Fri, 27 July 2007
This is part two in our two-part series on the Union of Concerned Scientists' (UCS) recent report "Confronting Climate Change in the U.S. Northeast: Science, Impacts and Solutions." In this podcast, PennFuture's Sharon Pillar speaks with Dr. Lewis Ziska, who serves as one of the members of the UCS health & agriculture teams. Dr. Ziska is a plant physiologist with the United States Department of Agriculture in their Agricultural Research Service.
Dr. Ziska reviews some fascinating recent findings regarding the impacts of increasing temperatures and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels on crops, agricultural products, and public health. Scientists are interested in determining how agriculture must adapt to the impacts of global warming, the impacts of weeds and pests resulting from climate change, the economic and environmental consequences of both things, and the links between climate change, plants, and public health.
For example, in Pennsylvania, agriculture is the state's number one industry. Pennsylvania's dairy farmers alone contribute a very significant amount to the Commonwealth's economy, at the state and local levels. Producing about one billion gallons of milk every year, Pennsylvania cows are at serious risk from global warming because their milk production decreases as temperatures go up. In 2005, the industry lost $40 million in Pennsylvania as a result of high temperatures and low rainfall.
Many Pennsylvanians also suffer from allergies and allergenic asthma. Dr. Ziska describes how weeds like ragweed actually are making allergies worse as heat-trapping gas emissions continue to rise in the atmosphere. Pollen from ragweed, for instance, is produced in greater quantities as temperature and carbon dioxide goes up, and the allergy-causing attributes of that pollen increase as well. Poison ivy has been thriving as well. Nutritional values of some agricultural crops are even decreasing as a result of global warming-- cereal crops are losing protein, though scientists don't yet understand why.
And while many people in the world deal with illness by filling a prescription at the pharmacy, few of us consider the plants that many medicines come from, or the three billion people worldwide that depend directly on plants for their medicinal qualities. Dr. Liska shares that scientists are discovering that the medicinal values of many plants are decreasing or changing as a result of higher temperatures. The effects are almost impossible to predict or quantify.
Waiting to act is not an option, as Dr. Liska points out during this podcast. The need for action is "yesterday," as he says. To learn how you can become a part of the Cool Pennsylvania Campaign to stop global warming at home, visit our Web site. There, you will also find links to the UCS study and other important information about global warming. We encourage you to support our work through a donation, and by joining our weekly global warming news e-mail list. As always, we welcome your comments; simply e-mail us at podcast (at) pennfuture (dot) org, or click on "Comments" below.
Thu, 19 July 2007
"Confronting Climate Change in the U.S. Northeast: Science, Impacts and Solutions" was recently released by the Union of Concerned Scientists, and PennFuture's Sharon Pillar had an opportunity to speak with two of the scientists who contributed to this comprehensive, stunning report. This new report, part of a series in the Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment (NECIA), provides information on the impacts of climate change on key climate-sensitive sectors (coastal, marine, forests, agriculture, winter recreation and health), and options and opportunities for mitigation and adaptation.
The NECIA is a collaboration between the Union of Concerned Scientists and a team of more than 50 independent scientists and economists and covers the U.S. Northeast, from Pennsylvania to Maine.
The report finds that without urgent action to reduce heat-trapping gas emissions today, the region could face a number of very serious impacts, detailed below. Important to note, however, is that the report examines two emissions scenarios, a high and low, but these should not be considered ceilings or floors. In other words, things could be even worse than predicted and modeled, and even under the lower emission scenario, things are bad. The key will be for us to reduce significantly our contributions to the problem to come in below the low-emissions scenario; that would mean, on average, cutting emissions by about three percent per year for decades, which is very achievable but cannot be delayed.
In this podcast (first in a two-part series), Sharon speaks to Dr. Jerry Melillo. Vice-chair of the NECIA synthesis team, Dr. Melillo is director of the Ecosystems Center at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., and a trustee for the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment.
Summary of Potential Impacts
Climate: By late this century, summers in Pennsylvania could resemble summers today in Georgia or Alabama if emissions continue unabated. Under a lower-emission scenario, summers in Pennsylvania could resemble those in Virginia and Kentucky.
Human Health: The number of days of dangerous heat and poor air quality that Pennsylvania residents will need to cope with could increase dramatically this century. By late-century, Pittsburgh could experience roughly 24 days over 100°F every summer under the higher-emissions scenario, compared with roughly six such days under the lower-emissions scenario. Also, increasing levels of carbon dioxide are expected to accelerate seasonal pollen production over the next several decades, extending the allergy season and exacerbating symptoms for asthma and allergy sufferers across the state.
Agriculture: Under the high emissions scenario, most July days in Pennsylvania late in the century are projected to exceed the heat-stress threshold for many economically important crops currently grown in the state, and the dairy industry is particularly at risk. High temperatures would also allow agricultural pests and weeds, such as kudzu, to spread further north.
