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Climate Change Fact Series

By Tammy Murphy, LL.M. and Devneet Kaur Kainth

Fact 1: Climate change is real

By: Tammy Murphy, LL.M.

People very regularly challenge the validity of climate change. The reasons for questioning it may be based on concerns that may include politics, economics, religious or other barriers to acceptance. In the scientific community, however, it is agreed very broadly that climate change is real and that humans are contributing to it.[1] Although there are scientists researching to what degree human activity affects climate change and what can be done, it is accepted across the scientific fields that climate change is a real concern and that we should take steps to address the safety and health effects of climate change – which we will address more throughout the series.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, “All major scientific agencies of the United States—including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)—agree that climate change is occurring and that humans are contributing to it.” 

"Global climate is changing and this is apparent across the United States in a wide range of observations. The global warming of the past 50 years is primarily due to human activities, predominantly the burning of fossil fuels,"[2] according to the Global Change Research Program in the 2014 National Climate Assessment and the various similar statements released by many global scientific organizations, both independent and governmental.[3]

[1] IPCC (2013). Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

[2] USGCRP (2014). Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment. Melillo, Jerry M., Theres (T.C.) Richmond, and Gary W. Yohe, Eds., U.S. Global Change Research Program. 

[3] NRC (2011). America's Climate Choices: Final Report. National Research Council. The National Academies Press, Washington, DC, USA.

Fact 2: Many Americans do not know much about climate change

By: Tammy Murphy, LL.M.

“A number of important gaps in public knowledge and common misconceptions about climate change” have been identified in a national study of what Americans understand about how the climate system works, and the causes, impacts, and potential solutions to global warming.[1] This study by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication identifies some eye-opening statistics. For example,  “only 8 percent of Americans have knowledge equivalent to an A or B, 40 percent would receive a C or D, and 52 percent would get an F.”[2]


Of the 63% of Americans that believe climate change exists, many do “understand that emissions from cars and trucks and the burning of fossil fuels contribute to global warming, and that a transition to renewable energy sources is an important solution.”[3] To continue that acknowledgement, “75 percent say they would like to know more about the issue and the same number agrees that schools should teach our children about climate change.”[4]  


In honor of the upcoming inauguration, next week’s fact will show how Americans’ views on climate change are sharply divided along political lines. For now, however, let’s see how well you can do on a quiz about climate change. The US Environmental Protection Agency created a quiz on the basis that understanding the threats that climate change pose to human health can help us work together to lower risks and be prepared.[5]

Take the interactive quiz on how much you know about the health impacts of climate change. 

[1] Leiserowitz, A., Smith, N., & Marlon, J. (2017). Americans’ Knowledge of Climate Change. Yale University. New Haven, CT: Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. (2010). Retrieved January 12, 2017, from

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Environmental Protection Agency Climate Change Impacts - Quiz: How Much Do You Know About the Health Impacts of Climate Change? (2016, October 6). Retrieved January 12, 2017, from

Fact 3: Knowledge about climate change is divided along political party lines

By: Tammy Murphy, LL.M.

I hope you enjoyed last week’s quiz. Now that you are also a climate genius, let’s talk about who knows what in America.

Americans are deeply divided on so many issues but climate change is one of the deepest divides. Democrats are more likely than their Republican counterparts to think of climate change as a serious, imminent issue that could affect them as individuals and to support international cooperation on the issue. “While 63% of Americans overall believe there is solid evidence of global warming, there is a sharp partisan and ideological divide on the issue. Nearly eight-in-ten (77%) Democrats believe that global warming is occurring compared to 43% of Republicans. Just over seven-in-ten (73%) of Democrats who describe themselves as conservative or moderate believe there is solid evidence of warming, as do 84% of liberal Democrats.” [1]

Fact 4: The proposed Dakota Access Pipeline impacts climate change

By: Tammy Murphy, LL.M.

Drawing attention to the inadequate environmental and cultural impact assessments for the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), Stephanie Januchowski-Hartley, Anne Hilborn, Katherine Crocker, and Asia Murphy use their expertise to support the concern of the Standing Rock Sioux that the proposed DAPL poses a real threat to biodiversity and clean water as they wrote, "The DAPL project is just one of many haphazard approaches to natural resource extraction that overlook broader consequences of oil development we as scientists are concerned about the potential local and regional impacts from the DAPL, which is symptomatic of the United States' continued dependence on fossil fuels in the face of predicted broad-scale social and ecological impacts from global climate change."[1]


According to the findings of the National Climate Assessment (NCA) the effects of climate change are already affecting communities in the Great Plains Region of the United States. The NCA states, "Rising temperatures are leading to increased demand for water and energy.


