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Over the last decade, global climate change (often referred to as ‘global warming’) has moved considerably into the public’s attention. The concept, being both scientific and political, has not only been a topic of increased research, but has appeared in presidential debates, T.V. adds, numerous movies, and even charity work. Given its increased prominence in society, one would think that many would have a more complete understanding of the fundamental truths that encompass this broad area, but this is not the case. Perhaps due to the very media and politicians that have popularized the term, a large percentage of Americans remain skeptical about the issue, many without a firm reasoning to do so.

 

As a scientist who has studied climate change in the remote places of the Earth for over a decade, I stand firmly that the scientific evidence supporting climate change to be a real and potentially dangerous threat is overwhelming; that climate change is indeed occurring, and that man is the main mechanism to blame.  I am not alone in this belief, despite the fact that media and other popular outlets may try to convince you otherwise.

 

Ultimately, the debate about climate change isn’t usually about whether or not the Earth is warming; nearly every scientist studying the Earth’s climate and the majority of non-scientific lay people agree in this assertion, despite (small and inconsequential) errors in observations over the last century. Based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body of the top climate scientists worldwide, the Earth as a whole has warmed 0.74°C (1.33°F) over the last century, and this warming rate is accelerating each decade. Using ice cores and other long-term measurements that are natural recorders of temperature changes, there is less than a 10% chance that any other 50 year period during the last 500 years has been as warm as the last 50 years. In a long-term record from an Antarctic ice core, the last century clearly stands out as unusually warm compared to the temperatures during the last 600,000 years. These, and other telling pieces such as sea level rise, glacial retreat, and permafrost melting, are strong evidence that the world has indeed been warming.

 

The debate then stems to the causes of such warming, and herein resides the divide among a few scientists, as well as the lay public. Still, despite what public sources may have you believe, the majority of scientists believe that man, through increases in heat-trapping greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide) spurred primarily from fossil fuel combustion, is the main cause. A considerably smaller sanction of scientists, as well as a large population of the American public, endorse the idea that the warming observed in the instrumental and other records is due to natural cycles in the Earth’s climate rather than any dominant man-made component. While it is very true that natural variability plays a large and central role in the climate from one year to the next, long-term trends in temperature from natural variability arise primarily from glacial (ice ages) to interglacial (ice-free) periods in Earth’s history. Those supporting the claim that the ongoing warming trend is due to natural causes largely suggest that our warming is tied back to the fact that we are still emerging out of the last ice age, which ended roughly 20,000 years ago.

 

Who are we to believe? Scientists make their assertions that man is primarily to blame through investigating numerous computer simulations of Earth’s climate, both from the past as well as several centuries into the future. These simulations are done by climate models, which attempt to predict climate by incorporating parameters and variables known to influence changes in the Earth’s atmosphere, ocean, land surface, and ice cover. The major benefit of using these simulations is that each component can be added or removed from the simulations in order to quantify that particular component’s role in forcing changes. Using these so-called sensitivity simulations, climate scientists have determined that changes in greenhouse gas concentrations are the dominant mechanism leading to the observed changes, and that natural mechanisms in the Earth’s climate system (those that exist independently of man) cannot alone explain the magnitude of the changes. Although these simulations are not perfect, the results are confirmed from over 5 dozen simulations from nearly 2 dozen different models generated by multiple countries worldwide. Indeed, being one of the few tools we have to attribute changes in temperature, the fact that these simulations all tell that greenhouse gases (and primarily carbon dioxide) are the dominant mechanism clearly demonstrate man’s important role in changing climate.

 

What then shall we do about this potentially dangerous crisis? First and foremost is increased education and awareness. We must continue to advocate good, credible science and increase awareness about this issue, including our own continuing education as research quickly progresses. Second, we must take our own steps to reduce, reuse, and recycle so that our carbon footprint is reduced; if multiple people adopted this mindset, the global demand for energy and resources could be substantially reduced. Lastly, we must continue to endorse leaders who have the same concerns for the environment as we do, hoping that long-term change and policy may eventually result. Altogether, we must strive to make this planet better. Indeed, when the 2007 IPCC report was a co-recipient with Al Gore of the Nobel Peace Prize, it was recognized internationally that understanding and promoting climate change is a prominent way to achieve global peace, avoid conflict, and protect and preserve the planet we all call home.

 

Dr. Ryan Fogt is an Assistant Professor of Meteorology in the Department of Geography.  He is also the director of the Scalia Laboratory for Atmospheric Analysis.  His research interests span a wide range of topics on climate variability and change, with a particular focus on Antarctica.

