Your April 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

"For thousands of years, we have fought to protect all that is important for those who call the Salish Sea home. We as leaders need to protect our treaty resources, our economies, and the human health of our citizens and neighbors. We all lose if we give up that which is most precious to us all – our commitment is to do what is right for our children and grandchildren, and to protect the land and water upon which their lives will depend.”   ~ Brian Cladoosby, Swinomish Tribal Chairman 

Climage Change


Hundreds of high-temperature records broken here this winter

According to the Pacific Northwest Climate Impacts Research Consortium, this past winter was the warmest on record in western Washington and Oregon. Each winter month (Dec-Feb) was warmer than average at almost every Oregon recording station. Hundreds of high-temperature records were broken, with only a few dozen low-temperature records set. In some places along the coast, temperatures reached the low 70s in mid-February. Precipitation for the winter ranged from 10% to 30% below average in western Oregon and Washington.  Click here for the full article.

Warm ocean temperatures affect Pacific NW marine life

An unusually warm winter in Alaska that failed to chill the Pacific, plus an El Nino that kept tropical ocean temperatures high, has led to ocean temperatures up to 7 degrees F warmer than average off the coasts of Oregon and Washington. This year, the temperatures are particularly high, and the effects already appear to be rippling up and down the food chain. For instance, copepods (crab-like organisms that swim in the upper part of the water and are food for young salmon and others) are fatter in cold waters and provide more food value. Warm-water copepods provide less energy to predators. “The copepods that we associate with warmer water, which is what we’re seeing develop off the West Coast right now, tend to have lower energy content,” says NOAA fisheries biologist Chris Harvey. Scientists are also making connections between the warmer, lower-nutrient waters and seabird die-offs in the Northwest, as well as the widespread starvation of California sea lion pups. Click here for the full article.  


How long can oceans continue to absorb Earth’s excess heat?

For decades, the oceans have soaked up more than nine-tenths of the atmosphere’s excess heat trapped by greenhouse gas emissions. By stowing that extra energy, oceans have spared us from feeling the full effects of our carbon overindulgence. But as those gases build in the air, an energy overload also builds below the waves. Over the past decade, oceans have sequestered the equivalent of roughly five Hiroshima bombs exploding every second ­ since 1990. This huge capacity to store heat is a major reason the planet’s surface temperatures have risen less than expected in the past dozen or so years, given the large greenhouse gas hike during the same period. The phenomenon, which some call the “hiatus,” has challenged scientists to explain its cause. But now studies indicate that the Pacific trade winds, which have been unusually strong for the past two decades, have been pumping atmospheric heat down into the western Pacific. The winds are powered up by the cycle’s current negative, or cool, phase. Scientists say that when the cycle eventually swings back to its positive, warm phase, which could occur within a decade, the winds will wind down, the pumping will let up, and buried heat will rise back into the atmosphere. Click here for the full article

West Antarctic ice shelves melted 70% faster in last decade

According to a study published March 26 in the journal Science, the frozen fringes of western Antarctica have been melting 70% faster in the past decade, raising concern that an important buttress keeping land-based ice sheets from flowing to the sea could collapse or vanish in coming decades. An acceleration in the flow of massive ice sheets would add substantially to the ongoing rise of sea level. The study increases concern that climate change has altered a part of the continent holding an estimated 530,000 cubic miles of ice. That's enough ice to raise the sea level by a possible 11 feet. Click here for the full article.

And then there's East Antarctica...

Rising carbon emissions not only may have irreversibly destabilized the great ice sheet of West Antarctica, they may have done the same to the gigantic Totten glacier in East Antarctica. (Northern Hemisphere residents and Americans in particular should take note: when the bottom of the world loses vast amounts of ice, those living closer to its top get more sea-level rise than the rest of the planet). The findings about East Antarctica are cited in a March 16 paper in Nature Geoscience by scientists representing the U.S., Britain, France, and Australia. It appears that Totten is losing ice because warm ocean water is getting underneath it. “The idea of warm ocean water eroding the ice in West Antarctica, what we’re finding is that may well be applicable in East Antarctica as well,” says Martin Siegert, a co-author of the study. The glacier holds back a vast catchment of ice that, were its vulnerable parts to flow into the ocean, could produce a sea-level rise of more than 11 feet—comparable to that from a loss of West Antarctica ice. This sea-level rise is generally expected to play out over hundreds of years or more. Click here for the full article

