Water wars are already here in California

Water has always been an issue in California, with competing interests from farmers, ranchers, fishermen and growing cities. But with the crippling drought that the state has experienced in recent years, all of these issues and battles are becoming more important. Unfortunately, with climate change, we may see more of these issues playing out around the world.

This article offers a compelling overview of the water issues facing California.

Rising waters threaten South Florida coastline and Everglades

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Spend some time in the harbors of beautiful Miami and you’ll quickly get a sense of how this region would be threatened by rising sea levels. The area is spectacular but incredibly vulnerable. Many experts are starting to sound the alarm:

In the most dire predictions, South Florida’s delicate barrier islands, coastal communities and captivating subtropical beaches will be lost to the rising waters in as few as 100 years.

Further inland, the Everglades, the river of grass that gives the region its fresh water, could one day be useless, some scientists fear, contaminated by the inexorable advance of the salt-filled ocean. The Florida Keys, the pearl-like strand of islands that stretches into the Gulf of Mexico, would be mostly submerged alongside their exotic crown jewel, Key West.

Read the entire article and you’ll see how little politicians in Florida are doing to prepare for this potential scenario. Climate change is just one of many polarizing issues we face today and battle lines are drawn. One side does not want to acknowledge the potential risk at all, which makes it hard to debate how we might address this threat. One harsh reality, however, is that at some point there is no amount of engineering that can help. If we ever get to the point of a two-foot rise in seas levels, the entire area would be at risk. It’s a sobering thought.

Tom Steyer dives into Virginia governor race

Tom Steyer has been making plenty of news as a philanthropist and environmental activist, but lately the billionaire has made it clear he is going to do his best to alter the political landscape by supporting politicians that share his concerns for global warming and sustainability.

He has been very vocal against the Keystone pipeline, and now he’s getting involved in the 2013 race for governor in Virginia.

Tom Steyer, the environmentalist billionaire who has mounted a national campaign opposing the Keystone XL pipeline, has directed his political operation to spend heavily in the Virginia governor’s race in support of Democrat Terry McAuliffe, POLITICO has learned.

Steyer, a California-based financier, instructed advisers on Friday to launch television ads starting this week. The paid-media blitz from his group, NextGen Climate Action, will be the opening salvo in what’s expected to be a much larger effort aimed at mobilizing and turning out climate-oriented voters in a key off-year gubernatorial race.

The enterprise will be a test both of Steyer’s individual influence in electoral politics, and of the impact of heavily-funded advocacy politics within the Democratic Party. The bet, for Steyer, is that making climate issues a prominent part of the Virginia election will nudge the center of national politics in a greener direction, shaping the political landscape for 2014 and 2016 and giving environmental interests a stronger hand to play in Washington policy debates.

McAuliffe has a good record on environmental issues, but the real motivation has to be his GOP opponent Ken Cuccinelli, who Steyer called an “environmental nightmare.” Cuccinelli seems to have backward views on everything, as he’s even tried to support Virginia’s old laws against adultery. So it’s no surprise that he’s against any real efforts to stem global warming, and he basically engaged in a which hunt against University of Virginia climate scientist Michael Mann according to McAuliffe and many commentators. Let’s hope Steyer is successful here.

Battle over environmental rules

There’s political stalemate in Washington between Democrats and Republicans on what to do about global warming. But now the issue of global warming and environmental regulations is also splitting some Democrats, as many on the left are being critical of the Obama administration for slow-walking new rules relating to things like appliances.

Push for a carbon emissions tax

A carbon emissions tax is a huge long-shot in today’s political climate, but that’s not deterring former congressman Bob Inglis.

Will lower birth rates help the environment?

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Girls just want to have fun. Or at least they don’t want to have as many babies as before. This is true in places like the United States, where a Western lifestyle has changed behavior, but also in other parts of the world where women are becoming more empowered and making the decision to have fewer children. Thus, the population around the world is aging.

Americans just don’t make babies like they used to. The U.S. birthrate is the lowest in nearly a century, according to a study released last year by the Pew Research Center. It’s half the level of the Baby Boom years after World War II. American women, on average, are likely to have fewer than two children during their lifetime, which means not enough babies are being born to maintain the current population size. Even among new arrivals, the trend is declining: The birthrate among Mexican immigrants to the U.S. has plummeted 23 percent since 2007.

This reproductive recession is not unique to America; it’s a global phenomenon. Women just about everywhere are having fewer kids and having them later in life. The world is about to get a lot older very fast.

This will present some challenges for economic growth, but the article explains that efficiencies could save us there.

More importantly, population explosion is one of the biggest challenges we have for the environment, so this trend could actually be a very good thing.

Debate over Keystone Pipeline

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There are all sorts of opinions on the Keystone Pipeline. Many environmentalists are very much opposed, while many people concerned with weaning ourselves off of Mid East oil are in favor of it, even with all the new oil American is producing through fracking. The Arkansas oil spill complicates the issue of course.

Here’s T. Boone Pickens discussing natural gas, oil and the pipeline.

Google pushes towards zero-carbon emissions


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As a company, Google has a bunch of issues. They have absurdly terrible customer service and treat their affiliates like crap.

But they treat their employees well, and they are also one of the companies leading the charge in carbon emissions and sustainability.