Austin Stahl | as506610@ohiou.edu | @AustinStahl24

Two days ago I wrote about a study examining the relative costs and benefits of organic and industrial agriculture. Today we will revisit that issue and look at some responsible business practices, activism and Warren Buffet.

1. “Time to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love Industrial Agriculture?

Industrial or organic? That is the question. Tom Philpott breaks down the study that was published in Nature, a prominent scientific journal. For you science lovers, you can check out the study here.

2. “Extended producer responsibility gains traction in the US

What the heck is extended producer responsibility? Good question. Basically, it has to deal with companies taking responsibility for the waste they create. See what companies like Coca-Cola, Starbucks and Stonyfield are doing in this article.

3. “You shall not pass: Activists to block Warren Buffett’s coal trains

Cinco de Mayo isn’t the only thing happening this Saturday. Activists are also uniting around the country for Connect-the-Dots day.

Extractive industries, including coal and gas, figure prominently in the environmental history of Athens County. The social and physical landscape of our county is a testament to the enduring ramifications of the boom and bust fossil fuel economy. Coal mines brought jobs to the area and fueled the expansion of bustling mining communities one hundred years ago. However, the coal operations suddenly went elsewhere and left our region to grapple with unemployment and a tremendous amount of environmental degradation. Today, Athens County is home to small towns that never fully recovered economically from the loss of extractive industry. Our environment here continues to suffer from acid mine drainage into streams and rivers while high walls and other coal mine artifacts litter the landscape. Alleviating the injustices of poverty and environmental contamination has proven to be anything but assured nearly a century after the first wave of extractive industry left Athens County behind.

Today, extractive industries are paying renewed attention to Athens County and much of Southeast Ohio, and it seems energy companies make headlines everyday in our community. News reports tell us a corporation leased the right to extract coal from a proposed strip mine in Joy Hollow while other energy companies leased nearly 1/3 of Athens County for hydraulic fracturing. These economic developments have stirred up a tremendous amount of controversy in our county. Fracking in particular has caused a great deal of angst, pitting city against countryside and neighbor and against neighbor. Concerns about renewed fossil fuel extraction in our county have part of their basis in the consequential legacy of past extraction. Proponents of increased mining and drilling note that our economically depressed area never recovered from the boom days of coal mining and therefore needs new jobs from the same industry. Opponents are fearful these new energy companies will damage our water and air and then leave the county with high levels of unemployment once the fossil fuel resources are tapped out.

The decisions that govern the extraction of fossil fuels in Athens County are extremely localized- yet also made far away from our community. On the one hand, private property rights provide individual owners of land and mineral rights much leeway in terms of what they do with their property. In other words, the holder of these rights is generally not restricted from making a profit by selling his or her resources to another party. Preventing a landowner from disposing of his or her property is often considered an injustice within the framework of our private property laws. On the other hand, the regulation of extractive industry is found primarily at the level of state government. Governor Kasich and his colleagues in the state legislature are busy working on legislative actions that facilitate the extraction of shale gas specifically. In this instance, people in Athens County have relatively little ability to impose regulations on the fracking industry as state government consolidates its own power to regulate energy companies. This is important because concentrated regulatory power within the current state government likely translates into little regulation and oversight being placed on extractive industry in our community and region.

This focus of decision-making power is simultaneously in the hands of individual property owners and with ‘corporation-friendly’ state government, leaving communities within Athens County with little political clout to prevent the imposition of potentially damaging industries. This, I argue, is a form of environmental injustice whereby a group of people with collective and significant environmental concerns is left relatively powerless within formal channels of environmental governance. Of course, it is difficult to blame individual landowners in Athens County for seeking prosperity through the sale of their resources. However, the politics and power of decision-making in Ohio individualize the potential economic benefits of extractive industries while collectivizing the inherent risks like water and air pollution. Hypothetically speaking, it is difficult to imagine how landowners’ financial profit from leasing land to a fracking company justifies potentially contaminating an entire community’s water supply. Of course, the energy companies tell us their extractive methods are safe and that we need not worry about this kind of scenario.

Citizen groups in Athens County who are concerned about fracking and coal mining in our community are not willing to take industry and state agencies at their word. Instead, I believe these groups are working toward a common concept within the environmental justice movement called the Precautionary Principle. Under the Precautionary Principle industry and government should have to prove to communities before drilling or mining occurs that it will not cause harm to either the environment or to people. For this principle to be successful, however, individual communities will have to be able to garner more power over decisions regarding the imposition and regulation of extractive industries. This is no small feat, but through grassroots forms of direct political action, it is possible to put pressure on state politicians and landowners to consider community wellbeing before leasing lands to extractive industries. Environmental justice advocates would likely also remind us here that we cannot sacrifice human prosperity in economically depressed regions for the sake of environmental preservation alone. Therefore, the task of achieving democratic environmental decision-making is linked to new forms of community empowerment and development. All around us in Athens County and Southeast Ohio there is evidence that this kind of political mobilization is happening.

