The precipitous loss of native vegetation [to agriculture] across the United States has led to a dramatic decline of insect populations.
This year, for or the first time in memory, the monarch butterflies didn’t come, at least not on the Day of the Dead. They began to straggle in a week later than usual, in record-low numbers. Last year’s low of 60 million now seems great compared with the fewer than three million that have shown up so far this year. Some experts fear that the spectacular migration could be near collapse.
It is only the latest bad news about the dramatic decline of insect populations.
Another insect in serious trouble is the wild bee, which has thousands of species. Nicotine-based pesticides called neonicotinoids are implicated in their decline, but even if they were no longer used, experts say, bees, monarchs and many other species of insect would still be in serious trouble.
That’s because of another major factor that has not been widely recognized: the precipitous loss of native vegetation across the United States.
“There’s no question that the loss of habitat is huge,” said Douglas Tallamy, a professor of entomology at the University of Delaware, who has long warned of the perils of disappearing insects. “We notice the monarch and bees because they are iconic insects,” he said. “But what do you think is happening to everything else?”
A big part of it is the way the United States farms. As the price of corn has soared in recent years, driven by federal subsidies for biofuels, farmers have expanded their fields. That has meant plowing every scrap of earth that can grow a corn plant, including millions of acres of land once reserved in a federal program for conservation purposes.
Related to Obama’s voracious support for ethanol. See my earlier post on how the president’s policies supporting ethanol fuel is devastating conservation land across the United States.
Bump in corn grown for ethanol has polluted water and wiped out 5 million acres of conserved land, AP finds
Five million acres of land — more than in Yellowstone, Everglades and Yosemite national parks combined — have been pulled from conservation on Obama’s watch, according to Agriculture Department figures.
What’s more, from 2005 to 2010, corn farmers increased their use of nitrogen fertilizer by more than 1 billion pounds. More recent data isn’t available from the Agriculture Department, but because of the huge increase in corn planting, even conservative projections by the AP suggest another billion-pound fertilizer increase on corn farms since then.
Some of that fertilizer has seeped into drinking water, contaminating rivers and boosting the growth of enormous algae fields in the Gulf of Mexico; the algae eventually decompose, sucking oxygen from the water and leaving behind a huge dead zone, currently covering 5,800 square miles of sea floor where marine life can’t survive.
That dead zone is just one example of a peculiar ethanol side effect: As one government program encourages farmers to plant more corn, other programs pay millions to clean up the mess.
Obama is no environmentalist. He’s helped increase fracking, expanded off-shore oil drilling, continues to stealthily approve parts the Keystone XL Pipeline, weakened endangered species protection, and will sign off on Alaska’s horrifying Pebble Mine gold mine.
Every week, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, heads to the floor of the Senate, sets up an easel and some poster board, and delivers a speech. He works hard on these speeches.
They’re deeply researched and beautifully crafted. He delivers them with passion — to a mostly empty room. His colleagues figure they have better things to do than listen. But 100 years from now, when our grandchildren look back and try to understand what we were doing while the world burned, these speeches may well be some of the most famed rhetoric of the age.
The speeches are on climate change. They range in tone from morally outraged to deeply wonky. One focused on how best to structure a carbon fee. “We should start by setting aside about $140 billion — or 12 percent of the total — to help lower-income households,” Whitehouse said.
Good profile via Bloomberg.
I interviewed Sheldon back in 2005 when he was running for Senate. Nice guy. Hot topic back then was healthcare.
It covers how environmental law can integrate climate adaptation theory. Fun stuff!
Day Calendar of side events
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British Council climate champion, Jelena Kiselova, summarises the achievements of COP 18 and highlights the key issues for attention over the coming two weeks of COP 19.
‘Nudge’ insights could prove useful when negotiating the legal architecture for the 2015 climate agreement argues Joy Hyvarinen from FIELD.
Benito Müller and Niklas Höhne present the benefits of taking a staged approach to negotiating new mitigation commitments under the Durban Platform processes.
Athena Ballesteros from WRI summarises key messages from the UNFCCC’s work-programme on long-term finance and discusses their significance for COP 19
A global approach to emissions trading is needed to successfully tackle the carbon emissions from the aviation and shipping industries, argues Rafael Leal-Arcas from Queen Mary University of London.
Anette Friis from Danish Agriculture and Food Council explains how a new resource hopes to help COP 19 participants better understand the relationship between climate change and agriculture.
UNDP India’s Dhanapal G reveals the connection between India’s increasing energy efficiency and growth in renewables, and UNFCCC financial mechanisms.
YOUNGO Focal Points Liang-Yi Chang and Jamie Peters recall the events of last week’s Conference of Youth, which saw hundreds of young people gather to prepare for COP 19.
impulsivefarmer asked: Do you think this new EO will have an effect on green energy funding? Could we see another wind energy boom like the one back at the beginning of Obama's first term?
Thanks for following me all this time. Honestly, I don’t know. The new EO is mostly focused on infrastructure and disaster preparedness. Things like how the Federal Government can help communities better prepare for inevitable climate impacts that will occur, such as wild fires, health impacts, coastal erosion, economic resilience. Things like that.
So, this particular Executive Order is focused on adaptation and resilience for cities, and doesn’t really focus on prevention. In fact, there’s a package of resilience actions that the President has taken published right on the White House website: “Climate Change Resilience | The White House”.
I don’t focus on prevention, so I’ll have to direct you to Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which has several energy initiatives that might interest you.
President Obama issues new Executive Order, “Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change." The new EO, issued November 1st, directs the agencies to
1) Federal infrastructure spending will have to take climate into account. Agencies are supposed to examine their policies and find ways to help states prepare for the effects of climate change.
