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Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Group Shout on Climate Change
SEPT. 27, 2014
The marchers and mayors, the ministers and presidents, have come and gone. So what is the verdict on Climate Week, the summit meeting on global warming convened by the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, in New York?
The meeting was not intended to reach a global agreement or to extract tangible commitments from individual nations to reduce the greenhouse gases that are changing the world’s ecosystems and could well spin out of control. Its purpose was to build momentum for a new global deal to be completed in December 2015, in Paris.
In that respect, it clearly moved the ball forward, not so much in the official speeches but on the streets and in the meeting rooms where corporate leaders, investors, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and state and local officials pressed the case for stronger action.
It was important to put climate change back on the radar screen of world leaders, whose last effort to strike a deal, in Copenhagen five years ago, ended in acrimonious disaster. President Obama, for one, was as eloquent as he has ever been on the subject: “For all the immediate challenges that we gather to address this week — terrorism, instability, inequality, disease — there’s one issue that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other, and that is the urgent and growing threat of a changing climate.”
But most of the positive energy at this gathering came from people closer to the ground, like the 300,000 activists who marched last Sunday. They included mayors like New York’s Michael Bloomberg and his successor, Bill de Blasio, who both spoke of the critical role that cities can play in reducing emissions. They included governors like California’s Jerry Brown, who is justly proud of his state’s pathbreaking efforts to control automobile and power plant pollution. And they included institutions like Bank of America, which said it would invest in renewable energy, and companies like Kellogg and Nestle, which pledged to help stem the destruction of tropical forests by changing the way they buy commodities like soybeans and palm oil.
Underlying all these declarations was a palpable conviction that tackling climate change could be an opportunity and not a burden, that the way to approach the task of harnessing greenhouse gas emissions was not to ask how much it would cost but how much nations stood to gain by investing in new technologies and energy efficiency.
This burst of activity comes at a crucial time. A tracking initiative called the Global Carbon Project recently reported that greenhouse gas emissions jumped 2.3 percent in 2013, mainly because of big increases in China and India. This means it is becoming increasingly difficult to limit global warming to an upper boundary of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels. Beyond that point, scientists say, a world already suffering from disappearing glaciers, rising seas and persistent droughts could face even more alarming consequences.
Avoiding such a fate is going to require a revolution in the way the world produces and consumes energy, which clearly has to involve national governments, no matter how much commitment there is on the streets and in the boardrooms. The odds are long that a legally binding treaty will emerge from Paris. Congress is unlikely to ratify one anyway. The smart money now is on a softer agreement that brings all the big polluters on board with national emissions caps, and there are reasons for hope that this can be done.

Mr. Obama is in a much stronger leadership position than he was at Copenhagen, having engineered a huge increase in automobile fuel efficiency and proposed rules that will greatly reduce the United States’ reliance on dirty coal. The Chinese, in part because their own air is so dirty, have been investing heavily in alternative energy sources like wind and solar, and they are giving serious consideration to a national cap on coal consumption. The cooperation of these two countries could by itself create the conditions for a breakthrough agreement. But what might really do the trick — if Climate Week is any guide — is the emergence of a growing bottom-up movement for change.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Portland will still be cool....BUT

