Interview: Adapting to a Warmer Climate

  • Researcher Don Scavia says most climate models show further drops in water levels for the Great Lakes. (Photo provided by the SeaWiFS Project, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, and ORBIMAGE)

When you think of climate change, maybe you’re thinking of something that’s 50 years away, or maybe 100 years away. But scientists are telling us that things are already changing in the Great Lakes region.

Michigan State University and the University of Michigan have just received $4.2 million in federal money for a new research center to help us understand how things might continue to change, and how we can get ready.

Don Scavia is an aquatic ecologist at the University of Michigan and he’s one of the leaders of
the new center.

Great Lakes water levels from 1918 to 2009

Learn more about the new center

More about Don Scavia

Transcript

Professor Scavia, how has climate change affected our region so far?

Scavia: Well, you know, it’s interesting. There is a lot of discussion about whether or not the climate is changing or will change in the future. But the climate in this region has already changed. We’re already seeing less ice cover on the lakes, we’re seeing our precipitation, rain and snow, coming in more intense storms than it has in the past, and it’s warming. People that try to run winter-oriented sports in the northern part of the states are certainly recognizing it. People that are seeing the lake levels dropping are recognizing it. And the farmers that are actually trying to deal with the intensification of the storms are feeling it as well.

RW: How are things expected to continue to change?


Scavia: Well, we’re expecting it to be warmer, we’re expecting the winters to be warmer, we’re expecting more of the rain to come in these very intense storms as opposed to the nice gentle rains we’re used to in the summer. A lot of the rain will come in late winter/early spring rather than during the middle part of the summer. Most of the models are suggesting the lake levels will continue to drop into the future.


RW: So what are you most concerned about?

Scavia: I’m concerned about a number of things. I’m concerned about agriculture. I think the warmer temperatures are going to force our farmers into different kinds of crops. Of course, farmers are used to adapting to changing weather but changing on this scale may not be something they’re used to.

RW: How might tourism be affected?

Scavia: Well, winter tourism for sure will be affected if we get less snow and if the lakes don’t freeze solid enough to have our tip-up towns up north. But summer tourism, much of that is around the lakeshores. And as the lake levels decline, marinas become stranded and we have to sort of work on ways to adjust to that.


RW: And you’re talking about adapting to climate change. Is it too late to stop what’s already in motion?


Scavia: Oh no. And there was a while five years ago when no one wanted to talk about adaptation because that they felt that was giving up on mitigation. We now realize that we have to do both. And mitigation is the absolute essential thing to do. We have to stop the increase in emissions, we have to stop the increase in CO2 and the increased effects of global warming overall. But there’s a lot of changes that are happening right now and even if we stopped all the emissions we’re just going to slow down the change in climate for a while.


RW: You know, a lot of people are pretty worried about their jobs right now, health care, maybe education for their kids. How do you make climate change a priority when there are so many other things that seem really pressing?


Scavia: Well, the way the climate is changing affects our daily lives and we need to address that. You know, not all the solutions, not all the adaption strategies are very costly. There are things we can build into our existing processes and existing decision making to prepare us for the future in ways that don’t necessarily cost us an awful lot of money.


Don Scavia is one of the leaders of a new research center on climate change and the Great Lakes. Thank you very much for coming in.

It was a pleasure.

Don Scavia says his center is going to be working with cities and businesses and farmers to try to get ready for a warmer climate in Michigan.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Saving Rainforests Helps U.S. Farmers

  • The report says U.S. farmers could see hundreds of billions of dollars in new revenue if rainforests are kept intact. (Photo courtesy of the USDOE)

A new report says stopping deforestation in the rainforests will benefit farms in the U.S. Mark Brush reports, it calls for money to be set aside to pay for rainforest conservation:

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Pushing the Idea of Pedestrian Malls

  • Last spring, the New York city government decided to close parts of Times Square to traffic, creating pedestrian-only plazas. (Photo courtesy of Sean Marshall)

Since the 1960s or ‘70s, people have flocked to suburban malls to shop and hang out. A lot of cities tried to get people back downtown by keeping cars out—they shut down streets and created pedestrian malls. Nora Flaherty reports the downtown pedestrian malls seldom worked, but some planners think it’s worth a try again.