For more information visit:

http://lookbeforeyoulease.org/

http://ruralaction.org/

http://www.athensinteractivist.com/spring11-stories/mining.html

Harold Perkins is an assistant professor in the Geography Department at Ohio University. He conducts research on the political economy of environments, including claims for environmental justice.   

Austin Stahl | as506610@ohiou.edu | @AustinStahl24

Today’s first article shows that serious discussion was being had in the past about pursuing renewable energy on a larger scale. Five years later, as the central debate for today’s energy supply revolves around shale gas, I wonder what has happened. Are we regressing, relying more on fossil fuels just because we found a new supply of natural gas? It is worth taking a look at and giving some thought. The story of a school district and the enormous footprint of humans round out the rest of today’s environmental news.

1. “What’s So Bad About Big?

If alternative energy is going to compete cost-effectively with fossil fuels like coal and natural gas, it is going to have to be produced on a large scale. This article shows how some major wind and solar projects are underway to “scale up” the production of renewable energy. This article was written over five years ago, so my question is, where are the results? Why are we still pursuing new methods of fossil fuel extraction like hydraulic fracturing instead of aggressively pursuing renewables to meet our energy needs?

2. “Loveland High School Wins Prestigious Green Ribbon School Designation

It’s time for me to brag a little bit about my former school. The School District of Loveland, an eastside suburb of Cincinnati where I grew up, has proven itself a leader in green initiatives. Check out what they are doing in this article.

3. “Generation Anthropocene: Students grapple with our global impact

Have you ever stopped and really thought about the impact that humans have had on the earth’s environment? Our influence has been so big that science might soon recognize us with our own age, similar to the Ice Age or the period when an asteroid took out the dinosaurs. But we should not get too cocky – we are just a blip on the earth’s overall calendar.

Austin Stahl | as506610@ohiou.edu |@AustinStahl24

Today we will look at our food and farming system, changing ocean salinity that is causing extreme weather, and the difficulties of communicating sustainability.

1. “Study Points to Roles for Industry and Organics in Agriculture

There is a pretty heated debate between conventional and organic as the best system of farming, one in which ideology and rhetoric often gets in the way of science. Currently, we are facing the strain of feeding a growing population while dealing with the necessity of reducing the environmental footprint of agriculture. As noted in the article, to become truly sustainable while realistically producing enough food, the best answer is probably some mix of both.

I think it is important to consider the issue of food waste when thinking about feeding a growing population. We currently produce enough food to feed 8 million people. Unfortunately, much of that is lost as waste somewhere along the supply chain. Americans are especially guilty here, as the EPA’s data shows we wasted over 34 million pounds of food in 2010. Somehow finding a more efficient system of distributing resources and reducing waste would go a long way towards solving the world’s hunger problems. Clean your plate and eat your leftovers!

2. “Big Changes in Ocean Salinity Intensifying Water Cycle

A paper in the journal Science showed that an intensifying water cycle, a byproduct of global warming, will cause dry areas to become drier and wet areas to become more wet. As the authors note, finding access to fresh water could be the biggest challenge we face in the future.

3. “Sustainability: lost in translation?

Sustainability is a very vague term and can be difficult to communicate. It is often a buzzword in the business world that may not mean much to stakeholders. Read what this business professional has to say abut communicating sustainability, and check out my previous posts on sustainability here and here.

By Austin Stahl | as506610@ohiou.edu | @AustinStahl24

Ohio University has prided itself in being a green campus, and it is living up to that reputation.

Perhaps the two single biggest things we are currently doing to be green are the adoption of the school’s Sustainability Plan and, more recently, the release of the first draft of the Climate Action Plan.

Sustainability is a very broad term. It is defined on dictionary.com as “the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance.” Moving towards a more sustainable way of living is imperative if we hope to continue to enjoy the quality of life we have now. The finite resources we depend on will not last forever, and dependence on them could even threaten our future existence, not just way of life.

Currently, the university is not sustainable. No universities right now are, and very few large organizations, if any, are truly sustainable. But many like us are working to get there. Ohio’s Sustainability Plan focuses on three main areas: citizenship, stewardship and justice.

