Recent News

The Arctic is heating up four times faster than the rest of the planet

That’s much quicker than climate models predicted.

It turns out the Arctic is heating up faster than previously thought, according to research out Thursday — four times faster than the rest of the planet.

In recent decades, scientists have sounded the alarm that the Arctic is warming two or three times faster than the rest of the world. A study in the journal Communications Earth & Environment suggests they were way off.

The new research, conducted by scientists at the Finnish Meteorological Institute, indicates that climate models have consistently underestimated what is known as “Arctic amplification,” where warming happens faster in the Arctic compared to the planet on average.

The Arctic is highly sensitive to climate change, and has long been seen as a harbinger of warming across the globe. Accelerating loss of sea ice and melting glaciers are tied to rising concentrations of greenhouse gas, a stark indicator of the need to drastically cut carbon emissions. On Sunday, the U.S. Senate passed landmark legislation aimed at cutting emissions through investments in clean energy. It’s expected to be taken up by the House of Representatives on Friday.

“Scientific data keeps showing that the situation is more urgent than we had previously thought,” said Robert Orttung, a research professor of international affairs at the George Washington University and the author of Urban Sustainability in the Arctic, in a statement. “Congress’s recent action is a step in the right direction, but more is needed.” 08-12-22

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A Hotter World Means More Disease Outbreaks in Our Future

As global temperatures have risen in recent decades, so have the number of outbreaks of infectious diseases. SARS, MERS, Zika, West Nile, COVID-19, and now clusters of monkeypox and polio have all recently threatened public health.

That’s no coincidence. In a study published in August in Nature Climate Change, researchers tried to understand the relationship between major environmental changes related to higher greenhouse gas emissions—including global warming, rising sea levels, storms, floods, drought, and heat waves—and the outbreaks of 375 human infectious diseases caused by viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens. They found that 58% of these public-health threats were fueled by climate change.

“The health impacts of climate change are here,” says Dr. Vishnu Laalitha Surapaneni, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota. “And they are affecting us right here, right now.”

Viruses and other pathogens aren’t becoming better at living in higher environmental temperatures, scientists say. Instead, it’s more likely that the host animals they infect are affected by changing climates. Increasing global temperatures, for example, mean that the geographic range for many pathogen-carrying animals—including insects like mosquitoes—is expanding rapidly. “As they move around to find better climates, there are more opportunities for viruses to spill over among other mammals, and then from some of those mammals to humans,” says Gigi Gronvall, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. In the same way that highways, planes, and trains connect remote parts of the world, these animals are transporting their microbial payloads into new places. 08-10-22

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Hotter nights could cause a spike in deaths, study says

Jose Gonzalez Buenaposada / Getty Images

Climate change is driving up nighttime temperatures. Mortality rates are likely to follow.

By the end of this century, hotter nights may contribute to a 60 percent increase in the global mortality rate, according to new research.

A study in Lancet Planetary Health released on Monday looked at how nighttime temperatures are on the rise across China, Japan, and Korea. It estimated that nighttime temperatures may increase by almost 35 degrees, from 68.7 degrees Fahrenheit to 103.5, in 28 large cities across East Asia, and are expected to surpass the increase in daytime temperatures.

“We project at least a doubling intensity of hot night with higher increase in mortality burden due to hot nights,” study authors wrote, “suggesting a growing role of night-time warming in heat-related health effects in a changing climate.”

The authors, including researchers in China, South Korea, Japan, Germany and the United States, noted that most research has focused on rising daytime temperatures’ effect on various populations but that little research has been done on night-time temperatures. Last year, a paper in the Epidemiology Journal found a similar connection between hot nights and a rising mortality rate in southern Europe.  08-10-22

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The Inflation Reduction Act promises thousands of new oil leases. Drillers might not want them.

The bigger question about Joe Manchin’s fossil fuel provisions is if they’ll succeed on the senator’s own terms.

UniversalImagesGroup / Contributor

The U.S. Senate passed the largest climate action bill in American history on Sunday, clearing the path for hundreds of billions of dollars for clean energy and other climate-related measures (in addition to billions for other Democratic Party priorities). But because the so-called Inflation Reduction Act bears the imprint of swing-vote Senator Joe Manchin, it also includes numerous provisions that support oil and gas producers.

The fossil-fuel policy that has drawn the most attention in the weeks since Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer unveiled their deal is a provision that requires the federal government to auction oil and gas leases on federal land and in the Gulf of Mexico. Though presidential administrations of both political parties have historically leased this territory for drilling, the Biden administration has attempted to halt the federal leasing program; recent lease auctions have also been delayed by litigation from environmental groups.

The reconciliation bill reinstates old auctions that the Biden administration has tried to cancel and forces the administration to hold several new auctions over the coming years. The legislation also requires that the government auction millions of acres of oil and gas leases before it can auction acreage for wind and solar farms. The Center for Biological Diversity, one of many environmental organizations to oppose these provisions, said they turned the bill into a “climate suicide pact,” since they have the potential to prolong the lifespan of the domestic oil industry. However, energy and climate experts who spoke to Grist said that the provisions may not add significantly to U.S. emissions — in part because the fossil fuel industry may not be all that interested in what the government has to offer. 08-09-22

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Senate Democrats Pass Sweeping Climate And Health Care Bill

President Joe Biden walks to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on his way to his Rehoboth Beach, Del., home, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

The Inflation Reduction Act is poised to give President Joe Biden another major legislative victory ahead of November’s midterm elections.

