Monthly Newsletter – June 2017

Monthly Newsletter of WHRC


Dr. Philip DuffyIf Trump won’t help stop climate change, we’ll do it without him

Dr. Philip Duffy, President & Executive Director

There should be nothing shocking in the fact of Trump’s announced intention to end US participation in the Paris climate agreement. It was obvious even before the 2016 election that he would do everything possible to halt or reverse policies that would help us to meet our commitments under that agreement. I was surprised, however, that he is not only rolling back federal policies, but is also trying to force California to do the same for its motor vehicle mileage standards. I guess “states’ rights” don’t apply to environmental policies.

While it would be difficult to make a case that is both persuasive and truthful for withdrawing from Paris, it should also not be surprising that Trump’s speech announcing the planned withdrawal was couched in falsehoods. Among other things, Trump’s speech showed that he either has not bothered to learn even the fundamentals of how the agreement works, or cynically assumed that his audience hasn’t learned them.

Given Trump’s stated policy goals and budget priorities, the added effect of withdrawing from Paris, as far as US greenhouse gas emissions are concerned, appears likely to be minimal. The withdrawal announcement, therefore, seems intended for political rather than substantive effect. While it no doubt resonated with some, US voters as a whole overwhelmingly favor remaining in the Paris Agreement. A Yale University poll taken before the June 1 announcement found five times more voters favoring continued participation than withdrawal.

In fact, the speech may have the opposite of its intended effect, in that it seems to have galvanized renewed pledges of commitment, and some substantive actions, by states, cities, corporations, and individuals. Shortly after Trump’s announcement, the governors of California, Washington, and New York announced the formation of the United States Climate Alliance. At last count a total of 12 states and Puerto Rico had joined the Alliance. This group has pledged to maintain or exceed the standards set by the US commitment to Paris (in the jurisdictions they control), but it remains to be seen how much substantive new action will result. The state of Hawaii, at least, has passed two meaningful new climate policy laws since Trump’s June 1 announcement.

Here in Massachusetts, Trump’s announcement seems to have boosted the prospects of legislation introduced earlier this year by Rep. Dylan Fernandes, whose district includes Falmouth and “the islands.” This bill (HR 3564) would make Massachusetts a participant in the Paris agreement process. To be clear, since Massachusetts already has admirably ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, this bill would not mandate any new action (other than reporting our greenhouse gas emissions to the United Nations), but it would send the important message that the Trump administration does not speak for all Americans on the issue of climate change.

All in all, I suspect that the US withdrawal from Paris, if it happens at all (the soonest it could would be in November, 2019) will prove to be merely a bump in the road. Meanwhile, we all have important work to do. Last week I signed a contract with the government of El Salvador to help them to measure their forest-based greenhouse gas emissions, and we’re discussing opportunities with national governments in two other tropical countries about reforestation efforts there. We’re undertaking new work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with more we hope in the pipeline. In early July, WHRC will send 13 students, 8 faculty members and mentors, a physician, and a film maker (sounds like the start of a bad joke) to the Yukon Delta to study the effects of recent fire activity there. If Trump isn’t going to help stop climate change, we’ll have to do it without him. With your help, we can.

Thanks as always for your interest and support.

State House rally calls for Massachusetts to join Paris Agreement

A crowd of about 200 people gathered outside the Massachusetts State House on June 13 to support state legislation that would have Massachusetts join the Paris Agreement.

The rally was organized by Rep. Dylan Fernandes, who introduced the legislation, and WHRC. Despite temperatures in the 90s, the passionate group cheered speakers and held up signs in support of the bill that would officially designate the state as a “non-party stakeholder.” The legislation would not require additional emissions reduction above current efforts, but it would have the state monitor and report emissions. Importantly, the bill would also make an important statement about Massachusetts’ commitment to battling climate change, according to speakers at the rally.

The event featured Rep. Fernandes, WHRC President Phil Duffy, MA Sierra Club Chapter Director Emily Norton, and Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose.

“We can control climate change and have a strong economy at the same time. We can and we will. We’ll do it through innovation, we’ll do it through hard work and we’ll do it through science-based policies,” Dr. Duffy said. “If Trump thinks that’s too difficult, we’ll do it without him,” he told a cheering audience.

Dr. Duffy publicly thanked Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker (R) for signing the state on to a national Climate Alliance, which pledges to continue to reduce emissions even as the federal government abandons national targets. Rep. Fernandes told the crowd that the Paris Agreement bill (H.3564) went above and beyond Gov. Baker’s climate alliance pledge because it required emissions reporting, and because it would be a binding law and not a voluntary commitment.

“Effectively combating climate change isn’t just about setting goals,” Rep. Fernandes said. “It is about holding yourselves accountable to meet those goals.”

