People's World

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  1. President Obama used his executive authority on June 17 to create the world's largest marine sanctuary. This has huge implications for the environment, as it bans commercial fishing, mining, and oil exploration in a major portion of the Pacific Ocean. The move will bypass Republican lawmakers who have long acted as roadblocks to environmental struggles, and could protect up to 800,000 square miles of the south-central Pacific from commercial and corporate exploitation. To this end, the Obama administration also announced the development of a new task force that will combat illegal fishing operations in the Pacific. The President will also consult with scientists and conservationists before determining the precise location and geographic scope of the sanctuary. It will, however, border and vastly expand the areas around the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, which was established back in 2009 and placed 77,020 square miles under the protection of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Obama also sought to add more national monuments. In a continuation of his use of executive power, under the Antiquities Act of 1906, he will designate 11 new national monuments on land across the U.S., allowing a plethora of new protections for millions of acres of precious wilderness. "We can protect our oceans for future generations," said the President. "Growing up in Hawaii, I learned to appreciate the beauty and power of the ocean. And like Presidents Clinton and Bush before me, I'm going to use my authority as President to protect some of our most precious marine landscapes, just like we do for mountains and rivers and forests." The move came directly on the heels of a bold and direct speech by Obama during a commencement address at the University of California-Irvine on June 14. During that address, the President openly criticized the obstinance of Republicans who denied the threat of climate change and the need to defend the environment. He encouraged young voters to speak out about environmentalism and reiterated the need to get legislation passed to change things for the better. With this plan for what will be the largest protected marine area in history, it would seem that Obama is showing he has lived up to his words. The White House's new task force is part and parcel of Obama's new initiative. It will be called the Presidential Task Force on Combating Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing and Seafood Fraud, and will report to the National Ocean Council, which itself was established via executive order in 2010. Obama explained that illegal and unregulated fishing in the Pacific continues to "undermine the economic and environmental sustainability of fisheries and fish stocks. Global losses attributable to the black market from such fishing are estimated to be $10-23 billion annually, weakening profitability for legally caught seafood, fueling illegal trafficking operations, and undermining economic opportunity for legitimate fishermen in the U.S. and around the world." Meanwhile, anti-environment Republicans and corporate oil executives are likely seething over the development of the marine sanctuary. Thousands of square miles of what oil companies see as potential territory for offshore drilling will now be closed off to them. And in addition to defending the waters from such tampering, the area's tuna and other fish stocks will be able to recover and increase their numbers. Obama made the announcement at a State Department Our Ocean conference; amongst the attendees was actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who had been strongly pushing for such a move and had previously donated $3 million to the Oceana conservation group. He declared he would now donate an additional $7 million over the next two years to "meaningful ocean protection" and to bolster the President's move. DiCaprio called the interference of oil corporations and illegal fishing markets "the Wild West on the high seas," and called for "an end to the incessant plundering of the ocean and its vital resources." He added that this is a worldwide problem, remarking, "Since my very first dive in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia 20 years ago, to the dive I got to do in the very same location just two years ago, I've witnessed environmental devastation firsthand. What once looked like an endless underwater utopia is now riddled with bleached coral reefs and massive dead zones." Secretary of State John Kerry added, "Most people think the ocean is larger than life; an endless resource impossible to destroy. But people underestimate the enormous damage that we as humans are inflicting upon the ocean every day."
  2. President Obama gave a de facto follow-up to his previous climate change speech on June 14, during his commencement address at the University of California-Irvine. In a bold and positive move, he called out climate change deniers, emphasized the urgency of the matter, and called on students to push the issue beyond the current partisan divide in Washington, D.C. He criticized the negative remarks made by Republicans in Congress, such as those of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., who claimed that the effects of climate change, if any, were "unknowable;" and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who diverted questions on global warming and simply said he was not a scientist. "One doesn't need to be a scientist," Obama pointed out, "to act on scientific issues while in public office." The President said that when Americans were set on a course for the moon, "nobody ignored the science. I don't remember anyone saying that the moon wasn't there or that it was made of cheese. Today's Congress, though, is full of folks who stubbornly and automatically reject the scientific evidence about climate change. They will tell you it's a hoax, or a fad. There are some who also duck the question. They say, 'Hey, look, I'm not a scientist.' And I'll translate that for you: what that really means is, 'I know that climate change is happening, but if I admit it, I'll be run out of town by a radical fringe that thinks climate change is a liberal plot, so I'm not going to admit it.'" Vox writer Ezra Klein said the speech was a diverse one in that it "was about more than just the Republican Party. It was an impassioned case for why climate action is necessary. And it was, politically, a speech that showed Obama is done trying to convince Republicans to work with him on climate change and has moved on to trying to convince the public - and in particular, the next generation of American voters." Obama is indeed clearly trying to work with young environmentalists, as evident by his remarks: "People are [too busy] thinking about politics instead of thinking about what's good for the next generation. The reason I'm telling you this is because I want to light a fire under you. As the generation getting shortchanged by inaction on this issue, I want all of you to understand you cannot accept that this is the way it has to be. You're going to have to push those in power to do what this American moment demands. You've got to educate your classmates, colleagues, family members, and fellow citizens, and tell them what's at stake. You've got to push back against the misinformation and speak out for facts." Ben Adler, Grist.org writer, pointed out that Obama's act of reaching out to the new generation is a smart move. He said, "Republicans will never embrace climate action just because most people passively support it, or because environmentalists ardently do, but young people could entice them. The millennial generation is growing in electoral strength, leaning heavily Democratic but showing signs of disappointment with the Democrats. If young voters really did show elected officials that support for climate change is a prerequisite for their votes, Republicans might eventually take notice." "I'm not a scientist either," said the President. "But we've got some really good ones at NASA. I do know that the overwhelming majority of scientists who work on climate change, including some who once disputed the data, have since put that debate to rest." It's time, he concluded, "to invest in what helps and divest in what harms. We have to realize that climate change is no longer a distant threat. It has moved firmly into the present." This article was originally published in People's World by Blake Deppe.
  3. The Golden State is being blackened by the most menacing brushfires in nearly two decades. As climate change continues to rear its ugly head, thousands of places including homes, a university campus, a nuclear plant, and parts of military bases have been evacuated in southern California. Nine fires have already burned more than 10,000 acres, and unfortunately, the blazes have merely gotten off to an early start. Experts believe the fires will worsen and spread more quickly as summer approaches. The fires broke out on May 13, prompting Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency for San Diego County. Paul Mendes, police captain of Carlsbad, Calif., remarked, "This is May. This is unbelievable. This is extreme. This has gone from dry conditions to volatile conditions." So far there is one reported fatality, and at least 20 buildings were destroyed in Carlsbad alone, with one burning house visibly exploding from an unknown cause. Santa Ana winds were whipping up and fanning the flames, making the situation direr. Several firenados were observed - devastating flaming cyclones that develop during very intense wildfires. Though those winds have begun to die down now, Mayor Matt Hall warned, "That does not mean they may not pick up again." "A heat wave and tinder-dry brush have created a dynamic, dangerous situation," California fire captain Mike Mohler said. "It's just unfortunately a recipe for a large fire and that's what we're seeing right now." Something of a reprieve, at least, was expected today, according to meteorologist Jon Erdman. He said, "Santa Ana winds, record heat, and low humidity will persist in southern California through Thursday. Beginning Friday, winds will begin to turn onshore, with much cooler 60s and 70s returning to the coast this weekend." In Carlsbad today, however, it is currently still almost 90 degrees. On a more positive note, firefighters are reporting that the fire there is about 50 percent contained - a large uptick from the mere 10 percent two days ago. Some evacuation orders have been lifted. Officials estimated the Carlsbad wildfire alone has caused $18.5 million in damage so far. Another fire near San Marcos is only five percent contained and has produced smoke plumes so large they can be seen from space. Seven more fires are still being fought in other areas. Meanwhile, some 2,300 people across San Diego County are dealing with power outages, according to San Diego Gas and Electric. Gov. Brown stated, "The heat is terrible. The last few years have been the driest in recorded California history. They think they've got this [Carlsbad fire] contained, or are about to have it contained. But they've got other fires all over the place, and most serious of all, California has a fire season that is getting longer. And the most serious fires have occurred in the last decade, so things are getting worse." He said the blazes were undeniably tied to global warming, adding, "Despite what you hear in Washington, climate change is a factor here. It's not about theory. It's not about politics. This is about fires on the ground, people's homes, firefighters. And yes, these conditions are definitely caused by climate change; global warming induced by human activity. So we've got to make changes. But right now in California we are dealing with it and handling it as best we can." San Diego fire chief Javier Mainar said, "It is pretty amazing to see these fires in May. We certainly have seen climate change and the impact of climate change. My understanding is we've seen twice the number of wildfire starts in the state of California as we typically see this time of year." On Thursday, some Carlsbad residents returned to find their homes gone. The fires, and in particular the firenadoes, in many cases demolished and flattened entire houses. "We walked up to our place, and it was like a bomb went off," said resident Anya Bannasch. "I can't even explain just how horrific it was." The fires are an ongoing disaster, and far from over, she said. There are "other families out there that are going through this right now," she added. "There's fires everywhere." This article was first published in People's World by Blake Deppe.
