When Hillary Clinton was asked in July whether she would ban fossil fuel extraction on public lands, she said, “not until we’ve got the alternatives in place.”
That may sound reasonable. If we do not have sufficient renewable energy generation capacity (and enough energy efficiency), then we cannot limit our production of fossil fuels, right? But she’s missing a key element here: Limiting the supply of fossil fuels is actually the route to expanded renewable deployment, since driving up the price of fossil fuels shifts consumers towards renewables. This is the economic rationale for cap-and-trade and carbon-tax systems.
And Clinton’s answer was inappropriately passive for another reason: If she actually got the job she’s campaigning for, she would have the power to do a lot to build up renewable capacity — even without cooperation from Congress.
The federal government is a massive landowner, particularly in the expanses of the West that lend themselves to solar and wind energy production. The Bureau of Land Management alone controls more than 260 million acres. And the executive branch has broad authority over public lands management. So public land policy should be at the center of a president’s efforts to transition from the dirty energy economy to a clean one. That not only means restricting the leasing of federal lands for fossil fuel development; it also means using those lands for renewable energy projects.
A recent report by the Center for American Progress (CAP) found that leasing federal lands for solar, wind, and geothermal projects provides a better deal for taxpayers than fossil fuel leasing, as well as greater transparency and less negative environmental impact. Clinton vaguely nodded at this in July when she released her renewable energy platform, which promised to “expand renewable energy on public lands, federal buildings, and federally-funded infrastructure.” But it provided no specifics as to how.
Prior to Obama’s presidency, there was no renewable energy leasing on federal land. The Obama administration has gotten the ball rolling, granting permits to more than 50 utility-scale renewable energy projects. Last week, Obama announced a few more moves to bolster renewables: The administration will provide $1 billion in new loan guarantees for renewable projects, launch a new program to help homeowners improve energy efficiency, contract with solar companies to provide solar power for housing on more than 40 military bases, and undertake a host of other small initiatives.
But there is more the White House could do to boost renewables, mainly by expanding the renewable leasing program on federal land and offshore. Here are three examples from another new report from CAP.
- Formalize the leasing process for renewable projects. The Department of Interior (DOI) has issued a series of directives that have encouraged approval of solar and wind projects on federal land. CAP writes, “While these permitting reforms are widely lauded and have achieved important successes, they have not been institutionalized: There remains a significant question regarding whether these reforms will survive a change in administrations.” Setting up permanent rules would provide certainty to energy investors and make it more difficult for a future administration to abandon the program. Republican presidents, after all, tend to prefer dirty industries to clean ones. As CAP notes, “The [George W.] Bush administration approved more than 73,000 oil and gas leases over five years but did not issue a single lease for a major solar energy project.”
- Identify more solar energy zones. DOI has defined six areas where federal land is optimally suited for solar energy development with minimal environmental conflicts. But, CAP argues, there could be at least another 10, which would help focus private capital on the best development opportunities.
- Develop community-based renewables on federal land. Many people don’t own a roof that can accommodate a solar array, but would like to power their homes through clean energy. So why not facilitate renewable energy development on adjacent federal land for interested communities?
Those are all steps a president could take unilaterally. A Republican-controlled Congress won’t cooperate on most legislative initiatives to encourage renewable energy development. But there is one possible opportunity for bipartisan progress: making the wind production tax credit permanent. The wind industry has a big presence and strong prospects in a number of red states, so some Republicans support the tax credit. Obama should be pushing for an agreement on it, and if it’s not reached by the end of 2016, the next president should pick up the mantle.
Overall, there’s enormous potential for growth of renewable energy in the U.S., in particular on public land. “In the Southwest there’s no better opportunity for solar, and the federal government has huge lands there,” says David Hayes, coauthor of the CAP report. “The sky’s the limit.”
Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics
Climate change — as it is for pretty much all life forms — is a huge bummer for bees. If neonics and other pesticides weren’t enough to deal with, a recent study demonstrated that global warming has fueled drastic bee habitat loss, leading to a 200-mile reduction in their natural environments. Something out in the great abyss has it out for the buzzers (hint: it’s CO2).
