EcoWatch

A feed from EcoWatch, one of the US’s leading environmental news sites at the forefront of uniting all shades of green to ensure the health and longevity of our planet.


18 November 2017. Popular Diestel Turkey Sold at Whole Foods Tests Positive for FDA-Prohibited Drugs

Diestel Turkey, sold by Whole Foods and other retailers at premium prices, says on its website that its "animals are never given hormones, antibiotics or growth stimulants."

But Diestel Turkey samples tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggest otherwise, leading consumers to wonder: Can these companies be trusted?


According to testing conducted under the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) National Residue Program, samples of Diestel Turkey products tested positive for numerous drug and antibiotic residues.

One of those drugs, chloramphenicol , is strictly prohibited by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in food production because it's known to have "severe toxic effects in humans including bone marrow suppression or aplastic anemia in susceptible individuals."

According to an amended complaint filed Nov. 13, against Diestel Turkey Ranch, the FSIS inspected Diestel turkeys on four dates in 2015 and 2016, and reported, in addition to chloramphenicol, residues of antibiotics important for human use, veterinary antibiotics, a hormone and other pharmaceuticals.

Animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) brought the action against the privately held Sonora, California, turkey producer in the Superior Court of California. DxE is suing Diestel for falsely advertising its turkey products as hormone- and antibiotic-free, and for deceiving consumers about how the company's birds are raised and treated.

According to the lawsuit, Diestel turkey products tested by the USDA were positive for residues of:

• Ketamine, a narcotic. The Drug Enforcement Agency describes ketamine as "a dissociative anesthetic that has some hallucinogenic effects." Ketamine's street names include Special K, Cat Tranquilizer, and Cat Valium, the latter two referencing its veterinary uses, and it is commonly referred to as a club drug because it is used illegally at dance clubs and raves. The FDA has not approved the use of ketamine in poultry.

• Amikacin, an antibiotic for human use that the FDA considers important for humans

• Spectinomycin, also an antibiotic for human use

• Hygromycin, an antibiotic for veterinary use

• Ipronidazole, also a veterinary pharmaceutical

• Melengestrol acetate, also known as MGA, a synthetic hormone

• Sulfanitran, an antibacterial drug feed additive

Kim Richman of Richman Law Group , which represents DxE, said that to the best of his knowledge, the USDA did not test any certified organic Diestel Turkey samples. "Since organic meat goes through a certification process, the end product is not tested. It appears that the National Residue Program samples only non-organic meat and poultry," Richman said.

This isn't the first time some of these drugs, including chloramphenicol and ketamine, have been found in poultry. As reported by Bloomberg on June 22, the Organic Consumers Association , Friends of the Earth and Center for Food Safety sued Sanderson Farms , the third largest poultry producer in the U.S., for advertising its chicken as "100% natural" even though USDA testing reported finding drug residues in Sanderson chicken samples.

Consumers aren't pleased to learn that factory farm poultry brands mislead them. But they aren't necessarily surprised either.

But it's a whole different story when the brands they thought they could trust turn out to be making false claims, too.

Are Diestel and Whole Foods misleading consumers?

Producers like Diestel, and retailers like Whole Foods, know consumers are willing to pay a premium for hormone-free, antibiotic-free turkeys from farms that have high animal-welfare standards.

But what happens when companies make claims that don't live up to consumer expectations ?

Diestel Turkey claims its birds live idyllic lives. On its website , the company says:

"All of our whole-body Diestel turkeys are raised under our strict standards. We support our turkeys with a healthy environment, fresh mountain water, and the clean air from the Sierra Nevada Foothills. Our feed never contains fillers, our birds are never given growth stimulants or antibiotics, and we never make compromises when it comes to the quality of the feed."

Whole Foods gives Diestel Turkey its 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating standard , a rating intended to differentiate factory farm meat from pasture-raised. The rating not only sets high standards for "the comfort, physical safety and health of the animals," but also prohibits the use of hormones and antibiotics.

The USDA testing suggests that Diestel is deceiving consumers about the use of antibiotics and other drugs on its farms. A nine-month investigation of Diestel Turkey Ranch by DxE suggests Diestel also deceives consumers not only about the use of antibiotics and hormones, but also about how the turkeys it sells are treated before being slaughtered for meat.

On its website, Diestel says:

"We pay close attention to the health of our birds by spending time with them in the fields, observing their behaviors, and making sure they have the best environment possible."

But according to the complaint DxE filed against Diestel, the turkey producer bases those claims on one "picture-perfect" farm as its "poster child" farm—but raises most of its turkeys elsewhere, under industrial factory farm conditions.

And that picture-perfect farm is rated Step 5, even though most turkeys do not enjoy those Step 5 conditions.

In reality, DxE's investigation found that the vast majority of the turkeys sold by Diestel are raised under very different conditions than those portrayed by the Diestel website. According to the complaint , the DxE investigation found:

• turkeys raised in overcrowded barns

• turkeys found languishing or dead

• turkeys suffering from excessive confinement

• turkeys trapped in feces that covered much of the barn floor, up to one-half foot deep

• turkeys suffering from swollen-shut eyes, swollen nostrils, open wounds, and/or bruises

• turkeys missing large patches of feathers as a result of pecking one another and/or defeathering from extreme stress

• turkeys routinely subject to debeaking and/or beak-trimming

• turkeys laboring to breathe in an enclosed barn environment dense with ammonia and particles of dried feces and feathers

• as many as seven percent of birds in a barn dying in a single week

What's a consumer to do? We've put together this Holiday Turkey Buying Guide that steers consumers in the direction of reliable sources of honestly marketed turkeys.

And as always, we recommend consumers take advertising and marketing claims with a grain of salt, until those claims can be verified by a third party.

In the meantime, we're asking consumers to ask Whole Foods to stop selling Diestel Turkey products.

Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association .

17 November 2017. Slaughter of 90,000 Wild Horses Could Proceed Despite 80% Objection From American Public

The American Wild Horse Campaign on Thursday harshly criticized Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke 's appointment of Brian Steed, the former chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT), as the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as dangerous and out of step with the wishes of the vast majority of Americans.

"Rep. Stewart is leading the charge to slaughter America's wild horses and burros over the opposition of 80 percent of Americans," said Suzanne Roy, AWHC Executive Director. "Putting his deputy at the helm of the agency charged with protecting these national icons is like putting the wolf in charge of the chicken coop."


"Americans don't want the government to be in the horse slaughter business, and Interior Secretary Zinke should appoint someone to lead the Bureau of Land Management who is committed to protecting, not destroying, America's historic mustangs," Roy concluded.

Roy added that the long-term leadership for this agency, which manages 245 million acres of public land in the West, should be determined through a full and transparent confirmation process, not a late-in-the-day political appointment by the secretary.

In July, the U.S. House of Representatives issued what AWHC called a " death warrant " when it passed the "Stewart Amendment" to a 2018 spending bill that would allow for the destruction of wild horses and burros the BLM considers to be surplus. The Senate has yet to weigh in on the subject, but if it concurs, the amendment could lead to the killing of more than 90,000 wild horses on the range and in holding facilities.

Stewart and Zinke are pushing for the destruction of America's mustangs to appease the special interest livestock lobby, which views wild horses as competition for cheap taxpayer subsidized grazing on public lands. (Public lands ranchers pay $1.87 per animal per month to graze livestock on public lands while the going rate for private land grazing in the West is $22.60 .)

Livestock industry groups like the National Cattleman's Association are lobbying for the killing and slaughter of wild horses and burros on public lands even though 80 percent of BLM land grazed by livestock has no wild horses present on it.

AWHC is calling on Congress to reject the Stewart amendment in favor of appropriations language that would require the BLM to use non-lethal birth control to manage America's wild herds, as recommended by the National Academy of Sciences . The Senate is expected to release its 2018 Interior Appropriations bill later this month.

17 November 2017. Bright Idea: This Lamp Harvests Its Own Energy From Plants

Now that's green energy . Dutch product designer Ermi van Oers and her team are working on the first atmospheric lamp powered by living plants.

The Living Light does not require an electric socket. It can harvest its own energy through the photosynthetic process of the encased plant, which means the potential of this off-grid light source could be "huge," as Van Oers told Dezeen .


"Street lights could be connected to trees. Forests could become power plants. Rice fields in Indonesia could produce food and electricity for the local population," she said.

The designer is already applying the technology to public spaces and is working with the Dutch city of Rotterdam to light up a park.

Here's how the lamp works, according to the Living Light website (or you can watch the video above):

"In a plant microbial fuel cell, solar energy is converted to electricity in a natural way. Plants use sunlight to photosynthesize, thus producing organic compounds. A part of these compounds is passively released via the roots into the soil. Naturally occurring bacteria break down the organic matter and release electrons and protons. The plant microbial fuel cell consists of an anode compartment that captures the electrons. The electrons are transferred via a wire to the cathode. The flow of electrons from anode to cathode can be used as electricity. The system is applicable to all sorts of plants that live in wet ground."

Van Oers, who developed the product with Dutch plant energy research group Plant-e , spoke about the innovation Friday at TEDxAmsterdam .

"What is more beautiful than getting electricity from living plants?" said Marjolein Helder the CEO Plant-e. "Your environment is able to generate electricity while you are still able to enjoy nature."

At its current state, the Living Light can only produce a small amount of energy, Van Oers admitted to Dezeen. The lamp needs a day to produce enough energy for a half hour charge.

Still, the designer has big ambitions for the product.

"I hope we come to a point where every plant pot is provided with this technology, and we don't know any better than that plants are part of our energy system," she said. "Nature will get a higher economical value and we will start making more green places so that biodiversity can flourish, while lowering greenhouse gas emissions at the same time."

Van Oers plans to ship out 50 lamps by early 2018.

17 November 2017. Landmark Youth Climate Lawsuit Heads to Federal Appeals Court

There has been a significant development in the constitutional climate change lawsuit so far successfully prosecuted by 21 youth plaintiffs: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has decided to hear oral argument over whether the Trump administration can evade trial currently set for Feb. 5, 2018. Oral arguments will be heard before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Dec. 11 and can be watched on a live stream beginning at 10 a.m. PST.


The subject of oral arguments will be the Trump administration's extraordinary mandamus petition filed in June, which seeks the Ninth Circuit's review of U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken's 2016 denial of motions to dismiss in Juliana v. United States . In their petition, Trump, et al., claim irreparable harm for having to participate in the ordinary pre-trial discovery process and go to trial. The next step in the case would ordinarily be for the Trump administration to face the youth and their scientific evidence at trial, and then later appeal an adverse ruling after a final judgement in the case.

"We look forward to the opportunity to argue this case before the Ninth Circuit so that we can move quickly to trial," Julia Olson, co-counsel for plaintiffs and executive director of Our Children's Trust , said. "The Trump administration should not be able to dodge judicial review of such egregious constitutional infringements of these young people's liberties."