After a year of painstaking negotiations that seemed for a time to be going nowhere, Senate Democrats on Sunday approved sweeping legislation aiming to reduce the nation’s output of greenhouse gases and make health care more affordable.

The vote was split 50-50 along party lines, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaker after a marathon session of votes on amendments. The House is expected to take up the legislation and pass it on Friday.

Democrats celebrated after the bill passed by roaring in applause and hugging one another on the Senate floor. Aides who were intimately involved in negotiations wiped away tears in jubilation.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the bill would endure as “one of the defining legislative feats of the 21st century.”

The Inflation Reduction Act ― while substantially narrowed from prior versions ― is now poised to give President Joe Biden another major legislative victory ahead of November’s midterm elections. Its given name is a reflection of the shaky politics for his party at the moment, with rising costs of food, gasoline and energy at the top of voters’ minds.

The bill would make broad changes in energy, drug and tax policies. Prior to some last-minute changes caused by procedural issues, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated the bill would cut the budget deficit by a little more than $90 billion over 10 years. 08-07-22

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In defense of darkness

Artificial light is polluting the night sky. What do we stand to lose?

Artificial light from the Permian Basin. Tristan Ahtone

The beginning of the night at the McDonald Observatory can be frantic. Jason Young, a visiting lecturer in astronomy at Mount Holyoke, starts by tracking the steadiness of the atmosphere, looking at “standard” stars to calibrate the Harlan J. Smith Telescope. He makes sure the telescope’s iconic white dome stays on track, checks that there are no stray lights in the dome that could mar data collection, and finally, watches for clouds. By midnight, he settles into the telescope’s top floor control center, alone in a pool of light from two huge computer monitors.

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” said Young. “But if everything goes smoothly, then it’s pretty easy to just keep an eye on things.”

The observatory is located in the Davis Mountains, high above the Chihuahuan Desert. By day, the isolated West Texas mountain range is striking, ornamented with dark clumps of oak, pinion, and juniper scattered across the gold and khaki grasslands. At night, clear skies reveal endless trails of stars.

Young is observing LEDA 1562327, a diffuse spiral galaxy interacting with a second galaxy that, in his words, are going through a “weird phase” in their evolution: They have enough gas to form stars, but for some reason, aren’t. Meanwhile, next door — astronomically-speaking — two similar galaxies are colliding, forming stars at a rate of nearly 100 per year.

“It’s like a quiet cottage right next to a rock concert,” said Young. “So, I’m trying to figure out why these two are not doing anything when the neighborhood seems to be very active.”

Until a decade ago, the Davis Mountains were one of the darkest places in North America, which is why in 1933, the University of Texas established the observatory on Mount Locke, and later, expanded to nearby Mount Fowlkes, taking advantage of the clear night and high altitude. The observatory’s biggest project for the last four years has been HETDEX, the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment, created to map the night sky out to 11 billion light years in order to figure out why the universe is expanding as it ages. 08-05-22

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In exchange for climate legislation, Joe Manchin was promised a pipeline. Will he get it?

The agreement might not solve the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s biggest problem: compliance with environmental law.

Lengths of pipe wait to be laid in the ground along the under-construction Mountain Valley Pipeline near Elliston, Virginia, U.S. September 29, 2019. Picture taken September 29, 2019. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller

When Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Joe Manchin announced the surprising rebirth of a deal to pass sweeping climate legislation last week, reporters could at first only speculate about what exactly it took to secure Manchin’s support.

A few days later, those questions were answered, at least partially: In exchange for a bill that is projected to reduce the country’s overall carbon emissions by roughly 41 percent compared to their 2005 high by the end of the decade, Manchin appears to have secured Democratic leadership’s support for a separate legislative effort containing a number of fossil fuel industry wishlist items. With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine fueling gas price increases, Manchin seems intent on removing bottlenecks in domestic fuel production.

A one-page summary of the hypothetical legislation obtained by the Washington Post includes provisions that cap permitting timelines for major energy projects at two years, require the president to maintain a list of 25 “high priority energy infrastructure projects,” and speed up Clean Water Act certifications. The “high priority” projects are to be selected based on their ability to reduce energy costs for consumers, promote international energy trade, and cut carbon emissions. The proposed reforms to the water quality certifications, which are often sought by pipeline companies, could make it more difficult to block such projects.

While many of these permitting reforms stand to benefit both fossil fuel producers and clean energy providers, one provision stood out for its clear benefit to a group of oil and gas companies. The summary includes a requirement to “complete the Mountain Valley Pipeline,” a 303-mile pipeline that delivers natural gas from northwestern West Virginia — Manchin’s home state — to southern Virginia. 08-04-22

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How climate change is muting nature’s symphony

A chickadee makes its characteristic call. Audio by Lang Elliot / Music of Nature. Getty Image

From warbling loons to chirping toads, rising temperatures threaten some of the Earth’s most iconic sounds.

