Thursday, March 4, 2010

Weather Is Not Climate

By Colin Bennett
March 4, 2010

Weather is what we experience day-to-day or week-to-week; a few weeks ago it was bitterly cold in the D.C. area but there was no snow. More recently, there has been a lot of snow but the temperature has been warmer. Both the bitter cold and the blizzards are examples of weather. Climate on the other hand, is what we experience over long periods of time. In the D.C. area the climate can be generally described as hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Spring and fall are obviously marked by the transition between the intensity of winter and summer.  Sometimes it gets remarkably hot in the summer just as sometimes it gets exceptionally cold in the winter. A particularly warm January period not disprove that it’s winter just as a lot of snow does not disprove that our planet is warming. 

With the recent snow storms in the area, some have mistakenly jumped to the conclusion that our planet must be getting colder. Apparently, their logic is something along the lines of "it's snowing; there must be no such thing as global warming!" Unreasonable claims like these are made by people like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and other Fox News personalities and parroted by people that don’t want to learn the facts about our warming planet and its changing climate. The truth is, the presence of snow, even record amounts of snow, does not disprove the fact that Earth is getting warmer and our climate is in crisis. In fact, major storms could add to the body of evidence that support the fact that our climate is changing (for the worse) and humans are responsible for it. Paradoxically, the same can be said of the lack of snow at the winter Olympics in Vancouver. 

There are a number of media sources that are at best, grossly misinformed and at worst, purposely trying to deceive the American public. Take this recent statement from the Washington Times, “Record snowfall illustrates the obvious: The global warming fraud is without equal in modern science.” The idiocy of that statement barely warrants comment; it’s like saying that because it’s raining in the desert, it’s no longer a desert. It could snow everyday for a month and that would prove nothing other than we are experiencing an extreme weather event. Unfortunately, some of the people making these asinine statements (that have no basis in scientific fact) include some our highest elected officials. Senator Jim DeMint (R- South Carolina) recently tweeted "It's going to keep snowing in DC until Al Gore cries "uncle". Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, one of the most vocal global warming skeptics in Washington, went so far as to publicize an igloo on Capitol Hill, built by his grandchildren, with a sign on it that said "Al Gore's New Home". 

Contrary to some 'news' reports, evidence suggests that our recent storms could actually be a result of climate change. Warm air holds more moisture than cold air. Warmer air leads to increased evaporation, increased evaporation leads to more moisture in the atmosphere, and increased moisture in the atmosphere can lead to stronger storms. Already, this winter has delivered the most snow in D.C. and Baltimore since records began. In fact, as reported by Time, two of the major storms that buried D.C. and Baltimore this winter, “in December and during the first weekend of February, are already among the 10 heaviest snowfalls those cities have ever recorded.” Philadelphia has seen three of its snowiest storms ever this winter.  

However, as stated before, weather is not climate- a single snow storm, or even a series of snow storms is not indicative of overall climate trends, just as the lack of snow where it's typically common does not prove that our planet is warming. The scientific community is still in consensus about real, anthropogenic climate change, despite record snow in D.C. Decades of research conducted by thousands of scientists all over the globe provide the evidence. 

Fortunately, most media sources actually understand what’s going on. Time Magazine has a great article covering the relationship between the recent snow and climate change, 'Another Blizzard: What Happened to Global Warming?' Rachel Maddow of MSNBC has an excellent segment from one of her recent shows 'Global warming isn't the opposite of snow.' The Washington Post has also been doing responsible reporting on the issue, 'Harsh winter a sign of disruptive climate change, report says.'

While future extreme weather events are likely to cause a few people to make ridiculous claims, it is incumbent upon responsible Americans to avoid irresponsible media outlets that make fallacious statements and seek out sources that will provide the facts about our warming planet and changing climate. 

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Mason Students Support Historic Environmental Legislation

By Allison Rutledge
March 1, 2010

An edited version of this article was published in Broadside, George Mason University's student newspaper on 3/01/10

Over the past month, members of Mason's Environmental Action Group (EAG) have been working hard to help pass legislation to protect streams and mountains in the commonwealth. In particular, one bill, the “Stream Saver" bill would stop coal companies from dumping surface mining waste in streams, effectively ending mountaintop removal in Virginia.

The EAG is familiar with the environmental destruction caused by the extraction of coal. Last October, five EAG members traveled to the coal fields of West Virginia for the annual Mountain Justice Fall Summit. The students witnessed the impacts of mountaintop removal, the predominate type of surface mining in Appalachia. Mountaintop removal is the practice of leveling the tops of mountains through massive explosions and dumping the resulting debris in the adjacent valleys, a common location for streams. The waste pollutes the watersheds, decreases biodiversity, and deprives Virginia residents of clean drinking water. This type of mining has already destroyed 67 Virginian mountains. A 2001 assessment by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that the waste from mountaintop removal mining has affected 151 miles of streams in Virginia. Many more miles of streams have been destroyed since 2001 and, according to the EAG, will continue to be destroyed if action is not taken. The Stream Saver bill would stop this practice.

