The Worst Day in Earth’s History Contains an Ominous Warning
Tiny fossils—each half the size of a grain of sand—from Geulhemmerberg Cave in the Netherlands, the only place on Earth that contains fossils from the oceans in the decades and centuries after the K-T impact. (Michael J. Henehan / PNAS)
One of the planet’s most dramatic extinctions was caused in part by ocean acidification, which has become a problem in our own era.
The worst day in the history of life on Earth, so far, happened almost exactly 66 million years ago, when an asteroid roughly the size of Manhattan slammed into the Yucatán Peninsula.
You may know the story. The asteroid—which arrived, probably, in June or July—immediately drilled a 20-mile hole into the planet’s surface, vaporizing bedrock and spewing it halfway to the moon. The planet shuddered with magnitude-12 earthquakes, loosing tsunamis across the Gulf of Mexico. Some of the ejected debris condensed in orbit and plunged back to Earth as searing spheres of molten glass, which torched the land and turned forests into firestorms. Other debris remained high in space, where it blocked the sun’s rays and began to chill the surface of the planet.
By the time it was over, about 75 percent of all species on Earth had died, including all nonavian dinosaurs. The event, which ended the Cretaceous Period and began the Tertiary Period, is named the K-T extinction.
Since 1980, when the K-T impact hypothesis was first proposed, the Day the Dinosaurs Died has attained almost mythic significance. But questions remain about the theory. None of the Earth’s other big mass extinctions were caused by an asteroid impact. Why did this one end the 180-million-year reign of the dinosaurs?
A new paper, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, offers a possible answer: The impact changed the chemical content of the ocean, rendering seawater more acidic and inhospitable to the tiny plankton that form the base of the marine food chain. Combined with the other effects of the asteroid—darkened skies and a snap of global cooling—this ecologic disruption doomed much of life on Earth. 10-22-19
Editorial: Will SC need gas pipeline like it needed abandoned coal, nuclear plants?
Originally published in The Post & Courier
In 2007, Santee Cooper said it would run out of electricity to power Myrtle Beach within five years if it didn’t build a $1.2 billion coal plant on the Great Pee Dee River.
The next year, SCE&G and Santee Cooper said they wouldn’t be able to keep powering most of South Carolina unless they built two new nuclear reactors in Fairfield County.
The year after that, Santee Cooper acknowledged that, well, no, it didn’t really need the coal plant after all. It walked away from the nascent project after spending $242 million.
And in 2017, after spending $9 billion on the unfinished reactors, Santee Cooper and SCE&G walked away from them as well, citing massive cost overruns and delays — and a precipitous drop in current and projected energy demand.
In the two years since, Santee Cooper and the successor of the now-defunct SCE&G, Dominion Energy, have essentially acknowledged that they’ll meet our energy needs just fine without all that extra capacity.
We understand that utilities have to project power demand years or decades in advance, because it takes years to plan, permit and build a new power source. We understand that natural gas is far preferable to coal. And that South Carolina needs a diversified energy mix.
Still, it’s important to keep our expensive recent history in mind as Dominion, the S.C. Chamber of Commerce and the S.C. Manufacturers Alliance start laying the groundwork to argue that we have to have another natural gas pipeline extended through South Carolina to meet our future energy needs.
Dominion CEO Tom Farrell, whose company is building the $7.5 billion, 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline from West Virginia to North Carolina, told S.C. regulators last year that he “would like to bring the pipeline to South Carolina if the demand is there,” and “I am hopeful that it will come.”
And Chamber CEO Ted Pitts told The Post and Courier’s Andrew Brown last week: “Eventually, we are going to need additional natural gas capacity” to fuel economic development. That was right after we published a letter to that effect from Mr. Pitts and Manufacturers Alliance CEO Sara Hazzard.
It might turn out that we really do need additional natural gas capacity. Or it might turn out that we need another natural-gas pipeline about as much as we needed the coal plant and the nuclear reactors. 10-19-19
Peter Dykstra: Spoiling “America’s Best Idea”
The bipartisan neglect of our National Parks
Credit: Anacostia Trails Heritage Area/flickr
Cape Cod is a special place for me, and for my environmental awakening.
Like so many special places, the Cape is under constant threat from its own popularity. Second homes, vacation rentals, and all of the tawdry elements of an American vacation paradise began to take over the Cape in the mid-twentieth century.
Parts of Cape Cod began to look like a hybrid of a seaside suburb and the Jersey Shore.
The Cape, or at least part of it, had a savior. John F. Kennedy, the dashing young Senator whose dynastic family had an estate at Hyannis Port, championed the creation of the Cape Cod National Seashore.
Despite some furious opposition from landholders and business interests, the Seashore was signed into law in August 1961 by President Kennedy. The 43,000 acres of the Seashore have dodged suburbanization, and are still relatively pristine. 10-20-19
As Hurricane Florence moved across the Atlantic in early September of 2018, state officials issued evacuation orders for communities along the Virginia and Carolina coasts. The writer and law professor Jedediah Purdy, who was teaching at Duke at the time, was situated well inland, where the Atlantic coastal plain meets the Piedmont, and in his new book, “This Land Is Our Land,” he writes about his own surge of disaster preparation. Stocking up on canned goods and candles, he was also cataloguing his dependencies, contemplating how his household might get along without stocked shops and available gasoline. Could he make a cup of coffee if the electricity went out or remember loved ones’ phone numbers without the use of a smartphone? Human beings, at least we modern ones, are “an infrastructure species,” he writes, dependent on elaborate systems for shelter, electricity, and water. Purdy contemplates the potential devastation—the friendliest, nearest-term end of the the disaster-scenario spectrum laid out by David Wallace-Wells in “The Uninhabitable Earth,” but still no picnic—and thinks of the fate of what King Lear calls “unaccommodated man,” defenseless and soggy, “like an oyster ripped from its shell.”
The accelerating climate crisis is a Rorschach test, with everyone responding differently to the inkblot of planetary trauma. Hard deniers (a shrinking group) believe, or convince themselves, that established science is not real; softer deniers may understand the problem on some osmotic level but choose not to engage. Others react with outrage, terror, or gallows humor, or settle in somewhere on the spectrum between anxious resignation and outright nihilism. Some get to work securing a bunker and a disaster-preparedness plan, wishing to insulate at least their own homes and families from the wider risk. Others metabolize their anxiety into demonstrations, like the marchers who filled streets around the world in September’s global climate strike, or into direct-action protest, like the two women, indicted last month, who are now facing decades in prison for sabotaging the Dakota Access Pipeline’s progress in Iowa. (They are awaiting trial.) Purdy’s response, a scholarly kind of action, is to break down the politics that created the climate crisis, identifying the extractive practices and competitive ways of thinking that brought on the Anthropocene and imagining a system that could help us get out of it. 10-17-19
Op-ed: Natural gas vs. renewable energy — beware the latest gas industry talking points
The natural gas industry is on an aggressive public relations tear to convince Americans that for decades to come, it is the “bridge” between coal and renewable energy.
The campaign is loaded with disinformation. The American Petroleum Institute (API) says it’s pushing gas as a “foundation for the future” because it is “clean.” Major fossil fuel companies including BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell are API members. The Independent Petroleum Association of America is playing up outdated 2008 praise of gas by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to decry pledges by leading 2020 Democratic presidential candidates to ban hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for gas.
Dark money has also ramped up. A group called the Empowerment Alliance popped up last month to condemn the Green New Deal as “radical and unachievable.” The Alliance claims: “Eliminating our natural gas advantage will destroy our economy, kill American jobs and lead to more income inequality.”
It is no coincidence that the PR blitz comes amid an avalanche of unfavorable developments that should make us question whether natural gas should still be considered a natural choice for power generation.
First, there’s the fact that the heat-trapping properties of methane are contributing to climate change, which is accelerating much faster than previously thought. 10-27-19
Why Keeping Mature Forests Intact Is Key to the Climate Fight
William Moomaw has had a distinguished career as a physical chemist and environmental scientist, helping found the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy at Tufts University’s Fletcher School and serving as lead author on five reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In recent years, Moomaw has turned his attention to working on natural solutions to climate change and has become a leading proponent of what he calls “proforestation” — leaving older and middle-aged forests intact because of their superior carbon-sequestration abilities.
While Moomaw lauds intensifying efforts to plant billions of young trees, he says that preserving existing mature forests will have an even more profound effect on slowing global warming in the coming decades, since immature trees sequester far less CO2 than older ones. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Moomaw explains the benefits of proforestation, discusses the policy changes that would lead to the preservation of existing forests, and sharply criticizes the recent trend of converting forests in the Southeastern U.S. to wood pellets that can be burned to produce electricity in Europe and elsewhere.
