<![CDATA[NBC4 Washington - Local News - [FEATURE] Changing Climate]]>Copyright 2019http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/localen-usSun, 19 May 2019 07:38:25 -0400Sun, 19 May 2019 07:38:25 -0400NBC Local Integrated Media<![CDATA[‘Perfect Storm’: Ticks Flourish, Lyme Cases Spike As Temperatures Rise]]>Fri, 17 May 2019 11:15:48 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-965394830.jpg

Ticks and the diseases they carry are on the move, rapidly expanding into new territories once considered inhospitable.

While many factors are to blame, the U.S. government affirmed with "high confidence" in a report that one reason is warmer weather connected to climate change.

In the last decade, the number of cases of Lyme disease in the U.S. have tripled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The risk of this tick-borne disease was historically concentrated in the Northeast and upper Midwest, but a recent study by lab giant Quest Diagnostics found cases of Lyme have been detected in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

"Lyme disease is a bigger risk to more people in the United States than ever before," said Harvey W. Kaufman, M.D., senior medical director for Quest Diagnostics. "Our data show that positive results for Lyme are both increasing in number and occurring in geographic areas not historically associated with the disease. We hypothesize that these significant rates of increase may reinforce other research suggesting changing climate conditions that allow ticks to live longer and in more regions may factor into disease risk."

Named after the coastal Connecticut town where it was first identified in the mid ‘70s, Lyme disease emerged from obscurity to become the leading vector-borne disease in the U.S.

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which typically lives in white-footed mice, chipmunks and birds — all animals that ticks feast on. The disease is transmitted to deer and humans through the bite of an infected tick.

Lyme can cause fever, skin rashes, fatigue, arthritis-like joint pain and in some cases nervous system complications and brain fog.

Lyme isn’t the only disease that’s spreading. The CDC said state and local health departments reported in 2017 a record number of cases of other tick-borne diseases, including anaplasmosis, spotted fever group rickettsia (Rocky Mountain spotted fever), Babesiosis and Tularemia (rabbit fever).

The agency has also reported an explosion in the population and geographic range of ticks, particularly the blacklegged tick, the primary transmitter of Lyme disease in the U.S. Also known as the deer tick, these blood-sucking arachnids have extended their reach north, south and west — and with it, their illnesses.

Tick Migration and Survival
The deer tick has a two-year life span that is divided into three main developmental stages: larva, nymph and adult. These tiny arachnids require a bloodmeal in every one of these stages for their development, and each of these bloodmeals provides an opportunity for the tick to contract or spread Lyme disease.

A tick’s survival is also dependent on climate.

"If they don’t have a long enough season to find a host, they’ll use up their reserves and drop dead,” said Rick Ostfeld, an ecologist at the the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York.

Deer ticks can't reproduce or seek out a host to feast on if the temperature drops below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Warmer seasons, earlier springs and longer summers in broader parts of the country mean more ticks stay alive through the winter, remain active for longer periods of time and travel further and further north to look for their food.

Ticks' survival are so dependent on environmental factors that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses the number of cases of Lyme disease as an indicator of climate change.

“Studies provide evidence that climate change has contributed to the expanded range of ticks, increasing the potential risk of Lyme disease, such as in areas of Canada where the ticks were previously unable to survive,” the agency reported. “The life cycle and prevalence of deer ticks are strongly influenced by temperature… Thus, warming temperatures associated with climate change are projected to increase the range of suitable tick habitat and are therefore one of multiple factors driving the observed spread of Lyme disease.”

Across the Northeast, where, over the last three decades, average winter temperatures have risen by almost 4 degrees Fahrenheit, according to NOAA, the cases of Lyme disease have skyrocketed. States from Pennsylvania and northward to Maine are becoming warmer and more humid, creating a favorable environment for ticks to thrive. In 2017, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire had their warmest autumn since record keeping began, the agency reported.

That same year, health officials in Connecticut also discovered that the Lone Star tick, the most common human-biting tick in the southeastern U.S. and Texas, which causes a food allergy to red meat, had reached their shores. In a 2017 press release announcing the findings, Connecticut’s Agricultural Experiment Station (CAER) said their northern range “may be increasing due, in part, to the milder winters the northeast has been experiencing over the past few years.”

Mary Beth Pfeiffer, an investigative journalist and author of the book "Lyme: The First Epidemic of Climate Change," said climate change is abetting the spread of ticks to new frontiers, including Canada.

"They are climbing mountains. They are also climbing latitudes. They are going up the Scandinavian peninsula. They have even been found in parts of Siberia,” Pfeiffer told NBC in a phone interview. "And we’ve had lots of big changes in the ecosystem that's causing ticks to spread."

Lyme Disease Cases Rising
One of those changes is the increase in the developmental rate of ticks due to rising temperatures — and in turn, an uptick in the number of tick-borne illnesses.

A 2015 study found that, as the climate warms, it is pushing the feeding timing of nymphs to earlier in the spring, potentially influencing transmission dynamics.

"When nymphs emerge months before larvae, they inoculate the host community with pathogens that the later-emerging larvae can then contract," said Taal Levi, a biologist at Oregon State University and lead author of the study. "The Lyme disease pathogen is long-lived — it will remain in the host. So an increasing gap between the nymphs feeding in the spring and the next cohort of larvae feeding in late summer will give the nymphs more time to infect the hosts with bacterium that can then be passed to the next generation of tick larvae."

Researchers led by Levi and Ostfeld, the New York ecologist, analyzed nearly two decades worth of data to tie changes in tick emergence directly to climatic changes.

"The climate has clearly warmed," said Ostfield. "That’s not even slightly controversial." And in this one location, at least, ticks have shifted their lifecycles accordingly.

Since 1995, the number of cases of Lyme disease through tick bites reported to the CDC has tripled from less than 10,000 a year to over 30,000 annually. The CDC estimates that the number of infections is actually closer to 300,000 due to underreporting from state health agencies and doctors.

And while the majority of cases of Lyme have historically been concentrated in a cluster of states in the Northeast, the analysis by Quest Diagnostics found that in 2016 and 2017, California and Florida saw the “largest absolute increases in positive test results.” The New Jersey-based lab testing company found infection in California increased 194% over 2015 levels. In Florida, it rose 77% over the same period.

In Connecticut, where a team of scientists around the state are tracking and monitoring the growing tick population, about 50% of the arachnids tested for organisms that cause human diseases have Borrelia burgdorfei, according to Theodore Andreadis, the New Haven-based director of CAER.

Andreadis said this year's tick season is expected to be bad because the winter wasn't severe enough to knock down the population.

"It's always bad here," Andreadis told NBC. "We have so much habitat in the northeast — 60% of the state is forested — so it's a prime environment for ticks to thrive."

More Research Is Needed
The CDC notes that while the exact reason for the geographic spread of ticks and the diseases they carry is unclear, a number of other factors also contribute.

One key driver in the Northeast is the reforestation of land that was once used for farming. Another is the proliferation of the deer population in the Northeast, thanks to stricter hunting laws, fewer predators and the deer-friendly landscape of New England.

Human encroachment into wildlife zones is also factor. With suburbanization, more people are living near the animals that carry Lyme.

“The irony is that we have set this epidemic in motion,” Pfeiffer said. “A warmer world is hospitable to more ticks in more places. Broken bits of forest sustain mice and deer, on which ticks feed and breed. And human development abuts landscapes devoid of predators to curb infection. We’ve created the perfect storm of conditions for ticks to move around the planet.”

The CDC urges people to protect themselves from getting a tick bite by avoiding areas with high grass and leaf litter, walking in the center of trails when hiking, using EPA-registered insect repellents and by wearing long clothes. Shower as soon as possible after coming indoors to wash off and more easily find crawling ticks before they bite you. The agency said people should do full body checks using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of the body upon returning from the outdoors.

“The likelihood of picking up a tick is quite high so people should be checking for ticks when they come outside from any outdoor activity, including your backyard,” Andreadis said.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
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<![CDATA[2020 Hopeful Inslee Touts $9T Climate Plan as Economic Boom]]>Thu, 16 May 2019 08:39:11 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/jay-inslee.jpg

Democratic presidential candidate Jay Inslee is pitching a $9 trillion-plus climate action plan that he touts as an economic renaissance and scientific necessity, putting the Washington governor at the forefront of White House hopefuls pushing for sweeping action to combat the causes and effects of a warming planet.

Inslee compares his "Evergreen Economy" plan, which combines public and private spending, to President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, the mobilization of the U.S. manufacturing base during World War II and the 1960s NASA mission to reach the moon.

"We didn't go to the moon because it was easy, but because it was hard," Inslee told The Associated Press ahead of the release of his 38-page plan on Thursday. "We need a common purpose ... that meets the scientific necessity."

Inslee's proposal comes as some Democrats on Capitol Hill push a "Green New Deal" with a similar focus, but the former congressman, who has spent decades as a leading advocate for combating rising carbon levels, is seeking to carve out his own path on the issue.

The plan would marshal 28 new or existing programs to shift U.S energy markets from fossil fuel dependence to renewable sources; transform U.S. automobile manufacturing and construction practices; and remake the nation's infrastructure from public transit to municipal water and rural electric cooperatives.

Inslee projects about $300 billion in annual government spending over the first decade of the plan, with incentives he says will generate about $600 billion in matching private sector investment on everything from expanding solar energy to rebuilding dilapidating water systems like the Flint, Michigan, infrastructure that has garnered national headlines.

Among Inslee's ideas are a ReBuild America program that would help retrofit existing public and private structures to meet new energy standards and a new version of the post-World War II "G.I. Bill" targeted to help coal industry workers who lose jobs in a transition to renewable energy. The coal worker aide would include guarantees for health insurance and pension benefits, in addition to funds for career training.

Inslee and his aides note that many of the ideas stem from public and private initiatives already being undertaken in cities and states around the country. Aides say Inslee plans a series of events highlighting some of those efforts, beginning Thursday at a wastewater treatment plant in Washington, D.C., that uses thermal hydrolysis to convert wastewater into electricity.

Inslee already had called for setting standards that would require the nation's entire electrical grid and all new vehicles and buildings to be carbon pollution free by 2030, while phasing out all coal-fired power by 2035. His latest proposal adds additional goals, attaches a price tag and details how the federal government would meet them.

"There is no middle ground on climate," Inslee said, alluding to recent reports that former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic front-runner, might pursue a more limited approach to combat the effects of increasing carbon dioxide levels in Earth's atmosphere.

Biden has pushed back on those reports and promises to unveil his climate-change platform in the coming days, the first of what his aides say will be a series of major policy proposals. Another candidate, former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, has offered a climate policy that calls for $5 trillion of public and private spending over a decade.

O'Rourke does not call for as aggressive a timeline as Inslee has for reducing carbon emissions.

Inslee acknowledges that getting such sweeping proposals through the existing Congress is a near impossibility. Inslee's own historical references — FDR's New Deal and World War II mobilization, John F. Kennedy's NASA investments — all occurred when Democrats had controlling majorities in Congress. In FDR's case, New Deal programs were passed using large Democratic advantages.

Democrats today must contend with a Republican Senate, and they face an uphill battle to flip enough seats in 2020 to reclaim the majority. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, has declared himself "the Grim Reaper" and promised to block policies he dismisses as socialist. Even Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is an open skeptic of the Green New Deal resolution pushed by progressive favorite and freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Inslee says combating those dynamics requires electing more Democrats and eliminating the Senate filibuster, but also approaching the climate discussion without getting caught up in ideological labels.

"We need a president guided by science," he said. "We need a president who uses the bully pulpit."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[Anne Arundel Co. Official to Unveil Bay Protection Policies]]>Thu, 16 May 2019 07:43:27 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Chesapeake-bay-generic.jpg

The chief executive of Anne Arundel County, Maryland, has announced two new policies aimed at protecting the county's sensitive environmental areas and the Chesapeake Bay.

County Executive Steuart Pittman made the announcement on Wednesday at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Annapolis.

One policy will require the location of wetlands to be verified before development plans are reviewed. Another will require developers to minimize and mitigate environmental impacts.

The new policies direct the county's planning office to carefully review the locations of environmental resources on a site. The office also must examine all requests for modifications, or waivers to environmental protections, affecting those features.

Pittman's office says developers who seek modifications will have to justify why protections should be waived, and how they plan to mitigate environmental impacts.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

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<![CDATA[Many Online Climate Change Lessons Are Actually Junk]]>Thu, 16 May 2019 07:55:22 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/teaching-climate-change-AP_19134792525697.jpg

When science teacher Diana Allen set out to teach climate change, a subject she'd never learned in school, she fell into a rabbit's hole of misinformation: Many resources presented online as educational material were actually junk.

"It is a pretty scary topic to take on," said Allen, a teacher at Sanford Junior High School, in southern Maine. "There are some pretty tricky websites out there. You kind of have to be an expert to be able to see through that like, 'Oh, no, these guys aren't telling you the truth.'"

There are materials produced by climate change doubters, lesson plans developed by the oil industry, and countless other sites with misleading or outdated information. The Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network, funded by federal grants, reviewed more than 30,000 free online resources and found only 700 acceptable for use in schools.

"There's a lot of information that's out there that is broken, old, misleading, not scientifically sound, not sound technically," said Frank Niepold, a climate education coordinator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Heartland Institute, an Illinois-based group that dismisses climate change, in 2017 sent thousands of science teachers copies of a book titled "Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming" The book, attributed to the group's Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, misrepresents the near-universal consensus of scientists and the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that global warming is real and man-made.

Another resource, a set of six lesson plans on understanding climate change, is available online from the Canada-based Fraser Institute, which counts the Charles Koch Foundation among its financial supporters. The lessons claim that mainstream climate scientists have made selective use of data and that it's a matter of debate whether human-generated carbon dioxide emissions have contributed to climate change, saying "the issues are far from settled."

"Our history is full of examples where 'common knowledge' was discarded in favor of more correct hypotheses," the lesson plans say. Among them, it lists, "Are diseases caused by evil spirits? Are natural disasters caused by angry gods?"

And: "Does smoking pose a threat to your health?"

Also vying for educators' attention are classroom-ready materials made available by the oil companies. ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and other companies have invested heavily in promoting science, technology, engineering and math education in K-12 schools. Such materials are used widely to teach topics related to energy, but critics say they can mislead by not addressing the role of burning fossil fuels in global warming.

For teachers in cash-strapped schools, it can be hard to pass up the free handout materials.

Melissa Lau, a sixth-grade teacher in Piedmont, Oklahoma, attended one of the training sessions put on regularly for teachers by the Oklahoma Energy Resource Bureau, which is funded by the oil and gas companies. She kept the $50 stipend and the tub full of science equipment she got from the group but she tossed its illustrated lesson plans featuring the character "Petro Pete."

In a book available online, Petro Pete has a nightmare about everything that would be missing from his life if there were no petroleum products, from his toothbrush to his school bus.

"I get free beakers and cool things like that," Lau said. "But the curriculum itself is borderline propaganda."

A spokeswoman for the industry group, Dara McBee, said their materials align with Oklahoma standards, which do not reference climate change, and they are intended to supplement what students learn in school.

Kevin Leineweber, a science teacher at Cascade High School in Clayton, Indiana, said he is skeptical about resources sent to him, including oil industry materials, but some colleagues are less so. At a districtwide science meeting a couple months ago one elementary school teacher expressed excitement about receiving unsolicited materials on climate change in the mail, to help introduce the topic to students. After talking it over with Leineweber, the teacher tossed the mailing of unknown origin.

"I'm just like, 'Oh, jeez,'" Leineweber said.

The oil industry materials have the effect of pushing climate change to the periphery, Charles Anderson, a professor of science education at Michigan State University.

"The school systems of the country are so fragmented and under-resourced that they have no choice but to turn to people like the oil industry who offer them free stuff," he said.

Climate change education varies across states, and often from one classroom to the next. The Next Generation Science Standards, which emphasize climate change and how humans are altering the planet, have been adopted by or served as a model for most states. But many teachers report that they shy away from the topic not only because of issues with materials but also the political sensitivities, and uncertainty over where to introduce an issue that crosses so many disciplines.

Diana Allen, 48, said she began to see it as her duty to teach climate change even though it's not required under Maine's science education standards.

For her lesson plans on climate change, she turns primarily to other teachers, pulling resources they have vetted and shared on an email thread overseen by the National Association of Science Teachers. Other teachers have turned to the National Center for Science Education, which posts free climate change lessons and has a "scientist in the classroom " program.

Many educators say that climate change as an area of instruction is still so new that textbook publishers have not caught up enough to provide useful materials.

"I have a Ph.D. from Stanford in biochemistry, and it's still hard for me to source stuff that works in my classroom right," said Kirstin Milks, an Earth science teacher at Bloomington High School South in Indiana.

Milks helps train educators on how to teach climate change. In their applications, many teachers display a sense of urgency in their applications, she said.

"I think we all are in that same boat of understanding that this might be one of the most important social justice issues of our time, one of the most important environmental issues of our time, one of the most important political issues of our time," she said.

Sometimes educators have to push back against what their students are taught in other classrooms.

Leigh Foy, a science teacher at York Suburban High School in Pennsylvania, said a social studies teacher at her school has told students for years that climate change is a hoax and he could prove it with an experiment. He would fill a cup in the classroom with ice and water, mark the water level, and show students it didn't rise as the ice melted. The problem, Foy said, is his lack of accounting for the difference between sea ice and land ice or the expansion of water as it gets warmer.

"This is just an example of what we're up against," Foy said.

