Why scientists are so worried about sea-level rise in the second half of this century

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

Even as negotiators meet in Marrakech, Morocco to take the next steps to avert dangerous human-caused climate change — and, even as the U.S. decides whether or not to elect a president who is skeptical it is happening — a new study has highlighted the sharp stakes involved, particularly when it comes to the ongoing rise in global sea level and the dramatic but uneven way in which it could affect the world’s coastlines.

The goal of the Paris climate agreement is to hold the planet’s temperature rise to “well below” a 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) increase above what it was in pre-industrial times. We’ve already seen about a 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) increase since then.

But the new research just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences notes that if we stay on a current, high-emissions pathway and do not achieve the cuts that the Paris agreement seeks to institutionalize, then we could hit 2 degrees Celsius by 2040 or so. For the planet’s sea level, this would mean over a half-foot rise averaged around the globe, in comparison with average sea levels from 1986 to 2005. The sea-level increase, however, would be far worse in certain places, such as the U.S. East Coast, where it could be over a foot.

The tragic reason seabirds keep mistaking ocean plastic for food

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

Each year, millions of tons of plastic waste end up in the ocean, where it often goes straight into the bellies of hungry birds, sea turtles and other marine animals. This is a big concern for scientists, who are still investigating the possible consequences for the marine ecosystem — but until now, researchers weren’t completely sure why so many animals were mistaking the plastic for food in the first place.

A new study, just out in the journal Science Advances, may shed some light on the mystery . The study finds that plastic in the ocean gives off a specific chemical compound with a distinctive smell, signaling to some seabirds that it’s dinnertime.

What it would really mean if Trump pulls the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

After Tuesday’s U.S. election upset, climate change watchers and wonks are scrambling to assess what it would really mean if Donald Trump, true to his word, ditches or simply fails to participate in the Paris climate change agreement (which he could do through a variety of mechanisms). And it does indeed appear that the consequences for international diplomacy, and for the planet, would be considerable.

Paper please: California voters approve plastic bag ban

Read the full story from the Associated Press.

California’s ban on single-use plastic carryout bags will stay in effect after voters narrowly approved the policy, according to preliminary results Thursday.

Interior Department Finalizes Rule Providing a Foundation for the Future of BLM’s Renewable Energy Program

Read the full story from the Department of the Interior.

Advancing the President’s Climate Action Plan to create jobs, cut carbon pollution and develop clean domestic energy, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today announced that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) finalized its rule governing solar and wind energy development on public lands. The rule strengthens existing policies and creates a new leasing program that will support renewable energy development through competitive leasing processes and incentives to encourage development in suitable areas.

Environmental Law, Big Data, and the Torrent of Singularities

Boyd, William, Environmental Law, Big Data, and the Torrent of Singularities (Novemeber 7, 2016). 64 UCLA L. Rev. Disc. 544 (2016); University of Colorado at Boulder, Economics Department Paper No. 16-9. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2866570

Abstract: How will big data impact environmental law in the near future? This Essay imagines one possible future for environmental law in 2030 that focuses on the implications of big data for the protection of public health from risks associated with pollution and industrial chemicals. It assumes the perspective of an historian looking back from the end of the twenty-first century at the evolution of environmental law during the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. The premise of the Essay is that big data will drive a major shift in the underlying knowledge practices of environmental law (along with other areas of law focused on health and safety). This change in the epistemic foundations of environmental law, it is argued, will in turn have important, far-reaching implications for environmental law’s normative commitments and for its ability to discharge its statutory responsibilities. In particular, by significantly enhancing the ability of environmental regulators to make harm more visible and more traceable, big data will put considerable pressure on previous understandings of acceptable risk across populations, pushing toward a more singular and more individualized understanding of harm. This will raise new and difficult questions regarding environmental law’s capacity to confront and take responsibility for the actual lives caught up in the tragic choices it is called upon to make. In imagining this near future, the Essay takes a somewhat exaggerated and, some might argue, overly pessimistic view of the implications of big data for environmental law’s efforts to protect public health. This is done not out of a conviction that such a future is likely, but rather to highlight some of the potential problems that may arise as big data becomes a more prominent part of environmental protection. In an age of data triumphalism, such a perspective, it is hoped, may provide grounds for a more critical engagement with the tools and knowledge practices that inform environmental law and the implications of those tools for environmental law’s ability to meet its obligations. Of course, there are other possible futures, and big data surely has the potential to make many positive contributions to environmental protection in the coming decades. Whether it will do so will depend in no small part on the collective choices we make to manage these new capabilities in the years ahead.


Replacing grass with water-wise landscapes may harm water quality

Read the full story at EnvironmentalResearchWeb.

In many water-starved cities, homeowners are being encouraged to replace their lawns to conserve water. But how does this affect soil concentrations of nutrients such as nitrates? Now a team from the US has examined what happens to converted lawns in real homes.

U.N. seeks to integrate climate into city planning

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

To support cities in climate sustainability, the Cities and Climate Change Initiative (CCCI) from U.N. Habitat collaborated with other agencies to develop the report “Guiding Principles for City Climate Action Planning.” The initiative announced these principles at COP21 on Dec. 4, 2015.

For cities, climate has to be addressed hand-in-hand with other topics such as energy use and economic development. Therefore, the report recommends evidence-based cross-sector collaboration at an unprecedented level. It also advises cities to combine planning for mitigation and adaptation.

Funding opp: Anticipating the Environmental Impacts and Behavioral Drivers of Deep Decarbonization

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announces the release of the Anticipating the Environmental Impacts and Behavioral Drivers of Deep Decarbonization Request for Application.

EPA, as part of its Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program, is seeking applications proposing research that will contribute to an improved ability to understand and anticipate the public health and environmental impacts and behavioral drivers of significant changes in energy production and consumption in the United States, particularly those changes associated with advancing toward the deep decarbonization necessary to achieve national and international climate change mitigation objectives and avoid the most significant economic and health impacts of climate change.  The proposed research is intended to contribute to the development of new insights and predictive tools related to the multimedia, life-cycle impacts of the decarbonization of electricity generation; the electrification of end uses; the adoption of low-carbon emitting, renewable fuels; and the adoption of energy efficiency measures.  The proposed research is also intended to contribute to an improved understanding of the drivers of individual, firm, and community decisions that affect energy consumption patterns, including decisions about the adoption of new technologies and energy efficiency measures.

This RFA is supported by EPA’s Air, Climate and Energy (ACE) research program and STAR extramural research grants program.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency offers grant to support green chemistry intern

The MPCA is offering a grant to support an intern at a Minnesota facility undertaking a green chemistry and engineering-related project next summer (2017).

See https://www.pca.state.mn.us/waste/grant-connect-ecology for a summary of this past summer’s intern project.

  • The host companies benefited with initial product designs and comparisons of greener and more sustainable materials for prototypes.
  • The intern added experience in product design within a company’s decision making context, and is using that experience in her new job!

While eligible companies may be headquartered outside the state, the work much take place in Minnesota.  One grant of up to $9,500 will be awarded to the applicant best meeting MPCA’s criteria.

MPCA will recruit recent college grads with science, technology, engineering or math backgrounds for the successful company to interview in early 2017.

More information and application materials are available on this MPCA web page: https://www.pca.state.mn.us/waste/green-and-safer-product-chemistry-grants.

Questions may only be addressed to p2.pca@state.mn.us; answers will be posted on the web page above.

The deadline for applications is January 13, 2017, at 2:00 Central time.