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Becoming an Environmental Justice Advocate

Back in 1999, I attended a forum called the National Conference for Public Interest Lawyers, which was basically a job fair for new lawyers. I knew I wanted to do environmental work, but I wasn’t quite sure exactly what that would look like or what was available. As I walked to the different tables, I landed in front of one that had several informational sheets, but one said ‘Environmental Justice.’ What is Environmental Justice? As I read through the sheet it explained that working for environmental justice meant working with and in low income communities and communities of color that were overburdened by environmental pollution. And, that the concentration of facilities and pollution had deleterious health impacts for the people living and working in these communities. That was it. I knew I wanted to work with this group -only one problem: they didn’t have any jobs! I could have moved on, but I knew that no other job would be as rewarding. So, I did the only thing I could, I offered to work as a volunteer.

Working with communities I witnessed the burdens they were living with and met many great hard working citizens who had a passion and love for their home. As a legal advisor I worked together with community groups to advance their visions and address disproportionate impacts. This was very rewarding and it strengthened my commitment and desire to work hand in hand with communities.

In January 2010 the Administrator announced her seven priorities, one being to: Expand the Conversation on Environmentalism and Work for Environmental Justice. Now, in my new position I have the opportunity to continue to work with communities in implementing the Administrator’s priority to ensure all communities are healthy places for people to live, learn, work, and play.

One way we have been working to bring the voices of the communities to the forefront is through our Faces of the Grassroots: Environmental Justice Video Contest. You can share your environmental justice stories by submitting either a 30 or 60 second public service message or a longer 3 to 5 minute informational video that captures your environmental justice story. Our contest closes April 8th. We want you to join the conversation!

For more info, visit

About the author: Lisa Garcia , Senior Advisor to the Administrator for Environmental Justice

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Liberia Getting Swallowed by the Sea

Liberia’s Atlantic coast is being taken over by the rising sea level at an astonishing rate.

The Liberian Observer states:

Rising sea levels: This is one of the major hurdles that Liberia has to face now and for many years to come as many towns are being submerged by the sea. The once famous Hotel Africa in Virginia, which is now in ruins, is in the sea. Buchanan’s once admired Atlantic Street is being wiped out along with many other towns and villages.

The African cities of Alexandria, in Egypt; Lagos, in Nigeria; and Monrovia, Liberia are among the top five cities most vulnerable to sea level rises, according to a report by the Centre for Global Development. The US think tank based its projections on the vulnerability of coastal populations to storm surges if sea level rises in line with U.N. projections. The report looked at cities’ geographic features, the population at risk and economic activities that would be compromised. At the top of the list is Manila, capital of the Philippines, which was heavily hit by tropical storm Ketsana in October 2009. Karachi in Pakistan, Indonesia’s Jakarta and Port Said, in Egypt, were also in the top ten as was Panos, London.

Reuters News Agency reported that as talks on a global climate deal in Copenhagen ran into disagreements over how to share the burden of emissions cuts, some residents of low-lying coastal Africa said they had more pressing concerns.

Rising sea levels caused by the melting of polar ice caps are seen by climate experts as largely unavoidable for centuries to come, even if substantial cuts in carbon dioxide emissions are made. “Like a slowly boiling kettle, the oceanic system has a very long response time to changing conditions and the seas will go on slowly rising for centuries even if all greenhouse gas emissions stopped tomorrow,” wrote Mark Lynas, a British climate expert and author who advises the government of the Maldives.

The U.N.’s climate change panel in 2007 predicted global warming would raise sea levels by between 18 and 59 cm (7 and 24 inches) this century. Many climate scientists believe the estimate is conservative, and a rise of a meter or more is likely. Either way, it could spell disaster for much of coastal Africa, especially densely populated tropical West Africa whose economic centers sprawl along the coast.The United Nations estimates Africa has 320 coastal cities and about 56 million people living in “low lying” coastal zones (less than 10 meters above mean sea level).

“It is all due to climate change – the greenhouse gas emissions result in global warming and subsequent melting of the Greenland ice cap” (Cramer).

The 20 most vulnerable cities to sea-level rise (UN medium population projections) are:
Manila, Philippines
Alexandria, Egypt
Lagos, Nigeria
Monrovia, Liberia
Karachi, Pakistan
Aden, Yemen
Jakarta, Indonesia
Port Said, Egypt
Khulna, Bangladesh
Kolkata, India
Bangkok, Thailand
Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire
Cotonou, Benin
Chittagong, Bangladesh
Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Yangon, Myanmar
Conakry, Guinea
Luanda, Angola
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Dakar, Senegal

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Warm December – February

NOAA: Sixth Warmest February in Combined Global Surface Temperature, Fifth Warmest December-February

Last month’s combined global land and ocean surface temperature made it the sixth warmest February ever recorded. Additionally, the December 2009 – February 2010 period was the fifth warmest on record averaged for any similar three-month Northern Hemisphere winter-Southern Hemisphere summer season, according to scientists at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C.