Teachers who have gotten themselves up to speed on climate change often say they make it a primary goal to help their students identify untrustworthy materials.

Sarah Ott, who teaches physical science to eighth-graders in Dalton, Georgia, dedicates a section of her class to climate literacy. In one April class, she discussed how to identify misinformation, highlighting materials including a petition signed by more than 30,000 purported scientists that dismisses the dangers of global warming.

"These people are fake experts and this is being used to mislead people," she told her students. "So we're going to be learning about misinformation and ways for you to spot misinformation. And this is a great skill because you're not just going to use this for science. You're going to use this for all of your subjects."

Associated Press writer Sarah Blake Morgan contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Sarah Blake Morgan/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Climate Change Leading to More Rain, Fewer Droughts]]>Tue, 14 May 2019 10:02:16 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/person+in+rain.jpg

Precipitation rates are now at an all time high across the nation. Less than 10 percent of the country is experiencing drought conditions as a result. Storm Team4's Lauryn Ricketts explains.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Why the Globe's Biodiversity Crisis Is Such a Big Deal]]>Tue, 07 May 2019 11:10:34 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/bees10.jpg

You may go your entire life without seeing an endangered species, yet the globe's biodiversity crisis threatens all of humanity in numerous unseen or unrecognized ways, scientists say.

A massive United Nations report this week warned that nature is in trouble, estimated 1 million species are threatened with extinction if nothing is done and said the worldwide deterioration of nature is everybody's problem.

"Nature is essential for human existence and good quality of life," the report said.

Food, energy, medicine, water, protection from storms and floods and slowing climate change are some of the 18 ways nature helps keep people alive, the report said. And it concluded 14 of those are on long-term declining trends.

"You destroy nature and it's going to bite you back," Duke University ecology Stuart Pimm said, pointing to how difficult it has been for China to recover from decades of forest loss.

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report points to more than 2,500 wars and other conflicts over fossil fuels, water, food and land to show how important nature is.

"Protecting biodiversity means protecting mankind because we human beings depend fundamentally on the diversity of the living," UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said in announcing the report in Paris.

Here are four ways humanity depends on nature, according to the report and scientists:

Nearly all food comes directly from nature, said report co-author Kai Chan, an environmental scientist at the University of British Columbia. Even though overall the world is growing more food, pressure on crops from pollution, habitat changes and other forces has made prices soar and even caused food riots in Latin America, he said.

Pollinators across the globe, not just bees, are in decline. Three quarters of the world's food crops, including fruits, vegetables, coffee and cocoa, require pollination. The report said pollinator loss could cost the world $285 billion to $577 billion a year.

About 70% of the drugs used to fight cancer "are natural or are synthetic products inspired by nature," the report said. About 4 billion people rely primarily on natural medicines.

George Mason University ecologist Thomas Lovejoy points to a single heat-thriving microbe that comes out of Yellowstone National Park's hot springs. Pieces of its genetic code are the key to a scientific technique called polymerase chain reaction (PCR) that is used for medical, genetic and forensic tests and much of modern biotechnology.

"Nature underpins all dimensions of human health," the report said.

The world's forests and oceans suck nearly 6.2 billion tons (5.6 billion metric tons) of heat-trapping carbon dioxide out of the air each year, the report said. That's about 60% of what humans produce through burning fossil fuels.

Earth would be warming more and faster without forests and oceans, scientists said.

Climate change and biodiversity loss are equally huge environmental problems that make each other worse, report chairman Robert Watson said.

People can build expensive time-consuming sea walls to fight the rise of oceans from climate change or the same protection can be offered by coastal mangroves, the report said.

But mangroves are in trouble, Watson said.

"They often act as a nursery for fisheries basically," Watson said. "And they clearly help to protect land from severe weather events and storm surges from the sea."

The problem, he said, is that many mangrove systems have been converted to shrimp farms, leaving the land vulnerable to storm surges and devoid of biodiversity.

People may think of biodiversity or endangered species as something detached from their daily lives. But those people don't understand that Earth functions as a "living planet" with many parts dependent on each other, George Mason's Lovejoy said.

"We're here in Paris. Can you experience Paris without nature?" asked report co-chairman Eduardo Brondizio of Indiana University. "Every place we turn here we see biodiversity exposed to us in the streets. When we open the tap here, we drink excellent water. When we look at the parks, when we look at the atmosphere here in the city, it's all about nature."


This Associated Press series was produced in partnership with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

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<![CDATA[Solar for All? Removing Financial Obstacles to Green Energy]]>Tue, 07 May 2019 15:46:36 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/mayor_dc1.jpg

Washington, D.C., Connecticut and more than a dozen other states are investing in programs to make clean energy available to low- and moderate-income households and to give jobs to people like Steven Donerson, a retired soldier and musician whose life fell into a tailspin after the economy tanked in 2008.

Donerson, 51, lost his marriage, his home in Washington, D.C., and his job as a concierge director. “My whole way of life,” he says. He was still struggling two years ago when he entered a 12-week training program to learn how to install solar panels. Afterward he got a job with Grid Alternatives Mid-Atlantic, which ran the program.

"It’s one of the best experiences that I’ve had working in my life," he said. ”It’s not like working. It’s like I’m doing a service for the community and I’m getting paid for it. So it doesn’t seem like a job."

Donerson was on hand recently when the District celebrated the 100th solar installation under Solar Works DC, a clean energy and job training program targeting low- and moderate-income residents. It is part of the District's ambitious goal of getting 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2032. By then, through its Solar for All program, it also wants to bring solar energy to 100,000 low- to moderate-income families, whether homeowners or renters living in multi-family buildings. All are expected to see a 50-percent savings on their electricity bills over 15 years.

"We have an example for the Congress, a concrete example, of how it really is possible to create programs that expand green infrastructure and address income inequality," D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said.

"No other jurisdictions our size anywhere in the nation, not New York, Hawaii or Los Angeles, has made this type of commitment to both decarbonize our electricity and to do so in a way that supports and looks out for our most vulnerable residents," she said.

Across the country, the clean energy industry is trying different ways to reach low- and moderate-income residents, from innovative funding to access to community solar projects, according to Warren Leon, the executive director of the Clean Energy States Alliance. The alliance has published a directory of initiatives throughout the United States.

“We’re still somewhat in an experimental phase,” Leon said. “And part of the issue is it’s not so easy to do because there are a lot of obstacles.”

The most obvious is that it is difficult to afford a solar system, but there are others too, he said. Low- and moderate-income residents are more often renters; if they do own their homes, the roof might not be in a condition to hold solar panels.

If solar energy is not implemented in a way that reduces inequality, it risks losing the support of a public that perceives it benefiting only the well-to-do, he warned.

“Clean energy is transforming the electricity system in this country and it’s a big engine of economic development and job growth,” he said. “It’s important that this transformation take place in a way that includes all segments of society and especially those communities that are most in need of jobs, economic development and the lower electric bills that can come from embracing clean energy.”

The District’s Solar Works DC was developed by the city’s Department of Energy and Environmental and the Department of Employment Services. In two years, it has trained more than 100 people, creating jobs in the mid-Atlantic region and helping to ensure the District meets its clean energy goals.

"Get Up on the Roof and Learn About It"
“Not only are we deploying solar in lower income communities and preserving affordable housing in D.C., we’re giving people an opportunity to see what it’s like to be part of this clean energy transition," said Grid Alternatives Mid-Atlantic’s executive director, Nicole Steele. "Get up on the roof and learn about it, get in the classroom and learn about all of the components that go into a solar installation and be part of the solar industry.” 

Grid Alternatives Mid-Atlantic installs the solar systems for free for homeowners whose income qualifies. They lease the systems without cost and receive 100 percent of the energy produced. A single person in a household can make up to $65,650 in gross income. For a family of eight, the amount is $123,750.

Solar for All is financed through the District's Renewable Energy Development Fund from payments made by Washington, D.C.’s, electricity provider, Pepco, as an alternative to meeting renewable energy goals. 

The mayor's budget proposal for the 2020 fiscal year includes $1.3 million for Solar Works DC, $12 million for Solar for All, and $25 million for solar energy investments in the city's property and community solar projects.

Elsewhere, Connecticut has a program in which solar panels are leased to low- and moderate-income families through a non-profit organization called Inclusive Prosperity Capital, which was spun off from the Connecticut Green Bank and PosiGen Solar and Energy Efficiency. PosiGen started in New Orleans as the city rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina and found that thousands of homeowners who wanted to install solar panels and make their homes more energy efficient but could not.

“They paired solar with energy efficiency which is really when you start to see drastic reductions in energy burden for the families who need it most,” said Inclusive Prosperity Capital’s CEO Kerry O’Neill.

Energy costs have dropped to 3 percent or 3.5 percent of income, which is in line with what more affluent families typically pay, she said.

The non-profit also analyzed residents’ credit worthiness across the state. Connecticut has as many homeowners in lower incomes who can qualify for a 650 credit score, which is typically what solar financing requires, as in upper incomes, she said. In addition, PosiGen uses alternatives to traditional credit scores, measures such as whether a homeowner is current on property taxes and other data.

Since 2016, solar installations have reached parity across incomes with programs such as Solar for All that removed barriers for lower- and moderate-income residents, traditionally underserved markets that wanted clean, green energy but did not have the resources.

Other states are using solar energy plus storage in community buildings, places that can serve as shelters in case of power outages, Leon said. Maryland, for example, provides grants to developers to partly pay for the cost of installing solar panels and microgrids in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. During power outages, the so-called resiliency hubs will provide emergency heating or cooling for refrigeration of medications or milk from nursing mothers and power to recharge cell phones or computers.

Retrofitting Apartments in Chicago
A report from the federal Environmental Protection Agency highlighted 11 programs that have achieved results and have the potential to be scaled up, replicated and sustained. Among them is the Chicago-based non-profit Elevate Energy, which improves energy efficiency in multi-family buildings. It operates in 11 states, providing an energy assessment, guidance on solutions, access to financing and followup.

Anne Evens, the chief executive officer, said that in many cities more than 40 percent of families live in affordable, multifamily housing. It is more challenging to work with those buildings — and their owners and property managers — than the owner of a single-family home because often it is the tenants who are getting the benefits. The organization has to show property owners that it is in their interest to have stable tenants who can afford their heating and air conditioning bills, she said.

“It’s really important for a number of reasons,” Evens said. “Obviously if we’re going to meet our climate goals we have to deal with the carbon that’s generated when we’re heating and powering their homes, so it’s important from that perspective. But it’s also really important from a financial security perspective.”

The organization has retrofitted almost 50,000 units over the last several years, in Chicago and elsewhere. 

Illinois added 1,308 solar jobs in 2018, a 37 percent increase, placing it second in the country for new solar jobs, according to a national census by the Solar Foundation. Ten trainees in Marion have just installed a solar system for a low-income homeowner through an eight-week program created under the state’s Future Energy Jobs Act. Elevate Energy partners with Grid Alternatives and others to provide the training.

The U.S. government's Fourth National Climate Assessment, mandated by Congress and released last year, warned of severe effects on the country's economy, health and environment if it does not act to curb the emission of greenhouse gases.

"People who are already vulnerable, including lower-income and other marginalized communities, have lower capacity to prepare for and cope with extreme weather and climate-related events and are expected to experience greater impacts," the report's summary warned. "Prioritizing adaptation actions for the most vulnerable populations would contribute to a more equitable future within and across communities."

The solar panels that were turned on April 23 in the District are on top of a home owned by Dawn Fong, who has lived in her Northeast Washington house for 20 years. All of the energy from the solar panels is available first for her and her daughter’s use; then any excess goes into the power grid. Pepco provides a credit to her bill in the next month.

And after she applied for the solar panels, she learned of a job at Grid Alternatives Mid-Atlantic as an administrative assistant. She applied and was hired.

“With D.C. being a lead in the clean (energy) act, I was very curious about it and thought I would start somewhere,” Fong said.

“I’m really excited about having solar and where that leads me.”

Creating the Workforce of the Future
Grid Alternatives Mid-Atlantic is a subsidiary of a nonprofit organization started in California after the state's 2001 energy crisis. The founders, Erica Mackie and Tim Sears, engineers who were doing large-scale renewable energy projects for the private sector, wanted to make solar technology available to low-income communities.

The organization completed its first installation on a single-family home in San Francisco in 2004, and since then has compiled a record of 11,810 systems producing 49,715 kilowatts to prevent 867,149 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. It has trained 41,427 workers and saved $350 million in electricity costs for participants.

“Not only are we building a distributed power plant one rooftop at a time but we’re also creating the workforce of the future,” Mackie said. “And I think for us it's about how do you really lift up communities and especially communities on the front lines of climate injustice and economic injustice.”

Grid Alternatives now serves families in California and Colorado in addition to the Mid-Atlantic region and tribal communities throughout the country and has partners in Mexico, Nepal and Nicaragua.

"We really have this vision that we can make a transition to clean energy and we can do it a way that includes everyone and isn’t just about access but is really about deep equity," Mackie said. "It’s not about do I have access to solar panels but do I really benefit from those panels? Can I really get that job? Can I have career mobility? Can we really take back our power?"

Grid Alternatives not only installs solar panels on single-family homes, but also on multi-family affordable housing, which enables it to serve renters, and for community solar facilities, which allows someone across town to benefit from the power produced.

Mackie said she thought there was potential for Grid Alternatives expansion in areas where cities and states take the lead in policy, where policy-makers want to create clean energy that is equitable.

"Communities have always said I want to breathe cleaner air, I want to leave a world that is better for my children, I care about trash in my backyard," she said. "And I think that effort only became all the more critical in the absence of leadership at the federal level."

California has been out front in programs for all of its residents in both single and multi-family homes, Leon said. But he cautioned that smaller states do not have the resources to easily replicate California's initiatives.

Donerson, who now installs solar systems on multi-family buildings, had been intrigued since learning about Nikola Tesla, the early 20th century electrical engineer and inventor, and Tesla's early work on solar energy. He hopes to move up to become an energy inspector.

As Fong’s solar panels were activated, a crowd of installers for Grid Alternatives Mid-Atlantic cheered, among them Egan Dales, a former Marine who had received a technical degree in renewable energy and geology. He was self-employed, working as a gardener when he began looking for a short-term job a year ago.

“It was wintertime when I applied,” said Dales, who is studying for a degree in horticultural technologies. “I didn’t have a gardening job for the winter.”

“It’s going wonderful,” he said. “I feel like I’ve learned solar so fast in this amount of time.”

Across the street, a real estate broker, John Britton, watched from a house he was selling.

“Any type of vibrancy or any type of change especially something that’s either environmentally friendly or forward thinking is always a positive for the neighborhood,” he said.

Photo Credit: Noreen O'Donnell
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<![CDATA[Democrats Challenge Trump's UN Nominee on Climate Change]]>Mon, 06 May 2019 14:59:34 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/kelly-kraft1.jpg

Three Democratic senators are calling on President's Donald Trump's nominee for U.N. ambassador to clarify that she will put U.S. interests ahead of her own financial interests when it comes to climate change.

The Democrats say Kelly Craft, who was nominated as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. last week, has invested more than $60 million in oil companies and other fossil fuel interests. Her husband, Joe Craft, is CEO of Alliance Resource Partners, one of the largest U.S. coal producers.

As U.N. ambassador, Craft would represent the United States on climate change, one of the U.N's top global priorities.

Sens. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island urged Craft in a letter to provide "assurances" that she will avoid any conflicts of interest.

The senators also asked Craft to clarify whether she thinks human-caused climate change is real, citing comments she made in 2017 that "both sides of the science" had merit in the climate debate.

"Why have you said that there are 'both sides' to the scientific debate in climate change?" the senators asked Friday in a four-page letter to Craft. "Please describe in detail your understanding of the 'sides' and their positions on climate change, including the evidence and the sources of this information."

Markey and Merkley serve on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will consider Craft's nomination to replace Nikki Haley as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Craft currently serves as U.S. ambassador to Canada.

She and her husband are prominent Republican donors, and Joe Craft donated $1 million to Trump's 2017 inauguration, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a watchdog group.

Craft, a Kentucky native, was backed for the U.N. post by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. McConnell and his wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, are longtime family friends of the Crafts.

McConnell praised Kelly Craft as "an exceptional choice for this critical post" and said her "long record of service to her state and the nation" will enable to "serve with distinction as America's voice to the world at the United Nations."

As U.S. ambassador to Canada, Craft played a role in facilitating the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, a revamp of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump has criticized.

Craft has been ambassador to Canada during a low point in relations between the two counties. Last year, Trump called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weak and dishonest, words that shocked Canadians.

A spokeswoman for the foreign relations panel said a hearing on Craft's nomination has not been scheduled.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Presidential Hopeful Inslee Wants 100% Clean Energy by 2030]]>Fri, 03 May 2019 08:58:24 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/inslee.jpg

Democratic presidential hopeful Jay Inslee, as part of his pledge to make combating climate change the top national priority, is calling for the nation's entire electrical grid and all new vehicles and buildings to be carbon pollution free by 2030.

It's the first major policy proposal from the Washington governor as he tries to gain a foothold in a field of more than 20 candidates.

The plan, the first piece of a series of climate action proposals Inslee will make in the coming weeks, would represent a national shift from coal-powered plants and traditional fuel engines in vehicles, while requiring an overhaul in the way most buildings are heated and cooled. Inslee's outline would require legislation and executive action, some of it similar to what Inslee has pushed during his six-plus years as governor, but on a scale not seen at the federal level.

