2010 "Environment Top 10 Lists" Conclude: "stunning year in climate science reveals that human civilization is on the precipice"
Submitted by Norm Roulet on Mon, 01/03/2011 - 09:22.
I have compiled a summary outline list of 15 "Top 10ish Environmental lists of 2010" found on the Internet - these are drawn from diverse, largely US-oriented environmental media services and organizations - many focus on organizational objectives - most feature positive and negative developments. I have summarized all but the last list - A stunning year in climate science reveals that human civilization is on the precipice - by Joe Romm, as that should be read in its' entirely, including linked reference material.
Romm points out: "The last year or so has seen more scientific papers and presentations that raise the genuine prospect of catastrophe (if we stay on our current emissions path) that I can recall seeing in any other year." "Any one of these would be cause for action — and combined they vindicate the final sentence of Elizabeth Kolbert’s Field Notes from a Catastrophe: “It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.”
Romm concludes: "Unrestricted emissions of greenhouse gases threaten multiple catastrophes, any one of which justifies action. Together, they represent the gravest threat to humanity imaginable. The fact that the overwhelming majority of the mainstream media ignored the overwhelming majority of these studies and devoted a large fraction of its climate ‘ink’ in the last 12 months to what was essentially a non-story (Climategate) is arguably the single greatest failing of the science media this year."
All other lists are linked from their titles to their original postings on the Internet, and should be reviewed in their entirely there.
Dominant on the lists are: the BP and Upper Big Branch Mine disasters; progress in Cancun with international climate talks; progress with some Obama and US Federal environmental regulations - delays with others; failure of Congress to set "cap and trade" pollution regulations... failure by Congress in all regards - success by some states to do better; success of California voters to defeat Proposition 23 and elect green leaders; development of greener and electric vehicles; progress with food security - threats of a world that is becoming increasingly food-desperate, starving, and now 7 billion people; progress with renewable energy... especially with China - concerns about lack of progress with renewable energy... especially with America... especially concerning coal and shale; and, most important, the undeniable harm caused to the Earth and all life on it by man-made climate change - Global Warming is real, as a "stunning year in climate science reveals that human civilization is on the precipice".
American Lung Association
Eleven Biggest Clean Air Events of 2010
Eleven events in 2010 will impact the air you breathe in 2011 and beyond. One of them, December 31, 2010, marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean Air Act. For four decades, this historic law has helped protect the lives and health of all Americans.
America has much cleaner air than it did in 1970, thanks to this landmark public health protection—and thanks to the actions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over the years to enforce it. This anniversary year saw many such actions, and unfortunately, a few that delayed sorely needed air pollution protection.
Click below for more details on the 11 biggest clean air events in 2010.
- Old, dirty diesel engines cleaned up
- Stronger limits on toxics from cement kilns
- Cleanup of ocean-going ships steering for U.S. ports
- New limits on tailpipe exhaust
- First new limits in 39 years on two dangerous pollutants: sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide
- Cleanup proposed for power plants that spew smog and soot across the country
- Delay in cleaning up toxic industrial pollution
- Delay in protecting children’s health from ozone smog
- Delay in protecting us from particle pollution
- Monitoring air pollution from Gulf Oil Spill
- 160,000 lives saved this year thanks to the Clean Air Act
The Top 10 Stories in Environmental Politics of 2010
by Timothy B. Hurst on December 31, 2010
Political news in 2010 was dominated by the U.S. midterm elections and the ongoing economic troubles in the U.S. and Europe. But there was no shortage of big stories in environmental politics, including one that most people will remember for the rest of their lives.
- The BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico
- Upper Big Branch Mine Explosion
- Republican Mid-Term Shellacking of Democrats
- U.S. Approves First Offshore Wind Farm
- California Voters Overwhelmingly Back Global Warming Laws
- Cap and Trade Dies in Congress
- The Hottest Year on Record
- Global Convention on Biological Diversity
- Cancun Climate Talks
Top 10 Environmental Stories of 2010
Jeremy Hance and Rhett A. Butler - December 20, 2010
- Climate change rears it ugly head - patterns of more frequent and severe weather worldwide is directly in line with climate change expectations.
- On April 20th, BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded sending 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over three months.
- A landmark agreement was reached in Nagoya, Japan by 193 nations in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to save the world's species.
- Illegal logging continued to plague Madagascar's rainforest parks including Masoala and Makira.
- REDD kicks off in Indonesia - Indonesia and Norway signed a billion dollar agreement to protect forests in the Southeast Asian nation
- Brazil deforestation falls to its lowest level on record, putting Brazil well on track to meet its targets for reducing rainforest destruction.
- Hungary's red sludge - Disasters such as this are not the only impacts of aluminum mining.
- Nestle caves to social media activists - ocial media sites may be the new face of aggregated activism.
- Progress at UNFCCC talks in Cancun, Mexico - Next year's climate conference will take place in Durban, South Africa.
- New mammals galore
- Census of Marine Life ends
- Kiwis stop government from mining protected areas
- California affirms climate commitment
- Road to cut Serengeti
- Papua New Guinea strips landowners of rights
- Yasuni-ITT deal rises and falls
What Are the Top Under-reported Environmental Stories of 2010?
By Emily Gertz
December 30, 2010
Ask an environmental reporter, and she'll tell you that the beat oozes with important news that got left behind, particularly in a year when big, telegenic stories like the BP-Deepwater Horizon oil spill, or the Massey mine explosion, commanded most of the minutes, screens, and column inches "allowed" for environmental news.
