March 30, 2014

IPCC Report Expected to Show Potential Worsening Climate Change Impacts

Portions of the new IPCC report have been leaked and they do not provide good news. As reported by National Geographic, the report comes with some dire predictions for the future unless action is taken.

"The leaked draft from Working Group II further warns: 'Impacts from recent extreme climatic events, such as heat waves, droughts, floods, and wildfires, demonstrate significant vulnerability and exposure of some ecosystems and many human systems to climate variability (very high confidence). These experiences are consistent with a significant adaptation deficit in developing and developed countries for some sectors and regions.'"

-Steven Silverberg

February 28, 2014

New Primer on Climate Change

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society have published a primer of Climate Change facts. Entitled "Climate Change Causes and Facts" the booklet tries to provide a fact based summary of what scientists now know and don't know about Clinate change.

The stated purpose of the report is:

"The Royal Society and the US National Academy of Sciences, with their similar missions to promote the use of science to benefit society and to inform critical policy debates, offer this new publication as a key reference document for decision makers, policy makers, educators, and other individuals seeking authoritative answers about the current state of climate-change science. The publication makes clear what is well established, where consensus is growing, and where there is still uncertainty."

The report, which is easily downloadable notes in part:

"Recent estimates of the increase in global average temperature since the end of the last ice age are 4 to 5 °C (7 to 9 °F). That change occurred over a period of about 7,000 years, starting 18,000 years ago. CO2 has risen by 40% in just the past 200 years, contributing to human alteration of the planet’s energy budget that has so far warmed Earth by about 0.8 °C (1.4 °F). If the rise in CO2 continues unchecked, warming of the same magnitude as the increase out of the ice age can be expected by the end of this century or soon after. This speed of warming is more than ten times that at the end of an ice age, the fastest known natural sustained change on a global scale."

-Steven Silverberg

December 26, 2013

Impacts on Climate Change and Local Pollution Not Sufficiently Demonstrated to Block Coal Mining Lease

In a Christmas Eve decision, the D.C. Circuit Court rejected a challenge to the granting of a lease by the Bureau of Land Management to mine coal on public lands in Wyoming. In WildEarth Guardians, et. al. v. Jewell, two groups challenged the determination to lease certain public lands for coal mining, claiming that the environmental review under NEPA failed to adequately address issues related to increased local pollution and impacts on climate change from the activities to be conducted on the leased lands.

The Court found that the entities, as a result of the purposes of the entities and the underlying interests of their members had standing to bring the action:

“The procedural injury the Appellants claim—the allegedly deficient FEIS—is tied to their respective members’ concrete aesthetic and recreational interests. “[E]nvironmental plaintiffs adequately allege injury in fact when they aver that they use the affected area and are persons ‘for whom the aesthetic and recreational values of the area will be lessened’ by the challenged activity.” Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Envtl. Servs. (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 183 (2000) (quoting Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727, 735)… plaintiff “must still demonstrate a causal connection between the agency action and the alleged injury.” City of Dania Beach, Fla., 485 F.3d at 1186; accord Ctr. for Law & Educ., 396 F.3d at 1160; see also Fla. Audubon Soc’y, 94 F.3d at 664–65 (“[A] procedural-rights plaintiff must show not only that the defendant’s acts omitted some procedural requirement, but also that it is substantially probable that the procedural breach will cause the essential injury to the plaintiff’s own interest.”). We think the Appellants have done so here because the local pollution that causes their members’ aesthetic and recreational injuries follows inexorably from the decision to authorize leasing on the West Antelope II tracts. ,,, The Appellants may challenge each of the alleged inadequacies in the FEIS because each constitutes a procedural injury connected to their members’ recreational and aesthetic injuries: Their members’ injuries are caused by the allegedly unlawful ROD and would be redressed by vacatur of the ROD on the basis of any of the procedural defects identified in the FEIS.”

In determining the merits, the Court noted that it must decide whether the actions were arbitrary or capricious. In undertaking that analysis, the Court noted its task was not to “fly speck” the record but merely to determine if the agency took a “hard look” at the issues. Analyzing the merits the Court determined there was no basis for overturning the determination and rejected all but two of the claims without discussion. Rejecting the claims that there was a failure to consider the impacts of the anticipated release from the coal on global warming the court held “current science does not allow for the specificity demanded by the Appellants, the BLM was not required to identify specific effects on the climate in order to prepare an adequate EIS.” The Court likewise rejected claims that there was a failure to consider the cumulative impacts of 11 other pending lease applications, noting whether those lease would ever be issued was speculative.

