Blue Marble - July 2013

Global Warming Could Cause 50 Percent Increase in Violent Conflict

| Thu Aug. 1, 2013 2:01 PM EDT
Syrian rebels reposition in May.

This week the exiled head of the Syrian opposition movement said he would meet representatives of President Bashar al-Assad in Geneva, a promising turn for a conflict that has left 100,000 dead, including many civilians, since spring 2011. It has been a long, bitter battle, but for many Syrians one root of the violence stretches back to several years before al-Assad's troops began picking off anti-government protestors. Beginning in 2006, a prolonged, severe drought decimated farmland, spiked food prices, and forced millions of Syrians into poverty—helping to spark the unrest that eventually exploded into civil war.

The Syrian conflict is just one recent example of the connection between climate and conflict, a field that is increasingly piquing the interest of criminologists, economists, historians, and political scientists. Studies have begun to crop up in leading journals examining this connection in everything from the collapse of the Mayan civilization to modern police training in the Netherlands. A survey published today in Science takes a first-ever 30,000-foot view of this research, looking for trends that tie these examples together through fresh analysis of raw data from 60 quantitative studies. It offers evidence that unusually high temperatures could lead to tens of thousands more cases of "interpersonal" violence—murder, rape, assault, etc.—and more than a 50 percent increase in "intergroup" violence, i.e. war, in some places.

"This is what keeps me awake at night," lead author Solomon Hsiang, an environmental policy post-doc at Princeton, said. "The linkage between human conflict and climate changes was really pervasive."

Any cop could tell you that hot days can make people snap—last summer veteran police boss William Bratton argued that a warm winter contributed to a rash of murders in Chicago. But Hsiang and his colleagues wanted to see how this pattern held up across the globe, at different times and with different kinds of conflict, to gauge just how much the climate can lead to violence.

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Richard M. Daley Wants To Make Your City More Sustainable

| Wed Jul. 31, 2013 7:09 PM EDT
Millennium Park, Chicago.

This story first appeared in National Journal and The Atlantic Cities and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Richard M. Daley, who served six terms as mayor of Chicago from 1989 to 2011, was one of the first big-city mayors to focus on sustainable development. Some of his projects, such as the development of Millennium Park, flourished. Others are more likely to be remembered as flops—Chicago taxpayers may lose money on a solar-power deal Daley negotiated, and his administration spent millions of dollars on recycling initiatives that went nowhere.

Two years after leaving office, the longtime mayor is using his hard-won experience to head up a new company—launched by his investment firm, Tur Partners—that will help cities pursue money-saving infrastructure investments. Cities that agree to join The Sustainability Exchange, or TSE, will get a free analysis of their assets and potential projects, and will share information with other member cities. TSE will alert vendors when a city is planning a request for a proposal. And because the company is low-profit instead of nonprofit, when a city or region decides to go ahead with a project, TSE will take a cut of the savings the city realizes over time.

Five cities have already signed up to join the fledgling exchange, including South Bend, Indiana; Parma, Ohio; and New Orleans. National Journal's Sophie Quinton recently spoke with Daley and Lori Healey, his former chief of staff and now TSE vice chairwoman, about how their idea is taking shape.

Why is there a need for something like The Sustainability Exchange?

Daley: Everybody has problems with infrastructure. Whether it's a port, rail, water, lighting, waste—this is part of the sustainability effort that we're looking at. We're looking at working with groups of cities to identify the project, raise the capital from the private sector as well as the public, and document the results.

Healey: Most cities are not New York or Chicago or Los Angeles. They don't have either the technical or financial resources to plan out and implement these kinds of projects. The Sustainability Exchange creates a platform that allows cities to come together to access national expertise in these areas—at no cost to them—with the goal of executing a transaction in a much compressed time frame.