The video above, produced by the good folks over at High Country News, explores a curious new coupling between climate change and bee ecosystems. Because bees depend on flowers for food and flowers depend on bees for pollination, the two groups of organisms tend to sync up. (Remember scribbling “symbiotic relationship” into your high school biology notebook? It’s one of those.) And because climate change is fiddling with the times that flowers bloom, it means “we could have a situation where plants are available but bees are not active,” says Rebecca Irwin, an associate professor of applied ecology at North Carolina State University, in the video. “That’s going to be a problem for both parties.”
To try to examine some of the relationships at play, Irwin’s team is conducting some pretty fascinating experiments. By digging out trenches of snow near the end of winter, the researchers can coax some patches of flowers into blooming a bit earlier than others. In doing so, the team is effectively able to simulate pockets of climate change — consider a warming world with less extreme winters — and examine how the bee and flower populations interact in these areas. Without ample pollination, the early bloomers could be left with little reproductive success. Results of the experiments are pending.
Maybe you don’t give a shit about bees at all, but we assume you’re mildly interested in little things like “the produce section at Whole Foods” — which could disappear entirely if bees are wiped out. Check out the clip above to learn exactly how your salad mix could be at risk.
Filed under: Climate & Energy, Science
The average gaming computer guzzles as much energy as three refrigerators — three refrigerators! And since gaming isn’t complete without snacks, we should probably make that four.
That’s because gaming computers are to your average PC what this tricked out monstrosity is to your mom’s Acura. Hardcore gamers enhance their machines with amped-up processors, fancy computer monitors, and fast graphics cards, so battling virtual monsters can end up requiring a lot of computing power. Here’s more from Motherboard:
A new study published in the journal Energy Efficiency finds that worldwide, gaming computers suck down $10 billion worth of electricity (or 75 terawatt hours) a year. Given that sales rates are projected to double by 2020, that figure is expected to do the same. The study finds that while gaming computers comprise just 2.5 percent of personal computers worldwide, they account for 20 percent of global computer energy use.
Evan Mills, a UC Berkeley energy researcher and the study’s co-author, calculates that “a typical gaming computer uses 1,400 kilowatt-hours per year, or six times more energy than a typical PC and 10 times more than a gaming console.”
Worldwide, “it’s like 25 standard electric power plants,” Mills tells me in an email. Imagine that: 25 massive power plants, the kind that power entire cities, running their electricity directly to people playing Counter-Strike and League of Legend. “It’s also like 160 million refrigerators, globally. Or, 7 billion LED light bulbs running 3 hours per day.”
Fortunately, gamers can cut down their energy consumption by as much as 75 percent by just “switching some settings and replacing a few components,” Motherboard reports. For more information, interested gamers can check out Greening the Beast, a website that Mills runs with his son, Nathaniel.
So the next time you’re trying to destroy your opponents’ nexus in League of Legends, think about all those emissions that you’re responsible for and consider making a few changes. And if you want to be really popular among your virtual teammates, tell them to follow suit. (Grist is not responsible for any virtual harm done to your avatar for telling others to green their beasts.)
Filed under: Business & Technology, Living
Shop the newest Earth Brands Footwear Collection and save the planet at the same time.
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The world-famous Mermaids from Weeki Wachee Springs (Fla.) State Park will return to Greater Cincinnati this fall to enchant Newport Aquarium guests Sept. 25 through Oct. 12.
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Saving Seafood has published an analysis of a recent proposal from several environmental organizations to designate the Cashes Ledge region of the Gulf of Maine as a National Monument. The analysis...
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The burners may have left for Black Rock City, but there’s still a lot burning on the West Coast. From Central Washington’s blazes to the wildfires ravaging the tinderbox we call California, the Pacific Coast is on fire. Across the U.S., wildfires have claimed over 8 million acres of land. When combined with water restrictions and severe drought, the fires can be devastating — especially for anyone whose livelihood depends directly on the land. Which brings us to another type of burner: weed farmers.
