Recent News

Study measured glyphosate in urine and found high levels associated with signs of oxidative stress

The study findings come after the CDC reported last year that more than 80% of urine samples drawn from children and adults contained glyphosate. Photograph: valio84sl/Getty Images/iStockphoto

New research by top US government scientists has found that people exposed to the widely used weedkilling chemical glyphosate have biomarkers in their urine linked to the development of cancer and other diseases.

The study, published last week in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, measured glyphosate levels in the urine of farmers and other study participants and determined that high levels of the pesticide were associated with signs of a reaction in the body called oxidative stress, a condition that causes damage to DNA.

Oxidative stress is considered by health experts as a key characteristic of carcinogens.

The authors of the paper – 10 scientists with the National Institutes of Health and two from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – concluded that their study “contributes to the weight of evidence supporting an association between glyphosate exposure and oxidative stress in humans”.

They also noted that “accumulating evidence supports the role of oxidative stress in the pathogenesis of hematologic cancers”, such as lymphoma, myeloma and leukemia. 01-20-23

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Biden administration unveils roadmap for a greener, more equitable transportation sector

RJ Sangosti / The Denver Post via Getty Images

Federal agencies look beyond EVs to envision more convenient and efficient ways of getting around.

Cars, trucks, planes, trains, and ships make up the U.S.’s biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions — about one-third of the nation’s total. Now, the Biden administration is laying out a strategy to clean up the transportation sector while also making it more convenient and just.

Four federal agencies unveiled a “national blueprint for transportation decarbonization” earlier this month, a collaboration they described as the first of its kind for the federal government. Co-published by the Departments of Energy, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, the 88-page roadmap envisions a low-emissions mobility system that is “clean, safe, secure, accessible, affordable, and equitable, and provides sustainable transportation options for people and goods.”

“The domestic transportation sector presents an enormous opportunity to drastically reduce emissions that accelerate climate change and reduce harmful pollution,” Jennifer Granholm, secretary of the Department of Energy, said in a statement. 01-24-23

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Texas Environmentalists Look to EPA for Action on Methane, Saying State Agencies Have ‘Failed Us’

Commenting on the EPA’s proposed new rule to reduce methane leaks, they said Texas regulators are resistant to take on emissions of the climate super-pollutant.

A flare stack is pictured next to pump jacks and other oil and gas infrastructure on April 24, 2020 near Odessa, Texas. Credit: Paul Ratje/AFP via Getty Images

The Environmental Protection Agency got an earful from Texans last week.

In a marathon three-day public hearing, close to 300 people across the country gave comments on the agency’s supplemental proposal to reduce methane in oil and natural gas operations. Many called in from Texas, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and other oil and gas-producing states that drive U.S. methane emissions.

The public comment period closes on Feb. 13 and the EPA will issue the final rule later this year. The rule is a cornerstone of the EPA’s strategy under President Joe Biden to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The rule will have the biggest impact in oil and gas producing states like Texas that do not have broad methane regulations. Texas agencies tasked with regulating the oil and gas industry have questioned several provisions of the proposed rule.

Oil and natural gas operations are the largest industrial methane source in the U.S. According to the Environmental Defense Fund’s Permian MAP project, the Permian Basin—spread between West Texas and southeastern New Mexico—is the highest methane-emitting oil and gas basin in the nation. Methane is a primary component of natural gas.

“I’ve seen first hand how these small, low-producing wells contribute to methane and greenhouse gas pollution,” said Sheila Serna, climate science and policy director at the Rio Grande International Study Center in Laredo, Texas. “And how the TCEQ [Texas Commission on Environmental Quality], whose mission statement is to protect human health and the environment, has greatly failed us.” 01-22-23

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How to build a better bike-share program

When corporate owners ditched New Orleans’s bike share, the community stepped up to rebuild it with a focus on equity.

Cyclists in New Orleans take a spin on electric bicycles owned by the community-focused nonprofit bike-share program Blue Bikes. Courtesy of the Friends of Lafitte Greenway

Geoff Coats still remembers how he felt when, in May 2020, all 1,350 bicycles in New Orleans’s popular bike-share program vanished.

“It was horrible,” says Coats, who managed the service, called Blue Bikes, for its owner, Uber. “For a lot of people, it was a little bit of PTSD from Hurricane Katrina, when the national chains could have reopened weeks after the storm but stayed away. It felt like, once again, when we’re down, we get kicked.”

Blue Bikes, which New Orleans launched in 2017 to reduce emissions and offer reliable transportation to low-income residents, was flourishing before COVID shut down the city. It had recently converted all its pedal bikes to electric and was in the process of doubling its fleet. But Uber paused the program when the pandemic hit, then spun it off to the micromobility company Lime as part of its investment in that company. Lime wanted to bring electric scooters to New Orleans. The city wasn’t interested in scooters and eventually canceled the contract. Seemingly overnight, the bikes were gone.

nearly 300 bike-share and scooter-share programs in North America, more than half are privately owned, a figure that is quickly growing. That leaves most micromobility programs vulnerable to market whims, a precarious position for a mode of transportation upon which many people depend. Lime’s departure could have been the end of bike sharing in New Orleans. Instead, Coats began devising a plan to bring it back.

But this time, he decided, Blue Bikes would be run by the community it served. 01-20-23

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California’s next flood could destroy one of its most diverse cities. Will lawmakers try to save it?

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of the Stockton-based community organization Restore the Delta, stands next to a flooded creek following a recent rainstorm. Gabriela Aoun / Grist

Climate change could submerge Stockton beneath 10 feet of water. The city’s aging levees aren’t prepared.

In early 1862, a storm of biblical proportions struck California, dropping more than 120 inches of rain and snow on the state over two months. The entire state flooded, but nowhere was the deluge worse than in the Central Valley, a gash of fertile land that runs down the middle of the state between two mountain ranges. In the spring, as melting snow mixed with torrential rain, the valley transformed into “a perfect sea,” as one observer put it, vanishing beneath 30 feet of water that poured from the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. People rowed through town streets on canoes. A quarter of all the cows in the state drowned. It took months for the water to drain out.

More than 150 years later, climate scientists say the state is due for a repeat of that massive storm. A growing body of research has found that global warming is increasing the likelihood of a monster storm that could inundate the Central Valley once again, causing what one study from UCLA and the National Atmospheric Center called “historically unprecedented surface runoff” in the region. Not only would this runoff destroy thousands of homes, it would also ravage a region that serves as the nation’s foremost agricultural breadbasket. The study found that global warming has already increased the likelihood of such a storm by 234 percent. 01-19-23

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Environmental racism in Tennessee, fueled by the presence of military bases

Workers install a new sign at the Main Gate at Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn., on Oct. 22, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Deidre Moon)

As a nationwide phenomenon, environmental racism occurs when low-income people of color are disproportionately exposed to pollution due to the neighborhoods they are forced to live in.

There are many factors that have been contributing to environmental injustice over the decades, such as the inaccessibility of affordable land, racial segregation, and lack of political power to fight corporations. Due to having to inhabit areas close to pollution hotspots such as industrial facilities, landfills, truck routes, and incinerators, Black residents breathe in 56% more toxic air than they generate. In contrast, the white population is exposed to 17% less pollution than it releases.

For years, Memphis was known as the asthma capital of the country. This is because up to 36,000 housing structures in the city have structural issues that contribute to pests, leaking water, and mold, all of which are risk factors for asthma. As a consequence of historical and pervasive systematic racism within the housing market, Black people have been kept out of safer and wealthier neighborhoods. For this reason, a significant number of these unsafe housing conditions fall on the shoulders of communities of color. Dickson County is no stranger to environmental racism either. Although it covers over 490 square miles, the only waste facilities are situated right next to a predominantly Black community. 01-17-23

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How dark money groups led Ohio to redefine gas as ‘green energy’

In Ohio, natural gas is ‘green’ now. Documents show how dark money groups led to this law.

The American Electric Power natural gas plant in Dresden, Ohio. (Michael Williamson/The Washington Post) (Michael S. Williamson/WASHINGTON POST)

When Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) signed legislation this month to redefine natural gas as a source of “green energy,” supporters characterized it as the culmination of a grass-roots effort to recognize the Buckeye state’s largest energy source.

But the new law is anything but homegrown, according to documents reviewed by The Washington Post.

The Empowerment Alliance, a dark money group with ties to the gas industry, helped Ohio lawmakers push the narrative that the fuel is clean, the documents show. The American Legislative Exchange Council, another anonymously funded group, assisted in the effort.

ALEC — a network of state lawmakers, businesses and conservative donors — circulated proposed legislation for Ohio lawmakers and has urged other states to follow suit, according to the documents, which were obtained via a public records request by the Energy and Policy Institute, a group that advocates for renewable energy.