North Carolina Legislators Also Did a Lot of Environmental Damage This Year

| Wed Jul. 31, 2013 3:14 PM EDT

The news might have flown under the national radar, what with all the motorcycle safety laws that actually deal with abortion and horrible voter ID bill action that's been happening in the North Carolina this summer, but the state's environmental laws were another casualty of this legislative session.

First, the legislature passed a law tossing out all the members of the state's Environmental Management Commission and nearly all of the members of the Coastal Resources Commission (which was better than the original law, which would have fired a bunch of other people as well). And before wrapping up last week, the legislature also approved a one-year moratorium on localities passing their own environmental rules. That bill is now sitting on Republican Gov. Pat McCrory's desk awaiting approval.

The Charlotte Observer has a wrap up of all the environmental malfeasance that went down in this legislative session. Among other things, one bill that's still awaiting McCrory's signature "prohibits local governments, for a year, from passing environmental rules that state or federal governments also address." That could be a big problem, the Observer reports:

But Robin Smith, a former assistant N.C. secretary of the environment who writes an environmental law blog, said restricting local rules could backfire. State rules often require that local ordinances be adopted, she said, and local conditions sometimes demand local rules.
"It is difficult to predict how big a problem the moratorium would be given the very different circumstances in cities and counties across the state, but it seems an unnecessary gamble,” she wrote last week.

Dan Crawford, director of governmental relations for the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters, tells Mother Jones that they're now lobbying hard to get McCrory to veto the bill. "Federal guidelines are meant to be a floor, not a ceiling," he said.

Crawford said this was the worst he's seen in 15 years of lobbying on environmental issues. "I can't think of a time where it's been any worse," he said. "We were in the bull's eye."

 

Huge Majority Thinks Arctic Warming Will Mess With the Weather

| Mon Jul. 29, 2013 4:33 PM EDT
A surprising percentage of the public thinks Arctic warming is reverberating here at home.

From Superstorm Sandy to wildfires, droughts, and freakout temperatures, weather extremes have been hitting the United States hard. And simultaneously, a new scientific theory has emerged to explain much of this weather weirdness: Climate change is warming the Arctic more than the mid-latitudes, leading to a loopy jet stream and, in turn, all manner of weather extremes, including both heat waves and also excessive cold.

What's striking is that even as scientists continue to debate this idea, the public seems to buy into it. Or at least, that's the upshot of a new study in the International Journal of Climatology, reporting on a series of surveys of residents of the state of New Hampshire (whom, the paper notes, are pretty representative of Americans as a whole when it comes to their views on climate change). From Fall 2012 through Spring 2013, 1,500 Granite Staters were asked the following question: "If the Arctic region becomes warmer in the future, do you think that will have major effects, minor effects or no effects on the weather where you live?"

Here's the stunning result: 60 percent of respondents answered "major effects," and another 29 percent answered "minor effects"—leaving just 11 percent saying "no effects" or professing that they did not know. Overall, then, 89 percent of these New Hampshire respondents thought changes in the Arctic would reverberate far beyond that region, and would affect their weather in the mid-latitudes. "Research on an Arctic/weather connection is new, but it seems to be reaching the public," says Lawrence Hamilton, co-author of the study and a sociologist at the University of New Hampshire.

The study contained two additional noteworthy findings. First, in a reprisal of the notorious "smart idiot" effect, Democrats and Republicans polarized over the issue of the Arctic's influence on weather, and that polarization got worse with increasing levels of education. Thus, highly educated New Hampshire Republicans—GOPers with postgraduate degrees—were the least likely political group to accept the idea of an Arctic influence on their weather. Democrats with postgraduate degrees were just the opposite—they were the most likely to accept it.

