Carbon emissions from the Pacific NorthWest LNG project would be comparable to Canada's two largest emitters — the Syncrude mine and upgrader and Sundance coal fired power plant. Graphic: Pembina

By Derrick O'Keefe
27 September 2016

(Ricochet) – On Tuesday evening in Richmond, B.C., three members of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet announced the approval of a $36-billion liquefied natural gas development by the Malaysian-based multinational corporation Petronas, which would see natural gas moved by pipeline from the province’s northeast to a terminal on the coast, where it would then be exported to Asia.

“Indigenous and traditional knowledge will be integral to environmental monitoring of this project,” said Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr from the shore of the Fraser River outside a Coast Guard station near Vancouver International Airport. Carr also touted the economic benefits of moving forward with this fossil fuel export project, which is unprecedented in scale for Canada.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark spoke after the federal ministers, stating that the approval proves “we can get our resources to market sustainably.”

Shannon McPhail is executive director of the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition.

“The royals were in Bella Bella just yesterday, dedicating the Commonwealth Canopy [a forest conservation initiative]. To announce this LNG approval the day after a huge announcement about protecting the Great Bear Rainforest is a little bit counterintuitive,” she told Ricochet by phone from Hazelton, B.C.

The Pacific NorthWest LNG project, noted McPhail, would cut through the Great Bear Rainforest to get to the proposed terminal on Lelu Island near Prince Rupert.

“One day you’re touting how important nature is, and the next day you’re approving Canada’s single biggest climate polluter that will have drastic impacts on our second-largest run of salmon. All of this against the hereditary chiefs, by the way.”

Lelu Island, also known as Lax U’u’la, sits next to Flora Bank, a spawning ground vital to the health of the Skeena River ecosystem. Second in Canada only to the Fraser River in the number of sockeye salmon that can be spawned there, the Skeena River hosts a commercial fishery worth over $100 million per year.

“This represents yet another blatant betrayal of the promises and commitments to the Aboriginal Peoples of this country,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs told Ricochet by email.

“Such a decision to build such a massive LNG facility, inclusive of the necessary supporting infrastructure, would result in the imminent decimation and extinction of the Skeena River sockeye salmon fishery.”

In a submission to the project’s environmental assessment, Marc Lee of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives described Pacific NorthWest LNG as a “carbon bomb.”

“In the wake [of] the Paris Agreement to curb carbon emissions and limit global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, we no longer have the luxury of entertaining proposals that would substantially contribute to increased GHG emissions at home and abroad.” [more]

Justin Trudeau approves $36-billion LNG ‘carbon bomb’ on B.C. coast

Officer loading 12 gauge shotgun while Standing Rock Sioux women, children, and elderly are at prayer, 28 September 2016. Photo: bsnorrell.blogspot.com

28 September 2016 (bsnorrell.blogspot.com) – Today, indigenous water protectors once again arrived at a Dakota Access Pipeline construction site to halt work and hold prayer ceremonies. Police arrived with several military-style armored vehicles, and threatened water protectors with shotguns. We are hearing reports of up to 21 arrests.

Livestream footage clip: https://livestream.com/unicornriot/events/6419548

Live video: “They dropped tear gas, we are surrounded by police.”
”They are moving in.”
”They won't let us leave. They have us locked in on both sides.”
”They've got their weapons drawn.”
”They've got snipers on top of the hill.”
”They are blocking me on Facebook.”
”They are arresting everyone now. Everyone is running.”
”Share this far and wide.”

Standing Rock Breaking News Surrounded by Police: Wed. Sept. 28, 2016

Withered leaves on a tree in the Lake District and Scotland's island of Islay, September 2016. Photo: Gail Zawacki

By Gail Zawacki
25 September 2016

(Wit’s End) – My last post here at Wit’s End received some thoughtful queries which deserved an answer in kind, a response I have assiduously procrastinated making - an avoidance which was made easier by a ten day trip with minimal access to the internet.  Most of the photos in this post are from my journey to the UK earlier this month.

