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Climate Change News

Carol Werner, Executive Director
March 24, 2014

News

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Obama Partners with Silicon Valley to Prepare for Climate Change

On March 19, White House officials announced a collaboration, the Climate Data Initiative, with Google, Intel, Microsoft, Esri, and others, to make climate data and its impacts more accessible to local communities. The tech giants will provide both their innovations and their cloud storage for data collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the Department of Defense, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to develop tools for disseminating local climate change projections. As part of the initial efforts, Esri plans to partner with cities to produce climate maps and apps for state and local governments; Intel is hosting a “hackathon” to create new apps and tools from federal data; and Google is creating high-resolution mapping of droughts, sea level rise and other climate change impacts. The next stage will expand into including data on health, energy infrastructure, and food security. The White House hopes this new approach will bring home the realities of climate change across the country. “Every citizen will be affected by climate change — and all of us must work together to make our communities stronger and more resilient to its impacts,” said John Podesta, head of the Climate Data Initiative. The pilot-stage site is located at www.climate.data.gov, with information already available on coastal flooding and sea-level rise.

For additional information see: White House, USA Today, Data.gov, New York Times




House Democrats Write to Secretary Kerry on Keystone XL Climate Impacts

On March 14, 27 House Democrats sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, encouraging him to reject the Keystone XL pipeline because of its climate impacts. The letter was spearheaded by Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Mike Quigley (D-IL), Rush Holt (D-NJ), and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ). Kerry has said that he is approaching a decision related to Keystone XL with a “blank slate,” but that hasn’t stopped environmental activists from appealing to him with the negative climate impacts of the pipeline. In the past few weeks, student activists met with State Department officials and submitted a letter to Secretary Kerry; Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) held a press conference with the organization National Nurses United to discuss the health impacts of the pipeline; and now House Democrats have detailed the potential negative climate impacts of the project. The letter reads, “if the United States is truly committed to avoiding a 2 degree temperature increase, we have to start by resisting this pipeline.”

For additional information see: The Hill




Brown University Students Work With Rhode Island Senator to Introduce Climate Change Bill in State Legislature

On March 11, Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Cranston) introduced the Resilient Rhode Island Act of 2014 (2014-H 7904), a bill crafted in partnership with 15 students and one faculty member at Brown University, to help the state of Rhode Island mitigate, adapt and prepare for climate change. The bill would set targets for Rhode Island to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to 85 percent below 1990 levels by 2050,create a climate change science advisory council of experts, and authorize the use of green and low impact infrastructure to strengthen resiliency. Brown Professor J. Timmons Roberts and students in the environmental studies department had previously worked with Rep. Handy to write the legislation which created the Rhode Island climate change commission, and participated with the student groups to draft the Resilient Rhode Island Act. The collaboration was the result of Brown University President Christina Paxton’s offer to discuss options to make Brown a leader in climate change efforts, after she and the Brown Board of Trustees chose not to divest the school from coal investments. After listening to various recommendations from students and faculty, Paxton offered the students the opportunity to work with two hired consultants to write climate legislation for Rhode Island. Paxton brought on Ken Payne, Food Policy Council Chair in Rhode Island, and Meg Kerr, the treasurer of the Rhode Island Blueways Alliance, to provide expertise to the students in crafting legislation. Professor Roberts commented, “[The partnership] has provided an opportunity for students to be a part of a really exciting potential change in the state to be more resilient, to be ready for the future.”

For additional information see: Brown Daily Herald, Providence Journal, Eco RI News, Bill




Wyoming Refuses Next-Generation Science Educational Standards over Climate Change

On March 5, Wyoming’s budget bill was signed into law by Governor Matt Mead (R), finalizing a provision which blocks a set of national science standards, called the “Next Generation Science Standards.” State legislators were concerned that the standards would present climate change as a fact, not a theory. Rep. Matt Teeters (R-Lingle), an author of the science standards block, said, “[The standards] handle global warming as settled science. There's all kind of social implications involved in that that I don't think would be good for Wyoming." Nine states and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards; Wyoming is the first to refuse them. Wyoming’s Chairman of the Board of Education Ron Micheli agreed with Rep. Teeter’s views, saying, “I don't accept, personally, that [climate change] is a fact." [The standards are] very prejudiced in my opinion against fossil-fuel development." The block was issued by a budget footnote, and states:

Under W.S. 21-2-304 (a) (iii), neither the state board of education nor the department shall expend any amount appropriated under this section for any review or adoption of the next generation science standards as developed by the national science teachers association, the American association for the advancement of science, the national research council, and “Achieve.” 