Perhaps still more interesting, belief in an Arctic influence on the weather depended on...the weather. In the study, the researchers compared respondents' answers with the temperature on the day in which they were surveyed, and the temperature on the preceding day. They found that belief in an Arctic-weather connection increased with both abnormal heat and also abnormal cold:

Belief in an Arctic influence on weather varies with...the weather. Lawrence Hamilton

One upshot of the research? That President Obama's new climate communication strategy—focused on talking about the weather, rather than talking about "green jobs"—gains some more empirical support in its favor. "Our results indicate some degree of public acceptance for scientists’ global perspective in which Arctic change has consequences far outside the Arctic, and for studies showing that changing probabilities of extreme weather events are a key aspect of climate change," says Hamilton.

In other words: It's the weather, stupid. People get it—and so, it seems, do politicians.

 

House Republicans Stand Up For the Ceiling Fan Lobby

| Fri Jul. 26, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

House Republicans are incensed about new energy efficiency standards for ceiling fans. "We've already seen the federal government stretch their regulatory tentacles into our homes and determine what kind of light bulbs we have to use," said Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) in a speech earlier this month. "Now they're coming after our ceiling fans."

"It is a sad state of affairs when even our ceiling fans aren't safe from this administration," she continued. "Enough is enough."

The Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Office (EERE) released a framework for updating rules on ceiling fans in March. The 101-page document is full of discussion points about how exactly to define "ceiling fan," whether fans that are merely "decorative" should qualify for regulation, and how the DOE should go about testing the efficiency of fans. It's hardly a Marxist takeover of your home air circulation system; it's only the first step in a three-year process to write new rules that will include several drafts and public comment periods.

But Blackburn and colleague Todd Roika (R-Ind.) say they're waging a "fight to save our ceiling fans" from the big, scary Obama administration. Their effort has been covered by a number of outlets, including NPR and The Hill, and it led to a House vote of approval for an appropriations measure that blocked funding for the DOE to enforce fan standards.

But what Blackburn doesn't mention is that she voted for the 2005 Energy Bill that kicked off the rule-making process for ceiling fans. And that bill was signed into law by noted radical environmentalist George W. Bush.

"She was for standards before she was against them," said Marianne DiMascio of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project. "This bill was bipartisan effort."

Asked for comment about the 2005 vote, Blackburn's office sent a statement indicating that she would support efficiency standards—as long as they didn't inconvenience the industry too much. "I support increased efficiency in American households but only as technology and innovation becomes readily available that can be supported and is needed by a consumer driven market. The ceiling fan industry already faces regulations that were codified in 2005," said Blackburn in a statement. "Additional regulations, like those that were discussed in the Department of Energy's rulemaking framework document, most likely will have an adverse impact by pricing consumers out of the ceiling fan market which in return would decrease household energy efficiency as consumers turn to less efficient methods to cool and light their homes."

It probably doesn't help that the largest fan company in the US, Hunter Fan Company, is based in Blackburn's home state of Tennessee and is against improving efficiency standards, as Roll Call reported. Roika's state is home to another large fan maker, Fanimation Inc.

Louisiana to Big Oil: What Did You Do to Our Coastline?

| Thu Jul. 25, 2013 10:19 AM EDT

Projected erosion by 2050.

The map doesn't leave much in the way of ambiguity. Over the last century, the coasts and wetlands of South Louisiana have eroded at an alarming rate, largely due to human factors. Barring dramatic action, this isn't expected to change any time soon—rather, it's expected to get worse, with devastating consequences for agriculture, hurricane response, and the environment. So on Tuesday, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority–East, a state board that was formed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, took a dramatic action: It filed a lawsuit against nearly 100 oil, gas, and petrochemical companies it alleges bear collective responsibility for the sinking of South Louisiana.

"Racing to extract the region's resources, it has created an extensive network of oil and gas access and pipeline canals that slashes the coastline at every angle," the petition contends. "This canal network is a mercilessly efficient, continuously expanding system of ecological destruction."

The board's demands for the companies, which include giants like BP and Exxon, are extensive: They'd like the energy industry to essentially hit Control-Z on their past activities, including land restoration projects, re-vegetation, and reef creation. "What remains of these coastal lands is so seriously diseased that if nothing is done, it will slip into the Gulf of Mexico by the end of this century, if not sooner."