When Jeff Wells, vice president for boreal conservation at the Audubon Society, first encountered the call of the common loon on a pond near Mt. Vernon, Maine — about an hour and a half north of Portland — he thought he may have heard a ghoul. “I leaped out of bed and ran into my parents’ bedroom, like, ‘What is that?’” he told Grist, describing a melancholy wail that has made loons famous far beyond the birding community.

Even after years of summer vacations in Maine, at the southernmost reaches of the loon’s habitat, Wells hasn’t tired of their calls. When their moody warbles echo across the pond, he still beckons family members to gather on the patio to listen. But loons, like so many other birds, are threatened by climate change. Rising summertime temperatures and warmer lake waters may eliminate important swathes of their habitat, and elevated precipitation is putting their nests at greater risk of flooding.

As a result, loons’ songs are in danger of fading from many parts of the world.

Similar consequences are playing out for iconic songbirds — and other vocal animal species — everywhere. According to a 2018 report from the Audubon Society, over 300 North American bird species could lose half their ranges due to climate change in the next 60 years. A widely-cited report published in 2019 showed that nearly 3 billion North American birds across every biome have disappeared since 1970 — a “staggering” loss driven not only by climate change but by suburban sprawl, toxic chemicals, and other stressors. 08-03-22

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Farmworkers Face Stress and Depression. The Pandemic Made It Worse.

Survey collection in downtown Calexico (Photo credit: Luis Flores)

A new study underscores the multitude of stresses faced by farmworkers, including the ongoing impact of COVID-19, increasing heat and climate crises, as well as challenging working and living conditions.

It’s a very hard time to be a farmworker. Across the nation, these essential workers have faced increased risk of COVID-19 infection and mortality. In California, farmworkers have been among the most impacted—2021 research found that they were four times more likely to test positive than the general population.

Yet, while COVID and other health impacts—including increasing the dangers of heat stress as the climate crisis ramps up—have received national attention, the mental health challenges faced by agricultural workers are less visible. This is particularly problematic because even before the pandemic, agricultural workers nation-wide were vulnerable to very high stress levels, as well as higher than average rates of depression and anxiety. All of that is also linked to poor physical health, substance abuse, and high injury rates.

According to our recent study, 40 percent of agricultural workers in Imperial County, a farming community along California’s southern border, experience high enough levels of stress to pose significant mental health risks. Imperial County is home to massive farms that produce more than half the nation’s winter vegetables, and many workers commute daily from Mexico to work in the fields. Despite the successes of the agricultural industry, Imperial County ranks highest in the state for income inequality, unemployment, and children living in poverty and has the highest proportion of non-white residents in California. There are well-documented housing shortages in the county and access to healthcare is limited. Adding to the stresses for agricultural workers, temperatures often average well above 100 degrees during the summer and the air quality is some of the poorest in the state. 07-28-22

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How Joe Manchin’s change of heart could revive the U.S. solar industry

The gamble by a company here churning out large volumes of solar panels was starting to look risky.

Its plan to be a launchpad for a solar manufacturing resurgence was already audacious in an industry so dominated by China, whose cheap products drove the closure of many American solar plants. Government investment championed by the White House was supposed to position domestic firms to compete, but a paralyzed Congress was refusing to write the check.

But the wager in Dalton by Qcells North America may have paid off with an ambitious climate package now on a path to President Biden’s desk. The bill, negotiated in part by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., would deliver billions of dollars in tax and other incentives to U.S. solar manufacturers, equipping them with government support on a scale of those China used to corner the market.

“This is a historic climate bill, but it’s also one of – if not the – most significant industrial policy bills of this era,” said Harry Godfrey, who oversees domestic manufacturing policy for Advanced Energy Economy, a trade group that represents clean tech companies eager to ramp up U.S. production. 07-30-22

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Biden’s under-the-radar executive moves would make solar cheaper for low-income renters

Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images

Before the Manchin news broke, Biden announced a slate of climate measures.

With his landmark climate bill seemingly dead in the Senate, President Joe Biden had been facing mounting pressure to find ways to take climate action that didn’t rely on Congress. It looked like one holdout Democrat, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, stood in the way of passing any version of Build Back Better, insisting just two weeks ago that he would refuse to support any spending to take on climate change.

So last week, from a shuttered coal-fired power plant in Somerset, Massachusetts, Biden pledged to use his presidential powers “to combat the climate crisis in the absence of congressional action.” That day, he announced several executive actions, from setting aside funds to help communities withstand heatwaves and floods, to expanding offshore wind power in the Gulf of Mexico. Then, this Tuesday, the Biden administration rolled out, a website with resources to help people cope with extreme heat. And, on Wednesday morning, the White House announced an effort to connect low-income households to solar power.

