All posts by Christopher Dunagan

Climate Sense: Talking about climate change

The urgency of addressing climate change in meaningful ways — such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions — seems to be lost on many Americans. Many others, however, feel the urgency to do something, but they don’t know what to do.

Beyond reducing energy consumption in our personal lives, one of the most important things we can do is to talk about climate change, according to a variety of experts who have been sharing their strategies for action.

When I started this “Climate Sense” series, my goal was to share information I come across during my readings about climate change. At the same time, I’ve been trying to include this topic in my everyday conversations, sharing new findings and learning how others feel about the changing weather and more serious problems. This week, I’d like to share some ideas for getting more people into the conversation.

Item 1: Can we dig out of this garbage compactor?

Umbra, Grist magazine’s advice columnist, responded to a question from a reader who wanted to know whether it would make ANY difference to talk to young people about how to fight climate change.

Umbra (Eve Andrews) compares the situation with climate change to a scene in the first “Star Wars” movie in which Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Chewbacca are trapped in a putrid garbage compactor with the walls closing in. The anxiety is running high, but there are no clear escape routes.

With climate change, a sizable number of people believe climate change is real and dangerous, but they don’t feel strongly enough to become politically active. This group is called “informed but idle” by John Cook of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication. Activating these people could tip the balance toward real change, experts say.

Item 2: Understanding another person’s viewpoint

Karin Kirk, a climate scientist who focuses on social behavior, discusses why various groups of people believe what they do about climate change.

“Not every person offering pushback is doing so for the same reason,” she writes in Yale Climate Connections. “Sure, some people are itching for a fight, but myriad others have genuine questions, hold only tentative beliefs, or are in-sync with the mainstream science but not inclined to do anything about it. Gauging someone else’s underlying position can help focus one’s attention on whether — and how — to engage.”

Karin’s advice, like that of many others, is to avoid battling with so-called “trolls,” who will never change their minds, while being willing to share information, beliefs and feelings with everyone else. The video is a TEDx talk by Karin in Bozeman, Mont.

Item 3: Who is able to change his or her mind?

In another article in Yale Climate Connections, Karin Kirk takes a look at people who have admitted to changing their minds about climate change. Many of them started out denying the reality or cause of climate change because of beliefs by family members or friends. They just never changed their attitudes — until they did.

As Karin reported, four factors turned out to be the main reasons that people changed their minds: 1) a close look at scientific evidence, 2) concern for the Earth’s future, 3) weird weather, and 4) a realization that contrarian evidence is not reliable.

Item 4: Building momentum for change

Katharine Hayhoe, a political science professor at Texas Tech University, is another climate scientist trying to find ways to talk to people about climate change. She is a lead author on the U.S. National Climate Assessment.

“The world is changing,” she says in the Ted Talk video shown here. “But it just isn’t changing fast enough. Too often, we picture this problem as a giant boulder sitting at the bottom of a hill, with only a few hands on it, trying to roll it up the hill. But in reality, that boulder is already at the top of the hill. And it’s got hundreds of millions of hands, maybe even billions on it, pushing it down. It just isn’t going fast enough. So how do we speed up that giant boulder so we can fix climate change in time? You guessed it. The number one way is by talking about it.

“The bottom line is this: climate change is affecting you and me right here, right now, in the places where we live. But by working together, we can fix it. Sure, it’s a daunting problem. Nobody knows that more than us climate scientists. But we can’t give in to despair. We have to go out and actively look for the hope that we need, that will inspire us to act. And that hope begins with a conversation today.”

“Climate Sense” is my attempt to share some of the important research, political developments, fascinating viewpoints or inspiring opinions that I come across during my reading. For a further explanation, read my first Water Ways post of 2019: “Climate Sense: I would like to share what I learn during this coming year.”

Sharing info and solving mysteries: International Year of the Salmon

Nearly a decade in the planning phase, it appears that the International Year of the Salmon couldn’t come at a better time for Northwest residents.

More and more people are beginning to recognize the importance of chinook salmon to the long-term survival of our Southern Resident killer whales. Legislation designed to improve the populations of salmon and orcas has gained increased urgency as these iconic creatures continue to decline.

Many countries throughout the Northern Hemisphere have joined together in a campaign to raise public awareness about salmon this year and to increase the support for scientific research and restoration projects that might save endangered salmon from extinction.

One exciting aspect of the International Year of the Salmon, or IYS, is a scientific expedition involving 21 researchers from five countries. This international dream team will depart Sunday from Vancouver, British Columbia, to engage in a month of research into the secrets of salmon survival. I described this long-anticipated endeavor in an article published today in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

I’m hoping that communication with the Russian research vessel carrying these scientists will be adequate to learn about how they are faring along the way, as they traverse 6,000 miles of ocean in a back-and-forth pattern.

“Nothing like this has ever been done before, considering the breadth of work we will be doing in the Gulf of Alaska in the winter,” said Dick Beamish, a longtime Canadian salmon researcher who organized the expedition.