But that leaves open the question of whether a massive lawsuit is the best way to go about stopping erosion. On Twitter, Garret Graves, the head of Louisiana's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, dismissed the suit as the work of a "greedy trial lawyer" who "[h]as no business litigating coastal issues" and ignores the culpability of the Army Corps of Engineers. (Ironically, John Barry, the flood board's vice president, authored one of the great deconstructions of the Corps' legacy in South Louisiana.):

Here's the lawsuit:

 

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Animal Rights Groups Challenge Utah's Ag Gag Law

| Thu Jul. 25, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Animal rights activists filed a civil lawsuit on Monday contesting the constitutionality of a Utah law that bans recording at an agricultural facility without the owner's consent. The suit, which asks the court to strike down a law that Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed in March 2012, is the first challenge to this type of "ag gag" law. 

The plaintiffs in the suit include PETA, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), environmental journalist Will Potter, and animal rights activist Amy Meyer. Meyer was charged with violating Utah's law in February after she filmed a tractor carrying away a downed cow outside a meatpacking facility. She was the first person to face prosecution under an ag gag law in the US. The charges against her were later dropped because she was standing on public property while filming, but Meyer wants to prevent future charges against her and other activists.

"Utah should be ashamed of itself for passing a law to keep animal abuse a secret," Jeff Kerr, general counsel for PETA, told Mother Jones. "The Utah legislature should be passing laws to put cameras in slaughterhouses and factory farms to expose and end abuse, as opposed to keeping it secret to protect their profits." 

Utah was one of four states to pass laws criminalizing whistleblowing on agricultural facilities in 2012. In a recent feature for Mother Jones, Ted Genoways investigated the spread of so-called "ag gag" laws, which have been introduced in 12 more states in 2013. A total of eight states have now passed this type of legislation.

In Iowa, the law prohibits people from obtaining employment under false pretenses, like providing a false name or lying about employment history, in order to film animal abuse. But Utah's law is even stricter, making it illegal to seek employment at an agricultural facility with the intention of creating a recording inside the facility, even if the prospective employee does not provide false information on the job application. Justin Marceau, a lawyer for ALDF, said the groups decided to challenge Utah's law first because the charges brought against Meyer earlier this year show that "police and prosecutors are serious about enforcing it" in the state.

The complaint, which names Utah Attorney General John Swallow and Gov. Herbert as defendants, alleges that the law's primary purpose is to "stifle political debate about modern animal agriculture by criminalizing the creation of videos or photos from within the industry made without the express consent of the industry." The law also prevents the public and government officials from "learning about violations of laws and regulations designed to ensure a safe food supply and to minimize animal cruelty," the complaint argues.

The plaintiffs say the law violates the Constitution. "The statute takes a content- or viewpoint-based discrimination, singling out certain types of speech or messages for less protection," said Marceau, who is also a constitutional law professor at the University of Denver.

Reuters' Climate Coverage Slashed Under "Skeptic" Editor

| Wed Jul. 24, 2013 6:20 PM EDT

Last week, former Reuters reporter David Fogarty published a scathing letter online accusing his former employer of abandoning coverage of climate change.

Fogarty, who had been covering climate change in Asia, said he'd been told climate change was no longer a top-priority issue for the wire service. Fogarty described one high-level editor, Paul Ingrassia, as a climate skeptic and said that it became increasingly difficult to publish stories on global warming under his leadership:

In April last year, Paul Ingrassia (then deputy editor-in-chief) and I met and had a chat at a company function. He told me he was a climate change sceptic. Not a rabid sceptic, just someone who wanted to see more evidence mankind was changing the global climate.
Progressively, getting any climate change-themed story published got harder. It was a lottery. Some desk editors happily subbed and pushed the button. Others agonised and asked a million questions. Debate on some story ideas generated endless bureaucracy by editors frightened to take a decision, reflecting a different type of climate within Reuters – the climate of fear.
By mid-October, I was informed that climate change just wasn’t a big story for the present, but that it would be if there was a significant shift in global policy, such as the US introducing an emissions cap-and-trade system.
Very soon after that conversation I was told my climate change role was abolished.

