The record-breaking flood of the Neuse River inundated three inactive coal ash ponds for five days last week from the Duke Energy H.F. Lee facility, 10 miles upstream of Goldsboro, North Carolina. The flooded ponds are unlined and uncovered, containing more than 1 million tons of coal ash spread over more than 170 acres in a layer 4 to 10 feet deep.
On Oct. 14 at 4:28 p.m., before the flood waters had completely receded from the flooded ash ponds, Duke Energy reported a spill of an undetermined amount of coal ash into the Neuse River to the U.S. Coast Guard's National Response Center. On Oct. 15, Duke Energy and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality personnel inspected the inactive ash ponds by foot, claiming they "determined that the amount of material that was displaced would not even fill the bed of an average pickup truck."
On Oct. 17, the flood waters had receded enough to allow the Waterkeeper Alliance rapid response team to launch a boat in the Neuse River to inspect for coal ash releases. Later that afternoon, the Upper Neuse Riverkeeper discovered a second coal ash spill coming from the inactive ash ponds at HF Lee. The coating of ash on tree branches high above the receding flood waters proved the spill had been ongoing for almost a week.
Duke Energy and DEQ claim their representatives identified the second spill on Oct. 17 as well, independent of Waterkeeper Alliance's public disclosure of the spill on Oct. 18. The Waterkeeper Alliance rapid response team questions the claim that both DEQ inspectors and Duke Energy staff traveled to the location of the second spill by boat on Oct. 17 and identified the white substance floating on the water and coating the trees.
To the contrary, Duke Energy reportedly told WNCN on the evening of Oct. 18 that it had not yet conducted water sampling from a boat because state regulators had not deemed it safe to boat on the flooded river. This directly contradicts subsequent claims by Duke and DEQ that they had observed the spill by boat on Oct. 17.
"The agency that should be a watchdog protecting the public is acting more like a PR firm trying to protect Duke Energy's reputation," Waterkeeper Alliance attorney Pete Harrison said. "This is the same agency that only a year ago stood up in court and tried to block an agreement between Waterkeeper and Duke that requires Duke to remove all the coal ash from the ash ponds that flooded."
Since we exposed the second spill on the afternoon of Oct. 18, Duke Energy has continued to insist that the spilled material is "not coal ash," falsely claiming that cenospheres are distinct from fly ash, the primary constituent of coal ash.
However, scientists at Appalachian State University used a scanning electron microscope (SEM) to visualize samples of the spilled coal ash cenospheres, and tested the particles for contaminants using Energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDX).
The EDX analysis detected dangerous heavy metals attached to the fly ash cenospheres, including antimony and cobalt.
Scanning electron microscope (SEM) image of coal ash cenosphere found in Neuse River on Oct. 17.Dr. Guichuan Hou, PhD, Director of Dewel Microscopy Facility, Research Associate Professor of Biology, Appalachian State University
Energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDX) graph of chemicals in or on a coal ash cenosphere that was found in the Neuse River on Oct. 17. The analysis detected antimony, cobalt, and thallium, which can be toxic to people and aquatic life.Dr. Guichuan Hou, PhD, Director of Dewel Microscopy Facility, Research Associate Professor of Biology, Appalachian State University
Duke Energy has previously reported elevated levels of both these contaminants in groundwater monitoring wells located around the inactive ash ponds where the coal ash spill occurred. Throughout the week, Duke Energy attempted to characterize cenospheres as "not coal ash" and "inert" and "not inherently toxic." These talking points carefully avoid acknowledging what the EDX analysis confirms: the spilled coal ash cenospheres, though composed largely out of silica and aluminum, have more dangerous contaminants attached to them.
Harrison called the mischaracterization "a shameful attempt by Duke Energy to trick the public and cover up a large coal ash spill that the company failed to identify and/or failed to report."
