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.
22 January 2018.
Geoengineering Carries ‘Large Risks’ for the Natural World, Studies Show –
By Daisy Dunne
Reducing the impacts of human-caused climate change through the use of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage—better known as BECCS —could have major consequences for wildlife, forests and water resources, a new study shows.
The large-scale conversion of existing land to BECCS plantations could cause global forest cover to fall by as much as 10 percent and biodiversity "intactness" to decline by up to 7 percent, the lead author told Carbon Brief.
And the introduction of solar geoengineering could also threaten wildlife, a second study shows. The new research finds that implementing—and then not sustaining—such a technology could cause global temperatures to rebound rapidly, leaving many species unable to cope with the sharp change in conditions.
The two studies reiterate the need to fully consider the possible consequences of implementing geoengineering technologies if they are used to lessen the effects of global warming, the authors of both studies tell Carbon Brief.
The findings also highlight "the solution to global warming is mitigation," one author concludes. "In order to achieve climate goals, it is now essential to immediately reduce CO2 emissions, instead of using harmful technologies to compensate for a more leisurely pace," another author said.
Bargaining with BECCS
BECCS has been labelled by many as a promising " negative emissions technology ," meaning it could be used to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Put simply, BECCS involves burning biomass—such as trees and crops—to generate energy and then capturing the resulting CO2 emissions before they are released into the air.
Though yet to be demonstrated on a commercial basis, large-scale BECCS is already included by scientists in many of the modeled " pathways " showing how global warming can be limited to 2C above pre-industrial levels.
Some scientists hope that BECCS could be used to soak up some of the CO2 that is released by human activity, which could, in turn, help the world to achieve "net zero" emissions.
The new study explores whether this could be achieved without causing too much damage to many aspects of the natural world.
BECCS could cause problems for the natural world by taking up a large amount of land, water and other resources, explained lead author Dr. Vera Heck , from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impacts Research ( PIK ).
Her research finds that using BECCS on a wide scale could come with "large risks" for the natural world. She told Carbon Brief:
"Using large-scale biomass plantations to extract CO2 from the atmosphere might contribute to climate protection, but can lead to transgressing many other environmental limits, implying large risks for biodiversity, nutrient and water cycles and land use. Therefore, biomass as a means of CO2 removal can only be a limited contribution to sustainable climate mitigation pathways."
Pushed to the Limit
For the study, the researchers estimated how BECCS could impact the nine " planetary boundaries ."
The idea of planetary boundaries is to identify how much humans can develop and use the Earth's resources while staying safely within limits of what the planet can take. Four out of the nine planetary boundaries, including climate change, have already been breached as a result of human activity.
You can see the nine boundaries in the graphic below, which also shows the status of each one, according to a 2015 Science study .
To understand how BECCS may affect the planetary boundaries, the researchers ran a series of models that considered both future climate change and how agricultural land use patterns may differ in the future.
For each scenario, the researchers worked out how many BECCS plantations could be created while staying within the "safe" zone of the planetary boundaries. The researchers considered "safe" to mean the implementation of BECCS with no additional damage to the planetary boundaries.
They find that implementing BECCS within safe boundaries could allow for negative emissions of up to 60m tonnes of carbon a year. This corresponds to less than 1 percent of current global CO2 emissions, Heck said.
The researchers also estimated how much carbon could be captured if BECCS was implemented within "risky" boundaries. This definition allowed further damage to the planetary boundaries, while still preventing a move into the "high risk" zone (see earlier graphic).
This would allow for negative emissions of around 1.2bn to 6.3bn tonnes of carbon, depending on the type of bioenergy that is used, the researchers found.
Achieving the highest amount of negative emissions would require the use of the conversion of biomass to hydrogen with carbon capture and storage. But the technology needed to facilitate the conversion of biomass to hydrogen is still far from being viable, Heck said.
However, implementing BECCS within risky boundaries could have major consequences for the environment, she added:
"The risky scenarios imply substantial risk of triggering negative Earth system feedback and might undermine the stability and resilience of the Earth system."
Among impacts, the introduction of BECCS within risky limits could cause global forest cover to fall by 10 percent and biodiversity "intactness" to fall by 7 percent. This is because a large amount of land would need to be converted to biofuel plantations, Heck said.
On top of this, the additional water demand derived from all of the newly created BECCS plantations could be more than double that required by global agriculture, Heck added.
The new research confirms earlier findings that BECCS may have a "significant adverse impact on land and freshwater," said Prof. Pete Smith , chair in plant and soil science at the University of Aberdeen , who was not involved in the research. He told Carbon Brief:
"The authors find that relying on widespread BECCS is risky, but there are regions where the risk is low. This study is robust and helps to move the currently debate away from the currently polarized positions of 'BECCS is always bad' or 'BECCS is always good'. More integrated assessments such as these are required to bolster the evidence base upon which decisions on negative emissions will be taken."
Simulating Solar Geoengineering
Solar geoengineering or "solar radiation management" (SRM), describes an array of methods—all of which remain hypothetical—for artificially reducing sunlight at the Earth's surface in order to dampen global warming.
The new study focuses on the impacts of one type of SRM, which involves injecting aerosols into the stratosphere. Once in the atmosphere, it has been suggested that the aerosols could form a protective veil around the Earth that is able to reflect sunlight and, therefore, cool the planet.
Aerosols have a limited lifetime in the stratosphere and would need to be released at regular time intervals in order to be effective. If the release of aerosols were suddenly stopped, global temperatures could rapidly rise again.
The new study finds that this sudden termination of SRM would leave many species unable to cope with the rapid change in environmental conditions, said study author Prof. Alan Robock of Rutgers University . He told Carbon Brief:
"The main findings are that any implementation of stratospheric geoengineering could end catastrophically for many species. Although if geoengineering were ever done, it would not make sense to abruptly end it, there are credible scenarios where this might happen. Should society ever take that risk?"
Modeling a Global Shift
To understand how the rapid termination of solar generation could affect wildlife, the researchers used models to compare changes in temperature and rainfall under a scenario in which SRM runs from 2020 until 2070 to a scenario with no geoengineering and an intermediate level of greenhouse gas emissions (RCP4.5).
The researchers then calculated the "climate velocities" of each scenario, which quantifies the speed and direction of shifting climates.
The results are shown on the charts below, which show the change in temperature velocity for (a) a modelled scenario showing the introduction of SRM, (b) the termination of SRM, (c) the current climate between 1960 and 2014 and (d) an unengineered world with moderate emissions.
In the chart, deep red signifies a rapid increase in the rate of temperature rise, while blue shows rapidly decreasing temperature.
Trisos et al. (2018)
Above: The change in temperature velocity under (a) a modeled scenario including the introduction of solar geoengineering, (b) the termination of solar geoengineering, (c ) the current climate between 1960 and 2014 and (d) a world without solar geoengineering with moderate emissions (RCP4.5). Red shading shows increasing temperatures, while blue shows decreases; the darker the shading, the faster the rate of change.
The results show that while the implementation of solar geoengineering could cause temperatures to fall fairly quickly, sudden termination could cause rapid increases as temperatures rebound.
The rate of change in temperature under the termination of SRM could be two to four times larger than those caused by climate change itself, the researchers conclude. The study also finds similar—though not as drastic—changes on rainfall.
This large change in environmental conditions could leave many species unable to adapt and at a high risk of extinction, the researchers say.
Animals that do not find it easy to adapt to new environments, such as species found in tropical rainforests and small island habitats, will be the least able to adapt to these changes, they add. The risk could be highest for slow-moving amphibians, the researchers note in their paper:
"While differences in climate velocity between terrestrial hotspots for some taxa [animal groups] are small, that amphibian biodiversity hotspots have the highest temperature velocities from sudden termination suggests that increased extinction risks would be especially severe for this group."
In other words, a large number of amphibians are found in areas that are expected to be most affected by a sudden SRM termination.
The new research makes an important contribution to the "broader conversation" surrounding the risks of solar geoengineering, said Dr. Ben Kravitz , a climate scientist from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory , who was not involved in the new research. He told Carbon Brief:
"Although there are many issues that arise when one talks about ecosystems, to the best of my knowledge, this study the first quantitative look at what might happen to biodiversity under different scenarios of geoengineering. And, importantly, the study was done using multiple climate models, meaning we have estimates of how robust the model responses are."
The research highlights the need for developing a governing framework for geoengineering, said Janos Pasztor , executive director of the Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative.
"This paper is precisely the kind of research we need to help us better understand the risks and potential benefits of stratospheric aerosol injection [SAI]. For this reason, part of the initial governance frameworks addressing SAI has to cover research, including encouraging more research that results in clarifying the risks and potential benefits of SAI."
Finding "The Solution"
The findings show that dampening global warming through the use of solar engineering could come with "many possible risks," said Robock. This suggests that cutting global emissions would be the best way of limiting future climate change, he said:
"The solution to global warming is mitigation. It is not too late to rapidly switch to wind and solar power and rapidly reduce our emissions of CO2 to the atmosphere."
Mitigating climate change through the use of BECCS also comes with "substantial" risks, said Heck:
"It would be risky to rely on BECCS as a strategy to achieve the Paris Agreement. Notable negative emissions from biomass plantations come at the expense of enormous pressures on the global environment as a whole.
"In order to achieve climate goals, it is now essential to immediately reduce CO2 emissions, instead of using harmful technologies to compensate for a more leisurely pace."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Carbon Brief .
22 January 2018.
How NAFTA Is Making Our Food and Water Much Less Healthy –
By Shiney Varghese
As the sixth round of the negotiations on North American Free Trade Agreement begin next week in Montreal, Canada, the controversy over exactly what a new agreement might involve—if there is one at all—continues to generate debate.
As the NAFTA renegotiations were about to start, the Canadian government publicly stated its core objectives for a renewed North American Free Trade Agreement.
These included making NAFTA more progressive by bringing strong labor safeguards and enhanced environmental provisions into the core of the agreement; adding a new chapter on gender rights (and another on Indigenous issues, in line with Canada's commitment to improving relationship with its Indigenous peoples), and reforming the controversial Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) process—a system through which investors can sue nations for alleged discriminatory practices—"to ensure that governments have an unassailable right to regulate in the public interest."
Following the third round of NAFTA negotiations, Laura Dawson of the Wilson Center's Canada Institute wrote in early October that "the negotiations had split into two separate tracks": one focused on easy consensus (based on the Trans-Pacific Partnership text, which has already been approved by the three parties), and the other "characterized by differences so irreconcilable that they threaten to derail the negotiations."
In a blog prior to the fifth round of negotiations in Mexico City, my colleague Sophia Murphy argued that "neither a TPP agenda through NAFTA 2.0 nor tearing up the treaty is the answer," and instead suggested a third track. Taking a page from Canada's stated commitment to trade and protect, and acknowledging the cost of any change, a third track would support trade that protects those "least able to absorb the shock bearing all the cost of adjustment, whether it is going to be a new NAFTA or no NAFTA."
An important part of the third track must include getting rid of one of the most controversial dispute settlement mechanisms in NAFTA called investor-state dispute settlement mechanism (a provision Canada and Mexico unfortunately still support). While this dispute settlement mechanism has emerged as a sticking point, it is far from certain how the negotiations will proceed.
The U.S. has reportedly proposed that countries be allowed to "opt in" (or not) to that mechanism. If this really is a serious proposal, it would be a big step toward civil society demands to eliminate it. Leading up to the fourth round of negotiations in mid-October, U.S. groups had delivered over 400,000 petitions asking to eliminate the ISDS system. The petitions were gathered by civil society organizations ranging from farm organizations, environmentalists and trade unions to women's organizations and church groups.
The U.S. proposal has resonance in Canada and Mexico as well. For example, the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives has argued that "removing ISDS from NAFTA—or killing it with an opt-in clause—would be a major win for Canada." In a report published earlier this week, CCAP took stock of Canada's experience with NAFTA, and concluded that "Canada accounts for about half of the known ISDS challenges filed under NAFTA" and called on Canadian negotiators to "not let this opportunity slip through their hands."
What is at stake in ISDS?
ISDS is now part of most multilateral or bilateral investment agreements. As a recent report from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) shows, ISDS gives foreign investors the right to demand compensation for environmental, public interest and other laws that undermine their anticipated profits. This provision, initially put in place to protect investors' rights against nationalizations or expropriations, has evolved to become a tool for corporations to tie up governments in long and expensive legal cases, with chilling effects on public interest rules around the world. Cases are decided by unaccountable panels of trade lawyers, who might have conflicts of interest.
In fact, this ISDS provision allowed the Canadian company TransCanada to sue the U.S. government over the Keystone XL (KXL) Pipeline, where it specifically claimed breach of "fair and equitable treatment/minimum standard treatment" of foreign investors. The ISDS clause in NAFTA allowed the Canadian multinational to craft a win-win scenario in the case of Keystone XL Pipeline: either it could have pursued the ISDS claim for the $15 billion from the U.S., or it could have used the threat of ISDS claim to get around the new "buy American rules" (especially if it did not want to go through a lengthy WTO dispute settlement body citing this rule as violation of international trade rules). As this example shows, no nation is powerful enough to be safe from the overreach of ISDS, whether it is trying to protect national interest or trying to fulfill a campaign promise .
With the number of ISDS cases growing exponentially across the globe over the last two decades, ISDS has become quite controversial globally too, especially because of the way it affects food and water security. Some of these cases involve agriculture -related foreign investments and involve land or water grabbing from local communities.
In other cases, communities find that their water sources are either depleted or polluted, affecting not only their irrigation water but also their drinking water and cooking water. The fallouts are not limited to agriculture-related investments. Investments in other sectors (such as extractive industries) too directly affect food and/or water security of the impacted communities, as for example the experiences of two countries (El Salvador and the U.S.) examined in IATP's report show.
