September, 2016

Much of my news comes from The Daily Climate, whose wonderful subscription service clues me in to what's going on each day. Another great source of stories (and commentaries) comes from my friend Jim Poyser, at Apocadocs.

2016

September, 2016

9/30/2016

  • As Trump denies climate change, scientists fear we’re about to blow past the 2-degree red line: Here, in the wake of the first presidential debate, the media skewered Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for denying his prior Twitter claim that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese” — even as Trump’s surrogates continued to bluntly advance positions contrary to modern scientific understanding on the subject. His campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, for instance, asserted on CNN that Trump believes the current climate swing is “naturally occurring,” contradicting the view of mainstream climate researchers that it is mainly human-caused.
    • Watson said that as of now, on our current emissions trajectory, the world could be at 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels in 2030 — less than 15 years — and at 2 degrees by 2050. But because of time lags in the climate system, the actual emissions that would result in those outcomes, and that would have to be averted in order to avoid them, would occur sooner than that.
  • Exxon's Big Bet on Oil Sands a Heavy Weight To Carry: Tar sands account for 35% of the oil giant's liquid holdings, up from 17% a decade ago, and may come under scrutiny in the SEC's probe of its reserve accounting.
  • Ask a MacArthur ‘genius’: Could elusive deep-sea microbes help fight climate change?: There are compelling reasons for studying archaea and bacteria at the bottom of the sea. Both kinds of organisms play a fundamental role in gobbling up methane, a greenhouse gas that gets trapped at the bottom of the ocean in the form of an ice-like substance. Those substances, called methane hydrates, dissolve when ocean pressure or temperature changes. Given the expected effects of climate change on ocean temperature, large amounts of trapped methane could one day make their way into the atmosphere, warming it even more.
  • Greenhouse Gases From Reservoirs Fuel Climate Change: Amy Townsend-Small, an environmental science professor at the University of Cincinnati who is unaffiliated with the study, said mid-latitude reservoirs emit a lot of methane partly because a lot of fertilizer from farms washes into them, spurring algae blooms.
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9/29/2016

  • Scientists struggle to keep up with melting Arctic: UN weather agency warns of rapid changes to the polar ice, at science ministerial summit in Washington DC
    • In an unusually stark warning a leading international scientific body says the Arctic climate is changing so fast that researchers are struggling to keep up. The changes happening there, it says, are affecting the weather worldwide.
    • “The changes in the Arctic are serving as a global indicator – like ‘a canary in the coal mine’ – and are happening at a much faster rate than we would have expected.”
    • Despite its certainty that the Arctic is in trouble, the WMO says it is hard to establish the implications of what is happening there. The Arctic makes up about 4% of the Earth’s surface, but the WMO says it is “one of the most data-sparse regions in the world because of its remoteness and previous inaccessibility.
  • Changing climate is raising forest fire risk, says NRCan annual report: A new government report says that by the end of this century, a changing climate is expected to at least double the area burned each year by forest fires in Canada.
    • The annual forest assessment of 2015 data by Natural Resources Canada says a warming climate will contribute to a 50 per cent increase in large fires, new tree diseases and more insect infestations. “Climate change is gradually imposing an increasing trend on forest fires, a trend that is partially masked by the large variability of this disturbance,” says the report. The study builds on a body of scientific evidence that became politically charged last May when a massive wildfire forced the evacuation of the northern Alberta oilsands [sic — make that "tarsands" — ael] hub of Fort McMurray.
  • The World Passes 400 PPM Threshold. Permanently: In the centuries to come, history books will likely look back on September 2016 as a major milestone for the world’s climate. At a time when atmospheric carbon dioxide is usually at its minimum, the monthly value failed to drop below 400 parts per million.
    • That all but ensures that 2016 will be the year that carbon dioxide officially passed the symbolic 400 ppm mark, never to return below it in our lifetimes, according to scientists.
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  • Germany Has the World's First Hydrogen-Powered Passenger Train: Not all groundbreaking changes are about speed.
    • In December 2017, Germany will launch the first ever passenger rail service powered by hydrogen. Unveiled by French manufacturers Alstom this month, the new Coradia iLint will feature a motor that gains its power from a hydrogen tank and a fuel cell. Stored in a tank large enough to fuel a 497-mile journey, the hydrogen’s chemical energy will be converted into electricity by the fuel cell, propelling the train at up to 87 miles per hour. Any energy not used immediately is stored in Lithium batteries attached to the car bottom. Producing nothing but steam as a by-product, the motor will run far more quietly and cleanly than a diesel engine. What’s more, the train’s new fuel source will effectively make it carbon-neutral, albeit in a roundabout sort of way.