Duke Energy even acknowledges on its website that "cenospheres are a form of fly ash." Duke's failure to report the spill may have even been a violation of the company's probation sentence, which it received last year after pleading guilty to federal crimes involving its mismanagement of coal ash at the H.F. Lee facility, among others.
Because Duke Energy did report a spill of coal ash on Oct. 14 (the purported pickup truck load), and the company has emphatically denied that the material discovered by the Upper Neuse Riverkeeper is coal ash, it is clear that material discovered in the river on Oct. 17 was a separate and distinct spill from the one Duke Energy reported on Oct. 14. Based on currently available information, Duke Energy has still not reported the second spill to then National Response Center.
On Oct. 19, the day after our organizations exposed the second coal ash spill, the DEQ claimed its "staff determined on Monday that material found at the H.F. Lee facility in Wayne County is not coal ash," and accused Waterkeeper Alliance of "falsely reporting" the coal ash release. Both Duke and DEQ claimed, without analyzing the spilled material, that it was harmless cenospheres comprised of just aluminum and silica.
"After adopting Duke Energy's indefensible position that the material was not coal ash and requiring no further action from Duke on Wednesday, DEQ has now done an about face, admitting last night that cenospheres are fly ash and ordering Duke to investigate the spills further," Matthew Starr, Sound Rivers' Upper Neuse Riverkeeper, said.
"The DEQ bureaucrats must have woken up yesterday with the embarrassing realization that the state Coal Ash Management Act they're in charge of implementing defines cenospheres as coal ash," Donna Lisenby of Waterkeeper Alliance said.
"Now DEQ seems to be changing its tune and agreeing with what we've been saying all along: Duke Energy is responsible for another coal ash spill into the Neuse River. Unfortunately this one looks like a lot more than a pickup-truck's worth of ash was spilled."...
Discovery Communications and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) announced Wednesday a partnership to conserve nearly 1 million acres of critical tiger habitat in India and Bhutan in hopes of doubling the world's population of tigers by 2022.
The big cats are known to have once roamed much of Asia. Poaching and habitat loss slashed the 100,000 tigers that existed just 100 years ago by 96 percent and led to the extinction of four subspecies. As top predators, they are crucial to the ecosystems where they live. The current tiger population is estimated at under 4,000.
"Not on our watch will we let these beautiful animals disappear from the world," David Zaslav, president and CEO of Discovery Communications, said when making the announcement.
The effort, dubbed Project C.A.T. (Conserving Acres for Tigers), will improve security measures for this protected habitat and maintain land corridors for better wildlife movement. To reduce conflict between tigers and people, the project will provide community education and engagement. More camera-trap installations will increase tiger monitoring and assessment.
Just recently, a camera trap in the Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary of Bhutan recorded a tiger in a forest where they have not been seen for almost two decades. "Tiger populations are rising for the first time in a century," said Carter Roberts, president and CEO of WWF. "We need even more of a movement to accomplish these goals."
Discovery plans to use its worldwide media platforms to reach 3 billion cumulative viewers. The network has put into development a new documentary on tigers from the Academy Award nominated producers of Virunga. The documentary is set to air globally in 2018. Discovery will also produce public service announcements and in-program content tied to Project C.A.T.
In a Facebook Live presentation hosted on Dr. Jane Goodall's Facebook page, John Hoffman, Discovery Channel's EVP of documentaries and specials, said, "In our core, we understand that we are not apart from our fellow species. I think that at the end of the day we as humans will do the right thing."
Discovery and WWF will also provide ways for viewers and those who care about tigers to get involved. Discovery's Saving Species page enables people to show their support for legislation to combat illegal wildlife trafficking, and WWF's Adopt a Tiger program accepts donations in support of the organization's work.
"The global movement to protect tigers just got 1 million acres stronger," said Zaslav....
By Jason Schwartz
What would you do if one day you woke up and the water in your well was a brown, viscous mess?
