Climate change threatens migratory birds and bird-dependent economy, NWF warns

Bicknell's Thrush on East Mountain. Photo by Steve Faccio. Used with permission from the Vermont Center for Ecostudies

Bicknell’s thrush on East Mountain. Photo by Steve Faccio. Used with permission from the Vermont Center for Ecostudies

A report released this month by the National Wildlife Federation details widespread and dramatic changes in bird populations as a result of climate change.

“The evidence is now overwhelming that climate change is the most pervasive and long-term threat to bird populations here and across the world,” said Jeff Wells, a senior scientist with the Boreal Bird Initiative. Wells spoke, along with two other bird biologists, in a telephone news conference Monday sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation to discuss the report, entitled “Shifting Skies: Migratory Birds in a Warming World.”

Many changes have already occurred, including the loss of Bicknell’s thrush from Mount Greylock in Massachusetts and the arrival of black vultures, a formerly southern species, in Vermont. Other changes are predicted, like the loss of the saltmarsh sparrow and the possibility that black-capped chickadees might be found only in northernmost Maine and Canada before long.

It’s not just the birds that will be affected. Birding and hunting translate into business. Bird-lovers spend $54 billion a year in the United States, including $4 billion on birdseed, according to the new report. Game bird hunters spend nearly $2 billion a year.

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, of the more than 1,000 bird species in the U.S., a third are threatened, endangered or of conservation concern. Roughly 350 species are migratory, which makes them especially vulnerable to climate change.

According to Wells, migratory birds are arriving at their breeding grounds in the U.S. an average of two weeks earlier than they did 50 years ago. The bird species that migrate further are arriving only a few days earlier than they used to. This may sound promising, except that the timing is essential for their survival. Plants are flowering and fruiting earlier, insects are hatching earlier and the result is that some birds arrive late to the table and can’t feed their young enough to survive.

One example of this dislocation is the Atlantic puffin. These black and white birds that nest in burrows on the rocky islands along the Maine coast were brought back only recently from the brink of extinction. Yet last year puffin breeding success fell to less than half of what it had been because their preferred fish disappeared due to warming seas. Instead, parent puffins tried to feed their young the only available fish, which was too big for the baby puffins to swallow.

“We’ve lost between 20 and 50 percent of boreal species which previously bred in Vermont,” Galbraith said.

Sea level rise is another serious problem for birds. Pam Hunt, a senior scientist at New Hampshire Audubon, said scientists predict sea level to rise 3 feet by the end of this century. This will affect birds that rely on coastal marshes and beaches, like the saltmarsh sparrow and the piping plover.

Salt marshes are highly productive ecosystems that support many species of birds. According to Hunt, if sea level rise was gradual, the salt marshes would have time to migrate inland. But the rise is rapid and salt marshes are hemmed in by highways and cities, so they are stuck between what Hunt called “a rock and a wet place.”

Piping plovers, a federally threatened species, nest on beaches. As sea level rises, they’ll lose beach area, but they’ll also become more vulnerable to storms that will flood and even wipe out their habitat.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds, which complete an astonishing annual migration across the Gulf of Mexico in one unbroken flight, will also be affected. They are the East’s only hummingbird, though rare visitors from the West pop in occasionally. In Massachusetts, ruby-throated hummingbirds arrived an average of 18.4 days earlier over a 30-year period. According to Wells, the relationship between these iridescent birds and the flowers they depend on for food is unclear, but it’s possible that the mutual dependence of hummingbirds and flowers could be coming unhinged.

“We’re moving into uncharted territory, relationships we didn’t know existed,” said Wells.

One serious concern for ruby-throated hummingbirds is the increase in hurricane intensity as they cross the Gulf of Mexico. A hummingbird’s chance of survival in a hurricane might be worse than an ice cube’s chance in hell.

Hector Galbraith, Northeast regional scientist for the National Wildlife Federation, is especially concerned about migratory species like the ruby-throated hummingbird. “Many of those migratory species are possibly even more vulnerable than the less migratory species because they integrate at a global scale all of the different aspects of climate change rather than just one regional aspect.”

One example of this vulnerability is the Bicknell’s thrush. This brownish relative of the American robin, with a buff-colored breast with black streaks, nests in spruce-fir forest above 2,700 feet. As these trees die off in the lower elevations and in the southern regions of New England, the bird has fewer places to breed. A temperature increase of 5 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit in July, which current trends in greenhouse gas pollution are headed for, could wipe out 90 percent of the Bicknell’s thrush habitat in the U.S. According to Hunt, under some models the only habitat left for this thrush by the end of the century will be on Mount Katahdin in Maine and the Presidential Range in New Hampshire.

“People will drive from all over the U.S. or fly to Boston to go look for Bicknell’s thrush in the White Mountains because it’s fairly accessible,” said Hunt. Hunt’s point is that aspects of the regional economy depend on birds — puffin tourism, boreal bird tourism — and the prognosis is not good.

