Heat Waves Could Silence the Southwest’s Songbirds

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Alan Schmierer/Flickr

These maps tell the sad story.

 

This story was originally published by High Country News and appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. 

Because of human caused climate change, the desert Southwest’s heat waves are projected to become more frequent, intense and widespread. According to recent research, this may take a deadly toll on songbirds by century’s end. Songbirds don’t sweat, but because they pant when they’re hot, they still lose water staying cool. During heat waves, birds can lose so much water trying not to overheat that they die of dehydration. Most animals can’t survive losing more than 15 percent of their body mass to dehydration.

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Based on climate projections for the Southwest, small birds such as the lesser goldfinch may face lethal dehydration on average 25 days per year by the end of the century. Larger songbirds, such as curve-billed thrashers and Abert’s towhees, lose water at a lower rate, so they won’t be as vulnerable to dehydration until temperatures get much higher. But even bigger birds face risks: For some, small ranges restrict them to hot deserts and unpredictable water sources. Birds spend the hottest parts of the day seeking shelter in cool hideouts, making havens such as mountains, trees and shaded washes increasingly important.

Chile’s Energy Transformation Is Powered by Wind, Sun and Volcanoes

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Wind turbines in the Atacama Desert and other turbines along Chile’s 2,653-mile coast contribute to power to national grid. CreditMeridith Kohut for The New York Times

CERRO PABELLÓN, Chile — It looks and functions much like an oil drilling rig. As it happens, several of the men in thick blue overalls and white helmets who operate the hulking machine once made a living pumping crude.

But now they are surrounded by snowcapped volcanoes, laboring to breathe up here at 14,760 feet above sea level as they draw steam from the earth at South America’s first geothermal energy plant.

With the ability to power roughly 165,000 homes, the new plant is yet another step in Chile’s clean energy transformation. This nation’s rapidly expanding clean energy grid, which includes vast solar fields and wind farms, is one of the most ambitious in a region that is decisively moving beyond fossil fuels.

Latin America already has the world’s cleanest electricity, having long relied on dams to generate a large share of its energy needs, according to the World Bank.

But even beyond those big hydropower projects, investment in renewable energy in Latin America has increased 11-fold since 2004, nearly double the global rate, according to a 2016 report by the International Renewable Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organization. Chile, Mexico and Brazil are now among the top 10 renewable energy markets in the world.

So as Latin America embraces greener energy sources, government officials and industry executives in the region have expressed a sense of confusion, even bewilderment, with the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the climate change commitments contained in the Paris Agreement, declare an end to the “war on coal” and take aim at American environmental regulations.

“It’s irrational, like someone has been asleep for 10 years and refuses to wake up,” said James Lee Stancampiano, the head of business development for South America at Enel Green Power, an Italian company that has played a leading role in overhauling Chile’s energy sector. “We see renewables as a train that nobody can stop.”

Even Argentina, something of a laggard in Latin America when it comes to clean energy, last year invited foreign companies to bid on renewable energy projects and declared 2017 to be the “year of renewables,” setting a goal of relying on clean sources for 20 percent of its electricity needs by 2025, up from the current 2 percent.

Mexico is striving to rely on clean energy for 35 percent of its electricity demand by 2024, up from about 21 percent today. By 2050, it hopes to have a grid that runs on at least 50 percent clean energy.

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Vicuñas and flamingos on the edge of a lake in the Antofagasta Region in northern Chile. The geography of Chile is favorable for the creation of renewable energy. CreditMeridith Kohut for The New York Times

Chilean officials have an even more ambitious projection, saying the country is on track to rely on clean sources for 90 percent of its electricity needs by 2050, up from the current 45 percent.

The country’s expanding green energy infrastructure has significantly reduced the cost of producing electricity here, helping to turn a nation once dependent on energy imports into a renewables powerhouse with the potential to help its neighbors keep the lights on.