"They are knowingly destroying our climate system and the healthy futures for our young plaintiffs. This administration can respond to the limited discovery we seek, and put on its junk climate science at trial in a court of law. What it can't do is shut the courthouse doors to real constitutional injuries brought by these young people. We believe the Ninth Circuit will be the bulwark against their dodge and evade tactics," Olson added.

"Every week, or even every day, that our trial is delayed is time I spend further worrying about the stability of our climate system and the security of my future," Kelsey Juliana, 21-year-old named plaintiff from Eugene, Oregon, said. "I'm excited for the Ninth Circuit judges to hear from my lawyers, and to have our case in front of them. Another step forward, onwards to climate and constitutional Justice!"

In July, a three judge panel of the Ninth Circuit, consisting of judges Alfred Goodwin, Alex Kozinski and Marsha Berzon, placed a temporary stay on the district court proceedings and ordered briefings on the mandamus petition.

In September, legal scholars, religious, women's, libertarian, and environmental groups, and legal nonprofits filed eight separate amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs with the Ninth Circuit, displaying resounding legal support for denying the mandamus petition, and allowing the case to proceed to trial.

Judge Aiken and Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin, of the District Court in Oregon, filed a letter with the Ninth Circuit in August, referring to the issues presented by the youth's case as "vitally important" and stating that they "do not believe that the government will be irreversibly damaged by proceeding to trial."

Through Judge Aiken's order last year, the young plaintiffs secured the following critical legal rulings:

1. There is a fundamental constitutional liberty right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life.

2. The federal government has fiduciary public trust responsibilities to preserve natural resources upon which life depends.

3. The youths' requested remedy (ordering the development and implementation of a national climate recovery plan based on a scientific prescription) is an appropriate remedy if the court finds a violation of the youths' constitutional rights.

Among the facts to be determined at trial are whether the federal government's systemic actions over the past decades enabling climate change have violated the young plaintiffs' constitutional rights.

"What is urgently needed right now is a clear, scientific and constitutional discussion of the irreparable harm that climate change is doing to this nation's youth and the ways we can hold our leaders accountable to begin serious climate recovery efforts," Jacob Lebel, 20 year-old-plaintiff from Roseburg, Oregon, said.

"I am glad that we will have the opportunity to hold this discussion before the Ninth Circuit and I look forward to moving towards a full trial," said Lebel.

Juliana v. United States was brought by 21 young plaintiffs, and Earth Guardians , who argue that their constitutional and public trust rights are being violated by the government's creation of climate danger. The case is one of many related legal actions brought by youth in several states and countries, all supported by Our Children's Trust, seeking science-based action by governments to stabilize the climate system.

17 November 2017. Pope Francis: These 4 'Perverse Attitudes' Could Push Earth to Its Brink

Pope Francis issued a strong message to negotiators at the COP23 climate talks in Bonn, Germany on Thursday, warning them not to fall into "four perverse attitudes" regarding the future of the planet—" denial , indifference, resignation and trust in inadequate solutions."

Francis, who has long pressed for strong climate action and wrote his 2015 encyclical on the environment, renewed his "urgent call" for renewed dialogue "on how we are building the future of the planet."


"We need an exchange that unites us all," he said, "because the environmental challenge we are experiencing, and its human roots, regards us all, and affects us all."

The pontiff also said he hopes the COP23 talks would be "inspired by the same collaborative and prophetic spirit" of COP21, which led to the landmark signing of the Paris agreement to avoid global temperature rise well below 2°C.

"The Agreement indicates a clear path of transition to a low- or zero-carbon model of economic development, encouraging solidarity and leveraging the strong links between combating climate change and poverty," Francis said.

Although the pope did not call any countries out by name, the U.S. is the only country not in support of the Paris agreement due to President Donald Trump 's declared withdrawal from the pact. Syria and Nicaragua, which were the only other holdouts, recently joined the accord .

Trump, who notoriously said global warming is a hoax, has filled his administration with lawmakers who question the science of climate change or reject mankind's role in causing the global issue.

Francis has spoken against global warming skeptics several times before . In September, during an in-flight press conference from Colombia to Rome, the pope said that those who reject climate science remind him of a psalm from the Old Testament about stubbornness.

"Man is stupid, the Bible said. It's like that, when you don't want to see, you don't see," he said as the papal plane flew near Caribbean islands pummeled by Hurricane Irma . His statement was not addressed to any political leader in particular.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration used its only public forum at COP23 to promote coal .

According to the Associated Press , the top American representative at the talks told other delegates that the U.S. is still committed to reducing greenhouse gas even though the Trump wants to exit the Paris accord.

Dozens of nations have joined the Powering Past Coal Alliance, launched Thursday at the climate talks, to phase out the use of coal by 2030. The alliance involves more than 20 nations including Angola, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Costa Rica, Denmark, El Salvador, Fiji, Finland, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Marshall Islands, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Niue, Portugal and Switzerland, according to Reuters. The states of Oregon and Washington have also joined.

The climate talks are expected to end Friday.

17 November 2017. Groups Sue Norway Over Failure to Protect Environment for Future Generations

By David Leestma

Greenpeace and the Nature and Youth environmental group opened a lawsuit this week over Norway's failure to abide by its constitutional obligation to safeguard the environment for future generations.

The lawsuit, which focuses on local environmental damage and the contribution that oil extraction will make to climate change , challenges 10 licenses issued by the Norwegian government for exploration in the Barents Sea. Given to Statoil, Chevron and other oil companies, the licenses violate Norway's constitution and the Paris agreement , according to the plaintiffs. Government lawyers claim the case is a publicity stunt that risks valuable jobs.


Dovetailing with an emerging legal trend, the case was inspired by climate litigation brought to courts in the U.S., Netherlands, Switzerland and New Zealand. In Norway, the plaintiffs are holding the government to a law, known as Section 112, that states: "Everyone has the right to an environment that safeguards their health and to nature where production ability and diversity are preserved. Natural resources must be managed from a long-term and versatile consideration which also upholds this right for future generations."

Over the course of the case, which will likely last two weeks, the state is expected to claim that the plaintiff's reading of Section 112 is too sweeping and that Norway doesn't have a legal responsibility for emissions of oil and gas exports. Norway is already the seventh largest CO2 emissions exporter in the world, according to a recent report .

During opening statements, the state's attorney referred to the case as "constitutional activism" and a "performance." He warned that the lawsuit, if successful, "would stop all future oil licenses awarded off Norway and would imperil hundreds of thousands of jobs."

Onlookers and activists filled the Oslo district court's biggest courtroom on Tuesday, highlighting the profile of the case. A former Supreme Court judge, Ketil Lund, is advising plaintiffs, a move that further emphasizes the case's significance.

Greenpeace insists global fossil fuel companies already have discovered more oil and gas than can safely be burned.

The Paris agreement, to which Norway is a signatory, seeks to limit global warming to under 3.6°F (2°C).

17 November 2017. A Plea for Kelp: These Farmers and Chefs Want to Make Seaweed the Next Superfood

By Sarah Bedolfe

Summer in southeast Alaska is kelp season for the cofounders of Barnacle Foods , Lia Heifetz and Matt Kern. Each week, the pair watches the tides and weather, waiting for the right moment to cruise out to the abundant kelp beds offshore. They lean over the side of the boat and pull up the fronds and stalks, one piece at a time. As soon as they get back to shore, they start processing the day's harvest into a local delicacy: kelp salsa.

Salsa and Alaskan algae might seem like odd bedfellows, but for Barnacle Foods, it's a calculated decision. The kelp's savory notes make the salsa's flavor "a little more explosive," according to Kern. And the pairing is also a practical one. "Salsa is such a familiar food item," Heifetz said. It's "a gateway to getting more people to eat seaweed."


Barnacle Foods is part of a small but growing movement of chefs, scientists and farmers who want to make edible kelp go mainstream. Seaweed is an extra-healthy crop, rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium, iodine and omega-3 fatty acids. And it's not only good for you, it's good for the planet.

"It's a crop that we can grow without the use of freshwater and without the use of land," said Paul O'Connor, a marine scientist and founder of This is Seaweed , which sells edible Irish seaweed. It's "99 percent environmentally friendly."

Something for Everyone

Kelp is a near-perfect food, but there's one problem: Not enough people eat it. Though seaweed is a cooking mainstay in Asian countries, it's struggled to gain a toehold in places like Europe and the U.S. Food innovators like Mark Kulsdom are trying to change this.

Kulsdom is the founder of The Dutch Weed Burger , a company that introduces diners to seaweed through the power of fast food. The weed burger's cheeky name grabs the attention of tourists and festival-goers in the Netherlands, though there are no illicit ingredients to be found.

The burger, bun and sauce each use a different type of locally grown seaweed or algae. With the recent opening of The Joint, Kulsdom's new restaurant in Amsterdam, his team expanded the menu to include seaweed-y variations of sausage, shawarma and fish and chips.

Kulsdom emphasized that even though The Joint's dishes are vegan, his clientele are not necessarily strict herbivores. "We didn't so much want to cater to the vegan community," Kulsdom said, "we wanted to cater to everybody."

New and Old

O'Connor faces a different hurdle than Kulsdom. This is Seaweed sells various types of dried Irish seaweeds as seasonings for other foods. But home chefs face a learning curve with This is Seaweed's products, since dulse or alaria flakes aren't as familiar as black pepper. So, the company posts recipes and serving suggestions alongside its products. O'Connor recommends sprinkling a pinch of seaweed flakes on your egg in the morning, or perhaps on your potatoes or soup.

Though seaweed might seem exotic, O'Connor and other seaweed producers are tapping into centuries-old traditions. Seaweed was once a popular food in O'Connor's native Ireland, although it fell out of favor after being used as a staple during the Irish Potato Famine. In the U.S., Barnacle Foods' Heifetz noted that seaweed has long been an important traditional food for the native people of Southeast Alaska.

Changing Tides

Efforts to revive kelp could be paying off. According to O'Connor, public perceptions of seaweed in Europe and the U.S. seem to be changing. "People are more open to it, and they trust seaweed as something that has health benefits to it," he said. It's become more than just "that slimy thing that I slip on when I'm at the beach."

A selection of seaweed flakes. This is Seaweed

Growing more edible kelp could bring big benefits to the ocean. Seaweed helps maintain water quality by absorbing excess nutrients. Seaweed farms can even help the climate. Kelp takes carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, produces oxygen and can locally mitigate the effects of ocean acidification.

The future looks bright for seaweed purveyors everywhere. "We're really excited about the potential of seaweed and kelp as a major food source," Kern said. They hope to become steady buyers for seaweed farmers, promoting this sustainable industry in Alaskan waters. Heifetz added: "We hope that we can play a key role in sharing this amazing resource."

