climate change

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.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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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.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

research_recap_250Happy Earth Day! What better day than today to read about environmental science? Here’s the latest from EPA.

This Earth Day, Learn About Food Recovery
Coming on the heels of the announcement of the first ever national food waste reduction goal—cutting food waste in half by 2030—EPA is celebrating Food Recovery for Earth Day. EPA is involved in numerous efforts to reduce food waste. One of these efforts is taking place in Columbia, South Carolina, through EPA’s Net Zero Initiative. Read about the initiative in the Science Matters story America’s Food Waste Problem.

National Coastal Condition Assessment
EPA recently published the Agency’s 5th National Coastal Condition Assessment which provides data on the condition of U.S. coastal waters. Our coastal waters are essential to all kinds of activities, such as industry, tourism, and recreation, and provide habitat to an incredible diversity of species. Those are the reasons why EPA researchers regularly collect and analyze a host of data and put together the periodic report. Read about that effort in the EPA Science Matters article, National Coastal Condition Assessment.

Pharmaceuticals in Wastewater
Research by EPA Research Biologist Mitch Kostich was featured in the Burlington Free Press. The article Pharmaceuticals present in Burlington wastewater discussed a study that found that water released from Burlington’s wastewater treatment plant contained concentrations of pharmaceuticals that reflected some trends in Burlington at the time. The article cited EPA research on Pharmaceutical Residues in Municipal Wastewater.

Reducing Risk by Acting on Climate
Dr. Tom Burke, the Deputy Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development as well as the Agency’s Science Advisor, co-authored a commentary in a special edition of the journal Health Security. Read Reducing Risk by Acting on Climate.

EPA Researcher Highlighted in her Hometown Paper
EPA’s Dr. Rebecca Dodder is a recent winner of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. Dr. Dodder grew up in Colorado and was recently featured in her hometown paper the Parker Chronical. Read the story Ponderosa grad wins presidential award for water work.

National Sustainable Design Expo
Did you miss us at the USA Science & Engineering Festival last weekend? Well you can check out these photos from our National Sustainable Design Expo and see what you missed.

Upcoming Events at EPA
Interested in attending some of EPA’s public meetings or webinars? Read about a few that we are hosting at the end of April here.

Group of hikers with a National Park Service Ranger looked out over a mountain range

Happy Earth Day and National Park Week! Image courtesy of NPS

That’s all for this week. Enjoy Earth Day and now that you’re done catching up on the latest EPA research, get outside—it’s also National Park Week, so every national park will give you free admission!

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Driving to show we care

By Gina Snyder

Last summer, I had the opportunity to drive an extended range electric car. This is a vehicle that drives only on the battery until all the charge has been used up, then it uses a gasoline engine and hybrid technology for excellent mileage. But the really interesting thing about this car was the extensive feedback on my driving “performance.”

ElectricCar P1040099

A spinning green globe on the dashboard let me know when I began to accelerate out of the efficient range. Not only that, but on this 90-degree day, when I used air conditioning, the climate conditioning display also showed how much power was going to keep the cabin space cool. It turned out that using the eco-air conditioning used 21 percent of the engine’s power on cooling the cabin, but pushing the ‘comfort’ button drove it all the way up to 35 percent of the engine’s power! That just goes to show how much energy it takes to run air conditioning.

I don’t continuously focus on doing everything possible to conserve fuel when I drive, but I do like to drive with fuel efficiency in mind. The best tip I’ve ever found was to drive a car like you would ride a bike. It helps if you think about spending energy as wisely in your car as you do when you ride.

Here are some examples:

  • Ensure your tires are properly inflated and vehicle is in good mechanical condition – this reduces rolling and mechanical resistance. Proper tire pressure is safer, extends tire life, and can provide up to 3 percent benefit per tankful of fuel.
  • Smart braking means that you coast to stops. Go easy on the gas pedal just like you don’t pedal madly towards stop signs and then jam on the binders on your bike.
  • “Driving with load” on hills saves energy. You don’t usually power up hills trying to maintain your previous cruising speed on your bike, do you?
  • Reduce speed. It’s easier for cyclists, who are highly attuned to the relationship between aerodynamic drag and the energy consumed to travel at high speed.
  • Don’t idle your car unnecessarily. You don’t sit and spin your bike pedals while waiting for someone, nor do you ‘warm up your bike’ in the driveway, do you?