Among the crowd were 11 state representatives and 2 state senators, including Sen. Julian Cyr (Cape Cod’s Democratic senator who introduced the bill with Rep. Fernandes), Sen. Cynthia Creem (D-Newton), Rep. Ruth Balser (D-Newton), Rep. Denise Provost (D-Somerville), Rep. Natalie Higgins (D-Leominster), Rep. Jack Lewis (D-Framingham), Rep. Mike Connolly (D-Cambridge), Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead), Assistant Majority Leader Rep. Byron Rushing (D-Boston), Rep. Brian Murray (D-Milford), and Rep. Gerard Cassidy (D-Brockton).

Dr. Duffy said that H.3564 was critically important because it “sends an important message… that Donald Trump does not speak for all Americans on the issue of climate change.”

The bill was reported favorably by the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture last week and referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.

New project will study changing carbon cycles in the arctic and boreal forests

WHRC’s Dr. Brendan Rogers is the lead scientist on a new project awarded by the NASA Carbon Cycle Science program to study changing carbon cycles in the arctic tundra and boreal forests of North America and Eurasia. Dr. Rogers and colleagues are working to gain an understanding of the causes of increased CO2 exchanges in these high latitude environments, presumably a combination of more uptake during the growing season and more decomposition winter. The total amount of CO2 being exchanged between the land and atmosphere on an annual basis has increased by roughly 50 percent over the last 55 years, a phenomenon coined “the hyperventilating biosphere” that remains one of the longest-standing scientific questions in arctic system science. Whether summer photosynthesis or winter respiration has been dominant, and how these have been changing as a result of climate warming, has serious consequences for the overall carbon balance in arctic-boreal lands and our ability to forecast the future.

The scientists will use various tools to distinguish the causes of the high latitude seasonal CO2 exchange, including observations of atmospheric CO2, atmospheric chemistry transport models, land surface models, and hundreds of ground observations. In the process they plan to provide a better understanding of past changes in vegetation, disturbance, permafrost, and snow properties across high latitudes, and how these changes have impacted seasonal CO2 cycles and the arctic-boreal carbon balance.

Several scientists on the project, including Dr. Rogers and WHRC’s Susan Natali and Christopher Schwalm, are also involved with NASA’s ABoVE campaign, the long-term endeavor to understand arctic-boreal environmental change in Alaska and Canada. WHRC’s role in ABoVE has been critical as we collectively and rapidly progress our understanding of the changing Arctic and what that means for future climate change and our ability to meet international targets for greenhouse gas emissions and warming.

Arctic climate impacts pose global problem

Arctic climate systems are unraveling, but that dramatic phenomenon might scare reluctant US politicians into realizing the urgency of climate change. That was one of the messages that came from a panel of arctic science and policy experts gathered at WHRC headquarters on June 1.

Former US Ambassador to Iceland Robert Barber, former State Department Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change Karen Florini, WHRC scientist Susan Natali, and WHRC Senior Arctic Policy Fellow Rafe Pomerance discussed a wide variety of climate related issues, including the urgency of thawing permafrost and the recent meeting of the Arctic Council.

WHRC spoke with Ms. Florini after the panel discussion to gain her perspective on the current state of geopolitics surrounding climate change and the future of the Arctic Council.

WHRC: How have countries around the world reacted to Trump’s Paris announcement?

KAREN FLORINI: In a word, vehemently – with vehement dismay and disapproval, coupled with vehement support for their own continued participation in the agreement and vehement rejection of Trump’s notion that the agreement could be renegotiated to make it “fair” to the United States. There was also a lot of bewilderment about what he actually meant by this, given that under the agreement all countries already set their own emission-reduction targets and voluntary financial contributions and that the agreement doesn’t provide for any penalties. By the way, the reaction within the United States has also been striking. For example, nearly 2,000 US businesses, cities, states, and universities have signed the We Are Still In declaration, confirming that they will “continue to support climate action to meet the Paris Agreement.”

WHRC: How did the Arctic Council address climate issues during the US chairmanship?

FLORINI: Climate was one of the three focal areas of the US chairmanship (the other two being the Arctic Ocean stewardship and improving arctic living conditions). The Fairbanks Declaration issued by the council as the culmination of the US chairmanship included some fairly decent climate provisions – surprisingly so in light of the following month’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. For example, the declaration adopted a report that both set out recommendations for reducing black carbon and methane emissions from several key sources and identified an aspirational collective goal for reducing black carbon emissions from arctic nations by at least 25-33 percent below 2013 levels by 2025.

WHRC: What do you hope for from future Arctic Council chairmanships?

FLORINI: As the Arctic loses snow and ice cover at an ever increasing rate, we’re losing the planetary parasol that helps bounce the sun’s heat back into space, which accelerates the warming of the planet overall. And as the Arctic warms, the rate at which now buried permafrost releases more carbon to the atmosphere also accelerates, even as land-based arctic ice contributes to sea-level rise around the globe. Future chairmanships need to build global awareness that “what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic,” and help document just how fast the Arctic is already changing.