Those stories -- two of the most deadly energy-related disasters in U.S. history -- demanded and deserved attention. Others did, too.
Here are my four picks for top environmental stories under-reported by the U.S. media in 2010:
- Devastating flooding displaces millions in Pakistan. Upwards of 2,000 Pakistanis died, and around 20 million have become displaced environmental refugees, including 6 million children, according to the government. Reports suggest Pakistan -- politically volatile, nuclear-capable, terrorist haven -- was set back decades by the flood-driven destruction of infrastructure and will endure years of stunted agriculture and other long-term effects.
- Climate researchers found innocent of scientific misdeeds - "Climate scientists exonerated in 'climategate' but public trust damaged," Christian Science Monitor, July 7, 2010.
- Obama administration proposes to list two Arctic seal species under Endangered Species Act. Both are declining due to climate change-induced warming in the Arctic - working to save them under the mandates of the ESA might open a pathway toward establishment of the federal carbon pollution caps and controls that eluded the White House and the Senate this past year.
- University of Manchester researchers Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov won the 2010 Nobel Prize in physics for their experimental work with a form of carbon called graphene.... has the potential to transform high-capacity energy storage. It may also be significant in improving the sunlight-to-power efficiency of solar cells. These are two of the biggest challenges facing our shift from fossil to clean energy generation.
What's your choice for the top under-reported environmental story of 2010?
Year in Review: Top 10 Environmental Stories of 2010
by Kim Derby on December 24, 2010 in Culture
This, the first year of a brand new decade, whizzed by in a flurry and a flash but not without plenty of environmental activity. We had floods and food recalls, earthquakes and Academy Awards, plus plenty of strange weather. 2010 was a busy year for the environment. But was it a year that planet loving people want to remember or repress? Maybe a little of both.
Here’s our list of the top 10 environmental stories of 2010:
- BP Oil Spill. Clean up efforts are still underway to restore beaches and marshlands devastated by the disaster.
- Global warming hits record high. 2010 could be the hottest year since record keeping began in 1880.
- Death of U.S. Climate bill. The Congress failed to pass a law in 2010, and now, with a newly elected Republican Congress in place, the path might prove to be even more difficult.
- Obesity reaches epidemic proportions “the number of U.S. states reporting a 30 percent obesity rate has jumped from zero to nine.
- Californians Kill Prop 23 – oil companies spent millions to support it and clean energy advocates were vehemently opposing it.
- Growth of local food marketing - Farmers Markets in the U.S. has increased by 16 percent from last year - increase has been consistent over the past six years
- Congress passes Child Nutrition Act. Childhood obesity affects 1 in 3 children. The initiative will make it harder for kids to buy junk food on school property, make school lunches healthier, and increase the amount of school food grown on local farms. Plus it will provide more free and reduced-priced meals to families in need.
- The electric car goes mainstream. 2010 saw the launch of the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf, a major step toward electrifying the U.S. car market.
- Chelsea Clinton serves vegan wedding dinner. President Clinton then made bigger news by revealing his switch to a mostly vegan/vegetarian diet.
- First U.S. offshore wind farm approved - equivalent to removing 175,000 cars from the road for a year
For all the disappointments 2010 brought concerning the environment, let’s focus on the fact that the forward momentum remains constant and steady. Here’s to a happy, healthy and planet-focused 2011.
Top Environmental Stories of the Year, Other than BP Oil Spill (7 Green Bloggers)
Zachary Shahan - July 19, 2010
Biggest environmental story of the year? Ask 7 green bloggers and you get 7 different (but good) answers.
We’re a little more than halfway through the year and I decided to ask 7 leading green bloggers what they thought was the biggest environmental story of the year so far. I asked them to choose something other than the BP oil spill, since I thought that was sort of the obvious choice, but it turns out most of them wouldn’t choose that story anyway.
In the end, I got 7 interesting and completely different answers to this question. I think they are all great responses.
The specific question: “Other than the BP oil spill, what do you think is the biggest environmental story of the year so far?”
- “The biggest untold story? As the president’s wife goes on tour against childhood obesity and food deserts, the president quietly keeps appointing Big Ag lobbyists and former employees to key positions that govern our food policy and safety. Seems to be quite a contradiction.”
- “The decline in public concern for the environment that occurred while environmental news and communications were at an all-time high - the more we talk about the environment, the less the public seems to think that it is an important issue. The global economic crisis put more emphasis on jobs and the economy. Political polarization seems to be at an all-time high. Climategate. etc. etc. But some of the responsibility for the declining public support likely lies with the environmental community. They need to take this as a wake-up call and commit to finding better, more convincing ways to talk about the environment. If they don’t, these numbers can be expected to get worse.”
- “I think the biggest environmental story of the year so far is a war that is being waged under the Western radar: The resurgence of rhino poaching. In South Africa, the total number of rhinos killed so far this year (124) has surpassed 2009′s total (122)."
- “Though it is difficult to determine what the ‘biggest’ environmental story is so far for this year (even without considering the BP oil spill), I think the report published last May of research indicating continued ocean warming is certainly among the most significant."
- “To me the biggest story of the year is an emerging one! The complexity of feeding the expanding and changing world, while reducing carbon emissions, places new demands on managing food waste."
- “there is a much slower but equally disturbing threat to the web of life and fishing industry in Lake Michigan and all of the Great Lakes: Asian carp."
- “Same as it is every year; the creation of cheap useless crap. Our economy creates phony needs for useless junk. We then deal with the environmental outfall."
