Monday, June 30, 2014

How Does Global Warming Increase Wildfire Risk?

From the National Wildlife Federation


The frequency of large wildfires and the total area burned have been steadily increasing in the Western United States, with global warming being a major contributing factor.
  • Longer fire seasons will result as spring runoff occurs earlier, summer heat builds up more quickly, and warm conditions extend further into fall. Western forests typically become combustible within a month of when snowmelt finishes. Snowpack is now melting 1 to 4 weeks earlier than it did 50 years ago.
  • Drier conditions will increase the probability of fire occurrence. Summertime temperatures in western North America are projected to be 3.6 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit higher by mid-century, enhancing evaporation rates, while precipitation is expected to decrease by up to 15 percent. The Southwest will be hit particularly hard, perhaps shifting to a more arid climate.
  • More fuel for forest fires will become available because warmer and drier conditions are conducive to widespread beetle and other insect infestations, resulting in broad ranges of dead and highly combustible trees. Higher temperatures enhance winter survival of mountain pine beetles and allow for a more rapid lifecycle. At the same time, moderate drought conditions for a year or longer can weaken trees, allowing bark beetles to overcome the trees’ defense mechanisms more easily.
  • Increased frequency of lightning is expected as thunderstorms become more severe. In the western United States a 1.8 degree Fahrenheit increase in temperature is expected to lead to a 6 percent increase in lightning. This means that lightning in the region could increase by 12 to 30 percent by mid-century.
The bottom line is that the overall area burned is projected to double by late this century across 11 western states if the average summertime temperature increases 2.9 degrees Fahrenheit, with Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah being hit particularly hard.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Tri-City Herald Editorial Talks About the Changing Climate and Water

Our Voice: Water storage projects still vital for Mid-Columbia

June 27, 2014
New water storage in the Yakima Basin is something Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., has been working on for years. In February, Hastings proposed a portion of the funding Congress approves for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation be set aside to pay for new and expanded capacity for water storage in the Yakima Basin.

This week, a bipartisan vote of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee approved a bill including language that encourages the Bureau of Reclamation to join its funding with the state for projects we can't do on our own. The new bill eventually will go to a full House vote.

This week's step is a small one, but it's an important project for the future of Eastern Washington. And Doc won't be there to carry the banner in the future. Our next representative from the 4th Congressional District must take up the charge. So must our two senators.

This year, we narrowly avoided a water shortage. Thanks to a significant late-season snowfall in the Cascades, we have enough water for all stakeholders to get what they need. But without those big storms, we would be feeling the effects of a drought. We have had, and will continue to have, dry years.

Users with junior water rights come out on the losing end of that proposition every time. But nobody really wins. Water is vital for the Yakima Basin for everything from agriculture to fish.

The Bureau of Reclamation is the arm of federal government charged with overseeing the delivery of water. In some ways, the hands of the bureau are tied by history and legislative red tape. Water needs and methods of storage and delivery continue to evolve, yet the bureau is not free to adopt new strategies at will. Even ideas that seem to be obvious improvements need congressional approval. For example, Hastings also introduced legislation that would allow irrigation districts to voluntarily repay federal obligations early. He added the stipulation that the money would be put into a new account to be used only to build new water storage or to expand existing water storage reservoirs. Currently, to repay money early, a water district must get a bill signed into federal law. Five water districts have done that in the past decade.

We are a mecca for crops and agriculture. Without water storage and reclamation projects, we revert to dusty desert. Our climate is changing, and we can no longer count on winter snowfall to see us through the summer. Water storage is important to us now and will be even more so in the future.
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COMMENT
The Washington Department of Ecology addresses declining water resources due to global warming on its web page, where they point out that, "Warmer temperatures mean more precipitation will fall as rain, not snow, and more snow will melt earlier in the spring. Much of Washington’s water supply is stored in snow pack and glaciers that melt into rivers. As this stored snow recedes to higher elevations, less will be available to feed rivers. Too much water runoff (melted snow) through early spring when it's not needed will not help in summer when it is needed." Establishing additional capacity for water storage is a good idea. However, Hastings, like most of his Republican colleagues isn't addressing the root cause of the problem, i.e., climate change. Many conservatives are joining with Democrats to urge Congress to implement a revenue neutral carbon tax, such as that proposed by the Citizens' Climate Lobby, in order to move our economy away from fossil fuels and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are contributing to global warming (see Hank Paulson's op-ed in the WSJ, for example). Hastings needs to get on board with that proposal.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Support Solutions to Global Warming -- Call Congress on June 23rd!