Moreover, experiences over the last three decades show that this provision is increasingly being misused by transnational corporations not only to avoid culpability but also to seek to extort public money by suing host governments. ISDS has evolved as an important instrument in the hands of investors, as they seek to stifle conflicts—often arising from environmental problems including water pollution and public health problems impacting local communities—with those communities/countries.
The ISDS provision threatens to undermine the tremendous progress made in terms of the universal recognition of the right to water over the last decade and a half. Over the last two decades, for example, governments in every region have been making concerted efforts to improve peoples' access to drinking water and sanitation. This has meant enacting new laws, making new regulations and, in a few cases, also enshrining it as a constitutional right. In addition, globally, the states came together at the United Nations to recognize water as a fundamental human right. However, investors have increasingly been using ISDS during this same period to challenge public interest measures to address water pollution or to reduce water tariffs.
IATP's research on ISDS and right to water shows that the presence of ISDS in trade and investment regimes continues to protect investors—including water companies—even as they violate human rights. Once investors file a case through ISDS, the respondent States need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to defend their case, and in payment to the investor if they lose, in addition to taking care of the domestic concerns arising from the fallout of these investments. States' counterclaims related to violation of the economic social and cultural right are rarely considered by a tribunal.
Even in a recent case , the first time when the tribunal award considered the host state's counterclaim related to violation of the human right to water, the tribunal ruled that for the human right obligation to exist and "to become relevant in the framework of the BIT [bilateral investment treaty], it should either be part of another treaty (not applicable here) or it should represent a general principle of international law." In short, these tribunals, made up of unaccountable trade lawyers, are unlikely to rule in favor of states seeking to uphold their human rights obligations or any other public responsibilities as long as the ISDS system in place.
ISDS has no place in a world facing enormous environmental challenges and trying to achieve sustainable development goals around food and nutrition security, health and water security, amongst others. Nor is Canada's current proposal (replacing ISDS with an Investment Court System similar to the one in its free trade deal with the European Union) enough. Such a replacement would still retain the worst elements of ISDS.
The NAFTA renegotiation is a great opportunity for all three countries to agree to get rid of ISDS in North America as a first step. Canada's proposals in the context of NAFTA to uphold labor and environmental standards in all three countries provide important moral leadership, but its calls to "trade and protect" remains empty as long as it does not propose to eliminate the ISDS and analogous systems. The three countries should chart a path forward without ISDS—one that takes us closer to that third track.
Shiney Varghese is a senior policy analyst of water, agroecology and global governance at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy .
Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet .
A controversial natural gas pipeline project with a proposed route through New Jersey can move forward, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) ruled Friday.
Owners of the proposed $1.2 billion PennEast Pipeline, which would carry shale gas from Pennsylvania through New Jersey, said they are planning to begin construction this year following the certificate of public convenience granted by FERC on Friday.
Opponents of the project say the pipeline still needs to clear several hurdles at the state level, and point to New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who campaigned on an environment and clean energy agenda and spoke out against PennEast on the campaign trail. Activists along the nearly 120-mile route vowed to continue fighting against the pipeline, and protests are planned in New Jersey Monday in response to the decision.
"FERC is basically working for the pipeline companies rather than for the people they are supposed to represent," Jeff Tittel,
New Jersey Sierra Club
director, said in a statement. "It's shameful that FERC can approve a pipeline without even applications for state or federal permits. FERC is the 'Federal Expedited Rubberstamp Commission.'
"Now the fight begins," he added. "We will organize to stop this pipeline that people vigorously approve. PennEast has a long way to go and many permits to get. We also have a new Governor who opposes the project. We won't stop until we stop this dangerous and unneeded pipeline."
As reported by NJ Spotlight :
"'Now, the real environmental review begins—the ones that FERC did not do,' said Tom Gilbert, campaign director of ReThink Energy NJ and the New Jersey Conservation Foundation . He particularly cited the state's authority in issuing a 401 permit under the Clean Water Act.
'We don't see any way this pipeline can be built and meet those standards,' said Gilbert, noting the route of the project crosses 38 C-1 streams, the most pristine in the state. 'If they enforce regulations, this project won't pass muster.'"
For a deeper dive:
NJ Spotlight , Trentonian , Philadelphia Inquirer , Allentown Morning Call , Lehigh Valley Live , MyCentralJersey , MercerMe , Lockport Press , Pocono Record . Commentary: Morris County Daily Record editorial
22 January 2018.
A Persian Leopard Makes Her Debut Into the Wild—for the Second Time –
Meet Victoria. She was among three Persian leopards released in 2016 into the wild of the Caucasus Nature Reserve—a place where the species had gone extinct. Last June, she went off the grid, only to reappear six months later in November in the village of Lykhny. Residents found traces of a leopard entering the community at night, so local authorities notified the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment of Russia about the animal's approximate location.
The specialists who came to safely capture and examine the leopard quickly realized it was Victoria. They brought her to the leopard reintroduction center in Sochi. After examinations showed she was in great health, experts decided to re-release her with a new GPS collar.
Take a look at Victoria bounding back out into the wild!
22 January 2018.
Offshore Drilling Still on the Table for Florida –
Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke 's controversial decision to take Florida out of his proposed plan to greatly expand offshore drilling is causing clashes within the administration, according to multiple reports.
The head of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which manages offshore leasing, told a Congressional subcommittee Friday that it had "no formal decision" on Florida and that the bureau is keeping Florida in its upcoming review of offshore resources.
Axios reported Sunday that Zinke's "rogue" decision on Florida has opened the administration to legal trip wires with its plan and greatly upset President Trump . Trump isn't the only one ticked off at Zinke this week: the Washington Post reported that several coastal governors are impatiently waiting to meet with the interior secretary on his drilling plans following initial phone calls to discuss the matter.
As reported by the New York Times :
"In a statement, Representative Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona, the senior Democrat on the subcommittee, which is responsible for energy and mineral resources, criticized the confusion caused by what he called 'an out-of-control administration with incompetent top leadership.'
'Instead of carefully following laws and regulations, this administration writes policy on a napkin, announces it on social media and calls it a day,' Mr. Grijalva said.
The Trump administration's handling of offshore drilling appeared to follow a pattern of seemingly spontaneous decisions that have left policies vulnerable to legal challenges, as has been the case with immigration and the shrinking of national monuments .
Environmental groups have vowed to fight the drilling plan.
With his unilateral announcement to exempt Florida from new offshore drilling, Mr. Zinke appeared to be bypassing the public and scientific review of potential offshore resources and environmental impacts that must follow any plan to commence offshore leasing."
reported that "some in Florida were still skeptical" that the state would be off limits:
(D-Fla.) this week put on hold confirmations for three Interior Department nominees, demanding that Zinke give him specific assurances regarding Florida's exclusion.
He told reporters Thursday that the hold would remain 'until they come out by showing that there is no drilling off of Florida.'
Nelson noted that Interior's maps, both on the web and at public meetings on the drilling plan, still have Florida under consideration.
'They have the maps. Have you seen the maps? The maps have drilling on it,' he said."
For a deeper dive:
22 January 2018.
A New Climate Museum Prepares Us for the Long Haul –
By Caroline Craig
"Why do we need a climate museum?" After the nonprofit Climate Museum was chartered in New York three years ago, founder Miranda Massie and her colleagues asked hundreds, if not thousands, of people for their thoughts. The responses were anything but simple: to celebrate climate heroes; to host the growing fields of climate science, design and art; and, to put it bluntly, to take a stand against a president who refuses to acknowledge climate change and belittles its implications. "I always believed that art and culture could be central to creating a new climate citizenship," said Massie.
So, having answered the why, the next logical question was how. When the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) first covered the project in 2015 , Massie, who left her job as an attorney to turn the concept into reality, was just gathering momentum. By 2017, a whirlwind year that saw the Trump administration's withdrawal from the Paris climate accord and the rollback of the Clean Power Plan, the Climate Museum had established itself in a temporary space at the New School's Parsons School of Design in New York and received the support of climate activists of every stripe.
An ice core still from Peggy Weil's "88 Cores." Peggy Weil
"The presidential election upended me, as it did so many people," said Massie. "It dramatically deepened my sense of how saturated with culture all public action is. It has pulled my thinking into the deeper, slower-seeming realm of culture shift."
This past December, the museum opened the doors of its first exhibit, "In Human Time," featuring two installations in different media. Both focus on areas of the planet that are remote yet increasingly vulnerable to policy decisions. The first, a pastel work by Zaria Forman titled Whale Bay, Antarctica No. 4 , faces out onto a busy Greenwich Village sidewalk. Passing pedestrians slow their hustle to immerse themselves in this scene from a quieter corner of the world. The second exhibit, Peggy Weil's 88 Cores , is a film descent through Greenland's ice sheet that takes the viewer through space and time—two miles down and 110,000 years back.
We asked Massie to share a bit of her experience founding the nation's first (and the world's second ) climate change museum—and to predict where it will go in the future.
What has this journey been like for you as founder?
To start something when you are as convinced of its necessity as I am of this museum's, and to receive the incredible support we are receiving, is a gift of joy. Starting with Gus Speth, one of NRDC's founders, the first step in creating the museum was to recruit leaders and experts in pertinent fields—a necessary move because I lacked credibility in all of them! We've now started to interact with the broader public across a range of degrees of climate literacy, and we are seeing the same excitement. It's powerful to experience.
How did you settle on the topics of the first exhibit, works depicting the global poles?
We saw immediately that Peggy Weil's film was an important new work of climate art. The Arctic, where Weil's film takes place, has an outsize role to play in climate dynamics: It's both more affected by warming and more affecting of oceanic and atmospheric circulation than other regions. And the work is deeply embedded in and an homage to ice core research, which has revolutionized our understanding of the earth's climate. Zaria Forman's installation, Whale Bay, Antarctica No. 4, based on a spectacular existing drawing, creates intense intimacy with a different polar landscape. When we learned that Parsons was making the beautiful gallery window available to us, it felt like a kind of fate, given the equally outsize importance of the Antarctic.
A view of Zaria Forman's "Whale Bay, Antarctica No. 4" from the city sidewalk. Sari Goodfriend
What does the exhibit's name, "In Human Time," mean?
Our own sense of that has shifted somewhat, but the basic idea is that by trying to encompass the massive geologic time scales in play in Forman's work and directly represented in Weil's work, we are paradoxically brought into our own human time—into the urgency of this moment. We believe that meaningful shared action demands a stronger awareness of time, of both continuum and urgency, than it is comfortable or natural to hold. James Baldwin said of the struggle for racial equality and our common humanity, "There is never a time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment; the time is always now."
What types of exhibits would you like to feature next?
We are planning a panel series on climate perception and communication, which started with emotional framing issues―balancing fear and hope in the climate conversation―and will continue with a discussion of how we perceive and manage climate risk, and then one on climate storytelling. We're an institution with the social and the human at the heart of our vision, so our next exhibit should address that more directly, through work on social justice, public health, or any number of other subjects that bring forward those central concerns.
What role does the museum have in preparing us for climate change and mitigating its effects?
There is essential climate work being done in many spheres—litigation, activism, policy advocacy, public outreach, business and public-sector leadership, work in the arts and the sciences. Here's what museums add: massive popularity, public trust, and a collective experience of physical and emotional learning. The role for the Climate Museum, and hopefully more museums like it, is to bring us together to reimagine our cultural and civic responses to climate change.
This interview was edited for clarity and length. " In Human Time ," which continues through Feb. 11, is free and open to the public at 66 5th Avenue, New York.
Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth .
By Sarah Reinhardt
In May of 2017, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue moved to make school meals great again by issuing a proclamation in support of more lenient school nutrition standards. Specifically, the proposed rule permits the continued use of whole grain waivers, which exempt certain products from meeting whole grain standards; freezes current sodium limits through 2020, rather than moving forward with progressive sodium targets; and allows schools to serve low-fat flavored milk, which is currently disallowed due to its added sugar and fat content.
The nutrition standards in jeopardy are among those established by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) of 2010, a landmark piece of legislation championed by former first lady Michelle Obama that marked the first overhaul of child nutrition regulations in decades.
Here are the top three reasons we should all be worried about this rule—and what's driving us to take action to oppose it. You can submit a comment on behalf of yourself or your organization here .
1. We can't afford to let children's health become a second-tier priority.
Let's get this out of the way: the most worrisome thing about the administration rolling back child nutrition standards is that the administration is rolling back child nutrition standards. Childhood obesity rates tripled between the early 1970s and 2005, prompting public health researchers to predict that, for the first time in centuries, children may have shorter life expectancies than their parents. Childhood obesity rates have since plateaued at around 17 percent—progress that has undoubtedly been propelled by nutrition and physical activity policies like the HHFKA—but we have a long way to go to change the trajectory of U.S. population health. Half of all American adults currently live with one or more diet-related chronic diseases, and about two thirds are overweight or obese. The medical costs associated with obesity now account for an estimated 21 percent of all national health expenditures. Our kids deserve better.
2. We can't afford to let industry interests become our top priority.
The proposed rule cites several justifications for altering school nutrition standards, including helping school food service authorities overcome procurement and menu planning challenges, and ensuring that students receive palatable meals that won't go to waste. But according to the USDA, more than 99 percent of schools nationwide are already successfully meeting the nutrition standards put in place by the HHFKA. With full recognition of the tremendous amount of work it takes for schools and school food service staff to make these changes, the proof remains in the pudding: they did it. Meanwhile, the USDA reported higher school lunch revenue, greater fruit and vegetable consumption among kids, and no increase in food waste in the years following adoption of the new nutrition standards. So if this proposed rule isn't for schools, and it isn't for kids … who is it for? Hmm.
