About Rights of Nature
Only 20% of the world’s wild ecosystems (biotic communities) remain intact and undisturbed.
More than 95% of U.S. land in the lower 48 has been modified.
The wild population of vertebrates worldwide is down 60% from 50 years ago.
According to the national Audubon Society, nearly half of North American bird species are at risk of losing habitats by 2080 due to climate change.
The world loses a species about every ten minutes …
E.O. Wilson has predicted that 25% wild species will survive to the year 2100.
Rights of Nature is an integral piece of the current conservation movement. The concept has taken off around the world since Ecuador recognized Nature’s rights in its constitution in 2008. Yet in most places in the United States Nature is still treated as property: legally it is a commodity.
Boulder Rights of Nature, a group of citizen activists lobbying for legal rights for the environment, is hosting the first symposium on rights of nature in Boulder County on Saturday at the Lafayette Public Library.
Running from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the free symposium was created to gauge the community’s interest in the issue and gather public feedback on a resolution Boulder Rights of Nature is currently formulating to protect the Boulder Creek watershed.
“The symposium offers an exciting opportunity for the community in Boulder Country to learn about the rights of nature movement and consider how it can protect our own precious ecosystems,” Grant Wilson, vice president of Boulder Rights of Nature and Directing Attorney at the environmental group Earth Law Center, said in a statement. “With the global environment trending towards collapse, we must consider new frameworks of governance that are protective of nature, including in Boulder.”
Several communities around the world have already begun this process, including Santa Monica, California, where Marsha Jones Moutrie, one of Saturday’s symposium speakers, helped lead the Santa Monica’s Rights of Nature Ordinance as city attorney from 1994 through 2016.
The Department of the Interior, through the Bureau of Reclamation, submitted a notice to the Federal Register today seeking recommendations from the governors of the seven Colorado River Basin states for protective actions Interior should take amid ongoing severe and prolonged drought. This notice recognizes the need for prompt action to enhance and ensure sustainability of Colorado River water supplies throughout the southwestern United States.
Recognizing growing risks in the basin, Reclamation and the basin states have worked for several years to develop meaningful drought contingency plans for the Upper and Lower Colorado River basins. The governor’s representatives from each state endorsed a Reclamation goal to complete DCPs by the end of 2018. The four Upper Basin states approved their DCP in December 2018. However, efforts among the Lower Basin states of California and Arizona have delayed DCP completion past the January 31, 2019, deadline set by Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman at the Colorado River Water Users Association conference last December.
“Nobody questions the growing risk and urgent need for action along the Colorado River,” said Commissioner Burman. “Completion of drought contingency plans is long overdue. Action is needed now. In the absence of consensus plans from the Basin states, the federal government must take action to protect the river and all who depend on it — farmers and cities across seven states.”
The Colorado River is a vital water resource in the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. It irrigates nearly 5.5 million acres of farmland and sustains life and livelihood for over 40 million people in major metropolitan areas including Albuquerque, Cheyenne, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Diego and Tucson. Since 2000 the Colorado River Basin has experienced its most severe drought in recorded history and the risk of reaching critically low elevations at Lakes Powell and Mead—the two largest reservoirs in the United States—has increased nearly four-fold over the past decade.
A top federal water official announced Friday that because California and Arizona haven’t finished Colorado River drought plans, the Interior Department is asking the governors of all seven states that rely on the river for recommendations on how to prevent reservoirs from continuing to drop.
Federal Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said there has been tremendous progress toward a deal, including the Arizona Legislature’s quick passage of drought legislation before a Thursday night deadline.
But she said that doesn’t change the fact that the states haven’t completed the Drought Contingency Plan for the river’s lower basin, which aims to reduce the risks of Lake Mead falling to perilously low levels.
“Neither California nor Arizona have completed all of the necessary work,” Burman told reporters on a conference call. “Close isn’t done.”
Arizona officials insisted they succeeded in meeting Burman’s deadline, but the federal government’s decision to put out a call for input seemed geared toward sending a message that Washington will only wait a little longer for the states to sign off on the remaining details.
Even though the federal government is stepping in, the states still could handle the situation on their own — if they act within the next month. Burman said that while the government asks the states for recommendations, the whole process could be called off and the notice could be rescinded if California and Arizona sign the plan.
“If all seven states are able to complete the Drought Contingency Plan before March 4, we will rescind and terminate that request,” Burman said.
