2014 SkS Weekly News Roundup #24A

A call to action to protect our oceans

he ocean covers almost three quarters of our planet and sustains life on Earth as we know it. But our ocean is at grave risk today — and we know the reason why.

Human activity threatens the world's ocean. Often illegal international fishing practices are decimating fisheries. A garbage patch twice the size of Texas floats in the Pacific Ocean, evidence of the trash we cast into our waterways. Rising carbon dioxide levels from emissions increase ocean acidity, endangering coral reefs and other marine life.

The warning could not be starker: Unless these trends are reversed, the effects across the planet will be profound. The damage will be felt whether you live on a coastline or hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean's edge. The ocean produces half the world's oxygen, creates the clouds that bring fresh water and regulates our climate. More than a billion people eat fish for their primary source of protein. Fishing is a $500 billion global industry, and one in six jobs is marine-related in the United States.

A Call to Action to Protect Our Oceans by John Kerry, The Huffington Post, June 9, 2014 

And even more on climate change

Last week, the big news was that the Obama administration had unveiled anew Environmental Protection Agency regulation to cut carbon emissions from United States power plants 30 percent by 2030.

But E.P.A. legislation aside, it has already been a banner year for climate news. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’sFifth Assessment Report confirmed once again that human-caused global warming is proceeding rapidly. Last month, scientists reported theirreversible disintegration of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and, closer to home, the National Climate Assessment asserted that the United States is already falling victim to severe, global warming-related droughts.

In light of this, a new series from The New York Times called The Big Fixwill examine potential solutions to climate change. In the first installment, Justin Gillis examines a worldwide experiment that may create economic incentives for companies to invest in emission-control projects. One such project takes Wisconsin dairy cows and extracts power from their excrement, which is paid for by California. See how that works in this slideshow.

And Even More on Climate Change by Joshua A Kirsch, New York Times, June 9, 2014

Beetles ravaging Mount Rushmore drain budgets as West warms

Beetles are obliterating forests throughout Colorado and the West, draining budgets as property values decline and threatening tourism at national parks, including the home of Mount Rushmore.

Voters in Colorado communities raised taxes to protect ski resorts that bring in $3 billion annually to the economy. The pine beetles, each the size of a rice grain, have devoured 25 percent of the woods in South Dakota's Black Hills, where the mountain with massive carvings of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt is the linchpin of a $2 billion-a-year tourism industry.

"It's difficult to stop the spread," said Bill Smith, a South Dakota Agriculture Department conservation program administrator. "What we're trying to do is slow it down."

Beetles ravaging Mount Rushmore drain budgets as West warms by Jennifer Oldham, Bloomberg News/Chicago Tribune, June 7, 2014

Climate Change, National Security focus of Vermont Journal of Environmental Law Symposium Edititon

On the heels of the Obama administration’s climate change plan announced last week and a recent government-funded report on climate change’s threat to national security, Vermont Law School’s Vermont Journal of Environmental Law (VJEL) explores the national security implications of a warming planet.

Released Monday and available online, “Rising Temps and Emerging Threats: The Intersection of Climate Change and National Security in the 21st Century” is a compilation of scholarship and remarks from VJEL’s 2013-2014 symposium of the same name, held last October at VLS. The publication includes articles by experts in climate science, international security, military law, and global migration.

“The symposium aimed to invigorate the growing national discourse on climate change by bringing together a variety of experts to discuss and debate pressing national security implications,” said Molly Gray ’14, VJEL symposium editor. “We are pleased to share their scholarly leadership in this edition of the Vermont Journal of Environmental Law.”

Climate Change, National Security Focus of Vermont Journal of Environmental Law Symposium Edititon, News Release, Vermont Law School, June 10, 2014

Climate change to almost triple risk of extreme Indian Ocean weather events

Shifting climate patterns in the Indian Ocean driven by global warming are likely to increase the frequency of “devastating” weather events for much of Australia, Indonesia and eastern Africa, a study led by Australian researchers has found.

While attention has focused on the prospect of an El Nino forming in the Pacific, a similar phenomenon may be under way in the Indian Ocean that could exacerbate dry and hot conditions for large areas of Australia.

Climate change to almost triple risk of extreme Indian Ocean weather events by Peter Hannam, The Age, June 11, 2014

Dust in the wind could speed Greenland’s ice melt

Despite it’s name, Greenland is predominantly white, as snow and ice cover the majority of the country. New research indicates that Greenland’s main color may be starting to fade and in fact darken, though, thanks to a widespread increase of dust across the ice sheets. That darkening could speed up surface melt, and with it, sea level rise around the globe. 

Dust in the Wind Could Speed Greenland’s Ice Melt by Brian Kahn, Climate Central, June 4, 2014

How El Niño will change the world's weather in 2014

he global El Niño weather phenomenon, whose impacts cause global famines, floods – and even wars – now has a 90% chance of striking this year, according to the latest forecast released to the Guardian.

El Niño begins as a giant pool of warm water swelling in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, that sets off a chain reaction of weather events around the world – some devastating and some beneficial.

India is expected to be the first to suffer, with weaker monsoon rains undermining the nation’s fragile food supply, followed by further scorching droughts in Australia and collapsing fisheries off South America. But some regions could benefit, in particular the US, where El Niño is seen as the “great wet hope” whose rains could break the searing drought in the west. 