  4. In what could become a defining moment in environmental history, President Obama unveiled a plan on June 2 to cut carbon emissions by nearly a third within 15 years. It is the centerpiece of a larger climate action plan, and could prove to be one of the most important initiatives ever to fight climate change. "Right now," said Obama, "there are no national limits to the amount of carbon pollution that existing plants can pump into the air we breathe - none. We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury, sulfur, and arsenic that power plants put in our air and water. But they can dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air. It's not smart, it's not safe, and it doesn't make sense." The plan is already facing a wave of hostility from Republicans, who believe it will kill jobs. Obama dismissed this criticism, noting, "Special interests and their allies in Congress will claim that these guidelines will kill jobs and crush the economy. But let's face it, that's what they always say. They warned that doing something about the smog choking our cities, and acid rain poisoning our lakes, would kill business. It didn't. Our air got cleaner, acid rain was cut dramatically, and our economy kept growing." In fact, if this carbon reduction goal is met, it could produce "net climate and health benefits totaling $48-82 billion," according to the EPA. EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said the new rules would be critical in moving the rest of Obama's climate action plan forward. "The EPA is delivering on a vital piece of the plan by proposing a clean power plan that will cut harmful carbon pollution from plants. This is not just about disappearing polar bears and melting ice caps. This is about protecting our health, our homes, our local economies, and our jobs." Pollution reduction targets will vary based on what is best for each state; for example, the Rust Belt relies heavily on coal-fired plants, but some states, like Iowa, now generate over 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources. Plans will thus be adjusted accordingly. Some activists believe the state-by-state setup could be problematic, particularly in those that heavily lean on coal. Indiana, for instance, gets 80 percent of its electricity from coal. Republican Gov. Mike Pence vowed to fight the plan, remarking, "Indiana will oppose these regulations using every means available." Obama's counselor John Podesta addressed the concerns, stating, "While I am sure there will be holdouts amongst the states, most utilities will also want to work with their regulators to ensure successful implementation." He acknowledged that Republicans will "find various ways to try and stop us from using the authority we have under the Clean Air Act. All I would say is that those have zero percent chance of working, and we're committed to moving forward." Greenpeace applauded the ruling, remarking, "The plan shows that President Obama is serious about pushing the power sector away from coal and toward renewable energy, and that commitment couldn't come any sooner. Global warming is already affecting the lives of Americans in every single corner of our country, and things will get dramatically worse if we don't switch from coal, gas, and oil to renewables like wind and solar." In a separate statement, Greenpeace Climate and Energy Campaign director Gabe Wisniewski warned that the opposition would come not just from right-wing politicians, but industries and lobbyists like the American Legislative Exchange Council. While that pushback is to be expected, he added, it makes little sense, as "the most successful and innovative businesses in the country are sprinting to adopt renewable energy." "The President promised he would act to tackle the climate crisis and protect the health of our children and grandchildren, and he is keeping his word," said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. "These aren't just the first-ever protections to clean up carbon pollution from power plants, they also represent the largest single step any president has ever taken to fight climate disruption." EcoWatch founder and CEO Stefanie Spear said June 2 was "a really historic day for our country. These guidelines will help foster clean energy and efficiency while cleaning up the nation's air. We really need to show how renewables do work. We can power our country from wind, from solar, from other renewable sources, and energy efficiency has a vital role in all of this." Sheryl Carter, co-director of the National Resources Defense Council's energy program, added, "Energy efficiency is the cheapest, fastest, and cleanest way to cut carbon emissions, and it benefits local communities enormously by putting people to work and lowering bills. We are already seeing clear examples of efficiency in action, with huge job and money-savings benefits based on real-world experience by states. This analysis shows that carbon standards that use efficiency as a key strategy will expand these benefits to a much bigger scale. We need to do this now." This article was originally published in People's World by Blake Deppe.
  5. The California Fish and Game Commission voted on June 4 to grant endangered species protections to gray wolves. This is the first time the state has stepped into the issue over the species, which is losing protection and being killed in several states, and which is expanding to territories it had not inhabited for decades in others. One such territory might be the Golden State itself, where a gray wolf pup was spotted in the northern part of the state in 2011. Environment authorities believe that pup later found a mate and began denning in Oregon. California now joins Oregon and Washington in providing safe passage for these wolves that are repopulating their former range. This comes at a time when wolves in other states have not been so lucky; 80 percent of those in Wyoming can be shot on sight after the state marked them a "trophy game animal." Environmental groups thus applauded California for making the correct choice on gray wolves. Amaroq Weiss, of the Center for Biological Diversity, remarked, "The Pacific states are the last, best place for wolves. We have the progressive attitudes and social values where people embrace wildlife, no matter if it's got teeth or claws." Experts believe the wolves denning in Oregon will eventually establish a pack in northern California. Damon Nagami, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, declared, "While other states bicker and quarrel, California adds the latest chapter to one of the world's greatest biological success stories. The dispersal of wolves out of the northern Rockies will help to bring balance to other ecosystems in need of their stabilizing influence." Gray wolves have taken much flak from oppositional groups, which include hunters and ranchers. They have been called everything from "killing machines that gut calves for fun" to "coyotes on steroids that will take livestock, attack ranchers, and ruin the industry." These claims, however, are greatly exaggerated, and do not match up with the fact that gray wolves' population in such areas continues to be sparse. In Oregon, there are only a little over two dozen wolves, and this is the result of a reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park that began as far back as 1995. California Fish and Game Commission member Michael Sutton, a former Yellowstone ranger, said, "There is no more iconic animal in the American West than this one. We owe it to them to do everything we can to help them recolonize their historic range in our state." The Sierra Club stated, "Wolves are among the most charismatic animals in America. The howl of the wolf is emblematic of our country's last wild areas, a reminder of strength and beauty in the natural world. Wolves are vitally important to maintaining the natural balance, culling out weak and sick animals to keep populations in check. The rippling benefits of wolf reintroduction can be seen throughout the region - from the reappearance of willow and aspen trees, to the return of beavers, and increased populations of red foxes. Nevertheless, habitat loss, unregulated hunting, and negative stereotypes continue to reduce their numbers." This article was originally published in People's World by Blake Deppe.
  6. The just-released National Climate Assessment confirms that growing impacts from climate change, predicted by scientists, are already hitting the U.S. They include significant shifts in precipitation patterns, melting permafrost, longer fire seasons, severe and sustained drought especially in the Southwest, storm and erosion impacts from rising sea level, and much more. The report, released by the White House on Tuesday, looks at the difference in regional impacts. Particularly hardest hit is Alaska, with small communities already having to move inland due to permafrost melting, coastal erosion and the more rapid increase in average temperatures in the Arctic. The Southeast, though it has observable impacts, shows the least changes thus far due to global warming. Some areas of the Midwest will have longer growing seasons, at least in the short term, but areas dependent on snow pack melting for water are already facing earlier springs with earlier melting of the snow, causing serious problems for agriculture in the late summer. Unless there is a shift away from still-escalating greenhouse gas emissions, the report warns, U.S. average temperatures by the end of this century could reach 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The impacts could be catastrophic. Already, growing stress on water resources is causing conflicts between urban dwellers, farmers, other agricultural interests. The drought currently experienced in California is just a taste of longer and more severe droughts in that region, already significantly water-stressed. In the eastern U.S., the number of extreme weather events, including very heavy rain events, has increased already. The number of extreme rain events has already increased over 70 percent in the Northeast. These varying impacts are being seen across many industries. The report notes, "Corn producers in Iowa, oyster farmers in Washington State, and maple syrup producers in Vermont are all observing climate related changes." The report concludes: "Americans are noticing changes all around them. Summers are longer and hotter, and extended periods of unusual heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer. Rain comes in heavier downpours. People are seeing changes in the length and severity of seasonal allergies, the plant varieties that thrive in their gardens, and the kinds of birds they see in any particular month in their neighborhoods." Also noted is the impact on human health: "... increasingly frequent and intense heat events lead to more heat-related illnesses and deaths and, over time, worsen drought and wildfire risks, and intensify air pollution. Increasingly frequent extreme precipitation and associated flooding can lead to injuries and increases in waterborne disease. Rising sea surface temperatures have been linked with increasing levels and ranges of diseases. Rising sea levels intensify coastal flooding and storm surge, and thus exacerbate threats to public safety during storms." The National Climate Assessment report, the third in the last 14 years, implicitly rejects the anti-science approach of the climate change deniers and the climate "confusionists." It insists upon an evidence-based observation of reality as we are already experiencing it: "Multiple lines of independent evidence confirm that human activities are the primary cause of the global warming of the past 50 years. The burning of coal, oil, and gas, and clearing of forests have increased the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by more than 40 percent since the Industrial Revolution, and it has been known for almost two centuries that this carbon dioxide traps heat. Methane and nitrous oxide emissions from agriculture and other human activities add to the atmospheric burden of heat-trapping gases." While Republicans and coal-state Democrats have obstructed all efforts to develop a national response to climate change, many cities and states are beginning to make policy shifts to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, and to adjust to the changes now upon us. While this assessment focuses on the science, on the observed changes in process, and on public policy changes for policy makers to consider, it does not deal with the many different and growing struggles taking place on environmental and climate issues. The struggle against the Keystone XL pipeline is bringing together unique coalitions such as the Cowboy and Indian Alliance that recently sponsored a week of actions in Washington D.C. Farmers, Native American tribes, and environmental groups are uniting to oppose the interests of the big energy corporations, which propose to trample on the land these groups depend on. Anti-fracking struggles are taking place in many parts of the country, opposing the threats to our drinking water systems, the increases in earthquakes due to fracking, and the devastation wreaked on nearby communities. The movement to demand that cities, states, pension funds, and university endowment funds divest from fossil fuel companies got a boost from the decision this week by Stanford University to withdraw all of its funds from fossil fuel "investments." The divestment movement, already successful at several major universities and cities such as Seattle, is growing internationally. 350.org is coordinating these efforts here in the U.S. and working with many organizations worldwide to put the fossil fuel companies on notice that they will pay political, public relations, and economic prices for their profit-taking on production destructive of our common future. The assessment says, "Adaptation and mitigation are closely linked; adaptation efforts will be more difficult, more costly, and less likely to succeed if significant mitigation actions are not taken." Action must be taken on the individual, city, regional, national, and international levels if humanity as a whole is to avoid the worst consequences of global warming which will occur if there isn't a change from business as usual. The sooner we act, the cheaper and more effective our policy responses will be. As millions or people around the world engage in struggle on climate issues, they are bringing democratic pressure to bear on those who want to confuse us, who want to delay collective action so their private interests can continue to make excess profits. This article was first published in People's World by Marc Brodine.
