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  • TRUMP SUED, LAWYERS CLAIM DENYING CHILDREN A HEALTHY FUTURE...

    Our Children's Trust

     

    A group of children and young adults is suing President Donald Trump’s administration for denying their right to a livable environment, claiming that by not properly addressing climate concerns, the United States is taking away their right to a healthy future...

    Two of the case’s lawyers, Julia Olson and Philip Gregory, spoke to a group of Yale students, faculty and community members Saturday about their work on the lawsuit, Juliana v. U.S.

    The talk was part of a larger conference focused on modern world issues called “Onslaughts of the Poor: Corruption, Emissions, Violence,” hosted by the Global Justice Program from Friday through Sunday. Olson, an environmental lawyer focused on conservation, and Gregory, a litigator who specializes in business and environmental law, represent Our Children’s Trust, an organization that fights for climate reform using legal action on behalf of young people.

    “Young people, they need a platform,” said Olson. “Part of what we are trying to do is help young people reclaim their democracy.”

    The event’s coordinator, postdoctoral fellow Alex Gajevic Sayegh, told the News he hoped it would create “a discussion between legal practitioners and scholars in politics and law to see how the law can be an effective tool to fight climate change.”

    The plaintiffs in the case are seeking no money. What they want is a remedy to the current failure by the government to adequately address climate change.

    Saturday’s talk centered on the legal arguments brought by the children and their attorneys. Both speakers emphasized that their work is centered on the stories and the futures of the people they represent.

    Niki Anderson

    “What we’re essentially proving … is that the federal government has known for over 50 years about the issues concerning these greenhouse gases … and has acted affirmatively in light of that knowledge,” Gregory said. “They are implementing policies that are directly contrary to all the scientific evidence.”

    He used the analogy of the government placing a foster child in a home it knows to be abusive. Any situation in which the government actively and knowingly endangers people is an infringement of their rights, he claimed.

    The lawsuit began in 2015 against the Obama administration and took a new turn when Trump took office. In June, a federal judge denied the White House’s motion to have the case dismissed.

    The Trump administration has since sought a writ of mandamus, a rarely used legal procedure in which a higher court orders a lower court to fulfill its legal duties properly. Many observers consider this move a desperate act by the Trump administration to prevent the case from seeing court.

    Olson explained that her case rests on a few arguments. The first invokes the Fifth Amendment, which states that no person may be denied their rights to life, liberty and property without due process. Olson and Gregory claim that by ignoring and perpetuating environmental problems, the federal government is in effect depriving its people of those rights.

    Olson said the ruling on this argument will “define the scope of our liberties and what they mean.”

    A second argument portrays the situation as systemic discrimination against young people. Olson explained that the government is discriminating against young people, who will suffer the most from the effects of climate change.

    Olson and Gregory’s last argument holds that through its actions, the government is creating a state-centered danger.

    The speakers clarified that they are not accusing the government of not doing enough to prevent climate change — it is not a failure-to-act case — but rather of actively contributing to the problem and disregarding established scientific facts for political reasons. They added that there is widespread support for the case, likening it to the Supreme Court case regarding gay marriage.

    Sayegh said he was optimistic about the case, calling the logic underlying Olson and Gregory’s arguments “bulletproof.” He added that the case has the potential to redefine the way the judiciary views climate policy.

    Some opponents of the case, including representatives of the Trump administration, have argued that a ruling in Olson and Gregory’s favor would represent an abuse of power by the judiciary.

    One attendee, Alex Sabbeth ’71, said he was unsure about the future of the lawsuit.

    “[Climate regulation] is of the utmost importance,” Sabbeth told the News. “Our government is shirking its responsibilities and making a mockery of its responsibilities. This is an astounding fact.”

    The case is set to be heard on Feb. 5, 2018.

    Oct 30, 2017

    Contributing Reporter

    Niki Anderson | niki.anderson@yale.edu

    source: https://yaledailynews.com/

    original story HERE

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  • IMPACT OF CLIMATE CHANGE ON HEALTH IS ‘THE MAJOR THREAT OF 21ST CENTURY’...

    Source: Carbon Brief

     

    The health of millions of people across the world is already being significantly harmed by climate change, a major new report finds...

    From driving up the number of people exposed to heatwaves to increasing the risk of infectious diseases, such as dengue fever, climate change has had far-reaching effects on many aspects of human health in last few decades, the authors say.

    In fact, the effect of climate change on human health is now so severe that it should be considered “the major threat of the 21st century”, scientists said at a press briefing held in London.

    The report is the first from the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change, a project involving 24 academic institutions and intergovernmental organisations from across the world. The project plans to release a report tracking progress on climate change and global health every year.

    Feeling the heat

    The report uses a set of 40 indicators to track the effects of climate change on global health. The first of these indicators assesses the “direct impacts” of climate change on human health, including the effects of exposure to extreme heat and natural disasters.

    One of the report’s findings is that, from 2000 to 2016, the rise in the average temperatures that humans were exposed to was around three times higher than the rise of average global temperatures worldwide.

    This is shown on the graph below, where the rise in the global average surface temperature from 2000 to 2016, when compared to the average from 1986 to 2008 (red), is shown alongside the rise in the temperatures that humans are typically exposed to (blue).

    The rise in average global surface temperatures from 2000 to 2016 (red), alongside the rise in the average temperatures that people are exposed to (blue), relative to averages taken from 1986 to 2008. Source: Watts et al. (2017)

    The average temperatures that humans are exposed to are significantly higher than the global surface average because most people live on land, where warming happens most quickly, explains Prof Peter Cox, an author of the new report and a climate scientist at the University of Exeter. He tells Carbon Brief:

    “Generally speaking, when you look at where people are, the rate of change appears much larger than when we look at global averages. So maybe when we think about global targets, we should be always bearing in mind that the global mean temperature doesn’t really mean much to most people. We don’t live on the ocean, which is two-thirds of the global mean. We live on the land, and on the land that tends to warm fastest.”

    The report also finds the number of “vulnerable” people exposed to “heatwave” events increased by around 125 million between 2000 and 2016. “Vulnerable” is here defined as being over the age of 65, while a “heatwave” is defined as three consecutive nights where temperatures are in the top 1% of the 1986-2006 average for the region.

    In 2015, a record 175 million more people were exposed to heatwaves, when compared to the average for 1986-2008, the report finds. You can see this in the chart below, which shows the change in the number of people exposed to heatwaves from 2000 to 2016, relative to 1986-2008.

    The change in the number of people exposed to heatwaves in millions per year from 2010 to 2016 (blue), relative to the 1986-2008 average. Source: Watts et al. (2017)

    These spikes in exposure are a result of an increase in heatwave events, as well as other environmental and social factors, including population growth, Cox says.

    Heatwave exposure has previously been linked to an increased risk of premature death in many parts of the world, he explains:

    “During the 2003 European heatwave, there were 75,000 extra premature deaths in Europe, including 2,000 in the UK. That was mainly because of people not being able to recover, and I guess breathing gets harder when it’s hot too. There is a correlation between these periods of hot nights and mortality. I suspect there must be a correlation with ill health as well.”

    (Carbon Brief has previously reported on the health risks posed by heatwaves.)

    Natural disasters

    The report finds that the number of weather-related disasters from 2007 to 2016 increased by 46%, when compared with the average for 1990-1999.

    Asia is the continent most affected by weather-related disasters, the report says – particularly because of its size and population. Between 1990 and 2016, 2,843 weather-related disasters were recorded in Asia, affecting 4.8 billion people and causing more than 500,000 deaths.

    Despite a rise in the number of natural disasters, there has been no discernable rise in the global number of deaths or in the number of people affected by natural disasters, when compared to data from 1990 to 1999, the report finds.

    This could indicate that countries are beginning to invest in adaptation strategies to cope with natural disasters, Cox says. However, the mismatch could also reflect a lack of data on deaths from climate-related disasters in the developing world, he adds:

    “If you look at what happens when a disaster strikes, if it’s in the rich developed world, it leads to economic damages but we don’t lose people. If it’s in the developing world, then we lose lives.

    “It is true that there is a kind of contradiction in that exposure is going up, but actually the number of people affected, at least recorded as affected, is staying flat, which either means we’re building greater resilience [to climate change], which I suspect is not true, or that the data we’re collecting on the amount of money being lost is better than on the amount of people being lost.”

    Losses to the global workforce

    Another set of indicators explored by the report look at the “human-mediated” impacts of climate change. These are impacts that are intrinsically linked to human society, but often exacerbated by climate change.

    The first of these indicators explores how climate change has affected the productivity of the global workforce, particularly in the less economically-developed parts of the world. The report finds that the global productivity in rural labour capacity – defined as those who work in outdoor manual labour in rural areas, but excluding agricultural workers – has fallen by 5.3% from 2000 to 2016.

    The chart below shows how this global loss in productivity is spread across the world, with red indicating a percentage loss in productivity and blue showing a percentage gain in labour capacity.

    Global changes to labour capacity from 2000 to 2016 as a result of rising global temperatures, relative to average levels from 1986 to 2008. Red shows areas of loss, while blue shows areas of gain. Source: Watts et al. (2017)

    In 2016, this drop in productivity effectively took more than 920,000 people globally out of the workforce, the report finds, with 418,000 of these workers being “lost” from India.

    One way that higher temperatures threaten labour capacity is by making manual work more physically challenging, the report finds:

    “Higher temperatures pose profound threats to occupational health and labour productivity, particularly for people undertaking manual, outdoor labour in hot areas. Loss of labour capacity has important implications for the livelihoods of individuals, families, and communities, especially those relying on subsistence farming.”

    An additional “human-mediated” impact of climate change is undernutrition, the report finds. It reports that the number of undernourished people in the top 30 undernourished countries of the world has increased from 398 million in 1990 to 422 million in 2016.

    This is at least in part driven by the effect of climate change of yields of staple crops such as wheat, rice and maize, the report says. Climate change affects crop yields through increasing local temperatures, changes to rainfall patterns and more cases of drought. The report says:

    “Increasing temperatures have been shown to reduce global wheat production by 6% for each 1C increase. Rice yields are sensitive to increases in night temperatures, with each 1C increase in growing-season minimum temperature in the dry season resulting in a 10% decrease in rice grain yield. Higher temperatures have been demonstrated rigorously to have a negative impact on crop yields in countries in lower latitudes. Moreover, agriculture in lower latitudes tends to be more marginal, and more people are food insecure.”