9/25/2016

  • Education leaders gather to chart a future for sustainability at universities: International meeting examines progress on campuses, explores goals for coming years.
    • John Fernandez, director of MIT’s Environmental Solutions Initiative, echoed others at the symposium in stressing the importance of addressing the inherently cross-disciplinary nature of sustainability issues. “These things are all linked,” he said. “Isolating climate change, in particular, without consideration to all these other issues,” including economic equity and a healthy environment, “runs the risk of us having a bankrupt set of solutions.”
  • Scientists know climate change is a threat. Politicians need to realize it, too.: That's why we and 373 other scientists have written a letter about what's at risk.
  • Recalculating the Climate Math: The numbers on global warming are even scarier than we thought.
    • The future of humanity depends on math. And the numbers in a new study released Thursday are the most ominous yet. The Sky’s Limit: Why the Paris Climate Goals Require a Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production
    • Those numbers spell out, in simple arithmetic, how much of the fossil fuel in the world’s existing coal mines and oil wells we can burn if we want to prevent global warming from cooking the planet. In other words, if our goal is to keep the Earth’s temperature from rising more than two degrees Celsius—the upper limit identified by the nations of the world—how much more new digging and drilling can we do?
    • Here’s the answer: zero.
    • This is literally a math test, and it’s not being graded on a curve. It only has one correct answer. And if we don’t get it right, then all of us—along with our 10,000-year-old experiment in human civilization—will fail.
  • We’re under attack from climate change—and our only hope is to mobilize like we did in WWII.: Bill McKibben
    • For years, our leaders chose to ignore the warnings of our best scientists and top military strategists. Global warming, they told us, was beginning a stealth campaign that would lay waste to vast stretches of the planet, uprooting and killing millions of innocent civilians. But instead of paying heed and taking obvious precautions, we chose to strengthen the enemy with our endless combustion; a billion explosions of a billion pistons inside a billion cylinders have fueled a global threat as lethal as the mushroom-shaped nuclear explosions we long feared. Carbon and methane now represent the deadliest enemy of all time, the first force fully capable of harrying, scattering, and impoverishing our entire civilization.
  • The silencing of the seas: how our oceans are going quiet: The oceans are filled with sounds produced by animals. However, a recent study shows that ocean sounds are diminishing due to nutrient pollution and ocean acidification.

9/23/2016

  • The Earth is soaking up less carbon than we thought — which could make it warm up even faster: the results suggest the process can take a lot longer than scientists previously assume — up to thousands of years, instead of just tens or hundreds. This means that previous research may have significantly overestimated how much carbon the world’s soil can store away throughout the rest of the century. In fact, the new study suggests that, worldwide, soil’s carbon sequestration potential this century may only be half what we thought it was.
  • Climate change could affect fall foliage timing: Autumnal phenological shifts (leaf senescence and dormancy) because of climate change bring substantial impacts on community and ecosystem processes (e.g. altered C and N cycling and phenological mismatches) and the fall foliage ecotourism industry. However, the understanding of the environmental control of autumn phenology has changed little over the past 60 y. We found that cold, frost, wet, and high heat-stress lead to earlier dormancy dates across temperate deciduous forest communities, whereas moderate heat- and drought-stress delayed dormancy. Divergent future responses of fall dormancy timing were predicted: later for northern regions and earlier for southern areas. Our findings improve understanding of autumn phenology mechanisms and suggests complex interactions among environmental conditions affecting autumn phenology now and in the future.

