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Agriculture and climate: Connecting the science: USDA, NCAR team up to identify where nation is vulnerable, how we might adapt

(February 19)

Atmos News

With U.S. agriculture taking a massive hit from the widespread drought of 2012, farmers and other stakeholders are hungry for guidance on how crops may fare as the nation’s climate evolves over the coming decades. This year’s National Climate Assessment (NCA) includes new findings on agriculture and climate change—key science that draws from a longstanding collaboration between NCAR and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Pulling together the latest studies, researchers from the USDA, the university community, and nongovernmental organizations produced Climate Change and Agriculture in the United States: Effects and Adaptation. This newly released technical document explores the current effects of changing climate as well as projections of change that may occur over the next 100 years. Scientists from the USDA and collaborating organizations used the information from this report to write the NCA chapter on the effects of climate change on U.S. agriculture.

Climate Rally In Washington Brought Out 40,000 People, Organizers Estimate

(February 17)

Huffington Post

Hoisting signs that read “Forward on Climate” and “No on Keystone XL,” a massive group of protesters gathered on the National Mall Sunday to urge President Obama to take action on climate policy. Organizers of the major rally, including the Sierra Club and environmental activist group 350.org, estimated that there were 40,000 protesters from 30 states in what the groups are billing as the largest climate rally in history. Of particular concern to those attending the rally was one of the first climate-related decisions the president will face in his second term — whether to approve the construction of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline. Environmental groups organized two rallies in Washington last year to protest the pipeline, which would carry dense fossil fuel from Alberta, Canada, to oil refineries along the Gulf Coast. Those high-profile actions, where hundreds of activists were arrested, likely factored into the administration’s move to push the controversial Keystone decision back until after the election.

U.S. government risks financial exposure from climate change – GAO

(February 14)

Reuters

The U.S. government is at high risk of financial exposure from climate change, the Government Accountability Office said on Thursday, two days after President Barack Obama vowed to tackle the issue with or without Congress’ help. For the first time, the non-partisan congressional watchdog added fiscal exposure from climate change to its “High Risk List” of measures the federal government needs to fix. There are now 30 programs and operations the GAO considers at high risk for waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement, or that need broad-based transformation, from the management of federal oil and gas resources to enforcement of tax laws.

5 Myths About Keystone XL, Debunked

(February 14)

Media Matters

As the State Department nears a decision on whether or not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, the media is exaggerating its economic benefits and downplaying environmental risks to advocate for the project. Media Matters takes on five of the prevailing media myths about Keystone XL.

  1. Would Keystone XL contribute to climate change?
  2. Does the new pipeline route resolve local environmental concerns?
  3. How would the pipeline impact U.S. energy security?
  4. How many jobs would building the pipeline create?
  5. Would Keystone XL affect gasoline prices?

Climate change reports warn of major agriculture, forestry impacts

(February 13)

Delta Farm Press

The USDA has released two comprehensive reports on expected effects of climate change on agriculture and forestry. The reports —Climate Change and Agriculture: Effects and Adaptation and The Effects of Climate Variabilityand Change on Forest Ecosystems: A Comprehensive Science Synthesis for the U.S. Forest Sector — will be part of the upcoming National Climate Assessment.

The reports’ predictions are not comforting with claims that increases in temperatures, atmospheric carbon dioxide, altered precipitation patterns and increasing extreme weather events will definitely influence agriculture. And while some crops may actually benefit and expand into areas once impossible to grow in, the overall picture is not rosy. Management of weeds, insect pests, and diseases will gain even more importance in coming years.

Study: Costly fire season caused by climate change

(February 12)

A study released by the National Wildlife Federation on Jan. 30 blames Idaho’s costly 2012 fire season on climate change and states that things will only get worse as global warming intensifies.

The study, titled “Wildlife in a Warming World,” features sections on all parts of the nation, including the Mississippi River basin, the Southwest and the East Coast. From forests encroaching on the Alaskan tundra to polar bears struggling to adjust to rapidly dwindling sea ice, the study strives to be a comprehensive overview of how climate change has an impact on all North American wildlife.

USDA Climate Change Adaptation Plan open for public comment

(February 11)

Bladen Journal

USDA is committed to fostering a clean energy economy and to improving the environment by conducting operations in a sustainable and environmentally responsible manner, complying with environmental laws and regulations, and leading by example. In order to fulfill its mission of providing leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development, nutrition, and related issues, USDA focuses on the future. The Department recognizes the significance of global climate change and how potential impacts such as more frequent or severe weather events can affect our programs and operations.