Citizenship tackles the challenge of incorporating sustainability into the curriculum through more majors and classes, and engaging students to be part of the solution by their actions. Participation from students will be key if the school is to meet its goals. For more suggestions on what you can be doing now, check my earlier post titled “The emergence of sustainabiity: what you can do to help.”

Stewardship includes taking good care of our environment and tackling the biggest issues, such as reducing our institutional greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, and waste; sourcing renewable energy; and increasing recycling rates.

Justice — perhaps the most intriguing of the three — focuses on investing in corporations that make sustainability a priority, increasing resource accountability on campus, and reallocating surplus resources to local communities in need.

In addition to the Sustainability Plan, the school released the first draft of our Climate Action Plan last week. This is a similar initiative, but different because it specifically addresses Ohio University’s stated goal of carbon neutrality by 2075.

To reach carbon neutrality, the university must reduce institutional greenhouse gas emissions to zero. Energy is the main focus of this plan because it represents the vast majority of our emissions. Last year purchased electricity resulted in 88,165 metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere, primarily from burning coal. That’s nearly 75 percent out of a total of 118,788 metric tons emitted by the institution.

Other areas of attention include waste reduction and recycling, land and resource management, transportation and construction. Like the Sustainability Plan, education and outreach to create behavioral change among students and faculty is considered crucial for the plan’s success.

The university is taking sustainability seriously. It’s now up to us to participate and be part of the solution.

The Sustainability Plan was adopted last summer. A full report on its implementation will be available in June.

To view the Sustainability Plan, click here: http://issuu.com/alcadmus/docs/ohio_university_sustainability_plan_tracked_change?mode=window&backgroundColor=%23222222#222222

The first draft of the Climate Action Plan was released last Tuesday and is awaiting approval from the Board of Trustees.

To view the draft of the Climate Action Plan, click here:
http://issuu.com/sustainableou/docs/ou_cap_draft?mode=window&pageNumber=1

By Austin Stahl | as506610@ohiou.edu | @AustinStahl24

Here’s today’s environmental news.

1. “The Folly of Big Agriculture: Why Nature Always Wins”

http://e360.yale.edu/feature/the_folly_of_big_agriculture_why_nature_always_wins/2514/

Vast fields of monocultures and heavy subsidies for these commodity crops mark the U.S. system of industrial agriculture. This creates many problems, one of them being pesticide resistance. Read this article describing why we cannot outsmart nature.

2. “Would you like a bad farm bill — or a terrible one?”

http://grist.org/farm-bill/would-you-like-a-bad-farm-bill-or-a-terrible-one/

Speaking of big agriculture, here’s a breakdown of the latest farm bill. The draft of the bill was released April 20.

3. “White House Promotes Bioeconomy”

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/26/business/energy-environment/white-house-promotes-a-bioeconomy.html?_r=2&ref=earth

Lastly, the White House might turn to biology to spark innovation in the nation’s economy by promoting what is called a “bioeconomy.”

By Austin Stahl | as506610@ohiou.edu | @AustinStahl24

Today’s topic is food, specifically meat. Producing meat takes a significant amount of resources, and there is some debate over how we should raise meat. There is also agreement among environmentalists that we should probably consume less meat. Regardless of how much we consume, there is definitely a need and a movement to reduce the impact of meat and agriculture as a whole.

1.     “To Kick Climate Change, Replace Corn With Pastured Beef”

http://motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2012/04/our-corn-driven-agriculture-vulnerable-climate-change

            The Midwest has long been known as the corn belt. But with global warming, researchers are saying that the prime corn-growing area will move northward into Canada. So what will we do with all that farmland? Make giant beef pastures that will help mitigate climate change, of course. Read on about King Corn and the fascinating proposal from researchers at the University of Tennessee.

2.     “The Myth of Sustainable Meat”

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/13/opinion/the-myth-of-sustainable-meat.html?_r=1

            Animal products have a serious impact on the environment because of the amount of resources they use. Because of this, James McWilliams argues that we should ditch meat entirely and that we really can’t raise “sustainable” meat.

3.     “Joel Salatin responds to New York Times’ ‘Myth of Sustainable Meat’”

http://grist.org/sustainable-farming/farmer-responds-to-the-new-york-times-re-sustainable-meat/

            In response to McWilliams’ accusations, Joel Salatin, a leader in sustainable agriculture and the owner of Polyface Farms, gives an in-depth look into how meat can be produced in a more sustainable way. Marrying modern technology with the smaller-scale farms of the past could be the way to go.

Resource extraction in Appalachia has taken several forms over the years. Here, I will focus on the lasting environmental impacts of coal mining and the emerging impacts of shale gas extraction.