Transcript

Since the 1960s or ‘70s, people have flocked to suburban malls to shop and hang out. A lot of cities tried to get people back downtown by keeping cars out—they shut down streets and created pedestrian malls. Nora Flaherty reports the downtown pedestrian malls seldom worked, but some planners think it’s worth a try again.

If you go to New York City’s Times Square, you’ll encounter a lot of lights, a lot of noise, throngs of tourists and office workers, and guys hawking theatre tickets…

But these days, you won’t encounter a tangle of cars, cabs, and busses. That’s because last spring, the city government decided to close parts of Times Square to traffic and create pedestrian-only plazas.

Rochelle Paterson works for the city. She says that the extra breathing space suits her just fine.

“I always thought 42nd street was so congested—and sometimes you need a place to sit and just relax.”

Now, New York is densely populated and people are used to walking to get around. It’s busy here. But pedestrian malls in other cities have often attempted to bring crowds into areas that cities wish would be busier.

A few decades ago, cities all over the country were feeling the pain as indoor malls opened in the suburbs….and lots of those cities hoped pedestrian malls would make downtowns centers of activity again.

Poughkeepsie, New York was one; and its mall did end up becoming a center of activity…

Just not the kind they were hoping for. The city shut down traffic. Built a nice pedestrian walkway. But then things went wrong. The city repealed laws against public drunkenness and loitering. A county social services office moved into the mall.

And then came drugs, gangs, and prostitution.

Ron Knapp is the police chief in Poughkeepsie; He was just starting his career in 1974 when the pedestrian mall was first built:

“So you kind of had a tough element out there that you had to deal with. And as those laws loosened up it hurt the mall, and as the businesses further went out, and once you’re in that downhill cycle it’s hard to stop.”

In 1981 Poughkeepsie decided to reopen the area to traffic as part of an effort to—again—revitalize downtown. Most of the 200-or-so American cities that tried out pedestrian malls were not successful. Reid Ewing is a professor of City and Metropolitan Planning at the University of Utah, and he works with the American Planning Association:

“Ped traffic had been light before and businesses not doing that well with people fleeing to the suburbs in the 60s or 70s. And so the ped malls actually exacerbated the problem.”

People thought parking was a hassle. The downtown pedestrian malls were just not convenient.

There have been success stories, though—like Pearl Street in Boulder, Colorado, and Church Street, in Burlington, Vermont. And those successes tended to have a few things in common:

They were not in depressed downtowns; they were in areas where there tended to be a lot of students and tourists, and where people felt safe; and cities needed to provide a lot of activities—things like farmers markets—to bring people in.

In other words, a pedestrian mall could make an already-pretty-nice area, nicer…but it couldn’t pull an area out of the kind of a downhill slide.

….But having learned some tough lessons, a lot of urban planners like Reid Ewing are saying it’s time to try again.

“It’s just consistent with so many things happening today…dealing with climate change, the US obesity epidemic. Getting people out walking who would otherwise get in their cars. It’s a small thing but it’s an important part of this puzzle.”

Planners concede pedestrian malls cannot work just anywhere. But they can work…to make some areas more vibrant, and more environmentally friendly.

For The Environment Report, I’m Nora Flaherty.

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Too Many Concessions in New Climate Bill?

  • Critics of the new bill say Kerry and Lieberman are giving too much away to polluting industries to attract more votes. (Photo courtesy of Tim Pearce)

Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman unveiled their climate and energy bill. It has support from some big fossil fuel industries. And several environmental groups say… it’s a good first step. But Mark Brush reports, critics are arguing it gives too much away to polluting industries:

Transcript

Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman unveiled their climate and energy bill. It has support from some big fossil fuel industries. And several environmental groups say… it’s a good first step. But Mark Brush reports, critics are arguing it gives too much away to polluting industries:

The American Power Act sets a national goal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And it would stop states from setting their own greenhouse gas standards.

It also provides billions of dollars to the coal industry to develop carbon capture technology. And it encourages more offshore drilling by offering states a share of royalties.

Kieran Suckling heads up the Center for Biological Diversity. He says by trying to attract more votes – Kerry and Lieberman are giving too much away to polluting industries:

“If all those giveaways and buyoffs got you the votes you needed, so you could actually pass the bill, you might hold your nose and say o.k. But it’s not even working. So you have all the giveaways and then you still get massive opposition.”

So far – despite the concessions – no republicans have stepped forward to support the bill.