9/22/2016

  • Streak of Record-Hot Temps Adds Another Month: That makes 16 straight record-hot months, unparalleled in NOAA’s 137 years of record-keeping. The previous record streak was only 10 months, set in 1944. NASA’s data, released earlier, also said August was record hot, not to mention tying for the hottest month the planet has ever recorded.
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9/21/2016

  • 375 top scientists warn of 'real, serious, immediate' climate threat: 375 National Academy of Sciences members sign an open letter expressing frustration at political inaction on climate change
    • Thus it is of great concern that the Republican nominee for President has advocated U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Accord. A “Parexit” would send a clear signal to the rest of the world: "The United States does not care about the global problem of human-caused climate change. You are on your own." Such a decision would make it far more difficult to develop effective global strategies for mitigating and adapting to climate change. The consequences of opting out of the global community would be severe and long-lasting – for our planet’s climate and for the international credibility of the United States.
  • Chevron’s Lobbyist Now Runs the Congressional Science Committee: With little fanfare, one of Chevron’s top lobbyists, Stephen Sayle, has become a senior staff member of the House Committee on Science, the standing congressional committee charged with “maintaining our scientific and technical leadership in the world.”
    • Throughout much of 2013, Sayle was the chief executive officer of Dow Lohnes Government Strategies, a lobbying firm retained by Chevron to influence Congress. For fees that total $320,000 a year, Sayle and his team lobbied on a range of energy-related issues, including implementation of EPA rules under the Clean Air Act, regulation of ozone standards, as well as “Congressional and agency oversight related to offshore oil, natural gas development and oil spills.”
  • Irrigation Nation: How an esoteric piece of farm equipment created America’s breadbasket—and threatens to destroy it.
    • A recent study of United States Geological Survey data compared the depths of more than 32,000 wells nationwide over the last two decades. The results were alarming. Across the country, water levels have fallen in 64 percent of all wells, with an average decline of more than 10 feet. In the Ogallala Aquifer system, which supplies groundwater for crop irrigation to eight states from Texas to South Dakota, the declines are especially pronounced. In much of southwestern Kansas, wells are down to 25 percent of the water that existed when the aquifer was first tapped less than 70 years ago. In the southern High Plains of Texas, near the edge of the Ogallala, water levels have fallen more than 100 feet in places, leaving many farmers without any water at all.
    • Don Wilhite, founding director of both the National Drought Mitigation Center and the International Drought Information Center at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, believes that the effects of this rapid drawdown could be catastrophic. The author of over 150 journal articles, monographs, book chapters, and technical reports on drought and drought management, Wilhite is known in academic and agricultural circles as “Dr. Drought.” In 2013, he garnered public attention by refusing to participate in a state climate-change impact study after the Nebraska legislature passed a bill precluding contributing scientists from addressing the role of human activity. “I couldn’t write a report that would exclude human causes,” Wilhite said at the time. “To be of any use, a climate impact report has to look at the whole picture. The issue is one of science, not politics.”
