The White House has released the most comprehensive scientific assessment to date of climate change and its regional impacts, and it reports that the Southeast is “exceptionally vulnerable to sea level rise, extreme heat events, hurricanes, and decreased water availability.”
Unveiled May 6, 2014, the third U.S. National Climate Assessment was developed over the past four years with the help of hundreds of top U.S. climate scientists and technical experts, with input from the public and nongovernmental organizations. The White House called the assessment’s release a “key deliverable” of the Climate Action Plan released by President Obama last June.
“The contents confirm that climate change is not a distant threat,” says John Holdren, President Obama’s science adviser. “It is affecting the American people already.”
Kinder Morgan wants to spend $5.4 billion tripling the capacity of an oil pipeline between the tar sands of Alberta and the Vancouver, B.C., area. Yes, the company acknowledges, there’s always the chance of a “large pipeline spill.” But it says the “probability” of such an accident is “low.” And anyway, if a spill does happen, it could be an economic boon.
“Spill response and cleanup” after oil pipeline ruptures, such as the emergency operations near Kalamazoo, Mich., in 2010 and in the Arkansas community of Mayflower last year, create “business and employment opportunities for affected communities, regions, and cleanup service providers,” the company argues.
Those aren’t the outrageous comments of a company executive shooting off his mouth while a reporter happened to be neaby. Those are quotes taken from an official document provided to the Canadian government in support of the company’s efforts to expand its pipeline.
Freedom Industries, the company whose chemical leak contaminated the tap water of 300,000 West Virginians, will cease to exist once it goes through bankruptcy, but that doesn’t mean its executives are out of the chemical business.
Lexycon LLC, a chemical company whose characteristics are strikingly similar to Freedom Industries, registered as a business with the West Virginia secretary of state about a month ago.
The companies share addresses and phone numbers, Lexycon was founded by a former Freedom executive and it has ties to at least two other current or former Freedom executives.
After the Charleston Gazette emailed former senior Freedom employees who now work for Lexycon, to ask if the new company was affiliated with Freedom, the two men’s names disappeared from the Lexycon website and a new phone number was listed in their place.
The companies’ descriptions of their businesses match, almost verbatim. Freedom Industries’ logo appeared on Lexycon’s exhibitor page on the Coal Prep [conference] website.
People living in the Appalachian Mountains of the eastern United States have long enjoyed a rich culture of storytelling. Often rooted in a deep connection to the natural world, stories from Appalachian folklore serve to entertain as well as to educate; sometimes, important life lessons emerge, especially from tales of demise.
A present-day ghost story from the southern Appalachians has captured the attention of U.S. Forest Service researchers who are using high-tech tools to follow the footprints of lost life.
The ghosts in this story are eastern and Carolina hemlock trees, which provide important ecosystem services in Appalachian forests, including cover for wildlife and cooling shade along streams. They’re being killed in increasing numbers by an exotic invasive insect, the hemlock woolly adelgid, which is native to Asia and is transported through forests by animals, wind, and, accidentally, by people. Often called gray ghosts because of their pale, skeleton-like appearance, the dead hemlocks are obvious across the mountain landscape.
Using a forest monitoring tool known as ForWarn, scientists are able to see just how devastating the hemlock losses have become across the southern Appalachians, where the hemlock woolly adelgid thrives in the warmer temperatures. Here, the hemlock woolly adelgid is killing trees much more quickly than in the more northern areas of the hemlocks’ range, sometimes in as few as four years after infestation.
Hot, dry weather and prolonged drought in some parts of the West have federal officials expecting to spend nearly $500 million more than they’re budgeted for fighting wildfires this summer.
According to a Congressionally-mandated report issued May 1, 2014, the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior are projected to spend over $470 million more than is available to fight wildfires this season. According to the report, the Forest Service and Interior may need to spend $1.8 billion fighting fires this year, while the agencies have only $1.4 billion available for firefighting.
“The forecast released today demonstrates the difficult budget position the Forest Service and Interior face in our efforts to fight catastrophic wildfire,” said Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie in a release. “While our agencies will spend the necessary resources to protect people, homes and our forests, the high levels of wildfire this report predicts would force us to borrow funds from forest restoration, recreation, and other areas. The President’s budget proposal, and similar bipartisan legislation before Congress, would solve this problem and allow the Forest Service to do more to restore our forests to make them more resistant to fire.”
The man-made greenhouse gases warming the planet hit another record high in April, 2014.
Since 1958, the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii has tracked the rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere — the simplest measure of how humans are altering the Earth and warming the planet.
