Thursday, October 22, 2015

Scientists confirm that Alaskan wildfires could make global warming worse

This is another Chris Mooney beatup.  But it is probably true that wildfires have increased in severity in recent decades.  Greenie interference with forest management has led to bigger fires.   One particularly pernicious type of interference is Greenie opposition to precautionary burnoffs in winter.  Such burnoffs are easy to keep within bounds and reduce fuel load for later fires.  So any fires that eventuate in warm seasons are much tamer and spread less.  So Greenies are creating the processes that allegedly worry them!

In not much more than a month, leaders from around the world will assemble in Paris in order to — hopefully — find a way to cap the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and bring them down to safe levels.

But there’s a problem. There are some greenhouse gas sources that these leaders can’t fully control — and in some cases, reasons to think that these sources may grow in the future. The point is being driven home this year by raging peat fires in Indonesia, which have already contributed over a billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions to the atmosphere — as much as Japan produces in a year from fossil fuels. And the blazes still appear to be on the rise, meaning that the net contribution this year could ultimately be considerably higher than that.

Indonesia isn’t the only part of the world where fires — which in many areas are expected to be worsened by climate change — could provide a new net source of emissions to the atmosphere. Another region of major worry is the world’s so-called “boreal” or northern forests, which store a gigantic amount of carbon in trees as well as soils and frozen permafrost layers beneath the surface. Permafrost in this region is in many ways analogous to peatlands in Indonesia — it’s a repository of carbon that has accumulated over many thousands of years, but could now be released back to the atmosphere on a much shorter time scale.

Alaska’s dramatic wildfire season this year — where over 5 million acres of largely black spruce forests burned — raised great concerns about how events like this could make global warming worse. The fear here is of a sort of triple whammy — forests release the carbon stored in trees back to the atmosphere when they burn; the forests contain a deep upper soil layer that also burns off, releasing more carbon; and finally, beneath all of that is the carbon rich permafrost, which becomes exposed after fires and can then thaw and start to emit.

And now, a new study in Nature Climate Change reaffirms these concerns about the emissions of northern fires. The study, led by Ryan Kelly of the University of Illinois at Urbana, looked at a particular Alaskan region that has seen intensive burning of late — the remote Yukon Flats. The researchers used an ecosystem model to examine changes in the amount of carbon stored in the Yukon Flats going all the way back to the year 850, and carrying forward through 2006 — a more than thousand year period. The data used in the model came from “paleo-climate” reconstructions of what burn conditions were like in this area over large periods of time, based on charcoal layers found in cores of sediments extracted from the region.

This approach allowed the researchers to confirm that the recent burning in this area is dramatic when compared with its past history — and thus, that recent fires have been releasing much of the carbon that has been stored up over hundreds of years. For the Yukon Flats, “this rapid increase in fire activity has led to pretty major losses of carbon from the ecosystem, on the order of 10 to 12 percent of total carbon stocks in a matter of 5 decades or so,” said Kelly.

In addition, the researchers also determined that over time, change in fires patterns were by far the largest factor in how much carbon the ecosystem stored. In fact, the study noted, “long-term C dynamics of the past millennium were almost entirely dictated by patterns of fire-regime variability.” In other words, in more fire-intense periods, the forests lost a great deal of carbon to the atmosphere, whereas in less fire friendly periods, they stored it instead.

This, in turn, leads to the inference that with more global warming, more forest burning could worsen a process that’s already underway. “Our study reveals that increased burning of boreal forests will probably cause massive losses of stored C, with the potential to amplify climate warming,” the researchers concluded.

“I would definitely guess, and we speculate this in the paper, that the direct role of warming and rising co2 will be more important in the future than they were over the 1,000 year time period we studied,” said Kelly.

Granted, there is one limitation — the research only concerns the Yukon Flats, and this area has seen quite dramatic burning, at levels that are not consistent with all burning across the forests of the global north. So it’s an outlier in some ways, but also suggestive of how things could be heading for northern forests.

To be sure, there is one possible mitigating factor — global warming could also even cause more plant growth in northern and Arctic regions, leading to an increase in how much carbon they’re pulling out of the atmosphere. More northern trees, bushes, and even shrubs as tundras warm up could mean more carbon storage, even as fires may also rage at more powerful and extreme rates.

Climate researchers are still trying to figure out how all of these factors will interrelate. But the new research — along with developments in Indonesia — reaffirms that fire is a powerful determinant of how much carbon resides in land, rather than in the air, across our globe. Thus, even as we keep burning fossil fuels, fires may continually combust additional planetary carbon reserves — pushing the globe that much closer to busting its carbon budget.