    • When several other climatologists also declined to join the team, the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln announced that it would conduct its own study, led by Wilhite. (The Nebraska governor, in turn, decided to cancel the government-led investigation.) The IANR released its findings a year later — and its language couldn’t have been more forceful. Not only did it conclude that human activity is implicated in global climate change, it chastened those who sought to create the illusion of scientific disagreement. Wilhite took the message to the local media, insisting that farmers and others dependent on the agricultural industry should set an example by finding ways to mitigate climate change, rather than denying its effects, because they stand to feel the impact of those changes most immediately. He warned that greenhouse gas emissions, if unchecked, will cause temperatures in Nebraska to increase by as much as nine degrees Fahrenheit in less than 50 years. By then, he said, groundwater resources could be so depleted that they won’t be able to rescue farmers from the never-ending drought.
    • At a talk last fall in Lincoln, a capacity crowd squeezed into the sanctuary of the Unitarian Church to hear Wilhite explain the report’s findings. The audience ranged from environmental activists to area farmers who seemed to be taking heed of Wilhite’s warnings. He told the crowd that the projected increase in temperatures means that summertime highs will regularly surpass 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Those extremes falling, as they will, during the peak of the growing season — right before and right after pollination, when even the most cautious and judicious farmers turn on their pivots—will create untenable demands on groundwater. Even if rainfall were to increase, it would not be enough to offset the loss of soil moisture caused by extreme heat. In a hotter climate, it will take more water to generate the same crop yield, even with genetically modified grain hybrids. Unless we change farming and water management, he explained, there simply won’t be enough groundwater to combat such dry conditions.
    • Most importantly, Wilhite said that the loss of groundwater resources would set off a feedback loop with much broader effects. He explained that pumping all of that deep, cold water from the Ogallala and spreading it across many acres has artificially lowered air temperatures and increased humidity. That human-induced microclimate has masked the effects of climate change by forestalling climbing temperatures on a regional level. If we run out of that water, temperatures will rise further. Crippling drought will become the new norm, turning the Central Plains states into a permanent dust bowl.
    • Wilhite’s greatest worry, he told the crowd, is that farmers tend to brush off such dire predictions, insisting that they have lived through many hard times. They say that their grandfathers got through the Dirty Thirties and innovated their way out of the Great Cattle Bust in the 1950s. “Farmers say they’re used to variability,” Wilhite said, “but these projections are way outside the range of anything we’ve ever encountered.”
  • Even locals who believe climate change is real have a hard time grasping that their city will almost certainly be flooded beyond recognition:
    • No one is very good at acting on the unthinkable. We now know, without scientific question, that the Earth is warming fast, that 2016 is on pace to be the hottest year in the books, setting a record for the third year in a row. We know that glaciers are melting. We know the water is coming. No serious thinker doubts this man-made reality any longer. Yet climate-change denial comes in subtler forms. Try as we might to contemplate how New York City might go under, our imagination fails us.
  • Coal’s Last Gamble: A choking industry bets on one more big score: a coal company backed by a wealthy Texas family — one whose fabled legacy of gambling on energy markets extends back to a game of cards with an oil rig at stake — wants to sink a 300-foot-deep coal mine over 30 square miles of wetlands and forest. The $700 million project, commonly called the Chuitna mine, currently masquerades under the guise of a tiny Alaskan coal company called PacRim. If the project goes forward, it would all but obliterate Tyonek tribe’s fishing and hunting grounds.