3. This rule could be a harbinger of more harmful regulatory rollbacks to come.
A multitude of other evidence-based health and nutrition standards were established with the passage of HHFKA, including required minimum servings of a variety of fruits and vegetables in school meals , availability of free water where meals are served, and limits on total calories, sodium, sugar, and fats in snacks sold in schools. These nutrition standards are rooted in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans , the cornerstone scientific report that guides federal nutrition policy and dietary recommendations for the general public; as such, they were adopted with the explicit aim of curbing childhood obesity and improving health outcomes for future generations. Just as a step toward these guidelines brings us closer to a healthier future, a step (or more) away takes us further, and lays bare a pointed preference for profit over people. If the "flexibility" granted to schools by this proposed rule is any indication of changes to come, we may be in some trouble.
22 January 2018.
A Sneak Peek Into This Year’s Best Environmental Films –
By Katie O'Reilly
Hollywood loves history. Awards season 2018, after all, is buzzing with films that explore world wars, arms races, governmental and Olympic scandals. For those environmentalists who get behind the camera, however, the silver screen becomes an avenue to engage audiences in the issues, threats and hopeful developments shaping their children's future. In spite of the rapidly changing and increasingly fragmented media landscape, cinema remains a powerful tool for swiftly transforming lay viewers into impassioned advocates and activists. That's why the volunteers laboring to protect the Sierra Nevada's Yuba watershed launched the Wild & Scenic Film Festival in 2003.
The title is apt for an event that takes place within the nature-nestled Gold Rush relics of Nevada City, California. The festival's namesake actually commemorates the 1999 designation of "Wild & Scenic" status for 39 miles of the nearby South Yuba River—a landmark achievement for the
South Yuba River Citizens League
. Each January since the event's founding, South Yuba River Citizens League has used the festival to fundraise for its pet cause (pulling in a cool $850,000 this past year), host activist workshops (the fact that it always falls on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend does much to amplify the revolutionary spirit of the event), and screen 150-some films that explore a wide range of other local and global environmental issues.
Last Sunday, the four-day-long festival culminated with champagne, cake and an awards ceremony, but the 2018 event is far from finished. Wild & Scenic is about to hit the road, where it'll broadcast select films at museums, nature centers and nonprofits around the world.
So, which films dominated the world's most far-reaching green film festival? Here are the movies—vetted by a jury of esteemed conservationists, writers, activists and reviewers—to add to your 2018 must-watch list.
The jury awarded honorable mentions to two films: Describing the first as the contender that best captured "the tenor of our times," jurors selected David Byars's No Man's Land for its detailed, on-the-ground account of the 2016 standoff at Oregon's Malheur National Wildlife Refuge between armed militants led by Ammond Bundy and other protesters (many of whom are now serving jail time) and law enforcement. The former group, largely composed of right-wing activists, claimed that the U.S. Forest Service , Bureau of Land Management and other agencies are constitutionally required to turn over much of the federal public land they manage to individual states. No Man's Land grimly documents the occupation from its inception to its dramatic demise and sheds light on the dangerously disenfranchised ideologues behind it.
The other jury award went to the decidedly cheerier Wasted! The Story of Food Waste , a star-powered foodie frenzy that reveals what some of the most influential chefs—among them Anthony Bourdain , Dan Barber, and Danny Bowien—are doing to "use the whole buffalo" i.e., turn what most would consider food scraps into dishes that wow gourmands and help foster a more secure food system. Wasted shows how food waste is contributing to climate change and lays out the small, often delicious changes that anyone can make to help respond to the ongoing crisis.
"Best Short" went to A Letter to Congress , a stirring three-minute film that shows off many of America's most wild and stunning places. The real star, however, is the soundtrack: a voiceover starring Wallace Stegner as he orates his 1960 letter to Congress emphasizing the importance of preserving wilderness. The effect couldn't be more prescient, nor Stegner's words more relevant to our current state. It's a kick in the pants to unify viewers against the transfer of public lands—arguably our most valuable heritage—to private and corporate interests.
Outdoor adventurers and anyone who loves an epic tale of reinvention would be wise to check out this year's "Most Inspiring Adventure Film,"
Charged: The Eduardo Garcia Story
. The unorthodox survival documentary tells the story of a vivacious young chef who in 2011 was shocked with 2,400 volts of electricity while hiking deep within Montana's backcountry. Despite doctors' prognosis that he was "a dead man with a heartbeat"—and the subsequent discovery that Garcia was harboring stage-2 testicular cancer—the protagonist, minus four ribs and his left hand, pulls off an emotional recovery. He also becomes an ambassador athlete and speaker for the
Challenged Athletes Foundation
and builds a better life after the tragedy—largely thanks, in his own estimation, to the healing power of time spent in the great outdoors.
The theme of this year's Wild & Scenic Film Festival was "Groundswell." "The idea is to encourage environmental awareness and action from the ground up—to provide the inspiration and tools people need to protect their hometown rivers and landscapes," said festival director and South Yuba River Citizens League executive director Melinda Booth. It felt appropriate, then, to see "Best in Theme" go to Water Warriors , a 22-minute film about a motley, multicultural group of Canadians—including members of the Mi'kmaq Elsipogtog First Nation, French-speaking Arcadians, and white, English-speaking families—that for months in 2013 set up a series of road blockades to keep frackers away from their beloved natural resources in New Brunswick. Not only does the community succeed in protecting their water from the oil and natural gas industry , but they also elect a new governing body and win an indefinite moratorium on fracking in their province. It'll inspire you, too.
You might not expect a jury of mostly white progressives to bestow its prestigious "Spirit of Activism" award upon a feature-length documentary that defends the infamous Inuit seal hunt. Out of Canada, the artfully nuanced Angry Inuk makes a strong case for the fruits of this hunt—both seals' meat and pelts—as a vital means of sustenance for Inuit peoples. Viewers journey to director Alethea Arnaquq-Baril's beautiful community of Iqaluit to meet sealskin-dependent advocates, lawyers, and even seal fur clothing designers, all of whom are fighting to overturn the EU's ban on seal products. The devastatingly eye-opening Angry Inuk does much to highlight the importance of activists' responsibility to seek input from diverse voices, and the fallacy of drawing false distinctions between oppositional parties—in this case, native subsistence hunters and profit-driven commercial hunters.
As for "Best of Festival"? The most prestigious Wild & Scenic award went to Rodents of Unusual Size , which you may recall Sierra reviewing last month . The hair-raising feature-length documentary offers a lively message about the threat of invasive species (in this case monstrous 20-pound swamp rats that some Louisianans feel make for great pets) and showcases creative ways to address it.
A second jury, made up entirely of children, selected an alternate "Best of Festival" winner. The kids' award went to My Irnik , a 15-minute film about a young father and dog musher who finds delightful ways to teach his young son about the value of shared adventures, and of keeping their ancestral Inuit heritage alive.
Jonesing to check out these winners? You may be in luck. Wild & Scenic films are already en route to Berlin, Houston, Denver, Havre, Missouri, and beyond. Find the full touring schedule here . And if you'd like to channel some movie magic to inspire environmental action within your community, you can still apply to host a leg of the tour .
Happy viewing and change-making!
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine .
22 January 2018.
Is a Wave of UK Public Money About to Enable New Nuclear Plants? –
By Joe Sandler Clarke
A reported public financing deal between the UK and Japanese governments for a new nuclear plant in Anglesey, Wales, could set the UK government up to provide state-support for a raft of nuclear projects hit by financial difficulties.
The FT reported on Tuesday that letters had been exchanged between Tokyo and London expressing support for the Wylfa project—which will be built by the Hitachi-owned consortium Horizon.
The FT story followed up a series of reports in Japan suggesting that the Japanese and UK governments had agreed on $20 billion in loans to acquire a stake in Horizon with the help of financial institutions—including an equity stake for the UK government.
Any move to put public money into new nuclear would represent a significant policy shift from the Conservative government, exposing taxpayers to significant risk while potentially lowering the cost of building a new power station.
The news comes as the UK government faces accusations of refusing to intervene over the collapse of Carillion and the East Coast Franchise.
Both the Japanese government and the Treasury refused to confirm or deny speculation when approached by Unearthed.
A spokesperson for the Japanese government told us: "We are aware that this has been reported, but our understanding is that at present there has been no specific decision made."
When asked about the numerous media reports on public financing, a Treasury spokesperson said that "the government is engaged in constructive discussions with a number of new nuclear developers. These discussions are commercially sensitive and it would be inappropriate to share at this time."
Of the UK's much-delayed nuclear program, Horizon is amongst the closest to an investment decision, but there is also speculation around other projects hit by financial difficulties.
There are also reports in Korean media that the Treasury is involved in project finance for the troubled Moorside nuclear plant—including another possible equity stake.
It was announced in December that state-owned South Korean firm Kepco is to take over construction of the power station in Cumbria.
Kepco was named as the preferred bidder for the NuGeneration consortium running the project, after its owner Toshiba was forced to sell due to financial problems, including the bankruptcy of its U.S. nuclear subsidiary.
According to an article published in Korea last year, the UK Infrastructure and Project Authority, a branch of the Treasury, worked on a financing structure with the Korean government, with Kepco at its centre.
The website Business Korea stated in October that the Korean government was working with the Infrastructure and Project Authority on a financing plan alongside U.S. and Japanese institutions to enable the company to buy a stake in Moorside.
Before Christmas, the FT reported that the head of Horizon, the Hitachi-owned consortium which hopes to build the plant at Wylfa, Duncan Hawthorne, felt the project needed government backing to get off the ground.
Hawthorne added that Treasury officials were "fully engaged" with Horizon and committed to ensuring that the power station was built at a lower cost than Hinkley Point C.
Antony Froggatt, a senior research fellow in energy at Chatham House , told Unearthed that the Conservatives were shifting their policy because new nuclear plants are unlikely to come online without significant state backing.
"What we're seeing, and this has been the case for the last 5-10 years, is that the Conservatives have gradually been salami slicing away at their pledge to allow the construction of new nuclear, provided that they 'receive no public subsidy'," he said.
"There's been a shift on this because nuclear can't happen without significant government financial support."
Peter McIntosh, acting national officer for energy at the Unite union, which has long pushed for public investment in new nuclear, told Unearthed that the reports of the Wylfa deal were welcome, but urged the state to go further. "Privatization of the energy sector has failed and we would call upon the government to bring the sector back into public ownership," he said.
The government has reaffirmed its commitment to building a fleet of new nuclear power stations in recent months, despite concerns over the cost and delivery .
But if it decides to back a nuclear project, it may prove difficult for ministers to avoid offering the same public support to other similar schemes.
Alex Mosson, construction and engineering law specialist at Keystone Law , said it was unlikely that the government would be in legal trouble if it chose to invest in Wylfa and ignored other projects, but he said it could face political difficulties.
"In terms of the legality, the government more or less has free reign to do what it wants within the parameters of its investment requirements. But in terms of politics, it becomes very different, because these deals can be used as leverage. Legally, I couldn't give a definitive answer, as I don't know what the scheme is. But commenting on the industry itself, there will always be a circumstance where one party will try to use another party's leverage to their benefit," he said.
Ultimately, however, nuclear projects will depend on agreements to buy the power they produce—with new subsidies ruled out until 2025 in the Autumn budget .
"The only short-term option the government would have for giving public money to new nuclear would be to take an equity stake," said Froggatt.
Doing so may still not be sufficient to make the projects happen, however.
Tom Burke, chairman and founding director of the environmental group E3G, suggested that there might be something else at play.
"The struggling nuclear industries of Japan, France and Korea are all looking to the UK to rescue them," he argued.
"What they are getting from the government is warm words and long promises. The truth is that there is no room for additional nuclear in Britain's rapidly modernizing electricity supply system. Without power purchase agreements paid for by consumers none of these projects will go ahead however much they reduce their capital cost."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Unearthed .
21 January 2018.
5 Recent Victories for the Oceans –
By Andy Sharpless
In the last several weeks, Oceana and its allies won five important victories that will help protect biodiversity and increase abundance in our seas:
1. Belize bans offshore oil drilling in country's marine waters, home to the largest barrier reef in the Americas.
Belize made history in late December when it signed into law a moratorium on offshore oil drilling in the entirety of Belizean waters, which contain the second largest barrier reef system in the world (and largest in the Western Hemisphere). This decision was the culmination of more than 10 years of campaigning by Oceana and its allies, and by the tens of thousands of Belizeans committed to stopping drilling in their barrier reef. The Belize Barrier Reef—a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1996—is home to nearly 1,400 species and is critical to the livelihood of more than half of Belize's population due to its central role in Belizean tourism and fishing.
2. Chile bans bottom trawling in 98 percent of its seas.
Liesbeth van der Meer, Oceana's leader in Chile, sat next to Chile's Undersecretary of Fisheries, Pablo Berazaluce, as the country announced—in a joint statement with Oceana—that the country would ban bottom trawling in 98 percent of Chile's waters (specifically in its Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ). This decision puts Chile at the forefront of countries stopping this destructive fishing practice, by which large weighted nets are dragged across the ocean floor, clear-cutting and destroying ocean habitat while also netting tons of other life not targeted by fishermen. This win follows several others protecting Chile's ocean habitat. In fact, the country has now made 13 percent of its waters "no take" marine areas (up from less than one percent when Oceana began campaigning on these issues).
3. Canada acts to make the status of its fisheries transparent to its citizens.
Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans released—for the first time—a comprehensive review of the status of fisheries in Canada along with proposed rebuilding plans (and accompanying timetables) for 19 fisheries. While this effort is only a first step, it is a major leap forward in transparency and accountability for Canada's seas.
4. 21 countries and the EU protect endangered cold-water corals throughout the Mediterranean.