The federal government plans to receive input from the states for a 15-day period starting March 4. The notice says the Interior Department is considering “potential federal actions to revise Colorado River operations in an effort to enhance and ensure sustainability of Colorado River water supplies for the southwestern United States.”
Patrick Ptak, a spokesman for Ducey’s office, said the deliberations in Arizona are done. He said the state took the necessary action before Burman’s Jan. 31 deadline.
“We met the deadline yesterday with the passage of the legislation,” Ptak told The Arizona Republic. “And now it’s time for California, the lone state that has not passed DCP, to do so.”
In California, water agencies including the Imperial Irrigation District and Coachella Valley Water District failed to meet the deadline to sign on.
IID’s board, which holds the largest entitlement to Colorado River water, has placed conditions on participating. They’ve said they want to be the last to review and sign the deal, and they want $200 million in federal funds for projects to control dust and build wetlands around the shrinking Salton Sea…
Burman said following Arizona’s “giant step” of approving the drought plan in the Legislature, there still are several agreements within the state that need to be completed.
“Arizona took a very important step yesterday and I applaud their efforts,” she said. “But we’re not done yet.”
The legislation that Ducey signed on Thursday includes a resolution granting Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke the authority to sign the plan on the state’s behalf.
The resolution also includes provisions saying that other steps should occur for Buschatzke to put pen to paper: Congress should authorize the Interior secretary to enter into the agreement, and all parties in other states must have authorization to sign.
Theoretically, that shouldn’t present a major hurdle if all seven states are on board. Burman said while the states were formulating the plans, “they determined they would like to see federal legislation.”
It’s not clear how long it might take for Congress to act.
Senator Martha McSally said Friday she will work on passing the federal legislation once the Lower Basins states are ready. She said Ducey and state lawmakers achieved a “historic agreement.”
“However, our work is not yet finished,” McSally said in a statement. “We await approval of the DCP by water users in the State of California. Then, Congress must pass legislation authorizing Acting Department of Interior Secretary (David) Bernhardt to implement the DCP agreements.”
Burman said she hopes the states will complete the agreements, at which point “we anticipate terminating our request for input” from the seven states’ governors.
But she also made clear that the federal government is prepared to act if necessary. She pointed out that when the Supreme Court issued its landmark opinion in 1963 and a related 1964 decree settling a dispute over Colorado River water in the case Arizona v. California, the court found that the Interior secretary has “broad authority” in managing the river.
“We are looking to the governor’s representatives to come to us with their solutions. It’s better to have consensus,” Burman said. “We’re at a point where two roads are diverging in the woods, and we need to decide which path we’re going to follow.”
She said the states have shown tremendous efforts to make progress on the deal in a limited timeframe.
“While we are getting closer, we are still not done,” Burman said. “Only done will protect this basin.”
Desert Sun Reporter Janet Wilson in Palm Springs, Calif., contributed to this story.
Environmental coverage on azcentral.com and in The Arizona Republic is supported by a grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. Follow The Republic environmental reporting team at http://environment.azcentral.com
On Friday morning, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, a federal agency that manages waterways and dams across the West, submitted a formal notice asking each Colorado River Basin state to submit comments about how to manage the river in lieu of a drought plan. In December, Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman told the states that the states had until Jan. 31 to finish negotiating a drought deal that has been in the works for about three years.
Despite Friday’s action, Burman said the agency’s preferred approach would be to implement the drought plan, which is nearly complete. If a plan is approved before March 4, when states start submitting comments, Burman said the agency would rescind its action. But if Arizona and California, the two states that have not finished the plan, cannot come to an agreement before then, Burman vowed to move down a path giving her broad authority to manage the river.
Such an action, Burman said, was not the agency’s “preferred approach.”
“However, any further delay elevates existing risk for the basin to unacceptable levels,” Burman told reporters. “The basin is teetering on the brink of shortage and there is a potential for Lake Powell and Lake Mead to decline to critically low elevations in the very near future.”
Sea-surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific have cooled slightly since this time last month. The SST conditions of the Niño3.4 region, shown in tweet image below, are used as key metric when evaluating the status of El Niño and La Niña. Since late September, that metric has been pointing towards El Niño. Averaged over the last four weeks, the SST anomaly in the Niño3.4 region was +0.5ºC, right on the borderline of neutral conditions and weak El Niño conditions.
The Niño3.4 metric is also what’s used in forecasting El Niño and La Niña status. The probabilities shown later in this blog reflect only the chance that the SST anomaly in that area will be at or above +0.5ºC. But Niño3.4 doesn’t summarize the whole El Niño story. Certain conditions in the atmosphere must also change for the impacts of El Niño to propagate through the global climate system.