    Infectious diseases

    The report also investigates the “environment-mediated” impacts of climate change. These are impacts on human health that are caused by environmental factors but can be worsened by climate change.

    One such impact is the spread of infectious diseases around the globe. Rising temperatures can increase the spread of infectious diseases by allowing pests to conquer new parts of the world, as well as by creating ideal conditions for reproduction and virus replication.

    Climate change has affected the prevalence of many infectious diseases, the report notes. However, as an example, the report focuses on how climate change has impacted the spread of dengue fever, a disease spread by mosquitoes native to much of southeast Asia, central and south America, and Africa.

    The research shows that the rate of the spread of dengue fever has increased from between 3% and 5.9% globally, when compared to levels from 1990.

    The chart below shows how the rate of the spread of dengue fever (vectorial capacity) has increased in the world’s most affected countries from 1950 to 2015. The chart shows results from two species of mosquito, including yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti; left) and Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus; right).

    On the heat map, each block represents one year, with red showing an increase in spread and blue showing a decrease in spread. The chart shows that, since 1995, the vast majority of countries have experienced an increase in the rate of the spread of dengue fever.

    Change in the rate of the spread of dengue fever (vectorial capacity) in the countries most affected by the disease from 1950 to 2015. The chart shows results from two species of mosquito: the yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti; left) and Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus; right). On the heat map, each block represents one year, with red showing an increase in spread and blue showing a decrease in spread. Source: Watts et al. (2017)

    The increase in the rate of the spread of dengue fever could be driven by changes in environmental conditions as a result of climate change, says Prof Hugh Montgomery, co-chair of The Lancet Countdown and a professor at University College London. He told the press conference:

    “It’s essentially because of the transmissibility, the ability of the virus to be spread by mosquito vector. As you get areas that get wetter, the mosquito has a habitat it can live in; populations go up as it gets warmer, they breed more frequently, they feed faster. So it gets easier to spread the bug, and that’s really why we’re seeing a doubling in the spread rate of dengue cases.”

    Outlook

    Looking to the future, the report also explores how climate change could bring new health-related woes, including an increase in the displacement of people as a result of sea level rise.

    It is clear that both the current and potential future impacts of climate change on health demand immediate action on tackling fossil fuel use, says Cox, adding that it is not too late to stem some of the effects of climate change on human health. He tells Carbon Brief:

    “The co-benefits of action on climate are so huge, I think, well, maybe we present this the wrong way. Rather than saying ‘we should tackle climate change and there’s a co-benefit for health’, it should be ‘we need to do this for our health, and there’s a co-benefit on climate’.”

    Montgomery echoed the call for immediate action to tackle climate change for the good of human health. He told the press conference:

    “It is too late to avoid impacts, they’re here and if we all die tomorrow and stop producing any CO2, we’re still locked in for a temperature rise. There is a lag between CO2 emissions and the warming that will come. It’s like sticking an extra duvet on, the temperature will slowly rise to a new equilibrium. So we’re locked in for change for a long time to come and those harmful effects we’re seeing already from perhaps little around 1C of temperature rise, we’ve got another half degree as a minimum yet to come.”

    However, there are reasons to be hopeful, he adds, pointing to progress on climate action within the last decade, including a shift away from electricity produced from coal and an increase in the investment into electric cars. He adds:

    “Climate change can be fixed right now, there isn’t a problem with the technology, it’s readily available and deployable. The money is available for it, the only thing that’s lacking is the political will to connect the money to the infrastructure.”

    October 30, 2017

    source: http://www.climatechange.ie/

    original story HERE

     

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  • CLIMATE CHANGE IS BAD FOR YOUR HEALTH...

    A victim of a heat wave in Pakistan, in 2015. Credit Asianet-Pakistan/Barcroft Media, via Getty Images

     

    Climate change has largely been defined as an environmental issue, with the worst effects decades or centuries away. But a sobering new report from a commission convened by the medical journal The Lancet, released Monday evening, could change that assessment...

    The new report says that climate change is already harming human health on a vast scale. “Climate change is happening, and it’s a health issue today for millions worldwide,” said Anthony Costello, a co-chairman of the commission that produced the report, called The Lancet Countdown.

    The Lancet is one of the world’s most prestigious medical journals. It isn’t an environmental advocacy group, which is why this document could galvanize the public health community in ways that other reports on the consequences of the warming planet have not.

    The journal has played an important role in bringing public attention to other medical issues, especially on the link between smoking and lung cancer. We take it for granted today that smoking causes that disease. But that was not always the case. The Lancet helped validate those connections for the medical community and, eventually, for the public.

    When The Lancet decided several years ago to establish a commission to track what scientists have predicted for years — that climate change would begin to have a significant impact on human health — doctors and health organizations took note.

    Now, we have that commission’s first report on observed links between climate and health, the foundation of what will be the monitoring of 40 indicators, including the health impacts of heat waves, weather-related disasters, climate-sensitive diseases, exposure to air pollution and malnutrition. The report is based on the work of experts from 24 universities and intergovernmental organizations.

    And what the commission has found is that climate change is already affecting human health in serious ways, with harms “far worse than previously understood.” The report argues that the health professions have a responsibility “to communicate the threats and opportunities” of a phenomenon that is “central to human well-being.”

    It should be noted that climate change is not the only environmental problem causing widespread health problems. In another recent report, a Lancet commission on pollution and health reported that pollution of the air, water and soil is “the largest environmental cause of disease and death in the world today, responsible for an estimated nine million premature deaths.”

    In its report on climate change, the commission says that human-caused global warming “threatens to undermine the past 50 years of gains in public health.” But the report also said that a comprehensive approach to slow the planet’s warming could be “the great health opportunity of the 21st century.”

    The first wave of problems linked to climate change are so troubling they should change the way health professionals view and talk about the issue.

    For instance, the commission found that outdoor labor capacity in rural areas fell, on average, by 5.3 percent over the past 16 years because of heat stress and other conditions making work more difficult. That is a stunning loss of productivity, and directly attributable to global warming during a period when nine of the 10 of the hottest years on record were recorded. Productivity fell 2 percent from 2015 to 2016 alone.

    In 2015, the Lancet report says, an additional 175 million people over the age of 65 were exposed to heat waves, when compared with broad trends of the past 20 years. Temperatures much higher than the rising global average are occurring in large urban areas, afflicting, in particular, the elderly, children under 12 months and people with chronic cardiovascular and renal disease.

    In a finding that is sure to deepen the rift between developed and developing nations over which countries should shoulder the financial burden for climate effects, the Lancet report shows that lower-income countries experience far greater economic loss as a proportion of their gross domestic product because of climate-related disasters when compared to higher-income countries.

    Even more striking is the difference in the proportion of economic losses that are uninsured. In high-income countries, roughly half of the economic losses are insured. This drops rapidly to under 10 percent in upper-middle-income countries, and to well under 1 percent in low-income countries. From 1990 to 2016, uninsured losses in low-income countries were equivalent to over 1.5 percent of their G.D.P.

    And in a finding that is likely to cause alarm in the public health communities tracking the spread of deadly infectious diseases, the report says that recent gains in combating the spread of these diseases is now being threatened by climate change.

    The report shows that transmission of dengue fever by just two types of mosquito has increased 3 percent and 5.9 percent, since 1990, the result of a broad range of factors including climate change. The report warns of an increase in mortality.

    If the report contained just these findings, it would still be an alert to public health officials. But there are dozens of other examples that clearly show that climate change is no longer a distant, future threat. It is here, now.

    The Lancet Countdown provides a baseline so health experts can track how we’re doing with climate change and human health. And the central message is clear: This is now a medical and public health fight, not just an environmental one.

    Jeff Nesbit is the executive director of Climate Nexus, a nonprofit communications group focused on climate change and clean energy, and former director of legislative and public affairs at the National Science Foundation in the Obama and Bush administrations.

    By JEFF NESBIT

    OCT. 30, 2017

    source: https://www.nytimes.com/

    original story HERE

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  • CLIMATE CHANGE ALREADY BRINGING DISEASE, AIR POLLUTION AND HEATWAVES...

    Pakistani heatstroke victims at a government hospital in Karachi, June 2015. The report found a huge increase in the number of people over 65 who are exposed to extreme heat. Photograph: Asif Hassan/AFP/Getty Images

     

    Heatwaves, pollution and disease are the main health issues linked to global warming but action to halt emissions would deliver huge benefits...

    The health of hundreds of millions of people around the world is already being damaged by climate change, a major report has revealed.

    Heatwaves are affecting many more vulnerable people and global warming is boosting the transmission of deadly diseases such as dengue fever, the world’s most rapidly spreading disease. Air pollution from fossil fuel burning is also causing millions of early deaths each year, while damage to crops from extreme weather threatens hunger for millions of children.

    “Climate change is happening and it’s a health issue today for millions worldwide,” said Prof Anthony Costello, at the World Health Organization and co-chair of the group behind the new report. It follows a related report in 2009 that warned that climate change was the biggest danger to global health in the 21st century, an assessment repeated in the new report.

    But Costello said acting to halt global warming would also deliver a huge benefit for health: “The outlook is challenging, but we still have an opportunity to turn a looming medical emergency into the most significant advance for public health this century.”

    “Our scientists have been telling us for some time that we’ve got a bad case of climate change. Now our doctors are telling us it’s bad for our health,” said Christiana Figueres, who as the UN’s climate chief negotiated the Paris climate change agreement and also co-chaired the new report.

    “Hundreds of millions of people are already suffering health impacts as a result of climate change,” she told the Guardian. “Tackling climate change directly, unequivocally, and immediately improves global health. It’s as simple as that.”

    One of the most striking of the 40 indicators assessed by the researchers was a huge increase in the number of people over 65 exposed to extreme heat. This rose by 125 million between 2000 and 2016 and worries doctors because older people are especially vulnerable to heat.

    “There is no crystal ball gazing here, these are the actual observations,” said Prof Peter Cox, at the University of Exeter, UK. He said the 70,000 deaths that resulted from the 2003 heatwave in Europe looked small compared to the long-term trends: “We were alarmed when we saw this.”