While some growers haven’t been affected by the fires, “others haven’t been so fortunate,” writes Madeleine Thomas (a former Grister!) over at Pacific Standard. In Northern California, many budding bud operations are starting to feel the burn:
Timothy Anderson, the purchasing manager for Harborside Health Center, a medical marijuana dispensary based in Oakland, California, says most of his suppliers are located in the lower end of the the Emerald Triangle, an area comprising three counties at the tip of Northern California. The Emerald Triangle’s economy is largely dependent on marijuana growers, who have a reputation for producing some of the country’s best bud, including sought-after strains like Mendocino Purps and Humboldt Headband.
Some of Anderson’s suppliers haven’t been able to get their product to market due to road closures. Others are situated in the midst of the blaze’s danger zone, but, according to Anderson, remain reluctant to leave their farms to nature’s mercy just yet. Evacuating runs the risk of losing a farm not only to wildfire, but to neglect. No one is around to check key irrigation lines or reservoirs, he says—daily reminders that the state is still in the midst of one of the worst droughts in memory. Water isn’t just a lifeline for most marijuana growers these days; it’s also a luxury.
“I had one of my contract farmers, with whom we work with very closely, who lost an entire farmstead,” Anderson says. “He lost a house, a barn, an outbuilding, and had to lay off his employees at that facility for the season as well.”
East of the Cascades in Washington, where the dry climate is a double-edged sword (“prime not only for weed farming, but also for massive wildfires,” writes Thomas), the story is much the same. And as the poorly contained fires creep closer and closer to weed fields, growers have begun to voice concerns about the indirect effects of the wildfires, as well. Residual smoke can seep into a marijuana plant’s flowers — altering the smell and taste of the weed — and light-blocking smoke and haze can cause plants to flower early, triggering the need for an early harvest.
A burning marijuana field won’t get you high, though, unless you’re standing right at the edge of one and actively “gulping up smoke.” In which case, you know, it might be time to look at your choices.
Filed under: Climate & Energy, Living
For CO2-eating bacteria, climate change is kind of a sweet deal. It’s like someone sneaking into your kitchen every night and dumping a bunch of cookies on your counter — except, in this scenario, humanity is the one breaking and entering, your house is Earth, and those cookies are ruining everything.
But if you’re a marine microbe just chillin’ in the tropics and subtropics, munching on CO2, and watching the rest of the world go up in flames, there’s no downside, right? Wrong! Researchers at USC and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute tested how Trichodesmium (nickname: Tricho), a cyanobacteria that consumes CO2 and pumps out crucial nitrogen for the rest of the marine food web, would behave under the high-CO2 conditions projected for 2100, and they found that poor lil Tricho faces death-by-gluttony.
In a study published Tuesday in Nature Communications, the researchers report that at first, things won’t look so bad for Tricho. With more CO2, the bacteria grow faster and produce 50 percent more nitrogen. So not only are the bacteria getting stronger, they’re also making more food for other marine organisms that eat nitrogen. But then things go sour, because of course there’s no such thing as a free lunch (or in this case, cookie). So here’s the bad news from USC News:
The problem is that these amped-up bacteria can’t turn it off even when they are placed in conditions with less carbon dioxide. Further, the adaptation can’t be reversed over time — something not seen before by evolutionary biologists, and worrisome to marine biologists, according to David Hutchins, lead author of the study.
“Losing the ability to regulate your growth rate is not a healthy thing,” said Hutchins, professor at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “The last thing you want is to be stuck with these high growth rates when there aren’t enough nutrients to go around. It’s a losing strategy in the struggle to survive.”
Let’s put this in terms of cookies, because I’m hungry. You can’t really have cookies without milk, right? (That’s not actually a question.) So if someone’s stocking your kitchen with extra cookies but not extra milk, and you start pigging out on cookies, you’ll eventually run out of milk. When that happens, you’ll probably be bummed out but will continue to stuff your face.