“The most effective thing that we can do is to allow trees that are already planted, that are already growing, to continue growing to reach their full ecological potential, to store carbon, and develop a forest that has its full complement of environmental services,” said Moomaw. “Cutting trees to burn them is not a way to get there.”10-15-19
The Story of Plastic: New Film Exposes the Source of Our Plastic Crisis
Petrochemical facilities in the Houston ship channel. Roy Luck / CC BY 2.0
Prigi Arisandi, who founded the environmental group Ecological Observation and Wetlands Conservation, picks through a heap of worn plastic packaging in Mojokerto, Indonesia. Reading the labels, he calls out where the trash originated: the United States, Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Canada. The logos range from Nestlé to Bob’s Red Mill, Starbucks to Dunkin Donuts.
The trash of rich nations has become the burden of poorer countries.
We all know by now that plastic waste is a problem — it’s washing ashore on beaches, swirling in giant ocean eddies, gumming up the insides of whales and seabirds, and embedding itself in the farthest reaches of the planet. But most media coverage focuses on the end of the line — where plastics end up — and not where they came from or why.
Will New Pork Rules Put the Meat on Your Plate and Workers at Risk?
Photo: Gerry Broome / AP
Last month, the USDA quietly issued a new rule changing meat inspection standards for pork. Not only does the new rule mean slaughterhouses can run their processing lines as fast as they want, it also changes who does the inspecting, giving the pork producers themselves a bigger role in the process.
Philpott says that it’s important to realize the scale of the operation in question and the speed — every 3 seconds, on average, a 250-pound hog is sent down the processing line.
“Just picture the hog being stunned and then this carcass going down the line and workers immediately setting to cut it up at this rate; pull the guts out and start breaking it down,” he said. “These are facilities that are full of lots and lots of blood and guts and enormous animals being slaughtered.”
The changes represent the first updates to hog slaughterhouse inspection procedures in over 50 years. Proponents says they will bring much-needed modernization and innovation to the industry. Critics say it’s a dangerous move toward privatization and decreased food safety.
The faster speeds have already been piloted in five facilities. A few years ago, a secret video was filmed inside one of them, a slaughterhouse in Minnesota that supplies Hormel. 10-11-19
These State Birds May Be Forced Out of Their States as the World Warms
Georgia: Brown Thrasher Could lose 98 percent of its summer range in the state
Each state in America has an official state bird, usually an iconic species that helps define the landscape. Minnesota chose the common loon, whose haunting wails echo across the state’s northern lakes each summer. Georgia picked the brown thrasher, a fiercely territorial bird with a repertoire of more than 1,000 song types.
But as the planet warms and birds across the country relocate to escape the heat, at least eight states could see their state birds largely or entirely disappear from within their borders during the summer, according to a new study.
The research, released Thursday by the National Audubon Society, projects that hundreds of bird species across North America are likely to drastically shift their ranges in the decades ahead in response to rising temperatures and other threats from climate change.
The report raises the prospect that many bird species could struggle to cope as warming forces them into unfamiliar territory or shrinks their existing habitats. And it illustrates how thoroughly the avian world as we know it may be remapped if humans continue pumping greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.
If global temperatures rise a plausible 3 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels this century, Minnesota will no longer enjoy the local climate conditions that loons are accustomed to as they arrive each summer to breed and hunt for food, the study found. As a result, the birds may bypass the state altogether and head farther north.
The same goes for other state birds, including the northern flicker in Alabama — known locally as the yellowhammer — as well as the brown thrasher in Georgia, the purple finch in New Hampshire, the hermit thrush in Vermont and the goldfinch in Iowa and New Jersey. Those birds are projected to lose virtually all of their summer ranges within those states at 3 degrees of global warming. 10-10-19
Saltwater is killing woodlands along the East Coast, sometimes surprisingly far from the sea.
Up and down the mid-Atlantic coast, sea levels are rising rapidly, creating stands of dead trees — often bleached, sometimes blackened — known as ghost forests.
The water is gaining as much as 5 millimeters per year in some places, well above the global average of 3.1 millimeters, driven by profound environmental shifts that include climate change.
Increasingly powerful storms, a consequence of a warming world, push seawater inland. More intense dry spells reduce freshwater flowing outward. Adding to the peril, in some places the land is naturally sinking.
All of this allows seawater to claim new territory, killing trees from the roots up.
Rising seas often conjure the threat to faraway, low-lying nations or island-states. But to understand the immediate consequences of some of the most rapid sea-level rise anywhere in the world, stand among the scraggly, dying pines of Dorchester County along the Maryland coast.
People living on the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay, the country’s largest estuary system, have a front-row view of the sea’s rapid advance, said Keryn Gedan, a wetland ecologist at George Washington University.
Part of the reason for the quickly rising waters may be that the Gulf Stream, which flows northward up the coast, is slowing down as meltwater from Greenland inhibits its flow. That is causing what some scientists describe as a pileup of water along the East Coast, elevating sea levels locally.
The effects of climate change are also exacerbated by land that is sinking as a result of geological processes triggered by the end of the last ice age. 10-09-19
From the Rooftops, Big Box Stores Are Embracing Solar
The solar panels on the roof of Target’s distribution center in Phoenix can be seen by passengers arriving and departing on flights at nearby Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.Credit
Target and Walmart are trying to out-green each other in proving to customers they are environmentally responsible businesses.
Target’s famous bull’s-eye is so cosmically linked with the brand that it’s hard to imagine the retail behemoth ever messing with the logo’s red color. But over the past decade — under pressure from customers, shareholders and employees — Target’s retail future is morphing into a very different hue: eco-green.
The Minneapolis retailer best-known for its trendy, private-label brands and its millennial-friendly prices, has very publicly embraced the renewable energy passions of its millennial-heavy consumer base and is adding rooftop solar panels to its stores to generate renewable electricity at a breathtaking pace.
Target is so serious about being viewed as a friend of the planet that by November, the company said, it will have erected rooftop solar panels on 500 of its stores in the United States. That’s more than one-quarter of its total 1,855 stores, and Target expects to reach that goal one year earlier than projected.
By the end of 2019, Target will have achieved 25 percent of its mission to attain 100 percent renewable electricity in its stores — and this just months after announcing the pledge. In its relentless bid to out-green archrival Walmart, Target also has ranked No. 1 in on-site solar capacity for three years in a row in the Solar Energy Industries Association’s Solar Means Business report, a survey of corporate solar users.10-07-19
A Brief Guide to the Impacts of Climate Change on Food Production
Food may be a universal language — but in these record-breaking hot days, so too is climate change. With July clocking in as the hottest month on Earth in recorded history and extreme weather ramping up globally, farmers are facing the brunt of climate change in croplands and pastures around the world.
Here in the U.S., for instance, climate impacts like more downpours make it harder to avert flooding and erosion on farms across the Midwest. California farmers, on the other hand, must find ways to stay productive despite increasing drought and wildfire risks.
It all amounts to far more than anecdotal inconvenience: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth National Climate Assessment report projects that warming temperatures, severe heat, drought, wildfire, and major storms will “increasingly disrupt agricultural productivity,” threatening not only farmers’ livelihoods but also food security, quality, and price stability.
If these anticipated effects sound extreme, so too are the causes. 10-05-19
Some economics nerds just realized how much climate change will cost us
Frank Bienewald / LightRocket via Getty Images
A bunch of economists just put down their calculators and concluded that we should act on climate change sooner rather than later. Really.
For decades, economists have suggested that the government should charge a fee on every ton of carbon dioxide that gets emitted, giving companies a bottom-line incentive to change their polluting ways. The conventional wisdom is that we’d ease into it, starting with a low price — say, $40 per ton — and gradually ramp it up over time.
But according to a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that prevailing wisdom is backwards. The authors argue that a carbon tax should start out steep, above $100 per ton (and potentially above $200 per ton), rise higher for a few years, and then slowly fall over the next few centuries as people get the whole climate crisis thing under control.
Such a high price would encourage countries and businesses to clean up their act much faster. Part of the reason is that we need to make up for lost time. The implication is that the United States and most governments have waited so long to put a price on carbon that a milder approach just doesn’t make much sense.
“To me the most surprising result of the research was how quickly the cost of delay increases over time,” said Robert Litterman, a risk management expert who used to work for Goldman Sachs, in a statement accompanying the study. His team found that if the world procrastinated on a carbon price by just one more year, the damages from climate change would climb an additional $1 trillion. Waiting 10 years would put the price tag at $100 trillion. In other words, the time to act was yesterday (or, like the 1980s). 10-03-19
Dolphins are swimming, mating and even giving birth in the Potomac
Common bottlenose dolphins surface in the Potomac River near Reedville, Va. on Sept. 25. (Parker Michels-Boyce for The Washington Post. Photograph taken under NMFS Permit No. 19403.)
