Tag Archive | "Climate Change"

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Obama Tackles Climate Change in Graduation Speech at U.S. Coast Guard Academy


By Ann-Marie Adams, White House Correspondent

NEW LONDON — In his commencement speech at the United States Coast Guard Academy on Wednesday, President Barack Obama addressed the issue of climate change, saying there has been too much equivocation in Congress about a dramatic change to the climate, which has implications for national security.

Obama called on Congress to direct attention to proposals that have already engendered much debate.

“I know there are some folks back in Washington, who refuse to admit that climate change is real,” he said to more than 200 graduating cadets. “Denying it or refusing to deal with it undermines our national security.”

Obama also catalogued the impact of climate change, emphasizing the issue at the core of each cadet’s mission, whether it’s cleaning up ravaged coastlines or intercepting drug traffickers from Latin America, the Caribbean or Europe. The newly commissioned ensigns will, he said, will soon be working with refugees from flooded and drought stricken countries, helping to open oil drilling plants and dealing with weather related disasters.

The location for his address about climate change was fittingly in one of Connecticut’s coastal communities, where Super Storm Sandy devastated the New England coast in 2012, causing $394.3 million in damages.

Hurricane Sandy affected 24 states on the eastern seaboard from Florida to Maine.
“The science is indisputable,” Obama said. “The planet is getting warmer….The world’s glaciers are melting.”

Last year, the president also outlined a series of plans he has pushed to restrict carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, promote “clean energy” production such as wind and solar projects and increase federal protection of public lands, saying climate change is a threat to homeland security. As a result, he recently announced the country’s intention to contribute $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund to cut carbon pollution and strengthen developing countries’ resilience.

Obama is scheduled to travel to Paris in December for a Climate Summit to discuss a global accord limiting greenhouse gases. The U.S. has already committed to reduce carbon emissions by 2025.

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Climate Stewardship Summit to be Held in Hartford


HARTFORD —  People of faith from across Connecticut are expected to gather in Hartford on Nov. 7 for a Climate Stewardship Summit, or what’s deemed “a call to action on the rapidly emerging threat of climate change.”

Held from 8:30 a.m. –5:30 p.m at the Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford, the summit will feature keynote speaker Mary Evelyn Tucker, Senior Lecturer and Senior Research Scholar at Yale, where she co-directs the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology.

Through the lenses of multiple faith traditions, the event will explore the sobering moral implications of humanity’s impact on the earth –especially the impacts of climate-induced storms, floods, fires and droughts, on the poorest and most vulnerable humans and on nature, organizers said.

By grappling with the common principles among religions that demand action in the face of injustice, participants are expected to leave the event “with fresh perspectives on the roots of moral response that unite us.”

Convened by a diverse coalition of faith-based institutions, the event is intended to launch strong local and statewide leadership to reduce present-day climate impacts of our lifestyles and industry, while helping communities to prepare for uncontrollable climate change impacts such as extreme weather and stresses on food production.  Sessions will focus on faith-based reasons to act, and on proven methods of inspiring and activating religious groups to make a difference.

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CT AFL-CIO Aims for Green Jobs, Climate Change


LEDYARD, CT – Calling for “bold action” to achieve clean energy  economy for green jobs and to fight climate change, the Connecticut AFL-CIO on Friday approved a resolution affirming that “climate change poses a direct threat to the well being of the lives and livelihoods of working people in Connecticut, the United States, and the world.”

The group said it’s hoping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a scientifically safe level.

By approving this resolution during its annual convention held at the MGM Grand Hotel at Foxwoods, the CT AFL-CIO renewed its support for the CT Roundtable on Climate and Jobs, a collaborative effort launched in 2012 with the Inter-religious Eco-Justice Network, organizers said.

The AFL-CIO’s vote comes after President Barack Obama in June called for courage “to act before it’s too late to save the planet.”

