environment

Yale Study: Earth's climate appears more sensitive to CO2 than previously thought

 rm iwest mugRichard Harris' NPR story this week exploring how global temperatures stayed pretty constant over the last decade even as greenhouse gas concentrations increased reminded me of another important piece of research overlooked during last month's global climate negotiations in Copenhagen:

Yale University researchers studying past warming episodes that didn't get any help from the Industrial Revolution say the climate may be more sensitive to carbon dioxide than we previously understood.

The study by Yale's Climate and Energy Institute found that about 4.5 million years ago, when the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was roughly what it is today, global temperatures were 2 to 3 degrees Centigrade higher. This is a pretty big deal, recall, because we're talking about global average temps. The extremes are higher and the effects are more far-reaching than, say, a simple bump in the mercury on a summer day of 2 to 3 degrees might suggest.

The big message is sobering.

Obama's State of the Union punts on climate change... but what did you expect?

rm iwest mugWell, President Obama certainly did go on at some length tonight in his just-concluded State of the Union address. But he once again failed to elevate the climate issue to urgency. I have to agree with David Roberts over at Grist.org: "Pretty weak tea." (Hat tip to Roberts for posting the transcript of that part of the speech before Obama was even done talking.)

Now, some of our faithful correspondents and even some friends thought it curious that Dateline Earth faulted Obama for falling short on the climate and energy issue in his inaugural address a year ago, after which we held forth thusly:

 That is not the speech of a man who intends to launch a World War II-style domestic campaign -- think Rosie the Riveter and the Manahattan Project. And that's what scientists are saying we'll need.

He did it again tonight. The president -- wisely -- started out talking about jobs or, as we've put it before, "Fighting climate change = ending the recession." He was clearly aware that Americans are saying in polls now that climate is pretty low on their list of concerns. And just a day before the talk, Republican Lindsey Graham caved on Cap'n Trade, provoking Roberts, for one, to accept that we probably won't be going down that road this year, if ever in Obama's presidency.

But the sheer brevity of what Obama had to say tonight portrays a president so pummeled by problems that on climate, he punted.

The short but interesting (and climate-clobbering) life of methane, that *other* greenhouse gas

rm iwest mugRichard Harris' NPR piece today on methane's climate-clobbering effects jolted me to remember a post I planned but that went by the wayside when I got so busy editing our coverage of last month's big climate conference in Copenhagen.

During the big UNFCCC negotiations, an op-ed of huge import came out but didn't get as much attention as you might think, considering it was co-authored by Robert Watson, former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and Mohamed El-Ashray, a senior fellow at the United Nations Foundation. Reducing carbon dioxide emissions is important, they acknowledged, but a big focus in the next few years should be methane, because it traps heat in the Earth's atmosphere much more efficiently than CO2. And methane converts to carbon dioxide after 10 or 12 years -- compared to CO2's residence time in the atmosphere that's measured in hundreds of years.

Methane's quite a bit easier to control, too (for now -- more on that shortly). So, to buy time to invent better ways to reduce CO2 emissions,  focus on methane, Watson and El-Ashray argue:

If we need to suppress temperature quickly in order to preserve glaciers, reducing methane can make an immediate impact. Compared to the massive requirements necessary to reduce CO2, cutting methane requires only modest investment. Where we stop methane emissions, cooling follows within a decade, not centuries. That could make the difference for many fragile systems on the brink.

Both Harris' piece and the op-ed point out that controlling methane also helps fight ground-level ozone, a public health threat.

Rita Hibbard's picture

Seattle Council's vote for a 'Do Not Mail' registry takes a stand for sustainability

Living sustainably means more than recycling. It also means cutting back on all that stuff that lands on those railroad cars that get sent to landfills in central Oregon from Seattle or barged across the Pacific Ocean from Hawaii.

rita_hibbardwebStriking a blow for citizens who want to do their part, the Seattle City Council Thursday passed a resolution urging the Legislature to create a Do Not Mail junk mail registry akin to the Do Not Call registry for home phones. Yes, it will probably take federal action to get results. But it's also true that you have to start somewhere. So take a stand, Seattle!

The resolution would keep catalogs, ads, direct mail and other unwanted solicitations out of your mailbox.It claims the "production, distribution, and disposal of unsolicited direct mail contributes to climate change by producing 51 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually - equivalent to that of 10 million automobiles.