But by Wednesday evening, Senator Manchin had reversed course, reaching a deal with the Democratic majority leader, Senator Chuck Schumer, on a sweeping package of health-care, energy and climate measures, reviving the possibility of a Senate vote on the climate bill as soon as next week. Still, Biden’s latest slate of executive actions, which garnered little public attention, are poised to help cut electricity costs and broaden the accessibility of solar power.  07-29-22

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Manchin, Dems reach deal on climate legislation

The bill would devote $369 billion toward tackling “energy security and climate change.”
Democratic leaders have reached an agreement with Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia on a package to fund climate action, capping off a contentious battle over a bill that just a week ago seemed dead in the water.

Manchin’s office announced that he would vote for the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which along with instating a minimum tax on corporations and reforming prescription drug pricing, would funnel $369 billion toward tackling “energy security and climate change,” according to a summary of the bill.

The proposal claims these investments would reduce carbon emissions by roughly 40 percent by 2030, falling short of Biden’s goal to slash them by ​​at least 50 percent. The bill would not rule out additional fossil fuel infrastructure, Manchin was careful to say, while also investing in hydrogen, nuclear power, and renewable energy.

“I support a plan that will advance a realistic energy and climate policy that lowers prices today and strategically invests in the long game,” he said in a press release. “As the super power of the world, it is vital we not undermine our super power status by removing dependable and affordable fossil fuel energy before new technologies are ready to reliably carry the load.” 07-27-22

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Chicago made its Southeast Side a polluter’s haven, violating civil rights

The city’s decision to relocate a scrapyard to a majority Black and Brown community is part of a pattern of environmental discrimination, according to a federal investigation.

General Iron constructed its new shredder in Southeast Chicago before receiving a final permit to operate from the city. Jamie Kelter Davis/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

A decision by the city of Chicago to relocate a scrapyard from an affluent white neighborhood to a majority-Black and Latino area has sparked years of public outcry, a hunger strike, national media attention, and multiple federal investigations. Now, one of those investigations has found that the city’s approval violated residents’ civil rights, representing a pattern of discrimination against a community already burdened with pollution and health issues, federal housing authorities said last week.

The finding stems from a nearly two-year probe by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, into Chicago’s 2019 agreement to allow the General Iron metal recycling plant to operate in the city’s Southeast Side, an environmental justice community that contains dozens of other polluting facilities and where adult asthma rates are double the city average.

HUD threatened to withhold federal funding if local leaders continue violating the Fair Housing Act, which protects homeowners, renters, or people living in federally funded housing from discrimination on the basis of race or color, according to a letter to the city obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

“It feels good to know that what frontline communities have been experiencing in Chicago is now really well known,” Olga Bautista, executive director of the Southeast Environmental Task Force, one of the groups that filed a complaint with HUD, told Grist. “That gives us an opportunity to fix it, and to get the support that we need to make sure that we have policies in the city of Chicago that’s going to prevent something like [this] from ever happening again.” 07-27-22

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From Farmland to Frac Sand

In the Midwest, fertile soil is being excavated in pursuit of fossil fuels, while communities suffer.

The progression of digging in a Wedron, Illinois silica mine. (Photo by Lisa Held)

One Monday in June, excavators were tearing into a field in Wedron, Illinois where the nubs of last season’s dried corn stalks were still sticking out of the ground. Behind where the crew worked, strips of earth had been carved out like steps on a wide staircase descending to the bottom of a deep pit. On the far side, fine sand the color of snow was piled in front of soaring, solid walls of sandstone. Picture standing on a ledge looking down into the biggest rock quarry you’ve ever seen. Then, enlarge that image 100 times, whitewash it, and add turquoise blue pools of wastewater. This is silica mining.

Fracking, a process used to extract natural gas and petroleum, depends on silica sand, or “frac sand” to produce the fossil fuels. A single fracking site can use millions of pounds of sand. The sand is blasted into wells to keep fissures in the rock open so that oil and gas can be released.

In the Midwest, farmland is being irreversibly lost in pursuit of silica sand.

Wedron Silica, which is now owned by Ohio-based Covia, has been expanding this particular mine for years and now owns at least 2,500 acres in and around the tiny village. It’s just one of several that Covia owns across LaSalle County, Illinois, 90 miles southwest of Chicago. Here, U.S. Silica, Smart Sand, and other companies are also actively mining. 07-19-22

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Americans Divided Over Direction of Biden’s Climate Change Policies

Several climate policies receive bipartisan support, despite Republicans and Democrats differing on overall approach

More than a year into Joe Biden’s presidency, the public is divided over the administration’s approach to climate change: 49% of U.S. adults say the Biden administration’s policies on climate change are taking the country in the right direction, while 47% say these climate policies are taking the country in the wrong direction.

Climate change has been among the top priorities of the Biden administration, whose actions on the issue include rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and passage of an infrastructure bill with funding for renewable energy. More recent legislative efforts on climate have stalled in Congress, and a Supreme Court decision in June curtailed the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate power plant emissions.