- “Next answer: allowing corporations to make uncapped donations to politicians…"
- “3rd answer: everything monsanto (of course)…”
Environmental Working Group Enviroblog
EWG's Worst Environmental Stories of 2010
December 28, 2010
By Nils J. Bruzelius, EWG Executive Editor
We polled our staff to see what stories they thought had the biggest impact, for better or worse. Here are the results:
We'll start with the worst today, so we can end on a cheerier note by year's end:
- BP's Gulf oil spill (includes: slow response, wholesale use of dispersants and secrecy about what's in them)
- BPA, the notorious plastics chemical. Earlier in the year, research by EWG and others turned up yet another source of exposure - cash register receipts.
- Brazilian Blowout. This is about the hair-straightening product that, according to testing by health agencies in Oregon and Canada, contains high levels of toxic formaldehyde.
- Climate change bill dies in the U.S. Senate. Early hopes for a bipartisan push on measures to combat global warming withered away.
- Carcinogenic chromium-6 in your water. In 25 cities, levels were above those being considered by California health officials for a public health goal.
- California's "Green Chemistry" rule is gutted. When regulators announced their rules for implementing the state's pioneering law designed to reduce the use of toxic substances in consumer products and shift toward safer alternatives, the proposal was so weak that even the law's original sponsor renounced it - joining others who called it a Christmas gift to the chemical industry.
- Reading, writing and fracking. At a time when municipal budgets are stretched beyond the breaking point, it's not surprising that officials in Texas, Ohio and elsewhere would be the tempted by the revenue they could gain by leasing mineral rights to drilling companies that want to use hydraulic fracturing to pry natural gas from deep rock formations deep beneath school property. They should pay close attention to reports of dizziness, nausea and breathing troubles at schools that have already done it.
- Here comes the sun - but no sunscreen rules. It's been more than 32 years since the Food and Drug Administration began to work on rules that would ensure that sunscreens are safe, effective and don't make exaggerated claims. But what's the rush? That's only one full generation that has had to take its chances, if you don't count their parents and grandparents.
- Slouching toward chemicals regulation reform. Another bad news/good news story (see next list). Just about everyone agrees that the Toxic Substances Control Act, the 1976 environmental law that has never been updated, is broken. EPA has stepped up enforcement efforts, but the statute gives the agency too little power to protect the public from dangerous industrial chemicals that often get rushed onto the market with little safety testing. There was some hopeful movement in Congress this year, but nowhere near enough.
- Feeding at the corn ethanol trough. Congress wasn't entirely impotent on energy issues. At the very last minute it kept alive the tax credit that pays gas refiners 45 cents a gallon to blend corn ethanol into gasoline, not to mention the excise tax that blocks imports of cheaper Brazilian (sugar cane) ethanol. This makes commodity corn growers happy - at the expense of the environment and consumers.
Check back Thursday, December 30th to see EWG's picks for the BEST environmental stories of the year (because we could all use a little something positive to kick off the new year).
Environmental Working Group Enviroblog
EWG's Top 10 Good Environmental News Stories of 2010
December 30, 2010
By Nils J. Bruzelius, EWG Executive Editor
Ok, our list of the "worst" environmental stories of the year was a bit of a downer. So here are EWG's Top 10 good environmental news stories. Yes, good things happened, too. And on some issues, there was both bad news and good news. That's life.
- Beginning to take a hard look at fracking. In New York, outgoing Gov. David Paterson extended that state's moratorium on gas drilling until the middle of 2011, at least.
- Californians stand up for their climate change law - Californians voted overwhelmingly to reject climate change denial.
- San Francisco became the first jurisdiction in the U.S. to require that cell phone retailers provide point-of-sale information on how much radiation each model releases
- Finally, EPA will regulate perchlorate - an ingredient in rocket fuel - EPA announced in October that it will move to set safety limits on the chemical in drinking water.
- Safer, healthier food for everyone - the Food and Drug Administration gained important new powers to monitor and inspect food producers and to order recalls of tainted food - the President signed a bill that renewed and greatly expanded the Child Nutrition Act.
- Dump BPA - a number of states and cities went to bat.
- Legislators introduced long-awaited bills in the House and Senate to update and strengthen the Toxic Substances Control Act - there may be enough consensus on the law's deficiencies to make action possible in 2011, even in a more conservative Congress.
- President's Cancer Panel released a 200-page report in April that concluded that the "true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated."
- Ditching plastic bags, coast to coast - laws that ban or charge for the use of plastic grocery bags are gaining popularity.
- Some brands take the lid off cleaning ingredients - In 2010, the cleaning products industry launched a voluntary initiative to begin disclosing more of what's in their products.
Got any positive stories to add?
Environmental Working Group - Agriculture
Top Ten AgMag Stories for 2010
Posted by Don Carr - December 28, 2010
- Black farmers finally see justice. After enduring decades of discrimination at the hands of the US Department of Agriculture and then what seemed like an endless gauntlet to get a Congressional appropriation to pay the legal settlement they won, black farmers finally got their due in a Dec. 8 signing ceremony at the White House.
- Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 to expand and improve school lunch and breakfast programs. In the future, the money to pay for healthier school food for America’s kids ought to come from the billions the government lavishes on wealthy landlords and big commodities farmers, instead of raiding food stamps and conservation programs.
- Obama’s USDA — less transparent than Bush’s. Campaign rhetoric about open government rang hollow when USDA cut off EWG’s access to the names of individuals who cash in on the taxpayer dollars funneled to wealthy farm operations in the form of subsidy payments.
- Corn ethanol subsidy gets a one-year stay of execution. Even corn ethanol’s strongest defenders are talking about phasing out the redundant federal giveaways that encourage over-cultivation of an environmentally destructive row crop.
