Mankind has only 12 years left to make unprecedented cuts in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions if we want to stave off unimaginably catastrophic effects of runaway global warming. This is the warning detailed in October’s report from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the recognized global climate authority which represents the investigations of hundreds of climate scientists and 195 participating nations. [Read more…]
How often do we talk about climate change to family, friends or coworkers? Probably next to never if we’re like most people.
Yale’s national polling reveals that the majority of Americans accept that global warming is happening (73 percent) and are worried about it (63 percent). Even more want carbon dioxide, or CO2, regulated as a pollutant (81 percent).
Given these stats and the warning of scientists that the time window to prevent the worst impacts of climate change is closing fast, what keeps us from openly discussing it?
The answer is complex. For starters, many of us were raised in a bygone era where talking politics (and religion) was considered simply impolite. That climate change has become such a politically divisive issue adds weight to the interpersonal risk people naturally experience in bringing up any sensitive topic, even with intimates. [Read more…]
The seaside nuclear reactors at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in San Clemente were permanently shut down in 2013 following steam generator malfunction. What to do with the 3.6 million pounds of highly radioactive waste remains an epic problem, however, pitting concerned citizens against Southern California Edison, the California Coastal Commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Edison operates San Onofre, the Coastal Commission is charged with protecting the coastline, and the NRC is responsible for long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel and protecting the public.
A reactor’s spent nuclear fuel must be stored safely for 250,000 years to allow the radioactivity to dissipate. San Onofre’s nuclear waste has been stored in containers 20 feet under water in cooling pools for at least five years, the standard procedure for on-site temporary storage. Long-term storage necessitates transfer to fortified dry-storage canisters for eventual transportation to a permanent national storage site which, under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, the federal government is under obligation to construct. [Read more…]
Though burning fossil fuels is the primary cause of global warming, fossil fuels could also be driving climate change via a completely different mechanism involving ocean plastic debris and tiny, bioluminescent fish living hundreds of meters beneath the ocean’s surface.
Lanternfish (aka myctophids) are only a few inches long typically, but so ubiquitous that they account for over half the ocean’s total fish-mass. They are vital to the ocean’s ability to sequester more carbon than all the world’s forests do on land through a daily mass migration playing out in all seven seas. [Read more…]
I fancy myself an environmentalist. I recycle, backyard compost, have rooftop solar, rarely use AC or heat, drive a hybrid, don’t have a lawn and eat vegetarian.
Yet the truth is I am as responsible for climate change as the next guy. Here’s why. [Read more…]
Though President Trump has withdrawn the U.S. from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, this is no time for the 70 percent of Americans who believe climate change is happening to recoil in defeat. Rather, we should feel empowered that a 2016 post-election poll of registered voters found that majorities of Democrats (86%), Independents (61%) and Republicans (51%) alike wanted the United States to participate in the accord and that two out of three voters said the U.S. should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions regardless of what other countries do.
Thus, it is exactly the time to speak out against the misguided actions of The White House by taking decisive steps well within our reach as individual citizens and communities. After all, the Paris Agreement is only a broad-stroke commitment from participating countries to collectively limit global warming to 1.5 to 2.0 degrees Celsius (°C) compared to preindustrial levels. It has always been true that only Congress and legislative bodies at the state and local level, not the President, can enact laws that can move us from a fossil fuel to a sustainable energy economy.
Here’s what’s happening at various jurisdictions around the nation already. [Read more…]
Within moments of Donald Trump’s inauguration, the White House web page on climate change was purged, and on March 28 Trump ordered the dismantling of Obama’s Clean Power Plan which was designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Many members of Congress are still openly climate change skeptics or deniers.
In a representative democracy such as ours, one might conclude that most Americans don’t believe in or are unconcerned about climate change. Two recent polls reveal how wrong this is. [Read more…]
Luckier Americans are insulated from many everyday worries, like struggling to pay the rent or mortgage on time. Some even enjoy life in gated communities, fine dining and first-class travel. But, just as money is no guarantee of happiness, neither is it assurance of protection against all of the frightening impacts of unchecked global warming.
2016 was the third straight year that the Earth’s temperature was the hottest on record. Contrary to what one might hear in politicized discourse, climate scientists are nearly unanimous in concluding climate change is happening and is the result of burning fossil fuels for energy. [Read more…]
What typically comes to mind when contemplating our personal environmental footprint is the energy efficiency of the car we drive, how religiously we recycle, and maybe whether or not we have a water thirsty lawn. However, everything we do and own has impacts on the environment, and that includes the choices we make in dressing ourselves.
This point was driven home in a smart little book published in 1997 titled, “Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things,” which describes the planetary impacts of everyday material goods. One chapter details what goes into producing a wardrobe basic, the cotton/polyester blend T-shirt.
A few highlights include the overseas extraction of the crude oil from which polyester is synthesized, the energy and pesticide intensive process of growing and harvesting cotton, and transporting milled fabrics abroad and back again so they can be sewn into T-shirts by cheap foreign labor. [Read more…]
Flowers add color and gaiety to any special occasion and are a time-honored way to say thank you or beautify living spaces. However, cut flowers have become a multi-billion dollar global trade industry with a not so pretty underbelly rooted in where and how they are grown.
Historically in the U.S., flowers were first grown in greenhouses in Eastern states and later in Western and Southern states when commercial air transportation made preserving freshness possible. In the 1970’s, the U.S. grew more cut flowers than it imported, only a small fraction originated in Colombia.
However, new market forces were unleashed in 1991 when the U.S. suspended import duties on flowers from Colombia to curb growing of coca for cocaine and to bolster the Colombian economy. [Read more…]
For more than half a century, cheaply-priced fossil fuels have come to define the American dream. We travel freely in gasoline powered vehicles and rely on coal, oil and natural gas for heating, cooling and operating electrical devices.
In addition, everything possible is now fashioned from plastic polymers derived from petroleum or natural gas. We’ve abandoned the “reuse and repair it” mindset of the pre-WWII era and embraced instead a “throw away” plastic consumer culture.
The most urgent environmental crises today are undeniably global climate change and the buildup of plastic waste in the world’s oceans. Both are harmful externalities of the fossil fuel industry: impacts, like pollution, not reflected in the cost of the products but paid for instead by some third party.
In this case, the third party is the global public that suffers the health and monetary consequences of both climate change and ocean plastic pollution. [Read more…]
(And it’s not very pretty.)
By mid-twentieth century, humans had altered the Earth to such an extent as to mark the start of a new geologic epoch named the Anthropocene, concluded an international consortium of researchers in a January issue of the preeminent journal Science.
Scientists divide Earth’s 4.5 billion year history into so-called epochs or time units based on major shifts in the composition and state of the planet as recorded in distinct stratifications in rocks, sediments and glacier ice. Previous transitions from one geologic epoch to the next were triggered by either cyclical drivers of climate change, like variations in the Earth’s orbit or solar radiation, or irregular events like volcanic eruptions. The most recent epoch for example, the Holocene, spanned ~12,000 years and was ushered in by a period of interglacial global warming. [Read more…]