What follows is my belated reply (with apologies), especially to Michael Jensen’s question, “How has your personal mission changed, as the likelihood of your minimal long-term impact on the trajectory of global collapse has become clear?”

Most often, writing on a blog feels to have no more effect than idly dropping a pebble in the ocean, and watching the tiny ripples disappear; lately it seems that climate heating has gone exponential, and in my imagination I anticipate the moment I will hear an official NASA announcement on the radio - that it’s too late to mitigate climate change because irreversible amplifying feedbacks have taken over and there’s nothing left but to listen to the orchestra play on the deck.

For years, once I realized humans have despoiled the glorious biodiversity it took millions of years of evolution to achieve, I grieved. I was angry and horrified and mostly wracked with guilt about being oblivious of my own contribution to the Endocene, including having children. I wanted to know how and why our species is so destructive, and I needed to understand why most people persist in believing humanity is ecologically sustainable when we so patently are not. So I read a lot about history, archaeology, psychology, evolution, and biology.

I came to understand that human behavior is as immutable as the leopards’ spots, and that humans are fundamentally an invasive species.

“Humans are just like any other invasive species,” Stanford University biology professor Elizabeth Hadly said. “If we use up our resources, we will decline. It is stating the obvious, but our study shows that even over vast geographic areas such as continents, humans can consume too much, too fast.”
Our species first appeared in Africa about 200,000 years ago, then spread to Europe and Asia and eventually crossed into the Americas roughly 15,000 to 20,000 years ago using a land bridge that once connected Siberia and Alaska.

The first phase of colonization in South America coincided with the extinction of many large animals including elephant relatives, saber-toothed cats, big ground sloths, armadillos, and huge flightless birds. [more]

The Waste Land

Global map of modelled annual median concentration of fine particulate matter of 2.5 microns or less (PM2.5), in μg per cubic meter. Graphic: WHO

GENEVA , 27 September 2016 (WHO) – A new WHO air quality model confirms that 92% of the world’s population lives in places where air quality levels exceed WHO limits*. Information is presented via interactive maps, highlighting areas within countries that exceed WHO limits.

"The new WHO model shows countries where the air pollution danger spots are, and provides a baseline for monitoring progress in combatting it," says Dr Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director General at WHO.

It also represents the most detailed outdoor (or ambient) air pollution-related health data, by country, ever reported by WHO. The model is based on data derived from satellite measurements, air transport models and ground station monitors for more than 3000 locations, both rural and urban. It was developed by WHO in collaboration with the University of Bath, United Kingdom.

Air pollution’s toll on human health

Some 3 million deaths a year are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution. Indoor air pollution can be just as deadly. In 2012, an estimated 6.5 million deaths (11.6% of all global deaths) were associated with indoor and outdoor air pollution together.

Nearly 90% of air-pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, with nearly 2 out of 3 occurring in WHO’s South-East Asia and Western Pacific regions.

Ninety-four per cent are due to noncommunicable diseases – notably cardiovascular diseases, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. Air pollution also increases the risks for acute respiratory infections.

"Air pollution continues take a toll on the health of the most vulnerable populations – women, children and the older adults," adds Dr Bustreo. "For people to be healthy, they must breathe clean air from their first breath to their last."

Major sources of air pollution include inefficient modes of transport, household fuel and waste burning, coal-fired power plants, and industrial activities. However, not all air pollution originates from human activity. For example, air quality can also be influenced by dust storms, particularly in regions close to deserts.

Improved air pollution data

The model has carefully calibrated data from satellite and ground stations to maximize reliability. National air pollution exposures were analysed against population and air pollution levels at a grid resolution of about 10 km x 10 km.

"This new model is a big step forward towards even more confident estimates of the huge global burden of more than 6 million deaths – 1 in 9 of total global deaths – from exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution," said Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. "More and more cities are monitoring air pollution now, satellite data is more comprehensive, and we are getting better at refining the related health estimates."

