atmospheric patterns.

This analysis helps to explain the increasing number of unprecedented weather extremes. It complements previous research that already showed that climate change strongly increases the number of heat records around the world, but which could not explain why previous records were broken by such stunning margins. The findings should significantly advance the understanding of weather extremes and their relation to man-made climate change.

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.

Still, 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 definitive conclusions.

So there’s no smoking gun on the table yet — but quite telling fingerprints all over the place.


Ten times more hurricane surges in future [with 2C warming], new research predicts
(March 18, 2013) — How much worse will the frequency of extreme storm surges get as temperatures rise in the future? How many extreme storm surges like that from Hurricane Katrina, which hit the U.S. coast in 2005, will there be as a result of global warming? New research shows that there will be a tenfold increase in frequency if the climate becomes two degrees Celsius warmer. … > full story


Ocean acidification in the California Current: predicting impacts on food webs and economies within a context of climate change

Posted: 19 Mar 2013 03:53 AM PDT Project status: This project began in January, 2012 and is projected to be completed in December, 2015

We are supporting the development of a management model to predict impacts of ocean acidification on food webs and the fishing economy in the California Current. The model will project how effects of ocean acidification, low oxygen, temperature changes, and fishing pressure might interact to influence fish populations and fishing economies…..



‘Temperature Rising’: Will Climate Change Bring More Extreme Weather?

NPR  – ‎Mar 21 2013‎

Fresh Air interview with NYT’s Justin Gillis

According to the historical record dating back to 1895, 2012 was the hottest year this country has ever seen. But it’s not just that the temperature has risen — from deadly tornadoes to the widespread coastal damage inflicted by Superstorm Sandy, we seem to be living through a period of intensified and heightened weather extremes……Gillis notes that there is “robust, healthy science” that provides evidence of climate change. Within the scientific mainstream, however, he says there is a considerable range of views about the risks we’re running by causing what is essentially (on


NOAA predicts mixed bag of drought, flooding and warm weather for spring


March 21, 2013 NOAA issued the three-month U.S. Spring Outlook today, stating that odds favor above-average temperatures across much of the continental United States, including drought-stricken areas of Texas, the Southwest and the Great Plains. Spring promises little drought relief for most of these areas, as well as Florida, with below- average spring precipitation favored there. Meanwhile, river flooding is likely to be worse than last year across the country, with the most significant flood potential in North Dakota.”This outlook reminds us of the climate diversity and weather extremes we experience in North America, where one state prepares for flooding while neighboring states are parched, with no drought relief in sight,” said Laura Furgione, deputy director of NOAA’s National Weather Service. “We produce this outlook to help communities prepare for what’s likely to come in the next few months and minimize weather’s impacts on lives and livelihoods. A Weather-Ready Nation hopes for the best, but prepares for the worst.” The U.S. Spring Outlook identifies the likelihood of spring flood risk and expectations for temperature, precipitation and drought. The outlook is based on a number of factors, including current conditions of snowpack, drought, soil moisture, streamflow, precipitation, Pacific Ocean temperatures and consensus among climate forecast models….


NOAA: ‘Robust, Unambiguous’ Independent Evidence Confirms The Recent Global Warming Measured By Thermometers

Yes, The Modern Instruments Are Right. Just Ask The Coral. Or The Caves. Or The Ice Cores. Or The….

Posted: 20 Mar 2013 12:17 PM PDT

Here’s some good news for science: NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, the University of South Carolina, the University of Colorado, and the University of Bern in Switzerland have found that the warming trend can be revealed using not a single thermometer: A new compilation of temperature records etched into ice cores, old corals, and lake sediment layers reveals a pattern of global warming from 1880 to 1995 comparable to the global warming trend recorded by thermometers. This finding, reported by a team of researchers from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, the University of South Carolina, the University of Colorado, and the University of Bern in Switzerland, resolves some of the uncertainty associated with thermometer records, which can be affected by land use changes, shifts in station locations, variations in instrumentation, and more…..