That's what happened to Tachia Sandoval almost 20 years ago. She came from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Las Animas County, Colorado, in the 1990s, getting away from decades in the city to live on the land and get back to her country roots. She found a beautiful piece of land with a modest house that she made into the home of her dreams, a place for her and her many animals to roam, and some space to spend more time making the art and jewelry that give her life balance.
But not a year had passed before the fracking started all around her. Dozens of roads to hundreds of wells went up. The sound of rumbling trucks replaced what had once been silence. And the water went foul. Now, Tachia spends many hours each week hauling water to and from her land.
Colorado has been overrun by the oil and gas industry in the last few decades. It is one of the most fracked states in the country, with tens of thousands of active wells dotting the once pristine landscape, roads to and from them stretching across the land like thin scars. The oil and gas industry eyes it as a growth opportunity, sending tens of millions of out of state dollars into Colorado's political system to buy the legislation it wants.
Just last summer, Greenpeace stood shoulder to shoulder with the grassroots anti-fracking activists of Colorado in trying to get some commonsense rules on the books. One initiative would allow communities like Tachia's to democratically say no to fracking. Another would set fracking wells at a reasonable distance from important town infrastructure, like schools, hospitals and homes.
We met Tachia during last summer's fight and are humbled that she helped us tell her story.
Protecting water from the oil and gas industry is a growing concern.
Just as Indigenous communities have come together to stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which threatens a major water supply, so too are communities coming together to protect their groundwater from fracking. But in states like Colorado, where a weakening industry and its cronies have to buy the political system to remain viable, it can feel like an uphill battle.
What can you do? You can make climate change, renewable energy and the protection of local communities a decisive issue this November. Help elect local, state and national politicians who do not have ties to the oil and gas industry.
And if you live in Colorado, vote against Ballot Question 71, also known as Raise the Bar. The oil and gas industry, along with its friends, has pumped millions into this measure, which would effectively make placing measures on the state ballot nearly impossible, unless you too have millions of dollars to burn. Many news outlets have come out against the ballot, including the paper of record, which isn't known as particularly unfriendly to the oil and gas industry.
Tachia is one of thousands of Coloradans out there campaigning against 71. And we're with them....
By Helen West
They're a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and some minerals essential for bone health, including calcium, phosphorus and magnesium.
Chia seeds are tiny yet extremely nutritious.Shutterstock
Chia seeds are also flavorless, making them easy to add to many foods and recipes.
This article shows you 35 fun and creative ways to incorporate chia seeds into your diet.
1. Chia Water
One of the simplest ways to include chia seeds in your diet is to add them to water.
To make chia water, soak 1/4 cup (40 grams) of chia seeds in 4 cups (1 liter) of water for 20–30 minutes.
To give your drink some flavor, you can add chopped fruit or squeeze in a lemon, lime or orange.
2. Juice-Soaked Chia
Water isn't the only liquid you can soak these seeds in.
Add 1/4 cup (40 grams) of chia seeds to 4 cups of fruit juice (1 liter) for half an hour to make a fruit juice that's full of fiber and minerals.
3. Chia Pudding
You can make chia pudding similar to chia water. For a thicker pudding texture, add more chia seeds and let the mixture soak longer.
You can make this pudding with juice or milk and then include flavorings such as vanilla and cocoa like in this recipe.
Chia pudding makes a delicious dish that can be eaten for breakfast or as a dessert.
If you don't like the texture of the seeds in the pudding, try blending it to give it a smoother finish.
4. Chia in Smoothies
If you want to make your smoothie even more nutritious, then add some chia seeds.
You can add chia seeds to almost any smoothie recipe by soaking them to make chia gel before adding them to your favorite smoothie.
5. Raw Chia Toppings
Although many people prefer to soak chia seeds before they eat them, you can eat them raw too.
Try grinding them up and sprinkling them on your smoothie or oatmeal.
6. Chia Cereal
To try something a little different for breakfast, you could swap your usual cereal for chia cereal.