  7. British Columbia's controversial annual spring grizzly bear hunt began on Apr. 1, with an estimated 1,800 hunting authorizations being issued - one of the highest numbers in recent years. Grizzlies, which are considered "threatened" by the U.S. Endangered Species Act, do not have the population numbers that black bears do, and activists including conservation groups, animal rights supporters, and First Nation tribe members have serious qualms about the hunting of these bears for pure sport. This year's grizzly hunt lasts until the end of May, and is followed by an autumn hunt that takes place Oct. 1 through mid-November. On average, about 300 of these bears are killed by hunters per year, but that number might increase from an uptick in hunting authorizations. The Canadian province where the activity will take place is home to about a quarter of the remaining North American grizzly population. Robert Johnson and Jason Moody, two brothers from the Heiltsuk First Nation, recalled commonly seeing a grizzly bear while working as field technicians in a coastal estuary, flanked by what was known as the Great Bear Rainforest. The young male bear, whom they nicknamed "Cheeky," would follow them around from a distance, often poking his head out at them and sticking out his tongue. The brothers were also there on the day that Cheeky was shot to death by a big-game trophy hunter. The bear's killer, Clayton Stoner, skinned Cheeky and took his hide. He chopped off Cheeky's head and paws. Though the brothers arrived too late to stop the hunt, they did find Cheeky's mangled remains, which had been left there to rot. "I was devastated," said Moody. "I had hoped to save his life." He and his brother, he said, had developed quite a bond with the bear, who had a playful curiosity and friendliness. Johnson remarked that during their time there, "We started talking with Cheeky, telling him what we were doing there. We got to know him quite well, to the point we could go in our boat and get off and walk around in the area without having to worry about him." Stoner kept the bear as a trophy, even balancing the animal's severed head on his knee and posing for a photo. Brothers Johnson and Moody, meanwhile, returned to their research camp near the estuary and wept for the loss of their friend. This is merely a single example of what is increasingly being viewed across Canada as a moral atrocity, and British Columbia is now seriously debating the continuation of grizzly trophy hunts. Thirteen years ago in April, a moratorium on the hunt was enacted, but quickly overturned within months. On Feb. 15, protesters gathered at the B.C. legislature buildings in the provincial capital of Victoria, demanding a permanent province wide ban on grizzly bear trophy hunting. And they posed their argument not merely in moral terms, but in economic terms as well, noting that over 11,000 tourists came to Canada to visit the bears in 2012, and contributed $9.54 million to the GDP. Trophy hunting, on the other hand, only generated $0.7 million that year. Chelsea Turner, daughter of British Columbian wildlife filmmakers Jeff and Sue Turner, spoke at the demonstration, remarking, "I realized that when we go out on location to film this spring, it will be the same time the spring trophy hunt begins. It's just appalling to me. It breaks my heart to think that one day we're working with these bears and shooting them with our cameras, and the next day trophy hunters can show up and shoot them with their high-powered rifles. This is completely the wrong direction that we're moving in." Biologist Paul Paquet of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation said grizzlies could be too few in numbers to risk a trophy hunt at this time. "The real numbers could be somewhere as low as 6,000 or as high as 18,000," he said. "We just don't know." But the real question he said, is, "is this ethical, to be hunting bears? That's really what's at issue. This is a trophy hunt, as opposed to a hunt for food." And according to First Nation members, these big game hunters are not doing anything particularly brave, difficult, or admirable. The bears in the area are accustomed to seeing people, due to tourism, and thus do not fear guns - until it's too late. Doug Neasloss of the Kitasoo/Xai'xais Nation suggested it isn't so much a hunt as it is senseless slaughter. When asked whether a grizzly is hard to catch, Neasloss replied, "No. My grandmother could shoot a grizzly." This article was first published in People's World by Blake Deppe.
  8. For a while, Dr. Guy McPherson, professor emeritus of natural resources and ecology & evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona, was relatively optimistic. There was a time when he believed that, if modern industrial society were to suddenly cease to operate, the planet could be saved. Not any more, he says. Planet Earth is now in hospice, nearing the end. Waiting to hear him speak, the atmosphere in the East Auditorium at the University of Rhode Island is festive, almost jubilant. Everyone is smiling and gregariously introducing themselves to me. Though most of us aren't scientists, there is an unconscious letting down of our guard: we are among our own. No matter the origin of our disparate backgrounds, we all believe that climate change is real, and that human beings are the primary cause. There is electricity in the air and everyone is excited. I make the rounds and meet Patricia Hval, the humble curator of the Babcock-Smith House Museum in Westerly, R.I. Though not a URI faculty member, she is responsible for McPherson's presence here tonight. She had originally invited him to speak in Westerly but couldn't find a venue, so she organized a URI event along with Dr. Peter Nightingale, whom I finally meet in the flesh after some email correspondence. Peter is a slight, elderly Dutchman with quick vibrant movements and an infectious smile - like so many others tonight (including our speaker) he exudes charisma. He is a physicist, and though he doesn't agree with McPherson's specific prognosis, his views on climate change are uncompromising. In our telephone conversations, he voices frustration at the meager efforts of world governments to curb carbon emissions. He makes an apt analogy with Dick Cheney's "one percent doctrine": If there is even a 1 percent chance of a terrorist attack, then the United States must do everything in its power to stop it. Why then, Nightingale asks, is the same logic not applied to climate change, which has a statistically predictable trajectory and the potential to kill many more people than any other threat? Nightingale opens up the lecture with a song on his ukulele. The anthem is called "Fight For Fossil Free!" and we all have lyric sheets. Soon I am singing along with everyone else in the packed auditorium. The energy of the crowd is palpable. McPherson steps up to the podium and makes his case. He'd an odd duck, splendidly dressed, and it's hard to take your eyes off him. He is dressed in well worn leather dress shoes, '90s Carhart pants and a slick blazer, and has perhaps the goofiest haircut I've ever seen in my life. There is something strangely dashing about him, a streak of Indiana Jones. He is positively arresting. Guy McPherson believes that life on Earth will more or less be extinct by the year 2060, and the evidence he presents is compelling and well sourced. Of the creatures that may live, mankind is not among them. We'll run out of food and water. We'll be swept away by typhoons, and freeze in winter storms of unusual intensity. We'll dry in the sun, and our mummified remains will break apart in sandstorms, our disintegrated body matter swirling around like dervishes of dust. Now, Guy didn't actually use any of these morbid descriptions, but that is where my mind went after hearing the overwhelming amount of factual information that he presented. If he's a flake, as some have accused him of being, then he is the most learned and exhaustively conclusive flake I've ever met. We've known for a very long time that climate change is real, and that it has been specifically caused by the burning of fossil fuels. The first scientific paper linking the two was released in 1847. That's right, I said 1847. Media blackouts, apparently, are nothing new. McPherson believes that the effects of climate change are exponentially progressive and irreversible based on two factors: the lag of the effect of carbon emissions, which is about 40 years, and consequently the creation of self-reinforcing feedback loops. So what does that all mean? Well, it means that we are reaping the fruits of 1970s carbon emissions. But surely emissions have decreased, right? No. Not even close. Worse, there is no sign that emissions are even slowing down, much less reversing. 2009, the onset of the the Second Great Depression Great Recession, set a new record for carbon released by humans into the atmosphere. This record has been consecutively broken every year since. This is where the self-reinforcing feedback loops come into play. There are many of them, but I'll start with one that I understand as a layman: the release of methane over cold regions. Permafrost contains copious amounts of methane, which is now being released into the atmosphere as the permafrost melts. Though methane dissipates in the atmosphere at a faster pace than carbon, its heating effects are far greater. So as more methane is released, more permafrost melts, releasing more methane. .. get it? But the methane will just break up in the atmosphere and the crisis will be over, right? No. The warming will affect the whole planet, destroying natural heat sinks such as rainforests, leading to the release of even more methane. McPherson shows us an authentic photo of Siberian children roasting marshmallows over a methane fissure in Siberia. It's a small crack in the Earth, and some industrious youngster has lit it on fire. But they no longer light the fissures on fire, because the cracks are now a kilometer wide. No major news agency reported it. If the prognosis on Earth's condition is so grim, then why bother reporting it? McPherson uses the analogy of medical malpractice. If your doctor examines you and concludes that you have six months to live, McPherson asks, wouldn't you like to know the truth? Those in the scientific community and elsewhere who minimize the impending calamity and totality of climate change are committing malpractice by withholding this crucial and pertinent information from us. The Earth is in hospice, and the prognosis is grim. I pray to God that he's wrong. This article was first published in People's World by Jonathan W. Pressman.
  9. UN orders Japan to end whale hunt

    The UN's International Court of Justice has ordered Japan to halt its yearly whale hunt, a cruel practice that gives no consideration to the welfare of the animals. Japan is one of several countries that persisted in this practice after whaling was banned worldwide in 1986, in this case using "scientific research" as an excuse. But there is nothing scientific about whale killing, and the UN has called them out on it. Currently, Japan's whaling program is killing about 1,000 whales a year under the guise of "scientific purposes." It was Australia that took the matter to the International Court this year, claiming the supposed research was little more than a ruse to circumvent the UN's whaling ban. The presiding judge, Peter Tomka, agreed that Japan's assertion that its whale hunt has a scientific basis is, by and large, false. "The evidence does not establish that the program's design and implementation are reasonable in relation to achieving its stated objectives," Tomka remarked. He noted that it failed to justify the brutality of the killings, and that a moratorium on whaling would remain in place for Japan unless and until it could somehow produce a program with an actual basis in scientific research. Japanese Foreign Ministry official Koji Tsuruoka said Japan will abide by the order. "While Japan is disappointed, it will abide by the judgment of the court as a state that places great importance on the international legal order," he said. However, he added that Japan "regrets and is deeply disappointed by the decision." Among those who don't share that sentiment are animal rights activists and countries like Australia, who maintain that whale killing is immoral and unethical. Patrick Ramage, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare's whale program, said the court decision is reason to rejoice, and could have an effect on other countries that ignored the UN's moratorium, like Norway and Iceland - two countries that still engage in commercial whaling outright. "The ruling certainly has implications ultimately for whaling by Iceland and Norway as well," said Ramage. "I think it will increase pressure on those two countries to re-examine their own whaling practices and the various reasons and pretexts given for that whaling activity." Jeff Hansen, managing director of Sea Shepherd Australia, said, "The International Court has just acknowledged that what Japan is doing is illegal. Our hope is that Japan can be a nation that loves whales and sees the huge benefit from eco-tourism that Australia does, which was also a nation that used to hunt whales." Greenpeace writer Tom Ganderton stated, "The news confirms what we've been saying all along: this lethal whaling program is not necessary, and is harmful to the health of our oceans. It's high time this industry was consigned to the history books. The Japanese government claims that whaling is a long-standing part of Japanese culture that the international community should not interfere with. But the Australian government was quick to challenge this idea, as Greenpeace has consistently done in the past. They pointed out that whaling only began there in the 1930s." Moreover, said Ganderton, "The whale meat industry is dying in Japan. Statistics commissioned by Greenpeace Japan found that up to 80 percent of respondents disagreed with whaling. What's more, thousands of tons of whale meat today remain in frozen storage in Japan because demand is so low. "We need an end to commercial whaling so we can turn the focus onto some of the big conservation challenges facing the world's remaining whale populations, like climate change and destructive fishing. We won't stop until this dying industry is ended for good." This article was first published in People's World by Blake Deppe.
