Target: Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China
Goal: Halt sand dredging that threatens marine ecosystems and habitats of Taiwan.
China has begun a fresh round of obliterating the sand banks that separate it from Taiwan. This maneuver is believed to be a tactic for intimidating the smaller region and attempting to wipe away its natural defenses. The strong-arm method is also taking a hidden but no less devastating environmental toll.
The operations involve mining sand by essentially displacing and pumping it up with large dredging ships. Hundreds of these vessels often conduct illegal dredging around Taiwan’s waters, but as tensions have risen between the regions the activity has become more frequent and more overt. The estimated 100,000 tons of sand dredged on a daily basis are already likely devastating the delicate marine ecosystems that call these waters home.
The centerpieces of these systems, small seabed-dwelling organisms, lose their lives directly as their habitats are destroyed and their bodies sucked up and spit back out as carcasses. A devastating domino effect could collapse the entire food chain. Worse yet, the loss of sand creates shoreline erosion that could even adversely impact life on land.
Sign the petition below to urge an immediate cease and desist to this wholesale environmental degradation.
Dear President Xi,
China wants to position itself as a leader on clean technology and environmental sustainability. Yet this country continues to conduct arguably the most devastating and least-regulated form of mineral extraction on a wide scale. So-called sand mafias have made blood money from the destructive practice of sand mining. The world’s most populous country has created an empire out of this environmentally unsound practice.
The continued dredging of the Taiwan Strait is the most egregious example. You may see these exercises as a short-term power play, but the decades’ worth of damage you are inflicting on vibrant marine ecosystems will last several lifetimes. Nearly 100,000 tons of sand are likely lost in one day alone. With this loss comes habitat erosion, a seabed strewn with carcasses, and a food chain without its most critical links.
Please stop these dangerous dredging exercises before they fuel a catastrophe beyond your control.
Joe Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris as his vice presidential running mate could mean the end to the affordable energy that makes modern American life possible.
In comparison to the Trump administration, which has prioritized deregulation and energy dominance, the former vice president and California senator have both committed themselves to heavily restrict fracking as they focus on climate change and renewable energy. If enacted, the Biden-Harris plan would reduce energy choices, increase prices and drive Americans back to international markets for essential energy supplies.
On issues of energy supply, Biden has been clear. For example, moderators at the Democratic Party debates asked him about his position on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the means by which American natural gas producers have helped to free us from many of the vagaries of international energy markets. He boldly replied, “No more drilling on federal lands. No more drilling, including offshore. No ability for the oil industry to continue to drill, period. Ends!” Later, in the same debate, he added, “No new fracking.”
That broad and somewhat vague pronouncement likely raised blood pressure readings among supporters in Biden’s campaign. Promising to put as many as 1.7 million American workers out of a job by banning fracking would be a hard sell for any campaign, especially in gas-producing states such as Texas or Pennsylvania. So no one was surprised to see Biden staffers walk back the former VP’s ambiguous promises immediately after the debate. They quickly limited his anti-fracking rhetoric to targeting energy development on federal lands.
And Biden staffers aren’t the only ones openly correcting policy stances for the former vice president. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who co-chairs the Sanders side of the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force, is getting in on the action, too. Jayapal has publicly bragged about her ability to “significantly push Joe Biden to do things that he hadn’t signed on to before.” Biden is, in her estimation, “movable.”
That malleability is not terribly surprising given that, for some time now, Biden has been seen as increasingly confused and frail. Keying in on those concerns, a recent Rasmussen poll indicated that 59 percent of Americans believe that he will not finish a first term, were he to win the upcoming election. For that reason, American voters must recognize that, come November, they may well be considering Harris as the actual Democratic presidential candidate. So, her take on energy policy should be understood as well.
While The New York Times recently tried to sell Harris as a “pragmatic moderate,” on issues of energy, her policies align far more closely with the progressive wing of the party. For example, Harris recently introduced the Climate Equity Act with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). In the Democratic presidential debate, Harris bluntly stated that she “support[s] a Green New Deal,” the nearly $100 trillion climate change policy authored by Ocasio-Cortez. In that same appearance, Harris promised that, “on day one as president,” she would “reenter us into the Paris Agreement.”
In last year’s CNN climate town hall, Harris was asked about her views on fracking by a climate activist with the environmental group 350.org. Without pause, Harris confirmed, “There is no question I’m in favor of banning fracking.” She then gave a simple, one-word answer, “Yes!” to CNN host Erin Burnett’s follow-up question, “So, would you ban offshore drilling?”
The Biden-Harris position on fracking and natural gas production is abundantly clear, as reported by a recent string of tweets from Alex Epstein, author of “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels.” Epstein contends that fracking is the means by which the U.S. produces 60 percent of our oil and 75 percent of our natural gas. Banning it would put millions out of American workers back in unemployment lines already swollen by policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stifling the development of the fuels and technologies that power our economy with clean, affordable and reliable energy would be like killing the goose and then tossing the golden egg out the window. That’s an extremely bad way for the freshly minted progressive duo to start their campaign.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, Indigenous peoples have called for the suspension of all resource extraction in the Amazon.
Big oil, mining, logging and other extractive industries helped the virus spread into Indigenous territories, making people sick and killing their elders. For too long heads of state have listened to corporations rather than to Indigenous communities, which has led to loss of biodiversity, runaway climate change, raging fires, and now extreme illness. In the face of multiple crises, leaders have failed to act.
Right now in Ecuador, two of the Amazon’s most precarious oil pipelines are on the brink of rupture for the second time this year. A spill could happen any day due to unaddressed erosion, sending contamination downriver into Peru and Brazil. Why are they still pumping? Where is the justice for Indigenous communities whose rivers and soils were poisoned? Every avoidable disaster caused by extraction is another blow to the Amazon rainforest, Indigenous peoples, and our climate.
You can see the power of the Indigenous movement in recent groundbreaking wins across the world— from the victory at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline to the Waorani victory against oil drilling in the Pastaza region of Ecuador. However, governments and corporations are continuing to exploit the world’s resources at alarming rates with great risk to Indigenous peoples.
Around the world, Indigenous movements are fighting back and winning. From Standing Rock, USA to Pastaza, Ecuador, Indigenous peoples are demonstrating their resilience and power to confront injustice and protect their ancestral lands.
Today I stand with the Indigenous movement in calling for immediate action to shut off the hazardous oil pipelines in Ecuador and suspend extraction across the Amazon until safety is restored and justice is served.
People love to live by the water. For centuries, cities like New York, Miami, Honolulu and San Francisco have attracted residents and tourists from around the world. In fact, almost half of the U.S. population lives in counties on the coast, and that percentage is growing in footprint, density, number and population, reshaping and hardening coastlines in the process.
Coasts also provide habitat for great numbers of plants and animals and are typically biodiversity hotspots. But all this coastal development is reducing the amazing biodiversity along our shorelines.
Development has also reduced our coasts’ natural ability to resist and recover from natural disasters and has removed habitat that provides shelter for wildlife and ecosystem services for humans. Traditional coastal defenses like sea walls and levees are widely used to protect communities, but these artificial coastal barriers can lead to significant erosion or unwanted sediment deposition and negatively impact water quality. They are also time-consuming to build and cost billions to construct, maintain and repair.
Increasingly, engineers and planners are starting to pay more attention to the potential of “Nature and Nature-Based Features” (NNBFs) as environmentally friendly solutions—like mangrove forests, beach dunes, coral reefs and wetlands—that fulfill the same roles as an important weapon in the fight against coastal storms and flooding.
D. Rex Miller
NNBFs include natural defenses and human-built features that mimic them. Using NNBFs in coastal development decisions can therefore mean constructing new ones or protecting existing natural ones. NNBFs are often cheaper and require less maintenance and management. They can also make communities more resilient to climate change by adapting to changes in the environment. They are part of the larger concept of “green infrastructure,” or attempting to harness nature’s resilience to solve human problems. And its not all-or-nothing – NNBFs can complement artificial coastal infrastructure.
NNBFs like wetlands are essential to protect coasts from storm surges because they can store and slow the release of floodwaters, reducing erosion and damage to buildings. One study found that salt marshes can reduce wave height by an average of 72%. Coral reefs can serve as a barrier and reduce wave height by an average of 70%. These reefs protect coastal cities near them such as Honolulu and Miami, saving lives and preventing monetary damage.
