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Major environmental stories of June 2014

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a report saying that the combined land and ocean temperatures recorded in May 2014 made it the hottest May in recorded history -- and U.S. temperature records go back to 1880. The combined average of land and ocean temperatures was 1.33 degrees higher than the 20th century average of 58.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

Geographers with the National Geographic report that the shrinking of the Arctic ice sheet in the upcoming 10th edition of the National Geographic Atlas of the World will be one of the biggest changes in that publication's history. Geographer Juan José Valdés calls it "the biggest visible change other than the breakup of the U.S.S.R." According to NASA, the ice has retreated by 12% per decade since the 1970's.

Hurricane Cristina, which developed off the coast of Western Mexico in mid-June, set a frightening new record. It was the second Category 4 hurricane of the Pacific hurricane season. The first was Amanda, another Category 4 hurricane with the alarming distinction of developing in late May -- before hurricane season officially began. This makes 2014 the first year recorded to have two Category 4 hurricanes before July. The eastern Pacific basin tends to be very active in El Ninõ years-- and the Climate Prediction Center says there is currently a 70% chance of one developing this summer.

The University of Vermont released the Vermont Climate Assessment , which is the first state-level climate assessment report. The report's authors used over 175 scientific studies, climate data from NOAA and the National Weather Service, and projections of future climate change from IPCC. The plan's three goals include doing more research on climate change, learning more about expected future impacts, and increasing communication about those impacts, which will likely include floods, pests, and dry spells. The report's authors encourage the state of Vermont to generate 90% of its energy from renewable sources by 2050.

At the 82nd U.S. Conference of Mayors in Dallas, mayors signed the latest version of the Climate Protection Agreement, which was endorsed by over 1000 mayors. The Agreement includes a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80% from 1990 levels by 2050. Attendees also voted on a resolution to protect water supplies and air quality, defend coastlines, and maintain a healthy tree cover.

On June 24, a group of business leaders of various political leanings published "Risky Business,", a report detailing the economic costs of climate change to the United States. The authors include former Treasury Secretaries Henry Paulson, Robert Rubin, and George Shultz, former Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg, and hedge fund manager Tom Steyer. The report divides the U.S. into regions and describes the biggest threats climate change poses to those regions, along with the expected costs of repairing the resultant damage. For example, the Northeast will be vulnerable to sea level rise of 2 to 6 feet, and the resultant property damage could rise by $6 to $9 billion per year. Storms like Hurricane Sandy will only exacerbate matters.

The Task Force on Systemic Pesticides released an analysis of neonicotinoid pesticides or neonics, examining their effects on the environment and bees. In the Worldwide Integrated Assessment (WIA). The authors examined over 800 peer-reviewed articles, and they concluded that at even very low levels, neonics are harmful. Neonics are insecticides that are absorbed by plants and transported through the plant's tissues, making the plant potentially toxic to insects. They first came into heavy use during the 2000's -- around the same time that beekeepers began reporting cases of "colony collapse disorder." They have been losing 30% of their bees every year since 2006, and the USDA has reported that honeybees in the U.S. are dying at too a high a rate to ensure their long-term survival.

On June 30, scientists at the NOAA Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii reported that June would be the third month in a row in which average levels of carbon dioxide were over 400 parts per million (ppm). In April, May, and June 2014, the average levels were over 400 ppm for the entire month. That's the longest time in recorded history there has been that much carbon in the atmosphere. The first time carbon levels topped 400 ppm was in May 2013 -- and it did so briefly. Scientists believe that carbon levels must be kept below 350 ppm to prevent dangerous climate change in the form of sea level rise, droughts, and extreme weather.

New York State's highest court has ruled that municipalities like the towns Dryden and Middlefield can use local zoning laws to ban heavy industry, including hydraulic fracking, within their borders. Fracking opponents have used such laws in over 170 New York towns or cities to pass bans or moratoria. The ruling makes New York the second state in the Northeast, after Pennsylvania, to allow municipalities to ban fracking. Dryden and Middlefield had amended their zoning laws in 2011 in order to prohibit fracking, which prompted Norse Energy Corp. to sue them. While proponents of fracking argue the process is safe when done properly, opponents claim that fracking can result in contaminated water supplies.

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