- Lavish farm subsidies are back in the budget crosshairs. Even in states like Iowa and North Dakota that rake in lots of farm subsidy dollars, formerly stout subsidy defenders are talking about doing away with the wasteful direct payments that flow mostly to the wealthiest farms — even when the agricultural economy is white-hot. But with Tea Party-style candidates who themselves collect farm subsidies joining the House Agriculture Committee, it’s anybody’s guess how much, if at all, Congress will cut these perverse and environmentally damaging incentives.
- Tax dollars fund pro-pesticide PR campaign. The Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF), a California trade group, wants consumers to have less information about pesticide residues on their fruits and vegetables, and it got the government to finance its attack on pesticide industry critics. The real reason AFF is worried is that over the past decade, organic fruit and vegetable sales have soared from 3 percent to 11 percent of the retail produce market, a total of $9.5 billion last year — and a significant slice of conventional growers’ market share.
- Big Ag opens the checkbook to repair its tarnished image. 2010 saw corn growers put their money behind a Washington, DC-based PR campaign and an effort to rebrand toxic-sounding high fructose corn syrup as “corn sugar.” The ethanol lobby went lights-out on television, pesticide pushers Hoovered up tax dollars (see above) and wheat growers planted an acre of the grain next to the National Mall. And all this will be dwarfed by the $30 million PR push industrial agriculture is planning for 2011.
- Cuddling up to agribusiness didn’t save their seats. The conventional wisdom used to be that voting for a subsidy-larded farm bill and/or pulling the levers of government on behalf of agribusiness would inoculate members of Congress in a tough election fight. Not so, it turned out, in a year when government spending was under attack and unemployment was high.
- Critical conservation funding survives. Some in Congress tried to pit kids against clean water by dipping into conservation funding to pay for the school lunch bill, and the Obama administration proposed permanently cutting the conservation funding baseline. Neither initiative succeeded, but keep the party hats in the closet. Incoming House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) has signaled a willingness to let farms pull acres out of the Conservation Reserve Program early and put them back into intensive production. That’s a nonsensical way to try to relieve the pressure put on food and land by policies that divert 40 percent of the corn crop to making environmentally damaging ethanol.
- Good food gets partisan. The military sees America’s childhood obesity epidemic as a threat to national security, but not Sarah Palin. She views the recently passed Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 as government overreach, a position she highlighted by taking cookies to a Pennsylvania school as an act of rebellion against “the nanny state run amok.” Thankfully, adults like conservative former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee defended both the bill and the efforts of First Lady Michelle Obama to help kids lead healthier lives.
The top five stories of the year for climate hawks
by David Roberts - 21 Dec 2010 6:30 AM
- Cap-and-trade is dead - Cap-and-trade is deader than dead. In the end, the bill was done in by a dysfunctional, sclerotic Senate. Its enemies were many, among them the miserable economy itself, but special contempt must be reserved for the Senate's "moderates," virtually all of whom have revealed themselves as temporizing invertebrates.
- The Senate is dead. It's not much of an exaggeration to say that the U.S. Senate is no longer a viable governing institution. That mix of laziness, entitlement, and cluelessness is typical of an institution that has fallen profoundly out of touch with the average American. The median age in America is 37; in the Senate it's 63 -- today's Senate is the oldest ever. Roughly 1 percent of Americans are millionaires; the median wealth of a U.S. senator is nearly $2.38 million. Some 13 percent of Americans are black; there are no black senators. The institution has been utterly captured by the narrow perspectives and pecuniary interests of an entitled class. Add functional oligarchy to procedural dysfunction and an already unrepresentative body becomes embarrassingly unequal to the country's challenges.
- California zags - As national political tides pushed in the direction of ignorance and delay, California pushed back, reaffirming its commitment to a bright green future. Prop 23, which would have destroyed the state's pioneering climate program, AB 32, was resoundingly rejected by voters. Not only did Golden Staters reject 23, they reelected climate champion Barbara Boxer and Governor Moonbeam himself, Jerry Brown, who'd been out of the governor's mansion since 1983. They put green champ Gavin Newsom in the lieutenant governor's office and gave a thumbs-up to Prop 25, which would give Cali's legislature the long-overdue power to pass a state budget on a majority vote.
- The BP Gulf oil spill kills energy reform. Much like Hurricane Katrina, the BP Gulf oil spill was going to "change everything" and instead changed, well, nothing. Will the next disaster be any different?
- The U.N. climate process saves itself - COP16 - In many ways, the U.N. climate process has undergone the same whiplash process as the Obama administration over the last two years: inflated expectations, bitter disappointment, and at last the resolve to press forward with slow, slogging, but steady steps.
Top 10 green stories of 2010
18 Dec 2010 11:16 PM
- Republicans stampede toward climate denial - nearly every Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate this year -- and half of all Republicans who’ll be in the U.S. Congress next year -- dispute the scientific consensus on climate change.
- Climate bill dies - A climate bill passed the U.S. House in summer of 2009, then died a gory death of a thousand paper cuts in the U.S. Senate this year. After the Tea Party Triumph of 2010, don't expect a resurrection anytime in the next two years. Senate hate, anyone? (Cap-and-trade runner-up: While Congress wanked, California plunged ahead to create the largest carbon-trading market in the U.S.)
- Bill Clinton, notorious fast-food junkie, may have turned over a new green leaf (He’s the first pescatarian president!)