REEDVILLE, Va. — Five decades ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared the polluted Potomac River a “national disgrace.” Although it is now much cleaner, officials in Washington are still not convinced the water is safe for humans to swim in.
But many miles downriver, where the Potomac widens to lakelike proportions as it flows toward the Chesapeake Bay, it teems with a different species of swimmers whose presence may signal healthier waters: dolphins.
During the past four years, researchers who study the common bottlenose dolphins swimming this part of the Potomac have hardly been able to keep up with their numbers. Dolphins are easily identified by their distinct fins or marks on their bodies, and in 2015, scientists identified about 200 individuals in one section of river off Virginia’s Northern Neck. Now they have counted well over 1,000 dolphins, which sometimes congregate in groups of more than 200.
But an even more unusual development in this effort to understand the dolphins in “the nation’s river” came in August, when researchers with the project, based at Georgetown University, witnessed evidence of a dolphin birth. It was only the third documented observation of a wild dolphin birth, and those present say they hope it makes area residents view the Potomac differently.
“There are dolphins here, and there’s breeding and birthing going on, and this is connected to D.C. — such a populated, urban area,” Ann-Marie Jacoby, associate director of the Potomac-Chesapeake Dolphin Project, said on a recent morning while scanning the lower Potomac from the 18-foot skiff that serves as a research vessel. “You follow it further down and there’s all this wildlife here. And what people are doing up there, it does affect wildlife. They are directly linked to this oasis.” 10-02-19
The EPA fired these air pollution scientists. They’re meeting anyway.
David McNew / Staff / Getty
An advisory panel of air pollution scientists disbanded by the Trump administration plans to continue their work with or without the U.S. government.
The researchers — from a group that reviewed the latest studies about how tiny particles of air pollution from fossil fuels make people sick — will assemble next month, a year from the day they were fired.
They’ll gather in the same hotel in Washington, D.C., and even have the same former staffer running the public meeting.
Christopher Frey, a scientist from North Carolina State University who chaired the group, said at least 21 million Americans live with air that is dirtier than what the government deems acceptable, according to one standard. The Environmental Protection Agency is conducting reviews to determine whether those current standards should be tightened or loosened.
Frey argued Trump’s EPA has significantly weakened its science review process.
“As a public service, we can still tap our expertise and develop advice which we will share with [the] EPA,” he said.
The EPA has defended the changes it has made as a drive to encourage consideration of a wider range of viewpoints. 09-28-19
Meet The Coal Town Betting Big On Outdoor Recreation
Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource
Standing on the breezy outlook at Flag Rock Recreation Area, Norton City Manager Fred Ramey is taking in the panoramic view of downtown Norton, Virginia. The brick building-lined streets are framed by the verdant, rolling Appalachian mountains. Jagged, brown scars from mountaintop mining operations can be seen in the distance, reminders of the region’s history of coal production.
“It’s a great overlook of the city, and people really are surprised when they get up here at the view,” he says. “It’s truly beautiful, and it’s unique. It’s something that we have that not everyone else has.”
This view — and Norton’s abundance of nature and outdoor recreation opportunities — are what Ramey and others here are hoping will be the next chapter in the region’s history.
The first chapter was coal.
Norton was named in the 1890s after the president of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad. The community of about 4,000 sits in Wise County, which borders eastern Kentucky. Coal has been mined in these mountains for more than 140 years.
But since 2008, coal production has fallen by about 50 percent in Virginia. The trends look similar across the Ohio Valley. Over the last decade, coal production decreased more than 65 percent in Kentucky and Ohio, and decreased roughly 40 percent in West Virginia. 09-27-19
‘Universal’ lead bill passes, making Philly the biggest U.S. city to require landlords to test for lead
Click on image to enlarge. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
After 18 months of deliberation, City Council on Thursday unanimously approved a bill intended to prevent children from being poisoned by lead paint in rental homes.
The bill will require landlords to test all rental properties built before 1978 for lead every four years. Though paint containing lead was banned in ‘78, children can still be exposed to the toxin in pre-78 units if newer coats of paint peel or degrade.
“At this moment, nine out of 10 council districts have a zip code where one out of 10 children are poisoned by lead,” said Councilmember Blondell Reynolds Brown, who wrote the legislation. “We can and must do better.”
The councilmember’s bill attempts to address enforcement issues with the current law, which she passed in 2011. Under that legislation, inspections are only mandated for landlords renting properties built before 1978 to families with children 6 years old or younger. But the city estimates that only 5,776 of 22,000 eligible rental units have complied with the regulation. Lead exposure can cause developmental problems in children and research has found that most children who are exposed come into contact in the home where they spend most of their time.
Landlords say the bill is a ‘terrible thing’
Reynolds Brown’s legislation was expected to pass in the spring but lobbying by landlord lobbying associations slowed the process.
“This legislation has been a marathon and not a sprint,” said Reynolds Brown, during her speech before the bill’s final passage. 09-26-19
A changing lawnscape: As environmentalism goes mainstream, America’s obsession with the lawn is cooling
Because common turf grasses aren’t native to North America, even established lawns demand constant upkeep, from fertilizer applications to watering. The Environmental Protection Agency states that America’s grass requires 9 billion gallons of water a day to stay green.
It’s a warm summer afternoon in the suburbs, and the lush, verdant grass in everyone’s front yards seems to stretch on for miles. Underfoot of the barking dogs and running children is a thick mat of green wrapped around each house, pleasing to the eye and even better to walk on barefoot.
A well-kept lawn is like having an outdoor living room, one with its own carpet. This turf is the location of cookouts and croquet, of playing catch and jumping through sprinklers. It’s a communal domestic space, connecting neighbor to neighbor. It’s a large part of why sports like golf and baseball are so pleasing to watch on television: an emerald backdrop to so much athletic accomplishment.
Along with a car, a split-level house and 2.4 children, a beautiful lawn is part of the idealized suburban American Dream; without it, what would be the point of sectioning off your yard with a white-picket fence? And keeping up a lawn is a point of civic pride, showing that a homeowner cares about their community and social standing.
But in recent decades, the traditional lawn has slowly come under siege. Criticism of the environmental impacts of the lawn, its cost, and the amount of time spent maintaining it have spread like so much crabgrass. Starting with biologist Rachel Carson’s 1962 book “Silent Spring,” which criticized the use of pesticides, efforts have been underway to rethink the lawn. Journalists like Michael Pollan have written against the lawn (such as his 1989 article in The New York Times Magazine, “Why Mow? The Case Against Lawns”), and activists now speak out on the matter. The same year as Pollan’s article, environmentalist Lorrie Otto founded the “Wild Ones,” an anti-grass movement that promotes the use of native plants for landscaping. 09-25-19
Cincinnati study finds fine particulate matter exposure linked to increased psychiatric-related emergency room visits for kids
Children exposed to high amounts of air pollution were more likely to end up in the emergency room for a mental health problem a couple days later than children with lower exposure, according to a new study.
The study, published today inEnvironmental Health Perspectives, is the first to examine short-term exposure to small particulate matter pollution and mental health effects in children, and found that pollution was linked to worsening mental health disorders just days after exposure.
It adds to growing evidence that dirty air may be causing and worsening depression, anxiety and other mental health issues in children and teenagers. Nearly 1 in 7 children and teens in the U.S. have a mental health condition, according to a 2018 study.
Researchers from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the University of Cincinnati examined 13,176 emergency room visit to the Medical Center by 6,812 children from 2011 to 2015 for psychiatric disorders, including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, suicidality, personality disorders and schizophrenia.
They then estimated the kids’ exposure to small particulate matter pollution (PM2.5) from the three days prior to their visit to the emergency room. 09-25-19
Trump Admin Ignored Its Own Data Linking Migrant Crisis to Climate Change
Drought, crop failure, storms, and land disputes pit the rich against the poor, and Central America is ground zero for climate change.
The Trump administration ignored its own evidence on how climate change is impacting migration and food security when setting new policies for cutting aid to Central America, NBC reports.
An internal Customs and Border Protection research report obtained by NBC documents how the areas in Guatemala with the most migration to the U.S. are areas where there has been widespread crop failure and a lack of farming jobs. NBC reports that the research, which was sent to senior Homeland Security officials last year, appears to have been ignored, as the Trump administration froze or redirected millions of dollars this spring in foreign aid, including “money used to mitigate the effects of climate change on small farms,” to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The administration instead “put that money towards a more militarized approach to stemming migration,” NBC’s Jacob Soboroff told Chris Hayes.
More than 100,000 Guatemalans headed north last year, and many more followed in fiscal year 2019, making Guatemala the single largest country contributing to undocumented immigrationacross the U.S. southwest border this year.
Scientists have said the increase in poverty and food insecurity driving migration are due to multiple factors, one of which is climate change.
The acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees CBP, Kevin McAleenan, has publicly sounded the alarm about Guatemala’s food scarcity.