  10. In a dramatic sign of growing opposition to construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, 398 students were arrested March 2 after they chained themselves to the White House fence. A network of students called XL Dissent organized the protest, part of a groundswell of calls upon President Obama to block approval of the pipeline, which will carry millions of gallons of crude oil from the tar sands region in Alberta, Canada, to refineries in the United States. "Obama was the first president I voted for, and I want real climate action and a rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline," Nick Stracco, a senior at Tulane University and one of the organizers of the protest, told the Huffington Post. "The people that voted him into office have made it absolutely clear what we want, and that's to reject Keystone XL." Over 1,000 students from some 80 campuses and 42 states gathered at Georgetown University and marched on the White House. The students, many dressed in mock hazmat suits, first stopped at the home of Secretary of State John Kerry, where they unfurled a giant black tarp to symbolize an oil spill. The State Department has issued a finding claiming that building the Keystone XL pipeline won't have a significant environmental impact. The State Department study was necessary because the pipeline crosses international borders and is required for federal approval. Kerry must sign off on the study. Once at the White House, students again unfurled a giant tarp and lay down on it to symbolize an oil spill. Students then tied themselves to the fence with plastic handcuffs and were arrested. "The youth really understand the traditional methods of creating change are not sufficient, so we needed to escalate," Aly Johnson-Kurts told Politico. Johnson was one of those arrested. "They say we are too young to make a difference, but we are proving them wrong, right here, right now," Earthguardians Youth Director Xiuhtezcatl Martinez told the cheering crowd. This was said to be the largest student civil disobedience action at the White House in a generation. Over 1,200 people of all ages were arrested in a similar protest organized by the environmental group 350.org at the White House in August 2011. "An entire movement has thrown itself into in this Keystone fight, from local frontline groups to big national green organizations," 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben wrote in an email to Huffington Post. "But this weekend shows the power and bravery of some of the most crucial elements: young people, and activists who understand the centrality of environmental justice." The Keystone XL pipeline is a project of TransCanada. Once constructed it will transport 830,000 barrels of tar sands crude oil, described as the "dirtiest oil," to its refining destination in the Gulf Coast. The pipeline would double the amount of tar sands crude oil entering the U.S. Environmentalists are warning that burning this dirty oil will increase greenhouse gas emissions exponentially at a time when they must be reduced to stem the climate crisis. They also warn of vast ecological decimation due to extraction from the tar sands and massive oil spills over delicate aquifers and waterways. In one of the largest spills in U.S. history, one million gallons of oil gushed into Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010 and it still hasn't been fully cleaned up. Activists from the Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands also participated. Three activists were arrested last year trying to block construction of the pipeline by Enbridge Inc., which will also carry tar sands crude oil through the state. They face two to three years in jail if convicted. Battles have also erupted in Detroit and Chicago over petcoke dumping. Petcoke is a byproduct of the refining process, which many believe is contributing to increases in cancer rates and other health issues. Also participating in the demonstration were activists from the Indigenous community including Jasmine Thomas from Saik'uz First Nation in British Columbia. Over 50 First Nation communities that will be impacted along the route of the pipeline are offering some of the fiercest resistance to construction. "Even President Obama has admitted the jobs created are temporary and very few," American University student Deirdre Shelly said in an interview on Democracy Now! "There's no reason why those jobs have to be in dirty and expensive oil. America is ready for a clean, green economy and we can begin by saying no to this dirty pipeline," said Shelly. In another protest, nine students were arrested when they sat in at the State Department building in San Francisco on March 3. XL Dissent organizers vowed the protests and acts of civil disobedience would continue. Website 350.org has signed up over 70,000 people to commit civil disobedience against the pipeline. Many more actions are expected over the next few months. This article was first published in People's World by John Bachtell.
  11. Since last year, California has been plagued by drought, with Los Angeles in particular having its driest year on record in 2013. Angelenos only saw reprieve in early March, when heavy rainfall finally arrived there. Now, scientists are warning that an even more dire situation is on the way for the Golden State: a megadrought that could last for decades, affecting everything from wildlife to agriculture. And although the storm system that brought precipitation to LA is going to help combat the drought in the short-term, weather officials don't believe it will have a lasting effect. The drought, of course, is a product of climate change, and it stands to reason that the two will worsen simultaneously. Lisa Sloan, professor of Earth sciences at UC Santa Cruz, and author of a report on the issue, explained that the California drought is largely owed to the global warming-induced melting of Arctic ice. Jacob Sewall, a graduate student who co-published the report, remarked, "Where the sea ice is reduced, heat transfer from the ocean warms the atmosphere, resulting in a rising column of relatively warm air." Sloan added, "And this will only get worse, with Arctic sea ice diminishing quickly. In fact, I think the actual situation in the next few decades could be even more dire than our study suggested." Climate change blogger and founding editor of Climate Progress Joseph Romm said that droughts in the western U.S. on the whole will increase in intensity and frequency as weather patterns change. He explained, "Precipitation patterns are expected to shift, expanding the dry subtropics. What precipitation there is will come in extreme deluges, resulting in runoff rather than drought alleviation. Warming causes greater evaporation and, once the ground is dry, the sun's energy goes into baking the soil, leading to a further increase in air temperature." Lynn Ingram, a paleoclimatologist from the University of California Berkeley, said that megadroughts - those lasting for more than 100 years - have occurred in the past and could return. "If we go back several thousand years," she said, "we've seen that droughts can last over a decade - and in some cases, over a century. We can expect that this will happen again. California should be prepared for an eventual dry period" of that magnitude. Should this happen, it would create an increasingly desperate set of circumstances for Californians, who live in one of the largest agricultural regions in the world. The effects such a drought would have on crops would be disastrous. As a result, the cost of fruits and vegetables alone would soar, thus making it an economic issue as well. Celeste Cantu, general manager for the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority, said California should start preparing for this now. "There will be cataclysmic impacts. We would need to import water" to some 4.5 million southern Californians, especially ranchers and farmers. According to paleoclimatologist Edward Cook, "the current drought" in the southwestern U.S. overall "could be classified as a megadrought - 13 years running." He pointed out that two prior megadroughts have occurred in the Sierra Nevada of California, each last between 100 and 200 years. If the worst-case scenario comes to fruition, the state's current dry period could last just as long. "There's no indication it'll be getting any better in the near term," he concluded. This article was first published in People's World by Blake Deppe.
  12. At least 250 dolphins have been tortured, many of them brutally killed, in Japan's Taiji Cove in the past seven days. Some of these mammals will be collected and shipped off to aquariums, but a large number will be harvested for their meat. Dolphin hunting is also known as drive hunting, and involves driving the animals together with boats and trapping them. It is increasingly seen as a cruel, inhumane, and entirely unnecessary practice. Now, animal rights groups and other activists worldwide are fighting back. Several hundred bottlenose dolphins, porpoises, and pilot whales are hunted and slaughtered in Taiji Cove annually. Among those slain so far this year were infant dolphins (whom the fishermen view as too small to be worth much in meat), and a rare albino dolphin. On Jan. 24, activists held a rally in downtown Tokyo, decrying this abuse and calling on officials to stop the sale of marine animals to aquariums and as meat. They declared that the practice is tarnishing Japan's reputation, especially as Tokyo prepares to host the 2020 summer Olympic Games. "The government had argued that the practice of dolphin hunting is part of Japanese tradition and food culture," said Noriko Ikeda, a member of Action for Marine Mammals who organized the demonstration. "But the reality is that most Japanese people do not know about dolphin hunting, and it is extremely rare to find Japanese people who wish to eat dolphins. The real problem is that this hunt is driven by a demand for live dolphins from aquariums wishing to put on dolphin shows." Satoshi Komiyama, who is the leader of Action for Marine Mammals, noted that their group is relatively new, having arisen from a grassroots movement, and is indicative of a new uprising against these cruel practices. He remarked, "There have always been discussions about the pros and cons of dolphin issues in Japan. But arguments and discussions do not save dolphins. Now, we think action is important. Many foreign groups come to Japan and are active in protecting dolphins. However, since they are not permanent residents of Japan, there are various limitations and difficulties in regard to their activities here." If enough people protest, he remarked, "we have the potential to start a larger movement [based] right here in Japan." Animal rights and rescue organization In Defense of Animals added that not only is dolphin hunting a cruel sport, it is also unhealthy for people. "How the Japanese government can knowingly allow the human consumption of dolphin meat is beyond reason," stated the group. "It contains dangerous levels of mercury and other industrial pollutants." According to Carl Safina, Stony Brook University professor and founder of conservation group Blue Ocean Institute, it's notable that Japan's own slaughter guidelines for livestock are superior to that of the U.S.'s torturous factory farming, in that Japan requires animals to be killed in the quickest, most painless way possible, or else lose consciousness before being killed. Efforts must also be made to minimize anxiety and depression in the livestock. None of these guidelines, however, apply to whale and dolphin killing, and since 2010, a new, more vicious killing method has been employed, one which involves piercing the animals' spinal cords with metal rods. Essentially, this results in a more prolonged, painful death for these highly intelligent mammals. The reason for doing so is because it apparently shortens the "harvest time" and makes the job easier for the fishermen. The uproar over the slaughter has extended beyond that of mere animal rights and environmental groups: It drew a firm rebuke from U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy, who on Jan. 17 tweeted, "I am deeply concerned by the inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing. The U.S. government opposes drive hunt fisheries." And according to a report by Whales.org, "The treatment of dolphins in [these] hunts sharply contradicts current animal welfare standards employed in most modern and technologically advanced societies. The systematic mistreatment of dolphins, allowed and sanctioned by a highly developed country such as Japan, is in striking contrast to the European Union, the United States, and even existing Japanese livestock legislation." This article was first published in People's World by Blake Deppe.