Inslee, who announced his campaign in March, has not yet attached a public or private cost estimate for a wide-ranging approach that would involve some direct federal spending, tax subsidies and outlays by utilities and the private sector. He argues that doing nothing would cost more and that investments in clean energy will create millions of jobs to spur the economy, with that developing market and targeted government programs ensuring a stable transition for existing coal workers.

"This is the approach that is worthy of the ambitions of a can-do nation and answers the absolute necessity of action that is defined by science," Inslee told The Associated Press, adding that President Donald Trump's denial of climate change will "doom us" to a stagnant or declining economy repeatedly hammered with natural disasters.

"We are already paying through the nose through increased insurance rates and FEMA disaster declarations," Inslee continued. "And there's a heckuva lot more jobs defeating climate change than there are in denying it."

Trump has called climate change a "Chinese hoax," and he used a cold snap that hit much of the nation in January to again cast doubts, tweeting, "People can't last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Waming (sic)? Please come back fast, we need you!" But the Pentagon and the Republican president's intelligence team have mentioned climate change as a national security threat.

Inslee will pitch his proposal Friday in Los Angeles at the city's new clean energy bus depot.

He emphasizes that many U.S. cities and states already have set ambitious timelines for carbon emissions reductions but that there must be national action. Washington state this spring passed a law requiring that all power produced in the state be zero-emission by 2045; California, Hawaii, New Mexico and Puerto Rico have adopted similar requirements.

Inslee's appearance with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who considered a presidential bid, comes days after former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, who's running for president, went to Yosemite National Park to announce his own climate action plan that he says would require $5 trillion of public and private spending to put the economy on track to be carbon neutral by 2050.

Climate change has garnered more attention in the early months of the 2020 nominating fight than it did four years ago, but Inslee noted that he's still the lone major candidate making climate action the centerpiece of a campaign, and he touted his decades of climate advocacy as a member of Congress and as governor.

Inslee, 68, said climate action "has been a lifetime passion for me."

Some highlights of Inslee's proposal:


  • Utilities would be required to achieve 100% carbon neutral electricity production by 2030 and reach zero-emission production by 2035. Inslee proposes refundable tax credits to help spur the development, and his plan calls for "guaranteeing support" for existing energy sector workers who lose jobs or otherwise are negatively affected in a transition to clean energy.

  • All light-duty passenger vehicles, medium-duty trucks and buses would be required to be zero-emission by 2030. Vehicles already in service would be exempted, though a "Clean Cars for Clunkers" program would provide rebates when consumers trade old vehicles for new, zero-emission models. The plan would expand business and individual tax credits to encourage production and purchase of zero-emission vehicles.

  • A national Zero-Carbon Building Standard would be created by 2023, helping states and cities redevelop their own building codes for residential and commercial construction. Tax incentives for builders and buyers would be used to encourage energy efficient heating and cooling systems in construction.

  • All federal agencies would be brought under the 2030 timeline. That includes everything from making the government's vehicle fleet zero-emission to using federal lands and property, including offshore waters, to capture and distribute more wind and solar power.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[1 Million Species Face Human-Caused Extinction: UN Report]]>Mon, 06 May 2019 08:35:24 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/UN-exctinction-report-AP_19125603613806.jpg

Nature is in more trouble now than at any other time in human history, with extinction looming over 1 million species of plants and animals, scientists said Monday in the United Nations' first comprehensive report on biodiversity.

It's all because of humans, but it's not too late to fix the problem, the report said.

Species loss is accelerating to a rate tens or hundreds of times faster than in the past, the report said. More than half a million species on land "have insufficient habitat for long-term survival" and are likely to go extinct, many within decades, unless their habitats are restored. The oceans are not any better off.

"Humanity unwittingly is attempting to throttle the living planet and humanity's own future," said George Mason University biologist Thomas Lovejoy, who has been called the godfather of biodiversity for his research. He was not part of the report.

"The biological diversity of this planet has been really hammered, and this is really our last chance to address all of that," Lovejoy said.

Conservation scientists from around the world convened in Paris to issue the report, which exceeded 1,000 pages. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) included more than 450 researchers who used 15,000 scientific and government reports. The report's summary had to be approved by representatives of all 109 nations.

Some nations hit harder by the losses, like small island countries, wanted more in the report. Others, such as the United States, were cautious in the language they sought, but they agreed "we're in trouble," said Rebecca Shaw, chief scientist for the World Wildlife Fund, who observed the final negotiations.

"This is the strongest call we've seen for reversing the trends on the loss of nature," Shaw said.

The findings are not just about saving plants and animals, but about preserving a world that's becoming harder for humans to live in, said Robert Watson, a former top NASA and British scientist who headed the report.

"We are indeed threatening the potential food security, water security, human health and social fabric" of humanity, Watson told The Associated Press. He said the poor in less developed countries bear the greatest burden.

The report's 39-page summary highlighted five ways people are reducing biodiversity:

— Turning forests, grasslands and other areas into farms, cities and other developments. The habitat loss leaves plants and animals homeless. About three-quarters of Earth's land, two-thirds of its oceans and 85% of crucial wetlands have been severely altered or lost, making it harder for species to survive, the report said.

— Overfishing the world's oceans. A third of the world's fish stocks are overfished.

— Permitting climate change from the burning of fossil fuels to make it too hot, wet or dry for some species to survive. Almost half of the world's land mammals — not including bats — and nearly a quarter of the birds have already had their habitats hit hard by global warming.

— Polluting land and water. Every year, 300 to 400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents and toxic sludge are dumped into the world's waters.

— Allowing invasive species to crowd out native plants and animals. The number of invasive alien species per country has risen 70% since 1970, with one species of bacteria threatening nearly 400 amphibian species.

Fighting climate change and saving species are equally important, the report said, and working on both environmental problems should go hand in hand. Both problems exacerbate each other because a warmer world means fewer species, and a less biodiverse world means fewer trees and plants to remove heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the air, Lovejoy said.

The world's coral reefs are a perfect example of where climate change and species loss intersect. If the world warms another 0.9 degrees (0.5 degrees Celsius), which other reports say is likely, coral reefs will probably dwindle by 70% to 90%, the report said. At 1.8 degrees (1 degree Celsius), the report said, 99% of the world's coral will be in trouble.

"Business as usual is a disaster," Watson said.

At least 680 species with backbones have already gone extinct since 1600. The report said 559 domesticated breeds of mammals used for food have disappeared. More than 40% of the world's amphibian species, more than one-third of the marine mammals and nearly one-third of sharks and fish are threatened with extinction.

The report relies heavily on research by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, which is composed of biologists who maintain a list of threatened species.

The IUCN calculated in March that 27,159 species are threatened, endangered or extinct in the wild out of nearly 100,000 species biologists examined in depth. That includes 1,223 mammal species, 1,492 bird species and 2,341 fish species. Nearly half the threatened species are plants.

Scientists have only examined a small fraction of the estimated 8 million species on Earth.

The report comes up with 1 million species in trouble by extrapolating the IUCN's 25% threatened rate to the rest of the world's species and using a lower rate for the estimated 5.5 million species of insects, Watson said.

Outside scientists, such as Lovejoy and others, said that's a reasonable assessment.

The report gives only a generic "within decades" time frame for species loss because it is dependent on many variables, including taking the problem seriously, which can reduce the severity of the projections, Watson said.

"We're in the middle of the sixth great extinction crisis, but it's happening in slow motion," said Conservation International and University of California Santa Barbara ecologist Lee Hannah, who was not part of the report.

Five times in the past, Earth has undergone mass extinctions where much of life on Earth blinked out, like the one that killed the dinosaurs. Watson said the report was careful not to call what's going on now as a sixth big die-off because current levels don't come close to the 75% level in past mass extinctions.

The report goes beyond species. Of the 18 measured ways nature helps humans, the report said 14 are declining, with food and energy production noticeable exceptions. The report found downward trends in nature's ability to provide clean air and water, good soil and other essentials.

Habitat loss is one of the biggest threats, and it's happening worldwide, Watson said. The report projects 15.5 million miles (25 million kilometers) of new roads will be paved over nature between now and 2050, most in the developing world.

Many of the worst effects can be prevented by changing the way we grow food, produce energy, deal with climate change and dispose of waste, the report said. That involves concerted action by governments, companies and people.

Individuals can help with simple changes to the way they eat and use energy, said the co-chairman of the report, ecological scientist Josef Settele of the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Germany. That doesn't mean becoming a vegetarian or vegan, but balancing meat, vegetables and fruit, and walking and biking more, Watson said.

"We can actually feed all the coming billions of people without destroying another inch of nature," Lovejoy said. Much of that can be done by eliminating food waste and being more efficient, he said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Ben Curtis/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[House Passes Bill to Keep US in Paris Climate Accord]]>Thu, 02 May 2019 14:29:02 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-691687512.jpg

The Democratic-controlled House approved a bill Thursday that would prevent President Donald Trump from fulfilling his pledge to withdraw the United States from the landmark Paris climate agreement and ensure the U.S. honors its commitments under the global accord.

The bill falls far short of the ambitious Green New Deal pushed by many Democrats, but it is the first significant climate legislation approved by the House in nearly a decade. The measure was approved, 231-190, and now goes to the Republican-run Senate, where it is unlikely to move forward. Trump has said he will veto the legislation if it reaches his desk.

Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., head of a House select committee on climate change, said passage of the bill sent an important signal that Democrats are prepared to act on global warming after reclaiming the House majority in last year's elections.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the House bill a "futile gesture to handcuff the U.S. economy through the ill-fated Paris deal" and said it "will go nowhere here in the Senate."

Trump pledged in 2017 to withdraw from the Paris agreement as soon as 2020, dealing a major blow to worldwide efforts to combat global warming and distancing the U.S. from its closest allies. Trump said he was "elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris."

The White House said in a statement this week that the House bill "is inconsistent with the president's commitment to put American workers and families first, promote access to affordable, reliable energy sources and technologies and improve the quality of life for all Americans."

The White House also asserted that the bill would interfere with Trump's constitutional authority to conduct foreign policy, including the power to withdraw from an executive agreement that Congress has not ratified.

The Paris agreement, signed in 2015 by more than 190 counties, is a United Nations initiative intended to bring the world together in the fight against climate change. Signed by President Barack Obama, the pact commits the United States to cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 25 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

The U.S. also pledged $3 billion to a fund that helps developing countries fight climate change.

Democrats said the bill showed that the U.S. will remain a leader on climate issues. "America does not cut and run. America keeps its commitments," Castor said.

Castor noted that she and her family boarded up and fled their Florida home during Hurricane Irma two year ago, and said she understands the urgent need to act on climate change. The House bill "will help us carry out our moral obligation to future generations to tackle this crisis now," she said.

Republicans derided the bill as a largely symbolic effort that would harm the American economy while doing little or nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.

Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican, said the bill would "wreck the economy" and cost as many as 2.7 million American jobs that he said would go to China, India and other countries that do not have to meet goals under the Paris accord until 2030.

"We don't want to lose the great economic gains we have achieved, and we don't want to lose the reduction in carbon emissions that we've been able to achieve over the last 19 years because of ... great innovation in technology that America has always been known for," Scalise said at a news conference. "Let's not yield those kinds of gains to countries like China and India who emit five times more carbon than we do."

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said the Democratic measure was "simply another messaging bill to go on record against President Trump."

Three Republicans voted in favor of the bill: Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Vern Buchanan of Florida and Elise Stefanik of New York.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., the lead House author of the Green New Deal, voted in favor of the bill, but declined a request for comment afterward. Groups aligned with that initiative have complained that the House bill does not go far enough to address climate change.

Major environmental organizations backed the bill and said it made clear that the U.S. intends to keep the promises made in Paris.

"The House is responding to the rising calls, from every quarter, for action to combat the soaring costs and the mounting dangers of climate change," said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In a swipe at McConnell, Suh added: "Blocking this long overdue climate progress would recklessly put the health and future of our children at risk."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[How Your Kitchen Plays a Big Role in Your Carbon Footprint]]>Fri, 26 Apr 2019 16:28:48 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/food+waste+thumb+getty.jpg

When it comes to issues of conservation, Washington residents might be understandably fatigued by consumer-focused restrictions like plastic straw bans or grocery bag fees. But when it comes to food waste, consumers are actually one of the biggest contributors to the third-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

FAO estimates a third of all food is lost or wasted. This issue gets even worse when it comes to produce: Today in North America, roughly 20 percent of all fruits and vegetables are wasted by consumers.

Farmers are wasting about 20 percent of produce as well, but the difference is that farmers’ livelihoods depend on their crop, whereas many consumers don’t yet see directly the cost of the food they’re wasting.

That’s beginning to change though. New businesses are springing up that make a point of illustrating the issue of food waste before presenting consumers with solutions. One example of this is Imperfect Produce, a company that launched in Washington last month.

Imperfect Produce delivers produce that might get rejected by a grocery store to the homes of consumers at a discounted rate. Founder Ben Simon, a Silver Spring native who first started combating food waste in the cafeterias of the University of Maryland, says that the issue is one that consumers need to start taking seriously.

"We’ve really built up this pretty massive consumer movement of people who are willing to overlook the skin-deep cosmetic issues," Simon said, "and look deeper than that and change their purchasing patterns to make a home for these fruits and vegetables in their fridges."

Imperfect Produce works with farmers to harvest food that grocers and large wholesalers reject, like sunburned apples and oddly shaped carrots. This food tastes perfectly fine but wouldn’t get sold through traditional outlets because of cosmetic standards set by the USDA and grocery stores themselves.

"For farmers, this stuff historically, going back decades, has never had an outlet," Simon said. "To be able to now find an outlet and actually make a profit on that produce that they’re growing really feels great to them."

Capturing What’s Left Behind

Of course, buying produce that you ordinarily wouldn’t doesn’t necessarily capture your waste. It’s the leftovers that are causing the biggest issue.

That’s where start-ups like Goodr and Veteran Waste fill in the gap.

Goodr takes leftover food from catering and food service companies and brings them to shelters and non-profits like So Others Might Eat.

Veteran Waste, meanwhile, collects waste from everything from stadiums to single households and composts what they collect, selling that soil back to consumers.

For Goodr founder Jasmine Crowe, the issues of food waste and food insecurity have always been interconnected. Crowe got her start organizing "Sunday Soul" Pop-Up Dinners for homeless people in cities like Atlanta and Washington.

When a video of one of her dinners went viral, people mistakenly reached out to her, thinking she had gotten her food donated and wondering where it came from. That led her to research how much food was being wasted by restaurants and caterers.

"I was very upset and it got me thinking, 'Hey, how about you go about connecting these people?'" Crowe said.

Goodr launched at the beginning of 2017 in Atlanta and immediately began hiring drivers who worked for services like DoorDash to take food from caterers and bring it to the places that needed it. Since Goodr’s arrival in D.C., it’s already hired hundreds of drivers.

"As much as we're spending on innovating on how we're going to get food faster," Crowe said, "we're not innovating on how we're going to address food waste, the climate and how we are going to feed people."

How to Clean Up the Mess We Made

It wasn’t always this way. The amount of food wasted has increased steadily over the past fifty years. According to a report by researchers at the NIH, food waste has increased by 10 percent since 1970, even as agricultural practices evolve to get people food more and more efficiently.

Waste in agriculture, on the other hand, has received considerable attention from national and international agencies. For instance, The United States Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champions, a program started by the EPA in 2016, commits its signatories to reducing their food waste by 50 percent by 2030. Recent signees include Kroger and Hilton.

Washington-area organizations like DC Central Kitchen are stepping up to recover that lost produce and put it on the plates of the people they serve.

Amy Bachman, director of procurement and sustainability at DC Central Kitchen, is a longtime food waste advocate. In her position, she has spearheaded efforts to take good food from farmers through gleaning programs and collecting leftovers from wholesalers and grocery stores. That food is then used for free meals at shelters.

Bachman says that food loss is being taken more seriously now than it was even when she started at DC Central Kitchen eight years ago.

"It was definitely more the conversation where we were reaching out to wholesalers saying ‘Hey, what are you doing with your produce?'" Bachman said.

"While we use food as a tool, we know that food itself will never solve hunger, we know we're not gonna feed our way out of the issue of food and hunger, and so we’re trying to break that cycle of hunger and poverty as well," Bachman said.

Though progress is being made, consumers can still do a variety of things to cut back on food waste themselves. One thing Imperfect Produce recommends people do is organize their fridge so that the oldest food is on top, in plain sight, with newer food down below. That way, when we first open our fridge we’re reminded of what we need to eat first, not what we most recently bought.

Bachman argues that the issue of food insecurity suffers from the same sort of systemic issues as food waste. By thinking more critically about waste, it’s possible that we’ll find we have enough food for everyone.

"The connection for us is obvious: If there's food that is being wasted we'd rather have that, instead of going to a landfill, going to our kitchens," Bachman said. "It's perfectly good food that we want to use to give to families that are struggling to get by."

Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty]]>
<![CDATA[How Climate Change Could Muck Up the Chesapeake's Recovery]]>Fri, 26 Apr 2019 07:05:00 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/633148334-Waterman-oyster-chesapeake.jpg

The Chesapeake Bay was swamped by record rainfall last year. Across the vast watershed, streams swelled with churning water that picked up sediment and chemicals and rushed into the bay, one of the most vibrant and important ecosystems in the country. And oysters suffered.

Watermen say they've been pulling up dead oysters when they fish near rivers. They blame a sudden influx of fresh water that wasn't salty enough for the oysters to survive. Other possible culprits could be what was in the water: a smothering blanket of sediment or nutrients from lawn fertilizer or septic systems that can contribute to algae sucking oxygen from the water.

