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PennFuture's Climate for Change :: Climate news from around the state, country and world

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Sensible solutions for managing extreme weather

Millions of Americans who live along our coasts and rivers are at risk of personal harm from floods and hurricanes as are their properties and economic livelihoods. Sadly, our policies to deal with these threats are inadequate.

A recent report from the National Wildlife Federation details how we can use natural defenses to protect our communities and ecosystems from hurricanes and floods.

We can reduce our exposure to severe weather events and become more resilient by using natural approaches that rely on existing or restored natural systems (wetlands, dunes, barrier islands) to reduce risk by dissipating and attenuating waves and slowing inland water transfer. Nature-based approaches to reduce risk are designed to offer the same protections as natural systems but are man-made (engineered oyster reefs, shore lines, and dunes). This natural infrastructure offers equal or better flood and hurricane protection than built infrastructure such as levees while avoiding maintenance and construction costs.

In addition to these free or low–cost protections, natural infrastructure provides a host of other benefits including floodwater storage and habitat for wildlife as it reduces wave energy. In the Chesapeake Bay, every dollar spent on vegetative shoreline stabilization results in as much as $1.75 returned to the economy through improvements in ecological resources including aquatic vegetation, shellfish, and waterfowl.

Our current policies undervalue the importance of these natural protections and encourage development in coastal areas and floodplains. From 2004 through 2009, coastal watersheds of the lower 48 states lost 80,000 acres of wetlands per year. Further, roughly 66 percent of all natural riparian areas in the U.S have been lost or severely modified by human activities.

Fortunately, leaders at all levels of government have the chance to safeguard people and conserve nature through better policies. These include prioritizing natural infrastructure and investment in protecting or restoring nature; better planning and zoning; closing the loopholes in the Clean Water Act; and reducing our risks from extreme weather by reducing the carbon pollution that is causing climate disruption. These policies would provide many benefits beyond flood and hurricane protection, from wildlife and habitat conservation to taxpayer savings. A win-win-win.

Jen Quinn is central Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for PennFuture and is based in Harrisburg. She tweets @QuinnJen1.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Even the grand old guys know we have to cut carbon

Those of us who have been adults for several decades remember the sway that big accounting firms used to have in the business world. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) is one of those well-respected names that can still turn heads when they speak.

PwC just issued its 2014 Low Carbon Economy Index.

Not good news. To quote the report, "For the sixth year running, the global economy has missed the decarbonization target needed to limit global warming to 2 degrees C."

To stay on track for the two-degree-max target, we would have had to cut our carbon emissions by 6 percent in 2013. How did the world do? A miserable 1.2 percent decrease.

Last year's lapse means we now need to speed up even more to achieve the goal, specifically cutting carbon by 6.2 percent in 2014—five times last year's rate. Doesn't seem likely, does it?

To be sure, these are global measurements and projections. But is Pennsylvania doing its part? This is an especially painful question at the moment, given the horrendous step backward that the our General Assembly has just taken: They passed H.B. 2354, which throws a monkey wrench into the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) proposal to limit CO2 from coal-burning power plants in Pennsylvania, the major source of carbon pollution in this country.

Read what Mother Jones has to say about PwC's bad news.

Joy Bergey is federal policy director for PennFuture and is based in Philadelphia. She tweets @joybergey.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The upside of reducing methane emissions: New jobs, a more secure future.

As PennFuture has been urging for quite a while now, industry and government must act soon to limit methane leakage from natural gas wells and pipelines.

As important as it is to crack down on CO2 pollution from coal-burning power plants (which is why we are such strong supporters of the Presidents' Clean Power Plan Rule), if we don't simultaneously stop methane leaking from natural gas infrastructure, we'll still be off course for slowing climate change.

What has us scratching our heads is why the natural gas industry hasn't already voluntarily stopped the leaks. Since methane is indeed natural gas, all that leaky methane entering that atmosphere is simply wasteful on industry's part, since they could sell that captured methane and help offset the cost of implementation. Why let potential revenue vanish into thin air?

An encouraging new report prepared for the Environmental Defense Fund shows that fixing the leaks can be a win-win proposition: Dozens of American companies now manufacture, sell and support methane control technology that works.