The Court further rejected the claim that there was a failure to address reasonable alternatives. In noting that WildEarth claimed a number of other alternatives should have been considered the Court stated:

“We sense a bit of sandbagging here. The PRBRC participated in the scoping hearing that preceded the draft EIS and submitted written comments on the draft EIS and WildEarth submitted written comments on the draft EIS that specifically addressed the draft’s discussion of reasonable alternatives. At no point did either WildEarth or the PRBRC mention the list of alternatives WildEarth raised at the last minute. To be sure, the BLM invited written comments on the FEIS, see 40 C.F.R. § 1503.1(b), and it had the opportunity to respond before it issued the ROD. But WildEarth’s final comments did not really respond to the FEIS; instead, they raised new issues.”

The remaining claim related to the impacts of pollution on the local ozone levels. The Court again rejected this claim finding that the analysis in the FEIS was adequate.

“The Appellants’ objections to the BLM’s analysis boil down to a dispute about the adequacy of using projected emissions of ozone precursors—like NOx and NO2—as proxies by which to analyze the impact of future ozone levels. They point to one report in the record observing that there is not a one-to-one correlation between NOx and ozone levels because ozone produced per molecule of NOx emissions varies considerably depending on local conditions….‘The NEPA process involves an almost endless series of judgment calls,’ and ‘the line-drawing decisions necessitated by the NEPA process are vested in the agencies, not the courts.’ ” Duncan’s Point Lot Owners Ass’n, Inc. v. FERC522 F.3d 371, 376 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (quoting Coal. On Sensible Transp., Inc. v. Dole, 826 F.2d 60, 66 (D.C. Cir. 1987)) (alterations omitted). It may have been possible or even prudent for the BLM to separately model future ozone levels but we think that, given the limitations on such modeling and the critical role NOx plays in ozone formation, the BLM’s projections and extensive discussion of NOx and NO2 emissions suffice.”

-Steven Silverberg

December 15, 2013

Perfluorotributylamine (PFTBA) Potential Impact on Climate Change

A recent study by the University of Toronto looks at the potential of Perfluorotributylamine (PFTBA), a greenhouse gas, to have long term impacts upon climate change. An article in the Geophysical Research Letters reports the results of the study.

While only noted in trace amounts in the atmosphere, the significance of PFTBA on climate change going forward relates to its "potency". Angela Hong the lead researcher is quoted as saying:

"Calculated over a 100-year time frame, a single molecule of PFTBA has the equivalent climate impact as 7,100 molecules of CO2,"

PFTBA is used in electrical equipment and is unregulated.

-Steven Silverberg

November 17, 2013

Study Shows Link Between Global Warming and Changes in Precipitation

A recently released study demonstrates a relationship between the man made effects on global warming and changes in patterns of precipitation. A news release summarizes the findings of a new study issued by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory noting that the study:

"...observed changes in global (ocean and land) precipitation are directly affected by human activities and cannot be explained by natural variability alone. ... Emissions of heat-trapping and ozone-depleting gases affect the distribution of precipitation through two mechanisms. Increasing temperatures are expected to make wet regions wetter and dry regions drier (thermodynamic changes); and changes in atmospheric circulation patterns will push storm tracks and subtropical dry zones toward the poles."

-Steven Silverberg

November 7, 2013

EPA Announces Public Comment Period for Climate Change Adaptation Implementation Plans

This week the EPA released for public comment its Draft Climate Change Adaptation Implementation Plans, one for each of its ten Regions and seven National Programs. The notice of availability for public comment explained that in order for the EPA to carry out its functions it must address adaptation to climate change.

" Until now, EPA has been able to assume that climate is relatively stable and future climate would mirror past climate. However, with climate changing at an increasingly rapid rate and outside the range to which society has adapted in the past, climate change is posing new challenges to EPA's ability to fulfill its mission. The Agency's draft Implementation Plans provide a road map for the Agency to address future changes in climate and to incorporate considerations of climate change into its mission-driven activities."

For those interested in commenting the following information should be noted:

"The public review drafts of EPA's draft Implementation Plans have been posted to a public docket and they are available on the Agency Web site at this URL address: http://epa.gov/climatechange/impacts-adaptation/fed-programs/EPA-impl-plans.html. The Docket for public comment can be found on the Federal Government Regulations Web site (http://www.regulations.gov/# !home). It is Docket Number EPA-HQ-OA-2013-0568.

DATES:
The public should respond to the EPA with comment via the public docket no later than January 3, 2014. Only comments received by the deadline will be considered by the Agency in finalizing its plan.

ADDRESSES:
If you have questions about responding to this notice, please contact Gerald Filbin by phone (202-566-2182), or by mail (1200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW., Washington, DC 20460)."