  13. Believe it or not, winters have been warming rapidly in the majority of the continental 48 states since 1970. And, take note Chicago and other Midwest readers: The coldest states are warming the fastest. So says a 2013 report by Climate Central. In fact, says science writer Andrew Zimmerman, if the climate had not warmed so much during the past few decades, it's possible that the current freezer-like weather would be even colder in those areas. Yikes! Meanwhile, there have been above-average temperatures across parts of the Arctic, Scandinavia, Europe and Asia this past week, Zimmerman reports. Last month, the northern Alaska coastline, above the Arctic Circle, had the warmest temperatures on record in at least 70 years. It's part of an overall trend of warming in the Arctic area. But yes, brrrrr, every state in the continental U.S. has had sub-freezing temperatures this week. It's attributed to the behavior of the "polar vortex." The polar vortex (also known as a polar cyclone) is a large swirl of very cold air that sits over the polar regions year round. It intensifies in the winter and weakens in the summer. The jet stream from the Arctic polar vortex sometimes brings extremely cold weather southward into Europe, Asia and the U.S. According AccuWeather.com, cold outbreaks like the one this week occur "on average once every 10 years. The last far-reaching, bitterly cold blasts occurred in the mid-1990s, during February of 1996 and January of 1994." AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson said, "We were overdue for a large Arctic outbreak of this intensity." This time the polar vortex has spread unusually far south into the U.S., giving us the record frigid conditions we've been experiencing. Is global climate change a factor in this unusual intrusion of the polar vortex? Some scientists say yes; others say the jury is still out. Scientific studies have tied abnormally cold temperatures in the U.S. and Europe to warmer than usual conditions in the Arctic - they dub this the "Warm Arctic/Cold Continents Pattern." This could be driven by the loss of polar sea ice which has been documented over the past few decades. That in turn is spurred by human-caused global warming. Research is ongoing. "The research linking climate change impacts in the Arctic to more extreme jet stream patterns is still very new, and we need several more years of data and additional research before we can be confident that this is occurring," writes Weather Underground scientist Jeff Masters. "But if the new research is correct, the crazy winter weather we've been seeing since 2009 may be the new normal in a world with rapid warming occurring in the Arctic." But one thing is sure, scientist agree: cold weather does not contradict the well-established fact that the Earth has been warming overall due to human activity, in particular the massive use of oil, coal and other fossil fuels. The consequences of this, scientists say, include more extreme weather of all kinds. For a break from the cold, you might want to consider a trip Down Under. Australia has experienced record-breaking scorching hot weather this past year. It's been so hot that mapmakers have had to add a new color to temperature maps to signify the blistering heat there. Australia's winter, which is during our summer months, was "only" the third hottest on record. But its spring temperatures, starting in September, were the hottest ever. January 2014 is starting off with similar heat extremes. Walgett, in New South Wales, recorded 120 degrees Fahrenheit, the second hottest temperature ever measured in the state. One of the reasons for Australia's record heat in 2013 was very high ocean surface temperatures, the third warmest on record according to preliminary data. If you are not up for a trip to Australia, not to worry. The record cold in the U.S. will be ending this week, weather forecasters say. Temperatures are predicted to be up to 50 in places like New York and St. Louis. This article was first published in People's World by Susan Webb.
  14. Beware uncertainty! It can cut both ways - something the climate change deniers want us to ignore at our peril. The well-funded deniers have taken advantage of the great amounts of uncertainty about climate science, climate change, and the interlocking web of life that is nature, the nature on which humanity depends for its existence. And they have been correct that there has been and continues to be much uncertainty. Climate models and projections are guesstimates, not absolute proof. The world's climate system is complex and interacts in sometimes unexpected ways. But the climate change deniers imply, or state outright, that all this uncertainty means that things might not be so bad. They want people to conclude that there is nothing but upside to it. The problem is that uncertainty can work the other way too. It can mean that things are much worse than we thought - and we already thought they were pretty bad. For example, one of the uncertainties about climate change has been about exactly how the systems of cloud formation affect climate. Do clouds reflect, deflect, or absorb the sun's rays? To what degree? Does cloud cover make climate change better or worse? We haven't known. But a new study, published in Nature, a scientific establishment journal of record, peer reviewed and fact-checked, shows that as the climate changes and warms significantly, cloud formation changes as well, and a warming climate will decrease our cloud cover. As a result there will be fewer lower-level clouds to ameliorate the earth's warming. What this means is that the predictions up til now, based on calculations that did not include any cloud-related factors, have underestimated how much the climate will heat up by the end of the century. As we learn more, some of the uncertainty disappears. It is replaced by a certainty that if we don't act soon and in radical fashion to address the causes of climate change, we will sweep past the conservative estimates of 2 degrees Celsius of climate change. That figure might (there's that uncertainty again) keep climate change from affecting humanity and natural systems in catastrophic ways. But the new calculations, taking into account the new certainties about clouds, project an increase of 4 degrees Celsius (about 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100, double the already-dire predictions of mainstream climate scientists. As other studies have suggested, the most drastic impacts of climate change will likely come from those effects we don't fully understand yet. Realistic optimism needs to be based on facts, on reality, on demonstrated understanding of how the world works. The laws of physics can't be repealed or annulled by legislative action. And the uncertainty about how bad climate change is going to get can mean it will get a lot worse a lot sooner than even the most dire projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Nobel Prize-winning United Nations body of scientists charged with evaluating the latest in climate science. All these predictions can be depressing. But the hopeful signs come from the growing movements around the world for curbing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing the many related environmental problems we face. The divestment movement, the anti-fracking movement, the many cities and states as well as countries that are taking real action, the positive steps from the Obama administration such as regulating existing and future coal-powered plants and increasing auto standards, all will help, even though they are not yet anywhere near enough to address the enormity of the problems. What is needed is a massive worldwide movement, inclusive of many organizations, many strategies, and many fronts. Photo credit: Arbyreed (cc). This article was first published in People's World by Marc Brodine.
  15. Top 10 environmental issues of 2013

    It's been another year of environmental disasters in the U.S. - some fueled by corporate profiteering, others by climate change. However, it's important to take note of progress where it's due: steps forward have been made in expanding solar energy, as well as curbing carbon and mercury emissions. Nevertheless, in light of what's happened to the climate this past year, let's take a look at 10 of the biggest issues of 2013 and see what lessons can be learned from them going forward. 10. Wolves Wolves were under attack this year, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed in June to strip federal Endangered Species Act protections from them. The population is already at an all-time low. Experts believe that doing more to protect these animals, not less, is in our best interest, and that we would benefit economically and ecologically from such an endeavor. Fortunately, on Dec. 17, one million Americans stated their opposition to removing wolf protections, via conservation groups that collected their comments and sent them along to the Fish and Wildlife Service. So while wolves were certainly a hot topic in 2013, if enough people stand up for them, this issue need not devolve into a disaster. 9. Petcoke Residents in southeast Chicago are lamenting the continued nuisance of petcoke (short for oil waste called "petroleum coke"), which is currently piling up near their neighborhoods. The smoke from the stuff is drifting into their homes, disturbing family events, and causing endless health concerns. It's disconcerting to know that the billionaire Koch brothers have been technically responsible: KCBX Terminals, which has done some of the dumping, is a division of Koch Industries, which has been implicated in numerous other environmental disasters. 8. Fracking Fracking, a process through which natural gas is extracted from the ground, has not proven too popular with residents affected by toxic water, towns enduring small earthquakes from the drilling, and environmental activists who have come to realize that fracking is anything but safe. The process has persisted throughout 2013 and, even more worrying, the fossil fuel industry is increasingly setting its sights on natural gas, seeing it as a cheaper alternative to coal. But there are better alternatives. 7. Poaching Though average Americans seem not to realize it, an all-out war is being waged on the rhinoceros, particularly in South Africa, where they are prized for their horns. Poachers have evolved with the times and grown more dangerous, now wielding high-powered rifles and assault vehicles. The western black rhino is now extinct, and other species, like the northern white rhino and the Javan rhino, are at risk. The illegal wildlife trade is growing to such an extent that experts believe more rhinos will soon be slaughtered than born. 6. Wildfires They continue to burn in California even now, as winter approaches. This has been a particularly bad year - amidst a whole string of recent bad years - for areas at risk for wildfires. A look back at California's Rim Fire, which began on Aug. 17 and burned 257,314 acres, is sobering. The third largest wildfire in the state's history, its rapid spread was certainly made worse by a climate change-fueled drought and heat wave, as well as Forest Service budget cuts. It was also one of 17 major brushfires (burning 1,000 acres or more) in the U.S. this year. 5. Carbon emissions On a more positive note, the Environmental Protection Agency, bolstered by the willingness of President Obama to confront climate change head-on, has done a number of good things in 2013. One of the most important has been the curbing of carbon emissions from new coal-fired power plants. This is part of a long-term series of safeguards enacted by the Obama administration this year, a followup to the EPA's 2012 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which sought to reduce mercury output. 4. Oil Possibly the number one word on the tip of every environmental activist's tongue this year, for a variety of unpleasant reasons. Numerous pipelines have burst and spewed oil. The most severe of these occurred in Mayflower, Arkansas, where the town was plagued by pools of tar sands oil after the 65-year-old ExxonMobil-owned Pegasus pipeline ruptured. Meanwhile, things were no safer by train. One recent disaster involved an Oct. 19 derailment in Alberta, Canada. But the worst was a June 6 derailment and crash in Quebec, in the town of Lac-Mégantec, which caused major explosions and killed 47 people. Finally, the other oil-related issue haunting environmentalists is the fact that 3 million barrels of crude are currently being loaded into the southern section of the Keystone XL pipeline - operations for that leg of the project are supposed to start next month. One can only hope another Mayflower-scale accident does not occur. 3. Solar energy If there has been progress made in any department this year, it's that of solar energy. It is seen as increasingly viable by companies, and there have been a number of good developments in solar on the East Coast. New Jersey, ranked in 2012 as number one in solar, is turning 800 landfills and 10,000 abandoned industrial areas into massive solar farms. This is a big win for a state with a messy history of pollution and environmental damage. Meanwhile, New York is installing a 47-acre solar plant in Staten Island's Fresh Kills Park, which is currently the site of the world's largest landfill. Less pollution zones and more solar power is a win-win for the environment, and the reason why solar energy was on the minds of many East Coasters in 2013. 2. Fukushima Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown is creating a panic years after the fact, due to the disaster's ripple effect. It will not only have dire consequences for the environment, but for human health and livelihoods as well. When Typhoon Wipha lashed Tokyo in October this year, it only made the situation worse. The still-leaking radioactive output from the Fukushima plant increased twofold after the storm hit, with spillage over 14,000 times what is considered safe pouring into the sea. The Fukushima cleanup deadline has been extended to 2017, but the fallout will have repercussions for decades to come. 1. Climate change And finally, the root of many of the problems on this list. Republican politicians continue to deny its existence in the interest of corporate profits. Scientists continue to warn that if we don't take measures soon, it will be irreversible. Others maintain that it's already too late to undo the damage. And the odd weather - with snow on the Egyptian pyramids for the first time in 112 years - serves as a constant reminder of the severity of global warming. The threat is imminent and the need for response through collective action is urgent. Most would argue, in fact, that climate change not only was the largest issue for environmentalists this year, it was the largest issue for everyone. And, sadly, we can surely expect it to go the same way in 2014. The photo shows a camel experiencing snow for the first time in Cairo, Egypt (source: Twitter). This article was first published in People's World by Blake Deppe.