He cited signs of a gloomy reality: the 12 warmest years in recorded history have all come in the last 15 years.  Additionally,  temperatures in some areas of the ocean reached record highs in 2012, and ice in the Arctic shrank to its smallest size on record — faster than most models had predicted it would.

“These are facts,” he said. “So the question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late.  And how we answer will have a profound impact on the world that we leave behind not just to you, but to your children and to your grandchildren.”

In Connecticut and other parts of the Northeast,  states can expect more climate change related heat waves – with significantly more days above 90oF – and flooding from sea level rise and extreme precipitation events.    There is $2.3 trillion of insured coastal property at risk in New York State alone.  Northeasterners are already experiencing increased heavy precipitation.

Recent incidents provide a reminder of the impacts to our public health and costs due to extreme weather in Connecticut.  Although we cannot say that climate change is responsible for any individual event, climate change is already increasing our risks from these events, according to reports.

Ø  Tropical Storm Irene ravaged the East Coast in 2011, requiring over $16 million in federal assistance for Connecticut.

Ø  The US Department of Agriculture declared four counties as natural disaster areas after above normal temperatures in February-April 2010 affected maple sap production, resulting in losses for hundreds of farmers.

Ø   In 2010, there were 1964 cases of Lyme disease in the state.

Jeremy Brecher, CT-based historian and staff member of the national organization Labor Network for Sustainability, praised the CT AFL-CIO’s action:  “As the latest science paints a devastating picture of the impact of global climate change, and as Connecticut suffers serial devastation from climate-change related extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy, organized labor here in our state is taking a crucial stand for climate protection.  Too often, labor and its allies have been divided by the false opposition between jobs and the environment.  With the Connecticut AFL-CIO’s resolution on climate change, labor is recognizing that converting Connecticut to a climate-safe economy can be a crucial way to fix our jobs crisis as well as our climate crisis.”

Also, by providing opportunities for constituencies that have often disagreed on environmental issues to engage in dialogue, identify areas of common ground and embrace their diversity as a source of power, the Roundtable has played a constructive role in helping to shape the state’s energy policy, he said.

Organizers said that the roundtable on climate and jobs helps to strengthen the collaboration among Connecticut’s labor leaders, community organizations, environmentalists, and religious communities in advocating for state policies that are environmentally sustainable and produce good-paying jobs.

John Harrity, Director of GrowJobsCT and President of the CT State Council of Machinists, which introduced the resolution, expressed his satisfaction with the Convention’s action: “Here in Connecticut, we have a great vision for a sustainable, renewable energy future, creating jobs while improving our environment and facing the challenge of climate change. With this resolution, the state’s labor movement has affirmed our commitment to continue providing leadership to the Roundtable on Climate and Jobs.”

 

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‘The Talk’ — How to Tell Your 8-Year-Old About Climate Change


By Ngoc NguyenNew America Media

When Ian Kim imagines the world his 7-year-old daughter will be living in 20 years from now, he says, it keeps him up at night. Images of ever more frequent super storms like Sandy, along with rising seas, or drought and heat waves wreaking havoc with crops haunt his waking hours.

“It’s a huge worry for me,” said Kim, a self-described environmental and social justice activist. “On a scale of 1 to 10, it’s a 10.”

It’s a sentiment likely shared by parents the world over, though it’s especially pronounced among those working close to the issue. Kim described climate change as “a slow motion disaster that is already happening right now.”

Studies suggest that a mere uptick of a few degrees in temperature would lead to catastrophe on a global scale. The world witnessed yet another milestone when the level of greenhouse gases that drive global warming recently reached 400 ppm, a benchmark that The New York Times noted was pushing the world closer to “the point of no return when climate impacts will be baked into our future.”

As a parent, Kim is grappling with how to prepare his daughter, Minju, who turns 8 next month, for a much harsher future.

“I think there’s a larger conversation to have with her about … the very challenging future that we’re hurtling towards,” he said, adding that he wanted to do more research before broaching the topic with her to avoid presenting “an overblown doomsday scenario.”