For The Environment Report, I’m Mark Brush.

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Climate and Energy Bill

  • The Senate's climate and energy bill was supposed to be introduced last April. It's release was delayed when Republican Senator Lindsey Graham withdrew his support. (Photo courtesy of The Architect of the Capitol)

The Senate is releasing their version of a climate and energy bill. And as Mark Brush reports, some political insiders are saying it’s now or never for action on energy and climate:

Transcript

The Senate is releasing their version of a climate and energy bill. And as Mark Brush reports, some political insiders are saying it’s now or never for action on energy and climate:

Most environmental groups argue that the Gulf Oil spill highlights the need to pass sweeping new energy legislation. And some political observers say Democrats will never have a bigger majority in the Senate than they do now.

So now might be the time for quick passage of the Kerry-Lieberman bill.
But a few others say there’s no need to rush things.
A climate and energy bill should be good policy first.

Frank O’Donnell is with the environmental group Clean Air Watch:

“There appears to be this real race to get something done before this window closes. The best kind of public policy is not always carved out under those circumstances.”

O’Donnell says the conventional wisdom that there will be no better time than now could be wrong.

He believes there will be other opportunities to pass climate change legislation in the future.

For The Environment Report, I’m Mark Brush.

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Greenovation: Spray Foam Your Home

  • While there are tax credits for spray insulation, credit is available for the material only, so the contractor should separate out the material and the labor costs.(Photo courtesy of the NREL)

When people talk about making their home energy independent, they often talk about solar panels and wind turbines. But before all of that, a home has to be tight. That’s not as exciting, but necessary. Lester Graham is following Greenovation.tv’s Matt Grocoff as he tries to make his home the oldest net-zero-energy house in America.

Transcript

When people talk about making their home energy independent, they often talk about solar panels and wind turbines. But before all of that, a home has to be tight. That’s not as exciting, but necessary. Lester Graham is following Greenovation.tv’s Matt Grocoff as he tries to make his home the oldest net-zero-energy house in America:

The note on Matt’s door told me to come on in and head for the basement. Matt’s 110 year old home has what’s called around here a “Michigan basement.” Basically, cement floor, stone walls, low ceilings. Not glamorous.

Matt is spraying expanding foam insulation up in that area where the floor framing sits on the foundation. The sill plate… which is basically nothing more than one-and-a-half inches of wood between inside your home… and the great outdoors.

“There’s no insulation between your house, or your living part, and the foundation itself.”

Maybe you’ve been in the basement of an old house and sometimes you can actually see daylight through the sill plate in places. Those leaks need to be sealed. That could be done with caulk. Then the area needs to be insulated. That could be done with fiberglass insulation.

“What we decided to do is to do both at the same time, seal and insulate, is to use a do-it-yourself spray foam insulation kit from Tiger Foam. There’s plenty of professionals out there, and for most people, that’s what I’d recommend you do, go to the professional. If money is an issue or if you’re a really handy person, these spray foam kits are fantastic.”

The foam insulation kit costs about 300-dollars. It’s basically two tanks -each about the size of a propane tank you’d use for an outdoor grill. A hose from each tank is attached to a spray gun that mixes the chemicals. The chemicals mix as they come out and the make a sticky foam that expands into nooks and crannies and then hardens after several minutes.

“Way easier than I thought they were going to be, by the way. I was actually terrified. I went back and read the instructions three – four times. And when I started spraying, it wasn’t that bad.”

“You still ended up with a goof, though.”

“I did have a goof. There was a little bit of foam there, dripping, when I forgot to turn on one of the canisters, but what ya– c’mon Lester.”

Matt’s goof means he’s going to have to wipe up some of the mess and spray again. But it’s not a disaster.

If you’ve got a big job… maybe new construction or a remodel that takes it down to the studs… you might want to consider a professional.

John Cunningham owns Arbor Insulation in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He says, sure, if you’re up to it… do it yourself.

“You could assume that it’d be cheaper to do it yourself and the kits are a really good option, especially for people that have smaller projects or they’re looking to do the work in a very specific time frame or in a distant location for instance.”

But the professionals are recommended for those big jobs. And right now there are federal tax credits for spray foam insulation– 30-percent up to 15-hundred dollars. That credit is limited though.

“The tax credit is available for the material only, so the contractor should be separating out the material and the labor. Also, there are additional incentives from some utilities and more incentives coming down the pike.”

