Addressing climate change may foster economic recovery

Several Congressional hearings have been held this year on climate science and potential policy actions such as  federal regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. There are those in Congress who argue that regardless of whether or not they are convinced that human activity is leading to changes in the atmosphere, the United States  cannot afford to address it amidst a soaring budget deficit and high unemployment. Given these economic concerns, numerous scientists have recently pointed out that addressing climate change and working to create jobs and fuel the economy are not mutually exclusive. One of those scientists is Dr. Knute Nadelhoffer, Director of the University of Michigan Biological Station in Pellston, MI in the center of the Great Lakes Basin. In the latest edition of the Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, Dr. Nadelhoffer discusses his experience testifying before a congressional committee. During the podcast, he also notes how previous attempts to address environmental challenges  led to new  jobs. “The Clean Air Act created jobs. It created technologies,” he said. “It developed entrenprenuer enterprises that led to new products and improved our effeciencies, so I think the precedent is that we will create jobs” through the implementation of greenhouse gas regulations. In his testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Energy and Power Subcommittee, Dr. Nadelhoffer outlined a series of economic impacts of climate change in the Great Lakes region, which are happening now. He stated that: “The economy of the eight states and Canadian provinces that surround the Great Lakes are the third or fourth largest in the world and in our region, we interact intimately with our natural resources to sustain our economy and our culture, so we pay close attention to what happens around us.” Dr. Nadelhoffer went on to testify that the temperature of Lake Superior, the deepest and largest lake in the western hemisphere and second largest in the world, has risen by 4.5 degrees Farenheit in the past 30 years. He stated that increased flooding associated with climatic changes leads to increased amounts of sediment and fertilizers entering waterways, which are associated with toxic algae blooms that consume oxygen, kill fish, create aquatic dead zones and increase costs of water treatments. He also noted the significant infrastructure cost borne by storm systems that were built 50 years ago in cities bordering the Great Lakes such as South Haven, Michigan and Milwaukee, Wisconsin that are no longer able to cope with this increased flooding. Dr. Nadelhoffer had been called to testify partly because of a letter to Michigan’s congressional delegation he helped spearhead.  In total, the letter had 178 signatures from scientists in prominent universities across the state,...

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When it comes to economics, diversity is key

A study published this week in Nature compared the U.S. economic downturn with a current ecological issue: a decline in biodiversity. In the study, economist Andrew Haldane of the Bank of England and zoologist Robert May of Oxford University basically described the financial system as having similar weaknesses as a monoculture. That is, if all banks are run equally, they are more susceptible to a uniform crisis; much in the way that a pest invasion would have a farther-reaching impact on a plot of land with all of the same species. According to a Scientific American article, “One way to combat this issue is to establish more self-contained “nodes” as has been employed in forest management and even computer networks, so that if one element takes a hit, it doesn’t take down the entire system.” As Sarah Zielinski explained in today’s Surprising Science post, “There are lessons to be had from the world of ecology, say Haldane and May. We could be promoting and managing ecosystem resilience better by requiring banks to have a larger proportion of liquid assets on hand in case of some sort of shock to the system. Taking a lesson from epidemiology, we could focus on limiting the number of ‘super-spreaders’ within the network; but instead of quarantining infected individuals we would somehow limit the number of ‘super-spreader institutions,’ those banks more familiarly labeled as ‘too big to fail.’” Discover’s blog 80beats implied that the current structure could be affected like a trophic cascade: “Modern ecologists recognize that the failure of key species could cause non-linear, cascading ripples that cripple a whole ecosystem.” Some might propose that these comparisons oversimplify the financial system; however, the overall recognition that industry could draw on ecological science to reevaluate such a complex network is a valid argument to make. “Whether or not experts agree that biology is a useful lens through which to study financial markets, Haldane and May suggested that financial regulation is already ‘following in the footsteps of ecology, which has increasingly drawn on a system-wide perspective when promoting and managing ecosystem resilience,’” concluded the Scientific American article. Photo Credit: Dirk...

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The price tag of climate change

The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming met one last time December 1, 2010 for a hearing entitled, “Not Going Away: America’s Energy Security, Jobs and Climate Challenges.” Committee Chairman Edward Markey described it as a “fitting title for issues that will be central to the health and survival of our planet and our economy for decades and centuries to follow.” The final hearing of the Committee, formed under the direction of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in early 2007, consisted of testimony both familiar and unique to the ongoing debate over the direction of climate policy.

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The economics of Waxman-Markey

An insightful (if decidedly partisan) op-ed by Paul Krugman in Friday’s New York Times focuses on the Waxman-Markey climate change bill that was approved in the House but has stalled – due in no small part due to the debate over health care reform – in the Senate. Krugman points out that there are two kinds of people opposed to climate change legislation: those dwindling numbers who don’t believe climate change is happening at all, and those who believe it is happening but that any legislation will be too costly to the economy. He says that in many cases, climate change legislation would cost the average family about $160 per year, but also that our use of energy right now is so inefficient that implementing more efficient technologies could actually save Americans money. Like opposition to health-care reform, he says, those who oppose Waxman-Markey rest their campaign “mainly on lies.” Read the full article...

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Policy News Update

There’s been a lot of buzz in Washington these past few weeks, and a good deal of it is about science. Here are highlights from today’s issue of the ESA Policy News Update, written by ESA’s Policy Analyst, Piper Corp. Science in the Economic Stimulus Bill. An $825 billion economic stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill of 2009, is set to go to vote in the U.S. House of Representatives next week. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said there are four words to describe this bill: “science, science, science and science.” As proposed, the bill would provide billions of dollars for science, including $3 billion to NSF, $1.2 billion for NOAA (half of which is dedicated to climate research), $200 million to repair and modernize the USGS, and $550 million to the U.S. Forest Service.  The bill also proposes $79 billion for relief at the state level, including public colleges and universities.  You can read more details about the bill in ESA’s Policy News Update. ESA urges ecologists to contact their representatives and senators and express their opinions on the bill. Review of midnight regulations. Obama’s Chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, ordered a freeze Tuesday on all pending federal regulations, allowing the new White House team to review—and possibly reverse—many of the Bush administration’s last-minute rule changes. These “midnight regulations” include revisions of the Endangered Species Act, the removal of the gray wolf from the endangered species list in several states, the leasing of 2 million acres of western lands for oil shale research and development, and the modification of air pollution permits and mountaintop mining standards (the new regulation would allow mining companies to dispose of waste in rivers). Several Congressional Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV), have also vowed to take action against the last-minute regulations. Deadline set for House climate change bill. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman set a Memorial Day deadline for moving comprehensive climate and energy legislation through his committee. Representative Ed Markey (D-MA), chairman of the House Energy and Environment Subcommittee, will play a lead role in writing the climate legislation. The specifics of the bill have not yet been revealed, but suggested legislation has already been received with some resistance by committee Republicans, who are either skeptical of climate change science or concerned with the economic implications of the bill. Omnibus bill passed. On January 15, following a months-long battle between Democratic leaders and Republican Senator Tom Coburn (OK), the Senate passed an omnibus package including more than 160 water, resources and public lands bills. The bill was considered largely uncontroversial....

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