Working to keep the West special

This is our latest monthly newsletter with information about news and developments on climate disruption and its impacts and on climate action in the West. You can sign up for our newsletter, which is sent out by email, by sending your own email to admin@rockymountainclimate.org. To see more, previous newsletters, continue clicking on "Next" on the bottom right of this and subsequent pages.

 
 

February 2017

Featured Item
The Third Oregon Climate Assessment Report

Released this month is an outstanding example of the fine work that can emerge from the combined leadership of state government climate policy makers and the expertise of credentialed university researchers. The Third Oregon Climate Assessment Report was researched and written by scientists at the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute (OCCRI) housed at Oregon State University, and is a response to House Bill 3543 passed by the Oregon State Legislature in 2007. Among the wide range of climate actions contained in that law was a section establishing OCCRI and directing it to periodically “assess the state of climate change science, including biological, physical and social science, as it relates to Oregon and the likely effects of climate change on the state.”

This third assessment relies on recent published research to update previous work on climate change science and the impacts of climate disruption in Oregon, both as already evidenced and as projected to the mid- and late century.

Key findings from previous assessments are largely confirmed, but more sub-state regional analyses are included. The new assessment’s straightforward factual approach is reflected in statements such as, "Burning fossil fuels to run our factories, heat our homes, and drive our cars produces heat-trapping gases that unequivocally warm the planet. Effects of warming are evident on physical, biological, and human and managed systems across the globe, and here in Oregon."

Threats addressed include erosion and flooding on the coast, an increase in wildfires in the Cascade Range, and decreased snowpack in eastern Oregon, the last of which could portend hotter streams and rivers that could limit the range of fish species like salmon and trout. Special attention is devoted to the 2015 snow drought, which it calls a glimpse into Oregon’s future. In 2015, Oregon had its hottest year on record and winter precipitation, while near normal, often fell as rain instead of snow, resulting in record low snowpack across the state and official drought declarations for 25 of Oregon’s 36 counties.

See media coverage in Climate change poses multi-faceted threat to Oregon, report says, Oregonian, January 25, 2017.

News About RMCO and Partners

News About RMCO

RMCO’s January presentation to the Larimer County (Colorado) board of commissioners and the Fort Collins mayor of our findings on Future Climate Extremes in Larimer County drew concern and discussion about implications for elevated risks of wildfires and floods from extreme storms. Report warns of Tucson-like heat in Fort Collins, Coloradoan, January 18, 2017.

News About RMCO Partners

The Vail Town Council votes unanimously to adopt Eagle County’s Climate Action Plan, which calls for and identifies strategies to achieve an 80% reduction in heat-trapping emissions by 2050. Vail Valley towns have different approaches to climate plan, Vail Daily, January 23, 2017. See also Save our pond hockey, Vail Daily, January 28, 2017, written by the Eagle County board of commissioners to tout the plan.

The Fort Collins city council approves sending a letter over Mayor Troxell’s signature to the President about the importance of addressing climate change. Fort Collins sends climate change letter to Trump, Coloradoan, January 4, 2017.

News About Climate Action

Regional, State, and Local Climate Policies    

Oregon far short of greenhouse gas emissions goals, report says, Oregonian, February 1, 2017. The Oregon Global Warming Commission in its biennial report to the state legislature will highlight that carbon dioxide emissions reductions efforts are not on track to meet its goals for 2020 (emissions 10 percent below 1990 levels) and 2050 (75 percent below 1990 levels).

California issues proposed plan to achieve groundbreaking 2030 climate goals, California Air Resources Board news release, January 20, 2017. In accord with legislation and an executive order, CARB releases a draft plan to reach the prescribed goal of a 40 percent reduction in emissions of heat-trapping gases below 1990 levels by 2030.

Hickenlooper scraps plans for executive order to cut power plant emissions, insideenergy.org and KUVO Public Radio, January 30, 2017. Listen to an interview with a reporter with E&E News, discussing his recent article (subscription required) on the Colorado governor’s decision to pursue means other than an executive order to reduce emissions from the electric power sector.

Public Opinion

In Colorado College’s annual Western States Survey that was released this past week, two questions particularly caught our eye. The responses to Question 30 about which single energy sources should be most encouraged revealed markedly high preferences for renewables over fossil fuels and nuclear energy. Question 40 asked if respondents would continue or not continue requirements for oil and gas producers who operate on national public lands to use updated equipment and technology to prevent leaks of methane gas and reduce the need to burn off excess natural gas into the air – nearly 60% definitely favored continuing the requirement. (See item below regarding the federal methane regulations.)