He’s not alone. For environmental activists who, like Kim, are raising children, the turning point toward concerted action comes when work takes on a personal urgency. Kim recently left a post working on Van Jones’ Rebuild the Dream campaign, which focused in part on creating an economy beneficial to both young people and the environment.

Lisa Hoyos, an environmental advocate who has worked on labor and environment issues for more than two decades, believes parents are an important voice in addressing climate change. She co-founded Climate Parents, an Oakland-based organization that seeks to mobilize parents on the issue.

“Climate change is such a major threat to the future of my kids and everyone’s kids,” said Hoyos, who has a 4- and a 7-year old. “Parents more than any other group [have a] deep vested interest in our future, [because] the people we love most are in danger.”

Hoyos, who directs the Blue Green Alliance, is on partial leave to further develop Climate Parents through a citizen-engagement project accelerator program. She co-founded the group in the summer of 2012 with journalist and author Mark Hertsgaard, who wrote Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth. Its board includes Ian Kim, the Sierra Club’s Michael Brune and author Annie Leonard.

Since the group’s founding, Climate Parents has signed on 3000 members. One of its first campaigns was to elevate the issue of climate change among the presidential candidates.

Hoyos says her 7-year-old, Kai, is already aware of climate change.

“It comes from me. It comes from school. Exposure they get to the media … all the coverage [of Super storm] Sandy or drought,” said Hoyos. “Kids ask questions if they hear things in the news … sometimes kids are afraid. ‘All the fires, are they going to come here?’”

Hoyos says that when children encounter problems, they are very interested in “understanding solutions.” Learning about solar panels from his father, who works for a solar firm, Hoyos recalled her son asking, “Why don’t we have more of it. How do we get more of it?”

Those questions lead to a conversation about how change happens in society, pointing to examples from history such as the Civil Rights Movement, during which people marched, wrote letters, and stood up.

“It’s a similar fight here,” Hoyos said. “Powerful forces [are working] to keep things how they are even though it’s hurting our planet, our air and our health.”

Journalist Lisa Bennett, who is writing a book about climate change and parents, said the most important conversation parents can have with their kids about climate change is “one in which they talk and we listen.”

“I think that children can be our guides on this topic. They can help us know how much they are ready to know and when,” she said, adding that she would refrain from having “the talk” with kids younger than 8 years old.

“[Climate change] is a topic that causes people — kids and grownups alike — a lot of fear … but when we’re talking about children we don’t want to instill fear,” she said. “Our kids didn’t create this problem, so they shouldn’t be made to feel they are responsible for fixing it when they are still children.”

Based on numerous interviews with parents, researchers, and psychologists, Bennett, who is the mother of two boys, ages 9 and 13, said it is most important for young children to “just have a chance to experience nature and be kids … have a chance to fall in love with it.”

“[That should] absolutely not be taken away by serving up too much too soon.”

Bennett agrees that parents play a critical role in responding to climate change, but she said it’s not enough to limit climate action to the home sphere. Groups like Hoyos’ help to connect parents to the public sphere, where they can influence policymakers.

For Ian Kim, the parent grappling with how to talk to his  daughter about climate change, those conversations are the foundation for breeding leadership.

“I think what really matters [is to ask], “Is there resilience in our communities to the changes that are coming? Is there leadership in our community … to help people come together and point toward a solution and not be divisive?”

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Sandy Signaled Disastrous Century. Will U.S. Adapt to Climate Change?


Question & Answer, Katherine Bagley

InsideClimate Editor’s Note: Climate experts, such as Michael Gerrard of the Center for Climate Change Law At Columbia University, are signaling that policymakers need to get beyond emergency responses and pay long-term attention to the changes ahead.

Sandy, says Gerrard was neither a worst-case climate event nor a 100-year storm. Can the United States adapt quickly enough to the climate realities likely to face the country though the 21st century? Currently, the country has the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), plus a few state limited laws. But they only provide a framework for analyzing what the problems may be and pointing toward solutions.