Anderson, D. M., E. M. Mauk, E. R. Wahl, C. Morrill, A. J. Wagner, D. Easterling, and T. Rutishauser (2013), Global warming in an independent record of the past 130 years. Geophys. Res. Lett., 40, 189–193, doi:10.1029/2012GL054271. Jan 16 2013


[1] The thermometer-based global surface temperature time series (GST) commands a prominent role in the evidence for global warming, yet this record has considerable uncertainty. An independent record with better geographic coverage would be valuable in understanding recent change in the context of natural variability. We compiled the Paleo Index (PI) from 173 temperature-sensitive proxy time series (corals, ice cores, speleothems, lake and ocean sediments, historical documents). Each series was normalized to produce index values of change relative to a 1901–2000 base period; the index values were then averaged. From 1880 to 1995, the index trends significantly upward, similar to the GST. Smaller-scale aspects of the GST including two warming trends and a warm interval during the 1940s are also observed in the PI. The PI extends to 1730 with 67 records. The upward trend appears to begin in the early 19th century but the year-to-year variability is large and the 1730–1929 trend is small.


Natural climate swings contribute more to increased monsoon rainfall than global warming
(March 20, 2013) — Natural swings in the climate have significantly intensified Northern Hemisphere monsoon rainfall, showing that these swings must be taken into account for climate predictions in the coming decades. … > full story


Sustainable Development Goals must sustain people and planet, experts say
(March 20, 2013) — Scientists are arguing for a set of six Sustainable Development Goals that link poverty eradication to protection of Earth’s life support. The researchers argue that in the face of increasing pressure on the planet’s ability to support life, adherence to out-dated definitions of sustainable development threaten to reverse progress made in developing countries over past decades. … > full story

Biodiversity does not reduce transmission of disease from animals to humans, researchers find
(March 20, 2013) — A new analysis pokes holes in widely accepted theory that connects biodiversity abundance with a reduced disease risk for humans. … > full story


Properly planned roads could help rather than harm the environment, say experts
(March 20, 2013) — Two leading ecologists say a rapid proliferation of roads across the planet is causing irreparable damage to nature, but properly planned roads could actually help the environment. … > full story


National Geographic

Two reasons climate change is not like other environmental problems

By David Roberts21 Mar 2013 09:27 AM PDT

If you’ll forgive me for stating the obvious: Most people don’t understand climate change very well. This includes a large proportion of the nation’s politicians, journalists, and pundits — even the pundits who write about it. (I’m looking at you, Joe Nocera.)

One reason for the widespread misunderstanding is that climate change has been culturally coded as an “environmental problem.” This has been, in all sorts of ways, a disaster. Lots of pundits, especially brain-dead “centrist” pundits, have simply transferred their framing and conception of environmental problems to climate. They approach it as just another air pollution problem.

However, there are two features of climate change that make it importantly different from other environmental problems, not just in degree but in kind. And these differences have important public policy implications.

The first difference is that carbon dioxide is not like other pollutants.

To make this clear, let’s use the old bathtub analogy. The faucet is the source of the pollutant. The tub is the environment. And the drain represents the means by which the pollutant exits the environment. The key fact to remember: The damage to public health is determined by the total amount of pollutant in the tub.

Take a familiar air pollutant like particulate matter. We are spewing it into the air from tailpipes and smokestacks (the faucet). It leaves the air through simple gravity (the drain). Most of it falls to earth in days or weeks. So when it comes to the particulate-matter bathtub, the drain is very large. We can reduce the total level of particulate matter in the tub any time we want; all we have to do is turn the faucet down, or off, and the tub will drain rapidly.

Carbon dioxide is not like that. Once it’s in the tub, it stays there for up to 100 years before it drains out. And the drain in the bathtub (so-called “sinks” that absorb carbon out of the air, like oceans and forests) is comparatively small relative to the enormous amounts coming out of the faucet. And by the way, we’re actively making the drain smaller by cutting down forests and carbon-loading the oceans.

This makes for a very different situation. Even if we cut our emissions by a third tomorrow, we would still be increasing the total amount in the bathtub:

The typical climate-policy targets that get thrown around — reducing emission rates by 80 percent by 2050, for example — are relatively meaningless. They focus on the rate of flow from the faucet. But that’s not what matters. What matters is the amount in the tub. If the tub fills up enough, global average temperature will rise more than 2 degrees C and we’ll be in trouble. Avoiding that — staying within our “carbon budget” — is the name of the game.

