Stagnating salaries present hurdles to career satisfaction

Read the full story in Nature.

Fewer than half of respondents to Nature’s 2021 salary and satisfaction survey feel positive about their prospects.

A Bitcoin boom fueled by cheap power, empty plants and few rules

Read the full story in the New York Times.

Cryptocurrency miners are flocking to New York’s faded industrial towns, prompting concern over the environmental impact of huge computer farms.

Schneider Electric launches framework to measure and address environmental impact of data centers

Read the full story at ESG Today.

Sustainability-focused energy and automation digital solutions provider Schneider Electric announced today the launch of a comprehensive framework for environmentally sustainable data centers, aimed at enabling operators to measure and mitigate environmental impact.

USDA looks for ways to standardize climate-friendly claims, opportunities & bolster local food systems

Read the full story at Food Navigator.

As a climate-smart food and beverage market emerges and consumers show a willingness to pay a premium for products touted as climate-friendly, the US Department of Agriculture is taking steps to standardize marketing claims and ensure an even playing field for stakeholders.

IU-led climate action programs to expand with $1.25M McKinney Family Foundation grant

Read the full story from Indiana University.

Indiana University’s Environmental Resilience Institute has received a $1.25 million grant from the McKinney Family Foundation. The grant will expand programs that help Indiana communities take action against climate change and connect students with valuable career training in sustainability and the environment.

The five-year grant will support the formation of the McKinney Midwest Climate Project, which will be administered by ERI. It will also officially merge ERI’s Resilience Cohort program and Sustain IU’s Indiana Climate Fellows under a new name: the McKinney Climate Fellows.

Investigating natural flood control solutions

Read the full story from Indiana University.

A team led by Bill Weeks of IU’s Maurer School of Law, partnering with Burke Engineering and the St. Joseph River Basin Commission, explored the potential for utilizing natural lowlands along the North Branch Elkhart River (NBER) basin in northeast Indiana to enhance flood control, an approach that has the advantage of restoring natural water management systems.

California’s water supplies are in trouble as climate change worsens natural dry spells, especially in the Sierra Nevada

Several of California’s reservoirs were at less than one-third of their capacity in early December 2021. Martha Conklin, CC BY-ND

by Roger Bales, University of California, Merced

California is preparing for a third straight year of drought, and officials are tightening limits on water use to levels never seen so early in the water year. Most of the state’s water reservoirs are well below average, with several at less than a third of their capacity. The outlook for rain and snow this winter, when most of the state’s yearly precipitation arrives, isn’t promising.

Especially worrying is the outlook for the Sierra Nevada, the long mountain chain that runs through the eastern part of the state. California’s cities and its farms – which grow over a third of the nation’s vegetables and two-thirds of its fruit and nuts – rely on runoff from the mountains’ snowpack for water.

As an engineer, I have studied California’s water and climate for over 30 years. A closer look at California’s water resources shows the challenge ahead and how climate change is putting the state’s water supply and agriculture at greater risk.

Where California gets its water

Statewide, California averages about 2 feet of precipitation per year, about two-thirds of the global average, giving the state as a whole a semi-arid climate.

The majority of California’s rain and snow falls in the mountains, primarily in winter and spring. But agriculture and coastal cities need that water to get through the dry summers. To get water to dry Southern California and help with flood control in the north, California over the past century developed a statewide system of reservoirs, tunnels and canals that brings water from the mountains. The largest of those projects, the State Water Project, delivers water from the higher-precipitation northern Sierra to the southern half of the state.

A large, manmade canal flows through low hills.
A section of the California Aqueduct within the State Water Project. Ken James/California Department of Water Resources

To track where the water goes, it’s useful to look at the volume in acre-feet. California is about 100 million acres in area, so at 2 feet per year, its annual precipitation averages about 200 million acre-feet.

Of that 200, an average of only about 80 million acre-feet heads downstream. Much of the water returns to the atmosphere through evapotranspiration by plants and trees in the Sierra Nevada or North Coast forests. Of the 80 million acre-feet that does run off, about half remains in the aquatic environment, such as rivers flowing to the ocean. That leaves about 41 million acre-feet for downstream use. About 80% of that goes for agriculture and 20% for urban uses.

In wet years, there may be much more than 80 million acre-feet of water available, but in dry years, it can be much less.

