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Sustainability

Draft 2013 National Climate Assessment Document Open for Review

Here’s your opportunity to read and review for yourself carefully documented analysis that assesses the impact of climate change over periods up to the next century. After the open review period, during which the National Acadamies of Science and the general public will be able to review and provide comments on the contents of this 1,000 page document, the Third National Climate Assessment Report will be final and presented to the President and Congress.

The 13 federal government departments supporting this effort are:  Commerce, Defense, Energy, Interior, State, Transportation, Health & Human Services, NASA, National Science Foundation, Smithsonian, US AID, Agriculture, and EPA. There are 240 authors presenting detailed review and analysis for this assessment.  

The website to visit to review the document is:  http://ncadac.globalchange.gov/

UW-Green Bay is a signatory to the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) - one of the few programs mentioned in the “Mitigation” chapter of this assessment as having a positive impact.

Timothy White, Chancellor of The California State University and ACUPCC chair, provided the following synopsis of the Report Findings:

1. Global climate is changing, and this is apparent across the U.S. in a wide range of observations. The climate change of this past 50 years is due primarily to human activities, predominantly the burning of fossil fuels. U.S. average temperature has increased by about 1.5 degrees F since 1895, with more than 80% of this increase occurring since 1980. The most recent decade was the nation’s warmest on record. Because human-induced warming is superimposed on a naturally varying climate, rising temperatures are not evenly distributed across the country or over time (Ch. 2).

2. Some extreme weather and climate events have increased in recent decades, and there is new and stronger evidence that many of these increases are related to human activities. Changes in extreme events are the primary way in which  most people experience climate change. Human-induced climate change has already increased the frequency and intensity of some extremes. Over the last 50 years, much of the U.S. has seen an increase in prolonged stretches of excessively high temperatures, more heavy downpours, and in some regions more severe droughts (Ch. 2, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 23).

3. Human-induced climate change is projected to continue and accelerate significantly if emissions of heat-trapping gases continue to increase. Heat-trapping gases already in the atmosphere have committed us to a hotter future with more climate-related impacts over the next few decades. The magnitude of climate change beyond the next few decades depends primarily on the amount of heat-trapping gases emitted globally, now and in the future (Ch. 2, 27).

4. Impacts related to climate change are already evident in many sectors and are expected to become increasingly challenging across the nation throughout this century and beyond. Climate change is already affecting human health, infrastructure, water resources, agriculture, energy, the natural environment, and other factors – locally, nationally, and internationally. Climate change interacts with other environmental and societal factors in a variety of ways that either moderate or exacerbate the ultimate impacts. The types and magnitudes of these effects vary across the nation and through time. Several populations – including children, the elderly, the sick, the poor, tribes and other indigenous people -  are especially vulnerable to one or more aspects of climate change. There is mounting evidence that the costs to the nation are already high and will increase very substantially in the future, unless global emissions of heat-trapping gases are strongly reduced (Ch. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25).

5. Climate change threatens human health and well-being in many ways, including impacts from increase extreme weather events, wildfire, decreased air quality, diseases transmitted by insects, food and water, and threats to mental health. Climate change is increasing the risks of heat stress, respiratory stress from poor air quality, and the spread of waterborne diseases. Food security is emerging as an issue of concern, both within the U.S. and across the globe, and is affected by climate change. Large-scale changes in the environment due to climate change and extreme weather events are also increasing the risk of the emergence or reemergence of unfamiliar health threats (Ch. 2, 6, 9, 11, 12, 16, 19, 20, 22, 23).

6. Infrastructure across the U.S. is being adversely affected by phenomena associated with climate change, including sea level rise, storm surge, heavy downpours, and extreme heat. Sea level rise and storm surges, in combination with the pattern of heavy development in coastal areas, are already resulting in damage to infrastructure such as roads, buildings, prots, and energy facilities. Infrastructure associated with military installations is also at risk from climate change impacts. Floods along the nation’s rivers, inside cities, and on lakes following heavy downpours, prolonged rains and rapid melting of snowpack are damaging infrastructure in towns and cities, farmlands, and a variety of other places across the nation. Extreme heat is damaging transportation infrastructure such as roads, rail lines, and airport runways. Rapid warming in Alaska has resulted in infrastructure impacts due to thawing of permafrost and the loss of coastal sea ice that once protected shorelines from storms and wave-driven coastal erosion (Ch. 2, 3, 5, 6, 11, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25).

