By Chris Mooney
29 April 2017
(The Washington Post) – The northernmost village in Greenland sits just shy of 78 degrees north latitude — deep in the Arctic — yet during the summer, meltwater is everywhere. It flows in small rivulets and larger streams, past multicolored houses built against a sloping hill and down to the Inglefield Bredning, as it is called in Danish — a broad body of water at the confluence of several fjords. […]
But the age-old Inugguit lifestyle is changing fast as the climate warms, disrupting long-held patterns and possibilities and forcing economic challenges as a traditional hunting culture weighs new industries such as fishing and even tourism. […]
And now, when it comes to climate, it’s not just the changing patterns of ice in the Inglefield Bredning. It’s a host of other changes — from the arrival of mosquitoes to increasing landslide and flood dangers from the melting of the Qaanaaq ice cap, which sits on the bluff above the village. […]
The encroaching problems include mercury polluting the marine life that is their food staple.
Rune Dietz, an environmental scientist and marine mammal expert from Aarhus University in Denmark, was in Qaanaaq last summer to research this latest crisis for the village. High levels of mercury, which trace back to the burning of coal across the world, accumulate in the flesh of narwhals — exposing villagers to the dangerous neurotoxin.
“The mercury loads here are the highest in any part of the Arctic,” Dietz said. “We’ve seen it in the polar bears here and in Lancaster Sound. We’ve seen it in the ringed seals. And if you look at the population, then the mercury loads here are by far higher than any other Inuit or the Indian tribes, or other indigenous or nonindigenous populations.” [more]
By Gregory Korte
26 April 2017
WASHINGTON (USA Today) – President Trump signed an executive order Wednesday calling into question the future of more than two dozen national monuments proclaimed by the last three presidents to set aside millions of acres from development.
In asking Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke for an unprecedented review of national monuments, Trump may force a question never before tested in the 111-year history of the Antiquities Act: Whether one president can nullify a previous president's proclamation establishing a national monument.
Signing the executive order at the Department of the Interior Wednesday, Trump called President Barack Obama's creation of national monuments an "egregious abuse use of power."
"And it’s gotten worse and worse and worse, and now we're going to free it up," he said. "This should never have happened."
Trump's executive order takes aim at 21 years of proclamations beginning in 1996. That time frame encompasses the "bookends" of two of the most controversial national monument designations in recent history: President Clinton's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996 to President Obama's Bears Ears National Monument in 2016. Both are in Utah, and faced opposition from the congressional delegation and state officials.
Zinke's review could lead to a recommendation that Trump rescind, resize or modify existing national monuments, and conservation groups say the order endangers monuments that should be permanently protected because of their beauty, wildlife and vulnerability.
"This review is a first step towards monument rollbacks, which we will fight all the way," said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "These public lands belong to all of us." [more]
By Gregory Korte
26 April 2017
WASHINGTON (USA Today) – At least two dozen national monuments are at risk of losing their federally protected status as a result of President Trump's executive order asking for an unprecedented review of their designations.
Under the 1906 Antiquities Act, either Congress or the President can protect federal lands by designating them as a national monument. And while Congress has occasionally revoked that status for existing monuments, no president ever has. Trump's order opens the door to that possibility.
Trump is targeting all or part of monuments that make up 100,000 acres or more, and were created by presidential proclamation since 1996. The White House released a list of 24 of them on Wednesday. They are:
- Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, proclaimed by President Clinton in 1996 (1.7 million acres).
- Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument in Arizona, proclaimed by Clinton in 2000 (1 million acres).
- Giant Sequoia National Monument in California, proclaimed by Clinton in 2000 (327,769 acres).
- Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona, proclaimed by Clinton in 2000 (279,568 acres).
- Hanford Reach National Monument in Washington, proclaimed by Clinton in 2000 (194,450 acres).
- Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in Colorado, proclaimed by Clinton in 2000 (175,160 acres).
- Ironwood Forest National Monument in Arizona, proclaimed by Clinton in 2000 (128,917 acres).
- Sonoran Desert National Monument in Arizona, proclaimed by Clinton in 2001 (486,149 acres).
- Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in Montana, proclaimed by Clinton in 2001 (377,346 acres).
- Carrizo Plain National Monument in California, proclaimed by Clinton in 2001 (204,107 acres).
- Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the Pacific Ocean, proclaimed by President George W. Bush in 2006 and expanded by President Barack Obama in 2016 (89.6 million acres).
- Marianas Trench Marine National Monument in the Pacific Ocean, proclaimed by Bush in 2009 (60.9 million acres).
- Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument in the Pacific Ocean, proclaimed by Bush in 2009 and enlarged by Obama in 2014 (55.6 million acres).
- Rose Atoll Marine National Monument in American Samoa, proclaimed by Bush in 2009 (8.6 million acres).
- Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in New Mexico, proclaimed by Obama in 2013 (242,555 acres).
- Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in New Mexico, proclaimed by Obama in 2014 (496,330 acres).
- Basin and Range National Monument in Nevada, proclaimed by Obama in 2015 (703,585 acres).
- Berryessa Snow Mountain in California, proclaimed by Obama in 2015 (330,780 acres).
- Northeast Canyons & Seamounts Marine National Monument in the Atlantic Ocean, proclaimed by Obama in 2016 (3.1 million acres).
- Mojave Trails National Monument in California, proclaimed by Obama in 2016 (1.6 million acres).
- Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, proclaimed by Obama in 2016 (1.4 million acres).
- Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada, proclaimed by Obama in 2016 (296,937 acres).
- Sand to Snow National Monument in California, proclaimed by Obama in 2016 (154,000 acres).
- The San Gabriel Mountains National Monument in California, proclaimed by Obama in 2014 (346,177 acres), is another national monument that meets the 100,000-acre threshold but was not included on the White House list. [more]
By Chris Mooney, Joe Heim, and Brady Dennis
29 April 2017
(The Washington Post) – On a sweltering April day, tens of thousands of demonstrators assembled in Washington on Saturday for the latest installment of the regular protests that punctuate the Trump era. This large-scale climate march marked President Trump’s first 100 days in office, which have already seen multiple rollbacks of environmental protections and Obama climate policies.
The Peoples Climate March, which originated with a massive demonstration in New York in September 2014, picked a symbolically striking day for its 2017 event. The temperature reached 91 degrees at D.C.’s National Airport at 2:59 p.m., tying a heat record for April 29 in the district set in 1974 — which only amplified the movement’s message.
On the eve of the march, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it was beginning an overhaul of its website, which included taking down a long-standing site devoted to the science of climate change, which the agency said was “under review.”
“Hang on EPA, the midterms are coming. 2018,” read one sign carried by Kathy Sommer of Stony Brook, N.Y, as the protest assembled on the Mall Saturday morning.
“There is no Planet B,” read another sign by Eva Gunther of Washington, D.C., displaying one of the most popular and oft repeated messages of the event (and of last week’s March for Science).
Hillary Clinton tweeted praise of the marchers Saturday afternoon, writing, “Great to see ppl take to the streets & combat climate change, protect the next generation & fight for jobs & economic justice.”
President Trump was in Pennsylvania for a rally on Saturday and did not tweet any immediate reaction.
Many of the signs at Saturday’s climate march were dark and ominous, warning of climate catastrophe, dying oceans, crop destruction, and planet degradation. But the mood of the marchers was anything but somber. It was a racially diverse crowd with marchers of all ages. There were women with flowers in their hair. A man dressed in Uncle Sam overalls. There were little girls in strawberry sundresses and boys in baseball caps astride their fathers’ shoulders. [more]
By Jessica Glenza
29 April 2017
NEW YORK (The Guardian) – The US Environmental Protection Agency’s main climate change website is “undergoing changes” to better reflect “the agency’s new direction” under Donald Trump.
The announcement, made late Friday evening, left empty what was previously the “official government site” providing “comprehensive information on the issue of climate change and global warming”.
On Saturday, visitors to the website were greeted with a message from the new administration: “This page is being updated.”
“As EPA renews its commitment to human health and clean air, land and water, our website needs to reflect the views of the leadership of the agency,” said JP Freire, an associate administrator for public affairs.
