March 15 2019

March 15 2019

marine heat waves, the Green New Deal, water agencies conserving forests, the future legality of hamburgers, Trump wins the Rubber Dodo award

The New York Times describes recent research documenting a rise in marine heat waves, which have increased by 54% since 1925. These events can directly impact sensitive species, and also cause ecosystem-wide change by altering foundational habitats like coral reefs, sea grass beds and kelp forests. An article in the Los Angeles Times documents how species composition changed along the California coast during the 2014-2016 marine heatwave, as warm-water species moved north. InsideClimate News reports that current reductions in global fish catch have been linked to climate change, and these declines are projected to become more severe without emissions reductions.

InsideClimate News reports on the economic impacts of high tide flooding to the historic City Dock neighborhood of Annapolis, Maryland. Stanford researchers estimated the lost commercial revenue during so-called nuisance flooding (63 floods in 2017), helping clarify the “cost of doing nothing” as sea level rises. The study estimates businesses lost 2% of their customers in 2017, a number that will continue to climb unless investments are made to hold back the ocean.

InsideClimate News also reports that sea level rise is already causing major losses of property value that will reduce property tax revenues and ripple through local economies. It is estimated that from 2005- 2017 the loss in property value in Ocean City, New Jersey, was about $500 million. From eastern North Carolina the Washington Post reports on another consequence of sea level rise, the intrusion of saltwater that is impacting farms. An op-ed at Bloomberg notes that market prices suggest investors see climate change as real rather than a hoax.

Yale e360 reports that water agencies are by necessity becoming watershed managers, focusing on how the Las Conchas fire in New Mexico impacted water quality in the Rio Grande watershed. Agencies have learned that the security of their water supplies is tied to the health of upland watersheds that may be hundreds of miles away. This understanding has led to the initiation of public-private partnerships like the Rio Grande Water Fund to restore forest processes that protect water supplies and other ecosystem services. The last installment of Yale e360’s five-part analysis of the Colorado River focuses on restoration of the natural ecosystem of the river, which is a challenge because of its highly modified state.

Mother Jones reports on climate change and mental health. Researchers have coined a new term, “ecological grief,” defined as the profound sadness that people feel as a response to loss of animal species, ecosystems and landscapes.

In the Washington Post John Kerry explains why President Trump’s climate change panel is so foolish and so dangerous. Meanwhile, VOX reports on the growing number of climate-related lawsuits from a variety of plaintiffs vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, including children, farmers, fishers and government entities (14 U.S. cities, counties and one state have sued fossil-fuel companies). The article examines how the legal cases build on past action, such as the suits brought against tobacco companies, but also deal with unique legal issues and situations.

I noted last time that young people are speaking up around the world, and the Guardian has a great profile of Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish woman who has been a spark for these protests (Rolling Stone also has a profile with a video interview, and the New York Times editorial board offers their support). We saw recently these young people pushing the conversation with Senator Dianne Feinstein and Senator Mitch McConnell. McConnell would not even meet with the young constituents who sought him out, and the Washington Post reports they ended up occupying his office and getting arrested. Despite initially coming across as a bit arrogant and condescending, Feinstein subsequently called out President Trump’s decision to establish a panel (headed by a well-known climate denier) to determine if climate change is a national security threat (InsideClimate News has a nice summary of what today’s children are facing, and how we knew all about this when today’s political leaders were teenagers).

The Washington Post reports that Trump appears ready to make climate change a “litmus test” for Republicans in 2020, a decision that will vault climate into the Presidential campaign as Democrats will be united in opposition to this position. The Washington Post examines whether candidates’ positions on climate action will be enough to turn out young voters.

Dave Roberts at VOX places the Green New Deal (GND) resolution in vital context, both scientific (this is an emergency) and political (people power is rising), and explains why so many recent critiques are without merit. At Yale e360 Elizabeth Kolbert interviews Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), an author of the GND Resolution, about the proposal and the controversy around it. An article in the New Yorker reviews the technological and economic challenges of implementing the GND, noting that the issue is one of deployment rather than whether the concept is viable (another article describes the challenges facing Costa Rica [particularly in the transportation sector] as it attempts to implement its own “GND”). In Mother Jones, Kevin Drum suggests the GND isn’t a radical enough proposal given the urgent need for global change.

The Republican party has no plan to deal with climate change, and so has been promoting absurd myths like the idea that Markey and co-author Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are proposing to make hamburgers illegal (GQ concludes the Republicans would rather discuss cow farts than fix the planet). An op-ed in the Guardian notes that while leading Republicans suggest “we can’t afford the Green New Deal,” a true economic analysis concludes we can’t afford not to do something like it. At the state and local level, conservative Republicans are doing their part by proposing legislation to force teachers to present climate change as a scientific controversy rather than a fact, while Trump’s proposed budget slashes spending for clean energy and climate research.

On a positive note, two senators from states where fossil-fuel extraction is an important part of the economy, Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), have co-authored an op-ed in the Washington Post that states “there is no question that climate change is real or that human activities are driving much of it.” This is an important milestone, although one that is very early on the path to transformation. While they then go on to call for “responsible” action, which appears by their description to mean not enough action soon enough, at least they are taking some baby steps.

A Scientific American editorial describes the leadership that is needed from the new members of Congress who have scientific and technical training. The New York Times reports that despite Trump’s devastating budget proposals, actual funding for science has been maintained in a quiet and bipartisan manner by Congress.

This year’s winner of the Rubber Dodo award, given by the Center for Biological Diversity to the person or group who has most aggressively sought to destroy America’s natural heritage or drive species extinct, is President Trump.