7. Reliability of water supplies is being reduced by climate change in a variety of ways that affect ecosystems and livelihoods in many regions, particularly the Southwest, the Great Plains, the Southeast, and the islands of the Caribbean and the Pacific, including the state of Hawai’i. Surface and groundwater supplies in many regions are already stressed by increasing demand for water as well as declining runoff and groundwater recharge. In many regions, climate change increases the likelihood of water shortages and competitions for water amount agricultural, municipal, and environmental uses. The western U.W. relies heavily on mountain snowpack for water storage, and spring snowpack is declining in most of the West. There is an increasing risk of seasonal water shortages in many parts of the U.S., even where total precipitation is projected to increase. Water quality challenges are also increasing, particularly sediment and contaminant concentrations after heavy downpours (Ch. 2, 3, 12, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 23).

8. Adverse impacts to crops and livestock over the next 100 years are expected. Over the next 25 years or so, the agriculture sector is projected to be relatively resilient, even though there will be increasing disruptions from extreme heat, drought, and heavy downpours. U.S. food security and farm incomes will also depend on how agricultural systems adapt to climate changes in other regions of the world. Near-term resilience of U.S. agriculture is enhanced by adaptive actions, including expansion of irrigated acreage in response to drought, regional shifts in crops and cropped acreage, continued technological advancements, and other adjustments. By mid-century, however, when temperature increases and precipitation extremes are further intensified, yields of major U.S. crops are expected to decline, threatening both U.S. and international food security. The U.S. food system also depends on imports, so food security and commodity pricing will be affected by agricultural adaptation to climate changes and other conditions around the world (Ch. 2, 6, 12, 13, 14, 18, 19).

9. Natural ecosystems are being directly affected by climate change, including changes in biodiversity and location of species. As a result, the capacity of ecosystems to moderate the consequences of disturbances such as droughts, floods, and severe storms is being diminished. In addition to climate changes that directly affect habitats, events such as droughts, floods, wildfires, and pest outbreaks associated with climate change are already disrupting ecosystem structures and functions in a variety of direct and indirect ways. These changes limit the capacity of ecosystems such as forests, barrier beaches, and coastal-and freshwater wetlands to adapt and continue to play important roles in reducing the impacts of these extreme events on infrastructure, human communities, and other valued resources (Ch. 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 14, 15, 19, 25).

10. Life in the oceans is changing as ocean waters become warmer and more acidic. Warming ocean waters and ocean acidification across the globe and within U.S. marine territories are broadly affecting marine life. Warmer and more acidic waters are changing the distribution of fish and other mobile sea life, and stressing those, such as corals, that cannot move. Warmer and more acidic ocean waters combine with other stresses, such as overfishing and coastal and marine pollution, to negatively affect marine-based food production and fishing communities (Ch. 2, 23, 24, 25).

11. Planning for adaptation (to address and prepare for impacts) and mitigation (to reduce emissions) in increasing, but progress with implementation is limited. In recent years, climate adaptation and mitigation activities have begun to emerge in many sectors and at all levels of government; however barriers to implementation of these activities are significant. The level of current efforts is insufficient to avoid increasingly serious impacts of climate change that have large social, environmental, and economic consequences. Well-planned and implemented actions to limit emissions and increase resilience to impacts that are unavoidable can improve public health, economic development opportunities, natural system protection, and overall quality of life (Ch. 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, 15, 26, 27, 28).

Will Wisconsin election results tip scales against renewables?

by Dan Haugen, Midwest Energy News, 11/12/12

Will changing political winds in Wisconsin mean another new direction for wind energy policy in the state?

Wisconsin Republicans reclaimed control of the state’s senate last week, five months after recall elections tipped the balance to Democrats. Republicans will now hold power by a wider margin the 2013 than they held in 2011.

Wind energy advocates are worried that might mean another attempt to repeal the state’s wind farm siting rules, which limit restrcitons that local governments can place on proposed wind developments.

And one Republican state senator has already announced plans to seek a repeal of the state’s renewable electricity standard, though a renewable advocacy group doubts the bill will gain enough support to pass.

Hopes for bipartisanship

Overall, RENEW Wisconsin program and policy director Michael Vicerman expects less hostility and more acceptance of the fact that renewable energy plays a growing role in the state’s economy.

“We are hearing that there are Republican senators that want to introduce positive legislation on renewable energy next year, and they want to do so in a bipartisan fashion,” Vickerman said.