Katherine Bagley of InsideClimate News (ICN) interviewed Gerrard about where things stand with U.S. climate-adaptation policy, what can be accomplished under current law. (A longer version of her interview is posted on the ICN website.)

InsideClimate News: Do you think Hurricane Sandy will make it a priority for Congress to pass a comprehensive law on adaptation?

Gerrard: I think for the people who already believe in climate change, it may move it up a notch on the priorities list. I don’t know that the hurricane is going to have a big impact on those who don’t believe in climate change, and that is a group that regrettably seems to be controlling the [U.S] House these days.

ICN: Are we at a critical point where we have to pass a law?

Gerrard: Both in respect to mitigation [slowing climate change] and adaptation, the longer we wait, the harder it will be. It is hard to identify exactly what the critical point is. One could argue that it passed some time ago because regardless of what happens, things will get a lot worse before they get better.

But certainly, every month that goes by, we get further in the hole.

ICN: What would have to be included in the framework for it to be effective?

Gerrard: It would start with analysis of what is the whole varying array of problems that need to be addressed — the power systems, the transportation systems, the coastal areas—everything . . . .

ICN: You say that land-use decisions involved in adapting to climate change are “heartbreaking.” Why?

Gerrard: Some of the areas that were devastated by Hurricane Sandy, for example, were communities where people have lived for generations. The question arises: Does it make sense to have rebuilding, especially with public money, in areas that are just as vulnerable now as they were before the hurricane arose? One possible outcome is not to have public money go toward rebuilding in extremely vulnerable areas. Or, to possibly go further, to say that rebuilding is prohibited in extremely vulnerable areas. But, that would have the effect of destroying a long-standing community, which is a heartbreaking outcome.

ICN: You live and work in New York City. Is it your sense that Sandy is inspiring action?

Gerrard: Sandy very much got the attention of the political and policy communities in New York. It is leading a tremendous amount of thinking and planning and work on how do we guard against the worst effects of this kind of thing in the future.

ICN: Is there anything New York City can do at this point to “climate-proof” the city?

Gerrard: I think climate-proofing is not something we can do. There are so many different kinds of extreme events that can happen. I don’t see any circumstance under which the city could be made invulnerable to those. It can certainly be more resilient and be able to cope with them better.

ICN: There has been a lot of talk about constructing a massive sea wall around lower Manhattan. Would that be your Number 1 priority?

Gerrard: That would not be my Number 1 priority, but I do think it makes sense to give it a serious study. There are a number of problems with it. There are various other kinds of extreme events that could hit New York and many who wouldn’t benefit from that—protracted heat waves, extreme precipitation, events not associated with coastal storms and various other events that a sea wall would do nothing to address.

It is also quite possible that a sea wall would have adverse effects nearby. Those behind the wall would be protected, but those alongside it would get a greater brunt of the [storm’s] energy.

I think the highest priority right now in terms of substantive work, as opposed to the planning and studies that need to go forward, concerns the electrical system. The most widespread suffering that occurred from Hurricane Sandy was because of protracted electricity service [stoppage] throughout much of the metropolitan region. I think making the electricity system more resilient deserves to be high on the priority list.

ICN: You say that Sandy was not a worst-case event or even a 100-year storm, as it once might have been. What does that mean about our climate system right now?

Gerrard: It means the temperatures are continuing to go up, and more extreme events will be more common and more intense. That pattern is going to continue for quite some time, get worse and worse. Temperatures are going to continue to increase until such time that the world significantly reduces its greenhouse gas emissions. When that will happen is anyone’s guess. Clearly we can’t afford to continue increasing fossil-fuel combustion. We needed to begin taking action ten years ago.

ICN: Even if we do take action now, climate trends over the next 100 years are unlikely to change, though it will have an impact at the end of the century. Will that be used as an excuse to not act today?