Some states and even municipalities are considering incentives.

One final note… to use the spray foam, Matt Grocoff is decked out in a white haz-mat suit, latex gloves, goggles and a respirator…

“You’ve got to take all the safety precautions. You’ve got to wear your goggles, your suit. And it also can be messy too. Any overspray that gets in your hair will stay in your hair.”

And as he zips up, I get the hint that Matt has to get back to work.

“I do. I’ve got 30 seconds before this nozzle sets up. So, Lester, thanks again.”

“Sounds like my cue to get out of here. That’s Matt Grocoff with Greenovation-dot-TV. I’m Lester Graham with The Environment Report.”

“Thanks Lester.”

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Politics Delay Climate Bill

  • Senator Lindsey Graham has walked out on the bill– saying he can’t go forward because the Democratic leadership is now playing politics with immigration policy.(Photo courtesy of the US Senate)

A climate and energy bill was supposed to be introduced in the Senate this week. But Mark Brush reports… politics are getting in the way:

Transcript

A climate and energy bill was supposed to be introduced in the Senate this week. But Mark Brush reports… politics are getting in the way:

Senators John Kerry – a Democrat – Joe Lieberman – an Independent – and Lindsey Graham a Republican have been working on a climate and energy bill.

There have been months of delicate negotiations.

But Senator Graham has walked out – saying he can’t go forward because the Democratic leadership is now playing politics with immigration policy.

Dan Weiss is the Director of Climate Strategy for the Center for American Progress – a liberal public policy group. He says all these delays come with costs:

“Every day that we wait to reform our energy policies, we buy a billion dollars worth of oil from other countries… Iran will earn an extra hundred million dollars in oil revenue… China will get further ahead of us in developing the clean energy technologies of the future.”

The House passed a climate and energy bill last year, but a Senate bill has been repeatedly delayed.

For The Environment Report, I’m Mark Brush.

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Co-Opting “Cap and Dividend”

  • Senator Maria Cantwell says something has to be done to push the country toward alternative sources of energy – and away dependence on polluting fossil fuels. (Photo courtesy of the NREL, Warren Gretz)

A new climate change bill will be introduced next week. It’s expected to be very complicated because of so many competing interests. Critics say it won’t pass. Julie Grant reports another much shorter and simpler bill in the Senate is getting some overdue attention:

Transcript

A new climate change bill will be introduced next week. It’s expected to be very complicated because of so many competing interests. Critics say it won’t pass. Julie Grant reports another much shorter and simpler bill in the Senate is getting some overdue attention.

Carbon emissions come from smokestacks, tailpipes and all kinds of manufacturing processes. It’s considered the biggest culprit in the greenhouse gas pollution contributing to climate change.

We’ve heard a lot about a possible cap and trade program to reduce carbon emissions. The House of Representatives passed a cap and trade bill last summer, but it hasn’t gone far in the Senate. Senators John Kerry, a Democrat, Joseph Lieberman, an independent, and Lindsey Graham, a Republican have been working on a bill for months.

But a simple bill called The CLEAR Act introduced last December has been is gaining interest. Senator Maria Cantwell is a Democrat from Washington State. She co-sponsored the bill with Republican Susan Collins of Maine.

Cantwell says something has to be done to push the country toward alternative sources of energy – and away dependence on polluting fossil fuels. That’s why they’re pushing the bill, called cap and dividend:

“We’re saying we think it’s very important to have a simple approach that the American people can understand. a 41-page bill is a lot about getting people to understand how this can work and helping us make a transition.”

Like cap and trade, the CLEAR Act would limit carbon emissions—it would put a cap on them. But it’s different from the complicated cap-and-trade plan that would target those who use energy and allow for many kinds of loopholes.

The Cantwell and Collins cap and dividend plan would concentrate on those who produce energy from fossil fuels. It would cap carbon at the tanker bringing in imported oil, the mine extracting coal, the oil and gas at the well head.

It would charge those energy producers for permits. Each year the number of permits would be reduced, so theoretically, the amount of carbon pollution would be gradually reduced.

Twenty-five percent of the money from the permits would go toward a clean energy fund. The other 75-percent would be paid at a flat rate to each person in the nation to offset higher energy prices.

So, fossil fuel energy would be more expensive, but families would get money to offset the higher costs.

