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 firstname.lastname@example.org. To see more, previous newsletters, continue clicking on "Next" on the bottom right of this and subsequent pages.
Coloradans are struggling to rebuild lives and communities torn apart by the floods caused by extreme rainfall on September 11-13. With total damage estimates still coming in, inevitably people want to know just how unusual this flood was, what caused it, and to what extent climate change contributed to it. Climate researchers from the CIRES Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado, the NOAA ESRL Physical Science Division, and the CSU Colorado Climate Center have responded with a preliminary assessment of the weather and climate context of the event. To summarize: All-time record or near-record precipitation fell. Boulder’s primary weather station set new records for 1-day (9.08”), 2-day (11.52”), and 7-day (16.9”) totals since 1893; the previous 1-day record was 4.8” and the previous 1-month record was 9.59”. In some drainages the peak flows appear (some gages were destroyed) to have been higher than previous record peak discharges. It was certainly a rare event, and in some respects unprecedented, yet there were similar multi-day events along the Front Range in 1969, 1965, and 1938 (which had a nearly identical footprint at the same time of year). “The most plausible influence of climate change: Slightly more vapor being made available for precipitation.” But whether there is such an individual link, as noted scientist Kevin Trenberth from the National Center for Atmospheric Research has previously written, actually "is the wrong question. The answer is that all weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be." See also Colorado races to restore flood-damaged routes before winter, Denver Post, September 17, 2013, and the Atlantic’s September 16 striking photo journal, Historic flooding across Colorado.
News about RMCO and Partners
News about RMCO
The Colorado Climate Network of local governments and allied organizations, which is administered by RMCO, is making plans for its fourth annual conference, to be held December 12, 2013, at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. This year’s theme is paths to emissions reductions.
RMCO president Stephen Saunders comments on the release of the IPCC Working Group I Summary for Policymakers (see Resource of the Month below), “The report shows how much it matters whether we limit future emissions or let them keep going up. For late in the century, the average projection with very low emissions is that the interior West would be 1 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit hotter. With very high emissions, we would be 7 to 9 degrees hotter. That’s a huge difference, and the difference in extreme weather events likely would be even larger.” Climate Report: Time is running out, Colorado Independent, September 27, 2013.
News about RMCO Partners
The City of Fort Collins’s power supplier makes a big commitment to clean energy in its portfolio. Platte River Power Authority to buy $100M in wind power, Northern Colorado Business Report, September 18, 2013.The City of Aspen’s Canary Initiative, long one of the state’s leading local government climate action programs, gets a new director, Ashley Perl, who will add preparedness planning to the program’s repertoire, which to date has largely focused on emissions reductions. Pushing the reset button on city’s Canary Initiative, Aspen Daily News, September 9, 2013.
News about Climate Action
National Climate Policies
EPA has proposed new emissions standards for new gas- and coal-fired plants. The gas plant standard can be readily met, but the coal plant standard would mean that those plants would have to capture and store 20 to 40 percent of the carbon they produce. EPA moves to limit emissions of future coal- and gas-fired power plants, Washington Post, September 19, 2013 and EPA claims new power plant emission regs offer lifeline to coal, Inside Climate News, September 23, 2013. The Obama administration insists that emerging carbon-capture technologies make that feasible, and is reviving the Department of Energy’s clean energy loan guarantee program to include up to $8 billion for carbon capture. U.S. revives aid program for clean energy, New York Times, September 20, 2013. See also Proposed power plant restrictions raise questions on more limits, Los Angeles Times, September 20, 2013. Meanwhile, battle lines continue to form on separate emissions regulations for existing plants, which EPA expects to propose in June 2014.Obama FERC nominee Ron Binz withdraws amid coal pushback, Politico, October 1, 2013 and Big coal takes on an Obama nominee, New York Times, September 17, 2013. Nominated to chair the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Ron Binz’s record as a supporter of clean energy as the chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission led the coal industry to put, and hit, a bullseye on his back.
Regional, State, and Local Climate Policies
Cap and trade may be hurt as emissions drop off, San Francisco Chronicle, September 9, 2013. California’s emissions are likely to fall below the prescribed caps through 2015 due to a slow economy and increasing renewable energy market shares, depressing emissions permit prices and undermining incentives for reductions.
Just released is the report by a task force appointed by Colorado Governor Hickenlooper “to identify and reach agreement on ways to encourage activities, practices and policies that would reduce the risk of loss in wildland-urban interface (WUI) areas and provide greater customer choice and knowledge of insurance options.” The recommendations, many of which would take state legislation to implement, include detailed risk assessments for individual properties in the WUI, mandatory corrective audits and incentives for remedies for those properties found at high risk, incorporation of the risk information into insurance companies’ underwriting policies, disclosure of risks at time of sale, a state-wide model ordinance for private properties in the WUI, and a new program for prescribed burns. Not surprisingly, developers and the real estate industry are already lining up to oppose parts of the plan. Task force: Colorado homeowners should pay to live in burn zones, Denver Post, September 30, 2013.
Related: Into the wildfire, New York Times, September 22, 2013. Fire researchers are making important advances in learning how fires actually spread and in the implications for protecting structures in the WUI.
Finding a better message on the risks of climate change, Yale Environment 360, September 12, 2013. Yale Professor Dan Kahan does an excellent job summarizing the evidence about how to reach those who are resistant to the reality of climate change. It is not enough to just get people the facts on climate change. Instead, ways to get people information that is more meaningful to their own circumstances need to be found, such as focusing on solving the actual problems caused by impacts, an approach which has met with success in southern Florida.
