The National Marine Fisheries Service said yesterday that it has found “substantial scientific or commercial information” that Caribbean and Indo-Pacific corals may be threatened or endangered. Environmentalists have predicted the corals — found near Florida, Hawaii and U.S. territories — could be wiped out by midcentury if the government does not take steps to protect them from warming waters, rising ocean acidity and pollution.
The announcement in yesterday’s Federal Register (pdf) launches a formal status review by federal biologists. The fisheries service will also accept public comment before deciding next year on whether to list the corals under the Endangered Species Act.
“The status review is an important step forward in protecting coral reefs, which scientists have warned may be the first worldwide ecosystem to collapse due to global warming,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity. “Endangered Species Act protection can provide a safety net for corals on the brink of extinction.”
Must-hear audio of press call with Dr. Jeff Masters and me on record snowstorms, extreme weather, and climate change science
NOTE: I am keenly interested in your thoughts on my answers (and Dr. Masters’).
Regular readers know what uber-meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters and I think about extreme weather and climate science [see "Massive moisture-driven extreme precipitation during warmest winter in the satellite record "” and the deniers say it disproves (!) climate science"].
But what makes the call a must-hear is the window into the media’s thinking from the collective set of questions posed by the many journalists on this call:
We had incredible press interest — in part because of the pure coincidence that the press call came on the same day that Dr. Masters and I were featured in that front-page NY Times story with the bad headline
One answer in particular a couple of people mentioned they liked, so we transcribed it:
Last week, the Wonk Room reported that the Environmental Protection Agency had modified a pollution standard at the behest of the White House Office of Management and Budget. The EPA had proposed building the first roadside network of monitors for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in communities with a population of 350,000 or more, but at the last minute, the OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs convinced them to change the threshold to 500,000-person communities. In an email, EPA official Lisa Heinzerling told OMB that “EPA does not support the alternative threshold.” Government watchdogs at the Center for Progressive Reform and OMB Watch were shocked, as the change smelled of the history of Bush-era OMB interference with public health standards.
Nitrogen dioxide pollution, predominantly produced by automotive vehicles, is a particular problem in economically depressed communities that lie near major highways. The EPA’s scientists found that a network of 167 stations would be needed to provide sufficient coverage. Their original rule used a Core Based Statistical Area (CBSA) population threshold of 350,000 people to mandate the location of each of the stations. Raising the threshold to 500,000 people would have the effect of eliminating 41 monitors from the network, something the EPA felt was “key” to avoid.
However, in a telephone interview with the Wonk Room, EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation assistant administrator Gina McCarthy explained that OMB’s involvement actually improved the final standard, strengthening the EPA’s ability to protect vulnerable communities from air pollution:
The assumption seems to be that OMB interfered. They asked us, “Did we respond to the states’ comments?” We realized we could design the monitoring system in a better way than we had proposed. We could take the 40 monitors and place them by roadways near our most vulnerable populations. It was a significant win for us to be able to do that. It didn’t diminish the system.
The OMB asked EPA to consider whether state-level concerns raised through the interagency review process about the system had been addressed. Although some of those comments were purely oppositional, other “more thoughtful comments raised whether 350,000 level could end up with monitors on the same strip of highway and at intersections far from where populations were actually located.” The EPA found out that these concerns were valid. “In very large counties out west with a population greater than 350,000,” said McCarthy, “we can have peak exposure in the middle of nowhere.” The 500,000-person threshold would eliminate these siting problems. Under the redesigned rule, the network will stay the same size, but 40 monitors will be placed at the regional administrators’ discretion to serve vulnerable communities:
|Development of EPA NO2 Monitoring Rule|
|CBSA population threshold||Number of stations||Description|
|Proposed rule||350,000||167||Too many poorly located monitors|
|Interagency suggestion||500,000||126||Insufficient network|
|Final rule||500,000, plus vulnerable communities||167||Full network with siting flexibility|
Heinzerling’s email opposing the 500,000 threshold, McCarthy explained, referred specifically to language that would have reduced the network by 40 monitors. “The key was that we didn’t lose any monitors proposed,” McCarthy said. In fact, this rulemaking marks the first time the EPA has specifically addressed vulnerable communities. The EPA intends to use the stations in vulnerable communities as multipollutant platforms.
