Recent News


Civilization Is Accelerating Extinction and Altering the Natural World at a Pace ‘Unprecedented in Human History’

Cattle grazing on a tract of illegally cleared Amazon forest in Pará state, Brazil. Lalo de Almeida for The New York Times

Humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscapes so dramatically that as many as one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction, posing a dire threat to ecosystems that people all over the world depend on for their survival, a sweeping new United Nations assessment has concluded.

The 1,500-page report, compiled by hundreds of international experts and based on thousands of scientific studies, is the most exhaustive look yet at the decline in biodiversity across the globe and the dangers that creates for human civilization. A summary of its findings, which was approved by representatives from the United States and 131 other countries, was released Monday in Paris. The full report is set to be published this year.

Its conclusions are stark. In most major land habitats, from the savannas of Africa to the rain forests of South America, the average abundance of native plant and animal life has fallen by 20 percent or more, mainly over the past century. With the human population passing 7 billion, activities like farming, logging, poaching, fishing and mining are altering the natural world at a rate “unprecedented in human history.” 05-06-19

Read more at The New York Times


Lawns are the No. 1 irrigated ‘crop’ in America. They need to die.

As a new homeowner, my strategy for finding a house was probably a little different than most: I looked for the one with the smallest lawn I could find.

The privilege of homeownership is increasingly rare these days, and I wanted to make sure my little plot of land would have a net benefit to my city and the environment. My city, St. Paul, Minnesota, bills itself as “the most liveable city in America.” I want to help make that statement a bit more true. My strategy: Rip out my grass lawn as soon as possible.

Lawns do provide some benefits: Green spaces help reduce the urban heat island effect, lowering the temperature of the entire metro area. Lawns can help restore groundwater and reduce urban flooding, and because they’re plants, they help pull a small amount of carbon dioxide out of the air. Plus, they are generally pleasing places to play.

But, on balance, lawns are awful for the planet. Our addiction to lawns means that grass is the single largest irrigated agricultural “crop” in America, more than corn, wheat, and fruit orchards combined. A NASA-led study in 2005 found that there were 63,000 square miles of turf grass in the United States, covering an area larger than Georgia. Keeping all that grass alive can consume about 50-75 percent of a residence’s water. 05-02-19

Read more at Grist


The Next Regeneration

New York wants to fight climate change through good farming. Here’s the dirt.

Grist / Amelia Bates / Greta Moran

Didi Barrett, a New York state assemblymember, has visited Stone House Grain, a farm in the Hudson Valley, enough times to be a seasoned tour guide. That’s what it felt like, at least, as we drove in a Jeep down a narrow road, through fields blanketed by cover crops and perennial pastures spread out like a gold-and-brown checkerboard. It was mid-March, a time of dormancy for most plants in the region. Poplar trees, bare of any leaves, lined either side of the road. But the farm was already teeming with life.

From behind the wheel, Ben Dobson, the farm manager, explained why his farm was unseasonably busy. “The basic premise of what people are now calling ‘carbon farming’ is that the earth’s surfaces were made to photosynthesize,” he said, eyeing his fields with a relaxed confidence.

It’s all part of a natural cycle: On warm days, Dobson’s crops pull carbon dioxide from the sky and release it into the soil where it nourishes developing plants. Even in the dead of winter, the fields are full of roots working to keep carbon in the soil. This is one of the ways that Dobson’s farm is able to keep carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas responsible for climate change, in the ground.

Dobson’s work drew the attention of Barrett a few years back. In 2015, she toured the farm for the first time and asked him for advice on how to incentivize climate change–thwarting farming practices. “It just seemed like a no brainer,” Barrett said. “New York can lead on this.” The resulting pilot project, included in this year’s state budget, will test out different methods of farming in a way that promotes soil health and fights global warming. 04-30-19

Read more at Grist


Duke Energy, Dominion Resources, and other dirty energy corporations escape all taxes and even get rebates…

Members of the Akron chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America spent two hours recently talking over a framework for a post-capitalist society. Credit: Allison Farrand for The New York Time

AKRON, Ohio — Colin Robertson wonders why he pays federal taxes on the $18,000 a year he makes cleaning carpets, while the tech giant Amazon got a tax rebate.

His concerns about a tilted economic playing field recently led Mr. Robertson to join the Akron chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. At a gathering this month, as members discussed Karl Marx and corporate greed over chocolate chip cookies, it wasn’t long before talk turned to income inequality and how the government helps the wealthy avoid taxes.

“One of the benefits of taxation is taking it and using it for the collective good,” said Mr. Robertson, 25, comparing his minimal income to the roughly $150 billion net worth of Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive and the world’s richest person.