    Most of the increase in exposed people resulted from rising temperatures, but the number of older people is also rising, creating a “perfect storm”, Cox said. The report also found that hotter and more humid weather was increasingly creating conditions in which it is impossible to work outside. In 2016, this caused work equivalent to almost a million people to be lost, half in India alone.

    The report also found that climate change has increased the ability of dengue fever to spread, because the mosquitoes and the virus they carry breed more quickly. Dengue is also known as “breakbone fever” due to the pain it causes and infections have doubled in each decade since 1990, now reaching up to 100m infections a year now. Dengue was used as an example in the report and the researchers suggest global warming will also increase the spread of other diseases such as schistosomiasis.

    Patients queue for treatment following an outbreak of dengue fever in Bhopal, India this month. Photograph: Sanjeev Gupta/EPA

    Air pollution is known to cause millions of early deaths every year but the new report highlights the 800,000 annual deaths related solely to coal burning. The good news here, said Prof Paul Wilkinson, is that coal production peaked in 2013 and is now falling. “We are seeing the first turn [in the trend] but we have a long way to go,” he said. “It is a health dividend we are ignoring if we do not act.”

    The impacts of climate change are not limited to poorer nations, said Dr Toby Hillman, at the Royal College of Physicians, but also affect developed nations like the UK. He said air pollution kills about 40,000 in the UK each year and criticised low government funding levels for cycling and walking. Hillman also noted other impacts, such as sharp increases in mental health problems after extreme weather events like flooding.

    The new report highlighted imminent threats as well, such as the loss of crops to increasingly hot and extreme weather. “We are going to see millions more undernourished children as a result of that,” said Prof Hugh Montgomery, at University College London (UCL).

    Montgomery said the potential benefits of climate change appeared to be small in comparison to the damages: “We are not ducking the potential benefits, we just find it hard to see what they are.”

    Nearly 700,000 persons have been internally displaced in Somalia as a result of the drought and food crisis, reports say. Photograph: Peter Caton/Mercy Corps

    Cox said it was not clear that global warming will actually reduce winter cold spells, which cause early deaths in higher latitude countries, because changes happening in the Arctic can exacerbate cold snaps. Prof Georgina Mace, also at UCL, said the evidence for a warmer climate increasing food production was often very localised and short term: ”Overall the overwhelming pattern is negative.”

    Clare Goodess, a climate researcher at the University of East Anglia and not part of the Lancet report, said: “The indicators reveal some stark warnings for human health, as well as some glimmers of hope, [and] the key messages appear robust. The attribution of [climate change] temperature trends to human activities is now unequivocal, so the urgency of addressing the issues raised by this report is not in doubt.”

    Environment editor

    Monday 30 October 2017 19.30 EDT

    source: https://www.theguardian.com/us

    original story HERE

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  • 5 YEARS AFTER SANDY: VULNERABLE RED HOOK IS BOOMING, RIGHT AT THE WATER'S EDGE...

    Much of Red Hook flooded during Superstorm Sandy on Oct. 29, 2012. Nearly six feet of water submerged cars and the electricity went out. Credit: Alan Chin via The Bridge.

     

    This growing Brooklyn neighborhood, flooded during Superstorm Sandy, is now confronting the threat of future storms and sea level rise...

    With its 578 miles of shoreline, New York City is never far from the water, but few neighborhoods are more defined by their proximity to the blue than Red Hook.

    This isolated peninsula in southwestern Brooklyn sticks out into New York's Upper Bay like a boxer's chin, and water surrounds it on three sides, with the fourth walled off by the man-made river that is the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. During its late 19th century heyday, that location made Red Hook for a time the busiest freight port in the world and the center of New York's lucrative cotton trade. When the maritime trade move away from Red Hook after World War II, the neighborhood fell into steep decline, but today Red Hook is on the rise again, as first artists and now increasingly wealthy professionals have moved into the area, attracted by its independent spirit—and those water views.

    But on Oct. 29, 2012, the water turned against Red Hook. The winds of Superstorm Sandy, striking at high tide, created a massive storm surge that pushed hundreds of millions of gallons of water onto and over New York's shoreline. The resulting flood would cause $19 billion in damages throughout New York City and kill dozens of people, but Red Hook, which is so low-lying that nearly the entire community fell within the city's mandatory evacuation zone, bore some of the worst of the storm's wrath.

    As the Sandy-whipped water spilled over bulkheads along the shore, Van Brunt Street, Red Hook's main thoroughfare, became a raging river, and nearly every other block in the neighborhood was inundated. Basements and cars were flooded out, and water even spat up from the sewers. The Fairway supermarket that sits inside a brick and wrought iron Civil War-era dock building was ruined, and wouldn't reopen for nearly six months. The most lasting damage was done to the Red Hook Houses, a cluster of subsidized rentals where more than half of the neighborhood's 10,000 residents live. The buildings lost access to power and clean water for weeks and were left ridden with mold by the floodwaters.

    "Red Hook was hit really hard," says Jill Eisenhard, the executive director of the Red Hook Initiative, a community-focused nonprofit. "The storm was the disaster that we all feared."

    Yet five years later, virtually all visible signs of Sandy have vanished from Red Hook, and indeed much of New York. Homes and businesses have largely been repaired, and new residents, far from being scared off by the storm, are flooding in. New Red Hook buildings like the Basis Independent School have gone up in the years since Sandy, and pricey new condos are emerging on the neighborhood's waterfront—so much so that, in the third quarter of this year, Red Hook became Brooklyn's priciest neighborhood based on new home sales.

    Red Hook. Credit: Timothy Fadek via The Bridge

    The Red Hook neighborhood has grown up around reminders of its industrial past on the Brooklyn waterfront. Credit: Timothy Fadek via The Bridge

    Defenses against the next storm are rising too. In Red Hook, that began with the installation of an interim flood barrier along Beard Street, and will grow to include a more permanent, $100 million Integrated Flood Protection System for the neighborhood. At the same time, Red Hook Houses are being repaired and renovated as part of the $3 billion the Federal Emergency Management Agency has allocated to New York to shore up the city's housing projects, which were badly damaged by Sandy.

    Altogether, New York is allocating $20 billion to post-Sandy disaster recovery and resilience, enough to put the city at the forefront of national efforts to get ahead of the impacts of storms, floods and climate change-related sea level rise.

    "We're certainly better prepared now for the next storm in a number of ways," says Robert Freudenberg, vice president of energy and environmental issues at the Regional Plan Association, a think tank that focuses on the tri-state area. "New York has laid out a clear blueprint of what needs to be done to protect from future storms, and that's far ahead of other places in the country."

    But being ahead of the rest of the U.S. doesn't mean New York is safe from the next Sandy.

    That temporary flood barrier in Red Hook? It's designed to protect the neighborhood against relatively minor storm surges, not the sort of historic blow Red Hook suffered during Sandy—and the barrier itself has been downsized from the $200 million system the neighborhood was promised after the storm.

    For all New York is doing, the city isn't keeping up with the larger and long-term threat of sea level rise—and by supporting continued development along the waterfront, including in Sandy-hit neighborhoods like Red Hook, New York is actually accentuating the risk that will come with ever-worsening floods. The truth is that with the seas around New York pegged to rise by feet by the end of the century, there may be no truly long-term future for waterfront neighborhoods like Red Hook—at least, no future that resembles the present.

    "The only answer is going to be to plan for the inevitable on sea level rise, and that could mean retreat from the shoreline," says Nicolas Coch, a coastal geology expert at Queens College in New York. "But no one wants to think about that."

    Red Hook Under the Surface

    If you walk to the intersection of Dikeman and Ferris Streets, you'll be standing near the original Red Hook. At the time of the community's founding in 1636, the point was on an island that stuck out into New York Bay, and much of what is Red Hook today was marshy land broken up by tidal ponds.

    The neighborhood is mostly man-made, composed of landfill—garbage, really—that seized space from the surrounding waters. As a result, Red Hook is not just flat and low-lying but shallow and porous—the groundwater table only sits 5 to 10 feet below the surface, which is why some of the flooding during Sandy came up from under the ground. When Sandy struck, the water took back lost territory, as it did in the most heavily flooded areas of lower Manhattan that were also built on landfill. Red Hook will always be vulnerable to flooding.

    For most of Red Hook's existence, however, flood risk wasn't on anyone's mind. In 1821, a hurricane hit New York City squarely, producing what is estimated to have been a 10- to 11-foot storm surge. (The storm surge in lower Manhattan during Sandy reached a record-high for the city of 14.06 feet.) But in the early 19th century, New York's population was little more than 100,000 people, and the tidal ponds that filled Red Hook at the time would have absorbed much of the flooding. After the 1821 hurricane, New York wouldn't experience a storm of similar magnitude until Hurricane Donna in 1960, and even the decades that followed were calm until Sandy. That was a lot of time for New York to grow into one of the biggest cities in the world, without worrying about storm surges.

    "New York has been thumbing its nose at the sea for hundreds of years now," says Ted Steinberg, a professor at Case Western University School of Law and the author of the book Gotham Unbound: The Ecological History of Greater New York. "Leaders should have known that the city was uniquely vulnerable to flooding because of its location. Sandy was a wake up call."

    Preparing for the Next One

    And to their credit, New York's leaders have mostly answered that call:

    • Even before the storm, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg had convened the city's own panel on climate change, which presciently warned that global warming and sea level rise were raising the likelihood that New York would be hit by a major flooding event.
    • After the storm, the city released a 438-page report that outlined the city's plans for resiliency, including 257 separate projects, and Mayor Bill de Blasio has kept those plans going.
    • The transit authority will be spending billions to fix New York's extensive subway system, much of which was flooded by Sandy, and to fortify public transit against the next storm, including installing thousands of rapid-deployment covers to ensure the underground system stays watertight next time.
    • New York's Housing Authority (NYCHA), which oversees the city's 2,600 public housing buildings will be spending $3 billion from the federal government to repair the catastrophic damage suffered during the storm. (A fair number of New York's public housing projects—including the Red Hook Houses—sit near the water, and many of the buildings were in a state of disrepair well before Sandy struck.)

    "I think you can say the city is on the right track," says Henk Ovink, a Dutch architect and the former senior advisor for President Obama's Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force. "And you can also see we need to pick up our game."