“What the emails reveal is just how closely Ohio lawmakers coordinated with a natural gas industry group on the new law that misleadingly defines methane gas as green energy, as the first step of a plan to introduce similar legislation in multiple states,” said Dave Anderson, policy and communications manager for the Energy and Policy Institute.

Although Ohio Republicans say they are trying to promote their state’s energy industry, critics have called the new law misleading and “Orwellian.” Unlike renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, natural gas and other fossil fuels emit significant amounts of greenhouse gases.

The law also adds to a fierce linguistic debate, one amped up by the recent furor over gas stoves and their health effects. Climate activists have urged politicians and journalists to stop using the term “natural gas” and instead use “methane gas,” since its primary component is a powerful planet-warming pollutant. 01-17-23

The Martin Luther King Jr. collection at Morehouse – five things I’ve learned

An avid reader 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. acknowledges the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial for his “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington, D.C. Aug. 28, 1963.

King read voraciously across a wide range of topics, everything from the “The Diary of Anne Frank” to “Candide.” Of course, he also read about theology and religion and philosophy and politics. But he especially enjoyed literature and the works of Leo Tolstoy.

The Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. Collection includes approximately 1,100 books from King’s personal library, many with his handwritten notes throughout.

Some of the titles: “Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi,” “Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar,” “Deep River: Reflections on the Religious Insight of Certain of the Negro Spirituals” by Howard Thurman, “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, “Kinfolk” by Pearl S. Buck and “Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics” by Reinhold Niebuhr.

Others include “Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom,” “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson, “Prison Notes” by Barbara Deming, “Killers of the Dream” by Lillian Smith and “Here and Beyond the Sunset” by Nannie Helen Burroughs.

A celebrated writer 

Following the 381-day Montgomery bus boycott, which started in 1955, King became a national figure whose ideas and opinions were heavily sought out by book publishers, newspapers and magazines.

He became a prolific writer and authored countless letters — arguably the most famous being “Letter from Birmingham Jail”— as well as several books, among the most notable “Why We Can’t Wait” and “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?”

But many Americans may not know that he wrote a regular column in Ebony magazine, the leading Black national publication at the time. In his “Advice for Living” column, he took questions from readers and addressed a wide range of subjects, including personal questions about marital infidelity, sexual identity, birth control, race relations, capital punishment and atomic weapons. 01-12-23

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GOP thrusts gas stoves, Biden’s green agenda into the culture wars

Natural gas burns on a kitchen stove. (Simon Dawson/Bloomberg News)

Republicans thrust gas stoves, Biden’s green agenda into the culture wars

Republican lawmakers are claiming that the Consumer Product Safety Commission wants to take away people’s gas stoves, in what they say is the latest example of the Biden administration’s regulatory overreach, Maxine reports.

In reality, the commission is not going to snatch anyone’s stove. It is merely considering regulations that would seek to curb pollution from new gas stoves on the market, rather than existing appliances inside people’s homes.

Yet the gas stove furor is emblematic of Republicans’ broader efforts to thrust President Biden’s environmental agenda into the nation’s ongoing culture wars. With the GOP taking control of the House, these efforts could increase pressure on federal agencies as they race to finalize climate regulations over the next two years, experts say.

In particular, the Securities and Exchange Commission could succumb to political pressure to water down its landmark proposal to require big businesses to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions and the risks they face from climate change, according to experts on sustainable investing.

“There is a significant danger when science and markets get so politicized that even deliberation of commonsense health or climate measures gets turned into a political football,” Ivan Frishberg, chief sustainability officer at Amalgamated Bank, said in an email to The Climate 202. 01-12-23

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Funding for environmental justice is coming. Will it reach communities most in need?

Funding for environmental justice is coming. Will it reach communities most in need?

Brandy Smith and Ariel Watson at Prince Hall Village Apartments, an affordable-housing community near refineries in Port Arthur, Tex. (Tamir Kalifa for The Washington Post)

Michael Regan hardly could have sounded more ardent Tuesday afternoon as he announced that the first $100 million in environmental justice grants made possible by last year’s Inflation Reduction Act will soon become available.

“Too many of these communities have faced barrier after barrier trying to access the federal funding they need and deserve,” the Environmental Protection Agency leader told reporters, saying that the Biden administration is determined to help places “that have long suffered at the hand of indifference, neglect and inaction.”

The new money represents the largest amount of environmental justice grant funding ever offered by the EPA.

And yet, it likely marks the beginning of a much more massive investment aimed at righting some historical wrongs that have left many Americans in low-income and largely minority communities without reliable access to clean air and water.

The grants, which will be overseen by a new office of environmental justice and external civil rights that Regan established last year, are among the first of an anticipated $3 billion in block grants that Congress created last August as part of President Biden’s landmark climate bill.

Such far-reaching funding “has the power to shift paradigms,” said Catherine Coleman Flowers, founding director of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice, who for decades had worked to fix woefully inadequate water and wastewater access in her native Lowndes County, Ala., and elsewhere.

“Environmental injustice touches every state in America.”

U.S. emissions rose slightly in 2022. They need to be falling rapidly.

U.S. emissions saw a modest increase in 2022, even as renewables surpassed coal, report says

U.S. greenhouse gas emissions increased slightly in 2022, rising 1.3 percent compared with the previous year, according to a report released Tuesday.

The report by the Rhodium Group, an independent research firm, shows that the nation remains far from meeting President Biden’s ambitious climate targets — and that humanity remains far from averting the worst consequences of the climate crisis.

Biden has pledged to cut U.S. emissions 50 to 52 percent by the end of the decade compared with 2005 levels. And humanity must significantly slash greenhouse gas pollution over the next decade, scientists say, to prevent disastrous extreme weather and other catastrophic climate effects around the globe.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, America’s emissions had been falling. But U.S. emissions have moved in the wrong direction for the past two years: They rose 6.2 percent in 2021 compared with 2020, the Rhodium researchers said, as the nation emerged from pandemic-related shutdowns and increased its reliance on coal.

“The key takeaway here is that emissions in the U.S. rebounded for a second year after the drop in 2020 owing to the pandemic and associated economic recession,” Ben King, an associate director at Rhodium and co-author of the analysis, told The Climate 202.

“Even with the continued growth in U.S. emissions, we’re still not back up to emissions at the pre-pandemic level in 2019,” King said. “And possibly we won’t get back to that level. So that’s the good news, or at least the somewhat less bad news.” 01-10-23

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EPA’s proposed air pollution standards for soot could save thousands of lives

Health experts say it doesn’t go far enough to limit the deadly pollutant.

DWalker44 / Getty Images

Late last week, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed tighter limits to one of the country’s most dangerous air pollutants: fine particulate matter, or soot. But while the long-awaited move could save thousands of lives per year, health experts say it’s still not enough.

Soot is also known as fine particulate matter because its fragments are so small — 2.5 microns in diameter or less. When inhaled into the lungs over time, these harmful materials can cause damage leading to premature death, heart attacks and cancer. Sources for the deadly pollutant include construction sites, power plants, and refineries. Those who live nearby (disproportionately low-income households and people of color) face the greatest risk of exposure.

Since 2012, the national annual air quality standard — a number that represents a limit to the average amount of particles in the air outdoors — has been 12 micrograms per cubic meter for fine particulate matter. The Clean Air Act requires these standards to be revisited every five years. The last time the matter came under discussion was 2020, when the Trump administration rejected tougher standards on particulate matter, despite public health officials’ calls for more stringent protections.

Under the Biden administration, the new proposed limit is between 9 and 10 micrograms per cubic meter. An even greater range, between 8 and 11 micrograms per cubic meter, will be open to public comment following the proposal. Only after the period of public comment, which will last 60 days following the publication of the proposal in the federal register, will a new standard become official. 01-09-23

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Gas stove pollution causes 12.7% of childhood asthma, study finds

Flames burn blue from a gas stove in Berlin. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Gas-burning stoves in kitchens across America are responsible for roughly 12.7 percent of childhood asthma cases nationwide — on par with the childhood asthma risks associated with exposure to secondhand smoke, according to a study.

The peer-reviewed study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, adds fuel to a burgeoning debate over the potential threats that gas stoves pose to the planet and public health.

It comes as scientists and activists cheer the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s recent decision to weigh new regulations on indoor air pollution from gas stoves, even as the natural gas industry fights to keep the signature blue flames of the appliances in American homes.

Gas stoves, which are used in about 35 percent of U.S. households, can emit significant amounts of nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant that can trigger asthma and other respiratory conditions. The appliances can also leak methane, a potent planet-warming gas, even when they are turned off, according to research published last year.

Asthma, a leading chronic condition globally, affects about 5 million children across the country. The study, which was led by the environmental think tank RMI, suggests that nearly 650,000 cases of childhood asthma can be attributed to gas stove use.