Portland Will Still Be Cool, but Anchorage May Be the Place to Be
On a Warmer Planet, Which Cities Will Be Safest?
Alaskans, stay in Alaska. People in the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest, sit tight.
Scientists trying to predict the consequences of climate change say that they see few havens from the storms, floods and droughts that are sure to intensify over the coming decades. But some regions, they add, will fare much better than others.
Forget most of California and the Southwest (drought, wildfires). Ditto for much of the East Coast and Southeast (heat waves, hurricanes, rising sea levels). Washington, D.C., for example, may well be a flood zone by 2100, according to an estimate released last week.
Instead, consider Anchorage. Or even, perhaps, Detroit.
“If you do not like it hot and do not want to be hit by a hurricane, the options of where to go are very limited,” said Camilo Mora, a geography professor at the University of Hawaii and lead author of a paper published in Nature last year predicting that unprecedented high temperatures will become the norm worldwide by 2047.
“The best place really is Alaska,” he added. “Alaska is going to be the next Florida by the end of the century.”
Under any model of climate change, scientists say, most of the country will look and feel drastically different in 2050, 2100 and beyond, even as cities and states try to adapt and plan ahead. The northern Great Plains states may well be pleasant (if muggy) for future generations, as may many neighboring states. Although few people today are moving long distances to strategize for climate change, some are at least pondering the question of where they would go.
“The answer is the Pacific Northwest, and probably especially west of the Cascades,” said Ben Strauss, vice president for climate impacts and director of the program on sea level rise at Climate Central, a research collaboration of scientists and journalists. “Actually, the strip of coastal land running from Canada down to the Bay Area is probably the best,” he added. “You see a lot less extreme heat; it’s the one place in the West where there’s no real expectation of major water stress, and while sea level will rise there as everywhere, the land rises steeply out of the ocean, so it’s a relatively small factor.”
Clifford E. Mass, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Washington, writes a popular weather blog in which he predicts that the Pacific Northwest will be “a potential climate refuge” as global warming progresses. A Seattle resident, he foresees that “climate change migrants” will start heading to his city and to Portland, Ore., and surrounding areas.
“The Pacific Ocean is like our natural air conditioning,” Professor Mass said in a telephone interview. “We don’t get humidity like the East Coast does.”
As for the water supply? “Water is important, and we will have it,” Professor Mass declared. “All in all, it’s a pretty benign situation for us — in fact, warming up just a little bit might be a little bit welcome around here.”
Already, he said, Washington State is gearing up to become the next Napa Valley as California’s wine country heats up and dries out.
“People are going crazy putting in vineyards in eastern Washington right now,” he said.
There may be other refuges to the east. Don’t count out the elevated inland cities in the country’s midsection, like Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Milwaukee and Detroit, said Matthew E. Kahn, a professor of environmental economics at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“I predict we’re going to have millions of people moving to those areas,” he said in a telephone interview.
In his 2010 book “Climatopolis,” Professor Kahn predicts that when things get bad enough in any given location — not just the temperatures and extreme weather, but also the cost of insurance and so forth — people will become “environmental refugees,” fleeing cities like Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Diego. By 2100, he writes, Detroit will be one of the nation’s most desirable cities.
That assertion came as a surprise to Rachel Burnside-Saltmarshall, a former president of the Detroit Association of Realtors.
“I haven’t come across that,” Ms. Burnside-Saltmarshall said diplomatically, adding that there were more immediate municipal concerns. “Like crime — tell me when that’s going to go down.”
A report by United Van Lines looking at relocation trends in 2013 found that its customers were moving primarily for economic reasons — a new job, lower costs of living — or quality-of-life considerations that were not climate related, such as public transit or green space. Coincidentally, Oregon — a predicted climate-change winner — topped the list of inbound moves, followed by South Carolina, North Carolina, the District of Columbia and South Dakota. The top states for outbound moves were New Jersey, Illinois, New York, West Virginia and Connecticut.
“What we see is that people are actually moving into harm’s way,” said Thomas C. Peterson, principal scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center. “They’re moving from relatively safe places in the Midwest to places along the Florida coast, where the risk has been increasing.”
In May, Miami was named one of the nation’s most vulnerable cities in the National Climate Assessment, the third in a series of federal reports on how global warming will play out across the country. The week the report was released, Miami Beach residents were wading through ankle-deep waters on some of their main thoroughfares.
As sea levels rise in the decades ahead, said Professor Mass of the University of Washington, “if there’s ground zero for where you don’t want to be, Florida is it.” Other particularly vulnerable places are the low-lying cities of the East and Gulf Coasts, he noted.
As for New York City, the nation’s most populous city, Professor Mora at the University of Hawaii projects that 2047 will be the “year of climate change departure” — when weather that seems extraordinarily hot and catastrophic by today’s standards will become the norm.
“The coasts are all going to be facing very hot temperatures,” Professor Mora said. Washington, D.C., will reach its tipping point the same year, under his model; Los Angeles has until 2048; San Francisco, 2049 and Chicago, 2052. Detroit has until 2051, and Anchorage, 2071.
Some climate experts are optimistic that major cities will plan, adapt and ward off catastrophe. “New York has such a concentration of wealth and assets that I expect we will invest to defend the region from sea level rise and flooding, and there’s already movement in that direction,” said Mr. Strauss of Climate Central, a New York City resident.
But even in the places that are expected to come out ahead, the picture does not look entirely rosy.
“Summer in Minnesota is projected to be like the climate is in northern Oklahoma — the trees and the forests there, the crops that farmers plant,” said Dr. Peterson of NOAA, citing the 2009 National Climate Assessment. “You build houses differently in Minnesota versus Oklahoma, you lay railroad tracks differently.”

All in all, Dr. Peterson said, the changes will be highly disruptive, particularly over time. “We often talk about the climate from now ’til the end of this century, because that’s kind of a nice model,” he said, “But it’s not going to end there — it’s going to keep changing.”

