Environment News

Latest environment news, opinions and analysis.

The revelation that Volkswagen deliberately circumvented emissions tests on many of its diesel vehicles has provoked a huge storm of controversy. This diesel deception has understandably angered car owners. And some have suggested that VW’s management either must have known about the scandal, or effectively lost control of the company.
The allegations are severe. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, VW deployed a “defeat device” enabling its cars to meet emissions standards under official test conditions, even though they can release up to 40 times the legal level of nitrogen oxides (NOx) under normal driving conditions. Worse was to come though. VW went on to admit that 11m vehicles worldwide had been fitted with the device. An analysis by the Guardian puts the collective impact of this number of cars at nearly one million additional tonnes of air pollution per year.
In the EU, it increasingly seems that there is more to this scandal than car manufacturers using underhand tactics to “hotwire” official emissions tests. Leaked documents have revealed that three powerful member states – the UK, France and Germany – have all recently lobbied for the inclusion of loopholes in a new emissions test planned for roll-out in 2017. Germany, it seems, even called for this new test to be conducted on a sloping downhill track.
In Brussels itself, my own conversations with EU officials have exposed a tendency to accept carmakers’ behaviour as an unavoidable part of the regulatory “game”. On more than one occasion I have heard the argument that what vehicle manufacturers are doing can’t really be classed as cheating, because – after all – wouldn’t any rational economic actor seek to “exploit the flexibilities” in this kind of regulatory test to their advantage?
All of this should give us serious pause for thought. Circumventing an emissions test is one thing. But if member states are actively calling for Brussels to enable the continuation of this behaviour, and EU officials themselves see it as a natural part of the “game”, then we must ask who – if anybody – is left to represent the interests of the public, or indeed the climate, in the development of the EU’s environmental agenda.
Debate and data stifling
The scandal in fact reveals deep-seated pathologies in the way the EU’s environmental policies are made. It is, crucially, the EU’s privileging of “expert”, industry-generated data on these emissions, produced by a supposedly objective, repeatable test, that has allowed VW to deceive its customers and the wider public. Yet these are the same industry experts who stifle debate about the sustainability of petrol and diesel carmakers’ contributions to the EU’s economy. This, even as Europe faces growing crises of urban air pollution, obesity, and of course climate change.
Meanwhile, on-the-road emissions data, such as that painstakingly assembled by the International Council on Clean Transportation, is all too often dismissed as unscientific, and open to the corrupting influences of a messy and complex “real world”. These data are effectively crowdsourced from thousands of drivers and other road users, many with an economic interest in averting the depreciation of their vehicles. And it is these road users – and the wider public at large – who have no choice but to subject themselves to urban air pollution across Europe.
According to a recent Transport & Environment report, this “invisible killer” leads to 500,000 premature deaths a year. And diesel vehicles are the principal cause of those deaths.
VW’s diesel deception doesn’t just point to an urgent need for a better vehicle emissions test; it highlights the requirement for a more open and inclusive approach to dealing with environmental problems in Europe. As the EU seeks to address and move on from this scandal, Brussels must break the stranglehold exerted over its vehicle pollutant emissions legislation by an inner circle of hubristic industry experts. Instead, it must embrace the ideas, concerns and knowledge of those who most suffer in the face of air pollution – the European public.
As the country continues to endure the effects of climate change, wildfires are hardly a new phenomenon on the West Coast. For drought-ridden California, however, the blazes have now caused massive destruction and at least one death. And with 700,000 acres burned so far this year, there's no end in sight for the inferno.
For firefighters and victims, the numbers behind the blazes represent an uphill battle. The largest of the disasters are the Valley fire and the Butte fire, which have burned 67,000 and 71,660 acres, respectively. The former is 15 percent contained, the latter 37 percent, and at least 23,000 people have been displaced by both combined. In total, at least 751 homes have been destroyed. It was the Valley fire that caused one death - Barbara McWilliams, a 72 year-old woman with multiple sclerosis who couldn't get out of her home, according to fire officials.
The Valley fire, located in Lake County, began on Sept. 12, while the Butte fire, in Jackson and Amador County, started Sept. 9. And these, while the largest and most fearsome, are only two of a dozen currently ripping through the Golden State. Workers fighting the fires hope that rain today might bring some relief. Though an end to the state's ongoing drought is not yet in the cards, the cool weather system could play a part in further containing some of the blazes.