Gerrard: We’re already seeing some of that. Regrettably, it is the case that greenhouse gas emission cuts that we undertake now will not have a direct positive impact on the climate for several decades to come. They can have other positive impacts. They can reduce conventional air pollutants. They can lead to greater energy security. They can save a lot of money. But they won’t have much effect on the climate.

And unfortunately, there is nothing unique about our current place in time. Politicians are reluctant to spend a lot of public money on activities that will not yield a clear benefit in the short term–or even in the medium term. It is a very tough issue in trying to get enough of a consensus to spend money now that will help our grandchildren, but not ourselves.

ICN: Is there recourse in the law to force government action?

Gerrard: The efforts to use common law tools to try and slow down greenhouse gas emissions so far have failed, and I think that is likely to continue to be the case in the courts. There are a number of statutory rules led by the federal Clean Air Act. The EPA is moving forward with its use of the Clean Air Act and some other statutes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

All of that will be ferociously litigated. So far, the EPA has done pretty well in that litigation. But the courts will play a major role going forward in determining whether the EPA can continue to exercise that statutory authority in the way it has been doing.

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Climate Change: What’s at Stake in Today’s Election


By Jason Plautz, InsideClimate News
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s last-minute endorsement of President Obama last week—released in an editorial titled “A Vote for a President to Lead on Climate Change”—wasn’t simply a big political event. It also raised the issue of climate change to a level that hadn’t been seen in the long presidential campaign.

Groups that have been monitoring the candidates’ positions on climate change say it’s unclear what impact Bloomberg’s statement—which said the devastation from superstorm Sandy “should be enough to compel all elected leaders to take immediate action”—will have on today’s election.

But it has drawn new attention to the differences between Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

“The president would continue to work on investing in clean energy, continue initiatives to reduce carbon pollution and pushing to end tax breaks of big oil,” said Jeff Gohringer, national press secretary for the League of Conservation Voters, a political advocacy organization dedicated to supporting pro-environment candidates. “If Mitt Romney becomes president he will be the first president ever to reject the scientific consensus surrounding climate change.

“So you can see the clear contrasts and what those respective politics hold for the country.”

“I think we’ve seen that President Obama is much more inclined to impose regulations that restrict carbon emissions than President Romney would,” said David Kreutzer of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that questions climate change. “Some of those things are already set in and will require quite a bit of effort to undo, but things going forward could be considerably different.”

Romney and Obama made only passing references to climate change during their convention speeches (Romney’s in the form of a joke) and the subject didn’t come up at all in their three debates for the first time in decades. But environmentalists and other election watchers say its emergence during the final two weeks of the campaign could force the winner of the presidential race to address climate change sooner rather than later.

“It seems that there’s a new awareness of this problem and the risks of climate change after Sandy,” said Kurt Davies, research director for Greenpeace. “We can only hope that it creates more attention in the policy arena and I think it will. … It’s given us a chance to actually talk to the candidates about this issue.”

Davies and other observers agree that no matter who wins, there’s likely to be little in the way of comprehensive legislation or policy. With Congress deadlocked on most issues and environmental legislation a no-go for years, they say most climate and energy policy will probably come from the White House.

If Obama Wins

If Obama wins a second term, environmentalists expect him to continue using his regulatory authority to make strides on addressing carbon and other emissions without Congressional approval. In Obama’s first term, the Environmental Protection Agency set the first greenhouse gas limits on new power plants, proposed the first national standard for mercury from coal facilities and bolstered fuel economy rules for passenger vehicles.

Under the stimulus package, he also steered billions of dollars into clean energy loans, grants and tax credits—which financed the construction of wind and solar farms, jump-started an electric vehicle battery industry and launched the smart grid.

“I would expect the administration to move forward largely in the same way, in making environmental protection one of its hallmarks,” said David Goldston, senior adviser to the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund.

“Should Obama win, it gives him a little more ability to move forward on his proposals on efficiency and clean energy that are not only good for the economy, but the environment,” said Cathy DuVall, national political director for the Sierra Club.