    Ovink was the driving force behind Rebuild By Design, the most ambitious of New York's post-Sandy recovery projects. Launched by Obama's Housing Department and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and other organizations, Rebuild By Design invited architects and designers to dream up the most innovative—and green—ways to not just fix Sandy's damage, but create a more resilient New York. The program represented a dramatic shift—instead of simply responding to disasters after the fact, cities could encode resiliency into their physical and social structure from the start. And it made financial sense—while the winning efforts were funded with a total of $930 million, studies have shown that each dollar spent on disaster mitigation saves $4 on post-disaster spending.

    But as the years have passed, some of the momentum around the most ambitious efforts has been lost. Take the biggest project to come out of Sandy: the Big U.

    The Big U project is being designed to expand parks along the waterfront in ways that could help buffer low-lying areas of Manhattan from storm surges. Credit: Rebuild by Design

    The Big U project is being designed to expand parks along the waterfront to help buffer low-lying areas of Manhattan from storm surges. Credit: Rebuild by Design

    Chiefly developed by the Bjarke Ingels Group, a Copenhagen- and New York-based coalition of architects and designers, the Big U was conceived as 10 continuous miles of flood protection wrapping around the shoreline of lower Manhattan. Instead of a single wall against floods—the sort of hard infrastructure that coastal cities have built in the past—the Big U would lift sections of the East River parkway while incorporating greenery and parks that would defend against floods while also creating new green space for a city in desperate need of it. "Parks and greenways can capture stormwater runoff," says Ovink—and indeed, long ago when much of the coastline around Manhattan and Brooklyn was still wetlands and tidal ponds, that's exactly what happened.

    Today, streets and buildings run up to the water's edge, and few of the ambitious flood-protection projects that were considered in the immediate aftermath of Sandy—including a massive sea barrier spanning New York Harbor—seem likely to happen any time soon. The Big U could come in at some $3 billion, while the larger flood barrier would cost billions more.

    Red Hook has experienced that shrinking of ambition on a smaller scale. Running down the water-facing Beard Street from the Fairway Market to the vast Ikea megastore, as well as on a stretch of Reed Street, is the first stage of Red Hook's $100-million Integrated Flood Protection System.

    The 4-foot-tall barriers are made of blocks filled with sand. Openings in the wall, which are needed to allow passage for driveways, can be blocked with inflatable barriers in the days before a storm. The system represents the first neighborhood-level use of the barriers, and it is meant to be a first step—future plans include raising Beard Street and building a flood wall underneath it, as well as putting a second flood wall in nearby Atlantic Basin. But those more permanent projects are dependent on federal funding that seems somewhat less likely with President Donald Trump in office. (Just days before Hurricane Harvey inundated Texas, Trump revoked Obama-era rules that would have required the federal government to take into account the risk of flooding and sea level rise when constructing new infrastructure.)

    Storm barriers in Red Hook. Credit: Steve Koepp via The Bridge

    Four-foot-high Hesco barriers have been installed to help protect against storm surges. Credit: Steve Koepp via The Bridge

    "It's great that this system is in place, but it's only going to cover a small portion of the neighborhood," says Russell Unger, the executive director of the Urban Green Council, a non-profits that works on sustainable building.

    The city has said that the barriers will protect against a 10-year flood—meaning a flood that has one-in-10 chance of happening in any given year. Sandy was worse than a 100-year flood. "If it was a Sandy-level storm, [the barrier] would not protect it," Jessica Colon, a senior policy advisor for the Mayor's Office of Recovery and Resiliency, told the audience at a public presentation in Red Hook in June.  

    That would be worrying enough if Sandy were the worst New York could ever expect. But it's not. Thanks to climate change, Sandy will just be the start.

    The Long-term Rising Tide

    Sandy would have been a catastrophic storm even without the effects of climate change. But the waters around New York had already risen by about a foot over the past century, which added to the storm surge, just as raising the floor of a basketball court would make it easier to reach the basket. And in the decades to come, the seas will keep rising—as soon as the 2050s, upper estimates suggest that seas could rise by another two and a half feet. (As if climate change isn't bad enough, the land in New York is actually sinking, accentuating the effects of sea level rise.)

    The New York City Panel on Climate Change estimates that a 100-year storm under that amount of sea level rise could result could result in 72 square miles being flooded—nearly a quarter of the city.

    "With sea level rise, a given hurricane is going to cause worse damage," says Retired Navy Rear Admiral David Titley, director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Pennsylvania State University. "What we had called the 100-year or 500-year floodplain simply isn't anymore. These waters are coming in."

    They will be coming in more often, too.

    In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Oct. 9, Professor Benjamin Horton and his colleagues looked at the latest science on the impact of climate change on New York coastal flooding risks. They found that, thanks mostly to sea level rise, the frequency of near Sandy-level floods would change from approximately every 25 years now to as often as every five years between 2030 and 2045.

    That's soon—you could buy a condo with a water view in Red Hook, and you might be experiencing that level of flooding before your 30-year mortgage is paid off. And it's not because stronger hurricanes will hit more often—it's because the seas will rise even faster than expected. "These results are quite shocking for New York," says Horton.

    Red Hook resilience map. Credit: The Bridge

    Climate Central has created interactive maps that try to predict how coastal cities will ultimately be affected by the sea level rise that will be caused by different rates of warming. Under a scenario with 2°C (3.6°F) warming—the goal of Paris climate agreement—Red Hook is completely submerged, as is nearby Gowanus. (You don't want to know what the 4°C (7.2°F) maps look like.) While it's difficult to predict how long it will take a set amount of global warming to increase sea levels this much, it will happen—and the latest science suggests it will happen sooner than we long thought—the waters will eventually retake Red Hook and other shoreline New York neighborhoods.

    Professor Klaus Jacob, a geophysicist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, has long warned of way rising seas would reshape and destroy New York City. In 2008 he produced a prescient report for the city's transit authority warning that many of its lines would flood with a storm surge between 7 and 13 feet. Jacob's report encouraged the agency to take steps that ultimately helped mitigate some of the worst effects of Sandy. But he is deeply pessimistic about New York's long-term future in a warming climate—and deeply frustrated that despite the evidence left by Sandy, the city continues to put new developments in vulnerable shoreline areas, including Red Hook.

    At a 2016 speech to the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects, Jacob showed slides of a proposed development along the Red Hook waterfront would be accessible only by ferry by 2100, because the rest of the neighborhood would be underwater.

    "We have already problems in the current sea level," Jacob said in his talk. "We know that sea level rise will amplify those risks. We can go about it by protection, and that's largely what we're doing but I think it's not sustainable in the long run. We can do accommodation again, but it's an interim maybe an equally long lasting protection. And we have strategic relocation. And I suggest that this is the only truly sustainable solution."

    A Commitment to the Waterfront

    In the aftermath of Sandy, Mayor Bloomberg made it clear that, whatever the city would do to strengthen its defense, it would not pull back from the water.

    "We cannot and will not abandon our waterfront," he said. "It's one of our greatest assets. We must protect it, not retreat from it." And that, ultimately, is what the city has tried to do, in fits and starts, in the five years since Sandy. So has the construction sector—many of the new condos and other developments being built along New York's waterfront, including in Red Hook, will have their own protections against rising seas and floods.

    "We're living in a world in which technology has changed how construction can happen," says Carlo Scissura, the president of the New York Building Congress. "We can do things the right way."

    A drone's-eye view of the Red Hook area of Brooklyn. Credit: Lucas McGowen via The Bridge

    A drone's-eye view of the Red Hook area of Brooklyn. Credit: Lucas McGowen via The Bridge

    The city has a powerful incentive to keep building along the waterfront: population. New York already suffers from an affordable-housing crisis, and one of the only solutions is to build more housing in neighborhoods like Red Hook where vacant or underused industrial space—often along the water—can be converted to residences. Yet to do so is to put more people in the path of the next Sandy—or to lock New York into spending unimaginable amounts of money on flood protections just to keep the city dry.

    That is the essential urban quandary of the 21st century, as city leaders are left to adapt to a climate threat that, as Horton notes, "the globe could have solved for far less 20 years ago."

    With Trump in the White House, that's even less likely—the U.S. has already announced it will withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change, and this month, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt moved to repeal former President Obama's greenhouse gas emission regulations.

    "From the greater focus of reducing emissions, we're moving more and more to adaptation, and thinking about how cities can be effective at the local level," says Armando Carbonell, the head of urban planning at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

    The good news for vulnerable neighborhoods like Red Hook is that there is still much that can be done in the near term—and that adapting to sea level rise and climate change involves more than hard sea walls.

    Existing buildings, even decades-old brownstones, can be renovated in ways that make them less vulnerable to frequent floods, by moving boilers and electrical equipment above flood levels. (New or "substantially renovated" buildings are required to make these changes.) The IKEA superstore in Red Hook was able to weather Sandy thanks to a design that elevated vital equipment and merchandise. The floodwaters mostly washed through IKEA's ground-level parking lot, while an on-set generator enabled the store to reopen just a couple of days after Sandy hit. While other businesses in Red Hook were knocked out by the storm for weeks or even longer, IKEA became a nerve center for the neighborhood's recovery.

    That recovery was driven by the same independent spirit that has characterized Red Hook from its birth. Volunteers from groups like the Red Hook Initiative and neighbors from down the street came together to provide hot meals, information and even access to generators for residents—especially at the Red Hook Houses—who needed help. (Homes in Red Hook may be selling for millions of dollars, but the neighborhood as a whole has a 45 percent poverty rate.)

    In the years after the storm, a coalition of neighborhood nonprofits put together the "Ready Red Hook" program, a disaster preparedness plan that focuses on helping the community in the first 72 hours after a catastrophe, the vital window before additional assistance from the city or federal government is likely to arrive. That made Red Hook the first New York neighborhood to complete its own community recovery and disaster response plan.

    Here's a hard truth: no one really knows how to adapt to the coming climate-related floods.

    So much of urban planning, or any kind of planning, is built on the past. But as climate change accelerates, the past no longer provides an accurate map to the future—even a past event as recent as Sandy.

    "The solutions of the past won't protect us from the future," Ovink warns. To survive a wetter and warmer tomorrow, neighborhoods like Red Hook will need to be creative and flexible, and they'll need help from the city and the federal government. But most of all, they'll need to depend on themselves.