Fernando Lessa, who photographed a person releasing chinook salmon, was named the winner in a photo contest kicking off the International Year of the Salmon.
Photo: Fernando Lessa

The IYS is also fairly unique, involving numerous salmon-rearing countries. This year, 2019, is the “focal year,” but outreach, research and analysis will continue through 2022.

“The extraordinary life histories of salmon in the Northern Hemisphere exposes them to many environmental and human-caused factors influencing their health and abundance,” states the webpage for the campaign. “We want to bring people together, share and develop knowledge, raise awareness and take action.”

Goals of the IYS include:

  • Developing a greater understanding of what drives salmon abundance,
  • Encouraging scientists, decision-makers and the public to identify and start solving the problems that salmon face,
  • Working to implement conservation and restoration strategies for salmon,
  • Inspiring a new generation of people committed to saving salmon on an international scale, and
  • Improving awareness of the ecological, social, cultural and economic importance of salmon.

To kick off the Year of the Salmon, the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission held a photo contest last fall. The theme of “Salmon and people in a changing world” matched the theme of the IYS. The winning photo, shown on this page, is titled “Releasing some chinook fry in Surrey!” by photographer Fernando Lessa, a resident of North Vancouver, B.C.

Events scheduled this year include:

Salmon Recovery Conference: April 8-9, Greater Tacoma Convention Center. The conference brings together those involved in salmon recovery in Washington state with the idea of sharing best practices and improving local recovery plans.

The Second North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission IYS Workshop: May 18-20, Portland, Ore. The workshop will focus on the latest information on salmon, including their migration, distribution, growth and survival.

World Salmon Forum: Aug. 21-23, Seattle. The forum aims to bring together scientists, advocates and foundations with an interest in understanding the science and improving the management of wild salmon in both the Pacific and Atlantic regions.

Coho Festival, 2019: Sept. 8, West Vancouver, B.C. The festival, put on by the Coho Society, is a celebration of returning salmon and a fund-raiser for salmon-restoration projects.

To recognize that salmon are cherished on both sides of the Atlantic and Pacific, I’ve included a video featuring George Eustice, Great Britain’s Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Many organizations have proposed specific projects this year, including some mentioned on the IYS website.

Documents and websites related to IYS:

Amusing Monday: Snow swimming; so what’s holding you back?

If deep snow has fallen around your house, you might as well throw caution to the wind and go swimming. Put on your swimming suit, dive into a snow drift and swim hard — freestyle, backstroke or even butterfly. More than a few crazy people have done it.

With all the fresh snow we’ve had the past few days in the Puget Sound region, I thought I could find some fresh videos of the so-called snow swimming challenge. My search came up empty, but if anyone knows of any new videos — or if you make a new one yourself — feel free to share the link.

The first video on this page, posted Jan. 19, shows the basics of the sport in its simplest form. Nicole, who posted the video, is a competitive high school swimmer in Ohio, as one can see from her other videos.

One of the best compilation videos was put together two years ago and posted by Swirly Pancake Films. That’s the second video. Some of these video clips were captured several years ago, but I think they’re still amusing.

The third video, posted in January, shows Andri Ragetti, a Swiss freestyle skier who is shown attacking the snow in an entirely new way. Ragetti accomplished an “epic 2018 campaign,” landing on the podium in six out of six World Cup competitions, according to his biography for the X Games. He was the first skier ever to land back-to-back triples in a slopestyle competition (Aspen 2016) and the first to land a quad cork 1800 (South Tyrol, Italy, 2017).

The last video is a vlog by Sierra, who begins the video with a commitment to go for a swim in the snow. Her discussion is amusing, as she spends most of the next three minutes talking herself into it and then later regretting it.

“You may be wondering, what made you want to jump in a cold, really cold, disgusting cold pile of snow?” she ponders. “I don’t know what to tell you. I just looked out the window, and it’s like, that’s it; I’m gonna make the jump; I’m gonna do it.”

The question is, did she ever really swim in the snow, as the video title suggests?

Climate Sense: Congressional hearings and the Green New Deal

Congress is becoming active on climate change — at least with respect to hearings and proposed legislation. Progressive Democrats, including newly elected members of the House, are expressing hope that climate change will be taken off the back burner and brought to a simmering boil. I would also like to point you to some new findings about the impacts of climate change on the Himalayan region of Asia.

Item 1: Climate change hearings

In taking control of the U.S. House of Representatives, House leaders wasted no time this week in turning their attention to climate change. Three separate hearings were held on the issue, two at the same time on Wednesday and the third on Thursday.

The Democrats’ strategy seems to be for members to spell out the science of climate change, describe the environmental dangers and balance the economic risks and benefits of possible solutions. But, as described by National Public Radio reporter Rebecca Hersher, Democrats must unify their own approaches to the problem while trying to bring Republicans into the discussion.

“You know, I don’t think there’s going to be universal agreement on a high bipartisan level to do anything about climate change,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, in the interview with Hersher (above).