To make chia cereal, soak the seeds overnight in milk (or a milk substitute like almond milk) and top it with nuts, fruit or spices like cinnamon.
This recipe uses mashed banana, milk and vanilla extract to make a delicious morning treat.
7. Chia Truffles
If you're often in a hurry, you can use chia seeds to make a great on-the-go snack.
For a quick and easy homemade snack, try chia truffles like these.
These recipes are often "no bake," so they can be really quick and easy to make.
8. In a Stir Fry
You can also add chia seeds to savory dishes like stir fries.
Just add a tablespoon of seeds to your favorite stir-fry recipe, like this one.
9. Added to a Salad
Chia seeds can be added to your salad to give it some texture and a healthy boost.
The seeds can be added to any salad. Simply mix them in with your salad leaves and add your favorite salad vegetables.
10. In Salad Dressing
Another way to include chia in your salad is to add chia seeds to your salad dressing.
Commercially prepared salad dressings are often loaded with sugar. Making your own salad dressing can be a much healthier way to make your salad taste delicious.
Try this homemade lemon and chia dressing.
11. Baked in Bread
It's possible to add chia seeds to all sorts of recipes, including bread.
This recipe uses chia seeds with buckwheat to make a tasty, healthy bread.
12. As a Crispy Crumb Coating for Meat or Fish
Another fun way to use chia seeds is as a coating for meat and fish.
They can be ground up into a fine powder and mixed in with your usual bread crumb coating or used as a complete substitute, depending on your preference.
13. Baked in Cakes
Cakes are usually high in fat and sugar. However, adding chia seeds can help improve their nutritional profiles.
Adding chia seeds to your cake mix will boost the fiber, protein and omega-3 content.
14. Mixed with Other Grains
If you don't like the gooey texture of chia seeds, you can mix them with other grains.
You don't need a fancy recipe for this. Simply mix a tablespoon of seeds with a cup of rice or quinoa.
15. In Breakfast Bars
Breakfast bars can be very high in sugar. In fact, some cereal bars contain as much sugar as a candy bar.
However, cutting back on the sugar and making your own healthy bar is quite easy. Chia seeds can also make a nutritious addition to your recipe.
16. In Pancakes
If you like pancakes then you could try adding chia seeds to your pancake mix.
17. In Jam
Chia seeds can absorb ten times their dry weight in water, which makes them a great substitute for pectin in jam.
Pectin is quite bitter, so substituting pectin with chia seeds means that your jam won't need a lot of added sugar to make it taste sweet.
Better yet, chia jam is much easier to make than traditional jam. Try this blueberry and chia jam spread, with no refined sugar.
18. Baked in Cookies
If you love cookies, then chia seeds can give your cookie recipe a nutritional boost.
19. Chia Protein Bars
Like breakfast bars, many commercially prepared protein bars can be high in refined sugar and look more like a candy bar than a healthy snack.
Making your own chia-based protein bar is a healthy alternative to the ones you can buy at the store.
There are even some low-carb friendly options, such as this one here.
20. In Soup or Gravy
Chia seeds can be a great replacement for flour when thickening stews or gravies.
Simply pre-soak the seeds to form a gel and mix it in to add thickness.
21. As an Egg Substitute
If your dietary requirements or preferences mean that you avoid eggs, then chia seeds can help. They make a fantastic substitute for eggs in baked goods.
To substitute for 1 egg, soak 1 tablespoon of chia seeds in 3 tablespoons of water.
22. Added to Dips
Chia seeds are versatile to cook with and can pretty much be added to any dip.
You can add them into homemade dip recipes like this one or you can stir them into your favorite store-bought version.
23. Baked in Homemade Muffins
Muffins are often eaten for breakfast or dessert, depending on their ingredients.
However, it doesn't matter if you're making a sweet or savory muffin, as chia seeds can be added into both.
24. In Oatmeal
Adding chia seeds to oatmeal is one way of eating them that requires very little effort.