Climate change acceptance grows in U.S., even as voters elect candidate who denies it, Inside Climate News, January 24, 2017. According to a new survey conducted after the November election by the climate change communication programs at Yale and George Mason universities, 70 percent of Americans now believe climate change is happening, but just 55 percent understand it's caused largely by humans, a slight increase over recent years but still a disturbing percentage of the public.

Climate Communications

Study: real facts can beat 'alternative facts' if boosted by inoculation, Guardian, January 24, 2017. Researchers find that when communicating the overwhelming scientific consensus on human-caused climate change, the public can be “inoculated” against misinformation sewn by skeptics and deniers by way of forewarnings that politically or economically motivated actors may seek to undermine the findings of climate science.

Fossil Fuels

The West’s largest coal plant may close, Climate Central, January 27, 2016. The operators of Arizona’s infamously polluting Navajo Generating Station northeast of the Grand Canyon announced in early January that low natural gas prices and the rising costs of generating electricity using coal make it too expensive to operate the plant. A decision on the plant’s fate is expected this spring.

Coal company to move efforts from Oklahoma to Wyoming, Oklahoman, January 31, 2017. After completing a successful test in Oklahoma of a cleaner coal burning technology, Clean Coal Technologies Inc. is preparing to begin a larger project in Wyoming. The technology removes pollutants before the coal is burned, rather than after.

Natural gas surpasses coal as fuel for power production, Houston Chronicle, January 18, 2017. The Department of Energy is cited as reporting that in 2016, for the first time natural gas supplied more of the nation’s electric power than coal on an annual basis.

The arguments for keeping methane regs, High Country News, January 31, 2017. Profiled is the oil and gas industry’s efforts to do away with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Methane and Waste Prevention Rule, which was finalized in November of last year.

Recreation and Tourism

Ski areas add warm-weather options, High Country News, January 9, 2017. The prospect of climate-driven shorter winter seasons is one of the reasons that resort operators are taking advantage of a 2011 law that streamlines U.S. Forest Service approvals of year-round recreational improvements within ski area permit boundaries. See also Switzerland just had the worst month for skiing in 100 years, Bloomberg News, January 9, 2017.

News About Climate Disruption

Water

California has the snow. It just needs to keep it frozen, Los Angeles Times, January 18, 2017. The northern Sierra Nevada range has seen double the average precipitation for this time of year and with about half the wet season over, precipitation levels have been neck-and-neck with the wettest winter in the historical record, in 1982-83. Water managers are hoping that the rest of the winter is not characterized by precipitation falling as rain rather than snow.

Ecosystems

What all those dead trees mean for the Sierra Nevada, Los Angeles Times, January 28, 2017. The U.S. Forest Service estimates 102 million trees have succumbed to drought and beetle infestations since 2010 in California, and government ecologists are struggling to determine what restoration strategies to pursue when the past is no longer a valid guide.

Wildfire

Hazier days in the high country, western U.S. due to drought and forest fires, scientists find, Denver Post, January 8, 2017. A team of researchers from across the West report on their findings that there are strong correlations between drought and wildfire occurrence and the amount of fine particulates that cause the haze that impairs vistas.

Wildlife

Rocky Mountain National Park's cutest critter is in trouble, Coloradoan, January 8, 2017. “May be in trouble” is probably more accurate, as so far scientists and a citizen science project are not finding the population declines that are projected to occur with diminishing winter snowpacks and higher summer temperatures.

Heat

U.S. scientists officially declare 2016 the hottest year on record. That makes three in a row. Washington Post, January 18, 2017. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA, which use different data-gathering platforms, reach the same conclusion about the hottest year yet. (The debate of a few years ago about whether there was a “pause” in climate change now looks quite silly.)

Resource of the Month

A three-step decision support framework for taking climate adaptation actions
Great Northern Landscape Conservation Cooperative

This January 2017 webinar hosted by the Great Northern LCC Rocky Mountain Partner Forum presented a framework for using available climate science to set forward-looking conservation goals and select among a menu of climate adaptation strategies. This decision support framework is designed to catalyze adaptation actions by bridging recent advances in climate science and adaptation planning, while also helping managers document and defend how climate change information is incorporated into their management decisions. The authors worked with U.S. Forest Service managers at the Custer Gallatin National Forest to tailor the framework for decisions about native salmonid conservation.

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Suggestions and comments are welcome!

Stephen Saunders, RMCO president: saunders@rockymountainclimate.org
Tom Easley, RMCO director of programs: easley@rockymountainclimate.org
Suzanne Farver, RMCO director of outreach: farver@rockymountainclimate.org

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