Search Results for: Climate

Gamify the Grid! New EPA game Generate! Helps Students Understand the Relationship between Climate Change and Energy Production

By Rose Keane

When you’re teaching someone, sometimes you never know what’s going to stick. Some people need to hear the information, others might need to read it, but chances are the best way to get someone to remember is to have them try it themselves.

EPA researcher Rebecca Dodder is helping teachers provide middle school and high school students with these kinds of opportunities through her new Generate! game, a board game that requires the player to consider the costs and benefits of the type of energy we use and impacts on air quality and climate.

Hands-on learning! Kids play the Generate! game during Earth Day festivities at EPA’s campus in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Hands-on learning! Kids play the Generate! game during Earth Day festivities at EPA’s campus in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Having students actually grapple with the realities of financial limitations, carbon emissions, and limited natural resources makes the lesson much more tangible and long lasting. I had the chance to see these connections being made when students came to EPA’s campus in Research Triangle Park, N.C., to play the game during Earth Day festivities.

Here’s how it works.  In the first round, students select which sources of energy—for example, coal, natural gas, nuclear, solar or wind—that they would like to use given a finite amount of resources (in this case the number and types of energy pieces). Each energy source comes with its associated installation and maintenance costs, and the aim is to meet energy demands (filling up the full board space) while spending as little as possible.

The second round, however, made things a bit trickier. As with our energy sources in real life, there is a cost associated with the carbon emissions of each energy piece, with heavier costs for higher carbon-emitting sources like coal, and smaller or no carbon costs for the renewable energy sources. These costs refer to the idea that for each ton of carbon dioxide emitted, there are increased costs to communities from climate change. As students factored these numbers in, they realized their original plan was no longer sustainable and also way too expensive. You could practically hear the groans coming from each group’s table when the final tallies came in.

In the third round, students were offered pieces called “efficiencies,” which represent our behaviors, consumer choices, and energy efficient appliances. These pieces incur relatively small costs initially (for example, how much it would cost to replace your washer and dryer), but in the long run actually save the player money. “Think about it,” Dodder said to the students, “A lot of these big decisions are out of our control, like whether or not to build a nuclear power plant, for example. The thing about the smaller energy efficiency pieces is that’s all the stuff that we can change – it’s all in our control.”

Making climate change and its impacts tangible for younger generations can be extremely difficult, but games like Generate! make these kinds of activities fun, educational, and remind the students that their energy choices are in their hands. Educators can use this game to help their students recognize the relationships between energy usage and climate change, and encourage them to investigate their role in the carbon cycle further.

Dr. Dodder’s innovative approaches to educating the younger generation about science and her research contributions are being recognized today at a ceremony in Washington, DC where she will receive a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists.

Learn more about the Generate! game and download your copy here.

About the Author: Rose Keane is an Oak Ridge Associated Universities contractor with the science communications team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Particulate Matter in a Changing World: Grants to Combat the Impacts of Climate Change

By Christina Burchette

There are certain things that are always changing: the weather, fashion trends, and technology (which iPhone are we on again?) are a few that come to mind. I can always count on the fact that these things won’t stay the same for long. But there are other things that I typically expect to remain the same: I expect to get hungry around lunchtime, I expect the bus to come every morning, and I expect to be able to breathe clean air. I don’t even think about the possibility of these things not happening—until something changes.

I definitely don’t think about air quality often or expect it to change. As long as I’m breathing and well, why would I? But in reality, air quality changes every day, and over time it may change a lot depending on how we treat our environment—and we need to be ready for these changes. This is why EPA recently awarded research grants to 12 universities to protect air quality from current and future challenges associated with climate change impacts.

Climate change is affecting air quality by influencing the type and amount of pollutants in the air. One type of pollutant present in our air is particulate matter, or PM. Long-term exposure to PM is linked to various health effects, including heart disease and lung function, and it doesn’t take a high concentration to affect our bodies. The more PM there is in the air, the more likely we are to be affected by health conditions.

landscape of Death Valley National Park with dust storm

A dust storm in Death Valley National Park

With EPA Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grants, university researchers are approaching the future of air quality from multiple angles with a focus on learning more about the PM-climate change relationship. They will study the impacts of increased wildfire activity that generates PM, often called soot, in the Rocky Mountains. They will look at the impacts that climate change and land use change have on the development of dust storms in the West and Southwest; and they will evaluate the best means of energy production in California where air quality is among the worst in the nation to reduce health care costs and lower levels of PM and greenhouse gases.

