climate change

Heat Waves and Climate Change: Learning from History and Looking Ahead

By Allison Crimmins

Twenty years ago this week, Chicago suffered from a historic heat wave.  Families tried to stay cool in backyard wading pools and the news begged people to check on their older neighbors, who refused to turn on their air conditioning because it would cost too much. An estimated 700 people died from the heat during that two-week period, many of them elderly (learn more about heat-related mortality). Behind this grim statistic were real people and communities. An oral history of the heat wave published last week by Chicago Magazine has eloquently captured some of these stories of suffering.

heat-deaths-example-download-2014We know climate change will bring more frequent and intense heat waves to the U.S.  Twenty years later, are we twenty years wiser? In terms of preparing for another heat wave or “adaptation planning,” I’d say yes. Chicago’s Climate Action Plan is working to make the city cooler through urban planning (such as preserving green landscapes) and becoming better prepared to respond to future heat waves. But what about addressing the greenhouse gas emissions causing those more frequent and intense heat waves in the first place?

EPA’s recently released report Climate Change in the United States: Benefits of Global Action looks at projected heat-related deaths in 49 U.S. cities (representing about 1/3 of the population) under two scenarios: one where the world takes action to cut global emissions and one where it doesn’t. The risks of inaction are sobering. Without action to reduce global greenhouse gases, the average number of extremely hot days is projected to more than triple from 2050 to 2100.extreme-temp-fig-1-downloadBut there is good news. Taking action on global climate change is estimated to result in significant public health benefits by substantially reducing the risk of extreme temperature-related deaths across the U.S. Extreme temperature mortality can be reduced by 64% in 2050 and by 93% in 2100, compared to the scenario where the world does not take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  That means approximately 12,000 fewer people could die each year from extreme temperature in the 49 modeled cities in 2100. Inclusion of the entire U.S. population would increase these numbers. Activities to adapt to more frequent heat events can help reduce heat mortality, but reducing emissions is still important to saving lives. Including the assumption that cities take significant steps to prepare for extreme heat into the analysis, emissions reductions could still prevent 5,500 deaths per year by the end of the century.

Scientists have been calling on the world to reduce carbon pollution for more than twenty years. The United States has the opportunity and the ability to lead the world in global actions to cut carbon pollution that, by the end of this century, could avoid 12,000 heat-related deaths each year– not to mention save the lives of 57,000 people every year who could die prematurely from the adverse air quality impacts associated with climate change. I can think of no more important reason than that to take action on climate change now.extreme-temp-fig-3-downloadAbout the author: Allison Crimmins is an environmental scientist with EPA’s Climate Change Division, where she focuses on the impacts and risks associated with climate change, especially on human health. Prior to joining EPA, she earned one Masters degree in oceanography by exploring past climates in ocean sediments and a second Masters’ degree in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School. She lives, works, and judges the occasional science fair in Washington, D.C. but still cheers for the Chicago Bears.

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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Pope Francis’ Call for Climate Action

Last month, Pope Francis released his second encyclical as pontiff, urging all people to protect our natural resources and to take action on climate change.  He makes clear our moral obligation to prevent climate impacts that threaten God’s creation, especially for those most vulnerable.

As public servants working in both domestic policy and diplomacy, we understand the urgent need for global action.  Climate impacts like extreme droughts, floods, fires, heat waves, and storms threaten people in every country—and those who have the least suffer the most.  No matter your beliefs or political views, we are all compelled to act on climate change to protect our health, our planet, and our fellow human beings.

Earlier this year in a series of meetings at the Vatican on the Encyclical with key Papal advisors, Cardinal Turkson laid out our moral obligation to act on climate change not only from the compelling scientific data, but also from his own firsthand experience in Ghana.  The meetings ended with a sense of urgency, but also with a feeling of opportunity and hope.

The prime minister of Tuvalu, an island nation in the Pacific, spoke at a conference at the Vatican last week and called the world’s attention to the real existential threat they face—that their country may be destroyed if rising seas and stronger storms from climate change continue.

For all these reasons, the U.S. government, through the EPA, is taking steps to make good on our moral obligation.  Later this summer, the agency will finalize a rule to curb the carbon pollution fueling climate change from our nation’s largest source – power plants.

Carbon pollution comes packaged with smog and soot that can cause health problems.  When we limit carbon pollution from power plants, Americans will avoid hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks and thousands of heart attacks in 2030.