This footnote is effective immediately.

For additional information see: Washington Post, Smithsonian Magazine, Star-Tribune




Australian Senate Votes Against Repeal of Carbon Tax

On March 20, the Australian Senate voted 33 to 29 against a package of nine bills which would have repealed the country’s upcoming 2015 Emissions Trading Scheme and allowed 348 of the country’s largest companies to forego paying a carbon tax. The package had support in the Australian House of Representatives, which on the same day moved a bill to abolish the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation. “We will repeal the carbon tax if there is a credible plan to address climate change,” said Shadow Climate Change Minister Mark Butler. “Without a credible alternative, Labor cannot support the abolition of existing clean energy policies.” Prime Minister Tony Abbott has offered an alternative “direct action plan,” which would create a fund to pay companies to emit less greenhouse gases (GHG) in order to cut GHG to 5 percent below 2000 levels by 2020. Australian Green party leader Christine Milne said the plan was an expensive method of reducing emissions, commenting, “Tony Abbott should now abandon the so-called direct action plan, which is little more than a slogan.” The current carbon tax charges companies A$24.15 per tonne of carbon dioxide. Three months must elapse before the bill can be introduced again, and with the arrival of new senators in July, the outcome may be different. 

For additional information see: The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald, Reuters, The Guardian




Climate Change Impacts Cost China $2.6 Billion in 2013

On March 19, the Chinese State Oceanic Administration (SOA) released the “2013 China Ocean Disaster Bulletin” and the “2013 China Sea Bulletin” stating that climate change-related weather disasters in China over the course of 2013 cost China 16.3 billion Yuan ($2.6 billion dollars) and killed 121 people. Climate change damages included storm surges, coastal erosion, and soil salinization. The Southern Guangdong province experienced the most damage from climate change in 2013, with damages totaling 7.44 billion Yuan. The report stated that storm waves caused 94 percent of the damage, and accounted for the deaths. The SOA said sea level rise in China is faster than the global rate, at 0.1 inch on average each year since 1980.

For additional information see: Reuters, Bloomberg News, Statement (Translated from Chinese)




Church of England Encourages “Carbon Fast” for Lent

On March 16, Nick McKinnel, the Bishop of Crediton, and his wife pledged to buy only local food for Lent this year as part of the Carbon Fast Initiative, started by a group of dioceses and organizations in the South West of England. McKinnel says that he is only buying and eating local food for the six weeks of Lent because “this helps to cut food miles and carbon emissions, as well as supporting local farmers.” The Carbon Fast Initiative outlined four motivations to commit, which include: financial, environmental, devotional, and missional. The Dioceses are encouraging parishes, church schools, and individuals to commit to the Carbon Fast for Lent this year with a goal of reducing their carbon footprint 40 percent by 2020. According to Martyn Goss, environment advisor for the Diocese of Exeter, “as Christians, we are used to making ethical choices in other parts of our lives. It is essential we do the same regarding the environment.”

For additional information see: Torquay Herald Express, Diocese of Bristol Website




Bill Gates Chats with Charles Koch about Climate Change

On March 13, Rolling Stone Magazine released an interview with Microsoft co-founder and Gates Foundation founder Bill Gates. Gates mentioned a recent meeting between himself and Charles Koch, the billionaire co-owner of Koch Industries and founder of conservative think-tank the Cato Institute. During their meeting, the topic of climate change came up. According to Gates, Koch said that the United States cannot solve the problem of climate change alone.  Gates insisted that instead of a reason for inaction, the United States must serve as a model to the rest of the world, commenting, “you have to view the US doing something as a catalyst for getting China and others to do things. The atmosphere is the ultimate commons . . . We all benefit from it, and we’re all polluting it.” Gates is also in favor of two environmental hot-button issues, nuclear power and geo-engineering, and feels that climate change discussions are way off the mark in terms of meaningful debate, stating “we haven’t increased [research and development] spending, we haven’t put a price signal [like a carbon tax] in, and this is certainly very disappointing.

