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Scientists Say Expect More 1,000-Year Events Like Louisiana Flood

Sat, 08/20/2016 - 01:09

By Nike Knight
Common Dreams

Louisiana’s devastating rainfall was the state’s second “1,000-year” flood this year

Louisiana flood, August 2016 – Photo: Common Dreams flickr/cc

Parts of Louisiana’s disastrous, ongoing flooding has been upgraded by meteorologists to once-in-1,000-years rainfall, with other areas classified as 500-year and 100-year events, nola.com reported Monday, as scientists warn that such storms are growing more and more frequent as the planet heats up.

“On Tuesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is set to classify the Louisiana disaster as the eighth flood considered to be a once-in-every-500-years event to have taken place in the U.S. in little over 12 months,” the Guardian reports:

Since May of last year, dozens of people have been killed and thousands of homes have been swamped with water in extreme events in Oklahoma, Texas, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Maryland. NOAA considers these floods extreme because, based on historical rainfall records, they should be expected to occur only once every 500 years.

The Louisiana flooding has been so exceptional that some places in the state experienced storm conditions considered once-every-1,000-year events. Close to 2ft of rain fell over a 48-hour period in parts of southern Louisiana, causing residents to scramble to safety from flooded homes and cars.

And nola.com reported that the flooding “was triggered by a complicated, slow-moving low-pressure weather system that dumped as much as two feet of rain on parts of East Baton Rouge, Livingston and St. Helena parishes in 48 hours.”

“The record two-day rainfall in those areas had a 0.1 percent chance of occurring in any year, the equivalent of a ‘1,000-year rain,’ according to the Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center, based at the Slidell office of the National Weather Service,” the local outlet wrote.

The ongoing flooding is the second “1,000-year” rain to strike the state this year. Noted environmentalist Bill McKibben tweeted about such disasters’ rapidly increasing frequency:

The flooding has caused the death of eight people and affected 40,000 homes and businesses, according to the Associated Press.

The floods have indeed been devastating, with many last-minute evacuations forcing residents to leave their houses with nothing. And although both the federal and state governments have now declared states of emergency, in many areas people have been forced to take search-and-rescue efforts into their own hands, the Guardian writes:

The scale of the flooding was beyond the reach of any government agency, though. So from the bayous and swamps emerged something locals are calling the “Cajun navy.” Thousands of hunters and fishermen from throughout the region arrived in boats and organized themselves into search-and-rescue parties.

Brittany Cuccia, a college student from Thibodeaux, joined one 10-boat fleet Monday as it moved from house to underwater house. “I’d say we’ve pulled out 50 people at least,” she said.

Residents who needed help were stuck in homes with no power, she said. They had no way to call for help, and so they retreated higher and higher into their homes, praying for rescue.

And with even some coffins being uprooted and photographed eerily floating down residential streets, at least one local described the disaster as “worse than Hurricane Katrina.”

 

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Categories: Ecological News

To Improve Beijing’s Air Quality, Cut Household Fuel Use Too

Thu, 07/14/2016 - 17:08

By Jeffrey Norris
UC Berkeley News

China’s plans to curb Beijing’s health-damaging air pollution by focusing on restricting emissions from power plants and vehicles may have limited impact if household use of coal and other dirty fuels is not also curtailed, according to a new study.

Beijing’s Forbidden City on a smoggy day. Photo: WikiCommons

“You cannot have a clean outdoor environment if a large percentage of the population is burning dirty fuels in households several times a day,” said Kirk Smith, a professor with UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health who co-led the study with Tong Zhu of Peking University and Denise Mauzerall of Princeton University. “The smoke may start indoors, but soon leaves the house and becomes a significant part of regional air pollution.”

Beijing’s polluted air came to international attention before the 2008 summer Olympics. Today, the average daily concentration of the smallest particulates — those that can lodge deeply in the lungs and trigger chronic and acute respiratory illness, heart disease and lung cancer — is more than six times what the World Health Organization regards as safe. Levels of other major pollutants, such as ozone, also rank high..

China developed a five-year plan to reduce emissions, but the researchers concluded that focusing too narrowly on controlling emissions of pollutants just within Beijing and its suburbs, without also reducing emissions from the entire region, including widespread surrounding rural areas, may limit the potential effectiveness of pollution-control efforts.

