Your March 2015 Catalyst Newsletter
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Transition Fidalgo & Friends: 
Growing a resilient community with a reduced reliance on fossil fuels.

Thought for the month

“Climate change is the most important issue to my future that we will ever face. My government is not doing enough to solve it and the world doesn’t have time to wait. That’s why I’m petitioning my government. And I won’t stop until some real change is made.”                                   

~ 12-year-old Zoe Foster, who signed on with seven other young citizens of Washington State in a case challenging the state Department of Ecology’s denial of their request to limit CO2 emissions to protect the climate.                          

Climate Change           

Record first: Global CO2 emissions flat-lined in 2014 while world economy grew

The International Energy Agency reports that 2014 was “the first time in 40 years in which there was a halt or reduction in emissions of the greenhouse gas that was not tied to an economic downturn.” The IEA attributes this to “changing patterns of energy consumption in China and OECD countries.” China cut its coal consumption in 2014, and is aggressively embracing energy efficiency, expanding clean energy, and shuttering the dirtiest power plants to meet its planned 2020 (or sooner) peak in coal use. Chinese emissions dropped 1% in 2014 even as China's economy grew by 7.4%. At the same time, the IEA has found that in the past five years, OECD countries’ economies grew nearly 7% while their emissions fell 4%.  A big part of that is the U.S., where fuel economy standards have reversed oil consumption trends ­ and renewable energy, efficiency, and natural gas have cut U.S. coal consumption. 
Click to learn more. 

What a record-low snowpack means for summer in the Northwest

Snow depth at Stevens Pass is about 30 inches now. “Normally we would have closer to 150 this time of year. It’s not good,” says Scott Pattee, a water supply specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.  Pattee has been monitoring snow levels in Washington for more than 20 years, and this year is on track to be one of the lowest snow years on record, averaging 71% below normal levels. In some places, including the Olympic Peninsula, snowpack is 90% below normal.  Click here for full article.

Gov. Inslee has declared a drought on the Olympic Peninsula, on the east side of the central Cascade Mountains including Yakima and Wenatchee, and the Walla Walla region.  


Greenland is warmer than in 100,000 years

Since 2000, Greenland's ice loss has increased over 600%, and water now exists inside the ice sheet year-round, no longer refreezing during winter. About 5,000 years ago, Greenland reached its warmest period in over 100,000 years, then started cooling and its ice sheet grew. 30 to 40 years ago, however, a rapid reversal of cooling and ice sheet growth began. The last 18 years have seen more melt than average across the ice sheet every year, with an increasing trend that peaked in 2012 when the entire ice sheet surface temperature was above freezing for four days.   Full article here.

Warming could hit rates unseen in 1,000 years

We're standing on the edge of a world where warming is poised to accelerate at rates unseen for at least 1,000 years. That’s the main finding of a paper published 3/9/15 in the journal Nature Climate Change. The new research also shows that the Arctic, North America and Europe will be the first regions to experience a de-stabilized climate. “Essentially the world is entering a new regime where what is normal is going to continue to change, and it’s changing at a rate that natural processes might not be able to keep up with,” said Steven Smith, from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.  “The authors have demonstrated that we are currently headed into uncharted waters when it comes to the rate of climate change we are now seeing,” noted Michael Mann, who runs Penn State’s Earth System Science Center. “While past studies have focused on the unprecedented nature of the current warmth in the context of the past millennium, there has been less attention to the equally, if not more ­critical issue, of the rate of warming.”   Click here for more. 

Washington State Senators waste time debating climate change

Well, at least a few senators argued that it isn’t controversial anymore to say that humans have some hand in global warming. They cited scientists and various studies, including by UW researchers. But according to Sen. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale, chairman of the Energy and Environment Committee, “We could spend all night going back and forth with regards to my study versus your study, hours and hours and hours. If you want to keep throwing studies up, we can keep knocking them down with other studies.”  Ericksen is also becoming famous for dodging any question about global warming with comments such as “climate change will always happen.” In the end, every Republican senator but one voted against the statement that “human activity significantly contributes to climate change.” They replaced it with “human activity may contribute” to climate change.  Click here for more.