In parts of the region, this will constrain development, stress natural resources, and increase competition for water among communities, agriculture, energy production, and ecological needs."[2] The proposed pipeline will compound the effects by disrupting and altering the ecosystem, further straining an already strained system in this location. The fossil fuel extraction and distribution process is a vast system that impacts communities at many different points. One of the other main objections to the proposed pipeline revolves around culture as the lands of Indigenous Peoples are sacred to their spiritual practice and integral to their way of life. Indigenous Peoples have long-struggled to make massive gains in defining their rights as collective rights. [3] These rights include, free, prior and informed consent concerning their lands.[4] The fact that this proposed pipeline does not reach that standard is a discussion for another time but it makes for a nice transition to Fact 5 that will address the issue of climate justice.

Comments to the Environmental Impact Statement to the Army Corps in regard to the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline are being collected

From the Indigenous Women Rise contingent at the Women's March in Washington DC on January 21, 2017 

Fact 5: The Earth's climate has a history of fluctuation

By: Tammy Murphy, LL.M.

Although fluctuations in the climate of earth’s atmosphere are not new, the recent increased warming of the earth’s climate is observed to be in sync with human factors and not in sync with natural factors that have been attributed to climate changes of the past dating back hundreds of millions of years.[1][2]  In general, climate changes prior to the Industrial Revolution in the 1700s can be explained by natural causes, such as changes in solar energy, volcanic eruptions, and natural changes in greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations, compared to greenhouse gas emissions since the 18th Century. [1][2]  Research indicates that natural causes do not explain most observed warming, especially warming since the mid-20th Century. Rather, it is extremely likely that human activities have been the dominant cause of that warming. [1][2] The main greenhouse gas emissions by affecting earth’s climate include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and several others are directly emitted by humans.[1]

[1] US Environmental Protection Agency Climate Change Science: Causes of Climate Change. (n.d.). Retrieved February 2, 2017, from

 [2] IPCC (2013). Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

Fact 6: There is an important distinction between climate and weather

By: Tammy Murphy, LL.M.

Both climate and weather are described in terms of air temperature; type and amount of cloudiness; type and amount of precipitation; air pressure; and wind speed and direction. At a specific time and place, the atmospheric conditions including temperature, rainfall, wind, and humidity are referred to as the weather of that place within a specified relatively short time frame.


To determine the climate of a region, the highs and lows of temperature and the measure of precipitation can be averaged in combination with notable variations, patterns, and extremes are measured over a relatively longer time-frame of a given area, over the course of thirty years, for example. The climate is a longer and more expansive view of overall patterns rather than the immediate and near-term weather observations. [1]

“Understanding and interpreting local weather data and understanding the relationship between weather and climate are important first steps to understanding larger-scale global climate changes.” [2]

[1] Global Climates - Past, Present, and Future, S. Henderson, S. Holman, and L. Mortensen (Eds.), EPA Report No. EPA/600/R-93/126. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development, Washington, DC, pp. 1 - 6. <>.

[2] Introduction to Climate: Differences Between Climate and Weather. (n.d.). Retrieved February 16, 2017, from

[3] Climate at a Glance, NOAA NCEI, (n.d.) Retrieved February 16, 2017 from

Fact 7: Climate change affects the mild days we experience in both number and season

By: Tammy Murphy, LL.M.

Defining days with “mild” weather as having “temperatures between 64 and 86 degrees F, with less than a half inch of rain and dew points below 68 degrees F, indicative of low humidity,” scientists from NOAA and Princeton University have researched the impacts that climate change may have on how often and where mild weather will occur.[1]


These shifts will be noticed immediately and increasingly within the century as the expected number of mild days and amount and seasons with mild weather will change and the global mean number of mild days in a year is projected to decrease by 10 days with mild weather in response to radiative forcing. In North America, for example, fewer mild days will be seen in the summer and an increase of mild days in the winter will occur. In the tropics, the decrease of milder days will be more stark.

[1] van der Wiel, K., Kapnick, S.B. & Vecchi, G.A. Climatic Change (2017) 140: 649. doi:10.1007/s10584-016-1885-9

Fact 8: Climate change is an environmental justice issue

By: Tammy Murphy, LL.M.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Climate change is an environmental justice issue because certain groups of people in the United States are disproportionately affected by climate change and are less able than others to adapt to or recover from climate change impacts.” [1] If taken more broadly, the same principle of disproportionality applies globally to all people who are more likely to struggle to adapt to or recover from climate change impacts. Power plants are often located near low income and minority populations, which are both more likely to experience a cumulative burden of multiple socioeconomic and environmental stressors, such as poor air quality and proximity to hazardous waste facilities, and to be more susceptible to experiencing adverse health outcomes when exposed to pollutants from fossil fuel combustion. [2]