Consultant: Wyoming could cash in on demand for natural gas electricity and California winds of change waft toward Wyoming, Casper Star-Tribune, September 10, 2013. According to a leading energy firm, Wyoming is well positioned to couple abundant wind and natural gas resources to generate electricity exports. California continues to look like a good market for wind energy.
Energy bill could alter electricity rates for millions in California, Los Angeles Times, September 9, 2013. Amid a complicated restructuring of rates are provisions for possibly upping the state’s 33 percent renewable energy standard but also imposing a grid access charge for rooftop solar customers.
Coal, renewables mix well in West, NREL report says, Denver Post, September 24, 2013. A National Renewable Energy Laboratory study finds that the benefits of fuel savings and emissions reductions from wind and solar production far outweigh the costs of increasing and decreasing production from fossil-fuel plants to provide enough total electricity as wind and solar production fluctuates.
Shell abandons Western Slope oil-shale project, Denver Post, September 24, 2013. Royal Dutch Shell is the latest company to pull the plug on oil shale production research in Colorado, relieving concerns about projected power and water requirements if production was actually economically feasible.
The new normal: US coal-fired power plants close, coal mines idle, Denver Post, September 4, 2013. King Coal’s crown is badly tarnished nationwide, as state and federal clean air policies lead to closures of coal-fired plants generating 8,800 megawatts in 2012 and another 5,781 megawatts projected to be closed this year. Coal mines are closing in the East and production is down in Colorado.
Regulations worry Yolo County farmers more than climate change, Woodland Daily Democrat, September 10, 2013. A poll of California farmers finds that, similar to a New Zealand study, about half believe climate change is happening, but farmers are more worried about the regulatory effects of climate policy than they are by climate change itself.
News about Climate Disruption
Extreme Weather and Climate Events
Once gripped by drought, New Mexico battles record rainfall, Associated Press, September 15, 2013 and Rains fill rivers, cause flooding in Utah, Salt Lake Tribune, September 13, 2013. Mid-September storms also pummeled New Mexico and Utah.
Durango schools nix longer calendar idea, Durango Herald, September 13, 2013. The school district abandons plans to go to a longer school year due to the likelihood that climate change will increase late summer heat waves.Research cites role of warming in extremes, New York Times, September 6, 2013. Scientists continue to make gains in attribution research, regarding whether and to what extent particular extreme weather events can be attributed to human-caused climate change. Examining a dozen 2012 heat wave, drought, and extreme storm events, research teams were able to identify human activity as a partial culprit in half of them.
Yosemite's largest ice mass is melting fast, Los Angeles Times, October 1, 2013. Lyell Glacier, the largest of Yosemite National Park’s two glaciers and second largest in the Sierra Nevada, is functionally dead, having stopped moving. Shrunk by nearly two-thirds over the last 100 years, the remaining ice could be totally gone in 20 years, calling into question the future of the park’s iconic Tuolumne Meadows, which depend on glacier melt as a water source.
Rim fire's effects likely to last for decades to come, Los Angeles Times, September 23, 2013. Large expanses of forests were totally burned in this summer’s Yosemite fire, and it could take 30-50 years for forests to re-establish themselves in some areas, and possibly not at all.
Fate of Yellowstone grizzlies tied to key foods, Casper Star-Tribune, September 15, 2013. As the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works towards a court-ordered new determination about whether Yellowstone grizzlies no longer need Endangered Species Act protections, the agency must determine just how important is the climate-change-related decline in whitebark pine nuts, a food source for the bears.
Climate change leaves hares wearing the wrong colors, National Public Radio, September 8, 2013. Montana researchers find that snowshoe hares caught mismatched with white coats and early snowmelt die at a higher rate, in turn reducing a primary food source for threatened Canada lynx.
Tracking West Nile Virus in the age of global warming, Summit County Citizens Voice, September 10, 2013. University of Arizona researchers find that changing climate conditions may favor the spread of virus-carrying mosquitoes in some areas, but more heat and aridity may inhibit it in other regions.
Resource of the Month
Working Group I Contribution to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released a final draft of its first major 2013-2014 report, on the basic science of climate change. This report will now be formatted for official publication, so its form but not its content will change. Three different reports will follow next year, the next to be on impacts and adaptation; a third on emissions-reduction policy choices; and a final report synthesizing the first three.RMCO commends to our readers the figure below from Chapter 12, which shows how much our future climate will be determined by whether we limit emissions. For this report, the IPCC developed new “representative concentration pathways” to represent possible future levels of emissions of heat-trapping pollution, from RCP 2.6, which represents a very low level of future emissions (but achievable with policy changes) to RCP 8.5, which represents a very high growth of emissions (close to the current path) until 2100, followed by a sharp drop after 2150. The figure shows the range of future temperature changes from the fifth to the 95th percentile of projections from a new generation of climate models, with solid lines showing the average projection for each RCP. The numbers of climate models used to make the projections are shown by the color-coded numbers. The projections are of changes in the average global surface temperature, compared to 1986-2005, in degrees Celsius. The maximum 12°C change shown here is equal to 21.6° Fahrenheit.
Importantly, even the very low emissions future is projected to lead to more additional climate change than we have already experienced. And the consequence if we instead continue with very high emissions? We will learn more from the IPCC’s next report, due next March.
Support RMCO and this Newsletter!
Help keep the RMCO newsletter coming to your in-box. Please make a contribution to RMCO, in whatever amount you can afford, to help us continue to research, write, and deliver our monthly newsletter. Your contribution will also help with our other programs so we can continue working to keep the West special by reducing climate disruption and its effects here. And your contribution is tax-deductible, too. Use the "donate" button at the top of this page to make a contribution through PayPal. Thank you!
Suggestions and comments are welcome!
Stephen Saunders, RMCO president: email@example.com