Megan Joyce/Defenders of Wildlife
When Superstorm Sandy slammed the Northeast in 2012, homes on beaches fairly near to sand dunes were protected by these natural buffers, which can blunt the force of waves and wind. In many cases, homes on beach areas where dunes had been removed (often to improve ocean views) were completely destroyed by Sandy. Removing many of the mangroves that lined Biscayne Bay in South Florida may have helped spur economic development. However, it also removed another natural barrier against storm surge. This increased vulnerability of homes and businesses to the hurricanes that frequently hit Miami. Coastal communities in Indonesia hit by the devastating 2004 tsunami that had removed their mangrove forests suffered more damage and more lost lives than areas where mangroves had been allowed to remain. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently working on a number of projects that look at features like mangroves and their ability to protect coasts.
Image Image Credit David Bocanegra/USFWS
Image Image Credit Lia McLaughlin/USFWS
Image Image Credit Greg Thompson/USFWS Damage from Hurricane Sandy at Cape May National Wildlife Refuge, Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, homes on the Jersey Shore
Bringing Wildlife Back
People are not the only ones who can benefit from NNBF. Restoring or protecting habitat can bring back habitat for wildlife and provide space for wildlife to live alongside coastal human communities. This includes imperiled species.
For example, coastal dunes restoration can improve habitat for threatened species like the piping plover, red knot and seabeach amaranth. Restoring mangroves can help protect species like the wood stork and American alligator, and the endangered hawksbill turtle. Protecting coral reefs can help threatened elkhorn and boulder star corals, and ensure habitat remains for the hawksbill sea turtle. People and wildlife can both have space.
Image Image Credit FWS
Image Image Credit Steve Brooks
Image Image Credit Michele Hoffman
NNBFs can also improve water quality. Much of the rainwater and flood water that goes on vegetation or sand will sink into the ground where it is cleaned. Healthy coral reefs and healthy mangroves help improve marine waters. And by avoiding artificial coastal defenses, polluted runoff can be avoided. Improving water quality can help marine imperiled species. For example, manatees in Florida have been devastated by red tide in recent years. Similarly, water quality issues can stress or kill threatened corals that need clear water for photosynthesis. Even species far offshore, like orca, can be hurt by contaminated runoff from development. Creating habitat for wildlife can even have additional economic benefits beyond coastal protection. It can offer opportunities for economic activity like kayaking, fishing and birding.
Image Image Credit Andrew S. Wright/USFWS
Image Image Credit NPS
The Future of NNBF
In recent years, the U.S. Congress has become interested in the potential of NNBFs, instructing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to incorporate NNBFs into coastal defense projects where appropriate. The Corps’ research and development center has taken a leading role in researching NNBFs. Through its engineering with nature initiative, it has developed numerous projects exploring NNBFs’ potential. However, the regional offices have made less progress in taking advantage of NNBFs in their coastal defense projects. NNBFs should be a priority for the Corps and coastal communities around the country – and the world.
Advocating for NNBFs is part of Defenders of Wildlife’s mission to protect habitat and we believe they are a strong tool for addressing the overall biodiversity crisis faced by the planet.
Senior Conservation Policy Analyst Andrew works on wildlife conservation policy at the Center for Conservation Innovation, where he researches and analyzes conservation governance strategies and emerging policy issues, and works with other CCI members to develop innovative approaches to habitat and species protection.
A car drives past a crack in the road on Highway 178, south of Trona, California, after a 6.4-magnitude earthquake hit the nearby town of Ridgecrest on July 4, 2019. Photograph by Fredric J. Brown, AFP via Getty Images
In Southern California, the landscape is fractured in the shape of an enormous letter Z. The top arm is made up of a winding series of cracks that were responsible for quakes that rattled the city of Ridgecrest last year. The diagonal section is an ancient fault called Garlock that runs to the west. And along the bottom sits the mighty San Andreas.
Earthquakes along this lengthy fault, which runs more than 800 miles through California, are an ever-looming concern—and a new study suggests that in the next year, a large quake near the bustling city of Los Angeles could be three to five times more likely than previously thought. The research, published in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, found that the 2019 Ridgecrest earthquakes made a future quake along the nearby Garlock fault more likely. If a big enough quake hits Garlock, it could trigger the San Andreas fault as well—a series of events that the researchers estimate has about a 1 in 87 probability of occurring within the next year.
However, the overall probability of such an event remains low. The research team estimates that there is a 2.3 percent chance of a magnitude 7.7 earthquake occurring on the Garlock fault in the next year, and a 1.15 percent chance of a similar quake hitting San Andreas.
“So, the sky is not falling,” says study co-author Ross Stein, CEO of Temblor, Inc., a company that assesses risks from hazards such as earthquakes. “But it is significantly higher, in our judgement, than what it would have been had the Ridgecrest earthquake not occurred.”
Estimating the probability of earthquakes is notoriously tricky. The deep faults that generate them, scientists have increasingly realized, are complex networks of cracks and chasms. “They’re fractal. They’re grungy. They have bends and breaks,” Stein says.
Faults can also interact: Movement along one might increase stresses on another, sparking a sequence of quakes, “like a domino effect,” says Alessandro Verdecchia, a geologist at McGill University who was not part of the study. The new model is the latest attempt to assess the likelihood of this potentially deadly scenario.
How the dominos fall
The San Andreas fault marks the boundary where the North American tectonic plate and the Pacific plate grind past each other. As the Pacific plate inches along a northwesterly route, stresses build until the ground breaks, which sends the surface rolling in an earthquake.
There have been many quakes in California over the past century, but the last time a big temblor occurred along the San Andreas itself was in 1906, when a magnitude 7.9 earthquake unzipped some 300 miles of the fault, leveling buildings across San Francisco and killing more than 3,000 people. It was the deadliest quake in U.S. history.
The new study suggests that the Ridgecrest quakes have increased the chances of another big one occurring, this time in southern California.
The 2019 event was a double whammy, with a magnitude 6.4 and then 7.1 quake striking one day apart. The movement from these quakes distorted the surrounding landscape, shifting the stresses on nearby faults such as the Garlock.
To estimate this change in stress, Stein and study co-author Shinji Toda of Tohoku University in Japan created a model based on the motion along faults during the Ridgecrest quakes. They also incorporated data from a host of earlier quakes to visualize the fault as a spidery zone of fractures, Stein says.
The model estimates that in the year after Ridgecrest, there was an eight percent chance of a magnitude 7.7 event along the Garlock. While that did not come to pass, the work suggests a greater risk still remains than previously recognized. In the upcoming year, the chance of such a quake remains at 2.3 percent, about 100 times as large as previous models found.
A big enough quake along the Garlock—magnitude 7.5 or bigger, by the researchers’ calculations—could spark a quake along the San Andreas that travels southward toward Los Angeles.
“The fact that it’s higher is interesting and maybe motivates us to look at it more closely,” says John Vidale, a geophysicist at the University of Southern California who was not involved in the study, referring to the estimated probability of a major quake. But many uncertainties still remain, he says, and the time period with the greatest risk of a Garlock rupture has already passed, so the new model “doesn’t necessarily mean we need to be more scared than we otherwise would be.”
Even so, the new work is a good reminder that all residents living in earthquake country need to be prepared, Stein says. If a big quake hits the Garlock fault, it could be weeks, months, or more before the San Andreas slips as well—if it does at all. But quakes in this region at some point in the future are inevitable. (Learn more about earthquake safety and how to prepare.)
“Creaking limb of assumptions”
All models, including the latest, make simplifying assumptions about our astoundingly complex planet. For example, the new model doesn’t account for the complexities of fluid interactions, which can change the fault stresses over long periods of time, says Pablo Gonzalez, a geophysicist with the University of Liverpool in England and part of the Spanish National Research Council who was not part of the study.
The model also assumes that the ground is uniform in composition. But movement along the Garlock fault over millions of years has offset the land by some 40 miles, meaning the rocks to the north differ from those to the south, Gonzalez says.
One particular challenge with all earthquake forecasts is that researchers don’t know how much additional stress is required to cause a fault to break, says Chris Goldfinger, an earthquake geologist at Oregon State University who was not part of the new study.
“When you get over to the San Andreas, you’re kind of on a long creaking limb of assumptions,” Goldfinger says. “I would still sleep well in L.A. tonight—or as well as you would otherwise.”