Unfortunately for Tricho, the milk in this metaphor is phosphorous and iron — crucial nutrients that are in limited supply — so when Tricho runs out of “milk,” it’ll die. Here’s more from USC News:
With no way to regulate its growth, the turbo-boosted Tricho could burn through all of its available nutrients too quickly and abruptly die off, which would be catastrophic for all other life forms in the ocean that need the nitrogen it would have produced to survive.
Even after the researchers put the bacteria back in a CO2-low environment, its enhanced appetite didn’t subside. They basically developed an irreversible evolutionary adaptation which, according to USC News, Hutchins described as “unprecedented.”
“Tricho has been studied for ages. Nobody expected that it could do something so bizarre,” he said. “The evolutionary biologists are interested in it just to study this as a basic evolutionary principle.”
The team is now studying the DNA of Tricho to try to find out how and why the irreversible evolution occurs. Earlier this year, research led by [Eric Webb of USC Dornsife] found that the organism’s DNA inexplicably contains elements that are usually only seen in higher life forms.
“… the organism’s DNA inexplicably contains elements that are usually only seen in higher life forms.” Twenty bucks says Tricho’s an alien. Hell, let’s make it $20 million. It’ll probably be dead before we get a chance to figure it out. (Unless, of course, part of its plan for invasion involves eating up all the phosphorous and iron, then entering a death-like dormant phase until the rest of the marine ecosystem spirals into chaos, and we find ourselves on the brink of extinction …)
Until then, I’ll just be eating cookies and milk.
Filed under: Climate & Energy, Science
Incongruously placed at the center of the Elliðaárdalur valley in Reykjavík, Iceland, is a large, gloomy structure tucked between a crowding of trees along the banks of the Elliðaár River. I’m waiting by the building’s brick-lined door, under a large red sign with its name emblazoned across it — TOPPSTÖÐIN — when a tall, spectacled man glides up to me on his bicycle.
Upon meeting Andri Snær Magnason, writer, activist, and co-founder of Toppstöðin, one quickly gets the impression that he could talk anyone into embarking on an adventure with him. (His ideal excursion, as he later tells me, is cycling 280 miles along Iceland’s southern coast with his family.) His gift for persuading people to tackle big challenges bleeds into his professional life, too: He’s arguably the father of the modern Icelandic environmental movement.
Toppstöðin — Magnason’s pet project since 2008 — is a decommissioned coal plant turned equal parts co-working space and artists’ haven, and has become a model for how communities can re-purpose old power plants in a post-fossil fuel economy. Built by the teamwork of an eclectic group of activists, entrepreneurs, artists, and local government, Toppstöðin provides a glimpse of the possibilities for Reykjavík’s future.Andri Snær Magnason, co-founder of Toppstöðin. Scott Shigeoka
“This was the last coal-fired power plant here in Iceland before we removed coal from the grid in the `80s,” Magnason tells me.
Magnason’s soft-spoken demeanor belies the fact that he’s a gifted storyteller. He can move people with his words and has mobilized grassroots rallies, bringing together tens of thousands of Icelanders. With his book Dreamland: A Self-Help Manual for a Frightened Nation, he brought the conflict between Iceland’s ecology and its economy onto the global stage by exploring corporations’ exploitation of the country’s natural resources. Since its publication, Magnason has spent much of the last decade working on environmental projects in Iceland, alongside influential leaders like singer Björk and the country’s former president Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, who was the world’s first democratically elected female head of state.
“You could say Iceland is the post-coal utopia in some ways,” he adds.
It’s a provocative statement: though Iceland is often awarded international accolades for its alleged commitment to sustainability and its transition to renewable energy, the country is far from becoming the poster child for environmentalism.
Iceland is Europe’s second-largest CO2 polluter per capita, according to a 2015 report released by the European Environment Agency. Its carbon emissions are the product of heavy industry — mostly aluminum smelting — and the destruction of its southern wetlands, which were ripped apart by government-subsidized tile drainage projects in the late 20th century. Iceland is also guilty of massive food and electronic waste, and has one of the world’s highest numbers of motor vehicles per capita.The interior of Toppstöðin. Scott Shigeoka
Iceland’s environmental successes, however, can be found in its transition to renewable energy. Nearly 85 percent of the country’s primary energy consumption comes from hydropower and geothermal sources. These advancements were made in the wake of the country’s commitment to become completely independent from fossil fuels.