Veteran firefighter Bob Cummensky, part of the initial team that fought the Valley fire in Middletown, remarked, "It's such a beautiful area, and it's changed forever. This [town] is my best friend's home." Though he has fought fires for nearly five decades, he said he's never seen anything of this magnitude. The fire's expansion in every direction, and the challenging topography across which it has spread, have not made matters easier. "It's a 100-year fire in a 100-year drought. It goes against everything I've ever learned about fire behavior."
The fire is certainly abnormal; its smoke has even created a rare type of cloud called a pyrocumulus, which was photographed Sept. 11 by climate scientist Peter Gleick and tweeted as he flew past it at 30,000 feet. These clouds also create a new problem, because they can trigger firestorms, which may produce lightning that can, in turn, start another fire. It's an unpredictable situation that has kept officials on the defensive.
"We've had wildfires in California since the beginning of time," said Mark Ghilarducci, director of the state Office of Emergency Services. "But what we're seeing now that's different is the extreme rapid spread of the fires, and extreme volatility."
Middletown was amongst the hardest-hit areas in Lake County, with phrases like "completely devastated" and "everything's gone" reverberating throughout the community. And the fire, which has burned far more than just forest land, has a decidedly urban bent: an apartment complex with more than 100 units was reduced to ash; flames licked at power lines and melted street signs; and shells of burned out cars conjured up images of apocalyptic disaster films.
California Gov. Jerry Brown once again tied the problem to climate change, stating, "There is no doubt that we need to de-carbonize our modern economy. We have sharpened what the debate is because there are vast amounts of officials who say it isn't true. This will smoke it out. Fires are not political. Climate change is not political. It is real. This is serious stuff. Firefighters need to be careful, but so do people. It's going to get worse."
Specifically, however, the wildfires were exacerbated by the drought, which in turn was caused by the output of greenhouse gases that are contributing to global warming. The trees killed so far by the drought - of which there were at least 12 million - were more prone to ignite, and a heavy presence of bark beetles, which further decimate trees, helped make conditions that much worse.
Scott Stephens, a fire science professor at UC Berkeley, said forests have also grown denser over the last 100 years, forcing trees to compete for increasingly limited amounts of water and rendering them more susceptible to bark beetle infestations. It also means that when a small fire starts, it spreads from one tree to another more quickly and rapidly spins out of control. "If this drought continues for another two years or longer, I expect this mortality to move throughout the state," he remarked. "Forests that once burned frequently with low to moderate intensity fires are the most susceptible."
Joe Casola, deputy director of the University of Washington's Climate Impacts Group, explained that on the West Coast, this year's combination of warm winter weather, low snowpack, hot summer, and outbreak of relentless brushfires is "a good preview of what climate models tell us will soon be commonplace. These are the conditions we're likely to be facing several decades from now and going forward."
As President Obama visits Arctic Alaska, the first president to do so, he is speaking about the many impacts that climate change is already causing there, from rising seas to melting permafrost collapsing homes. Because the arctic is heating faster than the rest of the planet, climate change is a bigger issue for Alaska, for residents of towns close to the water, for tribes dependent on traditional fishing for their livelihood, for rapidly melting glaciers.
As part of his trip, Obama gave an opening address to the GLACIER Conference in Anchorage, Alaska. He stated that the U.S. recognizes its role in creating the problem and responsibility to take part in solving it. He noted that no nation is moving fast enough, and condemned leaders who gamble by taking no action on the dire future due to climate change are "not fit to lead."
Obama faces severe criticism during the trip from environmental groups who accuse him of hypocrisy, since at the same time he is calling for action to address climate change, his administration has just given final permission to Shell Oil to drill in the Arctic. During his trip, native groups and allies rallied to demand no drilling in the Arctic.
Shell's plans have been confronted by many activists, the kayaktivists in Seattle to bridge danglers in Portland, both trying to stop Shell ships and rigs from being able to leave port to go to the Arctic. Groups are mounting petition campaigns and public relations efforts to organize opposition to Shell's plans (sign one petition here.)
The record of the Obama administration on environmental issues, while mixed, stands in contrast to the previous, George W. Bush administration. Obama's positive steps include major support for developing renewable energy in the stimulus bill, efforts by the EPA to regulate new and existing power plant carbon emissions, increased mileage standards for cars and trucks, the agreement with China on projected reductions in emissions, and many more. Negative actions include support for major increases in fracking, in offshore oil drilling, and refusing to kill the Keystone XL pipeline (which has also not been approved).