The hearing in Grijalva’s committee (first video) opens with two governors, Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina, a Democrat, and Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, a Republican.

“In Massachusetts, climate change is not a partisan issue,” says Republican Baker in his testimony (PDF 249 kb). “While there may sometimes be disagreement on specific policies, we understand the science and we know the impacts are real.

“We know through experience that mitigation to clean up our energy supply and transportation system, paired with adaptation strategies to reduce risk and build resilience can foster strong communities, protect residents and natural resources, and contribute to strong economic growth and innovation throughout the state.”

Check out the committee’s website for a list of speakers and links to their prepared testimony.

The title of the concurrent hearing on Wednesday was “Time for Action: Addressing the Environmental and Economic Effects of Climate Change.” It was before the Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change under the Energy and Commerce Committee. Despite the word “climate” in the formal name of the committee, there have been no climate-change hearings before the committee for six years while Democrats were in the wilderness.

Watch the hearing in the second video on this page. For a list of witnesses and their prepared testimony, go to the subcommittee’s webpage on the hearing.

The following day, Thursday, the Water, Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee of the Natural Resources Committee held a hearing focused largely on the effects of climate change on the ocean. Watch the third video for details.

Chairman Jared Huffman, a Democratic representative from California, said at the outset that he wanted to change the tone and approach of the discussions about climate change. He said he intends to allow Republican members to call witnesses of their choosing and he hoped that both parties could even agree to some “joint” witnesses.

It didn’t take long, however, for Huffman to express disappointment, after Republicans called witnesses who downplayed the urgency of climate change. Huffman even pushed back against Kevin Dayaratna, a statistician with the Heritage Foundation, who claimed that reducing greenhouse gases could have devastating impacts on the economy.

“I’m a little disappointed that instead of focusing on the health of our oceans and some of the seemingly obvious things we need to acknowledge and work on together, that we got this thick denialism,” Huffman told Eos reporter Randy Showstack after the hearing. “It’s sort of the last gasp of a certain type of politics that is starting to give way to reality and to science. But we’ll continue to see it from time to time…

“It is cold comfort to the lobstermen that a statistician from the Heritage Foundation hypothesizes that there may be beneficial aspects to CO2 concentrations,” he continued. “They’re losing their industry because of ocean acidification, and I don’t think they’re interested in these intellectual games that right-wing institutes want to play on this issue.”

The hearing is shown in the third video on this page. A witness list and links to prepared testimony can be found on the committee’s webpage.

Item 2: Green New Deal

Liberal Democrats, led by freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, rolled out a plan this week to battle climate change under the title Green New Deal.

“The resolution has more breadth than detail and is so ambitious that Republicans greeted it with derision,” noted reporters Lisa Friedman and Glenn Thrush of the New York Times. “Its legislative prospects are bleak in the foreseeable future; Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California has no plan to bring the resolution in its current form to the floor for a vote, according to a Democratic leadership aide with direct knowledge of her plans.”

I was going to share a fact sheet to help explain what the program would entail, but there’s been some controversy about various drafts of the fact sheets floating around, and some versions have even been called “a hoax” by advisers to the Green New Deal campaign. See today’s story by Tal Axelrod in “The Hill.”

Anyway, Ocasio-Cortez is pointing people to the actual resolution submitted to Congress. Perhaps some reliable fact sheets will be written from the resolution, with opposing viewpoints considered.

Item 3: Melting Himalayan glaciers

High-altitude glaciers, such as those in the Himalayan Mountains, are melting faster than ice packs at lower elevations, placing huge populations at risk of social upheaval before many other places around the world, according to a comprehensive new report.

River flows in the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra are expected to increase until about 2050 as the glaciers melt away, and then decrease to catastrophic flows as the ice disappears.

Half the children in Himalayan villages are already undernourished, placing them at greater risk from climate change, as reported in the Nepali Times, which addresses the report.

“Nepal’s national poverty rate is 23 percent, but 42 percent of the country’s mountain dwellers are poor,” says the story by Kunda Dixit, who quotes from the report. “Because they have fewer choices, the poorest are already beginning to suffer from erratic weather and other impacts of climate change, adding to the push-factors in outmigration.

“The report also lays out policy options for countries in the Himalaya, which include increased cross-border cooperation among them to battle common threats. One concrete step would be China, Nepal and India cooperating on disaster early warning on future Glacial Lake Outburst Floods. The report also calls for added investment in meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal targets which would build resilience among mountain peoples by giving them more options to adapt.”

The 627-page report, called “The Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment,” can be reviewed through the Springer link. The last video on this page is a discussion by David Molden, head of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, which produced the report.

“Climate Sense” is my attempt to share some of the important research, political developments, fascinating viewpoints or inspiring opinions that I come across during my reading. For a further explanation, read my first Water Ways post of 2019: “Climate Sense: I would like to share what I learn during this coming year.”

Learning the fate of Springer’s stick, a key to an orca rescue

When is a medical intervention appropriate for a sick or ailing killer whale?