Often, if the ocean begins to exhibit El Niño characteristics, the atmosphere will follow suit, but so far in this event, that hasn’t really happened. Most atmospheric indicators currently suggest neutral conditions — neither El Niño nor La Niña. The exception right now is the convection (i.e. rainfall) pattern in the equatorial Pacific — it’s starting to look a little more like what we might see during El Niño. Barnston said there have been cases in the past where that convection pattern doesn’t appear until February during an El Niño cycle, so it’s possible this event could still rally. But by then, many of the strongest known El Niño climate impact signals are fizzling out.
The Madden-Julian Oscillation is another mode of climate variability that also influences convection in the equatorial Pacific, and can in turn influence the development or demise of El Niño events. A recent MJO event produced conditions counter to El Niño development and likely contributed to the recent weakening of warm SST anomalies.
To predict ENSO conditions, computers model the SSTs in the Nino3.4 region over the next several months. The plume graph below shows the outputs of these models, some of which use equations based on our physical understanding of the system (called dynamical models), and some of which use statistics, based on the long record of historical observations.
The models’ predictions are on the whole slightly cooler than last month’s data. The dynamical models are showing a more dramatic weakening predicted in the latter part of the forecast period compared to what was predicted last month. Nonetheless, the mean of both dynamical and statistical models stays above the weak El Niño threshold of +0.5ºC through most of the forecast period.
The probability for El Niño is also down some from last month, but still above 80% for the next several months. The El Niño odds are similar for the next few months in the official probabilistic forecast issued by CPC and IRI in early January than in this mid-month CPC/IRI forecast. This early-January forecast uses human judgement in addition to model output, while the mid-month forecast relies solely on model output. In early January, there had not yet been several weeks of weakened Niño3.4 SSTs, which will likely influence the next official forecast to be issued in a couple of weeks. More on the difference between these forecasts in this IRI Medium post.
IRI’s Global Seasonal Forecasts
Each month, IRI issues seasonal climate forecasts for the entire globe. These forecasts take into account the latest model outputs and indicate which areas are more likely to see above- or below-normal temperatures and precipitation.
For the upcoming February – April season, odds are moderately to strongly tipped in favor of below-normal precipitation for the Philippines, western and northern coastal Australia and parts of Indonesia. Slight odds for below-normal precipitation are showing up in southern Africa, southern South America and Central America, as well as some smaller spots around the globe.
The nation’s intelligence community warned in its annual assessment of worldwide threats that climate change and other kinds of environmental degradation pose risks to global stability because they are “likely to fuel competition for resources, economic distress, and social discontent through 2019 and beyond.”
Released Tuesday, the Worldwide Threat Assessment prepared by the Director of National Intelligence added to a swelling chorus of scientific and national security voices in pointing out the ways climate change fuels widespread insecurity and erodes America’s ability to respond to it.
“Climate hazards such as extreme weather, higher temperatures, droughts, floods, wildfires, storms, sea level rise, soil degradation, and acidifying oceans are intensifying, threatening infrastructure, health, and water and food security,” said the report, which represents the consensus view among top intelligence officials. “Irreversible damage to ecosystems and habitats will undermine the economic benefits they provide, worsened by air, soil, water, and marine pollution.”
In just the past two weeks, the Pentagon sent a report to Congress describing extreme weather and climate risks to dozens of critical military installations. (House leaders on Wednesday asked for more details, including an assessment of the 10 bases in each service most vulnerable to climate change.) The Government Accountability Office also recommended the State Department resume providing guidance to U.S. diplomats about climate change and migration. Last week, a scientific paper concluded that drought driven by climate change and the subsequent fights over water resources increased the likelihood of armed conflict in the Middle East from 2011–2015, which in turn triggered waves refugees.
The United Nations Security Council also held a discussion on Friday devoted to understanding and responding to how climate change acts as a “threat multiplier” in countries where governance is already fragile and resources are sparse.
Robert Mardini, the permanent observer to the UN from the International Committee of the Red Cross, said his group’s fieldwork confirms the “double impact” of climate change and war.
“Climate change exacerbates vulnerabilities and inequalities, especially in situations of armed conflict, where countries, communities and populations are the least prepared and the least able to protect themselves and adapt,” Mardini told the Security Council, according to his published remarks. “Conflicts harm the structures and systems that are necessary to facilitate adaptation to climate change.”