Being attuned to your performance as an efficiency-conscious driver will result in a style that mirrors the smooth and steady progress you make on a bicycle. We can all be smooth operators this summer. Go easy on the brake and gas pedals when you approach traffic lights and stop signs. Stopping and accelerating gradually not only gives you a smoother ride, it saves gas—and that’s good for the air and good for you!

Learn more from EPA on Green Vehicles: https://www3.epa.gov/greenvehicles/

Other green driving tips: https://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/Downloads/wycd/wycd-road.pdf

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About the author:  Gina Snyder works in the Office of Environmental Stewardship, Compliance Assistance at EPA New England and serves on her town’s climate committee

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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I Walk the Beach in Winter

By Phil Colarusso

Empty, cold, windy, the beach in the winter. I walk down a deserted shore with the waves rumbling next to me. Little evidence of life except for a stray gull or a few eider ducks diving just beyond the surf zone. The wind whips sand particles stinging as they hit my face. Walking into the wind takes some effort.BeachinWinterpicPhil

Geographically, this is a beach I visit often, but it is a very different beach than the one I walked on in the late fall. Winter storms, wind and waves have continued with their eternal reshaping of the landscape. Large sections of sand dunes have eroded in one of the winter storms. The constant wind redistributes clouds of sand along exposed sections of beach. Sand grains collect in clam shells, behind clumps of dune grass or debris, any place that allows relief from the vigorous wind.

In my lifetime, I’ve seen nature’s reshuffling of this beach dozens and dozens of times. As I stroll along the shore, I contemplate the fate of a grain of sand. How many times does a single grain of sand get moved in its life span? How far does it travel in its lifetime? I envision the grain of sand being blown down the beach by the wind and moving in and out on a wave or with the tide. The one constant for a sand grain is motion. The one constant for most beaches is change. With climate change triggering sea level rise and more intense storms, this current rate of change will also change.

It’s time to turn back and as I retrace my steps from the way I came; the wind is now at my back. With the wind at my back, nature doesn’t seem quite as violent.  The waves coming ashore don’t look as big.  A gull floats effortlessly above me on the wind exerting no effort at all, appearing at peace. The deeper message seems pretty clear, we need to work with nature not against it. Are we as a society, sand grains being blown around haphazardly by the wind or are we the sea gull who can adapt and use that same wind to our advantage? In the distance, three wind turbines are visible on the horizon.

 

About the author: Phil Colarusso is a marine biologist in the Coastal and Ocean Protection Section of EPA’s New England office, and is an avid diver

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The power goes out, but the water flows on

by Patti Kay Wisniewski

Exercising emergency response plans at DC Water’s Fort Reno Reservoir Pumping Station

Exercising emergency response plans at DC Water’s Fort Reno Reservoir Pumping Station

Have you ever wondered how water continues flowing to your faucet even when your power goes out?  Lots of us take this fact for granted, because losing water service is so rare. That’s no accident. It’s because the water industry invests significant time and effort to keep the water flowing during all types of emergencies.

Maintaining power at water treatment plants is key to making sure the water delivered to homes and businesses is safe. They need power for dosing treatment chemicals, measuring treatment performance, and powering pumps. Many water utilities have back-up generators to keep these important components functioning, as well as close working relationships with energy providers to ensure that they are a top priority for restoring service.

EPA and state drinking water programs have worked with water utilities for decades to develop emergency response plans. But, a plan that simply sits on a shelf doesn’t do much good in an emergency. That’s why EPA, states and utilities “exercise” these plans – to practice what would happen in a crisis, and ensure that the water continues to flow in a real emergency.