But inside the Trump White House, that message was largely ignored in both policy decisions and messaging around what should be done to stem the flow of migrants. 09-23-19
GOP Leadership Huddles with Fossil Fuel Industry During Climate Week
YOUTH DEMONSTRATORS stormed streets across the world demanding drastic action on the climate crisis on Friday, following a visit by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg on Capitol Hill last week to press lawmakers to view rising greenhouse gases as an existential problem that requires an immediate response.
Behind closed doors, across town in Washington, D.C., Republican lawmakers, including leadership, huddled with the fossil fuel industry, maintaining the very ties that bind U.S. policymakers and prevent them from addressing climate change.
On September 18 and 19, as Thunberg met with lawmakers, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., hosted fundraisers with oil and gas lobbyists to raise cash for the Scalise Leadership Fund, a political action committee used to dole out cash for battleground House races across the country. The fundraiser invites were obtained by The Intercept and Documented.
The Wednesday afternoon event with Scalise was hosted by the BGR Group, a lobbying firm that represents Chevron, Southern Company, and Petroceltic International, among other fossil fuel interests. The following day, Scalise hosted an event advertised as an “Oil & Gas Industry Dinner,” charging up to $5,000 to attend the event as a host.
Also last week, Reps. Darin LaHood, R-Ill., and Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., held fundraisers with the utility industry. The two lawmakers were hosted by the Edison Electric Institute, a lobby group for the investor-owned utilities that has fought to preserve coal power plants and obstruct mandates for renewable energy. EEI, as it is known, represents Southern Company, Duke Energy, American Electric Power, and other utility companies that rely on coal-burning power plants. 09-22-19
The booming shale industry could be headed off a financial cliff, experts say, and environmental groups are asking who will clean up thousands of wells drilled miles beneath the surface if businesses go bust.
The meteoric rise of U.S. shale, driven by hydraulic fracturing, continues at a fast pace. Each year, operators bring in more barrels, pushing the United States further ahead of other nations for production.
But many observers say the shale business is overheating, as frackers try to keep up the pace of production at high costs and low oil prices. They are warning that Wall Street money is drying up, and that the rate of bankruptcies could climb dramatically.
“I talk to those guys, all the fracking companies, on a daily basis. I’m very engaged in what they are doing with their business, and I completely believe that the current model is unsustainable,” said Scott Forbes, vice president of the Lower 48 for Wood Mackenzie.
Some consulting firms forecast production will soon climax. Rystad Energy said in a recent report that a shale peak may be on the horizon in 2030, with most of the 14.5 million barrels per day by then coming out of West Texas’ Permian Basin.
Meanwhile, environmental groups are watching from the sidelines, arguing that plugging and abandoning the wells of a historic boom will fall to taxpayers someday, after the money has been made and the wells are exhausted.
“What I’ve been wondering is, when does this cleanup, the overhang of cleanup — when does the rubber start hitting the road?” said Clark Williams-Derry, director of energy finance for the Sightline Institute.
Industry, however, has rebutted the idea that its cleanup responsibilities are a risk — or a threat.
“Environmental groups constantly bring up things like bonding because they see it as another way to increase costs to produce as a way of reducing production,” said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance. 09-19-19
University of California Will Divest From Fossil Fuels
A protestor holds up her hand covered with fake oil during a demonstration on the U.C. Berkeley campus in May 2010. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
The University of California system will dump all of its investments from fossil fuels, as the Associated Press reported. The university system controls over $84 billion between its pension fund and its endowment. However, the announcement about its investments is not aimed to please activists.
In a joint op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, Jagdeep Singh Bachher and Richard Sherman, University of California’s chief investment officer and the chairman of the UC Board of Regents’ investment committee, declared that since they are charged with protecting the financial interests of one of the world’s best public research universities, investing in fossil fuels posed too many financial risks.
“We believe hanging on to fossil fuel assets is a financial risk,” Bachner and Sherman wrote in the Los Angeles Times. “That’s why we will have made our $13.4-billion endowment “fossil free” as of the end of this month, and why our $70-billion pension will soon be that way as well.”
They went on to refute the idea that their decision is born of political pressure or a desire to dive headlong into the green movement, but acknowledged that while their investing is not borne from a moral imperative, their thorough analysis has led them to the same place as activists.
“We have been looking years, decades and centuries ahead as we place our bets that clean energy will fuel the world’s future,” they wrote in the Los Angeles Times. “That means we believe there is money to be made. We have chosen to invest for a better planet, and reap the financial rewards for UC, rather than simply divest for a headline.” 09-19-19
Trump administration allows pork slaughterhouses to have fewer USDA inspectors
The new rule also allows plants to run their processing lines as fast as they like.
Daniel Acker / Bloomberg via Getty Images file
The Trump administration will allow pork plants to reduce the number of Department of Agriculture line inspectors assigned to them and run their slaughter lines without any speed limit under a new rule intended to modernize an antiquated inspection system. But the changes have alarmed consumer advocates who believe the rule will make food less safe and endanger workers.
The new rule will let factory workers, rather than USDA inspectors, remove unsuitable carcasses and trim defects in plants that opt into the new inspection system. USDA inspectors will still examine the carcasses, but they will be stationed farther down the line, and off-line inspectors will be roaming the factory to conduct other kinds of safety checks.
“This regulatory change allows us to ensure food safety while eliminating outdated rules and allowing for companies to innovate,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement Tuesday unveiling the new rule.
The USDA says that the rule is the first time in more than 50 years that pork inspections will be modernized, making food safer by focusing inspectors’ attention on more targeted safety checks rather than visual line inspections. The agency estimates that the change will reduce the total number of USDA inspectors at pork plants by 40 percent, saving about $8.7 million a year. 09-17-19
Why California Is Standing Firm Against Trump on Auto Emissions
In an e360 interview, Mary Nichols, the long-time chair of the California Air Resources Board, talks about California’s continued efforts to stop the Trump administration’s rollback of stricter fuel efficiency standards, and why the auto industry is largely on its side.
One of the most high-profile battles ramped up this summer after California signed a voluntary agreement with four large automakers (Ford, Volkswagen, BMW, and Honda) to largely keep in place [Obama-era] greenhouse gas emission standards that the Trump administration had been trying to roll back. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice upped the ante, opening an antitrust investigation into the automakers.
In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, talks about what’s next in this high-stakes environmental battle, the importance these standards play in meeting California and U.S. climate targets, and why the Trump administration’s efforts go against the momentum of the global auto industry. 09-16-19
Electric vehicles could make up nearly half the fleet of passenger cars and trucks by 2040. But oil and gas companies are striking back.
The oil industry is trying to crush the booming electric car movement.
Groups backed by industry giants like Exxon Mobil and the Koch empire are waging a state-by-state, multimillion-dollar battle to squelch utility companies’ plans to build charging stations across the country. Environmentalists call the fight a reprise of the “Who Killed the Electric Car?” battles that doomed an earlier generation of battery-driven vehicles in the 1990s.
Oil-backed groups have challenged electric companies’ plans in 10 states, according to utility commission filings reviewed by POLITICO, waging both regulatory and lobbying campaigns against the proposals. The showdown is taking place as utilities, eager to increase the demand for power, push for approval to build charging networks in locations such as shopping centers and rest stops in more than half the nation.
“Fossil fuel interests control 90 percent of the transportation fuel market in the U.S. and are really feeling threatened,” said Gina Coplon-Newfield, director of the electric vehicle initiative at the Sierra Club.
The counterattack involves an array of trade associations and industry-funded political groups representing every segment of the petroleum sector.
In the Midwest, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, a trade group for gasoline makers, has filed comments against charging plans in Kansasand Missouri, and has opposed Colorado’s new zero-emission vehicle mandate as part of a “Freedom to Drive” coalition of auto dealers and oil groups. Average consumers, they say, should not have to pay for incentives or charging stations that mainly benefit people wealthy enough to afford cars like Teslas. 09-16-19
TIME magazine devoted an entire issue to climate change AGAIN
Every story in this week’s edition of TIME is about the climate crisis — one of only five times the magazine has devoted an entire issue to a single topic. “2050: The Fight for Earth” comes 30 years after TIME’s first climate issue, when they put “Endangered Earth” on the cover instead of their usual Person of the Year in 1989.
The threat to our planet posed by climate change, the TIME editorial staff decided, was “the most important story of the year.” Unfortunately, life on Earth is still in pretty imminent danger — even more than they realized it was back in 1989 — but the stories and articles just released detail how much our ability to address the climate has grown since then. We read it, of course, so you don’t have to — but we still hope you do. It’s well worth your time.
