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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.

 
 

February 2015

Featured Item
Colorado Climate Change Vulnerability Study

In February, the Colorado Climate Change Vulnerability Study, the first-ever state-specific synthesis of existing information on how climate change may affect Colorado, was jointly released by the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder and Colorado State University. The study was commissioned by the Colorado Energy Office in accordance with state legislation enacted in 2013, House Bill 13-1293, requiring executive branch annual reports to the Colorado General Assembly on the development and periodic update of a climate action plan and collaboration with other entities regarding climate change preparedness studies.

It is a summary of existing available data and research results from the peer-reviewed literature, and was compiled by researchers at CIRES, the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory at Colorado State University, the North Central Climate Science Center, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Thirty experts from state offices, consulting groups, academia, and RMCO reviewed the report.

The study is a sector-by-sector analysis of the challenges that state residents and leaders will have to deal with in coming decades. Drawing from existing data and peer-reviewed research, the study summarizes the key challenges facing seven sectors: ecosystems, water, agriculture, energy, transportation, outdoor recreation and tourism, and public health. It also describes ways Coloradans are already grappling with these issues, and lays out a general approach state agencies could use in doing vulnerability analyses and preparedness planning. The report’s editors acknowledge that it is intended to be a broad overview, and that it should be considered as a base from which to do more detailed sector-by-sector vulnerability assessments and future preparedness planning.

In coverage by the Boulder Daily Camera, February 4, 2015, CU-Boulder researcher forecasts broad climate change impacts in state, co-lead editor Eric Gordon, says, "We're not talking about things that have nothing to do with us, like sea level rise. This is what's important to Colorado and what we should be worrying about." Co-lead editor Dennis Ojima, of Colorado State University, notes the interconnections among the impacted sectors: "In a warmer climate, we need more irrigation and more energy to support that, and more air conditioning in our area in the summer requires more energy, but also more water for cooling. These multiple constraints start occurring when you start looking at the whole state of the system." RMCO president Stephen Saunders observes, "Now, the question is, how do we use this report to move forward?"

News about RMCO and Partners  

News about RMCO Partners

Denver Water’s water conservation campaigns are putting the city ahead of other western cities that are counting on conservation to avoid running dry. Residential customers now use 82 gallons a day per person for all indoor and outdoor purposes, about a 20 percent drop from 2001 levels. Underway is a new campaign aiming for 30 gallons per person per day for indoor uses. Denver water use dips to 40-year low, Denver Post, February 10, 2015.

The City of Boulder continues considering going forward with energy municipalization. The latest development is a court decision about how the city can exercise its power of eminent domain for parts of the Xcel system serving customers outside city limits. Judge rules Boulder must go to PUC before seeking Xcel's assets, Boulder Daily Camera, January 14, 2015.

Described in a Western Resource Advocates January 23 blog post is a ruling by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission that enables Xcel Energy to begin offering financial incentives to facilities that take waste heat and convert it into power , and to count that power as a source of meeting its 30 percent renewable energy standard.

News about Climate Action 

Public Opinion

Most Republicans say they back climate action, poll finds, New York Times, January 31, 2015. A New York Times/Stanford University/Resources for the Future poll shows encouraging results on movement of Americans’ attitudes about climate change and action. About 81 percent of Americans believe climate change is caused at least in part by human activities, up from 72 percent in 2011. Large majorities say that they are more likely to vote for political candidates who campaign on fighting climate change, and that the federal government should be doing a substantial amount to combat climate change. The same poll shows much greater concern among Hispanic than white Americans, with 54 percent of Hispanics rating global warming as extremely or very important to them personally, compared with 37 percent of whites, and two-thirds of Hispanics saying they would be hurt personally to a significant degree if nothing was done to reduce global warming, compared with half of whites.

A new Pew survey shows Americans might finally be getting serious about global warming, Washington Post, January 15, 2015. In the new survey, when Americans are asked which policy issues they believe should be a top priority for the Obama administration and Congress this year, only 38 percent of people said they thought global warming qualifies, pretty far down the list of top priorities. The good news is that this is nearly a 10 percentage point gain from last year, another indication of a positive shift.

Climate Communication

The next energy revolution won’t be in wind or solar. It will be in our brains. Washington Post, January 22, 2015. The paper has a new Energy and Environment section, and among its first coverage is a three-part series exploring efforts to bring about behavioral change on energy usage, including the military in this Part 1, uses of smart meters in Part 2, and achieving buy-in from the ideologically conservative on clean energy in Part 3.

Fossil Fuels

Colorado coal production slips to 20-year low, Denver Post, February 11, 2015. Reflecting a nationwide trend, coal production in Colorado dropped by 5 percent from 2013 to 2014 and by 39 percent in the last 10 years. While mostly driven by low natural gas prices and a dip in demand in overseas markets, some in the industry point to state legislation and federal policies as factors, too.

Water Preparedness

Wyoming Gov. Mead's water strategy calls for more reservoirs, river restoration, Casper Star-Tribune, January 16, 2015. The governor releases his formal water strategy, a call to action to build 10 reservoirs in 10 years, and among other things to create a set of uniform and credible climate, weather, and streamflow data.

National Climate Policies

Obama orders higher flood risk standard for federal programs, Environment News Service, January 30, 2015. The White House releases an executive order, Establishing a Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, that could have far-reaching effects on management of and development in floodplains. The new flood standard will apply when federal funds are used to build, retrofit, or repair structures and facilities in and around floodplains to ensure that those structures are resilient, safer, and long-lasting. One provision gives options for governments to set floodplain regulations, including one that sets the elevation and flood hazard area from analyses “using a climate-informed science approach that uses the best-available, actionable hydrologic and hydraulic data and methods that integrate current and future changes in flooding based on climate science.”

