Climate Scientists Watch Their Words, Hoping To Stave Off Funding Cuts

November 29, 2017 Rebecca Hersher read full NPR article here

Scientists appear to be self-censoring by omitting the term “climate change” in public grant summaries. An NPR analysis of grants awarded by the National Science Foundation found a steadily decreasing number with the phrase “climate change” in the title or summary, resulting in a sharp drop in the term’s use in 2017. At the same time, the use of alternative terms such as “extreme weather” appears to be rising slightly.

The change in language appears to be driven in part by the Trump administration’s open hostility to the topic of climate change. Earlier this year, President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord, and the President’s 2018 budget proposal singled out climate change research programs for elimination.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency has been systematically removing references to climate change from its official website. Both the EPA’s leader, Scott Pruitt, and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry have said they do not accept the scientific consensus that humans are causing the planet to get warmer….

…There is evidence that other agencies are making similar decisions. Earlier this year, a project coordinator at a Department of Energy lab emailed a researcher at Northeastern University asking her to adjust the language a public abstract for research funded by the DOE….

…Avoiding the term “climate change” could also lead to a more fractured scientific community. Climate change research is an inherently interdisciplinary field and shared terminology allows people to collaborate, either through interagency groups or through university departments that reflect the larger trends in available funding.

…And all of that could translate into problems for average citizens. Cities, some of them already dealing with rising sea levels and more severe storms, rely on the federal government for information about climate change. Water resource managers and emergency officials look to federal climate programs for long-term data. And insurers are using climate change data to determine rates for homeowners.

“This is the biggest environmental challenge in human history,” says Mote. “Absent political winds, I don’t think researchers would avoid using the term ‘climate change’ to describe it.”

How do offshore wind farms affect ocean ecosystems?

  • Some scientists say wind turbine areas are like artificial reefs, creating sanctuaries for marine life. But plenty of questions regarding their environmental impact remain.

November 22, 2017  Reach Deutsche Welle article here

The global shift to renewable energy is well underway, including large-scale deployment of offshore wind farms. There are already about 3,600 turbines operating along European coasts, with 14 more wind farms under development.

Even more wind energy is needed to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement — but the push to boost European offshore wind power 40-fold by 2030 will change regional ocean ecosystems in profound and unexpected ways, according to researchers studying how the turbines affect the environment.

Most of the research stems from northern Europe, where offshore turbines have been operating since 1991. Scientists say this research can help shape plans for deploying offshore wind turbines in other parts of the world.

A recent study on the Mediterranean identified wind energy and wildlife hotspots, based partly on lessons learned in northern Europe. The science is also useful in places like Japan and the United States, where a boom in the development of offshore wind energy appears imminent….

….Harbor porpoises, for example, are especially sensitive to the frequencies generated by pile driving — the process of installing poles into the ocean floor for the wind turbine foundations. For up to six weeks, construction can push out marine mammals from large areas of their habitat, Todd said, explaining that offshore operators are bound to strict measures to try and ensure that marine mammals are not physically hurt…..once the installations are done, the animals return, she said, adding that scientists are seeing a similar process around some decommissioned oil and gas drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. There, the US government is promoting the growth of productive ecosystems with the Rigs to Reefs program.

…The impacts of new offshore wind turbines should be considered together with effects from all other human activities, such as fishing, dredging, and oil and gas drilling, points out Bruna Campos, a marine and fisheries policy officer with BirdLife International, which has been watchdogging the wind industry for a while….

…authorities are making progress on large-scale plans that consider wildlife impacts — but the pressure to fast-track offshore wind means that they sometimes fall short of their legal obligations. As a result, conservation advocates have challenged a few wind energy projects in court.

6 ideas on how SF Bay Area could boost climate change resilience; give your feedback to Resilient by Design by COB today

November 22, 2017 read full Fastcodesign article here

Unfortunately, it usually takes a natural disaster to remind cities how vulnerable they are–and how urgent long-range resiliency planning is. The San Francisco Bay Area, however, isn’t waiting for the next big one. This year the Rockefeller Foundation announced a $4.6 million grant to jump-start the Resilient by Design competition, the West Coast’s answer to the post-Sandy Rebuild by Design program. Now, the proposals are finally live and open for public comment.