- California kills Prop 23 - Big Oil tried to overthrow the most aggressive climate law in the nation, California’s Global Warming Solutions Act. The result? Epic fail. More than 61 percent of voters told Big Oil to take their mess back to Texas. (California runner-up: Golden Staters also elected Governor Moonbeam, whose clean energy platform is so ambitious it’s almost worthy of a conservative in Europe.)
- China kicks ass on cleantech, frightens American xenophobes. Red menace? Try green menace. China is shoveling money into renewable energy, seizing No. 1 status in wind power and green investment potential, while shutting down thousands of old, polluting power plants and factories. Chinese manufacturers pumped out 66 percent of the world’s solar panels this year! China! Booga booga!
- Electric cars roll out to the masses. Hear that bugling? That’s the frenzied fanfare for the all-electric Nissan Leaf and the plug-in Chevy Volt, both of which are officially hitting the roads this month. Let the drag race begin! But for those who like to burn money while they’re not burning oil, the Tesla is still the shit.
- Novelist Jonathan Franzen made a splash (think massive cannonball) with Freedom, which was lauded as the "great American novel," "best book of the year," "galvanic," "exquisite," and "a work of total genius" - the book is also "environmental." (Green-fiction runner-up: Solar by Ian McEwan, about a loathsome Nobel-Prize-winning-physicist-turned-cleantech-entrepreneur-and-climate-crusader.)
- A ginormous wind-power-and-transmission project has started taking shape (figuratively so far) off the East Coast of the U.S. The Atlantic Wind Connection will stretch 350 miles from northern New Jersey to northern Virginia - it will bring online as much as 6,000 megawatts of new offshore wind energy -- enough to power up to 2 million homes. (Offshore-wind runner-up: Cape Wind finally got federal approval.)
- Monsanto goes limp. In 2010, the GMO-seed giant finally had to acknowledge its seeds led to the rise "superweeds," and farmers are pissed. Its trumped-up yield claims have sparked an investigation by the state of West Virginia, and the Justice Department is looking askance at its anti-competitive practices. Meanwhile, Wall Street has abandoned the company, which has been called "the worst stock of 2010," and some critics (like our own Tom Philpott) are speculating that Monsanto's real trouble is fundamental: its technology is flaccid.
- BP oil disaster - Forget 2010: The oilpocalypse in the Gulf was the biggest U.S. environmental disaster ever. The gusher gushed from April to July, spewing about 5 million barrels of oil and making the Exxon Valdez look like spilt cappuccino. Then everything changed. And by everything we mean nothing. (Fossil-fuel-tragedy runner-up: The Upper Big Branch Mine disaster killed 29 coal miners in April, the most compelling evidence yet that Massey Energy's soon-to-be-former CEO Don Blankenship is an evil bastard.)
Top Environmental News Stories of 2010
Posted by Erin - December 19, 2010-
Here’s a quick review of some of the biggest environmental stories of 2010, according to Belgrave Trust’s opinion at least:
- Oil Spill in the Gulf - On April 20th (the 40th anniversary of Earth Day), BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, sending 4.9 million barrels or 205.8 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico over a three-month period. It will take years, if not decades, for the region to recover to its pre-spill state.
- Climate Change - I think we can all agree 2010 saw some of the most extreme weather conditions in decades. Between streaks of freak floods in the US, record drought in the Amazon and Russia, record highs all over the world, and a catastrophic flood in Pakistan that affected 20 million people, it’s time to get real.
- The Climate Bill Dies in US Senate
- However, there was great progress made at the UNFCCC talks in Cancun, Mexico which raised hopes that the multilateral process is back on track toward a global climate framework. Some 26 individual agreements were reached in Cancun.
- Fuel-Efficient Cars and SUVs - This year, 21 cars, SUVs, station wagons, and hatchbacks got better than 30 mpg. This includes models by Ford, Honda, Lexus, Volvo and Jaguar to name a few.
- 11 Species Were Lost Forever - In the most recent On Earth magazine, science luminary E.O. Wilson warns of the far-reaching consequences of the worst extinction since the time of dinosaurs.
- On a happier note, there were also a large amount of wildlife discoveries, including a new monkey in Brazil, a new species of lemur in Madagascar, and a new ape in Southeast Asia.
The Neture Conservancy
Best and Worst Environmental Moments of 2010
Nicole Levins - December 13th, 2010
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… for the environment.
For every success in Nagoya (yay!), there was at least one major coral bleaching event (boo!). Solar panels on the White House roof? Great! But what about that that oil spill?
The Nature Conservancy’s lead scientist, Sanjayan, shares his “best and worst” moments of the year (in no particular order).
So, you want the bad news first, right?
- A rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers—and sent an estimated 200 million gallons of crude oil gushing into one of the most productive and biodiverse bodies of water in the United States. At the time, President Obama called it “the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced,” but eventually, the doomsday chatter died down.
- Hotter-than-average temperatures and warmer seas set a perfect stage for devastating coral bleaching. This year, for the first time since 1998, researchers observed bleaching activity in literally every ocean and sea where corals live.
- People are caring about—and believing in—climate change a lot less than they used to. A recent Pew study found that less than a third of Americans think that climate change is a very serious problem. Even scarier? Only 59 percent of Americans believe there is “solid evidence” that the planet’s getting warmer at all, down from 79 percent in 2006. “There’s been this attitudinal shift,” explains Sanjayan. “Even as the impacts become more and more apparent, more and more people, abject at their apparent inability to do anything about it, are willing to pretend it’s not happening. It’s the ostrich strategy. And we scientists, by talking at or above people, are partly to blame.
Well, that was depressing. Let’s end on a cheerier note, shall we?