"It's the largest amount of rain that's ever been recorded. I mean, how do you predict that?" said Robert T. Brown, Sr., president of the Maryland Watermen's Association.

Yet climate scientists are predicting more storms. Due to climate change, storms will likely hit the region more often and drop more rain and snow, a serious danger to go with rising seas and rising temperatures. Any increased runoff from that precipitation would intensify the pollution that federal, state and local governments have worked for decades to mitigate.

"We know it's going to get wetter and wilder in the mid-Atlantic," said Ben Grumbles, Maryland's secretary of the environment.

What experts don't yet know is exactly how that increased precipitation would combine with rising and warming seas and what effect it will may on wildlife. But the Chesapeake Bay Program, a partnership between governments, nonprofits and universities that protects and restores the bay, has begun to gauge the effects of climate change. This month, those efforts went public.

The latest edition of the program's annual Bay Barometer progress report, released in early April, is the first to assess climate change's interactions with the watershed. It finds that air temperature near the Chesapeake has risen 1-3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1901 while sea levels have risen 7-10 inches around the bay since 1960. More new indicators tracking climate change not included in the report are newly available online, as well.

Also this month, Maryland and Virginia, along with Washington, D.C., and the four other states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, released first drafts of their newest water pollution-control strategies, which must now take climate change into account.

The strategies may be tweaked over the next few years, but the Environmental Protection Agency expects them to be in place by 2025. The public can comment on each plan until June 7.

The climate change indicators and the pollution-control plans are some of the most concrete steps taken so far to assess how much the changing climate may change the Chesapeake.

Members of the Chesapeake Bay Program have been talking about climate change for at least 20 years, but the partnership has been working to counter the danger posed by excessive nutrients in the water for longer. The program was founded in 1983, about a decade after the alarm was raised over the bay's underwater grasses beginning a serious decline.

When the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus seep from human development into the waterway, they feed algae blooms. The blooms suck oxygen out of the water when they die and decay, creating dead zones that suffocate plants and animals in the water. The bay's dead zone usually lasts for four or five months each summer, according to the Chesapeake Bay Program, and it has averaged 1.7 cubic miles since 1985.

Excess sediment in the water can block the sunlight that underwater plants need to survive or help carry contaminants and harmful nutrients further into the bay.

The EPA in 2010 put the Chesapeake on what Grumbles called "a one-of-a-kind pollution diet" to cut the amount of nutrients and sediment reaching the bay by about a quarter.

Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and D.C. have a maximum amount of nutrients and sediment that each can let into the bay from the 64,000-square-mile watershed, the country's largest such plan. The EPA also requires the states to provide a detailed watershed implementation plan that explains how to achieve those goals — the latest version is the document submitted this month that factored in climate change.

In a sign that the diet may be working, this year's Bay Barometer report found that, for the third year in a row, underwater grasses are more abundant in the Chesapeake than ever before recorded. But the report also found that toxins like PCBs are also on the rise, found partially or fully impairing up to 83 percent of the bay and its tidal tributaries as of 2016.

"The patient is recovering but the patient has a long way to go yet," said Donald Boesch, an influential marine scientist and former president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

Storms are dangerous because they can dramatically increase the amount of nutrients and sediment in the water through runoff, erosion and dam discharge, along with causing flooding and other physical damage. Some oyster reefs in the Chesapeake never recovered from the torrential Hurricane Agnes in 1972.

And climate science suggests that more precipitation — and intense storms — are on the way. In warmer temperatures, more water evaporates, and that brings heavier and more frequent rain- and snowfall.

The latest U.S. National Climate Assessment, released in November, observed that the Chesapeake Bay watershed is already seeing "stronger and more frequent storms," and that the northeast is likely to see more of both.

The effects of increased precipitation aren't completely clear, Boesch said, given that climate models forecasting precipitation and seasonal patterns differ for the massive estuary and watershed. But other effects of climate change, like the sea level rising faster and temperatures warming, are essentially certain. Even a best-case scenario for the bay includes the sea rising faster than it has in the past, according to Boesch.

"We might lose some species, gain others," he said. "We might be able to achieve that environmental quality that we're striving for. The sea level though … is going to continue to rise."

The worst-case scenario, if carbon emissions go unchecked, would be 3-5 feet of sea level rise by the end of the century, he said. That would likely be enough to flood Baltimore's historic waterfront, parts of the Virginia Air and Space Center in Hampton and large swaths of Maryland's Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge as they stand today, according to a federal sea level rise tool. In the following centuries, the sea would rise tens of feet beyond that, Boesch said.

At the base of the bay, Norfolk, Virginia, is one of the U.S. cities most likely to see sea level rise in the coming years. In fact, it already has more "sunny day flooding" that makes it tough to get around, according to councilwoman Andria McClellan.

Home to a major port and an important naval shipyard, Norfolk revamped its zoning code to account for climate change, effectively ceding parts of the city to rising seas while requiring new buildings by the water to be elevated above the level of a 100-year flood, according to a 2018 Inside Climate News report on the change.

The city also launched a nonprofit "resilience accelerator" called RISE to foster new ideas for climate adaptation. Last week, RISE awarded $1.5 million to fund six entrepreneurial ideas, including a concrete-based oyster reef habitat system and technology that would transfer energy from vehicle traffic on roadways to pumps that would clear the roads of flooding.

The city isn't "throwing up our hands in the air and retreating" but trying to take advantage of the difficult position it finds itself in by innovating, McClellan said. 

"We're the tip of the spear. Every coastal community in America is going to have to deal with what we're dealing with in Norfolk," she said.

Climate change is also believed to be warming the oceans, which can stress some species, increase their susceptibility to diseases and, because warmer water holds less oxygen, worsen dead zones, Boesch said. If the bay warms, it will make it more difficult for colder-water species like the soft-shell clam to prosper; New England lobster fisheries are already seeing the lobster shift to the north.

Another victim of higher temperatures could be the underwater grasses like eelgrass, which provides an important habitat for animals like the Chesapeake's famed blue crab, according to Boesch. While the crab likely won't be stressed by a few degrees of warming, they look for protection and food in the eelgrass, and losing it could cause a "critical" drop in the crab's population in the bay.

It's less clear how climate change affects oysters than some other species, said Stephanie Westby, Chesapeake oyster restoration program manager for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They live in a wide range of salinities, and while too much fresh water can kill them, some oyster diseases thrive in saltier water, so it will take time to learn how they adapt to changes in the bay.

Oysters have also been dealing with existential threats since long before climate change became a global issue. Thanks in large part to overfishing that began in the colonial period, the Chesapeake oyster population is less than 1% of its historic level, and even lower in some places, Westby said. Depleted oyster reefs are more vulnerable to being smothered by sediment or suffocated by decomposing algae blooms.

That's bad for the watermen who fish oysters, but also bad for the health of the bay. Oysters filter feed, cleaning dozens of gallons a day, and if they were more plentiful, they would likely have a measurable affect on reducing water pollution across the bay.

"We've got more people, we've got more development, we've got more of everything in the watershed and then we've got more storms, and all that washes down into the Chesapeake," Westby said, adding, "we've largely removed one of the very few mechanisms that the bay has to get that stuff out."

The Bay Barometer has some good news about oyster restoration efforts: two of 10 tributaries selected for projects have completed reef construction and seeding.

The projects will only add a few thousand acres of reef to the bay, but Westby said they're great for the local ecosystem. She's buoyed by an "astounding" recent study that found the $28.6 million spent on reef restoration at Harris Creek, Maryland, will result in an estimated $3 million a year in removal of nitrogen and phosphorus.

And she hopes that ramping up oyster production through a thriving, private oyster farming industry would bring multiple benefits to the region through a "local and sustainable food source that's actually good for the environment."

That would at least help humans in the Chesapeake on one front in the fight to adapt to the changing climate.

One simple way for anyone to contribute is to use alternatives to herbicide, the source of the algae-feeding nutrients, on weeds in the yard, according to the Chesapeake Bay Program. It also recommends common conservation tips, like reducing emissions, buying native plants and using less water.

Boesch, who was named an admiral of the Chesapeake by former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley for "extraordinary commitment" to conserving and restoring the bay, thinks it's feasible to keep global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the goal set in the Paris climate accords.

"I see signs in various parts of the word we're at least beginning to turn the ship around and head in the right direction," he said.

Noreen O'Donnell and Wendy Rieger contributed to this report.

Photo Credit: Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images, File
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<![CDATA[UK Climate Panel Sets Big Goals: Less Meat, Electric Cars]]>Thu, 02 May 2019 13:01:56 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/britain-climate-protest.jpg

The U.K. should eliminate almost all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 by rapidly adopting policies that will change everything from the way people heat their homes to what they eat, an independent committee that advises the British government on climate change recommended Thursday.

A report from the Committee on Climate Change said the government must adopt ambitious goals if it wants to be a leader in the fight against global warming and limit the impact of climate change.

While Britain has laid the groundwork to achieve net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases, existing plans "must be urgently strengthened" because "current policy is not enough even for existing targets," the committee said.

The panel says the government should reduce the demand for energy overall, increase the electrification of the British economy, develop hydrogen fuel technology, plant more trees and set ambitious targets for carbon capture and storage.

It also calls for reduced consumption of meat and dairy products, changes in how farmers operate and a requirement for electric vehicles to be the only option by 2035.

"We can all see that the climate is changing and it needs a serious response," committee chairman John Gummer said. "The government should accept the recommendations and set about making the changes needed to deliver them without delay."

Environmental groups welcomed the findings, but the proposals could be seen as daunting to some businesses and the government.

Prime Minister Theresa May is under pressure to act more boldly on climate change after a visit by teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg and 10 days of protests that shut down traffic in central London and put the issue squarely on Britain's political agenda.

Parliament voted Wednesday for a non-binding motion from the main opposition Labour Party urging Britain to declare a "climate emergency."

Some activists have called for Britain to set a 2025 target for net-zero emissions.

The committee said it considered earlier net-zero target dates, but 2050 was the most credible goal.

"An earlier date has been proposed by some groups and might send a stronger signal internationally to those considering increasing their own ambition, but only if it's viewed as credible," the panel said.

Environmentalists at the National Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the WWF and the Women's Institute and Woodland Trust said the panel's work showed that reaching net-zero emissions is both necessary and feasible.

While the alliance of environmental groups applauded the committee's decision to target all greenhouse gases — not just carbon — and to include shipping and aviation emissions in its calculations, it said it believes Britain should move faster and strive to achieve the goal by 2045.

"The problem is, we've been acting as if we have time," said Gareth Redmond-King, head of climate change at WWF, formerly known as the World Wildlife Fund. "But if we want a world with coral reefs, safe coastal cities and enough food for everyone, we must act now."

The government said it would respond to the recommendations "in due course."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Changing Climate May Contribute to Increase in Skin Cancer]]>Fri, 26 Apr 2019 09:04:53 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/leta+brown.jpg

Leta Brown detected a brown spot on her leg that just wouldn’t go away. When the preschool teacher from Middletown, Maryland, finally went to see a doctor to check out the blotch she learned she had a tumor the size of a football.

Brown, a married mother of two, was diagnosed with metastic melanoma — the deadliest form of skin cancer.

“It was a really grim prognosis,” she said. “The doctors I saw at the time were sort of telling me to get my affairs in order.”

And the cancer was spreading.

“I also had tumors in my small intestines and in my lungs,” Brown said.

She believes it was likely caused by sun exposure and frequent sun burns as a child.

"We just didn't really use sunscreen when I was a kid,” she said. “It just wasn't really used widespread at the time, so I didn't even really think about being safe in the sun until I was older."

Exposure to UVB radiation from the sun causes non-melanoma skin cancer and is linked to increased risk of melanoma development, according to the National Cancer Institute. People with fair skin, like Brown, or who are sun-sensitive are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer, the federal agency said. Doctors have long warned of the dangers from overexposure to UV radiation after scientists first sounded the alarm on the human-induced depletion of Earth’s protective ozone layer. While studies show the ozone is finally healing from the damage 30 years later, its recovery is now being threatened by new emissions of banned ozone-depleting chemicals and a newly discovered link between climate change and ozone depletion.

According to the American Cancer Society, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. The most common forms of skin cancer in the U.S. are basal cell and squamous cell, and usually treatable. Melanoma is less common and accounts for only 1% of all skin cancers but causes the vast majority of skin cancer deaths.

The ozone layer works as an atmospheric shield absorbing ultraviolet radiation from the sun, particularly harmful UVB rays. In the 1970s, scientists first realized that the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), man-made chemicals commonly used in aerosol sprays and refrigerator coolants, were eating away at the ozone and increasing the amount of UVB radiation that reaches the Earth’s surface.

By 1987, several countries, including the U.S., agreed in the Montreal Protocol to phase out CFCs and businesses were forced to come up with replacements for spray cans and other uses. As a result, the ozone began a decades-long process to heal from the damage, one that is now being threatened.

A study led by NOAA scientists and published in Nature in May 2018 found emissions of another banned ozone-depleting chemical, trichlorofluoromethane, or CFC-11, are on the rise and interfering with the recovery of Earth’s damaged ozone layer. Once commonly used as a foaming agent and in insulation, production of CFC-11 was supposed to have stopped as of 2010, according to the report. The illicit emissions are believed to be coming out of East Asia, the report noted.

"We're raising a flag to the global community to say, 'This is what's going on, and it is taking us away from timely recovery from ozone depletion,'" NOAA scientist Stephen Montzka, lead author of the report, said in a new release.

To make matters worse, new research has linked for the first time climate change and ozone depletion. James Anderson, an atmospheric chemist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and his colleagues found that powerful summer thunderstorms in the Great Plains region inject water vapor far higher into the stratosphere than previously believed, where the moisture triggers the same type of ozone-depleting chemical reaction that occurs over the polar regions and causes the ozone hole. Climate change could be an underlying cause because it can supercharge summertime thunderstorms. Global warming feeds warmth and moisture into the atmosphere, and that fuels instability, Anderson said in a news release announcing the study’s findings.

"If you were to ask me where this fits into the spectrum of things I worry about, right now it's at the top of the list," Anderson said in a news release. "What this research does is connect, for the first time, climate change with ozone depletion, and ozone loss is directly tied to increases in skin cancer incidence, because more ultraviolet radiation is penetrating the atmosphere."

The prevalence of melanoma has rapidly increased over the past 30 years, studies show. The ACS estimates in 2019, 96,480 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the U.S. and the disease is expected to cause more than 7,000 deaths. And while the rise in skin cancer is likely due to UV exposure, studies have also “attributed the rising incidence of melanoma to an increase in diagnostic scrutiny rather than an actual increase in the incidence of disease,” according to the National Institute of Health. Still, the World Health Organization predicts a 10% increase in skin cancer incidence among the U.S. population by 2050.

The American Cancer Society recommends avoiding the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and says don’t allow yourself to get sunburned in order to lower the risk of melanoma. The group also warns against using tanning beds and advises to wear protective clothing like pants, long-sleeve shirts, hats and sunglasses when possible. Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, the group suggests using a water-resistant, broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher and reapply it every two hours or after swimming or sweating. Examine your skin from head-to-toe every month and if you notice a new or changing mole, contact a dermatologist immediately to get it checked out.

Leta Brown, meanwhile, remains cancer free six years after her diagnosis thanks to advances in cancer treatment. Brown signed up for an immunotherapy clinical trial at Georgetown's Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in 2013. Three to four months into the clinical trial, Brown said there was no evidence of disease. The treatment regimen for advanced melanoma has since been approved by the FDA.

“That really has taken this cancer that had only a 10 percent chance of people being alive at two years and changing that chance of survival to 60, 70 or, in our heads, 80 percent,” said Dr. Michael Atkins, deputy director of the center.

The disease took a toll on Brown’s body. She walks with a brace after suffering nerve damage from surgery, and the cancer drugs had some side effects, too.

But she's grateful.

“I hope the reason why I was able to have all of this good fortune will manifest in some way that I am able to serve other people,” she said.

Photo Credit: NBCWashington]]>
<![CDATA[Changing Climate Means Longer Mosquito Season]]>Wed, 24 Apr 2019 17:50:45 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/new+draper+mosquitoes.jpg

As the Earth warms and climate changes, the D.C. region is also seeing its mosquito season grow. Higher temperatures and increased humidity have extended the mosquito reproduction season grow by a month, making areas suitable for Asian Tiger Mosquitoes increase by 43 to 49 percent by the end of this century. Storm Team4 Meteorologist Amelia Draper has more]]>
<![CDATA[DC Region Gets Failing Grade on Air Quality Measure: Report]]>Wed, 24 Apr 2019 10:54:04 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/gettyimages-2548942-594x594.jpg

It may be getting more difficult to breathe easy in the D.C. metro region, according to a new report from the American Lung Association (ALA).

The District received an F grade for ozone pollution, also known as smog, after suffering through an average of 4.7 high-ozone days annually from 2015-2017, according to the report.

There were 14 orange days, meaning unhealthy conditions for sensitive populations, including children and teens, older adults and those with asthma, COPD, diabetes or other lung issues.

More than 9.7 million people are considered at-risk in the greater D.C.-Baltimore-Arlington block, which extends to upper Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

The good news is ozone days are down from any period since 2012-2014 and an all-time high in the 1990s, according to ALA data.

There's troubling data, as well: High-ozone days are up from 2013-2015 and 2014-2016.  The D.C. area has only snagged a passing grade once.

Ozone is an invisible gas molecule that's harmful to breathe, the ALA says. When the compound stays high up in the atmosphere, it protects us from ultraviolet sunlight. But at ground level it can cause serious health issues  including breathing problems, increased risk for respiratory infections, cardiovascular effects and premature death.