  16. President Obama issued an executive order on Dec. 5, calling for an increase in solar, wind, and other renewable energy for federal agencies, to 20 percent by 2020. That's three times the amount that the agencies are currently using. The usage is expected to go up by 10 percent by 2015, at least 15 percent between 2016 and 2017, and 17.5 percent between 2018 and 2019. Obama declared, "In order to create a clean energy economy that will increase our nation's prosperity, promote energy security, combat climate change, protect the interests of taxpayers, and safeguard the health of our environment, the federal government must lead by example." This statement is in line with other positive environmental moves the president has made on the federal level, both during this year and in 2012. These include implementing a mercury reduction measure called the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, enacted by the EPA; cutting carbon output, which could decrease U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by up to 40 percent; and developing a climate change response plan that aspires to double renewable energy usage for the nation as a whole. Federal agencies have already reduced their total greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent since Obama began his campaign to phase out their reliance on fossil fuels. That figure is, according to EcoWatch, the equivalent of taking 1.5 million cars off the road. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) commended the president for his bold step forward on this matter. SEIA president Rhone Resch remarked, "From an environmental perspective, few things threaten our nation's future prosperity and way of life more than climate change. That's why it's so important for the federal government to lead by example. We applaud President Obama for standing firm and following through on a key commitment he made as part of his Climate Action Plan. "Moving forward, we also encourage the administration to develop a modern procurement process that allows solar to compete evenly with fossil fuels. Federal agencies should have the authority to adopt long-term power purchase agreements in order to maximize savings for U.S. taxpayers." The solar movement is indeed catching on in the U.S., with New Jersey, California, and Arizona being the top states to implement the technology. Conversely, there are more solar companies in the state of New Jersey than tanning salons. Arizona, meanwhile, installed more "utility-scale solar" technology than any other state in 2012, according to SEIA. And Maryland and Massachusetts saw sharp declines in the cost of solar installation during 2011 and 2012. Given these developments, it would seem logical that federal agencies should follow suit. The push to move the Obama administration on to a clean energy path began, at least partially, last year, when the Pentagon committed to establishing three gigawatts of renewable energy on Army, Navy, and Air Force installations by 2025. That's enough to power 750,000 homes. The president's executive order, however, gives the overall clean energy push some much needed thrust. This article was first published in People's World by Blake Deppe. The photo shows President Obama speaking to the Airman of Nellis Air Force Base Nev. during a visit to Las Vegas. The president spoke about issues concerning world energy and the importance of solar power. Photo Credit: Nellis Air Force Base (cc).
  17. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is in the process of finalizing the different sections of its massive every-seven-years report. The first portion of the 5th Assessment has already been released, and the next is scheduled for release in March. Copies of the draft of that section, about the impact of climate change on human society, have recently been leaked. While the draft is not finalized yet and may undergo revision, it offers dire warnings about the interactions between a warming world, other natural systems on which humans depend, and human social interactions. The latest leaked draft predicts that as global warming changes the climate, resulting in both more rain in some areas and more drought in others, extreme weather events and sea level rise, human societies will be increasing affected. This will lead in a variety of ways to increasing stresses on people, agriculture, water systems, the world's refugee crisis, and human habitation near oceans, among other impacts. The report predicts that as a result our future looks likely to be one with growing poverty, growing water and food stresses, flooding and the spread of desertification, ocean acidity and overfishing destroying many fisheries, spread of diseases, as well as extinction of many species of animal and plants that can't adapt quickly enough to changes in their habitat. Climate change is not just about the weather getting hotter. It is about the linked natural and human systems we all depend on. As severe drought causes crop failure in important agricultural areas, food prices increase. In an effort to increase the stressed food supply, some farmers draw down the water table for irrigation, mining water from underground aquifers that is not being replenished. As flooding impacts agricultural production in other areas simultaneously, prices rise even further. Over the past decade there have been several spikes in world food prices, leading to food riots. This was one factor in the Arab Spring revolts. This illustrates the interconnections affected by climate change. Climate change is not the sole or main cause of the problems the world faces, not by itself, not yet. But it makes virtually all other problems worse. A United Nations study of Darfur cited the effects of climate change on water and agriculture and land as one of a number of interlinked factors driving the conflict. Human access to protein is challenged by these physical changes to the climate and our agricultural practices. Meanwhile, even companies that occasionally admit that climate change is a problem (even as they fund climate change deniers) try to limit the impact on their particular company and business. For example, in Chevron's "7 Principles for Addressing Climate Change," they appeal to our sense of fairness: "Broad and equitable treatment of all sectors of the economy is necessary to ensure no sector or company is disproportionately burdened." At the same time, the industry is planning to take advantage of the melting of Arctic ice by drilling in the Artic Sea, in one of the areas most inhospitable for safe oil exploration. Fossil fuel companies are feeling pressure from the growing climate change divestment movement. While it will not likely cut into their massive profits soon, it places these companies on the defensive. Business professionals are beginning to build a case for divestment on purely financial terms. Cities and states around the world are attempting to grapple, sometimes in conflict with central governments, with necessary adaptations to climate change, including through divestment Issues related to climate change and fossil fuel use are beginning to affect local elections. Other environmental battles continue to play an increasing role in the public dialogue. Effort to build unity between environmental struggles and the labor movement and other progressive movements are growing. As news reports continue over the next months until the complete final IPCC 5th Assessment is released, the scientific arguments for more climate change activism are reinforced. The history of the coming decades will be one of massive environmental struggles, alongside the struggles of other progressive movements to save humanity from exploitation and oppression. The science is not divorced from these movements - it adds depth and detail to the reasons why humanity needs to fight to take more serious action to prevent the worst impacts of climate change, and fight to demand that corporations pay the costs of their pollution. As prominent Indian activist Dr. Vandana Shiva says, "It is not an investment if it is destroying the planet." This article was first published in People's World by Marc Brodine. Photo credit: IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation (cc).
  18. One might see it as a good development that the federally-owned Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is planning to shut down eight coal-burning generating stations across Alabama and Kentucky. While, indeed, this will be a blow to the profiteering coal industry (reducing coal production by 3,300 megawatts in those states), it could be little more than a false triumph in terms of health and the environment. That's because the TVA is planning on replacing those stations with nuclear plants and natural gas facilities. The Obama administration has cracked down on carbon and mercury output, particularly when it is triggered by coal-fired power plants. And TVA board members were obligated to respond by phasing out some of these coal facilities, though not without Republican opposition. Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., met with the president of the TVA in an attempt to stop the coal plant shutdowns, albeit unsuccessfully. Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, praised the shutdowns, remarking, "This is a great move for public health, clean air and water, and our climate. It will also help protect families across the southeast from rising energy bills as the cost of coal-generated electricity continues to increase. I grew up in the Smoky Mountains of east Tennessee and went to college at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, so I know firsthand how much that region has struggled with coal pollution. Residents, businesses, and industries have spoken loud and clear: they want the TVA to provide affordable, reliable, and clean power." Unfortunately, the TVA seems to have no plans for implementing renewable energy, and that is why many environmentalists' reactions to the victory have now soured. According to TVA spokesman Duncan Mansfield, coal usage is "dropping fast as a drilling boom in the U.S. pushes down the price of natural gas, the fuel that competes with coal for power generation." He failed to mention the destructive practices associated with natural gas facilities, particularly fracking and chemical dumping. Currently, TVA executives are looking to build a new 800-megawatt natural-gas-fired plant in either Alabama or Kentucky. But perhaps just as disconcerting to activists is the fact that the TVA is now constructing a new nuclear power plant in Oak Ridge, Tenn., after having signed a contract with the Babcock & Wilcox Company. That company owned the reactor that was destroyed by a nuclear meltdown in the infamous Three Mile Island disaster. The new plant is only the first step in the TVA's campaign to step up its atomic output, in addition to natural gas. Hitt, from the Sierra Club, stressed the importance of replacing these dangerous, unreliable fossil and nuclear fuels with cleaner, safer energy. "TVA's next steps are critical," she said. "The utility must consider the workers and communities and make sure their livelihoods are protected. But we urge the TVA to focus on replacing these retiring coal plants with clean and affordable energy technologies that will help create jobs and affordable electricity for decades to come. Wind and solar power are cleaner and cheaper than fossil fuels like natural gas, and there are dozens of examples of for-profit and public power utilities that are making huge investments in clean energy. "We urge the TVA not to choose to rely on natural gas. It's time to leapfrog over dirty fossil fuels that will continue to exacerbate environmental and public health issues. This is the TVA's choice. They can get their fiscal house in order by developing and deploying groundbreaking energy efficiency programs that deliver real results, and by seizing this moment and leading on clean energy." This article was first published in People's World by Blake Deppe. Photo credit: Paul Joyce (cc)
  19. The plan was announced Nov. 25 by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Parks Commissioner Veronica White, Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty, and Director of Long-Term Planning and Stability Sergej Mahnovski. "Soon Fresh Kills will be the site of the largest solar power installation ever developed within the five boroughs," Bloomberg said. "Thanks to the agreement today, we will increase the amount of solar energy produced in New York City by 50 percent, and it is only fitting that Fresh Kills, once a daily dumping ground, will become a showcase for urban renewal and sustainability." "Daily dumping ground" would be putting it lightly. For 55 years, the Fresh Kills Landfill, which was so enormous it could actually be seen from space, received thousands of tons of New York's garbage, as described in a 2001 report in the Staten Island Advance. In the late 1940s, some New Yorkers formed the Staten Island Anti-Garbage Organization and led protests against the landfill, but to no avail. And the advocacy group Staten Island Citizens for Clean Air (SICCA), which formed in the 1980s, tried and failed to reduce the amount of trash being accumulated there. Barbara Warren, secretary of SICCA, told the Advance, "To be honest, in the beginning people didn't know how bad it was. But everyone complained about Fresh Kills. It was a nuisance. And it had no permits, and was in complete violation of every environmental law. We didn't even know that until we went to state agencies and filed a Freedom of Information Act request and got all the data." Decades later, it seems the city is finally taking measures to improve health and make a push for renewable energy. It's worth noting that the states of New York and New Jersey share a reputation for having high pollution and numerous toxic waste sites. New York has 86 areas declared Superfund sites by the EPA, to boot, while the ironically-named Garden State has 113 - the most of any state in the country. To many, this could also be an indication that New York City, which saw its infrastructure take a heavy beating after Hurricane Sandy, is finally learning its lesson and upgrading to clean energy. If this new facility is a sign of more solar implementation to come, New York would be following in the footsteps of New Jersey, which last year was ranked as number one in the U.S. in solar energy. In New Jersey, 800 landfills and 10,000 abandoned industrial areas are currently being converted into massive solar farms, after the approval of a $446 million solar energy proposal by Jersey's Board of Public Utilities. Power company PSE&G is currently building solar farms in Kearny, Edison, Hamilton, Linden, and Hackensack. Meanwhile, the town of Garfield has opened a new Weatherization and Green Technology Training Center and entered into a 15-year contract with solar company Amberjack Energy to work toward making the town completely reliant on solar energy. For New York, the Fresh Kills development is seen as a major victory. Marcia Bystryn, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, said, "Not long ago, few could have imagined that Fresh Kills would be transformed into a clean energy facility. This is one of the most exciting clean energy projects in development in the entire city, and it will serve as a powerful symbol of the environmental renaissance now under way on Staten Island." "Developing solar energy here shows that large-scale renewable energy projects are possible in New York City, but this is only a first step," said deputy mayor for operations Cas Holloway. "If we are serious about meeting New York City's tremendous energy needs from renewable resources, we need the state and federal governments to work with us to make solar and other renewable energies easier to develop, install, and access on the energy grid." This article was first published in People's World by Blake Deppe.