“It’s like having car exhaust in a home,” said Brady Seals, a manager at RMI who co-authored the research. “And we know that children are some of the people spending the most time at home, along with the elderly.” 01-06-23

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Op-ed: Amid Academic Strikes, UC Students Liberated Their Cafeterias

Screenshot from a video taken at UCSB documenting the liberation of the dining commons

Across California, university students are taking over dining halls in solidarity with graduate students on strike. It’s also a response to food insecurity and economic injustices on campus.

Last week, for the second time in a month, an autonomous group of students at two University of California campuses released statements saying they had “liberated the dining commons” in a non-violent effort to provide free meals. And while the actions, which are taking place against the backdrop of the largest academic worker strike in history, have yet to feed a large number of people, they’re raising awareness about food insecurity among college students—which is at an alarming high.

Students lined up outside Latitude Dining Commons at UC Davis and Carrillo Dining Commons at UC Santa Barbara, where they were told they could eat lunch without swiping a dining card because a group of students had effectively blocked the swiping station. Signs reading “Food is a human right” and “All smiles, no swipes,” lined the walls outside.

A short time later, a group called Abolish the UC posted stories on Instagram about how students had also successfully taken control of dining commons at UC Los Angeles, UC Riverside, and UC Santa Cruz. “Everyone deserves to eat!” said an Instagram post by the Student Labor Advocacy Project of UCLA. “The action was meant to help food insecure students and push the idea of [a cost of living adjustment] for all.” In a zine, the student group paid homage to the Black Panthers’ free breakfast program as well at the striking graduate students and explained their goals for the taking control of the dining commons by saying, “We want to free the resources that should be ours in the first place.” 12-16-22

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A new EPA proposal is reigniting a debate about what counts as ‘renewable’

The United States is the largest producer of corn, which can be seen being harvested and stored in grain silos. With 40 percent of the corn produced used for ethanol, environmental groups argue that increased corn production leads to more fertilizer use and pollution. YinYang/Getty Images

The agency wants more ethanol, biogas, and wood pellet power in the nation’s fuel mix. But is that actually a good thing?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new standards for how much of the nation’s fuel supply should come from renewable sources.

The proposal, released last month, calls for an increase in the mandatory requirements set forth by the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS. The program, created in 2005, dictates how much renewable fuels — products like corn-based ethanol, manure-based biogas, and wood pellets — are used to reduce the use of petroleum-based transportation fuel, heating oil, or jet fuel and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The new requirements have sparked a heated debate between industry leaders, who say the recent proposal will help stabilize the market in the coming years, and green groups, which argue that the favored fuels come at steep environmental costs.

Below is a Grist guide to this growing debate, breaking down exactly what these fuels are, how they’re created, and how they would change under the EPA’s new proposal:

The fuels

Renewable fuel is an umbrella term for the bio-based fuels mandated by the EPA to be mixed into the nation’s fuel supply. The category includes fuel produced from planted crops, planted trees, animal waste and byproducts, and wood debris from non-ecological sensitive areas and not from federal forestland. Under the RFS, renewable fuels are supposed to replace fossil fuels and are used for transportation and heating across the country, and are supposed to emit 20 percent fewer greenhouse gasses than the energy they replace. 01-04-23

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Republicans Are Primed to Take on ‘Woke Capitalism’ in 2023, with Climate Disclosure Rules for Corporations in Their Sights

Ranking member Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., right, greets a fellow representative, on Dec. 13, 2022. McHenry is expected to head the Committee on Financial Services in the next Congress. Credit: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Conservative politicians argue that environmental, social and governance principles—known as “ESG”—are diverting asset managers from their duties to investors, and may even amount to illegal collusion.

It has only been a decade since climate activists launched campaigns to get financial institutions and money managers to see that dollars pumped into the fossil fuel industry were a risk to both the planet and investor portfolios.

That effort has had some success but remains a work in progress. All of Wall Street now talks about environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles in investing, and that’s a problem. Claims of a commitment to that philosophy are ubiquitous among corporations and investment funds, and investors are left to figure out which declarations amount to mere greenwashing. Only within the last year have government watchdogs moved to set standards on what companies must disclose about climate risks.

Before those rules are set, Republicans have decided the time is right for an anti-ESG backlash. In 2023, they are preparing on multiple fronts to take on Wall Street, corporate America and U.S. financial regulators for, in their view, paying too much attention to environmental concerns and not enough to making money.

It’s “woke capitalism,” in the words of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, widely seen as a possible challenger to former President Donald Trump for leadership of the Republican Party. DeSantis’ administration announced last month that it was pulling out all Florida State Treasury funds—some $2 billion—that were invested with BlackRock, the Wall Street firm that has become most closely associated with ESG. 01-03-23

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Study: Biology textbooks aren’t keeping up with climate science

Brandon Bell / Getty Images

Climate change is a major threat to life on Earth — but not a major focus of biology textbooks.

With every year that greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, the climate crisis deepens — as does the threat it poses to life on Earth. But that increasing urgency isn’t reflected in many of the U.S.’s undergraduate biology textbooks.

According to a new paper published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE, climate change coverage in college biology textbooks has failed to keep pace with our scientific understanding of the issue or its mounting importance for every living organism on the planet, from single-celled algae to blue whales. Although today’s textbooks contain more sentences on climate change than those from the 1970s, these sentences offer fewer solutions and have been pushed toward the back of the book — where they are likely to be skipped over.

“Why are we still ignoring this issue?” asked Jennifer Landin, a teaching associate professor at North Carolina State University and an author of the paper.

Landin and a coauthor looked at 57 of the most widely used undergraduate biology textbooks published between 1970 and 2019. They analyzed each book’s climate change coverage for length and content — the fraction of sentences used to describe the physical processes of climate change, its impacts on the world’s ecosystems, and ways to address it. They also looked at the textbooks’ changing use of charts and figures. 12-21-22

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E.P.A. Tightens Rules on Pollution From Vans, Buses and Trucks

The rule will require heavy-duty trucks to reduce emissions of nitrogen dioxide 48 percent by 2045.Credit…Jim Watson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

For the first time in decades, the agency has restricted nitrogen dioxide emissions from heavy vehicles.

The Biden administration on Tuesday strengthened limits on smog-forming pollution from buses, delivery vans, tractor-trailers and other trucks, the first time in more than 20 years that tailpipe standards have been tightened for heavy-duty vehicles.

The new rule from the Environmental Protection Agency is designed to cut nitrogen oxide from the vehicles by 48 percent by 2045. Nitrogen dioxide is a poisonous gas that has been linked to cardiovascular problems and respiratory ailments like asthma. The rule will require manufacturers to cut the pollutant from their vehicles starting with the model year 2027.

But the new rule is not as stringent as one proposed by the E.P.A. in March, which would have cut the pollutant as much as 60 percent by 2045. And the agency stopped short of ​​requiring that truck manufacturers also cut greenhouse gas emissions associated with burning diesel fuel or convert their fleets to electric models.

That has disappointed many environmental activists, who said federal rules for vans, buses and trucks should match efforts in states like California and Washington that are intent on phasing out diesel fuel. 12-20-22

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To combat climate change, Oregon bans sale of new, 100% gasoline-powered cars by 2035

Brand new vehicles bought in Oregon in 2035 and beyond will need to be zero emissions, according to new rules passed by the state’s Environmental Quality Commission. (Oregon Department of Transportation/Flickr)

Following California’s lead, Oregon’s Environmental Quality Commission voted to end the sale of new fully gas-powered vehicles in 2035

All new cars sold in Oregon by 2035 must be considered zero-emissions vehicles.

On Monday, Oregon’s Environmental Quality Commission voted unanimously to adopt the Advanced Clean Cars II Rule, requiring auto manufacturers to begin producing and delivering a growing number of zero-emission vehicles to Oregon beginning in 2026, so that they make up 100% of new vehicles sold in the state by 2035.

Zero-emissions vehicles include cars that are fully powered by electric batteries and plug-in hybrids that run on both electricity and gasoline, according to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, which developed the rules and recommended the commission adopt them. The five governor-appointed commissioners are the rule-making authority for the Oregon Environmental Quality Department.

The zero-emission rule will not apply to used vehicles sold in the state. DEQ estimates that even with the requirement, about 50% of cars on Oregon’s roads in 2035 will still be gas powered. The rule requires manufacturers to produce more zero-emissions vehicles, but does not require Oregonians to buy them.

Oregon’s decision follows an identical one made by California’s Air Resources Board in August.

Oregon has been adopting California’s vehicle emissions rules since 2005. 12-19-22

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Federal officials say urgent action needed to protect shrinking Colorado River reservoirs

A boat sits in a cove on Lake Powell, in Utah, in May. White surfaces along the banks reveal dropping water levels in the nation’s second-largest reservoir.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

With Colorado River reservoirs nearing dangerously low levels, the federal government has given basin states a Jan. 31 deadline to negotiate major water cuts and stave off a possible collapse in supplies.

