Blog Archive

Saturday, March 11, 2017

EPA head Scott Pruitt’s office deluged with angry callers after he questions the science of global warming

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, does a television interview in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol in late February. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

by Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis, The Washington Post, March 11, 2017

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s phones have been ringing off the hook — literally — since he questioned the link between human activity and climate change.
The calls to Pruitt’s main line, 202-564-4700, reached such a high volume by Friday that agency officials created an impromptu call center, according to three agency employees. The officials asked for anonymity out of fear of retaliation.
By Saturday morning calls went straight to voice mail, which was full and did not accept messages. At least two calls received the message that the line was disconnected, but that appeared to be in error.
EPA spokeswoman Nancy Grantham said in an email that the agency “has logged about 300 calls and emails.”
While constituents sometimes call lawmakers in large numbers to express outrage over contentious policy issues, it is unusual for Americans to target a Cabinet official.
Pruitt’s comments on the CNBC program “Squawk Box” — that “we need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis” over climate change — prompted an immediate pushback from many scientists and environment groups. It also drew a rebuke from at least two of his predecessors at the EPA.
“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” Pruitt said on CNBC.
Pruitt’s comments put him at odds with the overwhelming majority of scientists, most world leaders and even his predecessors at the agency.
““The world of science is about empirical evidence, not beliefs,” Gina McCarthy, the EPA’s most recent administrator, said in the wake of Pruitt’s comments. “When it comes to climate change, the evidence is robust and overwhelmingly clear that the cost of inaction is unacceptably high.”
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has concluded that it is “extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century” — a position reiterated on EPA’s own website.
On Friday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose at a record pace for the second straight year, reaching 401.5 parts per million. The two-year surge in carbon concentrations that took place in 2015 and 2016 has no precedent in the 59 years in which the agency has been tracking the level of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Despite the quick and fierce backlash to Pruitt’s comments, which put him at odds with his own agency and most governments around the globe, not everyone was so quick to criticize his views.
“If I am interpreting Pruitt’s statements correctly, I do not find anything to disagree with in what he said: we don’t know how much of recent warming can be attributed to humans,” recently retired Georgia Tech climate scientist Judith Curry, who herself has questioned the extent of the role humans play in global warming, wrote on her blog. “In my opinion, this is correct and is a healthy position for both the science and policy debates.”
There is no immediate evidence that any environmental organizations organized the deluge of calls to the new EPA administrator, but a single comment on Reddit may have helped spur the outpouring of criticism. The post outlined how Pruitt’s opponents could contact his office, writing:
“Here’s the number to call his office (EPA Office of the Administrator) to offer your feelings about Pruitt’s comments: (202) 564-4700. Script: Hi, my name is _________. I’m calling because I’m seriously concerned about Scott Pruitt’s claim that CO2 is not a major driver of climate change. The role of CO2 and humans as drivers of climate change is widely accepted among the scientific community, and I’m deeply concerned that Mr. Pruitt, as the head of the EPA, rejects scientific evidence.”
In December, the League of Conservation Voters launched a petition drive on climate change aimed at President Trump and his children. David Willett, its senior vice president for communications, said Friday that the league had not organized any sort of phone-call campaign related to Pruitt’s comments but had seen an uptick in support in the past day and a half. The organization launched an appeal Thursday focused on threats to EPA funding and had its second-biggest online fundraising day ever, Willett said, but he declined to disclose how much money was raised.
“It’s not surprising to hear people are calling after Pruitt contradicted his own agency’s science,” Willett said. “We’re seeing record-setting response rates to mobile alerts, petitions and funding appeals.”

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Business, Military, Faith Leaders & Electeds Slam Scott Pruitt’s Climate Denial on CNBC

from Climate Nexus:

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in an interview with CNBC this morning that he doesn’t believe carbon dioxide is a major contributor to climate change.
“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there's tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact,” Pruitt told host Joe Kernen. “So no, I would not agree that it's a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”
Pruitt called to “continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis” of the science behind climate change.
While Pruitt has expressed doubt around climate science in the past, this morning’s statements take his stance one step farther to full-on climate denial. It also marks his first comments on the issue as chief of the agency responsible for US policy around carbon emissions.
97 percent of scientists agree that human activity overwhelmingly contributes to the warming we see.