In 2020, for example, California’s precipitation was less than two-thirds of average, and the State Water Project delivered only 5% of the contracted amounts. The state’s other main aqueduct systems that move water around the state also severely reduced their supplies.

The 2021 water year, which ended Sept. 30, was one of the three driest on record for the Sierra Nevada. Precipitation was about 44% of average. With limited precipitation as of December 2021 and the state in extreme drought, the State Water Project cut its preliminary allocations for water agencies to 0% for 2022, with small amounts still flowing for health and safety needs.

While conditions could improve if more storms come in the next three months, the official National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration outlook points to below-normal precipitation being more likely than above normal.

Comparison of state maps with water uses in wet and dry years
California State Water Plan 2018

Drought and a warming climate

Multiyear dry periods, when annual precipitation is below average, are a feature of California’s climate, but rising global temperatures are also having an impact.

Over the past 1,100 years, there has been at least one dry period lasting four years or longer each century. There have been two in the past 35 years – 1987-92 and 2012-15. A warmer climate intensifies the effect of these dry periods, as drier soil and drier air stress both natural vegetation and crops.

Rising global temperatures affect runoff from the Sierra Nevada, which provides over 60% of California’s developed water supply.

Over 80% of the runoff in the central and southern Sierra Nevada comes from the snow zone. In the wetter but lower-elevation northern Sierra, rainfall contributes over one-third of the annual runoff.

The average snowline, the elevation above which most precipitation is snow, goes from about 5,000 feet elevation in the north to 7,000 feet in the south. On average, each 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 Celsius) of warming could push the snowline another 500 feet higher, reducing the snow total.

Shifts from snow to rain and earlier runoff also mean that more of the capacity behind existing dams will be allocated to flood control, further reducing their capacity for seasonal water-supply storage.

A dry ring around the reservoir shows how low its water level is.
A section of Shasta Lake, California’s largest reservoir, on Oct. 28, 2021. Andrew Innerarity/California Department of Water Resources

A wealth of research has established that the Sierra Nevada could see low- to no-snow winters for years at a time by the late 2040s if greenhouse gases emissions don’t decline, with conditions worsening beyond that possible.

Warming will also increase water demand from forests as growing seasons lengthen and drive both drought stress leading to tree mortality and increased risk of high-severity wildfires.

Sustainability in a warming climate

Water storage is central to California’s water security.

Communities and farms can pump more groundwater when supplies are low, but the state has been pumping out more water than it replenished in wet years. Parts of the state rely on water from the Colorado River, whose dams provide for several years of water storage, but the basin lacks the runoff to fill the dams.

Public opposition has made it difficult to build new dams, so better use of groundwater for both seasonal and multiyear storage is crucial.

Aerial view of a recharge ponds
Groundwater banking, or recharging groundwater during wet periods, is crucial to weathering multiyear droughts. Shallow ponds like these allow water to sink into underground aquifers. Dale Kolke/California Department of Water Resources

The state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act requires local agencies to develop sustainability plans. That provides some hope that groundwater pumping and replenishment can be brought into balance, most likely by leaving some cropland unplanted. Managed aquifer recharge south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is gradually expanding, and much more can be done.

If the state doesn’t do more, including tactics such as applying desalination technology to make saltwater usable, urban areas can expect the 25% cuts in water use put in place during the 2012-15 drought to be more common and potentially even deeper.

California’s water resources can provide for a healthy environment, robust economy and sustainable agricultural use. Achieving this will require upgrading both natural infrastructure – headwaters forests, floodplains and groundwater recharge in agricultural areas – and built infrastructure, such as canals, spillways and levees. The information is available; officials now have to follow through.

Roger Bales, Distinguished Professor of Engineering, University of California, Merced

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Lake Koronis helping researchers unravel the challenges of starry stonewort

Read the full story at the West Central Tribune.

Starry stonewort was first discovered in Minnesota waters in Lake Koronis in 2015. It’s now found in 19 Minnesota waterbodies. Lake Koronis is helping researchers understand how a changing climate may influence this invasive and how we can better manage it.