In related news, another Koch brother, William Koch, CEO of Oxbow Carbon LLC, commented on the coal industry’s waning in the United States. Oxbow Carbon’s business is primarily petroleum coke, an oil refining residue that can be burned instead of coal by some power plants. The recent boom in natural gas prices has weakened the coal market, and Koch’s sentiment echoed that of the industry. Commenting on the temporary closure of Oxbow’s Elk Creek Mine in Somerset Colorado, he stated, “the coal business in the United States has kind of died . . . so we’re out of the coal business now.”  According to the Energy Information Administration, coal still provides a sizable portion of the nation’s electricity mixture, and expects that by 2040, coal will still provide 32 percent of US electricity.  The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that in 2011, the electricity sector contributed 33 percent of US annual greenhouse gas emissions, and coal combustion accounted for close to 80 percent of electricity sector emissions.

For additional information see: The Hill, Rolling Stone, Related:


AAAS Study Urges Political Action on Climate Change

On March 18, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) launched the initiative What We Know to communicate the realities, risks, and potential responses to climate change to the public. The accompanying report states there is an overwhelming consensus that human-caused climate change is occurring, which leads to a risk of sudden and irreversible changes triggered by global warming. The scientists urge early intervention to lower the cost of action and minimize the risk of reaching a catastrophic tipping point. The initiative was formed in response to AAAS scientists’ concern that Americans do not appreciate the severity of the risks associated with climate change. The report offers hope if people decide to take action, stating, “There's much we can do to respond to the challenge and risks of climate change, particularly by tapping America's strength in innovation.” Dr. Mario Molina, co-chair of the initiative, said, “What’s extremely clear is that there’s a risk, a very significant risk. You don’t need 100 percent certainty for society to act.”

For additional information see: The Guardian, New York Times, What We Know/AAAS site, Report




Greenland’s Ice Sheets Melting More Rapidly than Predicted, Accelerating Sea Level Rise

On March 16, a study in Nature Climate Change revealed that a northeastern part of Greenland’s ice sheet once thought to be stable has been melting at a rapid rate. Researchers found a positive feedback between melting at an outlet glacier connected to a massive ice stream, and increased ice mass loss from the center of Greenland’s ice sheet. As barriers to the nearly 373-mile outlet ice stream “Zachariae” have melted, the stream’s melt has sped up, pulling more ice from the interior to the periphery. Because this previously unaccounted for drainage of the northeastern ice sheet connects to 16 percent of the Greenland ice sheet, researchers believe that sea-level rise predictions have been underestimated. “This should be a wakeup call for the world,” stated Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development. “No amount of continued warming can be considered safe when we have no idea when we’ll pass these thresholds for irreversible and abrupt climate change. The best way to slow down warming, particularly in the critically vulnerable Arctic is to cut black carbon soot and other short-lived climate pollutants, which can cut the rate of warming in the Arctic by two-thirds.”

For additional information see: Ohio State University Press Release, Time, Study




Study Says Climate Change Will Lower Crop Yields

On March 16, the University of Leeds published a study in Nature Climate Change which found that 2 degrees Celsius of global warming will reduce world-wide crop yields sooner than previous predictions. Researchers predict diminishing yields beginning in the 2030s and on. The findings show that crops in temperate and tropical regions will be the most sensitive to impacts, although climate change impacts will vary year-to-year and geographically, with variability increasing as more climate change occurs. The researchers compiled and compared results from 1,700 published studies on the effects of climate change on maize, rice and wheat, in order to create the largest dataset to date on climate’s effects on crop yields. Study authors were able to double the research which was available to authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report, which predicted that temperate regions could continue to produce similar levels of crop yields even after 2 degrees Celsius global warming. “As more data have become available, we’ve seen a shift in consensus, telling us that the impacts of climate change in temperate regions will happen sooner rather than later,” said study lead author Professor Andy Challinor at the University of Leeds.