This “Keeling Curve” reached a new milestone in April: the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere remained above 400 parts per million for the entire month (an average of 401.25 ppm). That’s the first time that’s happened in recorded history.
What’s also relevant, climatologists note, is the speed of change — the Earth is blowing past 400 parts per million today much faster than it did in the past. That makes it more difficult for species to adapt to the accompanying temperature increases (including, for that matter, humans).
If emissions keep rising without end, the IPCC predicts that we could blow past 1,000 ppm by the end of the century. That would put us in extremely uncharted territory — with global average temperatures likely to rise at least 4°C (or 7.2°F) over pre-industrial levels by the end of this century.
In a major anti-pollution ruling, the Supreme Court on April 29, 2014 backed federally imposed limits on smokestack emissions that cross state lines and burden downwind areas with bad air from power plants they can’t control.
The 6-2 ruling was an important victory for the Obama administration in controlling emissions from power plants in 27 Midwestern and Appalachian states that contribute to soot and smog along the East Coast.
It also capped a decades-long effort by the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure that states are good neighbors and don’t contribute to pollution problems elsewhere. The rule upheld Tuesday was EPA’s third attempt to solve the problem.
The rule, challenged by industry and upwind states, had been cast by foes as an attempt by the Obama administration to step on states’ rights and to shut down aging coal-fired power plants. Opponents said the decision could embolden the agency to take the same tack later this year when it proposes rules to limit carbon pollution. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has said the agency will be flexible and work with states on the first-ever controls on power plants for the gases blamed for global warming.
With the launch of Apple’s new environmental initiative, the world is once again buzzing with comments, critique and speculation on what the world’s biggest brand is doing. Apple’s bold move is an impetus for the private sector to move in the same direction. Renewable energy is ready to become mainstream, and those companies that fail to pick up on the trend will lose their competitive edge.
From the full-page ad in newspapers around the world, to the homepage placement of a powerful video narrated by Tim Cook himself, Apple is launching its first major manifesto in years, making the very public declaration that “environment” is a significant new string to the brand’s bow.
Apple has always had a razor-sharp eye for what people want, and has been a driving force of pop culture over the past several decades. Its decision to link its brand, along with its bedrock ideals of innovation and creativity, to the environment speaks volumes about what it thinks is important to its customers. If Apple perceives that people want it to incorporate robust environmental principles in its business models, then one thing is clear: industry laggards will not only continue to contribute to climate change and environmental degradation, but their brands, and ultimately their businesses, will decline as well.
If you like to eat, then you should care about what’s happening to bees. Two-thirds of our food crops require pollination–the very foods that we rely on for healthy eating–such as apples, berries, and almonds, just to name a few. That’s why the serious decline in bee populations is getting more attention, with entire campaigns devoted to saving them.
A strong and growing body of evidence points to exposure to a class of neurotoxic pesticides called neonicotinoids—the fastest-growing and most widely used class of synthetic pesticides—as a key contributing factor to bee declines. The European Union banned the three most widely used neonicotinoids, based on strong science indicating that neonics can kill bees outright and make them more vulnerable to pests, pathogens, and other stressors.
Enter the corporate spin doctors. Three of the leading pesticide corporations—Bayer, Syngenta, and Monsanto— are engaged in a massive public relations disinformation campaign to distract the public and policymakers from thinking that pesticides might have something to do with bee death and destruction.
Big Tobacco honed these strategies for decades, stalling action that resulted in millions of preventable deaths. Here are the seven tactics pesticide companies are using to spin the bee crisis:
Four years ago the Deepwater Horizon oil rig caught fire and exploded, killing 11 men, spewing millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and staining, seemingly indelibly, the image of BP, the international energy giant responsible for the well.
Its reputation in free fall, the company set aside billions of dollars and saturated the airwaves with contrite pledges to make thousands of businesses and workers whole, from shrimpers to hotel owners to charter boat operators.
Four years on, BP is no longer on the defensive. In March, the federal government allowed the company, after a period of exile, to bid for oil and gas leases in the gulf. On April 15, 2014 BP announced the end of active shoreline cleanup with so much fanfare that the Coast Guard quickly reassured the public that the operation was far from over.
In an op-ed article this month in Gulf Coast newspapers, John Mingé, the chairman of BP America, highlighted the coast’s record tourism numbers, emphasized the $27 billion BP had spent and dismissed environmentalists skeptical of the gulf’s recovery as advocates using the spill “to raise money for their causes.”
But perhaps nothing has been as drastic as the company’s change in attitude toward the process it helped set up in 2012 to settle hundreds of thousands of economic damage claims. In full-page newspaper ads, interviews and a gusher of court filings, BP officials have insisted that their good intentions are being hijacked by greedy lawyers and underhanded claimants.