“He could be taxed at 99.9 percent and still have millions left over,” Mr. Robertson said, “and I’d be homeless.”

It’s a topic that several presidential candidates, led by Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have hammered recently as they travel the campaign trail, spurred by a report that 60 Fortune 500 companies paid no federal taxes on $79 billion in corporate income last year. Amazon, which is reported to be opening a center in an abandoned Akron mall that will employ 500 people, has become the poster child for corporate tax avoidance; last year it had an effective tax rate of below zero — receiving a rebate — on income of $10.8 billion. 04-29-19

Read more at The New York Times 


Colorado Democrats Took on the Oil and Gas Industry. Now the Recalls are Starting.

Rep. Rochelle Galindo stands with fellow representatives and their families during the first day of the 2019 Colorado Legislative Session at the capitol on Jan. 4, 2019. Photo: AAron Ontiveroz/Denver Post via Getty Images

AFTER SEIZING UNIFIED control of the Colorado state government in November’s wave election, Democrats there did something unusual: They governed.

For decades, the oil and gas industry has had a stranglehold on Colorado politics, but the newly empowered Democrats unveiled a sweeping bill to rein in fracking. The industry spent millions to stop it, but Democrats muscled it through, and it was signed by Gov. Jared Polis, an independently wealthy Democrat who ran in opposition to the industry.

Now the industry is fighting back by threatening to recall state Rep. Rochelle Galindo, who was elected last year and represents Weld County, the state’s top oil and gas producer. Galindo is the first openly gay person or woman of color to hold her seat.

The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office approved a recall petition against Galindo earlier this month, giving opponents until June 3 to collect 25 percent of the total votes cast in her election, which would mean 5,696 signatures. 04-28-19

Read more at  The Intercept


States Are Using Taxpayer Money to Greenwash Dirty Nuclear Power

New Jersey is the latest state to subsidize aging reactors with credits designated for clean energy.

Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

This week, New Jersey’s public utilities commission awarded clean-energy credits to three vintage nuclear reactors. In doing so, the state joined New York, Illinois, and Connecticut in falling for the nuclear industry’s latest scheme: keeping itself afloat with public money that was supposed to incentivize a cleaner, greener future. Bills moving through legislatures in PennsylvaniaOhio, and Maryland could soon mean all the top nuclear energy-producing states in the northeast would be using public funds to prop up an aging and uncompetitive technology.

The laws differ from state to state, but all are designed to hide nuclear giveaways (bought with millions of dollars of lobbying) under the cloak of climate-friendly energy. Each plan sets up some sort of zero-emissions standard or green-energy credit, and then defines parameters that ensure a large cut of those programs are funneled to nuclear operators. In Illinois, energy behemoth Exelon banked $150,000 in public zero-emissions credits in 2017; New Jersey’s new law will put twice that in the pockets of Exelon and PSEG, the owners of the state’s three still-functioning reactors.

Whether these plants need the subsidies and rate hikes to stay open, or are just maximizing shareholder value, is open to debate. So, too, is whether governments are supposed to pick winners and losers in what is supposed to be an energy “market.” But it’s no longer a question whether nuclear power should be part of any long-term plan to counter global warming. 04-25-19

Read more at The New Republic


Pittsburgh’s air quality continues to decline, new report finds

Steph Chambers/Post-Gazette

Once again, Pittsburgh scored all F’s on the American Lung Association’s annual air quality report card—and pollution is getting worse instead of better.

For the second year in a row, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, was the only U.S. county outside of California to receive all F’s in the American Lung Association’s national air quality report card.

The annual report gave Allegheny County F grades for ozone, daily particulate matter levels and long-term particulate matter levels. Particulate matter pollution causes higher rates of asthma and lung cancer, decreased lung function in children, and increased hospital admissions and premature death due to heart attacks and respiratory illness.

“Particle pollution is made of soot or tiny particles that come from coal-fired power plants, industrial sources, diesel emissions, wildfires and wood-burning devices,” Kevin Stewart, the American Lung Association’s director of Environmental Health for Advocacy and Public Policy, said in a statement.

“These particles are so small that they can lodge deep in the lungs and trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes, and can even be lethal.” 04-24-19

Read more at Environmental Health News


Duo say organic farming can boost rural jobs, environment and health

Bob Quinn and Liz Carlisle believe there’s a way to revive Montana’s struggling rural economies, preserve good soil and save lives at the same time: organic, sustainable farming of nutritious foods.

It involves removing the costs of inputs like fertilizer and pesticides sold by multinational corporations, and boosting profit margins by selling organic foods that are in high demand and low supply.

