PennFuture's A Climate for Change header/graphic

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

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. 

Sept 25: Tell the Corbett administration your views on carbon pollution from power plants

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has announced a listening session to hear what the public thinks of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) proposed standard to limit carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants:

         Thursday, Sept. 25, starting at 9:00 a.m.
         333 Market Street
         Harrisburg, PA

Anyone can speak; you need to register by Monday, Sept. 22. To do so, contact:
         Tammey Adams

We're sorry to report that the DEP, under the Corbett administration, has been much more negative than we would have wanted in response to the EPA's proposal to limit CO2 from dirty, old, coal-fired power plants, the source of 40 percent of this nation's carbon pollution. This specific proposal is part of President Obama's Clean Power Plan, which PennFuture supports.

You don't need to be an expert on energy or climate change to testify. You simply need to be a citizen concerned about the future we're leaving our kids.

PennFuture will post talking points available for use at the DEP listening session next week -- stay tuned.

Register soon! And please let me know if you've registered so we can connect in Harrisburg on Sept. 25.

Speak out now -- it matters. Really.

Joy Bergey is PennFuture's federal policy director. She's based in Philadelphia, but will be in Harrisburg on September 25. Look for her there.

That mosquito bite got you ticked off? Here's why.

Have you noticed a bothersome mosquito that bites during the day? Do you (and your pet) seem to get more and more deer ticks every time you go outside? Has your home been invaded by stink bugs? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you can blame climate change.

In the U.S., we have roughly 230 species of native stink bugs, but the brown marmorated stink bug that’s invading our homes by the hundreds and sometimes thousands was accidentally introduced from Asia. Not directly harmful to humans, these pests can still cause major problems. They are not picky when it comes to eating and will damage or destroy backyard gardens, and have become a serious pest of fruit, vegetable and farm crops in the Mid-Atlantic region. Even worse, it’s likely the pest, and the damage it causes, will spread to other areas. Warmer temperatures have shortened their life cycle, allowing  for more reproductive cycles per year, resulting in rapid growth in their populations. Currently, stink bugs have 1-2 generations per year, but climate change will cause that to increase, and warmer winters will increase survival rates during winter hibernation.

The tiger mosquito, also introduced from Asia, first appeared in Texas and is now present in 26 states in the continental U.S. and Hawaii. The northern reaches of its current range are southeastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and Long Island. What’s most concerning about this pest is its ability to transmit more than 30 different viruses to humans, including West Nile, eastern equine encephalitis, dengue fever, and chikungunya, all of which pose serious risks to human health. In a warming climate, the tiger mosquito could move as far north as Maine and Lake Erie. By the end of this century, 30 million residents of the northeastern U.S. could face exposure to the tiger mosquito.

Pennsylvania leads the nation in Lyme disease cases thanks to large populations of black-legged ticks, commonly known as deer ticks. Lyme disease can cause a variety of symptoms including fever, fatigue, and headache, and more serious symptoms if undiagnosed/untreated such as chronic joint pain and nervous system abnormalities. In addition to Lyme disease, deer ticks can also transmit the bacterial disease anaplasmosis and babesiosis, which is a protozoan to humans. There are over 30,000 cases of Lyme disease reported to the Centers for Disease Control annually but the actual number of cases is believed to be roughly 10 times that amount, and deer ticks are projected to be even more widespread due to climate change and milder winters.

Ticked off yet? For a more in-depth look at these, and other pests, check out the National Wildlife Federation's latest report: Ticked Off: America’s OutdoorExperience and Climate Change.

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

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Hunting and fishing in a changing climate

Roughly 14 million Americans hunt and an additional 33 million fish every year. For many people, these activities are a lifelong passion that allows them to connect with the outdoors and to continue family traditions. Modern wildlife management, funded in part by sportsmen and women through excise taxes and stamp fees, has maintained healthy populations of many game species for decades.

Unfortunately, climate change is threatening long-standing hunting and fishing traditions, and our outdoor experience. Here in Pennsylvania, many species are on the front lines of the climate change battle. The brook trout, an economically and culturally important species, requires clean, cold, waters to thrive, but their populations will decline with a warming climate. The black duck, whose populations are already low, will lose important nesting sites due to sea level rise; and seagrass lost due to sea level rise will be devastating for species like the American Wigeon, northern pintail, canvasback, and the black duck that rely on this aquatic vegetation for food.