On a warm day in March 1982, biologist Francis “Jack” Putz strayed into a knot of black mangrove trees seeking relief from the afternoon heat. Drowsy from his midday meal and hours of fieldwork in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste National Park, Putz decided to lie down for a short siesta.
As he gazed skyward, the wind stirred the tops of the mangroves above him, causing the limbs of neighboring trees to claw at each other and snap off some of their outermost leaves and branches. Putz noticed that this reciprocal pruning had left tracks of empty space running through the canopy.
This network of treetop chasms, called crown shyness, has been documented in forests around the world. From the mangroves of Costa Rica to the towering Borneo camphor trees of Malaysia, gaps in the greenery abound. But scientists still don’t fully understand why the tops of trees so often refuse to touch.
Beneath the mangroves 40 years ago, teetering on the verge of a post-lunch snooze, Putz reasoned that trees need personal space, too—a critical step toward unraveling the roots of the branches’ bashful behavior.
“I often make great discoveries at naptime,” he says.
Today, a growing body of work continues to support the early observations of Putz and his colleagues. Wind, it seems, plays a crucial role in helping many trees maintain their distance. The boundaries carved by bouts between branches may improve the plants’ access to resources, such as light. Gaps in the treetops might even curb the spread of leaf-munching insects, parasitic vines, or infectious disease.
In some ways, crown shyness is the arboreal version of social distancing, says Meg Lowman, a forest canopy biologist and director of the TREE Foundation. “The minute you start keeping plants from physically touching each other, you can increase productivity,” she says. “That’s the beauty of isolation … The tree is really safeguarding its own health.”
Tussling in the treetops
Though descriptions of crown shyness have appeared in scientific literature since the 1920s, several decades passed before researchers started systematically digging into the phenomenon’s cause. Some scientists initially pursued a hypothesis that trees were simply failing to fill the spaces between their canopies due to a lack of light—a crucial resource for photosynthesis—where their foliage overlapped.
But Putz’s team published research in 1984 showing that in some cases, crown shyness may simply be the product of a battle between windblown trees, each racing to sprout new branches and parry strikes from their neighbors. In their research, the more mangroves swayed in the wind, the more widely their canopies were spaced from those of their neighbors—some of the first results supporting this so-called abrasion hypothesis to explain the treetop patterns.
Other scientists have found clues that several paths to crown shyness likely exist, and some are perhaps less combative than these windy tussles. For instance, Rudnicki says some trees may have learned to stop growing at their tips entirely, wising up to the fact that any new foliage will be stripped away.
Trees could thus avoid unnecessary damage, says Inés Ibáñez, a forest ecologist at the University of Michigan. “Growing new tissue is very costly for plants … It’s like the trees being preemptive: Let’s not grow here because it’s not worth it.”
Some trees may be capable of taking this prudence a step further by using a specialized sensory system to detect chemicals emanating from nearby plants. “There’s a growing body of literature around plant cognizance,” says Marlyse Duguid, a forester and horticulturist at Yale University. Data on chemical communication in woody plants is sparse, but if trees can sense each other, they may be able to halt canopy growth before they’re forced to tussle.
The perks of personal space
Regardless of how crown shyness occurs, the separation likely comes with benefits. “Leaves are like a tree’s most expensive diamonds—you want to protect them at all costs,” Lowman says. “If a whole bunch get bumped off, that’s a terrible disaster for the tree.”
Sparser foliage could also help sunlight reach forest floors, nurturing the ground-dwelling plants and animals that in turn support arboreal life. Putz thinks the gaps may even help trees avoid invasive, woody vines called lianas—which are common in tropical and temperate forests around the world—or buffer the plants against disease-causing microbes and flightless insects that use canopies as conduits. (Some germs and bugs could still theoretically make the hop when trees box in the breeze.)
Many of these possible advantages, however, have yet to be conclusively linked to crown shyness. Forest canopies—the tops of some of the world’s tallest plants—aren’t easy to study, says Lowman, a self-described “arbonaut” and one of the few scientists who has made a career studying canopies. Examining the tops of trees requires quite a bit of climbing, balance, and bravery. “The limiting factor is our inability to deal with gravity to get to those places,” she says.
Still, ignoring the canopy of a tree is like trying to understand the human body from only the waist down, Lowman says. The crowns of trees teem with life—and much of this biodiversity may still be undiscovered, especially in the tropics.
Luckily, crown shyness “isn’t something you have to get on a plane to see,” Putz says. “It’s happening all around—and what an enriching thing for people to look up and see.”
In February, the administration finalized plans to drill and mine in these areas which until recently were protected under National Monument status. Their plan “puts tens of thousands of archeological sites, Native American sacred sites, and recreational public lands in the hands of private industry to mine, drill, and develop for their own benefit.”
The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) describes Bears Ears as “a stunningly beautiful, ecologically fragile landscape that has played a crucial role in Native American culture in the Southwest for thousands of years” and Grand Staircase-Escalante as “one of the richest and most important paleontological sites in North America.”
We cannot allow this recklessness to damage lands that Americans love and that are sacred to Native Americans. Sign this petition telling Congress that you want to protect all of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase now!
Sign these other relevant petitions to stand up against more environmentally damaging plans and proposals made by the Trump administration:
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A top official at the Environmental Protection Agency informed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Alaska late Thursday that the EPA would not formally object at this point to the proposed Pebble Mine, a massive gold and copper deposit where mining could damage the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery.
Christopher Hladick, the EPA’s regional administrator for Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, wrote to the Alaska district engineer, Col. David Hibner, that the agency still has serious concerns about the plan, including that dredging for the open-pit mine “may well contribute to the permanent loss of 2,292 acres of wetlands and … 105.4 miles of streams.”
But Hladick said the EPA would not elevate the matter to the leadership of the two agencies, which could delay necessary approvals for the project to advance. The EPA “appreciates the Corps’ recent commitment to continue this coordination into the future,” he wrote.
The move marks the latest chapter in a years-long battle that has pitted a Canadian-owned mining company against commercial fishing operators, native Alaskans and conservationists determined to protect the unique and economically critical sockeye salmon fishery in Bristol Bay.
The Corps is set to decide this summer whether to grant a federal permit to the Pebble Partnership to move forward with the project. The EPA could still veto such a permit. Last year, it sent the Corps a letter saying the project slated for southwestern Alaska “may” harm “aquatic resources of national importance.”
But the EPA had to determine by Thursday whether the mine “will” cause such harm, and it opted not to do so — an indication that the environmental agency does not appear likely to block the mine.
Pebble Partnership chief executive Tom Collier, whose company has proposed a 20-year plan to extract copper, gold and molybdenum from a deposit worth hundreds of billions of dollars, hailed the decision in a statement as “another indication of positive progress for the project.”
Rich Nolan, president and chief executive of the National Mining Association, also welcomed the EPA’s determination. “It is encouraging to see the permitting process proceeding as intended on this important project, especially after so many years of delay and inappropriate overreach,” he said in an email.
But opponents of the proposed mining operation — located in a watershed that supports a long-standing Alaska Native subsistence tradition, as well as a lucrative commercial and recreational fishery — noted that the EPA and other key agencies have raised concerns the Corps has yet to address.
“There are still many substantive issues with the project proposal that have yet to be resolved,” said the vice president of Bristol Bay Native Corp., Daniel Cheyette, whose Alasksa Native corporation opposes the mine, which would be the largest in North America.
Mark Ryan, a lawyer in private practice who served as regional counsel in EPA Region 10 between 1990 and 2014, said in a phone interview that the EPA’s letter appears contradictory.
“It’s a very odd letter,” Ryan said. “It points out the mine’s very serious environmental damage but then does not invoke EPA’s powers to elevate the issue for further discussion.”
A crab swims above a waving seagrass bed in the Chesapeake Bay.Photograph by Jay Fleming
When scientist Wen Jun Cai and his colleagues boated across the pea-soup-like waters of the upper Chesapeake Bay in the summer of 2016, water sampling kits and pH sensors in hand, they didn’t expect to find chemical magic at play.
The scientists were taking stock of a looming problem facing the 200-mile-long bay: the acidification of its waters, a human-caused phenomenon that threatens the health of the crabs, oysters, and fish iconic to the large estuary.