Interactive maps

The interactive maps provide information on population-weighted exposure to particulate matter of an aerodynamic diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5) for all countries. The map also indicates data on monitoring stations for PM10 and PM2.5 values for about 3000 cities and towns.

"Fast action to tackle air pollution can’t come soon enough," adds Dr Neira. "Solutions exist with sustainable transport in cities, solid waste management, access to clean household fuels and cook-stoves, as well as renewable energies and industrial emissions reductions."

In September 2015, world leaders set a target within the Sustainable Development Goals of substantially reducing the number of deaths and illnesses from air pollution by 2030.

In May 2016, WHO approved a new "road map" for accelerated action on air pollution and its causes. The roadmap calls upon the health sector to increase monitoring of air pollution locally, assess the health impacts, and to assume a greater leadership role in national policies that affect air pollution.

* WHO Ambient Air Quality Guidelines

WHO air quality model confirms that 92% of the world’s population lives in places where air quality levels exceed “WHO’s Ambient Air quality guidelines” for annual mean of particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5). WHO guideline limits for annual mean of PM2.5 are 10 μg/m3 annual mean.

PM2.5 includes pollutants such as sulfate, nitrates and black carbon, which penetrate deep into the lungs and in the cardiovascular system, posing the greatest risks to human health.

BreatheLife air pollution campaign

This fall WHO is rolling out BreatheLife, a global communications campaign to increase public awareness of air pollution as a major health and climate risk. BreatheLife is led by WHO in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)-hosted Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-lived Climate Pollutants. The campaign stresses both the practical policy measures that cities can implement (such as better housing, transport, waste, and energy systems) and measures people can take as communities or individuals (for example, to stop waste burning, promote green spaces and walking/cycling) to improve our air.

Contact

Nada Osseiran
WHO Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health
Telephone: +41 22 791 4475
Mobile: +41 79 445 1624
Email: osseirann@who.int

Kimberly Chriscaden
WHO Department of Communications
Telephone : +41 22 791 2885
Mobile : +41 79 603 1891
Email: chriscadenk@who.int

WHO releases country estimates on air pollution exposure and health impact

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on stage the first presidential debate of 2016, 26 September 2016. Photo: Adrees Latif / REUTERS

By Brian Kahn
27 September 2016

(Climate Central) – Monday’s presidential debate featured spirited back-and-forths on tax returns, how to heal divides in the U.S. and the candidates’ economic plans. Notably absent, though, was any thorough discussion about climate change.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump differ wildly on their views on climate policy and whoever is elected president will play a large role in shaping global climate policy in the decades to come.

Despite their differences, debate moderator Lester Holt left climate change by the wayside in favor of other topics. This follows in the footsteps of the 2012 presidential debates when not a single climate question was asked of either candidate.

“Candidates absolutely should be asked to address the issue of how they will deal with global warming, if elected,” Ed Maibach, director of the Center for Climate Change Communication and a collaborator on a project with Climate Central, said. “By a ratio of about 3-to-1, voters say they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports climate action, and are less likely to vote for a candidate who opposes climate action.”

Donald J. Trump's tweet from 6 November 2012, denying global warming: 'The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.' Graphic: Twitter

“Candidates absolutely should be asked to address the issue of how they will deal with global warming, if elected,” Ed Maibach, director of the Center for Climate Change Communication and a collaborator on a project with Climate Central, said. “By a ratio of about 3-to-1, voters say they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports climate action, and are less likely to vote for a candidate who opposes climate action.”

That same poll notes a discrepancy between Trump and Clinton supporters’ interest in the hearing about the topic. Clinton supporters wanted an average of 10 minutes devoted to climate change while Trump supporters only wanted four minutes in comparison. [more]

The Biggest Loser in Last Night’s Debate? Climate Change

Rusty patched bumble bee. Photo: Dan Mullen / Creative Commons

By Laura Zuckerman and Steve Gorman; Editing by Toni Reinhold and Sandra Maler
22 September 2016

(Reuters) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday proposed listing the rusty patched bumble bee, a prized but vanishing pollinator once widely found in the upper Midwest and Northeastern United States, for federal protection as an endangered species.