Worse, the thrush is susceptible to climate change at the other end of its migration in the Caribbean, where droughts are predicted to become more severe.

Galbraith is concerned about other iconic boreal bird species, too, whose ranges are contracting northward.

Galbraith is worried that “Somewhere out there in the future there’s going to be a catastrophic threshold. We cross that threshold and we will see these losses and these changes accelerating, becoming exponential.”

“We’ve lost between 20 and 50 percent of boreal species which previously bred in Vermont,” Galbraith said.

At the same time, southern species are moving northward into New England. Galbraith has seen red-bellied woodpeckers increase from one pair in Massachusetts 25 years ago to hundreds or thousands of the birds across New England today. Black vultures, previously found no farther north than New Jersey, have moved northward by nearly a thousand miles.

“So doesn’t it all wash out in the end?” asked Galbraith. “I don’t think so, because most of the species which are spreading from the south are generalist species. They can survive in a wide variety of habitats. The species that we’re losing, the boreal species, are specialist species.”

Galbraith went on, “It’s not the case that the birds coming up from the south are simply replacing the birds that are contracting to the north. … As far as I’m concerned, this is a net loss.”

As bad as the current state of affairs sounds, there’s worse to come. “Don’t forget we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg, no pun intended,” said Galbraith. “So far, temperatures in New England have risen by about 2 or 3 degrees in the last 50 years. We’re expecting, even under the more conservative projections, we’re expecting another 4, 5, 6, 7 degrees.”

Galbraith is worried that “Somewhere out there in the future there’s going to be a catastrophic threshold. We cross that threshold and we will see these losses and these changes accelerating, becoming exponential.”

For the three scientists speaking in the telephone news conference, the solutions are clear, even if the political path to them is not. “We need to reduce carbon pollution, we need to invest in clean energy and energy efficiency, and we need to also think about protecting and restoring forests, wetlands, and other natural habitats that absorb and store carbon and that are important arks for these species into the future,” said Wells.

“We are seeing changes and that is for sure,” said Galbraith. “But if we don’t get our act together, we are going to see some major changes in the future which will make the changes that we’ve already observed look pretty penny ante. So we cannot afford to say, ‘oh, well, game’s over, we may as well just live with it’.”

Audrey Clark

Audrey Clark writes articles on climate change and the environment for VTDigger, including the monthly column Landscape Confidential. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in conservation biology from Prescott College in Arizona, she worked as a field ecology research assistant and college teaching assistant for five years. Read more

Email: [email protected]

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Comments

  1. Despite these articles, it appears that most of the recent science coming out on climate indicates that global warming is not happening, and climate change does not appear to be linked to the reasons previously touted. See this recent interview in Der Spiegel with climate scientist Hans von Storch…

    http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/interview-hans-von-storch-on-problems-with-climate-change-models-a-906721.html

    “Climate experts have long predicted that temperatures would rise in parallel with greenhouse gas emissions. But, for 15 years, they haven’t. In a SPIEGEL interview, meteorologist Hans von Storch discusses how this “puzzle” might force scientists to alter what could be “fundamentally wrong” models.

    This series of articles by Audry Clark does not appear to be up to date on the latest science (the failure of CO2 based climate models to come to fruition and the newer science indicating that solar activity plays a much larger role in climate change than previously thought). It is also poses a false argument that does a serious disservice to Digger readers. That is the argument that if we adopt a radical “green” agenda we can maintain the climate satus quo with our bird, tree, and ski scene, etc, fundamentally unaltered. This is not the choice before us.

    There are a number of questions to consider regarding climate change.

    1) Is climate change even happening? Answer: of course. Climate change is the default setting for nature. It is constantly changing. From the time the earth was a swirling ball of gas, to the time it cooled to form the planet’s crust, through the ice ages, to the times when hippos bathed in the Themes to present day, the climate has been naturally changing, species have been migrating, evolving and going extinct. This is what nature does. Change.

    2) Is the current climate change being influenced in any way by human activity and if so, to what extent? This question is more debatable. Some say a lot, some say a little. But more of the recent science seems to be pointing increasingly toward a little. Science is pointing increasingly to solar activity as the primary driver of climate activity here on Earth.

    3) If human activity is in some way responsible for any climate change, what percentage of that activity on a planetary scale can actually be altered? Barring the mass murder of billions of people, our species still needs to feed itself, house itself, transport itself from place to place. What percentage of that activity is really, genuinely, logistically and politically possible to alter in a meaningful way in terms of its impact on the climate both in the developed and developing world? Probably a very small percentage.

    4) What is the cost/benefit of “doing all we can” to affect change? Benefit? Probably not a lot in terms of changing the climate. Cost? trillions of dollars wasted and the infliction of terrible poverty on a lot of people — and for what?