Many of Iceland’s dams and geo-thermal stations were constructed during an era of economic prosperity for the small country (pop. 320,000). By 2008, Iceland’s banking industry appeared to be thriving, employment was at an all-time high, the value of the Icelandic krona was strong, and large sums of foreign investment were pouring in to bankroll energy mega-projects around the country.
These mega-projects were controversial because they often led to the destruction of ecologically diverse regions in Iceland. Geothermal plants were dropped in natural landscapes, and dams flooded entire valleys and disrupted plant and animal life. Further insult to injury came when such projects — like the Kárahnjúkar Dam in 2003 — were built explicitly to power aluminum smelters, which release significant amounts of CO2. In 2008, Björk and Sigur Rós teamed up with Magnason to convene nearly 30,000 people — about a tenth of Iceland’s population, making the event one of the largest protests of its kind ever organized in the country — for a concert in the valley next to Toppstöðin. Together, they successfully protested the construction of a dam in the southwestern part of the country.Toppstöðin, a repurposed coal plant, is tucked in Iceland’s Elliðaárdalur valley.Scott Shigeoka
“It was such a shame and a failure of our imagination that we were sacrificing nature for easy money,” Magnason said. “The fetish for billions of dollars and using huge machines to blow up valleys was just a general misunderstanding about how value is created.”
By 2007, Iceland’s major banks held assets in excess of eight times the country’s GDP. The banks’ inevitable fold in the fall of 2008 prompted a domino effect that led to the country’s swift economic collapse in a matter of days. The Icelandic krona lost more than half its value against the dollar.
The economic disaster sparked a powerful grassroots movement of positivity and innovation. Dubbed “Iceland’s creative revolution” by Magnason, it brought about the successful mayoral candidacy of self-described anarchist and comedian Jón Gnarr in 2010. It also led to the creation of the historic National Assembly, a new power gathering that brought Icelanders together to re-imagine and re-design their country’s Constitution.
“After the crash, the start-up became a virtue,” Magnason said. “It was not seen as something sad…it became kind of cool to be [an entrepreneur] struggling with an idea.”
That year, Magnason was forced to do a lot of introspection. He questioned his narrow focus as an author: “Should we just write about things or should we try to prove things … and make something?”As a functioning power plant, Toppstöðin had 132 kilovolts of electric potential.Scott Shigeoka
Tapping into the national momentum around start-ups and his desire for a more direct role in recovery efforts, Magnason drafted a formal proposal to re-purpose the Toppstöðin power plant into a cultural and start-up hub for the city. He had an expansive network through his successful writing career, and he could tap into his prowess for storytelling to inspire the right people to get involved. Working alongside an architect and carpenter who were developing social housing in Iceland, he saw an opportunity for local entrepreneurs and artists to combine forces and re-imagine an alternative version of Iceland’s economy and future. He also believed there were environmental justifications for the proposal, since it would essentially act as a large-scale up-cycling project, giving more value to the building instead of just tearing it down.
Toppstöðin, which was de-commissioned in 1988 and abandoned for the next two decades, mostly served the community as a canvas for vandalism and an informal dumping ground for household waste. As such, the city planned to demolish the building at a cost of US$2 million. Magnason and his collaborators, however, saw an opportunity to re-purpose the building in a way that could contribute a new type of power and energy to the city.
“We also wanted to prove that you can create jobs by using already existing things,” Magnason said. “Harnessing unused ideas instead of waterfalls…there would be more force in that.”In Toppstöðin’s shared kitchen, a photograph shows what the landscape of the Elliðaárdalur valley used to look like.Scott Shigeoka
The proposal to re-purpose Toppstöðin was persuasive. Though there were other organizations vying for control of the building, the city offered the keys to Magnason and his collaborators.
