Category Archives: Resources

Today in climate change: Political ploys & reefs

It’s gonna be a hot time on the Big Blue Marble if the GOP has its way.

We begin the presumptive presidential candidate, via the Associated Press:

Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump unveiled an “America first” energy plan he said would unleash unfettered production of oil, coal, natural gas and other energy sources to push the United States toward energy independence.

Mr Trump promised on Thursday to cancel the Paris climate agreement and stop all payments of US tax money to a United Nations fund to mitigate effects of climate change worldwide.


He said he would do everything he could “free up the coal” and bring back thousands of coal jobs lost amid steep competition from cheaper natural gas and regulations designed to cut air pollution and reduce greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

And then there’s the second place candidate, whose noxious schemes are no less inflammatory than the first place finisher.

From the Houston Chronicle:

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas called on the Justice Department to back off the oil industry, joining other Republican lawmakers asking Attorney General Loretta Lynch to drop any investigations into whether oil companies committed fraud in past statements downplaying the science and impact of climate change.

“The Obama administration and its allies in state attorney general offices across the country are threatening to use the power of government to intimidate and ultimately silence companies and researchers who do not agree with the government’s opinions about the allegedly harmful effects of climate change and what should be done about it,” Cruz, an unsuccessful Republican presidential candidate, said in a statement. “This is an abuse of power and a direct assault on the First Amendment.”

The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.

Next up, two different responses the the fate of the world’s rapidly bleaching coral reefs.

Al Jazeera English focuses on dirty tricks Down Under:

Australia’s government has intervened to have all references to the country removed from a United Nations report examining the effect of climate change on world heritage sites over concern it could have a negative impact on tourism.

The World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate report – released on Friday – has upset climate scientists, who were not informed that their contributions had been removed upon the request from Australia’s Department of the Environment.

Will Steffen, a climate scientist at the Australian National University, who had been asked to contribute to the report, told Al Jazeera from Canberra that the report was scientifically sound and would have had no effect on tourism.

“It simply put out the facts about what the risks were to the reef and what needed to be done to deal with those risks,” he told Al Jazeera.

“So to have that pulled out was quite a shocking event for us scientists down here in Australia. I think very few tourists would pick up a UNESCO report and read it before they decided where to go on their holidays.”

And, finally, the opposite approach, via the Guardian:

Thailand has shut down 10 popular diving sites in a bid to slow a coral bleaching crisis, an official said Thursday, in a rare move to shun tourism profits to protect the environment.

The tropical country’s southern coastline and string of islands are home to some of the world’s most prized white sand beaches and scuba sites, and the booming tourism industry props up Thailand’s lagging economy.

But warming waters and ever-growing swarms of visitors have damaged coral reefs and local ecosystems.

The National Parks department has now indefinitely closed at least 10 diving spots after a survey found bleaching on up to 80% of some reefs.

Lake Mead at lowest level since it was filled

And that was 79 years ago.

How low is it?

Two images from NASA’s Earth Observatory, the upper image taken in May 1984 when the reservoir was nearly full, the lower one snapped from orbit this week:

BLOG Lake Mead

More from NASA:

The last time Lake Mead was this low—in 1937—water managers were still filling the reservoir and putting finishing touches on the Hoover Dam. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the water level has now reached a record low for the second year in a row.

On May 25, 2016, the surface level of Lake Mead at the Hoover Dam stood at 1,074.03 feet (327.36 meters) above sea level. The previous low of 1,075.08 feet (327.68 meters) was set in late June 2015. The lowest water levels each year are usually reached in late June or July, after water managers have released the yearly allotment of water for farmers and cities farther down the Colorado River watershed. That means water levels are likely to continue to fall in 2016 to roughly 1,070 feet (326 meters), according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

The pair of Landsat images above show the lake near its highest and lowest points over the past 32 years. The top image was acquired on May 15, 1984, by the Thematic Mapper on the Landsat 5 satellite. The lake last approached full capacity in the summer of 1983. The second image was acquired on May 23, 2016, by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8. Turn on the image comparison tool to see the changes in the shoreline after lake water levels dropped 135 feet (41 meters). Notice the white-tan “bathtub ring” around the edges of the water; this is exposed sand and minerals that would normally be under water.