A recent EPA report found that if we take global action now, the United States alone can avoid up to 69,000 premature deaths by the year 2100 from poor air quality and extreme heat.  We will continue to partner with U.S. Catholic and other faith-based organizations, like the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Climate Covenant, to get out the word about the importance of taking action to combat climate change.

President Obama and the EPA share the Pope’s concern for environmental justice—our climate crisis is a human crisis.  When we limit toxic pollution, we improve people’s health, spur innovation, and create jobs.  We owe it to vulnerable communities, to our children, and to future generations to make sure our planet remains a vibrant and beautiful home.
U.S. leadership is a crucial step, but climate change is a global problem that demands a global solution.

That’s why the United States has made joint international announcements—last year with China and more recently with Brazil—stating our commitment to strong action, including cutting carbon pollution faster than ever before, and slowing down deforestation.  Since three of the world’s largest economies have come together, we’re confident other nations will join our commitment—and the world will finally reach a worldwide climate agreement later this year in Paris.

Pope Francis is boldly building on the moral foundation laid down by Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II, and is joined by a chorus of voices from faith leaders around the globe calling for climate action—not only because it protects our health, our economy, and our way of life—but because it’s the right thing to do.  We look forward to welcoming the Holy Father to the United States in September to continue to discuss these and other issues that affect us all.

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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The Administration Takes a Big Step in Addressing Climate-Damaging HFCs

Crossposted from the White House Blog

By Brian Deese and Dan Utech

Today, the United States took decisive action on climate change by curbing the use of the potent greenhouse gases known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). These factory-produced chemicals, which are primarily used in air conditioning and refrigeration, can pack up to 10,000 times the global warming punch of carbon dioxide. Absent ambitious action to limit their use, emissions of HFCs in the United States are expected to nearly triple by 2030.

That’s why the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today finalized a rule under the Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program that will prohibit the use of certain HFCs where safer and more climate-friendly alternatives are available. Simultaneously, the agency also listed as acceptable additional climate-friendly alternatives, expanding the options for businesses to use chemicals that are less harmful to the global climate.

EPA’s final rule will help us make a significant and meaningful cut in our greenhouse gas emissions—up to the equivalent of 64 million metric tons of carbon dioxide of avoided emissions in 2025.

Leading businesses are already stepping up to replace HFCs with safer and more climate-friendly alternatives, and these measures from EPA will go hand-in-hand with these private-sector efforts. The United States is at the cutting edge not only when it comes to developing the next generation of safe and cost-effective alternatives to HFCs, but also in terms of incorporating these alternatives into American cars, air conditioners, refrigerators, foams, and other products.

Innovative American companies are leading the charge to ensure Americans will have climate-friendly insulation in our homes, HFC-free air-conditioners in our cars, and more sustainable supermarkets and corner stores. For example, last September, the White House hosted an event at which 22 private-sector companies and organizations stepped forward with commitments to reduce emissions from HFCs. Those commitments will reduce cumulative global consumption of these greenhouse gases by the equivalent of 700 million metric tons of carbon dioxide through 2025, equivalent to 1.5% of the world’s 2010 greenhouse gas emissions and the same as taking nearly 15 million cars off the road for 10 years.

The momentum we are making both through the final rule EPA announced today and also through these private-sector commitments advances global climate action. In April, the United States joined with Canada and Mexico to propose an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to tackle HFCs globally. Last month, G-7 Leaders committed to continue efforts to phase down HFCs and to negotiate a Montreal Protocol amendment this year, and the African Group, India, island countries, and the European Union all support an amendment. We have also made HFCs a key element of our bilateral climate discussions, and our bilateral announcements with China, India, and Brazil all recognize the need to advance progress on managing HFCs in the Montreal Protocol. Scientists predict that such strong international action would help shave off up to half a degree of warming by the end of the century, substantially furthering our goal to limit global temperature rise.

Today’s announcement takes a big step toward a more sustainable future and demonstrates to other countries that we are making serious efforts at home to complement the global solutions that we are advocating for internationally.

Here are some early examples of what companies and organizations have to say about EPA’s action today:

“We are delighted to see these final SNAP regulations. The action offers clarity to the industry and very positive, long term impact for the environment.”

– Steven Trulaske, Owner, True Manufacturing

“Honeywell applauds the EPA on their landmark action to restrict the use of high-global-warming HFCs, which are among the most potent greenhouse gases in use today. EPA’s action will accelerate the adoption of solutions with far less impact on the atmosphere while also spurring private sector innovation and creating jobs.”