The Bay Area is one of the most scenic, desirable regions in the country, but the very things that make it beautiful also pose the greatest risks to inhabitants. Sea levels in the region will rise an estimated 3.4 feet by 2100. Scientists predict chronic inundation and flooding in areas near the shoreline. Earthquakes shaped the bay’s rolling hillsides and mountains, and the specter of the next “Big One” looms large. The area’s natural ecosystems face myriad negative impacts stemming from development and pollution, too.

[Image: courtesy BIG + One + Sherwood/Resilient by Design]

Resilient by Design asks experts to envision how the region should adapt. The 10 design super-teams are diverse, including internationally renowned architecture and engineering firms, MacArthur Foundation fellows, local landscape architects, Ivy League research groups, National Design Award winners, and more. Each team independently investigated the social and ecological vulnerabilities in the Bay Area and designed solutions addressing the core challenges of sea level rise, flooding, ecological health, and social enrichment, but focused on different problematic sites around the bay region. As a result they each created dramatically different solutions–everything from autonomous vehicle infrastructure to a new Transbay tube to artificial wetlands….

See some of the design ideas here

Read more about SF Bay Resilient by Design here.

Restoring floodplains and wetlands offer value-for-money solution to river flooding

November 21 2017  read full European Environmental Agency article here

Investing in ‘green infrastructure’ like restoring floodplains or wetlands to bolster flood prevention not only generates more environmental and socio-economic benefits, especially in the long term, but also lowers the amount of financial investment needed to defend against damaging floods. This is the conclusion of a new European Environment Agency (EEA) report published today, which assesses the green options available in building climate resilience in wake of the increased risk posed by river flooding.

The EEA report ‘Green infrastructure and flood management — promoting cost-efficient flood risk reduction via green infrastructure solutions,’ outlines the challenges and opportunities posed by using more environmentally friendly options to bolster defences against river flooding. The report looks specifically at six case studies on the Elbe (Germany), the Rhône (France), the Scheldt (Belgium) and the Vistula (Poland) river basins, and points to the potential, in terms of suitable space, for restoring floodplains alongside them….


Ellie’s UN COP23 Bonn Blog: Chumamich for a safe climate

By Ellie Cohen Point Blue Conservation Science November 22, 2017

It was an inspiring couple of weeks in Germany for the 2017 UN climate meeting representing Point Blue for its first time as an official Observer Organization.  COP23 (the 23rd Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change), convened by Fiji and hosted by Bonn, focused on developing the “rulebook” for implementing the 2015 Paris climate agreement to keep increases in global temperature well below 2°C or 3.6°F since the pre-industrial era.

COP23 was the first ever with essentially two US delegations.  One was an official State Department group that generally kept a low profile (except for their “clean fossil fuel” session that was met by singing protesters!).

US federal delegation office COP23 Nov 2017 Bonn

The official US Delegation offices at COP23– closed door for the most part.

The other was a group of over 2500 cities, states and businesses committed to meeting the US emissions reductions goal under the Paris accord, led by Governor Jerry Brown, former NY City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and others.  Under the slogan “we are still in,” they launched “America’s Pledge” at the alternative US Climate Action pavilion. I was honored to present (see pdf here) on California’s innovative approaches to nature-based climate solutions as part of a panel organized by The Nature Conservancy on that same stage a couple days earlier.  Click here to see my blog post with links to videos of the US Climate Action pavilion presentations and here for the full listing of COP23 on-demand videos of press conferences and other meetings.

Ellie at UC Climate Action Center Cop23 Nov 2017

At the US Climate Action Center.

COP23 saw more inclusion of city and state voices, as well as more focus on women (women make up less than 6% of all the mayors in the world and less than 15% of all legislators) and the oceans.

Mayors COP23 Summit of Local and Regional Leaders Nov 2017

Mayors from all over the world participate in the Climate Summit of Local and Regional Leaders.

And, for the first-time ever, the countries (parties to the UNFCCC) agreed to work on agriculture and climate change, including how to improve adaptation, co-benefits and resilience; soil carbon, soil health and soil fertility, including water management; livestock management systems, as well as socioeconomic and food security aspects.  See here for my blog post for various views on key outcomes of COP23.

On a personal note, it was fantastic to meet so many committed leaders from all over the world who are working towards our common goal of a safe climate and healthy planet.  In addition to meeting mayors, other elected officials, business people and top UN leaders from Pittsburgh and Peru to Kuwait and Mozambique, I had the honor of meeting colleagues from conservation non-profits across the globe.  Every time I introduced myself as being from California, I was warmly received!  And I found that Point Blue really is on the cutting edge of addressing nature-based solutions to benefit wildlife and human communities, although there is much more we need to do.