Pennsylvania, with so much natural gas infrastructure, should see many new jobs from the commercial deployment of this technology—if the natgas industry would start using it. (Explore this cool interactive map to see what's already happening here.)

And since we can't rely on the industry to do the right thing voluntarily, we need our governments—state and federal—to require them to do this.

Why should this be a fight? How can we resist technology that creates new jobs for Pennsylvania families and helps stabilize climate change?

There's no reason that we can see for industry not to jump on this technology.

Joy Bergey is federal policy director for PennFuture and is based in Philadelphia. She tweets @joybergey.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

With friends like ALEC, who needs enemies?

The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, for short. Sounds innocuous enough, right?

Its website says ALEC "provides a constructive forum for state legislators and private sector leaders to discuss and exchange practical, state-level public policy issues."

Gee, a reasonable person thinks, this might even be a good idea.

Not so fast.

ALEC is, in fact, a national think tank that pushes free market policies at the state level. We're in favor of free markets as much as the next fellow, as long as they're fair markets based on reality and, yes, truth.

And that's where we part ways with ALEC. The group, funded in part by the Koch brothers, is unfortunately committed not just to denying climate science, but to throwing wrenches into the works of any state legislature that is working to slow climate change and/or advance clean, efficient energy.

ALEC has been lurking for years now, usually quietly, doing their damage where they can at state capitols around the country.

But last week, several really big tech firms publicly withdrew their memberships from ALEC, nothing quiet about it. Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said that ALEC has been "literally lying" about the reality of climate change. Yelp and Yahoo have announced they're leaving ALEC, and Facebook has said they're unlikely to renew their membership.

But now, even oil companies like Occidental Petroleum are leaving ALEC because they just don't want to be associated with their positions. That's really saying something about ALEC's credibility.

Sorry, ALEC. We all see right through you. Good riddance.

Joy Bergey is federal policy director for PennFuture and is based in Philadelphia. She tweets @joybergey.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The people marched -- more than 300,000 of them!

Over 300,000 people, frustrated by government inaction on climate change, took to the streets of New York on Sunday, prior to this week's meeting of world leaders at the United Nations. The march attracted some notable figures including former Vice President Al Gore and U.N. Secretary Genereal Ban Ki-moon but it was mostly an event for concerned citizens -- average joes like you and me. 

According to The New York Times, attendees were diverse:
"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."

Bill McKibben, one of the march organizers, characterized the noise marchers made as "sounding a burglar alarm on the people who are stealing the future” in a recent TIME article.

And mostly, people marched because they have hope. From The Washington Times:

“'Today I march because I want to behold a brighter future. We have destroyed ourselves. We have destroyed our health, and I’m here because our political leaders have failed us,' Stanley Sturgill, a retired coal miner from Kentucky who’s now fighting black lung, said during a press conference. 'We know together we can build our bright future.'” 

I'm so glad I made the trek to New York on Sunday. It was astounding and deeply moving to be with more than 300,000 people, marching through the streets, calling on the President and Congress to ‪#‎ActOnClimate‬. The day felt historic, something I'll remember decades from now. 

Photo by Karyn L. Wiseman
I've been pushing for climate action for 30 years so I can be as jaded as the next activist about when this country will take meaningful steps to get slow climate change. (How deeply sad that I can no longer even call on the country to stop climate change. That train left the station maybe a decade ago.)

So I'm a realist, and a skeptic, but not entirely without hope. This could be the week that tips the balance. Not all our leaders will ignore the voices of 300,000 people, nor the exciting and well timed announcement this week from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund to divest of fossil fuels. We'll see.

Whatever the outcome in the U.N. this week, the call for change is growing louder. It will eventually be heard.

And I wouldn't have missed the People's Climate March for the world.

Joy Bergey is federal policy director for PennFuture and is based in Philadelphia. She tweets @joybergey.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Come to Harrisburg on September 25 and tell the Corbett administration what you think

As we wrote last week, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which reports to Governor Tom Corbett, is holding a public listening session in Harrisburg on Thursday, September 25. All are welcome to testify -- that means you! (You can register to testify by contacting Tammey Adams,  taadams at or 717-772-2725.)

Anyone and everyone should consider testifying. You can represent yourself, an organization, your faith community, your family, or any group for which you speak.

What would you say in your testimony?