– Ken Gayer, Vice President and General Manager of Honeywell’s Fluorine Products business, Honeywell

“AHAM applauds the EPA decision in its final SNAP rule to adjust certain compliance deadlines, which demonstrates the Administration’s flexibility and desire to work with the appliance industry to make the most impactful environmental gains. It also reflects the voluntary steps that home appliance manufacturers are taking to end the use of HFCs as foam-blowing agents. The home appliance industry is committed to delivering the most energy efficient and environmentally responsible products to American homes.”

– Joseph M. McGuire, President, Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers

“Chemours continues to support the President’s Climate Action Plan and EPA’s commitment and action using existing EPA authority to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in applications that have readily available lower global warming potential options. We believe it is critical that we reduce high global warming potential emissions in a manner that ensures that we are still able to deliver the critical societal services that HFCs provide today.”

– Diego Boeri, Global Business Director, Chemours Fluorochemicals

“Ingersoll Rand applauds the U.S. efforts to prioritize a transition away from high global warming potential refrigerants and it further reinforces the significance of our climate commitment to significantly increase energy efficiency and reduce the climate impact of our products and operations.”

– Paul Camuti, Chief Technology Officer, Ingersoll Rand

“We appreciate EPA’s partnership with manufacturers during this rulemaking process and EPA’s willingness to work with the Department of Energy to acknowledge the impacts of each other’s regulations and reduce burdens on U.S. companies.”

– David Szczupak, Executive Vice President, Global Product Organization, Whirlpool Corporation

Brian Deese is a senior advisor to the President. Dan Utech is the Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change.

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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The Importance of Snowpack

by Mike Kolian

In the United States, changes in snowpack currently represent one of the best documented hydrological signs of climate change. Snowpack is a key indicator and plays a vitally important role both in the environment and to society.

Snowpack accounts for a majority of water supply in many parts of the West as it stores vast amounts of water that is slowly released as temperatures rise in the spring and summer. Snowpack keeps the ground and soil moist by covering it longer into spring and summer which influences the onset of the fire season as well as the prevalence and severity of wildfires. In addition, hydro-electric power generation in the West is heavily reliant on water supplied by melting snowpack.

A very serious story is unfolding out West. This year, snowpack in the western U.S. is at record lows in the Sierra Nevada and Cascades of California, Oregon, and Washington, confirmed by the recent April 1st snowpack measurements. In fact, some snowpack sites in California and Washington were observed to be snow-free this spring for the first time since observations began.

Snowpack is measured in snow-water equivalent, which reflects the amount of water contained in the snowpack at a location (if the entire snowpack were to melt). This indicator is based on data from over 700 measurements sites across 11 western states and shows long-term rates of change for the month of April, which could reflect changes in winter snowfall as well as the timing of spring snowmelt.

map chart titled "Trends in April Snowpack in the Western United States 1955-2015." Charts shows mostly percentage reductions of snowpack over all mountains areas, ranging from 0 to -80 percent. Very few areas show small increases.

Over the last 60 years, there have been widespread temperature-related reductions in snowpack in the West, with the largest reductions occurring in lower elevation mountains in the Northwest and California. From 1955 to 2015, April snowpack declined at over 90 percent of the sites measured (see map). The average change across all sites amounts to about a 14 percent decline. Observations also indicate a decrease in total snowfall and a transition to more rain and less snow in both the West and Northeast in the last 50 years.

photo of a resevoir with water levels dropped way below usual level

Long-term trends in snowpack provide important evidence that climate-related shifts are underway, and highlight the seriousness of water-resource and drought issues that Western states such as California currently face.

Less snowpack means less water and less water means more serious impacts.

Explore more:

See this and other Snow and Ice indicators

Open the map in Google Earth (KMZ) (100K, Download Google Earth):

About the author: Mike Kolian is an environmental scientist with EPA’s Office of Atmospheric Programs, Climate Change Division. His deep roots managing long-term environmental monitoring programs form the basis of his appreciation for the important role they and their data play in scientifically based decision making.

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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Preparing Communities for Climate Change

In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy barreled into our city of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Damage was significant, and many of our neediest residents lost everything they had. Immediately after that devastating event, our community began the long process of cleanup and recovery.  With assistance from federal and state agencies and through the concerted efforts of local businesses, civic groups, and our citizens, Bridgeport has not just recovered from that event; Bridgeport has taken steps to create a brighter, more resilient future.

