Your May 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

“Now, having watched the Arctic melt, does Shell take that experience and conclude that it’s in fact time to invest heavily in solar panels and wind turbines? No. Instead, it applies to be first in line to drill for yet more oil in the Chukchi Sea, between Alaska and Siberia. Wash, rinse, repeat. Talk about salting wounds and adding insult to injury: it’s as if the tobacco companies were applying for permission to put cigarette machines in cancer wards."                                                           ~ Bill McKibben 

Climate Change


Pope says "If we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us"

On April 28, a declaration at a Vatican summit in Rome asked the world’s religions to engage and mobilize on climate change. “Human-induced climate change is a scientific reality, and its decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity,” the declaration said. “In this core moral space, the world’s religions play a very vital role.”  “The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Development” shows that Pope Francis is—in marked contrast to his predecessors—keen for the Catholic church to be more involved in the climate change issue, and is also urging other religions to become more actively engaged. In a few weeks’ time, the Pope is due to release an encyclical on climate change. Click here for more information. 

Seaweed might have power to make oceans less acidic

"We've got some bad water heading our way," said Betsy Peabody, director of the Puget Sound Restoration Fund. In April, Peabody's organization on Bainbridge Island won a $1.5 million grant from the Paul Allen Family Foundation to investigate how kelp might help lessen the impacts of ocean acidification. Rising CO2 levels are causing increasingly acidic water that affects the ability of sea animals such as clams, crabs, lobsters, shrimp and sea butterflies (pteropods) to make shells. Off the Pacific Northwest coast, about half of the pteropods (a staple in the diet of marine animals, including sea birds and salmon) carry partially dissolved shells, deformed fins, and other impacts of ocean acidification. Researchers project that three-quarters  of the pteropods will be affected by 2050 (a 10% drop in pteropod numbers translates into about a 20% drop in the body weight of mature salmon). Peabody and her team are now preparing to deploy three acres of twine seeded with budding sugar kelp in Puget Sound's Hood Canal. Once the array is submerged, they'll use sensors on boats and buoys to test the acidity of water before it enters the site, and then again as it leaves. The researchers' project has been likened to creating green spaces in cities; trees, lawns, and seaweeds like kelp all act as natural sinks for carbon dioxide. Click here for more information. 


Solution to climate change under our feet?

What if there was a risk-free way to help mitigate climate change while simultaneously addressing food and water security? A new report, Soil & Carbon: Soil Solutions to Climate Problems, outlines how to take atmospheric CO2 and plug it into the soil. Far from moving the problem from one place to another, this shift can reduce the vast amounts of CO2 absorbed by the oceans (resulting in acidification), and can regenerate degraded soils by providing needed carbon. Too much of the carbon that was once in a solid phase in the soil is now a gas. As a result, there's too much carbon in the atmosphere and the oceans, but not enough stable carbon where it once was, in the soil. "Cultivated soils globally have lost 50-70% of their original carbon content" due to paving over land, converting grasslands to cropland, and ag practices that involve tillage and chemical inputs. Healthy soils fed through organic ag practices give soil microbes the ability to store more CO2. Click here for more information. 

The Blob

University of Washington climate scientist Nick Bond and his associates have been studying the blob -- a huge area of unusually warm water in the Pacific -- for months. "In the fall of 2013 and early 2014, we started to notice a big, almost circular mass of water that just didn't cool off as much as it usually did, so by spring of 2014 it was warmer than we had ever seen it for that time of year," said Bond, who gave the blob its name. He said it was 1000 miles long, 1000 miles wide and 100 yards deep in 2014 -- and it has grown this year. It's not the only blob; two others emerged in 2014, one in the Bering Sea, and the other off Southern California. Blob waters have warmed by about 5.5 degrees, a significant rise. A recent set of studies by Bond's group, published in Geophysical Research Letters, points to a high-pressure ridge over the West Coast that has calmed ocean waters for two winters. Because storms didn't kick up and help cool the surface water, the water retained more heat. "The warmer temperatures we see now aren't due to more heating, but less winter cooling." Some marine species are exploring the warmer waters, leading them to migrate hundreds of miles from their normal habitats. Bill Peterson of Seattle's NW Fisheries Science Center is worried about the adult Pacific salmon that normally feed on tiny crustaceans and other food sources that aren't around in the same numbers off the PNW coast. "They had nothing to eat," he said, noting last year's conditions in the blob likely sent food to cooler waters. Some experts think the weather pattern might be a Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a long-lasting El Nino-like pattern in the Pacific. Dennis Hartmann, a UW professor of atmospheric science, says, "Maybe it will go away quickly and we won't talk about it anymore, but if it persists for a third year, then we'll know something really unusual is going on." Click here for more information.