But there is good news, too. The report shows that the technology and ingenuity to reduce the threat of global warming is already at our fingertips. Solutions are already available:
Electric Power: The state of Pennsylvania has seized upon wind energy as a new energy resource and an economic development strategy. The wind-energy company Gamesa, for example, is investing $84 million and creating nearly 1,000 jobs by locating its U.S. headquarters in Philadelphia and building three plants in the state. We have also made great strides in jump-starting renewable energy development and energy conservation by passing key sections of the Energy Independence Strategy, and will continue to pursue other aspects of the total strategic package as laid out by Governor Ed Rendell this fall.
Buildings:"Green" building programs, like the federal Energy Star Buildings program and the U.S. Green Building Council LEED certifications, provide guidance needed to make buildings more energy-, water-, and resource-efficient. Pittsburgh has the largest number of "green" buildings of any city east of the Mississippi.
Transportation: The transportation sector in the Northeast represents the single largest source of CO2 emissions. Pennsylvania adopted California's vehicle emissions standards, which will require emissions reductions of 30 percent below 2002 levels by 2016, beginning with the 2008 model year (with implementation contingent upon an EPA ruling).
For more information and to view the full report, including state-specific information for all the northeastern states as well as a new solutions feature, visit www.climatechoices.org/ne. For more information on PennFuture's Cool Pennsylvania Campaign to stop global warming here at home, visit our Web site. There you can also make a donation to support this critical work. As always, we welcome your questions and comments. Simply e-mail us at podcast (at) pennfuture (dot) org, or click on the "Comments" link below.
Fri, 13 July 2007
Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle has been a leader on environmentally-conscious matters, not only as compared to other grocery stores, but as compared to other businesses in general. With their new Market District store in Pittsburgh's Shadyside neighborhood, they've again broken new ground, with recognition from the U.S. Green Building Council as the world's first LEED-certified store in the category of commercial interiors, with a silver rating. Giant Eagle was also one of the first companies in Pennsylvania to purchase clean, renewable wind energy.
In this podcast, PennFuture's Jeanne Clark leads us on an audio tour of the Market District facility. Joined by Marc Mondor (evolveEA), Giant Eagle's green building consultant on the project; Indigo Raffel (Conservation Consultants, Inc.) who leads educational tours of the facility for local students and community organizations; and jim lampl, Giant Eagle's Director of Conservation, Jeanne gets to see, feel, smell, hear, and taste the many wonders of this amazing store.
From the moment you set foot in Market District, there is more than meets the eye. Special floor mats are treated to remove as much dirt and muck from your shoes as possible. Signage throughout the store informs customers about the health and environmental benefits of the green building features, such as natural lighting, fresh air, and wood from only Forest Stewardship Council-certified suppliers. Giant Eagle continues to purchase wind energy for a significant portion of their stores' electricity needs, and the many energy-efficient features of the structure and their operations also reduce their contributions to global warming. In fact, you can even donate your fuelperks credits back to the store if you like, and those credits go toward purchasing additional carbon offsets.
In a rare moment, Jeanne even admits she learned something new-- and she thought she knew everything!-- when jim explains that the management decision to not only build green but to implement a host of additional environmentally-friendly practices cost just under one percent more than doing things the conventional way. Kind of makes you wonder why every grocery store isn't green... and in fact, Giant Eagle has plans to build two new LEED-certified stores in the coming year. They conducted a survey in conjunction with Carnegie Mellon University about shoppers' attitudes in their Pittsburgh and Brunswick, Ohio LEED stores. It turns out that a large majority of shoppers cited the green features as important to them in choosing Giant Eagle.
Moving through the store, Jeanne notices not being cold in the frozen foods aisles (energy-efficient air-return system), a decidedly pleasant olfactory experience (low-emitting flooring and paint, with zero to very few volatile organic compounds or VOC's), and is impressed to learn that only non-toxic, environmentally-friendly cleaning products are used which are also far healthier for the store's staff. She gets an insiders-view of the back room operations, where all of the store's cardboard and plastics (including films, bags, and packaging materials) are prepared for recycling.
The last stop is onto the store's 12,000-square-foot green roof, planted with a variety of sedum year-round. The roof is not only a cost-saver from energy and life-span viewpoints, it is helping to inform the region about the possible stormwater retention benefits of green roofs as part of an ongoing research project between 3 Rivers Wet Weather and the University of Pittsburgh. (You can even monitor the results of the project online.)
All of this, and a great deal more, can be heard in this fact-filled forage through the Market District. To learn more about the store, see their informative fact sheet here. To learn more about how you can support PennFuture's work on energy independence, stopping global warming at home, and to join us, visit our Web site. As always, we welcome your feedback! E-mail us at podcast (at) pennfuture (dot) org, or click on "Comments" below.