The US takes most comprehensive look yet at climate change

Waiting for Climate Change an exhibit by Isaac Cordal, Berlin, Germany. 2011.
“Politicians debating our planet’s global crisis with the waters lapping at their lapels, filling their mouths and covering them completely.”

— Dr. John Holdren
Director of the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy

Today, the Administration released the Third U.S. National Climate Assessment, the most authoritative and comprehensive source of scientific information to date about climate-change impacts across all U.S. regions and on critical sectors of the economy.

The report, a key deliverable of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, confirms that climate change is not a distant threat — it’s affecting us now.

Based on four years of work by hundreds of experts from government, academia, corporations, and public-interest organizations, the Assessment confirms abundant data and examples that climate change isn’t some distant threat — it’s affecting us now.

Not only are the planet and the nation warming on average, but a number of types of extreme weather events linked to climate change have become more frequent or intense in many regions, including heat waves, droughts, heavy downpours, floods, and some kinds of destructive storms.

The good news is that there are sensible steps that we can take to protect this country and the planet.

Those steps include, importantly, the three sets of actions making up the Climate Action Plan that President Obama announced last June: cutting carbon pollution in America; increasing preparedness for and resilience to the changes in climate that already are ongoing; and leading the international response to the climate change challenge.

Jewish Groups Praise New Environmental Protection Agency Rules


The new rule sets separate standards for emissions from coal plants and natural gas plants. Coal plant in Rochester, Minn.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) and the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) applauded yesterday the Environmental Protection Agency’s release on Friday, of a revised standard limiting carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants.

“Carbon dioxide emissions are the leading cause of climate change, which is one of the great moral challenges of our time,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “This proposal takes an important step towards addressing the effects that our electricity generation can have on the Earth and human health.”

COEJL and the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism collected hundreds of signatures from the Jewish community in favor of the original rule proposed last year. The new rule responds to concerns raised in public comments to the prior proposal, by setting separate standards for emissions from coal plants and natural gas plants, and providing flexibility for industry while achieving similar outcomes.  

More after the jump.
“We hope that these revised regulations will be made final after the comment period and implemented without delay,” said Gutow.

“These rules were released during the holiday of Sukkot,” noted Sybil Sanchez, director of COEJL.

Ecclesiastes Rabbah (1:4) reminds us that

One generation goes, another comes, but the Earth remains the same forever.

Eating and sleeping outdoors in our sukkot makes us appreciate some of the many gifts we receive from the Earth — clean, breathable air, and fertile land in a stable climate. But we are confronted by the fact that the Earth is changing before us, and these resources will not be here for future generations unless we act now. Adopting these rules is an important part of that action.

The release of the proposed standards is a key point in the implementation of President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which he announced last June.

“We look forward to the release of standards for existing power plants, as well,” concluded Sanchez.

400 PPM: A Bad Sort of World Record

This month we set a new world’s record. By “we”, I mean the world. The world set a new record and this is not the sort of accomplishment we should be proud of.

On May 9, 2013, the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere exceeded 400 parts per million.

The NOAA has been recording CO2 levels at the Mauna Loa Observatory since 1956 and two things are clear: a natural annual variation of 5-10 PPM, and a steady increase from year to year.

By studying ancient air bubbles trapped in ice cores, scientists are able to determine CO2 levels much further back, and we can see how exception this period since the beginning of the industrial era has been.

In fact, according to researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the last time the Earth had so much CO2 in the atmosphere was during the Pliocene era over three million years ago.

Recent estimates suggest CO2 levels reached as much as 415 parts per million (ppm) during the Pliocene. With that came global average temperatures that eventually reached 3-4°C (5.4-7.2°F) higher than today’s and as much as 10°C (18°F) warmer at the poles. Sea level ranged between 5 and 40 meters (16-131 feet) higher than today.

Of course, at the record breaking clip with which we are releasing carbon into the atmosphere breaking the 415 PPM mark will be no challenge indeed. According to the International Energy Agency, we will reach 650 PPM even if we stop burning coal and replace it with natural gas.

It is therefore appropriate that Ira Glass chose this week to devote his show This America Life to climate change.

Episode 495 (May 17, 2013):
Hot In My Backyard

After years of being stuck, the national conversation on climate change finally started to shift — just a little — last year, the hottest year on record in the U.S., with Hurricane Sandy flooding the New York subway, drought devastating Midwest farms, and California and Colorado on fire. Lots of people were wondering if global warming had finally arrived, here at home. This week, stories about this new reality.

Reform Movement Commends Senate Vote Supporting EPA

— Mark J. Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Wednesday’s votes on Capitol Hill show us that it is possible to win the battle for clean air, but also how hard that battle will be.

We commend the Senate for voting against measures to prevent the EPA from doing its job of protecting the public from air pollution. At the same time, we are greatly disappointed by the House vote to block the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases.

Over the 41 years since it was first enacted, the Clean Air Act has contributed to improving our air quality, saving and enhancing untold lives that would otherwise have suffered with respiratory and other pollution-related ailments such as asthma, heart and lung disease.

Despite these successes, some in Congress are determined to strip the EPA of its ability to regulate greenhouses gases under the Clean Air Act; putting polluters ahead of people. The Senate’s vote should be the start of an effort to ensure stronger energy and environmental policies – not a weakening of the laws that have been a keystone of American environmental and human health.

These attempts to undermine the Clean Air Act are an affront to the values and teachings that inspire us as Jews, chief among them the knowledge that it is our responsibility to till and tend the earth and not to exploit it. Now is the time to come together and urge, in the strongest possible terms, that Congress and the President enact and enforce effective energy and environmental policies, for ourselves and our children’s future.