Speaking at a conference in Las Vegas, federal officials told water managers from the seven states that rely on the river that they will weigh immediate options next year to protect water levels in depleted reservoirs, and that the region must be prepared for the river to permanently yield less water because of climate change.

“The hotter, drier conditions that we face today are not temporary. Climate change is here today and has made it likely that we will continue to see conditions like this, if not worse, in the future,” said Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton.

“The basin is seeing its worst drought in 1,200 years, and there is no relief in sight. And perhaps this is what it will be in the future,” Touton said.

Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the nation’s two largest reservoirs, are now nearly three-fourths empty, and water levels are set to continue dropping. The latest government estimates show there is a risk that Lake Mead could reach “dead pool” levels in 2025, at which point the river would no longer flow past Hoover Dam, cutting off water for California, Arizona and Mexico.

That grim scenario has given urgency to the search for solutions, as officials from states, water agencies, tribes and the federal government consider options for water cutbacks on a scale never seen before.

Speaking at the conference on Friday, Touton said: “I can feel the anxiety, the uncertainty in this room, and in the basin, as we look at the river and the hydrology that we face.” 12-17-22

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Amazon’s plastic packaging waste grew 18% in 2021, report says

The retail giant says it generated 214 million pounds of plastic waste last year. An advocacy group says it produced three times as much.

Virtually no U.S. curbside recycling programs accept the kind of plastic that goes into Amazon’s plastic packaging, meaning most of it must be dumped into landfills or incinerated. Brent Stirton / Getty Images

Plastic packaging waste from the online retail giant Amazon ballooned to 709 million pounds globally in 2021 — equivalent to the weight of some 70,000 killer whales — according to a new report published Thursday by the nonprofit Oceana. That’s an 18 percent increase over Oceana’s estimate of Amazon’s plastic packaging for 2020, indicating a growing problem that environmental advocates — and even Amazon’s own shareholders — say the company is doing too little to address.

Amazon’s plastic packaging “is a problem for the world’s waterways and oceans, and it’s an issue they need to be prioritizing,” said Dana Miller, Oceana’s director of strategic initiatives and an author of the report. If all the company’s plastic from 2021 were converted into plastic air pillows — the inflated pouches inserted in some Amazon packages to reduce shifting during transit — and laid side by side, Miller said it would circle the globe more than 800 times.

As the largest retailer on the planet, Amazon goes through a lot of plastic. It ships 7.7 billion packages around the world each year, often using plastic air pillows, bags, and protective sleeves to cushion products during transit. Environmental advocates say these are some of the worst kinds of plastics: They can’t be recycled, and their light weight makes them prone to drifting into the oceans, where they kill more large marine mammals than any other kind of ocean debris. As the plastics break down, they not only leach harmful chemicals but can also bind with new ones in the environment, posing toxicity risks to the mussels, oysters, whales, and other animals that unintentionally ingest them. 12-15-22

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New data show Houston-area communities are being flooded with chemicals

Maricela Serna has lived in Galena Park since 1988. Her two oldest children left the city to protect their health and are urging their mother, a cancer survivor, to do the same. Mark Felix

“The people there are tired of being studied. We need to take action.”

One by one, the residents filtered into the small community center and found seats in the rows of plastic chairs. Some were teenagers wearing yellow-and-black Galena Park High School letter jackets. Others were parents and grandparents juggling children. Many wore white headphones to hear the Spanish translator standing nearby. Everyone looked worried.

They had gathered on that chilly November night to learn what two new, high-tech monitors had found in the air in Galena Park and Jacinto City, neighboring towns in eastern Harris County, the epicenter of North America’s petrochemical industry. They were prepared for grim news.

“Everyone here knows pollution is a big problem,” said Maricela Serna, a former Galena Park commissioner who has one of the monitors on the roof of her tax preparation office. “But we want to know just how bad things really are. We deserve to know. And those in power, especially at the state level, need to know.”

Serna, 66, has lived in Galena Park since 1988 and the stench of chemicals is part of her everyday life. The odor inside her home was so bad one day that a visitor from outside the community thought there was a gas leak and called the fire department. Still, Serna held out hope that the news that night might be positive — that maybe, just maybe, the pollution wasn’t as bad as the odors let on.

But the data from the monitors confirmed her worst fears. 12-15-22

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The Tennessee Valley Authority’s Incentive Structure Keeps Residents Hooked on Fossil Fuels

In 2019, a bulldozer drives past the Tennessee Valley Authority Paradise Fossil Plant, since renamed the Paradise Combined Cycle Plan and shifted from coal operations to gas.

The federally owned utility company could be leading the clean energy transition. Instead, it’s poisoning the countryside.

Millions of people across the Tennessee Valley region are waiting, whether they know it or not, to find out if they will spend the rest of their lives breathing toxic fumes. They could remain at the mercy of pipeline explosions and perennial energy rate hikes—or they could instead receive emission-free renewable energy to power their homes and communities. But the choice isn’t actually theirs.

Jeff Lyash, CEO of the federally owned utility corporation known as the Tennessee Valley Authority, or TVA, chose this past year to replace two aging coal plants with a new methane gas plant, instead of replacing them with clean energy infrastructure like wind or solar. Lyash justified the decision by claiming that the methane plant would be the least expensive option for the utility and its ratepayers. This is questionable.

The Environmental Protection Agency has since told the TVA it should reevaluate that decision, both “because of the urgency of the climate crisis” and because gas price volatility could easily make renewable energy a cheaper option. The TVA responded last week by still recommending gas after completing its Environmental Impact Statement. But the official decision, in the end, rests with Lyash, unless the EPA intervenes and refers the project to the White House Council on Environmental Quality. The EPA has the power to do this; the question is whether it has the will. 12-13-22

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How EJ activists helped reverse U.S. opposition to climate aid

Peggy Shepard (left), executive director of We Act for Environmental Justice, and Dallas Conyers, the international liaison for the U.S. activist group Climate Action Network, were part of a large delegation of U.S. environmental justice advocates who attended last month’s climate talks in Egypt. Allie Holloway/WeAct.org (Shepard); Scen-us.org (Conyers)

U.S. environmental justice advocates used their pull with the Biden administration and congressional Democrats to break through years of entrenched American opposition to a new climate compensation fund for the world’s poor — helping deliver the most important outcome at last month’s United Nations climate talks.

Global South countries and their advocates have long called for a dedicated funding stream under the U.N. climate process that would help vulnerable countries recover from unavoidable climate impacts. But the issue known in U.N. jargon as loss and damage has struggled to gain traction because developed countries feared they would become liable for the greenhouse gas emissions they’ve released since the Industrial Revolution.

The dynamics started to change months before negotiators converged in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, for this year’s climate summit, known as COP 27. Developing countries had grown frustrated — and global climate advocates were increasingly insisting that the talks result in a new fund.

But developed countries remained resistant. Before long, the U.S. had emerged as the main stumbling block to the fund’s creation, said Peggy Shepard, executive director of We Act for Environmental Justice and co-chair of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council.

So environmental justice leaders spent weeks before the talks making it clear to State Department officials and members of Congress that the time for a climate compensation fund had come. 12-12-22

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Autoworkers vote to unionize EV factory in historic win for labor movement

The election at the plant, owned by GM and LG Energy Solution, is a major test for the labor movement in the fight against climate change

President Biden visits a GM electric-vehicle production line with UAW President Ray Curry and General Motors CEO Mary Barra in Detroit in 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Workers at an Ohio plant that makes batteries for General Motors voted overwhelmingly to unionize the first factory originally built for electric vehicles and components, federal workforce officials said Friday, jump-starting the labor movement in the fast-growing EV industry and the fight against climate change.

Employees at Ultium Cells, a joint venture of GM and LG Energy Solution in Warren, Ohio, voted 710 to 16 to join the UAW, according to the National Labor Relations Board. That gives the powerful union a foothold in the new wave of EV component and assembly plants unleashed by historic clean-energy investments pushed by the Biden administration and Democrats in Congress.

Union officials have been worried about the future of the labor movement as automakers sprint toward zero-emission vehicles. Much of that work is slated for new facilities in the South — rather than the auto sector’s traditional geographic center in the industrial Midwest — where companies have eyed tax incentives dangled by governors and lower labor costs often attributable to less hospitable organizing environments.

Those facilities also need fewer workers, because EVs generally require far fewer parts than vehicles with internal-combustion engines. That translates to 40 percent fewer workers, according to Ford chief executive Jim Farley. 12-09-22

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California’s two largest cities ban plastic foam

San Diego and Los Angeles join hundreds of municipalities nationwide that are phasing out polystyrene.

Hector Vivas / Getty Images

In a major victory against plastic pollution, city council members in Los Angeles and San Diego voted on Tuesday to ban the distribution of expanded polystyrene, the foamy plastic that’s used in disposable coffee cups and takeout food containers.

