Documents Detail Sugar Industry Efforts To Direct Medical Research -- Back in 2007, Christin Kearns attended a conference for dentists like herself to learn about links between diabetes and gum disease.She was handed a government pamphlet titled, "How to Talk to Patients about Diabetes," and was surprised to find that the diet advice didn't mention reducing sugar intake. She said it made her wonder if the sugar industry "somehow impacted what the government can or cannot say about diet advice for diabetics?" Kearns, now a fellow at the University of California, San Francisco wanted to answer that question. She went on a hunt for industry documents that might yield clues. After months of online searches, she started uncovering some documents which ultimately led to an archive at the University of Illinois, 1,551 pages of documents that show how closely the sugar industry worked with the federal government during the 1960s and early 1970s, when dentists were trying to find a way to prevent cavities in children. In an analysis of the documents published Wednesday in the journal PLOS Medicine, Kearns and her collaborators concluded that industry influence starting in the late 1960s helped steer the National Institute of Dental Research, part of the National Institutes of Health, away from addressing the question of determining a safe level of sugar.
Water Fluoridation Linked to Higher ADHD Rates - New research shows there is a strong correlation [correlation is not causation] between water fluoridation and the prevalence of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, in the United States. It’s the first time that scientists have systematically studied the relationship between the behavioral disorder and fluoridation, the process wherein fluoride is added to water to prevent cavities. The study, published in the journal Environmental Health, found that states with a higher portion of artificially fluoridated water had a higher prevalence of ADHD. This relationship held up across six different years examined. The authors, psychologists Christine Till and Ashley Malin at Toronto’s York University, looked at the prevalence of fluoridation by state in 1992 and rates of ADHD diagnoses in subsequent years. “States in which a greater proportion of people received artificially-fluoridated water in 1992 tended to have a greater proportion of children and adolescents who received ADHD diagnoses [in later years], after controlling for socioeconomic status,” Malin says. Wealth is important to take into account because the poor are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, she says. After income was adjusted for, though, the link held up. Both Delaware and Iowa, for instance, have relatively low poverty rates but are heavily fluoridated; they also have high levels of ADHD, with more than one in eight kids (or 14 percent) between the ages of four and 17 diagnosed.
Common Food Additives Cause Obesity, Metabolic Syndrome -- Common food additives, it turns out, may cause obesity and metabolic syndrome, among other conditions, according to a new study. The additives in question are called emulsifiers, and are added to most processed foods to aid texture and extend shelf life. However, while they may make your food taste better, they can also alter the composition and localization of your gut microbiota, leading to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). IBD includes Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, severely debilitating conditions that affect millions of people. Emulsifiers are also reportedly linked to metabolic syndrome - a group of very common obesity-related disorders that can lead to type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular and liver diseases.With both IBD and metabolic syndrome, gut microbial - that is, the 100 trillion bacteria that naturally live in the intestinal tract - are disturbed. "A key feature of these modern plagues is alteration of the gut microbiota in a manner that promotes inflammation," co-lead author Dr. Andrew T. Gewirtz said in a statement. "The dramatic increase in these diseases has occurred despite consistent human genetics, suggesting a pivotal role for an environmental factor," researcher Dr. Benoit Chassaing. "Food interacts intimately with the microbiota so we considered what modern additions to the food supply might possibly make gut bacteria more pro-inflammatory."
The effect of GOP malice and MBA stupidity on Research shows no sign of slowing down - riverdaughter - The commenters at In the Pipeline are beginning to think that nothing short of a bacterial apocalypse is going to get the public’s attention. I don’t even want to think of how that could come about. Derek continues to document the atrocities. Amgen acquired Onyx and laid off 300 of their researchers this week. Add that to the antibiotic researchers who got laid off last week, the 100 or so Sanofi oncology investigators who got laid off last month and the Shire investigators who got the ax last week as well. By the way, we are now referring to ourselves as investigators, not researchers. Add it to your glossary. And now, the NSF is complaining that the Republican Congress is sticking its mitt into research, playing politics and generally making an already miserable situation even worse. I got this article in my email blast from Nature yesterday: Some of these politicians make a big deal out of the fact that they don’t believe in evolution or the effect that human activity can have on climate. I am assuming that some are lying to get elected. But I’m hearing from former investigators that they have stopped doing research on dementia because only traumatic brain injury was being funded. Department of Defense grants seem to be in somewhat better supply in se fields of study. Anyway, just read it. It’s just one more straw breaking the camel’s back. Between the constant layoffs, restructuring, relocations, impoverished startups, vulture capitalists, stingy academic salaries and hard to get grants, and more Congressional oversight from a bunch of anti-science wing nuts, investigators can’t catch a break. We’re on our last nerve. We’re exhausted in every sense of the word.
Industry Body Calls for Gene-Editing Moratorium - Officials of a biotechnology industry group have called for a voluntary moratorium on using new DNA-editing techniques to change the genetic characteristics of human embryos in laboratory research. In an editorial published today by the journal Nature, Edward Lanphier, CEO of the biotechnology company Sangamo Biosciences, and four colleagues write that “scientists should agree not to modify the DNA of human reproductive cells” because it raises safety and ethical risks including the danger of “unpredictable effects on future generations." New gene-editing techniques, in particular one called CRISPR, have given scientists powerful and useful new ways to swap and change DNA letters inside of living cells for the first time (see “Genome Surgery”). Recently, some scientific teams have started to study whether CRISPR would be able to correct disease genes in future generations of people—for instance, by repairing genes during in vitro fertilization, or in eggs or sperm. The idea of such “germ line” modification would be to install healthy versions of genes, which children would be born with. (see “Engineering the Perfect Baby”). But the idea of using editing technology to improve children is as controversial as it is medically powerful. In their editorial, Lanphier, whose coauthors include Fyodor Urnov, co-developer of a different gene-editing system, raise the concern that such techniques might be “exploited for non-therapeutic modifications.” That could mean, for instance, changing the physical traits of children.
Alarming Report Links Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals to Autism, ADHD, lower IQ and Obesity -- Chemicals found in everyday household items such as furniture, rugs and plastic are causing lower IQ, autism, ADHD and obesity, and costing billions of dollars in healthcare expenses, according to a report published last week. The study, which was accepted for publication in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism and posted on the journal’s website, found a highly probable association between endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) and a spate of health burdens and diseases, including lower IQ, autism, attention deficient disorder, infertility and death, among people in Europe. The researchers used statistical analysis to assess the healthcare burden of these conditions among the European population, and concluded that EDCs are likely responsible for some 150 million Euros, or 200 billion dollars, in healthcare expenses. “The shocking thing is that the major component of that cost is related to the loss of brain function in the next generation,” Dr. Philippe Grandjean, one of the study authors, told the UK Guardian.“Our brains need particular hormones to develop normally—the thyroid hormone and sex hormones like testosterone and oestrogen. They’re very important in pregnancy and a child can very well be mentally retarded because of a lack of iodine and the thyroid hormone caused by chemical exposure.”
Your McNuggets: Soon Without a Side of Antibiotics -- Fast-food giant McDonald’s announced today that it will cease buying chicken raised with the routine use of most antibiotics, a move that seems certain to reframe the contentious debate about agriculture’s use of the increasingly precious drugs. The company set a deadline of two years to make chicken in its 14,000 US locations substantially antibiotic-free. The announcement instantly makes McDonald’s the largest company by far to use its buying power to change how livestock are raised. Its 25 million US customers a day dwarf those at Chipotle Mexican Grill, which pioneered fast food using antibiotic-free meat, and also at Chick-fil-A, which announced a year ago that it would move to antibiotic-free chicken in five years. McDonald’s new policy doesn’t solve the farm-antibiotics problem. The company is making the move only for chicken, not for beef or pork (though chicken is already the meat Americans eat the most). And the policy has important caveats. But since McDonald’s is the largest food-service buyer of chicken in America, this can’t help but affect other restaurants, and production of other meats.
Jane Goodall and Steven Druker Expose US Government Fraud Over GMOs - In an acclaimed new book being launched Wednesday in London, American public interest attorney Steven Druker reveals how the US government and leading scientific institutions have systematically misrepresented the facts about GMOs and the scientific research that casts doubt on their safety. The book, Altered Genes, Twisted Truth, features a foreword by the renowned primatologist Dame Jane Goodall, hailing it as “without doubt one of the most important books of the last 50 years”. The book’s revelations come at a crucial time when some European countries are considering the commercial planting of GM crops following the European Parliament’s decision to allow member states to opt out of the blockade that has barred them from the EU until now. Based on the evidence presented in the book, Druker and Goodall will assert that it would be foolhardy to push forward with a technology that is unacceptably risky and should never have been allowed on the market in the first place. The book is the result of more than 15 years of intensive research and investigation by Druker, who came to prominence for initiating a lawsuit against the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that forced it to divulge its files on GM foods. Those files revealed that GM foods first achieved commercialisation in 1992 only because the FDA:
• Covered up the extensive warnings of its own scientists about their dangers.Anti-GMO Protests Rock Poland As Farmers Demand Food Sovereignty Rights - Farmers in Poland have risen up against Big Ag and GMOs in one of the biggest demonstrations of its kind the country has ever seen. They are demanding: the right to sell their produce directly to the people, a total ban on GMO sales and production, the regulation of land-grabs by biotech corporations like Monsanto, the implementation of a compensation scheme for farmers whose livelihoods have been damaged, and a change to inheritance laws which currently prohibit farmers from leaving land to their heirs. A convoys of tractors blocked roads in late February as demonstrations occurred in hundreds of towns across the country. Later, more than 6,000 farmers marched on the capital of Warsaw to demand the restoration of their basic rights. Many Polish farmers use traditional methods of farming, meaning that their crops are organic (although uncertified) and pesticide-free. At the moment, these small family farms simply cannot compete with corporations in the marketplace, and many have been made bankrupt as a result. Protests took place throughout February and into March. They are co-ordinated by the farmers’ branch of the Solidarity Union and the International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside (ICPPC) and have been supported by striking bee-keepers, nurses and coalminers. A basket of ‘illegal‘ farm foods was taken to the Prime Minister’s office, while a table was set up outside to display these items and highlight the absurdity of Polish agriculture laws.