In the United States, the groups most heavily impacted by climate change are more likely to include people of color, low-income communities, immigrants, and people who are not fluent in English. The EPA lists the following factors known to limit the ability of individuals and communities to prepare for, respond to, and cope with the impacts of climate change on health:

  • living in areas particularly vulnerable to climate change, i.e. coastal or dense urban areas

  • living and working near harmful air pollutants, like ozone and particulate matter

  • coping with higher levels of existing health risks when compared to other groups

  • living in low income communities with limited access to healthcare services

  • having high rates of uninsured individuals who have difficulty accessing quality healthcare

  • having limited availability of information and resources in a person’s native language

  • less ability to relocate or rebuild after a disaster. [3]


Drawing attention to vulnerable and overburdened populations for consideration as Pennsylvania begins to implement the federal Clean Power Plan, PSE for Healthy Energy urges reliance on energy efficiency and renewable generation and warms that a “State Plan that relies on increasing electricity generation at existing natural gas plants... may have the potential to increase the utilization of plants located near disproportionately low income and minority populations.” [4]


A snapshot of environmental conflicts in the United States can be seen in the image at the bottom of this entry and a larger perspective of the global struggles can be viewed at the Environmental Justice Atlas (

Fact 9: Each of us can create routines to help reduce our individual contribution to climate change

By: Tammy Murphy, LL.M.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),  offers twenty-five steps in four main areas common to our daily lives (home, school, office and on the road) that can "protect the climate, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution, and save money." Likewise the Canadian government has made a clear list of  ten easy steps for each individual to take to reduce their carbon footprint. Please see the following list and image above to share within your home and your community as reminders of the many things we can do on a daily basys to combat climate change: 

Top 10 Things You Can Do to Help [1]


1. Reduce energy use

Adopt energy-saving habits. Make it a habit to turn off the lights as you leave a room. Also, replace standard light bulbs with energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs. Turn off your computer and unplug electronics when they are not in use.

2. Change the way you think about transportation

Walk or bike whenever possible. Not only will you reduce your carbon footprint, but your overall level of health will improve and you will save money on parking and gasoline. Take public transit or carpool whenever possible. When purchasing a vehicle look for one with better mileage.  Increase your fuel economy when driving by sticking to posted speed limits and avoiding rapid acceleration and excessive braking. Plan and combine trips and errands. This will save you both time and money as well as reduce wear and tear on your vehicle. When travelling long distances, try to take a train or bus rather than flying or driving.

3. Insulate your home

Insulate yourself and your home. By properly insulating your home, you can ensure that heat stays in or out depending on the season. You can do this by purchasing windows and window coverings that will block out or keep in warmth, and by sealing any existing cracks. In winter, reduce your thermostat by 3.5 °F to enjoy energy savings and a cozy sweater. In summer, use fans to circulate air, and set air conditioners to make your home a comfortable temperature. Lowering the temperature on your water heater to 120°F and insulating your pipes also makes a difference. 


4. Make every drop count

Conserve water by fixing drips and leaks, and by installing low-flow shower heads and toilets. Challenge yourself to a speed shower. Turn off water while brushing teeth or shaving. Treating and transporting water requires energy, while water conservation results in reduced energy requirements and carbon emissions.


5. Cool wash and hang to dry

These are not just washing instructions on a label anymore, but an equation for energy savings. Wash clothing in cold water and hang clothing to dry outside, or indoors on a drying rack. Taking these steps will reduce your electricity bill and also prolong the life of clothing by reducing wear on the fabric caused by dryers.


6. Use high efficiency appliances

When replacing appliances, look for high efficiency units. Appliances with ENERGY STAR ratings, an international standard for energy-efficient consumer products, typically utilize a minimum of 20 % less energy. This means savings for you and the environment. 

7. Switch to "green power"

Research where your power is coming from - wind, water, coal, or solar - and talk to your power provider to determine if a greater percentage could be coming from renewable resources. Encourage power providers to switch to green power and, if possible and/or economically viable, switch to a company offering power from renewable resources., such as

8. Recycle

Make recycling part of your daily routine. Recycle all packaging and consumer goods that you can. Aim to purchase items with minimal and recyclable packaging. For certain items with large amounts of packaging, ask retailers if they can recycle or re-use it. For electronics, facilities now exist that can dispose of electronics in an environmentally responsible manner.


9. Repurpose

Rather than discarding or recycling clothing and household goods, give them a chance at a second life. Gently used clothing can be donated to charity or exchanged with friends and family. Old T-shirts can be repurposed into rags for cleaning. Household goods can be donated to charity or sold at a garage sale. Through repurposing, the amount of waste being sent to landfill sites is reduced, there is no need to use energy for recycling, and others can benefit from your used items.

10. Consider plants our new best friend

When gardening, select plants that are well suited to your climate and require minimal watering and attention. Better yet, plant a tree, and it will provide shade and soak up carbon from the atmosphere.