The duo say Montana farmers can break with the agricultural-industrial complex, hire more workers and find financial success. And by providing more whole grains free from chemical pesticides, they believe they can help alleviate the nation’s obesity and chronic disease epidemic. Additionally, organic farming practices conserve soil for future generations, leave nearby waters less polluted, and sequester carbon in this era of fossil fuel-driven climate change. 04-21-19

Read more at the Missoulian


Offshore Wind Farms are Spinning up in the US—At Last

CHRISTOPHER FURLONG/GETTY IMAGES

ON JUNE 1, the Pilgrim nuclear plant in Massachusetts will shut down, a victim of rising costs and a technology that is struggling to remain economically viable in the United States. But the electricity generated by the aging nuclear station soon will be replaced by another carbon-free source: a fleet of 84 offshore wind turbines rising nearly 650 feet above the ocean’s surface.

The developers of the Vineyard Wind project say their turbines—anchored about 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard—will generate 800 megawatts of electricity once they start spinning sometime in 2022. That’s equivalent to the output of a large coal-fired power plant and more than Pilgrim’s 640 megawatts.

“Offshore wind has arrived,” says Erich Stephens, chief development officer for Vineyard Wind, a developer based in New Bedford, Massachusetts, that is backed by Danish and Spanish wind energy firms. He explains that the costs have fallen enough to make developers take it seriously. “Not only is wind power less expensive, but you can place the turbines in deeper water, and do it less expensively than before.” 04-17-19

Read more at Wired 


After a decade of research, here’s what scientists know about the health impacts of fracking

Credit: Mark Dixon/Flickr

“This should be of serious concern to policymakers interested in protecting public health.”

Fracking has been linked to preterm births, high-risk pregnancies, asthma, migraine headaches, fatigue, nasal and sinus symptoms, and skin disorders over the last 10 years, according to a new study.

Fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, is a process of extracting oil and gas from the Earth by drilling deep wells and injecting a mixture of liquids and chemicals at high pressure.

The study, which was published in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Global PublicHealth in February, looked at several hundred scientific articles about the community and health impacts of fracking. The researchers focused on the design of those studies to ensure that the ones they included in their study were scientifically valid, then summarized what’s been learned about the industry in the last decade.

“What we found pushes back against the narratives we often hear that say we don’t know enough about the health impacts yet,” Irena Gorski, co-author of the study and an environmental epidemiology doctoral candidate at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told EHN. 04-15-19

Read more at The Daily Climate 


An easy, cost-effective way to address climate change? Massive reforestation.

Education Images / UIG / Getty Images

As the implications of climate change become starker and the world faces up to a biodiversity crisis that threatens humanity’s existence, a group of campaigners from across the world are saying there is one clear way to get us out of this mess, but that governments are ignoring it.

In an open letter published in the British newspaper, The Guardian, the group tells governments that the best and cheapest way to avert a climate catastrophe is to heal nature by restoring and replanting degraded forests and by better conserving the natural world.

“Defending the living world and defending the climate are, in many cases, one and the same. This potential has so far been largely overlooked,” say the 23 signatories to the letter.

“We call on governments to support natural climate solutions with an urgent program of research, funding, and political commitment,” they added.

Vast amounts of carbon can be removed from the air and stored by restoring ecosystems razed by palm oil plantations, cattle ranching and timber, and fish production, the letter says. The 23 signatories include the  teenage school climate strike activist Greta Thunburg, authors Margaret Atwood, Naomi Klein, and Philip Pullman, U.S. climate scientist Michael Mann, and environmental campaigner Bill McKibben. 04-11-19

Read more at Grist


Trump signs executive orders fast-tracking the pipeline approval process

When Donald Trump was campaigning to become president in 2016, he promised to speed up the government review process for “private sector energy infrastructure projects.” On Wednesday, he made good on that pledge by signing two executive orders that would put pipelines on the fast track to success.

In addition to shortening the review process for infrastructure projects, the orders are aimed at limiting states’ power to pause construction and giving the president the final word on permits for cross-border projects, among other things.

“We’re gonna make it easier for you,” Trump said at a press conference on Wednesday. “You know about delays? Where it takes you 20 years to get a permit? Those days are gone.”

To date, oil companies have had a hard time selling their new, big pipeline projects in the court of public opinion. They’ve had an even harder time pushing those projects through the court of … courts. Pipeline company TransCanada, for instance, has been waiting a whole decade to build the northern leg of its Keystone XL extension.