Their study will be published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

The modeling study is the first to incorporate local and regional datasets on air emissions and to combine these with modeling of weather impacts and atmospheric chemistry in the region to come up with estimates of impacts of household emissions during winter months, when heating demands are greatest.

“We show that due to uncontrolled and inefficient combustion of solid fuels in household devices, emission reductions from the residential sector may have greater air-quality benefits in the North China Plain, including Beijing, than reductions from other sectors,” the researchers wrote. Household uses include cooking and heating.

The researchers used the Weather Research and Forecasting Model with Chemistry, a model developed in the United States and used by researchers worldwide, to generate atmospheric simulations using real data from China. They focused on Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei provinces, where more than 100 million people live.

They then made estimates of the relative contributions of emissions sources using data from 2010, and also modeled emissions reductions scenarios to derive estimates for reduction levels of small particulates over the region that would result from different mitigation efforts.

The researchers concluded that eliminating household emissions in Beijing alone would reduce levels of small particulate pollution in the air over Beijing in winter by about 22 percent, but that eliminating household emissions in all three provinces surrounding Beijing would nearly double the reduction in particulate levels in the city itself.

In other words, Beijing does not have its fate entirely in its own hands, according to Smith, and the results highlight the importance of regional efforts to reduce urban air pollution.

“On a smaller scale, here in the Bay Area, air-quality control is not only focused on San Francisco and Oakland, but also coordinated across nine Bay Area counties through a regional governing body,” Smith said. “One might think that, because China has a powerful central government, it would be easy to coordinate regional governing bodies to fight pollution, but that is not necessarily the case.”

The researchers did not attempt to evaluate how climate change might be affected by Chinese efforts to reduce household burning of biomass fuel by supplying natural gas. China has begun building plants to convert coal to “synthetic natural gas,” which burns cleaner, but results in more carbon dioxide emissions than direct burning of coal.

Nor did the researchers try to gauge the health benefits of reducing household emissions. However, a Global Burden of Disease study found that direct household exposure to air pollution from solid fuels was responsible for 800,000 premature deaths in China in 2013, about equal to the number of premature deaths from outdoor particulate pollution, Smith said. The work by Smith and colleagues indicates that a significant portion of the ill-health from outdoor pollution in China should also be attributed to household fuels.

The research was funded by National Natural Science Foundation Committee of China, the European Seventh Framework Programme Project PURGE (Public Health Impacts in Urban Environments of Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions Strategies) and the Collaborative Innovation Center for Regional Environmental Quality.

Categories: Ecological News

Maryland to Become First State U.S. State to Ban Bee-Killing Pesticides

Tue, 07/12/2016 - 17:02

By Amanda Froelich
True Activist

Maryland will become the first U.S. state to ban neonicotinoid-containing pesticides to help revive honey bee populations.

A bee gathering pollen in a sunflower. Photo jlodder via Flickr Creative Commons License

In 2015, honey bee populations in the state of Maryland declined by 61%, according to the USDA. That startling statistic is two times higher than the national average, which is why beekeepers are celebrating the state’s recent decision to ban neonicotinoids, pesticides which have been linked with Colony Collapse Disorder. 

ThinkProgress reports that in April, the Maryland House and Senate agreed upon and jointly passed a final version of the Maryland Pollinator Protection Act. If passed, the legislation will virtually eliminate consumer use of the widely-used pesticide that has been shown to negatively impact honey bee populations. In effect, Maryland will become the first state in the U.S. to codify such protection for the bumbling insects.

While scientists haven’t pinpointed a single cause behind the mass honey bee deaths, most agree that pesticides are an important contributor. The reason a ban on neonicotinoids hasn’t been passed nationwide is because the USDA has failed to declare a link between neonics and bee deaths. Reportedly, the widely-used pesticides are a key part of expanding the global insecticide market projected at around $15 billion in revenues.

The EPA is reviewing the link between several varieties of the insecticides and the bee deaths, however. Those findings will be shared with the public in 2018, the same year Maryland’s ban on neonicotinoid-containing pesticides goes into effect.