Over the next few decades, climate change will be the catalyst for various environmental trends, so finding a way to manage the impacts of these trends is essential to protecting our health. The work these grantees do will help to inform air quality managers and others to make sustainable and cost-effective decisions that keep our air quality at healthy levels and protect public health and the environment. That way, future generations will think of good air quality as something we can expect.

To learn more about these grants and read the abstracts, visit the Particulate Matter and Related Pollutants in a Changing World results page.

About the Author: Christina Burchette is an Oak Ridge Associated Universities contractor and writer for the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

EPA “Aim High” Success Stories on Climate and Air Quality

By Administrator Gina McCarthy

The public health case for climate action is compelling beyond words. The interagency Climate and Health Assessment released last month confirms that climate change endangers our health by affecting our food and water sources, the weather we experience, and the air we breathe. And we know that it will exacerbate certain health threats that already exist – while also creating new ones.

As we celebrate the recent signing of the historic Paris Agreement by countries around the world, there’s no better time to reflect on EPA’s many ongoing efforts to fight climate change and protect the air we breathe.

As part of our “Aim High” effort to highlight success stories from across the agency, I asked EPA staff to share examples of their work to protect public health by taking action on climate and air quality. Here are some highlights:

Child with pinwheel and blue sky in the background.Asthma Awareness Month: Asthma affects nearly 23 million Americans and disproportionally impacts low-income and minority communities. In the U.S., the direct medical costs of asthma and indirect costs, such as missed school and work days, amount to over $50 billion a year. Every May, EPA leads a National Asthma Awareness Campaign to increase public awareness about asthma risks, strengthen partnerships with community-based asthma organizations, and recognize exceptional asthma programs that are making a difference. Every year, this effort reaches 9,000 groups and individuals and provides them with the information and motivation to take action.

Group photo of employees from EPA and the Ghana Environmental Protection Agency .U.S EPA Africa Megacity Partnership: EPA’s environmental program in sub-Saharan Africa is focused on addressing the region’s growing urban and industrial pollution issues, including air quality and indoor air from cookstoves. The World Health Organization estimates that exposure to smoke from cooking causes 4.3 million premature deaths per year. EPA and the Ghana Environmental Protection Agency are working together under the Africa Megacities Partnership to develop an integrated air quality action plan for Accra. As a result of this partnership, Ghana EPA has already made significant progress using air quality monitoring and analysis and is serving as a model for other African cities with limited data, that want to take action.

Group of people by reservoir impacted by drought.Climate Change and Water Utilities: Between 1980 and 2015, the United States was impacted by more than 20 major droughts, each costing over one billion dollars. EPA staff in the Office of Water developed an easy-to-use guide to assist small- to medium-sized water utilities with responding to drought. The Drought Response and Recovery Guide for Water Utilities, release last month, includes best practices, implementation examples and customizable worksheets that help states and communities set short-term/emergency action plans, while also building long-term resilience to drought. EPA staff also developed an interactive drought case study map that tells the story of how seven diverse small- to medium-sized utilities in California, Texas, Georgia, New Mexico, Kansas, and Oklahoma were challenged by drought impacts and were able to successfully respond to and recover from drought.

Screenshot of EPA Region 1 Valley Indication Tool.Outreach on Risks from Wood Smoke: Exposure to particle pollution from wood smoke has been linked to a number of adverse health effects. Valleys in New England, where terrain and meteorology contribute to poor dispersion of pollutants, are especially vulnerable during winter air inversions. EPA Region 1 used publically available study results, databases and in-house Geographic Information System resources to develop “The Valley Identification Tool” that identifies populated valleys throughout New England that are at risk for wood-smoke pollution. Using this tool, EPA and state air quality managers and staff can better plan air-quality monitoring, outreach, and mitigation.

