Archive for the ‘environment’ Category

Climate Change Could Alter Range of Caribou and May Impact Hunters’ Access

July 30, 2014 Comments off

Climate Change Could Alter Range of Caribou and May Impact Hunters’ Access
Source: USGS (PLoS ONE)

Due to climate change, some communities in rural Alaska and the Yukon Territory of Canada may face a future with fewer caribou according to new research published by the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Alaska, Fairbanks in the recent issue of PLoS ONE. Scientists examined the future effects of fires on winter habitats of caribou herds and determined that wildfires will reduce the amount of winter habitat for caribou, thus caribou may need to shift their wintering grounds

Warming temperatures will increase the flammability of lichen-producing boreal forests, which are important winter habitat for caribou herds. Caribou serve as nutritional as well as cultural sustenance for certain communities. Caribou avoid burned areas in winter and the changes in their distribution can persist across multiple generations of hunters. Those who rely on caribou in fire-prone areas may therefore have fewer available as climate change increases the number and sizes of fires in the boreal forests.

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Tree and forest effects on air quality and human health in the United States

July 29, 2014 Comments off

Tree and forest effects on air quality and human health in the United States
Source: U.S. Forest Service

Trees remove air pollution by the interception of particulate matter on plant surfaces and the absorption of gaseous pollutants through the leaf stomata. However, the magnitude and value of the effects of trees and forests on air quality and human health across the United States remains unknown. Computer simulations with local environmental data reveal that trees and forests in the conterminous United States removed 17.4 million tonnes (t) of air pollution in 2010 (range: 9.0-23.2 million t), with human health effects valued at 6.8 billion U.S. dollars (range: $1.5-13.0 billion). This pollution removal equated to an average air quality improvement of less than one percent. Most of the pollution removal occurred in rural areas, while most of the health impacts and values were within urban areas. Health impacts included the avoidance of more than 850 incidences of human mortality and 670,000 incidences of acute respiratory symptoms.

Sea Level Rise and Nuisance Flood Frequency Changes around the United States

July 29, 2014 Comments off

Sea Level Rise and Nuisance Flood Frequency Changes around the United States (PDF)
Source: NOAA

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ( NOAA ) water level (tide) gauges have been measuring water levels around the U.S. for over a century, providing clear evidence of sea level rise relative to land (SLR rel ) around most of the continental United States and Hawaii. As SLR rel increases mean sea level (MSL), there is naturally an increase in tidal datum elevations, which are typically used to delineate inundation thresholds. Direct consequences of rising sea level against fixed elevations such as today’s built infrastructure also include increased inundation during extreme events both spatially and temporally. Not only are extreme flooding events reaching high er grounds and covering larger areas due to SLR rel , the frequency and duration of these extreme flood events are increasing.

Another consequence of SLR rel is the increase in lesser extremes such as occasional minor coastal flooding experienced during high tide. These events are becoming more noticeable and widespread along many U.S. coastal regions and are today becoming more of a nuisance . As sea levels continue to rise and with an anticipated acceleration in the rate of rise from ocean warming and land-ice melt, concern exists as to when more substantive impacts from tidal flooding of greater frequency and duration will regularly occur. Information quantifying these occurrences to inform mitigation and adaptation efforts and decision makers is not widely available.

In this report, we show that water level exceedances above the elevation threshold for “minor” coastal flooding (nuisance level ) impacts established locally by the National Weather Service (NWS) have been increasing in time. More importantly, we document that event frequencies are accelerating at many U.S. East and Gulf Coast gauges, and many other locations will soon follow regardless of whether there is an acceleration of SLR rel . Lastly, we show a regional pattern of increasingly greater event-rate acceleration as the height between MSL and a location’s nuisance flood threshold elevation decreases.