Start by introducing yourself and saying where you live. State the name of the organization you represent and what they do, if you're speaking on their behalf. State that you are fully supportive of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) proposed carbon pollution standard, and that you want it to be implemented promptly and without being weakened in any way.

Continue by offering a sentence or two about why you care about action on climate change. For example, "My cousins lost their home on the Jersey shore to Hurricane Sandy, and unchecked climate change will only bring us more and more superstorms." Or perhaps, "My children (or grandchildren) deserve as safe and stable a future as we can possible leave them, and climate change works against that." You get the picture.

And if you're as frustrated as we are with the Corbett administration's wrong-headed approach to climate change, help yourself to our take on this -- see below.

Next, it would be helpful to list some facts and figures about climate change. See below for a bunch of those that you can use. Finish up by reiterating your support for the proposed standard, and thanking the Commonwealth for the opportunity to be heard.

You have up to 15 minutes to speak, but feel no compunction to use the allotted time. A short and punchy 500 words would be terrific. Our advice in a nutshell? Speak to the issues that resonate most deeply with you.

Suggestions for inclusion in your testimony


Concerns that Commonwealth is not taking climate change seriously

  • PennFuture is greatly concerned that neither the Governor nor the Commonwealth are seriously engaging around the threats of climate change, nor is the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) doing its job to develop a viable plan to meet the EPA's target.
  • Governor Corbett has publicly stated that he believes there is still significant debate in the scientific community about the existence and risks of human-made climate change.
  • The Governor has appointed various climate deniers or skeptics to high-level energy and environment positions, such as his first Secretary of DEP and the Governor’s Energy Executive.
  • Governor Corbett has signed a letter to President Obama asking him to rescind EPA’s carbon rule, and a second letter questioning the legality of the rule. He has expressed concerns over the economic impacts of the rule.
  • The DEP has issued one white paper for carbon rule compliance that it admits would not be accepted by EPA (see testimony of DEP Deputy Secretary Vince Brisini at 14:20 of the video). The substance of the white paper also seems consistent with Gov. Corbett’s legal arguments against the rule, requesting major pollution control exemptions for dirty coal plants.
  • Governor Corbett’s actions seem more consistent with climate denial then with responsible leadership that aims to balance public health with economic realities.
  • We are concerned that the DEP and Gov. Corbett do not believe that cost-effective energy efficiency at homes and businesses should play a role in carbon rule compliance. The Pa. Public Utility Commission found that for every $1 spent on efficiency in Pennsylvania, ratepayers receive $3 back in benefits.
  • PJM, the operator of the electricity grid that serves Pennsylvania, found that the grid can increase renewable energy to twenty-to-thirty percent of electricity supply while reducing wholesale electricity prices by $9-to-$20 billion, all while maintaining a reliable grid. However, we are troubled that the Governor and DEP do not believe renewable energy has a role to play in carbon rule compliance.
  • We are concerned that the DEP will present comments to EPA that do not represent a good faith effort to comply with the proposed rule, will undervalue the need to reduce carbon pollution, and will discount our public health and the economic benefits of addressing climate change.

Some climate change facts, figures, and arguments

  • Carbon pollution causes climate change, resulting in more frequent and increasingly violent extreme weather events, drought, sea level rise and other stressors that devastate communities, threaten public health, and destroy and degrade wildlife habitat.
  • Globally, we’ve now had 354 consecutive months above the long-term average, meaning a 29-year-old has never lived through a “cooler than normal” month.
  • Wildfires, floods and extreme weather events like heat waves, droughts and heavy rainfall are becoming more frequent and more severe. These changes are happening in the evolutionary blink of an eye. This hurts our public health, our economy, and our natural environment. 
  • Pennsylvania creates more heat-trapping emissions than all but two other states, Texas and California, each of which have much larger populations.
  • Pennsylvania creates nearly one percent of the world's total heat-trapping emissions, far disproportionate to our population.
  • The EPA is using its authority, granted by a bipartisan vote of Congress, signed by a Republican president [Nixon], and confirmed by a conservative-leaning Supreme Court [the Roberts Court], to set standards for industrial carbon pollution from power plants, which threatens public health.
  • Setting reasonable carbon pollution standards for power plants will cut the primary driver of climate change, which fuels extreme weather that threatens communities and public health with increasing costs and worsening impacts.
  • Big polluters want to continue to dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air for free instead of adopting reasonable carbon pollution safeguards that protect public health by slowing climate change. That’s wrong.