Based on records going back to 1880, the monthly NCDC analysis is part of the suite of climate services NOAA provides to businesses, communities and governments so they may make informed decisions to safeguard their social and economic well-being.

Separately, the average global ocean surface temperature for both February and the December-February season was second warmest on record, behind 1998. The global land surface temperature for February 2010 tied with 1992 as the 14th warmest on record, while December-February period was the 13th warmest on record.

Global Highlights – February
•The combined global land and ocean surface temperature for February 2010 was the sixth warmest on record, at 1.08 degrees F (0.60 degrees C) above the 20th century average of 53.9 degrees F (12.1 degrees C).
•The global land surface temperature for February 2010 was 1.35 degrees F (0.75 degrees C) above the 20th century average of 37.8 degrees F (3.2 degrees C)—tying with 1992 as the 14th warmest February on record.
•Anomalously cool conditions were widespread across the contiguous United States, Mexico, Europe and Russia. Overall, the United Kingdom had its coolest February since 1991, and the Irish Republic, its coolest February since 1986.
•Warmer-than-average temperatures enveloped much of the rest of the world’s land areas, with the warmest temperature anomalies occurring across Alaska, Canada and across the Middle East and northern Africa.
•The February worldwide ocean temperature was the second warmest, behind 1998, on record. The temperature anomaly was 0.97 degrees F (0.54 degrees C) above the 20th century average of 60.6 degrees F (15.9 degrees C).
•A moderate-to-strong El Niño continued in February. Sea surface temperatures across parts of the equatorial Pacific Ocean were more than 2.7 degrees F (1.5 degrees C) above average during the month. According to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, El Niño is expected to continue at least through the Northern Hemisphere spring 2010.
Global Highlights – December 2009 – February 2010
•The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for December-February was 54.8 degrees F (12.7 degrees C), which is the fifth warmest on record and 1.03 degrees F (0.57 degrees C) above the 20th century average of 53.8 degrees F (12.1 degrees C).
•The worldwide land surface temperature for December-February was 1.15 degrees F (0.64 degrees C) above the 20th century average of 37.8 degrees F (3.2 degrees C) – the 13th warmest on record. (Cool temperatures enveloped much of Europe, Russia, Mexico, central and southeastern contiguous U.S., southern Chile, southern Argentina and parts of northern Australia.)
•The United Kingdom had its coolest Northern Hemisphere winter since 1978-1979. The Irish Republic experienced its coolest winter since 1962-1963. Conversely, much of Australia was engulfed by warmer-than-average conditions. The warmth was concentrated in Western Australia, resulting in the warmest December-February period on record.
•The worldwide ocean surface temperature was 0.97 degrees F (0.54 degrees C) above the 20th century average of 60.5 degrees F (15.8 degrees C) and the second warmest December-February on record, behind 1998.
Other Highlights
•Arctic sea ice covered an average of 5.6 million square miles (14.6 million square kilometers) during February. This is 6.8 percent below the 1979-2000 average extent and the fourth lowest February extent since records began in 1979. This was also the 12th consecutive February with below-average Arctic sea ice extent. February Arctic sea ice extent has decreased by 2.9 percent per decade since 1979.
•Antarctic sea ice extent in February was 7.3 percent above the 1979-2000 average, resulting in the eighth largest February extent on record. February Antarctic sea ice extent has increased by 3.1 percent per decade over the same period.
•Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent during February was the third largest on record, behind 1978 and 1972. North American snow cover for February was also the third largest extent since satellite records began in 1967—behind 1978 and 1979. Northern Hemisphere December-February snow cover during December 2009 -February 2010 was the second largest extent, behind 1978. North American snow cover for December-February 2010 was the largest extent on record.
Scientists, researchers, and leaders in government and industry use NOAA’s monthly reports to help track trends and other changes in the world’s climate. This climate service has a wide range of practical uses, from helping farmers know what and when to plant, to guiding resource managers with critical decisions about water, energy and other vital assets.

Background information on winter snowstorms in the United States and links to climate change is available online.

NOAA has also posted a Q & A feature regarding the monitoring stations that track these measurements.

NOAA understands and predicts changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the oceans to surface of the sun, and conserves and manages our coastal and marine resources.

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