Cantwell says no matter what we do, even if we do nothing, energy costs are going to rise. She says people want to know what to expect in their energy bills.

“What they want to know is how do you make that transition with the least impact to people and that’s what the Clear act is about; it’s about making a stable transition, and helping consumers along the way not get gouged by high energy prices.”

Many economists and environmentalists like the cap and dividend idea.

Senators Kerry, Lieberman and Graham have said they’ll fold some elements of cap and dividend into their massive proposal.

Darren Samuelsohn is the Energy and Environment Reporter for GreenWire. He says the three Senators are taking a comprehensive look at carbon pollution in relation to the entire U.S. energy policy.

“They’ve been meeting as a group of three behind closed doors working to try and satisfy the needs for a price on carbon emissions, across multiple sectors of the economy–power plants, heavy manufacturing and transportation.”

And they’re using bits and pieces of the Cantwell-Collins proposal.

Senators Cantwell and Collins say they don’t want their bill

cannibalized by that large scale bill.

One reason Cantwell is concerned is that the Kerry, Lieberman Graham bill allows trading permits. She says trading hasn’t worked in the European system. And she’s concerned it will make the price of carbon vulnerable to speculators who could drive the prices up artificially.

Instead, she wants carbon prices decided at monthly federal auctions.

Cantwell says the time is right for a simple, predictable bill like the CLEAR Act.

“You don’t have to ahve a 2-thousand page bill and figure out how many allowances you have to give away in the back room to make somebody believe in this. This is a concept the American people can understand and one they can support.”

On Monday, the Kerry-Lieberman-Graham bill is expected to be introduced. The vote will be very close, so they can’t afford to ignore what Senators Cantwell and Collins want.

For The Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

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Climate Bill to Cut EPA Authority

  • Some senators say to pass any bill, they have to cut the EPA's authority, but environmental groups say this would be a mistake. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons GNU 1.2)

A big climate-change bill will be introduced in the U-S Senate next week.
Shawn Allee reports it’s expected to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases:

Transcript

A big climate-change bill will be introduced in the U-S Senate next week.

Shawn Allee reports it’s expected to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases.

Congress worked on climate bills for more than a year, but all that time, the US Environmental Protection Agency worked on its plans.

EPA’s got authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions on its own.

It’s doing that in case Congress waits too long or legislation’s too weak.

But some senators say to pass any, bill, they have to cut EPA’s authority.

Environmental groups say this would be a mistake.

Howard Learner is with The Environmental Law and Policy Center.

“The only justification to constrain the US EPA’s ability to do it’s job and do it well under the Clean Air Act is if Congress steps up in a comprehensive, thorough, durable, way to protect our public health and protect our environment.”

Lerner says we don’t know whether Congress’ approach to climate change will work, so the EPA should keep some power over greenhouse gas emissions … as a kind of back-stop.

For The Environment Report, I’m Shawn Allee.

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New Bi-Partisan Climate Change Bill

  • Darren Samuelsohn says the bill will also include a national renewable electricity standard, requiring more power to come from sources other than fossil fuel such as coal. (Photo courtesy of NREL)

A long-awaited climate change bill in the Senate is to be released next week. A prominent Republican says the bi-partisan bill won’t pass. Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

A long-awaited climate change bill in the Senate is to be released next week. A prominent Republican says the bi-partisan bill won’t pass. Lester Graham reports.

Senators John Kerry, a Democrat, Joseph Lieberman, an independent and Lindsey Graham, a Republican have been working behind closed doors for six months to draft a climate and energy bill. They’re supposed to release it next Monday.

Darren Samuelsohn covers Washington for ClimateWire. He says no one knows everything the bill will include… but some points have been revealed.

Samuelsohn: Price on carbon emissions across multiple sectors of the economy: power plants, heavy manufacturing and transportation and then trying to ramp up a range of domestic energy supplies from nuclear to natural gas to oil.

Samuelsohn says the bill will also include a national renewable electricity standard, requiring more power come from sources other than fossil fuel such as coal.

Samuelsohn speculates this bill could pass in the Senate… but it will require some arm twisting and deal making by President Obama.

The Senate’s chief climate change denier, Republican James Inhofe told Fox News the bill won’t get half the votes it needs to pass.

For The Environment, I’m Lester Graham.

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