The administration faces opposition from the right, in Congress and elsewhere, for the plan of the EPA to regulate carbon emissions as pollution harmful to human health. Republicans in Congress continue efforts to defund the EPA, to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, to undercut any climate agreements, to deny the basic science of climate change, and more.
Obama's current tour is part of the run-up to UN-sponsored climate negotiations to take place in December in Paris. The agreement signed between the US and China on carbon reductions has increased expectations that this conference will have more concrete results than many previous UN conferences on climate. In addition to these government-to-government negotiations, there is a growing movement to divest from fossil fuel corporations, which just had a big victory in California.
A growing factor on the world stage is the efforts of Pope Francis and other important religious leaders to add a moral dimension to how the issue is framed, and to bring their not inconsiderable political capital to bear on the negotiations.
Each particular battle is but one part of the longer struggle to transform our energy economy, our economy as a whole, how things are produced, packaged, and distributed. The direction of these struggles is ultimately to challenge the system, but in the meantime, we need all the allies, temporary or partial though they are, to make changes right now. These current battles lay the basis for future, more basic victories. Obama has moved U.S. policy into the column of those tackling climate change, though in an uneven and partial way. But winning smaller victories now is key to winning more later.
Islamic leaders from 20 countries yesterday called for rapid transition from a world economic order based on fossil fuel to one powered by renewable energy.
Wael Hmaidan, international director of Climate Action Network (CAN), described the declaration adopted by 60 prominent Islamic scholars and religious leaders at the two-day International Islamic Climate Change Symposium as a potential "game changer."
"It challenges all world leaders, and especially oil producing nations," Hmaidan said, "to phase out their carbon emissions and supports the just transition to 100 percent renewable energy as a necessity to tackle climate change, reduce poverty and deliver sustainable development," according to a CAN report.
As part of a worldwide groundswell, the declaration urges governments to deliver a new international climate agreement in Paris this December that guarantees limiting global warming above pre-industrial levels to 2, but preferably 1.5, degrees Celsius.
The declaration makes the moral case, based on Islamic teachings, for the 1.6 billion Muslims and people of all faiths worldwide to take urgent climate action. The declaration is in sync with the much lauded Encyclical by Pope Francis released two months ago. For its part, the Vatican has enthusiastically endorsed the Islamic declaration.
"The climate crisis needs to be tackled through collaborative efforts, so let's work together for a better world for our children, and our children's children," declared Din Syamsuddin, chairman of the Indonesian Council of Ulema.
Speakers at the Symposium included three senior UN officials, scientists, NGO leaders and academics. Also attending were religious leaders from many other faith traditions.
Pope Francis' activism, especially since the release of his Encyclical in June, has energized people of faith who have long advocated for the environment. Since June, the World Council of Churches, Unitarian Universalists, Union Seminary, and the Episcopal Church have all divested from fossil fuels. As of Aug. 13, 403 rabbis had signed a Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis, calling for vigorous action to prevent worsening climate disruption and to seek eco-social justice.
In a related action, in July more than 180 evangelical Christian leaders signed a letter backing President Barack Obama's plan to reduce carbon emission from power plants.
The Climate Change Symposium Declaration urged "well-off nations" and oil producing states to "re-focus their concerns from unethical profit from the environment, to that of preserving it and elevating the condition of the world's poor."
Among other notable demands, the declaration called on the people of all nations and their leaders:
"To set in motion a fresh model of wellbeing, based on an alternative to the current financial model which depletes resources, degrades the environment, and deepens inequality."Prioritize adaptation efforts with appropriate support to the vulnerable countries with the least capacity to adapt. And vulnerable groups, including indigenous peoples, women and children.The declaration further called on the corporations, finance, and business sector:
"To shoulder the consequences of their profit-making activities, and take a visibly more active role in reducing their carbon footprint and other forms of impact upon the natural environment;"Change from the current business model which is based on an unsustainable escalating economy, and to adopt a circular economy that is wholly sustainable;"Assist in the divestment from the fossil fuel driven economy and the scaling up of renewable energy and other ecological alternatives."