Americans support climate change policies, especially those that give them incentives and clean up the energy supply

Incentives like rebates for insulation or allowing homeowners to sell energy from solar panels were more popular than taxing for excess energy use. Lourdes Balduque via Getty Images

Janet K. Swim, Penn State and Nathaniel Geiger, Indiana University

As the Biden administration tries to build support for new climate and energy policies, a set of studies offers some insights that could help them appeal to the widest audience.

We are social scientists who examine how people think about climate change solutions. In the studies, we explored how the public responds to different types of policies and why some are likely to be more popular than others.

For example, which is better: incentives to cut emissions, such as rebates for installing solar panels, or disincentives, like a carbon tax? Does it matter whether those policies target individuals or businesses? What about policies that would reduce energy use or change energy sources from fossil to renewable energy?

Overall, we found people support climate change policies, but they have preferences among different types based on the policies’ anticipated environmental, economic and social impacts.

The who, what and how of climate policy

We used two different measures in two separate studies to assess U.S. residents’ reactions to a set of climate and energy policy types. The 265 participants ranged in age from 18 to 80 and had an approximately equal likelihood of identifying themselves as Republican, Democrat or independent.

These policies varied in three crucial ways:

  1. How they promoted change – through incentives, such as grants or rebates to encourage low-carbon actions, or disincentives, such as fees or taxes to discourage high-carbon actions.
  2. Whom they targeted – businesses or individuals.
  3. What they targeted – energy supply, such as switching to renewable sources, or energy demand, such as promoting energy efficiency and conservation.

The participants shared their preferences, but they also estimated the environmental, economic and social effects they thought each policy would have. Understanding the influence those estimates have on the participants’ views could help policymakers make less-popular policies more palatable.

Lesson 1: Incentives over disincentives

We found that people preferred policies with incentives rather than punishments – especially when the policies applied to individuals, but also for businesses.

They said they thought incentives would be better for the environment and have more economic and social net benefits than disincentives would.

However, we found greater tolerance of disincentives when they applied to businesses than when they affected individuals.

This tolerance was not a result of impressions of effects on the economy – in both cases, the participants anticipated greater economic benefits from incentives than disincentives.

Instead, participants appeared to think that trying to change individuals’ behaviors – but not businesses’ practices – with disincentives would have less positive social impact and be less effective. For example, about one-third of the respondents thought the disincentives for individuals would have more social harms than benefits, while only about 10% thought the same for other policy options.

Lesson 2: Clean energy is better than less energy

People also preferred policies that would change the supply of energy by increasing renewable energy and decreasing fossil fuels more than policies that would decrease the amount of energy people use.

The study participants thought increasing renewable energy and decreasing fossil fuel use would have greater economic and social benefits than decreasing the amount of energy used. For example, 87% percent indicated there would be more economic benefits than harms from energy supply policies, while 77% indicated the same for energy reduction policies.

We found that the participants’ political leanings had surprisingly little effect on relative preferences among all eight policies.

Our previous research with University of Oklahoma postdoctoral fellow Lizbeth Benson also found that environmental benefits, and the anticipated economic consequences, considering both benefits and harms, affected which policies people support. Moreover, the anticipated human impact of climate policies – these could include health, food, safety and human well-being – was even more strongly associated with climate policy support.

The limitations of climate popularism

It may not always make sense for politicians to promote the climate policy with the greatest public support.

For example, enacting some policies that penalize individuals for actions that emit a lot of greenhouse gases may be necessary to reach the world’s climate goals, despite their relative unpopularity.

Of course, a climate policy that doesn’t pass will not reduce carbon emissions at all.

Our work also suggests a possible path forward for promoting less-popular policies, such as those with disincentives for individuals or that reduce energy use. We found that these policies are less popular because people tend to believe they will be less effective and have less of a positive social impact.

Changing policies to increase their positive social impact – a carbon tax that rebates the proceeds to citizens is an example – can help win public support.

Communication strategies can focus on successes to illustrate that people working together to reduce their energy can effectively reduce emissions. For instance, communities can learn from and be inspired by cities that have cut their emissions.

Janet K. Swim, Professor of Psychology, Penn State and Nathaniel Geiger, Assistant Professor of Communication Science, Indiana University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Climate change is ‘national security threat’ to U.S.

Read the full story from Northwestern University.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) addressed the Northwestern community last Thursday and warned that we should think of climate change as a national security threat and an existential challenge to the well-being and success of the United States.