    This story was originally published in The Bridge, a news site dedicated to reporting on business in Brooklyn. Bryan Walsh, a contributor to Time, Bloomberg View and Newsweek, is the former international editor of Time, where he also wrote about the environment, energy and public health. He is working on a book about existential risk.

    source: https://insideclimatenews.org/

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  • THE ENERGY 202: WHAT WHITEFISH REALLY REVEALS ABOUT THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION...

    Donald Trump speaking during a Cabinet meeting at the White House as Ryan Zinke, left, listens. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

     

    So much of the news coverage about restoring power to Puerto Rico concerns a tiny town more than 3,000 miles away from the hurricane-hit island...

    Whitefish, Mont. — population: 7,279 — is home to Whitefish Energy, a company that had just two employees on the day Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico. Somehow, that tiny company won a $300 million, non-competitive contract with the Puerto Rican Electric Power Authority (PREPA).

    After a chorus of criticism from government contracting expertsand members of Congress, PREPA moved to cancel the contract on Sunday. Now, 40 days after Hurricane Maria made landfall on the island, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said he would make mutual aid requests from New York and Florida.

    Like in many small town, Whitefish residents know each other — a truism that includes Whitefish chief executive Andrew Techmanski and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

    Zinke's son had worked at Whitefish last summer. In a local television interview, Techmanski said he was in touch with Zinke after the contract was awarded in order to try to free up more resources.

    It's that small-town connection that first drew scrutiny. But even if a son's summertime job is where the interior secretary's involvement with Whitefish begins and ends, there are other fishy things about the now-cancelled contract. Consider what The Post has reported so far:

    • At $462 an hour for a foreman and $319.04 an hour for a lineman, Whitefish’s pay scales appear to be higher than competitors. In contrast, the Army Corps of Engineers, which is contracting out its own work repairing electric lines, has been offering to pay firms as much as $195.04 an hour for a journeyman lineman and $230.32 an hour for a general foreman, The Post's Steven Mufson, Arelis R.  Hernández and Aaron C. Davis report.
    • Techmanski’s wife, Amanda, was listed as one of Whitefish's two managers despite saying on Facebook that she just started a new job as a nurse practitioner. In July, Whitefish qualified as an “economically disadvantaged woman-owned small business” in another contract with the Energy Department.
    • And the coup de grâce: A highly unusual clause in the contract stating that pay rates and other terms could not be audited or reviewed by Federal Emergency Management Agency; the island's government; the comptroller general; or PREPA.

    The Trump administration denied any wrongdoing with regard to Whitefish. It very well could be telling the truth. Even so, distancing itself from the Whitefish fiasco does very little to solve the administration's fundamental problem with Puerto Rico.

    Zinke struck a defiant, Trump-like tone with reporters asking if he had anything to do with the contract. "Any attempts by the dishonest media or political operatives to tie me to awarding of influencing any contract involving Whitefish are completely baseless," Zinke wrote in a statement. "Only in elitist Washington, D.C., would being from a small town be considered a crime." The White House, too, said it had nothing to do with the contract PREPA awarded.

    Indeed, granting the contract to Whitefish was ultimately the decision of Puerto Rico's electric utilityBut nearly six weeks after the storm, most of the island is still without power. Even the most conservative members of Congress regard disaster relief as primarily the responsibility of the federal government. As long as much of the island remains dark, Puerto Rico is fundamentally Trump's problem.

    As it stands, only 38 percent of Americans approve of Trump's job performance, according to a new NBC-Wall Street Journal poll published over the weekend. Among the issues weighing down Trump's approval rating the most — health care, the Iran nuclear deal, Puerto Rico and the NFL protests— it is the aftermath of Hurricane Maria that remains the furthest from Trump's control.

    But taking responsibility for events outside of their control is exactly what presidents have to do.

    Aside from the series of hurricanes, so far Trump has faced few tests not of his own making. As Trump likes to point out on Twitter, the unemployment rate has been low and GDP growth has been high during his tenure, even though ebbs and flows of those economic indicators are not solely linked to the government's actions.

    How the Trump administration has handled Puerto Rico and Whitefish — seeking credit for the recovery while deflecting blame, even when unwarranted — is potentially a preclude for how the president will handle even bigger external emergencies.

    POWER PLAYS
    Paul Manafort.

    Paul Manafort.

    BREAKING: Paul Manafort, and his former business associate, Rick Gates, have been told to surrender to federal authorities, per the Post's Roz Helderman and Matt Zapotosky. "The precise charges the men face were not immediately clear ... Prosecutors have been probing Manafort’s work as a political consultant in Ukraine, where he advised a Russia-friendly political party for years before his work with Trump. They have also been examining Manafort’s personal finances."

    Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz visit a neighborhood in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (REUTERS/Alvin Baez)

    Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz visit a neighborhood in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (REUTERS/Alvin Baez)

    -- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) visited Puerto Rico late last week as part of one of the latest groups to tour the storm- ravaged areas.

    Sanders tweeted about his trip:

    In other key developments:

    • The Department of Housing and Urban Development has begun drawing up plans to provide housing for displaced hurricane victims, Bloomberg reports, and some residents may be evacuated to the U.S. mainland.

    • BuzzFeed News reported the Puerto Rican government said it authorized more than 900 bodies to be cremated following the storm and “not one of them were physically examined by a government medical examiner to determine if it should be included in the official death toll.” A government spokesman told the website that all of the 911 people died of “natural causes.”

    • The Post's Philip Bump reminds us we may never know Maria’s full toll: “The question that arises is whether or not that total is abnormally high. If 911 is a lot of deaths for a normal month in Puerto Rico, it may indicate that some hurricane-related deaths are not being counted as such.”

    • Nearly three dozen Democrats have signed a letter to FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers calling on them to hasten efforts to restore power to the island. "We are particularly concerned with the lack of a unified command for electrical grid restoration to ensure that resources are properly and quickly utilized, that specific tasks are appropriately prioritized, and that efforts are not duplicative," the senators wrote in the letter, per The Hill. 

    • Democratic senators to Trump: Don't forget about the Puerto Rican islands of Vieques and Culebra, which like the territory's big island were hit hard by the hurricane. For more on the situation in Vieques, read this late September report from The Post's Amy Gordon.

    From MSNBC's Kyle Griffin: 

    -- No Katrina redux: Following Hurricane Harvey in Houston, FEMA director Brock Long cautioned against bringing in mobile homes to serve as temporary housing for storm victims after widespread criticism following the use of such homes after Hurricane Katrina.

    Long called it a “last resort" plan. Still, report The Post's Kimberly Kindy and Aaron C. Davis, FEMA spent $300 million on mobile homes following Harvey and readied 1,700 mobile homes in its inventory.

    “Yet most of those homes remain warehoused. FEMA has made the hunt for permanent rental housing its top priority and is reluctant to deploy the notorious homes and trailers,” Kindy and Davis report. “That decision is crippling recovery efforts in states where thousands of people remain in shelters and hotels more than six weeks after massive hurricanes destroyed their homes. Now in Texas and Florida — where rental stock is inadequate — state officials are cranking up the pressure on FEMA to release the mobile units.”

    A look at Bear Ears National Monument

    -- Earmarked: Trump told Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) late last week that he plans to shrink the state’s Bears Ears National Monument.

    “I’m approving the Bears Ears recommendation for you, Orrin,” Trump told the senator in a phone call Friday morning, reported The Post's Juliet Eilperin and Darryl Fears.

    Trump plans to visit Utah in early December before he makes adjustments to monuments in the state. The Washington Examiner reported that Hatch said Friday the president plans to change both Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, both part of Interior Secretary Zinke’s recommendations following a months-long review.

    -- 372 days until the midterm election: The League of Conservation Voters made a $300,000 ad buy for one Democratic senator up for reelection in 2018, Tammy Baldwin, about an issue that resonates in Wisconsin: Asian carp.

     

    LCV Big

     
     
    OIL CHECK
    Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a press conference during his meeting with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in the Kremlin. (Yuri Kochetkov/Pool Photo via AP)

    Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a press conference during his meeting with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in the Kremlin. (Yuri Kochetkov/Pool Photo via AP)

    -- Citgo situation: The New York Times has a front-page story about Russia wielding one of its state-owned oil companies as a tool for gaining influence abroad. The paper's Clifford Krauss writes: "Moscow, through the state oil giant Rosneft, is trying to build influence in places where the United States has stumbled or power is up for grabs." This includes Venezuela, which is increasingly turning to Russia for cash and credit. Last year, Rosneft took a 49.9 percent stake Venezuela's state-run refining subsidiary in the United States, Citgo, over objections from members of Congress. Rosneft is now seeking stakes in Venezuelas oil fields — right in the backyard of the United States."

    -- Drip, drip: After more than 670,000 gallons of oil spilled from a fractured pipe about a mile below the ocean’s surface in the Gulf of Mexico near Venice, La., it was hardly visible. It was the largest spill since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. But the New York Times reports that “in this case, the oil degraded quickly, in part because of environmental forces.”

    Lt. Cmdr. Steven Youde of the Coast Guard told the Times that most of the oil drops that leaked from a fractured pipe, which was pressurized to more than 3,000 pounds per square inch, were so small they measured in microns.

    “Think of a soda can or a beer can,” he told the Times. “If you shake it up and poke a tiny hole in it, it comes out in tiny, tiny droplets.”

     
    THERMOMETER
    The construction site of the Southport setback levee is seen in West Sacramento, Calif. The levee will help protect neighborhoods from flooding if the Sacramento River breaches levees. (Andrew Burton/For The Washington Post)

    The construction site of the Southport setback levee is seen in West Sacramento, Calif. The levee will help protect neighborhoods from flooding if the Sacramento River breaches levees. (Andrew Burton/For The Washington Post)

    -- What's next for California? As Northern California recovers from major wildfires, state officials are worried about other natural disasters, reports The Post's Tim Craig. “Sacramento is more vulnerable to catastrophic flooding than any other major city in the United States except New Orleans,” Craig writes. “Levees and other flood defenses here and in the surrounding Central Valley have amassed up to $21 billion in needed repairs and upgrades, while Sacramento’s population has continued to grow. Just days before Hurricane Harvey slammed into Texas and flooded Houston, a report from the California Department of Water Resources warned that ‘many flood facilities’ in the Central Valley ‘face an unacceptably high chance of failure.’”