Biogas facilityBiogas to Energy: Water Resource Recovery Facilities (WRRFs) help recover water, nutrients, and energy from wastewater. EPA Region 9 is working with WRRFs to boost energy production through the addition of non-traditional organic wastes ranging from municipally collected food scraps to the byproducts of food processing facilities and agricultural production. As a result of these efforts, some of these facilities are becoming “energy positive,” producing enough energy to power the facility and transferring excess energy into the electricity grid for use by others. EPA, in collaboration with universities and industry, is also working to collect and share information on co-digestion practices and biogas management technologies. This work helps improve understanding of the air quality impacts of biogas-to-energy technologies and helps state and local governments, regulators, and developers identify cleaner, geographically-appropriate and cost-effective biogas management options.

The Deepening Story of How Climate Change Threatens Human Health

This is a joint blog from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, EPA, the U.S. Surgeon General, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

Climate change poses risks to human health through many pathways, some more obvious than others. Rising greenhouse-gas concentrations, driven by human activities, result in increases in temperature, changes in precipitation, increases in the frequency and intensity of some extreme weather events, and rising sea levels. These climate-change impacts endanger our health by affecting our food and water sources, the air we breathe, the weather we experience, and our interactions with the built and natural environments. As the climate continues to change, the climate-related risks to human health will continue to grow.

Today, building on the Third National Climate Assessment issued in May 2014, the Administration released a new report summarizing the growing understanding of how climate change is directly and indirectly affecting human health.  The report, The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment, finds that “every American is vulnerable to the health impacts associated with climate change.” Drawing from decades of advances in the science of climate change and its influences on ecosystems and human society, the report strengthens our understanding of the significant threat that climate change poses to the health of all Americans and highlights factors that make some individuals and communities particularly vulnerable.

Among the new assessment’s specific findings is the projection that, under mid-range growth of global greenhouse-gas emissions, the combination of resulting summer temperatures in the United States and the known physiology of human sensitivity to heat would result in an increase of thousands to tens of thousands of premature heat-related deaths per year by the end of the century. Extreme heat poses a particular risk for children, the elderly, disadvantaged and socially isolated groups, and even people taking some prescription drugs that may impair the body’s ability to regulate temperature. The increase in heat-related deaths in most regions is expected to outweigh any reduction in cold-related deaths from warmer winters.

Changes in the climate also affect air quality. Human-induced climate change has already made conditions more favorable for ground-level ozone pollution – the key component of smog – in some regions of the United States. Higher temperatures increase the rate at which ozone forms, and associated changes in meteorological conditions can lead to stagnation events where large pockets of still air allow pollution levels to accumulate over a region. These effects are especially concerning when combined over urban areas. Unless offset by additional emission reductions of ozone-forming pollutants, these climate-driven increases in ozone will cause increases in premature deaths, hospital visits, lost school days, and acute respiratory symptoms.

Rising temperatures and hotter, drier summers are projected to increase the frequency and severity of large wildfires, especially in the western United States. Wildfires emit fine particles and ozone-forming pollutants that in turn increase the risk of premature death and adverse chronic and acute cardiovascular and respiratory health symptoms. Firefighters, in particular, are exposed to significantly higher levels of combustion products from fires.

A changing climate is also affecting the seasonality and geographic ranges of vector-borne diseases – such as Lyme disease and West Nile virus, which are transmitted, respectively, by  ticks and mosquitoes. Between 2001 and 2014, both the distribution and number of reported cases of Lyme disease increased in the Northeast and Upper Midwest. The assessment found that vector-borne pathogens of a number of kinds are likely to emerge or re-emerge due to the interactions of climatic factors with many non-climatic drivers, such as changing land-use patterns and human population density.

The assessment also highlights the disproportionate impacts of certain other climate-change-related health issues on certain communities. Indigenous people, for example, face decreasing access to traditional wild and cultivated foods, which have both health and cultural implications for these communities. And warming can exacerbate shellfish disease and make mercury more readily absorbed into fish tissue, posing a particular hazard to indigenous communities that consume above-average quantities of fish and shellfish.

The assessment highlights how climate change can exacerbate existing health risks, but also create health threats in new locations or new times. Some threats will occur over longer time periods, or at unprecedented times of the year. For example, increases in water temperature will alter the geographic range and seasonal window of growth for harmful bacteria and algae, exposing more people in more places. Changes in temperatures, precipitation, and extreme events such as flooding are also expected to increase risk of foodborne illnesses from pathogens like Salmonella and E Coli.

Impacts on people’s physical health can also affect their mental health. In addition, many people exposed to extreme weather events experience serious mental health consequences, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety. The mental health impacts of hurricanes, floods, and drought can be expected to increase as more people experience the stress—and often trauma—of these disasters.