Lake Mead is now roughly 37 percent full. At maximum capacity, the reservoir would hold 9.3 trillion gallons (36 trillion liters) of water, reaching an elevation 1,220 feet (372 meters) near the dam. Most of the water in this great reservoir comes from snowmelt in the Rocky Mountain range and travels through Lake Powell, the Grand Canyon, and into Lake Mead. Farmers and some cities in Arizona, Nevada, California, and northern Mexico all rely on water from Lake Mead.

According to the Bureau of Reclamation, the lake will be refilled enough by the end of 2016 to avoid cuts in water deliveries in 2017. Lake Mead National Recreation Area continues to operate water sports, sightseeing, and hiking facilities in the area, despite ongoing drought.

The Colorado Basin has endured roughly sixteen years of drought and declining water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell. At the same time, populations continue to grow in the sun-drenched region.

Don’t believe the IMF; it’s as neoliberal as ever

Yep, all that recent rhetoric about a “new and improved” IMF, an institution more congenial to people rather than banksters and neoliberal doctrine, is just a load of hogwash.

That’s the finding of a new study from University of Cambridge researchers who dove beneath the superficial rhetoric to find the same old beast lurking in the shallows.

From the University of Cambridge:

A new study, the largest of its kind, has systematically examined International Monetary Fund (IMF) policies over the past three decades. It found that – despite claims to have reformed their practices following the global financial crisis – the IMF has in fact ramped up the number of conditions imposed on borrower nations to pre-crisis levels.

The crisis revived a flagging IMF in 2009, and the organisation has since approved some of its largest loans to countries in economic trouble. At the same time, IMF rhetoric changed dramatically. The ‘structural adjustment programs’ of austerity and privatisation were seemingly replaced with talk of the perils of inequality and the importance of social protection.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Sociology collected archival material on the IMF’s lending operations and identified all policy conditions in loan agreements between 1985 and 2014 – extracting 55,465 conditions across 131 countries in total.

They found that structural adjustment conditions increased by 61% between 2008 and 2014, and reached a level similar to the pre-crisis period.

The authors of the study, which used newly-available data and is published today [open access] in the Review of International Political Economy, say their findings show that the IMF has surreptitiously returned to the practices it claims it has abandoned: encroaching on the policy space of elected governments by enforcing free market reforms as conditions of lending. This is despite the IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde rejecting concerns over the return of structural adjustment: “We do not do that anymore”*.

“The IMF has publicly acknowledged their objectives to include creating breathing space for borrowing countries, and economic stability combined with social protection,” said lead author Alexander Kentikelenis. “Yet, we show the IMF has in fact increased its push for market-oriented reforms in recent years – reforms that can be detrimental to vital public services in borrowing countries.”

Although the IMF claims its programs can “create policy space” for governments, structural adjustment conditions can reduce this space as they are often aimed at an economy’s underlying structure: privatising state-owned enterprises and deregulating labour markets, for example.

There’s more, after the jump. . .

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Climate change fuels dramatic rise in forest fires

From The Conversation, a new open access journal which allows article reproduction under a Creative Commons license [Bravo! — esnl], a very important article from University of California, Merced, Associate Professor of Environmental Engineering Anthony LeRoy Westerling:

Dramatic images of out-of-control wildfires in western North American forests have appeared on our television and computer screens with increasing regularity in recent decades, while costs of fire suppression have soared. In 2015, federal spending on suppression exceeded US$2 billion, just 15 years after first exceeding $1 billion. Something has been changing our fire seasons.

There are competing explanations for why wildfires have been increasing, particularly in our forests. I’ve been studying the science of climate and wildfires for more than 15 years and the take-home message from our research is that, while our management of the landscape can influence wildfire in many different ways, it is a warming climate that is drying out western U.S. forests and leading to more, larger wildfires and a longer wildfire season.

A look at the latest data

Ten years ago, several colleagues and I set out to see if we could quantify the changes in wildfire, particularly in mountain forests of the western U.S. We wanted to see if climate might be causing some of the increase in wildfire.

