Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011 in Review

This has not been a good year. Climate change is accelerating around the globe, and action to slow the rate of change is relatively miniscule in the United States. What can be more important that addressing rising global temperatures and catastrophic change?
Why politics, of course. President Obama MUST be a one-term president, in the Republican Party's view, and all else is secondary to that objective.
For others, addressing the faltering U.S. and global economy is an issue of more importance than fighting climate change. Any attempt to show that the two efforts are compatible is thwarted by politics and the Republican Party. We are appear to be caught in an endless loop that is only dragging us down.
I personally am discouraged to the point of not wanting to write about the issue any longer. I just do what I can as a caring citizen of the Earth. I drive as little as possible, and at an optimum speed for fuel efficiency when I do. I try to live sustainably, re-using, recycling, and up-cycling as often as I can. It's a meditative sort of life that I use to attempt to come to peace with the direction the human race is heading.

Friday, November 26, 2010

People Power 2010

As I write this post, the year 2010 is now known to be the hottest on record globally. Climate scientist James Hansen predicts that, once we get beyond the cooling effects of La Nina this winter, 2011 will be even hotter. Time is running out for the U.S. to show leadership in slowing the rate of climate change from greenhouse gas emissions.

Legislative action to slow the rate of climate change through reduced greenhouse gas emissions was a disappointment in 2010. But that doesn't mean progress wasn't made. It is reassuring to find successful grassroots actions to combat climate change, taking on Big Oil and Dirty Coal in the process.

One broadly successful movement was the push against Dirty Coal's mountaintop removal mining (MTR). Although easier than drilling (for coal companies), MTR employs fewer miners, destroys pristine and irreplaceable habitats, and creates a mining waste disaster that is truly catastrophic. Only an executive order by the Bush administration makes disposal of MTR mining waste (think 'top of a mountain') feasible. But that's changing with the current administration.

Appalachia Rising, a protest against MTR supported by many groups (including 1Sky), drew thousands of citizen activists to Washington D.C. in September. Over 100 activists were arrested in the peaceful demonstration.

“The science is clear, mountaintop removal destroys historic mountain ranges, poisons water supplies and pollutes the air with coal and rock dust,” said renowned climate scientist James Hansen, who was arrested in today’s protest at the White House. “Mountaintop removal, providing only a small fraction of our energy, can and should be abolished. The time for half measures and caving in to polluting industries must end.”

Appalachia Rising is being led by residents of West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee – Appalachian states directly impacted by mountaintop removal.

...“I have talked, begged, debated, written letters to officials, published op-ed pieces in newspapers and lobbied on the state and federal level to end mountaintop removal,” said Mickey McCoy, former mayor and lifelong resident of Inez, Kentucky, who was also arrested today. “Being arrested? That’s such a small price to pay for being heard. My home and people are paying the real price for mountaintop removal. They are dying.”
The week after Appalachia Rising, Mountain Justice Fall Summit was held on Kayford Mountain in West Virginia: a weekend of 'education, training, and momentum building to end mountaintop removal.' There was also a chance to make a statement about the farce of MTR 'reclamation,' with tree plant on a Patriot Coal Company site.

This is just the latest salvo in a year of grassroots success against Dirty Coal. First ever regulation of coal ash, the toxic residue from coal-burning power plants, was proposed by the EPA, in part as a result of the devastating coal ash spill in Kingston, TN in December 2008. Hearings were held in August and September at seven locations around the country affected by coal ash. Many groups called out their grassroots to respond, and the turnout was overwhelming, including in Colorado and North Carolina.

Partly as a result of grassroots actions, the EPA announced withdrawal of it's Clean Water Permit for the Spruce Fork No. 1 MTR mine in West Virginia. Financiers are feeling the pressure, too, refusing to lend to MTR mining operations. PNC Bank in London became the 7th large bank to no longer lend to companies extracting coal with MTR!
PNC Bank, the top funder of mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining, has announced that it will end its support for the ecologically devastating practice.
...Before this decision, PNC provided financing for six of the biggest MTR coal mining companies — Massey, Arch Coal, Patriot Coal, Alpha, International Coal Group, and CONSOL — who were responsible for nearly half of all mountaintop removal mining in 2009.
Speaking of coal, nearly one hundred new coal-fired power plants were denied application after protests by local communities across the country.
The Navajo Nation, led by a Dine’ (Navajo) and Hopi grassroots youth movement, forced the cancellation of a Life of Mine permit on Black Mesa, Ariz., for the world’s largest coal company -- Peabody Energy.

