Archive for the ‘Climate Change’ Category

Today kicks off the 18th annual UN climate change Council of the Parties (COP) talks in Doha. This is the first time in the history of the talks that the conference will be held in an Arab country.  Because Qatar and surrounding Arab nations have dealt with extreme weather, like desertification and drought, for thousands of years, many are hopeful that this will lend a new perspective on dealing with and preventing climate change. While many associate drylands with lack of fertility and water, these COP talks will center around water systems, conservation efforts, and innovation that has helped people living in drought-prone areas to thrive.

What will be interesting to see is the new role Middle Eastern countries will adopt in preventing climate change . To this point, many have been quiet or even “obstructionist” in the process.  However, COP18 has made it apparent that there is clear concern over climate change within Middle Eastern civil society – a new Arab Youth Climate Movement has been formed – as well as within the public and private sectors.

Of course, this conference is not only a way for Middle Eastern nations to step up into the international climate change arena, it is also a last chance to replace or renew the expiring Kyoto Protocol. Agreement stands to be reached regarding when party nations are required to commit to serious declines in carbon emissions. So far, the largest emitters like China and the United States are the most timid to sign on. The talks will continue until December 7; let’s hope they are fruitful!

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Having lived in the northeastern United States my entire life, the winters of my past have been abundant with snow. From when I was a kid and we could build snow forts with walls that were taller than us, to college when we had numerous snow days that lent themselves only to sledding on lunch trays, the white stuff was everywhere. And this was the case from December through March. Sometimes, even later into the year.

Perhaps there is some nostalgic romance involved in these snowy memories, but as I drive to work in the morning these days; the road is clear, the ground is barely frozen, and we’ve had only one snow “storm” that I can remember. While it would be ignorant to say that this mild winter is alone a sign of climate change, my research and proximity of the subject makes it so that the impact and proximity of climate change is never far from mind. (In fact, even during the amusing polar bear Coca-Cola super bowl commercials, I couldn’t help but think about what would happen to the now famous ad campaign as polar bears continue to be threatened by the melting of their habitat.)

The truth is, extreme weather patterns have been noticed widely throughout the world this year. Extreme droughts in Texas, tornadoes in Alabama and Missouri, snow in Libya and extremely cold temperatures throughout Europe (among many other events) have led many to question the impact that climate change is having on our daily weather fluctuations and extremes.

While the link between our daily weather patterns and climate change is tenuous, meteorologists are speaking out more and more about the importance of reporting on the potential connections and the role that climate change plays, and will continue to play, in our weather patterns. The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) have created a website designed to educate citizens and meteorologists on these very topics.  Ultimately, as explained by meteorologist Dan Satterfield in this article, despite the many unknowns, individuals are becoming more and more aware of climate change and our role in its proliferation. What has up until this point been mixed messages from meteorologists, scientist and politicians must instead become a steady stream of well-tested and well-articulated information.

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As you read this, the 17th Council of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is happening in Durban, South Africa. The goal of the UNFCCC, created in 1992, is to serve as a starting point for managing climate change. Through the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol was drafted in 1997 and implemented in 2005. Kyoto Protocol Signatories pledged to reduce their 1990 greenhouse gas emissions levels by at least 5% during the period 2008-2012. The recent COP meetings have been tasked with developing a successor to the Protocol in an attempt to hold warming levels to the United Nations’ 2 degree C goal.  COP17, as most in recent history, has been characterized by sharp divisions between those countries to be most affected by climate change in the short-term (small islands, least developed nations and the EU) and those that either don’t feel they will be affected or are focused more on economy and development (the US, Canada, Russia, Japan, China and India).  Naturally, those in the former camp want an international agreement to regulate greenhouse gas emissions now, while those in the later want binding agreements to be stalled until 2015. Realistically, without the support of the largest world economies, the chances for an international climate change mitigation agreement are very slim.


In upstate New York, in a place very close to the hearts of many – including me and my family, ecologist and author Jerry Jenkins spends his time documenting, advocating for and savoring the Adirondack Park. Jenkins’ book, Climate Change in the Adirondacks: The Path to Sustainability, urges individuals to view climate change not as something happening miles away in measurements too large and too “down the road” to fully comprehend. Instead, Jenkins shares his observations of the park where bogs, mosses, coniferous trees and many forms of wildlife can only exist in a particular temperature range. Many of the parks’ plant and animal species are already at the southern edge of their range in terms of climate and temperature – for many, a temperature increase of only 5 degrees could mean extinction from the park. A major climate change study, conducted by climate scientists from Cornell, Columbia and the City University of New York, was recently released and predicts that by 2080, the temperature within the Adirondack Park could be as much as 9 degrees warmer. This means that the Adirondack Park could be drastically different within a time span of 70 years if emission levels continue to rise.

