Tag Archives: climate change

Hurrah for Clarksville

Our neighbor to the west just had a ribbon cutting ceremony for their new 6.5 Megawatt solar array. It is visible from Interstate 40 near exit 55. The 20,000 panels will provide enough electricity to power 25 % of Clarksville homes. They also purchase wind-generated power so that nearly half the communities’ needs for power are met by clean and renewable resources.
 
Home solar arrays are being installed at an ever-quickening pace. Here in Arkansas, Entergy is in negotiations to close two large coal-fired plants, and the replacement? Installation of large-scale solar arrays locally and purchase of wind power from abundant sources to our west.
 
The cities of Fayetteville and Little Rock have joined with the Sierra Club in the “Ready for 100” program, a pledge to work towards 100 % sustainable power for their cities. All of this is important because our current administration has completely dropped the ball when it comes to addressing global warming by replacing the use of fossil fuels with clean, sustainable energy sources.
 
Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt has been all over the map when it comes global warming. In his previous position as Attorney General of the State of Oklahoma, he sued the EPA several times. Many of those suits involved actions taken by the EPA to reduce the impacts of global warming and resultant climate change. Pruitt, as Attorney General for Oklahoma was frequently joined by Leslie Rutledge, Attorney General for Arkansas.
 
Apparently, he previously agreed with his current boss who famously claimed that global warming is a Chinese hoax. His position shifted somewhat to maybe but we need more study and it sure isn’t us. By us he means his patron, the fossil fuel industry. Shortly after taking office he stated “I would not agree that it [carbon dioxide] is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.” It has been shown and is known around the world that burning fossil fuels release carbon dioxide which leads to global warming.
 
His latest position is – maybe it’s real but not so bad. In a recent interview in Las Vegas, his tune is now ”We know humans have most flourished during times of what, warming trends, So I think there’s assumptions made that because the climate is warming, that that necessarily is a bad thing.”
 
One can only assume that he is referring to a time when humans went about barefooted in the snow, running down Woolly Mammoths. Were a warmer air temperature our only metric, he might have a point. Life is a bit more complicated now. There were no major cities to be flooded due to sea level rise – no Miami, Houston or New Orleans. Besides the obvious issue of sea level rise, the complexity and integration of a global economy are dependent on climatic stability.
 
A warmer climate in a temperate zone for wealthy countries may not have as negative an impact as the direct impact on poor countries in the tropics. Widespread crop failures from heat, drought or flooding could create major economic collapse and out-migration to cooler regions, regardless of these regions ability to support the immigrants. Walls will not stop the starving. Our arrogance to fail to join with the rest of the world in the Paris Agreement to address global warming will come back to us in the future.
 
It’s the (sustainable) economy, stupid.

Global Warming – A Brief History

As early as the beginning of the 19th century, over 200 years ago, scientists recognized that the atmosphere may be capable of trapping heat. Joseph Fourier, a French natural philosopher and mathematician hypothesized that there was a link between certain gases and the temperature of the earth, when the concentrations were lower the planet was cooler and when higher, warmer.

He was an avid mountaineer and familiar with glaciers and the scars they left from their grinding away the surface. He was likely the first to speculate that the earth may have been much colder and hence covered with much more ice in the distant past. Simultaneously he posited that earth could likewise be much hotter under other conditions.

In the 1859 an Irish physicist, John Tyndall, was studying invisible “heat rays” now known as infrared radiation. He was the first to recognize that the gases Carbon Dioxide and water vapor in the atmosphere are capable of trapping heat and therefore their presence, even at low concentration, can impact the temperature of the air.

Probably most important in the history of global warming and climate change is the work of Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish chemist . He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 1903. The prize was awarded for his work in understanding certain features of chemical reactions and especially for his mathematical treatment of the rates of reactions. Basically he was the first to quantify the speed of chemical reactions.

Less well known at the time was his work examining the impact of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere and the climate. In 1895, Arrhenius presented a paper to the Stockholm Physical Society titled, “On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground.” His work went beyond that of his predecessors by mathematically modeling the impact of varying amounts Carbon Dioxide and water vapor in the atmosphere.