Ellie and Mozambique Mayor Nov 2017 COP23

With Mayor and regional leader, Maria Helena J. Correia Langa of Mandlakazi, Mozambique.

Amidst all of the excitement, I felt that a sense of urgency was missing, not from the many scientists and civic leaders who presented, but from the formal negotiations (perhaps in part due to the lack of committed US leadership).


Leaders of island nations call for urgent action on climate change at COP23.  Pictured: Environmental Minister from Dominica addressing closing plenary.

Fiji, as President of COP23, had hoped to light a fire under the delegates to take whatever actions are necessary before 2020 to stay below 1.5°C.  They, along with other “small island developing states” (or large ocean states, as described by one of their leaders!), are literally on the front lines of climate change, already experiencing devastating impacts from sea level rise and extreme storm events.  Despite the ‘drua’ (traditional ocean sailing canoe) situated prominently at the conference venue, the bigger-than-life island photos adorning walls throughout and other reminders that we are all literally in the same boat, my guess is that they may also have been disappointed with the lack of significant progress.

Gov Jerry Brown Summit Local Reg Leaders COP23 Nov 2017

CA Governor Jerry Brown speaking at one of several COP23 appearances.

We know we need dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas pollution and removal of warming gases from the atmosphere– including from nature-based solutions- to secure a safe climate by 2100.

Natural Climate Solutions Nov 2017

New study on nature-based solutions from the Nature Conservancy and other partners.

As Governor Brown concluded at the US Climate Action Pavilion, “economy is rooted in ecosystems”…. and “we are not where we need to be to prevent catastrophic warming.” He stated emphatically that “we have to create a different consciousness about what it is to be a human being in the 21st century.”  He implored us, “Don’t be complacent.  We face unprecedented threats to everything we hold dear.  Be on the edge of your seat.  Push yourself to the furthest degree. Billions of people are depending on us to go even further.”

Powerful… and true.

Hilda Heine, the first woman President of the Marshall Islands, shared the meaning of the Fijian word “chumamich” – tenacity, determination, and resilience on a long sea voyage when tasked with ensuring the safety of the passengers on the journey.

Working together with “chumamich,” each of us must redouble our efforts to secure a healthy future for us all.

Note: Photos by Ellie Cohen/Point Blue.

UN Climate Meetings: agreement to move forward on agriculture and climate change

November 22, 2017

After 4+ years of negotiations, countries (parties to the UNFCCC) agreed to work on a series of efforts around agriculture and climate change.  Below are some highlights from the draft recommendations.  Countries and observers have been asked to submit their views on what should be included in the work by 31 March 2018, with options including how to improve soil carbon and fertility, how to assess adaptation and resilience and the creation of better livestock management systems.

From the Recommendation of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice for approval by COP23 UNFCCC:

…Invites parties and observers to submit by 31 March 2018, their views on elements to be included in the work referred to in paragraph 1 above for consideration at the forty eighth session of the subsidiary bodies (April–May 2018), starting with but not limited to the following:

Parties should submit their views via the submission portal at, starting with but not limited to the following:
(a) Modalities for implementation of the outcomes of the five in-session workshops
on issues related to agriculture and other future topics that may arise from this work;
(b) Methods and approaches for assessing adaptation, adaptation co-benefits and resilience;
(c) Improved soil carbon, soil health and soil fertility under grassland and cropland as well as integrated systems, including water management;
(d) Improved nutrient use and manure management towards sustainable and
resilient agricultural systems;
(e) Improved livestock management systems;
(f) Socioeconomic and food security dimensions of climate change in the agricultural sector.

Climate change impacts already locked in, but the worst can still be avoided

November 16, 2017 University of Exeter Read full ScienceDaily article here

Some impacts of global warming — such as sea level rise and coastal flooding — are already locked in and unavoidable, according to a major research project.
Global temperatures have already risen by around 1°C, and a further 0.5°C warming is expected. The full impacts of current warming have not yet been seen, since ice sheets and oceans take many decades to fully react to higher temperatures.

But more severe impacts can still be avoided if global greenhouse gas emissions are reduced.

More than 50 scientists from 16 institutions in 13 countries have worked on the HELIX project (High-End Climate Impacts and Extremes), which has just finished after four years. The project examined the possible effects of warming of 1.5°C, 2°C, 4°C and 6°C compared to pre-industrial levels.

