November 28, 2012

Feeling the Heat of Climate Change Now More Than Ever

So this summer was a little hot. You get used to feeling like the sun is constantly melting your face off, right? Well, not exactly. It’s hard to think of climate change as having an extreme detrimental effect to our future when we hear about people trying to keep the planet from warming more than a mere 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2020, but the fact of the matter is that we are closing in on the end of a critical period to prevent it from becoming catastrophic. And if we don’t do something to combat it’s progress soon, in a matter of decades climate change is going to come back and smack us in our already fried up faces for not having done more when we had the chance.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change didn’t waste any time on Monday when the convention opened. They began with a discussion of greenhouse gas emissions and how most countries aren’t pulling their weight in terms of working to minimize them. The world’s band of dirty little mistresses, or fossil fuels as some like to call them, are just so hard to say no to! However, according to their report unless this issue is addressed soon we will be putting the planet on a fast-track to devastating climate change. Click HERE to see some of the discussions live and to find links to some of the past discussions on Youtube! Also, the Kyoto Protocol – which usually forces countries to put in at least a little effort to combat rising levels of greenhouse gas emissions – expires this year. So it’s no wonder that climate change proponents are begging everyone at the convention to understand the urgency and criticalness of this situation.

Just a few weeks before the convention opened The European Environment Agency released a report stating that the effects of climate change are already becoming evident in Europe and are only likely to get worse if action is not taken to diminish them. In conjunction with the UN Environment Program, they have found that the “emissions gap”- the difference between current levels of carbon emissions and the levels of carbon emissions needed to avert climate change- is becoming greater rather than lessening. The European Environment Agency also reported that climate change has already impacted environmental systems and society, and further impacts are predicted for the future. We’re effectively delivering our climate a one-two punch. Between carbon and greenhouse gas emissions we’re setting our climate up for a knock-out blow. Unfortunately for us though, that knock out will take us down with it.

The Midwestern United States can attest to the fact that they’re already feeling the burn of climate change, too. In Iowa, 138 scientists and researchers from 27 Iowa colleges and universities signed a report called the Iowa Climate Statement linking global warming to past and recent extreme weather patterns that have caused severe damage not only in Iowa, but in surrounding states as well. Iowa alone experienced $10 billion in damages from major flooding that occurred in 2008, and it is common knowledge that this summer’s drought didn’t exactly extend a helping hand to help counter the previous damage.

But the UN can’t effect fighting climate change on its own, and others are on board to help spread the word. Just check out this article from the Huffington Post that features a video of Naomi Klein (her video segment on Democracy Now! is below), award winning author of “The Shock Doctrine”, discussing how Hurricane Sandy has the potential to be an impetus to keep fighting against climate change. And she’s not alone. A coalition of the world’s largest investors is currently pushing the government to act too! (Yep, you read that right- “A coalition of the world’s largest investors”. Who’d a thunk it?) They say that the government may face losing trillions of dollars in investments and disruptions to the economy if we can’t make more of an effort to combat climate change. Hopefully, countries, including the U.S., will leave the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change with some fresh ideas and the motivation to put them into action. But Rome wasn’t built in a day. It’s going to take a global effort to combat climate change and we need to get that effort into gear as soon as possible.

November 6, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

For such a sweet name, Hurricane Sandy wasn’t one to play nice. Sandy wreaked havoc on much of the East Coast last Monday, and for many people things still aren’t quite back to normal. Subway lines in New York City are still being reopened little by little, and New Jersey- one of the hardest hit states- is slowly working to clean up the extensive damage Sandy left in her wake. Power outages and lack of heat and other utilities made it a rough week for many, and are still on-going issues for people living in New Jersey and some parts of New York City. But there may be a silver lining to this monster of a storm.

Hurricane Sandy has brought the discussion of climate change back into the political realm, and more importantly, back into the issues being debated in the current election (did you see the cover of Bloomberg Magazine this week?). This election season, climate change has been absent from the presidential debates with issues such as jobs and the economy taking precedence. Political pundits and opinionators have stepped up and spoken out on the matter bringing the issue to the forefront of current political discussions. However, some say that this new surge of political interest in climate change is a fleeting one. While scientists can confidently say that global warming contributed in some respects to Sandy’s devastating power, it is impossible to pin the entire cause of the storm on global warming.

Nevertheless, for most people climate change is becoming more real everyday- especially when they are first hand witnesses to mega storms like Sandy which are becoming more of the norm rather than the exception. HERE is a cool article about the climate modeling that allowed scientists and government forecasters to predict the path and intensity of the storm so well! HERE is another article from CNN that quotes some amazing scientists about climate change, the hurricane, and urban planning.

But not to fear! Even if Sandy doesn’t keep climate change on the political agenda for long, there are campaigns out there continually reminding the political minds that climate change is a concern to watch out for. Just check out this amazing campaign that’s working to illustrate the effects of climate change on the everyday lives of kids. It’s called the TRUST campaign and features videos of youth from across the country talking about how shifts in climate have directly affected their lives, and trying to bring attention to these issues.

