By RACHEL D'ORO Associated Press
19 June 2013
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) – A heat wave hitting Alaska may not rival the blazing heat of Phoenix or Las Vegas, but to residents of the 49th state, the days of hot weather feel like a stifling oven - or a tropical paradise.
With temperatures topping 80 degrees in Anchorage, and higher in other parts of the state, people have been sweltering in a place where few homes have air conditioning.
They're sunbathing and swimming at local lakes, hosing down their dogs and cleaning out supplies of fans in at least one local hardware store. Mid-June normally brings high temperatures in the 60s in Anchorage, and just a month ago, it was still snowing.
The weather feels like anywhere but Alaska to 18-year-old Jordan Rollison, who was sunbathing with three friends and several hundred others lolling at the beach of Anchorage's Goose Lake.
"I love it, I love it," Rollison said. "I've never seen a summer like this, ever."
State health officials even took the unusual step of posting a Facebook message reminding people to slather on the sunscreen.
Some people aren't so thrilled, complaining that it's just too hot.
"It's almost unbearable to me," said Lorraine Roehl, who has lived in Anchorage for two years after moving here from the community of Sand Point in Alaska's Aleutian Islands. "I don't like being hot. I'm used to cool ocean breeze."
On Tuesday, the official afternoon high in Anchorage was 81 degrees, breaking the city's record of 80 set in 1926 for that date.
Other smaller communities throughout a wide swath of the state are seeing even higher temperatures.
All-time highs were recorded elsewhere, including 96 degrees on Monday 80 miles to the north in the small community of Talkeetna, purported to be the inspiration for the town in the TV series, "Northern Exposure" and the last stop for climbers heading to Mount McKinley, North America's tallest mountain. One unofficial reading taken at a lodge near Talkeetna even measured 98 degrees, which would tie the highest undisputed temperature recorded in Alaska.
That record was set in 1969, according to Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the online forecasting service Weather Underground.
"This is the hottest heat wave in Alaska since '69," he said. "You're way, way from normal."
It's also been really hot for a while. The city had six days over 70 degrees, then hit a high of 68 last Thursday, followed by five more days of 70 degrees and up.
The city's record of consecutive days with temperatures of 70 or above was 13 days recorded in 1953, said Eddie Zingone, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service who has lived in Anchorage for 17 years. [more]
13 May 2013 (IDMC) – Unusually heavy and prolonged rainfall from June to November 2012 resulted in widespread flooding across 18 countries. Displacement was reported in 13: Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, the Gambia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan and South Sudan (see Figure 3.2). Over 7.6 million people were displaced from their homes. The IFRC and national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies in a number of these countries highlighted the importance of having a regional overview when planning international interventions in states with inter-linked flood disasters (see Figure 3.2).
Nigeria, Niger, Chad and South Sudan were the worst affected, with the highest levels of flood-induced dis- placement and extremely vulnerable populations facing multi-faceted insecurity and ongoing conflict displacement. These countries also have some of the world’s lowest rankings in the 2013 Human Development Index. Out of 186 countries, Niger is ranked 186, Chad is 184 and Nigeria is 153. South Sudan is not included in the 2013 index.34 Per capita displacement in these four countries was between 3.1 and 4.4 per cent. These were among the world’s largest displacement events worldwide in 2012 (see Table 3.4).
Traditional earth and/or mud brick housing in many parts of the region is not designed to withstand severe floods. Thus hundreds of thousands of houses either collapsed or were made uninhabitable. Most of those displaced took refuge with host families, while others found shelter in schools and other public buildings or set up makeshift shelters, mostly in informal camps. IDPs made homeless and sheltering in schools were among the most vulnerable as governments promoted early return to free up school premises for the new academic year. Overcrowding in IDP areas and poor water and sanitation created the additional risk of cholera and other water-borne diseases.
(The New York Times) – Last week the International Monetary Fund, whose normal role is that of stern disciplinarian to spendthrift governments, gave the United States some unusual advice. “Lighten up,” urged the fund. “Enjoy life! Seize the day!”
O.K., fund officials didn’t use quite those words, but they came close, with an article in IMF Survey magazine titled “Ease Off Spending Cuts to Boost U.S. Recovery.” In its more formal statement, the fund argued that the sequester and other forms of fiscal contraction will cut this year’s U.S. growth rate by almost half, undermining what might otherwise have been a fairly vigorous recovery. And these spending cuts are both unwise and unnecessary.
Unfortunately, the fund apparently couldn’t bring itself to break completely with the austerity talk that is regarded as a badge of seriousness in the policy world. Even while urging us to run bigger deficits for the time being, Christine Lagarde, the fund’s head, called on us to “hurry up with putting in place a medium-term road map to restore long-run fiscal sustainability.”
