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Resilient Cities Research Report

April 23, 2014 Comments off

Resilient Cities Research Report
Source: Grosvenor

The ability of cities to thrive as centres of human habitation, production and cultural development, despite the challenges posed by climate change, population growth and globalisation, is determined by their resilience. From a real estate investor’s perspective, resilience allows cities to preserve capital values and generate sustainable rental income in the long term. In human terms, cities are resilient if they absorb shocks, like Hurricane Sandy, maintain their output of goods and services and continue to provide their inhabitants with a good quality of life according to the standards of the time.

Resilience – the ability of a city to avoid or bounce back from an adverse event – comes from the interplay of vulnerability and adaptive capacity.

Vulnerability is a city’s exposure to shocks in terms of both magnitude and frequency. Shocks may be due to changes in the climate, environmental degradation, shortage of resources, failed infrastructure or community strife due to inequality. That most cities have survived for the last several centuries or, in some cases, millennia, indicates a long period of stability in the pattern of urban growth. Recent population growth and industrialisation, despite many benefits, are destabilising planetary systems and making previously safe places more vulnerable than they ever were before.

Yet cities, like societies, are adaptable. Just like societies, they vary enormously in their adaptive capacity due to governance, institutions, technology, wealth and the propensity to plan.

So resilience increases when cities have more adaptive capacity and decreases when they are more vulnerable. Exponential population and economic growth is placing so much pressure on resources that resilience, which has for so long been a free gift of history, urgently needs to be rethought.

By quantifying the resilience of 50 of the world’s most important cities we, at Grosvenor, hope to contribute to this vital debate.

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One Year after West, Texas: One in Ten Students Attends School in the Shadow of a Risky Chemical Facility

April 23, 2014 Comments off

One Year after West, Texas: One in Ten Students Attends School in the Shadow of a Risky Chemical Facility
Source: Center for Effective Government

One year after the fertilizer facility explosion in West, Texas, which destroyed and severely damaged nearby schools, an analysis by the Center for Effective Government finds that nearly one in ten American schoolchildren live and study within one mile of a potentially dangerous chemical facility.

The analysis, displayed through an online interactive map, shows that 4.6 million children at nearly 10,000 schools across the country are within a mile of a facility that reports to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Risk Management Program. Factories, refineries, and other facilities that report to the program produce, use, and/or store significant quantities of certain hazardous chemicals identified by EPA as particularly risky to human health or the environment if they are spilled, released into the air, or are involved in an explosion or fire.

Elevated Levels of Mercury Found in Fish in Western U.S. National Parks

April 22, 2014 Comments off

Elevated Levels of Mercury Found in Fish in Western U.S. National Parks
Source: U.S. Geological Survey

Mercury has been discovered in fish in some of the most remote national park lakes and streams in the western United States and Alaska. Mercury levels in some fish exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency health thresholds for potential impacts to fish, birds, and humans.

The information about mercury, and its appearance in protected areas considered to be relatively pristine and removed from environmental contaminants, is in a recently published scientific report from the U.S. Geological Survey and National Park Service.

The study of mercury in fish is the first of its kind to incorporate information from remote places at 21 national parks in 10 western states, including Alaska. Western parks were selected for this study because of the significant role that atmospheric mercury deposition plays in remote places, and the lack of broad-scale assessments on mercury in fish in remote areas of the west.

Mercury concentrations in fish sampled from these parks were generally low, but were elevated in some instances. This study examines total mercury in fish, of which 95 percent is in the form of methylmercury, the most dangerous form to human and wildlife health.

Mercury is harmful to human and wildlife health, and is among the most widespread contaminants in the world. It is distributed at a global scale from natural sources, such as volcanic eruptions and from human sources such as burning fossil fuels in power plants. Mercury is distributed at local or regional scales as a result of current and historic mining activities. These human activities have increased levels of atmospheric mercury at least three fold during the past 150 years.

Critical Issues in Aviation and the Environment 2014

April 21, 2014 Comments off

Critical Issues in Aviation and the Environment 2014
Source: Transportation Research Board

Critical Issues in Aviation and the Environment 2014 explores issues that address the major environmental components affected by aviation activities, sustainable solutions that have evolved and continue to be developed to minimize aviation’s environmental impacts, and key processes that link aviation and the environment. The focus of the e-circular is on the state of science and on identification of priority research with potential to yield benefits during the next several years to several decades.