Ratings of Biden’s approach to climate change – and the federal government’s role dealing with the issue – are deeply partisan. A majority of Republicans and independents who lean to the GOP (82%) say Biden’s climate policies are taking the country in the wrong direction. Among Democrats and Democratic leaners, most say Biden is moving the country in the right direction on climate policy (79%). 07-14-22

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Experts to Congress: Restore EPA enforcement staffing and funding for environmental justice

Grist / Chad Small

Since 2011, enforcement budget has declined by nearly 30 percent.

For the past three years, the Valero Houston Refinery hasn’t gone a single quarter without committing a significant violation of the Clean Air Act. Year after year, as toxic air pollution has wafted through Manchester — a predominantly Hispanic, low-income neighborhood across the street — the facility has racked up a long list of violation notices from state regulators, but that’s done little to actually stop the onslaught.

“We always voice concerns about non-enforcement,” said Juan Parras, executive director of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, who has advocated for Manchester and other communities along the Houston Ship Channel for more than 20 years. “Even when there is enforcement, the penalty is so ridiculously low that it doesn’t pressure the industry to clean up,” he said.

To Parras, this is unconscionable. “We ought to be showing communities that are impacted like we are — throughout the nation — that the law is going to back them up,” he said.

The Valero Houston Refinery is just one of 485 facilities across the country with “high priority violations” of the Clean Air Act that have been left unaddressed through formal enforcement actions. Those violations could include operating without a permit or not using the best available technology to control emissions, among other infractions. 07-22-22

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The search for the source of plastic pollution

Clean up efforts in the Pacific Northwest are directing their attention away from the end life of plastic to focus on the beginning.

Dan DeLong / InvestigateWest

On an overcast Saturday in Seattle, a group of volunteers combs a small section of the beach at Golden Gardens Park for trash. With 5-gallon buckets in hand, they slowly fan out and search a roughly rectangular zone marked by cones, passing over the same spots several times from the grass to the waterline as they look for even the tiniest things that don’t belong there.

Unlike several other Earth Day weekend cleanups going on farther down the beach, this group has been given special instructions that will help them categorize and log everything they find, from food scraps and toys to tiny pieces of foil and, of course, many types of plastic.

From large pieces, such as bottles, cups, and even a Smurf action figure, to tiny microplastics — fragments, films, fibers, or foams less than 5 mm long — plastic is one of the most common pollutants this group will find, mirroring what cleanup crews regularly see across the country.

Recently, international attention has homed in on the problem, which is only growing worse as plastic doesn’t decompose but degrades into smaller pieces that will remain in the environment for thousands of years. Single-use plastics will be phased out of national parks by 2032 after an announcement in June from the Biden administration, and by the end of 2024, the United Nations plans to have a legally binding plan to end plastic pollution globally.

But groups like this cleanup crew are helping answer a more basic question: Where is this stuff coming from?

These volunteers are following the “Escaped Trash Assessment Protocol,” which was developed in Washington state from 2018 to 2021 and is now being used by volunteer groups around the country with guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency. The idea is to provide standardized data to state and local regulators so they can better attack sources of pollution. 07-21-22

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Climate change at work

America’s workers are facing increasingly dire conditions.

United Farm Workers

Last summer, the Pacific Northwest was hit by a once-in-a-millenium heat dome. While temperatures were higher than ever recorded, L.A.* was outside, working Washington’s blueberry harvest. (Fearing potential work repercussions, L.A. did not wish to be identified by her full name.) Soon, she was dehydrated, dizzy, and vomiting. Her minor son, who was also working in the field out in the heat, got a bloody nose and headache. When the harvest was moved to the middle of the night to avoid the most intense heat—”to protect the fruit, not the workers,” L.A. says—her friend cut herself badly laboring in the dark.

Whether it’s heatwaves, wildfire smoke, or attempts to adapt that create new hazards, the climate crisis is exacerbating risks for America’s workers. From home health aides and school teachers to construction and farm workers, people across the country are now facing compounding challenges on the widening frontlines of the climate crisis. Yet federal protections for the workplace have not kept pace.

During California’s recent wildfires, shocking photos emerged of farmworkers harvesting grapes in California vineyards under an orange-tinged sky. That may be one of the most visible examples of people being forced to work in dangerous conditions, but it’s far from the only climate-related health risk employees regularly face. “The reality is that millions of workers—across our society—are being exposed to multiple environmental stressors all at once, including searing heat and toxic air pollution,” says Dr. Vijay Limaye, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).  07-19-22

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Without Congress, what can Biden do to stem the climate crisis?

Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

“It’s now time for executive Beast Mode.”

The White House is scrambling to reassure Democratic voters that President Joe Biden can still take action on climate change after another blow to proposed climate legislation from Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

On Sunday, White House economic adviser Jared Bernstein told CNN that Biden would pursue his climate agenda “with or without Congress,” using executive orders to reduce emissions despite obstruction from Congress. Also on Sunday, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont suggested Manchin had never been “serious” about supporting Biden’s proposed Build Back Better bill, which would have included nearly $570 billion to combat climate change through tax credits and investments.