17 November 2017. Massive Pipeline Leak Shows Why Nebraska Should Reject Keystone XL

About 210,000 gallons (5,000 barrels) of oil leaked Thursday from TransCanada's Keystone oil pipeline near Amherst, South Dakota, drawing fierce outcry from pipeline opponents.

The leak, the largest spill to date in South Dakota, comes just days before Nebraska regulators decide on whether its controversial sister project—the Keystone XL (KXL) Pipeline—will go forward.


"Enough is enough. Pipelines leak—it's not a question of 'if', but 'when.' The pending permit for TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline should be flatly rejected by Nebraska's Public Service Commission (PSC), but know that no matter what the outcome, the fight's not over yet," said Scott Parkin, Rainforest Action Netrwork 's Organizing Director. "We need to stop all expansion of extreme fossil fuels such as tar sands oil—and we need the finance community to stop funding these preventable climate disasters—disasters for the climate, the environment and Indigenous rights."

CNN reported that the spill occurred in the same county as part of the Lake Traverse Reservation.

"We are concerned that the oil spill is close to our treaty land, but we are trying to stay positive that they are getting the spill contained and that they will share any environmental assessments with the tribal agency," said Dave Flute, tribal chairman of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate.

According to TransCanada, the Keystone pipeline system delivers Canadian and U.S. crude oil supplies to markets around North America, stretching 4,324 kilometers (2,687 miles) in length. It starts from Hardisty, Alta., east into Manitoba where it turns south and crosses the border into North Dakota. It then runs south through South Dakota to Steele City, Neb., where it splits. One arm goes east through Missouri for deliveries into Wood River and Patoka, Ill., and the other runs south through Oklahoma to Cushing and onward to Port Arthur and Houston, Texas.

The proposed KXL would add to the massive Keystone system, with its line starting in Hardisty, Alberta and ending in Steele City.

In March, President Trump overturned President Obama's rejection of the KXL by signing an executive order to advance the project forward. Trump said that doing so would boost construction jobs but critics noted that it would only create 35 permanent jobs .

Environmental groups have long battled against the proposed tar sands project, over fears it would lock in decades of increased climate pollution . A peer-reviewed study funded by the U.S. Department of Energy found that extracting and refining oil sands crude from Canada produces 20 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than the same process for conventional American crude, Newsweek reported in 2015.

As the KXL's proposed route crosses the Ogallala Aquifer, a major underground deposit of fresh water, a spill could threaten waterways and drinking water sources.

"Americans fought the Keystone Pipeline, because we knew it endangered our nation's water and a stable climate," Environment America 's Global Warming Director Andrea McGimsey said in a statement after the spill. "The Nebraska Public Service Commission should look to today's disastrous leak as Exhibit A when commissioners decide in the coming week whether to allow Transcanada to extend this hazardous pipeline through their state. This latest disaster is an urgent reminder that we must stop building infrastructure for dangerous fossil fuels and transition to clean energy as soon as possible."

TransCanada said Thursday that it shut down the pipeline after detecting a pressure drop in their operating system. An investigation into the cause of the spill is underway.

“The safety of the public and environment are our top priorities and we will continue to provide updates as they become available," the company said.

This isn't the Keystone's first spill. In April 2016 , the line gushed 18,600 gallons (400 barrels) of oil in South Dakota.

"With their horrible safety record, today's spill is just the latest tragedy caused by the irresponsible oil company TransCanada," said Ben Schreiber, senior political strategist at Friends of the Earth . "We cannot let the world's fossil fuel empires continue to drive government policy toward climate catastrophe. The only safe solution for oil and fossil fuels is to keep them in the ground."

Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the state's Department of Environment and Natural Resources told CNN that the were no initial reports of waterways, water systems or wildlife impacted by the leak.

"It is a below-ground pipeline but some oil has surfaced above ground to the grass," Walsh said. "It will be a few days until they can excavate and get in borings to see if there is groundwater contamination."

TransCanada said that crews, including its own specialists from emergency management, engineering, environmental management and safety as well as contracted, nationally recognized experts are assessing the situation.

Groups from other states that are facing their own pipeline battles have also decried the incident.

“From the multitude of spills we've seen in Ohio along the construction of the Rover Pipeline , to the 210,000 gallon spill today in South Dakota due to a mishap with the Keystone XL pipeline, we should be sure safeguards are in place to ensure that all Ohioans, and Americans, have clean air, land and water," said Melanie Houston, the director of Climate Programs at the Ohio Environmental Council .

Greenpeace is also urging Nebraska officials to say no to the new pipeline.

"The Nebraska Public Service Commission needs to take a close look at this spill," said Rachel Rye Butler of Greenpeace. "A permit approval allowing Canadian oil company TransCanada to build Keystone XL is a thumbs-up to likely spills in the future."

17 November 2017. Lion 'Trophy' Importation Ban Was Quietly Lifted by Trump Administration in October

By David Leestma

Last month the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFSW) began issuing hunting permits for the import of lion trophies hunted in Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Although the USFSW announced Wednesday it was lifting a ban on the import of elephant trophies, the new guidelines for importing sport-hunted lions have been quietly in effect and permits have been accepted since Oct. 20. Due to a 45-day waiting period, it's unclear if any permits have been granted so far. The decision is touted as "contributing to the conservation of lions in the wild" on the USFSW website .


The U.S. government, in addition to Zambia and Zimbabwe, allows permits for wild lions and lions from managed areas in South Africa and is reviewing permits for importing lion trophies from Mozambique, Namibia and Tanzania.

The USFSW's decision aligns with congressional Republicans' recent history of removing endangered species protections and proposing bills that remove non-native species—such as lions—from protected status.

President Donald Trump 's sons are also known to be avid trophy hunters. In 2012, pictures surfaced showing Eric and Donald Trump, Jr. posing with a dead elephant and leopard.

The word "trophy"—derived from the Greek word "trophos" that referenced the acquisition of nourishment, as well as "tropaion," or body parts captured in battle—has worked its way into mainstream references to lion hunting. But its association belies its modern nature in which a person with a long-range rifle kills a lion from a safe distance.

Between 1993 and 2014, populations of African lions declined by 43 percent , according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The IUCN classifies lions as "vulnerable to extinction," one step away from endangered . Lion's IUCN classification is propped up by a 12 percent population increase in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Outside of these four countries, lion populations have fallen by an average of 60 percent . In 2016, the Obama administration listed the lion as a threatened species and placed tighter restrictions on bringing back heads, paws and other body parts.

FSW officials said the decision was made after concluding that regulated hunting would help the survival of endangered species in the wild. Some conservationists dispute that claim, saying that tourism by people who want to view animals brings in far more money. The IUCN, however, contends that trophy hunting can have a potentially positive effect on lion conservation, but warns that poor regulation also contributes to population declines.

It's unclear whether Zambia or Zimbabwe are well-positioned to effectively regulate trophy hunting. Zimbabwe is in the midst of power struggle that has seen a military takeover and the detention of its 37-year president Mugabe. Zambia, although progressing in terms of political development, continues to struggle with corruption, according to Transparency International .

17 November 2017. World's Biggest Investment Fund Considers Divesting From Fossil Fuels

By Julia Conley

Environmental advocates on Thursday applauded the latest organization to shift away from continued support of the fossil fuel industry—Norway's national bank.

In a move 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben called "astonishing," Norges Bank, which oversees the world's largest sovereign wealth fund, advised the Norwegian government to dump all of its shares in oil and gas companies, leaving those entities out of its $1 trillion fund.


The bank's decision comes two years after Norway's parliament approved a measure calling for the fund to begin divesting from coa l companies.

Norges Bank made the new recommendation in light of falling oil prices. Oil and gas are seen as increasingly risky investments as more countries turn to cleaner energy sources in order to meet requirements under the Paris climate agreement , which aims to keep global warming under two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

While Norway has built much of its sovereign wealth through oil and gas development in the past—six percent of the fund is invested in fossil fuels—it's now home to a fast-growing solar power sector , with solar installations rising by 366 percent from 2015 to 2016.

"It is not surprising that we see the world's largest sovereign wealth fund managers no longer prepared to take the increasing risk associated with oil and gas assets, which do not have a long-term future," said Paul Fisher of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, in an interview with the Guardian.

McKibben compared the bank's recommendation to "the moment when the Rockefellers divested the world's oldest oil fortune" in 2014, when the heirs to Standard Oil said that if founder John D. Rockefeller were alive in the 21st century, "he would be moving out of fossil fuels and investing in clean, renewable energy."

"This is the biggest pile of money on the planet, most of it derived from oil—but that hasn't blinded its owners to the realities of the world we now inhabit," said McKibben.

Nicolò Wojewoda of 350.org Europe was also hopeful about the implications of Norges Bank's decision, calling it "yet another nail in the coffin of the coal, oil and gas industry."

"To stop climate catastrophe, fossil fuels need to stay in the ground. Investing in them is no longer financially sound, nor morally acceptable, and this proposal is a clear recognition of that," Wojewoda added.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams .

16 November 2017. Why Honeycutt Is Such an Alarming Choice for EPA's Science Advisory Panel

By Elena Craft

Michael Honeycutt—the man set to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's ( EPA 's) prestigious Science Advisory Board—has spent most of his career as a credentialed counterpoint against almost anything the EPA has proposed to protect human health.

Fortunately, his lone voice for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality rarely carried beyond the Lone Star State. Until now.


The EPA science advisory panel Honeycutt will chair is supposed to provide the agency with independent scientific expertise on a wide range of issues. In a highly unusual move, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt picked the Texan for the job even though he has never been a member of the board.

More than Honeycutt's inexperience, however, what worries me most is his faulty logic and what this means for science at the EPA .

Honeycutt downplays ozone dangers

A toxicologist by training, Honeycutt has criticized the EPA's health-based standards for ozone because "most people spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors," reducing their exposure to the ubiquitous pollutant.

Houston residents know differently. The city's worst day for lung-damaging ozone this year happened while many people were outside for long hours of cleanup after Hurricane Harvey .

Honeycutt doubled-down on his position that ozone is not harmful to human health in a 2014 interview with the Texas Tribune.

"I haven't seen the data that says lowering ozone will produce a health benefit," he said. "In fact, I've seen data that shows it might have a negative health benefit."

Honeycutt's statement suggests he believes that more air pollution might actually be good for you.

… even though ozone can cause premature death

I am a toxicologist in Texas, too, and here is the truth about ozone: The pollutant can exacerbate asthma, lung disease and heart disease —and even lead to premature death.

The current acceptable limit, recommended during the George W. Bush administration and set under Obama's in 2015, is 70 parts per billion, a standard that the public health community still believes is too high. The EPA's own science advisors had recommended a limit as stringent as 60 ppb to protect human health.

Honeycutt spent millions to refute science

In his Texas role, Honeycutt responded to the recommendation by paying more than $2.6 million for research that says tighter ozone rules would cost the state billions of dollars annually with little or no impact on public health.

