Working to keep the West special

This is our latest monthly newsletter with information about news and developments on climate disruption and its impacts and on climate action in the West. You can sign up for our newsletter, which is sent out by email, by sending your own email to admin@rockymountainclimate.org. To see more, previous newsletters, continue clicking on "Next" on the bottom right of this and subsequent pages.

 
 

March 2015

Featured Item
City of Fort Collins Climate Action Plan Update

The City of Fort Collins, Colorado, long a leader in local government climate policies, on March 3 took the next step with unanimous City Council approval of a framework of actions to meet ambitious goals to achieve community-wide reduction of heat-trapping emissions of:

  • 20% below 2005 levels by 2020;
  • 80% below 2005 levels by 2030; and
  • 100% below 2005 levels by 2050 (carbon neutral).

By contrast, in the absence of local action, heat-trapping pollutants are projected to increase 16% by 2030 and 39% by 2050, above 2005 levels, according to an emissions inventory and forecast.

For a detailed discussion of the City’s previous efforts and the new framework, see the council’s background document here.

To RMCO, as striking and encouraging as the framework’s all-out commitment to local climate action is the strong local support for the action, demonstrated by public support in community meetings and then by the unanimous council vote. And this is in a city with a balanced political composition.

The council action caps a thorough process starting with a 23-member multi-interest Citizens Advisory Committee convened to provide ideas, input, and guidance. A core analytical team, led by the city and supported by Brendle Group and Rocky Mountain Institute, then developed a framework to assess the implications of strategies to achieve the goals. In addition, Platte River Power Authority, which supplies power to Fort Collins and three other northern Colorado cities, analyzed electricity supply scenarios that would reduce system-wide emissions by 80% by 2030.

Sectors examined in the framework include building energy efficiency, advanced mobility, energy supply and delivery, and waste reduction and materials regeneration. Preliminary cost/benefit analyses suggest that the cumulative costs associated with actions between 2015 and 2020 may be $600M, while cumulative savings in that same period may be $300M. Longer-term, there could be net savings to be realized community-wide, potentially on the order of $2-6 billion by 2050.

See coverage in the Fort Collins Coloradoan from March 4, Fort Collins boosts goals for cutting greenhouse gases.

News about RMCO and Partners  

News about RMCO Partners

New Belgium Brewing Company is one of 24 nationwide beer companies (15 from the West) calling for climate action and adopting emissions reduction strategies of their own. Beer companies join call for action on climate change, CERES news release, March 10, 2015.

The City of Aspen in December 2014 released a climate impacts vulnerability assessment prepared by the Aspen Global Change Institute to guide the city’s resiliency planning effort, otherwise known as the Plan for Our Future Aspen, which is currently underway. See details in our Resource of the Month below.

News about Climate Disruption

Drought

U.S. 'megadroughts' are likely later this century, study finds, Associated Press, February 13, 2015. In a Science Advances article published February 12, researchers find that unprecedented drought conditions — the worst in more than 1,000 years — are likely to come to the Southwest and Central Plains after 2050 in both moderate and high future emissions scenarios. Their high-emissions projections include a more than 80 percent chance that much of the central and western United States will have a 35-year-or-longer megadrought, driven by reduced precipitation and hotter temperatures that increase evaporation and dry out the soil.

Record California drought linked to climate change, U.S. News and World Report, March 2, 2015. A study by Stanford University researchers says the record-setting drought plaguing California will likely be the norm in the future, based on records dating from the 1890s that show when dry years overlapped with higher-than-normal temperatures, severe drought became twice as likely, and that occurrence of drought years has been greater in the past two decades than in the preceding century. Human emissions are isolated as the cause.

Water

As the river runs dry: The Southwest's water crisis, Arizona Republic, February 27, 2015. The newspaper is running a year-long series of in-depth stories examining “the twin stresses of climate change and population growth, and ways to ensure reliable water for the next generation of Southwesterners.” This first part overviews the ramifications of demand for Colorado River system water now colliding headlong with limits of supply. Part Two describes an ongoing battle between urban and rural water users for limited supplies.

Nature’s mountain snowpack “reservoir” still lacking; third manual survey confirms shrinking water content and State Water Project deliveries increased slightly, California Department of Water Resources news releases, March 3, 2015. Snowpack continues to shrink with a statewide average of 19 percent, second lowest on record for March. But December and early February storms increase storage enough to raise State Water Project deliveries from 15 to 20 percent of total capacity. Meanwhile, residents are falling far short of Governor Brown’s call for a 20 percent reduction in water use.

Low snowpack threatens Eastern Oregon’s summer, East Oregonian, March 3, 2015. While eastern Oregon has seen close to normal precipitation this winter, abnormally hot temperatures mean much of it fell as rain and snowpack is less than 50 percent of normal in many places – bad news for refilling reservoirs.

Water year looks grim; snowpack already melting, Salt Lake Tribune, March 4, 2015. Following a February with temperatures 10 to 20 degrees above normal, Utah’s snowpack started melting early, and now ranges from 60 to 80 percent of normal. See also Salt Lake City’s winter ranks as warmest, least snowy on record, Salt Lake Tribune, March 3, 2015.