So here’s my question: Why, exactly, do we need to hurry up? Is it urgent that we agree now on how we’ll deal with fiscal issues of the 2020s, the 2030s and beyond?
No, it isn’t. And in practice, focusing on “long-run fiscal sustainability” — which usually ends up being mainly about “entitlement reform,” a k a cuts to Social Security and other programs — isn’t a way of being responsible. On the contrary, it’s an excuse, a way to avoid dealing with the severe economic problems we face right now.
What’s the problem with focusing on the long run? Part of the answer — although arguably the least important part — is that the distant future is highly uncertain (surprise!) and that long-run fiscal projections should be seen mainly as an especially boring genre of science fiction. In particular, projections of huge future deficits are to a large extent based on the assumption that health care costs will continue to rise substantially faster than national income — yet the growth in health costs has slowed dramatically in the last few years, and the long-run picture is already looking much less dire than it did not long ago.
Now, uncertainty by itself isn’t always a reason for inaction. In the case of climate change, for example, uncertainty about the impact of greenhouse gases on global temperatures actually strengthens the case for action, to head off the risk of catastrophe.
But fiscal policy isn’t like climate policy, even though some people have tried to make the analogy (even as right-wingers who claim to be deeply concerned about long-term debt remain strangely indifferent to long-term environmental concerns). Delaying action on climate means releasing billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere while we debate the issue; delaying action on entitlement reform has no comparable cost.
In fact, the whole argument for early action on long-run fiscal issues is surprisingly weak and slippery. As I like to point out, the conventional wisdom on these things seems to be that to avert the danger of future benefit cuts, we must act now to cut future benefits. And no, that isn’t much of a caricature. [more]
Flaring emissions rise in Alberta’s oil sands as rules lag – ‘The economics for conserving gas just doesn’t seem to be there’0 comments Posted by Jim at Wednesday, June 19, 2013
By Jeremy van Loon
17 June 2013
(Bloomberg) – In the farming country of northwest Alberta, heavy oil wells are becoming more common than cattle and combines. Along with money and jobs, the boom has brought smells and fumes that are adding to the greenhouse gas emissions from Canada’s oil sands.
Emissions from flaring, or burning of natural gas, methane and hydrogen sulphide associated with oil production, have risen in each of the last three years as drillers increased activity and the government failed to implement new industry targets.
“There’s no new absolute target to reduce flare or vent emissions,” said James Vaughan, who works at the Alberta Energy Conservation Board’s surveillance branch, in an interview. “The economics for conserving gas just doesn’t seem to be there” because of a decline in natural gas prices.
Flaring by companies including Husky Energy Inc. (HSE) is rising even as the Canadian government touts the country’s efforts to limit emissions to win support for TransCanada Corp. (TRP)’s Keystone XL pipeline. Prime Minister Stephen Harper met his European counterparts last week in Paris and London, appealing for them to stop EU plans to single out Alberta as a source of high-polluting energy.
Environmental groups such as 350.org and the Sierra Club have lobbied President Barack Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry crude from Alberta to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries, saying that oil-sands production has a larger climate-change impact. Globally, about 5.3 trillion cubic feet of gas is flared annually, the equivalent of 25 percent of U.S. consumption of the fuel, according to the World Bank.
With bitumen production expected to surge to 6.7 million barrels a day by 2030, flaring and venting will continue to rise without new regulations, said Chris Severson-Baker, managing director of the Pembina Institute, a Calgary-based environmental research group and consultancy.
Flaring and vented gas from crude oil and bitumen production increased 66 percent between 2009 and 2011, the most recent figures available, according to ERCB data. The upward trend continued last year, according to preliminary data from the regulator.
Previous declines [pdf] from 1996 to 2009 resulted from the implementation of recommendations from an alliance of non-governmental groups, industry, the public and government, known as the Clean Air Strategic Alliance, helping Alberta achieve the most “comprehensive” enforcement rules to manage flaring globally, according to a 2004 World Bank report.
Emissions from flaring in Nigeria have “negative impacts” on lung function, according to a report [pdf] in the Research Journal of Environmental Earth Sciences published on 8 March 2012. Inhaling vapors associated with heavy-oil production may result in nose and throat irritation, headaches and nausea, Baytex Energy Corp. (BTE), a Calgary-based producer, said on its website.
A 2005 report by the Environmental Rights Action and Climate Justice determined gas flaring in Nigeria’s Bayelsa State likely causes 49 premature deaths and respiratory illnesses in 5,000 children annually. [more]
13 June 2013 (Daily Telegraph) – Snapshots of history documenting abandoned America and the decline of a superpower.
Up to half of all birds threatened by climate change – ‘The magnitude of the conservation program we need to put in place is mind-boggling’2 comments Posted by Jim at Monday, June 17, 2013
By Michael Marshall
13 June 2013
(New Scientist) – Between a quarter and a half of all birds, along with around a third of amphibians and a quarter of corals, are highly vulnerable to climate change. These findings have emerged from the most comprehensive assessment to date of the impact of global warming on life. Its results have led some researchers to warn of the need for unprecedented conservation efforts if we don't cut our emissions.