    -- Five years after Sandy: Victims of Superstorm Sandy in New Jersey are warning victims of the harrowing 2017 hurricane season to be patient. “People told me it would be five years before we’re back together. I thought, you gotta be kidding me. I’ll be back by Christmas,” a 69-year-old resident of Brigantine, N.J. told CNN. Well, it’ll be five years in October and we’re not 100% yet.”

    The New York Times reflected on the storm that made landfall on October 29, 2012. “Each year we don’t get a hurricane here we know we’ve dodged a bullet,” Robert Freudenberg, the vice president for energy and environment at the Regional Plan Association told the Times. “We’re racing the clock still to try and prepare for another storm like Sandy.”

     
     
     
    DAYBOOK

    Today

    • Resources for the Future holds an event.
    • George Washington’s Environmental and Energy Management Institute holds a workshop on carbon dioxide removal/negative emissions.

    Coming Up

    • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on “new efficiency opportunities provided by advanced building management and control systems” on Tuesday.
    • The Bipartisan Policy Center holds an event to “unpack the proposed grid reliability and resiliency pricing rule under consideration at FERC” on Tuesday.
    • The House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations holds a hearing on “Examining the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery Program” on Wednesday.
    • The Woodrow Wilson Center’s Brazil Institute holds an event on developing low carbon economies in Latin America on Wednesday.
    • Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies holds an event on energy efficiency in emerging markets onWednesday.
    • The House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing on the future of low dose radiation research on Wednesday.
    • The National Economists Club holds an event with the American Chemistry Council’s chief economist Kevin Swift on Thursday.
    • The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing on a review of emergency response and infrastructure recovery following the hurricane season on Thursday.
    • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans holds a legislative hearing on three water bills on Thursday.
    • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing to receive testimony on potential for oil and gas exploration in the non-wilderness portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on Thursday.
    • The Ripon Society holds an event on the Future of Puerto Rico on Thursday.
    • Axios and NBC News holds an event with Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) on Thursday.
     
    EXTRA MILEAGE

    What you need to know about the Uranium One deal:

    What you need to know about the Uranium One deal

    President Trump's son Donald Trump Jr. joined Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa)'s annual Colonel Bud Day Pheasant Hunt:

    Trump Jr. goes hunting at Rep. Steve King's fundraiser

    What makes Trump 'proud to be an American'?:

    What makes Trump 'proud to be an American'?

    Watch firefighters in Italy rescue dog from a crevasse:

    Italian firefighters rescue dog from crevasse

    John Oliver discusses the federal system for financing flood recovery: 

    Floods: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

     

    source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/

    original story HERE

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  • GLOBAL ATMOSPHERIC CO2 LEVELS HIT RECORD HIGH...

    Smoke rises from a power plant in Bottrop, western Germany. Photograph: Patrik Stollarz/AFP/Getty Images

     

    UN warns that drastic action is needed to meet climate targets set in the Paris agreement...

    The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increased at record speed last year to hit a level not seen for more than three million years, the UN has warned.

    The new report has raised alarm among scientists and prompted calls for nations to consider more drastic emissions reductions at the upcoming climate negotiations in Bonn.

    “Globally averaged concentrations of CO2 reached 403.3 parts per million (ppm) in 2016, up from 400.00 ppm in 2015 because of a combination of human activities and a strong El Niño event,” according to The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, the UN weather agency’s annual flagship report.

    This acceleration occurred despite a slowdown – and perhaps even a plateauing – of emissions because El Niño intensified droughts and weakened the ability of vegetation to absorb carbon dioxide. As the planet warms, El Niños are expected to become more frequent.

    The increase of 3.3 ppm is considerably higher than both the 2.3 ppm rise of the previous 12 months and the average annual increase over the past decade of 2.08ppm. It is also well above the previous big El Niño year of 1998, when the rise was 2.7 ppm.

    The study, which uses monitoring ships, aircraft and stations on the land to track emissions trends since 1750, said carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is now increasing 100 times faster than at the end of the last ice age due to population growth, intensive agriculture, deforestation and industrialisation.

    The last time Earth experienced similar CO2 concentration rates was during the Pliocene era (three to five million years ago), when the sea level was up to 20m higher than now.

    The authors urged policymakers to step up countermeasures to reduce the risk of global warming exceeding the Paris climate target of between 1.5C and 2C.

    “Without rapid cuts in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, we will be heading for dangerous temperature increases by the end of this century, well above the target set by the Paris climate change agreement,” World Meteorological Organisation chief Petteri Taalas said in a statement.

    The momentum from the Paris accord in 2015 is faltering due to the failure of national governments to live up to their promises. In a report to be released on Tuesday, UN Environment will show the gap between international goals and domestic commitments leaves the world on course for warming well beyond the 2C target and probably beyond 3C. International efforts to act have also been weakened by US president Donald Trump’s decision to quit the accord.

    Prof Dave Reay, professor of carbon management at the University of Edinburgh, said: “This should set alarm bells ringing in the corridors of power. We know that, as climate change intensifies, the ability of the land and oceans to mop up our carbon emissions will weaken. There’s still time to steer these emissions down and so keep some control, but if we wait too long humankind will become a passenger on a one-way street to dangerous climate change.”

    “The numbers don’t lie. We are still emitting far too much and this needs to be reversed,” the head of UN Environment Erik Solheim said in reaction to the new report. “What we need now is global political will and a new sense of urgency.”

    The report comes amid growing concerns that nature’s ability to deal with CO2 is weakening. Recent studies show forest regions are being cleared and degraded so rapidly that they are now emitting more carbon than they absorb.

    “These large increase show it is more important than ever to reduce our emissions to zero – and as soon as possible,” said Piers Forster, director of the Priestley International Centre for Climate at the University of Leeds. “If vegetation can no longer help out absorbing our emissions in these hot years we could be in trouble.”

    The World Meteorological Organisation predicted 2017 will again break records for concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane, but the growth rate will not be as fast because there is no El Niño effect.

    and agencies

    Monday 30 October 2017 09.06 EDT

    source: https://www.theguardian.com/us

    original story HERE

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  • FEMA HAD A PLAN FOR RESPONDING TO A HURRICANE IN PUERTO RICO — BUT IT DOESN’T WANT YOU TO SEE IT...

    Army soldiers pass out food, provided by FEMA, to residents in a neighborhood without grid electricity or running water on Oct. 17, 2017, in San Isidro, Puerto Rico. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

     

    The disaster-relief agency, under fire after Hurricane Maria, won’t release the plan, even as a comparable document for Hawaii remains public...

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency, citing unspecified “potentially sensitive information,” is declining to release a document it drafted several years ago that details how it would respond to a major hurricane in Puerto Rico.

    The plan, known as a hurricane annex, runs more than 100 pages and explains exactly what FEMA and other agencies would do in the event that a large storm struck the island. The document could help experts assess both how well the federal government had prepared for a storm the size of Hurricane Maria and whether FEMA’s response matches what was planned. The agency began drafting such advance plans after it was excoriated for poor performance and lack of preparation in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

    ProPublica requested a copy of the Puerto Rico hurricane annex as part of its reporting on the federal response to Maria, the scale and speed of which has been the subject of scrutiny and criticism. More than a month after the storm made landfall, 73 percent of the island still lacks electricity.

    Early last week, a FEMA spokesman said he would provide a copy of the plan that afternoon. It never came. After a week of follow-ups, FEMA sent a statement reversing its position. “Due to the potentially sensitive information contained within the Hurricane Annex of the Region II All Hazards Plan, there are legal questions surrounding what, if any, portions of the annex can be released,” the statement said. “As such, the documents that you seek must be reviewed and analyzed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by FEMA.” The statement did not explain what legal questions apply.

    As ProPublica has previously reported, FEMA’s Freedom of Information process is plagued by dysfunction and yearslong backlogs. For example, FEMA hasn’t responded to a request for documents related to Superstorm Sandy that we filed more than three and a half years ago.

    After FEMA declined to release the Puerto Rico hurricane plan, we found the agency’s equivalent plan for Hawaii posted, unredacted, on the internet by the Department of Defense. The Hawaii plan includes granular details down to, for example, how many specially outfitted medical aircraft the federal government would send to Hawaii after a Category 4 hurricane. It also describes an 85-step process to restore electricity on the islands.

    Asked why the Puerto Rico plan was too sensitive to release publicly while the Hawaii plan was not, a FEMA spokesman said: “We aren’t able to speak for DoD or the State of Hawaii.”

    Do you have information about FEMA or other agencies’ responses to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico? Contact Justin at justin@propublica.org or via Signal at 774-826-6240.

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  • THE GREAT NUTRIENT COLLAPSE...

    Geoff Johnson for POLITICO

     

    The atmosphere is literally changing the food we eat, for the worse. And almost nobody is paying attention...

    Irakli Loladze is a mathematician by training, but he was in a biology lab when he encountered the puzzle that would change his life. It was in 1998, and Loladze was studying for his Ph.D. at Arizona State University. Against a backdrop of glass containers glowing with bright green algae, a biologist told Loladze and a half-dozen other graduate students that scientists had discovered something mysterious about zooplankton.

    Zooplankton are microscopic animals that float in the world’s oceans and lakes, and for food they rely on algae, which are essentially tiny plants. Scientists found that they could make algae grow faster by shining more light onto them—increasing the food supply for the zooplankton, which should have flourished. But it didn’t work out that way. When the researchers shined more light on the algae, the algae grew faster, and the tiny animals had lots and lots to eat—but at a certain point they started struggling to survive. This was a paradox. More food should lead to more growth. How could more algae be a problem?

    Loladze was technically in the math department, but he loved biology and couldn’t stop thinking about this. The biologists had an idea of what was going on: The increased light was making the algae grow faster, but they ended up containing fewer of the nutrients the zooplankton needed to thrive. By speeding up their growth, the researchers had essentially turned the algae into junk food. The zooplankton had plenty to eat, but their food was less nutritious, and so they were starving.

    Loladze used his math training to help measure and explain the algae-zooplankton dynamic. He and his colleagues devised a model that captured the relationship between a food source and a grazer that depends on the food. They published that first paper in 2000. But Loladze was also captivated by a much larger question raised by the experiment: Just how far this problem might extend.

