While Washington remains gridlocked over how to handle climate change, many other U.S. cities are already adapting to it, USA Today reports. The sea level around Norfolk, Va., has risen 14.5 inches in the past 80 years, for example, so the city is studying how to fortify dams and buildings near the shore. Chula Vista, Calif., has also seen its sea level rise 6 inches since 1900, and since it's forecast to rise another 12 to 18 inches by 2050, the city now requires all new waterfront buildings to include taller foundations. Along with similar efforts from New York to Chicago to Seattle, this is part of an emerging trend in the fight against global warming: adaptation.

"It's a new field," Brian Holland of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives tells USA Today. The ICLEI launched a program last year to help cities study climate change and finance ways to adapt, and nearly 600 local governments have signed on — representing one-fourth of the U.S. population. Even though individual storms or heat waves can't be directly linked to global warming, Holland says their frequency and intensity have convinced many Americans that something must be done before it's too late. "We're already seeing consequences of climate change," Holland says, "and those will only intensify." In a recent report on how 12 U.S. cities will be affected by climate change, the Natural Resources Defense Council warned that coastal cities like New York and San Francisco face "serious challenges" from sea-level rise, Southwestern cities like Phoenix can expect deepening droughts, and Midwestern cities like Chicago and St. Louis will see more severe storms and flooding. "We're mostly at the study-and-planning phase," says Michelle Mehta, co-author of the NRDC report.

USA Today also quotes a climate skeptic from the Heritage Foundation who warns of overreacting to "hysterical" forecasts of rising sea levels, but city planners tell the paper they're just doing their job. According to the public works director for Coronado, Calif., the planning isn't about politics, but simply "our duty to make sure that we're informed for things that might potentially happen." And while New York City planning and sustainability director David Bragdon admits it's hard to find funding for some adaptation projects, he adds that not all of them require extra money. "It's altering the way we're doing things," he says. "It's building something to fit the likely conditions of the future."

(Sources: USA Today, ICLEI)


Less than a week after an oil-drilling platform was found to be leaking crude off the coast of Scotland — creating the biggest North Sea oil spill in a decade — a second oil leak has also been discovered, the U.K.'s Press Association reports. Shell's Gannet Alpha platform has already spilled an estimated 1,300 barrels of oil (54,600 gallons) into the North Sea, and now the second leak is releasing an estimated two barrels (84 gallons) into the sea per day, according to Glen Cayley, Shell's technical director for exploration and production activities in Europe.

Shell has come under fire for not disclosing details of the original leak — which was first detected last Wednesday — until it had been plugged, and the company is now apparently hoping to focus attention on the fact that the overall flow of oil has been greatly diminished. "The leak that we've stemmed was in the flow line, so job No. 1 was to close in the wells and isolate the reservoir, which of course is the large volume from the leak," Cayley tells the Press Association. "We're confident that it's under control. The residual small leak is in an awkward position to get to. This is complex subsea infrastructure, and really getting into it among quite dense marine growth is proving a challenge." But, he reiterates, "The primary leak in the flow line is pretty much dead."

It remains unclear how the leaks started, the PA reports; the first one was originally spotted last week by a helicopter passing overhead. At its worst, the surface sheen of oil stretched out for 18 miles, but Shell says it has since shrunk significantly. No oil is expected to reach shore, which is 112 miles away from the Gannet Alpha platform. And while 1,300 barrels pales in comparison to the 5 million barrels BP spilled into the Gulf of Mexico last summer, it's still a lot for the chilly and turbulent North Sea, points out the U.K.'s Department of Energy and Climate Change: "Although small in comparison to the Macondo, Gulf of Mexico, incident, in the context of the U.K. Continental Shelf  the spill is substantial — but it is not anticipated that oil will reach the shore and indeed it is expected that it will be dispersed naturally."

(Sources: Press Association, Guardian, Dundee Courier)


American grizzly bears once roamed all the way from Alaska to Mexico, and thrived well east of the Rocky Mountains, at least as far as the Dakotas. They were considered plains animals, frequenting ungrizzly-like places such as the Missouri River Valley and Texas Hill Country, and some even encountered Lewis and Clark on the Great Plains. Aside from Alaska and western Canada, they've since been relegated to a few mountain enclaves — but as the New York Times reports, grizzlies are finally starting to repopulate the prairies, only to find that people have moved in during their absence.

"Bears are recolonizing their grassland habitat," bear-management technician Russell Talmo tells the Times. "They are showing up in places where they haven't been seen in generations." Grizzlies were first listed as a threatened species in 1975, when their population in the Lower 48 states had shrunk to just a few hundred. There are now more than 900 living in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem alone, and their numbers increase by 2 to 3 percent each year. International news stories about attacks on humans have recently emanated from Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, but as the Times reports, grizzlies are also making waves at lower altitudes. A grizzly killed chickens last year near Loma, Mont., for example, which is 175 miles from the mountains — the farthest east a grizzly is known to have traveled in the last century. And earlier this year, a plains rancher near Fairfield, Mont., shot two grizzlies that had killed seven of his sheep.

Such run-ins highlight the predicament posed by America's wandering bears. While it's hard to argue the animals don't deserve to reclaim territory that humans usurped generations ago, it's also hard to ignore 800-pound carnivores lumbering onto farms and ranches. The Montana rancher who shot two grizzlies was fined $2,000 in federal court, the Times points out, for killing an endangered species that wasn't threatening a human life. Stories like that have fueled a growing movement to remove grizzly bears from the endangered species list, and are pressuring wildlife managers to save bears by keeping livestock alive. "Mortality control is our No. 1 tool to bringing the bear back," explains Chris Servheen of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

(Sources: New York Times, MNN)


Just 15 minutes of brisk walking every day could add three years to a person's life, according to a new study published in the Lancet, and could reduce overall death risk by 14 percent. Conversely, another study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine warns that a more sedentary lifestyle, including at least six hours of daily TV watching, can reduce a person's lifespan by five years.

Fifteen minutes of daily walking is the minimum amount of physical activity an adult can do to receive any health benefit, the Lancet study reports, and offers a good baseline regimen for people who are just starting to exercise. The results are based on a review of more than 400,000 people in Taiwan, which showed that 15 minutes per day — or 90 minutes per week — of moderate exercise such as brisk walking can lengthen lifespan by three years. Going beyond that minimum yields further life lengthening, the researchers report: Every additional 15 minutes of daily exercise further reduced overall death rates by 4 percent. Meanwhile, Australian researchers report in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that TV watching is linked to shorter lifespans, presumably because it takes time away from exercising and contributes to reduced blood flow.

"Physical activity offers huge benefits and these studies back what we already know — that doing a little bit of physical activity each day brings health benefits and a sedentary lifestyle carries additional risks," England's Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies tells the BBC. "We hope these studies will help more people realize that there are many ways to get exercise, activities like walking at a good pace or digging the garden over can count, too."

(Source: BBC News)


The Klondike Gold Rush begins, NASCAR tries to go carbon neutral, and more.

Russell McLendon

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Photo (seawall): U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Photo (offshore oil rigs in the North Sea): tjodolv/Flickr

Photo (grizzly bear overlooking the Rocky Mountains): ZUMA Press

Photo (woman walking two dogs): IVALO 140/Jupiter Images

Russell McLendon ( @russmclendon ) writes about humans and other wildlife.

Daily Briefing: Tues.
Cities adapt to climate shifts, oil fouls North Sea, walking lengthens lives, and more.