Environment Local News

Activist McKibben Discusses Climate Change, Keystone XL Pipeline in Louisville

Writer and environmental activist Bill McKibben says it’s not too late to reverse the effects of climate change. McKibben made the comments in a speech to the Louisville Rotary Club today as part of the Festival of Faiths.

McKibben has been in the news most recently for leading a movement opposing the Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring oil from Canada’s tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico. He says building that pipeline would release the second-largest pool of carbon dioxide on earth, and have destructive consequences for the planet.

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Environment Local News

UCS Study Links Climate Change, Higher Ozone Levels

Louisville is mired in a string of unhealthy air days, and the ozone levels expected today and tomorrow will be the highest the city has seen so far this year. A study recently released suggests links between climate change and increased ozone exposure.

Ozone happens when pollution from exhaust and industries combine and chemically react in the presence of heat and sunlight. So, as average temperatures in some regions rise, we could see more bad air days.

Liz Perera is a public health expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists, and a co-author of the report.

“What’s going to happen in a warming world is we’re going to see more days that are conducive to ozone formation. What we looked at in our report is what is that going to do to the U.S. population in terms of health impacts.”

Ten percent of children in Jefferson County have asthma, which Perera says is a high percentage, but on par with other regional cities like Cleveland. The report estimates that by 2020, increased exposure to ozone in the United States could raise health care costs by $5.4 billion.

Louisville has already had 19 Air Quality Alert days this year, surpassing last year’s record of 18.

Environment Local News Politics

McConnell Seeks to Stop EPA From Further Regulating Carbon Emissions

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has filed an amendment to a small business bill that would block the Environmental Protection Agency from imposing new regulations on carbon emissions.

McConnell calls such regulations “a back-door national energy tax,” and says they would lead to higher prices for gasoline, groceries, electricity and natural gas.

Representative Ed Whitfield of Kentucky has filed similar legislation in the House.

Carbon is a common pollutant and is linked to climate change. For more on the science of carbon emissions, watch this video from NPR and Robert Krulwich.

Additional information provided by the Associated Press

Environment Local News

Climate Reality Tour Stops In Louisville

Two men who are biking from West Virginia to Mexico stopped in Louisville Friday.

James Ploeser and Jamie Trowbridge are making their way to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, which begins in late November.  They say the trip is designed to raise awareness of how the modern global economy leads to climate change.

“We want to underscore again that all of it is based on a sort of race to the bottom economy that is based on exploitation of land and people and resources in a way that creates a lot of emissions and fuels global warming,” says Ploeser.

Ploeser says the route he and Trowbridge are taking highlights their cause.

“Start in West Virginia, where coal is being extracted, causing emissions and causing displacement and causing social disruption there, then to places like here in Rubbertown where fossil fuels are being burned and where industrial activity is polluting the air but also driving global warming,” he says.

Ploesser and Trowbridge also hope to highlight the effects of climate change on other populations, such as indigenous people and farmers.

Local News

Louisville Residents To Take Part In Global Work Party Sunday

People across the planet will join the 10/10/10 Global Work Party to fight the climate crisis. The goal is to demonstrate to political leaders that citizens of Kentucky are serious about the issue of climate change.

Drew Foley is with the Louisville Earth Action Group. He says they will be working at various locations around the community.

“Eleven or twelve different places. There will be a solar installation, house insulations, and lots of working at organic farms, community gardens,” he says.

Participants will meet at Crescent Hill United Ministries and carpool to worksites. Afterward, there will be a celebration from 4 to 7 pm with food, music and discussion from various work parties.

Anyone interested can also go directly to the worksite closest to them. For a complete list of sites, visit the Global Work Party website.

Environment Local News

State To Continue Contract With Climate Change Consultant

Kentucky state government will continue a $200,000 contract it has with a Washington consultant on climate change. Last week, a legislative oversight panel rejected the contract because many members fear the consulting firm is biased against the coal industry. Governor Beshear disagrees, and said this week he supports Energy and Environment Secretary Len Peters’ decision to work with the center.

“I don’t think the secretary would have asked for that contract if he didn’t think he needed it. And I’m sure we need that kind of work done for the task force that we have set up.”

The Courier-Journal reports that that administration officials notified committee staff Thursday that it would retain the center.

The oversight committee’s vote to reject the contract was not binding on the administration. The consultant is assisting the Kentucky Climate Action Plan Council, which is studying ways for the commonwealth to cope with climate change. The council includes coal industry representatives, as well as environmentalists.

State of Affairs

Redrawing the World Map

Thursday, February 25, 2010
Redrawing the World Map
We’ve heard the theory: A butterfly in Mexico flaps it wings and causes a hurricane in China, or something like that. The idea is that every action has unforseen or unknowable consequences. Author Cleo Paskal has her own take on this theory as it relates to climate change and world politics. She explores how the effect of climate change on the physical world is just part of the equation; when resources shift, so do economies and political alliances. Join us on Thursday when we talk with Paskal about her latest book Global Warring.

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Environment In-Depth News

Psychology Joins Fight Against Global Warming

“Thank you for choosing Earth as your planetary vehicle.  We hope you enjoy the many wonderful features of this planet as you hurdle through the cosmos.  Please note however, that in the event of continued inaction in the face of global warming, your seat cushion can be used as a flotation device.”

On stage, this bit got big laughs.  But psychologists might classify this excerpt from a Blue Man Group video as a “fear appeal,” a message that speaks to your worst fears to move you to action.  But Penn state psychology professor Janet Swim says it doesn’t always work.

“So when you address individuals with the fear of potential consequences, they potentially will react against it, if they’re so afraid they’ve got a motivation to not do anything and to deny the fear,” says Swim.