They started collecting their samples in the recently restored, vibrant underwater grass beds of the Susquehanna Flats near the top of the bay, and motored their way some 60 miles downstream to the deep central channel.
When they rounded up their hundreds of data points and analyzed them, they found evidence of something surprising and encouraging: Gently waving seagrasses in the bay are performing a magnificent chemical trick. As they photosynthesize in the beating sunshine, they produce tiny granules of a carbon-based mineral that acts like a miniature antacid tablet.
And those acid-neutralizing “micro-Tums” don’t stay put. They’re swept miles down the length of the bay, eventually dissolving into the deepest waters, which have long been soured by acidification caused by human sources like agricultural runoff and untreated waste.
“It’s like the seagrasses are producing antacids that counter the indigestion of the bay,” says Jeremy Testa, a marine ecologist at the University of Maryland and an author of the paper in Nature Geoscience describing the newly discovered phenomenon.
Without this acid-neutralizing trick, the bay’s waters and shelled creatures would be even more vulnerable to the human-caused threats, he says.
Acid waters run deep
The Chesapeake gets its name from the Algonquin word for “great shellfish bay.” For thousands of years, its rich ecology depended on the ways its shellfish, grasses, fish, and other species interacted; each influenced the chemistry and biology of the others, in a delicate biological dance.
Seagrasses and other underwater plants packed the bay’s shallows, stilling and smoothing the surrounding water, leaving it clear and clean for baby fish, crabs, and shellfish to populate. Vegetation stabilized the muddy bottom during storms. And it absorbed the brunt of wind and waves, protecting shorelines against erosion.
But as more and more people populated the land around the bay, the grasses took hit after hit. A steady flow of nitrogen-rich pollutants overloaded the waters; the grasses and other underwater plants died off en masse. Between the 1950s and 1980s, vegetation coverage across the bay plummeted. Only 10 percent of sites in the upper bay had vegetation when they were surveyed in 1980.
The nutrient overload also spurred enormous, suffocating algal blooms at the water’s surface. When such blooms happen, the algae die off and sink to deeper water, where they’re eaten by bacteria that use up any oxygen in the water and breathe out carbon-rich acid waste, creating “dead zones.” Almost nothing can survive in such corrosive waters. Worse, during strong winds or at certain times of the year, currents can sweep that deep, super-acidic water into places populated by creatures like oysters and crabs, potentially eroding their ability to maintain their calcium-carbonate based shells.
“Acidified waters can be really challenging for oysters, especially in their larval stage,” says Allison Colden, a biologist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
In other coastal regions, particularly along the U.S. West Coast, acidification has already damaged shellfish populations, thinning their shells and messing with their offspring’s ability to mature. But scientists aren’t totally sure if those same effects have hit the East Coast. In estuaries like the Chesapeake, natural acid levels vary a lot, so shell-forming creatures have a built-in ability to deal with some amount of ups and downs. The worry, for some scientists, is that there might be a tipping point beyond which the iconic species of the bay might not be able to adjust.
“We don’t have enough data anywhere in the world to tell us exactly how those creatures are going to meet the thresholds of acidification,” says Doug Myers, a scientist also with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
They’re particularly concerned because there’s another force, besides nutrient overloading, that’s making the bay’s water more acidic: human-caused burning of fossil fuels. That leads to the buildup of carbon dioxide in the air, which gets pulled into the surface waters as ocean and air make their way toward equilibrium, where it dissolves and makes the water more acidic.
During the early 2000s, states bordering the bay collaborated to rein in polluting runoff, putting the bay a “nutrient diet—” and in response, it began to heal. Old seagrass seeds, long buried in the gooey sediments, started to sprout as the water above them cleared. By the mid-2010s, underwater vegetation covered expanded over an extra 65 square miles of the Bay, more than 300 percent more area than was covered in the 1980s.
Those grasses, like the ones in the Susquehanna Flats, can offset some of the acidity. But they’ll have to work harder and harder as carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere grow.
“This is one of the big questions for us all,” says Emily Rivest, a biologist at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. “What’s going to happen to our oysters, our blue crabs, all the things that live in our waters, as the waters get more acidic?”
Grasses to the rescue
It’s obvious just from looking at the Susquehanna Flats that they’re doing something special, Testa says. Outside the beds, the water often looks pea-green. But inside, it’s crystal clear and much warmer than the water outside the Flats. When they looked closely, they found that even the chemistry was different.
As they photosynthesize, seagrasses and other vegetation pull particular forms of carbon out of the surrounding water, making that water less acidic. They use some of that carbon to build their plant bodies, but turn some of it into tiny crystals of calcium carbonate, a chemical variant on the material that shells are made of. The plants hoard these crystals—which are essentially tiny antacids—both inside and on the surface of their leaves.
The crystals are big enough to feel with your fingers, like a fine grit coating the leaves, says Myers. When a grass dies, it disintegrates, releasing the built-up crystals from its inside as well as out.
The crystals make a big difference for the water chemistry and biology up near the Susquehanna Flats. But they also make a big difference far downstream, demonstrating with unusual clarity how interconnected the ecology of the bay can be. In total, the team calculated, the seagrass-sourced crystals reduced the acidity of the down-bay waters, some 60 miles away, by about 0.6 pH units. They reduced the acidity of the water by four times than it otherwise might have been (because the pH scale is logarithmic, small changes in the numbers on the pH scale mean big changes in terms of acidity).
“If not for the dissolution [of the tiny crystals], the pH downstream would be even lower,” says Cai (a lower value of pH signifies a more acidic environment). “So the vegetation upstream provides a more stable environment for what’s living down the bay.”
Seagrasses and other vegetation do this chemical trick elsewhere, as well, and scientists have seen similar local chemistry shifts in places where grasses have been restored, like the estuaries fringing the Loire River and Tampa Bay. But they haven’t seen this long-range effect before.
It’s not yet clear exactly what impact the seagrass-driven help has on the blue crabs or the oysters. But it does seem clear to many scientists that the whole bay can benefit from the effect as the grasses spread their little acid-neutralizing crystals far and wide—also serving as building material for the shell-growers downstream.
“The dissolving of last year’s grass beds is helping to feed this year’s oysters [to help them build their shells],” says Myers.
The new discovery makes a strong case for restoring even more of the seagrasses in the bay, says Jonathan Lefcheck, an ecologist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Maryland. “You just see so clearly that there are these knock-on effects [from the seagrass restoration],” he says.
“Everything is connected. Something that was happening under our noses—this big unintended benefit, this added value—it turns out we’re solving two problems by attacking just one.”
In May of 1977, an unusual snow event occurred across parts of the Northeast. Before it was all over, one to two feet of snow blanketed some higher elevations. The snow was accompanied by high winds. Extensive tree and power line damage kept crews working for days to restore power.
Snow is not unheard of in May over parts of the Northeast, but many residents will refer to the Mother’s Day event in 1977. Actually, Mother’s Day (May 8th) was chilly with rain across much of the region. That night and into the next day, some dramatic changes were occurring in the upper atmosphere which would usher in cold air and change the rain to snow.
From parts of the Mid-Atlantic through Upstate New York and into New England, the landscape became whitened with snow on Monday, May 9th and the following night. The last flake didn’t stop falling until early on the 10th.
Heavy wet snow was accompanied by fierce winds across parts of New England. Massachusetts was particularly hard hit. There were blizzard conditions at times in eastern Massachusetts. There were wind gusts to 55 mph at times.
Boston only picked up .50 inches of snow but that set a record for the latest measurable snowfall. Foxboro, Massachusetts picked up 10 inches and 7 inches fell down to Providence, Rhode Island. For Providence, it was their only measurable snowfall in the 20th century. Heavier amounts of snow fell west of Boston with Worcester picking up 12.7 inches from the event.
One driver gave this description on a message board from www.americanwx.com about the storm :
I was out driving around the communities between 128 and 495.. Lincoln, Sudbury, Concord…
It was absolutely crazy. Tree branches were crashing down, roads blocked, no plows out… I called my boss and said, “I need to come in the driving is dangerous out here”. He acted like I was crazy. I told him we had 8 inches of snow on the ground and it was snowing heavily.
Here is another account:
We lived in Lexington at the time and lost many tree branches. My Dad was at a meeting at my school that evening, a mile and a half away from home, and couldn’t get home for more than a day because all the roads were blocked. He had to stay with friends that night.