I know, reading an entire magazine’s worth of news about our heating planet probably seems like a good way to ensure that you spend the rest of your day steeped in extreme existential dread. But reading these stories actually made me feel … hopeful? Or at least, like doom isn’t necessarily inevitable (which might be the closest a climate reporter gets to hope these days). 09-13-19
In Rural Appalachia, Beekeeping Offers a New Path for Coal Miners
Nearly 40 percent of coal jobs disappeared over the past decade. The Appalachian Beekeeping Collective is offering West Virginians a new future.
Mark Lilly can tell someone loves beekeeping when they find it relaxing to be completely surrounded by bees. “When you watch them struggle to put into words how they can lose hours at a time in their hives, that’s when you know they’ve got it,” he said.
Lilly is an apiary manager for the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective, which teaches people in rural West Virginia how to keep bees for profit. The Collective provides its graduates with free bees, hives, and routine mentoring, collects and bottles their honey, and sells it for them at $25 a jar. Now in its second year, the Collective includes 34 beekeepers.
PACIFIC OCEAN (June 22, 2013) Sailors scrub the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) after an aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) system check. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Michelle N. Rasmusson/Released) 130622-N-XF988-132
Over 100 wells on and near military bases in Virginia exceeded federal safety guidelines for contamination by toxic, firefighting chemicals used widely in Navy and Air Force training, according to military documents.
The chemicals are found in a foam used by military and civilian firefighters to train and douse high-octane fires for more than 50 years. The foam is still being used, even as the military says it is phasing it out.
The Department of Defense study found elevated levels of the chemicals, known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), in more than 64% of the wells sampled at Norfolk Naval Station, Oceana Naval Air Station, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, and Fentress Naval Auxiliary Landing Field, according to military documents released since March 2018. The levels at one Langley well were among the highest found in the national testing.
The results point to potential risks to residents in several Virginia communities — Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Hampton, Chincoteague and Newport News — and highlights the challenges the military faces to clean up installations with lingering, toxic threats.
These man-made chemicals, which contain a string of eight connected carbon molecules strongly bonded together with fluorine, are persistent in the environment, lasting for generations and perhaps even longer. The substances also accumulate in the food chain as animals are exposed.
Exposure to the substances has been linked to testicular and kidney cancers, thyroid disease and pregnancy-induced hypertension, according to an independent study. 09-09-19
Trump Admin Goes After States for Protecting the Environment
The Trump administration has been on a collision course with California, and it appears that collision is imminent. An administrative action to undermine the authority granted to the state by the Clean Air Act to protect its citizens from vehicle pollution appears to be imminent. This illegal attack is not just harmful for the nation’s most populous state—it is an attack on the 13 states and the District of Columbia that follow California’s lead and, ultimately, the entire country. The American auto industry and the American public will be worse off as a result.
California’s laws to reduce pollution from cars and trucks have long been a target of the Trump administration. Along the way various officials have given lip service to a commitment to negotiate with California and the desire to maintain a national program. Yet the administration ended the supposed negotiations despite Congress members from their own party telling them to go back to the negotiating table. There may be no surer sign that the administration negotiated with CA in bad faith than a deal that California and several automakers agreed to weeks ago. Fed up with an intransigent administration proposing actions that will undermine their businesses, BMW, Ford, Honda and VW agreed to a compromise agreement with California.
So it comes as little surprise that despite opposition from the regulated industry to a roll back and overwhelming public support for more efficient vehicles, the Trump administration is launching a direct attack on California’s long held authority to clean up vehicle pollution. 09-09-19
U.S. Beekeepers File Suit Against Trump EPA Charging ‘Illegal’ Approval of Insecticide Linked to Mass Die-Off
A group of beekeepers joined forces on Friday against Trump’s U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by filing a lawsuit over the agency’s move to put a powerful insecticide — one that scientists warn is part of the massive pollinator die-off across the U.S. — back on the market.
The lawsuit charges that the EPA’s approval of sulfoxaflor — touted by its manufacturer, agro-chemical giant Corteva, as a “next generation neonicotinoid” — was illegally rendered as it put industry interests ahead of the health of pollinators and ignored the available science.
“Honeybees and other pollinators are dying in droves because of insecticides like sulfoxaflor, yet the Trump administration removes restriction just to please the chemical industry,” said Greg Loarie, an attorney with Earthjustice, the legal aid group representing the beekeepers. “This is illegal and an affront to our food system, economy, and environment.” 09-08-19 Read more at EcoWatch
Global renewable energy has quadrupled over past decade
With solar leading the way, clean energy capacity growth is helping the planet avoid billions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.
Renewable energy capacity quadrupled across the planet over the past decade and energy from solar power increased 26 times from what it was in 2009, according to an international report released today.
The Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2019 report finds renewables accounted for 12.9 percent of global electricity in 2018—up from 11.6 percent in 2018. (The report excluded hydroelectric power, which, if included, bumps the current renewable share to 26.3 percent of total electricity produced.)
The 1.2 terawatts of new renewable energy capacity added over the past decade is “more than the entire electricity generating fleet of the U.S. today,” the authors wrote.
This continued growth—led by solar, which accounts for about a quarter of all renewable energy and was the most added energy source of any kind during the period studied—gave the planet a reprieve from an estimated 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions last year. With capacity growing and global investments at more than $2.6 trillion, the report shows momentum for clean energy continues in most countries.
“Investing in renewable energy is investing in a sustainable and profitable future, as the last decade of incredible growth in renewables has shown,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, in a statement. The UN Environment Programme produced the report along with the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre for Climate & Sustainable Energy Finance and BloombergNEF. 09-06-19
But fault lines opened on issues like the future of fossil fuels, fracking, nuclear energy and the Senate filibuster, suggesting a debate on these differences should be at the forefront of the nomination process, not relegated to a sidebar.
On fracking, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) called for total bans on the natural gas extraction process, while former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) made vague promises to review the safety of existing wells.
On nuclear power, businessman Andrew Yang and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) envisioned a new age of reactors, while others lamented radioactive waste. Dividing lines over whether to end the filibuster, the Senate procedure some fear would obstruct the passage of climate legislation, also became clearer as Harris joined Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in denouncing the practice and Sanders held up an obscure budgetary tool to get around the issue. 09-05-19
Shade is one of the only ways for many McElderry Park residents to avoid the extreme summer heat, but the neighborhood doesn’t have enough mature trees to cool its streets and homes. (Photo by Justice Georgie | Wide Angle Youth Media)
URBAN HEAT ISLANDS VIVIDLY ILLUSTRATE the price humans will pay in the world’s growing climate crisis. With an abundance of concrete and little shade, they get hotter faster and stay hotter longer. And the people who live there are often sicker, poorer and less able to protect themselves.
Rising temperatures in these neighborhoods will mean more trips to the hospital for heart, kidney and lung ailments. Drugs to treat mental illness and diabetes won’t work as well. Pregnant women will give birth to children with more medical problems.
Solutions exist. But growing more trees, repairing the frayed social fabric of a neighborhood or rebuilding streets and sidewalks to reflect heat are expensive — and take time. For cities like Baltimore, the clock is ticking.
Part 1: Heat & Inequality
In Baltimore, the burden of rising temperatures isn’t shared. In urban heat islands, climate crisis hits harder
HEAT RADIATES FROM THE ASPHALT AND CONCRETE that cover the streets, the sidewalks, the alleys, even the tiny yards behind the homes in the East Baltimore neighborhood of McElderry Park. Trees are scarce. And air doesn’t move much when it comes up against block after block of rowhouses.
So as a dangerous 11-day heat wave tormented the city in July, the hottest month ever recorded on the planet, fewer and fewer residents were going outside.
“Can’t even put your head out the door,” said Tammy Jackson, 48, on a day when the temperature outside hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit and 92 degrees in her home. “This is too much. Oh Lord, this is too much.” 09-02-19
Jake May/The Flint Journal-MLive.com/AP A crew digs out and replaces lead service lines in Flint, Michigan, 2018. Lead in public water supplies is a tremendous health hazard to residents in frontline communities from Newark to Flint to the Navajo Reservation and beyond.
A Bargaining for the Common Good approach to the climate crisis
As Greenland experiences a record melt, Europe recovers from record-breaking heat, California braces for another fire season, and Puerto Rico still struggles to rebuild nearly two years after Hurricane Maria, it is becoming ever clearer how profoundly the climate crisis is changing everything, and how imperative it is that we act now if we hope to avert an existential disaster.
The latest report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) finds that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate, the atmosphere will warm by as much as 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels by 2040. This will submerge coastlines, intensify droughts and wildfires, increase the frequency and strength of extreme storms, and worsen food shortages and poverty. The report also states that these dire consequences will come to pass well within the lifetime of most readers of this article.