After Shell proved, through blunders and its infamous reputation, that it is not fit to drill in the Arctic, Aug. 17 brought news that the Obama administration had granted them approval to do just that. The troubling development came just days after President Obama announced he would visit Alaska to discuss the impact of climate change on the region. Now, as the oil corporation further destroys the already-disrupted Arctic sea ice, the problem of global warming can only grow worse.
The move is especially bewildering for many, as the president has declared Alaska to be "the frontlines of our fight against climate change." For a place of such importance, it hardly seems like an opportune time for the administration to greenlight a venture that will wreak environmental havoc, but that is what has come to pass. Even so, the approval has not gone unnoticed by activists.
Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Marissa Knodel said, "When Obama visits the Arctic this month, he must face the communities he is sacrificing to Shell's profits." Greenpeace executive director Annie Leonard added, "The president cannot have it both ways. Announcing a tour of Alaska to highlight climate change days before giving Shell the final approval to drill is deeply hypocritical."
In an official report, however, Greenpeace seemed to suggest that the brunt of the blame does not lie with Obama, but rather, with the greed-driven company that seeks to ravage the Arctic. They noted that the president "has used his executive power to show climate leadership before. Earlier this year, he vetoed the Keystone XL pipeline in response to a nationwide public outcry, demanding the U.S. no longer champion policies and projects that accelerate climate change.
"The world is watching Shell right now. [They have] a history of ineffective equipment. In 2012, one of Shell's Arctic rigs ran aground and became stuck in Dutch Harbor. The technology does not exist to effectively clean up an oil spill in the icy and unpredictable waters. This is a disaster waiting to happen."
The imbalanced and contradictory approach the Obama administration seems to be taking in regard to environmental matters is confusing. That has grown more so with today's news that the EPA, which was responsible for the recent mishap resulting in a large mine waste spill, has proposed new regulations aimed at cutting methane emissions by 40 to 45 percent (from 2012 levels) over the next ten years. The rules would apply to new or modified sources of oil and natural gas and require energy companies to find and fix leaks and take careful steps to limit emissions. And yet, experts seem to point out that this is not quite cause for celebration.
Up in the Arctic, when Shell starts breaking up ice in its exploration for oil, more methane will be released into the atmosphere - enough, perhaps, to render the curbing of emissions from other manmade activities a moot point. Merritt Turetsky, a biology professor at the University of Guelph, Ontario, remarked, "Permafrost carbon feedback is one of the important and likely consequences of climate change, and it is certain to trigger additional warming. Even if we ceased all human emissions, ice would continue to thaw and release carbon into the atmosphere."
Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said, "Granting Shell the permit to drill in the Arctic was the wrong decision, and the fight is far from over. The people will continue to call on President Obama to protect the Arctic and our environment."
And the opposition to Shell's drilling is composed of more than just environmental activists. Hillary Clinton released a statement on the matter in the form of a tweet, saying, "The Arctic is a unique treasure. Given what we know, it's not worth the risk of drilling."
Brune added, "She's exactly right. Everything we know about dangerous oil drilling in the Arctic indicates it imperils a national treasure and is guaranteed to make our climate crisis worse. Allowing Shell to use unproven technology in the Arctic is a recipe for disaster and toxic to any climate action legacy."
The latest ecological disaster has left Colorado's Animas River a sickly orange and yellow, after an accident on Aug. 5 sent at least three million gallons of mine waste gushing into the water. The spewage came from the abandoned Gold King Mine, and occurred when an EPA mining safety team used equipment to - ironically enough - reduce pollution emanating from the disused site. Now the sludge is spreading, and it reached New Mexico on Aug. 10, flowing from the Animas into the San Juan River there, as officials struggled to gain control of the situation.
The wastewater contains toxic heavy metals including lead, which can harm fetal development and cause vision impairment and kidney disease, and arsenic, which at high levels could cause paralysis, blindness, and cancer. The contamination was apparently the very thing EPA workers were attempting to treat before inadvertently unleashing it upon the environment. "The project was intended to pump and treat the water and reduce metals pollution flowing out of the [Gold King] Mine," EPA spokesman Rich Mylott confirmed.
There has been no drinking water contamination, because utilities shut down their intake valves in time to prevent the plume from reaching their systems. Farmers also closed the gates on their irrigation ditches to preserve their crops. But the same could not be said for the wildlife that will surely be adversely affected, including local fish; the EPA has warned boaters and anglers to stay far away from the water for this reason.