The new assessment of climate change risk was performed by scientists from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the organisation that produces the Red List of Threatened Species. "When the Red List was invented, it was long before anyone worried about climate change," says Wendy Foden of the IUCN in Cambridge, UK.
Red List assessments of extinction risk do consider climate change, but in a limited way. The main tools used in these earlier assessments are species distribution models, says Foden. These map out the climate conditions where a species lives now, then estimate how that liveable area will alter as the climate changes. In many cases, species' habitable ranges will move and shrink, putting them at risk.
But that's not enough to assess risk. Some species may be able to cope if their environment changes. Others may be particularly suited to evolving new adaptations that will allow them to acclimatise to the changing environment. And yet more species may simply move to new areas.
Foden and colleagues tried to take all that into account in their new assessment. They considered how quickly species could relocate, and whether they were barriers like mountain ranges in their way. They also examined how rapidly species could evolve. For instance, species that reproduce quickly have a better chance of evolving new adaptations than those that do not.
"If you're a narwhal and only breed once every two years, it's not going to happen," says Foden. Species with low genetic diversity are also slow to evolve.
"These ideas have been milling around," says Chris Thomas of the University of York in the UK. "But the way they've clarified them will be really helpful."
So far, the team has applied their criteria to all birds, amphibians and corals. Species were classed as highly vulnerable if their local climate is changing rapidly, they are sensitive to these changes, and have little ability to adapt or relocate.
The results make for grim reading. Among birds, 24 to 50 per cent of species are highly vulnerable, according to the team's most optimistic and pessimistic forecasts, as are 22 to 44 per cent of amphibians and 15 to 32 per cent of corals. The figures are similar to those obtained in a 2004 study by Thomas, which estimated that 15 to 37 per cent of species will be "committed to extinction" by 2050 due to climate change (Nature, doi.org/c34wgp). "These are high percentages," says Thomas. […]
"The moment you start thinking about the magnitude of the conservation programme we might need to put in place, it's mind-boggling," Thomas says. [more]
By FERNANDA SANTOS
16 June 2013
PHOENIX (The New York Times) – The hiss of sprinklers serenades improbably green neighborhoods early in the morning and late at night, the moisture guarding against the oppressive heat. This is the time of year when temperatures soar, water consumption spikes and water bills skyrocket in this city, particularly for those whose idea of desert living includes cultivating a healthy expanse of grass.
Half of the water consumed in homes here is used to irrigate lawns, but there is a certain curiosity about the way water is used in Phoenix, which gets barely eight inches of rain a year but is not necessarily parched.
The per capita consumption here, 108 gallons a day, is less than in Los Angeles, where residents average 123 gallons a day. And though humid Southeastern cities like Atlanta have grappled with recurrent water shortages, there is no limit here to how many times someone can wash a car or water flowers in a yard.
“We’re often maligned as being an unsustainable place simply for existing in an arid climate,” said Colin Tetreault, senior policy adviser for sustainability for Mayor Greg Stanton. “But that’s just myopic.”
Phoenix gathers its water from several places. It relies on melting snow in the north to feed the rivers that supply its water system: the Salt and the Verde, which begin and end in Arizona, and the overstretched Colorado, which slices the Southwest. It pumps from aquifers, strained by development over time, and then works to replenish them whenever water is in surplus, which happens occasionally.
To irrigate its many golf courses, it reuses most of the water drained from bathroom faucets and washing machines. It uses treated wastewater to cool a nuclear power generating station and to feed a man-made wetland complex known as Tres Rios, home to more than 150 species of birds.
A system of canals crisscrosses the city and stretches beyond its boundaries, a legacy of the prehistoric Hohokam Indians that allowed fertile farms to flourish in the desert. To this day, half of all the water used in the Sun Corridor, the area from Phoenix to Tucson, goes to agriculture, according to a 2011 report by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University. Steadily, though, much of the farmland has given way to development.
Figuring out how water will be used here is like solving a puzzle speckled with blank pieces, in which the unknowns are the housing market and climate change.
Water managers weigh wet and dry cycles over the past 100 years against climate change models designed in the previous year and demographic projections. They also analyze the way parcels of land are zoned to make assumptions about how water will be used.