9/18/2016

9/13/2016

  • Earth Temperature Timeline Great xkcd comic to combat — if not vanquish, which seems impossible — climate change denial
  • For Climate Change Science, the Need for Basic Biology Is Urgent: Mark Urban said climate change predictions are kind of a mixed bag. On the one hand, we've got really strong computers that can make snappy statistical models and predict how animals interact, or how a species responds to warmer temperatures.
    • "Once we develop these models," Urban said, "we go to look for the data to put in the models, and we find there is no data there to put in for most species." Urban studies ecology and evolution at UConn. And he's one of nearly two-dozen scientists who published an article in the journal Science saying biology needs more boots on the ground collecting basic data like animal birth rates, habitat ranges, or an ability to respond to changes in precipitation or temperature.
  • Coping with sputtering taps during California's hottest summer on record: In the San Bernardino Mountains, a couple lugs buckets as the flow from their well dwindles during a fifth year of drought
  • Wheat, one of the world’s most important crops, is being threatened by climate change: all the techniques suggested that a global temperature increase of 1 degree Celsius would lead to a worldwide decline in wheat yield by between 4.1 and 6.4 percent. The world currently produces more than 700 million tons of wheat annually, which is converted into all kinds of products for human consumption, including flour for bread, pasta, cakes, breakfast cereals and more.
  • Our best shot at cooling the planet might be right under our feet: Studies suggest that regenerating soil by turning our backs on industrial farming holds the key to tackling climate change
    • There is, however, a solution. Scientists and farmers around the world are pointing out that we can regenerate degraded soils by switching from intensive industrial farming to more ecological methods – not just organic fertiliser, but also no-tillage, composting, and crop rotation. Here’s the brilliant part: as the soils recover, they not only regain their capacity to hold CO2, they begin to actively pull additional CO2 out of the atmosphere.
    • The science on this is quite exciting. A study published recently by the US National Academy of Sciences claims that regenerative farming can sequester 3% of our global carbon emissions. An article in Science suggests it could be up to 15%. And new research from the Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania, although not yet peer-reviewed, says sequestration rates could be as high as 40%. The same report argues that if we apply regenerative techniques to the world’s pastureland as well, we could capture more than 100% of global emissions. In other words, regenerative farming may be our best shot at actually cooling the planet.
    • Ultimately, this is about more than just soil. It is about something much larger. As Pope Francis put it in his much-celebrated encyclical last year, our present ecological crisis is the sign of a cultural pathology. “We have come to see ourselves as the lords and masters of the Earth, entitled to plunder her at will. The sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life are symptoms that reflect the violence present in our hearts. We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the Earth; that we breathe her air and receive life from her waters.”
    • Of course, regenerative farming doesn’t offer a permanent solution to the climate crisis; soils can only hold a finite amount of carbon. We still need to get off fossil fuels, and – most importantly – we have to kick our obsession with endless exponential growth and downsize our material economy to bring it back in tune with ecological cycles. But it might buy us some time to get our act together.
  • Conservative media bias is inflating American climate denial and polarization: New studies show that climate polarization is on the rise in the US; WSJ climate coverage is full of denial.
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    • Democrats are tackling climate change on their own: Until the fossil fuel industry’s control over conservative policymakers and media loosens, American climate action will be up to the Democratic Party. This weekend, President Obama and Chinese President Xi announced they will formally ratify the Paris climate change agreement. If she is elected president, Hillary Clinton likewise plans to rely on executive actions to tackle climate change.
  • La Niña fizzles, making record warm global temperatures more likely: With stabilizing sea surface temperatures in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, climate forecasters announced Thursday that they have canceled the La Niña watch that had been in effect since April.
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  • Temperatures Rise, and We’re Cooked: A clever new working paper by Jisung Park, a Ph.D. student in economics at Harvard, compared the performances of New York City students on 4.6 million exams with the day’s temperature. He found that students taking a New York State Regents exam on a 90-degree day have a 12 percent greater chance of failing than when the temperature is 72 degrees.
    • “The relationship is really clear,” said Edward Miguel, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, who has studied the issue. “Extremes in climate lead to more violence, more killing, more war, more land riots in Brazil, more sectarian violence in India. It’s pretty stunning how the relationship between climate and violence holds across the globe.”
    • The starting point is that heat makes people irritable. Researchers have found hot days linked to more angry honking in Arizona, and more road rage and car accidents in Spain. Scholars have done the math and found that on hot days a major-league baseball pitcher is more likely to retaliate for a perceived offense and deliberately hit a batter.
    • On hot days, property crimes aren’t more common, but murders go up with the temperature. Likewise, researchers find that police officers are more likely to draw and fire their weapons during a training session conducted on a hot day.