Farther west, the Berkshires of Massachusetts picked up 10-20 inches of snow. 500,000 customers were without power across Massachusetts. Extensive power outages also extended westward into eastern New York and down into Connecticut.
In New York, a foot of snow fell in higher elevations west of Albany and 5 inches fell in the Glen Falls area. Parts of the Mohawk Valley saw 2 to 3 inches of snow. A couple of locations in the Finger Lakes region picked up 4 inches of snow. One location in the Catskill Mountains reported a whopping 27 inches of snow.
Crews attempt to restore power in western Massachusetts while snow is falling on May 9, 1977. Credit-WMEC.
The higher elevations of northern Connecticut picked up over a foot of snow. Hartford recorded 1.5 inches.
Photo of snow on the ground at Tolland, Connecticut, on May 9, 1977. Public Domain.
Only a trace of snow fell around New York City but that was the latest snowfall on record. Trace amounts fell over New Jersey and much of Pennsylvania. Thunderstorms in southern Pennsylvania were accompanied by 70 mph winds.
The only good thing about the storm was that temperatures in the lower elevations were above freezing and with the higher sun angle, most of the roads didn’t become snow covered.
Northern New England also saw snow but only light amounts fell.
Snowfall map for the May 9-10, 1977storm. Map Credit-Kocin-Uccellini/Northeast snowstorms.
On May 8th there were two areas of low pressure that were moving eastward. The first one was moving across southern Ontario while the other was moving into southern Pennsylvania. These systems were responsible for chilly temperatures and areas of rain.
Around the East Coast, there was a deep trough of low pressure developing. At the surface, the Pennsylvania low became the one dominant low around coastal New England, with, with a deep upper-level trough aloft. Coler sir flowed down into the Northeast region from Canada. There was also some very cold air aloft that was manufactured by the upper trough.
Map 0Z May 10, 1977, showing a deep upper-level trough on the East Coast. Map Credit-Kocin-Uccellini/ Northeast Snowstorms.
As temperatures fell on May 9th, the rain changed to snow in many locations. Due to the time of year, it was mainly an “elevation” snow event, but parts of southeast New England was proximate to the upper-level trough so significant snow fell at the lower elevations as well.
Surface weather map for May 9, 1977, shows a strong low-pressure system along the East Coast and associated precipitation. Map Credit- NOAA Central Library (Daily Weather Maps).
With leaves on the trees and heavy wet snow falling all you had to do was add significant wind to create havoc with trees falling on power lines all over.
CAMS monitored the rather unusual ozone hole that formed over the Arctic this spring and was reported closed April 23. Ozone holes are more common over the Antarctic every year, according to CAMS, but “the conditions needed for such strong ozone depletion are not normally found in the Northern Hemisphere.”
The Arctic stratosphere is usually less isolated than its Antarctic counterpart because the presence of nearby land masses and mountain ranges disturbs the weather patterns more than in the Southern Hemisphere, CAMS reports. The total column ozone field (in Dobson Units) from CAMS on 29 March 2020 showing values below 250 DU over large parts of the Arctic. (Source: Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, ECMWF) Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, ECMWF
“The behavior of the ozone and the stratospheric polar vortex during the winter into spring is supported by a couple of research papers,” said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Bob Smerbeck. “They state that the coldest and strongest polar vortex in the stratosphere and the lowest concentration of ozone over the Arctic are more likely to occur when you have a combination of a solar minimum, which we are in now, and a westerly QBO [quasi-biennial oscillation, meaning lower stratospheric westerly winds over the equator], which we had from last summer through most of this winter.
“These are all naturally occurring processes,” Smerbeck said.
A polar vortex that remained above the polar region without weakening and a strong positive phase of the Arctic Oscillation (AO) were among a combination of factors that led the contiguous U.S. to experience higher-than-normal temperatures from December 2019 through February 2020. null
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Photo: Courtesy of H&M
It was over 10 years ago that H&M debuted its first capsule collection made of organic cotton. What felt like a novelty at the time has become mainstream and almost expected; if you aren’t using organic cotton, then what are you even doing? It’s a pattern H&M is hoping to repeat with its latest eco-forward materials, which debut today in its new Conscious Collection.
Ranging from startlingly high-tech to almost-DIY, the collection follows last year’s push into bio-based materials and a move way from strictly-recycled fibers. The most surprising, potentially game-changing one is Vegea, a soft vegan leather alternative made from the byproducts of wine; H&M discovered it through its own Global Change Award in 2017. You’ll find the Vegea “leather” on chain-strap handbags and a few pairs of shoes. Also rooted in nature but ostensibly less complex is a new dye made from the coffee grounds in H&M’s offices in China.
“Going forward, we need to be using more bio-based materials and use more waste in our collections,” Pascal Brun, H&M’s sustainability manager, explains. He’s still excited about recycled materials, but is focused more on “fiber to fiber” recycling, like Renu’s recycled polyester, which comes from actual garments, not plastic water bottles. Similarly, a new material called Circulose is made from recovered cotton and viscose—making it 100% natural—and is making its worldwide launch with H&M. Brun hopes it will eventually become a permanent part of the collection, not just the Conscious Exclusive capsules. “These collections are here to help enable the scale of these new innovations, and make them more commercial [to us and to other brands].”
Still, buying a dress made from recycled viscose or polyester isn’t a shortcut to “being sustainable.” Brun and Ann-Sofie Johansson, H&M’s creative advisor, agreed that the big challenge is still their garments’ end of life; recycled polyester sheds micro plastics in the wash and doesn’t biodegrade in a landfill. “In 2020 and beyond, we need to take the concept of circularity to another level,” Brun adds. “It’s the only way to think about our goals for natural resources [in the next decade]. It isn’t just about materials, though, it’s about how we can design clothes to last longer and to be eventually recycled, and how can we involve our customers to have more sustainable behavior? It’s a holistic approach.”
Johansson also name-checked H&M’s garment collection initiatives—you can take old clothes to any H&M store to be recycled or donated—and a few potential new business models in resale and rental. As far as design, she and her team are thinking about longevity and timelessness rather than trends, falling right in step with the luxury fashion conversation. “We’re talking about making clothes that are more durable and recyclable, but there has to be emotional durability, too,” she said. “If you fall in love with a garment, you take care of it and keep it for a long time. The price doesn’t matter—if you really love it, you’ll care for it, you’ll mend it, and when you don’t want it, maybe you can resell it. The emotional feeling is quite important.”
The one-shouldered recycled polyester blouse with an XXL ruffle Anna Ewers models in the lookbook certainly qualifies: It’s covetable and makes a statement, but isn’t so of-the-moment that it will feel dated. The same goes for the easy printed dresses and recycled glass jewelry. By 2030, those might not feel novel at all; H&M’s goal is that 100% of its materials will be recycled or sustainably-sourced by that time. Until then, mark your calendar for March 26th when you can get your hands on the capsule’s “wine leather” bags and recycled-poly gowns.
Friday Funny ? @NRDC Now it?s toilet paper causing ?climate change?
From the ?climate change is the universal boogeyman? department comes this ridiculous claim from the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
Now the left wants to tell us how to wipe, and people aren?t having it. Some of the responses are hilarious, others are in the vein of ?WTF is wrong with you people??. They?ve really stepped in it this time.
This area of the US Naval Air Warfare Center, China Lake dates from the Manhattan Project. Common sense, as well as eye-witness testimony, indicate that there are underground facilities, as well as above ground ones. We can only speculate as to the extent of the underground network. There are likely old mines in the area, as well. Most likely old mines were expanded and turned into underground tunnel-test facilities. The original M 6.4 earthquake was centered in the area of the Skytop Rocket Propulsion Test Facility, described further below. The quakes appear to be apart from known earthquake faults, or at least apart from any major ones. They are almost entirely within the Naval Air Warfare Center, China Lake. CalTech estimated that the original M 6.4 earthquake in the area of Skytop was at a depth of 8.7 km (more shallow the USGS). An article written by Dr. Jennifer Andrews…
Probably because he knew so much about nuclear power from the US nuclear Navy; had helped clean-up the Chalk River Nuclear Disaster in Canada, while serving in the US Navy, and was US President during the Three Mile Island Nuclear Meltdown, Jimmy Carter tried to get massive investment in renewables research (NREL). He even had solar panels put on the White House. Had Carter had his way, we would not even be discussing nuclear power today. Nor would we be worried about climate change. Instead Reagan got in and funding was cut for renewable energy. Reagan pulled the solar panels off of the White House. Forty years after Three Mile Island, instead of 100% renewables, we have dirty everything coups by Trump, Putin, and others: dirty energy, dirty money, dirty old men. As the history of humanity makes clear, with abuse and exploitation of…
You may recall that in May, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced the “Emery County Public Land Management Act of 2018” (S. 2809), a bill that involves world-class wildlands in southeastern Utah along the Green River in Desolation Canyon and in the San Rafael Swell. It was a bad bill that not only shortchanged the areas that would gain Wilderness designation, but more importantly included numerous bad provisions that would have severely compromised even the areas that were designated Wilderness.