It’s a complicated question, as I learned by interviewing a variety of experts in a two-part series just published in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

One aspect of the story that I found interesting was how a simple tree branch helped to make a connection between humans and a lonely orca named Springer. If you have read my story, you might be interested in how the stick played an ongoing role after the rescue.

The question of medical intervention with wild killer whales has become more urgent with an ongoing drop in the population of the critically endangered southern resident orcas of Puget Sound.

Last summer, the world watched as 4-year-old Scarlet, a female orca designated J50, became emaciated and eventually died. Medical experts tried unsuccessfully to help her, and they are still debating whether they did too much or too little.

In contrast, we have the story of Springer, or A73, an orphan killer whale who was successfully rescued from Puget Sound, nursed back to health and returned to her family in Northern British Columbia.

Differences between the two cases are stark. No doubt the biggest difference is that Springer was all alone, whereas Scarlet stayed with her close-knit family. Anything done to Scarlet, helpful or not, had effects on all the orcas around her.

As I learned while talking to folks about Springer, the lonely whale found an attachment to humans through a stick, which served as both a back scratcher and a toy. The stick became the key to getting a blood sample from a moving whale, and the blood sample was essential to moving ahead with the rescue, as I explained in the story.

What happened to the stick after Springer was captured and taken to a net pen for rehab?

Dr. Pete Schroeder, a veterinarian who helped get the blood sample, told me the stick stayed with the whale in the net pen. Sometimes people working with her would bring out the stick after she ate her meal of fish. It was a type of reward, Pete said. He calls the stick a “transitional object,” a term from psychology for an item that brings comfort.

“She loved that stick,” Pete said. “She swam up to it, recognized it and did 360s around it.”

The stick also went with Springer to Dong Chong Bay on Hanson Island, where she was released to her family calling to her through the water.

A First Nations dance group, called the Le-La-La Dancers, is known for performing traditional Kwakwaka’wakw (pronounced kwa kwa key wok) dances, representing the First Nations culture of the North Vancouver Island region. One dance is enhanced with a unique five-foot-long mask of a killer whale. The dancer’s moves — up and down, and side to side — represent the diving, breaching and swimming of a killer whale. Check out the video on this page.

As Pete recalled, “They used that special orca mask in a ceremony as we handed the stick over to the First Nations band. We hoped that they could use it to somehow influence Springer’s homecoming to her pod.”

After Springer was released from the net pen on Hanson Island, she swam out to her pod, but she did not stay with the whales. Slow to integrate with her own kind, she approached fishing boats and other vessels, even as the whale researchers asked boaters not to interact with her.

“We knew we had a problem,” Pete said, “and we were asked by the First Nations people to attend a meeting.”

The researchers were told about the history and culture of the native people and the spiritual relationships with the animals of the region, especially the killer whales.

George Taylor, who leads the Le-La-La Dancers, said a special ceremony was held for Springer using the killer whale mask and the stick. The dance with the mask has been performed many times, George told me. It represents the transformation of a killer whale into a man.

The “sacred stick,” as George calls it, was brought into the ceremonial dance to revisit the connection between Springer and the people who knew her. George has long felt a spiritual connection to killer whales, a connection that started years ago when he was approached by orcas during a fishing trip.

“The killer whales came and swam around me,” he said. “It seemed like they knew who I was.”

Some things are too mysterious to explain with science, Pete said. For whatever reason, the timing of the ceremony involving the stick coincided with Springer’s permanent break with the humans and a return to more natural ways.

“After the ceremony,” Pete recalled, “she stayed with her pod and never approached humans again.”

George says he does not know what happened to the stick after that.

Springer stories: Read “Pod reunion: Waters of home welcome Springer,” July 14th, 2002

Amusing Monday: Ads feature mermaids, fountains and Bublé

Someday, on one of these Super Bowl Sundays, I won’t be able to find any funny commercials with a connection to water to fit the theme of this blog. But that was not the case this year. So, as I have in past years, I am sharing some commercials suitable for this “Amusing Monday” weekly feature.

I guess I should mention that many critics were not thrilled with this year’s Super Bowl ads. It has become a pastime for business and media writers to review the commercials, knowing that some people tune in to the game mainly for the ads. This year, critics could not agree whether the game or the commercials were more lackluster.

Part of the problem, said Eric Deggans of NPR, is that advertisers were trying too hard not to offend.

“That left viewers with a lot of spots centered on emotional tributes to first responders and soldiers, artificial intelligence and robots acting out and awkward celebrity cameos,” he noted. “One example: Charlie Sheen, reading a newspaper as Mr. Peanut speeds by in a car shaped like a peanut, looking up to say, ‘and people think I’m nuts.’ Really.”

In all, 54 advertisers spent about $5.25 million for each 30 seconds of screen time, and together they produced a total of 93 commercials. One can review them all by going to iSpot.com, which lists them by the quarter of the game in which they were shown.

