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Latest Newsletters

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2018: Year of the Bird

Swamp Stomp

Volume 18, Issue 4

Look outside right now. More than likely, some sort of bird crossed your line of sight. Maybe it was a cardinal or a robin scouring the earth for something to eat. Maybe it was a vulture souring through the sky. Or maybe you did not see the bird, but you could hear it chattering away in its own foreign language. Regardless, birds are everywhere, so everyone can appreciate a piece of legislation passed now 100 years ago that allowed for the conservation of birds to be better recognized: the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

In 1916, the United States and Canada battled the dwindling numbers of waterfowl and game species by signing the Migratory Bird Treaty. By establishing hunting seasons for game birds and eliminating hunting of insectivorous birds, both countries officially recognized the importance of these creatures who were being adversely affected by unregulated hunting. After the loss of the Labrador duck (Camptorhynchus labradorius), Carolina parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis), and passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius), the need for these actions was more than relevant. Moreover, it seemed many other species would soon be following in the footsteps of these once common species. Flash forward two years, and this treaty became law. Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, migratory birds no longer could be harmed, killed, or sold, and this included their nests and eggs. Additionally, the first federal hunting seasons were established, as well as federal authority to manage migratory birds.

Now, this new act was met with opposition. In those days, scientists studied birds by shooting them and then studying them without thinking how this might upset population or ecosystem dynamics. How would scientists study birds if they could not kill them first? Additionally, hunting was a popular sport across America (as it still is today), and designating times of the year when people were and were not allowed to hunt certain species did not only seem absurd, but it also seemed to be just another example of government intrusion on Americans’ lives.

But the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was a necessary act to preserve the birds of America, and although passed now 100 years ago, the Act is far from archaic. Today, the Act continues to positively influence bird populations. For example, the Act has helped preserve endangered puffins by designating a habitat for them south of Cape Cod as Maine’s puffins face habitat destruction. Additionally, 1.8 million acres of Californian desert was set aside under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to preserve over 250 species of birds, including the Elf Owl and Least Bell’s Vireo.

But what is the point? Why is it so important for Americans to celebrate such an act? Further, why are birds so important? Why should we go the extra mile to protect the cardinal or the hawk outside your window right now?

Most simply, birds are a crucial part of our ecosystems, of our food webs. As birds are eliminated from the food web, any insects or other small animals that they eat will increase dramatically in biomass. Additionally, anything that eats a bird will be wiped out. Without birds, our ecosystem will have no stability, as they form all parts of food webs, from higher level consumers like hawks and owls to decomposers like vultures.

Perhaps an even more tragic result of losing birds would be the loss of such beautiful details in our world. A sky without a bird is like a voice without words. Birds are inimitable creatures from their specialized beaks that Darwin found so fascinating to their vast array of plumage colors.

Many institutions, such as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, are deeming 2018 the “Year of the Bird,” but perhaps the true year of the bird was 100 years ago when lawmakers decided birds truly are worth protecting.



Franzen, Jonathan. “Why Birds Matter and are Worth Protecting.” National Geographic. National Geographic, January 2018. Web. 9 January 2018.

Imbler, Sabrina. “A Hundred Year Legacy: The Modern Role of the Migratory Bird Treaty.” Audubon. Audubon, 16 August 2016. Web. 9 January 2018.

Mehlman, David. “Safe Flight: 100 Years of Protecting Birds.” Nature Conservancy. Nature Conservancy, December 2016. Web. 9 January 2018.

Ronis, Emily. “Migratory Bird Treaty Turns 100 Today.” Wildlife Society. Wildlife Society, 16 August 2016. Web. 9 January 2018.

