Our new print edition is out! After months of hard work, the Sanford Journal of Public Policy is proud to announce that our Winter 2015 print journal is ready to go, and we couldn’t be more proud of it.
On Thursday, President Obama will speak before the U.N. Security Council in New York, calling on global leaders to support the U.S. campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL). As the president declared earlier this month, he plans to “degrade, and ultimately destroy” the terrorist group. The American strategy—airstrikes, counterterrorism intelligence, and humanitarian relief—will increase our engagement in Iraq and move airstrikes into Syria for the first time. As the president pitches his plan to the leaders of the world, what do Duke students and faculty have to say?
Video courtesy of the White House
While the Midwest and Northeast dug their cars out from under the polar vortex this past week, much of California roasted. Ski resort owners nervously eyed their brown, bare mountains. Catholic Bishops called on parishioners to pray for rain. And Mendocino County, just north of San Francisco, declared a state of emergency, citing an “imminent threat of disaster.”
For the third year in row, California is suffering through drought conditions that are anything but trivial. The state relies on snowmelt for around one third of its public water supply, and snow conditions look increasingly bleak. The first snow survey of the winter showed that in the Sierra Nevada, snowpack levels are dwindling at 20 percent of normal. That’s the same reading scientists got in 2012, making both years the driest ever recorded.
And it’s not just snow. Rain is a huge problem, too. In Los Angeles, where it usually rains only 15 inches per year, a mere 3.6 inches reached the ground throughout all of 2013. To put that number into perspective, New Orleans usually sees 3.5 inches of rainfall in October alone – its driest month of the year.
For California’s 38 million people and 45 billion-dollar agriculture industry, continued drought could spell disaster. So Governor Jerry Brown now faces an important decision. Pressure is mounting—from state lawmakers, farmers, and local water districts—for the governor to declare a state of drought emergency.
But what would an emergency declaration do?
As the Sacramento Bee reports, historically, there haven’t been clear guidelines on when to declare a drought, or what happens afterward. A drought declaration would force federal officials to pay attention to the crisis, potentially accelerating federal relief. But some speculate that a drought declaration would send a message of economic hardship, and Governor Brown has so far sidestepped the question.
Growing up in Southern California, I remember the conservation measures we had to take during the drought of the late 80s and early 90s. “If it’s yellow, let it mellow” became a popular model in our San Diego home. In Los Angeles, the mayor implemented mandatory water rationing, slapping big penalties on anyone who wasted water. And in Santa Barbara, residents applied green paint to their dried out lawns.
But the reality is that even with a tremendous drought every decade or two (and several smaller droughts in between), most Californians hardly ever have to consider the state’s water problems. In San Diego—where our climate is often reminiscent of the Anza Borrego desert—luscious lawns and golf courses are still the norm. We may have low-flow toilets, but rarely can I remember anyone talking about taking shorter showers during non-drought times, or making sure not to waste water while washing the dishes or brushing one’s teeth.
It’s time for all Californians, and residents in other drought-stricken states, to realize that having enough water is a luxury that may not be around for long. After all, climate change is threatening to make our water shortages even worse. A report from the Natural Resources Defense Council shows that, due to climate change, around one third of all U.S. counties will face higher risks of water shortages by 2050.
As Governor Brown considers declaring a drought emergency, perhaps he should look to his own citizens as his audience. A drought declaration would not only draw the attention of federal officials. It would also serve as a wake-up call for Californians, underscoring the crisis at hand. It’s time we get serious about water conservation in the long term. A drought declaration could be the first step to real, sustainable lifestyle changes that keep both our water use and our water crises under control.
By: Valerie Jaffee
Just last week, Asheville took a big step for Southern cities—it voted to transition off of coal to clean energy sources. In a unanimous vote, the Asheville City Council approved a resolution to phase out Duke Energy’s coal-fired power plant in the city. For North Carolina, where 40 percent of our electricity comes from coal, this could signal a major shift toward less polluting power.
Around the state, coal plays a major role in keeping our economy running. But along with lighting our homes and businesses, coal plants release air pollution that can endanger our health, the landscape, and the planet.
Coal-fired plants produce 84 different types of hazardous air pollutants, according to the American Lung Association. These include acid gases, like hydrogen chloride, along with lead, arsenic, and mercury. Children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with asthma or cardiovascular diseases are particularly at risk.
Is there a coal-fired plant near where you live? Each black marker above shows a coal-fired plant in NC.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration
Burning coal also produces carbon pollution, which travels up to the atmosphere and traps in heat, driving climate change. In fact, the Asheville Coal Plant remains the largest source of carbon pollution in Western North Carolina. Each year, the plant releases as much carbon dioxide as nearly 500,000 cars, according to the Sierra Club.
The question now is how, nationwide, we can transition our electricity sector off of coal and onto cleaner sources of energy. It won’t be immediate – coal is still responsible for about 37% of the electricity generated in the United States. But already, we are seeing a big move to natural gas due to dropping gas prices. And renewables are adding power to the electric grid at a higher rate than coal and nuclear combined.
As we move from coal to other sources, we’ll need to ensure that coal workers have opportunities for other jobs. That’s why Asheville’s resolution establishes a partnership between the city and Duke Energy, laying the groundwork for a smooth transition for workers.
The coming months and years will tell whether Asheville can smoothly make the switch to cleaner fuels. The city has committed to be a strong leader in the fight against climate change. Now, Asheville must put its money where its mouth is, developing fuel sources that are better for the environment and the local economy.