EPA Pays $1.2M to Prepare Poor Neighborhoods for Climate Change

 The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced the recipients of nearly $1.2 million in grants to non-profit and tribal organizations “to address environmental justice issues nationwide.”

“The grants enable these organizations to conduct research, provide education, and develop solutions to local health and environmental issues in minority and low-income communities overburdened by harmful pollution,” the Oct. 8 press release stated.

"EPA’s environmental justice grants help communities across the country understand and address exposure to multiple environmental harms and risks at the local level," Matthew Tejada, director of EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice, said in the press release."

“Addressing the impacts of climate change is a priority for EPA and the projects supported by this year’s grants will help communities prepare for and build resilience to localized climate impacts,” Tejada said.

“Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies,” thedocument announcing the recipients of the grant funding stated.

“Fair treatment means that no group of people, including racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic groups, should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal, and commercial operations or the execution of federal state, local, and tribal programs and policies,” the documents stated.

One of the recipients is the Green Jobs Corps in New Haven Connecticut for “Creating a New Generation of New Haven Environmental Justice Leaders.”

The Greater Northeast Development Corporation in Virginia will use a “community-based participatory approach for southeast community resilience and adaptation to address lung health impacts exacerbated by climate change.”

In certain neighborhoods in Baltimore, Md., the grant funding will “mitigate the impacts of climate change on these communities by increasing the area of ‘green’ spaces …”

The Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago will help make the Chatham neighborhood “rain ready” to prepare for an increase of “rain events” from climate change.

Some other projects being funded include:

 *  A program will install solar panels in the homes of low-income residents in Colorado.

 *  Teaching Washington state residents about producing “locally grown food with a low-carbon footprint.”

 *  Educate residents of the Chickaloon Native Village in Alaska about “the connection between coal surface strip mining, transporting, exporting, and consumption in relation to climate impacts, how climate impacts are being experienced locally, statewide, nationally, and globally. “

 *  Ground Water New Orleans will be “teaching students to design, build, and install solar powered charging benches on or near bus stops in underserved communities.”

This grant funding dates back to 1994, according to the recipient document.

“In 1994, the Office of Environmental Justice established the Environmental Justice (EJ) Small Grants Program whose purpose is to assist communitybased/grassroots organizations and tribal governments that are working on local solutions to local environmental problems. Funding specifically supports affected local communitybased efforts to examine issues related to a community's exposure to multiple environmental harms and risks.”

The document stated that the funds are divided equally between organizations in 10 regions across the country designated by EPA.


Yale Study Says Fracking Doesn't Contaminate Drinking Water

Okay; repeat after me: fracking does not pollute your drinking water. As Sean Hackbarth over at the Chamber of Commerce noted, a Yale study found no evidence that fracking, which is used in the process of extracting natural gas, causes drinking water to become undrinkable:

    "Organic compounds found in drinking water aquifers above the Marcellus Shale and other shale plays could reflect natural geologic transport processes or contamination from anthropogenic activities, including enhanced natural gas production. Using analyses of organic compounds coupled with inorganic geochemical fingerprinting, estimates of groundwater residence time, and geospatial analyses of shale gas wells and disclosed safety violations, we determined that the dominant source of organic compounds to shallow aquifers was consistent with surface spills of disclosed chemical additives. There was no evidence of association with deeper brines or long-range migration of these compounds to the shallow aquifers. Encouragingly, drinking water sources affected by disclosed surface spills could be targeted for treatment and monitoring to protect public health"

So, there you have it–deep drilling doesn’t poison drinking water. Yet, we knew this back in 2010, where the Environmental Protection Agency tested the drinking water in Dimock, PA and found that most of the harmful compounds in the water were “naturally occurring substances.” In all, the water was safe to drink:

    "Based on the outcome of that sampling, EPA has determined that there are not levels of contaminants present that would require additional action by the Agency....

    EPA visited Dimock, Pa. in late 2011, surveyed residents regarding their private wells and reviewed hundreds of pages of drinking water data supplied to the agency by Dimock residents, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Cabot. Because data for some homes showed elevated contaminant levels and several residents expressed concern about their drinking water, EPA determined that well sampling was necessary to gather additional data and evaluate whether residents had access to safe drinking water.....

    Overall during the sampling in Dimock, EPA found hazardous substances, specifically arsenic, barium or manganese, all of which are also naturally occurring substances, in well water at five homes at levels that could present a health concern. In all cases the residents have now or will have their own treatment systems that can reduce concentrations of those hazardous substances to acceptable levels at the tap."