Simply prepare your oatmeal and stir in a tablespoon of whole or ground chia seeds.
25. In Yogurt
Chia seeds can make a great yogurt topping.
If you like a bit of texture, sprinkle them on the top whole or if you want to avoid the crunch, then mix in ground chia seeds.
26. To Make Crackers
Adding seeds to crackers isn't a new idea. In fact, lots of crackers contain seeds to give them extra texture and crunch.
Adding chia seeds to your crackers is a good way to include them in your diet.
27. As a Thickener for Homemade Burgers and Meatballs
If you use eggs or breadcrumbs to bind and thicken meatballs and burgers, you could consider trying chia seeds instead.
Try using 2 tablespoons of seeds per pound of meat in your usual meatball recipe.
28. As a Homemade Energy Gel
Athletes looking for a homemade alternative to commercially produced energy gels could consider using a chia alternative.
You can buy chia seed-based gels or make your own using a recipe like this one.
29. Added to Tea
Adding chia seeds to drinks is an easy way to include them in your diet.
Add a teaspoon into your tea and let them soak for a short time. Initially they might float, but eventually they should sink.
30. To Make Tortillas
Soft tortillas can be eaten with a variety of fillings and are a delicious way to enjoy chia seeds.
You can make your own like these or some stores carry them pre-made.
31. In Ice Cream or Ice Cream Pops
Chia seeds can also be added to your favorite treats like ice cream.
32. To Make a Pizza Base
Chia seeds can be used to make a high-fiber, slightly crunchy pizza crust.
Simply make a chia seed-based dough like this one and add your toppings.
33. To Make Falafel
Falafel made with chia seeds can be a delicious and fun way to cook with chia seeds, especially for vegans and vegetarians.
You can combine them with a variety of vegetables for flavor. Try this recipe.
34. In Homemade Granola
Making granola is really simple. You can use any mixture of seeds, nuts and oats you like. This easy recipe includes chia seeds.
If you don't have time to make your own granola, there are plenty of chia seed-based granolas you can buy.
35. In Homemade Lemonade
Another interesting way to drink chia seeds is in homemade lemonade.
Soak 1.5 tablespoons (20 grams) of the seeds in 2 cups (480 ml) of cold water for a half hour. Then add the juice from one lemon and the sweetener of your choice.
You can also experiment with adding extra flavors like cucumber and watermelon.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Authority Nutrition.
With possibly as few as 4,000 snow leopards surviving in the wild, a new report from TRAFFIC has found that hundreds of the endangered big cats are being killed illegally each year across their range in Asia's high mountains.
Published ahead of today's UN meeting on snow leopards and International Snow Leopard Day on Sunday, An Ounce of Prevention: Snow Leopard Crime Revisited estimates that between 221-450 snow leopards have been poached annually since 2008—a minimum of four per week. But this number could be substantially higher since many killings in remote areas go undetected.
Combatting poaching and illegal trade of snow leopards is a key objective of the Global Snow Leopard Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP), which unites all 12 snow leopard range countries with intergovernmental and non-governmental organization partners. The GSLEP Secretariat is among the organizers of today's UN meeting.
"TRAFFIC's analysis confirms the worrying scale of illegal killing of snow leopards," said James Compton, senior program director with TRAFFIC. "This urgent wake-up call provides a blueprint for GSLEP action at national and transboundary levels to protect snow leopards from threats posed by poaching and trafficking."
Using a combination of methods, including seizure records, market surveys and expert interviews to provide the first quantitative estimates of the scale of snow leopard poaching and trafficking since 2003, the report found that the majority of snow leopards are killed in retaliation for attacks on livestock (55 percent) or by non-targeted methods, such as snares (18 percent).
Only 21 percent of snow leopards were poached specifically for the illegal trade in their pelts and products. However, the report found that over half the retaliatory and non-targeted poaching incidents result in opportunistic attempts to sell, contributing to the estimated 108-219 snow leopards that are illegally traded each year.