“Expanded polystyrene has no place in our city’s future,” LA councilmember Mitch O’Farrell told reporters on Tuesday.

Starting next April, large companies in California’s two most populous cities will be prohibited from giving out or selling dishes, cups, and other products made from plastic foam. The bans, which are expected to be signed into law by the mayors of each city, make some exemptions for products like surfboards and coolers that are encased in a “more durable material,”, and LA will give businesses with fewer than 27 employees an extra year to comply with its ordinance. San Diego’s ban grants a one-year extension to businesses that make less than $500,000 annually.

LA and San Diego will now join hundreds of jurisdictions around the country that have moved to phase out plastic foam, including eight U.S. states and other major California cities like San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland. And the material will soon be restricted across California, thanks to a state law passed earlier this year called the Plastic Pollution Producer Responsibility Act. The legislation stopped short of outright banning polystyrene statewide but will require plastic producers to demonstrate that at least 25 percent of it is actually recycled by 2025 — a “de facto ban,” according to some environmental advocates, since polystyrene isn’t recyclable at virtually any of the state’s material recovery facilities, and less than 1 percent of it is recycled nationwide. 12-09-22

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Energy Department rule would cut government building emissions 90 percent

The Department of Energy building is seen in Washington, Friday, May 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

A new proposed rule from the Biden administration would cut emissions from new federal buildings 90 percent from 2003 levels in the next two years.

Under the proposed rule, new or renovated federal buildings would be required to reduce emissions from the 2003 baseline by 90 percent beginning in 2025. Beginning in 2030, the rule would make new buildings and major renovations fully carbon-neutral, according to the Energy Department.

“Ridding pollution from our buildings and adopting clean electricity are some of the most cost-effective and future-oriented solutions we have to combat climate change,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement. “For the first time ever, DOE is establishing a firm timetable to reduce the government’s carbon footprint in new and existing federal facilities—ensuring the Biden-Harris Administration is leading by example in the effort to reach the nation’s ambitious climate goals.”

About a quarter of federal emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels in government buildings. The proposed rule is estimated to cut federal buildings’ emissions by about 1.86 million metric tons and 22.8 thousand tons in methane emissions in the next three decades. 12-07-22

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State delays decision on Enviva Ahoskie air quality permit

The state has put on hold final action on a controversial draft air quality permit for Enviva’s Ahoskie Plant to increase its wood pellet production by more than 30%.

Enviva Pellets LLC Ahoskie Plant. Photo: Enviva

Enviva submitted the request to increase its output from 481,800 oven dried tons to 630,000 oven dried tons per year in August 2020. The draft permit went before the public in July of this year.

The deadline for action on the air quality permit was Nov. 28, but after hearing concerns, particularly about air pollutants from the plant and its location in the economically distressed Hertford County, from the public and the DEQ Secretary’s Environmental Justice and Equity Board, Division of Air Quality officials said the deadline no longer applies.

No final action had been taken as of Monday, Dec. 5, Shawn Taylor, public information officer for the division, told Coastal Review.

“In response to questions raised by the board, DAQ determined that our rules did not require final action by Nov. 28, as we had earlier stated,” Taylor explained. He continued that the division is considering the concerns raised during the specially called environmental justice board meeting held Nov. 17 in Raleigh before taking final action.

“DEQ appreciates the Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Board’s attention to this issue and the board providing an additional forum where community voices can be heard,” he continued. “Through its permitting and compliance programs, the Division of Air Quality has required significant reductions of dust and other air pollution emissions from all the Enviva Pellets facilities in North Carolina. The Division will continue to use permitting and non-permitting methods to address concerns raised by residents in Ahoskie and other communities near these facilities.” 12-07-22

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New report reveals pesticide industry’s disinformation and science denial playbook

A new report, Merchants of Poison: How Monsanto Sold the World on a Toxic Pesticide, illuminates the disinformation, science denial, and manufactured doubt at the core of the pesticide industry’s public relations playbook. Centering the herbicide glyphosate (known by its brand name Roundup®) as a case study, the report is the first comprehensive review of Monsanto’s product defense strategy, including the disinformation tactics it used to manipulate the science and attack scientists and journalists who raised concerns about the health and environmental risks of its flagship product, the world’s most widely used herbicide.

The report also reveals the astroturf operations as well as front groups, professors, journalists, and others that Monsanto (now owned by Bayer) relied on to protect its profits from glyphosate despite decades of science linking the toxic chemical to cancer, reproductive impacts, and other serious health concerns.

The analysis draws from thousands of pages of internal corporate documents released during lawsuits brought by farmers, groundskeepers, and everyday gardeners suing Monsanto over allegations that exposure to Roundup caused them to develop cancer; as well as documents obtained through public records requests in a years-long investigation by U.S. Right to Know, a public interest research group. 12-05-22

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A tiny Wisconsin town tried to stop pollution from factory farms. Then it got sued.

“This is standard operating procedure for the Big Ag boys.”

As more confined animal feeding operations, like the hog farm pictured, pop up across the country, towns and counties have attempted to regulate their growth. chayakorn lotongkum / Getty Images

The small community of Laketown, Wisconsin, home to just over 1,000 people and 18 lakes, is again at the center of a battle over how communities can regulate large, industrial farming operations in their backyards.

The town, which is half an hour from the Minnesota border, is the target of a lawsuit supported by the state’s largest business lobbying group, which claims the town board overstepped its role when it passed a local ordinance to prevent pollution from confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs.

largest and most influential business association” is representing the residents suing the town through its litigation center.

lawsuits to rollback state protections against water pollution, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

“They see this ordinance, if not challenged, as something that may become more the norm around the state,” Adam Voskuil, staff attorney for the nonprofit law office Midwest Environmental Advocates, told Grist. This law office has issued its support for Laketown’s ordinance in the past but is not representing the municipality in this ongoing litigation. 12-05-22

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Biden administration proposes new rule targeting methane emissions on tribal lands

Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images

Wasted natural gas has quadrupled since 1990 – regulators hope to rein in that loss.

The Bureau of Land Management proposed a new rule Monday that aims to reduce wasted natural gas on federal and Tribal lands which will help tamp down methane releases. By preventing billions of cubic feet of natural gas emissions that come from unintentional equipment leaks or deliberate venting and flaring, the federal government hopes to curb the potent greenhouse gas which is responsible for 30 percent of global warming.

The proposed rule, said Secretary Deb Haaland in a press release, “will bring our regulations in line with technological advances that industry has made in the decades since the BLM’s rules were first put in place, while providing a fair return to taxpayers.”

The rules would require operators to submit a waste minimization plan with any permit application to drill oil wells. If a plan doesn’t adequately show how the operator will avoid wasting gas, the BLM can delay approval until the concerns are addressed to the agency’s satisfaction. 11-30-22

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The fossil fuel origins of ‘gaslighting’

Merriam-Webster’s word of the year is all about deception. Guess where it comes from?

An advertisement for the 1944 film “Gaslight.” LMPC via Getty Images

Merriam-Webster declared “gaslighting” the word of the year this week, if you can believe it. The term, which describes a type of lie that leaves the target doubting their perception of reality, saw a 1,740 percent increase in searches on the dictionary’s site in 2022, with steady interest over the course of the year.

“In recent years, with the vast increase in channels and technologies used to mislead, gaslighting has become the favored word for the perception of deception,” Merriam-Webster’s editors wrote in an explanation for their selection.

Even if you remember what a “gaslight” is, it doesn’t illuminate the word’s meaning. The mind-manipulating connotation came from a 1938 play called Gas Light, later turned into a movie. The plot: A husband tries to trick his wife into thinking she’s losing her mind — and thereby getting sent to an asylum — so he can steal the priceless jewels she’s inherited. His strategy involves sneaking around the house and making the gaslights flicker and dim, while insisting that the lights look totally normal to him.

The meaning of “gaslighting” in the social-media age is broader, referring to any situation where you wildly mislead someone for personal advantage. Climate advocates have increasingly been applying the term to the actions of the oil industry, which mastered the art of misdirection long before “gaslighting” became part of the vernacular. In the 1970s, Exxon’s own scientists warned executives that carbon emissions could lead to catastrophic warming — and then the oil giant proceeded to act as if climate change wasn’t real, sowing doubt about the science and working to block legislation to address rising emissions. 11-29-22

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Despite Biden’s promises, logging still threatens old forests and U.S. climate goals

Federal agencies continue to move dozens of logging projects forward in federal forests across the United States.

Francis Eatherington

On Earth Day 2022, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to protect important but overlooked partners in the fight against climate change: mature and old-growth forests that sequester carbon, without charging a dime.

It came as a major relief to advocates, after four years of conservation rollbacks and climate science manipulation under President Donald Trump, which encouraged aggressive logging. Mature and old-growth trees provide essential ecosystems for the many organisms living within and beneath them, and protect the water quality of nearby communities, lakes, and streams by preventing erosion. They also fix nitrogen, which improves soil quality and ensures the health of the whole forest.