    As I said, this series implies that the choice we have is to fully embrace a radical “green” agenda and save the climate status quo in which the trees, birds, and ski mountains will remain the same forever. Or not, in which case our world descends into something “unspeakably horrid.” (I think those were our governor’s words.

    But, even according to our legislature’s own top climate scientist, who supports the global warming theory and Vermont’s efforts to combat it, the BEST CASE SCENARIO for Vermont — if all the world embraces our ideal of CO2 reduction (despite all the recent evidence that Co2 isn’t even responsible for climate change!) is a Vermont with a climate akin to Southern Pennsylvania. The worst case scenario is a climate akin to Northern Georgia. (Here’s the video of his testimony to a joint hearing of the environmental committees http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9hE8jr1l5hg, the Video also contains testimony that shows despite the best intentions, the ability to follow through on climate goals and promises, even in ideal Vermont, is slight to non-existent.)

    Final question: Is it really worth destroying hundreds of miles of Vermont ridge lines with windmills (killing a number of endangered species of birds and bats in the process), covering thousands of acres of Vermont pasture with hideous solar panels, fundamentally altering the look of the state, not to mention our ecosystem and our economy, in ways we can’t imagine, in exchange for a climate somewhere in between Pennsylvania and Georgia?

    (Just as an aside, I recently spent some time in Asheville, NC, and it was anything but unspeakably horrid.)

    Vermont was very different a hundred years ago. It will be very different a hundred years from now. Our great grandchildren will probably lament the change about as much as we do now – which is to say, not at all. In fact, they will probably look upon our leisure and economic activity today with the same nostalgia that we look back upon square dancing and sheep farming — which is to say, not much.

    • Michael, check out the solar CLOUD experiments they’re doing at CERN. But, as I said, the question is how much human impact is there really on our climate. Let’s break it down between 100% and 0%. Let’s be generous and say human activity is responsible for 25% of the changes that occur. Of that 25%, what percentage of that activity can we as a species actually alter or eliminate to the point where we will have an appreciable impact on our global climate. Based on past evidence (and, as I said, barring the mass murder of billions of people) it’s a small percentage of that first small percentage. And, if we do everything possible to effect as much non-change as we can, what will the ultimate result be? Not much different than if we did nothing, at least in terms of the climate. But, in terms of the economy, the spread of poverty and damage to our own environment through the expansion of landscape-intensive renewable energy schemes, the change will be dramatic, unpleasant, and unnecessary.

      You say, show you any credible scientific organizations that actually believes climate change does not appear to be linked to the reasons previously touted. I say, who cares? What’s the far more important question is, is there any credible plan out there that will A) actually arrest global warming in a meaningful way. B) Has a snowball’s chance in hell of being implemented on the scale necessary to effect that change. And C) if it could be implemented would survive any reasonable cost/benefit analysis.

      Until you show me that plan, activities and money spent on trying to “do something” are really a waste of resources, sacrificing Vermont’s mountain tops and pastures and wildlife habitats and economy to a theory upon which, according to its strongest supporters, “doubts will obviously grow stronger.”

      So, I’ll ask you straight forward, Michael, would it be worth it to put 500 miles worth of wind towers on Vermont ridgelines, or cover an area one quarter the size of the Green Mountain Forest with solar panels with all the ecological and aesthetic impact that would mean if the end result is a Vermont with a climate akin to Asheville, North Carolina? Because that’s what YOUR scientists are saying is the best case scenario for action. Worst case scenario is that we do all this for nothing because the climate change models turn out to be “fundamentally wrong.” Seems like a dumb deal to me.

      • The status quo will not suffice (unless of course you can show me a fully functional completely fleshed out plan that says otherwise).

        I for one take the scientific consensus seriously. I also take basic physics seriously. I care.

        • Rama, why won’t the status quo suffice? Warming trends in history have generally proven to be economic and cultural boom times. Vermont would likely do very well in a warmer world. Longer growing season for our organic agriculture. Wider variety of foods to grow. Longer summer tourist season (which is actually stronger than our winter season). Comparatively, a much more attractive climate than many competing states…

          A fleshed out plan? Since when has the human race ever had a fleshed out plan for adapting to changing times and conditions. It is an organic process. Our species ability to adapt is our greatest evolutionary asset. To think that a plan is desirable or even possible is silly.

          But, on the other side of the coin, I challenge you to show me a completely fleshed out plan for stopping a planet hurling through a solar system that is hurling through the galaxy from changing — something it has been doing regularly and radically since its creation. If you really take basic physics seriously, apply it to that equation.

          I’m glad you care. I think everybody who takes the time to make a post here cares. It is a mistake to think that is a quality unique to yourself.

      • “I say continuing research into renewables, promoting energy efficiency and reducing waste are all legitimate ways to help mitigate human impact on the environment. That is what MY scientists claim is best.”