A Digital Farmer’s Almanac — How Communities Track ‘Microchanges’ in Climate

(February 11)

New America Media

The iSeeChange almanac allows people to make observations about climate change in their own backyards and ask scientists questions directly. NAM’s Ngoc Nguyen spoke with the project’s producer, Julia Kumari Drapkin, about how this experiment in crowd-sourced environmental reporting is spurring conversations about climate change in rural Colorado and elsewhere.

NSF Forum: The Globalization of Long Term Ecological Research

(February 11)

National Science Foundation

Deserts and forests, grasslands, lakes and rivers. Over the past 33 years, long-term ecological research has been conducted at a network of National Science Foundation (NSF) Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites in these and other ecosystems. NSF’s LTER network has an international sister effort. The ILTER, or International Long Term Ecological Research network, is a global consortium of long-term research programs. This year, it marks its 20th anniversary. In recognition of that milestone, NSF’s annual LTER mini-symposium, held this year on Feb. 28, 2013, at NSF headquarters, will highlight the global reach of long-term ecological research.

Extreme fire risk & danger for NW forests forecasted

(February 6)

Natural Resource Report

 Kent Connaughton, US Forest Service Regional Forester who manages 16 national forests in OR & WA, in January addressed the both Oregon Board of Forestry and The Oregonian newspaper editorial board. Connaughton said undesirable overcrowding on the region’s federal forestlands is accelerating at about twice the rate that restoration projects are able to address the overcrowding problems. He predicts that future federal forest wildfire risk will be extreme and damaging, and that it is now necessary to treat more forest acreage, more aggressively.

Tackling global warming begins at home

(January 31)

Policy Network

In an age of interdependence, action at the state level is no longer sufficient, on its own. Nevertheless, when it comes to environmental policy, beginning with domestic reforms, rather than focusing on global treaties, may be the best starting point to fight global warming.

On the one hand, a growing number of countries are passing climate change legislation. This was documented in a recent survey of climate legislation by Globe International, a forum of parliamentarians, and the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics.

On the other hand, there is the slow pace of the international negotiations towards a new climate treaty, the last round of which took place in Doha in December. Negotiators were at pains to highlight the achievements of the Doha summit. There was indeed progress, perhaps even important progress, but unless you are a climate convention junkie it will not have set your pulse racing. The negotiating tracks were streamlined; the hot air issue was resolved; the Kyoto Protocol was extended, but with fewer participants and targets that barely deviate from business as usual.

John Kerry’s confirmation as secretary of state delights climate campaigners

(January 29)

The Guardian

John Kerry’s confirmation as secretary of state on Tuesday installs a veteran climate champion in a pole position for Barack Obama’s second term. Campaigners hope Kerry will help deliver a win on their signature issue: blocking the Keystone XL pipeline from the Alberta tar sands. Kerry, in his confirmation hearings last week, made it clear he would be deeply involved in the final decision about the pipeline’s fate. Obama has the final word on the pipeline. However, the state department must also sign off on the project, because it crosses the US-Canadian border. Kerry told the Senate he would closely monitor the results of an ongoing environmental review.

Supreme Court Won’t Hear Challenge to EPA Rulemaking

(January 22)

Scientific American

The Supreme Court refused on Tuesday to consider reducing the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to set air quality standards, leaving intact a tough new limit on sulfur dioxide emissions in a victory for the Obama administration. Without comment, the court decided not to hear an appeal by Grupo Mexico SAB’s Asarco LLC unit of a lower court ruling that upholds a 2010 EPA rule limiting sulfur dioxide in the air to 75 parts per billion over one hour. Short-term exposure to sulfur dioxide has been linked to respiratory problems. (http://www.epa.gov/air/sulfurdioxide/).

Speech Gives Climate Goals Center Stage

(January 21)

The New York Times

President Obama made addressing climate change the most prominent policy vow of his second Inaugural Address, setting in motion what Democrats say will be a deliberately paced but aggressive campaign built around the use of his executive powers to sidestep Congressional opposition.

The central place he gave to the subject seemed to answer the question of whether he considered it a realistic second-term priority. He devoted scant attention to it in the campaign and has delivered a mixed message about its importance since the election.