BRAZIL: CTNBio Meeting Cancelled! Futuragene Occupied! Watch the Videos - Global Justice Ecology Project -- New videos have been posted of the CTNBio meeting disruption as well as the occupation of Futuragene by 1,000 women. You can view those videos here. 300 peasants took over the building where CTNBio was meeting to decide about whether to approve GE eucalyptus trees. The meeting was cancelled. On the same morning, 1,000 women took over operations of Futuragene across Brazil. The action included the destruction of GE eucalyptus seedlings. This morning about 300 peasants organized by La Via Campesina occupied the meeting of the Brazil National Biosafety Technical Commission (CTNBio), which was convening to discuss the release of three new varieties of transgenic plants in Brazil including genetically engineered eucalyptus trees. The meeting was interrupted and decisions were postponed.Earlier in the morning on Thursday, another 1,000 women of the Brazil Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) in the states of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais occupied the operations of FuturaGene Technology Brazil Ltda, a subsidiary of Suzano timber corporation, in the municipality of Itapetininga, in São Paulo.The site being occupied in Itapetininga is where transgenic eucalyptus, known as H421 is being developed and tested. At the time, the MST destroyed the seedlings of transgenic eucalyptus trees there.The action intends to denounce the evils that a possible release of transgenic eucalyptus, to be voted on CTNBio, can cause to the environment.According to Atiliana Brunetto, a member of the National MST, the historic decisions of the Commission must respect the Brazilian legislation and the Biodiversity Convention to which Brazil is a signatory.”The precautionary principle is always ignored by CTNBio. The vast majority of its members are placed in favor of business interests of the large multinationals at the expense of environmental, social and public health consequences “he says.For Brunetto all approved GMO means more pesticides in agriculture, since the packets always approved for marketing include a type of agricultural poison.
Buying Conservation--For the Right Price -- Erica Goode has an inspiring article about the benefits of conservation tillage, which has been gaining favor among farmers. No-till farming can improve yields, lower costs, and improve the environment. Just the kind of thing we all want to hear--everybody wins! One important thing Goode doesn't mention: USDA has been subsidizing conservation tillage, and these subsidies have probably played an important role in spreading adoption.Subsidizing conservation practices like no-till can be a little tricky. After all, while this kind of thing has positive externalities, farmers presumably reap rewards too. There are costs involved with undertaking something new. But once the practice is adopted and proven, there would seem to be little need for further subsidies. The problem is that it can be difficult to take subsidies away once they've been established. In practice, the costs and benefits of no till and other conservation practices vary. Some of this has to do with the type of land. No-till can be excellent for land in the Midwest with thick topsoil. In the South, where topsoil is thin, maybe no so much. So, for some farmers conservation practices are worthwhile; for others, the hassle may not be worth the illusive future benefits. Ideally, policy would provide subsidies to the later, not the former. But how do policy makers differentiate? In practice, they don't; everybody gets the subsidies. Can we do better? Together with some old colleagues at USDA, I've been thinking about this question for a long time, and we recently released a report (PDF) summarizing some of the most essential ideas (here's the Amber Waves short take).
World food prices continue to fall in February - U.N. FAO: (Reuters) - Global food prices fell 1% in February to their lowest in more than four-and-a-half years, with cereals, meat and sugar declining, oils steady and only dairy prices rebounding sharply, the United Nations food agency said on Thursday. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) price index, which measures monthly changes for a basket of cereals, oilseeds, dairy, meat and sugar, averaged 179.4 points last month, 1.8 points below its reading in January. High global production, low crude oil prices and limited demand from major importers including China have helped cap food prices for the past year and the index has now been declining since April 2014 to reach its lowest since July 2010. Cereal stocks at the end of the 2014-15 season are now forecast to reach 630.5 million tonnes, up almost 8 million tonnes from a previous reading to reach their highest levels in 15 years. FAO's forecast for world cereal production in 2015 reached 2.542 billion tonnes, 8 million tonnes above the forecast made in January. Cereals prices were down 3.2 percent from January, with wheat prices sharply lower on better production prospects and large inventories. Meat prices fell 1.4 percent, pulled down by cheaper beef, mutton and lamb that outweighed stable poultry prices and higher pork prices.
Impressive Plant Facts | Big Picture Agriculture - infographic
Killers sought in deaths of 300,000 chickens in South Carolina - (Reuters) - Revenge may be the motive for the killings in South Carolina of more than 300,000 commercial chickens worth about $1.7 million over the past two weeks, authorities said on Monday. Birds have been found dead of unnatural causes in 16 chicken houses at six farms that grow chickens for Pilgrims Pride Corp, the largest poultry producer in the United States, which laid off some 60 people right before the killings began, Clarendon County Sheriff Randy Garrett said. The company has a processing plant in Sumter, South Carolina. About 325,000 chickens have been found dead at the farms since mid-February, Garrett said. One farmer, W.L. Coker, lost the birds in eight chicken houses, or about 160,000 birds, he said. Authorities are searching for killers with a deep working knowledge of raising chickens, Garrett said, adding that he believed the deaths of the chickens are related to the layoffs. Vandals bypassed alarms systems and raised or lowered temperature in the chicken houses, killing them, Garrett said. "Depending on the age of the birds, they knew whether to jack the heat up or jack the heat off," Garrett said. Young birds need more heat, and older ones need less, he said. "They had all that knowledge of the farms and how many weeks growth the chickens were," Garrett said.
Starving Sea Lions Washing Ashore by the Hundreds in California - By the time Wendy Leeds reached him, the sea lion pup had little hope of surviving.Like more than 1,450 other sea lions that have washed up on California beaches this year, in what animal experts call a growing crisis for the animal, this 8-month-old pup was starving, stranded and hundreds of miles from a mother who still needed to nurse him and teach him to hunt and feed. Ribs jutted from his velveteen coat.The pup had lain on the beach for hours, becoming the target of an aggressive dog before managing to wriggle onto the deck of a million-dollar oceanfront home, where the owner shielded him with an umbrella and called animal control. In came Ms. Leeds, an animal-care expert at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, which like other California rescue centers is being inundated with calls about lost, emaciated sea lions.“It’s getting crazy,” she said. Experts suspect that unusually warm waters are driving fish and other food away from the coastal islands where sea lions breed and wean their young. As the mothers spend time away from the islands hunting for food, hundreds of starving pups are swimming away from home and flopping ashore from San Diego to San Francisco. Many of the pups are leaving the Channel Islands, an eight-island chain off the Southern California coast, in a desperate search for food. But they are too young to travel far, dive deep or truly hunt on their own, scientists said.
Why are California sea lion pups starving? ‘Any fishing on sardines right now is overfishing, as the population is not even replacing itself, much less providing a surplus’ – Recent national news stories have shown emaciated California sea lion pups being rescued and admitted to marine mammal rehabilitation centers. The sight of hundreds of withered sea lions is reminiscent of the all-too-recent California sea lion "unusual mortality event" in 2013 followed by a significant number of stranded and dead sea lions last year. Dying sea lions and strandings are becoming less unusual and a more frequent occurrence. In fact, the 2015 sea lion deaths are already on pace to exceed the 2013 numbers. About 70 percent of sea lion pups are expected to die this year before weaning age. So, why are these pups stranding and dying? It is simple. The sea lions are starving. Nursing female sea lions don’t have enough food to eat; primarily fatty forage fish like sardine and anchovies and they are spending more time foraging, which means less time feeding their pups. In turn, the pups are not getting the nutrition they need, and people are finding them stranding on beaches, weak, emaciated and dying. As the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) stated following the 2013 mortality event, these sea lion pups are starving and malnourished due to a “change in the availability of sea lion prey, especially sardines” (NOAA Fisheries 2014). In 2010 two NOAA scientists (Zwolinski & Demer, 2012) published a paper predicting the collapse of the Pacific sardine population. The authors concluded in the abstract: "alarming is the repetition of the fishery’s response to a declining sardine stock - progressively higher exploitation rates targeting the oldest, largest, and most fecund fish." Though the paper was subject to a great to deal of controversy and debate within the agency, the scientists’ predictions came true. The Pacific sardine population has collapsed.