Reducing the health risks from climate change is a top priority for President Obama and will be a key benefit of implementing his Climate Action Plan. The information about those risks contained within this new assessment should be a strong additional impetus for decision-makers across the Nation to support all three elements of the Plan—reducing domestic emissions of the carbon pollution that is driving global climate change, investing in measures to increase preparedness and resilience against the changes in climate that occur, and working with other nations around the world to encourage and help them to do the same.

John Holdren is Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Gina McCarthy is the Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy is the U.S. Surgeon General.

Kathryn Sullivan is Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Taking Action on HFCs to Protect our Climate at Home and Abroad

By Gina McCarthy

This week, EPA took another important step in a series of recent actions to help reduce our country’s use and emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) – a potent greenhouse gas. I signed a proposed rule under the Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) Program that will expand the list of climate-friendly HFC alternatives and phase out certain HFCs in favor of safer options that are already available. 

HFCs are predominantly used in air-conditioning and refrigeration and can be up to 10,000 times more damaging to our climate than carbon pollution. Left unchecked, growing HFC emissions would undo critical progress we’ve made to act on climate and protect the planet. 

That’s why cutting their use and emissions is a key part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. The new proposed rule not only supports the President’s goals, it also recognizes the key role of innovative companies in bringing new HFC alternatives to the marketplace. 

This is an example of the important work we’re doing at home. But we’re also making tremendous progress with our international partners to fully address HFCs.

Just yesterday, in a joint announcement, President Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping committed to working bilaterally and with other countries to achieve successful outcomes this year in related multilateral fora, including on an HFC amendment under the Montreal Protocol.

And I’m pleased to announce that I’m planning to lead the United States delegation at the Montreal Protocol’s Extraordinary Meeting of the Parties (ExMOP) this July in Vienna. I had the honor of leading the United States delegation to the Montreal Protocol’s 27th Meeting of the Parties in Dubai last November. At that time, the world took a significant step by agreeing to work together on a 2016 Amendment to the Montreal Protocol to reduce the production and consumption of harmful HFCs and achieve substantial greenhouse gas reductions. 

Next week is the first preparatory session for the 2016 negotiations in Geneva. This will be the first opportunity since Dubai for countries to come together and make concrete progress on our 2016 phase down amendment. 

As we saw with the historic Paris Agreement, the world can unite in action when the health of our kids and shared home is at stake. The U.S. is ready to build on this spirit and follow through on our commitments to reduce HFCs at home and abroad.

We are making tremendous progress with our international partners. This July in Vienna, I look forward to making more progress on adopting an HFC amendment that will protect our climate for future generations.

EPA Partners Leading the Way On Climate Action

By Janet McCabe

Climate change is one of the most critical challenges of our time. We are committed to partnering with industry, communities, and government at all levels to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change, and to prepare for the changes that are already underway.

Some important collaborations are our voluntary climate partnership programs. For decades, we have been partnering with the private sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote the use of cleaner energy sources, and improve energy efficiency efforts. These voluntary programs have achieved significant environmental benefits: in total, more than 19,000 organizations and millions of Americans have participated in our climate partnerships and, together in 2013 they prevented greenhouse gas emissions equal to the annual electricity use of more than 57 million homes.

Today, we launched a new voluntary program to reduce harmful methane emissions from the oil and gas sector and 41 companies have stepped up as founding partners. Our Natural Gas STAR Methane Challenge Program builds on the success of our Natural Gas STAR Program and encourages partner companies to make company-wide commitments to cut emissions from sources within their operations by implementing a suite of best management practices.

We expect program participation to grow over time and are actively working to expand the options for participation by finalizing an additional Emissions Intensity Commitment option through the ONE Future Coalition. The ONE Future coalition is a group of companies from across the natural gas industry focused on increasing the efficiency of the natural gas supply chain.

To understand the potential of this program, let’s look at the successes of the Natural Gas STAR Program. When Gas STAR began in 1993, it promoted six best management practices that companies could take to reduce methane emissions; that list has increased to over 50 mitigation best practices. In 2015, a total of 103 oil and gas companies from across the natural gas value chain were U.S. Natural Gas STAR Partners. Since the Natural Gas STAR program started, our partners have collectively achieved over 1.2 trillion cubic feet of methane emission reductions, equivalent to the emissions savings associated with the use of over 1.4 million barrels of oil or reducing over 606 million metric tons of C02 equivalent emissions.