  20. The Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is in the process of finalizing its next report, due to be released in four volumes between Fall 2013 and Spring 2014. These reports, which have come out every seven years over the past several decades, represent the combined consensus views of thousands of climate scientists. Draft copies of some of the reports are now being leaked. While the IPCC correctly responds to criticism of these as premature, since they are by no means finalized yet, there are some things we can already be certain of. 1. The certainty on the part of the vast majority of climate scientists that global warming is real and is at the very least primarily caused by human action has been growing with each new IPCC report. That trend will continue in the upcoming report. All the criteria for such certainty have long ago passed 90 percent, and just keep getting confirmed by new scientific study, by extreme weather events in the real world, by unprecedented droughts in many parts of the world, by the increasing acidity of the world's oceans, and much more. 2. Because the IPCC works on the basis of summarizing thousands of other scientific studies, it tends to be both wide-ranging in outlook and also somewhat conservative in its predictions. In each report, seven years apart, the "worst-case" predictions of the previous report have become the "most likely" predictions. This too will continue, as new studies confirm and deepen our collective knowledge about the world's climate system, how it works, how it is interconnected to all other natural systems (water, oceans, soil, plant life, etc.), and how changes in each of these systems affect all the others. 3. It appears that this latest report will include consideration for the first time of the impact on sea levels from the melting of ice in Greenland, predicting even higher sea level increases than in previous reports. However, it still will not include consideration of the impact on climate change of the melting of the permafrost across the top of the Northern Hemisphere. This is important because this melting releases massive amounts of previously frozen methane and carbon dioxide. This can exacerbate global warming caused by direct human interference in the climate, creating a feedback loop that will make greenhouse gas emissions much worse, and from a source that humans do not have any control over. 4. As each year passes, it becomes more difficult and more expensive to institute measures to reduce global warming. This creates a political paradox - the more we need such measures, the more proof there is of the reality of climate change, the more time passes, then the measures we need to take become more expensive and more massive, and the political will to do the right thing becomes more difficult. With each step toward certainty, the right-wing cries against reality become more shrill - another trend with no end in sight. 5. We can be certain that at least some of the press coverage of the final report will focus on anything that can be used to downplay the significance of the problem. This report will likely discuss the phenomenon that increases in average air temperatures have slowed over the past few years, and deniers will seize on this to undercut the need for change. But since all the world's natural systems are integrated at every level, average air temperatures, which are still increasing, are only one part of a very complex equation. If you take into account the rapidly increasing acidity of the ocean, which results from the ocean absorbing carbon dioxide, there has been no slowing of the impacts climate change is making on the real world. But some press coverage will focus on any piece which, taken out of context, can be used to make people feel that the situation is not as bad as it really is. 6. Similarly, right-wing efforts to discredit climate change science, in addition to becoming increasingly shrill, also rely on overly simplified nonsense. Every year, when there is still a winter it will be used to claim that "global warming isn't real - we still have winter!" But this ignores how climate change works. It doesn't eliminate seasons, it makes the high temperatures greater. Just because we still have beaches in Florida doesn't mean that sea levels aren't increasing, and that increase will speed up over the coming decades. Right-wingers also focus on what is happening this year or next, to the exclusion of looking at the real long-term trends in the climate. This year may be about the same as last year in terms of the number and intensity of forest fires, for example, but the more than five decade long trend is for more forest fires burning at greater intensities. This winter may or may not be warmer than last year's, but the long-term trend is for Autumn to last longer and Spring to arrive earlier. 7. As many have pointed out, the right-wing attacks on climate science have little or nothing to do with the science itself; they are based on a rejection of what will be required to combat global warming. Government action on a large scale is required, as are restrictions on what businesses can do especially regarding greenhouse gas emissions. When right-wingers sneer at the science, they are really fearful of what will happen to their financial supporters in the fossil fuel industries. We can predict, with 100 percent certainty, that the upcoming IPCC report will confirm that global climate change is real, it is getting worse, it is caused mostly or entirely by human activity, and that we need to act to combat it - to reduce emissions, to adapt to the coming crises a warming world will bring on top of the huge impacts we have already seen. This article was first published in People's World by Marc Brodine.
  21. The People's World has obtained internal documents produced by the right wing American Legislative Exchange Council outlining a new ALEC plan to kill clean energy programs across the nation. The operation involves the top U.S. energy companies and hundreds of state lawmakers from one end of the country to the other. The documents were given to People's World Aug. 7 by Nick Surgey, director of research for the Center for Media and Democracy. Surgey was one of several leaders of organizations who spoke at a public forum here Wednesday night, just 16 hours before what is expected to be the largest demonstration ever against ALEC, which is celebrating its 40th Anniversary at Chicago's posh Palmer House Hilton. Activists, among them hundreds of union members, packed the University Conference Center here last night to hear a variety of speakers including Robert Reiter, secretary treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor, which represents some 500,000 workers in northern Illinois. "It is clear ALEC is working in secret to push state policies in an extreme right direction," said Reiter, "but the good news is that America's working families are standing up to this corporate driven agenda. They are no longer getting away with their secrecy. They face big demonstrations now whenever they meet." One of the internal ALEC documents is a schedule of unpublicized meetings that ALEC is holding here Thursday, bringing together representatives of top fossil fuel corporations with scores of GOP legislators to fashion a new bill to clean kill clean energy programs. This schedule is almost completely at variance with the official schedule that ALEC has posted on the Internet and distributed to members showing up at Palmer House for the ALEC conference. The official schedule makes no mention of the planned meeting of representatives of top fossil fuel corporations with scores of GOP legislators to fashion a new bill to kill clean energy programs. All the internal documents have been stamped with statements saying they are the property of ALEC and cannot be copied or distributed, and that ALEC is not subject to disclosure under any Freedom of Information or Public Records Act. "Its incredible that lobbyists working to win over elected officials who should be accountable to the public could make this kind of claim," Surgey noted. The closed-door session on energy are needed, in ALEC's view, because fossil-fuel backed efforts to eliminate clean energy laws in many states have failed, including this year in Kansas, North Carolina and Missouri. ALEC's energy task force director, Todd Winn, has, according to various sources, told Republican legislators gathering here that rolling back renewable energy standards would be a top priority for 2014. One of the bills that will be discussed at today's closed-door meeting is called the "Electricity Freedom Act." Another of ALEC's "confidential," but no longer secret, energy bills, the "Market Power Renewable Act," will also be discussed at that meeting. The Market-Power renewable Act is described by The Center for Media and Democracy and by Common Cause as a "stealth attack" from fossil fuel interests that fund ALEC. It's real purpose is to weaken laws that have spurred the growth of wind and solar energy projects across the country by allowing fossil fuel utilities to purchase renewable energy credits from outside the state. This would allow large hydropower plants, biomass and biogas into the state's energy conservation law. The result of passage would be fewer jobs and less clean energy investment in the states in the short term. It would eliminate the clean energy requirements altogether by 2015. While the forum of labor and community activists was taking place, corporate lobbyists from BP, Exxon/Mobil; Shell and other energy giants were wining and dining several hundred GOP state lawmakers at a lavish party held "under the stars" at the Chicago Planetarium. Lawmakers and their families were treated to gourmet meals, champagne, wine, liquor, beer and free peeks into the giant telescope. The press, constituents, voters and anybody else without an invitation were barred. Corporate members of ALEC, according to another of the internal documents obtained, paid $40,000 apiece to participate this weekend while legislators pay only $100 to become members of ALEC. A recent Common Cause complaint to the IRS notes ALEC pays no taxes on the money it takes in and, in fact, bills the taxpayers for the cost of wining and dining the state legislators. One of the confidential documents shows that there will be a closed-door session Thursday to churn out a bill that would kill attempts by cities and municipalities to raise the minimum wage. "The idea is to generate state laws that pre-empt towns and cities form passing ordinances that raise the minimum wage," said Rey Lopez-Calderon, executive director of Common Cause Illinois. The ALEC bill comes on top of 117 bills introduced this year alone that fuel a race to the bottom in wages, workers rights, according to Reiter of the Chicago Federation of Labor. "We will be having some important street action here in Chicago," he said, referring to demonstrations planned around the Palmer House this afternoon. "Its not just about union members. ALEC is a threat to the entire 99 percent and that includes not just union members but all workers and it also includes everyone from the homeless on up to well paid doctors and professionals." This article was first published in People's World by John Wojcik.
  22. Unlike the European Union, which in 2010 banned having chimps put in science laboratories, the U.S. remains one of the only nations that still conducts invasive scientific experimentation on the animals. More than 900 are still used as little more than test subjects. But on June 26, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced it would cut funding for the majority of these experiments, and retire at least 310 of the 360 federally-owned chimpanzees currently in labs, moving them to a sanctuary. Experiments on chimps have been conducted in the U.S. for more than 90 years, despite consistent pressure on the government and corporations by animal rights/animal welfare groups. Indeed, corporations too are responsible for the abuse of chimps - ones that are not part of the 310 that will be saved. Last year, PETA purchased stock in one such corporation, called BIOQUAL, in order to urge it to phase out chimp experiments - and that is what the company has begun doing. BIOQUAL is a medical research company that includes cancer virus studies and antibody research. What their home page fails to say is that they have, for years, injected chimpanzees with diseases and viruses in order to observe their reactions, and the effects on their bodies. While such testing will soon end at this company, it will continue elsewhere. The NIH's victory, however, is an important one. Around the same time as this was announced, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a proposal to categorize all chimps in labs as being "endangered," which would prohibit their use in any further experiments; this would apply nationwide, and not leave corporations exempt. Such a rule would also mean that chimps could no longer be used in Hollywood films. Whether it be a matter of science or film, the need for using chimps is rapidly waning, and with it, all excuses. Most movies now use CG (computer-generated) primates when needed (see Rise of the Planet of the Apes), and in a report on the scientific validity of such experiments, the Institute of Medicine determined that lab testing of chimps was no longer necessary. And while such testing will soon be eradicated at this company, it will continue elsewhere. It is telling that out of all the chimps currently being "used for science" in the U.S., 80 percent of them are "warehoused" because the need to use them in experiments is not there. "Warehoused" is a rather soft way of saying "imprisoned," which is what the animals truly are: they are caged alone and deprived of freedom, whereupon they become depressed and often lose their sanity. In New Jersey, Princeton University's Developmental Neuromechanics and Communication Lab is also guilty of using chimps, and as recently as April this year, a massive protest took place in Princeton. One of the demonstrators, Irene Simmons, a U.S. Navy retiree and software programmer, said that after a whistleblower released images of the chimps being subjected to horrendous conditions in the laboratory, "I couldn't bare to drive through the area, sit outside, and enjoy myself, knowing that animals were being tortured." The daughter of Holocaust survivors, Simmons likened the animal testing to the atrocities committed by Nazis. "I see a lot of people walk by [our protests] with dogs, but they don't respond to us because they think chimpanzees are below dogs." "Princeton should be ashamed," she concluded. "They're saying it's okay to experiment on animals because humans are the most important species. The same principles that set foot in the 1930s are persisting." This article was first published in People's World by Blake Deppe.