Thousands of lost crab pots in Puget Sound harm marine wildlife

Sitting on the floor of Puget Sound are thousands of pounds of derelict fishing gear. Lost fishing gear in a large body of water doesn't really sound like a big deal at first, but when looked at a bit more closely the effects can be shocking.

Jennifer“Derelict fishing gear in Puget Sound is a problem. There is an estimated - maybe - 15,000 crab pots that have been lost in the last 5 years in Puget Sound,”  Rep. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, told the Agriculture and Natural Resources committee earlier this week, in support of House Bill 2593.

If passed, the measure would direct the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to solicit a $2 donation every time a recreational fishing license is purchased. The money would go into a grant program that would fund organizations to remove derelict shellfish pots.

In addition to being essentially garbage at the bottom of Puget Sound, derelict crap pots have an enormous impact on the marine ecosystem. Lost crab pots continue to catch and kill crabs long after the bait is gone, as well as other marine life, for up to two years. Crab larvae is also a large portion of Chinook salmon diet in certain areas of Puget Sound.

“The average lost crab pot will catch 30 crabs in a year and will kill 21 of those crabs," Ginny Broadhurst of the Northwest Straights Commission told the committee. "That amounts to about 256,000 crabs that are wasted annually."

The Northwest Straights Commission has received $4.6 million in stimulus money to retrieve derelict fishing gear in Puget Sound.

Make jobs, make schools green - Washington lawmakers think it's a win-win

Olympia- The  House passed its first bill of the session this week --  a measure that would ask voters to decide whether to create jobs by using $860 million in bonds in order to make schools more energy efficient.

JenniferThe bill “catalyzes probably about 2.5 billion dollars in work, which gives you 38,000 jobs, and will account in $190 million dollars in savings to the taxpayer every single year,” explained Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, the bills' creator and primary sponsor. If approved by the Senate, the measure, House Bill 2561, would need voter approval in November.

The bill would allow schools and universities to compete for $860 million in grants in order to improve the energy efficiency of their buildings. The state will provide the money by selling bonds with a lifespan of 20 years at a cost of around 1.5 billion, which includes principle and interest. Dunshee projects that the cost of the bonds will be recouped by way of job creation, tax revenue, and reduced energy costs.

But with Washington's unemployment rate up to 9.5 percent in December and the state facing enormous budget cuts, the choice for some lawmakers boils down to creating jobs or saving money, while the energy efficiency of the schools lies somewhere in between.

“We need jobs now!”exclaimed an impassioned Rep. Kathy Haigh, D- Shelton, to her colleagues during the House floor debate.

But Rep.

Study sees parking lots dust as cancer risk

Byline: 

Chemicals in a cancer-causing substance used to seal pavement, parking lots and driveways across the U.S. are showing up at alarming levels in dust in American homes, prompting concerns about the potential health effects of long-term exposure, a new study shows.

The substance is coal tar sealant, a waste product of steel manufacturing that is used to protect pavement and asphalt against cracking and water damage, and to impart a nice dark sheen. It is applied most heavily east of the Rockies but is used in all 50 states.

InvestigateWest Copenhagen climate-treaty coverage points up need for independent journalism

Whew! Fifty-one posts -- all but three in just the last two weeks. Dateline Earth readers got to hear from an Arctic tribal elder, an Indian-turned-American nature photographer, Ethiopian political activists, native-rights campaigners from the Amazon and the grassy plains of Ecuador – as well as the European and American officials who dominate this country’s news diet.
rm iwest mugWe stretched. The InvestigateWest team’s coverage of the global climate treaty negotiations that just wrapped up in Copenhagen was a mammoth undertaking for our small start-up news agency – but one that amply demonstrated the need for independent journalism. It was an effort worth every bleary-eyed late-night hour, every marathon Skype session, every up-before-December’s-dawn morning.

It’s unlikely InvestigateWest will be dashing off to a lot of international meetings. We were fortunate in this case to have the assistance of four able young journalists who raised the funds to get themselves to Denmark. Then they went on to deliver journalism that wasn’t available from many – and in a few cases, any – of the thousands of other journalists who covered the talks.

They did this despite being denied access to the conference center where international delegates were meeting until the last day of the two-week conference.  

[caption id="attachment_7653" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="InvestigateWest photographer Christopher Crow is arrested for the second time. He was held for 10 hours.