Our other voluntary programs are making similar strides. Since 1992, ENERGY STAR has helped consumers save $362 billion on their utility bills while significantly reducing their greenhouse gas emissions at the same time. Since the Green Power Partnership was introduced in 2001, more than 1,200 organizations have committed to using about 33 billion kilowatt-hours of clean, renewable green power each year. Through the Combined Heat and Power Partnership, more than 480 partners have installed nearly 6,800 megawatts of new combined heat and power since 2001. And in 2013 alone, our methane and fluorinated greenhouse gas program partners used our tools and resources to prevent emissions equal to the annual electricity use from more than 12 million homes in 2013.

Our country has been building momentum towards a cleaner energy economy for quite a while, and with the help of our voluntary programs, our partners have been helping to pave the way. To address the global challenge of climate change, we need to use all the tools in our toolbox, and voluntary programs are an important complement to regulatory action. Through the innovation and leadership of our partners, our voluntary climate partnership programs have proven to be an important lever for change.

Announcing the Youth Leaders for EPA’s Youth Climate Justice Work Group

By Mustafa Santiago Ali

About the author: Mustafa Santiago Ali is the Senior Advisor to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy for Environmental Justice and Community Revitalization.

As I travel across the nation, I see the incredible work that young people are doing to make our country stronger. The power of youth is undeniable. Their leadership has been a driving force in many of the most successful social justice movements globally. From the Civil Rights movement to the Chicano movement and the American Indian movement, each of these and many more have been driven by young people addressing the injustices happening in their communities.

The legacies of these movements can be seen today throughout the environmental and climate justice movements across the country. Young people are engaged and thinking critically about tackling these challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

Capture

Click to Watch the Video Announcement for the Work Group

And that is why I am pleased that today EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy announced that we have selected 15 emerging young leaders to participate in the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council’s (NEJAC) Youth Perspectives on Climate Justice Workgroup. The workgroup is comprised of young people, ages 18 to 29, at the forefront of the fight against climate change. They will assist EPA in developing strategies and finding opportunities to combat climate change and to empower other young people to take on the challenge. These youth will amplify the diversity of the NEJAC by contributing unique backgrounds and perspectives that will enhance the work of the Council.

They have relevant hands-on experience from working with communities on projects related to climate change, health and adaptation, environmental science, and economic resilience.

And these young leaders have already accomplished amazing things.

Like soon-to-be high school graduates, Stefan Petrovic, who co-founded a youth initiative emphasizing climate activism, and college-student William DiGravio, who founded the award-winning Students for Climate Action organization, to Kathy Tran, who collaborated with vulnerable populations nationally and internationally while pursuing her doctoral degree.

While Oforiwaa Pee Agyei-Boakye was working internationally on a climate change campaign in Ghana, Anthony Torres was working with various non-profit development agencies in Washington D.C., and Nikita Robinson has continued to work with her tribal community to combat the impacts of climate change in Alaska.

Their work with nongovernmental organizations is vast: varying from Amber Vignieri who works as a Communications Coordinator at Elevate Energy to Eriqah Vincent who works as the National EcoLeaders Coordinator with the National Wildlife Federation to Amanda Nesheiwat who is a UN Representative for the Foundation for Post Conflict Development.

They are fluent in utilizing critical mapping and data tools, like Melake Getabecha, who used mapping tools to show heat vulnerability in communities in Colorado.

Students in Youth Workshop at NEJAC Meeting

Students in Youth Workshop at NEJAC Meeting

They are civil activists – like Yudith Nieto – who works with groups nationally and internationally to build inter-generational movements that advocate for environmental justice, and civil engineers – like Kayla DeVault – who is designing a program on her Native reservation to allow students and professionals to work with tribal communities on climate adaptation and sustainability projects.

They are well versed in critical thinking and cross-cultural communications skills. Devin Crowther have presented a national conferences; Samantha Parker served as an international delegate in Paris for the UN Climate Change Conference; and Samantha Shattuck led workshops on youth engagement at the UN Climate Change Conference in Peru.