The push comes after news broke late last week that Manchin, who holds millions of dollars in coal investments and received more than $400,000 in donations from the energy industry in one fundraising quarter last year, said he was opposed to passing climate policies, as well as tax increases on the wealthy needed to fund them, as long as inflation remains high.  07-19-22

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Toxic chemicals found in oysters in Biscayne Bay pose potential health concerns

Leila Lemos

Toxic chemicals found in oysters in Biscayne Bay, Marco Island and in Tampa Bay may pose serious health issues for people and wildlife, according to a study conducted by Florida International University’s Institute of Environmental Science.

Mollusk contaminants such as perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and phthalate esters (PAEs) were discovered in 156 oysters during research to determine if the shellfish are healthy to eat since they are found in polluted water.

PFAS are a group of human-made chemicals created for a variety of household and industrial uses. They repel oil, grease and water, so they have been used in protective coatings for many products, including food packaging, nonstick cookware, carpets and upholstery (stain-protectants), mattresses and clothing (water-proofing). They have also been used in fire-fighting foams.

About 10,000 oysters per acre are harvested each year from waters such as Biscayne Bay, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. These harvests are sold locally at restaurants and seafood supply companies.

Anyone can be exposed to PFAS, with ingestion the primary route of exposure, according to the Virginia Department of Health. This can be due to food stored or cooked in material containing PFAS, by eating contaminated fish and shellfish, or by drinking contaminated water.

People living near PFAS production facilities or places where PFAS-containing firefighting foams were used are at higher risk of exposure from groundwater contamination. 07-18-22

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Here are 3 ways the EPA can still regulate climate pollution

After West Virginia v. EPA, the Clean Air Act still holds the keys to climate action.

In West Virginia v. EPA, Chief Justice John Roberts, pictured above in 2021, ruled against regulations that force utilities to shift to natural gas and renewables. Michael Reynolds / Getty Images

Late last month, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its long-awaited ruling on West Virginia v. EPA, a case in which the government’s ability to regulate carbon emissions from power plants was in dispute. Environmentalists expected the court’s conservative majority to deal a deadly blow to the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate climate pollution from the power sector, which accounts for roughly a quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Instead, the Supreme Court issued a narrow but consequential opinion that only ruled out one specific mechanism for slashing carbon emissions: so-called generation shifting. The mechanism was one aspect of the Clean Power Plan, first proposed by the Obama administration in 2015, which set maximum carbon emission rates for coal and natural gas plants and allowed utility companies to comply using a variety of methods. They could improve efficiency at individual plants, or they could opt for generation shifting — changing their overall mix of electricity generation to use less coal and a greater share of  natural gas (which is less carbon-intensive than coal) and renewable sources. The rule quickly got tied up in litigation and never took effect, but the falling prices of natural gas and renewables changed the country’s energy mix anyway and the U.S. met the Clean Power Plan’s target a decade ahead of schedule.

The Supreme Court’s six-member majority ruled that the EPA’s proposed use of generation shifting overstepped the authority it was given by Congress when it passed the Clean Air Act, which was the legal basis for the Clean Power Plan. However, though this ruling invalidated the already-defunct Clean Power Plan, it didn’t eliminate any carbon-cutting approaches besides generation shifting. Unlike the court’s sweeping ruling overturning the 50-year precedent of Roe v. Wade, the West Virginia opinion respected precedents declaring carbon dioxide a threat to public health that the EPA can regulate.  07-15-22

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How Heat Waves Could Have Long-Term Impacts on Your Health

The temperature reads 100 degrees Fahrenheit on CareNow Urgent Care signage during a heatwave in Houston, Texas, US, on Monday, July 11, 2022.
Mark Felix/Bloomberg—Getty Images

Health officials from the U.S., the U.K., Europe, and Japan have been warning residents to stay out of the sun as the northern hemisphere experiences some of the highest early summer temperatures ever recorded. It’s not just to prevent heat-stroke, but to prevent the long-term consequences as well. As climate change drives summer temperatures even higher than usual, medical researchers are starting to find links between sustained heat exposure and chronic health conditions ranging from diabetes to kidney stones, cardiovascular disease and even obesity. “While increased risk for heat stroke is an obvious manifestation of global warming, climate change is actually causing health problems today, in both direct and indirect ways,” says Richard J. Johnson, a medical professor and researcher at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, and one of the world’s foremost experts on the intersection of heat stress and kidney disease.

Hotter days bring an elevated risk of dehydration, says Johnson, which in turn can cause cognitive dysfunction, high blood pressure, and acute kidney injuries. Over time, the chronically dehydrated are less able to excrete toxins, leaving a higher concentration of salts and glucose in the kidneys and blood serum. Those substances are linked with an increased risk for diabetes and metabolic syndrome, a medical term that describes some combination of high blood sugar, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and abdominal obesity that is estimated to afflict nearly a quarter of U.S. adults. As temperatures rise, he says, it is likely that incidences of metabolic disease will too, along with the concurrent risk of heart attack and stroke. 07-13-22

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What happened to the “war on coal” in West Virginia?