In the National Wildlife Federation’s recent report:-Ticked Off: America’s Outdoor Experience and Climate Change, the threat to moose is clear. Climate change is helping winter tick populations explode thanks to less snow, late onset winters, and earlier springs. Winter ticks have a completely different lifecycle than deer ticks and parasitize their host during the winter. In Minnesota, some moose have been found with 50,000-70,000 winter ticks -- 10-20 times more than normal. This leads to severe anemia, loss of hair due to scratching and rubbing that leaves the moose vulnerable to the cold and, ultimately, death. This increased mortality has led to fewer hunting permits being issued in Maine and New Hampshire, and in Minnesota, the season is closed entirely due to rapid population declines.

These impacts to wildlife are terrible, but there are actions we can take to mitigate the harms of climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took a historic step with its Clean Power Plan, which limits carbon pollution from the nation’s largest source: power plants. Supporting this plan and urging states to implement the plan can help protect wildlife for the next generation.

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

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

We rocked it in Pittsburgh last week!

The EPA came to Pittsburgh on July 31 and August 1, and it was a really big deal.

The agency has proposed a standard for limiting carbon pollution from power plants -- the source of 40 percent of such pollution in this country.
PennFuture's CEO Cindy Dunn speaks at Clean
Power Plan press conference and rally

PennFuture was honored to be asked to take the lead in organizing support for the hearing in Pittsburgh. Along with our environmental partners, including Sierra Club, we helped mobilize hundreds of citizens from several states who came to town to express their own reasons for supporting the EPA's action to cut carbon pollution from the filthiest old coal-burning plants across the country -- especially here in Pennsylvania.

PennFuture -- with the support of our members and friends -- turned out in a big way to weigh in with the EPA. Since we've blogged before about why the science compels us to act, this time around I'll share some of the personal observations of our staff.
  • Our own CEO and president (and avid outdoorsperson) Cindy Dunn spoke at the press conference on July 31 about the need to act. Upon her return to Harrisburg, she shared this reflection: "It was gratifying to see so many partners come together for an urgent and necessary cause. It renews my faith that people of good will can give of their time and pull together for the critical issue of climate change."
  • Jennifer Quinn, our central Pennsylvania outreach coordinator, organized a bus of activists who made the round-trip to Pittsburgh. Jen says, "I was amazed and heartened to see the large number of people who woke up very early, traveled great distances and, in many cases, gave up a vacation day to go to Pittsburgh and tell the EPA why the proposed carbon pollution limits are important to them and their families."
  • Rob Altenburg, PennFuture's senior energy analyst, was on Jen's bus that day. Rob delivered our rather technical testimony to the EPA, and listened to other testifiers while he was in town. Rob writes, "While there were many good technical points raised in the testimony I heard, I was most impressed by the personal stories of how air pollution impacts people. One speaker I heard was a mother (and grandmother) was so concerned with her family's health that she skipped the Aretha Franklin concert at the Ohio State Fair so she could drive in from Ohio to testify." 
  • Valessa Souter-Kline, our southwest Pennsylvania outreach coordinator, was heavily involved in the hearings. Valessa observed that "one of the most striking aspects of the hearing was the breadth of testimony. Listening to so many people speak in support of this proposal brought new depth to the issues at stake and made it clear that there is public demand for action on climate change -- for human health, the economy and to protect the environment." 
If you'll indulge me, I'll share my own thoughts on why it was important for PennFuture to work so hard to make this hearing a success: now is the time to act.  It was in 1979 (when I was 24; I'll spare you the math: I'm 59 now) that I had my first interaction with someone who was already claiming that climate change was hogwash. I've been working to engage and educate people about the reality of climate change ever since. We weren't sure of the science in 1979, but even then, it seemed pretty clear we were headed for trouble.

What if the country had taken climate change seriously 35 years ago? We likely would have already transitioned to a clean energy economy, with fossil fuels and all their attendant woes in our distant past. Of course it's not too late to act, but if we done so even a decade ago, we would have avoided unnecessary illnesses and premature deaths. Furthermore, extensive loss of property due to extreme weather events and damage to wildlife and the oceans could have been prevented. Let's not keep hurting ourselves. 