As crude as his tools of the time were, he did make the connection that more Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere would result in an elevation of the earth’s surface temperature. He also pointed out that burning fossil fuels would serve to raise the concentration of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere.

Flash forward to the 1950s. Professor Charles Keeling began recording the concentration of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere first at Antarctica and then in 1958 at Mona Loa observatory in Hawaii. The data collection continues to this day and is now know as the Keeling curve. The simultaneous observation of rising concentrations of greenhouse gases and rising global temperature began the modern era of the recognition of anthropogenically driven global warming.

We also know that more than the temperature of the planet is at risk. Much of the Carbon Dioxide emitted from burning fossils fuels, about 30 %, does not remain in the atmosphere but is absorbed in the oceans, causing acidification.

The threat of global warming, climate change and ocean acidification have long been known. These threats are not a Chinese hoax but rather an existential threat to much of the life on this planet.

Trump’s attack on the Environment

If one sentence could encapsulate the Trump administration’s approach the environment it would be “ Modern air is a little too clean for optimum health.” This is a statement made by Robert Phalen, a Trump appointee to the Science Advisory Board, Environmental Protection Agency. Trump and his minions seem to be working to reverse the work of the previous decades in protecting the environment and the health of the planet.

Although much of his effort has been focused on reversing Obama era regulations, the focus is actually much broader. Fossil fuels producers and various and sundry extractive industries are favored without the burdensome regulations meant to protect our health and the environment.

In 2007 during the Bush presidency, the supreme court ruled that Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is a pollutant and the EPA has the responsibility to regulate it. CO2 is the major greenhouse gas driving climate change. And what is Trump’s response? He appointed Scott Pruitt, a climate change denier, to head the EPA.

Trump withdrew from the Paris Accords, an agreement among every country on the planet that recognizes the reality of anthropogenic global warming. This can’t be overstated. Every single country, besides us, be they capitalist, communist, socialist, monarchy, or whatever agree that actions must be taken to prevent or at least mitigate climate change caused by global warming. Everybody but us. Every scientific body including those in the United States. Friends and enemies alike, every single government, but us.

President Obama created the Clean Power Plan, meant to gradually but substantially wean us off the use of fossil fuels in electrical power generation. In October Trump proposed repealing the clean power plan in favor of increased use of coal. Ironically deregulating the use of coal will most likely have no effect to “bring back coal” because it is economics, not regulations, that has caused such a decline in its use. They will, however, have the effect of delaying the development of sustainable energy production from wind and solar.

Trump has also proposed a repeal of the methane rule. Methane, otherwise known as natural gas is a potent greenhouse gas in its own right. The methane rule was meant to tighten regulations concerning its release to the atmosphere during production and distribution. Sadly, it is cheaper to be sloppy and allow fugitive emissions that contribute to global warming.

In what must be one of the worst-timed deregulatory actions, Trump repealed a construction standard meant to reduce damage from flooding only days before the worst flooding ever in the Huston area. The standard would have added less than 1 % to the costs of construction in flood-prone areas but saved much in the long run.

One accounting suggests the Trump has repealed or rolled back 60 different rules that protect our health and the environment. These actions are out of step with most Americans. Polling consistently shows that three-quarters of the electorate favor increased environmental protection whereas less than a quarter feel the current efforts to protect the environment have gone too far.

Tick Talk Time

As we slide in to summer or as some call it “tick time,” it might be important to focus on the tick part. We’ve had a mild winter so at least in Bullfrog Valley we have had ticks active year round. There are five species of ticks found in Arkansas most of which are capable of carrying various pathogens and now the new risk of alpha-Gal. Stay tuned for more on tick induced problems.

Regardless of species all ticks go through four phases: Egg, larva, nymph, and adult. The total life cycle can range from one to three years depending on species and environmental conditions. Adult ticks have eight legs and are classified as arachnids, related to mites and spiders.

A tick, like every other form of life begins as an egg. Ticks hatch in the spring to become six-legged larvae. All stages of all species require blood meals from any of a variety of birds, small and large mammals including you and me, and North America’s only marsupial – the Opossum. For the larval tick, the blood meal is usually obtained from more accessible small mammals like mice. After the blood meal they morph into to the nymph stage. The larva will only eat one meal. This means that this stage of a tick cannot transmit disease, because it must eat first to be exposed.

The nymph of the deer tick more formally known as the black-legged tick, will then overwinter in a dormant stage. In the spring when the air temperature gets about 10 degrees Celsius the nymphs become active. If a deer tick larva fed on an alternate host which was infected, the nymph becomes capable of transmitting any of the several diseases: Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Erlichiosis, and others. The nymph then molts and becomes an adult. Only the female adult will now take a blood meal and be capable of disease transmission. After feeding she mates, lays eggs and dies.

As an aside, you would be advised to not run over those possums on the road as they are a principal tick vacuum plus they are a poor reservoirs for disease. One study found the average possum carried around 200 ticks at any one time and were capable of killing 4000 ticks a week. Even if bitten, possums are unlikely to become infected with disease vectors, so larva or nymph which fed on a possum is unlikely to become a vector itself.

If you are not creeped out already to hear of all the tick born diseases, there is a new concern on the rise, alpha-Gal induced meat allergy spread by the lone star tick. Alpha-Gal is present in the meat of all mammals except primates thus humans. If a lone star tick nymph feeds on a deer or mouse, then the adult feeds on on a human, it can transmit enough alpha-Gal to induce a delayed immune reaction. Later consumption of meat by the inoculated individual can induce a range of symptoms including itching, hives, digestive upset and even life threatening anaphylaxis. In extreme cases even diary products can induce a reaction.

Only the lone star tick most common in the Southeast US causes this problem. It is a growing problem, possibly due to burgeoning populations of deer and/or global warming. The allergy is rather new to science, so it is not known whether the allergy becomes a static life long condition or waxes or wanes over time.

Hottest Year Ever

Drum roll please, and the hottest year in recorded history is…wait for it… 2016! Actually this is not so surprising. The previously hottest year in history was 2015, and the next hottest before that 2014. If you think you see a trend there you do.

With the exception of 1998, the 15 hottest years ever occurred in this century. 2016 was 2 degrees hotter than the average of the 20th century. In contrast the last recorded coldest year was in 1911, over a century ago. These records have been recorded in the troposphere, the atmospheric layer closest to the ground. Sea surface temperature measurements are congruent.

The culprits for the heating are anthropogenically generated (man- made) releases of green house gases to the atmosphere. Carbon Dioxide causes over half of the radiative forcing so it is the major player but Methane, otherwise known as natural gas is a close second. The concentration of Methane in the atmosphere has recently been spiking and the likely source is fugitive emissions from fracking.

The new president has claimed that his EPA will “protect the environment and human health”; however, he has on numerous occasions called global warming a hoax. He has claimed that because it is cold outside (in the winter of course) that global warming doesn’t exist. He has claimed that the overwhelming scientific consensus is driven by climate scientists profiting from their research. The only thing making any sense here is that he would see money as the driver for any research outcome.

It’s not just the scientists here in the USA, every scientific body on earth that has addressed the issue agrees, global warming is real and a threat to both the environment and human health. This bears repeating: No scientific body of national or international standing holds a formal opinion denying the reality of global warming.

The actions so far in the new presidency seem to reinforce his prior proclamations. His selection to head the EPA is Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma’s Attorney General. Attorney General Pruitt has sued the EPA over numerous regulations designed to clean our air and water. He has begrudgingly accepted that it is getting warmer, but questions humanity’s responsibility. Further he questions what if anything we should be doing.

Rick Perry, former governor of Texas and the selection to head the Department of Energy is similarly poorly informed on climate science. Perry has recently softened his stance. Previously he claimed the science of global warming was a “contrived phony mess.” Now he thinks it’s real but efforts to combat it should not cost American jobs. Study after study has shown that there are many more jobs created with sustainable energy over continuing to exploit fossil fuels.
Regulations in the sights of the president include previous efforts of several presidents going back to Jimmy Carter. Look for lifting of the transportation fuel efficiency standards, blocking the clean power plan to regulate power plant emissions, and reduced restrictions on coal mining and use.