One of several wild bee species seen declining over the past two decades, the rusty patched bumble bee is the first in the continental United States formally proposed for listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Named for the conspicuous reddish blotch on its abdomen, the rusty patched bumble bee -- or Bombus affinis, as it is known to scientists -- has plunged in abundance and distribution by more than 90 percent since the late 1990s, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The agency attributes the decline to a number of factors, including disease, pesticides, climate change and habitat loss.

Bumble bees, as distinguished from domesticated honey bees, are essential pollinators of wildflowers and about a third of U.S. crops, from blueberries to tomatoes, said Sarina Jepsen of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, which petitioned the government for protection of the insect.

Bumble bees' annual economic value to farms is estimated at $3.5 billion, according to experts.

The rusty patched species is one of 47 varieties of native bumble bees in the United States and Canada, more than a quarter of which face a risk of extinction, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. […]

Jepsen said protections proposed for the rusty patched bumble bee will intensify the debate over the degree to which so-called neonicotinoid pesticides, routinely used in agriculture and applied to plants and trees in gardens and parks, have contributed to the decline of native bees.

"Endangered Species Act safeguards are now the only way the bumble bee would have a fighting chance for survival," she added. [more]

Rusty patched bumble bee proposed for U.S. endangered species status


21 September 2016 (FWS) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will propose the rusty patched bumble bee as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, citing a steep decline in the species’ numbers throughout its range. The rusty patched bumble bee, once widespread, is now found in scattered, small populations in 12 states and one Canadian province.

Twenty years ago, the rusty patched bumble bee was an abundant native pollinator found across a broad geographic range that included 28 states and the District of Columbia, from Connecticut to South Dakota and north into two provinces in Canada. The rusty patched bumble bee is now found only in Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin – and Ontario, Canada. Abundance and distribution of rusty patched bumble bee populations have declined by an estimated 91 percent since the mid to late 1990s.

Threats to the rusty patched bumble bee include disease (for example, from infected commercial honeybee colonies), exposure to pesticides, habitat loss, the effects of climate change, the effects of extremely small populations, and a combination of these factors.

Bumble bees such as the rusty patched are important pollinators of plants and wildflowers that provide food and habitat for other wildlife. They are also the chief pollinator of many economically important crops. Bumble bees are able to fly in cooler temperatures and lower light levels than many other bees, such as honey bees, making them excellent pollinators for crops like tomatoes, peppers and cranberries. Even where crops can be self-pollinated, the plant produces more and bigger fruits when pollinated by bumble bees.

The ESA helps focus resources, attention and collaborations on behalf of imperiled species and inspires proactive conservation efforts. The Service has been actively working with partners to prevent the extinction of pollinators by locating, protecting and restoring existing habitat.  Long-term strategies for the rusty patched bumble bee may also include captive rearing and research.

There are also timely actions that citizens, communities and landowners can take to conserve and restore rusty patched bumble bees. For populations located in urban areas, citizens can plant native flowers that bloom throughout the growing season and leave flowers on the stem as long as possible, especially in fall. This provides bees with needed resources for making it through the winter and for producing new colonies in the spring. For populations on or near agricultural lands, landowners can refrain from haying in early fall and follow best management practices for pesticide use.

The Service’s proposal to list the rusty patched bumble bee is published in the 22 September 2016, Federal Register. Comments on the proposal are accepted through 21 November 2016. Following the close of the comment period, the Service will evaluate any new information and make a determination on whether to list the species.