For example EPA’s Mid-Atlantic drinking water program works closely with utilities in the District of Columbia to develop and exercise response plans.  Last year, we held exercises to test water sampling plans, laboratory capabilities, and communicating with the public and the media during emergencies.

The potential impacts of climate change also play a part in response plans and emergency exercises.  Water utilities understand the importance of delivering safe water to their customers, even when extreme weather causes flooding, power outages, or even losing a water source.

Paying close attention to the local weather forecasts is also critical to pre-planning efforts, as is working closely with other emergency responders, such as fire, police, and haz-mat, as well as local and state agencies.  Many utilities have joined water and wastewater agency response networks (WARNs) that let them more easily obtain support during severe weather events, and provide support to utilities in neighboring communities.

Check out EPA’s website to learn more about water utility emergency response and efforts to help water utilities be more resilient when emergencies happen.

 

About the author: Patti Kay Wisniewski has worked in the drinking water program for over 30 years covering such topics as emergency preparedness, consumer confidence reports, and the new electronic delivery option.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Calling All Planners

by Megan Goold

US EPA Photo by Eric Vance

US EPA Photo by Eric Vance

To me, a new year means it’s time to start planning: vacations, doctor’s appointments, summer camps, career development plans…the list goes on and on.   Some planning is easy and exciting, and more welcomed than others. For example, I’d rather plan a vacation than a root canal.

However, it’s the difficult issues that tend to need the most planning, the most preparation, and involve the most information. So, as you can imagine, an issue as complex as climate change requires planning and preparation across the board. How will a changing climate impact our town? Our roads? Our electricity? How will it impact my school? My health? My safety?

Understanding our vulnerability to increased risk from flooding, more frequent extreme weather events, and other climate change impacts is the first step in being prepared for these changes.  On April 4-6, Antioch University and EPA are co-hosting a conference in Baltimore which is designed to build capacity for local decision-makers to take action on climate change in the face of uncertainty.  The conference will include sessions on constructing resilient buildings, conducting vulnerability assessment for flooding and extreme heat, planning for the needs of at-risk communities, and much more.

In addition, a workshop will be held on the third day of the conference to bring together students and educators to focus on the question – how can we build community resilience through education?

As you are starting to plan your 2016, put this one on the calendar. It’s a must for local decision-makers, governments, students, and small businesses alike! While planning for a changing climate is not the easiest of tasks, it’s a necessary one.

Check out EPA’s website for more about climate change impacts on water quality and quantity, and learn more about the Local Solutions: Eastern Regional Climate Preparedness Conference on the conference website.

 

About the author: Megan Goold is the Climate Change Coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 3 office, where she manages a network of climate change professionals, and has recently launched a Climate Literacy initiative.

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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In 2016, We’re Hitting the Ground Running

By Gina McCarthy

Heading into 2016, EPA is building on a monumental year for climate action—and we’re not slowing down in the year ahead. Last August, President Obama announced the final Clean Power Plan, EPA’s historic rule to cut carbon pollution from power plants, our nation’s largest driver of climate change. Then in Paris last month, nearly 200 countries came together for the first time ever to announce a universal agreement to act on climate.

So we’re hitting the ground running. Under the Paris Agreement, countries pledge to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius at most, and pursue efforts to keep it below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Science tells us these levels will help prevent some of the most devastating impacts of climate change, including more frequent and extreme droughts, storms, fires, and floods, as well as catastrophic sea level rise. This agreement applies to all countries, sets meaningful accountability and reporting requirements, and brings countries back to the table every five years to grow their commitments as markets change and technologies improve. It also provides financing mechanisms so developing economies can move forward using clean energy.

This year, we’ll build on these successes to ensure lasting climate action that protects Americans’ health, economic opportunity, and national security. EPA staff will provide their technical leadership to ensure consistent, transparent greenhouse gas reporting and inventory requirements under the Paris Agreement. Our domestic expertise in air quality monitoring and greenhouse gas inventories will help countries make sure they’re meeting their greenhouse gas reduction goals. Similarly, we’ll use our expertise to identify and evaluate substitutes in the U.S. to reduce hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), another potent climate pollutant. This work domestically will help us lead global efforts to finalize a requirement in 2016 for countries to reduce production and use of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol.