We’ve just learned that backroom negotiations have resulted in a bill that dropped several of the bad provisions and added more Wilderness to the package. However, Senator Hatch added a very harmful, unprecedented amendment onto his bill – without any discussion or debate – that would legalize permanent fixed climbing anchors in designated Wilderness, part of a deliberate plan by the Access Fund and its allies to weaken the landmark 1964 Wilderness Act. While other changes to the bill might make it acceptable to conservationists, it is imperative that the destructive and precedent-setting “fixed-anchor” provision be removed.
The use of fixed anchors in wilderness directly contradicts the Wilderness Act’s prohibition of “installations” in wilderness. The preservation of an area as wilderness is an attempt to preserve the wildest and least tamed landscapes. Reducing a climbing route’s challenges by bolting it also goes against the essential spirit of the Wilderness Act. The maintenance of wilderness character dictates that, rather than hammer a piece of rock into submission and installing permanent bolts, a climber in Wilderness may have to accept that a route that cannot be climbed without bolts should not be climbed at all. In the first catalog for his company Chouinard Equipment, later to become Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard pioneered removable climbing chocks and a manifesto of “clean climbing.” He wrote, “We believe the only way to ensure the climbing experience for ourselves and future generations is to preserve (1) the vertical wilderness, and (2) the adventure inherent in the experience… The fewer gadgets between the climber and the climb, the greater is the chance to attain the desired communication with oneself—and nature.”
It is unfortunate that the Access Fund is mirroring the efforts of mountain bikers by turning to the same anti-wilderness Utah politicians who stripped protections for Bears Ear and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments to try to weaken the Wilderness Act as it applies to their recreational pursuits.
Please help block this unprecedented attack to legalize illegal fixed climbing anchors in Wilderness!
The problem with paper receipts
Katherine Martinko feistyredhair November 7, 2018
They seem so innocuous, but they’re becoming an environmental nightmare.
In recent months, the one statement I always make at checkout counters – “I don’t need a bag” – has been joined by another – “No receipt, please.” I began doing this after learning about the harmful effects of thermal paper, the shiny smooth paper that most retailers now use to print receipts.
Thermal paper uses heat rather than ink to form letters and numbers, and it relies on bisphenol A to do so. (If you scratch a receipt and see a dark line, then you know it contains BPA or its common substitute BPS.) BPA is a hormone disruptor and is absorbed through the skin, which means that even reaching for a receipt poses a risk of contamination.
Turning down receipts at the time of purchase also saves me having to deal with all those annoying slips of paper that fill up my wallet. I used to be amazed at how many I’d unearth every few months, but when you think about it on a global scale, the amount of receipt waste is staggering. In the UK an estimated 11.2 billion receipts are handed out annually, costing around £32 million to make and generating 1.5 billion pounds of waste.
To make matters worse, thermal paper cannot be recycled. Its only ‘safe’ destination is the landfill, because the recycling process would only release more BPA into the environment and cause further damage. Stop and chew on that for a minute. All that contaminated trash, just so you can remember six months down the road that you paid $3.50 for a crappy muffin and weak coffee at a truck stop somewhere.
Now, I understand that not all purchases are an unmemorable as that muffin-coffee combo. Many others, particularly more expensive ones, do require proof of purchase, so what are the alternatives?
Digital receipts, emailed from retailer to customer, are becoming more common. But this can also mean handing over your email address, which enables a company to inundate you with promotional material. Whenever I feel I have to do this, I make sure to say I don’t want to receive any other communication.
Google Pay, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay can be used on your smartphone to make small purchases. As Sanjana Varghese writes for Wired, some retailers are moving to plug-ins such as Flux, which “creates an itemized record of a user’s transactions.” Similar apps include Transaction Tree and Yreceipts.
Be selective about the receipts you accept. Only take receipts for items that you know may have a higher chance of needing to be returned, or that you can claim as a business expense, or that come from cash transactions that can’t be tracked online. For example, I’d take a receipt for a pair of shoes, but not for a meal eaten out or even groceries.
Track your expenses elsewhere. Don’t use receipts to keep track of your expenses. Make a habit of writing down that information in a special place that you can reference any time. For me, that’s in my phone, but a small notebook could do the job too. As soon as I leave a store, I add the amount to my monthly expense tally with a brief description.
Ask stores to reconsider their system. If you’re a regular shopper at a store that uses thermal paper, bring it up in conversation. It doesn’t hurt to ask and educate. After all, if every store finds that customers are rejecting their receipts, they will be more inclined to come up with an alternative.
Veronique Barbossa, the co-founder of Flux, is absolutely right when she tells Varghese, “Paper receipts are non-recyclable, consume oil, trees, and water, and they don’t fit into the digital lifestyle that we currently have.” They seem nearly as outdated as paper cheques, which I haven’t owned in several years because e-transfers make life so much easier.
It’s not a problem that’s going to be solved overnight, but it is something I suspect we’re all going to start hearing more about.
They seem so innocuous, but they’re becoming an environmental nightmare.
The two largest global brands of capsule coffee, Nespresso and Keurig, are regarded by many as environmental nightmares. Billions of the throwaway nonrecyclable plastic products currently clutter waste dumps, waterways and city streets. Both inventor of the “K-cups” John Sylvan and former Nespresso CEO Jean-Paul Gaillard have publicly bemoaned the environmental consequences of the products they once championed. Sylvan has stated that the disposable (but not biodegradable) coffee capsule is “like a cigarette for coffee, a single-serve delivery mechanism for an addictive substance.”
The comparison between cigarette butts and capsule coffee is surprisingly fitting. Both butts and capsules are intentionally designed to be convenient, single-use products. Both are also nonbiodegradable and unrecyclable. As pervasive and polluting as cigarette butts are, however, the e-waste from e-cigarettes presents an even more apt comparison.
As a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco with a background in environmental philosophy and public health, I became curious how the waste stream of e-cigarettes has passed completely outside the regulatory radar.
A Smoking Gun?
San Francisco’s Pax Labs, maker of the market-leading electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) Juul, thinks of its product as a “Nespresso machine, if Nespresso still made great coffee.” It also describes its e-cigarette as a “gun.”
The product has soared in popularity, particularly among teenagers. In September Dr. Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, called Juul smoking among teens an epidemic.
While the health outcomes for e-cigarette vapor versus an inveterate capsule coffee drinker vary greatly, both “disruptive” products present lingering harms to the environment greater than the products they replace.
The legacy of cigarette butts imparts a dark story. An estimated two-thirds of cigarette butts are littered, clogging sewer drains, blighting city parks and contributing to estimated cleanup costs of US$11 billion yearly for U.S. litter alone. Cigarettes are environmentally irresponsible by design, and yet e-cigarettes pose an environmental threat of considerable proportions. Instead of merely being thrown away, these complex devices present simultaneously a biohazard risk with potential high quantities of leftover or residual nicotine and an environmental health threat as littered electronic waste.
Their endocrine-disrupting plastics, lithium ion batteries and electronic circuit boards require disassembly, sorting and proper further recycling and disposal. Their instructions do not say anything about disposal. Electronic waste (e-waste) already presents a daunting environmental quandary and is notoriously difficult to recycle. When littered, broken devices can leach metals, battery acid and nicotine into the local environment and urban landscape.