Posted on

China Launches World’s Largest Carbon Market

Swamp Stomp

Volume 18, Issue 3

Premier Xi Jinping of China announced on December 19th that his country was opening the largest carbon trading market in the world, fulfilling China’s pledge to do just that in two years’ time at the 2015 Paris climate summit. This comes after US president Donald Trump rescinded the United States’ commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris accords earlier this year, leaving a vacuum in global climate change leadership that many expect China to fill. “The launching of China’s national emissions trading system is a significant step in a long march toward a clean energy economy,” president of Energy Foundation China, Zou Ji, told HuffPost. “By launching, China sends a strong political signal internationally that China is keeping its global commitments, and is committed to the Paris Agreement.” China’s carbon trading market would function as a “cap and trade” system, wherein the central government puts a price on carbon by instituting a “cap” on the total amount of greenhouse gases a given industry is allowed to produce within a given time frame. Companies that produce less carbon dioxide than the cap allows for can then sell “carbon credits” to companies that exceeded the emissions cap, incentivizing companies to produce less greenhouse gases. As caps are reduced each year, so too are the country’s total emissions over the course of several years. Although the scheme only covers power plants producing more than 26,000 tons of carbon per year, which collectively produce 33% of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions, the government plans to extend the program to other industries in the future if it proves successful, such as the petrochemical, aviation, and steel industries. Due to the sheer size of China’s power sector, however, the 3.3 billion tons of carbon that are expected to be traded annually on the new market dwarfs the emissions covered by the world’s next biggest carbon market, that of the European Union, which covers only 2 billion tons of carbon annually. The high emissions are due in part to China’s massive population, which at 1.3 billion people makes it the world’s most populous country, as well as the world’s number one emitter of greenhouse gases. Yet China’s per capita emissions still lag behind that of the United States, which are more than double that of China. Ambitious as China’s cap and trade scheme is, official trading will probably not begin until 2019, according to Energy Foundation China, as the Chinese government has yet to fully plan out the regulations under which the market would operate. Of particular concern is determining how to get the price of carbon high enough to be effective at actually limiting emissions, an objective the European Union market struggled with in the wake of the 2008 financial crises when the price for carbon credits dipped from 25 Euros per ton to 5 Euros per ton, eventually stabilizing at around 7 Euros per ton. According to economists, every ton of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere today will do $125 worth of damage to society at a global scale in the future, a number commonly referred to as the social cost of carbon. In order for the scheme to actually reduce emissions and have a mitigating effect on climate change, the price of carbon needs to be as close to this number as possible. If all goes well, the program could help China achieve its goal of reaching peak carbon dioxide production by 2030.


  1. Bradsher, Keith and Lisa Friedman. “China Unveils an Ambitious Plan to Curb Climate Change Emissions.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 December 2017. Web. 23 December 2017.
  2. Mosbergen, Dominique. “China Unveils World’s Largest Carbon Market.” HuffPost. Huffington Post, 19 December 2017. Web. 23 December 2017.
  3. Rathi, Akshat and Echo Huang. “The complete guide to the world’s largest carbon market that just launched in China.” Quartz. Quartz Media LLC, 18 December 2017. Web. 22 December 2017.
Posted on

One of the Worst Fires in State History Ravages Southern California

Swamp Stomp

Volume 18, Issue 2

Over 230,000 square acres and upwards of 1,000 structures in urban southern California have been burned in what is now recognized as one of the worst wildfires in California state history. At least 200,000 residents from the towns of Ventura, Ojai, and Montecito, all to the northwest of Los Angeles, have been evacuated as the flames continue to be driven west by the desiccating Santa Ana winds, annual gusts that blow from the southwest deserts over the Santa Ana mountain range and into coastal California in the winter. “It’s not like someone-pointing-a-gun-at-you scared,” said Montecito resident Charles McCaleb referencing the approaching wildfire. “Its more of a controlled fright where you know what’s happening.”

Numerous factors are contributing to these intense wildfires, not least of which includes the fact that this summer and fall have been both the hottest and driest on record for California. “The [relative] humidities right now along the coast are much drier than what you’d normally see in the interior desert in the summertime,” said Daniel Swain, a UCLA climate scientist. “Once you get down to 1% or 2%, you’re down almost as low as is physically possible.” After a historically wet winter last year that allowed more grass and underbrush to grow throughout the state than normal, the extreme heat and dryness of summer and fall killed off the majority of this vegetation, building up an excess of natural dry tinder that the current wildfire has been able to continuously feed off of. Even though California’s wet season was supposed to begin in October, precipitation has been below the historical average, further exacerbating the wildfires. “Normally if we had a little bit of rain, there’s some moisture in the soil to recover,” Swain said. “But there is no rain in sight, about as far as I can possibly say about the weather.”

While it is too early to determine, human-induced climate change is thought to be a culprit in contributing to California’s extreme weather conditions, with studies showing that climate change contributed strongly to the state’s drought in 2012. In accordance with climate change models, annual variations of precipitation and temperature, like the kind California has seen in the past decade, are expected to increase, exaggerating the differences between wet and dry years and increasing the risk of wildfires.“ This is looking like the type of year that might occur more often in the future,” said A. Parker Williams, a climate scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, who led one of the studies investigating climate change’s impact on California’s drought.

Some meteorologists argue that climate change may not be to blame, citing a ridge of air over the Pacific Northwest influenced by the naturally occurring La Niña cycle as the reason for southern California’s abnormal weather. Yet according to Dr. Williams, due to the warming effect of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, “whatever happens, it’s all superimposed on a warmer world.”


  1. Fountain, Henry. “In a Warming California, a Future of More Fire.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 7 December 2017. Web. 10 December 2017.
  2. Lai, K.K Rebecca, Derek Watkins and Tim Wallace. “Where the Fires are Spreading in Southern California,” The New York Times. The New York Times, 8 December 2017. Web. 10 December 2017.
  3. Serna, Joseph. “For some, Thomas fire triggers ‘controlled fright.'” The Los Angeles Times. The Los Angeles Times, 11 December 2017. Web. 11 December 2017.
  4. Serna, Joseph. “Why is Southern California burning in December? A climate scientist’s answer.” The Los Angeles Times. The Los Angeles Times, 7 December 2017. Web. 11 December 2017.