Pesticides sprayed over farms in California's Central Valley appear to be blowing up into the Sierra Nevada mountain range, where they've been found in the flesh of frogs in national parks.
Such farm chemicals are thought to be contributing to the ongoing decline of frogs and other amphibians in the Sierra. Mountain hikers used to need to take care to not step on frogs, but now the animals are difficult to find. Sierra amphibians help control insect numbers and provide food for birds and other wildlife, but their numbers are plummeting as they succumb to disease, habitat loss, and other environmental problems.
Researchers collected Pacific chorus frogs from Yosemite National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Giant Sequoia National Monument, Stanislaus National Forest, and Lake Tahoe in 2009 and 2010. They reported in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry that chemical cocktails of fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides were found accumulating in frogs from each of the sites. None of the pesticides found by the scientists were sprayed close to where the frogs were captured, but all of the pesticides were used in the Central Valley.
Oh yay. Just 5,840 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico are virtually bereft of life this summer.
This year's dead zone is much bigger than an official goal of 1,950 square miles, but not as bad as had been feared.
Heavy spring rains inundated Mississippi River tributaries with fertilizers and other nutrients, and once those pollutants flowed into the Gulf, they led to the growth of oxygen-starved areas where marine life can't survive.
In my last post, I referenced a new report from Goldman Sachs analysts showing that the market for seaborne thermal coal (overseas imports and exports used to fuel power plants) is likely to fall from 7 percent annual growth to around 1 percent, and stay there for the foreseeable future. This is great news, in that it has the potential to render several new large-scale coal-extraction projects around the world -- including export terminals in the U.S. Pacific Northwest -- unprofitable before they are completed or, in some cases, begun.
However, this bit of good news should not distract from the larger picture, which is decidedly grim. As oil prices remain stubbornly high, the rapidly urbanizing developing world has turned to coal, which has been growing at a furious pace and is on the verge of becoming the world's primary energy source. Even if its momentum is slowing slightly, it remains a world-crushing behemoth.
No one has been following this story more closely than energy analyst Gregor Macdonald. This is from his blog:
Yikes! As Macdonald writes, "Only a very small portion of the global public is aware that global coal consumption has advanced by over 50% in the past decade."
Two months after Hurricane Sandy pummeled New York City, Battery Park is again humming with tourists and hustlers, guys selling foam Statue of Liberty crowns, and commuters shuffling off the Staten Island Ferry. On a winter day when the bright sun takes the edge off a frigid harbor breeze, it's hard to imagine all this under water. But if you look closely, there are hints that not everything is back to normal.
Take the boarded-up entrance to the new South Ferry subway station at the end of the No. 1 line. The metal structure covering the stairwell is dotted with rust and streaked with salt, tracing the high-water mark at 13.88 feet above the low-tide line -- a level that surpassed all historical floods by nearly four feet. The saltwater submerged the station, turning it into a "large fish tank," as former Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chair Joseph Lhota put it, corroding the signals and ruining the interior. While the city reopened the old station in early April, the newer one is expected to remain closed to the public for as long as three years.
Before the storm, South Ferry was easily one of the more extravagant stations in the city, refurbished to the tune of $545 million in 2009 and praised by former MTA CEO Elliot Sander as "artistically beautiful and highly functional." Just three years later, the city is poised to spend more than that amount fixing it. Some have argued that South Ferry shouldn't be reopened at all.
The destruction in Battery Park could be seen as simple misfortune: After all, city planners couldn't have known that within a few years the beautiful new station would be submerged in the most destructive storm to ever hit New York City.
Except for one thing: They sort of did know. Back in February 2009, a month before the station was unveiled, a major report from the New York City Panel on Climate Change -- which Mayor Michael Bloomberg convened to inform the city's climate adaptation planning -- warned that global warming and sea-level rise were increasing the likelihood that New York City would be paralyzed by major flooding. "Of course it flooded," said George Deodatis, a civil engineer at Columbia University. "They spent a lot of money, but they didn't put in any floodgates or any protection."
