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:

Related Links

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.

Related Links

Acidic Oceans Dissolving Shellfish Industry

  • Oceanographer Richard Feely says the shellfish industry is suffering in part because the more acidic seawater encourages the growth of a type of bacterium that kills oyster larvae.(Photo courtesy of the NOAA)

When carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, about a third of it absorbs into the ocean. That creates carbonic acid—the stuff in soda pop that gives it that zing.

That means seawater is becoming more acidic.

Scientists say this ocean acidification is starting to cause big problems for marine life. And Ann Dornfeld reports that could affect your dinner plans.

Transcript

When carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, about a third of it absorbs into the ocean. That creates carbonic acid—the stuff in soda pop that gives it that zing.

That means seawater is becoming more acidic.

Scientists say this ocean acidification is starting to cause big problems for marine life. And Ann Dornfeld reports that could affect your dinner plans.

Taylor Shellfish Farms has been growing oysters for more than a
century. And shucking them, one by one, by hand.

“An old profession. Y’know, they’ve tried for years to
find a way to mechanize it. There’s no way around it. Every oyster is
so unique in its size and shape.”

Bill Dewey is a spokesman for Taylor. The company is based in
Washington state. It’s one of the nation’s main producers of farmed
shellfish. Dewey says if you order oyster shooters in Chicago, or just
about anywhere else, there’s a good chance they came from Taylor.

But in the past couple of years, the company has had a hard time
producing juvenile oysters – called “seed.”

“Last year our oyster larvae production was off about 60
percent. This year it was off almost 80 percent. It’s a huge impact to
our company and to all the people that we sell seed to.”

Shellfish growers throughout the Pacific Northwest are having similar
problems with other kinds of oysters, and mussels, too. They suspect a
lot of it has to do with ocean acidification.

Richard Feely is a chemical oceanographer with the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration. He says when the pH of seawater drops
too low, it can hurt marine life.

“What we know for sure is that those organisms that
produce calcium carbonate shells such as lobsters, and clams and
oysters, and coral skeletons, they generally tend to decrease their
rate of formation of their skeletons.”

Feely says it looks like acidified waters are affecting oysters
because their larvae build shells with a type of calcium carbonate,
called aragonite, which dissolves more easily in corrosive water.

The more acidic seawater also encourages the growth of a type of
bacterium that kills oyster larvae.

Feely says the changes in the ocean’s pH are becoming serious. He
recently co-published a study on the results of a 2006 research cruise
between Hawaii and Alaska. It was identical to a trip the researchers
took in 1991. They found that in just 15 years, the ocean had become
five to six percent more acidic as a result of man-made CO2.

“If you think about it, a change of 5% in 15 years is a
fairly dramatic change. and it’s certainly humbling to see that in my
lifetime I can actually measure these changes on a global scale. These
are very significant changes.”

A couple years ago, Feely gave a talk at a conference of shellfish
growers. He explained the impact ocean acidification could have on
their industry. Bill Dewey with Taylor Shellfish Farms was there.

“All these growers were walking around with all these
really long faces, just very depressed. I mean it was a very eye-opening presentation and something that’s definitely had growers
paying attention since, that this could be a very fundamental problem
that we’re going to be facing for a long time to come.”

Dewey calls shellfish growers the “canary in the coalmine” for ocean
acidification.

Scientists say if humans don’t slow our release of CO2 into the
atmosphere, shellfish may move from restaurant menus into history
books.

For The Environment Report, I’m Ann Dornfeld.

Related Links

Drilling for Climate Change

  • President Obama lifted the moratorium on offshore drilling last week, against the wishes of environmental groups. (Photo Courtesy of the US Minerals Management Service, Lee Tilton)

There’s been lots of speculation about why President Obama is allowing expanded gas and oil drilling offshore. Many environmentalists don’t like it. Lester Graham reports the move might be part of a larger strategy to get a climate bill passed in the Senate.

Transcript

There’s been lots of speculation about why President Obama is allowing expanded gas and oil drilling offshore. Many environmentalists don’t like it. Lester Graham reports the move might be part of a larger strategy to get a climate bill passed in the Senate.