In conclusion, McCarthy said that the OMB’s involvement inspired the EPA to address previously overlooked flaws, crafting a system that gives the EPA more power to protect communities from dirty air:
There was no arm-twisting involved. It was a valid question that sparked our energy to get more out of this than we could have otherwise.
Matt Dempsey, Sen. Jim Inhofe’s communications director
After Sen. Jim Inhofe’s (R-OK) family mocked Al Gore by building an igloo in snow-crippled Washington, DC, the Wonk Room had some questions for Matthew Dempsey, the communications director for the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. In an email exchange that took place on the afternoon of Wednesday, February 10th, Dempsey decided to deflect our questions with his own:
WONK ROOM: Does Sen. Inhofe believe that the disastrous weather that is shutting down the federal government raises the sense of urgency about addressing climate change?
DEMPSEY: Brad – thanks for your email. Are you suggesting this blizzard is a result of global warming?
WONK ROOM: I’m just asking whether Inhofe believes that these killer storms raise the sense of urgency about reducing the risk of climate change.
DEMPSEY: Thanks – it sounds like you are attributing the blizzard to global warming (or if you prefer, “climate change”), is that correct?
WONK ROOM: I believe the climate system is deterministic. Global warming, climate change, take your pick. Is my question unclear?
DEMPSEY: You haven’t answered my question yet, do you believe this blizzard is the result of global warming?
WONK ROOM: I asked you first.
But because you asked nicely, I believe that the climate system is deterministic — in other words, particular weather events are unique instantiations of the state of the climate system, which has been perturbed by anthropogenic forcings.
Do I believe that a climate system that hadn’t been perturbed by man-made warming could have generated storm patterns largely equivalent to this year’s? It’s certainly possible, although there’s no record of it happening.
But this is just my attempt to interpret what you mean when you ask whether weather “is the result” of radiative forcing, which doesn’t really make sense.
DEMPSEY: [No response.]
After I wrote about the Inhofe igloo, Dempsey criticized ThinkProgress for not being able to take a joke. On the other hand, it seems he can’t even take a question.
Progressive messaging is a “massive botch” (see parts 1, 2, 3, and 4). That goes double for scientific messaging (see Why scientists aren’t more persuasive, Part 1 and Part 2: Why deniers out-debate “smart talkers”).
So I’m taking the opportunity of Lincoln’s birthday to highlight once again his mastery of messaging, particularly in the Gettysburg Address, in this excerpt from my (still) as-yet unpublished book on rhetoric that discusses .
Our guest blogger is Auden Schendler, Executive Director for Community and Environmental Responsibility at Aspen Skiing Company. Named a “Climate Crusader” in TIME magazine’s 2006 special issue on climate change, Auden once worked for Amory Lovins at Rocky Mountain Institute (as I did). You can read his full bio here.
When you drive into Utah from Colorado, there’s a sign that says: “Utah: Still the Right Place.” For years, the sign has been edited with red spray paint to read: “Utah, Still the Right Wing.” New word from the Beehive State suggests the grafitti should remain.
Here’s a report from today’s Salt Lake Tribune:
The Utah House of Representatives adopted yesterday a nonbinding statement expressing deep doubts about climate change science and urging the federal government to desist from efforts to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. The resolution was passed by a 56-17 vote after the removal of references to a “climate data conspiracy” and climate change “gravy train” that were included in the original statement.Rep. Kerry Gibson (R), the sponsor of the resolution, said he believes humans have little influence over climate change and government regulation would impose staggering costs.’I'm afraid of what could happen to our economy, to our rural life, to our agriculture, if such a detrimental policy continues to be pursued for political reasons,’ Gibson said.
Gibson may not know that one of the most important industries in his state is worried about the consequences of not taking policy action. Park City commissioned a third party science analysis to see what the future held for them without action on climate.