- If box office receipts are any indication, people sure are intrigued and inspired by the natural world. Disneynature’s OCEANS took in big bucks at theaters, and on its opening day, broke the single-day box-office record for a nature documentary. The Cove, a film about dolphin-hunting and mercury poisoning in Japan, garnered numerous awards in 2010, including an Oscar. Miniseries like National Geographic’s Great Migrations and Discovery’s Life brought nature into millions of living rooms.
- Even in not-so-great economic times, investment in conservation was a priority. “I think people are starting to appreciate the benefits that nature provides us,” says Sanjayan. “The environment, the economy, health…it’s all entwined.”
- The Nature Conservancy and the Trust for Public Land, in partnership with the State of Montana and the Federal government, completed the final phase of the Montana Legacy Project. With a price tag close to $500 million, a critical 310,000 acres of forest, rivers and lakes of the Crown of the Continent will be conserved forever. The project not only benefits wildlife like grizzly bear, lynx, wolverine and trout, but also people whose livelihoods depend on this spectacular place.
- On the other side of the planet, the Conservancy teamed up with China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection to create an expansive conservation blueprint that will help conservation practitioners develop large-scale plans and priorities for protecting the country’s land and water resources.
- Hybrid and electric cars got a lot cooler—and more accessible. Chevy’s Volt even earned the title of “Car of the Year” from both Motor Trend and Automobile magazines; Green Car Journal dubbed it the “Green Car of the Year” as well.
What do you think about this list? Did we miss some stories that should be highlighted? Do you have more to add? Tell us in the comments below.
Top 10 Environmental Success Stories and 10 Future Challenges - It’s far too late and things are far too bad for pessimism!
It’s easy to get depressed looking at environmental issues: While we’ve stopped the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) from further damaging the ozone layer , it’ll take generations to be fully repaired. Hello, skin cancer. Forests worldwide continue to disappear at an alarming rate, wreaking havoc with species, the air we breathe and exacerbating CO2 build up. Patches of plastic garbage the size of Texas are floating in our oceans and wiping out turtles, birds and fish, and climate change due to greenhouse gasses is bearing down on us like a class 5 hurricane. But hey- this is no time to stick our heads between our legs and kiss our butts goodbye. We’ve accomplished a lot and can do more- the window of opportunity isn’t closed yet. Here are 10 success stories from past efforts, and what’s left to get done:
- Cleaner Water: Thanks to the Clean Water Act of the 1970s, more of the nation's rivers and lake waters are swimmable, fishable and drinkable
* The Next Task: Focus on protecting watershed, water systems and aquifers, and chemicals and pathogens in the water supply.
- Pollution prevention - pollution prevention by industry and government brought us recycling; green chemistry; industrial ecology; and ‘cradle to cradle’ design to reduce, reuse, and remanufacture products. We’ve avoided millions of tons of pollutants, saved thousands of lives and big bucks in the process
* The Next Task: Get our arms around micro pollutants that are toxic at smaller levels, and move to a true “closed loop economy” where all waste is food for another process.
- Cleaner Air: Our air is generally a lot cleaner, and taking the lead out of gasoline in 1971 was a big plus for our lungs. Similar action has been taken by the EPA on fine particulates and ozone.
* The Next Task: Ozone and smog is still an issue many places and all you have to do is look at photos from China to know that globally, we’ve still got a long ways to go. The air is everywhere.
- Renewable energy. In the U.S, states passed renewable energy laws making wind and solar power permanent parts of our energy mix and these so called “alternatives” are growing at 30% every year. Biomass and tides are also on the rise. Everyday people own the wind and sunlight on their property- it puts energy in the hands of the people.
* The Next Task: Kill coal. Coal still produces 50% of our electricity, and kills about 30,000 Americans every year. In China it’s even worse, and kills over 300,000 Chinese yearly, while it fuels climate change. Clean coal is PR hype. Coal is Satan. Kill it. Any questions?
- Removing toxins. God bless Rachel Carson- most regulations on persistent toxic chemicals sprang from the reaction to Silent Spring. Even the folks who make Raid (kills bugs dead) are offering natural alternatives like garlic.
* The Next Task: Practice caution. We keep finding new toxins like BPA in the things we touch, eat and drink from and breathe nearby. Make everything from known safe materials.
- International Cooperation. International treaties can help to preserve the environment and stimulate trade at the same time
* The Next Task: Climate Change treaties that mean something. We can’t keep saying that the hole is in someone else’s end of the boat. Either we crack this nut, or nothing else matters.
- The rise of grassroots. From local to global, via grassroots efforts and internet savvy, the tens of thousands of NGOs worldwide raise funds, organize folks, pressure politicians, call out issues, keep governments on their toes and generally don’t let the bastards get away with it.
* The Next Task: Like computer hackers cooking up the next virus, the few that want to exploit the world at the expense of the many are always developing new approaches, even seemingly ‘green’ ones. And new issues are always being identified. We all need to support our NGOs, or start our own.
- Putting Pollution on the Balance Sheet: Putting a value on sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide dramatically reduced the levels of these pollutants. Business hates waste, and if incentivized, will usually figure out a way to eliminate it. Trading pollutants like commodities puts a value on what is being lost.