RENEW Wisconsin is a member of RE-AMP, which also publishes Midwest Energy News.

While Republicans haven’t announced their energy agenda, RENEW Wisconsin is concerned about a proposal by Republican state Sen. Frank Lasee that would un-do the state’s wind farm siting policy.

“He’s spearheading a one-person jihad against wind energy,” Vickerman said.

Wisconsin adopted statewide wind siting rules in 2011 that put boundaries on the local zoning and permitting regulations, which had delayed or derailed wind projects in some counties.

In March, Lasee introduced a bill that would have rolled back those rules, putting wind developers back at the mercy of a messy patchwork of local rules, some of which were, in Vickerman’s words, “a never-ending obstacle course” meant to discourage any projects.

Lasee’s effort last spring came up one vote short when Republicans had a 17-16 margin in the state senate. Next year, Lasee’s party is expected to hold an 18-15 majority.

“We survived, really, by the skin of our teeth,” Vickerman said. “All other things being equal, we have to find another Republican senator who will stand [for the wind siting rules.]”

RPS challenge?

The American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative policy group that promotes identical, model legislation across the country, says it plans to make repealing state renewable mandates a high priority in 2013.

State Sen. Glenn Grothman, a Republican from Sheboygan, has already announced plans for a bill that would freeze Wisconsin’s renewable standard at its 2012 levels.

“The 10 percent renewable portfolio standard imposed on Wisconsin utilities in 2006 was a mistake,” Grothman said in a press release. (The senator’s office didn’t return a phone call last week.)

Vickerman said he is “not particularly worried” about Brothman’s bill. That’s because renewable energy has too many allies – from landfill operators to equipment manufacturers – who understand its importance to growing Wisconsin’s economy.

“He is looking at legislation that would not only scale back commitment to wind energy, but also solar, biogas, landfill gas, hydro – all the resources are covered,” Vickerman said.

For the rest of the article click here.

News Bit: Why Efficiency is Smarter than Renewables

by Marc Gunther, Greenbiz.com, published June 15, 2012

“Real estate is the largest source of clean energy in this country, and it’s very inexpensively tapped.”

“So said Tony Malkin, the president of Malkin Holdings, owner of the Empire State Building.

Malskin spoke this week at the annual Energy Efficiency Forum in Washington, D.C. and he’s got a point, albeit a controversial one.

If we – or more to the point, the people who represent us in Washington – have $1 to spend, better that it be spent on energy efficiency than on clean energy. That’s not way things work now. Today, wind and solar power get generous tax breaks and subsidies. Energy efficiency investment do not. The government has it exactly backward.

Why? First let’s stipulate that money spent on efficiency and on clean energy creates short-term jobs. The efficiency-related jobs are more likely to be US jobs (because most solar panels are made in China) but set that aside for a moment. What matters is what happens after the insulation goes into a building, or the panels go up on the roof.

The problem with clean energy is that electricity from wind turbines or solar panels, as a rule, costs more than power generated by burning coal or natural gas. If it didn’t, the wind and solar industries wouldn’t need the investment tax credits and renewable portfolio mandates that are vital to the business. But over time the higher costs of clean energy create a drag on economic growth, whether they are paid by the government or by energy users.

By contrast, money spend on efficiency reduces costs over time. So, whether we are talking about more efficient factories, commercial buidlings, homes or even cars, the spending on efficiency makes the economy more productive, driving economic growth and creating jobs in the long run.

Yet the government generously subsidizes wind and solar. Efficiency, not so much.

Actually, it’s a bit worse than that. Since businesses can deduct legitimate expenses on their tax returns, they pay less than the full cost of their electricity bills.

“I get a tax deduction for wasting energy,” Dave Meyers, president of building efficiency business at Johnson Controls, said wryly during the forum.

“It is absolutely insane to me that energy can be expensed on your tax bill,” Malkin agreed.

Let me hasten to add that we need both energy efficiency and clean energy, and in my view, both deserve strong policy support. Remember, scientists say that to avoid risky climate change, the world needs to curb its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. That will require the aggressive deployment of low-carbon energy sources, as well as dramatic gains in efficiency. But we also should be clear about how the costs and benefits work, so we an get the policy right, and especially think about why the government isn’t doing more to promote efficiency.

Read the rest of the article HERE – what’s your opinion – renewable, efficiency, both? How?