Fueling a New Order? The New Geopolitical and Security Consequences of Energy

April 21, 2014 Comments off

Fueling a New Order? The New Geopolitical and Security Consequences of Energy
Source: Brookings Institution

The paper Fueling a New Order? The New Geopolitical and Security Consequences of Energy examines impacts of the major transformation in international energy markets that has begun. The United States is poised to overtake Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world’s largest oil producer and, combined with new developments in natural gas, is on track to become the dominant player in global energy markets. Meanwhile, China is in place to surpass the United States in its scale of oil imports, and has already edged out the U.S. in carbon emissions.

Nation’s Authoritative Land Cover Map New and Improved

April 21, 2014 Comments off

Nation’s Authoritative Land Cover Map New and Improved
Source: U.S. Geological Survey

Just released, the latest edition of the nation’s most comprehensive look at land-surface conditions from coast to coast shows the extent of land cover types from forests to urban areas. The National Land Cover Database (NLCD 2011) is made available to the public by the U.S. Geological Survey and partners.

Dividing the lower 48 states into 9 billion geographic cells, the massive database provides consistent information about land conditions at regional to nationwide scales. Collected in repeated five-year cycles, NLCD data is used by resource managers and decision-makers to conduct ecosystem studies, determine spatial patterns of biodiversity, trace indications of climate change, and develop best practices in land management.

CRS — Green Infrastructure and Issues in Managing Urban Stormwater

April 17, 2014 Comments off

Green Infrastructure and Issues in Managing Urban Stormwater (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Center)

For decades, stormwater, or runoff, was considered largely a problem of excess rainwater or snowmelt impacting communities. Prevailing engineering practices were to move stormwater away from cities as rapidly as possible to avoid potential damages from flooding. More recently, these practices have evolved and come to recognize stormwater as a resource that, managed properly within communities, has multiple benefits.

CRS — Air Quality Issues and Animal Agriculture: A Primer

April 17, 2014 Comments off

Air Quality Issues and Animal Agriculture: A Primer (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Center)

From an environmental quality standpoint, much of the public and policy interest in animal agriculture has focused on impacts on water resources, because animal waste, if not properly managed, can harm water quality through surface runoff, direct discharges, spills, and leaching into soil and groundwater. A more recent issue is the contribution of air emissions from animal feeding operations (AFOs), enterprises where animals are raised in confinement. This report provides background on the latter issue.

Are you ready for the resource revolution?

April 15, 2014 Comments off

Are you ready for the resource revolution?
Source: McKinsey & Company

Meeting increasing global demand requires dramatically improving resource productivity. Yet technological advances mean companies have an extraordinary opportunity not only to meet that challenge but to spark the next industrial revolution as well.

Emerging Arctic Explored in New CFR InfoGuide

April 14, 2014 Comments off

Emerging Arctic Explored in New CFR InfoGuide
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) has released a new interactive guide examining the economic opportunities and environmental risks emerging in the Arctic. Climate change, technological advances, and a growing demand for natural resources are driving a new era of development in the Arctic region. Many experts assert that Arctic summers could be free of sea ice in a matter of decades, opening the region up to hundreds of billions of dollars in investment, most notably in energy production and shipping.

Secretary of Energy Advisory Board — Task Force Report on FracFocus 2.0 (March 28, 2014)

April 11, 2014 Comments off

Secretary of Energy Advisory Board — Task Force Report on FracFocus 2.0 (March 28, 2014) (PDF)
Source: U.S. Department of Energy (Energy Advisory Board)

This report presents the findings and recommendations for the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) Task Force on FracFocus. This Task Force report builds upon and extends the 2011 SEAB Subcommittee report on the environmental impacts of unconventional gas production.

The Task Force believes that the FracFocus experience to date demonstrates the ease of disclosure of chemicals added to fracturing fluid for companies, the value of this disclosure for the public, and the importance of public confidence in the quality and accessibility of the FracFocus chemical registry data. It has accomplished a good deal and shows the capacity to make improvements at modest additional cost. FracFocus has greatly improved public disclosure quickly and with a significant degree of uniformity.

