Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

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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In my neck of the woods, just north of Boston, we got pretty lucky during Hurricane Sandy’s barrage. After the downing of a few tree branches and a couple of hours without power, our lives are back to normal. I’m extremely thankful for this and am regularly thinking about those communities that weren’t so lucky. People in New York City and several cities and towns throughout the state of New Jersey are still cleaning up from the damage and will most likely be doing so for quite some time. My heart goes out to them.

Unfortunately, many meteorologists and scientists fear that storms like this one are bound to become more and more prevalent due to global climate change. Rising temperatures mean increased moisture in the atmosphere and rising sea levels. Increased atmospheric moisture has the tendency to increase the intensity of storms – leading to exponentially more rainfall. And rising sea levels put more coastal residents at risk of flooding; especially residents on the eastern coast of the United States where sea levels are rising three to four times faster than the global average. All of this means that “frankenstorms” like Sandy could be impacting Americans (and beyond) more regularly and more severely.

Today, on day four after Sandy, amid the storm damage coverage is a storm of political advertisements, accusations, testimonies, and general mudslinging. (Sidenote: did everyone see this? I feel much the same.) Election season is in full swing and for the time being, attention has been pulled away from national debt and the economy, the war in Afghanistan, abortion rights and tax reform. For the first time, climate change is being pulled into the conversation, and neither candidate seems thrilled about it.

The truth is, though, scientists and meteorologists are forced to talk about it. As are governors and mayors of cities and towns that stand to lose the most. I was struck just this morning by a news clip of Andrew Cuomo in New York City discussing his concern for the future of strong weather in NYC and the need for levees and storm walls. He went so far as to attribute Sandy and what he expects will be future catastrophic weather events to climate change – something NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg would not stretch to discuss.

While storms like Hurricane Sandy are extremely unfortunate, our political and economic climate has a history of avoiding productive discussions pertaining to climate change. Sandy inserted herself into this election and it may be just what it takes to get politicians speaking about the raw truth of rising water levels and increasing atmospheric moisture. Plans must be made. Legitimate efforts to reduce greenhouse gases are required. Sandy will be on my mind this election day. What about you?

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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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It may be the lack of daylight or the somewhat frantic pace of this work week but I fear that abstraction is beyond me today. Maybe you too? Instead, I’ve decided to share some interesting links to various sustainability-related articles that I found interesting. Feel free to share your own links in the comments!

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.

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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UN Climate talks conclude today after two weeks of discussions in Bonn, Germany.  Among the issues being discussed, the future of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol (set to expire in 2012) is perhaps the most visible and derisive. Amidst scientific confirmation that developing countries have met their targets and obligations under the protocol, the industrialized nations (who, by comparison to developing nations, have been laggard in their Kyoto obligations) seem to be dragging their feet. Canada, Japan and Russia have already expressed that they will not support extended climate emissions controls; the European Union is holding out until the United States, India and China agree to support an extension.

The reality is dire for Kyoto. Even if the protocol was to be extended (highly unlikely without at least the support of the EU), the legislative process would most likely inhibit the passage of an extension prior to the current protocol’s expiration. While the protocol itself is not the only option for addressing global climate change, it is distressing to witness the pleading of developing nations for continued emissions control efforts and the concomitant lethargy on the part of large, industrialized nations.

Last year, carbon emissions levels rose at the fastest rate ever in the past four decades; double the annual rate of emissions increases during the last ten years. Clearly, something needs to be done.

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