We no longer have time to continue the “jobs versus environment” debate that has distracted us from acting with the boldness this moment requires. Saving our deteriorating environment is the job of our time. The Green New Deal resolution introduced to Congress by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey has spurred a wave of activism. And while it is important to channel that energy into electing a president and Senate that will treat the crisis as a crisis, it’s equally important that we fight climate change locally, from below. 09-02-19
General Mills Releases Plan for Pesticide Use Reduction at Advocates’ Request
Shareholder advocacy organization As You Sow has withdrawn a resolution it filed in April, which called for General Mills to disclose evidence of efforts to reduce pesticide use.
Shareholder advocacy nonprofit As You Sow has withdrawn a shareholder resolution asking General Mills to share evidence of its efforts to reduce its use of chemical pesticides across its supply chain.
Responding to the resolution—which was filed in April—General Mills on Thursday released a new outline of its ongoing and planned future pesticide reduction efforts.
“The food industry has become locked into a system of pesticide use that is increasingly inflexible and harmful,” said Danielle Fugere, president of As You Sow, in a statement. “We are pleased to see General Mills stepping up as a leader in moving toward clean food innovation.”
In its outline, General Mills said it would advance the use of “regenerative agriculture,” or farming methods that focus on efficient soil use and promoting soil biodiversity, on one million acres of farmland by 2030.
Also as part of pesticide reduction efforts, General Mills will promote pollinator health, increase the use of integrated pest management (IPM) strategies—which focus on preventing pest problems before they start and finding non-chemical alternative ways of dealing with them—and shift from “conventional” farming to organic farming.
General Mills has committed $150,000 through 2022 to conduct soil testing, host field days, share best practices, and remove hurdles to advancing the organic movement. 08-18-19
To Fight Global Warming, Think More About Systems Than About What You Consume
INCONSPICUOUS CONSUMPTION The Environmental Impacts You Don’t Know You Have
By Tatiana Schlossberg
This book careens and skitters across the landscape of its topic, which means I now know a number of interesting things I didn’t know when I picked it up: Netflix uses up 15 percent of all the internet bandwidth on earth; shoppers return 35 percent of the goods they buy online, which is as much as six times more than when they shop in stores; producing polyester for clothes emits as much carbon dioxide as 185 coal-fired power plants; a single fleece garment can shed 100,000 plastic microfibers in one washing.
There are lots of these factoids in “Inconspicuous Consumption.” Tatiana Schlossberg, who used to cover climate and environment for The New York Times, has not done a great deal of original reporting — the book includes accounts of just a few short trips. But she has scoured the internet for pretty much every scary and fascinating statistic on her subject that you can imagine, and her time has been well spent. You come away from her book with a stronger sense of the sheer largeness of the human enterprise — the number of us now consuming, and the overwhelming effect of all that volume.
So, for instance, cashmere used to be a relatively rare luxury item. But the Chinese began to see an opportunity for an export market, and soon Inner Mongolia was surging in population — of herders, but mostly of goats, from five million in 1990 to 26 million in 2004. Those goats, in turn, have overgrazed much of the region’s remarkable grasslands, turning them into desert. “To put it more simply: More goats to meet increasing demand … means there is more grazing, and therefore more desertification, so the goats are undernourished, which makes their hair coarser, causing the supply of high-quality cashmere to shrink, causing the herders to breed more goats to try to meet the demand for better cashmere, and on and on forever until, once again, the world collapses in on itself like a dying star.”08-28-19
The all-electric home: Tackling air pollution by cutting off natural gas
(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Soleil Lofts, a 600-unit complex at the southwestern edge of Salt Lake County, is on the front lines of low-pollution housing.
The apartment complex rising on the southwestern edge of Salt Lake County looks like any other forming on empty lots, former farmland and razed scrub oak seemingly everywhere in Utah. But the 600-unit complex called Soleil Lofts is unlike anything seen in Utah — or in the United States, according to developer Wasatch Premier Communities and its partners.
Soleil Lofts is on the front lines of low-pollution housing: 12,000 solar panels will eventually cover the roofs, delivering most of the community’s energy needs and feeding power to batteries in each home that can be used as a backup source in case the power goes out.
More importantly, the batteries will be tied to the electricity grid and managed by Rocky Mountain Power. RMP will use the Soleil Lofts project to determine how to integrate personal batteries on a much larger scale allowing more renewable energy to be integrated into the grid.
“It really is about proving a model for the future,” says William Comeau, director of customer innovations for Rocky Mountain Power. “That future is utility management of batteries for the greater good of the system.”
And like a handful of other housing developments in Utah, Soleil will be powered with 100% electricity for its heating, cooling and appliances — no natural gas — which means it won’t contribute the type of pollution that results in the Wasatch Front having some of the nation’s worst air pollution spikes during winter inversions. 08-27-19
Facing uncertain future, puffins adapt to survive climate change
Puffin gathering food for chicks on Eastern Egg Rock, Maine – July 2019
The fate of the seabirds remains heavily in the hands of humans.
EASTERN EGG ROCK, Maine — In the midst of a second-straight record year for breeding Atlantic puffins, the research crew on this tiny, treeless jumble of boulders six miles out to sea pondered how long this good fortune would last amid climate change.
“I wonder if the puffins can feel the change,” said crew supervisor Sarah Guitart, 29, a marine science Boston University graduate of Boston University. “How long will they adapt? Will they adapt or die?”
These puffins got more than enough fish in the 46th year of Project Puffin, the world’s first successful restoration of a seabird to an island where human activities eliminated it. Puffins had not bred on Egg Rock for nearly 100 years after being killed for their meat and eggs by people living and fishing along the coast. Puffins were down to their last pair or two in the entire state of Maine in the early 1900s.
This summer ended with 188 breeding pairs of puffins on Egg Rock, surpassing last year’s record of 178. One day, the count of breeding and nonbreeding birds hit a record 407.
“The first puffins I saw this summer, I almost cried,” Nadia Swanson, 22, a wildlife ecology graduate of the University of Wisconsin said. “Then to have the chance to be out here all summer with them flying all around me, especially after having just graduated from college, I just wish everyone could feel that joy.” 08-27-19
Nestlé plan to take 1.1m gallons of water a day from natural springs sparks outcry
Opponents fighting to stop the project say the fragile river cannot sustain such a large draw
Ginnie Springs in Florida. ‘A big threat to this diversity is habitat degradation, which will happen with reduced flows,’ said Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson. Photograph: Colors and shapes of underwater world/Getty Images
The crystal blue waters of Ginnie Springs have long been treasured among the string of pearls that line Florida’s picturesque Santa Fe River, a playground for water sports enthusiasts and an ecologically critical haven for the numerous species of turtles that nest on its banks.
Soon, however, it is feared there could be substantially less water flowing through, if a plan by the food and beverage giant Nestlé wins approval.
In a controversial move that has outraged environmentalists and also raised questions with authorities responsible for the health and vitality of the river, the company is seeking permission to take more than 1.1m gallons a day from the natural springs to sell back to the public as bottled water.
Opponents say the fragile river, which is already officially deemed to be “in recovery” by the Suwannee River water management district after years of earlier overpumping, cannot sustain such a large draw – a claim Nestlé vehemently denies. Critics are fighting to stop the project as environmentally harmful and against the public interest.
Meanwhile, Nestlé, which produces its popular Zephyrhills and Pure Life brands with water extracted from similar natural springs in Florida, has spent millions of dollars this year buying and upgrading a water bottling plant at nearby High Springs in expectation of permission being granted. 08-26-19
Emails Show Monsanto Orchestrated GOP Effort to Intimidate Cancer Researchers
Roundup weed killing products on May 14, 2019. Photo Illustration: Scott Olson/Getty Images
In 2015 the World Health Organization’s cancer research arm, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, classified glyphosate, an active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup, as a “probable carcinogen,” setting off a global debate about the world’s most popular weedkiller.
Over the last four years, Republicans in Congress have excoriated and pushed to defund the IARC, casting their defense of the chemical as a quest on behalf of small American farmers. Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., has written that his outrage over the cancer research is on behalf of the “farmers and food manufacturers who rely on traditional farming methods to produce the food that fuels America — and the world.”
But according to a recent trove of documents, the ongoing political assault on the IARC has been scripted in part by Monsanto, the St. Louis-based chemical and seed conglomerate that produces Roundup and Roundup-resistant crops.
Roundup has been cash cow for the company since the 1970s, fueling billions of dollars in annual profits. Its use has skyrocketed in recent decades since the company developed genetically modified corn and other crops that are resistant to it; it is now the world’s leading herbicide. 08-23-19
As the climate warms up, cool summer evenings are becoming a distant memory.
Every summer until fifth grade, my family took the same vacation to the same town on the Jersey Shore. The days were about as idyllic as possible: lots of sunshine, elaborate sandcastles, afternoon pizza from a few blocks away. At bedtime, when the breeze came in off the ocean, we turned off the cranky AC unit in the living room and cracked the windows. I laid in the top bunk in the salt-clean air and listened. And I’m not sure if the sound I heard—a gentle whoosh that rose and fell—came from the ocean or the street. Half-remembered waves, it turns out, arrive and depart at the same pace as light-controlled traffic. Growing up in New Jersey, you learn that a very thin barrier separates the human world from the natural world.