Additionality in U.S. Agricultural Conservation and Regulatory Offset Programs

July 29, 2014 Comments off

Additionality in U.S. Agricultural Conservation and Regulatory Offset Programs
Source: USDA Economic Research Service

The Federal Government spent more than $6 billion in fiscal year 2013 on voluntary conservation payment programs to encourage the adoption of a wide range of conservation practices that address multiple environmental and resource conservation goals. Conservation payments can also come from private industry, particularly in the context of an agricultural offset market established as part of a cap-and-trade system designed to reduce nutrient or greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Payments lead to improvement in environmental quality only if farmers and ranchers who receive them adopt conservation practices that would not have been adopted without the payment.

When a voluntary payment causes a change in practice(s) that leads to improved environmental quality, these changes are “additional.” For any type of voluntary payment, there is some risk that the farmers or ranchers who receive them would have adopted the required practice(s), even without the payment. This study measures additionality for a number of common conservation practices typically supported by voluntary conservation payments and examines ways to increase additionality.

An Imperative for Consumer Companies to Go Green

July 25, 2014 Comments off

An Imperative for Consumer Companies to Go Green
Source: Boston Consulting Group

Goods labeled organic, natural, ecological, and fair trade are no longer a niche in the food, personal-care, and household products sectors. These goods have entered mainstream retailers and become a large part of the market, with a broad base of consumers now purchasing them. In an otherwise stagnant industry, these “responsible consumption” (RC) products represent a major area of profitable growth.

The Boston Consulting Group has worked with market research company Information Resources Inc. to analyze point-of-sale data from nearly all retail chains in the U.S. (grocery, convenience, department, and wholesale-club stores). Not only do RC products account for 15 percent of all sales in these chains but also sales have grown about 9 percent annually in the past three years—making up 70 percent of total growth. Similar turnover and growth levels are expected across developed markets. Global surveys point to future growth as well, as most consumers intend to expand the number of categories in which they seek out RC products.

Most of this growth, however, is going not to A brands—the major product brands—but to specialty brands and to both specialty and conventional retailers. Most A-brand manufacturers, in fact, have weak or nonexistent offerings in this area. Continued inaction may cost A brands one-third of their current consumers over the next few years.

While A brands bring major scale and distribution advantages to the table, consumers are less likely to trust them when it comes to RC products. To build trust while leveraging these advantages, A brands can either acquire a specialty brand and grant it considerable autonomy or build an RC brand internally with external validation. A third option is to embrace “responsible” criteria for the entire A brand. Any of these options is preferable to maintaining a wait-and-see approach.

Land, irrigation water, greenhouse gas, and reactive nitrogen burdens of meat, eggs, and dairy production in the United States

July 23, 2014 Comments off

Land, irrigation water, greenhouse gas, and reactive nitrogen burdens of meat, eggs, and dairy production in the United States
Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Livestock-based food production is an important and pervasive way humans impact the environment. It causes about one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, and is the key land user and source of water pollution by nutrient overabundance. It also competes with biodiversity, and promotes species extinctions. Empowering consumers to make choices that mitigate some of these impacts through devising and disseminating numerically sound information is thus a key socioenvironmental priority. Unfortunately, currently available knowledge is incomplete and hampered by reliance on divergent methodologies that afford no general comparison of relative impacts of animal-based products. To overcome these hurdles, we introduce a methodology that facilitates such a comparison. We show that minimizing beef consumption mitigates the environmental costs of diet most effectively.

Proximity to Coast Is Linked to Climate Change Belief

July 23, 2014 Comments off

Proximity to Coast Is Linked to Climate Change Belief
Source: PLoS ONE

Psychologists have examined the many psychological barriers to both climate change belief and concern. One barrier is the belief that climate change is too uncertain, and likely to happen in distant places and times, to people unlike oneself. Related to this perceived psychological distance of climate change, studies have shown that direct experience of the effects of climate change increases climate change concern. The present study examined the relationship between physical proximity to the coastline and climate change belief, as proximity may be related to experiencing or anticipating the effects of climate change such as sea-level rise. We show, in a national probability sample of 5,815 New Zealanders, that people living in closer proximity to the shoreline expressed greater belief that climate change is real and greater support for government regulation of carbon emissions. This proximity effect held when adjusting for height above sea level and regional poverty. The model also included individual differences in respondents’ sex, age, education, political orientation, and wealth. The results indicate that physical place plays a role in the psychological acceptance of climate change, perhaps because the effects of climate change become more concrete and local.