A Preventable Environmental Health Disaster
A main question public health regulators must face is: How are these new devices being disposed of? Are e-cigarettes being thrown away carelessly, like cigarette butts? Or disposed of in special electronic waste facilities, like smartphones? Preliminary results from litter pickups give mixed results. Juul pods are found routinely littered, especially where young people congregate. But because of the double-bind of e-cigarette waste being both electronic waste due to the components and hazardous waste due to the nicotine liquid residue, currently there is no legal way to recycle them in the U.S. The Office on Smoking and Health and the EPA need to coordinate their regulations to allow for the safe recycling and waste minimization of these products.
More than 58 million e-cigarette products were sold in the U.S. (not including those sold in vape shops or online) in 2015, 19.2 million of which were disposable e-cigarettes. A 2014 study found that none of the surveyed e-cigarette packages contained disposal instructions.
The major transnational tobacco companies so far primarily sell throwaway, one-use “closed” system products. Vuse and MarkTen, owned by Reynolds American and Altria, respectively, are two leading U.S. e-cigarettes, and both are closed systems. While these products may prevent nicotine poisoning in small children, their environmental health harms may be significantly larger due to their expendable design.
Most independent vaporizer manufacturers sell open, or reusable, systems, which are more popular with longer-term users and possibly more effective to quit than traditional cigarettes. In other markets, however, like the U.K. and Japan, transnational tobacco companies British American Tobacco (BAT) and Japan Tobacco International have begun to heavily market open systems.
BAT’s website on the disposal of their Vype e-cigarette warns “electrical waste and electronic equipment can contain hazardous substances which, if not treated properly, could lead to damage to the environment and human health.” So neither open nor closed systems are environmentally sustainable.
The World Health Organization, in its report Tobacco and Its Environmental Impact: An Overview, recently noted the “quieter but shockingly widespread impacts of tobacco from an environmental perspective.” Article 18 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control states that all signatory parties “agree to have due regard to the protection of the environment and the health of persons in relation to the environment in respect of tobacco cultivation and manufacture within their respective territories.” It is time to close the loop and pay increased attention to tobacco product disposal as well.
As regulatory agencies continue deciding how to regulate e-cigarettes, not only should the immediate health effects and secondhand effects of the products be taken into account, but I believe the environmental effects of these products should be too.
The mounting environmental impact of the single-use nonrecyclable coffee fad has left coffee capsule Keurig inventor John Sylvan regretting his invention. Will apocryphal e-cigarette inventor Hon Lik ever have a similar reckoning regarding the mountains of e-cigarette e-waste? Let’s hope it never gets to that point.
Dr. Hendlin is an environmental philosopher and public health policy researcher with over 12 years experience in tobacco control.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
This year California saw its largest fire in state history, and more than 2,000 state prisoners volunteered to fight the flames. Paid just $1 an hour, the state encourages low-level prisoners to risk their lives and serve alongside professional firefighters. But once inmates leave prison, they often can’t work as firefighters because of their criminal records.
Despite their frontline experience, most counties in California require firefighters to become licensed emergency medical technician (EMTs) — and that credential is often denied to anyone with a criminal record.
Nearly 4,000 of California’s firefighters are state inmates, carefully selected to participate in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation CAL FIRE program. At least three inmates have died fighting these fires.
It’s simply wrong to deny these men and women the ability to become firefighters after they have served their time. A steady job is one of the best ways to prevent re-offending. Restoring the right to earn an honest living is crucial for ex-offenders to regain a sense of hope and a new chance at redemption.
Since 2015, at least 16 states that have already eased or eliminated licensing barriers for Americans with criminal records. Sign our petition asking California to join them and make it easier for formerly incarcerated people to become firefighters and EMTs after serving their time.
Posted on July 13, 2018 by GJEP staff Leave a Comment
Note: Thanks to a major effort by eco and other groups in the US (including GJEP), the period for commenting on the government’s attempt to gut one of the country’s strongest remaining environmental laws (the National Environmental Policy Act) has been extended to 20 August. NEPA requires production of extensive Environmental Impact Statements, including input from the public, before actions can be taken that would impact or harm the environment. This law also applies to the proposed release of genetically engineered trees in the US.
– Anne Petermann, GJEP Carl Segerstrom/High Country News
A linchpin environmental law is now being scrutinized by the Trump administration and could be targeted for reforms. The National Environmental Policy Act, commonly referred to as NEPA, dictates the environmental planning process for federal agencies. Any changes to the NEPA process could have far-reaching impacts on the vast public lands and infrastructure of the West.
The NEPA reform push broadly traces political dividing lines, as pro-business and anti-regulation Republicans, who want to see NEPA reworked, square off with environmental groups and conservation-minded Democrats hoping to preserve the law and implementation process. Caught between the vocal factions of each party are state governments and federal land managers arguing for a middle ground of limited reform.
An August 2017 executive order, aimed at cutting environmental regulations and speeding up infrastructure projects, key goals of the Trump administration, prompted the ongoing review. The review looks at changing the implementing procedures for environmental reviews and offers some examples of what could be altered, including: limiting the time frame for environmental reviews, changing how agencies consider state and tribal input, and reducing the need to explore project alternatives.
When federal agencies consider timber sales, build bridges, renew licenses on dams, pave highways, permit nuclear facilities or make any decision that will impact the local environment, they trigger the NEPA process. Contractors working on federal projects often commission and pay for NEPA reviews. The NEPA review process has three tiers that determine how rigorous an environmental review must be. The Categorical Exclusion designation exempts actions from environmental review if they are deemed to have no “significant effect on the human environment.” The next tier is Environmental Assessment, which compels agencies to prepare a formal review of potential impacts and decide whether the action has no significant impact or requires an Environmental Impact Statement. The Environmental Impact Statement is the most thorough review process and requires multiple drafts, a public comment period and that agencies explore alternatives to proposed projects.
Heading the push for NEPA reform is Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who has had the law in his sights for the last decade. During a committee meeting on NEPA, Bishop, the chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, complained the law has been warped by lawsuits and court interpretations and become “a weapon for litigants to force delays and denials on all sorts of activities.” Bishop, who has been a vocal proponent of loosening federal regulations on oil and gas companies and the transfer of federal lands to state control, said, “Environmental reviews should inform government of the actions they need to take, not paralyze it.”
Conservation groups are digging in order to preserve NEPA and asking for an extended public commenting period on the current review. The “Protect NEPA Campaign,” which is a coalition of environmental, labor and civil rights group, such as the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council has called the Trump administration’s review an unprecedented attack on the law. More than 350 environmental organizations signed a letter to the Council on Environmental Quality, asking for an extension of the public comment period from 30 to 90 days. Raul Garcia, the senior legislative counsel for the environmental law group Earthjustice, said the month-long commenting process “is the latest in a long line of this administration’s efforts to silence public opinion and hinder democracy.”
The Western Governors’ Association recently called for changes to the NEPA process that would give more influence to state governments. In a policy resolution, the association, which represents Western state executives, asked that federal agencies adopt more consistent NEPA planning processes and better engage with state and local governments. The group of Western lawmakers also asked that state environmental impact studies carry more weight in federal decision-making.
Land management professionals say parts of the NEPA process could be reformed, but caution against sweeping changes to the law. Mike Ferguson, a retired Bureau Land Management land planner, first worked on NEPA implementation with the BLM in the 1970’s and has seen the implementation of the law become more convoluted over time. He says tightening the time frame for NEPA actions, clarifying the role of public comments, and investing in training and agency personnel could improve the process.
Getting back to the basic language and intent of the law should be the goal of any NEPA reforms, says Ferguson. “A tug-of-war obliterates what NEPA was designed for in the first place, and I don’t care whether that’s from the left or the right,” he says. “Opening it up on either side will lead to a downward spiral that will dilute its effectiveness in the long-run.”
The commenting period for NEPA reform is slated to be open through Aug. 20, and a comment form can be accessed via the Council on Environmental Quality’s website. To date, the majority of the comments so far have either urged the council to keep NEPA intact or asked for an extended commenting period.
India turned their hosting of this year’s World Environment Day into far more than a symbolic act when it announced plans Tuesday to eliminate all single-use plastics by 2022, UN Environment reported.
The theme of this year’s World Environment Day was “Beat Plastic Pollution,” and India’s decision could be a “game-changing” part of that effort, since it is home to 1.3 billion people and is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, head of U.N. Environment news and media Keith Weller told CBS.
“This has been the biggest, most resonant World Environment Day ever, thanks to the leadership of our global host India,” Head of UN Environment Erik Solheim said in the press release. “India has made a phenomenal commitment and displayed clear, decisive and global environmental leadership. This will inspire the world and ignite real change.”