One in six of world's species faces extinction due to climate change

If man-made greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current record-breaking rate (leading to a temperature rise of more than 4C by the end of the century), 16% of species--one in six--face extinction, a huge loss that would have serious ramifications for people as well as ecosystems. A study published in the journal Science on April 30th is the most comprehensive look yet at the impact of climate change on biodiversity loss. The stresses on wildlife and their habitats from global warming is in addition to pressures such as deforestation, pollution, and overfishing, that have already caused the world to lose half its animals in the past 40 years. The study also emphasizes that even for animals and plants not at risk of extinction, climate change could bring about substantial changes in their numbers and distribution. Click here for more information


Renewable Energy


Seven surprising realities of renewable energy

The global transition to clean, renewable energy and away from nuclear and fossils is well under way, with remarkable developments happening every day. Here are seven that may surprise you:
1. Solar is now so cheap that global adoption appears unstoppable.
2. Wind power adoption is rapidly altering energy portfolios around the world.
3. National and subnational energy policies are promoting renewables, and many geographies are considering a price on carbon.
4. The financial sector is embracing renewables – and starting to turn against fossils and nuclear.
5. Coal use is in decline in the U.S., and will likely fall at the global level far sooner than once thought possible.
6. Transportation will move away from oil as electric vehicle fleets expand rapidly and bike- and car-sharing spreads.
7. Nuclear energy is on the rocks, thanks to rising costs and widespread safety concerns. Learn more at the Earth Policy Institute

Wind energy saved more than 68 billion gallons of water in U.S. in 2014

According to the American Wind Energy Association, U.S. wind power saved the equivalent of around 215 gallons of water per person in 2014. In drought-ravaged California, wind energy saved 2.5 billion gallons of freshwater in 2014, while Texas led the nation with a savings of 13 billion gallons of water. The U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report also found that wind energy production avoided an estimated 125 million metric tons of carbon dioxide during 2014 – more than 5.7% of U.S. power sector emissions, or the equivalent annual emissions of 26,000,000 cars. According to the report, the U.S. leads the world in wind energy production. Utility-scale turbines now operate in 39 states. A U.S. Dept. of Energy report released in March showed that wind energy in the country can double within the next five years to supply 10% of U.S. electricity by 2020, 20% by 2030, and 35% by 2050. Click here for more information.

University of Washington developing fungi-based aviation biofuel

Dr. Birgitte K. Ahring, Director of the University’s Bioproduct Sciences and Engineering Laboratory, believes fungi-based biofuels could eventually replace conventional jet fuels. “After the first study (in 2011), we saw that it produces a blend that is pretty similar to what you have in a normal jet fuel,” she said. “We can lower the carbon footprint of aviation.” The challenge is to make fungi do something they don't normally do. Fungi want to grow, but researchers want them to use that energy to produce more hydrocarbons. They hope in five years to be ready to scale out, with the first product an additive, “up to around 50%,” used in conventional jet fuels. Click here for more information.

Fossil Fuel-ish


Obama administration greenlights Arctic oil drilling

The Interior Dept. first granted Arctic drilling approval to Royal Dutch Shell in 2012, but that project was derailed by numerous safety and operational problems. The government's May 11th approval of Shell's proposal to drill for Arctic oil this summer is a first step, "conditional on Shell’s receiving approval of a series of remaining drilling permits for the project.” Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) approved Shell’s exploration plan for the Chukchi Sea, which entails drilling up to six wells approximately 70 miles northwest of Wainwright, Alaska. Environmental groups argue that the Arctic is too remote, sensitive, and unpredictable an environment to expose to the risks of drilling. They point to an analysis by BOEM itself that showed a 75% chance of a spill greater than 1,000 barrels, should an oil company discover and fully produce oil in the Chukchi leases. They also note that the closest Coast Guard station that could respond to a spill is more than 1,000 miles away. Another small matter: the only way to avoid climate catastrophe is to leave untapped reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas in the ground. Click here for more information.

Giant Arctic oil drilling rig Polar Pioneer docks in Seattle

Fossil fuel-driven climate change has so altered our planet that the once-impassable Arctic is now vulnerable to oil drilling. Shell Oil plans to further exploit the situation and drive the planet deeper into climate chaos. Its Polar Pioneer oil rig docked May 14 at Port of Seattle's Terminal 5, which is facing controversy over its agreement with Shell to service Arctic drilling vessels. 400' long and 355 feet tall, the rig is half the height of the Space Needle. Activists paddling out in kayaks to meet the rig off Seattle's waterfront said it's time to stand against opening a new frontier of fossil fuel exploration. "Unless people get out there and put themselves on the front lines and say enough is enough, than nothing will ever change," said Jordan Van Voast, 55, who was going out on the water to confront the Polar Pioneer. "I'm hopeful that people are waking up." (A research letter published in January in the journal Nature suggested that, under the international target of keeping a global temperature rise to 3.6 degrees F to avert some of the worst outcomes of climate change, “all Arctic resources should be considered as unburnable.”) Click here for more information.