Interestingly, the report also found a steep decline in the number of snow leopards observed in trade and in markets, particularly in China, which suggests that demand could be falling—perhaps due to increased enforcement.
"Even if there is reduced demand for snow leopard skins, the killing will continue unless we all work together to drastically reduce human-wildlife conflict and ensure that local communities can co-exist with snow leopards," said Rishi Sharma, World Wildlife Fund Snow Leopard Program leader and co-author of the report. "Compensation schemes and innovative predator-proof corrals are making a difference but we urgently need to expand these to benefit communities—and snow leopards—across Asia's high mountains."
The report calls on governments to mitigate human-wildlife conflict by preventing snow leopards from killing livestock, offsetting the costs of livestock losses and expanding community-based conservation programs. It also recommends strengthening both national and transboundary law enforcement, especially as less than a quarter of known cases of snow leopard poaching were investigated and just 14 percent were prosecuted.
The report also recommends that TRAFFIC maintains the snow leopard crime database that was developed as part of the current research. The database contains records of seizures and observations of snow leopard killing, capture and trade dating back to 1989.
"The snow leopard crime database is a critical resource for everyone involved in efforts to reduce poaching and illegal trade in the species and will help to target interventions at key points across snow leopard range," said Kristin Nowell, lead author of the report. "But we need to expand efforts to monitor activity on the internet and social media as snow leopard traffickers may be moving online to try to evade law enforcement."
According to the report, more than 90 percent of the reported snow leopard poaching occurred in five range countries: China, Mongolia, Pakistan, India and Tajikistan. Nepal was also flagged for having relatively high poaching levels considering its relatively small population of snow leopards. China and Russia were most frequently identified as destinations for animals poached in other countries. Afghanistan has also been a major illegal market for snow leopard furs over the past decade....
From Philadelphia's skyscrapers to the Windy City, vertical farms are sprouting in some of the most unlikely spaces. Soon, you might be able to pluck fresh, vertically grown greens right from your local Target.
According to Business Insider, the big box store is kicking off its vertical farming pilot project in a handful of U.S. stores in spring 2017. If the trials are successful, Target stores across the U.S. will likely start selling vertically-grown leafy greens with the possibility of in-house grown potatoes, beetroot, zucchini, peppers and even rare tomatoes down the line.
The ambitious project is part Target's Food + Future CoLab, a collaboration with MIT's Media Lab and international design firm IDEO, to explore urban farming, food transparency, supply chain issues and health.
The #harvest from the #foodserver produced even more food for the @dailytabledorchester #foodcomputer #openag #mitmedialab #proudfarmers
A photo posted by Open Agriculture Initiative (@mitopenag) on Dec 18, 2015 at 6:43pm PST
"People like to say things like, 'the best strawberries come from Mexico.' But really, the best strawberries come from the climate in Mexico that creates expressions like sweetness and color that we like," said Caleb Harper, director of the Open Agriculture initiative at MIT's Media Lab. "We think there is tremendous opportunity to democratize climate through control-environment agriculture and we look forward to kicking off this work with Target."
In the video below, Harper gives a tour of his "Food Computer" that creates the perfect climate to grow food.
EcoWatch has mentioned previously how vertical farms are an ideal food security solution, especially with Earth's rapidly changing climate and growing population. Produce is usually grown indoors with less water and without pesticides. In some of these indoor farms, produce is grown under LED lights that can mimic outdoor growing conditions and help accelerate plant growth. For swelling cities, vertical gardens help meet the demand for healthy food all year round, and usually with less food-miles to get from farm to plate.
"Down the road, it's something where potentially part of our food supply that we have on our shelves is stuff that we've grown ourselves," Casey Carl, Target's chief strategy and innovation officer, told Business Insider.
As Forbes reported, many industry insiders are exited about Target's new vertical farming initiative.