9/12/2016

9/8/2016

  • Obama on Climate Change: The Trends Are ‘Terrifying’: "Climate change… is the greatest long-term threat facing the world…."
    • “What makes climate change difficult is that it is not an instantaneous catastrophic event,” he said. “It’s a slow-moving issue that, on a day-to-day basis, people don’t experience and don’t see.” Climate change, Mr. Obama often says, is the greatest long-term threat facing the world, as well as a danger already manifesting itself as droughts, storms, heat waves and flooding. More than health care, more than righting a sinking economic ship, more than the historic first of an African-American president, he believes that his efforts to slow the warming of the planet will be the most consequential legacy of his presidency.
    • Campaigning against Mitt Romney in 2012, he barely mentioned climate change. But soon after Election Day, Mr. Obama interrupted a broad discussion with historians about the country’s challenges with a surprising assertion. Douglas Brinkley, a historian who attended the session, recalled, “Out of nowhere, he said, ‘If we don’t do anything on the climate issue, all bets are off.’”
    • Mr. Obama immersed himself in the scientific literature, which left little doubt that the planet was warming at an accelerating rate. “My top science adviser, John Holdren, periodically will issue some chart or report or graph in the morning meetings,” he said, “and they’re terrifying.”
    • Benjamin J. Rhodes, one of the president’s closest aides, recalled Mr. Obama talking about “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed,” Jared Diamond’s 2005 best seller, which explored the environmental changes that wiped out ancient societies like Easter Island and discussed how modern equivalents like climate change and overpopulation could yield the same destruction.
    • A little more than a year later, in Paris, the United States led negotiations among 195 countries that resulted in the most significant climate change agreement in history. And this past weekend in Hangzhou, China, Mr. Obama and Mr. Xi formally committed their two nations to the Paris accord. For Mr. Obama, it was not just redemption for Copenhagen, but a vindication of his theory of the United States’ role in the world.
    • For his part, Mr. Obama said he planned to stay active in fighting climate change in his post-presidential life. During his tour of the wildlife on Midway, he paused to make an improbable remark. “My hope,” he said, “is that maybe as ex-president I can have a little more influence on some of my Republican friends, who I think up until now have been resistant to the science.”
  • Open water nears North Pole as 2016 melt season races to finish: Right now, broken ice and open waters are inching closer to the geographic North Pole. This is extremely rare, but likely not unprecedented

9/7/2016

  • How Climate Change Could Jam The World's Ocean Circulation: Scientists are closely monitoring a key current in the North Atlantic to see if rising sea temperatures and increased freshwater from melting ice are altering the “ocean conveyor belt” — a vast oceanic stream that plays a major role in the global climate system.
    • If the North Atlantic current slows dramatically, then the entire Northern Hemisphere would cool; a complete collapse of the current could even reverse global warming for about 20 years. But the heat that ocean currents fail to transport northwards would make parts of the Southern Hemisphere even hotter. And a cooler north isn’t necessarily good news. Should the AMOC shut down, models show that changes in rainfall patterns would dry up Europe’s rivers, and North America’s entire Eastern Seaboard could see an additional 30 inches of sea level rise as the backed-up currents pile water up on East Coast shores.
  • Melting Arctic ice a boon for humpback, minke whales: The Arctic ice melt is creating a "new normal" in the far northern marine ecosystem that has created conditions for a whale population boom.
  • Why climate change poses a fatal risk for lizards: Previous studies may have underestimated the risk of climate change to lizards. A 2010 study showed that 20 percent of lizard species would likely be extinct by 2080. Now the researchers say it may be much worse.