President Obama never ruled out expanding drilling offshore, but it still caught a lot of people off-guard last week when he lifted the moratorium. John Prandato thinks he knows why he did. Prandato writes for the Partnership for a Secure America. In a recent article he argues it’s about the climate change and energy bill being pieced together by Senators John Kerry, Joesph Lieberman and Lindsey Graham. Senator Graham has said a carbon cap-and-trade scheme such as the one in the House climate bill… is dead in the Senate. But maybe not… now…

“Graham has been a proponent of offshore drilling and he has said any climate change and energy bill would have to include expanded offshore drilling, which Obama has now made that concession. So, with any luck, this concession could revive cap-and-trade in the Senate. But, we’ll just have to see.”

Senator Graham says offshore drilling should be expanded further. The White House says the President is not “horse trading” to get a climate bill out of the Senate.

For The Environment Report, I’m Lester Graham.

Related Links

Decision Coming on Cape Wind

  • Bill Eddy of East Falmouth, Massachusetts, built his own schooner, and would one day soon like to sail through the proposed wind farm known as Cape Wind. (Photo by Curt Nickisch)

A decade-long fight over a proposed wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts could be over soon. It’s called Cape Wind. U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says he will make a decision by the end of April. What would be the nation’s first offshore wind farm is bigger than a simple “not in my backyard” issue. It has divided communities and even neighbors. Curt Nickisch met two people, who’ve come down on opposite sides – both for environmental reasons.

Transcript

A decade-long fight over a proposed wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts could be over soon. It’s called Cape Wind. U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says he will make a decision by the end of April.

What would be the nation’s first offshore wind farm is bigger than a simple “not in my backyard” issue. It has divided communities and even neighbors. Curt Nickisch met two people, who’ve come down on opposite sides – both for environmental reasons.

At 63-years-old, Bill Eddy has old-man-and-the-sea white hair. He’s been sailing all his life, including the waters where the 130 wind turbines would go up more than five miles offshore. He knows the wind’s power. And he’s willing to give up part of the horizon he loves for clean energy.

“I have a firm, firm belief. We may have to for one generation be willing to sacrifice a very small portion of a coastal sea off the coast of Massachusetts. To launch this new future.”

Cape Wind would generate three-quarters of the electricity used by Cape Cod and the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. Bill says it’s time for residents here to share in the sacrifice for the energy that drives modern life.

“Consider for just a moment the sacrifice that’s already being made by the thousands of our fellow American citizens who live where their mountains are being removed for coal. Or what about the thousands of American men and women who are serving overseas to protect the places where the oil is that we import? To be honest with you, the 130 turbines of the wind farm, I’d prefer any one of them to one more marker in Arlington National Cemetery.”

“It’s not going to make any difference, this one wind farm.”

Martha Powers is just as passionate about Cape Wind, but she’s against it. She lives by the water, too.

“So this was a summer cottage, my Dad bought it in 1958.”

As a kid, Martha spent summers here. Now she’s a librarian with graying hair. She keeps binoculars by the back porch for birdwatching.

“This project would tear a big hole in that whole web of life there that could never be repaired. It would tear a hole that big under the ocean, all of the animals that live in the ocean beneath that water, and that fly above that water, it would be horrific. I can almost see it, like a bomb, to me, it feels.”

Mainly, Martha’s worried about the birds that will be killed by the spinning blades of the wind turbines. Her Christmas card this year was a photo of a chickadee perched on her finger.

“When you feel those little feet on your hand, trusting. It’s an amazing experience. So to kill them is just such a horrible thought. That’s the hardest thing for me to accept about this project.”

A few miles away, Cape Wind supporter Bill Eddy says it would be hard for him to accept the project not going forward.

“I know, I just know that, in a year or so, I’ll be able to go out to the wind farm. The wind in my sails and the winds in the blades of the turbine, that something very old and something very new is bringing about a most wondrous evolution.”

Whether that evolution starts off of Cape Cod will be up to someone in Washington. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says the nation will move ahead with wind farms off the East Coast. But since people like Bill Eddy and Martha Powers can’t agree, Salazar will decide whether Nantucket Sound is the right place to start.

For The Environment Report, I’m Curt Nickisch.

