Weekly Round-Up — Nov. 21

By Kendall Brunette

BOULDER WEEKLY

Federal sequestration cuts hurt ongoing medical research by reducing research grant funding.  According to Boulder Weekly, Christopher Lowry, a scientist in the department of integrative physiology at the University of Colorado Boulder, is one of many CU scientists who are struggling to obtain funding for their research.  Lowry is researching new treatments for depression and is working toward a vaccination against it.  Although his research has received constant funding since 1995, he now faces the reality that the money will soon run out, leaving his research in question.

THE DENVER POST

The Boulder County Sheriff’s Office is seeking information about two recent incidents of illegal chemical dumping near Lyons.  According to The Denver Post, authorities found a 30-gallon barrel of zinc cyanide dumped at the Black Bear Inn earlier this month.  Four days later, a 20-gallon barrel of copper cyanide was discovered at an Environmental Protection Agency dump site.

UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO BOULDER

CU-Boulder proudly announced the successful launch of its Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission on Monday, Nov. 18.  The CU-led $671 million NASA mission to Mars will target the role that the loss of atmospheric gases played in changing Mars from a warm, wet and possibly habitable planet for life to the cold, dry and inhospitable planet it appears to be today, according to a CU-Boulder news release.

U.S. crushes six tons of ivory

By Gloria Dickie

VO: For many conservationists, it’s the sound of change.

Hundreds gathered in Commerce City, Colorado Thursday for the destruction of six tons of ivory. The United States government has been stockpiling illegal ivory since the 1980s.

Director of Traffic North America Crawford Allan applauded the action the U.S. has taken in combating the illegal wildlife trade.

ALLAN: What this symbolizes is also that the United States is recognizing its role as a major consumer nation of ivory and it really doesn’t want to be part of that anymore. And it’s trying to make a difference. What this is about, I believe, is the U.S. government getting involved and saying it’s going to help.

VO: But some members of the community were divided on crushing a stockpile worth millions of dollars.

Kai Bernstein is a local elephant activist in Colorado. In early October Bernstein led Boulder’s International March for Elephants through the city’s downtown core.

But Bernstein has mixed feelings about the crush.

BERNSTEIN: It’s kind of a Catch 22, but personally I’d say just go ahead and sell it. Especially in respect to the elephants who died for all that ivory and you’re just going to burn it? It’s kind of a sad situation, in my opinion, I would get out there and distribute it. What are they going to do when all that ivory is gone? They’re going to get back out there and kill more elephants because there’s no more ivory to have. They’re not going to stop this trade.

VO: Even those working for U.S. Fish & Wildlife expressed dissatisfaction with the situation.

Richard Ruggiero is chief of the department’s African branch and has worked with elephants for more than 30 years.

RUGGIERO: Every time I see a tusk I see a failure of people in my field. I feel my own failure. Every time I see a tusk. That is the symptom of the disease. Every time you see a tusk that is a failure of people like myself who have dedicated our lives, professionally and personally, to keeping elephants alive.

VO:  With more than 30,000 elephants killed each year for their ivory, Thursday’s crush was only a small sample of global ivory traffic. But for those who have spent the past two decades on the frontlines, it was a memorable way to commemorate lives lost.

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The Colorado education round-up for November 15

By Lauren Maslen

CU-Boulder’s annual Diversity Summit

CU-Boulder held its 19th annual Diversity Summit on Wednesday, Nov. 13 and Thursday Nov.14. This year’s summit was entitled “Building the Road Map” and allowed summit speakers, campus leaders, and the public to discuss how far the university has come and what steps it will take in the future to increase campus diversity. 

Dazed and confused

The Denver Post reports that pot usage among Colorado high schools students has increased since the 2012 vote to legalize recreational marijuana. School officials say that students see the drug as safe, widely available and acceptable, and “cool.” Although numbers are not yet available, marijuana use among high school students at school appears to be increasing nationally, according to The National Institute of Drug Abuse.

To infinity and beyond 

Students from Crest View Elementary visited CU-Boulder’s campus on Monday, Nov. 11 for a sneak preview of the CU-led MAVEN mission to Mars, complete with tours and experiments, lunch with two astronauts, rocket building, and a launch party. The students won an international art competition last year under the instruction of kindergarten enrichment teacher, Jill Williams. Photos of their artwork will be hurled into space aboard Monday, Nov. 18’s MAVEN launch.

Financial giant Xcel falls to the middleman

By Gloria Dickie

Xcel Energy proved money really isn’t everything last Tuesday night, when Ballot Question 310 failed by 68.88 percent in the city of Boulder.

The multimillion-dollar energy corporation threw hundreds of thousands of dollars behind “Yes on 310” campaigns in the region, hoping to prevent the city from breaking away and creating its own municipal utility fueled by clean energy. But, despite their best financial efforts, local grassroots campaigns prevailed at a fraction of the cost.