State of the World’s Forests 2014

July 23, 2014 Comments off

State of the World’s Forests 2014
Source: Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations

Across the world, forests, trees on farms, and agroforestry systems play a crucial role in the livelihoods of rural people by providing employment, energy, nutritious foods and a wide range of other goods and ecosystem services. They have tremendous potential to contribute to sustainable development and to a greener economy. Yet, clear evidence of this has been lacking. This evidence is critical to inform policies on forest management and use, and to ensure that the benefits from forests are recognized in the post-2015 development agenda, not only with respect to the environment, but also for their contributions to broader social issues. This edition of State of the World’s Forests addresses this knowledge gap by systematically gathering and analysing available data on forests’ contributions to people’s livelihoods, food, health, shelter and energy needs. Crucially, the report also suggests how information might be improved and policies adjusted, so that the socioeconomic benefits from forests can be enhanced in the future.

Climate data from air, land, sea and ice in 2013 reflect trends of a warming planet

July 17, 2014 Comments off

Climate data from air, land, sea and ice in 2013 reflect trends of a warming planet
Source: NOAA

In 2013, the vast majority of worldwide climate indicators—greenhouse gases, sea levels, global temperatures, etc.—continued to reflect trends of a warmer planet, according to the indicators assessed in the State of the Climate in 2013 report, released online today by the American Meteorological Society.

Scientists from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., served as the lead editors of the report, which was compiled by 425 scientists from 57 countries around the world (highlights, visuals, full report). It provides a detailed update on global climate indicators, notable weather events, and other data collected by environmental monitoring stations and instruments on air, land, sea, and ice.

“These findings reinforce what scientists for decades have observed: that our planet is becoming a warmer place,” said NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan, Ph.D. “This report provides the foundational information we need to develop tools and services for communities, business, and nations to prepare for, and build resilience to, the impacts of climate change.”

The report uses dozens of climate indicators to track patterns, changes, and trends of the global climate system, including greenhouse gases; temperatures throughout the atmosphere, ocean, and land; cloud cover; sea level; ocean salinity; sea ice extent; and snow cover. These indicators often reflect many thousands of measurements from multiple independent datasets. The report also details cases of unusual and extreme regional events, such as Super Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated portions of Southeast Asia in November 2013.

New From the GAO

July 16, 2014 Comments off

New GAO Reports and Testimonies
Source: Government Accountability Office


1. Medicaid: Assessment of Variation among States in Per-Enrollee Spending. GAO-14-456, June 16.
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2. Special Education: Additional Federal Actions Could Help Address Unique Challenges of Educating Children in Nursing Homes. GAO-14-585, July 16.
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3. Coastal Zone Management: Opportunities Exist for NOAA to Enhance Its Use of Performance Information. GAO-14-592, July 16.
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4. Supplemental Security Income: Wages Reported for Recipients Show Indications of Possible SSN Misuse. GAO-14-597, July 16.
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1. U.S. Launch Enterprise: Acquisition Best Practices Can Benefit Future Efforts, by Cristina Chaplain, director, acquisition and sourcing management, before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Senate Committee on Armed Services. GAO-14-776T, July 16.

2. High-Containment Laboratories: Recent Incidents of Biosafety Lapses, by Nancy Kingsbury, Ph.D., managing director, applied research and methods, before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, House Committee on Energy and Commerce. GAO-14-785T, July 16.
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CEOs and Consumers Disconnected on Sustainable Products and Services, Says Accenture, Havas Media report

July 16, 2014 Comments off

CEOs and Consumers Disconnected on Sustainable Products and Services, Says Accenture, Havas Media report
Source: Accenture

Only a third of consumers regularly consider sustainability in their purchasing decisions, according to a global study by Accenture (ACN: NYSE) and Havas Media RE:PURPOSE, which reveals the reasons for the disconnect between business and consumer expectations of sustainable products and services.