        I agree wholeheartedly. But “researching” renewables is not the same as forcing people to buy them. “Promoting” energy efficiency is not the same as mandating costly regulations on people, and, as for reducing waste, who isn’t in favor of that?

        As for “The people whose lives are being or will become disrupted by mans impact on the environment”, I think more people’s lives are being disrupted by efforts to curb climate change than actual climate change. Just ask the families dealing with the Lowell wind facility, for one example.

        If you don’t think going to 90% renewables by 2050 will be enormously disruptive to people’s lives (not to mention the landscape and ecology of Vermont), you haven’t thought this through.

    • John Greenberg :

      1) Robert Roper cites a Der Spiegel interview as evidence that “most of the recent science coming out on climate indicates that global warming is not happening, and climate change does not appear to be linked to the reasons previously touted.”

      In fact, the article says nothing of the kind. Micheal Stevens has already cited the take-home summary quote below, so I won’t repeat it. But here are more excerpts from the interview:
      “SPIEGEL: What could be wrong with the models?
      Storch: There are two conceivable explanations — and neither is very pleasant for us. The first possibility is that less global warming is occurring than expected because greenhouse gases, especially CO2, have less of an effect than we have assumed. This wouldn’t mean that there is no man-made greenhouse effect, but simply that our effect on climate events is not as great as we have believed. The other possibility is that, in our simulations, we have underestimated how much the climate fluctuates owing to natural causes.

      That’s how the process of scientific discovery works. There is no last word in research, and that includes climate research. It’s never the truth that we offer, but only our best possible approximation of reality.”

      ***
      “SPIEGEL: Do scientists still predict that sea levels will rise?
      Storch: In principle, yes. Unfortunately, though, our simulations aren’t yet capable of showing whether and how fast ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica will melt — and that is a very significant factor in how much sea levels will actually rise. For this reason, the IPCC’s predictions have been conservative. And, considering the uncertainties, I think this is correct.”
      ***
      “SPIEGEL: Despite all these problem areas, do you still believe global warming will continue?
      Storch: Yes, we are certainly going to see an increase of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) or more — and by the end of this century, mind you. That’s what my instinct tells me, since I don’t know exactly how emission levels will develop. Other climate researchers might have a different instinct. Our models certainly include a great number of highly subjective assumptions. Natural science is also a social process, and one far more influenced by the spirit of the times than non-scientists can imagine. You can expect many more surprises.”
      In short, the article cited suggests precisely the opposite of what Roper says it does.
      Additionally, Roper’s basic premise is belied by the larger context: global temperatures have risen in the last century, and “More than half of this warming—about 0.72°F (0.4°C)—has occurred since 1979.” https://www2.ucar.edu/climate/faq/how-much-has-global-temperature-risen-last-100-years Given a phenomenon as complex as global warming, and scientific models as recent as the greenhouse gas model, it is totally unsurprising that anomalies in the data will be turn up. Google “global temperature change over time” and you will see pretty convincing charts as well as a series of articles negating Roper’s fundamental premise. Natural phenomena like “El Nino” and “La Nina” are already understood to have vast short-term impacts, as is significant volcanic activity.
      Simply put, scientists tweak models all the time as new data becomes available, but they change them fundamentally only when a better model is available. But the overwhelming majority of published articles on climate change, and polls of climate scientists both show that more than 90% of those specialized and working in the field believe that climate change is partially, but significantly, due to human activity.
      Based on current knowledge, in other words, Roper’s fundamental premise is misguided and unsubstantiated, and his theory that man-made emissions have little effect is disputed by virtually the entire scientific community working in the field.
      2) Mr. Roper goes on to assert that even if the theory is correct, the cost of doing anything will be exorbitantly high and the effect depressingly low. Both statements are baseless.
      The most effective way to combat climate change is to use resources – especially energy resources – more efficiently. Study after study confirms that WASTE accounts for a strikingly high percentage of energy use in the United States, and that the cost of changing the paradigm is actually negative. Put differently, the US can actually SAVE money – substantial amounts of money – by using energy more efficiently.
      Using conservative assumptions, the consulting group McKinsey (hardly a radical environment outfit) concluded that potential savings were in the range of $1.5 trillion and 20% of American electricity usage. (Full report is http://www.mckinsey.com/client_service/electric_power_and_natural_gas/latest_thinking/~/media/204463A4D27A419BA8D05A6C280A97DC.ashx) Similar reports have been done for DPS in Vermont, with similar conclusions.
      These reports ASSUME that we will continue to consume at present levels, but do so making better use of energy inputs. However, given a world population in the billions and in particular, given the rise of the developing economies (esp. China and India), that assumption is simply impossible: if Chinese and Indian citizens consume at US rates, not only will there be insufficient energy, but we will run out of all kinds of resources as well: steel, copper, etc. are not infinite. Breathable air and potable water are not infinite resources either.
      Again in short, the answer to Mr. Roper’s second thesis is that changing our economic models to better cope with environmental constraints is not optional; over time, it will become an absolute necessity.
      Fortunately, there is no reason to assume that this will result in privation, though it is certainly possible to model scenarios in which that will happen. Right now, we can still make policy choices which will BOTH significantly slow the production of greenhouse gas emissions AND improve our economic well-being, but we must have the political courage to act.
      Mr. Roper’s suggestions take us in precisely the wrong directions.