“Xcel and [company] ‘officially’ outspent the Empower Our Future campaign by approximately 3:1,” said Alison Burchell, a spokesperson for Empower Our Future and Clean Energy Action. “If you consider what Xcel spent on advertisements prior to the official campaign start date and indirect campaigning, the ratio is even higher.”

With more than half a million dollars wrapped up in “Yes on 310” campaigns, Xcel seemed like the Goliath to many of the clean energy issue campaigns.

“To be honest I think it was an uphill battle from the start,” said Steve Fenberg, executive director of the New Era Colorado Foundation, pointing to the cash flow behind the opposing side, as well as the misinformation he believed had been spread during the campaign season.

According to the latest expense and donor filings from the issue campaign, New Era’s campaign Voters Against Xcel Buying Elections was able to raise nearly $200,000 through crowdfunding via Indiegogo.

While both sides of the issue threw their weight behind local advertising, Fenberg stressed the importance of direct conversation with the community.

Since the beginning of their campaign in July, Fenberg estimated New Era had made contact with 120,000 citizens, by way of knocking on doors, visiting classrooms and cold-calling citizens to inform them of the advantages of municipalization.

“The most successful [method] is really old-fashioned, grassroots work — talking to people face to face. We used Facebook, we did commercials, we did a little bit of mail-outs, but at the end of the day it’s the face to face stuff.”

Burchell, too, emphasized the need to engage in honest community outreach, noting Xcel had dedicated a lot of its time and money toward polling.

Indeed, many groups on the ‘Yes’ side of the question put their resources toward research, with Boulder Citizens for Rational Energy Decisions — sponsored primarily by Colorado Oil & Gas — putting a large chunk of change toward consulting and research.

Still, Xcel spent close to $440,000 on advertising, delivering their message via television and online advertisements and mail-outs, choosing to forego the yard signs that were popular with many residents.

infographic_elections2

Graphic 1.1. Breakdown of campaign expenses and contributions on 310 & 2E. By Gloria Dickie

Leslie Glustrom of Clean Energy Action and Empower Our Future noted they had distributed over 1,500 yard signs to encourage a ‘No’ vote.

“For a normal campaign, you would get 100 to 200 campaign signs — that’s kind of the standard for Boulder campaigns. It is a wonderful testament to the Boulder community that over 1500 people helped get the message out.”

And while Xcel may have conceded a visual presence on every corner, Burchell observed many citizens were unhappy with Xcel’s strategies, which included offering up gift certificates to citizens who answered questions about the company.

“The most common feedback we have received is how disgusted people are with the volume of Xcel advertising,” she said, adding it seemed many people hoped to never see the name ‘Xcel’ again.

While the ballot question failed by more than two thirds, backers of clean energy recognize there’s still a long way to go.

Empower Our Future, Burchell said, will be looking to work with Xcel to make a “truly smart transition” to clean energy and not continue to strand communities with their bad fossil fuel investments. In addition, they will be directing efforts toward the 31 percent that voted ‘Yes.’

In the meantime, she’s proud of the accomplishments clean energy groups have made in the unequal battle to pursue alternative power sources.

And, if there’s one lesson Burchell learned from her experience, it’s this:

“Clearly, more is not a ‘given’ better, and it is no longer true that the side that spends the most money always wins.”

For a complete breakdown of expenses and contributions, enlarge graphic 1.1.

Weekly Round-Up — Nov. 14

By Kendall Brunette

UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO BOULDER

A new study, led by researchers at NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder, found that dust from Colorado’s eastern prairies is making its way onto high-elevation Rocky Mountain snowpacks.  According to a CIRES news release, snow littered with dust particles absorbs more solar radiation, which accelerates melting.  Much of this accelerated melting occurs high in the Rocky Mountains – the headwaters of the Colorado River.  Early runoff from melting snowpack will negatively impact the 40 million people who depend on the Colorado River for water.

BOULDER DAILY CAMERA

Since September’s devastating floods, the Colorado Department of Transportation and local partners have worked tirelessly to reopen highways and roads that were overtaken by water across the state.  According to the Daily Camera, only 32 miles of highway remained closed and impassable for drivers.  Out of the 485 miles of road damaged during the flooding, U.S. 34 between Loveland and Estes Park and Colorado 7 from the Peak-to-Peak Highway to Lyons are all that is left to be repaired and reopened.

BOULDER WEEKLY

A new set of proposed air quality regulations seem weak in the eyes of Colorado’s anti-fracking activists.  According to Boulder Weekly, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released new air quality standards, leading the state of Colorado to update its rules which will be presented to the state Air Quality Control Commission on Nov. 21.  Environmentalists argue that the new regulations do not adequately address local air quality infractions and blame the oil and gas industry for pressuring state officials to soften the new rules.