The report, “From Marketing to Mattering”, is based on a survey of 30,000 consumers in 20 countries. The study was commissioned in response and as a companion to the UN Global Compact-Accenture CEO Study on Sustainability, published in 2013, in which two thirds of CEOs admitted that business is not doing enough to address sustainability challenges, similar to the 73 percent of consumers in the latest research that say businesses are failing to take care of the planet and society.

The two studies reveal that, although CEOs see engagement with consumers as the most important single factor motivating them to accelerate progress on sustainability, they are often out of step with what motivates consumers to buy sustainable products and services. 81 percent of CEOs believe that their company’s reputation for sustainability is important to consumers, but the new research shows that less than one-quarter (23 percent) of consumers report that they regularly seek information on the sustainability performance of the brands whose products they purchase.

As result of the disconnect on the importance of a company’s sustainable reputation, only 32 percent of consumers say they ‘often’ or ‘always’ consider sustainability in their purchasing decisions.

Public Support for Conserving Bird Species Runs Counter to Climate Change Impacts on Their Distributions

July 14, 2014 Comments off

Public Support for Conserving Bird Species Runs Counter to Climate Change Impacts on Their Distributions
Source: PLoS ONE

There is increasing evidence that global climate change will alter the spatiotemporal occurrences and abundances of many species at continental scales. This will have implications for efficient conservation of biodiversity. We investigate if the general public in Denmark are willing to pay for the preservation of birds potentially immigrating and establishing breeding populations due to climate change to the same extent that they are for native species populations currently breeding in Denmark, but potentially emigrating due to climate change. We find that Danish citizens are willing to pay much more for the conservation of birds currently native to Denmark, than for bird species moving into the country – even when they are informed about the potential range shifts associated with climate change. The only exception is when immigrating species populations are under pressure at European level. Furthermore, people believing climate change to be man-made and people more knowledgeable about birds tended to have higher WTP for conservation of native species, relative to other people, whereas their preferences for conserving immigrant species generally resembled those of other people. Conservation investments rely heavily on public funding and hence on public support. Our results suggest that cross-country coordination of conservation efforts under climate change will be challenging in terms of achieving an appropriate balance between cost-effectiveness in adaptation and the concerns of a general public who seem mostly worried about protecting currently-native species.

The Societal Costs and Benefits of Commuter Bicycling: Simulating the Effects of Specific Policies Using System Dynamics Modeling

July 14, 2014 Comments off

The Societal Costs and Benefits of Commuter Bicycling: Simulating the Effects of Specific Policies Using System Dynamics Modeling
Source: Environmental Health Perspectives

Shifting to active modes of transport in the trip to work can achieve substantial co-benefits for health, social equity, and climate change mitigation. Previous integrated modeling of transport scenarios has assumed active transport mode share and has been unable to incorporate acknowledged system feedbacks.

We compared the effects of policies to increase bicycle commuting in a car-dominated city and explored the role of participatory modeling to support transport planning in the face of complexity.

We used system dynamics modeling (SDM) to compare realistic policies, incorporating feedback effects, nonlinear relationships, and time delays between variables. We developed a system dynamics model of commuter bicycling through interviews and workshops with policy, community, and academic stakeholders. We incorporated best available evidence to simulate five policy scenarios over the next 40 years in Auckland, New Zealand. Injury, physical activity, fuel costs, air pollution, and carbon emissions outcomes were simulated.

Using the simulation model, we demonstrated the kinds of policies that would likely be needed to change a historical pattern of decline in cycling into a pattern of growth that would meet policy goals. Our model projections suggest that transforming urban roads over the next 40 years, using best practice physical separation on main roads and bicycle-friendly speed reduction on local streets, would yield benefits 10–25 times greater than costs.

To our knowledge, this is the first integrated simulation model of future specific bicycling policies. Our projections provide practical evidence that may be used by health and transport policy makers to optimize the benefits of transport bicycling while minimizing negative consequences in a cost-effective manner. The modeling process enhanced understanding by a range of stakeholders of cycling as a complex system. Participatory SDM can be a helpful method for integrating health and environmental outcomes in transport and urban planning.