The Task Force recommends a number of actions that will further improve the effectiveness of the FracFocus disclosure of chemical additives and improve transparency for regulators, operating companies, and the public. Recommendations are made for improving the accuracy and completeness of registry submissions. In addition, the Task Force believes that an independent audit to assess the accuracy and compliance of the process will be useful for all stakeholders.

Linkages Between Arctic Warming and Mid-Latitude Weather Patterns: Summary of a Workshop (2014)

April 11, 2014 Comments off

Linkages Between Arctic Warming and Mid-Latitude Weather Patterns: Summary of a Workshop (2014)
Source: National Research Council

The Arctic has been undergoing significant changes in recent years. Average temperatures are rising twice as fast as they are elsewhere in the world. The extent and thickness of sea ice is rapidly declining. Such changes may have an impact on atmospheric conditions outside the region. Several hypotheses for how Arctic warming may be influencing mid-latitude weather patterns have been proposed recently. For example, Arctic warming could lead to a weakened jet stream resulting in more persistent weather patterns in the mid-latitudes. Or Arctic sea ice loss could lead to an increase of snow on high-latitude land, which in turn impacts the jet stream resulting in cold Eurasian and North American winters. These and other potential connections between a warming Arctic and mid-latitude weather are the subject of active research.

Linkages Between Arctic Warming and Mid-Latitude Weather Patterns is the summary of a workshop convened in September 2013 by the National Research Council to review our current understanding and to discuss research needed to better understand proposed linkages. A diverse array of experts examined linkages between a warming Arctic and mid-latitude weather patterns. The workshop included presentations from leading researchers representing a range of views on this topic. The workshop was organized to allow participants to take a global perspective and consider the influence of the Arctic in the context of forcing from other components of the climate system, such as changes in the tropics, ocean circulation, and mid-latitude sea surface temperature. This report discusses our current understanding of the mechanisms that link declines in Arctic sea ice cover, loss of high-latitude snow cover, changes in Arctic-region energy fluxes, atmospheric circulation patterns, and the occurrence of extreme weather events; possible implications of more severe loss of summer Arctic sea ice upon weather patterns at lower latitudes; major gaps in our understanding, and observational and/or modeling efforts that are needed to fill those gaps; and current opportunities and limitations for using Arctic sea ice predictions to assess the risk of temperature/precipitation anomalies and extreme weather events over northern continents.

Taking on the Rising Death Toll from Traffic & Pollution

April 11, 2014 Comments off

Taking on the Rising Death Toll from Traffic & Pollution
Source: World Bank

+ The annual death toll linked to road transportation is higher than many policy makers realize, reaching at least 1.5 million people worldwide and rising, according to a new analysis.

+ The report, Transport for Health, counts the number of lives lost to road crashes and, for the first time, also quantifies deaths related to vehicle pollution.

+ It offers practical actions countries can take now to improve transportation, air quality, and road safety data.

A Few Winners, But Many More Losers: Southwestern Bird and Reptile Distributions to Shift as Climate Changes

April 9, 2014 Comments off

A Few Winners, But Many More Losers: Southwestern Bird and Reptile Distributions to Shift as Climate Changes
Source: U.S. Geological Survey

Dramatic distribution losses and a few major distribution gains are forecasted for southwestern bird and reptile species as the climate changes, according to just-published research by scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of New Mexico, and Northern Arizona University.

Overall, the study forecasted species distribution losses – that is, where species are able to live – of nearly half for all but one of the 5 reptile species they examined, including for the iconic chuckwalla. The threatened Sonoran (Morafka’s) desert tortoise, however, is projected to experience little to no habitat losses from climate change.

Breeding bird ranges exhibited greater expansions and contractions than did reptile species. For example, black-throated sparrows and gray vireos are projected to experience major gains in breeding habitat, but pygmy nuthatches, sage thrashers and Williamson sapsuckers are forecasted to experience large losses in breeding habitat, in some cases by as much as 80 percent. Thus, these three species might be expected to experience large future population declines.

The iconic pinyon jay is expected to experience from one-fourth to one-third loss in breeding habitat in the future, as its welfare is tied to declining pinyon pine habitat.