The City of Reykjavík, however, denied Magnason’s requested $500,000 budget. Forced to devise their own ways to generate revenue for Toppstöðin, they capitalized on the trend of co-working spaces and offered office spaces to entrepreneurs and artists for a meager rent of $100 per month. Shortly after, a range of products and ideas — from off-grid windmill developments to designer underwear — started incubating at the power plant.
Toppstöðin works particularly well as a creative space partly due to its starkly beautiful interior. Popular indie-electronic trio Samaris has used the space, performing live in the former power plant for Seattle’s KEXP radio during last year’s Iceland Airwaves Music Festival. Artists have also filmed music videos there, including Reykjavík-based hip-hop group Úlfur Úlfur.
Daníel Auðunsson, a musician who also works part-time managing Toppstöðin, says that turnover has been a problem because many entrepreneurs run out of money and are forced to take full-time jobs at established companies. However, this is common in most start-up communities around the world, and there are still many working in Toppstöðin who embody the spirit of its founding vision.Daníel Auðunsson, the guitarist for the indie-folk band Árstíðir, who also works part-time managing Toppstöðin.Scott Shigeoka
Ásta Guðmundsdóttir, for example, is an Icelandic artist and fashion designer who has been renting out space in Toppstöðin for years. It was a cheaper alternative to a studio in the center of the city, and she’s been able to cross-pollinate with other artists and entrepreneurs working in a range of other disciplines.
She has utilized Toppstöðin to its fullest potential, putting on events for the local community like the fashion design installations she hosted there in 2012 and 2013. Supported by her work at Toppstöðin, Guðmundsdóttir has collaborated with artists in Japanese forests and recently premiered a sustainable fashion line in Copenhagen.Ásta Guðmundsdóttir, an artist and clothing designer who works in Toppstöðin.Scott Shigeoka
Admittedly, the power plant could be renovated so that it’d be safer to work and play in. Almost 10 years after its launch, pieces of scrap metal and machinery remain littered throughout Toppstöðin, and parts of the building are completely pitch black due to a lack of lighting. However, the staff does their best to maintain as much of it as possible. Magnason said that the plant needs “maybe $5 or $6 million to get it into a real running state,” and his dream is to open up exhibition rooms, a film studio and performance stages. Currently, the building has 37,500-square-feet of untapped usable space.
“The long-term vision is to make this a bigger hub like a community center,” he says.
Then, he lit up: “My own motivation for Toppstöðin was from an environmental point of view. Our government said we needed lots of destruction of nature to create jobs … but I think we proved quite a bit here with no money put into it, just time and talent.”Toppstöðin’s resident cat.Scott Shigeoka
Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Living
eDiamond is a online jewellery store that sells diamonds, rings, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, gold, platinum, silver, and wedding jewellery.
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Report highlights commitment to sustainability, employee health and safety and well-being of communities served
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Conwed will be exhibiting its filtration portfolio at the IDA World Congress 2015 in San Diego, CA
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Pope Francis has so far had a tough time selling his high-profile climate campaign to Americans — even to the faithful. Two recent national surveys asked whether American Catholics were familiar with the pope’s call for action, and the results were decidedly mixed.
Polling data released Monday by the Public Religion Research Institute shows that one in five Catholics are still unfamiliar with the pope’s position on climate change, outlined in his landmark encyclical — or papal letter — in which he said humans were contributing to the “unprecedented destruction of the ecosystem.” PRRI describes that number as “substantial” but notes that it’s similar to other hot-button political issues, such as abortion and same-sex marriage. A separate poll, released two weeks ago by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and researchers from Yale University, found an even larger proportion of Catholics who were unaware of the pope’s views: only 40 percent had heard about the papal letter and its themes of environmental and economic justice.
Still, there’s plenty of good news in both polls. According to the PRRI survey, American Catholics are much more likely to side with the pope’s position on global warming than to oppose it — 47 percent compared with 24 percent. The earlier AP-NORC/Yale survey found that a majority of Catholics (64 percent) said they thought it was appropriate for the pope to take a stand on global warming.