How El Niño will change the world's weather in 2014 by Damien Carrington, Suzanne Goldenberg &  Graham Readfearn, The Guardian, June 11, 2014

Intense heat bakes India as monsoon approaches 

Intense heat continues to scorch India this week, straining an already fragile power grid as more than a billion people await the cooling monsoon rains.

One part of New Delhi hit 118 degrees today, the seventh straight day of temperatures above 110 degrees. One spot, Satna, hit 119 degrees, the Indian Meteorological Department reported. These temperatures are about 9 degrees above average.

Protests broke out because of blackouts earlier this week in New Delhi, Al Jazeera reported, as frustration mounted over power cuts. Riots were also reported last weekend in Uttar Pradesh.

Intense heat bakes India as monsoon approaches by Doyle Rice, USA Today, June 11, 2014

Interests, ideology and climate

There are three things we know about man-made global warming. First, the consequences will be terrible if we don’t take quick action to limit carbon emissions. Second, in pure economic terms the required action shouldn’t be hard to take: emission controls, done right, would probably slow economic growth, but not by much. Third, the politics of action are nonetheless very difficult.

But why is it so hard to act? Is it the power of vested interests?

I’ve been looking into that issue and have come to the somewhat surprising conclusion that it’s not mainly about the vested interests. They do, of course, exist and play an important role; funding from fossil-fuel interests has played a crucial role in sustaining the illusion that climate science is less settled than it is. But the monetary stakes aren’t nearly as big as you might think. What makes rational action on climate so hard is something else — a toxic mix of ideology and anti-intellectualism.

Interests, Ideology And Climate by Paul Krugman, New York Times, June 8, 2014

Interests, ideology and the Climate Denial Machine

Paul Krugman has an interesting op-ed in yesterday's New York Times entitled "Interests, Ideology & Climate." In this commentary, Krugman argues that the current campaign to deny climate change is steeped more in political ideology than in industry-funded opposition.

I'm a big fan of Krugman's work, and he makes a number of very good points in this latest commentary. I agree with him that the current campaign to deny the reality and threat of climate change does indeed feed off a very large, ideologically-driven partisan divide that is grounded in anti-regulatory beliefs and libertarian principles.

But I take issue with Krugman's argument that the massive funding of climate change denial by monied interests like the Koch Brothers doesn't play an equal role. The fallacy in Krugman's thesis, in my view, is that the ideological divide that exists with regard to climate change is somehow independent of the massively-funded disinformation campaign. It isn't.

Interests, Ideology And the Climate Denial Machine by Michael E Mann, The Huffington Post, June 9, 2014

Obama on Obama on Climate

When it comes to dealing with the world’s climate and energy challenges I have a simple rule: change America, change the world.

Obama on Obama on Climate, Op-ed by Thomas Friedman, New York Times, June 7, 2018

Tom Steyer’s slow, and ongoing, conversion

At the base of the mountain, Tom Steyer was a billionaire hedge-fund manager with oil and gas investments and a seemingly conflicted conscience. But by the time he and environmentalist Bill McKibben finished a hike up two tall Adirondacks peaks on that summer day in 2012, Steyer had revealed that he was ready to change his life — he would unload his investments in fossil fuels and become an activist in the fight against global warming.

Just two years later, Steyer, 56, has become the environmental hero he set out to be, giving the left its own billionaire donor to counter the powerful Koch brothers on the right. Steyer has vowed to spend up to $100 million in 2014 to help elect Democrats who are committed to fighting global warming. And with an eye on playing a similar role in the 2016 presidential race, he has positioned himself as a potent new force in the growing world of big-money donors. 

Tom Steyer’s slow, and ongoing, conversion from fossil-fuels investor to climate activist by Carol D. Leonnig, Tom Hamburger and Rosalind S. Helderman,Washington Post, June 9, 2014

Weakest link in climate rule?

key concession touted by vulnerable Democrats in the administration's new carbon pollution standards may provide the greatest legal threat to the controversial new rules, the cornerstone of President Obama's climate change agenda.

The administration is giving states broad flexibility on how they meet Environmental Protection Agency targets for existing power plants to reduce their carbon emissions 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

Under the rules, states may take actions to reduce pollution that aren’t directly related to power plant emissions. A state could avoid retiring a power plant by investing in cleaner technology, push energy efficiency programs that will cut demand, or invest in wind and solar, according to the EPA.

That latitude marks an unprecedented move by the agency, which typically specifies methods of reducing emissions solely for power plants.

Weakest link in climate rule? by Laura Barron-Lopez, The Hill, June 8, 2014

Weighing the risks of investing in energy companies

Norway’s economy is highly dependent on oil and gas production, yet the Nordic country’s largest private pension fund manager, Storebrand, worries about the risks of investing in companies that extract fossil fuels. Figuring that tighter regulations on carbon emissions will emerge in the coming years in an effort to combat climate change, Storebrand has decided not to invest in businesses that it believes will be hurt most by those new rules: coal companies and large producers of oil from tar sands.

“The business case is the main driver for what we do; companies with a sound and systematic environmental performance also perform better financially,” said Christine Meisingset, Storebrand’s head of sustainability.

Weighing the Risks of Investing in Energy Companies by Stanley Reed, New York Times, June 23, 2014

Posted by John Hartz on Wednesday, 11 June, 2014

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