Outdoor Particulate Matter Exposure and Lung Cancer: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

July 14, 2014 Comments off

Outdoor Particulate Matter Exposure and Lung Cancer: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
Source: Environmental Health Perspectives

Particulate matter (PM) in outdoor air pollution was recently designated a Group I carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). This determination was based on the evidence regarding the relationship of PM2.5 and PM10 to lung cancer risk; however, the IARC evaluation did not include a quantitative summary of the evidence.

To provide a systematic review and quantitative summary of the evidence regarding the relationship between PM and lung cancer.

We conducted meta-analyses of studies examining the relationship of exposure to PM2.5 and PM10 with lung cancer incidence and mortality. In total, 18 studies met inclusion criteria and provided the information necessary to estimate the change in lung cancer risk per 10-μg/m3 increase in exposure to PM. We used random effects analyses to allow between study variability to contribute to meta-estimates.

The meta-relative risk (95% CI) for lung cancer associated with PM2.5 was 1.09 (95% CI: 1.04, 1.14). The meta-relative risk of lung cancer associated with PM10 was similar, but less precise: 1.08 (95% CI: 1.00, 1.17). Estimates were robust to restriction to studies that considered potential confounders, as well as sub-analyses by exposure assessment method. Analyses by smoking status showed that lung cancer risk associated with PM2.5 was greatest for former smokers, 1.44 (95% CI: 1.04, 1.22) followed by never smokers, 1.18 (95% CI: 1.00, 1.39), and then current smokers, 1.06 (95% CI: 0.97, 1.15). In addition, meta-estimates for adenocarcinoma associated with PM2.5 and PM10 were 1.40 (95% CI: 1.07, 1.83) and 1.29 (95% CI: 1.02, 1.63), respectively.

The results of these analyses, and the decision of the IARC working group to classify PM and outdoor air pollution as carcinogenic (Group 1), further justify efforts to reduce exposures to air pollutants that can arise from many sources.

Summer Fun: How Much Hotter Will Your City Be?

July 11, 2014 Comments off

Summer Fun: How Much Hotter Will Your City Be?
Source: Climate Central

If it feels hot to you now in the dog days of this summer, imagine a time when summertime Boston starts feeling like Miami and even Montana sizzles.

Thanks to climate change, that day is coming by the end of the century, making it harder to avoid simmering temperatures.

Summers in most of the U.S. are already warmer than they were in the 1970s. And climate models tell us that summers are going to keep getting hotter as greenhouse gas emissions continue. What will this warming feel like? Our new analysis of future summers illustrates just how dramatic warming is going to be by the end of this century if current emissions trends continue unabated.

USGS Release: Large Rivers in U.S. are Becoming Less Acidic

July 8, 2014 Comments off

USGS Release: Large Rivers in U.S. are Becoming Less Acidic
Source: USGS (Science for the Total Environment)

Several large rivers in the U.S. are less acidic now, due to decreasing acidic inputs, such as industrial waste, acid mine drainage, and atmospheric deposition.

A USGS study showed that alkalinity, a measurement of a river’s capacity to neutralize acid inputs, has increased over the past 65 years in 14 of the 23 rivers assessed in the U.S.

Reduced acidity levels were especially common in rivers in the Northeast, such as the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers; the Midwest, such as the Illinois and Ohio Rivers; and the Missouri River in the Great Plains.

“Long-term monitoring of streamflow and water-quality is essential to track how changes in climate and land use are impacting rivers and how riverine inputs may impact valuable commercial and recreational fisheries in estuaries across the Nation,” said William Werkheiser, associate director for water. “Increasing alkalinity levels in large rivers across the country since 1945 is a positive trend.”