...Nearly two thirds of the 151 new coal power plant proposals from the Bush Energy Plan have been cancelled, abandoned, or stalled since 2007 -- largely due to community-led opposition. ...Community-based networks such as the Indigenous Environmental Network, the Energy Justice Network, and the Western Mining Action Network have played a major role in supporting these efforts to keep the world’s most climate polluting industry at bay.
You can find more information about proposed coal plants halted in their tracks here and here.

Finally, I want to give a big shout-out to Northern Rockies Rising Tide, the Indigenous Environmental Network, and many other grassroots groups for putting the brakes on over-sized shipments of equipment on rural roads through pristine environments in Idaho and Montana, on their way to the tar sands in Alberta and oil refineries in Billings, MT. Some background on the Alberta tar sands:
Thanks to Alberta’s Athabasca oil sands, Canada is now the biggest oil supplier to the United States. A controversial billion-dollar industry is heavily invested in extracting crude from the tarry sands through a process so toxic it has become an international cause for concern. Four barrels of glacier-fed spring water are used to process each barrel of oil, then are dumped, laden with carcinogens, into leaky tailings ponds so huge they can be seen from space. Downstream, the people of Fort Chipewyan are already paying the price for what will be one of the largest industrial projects in history.

You can read more about the devastating, far-reaching effects of the Alberta tar sands here.

It started as a protest of a new 'high and wide' route through Idaho and Montana. Asian companies (South Korea and China) are hoping to shortcut the current high-wide corridor through the center of the country by offloading barges of large equipment at Lewiston, Idaho and transporting them through Idaho and Montana. Loads are in the process of being permitted by state agencies in Idaho and Montana, but once the process met the light of day, the brakes were put on the permits, at least for now! (Hearings on the movement of over-sized loads and their impacts on residents of Idaho will be held later this month in Boise.) The movement is building. Northern Rockies Rising Tide hosted a summit with other grassroots groups two weeks ago in Montana.
The summit, hosted by NRRT and the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) ... brought together nearly 100 activists from around the US and Canada who are concerned about tar sands development.
Workshops about tar sands issues and trainings in a diversity of tactics for resisting the industry’s growth helped connect the dots between anti-tar sands struggles in places from Oklahoma, to Montana, to northern British Columbia and elsewhere. ...While the eyes of the world are on the oil wars in southwest Asia, a corporate-state free-for-all is spanning North America, with Ft. McMurray, AB at “Ground Zero”.
Grassroots groups can be powerful. By linking together, diverse groups with common interests can learn from one another and work together to fight battles and WIN!

Earlier this year, the 1Sky Board posted an open letter to the grassroots about moving forward on climate change in the absence of action from the Senate. The movement needs to grow even more from the bottom up. The grassroots responded, in an open letter to 1Sky (posted on grist.) It's a great perspective on the past year, with a powerful list co-authors. In addition to highlighting successes from 2010, they note that

In D.C., corporate power rules because they can concentrate energy, resources, and relationships there -- in ways we cannot. However, when confronting these same corporations in our tribes, cities, and towns, we reveal that they are not nimble or powerful enough to defeat our communities.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Local Action on Climate Change

The Washington Post had an opinion piece this past weekend that got me motivated. This article is about how we can work to reduce CO2 emissions regardless of our acceptance of climate change science: "How to stop global warming - even if you don't believe in it".

The article addresses how politicians in Washington can get over the hump and pass legislation that is good for the environment, but without having to say it is.
So what's a conservative politician [the primary foot-draggers on climate change legislation] who secretly cares about climate change to do? How can Republicans, in Congress or in legislatures around the country, make the case to their colleagues - and how can they bring conservative voters along?

They must start by focusing on climate-friendly policies and stop assuming that we must first achieve unanimity on global warming science. People can support the transition to a carbon-free energy future without believing, or even knowing, that it might influence glaciers, coral reefs or Arctic ice.

