Today’s Blog

Jan 1 2021: Looking forward on climate assessment

The Fifth National Climate Assessment is underway and will be delivered in 2023. That is not news. What is news is that the Trump Administration failed to stop it or even apparently seriously diminish it.

According to globalchange. gov
“The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) was established by Presidential initiative in 1989 and mandated by Congress in the Global Change Research Act (GCRA) of 1990. Its mandate is to develop and coordinate ‘a comprehensive and integrated United States research program which will assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change.’ ”

This report uses scientists from across the Federal Government and a new one is mandated every four years. It is serious work. Note that the Trump Administration’s delays have lead to a 2023 instead of 2022 release.

Before looking at that, let’s consider some of the things we learned in the Fourth Assessment from 2018, notably greater attribution of human influence for individual climate and extreme weather events; both oxygen loss and acidification may be magnified in some U.S. coastal waters relative to the global average, raising the risk of serious ecological and economic consequences; ice loss is continuing and even accelerating in some places; and extreme events are increasing (wildfires, floods, storms). There also a number of new and expanding reporting tools that improved the understanding of climate science.

As reported in the New York Times, the assessment has been able to continue partially due to incompetence. The Trump Administration has used its usual method of replacing authors with loyalists and delaying actions. All said, it looks like the Biden Administration will be able to keep this important scientific program on track. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/01/climate/trump-national-climate-assessment.html

Dec 26, 2020: Billions of Birds Benefit

It will come as no surprise that improving air pollution, notably reduction in ozone, benefits migratory birds. What is perhaps suprising is that there wasn’t proof. Now there is a study that makes the connection and makes the bold claim that billions of birds have been saved for the past several decades that have seen seen declines in air pollution/ozone.

The lead author is quoted saying benefits of environmental regulation have likely been underestimated. WE know that. We see so many things that still need to be done, that are aided by the added boost of appropriate regulation, and are grateful for studies like this that show benefits in big terms.

First, though, we need to protect the legislation we have, like the Clean Air Act.

https://www.pnas.org/content/117/49/30900

https://phys.org/news/2020-11-air-billion-birds.html#:~:text=Study%20authors%20found%20that%20improved,in%20the%20United%20States%20today.

Dec 18, 2020: Trees & Carbon legislation

Lots to like in this proposed legislation, which opens with these words “To establish forestry policies that facilitate reforestation, conservation, inter- national cooperation, and other ecologically sound management practices that reduce atmospheric carbon, to support United States efforts in partnership with the One Trillion Trees Initiative, to encourage the sustainable management, restoration, and conservation of global forests, grasslands, wetlands, and coastal habitats, and for other purposes.”

Consider just a few things: -increasing the net carbon stock of American forests, grasslands, wetlands, and coastal blue carbon habitats, -carbon credit market demonstration (alas, only voluntary but still good!) – carbon sequestration, – authorizes $10 million for USDA Forest Nursery Revival programs to ensure that the supply of seeds and saplings allows for increased planting (better if were explicitly more focused on natives), encourages international and multi-agency cooperation.

https://www.coons.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Trillion%20Trees%20and%20Natural%20Carbon%20Storage%20Act%20.pdf

Dec 12: Redlining for ANWR?

In the latest rule being shoved through before this Administration gets the hook, a “fair access for financial services” rule would make it harder for big banks to deny funding for drillers of ANWR. Characterizing opposition to this new rule as “redlining for the left,” it does raise the question of what financial institutions can do towards reducing fossil fuels exploration. The rule purports that whole industries cannot be discriminated against. On the other hand, banks are justifiably concerned about cost and risk due to the volatility of oil prices and difficulty of getting pipelines approved. The assertion that the banks are doing this for political reasons alone just doesn’t seem valid.

Comments are being accepted. Read where here:

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/11/25/2020-26067/fair-access-to-financial-services

Dec 11: Climate Change Reality Check? Ask the insurance and banking industries

Insurance and banking are both interested in risk protection, so we need look no further than where those industries are headed to understand how seriously “the money” takes climate change.

Property insurance is getting more and more expensive.  For some it will be simply unaffordable. For the first time climate change was named as Top Risk in that industry’s Emerging Risk Survey.

According to Fast Company article (link below) “Businesses are being encouraged to integrate climate adaptation and resilience into the design of their buildings, from waterproofing to relocating essential equipment to installing wind-resistant roofing to scrapping a risky location and moving somewhere safer.” Some are balking at the cost while others are seeing the ultimate wisdom in this course.

Thoughts on this were spurred by reporting on a letter from some House Republicans to Fed Chairman Powell objecting to potential inclusion of climate change as part of stress tests for regulated banks. This is also during a period of time when the Fed is considering joining the Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS). (The United States is notable in its absence https://www.ngfs.net/en/about-us/membership). In their letter the House members, rather than attribute climate change, they state “enhanced risks to insured property could also be attributable to poor local zoning standards and building policies that increase the density of commercial and residential structures.”  Ultimately, the concern they raise is protection of coal, oil and gas companies. 