Preventing additional accumulation of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere is a zero sum game. You either add or you don’t. Utilizing fossil fuels adds, using sustainable energy supplies such as wind and solar don’t.

Trump’s Environment

The votes have been counted and we have a result. Donald Trump will be our next president. For the second time in the last 16 years a Democrat drew more votes than the Republican only to lose to the vote in the electoral college. Secretary Clinton out polled Mr Trump by 2.8+ million votes, more than a 2 % margin.

If President Trump follows through on only a portion of what Candidate Trump said, it will be trying times for the world climate and the environment. Based on his dismissive attitude towards global warming, it is likely that the Paris Accord signed by Obama will be scrapped. World leaders meeting currently in Morocco are constructing the details of how to implement the international law. The objective is to reduce carbon emissions to prevent the temperature of earth from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit)

Whether he makes a pronouncement to abandon the accord or not, his avowed policy of expanded use of fossil fuels, coal in particular, will make meeting carbon reduction goals impossible. The US has pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 27 % compared to 2005 levels. The United States alone is responsible for over 20% of total global carbon emissions, and our target will reduce our share proportionately.

The only thing that may constrain his proposed expansion of the use of coal is economics. Cheap natural gas has undercut the price of electric generation from coal. Burning natural gas to produce electricity produces lower carbon emissions per unit of energy produced, hence replacing coal with natural gas will result in lower emissions.

Inaction has two damaging effects. First, not meeting our goal will seriously impair the attempts to stabilize the climate. The US and China alone account for nearly half of the global warming gasses. For us to not participate means one fifth of the global goal won’t be met.

Not participating also has a profoundly negative impact on international relations. Like it or not we live in a global economy and the only way a global economy works is if we all play by the same rules. Many other international laws protect us through other country’s participation: Whaling, fishing, hazardous waste disposal, illicit drugs, and the list goes on. Do we really want to tell the rest of the world we don’t care?

Meanwhile to our north, Canada will begin taxing carbon as a mechanism to reduce carbon emissions. An initial tax of 7.62 dollars Canadian per metric ton of carbon. At this rate it would add about a dollar to the price of a barrel of crude oil, currently around 44 dollars. Each year until 2022 the price will go up by 7.62 dollars till the tax reaches 38 dollars per ton. All fossil fuels – natural gas, oil and coal will be taxed.

We could do the same, in fact previous republican administrations have called revenue neutral carbon taxes a free enterprise way to manage the cost of pollution.

Species Extinctions

President Obama, when announcing his clean power plan to reduce carbon emissions said “we only get one home. We only get one planet. There’s no plan B.” The current human population is about 7.4 billion and growing by about 80 million a year. The United Nations population program projects a global population of 11 billion people by the end of this century, on our only planet.

Humans and our as yet unrestrained growth are having a profound impact on our only home, planet earth. We have transformed our atmosphere by filling it with excess carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels and deforestation. The oceans are becoming more acidic from the same carbon dioxide dissolving to form carbonic acid. Agriculture has transformed over 80 per cent of the arable land and 50 per cent of the total land surface.

Our evolutionary success comes at the expense of the rest of the planet’s wildlife. We are driving other species to extinction at an unprecedented rate. Species come and go but scientists at the World Wildlife Fund estimate that human activities have accelerated the rate by over a 1000 times the natural extinction rate.

Our largest or possibly most gentle competitors for the resources of the planet are going first. Marine mammals are particularly stressed. A twenty million year old river dolphin found only in China is now officially extinct. The Banjii, called the “goddess of the Yangtze,” succumbed to human pressures in the form of habitat loss, suffocation in fish nets and collisions with shipping.

The world’s smallest porpoise is also the world’s most endangered. The Vaquita lives in the northern end of the Gulf of California, There are likely less that 60 animals, and these continue to die mainly in fish nets, many of which are illegal. Scientists are considering a hail Mary approach to its survival similar to the successful effort to save the California Condor. The rescue plan would involve collecting and captive breeding to rebuild stocks of the Vaquita. The problem is that this animal has never been held in captivity and uncertainties abound.