Mike Roselle and his cat on his property in Rock Creek, West Virginia. Grist / Eve Andrews

The activism spotlight has left the Coal River Valley. But when the battlefield is your home, you don’t give up the fight.

When you come down around the bend in the road that runs along the Coal River, a pickup riding your tail because you’re not inclined to take hairpin turns at 60 miles an hour, you’ll arrive at the house where Junior Walk grew up, where his parents still reside. Eunice, West Virginia, is not much more than a row of bungalows that sit with their backs right up against the road and their front doors maybe a hundred feet from the freezing-cold Coal River. Walk’s sister Natasha and her partner and baby live in the same stretch of homes, and he himself owns a house two doors down. But his roof is falling in and the cost to fix it is more than the house itself is worth, so he’s “giving it back to nature.” There are three junk cars in his yard pending sale to John at the gun and pawn shop in the next town over, once a suitable price is agreed upon.

Walk leads the way past his parents’ house, a shaggy behemoth of a dog barking gruffly in the yard. (“He’s half wolf,” he explains. “My sister’s ex-boyfriend paid thousands of dollars for him.”) On through a grove of trees, branches still bare in early spring, thick with bramble bushes. The air is damp with light rain spitting from a sudden cloud, but grainy in a way that you can feel in the back of your throat. From the muddy riverbank you can see an enormous chute protruding from one of the mountainsides that frames the valley, black coal pouring out of it to be carted off by a constant parade of trucks. Clouds of taupe dust billow off the trucks as they pull in and out of the mine entrance, and swirl in eddies over the ragged asphalt. 07-13-22

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What the rich inner lives of dolphins can teach us about climate solutions

Knowing that the charismatic cetaceans express joy, compassion, and other “human” emotions can inform and inspire our own climate work.

On one of those beautiful, cloudless days the Bahamas are famous for, photographer Doc White and his wife, Ceci, dove into the Atlantic Ocean with an assignment to photograph marine mammals. What they considered a routine expedition soon turned into a moment they’ll cherish forever.

As they swam in the crystalline sea, they noticed a pod of spotted dolphins. Awestruck, they longed for a closer look but respectfully kept their distance. Then, something magical happened: The dolphins approached. They made a calm retreat, only to come swimming back moments later. This went on for almost an hour. “I’ve spent a lot of time in the water, and I had never seen that before,” says White.

The pair yearned for that dreamlike moment of physical connection, but resolved to hold out their hands and let the animals decide what to do. “Sure enough, they came up and started nestling against us!” White says, still excited by the memory years later. “Each dolphin acted a bit differently. Some would come very close and touch us; others, while obviously curious, would still keep their distance.” 07-06-22

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This Old Golf Course Is Now a Nature Preserve

A long-buried creek that fed a golf course irrigation pond will be uncovered and allowed to flow through the former back nine holes, now called Larsen Meadow.
Photographer: Ian Bates for Bloomberg Green

A nonprofit bought the California property and is transforming it into a climate-resilient public park, reviving creeks and turning fairways into habitat for endangered salmon and other wildlife

In a rural California valley framed by redwood- and oak-covered hills, hawks circle above a meadow of native grasses where golf carts once trundled over acres of manicured, well-watered turf. Fairways are nothing but flowers now, and the remnant of a sand trap is a pop-up playground. Here and there, small stone obelisks inscribed with the words “San Geronimo Par 5” poke through a riot of yellow-and-white petals like signposts from a lost civilization.

When golf courses go out of business, large swathes of open space suddenly become available for redevelopment. In the United States, they have been transformed into suburban housing tracts, Amazon warehouses and even solar power plants. The San Geronimo Golf Course in Marin County, California, though, isn’t being developed so much as devolved to a state of nature to build resilience to climate change and revive endangered salmon while creating a new public park.

The former 18-hole course sits amid a mosaic of county, state and federal parks, including the 71,000-acre Point Reyes National Seashore. Opened nearly 60 years ago in anticipation of a planned— but never built—  suburb, the financially troubled golf course went on the market in 2017.

The nonprofit Trust for Public Land purchased the 157-acre property, now called San Geronimo Commons, for $8.85 million and is in the midst a years-long project to uncover long-buried creeks and rewild fairways into wildlife habitat that will link the restored landscape to four surrounding nature preserves. Hiking and biking trails to be built through the Commons will connect communities in the valley.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to recreate the historic floodplain and reconnect the creeks in a way that creates a far more climate-resilient ecosystem in this area,” says Christy Fischer, TPL’s Northern California coastal conservation director.  07-10-22

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How a 50-year-old PR Strategy Influenced the Supreme Court’s EPA Decision

Bruce Harrison developed the “Three Es” in the 1970s. Now the framing is everywhere.

Members of Extinction Rebellion DC and other groups protest climate inaction after the Supreme Court decision on June 30, 2022, in Washington, D.C. Bonnie Cash / Getty Images

It was a bad time to be working for the chemical industry as a public relations manager. In June of 1962, Rachel Carson had published Silent Spring, a soon-to-be-bestseller that prompted a wave of public concern over pesticides and pollution. A young man named E. Bruce Harrison, the newly minted PR rep for the Manufacturing Chemists’ Association, launched a series of personal attacks against Carson (she wasn’t a “real” scientist, she was biased because she had cancer, maybe she was a communist). The tactic failed: The industry was branded as a villain, and it got stuck dealing with new regulations.