Fact 10: Communities can establish plans and policies to help reduce regional contribution to climate change and offer solutions to manage the impacts of climate change as it occurs

By: Tammy Murphy, LL.M.

Just as we can affect climate change in positive ways as individuals, with conscientious efforts our communities can multiply these positive impacts by enabling and enforcing our local and regional government agents and policies.


According to The US Environmental Protection Agency, the two main ways by which communities can effectively respond to climate change are: mitigation and adaptation, which are respectively preventive and reactive measures. [1]


To act in a preventive fashion, communities need to:
  • develop mixed- use, walkable and public transit oriented spaces;

  • retrofit older homes to be compact, energy-efficient green buildings when possible;

  • build compact, energy-efficient green buildings when new buildings are required;

  • and vigilantly preserve green space.[2]


To react responsibly, communities need to:
  • learn what impacts climate change is predicted to have in the region;

  • determine which areas are best suited to handle the expected impacts and conscientiously develop those areas;

  • determine which areas are least well-suited to handle the impacts of climate change and conscientiously discourage expansion in these areas;

  • make climate-change-informed decisions in planning for transportation and land use, prioritizing fossil-fuel-free transportation, open space preservation, especially near bodies of water and consider water and energy efficiency, adaptability and passive survivability in building and land use;

  • upgrade and establish sustainable stormwater systems, roofs, parks, street trees that air and water pollution.[3]

[1] Smart Growth and Climate Change. (2017, February 23). Retrieved March 17, 2017, from

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

Community Sustainability

Image courtesy of the Institute for Sustainability <>

Fact 11: Climate change and sea level rise caused by global warming pose serious threats to both natural and human communities throughout Greater Philadelphia.[1]

By: Tammy Murphy, LL.M.

With climate change comes the unwelcome fact of climate disruption. Although some may casually think that warmer weather is preferable or that climate change does not  change much for them personally, the reality is that the changes in climate will disrupt many facets of life around us that we may or may not realize have deep and profound impact on our lives. Considering the expected changes to our region's rise in sea level rise on wetlands, salinity, water quality, public access, and hazardous waste sites in Pennsylvania's coastal zone, rising seas will inundate almost all of Pennsylvania's 1,500 acres of tidal wetlands, the salt line in the Delaware River will migrate further upstream, threatening Philadelphia's drinking water supply, the pollutants found in contaminated sites may be released into estuary waters, while efforts to increase public access to the waterfront may be jeopardized by rising waters.[2]

As noted in the previous climate fact in this series, there are many things that comunities can and should do to mitigate the impacts of climate change. In Philadelphia and the surrounding area, it is suggested that communities create more open spaces on the waterfront to provide opportunities for wetland migration and eliminate the need for expensive and environmentally destructive shoreline armoring schemes.[3]

[1]Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC). (n.d.). Climate Change Resiliency. Retrieved March 23, 2017, from

[2] Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission: Sea Level Rise Impacts in the Delaware Estuary of Pennsylvania. (2004, June 1). Retrieved March 23, 2017, from PREPARED FOR: Pennsylvania Coastal Zone Management Program, PA Department of Environmental Protection, Water Planning Office, CZM Project Number: 2002-PD.20.

[3] Ibid.

 The salt line has moved from Wilmington to near the Philadelphia Airport. (Salt line shown is for illustration purposes and does not reflect the exact location) Image by Alan Tu. <>

Fact 12: Just eighteen days of sunshine on Earth contains the same amount of energy as is stored in all of the planet's reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas. [1]

By: Tammy Murphy, LL.M.

Given the health impacts of extracting fossil fuels, it makes sense to seek out sources of energy that are not toxic and are readily available. Although life on our planet derives much of its energy from the plentiful power of the sun, humans have had many doubts and uncertainties about how to power our modern lifestyles with this vast power source. Over the recent decades of research, fortunately solar power has become more reliable and more affordable without threats to our air, water, global warming pollution, or our public health.  


Solar technology works in two basic ways, capturing light and capturing heat. Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels convert sunlight directly to electricity (Map A.) and concentrating solar power systems generate electricity using the sun’s heat (Map B.). [2] See the maps below depicting the different types of solar technology in different regions across the United States.


Solar technologies are so reliable that they generate a majority of the power used during space missions and NASA has dedicated significant research efforts in terms of both time and money to ensure that solar technology is as efficient, lightweight and affordable as possible.[3] These research efforts have great benefits to using solar power as an alternative to fossil fuels.  

Interestingly, Normandy, France has laid the world’s first solar panel roads and a small test is also being laid along America’s iconic Route 66. More commonly, however, we are hearing about the homes and businesses, schools and hospitals across the country that are using rooftop solar panels (photovoltaic panels) to capture energy from the sun’s light. As a growing part of the energy sector, the number of solar energy related jobs in the state of Pennsylvania is already above 3000.[4]

With job creation and a clean renewable energy source, solar power may well be what powers much of our future!