On Tuesday, Media Matters published an analysis of Reuters' climate coverage before and during Ingrassia's tenure that seems to back up Fogarty's claims. Their analysis found a 48-percent drop in the number of climate stories after the editor started:

Media Matters

Reuters responded previously to Fogarty's allegations by saying that "there has been no change in our editorial policy" and the wire service "is committed to providing fair and independent coverage of climate change."

Climate Scientist Prevails in First Round of Defamation Suit Against Conservative Bloggers

| Wed Jul. 24, 2013 4:37 PM EDT

A judge in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia is allowing a defamation suit that climate scientist Michael Mann filed against conservative commentators to move forward.

Last year, Mann sued the National Review and the Competitive Enterprise Institute over blog posts accusing him of lying about climate science. The NRO post called his research "fraudulent," and the CEI post accused him of "scientific misconduct." NRO also twice quoted another blogger who referred to Mann as "the Jerry Sandusky of climate science," comparing him to the Pennsylvania State University football coach convicted of child molestation last year.

Blue Marble readers have certainly heard Mann's story before. The Penn State climate scientist has been the subject of a relentless assault from climate skeptics over the years, largely tracing back to a chart of global temperature records that he coauthored that showed a sharp uptick in the industrial era.

The judge issued two decisions on July 19 allowing Mann's suits to go forward. The plaintiffs had each filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the First Amendment protects their right to say that sort of stuff online. But the judge didn't agree. Here's a key part of the decision on the CEI suit (via Climate Science Watch) in which the judge asserts that the blogger was not just stating opinions, but that he was making factual claims about Mann's work that could be proven false:

Defendants argue that the accusation that Plaintiff’s work is fraudulent may not necessarily be taken as based in fact because the writers for the publication are tasked with and posed to view work critically and interpose (brutally) honest commentary. In this case, however, the evidence before the Court, at this stage, demonstrates something more and different than honest or even brutally honest commentary.

The judge continued:

Plaintiff has been investigated several times and his work has been found to be accurate. In fact, some of these investigations have been due to the accusations made by the CEI Defendants. It follows that if anyone should be aware of the accuracy (or findings that the work of Plaintiff is sound), it would be the CEI Defendants. Thus, it is fair to say that the CEI Defendants continue to criticize Plaintiff due to a reckless disregard for truth. Criticism of Plaintiff's work may be fair and he and his work may be put to the test. Where, however the CEI Defendants consistently claim that Plaintiff's work is inaccurate (despite being proven as accurate) then there is a strong probability that the CEI Defendants disregarded the falsity of their statements and did so with reckless disregard.

The full National Review ruling is here and the CEI ruling here. The parties are scheduled to be back in court on September 27.

WTF Is Google Doing Raising Money for Congress' Biggest Climate Denier?

| Wed Jul. 24, 2013 12:36 PM EDT

Google is taking some serious flak from environmentalists over its recent fundraiser for Sen. James Inhofe (R-OKla.), climate denier extraordinaire. Today, protesters are convening in Mountainview to, as a press release from the climate change activist group 350.org put it, "raise awareness among Google's environmentally-minded and science-oriented employees and management of their company's fundraising for one of the most prominent climate change deniers in the country." We thought we'd take a trip down to check it out:

Brad Johnson (@climatebrad) of Forecast the Facts says Google rejected the petitions and suggested they submit a business proposal instead. Johnson says they will next see what members want to do. "This is not over," he said following this video. Watch:

 

Bruce Jones' (@BMcCJ) message to Google: