Dr. Alan Steinman is an expert on the Aquatic biology of North America’s Great Lakes.
He has been studying the combined effects of invasive species, warming waters, increasing pollution, and expanding population on the Great Lakes system.

I called Dr. Steinman to discuss the recent cutoff of water supplies to 400,000  residents of Toledo, Ohio, after a noxious bloom of toxin-producing algae covered much of the western end of Lake Erie.

Dr. Steinman was a member of a team which discovered Cylindrospermopsis raciborskii, an invasive, toxin forming micro-organism, formerly associated with more southerly climates, surviving in a tributary of Lake Michigan. In a 2006 paper, Steinman observed:

C. raciborskii is able to produce multiple toxins, and was implicated in one of Australia’s worst cases of human poisoning (Falconer 2001). At least three distinct toxins can be produced by Cylindrospermopsis (Chorus and Bartram 2004): cylindrospermopsin, which targets primarily the liver and kidneys, and anatoxin-a and saxitoxin, which are both neurotoxins.
Because of its potential to produce these toxins and its highly adaptable growth, this genus ranks near the top of the watch list of toxic cyanobacteria for water managers (WHO 1999).

The bloom-forming and toxin-producing cyanobacterium Cylindrospermopsis raciborskii-recently observed in a tributary of Lake Michigan, and on the increase in northern latitudes.



We Are Groot

August 28, 2014

One of the most ominous phrases in the English language, just a few notches below “uncontrollable Arctic methane belch”, is “..a movie with a heart.”
In the case of Guardians of the Galaxy, you can relax.
Starts hooking you emotionally at the start, then descends into silliness, but keeps coming back to surprising emotional notes – so you’re wondering, “is Director James Gunn,  serious? – or was that an accident?”
By the time they get to the last one, you believe it – no accident. Powerful images of emotional realization, ecological relationship, and group transformation. You can see why this is so popular among millennials, and apparently, with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 92, almost everyone else.
Like I said, prepare for periods of silliness, but the rewards are there.
Star-Lord jumps, Slow Motion towards a floating stone, Ronan reaching his arm out, in hope, hope that he will catch it, before Quill does. Then, Normal Pace, Quill’s fingers lock around the stone as Gamora screams.
A Blue light surrounds them, engulfing them, screaming and writhing Quill holds on tight to the stone, he stands straight, facing Ronan, who is standing in the light, staring at Quill, then Quill hears something, a scream, his name, coming from his side.
Gamora: (screaming) Peter, Take My Hand!!!!
Peter turns at his friend, her hand outstretched. Then…


WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is working to forge a sweeping international climate change agreement to compel nations to cut their planet-warming fossil fuel emissions, but without ratification from Congress.

In preparation for this agreement, to be signed at a United Nations summit meeting in 2015 in Paris, the negotiators are meeting with diplomats from other countries to broker a deal to commit some of the world’s largest economies to enact laws to reduce their carbon pollution. But under the Constitution, a president may enter into a legally binding treaty only if it is approved by a two-thirds majority of the Senate.

To sidestep that requirement, President Obama’s climate negotiators are devising what they call a “politically binding” deal that would “name and shame” countries into cutting their emissions. The deal is likely to face strong objections from Republicans on Capitol Hill and from poor countries around the world, but negotiators say it may be the only realistic path.

“If you want a deal that includes all the major emitters, including the U.S., you cannot realistically pursue a legally binding treaty at this time,” said Paul Bledsoe, a top climate change official in the Clinton administration who works closely with the Obama White House on international climate change policy.

Business Insider:

“There’s some legal and political magic to this,” Jake Schmidt, an expert in global climate negotiations with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group, told the Times. “They’re trying to move this as far as possible without having to reach the 67-vote threshold” in the Senate

The move from Obama largely syncs with his domestic strategy toward climate change, which has been geared around executive actions and orders that have sidestepped Congress. Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled new proposed regulations that aim to force power plants to cut their emissions by as much 30% from 2005 levels by 2030. The EPA estimates the rule will cost approximately $5.5 billion in 2020, vs. net climate and health “benefits” of $26 billion to $45 billion to the economy.

Carbon pollution from power plants accounted for 33% of the U.S.’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2011, according to the EPA. The U.S.’s carbon emissions have already fallen by about 10% since 2005, due in part both to the recession and the natural-gas boom. The new regulations are expected tol be a cornerstone toward accomplishing Obama’s 2009 pledge during international climate talks of reducing U.S. carbon emissions 17% from 2005 levels by 2020.

The budding international climate accord and the new EPA regulations are likely to be the last significant moves for the Obama administration on climate change during Obama’s time in office.




Within a few decades, large-scale, centralized electricity generation from fossil fuels could be a thing of the past in Europe.

That’s the word from investment bank UBS, which just released a new report anticipating a three pronged assault from solar power, battery technology, and electric vehicles that will render obsolete traditional power generation by large utilities that rely on coal or natural gas. According to Renew Economy, which picked up the report, the tipping point will arrive around 2020. At that point, investing in a home solar system with a 20-year life span, plus some small-scale home battery technology and an electric car, will pay for itself in six to eight years for the average consumer in Germany, Italy, Spain, and much of the rest of Europe. Crucially, this math holds even without any government subsidies for solar power.

“In other words,” the report says, “a German buyer should receive 12 years of electricity for free” for a system purchased in 2020.

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Recent polling and analysis suggests that the pendulum of public opinion has swung decidedly in favor of climate science and scientists on the issue of climate change.

One would never suspect any of this in reading the recent piece in the Atlantic, “How to Talk about Climate Change so that People Will Listen”, which I will not link to here.

Author Charles Mann, while dutifully reciting a litany of climate denial canards that would be perfectly in context at a Heartland Institute  Science denial conference, completely misses the reality that the American people have, in fact, been listening – and a solid majority of Americans now favor decisive action on Climate Change.

Yale Project on Climate Change Communication:

• 88% of Democrats, 59% of Independents and 61% of liberal/moderate Republicans think global warming is happening, compared to only 28% of conservative Republicans;

• 81% of Democrats and 51% of liberal/moderate Republicans are worried about global warming, compared to only 19% of conservative Republicans;

• 82% of Democrats and 65% of liberal/moderate Republicans support strict carbon dioxide emission limits on existing coal-fired power plants to reduce global warming and improve public health, compared to only 31% of conservative Republicans.

In the same study, available here, polling showed that

  • Americans are more than two times more likely to vote for a congressional or presidential candidate who strongly supports action to reduce global warming. Democrats, liberal and moderate Republicans, and Independents are more likely to vote for such a candidate. Only conservative Republicans are less likely to vote for such a candidate.
  • Likewise, Americans are three times more likely to vote against a political candidate who strongly opposes action to reduce global warming. Only conservative Republicans are, on balance, slightly more likely to vote for a candidate who strongly opposes action to reduce global warming.

Completely lost on Mr. Mann is the fact that current paralysis of climate policy is not the fault of scientists who are communicating the facts – but rather in the general dysfunction of the political system, distorted by a gerrymandered House of Representatives, stampeded by fear of the tiny minority of far right wing activists who wield wildly disproportionate power in the campaign primary process.
Those highly vocal right wing activists are very much influenced, and financed, by a tiny number of extremely wealthy groups and individuals with deep roots in the fossil fuel industry.


Many Republicans have elected not to engage in the debate on climate change to avoid attracting a primary challenge and potentially losing their seat. One frequently cited example to justify the concern is that of former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.), who lost a primary challenge in 2010 after saying climate change is real and calling for a carbon tax.

Inglis, now executive director of the Energy and Enterprise Initiative, is one of a small group of Republicans who are pushing their party to actively engage on the issue, and he continues to advocate for a carbon tax.

“There are conservative members of Congress who realize that we need a free enterprise solution on energy and climate, and once the pain of the Great Recession is over, they will feel comfortable leading toward those free enterprise solutions,” Inglis told Bloomberg BNA. “What we are trying to do is go out and build support in their constituencies for that sort of proposition.”

It’s not difficult to name a number of public issues where the House majority is out of step with the majority of voters – for much the same reason.


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A headline that has appeared frequently in mainstream media of late informs us that, in an unexpected turn of good news, US carbon emissions are down to 20 year lows, due to increased use of natural gas in power generation.

My uneasiness with this formulation comes from increasing evidence that the extraction of Natural gas has a a downside – largely unaccounted-for leakage in the system of wells, pipelines and processors that deliver gas to consumers.

Climate Central:

study of abandoned oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania finds that the hundreds of thousands of such wells in the state may be leaking methane, suggesting that abandoned wells across the country could be a bigger source of climate changing greenhouse gases than previously thought.

The study by Mary Kang, a Princeton University scientist, looked at 19 wells and found that these oft-forgotten wells are leaking various amounts of methane. There are hundreds of thousands of such oil and gas wells, long abandoned and plugged, in Pennsylvania alone, and countless more in oil and gas fields across the country. These wells go mostly unmonitored, and rarely, if ever, checked for such leaks.

growing list of studiesconducted over the past three years has suggested that crude oil and natural gas development, particularly in shale formations, are significant sources of methane leaks — emissions not fully included in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency greenhouse gas inventories because they are rarely monitored. Scientists say there is inadequate data available for them to know where all the leaks are and how much methane is leaking.

Methane is about 34 times as potent as a climate change-fueling greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over a span of 100 years. Over 20 years, it’s 86 times more potent. Of all the greenhouse gases emitted by humans worldwide, methane contributes more than 40 percent of all radiative forcing, a measure of trapped heat in the atmosphere and a measuring stick of a changing climate.

Naomi Oreskes in The Nation:

Gas advocates say that while these worries might be legitimate, US greenhouse gas emissions nonetheless fell between 2008 and 2012, partly because of the way gas is replacing coal in electricity generation. This claim needs to be closely examined. In fact, it seems as if the lion’s share of that decrease was simply the result of the near global economic meltdown of 2007–08 and the Great Recession that followed. When economic activity falls, energy use falls, so emissions fall, too. Not surprisingly, preliminary data from 2013 suggest that emissions are on the rise again. Some of the rest of the 2008–12 decline was due to tighterautomobile fuel economy standards.

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Looks like this is going to be a regular feature at Realnews.  I was asked to summarize the aims and findings, so far, of the Dark Snow field season.

We came back with a boatload of video from 2 types of drone UAV platforms – fixed wing and helo designs.

The fixed wing was very successful in performing look-down measurements of reflectivity following a grid over experimental plots where different types of microbial growth were being observed by biologist Dr. Marek Stibal, and flying “transects” along east and west lines from camp.

The copter was the choice for low level, low wind conditions, especially for following streams and investigating moulins where safety concerns made human eyeballing impossible.

Here are some examples of the different characteristics of the drones. I’m sure to be working these into more fully produced videos in coming months, but I know many readers will appreciate the immediacy of the raw videos.


Yeah, it’s an Apple ad. Pretty informative, and inspiring one, though.

Description from PBS Newshour:

When holes opened up in the earth recently in Siberia, a wave of speculation was set off as to their cause. Scientists are now pinpointing a dramatic increase in arctic thawing, which may have released methane once trapped below the frozen ground. For a better understanding, Judy Woodruff talks to Tom Wagner of NASA.