Good news came for polars bears last week when a federal judge struck down a Bush administration rule that exempted greenhouse gas emissions from regulation under provisions of the Endangered Species Act. U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that the Department of the Interior violated provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act when it issued a special rule that excluded from regulation activities occurring outside the range of the polar bear, such as greenhouse gas emissions from big polluters like coal plants.
Thanks to Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace, who challenged the Bush exemption in 2008, the government must now go back and undertake a full environmental analysis of the situation of the polar bear, and what must be done to prevent its disappearance forever.
The polar bear was the first species added to the endangered species list primarily because of threats from climate change. Its melting Arctic habitat is among the most striking examples of how warming temperatures are changing the face of the planet. Dependent on sea-ice to find food, mates and den and raise their young, polar bear populations have been severely impacted by their shrinking habitat.
Jason Rylander, senior attorney for Defenders of Wildlife, said, “Just this summer, Arctic sea ice reached its second lowest level on record, making polar bear protections more important than ever. Only by acknowledging and accounting for the dramatic effects of climate change can this administration give this Arctic icon a realistic chance of survival.”
You have probably heard about melting Arctic ice and the drastic decrease in glacier size. You may have seen it yourself during a trip to a favorite spot, and mourned the loss of beautiful snow covered views. And while you may be aware that the increase in greenhouse gases is to blame, at least in large part, for our planet’s warming, you may not realize that a substance called black carbon is an accomplice, affecting everything from polar bear habitat in the Arctic to glacial-fed drinking water in the Himalayas. A recent peer-reviewed study found that “Most of the change in snow and ice cover — about 90 percent — is from aerosols. Black carbon alone contributes at least 30 percent of this sum.”
Black carbon is an aerosol produced during poor combustion of carbon-based fuels (as opposed to carbon dioxide, which is produced in all circumstances), and together with organic carbon is one the major components in soot. Sources include diesel engines in various types of vehicles, furnaces, cook stoves, and forest fires, as well as some industrial processes. Some 25% to 35% of emissions occur in China and India (from combustion of wood, coal, and other fuels for household uses), whereas Europe, North America and eastern European countries emit about 13% of all black carbon, mostly from contained combustion.
Black carbon absorbs visible light and transfers the energy to the atmosphere, warming it. While carbon dioxide can stay in the atmosphere for 100 years, black carbon has a short atmospheric lifetime, making its effects more concentrated near the areas where it is emitted, especially in terms of atmospheric warming and health issues due to inhalation. It settles quickly from the atmosphere, and when it lands on snow and ice, the darkened snow and ice absorb more heat and melt more quickly. Because most emissions occur above 40⁰N, where they are likely to be transported to the Arctic (see Princeton University Report), black carbon has been linked to the melting of Arctic ice and Himalayan glaciers.
As our Red Hot and Green series comes to a close, it’s clear – across the country, Americans are taking their own initiative to fight climate change. From changing the way you move to the amount of time you’re plugged in and turned on, even to the way you eat, these steps make a difference toward protecting wildlife and natural habitats who are already feeling the heat. This Independence Day, watch our video playlist to see how people across the country are showing their true colors – Red Hot and Green!
These actions are among many that can reduce the amount of carbon we put into the atmosphere and stop the climate change that is already harming wildlife and their homes. Click here to see more!
The sad truth is, even if we all cut our greenhouse gas emissions dramatically tomorrow, the pollution already in the atmosphere means that climate change will impact our planet for decades to come. But that isn’t a reason to give up! It just means that in addition to taking steps to shrink our carbon footprints, we’re going to have to help prepare our country’s habitats and wildlife for the changes a warming world entails.
Defenders is working to protect measures already in place to safeguard wildlife and ecosystems from climate change impacts, currently under fire by Congress. And we need YOUR help! Stay tuned to see how you can help prevent these attacks from eliminating programs critical to the health of our country and wildlife in a changing climate.
And in the meantime… keep up the good (green) work!
It’s another Red Hot and Green Friday, and this week Nicky is dedicated for Defenders! He’s not only loading it up for lynx, but he’s taking steps to protect wildlife from climate change on multiple fronts.