Trump seems willing to go to any lengths necessary to get the job done. Months after a district court judge demanded the government conduct a more thorough environmental review of the potential impacts of the Keystone XL project last November, Trump issued a presidential permit aimed at allowing TransCanada to sidestep the courts. 04-10-19

Read more at Grist


The Uncertain Future of D.C.’s Cherry Blossoms

The cherry trees at the Tidal Basin look beautiful, but daily flooding at high tide and crumbling infrastructure are threatening their survival.

A flooded walkway in Washington, D.C.’s Tidal Basin. (Nicole Javorsky/CityLab)

Crowds stroll the petal-lined perimeter of the National Mall’s Tidal Basin in springtime Washington, D.C., for the National Cherry Blossom Festival. If they’re paying attention to something other than the beautiful view, they might notice walkways overrun by flooding.

Although millions of people come to the Tidal Basin each year (the National Mall is the most visited national park in the country), the sea wall surrounding the basin has hardly been modified since it was constructed in 1882.

That’s a problem, because near the Thomas Jefferson and George Mason memorials, the wall is sinking. At high tide, twice each day, 250 million gallons of water from the Potomac River enter the Tidal Basin through the inlet gates. The state of the sea wall is one reason, and rising water levels in the Potomac River exacerbate the problem. Starting about eight to 10 years ago, daily flooding has threatened the cherry trees’ roots and engulfed walkways.

“Cherry trees are not particularly happy in this climate,” said Teresa Durkin, senior vice president of the nonprofit Trust for the National Mall, on a tour of the damage last week, “and we put them in bad conditions with the brackish water.” 04-09-19

Read more at CityLab


Energy Equity: Bringing Solar Power to Low-Income Communities

Workers receive job training while building a shared solar farm in Platteville, Colorado. COURTESY OF GRID ALTERNATIVES

Millions of Americans lack access to solar energy because they cannot afford the steep upfront costs. Now, more than a dozen states are adopting “community solar” programs that are bringing solar power and lower energy bills to low-income households from New York to California.

Isbel “Izzy” Palans lives in a small cabin nestled among mountain peaks and towering trees in the Colorado Rockies. Her home is often shaded and, during the long winters, buried under heaps of snow. Her monthly utility bills show credits for solar electricity production, but no solar panels are affixed to her roof. Instead, the power comes from a solar array some 60 miles away in a nearby valley.

Last year, the panels nearly slashed her energy bill in half. “I’ve been thrilled,” said Palans, a 76-year-old retired waitress who relies partly on Social Security benefits to make ends meet.

Palans is a subscriber to a 145-kilowatt solar array project run by Holy Cross Energy, a rural utility cooperative. Built with state funding, the program provides solar credits to more than 40 low-income households in western Colorado that otherwise wouldn’t have the financial or technical means to access renewable energy. The venture is just one of a growing number of so-called “community solar” projects across the United States focused on delivering renewable energy — and the cost-savings it can provide — to low-income households, from California to Minnesota to Massachusetts. 04-04-19

Read more at Yale Environment 360


Trump Is About to Make the Pork Industry Responsible for Inspecting Itself

A U. S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) inspector examines pork meat at a swine processing plant in 1989. Photo courtesy of National Archives and National Records Administration.

Next time you tuck into a pork chop or a carnitas-filled burrito, spare a thought for the people who work the kill line at hog slaughterhouses. Meatpacking workers incur injury and illness at 2.5 times the national average; and repetitive-motion conditions at a rate nearly seven times as high as that of other private industries. Much has to do with the speed at which they work: Hog carcasses weighing as much as 270 pounds come at workers at an average rate of 977 per hour, or about 16 per minute.

President Donald Trump’s US Department of Agriculture is close to finalizing a plan that would allow those lines to move even faster, reports the Washington Post’s Kimberly Kindy. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is currently responsible for overseeing the kill line, making sure that tainted meat doesn’t enter the food supply. The plan would partially privatize federal oversight of pork facilities, cutting the number of federal inspectors by about 40 percent and replacing them with plant employees, Kindy adds. In other words, the task of ensuring the safety of the meat supply will largely shift from people paid by the public to people being paid by the meat industry.

