Monthly Newsletter – January 2017

Monthly Newsletter of WHRC


Dr. Philip DuffyNo excuses for climate inaction

Dr. Philip Duffy, President & Executive Director

In his confirmation hearing this week, the nominee to lead the EPA, Scott Pruitt, generously acknowledged that climate change is not a hoax (thank you), but then went on to say that the extent of a human role in climate change is uncertain and should be the subject of continuing debate. This, of course, is untrue, and sounds like an excuse for inaction. To set the record straight, in 2013 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said that our best understanding is that humans are responsible for essentially all recent increases in global temperature. Not only was this statement agreed to by a large body of scientists, it was approved unanimously by 195 governments. If that is not consensus, I don’t know what is! Whoever heads our EPA should understand this and should advocate for and enforce policies that reflect it.

The last thing we need is more public “debate” about climate science. That is not to say that we understand that science perfectly, or even that we understand everything we need to make ideal policies. However, we understand more than enough to know that we need to act much more aggressively to control climate change. Not only is this true today, it has been true for decades. Sowing doubt about the science is an old and (unfortunately) effective way to stall policy action — partly because it sounds reasonable to the uninformed.

Instead of rehashing climate science for the umpteenth time, let’s ask: what if there were solutions to climate change that stimulate economic growth, save consumers money, create jobs, and improve human health? As it turns out, not only do such solutions exist, but we’re experiencing them now, right here in the Northeastern United States.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is a “cap and trade” system on commercial electricity production that includes nine northeastern states and was started in 2008. Cap and trade systems reduce greenhouse gas emissions by “capping” the total emissions allowed by participants and then letting them trade emissions permits among themselves to find the most efficient way to meet that cap. Our eight years of experience with RGGI allows it to be used as a test-bed to assess its real-world impacts and effectiveness. The news seems to be all good. Several studies over the years have shown that RGGI has economic benefits, including increasing economic activity, creating jobs, and saving consumers money. A new analysis by Abt Associates adds to this by confirming earlier findings that RGGI has had significant health benefits — including saving hundreds of lives, and estimates that those health benefits have an economic value of $5.7B. (This is in addition to other economic benefits.)

We’re in the early days of being able to assess the real-world impact of climate policies, but it appears that the RGGI success story is not unique. A revenue-neutral carbon tax in British Columbia has also had positive economic benefits while reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. It’s important to learn as much as possible from these early experiences, so that future policies can be designed to be as effective and as beneficial as possible.

Even though the evidence is still limited, the idea that policies that help control climate change can also help the economy has huge implications and needs to be shouted, or I guess tweeted, from the rooftops. This means that the idea that we have to choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment is a false dichotomy. We can have both.

Meanwhile, climate change marches on. On January 18, the same day that Scott Pruitt equivocated about the human role in climate change, NASA and NOAA announced that 2016 was the warmest year on record. This was the third record-warm year in a row, and by the largest margin ever. So, with or without the help of EPA, we have work to do. I and the rest of the staff are more committed than ever to do everything possible to control climate change. With your help, we can do it. Thanks as always for your interest and support.

New grants will drive soil and arctic research

Larry Smith / NASA JPL

WHRC scientists have recently received two significant federal grants that will launch multi-year research projects on soils and arctic and boreal ecosystems.

Dr. Brendan Rogers led the proposal Understanding the Causes and Implications of Enhanced Seasonal CO2 Exchange in Boreal and Arctic Ecosystems that was funded by NASA and the Department of Energy. The research will focus on the increase in amplitude of atmospheric seasonal CO2 cycles in high latitude environments and to determine its cause. At a monitoring station in Barrow, Alaska, the amplitude – essentially the difference between summer and winter – has increased by 30-50 percent over the last 50 years.

WHRC scientists Susan Natali and Christopher Schwalm will be a part of the project team. They are joined by former WHRC Deputy Director Scott Goetz (now at the University of Northern Arizona), as well as scientists from the University of Michigan, the National Institute of Aerospace, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, ABR, Inc., the University of Maryland, the University of Montana, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded Dr. Jonathan Sanderman’s proposal to study changes in global soil carbon stocks. The project, Soil Carbon Cycle Science in the Big Data Era, will also feature WHRC’s Alessandro Baccini and Christopher Schwalm and collaborators from CSIRO and USDA. Some recent studies have estimated that by implementing best practices in agriculture, soils could sequester 400-1100 million tons of carbon annually around the world.