"Every part per billion that they don't lower it is millions of dollars," Honeycutt told the Houston Chronicle. "So we think that the return on investment in this is just phenomenal. Just phenomenal."

And it's not just ozone that seems to be a target for Honeycutt. He also has issues with protections against mercury, particulate matter and air toxics .

The reality is, however, that by failing to improve air quality, we're paying more in health and social costs. This is real money lost on hospital visits, and on missed work and school days.

… and now he'll steer EPA science

All this matters because Honeycutt, as the board's chair, will help prioritize which issues the EPA decides to investigate. He will also pick the scientists who review studies and reports before they come to the full board.

My worry is that he will continue down a path that is destructive to public health protections, a well-known pattern within the Trump administration.

We know that clean air and a strong economy go hand-in-hand—and that claims by industry doomsayers claims are unsubstantiated.

But none of that matters to an administration that scrubs qualified scientists from serving on advisory committees, that eradicates scientific data from websites that do not support the its agenda, and that does not want to be challenged.

Honeycutt's appointment is yet another attack against science. With American health at stake, we cannot stay silent about this latest EPA development.

Elena Craft is a senior health scientist at Environmental Defense Fund .

16 November 2017. Tesla Opens Largest U.S. Supercharger Stations to Date and That's a Big Deal

Range anxiety —the fear that an electric vehicle has an insufficient charge to reach its destination—is one of the most common, but fair, concerns about EVs. Just think, what if you and your car get stuck in the middle of a desert and have nowhere close by to juice up? Ultimately, if we want to spread the adoption of zero-emission vehicles, then we're going to have to make them easier to charge.

That's why Tesla's latest additions to its Supercharger network is kind of a big deal. On Wednesday, the electric automaker revealed it has opened its largest Supercharger stations in the U.S. to date, according to a news release provided to EcoWatch. The 40-stall stations in Kettleman City, Calif. and Baker, Calif. each feature covered solar parking and the Tesla Powerpack System.


The new stations sit on two of Tesla's most popular travel routes, between the Bay Area and Los Angeles and Los Angeles to Las Vegas, respectively. This means traveling around with an electric car (or at least around California in a Tesla) just got a little easier.

"Our commitment to fast, reliable, ubiquitous charging along travel routes and urban areas alike remains our priority," the press release stated. "As we significantly increase the size of Tesla's charging networks, more sites will include solar and Powerpack storage to ensure sustainable energy generation, storage, and charging."

At the Kettleman City location, Tesla even built its first-ever Supercharger customer lounge that includes access to food and craft beverages, restrooms, comfortable seating, WiFi and Tesla apparel. It also has a kid's play wall, pet relief area and outdoor space for families.

Tesla drivers typically spend about 30 minutes to Supercharge their cars, which isn't necessarily long but it's definitely more time-consuming than, say, filling up your car at a gas station.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk spoke about how his company would be introducing amenities-stocked Supercharger stations in August.

"We'll get a sense for just sort of how cool it can be to have a great place to—if you've been driving for three, four hours—stop, have great restrooms, great food, amenities, hang out and for half an hour and then be on your way," he said then.

One Tesla driver has already posted positive reviews about a visit to the Kettleman City station.

The new Supercharger stations are located on 27675 Bernard Dr. Kettleman City, CA 93239 and 71808 Baker Blvd Baker, CA 92309. The lounge is available 24/7 to Tesla drivers who access the building via a code available on their car's touchscreen.

Musk's Master Plan to help save the environment involves ditching fossil fuels and changing the way that energy is generated, stored and consumed .

Tesla introduced the Model 3 to help bring mass market interest to the nascent EV industry. Although reports have suggested that the company is mired in "production hell," Tesla is also set to reveal its long-anticipated electric semi truck to appeal to a completely different set of drivers.

Many other major car brands have hopped onto the electric bandwagon to compete in Tesla's space.

Volvo Cars announced in July that every car it launches from 2019 will have an electric motor, marking a "historic end" to the internal combustion engine.

Then in September, Volkswagen Group, the world's biggest automaker, announced plans to offer an electric version across the company's 300 models by 2030, and to roll out 80 new electric cars under its multiple brands by 2025. The German company, which is trying to rebound after its emissions-cheating scandal , is investing more than 20 billion euros ($24 billion) in zero-emission vehicles to challenge Tesla .

Electric vehicle sales are poised to surge worldwide as an increasing number of countries such as China, Scotland, France and India announced intentions to ban diesel and gasoline cars in order to cut emissions.

16 November 2017. Join 24 Hours of Reality: Be the Voice of Reality on December 4-5

Twenty-four hours of inspiring stories of regular people taking their future into their hands and taking action on climate .

Twenty-four hours of eye-opening conversations with the business innovators, government leaders, scientists, community voices and more leading the fight for solutions all around the planet. Names like New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, California Gov. Jerry Brown and World Economic Forum Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab.


Twenty-four hours of electrifying musical performances from some of the great names of pop music and fresh new voices. Artists like Annie Lennox, Belinda Carlisle, Billy Bragg, Ellie Goulding, Iggy Pop, Jason Mraz, Maná, Nile Rodgers, Rag'n'Bone Man and Young Paris.

Twenty-four hours of inspiration for all of us to be the voice of reality and millions to speak up for the planet we want.

On Dec. 4-5, we're presenting the global broadcast event, 24 Hours of Reality: Be the Voice of Reality , hosted by former Vice President Al Gore , streaming live at 24hoursofreality.org and presented locally by television partners around the world.

For 24 hours, we'll travel around the Earth, telling stories of real people making a real difference for the climate. We'll talk to some of the most interesting and intriguing leaders in every sector of business, activism, policy and more who are changing how we create energy, power our economies, and live our everyday lives, everywhere from New York to New Delhi. Along the way, we'll see stirring performances from today's most dynamic musicians.

Most important, we'll show a world moving forward to a clean energy future. And we'll show you how you can help.

If you're ready to make a difference and join millions worldwide in speaking up as the voice of reality, join us on December 4-5. Visit 24hoursofreality.org for the full lineup and program details.

16 November 2017. #NoDAPL Activists Face Continued Tactics to 'Silence Future Protests'

Dakota Access Pipeline owner Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) paid a private security firm to build a massive racketeering suit against green groups opposing the pipeline , three former employees confirmed to the Intercept this week.

Documents leaked to The Intercept in May reveal that ETP hired TigerSwan, which was originally founded as a State Department contractor working to "execute the war on terror," to conduct counterterrorism measures on activists, including aerial surveillance on protesters, infiltrating activist groups and developing "counter-information" campaigns.


ETP employed a law firm headed by Donald Trump 's personal attorney to file a blanket lawsuit in August alleging "eco-terrorism" against Greenpeace , Earth First , and the divestment group BankTrack . The lawsuit used information specifically gathered by TigerSwan, the Intercept confirmed in its latest report.

As reported by The Intercept :

"The case was filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, passed in 1970 to prosecute organized crime—primarily the mob. Greenpeace says it amounts to a strategic lawsuit against public participation, or SLAPP, designed to curtail free speech through expensive, time-consuming litigation.

'It grossly distorts the law and facts at Standing Rock,' said Greenpeace general counsel Tom Wetterer. 'We'll win the lawsuit, but it's not really what this is about for ETP. What they're really trying to do is silence future protests and advocacy work against the company and other corporations.'"

The federal government is also continuing to chase down #NoDAPL protesters: the AP reported that a woman seriously injured at the protests last year is still under investigation by the FBI, who applied for a warrant to search her Facebook account.

For a deeper dive:

ETP: The Intercept . FBI: AP

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook , and sign up for daily Hot News .

16 November 2017. Seven States Take Big Next Step on Climate: Here’s the What, Why and How

By Ken Kimmell

On Monday, Nov. 13, a bi-partisan group of seven states (New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware and Vermont), and the District of Columbia announced that they will seek public input on how to craft a regional solution to greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, now the largest source of CO2 emissions in the region. An announcement to conduct listening sessions may not sound like a big deal, but it is. Here's why:

First , this region has been successful at reducing emissions from the electric sector, but transportation is lagging behind, as this graph shows:

Energy Information Administration Data

All of these states have committed to economy-wide goals that will be impossible to reach without ambitious policies to reduce pollution from transportation. Monday's statement demonstrates that policy leaders understand that transportation is the next major frontier in the fight against global warming in the Northeast.

Second , a public conversation is necessary. For several years, these states have talked internally through their departments of energy, environment and transportation, about how to cut transportation emissions. When I served as a commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, I was part of those conversations, and they have yielded a number of promising ideas.

But policies that are truly worthy and lasting can't be hatched in isolation from the public. Public engagement is needed to get the best ideas out on the table, test assumptions, gauge political support and persuade the skeptical. The states' announcement shows that the states are serious, and that they are going about this in the right way.

Third , once the states announce a goal (as they have done here), and encourage the public to provide input to it, they create the expectation that action will follow: doing nothing becomes a much harder option. Once these listening sessions begin region wide, as they already have in Massachusetts, state leaders will see that their constituents want clean, affordable transportation, and that they are prepared to invest in that. Thus, the conversation will change from "whether" to implement a regional solution to "how" to do so.

In this regard, it is intriguing that on the day of the announcement, the states also released a white paper on one particularly promising approach—a regional "cap and invest" program. A cap and invest program would build upon this region's success with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which has helped to dramatically lower emissions from the electric sector while creating jobs and reducing consumer costs.

The program would set an overall cap on regional transportation emissions, require fuel distributors to purchase "allowances" for the right to sell polluting fossil fuels such as gasoline and diesel, and re-invest the proceeds in improved mass transit, electric cars and buses, affordable housing located near transportation centers, and other proven ways to make clean transportation available to all. The white paper does an excellent job of identifying how such a scheme would work under our existing fuel distribution network. (For more information on this approach, read my op-ed and the blog by my colleague Dan Gatti).

I encourage Union of Concerned Scientists members and the public to attend these listening sessions and publicly support a bold regional solution. And I applaud the leaders of these states for taking a critical next step. State leadership, particularly when it is bi-partisan, is the way that the U.S. can best stay on track to meet its climate goals and assure an anxious world that we are still in the fight, notwithstanding the Trump administration's abdication of leadership.

Ken Kimmell is president of the Union of Concerned Scientists and has more than 30 years of experience in government, environmental policy, and advocacy.

16 November 2017. Oregon and Washington Join 20 Countries to Phase Out Coal By 2030

Even though the Trump administration used its only public forum at the COP23 climate talks in Bonn to promote coal , it's clear that many individual U.S. businesses, cities and entire states would rather keep fossil fuels in the ground.

Oregon and Washington state have joined a new global alliance to phase out coal and switch to cleaner power sources to avoid dangerous climate change and to stay below the 2°C target set by the landmark Paris climate agreement two years ago.