You may submit comments by one of the following methods:

  • Electronically: Go to the federal eRulemaking Portal at http://www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter FWS–R3–ES–2015–0112, which is the docket number for this rulemaking. Then, in the Search panel on the left side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, click on the Proposed Rules link to locate this document. You may submit a comment by clicking on “Comment Now!”
  • Submit hard copies by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to:
    Public Comments Processing
    Attn: FWS–R3–ES–2015–0112
    U.S. Fish & Wildlife Headquarters, MS: BPHC
    5275 Leesburg Pike
    Falls Church, VA 22041-3803

We will accept and consider comments and information we receive or postmarked on or before November 21, 2016. We must receive comments submitted electronically using the federal eRulemaking Portal by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on the closing date.

To see the Service’s proposal to list the rusty patched bumble bee and learn more about the species go to www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/insects/rpbb.

Contact

Georgia Parham
812-334-4261 x 1203, cell: 812-593-8501
Georgia_Parham@fws.gov

Service Proposes Protections for Rusty Patched Bumble Bee Under Endangered Species Act

The primary global average surface temperature (GAST) estimate (using 61 proxy reconstructions) is plotted as a function of time, with the median in black and the 95 percent interval in grey. The GAST estimation method is repeated for a clustering of the data (11 clusters and 18 individual reconstructions), with the median shown in cyan, and for only the 5 proxy reconstructions that cover the past 2 Myr, with the median shown in orange. Graphic: Snyder, 2016 / Nature

WASHINGTON, 26 September 2016 (AP) – A new study paints a picture of an Earth that is warmer than it has been in about 120,000 years, and is locked into eventually hitting its hottest mark in more than 2 million years.

As part of her doctoral dissertation at Stanford University, Carolyn Snyder, now a climate policy official at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, created a continuous 2 million year temperature record, much longer than a previous 22,000 year record. Snyder’s temperature reconstruction, published Monday in the journal Nature, doesn’t estimate temperature for a single year, but averages 5,000-year time periods going back a couple million years.

Snyder based her reconstruction on 61 different sea surface temperature proxies from across the globe, such as ratios between magnesium and calcium, species makeup and acidity. But the further the study goes back in time, especially after half a million years, the fewer of those proxies are available, making the estimates less certain, she said.

These are rough estimates with large margins of errors, she said. But she also found that the temperature changes correlated well to carbon dioxide levels.

Temperatures averaged out over the most recent 5,000 years – which includes the last 125 years or so of industrial emissions of heat-trapping gases – are generally warmer than they have been since about 120,000 years ago or so, Snyder found. And two interglacial time periods, the one 120,000 years ago and another just about 2 million years ago, were the warmest Snyder tracked. They were about 3.6 degrees warmer than the current 5,000-year average.

With the link to carbon dioxide levels​ and taking into account other factors and past trends, Snyder calculated how much warming can be expected in the future.

Snyder said if climate​ factors are the same as in the past – and that’s a big if – Earth is already committed to another 7 degrees or so of warming over the next few thousand years.

“This is based on what happened in the past,” Snyder said. “In the past it wasn’t humans messing with the atmosphere.” [more]

Study: Earth now the warmest it's been in 120,000 years


ABSTRACT: Reconstructions of Earth’s past climate strongly influence our understanding of the dynamics and sensitivity of the climate system. Yet global temperature has been reconstructed for only a few isolated windows of time1, 2, and continuous reconstructions across glacial cycles remain elusive. Here I present a spatially weighted proxy reconstruction of global temperature over the past 2 million years estimated from a multi-proxy database of over 20,000 sea surface temperature point reconstructions. Global temperature gradually cooled until roughly 1.2 million years ago and cooling then stalled until the present. The cooling trend probably stalled before the beginning of the mid-Pleistocene transition3, and pre-dated the increase in the maximum size of ice sheets around 0.9 million years ago4, 5, 6. Thus, global cooling may have been a pre-condition for, but probably is not the sole causal mechanism of, the shift to quasi-100,000-year glacial cycles at the mid-Pleistocene transition. Over the past 800,000 years, polar amplification (the amplification of temperature change at the poles relative to global temperature change) has been stable over time, and global temperature and atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations have been closely coupled across glacial cycles. A comparison of the new temperature reconstruction with radiative forcing from greenhouse gases estimates an Earth system sensitivity of 9 degrees Celsius (range 7 to 13 degrees Celsius, 95 per cent credible interval) change in global average surface temperature per doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide over millennium timescales. This result suggests that stabilization at today’s greenhouse gas levels may already commit Earth to an eventual total warming of 5 degrees Celsius (range 3 to 7 degrees Celsius, 95 per cent credible interval) over the next few millennia as ice sheets, vegetation, and atmospheric dust continue to respond to global warming.