In South Africa, Ranchers Are Breeding Mutant Animals to Be Hunted - It’s easy to spot Columbus. He’s not only the biggest and strongest gnu among the dozens grazing on a South African plain, he also sports a golden-hued coat, a stunning contrast to the gray and black gnus around him.Finding Columbus in the wild would be a stroke of amazing luck. More than 99.9 percent of all wild gnus, also called wildebeest, from the Afrikaans for “wild beast,” have dark coats. But this three-year-old golden bull and his many offspring are not an accident. They have been bred specially for their unusual coloring, which is coveted by big game hunters. These flaxen creatures are the latest craze in South Africa’s $1 billion ultra-high-end big-game hunting industry. Well-heeled marksmen pay nearly $50,000 to take a shot at a golden gnu — more than 100 times what they pay to shoot a common gnu. Breeders are also engineering white lions with pale blue eyes, black impalas, white kudus, and coffee-colored springboks, all of which are exceedingly rare in the wild.“We breed them because they’re different,” says Barry York, who owns a 2,500-acre ranch about 135 miles east of Johannesburg. There, he expertly mates big game for optimal — read: unusual — results. “There’ll always be a premium paid for highly-adapted, unique, rare animals.”
Tanzania breaks promise - thousands of Maasai evicted to make way for lion hunt - The Tanzanian government is illegally carrying out gunpoint evictions of Maasai pastoralists in an area surrounded by the Serengeti, Maasai Mara and Ngorongoro national parks, burning hundreds of homes. It's all part of a plan to make way for luxury game hunting in the area. Ortello Business Corporation (OBC) - a luxury hunting company based in the United Arab Emirates with close connections to the Dubai Royal Family - occupied a 1,500 square km area of Maasai community land in 1992. Since then OBC has built a private airport and exclusive hunting retreats - and deployed a range of tactics to prevent indigenous Maasai people from accessing their land: cutting them off from vital grazing land and water points; pushing the community ever closer to collapse. In 2009, a mass eviction of Maasai villages within the 1,500 square kilometres took place. Over 200 homes were burned, leaving over 3,000 people homeless. According to witnesses, the operation was undertaken by the Tanzanian Field Force Unit with assistance from private security guards representing OBC (see Olosho video, below). The plan for further evictions was apparently cancelled last year due to international pressure, including an Avaaz petition signed by over 2 million people. On 23rd November 2014 the President of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete, tweeted: "There has never been, nor will there ever be any plan by the Government of Tanzania to evict the Maasai people from their ancestral land." But evictions are once again under way, this time in the areas of Arash and Loosoito / Maaloni. Maasai campaigners report that SENAPA (Serengeti National Parks) rangers burnt 114 homes burnt between the 10th and 14th February alone, leaving 2,000 to 3,000 Maasai, including many children, homeless and without food, medical supplies or shelter.
Some states fight to keep their wood fires burning - Smoke wafting from wood fires has long provided a familiar winter smell in many parts of the country – and, in some cases, a foggy haze that has filled people’s lungs with fine particles that can cause coughing and wheezing. Citing health concerns, the Environmental Protection Agency now is pressing ahead with regulations to significantly limit the pollution from newly manufactured residential wood heaters. But some of the states with the most wood smoke are refusing to go along, claiming that the EPA’s new rules could leave low-income residents in the cold. Missouri and Michigan already have barred their environmental agencies from enforcing the EPA standards. Similar measures recently passed Virginia’s legislature and are pending in at least three other states, even though residents in some places say the rules don’t do enough to clear the air. It’s been a harsh winter for many people, particularly those in regions repeatedly battered by snow. And the EPA’s new rules are stoking fears that some residents won’t be able to afford new stoves when their older models give out. “People have been burning wood since the beginning of recorded time,” said Phillip Todd, 59, who uses a wood-fired furnace to heat his home in Holts Summit. “They’re trying to regulate it out of existence, I believe, and they really have no concern about the economic consequences or the hardship it’s going to cause.”
Warming temperatures implicated in recent California droughts - California has experienced more frequent drought years in the last two decades than it has in the past several centuries. That observed uptick is primarily the result of rising temperatures in the region, which have climbed to record highs as a result of climate change, Stanford scientists say. In a new study led by Stanford professor Noah Diffenbaugh, examined the role that temperature has played in California droughts over the past 120 years. They also examined the effect that human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are having on temperature and precipitation, focusing on the influence of global warming upon California's past, present, and future drought risk. The team found that the worst droughts in California have historically occurred when conditions were both dry and warm, and that global warming is increasing the probability that dry and warm years will coincide. The findings suggest that California could be entering an era when nearly every year that has low precipitation also has temperatures similar to or higher than 2013-2014, when the statewide average annual temperature was the warmest on record. "Of course low precipitation is a prerequisite for drought, but less rain and snowfall alone don't ensure a drought will happen. It really matters if the lack of precipitation happens during a warm or cool year," Diffenbaugh said. "We've seen the effects of record heat on snow and soil moisture this year in California, and we know from this new research that climate change is increasing the probability of those warm and dry conditions occurring together."
California farmers won't get federal water -- A federal agency said Friday it will not release any water for Central Valley farms this year, forcing farmers to continue to scramble for other sources or leave fields unplanted. It will be the second year of no federal water for farmers in the region that grows much of the nation's produce. Many farmers had been bracing for the news as California's drought enters its fourth year. David Murillo, mid-Pacific regional director of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, said federal officials are doing everything possible to increase water deliveries during the dire dry conditions. "Our economy and our environment depend on it," he said. The Central Valley Project conveys water through a system of dams and reservoirs and 500 miles of canals. The agency says it can irrigate up to a third of California's agricultural land when water is flowing. Even before supplies were cut off, federal water has become a less dependable source for farmers. Farmers in the San Joaquin Valley only received 10 percent of demand in 2009 and 20 percent in 2013. Farmers are instead turning to storage supplies and pumping from largely unregulated groundwater wells that are quickly being depleted.
East Bay MUD sounding alarm on California drought -- East Bay MUD is sounding the alarm on the California drought, the worst outlook in 40 years. The water supply hasn't been this bad since the late 1970s and conservation efforts are dismal, just 4 percent. Voluntary conservation could become mandatory. The California drought is as bad as it looks, according to East Bay MUD, which supplies water to 1.3 million people in the Bay Area. "The predictions are grim. We are looking at water storage levels that are probably going to rival what we saw in the 1977 drought," EBMUD spokesperson Abby Figueroa said. That was the worst year in the district's history. Bay Area water conservation resources Here are links to water conservation tips and rebate information from some of the Bay Area's major water suppliers. EBMUD's key reservoir, Pardee, is 90 percent full but only because the district is holding water there rather than releasing it downstream to other storage facilities, such as Camanche, which is just 30 percent full. At the Caples Lake above Pardee, EBMUD's current snow measurement is just 1 foot, when normally it's more like 6 or 7.
Drought Forcing Water Price Hikes As Much As 33 Percent For Bay Area Residents - — San Francisco Bay Area residents face price hikes for water as the drought continues.Three of the area’s largest water agencies have rate hikes of up to a third on their agendas.The San Jose Mercury News reports that water agencies are spending millions of dollars more to buy water from a Southern California water bank.Programs to encourage residents to save water are costing the agencies millions of dollars more.Beau Goldie of the Santa Clara Valley Water District says water agencies also are losing revenue because water customers are using less water.The East Bay Municipal Utility District and the San Francisco Public Utilities District also face rate hikes.
Epic Drought Spurs California to Build Largest Desalination Plant in Western Hemisphere - Desalination has been proposed for years in the U.S., but has always been shot down for being too expensive and requiring too much energy. Now, “the first desalination plant in Carlsbad is coming online in 2016 or maybe even sooner,” says Jassby. The cost of desalinized water has come down significantly in recent years, making it “pretty comparable” to conventional water sources, according to Jassby. He expects that places that have “ready access to the ocean” and are water-stressed will employ desalination in the coming years. It’s already widely used in other parts of the world such as the Middle East, Australia and parts of Southern Europe. When the Carlsbad Desalination Project is completed this fall, it will be the largest desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere. Kerl of the San Diego County Water Authority, which is partnering with Poseidon Water on the project, explains why she believes the desalination plant is environmentally sound and also necessary for the state of California. The state’s recent snowpack survey reveals that the snowpack, a major source of drinking water for residents, is currently five percent of average, according to Kerl. Listen to the full episode below:
NASA Scientist Warns "California Has One Year Of Water Left" - Given the historic low temperatures and snowfalls that pummeled the eastern U.S. this winter, it might be easy to overlook how devastating California's winter was as well. As our “wet” season draws to a close, it is clear that the paltry rain and snowfall have done almost nothing to alleviate epic drought conditions. January was the driest in California since record-keeping began in 1895. Groundwater and snowpack levels are at all-time lows. We're not just up a creek without a paddle in California, we're losing the creek too. Data from NASA satellites show that the total amount of water stored in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins — that is, all of the snow, river and reservoir water, water in soils and groundwater combined — was 34 million acre-feet below normal in 2014. That loss is nearly 1.5 times the capacity of Lake Mead, America's largest reservoir. Statewide, we've been dropping more than 12 million acre-feet of total water yearly since 2011. Roughly two-thirds of these losses are attributable to groundwater pumping for agricultural irrigation in the Central Valley. Farmers have little choice but to pump more groundwater during droughts, especially when their surface water allocations have been slashed 80% to 100%. But these pumping rates are excessive and unsustainable. Wells are running dry. In some areas of the Central Valley, the land is sinking by one foot or more per year.As difficult as it may be to face, the simple fact is that California is running out of water — and the problem started before our current drought. NASA data reveal that total water storage in California has been in steady decline since at least 2002, when satellite-based monitoring began, although groundwater depletion has been going on since the early 20th century. Right now the state has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs, and our strategic backup supply, groundwater, is rapidly disappearing. California has no contingency plan for a persistent drought like this one. In short, we have no paddle to navigate this crisis.