West Coast warned to prepare for tar sands invasion

The Pacific Coast, from San Francisco Bay to B.C., is facing a "tar sands invasion," according to an analysis released in April by the Natural Resources Defense Council, NextGen Climate America, ForestEthics, and a coalition of 26 partner organizations. The amount of tar sands crude moving through the West Coast could increase by more than 1.7 million barrels per day if existing proposals for pipelines, refineries, and export facilities move forward. "If it proceeds, this invasion will put public safety at risk and harm water resources, air quality, and the climate. A tar sands spill from train, pipeline, or tanker could devastate local economies and pristine wilderness, harm human health, and lead to an especially costly and challenging cleanup. Tar sands spills have proven more damaging than conventional spills, as heavy tar sands bitumen sinks below the water surface making it difficult to contain or recover."  Click here for more information.


Alberta - "the Texas" of Canada - elects left-winger who opposes Keystone pipeline

Alberta, B.C., known for strong conservative leanings as well as the obscenity that is the tar sands, amazingly elected a left-wing government - by a landslide - on May 5. Ed Whittingham, director of a leading Canadian think tank, said election results would likely mean changes for Alberta’s oil country: “What we hope they’re going to do is coming out of the gate as tackling climate change. That’s going to include somehow regulating the oil sands emissions.” Because of tar sands extraction, Canada’s energy industry recently became the largest producer of climate change, causing greenhouse gases exceeding those from transportation for the first time. Newly-elected New Democratic Party premier Rachel Notley said that delaying Alberta’s climate change strategy is "profoundly irresponsible," and wants to work with other provinces to come up with a more comprehensive strategy to reduce carbon emissions. Notley is also opposed to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline project. She pledged to stop spending taxpayer money to lobby for it in Washington, D.C. Click here for more information.

Health professionals urge denial of oil-by-rail terminal permits

On May 11, nearly 300 doctors, nurses and other health professionals called on Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Oregon Governor Kate Brown to deny permits for proposed new and expanded oil-by-rail facilities. Based on peer-reviewed medical literature, the position statement examines a broad range of public health and safety risks, including air and water pollution, oil spills and clean-up, delayed emergency response, and storage tank fires and explosions. Click here for more information.

Fracking chemicals found in drinking water

Communities on the front line of the U.S. fracking industry say their greatest concern is the threat to their drinking water. The standard reply from the industry is that fracking cannot contaminate water, as fracking rocks are normally thousands of feet below drinking aquifers, and there are layers of impermeable rock between the two. However, on May 4, a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences analyzed drinking water taken from three homes in the heart of the Pennsylvania shale fields, and found traces of a compound commonly found in Marcellus Shale drilling fluids. Scientists believe they know how 2-Butoxyethanol, a common drilling chemical which is also a potential carcinogen, ended up in the drinking water. Their findings show that the chemical traveled from shale gas wells more than 2 kilometers in the subsurface to drinking water wells, possibly resulting from a lack of integrity in the wells that pass through drinking aquifers. If this is the case, it reinforces the concerns of communities from the U.S. to the U.K. that the fracking industry often has to drill through drinking aquifers to reach the shale oil or gas. Click here for more information



Department of Encouragement


Gutted by tornado, Kansas town embraces sustainability

On May 4, 2007, Greensburg was flattened by a tornado: the rural Kansas town was 95% destroyed. Thirteen people died, and 60 were injured. In the following days and weeks, hundreds of people met in a tent on the edge of town to debate what to do next. They decided to rebuild Greensburg in a way that would pay tribute to their pioneering ancestors. The town now has more LEED-certified buildings per capita than any other U.S. town, and gets 100% of its energy from wind turbines. Click here for more information.

Solar bike delivers big

Regular electric bikes are already pretty eco-friendly, but they usually need to be powered by fossil fuels. A Danish solar engineer, Jesper Frausig, has found a way around that by creating a bike powered by the sun­. The Solar Bike has “highly efficient” and “shadow optimized” solar cells on the wheels that deliver power directly to the battery when it’s standing still. When it’s in motion, the solar cells and battery also provide energy for the motor. Depending on how sunny it is, a standard charge lasts between 1-15 miles. At peak hours, a fully-charged battery can take a rider up to 40 miles at a top speed of 30 mph. When it’s overcast or nighttime and the battery is low, it presumably works like any regular bicycle. The beauty of the Solar Bike is that, unlike typical electric bikes, one doesn’t have to look for a charging station. Click here for more information.  

Small-scale farmers fight back

Small-Scale Farmers Cool the Planet starts like a grade-A disaster flick: epic floods inundate and obliterate cities, cracked earth fans across the countryside, and a desperate populace masses in the streets demanding we "Stop the Monster." But the floods are real, the demonstration is last September’s People’s Climate March, and the monster is climate change. This 17-minute documentary from the Fair World Project also shows how a humble hero can rise to beat the beast. In this case, organic farmers hope to help avert climate disaster by countering a global industrialized agricultural system that spews carbon. Respected organic-ag spokespersons like Dr. Vandana Shiva and the Rodale Institute’s Mark “Coach” Smallwood share how all of us,­ from farmers to eaters,­ can double down on hope in the age of climate disaster. Click here for more information.  

The Catalyst is compiled and edited by Evelyn Adams.

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