Due to centuries of logging, most of these older trees are now only found on federal lands. Executive Order 14072 directed the Department of Interior and the Department of Agriculture to define and inventory mature and old-growth forests on federal lands — those having taken generations to develop — and then to craft new policies to protect them.

But in spite of Biden’s recent commitment, federal agencies continue to move dozens of logging projects forward in federal forests across the United States, putting over 300,000 acres at risk, according to a recent report by non-profit group, Climate Forests. Lauren Anderson, climate forest program manager for the conservation group Oregon Wild, said that’s in part due to a glaring omission in the Biden administration’s executive order. “It did not highlight logging as a threat,” Anderson said. 11-28-22

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Herschel Walker, South Park, and the Prius: How loving gas-guzzlers became political

Grist / Getty Images

Why do Republicans defend polluting vehicles? Because Democrats love the saintly Prius.

n the campaign trail earlier this month, U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker from Georgia delivered a strange defense of vehicles that spew gobs of pollution, celebrating their inefficiency. Walker, a Republican who’s facing a runoff race against Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock, told supporters at a rally in Peachtree, Georgia, that America isn’t “ready for the green agenda.”

“What we need to do is keep having those gas-guzzling cars,” Walker said. “We got the good emissions under those cars.”

It was a moment when Walker’s absurd remarks actually squared with the party’s line (unlike, say, his comments about America’s “good air” deciding to float over to China). Republicans have said similar things over the years, displaying a worldview that fossil fuels have inherent virtue, once described as “carbonism.” It’s the belief system that drove former President Donald Trump to bar California from setting stricter emissions standards in 2019, and what led Republican congressmen to defend fossil fuels at the international climate negotiations in Egypt earlier this month. 11-28-22

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How Floating Wetlands Are Helping to Clean Up Urban Waters

A floating wetland in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor installed by the National Aquarium. National Aquarium

As cities around the world look to rid their waterways of remaining pollution, researchers are installing artificial islands brimming with grasses and sedges. The islands’ surfaces attract wildlife, while the underwater plant roots absorb contaminants and support aquatic life.

Five small islands roughly the size of backyard swimming pools float next to the concrete riverbank of Bubbly Creek, a stretch of the Chicago River named for the gas that once rose to the surface after stockyards dumped animal waste and byproducts into the waterway. Clumps of short, native grasses and plants, including sedges, swamp milkweed, and queen of the prairie, rise from a gravel-like material spread across each artificial island’s surface. A few rectangles cut from their middles hold bottomless baskets, structures that will, project designers hope, provide an attachment surface for freshwater mussels that once flourished in the river.

Three thousand square feet in total, these artificial wetlands are part of an effort to clean up a portion of a river that has long served the interests of industry. This floating wetland project is one of many proliferating around the world as cities increasingly look to green infrastructure to address toxic legacies. In the United States, researchers are conducting experiments in Boston and Baltimore as well as in Chicago, each team sharing best practices with the other to maximize the ecological benefits of their systems. The Canadian government and local municipalities are allotting more funding for innovative projects. Floating wetlands are also multiplying in the United Kingdom, and studies to quantify additional benefits continue in Australia and Brazil. 11-22-22

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Letters from an American

The past week has brought seven mass shootings in the United States. Twenty-two people have been killed and 44 wounded. I’ll have more to say later about our epidemic of gun violence, but tonight, on the night before Thanksgiving, when I traditionally post the story of the holiday’s history, I simply want to acknowledge the terrible sorrow behind tomorrow’s newly empty chairs.

Thanksgiving itself came from a time of violence: the Civil War.

The Pilgrims and the Wampanoags did indeed share a harvest celebration together at Plymouth in fall 1621, but that moment got forgotten almost immediately, overwritten by the long history of the settlers’ attacks on their Indigenous neighbors.

In 1841 a book that reprinted the early diaries and letters from the Plymouth colony recovered the story of that three-day celebration in which ninety Indigenous Americans and the English settlers shared fowl and deer. This story of peace and goodwill among men who by the 1840s were more often enemies than not inspired Sarah Josepha Hale, who edited the popular women’s magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book, to think that a national celebration could ease similar tensions building between the slaveholding South and the free North. She lobbied for legislation to establish a day of national thanksgiving.

And then, on April 12, 1861, southern soldiers fired on Fort Sumter, a federal fort in Charleston Harbor, and the meaning of a holiday for giving thanks changed.

Southern leaders wanted to destroy the United States of America and create their own country, based not in the traditional American idea that “all men are created equal,” but rather in its opposite: that some men were better than others and had the right to enslave their neighbors. In the 1850s, convinced that society worked best if a few wealthy men ran it, southern leaders had bent the laws of the United States to their benefit, using it to protect enslavement above all. 11-23-22

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Planning your 2023 travel? Skip these places in order to save them

With environmental and cultural strains, places like Lake Tahoe could use a break

Petmal via Getty Images

Fodor’s, the popular travel company that built its business on telling you where to go and where to stay, eat and drink once you’re there, has just released a list of places around the world you should skip in 2023.

The company’s 2023 “No List” isn’t advising you to avoid these destinations because of bad food, lousy attractions, or risk of danger, but because the presence of large numbers of tourists in these places is causing unsustainable ecological, cultural, and social harm.

The “No List” focuses on global tourism’s impact on three key areas: unique and sensitive natural environments increasingly degraded by tourists, “cultural hotspots” facing overcrowding and strained housing and infrastructure, and destinations in the midst of water crises that already heavily burden local communities.

Global tourism, through a combination of food consumption, accommodation, transportation, and the purchasing of souvenirs, contributes eight percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. After a brief respite in the first months of the pandemic, tourism numbers have exploded, exceeding even pre-pandemic numbers. 11-23-22

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Inside the COP27 fight to get wealthy nations to pay climate reparations

How developing countries’ 30-year battle for “loss and damage” funding culminated in a new agreement in Egypt.

Pakistani naval personnel rescue people from floods.
Record monsoon rains this year left a third of Pakistan, a country that has contributed less than 1 percent of global carbon emissions, underwater. Aamir Qureshi / AFP via Getty Images

For more than three decades, the developing world has demanded that wealthy countries pay up for the “loss and damage” that vulnerable nations are already experiencing due to climate change. Those calls were finally met early Sunday morning when the 27th United Nations climate change conference, or COP27, came to a close in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

A new global pact establishes a fund “for responding to loss and damage” and creates a transitional committee to work out who will contribute to the fund, which developing countries will be eligible to draw from it, and how it will be governed. Negotiators for developing countries and nonprofits cheered the decision, noting that it was long overdue.

“It’s a historic moment,” Nabeel Munir, a Pakistani diplomat and chief negotiator for the G77 developing countries, told the Guardian. “[It’s the] culmination of 30 years of work and beginning of a new chapter in pursuit of climate justice.”

The loss and damage fund is just the sixth special fund to be created in the United Nations’ 30-year history of tackling climate change. Nations last agreed to set up the $100 billion Green Climate Fund in 2010.

Efforts to reduce emissions and adapt to a warming world — referred to as mitigation and adaptation, respectively, in climate talks — are two of the major pillars of the Paris Agreement, the landmark 2015 global pact to keep warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Loss and damage is the third pillar. When efforts to mitigate and adapt fail or fall behind, the effects of climate change such as more frequent and intense extreme weather, sea-level rise, and forced migration are borne by the world’s most vulnerable. Loss and damage funding would offset the economic and non-economic costs of the climate crisis in countries that did little to contribute to the problem. 11-22-22

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In a First, Rich Countries Agree to Pay for Climate Damages in Poor Nations

Norway’s minister for climate and environment, Espen Barth Eide, second from left, warned about the “dramatic difference” between 1.5 and 2 degrees of warming.Credit…Sedat Suna/EPA, via Shutterstock

After 30 years of deadlock, a new U.N. climate agreement aims to pay developing countries for loss and damage caused by global warming. But huge questions remain about how it would work.

Negotiators from nearly 200 countries concluded two weeks of talks early Sunday in which their main achievement was agreeing to establish a fund that would help poor, vulnerable countries cope with climate disasters made worse by the pollution spewed by wealthy nations that is dangerously heating the planet.

The decision regarding payments for climate damage marked a breakthrough on one of the most contentious issues at United Nations climate negotiations. For more than three decades, developing nations have pressed for loss and damage money, asking rich, industrialized countries to provide compensation for the costs of destructive storms, heat waves and droughts fueled by global warming.

But the United States and other wealthy countries had long blocked the idea, for fear that they could be held legally liable for the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change.