All 5 of the worlds species of Rhinoceros are endangered. Fewer than 60 Javan and 100 Sumatran Rhino’s survive in southeast Pacific Islands. Other Rhinos in India and Africa are more numerous but still critically endangered.

All is not lost however, as there are a couple of uplifting trends. A giant concern for the future is global warming. On that front there is some good news. Carbon free energy sources around the globe are the fastest growing source of new power. Simultaneously at least here in the US, our per capita consumption is actually decreasing. Even though there are more of us, we each are using less.

Most promising for the planet is the strong positive correlation between increased women’s education and birthrates. The more educated a woman, the fewer children she will have. Also more educated women delay childbirth and are therefore better able to provide for the children they have.

Agriculture and Climate Change – A Two Way Street

garden

Global warming and the attendant changing climate is caused mainly but not entirely by burning fossil fuels. This releases carbon dioxide, the principle greenhouse gas, to the atmosphere which traps heat by absorbing infrared radiation. Close to 25 per cent of the greenhouse gasses produced in the United States is due to agriculture.

Fuel, mostly oil derived gasoline and diesel fuel is used in tractors and other farm equipment to produce and haul food and fiber. Additional fossil fuels are used to produce fertilizer and a bevy of “cides” – insecticides, herbicides, etc. .

Nitrous Oxide and Methane are two more greenhouse gasses released to the atmosphere and have agricultural sources. Nitrous Oxide comes mainly from application of nitrogen fertilizers. Methane comes from the action of anerobic bacteria on plant matter. This can occur in wet soils such as occur in rice farming. Sewage lagoons where the wastes from confined animal operations also produce methane. Last but not least the stomachs of ruminants such as cows and sheep contain the same bacteria and produce the same methane emissions.

A final agricultural contribution to global warming comes from clearing timberland or more importantly rainforests for crop production. This is not particularly an issue here in the United States but is an issue on the global stage. The role the United States plays is as a consumer. Rainforests in the Amazon basin are being cleared to create pasture for cattle, aka hamburgers. In southeast Asia forests are cleared to create cropland for palm oil production, aka deep fried whatever.

Briefly that’s the impact of agriculture on climate change, how about the obverse, the impact of climate change on agriculture, especially here in the United States? The picture is not pretty.

Global warming is a cause, climate change is a result. Changing climate means a disruption of agricultural zones, not only based on temperature, but also rainfall. Crop production, whether for us to eat directly or for feed for livestock requires climatic stability. Any individual crop requires just the right combination of temperature, rainfall at the right time and proper soil conditions for that crop.

Climate change will disrupt all of the above. Consider our breadbasket, grain production in the upper midwest. Two factors impacted by global warming are a problem. First is the temperature. As the planet warms the growing zone will shift to the north. No problem you say, we will just grow our corn in Manitoba rather than Iowa. The problem is that the deep loam of Iowa doesn’t exist in Manitoba, and soil is a big deal.

Second is timely rainfall. Computer models of global warming predict that rainfall patterns will change in two ways. Rainfall will increase in the coastal areas, but decrease in the mid-continental regions. Not good. Also what rainfall that does occur will come in more intense storms. Even worse.

We have to eat, but we need to learn to produce our food in ways that lessen our carbon footprint, and at the same time decrease our dependence on crops that are too sensitive to climate. For starters, support your local small farmers. They generally have a smaller carbon footprint and can react more quickly to climate change.

Hottest.April.Ever

While conservatives in several states are tearing their hair out over transgender bathroom issues and passing laws to the same and Donald Trump is ranting about Hillary coming for your guns, a more pervasive real issue is pounding on the front door.

For the seventh straight month, and the third strait year, it’s the hottest ever recorded on planet earth. Whether you use actual thermometer readings, or proxies for temperature such as freeze-thaw dates, the answer is the same. Whether you use land based or sea surface temperatures, the answer is the same. Whether you use ground based or satellite data, the answer is always the same.

It’s hotter than ever and more importantly, it’s getting hotter faster than ever. That is the really scary part. The earth’s average temperature has changed radically over time. It has been hotter and it has been colder, but never in the past 800,000 years has the temperature of the earth been warmer nor changed as rapidly as it has in the last couple of centuries. And the rate of change is accelerating.