The PRRI survey also found that support for government action to prevent global warming is high: Nearly two-thirds of the general public, and more than 70 percent of Catholics, believe the government should do more to address climate change. Fully 86 percent of non-white Catholics support increased climate action. Non-white Catholics also report hearing about climate change in church more frequently than white Catholics.
Robert Jones, the CEO of PRRI, says the unfamiliarity with the pope’s message may not be about climate change per se, but a lack of awareness of Francis’s political views more generally. Timing might also be key. “I think with news in the summertime as people head to vacation, it’s often a difficult time to break through,” said Jones. That means the pope’s visit to the United States in late September will be crucial. “After his visit, these numbers will look a little different,” Jones said. The papal visit “will give him a platform to highlight priorities and put issues on the front burner.”
Leading experts on Catholicism and the environment say it’s still too early to gauge the impact of the pope’s climate initiative, and they agree that his U.S. visit will bring it to a much larger audience.
Mary Evelyn Tucker, a director of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University, anticipates that the pope’s message will seep into actual sermons given in American churches and Catholic schools. She also said the pope’s timing was tricky: The encyclical’s release came during intense media coverage of the Charleston church massacre. “What was anticipated for well over a year was completely trumped by a very, very tragic story,” she said.
But Tucker also said she wouldn’t expect the needle to move on this issue just a month after its release. “This is extremely challenging,” she said, referring to the pope’s letter. “It says ecology and the economy and equality are all intertwined. And that’s a very unusual mix for Americans, who regard these as separate issues.”
“These are some things that some people don’t want to hear,” she added. Republican candidates for the White House were quick to criticize Francis’ climate pitch at the time of its release, and anti-climate action groups such as the Heartland Institute began encouraging followers to send letters and emails to the pope and to push climate skepticism within their local congregations.
“Faithful Catholics look to the Holy Father for guidance of the spirit, not instruction on scientific matters,” Heartland spokesperson Jim Lakely told Mother Jones. “Pope Francis is not an expert on the climate, and the scientists he has relied on for guidance have led him astray. Most Catholics can see that.”
“As always, Francis’ heart is in the right place,” Lakely added. “But his decision to follow the policy advice of the alarmist scientists at the United Nations would only hurt the poor by making vital energy more expensive and less reliable.”
Given that level of opposition, Dan Misleh, executive director of the environmental advocacy group Catholic Climate Covenant, is encouraged by the early polling. “Is it where we would like it to be as an organization? Certainly not,” he said in an interview after the AP-NORC survey was released. “It’s a big population. So not everybody is paying attention.”
“Is it where we need it to be to affect policy?” he added. “It’s not ideal, but it’s way bigger than anything in my recent memory.”
Tucker agreed. “There’s always going to be pushback,” she said. “This is part of the arc of justice. We have to take a historical perspective.”
Filed under: Climate & Energy, Politics, Science
The West continues to be a fiery inferno as August fades into September. Wildfires have exploded across the region.
There have been 117 large wildfires to date including 70 large fires that are still burning. Those fires along with thousands of smaller blazes have contributed to 7.8 million acres burned in the U.S., a record for this time of year.
Washington has officially had its most destructive wildfire season on record, including its largest wildfire in state history. In Alaska, 5.1 million acres have burned. Even if all the fires went out across the West tomorrow, this year would still rank as the seventh-most destructive wildfire season in terms of acres burned. But with the season set to continue for at least another month, 2015 will continue to climb the charts, though whether it displaces 2006 for the record remains to be seen.
That puts it right in line with trends since the 1970s of more large fires and more acres burned by these large wildfires as the West dries out and heats up according to an updated Climate Central analysis. Climate change is one of the key drivers helping set up these dry and hot conditions favorable for wildfires.
Spring and summer — two key seasons for wildfires — have warmed 2.1 degrees F across the West, on average. Some states, particularly those in the Southwest, have warmed even faster. Add in shrinking snowpack that’s also disappearing earlier, and you have a recipe for a wildfire season that’s now 75 days longer and more devastating than it was in the 1970s.