Our Tri-Cities chapter of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby has two members meeting with our congressional delegation on Tuesday,  June 24th to urge them to pass legislation that will reduce the future risk of global warming. We’ll be asking them to support a tax on carbon that gives all revenue back to households, which will protect families from the increase in energy costs. The guys from our chapter going to WDC are volunteers. They are paying their own way.

I’m asking for your help to make these meetings a success. It will only take a couple of minutes. Could you call your representative and senators on Monday, June 23rd to express your support for a carbon tax that gives the tax revenue back to households?

Just call, tell whomever is taking calls your name, city and state, and say something like this:

“I’m very concerned about global warming, and particularly the impact that it’s having here in [YOUR STATE]. Congress needs to do something about this, and I’d like to see Congressman _________ (OR CONGRESSWOMAN OR SENATOR) support legislation that puts a tax on carbon and gives money back to households.”

Or, if you like, you can simply ask them to support solutions to climate change. The key is to call.

I live in Washington State. Here is a list of Washington State congressional offices and their phone numbers:

Congressman Doc Hastings
1203 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
(202) 225-5816

Senator Patty Murray
154 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Phone: (202) 224-2621

Senator Maria Cantwell
311 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
(202) 224-3441

If you live in another state, go here for the Senate, and here for the House to get contact information.

If we can generate a passel of calls, we’ll demonstrate that there’s support for climate solutions, and members of congress will be listening more intently to what we have to say when we meet with them Tuesday. Please share this with others through email, Twitter, Facebook, or whatever floats your social sailboat.

Please let me know in the Comments section if you did this, and what your experience was with whomever answered your call.

Thanks!

BTW, a June 9th study by the independent, Regional Economics Models, Inc., research organization showed that a revenue-neutral carbon tax (also called a fee and dividend) would not only significantly reduce emissions, but would create new jobs and boost the U.S. economy by up to $90 billion annually.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Who Pays for Climate Change (You do and your children after you)

U.S. Taxpayers Outspend Private Insurers Three-to-One to Cover Climate Disruption Costs
 Natural Resources Defense Council
Sandy Storm Surge
Despite the lengthy debate on the federal budget in Congress, climate change rarely gets mentioned as a deficit driver. Yet paying for climate disruption was one of the largest non-defense discretionary budget items in 2012. Indeed, when all federal spending on last year's droughts, storms, floods, and forest fires are added up, the U.S. Climate Disruption Budget was nearly $100 billion.
The startling reality:
  • America's taxpayers paid three times what private insurers paid out to cover losses from extreme weather.
  • The federal government spent more taxpayer money on the consequences of 2012 extreme weather than on education or transportation.
Texas Drought
Overall, the insurance industry estimates that 2012 was the second costliest year in U.S. history for climate-related disasters, with more than $139 billion in damages. But private insurers themselves only covered about 25 percent of these costs ($33 billion), leaving the federal government and its public insurance enterprises to pay for the majority of the remaining claims.
In fact, the U.S. government paid more than three times as much as private insurers paid for climate-related disasters in 2012.

Cutting Costs By Addressing Climate Change Now

Fortunately, there is much that the president can do to fight climate change without waiting for the current Congress to act. NRDC has developed a groundbreaking plan to use the Clean Air Act to make big reductions in carbon pollution from power plants, America's largest source of global warming pollution. Our analysis shows that the EPA can set fair and flexible standards that cut power plant carbon pollution by 26 percent by 2020 and 34 percent by 2025 compared to 2005 levels. (Read our roadmap for cutting carbon pollution.)
We don't have to just accept an ever-increasing Climate Disruption Budget that our children will have to pay for. We can fight back with a more forward-looking approach, starting now.
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The Citizens' Climate Lobby has another approach to reducing emissions and creating jobs.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

CLIMATE CHANGE SOLUTION: An open letter to members of congress

Devastation: Super Storm Sandy
Dear Congressman / Senator;

Climate change is a real and growing threat. Human-caused global warming has already caused billions of dollars of damage and untold suffering across the globe, including here in the United States. The longer we wait to act, the more expensive it will be to mitigate the impacts of what could become a climate catastrophe.

At over 400 ppm we have now reached atmospheric concentrations of CO2 never before seen in recorded human history. We need to be no higher than 350 pmm of CO2, and yet we continue to add well over 30 billion tons annually. We are already seeing the effects; melting ice sheets, sea level rise, shrinking ice pack, drought, more intense wildfires, ocean acidification, and unusual and troubling weather events around the world.