* The Next Task: Put CO2 on the balance sheet. Carbon is trading for about 10 cents a ton- which is insane if you calculate the human and economic impacts of climate change. We’ve got to get this one priced right
- Reporting and Transparency: Back in the ‘80s, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan said that if we required industries to report their release of toxins publically, the problem would begin to correct itself. Turns out he was largely right. U.S. industries have reduced TRI emissions on the Toxics Release inventory (TRI) by 50–75% since 1988. No CEO wants to be Number 1 on a toxic release list. The Puritan practice of public shaming is a great motivator. Efforts like the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) are working to make environmental and social reporting as common as financial reporting. Every company worth noting has a sustainability report these days
* The Next Task: Hold companies accountable in the market place for environmental damage, like the recent Gulf Spew. With the NGO’s we could boycott companies until they get their act straight, and then reward them for doing so. Treat ‘em like your kids.
- You Woke Up And Gave A Damn: The fact that you have read this far is a victory for the planet. The number of people who care, and take action to preserve this blue/green globe for all the generations to come, continues to grow by leaps and bounds. That may the biggest success story of all- the growth of awareness and commitment. It takes more than a village; it takes a planet to save a planet.
* The Next Task: That’s up to you to decide.
A stunning year in climate science reveals that human civilization is on the precipice
The first anniversary of 'Climategate', Part 1: The media blows the story of the century
Joe Romm - November 15, 2010
This week marks the one-year anniversary of what the anti-science crowd successfully labeled ‘Climategate’. The media will be doing countless retrospectives, most of which will be wasted ink, like the Guardian’s piece — focusing on climate scientists at the expense of climate science, which is precisely the kind of miscoverage that has been going on for the whole year!
I’ll save that my media critiques for Part 2, since I think that Climategate’s biggest impact was probably on the media, continuing their downward trend of focusing on style over substance, of missing the story of the century, if not the millennia.
The last year or so has seen more scientific papers and presentations that raise the genuine prospect of catastrophe (if we stay on our current emissions path) that I can recall seeing in any other year.
Perhaps the media would have ignored that science anyway, but Climategate appears to be a key reason “less than 10 percent of the news articles written about last year’s climate summit in Copenhagen dealt primarily with the science of climate change, a study showed on Monday.”
But for those interested in the real climate science story of the past year, let’s review a couple dozen studies of the most important findings. Any one of these would be cause for action — and combined they vindicate the final sentence of Elizabeth Kolbert’s Field Notes from a Catastrophe: “It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.”
1. Nature: “Global warming blamed for 40% decline in the ocean’s phytoplankton”: “Microscopic life crucial to the marine food chain is dying out. The consequences could be catastrophic.”
If confirmed, it may represent the single most important finding of the year in climate science. Seth Borenstein of the AP explains, “plant plankton found in the world’s oceans are crucial to much of life on Earth. They are the foundation of the bountiful marine food web, produce half the world’s oxygen and suck up harmful carbon dioxide.” Boris Worm, a marine biologist and co-author of the study said, “We found that temperature had the best power to explain the changes.” He noted, “If this holds up, something really serious is underway and has been underway for decades. I’ve been trying to think of a biological change that’s bigger than this and I can’t think of one.”
2. Science: Vast East Siberian Arctic Shelf methane stores destabilizing and venting: NSF issues world a wake-up call: “Release of even a fraction of the methane stored in the shelf could trigger abrupt climate warming.”
Methane release from the not-so-perma-frost is the most dangerous amplifying feedback in the entire carbon cycle. This research finds a key “lid” on “the large sub-sea permafrost carbon reservoir” near Eastern Siberia “is clearly perforated, and sedimentary CH4 [methane] is escaping to the atmosphere.”
The permafrost permamelt contains a staggering “1.5 trillion tons of frozen carbon, about twice as much carbon as contained in the atmosphere,” much of which would be released as methane. Methane is is 25 times as potent a heat-trapping gas as CO2 over a 100 year time horizon, but 72 times as potent over 20 years!
The carbon is locked in a freezer in the part of the planet warming up the fastest (see “Tundra 4: Permafrost loss linked to Arctic sea ice loss“). Half the land-based permafrost would vanish by mid-century on our current emissions path (see “Tundra, Part 2: The point of no return” and below). No climate model currently incorporates the amplifying feedback from methane released by a defrosting tundra.
The NSF is normally a very staid organization. If they are worried, everybody should be.
It is increasingly clear that if the world strays significantly above 450 ppm atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide for any length of time, we will find it unimaginably difficult to stop short of 800 to 1000 ppm.
3. Must-read NCAR analysis warns we risk multiple, devastating global droughts even on moderate emissions path.
Dust-Bowlification may be the impact of human-caused climate change that hits the most people by mid-century, as the figure below suggests (“a reading of -4 or below is considered extreme drought”):
The PDSI in the Great Plains during the Dust Bowl apparently spiked very briefly to -6, but otherwise rarely exceeded -3 for the decade (see here). The National Center for Atmospheric Research notes “By the end of the century, many populated areas, including parts of the United States, could face readings in the range of -8 to -10, and much of the Mediterranean could fall to -15 to -20. Such readings would be almost unprecedented.”
4. Nature Geoscience study: Oceans are acidifying 10 times faster today than 55 million years ago when a mass extinction of marine species occurred and “Geological Society: Acidifying oceans spell marine biological meltdown “by end of century” — Co-author: “Unless we curb carbon emissions we risk mass extinctions, degrading coastal waters and encouraging outbreaks of toxic jellyfish and algae.”
Marine life and all who depend on it, including humans are at grave risk from unrestricted emissions of greenhouse gases. This can’t be stopped with geo-engineering and there is no plausible strategy for undoing it.
Ocean acidification may well be the most under-reported of all the catastrophic climate impacts we are risking.