As one might expect, that experience has taught us important lessons.  One of those is the need to look ahead to try and anticipate and prepare for whatever the future may bring.  And that includes a changing climate.  Today, Bridgeport is taking action that can help us continue to thrive even as the climate changes.  For example, our BGreen2020 Initiative outlines policies and actions to improve the quality of life, social equity, and economic competitiveness of the city, while reducing carbon emissions and increasing the community’s resilience to the effects of climate change.

New EPA training opportunities can help other communities prepare for a changing climate.   The Climate Adaptation Training Module for Local Governments shows how climate change will likely affect a variety of local environmental and public health protection programs.  The training module also communicates what some cities and towns across America are already doing to prepare.

This new training doesn’t promise all the answers we may need to address the impacts of climate change. But it does provide a host of valuable information that can help start a process – and conversation – that could be invaluable to the future welfare of your community. I would encourage all local officials and their staff to check it out. I think you will find that it was a wise investment of your time, one that can help you meet your responsibilities and protect many more investments that lie in and around your community.

About the author:  Hon. Bill Finch was first elected as Mayor of the city of Bridgeport, Connecticut in 2007.  He serves on the EPA Local Government Advisory Committee (LGAC) and chairs the LGAC’s Climate Change Resiliency and Sustainability Workgroup. Also active with the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM), Mayor Finch Co-Chairs the USCM Task Force on Energy Independence and Climate Protection.

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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Safeguarding Public Health by Addressing Climate Change

In his State of the Union Address this year, President Obama said, “no challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.” The science is clear and getting clearer: climate change threatens our health, our economy, our environment and our way of life in dangerous and costly ways – from superstorms and heat waves to devastating droughts, floods and wildfires. At EPA, our mission is to safeguard public health and the environment and addressing climate change is major priority.

The more we learn about climate change’s impacts on our health, the more urgent the need for action becomes. We know that impacts related to climate change are already evident and are expected to become increasingly disruptive across the nation throughout this century and beyond. That’s why, under the President’s Climate Action Plan, we are taking action now to reduce greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and hydrofluorocarbons. These pollutants trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere, fuel climate change and lead to health-threatening consequences for the United States and the rest of the world.

Climate change is expected to worsen air quality, including exposure to ground-level ozone, which can aggravate asthma and other lung diseases and lead to premature death. The number of extremely hot days is already increasing, and severe heat waves are projected to intensify, increasing heat-related mortality and sickness. Changes in temperature, precipitation patterns, and extreme events can enhance the spread of diseases carried by insects, animals, food and water. Climate change also contributes to longer and more severe pollen seasons, increasing the suffering of people with allergies. Climate change is expected to lead to more intense extreme weather events, which can result in direct health effects, while also affecting human health and welfare long after an event, through the spread of water-borne pathogens, exposure to mold, increased mental health and stress disorders, and weakened health and response systems.

And our most vulnerable populations – like children, minorities, communities already overburdened with pollution or poverty, and older Americans – are at greater risk from these impacts.

The good news is that we have a long history of working with states, tribes and industry to protect public health by reducing air pollution. Together, by implementing the federal Clean Air Act, we have reduced air pollution from motor vehicles and smokestacks by nearly 70 percent since 1970. Fewer emissions means less exposure to harmful pollutants such as lead, smog, or soot that directly threaten people’s health. And we’re using similar approaches to reduce the pollution affecting our climate.

We are moving forward with common-sense, cost-effective solutions that will improve Americans’ health and environment. Standards for cars, trucks and heavy duty highway vehicles will eliminate six billion metric tons of greenhouse gases, while saving consumers $1.7 trillion at the pump by 2025.

The proposed Clean Power Plan will cut hundreds of millions of tons of carbon pollution and hundreds of thousands of tons of harmful particle pollution, sulfur and nitrogen oxides now emitted by fossil-fuel fired power plants.

Together these important programs will help our economy grow and our communities thrive while protecting the health of American families now and in the years to come. Learn more about the impacts of climate change and things you can do to shrink your carbon footprint.

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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Save the shellfish

by Jennie Saxe

Oysters and other shellfish are at risk due to ocean acidification

Oysters and other shellfish are at risk due to ocean acidification

On a recent visit to Washington D.C., I had the opportunity to try eating raw oysters for the first time. Though I found the first slurp slimy, the texture quickly gave way to amazing taste: some were briny, some were almost sweet. Needless to say, the oysters disappeared quickly. But my beloved shellfish are in peril, according to this recent study. The culprit? Ocean acidification.