We will finalize a proposal to improve fuel economy and cut carbon pollution from heavy-duty vehicles, which could avoid a billion metric tons of carbon pollution and save 75 billion gallons of fuel by 2027. We’ll also finalize rules to limit methane leaks from oil and gas operations—which could avoid up to 400,000 metric tons of a climate pollutant 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide by 2025. Meanwhile, we’re doubling the distance our cars go on a gallon of gas by 2025.

In 2016, EPA will defend and implement the Clean Power Plan by working closely with states and stakeholders to help them create strong plans to reduce their carbon pollution. We wrote this plan with unprecedented stakeholder input, including hundreds of meetings across the country and 4.3 million public comments. The result is a rule that’s ambitious but achievable, and falls squarely within the four corners of the Clean Air Act, a statute we have been successfully implementing for 45 years. We’re confident the Clean Power Plan will stand the test of time—the Supreme Court has ruled three times that EPA has not only the authority but the obligation to limit harmful carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act.

Just as importantly, the Paris Agreement and the Clean Power Plan are helping mobilize private capital all over the world toward low-carbon investments. The U.S. has sent a clear signal that a low-carbon future is inevitable, and that the market will reward those who develop low-carbon technologies and make their assets resistant to climate impacts. That’s why 154 of the largest U.S. companies, representing 11 million jobs and more than seven trillion dollars in market capitalization, have signed the White House American Business Act on Climate Pledge. Companies like Walmart, AT&T, Facebook, and Coca-Cola recognize that climate impacts threaten their operations, while investing in a low-carbon future is an unprecedented business opportunity.

Americans know climate action is critical—they’re seeing its impacts with their own eyes. Hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, and storms are growing more frequent and extreme. Streets in cities like Miami now flood on sunny days due to sea level rise. Climate change is a moral issue, a health issue, and a jobs issue—and that’s why the strong majority of Americans want the federal government to do something about it, and support the strong outcome in Paris.

We’ve got a lot more work to do, and we’re not slowing down. Over the past year, we’ve seen remarkable climate achievements that once seemed impossible—and that’s thanks to President Obama’s leadership. His climate legacy is already impressive, but we will build on it in 2016 by continuing to protect health and opportunity for all Americans. At EPA, we’ve got our sleeves rolled up.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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A View from #COP21 in Paris

By Ann Hunter-Pirtle

Last weekend in Paris, negotiators from nearly 200 countries reached a historic, universal climate agreement that had eluded the global community for two decades. I was proud to be at COP-21 helping communicate EPA and U.S. efforts on climate action at the U.S. Center, the State Department’s public diplomacy space at the COP. I had the opportunity to meet attendees from around the world and to hear about global efforts to combat climate change—so I wanted to share a few thoughts from the conference.

The most striking thing about the COP was its size. Forty thousand attendees came from around the world—educators, students, government officials, and non-profit and private sector leaders—so it was held at Le Bourget, best known as the airplane hangar for the Paris air show. The U.S. Center was one of the many pavilions where visitors could learn more during COP21.

This short video gives a sense of the scale of the COP21 venue at Le Bourget, outside Paris, France.

The U.S. Center COP21 during an event at Le Bourget, outside Paris, France.

The U.S. Center COP21 during an event at Le Bourget, outside Paris, France.

In the spirit of the event, conference organizers went all-in on sustainability with an extensive biodegradables and recycling program. Participants could return reusable plastic coffee cups for a 1 Euro deposit, and the cups quickly became as good as currency. Participants were spotted scooping up coffee cups from empty tables and desks, returning several at a time.

Reusable coffee cup with the COP21 logo from United Nations Climate Change Conference in Le Bourget, outside Paris, France.

Reusable coffee cup with the COP21 logo from United Nations Climate Change Conference in Le Bourget, outside Paris, France.