“Vertical farming is genius," Jasmine Glasheen, publishing editor of Off-Price Retailing Magazine commented on a RetailWire BrainTrust article. “Vertical farms are more resistant to climate changes and storms. Plus, the holistic aesthetic of an organic vertical farm will allow Target to compete for natural foods customers."
“I like the idea," added Paula Rosenblum, managing partner at RSR Research. “Even better, if they structurally could support it, would be growing this stuff on the roofs of the stores."
However, others have commented that this project might be too difficult and expensive to pull off.
"This is not a new idea," said Mel Kleiman, president of Humetrics. "Fiesta Supermarket built a store in Houston more than 30 years ago with a vertical garden. It looked great, got a lot of attention and cost a lot of money. Five years after they opened that store, the garden was gone."
"Good for marketing and PR, but the scalability, execution and ultimately the ROI (return on investment) may prove to be a significant challenge," Peter Sobotta, founder and CEO of Return Logic, wrote. "That said, I like the concept and it is a step in a good direction."
"While Secretary Clinton brought up clean energy jobs and climate change during the topic of the economy, Donald Trump choked. Climate change is a major factor when talking about immigration, the economy, foreign hot spots, the national debt, and the Supreme Court. The fact that it received seconds of attention from only one candidate is offensive to the American people, particularly those already dealing with the devastating impacts."
Only two percent of the total time in the three debates was spent on climate and energy policy, due mostly to an audience question in the second debate—not a single moderator asked a climate question.
"Yet, the fact that Hillary Clinton proactively recognized the climate crisis and the need to grow the clean energy economy in each and every debate underlines exactly how clear the choice is this election. Only Hillary Clinton has a plan to tackle the climate crisis and only Hillary Clinton will defend and strengthen our clean air, clean water, and climate safeguards. Meanwhile, we learned that Donald Trump's opinion about the integrity of our elections is the same as his opinion of climate science: he will deny reality, come hell or high water."
For a deeper dive:
Vox, Brad Plumer column; New York Times, Paul Krugman column; Grist, Emma Foehringer Merchant column; Mashable, Andrew Freedman column; Huffington Post, Kate Sheppard column; Guardian, Oliver Milman analysis; New York Times, David Leonhardt column; ThinkProgress, Joe Romm column; Discover, Tom Yulsman column; Fusion, Ari Phillips column; USA Today editorial; Engadget, Mat Smith column; Bustle, Cheyna Roth column
By Leo Hickman
The Oscar-winning actor and environmentalist has spent the past three years asking a wide variety of people around the world about climate change. His collection of interviews in the film—ranging from President Obama and the Pope through to Elon Musk and Piers Sellars—cover the science, impacts, vested interests, politics and possible solutions.
Leonardo DiCaprio visits the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Goddard Space Flight Center to discuss Earth science with Piers Sellers.NASA / Goddard/ Rebecca Roth
Carbon Brief was invited to the European premiere of Before the Flood last weekend. Before the screening in London began, DiCaprio took to the stage to introduce the film. He said:
"Before The Flood is the product of an incredible three-year journey that took place with my co-creator and director Fisher Stevens. We went to every corner of the globe to document the devastating impacts of climate change and questioned humanity's ability to reverse what maybe the most catastrophic problem mankind has ever faced. There was a lot to take on. All that we witnessed on this journey shows us that our world's climate is incredibly interconnected and that it is at urgent breaking point.
"I've been incredibly moved by so many climate change documentaries in the past, but I never felt that I saw one that articulated the science clearly to the public. I think people grasp it, but it seems something distant, far off, intangible and almost otherworldly. An individual doesn't feel like they can make an impact. The journey for me was to try and make a modern-day film about climate change. I've been studying this issue for the past 15 years, I've been watching it very closely. What's incredibly terrifying is that things are happening way ahead of the scientific projections, 15 or 20 years ago.