General Electric Co.’s Energy Financial Services has invested about $10 billion in 17 gigawatts of renewable power since 2006, when the unit was formed. Now, GE has announced the unit plans to invest more than $1 billion a year in clean energy projects, such as wind and solar.
EFS Chief Executive Officer David Nason told Bloomberg News that renewable power is EFS’s fastest-growing energy market. “We see renewable energy providing very significant returns going forward,” Nason said. “We have a robust pipeline in the U.S. for the next couple of years.”
While GE’s core business is oil and gas infrastructure, the company is looking to invest in solar and wind because these forms of energy employ GE equipment such as wind turbines and power inverters. GE owns part of the 550-megawatt Desert Sunlight solar farm, which is being built using GE power inverters. Wind farms under construction or completed across the U.S. and in other countries like Ireland use more than 4,400 GE wind turbines.
About $8 billion of GE’s $10 billion in renewable energy investments to date are in 12 gigawatts of wind farms, with most of the rest of the $2 billion going towards 1 gigawatt of solar power projects. These investments span 16 countries and 28 states.
Discussions in western Colorado to have Colorado National Monument redesignated as a “national park” have spawned a proposal, in the form of draft Senate legislation, that has drawn concerns from the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.
Foremost, the document calls for creation of a “park advisory committee” that would advise the Interior secretary on how the renamed park would be managed. Among the members proposed to be on this committee would be a representative from the Western Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association.
The retirees do not oppose redesignation of Colorado National Monument, writing that its nearly 1,000 members believe “that Colorado National Monument’s extraordinary resources and experiences are worthy of the additional national and international status that comes with the designation ‘national park.'”
However, the retirees noted that the draft document being circulated “omits essential provisions that would assure preservation and enjoyment of the park’s resources and values, while including other provisions that would undermine long-term management and protection and create more of a local park than a new unit of the National Park System.”
As for the proposed advisory committee, the Coalition wrote that, “(T)he composition of this advisory committee, moreover, does not pass the ‘red face test.’ It overwhelmingly represents local interests, some of which are not even park-related. Why should the Western Slope Oil and Gas Association have a representative on the park advisory committee?”
In an otherworldly grove of cinnamon-colored giant sequoias, workers in June will jackhammer an old mistake: a road and parking lot that impinge on the hallowed forest.
The $36 million project, which includes dismantling a gift shop, removing a tourist tram and adding elevated walkways in the grove, will improve visitors’ experiences while better protecting some of the oldest, largest and most beautiful organisms on earth, said Dean Shenk, a supervisory ranger at Yosemite National Park.
The National Park Service will contribute about $8 million to the project, and the Federal Highway Administration will spend another $8 million for an improved road to the grove and an expanded parking lot at Yosemite’s southern entrance. The bulk of the cost, $20 million, will be covered by the Yosemite Conservancy, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco.
Philanthropic organizations known for lending a helping hand are funneling millions of dollars into the nation’s major national parks, making infrastructure improvements, building trails and providing volunteers who sometimes perform jobs previously done by park rangers.
If you’re in need of a little stress relief, it might be waiting just outside your front door.
A new study from the University of Wisconsin in Madison reveals that people who live near trees and green spaces report lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression than those in more concrete- and asphalt-lined neighborhoods.
Researchers collected health survey data from 2,500 Wisconsin residents, then paired the data with satellite images showing how much vegetation was in residents’ neighborhoods. The results: People who lived on blocks with less than 10 percent tree canopy were more likely to report feeling stressed or down.
The findings were true regardless of race, age, income level, marital status or education. “A poor person living on a logging road in (a national forest) was more likely to be happy than a wealthier person living on a treeless block in Milwaukee,” the researchers said.
Solar power has been growing like crazy. Last year the solar industry installed a record amount of solar capacity. The impact can be seen in the data. According to the Energy Information Administration, in 2012 there were 3.5 million megawatthours of electricity generated by solar photovoltaic panels. In 2013 that more than doubled to 8.3 million Mwh. And to think that a decade ago the U.S. generated just 6,000 Mwh from solar PV. Solar is closing in on price parity with the likes of coal — with full-cycle, unsubsidized costs of about 13 cents per kilowatthour, versus 12 cents for advanced coal plants.
So is the solar revolution finally here? Not quite. Even after a decade of rampant growth solar energy still barely moves the needle in the U.S. energy mix. In fact, solar merely equals the amount of electricity that the nation generates by burning natural gas captured from landfills. And it’s only slightly more meaningful than the 7.3 million Mwh we get from burning human waste strained out of municipal sewer systems.