Climate deniers put national security at risk

For denier friends who claim to be patriots... Sea levels in Norfolk, VA, where the U.S. Navy's Atlantic fleet is headquartered, are rising roughly twice as fast as the global average. All it takes is a rainstorm and a big tide and the Atlantic invades the base—roads are submerged, entry gates impassable. "It's the biggest Navy base in the world, and it's going to have to be relocated," says Al Gore. "It's just a question of when." There are 29 other military bases, shipyards and installations in the area, and many are in just as much trouble. Langley Air Force base keeps 30,000 sandbags ready to stack around buildings when a big storm comes in. Dam Neck, another Navy base, piles old Christmas trees on the beach to keep it from eroding. If the melting of Greenland and West Antarctica continues to accelerate at current rates, scientists say Norfolk could see more than seven feet of sea-level rise by 2100.  In 25 years, operations at most of these bases are likely to be severely compromised. Within 50 years, most of them could be goners. If the region gets slammed by a big hurricane, the reckoning could come even sooner. But Congress doesn't want to hear about it. The House Armed Services Committee is chaired by a Texan who argued in 2011 that prayer is a better response to heat waves and drought than cutting carbon pollution.  Deniers in Congress have gone after the Pentagon where military officials feel it most: their budget. Last year, House Republicans tagged an amendment onto the defense appropriations bill that prohibited the Pentagon from spending any money implementing recommendations from the latest report of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  Complete article here.

What climate activists should do in 2015

Sixteen notables, including James Hansen, Bill McKibben, K. C. Golden, and others, share what they believe climate activists need to focus on now. McKibben is the most succinct: "Try to break the power of the fossil fuel industry before it breaks the planet."  Read more here.

Renewable Energy


2014 was biggest year ever for solar power

New data from the market analysis firm GTM Research finds that 2014 had 30% more solar arrays installed than in 2013. Even though solar still accounts for less than 1% of U.S. electricity generation, last year it added nearly as many new megawatts to the grid as natural gas, which is quickly catching up to coal as the country's primary energy source. The report points to three chief reasons for the boom. First, costs are falling, not just for the panels themselves but for installation and financing. Second, falling costs have allowed both large utility companies and small third-party solar installers to pursue new ways to bring solar to customers, including leasing panels and improved on-site energy storage. Third, federal incentives and regulations have been relatively stable in the last few years, while state incentives are generally improving, particularly in states like California and Nevada that have been leading the charge.   Click here for the full article.

A new era of wind power

Wind power currently generates 4.5% of U.S. electricity, but that number is expected to more than double to 10% by 2020, says a report released 3/12/15 by the U.S. Department of Energy. "Wind energy continues to be one of America's best choices for low-cost, zero-pollution renewable energy, and in an increasing number of markets, may be the cheapest source of new energy available," says a summary of the report ­ titled "Wind Vision: A New Era of Wind Power in the United States."  Improved technology has made wind power more reliable and cheaper, helping it spread at a faster pace across the nation. Wind energy plants currently exist in 39 states. Click here for the full article.

The Earth Policy Institute notes that China, which is building more nuclear reactors than any other country, produced more electricity from wind than from nuclear power plants in 2014. This despite below-average wind speeds for the year. Chinese wind farms in 2014 generated 16% more electricity than the year before.  

And, as part of its first major retrofit in 30 years, two custom-designed wind turbines have started generating power for the Eiffel Tower. Located above the Tower's second level, the sculptural wind turbines produce 10,000 kWh of electricity annually, equivalent to the power used by the commercial areas of the Eiffel Tower’s first floor.  Click here for the full article.

Nicaragua's renewable energy revolution

Nicaragua produces no oil, but as a land of strong winds, roaring rivers, steady sun, and 19 volcanoes storing vast sums of underground heat, it's a renewable energy paradise. But the country was almost wholly dependent on imported fuel oil to generate power until 2005, when the government set out to harness all that natural energy. Now renewables generate nearly half the Nicaragua's electricity, a figure officials predict could rise to 80% within a few years. And that's just the beginning. There's so much untapped energy in Nicaragua that it plans to export electricity to its Central American neighbors. Click here for the full article.

Fossil Fuel-ish


We keep spilling oil into America’s greatest rivers

Due to an oil spill on March 5, the Mississippi River is in “imminent and substantial danger” of contamination, according to the EPA. The spill came from a train carrying 103 cars of Bakken crude oil; 17 cars derailed in northern Illinois, each carrying approximately 30,000 gallons of crude. Officials aren’t sure how much oil has spilled, but noted that the river, one of its tributaries, and the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge are all in danger of contamination. This isn’t the first time in recent months that one of North America’s most powerful and historic rivers has been threatened by oil. In the last year, the Mississippi, the Yellowstone, the Missouri, and the Ohio Rivers have been contaminated because of oil train derailments, barge crashes, and pipeline spills.  Click here for the full article. 