Related Links

Interview: President of the National Wildlife Federation

  • Larry Schweiger says that we as a society are losing connection with nature, but those who are in nature every day are seeing the changes of global warming take place. (Photo courtesy of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, David Parsons)

The head of a hunting, fishing and bird-watching group has written a book that indicates to save nature as we know it, we have to come to grips with climate change. Larry Schweiger is the President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation and author of the book “Last Chance: Preserving Life on Earth.” Lester Graham recently talked with him:

Transcript

Graham: You write in your book, “like it or not, global warming is the defining issue of the twenty-first century,” but you also note that there’s a significant amount of what you call “cynical obfuscation” of the science on global warming. If the overwhelming amount of science supports the fact that climate change is happening, and burning fossil fuels is contributing to that change, why is skepticism among the American public growing?

Schweiger: Well I think you need to look at how much money’s being spent by the fossil fuel industry, the oil and coal industry, to confuse the American public on this issue, and they have done a masterful job, as we’ve seen, in creating doubt, sending signals of confusion…

Graham: Most scientists tell me the effects of global warming are happening faster than first predicted, but those effects are often lost on the general public. Your group, the NWF represents hunters, fishers, bird-watchers, people who are out in nature. Are they noticing changes?

Schweiger: They are, and they are helping us to communicate to congress, and helping us to get the word out about what’s taking place. Unfortunately, a lot of Americans today spend 7 hours or more in front of a computer screen or a TV screen, or in some other way disconnected from nature. The average child, for example, spends some 7 minutes a day in nature, so we as a society are losing connection with nature, but those who are in nature each and every day are seeing the changes take place ‘cause they’ve watched it over their lifetime.

Graham: Your book not only makes the case that the world of nature as we know it is worth saving, but you note some things that everyday folks can do—you can protect natural areas near you, talk back to news media, push the politicians, get your hands dirty, literally, by organic gardening at home, but I get the impression most of us are looking to someone else to solve this global problem, I mean after all, the earth is just too darn big for any one of us to make much of a difference.

Schweiger: Well that’s a very important question because in America we assume that our government is gonna just solve our problems, but really what we need to do as Americans is we need to give voice to these problems, and demand that we see action. I think we need to step up and tell our lawmakers what we believe, what we want to see done.

Graham: Now you’ve spent some time in the halls of congress. We saw the house pass climate change legislation last year. The senate has kind of scrapped that whole thing and now senators, Kerry, Lieberman, and Graham, are working on a new plan. When do you think we might actually have some policy put into law that will help us deal with this climate change situation?

Schweiger: Well let me first say that the three senators working on this legislation are doing the type of legislating that we need because they’re working together, it’s a tripartisan bill—

Graham:–Alright, Kerry’s a Democrat, Lieberman an independent, and Graham is a republican—

Schweiger: –Right. So we have all three working together. And I particularly want to acknowledge Lindsey Graham—he has bucked his own party saying we need a new energy policy in America, we need to wean ourselves from dependency on foreign oils, very powerful things, and I think it’s very influential in the way it’s playing out here.

Graham: Larry Schweiger is the president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, and the author of the book ‘Last Chance: Preserving Life on Earth.’ Thanks very much.

Schweiger: Thank you.

Related Links

TV Weathercasters on Climate Change

  • TV weathercasters have differing opinions about climate change according to a recent study. (Photo courtesy of Scott Eric CC-2.0)

A new survey reveals what TV weathercasters think about climate change. Lester Graham reports… that’s important because many people look to the TV weathercaster for information about climate change.

Transcript

A new survey reveals what TV weathercasters think about climate change. Lester Graham reports… that’s important because many people look to the TV weathercaster for information about climate change.

Surveys by the George Mason University researchers have shown many people trust the person who tells you whether to take an umbrella for news of global warming.
Edward Maiback is director of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason. The survey revealed different TV weathercasters have different opinions about climate change.

“About half of them tell us, responded to our survey that climate change is real; about a quarter said that it wasn’t and about another 20 percent said that they weren’t sure.”

By comparison, a survey of leading climate scientists found 96-percent of them indicated climate change was real and human activity is a significant cause.

Maybe that differences shouldn’t be surprising. Forecasting the weather is not the same as predicting climate change. Weather… is next week. Climate is the next century.

For The Environment Report, I’m Lester Graham.