Concerning the legislation, Tiffany Finck-Haynes, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth, commented that Maryland’s [pollinator] losses are really staggering.” She also noted that “sustainable” bee losses are considered to be around 10 to 15 percent of a colony – significantly less than what Maryland has been experiencing.

Over the past few years, scientists have found several links between neonicotinoids and poor pollinator health. For example, one study found that exposure to neonicotinoids impacted a bee’s brain. This, in result, made it forget the scent of food. Other studies have shown that pesticide exposure might weaken a honeybee’s immune system, making it more difficult to fend off viruses. Of course, bees’ populations are also threatened by dwindling food sources and the varroa mite – both which have been implicated in Colony Collapse Disorder.

The new law would “be a landmark, and it would set a standard that maybe other states would follow,” commented Del. Anne Healey, D-Prince George’s County, who authored the House version of the bill.

This article (Maryland To Become First State In U.S. To Ban Bee-Killing Pesticides) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to the author and TrueActivist.com

Categories: Ecological News

Closure of Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant

Wed, 06/22/2016 - 15:49

By Lauren McCauley
Common Dreams

In landmark agreement, California’s last remaining nuclear plant will be replaced by greenhouse-gas-free energy sources

The Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant is located in Avila Beach along California’s central coast.  Photo: Nuclear Regulatory Commission/cc

A plan to shutter the last remaining nuclear power plant in California and replace it with renewable energy is being heralded widely as “a clear blueprint for fighting climate change,” which environmentalists hope will serve as “a model” for the nation.

“The end of an atomic era,” is how the San Francisco Chronicle described the announcement, made Tuesday by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), which operates the aging Diablo Canyon power plant situated on California’s central coast.

The joint proposal (pdf), drafted by the utility company along with a number of labor and environmental groups, states: “PG&E in consultation with the Parties has concluded that the most effective and efficient path forward for achieving California’s SB350 policy goal for deep reductions of [greenhouse gas (GHG)] emissions is to retire Diablo Canyon at the close of its current operating license period and replace it with a portfolio of GHG free resources.”

The licenses are currently set to expire in 2024 and 2025 and under the deal the utility will replace that power source with renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy storage. The agreement also contains provisions to protect the plant’s workforce, as well as the economy of the local San Luis Obispo community. PG&E further commits to derive 55 percent of the electricity produced across its entire fleet from clean, renewable sources by 2031.

“This is an historic agreement,” said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, which helped draft the plan, along with Natural Resources Defense Council, Environment California, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245, Coalition of California Utility Employees, and Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility.

Pica continues, “It sets a date for the certain end of nuclear power in California and assures replacement with clean, safe, cost-competitive, renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage. It lays out an effective roadmap for a nuclear phase-out in the world’s sixth largest economy, while assuring a green energy replacement plan to make California a global leader in fighting climate change.”

Rhea Suh, president of NRDC, said the joint agreement is “a tribute to what can be accomplished when we rally together around a common goal.”

“What’s more,” Suh added, “this plan is a model that can be replicated around the country, where nearly 100 nuclear reactors will retire in the coming decades, and around the world.”

“For years,” she continued, “some have claimed that we can’t fight climate change without nuclear power, because shutting down nuclear plants would mean burning more fossil fuels to generate replacement electricity. That’s wrong, of course, and now we have the proof.”

“Today’s agreement is a good example of how we can replace dirty energy with clean when we set our minds to it,” agreed Rob Sargent, Energy Program director at Environment America. “It’s this kind of commitment that will put us on a path to 100 percent renewable energy.”

Tuesday’s announcement follows years of public opposition to the plant, which sits in an earthquake red zone near four prominent fault lines—one of which runs just 2,000 feet from the two reactors. As anti-nuclear activist Harvey Wasserman recently noted, “[m]ore protestors have been arrested at Diablo than any other American nuke.”

In addition to the risks posed by potential earthquake damage, Wasserman wrote, “Diablo dumps daily some 2.5 billion gallons of super-heated water into the ocean, killing vast quantities of marine life and worsening the global climate crisis. The project’s chemical runoff infamously killed millions of abalone years before it operated.”

