New York City Meets the Colorado River at UN Climate Talks
Perhaps two of the most provocative photos from the 2012 election in the New York Times showed President Obama dealing with climate change.
The first was the photo of Obama in New Jersey with Governor Christie, hugging a hurricane victim. By many scientific accounts, Hurricane Sandy may have been part and parcel of the extreme and erratic weather that climate change now brings us.
The second was a photo where Obama stood in front of one of the most serious examples of climate change impacting an equally large segment of America's population, but not a word was mentioned about climate change in this story. What was that photo? It was of Obama at Hoover Dam the day of the first presidential debate.
Remarkably, although Obama stood alongside the Colorado River in front of Hoover Dam, no news reports discussed the dribble of water comprising what's left of the Colorado River coming out of that dam. And remarkably, no news reports (or Obama) peered over dam at the ever-shrinking Lake Mead, which sits just above half full, along with the now 100-foot tall bathtub ring around the lake signaling how much the lake has shrunk over the past decade due to extreme drought and climate change.
At the very same moment in history when the largest recorded hurricane battered New York City and the East Coast's largest population centers, one of the biggest droughts in history is damaging the Southwest U.S. and the Colorado River system which provides water to 30 million people including the largest population centers on the West Coast—Los Angeles and San Diego—as well as Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and Denver.
Those of us working hard to address the water supply and river protection challenges in the Southwest U.S. watched nearly dumbfounded as President Obama stood at Hoover Dam beside the dwindling Colorado River and shrinking Lake Mead, yet not a word was uttered about drought and climate change. Likewise, environmentalists, scientists and progressives across the country cringed during every presidential debate at the dramatic omission of one of the biggest issues facing this country—and indeed the planet—climate change, continued unabated. It wasn't until the massive destructive hurricane hit that the topic even rose on the mainstream media's radar screen causing the president to finally address it.
America is known as a disparate country—wide-ranging, cantankerous and divided. But climate change is connecting us, east and west, and through Hurricane Sandy's deluge and the Colorado River's drought. Furthermore, climate change scientists predict more erratic weather and larger storms for the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, as well as more heat and drought for the Southwest U.S. and the Colorado River system. Some climate change models predict that the Colorado River's water supplies could be cut by 20 percent more over the next 50 years which has caused water supply managers to predict that Lake Mead will never fill up again.
Over the last few weeks, the Obama administration led by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, has made some great steps forward to improve long-standing problems associated with the Colorado River by increasing flood flows in the Grand Canyon and by a history-making treaty with Mexico to once again let the Colorado River flow all the way to the Gulf of California. In the next few months, Secretary Salazar is faced with an even bigger challenge, that of recommending a path forward based on a scientific study—called the "Basin Study"—for how to address the Southwest's water supply challenges for the next few decades, and climate change is a central player in the Secretary's challenge.
As the U.N. climate talks in Qatar moved forward the last two weeks, it was time for America to be at the table. No longer can we pretend that climate change is not impacting us. The extreme weather events—scorching heat waves, extreme drought, massive hurricanes—are real, are happening right now and are financially disastrous from New York City to the Colorado River.
It has been said that America only responds to crises, that it takes a natural disaster for us to deal with our social disasters. But do we really need even more provocative photos to more "Forward?"
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.