CRS — Changes in the Arctic: Background and Issues for Congress (updated)

April 8, 2014 Comments off

Changes in the Arctic: Background and Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via University of North Texas Digital Library)

The diminishment of Arctic sea ice has led to increased human activities in the Arctic, and has heightened interest in, and concerns about, the region’s future. The United States, by virtue of Alaska, is an Arctic country and has substantial interests in the region. On May 10, 2013, the Obama Administration released a national strategy document for the Arctic region. On January 30, 2014, the Obama Administration released an implementation plan for this strategy.

Record low extents of Arctic sea ice over the past decade have focused scientific and policy attention on links to global climate change and projected ice-free seasons in the Arctic within decades. These changes have potential consequences for weather in the United States, access to mineral and biological resources in the Arctic, the economies and cultures of peoples in the region, and national security.

CRS — EPA and the Army Corps’ Proposed Rule to Define “Waters of the United States”

April 8, 2014 Comments off

EPA and the Army Corps’ Proposed Rule to Define “Waters of the United States” (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

On March 25, 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) jointly proposed a rule defining the scope of waters protected under the Clean Water Act (CWA). The proposed rule would revise regulations that have been in place for more than 25 years. Revisions are proposed in light of Supreme Court rulings in 2001 and 2006 that interpreted the regulatory scope of the CWA more narrowly than previously, but created uncertainty about the precise effect of the Court’s decisions.

In April 2011, EPA and the Corps proposed guidance on policies for determining CWA jurisdiction to replace guidance previously issued in 2003 and 2008; all were intended to lessen confusion over the Court’s rulings. The 2011 proposed guidance was extremely controversial, with some groups contending that it represented a massive federal overreach beyond the agencies’ statutory authority. Most environmental advocacy groups welcomed the proposed guidance, although some would have preferred a stronger document. The 2014 proposed rule would replace the existing 2003 and 2008 guidance, which remains in effect because the 2011 proposed guidance was not finalized.

According to the agencies, the proposed rule would revise the existing regulatory definition of “waters of the United States” consistent with legal rulings—especially the Supreme Court cases—and science concerning the interconnectedness of tributaries, wetlands, and other waters to downstream waters and effects of these connections on the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of downstream waters. Waters that are “jurisdictional” are subject to the multiple regulatory requirements of the CWA: standards, discharge limitations, permits, and enforcement. Non-jurisdictional waters, in contrast, do not have the federal legal protection of those requirements.

This report describes the March 25 proposed rule and includes a table comparing the existing regulatory language that defines “waters of the United States” with that in the proposal. The proposed rule is particularly focused on clarifying the regulatory status of waters located in isolated places in a landscape, the types of waters with ambiguous jurisdictional status following the Supreme Court’s ruling. The proposal does not modify some categories of waters that currently are jurisdictional by rule (traditional navigable waters, interstate waters and wetlands, the territorial seas, and impoundments). Changes proposed in the proposed rule would increase the asserted geographic scope of CWA jurisdiction, in part as a result of the agencies’ expressly declaring some types of waters categorically jurisdictional (such as all waters adjacent to a jurisdictional water), and also by application of new definitions, which give larger regulatory context to some types of waters, such as tributaries. The proposal does not identify specific waters—particular streams or ponds—that would be jurisdictional as a result of the rule.

USGS — New Utah Maps and Road Provider

April 3, 2014 Comments off

New Utah Maps and Road Provider
Source: U.S. Geological Survey

Newly released US Topo maps for Utah now feature a new commercial road data provider. The latest highway, road and street data from HERE has been added to the 1,476 revised US Topo quadrangles for the state.

The new maps also include Public Land Survey System (PLSS). These data are added to the growing list of states west of the Mississippi River. PLSS is a way of subdividing and describing land in the United States. All lands in the public domain are subject to subdivision by this rectangular system of surveys, which is regulated by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Other selected states will begin getting PLSS map data during the next respective revision cycle.

The new design for US Topo maps improves readability of maps for online and printed use, while retaining the look and feel of the traditional USGS topographic map. Map symbols are easy to read when the digital aerial photograph layer imagery is turned on.