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U.S. Already Feeling Consequences Of Global Warming, Draft Report Finds ~ NPR

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Participants look at a world map showing climate anomalies during the World Climate Change Conference 2015 in France. A draft government report on climate, which was leaked ahead of publication, says the U.S. is already experiencing the consequences of global warming.

Stephane Mahe/Reuters

 

A draft government report on climate says the U.S. is already experiencing the consequences of global warming. The findings sharply contrast with statements by President Trump and some members of his Cabinet, who have sought to downplay the changing climate.

The document, which was leaked ahead of publication and reported by The New York Times on Tuesday, says Americans are seeing more heat waves and rainfall as a result of climate change.

The report, known as the Climate Science Special Report, is part of the National Climate Assessment, which is mandated by Congress every four years and provides a synthesis of the federal government’s knowledge about the state of the climate. Previous assessments have shown that climate change is already affecting the the United States’ weather and economy.

The draft report, by agencies such as NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, echoes that message. It finds that the world has warmed by about 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 150 years and that human activity is the primary cause for that warming. In the U.S., the report says the largest temperature increases have taken place in the West. It also found an increase in extreme precipitation events in the Northeast. The report concludes:

“Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gasses, are primarily responsible for observed climate changes in the industrial era. There are no alternative explanations, and no natural cycles found in the observational record that can explain the observed changes in climate.”

It concludes with high confidence that humans are responsible for effectively all observed warming since 1951.

That statement is directly at odds with statements from Trump and key Cabinet members. The head of Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, has said there is “tremendous disagreement” on the impact humans have had on the climate. And in June, Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw from so-called Paris agreement on climate change, which is the main international effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Trump sent official notice of the U.S. intention to withdraw late last week.

“Just because we pulled out of the Paris accord doesn’t mean we believe in climate production,” Trump’s ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said on NBC’s Today show. “What we’re saying is, we’re not going to sell out American businesses to do that.”

At the time it was leaked, the draft report had been completed for months and was awaiting the administration’s approval ahead of publication. However, key positions involved in vetting the report, such as the presidential science adviser, have gone unfilled by Trump.

The Times was the first to report on the draft report’s conclusions.

On Tuesday, a White House official noted that “drafts of this report have been published and made widely available online months ago during the public comment period. The White House will withhold comment on any draft report before its scheduled release date.”

Melting glaciers leave a flood of problems for Peru

Screen Shot 2017-08-07 at 7.43.22 PM.pngAbove: An Andes mountain range and a cross headstone are seen from Cementerio Municipal De Huaraz in Huaraz, in the Ancash region of Peru, on July 13.

LAKE PALCACOCHA, Peru

After a day of bright sunshine, a chunk of ice the size of a dump truck broke off the glacier on Mount Pucaranra a few weeks ago. It plunged into the lake below and kicked up a wave nine feet high.

Victor Morales, a small, catlike man with a tattered ski cap who is the lake’s solitary watchman, scrambled up to a stone hut on the side of the mountain and got on the radio. The wave had damaged an emergency drainage system meant to reduce the volume of the lake. But to his great relief, the earthen dam holding back the water was intact.

 

“It wasn’t a big avalanche,” Morales said.

Lake Palcacocha is a mile long and 250 feet deep, and the effect of a large avalanche would be similar to dropping a bowling ball in a bathtub. Modeling scenarios predict a 100-foot wave so powerful it would blow out the dam. Three billion gallons of ice water would go roaring down the mountain toward the city of Huaraz, burying its 200,000 residents under an Andean tsunami of mud, trees and boulders.

So far, it’s not going very well.

“For countries like Peru that are trying to climb out of poverty, there are major social, cultural and economic obstacles to adaptation,” said Nelson Santillán, a researcher at Peru’s national water authority. “Identifying risks is one thing, but doing something about them is another.”

In the weeks since President Trump announced the United States would renege on its commitment to the Paris climate accord, scientists have pointed to new signs the planet is edging closer to a precipice. Maximum temperature records continue falling. New cracks are opening at the polar ice caps.

