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Major environmental stories of April 2014

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the third part of its Fifth Assessment Report. Called "Mitigation of Climate Change," it has 235 lead authors from 58 countries, and includes a 33-page "Summary for Policy Makers." The report urges readers to both mitigate climate change and adapt to it. (Some climate change is already inevitable, so adaptation will be necessary.) The report emphasizes the importance of renewable energy sources, which must be the dominant fuel sources by 2050 in order to avoid catastrophic climate change.

March 2014 was the fourth-warmest March since modern temperature records began in 1880, according to NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). The global mean temperature for March 2014 was about 0.7° C (1.26° F) higher than the 1951-1980 average. Only 1990, 2002, and 2010 had hotter Marches. While March's temperatures were therefore above average in most of the world, they were below average in much of Canada, the east half of the United States, and parts of South America.

According to the April 22 release of the U.S. Drought Monitor , the entire state of California is in a state of "moderate" to "exceptional" drought, with the latter being the most severe level. This is the first time in the monitor's 15-year history that has happened. The southwestern U.S. overall has received almost no precipitation. A recent study from Utah State University has linked both the drought in the west and the unusually cold winter in the eastern U.S. to climate change. According to the report, there are two pressure systems, a high pressure system off the Pacific Coast and a low pressure system over the Great Lakes. The system's combined effect is to cause arid weather in the west and cold, snowy weather in the east -- and the difference between the two systems' extremes has been increasing over the past few decades.

Solar Roadways has installed an energy harvesting parking lot in Idaho to test it under all weather and sunlight conditions. It is made of hexagonal solar panels that are protected by an extremely tough glass. The solar panels include a heating unit to melt snow or ice and LED lights that act as lane markers. The solar panels will collect energy that can power lights, EV charging stations, and the surrounding area. If successful, the solar roadways could replace asphalt roads -- and asphalt is a kind of petroleum.

The Chinese legislature decided to revise the country's environmental protection law to allow stricter punishment of polluters, according to Xinhua, the state news agency. The revised law, which has 70 articles as opposed to the current 47, is expected to effect on January 1, 2015. It is also the first revision since the original law was passed in 1989. Under the new law, companies would pay larger fines and executives believed responsible for pollution could be detained for up to 15 days. Companies that had sidestepped orders to stop polluting will be penalized with fines that accumulate daily. Under the current law, such companies would have paid one fine.

Global Forecast System assessments (GFS) have shown a marked increase in the temperature of the world ocean surface. The temperatures average 1.12° C (2.02° F) above the 1979 - 2000 average, which itself was about 0.5°C above the 1880 - 1920 average. While the Northern Hemisphere showed the highest average increase at 1.56° C, the equatorial Pacific region had the most concerning results at 0.44° to 0.45° C, which is perilously close to the El Nino threshold of 0.5° C. In a similar vein, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology has reported that all of their climate models indicate a powerful El Nino for 2014. An El Niño, which is caused by unusually warm ocean waters in the Pacific, causes extreme changes in climate patterns throughout the world, which in turn, causes or exacerbates droughts and floods.

A new study launched by the U.N. Environment Programme and the Government of Kenya found that Kenya's transitioning to a green economy could have major economic benefits -- roughly equivalent to $45 billion by 2030. The transition could produce stronger economic growth and increased opportunities by 2012. Green energy investments could also lead to a 2% drop in energy consumption and an increased supply of electricity from renewable sources. A shift to green energy would reduce Kenya's green house gas emissions by 9% by 2030.

The U.S. Department of Defense plans to install three gigawatts of renewable power by 2025, which is enough to power 750,000 homes. (A gigawatt equals one billion watts.) Additionally, the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, CA, has adopted a number of green technologies. The base currently has 4.5 megawatts of solar arrays, and plans to add 1.5 MW more. The base also has two co-generation plants, that run on natural gas, but also capture the heat produced in power generation, using it for both hot water and heat regulation. Co-gen plants are much more energy efficient than are conventional power plants. A typical power plant loses much of its heat energy, and runs at about 33 - 40% efficiency, while a co-gen plant boasts an efficiency of 80%.

The Rodale Institute released a white paper describing how regenerative organic agriculture could halt climate change. According to the paper, “We could sequester more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available and inexpensive organic management practices, which we term ‘regenerative organic agriculture.’” Regenerative organic agriculture includes such practices as crop rotation, cover crops, and composting. The Institute plans a campaign to make the public aware of regenerative organic agriculture.

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