There’s been a notable increase in the large wildfires — defined as those 1,000 acres or bigger. A Climate Central analysis of U.S. Forest Service data through 2014 shows that large fires are three-and-a-half times more common now than they were in the ‘70s. They also burn seven times more acreage in an average year.
The biggest changes are in the Northern Rockies. Large wildfires are now 10 times more common than they used to be and the area burned is up to 45 times greater in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.
Fire is a natural part of most ecosystems but a century of fire suppression, the expansion of homes, roads and infrastructure, and climate change have altered the order of things. Now there’s more fuel in the woods and hotter and drier conditions that can help fires explode with dire consequences.
Air quality in downwind communities (some a thousand miles away) also suffer from the smoke. At least twice in the past 12 years, cities like Los Angeles and San Diego were forced to deal with Beijing-level air pollution caused by southern California wildfires.
Intense burns can leave soil barren and inhibit the regrowth of forest. They can also erode forests’ ability to store carbon and actually turn them into a source of carbon emissions. That’s already occurring in California, there are concerns that could happen in Alaska this year and it could be coming soon to a forest near you.
Filed under: Climate & Energy, Science
President Obama kicked off a three-day climate-centric tour of Alaska on Monday with a speech that had him sounding more apocalyptic than ever. Appropriately apocalyptic. Here’s a bit from that speech, delivered at the GLACIER Conference in Anchorage:
If we were to abandon our course of action, if we stop trying to build a clean-energy economy and reduce carbon pollution, if we do nothing to keep the glaciers from melting faster, and oceans from rising faster, and forests from burning faster, and storms from growing stronger, we will condemn our children to a planet beyond their capacity to repair: Submerged countries. Abandoned cities. Fields no longer growing. Indigenous peoples who can’t carry out traditions that stretch back millennia. Entire industries of people who can’t practice their livelihoods. Desperate refugees seeking the sanctuary of nations not their own. Political disruptions that could trigger multiple conflicts around the globe.
He pointed out the alarmingly rapid pace of change in the Arctic, employing some vivid imagery:
One new study estimates that Alaska’s glaciers alone lose about 75 gigatons — that’s 75 billion tons — of ice each year. To put that in perspective, one scientist described a gigaton of ice as a block the size of the National Mall in Washington — from Congress all the way to the Lincoln Memorial, four times as tall as the Washington Monument. Now imagine 75 of those ice blocks. That’s what Alaska’s glaciers alone lose each year.
Obama stressed the importance of reaching a global climate deal in Paris later this year, and of the U.S. providing leadership toward that goal: “I’ve come here today, as the leader of the world’s largest economy and its second largest emitter, to say that the United States recognizes our role in creating this problem, and we embrace our responsibility to help solve it.”
Though he noted that climate change is already well underway, he emphasized that there’s still time to avert the worst effects if we act aggressively now. He told conference attendees, “ask yourself, are you doing everything you can to protect [our planet]”?
Climate activists wish he would ask himself the same thing. If he did, he’d find that the answer is “no.”
Demonstrators made that point outside the conference venue while Obama was speaking, painting him as a hypocrite for calling for all-out climate action just weeks after his administration gave final approval to Shell to drill for oil off the coast of Alaska. As The New York Times reports, “Protesters lined the streets outside the conference center on Monday, holding a yellow flag with Shell’s logo that said ‘Hell, no!’ along with a giant banner that said ‘Save the Arctic.'”Reuters / Jonathan Ernst
Obama’s speech made no mention of Shell and its drilling efforts, and also no mention of new policy plans to address climate change. He did say, though, that he intends to “announce new measures” in “the coming days.”
One of those measures might be rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline proposal, which is rumored to be coming soon. That wouldn’t make up for allowing Arctic drilling, but it would be another big sign that Obama is taking climate change — and the climate movement — seriously.
Filed under: Climate & Energy, Politics
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