The annual "State of the Air" report for 2019 says that our region isn't alone and data suggests a growing number of cities are facing rising pollution levels. A warmer climate played a major role in the increase in unhealthy air days, according to the report, which covered three of the hottest years on record (2015-2017).

Washington-area residents fare better when it comes to 24-hour particle pollution, which received a B grade from the ALA. Since the 2007-2009 period, D.C. has averaged fewer than 3.2 days with dangerous particle pollution.

Annual particle pollution levels have passed the ALA's standards since the 2008-2010 period.

The American Lung Association has tips on how to protect yourself from unhealthy air

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[How Countries Around the World Are Dealing With Climate Change]]>Tue, 23 Apr 2019 08:11:18 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/climate-change-globe.jpg

From trading recyclable items for transportation passes to requiring all public buses be electric, countries are thinking of creative ways to reduce carbon emissions. Climate change continues to threaten countries on every continent. Here is a look at what some of the top polluters and most eco-friendly countries are doing to try to curb their greenhouse gas emissions.


Newly elected President Jair Bolsonaro frightened conservationists during his campaign as he promised to roll back protections for the Amazon rainforest. Earlier this month, Bolsonaro said he would cut the budget of the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation and Communication in half. While the president is not focused on combating climate change, Curitibia, a sustainable city in Brazil, is setting an example for the rest of the country. Curitiba recycles 70% of its waste and has an incentive program where citizens can exchange recyclables for bus tickets, food, or books.


Chile was the first country in Latin America to set a binding renewable energy generation target. By 2025, 20 percent of Chile’s energy will come from renewable sources. At the beginning of this month, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera told reporters that Chile will urge countries participating in the UN Climate Change Conference to create more ambitious commitments to tackle climate change. Pinera said the Paris Agreement could not “prevent the world from continuing on a path that could end in tragedy.”


Home to some of the world’s worst air pollution, China is making an effort to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 60 to 65% by 2030. In 2014, China claimed its spot as the world's number one investor in renewable energy, spending $83.3 billion on mainly hydroelectric, wind, and solar power. China aims to spend $360 billion on renewable energy by 2020. Additionally, with President Donald Trump moving to end the US-China trade war, global automakers want to make China the lead exporter in electric vehicles.


Copenhagen, a city where the total number of bikes outnumbers the total number of cars, has been hailed as “Europe’s Green Capital.” The capital aims to be the world's first carbon-neutral city by 2025. By the end of 2019, all buses will be electric. Copenhagen also started an initiative to plant 100,000 new trees by the end of 2025.

European Union

In 2005, the European Union launched the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme that is operational in all 28 member states in addition to Iceland, Norway, and Liechtenstein. It is the largest greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme and covers 45 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU.


Given its massive population and high levels of poverty, the impact of climate change could be devastating in India. A report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in October warned of horrific consequences if current global warming trends continue. The report says the effects of a 2.7 degree Fahrenheit increase in global temperatures will "disproportionately affect disadvantaged and vulnerable populations through food insecurity, higher food prices, income losses, lost livelihood opportunities, adverse health impacts, and population displacements." Some things India has done to reduce climate change include setting average fuel consumption standards for passenger cars which will lead to a 22.97 million metric ton reduction in fuel consumption. India has also set targets to significantly increase its use of solar energy and wind power with the goal of increasing its non-fossil fuel energy sources to 40% of total energy sources by 2030.


Indonesia is home to the world's 16th largest economy, and its economic success is impacting the environment. The country is the world's fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gases due to the conversion of its forests. Sixty percent of Jakarta’s population has suffered fromair-pollution related breathing problems. In response, Indonesia committed to cut emissions by 29% from current levels by 2030. It has targeted approximately 31 million acres for social forestry, a program that allows farmers to use designated forest plots legally for up to 35 years, and ecosystem restoration as part of its national development plan.


While President Trump considers immigration the crisis in the border region, Mexican leaders and California state lawmakers view high levels of air and water pollution as the real crisis. In 2012, Mexico became one of the first of the developing countries to pass a climate change law which outlined the country’s goal to reduce emissions by 50% by 2050. Mexico is aiming to cut deforestation rates to zero by 2030 and to have 40% of its energy come from low-emission energy sources by 2035. Climate change is devastating agricultural productivity in Mexico by causing record-setting droughts.

South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa, gets 10% to 20% of its energy from renewable sources. South Africa’s 2030 energy plan aims to reduce coal generated power to less than 50% and replace it with renewable energy such as wind and solar power. While the country is making efforts to combat climate change, South African companies are concerned that a carbon tax will lead to a loss in operations.

Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[How a Changing Climate Impacts Our Weather and Our World]]>Mon, 22 Apr 2019 21:11:22 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/climate+tryptich.jpg

Average temperatures around the globe have risen 1.5 degrees over the past century, mostly in the past 30 years.

In fact, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the last five years were the five hottest on record.

When it comes to this unprecedented change, human activity is to blame.

Much like a traditional greenhouse, Earth’s atmosphere works to trap in heat and radiation from the sun. The gases that make up our atmosphere are the glass to Earth’s greenhouse.

This effect, on its own, is important for life on Earth. In fact, our planet would be about 60 degrees cooler without it.

However, human activity is shifting the natural balance of our atmosphere by dramatically increasing the levels of greenhouse gases.

These gases, like carbon dioxide, are created when humans burn fossil fuels, something we’ve been doing as a species at an increasing rate since the 20th century.

In fact, NOAA says in 2013 the Earth’s atmosphere reached 400 ppm of carbon dioxide for the first time in recorded history. 

These changes in our atmosphere have dramatic effects on our weather patterns. Sea level rise, severe droughts, massive wildfires and devastating floods can all be traced to the extreme changes our climate is undergoing. Summer heat and winter storms also are becoming more extreme. 

Climate change is a scientific fact, agreed upon by 97 percent of scientists.

The Paris Climate Agreement, accepted by almost every country on the planet except for the United States, which backed out shortly after President Donald Trump entered office, sets clear goals on curtailing humans’ contributions to climate change.

The agreement sets a goal of preventing a modern temperature rise of 2 degrees. If climate change does reach this level, it could cause crop failure for wheat and soy, the widespread collapse of coral reefs and marine life, and other unprecedented effects beyond the extreme weather events we already see.

Photo Credit: Getty Images; Noah Berger/AP; Phil Walter/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[How Solar Power Gets to Maryland Homes Without Any Panels]]>Mon, 22 Apr 2019 21:19:12 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/solar+farm.jpg

Even after he traded his life in the fast line for a spin in the bike lane, Stu Simon wanted to do more to slash his carbon footprint.

"I've been looking around, what can I do without drastically changing my lifestyle, but to help things," Simon said.

Powering his home with solar energy seemed like the best next step — but Simon learned his townhouse roof is too small to install panels.

"So, what's my option?"

Turns out, there is one: A Maryland company is seeking to connect consumers to the solar grid, even if they can't install panels because of cost or space issues.

Nautilis Solar Energy runs the largest residential community solar farm in the Washington, D.C., region, with more than 19,000 solar panels built atop a former Prince George's County landfill.

Those panels supply power to nearly 1,200 Pepco customers in Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

"Not only is it green power, you know, renewable, but it's actually also a discount," said Jim Rice, CEO and Co-Founder of Nautilus.

So how does it work? And how does clean power get to your home?

Residents can subscribe to a community solar project. Their share of panels deliver electricity to the local grid, which delivers power to subscribers' homes.

Solar credits are then reflected on the subscriber's Pepco bill. Companies guarantee savings of at least 5 percent.

"This is an incredible way to support solar without having to invest a single penny and you're getting a discount," says Gary Sculink, CEO and founder of Maryland-based community solar company Neighborhood Sun.

It's free to subscribe to this community solar project. Participants can expect two bills in the mail: One from the community solar company billing that is for your solar usage, and another from Pepco. The Pepco bill should show a solar credit discount and will also charge for any non-solar energy used.

Here is more info on how to switch to clean energy in Maryland, D.C and Virginia. 

Photo Credit: Chopper4]]>
<![CDATA[Broccoli City Wants to Make the Environment Cool Again]]>Tue, 23 Apr 2019 06:57:47 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/Coopergardenandcommunity.jpg

You might recognize the name Broccoli City as an annual music and culture festival popular in D.C. for its incredible lineup. But you might not know that the festival's main mission is driving millennials to tackle environmental issues.

Broccoli City isn't just about the festival. Co-founder Darryl Perkins has also developed an app called CHIP-N, which encourages people to volunteer for local environmental outreach programs and earn points toward gift cards and music festival tickets.

The app's purpose aligns with the festival's: "getting youth active, getting their hands dirty," Perkins said, in hopes of making them care more about the environment.

As part of the festival's mission, the organizers also partner with Green Scheme, an organization designed to provide environmental education to urban populations. Green Scheme brings children to "learning gardens" to teach them gardening techniques, the business of food production and the impact of food on health.

"You can't make a mistake in this garden," said Ronnie Webb, founder and executive director of Green Scheme. "We don't get mad if a kid plants the cabbage too close to the lettuce. As long as you see it develop you can make a more informed decision about what you eat."

Part of Broccoli City's mission statement is to promote environmental sustainability and renewable energy, but their ideas to help slow the impact of climate change don't stop there.

"One of the big things we can do to help the planet is to go a day without meat ... or maybe even [just] a meal without meat," Perkins said. "It's something small, but if enough people do it, it makes a huge difference."

The organizers know that it will to take much more than themselves to see real environmental impact, so they're trying to mobilize millennials in particular to make changes for future generations.

"We're all looking forward to the future and taking care of our kids, our kids' kids, and we have to take care of our little blue planet but it starts with us," Perkins said.

Photo Credit: Bryan Francis]]>
<![CDATA[Climate Change Threatens Chesapeake Bay Oysters]]>Mon, 06 May 2019 08:04:22 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Chesapeake_Bay_Oysters_in_Jeopardy.jpg

The health of the Chesapeake Bay is in jeopardy as we continue to see more extreme weather events. News4's Wendy Rieger explains how a record rainfall killed much of the bay's oysters and the negative impact climate change has on the area's economy.]]>
<![CDATA[What to Expect for DC's Future Climate as the Earth Warms]]>Mon, 22 Apr 2019 20:40:28 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/TidalBasin_0500_crSamKittner.jpg

Expect muggier summers, regular flooding and heavy rainstorms in and around the District if climate change goes unchecked, the Environmental Protection Agency and the District Department of Energy and Environment warn.

March 2019 was the second warmest March on record, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported. But even more concrete is the real effects that will be apparent in the D.C. as the Earth gets warmer.

Coupled with effects such as extended allergy seasons and more time for mosquitoes to reproduce in the area, these changes may substantially alter the quality of life in the Washington area within a generation, warns Storm Team4 meteorologist Amelia Draper.

To get a taste of what D.C. will feel like in 60 years, scientists say all you need to do is take a trip to Greenwood, Mississippi. There, warmer and wetter summers are the norm, and subtropical climates from the Deep South could be in store for the DMV within a generation, Matt Fitzpatrick, a professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, told News4.

"It's safe to say that all seasons will be warmer, on an order of eight to ten degrees warmer on average," Fitzpatrick said. "All seasons will be wetter."

Fitzpatrick, whose recent study in the journal Nature Communications draws on climate projections from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, estimates that climates will shift 530 miles, meaning the D.C. area could feel more like the Deep South by 2080.

"In essence, not a lot of snow, not a lot of days with deep frost, so subtropical," Fitzpatrick said.

This combination of heat, humidity and heat waves poses a range of threats to quality of life for residents in the D.C. area.

Draper also noted that increasing rainfall in the D.C. area would add to another more visible problem: flooding along the Anacostia and Potomac riverfronts.

At the Tidal Basin, for example, flooding of pedestrian walkways has become a regular occurrence, overflowing 30 times per year. That kind of flooding used to only happen about six times during the 1950s.

And warmer temperatures mean longer growing seasons in the Mid-Atlantic region, lengthening the timing of pollen production, mosquito reproduction and even a greater chance for new diseases to develop.

For example, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America warn that a warming climate extends the allergy seasons and can make air pollution worse. The foundation reports that between 1995 and 2011, warmer temperatures have extended the pollen season by 11 to 27 days, creating more pollen and stronger allergens in the air.

"We'd also expect insects that are currently limited to the Southeast would have no problem establishing themselves here," Fitzpatrick said. "Disease is a complicated thing. They often need vectors. That's been a pattern we already see with some diseases from more tropical areas."

But Fitzpatrick said D.C. area residents should not relegate themselves to this fate.

"We all contribute to the problem so we all can contribute to the solution," Fitzpatrick said. "If people think this is important and they are alarmed by it, I would suggest they get out and vote for policies in line with their concern."

Photo Credit: Sam Kittner/National Trust for Historic Preservation]]>
<![CDATA[Climate Change is Causing Billion-Dollar Disasters in US]]>Fri, 26 Apr 2019 08:51:31 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/billion+dollar+disaster+thumb.jpg

In the last five years, the rate of billion dollar disasters per year has doubled since 1980. This is caused in part by our warming atmosphere and oceans supercharging storms. Storm Team4's Amelia Draper explains.]]>
<![CDATA[Metro Rolls Out Wide-Ranging Plan to Cut Its Energy Use]]>Mon, 22 Apr 2019 21:02:02 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/shutterstock_64590865.jpg

Metro is taking on a plan to cut its energy use and carbon footprint — an endeavor so wide-ranging that it could be the equivalent of taking 35,000 cars off the road per year. 

"Everybody is affected by climate change, and so this is something that we have put a focus on," said Sherri Ly, WMATA spokesperson.

Metro revealed its first-ever energy action plan on Monday, coinciding with Earth Day. The goal is to reduce the transit agency's energy use, contain operating costs and guide sustainable growth.

"Every day, Metro reduces the carbon footprint of the National Capital Region by providing public transit to nearly one million riders," the report states.

But it takes a lot of energy to power all those trains and buses. The report is a serious internal checkup to see how Metro can cut its energy consumption, which in turn would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Energy costs are Metro's largest expense outside of personnel, the report says. Increasing sustainability won't only help Metro reach environmental goals; it's also necessary to help with long-term cost reductions, the report said.

Some of the efforts sound small, but they could still have a big impact.

"Well, it's as simple as changing lightbulbs," said Rachel Healy, sustainability director at WMATA. "We are changing every single lightbulb in the system" to LED bulbs, which require less energy.

Other strategies include capturing and storing the energy given off when trains brake, using more solar panels, buying electric buses, and even looking at more efficient bus boarding and payment systems to cut down on idling.

"I think the agency as a whole is looking at sustainability as something that is important not only to Metro, but to the entire region," Ly said.

So what actions can you take on your own?

Leave the keys at home, for starters. The travel choices we make every day have a direct impact on the planet. Cars and trucks account for nearly one-fifth of all U.S. emissions, according to Climate Central. Your vehicle likely spews out about 20 pounds of unwanted carbon dioxide for every gallon of gas burned. That's about a pound of carbon dioxide for every mile you drive, and it's all going straight into the atmosphere.

"Every Metrorail trip uses 40 percent less greenhouse gases, than if you were to drive in a car all by yourself," Ly said.

If you want to pitch in and make an immediate impact, try parking your car one or two days a week to start, and walk, bike, carpool or take public transport.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[DC Heads to 100% Renewable Energy, a Symbolic Move for the Country]]>Fri, 26 Apr 2019 11:15:36 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/tulip-capitol.jpg

As the Trump administration moves to dismantle federal laws to curb greenhouse gas emissions, Washington, D.C., is working to bring renewable energy to the White House and the rest of the city.

Under a law approved in December, the District of Columbia will require that all of its electricity come from renewable sources by 2032, the most ambitious timetable in the country. Federal buildings would be included.

"It’s doable, it works, it’s not some pie-in-the-sky idea," said Mark Rodeffer, the chairman of the Sierra Club’s Washington, D.C., chapter, which backed the law. "In 13 years, the U.S. Capitol is going to be powered by electricity that is 100 percent from wind and solar. At the same time, some climate deniers in the Capitol are going to be saying this is impossible to do, but they’re going to be saying that under lights that are powered by wind and solar, disproving the argument that they’re making."

Washington, D.C., has the tightest deadline, but it follows the lead of Hawaii and California, both of which earlier committed to 100 percent clean energy by 2045. Hawaii, the most petroleum-dependent of the 50 states, acted in 2015 and California, a leader in environmental advances, voted last fall. More than 100 cities also have have pledged to move to completely clean, renewable energy, and a half a dozen smaller ones have already reached that goal, according to the Sierra Club.

Cities account for more than three-quarters of primary energy use but also are the most vulnerable to power disruptions linked to climate change, notes C40 Cities, a network of the world’s mega-cities that are addressing climate change. Ninety percent of all urban areas are on a coast, at risk from flooding from rising sea levels and powerful storms. Seventy percent of cities are already seeing the effects of climate change.

When Donald Trump was elected president, questioning whether climate change was real and promising he would gut attempts to cut carbon emissions, officials looked for ways to keep environmental progress headed forward. Absent a strong federal presence, cities, states and companies have taken the lead.

One of Trump’s early policy decisions as president was to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement, a worldwide attempt to confront climate change. In response, D.C. has banded together with New York, Los Angeles and other C40 cities to meet the agreement's goals — primarily to keep the global temperature increase this century to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to try to limit the temperature rise even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

"Tying the work that we do in our city to other cities and what we do as a nation is hugely important," Washington D.C.'s mayor, Muriel Bowser, said this week. "We must also always keep in mind how we can close income gaps, promote economic and environmental justice in the work that we do."

"But until our entire nation is moving in the same direction we take our local responsibility to build a greener and more sustainable city and a future city even more seriously because we’re acting on the local level, almost alone," she said.

The Clean Energy D.C. Act of 2018 is expected to cut emissions in half by 2032. By 2041, 10 percent of the electricity must come from solar facilities located in the District of Columbia or within the area of the regional transmission organization that serves the District, PJM Interconnection. PJM Interconnection coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity in the District, Maryland, Virginia and all or parts of 11 other states.

The aim is to make the city carbon neutral by 2050. 

"The residents of Washington, D.C., expect local government to provide leadership to mitigate global warming," said Tommy Wells, the director of the District’s Department of Energy and Environment.

The act also encourages the purchase of electric vehicles and requires that all public transportation and privately owned fleet vehicles to become emissions-free by the year 2045.

It strengthens energy efficiency standards for new and existing buildings, which account for 74 percent of Washington D.C.'s greenhouse gas emissions. The District is the first jurisdiction to mandate buildings meet energy performance standards, which will be based on federal energy efficiency criteria, Wells said. Within five years every building must create a plan for meeting the standards, or the District will impose one. A green energy bank, funded with up to $100 million, will help multi-family buildings with affordable housing, he said.

The new requiremens are meant to bring additional, clean energy production online -- solar and wind though not nuclear power and hydropower -- and to move the district's electricity supplier away from purchasing energy credits in favor of long-term contracts.

"It’s a matter of supply and demand," Rodeffer said. "People will build more wind and solar farms because the demand is increasing. So that will expand renewable energy production, which is what this is all about."

Activists are hoping other municipalities and states will follow the lead of the nation’s capital. Maryland’s General Assembly passed a bill earlier this month that mandates half of the state’s electricity supply comes from renewable sources by 2030. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed a similar bill in 2016, but Democrats overrode his veto to set the current goal of 25 percent. Maryland’s secretary of the environment, Benjamin Grumbles, said this week that the governor’s office was reviewing the new bill.

Since California passed its 100 percent renewable electricity standard last year, at least nine states, including Connecticut, Illinois, Maine and New York, were considering similar proposals, The Los Angeles Times noted. The biggest challenge facing California is its reliance on natural gas.

Renewable energy now provides just a small percentage of electricity to customers who get their electricity from D.C.'s primary electricity supplier, Pepco Holdings -- which is about 84 percent of its 308,000 customers. The remainder purchase their energy through an alternative supplier. 

For the first six months of last year, renewable energy was the source of just 5.8 percent of the District's electricity. Renewable energy credits, certificates that can be traded, made up the difference of a 16.5 percent renewable requirement.

The source of most of the District's electricity was nuclear at 35.3 percent, followed by coal at 29.8 percent, natural gas at 28.7 percent, and oil at 0.3 percent.

"We’ve been taking the stand for a long time now that climate change is real, we have to act, we have to act urgently, and we have to use all available carbon-free technologies that we have at our disposal today and we should be creating policies that encourage innovative and that allow us to take advantage any new carbon-free technologies that develop tomorrow," said Pepco’s senior vice president of governmental and external affairs, Melissa Lavinson.

"Our focus is on carbon and carbon reduction, what investments are needed, what can we do, what can others do and how can we work together to most expeditiously and affordably achieve our climate change goals."

The need to act was heightened by last year’s report from the United Nations scientific panel on climate change, which warned that the immediate consequences would be much worse than thought. The report, the first commissioned under the Paris agreement, describes wildfires, a mass die-off of coral reefs and food shortages if the world’s economy was not changed at an unprecedented speed.

The Fourth National Climate Assessment, a separate report by 300 federal and non-governmental agencies that was released on Black Friday, outlined the real-time effects of climate change across the U.S., broken down by region. 

"Americans increasingly recognize the risks climate change poses to their everyday lives and livelihoods and are beginning to respond," the report said.

Economists such as Noah Kaufman, a researcher who works on energy and climate change policy at Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy, favor a national approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change is a global problem which should be tackled at the highest levels of government, he said.

"It’s also really important to make sure that we are reducing emissions cost effectively because if we’re serious about deep emissions cuts, getting to a truly low carbon economy, that implies a real transformation of our energy system which means big changes to our economy," said Kaufman, a former deputy associate director of energy and climate change at the White House Council on Environmental Quality under President Barack Obama. "I think we’re kidding ourselves if we think that’s going to be easy or cheap."

Kaufman acknowledged the constraints to passing climate change policy in today’s political climate, particularly a new tax.

Mike Tidwell, the founder and director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, a grassroots nonprofit organization focused on Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., called the District’s electricity goals a new bar for the rest of the country on climate action.

"It’s one of the main reasons we worked to pass the bill," Tidwell said. "The government and the people of the nation’s capital with almost 800,000 people have adopted this. They’re moving in this direction."

As for the White House: "Whether they like it or not, it's coming," he said.

Photo Credit: CQ-Roll Call,Inc.
This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA[Pollen Problems: How Climate Change Supersizes Allergy Season]]>Mon, 22 Apr 2019 08:39:47 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/THUMB_USE.jpg

Climate change is changing pollen production patterns and impacting everyone with seasonal allergies. Take a deeper look at the problem and see what you can do to help fight off the coughing and sneezing.]]>
<![CDATA[3 DC Entrepreneurs Share How They're Fighting Climate Change]]>Mon, 22 Apr 2019 07:11:21 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Garrity.jpg

Sam Teicher remembers coral reefs brimming with schools of fish, turtles and dolphins. Now, when he revisits those places, “it’s like entering an elephant graveyard,” he said.

Since Teicher, 29, was scuba certified in 2003, he has watched as reefs have deteriorated to skeletons of what they once were. But he knows the problem exceeds even what he has witnessed. In the Florida Keys — where 95% of the coral is now dead — he remembers a veteran diver who wept into his mask after seeing the devastation. 

“It’s happening right before our eyes, and it’s only getting worse,” he said.


That’s why the D.C. native, along with fellow Yale alumnus Gator Halpern, founded Coral Vita. Teicher said that the sentence, “I started a coral reef restoration company,” shouldn’t have ever come out of his mouth. But something had to be done.

“We felt that the way things are moving right now is not good enough,” Teicher said.

Like with Coral Vita, a common theme among D.C.’s environmentally conscious entrepreneurs is necessity. When a problem hits home, they come up with business ideas that are not only environmentally sustainable, but often times profitable.

On Earth Day, here’s a look at a few up-and-comers who are trying to make the world a little greener. 

In December 2008, Justen Garrity was awarded a bronze star in Mosul, Iraq. A few months later he was home and unemployed in a lousy job market, collecting unemployment benefits to get by. 

He looked for a job doing anything, he said. He applied for roles ranging from manager to security guard, but despite his college education and record of service, he couldn’t get a call back even for part-time work.

Garrity knew he liked sustainability, and when he started researching recycling, he found a lot of food waste out there. He figured composting was either an unseen opportunity in the Washington metro area or a huge mistake. Either way, he decided to take the leap.

When Garrity started Veteran Compost in 2010, it was a one-man show. Now, he has around 20 employees on his payroll and is hiring a new person every few weeks — many of them veterans and their family members. He has two facilities in operation and a third under construction, and his company now serves Maryland, D.C., and northern Virginia. 

Garrity’s business model is two-pronged. Every day, workers go out in trucks to collect waste for a disposal fee from establishments as large as hospitals or stadiums and as small as a single household. Then, that material is processed into compost and delivered to customers.

Veteran Compost processes anywhere from 15-30 tons of food waste per day, six days a week, Garrity said. He’s already on track to temporarily sell out of compost in May, with prospective customers on a waitlist. Every year he tries to make more compost, and every spring he sells out.

“There’s just a lot of demand for good soil,” Garrity said.


When Matt Caywood was in school, there were only a few buses he could take late at night to get home from campus. He was frustrated because he could never figure out their availability, and so he pieced together a makeshift “transit screen.”

At least that’s how his partner Ryan Croft tells it. As the COO and co-founder of D.C.-based TransitScreen, Croft has helped create a company that provides “real-time mobility, curated for your location” on “any screen, anywhere,” according to its website

On screens in building lobbies or at Fortune 500 offices, TransitScreen gives real-time transportation options to onlookers. Everything from buses to trains to bikes to rideshares appear on the list, with estimated arrival times based on thousands of data sources per day.

“We’re trying to give people this information quickly at a glance,” Croft said.

At TransitScreen, all of the employees take mass transit, walk or bike to work, Croft said. That environmentally conscious approach is one of the company’s core tenets and is meant to give people “alternatives to driving.” 

The technology is all about making informed decisions. Maybe a commuter wanted to take a bike but it’s bad weather, or maybe rideshare apps such as Uber or Lyft are surging; TransitScreen can then provide alternatives that will still get travelers to their destination. By showing departure times, it’s also a way to avoid narrowly missing a train or bus and having to wait 20 minutes for the next one.

“We’re in the business of giving people choice,” Croft said.

Growing up in D.C.’s Tenleytown, Teicher would roll over logs and look at bugs for hours or go fishing on the Potomac. He always loved nature, but it wasn’t until he got scuba certified at 13 that he fell for the ocean.

Fast forward a decade and a half, and Teicher’s company is set to open the first commercial land-based coral farm for restoration on May 31 in Grand Bahama. “This is a world first. It’s a huge innovation,” he said.

Looking out at seven shades of blue on the Bahamian island, Teicher recalled how the debut’s been a long time coming. He and Halpern officially launched Coral Vita in August 2015 and in fall 2016 were part of the Halcyon Incubator in D.C. In March 2018, he moved to the Bahamas. Finally, next month will mark the first time his company actually grows corals.

Through developments pioneered by scientists who have advised Coral Vita, Teicher and Halpern are able to grow coral that would usually take decades to mature in only six to 18 months. They can also control conditions in the tanks to mimic future projections for climate threats, making coral cheaper, faster, better and stronger, Teicher said.

For now, Coral Vita is launching one farm that’s set to grow about 10,000 corals per year and serve as an education and visitation center. But the goal is to be growing millions of corals every year, restoring reefs as far flung as the Maldives.

Teicher’s journey all started in D.C., where he says he was raised on the principle of giving back when he could. Now, he has a message for the people of Washington. 

“D.C. is a very important and powerful place, and right now especially, it has a responsibility and a role to solve climate change,” Teicher said. “Climate change is a clear and present danger. It’s happening. And humans are causing it.”

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Justen Garrity
This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA[How to Switch to Clean Energy in Maryland, DC and Virginia]]>Mon, 22 Apr 2019 10:51:17 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/SolarPanels_CleanChoice.jpg

Switching from coal and fossil fuels to clean energy sources can be a hard task. But in recent years, Maryland, D.C. and Virginia have passed legislation to make it easier for residents to make the leap. Here are a few ways you can access clean energy for your home.

What Deregulation Means in Maryland and D.C.
In Maryland, residents can decide which utility company or energy supplier they want to subscribe to. Deregulation of the state's electric utilities came after the General Assembly passed the Electric Customer Choice and Competition Act of 1999.

The utility market in Washington, D.C., was deregulated shortly after in 2001.

So instead of having to get electricity from one of Maryland's or D.C.'s major utility companies, customers can instead obtain energy directly from a clean energy supplier. 

In Maryland, hydroelectric and solar energy are the primary sources of all of the state’s renewable energy, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Renewable energy experts say, however, that of the two, solar energy is the only one that residents can directly access.

In D.C., solar energy is also the primary source of renewable energy, with no hydro or wind energy, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Installing Solar Panels
Installing solar panels on your rooftop is one way to directly access solar energy. Geoff Mirkin, CEO of solar panel installer company Solar Energy World, estimated that purchasing and installing panels outright can cost $30,000 to $40,000 depending on the number of panels and the amount of sunlight that lands on the roof. Mirkin said that banks have increasingly allowed homeowners to finance their panels through 5-year, 10-year and even 20-year loan payment plans.

Homeowners who have purchased their solar panels are also able to claim a 30% federal tax credit, according to the Internal Revenue Service’s website. Mirkin added that some Maryland counties allow residents to claim property tax credits, as well.

Maryland and D.C. residents can also collaborate to get competitive pricing for solar panel arrays to install on their own property. Advocacy group Solar United Neighbors features local co-ops in 10 states on its website.

There are other alternatives for people who do not want to shell out thousands of dollars for a solar panel array. Mirkin said that many companies allow residents to lease solar panels using a contract called a power purchase agreement (PPA). With a PPA, Mirkin said, homeowners do not have to pay upfront for the installation or the panels. Instead, customers who’ve signed the agreement pay either a monthly fee for the panels or they only pay for the energy they've used from the panels.

Mirkin added that PPAs can lock in the price of electricity for up to 25 years, which means the homeowner will pay the same rate for the contract’s duration. Electric rates generally increase over time, so the cost of electric is overall cheaper now than it would be in 25 years, Mirkin said.  

"Sometimes electric rates go down, sometimes they go up, but if you look at a 20-year graft, they always go up," Mirkin said. "The average rate [of increase] is about 4% per year, 4% to 5% percent over the last 25 years. Sometimes [rates] went down 8%, sometimes they went up 12%, but if you look at the overall graph, it goes up.”

David Murray, the executive director of the Maryland-D.C.-Delaware-Virginia Solar Energy Industries Association, said PPAs also provide additional opportunities to save money in a process called net-metering. If the homeowner has used less energy than the panels produced, money will be subtracted from the customer's utility bill, Murray said. If the resident has used more energy than the panels produce, a charge will be added to the bill.

But Murray warned homeowners that because their homes are still connected to the electrical grid, they still have to pay their utility company a flat fee for using the company’s equipment, like poles and wires. Scanning through the electric utility tariffs for the companies listed on the Public Service Commission's website, you'll find that the flat service charge can range from $7.90 to $26.70 per month for residences. This fee does not reflect other standard charges accrued monthly that depend on how much energy you've used and the season.

And despite what some solar installers claim, Sierra Club Virginia’s Clean Energy Chair Ivy Main noted the only way to get 100% of your energy from solar energy all the time — even at night when there is no sun — is to install a battery that can store surplus energy, like a Tesla Powerwall.

“If you’ve net-metered, if you have solar panels but you’re tied to the grid, you’re running on renewable energy directly for the time the sun is shining, you’re supplying the surplus onto the grid and you get credit you can draw on later,” Main said. “Those people aren’t really running on 100% solar unless they’ve got battery storage.”

Community Solar: A Solar Panel-Less Alternative
PPAs and solar panels, however, aren’t the best route for everyone. Murray said people who can’t put panels on their roofs — either because there’s not enough sunlight or they’re leasing their home — or don’t plan to live in their home for 25 years can participate in Maryland's and D.C.'s community solar programs. Maryland and D.C. established their programs in 2016.

Consumers can switch to solar energy and participate in community solar programs through local utility companies like Baltimore Gas and Electric, Potomac Electric Power Company, Delmarva Power and Potomac Edison/First Energy Corp. The utility companies can then connect their members to third-party providers like CleanChoice Energy, Neighborhood Sun, One Energy and Turning Point Energy. Some of the providers, like Neighborhood Sun, only offer solar, while others like CleanChoice Energy market a combination of solar and wind energies.

Neighborhood Sun Marketing Manager Emily Tokarowski said most third-party providers guarantee that customers can get solar power at a cost 5% lower rate than their utility bill. Tokarowski also noted that Neighborhood Sun offers additional discounts of up to 25% for low- to medium-income residents.

Customers can access solar energy this way because third-party providers maintain solar panel arrays in the customers' vicinity.

Depending on the provider, however, not all of the energy you need to power your home can come from the third-party provider. For example, Tokarowski said the amount of energy a subscriber gets from the company’s arrays can range from 70% to 90% depending on the season, the amount of sunshine and the number of subscribers a solar project has.

“Folks join in the project or leave the project, so we need to be able to make sure that it’s allocated properly,” Tokarowski said. “Sometimes we may be able to bump it all the way up to 100% if a couple of people leave the project and we’d still have all of this energy that’s being produced.”

[Maryland's community solar program was initially supposed to end this year, so new solar array projects could not enter the program. A bill extending the program until 2024 is going through Maryland's General Assembly.]

Virginia's Pilot Programs
Because Virginia is still a regulated utility state, unlike Maryland and D.C., the best way to get direct access to solar energy is through buying panels outright, according to Ivy Main, the Sierra Club Virginia chair. 

For Virginia residents who can’t go that route, there is some hope.

One of the state’s main utility companies, Dominion Energy, was approved for a community solar pilot program similar to the Maryland and D.C. programs by the Virginia State Corporate Commission in September 2018, according to Dominion’s website. This pilot would allow users to obtain solar PPAs, which Main said are currently not permitted in Virginia. 

For Dominion customers who want 100% of their energy to come from renewable sources, their bill will see at least a $20 increase, according to the company’s website.

Dominion spokesperson Daisy Pridgen confirmed that Coronal Energy is one of the third-party solar providers participating in the program. Pridgen said Dominion is currently looking for locations to construct the solar arrays.

Dominion also has a renewable energy pilot program, which started in 2013 and through which subscribers can enter into agreements with third-party renewable energy providers. The program’s website said the energy must come from wind or solar generators on the homeowner’s property.

Renewable Energy Certificates - What They Are
Another service: Dominion allows customers to purchase renewable energy certificates through its Green Power Program, which basically means you pay a premium to add renewable energy to the electric grid’s energy mix. How it works is that the utility will purchase enough renewable energy to match up to 100% of your used energy. 

Main, however, said that customers who participate in this program are still getting their energy from coal and fossil fuels. Most of Dominion’s renewable energy is sourced from hydroelectric, biomass, thermal, municipal solid waste and landfill gas sources, according to the utility’s 2018 report to the State Corporation Commission on Renewable Energy.

Maryland, D.C. and Virginia residents looking to purchase the certificates can also turn to companies like Arcadia Power, which helps make homes more energy efficient by informing customers about clean energy programs and practices, like community solar and purchasing renewable energy certificates. 

Arcadia Power CEO Kiran Bhatraju said consumers should remember “they have a choice and they should act on it.” 

You can find more information on going solar and community solar projects in your state at https://www.solarunitedneighbors.org/.

Photo Credit: CleanChoice Energy]]>
<![CDATA[Climate Change Delays Move of National Aquarium Dolphins]]>Sun, 21 Apr 2019 08:17:58 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-463333207.jpg

An aquarium in Maryland has been looking to build a refuge in the tropics for its captive dolphins. But it's having trouble finding the right location because of pollution and warming waters from climate change.

The Baltimore Sun reports that the seven bottlenose dolphins live at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. The aquarium is planning to move them to a sanctuary in Florida or the Caribbean.

A major challenge is the dolphins' compromised immune systems. They are the result of years spent living in a controlled environment.

The risk of disease is higher in warmer water. And potential sites have been eliminated because nearby housing developments empty septic tanks into the water.

National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli said they've delayed the date for moving the dolphins from 2020 to 2021.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Warming Climate to Force Plants to Move North]]>Fri, 12 Apr 2019 12:03:19 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Warming_Climate_Forces_Plants_To_Move_North.jpg

With warming temperatures in the last few decades, plant zones have shifted. Plants are being forced to move north to stay alive in today's changing climate. Storm Team4's Amelia Draper reports.]]>
<![CDATA[Climate Change Will Crush Real Estate Values for Investors Who Don’t Prepare, New Report Says]]>Tue, 09 Apr 2019 08:55:13 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/camp-fire1.jpg

For any investor, measuring opportunity against risk is critical. And for real estate investors in particular, risk is rising exponentially in the age of climate change. 

To that end, big real estate firms are pouring significant resources into calculating climate risk and its likely effect on property portfolios — everything from increasingly extreme weather to a rise in sea levels. 

“This process will be painful for investors who are caught off guard, but those who are prepared have the potential to outperform,” a new report from the Urban Land Institute said

Damage to U.S. real estate from extreme storms hit a record high in 2017. Natural disasters, including floods, mudslides and wildfires, cost more than $300 billion in damage, the bulk of it to residential and commercial real estate. 

In 2018, from May through July, much of the East Coast, down to Florida, saw rainfall up to three times normal levels, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Nine of the top 10 years for one-day extreme precipitation events have occurred since 1990, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), because as the atmosphere warms, clouds hold more water. 

All of these statistics are not just alarming, they are sounding the alarm bells for the real estate investment sector, because it is most vulnerable. 

“Understanding and mitigating climate risk is a complex and evolving challenge for real estate investors,” said ULI’s CEO, Edward Walter. “Risks such as sea level rise and heat stress will increasingly highlight the vulnerability not only of individual assets and locations, but of entire metropolitan areas.” 

The report highlights how real estate investment companies are now prioritizing the risk of climate change and creating new approaches to better gauge and develop mitigation strategies. 

“Building for resilience, on a portfolio, property and citywide basis, is paramount to staying competitive. Factoring in climate risk is becoming the new normal for our industry,” added Walter. 

Some of the strategies, according to the report, include: 

  • Mapping physical risk for current portfolios and potential acquisitions;
  • Incorporating climate risk into due diligence and other investment decision-making processes;
  • Incorporating additional physical adaptation and mitigation measures for assets at risk;
  • Exploring a variety of strategies to mitigate risk, including portfolio diversification and investing directly in the mitigation measures for specific assets; and
  • Engaging with policymakers on local resilience strategies.

“Investors see climate considerations as a necessary layer of fiduciary responsibility to their stakeholders, as well as an opportunity to identify markets and assets that will benefit from a changing climate,” according to the report. “While early adapters have committed resources to gain knowledge and improve awareness of climate risk, in the coming years, methods are likely to become more sophisticated.” 

It also highlights the potential return on investment from putting resources into mitigation strategies for real estate assets. 

Heitman, a Chicago-based real estate investment firm with nearly $34 billion in assets under management globally, worked with ULI on the report and is putting heavy resources, both financial and personnel, into measuring and balancing climate risk. 

“The industry didn’t seem to be pricing in these kinds of risks,” said Mary Ludgin, senior managing director and head of global investment research at Heitman. “When we began the project of trying to identify the climate risk inherent in individual properties, we first looked to our insurers. They were less of a help than we were expecting.” 

That is because insurers reprice annually, and therefore do not look at long-term models. FEMA flood plains are reassessed about every five years, but they still don’t account for the increasingly extreme weather and heavier rainfall that parts of the United States are now seeing. 

“We can’t try to determine what’s going to happen in 12 months beyond, because insurance is set up for what your risk is today. And it wouldn’t meet actuarial science to charge you for a future potential,” said David Maurstad, FEMA’s deputy associate administrator for federal insurance and mitigation and chief executive of the National Flood Insurance Program. 

Changing valuations
Heitman is, therefore, going beyond traditional insurance predictions to factor climate risk into its investments. It hired a Berkeley, California-based firm called 427, one of a new cottage industry of companies that assess climate risk to real estate. It’s mission, according to the website, is to catalyze climate adaptation and resilience investments by enabling the integration of climate science into business and policy decisions. 

“They were able to provide us an assessment of flooding, wildfires, wind-related disasters, and we can then aggregate that up to what is Heitman’s total exposure globally or a specific client’s exposure on the individual buildings they own. They can assess potential acquisitions and the risk that they represent,” said Ludgin. 

These risks include not just the destruction from individual natural disasters but business disruptions for property tenants and higher operating and capital costs caused by increased wear and tear on properties from more extreme weather. 

As a whole, the industry needs to understand the pricing impacts of physical climate risks, and how climate change is likely to have a bigger impact on valuation in the future as asset and market liquidity are affected, the ULI report says. 

And it’s not just storms and sea level rise, but the potential higher costs associated with protecting cities and municipalities from both. In Miami, for example, the city is investing $200 million into resilience, installing pump stations and upgrading its infrastructure. Miami Beach is on track to spend twice that, raising sidewalks and seawalls. The money is coming from new bonds — voters raising their own property taxes to protect their property. 

“Are taxes going to rise?” asked Ludgin. “We are looking at scenarios where taxes quadruple in the period that we hold the property. You can assume that federal, state, and local governments will play a role, and that means a climate in which taxes are likely rising.” 

All of it is a new and now necessary part of what real estate investors, developers and managers need to do to factor opportunity against risk. 

“They are trying to think about how their portfolio is balanced and make sure they’re not overexposed in a market that has more risk,” said Walter. “Not redlining markets, but investors are trying to be thoughtful about the level of exposure to those markets.” 

That is because higher-risk assets will eventually see downward repricing, as the market redirects capital to locations and individual assets where it is expected to be better insulated from these particular risks, the ULI report said.

This story first appeared on CNBC.com. More from CNBC: 

Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[Glaciers Are Shrinking Faster Than Scientists Thought: Study]]>Mon, 08 Apr 2019 12:35:26 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/AP_18183423778026-Global-Warming-Glaciers.jpg

Earth's glaciers are melting much faster than scientists thought. A new study shows they are losing 369 billion tons of snow and ice each year, more than half of that in North America.

The most comprehensive measurement of glaciers worldwide found that thousands of inland masses of snow compressed into ice are shrinking 18 percent faster than an international panel of scientists calculated in 2013.

The world's glaciers are shrinking five times faster now than they were in the 1960s. Their melt is accelerating due to global warming, and adding more water to already rising seas, the study found.

"Over 30 years suddenly almost all regions started losing mass at the same time," said lead author Michael Zemp, director of the World Glacier Monitoring Service at the University of Zurich. "That's clearly climate change if you look at the global picture."

The glaciers shrinking fastest are in central Europe, the Caucasus region, western Canada, the U.S. Lower 48 states, New Zealand and near the tropics. Glaciers in these places on average are losing more than 1 percent of their mass each year, according to the study in Monday's Nature journal.

"In these regions, at the current glacier loss rate, the glaciers will not survive the century," Zemp said.

Zemp's team used ground and satellite measurements to look at 19,000 glaciers, far more than previous studies. They determined that southwestern Asia is the only region of 19 where glaciers are not shrinking, which Zemp said is due to local climate conditions.

Since 1961, the world has lost 10.6 trillion tons of ice and snow (9.6 trillion metric tons), the study found. Melted, that's enough to cover the lower 48 U.S. states in about 4 feet of water.

Scientists have known for a long time that global warming caused by human activities like burning coal, gasoline and diesel for electricity and transportation is making Earth lose its ice. They have been especially concerned with the large ice sheets covering Greenland and Antarctica.

This study, "is telling us there's much more to the story," said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, who wasn't part of the study. "The influence of glaciers on sea level is bigger than we thought."

A number of factors are making sea levels rise. The biggest cause is that oceans are getting warmer, which makes water expand. The new figures show glacier melt is a bigger contributor than thought, responsible for about 25% to 30% of the yearly rise in oceans, Zemp said.

Rising seas threaten coastal cities around the world and put more people at risk of flooding during storms.

Glaciers grow in winter and shrink in summer, but as the Earth has warmed, they are growing less and shrinking more. Zemp said warmer summer temperatures are the main reason glaciers are shrinking faster.

While people think of glaciers as polar issues, shrinking mountain glaciers closer to the equator can cause serious problems for people who depend on them, said Twila Moon, a snow and ice data center scientist who also wasn't part of the study. She said people in the Andes, for example, rely on the glaciers for drinking and irrigation water each summer.

A separate study Monday in Environmental Research Letters confirmed faster melting and other changes in the Arctic. It found that in winter, the Arctic is warming 2.8 times faster than the rest of the Northern Hemisphere. Overall, the region is getting more humid, cloudier and wetter.

"It's on steroids, it's hyperactive," said lead author Jason Box, a scientist for the Danish Meteorological Institute.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Beth J. Harpaz/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Thousands Demand Action on Climate Change in DC]]>Sat, 29 Apr 2017 23:30:21 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/182*120/GettyImages-674813760_master.jpgTens of thousands of people marched through the nation's capital demanding political action on climate change as Washington D.C. sweltered in nearly record-breaking heat. Demonstrators gathered to protest President Donald Trump's environmental policies and demand a clean energy economy.

Photo Credit: Astrid Riecken/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[It’s Not You. Allergy Seasons Are Getting Longer and Worse]]>Tue, 02 Apr 2019 13:42:06 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/214*120/GettyImages-844945332.jpg

If it feels like the annual allergy season is getting longer and worse, it's because it is.

Climate researchers say rising temperatures and higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are prolonging the pollen production seasons and increasing the amount of pollen that plants produce.

For the more than 26 million Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies, also known as allergic rhinitis, or "hay fever," that means a longer span of irritated eyes, sneezing, a runny nose and congestion. Healthcare professionals also believe that the combination of longer growing seasons and an increase in pollen production is linked to a spike in patients developing allergy symptoms, an American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (AAAI) survey found.

Leonard Bielory, a physician at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and professor and allergy specialist at the Rutgers University Center of Environmental Prediction, said that "we're seeing increases in both the number of people with allergies and what they're allergic to. Should warming continue, then more people will be exposed to seasonal allergens with subsequent effects on public health."

In North America, seasonal allergies begin with tree pollen in the spring, followed by weeds and grass in the summer and culminating with ragweed in late summer into early fall.

As more heat-trapping carbon dioxide is released, the warming climate is increasing the number of frost-free days, thus extending the growing seasons for plants that trigger seasonal allergies, the nonprofit research organization Climate Central reported.

Across the U.S., fall's first frost is happening on average about a week later compared to 30 years ago, while spring's last frost is occurring a week earlier, according to analysis by Climate Central. In parts of Oregon and New Mexico, researchers found the freeze-free season grew by at least two months — among the biggest increases in the country. And in Washington, D.C., the growing season has increased by 17 days since 1970.

Lewis Ziska, a research plant physiologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), said data shows northern areas of the country are experiencing the most drastic increases in environmental allergens. Ziska explained that in the more humid, rainier southern region, water vapor boosts cloud coverage and suppresses warming while CO2 is accelerating warming in drier areas to the north.

In studies of the effects of CO2 on ragweed, the third-most common allergen in the U.S., Ziska's team found that plants exposed to warmer temperatures and higher levels of carbon dioxide grew more vigorously and produced more pollen.

"Carbon dioxide is food for plants. It can make good plants grow more, but it also makes bad plants grow more," Ziska told NBC in a phone interview, citing ragweed as an example.

What's more, the pollen produced under higher CO2 conditions were more allergenic, or more potent, according to the 2016 U.S. National Climate Assessment report. Ziska cautioned that while there appears to be a link between pollen intensity and health impacts, an official connection is less well established.

Still, over the past few decades, the prevalence of hay fever among Americans has increased from 10 percent of the U.S. population in 1970 to 30 percent in 2000, the National Climate Assessment reported.

For some people, seasonal allergies can also trigger symptoms of asthma — which has become more common, too. Asthma rates have increased from approximately eight to 55 cases per 1,000 persons to around 55 to 90 cases per 1,000 persons over that same time period. Asthma rates are even higher among African-Americans, low-income households and children.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, asthma is the third-ranked cause of hospitalization among children under the age of 15 and accounted for 1.8 million emergency room visits in 2015. In 2016, it killed 3,518 people in the U.S.

Seasonal allergies and asthma not only impose significant health burdens, but are very expensive, too. According to the CDC, Americans spend $18 billion a year on managing their allergies, and asthma costs the U.S. $56 billion each year.

And unless emissions of heat-trapping gases start dropping dramatically, experts predict things are going to get worse — not just for those who suffer from pollen allergy, but also for those who never had allergies before.

Dr. Kim Knowlton, deputy director of the Science Center at the Natural Resources Defense Council and assistant clinical professor at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, warned that the northward shifts in the distribution of some tree species, including oaks, could alter the type and quantity of allergenic pollen to which people in different geographic areas are exposed.

"It is likely to mean a continuing trend toward longer pollen production seasons, which could mean symptoms over more of the year, possibly more people sensitized to pollen allergen, and more intense symptoms among those already allergic to pollen," Knowlton said.

The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology advises people who suffer from hay fever to stay indoors when pollen counts are at their peak, usually during the midmorning and early evening, in order to reduce exposure to the allergens that trigger symptoms.

Here are some other tips from the group:

Outdoor Exposure

  • Avoid using window fans that can draw pollen and mold into the house.
  • Wear glasses or sunglasses when outdoors to minimize the amount of pollen getting into your eyes.
  • Wear a pollen mask (such as a NIOSH-rated 95 percent filter mask) when mowing the lawn, raking leaves or gardening, and take appropriate medication beforehand.
  • Don't hang clothing outdoors to dry as pollen could cling to towels and sheets.
  • Try not to rub your eyes; doing so will irritate them and could make your symptoms worse.
Indoor Exposure
  • Keep windows closed, and use air conditioning in your car and home. Make sure to keep your air conditioning unit clean.
  • Reduce exposure to dust mites, especially in the bedroom, by using "mite-proof" covers for pillows, comforters and duvets, and mattresses and box springs. Wash your bedding frequently, using hot water (at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • To limit exposure to mold, keep the humidity in your home low (between 30 and 50 percent) and clean your bathrooms, kitchen and basement regularly. Use a dehumidifier, especially in the basement and in other damp, humid places, and empty and clean it often. If mold is visible, clean it with mild detergent and a 5 percent bleach solution as directed by an allergist.
  • Clean floors with a damp rag or mop, rather than dry-dusting or sweeping.

Since most allergens that trigger hay fever are airborne, it's not easy to avoid them. If symptoms can't be mitigated by simply avoiding triggers, your allergist may recommend medications that reduce nasal congestion, sneezing, irritated eyes and an itchy and runny nose. Some medications may have side effects, so discuss these treatments with your health care provider before taking them.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
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<![CDATA[Climate Change Could Change Cost, Taste of Beer]]>Thu, 14 Mar 2019 17:45:28 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Climate_Change_Could_Change_Cost_Taste_of_Beer.jpg

New research says climate change is brewing trouble for the beer industry. Storm Team4 Meteorologist Amelia Draper explains the impact on the cost and taste of beer.]]>
<![CDATA[How Cherry Blossoms Are Impacted by Climate Change]]>Fri, 05 Apr 2019 16:07:58 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/AP_19094093626114.jpg

Each spring, the cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., draw in hundreds of thousands of visitors trying to catch the pink petals at peak bloom. 

Climate change could have an impact on future visitors' plans.

Over the last century, temperatures have shifted peak bloom — defined as when 70 percent of Yoshino cherry blossoms are open — approximately five days earlier since 1921, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

A National Park Service climate change scientist determined that climate change has increased the temperatures around the tidal basin at a rate of about 1.1 degrees Celsius per century (a rate of about 2 degrees Fahrenheit), park service spokesman Mike Litterst said.