Related Links

Interview: The White House’s Science Guy

  • Holdren was previously the Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. (Photo courtesy of the National Academy of Sciences)

President Obama’s Science and Technology advisor is John P. Holdren. He is the “science guy” in the White House. Lester Graham talked to him about science and climate change. Here’s an excerpt of that conversation:

Transcript

Graham: Different polls have shown the general public is becoming increasingly skeptical about whether climate change is real and whether burning fossil fuels is contributing to it, ignoring that the bulk of science says climate change is solid and if anything indicates that climate change is happening faster than first predicted. What can be done about that?

Holdren: Well I think scientists have to get better at telling the story about what we know about climate change and what that knowledge is based on. In other words, what we know and how we know it. Willingness to get out there and slug it out in the arena of public debate and dispute is not universal in the scientific community, and we have to live with that, but scientists who’ve been willing to do that have done a service. It’s unfortunate that they occasionally get castigated for speaking their minds freely and candidly in public, but that’s part of being, in a sense, a public scientist—of working on scientific issues that have major ramifications for public policy and being willing to talk about it.

Graham: President Barack Obama promised to protect scientific research from politics. He wanted guidelines in four months from taking office. We recently reported it’s been more than a year now, and still, no guidelines. The Union of Concerned Scientists says the president should finish explicit written policies on things like protecting scientists who become whistle-blowers. When we did the story, we contacted your office, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and we didn’t get any comment. Would you care to comment about that now?

Holdren: Sure, when the president issued his memorandum on scientific integrity on march 9th of last year, he actually enunciated at that time a set of principles, and those principles are already a solid basis for ensuring scientific integrity. What has not been forthcoming yet from my office, and for that I take responsibility, is a set of more detailed recommendations about how to proceed in some of the difficult questions that come up. Like the need of an agency to be sure that it is relying on the best peer-reviewed science, and the desire of every scientist in the agency to be able to express his or her own opinion. There are real tensions there. That has proven to be a more difficult task than I or the president realized at the time he issued the deadline for completing those, and the result is we missed a deadline, but we will be coming out soon with those additional guidelines.

Graham: How soon?

Holdren: I would guess in the next couple of months.

Graham: On energy policy, environmentalists are disappointed the Obama administration is encouraging the idea of clean coal technology, and a new generation of nuclear power. I’m not saying you’re not spending more on solar and wind, but I’m asking why not take all those dollars from clean coal technology and nuclear, and put it all into these green renewable that the environmentalists like.

Holdren: I think we need a diversity of options for addressing the energy challenges we face. You never want to put all of your eggs in one, or only a few, baskets. Today in this country we get 50% of our electricity by burning coal, we’re going to continue to do that for some time to come. It is, therefore, appropriate and necessary that we improve the technologies with which we burn coal in order to substantially reduce the environmental harm that comes from that. We get 20% of our electricity in this country from nuclear energy, and it’s one of the ways that we can get electricity without emitting greenhouse gases. There is no free lunch; that doesn’t mean we should do nothing, we should be working to improve all of these technologies, and then use the mix that makes the best sense in terms of all of the relevant characteristics—the economic ones, the environmental ones, the social ones.

Graham: John P Holdren is President Obama’s science and technology adviser, and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Thanks for the time.

Holdren: Thanks very much.

Related Links

Corn Ethanol’s Footprint

  • Despite recent findings, political interests in Washington are working to extend corn ethanol subsidies set to expire at the end of this year.(Photo courtesy of AmandaLeighPanda CC-2.0)

For a long time, corn growers and the corn ethanol industry have claimed their fuel is low carbon. That is, it’s lower in the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. A second study is out which disputes that claim.Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

For a long time, corn growers and the corn ethanol industry have claimed their fuel is low carbon. That is, it’s lower in the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. Lester Graham reports… a second study is out which disputes that claim.

This study published in the journal BioScience also found corn is being used for ethanol instead of exported to other countries. Those other countries are plowing up grasslands and rainforests to plant corn for food. Less rainforest means less CO2 is being taken up by plants.

Thomas Hertel is a researcher at Purdue and lead author of the new study.

He finds ethanol from corn is not a low-carbon fuel when you include that indirect effect.

“It results in a figure which [is] not significantly lower than emissions associated with gasoline.”

But, political interests in Washington are working to extend corn ethanol subsidies which are set to expire at the end of this year.

For The Environment Report, I’m Lester Graham.

Related Links