The agreement hammered out in this Red Sea resort town says nations cannot be held legally liable for payments. The deal calls for a committee with representatives from 24 countries to work over the next year to figure out exactly what form the fund should take, which countries should contribute and where the money should go. Many of the other details are still to be determined. 11-19-22

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New York voters approved $4.2 billion for climate infrastructure. Now what?

Flooding on the Major Deegan Expressway in New York after Hurricane Ida last year. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Voters across New York state approved a $4.2 billion environmental bond measure during last week’s midterm elections that is intended to bolster climate mitigation and land preservation projects. But while the act has been applauded by environmentalists, many are calling on New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) to do even more now that she has won her first full term as governor.

The bond act “is a beginning, not the end. We need an ongoing commitment to funding environmental justice and climate justice and climate solutions,” said Katherine Nadeau, the deputy director of Catskill Mountainkeeper. “If we don’t put substantial funding into our communities, the consequences will be dire.”

Known as the Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act, the ballot initiative is the first to come out of the state in 26 years, according to the Rockefeller Institute of Government, a public policy think tank.

It passed by a wide margin, with 67.5 percent of voters supporting the ballot measure and 32.5 percent voting against it. Advocates say the approval reflects an urgency among residents to address global warming because it allocates investments for a variety of mitigation projects, including flood risk reduction, clean energy, and land conservation. 11-18-22

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9 in 10 US counties have experienced a climate disaster in the last decade, report finds

Scott Olson / Getty Images

Climate change is here and “all taxpayers are paying for it.”

Ninety percent of all counties in the United States have experienced a weather disaster over the past decade, and these climate-fueled events have caused more than $740 billion in damages, according to a new report from the climate adaptation group Rebuild by Design.

The “Atlas of Disaster,” a first-of-its-kind study published on Wednesday, analyzes a decade of federal disaster spending to reveal which parts of the country have been hit hardest by climate change, and which are most vulnerable to future catastrophes. The report finds that the federal disaster relief system is both underfunded and inefficient: The government lacks the authority and resources to help communities fully recover after disasters, and it also spends too much money on rebuilding in risky areas.

“It shows unequivocally that climate change is here and that all taxpayers are paying for it,” said Amy Chester, the managing director of Rebuild by Design. The organization began as a federal government initiative to help the Northeast recover from Hurricane Sandy, and is now housed at New York University’s Institute for Public Knowledge. 11-16-22

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These 15 meat and dairy companies emit almost as much methane as the EU

Christinne Muschi/Bloomberg via Getty

Tyson, Nestlé, JBS Foods and other food giants should have stricter emissions tracking, experts say

Fifteen of the world’s largest meat and dairy companies emit roughly the same amount of methane as the entire European Union, according to new research.

The study, which concentrated on five meat companies and 10 dairy companies, was commissioned by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and the Changing Markets Foundation. It comes ahead of a planned update on the global methane pledge on Saturday at this year’s United Nations climate conference.

In the United States, Tyson Foods, the world’s second-largest meat company, releases roughly the same amount of methane as all livestock in Russia, while the national milking industry organization, Dairy Farmers of America, releases the same amount of methane as all livestock in the United Kingdom, according to the new study. 11-16-22

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Douglas Brinkley: Our planet needs another “Rachel Carson moment”

While writing a history of Rachel Carson and the environmental movement of the 1960s and ’70s, I was bombarded daily with contemporary news flashes about human-caused climate change disasters.

A new National Climate Assessment Draft Report released this past week warned that, for a host of disturbing reasons, the United States has warmed 68 percent faster than the planet as a whole.

Yet, during our 2022 midterm elections, our climate chaos wasn’t elevated as a top voter concern.

That disappointed me.

Back in the Long Sixties, three presidents, from both parties – John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon – had the courage to elevate ecological issues to the forefront of America’s public square.

The catalyst was Rachel Carson, whose 1962 book “Silent Spring” memorably linked Theodore Roosevelt-style nature preservation to backyard public health concerns.

Carson warned of pesticides, like DDT, in a 1963 “CBS Reports” documentary: “These sprays, dusts, and aerosols … have the power to kill every insect, the good and the bad; to still the song of birds and the leaping of fish in the streams; and to linger on in soil,” she said. 11-13-22

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The Midterms’ Surprising Lesson for 2024: Court the Climate Voter

While crime got a lot of attention during the midterms, just as many voters rated climate change as their top concern. Could this be the next big voting bloc?

This image shows a person’s legs and feet visible beneath the polling booth as they cast their vote.
Erin Clark/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

In this week’s midterms, the climate may have been an unexpected winner. That’s not just because far-right climate deniers, delayers, and petrosexual culture warriors fared worse than anticipated on Tuesday—after all, while the “red wave” failed to materialize, a Republican-controlled House could still block a lot of climate policy. Rather, several quiet signs from Tuesday’s results and exit polls suggest that climate could be a more winning issue for the Democrats than is conventionally assumed. They point toward one possible path to victory in 2024.

This year, more “climate voters,” people whose top issue is the climate crisis, showed up to cast ballots than in any other election in U.S. history. Exit polls show that, contrary to conventional Democratic consultant-class wisdom, climate was the top issue for 8 percent of voters, a share surpassed only by “inflation/economy,” immigration, and abortion (the latter two are tied at second place). You’d never guess it from media coverage, but climate and crime were tied for third place. The percentage of voters prioritizing climate had jumped by four points from 2020, the first year that voters were even asked at the polls about “climate” as opposed to “environment.” There are probably several factors behind this impressive showing.

The Environmental Voter Project, or EVP, which targets “low propensity” voters (that means, people who don’t vote often) whose top issue is climate change, has been tracking this trend and looking for ways to build on it since 2015. The group, whose work I wrote about for TNR in May, is mobilized around the insight that while the stereotypical climate voter in the Democrats’ imaginations looks a lot like me—a comfortably-off white person who votes in every election—many climate voters aren’t like that. They are disproportionately low-income, people of color, and young, all groups that face more obstacles to voting, including voter suppression. EVP’s volunteers text, call, and canvass these voters to turn them out on Election Day. This year, nearly 880,000 such voters cast ballots before Election Day, according to the EVP. When I spoke to Nathaniel Stinnett, EVP founder and executive director, he emphasized that they didn’t know how much of this was due to EVP’s efforts. “Take this with boulder-sized grain of salt,” he cautioned, “but we’re feeling pretty darn good. I’m certain the Environmental Voter Project is having some impact.” 11-11-22

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Biden to federal contractors: Make plans to cut your greenhouse gas emissions

Companies supplying the largest buyer of goods on the planet could soon have to get in line with the Paris Agreement.

Samuel Corum / Getty Images

The Biden administration plans to require the largest federal contractors to set targets for slashing their greenhouse gas emissions in line with goals established under the Paris climate accord in 2015. The proposed rule, announced on Wednesday, could have wide repercussions throughout corporate America as the U.S. federal government is the world’s largest consumer of goods and services.

The administration’s new proposal would also require that contractors make their emissions public as well as detail the risks climate change poses to their business. The list of the largest suppliers to the federal government includes aerospace giants like Boeing and Lockheed Martin as well as pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer and Moderna.

The announcement comes as leaders from around the world met in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, at a United Nations climate summit, where the Biden administration is under pressure to help developing countries already shouldering the burden of rising temperatures, while cutting its own emissions. According to the Washington Post, which broke the news, Biden is expected to tout the new plan when he arrives at the meeting on Friday. 11-11-22

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Former coal plant near Pittsburgh is poisoning groundwater: Report

Groundwater near the site contains arsenic levels 372 times higher than safety threshold. Coal ash sites across the U.S. are seeing similar contamination.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service taking core samples after North Carolina’s Dan River coal ash spill in 2014.
Credit: USFWS

The site of a former coal-fired power plant northwest of Pittsburgh is leaking coal ash and poisoning surrounding groundwater, according to a new report.

Coal ash, the material left behind after coal is burned, contains harmful substances like arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, lithium, mercury and uranium, among others. Exposure is linked to health effects like cancer, damage to the thyroid, liver and kidneys, and neurodevelopmental problems in children.

Although coal consumption has declined across the U.S., the power industry continues to generate about 70 million tons of coal ash annually, and after 100 years of burning coal, U.S. power plants have generated about five billion tons of coal ash.

The new report, published by the environmental law advocacy groups Environmental Integrity Project and EarthJustice, found that 91% of U.S. coal-fired plants have ash landfills or waste ponds that are leaking toxic chemicals and heavy metals into surrounding groundwater at levels that threaten streams, rivers and drinking water aquifers. It also found that many coal plant owners manipulate data or incorrectly claim exemptions to regulations to avoid having to clean up contamination.

“Coal plants are polluting the nation’s water illegally and getting away with it,” Lisa Evans, a senior attorney at Earthjustice and coauthor of the report, said during a news briefing. “At least 91% of them are poisoning our water with hazardous toxics and doing little or nothing to address it. This is illegal.” 11-09-22

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From New York to Texas, climate candidates are gaining momentum in local races

If successful, this new crop of activists-turned-politicians could affect climate action from state to local levels. 