But we can tackle this problem. It will require a well thought-out, comprehensive, aggressively executed plan of action. One that starts with a revenue-neutral carbon fee -- a free market approach that levels the playing field for clean energy technologies; technologies that can create hundreds of thousands of jobs and vault the American economy into the 22nd Century.

This is not wishful thinking. A study just released by Regional Economic Models, Inc. and Synergy Energy Economics, Inc., showed that a modest but steadily increasing carbon fee and dividend not only reduces emissions by 33% by 2025, but adds up to 3 million jobs, and boosts the U.S. economy by up to $90 billion in annual GDP. There are other benefits, too numerous to detail here. The study is available from Steve Valk at the Citizens Climate Lobby.

In conclusion, I’d like to thank you for your service to our state and the nation. As you consider your priorities for the remainder of this legislative session, I hope you will add to what I’m sure is a long list, tackling the advancing threat of climate change, and the path forward that a revenue-neutral carbon tax -- a carbon fee and dividend -- provides.

Sincerely,

/s/

Richard Badalamente

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Charleston 2107

Greetings from Charleston's Under Water Future
Lindsay Koob
Charleston City Paper , September 12, 2007

Market Street, Downtown Charleston S.C. in 2012
 Imagine the year is 2107, and you're a tourist in Charleston. But instead of a horse-drawn carriage, you're cruising down what used to be Broad Street in a slow-moving tour boat. The water's nine feet deep, and it's only just past low tide. It's high summer, and the base temperature outside your enclosed, climate-controlled boat is pushing 105 degrees Fahrenheit, not counting the 20-degree heat index. The boat drifts past the ruins of St. Michael's Church, with its gaping, glass-toothed windows and collapsed steeple, as the tour guide drones on about its rich history and the last services held there back in 2053 — the church's 300th anniversary — before the rising waters drove its last parishioners to higher ground. The guide reminds you of the great global climate change exodus that began in earnest that decade, with nearly a billion refugees from coastal regions everywhere on top of untold millions of climate-related deaths.

As historic pre-flood photos flash across your seat's video screen, the guide recounts the city's valiant struggle against the ever-rising tide: all the elevated roads, storm sewers, massive pumping systems, canals, and seawalls. And for awhile, they kept pace, that is until the 2040s, when the burgeoning collapse of polar ice sheets drove sea levels to rise more than half a meter per decade. Then in 2046, mega-hurricane Jonah scored a direct hit, devastating the city. The last state and federal insurance props fizzled out, the tax base withered, support and service infrastructures ground to a halt, and the city's economy collapsed. The mega-bucks needed to wall off the sea simply weren't there. By 2050 Charleston had become a half-drowned ghost town.

Since you embarked on your boat tour of sunken Charleston, you haven't seen a seabird all day, and you ask the guide why. He explains that nobody's seen a pelican or a seagull in 40 years, since the marshes drowned. He reminds you that the seas are practically sterile — too acidic and warm to support most sea life — while most of the world's coral reefs are dead. Even the plankton are nearly gone.

By now, you've turned onto the East Bay Canal, passing by the half-collapsed shell of the old Custom House. The water reaches almost to the top of the front steps. The tour ends, and the boat picks up speed, heading out from the sunken city into open water, under the old Ravenel Bridge — now a bridge to nowhere. At least something around here survived intact. Too bad the beautiful old town didn't.

According to the Clemson Architectural Center, if the sea rises 1 foot, 3.5 percent of the Peninsula will be underwater. A sea level rise of 3 feet will cover 9 percent, while a rise of 6 and 12 feet will cover 34 and 77 percent, respectively.

Sure, it's a chilling scenario — but not as far-fetched as you might imagine. It wouldn't be the first time the Lowcountry's been underwater. Just a few weeks back, they found a primeval sea-turtle fossil in a Summerville ditch, and you can dig up ancient petrified sharks' teeth and other marine fossils everywhere along the coastal plain. If only it was geologic time we were dealing with. But now we are learning that our unchecked energy consumption — led by manufacturing, consumerism, and plain old convenience — has compressed eons of climate change into mere centuries, or perhaps even decades. And the heat is on.

Climate Change – Where We Stand

Fifty years ago, nobody listened to the first warnings about pollution-induced global warming and its consequences. But lately, credible scientific evidence has steadily mounted, and what was once theory — or the sky-is-falling cries of a few environmentally-minded Chicken Littles — is now coming true. The United Nations' four-part Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on global warming offers the most credible global confluence of scientific findings and opinion to date (www.ipcc.ch). It zeroes straight in on our wasteful consumption of fossil fuels as the certain cause of our woes.