-Steven Silverberg

November 2, 2013

Presidential Executive Order on Climate Change

On November 1, the President issued an Executive Order putting in place several policies to address preparedness for the impacts of Climate Change. The Executive Order states:

"The impacts of climate change -- including an increase in prolonged periods of excessively high temperatures, more heavy downpours, an increase in wildfires, more severe droughts, permafrost thawing, ocean acidification, and sea-level rise -- are already affecting communities, natural resources, ecosystems, economies, and public health across the Nation.... Managing these risks requires deliberate preparation, close cooperation, and coordinated planning by the Federal Government, as well as by stakeholders, to facilitate Federal, State, local, tribal, private-sector, and nonprofit-sector efforts to improve climate preparedness and resilience; help safeguard our economy, infrastructure, environment, and natural resources; and provide for the continuity of executive department and agency (agency) operations, services, and programs."

The heart of the Order is the policy that: "[t]he Federal Government must build on recent progress and pursue new strategies to improve the Nation's preparedness and resilience. In doing so, agencies should promote: (1) engaged and strong partnerships and information sharing at all levels of government; (2) risk-informed decisionmaking and the tools to facilitate it; (3) adaptive learning, in which experiences serve as opportunities to inform and adjust future actions; and (4) preparedness planning."

The Order then goes on to establish two advisory bodies to make recommendations as to how to implement the stated policy.

a. An interagency Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience (Council) which among other things is tasked to:

"(i) develop, recommend, coordinate interagency efforts on, and track implementation of priority Federal Government actions related to climate preparedness and resilience;

(ii) support regional, State, local, and tribal action to assess climate change related vulnerabilities and cost-effectively increase climate preparedness and resilience of communities, critical economic sectors, natural and built infrastructure, and natural resources, including through the activities as outlined in sections 2 and 3 of this order;

(iii) facilitate the integration of climate science in policies and planning of government agencies and the private sector, including by promoting the development of innovative, actionable, and accessible Federal climate change related information, data, and tools at appropriate scales for decisionmakers and deployment of this information through a Government-wide web-based portal, as described in section 4 of this order..."; and

b. A State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience tasked to provide recommendations to the President and the Council for how the Federal Government can:

"(i) remove barriers, create incentives, and otherwise modernize Federal programs to encourage investments, practices, and partnerships that facilitate increased resilience to climate impacts, including those associated with extreme weather;

(ii) provide useful climate preparedness tools and actionable information for States, local communities, and tribes, including through interagency collaboration as described in section 6 of this order; and

(iii) otherwise support State, local, and tribal preparedness for and resilience to climate change.

-Steven Silverberg

October 9, 2013

Copenhagen Climate Change Adaptation Plan

The city of Copenhagen has developed a comprehensive plan to address short and medium range impacts of Climate Change. From green roofs to streets that divert storm water the City has developed a comprehensive plan to address the impacts of global warming.

The plan lists some the key considerations in adaptation:

IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS IN CLIMATE ADAPTATION MEASURES
To achieve successful adaptation of the city to the climate of the future, it is important that we con- sider a number of key factors:
FLEXIBLE ADAPTATION
It is pointless to plan in the very long term according to a particular scenario for future development in the climate. The City of Copenhagen will instead develop the city in relation to the main trends in the scenario and adapt the planning the whole time in relation to development in the recommenda- tions emanating from the IPCC.
SYNERGY WITH OTHER PLANNING
Climate adaptation is closely linked to the long-term planning of urban development, the area of na- ture and the environment, wastewater, groundwater etc. Incorporating climate adaptation in those sectors that are affected by climate change is therefore of crucial significance in utilising the strategy achieved by joint thinking on the action taken. Climate adaptation can be transformed into an asset for the city and help to secure growth in Copenhagen.
HIGH TECHNICAL LEVEL
Adapting the city to climate change is expensive. It is therefore important that the basis for decisions on investments and prioritisations is at a high technical level, so that wrong investments are not made. This situation applies to all types of analyses and studies, analyses of climatic threats, choices of solution models and economic analyses.
AN ATTRACTIVE, CLIMATE-ADAPTED CITY
In Copenhagen we will focus on climate adaptation measures also representing an asset in them- selves, regardless of the extent of the expected climate change. In this connection we will work in particular on the use of blue and green elements in the urban space, which will make Copenhagen an even more attractive city.
CLIMATE ADAPTATION RESULTS IN GREEN GROWTH
We have been working on climate adaptation in Copenhagen for many years. Our efforts have been focused on managing stormwater and the opportunities for recreational use and a better environment in Copenhagen’s areas of water. The results have required the development of new methods to retain and treat stormwater. The need for a climate-adapted city makes further de- mands on the development of strategies and methods for climate adaptation. Climate adaptation must therefore be part of the green growth strategy for Copenhagen by attracting both national and international projects and investors for the development and production of systems for cli- mate adaptation. The municipality will ensure that part of the investment in climate adaptation is recouped in the form of growth.

-Steven Silverberg

September 16, 2013

USDA to Establish Hubs to Assist Farmers With Climate Change Adaptation

The U. S. Department of Agriculture is establishing seven regional Hubs to assist farmers and forest owners with climate change adaptation and mitigation. According to the USDA site:

"These hubs are needed to maintain and strengthen agricultural production, natural resource management, and rural economic development under increasing climate variability."