  23. President Obama made an important speech on climate change on June 25. He announced several policies to be implemented using his executive authority. Al Gore said it was the "best presidential address on climate" ever. The speech and the steps Obama announced are very positive for a number of reasons. First and possibly most importantly, he argued for the necessity of tackling climate change, declaring that "we don't have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society." His advocacy of action to address climate change is one piece of convincing even more millions of people that we don't have time to waste. This helps turn the agenda away from the deniers and procrastinators, from the oil and coal company executives and owners who want to continue making excess profits while they still can. Obama called on the people of our country to demand action by political leaders at all levels - to invest in renewable energy, to divest from fossil fuel companies, to force politicians to promote sensible climate change laws as a condition of winning the support of voters. He called on citizens to "make their voice heard." The steps he announced, from regulating emissions of greenhouse gases from new and existing power plants, to setting a goal of 10 gigawatts of renewables produced on public lands by the end of this year, are worthwhile in their own right. While these actions do not and can not accomplish as much as major congressional legislation, they do move the U.S. as a country from the obstacle to the solution side of the ledger. Obama, while punting the final decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline down the road, set the crucial precedent that permits should be denied unless there is proof that the pipeline won't increase carbon dioxide emissions. This is an application of the precautionary principle, a variation of the medical admonition to "first do no harm." We should applaud the fact that Obama, after mentioning climate change in both his inaugural address and in this year's State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress, is following up with real action. If he moves forward on his determination to make progress on these environmental issues in his second term, it will be yet another historical accomplishment of his administration. Some have already derided his directive to the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon dioxide emissions as merely telling the agency to perform its job, including following court decisions requiring the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. However, given the already furious Republican opposition to any action by the EPA, Obama's public reaffirmation is another positive step. While not exactly a "new" policy, it does engage in the battle already ongoing over EPA regulations. These steps build on the environmental accomplishments of Obama's first term, increasing fuel economy standards significantly and investing in renewable energy, using the stimulus to support a more robust renewable energy industry and to invest in research. While appreciating the positive nature of his speech and the policies he announced, it is clear that these actions still fall far short of what scientific knowledge calls for. Climate change does not just threaten even more extreme weather events like last year's Hurricane Sandy; it imperils many natural systems on which developed human existence depend. Much more is required, and congressional Republicans and coal-state Democrats are playing an obstructionist role, preventing the more far-reaching action that humanity needs. While Obama's proposals may be the maximum that is currently politically possible in the U.S., what is really required is a massive effort on many fronts - changing transportation, agriculture, military policy and production; regulating pollution-producing industries; research in many areas of energy, climate, weather, production; retrofitting existing buildings with much more substantial insulation; instituting new building code requirements and federal procurement policies - to mention a few areas where major progress is needed. The fight over the Keystone XL pipeline continues, and the next battle in the Senate will be over the confirmation of Gina McCarthy as new EPA administrator. Already, Republican senators are placing a hold on her nomination and threatening to filibuster any vote on her confirmation. These are just two of many battles to come. This article was first published in People's World by Marc Brodine.
  24. Across large portions of North America and Europe, the beginning of spring has been anything but warm so far. Scientists have now attributed that to the intense loss of Arctic sea ice caused by climate change. Last autumn, that ice fell to a record-breaking low, and experts say it's only going to get worse. Jennifer Francis, research professor with the Rutgers Institute of Coastal and Marine Science, noted, "The sea ice is going rapidly. It's 80 percent less than it was just 30 years ago. There has been a dramatic loss. This is a symptom of global warming, and it contributes to enhanced warming of the Arctic. This is what is affecting the jet stream and leading to the extreme weather we are seeing in mid-latitudes. It allows the cold air from the Arctic to plunge much further south. The pattern can be slow to change because the [southern] wave of the jet stream is getting bigger." Vladimir Petoukhov, professor of earth system analysis at Germany's Potsdam Institute, conducted research on the matter that led to the same conclusion. "The ice was at a record low last year," he agreed, "and is now exceptionally low in some parts of the Arctic like the Labrador and Greenland seas." And as scientists have warned time and again, climate change is also triggering increasingly aggressive and unstable weather. "With more solar energy going into the Arctic Ocean because of lost ice, there is reason to expect more extreme weather events, such as heavy snowfall, heat waves, and flooding in North America and Europe," said the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in a statement. Meanwhile, cattle and livestock in the UK have paid the price for the lingering cold with their lives. Emergency crews were helping with rescues this week in Scotland and Wales in order to save flocks of sheep on snow-covered farms. Animals on very rural farms in Northern Ireland have been dying from the cold. In response, helicopters were deployed today to drop food off for some of these animals. Ireland agriculture minister Michelle O'Neill said, "It is a severe situation. People are angry and concerned. We have an animal welfare issue. Some of the scenes are harrowing - to see farmers bring in sheep that have died from the snow." A spokesman for the National Farmers Union of England and Wales added, "Severe weather warnings are still in place, and the majority of farmers are out there battling freezing temperatures to protect their livelihoods, families, and incomes." The Government of the United Kingdom's chief scientific adviser, John Beddingon, remarked, "The current variation we are seeing in temperature and rainfall is double the rate of the average. That suggests that we are having more droughts, we are going to have more floods, we are going to have more sea surges, and we are going to have more storms. These are the sort of changes that are going to affect us in quite a short timescale." This article was first published in People’s World by Blake Deppe.
  25. April 1 was no joke in Lansing, Michigan, when equipment at a power plant malfunctioned and caused 300 gallons of oil to leak into the Grand River. Two days later in Chalmette, Louisiana, a pipeline connected to a drum full of chemicals broke, releasing the toxic liquid into the surrounding area, along with airborne cancer-causing agents. These two incidents followed even worse disasters in Mayflower, Arkansas and West Columbia, Texas. This means that the U.S. endured four spills over the course of two weeks. And still, oil companies have not been brought to justice. The Michigan spill occurred at the Lansing Board of Water and Light's Eckert Power Plant, and for once, the spill came from somewhere other than an oil corporation, small comfort though it may be. Lansing Board of Water and Light is a publicly owned municipal utility that provides water and electricity to Lansing and East Lansing. An equipment failure at their plant caused turbine oil to escape, and soon make its way into the adjacent Grand River. The utility staff deployed three booms to contain the oil, and the EPA was on the scene almost immediately. Impacts to the local ecosystem are still being assessed, but thick dark patches could be seen by people in parts of the river after the time of the spill. "An oil spill in the Grand River is alarming, and we're calling for a thorough investigation to determine the extent of the damage and its environmental impact," said Nick Clark, Michigan director for Clean Water Action. "This is another reason why it's so vital to make clean, renewable energy a priority. There is no environmental fallout connected with clean energy sources like wind or solar power." Brad Wurfel, spokesman for the Michigan Department for Environmental Quality, remarked that though the spill is "manageable in terms of the substance ... and in terms of the environment's ability to absorb it," the smaller size of the incident (in comparison with those in Arkansas and Texas) by no means lessens the negative impact. "It's not a minor spill. We take it very seriously. Nobody wants to see anything spilled in the river. ... We'll probably continue to see [a] sheen [in the river] in the near term." Luckily, since the oil spilled was hydraulic, rather than tarsands crude, it would cause no foul odor. Nor, said Wurfel, would it release any airborne pollutants. Both of these facts are more than can be said for Louisiana. In Chalmette, not far from New Orleans, ExxonMobil has added a new disaster to its list of anti-accomplishments. While its Pegasus pipeline continues to poison the Arkansas town of Mayflower, a thick liquid chemical mixture is infecting the air and ground in Louisiana. A pipeline malfunction at ExxonMobil's refinery there caused a (so far) undisclosed amount of the liquid to poison the immediate outside area. Though the leak was quickly reported and stopped, the damage is done. On the day of that incident, people throughout Chalmette and New Orleans reported a strong, foul odor not unlike oil or gasoline. That was the effect of the chemical, which released 100 pounds of hydrogen sulfide and 10 pounds of benzene into the air. The latter is, according to Before It's News, "a volatile organic carbon compound known to cause cancer." Petty Officer Jason Screws, of the Coast Guard National Response Center, who was overseeing the accident, added, "The odor threshold for these chemicals is very low. You can smell it a lot sooner when the concentration is enough to be harmful." In other words, it was released in a large enough amount to have a negative health impact. The bottom line is that oil has tainted land and water in four different states in two consecutive weeks, and right in the midst of right-wing attempts to drum up support for pipeline oil transportation, to boot. Just days before the Arkansas pipeline leak, Alex Pourbaix, president of Keystone XL company TransCanada, had done his best to tout pipelines as the best option for transporting crude. "If you're actually concerned about the environment, you very much want to see oil moving by pipeline," he lied. On April 11, as part of the ongoing effort to show just how wrong such sentiments are, environmentalists from Texas and various parts of the Gulf Coast rallied outside the G8 foreign ministers' meeting at the Lancaster House in London. Their goal was to send a clear message to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry: that the Keystone XL pipeline must be rejected - particularly after this latest string of oil disasters. Environmental justice advocate Bryan Parras, who lives in Houston (very near to the West Columbia spill), remarked, "The XL pipeline is set to deliver a toxic slurry of dirty oil to communities all over the U.S. As we've seen from the pipeline spills in [these] last two weeks, the delivery of tarsands is too risky and costly for the communities [that are] in harm's way." The solution, he concluded, is simple: "Keep the oil in the soil." This article was first published in People's World by Blake Deppe.