Brazil summit brings together leaders from science and agriculture

Last month WHRC and the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) hosted a workshop in Brasília that focused on conserving forests across the world’s largest agricultural frontier and assembling the right partners to make that conservation successful.

The May 2-3 meeting was titled “Intensification of the world’s largest agriculture frontier: reconciling agricultural production and environmental integrity in a changing climate.”
“The Amazon frontier is undergoing a massive transformation, with entire landscapes being dominated by mechanized agriculture. It is unbelievable that what once was a forest now looks more like somewhere in the Midwest,” said WHRC’s Dr. Paulo Brando, who moderated the meeting. “There are opportunities for conversation associated with those transformations. But to achieve them, we need to understand how this process influences complex interactions among remaining forests, rivers, climate, forest-dependent people, and urban centers.”

WHRC and IPAM have worked together on climate change and land use change issues in tropical forests for 25 years, but this meeting also included representatives from Brown University, Tufts University, the University of Sao Paulo, the University of Brasília, the Environmental Defense Fund, and Amaggi, the agriculture business that hosts the long-running Tanguro Ranch research station.

“We wanted to bring together people who work on these similar issues,” Dr. Brando said. “The biggest challenge was to get these groups to mix and come together.”

The meeting included presentations on topics such as, “Agriculture intensification and the hydrological cycle: scale matters,” “The biogeochemistry of Brazil’s agriculture frontier,” “Stream fragmentation in the agricultural frontier,” and “Drivers of Amazon deforestation: what do we really know?”

WHRC President Phil Duffy as well as WHRC scientists Michael Coe, Linda Deegan, Chris Neill, and Marcia Macedo all spoke at the meeting.

Pedro Valente, the director of Amaggi, delivered a plenary presentation on “The future of agricultural intensification: challenges and opportunities.” Mr. Valente captured the spirit of the meeting when he declared that scientists, conservationists, and the business community needed to work together on sustainable agricultural development and to help policy makers develop the best possible regulations.

WHRC team begins suburban ecology project

A team from WHRC launched a new project this month that will study how the management of suburban residential landscapes can impact the larger region and ecosystem. Currently, suburban residential landscapes occupy almost one-fifth of the entire United States.

The WHRC research is part of a larger nationwide study that is surveying properties around Phoenix, Miami, Baltimore, St. Paul, and Los Angeles. This ambitious survey will give scientists insight into how the environment has been affected by ways in which homeowners tend their lawns. The team will compare their results on residential lawns – with varying degrees of management – to virtually untouched natural reference sites. The broad impact of managed suburban landscapes has not been studied in such a way before now.

The Boston-area work will look at 26 sites total in multiple towns including Reading, Watertown, Needham, Plymouth, Wellesley, Melrose, Newton, Middleborough, Weymouth, Wakefield, Sharon, Stoneham, Topsfield, Easton, Saugus, Hingham, Peabody, and Canton.

WHRC scientists are measuring the biodiversity of the properties on multiple levels, from the nutrients in the soil to the species of birds that live in the area. In one of the residential yards surveyed in Plymouth, MA, WHRC scientist Michael Whittemore was impressed by the biodiversity the team discovered.

“In the natural reference areas we looked at, there has usually been a total of about 6 plant species,” Mr. Whittemore said as he worked on the yard survey. “In this yard I have come across over 100 plant species so far and we’re not done yet.”

That volume of data and the diversity of species make the project particularly complex.

“One of my favorite aspects of suburban ecology is how challenging it can be,” said WHRC scientist Margot McKlveen, who is leading the project fieldwork. “You really have to be prepared to encounter anything, but that’s also part of the fun.”

The 2017 fieldwork will continue until August.

WHRC in the news

State should sign on to Paris Climate Agreement was an op-ed by WHRC President Phil Duffy and State Rep. Dylan Fernandes on legislation to recognize Massachusetts’ support of the Paris Agreement. The Cape Cod Times, 31 May.

Legislation looks to commit state to climate change agreement, about State Rep. Fernandes’ bill in Massachusetts, quoted Phil Duffy. The Martha’s Vineyard Times. 24 May.

Cape officials react to withdrawal from climate pact quoted Phil Duffy regarding Trump’s Paris Agreement announcement. Cape Cod Times, 1 June.

WHRC’s Senior Advisor John Holdren was interviewed regarding the Paris Agreement decision by several different media outlets, including Bloomberg (31 May) and Wired (1June).

Fact-Checking the Trump Administration’s Climate Change Statements aired an interview with Phil Duffy on WCAI’s (NPR) Living Lab about the Trump Administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. 5 June.

Phil Duffy was mentioned in Politico’s Massachusetts Playbook and in the State House News Service regarding his appearance at the June 13 State House rally.

Woods 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.