5. Sea levels may rise 3 times faster than IPCC estimated, could hit 6 feet by 2100 [see figure] and these related findings and studies:
For more on SLR, see Coastal studies experts: “For coastal management purposes, a [sea level] rise of 7 feet (2 meters) should be utilized for planning major infrastructure”
6. Royal Society: “There are very strong indications that the current rate of species extinctions far exceeds anything in the fossil record.”
This is from a special issue of 16 articles in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B (Biological Science), “Biological diversity in a changing world,”– which notes “Never before has a single species driven such profound changes to the habitats, composition and climate of the planet.”
7. Science: Drought drives decade-long decline in plant growth
The NASA news release explains the importance of the work by researchers Maosheng Zhao and Steven Running,:
“These results are extraordinarily significant because they show that the global net effect of climatic warming on the productivity of terrestrial vegetation need not be positive — as was documented for the 1980’s and 1990’s,” said Diane Wickland, of NASA Headquarters and manager of NASA’s Terrestrial Ecology research program….
“This is a pretty serious warning that warmer temperatures are not going to endlessly improve plant growth,” Running said….
“The potential that future warming would cause additional declines does not bode well for the ability of the biosphere to support multiple societal demands for agricultural production, fiber needs, and increasingly, biofuel production,” Zhao said.
UPDATE: A commenter notes that questions about the statistics used in this paper have been raised here. It does look to me like the authors should have put in more of a disclaimer about statistical uncertainty. I viewed (and still view) the original results as credible because they’re consistent with the findings of the Global Carbon Project — see slide 26 here, which is based on this 2009 Nature Geoscience article. See also “Nature on stunning new climate feedback: Beetle tree kill releases more carbon than fires.” The bottom line is that this study joins others in raising the serious warning that, contrary to the popular view, a world of ever increasing carbon dioxide may not lead to increased vegetation and may in fact lead to a decreased land sink. That would be particularly true if the NCAR drought projection comes true.
8. Nature review of 20 years of field studies finds soils emitting more CO2 as planet warms
A biogeochemist quoted by Nature explained that “perhaps [the] most likely explanation is that increasing temperatures have increased rates of decomposition of soil organic matter, which has increased the flow of CO2. If true, this is an important finding: that a positive feedback to climate change is already occurring at a detectable level in soils.”
Another major study in the February 2010 issue of the journal Ecology by Finnish researchers, “Temperature sensitivity of soil carbon fractions in boreal forest soil,” had a similar conclusion. The Finnish Environment Institute, which led the study, explained the results in a release, “Soil contributes to climate warming more than expected”
9. Global Warming: Future Temperatures Could Exceed Livable Limits, Researchers Find.
There were so many important climate science findings this year I didn’t get to write on all of them. This one in particular was misunderstood:
Reasonable worst-case scenarios for global warming could lead to deadly temperatures for humans in coming centuries, according to research findings from Purdue University and the University of New South Wales, Australia.
The study notes that even a 12°F warming would be dangerous for many. In fact, we could well see these deadly temperatures in the next century or century and a half over large parts of the globe on a very plausible emissions path.
10. UK Met Office: Catastrophic climate change, 13-18°F over most of U.S. and 27°F in the Arctic, could happen in 50 years, but “we do have time to stop it if we cut greenhouse gas emissions soon.”
Right before Climategate broke, scientists were increasingly starting to realize that humanity might well ignore the increasingly strong evidence that we needed to take action. They even held a conference on “4°C and beyond” just weeks before the scandal broke. Some of the top climate modelers in the world finally did a “plausible worst case scenario,” as Dr Richard Betts, Head of Climate Impacts at the Met Office Hadley Centre, put it in a terrific and terrifying talk (audio here, PPT here).
This is the “plausible worst case scenario” for 2060 from the UK Met Office that occurs in 10% of model runs of high emissions with the carbon cycle feedbacks [temperature in degrees Celsius, multiple by 1.8 for Fahrenheit]:
As the Met Office notes here, “In some areas warming could be significantly higher (10 degrees [C = 15F] or more)”:
- The Arctic could warm by up to 15.2 °C [27.4 °F] for a high-emissions scenario, enhanced by melting of snow and ice causing more of the Sun’s radiation to be absorbed.
- For Africa, the western and southern regions are expected to experience both large warming (up to 10 °C [18 °F]) and drying.
- Some land areas could warm by seven degrees [12.6 F] or more.
- Rainfall could decrease by 20% or more in some areas, although there is a spread in the magnitude of drying. All computer models indicate reductions in rainfall over western and southern Africa, Central America, the Mediterranean and parts of coastal Australia.
- In other areas, such as India, rainfall could increase by 20% or more. Higher rainfall increases the risk of river flooding.
In fact, though, this is ‘only’ the 5.4°C case, and if it doesn’t happen in the 2060s (which it probably won’t), it is merely the business as usual projection (!) for 2100 (see “M.I.T. doubles its 2095 warming projection to 10°F — with 866 ppm and Arctic warming of 20°F“).
CONCLUSION: Unrestricted emissions of greenhouse gases threaten multiple catastrophes, any one of which justifies action. Together, they represent the gravest threat to humanity imaginable. The fact that the overwhelming majority of the mainstream media ignored the overwhelming majority of these studies and devoted a large fraction of its climate ‘ink’ in the last 12 months to what was essentially a non-story is arguably the single greatest failing of the science media this year.
I didn’t have space here to report on the many studies that bolstered the case for our understanding that recent warming has been unequivocal and that humans are the primary cause. But indeed the case is so strong that this year, even the normally staid U.S. National Academy of Sciences labeled as “settled facts” that “the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities.”