After Hurricane Sandy, she added, “the climate reasoning for it won’t be treated as a joke.”

The fact that the Obama administration has already started working on these issues sets the stage for swifter action, said Rob Sisson, president of the Republican group ConservAmerica.

“It will be a lot quicker for them to tee it up and move ahead,” said Sisson, whose group focuses on natural resource conservation. “This is an administration that has already laid the groundwork.

“With the national environmental and conservation movement in place, and with a growing appreciation for these issues by those in the center, a second administration will have the momentum to move forward.”

That’s not good news for groups on the right, who say EPA regulations have been hurting businesses and would like to see them scaled back. Kreutzer of the Heritage Foundation thinks Obama’s work on climate change has been “held in check” by Congress and Obama’s reelection bid.

“With no additional elections for him to face, I think we’ll see more aggressive work. And I don’t think we’ll see the Keystone XL pipeline,” Kreutzer said, referring to the pending decision on whether the controversial Canada-to-U.S. oil sands pipeline should be approved.

If Romney Wins

Environmental groups say it’s hard to predict what might happen under a Romney administration. While there’s general agreement that he would be less likely than Obama to push for regulatory action, his changing rhetoric on the trail and his pro-environment work as Massachusetts governor leave his future plans a question mark.

“To some degree, it’s anyone’s guess. He’s staked out some positions on a very extreme agenda … but on the other hand his rhetoric has become increasingly moderate,” said NRDC Action’s Goldston.

As a governor, Romney incorporated climate change mitigation into state policies and even helped push Massachusetts into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) with other Northeast states. He later pulled Massachusetts out of RGGI, citing the program’s economic impact. (The state rejoined the pact under Gov. Deval Patrick.)

Since the start of the presidential campaign, however, Romney has hardened his talk on climate change, downplaying the human influence on global warming and arguing that environmental regulations have hurt businesses and worked against the market. At the Republican convention in Tampa, Romney drew laughter when he said, “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet.” (That line was later repurposed into an anti-Romney ad from the advocacy group Forecast the Facts.)

But the aftermath of Sandy has softened Romney’s rhetoric, offering some hope, Goldston said.

“At least he went back to admitting that climate change is real. Now we just need to make sure he would do something,” Goldston said.

Other environmentalists aren’t so sure that Romney would act on climate change as president.

“With his election he’ll put oil back in the driver’s seat and put big corporations in the driver’s seat and put them in control of America energy future,” said Gohringer of the League of Conservation Voters. Gohringer estimates that 3 million jobs in the renewable energy industry could be at risk if Romney were elected and that protected lands could be offered up for development or oil and gas exploration.

“Romney, who had taken some very laudable steps as governor, reversed all of those positions … during the general election,” said Sierra Club’s DuVall. “That’s not necessarily because his beliefs have changed, but because of the sheer amount of [oil and gas] money coming in and the advisers that have influenced the campaign.”

But Sisson of ConservAmerica, which did not endorse a presidential candidate, said that because Romney is a “sharp business person,” he would do what some of the nation’s major corporations have already done and factor climate change into his policies. Still, Sisson added, “there will be a large number of things in line ahead of climate,” especially with the economy still reeling.

The Heritage Foundation’s Kreutzer said he expected Romney to act but “with less of a push into EPA and more of sort of legislative deal-making.”

Kenneth Green, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, said that could come in the form of a carbon tax as a replacement for EPA regulations, but only as part of a broader tax reform package from Congress.

Whichever way the election goes, the scars left by Hurricane Sandy will put pressure on the next president to address climate change, said Greenpeace’s Davies.

“There’s now a broader constituency than just the environmental movement,” Davies said. “There is a convergence of national security specialists with insurance companies, businesses, people who lost a lot in the storm and people who were pretty upset. There’s going to be a lot of pressure, far beyond the regular movement.”

InsideClimate News reporter David Hasemyer contributed to this report.

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