The public-policy implications are straightforward: Because CO2 is slow to drain, and the damages are cumulative, we need to reduce the amount of CO2 we’re spewing out of the faucet now, as much as possible, as quickly as possible. Yes, we’ll need new technologies and techniques to drive emissions down near to zero, and we should R&D the hell out of them. But we absolutely cannot afford to wait. There is no benign neglect possible here. Neglect is malign.

The second difference is that climate change is irreversible.

As Joe Romm notes in a recent post, New York Times columnist Joe Nocera slipped up in his latest column and referred to technology that would “help reverse climate change.” I don’t know whether that reflects Nocera’s ignorance or just a slip of the pen, but I do think it captures the way many people subconsciously think about climate change. If we heat the planet up too much, we’ll just fix it! We’ll turn the temperature back down. We’ll get around to it once the market has delivered economically ideal solutions.

But as this 2009 paper in Nature (among many others) makes clear, it doesn’t work that way:

This paper shows that the climate change that takes place due to increases in carbon dioxide concentration is largely irreversible for 1,000 years after emissions stop. Following cessation of emissions, removal of atmospheric carbon dioxide decreases radiative forcing, but is largely compensated by slower loss of heat to the ocean, so that atmospheric temperatures do not drop significantly for at least 1,000 years. [my emphasis]

This is not the time cycle of particulate pollution — days or weeks — it is the time cycle of the Earth’s basic biophysical systems, which move much more slowly. A thousand years is not “forever,” but in terms of human agency it might as well be.

The damage we’re doing now is something the next 40 to 50 generations will have to cope with, even if we stop emitting CO2 tomorrow. And the CO2 we’ve already released has locked in another 50 or 100 years of damage (because of the slow draining). There is no “reversing” climate change. There is only reducing the amount we change the climate.

Both these facts about climate change set it apart from other environmental problems. They also, for what it’s worth, set it apart from social problems like poverty, crime, or poor health care. All of those problems are serious; they all have an impact on public health. But they can all be measurably affected by public policy within our lifetimes. They are bad but they are not cumulative. They are not becoming less solvable over time.

Climate change, on the other hand, is forever.





New Report on Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Opportunities ReleasedMarch 21, 2013
U.S. agriculture consists of more than 2 million farms that collectively manage more than 922 million acres of cropland, grassland pasture, and range. These farms exhibit immense diversity across a
wide array of economic, production, socio-demographic, geographic, and environmental characteristics. This diversity can and will affect where and when producers and land managers choose to adopt specific technologies and practices that mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Under contract with USDA’s Climate Change Program Office, ICF International has prepared a report identifying and describing specific technologies and practices that individual farm operations could adopt in their crop and livestock production systems and in their land management decisions that would result in greenhouse gas benefits. The report examines how this set of GHG mitigation options could be implemented by farm size, commodity produced, and region of the country. For each option, the report contains:
1. A detailed technical description of the technology or practice;
2. Estimates of farm-level costs for implementing the technology or practice for a set of typical farms;
3. Estimates of the farm-level GHG mitigation potential associated with adoption; and
4. Estimates of the costs required for implementation…




California Cap-and-Trade Funds Proposed for Green Bank

By Michael B. Marois – Mar 18, 2013 7:11 PM PT

California should start a state-run bank
to finance economic development that’s less polluting and more environmentally friendly, financed by auctions of greenhouse-gas carbon credits, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom said. The Green Infrastructure Bank, which would make low- interest loans to local governments or private business for projects that would help reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, would have the authority to sell tax-exempt and taxable municipal revenue bonds, according to legislation sponsored by Newsom, a Democrat and former San Francisco mayor.

California’s first-in-the-nation law sets a maximum for carbon emissions from power generators, oil refineries and others, to lower greenhouse gases. Under the legislation’s cap- and-trade program, industries that can’t make the required reductions can buy allowances allocated and auctioned by the state and a limited number of offset credits generated from projects that reduce emissions.

“The intent of the legislation is to centralize greenhouse gas-reducing financing to a central bank which can leverage private capital to mitigate risk and exponentially increase infrastructure financing,” Newsom, 46, said in a statement yesterday. The state Air Resources Board sold 23.1 million allowances at $10.09 each during its first auction Nov. 14 and another 12.9 million at $13.62 during its second in February.