In addition to saving energy and water by turning off lights and the tap while he’s not using them, Nicky hits on an important (and these days, easy!) way to fight climate change: recycling. Recycling helps conserve energy, minimize pollution and reduce greenhouse gases. If every metal, plastic and glass container in the U.S. was recycled, the energy savings (compared to the mining and manufacture of new items) would be equivalent to 53.5 million barrels of oil. If your town or city doesn’t provide recycling services or you think they’re not good enough, start a community petition to improve them! And if your town or city does recycle, make sure to follow the rules and sort your recycling accordingly.
Warming temperatures pose threats to species like the lynx and its prey, snowshoe hares, which can only survive in a cold environment with lots of deep, soft snow.
When people like Nicky make changes to their lifestyle to protect wildlife and natural habitats from the impacts of climate change, it’s reassuring to hear that the government is taking steps as well. Launched on Earth Day and running for 50 days, “The Climate of Conservation in America: 50 Stories in 50 States” is an effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners to show the many ways in which climate change is already affecting fish and wildlife across America – and what they’re doing to fight it.
Who says you have to go far from home to find good food? Andy’s here to show us an easy – and delicious – way to shrink your carbon footprint right in your backyard – growing carrots for caribou!
Growing your own vegetables (in a traditional garden or even just in pots) and being able to prepare them in your own kitchen can save thousands of miles in transportation that food normally takes before reaching your plate. Not only do you eliminate the shipping miles from where the food is grown (often across the country or even across oceans), but you reduce car trips to restaurants and supermarkets. You pare down your greenhouse gas emissions and save money on gas! (And these days, who’s going to argue with that?) Throw in learning the art of canning or preserving your vegetable harvest and you can have vegetables all year round grown right from your own backyard.
Efforts to cut carbon emissions could not come at a more important time. This week, the International Energy Agency (IEA), an intergovernmental organization that advises major economies on energy policy issues, revealed that worldwide carbon dioxide emissions from energy production spiked in 2010, rising to 30.6 gigatonnes (Gt), a 5% increase over the 29.3 Gt released in 2009. (A “gigatonne” – that’s a one followed by 9 zeros - is a pretty abstract number. It’s about equal to the emissions of 200 million cars.)
Defenders’ climate change expert Aimee Delach says this new information means that either emissions need to start leveling off much sooner than 2020, or we will greatly increase our chances of much higher temperature increases – of the sort that will put millions more people at risk of sea level rise, produce heat waves that put to shame the hottest summers of the 20th century and significantly decrease the yields of important crops.
Does this new round of bleak news mean that all hope is lost for preserving a world whose climate resembles that we were born into? Of course not: it means we need to redouble our efforts to convince our leaders that emissions reductions are a worthy national goal. But we can’t just wait for Congress and international negotiations to take concrete action – everyone has a role in reducing greenhouse gas pollution.
Not to be outdone by our other video submission, this Red Hot and Green features a submission by yours truly! My friend John and I are going meatless for marmots and manatees!
Livestock farming generates 18% of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions (compared to only 13% for all of the world’s cars, trains, planes and boats combined!) so eating less meat can make a big difference in an individual’s carbon footprint. And emissions aren’t the only way farm animals contribute to climate change- much of livestock’s contribution to a warming world comes from deforestation, as the growing demand for meat results in trees being cut down to make space for pasture or farmland to grow animal feed.
Photo courtesy Jim Reid/USFWS
Marmots and manatees may be two very different animals, but they’ve got one thing in common: their survival is being threatened by climate change. Alaska marmots live at ground zero for climate change impacts. Because of the small window hibernation allows for feeding and breeding, and its dependence on sensitive alpine tundra, shifting temperatures pose a great risk to the large rodent.
At the opposite end of the states – water-dwelling manatees are in trouble as well. Higher water temperatures along the Gulf Coast has lead to an increase in toxic algae blooms, such as the red tide that killed more than 150 manatees in 1996. Climate change also raises the odds against these already endangered creatures by increasing the likelihood of larger and more frequent hurricanes.