I'm tired of waiting, which is why we applaud EPA and President Obama's Clean Power Plan.  That's why I devoted myself to getting so many people show up in Pittsburgh to tell the EPA it's time to #ActOnClimate. And they're listening!

P.S. If you haven't had the chance to tell the EPA that you support the rule, you can do so right now by clicking here. (EPA is accepting comments till October 16. But why wait?

Joy Bergey is PennFuture's federal policy director and is based in Philadelphia.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

June brought more than the summer solstice this year

It's not surprising, given the overwhelming evidence of a changing climate, but Think Progress's Joe Romm reports more warming news from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). So, if you thought last month was hot, you're right: Overall, June 2014 was the hottest June since records were kept starting in 1880. Just for context on how far back we're going, James Garfield was elected president that year and Thomas Edison first patented the electric incandescent light. (Okay, and we know science has built upon that to provide even better alternatives today in CFLs and LEDs).

This June, the oceans also recorded above-average temperatures, as did parts of Greenland, which has significant impacts for the ice sheet. If you have to confront any climate change naysayers, the map included of the worldwide temperatures for the month shows a serious tale.

But now, for a roundup of some good news: Environment 360 at Yale University notes that India just doubled its tax on domestic and imported coal, with the goal of funding more clean energy projects. And some of the U.S. mainstream media is covering climate change much more in the first half of 2014.

Finally, support for EPA's proposed carbon pollution limits on coal-fired power plants is rolling in as we get ready for the Pittsburgh public hearings on the recently-proposed standard on July 31 and Aug 1. Be sure to read the upcoming posts by my colleague, Joy Bergey, for the lowdown post-hearing.

Kate Gibbons is northeastern Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for PennFuture and is based in Wilkes-Barre.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

One citizen's motivation to testify at the upcoming EPA hearing on the Clean Power Plan

PennFuture has a terrific set of volunteers. Tom Mullaney, who lives in my neck of the woods (just outside of Philadelphia), has been helping us out for about six months now and he's a delight to work with. Tom is so committed to the effort to slow climate change that he's making the round trip to Pittsburgh on July 31 so that he can testify in person at the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) hearing on its long-overdue proposal to limit carbon pollution from dirty power plants. Tom shared his testimony with me earlier this week, and it really touched me. He has kindly agreed to share his testimony here. Thanks, Tom!

My name is Tom Mullaney and I am a resident of Glenside, Pennsylvania. I am a high school history teacher.

I am fully supportive of the EPA's proposed standard. It should be implemented promptly and without being weakened in any way.

As a history teacher, I hope that as I approach retirement in the early 2040s, I will teach my students about a time when Americans were concerned about carbon emissions in the atmosphere. I want to explain to my students that the problem is considered history and not a crisis in their lives because, in 2014, our government took action resulting in reduced carbon in the atmosphere and increased willingness of other countries to follow this example.

I am looking forward to my lesson on how the United States got carbon emissions under control. As a history teacher, I look back as well. To understand why we are here today, we need to know the EPA has the authority, granted by a bipartisan vote of Congress, signed into law by a Republican president, and confirmed by Supreme Court decision written by conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, to set standards for industrial carbon pollution from power plants.

Setting reasonable carbon pollution standards for power plants will cut the primary driver of climate change. Carbon dioxide traps heat. That is a scientific fact. Since the dawn of the industrial age, we have increased carbon emissions, something that has been irrefutably measured and documented. In that time, temperatures have consistently risen, so much so that, globally, we’ve now had 351 consecutive months above the long-term average. That means a 29-year-old has never lived through a “cooler than normal” month. This fuels extreme weather such as Superstorm Sandy, which closed my school for three days in October 2012.

When southeastern Pennsylvania students miss three days of school because of inclement weather in October, the problem is not theoretical. It is real and already impacting our daily lives.

Please take action by implementing the proposed standard. I want my students in the 2040s to know about this problem because I teach it to them, not because they experience it. Thank you.

Joy Bergey is PennFuture's federal policy director and is based in Philadelphia. You'll find her in Pittsburgh on July 31 and August 1 for the EPA hearings.