Four deep-sea coral species will now be protected in the Mediterranean. The Barcelona Convention, a multi-country regional sea convention, voted in favor of adding four additional coral species—cockscomb cup coral, yellow-tree coral, yellow coral and bamboo coral—to the list (Annex II) of endangered or threatened species in the Mediterranean Sea. This action will protect these animals and also help to ensure the survival of marine life that live and depend on these underwater coral gardens. The members of the Barcelona convention include: Algeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Cyprus, Egypt, the European Community, France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Libya, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Morocco, Slovenia, Spain, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey.
5. The Philippines appoints a special prosecutor to prosecute illegal commercial fishing in the country's largest marine protected area.
The government of the Philippines named a special prosecutor to pursue cases related to illegal fishing in the Tañon Strait, the largest MPA in the Philippines. Tañon Strait, a 161-kilometer strip dividing the provinces of Cebu and Negros Island, is one of the largest and most productive parts of oceans in the Philippines, accounting for 63 percent of the country's coral species and 14 types of whales and dolphins. Despite its nearly two decades as a protected area, Tañon Strait remained under constant pressure from illegal commercial fishing due to a lack of enforcement. The appointment of a special prosecutor follows several other new enforcement measures for Tañon Strait, including the use of vessel monitoring systems. The new special prosecutor has already received her first case.
These are significant victories, and only a fraction of the more than 200 that Oceana has won since its founding in 2001 . In the ever-shifting political situations from Peru to the Philippines to the U.S., this has been our constant: Oceana will continue to campaign and win the victories we need to make our oceans truly biodiverse and abundant.
21 January 2018.
Climate Change and Weather Extremes: Both Heat and Cold Can Kill –
By Garth Heutel, David Molitor and Nolan Miller
Climate change is increasing the frequency and strength of some types of extreme weather in the U.S., particularly heat waves. Last summer the U.S. Southwest experienced life-threatening heat waves , which are especially dangerous for elderly people and other vulnerable populations.
More recently, record-setting cold temperatures engulfed much of the country during the first week of 2018. This arctic blast has been blamed for dozens of deaths . Some scientists believe that Arctic warming may be a factor in this type of persistent cold spell, although others question this connection .
In a recent working paper , we studied the effect of temperature extremes on elderly mortality, using comprehensive data from Medicare covering about 35 million beneficiaries. Analyzing daily patterns at the ZIP code level, we estimated how daily temperature changes affect elderly mortality as a way to predict how people may adapt to climate change.
Our key finding is that both heat waves and cold snaps increase mortality rates. For example, the mortality rate from a day with average temperatures between 90 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit is higher by about one death per 100,000 individuals than a day with an average temperature between 65 and 70 degrees. Deaths also increase, by about one-half per 100,000 individuals, on days when the average temperature is less than 20 degrees.
Heutel et al, 2017, CC BY-ND
Shivering in Florida, Sweating in North Dakota
People and communities have many options for
to climate change. They can
install air conditioning
change the urban environment
—for example, by planting trees to cool city streets. They may improve readiness at
health care facilities
, or modify
public health strategies
—for example, by raising public awareness of risks associated with extreme weather.
As regions adapt, one might suspect that hot places like Miami deal well with heat but struggle with cold, while cold places like Fargo, North Dakota, are ready for deep freezes but less prepared for heat waves. This is exactly the pattern we found when we separately analyzed the hottest, middle and coldest thirds of all U.S. ZIP codes.
In hot places like Miami, cold days have a very large impact on mortality, while the impact of hot days is smaller. In contrast, hot days in Fargo have a very large impact on mortality, but an additional cold day has little effect. In fact, the effect of the hottest days (90 degrees or higher) in the coldest places is about two to three times larger than the effect of the coldest days (less than 20 degrees) in the hottest places.
Heutel et al., 2017, CC BY-ND
Next we considered how people and communities may adapt as climate change intensifies. We used predictions of temperatures in 2080-2100 from a set of climate models called the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 , which uses 21 different climate models and assumes that global carbon emissions continue to rise through the end of the century.
Using these projections, we predicted how many extra deaths would be caused by temperature extremes across our hot, moderate and cold zones under three different assumptions.
- First, we assumed that no future adaptation occurred and that temperature had the same effect on mortality in all regions of the country.
- Second, we assumed that no future adaptation took place, but that temperature had a different effect on mortality for each ZIP code.
- Lastly, we assumed that temperature effects on mortality varied and that communities took steps to adapt to climate change. We did not explicitly model specific adaptation strategies; instead, we used the current differences in temperature effects across regions to predict future responses to climate change. Roughly, if Chicago's future climate starts to resemble current conditions in Miami, then we expect temperature effects on mortality in Chicago to begin mirroring the effects we see now in Miami, as Chicago employs better strategies to cope with high temperature extremes.
Heutel et al., 2017, CC BY-ND
In our first scenario, with no adaptation and uniform temperature effects, we found that climate change would increase death rates in the hottest regions by about 2 percent, but would reduce death rates in the coldest regions by a tiny 0.02 percent. This outcome supports the logical expectation that global warming could be less harmful or even beneficial for cold places, since it will reduce the number of very cold days.
Recall that in reality, however, cold regions deal well with cold weather but are less able to deal with extreme heat. In our second scenario, with no adaptation and temperature effects varying by region, we found that warming would increase deaths everywhere. Cold places would experience fewer very cold days, but they would experience more very hot days, for which they are not adapted. Consequently, we estimated that deaths would rise by about 3.7 percent in the coldest regions.
On the other hand, very hot places would see smaller mortality increases in this scenario. Hot places are harmed less than cold places by additional hot days, and benefit more from experiencing fewer cold days than the national average would suggest. In the net, we estimate that deaths due to weather extremes would increase in the hottest places by only 0.97 percent.
Finally, in our third scenario, which allowed for future adaptation to global warming, we found that mortality rates from extreme temperatures decreased for the middle and hottest regions and for the U.S. overall. This result indicates that when people and communities are allowed to adapt fully to temperature increases, they will do so in ways that more than offset the negative effects of climate change.
Is Adaptation the Answer?
Taken at face value, these simulations suggest that we don't need to worry about harmful effects of climate change on elderly mortality, because we can adapt through steps such as installing air conditioning and setting up short-term emergency shelters such as warming centers. But this conclusion would be overly optimistic for several reasons.
First, our study ignores the costs of adapting. Steps such as weatherizing homes can be expensive for both individuals and governments. President Donald Trump 's 2018 budget request proposed eliminating the Department of Energy's Weatherization Assistance Program, which helps increase the energy efficiency of low-income homes.
Second, our results do not consider other possible policy responses, such as action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or geoengineer the climate , which may be more effective than relying on adaptation alone.
Our results suggest that there is room for steps that could substantially reduce heat-related elderly mortality due to climate change. Whether to take those steps is a social and political decision. But Americans should consider the temperature extremes that our nation has experienced over the past year as they weigh these choices.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation .
20 January 2018.
One Year Into the Trump Administration, Where Do We Stand? –
By John R. Platt
What a long, strange year it's been.
Saturday, Jan. 20 marks the one-year anniversary of the Trump administration officially taking office after a long and arduous election. It's a year that has seen seemingly unending attacks on science and the environment , along with a rise in hateful rhetoric and racially motivated policies. But it's almost been met by the continuing growth of the efforts to resist what the Trump administration has to offer.
So where do we stand, one year in?
Well, for one thing, we can say that the year has given the administration's actions a visible shape. "These are not isolated incidents at this point," said Jacob Carter , research scientist for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists , who has been tracking the administration's attacks against science —at least 65 since the president took office. "They're happening so often now that there is definitely a pattern starting to emerge. The administration really wants to undermine the role of science and science-based decision making. They're getting the expertise out of the way to further a political agenda."
Carter said these attempts to remove science from government decision-making—ranging from ending a study of the health effects of mountaintop-removal mining to eliminating the words " climate change " from all EPA grants—"have real consequences on peoples' lives. It's about our health and safety. If we don't listen to the best available science, then our lives are at risk."
But pushing science and scientists aside doesn't mean they go away forever. "Under this administration we know the scientific evidence isn't going to be able to speak for itself, so scientists really have to step up and speak for it," Carter said. And scientists have been doing that in record numbers, starting with last year's March for Science and continuing on multiple fronts ever since. "They're stepping up in an unprecedented number and saying science has got to be used in policy-making decisions." That's not slowing down; Carter recalls how he attended two big scientific conferences last year and "I had tons of scientists coming up and asking me how they can advocate, what they could do to make sure that science is being used and remains in a proper place."
That increased level of activism is not unique to scientists, as people from many walks of live have definitely become more politically engaged in the past year. "Trump's election was a wakeup call in a way," said Gayle Alberda , an assistant professor of politics at Connecticut's Fairfield University, who studies elections, political participation and civic engagement. "Nation-wide, we've seen this huge influx of people wanting to know not only how to run for office, but how to get politically engaged."
Of course, people are rising up on both sides of the political aisle. In addition to the citizens opposing Trump's policies, Alberda said the people who see Trump as representing their ideals have also made their voices louder over the past year. "I think both sides are getting pushed in a way to really engage vastly differently than we have in the past," she said.
Unfortunately, the two sides aren't exactly talking to each other, and that's bad for the country. "We're losing the ability to engage in civil discourse in a way that's healthy for democracy," Alberda said.
Alberda said this has been building for a while, even before the election. "It's almost like you keep throwing firewood onto the fire and you don't realize how big it is until it blows up," she said. "You're like, 'whoa, that's a big fire.' Lots of little things have happened over the years and we're kind of seeing that all of a sudden in our face, because you have all of these questions about the state of democracy today." She said examples such as Trump's attacks on the free press, the Republican push to pass their legislative agenda, and the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the last election have only served to stoke this fire even further.
So where do we go as we enter the administration's second year? One avenue is to look toward groups that have experience fighting these kinds of regressive activities. "One of the strengths of the movement is solidarity," said Nadia Aziz, program manager of the Stop Hate Project run by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "There are a lot of organizations like ours that have been around for 50 years or more. We've been fighting to secure equal justice for racial and ethnic minorities for a very long time. I think we're very resilient organizations because of that," she said.
That resilience is important, she said, because right now we're at a critical point: "How do you make sure that this movement that we're all in, this resistance, is creating sustainable action and that we all don't get burned out?"
One way Aziz said she keeps herself strong is by seeing and experiencing what others are doing. "There are a lot of a lot of groups are doing such wonderful work," she said. "One of the most inspiring things about my job is being able to connect with people. I think that gives me resiliency, seeing how awesome the people are on the ground what the remarkable work they're doing."
That, in fact, may be one of the lasting legacies of this administration: Local community groups and national groups are connecting with each other, learning from each other, and collectively strengthening their voices. "I do think we're going to keep getting stronger and we're going to keep building out our movement," Aziz said.
As we enter year two of this administration, Alberda said she's looking toward local 2018 elections and the rise of candidates opposing Trump and his policies. "That is going to be really interesting," she said. "We've seen already that Republicans in safe Republican state legislative seats are getting challengers. I think that's indicative that we're going to see some interesting elections."
John R. Platt is the editor of The Revelator . An award-winning environmental journalist, his work has appeared in Scientific American, Audubon, Motherboard, and numerous other magazines and publications. His "Extinction Countdown" column has run continuously since 2004 and has covered news and science related to more than 1,000 endangered species. John lives on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon, where he finds himself surrounded by animals and cartoonists.
20 January 2018.
Greenpeace Slams Coca-Cola Plastic Announcement as ‘Dodging the Main Issue’ –
By Louise Edge
The long awaited policy from the world's largest soft drink company featured a series of measures weaker than those previously announced for Europe and the UK.
The plan failed to include any reduction of the company's rapidly increasing use of single-use plastic bottles globally, which now stands at well more than 110 billion annually.
The massive increase in plastic waste in our oceans, and increasingly in our food chain, is a result of our dependency on throwaway items like single-use plastic bottles. Instead of focusing on reducing the amount of plastic it produces—the sure fire way to reduce ocean plastic pollution—Coca-Cola is trying to offset its huge plastic footprint by investing in a bit more recycling. China's refusal to accept more plastic waste , and the resulting backlog in plastic exporting nations, shows that we can't recycle our way out of this mess while we continue to make the mess bigger.
As the most recognizable brand in the world, and the biggest plastic bottle producer, Coca-Cola has a special responsibility to lead the way in reduction of single-use plastic. Its plan is full of band-aids and will do very little in the way of making a meaningful impact on the amount of plastic entering our waterways and food chain. Coke has a long way to go to show it is taking the plastics epidemic seriously.
Coca-Cola produces more than 110 billion single use plastic bottles each year, and billions of these end up in landfills, rivers and the sea.
Greenpeace estimates that Coke has increased its number of single-use plastic bottles by nearly a third (31 percent) since 2008 and that they now account for almost 70 percent of Coke's packaging globally. [68 percent in 2016 sustainability report ]. Friday's announcement revealed no plans that would reverse this trend.
Greenpeace welcomed the announcement that Coke will be increasing the recycled content of its single-use plastic bottles from the current paltry 7 percent to 50 percent globally by 2030, although it is less ambitious than Coke UK's target of 50 percent by 2020 and Coke Europe's target of 50 percent by 2025. Greenpeace has been calling on Coke to move to 100 percent recycled content.
And while Coke now backs Deposit Return Schemes in the UK, following pressure from environmental groups , the company has not announced a similar policy change at a global level and remains opposed to schemes in many other countries, including Canada, the Netherlands and Israel.
The plan contrasts starkly with the announcement made by UK retailer Iceland earlier this week that it will become the first major retailer globally to eliminate single-use plastic packaging throughout its own brand products within 5 years, a comprehensive solution that removes the problem rather than just trying to manage it.
Greenpeace is urging Coca-Cola to make firm commitments to cut its plastic production by investing in alternatives to single-use plastic bottles, including committing to expand its use of new delivery methods such as Freestyle dispensers and self-serve water stations with reusable containers .
a global campaign on Coke in April 2017, involving supporters from five continents.