Port of Seattle's decision to host Shell's drilling fleet draws fierce protest

The Port of Seattle signed an agreement earlier this month to lease Terminal 5 to Foss Maritime, which will then host Shell Oil’s Arctic drilling fleet. Port officials are standing behind their controversial decision to host the fleet, despite protests, legal action and a city-led investigation. At a public meeting on March 11, port commissioners got an earful when hundreds of people packed the room at SeaTac Airport to give testimony for over three hours, most in opposition to the lease. Environmentalists said Arctic drilling will contribute to climate change and continued dependence on fossil fuels. They also raised concerns about Shell’s track record in the Arctic (a little over two years ago a Shell drilling rig ran aground on a remote Alaskan island. A Coast Guard investigation highlighted safety violations and risky behavior leading up to the accident.) Three of the five commissioners support the lease; two oppose it.  Mayor Ed Murray and the city council are investigating the commissioners’ decision, and environmental groups are suing on the basis that the facility is only permitted for use as a cargo facility but that is not how Shell will use it. Click here for the full article.

Fracking waste causes dramatic rise in earthquakes

The U.S. Geological Survey has backed up what scientists have suggested for years—that deep injection of wastewater is the primary cause of the steep rise in detected earthquakes. Large areas of the U.S. that used to experience few or no earthquakes have, in recent years, seen a remarkable increase in earthquake activity that has caused considerable public concern as well as damage. This rise in seismic activity, especially in the central U.S., is not the result of natural processes, but due to fluid injection associated with the extraction of oil and gas from previously unproductive reservoirs. These extraction techniques produce large quantities of wastewater along with the oil and gas, and the disposal of this wastewater by deep injection occasionally results in earthquakes. In the last five years alone, Oklahoma has detected a staggering 2500 earthquakes. Click here for the full article.



Take Action!


Help pass the Carbon Pollution Accountability Act!

On March 12, the Washington State House Appropriations committee heard from businesses, communities of color, labor unions, faith groups, environmental groups and more, and they all had the same message – cutting carbon and global warming pollution generates revenue, creates jobs, builds the economy, protects public health, and helps those impacted the most by pollution. The hearing is an important step to the Carbon Pollution Accountability Act being included in the upcoming House budget – and one step closer to Washington putting a price on carbon emissions. But we’re not there yet, so please take a moment to contact committee members and call for climate action now

Click here  to tell our legislators to make carbon polluters pay.

Then come to Transition Fidalgo's March 25th event, "New Energy for a New Day", at the Lincoln Theater, to learn more!


Department of Encouragement


Seattle urban farmers want to feed the whole neighborhood—for free

The Beacon Food Forest is a community gathering space overflowing with organic perennial plants in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood. At about two acres, it’s already the largest edible garden on public land in the U.S. And it’s a wildly prosperous example of the sharing economy.  A food forest mimics how a wild forest works, but swaps in species that are edible or otherwise useful to humans and other animals. Fruit and nut trees cast shade on berries, herbs, and veggies, while vines climb up trunks and trellises. Underneath, healthy soil teems with life, storing carbon, water, and other nutrients necessary for plant growth. Instead of dividing the land into small patches for private planting, like most community gardens, volunteers cultivate the whole food forest together and share the fruits of their labor with anyone and everyone. Click here for the full article.

Flushing helps power a city

Portland, Oregon residents can now generate green electricity simply by turning on their faucets and flushing their toilets. Portland is using a state-of-the art system to capture energy from water flowing through the city’s pipelines. Small turbines installed inside the pipes are turned by the flowing water, sending energy into a generator and off into the power grid. “It’s pretty rare to find a new source of energy where there’s no environmental impact,” said Gregg Semler, chief executive officer of Lucid Energy, the Portland start-up behind the new system. “But this is inside a pipe, so no fish or endangered species are impacted. That’s what’s exciting.” Click here for the full article.

Living abundantly on less

In 1996, a group of young Stanford graduates headed to northeastern Missouri to set up what is now known as Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, a successful intentional community and 270-acre community land trust. Their idea was to “move beyond protesting ecological destruction towards finding a positive alternative for ecological living.” Almost 20 years later, Dancing Rabbit (DR) is a fully functioning ecovillage with around 60 full-time members who live on just 10% of the resources the average American consumes. DR’s impressively low resource use can be attributed to a set of covenants that guide the community’s development, including no personal vehicles (commuting is discouraged, but members can participate in a car cooperative),  electricity used on-site is from renewable sources (or off-set by renewable energy produced on-site), and all construction is from local or sustainably-sourced lumber or reclaimed materials.  By living simply, DR’s members are able to live comfortably with an average income of $8,500 per year. Click here for the full article.

College town cuts ties with TransCanada, plans to go 100% renewable

The battle over building the Keystone XL pipeline is having an impact in places far from its proposed route. One of those places is Cambridge, Massachusetts, home to Harvard and MIT. The city currently purchases the electricity that powers its municipal buildings from TransCanada, Keystone XL’s parent company. But now its city council has passed a unanimous resolution advising its city manager  not to do business with the company once its current contract expires at the end of 2015 and to look at acquiring the city’s electricity from clean, renewable sources. Click here for the full article. 

The Catalyst is compiled and edited by Evelyn Adams.

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