Amazon

One of the highest-rated commercials in Sunday’s game was an Amazon spoof about new products being linked up to Alexa, which allows voice commands to get things done. Not everything should be controlled by voice, as explained in the ad, which you can see in the first video on this page. For example, when you talk to Alexa in your hot tub, you might get an out-of-control fountain, like the one at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

The Amazon commercial also shows another failed product: a dog collar that can turn a dog’s bark into an order for dog food. Harrison Ford appears unamused as he demands that his dog cancel the order.

Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer

The most obvious water-related commercial was a pair of mermaids, Bonnie and Vivian, promoting Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer, a new name for a recently reformulated Anheuser-Busch InBev product. According to E.S. Schultz of Ad Age magazine, the brewer wanted to name it bon vivant, a French term meaning “one who lives well,” but the two women’s names fit right in.

The ad, shown in the second video player, was crafted to avoid sexual innuendo, often associated with mermaids, according to Chelsea Phillips, vice president for “beyond beer” brands at AB InBev.

“It has two females in a founder position and presented in a different way than we have ever seen alcohol present females characters before,” Phillips was quoted as saying. “The strength of these women is very important to me. As a female VP, I want to see more of that representation in this space, but I didn’t want it to be a trope. I just wanted it to feel natural … versus more of an overt statement.”

Initially, I missed the “Shark Tank” TV show reference, as the two mermaids pitch their products to some animated sharks.

Stella Artois

Sarah Jessica Parker revives her role as Carrie Bradshaw in “Sex and the City,” while Jeff Bridges returns to the same bar as The Dude from “The Big Lebowski.” The shocker comes when Carrie orders a Stella Artois beer instead of her usual Cosmopolitan, and then The Dude follows by eschewing his regular White Russian for a beer.

Some critics were mortified that two iconic characters would be lowered to this commercial level to sell beer, but others enjoyed the clever revival of these established characters.

As a side note, Stella has participated in the water.org campaign since 2015, helping to provide water access to 1.7 million people in need of clean drinking water.

Michael Bublé or Bubly

Singer Michael Bublé plays along in a 30-second ad for Pepsi’s sparkling water brand Bubly, which just happens to have a similar name to his own. The title of the commercial is “Can I have a bublé?”

The ad is promoting four new flavors — blackberrybubly, cranberrybubly, raspberrybubly and peachbubly, — to add to the eight existing flavors, but you might not know that if you’re not watching closely.

“I might be Canadian, but I’m a big fan of American football,” Bublé says in a press release. “I had a blast doing my very first Super Bowl commercial with bublé – I mean bubly. Because of our similar names, the brand and I share a special bond. I love how the cans are bold, bright and full of personality. They’re perfect for any Super Bowl viewing partés you might be having.”

Washington Post

Aside from the humorous videos, The Washington Post bought time near the end of the game to remind us all of the importance of a free press and the professional journalists who tell everyday stories and sometimes sacrifice everything to bring truth out of the dark corners of the world.

As Tom Hanks says as narrator in the WaPo video, “Knowing keeps us free.”

Again, if you would like to see all the Super Bowl commercials, check out iSpot.com, which lists them by the quarter of the game in which they were shown.

Climate Sense: U.S. stuck in icebox while Australia comes out of the oven

Last week, I shared stories about a record heat wave that has been causing severe fires, drought and medical emergencies in Australia. This week, I was pleased to see climatologists and meteorologists in the U.S. take time to explain to average people how we can have bitter cold amid a phenomenon called climate change, which is raising the average temperature across the Earth.

By the way, January was the hottest month ever for Australia, according to an article by BBC News, telling just how bad it got. Temperatures have moderated the past few days.

Item 1: Explaining the polar vortex

“The country is freezing in an unprecedented fashion, and global warming is to blame. Sound crazy?” Thus begins a clear-eyed explanation of the Earth’s atmosphere and the role of the polar vortex in a story written by Ethan Siegel, an astrophysicist and science writer.

The story, published by Forbes magazine, is accompanied by graphics that help with the explanation. This is a complex subject, so my advice is to read the story carefully and appreciate the complexity. I’ve read this piece three times now, and I’m growing more confident that I can explain these important concepts to friends and family.

Item 2: Meteorologists play an important role

Seattle’s KING 5 TV meteorologist Darren Peck tackled the polar vortex issue for local viewers, demonstrating the importance of TV weather forecasters in helping the public understand climate change.

Darren, who joined a rather sizeable weather staff at King 5, came to Seattle last year from Sacramento. His presentation on the polar vortex can be seen in the first video on this page.

Item 3: Calling on all TV meteorologists

“Climate Matters,” developed by the independent organization “Climate Central,” serves as a resource for broadcast meteorologists and journalists covering climate change.

As stated on the Climate Matters website:

“Knowing that TV meteorologists are among the best and most trusted local science communicators, Climate Matters began in 2010 as a pilot project with a single TV meteorologist in Columbia, S.C., with funding from the National Science Foundation. Jim Gandy of WXLT gave his viewers regular updates on how climate change was affecting them through the inaugural Climate Matters.”