[1] How Solar Energy Works. (n.d.). Retrieved March 30, 2017, from

[2] Ibid.

[3] Chandler, N. (2011, March 03). How has NASA improved solar energy? Retrieved March 30, 2017, from

[4] Solar Jobs Census 2016. (n.d.). Retrieved March 30, 2017, from

Map A. Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels resource map 

Fact 13:  The impact of climate change is considered to be a contributing factor in many global conflicts, including the tragedy occurring in Syria.

By: Tammy Murphy, LL.M.

Due to the freshwater constraints of its geographic location, Syria is a naturally water scarce region.[1] The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that Syria has only about 16.8 km3 yr−1of renewable water with almost 60% coming from outside of its political borders. [2] In addition to the naturally occurring water scarcity, multiple sources, including a 2012 research paper  suggest that “climate change is already beginning to influence droughts in the area by reducing winter rainfall and increasing evapotranspiration.” [3]  


According to Francesco Femia and Caitlin Werrell, the co-founders of the D.C.-based Center for Climate and Security, a think tank focused on the interactions between climate change and security issues, these extreme drought conditions combined with the Syrian government’s policy of subsidizing water-intensive agriculture instead of less water-intensive agriculture forced internal migration from rural regions into tense urban spaces “already experiencing economic insecurity due to an influx of Iraqi and Palestinian refugees,” during the period of regional political upheval of the Arab Spring all happened in a context of political challenges, including issues with a lack of democracy and human rights abuses, that were already present in Syria, according to Caitlin Werrell. [4]    


As Ali Al Jundi, a Syrian project officer for Oxfam in Syria explains, the crisis in his country ‘didn’t happen in one night,’ and that drought, agricultural struggles, and an economic downturn had exacerbated the country’s problems prior to the start of the civil war in 2011. [5] A citizenry once coping with climate change impacted, rural drought-related internal displacement that sent droves of rural Syrians into urban centers stressed by economic insecurity and a heavy influx of refugees all happened in the context of violent domestic and international political conflicts, regime change and repression. All of these aspects of Syrian life are considered contributing factors to the ongoing suffering that Syrians are currently experiencing as they flee the brutality of their shattered country.


“This might well be the tip of the iceberg,” in terms of conflicts impacted by migration due to climate change, according to Jennifer Leaning, a professor and director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health. And member of the Inter-University Committee on International Migration, a research group MIT hosts in its Center for International Studies (CIS).

As Leaning noted that globally about 60 million people are already displaced, which is an increase of 10 million more than the amount of people displaced by World War II. [6]


“In recent years, there has been an increase in incidences of water-related violence around the world at the subnational level attributable to the role that water plays in development disputes and economic activities. Because conflicts are rarely, if ever, attributable to single causes, conflict analysis and concomitant efforts at reducing the risks of conflict must consider a multitude of complex relationships and contributing factors.” [7]

(Image source: World Resource Institute)

[1]   Gleick, P. H., Ph.D. (2014, July 1). American Meteorological Society. Retrieved April 08, 2017, from


[2] Frenken, K., Ed., 2009: Irrigation in the Middle East region in figures: AQUASTAT survey—2008. FAO Water Rep. 34, 402 pp. [Available online at]


[3] Hoerling, M., J. Eischeid, J. Perlwitz, X. Quan, T. Zhang, and P. Pegion, 2012: On the increased frequency of Mediterranean drought. J. Climate,25, 2146–2161, doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-11-00296.1.) (NOAA, cited 2013: NOAA study: Human-caused climate change a major factor in more frequent Mediterranean droughts. [Available online at


[4] Plumer, B. (2013, September 10). Drought helped cause Syria’s war. Will climate change bring more like it? Retrieved April 08, 2017, from


[5] Dizikes, P. (2015, October 22). MIT News Office. Facing the global refugee crisis. Retrieved April 08, 2017, from


[6] Dizikes, P. (2015, October 22). MIT News Office. Facing the global refugee crisis. Retrieved April 08, 2017, from


[7]  Gleick, P. H., Ph.D. (2014, July 1). American Meteorological Society. Retrieved April 08, 2017, from

Fact 14: The bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef has been impacted by a long-term warming trend in the oceans worldwide due to human-caused climate change among other causes. [1]

By: Tammy Murphy, LL.M.

Coral bleaching occurs “when corals are stressed by changes in conditions such as temperature, light, or nutrients, they expel the symbiotic algae living in their tissues, causing them to turn completely white.”[2] Although it does not necessarily cause the coral to die, a bleaching event will cause more stress which leads to a higher likelihood of mortality. The morbidity of the coral after one bleaching event directly impacts the coral’s ability to survive a second or multiple bleaching events.