Oceans today face carbon uptake rates similar to those which spurred mass die-off

A new report by leading scientists finds that rapid acidification is to blame for Earth's worst mass extinction event 252 million years ago. The findings, published April 9 in the journal Science, raise serious concerns about the implications of present-day acidification, which is driven by human-made climate change. "Scientists have long suspected that an ocean acidification event occurred during the greatest mass extinction of all time, but direct evidence has been lacking until now," said the study's lead author. The Permo-Triassic Boundary mass extinction wiped out more than 90% of marine species and two-thirds of land animals. The mass die-off "happened when Earth’s oceans absorbed huge amounts of carbon dioxide from volcanic eruptions. This changed the chemical composition of the oceans, ­making them more acidic, ­with catastrophic consequences for life on Earth." The carbon that drove this process during the Permian-Triassic Boundary extinction was "released at a rate similar to modern emissions," the report concludes. Click here for the full article.

Kids' future on trial

A judge heard arguments in April in a case brought by two Eugene, Oregon teenagers seeking a ruling that would force state lawmakers to work harder to reduce carbon emissions. The teens’ lawyers want the judge to rule that officials have a duty to protect the atmosphere on behalf of the public. The suit was filed in 2011, when the teens were 15 and 11 years old. The judge dismissed the case at the time, but it bounced back to him after review by the Oregon Court of Appeals. Attorneys representing the state assert that Oregon already has passed a number of regulations, but the kids say the state’s carbon reduction plan includes nonbinding goals that aren’t being met. Similar lawsuits naming children as plaintiffs have been filed in all 50 states in an effort to pressure governments to speed up efforts to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. Click here for the full article

Is boycotting states the future for climate activism?

To win the fight to preserve a livable climate, progressives will have to match the state-level success the LGBT community and its allies recently showed in changing a discriminatory Indiana law. Conservative political leaders have declared their intent to do everything possible to seize control of state governments in 2016 and block climate action. One key similarity between the climate and LGBT fights is their moral nature. The LGBT community did not win by asking by asking for “tolerance.” No: “the lesson that the gay revolution holds for any progressive movement” is that “they set out to change people’s minds about what is moral.” The fact that we are on track to harm billions who contributed little or nothing to carbon pollution makes climate inaction a grave wrong. It's fast approaching the time when all those who say they care about the climate, their children’s health and well-being, and future generations will have to stand up for their values state by state. Click here for the full article.  

No climate planning will mean no money for states

Starting next year, FEMA will approve disaster preparedness funds only for states whose governors approve hazard mitigation plans that address climate change. Over the past five years, the agency has awarded an average $1 billion a year in grants to states and territories taking steps to mitigate the effects of disasters. (The policy doesn't affect federal money for disaster relief.) Beginning in March 2016, states seeking preparedness money will have to assess how climate change threatens their communities, and governors will have to sign off on mitigation plans. These governors include Rick Scott of Florida, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Chris Christie of New Jersey, Greg Abbott of Texas, and Pat McCrory of North Carolina­, all of whom have denied man-made climate change or refused to take action. The states they lead all face immediate threats from climate change. Click here for the full article

House Republicans seek to cut climate research funds from Pentagon and CIA budgets

In a sweeping budget proposal rolled out in March, lawmakers identified national security-related climate-change research as a key area to eliminate "wasteful" spending. For years, the Defense Department and intelligence community have assessed the potential for climate change to act as a threat multiplier, particularly in areas that have preexisting sources of tension. The Republican proposal comes soon after a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that global warming likely amplified a drought in Syria that preceded the devastating civil war in that country. The study also found that much of the eastern Mediterranean, including Syria, parts of Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan may face a troubling security situation as global warming increases temperatures and reduces rainfall throughout much of the region. Click here for the full article