Once again, we see short-sighted, narrow profit protection for some industries versus long-viewed sustainability and broad protection for the economy.

https://www.fastcompany.com/90582295/climate-change-is-threatening-your-companys-building-insurance-wont-be-enough-to-protect-it

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/mar/21/climate-change-could-make-insurance-too-expensive-for-ordinary-people-report

https://www.soa.org/globalassets/assets/files/resources/research-report/2020/13th-emerging-risk-survey-key.pdf

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/12/10/republicans-federal-reserve-climate-regulation-444194

Dec 9 2020: EPA puts costs before health in New Cost-Benefit Rule

On their way out the door the Trump Administration’s EPA is making it harder to consider health benefits by adding new cost-benefit analyses in conjunction with the Clean Air Act.

For the Biden Administration it will require a formal process to undo it, so this is some seriously bad medicine.

Some argue this rule is not needed as there are already mechanisms to include cost-effectiveness.

Just some of the concerns:

—Unbalanced treatment of benefits and costs by setting more stringent standards for benefit estimation than cost estimation

—Uses a “willingness-to-pay” metric that is not good at measuring non-market goods, such as air quality and associated health risk

—Benefits richer communities and continues to put poorer communities at greater risk

—Disregard forco-benefits (such as particulate matter also be considered with presence of mercury)

— Burdensome provisions would embolden corporate polluters

Proponents praise that it brings more consistency and transparency. If only that were the true intention!

From a multi-state letter from Attorneys General written earlier this year:

“The Proposal would arbitrarily weaken benefit-cost analyses by, for example, narrowing consideration of benefits, neglecting co-benefits, and minimizing greenhouse gas-related benefit-cost analyses, in violation of EPA’ s core mission to protect human health and the environment.”

Here’s the 113-page rule document if you are so inclined:

(https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2020-12/documents/final_rule_increasing_consistency_and_transparency_in_considering_benefits_and_costs_in_the_clean_air_act_rulemaking_process_-_prepublication_version.pdf)

Read what American Lung Association has to say:

https://www.lung.org/getmedia/3b300666-ff1a-49f4-9e02-6a5a53ebe9ef/epa-cost-benefit-analysis-in-clean-air-rulemakings-factsheet.pdf

Letter from Attorneys General:

https://oag.ca.gov/system/files/attachments/press-docs/Multi-State%20Comment%20Letter%20on%20EPA%27s%20Proposed%20Clean%20Air%20Act%20Cost-Benefit%20Rule.pdf

Nov 28 2020: Key West takes down the welcome sign for cruise ships

Good for Key West residents for voting to restrict cruise ships. https://www.ecowatch.com/key-west-bans-large-ships-2648990816.html?rebelltitem=3#rebelltitem3

Probably it is no surprise that cruise ships cause environmental harm. Many get poor grades in the Friends of the Earth report card. https://1bps6437gg8c169i0y1drtgz-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Cruise-Report-Card-2020_Final.pdf

Cruise ships get bad press when there’s an illness on board, but we may not be as aware of their environmental impact. It’s not just volume (e.g., waste) but materials used. For example, “bunker fuel” is much dirtier than what we put in our cars and anti-fouling paints have large amounts of metals. https://daily.jstor.org/the-high-environmental-costs-of-cruise-ships/

You can search for and read articles on this subject like this one: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesellsmoor/2019/04/26/cruise-ship-pollution-is-causing-serious-health-and-environmental-problems/?sh=1e0acf5737db

It’s the start of the season for cruising so perhaps this year when the virus is giving people pause about cruising perhaps we could take a deeper pause on their impact on the environment.

Nov 20 2020: Climate Change and increasing infectious diseases

75% of emerging infectious diseases have wildlife origins. Climate change plays a role as cold-adapted species will be more susceptible to the bacteria, fungi, viruses and infectious worms that will be on the move.

So it’s not just ancient diseases being released in unfrozen tundra or the misguided carelessness of open-air markets, new and old infectious diseases (notably malaria) will be on the rise due to climate change.

Climate change is not just about what we face outside (i.e., floods, dramatic storms, heat waves), it is about our insides, too!

https://in.reuters.com/article/uk-climate-change-wildlife-disease-idINKBN27Z2UL

https://www.who.int/globalchange/climate/en/chapter6.pdf

Nov 5 2020: COVID+Dirty Air=More Deaths

Is it any surprise that this virulent respiratory virus would be associated with rise in deaths? You don’t need to even read this article to find that credible. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/nov/04/tiny-air-pollution-rise-linked-to-11-more-covid-19-deaths-study

Just one more way this Administration has not been taking care of its people.

Oct 28 2020: Worse Air=Worse Health

Perhaps it is no surprise to read that pullback of Obama-era pollution controls will lead to serious health hazards. What’s more, that industry has underestimated these, now with the cooperation of the co-opted EPA. What I don’t understand is why we never factor eventual health costs to our society?

Read about it here:

https://publicintegrity.org/politics/system-failure/trump-pullback-air-pollution-controls-hazardous/