California only has one year’s worth of its water supply left, NASA scientist warns - Plagued by prolonged drought, California now has only enough water to get it through the next year, according to NASA. In an op-ed published Thursday by theLos Angeles Times, Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, painted a dire picture of the state's water crisis. California, he writes, has lost around 12 million acre-feet of stored water every year since 2011. In the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins, the combined water sources of snow, rivers, reservoirs, soil water and groundwater amounted to a volume that was 34 million acre-feet below normal levels in 2014. And there is no relief in sight. "As our 'wet' season draws to a close, it is clear that the paltry rain and snowfall have done almost nothing to alleviate epic drought conditions. January was the driest in California since record-keeping began in 1895. Groundwater and snowpack levels are at all-time lows" Famiglietti writes. "We're not just up a creek without a paddle in California, we're losing the creek too." On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that one-third of the monitoring stations in California’s Cascades and Sierra Nevada mountains have recorded the lowest snowpack ever measured. "Right now the state has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs, and our strategic backup supply, groundwater, is rapidly disappearing,” Famiglietti writes. He criticized Californian officials for their lack of long-term planning for how to cope with this drought, and future droughts, beyond "staying in emergency mode and praying for rain."
Can Climate Action Plans Combat Megadrought and Save the Colorado River? 0 If a city’s water supply is threatened by climate change, should that city enact a strong climate action plan? I believe the answer is yes, but few cities throughout the Colorado River basin are moving forward aggressively to address climate change even though the threat is increasing every year. Two of the largest reservoirs in the U.S.—Lakes Mead and Powell along the Colorado River—continue to lose water and are now less than half full with no prediction that the trend will change direction. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the reservoirs, and many scientific studies by independent researchers have reached the same conclusion: human overuse of the river and the likely impacts of climate change could have a profound negative impact on the amount of water flowing down the Colorado River and its ability to supply water for 40 million people. A recent newspaper article discussing this issue was titled, “Climate change or just bad luck?” In the last 15 years, about 20 percent less water has flowed in the river compared to the 40 years prior. This river flow, which comes from snow falling in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, is at historic lows already. Climate change is predicted to lower the snow and river flows by 8.5 percent or more. A recent study by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration used the term “megadrought” to describe what could be coming for the Colorado River basin if climate change is not abated.
Sao Paulo’s Reservoirs Feel Pinch of Failed Wet Season --Sao Paulo, in the wake of another dry summer in southeast Brazil, continues to struggle with a multi-year drought. The city has implemented water rationing, but reservoir levels still hover at perilously low levels and will likely remain there or drop even further as the usual rainy season ends. What is traditionally the rainy season runs from September through April and brings the most rain from December through February. Yet for the second year in a row, rains have failed to fully materialize. The 2013-14 wet season saw rainfall deficits of nearly 16 inches and this year, though not quite as bad as last, is running up to 8 inches below normal according to data available from the International Research Institute for Climate and Society.A wet burst at the end of February provided some relief, but Sao Paulo’s Cantareira Reservoir System, which provides nearly half the drinking water for Sao Paulo’s 20 million residents, is still in rough shape. Its five reservoirs are only about 13 percent full and as of Tuesday, the Jaguari Reservoir, which sits at the top, was just 8.72 percent full. That led officials to require water restrictions, cutting off water for days at a time, and pushed Sao Paulo residents to start drilling illegal wells in the city in search of water. According to NPR, economists estimate that the drought could cost Sao Paulo 2 percent of its GDP.
Brazil, World's Shower Champ, Grapples With Drought - ABC News: Surveys say Brazilians are the world's most frequent bathers, taking on average 12 showers a week, putting rub-a-dub-dub up there with soccer and Carnival as essentials of the culture. But a historic drought that is making taps run dry across southeastern Brazil, particularly in South America's largest city of Sao Paulo, has people worried they might be asked to cut down on their beloved showers. While it may not be the most serious problem created by the drought, observers warn that restricting showers could spell trouble for political leaders. "Showers are part of our roots as Brazilians. Not being able to shower in a country as hot as this, where hygiene is as culturally important as is it, well, it's enough to cause a revolt," said Renata Ashcar, co-author of the book "The Bath: Histories and Rituals," published in Brazil in 2006. Brazil's populous southeastern region is in the throes of the worst drought in eight decades and reservoirs are at critical lows. Residents of Sao Paulo have faced water cuts for months, and that scenario now looms for Rio de Janeiro. Heavy rains in February and early March have helped reservoirs in the region recover somewhat,— but they still are dangerously below normal levels. The Cantareira reservoir system that provides water for some 9 million people in metropolitan Sao Paulo, for instance, was at less than 13 percent capacity this week.
Why fresh water shortages will cause the next great global crisis - Water is the driving force of all nature, Leonardo da Vinci claimed. Unfortunately for our planet, supplies are now running dry – at an alarming rate. The world’s population continues to soar but that rise in numbers has not been matched by an accompanying increase in supplies of fresh water. The consequences are proving to be profound. Across the globe, reports reveal huge areas in crisis today as reservoirs and aquifers dry up. More than a billion individuals – one in seven people on the planet – now lack access to safe drinking water. Last week in the Brazilian city of São Paulo, home to 20 million people, and once known as the City of Drizzle,drought got so bad that residents began drilling through basement floors and car parks to try to reach groundwater. City officials warned last week that rationing of supplies was likely soon. Citizens might have access to water for only two days a week, they added. In California, officials have revealed that the state has entered its fourth year of drought with January this year becoming the driest since meteorological records began. At the same time, per capita water use has continued to rise. In the Middle East, swaths of countryside have been reduced to desert because of overuse of water. Iran is one of the most severely affected. Heavy overconsumption, coupled with poor rainfall, have ravaged its water resources and devastated its agricultural output. Similarly, the United Arab Emirates is now investing in desalination plants and waste water treatment units because it lacks fresh water. As crown prince General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan admitted: “For us, water is [now] more important than oil.”
After Much Ado, El Niño Officially Declared - Just when everyone had pretty much written it off, the El Niño event that has been nearly a year in the offing finally emerged in February and could last through the spring and summer, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Thursday. This isn’t the blockbuster, 1998 repeat El Niño many anticipated when the first hints of an impending event emerged about a year ago. This El Niño has just crept across the official threshold, so it won’t be a strong event. “We’re basically declaring El Niño,” NOAA forecaster Michelle L’Heureux said. “It’s unfortunate we can’t declare a weak El Niño.” In part because of its weakness, as well as its unusual timing, the El Niño isn’t expected to have much impact on U.S. weather patterns, nor bring much relief for drought-stricken California. But forecasters say it could nudge weather patterns in other areas of the globe, especially if it persists or intensifies, and could boost global temperatures — following a 2014 that was already the hottest year on record.. “It does tilt the odds toward warmth,” L’Heureux said.
Florida Officials Ban The Term ‘Climate Change’ -- Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection is tasked with protecting the state’s “air, water and land.” But there’s one environmental threat you won’t hear DEP officials talking about.Officials at Florida’s DEP have banned the words “climate change” and “global warming” from all official communications, including reports and emails, according to an investigation published Sunday by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting (FCIR). Four former DEP employees told FCIR that they had been instructed not to use the terms during their time at the state’s DEP. “We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,’” Christopher Byrd, who served as an attorney with the DEP’s Office of General Counsel from 2008 to 2013, told FCIR. “That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel.” The ban on using “climate change” and “global warming at the DEP manifested in a variety of ways, FCIR writes. One writer wanted to include climate change in a series of fact sheets he was writing on coral reefs for the state’s Coral Reef Conservation Program, but he said he was instructed not to by DEP employees. In addition, when volunteers attended a 2014 meeting the Coral Reef Conservation Program held to train volunteers to conduct presentations on coral reef health in Florida, two volunteers said they were told not to address climate change when talking about threats facing coral reefs.
CO2 Levels for February Eclipsed Prehistoric Highs - Scientific American -- February is one of the first months since before months had names to boast carbon dioxide concentrations at 400 parts per million.* Such CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere have likely not been seen since at least the end of the Oligocene 23 million years ago, an 11-million-year-long epoch of gradual climate cooling that most likely saw CO2 concentrations drop from more than 1,000 ppm. Those of us alive today breathe air never tasted by any of our ancestors in the entire Homo genus. Homo sapiens sapiens—that’s us—has subsisted for at least 200,000 years on a planet that has oscillated between 170 and 280 ppm, according to records preserved in air bubbles trapped in ice. Now our species has burned enough fossil fuels and cut down enough trees to push CO2 to 400 ppm—and soon beyond. Concentrations rise by more than two ppm per year now. Raising atmospheric concentrations of CO2 to 0.04 percent may not seem like much but it has been enough to raise the world's annual average temperature by a total of 0.8 degree Celsius so far. More warming is in store, thanks to the lag between CO2 emissions and the extra heat each molecule will trap over time, an ever-thickening blanket wrapped around the planet in effect. Partially as a result of this atmospheric change, scientists have proposed that the world has entered a new geologic epoch, dubbed the Anthropocene and marked by this climate shift, among other indicators.
Earth entering new era of rapid temperature change, study warns - The rate of climate change we're experiencing now is faster than at any time in the last millennium, a new study shows. Researchers compared how temperature varied over 40-year periods in the past, present and future, and concluded that the Earth is entering a new "regime" of rapid temperature change. We're already locked into fast-paced changes in the near future because of past emissions, the researchers say. That means we'll need to adapt to minimise the impacts of climate change, even if greenhouse gas emissions are cut substantially. Peaks and troughs A look back at how global temperatures have changed over the past century shows how temperature rise of the Earth's surface has been anything but smooth. These peaks and troughs are in part caused by natural phenomena, such as volcanic eruptions and El Niño, which influence the Earth's climate from year to year. The graph below shows average global surface temperatures for every year back to the 1850s. You can see that temperature changes from decade to decade do not always happen at the same pace. This is the impact of natural cycles in climate, which can either work to enhance or dampen the long-term warming trend over short timescales. A new study, published in Nature Climate Change, shows how much faster temperature has increased in recent decades compared to any time over the last 1,000 years.
The oceans may be lulling us into a false sense of climate security -- A paper published last week in Science casts more light on oceans and how they may have contributed to a false sense of security about what we face in the future. The paper approached the problem in a new way that connected real-world observations with state-of-the-art climate models. What the authors find casts severe doubt on other work which had oversold the role of natural climate’s ability to halt global warming for the next 15 years. Instead, by correcting others’ errors, the new paper shows that things may be worse than we thought. The two oscillations focused on in this paper are the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). The AMO is a cyclical variation in North Atlantic temperatures that lasts for 50–70 years. On the other hand, the PDO can actually be thought of as a short (16–20 year process) and a longer (50–70 year) process. Currently, the oceans are characterized by a slightly positive AMO and a more negative PDO. A recent publication discusses the role of the PDO and the continued warming of the planet, readers can go there for a basic description. The authors focus attention on the longer of the two PDO processes which is multidecadal and they ask whether the current status of the oceans can explain what we are observing at the Earth’s surface. What they find is interesting. These oscillations are “found to explain a large proportion of internal variability in Northern Hemisphere mean temperature.” The authors also show that other researchers who have incorrectly defined natural variability using simple linear detrending have been mistaken.
Arctic Sea Ice Is Getting Thinner, Faster -- While the steady disappearance of sea ice in the Arctic has been one of the hallmark effects of global warming, research shows it is not only covering less of the planet, but it’s also getting significantly thinner. That makes it more susceptible to melting, potentially altering local ecosystems, shipping routes and ocean and atmospheric patterns. New data compiled from a range of sources — from Navy submarines to satellites — suggests that thinning is happening much faster than models have estimated, according to a study aiming to link those disparate data sources for the first time. University of Washington researchers Ron Lindsay and Axel Schweiger calculated that in the central part of the Arctic Ocean basin, sea ice has thinned by 65 percent since 1975. During September, when the ice reaches its annual minimum, ice thickness is down by a stunning 85 percent. The information is key in determining when parts of the Arctic may become ice-free for at least part of the year in the coming century.
Arctic sea ice: possible record-low maximum extent occurring - We have a situation here. In the past, I looked little at the Arctic sea ice extent numbers because I considered the sea ice volume to be a far more important measure of what was going on in the Arctic. However, consider this -- say 5-10 years ago, the ice in general was much thicker. There were even land-fast ice shelves attached to the Canadian archipelago that were more than 100 feet thick (those are all gone), and multi-year ice could easily be well over 5-6 meters thick, and there was a lot more of it. These days, in general, all of the ice is fairly thin, thus making the extent graph much more significant.During the summer melt seasons, it was often (but not always) the case that when the Arctic Oscillation Index was strongly positive, the rate of melt was much higher, primarily due to warm air masses entering the Arctic via the North Atlantic. Have a look at the current AO Index -- 2 is a fairly normal number, but above 5 is quite extraordinary:Then have a look at the satellite photos of water vapor moving into the Arctic via the North Atlantic and the Bering Strait: Animation of the satellite images here: http://synoptic.envsci.
Arctic Sea Ice Dwindling Toward Record Winter Low - While balmy hints of spring melt piles of snow in the eastern U.S., the impending end of winter marks peak season for Arctic sea ice. But this year, that winter maximum area is currently on track to hit a record low since satellite records began in 1979. The area of the Arctic covered by sea ice during the winter of 2014-2015. In March, that area has hit such low levels that they could set a seasonal record if they persist. “The fact that we're starting the melt season with low — maybe record low — winter extents cannot be good,” Jennifer Francis, a Rutgers University Arctic researcher, said in an email. Sea ice extent is crucial to the Arctic's ecology and economy, affecting wildlife habitats, weather patterns, and shipping lanes. Sea ice is a key part of the habitats of animals like polar bears and walruses, as well as fish and other creatures that live below it. When it is missing it can make it dififcult for some of the animals to find food. For humans, ice-free areas of water are prime real estate for oil drilling and shipping and an Arctic low on ice would open the region to more of both, a controversial proposition. There has also been research that indicates the disappearance of sea ice, along with the broader warming of the Arctic, is affecting weather patterns over North America, Europe and Asia, though there is still much work to be done to fully explain such a connection. The cap of sea ice that covers the Arctic Ocean waxes and wanes with the seasons, with ocean water forming ice as the sun descends below the horizon in the autumn and plunges the region into the perpetual darkness of winter. As the sun re-emerges in spring, the ice can grow no more and melting begins. The ice typically reaches its maximum area in March and its minimum in September.
Greenland Reels: Climate Disrupting Feedbacks Have Begun: Greenland is warmer than it has been in more than 100,000 years and climate disrupting feedback loops have begun. Since 2000, ice loss has increased over 600 percent, and liquid water now exists inside the ice sheet year-round, no longer refreezing during winter. Melt and ice loss dynamics from Greenland are far more complicated than we understood just a few years ago. New discoveries have been made that add large uncertainties as to exactly how fast ice melt and iceberg discharge will increase in the future. Over the last decade, continued research into the rate of ice loss in Greenland has downplayed any rapid acceleration of current melt rates. New discoveries could be changing our understanding of this last decade's work. The last 18 years have seen more melt than average across the ice sheet every year with an increasing trend that peaked in 2012 when the entire ice sheet surface temperature went above freezing for four days. (1) The melt line, or the elevation on the 11,000-foot-high ice sheet where the temperature does not rise above freezing in any given year, has steadily been increasing since the 1970s. (2)All of this melt is exposing areas beneath the ice sheet that have not been exposed in a very long time. Across Baffin Bay to the west of Greenland is Baffin Island. This is the largest of the islands in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, and ranked the fifth largest in the world; it is almost as big as Texas (Greenland is the largest). Baffin Island has its own ice cap as well as satellite ice caps to the main body of ice. It is these satellite ice caps that attracted the attention of researchers.
Scientists link Arctic warming to intense summer heatwaves in the northern hemisphere: The Arctic is warming up, and the impacts are being felt right across the world. A new study suggests rising temperatures there could even be contributing to longer-lasting heatwaves in the northern hemisphere, like the one Russia experienced in 2010. Published today in the journal Science, the paper is the latest in a line of research suggesting how rising temperatures in the high north could be affecting our weather patterns much further south. But there's a lot still to understand before the links can be well and truly pinned down, scientists say. The Arctic is warming at least twice as fast as the globe as a whole. Scientists begun noticing the pattern emerge in temperature records since about the year 2000. It's known as Arctic Amplification. Part of the reason for it is that, as sea ice is diminishing, heat from the sun that would have been reflected back to space by snow and ice is being absorbed by the oceans instead, warming them up. As the Arctic warms faster than the rest of the world, the temperature difference between the pole and the equator is getting smaller. Since this temperature contrast drives much of the atmospheric circulation in the northern hemisphere, the smaller it gets, the weaker the circulation becomes. These atmospheric circulation patterns are responsible for delivering the weather systems that create warm, cold or wet conditions in the northern hemisphere. So, it follows that disrupting the circulation will, in turn, have consequences for the weather we see.
Melting will hit the US hardest - Hurricane Sandy was not an aberration. It was New York City's first taste of a trend that could continue for centuries — the storm surge that flooded the city's coastal areas could become a much more frequent — and destructive — occurrence. Land ice at both of the planet's poles is melting, causing our oceans to rise. But Antarctica, known as the sleeping giant of sea level rise, is melting faster than scientists previously thought. In a bit of cruel irony, as Antarctica's ice falls into the ocean, the distribution of sea level changes could actually hit the world's largest cumulative contributor to climate change — the United States — harder than elsewhere. The New York City Panel on Climate Change recently said that sea level rise in the five boroughs won't be the two to four feet that it had previously estimated, but possibly as much as six feet. Cities like Washington DC, Norfolk, Miami, and Seattle could also be hard hit by sea level rise, inundating coastal infrastructure and even potentially forcing the relocation inland of tens of millions of inhabitants. "Sea level rise gives climate change an address, because it is the climate impact we can talk about at the address level," Benjamin Strauss, Vice President for Sea Level and Climate Impacts at the independent science and journalism organization Climate Central, told VICE News. "You can literally walk down a street and give different sea level risk assessments for different properties."
Climate fight won't wait for Paris: vive la résistance - The math is so basic and easy that it’s quickly carried the day. What in 2013 was the rallying cry of a few student campaigners has by 2015 become the conventional wisdom: there’s a “carbon bubble,” composed of the trillions of dollars of coal and oil and gas that simply must be left underground. Here’s the president of World Bank speaking in Davos: “Use smart due diligence. Rethink what fiduciary responsibility means in this changing world. It’s simple self-interest. Every company, investor and bank that screens new and existing investments for climate risk is simply being pragmatic.” Those radicals at HSBC, in between sheltering taxes for the super-rich, ran the numbers: if the world actually tried to keep its 2C commitment, valuations of the fossil fuel industry would drop by half. Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, did his best to explain the unwelcome news to the industry at a conference last October: the “vast majority” of the planet’s carbon reserves “are unburnable,” he said.
When Shell’s chief executive hit back last month, calling a rapid transition off fossil fuel “simply naïve,” it was Tory veteran and chair of parliament’s energy committee Tim Yeo who told him off: “I do believe the problem of stranded assets is a real one now. Investors are starting to think by 2030 the world will be in such a panic about climate change that either by law or by price it will be very hard to burn fossil fuels on anything like the scale we are doing at the moment.” Forget sea level rise for a moment – this is a sea change, happening in real time before our eyes, as the confidence in an old order starts to collapse. Last September the members of the Rockefeller family – the first family of fossil fuels – announced that they were divesting their philanthropies from coal, oil, and gas for reasons “both moral and economic”. As the head of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund put it, “We are quite convinced that if John D Rockefeller were alive today, as an astute businessman looking out to the future, he would be moving out of fossil fuels and investing in clean, renewable energy.”
Keep fossil fuels in the ground to stop climate change -- If you visit the website of the UN body that oversees the world’s climate negotiations, you will find dozens of pictures, taken across 20 years, of people clapping. These photos should be of interest to anthropologists and psychologists. For they show hundreds of intelligent, educated, well-paid and elegantly-dressed people wasting their lives. The celebratory nature of the images testifies to the world of make-believe these people inhabit. They are surrounded by objectives, principles, commitments, instruments and protocols, which create a reassuring phantasm of progress while the ship on which they travel slowly founders. Leafing through these photos, I imagine I can almost hear what the delegates are saying through their expensive dentistry. “Darling you’ve re-arranged the deckchairs beautifully. It’s a breakthrough! We’ll have to invent a mechanism for holding them in place, as the deck has developed a bit of a tilt, but we’ll do that at the next conference.” This process is futile because they have addressed the problem only from one end, and it happens to be the wrong end. They have sought to prevent climate breakdown by limiting the amount of greenhouse gases that are released; in other words, by constraining the consumption of fossil fuels. But, throughout the 23 years since the world’s governments decided to begin this process, the delegates have uttered not one coherent word about constraining production.
If enough of us decide that climate change is a crisis worthy of Marshall Plan levels of response, then it will become one - Naomi Klein -- I denied climate change for longer than I care to admit. I knew it was happening, sure. Not like Donald Trump and the Tea Partiers going on about how the continued existence of winter proves it’s all a hoax. But I stayed pretty hazy on the details and only skimmed most of the news stories, especially the really scary ones. I told myself the science was too complicated and that the environmentalists were dealing with it. And I continued to behave as if there was nothing wrong with the shiny card in my wallet attesting to my “elite” frequent flyer status. A great many of us engage in this kind of climate change denial. We look for a split second and then we look away. Or we look but then turn it into a joke (“more signs of the Apocalypse!”). Which is another way of looking away. Or we look but tell ourselves comforting stories about how humans are clever and will come up with a technological miracle that will safely suck the carbon out of the skies or magically turn down the heat of the sun. Which, I was to discover while researching this book, is yet another way of looking away. Or we look but try to be hyper-rational about it (“dollar for dollar it’s more efficient to focus on economic development than climate change, since wealth is the best protection from weather extremes”) – as if having a few more dollars will make much difference when your city is underwater. Or we look but tell ourselves we are too busy to care about something so distant and abstract – even though we saw the water in the subways in New York City during Superstorm Sandy, and the people on their rooftops in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and know that no one is safe, the most vulnerable least of all. And though perfectly understandable, this too is a way of looking away.
Mark Carney defends Bank of England over climate change study - Climate change is one of the biggest
risks facing the insurance industry, the governor of the Bank of England has said after a former Conservative chancellor dismissed a study on global warming as “green claptrap”. Speaking at the House of Lords, Mark Carney mounted a robust defence of the Bank’s work on the impact of climate change on the insurance industry in the face of claims by Nigel Lawson that it had its priorities wrong. Lawson, who has claimed “there is no global warming to speak of going on at the moment”, a view that puts him outside the overwhelming scientific consensus, attacked the bank for “focusing on green claptrap” rather than the remaining problems in the UK’s financial sector. Lawson was referring to a recent speech by Paul Fisher, a senior policymaker at the Bank, who warned insurers they could take a “huge hit” by investing in fossil fuels, which could collapse in value if action is taken to curb greenhouse gas emissions in line with scientific advice. Fisher is deputy head of the Bank’s Prudential Regulation Authority, which supervises insurers and banks with the aim of ensuring financial stability. The Bank has recently surveyed the insurance industry on its fossil fuel investments, as it investigates the risk of an economic crash if action on climate change renders oil and gas assets worthless.. The contribution from Threadneedle Street is expected to be published after the election by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) as part of a bigger report on the impact of climate change.
Europe submits UN climate pledge, urges US, China to follow: (Reuters) - The European Union on Friday submitted its formal promise on how much it will cut greenhouse gas emissions to the United Nations ahead of climate change talks starting in November and called on the United States and China to follow its lead. The European Union is the first major economy to agree its position before the talks in Paris aimed at seeking a new worldwide deal on global warming. "We expect China, the United States and the other G20 countries in particular to follow the European Union and submit their contributions by the end of March," Miguel Arias Canete, climate and energy Commissioner, told reporters after a meeting of EU environment ministers in Brussels. French Energy Minister Segolene Royal said Europe was taking up its responsibilities as host of the 2015 Paris climate conference, which begins on Nov. 30. "A very important step was taken today," she said. "This is a decisive, historic stage." She had said on Thursday agreement had to be reached by March 20 at the latest. The EU's official contribution will be a target of an at least 40 percent cut in emissions by 2030, compared to levels emitted in 1990.
China pledges to boost clean energy, industrial restructuring: (Reuters) - China's top state planning agency pledged on Thursday to accelerate policies to promote cleaner and renewable sources of energy and tackle overcapacity in polluting industrial sectors. China is trying to strike a balance between improving its environment, suffering from more than three decades of breakneck growth, and keeping its economy running at the pace required to maintain employment and stability. The National Development and Reform Commision (NDRC) in its annual report published at the opening of the full session of parliament said it would implement policies aimed at reducing coal consumption and controlling the number of energy-guzzling projects in polluted regions. "We will strive for zero-growth in the consumption of coal in key areas of the country," Premier Li Keqiang said in his government work report delivered to parliament on Thursday. "Environmental pollution is a blight on people's quality of life and a trouble that weighs on their hearts," Li said. The NDRC also said it would take action to boost the proportion of cleaner fuels, encourage the development and utilisation of natural gas, and aggressively develop renewable wind, solar and biofuel energy sources. "For areas affected by severe smog, regions where conserving energy is difficult, and industries with overcapacity, we will strictly control the number of energy-intensive projects and implement policies for reducing coal use, and for replacing coal with alternative energy sources," the report said.
China Builds Nuclear Reactors in Earthquake-Prone Pakistan -- China has decided to defy international norms and build new nuclear reactors in Pakistan. While the U.S. and Europe see stagnant growth for commercial nuclear power, the same is not true in Asia. China is not only building nuclear reactors at home, but it is exporting its technology abroad. Of particular concern is its construction of nuclear reactors in Pakistan. China helped build two reactors at Chashma, which came online in 2000 and 2011 respectively. More recently, it has decided to double the size of the Chashma power plant, with two additional reactors under construction. And it is also constructing a new nuclear power plant near Karachi, using China’s next generation ACP-1000 design. But China’s plans in Pakistan are facing global criticism. The problem is that Pakistan is not a signatory of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), which should disqualify it for any international help in building nuclear power plants. The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is a coalition of nuclear technology exporting countries who have banded together to create guidelines and norms around the sale of nuclear technology in order to ensure its safe use while guarding against the spread of nuclear weapons capabilities. One of the core tenets of the NSG is to not trade nuclear technology to countries that have not signed up to the NPT. Pakistan is one of the world’s four remaining holdouts to the NPT (the other three are India, Israel, and South Sudan). That is why China’s decision to build nuclear reactors in Pakistan has received criticism. As a member of the NSG, China is defying the guidelines on nuclear trade. China says that its promise to Pakistan predates its 2004 accession to the suppliers group.
McConnell to states: Don't comply with EPA climate rule - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is urging state officials not to comply with the Obama administration's signature climate rule.McConnell, a stringent opponent of the regulation, said states should not submit a design plan for limiting carbon pollution from existing power plants."The regulation is unfair. It's probably illegal. And state officials can do something about it; in fact, many are already fighting back," McConnell said in an op-ed published in the Lexington Herald-Leader. The rule, which the EPA is working to finalize this summer, requires states cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. "Think twice before submitting a state plan — which could lock you in to federal enforcement and expose you to lawsuits — when the administration is standing on shaky legal ground and when, without your support, it won't be able to demonstrate the capacity to carry out such political extremism," McConnell said.
At Least Four States Are Pushing Koch-Backed Legislation To Ban Funding EPA’s Climate Rule - Lawmakers from at least four states have introduced model legislation from the right-wing group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) seeking to prohibit state funding for the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to fight climate change. On Thursday, Missouri state lawmaker Tim Remole introduced a resolution mimicking the text of AFP’s Reliable, Affordable and Safe Power (RASP) Act. Remole’s resolution “seeks to prohibit state agencies from using state money to implement EPA rules and guidelines,” specifically the EPA’s efforts to limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Nearly identical resolutions have also been introduced in Florida, Virginia, and South Carolina in 2015. Each one says the proposed limits on carbon emissions from power plants “will not measurably alter any impacts of climate change,” “conflicts with a literal reading of the law,” and would “effectively amount to a federal takeover of the electricity system of the United States.” The sentiment in these resolutions would have to be included in actual bills to become a real law. But if they do pass, it would signify that the states have the momentum to move similarly-written bills through their Legislatures. The RASP Act is a piece of model legislation written by AFP, a free-market group famously backed by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. AFP announced in December that it would “lead a large coalition of organizations” to push the RASP Act in states — organizations which include the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute, right-wing think tank Heritage Action for America, and the Koch-backed American Energy Alliance. The model legislation is also being pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a free-market lobbying group.
IEA: CO2 Emissions Decouple From Economic Growth For First Time In 40 Years - Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions flatlined globally in 2014, while the world economy grew. The International Energy Agency reports that this marks “the first time in 40 years in which there was a halt or reduction in emissions of the greenhouse gas that was not tied to an economic downturn.” The IEA attributes this remarkable occurrence to “changing patterns of energy consumption in China and OECD countries.” As we reported last month, China cut its coal consumption 2.9 percent in 2014, the first drop this century. China is aggressively embracing energy efficiency, expanding clean energy, and shuttering the dirtiest power plants to meet its planned 2020 (or sooner) peak in coal use. As a result, Chinese CO2 emissions dropped 1 percent in 2014 even as their economy grew by 7.4 percent. At the same time, the Financial Times points out “In the past five years, OECD countries’ economies grew nearly 7 percent while their emissions fell 4 percent, the IEA has found.” A big part of that is the United States, where fuel economy standards have reversed oil consumption trends — and renewable energy, efficiency, and natural gas have cut U.S. coal consumption. All this “provides much-needed momentum to negotiators preparing to forge a global climate deal in Paris in December,” explained IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol, who was just named the next IEA Executive Director. “For the first time, greenhouse gas emissions are decoupling from economic growth.”
Utilities wage campaign against rooftop solar - Three years ago, the nation’s top utility executives gathered at a Colorado resort to hear warnings about a grave new threat to operators of America’s electric grid: not superstorms or cyberattacks, but rooftop solar panels.If demand for residential solar continued to soar, traditional utilities could soon face serious problems, from “declining retail sales” and a “loss of customers” to “potential obsolescence,” according to a presentation prepared for the group. . “Industry must prepare an action plan to address the challenges,” it said. The warning, delivered to a private meeting of the utility industry’s main trade association, became a call to arms for electricity providers in nearly every corner of the nation. Three years later, the industry and its fossil-fuel supporters are waging a determined campaign to stop a home-solar insurgency that is rattling the boardrooms of the country’s government-regulated electric monopolies. The campaign’s first phase—an industry push for state laws raising prices for solar customers—failed spectacularly in legislatures around the country, due in part to surprisingly strong support for solar energy from conservatives and evangelicals in traditionally “red states.” But more recently, the battle has shifted to public utility commissions, where industry backers have mounted a more successful push for fee hikes that could put solar panels out of reach for many potential customers.
The ‘Insane’ Plan To Burn 80,000 Pounds Of Chemical Explosives, Out In The Open, Every Day For A Year - - Just a few miles away from the population center of Minden, Louisiana, 15 million pounds of military explosives are sitting in cardboard boxes, waiting to detonate. The massive stockpile of explosive M6 propellant has been stored at a Louisiana National Guard military training site called Camp Minden since 2010, when the U.S. Army sold it to a company to be destroyed. But the company, Explo Systems, never actually disposed of it — they just left it in the boxes. Now the M6 is rapidly deteriorating, and by August, its risk of spontaneous combustion will greatly increase. The Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army, and two Louisiana state agencies have put forth a solution: Burn it. Burn the M6 in the open over the course of one year. Put it in trays, light it on fire, and let the smoke and fumes drift into the air. A year-long schedule would amount to 80,000 pounds of chemicals burned each day. “We believe this would be the largest chemical burn of its kind in U.S. history,” said Frances Kelly, director of organizing for Louisiana Progress Action, and one of the loudest opponents of the plan. “It’s very scary.” As Kelly and others in Minden fight for an alternative disposal, it’s sparked a bigger conversation about open munitions burning far beyond Louisiana. Across the country, the military regularly disposes of its huge stockpile of excess and obsolete explosives, propellants, and munitions by burning them. The regulations surrounding these burns are confusing, sometimes bypassing environmental review until after a burn has been agreed to. What’s more, these open burns have largely flown under environmentalists’ radar, despite well-documented evidence showing long-term public health and environmental risks.
Is it time to scrap the American Renewable Fuel Standard? -- On Wednesday, representatives of the American Petroleum Institute, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and anti-hunger group ActionAid USA held a joint press conference to call on Congress for a repeal or a drastic reform of corn ethanol mandates under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). “A chorus of concerned groups — from consumer groups to environmental groups to anti-hunger groups and industry groups – are calling for repeal or reform of the nation’s ethanol mandates under the Renewable Fuel Standard,” said Bob Greco, API downstream group director. “API remains seriously concerned that increasing ethanol mandates under the RFS stands to harm consumers and our economy.” The RFS is a federal program that originated with the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The idea behind the legislation was to require fuel sold for transportation purposes to contain a minimum amount of renewable fuels, usually bio-fuel. The RFS program requires renewable fuel to be blended into transportation fuel in increasing amounts each year. In addition, each renewable fuel category in the program is mandated to emit lower greenhouse gas emissions relative to the petroleum-based product it is replacing. However, Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs at EWG noted that the corn-based push of the RFS is actually worse in terms of emissions and water pollution. Faber noted that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that the RFS program has increased emissions when compared to estimated gasoline consumption. “We feel it’s time to develop actual green responsible biofuels rather than corn ethanol,” Faber said. “The Renewable Fuel Standard has not only failed consumers and the environment, it has also failed the advanced biofuel industry it was supposed to help.”
U.S. exports 836 million gallons of ethanol worth $2.1 billion: - U.S. ethanol exports reached near-record levels in 2014, sending 836 million gallons of ethanol worth $2.1 billion to international markets, the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) explained in its new publication "2014 U.S. Ethanol Exports and Imports: Statistical Summary." The publication offers an overview of the U.S. ethanol export and import markets in 2014 showing the upward trend in exports and the downward trend in imports - reaching the second-lowest levels - since 2005. The report finds that U.S. ethanol has made its way to all inhabited continents of the world, reaching more than 50 countries. The top five countries importing U.S. ethanol last year included Canada, Brazil, the United Arab Emirates, the Philippines and India. Meanwhile, exports to the European Union remain down because of a punitive trade tariff it chooses to impose on U.S. produced ethanol.
Trans-Pacific Partnership: A Fast Track to Disaster - The U.S. is at the tail end of negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—a massive trade deal with Mexico, Canada, Japan, Vietnam and seven other countries. The negotiations have been conducted in secret. Now Congress will soon decide whether to grant the Obama administration “fast track” authority to have the “final” pact approved as is—meaning strict limits on Congressional debate and no amendments. That’s a terrible idea for lots of reasons—not least of which is that the TPP could sabotage the ability of the U.S. (and other nations) to respond to the climate crisis. Senator Elizabeth Warren put her finger on the problem in an op-ed for the Washington Post “Who will benefit from the TPP? American workers? Consumers? Small businesses? Taxpayers? Or the biggest multinational corporations in the world?” Here’s a hint: The answer is definitely not “all of the above.” Multinational corporations—including some of the planet’s biggest polluters—could use the TPP to sue governments, in private trade tribunals, over laws and policies that they claimed would reduce their profits. The implications of this are profound: Corporate profits are more important than protections for clean air, clean water, climate stability, workers’ rights and more. This isn’t a hypothetical threat. Similar rules in other free trade deals have allowed corporations including ExxonMobil, Chevron and Occidental Petroleum to bring approximately 600 cases against nearly 100 governments. Increasingly, corporations are using these perverse rules to challenge energy and climate policies, including a moratorium on fracking in Quebec; a nuclear energy phaseout and coal-fired power plant standards in Germany; and a pollution cleanup in Peru. TransCanada has even intimated that it would use similar rules in the North American Free Trade Agreement to challenge a U.S. decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.
Here’s why gas really costs Americans $6.25 a gallon - The study, published in the journal Climatic Change, is the first to pull together a proper accounting of the hidden costs of greenhouse gas emissions. It shows the true (and much higher) cost that we pay in dollars at the pump and light switch—or in human lives at the emergency room.Drew Shindell, a professor at Duke University, has attempted to play CPA to our industrialized emitting world. He has tabulated what he calls “climate damages” for a whole range of greenhouse gases like CO2, aerosols, and methane—and more persistent ones like nitrous oxides. If these damages are added in like the gas tax, a gallon of regular in the United States would really cost $6.25. The price of diesel would be a whopping $7.72 a gallon. Shindell also estimated the yearly damages from power plants in the U.S. Using coal costs us the most, with climate damages adding an almost 30 cents per kilowatt hour to the current price of 10 cents we now pay. The gas-fired power price rises to 17 cents from 7 cents per kilowatt hour.For the average homeowner who uses natural gas, your real bill after climate damages is double. And for those of us who get their electricity from coal-fired power plants, our energy bills are really four times what we see in our monthly statements. Shindell calculates the total yearly emissions price tag—between transportation, electricity, and industrial combustion—at between $330-970 billion. That wide spread depends on the choice of a discount rate, which reflects the relative value of money over the years and decades of climate change to come.
Florida Utility Is Buying A Coal Plant Just To Shut It Down -- State utility Florida Power and Light (FPL) wants to buy an old coal plant in Florida just to shut it down, a move that it says would prevent nearly 1 million tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere each year. FPL filed a petition with the state’s Public Service Commission last week to acquire the Cedar Bay Generating Plant in Jacksonville, which went into service in 1994. Upon buying the coal plant, FPL plans to immediately reduce the plant’s operations by 90 percent, and then phase it out of service completely over the next two to three years. The reason it’s doing this, FPL has said, is simple: the plant is outdated, and shutting it down will save customers money — $70 million a year to be exact, according to the utility. “Although years ago it made sense to buy this plant’s power to serve our customers, times have changed. We have invested billions of dollars to improve the efficiency of our system, reduce our fuel consumption, prevent emissions and cut costs for our customers,” Eric Silagy, president and CEO of FPL said in a statement. “Now we’re in a position to take ownership of the facility and effectively buy out an outmoded contract with the goal of ultimately phasing the plant out of service.”
Duke Pollution Could Continue Under Proposed Permits - Duke Energy could legally leak pollutants from some of its coal ash dumps under new wastewater permits proposed Friday by North Carolina regulators. Just days after federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against Duke over the leaks, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources released new draft permits for three of Duke's coal ash sites. New permits for Duke's remaining coal ash dumps across the state are to follow. Among those issued Friday is a draft permit for Riverbend Steam Station near Charlotte, one of five plants cited Feb. 20 with Clean Water Act violations. Duke says it will plead guilty to nine misdemeanor counts and pay $102 million to settle the case. The proposed permit would add "12 potentially contaminated groundwater seeps" in the dump's earthen dam to Riverbend's allowed discharges — the same leaks cited as violations last month. Riverbend's wastewater discharges into Mountain Island Lake, 3 miles upstream from the main intake for Charlotte's drinking water supply. The new permits will require Duke to monitor the leaks to make sure the pollution coming from them don't exceed state water-quality standards. Duke will continue to collect its own samples and test them at its company lab, self-reporting the results to the state.
State Fines Duke Energy $25 Million For Coal Waste, Still Doesn’t Require Cleanup - North Carolina’s environmental agency handed Duke Energy a record fine Tuesday after finding the company let coal ash contaminants from one plant leach into groundwater over a period of several years. The $25.1 million penalty is nearly five times the amount of the previous largest fine from the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and applies to pollution from the Sutton coal power plant near Wilmington, which was decommissioned in 2013. “Today’s enforcement action continues the aggressive approach this administration has taken on coal ash,” DENR Secretary Donald R. van der Vaart said in a statement. “In addition to holding the utility accountable for past contamination we have found across the state, we are also moving expeditiously to remove the threat to our waterways and groundwater from coal ash ponds statewide.” “This proposed fine does not clean up one ounce of coal ash pollution,” Frank Holland, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center said in an email to ThinkProgress. “It is the easiest thing in the world for Duke Energy to write a check. What the Wilmington community and its clean water need is elimination and cleanup of the coal ash pollution.” Duke Energy has an annual revenue of more than $24 billion and sold more than 58 thousand gigawatt-hours of electricity last year. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration has in the past received criticism for lenient fines on Duke Energy, including for a $99,111 fine over similar groundwater contamination that was rescinded and increased after the company spilled 35 million gallons of coal ash into the Dan River in 2014. McCrory worked for Duke Energy for almost 30 years.
750 tons of Fukushima plant water leaked – TEPCO -- In yet another major leak at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant, operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) reported that 750 tons of contaminated rainwater have escaped the plant. The water overflowed from mounds where storage tanks for radioactive water are located, The Japan Times quoted TEPCO as saying. Rainwater within that perimeter had up to 8,300 becquerels per liter of beta particle-emitting radioactive substances, such as strontium-90. The leak has likely made its way to the ground, according to the officials, but they do not anticipate the contaminated water spreading further into the sea. The spilled rainwater was discovered in two separate places between the artificial mounds and the ground. Initially, the leak was believed to be 400 tons. It was later revised upwards.
A New Season Brings Big Changes In Energy -- A change in the seasons doesn’t just manifest itself in nature but in the energy markets as well and can often have dramatic impacts on the international markets. So here are some such seasonal shuffles, across continents and commodities.
Battle Continues in Fight to Save States’ Renewable Energy Policies - There was a series of attempts in 2013 and 2014 to repeal or weaken state laws that set targets for increasing the use of renewable energy. States across the country—including Wisconsin, Kansas, Texas and North Carolina, among others—faced campaigns against their renewable energy standards. All of those attempts were unsuccessful except in the case of Ohio. Passed in 2008 with nearly unanimous support from both Republican and Democratic legislators, Ohio’s energy standards required utilities to meet 12.5 percent of electricity demand with renewable energy and to decrease energy use by more than 22 percent by 2025, with interim targets each year beforehand. The standards also required half of the renewable energy to come from in-state facilities. Despite clear evidence that the standards had economic benefits, including increased in-state investment, employment and savings for ratepayers, S.B. 310 proposed to freeze the standards for two years and eliminate the in-state requirement for renewable energy. After the bill passed the state legislature in May 2014 and Gov. John Kasich (R) signed the bill into law the following month, Ohio became the first state to take regressive measures against its renewable energy standards. The future of the standards after the two-year period is uncertain. Reports are now coming in from leaders in Ohio’s solar, wind and energy efficiency industries that employment and investment are draining from the state, as described in the Center for American Progress issue brief, The Economic Fallout of the Freeze on Ohio’s Clean Energy Sector. There have already been several new attempts in 2015 to repeal or weaken state-level energy standards, and further attempts—backed by aggressive lobbying campaigns—are certainly forthcoming. For those states, Ohio serves as a cautionary tale of the in-state economic damage that could follow a rollback.
The Natural Gas Gamble: A Risky Bet on America’s Clean Energy Future - Union of Concerned Scientists - Dramatically expanding the use of natural gas to generate electricity creates numerous and complex risks for our economy, our health, and our climate. Full report Executive summary Technical appendix The U.S. electricity sector is in the midst of a major change. As power producers retire aging coal plants, they are turning to natural gas to generate electricity at an unprecedented rate. While this rapid shift is providing important near-term environmental and economic benefits, strong evidence suggests that becoming too reliant on natural gas poses numerous and complex risks, including persistent price volatility and rising global warming emissions. Analysis shows, however, that the dangers of an over-reliance on natural gas can be overcome by greatly expanding the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency in our power supply. These technologies are already ramping up quickly across the country and demonstrating that they can deliver affordable, reliable, and low-carbon power. With sensible policies in place, these technologies can flourish and natural gas would play a useful—though more limited—role in a clean energy system.
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