As the double-decker bus turns onto Charleston Road and starts winding through Google’s Mountain View, Calif., campus, I stretch out in the business-class-size seat, admiring the smoothness of the black leather and the plush gray carpeting at my feet. A spacious table expands to hold a laptop, which can connect to the vehicle’s Wi-Fi system. This $800,000 luxury double-decker is one of 73 buses that Google owns and operates. (It leases 26 others.) Each day the fleet transports about 4,500 employees, or about a third of those working at the Googleplex, as the company’s headquarters is known.

It turns out that Google (GOOG) isn’t offering a free ride simply as an employee perk — the buses actually save the company money. Yes, there’s the added productivity of 4,500 employees working an extra couple of hours each day while riding to and from work. But Google’s bus service is about much more than that. Real estate in Mountain View is expensive. Underground parking spaces cost as much as $85,000 to construct. (Really!) If Google had to build a parking space for each of the bus riders, the price tag would run to almost $400 million. And that’s not counting the lost opportunity cost of not using that land for new office buildings.

Google has made other investments in transportation too. If, during the day, a Google-ite needs to run an errand or pick up a sick kid at school, he or she can hop into one of 52 electric and hybrid cars parked on campus. The company also encourages employees to drive electrics. It has spent an estimated $3 million to $4 million to install 395 chargers — the largest corporate electric-vehicle infrastructure in the country.

Finding creative solutions to energy issues has become a major priority for Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page in recent years.

Read the entire article. Other companies may not have the resources to do everything Google is trying, but they can set a great example when it comes to cost-effective solutions for responsible companies.

New soot rules issued by EPA


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With the election now over, the issue of environmental regulation will be a hot topic in Washington.

EPA’s critics say they see ill omens for President Barack Obama’s second term in Friday’s announcement of significantly tightened air pollution limits on soot from exhaust pipes and smokestacks.

The finished rule that emerged from the agency Friday is mostly as stringent as the one that EPA submitted for White House review in the summer. That’s a turnaround from the experience of the last couple of years, in which White House pressure forced the EPA to postpone a new rule on smog and placed regulations on toxic coal ash into a deep freeze.

The latest development heartened environmental groups, which praised the Obama administration for standing up to pressure from industry and the Hill — though some say they’re still waiting for tough action on climate change.

“Our air will be cleaner and thousands of Americans won’t have to face the dangerous health impacts of soot pollution from dirty sources like power plants and diesel trucks,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation voters.

But Friday’s announcement also had some industry groups wondering what to expect in the coming months, when the EPA is expected to finish regulations for greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants, with a host of pending regulations for industrial boilers, power plants and the coal industry waiting in the wings.

“We think it is [a] troublesome sign from the EPA,” said National Association of Manufacturers spokesman Jeff Ostermayer. “Most of these regulations have been on hold since before the election, and now we fear we will see them move forward with one after another, which is not good for an economy still struggling to recover.”

One outspoken industry supporter, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), has been warning for months about what he calls the “regulatory cliff” — a deluge of regulations brought on by a second Obama administration unencumbered by reelection worries. He called the new soot rule “the first in an onslaught of post-election rulemakings that will place considerable burdens on our struggling economy.”

We’re seeing a resurgence of manufacturing jobs in this country, but many argue that EPA regulations will strangle that progress. Well, we haven’t seen that so far in the fracking industry, as both sides are engaged and we’re seeing common sense regulations in states like Ohio.

But with global warming emerging as a huge issue, the political will for common sense regulations may be growing. It looks like the Obama administration is ready to proceed. The key with be whether they can balance the need to clean up and protect the environment with the need for industry and jobs.

Are attitudes shifting on global warming?

With the unfortunate damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, the issue of global warming is front and center again in the public discourse. And, after years where climate science deniers have tried to shift the public debate, the hurricane has provided a vivid example of the challenges we face as a result of global warming. Of course you can’t tie one storm to this phenomenon, but rising sea levels certainly added to the destruction as we saw massive flooding in New York and New Jersey. The general connection is logical, and the public is now paying attention again. As the Earth gets warmer, the polar ice caps are melting, and sea levels are rising. With that, the chance of flooding increases dramatically.

With the latest election, exit polls showed that 68% of Americans listed climate change as a serious problem. This represents a pretty big shift, though we’ll have to see if this holds as the storm is fresh in everyone’s mind right now. It will probably remain in the news, however, as rebuilding in New York and New Jersey will be a big story, along with the fight for Federal funds to pay for it.

Here are some more reactions.

An unscientific survey of the social networking literature on Sandy reveals an illuminating tweet (you read that correctly) from Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota. On Oct. 29, Foley thumbed thusly: “Would this kind of storm happen without climate change? Yes. Fueled by many factors. Is storm stronger because of climate change? Yes.” Eric Pooley, senior vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund (and former deputy editor of Bloomberg Businessweek), offers a baseball analogy: “We can’t say that steroids caused any one home run by Barry Bonds, but steroids sure helped him hit more and hit them farther. Now we have weather on steroids.”

In an Oct. 30 blog post, Mark Fischetti of Scientific American took a spin through Ph.D.-land and found more and more credentialed experts willing to shrug off the climate caveats. The broadening consensus: “Climate change amps up other basic factors that contribute to big storms. For example, the oceans have warmed, providing more energy for storms. And the Earth’s atmosphere has warmed, so it retains more moisture, which is drawn into storms and is then dumped on us.” Even those of us who are science-phobic can get the gist of that.

This will have an impact on our politics.

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