Consequences of Climate Change Damages for Economic Growth: A Dynamic Quantitative Assessment

July 8, 2014 Comments off

Consequences of Climate Change Damages for Economic Growth: A Dynamic Quantitative Assessment
Source: OECD

This report focuses on the effects of climate change impacts on economic growth. Simulations with the OECD’s dynamic global general equilibrium model ENV-Linkages assess the consequences of a selected number of climate change impacts in the various world regions at the macroeconomic and sectoral level. This is complemented with an assessment of very long-run implications, using the AD-RICE model. The analysis finds that the effect of climate change impacts on annual global GDP is projected to increase over time, leading to a global GDP loss of 0.7% to 2.5% by 2060 for the most likely equilibrium climate sensitivity range. Underlying these annual global GDP losses are much larger sectoral and regional variations. Agricultural impacts dominate in most regions, while damages from sea level rise gradually become more important. Negative economic consequences are especially large in South and South-East Asia whereas other regions will be less affected and, in some cases, benefit thanks to adjustments from international trade. Emissions to 2060 will have important consequences in later decades and centuries. Simulations with the AD-RICE model suggest that if emissions continue to grow after 2060, annual damages of climate change could reach 1.5%-4.8% of GDP by the end of the century. Some impacts and risks from climate change have not been quantified in this study, including extreme weather events, water stress and large-scale disruptions. These will potentially have large economic consequences, and on balance the costs of inaction presented here likely underestimate the full costs of climate change impacts. More research is needed to assess them as well as the various uncertainties and risks involved. However, this should not delay policy action, but rather induce policy frameworks that are able to deal with new information and with the fact that by their nature some uncertainties and risks will never be resolved.

Sustainability goes mainstream: Insights into investor views

July 4, 2014 Comments off

Sustainability goes mainstream: Insights into investor views
Source: PricewaterhouseCoopers

What do investors think about sustainability issues? Do these issues factor into investment strategies and practices? Will they in the future?

Four in five investors responding to our survey said they considered these concepts in one or more investment contexts in the past year. And about 85% expect to consider them three years from now. But investors are not happy with corporate reporting about sustainability—they’re still not getting the information they’re looking for. Investors want to be a part of the sustainability dialogue. And they want direct engagement with the companies in which they invest.

Nonlinear permanent migration response to climatic variations but minimal response to disasters

July 3, 2014 Comments off

Nonlinear permanent migration response to climatic variations but minimal response to disasters
Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

We present a microlevel study to simultaneously investigate the effects of variations in temperature and precipitation along with sudden natural disasters to infer their relative influence on migration that is likely permanent. The study is made possible by the availability of household panel data from Indonesia with an exceptional tracking rate combined with frequent occurrence of natural disasters and significant climatic variations, thus providing a quasi-experiment to examine the influence of environment on migration. Using data on 7,185 households followed over 15 y, we analyze whole-household, province-to-province migration, which allows us to understand the effects of environmental factors on permanent moves that may differ from temporary migration. The results suggest that permanent migration is influenced by climatic variations, whereas episodic disasters tend to have much smaller or no impact on such migration. In particular, temperature has a nonlinear effect on migration such that above 25 °C, a rise in temperature is related to an increase in outmigration, potentially through its impact on economic conditions. We use these results to estimate the impact of projected temperature increases on future permanent migration. Though precipitation also has a similar nonlinear effect on migration, the effect is smaller than that of temperature, underscoring the importance of using an expanded set of climatic factors as predictors of migration. These findings on the minimal influence of natural disasters and precipitation on permanent moves supplement previous findings on the significant role of these variables in promoting temporary migration.

See: With climate change, heat more than natural disasters will drive people away (EurekAlert!)

New From the GAO

July 2, 2014 Comments off

New GAO Reports
Source: Government Accountability Office

1. Climate Change Adaptation: DOD Can Improve Infrastructure Planning and Processes to Better Account for Potential Impacts. GAO-14-446, May 30.
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2. Prescription Drugs: Comparison of DOD, Medicaid, and Medicare Part D Retail Reimbursement Prices. GAO-14-578, June 30.
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3. Nuclear Security: NNSA Should Establish a Clear Vision and Path Forward for Its Security Program. GAO-14-208,May 30.
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