      • You are, I think willfully, ignoring the crux of the issue here. You can talk all day about scientists and consensuses and this that and the other thing, but can any of you show me a plan for dealing with climate change that says, “If we do X, the result will be Y, and the cost of doing X is Z.”

        The plan as it exists in Vermont is to go to 90% renewables by 2050. This will require MASSIVE use of land resources for energy generation. Hundreds of miles of ridge lines. Thousands of acres of solar panels. Uncompetitive electricity costs. I would like someone to justify this in concrete terms. I don’t think you will, because you can’t, which is a problem in and of itself.

        You want to ignore the fact that according to Vermont’s own top climate scientist, the best we can do is reduce temperature change from Georgia like conditions to Pennsylvania like conditions over time. To tell people that if we follow your lead, we’ll save the maple trees and the ski industry a hundred years from now is a LIE. And anyone who sets out to convince people we need to rip apart our mountain tops, kill endangered species, disrupt wildlife habitat and drive our economy off a cliff in the process, all based on the premise of a LIE, is not doing society a service.

        • Robert,
          Vermont’s SPEED program for projects less than 2.2 MW is an example of a heavily-subsidized RE solution advocated by Klein/Cheney & Co.

          Generation cost:

          2010, 6 months @ 13.87 c/kWh
          2011 @ 16.44 c/kWh
          2012 @ 17.16 c/kWh
          2013, 5 months @ 18.53 c/kWh

          What will the numbers be in 2017?

          Excess payment above NE grid prices are ballooning out of control:

          2010, $506,871
          2011, $2,204,334
          2012, $3,423,473
          2013, $6,118,780 projected
          2014, $10,700,388 projected
          2015, $18,695,757 projected
          2016, $32,637,890 projected
          2017, $56,932,566 projected

          Cumulative $131,220,058, all of it rolled into electric rates

          http://vermontspeed.com/speed-monthly-production/
          http://vermontspeed.squarespace.com/project-status/

          1) Annual avg c/kWh is increasing because of greater % of expensive PV solar energy in the RE mix; FIT 30 c/kWh

          2) The above compares with NE annual avg grid prices of about 5.5 c/kWh

          3) In February 2013, Vermont had 3rd highest household electric rates, c/kWh; Hawaii 36.58, New York 18.89, Vermont 18.41, Alaska 17.57 http://www.eia.gov/state/rankings/?sid=VT#/series/31

          PS. Because the PV solar FIT of 30 c/kWh was excessive, the PSB reduced it from 30 to 25.7 c/kWh for 25 years, as of March 1, 2013

        • John Greenberg :

          Robert Roper needs to make up his mind. He argues that I am: “willfully, ignoring the crux of the issue here,” and goes on to demand that I show him “a plan for dealing with climate change that says, “If we do X, the result will be Y, and the cost of doing X is Z.”

          But in remarks to Rama Schneider above, he wrote: “Since when has the human race ever had a fleshed out plan for adapting to changing times and conditions … To think that a plan is desirable or even possible is silly.”

          So which is it, Mr. Roper?

          In any case, this is not the place and I am not the individual to provide a fully-fleshed out plan to combat climate change, which is, after all, a global problem. But the reports I cited (McKinsey and GDS for DPS) head in precisely the directioni that Mr. Roper asks of me. They show a series of specific investments in energy efficiency (at the federal and state levels respectively), predict a result and project a cost, or more precisely as noted above, a savings from doing so.

          These are far from the only plans available, but since Mr. Roper fails to even acknowledge the problem, it’s unsurprising that he hasn’t gone looking for specific solutions.

          The remainder of his response makes several fundamental errors.

          1) Mr. Roper assumes that investing in energy efficiency and renewables will “drive our economy off a cliff,” when all of the evidence points in precisely the opposite direction. Since the US economy DID go over a cliff in 2008, it has invested heavily in energy efficiency and renewables. Last month, the US added more solar capacity than any other form of energy; last year, it was wind. The US economy is growing faster than almost any other developed economy in the world, despite the catcalls from folks like Mr. Roper who said all this investment would lead to disaster. The same is true of Vermont’s economy.