In the second video Gandy explains how he uses Climate Matters in his local broadcasts.

Sean Sublette, a Climate Matters meteorologist, says that Climate Matters is making a difference by providing information and graphics.

“The Climate Matters program continues to grow, as more the 600 media meteorologists now receive our Climate Matters releases,” Sean told me in an email. “Nine of those receiving our weekly emails are currently employed on the air in Washington state.”

Sean said the organization does not give out individual names of participants, nor is it clear how much anyone uses the information. Seattle affiliates for ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox are connected in some way, along with others in Spokane and Yakima, he said.

Anyone can sign up for information provided by Climate Central through the online subscription form.

Item 4: President Trump weighs in

With all the climate experts that President Trump can call on for an education about climate change, why does he insist on remaining ignorant — or at least appearing to be? Surely by now he knows the difference between weather and climate, since the topic has come up many times before. Maybe Trump thinks this joke is still funny.

In the third video provided by CNN, the network’s Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon attempt to explain the president’s behavior.

“Maybe he’s just playing to the crowd,” Lemon says. “Maybe he is just reading the room and he understands that his folks don’t want climate change to be real, so he’s trying to reconfirm their beliefs already. It could just be that simple, because it would be stunning that anyone who has any knowledge and any education … wouldn’t believe in actual science and scientists.”

Item 5: Evidence of the polar vortex

The last video is an image captured by NASA’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) aboard the Aqua satellite. The video shows the various temperatures of the Arctic air mass, known as the polar vortex, as it moves around the Earth from Jan. 21 to Jan. 29. The coldest temperatures, shown in purple, are as low as 40 degrees below zero (-40 degrees, both F and C), reaching as far south as South Dakota. (Credit for the graphic goes to NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory-Caltech AIRS Project.)

Item 6: Fewer extreme cold temps

Despite the anomalies in the polar vortex, there have been twice as many record highs as record lows since 2010, according to a story by Climate Central.

“In the last half-century, 96 percent of our 244 locations have recorded a rise of at least 1°F in their yearly coldest temperature, while only 2 percent have seen a decrease of at least 1°F,” the story says.

“Climate Sense” is my attempt to share some of the important research, political developments, fascinating viewpoints or inspiring opinions that I come across during my reading. For a further explanation, read my first Water Ways post of 2019: “Climate Sense: I would like to share what I learn during this coming year.”

Petition seeks upgrades to Puget Sound sewage treatment plants

UPDATE, Feb. 12
Northwest Environmental Advocates has taken its case to court in an effort to obtain a new Washington state sewage-treatment standard under AKART — “All Known, Available and Reasonable Treatment.” For information about the case, refer to the NWEA news release and the lawsuit filed in Thurston County Superior Court.
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An environmental group, Northwest Environmental Advocates, is calling on the Washington Department of Ecology and Gov. Jay Inslee to invoke a 1945 law in hopes of forcing cities and counties to improve their sewage-treatment plants.

Large ribbons of the plankton Noctiluca can be seen in this photo taken at Poverty Bay near Federal Way on June 28 last year. Excess nitrogen can stimulate plankton growth, leading to low-oxygen conditions.
Photo: Eyes Over Puget Sound, Department of Ecology

In a petition to Ecology, the group says the state agency should require cities and counties to upgrade their plants to “tertiary treatment” before the wastewater gets discharged into Puget Sound. Such advanced treatment would remove excess nitrogen along with some toxic chemicals that create problems for sea life, according to Nina Bell, executive director of NWEA, based in Portland.

Most sewage-treatment plants in the region rely on “secondary treatment,” which removes most solids but does little to reduce nitrogen or toxic chemicals. Secondary treatment is an outdated process, Nina told me, adding that Ecology needs to lead the way to a more advanced treatment technology.

“It’s a travesty that cities around Puget Sound continue to use 100-year-old sewage-treatment technology when cities across the nation have demonstrated that solutions are available and practical,” she said.

According to Nina, state law requires the use of “all known, available and reasonable treatment,” or AKART for short. Secondary treatment is the current AKART standard of treatment, she said, but tertiary treatment is known, available and reasonable — and it should become the new AKART standard.

The petition to Ecology (PDF 793 kb), filed in November, was denied earlier this month.

“Although Ecology has decided to deny your petition, we share your concerns regarding existing nutrient impacts and dissolved oxygen impairments within Puget Sound,” states the response (857 kb) signed by Ecology Director Maia Bellon. “However, Ecology does not agree that revising (state regulations) to define AKART as tertiary treatment … is a reasonable approach to address Puget Sound water quality impairments.”

Tertiary treatment is “neither affordable nor necessary for all wastewater treatment plants,” the Ecology director says in the letter, adding that Ecology’s approach is to set effluent limits for each discharger at levels that avoid water quality violations.

A major effort, called the Puget Sound Nutrient Source Reduction Project is using a computer model to look at the effects of nitrogen releases from various sewage-treatment plants at current rates of loading and to consider what would happen if tertiary treatment were installed at specific problem locations.

