Table Of Contents

    Follow-up research released this week revealed climate-induced coral bleaching and damage to the Great Barrier Reef was more extensive than initially feared. Image courtesy of Steve Parish via


    United States to Unveil Plan to Decarbonize Its Economy by 2050 at COP-22

    The United States will reveal plans to decarbonize its economy by 2050 at the United Nations' November climate summit in Marrakech, Morocco, giving other countries a roadmap to achieve similar carbon reduction goals. The plan will build upon the U.S. commitment in the Paris agreement to cut its emissions by 28 percent by 2025 from the 2005 baseline. Dr. Jonathan Pershing, the State Department's Special Envoy for Climate Change, added that a primary factor in the fulfillment of this plan will be the continued cost reduction of renewable energy options, as well as the deployment of carbon capture technologies for coal and natural gas-fired power plants. In 2015, the Group of Seven largest industrialized countries pledged to do their part in decarbonizing the world economy by 2100. During negotiations in Paris, countries were reluctant to include a blanket economic decarbonization provision in the final agreement, since many developing nations would have struggled to make that transition by 2050.

    For more information see:


    Federal Court Rules Species May Be Protected Based on Projected Habitat Loss from Climate Change

    On October 24, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that federal authorities may list a species as threatened based on projections of future habitat loss. The Alaskan state government, oil companies, and indigenous peoples had argued against the measure, claiming that any regulation of that scope was founded on speculation, since the population of Pacific bearded seals in question was currently healthy. Due to climate change, the ice floes that act as a safe haven for breeding seals will disappear this century, leaving seal pups and their mothers vulnerable to predators. This decision is the first of its kind to determine risk based on future environmental threats. The court reasoned that, per the Endangered Species Act, an agency is only required to consider the best available data in pursuing protection. However, that data is not required to be "ironclad and absolute" and that "the only uncertainty [in the case] is the magnitude of warming … and the severity of its effect."

    For more information see:

    LA Times

    New Jersey's Beach Communities Stay in Place after Sandy, Rather than Retreat from Shoreline

    In New Jersey, a gap persists in the acknowledgement of climate-driven risks and the municipal plans that are actually implemented. Beach-side towns faced heavy damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012, but their rebuilding efforts failed to take new data into account, resulting in the construction of additional vulnerable structures. A complex interaction of local, state, and federal policies have led to this style of rebuild. For instance, FEMA is not permitted to use predictive modeling in drawing its flood plain maps, which influences insurance costs and building standards for flood-prone communities. Governor Chris Christie chose not to promote relocation as a coastal adaptation policy, opting to invest in building height and a controversial dune reinforcement project. David Kutner of NJ Future, a nonprofit advocating for sustainable land use, responded to the region's recent construction choices: "A lot of communities feel that the answer is to elevate homes. How are you going to serve that home when roads and utilities are under water?"

    For more information see:

    Inside Climate News

    Greenland May Pivot Away from Climate Treaty and Reap Regional Benefits of Warming

    Melting ice caps and warmer temperatures have allowed Greenland to generate more hydroelectric energy, grow previously unharvestable crops, access valuable minerals, and fish migrating marine species. The Arctic region is warming twice as quickly as the rest of the world, rising 1.5 degrees Celsius in temperature in contrast to the world’s 0.7 degrees Celsius. With less ice cover to reflect solar radiation, there is more surface water absorbing the warming radiation instead. This perpetuating cycle has caused Greenland to lose one trillion tons of ice between 2011 and 2014, while rising sea levels continue to threaten low-lying countries. However, Greenland officials say there is a dichotomy between environmental preservation and economic benefit, causing the country to ask for a territorial opt-out of the Paris Agreement: “Signing the deal will cost us hundreds of millions of dollars,” says Greenland’s deputy foreign minister, Kai Holst Andersen, "and we would never be independent.”

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    Living in China’s Expanding Deserts

    Climate change has ramped up desertification in China's drought-riddled northern provinces, resulting in the loss of land and settlements. The nation's deserts have been expanding more than 1,300 square miles per year, with roughly 20 percent of the country consisting of desert today. The Chinese government has enacted plans for resident relocation, tree planting, and the management of livestock grazing to stem the tide, but scientists have debated the effectiveness of these policies. Residents living on the outskirts of the Tengger, part of the Gobi Desert, make a living from animal herding, supplemented by tourism and government subsidies. They too try to prevent the desert's spread through tree planting and careful grazing. Sandstorms originating from the region are a risk to many of China's cities, including Beijing, Yinchuan, and Lanzhou. The desert is currently threatening to expand into more populated areas, as outward urban expansion pushes closer to the desert.

    For more information see:

    New York Times


    Study: Pope's Climate Change Encyclical Failed to Move Right-Leaning Catholics

    According to a new report, the Pope’s June 2015 encyclical calling for action on climate change drew a flat response among Catholics. The study retains that among conservative Catholics, the credibility of the Pope decreased due to cross-pressures felt between their religious and political affiliations. One noteworthy factor is that conservative Catholics aware of the encyclical were more against climate policy than those who had not heard of it. The study’s researchers theorized that when confronted by an assertion that goes against their established religious views, people tend to retreat towards an ideological comfort zone; in this case, conservative Catholics hewed closer to their conservative political views. This sentiment was further underscored by Jeb Bush, who iterated: “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinal or my pope.” Feelings towards climate change have become increasingly polarized since 2001, according to the study, which speculates that this could be due to the drastic shift in environmental policies between the Bush and Obama administrations.