The Powering Past Coal Alliance, launched Thursday at the climate talks, involves more than 20 nations including Angola, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Costa Rica, Denmark, El Salvador, Fiji, Finland, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Marshall Islands, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Niue, Portugal and Switzerland, according to Reuters.

Notably, the world's biggest coal users—China, India, the U.S., Germany and Russia—have not joined the new pact.

Members of the new alliance will take actions that include setting coal phase-out targets and barring further investments in coal-fired electricity in their jurisdictions or abroad.

The U.S. member states have already made efforts to phase out coal. In 2016, Oregon passed the Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Act to transition off the polluting fossil fuel. And in 2014, Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee signed an executive order to reduce, and eventually eliminate, the use of electrical power produced by coal.

"Reducing global coal consumption should be a vital and urgent priority for all countries and states. Unabated coal is the dirtiest, most polluting way of generating electricity," Claire Perry, Britain's Minister for Climate Change and Industry, said. "The Powering Past Coal Alliance will signal to the world that the time of coal has passed. The UK is committed to completely phasing out unabated coal-fire power generation no later than 2025 and we hope to inspire others to follow suit."

The plan is to grow the alliance to 50 or more members by the next year's climate talks in Poland.

"Phasing out coal power is good news for the climate, for our health and for our kids. Coal is literally choking our cities, with close to a million people dying every year from coal pollution. I'm thrilled to see so much global momentum for the transition to clean energy—and this is only the beginning," Catherine McKenna, Canada's Minister of Environment and Climate Change, said.

16 November 2017. Virginia Set to Join Carbon Trading Market on Heels of Democratic Victory

By David Leestma

Following last week's Democratic victory for Ralph Northam in Virginia's gubernatorial race, regulators in the state will seek approval to join the East Coast's regional carbon-trading market, the RGGI.

The regulators' draft proposal , released on election night, would cap carbon emissions from Virginia's electricity sector by 2020 and reduce them by 30 percent over the coming decade. To accomplish this, Virginia would halt carbon emissions at either 33 million or 34 million tons per year and cut emissions by three percent each year, in accordance with RGGI commitments made in August.


In 2015 and 2016, Democratic lawmakers in Virginia had bills similar to the draft proposal defeated in the state legislature . The new proposal was crafted as an executive order to avoid approval from the state's Republican-led legislature.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe issued the executive order last May, leaving its fate in the balance until last week's election. The plan would cut the state's emissions to benchmarks similar to those laid out in President Obama's Clean Power Plan .

Virginia's announcement comes as a number of states enact their own climate policies in the wake of the Trump administration's attempts to dismantle federal policies, including the Clean Power Plan. The RGGI, comprised of five Republican governors and four Democratic governors, has been seen as a test of states' commitment to cut carbon emissions.

By joining the RGGI, Virginia will enter into a carbon market with Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. New Jersey is also expected to rejoin, after Chris Christie's withdrawal of the state in 2011.

If Virginia does join the carbon market, it will be the biggest emitter of the participating states, boosting the RGGI's 2020 cap by more than 40 percent . Virginia utilities would be permitted to sell carbon allowances at auctions if they are unable to cut emissions cheaply or buy allowances from others. Under the model, the state coalition sets an annually declining cap on carbon emission. States will sell fewer permits each year to power plant operators.

In 2015, more than $410 million in proceeds from the permit sales were invested in energy efficiency, clean and renewable energy , greenhouse gas abatement, and direct bill assistance, according to an RGGI report .

Supporters and critics of the program can be found among environmental groups. Supporters see the model as a pragmatic, market-based choice that's amenable to the American political climate. Opponents , on the other hand, view it as a "market-based pollution" scheme that caters to fossil fuel industries.

An analysis by the Acadia Center, a climate advocacy and research group, found that power plant emission in RGGI states fell by five percent since 2016.

16 November 2017. Why I Disrupted Trump's Fossil Fuel Agenda at COP23: A Young Person's First-Hand Account

By Michaela Mujica-Steiner

President Donald Trump 's fossil fuel agenda was met with disdain Monday evening at COP23. The only official White House event was titled, "The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation." Everyday people from across the world attended it, but they were not there in support of the event, but rather in protest.

As a young person from the United States and a youth delegate with SustainUS , I felt a personal responsibility to hold the United States government accountable for continuing to block progress on the Paris agreement via their ties to a small handful of fossil fuel billionaires. I could feel my palms sweating as I waited in the security line to the get into the event.


I was so nervous, but it helps to know that you're not alone—seven out of ten Americans support urgent climate action and staying in the Paris agreement. Everyday Americans and people from across the globe were standing with me at that very moment. And young people have always been at the forefront of social change movements, pushing the boundaries of what our societies believe is possible. Doing so helps to create space beyond the status quo, which is necessary to advancing the needle in favor of progressive values. By disrupting the status quo, we help to define its boundaries, and by establishing the limits, we determine and set the terms of the debate.

So that's what I set out to do on Monday evening: set the terms of the debate on fossil fuels at COP, disrupt the Trump administration's lies, inspire people back home, and most importantly, stand on the right side of history. I know that I'll remember Monday's action for the rest of my life, and I hope it will forever be a defining point throughout history when the people declared "No More" to being bullied by corporate elites for profit.

We the people stood in our full dignity and power, filling the U.S.-backed event with at least a hundred voices. Midway through our song, I looked back at the administration's baffled faces, as I quickly unfurled a banner that read "We the People" with the words "fossil fuel CEOs" crossed out at the top of it. And even when we were escorted out, we continued to sing a beautiful rendition of "God Bless the USA." Walking out of the event doors into a 200+ crowd, I started to tear up.

I have always looked up to the social movement leaders of the past whose work carries into the present. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi are my heroes. On Monday night, I imagined all the social change makers of the past right by my side as cosmic companions. They've left a legacy, and this generation can follow in their footsteps. Never in my life have I ever considered myself to be a "hero," and that's because, in these dire times, we all have to step up to the plate in being the heroes in this tragic story that is the reality of climate change .

Local action has global implications. When I come back from these talks, I'm getting straight to work back home to ensure that my governor in Colorado, Governor Hickenlooper, does not succumb to the interests of the one percent by increasing hydraulic fracking . Together, we can build local movements that have the strength to create a people's uprising outside of this panel event.

16 November 2017. $2 Billion Investment in Forest Restoration Announced at COP23

By Mike Gaworecki

Last Thursday, at the UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany (known as COP23 ), the World Resources Institute (WRI) announced that $2.1 billion in private investment funds have been committed to efforts to restore degraded lands in the Caribbean and Latin America.

The investments will be made through WRI's Initiative 20×20, which has already put 10 million hectares (about 25 million acres) of land under restoration thanks to 19 private investors who are supporting more than 40 restoration projects.


Agriculture , forestry and other land uses are responsible for about a quarter of global greenhouse emissions , but in Latin America and the Caribbean, they account for roughly half of all emissions. That's why these sources of climate pollution are featured in the action plans, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (or NDCs), submitted by many countries as part of the Paris climate agreement (that's also why the UN's program for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, REDD+, was included in the Paris agreement as a standalone article ).

There's a plethora of recent research showing that, while halting deforestation is of course critical, the restoration of degraded forests and other landscapes are a vital component to meeting the Paris agreement's target of keeping global warming below two degrees Celsius.

Deforestation on the Peru-Brazil border. Rhett Butler

Forests currently remove an estimated 30 percent of manmade carbon emissions from the atmosphere, but a suite of studies released on the eve of COP23 found that they could be sequestering far more —an additional 100 billion metric tons of carbon by the year 2100—if we were to allow young secondary forests to regrow and improve forest management, which would buy us more time to transition the global economy away from fossil fuels and towards renewables.

Another recent study finds that "natural climate solutions," which consist of a number of conservation, restoration and improved management actions that help increase carbon storage or avoid greenhouse gas emissions from forests, wetlands, grasslands and agricultural lands, have the potential to reduce emissions by 11.3 billion metric tons every year by 2030—thus providing 37 percent of the emissions reductions necessary to keep global temperature rise below 2°C.

WRI originally launched Initiative 20×20 at COP20 in Lima, Peru with a target of restoring 20 million hectares of land in Latin America and the Caribbean by 2020. The initiative was intended to support the goals of the Bonn Challenge, a commitment by dozens of countries and some private entities that have pledged to restore more than 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested land by 2020, and the New York Declaration on Forests, which aims to restore 350 million hectares of degraded landscapes and forestlands by 2030.

So far, 16 countries have committed to restoring 53.2 million hectares of land through Initiative 20×20, far outsripping the initial goal of the program.

"Restoration in Latin America is an unmissable opportunity," Walter Vergara, the coordinator of Initiative 20×20 at WRI, said in a statement . "With more than $2 billion of investments earmarked for Latin America alone, restoration is a climate solution that works and is a great investment. Bringing degraded and deforested lands back to life is a win-win-win for investors, governments and local communities. This is precisely why restoration continues to build political and financial momentum."

But the $2.1 billion in investments pledged so far could have implications beyond Latin America and the Caribbean as investors "move more quickly than ever to capitalize on the business of planting trees," Vergara added.

"WRI research shows the economic benefits of restoring 20 M ha of degraded land in Latin America could reach $23 billion , while at the same time reducing GHG emissions, improving food security and livelihoods. The success of Initiative 20×20 in attracting private investment in Latin America is a model for success for other regions and can deliver major emission reductions to meet commitments to the Paris agreement."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay .

16 November 2017. Trump Administration Reverses Ban on Elephant Trophy Imports

The Trump administration has agreed to allow the remains of elephants killed in Zimbabwe and Zambia to be brought back to the U.S., a reversal of an Obama-era ban.

In 2014, the President Obama's administration banned the imports of elephant trophies to protect the species. "Additional killing of elephants in these countries, even if legal, is not sustainable and is not currently supporting conservation efforts that contribute towards the recovery of the species," they said at the time.


African elephant populations had once numbered between three to five million in the last century, but have been severely reduced to its current levels of 415,000 animals due to hunting and the illegal ivory trade, according to the World Wildlife Fund .

But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), an agency within the Department of Interior , said Tuesday that reversing the ban would help preserve the species.

“The hunting and management programs for African elephants will enhance the survival of the species in the wild," a FWS spokesperson said .

“Legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit the conservation of certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation."

Under the new change, hunters who legally hunt or hunted an elephant in Zimbabwe from Jan. 21, 2016 to Dec. 31, 2018, or in Zambia between 2016 to 2018 can apply for a permit to import their trophy into the U.S.

Incidentally, the policy switch was first announced by Safari Club International, a hunting advocacy group that teamed up with the National Rifle Association to sue to block the 2014 ban.

“These positive findings for Zimbabwe and Zambia demonstrate that the FWS recognizes that hunting is beneficial to wildlife and that these range countries know how to manage their elephant populations," said Safari Club International President Paul Babaz.