This planetary cycle is driven by our continuing to flood the atmosphere with certain gases, called radiatively forcing gases which trap heat and hence warm the surface of the planet. It’s really not very complex science, and most of the world’s scientists understand.

The time period arbitrarily chosen as a baseline is 1950-1980. If we call that zero, then the temperature In in April was hotter than ever. New data from NASA, the agency that put man on the moon, and maintains people in space on the International Space Station, show that the average combined land and sea temperatures for April were 1.11 degrees Celsius (2.00 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the baseline. That is the average. It was much hotter near the poles (here in Bullfrog Valley it was actually a little cooler as I recall but BFV is not the rest of the world.)

In locations such as Alaska, Russian Siberia, and Greenland, the difference was as much as 4 C (> 7 degrees Fahrenheit). “The interesting thing is the scale at which we’re breaking records,” said Andy Pitman, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science at the University of New South Wales in Australia. “It’s clearly all heading in the wrong direction.”

The saddest and most maddening thing is that this is nothing new or surprising. Scientists around the planet have been beating the drum, loudly, since the 1980s. Our climate is in crisis and we need to act now. Every day we delay means more costs to our children both in dollars and a loss in biological richness. Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish scientist warned of the possibility of global warming in a paper published in 1896, On the Influence of Carbonic Acid [Carbon Dioxide] in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground.

Forewarned is forearmed, if we will just listen.

icey

Selective Environmental Review for 2015

A review of environmental protection, locally, nationally and internationally are all somewhat positive for 2015, especially when it comes to clean air and climate change issues.

Without doubt the biggest win for the environment was the December signing of an agreement by representatives from 190 countries to rein in global warming by reducing Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions. Most of the world, with the exception a few countries such as North Korea and the republican leadership here in the US, agree that global warming and rapid climate change must be addressed. Of course the plan is voluntary and each country has submitted there own plan as to what they will achieve but it is an important first step for the international community.

In August this year the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized the clean power plan. The aim of the plan is to reduce CO2 emissions over 30 % by 2030. Each state has it’s own target. The formula is based on the amount of CO2 released per energy produced. Those states that have already taken steps will have an easier time achieving their particular goal. California has a relatively high mix of non carbon energy sources already so their target is only a 14 % reduction in emissions, whereas Arkansas needs a net reduction of 36 %.

Meeting the targets for the clean power plan will be made easier by the signing of the omnibus budget bill last week. Under the current legislation existing tax credits will not expire. The 30 percent Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for solar will be extended for another three years. It will then ramp down incrementally through 2021, and remain at 10 percent permanently beginning in 2022. The 2.3cent per kWhr Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind will also be extended through next year. Projects that begin construction in 2017 will see a 20 percent reduction in the incentive. The PTC will then drop 20 percent each year through 2020.

After years of stalling the EPA will begin enforcement of their regional haze rule. This rule is will reduce smog especially in wilderness areas and National Parks by forcing regulation of cross-state emissions. Essentially power plants and Texas and Oklahoma will have to reduce smog which drifts downwind and impacts Arkansas’ air quality.

In November president Obama moved to block construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. This oil pipeline was designed to move the heavy crude oil from the tar sands of Athabasca in Saskatchewan Canada to refineries on the gulf coast. Because of the nature of this heavy crude, most of its refined products would be exported and provide little benefit to the US, while adding a significant carbon load to the atmosphere.

Cleaner water has not escaped attention either. In May the EPA finalized a rule broadening the definition of what waters would be regulated and at the same time clarified the regulations for the Clean Water Act. The original act was initially applied to “navigable waters” and this lead to confusion. What is now called the waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule is meant to protect drinking water specifically and the environment more generally.

Finally a partial win to protect the Buffalo National River (BNR) from agricultural nutrient pollution follows from the state Pollution Control and Environment commission’s 5 year extension of a moratorium. It will prevent development of any new medium to large size hog factories in the watershed of the BNR. The existing 6,500 hog factory at Mt Judea will remain in operation.