In our paper, we concluded that wildfire had indeed increased substantially in western U.S. forests beginning in the 1980s. We also found that most of this increase was from fires burning primarily in mid-elevation northern U.S. Rocky Mountain forests in years with an early snowmelt.

Our latest research shows that wildfire activity in western U.S. forests has continued to increase, decade by decade, since the 1980s.

We looked at federally managed forests in the Sierra Nevada, Southwest, Pacific Northwest, and northern and southern Rockies. Over the decade through 2012, large fires (fires greater than 1,000 acres or 400 hectares) were 556 percent more frequent than in the 1970s and early 1980s. And the area affected increased even more dramatically: the forest area burned in large fires between 2003 and 2012 was more than 1,200 percent greater than in the period between 1973 and 1982.

BLOG Fires suppression

New “hot spots” for forest wildfire have also emerged.

The area burned in the northern U.S. Rockies has increased by 3,000 percent, accounting for half of the increase in the western U.S. But fire activity has recently accelerated in Southwest and Pacific Northwest forests as well. The area of burned forest in the Southwest increased over 1,200 percent, and in the Northwest by nearly 5,000 percent.

The only forest area where we could not robustly detect an increase in large fires and burned area was in coastal southern California. There, the largest fires are human-ignited, take place in the fall (driven by Santa Ana winds) and burn primarily in chaparral or shrubland. The small number of forest fires in southern California, combined with high variability from year to year, meant we could not detect trends there, nor attribute them to specific causes.

At the same time, the number of large fires in the West and the area they affect have been increasing in drier, lower elevation grass and shrublands, although to a much lesser extent. For example, the area burned in nonforest vegetation in lands managed by several federal agencies (the Forest Service, Park Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs) has been increasing about 65 percent per decade as compared to the 1970s average, for the past three decades.

Longer seasons

The sharp increase in the amount of land being burned in recent decades across all vegetation types is not just due to more wildfires.

In fact, the total number of reported wildfire ignitions does not appear to have gone up. However, the number of large (greater than 1,000 acres or 400 hectares) wildfires has been growing since the 1980s, and the area burned in these fires has grown even more. Wildfires, in other words, are growing in size.

The length of the fire season has also grown throughout the last four decades, with large fires igniting earlier in the spring and later in the autumn than previously, and burning for longer. In the period between 2003 and 2012, the average burn time for individual fires was 52 days. In the 1973-1982 period, it was just six days.

There’s a whole lot more, after the jump. . .

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Carcinogenic endocrine disruptor in most rivers

We posted a lot about triclosan [previously], a chemical capable of killing bacteria and fungi that’s a primary active ingredient in those “healthy” antibacterial hand soaps, as well as a host of other products.

Besides helping microorganisms evolve to become even more dangerous, the chemical has also been linked to liver cancer, malformation or heart and skeletal musculature, and its a powerful endocrine disruptor.

And now it’s been found in the waters of most of the streams in the United States, leaving scientists to worry about just what long-term effects the ubiquitous chemical might be having, and if it might be working its way into our food through those stream waters used to irrigate crops.

From the American Society of Agronomy:

Most U.S. homes are full of familiar household products with an ingredient that fights bacteria: triclosan. Triclosan seems to be everywhere. When we wash our hands, brush our teeth, or do our laundry, we are likely putting triclosan into our water sources.

Triclosan is in antibacterial soaps, detergents, carpets, paints, toys, and toothpaste. These products can feel comforting to germ-wary consumers. However, these products are only slightly better at removing bacteria than regular soap and water. And in antibacterial soaps, triclosan may not add any benefit to removing bacteria compared to regular soap and water.

The problem with triclosan is that it kills both good and bad bacteria. Studies also show that it contributes to medically necessary antibiotics becoming less effective. Triclosan is also toxic to algae and disrupts hormones in animals. This can hamper normal animal development. The FDA is currently investigating its impact on humans.

Most of the triclosan is removed in waste water treatment plants. However, a U.S. Geological Survey found the antibacterial in nearly 58% of freshwater streams.