“We appreciate the efforts of the Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior to remove barriers to sustainable use conservation for African wildlife."

But Elizabeth Hogan, World Animal Protection U.S. Wildlife Campaign Manager, said she was “appalled" at the decision by the Department of the Interior and is urging the Trump administration to reconsider.

“Trophy hunting causes prolonged, immense suffering for elephants and fuels demand for wild animal products, opening the door for further exploitation," Hogan said.

“The U.S. must do all we can to ensure the genuine protection of African elephants, a species listed under the Endangered Species Act . The stalking, chasing and killing of animals for game hunting is abhorrent, and we should not prop up this sordid industry of trophy hunting. Wild animals belong in the wild—not targeted and killed in the name of entertainment."

Wayne Pacelle, the president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States , similarly condemned the new policy.

"Let's be clear: elephants are on the list of threatened species; the global community has rallied to stem the ivory trade; and now, the U.S. government is giving American trophy hunters the green light to kill them," he wrote in blog post.

Pacelle also criticized Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke 's department for forming the so-called International Wildlife Conservation Council—an advisory group that he said "would allow trophy hunters an even more prominent seat at the table of government decision-making, ignoring the copious science that trophy hunting undermines the conservation of threatened and endangered species."

But Sec. Zinke, an avid hunter, said the council will "provide important insight into the ways that American sportsmen and women benefit international conservation from boosting economies and creating hundreds of jobs to enhancing wildlife conservation."

President Donald Trump's sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, are also hunting enthusiasts . Trump's sons have been criticized by animal rights' groups for posing in photos with their exotic and endangered big game catches such as elephants and leopards.

16 November 2017. Indigenous Communities Gain Environmental Victory at COP23

Indigenous communities claimed a victory at COP23 in Bonn Wednesday, as governments acknowledged their leadership role in protecting forests and containing climate change .

Despite comprising 370 million of the world's population and having communal ownership of more than 20 percent of the world's tropical forest carbon, indigenous groups were sidelined at past international climate talks. Often forced to defend their land against the encroachment of agribusiness, loggers and oil corporations, indigenous peoples have long sought international recognition of their rights, autonomy and participation in negotiations.


Emphasizing their new, internationally enshrined role, Emmanuel Macron, the French president, met with indigenous representatives. The new international procedures working in their support oblige governments abiding by the framework to talk to indigenous communities when they go to the drawing board over carbon emissions. Experts are cautious, however, about the effectiveness that the new procedures bring in terms of including indigenous voices in mainstream debates.

"This is an important step forward but only if it really does mean that indigenous and local communities are listened to and their knowledge recognized," Clare Shakya of the International Institute for Environment and Development told the Guardian.

The 2015 Paris accord established a "platform for the exchange of experience and sharing of best practices on mitigation and adaptation in a holistic and integrated manner." The document approved in Bonn , however, goes beyond that, saying that countries "should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities."

Since 2015, 132 environmentalists have been killed in Brazil alone, most of whom were working against illegal logging in the Amazon. Many of the victims belonged to indigenous communities. An average of four environmental defenders are killed each week around the globe.

In 2016, a study by the Rights and Resources Initiative found that expanding tribal land rights is the most cost-effective measure to protect forests and sequester carbon. The paper also encouraged governments to recognize tribal land rights and bring tribal input into the fold of national action plans.

16 November 2017. COP23: Climate Conference Tip-Toes Around Regenerative Agriculture as Solution to Global Warming

By Ercilia Sahores

On Nov. 6, the 23rd session of the Conference of the Parties ( COP23 ) to the UN Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) kicked off in Bonn, Germany, the nation's former capital. Germany is one of the world's worst offenders when it comes to pollution. It's also the largest polluter in all of Europe. But Germany is not alone in the polluting business—and countries are not the only big polluters.

The world's top 20 meat and dairy companies emitted more greenhouse gases in 2016 than all of Germany, according to a report published by GRAIN, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) and Heinrich Böll Foundation.


Let us briefly go back to COP23, where Big Meat and Dairy are also participating. Several statements have been made so far at the meeting and there have been a few surprises. Unfortunately, it seems that COP23 will not be particularly innovative, especially when it comes to agricultural policies.

COP23 Started Under the Following Premises:

1. There is no time to waste and the Paris agreement must be implemented as soon as possible.

2. The climate disasters we experienced in 2017 (devastating hurricanes and floods, long droughts and extreme temperatures) are not isolated, random events. Rather, they're directly connected to climate change and unless we do something about it, they'll become more and more frequent.

3. With or without the U.S. being part of the negotiations, those countries that have signed up must commit to reaching the goal of making sure warming is limited to 2 degrees Celsius, and ideally, 1.5 degrees Celsius.

4. Rich countries must compensate poor countries, which are the most vulnerable to climate change, even when they have been the least responsible for it. The financial commitment agreed upon in Paris is now being reviewed to see if it is sufficient and adequate. It's also crucial to determine how the funding that would have come from the U.S. will be covered once it officially leaves the agreement in 2020.

COP23 Surprises

1. Syria , the only country that had not signed the Paris climate agreement after Nicaragua joined in late October, has finally agreed to be part of it. As a result, the U.S. has become increasingly more isolated as it's now the only nation on Earth that does not recognize the agreement.

2. The general mood (COP's halls are usually the best place to get an idea of what people are really thinking about—beyond protocol) is that the U.S. government's decision to leave the agreement has only created a stronger sense of solidarity among nations, which can now implement and lead the charge to reverse climate change. Many nations are competing to be the recipient of international recognition, as well as the distribution of copious amounts of funding, which in turn will pave the way for the creation of a number of agencies, departments and many other intermediate bodies.

COP23 As Usual:

1. The negotiation of agreements behind closed doors while civil society organizations and NGOs host side events. This is a way to prove that during COPs, there is civil society participation, but without ever really having to compromise.

2. Giving more relevance to controversial solutions to which much capital has already been invested and promised, such as geoengineering and nuclear energy . It's not a coincidence that despite saying the U.S. will not be part of the negotiations, the Trump administration sent a team to COP23 to advocate for more fossil fuel use .

3. Pushing existing projects that have proven effective for fighting climate change, but don't seem to have the same financial incentive.

4. Unfortunately, from what we've seen so far, the negotiations seem to ignore regenerative agriculture as being the solution to climate change. While predictable, this is actually a greater setback than other COPs, which have at least mentioned agriculture, desertification and soil restoration as being key factors in reversing climate change.

Why Agriculture?

As previously mentioned, last year the world's top 20 meat and dairy companies emitted more greenhouse gases than all of Germany. Industrialized agriculture, which doesn't account for the 500 plus million small farmers and 200 million herders that exist in the world, is a type of production that pollutes the atmosphere, our soils and waterways.

Industrialized agriculture has huge negative impacts on human health too. While producing and selling poison, Big Agriculture ruins not just local economies, but also the means of life and survival of thousands of farmers who rely on a healthy environment for their production.

At Regeneration International , we know that industrial agriculture is a critical part of the problem. But we also know that agriculture, done the right way or rather the regenerative way, is a fundamental part of the solution.

The conversations at COP23 would be entirely different if Big Meat and Dairy giants like Cargill, Tyson or JBS were held accountable for the health and environmental destruction they have caused—a significant portion of which has been funded by government subsidies.

COP23 negotiations could actually focus on real solutions if polluting corporations acknowledged their contribution to climate change, and transitioned away from chemical- and factory farm-based agriculture to a system focused on soil health, animal welfare, nutritious food and farmworker rights.

Instead, the negotiations have thus far focused on whether or not the Paris agreement is achievable, a lack of funding and Trump's latest insult. A genuine effort to hold polluting corporations accountable would shift the mood at COP23 from the same corporate rhetoric we so often hear to one centered on human health, environment and climate-related solutions.

15 November 2017. Subsidizing Coal and Nuclear Power Could Drive Customers Off the Grid

By Joshua M. Pearce

Within the next month, energy watchers expect the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to act on an order from Energy Sec. Rick Perry that would create new pricing rules for certain power plants that can store fuel on site to support grid resilience. This initiative seeks to protect coal-fired and nuclear power plants that are struggling to compete with cheaper energy sources.


Perry's proposed rule applies to plants that operate in regions with deregulated power markets, where utilities normally compete to deliver electricity at the lowest price. To qualify, plants would have to keep a 90-day fuel supply on site. Each qualified plant would be allowed to " recover its fully allocated costs ."

In other words, plant owners would be able to charge enough to cover a range of costs , including operating costs, costs of capital and debt, and investor returns. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chair Neil Chatterjee has stated that the extra money to keep coal and nuclear plants running "would come from customers in that region, who need the reliability."

Will consumers willingly pay higher bills to support coal and nuclear power? My research group has analyzed another option: Going off-grid and generating electricity with home-based solar energy systems. Recently we compared the cost of grid power to off-grid renewable generation in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. We found that within a few years, a majority of single-family owner-occupied households could afford the necessary generating systems and economically defect from the grid .

Is Reliable Electricity at Risk?

Coal and nuclear technology are struggling to compete as prices decline for solar , wind and natural gas generation. Some states, along with the Trump administration, are worried about early retirements of coal and nuclear plants and looking for ways to avoid more.

Natural gas and renewables account for nearly all new U.S. generating capacity added since the year 2000. EIA

In early 2017 Perry commissioned a grid reliability study , which found that cheap natural gas and flattening electricity demand were the main drivers for coal and nuclear plant retirements, and projected more closures to come. Shortly after the report was released, Perry proposed this rule.

Many responses have been critical. Jon Wellinghoff, who chaired the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, said : "It's gonna be as expensive as hell. Expensive as it can be because we will be paying the full freight on coal and nuclear plants."

ICF Consulting estimates that Perry's proposal would cost ratepayers an extra US$800 million to $3.8 billion annually through 2030 . Others calculate the cost at up to $10.6 billion annually , depending on the rule's design.

What Can Consumers Do?

If retail prices do actually go up as a result of Perry's proposed changes to the wholesale energy markets the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regulates, ratepayers can manage their electric bills in three ways. First, they can reduce electricity use by adopting efficient technologies, such as Energy Star products, and conserve energy through steps such as turning off lights.

In areas with favorable rules, consumers can save much more by installing rooftop solar power while staying connected to the grid. The key requirement is that their utility must allow net metering . Under this arrangement, when homes generate more electricity than they need, they can sell excess power into the grid and receive credit for it on their electric bills.

The levelized cost of electricity from solar is lower than grid electricity in most of America. This makes it normally profitable to use solar power to reduce household electricity bills, if homeowners can afford the up-front investment to install solar systems. The most solar-friendly states , which are mainly in the Northeast and on the West Coast, support solar with tax credits, rebates and other policies. However, home solar systems are even becoming popular in southern and Appalachian states that provide less support for renewable energy.