Last week, Greenpeace delivered a global petition signed by more than 585,000 people urging Coke to reduce its plastic footprint.
19 January 2018.
Two Boys Charged With Killing Half a Million Honeybees in Iowa –
Two boys were charged with killing more than a half million bees at a honey business in Iowa last month.
"All of the beehives on the honey farm were destroyed and approximately 500,000 bees perished in the frigid temperatures," Sioux City police said in a release.
The suspects, a 12 and 13 year old, allegedly destroyed 50 hives at the Wild Hill Honey in Sioux City. The juveniles have been charged with criminal mischief, agricultural animal facilities offenses and burglary. Their names will not be released due to their age.
The felonies could result in fines as much as $10,000 and up to 10 years in jail, but criminal cases involving minors are typically adjudicated in juvenile court.
Wild Hill Honey owners Justin and Tori Englehardt called it a "senseless" act."
"They knocked over every single hive, killing all the bees. They wiped us out completely," Justin Engelhardt told the Sioux City Journal after the incident.
"They broke into our shed, they took all our equipment out and threw it out in the snow, smashed what they could. Doesn't look like anything was stolen, everything was just vandalized or destroyed."
"Bees are critical, and people are conscious of the fact that bees are having a hard time right now and facing some real challenges," Englehardt said.
A report from the Center for Biological Diversity last year found that more than North American bee 700 species are in trouble from a range of serious threats, including severe habitat loss and escalating pesticide use.
Bees are a precious natural resource—an estimated 35 percent of food production is dependent on pollination from the insects.
The Englehardt's losses were estimated between $50,000 to $60,000. The damage was not covered by insurance.
A fundraising campaign has raised thousands of dollars for the recovery. More than $30,000 has already been donated.
"Thank you to everyone for your generous contributions and your amazing show of support," a message from the Wild Hill owners states. "Because of you, we will be able to continue our business in the spring. We are deeply moved by your compassion. Between the contributions and the equipment we were able to salvage, our needs have been met. There are so many great causes to support. Our wish is that this spirit of compassion will be used to help others now. Thank you."
19 January 2018.
Are Microwaves Really as Bad for the Environment as Cars? –
According to many headlines blared around the Internet this week, "microwaves are as damaging to the environment as cars." But this misleading information, based on a new study from the University of Manchester, hopefully doesn't make you feel guilty about zapping your next Hot Pocket.
The research, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, found that microwave ovens across the European Union generate as much carbon dioxide as nearly 7 million cars and consume an estimated 9.4 terawatts per hour of electricity per year. Okay, that sounds like a lot. But also consider that there are about 130 million microwaves in Europe and some 291 million vehicles on its roads.
David Reay, professor of carbon management at the University of Edinburgh who was not involved in the study, pointed out to the Guardian that the emissions from microwaves are "dwarfed by those from cars."
"There are around 30 million cars in the UK alone and these emit way more than all the emissions from microwaves in the EU," he added. "Latest data show that passenger cars in the UK emitted 69m tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2015. This is 10 times the amount this new microwave oven study estimates for annual emissions for all the microwave ovens in the whole of the EU."
Microwaves are actually more eco-friendly than conventional ovens. Even a press write up on the new study stated, "An individual microwave uses 573 kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity over its lifetime of eight years. That is equivalent to the electricity consumed by a 7 watt LED light bulb."
TreeHugger's Lloyd Alter put it blankly, "That, right there, is the silliest comparison ever, and says it all—an oven uses in eight years what an LED bulb uses in nine, or 1.14 times the power consumption of an LED bulb. This is killing the planet?"
"Almost everything we do uses power, and you can multiply it out and find that when you have a lot of people, it uses a lot of power. Using this logic, I expect that my electric toothbrush is killing the planet," Alter quipped.
The bigger picture, and perhaps the point of the study, is the environmental footprint of our consumeristic, throwaway culture. A microwave's life cycle, aka from "cradle to grave," has decreased from around 10 to 15 years in the late 90s to between six to eight years today, the press release said.
Additionally, many modern day conveniences—from vacuum cleaners to hair dryers and, yes, our beloved microwave—should be designed and used more efficiently.
Importantly, as the authors of the study noted, our everyday appliances run off of polluting fossil fuels, rather than, say, renewables .
"Electricity consumption has the biggest impact," the study's lead author Alejandro Gallego-Schmid, a research associate at the University of Manchester, told AFP . "This is because of the fuels used to generate the electricity."
The AFP reported that coal and gas account for about 70 percent of electricity generation around the world. In the EU, that figure is about 40 percent.
The researchers suggested that manufacturers and individual action can do a lot to reduce the environmental impact of our kitchen gadgets.
"On average, kettles boil 50 percent more water than people need," Gallego-Schmid said. "There are about 144 million kettles in the European Union. The environmental impacts—and the margin for improvement—is huge."
Similarly, most people operate microwaves longer than needed to heat or cook food, he added.
The study is the first to analyze the environmental impacts of microwaves by considering their whole life cycle.
Microwaves were likely considered for the study because they account for the largest percentage of sales of all type of ovens in the European Union, with numbers set to reach nearly 135 million by 2020.
"It is electricity consumption by microwaves that has the biggest impact on the environment," the authors said .
Gallego-Schmid also told the Guardian, "The aim of our study was not to compare microwaves to other cooking appliances but to look at the environmental impacts of microwaves as ubiquitous devices in households in Europe and draw attention to the need to make their design, use and end-of-life waste management more efficient."
19 January 2018.
Monsanto's Roundup Destroys Healthy Microbes in Humans and in Soils –
By Julie Wilson
We're only beginning to learn the importance of healthy gut bacteria to our overall health—and the relationship between healthy soil and the human microbiome.
We know that the human microbiome, often referred to as our "second brain," plays a key role in our health, from helping us digest the food we eat, to boosting our brain function and regulating our immune systems.
Similar to animals, plants and soil, our bodies contain trillions of microbes—microscopic living organisms, such as bacteria, fungi and protozoa. The microbes in each person's body are unique, but not random. They colonize in the body, beginning from birth, depending on the microbes passed on by the mother. Over our lifetimes, they evolve according to our unique exposure to the outside world in order to protect us from disease such as cancer, diabetes and even autism.
What happens when our microbial community is disturbed? New research suggests that exposure to environmental toxins, such as pesticides , may alter the human microbiome, leaving us more vulnerable to sickness and disease.
A second new study suggests that the most widely used herbicide on the planet— Monsanto's Roundup weedkiller —could be causing more damage to our gut microbiome and overall health than we thought. Not only does the weedkiller contain glyphosate , but in its complete formulation, it also contains toxic levels of heavy metals, including arsenic.
Glyphosate and Its Unintended Effects
The study, published by Prof. Gilles-Eric Séralini at the University of Caen, France, raises new alarms about glyphosate , the most widely used herbicide in the world despite mountains of research pointing to the weedkiller's damaging impacts on human and environmental health.
Glyphosate, the key active ingredient in Roundup, is destructive to the environment. A recent article by GM Watch details the editor of No-Till Farmer, a magazine that advocates for the use GM crops and glyphosate herbicides in no-till systems, is changing his thinking.
John Dobberstein, No-Till Farmer's senior editor, recently wrote that "there may be trouble on the horizon for glyphosate," citing research showing that glyphosate lingers in the soil—and in high amounts—long after it has been applied.
Citing other researches, including Robert Kremer, a retired research microbiologist with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service and adjunct professor at the University of Missouri, Dobberstein wrote that glyphosate quietly lingers in soil years after it's been sprayed, damaging non-target crops and suppressing beneficial mycorrhizal fungi, which help plants obtain nutrients from the soil while offering protection against disease.
The herbicide also harms beneficial soil organisms such as small insects and earthworms, while leaving behind chemical residues that wind up in our waterways, Dobberstein wrote, as reported by GM Watch.
Microbes Prove Their Value in Humans
While some microbes cause disease, the majority of these cells assist us with everyday processes, such as digesting food and keeping harmful bacteria at bay.
According to an article published this month by Mercola.com, 70 to 80 percent of your immune function resides within your gastrointestinal tract or "gut." Poor gut health is associated with autism, behavioral disorders, diabetes, gene expression and obesity.
If, as this recent article in the Atlantic claims, "The microbial community in the ground is as important as the one in our guts," then the new Séralini study doesn't bode well for us humans—especially if we keep dousing the world's soils with glyphosate, and consuming glyphosate-contaminated foods .
Arsenic and Old Monsanto
As if there aren't enough reasons to be worried about glyphosate, one more reason emerged last week when scientists reported that glyphosate-based herbicides, including Roundup, contain toxic levels of heavy metals, including arsenic.
Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup has been the subject of intense scrutiny and controversy. Documents recently made public as a result of multiple lawsuits filed against Monsanto by people who blame exposure to Roundup for their non-Hodgkin lymphoma suggest Monsanto has known for decades about the health risks related to glyphosate.
Some countries have banned its use.
But as the authors of this latest study point out, glyphosate is not the only ingredient in herbicides like Roundup—it's one of multiple ingredients. Those other ingredients make glyphosate-based herbicides even more dangerous than we thought—and should lead to a global ban on all glyphosate-based herbicides.
According to Prof. Gilles-Eric Séralini, one of the authors of the study:
These results show that the declarations of glyphosate as the active principle for toxicity are scientifically wrong, and that the toxicity assessment is also erroneous: glyphosate is tested alone for long-term health effects at regulatory level but the formulants—which are composed of toxic petroleum residues and arsenic—are not tested over the long term. We call for the immediate transparent and public release of the formulations and above all of any health tests conducted on them. The acceptable levels of glyphosate residues in food and drinks should be divided immediately by a factor of at least 1,000 because of these hidden poisons. Glyphosate-based herbicides should be banned.
We can only hope.
By Elliott Negin
The Trump administration's testy relationship with science reminds me of that old saying: Advice is least heeded when most needed.
Earlier this week, three-quarters of the members of the National Park System Advisory Board resigned because Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke refused to hold a meeting with them last year. The board was established more than 80 years ago so scientists and former elected officials could advise the Department of the Interior on a variety of national park and monument issues, including the designation of national historic and natural landmarks.
With zero input from the 12-member board, Zinke dramatically reduced the size of two national monuments in Utah to open them up to grazing and mining; arbitrarily increased park visitor fees; and reversed a ban on plastic water bottles in the park system.
Their resignation should not come as a surprise. Zinke's cavalier treatment of the National Park System Advisory Board is just the most recent example of an administration-wide rejection of independent scientific expertise, according to a
released Thursday by the
Union of Concerned Scientists
After reviewing the status of 73 science advisory boards at six federal agencies and interviewing 33 current and former board members, UCS researchers found that last year the boards met less often than in any year since the government started keeping records in 1997. They also found that nearly two-thirds of the boards met fewer times than their charters recommend, and board membership dropped 14 percent from the previous year, twice as much as during the first year of the Obama administration.
Some of the meetings that did take place, meanwhile, could hardly be designated as such. Panel members told UCS researchers that several in-person meetings were replaced by perfunctory telephone conference calls, some lasting for as little as 15 minutes.
The boards UCS included in its analysis advise the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Commerce, Department of Energy, Department of the Interior, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Food and Drug Administration, and provide a good representative sample of the 218 scientific and technical panels currently serving the federal government. Generally comprised of volunteer experts from academia, industry, nonprofit organizations, and state and local governments, these committees keep federal agencies abreast of the latest, cutting-edge research and make recommendations on short-term challenges, such as epidemic outbreaks, and ongoing issues, such as nuclear safety.
Besides Interior, one of the biggest offenders is the EPA under Administrator Scott Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general who sued the agency 14 times on behalf of his campaign contributors to try to block air and water protections. Last October, Pruitt issued new rules barring anyone who receives EPA grants from serving on agency advisory panels. Remarkably, he maintained that those scientists have a conflict of interest, regardless of the fact that the EPA does not dictate the outcome of its grantees' research. He then packed the agency's Science Advisory Board with industry scientists with clear conflicts of interest.
Perhaps most emblematic of the Trump administration's contempt for science is the fact that the president has yet to appoint his science adviser, who directs the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Last October, The Washington Post reported that Trump has taken longer than any president in modern times to name his science adviser. That was three months ago, and the position is still open, as are the posts of deputy director and four congressionally mandated associate directors. In the meantime, the president has made a string of "unadvised," ill-advised science-related decisions, most notably pulling out of the Paris climate agreement and appointing Pruitt, a climate-science-denying attorney, to run the EPA.
When the nine National Park System Advisory Board members quit last Monday, former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles, the head of the board, explained their rationale. "We resigned because we were deeply disappointed with the [Interior] Department and we were concerned," he said . "[Zinke] appears to have no interest in continuing the agenda of science, the effect of climate change, [or] pursuing the protection of the ecosystem."
The same holds true for the entire Trump administration, and that doesn't bode well for public health or the environment.
19 January 2018.
8 Ways to Reduce Your Exposure to Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals –
By Caroline Cox
What keeps you up at night? Sick kids, restless pets, the latest tragedy on the evening news, politics, wars, earthquakes, hurricanes, fires, money troubles, job stress, and family health and wellbeing? There is no shortage of concerns that make us all toss and turn.
If you can even pronounce "endocrine disruption," you're doing well. What is it? Why should we care? And why is it keeping chemical bigshots up at night?
The endocrine system is the system of glands, hormones and hormone targets that is responsible for almost everything our bodies do. Hormones are chemical messengers that control blood sugar, infant and child development , sexual function, growth, energy production and much more. Without them, we would not be ourselves. Hormones are particularly impressive because tiny amounts of them, so small they're difficult even to comprehend, have profound effects on our health and well-being.