“What you use has an impact even though you’re probably not thinking about it,” says Monica Mendez. Mendez is an associate professor in the Department of Biology and Chemistry at Texas A&M International University. She is interested in triclosan-contaminated streams and rivers. These streams often serve as the water source for crops.

“If a river happens to be a source of irrigation, could triclosan possibly get into our food?” Mendez wonders.

Mendez and her colleagues wanted to understand what happens to soils and plants watered with triclosan-contaminated water. They intentionally watered onions, tomatoes, and bare soils with triclosan-contaminated water in a long-term study.

There’s more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Brazil coup regime guts environmental laws

And like good Thatcherite/Reaganite neoliberal governments everywhere, they also gutted science funding.

The big winners are land developers and land-grabbers.

From Science:

The new interim government, led by former Vice President Michel Temer, has set out to trim government spending and boost business. Days after taking power, it merged the science ministry with the communications ministry, leaving researchers fearing for what’s left of their already diminished budgets. Meanwhile, powerful political players are attempting to remove roadblocks to development. “We are very worried about these actions that represent the demoting of science and innovation in the country,” says Luiz Davidovich, the president of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences.

Now, Brazil has a three-step licensing process for infrastructure and development projects. During each phase a project can be challenged or halted by lawsuits, and delays can last for years. The amendment, known as PEC 65, would eliminate all but the first step: the submission of a preliminary environmental impact statement. After that requirement is met—and regardless of how serious the impact seems to be—a project could not be delayed or canceled for environmental reasons, barring the introduction of substantially new facts.

“If this legislation is approved, it will probably be catastrophic for the environment and the people who depend on it,” says Hani Rocha El Bizri, an ecologist at the Federal Rural University of the Amazon in Belém. Representatives of several government agencies agree. In practice, PEC 65 “proposes the end of licensing,” says Thomaz Miazaki de Toledo, the director for environmental licensing at the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources in Brasília, an arm of the Ministry of the Environment. If the amendment passes, he says, “mitigation and compensation, now required and supervised by the licensing authority, would be voluntary.”

Absent changes, California faces a parched future

Land-use and land-cover change for the historical period (1992–2012) and the projected period (2012–2062) in California's Central Valley and Oak Woodlands regions under a business-as-usual scenario.

Land-use and land-cover change for the historical period (1992–2012) and the projected period (2012–2062) in California’s Central Valley and Oak Woodlands regions under a business-as-usual scenario.

Absent major changes in the way California uses its land and water, the Golden State is headed for a long dry future.

And that’s without factoring in any significant increase in temperatures or shifts in global climate patterns.

From the U.S. Geological Survey:

If past patterns of California land-use change continue, projected water needs by the year 2062 will increase beyond current supply. If historical trends of land use changes to or from urban, agricultural or other uses continue, the result will be increased water-use demand beyond what existing supplies can provide. Large uncertainties associated with weather and climate variability have the potential to exacerbate the problem.

Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey and the Nature Conservancy calculated historical trends of land-use change, urbanization, agriculture expansion and contraction from 1992 to 2012, and then used those trends to project future land-use patterns and water demand from 2012 to 2062 in California’s Central Valley and foothills, Central Coast and South Coast. These new projections are detailed in the paper, “Future land-use related water demand in California”  [open access] published this week in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

Assuming no new storage, efficiency or technology is created to improve California’s water supply, the study results indicate that the current 25 percent urban water-use restrictions called for in Governor Edmund G. Brown’s Executive Orders B-29-15 and B-37-16 would need to be maintained through 2062 for future water demand to remain at or below 2012 demand, unless restrictions were put in place on other water uses. Water use in 2012 was already proven unsustainable given the ongoing multi-year drought, which led to mandated statewide urban-use restrictions in 2015.

In the long term, drought, highly variable rainfall from year to year, and the real possibility of future warming and drying of climate combine to create potential water supply limitations. Coupled with population increases and shifting agricultural practices (from annual crops to orchards and vineyards) there can be enormous uncertainty in planning for future water supply and demand.

There’s lots more after the jump. . . Continue reading