Indeed, when you factor in all the sources of energy consumed in this country, captured solar power amounts to well less than 1 quadrillion Btu out of an annual total of 96.5 quadrillion.
The biggest sources are the old standbys. Oil still reigns supreme at 36 quadrillion Btu, natural gas at 26 quads, nuclear 8. Hydropower and biomass bring up the rear at 2.6 and 2.7 quads. Wind is just 1.5 quads. And coal — the great carbon-belching demon of the global energy mix — its contribution is 19 quads. That’s nearly 8 times all the nation’s wind and solar generation combined.
Every Fall at Maine’s Common Ground Country Fair, the Lollapalooza of sustainable agriculture, John Bunker sets out a display of eccentric apples. Last September, once again, they covered every possible size, shape, and color in the wide world of appleness. There was a gnarled little yellow thing called a Westfield Seek-No-Further; a purplish plum impostor called a Black Oxford; a massive, red-streaked Wolf River; and one of Thomas Jefferson’s go-to fruits, the Esopus Spitzenburg.
Bunker is known in Maine as “The Apple Whisperer,” or simply “The Apple Guy,” and, after laboring for years in semi-obscurity, he has never been in more demand. Through the catalog of Fedco Trees, a mail-order company he founded in Maine 30 years ago, Bunker has sown the seeds of a grassroots apple revolution.
In the mid-1800s, there were thousands of unique varieties of apples in the United States, some of the most astounding diversity ever developed in a food crop. Then industrial agriculture crushed that world. The apple industry settled on a handful of varieties to promote worldwide, and the rest were forgotten. They became commercially extinct—but not quite biologically extinct.
Even when abandoned, an apple tree can live more than 200 years, and, like the Giving Tree in Shel Silverstein’s book, it will wait patiently for the boy to return. There is a bent old Black Oxford tree in Hallowell, Maine, that is approximately two centuries old and still gives a crop of midnight-purple apples each fall. In places like northern New England, the Appalachian Mountains, and Johnny Appleseed’s beloved Ohio River Valley—agricultural byways that have escaped the bulldozer—these centenarians hang on, flickering on the edge of existence, their identity often a mystery to the present homeowners. And John Bunker is determined to save as many as he can before they, and he, are gone.
Technology these days makes learning about, supporting and protecting nature so easy that it’s almost hard to not support the environment.
Whether it’s an app to help identify trees and birds, or to help you find and explore the nearest parks and trails, or even connect you to others of a like mind, there’s a lot of technology that can help.
Talk about “armchair environmentalist.”
A change from timber management to a more environmentally sensitive process for Washington’s 628,000-acre Olympic National Forest has caused an economic setback while it has enriched the culture, a senior ranger said.
“We really did a great job of harvesting timber,” Dean Yoshina, who manages Olympic National Forest’s Hood Canal Ranger District, told a dozen people at the North Hood Canal Chamber of Commerce meeting. “But it’s a different culture now that is more focused on the preservation of species and the protection of resources,” he added in his state-of-the-forest address.
Clearcutting is no longer used, he said. Instead, timber is harvested to thin the forest and accelerate old-growth conditions. “We are trying to get a mosaic of different age groups within the stands to create an old-growth environment,” he said.
He said past practices were “just a different culture. “We had more people, and everything was different. “It was neither better nor worse. We just had different challenges.”
In the next five years, forest management will need to continue to refine its public service model and plan how to restore and maintain public lands, Yoshina said.
Residents of coastal communities in the U.S. can soon search for how much sea level rise is expected to affect their regions by zip code, using a new interactive map.
The mapping tool, which was launched in 2012 in New York, New Jersey and Florida, is expanding across the East Coast, Pacific states and the rest of the coastal U.S. this summer. The program, called “Surging Seas,” uses data from federal agencies to map sea level rise by zip code, adding in details such as population density and property value.
The program also maps out flood risk for regions by decade, and breaks down who and what is most at risk in each region from rising sea levels — Caucasian vs. Hispanic populations, for instance, and schools vs. homes and libraries.
The Montana Land Board approved a $345,000 purchase of 320 acres of threatened grizzly bear habitat to add to the Blackleaf Wildlife Management Area in Teton County.
The state is buying the land from the Conservation Fund with a grant from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services program to help the recovery of grizzlies in the northern Continental Divide.
The 320 acres of timber, grasslands and wetlands is considered critical grizzly bear habitat and is adjacent to the 10,397-acre wildlife management area. The Conservation Fund originally purchased the land to prevent it from being sold to landowners who may not be interested in protecting the bear habitat, state officials said.
The parcel also is winter range for elk and mule deer and would provide recreational opportunities for the public, FWP said.