Peru’s high-altitude glaciers are tiny by comparison, but millions of people depend on their runoff for water, food and hydroelectricity.

Some of Peru’s glaciers have lost more than 90 percent of their mass. While much of the water trickles harmlessly down the mountainside, in places like Lake Palcacocha, it is pooling in great big puddles of melted ice. Many of these new lakes are held back by glacial moraines, which are essentially mounds of compressed sediments. They may be structurally weak, and as the volume of water pushing on them increases, some will collapse.

“We have glaciers across 19 — no, 18 — mountain ranges,” said Marco Zapata, a top scientist at Peru’s institute for glacier research, correcting himself to reflect the latest monitoring data.

“They’re all shrinking.”

For Peruvian authorities, this is becoming more of an engineering problem than an environmental lament. Without reliable glacial runoff, the country’s water and irrigation systems will need to be retooled. New dams and reservoirs will be needed to more effectively store water. Investments in agriculture and other water-intensive industries will need to be recalculated.

“The glacier used to come down to there,” said Tomás Rosario, 45, who farms in the shadow of 22,000-foot Huascaran, Peru’s highest peak. He pointed at a ridge above his village, where bare rock was exposed. “Now the snow is gone and we’re running out of water.”

Bear breaks into Subaru, then takes it for a short drive in Durango

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A bear that broke into an SUV early Friday in Durango took it for a short ride, rolling it out of a driveway and crashing it into a mailbox.

The commotion woke Ron Cornelius and his wife, who found the trashed Subaru in their yard on Timberline Drive in Southwest Colorado.

“Usually, I don’t get up at 5 o’clock unless there is a bear driving a car down the street,” Cornelius joked.

After the bear broke into the car, it likely released the parking brake somehow, he said.

The couple didn’t see the bear leave the SUV and called 911 after the crash because they didn’t know if people were to blame and possibly still in the vehicle.

The car rolled backward from a neighbor’s home into Cornelius’ mailbox and over some utility boxes, he said.

La Plata County Sheriff’s Office deputies determined a bear was to blame, because it defecated in the car, likely because it was nervous, Cornelius said.

It also ripped up the interior of the vehicle. It pulled the steering wheel straight off the shaft, ripped the radio out of the dash and busted out the back window.

“It would have taken a human being hours to do what this bear did in a couple minutes,” he said.

He wasn’t sure what was in the vehicle that attracted the bear.

The Durango Herald

Ryan Zinke Revealed Trump’s Plans for the American West…to the Koch Brothers…in Secret ~ Mother Jones

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This story was originally published by High Country News and appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. 

On July 20, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spoke at a closed-door meeting of conservative state legislators and lobbyists, raising questions about his stated goals of transparency in federal government. Zinke, a former Montana congressman, spoke in Denver at the annual meeting for the American Legislative Exchange Council, an industry organization backed by Koch Industries and ExxonMobil and devoted to “limited government, free markets and federalism.”

ALEC, whose initiatives include a push for state control over federal lands, provides model bills for state legislatures and influences bills going through Congress. Because of the group’s funding sources and its interest in states holding public lands, conservationists see Zinke’s association with the group as problematic.

Throughout his congressional confirmation process for the Department of Interior position, and in the early months of his job, Zinke has reiterated that he does not favor land transfers. “The things that Zinke has claimed he stood for, in terms of public lands, ALEC are the ones driving against that all these years,” says Aaron Weiss, media director at the Center for Western Priorities.

After the election of Donald Trump, ALEC published a triumphant missive touting the increased influence that would come thanks to “the incoming presidential administration’s focus on rolling power back to the states and the sheer number of ALEC alumni in the new administration.” Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, now the Secretary of Energy, and Vice President Mike Pence both spoke at ALEC’s 2016 conference.This year’s meeting featured high-profile speakers like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and others. While the majority of the speakers were in a recorded forum, Zinke’s speech was not; neither are there transcripts of it. According to tweets from ALEC’s Twitter account, vaguely confirmed by the Interior Press Secretary Heather Swift, Zinke focused on the development of U.S. energy sources and the importance of states’ roles in regulation. “We aim to always bring high profile speakers from all sectors who support limited governments, free markets and federalism to our meetings,” Taylor McCarty, a spokeswoman for ALEC, says. (In fact, there are no other examples in recent years of Cabinet members attending ALEC meetings.)