There is a long list of carbon-reduction measures that strong majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents firmly support, including mandating better fuel efficiency, increasing federal funding for clean-energy research, spending more for mass transit, raising efficiency standards for homes and other buildings, and requiring utilities to produce more energy from renewable sources. They even support limits on emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases - just as long as they are seen as anti-pollution measures, not "caps."
This, of course, can be applied to state-houses as well as Washington. And local governments. And community actions among neighbors. This is what that looks like in Montana:

The local CBS affiliate, KPAX, is broadcasting a series of energy-reduction, green-living, and carbon-reducing activities this week that anybody can take. You can watch Sunday's segment here.

While the recent tough economic times mean that you may not be able to afford to buy a Prius or build a sustainable home, there are some simple ways you can help the environment without spending a dime.

...While unplugging a few items around the house might not have a significant impact on your monthly energy bill, the environment will thank you.

"[There are] ways to measure our consumption and to become aware are going to be the biggest savings out there," Big Sky Solar and Wind Vice President Mike Sudik advised.

...Plasma TVs use almost 20 watts per hour when they are off, but plugged in. If you leave that plasma TV on when you're not watching it, each hour it uses 324 watts. So, if you left your TV on for a month that would cost around $40.

"The more you test that stuff the more you become aware and learn how everything is," Sudik advised. Walter Bernauer and Sudik run a solar company and most of their days are spent figuring out how to save energy. They tell their costumers that they don't have to get rid of their Plasma TVs and computers to save energy, as long as they are remembering to turn them off.

...So, even if you're only saving on a small scale, you're still helping the environment by using less electricity every day.

The program emphasizes caring for our natural environment and saving money (rather than spending money we don't have for more energy-efficient items.)

They also mentioned another local ''green' event in Missoula on November 6. Northwestern Energy, the electricity and natural gas company in the Upper Midwest and Northwest U.S., held Home Energy Expos around Montana this fall to help their customers lower their energy demand. The Missoula event was the largest, with natural gas customers waiting over an hour for free weatherization kits, access to information on reducing energy costs and qualifying for federal and state tax incentives, and participating in drawings for free home energy 'make-overs' worth thousands of dollars.

These kinds of local efforts are encouraging after a disappointing legislative session in Washington this past year. Montanans care about saving money, saving energy, and saving the environment. Power to the People!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Mixed Messages

(Cross-posted at 1Sky)
Election day 2010 is over, but the fight to address climate change is not--so say many of the bloggers posting since the election Tuesday. We survived the U.S. Senate's inability to pass climate change legislation before the election recess. We survived attacks against the EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gases (so far). And we can and will survive the loss of the Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. Yesterday's press release (here) noted:
Corporations and their allies in Congress may play politics with our climate, but our climate isn’t playing politics.
The National Audubon Society had a similarly pithy statement in their press release:
Americans may have voted for change in Congress, but no one voted to increase pollution.
One of the bright spots in Tuesday's election was the defeat of Prop 23 in California. By a large margin, voters successfully preserved California's landmark legislation which regulates greenhouse gases and promotes clean energy. It was, as Van Jones said, a broad and diverse coalition that was able to overcome massive money from out-of-state Big Oil interests. His inspiring post from the weekend before the election is a must read.:
What the polls do not show and what few news outlets are covering, is the striking diversity of voices that are demanding clean energy, and rejecting the false notion that protecting the planet and our public health will hurt the economy.

...These groups represent just the tip of iceberg in a movement that includes environmentalists, politicians from both parties, students, public health organizations, big and small businesses, labor groups, consumer groups, senior citizens, and public safety organizations.