Brigadier General Stephen A. Cheney, USMC (ret), CEO of the American Security Project:
“Countries are going to pay for climate change one way or another. The best way to pay for it is by tackling the root causes of climate change and cutting greenhouse gas emissions. If we do not, the national security impacts around the world will be increasingly costly, and borne by our men and women in the armed forces.”
Andrew Holland, Director of Studies, American Security Project:
“It is astonishing that EPA Director Pruitt said that he does not believe that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to climate change. However, it does not actually matter what he “believes” – by law (as decided by the Supreme Court), he is required under the Clean Air Act to promulgate policies that reduce carbon pollution. It is important that the EPA continues to regulate carbon pollution in order to reduce the risk of serious national security consequences of climate change.”
Mayor James Brainard of Carmel, Indiana:
“I am not a scientist but I believe we need to pay attention to what people who have dedicated their lives to a field of study have to say. I am disappointed by the risky and extremely liberal approach taken by Administrator Pruitt when he challenges the scientists conclusions that humans contribute to global warming.  A true conservative would cautiously take the position carefully researched by the scientific community as correct. A true conservative would hesitate to risk our future on non-scientific opinions.”  
Mayor Dawn Zimmer of Hoboken, New Jersey:
“The EPA is supposed to protect Americans from pollution and the impacts of climate change. Hoboken is a coastal community on the front lines of climate change that was devastated by Superstorm Sandy, which left our city underwater for days. EPA Administrator Pruitt’s denial of the basic cause of climate change is dangerous and will put communities across the country at greater risk."
NASA Chief Major General Charles Frank Bolden, Jr., (USMC-Ret.):
“…2015’s record temperatures are the result of the gradual, yet accelerating, build up of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere. Scientists have been warning about it for decades and now we are experiencing it.”
Dr. Georges Benjamin, MD, Executive Director, American Public Health Association:
“Pruitt is just wrong. Carbon dioxide emissions pose an enormous risk to human health. Carbon pollution is the leading contributor to greenhouse gases that cause climate change. Climate change is causing more heatwaves and drought, more intense extreme weather events, expanded range of disease-carrying ticks and mosquitoes and a host of other threats to health. In addition, carbon emissions contribute to increased smog which triggers asthma attacks and aggravates existing lung disease. The science is clear. We need immediate action to reduce carbon emissions to protect public health.”
Aron Cramer, President and CEO, Business for Social Responsibility:
“EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s statement today questioning climate science is deeply troubling. Businesses in the United States and elsewhere are keenly aware that human activity is remaking the climate in ways that create disruption and business risk. In addition to the obvious and substantial human and environmental damage that will result, his approach will undermine the conditions that businesspeople need to innovate, create jobs, and compete in the global marketplace.”
Pastor Leo Woodbury, Kingdom Living Temple, Peoples Climate March Steering Committee Member:
“People can choose to believe anything including that the earth is flat, however for the people who suffer the impact of carbon emissions, weather-related disasters and illness, climate change is real.
Aura Vasquez, Director of Climate Justice, Center for Popular Democracy:
“It’s an atrocity to hear EPA Chief Scott Pruitt say that CO2 is not the primary driver of global warming. Disregarding the science is going to impact millions of people that are affected and struggling with the impacts of climate change, especially those in the most vulnerable communities. There is a real issue with the current administration - they don't respect the sizable amount of research on climate change attribution and that’s an insult to the personal experience of millions of Americans already feeling the effects of greenhouse gas pollution. More than ever, we need to take to the streets on April 29th for the People's Climate March in Washington, D.C. to show that human-caused climate change is real and poses a serious threat to our health, our families and our planet.”
Leah Seligmann, director of The B Team’s Net Zero by 2050 Initiative:
“The statements by EPA administrator Scott Pruitt questioning whether CO2 is a pollutant are deeply troubling, and contrary to globally accepted, empirical, scientific evidence. Furthermore, the business case for transitioning to clean, renewable energy is clear and compelling.  Enlightened companies are already moving from an economy powered principally by CO2-spewing fossil fuels to one driven by clean energy.  We encourage the US administration to stay the course with policies which promote and accelerate this transition."
Nigel Topping, CEO, We Mean Business:
“This morning Scott Pruitt, the new EPA Administrator spoke to CNBC and claimed that Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is not “a primary contributor to global warming”. With this statement the Administrator finds himself at odds with science. The scientific community is clear. Global warming is real, accelerating and caused by human activity with CO2 responsible for between 75% and 80% of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. This finding is backed by 97% of climate scientists and is the consistent result of peer reviewed scientific investigations going back three decades. The Administrator is also at odds with political leaders around the world. 196 countries have signed the Paris Agreement on climate change, including the world’s largest producers of fossil fuels, because they understand that CO2 is the primary cause of global warming and needs to be reduced. And the administrator is at odds with the business community, who are making record commitments to reduce their CO2 emissions. More than five hundred companies have made commitments to address CO2 emissions through the We Mean Business platform because they see reducing CO2 through clean energy as the new market opportunity of the 21st century. We urge Administrator Pruitt to recognize the scientific, political, and business consensus, and lead the EPA in its vital mission to safeguard people, planet and prosperity.”
Rear Admiral David W. Titley, United States Navy (Ret.):
“Within the science community, the link between CO2 and climate change is as well known as the consequences of stepping out of an airplane and the effect of gravity.  In both cases, if you ignore the science, someone is going to get hurt.”
Patrick Carolan, Executive Director of the Franciscan Action Network:
"Scott Pruitt's denial that CO2 is a contributor of climate change confirms his disbelief of a century of fact based science, which even Pope Francis supports. There should be no discussion; protecting the climate is a matter of faith and morality. We should be protecting God's creation, not destroying it. Denying climate science goes against the teachings of Jesus and St. Francis of Assisi."
Nathaniel Smith, Founder and Chief Equity Officer, Partnership for Southern Equity:
“It’s disturbing to hear the person appointed as our chief environmental steward has chosen to turn away from years of scientific evidence. In vulnerable communities where the byproducts of climate change are felt the hardest the “inconvenient truth” has become a truth measured by life or death.”