In the last 30 years, we've learned that synthetic chemicals, widely used in industry and agriculture , can disrupt the way that this finely tuned system works. We call these chemicals—including compounds made from lead , mercury and arsenic, DDT, BPA and phthalates —endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs).
These chemicals are known to cause obesity, diabetes, heart disease, reduced fertility, premature birth, reduced sperm quality and cancer . Exposures before birth, during childhood and during the teenage years are especially important because of the rapid growth and development that occurs during those periods. Now new research indicates that some EDCs cause problems that are passed along for generations .
A study released last month by Healthy Babies Bright Futures highlights the pervasiveness of one of these endocrine-disrupting chemicals, arsenic. The study found that levels of arsenic in infant rice cereal are six times higher than in infant cereals made from other ingredients.
Everyone who has spent time reading mysteries knows that arsenic can kill. But how many of us know that it also causes cancer, damages developing brains in babies and children—reducing IQ test scores—and disrupts important hormones in our bodies, making diabetes more likely ?
According to recent research by Abt Associates, children's exposures to arsenic in infant rice cereal and other rice-based foods accounts for an estimated loss of up to 9.2 million IQ points among U.S. children ages 0-6. This damage costs the country an estimated $12-18 billion annually in lost wages. To date, the FDA has not taken action, and with this administration, it will let this travesty continue.
But let's go back to that Shell executive. What exactly is he worried about during his sleepless nights? We can only guess. But one thing that probably runs through his mind is that almost none of us escapes exposure to EDCs. BPA is so ubiquitous that government studies found it in over 90 percent of the people studied. That represents a potentially huge liability for the companies that make BPA.
How did this happen? This has everything to do with the way that we regulate chemicals. For the last century or so, the foundation of chemical regulation has been that small exposures are not a problem—just a little won't hurt you or "the dose makes the poison." Endocrine disruption turns that concept on its head, because hormones are active in such small amounts. Counter-intuitively, some endocrine disruptors are more potent in tiny amounts than in larger amounts. In 2012, a lead author of a major study on EDCs stated that "fundamental changes in chemical testing and safety determination are needed to protect human health."
Weak regulations also mean we really have no idea how many chemicals are endocrine disruptors. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ( EPA ) says there are about 85,000 chemicals used by industry , and most of them have never been tested to find out whether they can disrupt our hormones or not. There is decent evidence that over 1,400 hormone-disrupting chemicals are endocrine disruptors .
A chemical executive's sleepless nights should not be our sleepless nights. Where do we go from here?
About 25 years ago, Congress passed a law stating that the EPA should begin testing for endocrine disruption in a subset of those 85,000 chemicals. It hasn't happened, and in today's political climate it's not likely to happen. Fortunately, there are some easy ways to reduce your exposure to EDCs:
- Eat organic food when it's available and affordable.
- If you're feeding a baby cereal, stay away from rice. Buy oat, wheat or multigrain cereal instead.
- Avoid household bug sprays.
- Use cosmetics, shampoos and soaps with simple, pronounceable ingredients.
- Use old-fashioned cleaners like vinegar and baking soda, or products with the Safer Choice logo.
- Keep rooms well aired and vacuum, clean and dust regularly to remove chemicals that can be found indoors.
- Minimize unnecessary use of plastics .
- Add your name to the growing movement to stop EDCs.
It's time companies like Monsanto , Dow-DuPont and ExxonMobil take responsibility for gambling with your family's health and the health of future generations and stop making these silent killer chemicals. We deserve nothing less.
Caroline Cox is the Senior Scientist at the Center for Environmental Health .
Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet .
19 January 2018.
Why We'll March Again –
This Sunday marks the first anniversary of the Women's March that happened on the day after Donald Trump's inauguration—the largest protest march in our nation's history. The Sierra Club was there that day, and we'll be there this year, too—at a significant moment for women's rights and justice.
Some people still ask whether "rights and justice for women" qualifies as an "environmental issue." In their minds, the Sierra Club, as an environmental organization, should stick to a prescribed list of issues that are "environmental" and otherwise mind its own business.
I have two responses to this: one specific and one more general. First, women's rights are absolutely an environmental issue. Among our most basic human rights are the ability to breathe clean air, drink clean water and live in a healthy environment. Toxic pollution and climate disruption threaten those rights for everyone, but the consequences often fall hardest on women. After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, for instance, 80 percent of those left behind in the Lower Ninth Ward were women. For women, exposure to toxic pollution, the risk of sexual violence and the denial of basic reproductive healthcare are not discrete threats; they are a knotted pattern of injustice that must be disentangled and eradicated.
The more general problem, though, is this notion of "issues." Yes, the Sierra Club tackles social justice and environmental issues, but our work would be meaningless if it were not motivated by something deeper: values.
Our values are fairly simple. We believe in justice, equality and opportunity for all people. We reject violence and hatred. It's our values that mandate our support of the Women's March. It's our values that demand racial justice. It's our values that tell us we must defend the rights of immigrants and help communities that have been devastated by fossil fuel pollution. As school children recite each morning in their pledge to the flag: "One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
It's clear that many of our opponents neither share nor respect the same values we do. Attacking women's rights, denying healthcare to millions, cold-heartedly expelling Dreamers and refusing refugees, ignoring climate science, turning their backs on the world, tearing down protections for people and for places—those actions speak to what they do esteem: privilege, self-interest, ignorance and greed.
When the marching begins this Saturday, the Sierra Club will be there in solidarity with women and everyone else who has come under attack during the past year. We care passionately about clean air, clean water, clean energy, public lands and gender equity, because the same basic values underlie them all. It's when all of us who share those values come together that we can make positive change happen.
To find the location of the march nearest you, visit the Women's March Anniversary Map .
By Graham Readfearn
The two researchers being funded—one of which is a well-known climate science denier—have targeted little known "open access" journals with dubious quality controls to get their work published, DeSmog has found.
The CO2 Coalition funded the work and in March 2017 sent well-known climate science denier Nils-Axel Mörner to Fiji with Pamela Matlack-Klein, who has described herself as having a degree from the "Oceanographic Center of Nova Southeastern University, Dania, Florida, in 1983" and writes a weekly newspaper column.
Trump Admin Links to the CO2 Coalition
Among the CO2 Coalition's members is Kathleen Hartnett White —an energy and environment fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation who is Trump's nominee to chair the Council on Environmental Quality, a White House group that helps coordinate environmental policy across the administration.
Trump has renominated Hartnett White, who also rejects any risk of human-caused climate change , after Senate hearings failed to confirm her for the post. Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has said she is "wildly unqualified" for the role because she "outright rejects basic science ."
Retired Princeton physics professor William Happer, a director of the CO2 Coalition, was touted as a possible chief science advisor to the Trump White House . Happer also denies that increased levels of CO2 will be a problem for the planet. The CO2 Coalition was caught in a sting by Greenpeace , in which Happer offered to route money from work for a fictitious fossil fuel company through the organization.
Telling Fiji Not to Worry
Mörner has produced at least six journal articles on the back of the Fiji trip, several co-written with Virginia-based researcher Matlack-Klein, and acknowledged the funding of the CO2 Coalition on several occasions. Matlack-Klein's affiliation is given as the "Portuguese Sea Level Project, Appomattox, Virginia" but DeSmog could find no public record of the project. Klein did not respond to emails.
Mörner used his research to claim that concerns that Fijians had about rising sea levels were misplaced, and used the then-approaching United Nations climate talks hosted by Fiji (but held in Germany) last fall to publicize his work, writing an open letter to the country's Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama.
DeSmog sent emails to Mörner, Klein and Happer, who signs the CO2 Coalition's tax forms, with questions about the research, but received no responses.
One leading Australian scientist, the geophysicist professor Kurt Lambeck, reviewed several of the papers and said in his view, none would have been accepted to a recognized scientific journal with solid peer-review procedures.
Little Academic Standing
Mörner has been targeting fringe journals with official-sounding names but highly questionable quality controls, in order to publish the papers.
All the journals are "open access," which means the scientists pay for their work to be published and the results are available to the public for free.
In October 2017, Mörner presented his findings alongside Matlack-Klein, at a climate meeting in Rome which, as DeSmog revealed , was hijacked by Mörner, who was on the organizing committee, and who listed several climate science deniers as speakers.
Kurt Lambeck, professor of Geophysics at the Australian National University, said all of the papers had appeared in journals "of little academic standing" and that "none would have passed the reviewing process for more reputable journals."
He said that two papers which appeared in journals published by a company called "Scientific Research Publishing" were "trivial" and added "no insight into either the evidence for sea-level change nor on coastal erosion processes" beyond what was already well known.
He said: "It is well understood that human influences are one of the most important contributors to changes in coastal erosion and does not need restatement in a scientific paper."
A third paper was published in a little-known online journal with the title International Journal of Earth & Environmental Sciences. Lambeck said this paper should have been "rejected out of hand" because Mörner had presented no evidence to back up his claim.
In the paper Mörner argued that ocean levels were being driven by changes in solar winds that changed the rotation of the earth, causing ocean masses to shift towards or away from the poles depending on conditions on the sun. This, Mörner claimed, was the likely explanation for ocean levels around Fiji for 500 years.
Lambeck said he first heard Mörner make this general argument in 1979 during a symposium presentation where it was pointed out to him that the impacts of his proposed mechanisms were "improbable" but, even if they were present, were "orders of magnitude too small" to be effective on sea levels.
Lambeck said that significantly, in order for Mörner to make his arguments about changing sea levels, he had ignored other well-known research in respected journals. In particular, Mörner overlooked the findings that major changes in sea level had historically been driven by melting ice sheets and glaciers and also, in more recent times, by thermal expansion of the oceans.
Academic Paper or Angry Email?
A fourth paper reads more like an angry email to a colleague than a scientific journal article. It starts with a reference to a story in "The Mail" that Mörner claimed had shown that global temperature records held by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) were being manipulated to show global temperatures were rising.
Mörner is referring to claims supposedly made by a former NOAA employee, John Bates, and reported in the Daily Mail. Mörner does not refer to the many scientists who dismissed the claims of fraud — including Bates himself . He also ignores how the Independent Press Standards Organization ruled that the Daily Mail had "failed to take care over the accuracy of the article" and "had then failed to correct these significantly misleading statements," a ruling which resulted in a 659-word correction to the article.
In this paper Mörner goes on to claim that sea level records derived from satellite measurement are also being nefariously and unethically manipulated, but offers no evidence.
Lambeck said that in this paper, Mörner quotes mainly from his own writings and ignores other multiple technical analyses that have carefully considered how issues with satellite and tide gauge measurements have been identified and checked. He also ignores the specific rebuttals by recognized experts in the field, refuting the very conclusions he had made.
"To simply compare the globally average trend with a few short tide gauge records is something that no reasonable person would consider," Lambeck said.
Lambeck concluded that Mörner was "not handicapped by knowledge of physical processes, not interested in testing his hypotheses even by simple order of magnitude calculations, nor in trying to understand what others may have written."
So-called "open access" publishing brands have boomed in recent years, with hundreds of new titles appearing.
Many journals are based in either China or India and have names that resemble other, more legitimate journals.
Some people have characterized these journals as "predatory" due to the fees involved, in return for copy-editing services that are of questionable quality and, judging from the quality of some of the work which appears, a peer-review system that exists in name only.
Academics submitting research to these journals have to pay a fee for them to appear, creating a potential conflict where the publisher earns more cash when they encourage more researchers to publish.
This has seen journals spamming researchers around the world, encouraging them to submit articles, join editorial boards, or speak and attend conferences.
To avoid academics being caught out, many organizations have issued guidelines to members, such as the Council of Science Editors , The Royal Society of New Zealand , the World Association of Medical Editors and the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors .
In addition, academics have reported being named on editorial boards without their knowledge. One major publisher, OMICS International, based in Hyderabad, India, claims to run more than 700 peer-reviewed journals.
Open Access Publishers Caught in Stings
Mörner targeted five publishers for his work on the "Fiji New Sea Level Project," which he wrote was "supported by a kind grant from the CO2 Coalition."
The International Journal of Engineering Science and Invention offers to publish papers for just $75. The journal has no contact address, but is published by " Invention Journals " and has a Gmail address as a contact. The journal's website and the publisher's website were registered by a "Chetan Sharma" in Uttar Pradesh, India.
MedCrave Group's published mailing address in Edmond, Oklahoma, matches that of a parcel service .
One MedCrave journal—Urology & Nephrology Open Access Journal—was exposed in a sting operation in April 2017, when an editor wrote a fake case report based on an episode of Seinfeld using the name of a character that appeared in the TV show. The paper was accepted and published by the journal, but was later removed .
Scientific Research Publishing, where two of Mörner's articles appeared, was one of five publishers reviewed by University of Colorado librarian Jeffrey Beall , whose blog used to document and list suspected predatory journals until it was taken down in 2017. Scientific Research Publishing now discloses its origins as being in China.
Juniper Publishing Group, which published another of Mörner's Fiji papers , lists a residential property in Simi Valley, California, as its contact address. The website was registered using a privacy service, concealing the name of the website creator. Beall has described Juniper as "rotten to the core" and a publisher "to be avoided by all researchers."
Juniper was caught in another hoax, this time from Australian public health professor Mike Daube who created a fake academic profile based on the credentials of his pet dog and an affiliation with a fake veterinary school. Juniper's "Global Journal of Addiction and Rehabilitation Medicine" was one journal to accept "Dr. Olivia Doll" as a member of its editorial board.
Daube provided a picture of "Dr. Doll" to the journals—an image of Australian pop star Kylie Minogue. On its website, Juniper says, "Juniper publishers have been established with the aim of spreading quality scientific information to the research community throughout the universe."