Group keeps up challenge to logging roads

JEFF BARNARD, AP Mar 21 2013

The suit contends the Clean Water Act specifically says water running through ditches and culverts built to handle storm water from logging roads is a source of pollution when it flows directly into a river. Activists could cite different… more »

Preliminary plan proposes Delta tunnels, habitat restoration

Sacramento Business Journal (blog)-Mar 15, 2013

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan also seeks to restore 145,000 acres of habitat that will benefit 57 imperiled wildlife species.


CA billionaire Tom Steyer makes aggressive move in MA Senate race — SuperPAC to fight Keystone pipeline (VIDEO)

March 18, 2013 SF Gate

Billionaire Democratic philanthropist Tom Steyer, who’s bankrolled two successful California environmental ballot measures, is making an aggressive new political play — putting his money and muscle into a combative Massachusetts Senate race sure to highlight the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline.

Steyer, the wealthy hedge fund manager who will host President Barack Obama at his home next month for a Democratic fundraiser in the Bay Area – and who’s also buzzed about as a future gubernatorial candidate — is funding a SuperPAC that promises some bare-knuckle moves in a hot Democratic Massachusetts primary match-up. Among them: “investigative reports,” robust social media, and a college-based ‘get out the vote’ effort to defeat the Democratic candidate who’s been supportive of the controversial proposed 1,200 mile oil pipeline from Canada to Texas. The Bay State race pits House Reps. Edward Markey and Stephen Lynch against each other in a whirlwind contest to replace Senator John Kerry, now Secretary of State. Both have only until the April 30 primary to make their case to voters, and are expected to battle it out in an avalanche of paid media. The general election is June 25.

….But on Monday morning, Steyer will publicly challenge Lynch on that front — issuing a formal a letter accusing him of making false claims about Keystone, including how many jobs it will produce. The letter charges that a recent U.S. State Dept. report  has “identified only 35 permanent jobs that will be created by Keystone.” Steyer and environmentalists want Lynch to respond to that claim, and to provide sworn evidence that the Keystone produced oil will stay in the U.S. They’re giving Lynch until Friday at high noon to respond, according to their letter.

And if he doesn’t, the real campaign begins, the letter says. Steyer backers say he promises “a robust field effort” to target climate change voters, an education campaign using “guerilla marketing tools” to inform Bay State voters on the issues, and releasing a series of studies and investigative reports on Lynch — and the issue.



How The EPA Could Help Cut Carbon Emissions 17% By 2020

Posted: 21 Mar 2013 08:42 AM PDT

On Monday the Senate held a symposium under the auspices of Sen. Tom Carper’s (D-DE) office — “Climate Change Actions under the Clean Air Act: Reducing Power Plant Emissions without Harming the Economy” — bringing together representatives from both clean energy groups and the energy industry to explore how greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing power plants could be regulated under the Clean Air Act. The Supreme Court has ruled that under that law, the Environmental Protection Agency must regulate carbon dioxide emissions if it finds them to be a danger to public health and the environment — which it has. The EPA is already finalizing rules for new power plants, with rules for existing plants anticipated to be in the works, which brings us to the symposium’s question of just how to apply those powers….. The three main parts are:

1. Set a different carbon emission rate for each individual state…

2. Allow plants an array of tools for meeting their emission rate….

3. Allow energy efficiency to also earn credits. … To qualify, these energy efficiency programs would have to meet rigorous standards laid out in NRDC’s report….