“Changes in soil carbon stocks represent one of the greatest uncertainties in terrestrial carbon budgets,” the proposal read. “Earth System models struggle to represent the size, spatial distribution and flux of the soil carbon pool under current conditions and diverge greatly in response to climate change scenarios.”

By using these ‘big data analytics’ for soil carbon cycle science, the project aims to improve the availability of soil data related to carbon cycling. The team will produce an open-source system for rapidly predicting the carbon storage properties of soil.

Fulbright honoree heads to Brazil

WHRC’s Marcia Macedo is spending the next six months in the Brazilian Amazon in conjunction with her Fulbright Scholarship to assess greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural reservoirs. She is working with partners at the University of Brasília and WHRC’s long-time Brazilian collaborator, Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM).

Her previous work has shown that there are some 10,000 small reservoirs, or ‘cattle ponds,’ in the Amazon’s upper Xingu watershed, but little is known about their cumulative greenhouse gas emissions.

Samples collected and analyzed at Tanguro Ranch, the WHRC/IPAM research station in the state of Mato Grosso, will provide the first estimates of methane and carbon dioxide fluxes from the reservoirs and will determine whether they are globally important sources of emissions. Her study will be used as the basis for collaborative research to quantify net annual fluxes from reservoirs and develop strategies for their regulation and management in emerging agricultural frontiers.

A cultural and intellectual exchange, the Fulbright award provides Dr. Macedo with the opportunity to deepen her expertise and serve as a cultural ambassador.

Dr. Macedo, who was awarded the Fulbright last winter, studies land use change using a combination of remote sensing, field observations and statistical modeling. She holds a Ph.D. in Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology from Columbia University.

New faces at WHRC

Research Assistant Hillary Sullivan joined WHRC last fall and works on two distinct ecosystem projects: one in Massachusetts, studying the effects of nitrogen pollution on salt marshes, and the other in the Brazilian Amazon, assessing the impact of deforestation and farming on forest streams. While an undergraduate and then a master’s student at Clark University, she studied marine environments in the Galapagos, Bermuda, and Turks and Caicos. Eventually, her interests narrowed to the field of biogeochemistry, and now she spends much of her time collecting samples in the field and analyzing them in the WHRC lab. “The atmosphere among scientists at WHRC is one of passion and dedication for conducting science that will make a difference in the world, and that,” she says, “is truly inspiring.”

“It’s cool to see power produced from wind and solar in practice,” says Lindsay Scott, referring to WHRC’s energy efficient campus. An ecosystem biogeochemist, Ms. Scott joined WHRC last month to work with the Amazon group on a Brazilian watershed study and to continue a project to quantify nutrient export from cranberry bogs in southeastern Massachusetts. Before coming to WHRC, Ms. Scott worked at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) and was a high-school biology and environmental science teacher. She holds degrees from the University of New Hampshire and Ohio University. “It is great to be working in a place where the building and design were thought out to actively promote what we are studying,” she says.

Anya Suslova became acquainted with WHRC in 2003, when Dr. Max Holmes was conducting research on the Lena River in Siberia. Ms. Suslova, then a young teenager volunteered to collect samples for the project through the winter and in time taught herself English in order to communicate with Dr. Holmes. Several years later, Ms. Suslova came to WHRC through the Russian Visiting Scholars program, after which she twice participated in WHRC’s Polaris Project in Siberia. Her trajectory led her to earn her diploma from North-Eastern Federal University in Russia and a master’s degree from Teri University in New Delhi. In December she joined WHRC as a research assistant, supporting Dr. Holmes’s Global Rivers project. “It was a surprise for me to get a job here, but also it felt very natural,” said Ms. Suslova. “I am very happy to be here in such a supportive environment, and I am excited about all the possibilities yet to unfold.”

“The Center offers a unique opportunity to work closely with renowned scientists in a wide range of disciplines, from biogeochemistry to economics,” said Millie Chapman, who joined WHRC as a research assistant this month. She contributes to forest landscape management and restoration projects in Costa Rica and Brazil, applying microeconomic and social data to spatial modeling carbon emissions. During an internship in 2016, Ms. Chapman worked on projects to assess land cover change in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Papua New Guinea. “Every day at WHRC is a reminder of the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration,” said Ms. Chapman, who is a graduate of Yale University. In her free time, she enjoys rock climbing, surfing, and running.

WHRC panel on post-election climate landscape

Deputy Director Max Holmes provided the opening remarks to a full house.