Meanwhile, New Mexico health officials were outraged that the EPA did not tell them about the plume until a day after it reached the cities of Aztec and Bloomfield, causing a last-minute scramble to cut off the river's access to water treatment plants in those areas. As it is, the EPA has released very little information, and virtually nothing in the way of updates, concerning New Mexico's share of the problem.
"We're having a real problem getting the EPA to tell us what's in this stuff," said Don Cooper, emergency manager for San Juan County. "We're just kind of shooting in the dark and telling people to stay away from it."
Though EPA officials are reportedly continuing to conduct tests to determine the health and environmental impacts of their mistake, nothing has yet been said about a cleanup. In fact, it would seem that experts are hoping for the situation to resolve itself; the agency's coordinator Craig Myers said, "It's hard to know what's going to happen [to the Animas River] as more river flows join it. It is diluting. The sludge of contaminants is going to be settling out in places."
But for affected residents and concerned environmentalists, pollution, sadly, is more readily available than answers. What is apparent is that the EPA's initial estimate of the amount of spillage - one million gallons - has proven to be wrong, as the U.S. Geological Survey has clarified that the incident sent at least two million gallons more into the Animas.
Kim Stevens, director of advocacy group Environment Colorado, remarked, "This is a really devastating spill. We've been hearing from rafting companies and other businesses that rely on the river that if they can't get their clients out on the river in the next couple of days, they may have to shut down their doors."
And then, of course, there's the impact to the livelihoods of fishermen to consider. She added, "The fish population is especially very sensitive to water contamination, and we really won't be able to see what the impacts are until all of the pollution has run its course. Time will tell."
The poisoned water also runs through sensitive indigenous peoples' territory, and the Navajo Nation people have said they will not stand for the toxification of their land. Nation president Russell Begaye stated, "They're not going to get away with this. The EPA was right in the middle of the disaster and we intend to make sure the Navajo Nation recovers every dollar it spends cleaning up this mess and every dollar it loses as a result of injuries to our precious natural resources."
And things are only going to get worse, at least in the short term, because the next stop on the mine waste's tainted tour is Utah. The orange and yellow wastewater is still wending its way through the San Juan River, which eventually joins Lake Powell over in the Beehive State. Officials in the adjacent town of Montezuma are making preparations by shutting off water pumps there, and the same is being done in the neighboring town of Aneth. Trouble, of a most toxic variety, is most certainly brewing.
"There are people who want to know, 'Okay, what's going to happen now? Are you going to fix this?' " said Michele Truby-Tillen, a spokesperson for New Mexico's San Juan County Office of Emergency Management. And above all, she said, as health concerns worsen, one question nags at the backs of people's minds: "How are we going to protect our families?"
For climate change activists who were looking to shore up the three-legged stool of support for arguments supporting the science of climate change and hoping to shape policies to mitigate climate change impacts, it was an extremely pleasant surprise that a fourth leg was added to the climate change education and advocacy stool. Thank you Pope Francis!
Those three legs included the science community, grassroots and environmental organizational support and advocacy, and the political community and process. But now we have another powerful support beam to shore up efforts to educate, advocate and broaden support. Religion. Pope Francis has conveyed a moral, ethical, spiritual, and communal message that cleverly, but deliberately uses logic, facts, and scientific reasoning to support education, policies and actions on climate change. It has the further potential to reach a distant audience who was either indifferent or skeptical because religion has often been used by climate change deniers as an excuse as to why we "shouldn't worry, God will take care of all." Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment or "On Care For Our Common Home" has revealed that religion, all along, was really intertwined with scientific study and findings with respect, to the planet that sustains all of life as we know it.
The pope's weight and gravitas on climate change is more than raising awareness to the flock, and potentially bringing around 1.2 billion Catholics, or neutralizing some of the denier's religious arguments against recognizing climate change. Pope Francis' statement on the conditions, and actions needed on climate change is a marriage and consummation of morality and science. And frankly it's just plain exciting that a pope recognizes the moral crisis that faces humankind that's tied up in politics and economics.  Of course this pope has been refreshingly turning heads since his tenure started. Pope Francis is connecting the dots of climate change through science, economics, and calling for a moral and just response, not simply proportional. Francis has put our entire economic model and ethos on trial.  His encyclical on protecting the earth has as many references to science as religion and condemns our economic activity and lack of proper urban planning as a primary source of the devastation we're unleashing on our planet. In bringing it home to the masses, the pope reminds us that it's the poor and working class that will bear the burden of climate change impacts. Drought in some places, flooding in others lead to dislocation, famine and war.