Innovative Mobility Carsharing Outlook: Carsharing Market Overview, Analysis, and Trends

April 2, 2014 Comments off

Innovative Mobility Carsharing Outlook: Carsharing Market Overview, Analysis, and Trends
Source: University of California-Berkeley (Transportation Sustainability Research Center)

North American Carsharing:
· As of January 1, 2013, there were 46 active programs in North America with 1,033,564 members sharing 15,603 vehicles.
· As of January 1,2013, 20 Canadian operators claimed 141,351 members and shared 3,432 vehicles. In the United States, 891,953 members shared 12,131 vehicles among 25 operators. In Mexico, 620 members shared 40 vehicles among one operator.
· Between January 2012 and January 2013, carsharing membership grew 24.1% in the United States and 53.4% in Canada. Between January 2012 and January 2013, carsharing fleets grew 23.6% in the United States and 35.9% in Canada.
· As of January 1, 2013, U.S. member-vehicle ratios were 73:1, representing a 0.4% increase between January 2012 and January 2013. In Canada, the ratio was 41:1, representing a 12.9% increase over the same period.

Worldwide Carsharing:
· As of October 2012, carsharing was operating in 27 countries and 5 continents, accounting for an estimated 1,788,000 members sharing over 43,550 vehicles.
· North America remains the largest carsharing region, with Europe and North America accounting for 38.7% and 50.8% of worldwide carsharing membership, respectively.
· Europe accounts for the majority of fleets deployed in 2012: 47.0% in contrast to 36.2% in North America.
· As of October 2012, one-way carsharing was operating in seven countries worldwide including (Austria, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States).

Personal Vehicle Sharing
· As of October 2012, there were 33 personal vehicle sharing operators worldwide, with 10 active or in pilot phase, three planned, and four defunct in North America.

Increasing homogeneity in global food supplies and the implications for food security

April 1, 2014 Comments off

Increasing homogeneity in global food supplies and the implications for food security
SOurce: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

The narrowing of diversity in crop species contributing to the world’s food supplies has been considered a potential threat to food security. However, changes in this diversity have not been quantified globally. We assess trends over the past 50 y in the richness, abundance, and composition of crop species in national food supplies worldwide. Over this period, national per capita food supplies expanded in total quantities of food calories, protein, fat, and weight, with increased proportions of those quantities sourcing from energy-dense foods. At the same time the number of measured crop commodities contributing to national food supplies increased, the relative contribution of these commodities within these supplies became more even, and the dominance of the most significant commodities decreased. As a consequence, national food supplies worldwide became more similar in composition, correlated particularly with an increased supply of a number of globally important cereal and oil crops, and a decline of other cereal, oil, and starchy root species. The increase in homogeneity worldwide portends the establishment of a global standard food supply, which is relatively species-rich in regard to measured crops at the national level, but species-poor globally. These changes in food supplies heighten interdependence among countries in regard to availability and access to these food sources and the genetic resources supporting their production, and give further urgency to nutrition development priorities aimed at bolstering food security.

IPCC Report: A changing climate creates pervasive risks but opportunities exist for effective responses; Responses will face challenges with high warming of the climate

March 31, 2014 Comments off

IPCC Report: A changing climate creates pervasive risks but opportunities exist for effective responses; Responses will face challenges with high warming of the climate (PDF)
Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a report today that says the effects of climate change are already occurring on all continents and across the oceans. The world, in many cases, is ill-prepared for risks from a changing climate. The report also concludes that there are opportunities to respond to such risks, though the risks will be difficult to manage with high levels of warming.

The report, titled Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, from Working Group II of the IPCC, details the impacts of climate change to date, the future risks from a changing climate, and the opportunities for effective action to reduce risks. A total of 309 coordinating lead authors, lead authors, and review editors, drawn from 70 countries, were selected to produce the report. They enlisted the help of 436 contributing authors, and a total of 1,729 expert and government reviewers.

The report concludes that responding to climate change involves making choices about risks in a changing world. The nature of the risks of climate change is increasingly clear, though climate change will also continue to produce surprises. The report identifies vulnerable people, industries, and ecosystems around the world. It finds that risk from a changing climate comes from vulnerability (lack of preparedness) and exposure (people or assets in harm’s way) overlapping with hazards (triggering climate events or trends). Each of these three components can be a target for smart actions to decrease risk.

+ Summary and Full Report

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