          2) Regardless of the economic impact of these investments today, Mr. Roper assumes that the cost of renewable energy investments will remain constant, when all of the evidence shows exactly the opposite: the prices of renewables are declining rapidly, and in some areas, are already competitive with new investments in other energy sources. Simultaneously, it also assumes that fossil fuel (or nuclear energy) prices will remain constant as well, but I suspect he’ll find few analysts to predict that prices in 2050 will be as low as or lower than they are now. It is, in fact, far more likely that renewable energy will be CHEAPER 20 years from now than fossil fuels or nuclear power. Subsidizing investments today will hasten that process, and will eliminate any future need for energy subsidies as prices decline due to market forces.

          Additionally, Mr. Roper also assumes that no new renewable technologies will come forward in the next 35 years. Given that the personal computer is only about that age and has revolutionized the world’s economy, that seems like a pretty hazardous bet, especially in view of massive investment around the world in research on energy storage, new energy sources (e.g., algae biofuels) and the like.

          3) The reference to thousands of acres of solar panels ignores the fact that there are already thousands of acres of rooftops and paved areas in Vermont. The highest estimate I’ve seen for wind build-out is 39 miles in the strong renewable energy growth scenario of VPIRG’s “Repowering Vermont” (p. 22) and that’s a far cry from “Hundreds of miles of ridge lines. “

          4) Mr. Roper and his allies seem to believe that climate change is the ONLY environmental problem confronting our existing model of consuming energy and other resources. That’s simply wrong. Fossil fuels are not the world’s only finite resource, and the sudden entrance of approximately 2 billion Chinese and Indians into the world economy means that, before long, if we continue to ignore the problem, we will run out not only of fossil fuels, but of breathable air, potable water, a wide variety of minerals, etc. Until they can show that all of the resources we’ve consumed in our economic development are inexhaustible, it would be wise to consider the alternative prospect: running out, without planning for such an eventuality, will have catastrophic consequences.

          For similar reasons, it is worth considering that the very steps which countries are taking to fight climate change – energy efficiency, shifting resources to renewables, etc. are, at the same time, helping to combat environmental problems OTHER THAN climate change: e.g., acid rain, air pollution, water pollution, etc. Or is Mr. Roper trying to tell us that THOSE problems don’t exist either?

          5) Finally, Mr. Roper keeps assuming that the effects of GLOB AL climate change are limited to what he predicts for Vermont. If, however, NYC and Boston are under water due to climate change, it’s not very likely that Vermont’s biggest concern will be a climate resembling PA or GA.

          The biggest unadressed assumption in Mr. Roper’s suggestions is common to many who address this issue from a parochial perspective: tiny Vermont, they argue, can’t make a difference. But what’s true of Vermont is true everywhere. Each Vermonter is one person, just like each Chinese, each Indian, etc. There just happen to be a lot more of them than there are of us. It also happens – assuming one accepts the scientific consensus that Mr. Roper wants us to ignore – that each American is responsible for many times more climate changing emissions than each Chinese or each Indian, and therefore bears a disproportionate responsibility to fix the problem.

          • Robert Roper needs to make up his mind. He argues that I am: “willfully, ignoring the crux of the issue here,” and goes on to demand that I show him “a plan for dealing with climate change that says, “If we do X, the result will be Y, and the cost of doing X is Z.”

            But in remarks to Rama Schneider above, he wrote: “Since when has the human race ever had a fleshed out plan for adapting to changing times and conditions … To think that a plan is desirable or even possible is silly.”

            If we are in agreement that the free market should be left unhindered to deal with the changing climate, then enough said. That is what I would favor. Get government out of the way and allow entrepreneurs to figure it out organically – no subsidies, mandates, or picking of winners or losers by people with political agendas. That does not require a “plan.” It requires freedom.

            But, if you, as I assume you and Rama are, in favor of a government led initiative in which our political entities make the decisions, confiscate and redistribute the money, criminalize certain behavior, etc…. Well, that does require a plan. And, I’d like to know what it is and what we’ll get out of it. If we do what you say, for example, will Boston and New York NOT be underwater? Your claim is based on what? If you had been around 11,000 years ago could you have prevented the English Channel from covering the land that once bridged Britain and France?

            The cost of renewable energy will come down only if it is left to the free market to develop (which I am very much in favor of). If left to government, it will end up like healthcare and education and defense etc, which only increase in cost over time because there is no incentive to innovate or economize. The incentive is only to garner a larger and larger subsidy, which makes the product more and more expensive. If you really love the idea of renewable energy, you should do all you can to keep government away from it. Government did not set out to build the personal computer industry you referenced. Thank goodness.

            You say that there’s only 39 developable miles of ridge line for wind towers. Ok. My point is that it will take hundreds of miles of wind mills to generate enough electricity to provide 90% of the states needs, and the fact that we don’t have that is just more evidence that this “plan” is poorly thought out. Where, someone please tell me, is that 90% of our energy going to come from?