This Great Coral Reef bleaching happened because of warmer ocean temperatures. The change in temperature is attributed to the shorter term experience of El Nino and the longer term experience of global climate change. In 2015, a “strong El Niño formed, spreading and worsening the bleaching, such that multiple coral reef areas around the world have now experienced bleaching two or even three years in a row. As of March 2017, the ongoing global coral bleaching event continues to be the longest, most widespread, and most damaging on record.” [3]

Coral bleaching can have negative impacts on the surrounding coral community, which impacts aquatic life and humans in multiple ways. The ecological impacts include damage to the ecosystem of coral communities for which many oceanic species are dependent in terms of food and shelter; whereas the socioeconomic impacts affect human communities for which many are dependent in terms of fisheries for sustenance and livelihoods, religious and traditional sites, tourism for enjoyment and as an industry, and as a valuable source for pharmaceutical compounds.  [4]

[1] (2016, May 06). Great Barrier Reef Suffers Through Record Breaking Bleaching Event. Retrieved April 12, 2017, from


[2] US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (2010, March 15). What is coral bleaching? Retrieved April 12, 2017, from


[3] Watch, N. C. (n.d.). Global Coral Bleaching 2014-2017: Status and an Appeal for Observations. Retrieved April 12, 2017, from


[4] Bleaching Impacts. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2017, from

Fact 15: The Paris Agreement sets an ambitious global path to combat climate change and adapt to its effects.

By: Tammy Murphy, LL.M.

The Paris Agreement charts a new course in the global climate effort by bringing all nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with enhanced support to assist developing countries to do so. [1]


As part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Paris Agreement seeks to accelerate and intensify the actions and investment needed for a sustainable low carbon future.


Within the central goal of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, the very basic breakdown aims to:


  1. To keep a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels

  2. To pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius

  3. To strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change. [2]


The Paris Agreement requires all Parties to put forward their best efforts through “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) and to strengthen these efforts in the years ahead. This includes requirements that all Parties report regularly on their emissions and on their implementation efforts. [3]


Referred to as the process of ratification, it is common for a sovereign country to sign a document such as this international legal agreement and then to have to bring it home, so to speak to seek domestic agreement to make the agreement a matter of domestic, internal obligation. Of the 197 countries that signed as Parties to the Convention, 144 have taken the necessary steps to ratify their obligations as part of their own domestic legal system.  The ratification process is especially important because the Paris Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016, only once 55 Parties to the Convention submitted their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession, which accounted for approximately 55 % of the total global greenhouse gas emissions. [4]


In 2018, and every five years Parties will take stock of and assess collective progress towards achieving the goal set in the Paris Agreement and to inform further individual actions by Parties. To reach these goals, Parties need to establish appropriate financial flows by 2025, a new technology framework and an enhanced capacity building framework.  [5]

[1] United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. (2017, February 01). Status of ratification. Retrieved April 28, 2017, from

[2] United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. (2016, October 04). Retrieved April 28, 2017, from

[3] United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. (2017, April 13). Retrieved April 28, 2017, from

[4] United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. (2017, February 01). Status of ratification. Retrieved April 28, 2017, from

[5] United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. (2016, October 04). Retrieved April 28, 2017, from

Fact 16: The elimination of the US Clean Power Plan could threaten the ability of the United States to meet its own target of reducing emissions but cannot eliminate the Paris Agreement.

By: Tammy Murphy, LL.M.

The most recent executive order compels the Environmental Protection Agency to begin a legal process of dissolving the Clean Power Plan (CPP), that would have replaced coal-fired power plants with a system of new wind and solar farms. “To kill the CPP, Trump appears to have two basic options.  He can either convince a court to strike down the regulation as exceeding the EPA’s authority, or he can arrange for the EPA to rescind it through the same notice-and-comment rulemaking that Obama used to implement it.” [1] The purpose of the executive order is said to jobs but as earlier facts in this series have covered, the development of the clean energy sector offers plentiful job growth without threatening to destroy the global process designed to reduce the disruption of climate change. 


According to Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science, said that ending the Clean Power Plan, “...will make it virtually impossible for the United States to fulfil its nationally determined contribution to the Paris Agreement by reducing its annual emissions by 26 to 28 per cent by 2025 compared with 2005, unless there are other strong actions to cut emissions. It will also miss its target of reducing emissions by 17% by 2020 compared with 2005, which was agreed at the climate change summit in Cancun, Mexico, in 2010.” [2]


Thomas Hale, Associate Professor in Global Public Policy, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford, has declared that, “...the Paris system is strong because it is broad and flexible in ways that few international agreements can match. For that we should be grateful.” In four points summarized below, he explains:

  1. It will take the US approximately four years to legally leave the Paris Agreement and the next president can re-ratify the Agreement without seeking US Senate approval;

  2. The Agreement relies on hundreds of other national plans rather than reciprocal concessions (as demonstrated above in the infographic in Fact 15);

  3. Climate decisions based on local municipalities, industries and civil society  can lead from the bottom up and the according to UNEP, these non-party initiatives could reduce emissions as much as the national climate plans by 2030;

  4. The economic virtue of fossil fuel profits are questionable as renewables are at parity with fossil fuels across much of the world.