Precipitation extremes to worsen as the climate continues to warm

by Floodlist, March 8, 2017

A University of Connecticut climate scientist confirms that more intense and more frequent severe rainstorms will likely continue as temperatures rise due to global warming, despite some observations that seem to suggest otherwise.
In a research paper appearing this week in Nature Climate Change, UConn civil and environmental engineering professor Guiling Wang explains that data showing the intensity of severe rainstorms declining after temperatures reach a certain threshold are merely a reflection of climate variability. It is not proof that there is a fixed upper temperature limit for future increases in severe rains, after which they would begin to drop off.
“We hope this information puts things in better perspective and clarifies the confusion around this issue,” says Wang, who led an international team of climate experts in conducting the study. “We also hope this will lead to a more accurate way of analyzing and describing climate change.”
Climate scientists and policymakers closely monitor severe and prolonged rainstorms as they can have a devastating impact on local environments and economies. These damaging storms can cause catastrophic flooding, overwhelm sewage treatment plants, increase the risk of waterborne disease, and wipe out valuable crops.
Current climate models show most of the world will experience more intense and more frequent severe rainstorms for the remainder of the 21st century, due to hotter temperatures caused by global warming.
But whether this increase in extreme precipitation will continue beyond the end of the century, and how it will be sustained, is less clear.
Meteorological observations from weather stations around the globe show the intensity of severe rainstorms relative to temperature is like a curve — steadily going up as low to medium surface temperatures increase, peaking when temperatures hit a certain high point, then dropping off as temperatures continue rising.
Those observations raise the prospect that damaging rainstorms could eventually ease once surface temperatures reach a certain threshold.
However, Wang says the peaks seen in the observational data and climate models simply reflect the natural variability of the climate. As the Earth warms, her team found, the entire curve representing the relationship between extreme precipitation and rising temperatures is moving to the right. This is because the threshold temperature at which rain intensity peaks also goes up as temperature rises. Therefore, extreme rainfall will continue to increase, she says.
The relationship between precipitation and temperature is founded in science. Simply put, warmer air holds more moisture. Scientists can even tell you how much. A widely used theorem in climate science called the Clausius-Clapeyron equation dictates that for every degree the temperature goes up, there is an approximately 7 percent increase in the amount of moisture the atmosphere can hold. The intensity of extreme precipitation, which is proportional to atmospheric moisture, also increases at a scaling rate of approximately 7 percent, in the absence of moisture limitations.
The problem is that when scientists ran computer models predicting the likelihood of extreme precipitation in the future, and compared those results with both present day observations and the temperature scaling dictated by the so-called “C-C equation,” the numbers were off. In many cases, the increase in extreme precipitation relative to surface temperature over land was closer to 2 to 5 percent, rather than 7 percent. In their analysis, Wang’s team discovered that average local surface temperatures increase much faster than the threshold temperatures for extreme precipitation, and attributed the lower scaling rate to the fact that earlier studies compared extreme precipitation with average local temperatures rather than the temperature at the time the rainstorms occurred.
“There are a lot of studies where people are trying to determine why the scaling rate is lower than 7 percent,” says Wang. “Our study suggests that this is a wrong question to ask. If you want to relate rain intensity to temperature using the C-C relationship as a reference, you have to relate to the temperature at which the rain event occurs, not the mean temperature, which is the long term average.”
Kevin Trenberth, an expert on global warming and the lead author of several reports prepared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, joined Wang in the current study. Trenberth is currently a Distinguished Senior Scientist in the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. He shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore as a member of the IPCC. Trenberth explains the findings this way:
“In general, extreme precipitation increases with higher temperatures because the air can hold more moisture — although that depends on moisture availability. But beyond a certain point, it is the other way round: the temperature responds to the precipitation, or more strictly speaking, the conditions leading to the precipitation [such as extensive cloud cover or surface moisture]. The most obvious example of this is in a drought where there is no precipitation. Another example is in cloudy, stormy conditions, when it is wet and cool. By relating the changes in precipitation to the temperature where the relationship reverses – instead of the mean temperature as in previous studies — we can make sense of the differences and the changes. Moreover, it means there is no limit to the changes that can occur, as otherwise might be suspected if there were a fixed relationship.”
Source: University of Connecticut
Featured image: Storm system, US Pacific Coast from NOAA’s GOES-West satellite on Jan. 9, 2017. Credits: NASA/NOAA GOES Project