Coal was mined for many years in Appalachian Ohio, leading economic development and great environmental impact. Coal was formed from buried plant and animal matter over a long period of time and both high temperatures and pressures underground. The atmosphere contained far less oxygen than ours does today. Coal and the rocks directly above and below it often contain both metals and sulfur, often in the form of pyrite or iron sulfide. When we mine coal, we expose the coal and the associated metals and sulfur to the higher level of oxygen in our atmosphere. In contact with both oxygen and water, the minerals release metals — particularly iron, aluminum and manganese, and sulfur — in the form of sulfuric acid. The resulting metal rich, acidic water is called acid mine drainage.

Acid mine drainage discharging from abandoned underground mines, abandoned surface mines or piles of mining waste (called gob piles or slag heaps) pollutes streams. The acid mine drainage acidifies streams and kills most aquatic life, including fish and bugs. Hundreds of miles of streams in Appalachian Ohio are polluted by acid mine drainage. Over the past decade, local watershed groups and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources have invested millions of dollars into treatment and have restored 46 miles of stream to good ecological standards. The slow progress and high cost of acid mine drainage treatment demonstrates the lasting legacy that a relatively short-term extractive industry can have.

The exploitation of natural gas trapped in deep shale formations is the newest round of resource exploitation hitting Appalachia. This exploitation is now possible due to advances in drilling technology; companies can now drill a horizontal lateral from a vertical bore very accurately using horizontal drilling technology. This so called ‘gas boom’ is fueled by large quantities of water, silica sand and chemicals. A horizontal shale well is first drilled over a mile deep and often up to a mile horizontally into the shale layer. The well is cased with steel that is concreted to the rock to try to protect groundwater supplies. The drilling process produces a large amount of drill cuttings that must be landfilled.

After the well is drilled and cased, the production casing (the layer of steel that is placed along the entire well bore) is perforated using charges deep underground. The fracturing fluid, a mix of water, silica sand and various chemicals, is then pumped under high pressure into the well bore to hydraulically fracture the shale to allow the gas to flow from the shale layer. The process is an industrial process that brings many risks with it. Each pad is about 5 acres of land and are placed about one half mile apart, about eight well bores are drilled on each well pad. Each well uses approximately 5 to 10 million gallons of hydraulic fracturing fluid made up mostly of water, usually made up of fresh surface water or of water from city supplies. Of this water, sand and chemical mix, about 25-40 percent of the water returns to the surface during production; the rest is removed from the surface fresh water cycle indefinitely. The produced fluid may be reused to drill more wells, applied to roads for dust and ice control or re-injected deep underground.

Ohio is the main recipient of this wastewater from Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Beyond the infrastructure damage caused by the industry, some of the key risks to water include large amounts of extraction to make up fracturing fluid, cracked or poorly cemented casings allowing for fluid migration, leaking holding ponds for produced fracturing fluid and truck crashes and spills. Given the time and money put into cleaning up streams in Southeast Ohio, shale gas exploitation poses huge risks to Appalachian water resources and threatens the future environmental quality of the region.

Natalie Kruse is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies in the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs. Kruse holds a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering and Geosciences from Newcastle University, and a B.C. in Civil Engineering with a minor in Geological Sciences from Ohio University. A winner of the Marshall Scholarship, Kruse won the Best Paper award from Mine Water and the Environment in 2009. She also won the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and the Morris K. Udall Scholarship. 

By Austin Stahl | as506610@ohiou.edu | @AustinStahl24

1. “Unilever’s Paul Polman: challenging the corporate status quo”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainable-business/paul-polman-unilever-sustainable-living-plan?intcmp=239

Many environmental leaders in various fields, whether it is scientists, businessmen, government leaders, or activists, have challenged us to start thinking differently and challenge the status quo. Check out how Paul Polman, the visionary CEO of Unilever, is acting on his vision for change.

2. “Engineer Arrested in BP Oil Spill Case”
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/25/business/energy-environment/engineer-charged-in-bp-spill-case.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&ref=earth

It’s been just over two years since the BP Oil Spill, quite possibly the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history. The first charges have just been filed, and many more could be coming soon. BP, which has already paid over $22 billion dollars attempting to clean up the spill, could also be hit with heavy fines from the government.

3. “Senate Hearing Focuses on Threat of Sea Level Rise”
http://www.climatecentral.org/news/senate-climate-change-hearing-focuses-on-sea-level-rise/

The Senate had a hearing last week on how rising sea levels could affect us, specifically coastal energy facilities. Unfortunately, the hearing was marked by partisanship, as only one of the six senators was a Republican, Lisa Murkowski from Alaska. Still, one is better than none.

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