Fossil Fuel-ish



Swinomish Tribe files suit to stop Bakken oil trains

The Swinomish filed a lawsuit in federal court on April 7 against BNSF Railway for violating an easement allowing trains to cross its reservation. Tracks running across the reservation's northern edge were laid in the late 1800s, without consent from the Swinomish or federal government, and currently serve two refineries. In 1991, the Tribe and BNSF settled a lawsuit filed by the Tribe for nearly a century of trespass. BNSF was granted an easement on condition it would regularly update the Tribe on the type of cargo, and only one train of 25 railcars would cross the Reservation in each direction daily. In return, the Tribe agreed not to “arbitrarily withhold permission” if there was a future BNSF request to increase the number of trains or cars. In late 2012, the Tribe learned from media reports that “unit trains” of 100 railcars or more were beginning to cross the reservation. Today, BNSF is reportedly running six 100-car “unit trains” per week. Each carries between 2.8 and 3.4 million gallons of Bakken Crude, a particularly dangerous and explosive cargo. The Tribe never granted BNSF permission to increase the number of railcars and repeatedly demanded that BNSF stop violating the easement. So far, BNSF has refused. “We told BNSF to stop, again and again," said Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby. "We also told BNSF: convince us why we should allow these oil trains to cross the reservation. And we listened for two years, even while the trains kept rolling. But experiences across the country have now shown us all the dangers of Bakken Crude. It’s unacceptable for BNSF to put our people and our way of life at risk without regard to the agreement we established in good faith.”  See the full article here

Go Greenpeace

On April 6, some 750 miles northwest of Hawaii, six Greenpeace activists boarded a Shell oil rig in route from Malaysia to the Port of Seattle to protest the company’s plans to drill in the Arctic. Twenty-four hours later, Shell filed a lawsuit in federal court to kick the activists off of the rig. “Boarding a moving vessel on the high seas is extremely dangerous and jeopardizes the safety of all concerned, including both the people working aboard and the protestors themselves,” said a Shell spokesperson (who failed to note that it's the drilling plans that are extremely dangerous and jeopardize the safety of all). The 400-foot-tall rig is intended to be staged for Arctic drilling once it reaches Seattle. It's one of two rigs eventually bound for the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska, an area that Shell intends to develop for offshore drilling. The protest came a week after the Obama administration reaffirmed Shell’s 2008 lease in the Chukchi Sea, essentially giving the company the green light to drill in the Arctic as early as this summer. An Environmental Impact Report released by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management found that, under the current plan for drilling in the Chukchi Sea, there is a 75% chance of a major oil spill in the Arctic. See the full article here

Health professionals urge 5-year fracking ban

Medact, a UK-based public health group, has published a long-awaited report on the impacts of fracking upon public health. The report considers a number of existing reviews of the evidence of fracking on public health, and examines claims that shale gas might aid the transition towards a low-carbon energy system. The report's conclusion is clear: "On the basis of our existing knowledge, it would be both prudent and responsible to call for, at the very least, a five year moratorium on all activities related to shale gas development ..." The report reviewed a number of existing studies from public health agencies, as well as a wide range of journal papers, and found that while there has been discussion about earthquakes and water pollution, little consideration has been given to the trace contaminants of shale gas and how they affect public health. Nor is there any realistic assessment of the waste management implications of shale gas development, and how the large volumes of toxic solids, liquids, and gases generated by the process will be safely dealt with. See the full article here

Toxic spill in Vancouver B.C. a "warning" against fossil fuel projects

In the wake of an oil spill in Vancouver's English Bay this week, climate and shipping experts alike criticized the emergency response and questioned  the potential impacts of a proposed tar-sands pipeline expansion through the area. International shipping expert Joe Spears slammed the emergency response to the spill and said the disaster shows B.C.'s waters are not ready for increased oil tanker traffic. Energy company Kinder Morgan has proposed building a second TransMountain pipeline to carry oil to the English Bay's Burrard inlet, where the spill began, which critics say would increase tanker traffic through B.C. waters. "We've got to do better," said Spears. "This is a glimpse of the future. If we can't handle a small bunkering spill, how are we going to deal with a major tanker?" More than two tons of fuel oil seeped into the English Bay, rendering Vancouver's beaches toxic no-go zones. See the full article here


Take Action!