Last summer, my family went back to the same shore town. Without giving it much thought, I looked forward to that old rhythm of hot days and cool evenings, of falling asleep with the windows open, with the Atlantic breeze sneaking in and the lulling patter of waves (or cars) outside. But we were there for two weeks, and we opened the windows at night only once. Even at midnight, temperatures hung in the high-70s Fahrenheit, and the humidity made it feel even hotter.
This wasn’t some fluke. It was happening across the entire Northeast.
Something odd happened in August 2018, the same month my family was down the shore. Five states—Delaware, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire—notched their hottest August ever measured. Three more states, including New Jersey, recorded their second-warmest August ever. And in fact, every state from Maryland to Maine had at least a top-10 warm August.
Yet there was no severe heat wave last August, nothing like the rash of searing 110-degree highs that helped turn this July into the hottest month ever measured. And if you went purely off the most memorable temperatures—the scorching midday highs that can prompt heat stroke—then last August may have seemed bad, but not entirely without precedent. Ranked just by their daytime high temperatures, August 1980, 1995, and 2001 would all come before August 2018. 08-21-19
Boston’s Eastie Farm Builds Community and Resilience on the Front Lines of Climate Change
Kannan Thiruvengadam checking the plants at Eastie Farm.
Sprouting from a 3100-square-foot lot, the urban farm brings people together, feeds neighbors, and focuses on being climate-ready.
On a hot afternoon, Kannan Thiruvengadam is checking the water level in rain barrels at the small community farm he helped create. He stops to chat with a visitor, Jessica Ventura, who grew up in the house next door, but has since moved away. As they reminisce, Thiruvengadam points to a hand-painted wooden sign (pictured above) that Ventura’s grandfather, a Salvadoran immigrant, had given him. It reads, in English and Spanish, “The only thing we all have in common is the earth.”
That message reflects one of Thiruvengadam’s core goals in founding Eastie Farm four years ago—using food as a vehicle for bringing together neighbors who might not otherwise know one another to hang out, do something productive, and build community resilience in a city vulnerable to sea level rise and coastal flooding. Thiruvengadam, who grew up in southern India outside of Chennai, says he hopes that people will get to know each other so well through Eastie that they’ll give each other a hand in times of emergency.
Already, hundreds of nearby residents face regular flooding, according to the neighborhood resilience plan produced as part of the Climate Ready Boston effort, and within 50 years, half of East Boston—which is built on five islands connected by landfill and surrounded on three sides by water—will be at risk for flooding during a major storm.
About 56 percent of East Boston residents are Latinx who followed the first immigrant wave to the neighborhood from Italy a century ago. East Boston community activist Chris Marti says the neighborhood needs environmental justice because its proximity to the airport and its industrial waterfront “block access to clean air and water.” 08-21-19
Study Finds Farm-Level Food Waste is Much Worse Than We Thought
Unharvested crops dramatically bump up estimates of U.S. food waste. But some farmers—who get demonized for working within a system they didn’t create—are seeking solutions to get that food to market.
Last year, Cannon Michael left over 100 acres of ripe cantaloupes unharvested. The sixth generation grower could not justify paying workers to pick them all because the cost of labor, packing, and, shipping would have been more than the price he could get for the fruit.
And so, he left about 30 percent of his perfectly edible cantaloupes to decompose and get churned back into the ground.
“It was very frustrating to grow a high-quality product and have to leave it in the fields,” said Michael, the president/CEO of Bowles Farming Company, which grows 300 to 400 acres of cantaloupes in Los Banos, California, every season, in addition to hundreds of acres of watermelon, tomatoes, and cotton. “If the pricing drops,” due to oversupply or other reasons, said Michael, “there’s a certain economic threshold that just doesn’t justify harvesting the crop.”
Michael’s experience, it turns out, is fairly typical. According to a new ground-breaking study about on-farm food loss from Santa Clara University, a whopping one third of edible produce—or 33.7 percent—remains unharvested in the fields and gets disked under. This is a much larger percentage than previously reported—and it may end up dramatically increasing the current estimate of overall food waste in the U.S.—which until now has been long tallied at 40 percent. 08-20-19
The Bruce Mansfield power plant near Shippingport, Pa., is a major carbon emitter that will be shuttered this year. Clarence Holmes/agefotostock/Newscom
When the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona shuts down later this year, it will be one of the largest carbon emitters to ever close in American history.
The giant coal plant on Arizona’s high desert emitted almost 135 million metric tons of carbon dioxide between 2010 and 2017, according to an E&E News review of federal figures.
Its average annual emissions over that period are roughly equivalent to what 3.3 million passenger cars would pump into the atmosphere in a single year. Of all the coal plants to be retired in the United States in recent years, none has emitted more.
The Navajo Generating Station isn’t alone. It’s among a new wave of super-polluters headed for the scrap heap. Bruce Mansfield, a massive coal plant in Pennsylvania, emitted nearly 123 million tons between 2010 and 2017. It, too, will be retired by year’s end (Energywire, Aug. 12).
And in western Kentucky, the Paradise plant emitted some 102 million tons of carbon over that period. The Tennessee Valley Authority closed two of Paradise’s three units in 2017. It will close the last one next year (Greenwire, Feb. 14).
“It’s just the economics keep moving in a direction that favors natural gas and renewables. Five years ago, it was about the older coal plants becoming uneconomic,” said Dan Bakal, senior director of electric power at Ceres, which works with businesses to transition to clean energy. “Now, it’s becoming about every coal unit, and it’s a question of how long they can survive.” 08-16-19
Coral Gables, a small city of 51,000 people just south of Miami, wants to ban polystyrene from restaurants and grocery stores. The Florida Retail Federation does not, and an appeals court ruling delivered yesterday says they can keep the plastic product, in part thanks to a 2016 state rule that prevents cities from regulating how polystyrene is used.
The court battle demonstrates how cities and states are increasingly clashing over whether it’s legal to ban plastic.
California, New York, and hundreds of municipalities in the U.S. ban or fine the use of plastic in some way. Seventeen other states, however, say it’s illegal to ban plastic items, effectively placing a ban on a ban. This kind of legal maneuvering is booming. Four states created preemptions this year alone with two only narrowly failing in South Carolina and Alabama.
Often, efforts to preempt plastic bans are aided by the plastics industry, which wants to ensure its products remain widely used.
“First and foremost, we represent the manufacturers of plastic retail bags,” says Matt Seaholm, executive director of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, a group affiliated with the plastics industry. “We engage at a local level to provide information to local officials on the merits of any type of an ordinance that is being proposed.”
Seaholm said the industry is also looking out for local retailers. He adds plastic bans drive up costs, impose confusing regulations, and put in the hands of the government a decision that should be made by consumers and business owners.
Often partnering with local retail and restaurant associations, the industry is at odds with environmental groups that say single-use plastic must be urgently addressed.
“The plastic industry is putting a lot of their money on preemption, and they’re winning,” says Jennie Romer, an attorney at the Surfrider Foundation, a group that advocates for pro-environment policies. 08-15-19
What Would a City-Level Green New Deal Look Like? Seattle’s About to Find Out
“Climate change is one of the gravest threats we face and the solutions to climate change must also be solutions that address income inequality and racial inequity,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said.
The next step is turning the City Council’s resolution into pro-climate policies and finding ways to pay for them. Seattle has a few big ideas.
City leaders launched Seattle on the path to a Green New Deal this week, passing a resolution that starts laying out an ambitious plan for how the city can cut its greenhouse gas emissions in ways that protect the climate and improve the lives of its residents.
It’s a nonbinding resolution, and like the national Green New Dealmanifesto that’s being promoted by Democrats in Congress, presidential hopefuls and the young activists in the Sunrise Movement, it’s still mostly aspirational.
But it begins to sketch out a roadmap for Seattle’s future as the city tries to both adapt to climate change and cut emissions in line with what the world’s scientists say is needed.
The resolution envisions free public transit, a limit on new fossil fuel construction, 100 percent electric vehicles for ride sharing, and an infrastructure plan that takes sea level rise into account, among other ideas.
The big question confronting city officials and environmentalists now is how to begin implementing—and paying for—many of these initiatives. There are hints within the resolution, which mentions a congestion pricing plan to support low-income transit, using proceeds from a soda tax to promote healthy foods, and developing “green zones” to provide financing in neighborhoods that have historically borne the brunt of pollution. 08-15-19
22 states sue the Trump administration over its climate ‘plan’
Raphye Alexius / via Getty Images
Twenty-two states and seven cities sued the Trump administration on Tuesday over the Environmental Protection Agency’s new plan for power plants. The lawsuit alleges that the so-called Affordable Clean Energy rule would accelerate the impacts of the climate crisis and impose health and safety risks on Americans.