...But what we see happening in California gives the green movement a reason for continued optimism. This time we are on the defensive, protecting our climate laws already on the books. The fight has unmasked the opponents of clean energy, as well as vetted their arguments — the same tired talking points they have been using for the last four decades.
The bad news is that the majority in U.S. House of Representatives has been lost by the Democratic party, with many seats lost to Republican climate change denialists. For a round-up of how bad a change in House leadership will be, look here. Whorunsgov.com highlights the worst of the new members here. Climate Science Watch echoes concerns about the changing make-up of House majority leadership next year:
Overall, the influx of denialists is a major loss for the country, as the new House leadership and committee chairmen gear up to make a mockery of the preeminent problem facing our society, and the Senate drifts ever further from taking long-overdue action on climate and energy reform.
A post from the Director of the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) Action Fund, however, found a silver lining in highlighting Senate races won by climate champions. Likewise, a late-breaking re-election win for Senator Michael Bennett in Colorado may actually be attributable to the Republican opponent's denial of global warming science. Grist has more on the influence of support of climate legislation on incumbent re-election. Contrary to a popular media theme, votes for climate legislation were not connected with tipping an election against the inncumbents:
In fact, Democrats who voted against clean energy were more than three times as likely to lose their seats than those who voted for it.
Joe Romm at Climate Progress demonstrated in detail that the 'climate vote' did not lead to defeat of House members.
It’s worth noting that even in the midst of a Republican tsunami, 80% of the Democrats who supported a carbon cap kept their seats. Perhaps more noteworthy is how many Democrats who opposed a carbon lost their seats.
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and NRDC remind us that, even though climate denialists were elected or re-elected, Congressional elections really weren't about climate change at all. And UCS notes that scientists are actually widely respected and listened to by a majority of Americans. So when the inevitable hearings are held next year in a denialist-led congressional committees, activists are right to call on them to speak truth to power in the strongest possible language.

Finally, 1Sky's Liz Butler posted on Huffington Post on Wednesday. Her 'action' item is critical right now, and I'll repost it:
The battle for what will become the "conventional wisdom" in the press about yesterday's election is on-- and we can't allow Big Oil and Dirty Coal to spin this election as a legitimate victory for them. That's why we're asking all our supporters to write their local newspapers and tell them how big polluters bought this election -- and that it can't happen again.
Hear, hear!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The bees and the birds.

"Let me tell ya 'bout the..."
bees and the birds?

Bees have been in the news of late, and I am not referring to either Colony Collapse Disorder or the threat to agricultural production as pollinators decline.

The news I'm referring to relates to climate change, and how bees and the plants they pollinate may get out of synch as climate change affects dates when they emerge each spring. Biologists have theorized that food webs might be disrupted by climate change, but it is very difficult to detect. (I will be writing soon about recent findings regarding migratory birds and their food sources.) In the special case of bees and the plants they pollinate, there are a lot of interacting variables besides climate change affecting pollination:

There is growing recognition that plant–pollinator interactions can be drastically influenced by anthropogenic changes to ecosystems. Climate change, habitat fragmentation, agricultural intensification, urbanization, pollution, pesticides
and species’ invasions all have the potential to affect plant–pollinator interactions directly and indirectly.

Evidence for the consequences of climate change is difficult to tease out in complex ecological systems, but it is through long-term studies in pristine environments like Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory that we may be starting to see effects. A recent study conducted there, high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, got quite a bit of attention in the U.S., Canada, and the UK last week.

James Thompson, in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Toronto, has been studying glacier lilies and bumble bees at RMBL for 17 years. This pristine study site is free of the many confounding factors that affect pollination, allowing him to examine changes in bee activity and pollination success for glacier lilies over two decades.

Over that time, he found that both bee numbers and pollination of wild lily flowers have been declining. The change appears to be due, at least in part, to earlier flowering, before bumble bees have emerged from hibernation. And earlier flowering may be due to climate change:

The onset of blooming is determined by snowmelt, with the earliest years starting a month before the latest years owing to variation in winter snowpack accumulation. Fruit set is diminished or prevented entirely by killing frosts in some years.... When frosts do not limit fruit set, pollination limitation is frequent, especially in the earlier cohorts. .... This lily appears to be poorly synchronized with its pollinators. Across the years of the study, pollination limitation appears to be increasing, perhaps because the synchronization is getting worse.

Thompson is cautious in his summary of the study:
[He] admitted the evidence from the study was still weak but said the results were a warning that the phenomenon ‘might be widespread and needs more attention’.

‘It certainly suggests that people who have warned about the possible climate-change consequence of dislocated timing between interacting species have made a reasonable argument,’ he added.

While this is an alarming story, don't worry about glacier lilies. They are common and widely distributed in montane habitats in the western U.S. The bees (and the birds; that story's next) may not be in perfect synch with their flowers (or their insect food, in the case of birds) anymore, but it's not too late to prevent things from getting to the point of losing our favorite species. We still have time before the natural community diversity that exists in the Rocky Mountains is lost.