So, for example, federal disaster-relief programs that help coastal communities rebuild after a storm or flood will have to take into account the possibility that the next storm or flood could be even worse. Likewise, roads and bridges built with federal money will have to be planned with changing climate conditions — such as future sea-level rise — in mind.
2) Water- and land- management will get revamped. Agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Interior will have to review their land- and water-management policies to take shifting conditions into account.
For example, agencies will have to ”evaluate how to better promote natural storm barriers such as dunes and wetlands” and figure out “how to protect the carbon sequestration benefits of forests and lands to help reduce the carbon pollution that causes climate change.” (The EPA has already released its plans to this effect.)
3) The federal government will try to provide better data on what climate impacts are actually coming. As part of the executive order, federal agencies are supposed to offer better information “that state, local, and private-sector leaders need to make smart decisions.” - WaPo
It’s an integrative approach, folding climate science and data into decision making at the federal level. Each agency was directed to create an adaptation policy back in 2011. Now the agencies have to implement their plans and use the National Climate Assessment and other findings from peer-reviewed climate scientists. This new EO builds upon several(!) orders by the President, including Executive Order 13514, which I wrote about here.
FoxNews, Washington Times, Drudge, and other conservative and conspiracy media outlets are having a field day with Obama’s EO.
Mainstream media ignores the announcement.
liberalwithguts asked: I was wondering, what regions and what environmental issues are you the most concerned about?
Thanks a lot for following me all this time. Well, at a cerebral level, I worry that China is getting a free pass. The argument in favor of China’s growth while getting away with horrible environmental harms is basically that the country first has to grow and stabilize. This is hard to argue against. Once incomes and education and health indicators are at a certain level, so says the Chinese government, only then will they remediate their environmental destructions. (Go here for a list of China’s Environmental Issues). Only consumer-based economies have proven track records following this rapid growth/aggressive resource extraction and then stabilization/clean up model.
Most western countries followed this approach, too - rapid economic growth paired with extreme resource extraction, then efficiencies through technology, and then clean up. I’d argue that major countries, the UN, and the World Bank encourage this model.
Severe though China’s problems with water, soil and air are, they are not different in kind from those of other nations in the past. As Pan Jiahua of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) puts it, “We’re following the US, Japan and UK and because of inertia we don’t have the capacity to stop quickly.” Via
But I think China is different than the West. It’s compressing what Europe and the U.S. did in 400 years down to 25. China’s ravaging ecosystems at such great speeds and big scales that there’s no built-in recovery time.
During that 400 year growth period, New England, for example, was deforested four times. How four times? Because the forests had time to bounce back and recover. I’m not saying America is righteous. I’m saying that China seems to be ignoring the capabilities of ecosystems to recover at such rapid paces and large scales - it cannot deforest four times in 25 years.
In August, the Economist explored how China’s rapid growth comes at the expense of tremendous environmental pollution. Check it out if you can.
In real life I worry about sea level rise along coasts in western countries. Yes, poor countries will be hit hard. Distasteful as it sounds, coastal communities in poor countries can be moved (sometimes by force) much more easily than, say, Manhattan or Miami. And the world needs the economies of western countries in order to recover. If the west suffers, so will the rest of the world with respect to environmental recovery and disaster response efforts.
You can read about displaced people, called Climate Refugees, here.
Thousands of homeowners in flood-prone parts of the country are going to be in for a rude awakening. On Oct. 1, new changes to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which offers government-subsidized policies for households and businesses threatened by floods, mean that businesses in flood zones and homes that have been severely or repeatedly flooded will start going up 25% a year until rates reach levels that would reflect the actual risk from flooding. (Higher rates for second or vacation homes went into effect at the start of 2013.)
That means that property owners in flood-prone areas who might have once been paying around $500 a year—rates that were well below what the market would charge, given the threat from flooding—will go up by thousands of dollars over the next decade.
That change, unsurprisingly, has affected homeowners from the seaside coast of New Jersey to the Gulf beaches of Louisiana very unhappy. On September 28, dozens of Long Islanders—many of them victims of Superstorm Sandy—converged at the Babylon Town Hall for a “Stop FEMA” rally, one of several held around the country. (FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, runs the NFIP.)
Congressional representatives from states like Louisiana and Florida that are likely to be hard hit by the NFIP changes are raising hell, calling for FEMA to delay the implementation of the new rules. FEMA says its hands are tied—Craig Fugate, the agency’s director, told a Senate subcommittee at the end of the September that the Biggert-Waters Act, the law passed last summer to adjust NFIP rates, gives him no leeway to postpone the changes to NFIP just because they may be unaffordable to some property owners.
For readers actually into climate adaptation and urban planning, this is huge, huge news
. Click here
to read more about the the Flood Insurance Act of 2012. This basically undoes decades of subsidizing risky properties in the U.S.
The burden of living in risky, flood-prone areas will shift more towards the individual home owner and away from the American taxpayers.
What are your thoughts on the NFIP? Should the rates stay the same or be adjusted?
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) on Monday sent a letter to the White House asking Obama to push the committee to hear from environmental regulators at an upcoming hearing on the impacts of climate change.
“As your Climate Action Plan sets in motion a litany of new actions with significant economic implications, those in your Administration charged with implementing your agenda should be made available to testify as to the scope, purpose, and consequences of such unilateral action,” he wrote in the letter.
“The American people should not be kept in the dark regarding the scope of the actions the Administration is taking to theoretically control our climate – actions that have significant potential to negatively impact employment, job creation, and our national debt,” he added.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the head of the committee, has so far declined to invite administration officials to testify at the hearing, Vitter said. However, she previously told reporters that she would consider having federal officials testify at later hearings on climate change.
Waste of time. Via The Hill