Outlook improves for water throughout Colorado, Denver Post, March 4, 2015. Recent storms make the headwaters state of Colorado a bright spot in the West, boosting statewide snowpack measurements to 91 percent of average from January readings of 45 percent.

Wildfire

Early start to wildfire season, High Country News, February 20, 2015. More evidence of extended wildfire seasons in the West crops up in California and Utah.

Wildlife

Elk collared to learn connection to beetle-killed forests, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, February 11, 2015. Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks collars 45 elk for a four-year study on whether elk avoid areas of beetle-killed trees. Ranchers on adjacent lands say yes.

Recreation and Tourism

Snowmobiles restricted in melting Yellowstone park, Jackson Hole Daily, February 19, 2015. Warm temperatures and low snowpack cause closures to snowmobiles and other metal-tracked vehicles in the popular West Yellowstone to Old Faithful routes.

Drought cancels World Cup ski competition at Squaw Valley, San Francisco Chronicle, February 17, 2015. While the ski area is open to the public, unlike some smaller low-elevation California ski areas that have simply closed, there is not enough snow for major competitions.

Another B.C. ski resort halts operations due to lack of snow, Calgary Herald, February 8, 2015, and Drought in California sends skiers to Idaho, Washington, Associated Press, February 7, 2015. In Canada, several lower elevation coastal ski areas have been forced to close, and in California, Nordic centers are closing for lack of ability to make snow.

EPA chief urges climate action on Colorado slopes at Aspen X Games, Denver Post, January 22, 2015. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy joins with Aspen Skiing Co. chief Mike Kaplan to warn that shorter winters and poor snow will hurt business. "Aspen could resemble Amarillo by 2100," McCarthy said, according to her prepared remarks.

Heat

Warming could hit rates unseen in 1,000 years, Climate Central, March 9, 2015. Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, using 40-year intervals to strip away year-to-year noise, show the trend over the past 40 years to be about 0.4°F of temperature increase per decade. Using latest-generation models, they project by 2020 the rate of increase should eclipse historical bounds of the past 1,000 to 2,000 years — and under current trends keep rising to 0.7°F per decade and stay that high until at least 2100. Regional rates of change in Europe, North America and the Arctic are projected to be higher than the global average.

News about Climate Action 

Regional, State, and Local Climate Policies

Colorado House kills Senate bill to rollback renewable energy standard, Denver Post, March 3, 2015. The partisan divide on clean energy policy is on display in Colorado as the majority party in the House turns back a bill passed by the majority party in the Senate to roll back the state renewable energy standard from 30 percent to 15 percent for investor-owned utilities and from 20 percent to 15 percent for rural electricity associations.

Governor signs bill allowing debate on science standards for Wyoming students, Casper Star-Tribune, March 3, 2015. The state legislature reverses course on whether the State Board of Education can spend state funds to consider the adoption of national Next Generation Science Standards, which include reference to human-caused climate disruption, as well as other K-12 science standards.

Climate Communication

'Merchants of Doubt' explores work of climate change deniers, National Public Radio, March 5, 2015. An interview with director Robert Kenner about his documentary, inspired by a book of the same name, which examines the work of climate change skeptics and their campaigns to sway public opinion.

Clean Energy

Here’s how much faster wind and solar are growing than fossil fuels, Washington Post, March 9, 2015. The most recent monthly report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows that the amount of new electricity generated from wind and solar grew more than 12 times as much as new fossil fuel sources during 2014. Solar more than doubled, and wind outgrew all other sources.

Utilities wage campaign against rooftop solar, Washington Post, March 7, 2015. Electric utilities around the country are engaged in making distributed rooftop solar substantially more expensive through additional charges, in order to drive renewable energy consumers towards utility-generated solar thermal. After failing to do so in state legislatures, utilities are turning to industry-friendly state public utility commissions, with successes in Arizona and Wisconsin and now possibly in New Mexico.

National Climate Policies

Utah assails Obama's Clean Power Plan, Deseret News, March 1, 2015. The Utah legislature joins those of other states in resisting the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule for state plans to reduce power plant emissions.

Resource of the Month
Climate Change & Aspen -
An Update on Impacts to Guide Resiliency Planning & Stakeholder Engagement

This December 2014 report updates an initial 2006 report by the Aspen Global Change Institute for the City of Aspen, and is intended to offer ideas, observations, projections, and stakeholder perspectives that may be useful as a starting point in engaging the community on climate preparedness actions. The city government currently is in an education phase of the city’s resiliency planning effort ( known as the Plan for Our Future Aspen), with the impact assessment report being considered by the city council, other local governments, NGOs, business groups, fellow city departments, and the general public. On an interactive website, OurFutureAspen.com, people can drill down into any of the six sectors covered by the report (recreation and tourism, water, ecosystems, public health and safety, energy, and infrastructure and the built environment), and share their thoughts/concerns in an “Open City Hall” online forum. The input will help develop local indicators of resilience appropriate for the community.

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Suggestions and comments are welcome!

Stephen Saunders, RMCO president: saunders@rockymountainclimate.org
Tom Easley, RMCO director of programs: easley@rockymountainclimate.org
Bob Berwyn, RMCO director of communications: berwyn@rockymountainclimate.org
Suzanne Farver, RMCO director of outreach: farver@rockymountainclimate.org

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