I know that collaborating with these young people will improve the capacity of the NEJAC and the EPA to develop strategies and to find unique opportunities to combat climate change. If we are willing to create a space for their voices, advice and recommendations, their innovation, energy and ideas can position our country to be leaders in the emerging climate economy.

Congratulations to all those selected! We are excited to learn from you and work with you towards addressing these incredible challenges and opportunities.

New England Communities Addressing Climate Change

By Curt Spalding, Regional Administrator

Over the past several years I have witnessed New England communities grapple with challenges that are likely indicators of our changing climate. The sea is creeping into parking lots at high tide in low-lying Rhode Island. The Cape Cod National Seashore rebuilds access to beaches as the sea eats away dunes that have loomed for centuries. After Tropical Storm Irene, we saw Vermont communities helping each other and their state recover from the damage.

As more and more communities deal with rising sea levels, increased coastal erosion, seasonal changes, more intense and frequent storms, flooding, heat waves, public health threats, and threats to native species, I am often asked “What advice does EPA have? Who has already begun addressing these problems?”

I’m proud that our office has just launched an online resource to further help New England communities navigate how to respond to climate change. This resource, called RAINE (it stands for “Resilience and Adaptation in New England,”) is full of links, documents and information on how more than 100 New England communities are taking action to adapt to climate change.

When a town in Southern New England faces flooding, it can check the database and find guidance from Vermont’s experience after Tropical Storm Irene. When a beach community wants to find out how it can provide economic incentives to homeowners to provide extra protection for flooding they can look to Hull, Massachusetts. Hull provides a rebate on building department fees for homeowners who increase their building height above the base flood elevation. Users can see how communities are working with local businesses to adapt, such as in Misquamicut Beach Rhode Island, where businesses that were swept away by Superstorm Sandy are now rebuilding so they can get out of the way if another storm surge threatens them.

Becoming more “resilient” takes effort and forethought. Our communities need leaders who guide us to make investments today that will help us be more resilient tomorrow. The bottom line is, resilience is about people taking action to prepare wisely for the future. The RAINE database helps communities share what they have learned about adjusting to our changing climate, so that other communities can gain from their experience.

On the heels of the Paris climate agreement, with more than 190 countries coming together to reduce emissions in order to lessen the impacts of climate change, our RAINE database is further evidence that what is global is also local. New England communities are leading the way, learning from each other, connecting, and working together to address the impacts we are facing. I may be biased, but it seems to me that New England communities are often leaders when it comes to protecting and living sustainably in our environment.

With RAINE, each community isn’t on their own to reinvent the wheel. We welcome New England’s community leaders to use the RAINE database to learn what others are doing, and we invite you to share your experiences with other local decision makers. We can learn from each other as we tackle the challenges of a changing climate.

Raine

RAINE website http://www.epa.gov/raine

About the author: Curt Spalding is the Regional Administrator of EPA’s New England office, located in Boston.

Bird Wintering: How Citizen Science Supports Climate Science

By Brittany Whited

This December, tens of thousands of individuals across the Americas will participate in the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, the longest-running citizen science program in the world.

The first Christmas Bird Count took place in 1900 with just 27 individuals as a conservation-minded alternative to the “Christmas Side Hunt”- a hunt aimed at bagging feathered and furry creatures alike. Conservation was in its beginning stages at the turn of the century and citizens were growing concerned about declining bird populations.

Video still from Christmas Bird Count told by Chan Robbins Photo: Camilla Cerea National Audubon Society

Video still from Christmas Bird Count told by Chan Robbins
Photo: Camilla Cerea
National Audubon Society

Established in 1900 by ornithologist Frank Chapman, the Christmas Bird Count is now organized by the National Audubon Society. Photo: Camilla Cerea National Audubon Society

Established in 1900 by ornithologist Frank Chapman, the Christmas Bird Count is now organized by the National Audubon Society.
Photo: Camilla Cerea National Audubon Society

The new tradition struck a chord. One-hundred and fifteen years later, the Christmas Side Hunt has faded from our nation’s memory and the Christmas Bird Count boasts 70,000+ participants spread over 2,000 locations. At each location, birdwatchers tally the number and type of species they see and hear over a 24-hour period and report their results back to the Audubon Society.

In the 1930s, this act of citizen science helped scientists better understand the decline of wild turkey populations. At that time, the US had only an estimated 30,000 birds. Today, after notable conservation efforts, the US is home to about 7 million of the gobbling creatures.