The announcement was officially made by Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Dr. Harsh Vardhan, who touted it as a way to “achieve the India of our dreams.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also spoke on the importance of combining economic growth with environmental action.
“It is the duty of each one of us, to ensure that the quest for material prosperity does not compromise our environment,” Modi said. “The choices that we make today, will define our collective future. The choices may not be easy. But through awareness, technology, and a genuine global partnership, I am sure we can make the right choices. Let us all join together to beat plastic pollution and make this planet a better place to live.”
In addition to the plastics phase-out, the country also joined UN Environment’s Clean Seas campaign. India will develop action plans to combat marine litter at the national and regional level and measure the total amount of plastic pollution in the waters off of India’s 7,500 kilometers (approximately 4660 miles) of coastline.
Plastic pollution is a major problem in India, which generates 25,000 tonnes (approximately 27557.78 U.S. tons) of plastic waste every year and only recycles 60 percent of it, Vardhan said in an IANS article reprinted by the Economic Times Tuesday.
It is also an increasingly visible problem, as plastic increasingly clutters the country’s landscape and beaches. “There is a huge issue of waste management in India and everyone can see that; we went from train to Agra from Delhi and we saw. There was plastic all over the rails, that’s a problem,” Solheim told IANS.
India has taken some steps to counter plastic pollution already on a national and regional level. It banned non-compostable plastic bags in 2016, CBS reported.
According to a UN plastics report also launched Tuesday, regional bans have had various success. Of the 10 regional bans listed in the report, two bans, in the states of Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim, have seen significant to moderate results, while four bans, including one in New Delhi have had little to no impact, and four could not be assessed due to limited data.
Balloon Releases Are Killing Wildlife and Marine Animals – Here’s What You Can Do Instead
For years, balloon releases have been used to celebrate events or honor the memory of someone lost. Schools release them during football games, they’re sent floating into the air at running events, and released by crowds of people at weddings, funerals, and memorials. And while those who organize and participate in balloon releases have the best of intentions, what they fail to consider is what happens when those balloons eventually land – and when they do the results are detrimental to wildlife and marine animals.
The Long-Lasting Impact of Balloons
Balloons negatively impact our environment by littering streams, lakes, and beaches. It’s basically the same as intentionally throwing trash on the ground or into the ocean. Even balloons marketed as biodegradable or “eco-friendly” can still take years to disintegrate, meaning they’re not any better for the environment than standard balloons.
The Devastating Effects Balloon Releases Have on Wildlife and Marine Animals and What You Can Do About ItBalloonsBlow.Org/Facebook
When balloons make their way into the water, their tattered ends and floating pieces can resemble jellyfish or other sea life consumed by marine animals such as sea turtles, fish, and dolphins. When the pieces of latex or Mylar are mistaken for food and ingested, they can get lodged in the digestive tract, inhibiting animal’s ability to eat and causing a slow and painful death by starvation.
Wildlife can also fall victim to balloons and balloon strings when the pieces fall to the ground or onto trees and bushes. Birds have been found injured with ribbons wrapped around their beaks or wings, and have strangled themselves when they become entangled in strings attached to trees or power lines. And just like marine animals, they can succumb to a painful death after ingesting balloons.
The negative impact on animals and the environment prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and local chapters of the National Audubon Society to urge people to stop releasing balloons and instead find more humane alternatives that are safer for animals and our planet. Several states and cities in the U.S. and abroad have also passed laws regarding mass balloon releases after years of witnessing their detrimental effects.
The Devastating Effects Balloon Releases Have on Wildlife and Marine Animals and What You Can Do About It
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
What You Can Do
If you know of someone planning a balloon release, please urge them to consider one of these earth- and animal-friendly options instead. There are so many other symbolic acts that don’t involve the use of balloons. We’ve listed a few options for you below, and you can find more by that offers not only fun alternatives but educational materials to help you spread awareness about the dangers of balloons and balloon releases.
Bubblesare not only fun but can create stunning photo ops. Watching hundreds of bubbles float up into the sky can be mesmerizing and just as symbolic as seeing a balloon float away, but without the resulting of litter and endangerment to wildlife and marine animals.
Luminaries are a beautiful way to honor and memorialize loved ones. Instead of writing messages on balloons and releasing them, you can write messages on recycled paper bags or reusable glass jars with candles placed inside to create a lighted path, or spell out a word or name. Each person can bring their bag or jar home afterward as a personal keepsake to remember the event.
Plant a Tree
Planting native trees and wildflowers is a beautiful way to create a memory that lasts for years to come – and give a little something back to nature. Another fun idea is to have people release milkweed seeds, which helps populations of monarch butterflies thrive by replenishing depleted supplies of the milkweed plant that is essential to their survival. Just remember: If you choose to plant trees or flowers somewhere other than your own yard, make sure you have prior permission if it’s a public park or nature area, as they often have restrictions about potentially invasive species of plants.
Celebrations and commemorative events are meant to allow us to reflect on important times in our lives, there is no reason these should come at the expense of wild animals.
by: Stephanie M
target: Howard Schultz and Kevin Johnson, Starbucks Corporation
134,864 SUPPORTERS -140,000 GOAL
Americans use 500 million plastic straws every single day.
This severely impacts us, future generations, and our precious marine life. It is estimated in the year 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans.
I would like to see Starbucks, the company I work for, help lead the way to shrink our footprint on the planet. Plastic straws are too lightweight to be recycled, and oftentimes are made out of the same plastic as Styrofoam which CANNOT be recycled. There are many different alternatives to plastic straws! Many companies have started using compostable straws or paper straws.
Plastic straws can be horrible for wildlife. The photo above is from a painful-to-watch video of researchers in Costa Rica struggling to remove an obstruction from the nasal passage of a sea turtle. During the cringe-inducing effort, they realize they are battling a cocktail straw.
I believe we can help the world’s largest coffeshop chain make the switch too. If Starbucks sees this petition filled with thousands of people that care about our environment I am positive that this environmentally responsible corporation will make a change for a healthier planet.
Provisions in ‘Farm Bill’ Seek to Fast Track Logging in National Forest
Posted on May 15, 2018 by GJEP staff Leave a Comment
New York – Often seen politically as a must pass for legislators, the current “Farm Bill”, more accurately known as the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, has taken on a menacing form this legislative session as it has just been passed by party line vote from committee on May 3rd.
The bill in its current form is replete with provisions that seek to undermine environmental laws and safeguards. The bill has been opposed by a long and growing list of environmental groups that includes the Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, Defenders of the Wild, Earthjustice, League of Conservation voters among others.
Global Justice Ecology Project is announcing its opposition to H.R. 2 as a blatant attempt to undermine environmental protections and severely limit the ability of the public to challenge destructive forest policies. This includes the logging of up to ten square miles of trees at a time within the national forest system – under the guise of forest health.
H.R. 2 would double a similar carve out for the logging industry that was included in the Fiscal Year 2018 Omnibus Spending Bill (budget). In doing so, it would further allow exemptions from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of up to 6,000 acres per single cut to be exempt from review- and thus meaningful citizen input.
“The Farm Bill in its current form is a gift to the logging industry as it would allow for tremendously destructive increases in extraction of timber from our national forests without review or disclosure of potential harm,” said Anne Peterman, Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project (GJEP). “Pro-logging provisions in the bill use fear-mongering, including the specter of wildfire, to give extractive industries carte blanche access to devastate our public lands with no opportunity for input from the public.”
“He that takes truth for his guide, and duty for his end, may safely trust to God’s providence to lead him aright.” - Blaise Pascal. "There is but one straight course, and that is to seek truth and pursue it steadily" – George Washington letter to Edmund Randolph — 1795. We live in a “post-truth” world. According to the dictionary, “post-truth” means, “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Simply put, we now live in a culture that seems to value experience and emotion more than truth. Truth will never go away no matter how hard one might wish. Going beyond the MSM idealogical opinion/bias and their low information tabloid reality show news with a distractional superficial focus on entertainment, sensationalism, emotionalism and activist reporting – this blogs goal is to, in some small way, put a plug in the broken dam of truth and save as many as possible from the consequences—temporal and eternal. "The further a society drifts from truth, the more it will hate those who speak it." – George Orwell “There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.” ― Soren Kierkegaard