MEF Fall 2014 Newsletter

Monday, September 22, 2014

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A Demonstration for the Planet in Manhattan

A Demonstration for the Planet in Manhattan

CreditDamon Winter/The New York Times
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Legions of demonstrators frustrated by international inaction on global warming descended on New York City on Sunday, marching through the heart of Manhattan with a message of alarm for world leaders set to gather this week at the United Nations for a summit meeting on climate change.
Coursing through Midtown, from Columbus Circle to Times Square and the Far West Side, the People’s Climate March was a spectacle even for a city known for doing things big, and it was joined, in solidarity, by demonstrations on Sunday across the globe, from Paris to Papua New Guinea.
“I’m here because I really feel that every major social movement in this country has come when people get together,” said Carol Sutton of Norwalk, Conn., the president of a teachers’ union. “It begins in the streets.”
From the scientists holding an oversize chalkboard to the Hurricane Sandy victims toting life preservers, the march was a self-consciously inclusive affair, with the organizers intent on creating a very big tent, which they hoped would hammer home the relevance of climate change and its effects.
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Assembly area
W. 65TH ST.
Parade route
The march attracted leading lights in the environmental movement, most notably former Vice President Al Gore. It drew the secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, who will preside over this week’s United Nations climate summit meeting. And it included Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, fresh off his announcement that he was committing the city to an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050.
But it was mostly an event for concerned ordinary people, many of them veterans of climate change efforts, others relative newcomers.
From as close as the Bronx and as far as at least Rome, the demonstrators came in vast numbers. At one point early in the afternoon, the march came to a halt because the entire 2.2-mile route was full, and more than two hours into the procession, people were still setting out from the starting point near Columbus Circle.
Organizers, using data provided by 35 crowd spotters and analyzed by a mathematician from Carnegie Mellon University, estimated that 311,000 people marched the route.The signs that marchers held were as varied as the movement: “There Is No Planet B,” “Forests Not for Sale” and “Jobs, Justice, Clean Energy.”
The diversity of the demonstrators made for some odd juxtapositions. On West 58th Street, the minaret of an inflatable mosque bobbed next to a wooden replica of Noah’s Ark the size of a school bus. Nearby, Capuchin Franciscan monks in flowing brown robes, who were in town from Rome for the march, mingled with nuns, while a group flying a pagan flag beat a drum.
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Sounding Off on Climate Change

Sounding Off on Climate Change

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators gathered in Manhattan for a rally to demand action on climate change.
 Video CreditBy Colin Archdeacon on Publish DateSeptember 21, 2014. 
The climax of the march came in the early afternoon. All along the route, crowds had been quieted for a moment of silence. On Avenue of the Americas at 57th Street, there was an eerie silence as marchers raised their arms and looked down.
Then at exactly 1 p.m., a whistle pierced the silence, setting off a minute-long cacophony intended as a collective alarm on climate change. There were the beats of the drums and the blaring of horns, but mostly it was whoops and cries of the marchers.
One of the key organizers of the event, the international advocacy groupAvaaz, presented a petition with more than 2.1 million signatures demanding action on climate change. “It’s a testament to how powerful this movement is,” Ricken Patel, executive director of Avaaz, said. “People are coming in amazing numbers.”
Like the march, the summit meeting on Tuesday at the United Nations will be flush with speeches intended to build support for addressing climate change. But the gathering of world leaders is not meant to be a formal negotiating session for a potential 2015 agreement.
Behind the scenes, though, the real work toward forging a global deal was underway. A few blocks from the march, in a hotel conference room on Lexington Avenue, Secretary of State John Kerry convened a meeting of foreign ministers of the 17-member Major Economies Forum, focused on climate change, and Todd Stern, the chief United States climate change negotiator, held back-to-back meetings throughout the day.
Protesters held inflatable planes with labels reading “climate killer” and “tax break model” during a climate march in Berlin. CreditThomas Peter/Reuters
Mr. Kerry said he intended to keep a focus on climate change throughout the week, despite the pressure of other crises, including insurgent terrorists in Iraq and the Ebola outbreak in Africa. “The grave threat that climate change poses warrants a prominent position on that list,” he told reporters. “Those are immediate. But this has even greater, longer-term consequences that can cost hundreds of billions, trillions of dollars, and lives, and the security of the world.”
Last week, meteorologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that this summer — the months of June, July and August — was the hottest on record for the globe, and that 2014 was on track to break the record for the hottest year, set in 2010.
It was concern about the consequences of that warming that drew people to the march, organized by a dozen environmental, labor and social justice groups, and that inspired some of the event’s most sober and most outrageous expressions, some of them not even on the route.

In front of the Flatiron Building, on Fifth Avenue, a 3,000-pound ice sculpture spelled out “The Future.” Dripping onto the sidewalk, it had been carved over two days in Queens by a group of Japanese ice sculptors. “I would say we are melting down the future,” said Nora Ligorano, one of the artists who conceived the work. “It’s a comment on what we are doing to the planet.”
At Columbus Circle, there were bare-breasted women and people with dreadlocks and homespun clothing. There were Muslim women wearing hijabs and groups of older women with signs proclaiming they were “Grandmas Against Global Warming.” and that “Gray Is Green.”
Two high school seniors from Long Island, Kirsten Cunha and Alexandra Dos Santos, both 17, marched with dust masks over their mouths. “Wearing masks like this could quite possibly be our children’s future,” Ms. Dos Santos said.