The U.S. Department of Energy's SunShot program has already reached its 2020 targets for reducing the cost of utility solar power. DOE

But widespread adoption of home solar power can reduce utility profits and shift electricity demand patterns in ways that require power companies to make upgrades as their customer bases shrink. This conundrum has sparked debate over a scenario known as the " utility death spiral ": As customers leave the grid, utilities sell less energy and have to raise prices to cover their fixed costs. More customers install solar in response, pushing electricity prices up further and driving more customers away.

In response, some utilities have tried to slow the move to solar through steps such as distorting net metering rules and campaigning to limit access to net metering .

Defecting From the Grid

Such tactics raise the cost of grid-tied solar systems and frustrate many customers . They give consumers incentive to pursue a third option: Disconnecting from their utilities and relying on on-site solar generation, supported by energy storage (and sometimes backup) systems.

One recent study investigated state-level markets in New York, Kentucky, Texas, California and Hawaii. It found that solar hybrid systems were already profitable for consumers in some places, particularly Hawaii, and could become so for tens of millions of customers over the next several decades.

My team studied the potential for grid defection in northern Michigan , one of the most challenging places in the U.S. to go solar. Winters there are dark and brutally cold, so households can rely entirely on solar power only in warm seasons.

However, solar coupled with so-called cogeneration systems and batteries can provide enough energy on cold, cloudy winter days. These small-scale combined heat and power systems, which are made mainly in Japan , usually run on natural gas and produce heat as they generate electricity. They can function year-round and are most effective in the winter when solar production is low. The costs of these hybrid systems are declining .

Recent advances in cogeneration, battery storage and solar photovoltaic technology have made going off-grid technically feasible. Michigan Tech University / CC BY-ND

In our study we first calculated electricity demand by household size and type. Second, we compared costs of conventional grid electricity to an off-grid solar-hybrid system. Finally, to assess how many households could afford to invest in solar-hybrid systems, we analyzed household incomes and minimum credit score requirements for financing from the Michigan Saves program, which makes loans to help residents reduce energy costs.

We found that by 2020, about 75 percent of year-round Upper Peninsula households could meet their electricity needs using off-grid solar systems at less cost than staying on the grid. Not all households could afford to invest in these systems, but we found that by 2020, about 65 percent of single-family owner-occupied households would have access to affordable capital to purchase hybrid systems.

Our findings suggest that if Perry's proposal is enacted and raises rates, it could drive many ratepayers to go off-grid, leaving fewer customers to cover the costs of maintaining the grid. This could raise electric rates substantially for utilities' remaining customers, potentially triggering further defections. In sum, subsidizing coal and nuclear plants could destabilize the electric power system instead of strengthening it.

Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation .

15 November 2017. Plastic Trash Found in Ocean Animals Living 7 Miles Deep

Plastic trash can really be found on all corners of the Earth —even in the stomachs of deep-sea organisms, according to a new study from Newcastle University in England.

Led by Dr. Alan Jamieson , the researchers found microfibers in crustaceans from six of the deepest places on the planet, the Mariana, Japan, Izu-Bonin, Peru-Chile, New Hebrides and Kermadec trenches.


After examining 90 individual animals, the team found that ingestion of plastic ranged from 50 percent in the New Hebrides Trench to 100 percent at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

As the Guardian reported from the study, the tiny fibers shed off of larger products such as synthetic textiles, plastic bottles, fishing equipment and packaging.

“We published a study earlier this year showing high levels of organic pollutants in the very deepest seas and lots of people asked us about the presence of plastics, so we decided to have a look," Jamieson said in a news release from the university.

“The results were both immediate and startling. This type of work requires a great deal of contamination control but there were instances where the fibers could actually be seen in the stomach contents as they were being removed."

An estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic gets dumped into our oceans annually, simultaneously contaminating our seas and harming marine life .

Jamieson said that finding plastic fibers inside animals from nearly 11 kilometers deep (7 miles) was "worrying" and shows the extent of the world's plastic pollution problem.

"The number of areas we found this in, and the thousands of kilometer distances involved shows it is not just an isolated case, this is global," he said.

The study was released Tuesday as part of the Sky Ocean Rescue campaign to raise awareness of how plastics and pollution affect the oceans.

The new research adds to the growing body of science that highlights how plastic pollution isn't just a problem on the ocean's surface. As Dr. Marcus Eriksen, the co-founder and research director of the 5 Gyres Institute, wrote back in 2015:

"The idea that there are 'patches' of trash in the oceans is a myth created 15 years ago that should be abandoned in favor of 'plastic smog,' like massive clouds of microplastics that emanate out of the five subtropical gyres. My recent publication in the journal Plos One , estimates 269,000 tons of plastic from 5.25 trillion particles , but more alarming than that is it's mostly microplastic ( > 92 percent in our study) and most of the plastic in the ocean is likely not on the sea surface."

Jamieson explained that deep-sea organisms are dependent on food coming down from the ocean surface.

"The deep sea is not only the ultimate sink for any material that descends from the surface, but it is also inhabited by organisms well adapted to a low food environment and these will often eat just about anything," he said.

"These observations are the deepest possible record of microplastic occurrence and ingestion, indicating it is highly likely there are no marine ecosystems left that are not impacted by anthropogenic debris."

15 November 2017. Sharks: Last on Trump’s List, First on His Plate

On his trip to Asia, President Trump ate shark fin soup in Vietnam . While this meal is considered a status symbol, delicacy and a sign of wealth in Asian culture (it can sell for over $100 a serving in restaurants), the continued consumption of shark fin soup has a devastating effect on shark populations around the world.

Shark fin soup is believed by some to have medicinal healing properties and its proponents view its consumption as a cultural right. Sharks rely heavily on international and regional treaties for protections and management measures, and in some countries domestic regulations have been adopted.


Sharks are amazing ocean predators, and they're some of the most powerful creatures in the sea. But 25 percent of shark species are currently listed as endangered , threatened or near threatened by extinction. Because sharks are generally slow to reproduce, the constant onslaught of threats that include shark finning, bycatch and threats to the ocean ecosystem are causing a severe decline in populations that are already hard to monitor.

While it is impossible to know how many sharks are killed yearly due to illegal and unrecorded catch, it is estimated that up to 73 million sharks are killed annually by "finning" alone—a brutal practice that involves cutting off a shark's fins, usually while it is still alive, and throwing the body back overboard where it bleeds to death, drowns or is eaten. This is clearly a cruel practice, and the fact that millions of sharks are being killed is also a main issue for wildlife conservation.

The U.S., overall a low market for shark fin soup compared to countries in Asia, still has some ways to go before it is completely removed from the shark fin trade. Especially when the president dines on shark fin soup and previously served it at his failed Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. In response to someone saying they would not visit the restaurant until shark fin soup was removed from the menu, Trump tweeted:

In 2000, the Shark Finning Prohibition Act was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. It banned the possession on U.S. ships of shark fins without the carcass and made it illegal to partake in shark finning within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone.

In 2007, after five years of working with Mexico's government, Defenders of Wildlife helped pass legislation that outlawed shark finning in Mexico's waters.

In 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law the Shark Conservation Act of 2010, which forbade the purchase of shark fins from other vessels, to close a loophole in the Shark Finning Prohibition Act.

In 2011, Defenders of Wildlife, along with a coalition of 12 other environmental organizations, began a campaign to pass a law banning the possession, trade, sale and distribution of shark fins in California. As a result of these efforts, on Oct. 7, 2011, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB376 into law.

In June 2016, Congress introduced the bipartisan Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act. The bill would ban the buying and selling of shark fins in the U.S. altogether and impose fines of up to $100,000 for participating in the shark fin trade.

Just last month at the Conference of the Parties to the Conference of Migratory Species of Wild Animals in Manila, Philippines, Defenders of Wildlife successfully advocated for six species of sharks to gain international collaboration for conservation—the whale shark, dusky shark, blue shark, angelshark, guitarfish and white spotted wedgefish. This week, Defenders of Wildlife is at the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas in Marrakesh, Morocco, where we are advocating for fins attached to sharks as well as promoting prohibition of retention measures for mako sharks that are severely overfished.

In order to stop shark finning, we must work to reduce the demand for the fins —which means publicly denouncing the practice and showing support for conservation efforts. Former NBA star Yao Ming has led the charge to gain visibility for this issue along with Leonardo DiCaprio, Jackie Chan, Rosario Dawson, Edward Norton, James Cameron, Richard Branson and Jackson Browne. Chefs Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali, Gordon Ramsey and others have pledged never to serve shark fin soup in their restaurants.

And yet President Trump imprudently, obtusely and very publicly dines on a dish causing appalling harm to our already fragile ocean ecosystem.

15 November 2017. North Carolina Youth File Climate Petition to Protect Their Futures

Tuesday, three teenagers filed a climate change petition for rulemaking with the North Carolina Environmental Management Commission. The petition calls on the commission to reduce North Carolina's CO2 emissions to zero by 2050, in accordance with the best available science.

Youth petitioners argue that the commission has statutory, public trust and constitutional obligations to protect North Carolina's essential natural resources, including the atmosphere, for present and future generations. As detailed in the petition, the proposed rule could create jobs, reduce energy costs and avoid billions in climate damages.


With the support of Our Children's Trust , Alliance for Climate Education and represented by Duke's Environmental Law & Policy Clinic, the petitioners are the latest group of young people from across the country to file legal action seeking science-based action by governments to secure a safe climate and healthy future.

"With a family history of lung disease and a love for hiking, I have personally experienced both the negative health impacts of pollution and the steady destruction of our most important natural resources, our national and state parks, due to climate change and higher CO2 emissions," Arya Pontula, 17-year-old petitioner and Alliance for Climate Education fellow from Raleigh, said.

"I hope this petition pushes our state to take concrete steps to reduce CO2 emissions, thus ensuring cleaner air for all generations. The bottom line is that, when it comes to our health, we have no other choice but to set our differences aside and work towards a common goal for cleaner, breathable air and preservation of our natural resources," Pontula added.

"North Carolina's laws declare that the Environmental Management Commission must protect water and air resources for the benefit of all, not shield polluters through delaying tactics," Ryke Longest, Duke Environmental Law and Policy Clinic director, said. "It is long past time for the commission to act on the best available science and commit to reducing carbon dioxide emissions to zero in time for the climate to stabilize."

The North Carolina petition is one of many related legal actions supported by Our Children's Trust and brought by youth in several states and countries, including Juliana v. United States, seeking science-based action by governments to secure a safe climate and healthy atmosphere for present and future generations.

15 November 2017. Puerto Rico Gov. to Bolster Island's Electric Grid With Renewables as Lights Go Out Again

Just this Wednesday morning, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello sent out a tweet boasting about the island finally reaching a 50 percent power threshold after Hurricane Maria wiped out the electric grid 56 days ago.