Image source:


[1] Can President Trump Kill the Clean Power Plan and the Paris Agreement? (2016, November 21). Retrieved May 04, 2017, from


[2] Killing Clean Power Plan will make it 'virtually impossible' for US to meet Paris Agreement pledges. (2017, March 28). Retrieved May 04, 2017, from


[3] Hale, T., PhD. (n.d.). The Paris Agreement will survive President Trump. Retrieved May 04, 2017, from

Fact 17: Methane emissions are a powerful greenhouse gas.

By: Tammy Murphy, LL.M.

Earlier this week, the United States Senate put public health ahead of industry convenience when it voted against a resolution that would have overturned regulations concerning protections from methane emissions on public lands. In addition to natural emissions of methane from wetlands, human activities including leaks from natural gas systems and the raising of livestock account for approximately 10 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. Methane is short lived compared to  carbon dioxide (CO2), but CH4 is more efficient at trapping radiation than CO2 and therefore the the comparative impact of CH4 is more than 25 times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period. [1]

Anthropogenic methane emissions have increased dramatically since pre-industrial times. Fortunately, methane has a large reduction potential and cost-effective mitigation technologies are available and by reducing methane emissions by 50 percent by 2050 and maintaining those reductions through 2100 could help reduce global temperature on the same scale as similar reductions in CO2 emissions—about 0.55 degrees Celsius. [2]

One of the challenges to this mitigation process is the oil and natural gas industry that is too often credited for reducing CO2 emissions with short script given to the industry as leading emitters of anthropogenic CH4, releasing 1,677 MtCO2e, or approximately 23% of total recent global CH4 emissions, which is expected to grow 26% by 2030. [3]

According to Jeremy Martin of the Union of Concerned Scientists, “This resolution would have put the convenience of oil and gas companies ahead of taxpayers. Let’s remember we’re talking about public, not private, lands.  These companies need to be accountable for the pollution they create, and this resolution would have made that nearly impossible—not only would it have overturned current rules, it would have blocked future administrations from setting standards. The fact that the Senate rejected this short-sighted resolution is an encouraging sign. We need to work together to cut emissions.” [4]

Image source:


[1] Overview of Greenhouse Gases. (2017, April 14). Retrieved May 12, 2017, from

[2] About Methane. (n.d.). Retrieved May 12, 2017, from

[3] Ibid.

[4] Senate Defends Climate, Health by Voting Down Methane Resolution. (2017, May 10). Retrieved May 12, 2017, from

Fact 18: Healthcare is big business that impacts and is impacted by climate change

By: Tammy Murphy, LL.M.

Healthcare is big business. This statement may not be what many of this readership would like to be true but it is in fact, quite true. Looking at the current political debate about healthcare, it is obvious that the financial aspects of healthcare are a predominant concern. To many, it looks like an opportunistic grab of profit from a healthcare system that seems to focus on the financial health of the bottom line of corporations and ultra-wealthy profiteers than on the actual health of our society. As this debate rages on, there seems to be a major component missing. Climate change increasingly impacts human health and therefore impacts our healthcare system with changing and increasing demands that are going to continue to grow. Yet, this connection is not included in the ongoing healthcare debate.

In Forbes magazine four years ago, Gary Cohen, Co-Founder and President of Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth provided three clear roles to, “… engage the healthcare sector in climate change mitigation so they can help communities be prepared to weather these crises and help lead us to a healthier and more sustainable future.”[1] The first main role would be to address, “preparedness and resilience in their design and operations so they can be critical players in responding to extreme weather events, rather than being one of the victims.” Secondly, the healthcare sector needs, “to model the transition to a post-fossil fuel economy.” It is the third tenet of Cohen’s instructive report, however, that seems to stand out as the single most important and effective strategy that will likely be the impetus needed to engage the healthcare sector in the first two roles. Likewise, this third role is vital to the ongoing political debate about healthcare in our society and without it, the silence is deafening.