Meanwhile, future discharge permits issued by Ecology will consider nitrogen loading and require treatment plant operators to evaluate the effects of potential nitrogen-reduction targets, Maia noted.

Preliminary studies showed that if nitrogen-removal equipment were installed at the five largest plants in Puget Sound, the population could double without increasing nitrogen loading. Installing the equipment at all treatment plants in Puget Sound could lead to a 40-percent reduction in nitrogen, according to information I reviewed for a series of stories last year in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

Taking the next step before considering a possible lawsuit, Northwest Environmental Advocates appealed to Gov. Inslee this week to overturn Ecology’s finding and support a requirement that all discharges to Puget Sound meet the higher level of treatment. Check out the appeal petition (PDF 217 kb).

Noctiluca scintillans bloom at Saltwater State Park in Des Moines recorded June 4 of last year.
Video: Washington Department of Ecology

Tertiary treatment is being used in some areas of Puget Sound where excess nitrogen has produced massive plankton blooms, creating low-oxygen conditions that can be deadly to sea life. The Olympia region in South Puget Sound is one example. Check out my story in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

Excess nitrogen in Puget Sound can trigger massive plankton blooms, which can lead to deadly low-oxygen conditions for fish and other marine life.

Other than sewage-treatment plants, sources of nitrogen include fertilizers from farm fields and septic systems in rural areas, as well as natural sources such as decomposing vegetation, nitrogen-releasing plants and salmon that have spawned and died.

The greatest obstacle to upgrading all 87 sewage-treatment plants in Puget Sound is cost, according to local and state officials who peg the total costs of sewer upgrades in the billions of dollars.

The largest sewage facility in Puget Sound is King County’s West Point plant in Seattle, which has no room to grow, according to county officials. To upgrade the plant to tertiary treatment would require that new equipment be installed elsewhere, with the sewage piped to the new plant.

Nina Bell said if the state declared that tertiary treatment was “known, available and reasonable” under the AKART requirement, then individual treatment facilities could seek a variance for such hardships, or at least be given adequate time to design and install the equipment.

“It may be difficult,” she said, “but difficult translates to using different approaches to the problem. Getting a rule change is the first step to making this a priority. The state makes all sorts of decisions that cost large amounts of money, including stadiums and such. It takes leadership to get something done.”

When the U.S. Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, secondary treatment became the requirement for most facilities across the country. New sewage-treatment plants were required in many areas. At first, the federal government offered grants of 90 percent for construction, leaving local governments to pick up the remaining 10 percent. Later, when those grants expired, Washington state launched its own program with 50 percent grants.

The value of fish, shellfish and recreation that results from having a healthy Puget Sound cannot be overlooked, Nina said. “Like all things, Puget Sound requires maintenance.”

Tertiary-treatment systems are designed to remove nitrogen, Nina said. But studies have shown that they can also remove some level of toxic chemicals, including medicines, personal-care products and other “contaminants of emerging concern” that currently go unregulated.

She cited an Ecology study (PDF 9.7 mb), which showed that secondary treatment systems were able to reduce 21 percent of the 172 compounds tested to levels below reporting limits. But advanced nutrient-removal systems, such as tertiary treatment, were able to clean up 53 percent of the chemicals.

Reducing those toxic compounds in Puget Sound would provide benefits for all species, including highly contaminated salmon and orcas, she said.

The AKART standard, adopted as state policy in 1945, was envisioned to keep the waters of the state clean, Nina said. It only makes sense to use the latest technology in a reasonable way. At this point, she added, it would be better late than never.

Amusing Monday: Silly children’s songs about creatures in the sea

“Riding on a Lobster Tail” is a live show produced by singer/songwriter/actor Angela Woodhull of Gainesville, Fla. The program, designed to educate children, comes in two versions: a large stage show with singers, dancers and musicians and a one-person storytelling, sing-along show.

The story revolves around a family aboard a cruise ship who learns about a a variety of sea creatures that they encounter. “Queen Angelina,” as Angela is known in her stage life, tells the story while singing about the various animals.

I discovered at least 15 songs written for the show as I searched for music to fit with the “Water Ways” theme of this blog. See the YouTube search page for “Riding on a Lobster Tail.”

I learned that Angela has produced programs for educating children that go far beyond marine creatures to other stories of nature to issues of health and everyday living. In all, she has written more than 300 songs, including down-to-earth songs about getting your ears pierced at the mall and taking care of head lice to wacky songs about populating Mars with potato salad and a kid with two left shoes. Check out Angela’s YouTube channel with about 100 videos.

“I don’t know where these songs come from,” she said in a news release. “I think they are spiritual gifts.”

One evening, a song entered her head without warning and she pulled into the parking lot at a closed shopping center in Forsyth, Mo., to capture the song on paper before it disappeared. A police officer pulled up and demanded to know what she was doing.