Climate Change with John Steinbruner, Director, Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland, University of Maryland


Adaptation Webcasts

Slides and podcasts from the previous sessions are available here: 


NRCS Biology Webinar – “Why Some Wetland Plants Are Invasive and How They Affect Restoration”


Participant Instructions: The web conference is scheduled to begin at 1:00 PM Central Time on March 26, 2013. You may join the web conference 15 minutes prior to the scheduled start by clicking Webinar Login: Dial-in: After you’ve connected your computer, audio connection instructions will be presented If you need technical support or additional information regarding our events, please visit our portal at or contact AT&T Connect Support at 1-888-796-6118 If you are unable to join the web conference from a computer, you can find audio only instructions at Preparing your computer: If you do not prepare ahead, please join 15 minutes before the session begins as the AT&T Connect Participant Software will be loaded as you join the event. Please use this link to prepare your computer:



Powered by Data Basin: Supporting the LCCs with Spatial Data, Analytical Tools, and Social Networks

Join us for a Webinar on April 9

Space is limited. Reserve your Webinar seat now at:

Dr. James Strittholt and Dr. Tosha Comendant will present an overview of the Data Basin platform ( The presentation will include specific examples of LCCs in the Southeast US who are using Data Basin as their conservation data sharing and planning platform. The existing LCC sites are focused on giving casual GIS users (e.g., managers, biologists, coordinators, administrators, etc) better access to consistent and compatible spatial datasets and simple geoprocessing tools. We will also discuss efforts at the National LCC level to connect data sharing and web-based tools with LC Map.

Title:    Powered by Data Basin: Supporting the LCCs with Spatial Data, Analytical Tools, and Social Networks

Date:    Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Time:    10:00 AM – 11:00 AM PDT



Managing for resilience in the face of climate change: a scientific approach to targeted oyster restoration in San Francisco Bay and Elkhorn Slough, California

Workshop Date: Wed April 17 Time: 10 am – 3 pm Location: State Coastal Conservancy, 11th floor conf room, 1330 Broadway, Oakland CA (steps from 12th St. BART and meter and lot parking)

RSVP: requested to

Workshop Goals:  To provide updates on data collected over the past year, and get feedback from end-users working on native oyster protection and restoration on the desired analyses and development of final products.  We want this data to be useful to YOU!


* Climate change- brief presentation on downscaled predictions for region as relevant for oysters

* Field monitoring, Lab experiments, and Connectivity results to date

* Decisions end-users are making with native oyster projects, and their general info needs

* Examples of decision support tools and how you can apply them to your work

* Your feedback throughout so we can learn what sort of tools and products would be most likely to be used



EBM TOOLs Network Releases Free guide to coastal climate planning tools

Arlington, Virginia (March 14, 2013)—The potential impacts of climate change are already influencing the choices that coastal communities, resource managers, and conservation practitioners are making for ecosystems and infrastructure. To help planners and managers prepare for the far-reaching effects of these changes, the EBM Tools Network today released a free publication, Tools for Coastal Climate Adaptation Planning: A guide for selecting tools to assist with ecosystem-based climate planning

The guide is designed to assist practitioners responsible for understanding and preparing for climate-related effects. By focusing on software and web-based applications that leverage geospatial information, Tools for Coastal Adaptation Planning will help these professionals account for the health and well-being of ecosystems and human communities in projects and plans.

The guide targets practitioners and decision makers involved in conservation, local planning, and the management of coastal zones, natural resources, protected areas, habitat, and watersheds in the coastal United States including the Great Lakes. In addition to detailed information about a key collection of visualization, modeling, and decision support tools, Tools for Coastal Climate Adaptation Planning offers instructive case studies about how other professionals have successfully applied the tools in a several coastal communities in the United States. Professionals from inland and international regions will also benefit from the guide’s tool information and lessons. Funded with the support of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Keith Campbell Foundation for the Environment, Tools for Coastal Climate Adaptation Planning can be downloaded for free at



Apply Now! Sc3: Student Climate & Conservation Congress (Sc3)

June 23-29, 2013 ~ Shepherdstown, West Virginia 9-12th grades
The Green Schools Alliance (GSA) in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is accepting applications and nominations for the 2013 Student Climate & Conservation Congress (Sc3), the nation’s premier week-long environmental leadership training program. All students entering 9-12th grade, and a limited number of school faculty or staff, who have demonstrated outstanding leadership in their schools or communities are invited to apply to become a U.S. Green School Fellow and attend this extraordinary event at the nation’s premier training facility, the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, WV.




Explore the CA Coast Grant

The CA Coastal Conservancy is soliciting applications for grants for projects that facilitate and enhance the public’s opportunities to “Explore the Coast.” This includes projects that enhance visitors’ ability to learn about natural, recreational, cultural and historic resources of the California and San Francisco Bay shorelines. Explore the Coast grants will support a wide range of activities including communication and outreach, economic development related to coastal tourism, and development of interpretive information and/or education materials. The grants are for up to $50,000 and proposals must be submitted by May 10th, 2013.