And the world keeps getting hotter, thanks mostly to our cars and power plants and the vast volumes of greenhouse gases they emit. Yet we still continue to stoke the very atmospheric cooker we're now stewing in. And here, in the land of the figuratively free and the home of the Hummer, we're the world's greediest energy gluttons, gobbling up more fossil fuels and farting out more greenhouse gases than any other nation (though China's catching up fast). And greenhouse gases just don't go away either; most of what we spewed out a century ago is still here and will remain with us for centuries to come. At this point, we can only hope to slow it down enough to avoid the worst of the many possible consequences.

Despite the fairly conservative IPCC predictions, some of our leading scientists are telling us that we're teetering on the brink of self-inflicted climate disaster. Unless drastic action to curtail emissions is taken globally — and soon — rapidly rising atmospheric temperatures (like 6 degrees Fahrenheit) are inevitable by 2100. This in turn will increase oceanic evaporation, boosting torrential rains and flooding in many parts of the world. The higher temps will also dry out topsoils worldwide, spreading drought and deforestation and causing more wildfires.
The growing heat will give rise to a chain of vicious cycles, including runaway melting of permafrost in Arctic regions, releasing vast new quantities of greenhouse gases, especially methane, that will trap even more heat. If ocean temperatures rise, frozen methane hydrates at the bottom of the sea could also melt. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, a concentration of methane off the coast of the two Carolinas is composed of "1,300 trillion cubic feet of methane gas, an amount representing more than 70 times the 1989 gas consumption of the United States." Also, as more carbon dioxide dissolves into seawater, the ocean's acidity level rises. That and other factors have already transformed once vibrant, marine-life sustaining coral reefs into dead, skeleton-white graveyards. If the temperatures continue to rise, plankton — the very base of the aquatic food chain — will also be affected, spelling the potential doom of all sea life. Saying, "Sorry, Charlie," just won't cut it.

On land, hotter weather will also mean the disruption of seasonal patterns, destroyed habitats, and ecological imbalances. Native flora and fauna will migrate elsewhere and be replaced by more tropical species. Even worse, mass extinctions, involving untold thousands of species, are possible. Warmer air will also bring warmer oceans, which in turn will spawn stronger, more frequent storms. The disruption of major oceanic currents also threatens major climate shifts. As the oceans heat up, thermal expansion of seawater alone will certainly cause up to 2 feet of sea level rise by century's end.
But the scariest news these days is the increased disintegration and melting of the world's major polar ice sheets, mainly the ones in Greenland and west Antarctica. Based on ongoing satellite studies, scientists like NASA's chief climatologist James Hansen, have lately reported that the volume of ice surging into the seas has roughly doubled every five years since 1995. If this trend continues unchecked, Hansen says we could well see an additional sea level rise of up to four meters (13 feet), or even more, by 2100.

If such dire predictions come true, the world can kiss its low-lying coastal regions goodbye: places like Holland, Bangladesh, Shanghai, and Venice — not to mention Manhattan, New Orleans, parts of San Francisco, a big chunk of Florida, and Charleston.

According to Jeremy Weiss and Jonathan Overpeck at the University of Arizona, As the sea level rises, from 2 to 6 METERs, Waters will overtake the Charleston area.

Prospects for Charleston

Let's consider what all this means for us. Charleston lies about eight feet above sea level. Just think about the heavy street flooding we get whenever torrential rains come on top of high tide. Sooner or later, a Category 6 hurricane (hey, they're talking about rising ocean temps making those come true, too) could score a direct hit, and a massive storm surge could sweep away half the city.
Even the IPCC's best-case sea level rise of less than a meter will move our shorelines back many hundreds of feet. And that spells likely doom for all the lavish beachfront mansions — and the fragile barrier islands they precariously cling to. All will inevitably succumb to the encroaching surf, and coastal property values will plummet.

With these increasing risks comes the certainty that property insurance will become a scarce commodity. Owners of coastal homes and businesses are already finding that insurance costs are spiraling out of control. This summer's 35 percent hike in state-supported "wind pool" premium rates was no real surprise.

Allison Dean Love, director of the S.C. Insurance News Service, says, "High insurance expense is simply one of the prices you have to pay for the privilege of living on the coast." Most coastal homeowners, she adds, will need as many as six or seven different policies before they can consider themselves adequately covered. You simply won't be able to depend on insurance being there anymore, she warns. Scott Richardson, the state's insurance director, just found that out the hard way when the coverage on his Hilton Head home wasn't renewed.

