A major new federal climate science assessment, released in draft form on Jan. 11, finds that “climate change is real and accelerating,” and that myriad impacts are already being felt in the U.S., from more frequent, hotter heat waves, to coastal flooding and precipitation extremes. The report, which is the first since 2009 to systematically examine the effects of global warming on the U.S., bolsters some of the conclusions of the previous report and cites new findings showing that the country is already experiencing a wide range of disruptive impacts from global warming, primarily through the changing frequency and severity of weather extremes.
The Guardian Express
U. S. Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack indicated that the United States Department of Agriculture has designated 597 counties in the United States as primary natural disaster areas due to extended drought and heat. This designation makes all qualified farm operators in these areas eligible for low-interest emergency loans. This is just the 1st round of disaster designations made by the US Department of Agriculture in 2013. “As drought persists, the USDA will continue to partner with producers to see them through longer-term recovery, while taking this with actions needed to help farmers and ranchers prepare their land and operations for the upcoming planting season,” said Sec. Vilsack. “I will also continue to work with Congress to encourage passage of a Food, Farm and Jobs bill that gives rural America the long-term certainty they need, including a strong indefensible safety net.”
Rapid City Journal
A hundred percent of Nebraska counties are suffering from severe drought, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center, but none of them were among the almost 600 counties nationally given a primary disaster designation for 2013 on Wednesday by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Dan Steinkruger, who heads USDA’s Farm Service Agency in Lincoln, said Nebraska’s absence from the secretary’s list isn’t as big a head scratcher as it appears, even though neighboring Kansas has 88 counties on it. “They start grazing earlier in a lot of those states,” Steinkruger said. “And Kansas is included, because historically, they do a lot of grazing on winter wheat.” The main benefit of a primary designation is low-interest disaster loans for people trying to keep up with the costs associated with parched pastures and other crop and livestock dilemmas.
As the country experienced its warmest year on record, coverage of climate change on major U.S. television networks and across media outlets dropped in 2012. Worldwide climate coverage decreased by two percent between 2011 and 2012, according to The Daily Climate, marking the fewest number of published stories since 2009. Along with being the warmest year on record, 2012 was also second only to 1998 as the most extreme. Climate Central notes, “In response to global warming, some extreme events, such as heat waves, are already becoming more likely to occur and more intense.”
A plan governing the development and preservation of 9.3 million acres of roadless federal public land in Idaho has survived another court challenge. A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Idaho’s “roadless rule” on Monday, declaring in a brief written decision that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Forest Service did not violate any environmental laws when forming the plan.
According to researchers, one of the immediate causes of the wildfire problems down under is, ironically, rain. An extended La Nina season appears to have given southern and south eastern Australia a real watering over the past two years. Trees and plants have grown rapidly and extensively. But when temperatures rise, these quickly become fuel for the fires. Unfortunately, the second half of 2012 was extremely dry, with the daily temperature 0.11 degrees above the daily average. This has created the perfect conditions for raging fires.
Scientists, though, have been remarkably silent on the connection between wildfires and climate change. It makes an interesting contrast with the last time major fires threatened Australian homes and lives in 2009, when researchers and others were ready to make a more direct link with climate change. But the connection between climate change and wildfires has become a bit more certain. In a paper published last year, leading Australian experts predicted an increased risk of fire in some of the areas now suffering the worst affects, including Tasmania and South Australia.
It’s amazing how many different kinds of people have been trying to abolish or at least change the government’s payments to farmers. They include economists, environmentalists, taxpayer advocates, global anti-hunger advocates and even a lot of farmers. Some have been fighting farm subsidies for the past 20 years. This past year, those critics laid siege to offices on Capitol Hill because the law that authorizes these programs — the farm bill — was about to expire. But instead of passing a new five-year renewal, Congress extended only parts of the previous bill by nine months. And so the reformers lost, again.
On the other hand, the big farm organizations that wanted to lock in generous subsidies for another five years also failed. All in all, the result was more like a stalemate, and the battle over farm subsidies now will resume in the new Congress. Some of the anti-subsidy campaigners are calling it a victory.
Los Angeles Times
Another climate change study is projecting declines in runoff in many parts of the West, a scenario that would put more pressure on the region’s water supplies. Using new model simulations, scientists at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory expanded on 2007 research that predicted a drier future for the Southwest. The reasons involve more than a drop in precipitation — which is actually expected to increase in some areas that are critical to Western water supplies. Rather, rising temperatures will cause greater evaporation from plants and the ground, reducing soil moisture and water runoff into rivers and streams. Researchers concluded that average annual runoff will fall by about 10% in the three regions examined in the study: California-Nevada, the Colorado River headwaters and Texas.
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