It sounds clear cut.  But Swim and colleagues at the American Psychological Association believe it’s more complicated.  The APA recently formed a climate change task force and issued a report with some recommendations, which Swim co-authored.

“It seemed like it would be quite useful to understand the way people understand climate change, and understand the behaviors that they’re doing to contribute and then hopefully to help with responding to climate change,” Swim says.

Swim isn’t talking about millions of Americans lying on therapists’ couches, hoping for a global warming emotional breakthrough.  She’s talking about applying psychologists’ methods to find the best ways to change individual behavior.  The APA report examines, in part, researchers’ current understanding of how individuals perceive risks and threats, and how they cope and adapt.  Swim says the key word is individuals.

“When you’re doing anything to try to change people’s opinions, you have to know what your audience is.  It’s not likely to be a uniform solution across people.”

Researchers at the Center for Climate Change Communications at George Mason University have just analyzed that audience in a study called “Global Warming’s Six Americas.”  They surveyed adults across the nation about their global warming beliefs.  Center director Ed Maibach says they found a range of opinions, but they mostly fell into six categories.

“From one America, about 18%, we call them the ‘alarmed’ because they understand that global warming is a very real threat to human health and well-being.  They’re engaged in a variety of ways to try to change their own personal behaviors.  And they’re very, very supportive of a whole range of public policy responses to deal with the threat,” Maibach says.

Maibach says that on the other end of the continuum is a group he calls the “Dismissive,” about 7 percent of the population.  They’re just as engaged as the “Alarmed,” but in the exact opposite way; they don’t believe climate change is real.  Maibach says that when it comes to curbing the actions that contribute to global warming, understanding the characteristics of each group should help policymakers and others target their messages more effectively.  Still other social scientists are going beyond opinion polls these days to investigate how people are beginning to adapt to climate change.

“Right now I work on looking at how communities or individuals react to climate change issues or what climate change effects are occurring on the ground, says Jessica Montag,  a social scientist with the US Geological Survey.  She’s interviewing ranchers in Wyoming to find out how they might be changing their operations in anticipation of climate change’s effects—grazing their animals in new ways, for example. And what she’s finding—even though the effects of climate change are already appearing all over the country–is that most of the people she interviews say it’s something to worry about in the future.

“Why is there such a big gap between people’s beliefs, in this case the belief that global warming is a really serious threat, and their subsequent actions,” asks Ed Maibach, of  George Mason University.

“And the answer to that is because it isn’t actually very easy to change many of our behaviors until the qualities, until the attributes of the communities in which we live are changed as well.”

Attributes such as access to public transportation. But another answer might be hidden deeper in our brains.  Psychologists say they’re wired to perceive immediate, human threats.  And global warming doesn’t fit the bill.

Blog Archive Environment Blog

Climate Change Could Cost Us

Developing and developed nations could lose up to 12 percent of their GDP because of climate change. That’s the finding of a new report from consultancy McKinsey and Co., in cooperation with the European Union, nonprofit groups, and businesses. The report’s authors aimed to come up with new tools to help decision-makers quantify the risks of climate change, both now and 20 years into the future, based on a location’s “total climate risk.”  They found that:

“If current development trends continue to 2030, the locations studied will lose between 1 and 12 percent of GDP as a result of existing climate patterns, with low income populations such as small-scale farmers in India and Mali losing an even greater proportion of their income. Within the next 20 years, climate change could worsen this picture significantly: in the locations studied, a scenario of high climate change would increase today’s climate-related losses by up to 200 percent as soon as 2030…

…however, the cases found that a portfolio of cost-effective measures can be put together to address a large part of the identified risk. In principle, between 40 and 68 percent of the loss expected to 2030 in the case locations – under severe climate change scenarios – could be averted through adaptation measures whose economic benefits outweigh their costs – with even higher levels of prevention possible in highly targeted geographies. These measures include infrastructure improvements, such as strengthening buildings against storms or constructing reservoirs and wells to combat drought…”

In other climate change news…Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed an order (.pdf file) today establishing a department-wide approach to coordinating responses to climate change.

It’s no small order: the Department includes agencies like the Bureau of Land Management and Parks, and manages nearly a fifth of the nation’s land mass. The order creates eight regional climate change response centers, including one in the southeast, a climate change council, and promotes more research into carbon capture. It points to some likely climate change impacts to which the department’s agencies will have to respond: shrinking water resources, sea level rise, shifting animal migration patterns, and invasive species.

Blog Archive Environment Blog

No More Migration?

Some bird species once commonly found in Kentucky and surrounding states are moving farther north each year, according to the Audubon Society. Take the Red-breasted Merganser, for example. This fish-eating duck, the society says, has moved its range northward over the past 40 years more than 300 miles. They’re apparently more abundant in Minnesota now than they once were here. The reason? Climate change.

Even more striking is the news from the U.S. Geological Survey that a large percentage of a sea bird population that once wintered in Mexico is now staying put in Alaska, where, apparently, it’s warm enough to stick around.  From the USGS release:

“The winter distribution of Pacific brant, a small, dark sea goose, has shifted northward from low-temperate areas such as Mexico to sub-Arctic areas as Alaska’s climate has warmed over the last four decades, according to a just-released article in Arctic.

“Until recently, nearly the entire (90 percent) population of Pacific brant wintered in Mexico, but now as many as to 30 percent are opting to spend their winters in Alaska instead, according to the U.S. Geological Survey-led study. Although records are sparse, fewer than 3,000 brant were detected wintering in Alaska before 1977, a number that has jumped to as many as 40,000 birds now. “

Who knows what kind of wider implications these shifts in range – and changes in migration patterns – could have, not only on local ecosystems, but the ecosystems in which birds play a role while on winter vacation?

Citizen scientists can help track data like this, such as the first sighting of a particular bird in your area. See my story on phenology to learn about local efforts to track species’ appearances.