Previously, the website housed data on greenhouse gas emissions from large polluters and reports on the effects of climate change and its impact on human health.
“We want to eliminate confusion,” Freire said, “by removing outdated language first and making room to discuss how we’re protecting the environment and human health by partnering with states and working within the law.” [more]
WASHINGTON, 28 April 2017 (EPA) – EPA.gov, the website for the United States Environmental Protection Agency, is undergoing changes that reflect the agency’s new direction under President Donald Trump and Administrator Scott Pruitt. The process, which involves updating language to reflect the approach of new leadership, is intended to ensure that the public can use the website to understand the agency's current efforts. The changes will comply with agency ethics and legal guidance, including the use of proper archiving procedures. For instance, a screenshot of the last administration’s website will remain available from the main page.
“As EPA renews its commitment to human health and clean air, land, and water, our website needs to reflect the views of the leadership of the agency,” said J.P. Freire, Associate Administrator for Public Affairs. “We want to eliminate confusion by removing outdated language first and making room to discuss how we’re protecting the environment and human health by partnering with states and working within the law.”
The first page to be updated is a page reflecting President Trump’s Executive Order on Energy Independence, which calls for a review of the so-called Clean Power Plan. Language associated with the Clean Power Plan, written by the last administration, is out of date. Similarly, content related to climate and regulation is also being reviewed.
By Lynn Parramore
20 April 2017
(INET) – You’ve probably heard the news that the celebrated post-WW II beating heart of America known as the middle class has gone from “burdened,” to “squeezed” to “dying.” But you might have heard less about what exactly is emerging in its place.
In a new book, The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, Peter Temin, Professor Emeritus of Economics at MIT, draws a portrait of the new reality in a way that is frighteningly, indelibly clear: America is not one country anymore. It is becoming two, each with vastly different resources, expectations, and fates.
Two roads diverged
In one of these countries live members of what Temin calls the “FTE sector” (named for finance, technology, and electronics, the industries which largely support its growth). These are the 20 percent of Americans who enjoy college educations, have good jobs, and sleep soundly knowing that they have not only enough money to meet life’s challenges, but also social networks to bolster their success. They grow up with parents who read books to them, tutors to help with homework, and plenty of stimulating things to do and places to go. They travel in planes and drive new cars. The citizens of this country see economic growth all around them and exciting possibilities for the future. They make plans, influence policies, and count themselves as lucky to be Americans.
The FTE citizens rarely visit the country where the other 80 percent of Americans live: the low-wage sector. Here, the world of possibility is shrinking, often dramatically. People are burdened with debt and anxious about their insecure jobs if they have a job at all. Many of them are getting sicker and dying younger than they used to. They get around by crumbling public transport and cars they have trouble paying for. Family life is uncertain here; people often don’t partner for the long-term even when they have children. If they go to college, they finance it by going heavily into debt. They are not thinking about the future; they are focused on surviving the present. The world in which they reside is very different from the one they were taught to believe in. While members of the first country act, these people are acted upon.
The two sectors, notes Temin, have entirely distinct financial systems, residential situations, and educational opportunities. Quite different things happen when they get sick, or when they interact with the law. They move independently of each other. Only one path exists by which the citizens of the low-wage country can enter the affluent one, and that path is fraught with obstacles. Most have no way out.
The richest large economy in the world, says Temin, is coming to have an economic and political structure more like a developing nation. We have entered a phase of regression, and one of the easiest ways to see it is in our infrastructure: our roads and bridges look more like those in Thailand or Venezuela than the Netherlands or Japan. But it goes far deeper than that, which is why Temin uses a famous economic model created to understand developing nations to describe how far inequality has progressed in the United States. The model is the work of West Indian economist W. Arthur Lewis, the only person of African descent to win a Nobel Prize in economics. For the first time, this model is applied with systematic precision to the U.S.
The result is profoundly disturbing.