Evolution of global temperature over the past two million years

Suitability changes for coffee production by the 2050s in the RCP 6.0 scenario; A-D: Arabica, E-G: Robusta. Hatching indicates the current suitability distribution; Warm colors represent areas with negative climate change impacts and cold colors positive changes. Graphic: Bunn, et al., 2014 / Climatic Change

By Jonah Engel Bromwich
22 September 2016

(The New York Times) – A report examining the many ways climate change threatens coffee and coffee farmers has alarmed people who are now imagining what it would be like getting through the day without their caffeine fix.

The report, released this month by the Climate Institute, a nonprofit organization in Australia, was commissioned by Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand, the regional hub of the global Fairtrade system.

Though it contains little new research, it has made waves by collating an array of available literature indicating that climate change will have a stark effect on the world’s coffee supply.

The report emphasizes the threat warming temperatures pose to farmland, citing a study from the March 2015 issue of the journal Climatic Change that found climate change “will reduce the global area suitable for coffee by about 50 percent across emission scenarios.”

In addition to the disappearing land on which to grow coffee, the report highlights the way warmer weather is exacerbating the threat of diseases like coffee rust and pests like the coffee berry borer, a type of beetle that a 2011 report said caused annual losses of hundreds of millions of dollars in coffee beans. [more]

Climate Change Threatens World’s Coffee Supply, Report Says


image

Coffee is a key global crop and the second most valuable commodity exported by developing countries, worth around US$19 billion in 2015. Worldwide, around 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed each day. Nearly half of all Australians drink coffee regularly. The coffee market is growing, but faces big challenges coming up fast:

  • There is strong evidence that rising temperatures and altered rainfall patterns are already affecting coffee yields, quality, pests, and diseases—badly affecting economic security in some coffee regions.
  • Without strong action to reduce emissions, climate change is projected to cut the global area suitable for coffee production by as much as 50 per cent by 2050. By 2080, wild coffee, an important genetic resource for farmers, could become extinct.
  • Leading global coffee companies, such as Starbucks and Lavazza, publicly acknowledge the severe risks posed by climate change to the world’s coffee supply. Consumers are likely to face supply shortages, impacts on flavour and aroma, and rising prices.
  • In the next few decades, coffee production will undergo dramatic shifts—broadly, away from the equator and further up mountains. Production will probably come into conflict with other land uses, including forests.
  • Rising CO2 levels may boost the growth and vigour of the coffee plant, but there is no guarantee this ‘fertilisation effect’ will offset the risks imposed by a more hostile climate.

A Brewing Storm: The climate change risks to coffee


ABSTRACT: Coffee has proven to be highly sensitive to climate change. Because coffee plantations have a lifespan of about thirty years, the likely effects of future climates are already a concern. Forward-looking research on adaptation is therefore in high demand across the entire supply chain. In this paper we seek to project current and future climate suitability for coffee production (Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora) on a global scale. We used machine learning algorithms to derive functions of climatic suitability from a database of geo-referenced production locations. Use of several parameter combinations enhances the robustness of our analysis. The resulting multi-model ensemble suggests that higher temperatures may reduce yields of C. arabica, while C. canephora could suffer from increasing variability of intra-seasonal temperatures. Climate change will reduce the global area suitable for coffee by about 50 % across emission scenarios. Impacts are highest at low latitudes and low altitudes. Impacts at higher altitudes and higher latitudes are still negative but less pronounced. The world’s dominant production regions in Brazil and Vietnam may experience substantial reductions in area available for coffee. Some regions in East Africa and Asia may become more suitable, but these are partially in forested areas, which could pose a challenge to mitigation efforts.