Another journal targeted by Mörner was the International Journal of Earth & Environmental Sciences , published by Graphy Publications, which gives an address in Bangalore, India, as a contact.
A barely legible webpage describing the journal's aims says, "We encourage authors, who always have shown more interest to publish his work in the prestigious journals, and avail them the freely to the scientific community."
Both Mörner and Matlack-Klein gave presentations to a conference for climate science deniers held in London in 2016 which was organized by the so-called Independent Committee on Geoethics (a group apparently set up to investigate climate scientists for fraud).
Mörner was a founder of that group, which includes as members two other Australia-based climate science deniers who reject the evidence of rising sea levels and have similarly targeted obscure journals with their work.
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog .
19 January 2018.
It's Official: 2017 Was the Hottest Year Without an El Niño –
The United Nations announced Thursday that 2017 was the hottest year on record without an El Niño event kicking up global annual temperatures.
Last year's average surface temperatures—driven by carbon dioxide and other
emissions—was 1.1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial times, putting the world on course to breach the internationally agreed
"1.5°C" temperature barrier
to avoid dangerous climate change set by the 2015
Paris climate agreement
Significantly, the Paris agreement could be negatively impacted by President Donald Trump and his administration's rash of anti-environmental policies . Trump, who famously denies climate change and wants to promote U.S. fossil fuels, plans to repeal the Clean Power Plan that limits power plant emissions and intends to withdraw the U.S. from the landmark climate accord.
The UN report was based on a consolidated analysis by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) of five leading international datasets.
Other international organizations have also placed 2017 as either the second or third hottest year behind 2016, which happened to be bolstered by El Niño. (Warmer waters in the tropical Pacific Ocean during an El Niño can boost warming effects around the globe). On Thursday, NASA ranked last year was the second warmest since record-keeping began in 1880. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ( NOAA ), which uses a different analytical method, ranked it third.
However, as WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas pointed out, "Temperatures tell only a small part of the story."
The long-term temperature trend is far more important than the ranking of individual years, he explained. Seventeen of the 18 warmest years on record have all been during this century.
The warming in the Arctic, which is heating up at
least twice as fast
as the rest of the planet, "will have profound and long-lasting repercussions on sea levels, and on weather patterns in other parts of the world," Taalas said, noting that the warmth in 2017 was accompanied by
in many countries around the world.
"The United States of America had its most expensive year ever in terms of weather and climate disasters, whilst other countries saw their development slowed or reversed by tropical cyclones, floods and drought," he said.
NOAA said earlier this month that weather and climate-related disasters cost a record $306 billion in 2017. The federal agency listed several noteworthy events, including the wildfires in the west, with total costs of $18 billion, tripling the previous U.S. annual wildfire cost record. The year's string of devastating hurricanes were also very expensive. Hurricane Harvey had total costs of $125 billion. Hurricanes Maria and Irma had total costs of $90 billion and $50 billion, respectively.
18 January 2018.
Battery Storage Revolution Could 'Sound the Death Knell for Fossil Fuels' –
If we want to accelerate the world's renewable energy transition, we'll have to modernize the electric grid and we'll need much better batteries . Just look at Germany, which generates so much clean energy on particularly windy and sunny days that electricity prices are often negative .
Sure this is good news for a German person's wallet, but as the New York Times noted, "Germany's power grid, like most others around the world, has not yet adapted to the increasing amounts of renewable energy being produced."
The problem is that the electrical grid was designed for fossil fuel use, meaning it can struggle to manage all the renewable energy being added to the grid. For instance , California sometimes produces so much solar power that is has to pay neighboring Arizona to take the excess electricity that Californians aren't using to avoid overloading the power lines. Meanwhile, battery storage capacity is not yet advanced enough to take in the surplus generation.
Thankfully, a sea change appears to be well underway.
WIRED UK reported that 2018 will see energy storage for home use becoming more commonplace. Investors will also increasingly look towards renewable energy storage solutions rather than supply.
"We will see a tipping point," Alasdair Cameron, renewable energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth , told WIRED. "Even IKEA has launched a renewable solar battery power storage for domestic use."
Coupled with Tesla 's Powerwall domestic battery, Cameron added, "storage is moving from the grid to the garage to the landing at home."
Furthermore, WIRED pointed out, companies such as EDF Renewable Energy, electric services company E.ON and Dyson are investing in storage development. Energy giants ExxonMobil, Shell and Total are also coming on board with renewable battery systems.
Other examples of the battery storage revolution include South Australia, which recently switched on the world's largest battery storage farm. Tesla CEO Elon Musk famously built the massive facility in less than 100 days to help solve the state's energy woes. Musk's battery already proved itself late last month after responding to power outages within milliseconds .
In November 2016, Ta'u, an island in American Samoa, turned its nose at fossil fuels and is now almost 100 percent powered with solar panels and batteries thanks to technology from Tesla and SolarCity.
And this past October , Scotland switched on the Hywind Scotland, the world's first floating wind farm , that's linked with Statoil's Batwind, a lithium battery that can store one megawatt-hour of power to help mitigate intermittency and optimize output.
All that said, 2018 could be a major year for batteries. As WIRED reported:
"According to Hugh McNeal of the wind industry's trade body RenewableUK and solar expert Simon Virley of KPMG, this storage revolution is capable of transforming the industry. In 2018, it will become even more competitive and reliable—and will sound the death knell for fossil fuels in the process."
18 January 2018.
The Future of Food: 8 Business Leaders Investing to End Slaughterhouses –
From Silicon Valley tech moguls to business executives and entrepreneurs, these people know that the future of food means not slaughtering animals .
1. Bill Gates
JStone / Shutterstock
2. Sir Richard Branson
Prometheus72 / Shutterstock
Sir Richard Branson founded Virgin Group. Like Bill Gates, Branson has made significant investments in both plant-based and clean meats. Last year, he invested in the
clean meat startup Memphis Meats
In a blog post, Branson wrote , "I believe that in 30 years or so, we will no longer need to kill any animals and that all meat will either be clean or plant-based, taste the same and also be much healthier for everyone."
3. Lisa Feria
Frederic Legrand-COMEO / Shutterstock
Lisa Feria is the CEO of
Stray Dog Capital
, a firm that invests in early-stage startups, products and services that will replace the use of animals in the food supply chain. Under Feria's leadership, Stray Dog has made investments in
4. Eric Schmidt
Frederic Legrand-COMEO / Shutterstock
Eric Schmidt served as executive chairman of Google's parent company, Alphabet, from 2011-2018. After Google attempted to buy the plant-protein startup Impossible Foods, Schmidt stated that
a vegan revolution was coming
5. Miyoko Schinner
6. Sergey Brin
Thomas Hawk / Flickr
Google co-founder Sergey Brin provided $330,000 to fund the world's first cultured hamburger. He describes clean meat as a technology with "the capability to transform how we view our world."
7. Liz Dee
Smarties co-owner Liz Dee is also the CEO of Baleine & Bjorn Capital. She's made investments in the clean meat company Memphis Meats , vegan clothing brand Vaute Couture and plant-based food companies Purple Carrot and Nutpods .
8. Li Ka-shing
Li Ka-shing is a Hong Kong business magnate, investor and philanthropist. He's committed to changing the way the world eats by investing in the plant-based meat company Impossible Foods .
Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet .
18 January 2018.
‘Tide Pod Challenge’ Highlights Danger of Colorful Laundry Packets –
By Samara Geller
An unbelievably dumb and extremely dangerous dare has gone viral on social media. It's the " Tide Pod Challenge ": biting down on the small, colorful—and potentially poisonous—packets of liquid laundry detergent until they burst in your mouth. Children, teens and young adults are posting videos of themselves taking the challenge—with the gagging, spitting and coughing that follows.
It's unclear exactly how and when the online challenge took off. But the problem, and the danger, is not new.
Laundry pods came on the market in 2012. The American Association of Poison Control Centers says that between 2013 and 2017, there were more than 56,500 reported incidents of children 5 years old or younger ingesting, inhaling or touching the highly concentrated detergent found in single-dose laundry products. Vomiting, burns, corneal abrasions, breathing problems and at least 10 deaths have been linked to pods.
In 2015, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, recommended that detergent makers adopt voluntary safety standards to make pods' packaging opaque and more child-resistant. The standards also recommended changes to the packet film, such as making them tougher to break open, or adding a bitter taste to deter children from biting down on them or swallowing.
The safety commission has also worked with companies to reduce the toxicity and strength of the detergents. Since then, reported hazardous exposures for kids 5 and younger have dropped, but still remain far too high. Crucially, the voluntary rules don't require full disclosure of the detergents' ingredients.
The Environmental Working Group recommends strong caution with these products, especially if you have kids or someone with dementia at home. If you choose to use them, pay attention to these safety tips:
- Keep the products in a high place, or in a locked or childproof cabinet or drawer.
- Avoid use while children are around.
- Refer to the product safety information on the package for proper handling and first aid for unintended exposure.
- Keep the number for your local poison control center, 1-800-222-1222, on hand.
- Use Environmental Working Group's Guide to Healthy Cleaning to find products with full ingredient disclosure and lower hazard concerns. Fewer poisonings and less severe injuries are reported for powder detergent pods.
You might want to reconsider your plans if you intend to visit a national park this weekend. While the park might be open, there probably won't be any rangers on site, which could pose a serious risk to safety.
The Trump administration is reportedly planning to keep many national parks and monuments open if the government shuts down on Friday, the Washington Post reported. The move is meant to avoid the public outrage sparked by the closure of parks and memorials during the 2013 shutdown.
According to the Post, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is working on a plan with White House and National Park Service officials to keep parks from the District to Montana open—but without rangers or other staff on site.
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney reportedly proposed to keep the sites open if Congress does not pass a new spending bill and President Donald Trump signs it into law by midnight Friday. They would reopen once the government's funding resumes.
"We fully expect the government to remain open. However, in the event of a shutdown, National Parks and other public lands will remain as accessible as possible while still following all applicable laws and procedures," Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift told the Post. "Visitors who come to our nation's capital will find war memorials and open-air parks open to the public."
The department "will still allow limited access wherever possible" to national parks, refuges and other public lands, Swift added, including on roads that have been cleared of snow. "Wilderness type restrooms . . . will remain open," too.
But "services that require staffing and maintenance such as campgrounds, full service restrooms, and concessions will not be operating," she said.
Experts, however, warned that inadequately-staffed parks could pose risks to tourists and to the sites as well.
"Even if there were a law enforcement presence, the safety and integrity of park resources would be at risk, not to mention the safety of visitors and the quality of their experience, if park personnel weren't there to ensure proper management and oversight," John Garder, senior director of budget and appropriations for the National Parks Conservation Association , told the Post.
Four years ago, the federal government's 16-day shutdown shuttered the nation's parks, monuments and facilities.
Arizona, Colorado, Utah, South Dakota and New York decided to keep its treasured national sites open during the shutdown but the states had to come up with a plan and the funding to keep them open.
Government shutdowns are very costly, as the Arizona Republic noted. For instance, Arizona lost out on $27 million of revenue during the 2013 shutdown, with the Grand Canyon alone amounting for $17 million of it.
18 January 2018.
Oil Spill Spreading in East China Sea 'Now the Size of Paris' –
By Andy Rowell
There are increasing environmental and health concerns surrounding the oil spill in the East China Sea from the Iranian registered tanker, the Sanchi, which sank on Monday carrying 136,000 tons, or one million barrels, of a highly flammable oil mix called condensate.
The tanker had burned for a week before exploding after colliding with another ship on Jan. 6, with all 32 crew now presumed dead or missing.
There are now four separate oil slicks of the condensate from the Panama registered tanker, which together cover over 100 square kilometers, or just under 40 square miles, the same size as Paris , according to a statement by the Chinese State Oceanic Administration released Wednesday.
Regarding the ecological impact of the spill, the Guardian reported Thursday that "Consumers in Japan, China and South Korea should be wary of buying seafood until governments in the region have monitored and released details about the toxic impact of the Sanchi oil spill, scientists have warned."
The paper added that "millions of fish are likely to have been contaminated by carcinogens."
Professor Richard Steiner, an internationally renowned expert on oil spills who is now retired from the University of Alaska, and who worked on the Exxon Valdez clean up, urged both Beijing and Tokyo to close their fisheries until further tests have been carried out to show that seafood from the surrounding area is safe.
Greenpeace added that the region was "an important spawning ground" for fish. A Greenpeace spokesperson told the New York Times , "At this time of year the area is used as wintering ground by common edible species such as hairtail, yellow croaker, chub mackerel and blue crab."
However, it is not just fish that are threatened by the spill, as Greenpeace noted: "The area is also on the migratory pathway of many marine mammals, such as humpback whale , right whale and gray whale."
Currently the oil is so far out at sea that scientists believe it will take at least three months to reach land, probably reaching the Korean coast, but there is huge uncertainty in predicting this. Dr. Katya Popova , from the National Oceanography Centre at the University of Southampton in the UK, said, "Oil spills can have a devastating effect on the marine environment and on coastal communities. Strong ocean currents mean that, once released into the ocean, an oil spill can relatively rapidly spread over large distances."
Wherever the oil ends up, the disaster looks like it will be the largest tanker spill since the early nineties.
By Simon Davis-Cohen
In early January, a federal judge ordered the nonprofit law firm Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) to pay $52,000 to an oil and gas exploration company for defending a rural Pennsylvania township's ban on underground injections of fracking waste.
This sanction comes at the request of Pennsylvania General Energy Company (PGE) and the Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association, but is part of a growing trend to prevent municipalities across the nation from pushing back against state and federal attempts to overrule them.
Starting in 2012, PGE proposed an injection well which, according to Grant Township's Board of Supervisors, "would receive 30,000 barrels [1.26 million gallons] of frack wastewater per month for 10 years." The board of supervisors for this small community near Pittsburgh warned that the injection well "threatens to subject every resident of Grant Township to a slow poisoning, and threatens thousands more who depend on Grant Township's watershed for clean water ."