In the Lewis model of a dual economy, much of the low-wage sector has little influence over public policy. Check. The high-income sector will keep wages down in the other sector to provide cheap labor for its businesses. Check. Social control is used to keep the low-wage sector from challenging the policies favored by the high-income sector. Mass incarceration - check. The primary goal of the richest members of the high-income sector is to lower taxes. Check. Social and economic mobility is low. Check. [more]
By Nathan Rott and Merrit Kennedy
27 April 2017
(NPR) – President Trump signed an executive order Friday that aims to expand offshore drilling for oil and gas, in a move welcomed by the oil and gas industry and greeted with alarm by environmental groups.
"Renewed offshore energy production will reduce the cost of energy, create countless new jobs, and make America more secure and far more energy independent," Trump said before signing the document. He said previous restrictions on exploration and production deprive the U.S. of "potentially thousands and thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in wealth."
The order directs Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review a five-year plan in which President Obama banned drilling in parts of the Pacific, Arctic, and Atlantic Oceans. Zinke told reporters Thursday night that will be a long process, and a complex one, acknowledging that not all areas have oil or gas, and not all coastal communities want offshore drilling.
But Zinke said revenue from offshore leasing had dropped by $15 billion during the Obama administration, with some of that due to the dropping price of oil, "but not all of it." He added that 94 percent of the nation's outer continental shelf is currently off limits for development of any kind.
The oil and gas industry is enthusiastic about today's executive order. In a statement, Jack Gerard of the American Petroleum Institute said expanding drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico in particular "could create thousands of jobs and provide billions of dollars in government revenue."
Along the Atlantic coast, though, more than 100 cities and towns have passed resolutions against offshore drilling. In Kure Beach, N.C., Mayor Emilie Swearingen said tourism is the second largest industry in the state. "We don't want the devastation from an oil spill," she said. "It's not whether it would happen, but when it would happen."
George Edwardson, president of the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, said his council may consider filing suit at some point to challenge an expansion of offshore drilling. "Most of our food comes from the ocean," he said. [more]
The Arctic Ocean has become a garbage trap for 300 billion pieces of plastic – “Most of the plastic that we have disposed in the ocean is still now in transit to the Arctic”0 comments Posted by Jim at Friday, April 28, 2017
By Chris Mooney
19 April 2017
(The Washington Post) – Drifts of floating plastic that humans have dumped into the world’s oceans are flowing into the pristine waters of the Arctic as a result of a powerful system of currents that deposits waste in the icy seas east of Greenland and north of Scandinavia.
In 2013, as part of a seven-month circumnavigation of the Arctic Ocean, scientists aboard the research vessel Tara documented a profusion of tiny pieces of plastic in the Greenland and Barents seas, where the final limb of the Gulf Stream system delivers Atlantic waters northward. The researchers dub this region the “dead end for floating plastics” after their long surf of the world’s oceans.
The researchers say this is just the beginning of the plastic migration to Arctic waters.
“It’s only been about 60 years since we started using plastic industrially, and the usage and the production has been increasing ever since,” said Carlos Duarte, one of the study’s co-authors and director of the Red Sea Research Center at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia. “So, most of the plastic that we have disposed in the ocean is still now in transit to the Arctic.”
The results were published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances. The study was led by Andrés Cózar of the University of Cádiz in Spain along with 11 other researchers from universities in eight nations: Denmark, France, Japan, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The researchers estimated that about 300 billion pieces of tiny plastic are suspended in these Arctic waters right now, although they said the amount could be higher. And they think there is even more plastic on the seafloor. [more]
By Hayley Dunning
19 April 2017
(Imperial College London) – Plastic waste entering the seas from both sides of the North Atlantic is accumulating in the Arctic Ocean, where it can damage local wildlife.
The low population of the Arctic Circle means little plastic waste is generated there. However, a new study has shown that the Greenland and Barents Seas (east of Greenland and north of Scandinavia) are accumulating large amounts of plastic debris that is carried and trapped there by ocean currents.
The new study, published today in Science Advances, found that the Greenland and Barents seas have accumulated hundreds of tons of plastic debris composed of around 300 billion pieces, mainly fragments around the size of a grain of rice. The vast majority of these fragments originate form the North Atlantic.