Something I didn’t fully appreciate before arriving in Paris was that the COP is a consensus process—so for the negotiations to succeed, all 195 countries had to be in favor of a deal. So the Paris Agreement reflects the threat climate change poses to every nation on Earth, as well as the global community’s determination to do something about it.

The Paris Agreement is ambitious, universal, and durable. Before the negotiations even began, 180 countries, representing more than 95 percent of the climate pollution on Earth, put forward individual pledges to cut carbon pollution.

The Paris Agreement was built from country-level plans, and it states that countries will limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius on average and make efforts to keep it under 1.5 degrees Celsius—levels science tells us will help avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.

The agreement calls for transparent reporting and accountability about how nations keep track of carbon emissions. It creates a mechanism for countries to come back to the table every 5 years with increasingly ambitious national carbon pollution reduction pledges, and it includes provisions for financing to developing countries to help them grow their economies with clean energy.

American leadership paved the way for global action. Secretary Kerry spoke in the second week about the need to seize the moment for an ambitious, universal climate agreement, and how U.S. efforts have led the way. EPA’s Clean Power Plan is a centerpiece of U.S. climate efforts, and Administrator McCarthy spoke at the U.S. Center about why she’s confident the rule is built to last.

Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at COP21 about the need for countries to seize the opportunity for an ambitious, lasting climate agreement.

Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at COP21 about the need for countries to seize the opportunity for an ambitious, lasting climate agreement.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy speaks at the U.S. Center about why the Clean Power Plan will stand the test of time.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy speaks at the U.S. Center about why the Clean Power Plan will stand the test of time.

American businesses are also leading the way. On the first day of the COP after President Obama and other world leaders spoke, Bill Gates and other business leaders launched “Mission Innovation” to develop the next generation of clean technologies. Meanwhile, 154 of the largest U.S. companies including WalMart, AT&T, Coca-Cola, and Facebook, representing 11 million jobs and more than 7 trillion dollars in market capitalization, signed the White House American Business Act on Climate Pledge. Major companies know that climate impacts increase their financial risk, while climate action represents an unprecedented economic opportunity.

That is the real triumph of the Paris Agreement: it sends a global market signal that a low-carbon future is inevitable, and climate-smart investments are not only the right thing to do, but the profitable thing to do.

Despite the size of the COP, climate change is personal. So it was powerful to hear from the following two local leaders at a U.S. Center side event hosted by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

Councilwoman Maija Lukin of Kotzebue, Alaska, and Alson Kelen of the Marshall Islands each explained that climate change threatens their communities’ existence today. Homes in Kotzebue are slowly sinking into the sea as the permafrost underneath thaws and the sea level rises. Traditional food sources—caribou, seals, berries—are disappearing. And thinning ice has made travel dangerous—Councilwoman Lukin lost 2 uncles when they fell through thin ice while traveling to the next town, which doesn’t have a road. In the Marshall Islands, rising sea levels mean just about every time it rains, garbage and sewage wash through communities, making people sick. Warming waters mean fish are disappearing.

Councilwoman Maija Lukin of Kotzebue, Alaska speaks about dwindling sea ice in her region due to climate change.

Councilwoman Maija Lukin of Kotzebue, Alaska speaks about dwindling sea ice in her region due to climate change.

Climate change is threatening our health, our economy, and our national security today. But I am convinced we will meet this challenge, in part because of the incredible will it took from countries around the world to reach the Paris Agreement. Attending the COP was a tremendous opportunity and an experience I’ll never forget—it’ll be a story for the grandkids. Read more about COP-21 here and here.

Blog author Ann Hunter-Pirtle at the entrance of the COP21 venue.

Blog author Ann Hunter-Pirtle at the entrance of the COP21 venue.

About the author: Ann Hunter-Pirtle serves as Speechwriter in EPA’s Office of Public Affairs. Previously, she served as Special Assistant for Land and Water Ecosystems at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. She holds an MS in Agricultural Economics and a BA in Political Science and French from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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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.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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