The community's law, they added, bans the injection well "as a violation of our basic civil rights." PGE operates multiple gas-extraction wells in the township.
Rights of Nature, Local Governance
CELDF, which has defended Grant's efforts to prevent waste injection wells for over three years, has worked with some 200 municipalities in the U.S. to defend local laws challenging similar corporate projects. The group aims to drive state constitutional change to bolster the rights of local residents and ecosystems against what it calls regressive state preemption and corporate personhood.
Grant Township, for example, is elevating a "right of self-government," rights "to clean air, water, and soil" and "ecosystem rights" above corporations' "rights" to inject waste from oil and gas extraction in the township.
These types of local laws often face substantial legal pushback from private corporations and states which claim authority over issues such as fossil fuel production. Along with the sanctions against CELDF, PGE is suing Grant Township itself, population 741, for damages that would likely be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Among its claims: The injection well ban violates the corporation's rights as a "person" under the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments; the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; and the Contract Clause and Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Grant Township is the fourth local government CELDF has defended in federal court.
'Frivolous' Legal Arguments
At the heart of the court's decision awarding PGE sanctions against the legal nonprofit (the company originally asked for $500,000) is an argument that the sanctions are justified because CELDF's legal arguments are contrary to "settled" law and therefore "frivolous." This reasoning asserts that corporate personhood and Pennsylvania's authority over municipalities on issues affecting drinking water and fossil fuel development is settled, and therefore CELDF's defense of Grant's claim to the contrary is "clearly unreasonable."
Grant Township, the court wrote, "seeks to disavow constitutional rights afforded corporations so as to prevent PGE from the lawful exercise of its right to pursue gas extraction related activities within its borders." On top of all this, Grant's law recognized legal rights for a local ecosystem. CELDF's attempt to represent that ecosystem in court, the judge ruled, violates the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a set of rules that govern how legal proceedings take place in U.S. district courts.
Local Governments Sanctioned Across U.S.
CELDF is not alone in facing sanctions for challenging so-called settled law on similar issues. Defend Local Solutions is a campaign led by Tallahassee's Mayor Andrew Gillum which is aimed at expanding the powers of municipalities in Florida. The campaign said
at least seven
states have "super preemption" bills on the books that sanction local officials who dare challenge specific state preemption bills that rescind powers from municipalities.
In Florida, for example, Gillum personally faced the threat of sanctions after he refused to repeal a local law that banned fire arms in public parks (even though the ordinance wasn't being enforced).
New bills, such as Texas's highly controversial "show me your papers" and sanctuary city preemption bill (SB4), also include punitive language for municipalities pushing back against state and federal authority.
Texas's bill would fine local officials and employees $25,000 per day or even remove them from office if they defy the law, according to the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. Parts of this section of the law, however, are hung up in court. However, the court ruled that local officials can be sanctioned if they outright ban police from asking for people's immigration papers, and other sections of the bill are in effect, including a section that threatens punishment for local jail officers. The concept of economic retribution for noncompliance is spreading.
Georgia's 2017 bill, HB37, removes funding from any private college that "prohibits or restricts officials or employees … from communicating or cooperating with federal officials or law enforcement officers with regard to reporting [immigration] status information." And in 2016 Arizona passed a bill which withholds state funds from localities that enact policy that challenges the state's claimed supremacy.
In CELDF's sanction case, the court acknowledges that sanctions can have the effect of "chilling novel legal or factual arguments."
Thomas Linzey, CELDF's director and one of the two attorneys being personally sanctioned, said "that's exactly the point. For years, the oil and gas corporations believed that they could stop the community rights movement by suing municipalities to overturn their local laws; but having failed to do so, they're now coming after the lawyers who are helping those communities to stop drilling. In many ways, the industry's filing for sanctions against us is just proof of how strong the community rights movement is becoming."
In court records, CELDF pointed to Brown v. Board of Education (which overturned "separate but equal" schools for Black and White students, 1954), courts striking down bans on gay marriage, and other novel legal arguments as evidence that sanctions against lawyers who challenge "settled" law could set a dangerous precedent.
"We understand that the real problem isn't the injection well, but the system of law that keeps trying to shut us down," the Grant Township Board of Supervisors said in a statement. "We're not going anywhere."
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog .
18 January 2018.
3 Reasons to Be Hopeful About Our Planet in 2018 –
By Elizabeth Sturcken
Feeling down about our planet in 2018? Don't!
There are many reasons to be hopeful around environmental action in the new year—and if the following developments don't make you feel better, I've prescribed some action steps at the end that are guaranteed to set you on a healthier, happier path.
Don't get me wrong, I know full well that 2017 was a hard year for the planet. I've lost count of the hurricanes , floods , droughts and fires —many linked to climate change —that rained upon us. It was a record-setting toll on the U.S. in 2017, with 16 enormous weather and climate events costing a total of $306 billion in damage (not sure how to calculate the emotional cost).
And don't get me started on Scott Pruitt's dramatic and dangerous dismantling of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency .
But, rather than dwell on the negative, I'm choosing a different path, a path of positive action. I'm like the kid in that old joke who, encountering a room full of horse shit, grabs a shovel and starts to dig: "With all this manure there's got to be a pony in here somewhere!"
And you know what? I've found a whole herd of ponies. Here's why I'm feeling hopeful for a fresh start in 2018:
1. Despite government inaction, companies continue to lead . As the State of GreenBiz 2018 just put it, "company commitments and achievements continue, unfettered by political winds." Why? Because once companies see the business value creation that sustainability brings, they desire to do more. They also know that customers, employees and investors demand it. Believe me, if sustainability weren't good for business, so many companies would not be so engaged in initiatives such as:
- Walmart's Project Gigaton , which is attracting new players, driving ambitious goal-setting and devising solutions across supply chains. Does Walmart know exactly how they will avoid 1 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions in their supply chain? Nope. But they've learned that setting big goals drives innovation, and by partnering with their suppliers, they will get there.
- McDonald's takes a further step to close the loop on its packaging . The world's largest restaurant company , with 37,000 restaurants in more than 100 countries serving more than 69 million customers daily, is aiming to make its packages with renewable, recyclable or certified materials and then ensure that 100 percent of packaging is recycled by 2025. This is a bold, and challenging, step forward that will require partnering with others to achieve—including municipalities, waste haulers, NGOs and customers. Bold goals that address products' full lifecycles recognize the need for outside expertise and collaboration that will help us solve the world's biggest environmental challenges.
- We Are Still In , in which thousands of companies and communities are stepping out of their comfort zone to comment on policy issues such as the Paris agreement and the Clean Power Plan . They know that smart regulation provides clear pathways for planning and levels the playing field.
- RE 100 , in which 119 major companies, including IKEA, Google, Citibank, Facebook, GM, Nike and Starbucks have committed to powering their businesses with 100 percent renewable energy . Why? Renewable prices are falling, concerns about resiliency are increasing, and smart CEOs are investing in the future, not the past.
2. We're seeing real movement on tackling our toxic chemical problem . For years now you, me and our families have been living in a toxic chemical soup, where tens of thousands of chemicals—many not tested for safety—comprise the myriad of consumer products we use each and every day. The good news? After years of non-action, we're finally seeing companies start the grueling task of identifying the worst offenders in their chemical supply chain, removing them from product formulations and finding safer alternatives as replacements. There's a long way to go here, but here are some first, big steps on the start of that journey:
- Walmart's Sustainable Chemistry Policy 2.0 is scaling action by setting a strong new commitment to reduce the company's chemical footprint (the total mass of chemicals of concern in their product portfolio) by 10 percent—reducing more than 55 million pounds of priority chemicals from consumable products on their shelves—by 2022.
- Beauty and Personal Care Leadership group , where companies such as Target, CVS and Sephora have joined together to drive much-needed alignment on a common approach to evaluating product sustainability in this $85 billion industry. In doing so, it will ultimately create clearer market signals for more sustainable products.
3. Innovation is pushing environmentalism to new heights . Emerging technologies and unlikely collaborations are enabling us to observe, measure and solve environmental problems in ways we've never dreamed of before—and take those solutions to scale. Innovations like:
- Methane detectors mounted on cars, drones and satellites are quantifying and mapping this once-invisible threat to the atmosphere (and to companies' bottom lines).
- Cheaper renewables, improved battery storage and the advance of Zero Emission Vehicles continue to improve our relationship with energy reduce the environmental impact of our businesses, homes, trucks and cars. At the same time, microgrids coming online are keeping us more resilient in the face of extreme weather events .
- Blockchain: Business teams are now timing how long it will take before someone brings up blockchain on a call. But it's no joke: Walmart and IBM are already experimenting with how to track food throughout the supply chain, and this is just the very beginning of how it will help green our global shopping cart.
Feeling better yet? If not, here are three, concrete actions you and your company can take in 2018 to become part of this wave of positive change:
1. Publically comment on the Clean Power Plan : Just because the Trump administration repealed it doesn't mean it's dead: They are required by law to replace it, which means the business voice can and will be critically important to what comes next. The deadline has been extended to April 26—your customers, employees and shareholders will reward you for walking the walk.
2. Set science-based sustainability targets: Goals designed to achieve science-based, measurable outcomes will drive tangible innovation in your company, and will show your customers, employees and shareholders that you're actually walking the walk.
3. Partner up and talk about this work: Working together is needed to solve the big challenges we face. Find a like-minded NGO you can work with to jump in and do the hard work of change. Or partner with another company to spark pre-competitive innovation and get change happening now. Finally, talk about it all—the successes, the struggles, the goals and the aspirations. Only when we can learn from each other will we be able to make the kind of progress that we need to make.
So, Happy New Year, all! We've got a lot to do to protect our planet. But there is much to be hopeful for this year that will energize us all to fight this fight.
18 January 2018.
Divers Discover World’s Largest Flooded Cave –
Diving enthusiasts, could this be your next great adventure ?
Archaeologists and divers with Gran Acuífero Maya (GAM)—a project dedicated to the study and preservation of the Yucatan peninsula—claim to have discovered the world's longest underwater cave just outside of Tulum, Mexico.
The vast, 216-mile system actually connects two of the largest flooded cave systems in the world, the 164-mile-long Sistema Sac Actun and the 52-mile-long Dos Ojos system. The team made the discovery after exploring the underwater channels for months.
The enormous cave holds an extensive reserve of fresh water and is rich in biodiversity . The researchers also found an 11-mile-long, 66-food-deep cavern dubbed "the mother of all cenotes." Cenotes are a geological feature that are often holy sites in ancient Mayan culture.
"This immense cave represents the most important submerged archaeological site in the world, as it has more than a hundred archaeological contexts, among which are evidence of the first settlers of America, as well as extinct fauna and, of course, the Mayan culture," GAM director and underwater archaeologist Guillermo de Anda said in a statement.
This gives us all the more reason to pencil in a trip to Tulum, which has become a cave-diving mecca.
For the next phase, GAM researchers intend to analyze the water quality of the system, study the biodiversity, launch conservation efforts to protect the stunning site, and give continuity to the mapping and detailed record of submerged archaeological contexts.
Check out the mesmerizing discovery below:
By Dan Nosowitz
On Jan. 16, some of the country's leading producers, retailers and certifiers in the organic food space took out a full-page ad in the Washington Post to publish an open letter.
The letter, which you can read here , attacks the Trump administration's decision to nix the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule (OLPP), which was formed after several years of consultation and legislative work and was designed to clearly define guidelines for animal welfare in organic-certified products. "I'm sure we're the only sector that voluntarily goes to DC and asks for more rules," said George Siemon, CEO of Organic Valley, the company leading the charge.
Previous mentions of animal welfare in the organic regulations were vague and open to obfuscation; one of the best-known loopholes is the requirement to give egg-laying hens "access to the outdoors." Without a firm description of what that terms means, some producers have created enclosed, screened-in porches, often on concrete—not even actual Earth—to satisfy the rule. Sure, fresh air may flow in, but most common sense interpretations would say the hens remain indoors. (This particular example has provoked lawsuits, including a recent one filed against Walmart.)
Surveys indicate that consumers expect organic-badged food to come from animals raised in humane ways. It is not typical for any group to request more regulation, but organics, which represents a growing 4 percent of the total U.S. food market, has a vested interest in producing food as ethically and responsibly as possible. "I think that might blow the president and his administration's minds, because they're very anti-new-rules, and we're, on the other hand, saying 'no, we want our label to represent every premium that the consumer is concerned about," said Siemon.
The fight against the OLPP comes primarily from large industrial agriculture and those associated with it (by, for example, taking political donations from those groups). Siemon believes their resistance isn't merely about the organic label, but is designed to stop any animal rights legislation from getting a solid toehold. "The industrial livestock people always want to stop any animal welfare standards from entering the USDA," he said.
Despite the setback in the discarding of the OLPP rules, Siemon remains optimistic about the future of responsible food production. "No matter what comes of all of this, I'm very confident that in the long run, organic eggs will represent access to the outdoors, because retailers and consumers are speaking to the issues now." Consumer demand has driven major retailers to shift to cage-free eggs (as vague as that may be, it's, and even some states are making up for what Siemon sees as a lack of vigor and speed on the part of the USDA. "A lot of these things are just sound animal husbandry rules," he said. But the fact remains that retailers, producers and local governments have had to pick up the slack from the USDA.
The letter was signed by many of the biggest names in food: Whole Foods, Stonyfield, Clif, Horizon, Vital Farms, Pete and Gerry's, the Humane Society, the Union of Concerned Scientists and more. The page on the Organic Valley website with the op-ed also directs those interested to a page where they can voice their opinions to the USDA .
Reposted with permission from our media associate