Even with rapid cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions keeping warming below 2°C, sea levels could rise by 0.5m by the end of the 21st Century, particularly affecting small island states and low-lying countries. HELIX calculations suggest this could impact 2.5 million in Bangladesh….

Groundwater depletion could be significant source of atmospheric carbon dioxide

  • If left to its own devices, this carbon-rich water remains below ground for hundreds to thousands of years before surfacing in oceans or freshwater bodies. But humans are now extracting groundwater at an unprecedented pace to sustain a growing population

November 16, 2017 American Geophysical Union Read full ScienceDaily article here

Humans may be adding large amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by using groundwater faster than it is replenished, according to new research. This process, known as groundwater depletion, releases a significant amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that has until now been overlooked by scientists in calculating carbon sources, according to the new study.

The study’s authors estimate groundwater depletion in the United States could be responsible for releasing 1.7 million metric tons (3.8 billion pounds) of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year.

Based on these figures, groundwater depletion should rank among the top 20 sources of carbon emissions documented by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This would mean the carbon dioxide emitted through groundwater depletion is comparable to the carbon generated from aluminum, glass, and zinc production in the United States, according to the study’s authors….

…Rain falling from the sky contains the same amount of carbon dioxide as is present in the atmosphere. But soil carbon dioxide levels are up to 100 times greater than carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, because soil microbes degrade organic carbon into carbon dioxide. When rainwater hits the ground and percolates through Earth’s rocks and sediments, the water dissolves extra carbon produced by these microbes.

If left to its own devices, this carbon-rich water remains below ground for hundreds to thousands of years before surfacing in oceans or freshwater bodies. But humans are now extracting groundwater at an unprecedented pace to sustain a growing population….

…Groundwater depletion’s impact on carbon emissions is significant yet relatively small compared to the leading contributors, according to the authors. For example, scientists estimate fossil fuel combustion in the United States is responsible for releasing more than 5 billion metric tons (11 trillion pounds) of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, close to 3,000 times the amount released from groundwater depletion. Still, the study authors argue that understanding all sources of carbon dioxide emissions is important for making accurate climate change projections and finding solutions….

Warren W. Wood, David W. Hyndman. Groundwater Depletion: A Significant Unreported Source of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide. Earth’s Future, 2017; DOI: 10.1002/2017EF000586

Groundwater recharge in the American west under climate change

November 16, 2017 University of Arizona  read full ScienceDaily article here

Groundwater recharge in the Western US will change as the climate warms — the dry southern regions will have less and the northern regions will have more, according to new research. The new study covers the entire US West, from the High Plains states to the Pacific coast, and provides the first detailed look at how groundwater recharge may change as the climate changes. Groundwater is an important source of freshwater, particularly in the West.

Groundwater…. is often used to make up for the lack of surface water during droughts, the authors note. In many areas of the West, groundwater pumping currently exceeds the amount of groundwater recharge.

“The portions of the West that are already stretched in terms of water resources — Arizona, New Mexico, the High Plains of Texas, the southern Central Valley — for those places that are already having problems, climate change is going to tighten the screws,” Meixner said….

R. Niraula, T. Meixner, F. Dominguez, N. Bhattarai, M. Rodell, H. Ajami, D. Gochis, C. Castro. How Might Recharge Change Under Projected Climate Change in the Western U.S.? Geophysical Research Letters, 2017; 44 (20): 10,407 DOI: 10.1002/2017GL075421

Scientific Reticence: A Threat to Humanity and Nature – video link to COP23 UN press conference with Dr. Jim Hansen

  • Hesitancy among scientists to express the gravity of our situation is a major block to our understanding and response to climate change…

Scientific Reticence: A Threat to Humanity and Nature. Jim Hansen/Pam Pearson/Philip Duffy press conference at COP-23 in Bonn, Germany on 10 November 2017. Video link to a press conference with Drs. James Hansen, Pam Peterson, and Philip Duffy discussing how the hesitancy among scientists to express the gravity of our situation is a major block to our understanding and response to climate change. The reticence results from a combination of factors: political pressure, institutional conservatism, the desire to avoid controversy, aspiring to objectivity, etc. But when the data and the conclusions it leads to are alarming, isn’t it imperative that the alarm be transmitted publicly? Here is another facet of society’s apparent inability to assess and respond appropriately to the present immense, existential threat of climate change