After she explained, the cop said, “Well then, let’s hear that song.” And so it was that Angela launched into “The Cow Song” for the very first time, with a chorus of “Moo, moo, moos!” The officer kept his flashlight directed to the singer’s face and never even cracked a smile. Listen to “The Cow Song” for yourself and see if you can figure out how the officer remained unamused.

Angela Woodhull first introduced her comedy music at nursing homes, then moved on to sing-alongs for college students before focusing on children.

“When children dance and laugh,” she said, “they’re more likely to remember the ABC’s of good nutrition, health and fitness – and have fun!”

For information, visit the website “Celebrate Life Arts.” One can contact Angela by email, celebratelifearts@yahoo.com.

Here are songs from the show “Riding on a Lobster Tail.”

Climate Sense: Public opinions shift; economic experts propose plan

I would like to share five items related to the Australian summer, medical doctors’ responsibility, public opinions and an approach to carbon taxation favored by many leading economists.

Item 1: Australian weather

It’s summer in Australia, where temperatures in the town of Adelaide reached 115.9 degrees — the hottest temperature ever recorded for a major Australian city. See Associated Press story.

Records were shattered in cities throughout South Australia, as the nation heads toward what could be the hottest January ever for the country. In at least one location, temperatures exceeded 120 degrees F. (49 degrees C.), according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

In Tasmania on Friday, the heat wave combined with a prolonged drought left Australia struggling with more than 50 wildfires, and at least two homes were burned down, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Item 2: Health emergency

“As physicians, we have a special responsibility to safeguard health and alleviate suffering. Working to rapidly curtail greenhouse gas emissions is now essential to our healing mission,” says an editorial by two doctors in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Doctors can encourage lifestyle changes that reduce the environmental footprint, but they can also play a role in educating people about the health consequences of climate change, say Dr. Caren G. Solomon, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, and Dr. Regina C. LaRocque, an assistant professor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“We can help motivate people to act by clarifying the links between environmental degradation and tangible problems, such as air pollution, insectborne diseases and heatstroke,” they write. “We can also emphasize the health benefits that will accrue as we move to alternative sources of energy.”

The editorial was written in relation to an article in the same Jan. 17 edition of NEJM, a report by Drs. Andy Haines and Kristie Ebi titled “The Imperative for Climate Action to Protect Health.”

Item 3: Public opinions on climate change and carbon pricing

Nearly half of Americans (48%) think people in the United States are being harmed by global warming “right now,” according to the latest survey by the Yale Program on Climate Communication. That’s an increase of 16 percent since March 2015 and 9 percent since March 2018.

Read the executive summary or the full report, “Climate Change in the American Mind: December 2018” by going to the Yale website.

In a different survey, Americans demonstrated growing support for a carbon tax to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, provided they are given sufficient details on how the revenues would be used, according to November’s National Survey on Energy and the Environment, which has been tracking public opinions for the past 10 years.

A majority (60%) of Democrats said they would support a carbon tax even when given little information about how that tax would be designed. But the same is true of only 30% of Republicans, according to the summary of findings.

Yet a majority of both groups are more supportive of a carbon tax when details are given about how the revenues would be used. Among Democrats, 85 percent would support a tax that directs revenues to clean energy projects or to improve energy efficiency, while Republicans support those concepts at 66 and 69 percent.

Item 4: Economists favor carbon dividend

A growing number of economists from both political parties — including four former Federal Reserve chairmen — favors a carbon dividend plan to “send a powerful price signal that harnesses the invisible hand of the marketplace to steer economic actors towards a low-carbon future,” they wrote in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

The plan has such broad appeal because it would be “revenue neutral” by giving rebates to all Americans while reducing regulatory uncertainty, according to the group.

In addition to the former Federal Reserve chiefs, the list includes 27 Nobel Laureate economists, 15 former chairs of the Council of Economic Advisers and two former U.S. Treasury secretaries, George Shultz and Lawrence Summers. Schultz and Summers authored a seven-page outline of the plan called “The Dividend Advantage (PDF 1.3 mb).

“For the first time, there’s consensus among economists on what to do with the money, and the answer is to give it back to the American people,” said Ted Halstead, head of the Climate Leadership Council backing the plan, as quoted in Bloomberg.

Item 5: Explaining carbon pricing with chickens

If carbon pricing has you confused, it may be time to return to basics with a video featuring chickens as a way to understand the economic forces that could bring greenhouse gases under control. The video focuses on the two major pricing mechanisms — carbon tax and cap and trade. The “carbon dividend plan,” supported by the economists mentioned above, would simply redistribute the tax to everyone, regardless of how much tax they paid.

The video, seen on this page, was posted on EarthFix Media, a partnership of Oregon Public Broadcasting, Idaho Public Television, KCTS9 Seattle, KUOW Puget Sound Public Radio, Northwest Public Radio and Television, Jefferson Public Radio, KLCC and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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“Climate Sense” is my attempt to share some of the important research, political developments, fascinating viewpoints or inspiring opinions that I come across during my reading. For a further explanation, read my first Water Ways post of 2019: “Climate Sense: I would like to share what I learn during this coming year.”