A panel of experts gathered at Woods Hole Research Center on December 19 concluded that the United States can continue to make progress on climate science and climate policy, even if the incoming presidential administration does not focus on the issue. The 2016 Election and COP22: What’s Next for Climate Change drew an overflow crowd at WHRC. The event was also broadcast on YouTube and can be viewed online.

“The good news is an incredible uptake of renewable energy by the private sector,” said Anne Kelley, senior program director at CERES, the business sustainability non-profit. “A huge number of companies have made commitments around renewable energy procurement.” She said that companies are making environmental commitments because it makes economic sense, and it “is an unstoppable force. There are some forces that are unstoppable, inevitable, irreversible, irresistible. Those are the ones we need to talk about.”

Ms. Kelly was joined by recently elected Massachusetts State Representative Dylan Fernandes, Church of the Messiah Rector Deborah Warner, Tufts University Professor Emeritus and WHRC board member William Moomaw, and WHRC President Phil Duffy. Heather Goldstone, host of WCAI’s Living Lab, moderated the event.

Rep. Fernandes told the crowd that state governments make climate progress if the federal government stalls. “In Massachusetts we’ve been a real leader on environmental issues, on environmental stewardship,” he said. As an example, he cited the state’s leadership on solar energy because of “really terrific laws we have around tax incentives.”

Rep. Fernandes also said that Massachusetts state legislators could push a revenue-neutral carbon tax in the upcoming session. Dr. Duffy said that policy solutions like a revenue-neutral carbon tax could be made palatable to a wide spectrum of policy makers and voters because research has shown that they benefit economies.

“The single most important message is about solutions,” said Dr. Duffy, “and that we can address climate change without economic disruption.”

WHRC in the news

WHRC President Phil Duffy was quoted in a Washington Post article, 2016’s super warm arctic winter ‘extremely unlikely’ without climate change, scientists say, about the unusually warm arctic winter, 28 December.

WHRC’s Phil Duffy was quoted in Residents Rally For Upcoming Presidential Inauguration. He will speak at “Together in Solidarity,” a rally to be held on the Falmouth Green in conjunction with the January 21 Women’s March on Washington. The Falmouth Enterprise, 5 January.

Early Warning Signs for Climate Change Researchers ran in the Cape Cod Times and quoted WHRC Deputy Director Max Holmes on the perils of climate science under the new U.S. administration, 15 January.

WHRC’s Phil Duffy on WBUR’s Morning EditionWoods Hole Scientist: Trump’s EPA Pick Wrong About Human Impact On Climate Change, 19 January.

A recent satellite image of Tanguro Ranch in Mato Grasso, Brazil.

Help by making your voice heard

Since the election, many of our supporters have asked how they can help expand the community of people who support WHRC and climate research.

There is no source of information more trusted than the people we know. If you recommend us to your friends or family, we can grow this movement.

You can use the text below as a starting point. Customize it and send it along to people who care about climate change.

Dear …

After last month’s election, I think many of us asked ourselves “what can we do now”? Personally, I feel strongly that we must take a stand for the issues that we care about, and support the people and organizations who have the ability to advance these causes. For me, finding solutions to climate change is critical, which is why I am involved with the Woods Hole Research Center, a non-profit research and policy institute.

WHRC has been ranked the world’s #1 climate change think tank for three years running because they are developing truly cutting edge approaches to reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. They work on the front lines of climate change – conducting scientific research to inform sound climate policies. They’re involved in climate progress from the local scale (for instance, in the developing world) to the international scale (such as the United Nations process).

You can read more about WHRC’s work here, and their strategy for making progress on climate change in the Trump era. I’m sure you’ve noticed that many environmental and advocacy organizations are aggressively fundraising in the wake of the election. For me, there are three main reasons that I choose to support WHRC:

1) They primarily work internationally, where the best opportunities now lie to make progress on climate change. They are also focused on making the Paris Agreement successful. So even if the US pulls out of this important agreement, as Trump has threatened to do, WHRC is still “in.”

2) Contributions to WHRC go a very long way. From a donor’s perspective, my gifts have an out-sized impact because WHRC is small and efficient, but is internationally respected and positioned at the highest levels of climate policy.

3) A lot of their pioneering climate research is supported by the federal government. If Trump is successful in cutting back funding for climate science, I want WHRC to be able to continue their important work.

If you are looking for ways to help fight climate change, I hope you will consider joining this wonderful community.

(Your Name)

WHRCtreeWoods Hole Research Center is an independent research institute where scientists investigate the causes and effects of climate change to identify and implement opportunities for conservation, restoration, and economic development around the world.