The USDA is in the process of selecting Hubs from among existing facilities. A fact sheet issued by the USDA states that the Hubs will provide "support to USDA agriculture and land management program delivery by providing tools and strategies for climate change response to help producers cope with challenges associated with drought, heat stress, excessive moisture, longer growing seasons, and changes in pest pressure. The Hubs will support applied research and develop partnerships."

-Steven Silverberg

July 21, 2013

Insurance Industry Report on Risks of Climate Change

An insurance industry group has come out with a report on the significant and unpredictable risks caused by climate change. The Geneva Association Report warns that models previously used by the insurance industry to predict climate related events are no longer reliable. The report focuses on the uncertainty resulting from sea level rise and ocean warming.

"Another implication of ocean warming is the potential for longer tropical cyclone seasons....A longer hurricane season, starting earlier and ending later, can change some of the storm characteristics and increase the damage potential of cyclone season. There are indications that this is the case for example in the Hurricane Sandy on the U.S. East Coast at the end of October 2012....The impact of ocean warming on other loss-relevant hurricane characteristics, such as size, genesis potential and location of landfall, is deeply uncertain and, because of the sparse data, it will take some time until a potential signal may appear in observational time series."

In addition to calling for internal actions by the industry in risk assessment, the report calls for "external" actions.

" The insurance industry should play an active role in raising awareness of risk and climate change through risk education and disseminating high-quality risk information...In addition, there is real benefit for the industry in supporting and encouraging adaptation through innovative product design. This can and should be done in collaboration with local authorities through engagement in public–private cooperation. This will, as well as enhancing reputation, lead to a more resilient building stock and an overall reduction of risk."

Interestingly, the report also calls for the industry to both invest in and lobby for new energy technologies.

"Investment in innovation and global capacity-building for new energy technologies and infrastructure does not only promise good returns but also contributes to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions which will ultimately create a more resilient society. To support this transition, the industry should use its unique knowledge base to inform the debate on climate change and actively lobby government to take action to reduce risks and curb emissions of greenhouse gases."

-Steven M. Silverberg

June 15, 2013

NASA Studying Potential Carbon Releases from Arctic Permafrost

NASA is continuing a multi-year study which, so far, is demonstrating that Arctic permafrost is warming more rapidly than the air. In a release this week the situation in the Arctic is referred to as the "canary in the coal mine" for climate change.

The extreme conditions in the Arctic prevent decomposition of most plant and animal material. Each year there is a partial thaw which allows vegetation to grow, which then dies and is added to the permafrost when the colder weather returns. The result is thousands of years of stored organic material. The report notes:

"...Arctic permafrost soils have accumulated vast stores of organic carbon - an estimated 1,400 to 1,850 petagrams of it (a petagram is 2.2 trillion pounds, or 1 billion metric tons). That's about half of all the estimated organic carbon stored in Earth's soils. In comparison, about 350 petagrams of carbon have been emitted from all fossil-fuel combustion and human activities since 1850. Most of this carbon is located in thaw-vulnerable topsoils within 10 feet (3 meters) of the surface."

The concern is that as the permafrost warms the carbon stores may be released as CO2 and/or methane.

"It's important to accurately characterize the soils and state of the land surfaces. There's a strong correlation between soil characteristics and release of carbon dioxide and methane. Historically, the cold, wet soils of Arctic ecosystems have stored more carbon than they have released. If climate change causes the Arctic to get warmer and drier, scientists expect most of the carbon to be released as carbon dioxide. If it gets warmer and wetter, most will be in the form of methane.

The distinction is critical. Molecule per molecule, methane is 22 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide on a 100-year timescale, and 105 times more potent on a 20-year timescale. If just one percent of the permafrost carbon released over a short time period is methane, it will have the same greenhouse impact as the 99 percent that is released as carbon dioxide. "

-Steven Silverberg

June 12, 2013

New York City Plan to Address Climate Change Impacts

On June 11, 2013 New York City Mayor Bloomberg announced a plan for the City to address the impacts of climate change. The full report details a multi-billion dollar plan described in the introduction as providing initiatives that:

"...will further protect the coastline—our first defense against storms and rising sea levels—as well as strengthen the buildings in which New Yorkers live and work, and all the vital systems that support the life of the city, including our energy grid, transportation systems, parks, telecommunications networks, healthcare system, and water and food supplies. Meanwhile, for the areas of New York that Sandy hit especially hard, this plan proposes local rebuilding initiatives that will help these communities emerge safer, stronger, and better than ever.

The underlying goal of this report is resiliency. That is, to adapt our city to the impacts of climate change and to seek to ensure that, when nature overwhelms our defenses from time to time, we are able to recover more quickly."

-Steven M. Silverberg