The challenge — led by the states of New York, Massachusetts, California, Rhode Island, Hawaii, and the cities of Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Philadelphia — comes two months after the EPA finalized the plan. The new rule replaced the Obama-era Clean Power Plan that set ambitious goals aimed at weakening carbon emissions coming from power plants. It gives a bit more elbow room to coal-powered stations and allows older ones to stay open longer.
“The science is indisputable; our climate is changing,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a tweet. “Ice caps are melting. Sea levels are rising. Weather is becoming more and more extreme. That’s why we are fighting back.” 08-13-19
The changes would make it easier to remove species from the list, end the blanket rule giving threatened species the same protections as endangered ones, allow regulators to assess the economic impacts of protecting a species and give the government major leeway in how it interprets the phrase “foreseeable future.” This last change is relevant to species threatened by the climate crisis, since many of its effects may be decades away.
Interior Secretary and former energy lobbyist David Bernhardt claimed the changes would increase transparency.
“The act’s effectiveness rests on clear, consistent and efficient implementation,” he said in a statement reported by The New York Times. 08-13-19
Trump Pushed for Mining Project That Could Destroy Alaska Salmon Ecosystems, Despite EPA Opposition
“Gold over life, literally.”
That was the succinct and critical reaction of Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein to reporting on Friday that President Donald Trump had personally intervened — after a meeting with Alaska‘s Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy on Air Force One in June — to withdraw the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA‘s) opposition to a gold mining project in the state that the federal government’s own scientists have acknowledged would destroy native fisheries and undermine the state’s fragile ecosystems.
Based on reporting by CNN that only emerged Friday evening, the key developments happened weeks ago after Trump’s one-on-one meeting with Dunleavy — who has supported the copper and gold Pebble Mine project in Bristol Bay despite the opposition of conservationists, Indigenous groups, salmon fisheries experts, and others.
In 2014, the project was halted because an EPA study found that it would cause “complete loss of fish habitat due to elimination, dewatering, and fragmentation of streams, wetlands, and other aquatic resources” in some areas of Bristol Bay. The agency invoked a rarely used provision of the Clean Water Act that works like a veto, effectively banning mining on the site.
“If that mine gets put in, it would … completely devastate our region,” Gayla Hoseth, second chief of the Curyung Tribal Council and a Bristol Bay Native Association director, told CNN. “It would not only kill our resources, but it would kill us culturally.” 08-12-19
Revealed: FBI and police monitoring Oregon anti-pipeline activists
Emails show the latest example of environmental groups facing increased surveillance by law enforcement
Dakota Access pipeline protesters in Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Photograph: Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
Law enforcement groups, including the FBI, have been monitoring opponents of a natural gas infrastructure project in Oregon and circulated intelligence to an email list that included a Republican-aligned anti-environmental PR operative, emails obtained by the Guardian show.
The South Western Oregon Joint Task Force (SWOJTF) and its members were monitoring opponents of the Jordan Cove energy project, a proposal by the Canadian energy company Pembina to build the first-ever liquefied natural gas export terminal on the US west coast, as well as a new 232-mile pipeline that would carry fracked natural gas to the port of Coos Bay.
The Trump administration has named Jordan Cove as one of its highest-priority infrastructure projects. Jordan Cove opponents have raised concerns about the project’s significant environmental impacts, impacts on public lands, indigenous rights and climate change.
The emails, obtained via open records requests, reflect the increased scrutiny and surveillance to which law enforcement agencies are often subjecting indigenous and environmental groups, activists say. 08-08-19
Alarming Decline of Insect Population Linked to Toxic Pesticides in U.S. Agriculture
The rapid and dangerous decline of the insect population in the United States — often called an “insect apocalypse” by scientists — has largely been driven by an increase in the toxicity of U.S. agriculture caused by the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal PLOS One.
The study found that American agriculture has become 48 times more toxic to insects over the past 25 years and pinned 92 percent of the toxicity increase on neonicotinoids, which were banned by the European Union last year due to the threat they pose to bees and other pollinators.
Kendra Klein, Ph.D., study co-author and senior staff scientist at Friends of the Earth, said the U.S. must follow Europe’s lead and ban the toxic pesticides before it is too late.
“It is alarming that U.S. agriculture has become so much more toxic to insect life in the past two decades,” Klein said in a statement. “We need to phase out neonicotinoid pesticides to protect bees and other insects that are critical to biodiversity and the farms that feed us.”
“Congress must pass the Saving America’s Pollinators Act to ban neonicotinoids,” Klein added. “In addition, we need to rapidly shift our food system away from dependence on harmful pesticides and toward organic farming methods that work with nature rather than against it.” 08-07-19
Low on water, California farmers turn to solar farming
Solar cell panels at California Valley Solar Ranch
If California is to meet its goal of running on 100-percent clean electricity by 2045, fields that once grew hay are going to have to start producing electrons. That’s according to a new report from The Nature Conservancy that estimates the state will need to cover an area at least twice as large as Yosemite National Park with solar panels and wind turbines.
That may seem like an ambitious ask, but the amount of California land devoted to renewable energy is already slated to grow exponentially. Part of the driving force is water scarcity: A state law now requires water regulators to figure out how to balance their accounts so that groundwater levels stop dropping. (For the past 50 years California has been pumping far more water out of the ground than filters back into aquifers.) To comply, farmers would have to stop irrigating at least half a million acres, according to a study by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California.
Letting valuable land go unirrigated isn’t exactly appealing to many growers. But the Nature Conservancy report suggests a good chunk of that acreage could be used for solar and wind farms. The report states that between one-third and one-half of the space needed by the state for renewables could come from agricultural acres starved for water. 08-06-19
European climate researchers said Monday that last month was the hottest July — and thus the hottest month — ever recorded, slightly eclipsing the previous record-holder, July 2016. “While July is usually the warmest month of the year for the globe, according to our data it also was the warmest month recorded globally, by a very small margin,” Jean-Noël Thépaut, head of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, said in a statement.
The service, part of an intergovernmental organization supported by European countries, said the global average temperature last month was about 0.07 degree Fahrenheit (0.04 Celsius) hotter than July 2016.
The researchers noted that their finding was based on analysis of only one of several data sets compiled by agencies around the world. 08-05-19
What’s in the way of this Texas pipeline? A cute songbird.
The golden-cheeked warbler, an endangered songbird native to Central Texas, always seems to be flitting around controversy. It proved to be a roadblock derailing the Texas Department of Transportation’s plans to build a toll road in 2016. Prominent politicians in Texas say protections for the bird infringe on property rights. And in the last few years, the diminutive bird has survived multipleattemptsto remove it from the federal endangered species list.
Now the warbler is at the center of a fight between Kinder Morgan and landowners in the Hill Country who want to block the company’s proposed pipeline through the 25-county region. Last fall, Kinder Morgan unveiled plans to build the Permian Highway Pipeline, a 430-mile conduit capable of transporting 2.1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day from the Permian Basin in West Texas to the Gulf Coast. The pipeline route would cut right through some of the most pristine parts of the state, including vast swaths of oak-juniper woodlands, the warbler’s preferred habitat. It would also run over the Edwards Aquifer, a source of drinking water for more than two million people in Texas.
A group of Hill Country landowners, the Travis Audubon Society, and Hays County, part of the Austin metro area, recently notified Kinder Morgan that it plans to sue the company if it applies for federal permits to build the pipeline without an adequate plan to protect the warbler and other endangered species in the area. 08-05-19
Debate’s Attempt to Show Candidates Divided on Climate Change Finds Unity Instead
The Democrats may butt heads on climate policy details, but they all see growing risks to security, economy and health that the next president can’t ignore.
In two nights of debates that seemed designed to highlight divisions among the candidates, the Democratic presidential hopefuls this week managed to display remarkable unity in their proclaimed commitment to aggressive action on climate change.
Barbed questions posed by a CNN panel produced sharp wrangling over the details of universal health care, immigration and crime. But when it came to decarbonizing the economy, few hard and fast differences surfaced.
“We have all put out highly similar visions on climate,” said Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
Former Vice President Joe Biden sought to fend off the charge that his plan was “middling.” Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio envisioned a manufacturing future centered around the electric car. Sen. Kamala Harris of California called for adopting a Green New Deal and getting the country to carbon neutral by 2030.
Yes, some of the moderates don’t like the Green New Deal. And the left-leaning politicians were more vociferous in their denunciation of the fossil fuel industry, with Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont accusing the corporations of “criminal activity that cannot be allowed to continue,” and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts vowing to take on a Washington that “works great for the oil companies, just not for the people worried about climate change.” 08-01-19