If you’re interested in volunteering for hurricane relief efforts, here are some helpful resources for ways to get involved: Occupy Sandy,

And here is a photo from the Atlantic. See lots more HERE. Our hearts go out to all those in need, and our thanks go out to all those who are out helping.

From the Atlantic, link to the article above. Robert Bryce walks with his wife, Marcia Bryce, through destruction from superstorm Sandy on Route 35 in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, on October 31, 2012. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)


October 22, 2012

Then I saw her face / Now I’m a believer!

Not a trace  /  Of doubt in my mind!

Okay – this post isn’t about The Monkees… it’s not even about monkeys. But I’m happy to say that more people are believing in climate change these days, and they are also more sure of their beliefs. A study done in conjunction by Yale and George Mason’s Centers for Climate Change Communication has shown that general belief in and understanding of global warming has increased from 57 percent in January of 2010 to 70 percent in September of 2012, and the number of people who do not believe that global warming is happening has decreased in recent years by nearly half. For the first time since 2008, over half of Americans say that they believe that global warming is the result of human activity.  There’s lots of interesting data in this thing about people’s trust in scientists and scientific information, and about people’s growing concern about the threat that climate change poses to us now and in the future.

These changes in attitude about global warming may stem in part from people’s belief that weather in the United States has been getting worse. Over the past two years a record number of extreme weather events have occurred such as heat waves, widespread droughts, floods, wildfires and violent storms. There will be more work done to examine the public perception of the issues, and there’s still a lot more progress to be made, but I can tell you, I’m a believer and there’s not a trace of doubt in my mind!


To read the Washington Post article that this map is related to click here.

September 24, 2012

Icy Antarctica is a Hot Bed For Discovery

Antarctica is known for being a scientific hotspot (despite the freezing cold!) for measuring the effects of climate change, and today there are multiple scientific research stations (such as the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, as well as McMurdo station on Ross Island and Palmer station on Anvers Island) that help scientists stay up-to-date on what climate change is affecting and how.

In 2008, scientists discovered the fossil of a lake ostracod in the Dry Valleys of East Antarctica. No other fossil like it has been found on the entire continent of Antarctica. The fossil finding provided evidence that  this region of Antarctica was much warmer- warm enough to support lake fauna with ostracods- about 14 million years ago. Since that period, it is blatantly apparent that Antarctica has experienced a substantial and intense cooling which has since buried these lakes under layers and layers of ice. What was once a tundra is now an iceland. These findings have given scientists a better understanding of how the Antarctic ice-sheet developed, which will in turn allow them to better understand the effects of global warming.

In recent years, researchers have discovered that the retreat of sea ice in some parts of Antarctica is detrimentally affecting some Antarctic species, and the recent warming of water temperature is adding to the proliferation of  undersea giants in the region.

Look at the size of these sea stars! They’re huge! Antarctica is also the prime location for researchers to follow the changing state of our ozone layer as well as the further implications of global warming’s effects on the environment as a whole.

However, the effects of climate change aren’t the only things Antarctica is revealing to scientists. Researchers are also currently studying adaptations of various life-forms that allow them to withstand the harsh conditions of living in Antarctica as well as how those adaptations may be used to benefit human health. They are also studying how they themselves and other researchers are faring in the conditions of the Antarctic in hopes of learning how humans could survive other extreme ecosystems.

Research in Antarctica may hold many of the answers we seek about the future of the planet in the context of climate change as well as many other fascinating findings. If you want to know more about all the different types of research going on in Antarctica check out the United States Antarctic Program.

September 10, 2012

We Are Scientists

As environmentally conscious world citizens, “What can I do to help?” is a question that we frequently ask ourselves when the discussion of environmental issues comes up. The National Science Foundation has found a really cool answer- everyday people can work as scientists by helping to collect data for their projects.

Citizen Scientists are:

  • Concerned volunteers who collect data and share their observations with full-time scientists.
  • People who may or may not have any previous scientific training or background
  • People who have a curiosity for learning and a willingness to complete relatively simple tasks (such as monitoring backyard rain gauges, taking pictures of local insects, etc.)

Citizen scientists are invaluable to the scientific community because they not only provide sheer numbers to aide in data collection, but also contribute new insights to on-going questions. A group of Foldit gamers helped generate models that assisted researchers in refining and determining the enzyme structure of an AIDS-like virus which then allowed the researchers to advance their work designing anti-AIDS drugs.

A few places to check out if you’re interested in becoming a citizen scientist are:

The USA National Phenology Network
Project Budburst
Projects Sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

As well as many others about sustainability, lady bugs, and the sky which are linked on the original National Science Foundation Article! A lot of these are great for kids or adults, and there are lots of options for what subject you can be working on and what kinds of activities you can do. Find something that you’re excited about, and get to it!

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    "The Next Forever" is a song from The Great Immensity. The footage was taken on Barro Colorado Island in the Panama Canal by videographer David Ford. Music and lyrics by Michael Friedman.
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