    “What struck me is that its application is wider,” Loladze recalled in an interview. Could the same problem affect grass and cows? What about rice and people? “It was kind of a watershed moment for me when I started thinking about human nutrition,” he said.

    In the outside world, the problem isn’t that plants are suddenly getting more light: It’s that for years, they’ve been getting more carbon dioxide. Plants rely on both light and carbon dioxide to grow. If shining more light results in faster-growing, less nutritious algae—junk-food algae whose ratio of sugar to nutrients was out of whack—then it seemed logical to assume that ramping up carbon dioxide might do the same. And it could also be playing out in plants all over the planet. What might that mean for the plants that people eat?

    What Loladze found is that scientists simply didn’t know. It was already well documented that CO2levels were rising in the atmosphere, but he was astonished at how little research had been done on how it affected the quality of the plants we eat. For the next 17 years, as he pursued his math career, Loladze scoured the scientific literature for any studies and data he could find. The results, as he collected them, all seemed to point in the same direction: The junk-food effect he had learned about in that Arizona lab also appeared to be occurring in fields and forests around the world. “Every leaf and every grass blade on earth makes more and more sugars as CO2 levels keep rising,” Loladze said. “We are witnessing the greatest injection of carbohydrates into the biosphere in human history―[an] injection that dilutes other nutrients in our food supply.”

    He published those findings just a few years ago, adding to the concerns of a small but increasingly worried group of researchers who are raising unsettling questions about the future of our food supply. Could carbon dioxide have an effect on human health we haven’t accounted for yet? The answer appears to be yes—and along the way, it has steered Loladze and other scientists, directly into some of the thorniest questions in their profession, including just how hard it is to do research in a field that doesn’t quite exist yet.

    IN AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH, it’s been understood for some time that many of our most important foods have been getting less nutritious. Measurements of fruits and vegetables show that their minerals, vitamin and protein content has measurably dropped over the past 50 to 70 years. Researchers have generally assumed the reason is fairly straightforward: We’ve been breeding and choosing crops for higher yields, rather than nutrition, and higher-yielding crops—whether broccoli, tomatoes, or wheat—tend to be less nutrient-packed.

    In 2004, a landmark study of fruits and vegetables found that everything from protein to calcium, iron and vitamin C had declined significantly across most garden crops since 1950. The researchers concluded this could mostly be explained by the varieties we were choosing to grow.

     

    Loladze and a handful of other scientists have come to suspect that’s not the whole story and that the atmosphere itself may be changing the food we eat. Plants need carbon dioxide to live like humans need oxygen. And in the increasingly polarized debate about climate science, one thing that isn’t up for debate is that the level of CO2 in the atmosphere is rising. Before the industrial revolution, the earth’s atmosphere had about 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide. Last year, the planet crossed over the 400 parts per million threshold; scientists predict we will likely reach 550 parts per million within the next half-century—essentially twice the amount that was in the air when Americans started farming with tractors.

    If you’re someone who thinks about plant growth, this seems like a good thing. It has also been useful ammunition for politicians looking for reasons to worry less about the implications of climate change. Rep. Lamar Smith, a Republican who chairs the House Committee on Science, recently argued that people shouldn’t be so worried about rising CO2 levels because it’s good for plants, and what’s good for plants is good for us.

    “A higher concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere would aid photosynthesis, which in turn contributes to increased plant growth,” the Texas Republican wrote. “This correlates to a greater volume of food production and better quality food.”

    But as the zooplankton experiment showed, greater volume and better quality might not go hand-in-hand. In fact, they might be inversely linked. As best scientists can tell, this is what happens: Rising CO2 revs up photosynthesis, the process that helps plants transform sunlight to food. This makes plants grow, but it also leads them to pack in more carbohydrates like glucose at the expense of other nutrients that we depend on, like protein, iron and zinc.

    In 2002, while a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University, Loladze published a seminal research paper in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, a leading journal, arguing that rising CO2 and human nutrition were inextricably linked through a global shift in the quality of plants. In the paper, Loladze complained about the dearth of data: Among thousands of publications he had reviewed on plants and rising CO2, he found only one that looked specifically at how it affected the balance of nutrients in rice, a crop that billions of people rely on. (The paper, published in 1997, found a drop in zinc and iron.)

    Increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is reducing the protein in staple crops like rice, wheat, barley and potatoes, raising unknown risks to human health in the future.

    Increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is reducing the protein in staple crops like rice, wheat, barley and potatoes, raising unknown risks to human health in the future. | Getty Images

    Loladze’s paper was first to tie the impact of CO2 on plant quality to human nutrition. But he also raised more questions than he answered, arguing that there were fundamental holes in the research. If these nutritional shifts were happening up and down the food chain, the phenomenon needed to be measured and understood.

    Part of the problem, Loladze was finding, lay in the research world itself. Answering the question required an understanding of plant physiology, agriculture and nutrition―as well as a healthy dollop of math. He could do the math, but he was a young academic trying to establish himself, and math departments weren't especially interested in solving problems in farming and human health. Loladze struggled to get funding to generate new data and continued to obsessively collect published data from researchers across the globe. He headed to the heartland to take an assistant professor position at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. It was a major agricultural school, which seemed like a good sign, but Loladze was still a math professor. He was told he could pursue his research interests as long as he brought in funding, but he struggled. Biology grant makers said his proposals were too math-heavy; math grant makers said his proposals contained too much biology.

    “It was year after year, rejection after rejection,” he said. “It was so frustrating. I don’t think people grasp the scale of this.”

    It’s not just in the fields of math and biology that this issue has fallen through the cracks. To say that it’s little known that key crops are getting less nutritious due to rising CO2 is an understatement. It is simply not discussed in the agriculture, public health or nutrition communities. At all.

    When POLITICO contacted top nutrition experts about the growing body of research on the topic, they were almost universally perplexed and asked to see the research. One leading nutrition scientist at Johns Hopkins University said it was interesting, but admitted he didn’t know anything about it. He referred me to another expert. She said they didn’t know about the subject, either. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an association representing an army of nutrition experts across the country, connected me with Robin Foroutan, an integrative medicine nutritionist who was also not familiar with the research.

    “It’s really interesting, and you’re right, it’s not on many people’s radar,” wrote Foroutan, in an email, after being sent some papers on the topic. Foroutan said she would like to see a whole lot more data, particularly on how a subtle shift toward more carbohydrates in plants could affect public health.

    "We don't know what a minor shift in the carbohydrate ratio in the diet is ultimately going to do,” she said, noting that the overall trend toward more starch and carbohydrate consumption has been associated with an increase in diet-related disease like obesity and diabetes. "To what degree would a shift in the food system contribute to that? We can't really say.”

    Asked to comment for this story, Marion Nestle, a nutrition policy professor at New York University who’s one of the best-known nutrition experts in the country, initially expressed skepticism about the whole concept but offered to dig into a file she keeps on climate issues.

    After reviewing the evidence, she changed her tune. “I’m convinced,” she said, in an email, while also urging caution: It wasn’t clear whether CO2-driven nutrient depletion would have a meaningful impact on public health. We need to know a whole lot more, she said.

    Kristie Ebi, a researcher at the University of Washington who’s studied the intersection of climate change and global health for two decades, is one of a handful of scientists in the U.S. who is keyed into the potentially sweeping consequences of the CO2-nutrition dynamic, and brings it up in every talk she gives.

    "It's a hidden issue,” Ebi said. “The fact that my bread doesn't have the micronutrients it did 20 years ago―how would you know?"

    As Ebi sees it, the CO2-nutrition link has been slow to break through, much as it took the academic community a long time to start seriously looking at the intersection of climate and human health in general. “This is before the change,” she said. “This is what it looks like before the change."

    Soybeans growing in a field outside Lincoln, Nebraska, one of many crops whose nutrient content is shifting as a result of rising carbon dioxide levels.

    Soybeans growing in a field outside Lincoln, Nebraska, one of many crops whose nutrient content is shifting as a result of rising carbon dioxide levels. | Geoff Johnson for POLITICO

    LOLADZE'S EARLY PAPER raised some big questions that are difficult, but not impossible, to answer. How does rising atmospheric CO2 change how plants grow? How much of the long-term nutrient drop is caused by the atmosphere, and how much by other factors, like breeding?

    It’s also difficult, but not impossible, to run farm-scale experiments on how CO2 affects plants. Researchers use a technique that essentially turns an entire field into a lab. The current gold standard for this type of research is called a FACE experiment (for “free-air carbon dioxide enrichment”), in which researchers create large open-air structures that blow CO2 onto the plants in a given area. Small sensors keep track of the CO2 levels. When too much CO2 escapes the perimeter, the contraption puffs more into the air to keep the levels stable. Scientists can then compare those plants directly to others growing in normal air nearby.

    These experiments and others like them have shown scientists that plants change in important ways when they’re grown at elevated CO2 levels. Within the category of plants known as “C3”―which includes approximately 95 percent of plant species on earth, including ones we eat like wheat, rice, barley and potatoes―elevated CO2 has been shown to drive down important minerals like calcium, potassium, zinc and iron. The data we have, which look at how plants would respond to the kind of CO2 concentrations we may see in our lifetimes, show these important minerals drop by 8 percent, on average. The same conditions have been shown to drive down the protein content of C3 crops, in some cases significantly, with wheat and rice dropping 6 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

    Earlier this summer, a group of researchers published the first studies attempting to estimate what these shifts could mean for the global population. Plants are a crucial source of protein for people in the developing world, and by 2050, they estimate, 150 million people could be put at risk of protein deficiency, particularly in countries like India and Bangladesh. Researchers found a loss of zinc, which is particularly essential for maternal and infant health, could put 138 million people at risk. They also estimated that more than 1 billion mothers and 354 million children live in countries where dietary iron is projected to drop significantly, which could exacerbate the already widespread public health problem of anemia.

    There aren’t any projections for the United States, where we for the most part enjoy a diverse diet with no shortage of protein, but some researchers look at the growing proportion of sugars in plants and hypothesize that a systemic shift in plants could further contribute to our already alarming rates of obesity and cardiovascular disease.

    Another new and important strain of research on CO2 and plant nutrition is now coming out of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Lewis Ziska, a plant physiologist at the Agricultural Research Service headquarters in Beltsville, Maryland, is drilling down on some of the questions that Loladze first raised 15 years ago with a number of new studies that focus on nutrition.