While there is no public list of legislators who are members, ALEC says nearly a quarter of the nation’s state legislators hold membership, as well as “alumni” that push its agenda in Washington. With Republicans in control of Congress and the presidency, ALEC is working with an administration that favors its agenda much more so than in years past. That has big implications for the West, especially in relation to the long-standing GOP platform plank that explicitly seeks state control of public lands. Indeed, Zinke’s ongoing review of national monuments to examine whether states had enough say is predated by ALEC model bills critiquing the Antiquities Act dating back to 2000.

ALEC’s model legislation, which advances conservative, pro-industry policies, often finds its way into state legislatures. Due to a lack of transparency, it is difficult to come up with a comprehensive list of state lawmakers who are members of the group.

According to Common Cause, a nonpartisan organization that tracks ALEC, Bill Cadman, the former president of Colorado Senate, served as state chair and national board member for the group. “ALEC’s current Colorado state chairs are Sen. Kevin Grantham, R-2nd District, and Rep. Lori Saine, R-63rd District,” Common Cause says in a recent report. “ALEC also has influence in Colorado’s congressional delegation; U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican, and Reps. Scott Tipton (R-3rd District), and Rep. Doug Lamborn (R- 5th District) are all alumni of ALEC.”

Among other prominent Western supporters are Arizona State Sen. Deb Lasko, who is also the state chair for ALEC. Lasko led a delegation of 19 state legislators to this year’s conference— a third of the state’s legislators—with all expenses paid by ALEC, according to Arizona Central. Earlier this year, she sponsored a bill to break up the 9th Circuit Court, often criticized by conservatives for its decisions on the kinds of environmental cases that are adjudicated in the West.

Another prominent ALEC supporter is Utah Rep. Ken Ivory, past chairman of ALEC’s Federalism Task Force. Ivory is a vigorous advocate for the transfer of federal lands to the states. He founded the American Lands Council in 2012 to promote the land transfer movement through county commissioners, successfully passing a law that seeks the transfer of 30 million acres of federal land to the state of Utah. (He has also been critical of Zinke, calling him a “very bad pick” because of his unwillingness to pick up the land transfer cause, according to emails released by the Western Values Project, a public lands conservation advocacy group.) Another Utahn, State Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, is both president of the Utah Senate and a member of ALEC’s Board of Directors. Niederhauser co-sponsored Utah’s resolution to rescind Bears Ears National Monument.

The effects of an administration so closely tied to ALEC may take some time to be seen. “When ALEC starts in on something, you don’t see results for months or years,” says Weiss, who thinks ALEC and other Koch-funded initiatives like the Heritage Foundation, may gain more mainstream steam with national lawmakers. “During the Obama administration, ALEC turned towards state legislatures; is that going to change now?”

Patagonia’s Big Business of #Resist ~ Outside

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The iconic brand has long been the conscience of the outdoor industry, forsaking hefty profits to do the right thing. Now the company is going to war against the Trump administration over protections for public land in a bid to become a serious political player—which happens to be very good for sales.

On February 16 of this year, the outdoor industry transformed. This wasn’t due to a first ascent, a remarkable new piece of gear, or some surprise merger of iconic companies. Rather, what happened that morning was the most mundane of modern American rituals: a conference call. Around 15 minutes into the conversation, a 52-year-old businesswoman from Staten Island, New York, declared war on the ruling party of the United States of America.

The stakes for the conference call may have been high, but expectations were not. Salt Lake City had hosted the industry’s semiannual trade show, Outdoor Retailer, since the mid-1990s, with the event drawing some $45 million to the state each year. That kind of money can buy influence, but within Washington’s halls of power, the outdoor industry had long been seen as a self-licking ice cream cone: easily pleased with itself and unable to withstand even mild heat.