But we need to start reducing GHG emissions now. Personally, in our communities, and through our local, state, and national governments, we need to push to reduce our carbon footprints. Now is the time.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Our Dying Forests

(I posted this in a slightly different form at Daily Kos yesterday.)

Subhankar Banerjee has a post up on Huffington Post in support of Barbara Boxer's re-election campaign in California.
Banerjee's post is a good one, but the best part was sending us to his new website.

After the U.S. Senate killed the climate bill in late July, many of us were disappointed (but not surprised). We pointed our fingers to what went wrong and why our climate movement failed, but then we got to work to figure out how to move forward. Just a few days ago I founded ClimateStoryTellers.org that you can check out.

What a gifted writer! And what a story he has brought together about our dying forests, both here in North America and around the world.

The first post on this site is an essay by Banerjee, entitled 'Could This Be A Crime? U.S. Climate Bill Is Dead While So Much Life On Our Earth Continues To Perish'.

He begins by describing pinyon pine mortality around Sante Fe, New Mexico, over the last decade.
...In many areas of northern New Mexico, including Santa Fe, Los Alamos, Española, and Taos, 90 percent of mature piñons are now dead.

Under normal climate conditions, bark beetles live in harmony with their environment, laying their eggs in dead or weakened trees. However, when healthy trees become stressed from severe and sustained drought, they become objects of attack: the beetles drill into their bark, laying eggs along the way, and killing their host. Milder winter temperatures have ensured more of them survive the winter, and warmer summer temperatures have reduced the life cycle duration of the beetles from two to one year, and subsequently their numbers have exploded in recent years.

...During my childhood in India, I was fascinated by the detective stories of Satyajit Ray’s Feluda series. Because of the forest devastation I witnessed daily, I took on the role of a self–assigned visual detective of a geographic region bound by a 5–mile radius around our home. I walked again and again the same three paths, each no more than 2 miles long.

Banerjee provides a link to a photo journal of the 'scene of the crime' from these regular walks, and also describes pinyon decline in prose. He's particularly eloquent in describing Native American use of pinyon pine nuts, and in reviewing the plight of pinyon forests in the last century. In addition to the threat from climate change, pinyon-juniper forests were threatened by development in the late 1800's and 1900's. P-j forests were cleared for ranching, an act which he calls 'ecocultural vandalism.'

Banerjee writes with similar eloquence about his travels to forests in the western U.S., in the Yukon, and the Siberian taiga. He adds notes about forest declines in India and Spain that he's heard about from colleagues and friends. The thread that binds these far-flung places is that decline of forests around the globe can be attributed to the same factors that led to decline of the pinyon-juniper forests in the southwest U.S.: drought and increasing temperatures as effects of climate change intensify.

He points out that our 3 largest global carbon 'sinks', the forests which sequester carbon in their growth [Siberian taiga, North American boreal forest, and Amazon rain forests], are declining in their ability to function.

He concludes with this thought:
Global warming is a crisis: for all lands, for all oceans, for all rivers, for all forests, for all humans, for all birds, for all mammals, for all little creatures that we don’t see... for all life. We need stories and actions from every part of our earth. So far, global warming communications have primarily focused on scientific information. I strongly believe that to engage the public, we need all fields of the humanities. It is to this end that I founded ClimateStoryTellers.
Climate Story Teller indeed. Please give him a read.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

News note!

I saw a western skink (Eumeces skiltonianus) out front today! There are only 40 documented sightings of this species in western Montana; none in the last five years. Here, it is a 'Species of Concern'.
Species of Concern are native taxa that are at-risk due to declining population trends, threats to their habitats, restricted distribution, and/or other factors. Designation as a Montana Species of Concern or Potential Species of Concern is based on the Montana Status Rank, and is not a statutory or regulatory classification. Rather, these designations provide information that helps resource managers make proactive decisions regarding species conservation and data collection priorities.
We're located in the Rocky Mountain lower montane, foothill, and valley grassland ecological system. The specific location was the gravel bed in front of the house (south-facing), between the house and the herb garden/ perennial flower and shrub bed.

What it tells me is that we have fantastic wildlife habitat on our little piece of Montana!