We're already seeing those impacts and scenarios play themselves out in places like Syria, over 1 million Syrians have been forced to relocate due to drought impacts on crop yields, turning Syria from a commodity exporter to importer that led to huge escalations in food prices and exacerbated by negligent and harsh responses from the Bashar al-Assad government, fueling the Syrian Civil War. These conditions and realities surrounding global warming haven't been lost on institutions like the U.S. Defense Department, which late last year issued a report stating that climate change was a "threat multiplier," which could create civil unrest, the spread of disease, and destabilize susceptible places and regions, and poses an "immediate risk" to national security. When you have both the U.S. Defense Department and the pope agreeing on the science and impacts of global warming, you would think you have something irrefutable. 
But here we go again. The nonscientists, intent on undermining the truth and any responsible action and responses to climate change, are still on the move. Fox News minions have already declared the Pope the "most dangerous person on the planet." And Fox's Republican Party field of presidential candidates is only too proud and happy to carry that message into the presidential primaries. Jeb Bush said the pope should really just butt out of politics (except when church and state stand side by side on other social matters dear to Republicans) and matters of science. Bush said it's "arrogant" to raise the scientific consensus of global warming. Bobby Jindal, another Republican presidential candidate and climate change denier who previously had warned his own party of being the "stupid party," now seems quite prophetic about the likes of Jeb Bush, himself, and pretty much the entire Republican presidential field and party followers when it comes to climate change.
And that makes perfect sense. Pope Francis is appealing to a higher power or reason, logic, and enlightenment views to address the most pressing challenge that humans have faced in their existence. Francis' scathing and insightful statements on our economic model and philosophy are consistent with this environmental encyclical. Unfettered capitalism, driven by greed, selfish interests, disdain for the poor, disrespect of the planet, the pillaging of natural resources benefitting the very few, coupled with the lack of heart, mind, and will to realize that we have not only the responsibility, but the means to correct this ill that, would not only preserve humanity, but ensure it thrives in an egalitarian way, will be memorialized in failure, that this current generation failed to recognize and act to save the human population.
The pope wonderfully summarizes the policy aspects of climate change and an optimistic way forward.
"We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels - especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas - needs to be progressively replaced without delay. Until greater progress is made in developing widely accessible sources of renewable energy, it is legitimate to choose the less harmful alternative or to find short-term solutions. But the international community has still not reached adequate agreements about the responsibility for paying the costs of this energy transition. In recent decades, environmental issues have given rise to considerable public debate and have elicited a variety of committed and generous civic responses. Politics and business have been slow to react in a way commensurate with the urgency of the challenges facing our world. Although the post-industrial period may well be remembered as one of the most irresponsible in history, nonetheless there is reason to hope that humanity at the dawn of the twenty-first century will be remembered for having generously shouldered its grave responsibilities."
As Pope Francis inspires us to think through how humans act upon the world and themselves both justly and unjustly, he at last has brought a voice into the discussion around climate change that is merging the voices of science, religion, and politics.  He reminds us that humans have socially created and engineered religion and politics, while science ultimately rules. Maybe the pope is saying that God is nature, or the environment. Regardless, we have a powerful moral figure who brings science and enlightenment thinking into a problem that has the ability to destroy us or compel us to come together to realize our finest moment.
California Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency following a devastating oil pipeline spill along the unique Santa Barbara coast. The move will help free up resources which will help in the clean-up process – but experts say the local environment might never recover from this ecological disaster. It’s estimated that more than 400,000 litres of crude oil was spilled before the ruptured pipeline was discovered. Officials have estimated that around 80,000 litres of oil has reached the sea.
“This emergency proclamation cuts red tape and helps the state quickly mobilize all available resources,” said Governor Brown. “We will do everything necessary to protect California's coastline.”

Workers outfitted in protective suits and helmets are on the beach, shoveling up contaminated mud and rocks into plastic bags. Photo credit: Greenpeace USA.
The ruptured pipeline, which is owned and operated by the Plains All-American pipeline company (PAAP), was built in the late 1980’s and the company claims it was thoroughly inspected in 2012 and that it underwent similar test about two weeks ago – although those test results had not yet been analysed, Al Jazeera reports. Environmentalists are saying that this accident shows, yet again, that oil companies are incapable of regulating themselves.