Forest Restoration Initiatives Reduce Wildfire Risk, Produce Responsible Timber

(January 21)

Earth911.com

On the heels of the Wallow Fire, which burned nearly 539,000 acres in four days and was the largest forest fire in state history, representatives of The Nature Conservancy’s Arizona chapter are making efforts to protect forest habitats from wildfires before it’s too late.

To fight back against intense wildfires, the organization is collaborating with conservation partners, the private sector and government agencies to implement innovative new programs – beginning with the Four Forest Restoration Initiative, the largest forest thinning program in the history of the U.S. Forest Service and one that Nature Conservancy officials say could be used to prevent severe fires in dry forests across the western U.S.

Watershed Payments Topped $8.17 Billion In 2011

(January 17)

Ecosystem Marketplace

The number of initiatives that protect and restore forests, wetlands, and other water-rich ecosystems has nearly doubled in just four years as governments urgently seek sustainable alternatives to costly industrial infrastructure, according to a new report from Forest Trends’ Ecosystem Marketplace.

The report, State of Watershed Payments 2012, is the second installment of the most comprehensive inventory to date of initiatives around the world that are paying individuals and communities to revive or preserve water-friendly features of the landscape. Such features include wetlands, streams, and forests that can capture, filter, and store freshwater.

5 Must-See Charts From Major New U.S. Climate Report

(January 14)

Climate Central

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.

Climate Change: USDA Deems 597 Counties as Drought Disaster Areas

(January 10)

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.”

Drought disaster action ignores Nebraska

(January 10)

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.

U.S. Climate Change Coverage Declined In 2012 Even As Year Set Major Record

(January 9)

Huffington Post

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.”

Appeals Court Upholds Idaho Roadless Rule

(January 9)

Times-News

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.

Australian wildfires add to growing confusion over climate

(January 9)

BBC

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.

Farm Bill Critics Claim Partial Victory Despite Stalemate

(January 8)

NPR

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.

Climate change could cut Western water runoff by 10%

(January 8)

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.

From veteran to freshman: What Congressman-elect Jared Huffman means for the North Coast

(December 31)

Times-Standard

North Coast Congressman-Elect Jared Huffman officially starts his new job this week, as U.S. representative to the recently redrawn 2nd District, which runs from Huffman’s hometown of San Rafael north to the Oregon border. The three-term California assemblyman and environmental lawyer is taking over, on the North Coast at least, from the veteran Thompson, who’s represented Humboldt County and surrounding counties in the U.S. House since 1999 after being reelected six times. Now, Thompson’s hometown of St. Helena has been drawn out of the district, and he will represent the newly drawn 5th District, encompassing Napa, parts of Santa Rosa and the San Francisco Bay Area.

How to Pick a Good Fight for Rural America

(December 27)

Daily Yonder

When talking about the delay in getting a farm bill passed, Vilsack said, “We have to be strategic about the fights that we pick, because the fights we often pick are misinterpreted in some corners.”

Vilsack offered examples of how some rural advocates had picked the wrong fights in recent years and lost credibility for rural causes in the process: “I can’t tell you how frustrating it’s been to hear the conversation that we’ve had for the last couple of years about regulations, regulations that either didn’t exist, weren’t going to exist, or that were taken care of. I read a survey recently where people were still talking about the dust rule. Not going to happen, never going to happen. People are still concerned about the child labor issue. Not going to happen, never going to happen. We dealt with this, but yet we continue to talk about it.”

Severe drought conditions expected to continue through winter

(December 21)

Redlodge Clearinghouse

Climatologists are predicting that the drought that has parched more than half of the United States this year will last at least through the winter with compounding impacts on agriculture, water supplies, food prices and wildlife. Mark Svoboda, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and author of the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor, said this year’s drought is historically unusual in its intensity and size.

Cost Of Natural Disasters, Man-Made Catastrophes In 2012 Down From Last Year, Report Finds

(December 19)

Huffington Post

Despite the substantial financial losses associated with Hurricane Sandy, the cost of global natural and man-made disasters in 2012 is actually significantly lower than last year’s total. According to a report released Wednesday by reinsurer Swiss Re, total economic losses from disasters — naturally occurring or otherwise — is estimated to beat least $140 billion.

Even with the costs of the Sandy, the second-most expensive storm in U.S. history after Hurricane Katrina, the total financial loss from disasters this year did not near 2011’s total of $380 billion — the highest in history — or 2010’s $218 billion.