"Then 'boom' (a witness reported) the lights went out," tweeted CBS News reporter David Begnaud, who has been extensively reporting on the U.S. territory's recovery efforts. "Timing could not be worse."


The outage was due to a failure of the Cambalache Manatee 230KV line, according to Puerto Rico's electric power authority (PREPA), the same major transmission line that failed last week and left the grid working at only 18 percent.

Puerto Rico's power generation has dipped back to 48 percent and is another reminder of the island's painstaking efforts to rebuild after the Category 4 hurricane struck on Sept. 20.

Now, Gov. Rossello is seeking to transform Puerto Rico's fragile power system with help from good ol' renewable energy.

The governor told a Senate panel on Tuesday that the territory should boost its use of wind and solar electricity to provide for as much as 25 percent of the island's electricity, Bloomberg reported.

"We certainly see a collaboration with the private sector," Rossello said.

Business leaders and clean energy advocates such as Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson have said that renewables could be a solution to regions wrecked by damaging hurricanes. Branson, who rode out Hurricane Irma on his private island in the Caribbean, is working with global leaders including the International Monetary Fund to help rebuild the Caribbean islands, according to the report.

Last month, Tesla was praised for quietly sending hundreds of its solar-paired battery packs to help Puerto Rico deal with widespread power loss. The company is working on "many solar + storage" projects on the island.

As EcoWatch reported , one of Tesla's projects was restoring electricity to a children's hospital with its solar panels and Powerpack commercial energy storage batteries. The beauty of such a set-up is that the hospital can generate power when the sun is shining and reserve it for later use when the sun is not out or, say, to help recover from a destructive natural disaster like a hurricane. It was because of solar power that a 40-acre plant farm in Barranquitas in central Puerto Rico was able to slowly rebuild in Maria's wake.

Rebuilding the island will not be cheap. Case in point: Rossello has asked Congress for a whopping $94.4 billion to help Puerto Rico "build back better" after Maria.

Puerto Rico, which has suffered from the largest and longest blackout in American history , has long grappled with electricity problems.

As Peter Fox-Penne wrote for the Conversation , "Almost half its generation was from old, very expensive oil-fired plants, resulting in prices about 22 cents per kilowatt hour , among the highest in the U.S. The island has several solar photovoltaic farms but gets about 46 percent of its power from oil and only about 3 percent from solar ."

In recent weeks, PREPA has been mired in controversy over its highly criticized $300 million no-bid contract with Whitefish Energy , a tiny Montana energy firm tasked to restore the island's power. That contract has since been canceled and is under FBI investigation.

15 November 2017. African Americans Disproportionately Suffer Health Effects of Oil and Gas Facilities

African American communities face a disproportionate risk of health issues caused by gas and oil pollution, according to a report issued Tuesday by two advocacy groups.

The report from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Clean Air Task Force noted the importance of Obama-era U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ( EPA ) regulations that finalized standard for methane and ozone smog-forming volatile organic compound (VOCs). The report states that if the Trump administration's dismantling of environmental regulations continues, the situation for African Americans will worsen.


The study found oil and natural gas facilities were built or currently exist within a half-mile of more than one million African Americans, exposing these communities to higher risks of cancer due to toxic emissions. "African-Americans are exposed to 38 percent more polluted air than Caucasian Americans, and they are 75 percent more likely to live in fence-line communities than the average American," the report said, referring to neighborhoods near to gas and oil facilities.

Counties located in the Gulf Coast Basin are home to the most counties with oil refineries and higher percentages of African Americans. Michigan, Louisiana and Tennessee, the report found, have the highest percentage of African American residents living in oil refinery counties. Texas and Louisiana, both in the Gulf Coast Basin, were home to the largest African American individuals at risk for cancer, with nearly 900,000 living in areas above the EPA's level of concern.

"The effects of oil and gas pollution are disproportionately afflicting African Americans, particularly cancer and respiratory issues, and the trend is only increasing," said Dr. Doris Browne, the National Medical Association President.

The report also found that oil and natural gas industries violate the EPA's air quality standards from natural gas emissions-related ozone smog in numerous African communities, causing more than 130,000 asthma attacks among school children. This results in more than 100,000 missed school days each year.

Defending the environmental protections finalized during the Obama administration and advocating for additional protections against pollution from the oil and gas industry will help improve the health of many African American communities, the study noted.

But the Trump administration has already begun to dismantle Obama-era EPA steps taken in 2016 that aimed to clean up toxic air pollutants such as benzene, formaldehyde and sulfur dioxide. It is also taking aim at 2016 EPA actions that address the 1.2 million existing sources of methane pollution and other airborne pollution. The White House claims these regulations are unnecessary industry burdens. The Trump administration's moves are being challenged in courts around the country.

"What this administration is discovering as it attempts to undo vital health and environmental protections is that these sensible standards cannot simply be wished away, only to the benefit of the oil and gas industry," said Sarah Uhl, program director of short-lived climate pollutants for Clean Air Task Force.

"Not only do we have the law on our side, we also have the medical and scientific communities who will help ensure that our air, and our health, particularly in fence-line communities, are protected to the full extent of the law."

15 November 2017. One Simple Trick to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

By Anna Scott

Want to save the planet? Are you, like me, a young professional struggling to reduce your carbon footprint? Then join me in taking the train to your next professional conference.

Most of my low-carbon lifestyle is admittedly enforced on me by my student budget. I have no kids, bicycle to work and share a house with roommates. What dominates my carbon footprint is the flights I take—I'll be hitting frequent flyer status this year thanks to traveling for conferences, talks and workshops (not to mention those flights to see my family during the holidays—even being unmarried doesn't get me out of visiting in-laws overseas). This is a bittersweet moment for a climate scientist—my professional success gives me an opportunity to impact the world with my science, but is hurting the planet and leaving future generations with a mess that will outlive me.


There's no silver bullet to fixing climate change , but I think scientists and science enthusiasts can start with ourselves.

Every year, together with 25,000 of my closest climate and Earth science buddies, I attend the American Geophysical Union meeting. ( You may have heard about it last year on NPR ).

Prof. Lawrence Plug calculated that the 2003 meeting generated more than 12,000 tons of CO2 . Since then, the meeting has more than doubled in size, suggesting that the carbon footprint is upwards of 25,000 tons of CO2 from flights alone.

Prominent scientists like Katherine Hayhoe have suggested that we shift to teleconferencing instead. I think this is great for small meetings of folks who already know each other, or for prominent scientists like Dr. Hayhoe, who have an established publication record and name recognition.

For the little folks like myself though, meetings offer tremendous opportunities to connect with colleagues at other institutions, meet potential collaborators, and scout new job opportunities. The "serendipitous interaction" that meetings allow is similar to the design principles that tech firms like Google enact when designing their public spaces. This fall alone, I've filled a shoebox with business cards from colleagues working on similar problems, potential collaborators working in similar fields, and, most lucratively, established scientists who have news of post-doctoral fellowships and job opportunities.

This last point may be especially critical for minority scientists, who may lack the social networks needed to get jobs.

In short, I'm not switching to virtual anytime soon, mostly because I can't see it paying off (yet—Katherine Hayhoe et al, if you're reading this, hire me!). But I still need to reduce my carbon footprint.

My solution? Replace one conference travel flight with a train ride. Repeat every year. Last year, I took Amtrak's California Zephyr from San Francisco to Chicago back from AGU's fall meeting and crossed the Rockies next to a geophysicist explaining plate tectonics and identifying rocks.

The year before, I returned from New Orleans and wrote my thesis proposal while rolling through bayous, swamps and pine forests of the Southeast.

(Don't think you have time for this? I spent the trip writing a paper, now published in PLOS-ONE . Amtrak seats all come with electrical outlets and seatback trays that function terrificly as desks).

Is this a practical solution for everybody? Nope, and I won't pretend that it is. Your time might be better spent with your kids, or volunteering in your community, or maybe you want to drive instead- I don't know your life. Train infrastructure is lacking in the U.S., and delays are common as Amtrak doesn't own the tracks and must give way to commercial freight. But I maintain my hope that increased demand for train travel can spur future investment, sending a market signal that young people want to travel this way.

This year, I'll be taking the train to AGU's fall meeting in New Orleans from Washington DC.

I estimate that I'll be saving about one ton of CO2 equivalent (calculation included radiative forcing). If you're headed that way, I invite you to join me, tell your friends or even just reflect on the possibility that low carbon alternatives to flying exist. We can't fix everything. But if we all do our little part, we can accomplish something. And something is always better than nothing.

Anna Scott is a PhD student in the Earth and Planetary Science Department at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins.

15 November 2017. Trump Administration Seeks Two-Year Delay on Pesticide Assessments Following Industry Request

The Trump administration filed a motion before a federal judge requesting two more years to complete an assessment on the risks of three common pesticides on endangered species .

The pesticides in question— chlorpyrifos , malathion and diazinon—are three organophosphate insecticides known to harm the vast majority of the nearly 1,800 animals and plants protected under the Endangered Species Act , according to an extensive federal study.


Notably, the Associated Press reported, the administration's motion comes after chlorpyrifos-maker Dow Chemical Co. and two other organophosphate manufacturers asked the government to ignore the findings of the aforementioned study .

"It's appallingly clear that the pesticide industry is now essentially running Trump's EPA," said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity . "This disturbing request shows that [EPA administrator Scott] Pruitt and Trump are more interested in protecting the profits of their corporate buddies than the hundreds of endangered species threatened by these deadly pesticides."

If the request is granted, it would modify a 2014 legal agreement secured by the Center for Biological Diversity that required the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ( EPA ) to assess the pesticides' harms by the end of 2017.

According to a press release from the Center for Biological Diversity:

"Under the Endangered Species Act, the EPA must consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service to ensure its actions do not jeopardize endangered species or harm their habitats.

Despite this clear mandate, the EPA has essentially ignored the plight of endangered species injured and killed by pesticides. Only after the Center's 2014 legal victory did the agency agree to comply with this long-standing requirement.

Unless the court approves the new delay request, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and National Marine Fisheries services will use those assessments to develop common-sense measures to reduce the pesticides' harm to endangered species—for example by limiting spraying in their habitat—by the end of the year."

The Associated Press pointed out that this move "is the latest example of the Trump administration seeking to block or delay environmental rules at the behest of the industry."

Dow contributed $1 million to Trump's inaugural committee. President Trump also named Dow CEO Andrew Liveris head of his American Manufacturing Council and received the president's ceremonial pen used to sign the executive order aimed at eliminating regulations that he claims are damaging to the U.S. economy.

In March , according to records obtained by the Associated Press , Pruitt met with Liveris for about 30 minutes at a Houston hotel. Later that month, Pruitt announced that he would no longer pursue a ban on chlorpyrifos from being used on food, ignoring his agency's own review that even small amounts of the pesticide could impact fetus and infant brain development.