The Christmas Bird Count continues to produce valuable information. For example, data collected by dedicated individualshas revealed that, among 305 widespread North American bird species, the average winter “center of abundance” moved northward by more than 40 miles between 1966 and 2013. The center of abundance is a point on the map that represents the midpoint of each species’ distribution. If a population of birds were to shift northward, so would the center of abundance.

Trends in the center of abundance moving northward can be closely related to increasing winter temperatures. This indicator is now used as one of the EPA’s Climate Change Indicators in the United States.

Some birds have moved farther than others- a total of 48 species have moved northward by more than 200 miles. For example, the Pine Siskin moved 288 miles north in the last 40 years.

Source: Climate Change Indicators in the United States, 2014 –Third Edition, US EPA
Data source: National Audubon Society, 2014

The Christmas Bird Count is free and open to all regardless of experience. Each group of birdwatchers will have at least one skilled birder to assist in identifying birds. For dates, registration information, and the person of contact in your area, click here.

If birds aren’t your style, or you simply aren’t one to spend a day braving the December cold, there are many other opportunities to be a citizen scientist with your smartphone. There are a multitude of citizen-science apps sure to suit even the choosiest naturalist – mPING, from NOAA, lets you submit reports on the weather in your area to improve weather report predictions. Check your app store for more citizen science opportunities. Anyone with a smartphone can quickly contribute to science through data gathering – making reporting much easier than it was during the first Christmas Bird Count 115 years ago.

About the Author: Brittany Whited is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) participant hosted by the Climate Science and Impacts Branch in the EPA’s Office of Atmospheric Programs.

Hope: the Climate Message in Unexpected Places

By Melissa McCullough

I’ve been in the environmental protection business for a long time, and I’ve watched great progress, however slowly. Cleaner air and water. Action on the ozone hole. Acid Rain. International attention to persistent bioaccumulators.

But we all know how much is left to do. Hope is a driving force for those of us in this business, this cause, but it is sometimes maddeningly elusive. On no topic is this as true as for climate action. Sadly, humans, are better wired to pay attention to something with teeth moving at you at high speed. And as Upton Sinclair wisely said, “It is hard to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

So I was delighted recently to see an important message about climate change show up in something as unexpected as Vogue magazine.

Photograph of Mary Lubber

Photo Credit: Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin. To read Vogue’s 13 Formidable Women on the Front Line of Climate Change, click on “Climate Warriors” in the paragraph to the left of the image.

Being a comfortable-shoes type of person, I admit that my usual response to Vogue is “People actually WEAR this stuff?” But a recent newsletter from Ceres1, who’s executive director, Mindy Lubber was artfully caught (at right) by Vogue’s camera, brought this odd juxtaposition of Fashion Art and Climate Action to my attention.

The magazine presents the article “Climate Warriors,” which introduces readers to 13 women working to address the challenges of climate change. Each “climate warrior” is profiled through personal quotes highlighting their work and dedication to sustaining the planet.

I am excited about this article. First, it grabs an unexpected audience with iconic black and white portraits and the headline that there are “Formidable Women on the Front Line.” We need those non-traditional audiences; the proverbial “choir” can’t tackle climate change without broader action and support. And women can be powerful messengers when emotionally motivated. Second, the storytelling is both brief and compelling. These women’s stories are about their personal reactions, actions and impacts around climate—change from a young poet-activist from the disappearing Marshall Islands, to the co-chair of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change living with devastating droughts in Chad, to the hip-looking Rachel Kyte, vice president of the World Bank Group and special envoy for climate change. These 13 stories are powerful. They are diverse in viewpoint and the women’s strategic direction. They talk about how climate impacts have exacerbated realities of their lives, like terrorism, poverty, and struggling families. And they are all stories of women with hope for the fight and the outcome.

I encourage you to read these stories. Drink in the hope.

About the Author: Melissa McCullough is a Transdisciplinary Scientist in EPA’s Sustainable and Healthy Communities research program. When challenged to describe her EPA career in six words she wrote: “Discovering sustainability, exploring applications everywhere possible.”

1. Ceres is a non-profit coalition of investors, companies and public interest groups advocating for sustainability leadership by business, to accelerate and expand the adoption of sustainability business practices.