            “Mr. Roper and his allies seem to believe that climate change is the ONLY environmental problem confronting our existing model of consuming energy and other resources.”

            Not at all. In fact, I think that the focus on and politicization of global warming is a distraction from solving concrete problems of water, air, and soil quality. After all, it’s much easier to get people to rally to “save the planet” than it is to get people to fund and build, say, a sewer treatment plant.

            Politicians love global warming because there is no accountability. No need for a real plan, no need to show concrete results, just whip people into a frenzy of unfocused, often useless activity. Meanwhile, the fecal matter continues to flow into the river because, well, you know everybody’s out saving the plant.

          • John Greenberg :

            Robert Roper makes many points, but I want to respond to just 3 of them:

            1) First, he suggests that the unhindered free market will sort everything out. To this, I would make 3 replies:

            a) There is no such thing as an unhindered free market; it’s a fictional notion with no counterpart in the real world. In particular, US energy markets have been heavily impacted by government policies since the beginning of the republic. (See http://www.dblinvestors.com/documents/What-Would-Jefferson-Do-Final-Version.pdf for some fascinating history and statistics)

            If ALL subsidies could really be eliminated, if tax policies had NO impact on business decisions, if the federal government ceased to see foreign energy assets as its “strategic interests” and ceased to defend them in, e.g, the Middle East and more recently Africa, if producers, rather than taxpayers, bore the cost of remedying environmental and health damage caused by their industries, and if, as Mr. Roper suggests, the government did not pick winners and losers, we would live in a very different world, and all in all in my view, a far better one. For one thing, the nuclear industry would cease to exist virtually overnight, since existing plants (and new ones) cannot function without government insurance and new plants can’t obtain financing without massive government loan subsidies. Oil, coal and gas retail prices would rise to levels seen in many other parts of the world, and renewable energies would become highly competitive immediately.

            Accordingly, however, count me as VERY skeptical that Mr. Roper – from all I understand about his politics – would truly favor removing ALL subsidies and ALL tax advantages.

            While such a world would be a vast improvement over the world we live in, where the most polluting energy sources are the ones which receive the lion’s share of subsidies, tax breaks and other governmental assistance, it would not, in my estimation, be optimal. Unlike Mr. Roper, I believe that the government DOES have a legitimate role to play in the economy. In fact, the most successful economies around the world – including the US – have demonstrated that.

            Mr. Roper’s right: government did not “set out to build the personal computer industry,” but that industry, and many others would not exist without the research and development work undertaken by the US government. The same is true for the internet, many drugs, the nuclear industry in its entirety, and on and on.

            Additionally, Mr. Roper’s claim that the costs of renewables “will come down only if it is left to the free market to develop” is patently false: governments around the world HAVE been increasingly involved in the development of these industries and costs ARE declining steadily.

            In fact:
            b) In my estimation, the legitimate role of government is to accelerate the progress of industries the development of which has more than just an economic benefit. Here, I’m sure, Mr. Roper and I part ways entirely.

            When an entity as large as the federal market enters the marketplace in a non-mature industry, its very presence creates vastly larger demand, which facilitates the mass production of products which otherwise are produced less efficiently. In commodity markets in particular, the ability to manufacture at maximum efficiency requires sufficient demand to justify all-out production. I’ve seen this first hand with products which I used to sell in a business now long closed: namely, recycled paper and compact fluorescent bulbs.

            In particular, government purchases of solar or wind-produced energy can and will bring prices down far more rapidly than the market could do if left to its own devices.

            c) Since this discussion concerns climate change, and not just the production of energy in general, it is important to note a third point: namely, that markets work efficiently only on problems where appropriate price signals can be and are sent. In the absence of market penalties against polluting, e,g, pollution taxes, market participants are incentivized to ignore the effects of their production on the environment because there is no compensation for remedying the problems they’re causing. For those of us who, along with the scientific community, DO believe that human emissions contribute to climate change, it is therefore essential that governments intervene to, at the very least, insure that pollution costs are INTERNALIZED and therefore built into pricing models, rather than left to taxpayers to fix after the fact. Personally, I am therefore a strong proponent of pollution taxes in general, and a carbon tax in particular.

            2) Mr. Roper distorts what I said about Boston and NY being underwater. My point is simple – if climate change is real, then its effects on Vermont will go well beyond having a climate like PA’s. And if the THEORY – for that, of course, is admittedly what the scientific consensus represents – that climate change is man-made proves to be correct, then it will also follow that the costs of preventing climate change will be dwarfed by the costs of rectifying its damage. (see, eg.. http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTINDONESIA/Resources/226271-1170911056314/3428109-1174614780539/SternReviewEng.pdf)

            Finally,

            3) Mr. Roper also distorts what I said about Vermont ridge lines. I did NOT “say that there’s only 39 developable miles of ridge line for wind towers.” I cited a report by VPIRG which calls for meeting the bulk of Vermont’s electricity and transportation needs through a combination of energy efficiency and renewable power by 2032 (in its ”strong renewable energy growth” scenario). That document calls for the development of 39 miles of ridgeline to meet 28% of Vermont’s energy needs from wind, but it doesn’t say that there are only “39 developable miles of ridge line.” It says that only 39 miles are NEEDED to meet the goal the report assigns, based on CEA assumptions about capacity factor, etc. (Since I know Willem Post is just chomping at the bit to call these assumptions unrealistic – a discussion we’ve had at length elsewhere – I’ll just say that even if the CEA if off by double, then we are still talking about LESS than 100 miles, not “hundreds of miles” as Mr. Roper asserted previously).