“That’s a statistically significant rate,” Litterst said.

Higher daily temperatures make peak blooms arrive sooner, and the long-term trend shows earlier and earlier blooming, he said.

When people plan their visits months in advance to see the trees in bloom, they look at climate data for when they would typically see peak bloom, NBC Washington meteorologist Amelia Draper noted. But day-to-day temperatures ultimately determine when peak bloom happens on a given year, she said.

 “The cherry blossoms are a great example of the difference between weather and climate,” Draper said.

Freezes are also detrimental to the cherry blossoms and climate trends are a factor there as well, Draper said.

A cold snap killed off half the blossoms that were set to bloom in March 2017. One of the concerns about the shift to earlier bloom dates is that it puts the cherry blossoms at more of a risk to a late season frost or snow, as happened in 2017, Litterst said.

Peak bloom arrived April 1 this year, the park service said. 

“It’s the unofficial arrival of spring when they reach peak bloom,” Litterst said. “The excitement, the murmur starts to build when we make the peak bloom announcement, usually in the first couple of days of March. Especially now with social media, the way people can follow along as they go through the stages and as we get closer to it.”

Warming temperatures are not the only problem the Tidal Basin area faces, with more frequent high tide flooding and a sea wall that’s dropping by about an inch or so each year, Litterst said. The wall is sinking because its original timber pilings were not placed on bedrock when installed in the 1930s, according to the park service. Tides undermine that infrastructure, too, Litterst said.

There are places where, at high tide, it’s almost guaranteed that water is up over the wall, covering a segment of the park’s sidewalk and roots of some trees.

Over the long term, the District could see sea level rise of about 2 feet by 2100, according to Climate Central, which analyzed projections from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This puts the area at a 60 percent risk of seeing at least one flood over 8 feet in the next 50 years, according to Climate Central.

Cherry blossoms arrived in Washington as a gift from Japan in 1912 as a symbol of friendship between the United States and Japan, according to the park service. First lady Helen Taft and Viscountess Iwa Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, planted the first two trees along the Tidal Basin on March 27, 1912.

In Kyoto, Japan, which is about the same distance from the equator as Washington, D.C., cherry blossoms have also seen a shift toward earlier blooming due to warmer temperatures over time, according to research by Yasuyuki Aono, a professor of environmental sciences at Osaka Prefecture University. Aono was able to estimate peak blooms for about the past 1,200 years.

The National Cherry Blossom Festival, which brings some 1.5 million visitors each year is now underway and will run until April 14.

“It’s an enormous economic engine and has a tremendous impact on the local economies,” Litterst said. “It’s one of those things that brings the whole city together. I like to say this time of year, there’s no blue, there’s no red, it’s just all pink as far as everybody in town is concerned.” 

The festival is a “launching pad” for tourism season, when it’s also peak convention season and Congress is in session, said Elliot Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC, which handles tourism outreach and programming for the area.

"I think people would still want to come to D.C. during the peak blooming season,” Ferguson said of unpredictable bloom periods. “There are a lot of things to do in the region. The goal for us is to influence potential travelers coming to Washington to come for four days instead of one or two." 

Beyond blooming season, the festival itself, which lasts three to four weeks, also influences travelers’ decisions, he said.

Nina Lin contributed to reporting

Photo Credit: Patrick Semansky/AP
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<![CDATA[DC-Area Students Rally at Capitol for Climate Change Reform]]>Fri, 15 Mar 2019 17:39:56 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/DC_Area_Students_Rally_at_Capitol_for_Climate_Change_Reform.jpg

Thousands of students rallied at the U.S. Capitol on Friday to demand government action on climate change. Many walked out of their classes and took Metro to participate in the rally, which was mirrored by students around the world. News4's Aimee Cho reports.]]>
<![CDATA[Warming Climate Could Change Future Valentine's Celebrations]]>Thu, 14 Feb 2019 18:25:06 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/How_a_Warming_Climate_Could_Change_Future_Valentines_Days.jpg

Climate change will likely affect supplies of Valentine's Day favorites like champagne and chocolate in the future. Storm Team4's Amelia Draper explains.]]>
<![CDATA[Campaign Hopes to 'Save' DC's Tidal Basin From Flooding]]>Wed, 03 Apr 2019 20:59:18 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Campaign_Hopes_to__Save__DC_s_Tidal_Basin_From_Flooding.jpg

The National Trust for Historic Preservation announced Wednesday plans to partner with the Trust for the National Mall and the National Park Service to update infrastructure at the Tidal Basin. News4's Cory Smith spoke with cherry blossom visitors about the importance of the Tidal Basin and climate change. ]]>
<![CDATA[DC Awarded for Plans to Curb Climate Change]]>Sun, 21 Oct 2018 16:58:55 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/dc+at+night.jpg

Washington, D.C., is among 20 cities being awarded support for its work to reduce carbon emissions.

D.C., Boston, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh were announced Sunday as the latest winners in the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge. Each will receive a support package valued at up to $2.5 million.

The $70 million program aims to help cities accelerate plans to fight climate change. It's backed by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The winning cities say the support will bolster initiatives in areas including bicycle infrastructure, solar power and energy improvements in large buildings.

They join six other winning cities announced in an earlier round. Others will be announced this fall.

D.C. Mayor Murield Bowser attributed the award to her administration's "innovative and ambitious climate action plans to reduce air pollution and District-wide emissions."

Bowser's adminsitration will use the award toward the implementation of the Clean Energy DC plan, according to a release.

The release says Bloomberg Philanthropies will work with D.C. to achieve the following actions by 2020:


  • Develop and launch a building energy performance standard for large buildings, to support the city’s goal of net-zero carbon buildings by 2050
  • Launch the DC Green Bank that Mayor Bowser established in July, aligning its new financing programs with existing strategies to incentivize energy efficiency and renewable energy and accelerate building performance improvements
  • Encourage residents and commuters to use alternative transportation by improving service, adding new mobility options and expanding cycling and pedestrian infrastructure


Bloomberg says the federal government is "asleep at the wheel" on climate change, leaving cities to play a larger role.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Campaign Aims to Map, Understand DC-Area's Heat Islands]]>Thu, 12 Jul 2018 06:22:25 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/DC+Heat+Wave.jpg

Anyone who pays attention to temperatures around Washington and Baltimore knows that it is much warmer in these cities than in the surrounding suburbs, especially at night. This is due to a phenomenon known as the urban heat island effect. Essentially, all of the asphalt and concrete in the urban core traps heat near the ground creating a zone of elevated temperatures.

But these urban heat islands are not uniform. Some neighborhoods have more dark, heat-absorbing surfaces and are particularly hot. As a result, they suffer the most during the summer's punishing heat and are most vulnerable to health effects. From July 17 to 20, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is leading a field campaign involving citizen volunteers to map and better understand the Washington and Baltimore heat islands.

The volunteers will "fan out across these cities in cars equipped with special thermometers designed to measure air temperature once per second as well as record the time and precise location of each measurement,'' NOAA's description of the campaign says. "Thus, the data collected by the teams of volunteer drivers will enable the scientists to generate very detailed maps of temperatures across both cities at three different times of day: 6 a.m., 3 p.m., and 7 p.m.''

NOAA has already received more than enough volunteers to conduct the campaign and is no longer seeking more.

Once the campaign is completed and the data processed, NOAA plans to publish the finding in scientific journals and make the data publicly available. The detailed maps, which will reveal which specific areas are the hottest, could help officials better identify which communities need the most help during heat waves. They could also guide city planners in efforts to cool the heat island by planting trees, removing pavement and installing reflective and green roofs that absorb less heat.

Working with partners at the Science Museum of Virginia and Portland State University, NOAA conducted an investigation of Richmond's heat island last summer. It recruited volunteers from several local organizations, which made up 15 teams that spread out around the city on cars and bikes to take temperatures at different times and locations.

Researchers at Portland State University crunched the data and produced a map that displays temperature data in Richmond from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. on July 13, 2017, showing variable heat levels.

"The map showed differences of up to 16 degrees across Richmond's neighborhoods during the hottest part of the day,'' noted NOAA's case study on the project. "This means that when a heavily shaded neighborhood in Richmond experiences an afternoon temperature of 87 degrees, it might reach 103 degrees in a more urbanized neighborhood in the same city. The data also revealed that warmer areas experienced a greater difference between morning and afternoon temperatures than did cooler areas.''

NOAA's case study added that the maps and data are being used to inform an update to Richmond's citywide master plan and several other climate planning initiatives.

The researchers at Portland State University are working toward developing an "off the shelf'' system that communities across the country can use to evaluate temperature differences within a city and their implications. It involves taking the detailed heat island maps and overlaying demographic, air pollution and landscape information to help local governments identify the particular areas most vulnerable to heat.

"With climate change, we expect summer heat waves to become longer and more intense and frequent,'' said Vivek Shandas, research director for Portland State's Institute for Sustainable Solutions. "By identifying characteristics of neighborhoods and households that are the most vulnerable, we can reduce the health impacts of intense heat waves nationally.''

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Why Frigid Weather Will Happen Despite a Warming World]]>Tue, 09 Jan 2018 07:44:41 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/160*120/IMG-2698.JPG

With single-digit temperatures for days on end and Arctic air that seemed to slice straight through even the puffiest of jackets, there’s no question the Eastern U.S. vocabulary has been lacking the word “warm” in recent weeks.

As with most major winter weather events in the U.S., this bitter blast has sparked some skepticism about global warming and climate change. The president himself tweeted “we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming.”

It is true that cold and warm have opposite meanings, but unfortunately, science isn’t that simple.

“With global warming, people expect it to be warmer than average all the time and that’s not the case. It can be cold and it can be freezing cold like we’ve had,” Storm Team4 Chief Meteorologist Doug Kammerer said.

Kammerer said most of the world’s temperatures have been above average, while the eastern half of Northern America has endured this bone-chilling cold.

“We just happen to be below average,” he said.

Kammerer said evidence of a warmer world has only grown.

“We have not set a record-low temperature in Washington, D.C. in January since 1994. Since that time, we have had seven record-high temperatures. ... The last time we set a record-low temperature in the month of July was in 1979,” he said.

Since 1979, D.C. has had zero record-low temperatures in July, but 13 record-high temperatures, according to Kammerer.

“That tells you global warming is happening. That tells you our climate in the Washington, D.C., area is getting warmer, continues to get warmer and will continue to get warmer for the foreseeable future,” he said.

D.C. isn’t alone. A global temperature time machine from NASA shows how temperatures have drastically warmed since 1884. The pictures below show a significant change in the past 20 years.

Weather Isn’t Climate

One major problem with the idea that cold bursts are evidence against global warming is simply the difference between weather and climate.

“Weather is day-to-day. Weather is what’s happening today, weather is what’s happening tomorrow. Weather is what’s gonna happen next week,” Kammerer explained. “Climate is what we’ve seen over the course of many, many years. So when we look at, for example, our average high temperatures, that’s taken over the course of a 30-year period. That’s how we get the average.”

Making things more confusing, the terms "global warming" and "climate change" also are sometimes confused for each other. 

Global warming is the long-term warming of the planet. According to NASA, “Global temperature shows a well-documented rise since the early 20th century and most notably since the late 1970s.”

Climate change includes global warming, but it is the wider range of changes that are happening to our planet, including rising sea levels, shrinking mountain glaciers, accelerating ice melt in Greenland, Antarctica and the Arctic, and shifts in flower and plant blooming times, according to NASA.

“Global warming” and “climate change” are sometimes used interchangeably, but they refer to slightly different things, NASA says.

Could Climate Change Actually be to Blame?

Some research actually points to extreme cold events as proof of climate change and global warming.

It is way too early to tell if that's the case for this recent frigid blast, but the extreme and unusually cold temperatures are another data set to add to the pile of evidence that our climate is changing.

“Even in a warming world, we can still get Arctic outbreaks, and some of the data actually says we may even get more Arctic outbreaks on the East Coast,” Kammerer said.

Those Arctic outbreaks happen when cold air swirling above the North Pole, known as the polar vortex, seeps out and makes its way south. Scientists say a weakening polar vortex is to blame. 

Melting sea ice and Arctic warming appear to be contributing to cold air getting farther south, according to a 2017 study published in the journal WIREs Climate Change.

"Very recent research does suggest that persistent winter cold spells (as well as the western drought, heatwaves, prolonged storminess) are related to rapid Arctic warming, which is, in turn, caused mainly by human-caused climate change," Jennifer Francis, a climate scientist at Rutgers University and one of the study's authors, told NBC News.

Abnormally warm ocean temperatures off of the West Coast also have caused the jet stream, which moves from west to east and follows the boundaries between hot and cold air, to "bulge" to the north and cause unusually warm temperatures in Alaska and California, Francis told NBC News.

Rhetoric Matters

Despite continued criticism, scientists say there's no doubt global warming is happening. 

"Rhetoric that it may not be happening I think just kind of takes us back to where we were a decade ago," Kammerer said.

“It gives people who don’t believe or are not sure about global warming a reason not to believe. We’ve made such progress over the past decade … really trying to get the word out that global warming is real. Global warming is happening and we’re going to continue to see a warming world over the next couple of decades, into the next century."

Photo Credit: Gina Cook/NBC Washington
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<![CDATA[Thousands Descend on Washington for Climate Change March]]>Sat, 29 Apr 2017 18:52:21 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/climatemarchfeuerherd.jpg

Thousands of people across the U.S. marched Saturday on President Donald Trump's 100th day in office to demand action on climate change.

At the marquee event, the Peoples Climate March in Washington, D.C., tens of thousands of demonstrators made their way down Pennsylvania Avenue in sweltering heat on their way to encircle the White House.

Organizers said about 300 sister marches or rallies were being held around the country, including in Seattle, Boston and San Francisco. In Chicago, marchers headed from the city's federal plaza to Trump Tower.

"We are here because there is no Planet B," the Rev. Mariama White-Hammond of Bethel AME Church told the crowd in Boston.

Participants said they're objecting to Trump's rollback of restrictions on mining, oil drilling and greenhouse gas emissions at coal-fired power plants, among other things. Trump has called climate change a hoax, disputing the overwhelming consensus of scientists that the world is warming and that man-made carbon emissions are primarily to blame.

More than 2,000 people gathered at the Maine State House in Augusta. Speakers included a lobsterman, a solar company owner and members of the Penobscot Nation tribe.

"I've seen firsthand the impacts of climate change to not only the Gulf of Maine, but also to our evolving fisheries, and to the coastal communities that depend upon them," said lobsterman Richard Nelson, of Friendship, Maine.

People in the crowd spoke about the importance of addressing climate change to industries such as renewable energy, forestry, farming and seafood. Saharlah Farah, a 16-year old immigrant from Somalia who lives in Portland, talked about how climate change could have a bigger toll on marginalized groups that have less financial resources.

"But I see untapped power here today," she said.

A demonstration stretched for several blocks in downtown Tampa, Florida, where marchers said they were concerned about the threat rising seas pose to the city.

People gathered on Boston Common carried signs with slogans such as "Dump Trump." Handmade signs at Seattle's march included the general — "Love Life" — and the specific — "Don't Kill Otters."

Some of the marches drew big-name attendees, including former Vice President Al Gore and actor Leonardo DiCaprio in the nation's capital and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders at a Montpelier event.

"Honored to join Indigenous leaders and native peoples as they fight for climate justice," DiCaprio tweeted.


Associated Press writer Patrick Whittle in Portland, Maine, contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[DC Mayor Commits to Honoring Paris Climate Accord]]>Mon, 05 Jun 2017 18:40:17 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/060517+dc+green+flag+2.jpg

President Donald Trump may have pulled the United States out of the Paris climate change accord, but Washington, D.C. will continue to follow it.

Mayor Muriel Bowser signed an executive order Monday morning reaffirming the city's support of the landmark deal to slow global warming.

"We will, no matter what the decisions are at the federal level, continue to form the policies that will help to protect our earth," she said. 

Bowser joins the mayors of 211 major U.S. cities -- including New York, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles -- in rejecting Trump's announcement Thursday that the U.S. will withdraw from the agreement.

The state of Virginia, Georgetown University and these individual cities in Maryland and Virginia say they also will uphold the agreement: 

-- Alexandria, Virginia 

-- Blacksburg, Virginia

-- Charlottesville, Virginia 

-- Hyattsville, Maryland

-- Richmond, Virginia 

"If the federal government insists on abdicating leadership on this issue, it will be up to the American people to step forward -- and in Virginia we are doing just that," Gov Terry McAuliffe said in a statement. 

D.C. already has pledged to cut carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050, and begun work on what they say is the largest on-site municipal solar generation in the country.

Members of the D.C. Department of Energy & Environment posed for photos Monday morning holding a D.C. flag that was green and white, instead of the usual red and white.

Photo Credit: D.C. Department of Energy & Environment
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<![CDATA[McAuliffe Blasts Trump Over Climate Pact Withdrawal]]>Thu, 01 Jun 2017 20:26:44 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/VA-Governor-Terry-GettyImages-511714986.jpg

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is sharply criticizing President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the U.S. from the landmark Paris climate agreement.

McAuliffe said in a statement Thursday that Trump's decision was "foolish" because climate change is a "threat to our way of life."

The governor, a Democrat, said Virginia would move forward with its own efforts to combat climate change. Earlier this month, McAuliffe announced his administration to begin formulating regulations to "abate, control, or limit" carbon dioxide emissions from power plants fired by fossil fuels.

Virginia's Hampton Roads region, home to the U.S.'s largest naval base, is threatened by the combination of sinking land and rising seas.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images]]>