And it wasn't just one warning. Eight years before the Panel on Climate Change's report, an assessment of global warming's impacts in New York City had also cautioned of potential flooding. "Basically pretty much everything that we projected happened," says Cynthia Rosenzweig, a senior research scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, co-chair of the Panel on Climate Change, and the co-author of that 2001 report.
Scientists often refer to the "100-year flood," the highest water level expected over the course of a century. But with sea levels rising along the East Coast -- a natural phenomenon accelerated by climate change — scientists project that in our lifetimes what was once considered a 100-year flood will happen every three to 20 years. And truly catastrophic storms will do damage unimaginable today. "With the exact same Sandy 100 years from now," Deodatis says, "if you have, say, five feet of sea-level rise, it's going to be much more devastating."
No less an investor than the mighty Warren Buffett has proclaimed that the decline of coal in the U.S. will be gradual but inevitable. Given flat demand for electricity, cheap natural gas, burgeoning renewables, rising efficiency, and future carbon regulations, new coal-fired power plants are bad bet, which is why they aren't getting built.
To save their bacon, U.S. coal mining companies want to export their coal to hungrier markets, mainly Asian markets. OK, mainly China. Demand for coal in China is a crucial justification for the export infrastructure coal companies want to build in the Pacific Northwest -- export terminals in Oregon and Washington that would handle coal shipped by train from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana. (Activists are battling those plans, with some success. A similar fight is happening in British Columbia.)
But overseas demand for thermal coal -- the kind used in power plants -- has been overestimated. New investments in thermal coal infrastructure, unless they come online quickly, will miss a rapidly closing window for profitability. In coming years, there won't be enough demand growth to justify such investments.
That's the explosive conclusion of a report recently issued by analysts at Goldman Sachs. (It's not public, so I can't link to it.) The implication for coal-export projects in the Pacific Northwest is clear: They are bum investments. You don't need to share concerns over climate change to see it. Just economics.
Outside of humans, beavers have more impact on landscapes than virtually any other species. Building dams and changing streams, they well deserve their busy reputation. Now a new study reveals those hardworking animals not only build dams but biocarbon storage as well. Ellen Wohl of Colorado State University reports her findings in an article accepted for Geophysical Research Letters, “Landscape-scale carbon storage associated with Beaver Dams.” Laurence Pope of New Scientist summarizes the findings: “Beaver dams cause water to breach riverbanks, creating areas of wetland known as beaver meadows, which contain large amounts of sediment and organic material. If the …
From Friday, July 19th to Saturday, July 27th, through high heat, humidity, lightning storms and more, scores of people walked from Camp David to Harpers Ferry to the White House. Some walked the entire route, about 100 miles. This was an historic Walk for Our Grandchildren (http://2013walkforourgrandchildren.org) as part of 350.org's Summer Heat campaign. On the 26th 55 people were arrested inside the corporate office building in downtown DC which houses the office of Environmental Resources Management. ERM is the company which did the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the State Department on the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. …
My little brother, a pretty staunch environmentalist, just graduated from college and spent the last year of his service-learning job working for the college's electricity crew. He adamantly insists that while LEDs indisputably save a lot of energy in their usage, the components and energy that go into constructing the LED and its circuit board outweigh the savings -- just like the construction of a new electric car uses more resources and energy than it would save over driving a used car. I haven't been able to find too much on this aspect anywhere and was wondering if you might be able to weigh in.
Adam T. Arlington, Va.
A. Dearest Adam,
How lovely to come from a family in which the adamant opinions of younger siblings are valued, mulled, and questioned. Kudos to your parents for raising such thoughtful young men. Unless, of course, you’re writing so you can wave my answer in your brother’s face -- a grown-up version of the wedgie.
I get questions along these lines quite a lot, without the dramatic sibling interplay. (Note to letter writers: Odds of being published increase 62 percent when dramatic sibling interplay is involved.) When I wrote about cars this spring, I received several “yes, but” letters. Don’t the energy and resources required to manufacture greener products overshadow the savings we get from using them?
The answer is almost always no. The manufacture and transport of these items does not outweigh the energy savings from their usage over time.