Deregulation is on brand for the Trump team, but the idea of semi-privatizing the USDA’s meat inspection dates to former President Bill Clinton, who launched pilot programs for both chicken and pork plants. President Barack Obama was an enthusiast—his USDA approved a similar plan for chicken slaughterhouses in 2014, but declined in the end to let all poultry companies speed up the kill line after fierce pushback by workplace and food safety advocates. In its waning days in 2016, the Obama USDA was close enough to finalizing hog slaughterhouse deregulation that a bi-partisan group of 60 Congress members sent a letter to then-USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack urging the the department not to make the move. 04-05-19

Read more at Mother Jones


How the Media Launders Fossil Fuel Industry Propaganda Through Branded Content

A jogger runs past the Scattergood natural gas power plant on Feb. 12, 2019, in Los Angeles. Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

THERE IT WAS in black and white ­— or black, white, and a palette of gentle greens and blues. With a headline predicting that natural gas “will thrive in the age of renewables,” the article made the case that there are limitations on solar and wind power and that — as a subhead spelled out in aquamarine type — natural gas “is part of the solution.” Why was the Washington Post weighing in on the need for continued production of this fossil fuel in the face of climate change?

Or was it? On closer inspection, the report wasn’t coming from the D.C. paper’s newsroom. Though the link takes you to a page published by WashingtonPost.com, the story is actually a publication of WP BrandStudio, the paper’s branded content platform. In other words, the article is really an advertisement, and the copy was paid for by the American Petroleum Institute. The tagline — “Content from American Petroleum Institute” — is plain to see if you’re looking for it, though easy to miss if you’re not.

It’s not surprising that the trade group representing the oil and gas industry would want to leap to the defense of natural gas now. The notion that the energy source is a “bridge fuel” that will somehow safely deliver us to wind and solar — and past the threat of climate change — has been vaporized by recent science. 04-03-19

Read more at The Intercept 


Sea turtles are being born mostly female due to warming—will they survive?

A leatherback sea turtle lays its eggs at Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge on St. Croix. PHOTOGRAPH BY BRIAN SKERRY, NAT GEO IMAGE COLLECTION

Climate change is causing a crisis in sea turtle sex ratios. But there are signs of hope.

She started out studying tree-climbing marsupials, but only after she applied what she knew to marine reptiles did Camryn Allen actually get worried.

Allen, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Hawaii, had spent her early career using hormones to track koala bear pregnancies. Then she started using similar techniques to help colleagues quickly answer a surprisingly hard question: whether a sea turtle is male or female.

You can’t always tell which is which just by looking. That often requires laparoscopy, viewing the turtle’s internal organs by inserting a thin camera. Allen figured out how to do it using blood samples, which made it easier to check lots of turtles quickly.

That mattered because the heat of sand where eggs are buried ultimately determines whether a sea turtle becomes male or female. And since climate change is driving up temperatures around the world, researchers weren’t surprised that they’d been finding slightly more female offspring.04-04-19

Read more at National Geographic

Citing climate differences, Shell walks away from U.S. refining lobby

LONDON (Reuters) – Royal Dutch Shell Plc on Tuesday became the first major oil and gas company to announce plans to leave a leading U.S. refining lobby due to disagreement on climate policies, citing its support for the goals of the Paris climate agreement.

In its first review of its association with 19 key industry groups, Shell said it had found “material misalignment” over climate policy with the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) and would quit the body in 2020.

The review is part of Shell’s drive to increase transparency and show investors it is in line with the 2015 Paris climate agreement’s goals to limit global warming by reducing carbon emissions to a net zero by the end of the century.

It is the latest sign of how investor pressure on oil companies, particularly in Europe, is leading to changes in their behavior around climate. Last year, Shell caved in to investor pressure over climate change, setting out plans to introduce industry-leading carbon emissions targets linked to executive pay.

Its chief executive, Ben van Beurden, has since repeatedly urged oil and gas producers to take action over climate and pollution, staking out a more radical position than the heads of other major oil companies. 04-02-19

Read more at Reuters


Growing Corn Is A Major Contributor To Air Pollution, Study Finds

An aerial view of a combine harvesting corn in a field near Jarrettsville, Md.

You’ve probably heard statistics about how our diet affects the health of the planet. Like how a beef hamburger takes considerably more water and land to produce than a veggie burger, or that around a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions stem from food production. In fact, there are websites that can calculate the carbon footprint of specific foods.

But you may not have considered how the food we eat contributes to the quality of air we breath.

Air pollution is the largest environmental health risk factor in the United States, and

agriculture contributes in a number of ways. Fertilizer application, gas use, pesticide production, and dust kicked up from tilling all affect air quality. But the sort of accounting done for the carbon footprint of foods hasn’t been done for their air pollution footprint.

That changed Monday with a study published in Nature Sustainability. It modeled how the production of a single crop, maize, contributes to air pollution in the U.S. The researchers found that corn production accounts for 4,300 premature deaths related to air pollution in every year. Ammonia from fertilizer application was by far the largest contributor to corn’s air pollution footprint. 04-01-19

Read more at KUOW