What is ocean acidification? Here’s a quick science lesson: gases have the tendency to “dissolve” into liquids until they reach a stable state between the liquid and the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide, or CO2, released from power generation, transportation, industry, and other sources, behaves in just this way.

As CO2 levels in the atmosphere increase, a portion of the CO2 enters the oceans, where it creates carbonic acid, increasing acidity. Increased acidity (or, a drop in pH) makes it harder for shellfish to make their shells out of calcium carbonate. If the shellfish can’t thrive, that negatively affects the marine organisms and processes that depend on them, as well as an economy and a way of life that we recently featured in this blog.

We recently described how cleaner air can mean cleaner water. Ocean acidification is another example of how air quality and water quality are closely linked. By reducing CO2 levels in the atmosphere, we can reduce the impact of ocean acidification on oysters and other aquatic resources.

So take a look at what you can do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – you’ll also help ensure a healthy marine ecosystem, a strong fishing economy, and delicious seafood dinners for generations to come.


About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs. She encourages everyone interested in seafood safety to check out the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) fact sheet on selecting and serving seafood, as well as this advice from EPA and FDA on fish consumption and mercury.


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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Creating “Years of Sustainable Development:” Anticipating and responding to Mega Trends

By Dr. Alan D. Hecht and Barb Walton

Taking ActionLate last year, Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs pronounced 2015 the “Year of Sustainable Development,” reflecting the United Nations’ efforts to identify goals and agree on greenhouse gas emission targets for the decades ahead.

The increase in greenhouse gas emissions and anticipated yet unquantifiable impact on climate change is one of many major global trends that governments at all levels and corporations need to address.

The full suite of such “global mega trends” challenges all of us to find ways to achieve “years of sustainable development.” EPA, the World Environment Center and the Wilson Center are hosting an Earth Day seminar (April 22 from 3 to 5 pm) on Mega Trends to encourage discussion of the following:

  • What major long term trends (mega trends) will have the most profound impacts on society?
  • How can Government, business and civil society best prepare and respond to these trends?
  • What science and innovation would help reduce risk and prepare for the future?
  • What issues require public dialogue to improve policy decisions and promote better business-government cooperation?

Joining us to share thoughts and lead the discussion will be Jennifer Turner of the Wilson Center, Banning Garrett, adjunct faculty at Singularity University, and Terry Yosie of the World Environment Center.

Together, we will share our views on such topics as: projected trends and impacts from climate change; extreme weather; urban growth; and energy, land, and water use.

EPA has been leading the responsive to a number of such emerging issues, notably to climate change, the management of new chemical wastes such as endocrine disruptors and nanomaterials, the evaluation of biofuels, and the effectiveness of green infrastructure. Our Climate Change Adaptation Plan recognized drought as a major vulnerability to human wellbeing.

EPA has also launched new academic grants requesting proposals for new strategies to improve the Nation’s readiness to respond to the water scarcity and drought anticipated in response to climate change.

Working closely with other agencies, we are also sensitive to the stresses and interactions of energy demand and water use. Accordingly, the Agency has developed a set of principles and actions to advance energy-water use in a more sustainable way.

And on urban growth, EPA is attuned to the potential impact on human health and on disadvantaged communities. EPA has identified 51 communities where it will work to respond to past, present and future issue affecting society wellbeing.

The challenge of achieving sustainable development requires multiagency cooperation, business-government partnerships and full public understanding of the potential impacts. To prepare for Earth Day in 2030 and for Years of Sustainable Development, we need to:

  • Set Clear Sustainability Goals
  • Focus on states, cities and communities
  • Promote business innovation
  • Support “Nexus” among government programs
  • Overcome traditional legislative silos in programs
  • Overcome business-government conflict and create effective collaborations and partnerships.
  • Be flexible and innovate within the existing legal framework.
  • Promote innovation in science and technology.
  • Enhance public understanding and support.

We and our partners are meeting those challenges. To learn more and join the discussion, I invite you to attend the Wilson center event in person or by video. For more information, please visit:

About the Authors: Alan D. Hecht is the Director for Sustainable Development at EPA. Barb Walton is the Assistant Laboratory Director for the Agency’s National Health and Environmental Effects Research Lab.

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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Climate Action Is Driving Innovation, and Our Economy

Forty-four years ago this month, EPA announced its first set of national air quality standards under the Clean Air Act. That’s 44 years of people breathing easier, staying healthier and for many, knowing they can walk outside and see the beauty of the mountains and blue skies that surround them.