            It is worth noting that there are MANY documents like VPIRG’s out there, using a variety of assumptions. Part of the reason that there is no single plan – other than the fact that different individuals and organizations may have divergent views – is that the energy sector is still in private hands, and while decisions are influenced by government policies and mandates, they are actually MADE by private entities. In other words, the actual implementation of any “plan” in Vermont is actually created by private initiatives, bumping up against and feeding back on government mandates and regulations, which then transmute into new initiatives, new mandates, and new regulations. This is a feedback process, not a top-down, do here’s the plan now implement it, situation.

    • Lance Hagen :

      Immaterial to Mr. Greenberg’s lengthy rebuttal to Mr. Ropers’s comments on the Spiegel article, the main point is that climate scientists, Hans von Storch being just one, are now doing some serious ‘back peddling’ on the predictive capability of the existing climate models.

      In the last official IPCC report, AWG was tagged as the primary driver in climate change. Now that the actual temperatures have deviated from the model predictions (latest is that, the actual temperature is outside the models 95% confidence limit), they are now hinting that the climate sensitivity to CO2 is only 1/3 less than earlier predictions. So, simply put, when the models miss by a factor of 3, scientists do not need to ‘tweak’ models, they need to do a major ‘overhaul’.

    • Robert,
      “Climate experts have long predicted that temperatures would rise in parallel with greenhouse gas emissions. But, for 15 years, they haven’t”

      Another interesting development is, since 1979 when satellite measurements became available, the computer-based temperature prediction models have predicted a greater world average temperature increase than measured by satellites. These models may be flawed.

    • Robert,

      Here is a URL which shows the impact of various factors affecting global warming by

      Dr. S. Fred Singer, atmospheric physicist
      Professor Emeritus of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia,
      and former director of the US Weather Satellite Service.

      http://www.geocraft.com/WVFossils/greenhouse_data.html

      Water vapor (not droplets, as in clouds)
      CO2
      Methane
      N2O
      Misc. gases

      Water vapor is by far the largest driver of global warming.

      Of the total solar energy intercepted by the earth, about 30% is reflected into space, the rest, absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere, oceans and land masses, is approximately 3,850,000 exajoules (EJ) per year.

      In 2002, this was more energy in one hour than the world used in one year.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_energy

      • Robert,

        Here is an article by Dr. S. Fred Singer, atmospheric physicist Professor Emeritus of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia, and former director of the US Weather Satellite Service.

        He likely knows more about Environmental Sciences than most of the commenters on VTDigger.

        http://www.drroyspencer.com/2013/06/still-epic-fail-73-climate-models-vs-measurements-running-5-year-means/

        And here is the magnified graph.

        http://www.drroyspencer.com/wp-content/uploads/CMIP5-73-models-vs-obs-20N-20S-MT-5-yr-means1.png

        It shows the predicted average world average temperature rise of 73 climate models to be 1.3 C for the 1979-2012 period, but the much more accurate satellite and balloon measurements show a WAT rise of only 0.25 C for the same period, even though atmospheric CO2 increased.

        The satellite and balloon measurements also show no WAT increase for the 1996-2013 period, even though atmospheric CO2 increased.

        The expensive, subsidy-driven RE build-outs that produce expensive, variable, intermittent energy is NOT the answer to mitigate GW, despite what RE proponents aver.

        They will saddle Vermont with highly-visible, high-cost energy, make it LESS competitive and further impoverish already-struggling households and businesses.

        Vermont should concentrate its scarce resources on becoming more efficient/productive, which will ultimate lead to higher living standards.

  2. Kristin Sohlstrom :

    Out of 100% of global warming, what is the current PERCENTAGE caused by human activity?

    Isn’t it the very nature of climate to change?

    How did we get from the Ice Age to where we are today without global warming and when is that exactly supposed to stop? How do you know?

    Why is Bill McKibben given celebrity status for being merely an activist and not a scientist?

    Why are people being kicked out of and displaced from their homes in Uganda over carbon credits…don’t all humans exhale C02?

    Why is VT so behind the science regarding the earth’s climate?

    Why are C02 levels rising but the earth is cooling right now?

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