And then there's the matter of our glorious beaches. A rise in sea level will also cause further coastal erosion, and it won't be long before we have to accept the fact that it is futile to keep renourishing our disappearing beaches. DHEC reports that, since 1990, keeping our beaches well-sanded and tourist-friendly has cost us $144 million. Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the overall cost of keeping beaches up to par could top $9 billion this century.

"There's a limited amount of suitable sand for renourishment," says Chris Marsh, executive director of the Lowcountry Institute. "We can't expect it to be available 30 to 50 years from now."
A rapid rise in sea level will also drown our surrounding tidal marshes and wetlands faster than they can regenerate inland, especially where development has gone before. You can't grow new marshes on top of flooded roads and parking lots and subdivisions. And don't forget that marshes are both nursery and larder to thousands of species, including shrimp, crabs and oysters, that will disappear along with them.

The National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science's Carol Auer, an oceanographer who works for the organization's Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research, says a rise in sea level poses great risks to our coastal wetlands. She places much of the blame on runaway coastal development, which often pushes right up against tidal creeks and marshlands. Routinely approved construction of docks and protective bulkheads often leaves the marshes no place to go as water levels rise, gradually drowning them. "Bulkheads are one of the worst things people can do to the coastal environment," she says.

Jim Morris, director of the Baruch Institute for Marine and Coastal Science at the University of South Carolina, says Charleston-area marshes seem to be healthier than those around the Georgetown area he regularly studies, due in part to the relatively large volumes of sediment deposited by the Cooper River watershed. He adds that while it's an off-and-on process, South Carolina's marshes seem to be keeping up with the rising sea levels for the time being. He believes that they could "probably handle a rate of sea level rising somewhat less than 1 centimeter per year" — at least for awhile, and in areas where marsh expansion isn't blocked by heavy development.

Despite what some straw-grasping skeptics would have us believe, there is no real good news to report about global warming. Ben Moore, climate and energy project manager of the Coastal Conservation League, says, "After a certain point, there are simply no positive aspects to global warming."

Bottom line: How can we defend ourselves from 6 feet of standing water in our streets? Not many of the folks I've talked to foresee the kind of political will and thus the funds to build the kind of massive, Netherlands-style dikes and pumping systems that will be necessary to stem the tide. That's because the rise in the sea level isn't likely to stop at just a few feet; barriers and pumping systems will have to be continually expanded and strengthened.

That said, something must be done.

Michael Maher and the folks at the Charleston Civic Design Center, a municipal planning agency, have begun developing programs and projects they think will help us cope with global climate changes. These include the Charleston Green Initiative, which promotes a more resource-efficient approach to municipal operations. "Charleston's a canary in the coal mine of global warming," Maher says. He hopes that gives us the chance to "lead the fight against it."

Then there's architect Robert Miller, director of the Clemson Architectural Center in Charleston. He and his students recently completed a truly impressive project that looks at peninsular Charleston at various levels of future sea level rise: 1, 3, 6, and 12 feet. (The project will be unveiled at the College of Charleston library sometime after the new year.) Various measures designed to deal with each of these successive water levels are then explored. These include fairly simple measures at the low end, like marsh expansion along the city's western shore, and the creation of water retention parks where storm runoff and tidal flooding can be contained until it can be pumped away.

Then, as projected sea levels rise, so does the sophistication, and expense, of the proposed fixes. The construction of elevated roadways, water-absorbing pervious pavement, seawalls, and canals are all explored by Miller and his crew. The ultimate fixes occur once the sea hits the 12-foot level: if that happens, either a walled-city approach that protects only the peninsula or a massive harbor-front levee that will also save surrounding areas like West Ashley and Mt. Pleasant, complete with a system of locks that will permit continued shipping traffic. "At that point," Miller says, "Charleston will be like another New Orleans: an entire metropolitan area lying well below sea level." But who will pick up the mega-billion price tag?

Sure enough, there remain far more questions than answers at this point. And since we, the people, don't yet take the global warming threat seriously, most related research programs remain seriously underfunded, and therefore ineffective. And we're not likely to wake up until after we suffer several painful black eyes at the hands of poor, abused Mother Nature — or a mortal blow to our pocketbooks. Major policy change is seldom inspired by altruism.
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In the seven years since this article was written, CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere have exceeded 400 ppm -- levels unprecedented in recorded human history. China has already overtaken the U.S. in emissions, and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has started a now unstoppable collapse, with an estimated sea level impact of 12 ft by 2100. Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress are holding hearings to stop the EPA from issuing new regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.