The detailed phase out proposal will now go to the California Public Utility Commission and on to federal regulators for approval.

According to the Chronicle, the decommissioning process is estimated to cost $3.8 billion, $2.6 million of which PG&E has already collected in an earmarked fund. The utility is reportedly seeking to raise electricity rates by roughly 51 cents per month to make up the shortfall.

Voicing his support for the plan, California lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom, said: “The idea that the economics— from PG&E’s perspective—work for renewables is a pretty profound moment in energy policy. We’ve been asserting it for decades. And here you have a major utility acknowledging a low-carbon, green future.”

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Categories: Ecological News

Happy American Eagle Day

Tue, 06/21/2016 - 00:20

By The U.S. Department of the Interior

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Midwest

Happy American Eagle Day!

As a national symbol, this majestic bird appears on everything from money to memorials, but decades ago, it almost disappeared completely. Because of the ban on the pesticide DDT and habitat protection, the bald eagle is now flourishing across the nation and no longer needs the protection of the Endangered Species Act. It’s a great Wildlife Win and one more reason to celebrate eagles and all they represent.

Categories: Ecological News

Norway Becomes the First Country to Ban Deforestation

Sat, 06/11/2016 - 02:36

By Ruth Milka
Nation of Change

On May 26th the Norwegian Parliament pledged to be deforestation-free. They are the first country in history to ban deforestation.

The ban is a part of the government’s procurement policy and includes eliminating the use of any product that contributes to deforestation as well as a request that the government exercise due care for the protection of biodiversity in its investments.

This will also affect how Norway sources products such as palm oil, soy, beef, and timber in order to leave little to no impact on their ecosystems. These products are responsible for 40 percent of deforestation between 2000 and 2011 in several countries, including Argentina and Brazil.

The Rainforest Foundation Norway has been working towards this policy for years. They pushed for the pledge, recommended officially by Norwegian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Energy and Environment as part of the Action Plan on Nature Diversity.

In addition to pledging to stop deforestation, Norway is also responsible for funding several environmental projects worldwide, including $250 million invested in protecting Guyana’s forest. They also paid $1 billion to Brazil for completing a 2008 agreement to prevent deforestation.

Fighting deforestation could not only save the world’s rain forests, which could completely vanish in a hundred years, but also helps with climate change. When forests are cleared by burning the carbon in trees is released as carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is the leading greenhouse gas contributing to climate change.

 

Categories: Ecological News

Solar Surges: Renewable Energy Jobs Topped 8 Million in 2015

Wed, 06/01/2016 - 15:48

By Andrea Germanos
Common Dreams

On the heels of clean fuel milestones in Germany and Portugal , a new report finds that the renewable energy industry employed over 8.1 million people worldwide in 2015.

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency’s (IRENA) annual review, that figure marks a 5% increase from the previous year. China led the pack, accounting for 3.5 million jobs. Brazil and U.S. ranked second and third, respectively, for the highest number of renewable energy jobs.

The solar photovoltaic (PV) sector shot up 11% and accounted for biggest number of jobs at 2.8 million globally.

In the U.S. alone, solar grew nearly 22%.  That’s “12 times faster than job creation in the US economy­—surpassing jobs in oil and gas,” the report states. The other country seeing growth in solar was Japan, which notched a 28% increase in solar PV employment in 2014.

Wind saw “a record year” in employment, the report states. Wind energy employment in the U.S. grew 21%; worldwide it grew 5%. At the same time, oil and gas extraction jobs fell by 18 percent in the U.S.

“This increase is being driven by declining renewable energy technology costs and enabling policy frameworks,” stated IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin. “We expect this trend to continue as the business case for renewables strengthens and as countries move to achieve their climate targets agreed in Paris,” he added, referring to the UN climate deal sealed at the end of 2015.

Mark Kenber, CEO of The Climate Group, an organization that advocates for reining in carbon emissions, added, “A clean revolution is key to growth, investment, jobs, health, security: there is no high-carbon prosperous future.”

The new review follows a separate brief released (pdf) by IRENA on “the true costs of of fossil fuels,” which found that doubling the global share of renewables by 2030 would save not only $4.2 trillion annually but also as many as 4 million lives.

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Categories: Ecological News