Oh, and water has been catching fire since the 17th century, just go visit Burning Springs, New York. Journalist Phelim McAleer, who works with his wife, Ann McElhinney, have produced another short film GasHoax, which debunks many of the claims made by anti-fracking activists, namely Josh Fox, who made the documentary Gasland in 2010.

Gasland prompted Phelim and Ann to make FrackNation, which was regarded as “methodically researched” by The New York Times. It also gave a nice counterpoint to many of the claims made by Fox.


Obama Administration: No Arctic Oil Exploration for You

Thanks to one bum exploratory well, the Obama administration said enough was enough. In April, the Obama administration allowed Royal Dutch Shell rights to exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea. After spending $7 billion and exploring one well, the company is calling it quits. The government was hounding Shell with regulations and the well did not spit out as much black gold as the company hoped.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said, “In light of Shell’s announcement, the amount of acreage already under lease and current market conditions, it does not make sense to prepare for lease sales in the Arctic in the next year and a half.”

It’s common sense that exploration involves a certain amount of failure. So it appears the Obama administration is using one company’s failure as an excuse to shutter offshore oil drilling across the region.

Obama’s agreement with Shell was unusual, as he indicated time and time again that he thinks the economic future of Alaska is in tourism, not oil production. If this simply stays the Obama administration’s policy, then little will change.

Domestic oil production is on a decline and exploration is not as profitable as it used to be. The problems will come if Obama tries to codify his theories on the nation’s energy needs into regulation.


Sec. Kerry Says Trump ‘Disqualified From Office’ Because He Denies Global Warming

Secretary of State John Kerry thinks Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and anyone else who doubts the existence of man-made global warming have disqualified themselves from ever holding public office.

Kerry’s remarks come after Trump took to Twitter to mock global warming alarmists. Trump made his remarks as a cold front hit the East Coast Monday, bringing frigid weather to millions of Americans.

    "It’s really cold outside, they are calling it a major freeze, weeks ahead of normal. Man, we could use a big fat dose of global warming!" — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 19, 2015

As expected, Trump’s mocking got a harsh response from liberal media outlets. The liberal site Mother Jones ran with the headline “Donald Trump Still Does Not Understand How Seasons Work” and The Washington Post declared, “No, Donald Trump, the existence of fall does not disprove global warming.”

Kerry’s rebuke of Trump and everyone who questions global warming is not the first time the Obama administration has suggested skeptics should be disqualified from politics. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in May that skeptics should not have a say in ratifying a United Nations climate treaty.

“Well these are individuals whom, many of whom at least, deny the fact that climate change even exists,” Earnest said. “So I’m not sure they would be in the best position to decide whether or not a climate change agreement is one that is worth entering into.”


Hunting, not global warming, is to blame for mammoth extinctions

The most recent evidence that suggests hunting is to blame rather than warming weather, centers around the weaning age of mammoths. Researchers from the University of Michigan analyzed mammoth tusks and found that the animals had ramped up their weaning process.

Wondering why that matters? Evidence from modern-day elephants and other animals suggest that global warming often forces animals to prolonged weaning, while hunting pressures tend to lead to shorter weaning times.

If climate change was at the root of the reason why mammoths went extinct, assuming that the mammoths reacted in the same way as their modern peers, the weaning age should have increased.

Discovering the shortened weaning period

So how did researchers even figure out that woolly mammoths were being weaned earlier? Researchers looked at the isotopic signatures of 15 different juvenile tusks and examined the ratio of nitrogen-15 isotopes to nitrogen-14 isotopes.

This data was then compared with corresponding data from modern day elephant calfs. Researchers found that the ratio of nitrogen-15 to nitrogen-14 decreased in calfs as they were weaned off their mother’s milk and started to eat solid food.

Examining the tusks over a course of approximately 30,000 years, and using the above information on nitrogen isotopes, researchers discovered that weaning times sped up by about three years in the years before the mammoths went extinct.

If global warming were to blame for mammoth extinctions, scientists should have found evidence that mammoths were being weaned at a later stage in their life. Instead, the evidence uncovered pointed to early weaning, and thus hunting, with the weaning period shortening from eight years to five years.

Fifteen different tusks, with many of them coming from Russia, were used in the study. While the evidence is not conclusive, it offers perhaps the strongest proof to date that humans, not weathern patterns, drove the mammoths into extinction.

The research and resulting study was carried out by U-M doctoral student Michael Cherney, and his advisor Dan Fisher, who is the director of the Museum of Paleontology. If Fisher’s name sounds familiar, it’s probably because you heard of his recent efforts to dig up a mammoth skeleton at a local Michigan farm.



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