9/6/2016

  • Companies tout climate policies, fund climate skeptics: Share of largest 2016 campaign contributions from corporate PACs to foes of Obama climate agendaTalk-n-Walk-disconnect.png
    • Don't buy from
      • DuPont
      • PepsiCo
      • AT&T
      • Google
      • GE
      • Verizon
    • Lauren Compere, managing director at sustainable investment manager Boston Common Asset Management, said consistency between policy and political giving was becoming increasingly important to environmentally-minded investors. "No company should want to be perceived as espousing progressive climate policies on the one hand, while funding climate deniers on the other," she said.
  • Soaring ocean temperature is 'greatest hidden challenge of our generation': IUCN report warns that ‘truly staggering’ rate of warming is changing the behaviour of marine species, reducing fishing zones and spreading disease
    • The oceans have already sucked up an enormous amount of heat due to escalating greenhouse gas emissions, affecting marine species from microbes to whales, according to an International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) report involving the work of 80 scientists from a dozen countries. The profound changes underway in the oceans are starting to impact people, the report states. “Due to a domino effect, key human sectors are at threat, especially fisheries, aquaculture, coastal risk management, health and coastal tourism.” Dan Laffoley, IUCN marine adviser and one of the report’s lead authors, said: “What we are seeing now is running well ahead of what we can cope with. The overall outlook is pretty gloomy.
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    • the report says, warming waters could unlock billions of tonnes of frozen methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, from the seabed and cook the surface of the planet. This could occur even if emissions are drastically cut, due to the lag time between emitting greenhouse gases and their visible consequences. Warming is already causing fish, seabirds, sea turtles, jellyfish and other species to change their behaviour and habitat, it says. Species are fleeing to the cooler poles, away from the equator, at a rate that is up to five times faster than the shifts seen by species on land. Even in the north Atlantic, fish will move northwards by nearly 30km per decade until 2050 in search of suitable temperatures, with shifts already documented for pilchard, anchovy, mackerel and herring.
    • “The only way to preserve the rich diversity of marine life, and to safeguard the protection and resources the ocean provides us with, is to cut greenhouse gas emissions rapidly and substantially,” said Inger Andersen, director general of the IUCN.
  • Despite Major Melt, Arctic Sea Ice Will Miss Record Low: As the sun begins its seasonal descent in the Arctic sky and temperatures drop, the summer melt of sea ice is slowing down. In the next few weeks, the span of the Arctic Ocean covered by ice will reach its annual low. But despite beginning the summer at unprecedentedly low levels, this year’s minimum won’t break the stunning record of 2012, experts say, thanks to cloudy weather that slowed the rate of melt.
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  • Seth Meyers: Eco-warrior?: Since we can’t get our politicians to talk about climate change, late-night TV hosts might just be the next best thing. He took on noted climate deniers like Sean Hannity, Marco Rubio, and Donald Trump over their dedication to their faulty logic that climate change is the normal ups and downs in weather. Good luck, Seth. Science is hard for those guys.
  • Dakota Pipeline Was Approved by Army Corps Over Objections of Three Federal Agencies: Sioux tribe's concerns were echoed in official reports by the EPA and two other agencies, but Army Corps of Engineers brushed them aside.
  • How sea ice is making the Southern Ocean less salty — and what that might mean for the rest of the world: The ocean surrounding Antarctica has become substantially less salty over the past couple of decades — and until now, scientists weren’t really sure why. But because changes in the Southern Ocean’s salinity have the potential to affect all kinds of important processes, including ocean circulation and its transport of heat and nutrients around the world, researchers have been eager to figure it out. Now, a new study, published Wednesday in Nature, suggests that sea ice may be one of the major culprits. Using satellite data and models, the authors have shown that Antarctic sea ice has been moving farther and farther away from the continental coastline by strengthening winds in recent years, pouring fresh water farther out into the ocean as it melts.