Carbon Pollution Accountability Act needs your support!

The Washington State House released their budget proposal, but the carbon pollution program was unfortunately not included. There’s still time for the Legislature to get it right. Voters support making polluters pay for climate emissions; the act will also create jobs and grow the clean-energy economy. When the Senate releases its budget proposal, the two chambers will begin negotiations. Call 1-800-562-6000 and ask your representatives to include the CPAA (HB 1314) in the final budget.



An open letter to America's anglers

"We love America. We love our landscapes, our sporting traditions, our rich outdoors culture, and our fisheries, and we’re willing to fight for it; for all of it, for every last inch, for every river and stream and forest and meadow, for every kid who dreams of trout or salmon or bass or bluegills or tarpon. Greed will not triumph. Flat-earth idiocy will not reign supreme. Our fisheries will not fall prey to snake oil salesmen and crooked politicians. Not on our watch." A fly fisherman takes on the energy and resource extraction industries who are targeting hunters and anglers. Read the full letter here. 

Church should lead, not follow on climate justice

"Not only has the fossil fuel industry continued trading human lives for profit, but, since it is difficult to convince free people to poison their own water sources or blow up their own backyards, it has increasingly killed democracy in order to keep killing people for profit." Read this powerful essay by Tim DeChrisopher, the young activist who, in 2008, famously blocked a Bureau of Land Management oil and gas auction, and is now a Harvard Divinity student. 

Department of Encouragement


Strong majority of Americans support international climate agreement

A recent poll found that 72% of likely 2016 voters support the U.S. signing an international agreement on climate change. The Benenson Strategy Group conducted the polling for the Sierra Club and Union of Concerned Scientists, surveying 1,000 expected voters. 65% said they thought the U.S. “should take the lead and make meaningful reductions in its carbon emissions and other gases that may cause global warming.” Even a majority of Republican respondents - 52% - expressed support for the U.S. joining an international agreement on climate change. See the full article here

25,000 march to demand action on climate crisis

Thousands of Canadians marched through the streets of Québec City on April 11 to demand action from officials meeting April 14 to discuss climate change issues. The 25,000 participants included representatives from First Nations, climate activists, and political groups. The organizers called on premiers who will be attending the meeting to curb tar sands growth, which would endanger Canada’s land and water, and fuel climate change. See the full article here

Hope for climate activists

After years of false prospects on climate change breakthroughs, here are seven reasons for new hope

Teenager's plan to rid the oceans of plastic in the works

Last June, Boyan Slat made headlines after developing The Ocean Cleanup, described as the “world’s first feasible concept to clean the oceans of plastic.” Slat, a Dutch former aerospace engineering student, said his plastic-capturing concept - ­proposed when he was only 17 - can clean half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in a decade. The design involves a static platform that passively corrals plastics as wind and ocean currents push debris through V-shaped booms 100 kilometers long. The floating filters would catch all the plastic off the top three meters of water, where the concentration of plastic is the highest, while allowing fish and other marine life to pass under without getting caught. Besides natural currents, the self-sufficient platform would also be powered by 162 solar panels. Slat and 70 other scientists and engineers have composed a 530-page feasibility report, and concluded that the concept “is indeed likely a feasible and viable ocean cleanup technique.” Their conclusion has also been peer-reviewed by external experts. The project is currently in phase two, in which a team will build a large-scale, fully operational pilot of the design near the Azores within the next 3-4 years. See the full article here.  

A Parting Chuckle

A friend reports that when asking a salesperson at a local hardware store where the clotheslines were, the 20-something gal looked at her blankly. “You don’t know what a clothesline is, do you?" said Rosann.  Up for the challenge, she powered on, "Well, let me tell you. You know that lint that’s on your clothes when they come out of the dryer? That’s your clothes. If you hang them outside, they’ll last longer. And they’ll smell great. And you’ll save money and energy on not using the dryer. And you can even take your binoculars out and watch for birds!” Good job, but...oops, she forgot to mention what clothespins are. 


The Catalyst is compiled and edited by Evelyn Adams.

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