Out of that failure, Harrison came up with a new strategy in the 1970s that would inform his work advising polluting industries in the coming decades. The key to sidestepping regulation was not about antagonism, he figured, but compromise, as the scholar Melissa Aronczyk has documented. What if the environment, energy, and the economy would all be given equal weight? Calling for “balance” between these “Three Es” would lend credence to the industry’s position, making it look reasonable and responsible — and leave environmentalists looking like the ones trying to destroy the economy. Through grassroots efforts, media campaigns, and testimonies at regulatory hearings in the ’70s and ’80s, Harrison spread the idea that economic growth and environmental protection should be given equal consideration.

The strategy proved to be an enormous success, to the point that it played a crucial, but quiet, role when the Supreme Court handed down its decision on West Virginia v. EPA last week. The case concerned the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority under the Clean Air Act to force power plants to cut their pollution through the Clean Power Plan — an Obama-era program that never went into effect. In the court’s 6-3 ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that federal agencies need clearly stated, explicit approval from Congress to adopt regulations that could have wide social and economic consequences, a decision that will likely be used to diminish government agencies’ regulatory powers. 07-06-22

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Onondaga Nation is Getting Some of Its Land Back

The Onondaga Nation, New York state, and the U.S. Department of the Interior announced a historic agreement last week that will return more than 1,000 acres of land to the nation — one of the largest ever returns of land from a state to an Indigenous nation.

The agreement is a result of a 2018 settlement between federal and state agencies and the manufacturing company Honeywell International, whose predecessor companies polluted Onondaga Lake with mercury and heavy metals as they produced hazardous chemicals like benzene and naphthalene. Transferring land titles to the Onondaga Nation is just one of 18 restoration projects that the settlement requires Honeywell to carry out.

As part of the agreement, an expansive tract of land in the Tully Valley, near the city of Syracuse, will be placed into a conservation easement, barring commercial development and allowing the Onondaga Nation to protect and restore natural areas “in accordance with traditional ecological knowledge.” The Tully Valley supports a diversity of wildlife including brook trout, bald eagles, and great blue herons. 07-05-22

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Derrick Z. Jackson: Children will suffer the consequences of recent Supreme Court rulings

The Supreme Court recently sharply limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to slash carbon pollution from power plants. Credit: Bill Mason/Unsplash

It appears to be of no concern to the Supreme Court’s 6-3 ultraconservative majority how children are collateral damage in its monumental rulings to close the 2021-22 term.

First, the conservatives struck down New York’s requirement for gun owners to prove why they should be allowed to pack heat in public. The ruling ignored, among many practical realities, that bullets are now the top killer of children.

Then, in overturning Roe v. Wade’s constitutional right to an abortion, they not only denied a pregnant person’s right to their own body, but they also ignored the fact that children born to mothers who are denied abortions face a 3-in-4 chance of being raised in poverty.

Now comes the court’s crippling of the most important federal weapon available to avoid catastrophic climate change and its associated killing of tens of thousands of Americans every year with fossil fuel air pollution. The Supreme Court sharply limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to slash carbon pollution from power plants. The justices told EPA that it can set carbon emissions standards based only on interventions at individual power plants. It cannot do what it tried to do under the Obama administration—establish national standards for coal-fired power plants under its Clean Power Plan. That plan would have cut plants’ emissions by shifting to cleaner energy sources.

In siding with coal companies and a posse of Republican attorneys general (not coincidentally, the same ones who generally represent the most gun-happy states rushing to ban abortion), the Supreme Court metaphorically threw children under the tailpipe and into the smokestack. 07-06-22

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Op-ed: With Food Prices on the Rise, Is a ‘Bean New Deal’ the Answer?

As inflation keeps driving up prices for poultry and beef, the government should ease spending on meat and pay farmers to plant beans.

A trip to the grocery store these days is a crash course in climate change’s toll on supply chains.

Grocery prices have risen every month for the past year, driven by everything from the lingering pandemic, air pollution from fossil fuel particulates, farm labor shortages, and corporate price gouging. A world where droughts and floods regularly devastate crop yields only exacerbates these factors to ratchet up the cost of food.

For meat eaters, the pain is most acute, with the cost of animal products outpacing fruits and veggies. But vegetarians needn’t look so smug. With record-breaking floods threatening China’s grain harvest and Russia’s unconscionable blockade of Ukrainian wheat exports, the cost of staples such as cereal is also climbing higher.

Fortunately, there is an answer to the price shocks that have jumped from the meat fridge to the produce aisle. It lies in the lowly legume.

In order to prosper on American farmland and in American stockpots, however, beans are going to need a lot more help from the US government. What the agriculture sector needs right now is a Bean New Deal—large scale investment in legume production, and a snazzy brand campaign to boot. 07-01-22

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