There’s another big benefit of these standards and other actions we’ve taken under the Clean Air Act that we don’t talk about enough: They help grow our economy.

For every dollar we spend on clean air, our economy and our health reap huge benefits. Since the Clean Air Act passed, we’ve cut air pollution by 70 percent, and at the same time our economy has tripled in size. Cleaning up our air has contributed to that growth.

Under the Clean Air Act, EPA proposed a Clean Power Plan last summer, to cut the harmful carbon pollution fueling climate change from our largest source—our power plants. The Clean Power Plan will encourage investment in cleaner energy technologies and sources. It will boost our economy by helping us move towards a modern energy system that creates good jobs and new opportunities, and unleashes American innovation that will help us continue to lead globally.

The opportunity to act on climate is already shifting the way Americans do business. More than 1,000 of the world’s largest multinational companies call climate change “one of America’s greatest economic opportunities of this century,” and major banks like Citi Group are investing hundreds of billions in climate and clean energy financing.

Clean energy is growing like never before. Since President Obama took office, wind energy has tripled and solar has grown ten-fold. In 2015, a full 60% of the new energy that gets added to our electrical grid will come from wind and solar.

That growth expands industries and creates an abundance of opportunities, not only for entrepreneurs, but for people who are seeking good jobs that help them make a difference in their communities. About 2.7 million people now make a living from the clean energy economy, and that number is constantly growing. These people are developing clean energy projects, crafting more energy-efficient appliances, constructing green buildings and retrofitting existing buildings, and more – saving consumers money and driving down the carbon pollution that is fueling climate change.

The Clean Power Plan sends a clear signal to the market, so our nation’s business leaders and innovators can think ahead to the technologies and investments of the future, rather than stay stuck on those of the past. A modern economy needs a modern energy system. The Clean Power Plan is key to seizing our clean energy future, while protecting our health, our environment, and our way of life from the risks of climate change.

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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Cherry Blossoms: A Sure Sign of Spring and Maybe Climate Change

By Krystal Laymon

When I moved to the District of Columbia last spring, I couldn’t wait for the roughly 3,750 cherry trees surrounding the Tidal Basin and many of our major national monuments to burst into bloom. Tourists and residents flock to the area every year to hurriedly snap a few photos, because these beautiful flowers have a short life cycle with a peak bloom of only a couple of days.

The bloom schedule of the cherry trees, like most plants, is phenological, which means that the timing of their bloom is dependent on the conditions of their environment. While the East Coast has experienced colder-than-normal temperatures and several inches of snow late in the season, it has not deterred this year’s cherry blossoms from blooming.

In fact, over the past 90 years, the cherry blossoms have actually been blooming earlier. The figure below presents data from the National Park Service that shows the annual peak bloom date – when 70% of the blossoms are in full bloom – for these cherry trees from 1921-2014. Look at the black line that helps to show the trajectory of change in that peak bloom date over time. It shows that, since 1921, peak bloom dates have shifted earlier by approximately 5 days. This is due to in part to increasing average seasonal temperatures, particularly in March, over this time period. The Washington Post even performed a local temperature analysis in 2012 which showed that “Washington’s average March temperature has warmed 2.3 degrees in the last 90 years.”

Tracking cherry blossom bloom trends isn’t just important for scheduling the District’s annual Cherry Blossom Festival. Indicators of the start of spring, like leaf and bloom dates, will become increasingly important for determining how climate change may affect seasonal patterns, and for tracking related impacts on ecosystems and natural resources.

This March in DC, we’ve experienced some cold sweeps, and as a result this year’s projected peak bloom date of April 11-14 is later than expected. However, this short-term blip belies the longer-term pattern of longer growing seasons and earlier bloom times – which is a key concept to understand when it comes to climate change. Year-to-year, seasonal occurrences such as bloom times or thaws may vary widely, but the long term trends tell the real story — and this national treasure is telling us by opening its petals, and blooming.

Peak Bloom Date for Cherry Trees Around Washington, D.C.’s Tidal Basin, 1921–2014
Data source: National Park Service, 2014

About the author: Krystal Laymon is a former ORISE Fellow in EPA’s Climate Change Division. She has a background in environmental policy and communications. Krystal received her Master in Environmental Science and Policy at Columbia University and currently resides in Washington, DC with a turtle named Ollie.


National Park Service. 2013. Bloom schedule. Accessed December 6, 2013.

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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