A bitter cup: climate change profile of global production of Arabica and Robusta coffee

Eleven years of sewage overflows caused by rainfall in Maryland: precipitation-related sewage overflows from 2005 to 2015. Graphic: Climate Central

21 September 2016 (Climate Central) – Record rainstorms across the U.S. in the past year have continued to make national news, causing billions of dollars of flood damage and killing dozens. But what has barely made headlines are that these floods often cause massive overflows of untreated sewage into streams, rivers, bays, canals, and even streets and homes. See the full report [pdf].

Climate Central has investigated the extent of these sewage overflows. In most cases, we found reports that millions of gallons of untreated sewage were released into streets and waterways. These overflows can have devastating consequences for public health and the environment: they can trigger dangerous outbreaks of waterborne diseases and are often linked to fish kills. And when sewage overflows into homes and businesses, expensive remediation and decontamination is needed to make them safe again.

Worse was the discovery that the true extent of sewage overflow is often undocumented and largely unknown.

From the 70 sewage overflows we identified that had occurred in the past 20 months, overflows of more than one billion gallons combined were reported, triggering health warnings in dozens of cities. Local officials confirmed that these reported volumes are likely underestimating the true extent of overflows; during these flooding emergencies, there is typically no reliable way to determine how much untreated sewage gets into the waterways. [more]

When it Rains it Pours, and Sewage Hits the Fan


Increase in heaviest 1 percent of precipitation events since 1950 for the continental United States. Graphic: Climate Central

Summary

Record rainstorms across the U.S. in the past year have continued to make national news, causing billions of dollars of flood damage and killing dozens. But what has barely made headlines are that these floods often cause massive overflows of untreated sewage into streams, rivers, bays, canals, and even streets and homes.

Climate Central has investigated the extent of these sewage overflows. In most cases, we found reports that millions of gallons of untreated sewage were released into streets and waterways.

These overflows can have devastating consequences for public health and the environment: they can trigger dangerous outbreaks of waterborne diseases and are often linked to fish kills. And when sewage overflows into homes and businesses, expensive remediation and decontamination is needed to make them safe again.

Worse was the discovery that the true extent of sewage overflow is often undocumented and largely unknown.

From the 70 sewage overflows we identified that had occurred in the past 20 months, overflows of more than one billion gallons combined were reported, triggering health warnings in dozens of cities. Local officials confirmed that these reported volumes are likely underestimating the true extent of overflows; during these flooding emergencies, there is typically no reliable way to determine how much untreated sewage gets into the waterways.

With a backdrop of antiquated and overpopulated sewer systems, the increase in rain and heavy downpours in recent decades -- one of the ongoing impacts of climate change -- continues to trigger overflows that affect millions of Americans every year.

While many cities are working toward upgrading their sewer systems, they can’t eliminate their sewage overflow risks entirely. Climate models project that both overall precipitation, and the amount of rain falling in heavy downpours, will continue to increase this century with continued climate change, which could cause even more overflows.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Climate Central’s World Weather Attribution project, the epic rains in Louisiana in August 2016 that flooded 60,000 homes and killed 13, were made nearly twice as likely due to carbon pollution in the atmosphere.

Climate Central’s analysis of more than 3,000 rain gauges nationwide shows that heavy downpours are happening more frequently than they did in the 1950s. We found that all but two of the Lower 48 states have seen an increase in the number of heavy downpours happening each year, on average, compared to the 1950s, and 28 states have seen at least a 25 percent increase in these heaviest events. With downpours projected to be even more frequent and intense as the world continues to warm, we can expect more of these costly and dangerous overflows for many years to come.

Overflow: Climate Change, Heavy Rain, and Sewage

 

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