    Lewis Ziska, a plant physiologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, examines rice growing in his laboratory in Beltsville, Md. Ziska and his colleagues are conducting experiments to find out how rising carbon dioxide levels affect the nutrient profile of plants. Plant physiologist Julie Wolf harvests peppers to study changes in vitamin C, lower right.

    Lewis Ziska, a plant physiologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, examines rice growing in his laboratory in Beltsville, Md. Ziska and his colleagues are conducting experiments to find out how rising carbon dioxide levels affect the nutrient profile of plants. Plant physiologist Julie Wolf harvests peppers to study changes in vitamin C, lower right. | M. Scott Mahaskey/POLITICO

    Ziska devised an experiment that eliminated the complicating factor of plant breeding: He decided to look at bee food.

    Goldenrod, a wildflower many consider a weed, is extremely important to bees. It flowers late in the season, and its pollen provides an important source of protein for bees as they head into the harshness of winter. Since goldenrod is wild and humans haven’t bred it into new strains, it hasn’t changed over time as much as, say, corn or wheat. And the Smithsonian Institution also happens to have hundreds of samples of goldenrod, dating back to 1842, in its massive historical archive—which gave Ziska and his colleagues a chance to figure out how one plant has changed over time.

    They found that the protein content of goldenrod pollen has declined by a third since the industrial revolution—and the change closely tracks with the rise in CO2. Scientists have been trying to figure out why bee populations around the world have been in decline, which threatens many crops that rely on bees for pollination. Ziska’s paper suggested that a decline in protein prior to winter could be an additional factor making it hard for bees to survive other stressors.

    Ziska worries we’re not studying all the ways CO2 affects the plants we depend on with enough urgency, especially considering the fact that retooling crops takes a long time.

    “We’re falling behind in our ability to intercede and begin to use the traditional agricultural tools, like breeding, to compensate,” he said. “Right now it can take 15 to 20 years before we get from the laboratory to the field.”

    AS LOLADZE AND others have found, tackling globe-spanning new questions that cross the boundaries of scientific fields can be difficult. There are plenty of plant physiologists researching crops, but most are dedicated to studying factors like yield and pest resistance—qualities that have nothing to do with nutrition. Math departments, as Loladze discovered, don’t exactly prioritize food research. And studying living things can be costly and slow: It takes several years and huge sums of money to get a FACE experiment to generate enough data to draw any conclusions.

    Despite these challenges, researchers are increasingly studying these questions, which means we may have more answers in the coming years. Ziska and Loladze, who now teaches math at Bryan College of Health Sciences in Lincoln, Nebraska, are collaborating with a coalition of researchers in China, Japan, Australia and elsewhere in the U.S. on a large study looking at rising CO2 and the nutritional profile of rice, one of humankind’s most important crops. Their study also includes vitamins, an important nutritional component, that to date has almost not been studied at all.

    USDA researchers also recently dug up varieties of rice, wheat and soy that USDA had saved from the 1950s and 1960s and planted them in plots around the U.S. where previous researchers had grown the same cultivars decades ago, with the aim of better understanding how today’s higher levels of CO2 affect them.

    Mathematician Irakli Loladze tosses sugar over vegetables outside his home in Lincoln Nebraska, to illustrate how the sugar content of the plants we eat is increasing as a result of rising carbon dioxide levels. Loladze was the first scientist to publish research connecting rising CO2 and changes in plant quality to human nutrition.

    Mathematician Irakli Loladze tosses sugar over vegetables outside his home in Lincoln Nebraska, to illustrate how the sugar content of the plants we eat is increasing as a result of rising carbon dioxide levels. Loladze was the first scientist to publish research connecting rising CO2 and changes in plant quality to human nutrition. | Geoff Johnson for POLITICO

    In a USDA research field in Maryland, researchers are running experiments on bell peppers to measure how vitamin C changes under elevated CO2. They’re also looking at coffee to see whether caffeine declines. “There are lots of questions,” Ziska said as he showed me around his research campus in Beltsville. “We’re just putting our toe in the water.”

    Ziska is part of a small band of researchers now trying to measure these changes and figure out what it means for humans. Another key figure studying this nexus is Samuel Myers, a doctor turned climate researcher at Harvard University who leads the Planetary Health Alliance, a new global effort to connect the dots between climate science and human health.

    Myers is also concerned that the research community is not more focused on understanding the CO2-nutrition dynamic, since it’s a crucial piece of a much larger picture of how such changes might ripple through ecosystems. "This is the tip of the iceberg," said Myers. "It's been hard for us to get people to understand how many questions they should have."

    In 2014, Myers and a team of other scientists published a large, data-rich study in the journal Nature that looked at key crops grown at several sites in Japan, Australia and the United States that also found rising CO2 led to a drop in protein, iron and zinc. It was the first time the issue had attracted any real media attention.

    “The public health implications of global climate change are difficult to predict, and we expect many surprises,” the researchers wrote. “The finding that raising atmospheric CO2 lowers the nutritional value of C3 crops is one such surprise that we can now better predict and prepare for.”

    The same year―in fact, on the same day―Loladze, then teaching math at the The Catholic University of Daegu in South Korea, published his own paper, the result of more than 15 years of gathering data on the same subject. It was the largest study in the world on rising CO2 and its impact on plant nutrients. Loladze likes to describe plant science as ““noisy”―research-speak for cluttered with complicating data, through which it can be difficult to detect the signal you’re looking for. His new data set was finally big enough to see the signal through the noise, to detect the “hidden shift,” as he put it.

    What he found is that his 2002 theory—or, rather, the strong suspicion he had articulated back then—appeared to be borne out. Across nearly 130 varieties of plants and more than 15,000 samples collected from experiments over the past three decades, the overall concentration of minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc and iron had dropped by 8 percent on average. The ratio of carbohydrates to minerals was going up. The plants, like the algae, were becoming junk food.

    What that means for humans―whose main food intake is plants―is only just starting to be investigated. Researchers who dive into it will have to surmount obstacles like its low profile and slow pace, and a political environment where the word “climate” is enough to derail a funding conversation. It will also require entirely new bridges to be built in the world of science―a problem that Loladze himself wryly acknowledges in his own research. When his paper was finally published in 2014, Loladze listed his grant rejections in the acknowledgements.

    By

    09/13/2017 05:03 AM EDT

    Helena Bottemiller Evich is a senior food and agriculture reporter for POLITICO Pro.

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  • SCIENTISTS SAY CLIMATE CHANGE MAKING WINTER START LATER AND LATER...

    This Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 file photo show fall colors beginning to show along Route 209 in Reilly Township, Schuylkill County, Pa. Across the United States, 2017’s first freeze has been arriving further and further into the calendar, according to more than a century of measurements from weather stations nationwide. (David McKeown/Republican-Herald via AP) DAVID MCKEOWN

     

    Winter is coming ... later. And it’s leaving ever earlier...

    Across the United States, the year’s first freeze has been arriving further and further into the calendar, according to more than a century of measurements from weather stations nationwide.

    Scientists say it is yet another sign of the changing climate, and that it has good and bad consequences for the nation. There could be more fruits and vegetables – and also more allergies and pests.

    “I’m happy about it,” said Karen Duncan of Streator, Illinois. Her flowers are in bloom because she’s had no frost this year yet, just as she had none last year at this time either. On the other hand, she said just last week it was too hot and buggy to go out – in late October, near Chicago.

    The trend of ever later first freezes appears to have started around 1980, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of data from 700 weather stations across the U.S. going back to 1895 compiled by Ken Kunkel, a meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

    To look for nationwide trends, Kunkel compared the first freeze from each of the 700 stations to the station’s average for the 20th Century. Some parts of the country experience earlier or later freezes every year, but on average freezes are coming later.

    The average first freeze over the last 10 years, from 2007 to 2016, is a week later than the average from 1971 to 1980, which is before Kunkel said the trend became noticeable.

    This year, about 40 percent of the Lower 48 states have had a freeze as of Oct. 23, compared to 65 percent in a normal year, according to Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private service Weather Underground.

    Duncan’s flowers should be dead by now. According to data from the weather station near her in Ottawa, Illinois, the average first freeze for the 20th century was Oct. 15. The normal from 1981 to 2010 based on NOAA computer simulations was Oct. 19. Since 2010, the average first freeze is on Oct. 26. Last year, the first freeze in Ottawa came on Nov. 12.

    Last year was “way off the charts” nationwide, Kunkel said. The average first freeze was two weeks later than the 20th century average, and the last frost of spring was nine days earlier than normal.

    Overall the United States freeze season of 2016 was more than a month shorter than the freeze season of 1916. It was most extreme in the Pacific Northwest. Oregon’s freeze season was 61 days.

    Global warming has helped push the first frosts arrive later, Kunkel and other scientists said. Also at play, though, are natural short-term changes in air circulation patterns – but they too may be influenced by man-made climate change, they said.

    This shrinking freeze season is what climate scientists have long predicted, said University of Oklahoma meteorology professor Jason Furtado.

    A shorter freeze season means a longer growing season and less money spent on heat. But it also hurts some plants that require a certain amount of chill, such as Georgia peaches, said Theresa Crimmins, a University of Arizona ecologist. Crimmins is assistant director of the National Phenology Network. Phenology is the study of the seasons and how plants and animals adapt to timing changes.

    Pests that attack trees and spread disease aren’t being killed off as early as they normally would be, Crimmins said.

    In New England, many trees aren’t changing colors as vibrantly as they normally do or used to because some take cues for when to turn from temperature, said Boston University biology professor Richard Primack.

    Clusters of late-emerging monarch butterflies are being found far further north than normal for this time of year, and are unlikely to survive their migration to Mexico.

    Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said natural variability, especially an El Nino, made last year exceptional for an early freeze, but “it represents the kind of conditions that will be more routine in a decade or two” because of man-made climate change.

    “The long-term consequences are really negative,” said Primack, because shorter winters and hotter temperatures are also expected to lead to rising seas that cause worse flooding during heavy storms.

    In suburban Boston, Primack and his wife are still eating lettuce, tomatoes and green beans from their garden. And they are getting fresh figs off their backyard tree almost daily.

    “These fig trees should be asleep,” Primack said.

    By SETH BORENSTEIN
    Associated Press

    Saturday, October 28, 2017
     
     
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