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Climate Change very likely to reduce crops yields and affect productivity in the US

by Amy Mayer, Iowa Public Radio, March 6, 2017

Farming in the Midwest could suffer under future climatic conditions. A new study says if the threats aren't addressed, future US food production could be lower than necessary to meet global demand.
Farming in the Midwest likely to suffer under future climatic conditions. A new study says if the threats aren't addressed, future US food production may well be lower than necessary to meet global demand. HARVEST PUBLIC MEDIA FILE PHOTO
The agriculture sector needs to ramp up its response to climate change, especially in the Midwest, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Researchers at the University of Maryland used climate projections and historical trends in agricultural productivity to predict how changes in temperature and rainfall will impact food production.
They found that without changes to farm policy and improvements to agricultural technology, the nation’s productivity in 2050 could look like it did in 1980. That’s because at the present rates of innovation, new technologies won’t be able to keep up with the damage caused by the changes in climate in our major growing regions.
Lead author Xin-Zhong Liang, a professor at the University of Maryland, says both policymakers and those who work directly in agriculture should consider changes that might prevent this drop. On the policy side, Liang said, changes to  water management could help. On the technology side, the development of seeds that can withstand more extremes of heat and rain would likely help mitigate the climate’s impact on overall productivity.
But, he adds, such advances will need to come at a faster pace than they have in the past.
The new research identifies the Corn Belt as the region where the changes could have the biggest impact on overall productivity, with California and the Southwest region second in line. The transition area from the Corn Belt into the southern cotton and pasture region is also vulnerable. Losses in U.S. production could impact the global food supply.
This research, Liang says, enhances existing studies to offer a more robust picture of how total agricultural output of the country could change under different climate change scenarios.

Protect Tasmania's Tarkine’s Ancient Frankland River Forests

by Reed Halter, Huffington Post, February 26, 2017

Earth’s remaining ancient forests hold the key to human survival in the 21st century, and nowhere is it more evident than the land Down Under. Already, rising temperature, prolonged heatwaves and droughts have collapsed some ancient forests across the Australian continent including the island state of Tasmania. It’s of paramount importance to protect the remaining intact ancient Aussie forests, in particular in the Tarkine, northeast Tasmania, along the Frankland River.