What’s Your Meme? Changing the Climate Change Conversation

(December 17)

New York Times

We are constantly bombarded by memes in our daily lives. Some spontaneously flare up and then burn out as quickly as they appeared, while others stick around for decades. We hardly consider their presence, much less contemplate their possible influence on our lives.

Researchers in the emerging field of meme science are digging deeper, however, investigating how and why these sticky phrases or trends sink into our cultural psyche and subconsciously influence the way we process the world around us.

Track record belies rural Americans’ loss of influence

(December 14)

Capital Press

Despite what U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says about their loss of influence, rural Americans managed to string together an impressive array of successes during President Barack Obama’s first term.

Political pressure from farmers and ranchers played a big role in stalling key parts of Obama’s agenda that they don’t like, including cap and trade, stringent new meatpacker rules and the proposed removal of four dams from the Klamath River.

At the same time, producers have managed to push forward things they do like, such as estate tax rates that are more favorable to growers than when Obama took office and finalizing trade agreements that were opposed bitterly by the president’s union allies.

In Two Weeks, the Mississippi River Could Shut Down

(December 14)

The Atlantic

The worst drought in half a century has brought water levels in the Mississippi close to historic lows and could shut down all shipping in a matter of weeks–unless Barack Obama takes extraordinary measures. It’s the second extreme event on the river in 18 months, after flooding in the spring of 2011 forced thousands to flee their homes. Without rain, water levels on the Mississippi are projected to reach historic lows this month, the national weather service said in its latest four-week forecast.

Let it burn? Federal agencies draft national wildland fire strategy

(December 9, 2012)

Missoulian

Wildfires and weather share a common problem: We all talk about them, but what can we do about them? The federal government hopes to answer the wildfire question with a three-year strategy session that’s wrapping up this month. But there’s no guarantee the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy will save an acre of forest. In fact, it might force the nation to decide how much it’s willing to let burn.

A Supremely Important Decision About America’s Logging Industry

(November 29)

On December 3, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider who is best suited to set national environmental policy – the experienced scientists and regulators at the Environmental Protection Agency or activist trial lawyers. In Decker v. NEDC the justices will review a 2011 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that overturned 35 years of EPA Clean Water Act regulation of the logging industry, the source of 2.5 million American jobs.

High Hopes and Low Expectations for UN Climate Talks in Qatar

(November 29)

Examiner.com

Under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, leading countries have pledged to keep global warming from exceeding 2 degrees Celsius above pre­-industrial levels by the end of the century. A report released last week by the UN Environment Program said nations’ current pledges were too weak and greenhouse gas emissions were increasing at a rate that put the world at risk without immediate action.

Understanding the Doha climate talks, in three easy charts

(November 28)

Huffington Post

The U.N. climate talks are currently underway in Doha, Qatar. “Negotiators and experts all warned that the two-week session would only lay the groundwork for a potentially ambitious global-warming pact by the end of the decade.” A few charts layout what negotiators are trying to do.

With Ban on Drilling Practice, Town Lands in Thick of Dispute

(November 25)

The New York Times

Longmont became the first town in Colorado to outlaw hydraulic fracturing, the oil-drilling practice commonly known as fracking. The ban has propelled Longmont to the fiercely contested forefront of the nation’s antifracking movement, inspiring other cities to push for similar prohibitions. But it has also set the city on a collision course with oil companies and the State of Colorado.

US politicians urged to seize the moment on climate change after Sandy

(November 22)

The Guardian

At a recent event, engineering, disaster preparation and climate science professors at Columbia University urged lawmakers to take advantage of the public’s post Hurricane Sandy interest in global warming and push through bold policies. Many of the infrastructure investments that the scientists suggested would cost tens of billions of dollars. Although the professors didn’t present a comprehensive plan, they all agreed that a combination of mammoth infrastructure projects would be essential for preparing the United States‘ coastal communities for rising sea levels.

Critics want feds to reconsider Idaho exploration

(November 20)

Idaho Statesman

An Idaho environmental group wants the U.S. Forest Service to reconsider allowing more exploration for gold near the headwaters of the South Fork of the Salmon River. The petition by the Idaho Conservation League marked its first public step to oppose plans by Vancouver, Canada-based Midas Gold to develop an open-pit mine in a historic mining district in Valley County. Payette National Forest administrators recently approved construction of another 139 drill pads and 178 drill holes at the Golden Meadows project site.