Overall, demand for water has declined steadily in this and in many other metropolitan areas, because of water-efficient technologies like low-flow toilets, and stricter building codes. Still, the draining of rivers and other water sources — from overdevelopment, poor management, climate change or a little bit of all of these — has forced communities to rethink their strategies. Some have used money as the main incentive to get people to give up their addiction to turf. […]
“There’s a need to use water to make our community livable, but in an intelligent way that thinks about long-term sustainability,” said Dave D. White, a director of the National Science Foundation’s Decision Center for a Desert City. “Because there’s no new supply out there.” [more]
Climate science debate has cost precious time, expert warns – Commission report says evidence of rapidly changed climate has strengthened0 comments Posted by Jim at Monday, June 17, 2013
By Oliver Milman
16 June 2013
(The Guardian) – Floods, bushfires, and this year's scorching summer heatwave have raised awareness of the dangers of climate change, but an "infantile" debate over the validity of the science has cost Australia precious time, according to a key Climate Commission expert.
The commission, an independent body that advises the government on climate science, has updated its 2011 The Critical Decade study to analyse the latest findings on climate change and Australia's response to it.
The report is likely to be the Climate Commission's last major contribution if, as expected, the Coalition wins power at the 14 September election. Opposition leader Tony Abbott has signalled that he will scrap the commission , along with the carbon price, if he becomes prime minister.
The commission's updated analysis states that evidence of a "rapidly changing climate has continued to strengthen over the last two years", including, importantly, the link between climate change and extreme weather events.
"It is clear that the climate system has already shifted, changing conditions for all weather," says the study. "While extreme weather events have always occurred naturally, the global climate system is hotter and wetter than it was 50 years ago. This has loaded the dice toward more frequent and forceful extreme weather events."
In Australia, this has manifested itself in an increase in the duration and frequency of heatwaves, such as this year's .
The report warns that this climate shift "poses substantial risks for health, property, infrastructure, agriculture and natural ecosystems", with Australia largely "ill-prepared to cope" with frequent extreme weather events.
However, the report states that the last two years has seen an increased understanding of the challenges posed by climate change and also the action, such as leaving the majority of buried Australian coal resources untouched, required to help the world stay below the internationally agreed temperature increase limit of two degrees above pre-industrial levels.
"Extreme weather events tend to focus the mind and change the narrative around climate change," Professor Will Steffen, of the commission, told Guardian Australia.
"The IPCC report that linked extreme weather events to climate change in 2012 was a breakthrough as previously scientists were loathed to link the two. I've certainly noted that when I go up to Queensland, people are fed up cleaning up a once in a 100-year flood and then doing it again next year. People are starting to ask what's going on."
Steffen said that Australia had made progress in its bid to reduce emissions but that vital time has been wasted in the questioning of the validity of climate science.
"I'd love for us to be at the point where Nordic countries are, where the science is accepted in a bipartisan way and the debate is around how to get emissions down," he said.
"I think we've lost valuable time with an infantile debate over the science, which has delayed the inevitable work of getting to the solution. There have been attempts to undermine the science. The science has been attacked and scrutinised and it's stood up." [more]
By Bryan Walsh
17 June 2013
(TIME) – While the national government remains slow to deal with climate change, many cities have been moving ahead. Why the difference? Well, cities tend to be more homogenous politically, which makes any kind of decisive action easier to push through. But the real reason is that city managers know that they will be the first ones forced to deal with the likely consequences of global warming: rising sea levels and flooding, deadly heat waves and water struggles. New York City didn’t just come out last week with the most comprehensive climate adaptation plan in the world because Mayor Michael Bloomberg is a global warming believer. The experience of Hurricane Sandy last year—which cost the city some $20 billion—was instructive. Even in the absence of warming, growing population and property values will put major cities on the front lines of extreme weather. Add in climate change, and it could get ugly.
Just ask Los Angeles. The City of Angels has struggled with the basic fact that it is a desert metropolis since its founding. (Just watch Chinatown.) The first three months of 2013 were the driest for California on record, and there’s no relief in sight. Now a new study from the University of California-Los Angeles suggests that the local mountain snowfall—vital for water supplies—could fall 30 to 40% below 2000 levels by midcentury, thanks to global warming. And if emissions don’t decline and warming is worse than we expect, more snow will vanish, even as greater L.A. continues to grow.
In the business-as-usual scenario—a climate science term for a model that assumes greenhouse gas emissions keep growing without any effort to slow them—snowfall levels could fall 42% by midcentury, and over 60% by the end of the century. Here’s lead author Alex Hall of UCLA in a statement:
The mountains won’t receive nearly as much snow as they used to, and the snow they do get will not last as long … We won’t reach the 32-degree threshold for snow as often, so a greater percentage of precipitation will fall as rain instead of snow, particularly at lower elevations. Increased flooding is possible from the more frequent rains, and springtime runoff from melting snowpack will happen sooner. [more]