“Oil spills are never accidents,” said Annie Leonard, Executive Director of Greenpeace USA, in a statement. “They are the direct result of substandard oversight of fossil fuel companies who put their profits above human and environmental impacts.”
Kathryn Phillips, California director of environmental group Sierra Club, asked: “How many more signals do we need from the oil industry that public health and the environment aren't at the top of its list when it decides how much to invest in creating its products?”
“It's time we all demand better from this incredibly wealthy industry,” Phillips said.

The pipeline company has said that they take full responsibility for the accident and that they will pay for all costs associated with this devastating oil spill.
“We apologise for the damage that has been done to the wildlife and to the environment and we’re very sorry for the disruption and inconvenience it has caused on the citizens and visitors to this area,” said PAAP’s boss Greg Armstrong.
Santa Barbara was the scene of a much bigger oil spill in 1969 which is said to have been responsible for launching the environmental movement in the US. The question is, will this oil spill change anything?
Many observations have shown that sea level rose steadily over the 20th century – and at a faster rate than over the previous centuries. It is also clear from both satellite and coastal observations that seas have risen faster over the past two decades than they did for the bulk of the 20th century.
More recently, several studies have shown that the flow of ice and water into the oceans from Greenland and West Antarctica has increased since 1993. This raises an interesting question: has the rate of sea-level rise changed since 1993, when satellite observations began to give us a more complete picture of the global oceans?
Our new research tackles this question by comparing satellite observations of sea level with those measured at the coast by tide gauges. We use this comparison to determine small biases in the satellite data that have changed over time. Understanding how the land supporting the tide gauges is moving becomes an important part of these comparisons. We found three important results.
First, the seas really have risen faster since 1993, relative to the slower rate over previous decades as evident in the tide gauge data.
Second, comparison of the coastal and satellite measurements reveal small differences in the early part of the satellite record from 1993 to 1999. After allowing for land motion at the tide gauges, the first six years of the satellite record marginally overestimates the sea-level trend. Our revised estimate of global mean sea-level rise for the satellite era (1993 to mid-2014) is about 2.6-2.9 mm per year (the exact value depends on how we estimate land motion) – slightly less than the previous estimate of 3.2 mm per year.

Satellite altimeters measure sea level by measuring the time it takes a radar pulse to make a round-trip from the satellite to the sea surface and back. NOAA/STAR
Third, previous estimates of the rate of rise from satellite data that didn’t incorporate the careful comparison with coastal sea-level measurements, as we have done in our recent study, showed a slower rate of rise over the past decade relative to the one before. Our revised record is clearly different and suggests that the rate of rise has increased, consistent with other observations of the increased contributions of water and ice from Greenland and West Antarctica.
However, sea level varies from year to year, as water is exchanged between the land and oceans (for example during the Australian floods associated with the 2010-11 and 2011-12 La Niña events), and as a result the observed increase in the rate of rise over the short satellite record is not yet statistically significant.
Strikingly, our estimate of the increase in the rate of rise is consistent with the projections of future sea level published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Currently, these projections forecast a rise of up to 98 cm by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are allowed to continue unabated (and even more if parts of the Antarctic ice sheet collapse). If the world makes strong cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, the rise by 2100 is projected to be significantly less, somewhere between 28 cm and 61 cm.
Coping with the impacts
The increasing rate of sea-level rise is not good news for our coastal population, nor for the natural and built environment in the coastal zone. The world is currently not on track to achieve the lower range of projected sea-level rise. And of course, sea-level rise will not stop in 2100 – as in the current century, the magnitude of future sea-level rise will be linked to our greenhouse gas emissions.
Increasing rates of sea-level rise will place increasing stress on the coastal margin. Extreme sea level events will become more frequent. Inundation and erosion will affect our infrastructure, affect ecosystems and, in some regions, displace populations. Adaption in the coastal zone will occur – this adaption can be either planned or forced upon us by the natural environment. Information on regional sea level changes and their projections are needed to underpin adaptation and mitigation strategies.
It is important that agencies in Australia and worldwide consider the impact of accelerating sea levels and provide communities with advice and planning directions that are commensurate with the magnitude of the problem. Failure to consider these issues will mean painful and costly impacts, particularly during extreme events.