Frankland River ancient forests are stocked with a rich array of biodiversity. PHOTO CREDIT: BOBBROWN.ORG.AU

Let me tell you why:

These glorious ancient rainforests contain some of the tallest flowering trees on the face of the Earth. They are crucial habitat for rare and endangered species including: Tasmanian devils, spotted tail quolls, the world’s largest freshwater crayfish and Tasmanian Wedge tailed eagles with wingspans of 10 feet.

It’s a one-of-a-kind temperate rainforest ecosystem, which is bathed with the cleanest air on the globe from the roaring 40s winds. It’s home to more than 130 different kinds of birds. These ancient rainforests are indeed worthy of a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Listing.

Once this opulent rainforest ecosystem is bulldozed, which is slated to begin within weeks, habitat destruction will lead to the senseless death of magnificent rainforest creatures.

The Frankland River rainforests are priceless intact ecosystems providing children with life-sustaining oxygen and the lifeblood of the planet, its fresh water. In fact, for each metric ton of wood in the ancient Frankland River forests, those trees removed 1.5 metric tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide. In addition, those colossal cathedrals of wood released one metric ton of oxygen for every metric ton of wood grown.

Ancient forests are invaluable carbon dioxide warehouses.

For 36 years, I have witnessed the destruction of ancient forests from all corners of the world. Not only is it devastating for the animals, the fresh water supply and the falling atmospheric oxygen content, but also because all ancient forests contain a cornucopia of potent pain, heart and cancer medicines awaiting discovery.

The accelerated global destruction of nature, the life force of the planet, is without a doubt an assault on every child because it’s their birthright to have clean air, clean water, healthy soils, vibrant ancient forests and thriving oceans. The current subsidized economic model of resource exploitation is hastening the demise of the human race and taking 1.1 billion years of evolution with it.

The fact that the current Tasmanian government, lead by Premier Will Hodgman, plans to unlock 880,000 acres of pristine ancient state forests, set aside in 2011, is a pitiful reminder of lawmakers mismanaging ancient forests to benefit a handful of power-wielding logging companies.

“In 1888, the Tasmanian government legislated a bounty to ‘extirpate’ the Tasmanian tiger. That succeeded,” said legendary Australian conservationist Dr Bob Brown. “In 2017, the Tasmanian government is subsidizing loggers to destroy the habitats of rare species like the Tasmanian devil, Swift parrot and giant freshwater lobster. Unless we act, history will repeat itself.”

The argument that logging creates more jobs for corporations like Ta Ann and community stability is flawed. Once the ancient rainforests are logged, mills close, leaving nature desecrated, millions of animals homeless and communities impoverished. British Columbia, and its dwindling forestry sector, is a case in point.

What Premier Will Hodgman fails to understand is that, after decades of forestry conflicts and an intergovernmental agreement in 2011 to protect them, Tasmanians love their ancient rainforests especially those in the Tarkine.

Dr Lisa Searle, who is holding a canopy vigil for the coming week, is urging the Federal Environment Minister, Premier Hodgman, and Forestry Tasmania to abandon plans to log these forests. PHOTO CREDIT: BOBBROWN.ORG.AU

When you love something, you protect it!

Help save these majestic ancient Frankland River rainforests by supporting the Bob Brown Foundation and ActionForTarkine.

Dr Reese Halter is a distinguished forest biologist. His upcoming book is “Save Nature Now.”

No words for this: both Antarctic and Arctic sea ice extents are at record lows

OK, this has never occurred before in recorded history, so far as we know, since of course we have not had good measurements of the sea ice around Antarctica for that long - maybe since 1979 about when satellite observations began.

But the record-low sea ice in the Arctic should not be all that surprising given the extraordinarily high temperatures that have occurred in that region all winter long.

In the Arctic, during March-April-May, generally speaking, if the Arctic Oscillation (AO) Index is positive, a lot of warm air flows into the Arctic via the North Atlantic, causing that side of the Arctic to lose sea ice extent.  The AO Index has been positive for a few weeks, but it looks like the Index may be heading back to neutral or negative territory.  If the extent continues to go down in spite of this, then we really do have an amazing situation going on.