The team behind the study is composed of researchers from eight countries, led by Professor Andrés Cózar from the University of Cadiz in Spain, and including Dr Erik van Sebille from the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London.
Plastic is transported from the North Atlantic to the Arctic by the Gulf Stream, a huge ocean current that also carries warm waters from the Gulf of Mexico to northern Europe and the US east coast.
Once it gets to the Arctic Ocean, this current sinks and travels back to the equator, but the plastic does not sink with it, leaving it to build up in Arctic waters.
Ecosystem under threat
Plastic is a problem for local wildlife as marine organisms mistakenly eat, are poisoned by, or become tangled in floating plastic, which damages their health and can kill them.
Dr van Sebille, who now works at Utrecht University, said: "The Arctic is one of the most pristine ecosystems we still have. And at the same time it is probably the ecosystem most under threat from climate change and sea ice melt. Any extra pressure on the animals in the Arctic, from plastic litter or other pollution, can be disastrous.”
The team sailed on an expedition to the Arctic Ocean in order to complete a global map of floating plastic pollution. The expedition lasted five months and circumnavigated the Arctic ice cap aboard the research vessel Tara.
Professor Cózar said: “The plastic concentrations in the Arctic waters were usually low, but we found an area located in the north of the Greenland and the Barents seas with quite high concentrations. There is continuous transport of floating litter from the North Atlantic, and the Greenland and Barents seas act as a dead-end for this poleward conveyor belt of plastic.”
Prevention is the cure
To find the fate of plastic in the North Atlantic, team used data from over 17,000 drifting satellite-tracked buoys floating on the surface of the ocean. They then pieced together how the plastic ended up in the Arctic hotspots by using advanced statistics, which model how ocean currents move these buoys.
Dr van Sebille said: "What is really worrisome is that we can track this plastic near Greenland and in the Barents Sea directly to the coasts of northwest Europe, the UK and the east coast of the US. It is our plastic that ends up there, so we have a responsibility to fix the problem.
"We need to stop the plastic from going into the ocean in the first place. Once the plastic is in the ocean, it's too diffusive, too small and too intermingled with algae to easily filter out. Prevention is the best cure."
ABSTRACT: The subtropical ocean gyres are recognized as great marine accumulation zones of floating plastic debris; however, the possibility of plastic accumulation at polar latitudes has been overlooked because of the lack of nearby pollution sources. In the present study, the Arctic Ocean was extensively sampled for floating plastic debris from the Tara Oceans circumpolar expedition. Although plastic debris was scarce or absent in most of the Arctic waters, it reached high concentrations (hundreds of thousands of pieces per square kilometer) in the northernmost and easternmost areas of the Greenland and Barents seas. The fragmentation and typology of the plastic suggested an abundant presence of aged debris that originated from distant sources. This hypothesis was corroborated by the relatively high ratios of marine surface plastic to local pollution sources. Surface circulation models and field data showed that the poleward branch of the Thermohaline Circulation transfers floating debris from the North Atlantic to the Greenland and Barents seas, which would be a dead end for this plastic conveyor belt. Given the limited surface transport of the plastic that accumulated here and the mechanisms acting for the downward transport, the seafloor beneath this Arctic sector is hypothesized as an important sink of plastic debris.
Sea level could rise more than three meters by 2100 – “Unabated global warming will lead to sea-level rise of many meters – possibly more than ten meters – within a few centuries”0 comments Posted by Jim at Friday, April 28, 2017
25 April 2017 (University of Southampton) – Global sea levels could rise by more than three metres – over half a metre more than previously thought – this century alone, according to a new study co-authored by a University of Southampton scientist.
An international team including Sybren Drijfhout, Professor in Physical Oceanography and Climate Physics, looked at what might happen if carbon dioxide emissions continue unabated.
Using new projections of Antarctic mass loss and a revised statistical method, they concluded that a worst-case scenario of a 2.5 to three-metre sea level rise was possible by 2100.
Professor Drijfhout said: “It might be an unlikely scenario, but we can’t exclude the possibility of global sea levels rising by more than three metres by the year 2100.