The Public Health Impacts

  • From the American Lung Association:"Climate change and ozone scientists warn that the buildup of greenhouse gases and the climate changes caused by this will create conditions, including warmer temperatures, which will increase the risk of unhealthful ambient [ground level] ozone levels...Even with the steps that are in place to reduce ozone, evidence warns that changes in climate will likely increase future ozone levels in large parts of the U.S. To protect human health, the nation needs strong measures to reduce climate change and ozone."
  • From the 2014 National Climate Assessment: "Climate change, as well as increased CO2 by itself, can contribute to increased production of plant-based allergens...Higher pollen concentrations and longer pollen seasons can increase allergic sensitizations and asthma episodes and diminish productive work and school days. Simultaneous exposure to toxic air pollutants can worsen allergic responses. Even rainfall and rising temperatures can foster indoor air quality problems, including the growth of indoor fungi and molds, with increases in respiratory and asthma-related conditions." 
  • Also from the 2014 National Climate Assessment: "Extreme heat events are the leading weather-related cause of death in the U.S. Many cities, including Philadelphia, have suffered dramatic spikes in death rates during heat waves...Heat waves are also associated with increased hospital admissions for cardiovascular, kidney, and respiratory disorders."  
  • Clean Air Task Force provides terrific information at the level of counties and power plants for every state, including Pennsylvania. Click here and then click on Pennsylvania on the map.

The Economic Impacts

  • Between 1970 and 2006, U.S. GDP grew by 195 percent, even though we had Environmental Protection Agency and Clean Air Act regulations that significantly cut carbon monoxide, smog pollution, acid rain, and toxic pollutants such as lead.
  • Setting limits on the carbon pollution causing climate change will spur investment and innovation in energy efficiency and clean energy technologies. The real economic risk is inaction. From 2011 to 2013 alone, damages from extreme weather events have exceeded $200 billion. Imagine how huge a cleanup bill we’d be handing our children and grandchildren if we fail to act now.

See you in Harrisburg on September 25? Hope so.

PennFuture will be hosting a climate rally in the Capitol Rotunda at 10 a.m. on September 25. Join us!

Thanks so much for your interest in this critical issue. Hope to see you at the listening session.

Joy Bergey is federal policy director for PennFuture and is based in Philadelphia. She tweets @joybergey. You can meet her on September 25 in Harrisburg, where she'll be testifying.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Birds fly into the latter half of the 21st century on a wing and a prayer

“The greatest threat our birds face today is global warming."
-  Dr. Gary Langham, chief scientist, National Audubon Society

A new report by the National Audubon Society shows the potential effects of global warming on birds by the year 2080. Rising global temperatures will alter the traditional habitable ranges of a critical mass of bird species throughout North America, either shrinking them outright or forcing species into new territory where they would have to adapt to different temperatures and precipitation rates.

More than half of the 588 North American bird species in the report were considered climate endangered (projected to lose more than half of their current range by 2050) or climate threatened (projected to lose more than half of their current range by 2080).

To get a sense of the magnitude of the proglem, look no further than this statistic provided in a statement by Dr. Gary Langham, the report's lead author and the National Audubon Society's chief scientist:

“Since 1600, only about nine bird species have gone extinct in continental North America, but we’re looking at half of North American bird species at risk by the end of this century.” 

Some other worrisome news:
- The bald eagle could lose up to 75 percent of its traditional range by the year 2080.
- In Pennsylvania, our official state bird – the ruffed grouse – faces extinction if we do not change the course on climate change. 

The potential effects of climate change on bird populations are worrisome, but it’s not too late to act. The National Audubon Society suggests that policy makers adopt a comprehensive strategy: Reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving efforts to adapt to climate change, and preserving key bird habitats and incorporating climate change into conservation planning. 

You can show policymakers that preserving bird species is not a partisan issue by supporting one step in the proscribed solution – support the EPA’s proposed standards to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants

Katie Bartolotta is PennFuture's Philadelphia outreach coordinator and is based in Philadelphia.