TED Talks—the way we think about charity is dead wrong







‘Dirty blizzard’ in Gulf of Mexico may account for missing Deepwater Horizon oil
(March 14, 2013) — Oil from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill acted as a catalyst for plankton and other surface materials to clump together and fall to the sea floor in a massive sedimentation event that researchers are calling a “dirty blizzard.” … > full story


Petroleum use, greenhouse gas emissions of automobiles could drop 80 percent by 2050: U.S. report
(March 18, 2013) — A new report finds that by the year 2050, the United States may be able to reduce petroleum consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent for light-duty vehicles — cars and small trucks — via a combination of more efficient vehicles; the use of alternative fuels like biofuels, electricity, and hydrogen; and strong government policies to overcome high costs and influence consumer choices. … > full story


We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy — sun, wind and tide. … I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that. -Thomas Edison, inventor (1847-1931)



Utah Schoolchildren Asked To Celebrate Fossil Fuels And Mining On Earth Day

Posted: 20 Mar 2013 01:37 PM PDT

Earth Day is April 22, and today is the last day children in Utah can send in their submissions for the state-sponsored Earth Day poster contest lauding fossil fuel production.

This year’s theme is “Where Would WE Be Without Oil, Gas & Mining?” Last year’s theme was “How Do YOU Use Oil, Gas, and Mining?”



Elementary School Students Crowdfund Their Own Solar-Powered Classroom



March 20, 2013 A class of elementary school students in Durham, North Carolina recently set out on a mission to make their classroom 100% solar powered. The fourth grade class started a Kickstarter campaign: Our Solar Powered Classroom for that purpose, and they greatly exceeded their goal. The class has stated that the extra funds will be used to purchase a larger system, which will then sell back electricity to the community. As you’ll see below, the class whizzed past their initial goal….





Know where to look for flowers this year– CA

Tom Stienstra San Francisco Chronicle Mar 21 2013

Like the blooms, always fickle in a drought, you never know what might happen. […] to know that lots of poppies are blooming this week along North Gate Road at Mount Diablo State Park and that the vicinity of Murchio Gap near Donner Falls out… more »


Financial benefits of plant-based, Mediterranean diet
(March 20, 2013) — People who followed a six-week cooking program and followed simple, plant-based recipes decreased their total food spending, purchased healthier food items and improved their food security. … > full story


Does Greek coffee hold the key to a longer life?
(March 18, 2013) — The answer to longevity may be far simpler than we imagine; it may in fact be right under our noses in the form of a morning caffeine kick. The elderly inhabitants of Ikaria, the Greek island, boast the highest rates of longevity in the world, and many scientists turn to them when looking to discover the ‘secrets of a longer life’. … > full story


Tom Steyer: Billionaire Investor Turned Climate Activist

Wed, Mar 20, 2013 — 10:00 AM Download audio (MP3) KQED FORUM

San Francisco billionaire, investor, philanthropist and environmentalist Tom Steyer has emerged as a political force in California in recent years, backing two successful environmental ballot measures. Now the former hedge fund manager is taking a greater role on the national stage, particularly in the fight against climate change. He was even in the running to become President Obama’s next energy secretary. Host: Michael Krasny Guests: Thomas Steyer, co-founder Next Generation, a research and communications organization focused on climate change and families; founder and former co-managing partner of Farallon Capital Management….


Thousands sign school climate change petition started by 15-year-old

The Guardian  – ‎Mar 21 2013‎

Over 12,000 people have signed a petition started by a 15-year-old girl to keep climate change in the national curriculum for under 14-year-olds.







Weather Extremes: Atmospheric Waves And Climate Change
The northward wind speed (negative values, blue on the map, indicate southward flow) in the mid-latitudes of the northern hemisphere. During the extreme event (a record-breaking heat wave in the US), the normally weak and irregular waves were replaced by a strong and regular wave pattern. (Credit: Vladimir Petoukhov)



By Alex Hallatt, the Cartoonist Group





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