Continued monitoring of sea level is essential
Despite progress, our understanding of sea-level change is incomplete, particularly when it comes to forecasting contributions from the ice sheets. Currently, observed sea-level rise is consistent with the most recent projections. Continuing to know where sea level is tracking relative to projections is important for planning and early warning of any rate of rise that differs from current projections is vital.
Australia relies on other countries for launching and maintaining satellite missions such as those used in our study. We provide an important contribution to the long-term monitoring of altimeter data that spans several different missions and space agencies – this is why long-term government support via Australia’s Integrated Marine Observing System is so valued.
As drought-stricken California struggles to meet the mandatory water use restrictions Gov. Jerry Brown announced earlier this month, the governor is urging a sharp increase in fines for the worst violators, and moving to help local water agencies conduct environmental reviews more quickly.
On Apr. 28, Brown called for legislation to sharply increase fines up to a maximum $10,000 for the worst violations of the conservation orders. The current maximum fine is $500 per day.
Also under Brown's proposal, wholesale and retail water agencies, as well as city and county governments, will be able to issue penalties. They could enforce both local water restrictions and restrictions ordered by the State Water Resources Control Board. Monetary penalties would go toward local conservation efforts.
In a separate action, Brown directed state agencies to help local water agencies cut the amount of time needed to comply with state-required environmental reviews.
The proposed new penalties come amid continuing debate about Brown's unprecedented April 1 executive order mandating that over 3,000 urban water districts in the state cut their water use by an overall 25 percent this year compared with 2013. The order also directs the state to provide financial help to homeowners shifting to drought-resistant landscaping, and rebates for new water-efficient appliances.
The order focuses mainly on urban water uses like lawns, parks, public medians and golf courses, which take up less than a quarter of water use by people in the state.
"I would hope that we don't see this in some punitive way, but that we see the challenge ... the climate is getting warmer, the weather is getting more extreme and unpredictable, and we have to become more resilient, more efficient and more innovative," the governor said then.
A major bone of contention is the omission from the April 1 order of any mandatory or voluntary conservation targets for agriculture, which uses nearly 80 percent of water not designated for environmental conservation. Instead, irrigation districts were told to develop drought management plans and monitor groundwater levels, and the State Water Resources Control Board was told to go after illegal and wasteful water users.
In exempting agriculture from cutbacks, Brown has sided with farmers who say they have already suffered four years of drought as well as sharp cutbacks by state and federal water providers, resulting in more land left fallow and lower income for the agriculture industry. Thousands of farm workers have also been put out of work.
Many water and conservation experts say agriculture should be included in the cutbacks. An often-cited issue is increasing pumping of groundwater, which in some Central Valley areas has already caused the land to sink measurably. Until 2014, California was the only western state not regulating groundwater withdrawals, and the new regulations don't become fully effective until 2022.
Another issue is planting of highly profitable but water-guzzling crops like almonds. Many farmers also continue to use flood irrigation rather than the much more efficient drip irrigation.
Some environmentalists also call for limiting water use on land used to raise crops for animal feed.
The debate takes place against the background of an antiquated allocation system that gives priority, and lower rates, to holders of "senior" water rights - those claimed before California established a permit process in 1914 - with holders of "junior" rights claimed after that time receiving less.
Though California is the country's largest agricultural producer and employs over 400,000 people, the industry accounts for just 2 percent of the state's gross domestic product.
Meanwhile, cities facing the sharpest cutbacks are pleading for exemptions because they have invested in recycled or desalinated water, or face great demands for water during extreme summer temperatures, or rely on local sources rather than state resources.
Also sharply debated is the governor's failure to include the oil and gas industry in his mandatory restrictions. Environmentalists estimate that more than two million gallons of fresh water are used daily to stimulate oil wells through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and related processes. 
The oil industry contends that such drilling produces more water than oil, and much of that water is provided to farmers. But environmentalists also point out that earlier this year, California's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources required oil companies to shut down 12 wastewater wells in the Central Valley because they are located close enough to underground wells for drinking or agricultural water to threaten contamination. Another 176 wells are undergoing investigation, and over 2,500 more wells are in areas that were never approved for wastewater injection.
Zack Malitz of the social action organization CREDO told Reuters earlier this year, "Gov. Brown is forcing ordinary Californians to shoulder the burden of the drought by cutting their personal water use while giving the oil industry a continuing license to break the law and poison our water. Fracking and toxic injection wells may not be the largest users of water in California, but they are undoubtedly some of the stupidest."

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