“Unabated global warming will lead to sea-level rise of many metres – possibly more than ten metres – within a few centuries, seriously threatening many cities all over the world that are built in low-lying river deltas. This will also seriously affect the coastline of the UK.”
The research – published this month in Environmental Research Letters – is consistent with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) recent adjustment of its possible future high-end sea-level rise from two to 2.5 metres.
However, the new study integrated different model estimates with a new statistical method, whereas the NOAA estimate relied on expert judgment.
Recent observation and modelling studies have shown the future melt of Antarctica might happen dramatically faster than previously thought.
Professor Drijfhout and scientists at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, which led the research, took this and other factors – including ocean warming, glacier melt, land water storage and Greenland ice sheet melt – into account to create their projection.
“This is the first time that robust statistical techniques have been used to develop a scenario like this, whereas previous high-end sea level projections have always been based on subjective expert judgment,” said Professor Drijfhout.
“It’s important for policy-makers and the general public to know what the consequences might be when carbon dioxide emissions are not decreased, especially as there is a severe time-lag between emission-reduction and the sea-level rise response.
“Also, the construction of artificial flood defences need to take account of low-probability events, including the possibility that the international community fails to take adequate measures in reducing measures.
“We should not forget that the Paris Agreement is only a declaration of intention, and that no adequate measures have yet been agreed to turn these intentions into policy.”
The team’s projection explicitly accounted for three scientific uncertainties – the speed at which the Antarctic ice sheet is going to melt, the speed at which the ocean is warming up, and the amount of emitted greenhouse gases over the 21st century.
ABSTRACT: The potential for break-up of Antarctic ice shelves by hydrofracturing and following ice cliff instability might be important for future ice dynamics. One recent study suggests that the Antarctic ice sheet could lose a lot more mass during the 21st century than previously thought. This increased mass-loss is found to strongly depend on the emission scenario and thereby on global temperature change. We investigate the impact of this new information on high-end global sea level rise projections by developing a probabilistic process-based method. It is shown that uncertainties in the projections increase when including the temperature dependence of Antarctic mass loss and the uncertainty in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) model ensemble. Including these new uncertainties we provide probability density functions for the high-end distribution of total global mean sea level in 2100 conditional on emission scenario. These projections provide a probabilistic context to previous extreme sea level scenarios developed for adaptation purposes.
By Geoff Williams
14 April 2017
(US News and World Report) – Tornadoes have been striking the country at a record rate this year so far, according to numbers released from the U.S. Storm Prediction Center (536 tornadoes in 2017, based on preliminary data at the time of this writing). Meanwhile, in many parts of the country, severe storms have been passing through almost with the regularity of an assembly line, blamed by record temperatures at the water's surface in the Gulf of Mexico. Further, 2016 was the warmest year for the planet on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
All of this undoubtedly would make any homeowner wonder: As heat, tornadoes, and storms continue to break records, will the extreme weather eventually break my home insurance policy?
Probably not. But as the years go on, when it comes to your homeowners insurance coverage, there will be changes.
You may end up factoring in climate change before you buy a home. It depends where you're looking for a house, of course, and this is already happening. Real estate agents and companies have been furnishing data that suggests home sales in flood-prone areas have been growing at a slower rate than in counties that don't have a reputation for flooding. For instance, last year, ATTOM Data Solutions, a source for comprehensive housing data, released its annual U.S. Natural Hazard Housing Risk Index, which found that home sales had fallen below the national average in counties with the highest risk of earthquakes, hurricane storm surge, wildfires and floods, while counties with the lowest risk for those natural hazards have seen home sales volumes increase faster than the national average.
People are going to be thinking about natural disasters and their homes more frequently than they used to, says Donna Childs, who owns Prisere LLC, a Warwick, Rhode Island-based company that consults businesses on disaster prevention and specializes in helping companies come up with solutions for reducing their risk to the negative consequences of climate change.
According to Childs, in the past your pre-purchase due diligence "involved a home inspection and consideration of the neighborhood with regard to such issues as the quality of the local school system," she says. "Now … you must consider the extent to which the community is at risk from rising water levels and other threats." [more]