Wet avalanches join the long list of climate change consequences

By Kendall Brunette

You’ve planned, prepared and trained for this day.

Your legs are full of energy and ready to carry you to the summit.

You noticed the air becoming lighter with each step, but the adrenaline pushes you up the mountain with determination and perseverance.

Standing atop the summit, you look down at the white mountainside below you, anxiously and meticulously picking your line of descent.

You point your tips and send it!

Before you lies nothing but untouched powder waiting for you to carve the majestic turns most people only dream about.

With each turn you feel the freedom and exhilaration you’ve been craving.

Until…WHUMPH!

The sound every backcountry skiier or snowboarder fears – the sound of an avalanche breaking lose beneath you.

This sound has become more familiar and common in the backcountry because of climate change.  According to the U.S. Forest Service, wet avalanches are caused by rain, prolonged exposure to sun and warm temperatures.  These type of avalanches differ from the more prevalent dry avalanches, which are caused by wind-loaded snow drifts placing excess stress on the snowpack.  Climate change-induced warming trends facilitate the conversion of snow precipitation into rain at lower elevations, adding more moisture to the low-elevation snowpacks.


easel.ly

Jeff Deems, research scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder’s National Snow & Ice Data Center, studies snow hydrology – the study of how snow moves and forms.

“Low-elevation snowpacks exhibit climate change impacts first,” Deems said.  “We are losing those low-elevation snowpacks – they are not accumulating as early, and they are melting faster and earlier.”

According to Deems, minimally warmer atmospheric temperatures turn a substantial fraction of snowfall episodes into rainfall events.

“At low elevations, we are seeing a diminished snow pack, either from the snow not accumulating in the first place because it rained instead, or from additional rain falling on top of the snowpack, which helps melt the snow faster,” Deems said.

Rain falling on top of the snowpack may indeed melt the snow faster, but it also increases the risk of wet avalanches.  Snow carried down mountainsides by wet avalanches tends to be heavier and concrete-like, as they are laden with excess moisture.  Wet avalanches move significantly slower than dry avalanches, which some claim to be a benefit, as it allows more time for people to escape the sliding snow.  The U.S. Forest Service says that wet avalanches are also more difficult for humans to trigger because of the differences in weight and moisture content of the snow.

According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, Colorado endured 223 avalanche accidents over the past four years.  Of these incidents, 33 were fatal.  Skiiers are the most common avalanche victims throughout the state, but snowboarders, snowmobilers, snowshoers and hikers are also included in the statistics compiled by CAIC.  Nationwide, snowmobilers comprise the greatest number of avalanche fatalities over the past nine years.

US av fatalities by season

Based on data from CAIC, avalanche fatalities follow a growing trend.  Over the last 60 years, the number of fatalities has steadily increased each year.  One explanation for this trend is advances in technology, leading to greater backcountry access.  Today’s snowmobiles harness greater horsepower and are specifically designed for climbing mountains in the backcountry.  Skiiers and snowboarders have gained greater backcountry access with helicopters and snowcats – fully tracked vehicles designed for on-snow travel.

Climate change is the other explanation for the increase in avalanche fatalities.  Warmer atmospheric temperatures, paired with rainfall on snowpack creates a ripe recipe for wet avalanches and the chill-inducing WHUMPH!

Deems simply says, “We know that if you change the atmosphere, you change the snowpack.”

And when you change the snowpack, you run the risk of erasing those beautifully carved turns with massively destructive wet avalanches…WHUMPH!

Weekly round-up: Boulder and Xcel keep up the fight

By Lars Gesing

After Boulderites said no to ballot question 310 in Tuesday’s election, making a strong statement in the ongoing municipalization debate, Xcel Energy didn’t wait long to reply to the vote. On their website, the energy provider posted a statement saying that the approval of the competing ballot question 2E showed that “Boulder customers are giving serious thought to how much debt they are willing to incur in this effort as they are giving city leaders more guidance in spending.” To read the whole statement, click here.

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In the meantime, Tuesday’s decisions on 2E and 310 don’t put an end to the debate. The Daily Camera quotes the final unofficial election results, explaining that the margin in this year’s vote (2-to-1) on the electrical utility was much wider than in the 2011 initial decision to explore municipalization. Back then, only 1000 votes separated supporters and opponents. However, the fronts remain hardened two years later. While municipalization supporters argue that the vote – along with four proponents of the city’s path being elected to serve on city council – was an endorsement of the efforts, opponents point out that the passage of ballot question 2E still puts a debt limit on the process.

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The vote on ballot questions 2E and 310 has been what the Denver Post has called “a battle of campaign dollars.” The paper cited Boulder Mayor Matt Appelbaum, saying that “for ballot measures, a lot of money has been spent.” According to figures the Post obtained from finance reports filed with the city, supporters and opponents spent a total $864,000.