For additional information see: Zee News




Report Says Industry Has Overestimated Price of Pollution Control

On March 19, liberal think tank the Center for American Progress (CAP) released a report, Groundhog Days, which found that industry has often over-estimated price spikes in electricity rates from new pollution regulations. The report drew an analogy between historical “crying wolf about cost increases due to pollution controls” and the current need to regulate power plant carbon pollution in order to check climate change, saying that contemporary estimates of electricity price increases are likely to follow historical precedent and overestimate the cost of regulation. To conduct its analysis, CAP examined industry estimates of electricity price increases from regulations over the last 40 years, comparing them to actual electricity rates. They found that in the 1970s, after the Clean Air Act passed, electric utilities predicted large rate increases. In 1982 the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said rate changes due to the Clean Air Act were  “quite small.” In 1989 when the government passed regulations to limit acid rain produced from power plant emissions, investor-owned utility lobby arm the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) predicted a rate increase 16 percent higher than the actual increase. Senior vice president at EEI Brian Wolff commented that EEI’s predictions were in line with government estimates, saying “it wasn’t just industry overestimating the costs of what would become the acid rain program.” Daniel Weiss, director of CAP’s climate strategy, commented, “This analysis demonstrates yet again that coal and utility companies’ predictions of huge rate hikes from pollution reduction requirements are wrong.”

For additional information see: Huffington Post, Report




Other Headlines




April 1, 2014: The Health Effects of Fine Particles from Vehicle Emissions: A Free Symposium

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the Institute of Medicine are holding a symposium entitled The Health Effects of Fine Particles from Vehicle Emissions, which will bring together leading researchers and other experts on the sources, extent, mechanics, and health implications of ultra-fine airborne particles to discuss their origins, nature and potential health effects, and to help researchers identify remaining questions. Please join us to learn about the growing body of research that links petroleum-derived particle pollution to a variety of ever larger serious health problems and premature death. While there has been significant research into the origins and effects of larger particles, there is much less known about the nature and effects of ultra-fine particulates (UFPs).

Tuesday, 9:30 AM – 5:00 PM, at the National Academy of Sciences, 2101 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, D.C.
EESI is a sponsoring organization of this forum.
Register here.




March 28, 2014: Evolving Policy to Keep Pace with Market Innovation

ACORE’s National Renewable Energy Policy Forum will convene the renewable energy industry to chart the path forward for pro-growth, constructive and bipartisan renewable energy policy to foster additional private sector investment and innovation. The U.S. renewable energy industry is one of the fastest growing sectors of the U.S. economy.  A combination of private sector investment and innovation, as well as federal and state policy has driven substantial renewable energy cost reduction, scale-up and an expanding value chain throughout the country. Join renewable energy leaders and policy makers from Capitol Hill and across the country to assess renewable energy market growth and federal policy to accelerate the transformation of the nation’s energy sector.


Friday, 7 am – 5:30 PM, in Kennedy Caucus Room, the Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, DC
Hosted by the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), EESI is a supporting organization for this forum. 

Click here for registration and agenda.

If registering for the full forum, use 20% Discount Code SPT20EE.




April 1 – 3, 2014: Leveraging the Enterprise: Strengthening Our Value to Society

The American Meteorological Society invites you to its annual Washington Forum to foster better collaboration between the scientific and federal policy communities. Session topics will include the societal impacts of and recovery from Typhoon Haiyan, as well as human health risks from extreme weather and climate events, including heat-related deaths, infectious disease outbreaks and respiratory ailments. The AMS Washington Forum provides an opportunity for members of the weather, water, and climate communities to meet with senior Federal agency officials, Congressional staff, and other community members to hear about the status of current programs, learn about new initiatives, discuss issues of interest to our community, identify business opportunities, and speak out about data and other needs. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan will keynote.


Tuesday through Wednesday, in the AAAS Building, 1200 New York Avenue NW, Washington D.C.
Register here.



Writers: Alison Alford, Jenifer Collins, Emily Jackson, Claire Phillips, Jessie Stolark and Laura Small


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