I believe it was Yogi Berra that said “the future ain’t what it used to be.” In true Berra nature, this quip can be taken a lot of ways. I’m going to choose to frame it in the lens of sustainability and our future, The Children.

We’re at a point in time where concerns pertaining to energy sources, resource depletion, pollution, and climate change hang heavy in our minds. Without a major change in our current course, the future looks like one that could be difficult in ways that we can’t fully fathom yet.

Enter: The Children. Now is the time to discuss sustainability with kids; in school, community gatherings, at home – anywhere that there is an opportunity for meaningful interaction. As perhaps the biggest stakeholders in the the state of our future, kids are often more optimistic and enthusiastic than adults about their ability to impact the future in positive ways.  They think innovatively and creatively and have a track record in persuasiveness (as most can attest). Kids are also becoming more and more internet and social network savvy which means that not only do they have access to powerful information, they have the ability to readily share their ideas and passions.

Tomorrow, I will be taking part in a local Sustainability Fair geared towards children (and their parents) K-8. I’m excited to speak with the kids about the types of things we can all do to be more sustainable. But, I’m even more excited to hear about the types of things these kids care about and how they implement sustainable practices into their own lives.  I’m going to make it a point to highlight the positive “can-dos” and will make sure to listen and support what will inevitably be some great ideas from the participants.

This will be one small step in ensuring that the future won’t be what it used to be.

Starbucks has recently voiced concern over the impact of climate change on coffee supply.  Coffee crops have already been impacted by severe hurricanes and resistant pests and some scientists predict that the temperatures in the Ivory Coast and Ghana will be too high to grow coffee by 2050. For Starbucks, this is obviously an enormous risk to their supply chain and something that will need to be addressed to avoid shortages and profit losses over the next 10, 20 and 30 years.

As part of its mitigation efforts, Starbucks has joined a coalition of companies that are petitioning the US Government to take action on climate change. So far, their efforts have resulted in little progress. The coalition, including the Gap and other large and popular companies, will take a new approach next month. Instead of pleading for government action, each company will showcase how they are addressing the impacts of climate change upon their business. Actions include safeguarding their suppliers from climate change-related severe weather patterns, erosion and pests (when possible), as well as becoming ever more aware of their own impacts on climate change.

Absent any real legislative commitments to address climate change nationally and internationally, it appears as if our businesses, tethered by a responsibility to realize and mitigate risk, are at the wheel. Perhaps, as concerned citizens, our appeals should be focused not towards government but towards the companies that share those same concerns. Could our purchasing power be stronger than our voting power? Maybe its time we find out.

In 2009, the Central Intelligence Agency created the to identify and study the “national security impact of phenomena such as desertification, rising sea levels, population shifts, and heightened competition for natural resources.” The Center would “provide support to American policymakers as they negotiate, implement, and verify international agreements on environmental issues.”

At the time of its creation, The Center caused quite a stir among Republicans who disputed the need for intelligence on such matters (the effort was likened to “spying on sea lions”) . Two years later, it appears as if Republican fears were for naught – the CIA has deemed The Center’s actions, studies, and reports highly classified. This secrecy, reportedly for the sake of our national security, has meant that the pledge to help support decision-making has gone by the wayside.

As if we were afraid that too much was being done for climate change in the US, budget cuts and pressure from conservative lawmakers have put the future of the Center for Climate Change and National Security in question. And the problem with government censoring is that any positive work that The Center managed to accomplish has not made its way into the public.

Can we argue for or against The Center, truly? Not really.

Do we even know what The Center is doing? Not at all.

For a government that rode the wave of transparency and environmental concern to power, this is entirely disappointing.


Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Lisa Jackson may win the (purely hypothetical) prize for “Least Enviable Job.”  Her duties as chief of the EPA demand that she enact legislation which, above all else, places the safety of the American public first and foremost. “Above all else” seems like a good way to ensure that the threats of air and water pollution and global warming are controlled in a way that conserves the quality of life. But in practice, as with most things, the situation is much more complicated.

While President Obama tacitly supports the EPA and its efforts to protect the American public, he himself is walking a fine line. Obama is juggling the concerns of businesses that fear the monetary implications of harsher environmental regulations with the political demands of the upcoming election and his image as a president focused on change and  “liberal” causes.

All of this leaves Lisa Jackson with limited amounts of empathy coming from The White House and slightly more cajoling pressures coming from many republicans, businesses and interest groups who are concerned about the strength of the economy and profitability. Meanwhile, environmental groups as well as international governments and organizations are drawing attention to the dearth of action being taken by the United States to curb global warming. Jackson is, most definitely, between a rock and a hard place. How the EPA’s legislation will be built to appeal to the varied stakeholders remains to be seen. Luckily for Jackson, this is not a popularity contest – not one that she has any potential to win, at least.

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