“They don’t like conflict,” one Capitol Hill insider told me in early February. “I don’t think they have the gumption for the fight.” That harsh assessment was widely shared. In the weeks leading up to the call, Peter Metcalf, the founder of Black Diamond, worked behind the scenes to push the OIA to get serious, writing an op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune suggesting that the group pull its show out of Utah “in disgust” if the state didn’t end its “all-out assault … on America’s best idea.” But it wasn’t the first time that Metcalf had proposed secession. “I think we get a similar letter from Peter every six months,” Utah’s lieutenant governor told a public-radio reporter afterward—a rhetorical pat on the head.

Things took a hard turn when Yvon Chou­i­nard, the 78-year-old iconoclast and ­founder of Patagonia, announced that his company would boycott future shows if Utah didn’t change its stance on Bears Ears. Arc’teryx and Polartec soon followed. On the call with Governor Herbert, the industry was led by Amy Roberts, the executive director of the OIA, who soon turned the floor over to Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario—the ­woman from Staten Island. The industry leaders were demanding that the governor publicly reject his congressional delegation’s calls to gut the Bears Ears protections, and Marcario calmly explained the seriousness of their conviction. “Just on this call right now, the CEOs represent a little more than $5 billion in revenue,” she said, “and it’s rare we come together galvanized in this way. This is not a political issue or a ploy or anything like that. It’s a moral issue for us.” Scott Baxter, the president of the North Face, echoed Marcario, as did Jerry Stritzke of REI. After some 40 minutes, Herbert refused to meet the demand. The industry leaders thanked him, signed off, and started looking for a new home for their $45 million prize.

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August Climate Outlook for the San Juans

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Joe with a Prescott College Snow Studies/Avalanche program back in another century.

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Joe Ramey is a recently retired NWS weather forecaster/climatologist and leads the charge for Mountain Weather Masters based in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.

Hello Mountain Weather Masters,

July 2017 started out hot as a ridge of high pressure amplified over the Great Basin. Regional temperatures soared well above normal, and this matched the climate normals that the first half of July is the hottest time of the year. We hit 102F here in Junction on the 5th-7th & 9th and that will probably be the hottest temperatures of 2017 here. By the 10th, the ridge axis had shifted east of the Continental Divide. Clockwise rotation around the high allowed subtropical moisture from the south to work up into Colorado. So the monsoon moisture arrived in Colorado on 10 July this year.

Climate sites in the region are showing July 2017 temperatures well above normal. Through 24 July, above normal temperatures ranged from +1.5F at Montrose to +8.4F at Salt Lake City. After a dry June, July precipitation totals were still behind normal. Of the 12 sites I look at, only Meeker, Grand Junction, and Moab were above normal. Since we are in the depth of monsoonal flow right now, I would expect the month to end up wetter than normal for the region.

In the latest outlook from the CPC, you can see they expect the monsoon season to be robust with wetter-than-normal odds centered on the Four Corners for August and the Aug-Sep-Oct. In the temperature outlook, you can see that the expected widespread showers and clouds help to keep the Desert SW not as warm as the rest of the country. The climate change signal has the entire country warmer than normal for the Aug-Sep-Oct season.

Conditions in the Pacific are again not showing much change. The Nino 3.4 region along the equator is a bit warmer than normal. The best forecast is for ENSO to hover in the warm side of Neutral or perhaps a weak El Nino. Further north in the Pacific, the northern basin remains unremarkably warmer than normal.

Now going way out there, into the summer of 2018, the CPC continues to show a strong warm signal for the next 12 months especially over the Desert SW. The long-range precipitation outlook shows lots of EC (Equal Chances) or low forecast skill.

Enjoy this manna from heaven, but stay out of the slot canyons for awhile. 🙂

Best,
Joe Ramey

Environmental groups challenge Silverton heli-skiing land swap