    For more information see:

    Guardian, Study


    Shipping Industry Agrees to Sulfur Reductions, Remains Divided on Climate Change Plan

    During the week of October 24, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) agreed upon more stringent standards for sulfur emissions from commercial shipping vessels. The deal will require the sulfur content of maritime fuels to be reduced from a current maximum of 3.5 percent to 0.5 percent by 2020. Environmental and industry representatives alike have praised the measure, which was under discussion for a decade. Attention is now turning to the possibility of a climate mitigation agreement for the shipping industry, but experts caution any progress will be slow, citing economic challenges, influence from industry lobbyists, and disagreement among key member countries regarding the ambition level of such a plan. A late-breaking announcement at the end of the session indicated the IMO would produce an initial shipping emissions reduction plan by 2018, with a final strategy to be decided upon in 2023 after further emissions data has been collected. Press coverage of the IMO discussions has been significantly hindered, with unusually strict reporting rules installed, and with many delegations uninterested in having their positions made public.

    For more information see:

    Climate Home, Update


    Bleaching Damage to Great Barrier Reef More Extensive Than Previously Believed

    Coral researchers with the Australian Research Council (ARC) revealed a bleak assessment of the health of the Great Barrier Reef, six months after a massive bleaching event. While the southern portion of the reef appears to be intact, the northern end was hit by the worst bleaching episode on record. Estimates indicate 22 percent of all coral in the reef died due to the heat stress, with losses upwards of 80 percent in some areas. The follow-up surveys revealed millions of additional corals had slowly died since the original heat wave, with some damaged organisms falling to predation or disease. Andrew Hoey, a senior researcher at ARC's Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, said, “Coral reefs are always being subjected to some kind of disturbance, but they will bounce back. But if they’re being knocked over in too rapid succession, they just won’t get back to where they were.”

    For more information see:

    Sydney Morning Herald, Washington Post


    First of Its Kind Study to Examine How Bacteria May React to Ocean Acidification

    New Zealand researchers have set out on a million-dollar study to investigate the effects that ocean acidification might have on microbial communities. Ocean acidification is primarily caused by the increasing amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is absorbed by the ocean and leads to more acidic, lower pH waters. The acidity poses significant risks to shellfish and corals that depend on their calcium carbonate shells to survive. Microbes play essential roles in regenerating nutrients in food webs and taking care of pollution, oil spills, and runoff that enters the marine ecosystem. The study will simulate 50-years of ocean acidification in order to look for a threshold at which the water becomes too acidic for the bacteria to carry out their ecosystem functions. If a baseline is established, the team's next step would be to create a model showing how industry may have to respond to the emerging conditions.

    For more information see:

    NZ Herald


    Study: El Nino's Warmer, Wetter Conditions Elevate Risk of Disease Outbreaks in United States

    A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences underscores the connection between short-term shifts in climate and weather patterns and disease outbreaks. While most studies of this nature focus on climate-influenced disease vectors in the developing world, the researchers instead examined these risks for the United States. The study used national hospitalization data from 1970-2010 to compare illness rates during El Niño season. The data showed an elevated risk of diseases carried by ticks and mosquitos was present in the western United States during El Niño, while the rest of the country showed a higher risk of intestinal illnesses under El Niño conditions. The storm system's warmer, wetter conditions unsurprisingly led to an increase in insect populations that carry the diseases, but the researchers were uncertain of the exact cause of the intestinal illness spike. Due to its reliance on hospitalization cases, the study likely underestimated the actual impacts from these trends.

    For more information see:

    Washington Post, Study


    Climate Case: NY Supreme Court Orders Exxon to Turn Over Subpoenaed Files to State Investigators

    World Bank Report: Cooperative Carbon Trading Could Reduce Climate Mitigation Costs by 32 Percent

    Coolant to Replace HFCs Draws Criticism over Higher Cost and Flammability Risk

    For the First Time, Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Levels Averaged at Least 400 ppm for Entire Year

    Dr. Gordon Hamilton, Renowned Glaciologist, Perishes During Antarctic Research Expedition



    Rachel Carson 75th Anniversary Jubilee Celebration and Colloquium

    Wednesday, November 30

    8:30 am – 6:30 pm

    1 Constitution Ave NE, Washington, DC 20002

    You are cordially invited to join with the Rachel Carson Council, EESI, and other environmental organizations to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Rachel Carson’s historic arrival on the American environmental and literary scene with her beloved first book, Under the Sea-Wind. Hear and meet leading authors, environmental leaders, and members of Congress at the Rachel Carson Council’s all-day, one-of-a-kind event on Capitol Hill.

    Click here for full details and to register, including breakfast, lunch, and a gala evening reception.

    This event is FREE and open to the public, RSVP required.


    Writers: Sasha Galbreath, Dylan Ruan, and Brian La Shier
    Editor: Brian La Shier