Obama is planning new rules on oil and gas industry’s methane emissions, New York Times, January 14, 2015. The Obama Administration announces a new goal to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 – 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025. EPA will initiate a rulemaking effort to set standards for methane and volatile organic compounds (VOC) emissions from new and modified oil and gas production sources, and natural gas processing and transmission sources. EPA will issue a proposed rule in the summer of 2015 and a final rule will follow in 2016. Some observers are disappointed the rules don’t cover existing sources.

  News about Climate Disruption

Extreme Weather and Climate Events

Cities sizzle with more heat waves, hotter nights, Los Angeles Times, January 29, 2015. Nearly half of large urban areas studied worldwide experienced a significant rise in the number of extreme heat days and of heat waves that lasted six days or more from 1973-2012, according to a new study. Globally, streaks of at least six such days rose from about four times per year in the 1970s to seven times by the end of the decade ending in 2010. The same researchers previously found similar trends in the U.S. over six decades.

Water

Scientists see shrinking California snowpack as a harbinger, Los Angeles Times, January 29, 2015. In California, snowpack levels are about 25 percent of normal due in part to drought but also to the fact that during the state’s copious December storms, most precipitation fell as rain rather than snow in the mountains. Water supply managers are contemplating what they will need to do to compensate for a new hydrologic regime where mountain winter snowpack will be able to store far less water for consumption later in the year.

Oregon snowpack at record lows, Ravalli Republic, January 29, 2015. Similarly, in Oregon snowpacks are extremely low in the western part of the state, even though precipitation amounts have been about normal.

'Snowiest decade' in a half century? Not exactly, scientists say, Los Angeles Times, January 29, 2015. Meanwhile in the Northeast, attempts to portray the recent spate of snowstorms as part of a trend towards snowier winters are off the mark, according to some noted climate scientists. They say that because these analyses used only December-February data, leaving out late winter/spring data that show significant declines, those analyses failed to recognize that annual snowcover is actually declining.

No Colorado River water for a year? Study details impacts to Utah, other basin states, Deseret News, January 15, 2015. The advocacy organization Protect the Flows uses the dramatic scenario of the river drying up for a year to quantify its economic value to the combined basin region and to individual states. Basinwide annual estimates include $1.4 trillion in economic benefits, and $871 billion in labor income.

Ecosystems

California’s forests: where have all the big trees gone? National Geographic News, January 15, 2015. A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that statewide, about half of the trees greater than two feet in diameter have disappeared since the 1930s, and that while part of the decline stems from logging, development patterns, and competition with smaller trees as a result of fire suppression, a substantial part is due to water stress.

The Southwest’s most important number, ensia.com, January 19, 2015. A researcher from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory studied New Mexico forests that were unusually dry in 2011, leading to large wildfires, and found that using measures of vapor pressure deficit (VPD) - the unstable situation created when air holds less water vapor than is possible at a certain temperature – can indicate how much water stress plants are under, providing an opportunity to anticipate and potentially mitigate the consequences.

Wildlife

Yellowstone grizzlies exiting winter hibernation early amid mild weather, Reuters, February 10, 2015. The bears are venturing out about a month earlier than usual.

Shrinking range of pikas in California mountains linked to climate change, Science Daily, February 2, 2015. Researchers find the American pika is disappearing from about 15 percent of studied low-elevation sites, and a primary cause is thought to be hotter summer temperatures that force the animals to burrow underground and to forego foraging for food. The results are used to project a 51-88 percent loss of populations by 2070 under a moderate emissions scenario.

Recreation and Tourism

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-Trapping Emissions

Methane leaks from oil and gas skewed to 'super-emitters', KUNC Northern Colorado Public Radio, February 10, 2015. Two studies led by researchers at Colorado State University and Carnegie Mellon University find that emissions of methane from natural gas processing facilities vary widely, and that leaks from just a few sources dominate the overall amount of emissions. They found 30 percent of natural gas gathering and processing facilities were responsible for 80 percent of the leaks, and a similar pattern for compressors. One researcher notes that only about one-third of those emissions would be covered under the Environmental Protection Agency‘s reporting program.

L.A. Basin methane emissions found up to 61% higher than estimates, Los Angeles Times, January 13, 2015. Using a remote sensor on Mt. Wilson, researchers find substantially higher levels of methane in the air than data previously compiled by the California Air Resources Board indicates.

Heat

A fresh look at the watery side of Earth’s climate shows ‘Unabated planetary warming’, New York Times, February 2, 2015. Deep-diving research vessels find a clear trend of rising deep ocean temperatures since 2006, consistent with previous studies going back 50 years, and explaining where a lot of the planet’s emissions-generated extra heat has gone in recent years.

NASA, NOAA find 2014 warmest year in modern record, NASA press release, January 15, 2015. The two agencies concur with an earlier Japan Meteorological Agency report (see One for the record books: 2014 officially hottest year, Climate Central, January 5, 2015).

Resource of the Month
Forest Aerial Detection Survey
U.S. Forest Service, Region 2

The Region 2, U.S. Forest Service, annual aerial survey of tree killing or damaging insects and diseases, Aerial Detection Survey: Highlights for 2014, documents trends in the states of Colorado, Wyoming, and South Dakota. The Colorado highlights show the mountain pine beetle infestation dropping rapidly since 2011 and now down to just 15,000 acres during 2014. But the spruce beetle infestation continues to rise rapidly, reaching 500,000 acres during 2014. The Wyoming survey shows mountain pine beetles in less steep decline but spruce beetle infestation up significantly during 2014.

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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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