Activists march for the Global Climate Strike in downtown Los Angeles, California, on September 23, 2022. Katie McTiernan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Sarahana Shrestha did not want to run for office. She was working as a part-time organizer for the advocacy groups Democratic Socialists of America and the Public Power NY Coalition, trying to mobilize the public on climate issues and pass state-level renewable energy legislation. She was happy and settled in her job, but a major setback during last year’s New York legislative session forced her to rethink her plans.

Shrestha and her fellow advocates/activists had spent a year organizing around a package of bills to give a state agency the authority to provide power to energy customers — allowing it to compete against private utilities and incentivize renewable energy. But the group’s efforts ultimately failed after the bill stalled in the state assembly.

In the aftermath of the stinging defeat, Shrestha started looking for her next move. She had previously taken a lead role in helping to stop a fracked gas plant in the city of Newburgh and was a consistent voice opposing a transmission line that would run through the Hudson Valley. She realized that she was well-positioned within the political scene in the Hudson Valley to run for office.

Shrestha and campaign volunteers spent months knocking on doors throughout New York’s District 103, touting her climate, environment, and progressive values And in June, Shrestha, a first-generation Nepali American, beat 13-term incumbent Kevin Cahill to win the district’s Democratic primary. In a true-blue state like New York, a primary win most often means a general election win. 11-08-22

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Fracking, abortion, and the challenge of raising a family in southwestern Pennsylvania

The right to choose is at risk in the state’s midterm elections. What does that mean for the residents of fracking country?

Activists and homeowners protest against hydraulic gas drilling, or “fracking,” outside the Philadelphia convention center on Wednesday, September 7, 2011. AP Photo / Mark Stehle

On Tuesday, Pennsylvania voters will decide the future of abortion in this state.

In the aftermath of Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women Health Organization, the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade’s constitutional right to abortion and made abortion rights the purview of state government, 13 states have banned the procedure altogether, most with very limited exceptions. In Pennsylvania, the Republican-controlled legislature has been preparing to enact an abortion ban for years. Democratic Governor Tom Wolf has promised to veto such a ban as long as he remains in office.

But Wolf’s second term is drawing to a close, and the availability of safe, legal abortion in Pennsylvania is essentially dependent on which candidate succeeds him: sitting state Attorney General Josh Shapiro or ultra-conservative Christian nationalist Doug Mastriano. Shapiro has promised to protect access to abortion, whereas Mastriano intends to severely restrict it. If Mastriano prevails and Republicans retain their majorities in the state House and Senate, Pennsylvanians’ right to terminate pregnancies would likely come to an end.

In southwestern Pennsylvania, this battle for reproductive rights takes place against a disturbing backdrop. Over the past 15 years, shale gas development has proliferated across the region, with thousands of unconventional wells — also known as fracked wells — drilled since 2007. And due to widespread fracking being a relatively new practice and the oil and gas industry’s efforts to conceal and downplay the toxicity of chemicals used in it, Pennsylvanians are just beginning to understand the potential health impacts of living, becoming pregnant, and raising a family in the second-highest natural gas-producing state in the nation. For these Pennsylvanians, a ban on abortion would just be one more way in which their health has been wrested out of their control. 11-07-22

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These 3 governor’s races could determine whether the Midwest reaches its climate goals

Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin have clean energy plans, but fossil-fuel-friendly candidates could undermine them.

David Brewster/Star Tribune via Getty Images

Some Midwest states want to decarbonize by 2050. This year’s midterm elections could throw a wrench into these goals.

Next week, voters in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin will go to the polls and cast their vote for governor. All three states have incumbent Democratic governors who have enacted clean energy plans for the state within the last three years. They are all facing Republican challengers who have ties to the fossil fuel industry or who have campaigned on extending the life of polluting infrastructure.

Experts say that if Republicans win these races, they have the potential to slow down progress toward decarbonization or even dismantle the states’ climate plans altogether.

Wisconsin, a noted swing state in presidential elections, has plans for all electricity consumed in the state to be 100 percent carbon-free by 2050 in accordance with an executive order Democratic Governor Tony Evers signed in 2019. The state’s gubernatorial race has been extremely tight between incumbent Evers and Republican challenger Tim Michels, CEO of one of the largest infrastructure and construction contracting companies in the nation.

Michels, who did not respond to repeated requests for comment, has strong ties to the oil and gas industry. His company has worked on the Line 5 pipeline, Dakota Access pipeline, and the Keystone XL pipeline, and while Michels claims he will divest from the company if elected, that process is a difficult task. 11-04-22

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PFAS contamination likely at 58,000 sites in US: Study

Presumptive contamination sites identified total 57,412. Graphic: PFAS Project Lab

Researchers for a recent study found that 57,412 sites nationwide, including 1,452 in North Carolina, are presumed to be contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

The PFAS Project Lab research team published in mid-October its findings, “Presumptive Contamination: A New Approach to PFAS Contamination Based on Likely Sources,” in Environmental Science & Technology Letters. The team concluded that PFAS contamination should be presumed at certain industrial facilities, sites related to PFAS-containing waste, and locations where fluorinated firefighting foams have been used.

The PFAS Project Lab, based at Northeastern University in Boston, studies social, scientific and political factors related to PFAS and researches contamination through collaboration with impacted communities, researchers and nonprofits. The lab is supported by the National Science Foundation, The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and Whitman College.

Researchers explain in the paper that because data on the scale, scope and severity of PFAS releases and the resulting contamination nationwide are uneven and incomplete, the team developed what they call the “presumptive contamination approach” to determine possible sources of contamination. 11-03-22

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How centuries-old whaling logs are filling gaps in our climate knowledge

Whalers from the 18th and 19th centuries are helping 21st Century scientists on climate change.

Drawings of ships decorate the pages of a historic whaling logbook. Courtesy of Jayne Doucette, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

A little after 7:30 in the morning on Wednesday, December 7, 1887, in the aftermath of remarkably strong northeasterly winds, Captain William A. Martin instructed the crew of the Eunice H. Adams, a whaling ship from Massachusetts, to anchor in cerulean water roughly 24 feet deep, close to Port Royal, South Carolina. Around 9 a.m., Charles Hamilton, a desperate crew member, jumped overboard — deserting his post, with the intention of swimming to land. He was intercepted mid-route by another ship, which returned him to the leaking brig he had tried to escape.

Later that day, an act of near-mutiny occurred. According to the ship’s logbook, a signed letter from the majority of the crew was sent ashore to Port Royal authorities. In it, the men complained that the vessel they sailed on was “unseaworthy,” unhappy with the unplanned stop and delay for repairs merely months into their voyage, in the hope that they’d be released from duty. Authorities did nothing. A sheet of rain beat down on the Eunice H. Adams, and the miserable crew was forced to continue to carry on to Cabo Verde, an archipelago on the westernmost point of Africa.

Logbooks, like the nearly 200-page document kept aboard the Eunice H. Adams, served as legal reports, necessary for insurance claims, which meant log keepers kept exhaustive records of the crew’s day-to-day exploits. They tracked the ship’s location, other vessels encountered, and both weather and sea conditions along the routes they sailed. But they also kept clues for the future: Stored within the pages of the 18th and 19th-century whaling logbooks is a cache of ancient weather records, meticulously logged by crews traversing the world’s oceans. 11-02-22

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A new tax credit for biogas could be a boon to factory farms

Experts say the Inflation Reduction Act’s push for biogas is “one step forward and two steps back.”

Grist / Getty Images

When Maria Payan’s son was screened for cancer, she knew he had to leave home.

The Payan family lived in Delta, Pennsylvania, a rural community of fewer than 1,000 people near the southern edge of the state, bordering Maryland. Payan, a Pennsylvania native, said she wanted her son Michael to grow up in a small, idyllic community like she did when she was young, making Delta an attractive place to raise a family.

Then the farm across the road changed hands and became a concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO, home to thousands of poultry and cattle, churning out a steady supply of manure and animal waste.

“It just changes your entire life,“ Payan told Grist. “Kids can’t play outside. You have to call them inside with the level of stench because you understand it’s not just odors.”

The proliferation of CAFOs across the country has harmed the quality of life for neighboring small communities for decades, with environmental groups now suing the Environmental Protection Agency over the agency’s failure to regulate groundwater pollution stemming from factory farms.

When a farm produces massive amounts of animal waste, the waste must go somewhere. Generally, farms have pits of manure that hold the waste, uncovered and outdoors, which increase methane emissions and contribute to more ammonia in the air, as well as pollution from nitrates and phosphorus. The waste also contains hydrogen sulfide, a chemical that causes a strong odor and inflammation in the eyes, skin, and lungs. 11-01-22

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