9/4/2016

  • Mountains Of Evidence: Questions About Coal’s Most Controversial Practice May Finally Be Answered: The prestigious National Academy of Sciences recently announced a comprehensive study on the health effects of the controversial coal mining practice known as mountaintop removal. For coalfield residents who have long questioned what impact the dust, blasting, chemicals and water contamination was having, the announcement comes as welcome news, if somewhat overdue.
    • A 2009 study found that the economic costs for the region from premature deaths due to exposures to mountaintop removal meant that the coal industry’s costs to public health were greater than its economic contributions. Other scientists began to pick up on the issue and in a 2010 edition of the journal Science several prominent researchers called for a moratorium on mountaintop removal. But the response from government wasn’t what Hendryx expected. “I was naive and thought that maybe the evidence would speak for itself,” Hendryx said with a wry laugh. “But I’ve learned that’s not how things work in the coalfields of West Virginia.”
    • There’s still no sign that the CDC is going to look into this issue. But research is moving forward elsewhere. In addition to the work by the National Academy of Sciences, another study, from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) was announced last year, and has already produced a draft. NIEHS Director Linda Birnbaum recently visited eastern Kentucky and said she expects that study will be released within the year.
  • Here We Go Again: Fossil Fuel Industry Takes a Play from Big Tobacco’s Playbook: Richard Reavey, the Cloud Peak Energy vice president who delivered the presentation, described the similarities between what Big Tobacco went through and the challenges facing coal today as “remarkable and eerie.” … His advice to the coal execs: do what tobacco did and “cut a deal while we are still relevant.” After all, “a much more heavily regulated tobacco industry is still viable and profitable.”
    • For decades, cigarette makers hid from the public and from policymakers the scientific evidence they had of their product’s dangers. The Justice Department brought, and ultimately won, a civil racketeering lawsuit against the major tobacco companies for carrying out that fraud. Today, researchers often compare this tobacco fraud on the public to the fossil fuel industry’s suppression of its research on the dangers of carbon pollution.
  • As coal companies sink into bankruptcy, who will pay to clean up their old mines?: Peabody is the latest to make big promises to a bankruptcy judge.
    • This cozy arrangement between coal companies and state regulators is longstanding, but it has come under increased scrutiny lately, as coal companies have tried to use bankruptcy to squirm out of those obligations. Wyoming just struck a deal with (bankrupt) Arch Coal to "accept up to $75 million in place of the company’s $486 million in bonding obligations." That means if Arch Coal liquidates, Wyoming is first in line to collect at least $75 million in assets. Who will cover the $411 million in remaining cleanup costs? Taxpayers.
    • And it’s not an isolated case; there’s a lot of dough at stake. In addition to the $9 billion in mine cleanup costs already outstanding under the Abandoned Mine Land Program (covering mines abandoned before 1977), "officials estimate that roughly $3.6 billion in self-bond liabilities could fall to taxpayers." That would amount to a $3.6 billion subsidy to big coal, the latest (maybe the last?) in a century-long tradition of subsidies.
  • Pope urges Christians to save planet from 'debris, desolation and filth': Pope Francis called on Thursday for concerted action against environmental degradation and climate change, renewing a fierce attack on consumerism and financial greed which, he said, were threatening the planet.
    • "Economics and politics, society and culture cannot be dominated by thinking only of the short term and immediate financial or electoral gains," Francis said, suggesting more ambitious action might be needed to curb climate change.
  • OBAMA LEGACY: Quiet but big changes in energy, pollution: Mostly unnoticed amid the political brawl over climate change, the United States has undergone a quiet transformation in how and where it gets its energy during Barack Obama's presidency, slicing the nation's output of polluting gases that are warming Earth.
  • Flooding of Coast, Caused by Global Warming, Has Already Begun: Scientists’ warnings that the rise of the sea would eventually imperil the United States’ coastline are no longer theoretical.
    • those warnings are no longer theoretical: The inundation of the coast has begun. The sea has crept up to the point that a high tide and a brisk wind are all it takes to send water pouring into streets and homes. Federal scientists have documented a sharp jump in this nuisance flooding — often called “sunny-day flooding” — along both the East Coast and the Gulf Coast in recent years. The sea is now so near the brim in many places that they believe the problem is likely to worsen quickly. Shifts in the Pacific Ocean mean that the West Coast, partly spared over the past two decades, may be hit hard, too.
  • Paris climate deal: US and China formally join pact: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon praised Mr Obama for what he called "inspiring" leadership. Mr Ban said Mr Obama and China's President Xi Jinping had both been "far-sighted, bold and ambitious". However, analysts warn that the target of keeping temperature rises below 2C is already in danger of being breached.
  • Experts call for a national conservation network : In a warming, overdeveloped world, our patchwork collection of parks and conservation easements isn't up to the job of preserving the biodiversity we know and love today. What's needed, says a prominent group of agency scientists and conservation leaders, is a cohesive, coordinated—and, in the United States at least, unprecedented—national approach to habitat preservation. The paper is notable, in part, for the authors: Top science advisors for several federal agencies. The group of 14 authors argues, in a paper published in this month's edition of the journal BioScience, that major challenges such as climate change are imperiling the United State's natural heritage. Absent a "cohesive and strong" plan, they say, we risk our ability to conserve that heritage for the future.

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