Cohen describes the third role of the healthcare sector as, “education and advocacy around climate change policy.” Health care professionals, especially doctors and nurses, enjoy an unprecedented role as positive messengers for health in society. As we begin to calculate the enormous health care and social costs of climate change, health care professionals are in a position to educate their patients about the public health impacts of climate change and help prepare them for these impacts, and also become potent spokespersons for policies at all levels of government that would rein in climate change.” Cohen goes on to quote Margaret Chan then director general of the World Health Organization, who stated that, “the health sector must add its voice – loud and clear – and fight to place health issues at the center of the climate agenda. We have compelling reasons for doing so. Climate change will affect, in profoundly adverse ways, some of the most fundamental determinants of health: food, air, and water.”

Throughout this series, information regarding warnings of weather related events, including increased storms, heat waves, hurricanes and droughts that will be accompanied by increased levels of asthma, allergies, diseases and emergencies. As an avid readership concerned with the health impacts of climate change, it makes sense that Cohen also quotes The Lancet, Britain’s premier health journal, in calling climate change, “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century.” Yet, where are the voices of the medical profession in this current political debate? Some are speaking out, some reading this entry will likely be at the forefront of those speaking out on the issue but how can this leadership be developed to reach a wider audience at this crucial moment? How can the voice of the medical profession soar above the din of the profiteers in the political debate about healthcare to refocus the debate on to the ever-growing healthcare needs of a society already dealing with the early effects of climate change?

[1] Forum, S. W. (2013, April 07). What does Climate Change Have to Do With Health Care? Retrieved June 23, 2017, from

Fact 19: Climate change contribute to the spread of disease. 

By: Tammy Murphy, LL.M.

The dog days of summer are here and climate disruption affects both us and our furry friends in a creepy crawly way.

Climate change is considered a major cause of the increase in problems associated with ticks. [1] The habitable areas in more northern locations in the US allows for a broader and longer lifespan of the insect that carries Lyme disease more common in the U.S. States as far north as Maine and Vermont used to have very few cases of Lyme disease associated with ticks but now are becoming more hospitable to ticks. The earlier spring season a longer time to find food and survive longer periods of time which results in an increase of outbreaks of Lyme disease each summer.

Learning to properly remove ticks form your pet, especially after any extended time outside, improve your chance of preventing the insect from transmitting a disease.

We understand that preventing and treating this symptom of climate change is merely a stop gap measure. We encourage you to be vocal where you are local. Join PSR Pennsylvania’s Dr. Alan Peterson and PennEnvironment for the Beat the Heat Rally for Climate Solutions! On August 8th at noon, Dr. Peterson will speak outside Philadelphia City Hall, North Side.  Please join him!

Please also consider taking action with our fellow climate solution ambassadors at Food & Water Watch.

[1] Doucleff, M. (2017, April 21). #CuriousGoat: Will Climate Change Help Ticks And Mosquitoes Spread Disease? Retrieved August 02, 2017, from

Fact 20: Climate change will increase the intensity of Atlantic hurricanes within the 21st century

By: Devneet Kaur Kainth

In response to the recent influx of Atlantic hurricanes that have wreaked havoc on many large cities such as Houston and Miami, and have even disabled entire islands such as Puerto Rico, many people have begun to question the real reason for these massive and harrowing storms. Sadly, as in the case of many scientific phenomena, there is not one direct cause that correlates to the production of these storms or one solution to preventing them. 


To understand what could potentially increase the frequency or intensity of hurricanes, the most essential fact to understand is how a hurricane forms. Simply put, the rains of hurricanes are “fueled” by the evaporation of warm ocean water into the atmosphere, where it then cools and recondenses into rain and clouds.  The winds are caused by warm heat rising, which leaves low pressure areas at the surface of the ocean and causes surrounding high pressure air to take its place. The air swirls due to the rotation of Earth on its axis [1] Essentially, hurricanes are large ocean-created tornados fueled by water vapor.


Once this is understood, it is easy to understand why climate change along with the increase in average sea temperature could be significant components to increasing their intensity. As stated by George Tselioudis, a research scientist at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) and Columbia University, “if we are creating an atmosphere more loaded with humidity, any storm that does develop has greater potential to develop into an intense storm” [2].

Now what exactly does a more “intense storm” mean and will we even be able to see the effects of this in our lifetimes?  The most current and technologically advance hurricane models project that “lifetime maximum intensity of Atlantic hurricanes will increase by about 5% during the 21st century in general agreement with previous studies. The hurricane model further projects a significant increase (+90%) in the frequency of very intense (category 4 and 5) hurricanes” [3]. This means that although, there has been no evidence that the frequency of these storms will differ, the severity and most importantly damage caused by these terrible storms will surely increase.

[1] “How Do Hurricanes Form?" NASA. NASA, 27 Sept. 2017. Web.

[2] “Global Warming and Hurricanes." GFDL. NOAA Research, 30 Aug. 2017. Web.

[3] “The Impact of Climate Change on Natural Disasters." NASA. NASA, n.d. Web.

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