Mason students Emily Miles and Jason Von Kundra traveled to Richmond on January 18th to voice their opinions to their legislators regarding various environmental bills, including the Stream Saver bill formally known as Senate Bill 564. The students met with four state senators and two legislative aides to ask for their support. They met Senator Chap Petersen, who represents the district where Mason’s Fairfax campus stands. According to Von Kundra, “Senator Peterson seemed sincerely interested in everything we discussed. He admitted he was not familiar with mountaintop removal coal mining which prevented him from taking a stance on the issue. A documentary film about mountaintop removal, Coal Country, explains the issue well and has made a big impact on me. Other members of the EAG and I plan on giving the film to Petersen in the near future.” The two students also met Senator Ticer, the patron of the bill, and Senator Whipple, a co-patron.

Von Kundra went to Richmond again on Thursday, February 11th, for a hearing on the Stream Saver bill. Senator Petersen described the hearing as “one of the largest public hearings in the history of the State Capitol.” The hearing room, an overflow room, and the halls surrounding each were packed with people. During the nearly three hour hearing, both supporters and opponents were given the chance to voice their opinions to the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee.

To protect their interests, one coal company bussed over a hundred coal workers to speak against the bill at the hearing. Most of the bill’s opponents came in defense of jobs in the coal industry, although this bill only applies to surface mining which, because of its highly mechanized nature, employs far less workers than traditional underground mining. In Virginia, surface mining represents approximately 30% of the total coal industry. Tommy Hudson of the Virginia Coal Association gave the jobs breakdown at the hearing: of the 4,797 coal mining jobs in the commonwealth, 1,433 are related to surface mining.

The supporters of the bill spoke of environmental, economic, and social injustice caused by mountaintop removal; they see this bill as a solution to those problems. Residents from Southwest Virginia, where mountaintop removal is currently taking place, came to protect their communities including the streams and mountains. Kathy Selvage, a Wise County native and co-founder of the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards brought water from her tap that had been polluted by mountaintop removal; she urged legislators to support the bill. Another Southwest Virginia resident described the nearly constant blasting from the explosives used to break up the top of the mountains before dumping the debris in the streams. This blasting occurs dangerously close to homes, keeping people up at night and endangering lives.

Both sides received 45 minutes to present their case.

Following the hearing, members of the EAG collected photo petitions to send to Senator Petersen, in order to show him that Mason students support the bill. This past Friday they wandered the JC with cameras and signs that read “Save Our Mountains and Streams, Support SB 564” and “Not One More Mile!” taking pictures of anyone that wanted to send a message to their elected official. Before snapping a picture of a Mason student holding one of the signs, Gopi Raghu, an electrical engineering major, explained that “Not One More Mile!” means the polluting of Virginian streams must stop now.

On Monday, February 15th, the Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee choose to "leave the bill in committee" and postpone the voting of the bill to next year. This is the first time such legislation has been considered in the Virginia General Assembly. The fact that legislation to stop mountaintop removal was considered this year makes this is a historic time for preservation of our natural resources. Opponents of mountaintop removal are pleased with the momentum gained from this bill: support from numerous senators, a productive public hearing, and more attention to the issue. Mason students are proud to be part of the effort.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Hope for a Climate Bill

By Nya Jackson
March 1, 2010

With the likelihood of the passage of a healthcare bill before the November elections looking bleak, Democrats in Congress are increasingly turning their attention to the passage of a climate bill. The Washington Post recently reported that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) called on Senator John Kerry (D-MA) to produce a new climate bill as soon as possible. Kerry is working with Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-CT) to draft a bill that can attract bipartisan support. “Finally some good news,” was the response of Jason Von Kundra, co-chair of Mason's Environmental Action Group, when he heard of Reid’s call for a climate bill. Von Kundra’s reaction represents the sentiment of many Mason students to the prospect of a climate bill in the near future.
“The majority leader is deadly serious about making progress this year on climate and energy reform," Kerry said in a statement to reporters recently. It’s great that the majority leader is deeply involved in the process of getting a climate bill drafted, but Colin Bennett of Mason's Office of Sustainability wants to know if Republicans are in support of the bill. “Passing a climate bill will require the Senate to come together as a whole, to draft a bill that protects the environment, while also taking our economy into consideration. The Democrats can't do it alone,” said Bennett. Looking back on the well-publicized health-care fight, Republican support for this bill will prove crucial.
Jeremy Symons, senior vice president of the National Wildlife Federation, reported to the Washington Post that the only way to create a bipartisan coalition is to seek Republican input on the bill early in the process to “create the overall architecture of legislation, not waiting until after the bill is drafted and looking for what concessions or what changes need to be made to round up three Republican votes.” Biology student Jose Gayoso regards bi-partisan support from the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources as the first test to whether climate legislation will pass this year. “If the bill doesn’t originate from this committee, whose members are regarded as having expertise on the issue, and can’t receive bi-partisan support within the committee it’s unlikely to have success in the Senate as a whole” said Gayoso. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the top Republican on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, will be a crucial vote for this bill.
Not only does Senate Majority Leader Reid’s push for a climate bill give environmentalists, public health advocates, and other supporters of climate legislation reason for hope, but President Obama is also committed to the issue. Last December, at the international climate negotiations in Copenhagen the President pledged climate action in the U.S. including creating a system to cap U.S. greenhouse gas levels and helping to mobilize $100 billion in annual funding from developed countries by 2020 to help poorer nations. Although winning Republican support for a climate bill might require adding provisions favored by the oil industries, or scaling back the legislation's scope, Von Kundra believes that the U.S. needs to demonstrate progress to maintain international credibility and he's hopeful that, “November elections, the recent U.S. pledges in Copenhagen, and pressure from Reid and Obama will result in a climate bill this year”.

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