"We wanted to create a film that gave people a sense of urgency, that made them understand what particular things are going to solve this problem. We bring up the issue of a carbon tax, for example, which I haven't seen in a lot of documentaries. Basically, sway a capitalist economy to try to invest in renewables, to bring less money and subsidies out of oil companies. These are the things that are really going to make a massive difference. It's gone beyond, as we talk about in the film, simple, individual actions. We need to use our vote ... We cannot afford to have political leaders out there that do not believe in modern science or the scientific method or empirical truths … We cannot afford to waste time having people in power that choose to believe in the 2 percent of the scientific community that is basically bought off by lobbyists and oil companies. They are living in the stone ages. They are living in the dark ages. We need to live in the future."
Here, Leo Hickman, Carbon Brief's editor, identifies seven key scenes in Before the Flood…
5. Elon Musk
Setting the Scene
In terms of box-office draw alone, Before the Flood is the most significant film about climate change since Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth was released a decade ago. DiCaprio has made maximum use of his global star power to bring together some of the world's leading voices and experts on climate change and package them up into 90-minute narrative which drips with urgency, insights and emotion.
It opens with a surprisingly personal monologue by DiCaprio in which he talks about the "nightmarish" painting which hung over his crib as a child.
"I would stare at it before I went to sleep," he explained, noting some of its themes—"over-population, debauchery, exodus."
Hieronymus Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights was painted more than 500 years ago, but it speaks to today, he said, with its "twisted, decayed, burnt landscape." DiCaprio said the triptych's final panel shows a "paradise that's been degraded and destroyed."
The film is named after the middle panel—Humankind before the Flood—which, he said, acts as an allegorical warning to the world of what could come next, if it fails to act on climate change.
DiCaprio then sets off around the world on his quest for answers: "I want to see exactly what is going on and how to solve it." But self-doubt looms large from the off, even after he is named by Ban Ki-moon as the UN messenger of peace on climate change.
"Try to talk to anyone about climate change and people just tune out. They might have picked the wrong guy." As DiCaprio said this, a montage plays of clips showing his media critics, such as Fox News' Sean Hannity, attacking him for his lack of scientific credentials and celebrity lifestyle.
However, DiCaprio is frank about how his fame has afforded him such a privileged perspective: "First time I heard of global warming was when I sat down one-to-one with Al Gore [in the early 2000s]. This is most important issue of our time, he said. I had no idea what he was talking about."
After viewing tar sands in Canada by helicopter—"kinda looks like Mordor"—and narwhal whales in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, DiCaprio explained what, in his view, has changed in the time since he received Gore's climate lesson.
"Everyone was focused on small individual actions [back then]. Boiled down to simple solutions such as changing a light bulb. It's pretty clear that we are way beyond that now. Things have taken a massive turn for the worse."
The Garden of Earthly Delights, a painting by Hieronymus Bosch from 1485.Damian Michaels / Flickr
1. Prof. Jason Box
DiCaprio is helicoptered onto the Greenland ice sheet, where he meets with Jason Box, a professor at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland. Box has spent many Arctic summers monitoring the stability of the ice sheet, as well as, in more recent years, the way soot from forest fires and the burning of fossil fuels has darkened the snow and, hence, the ice's reflectivity or albedo. As they both stare at a torrent of water rushing down into a moulin, Box's concern about the long-term melting trend is palpable:
"We keep finding things that aren't in the climate models. That tells me that the projections for the future are really conservative. If the climate stays at the temperature that it's been in in the last decade, Greenland is going away."
DiCaprio gently mocked Box's equipment for measuring the ice.
"This is a climate station? I was imagining a massive igloo with all kinds of scientists and experiments. It really does look like broken down pool equipment."
Then he questioned why there is a long spiral of plastic hose laying on the ice. Box explained:
"The hose went down 30 feet, but [the ice] has now melted out. Five years of melt. Hundreds of cubic kilometres of ice stored on land that has now gone into the sea."
2. Prof. Michael E. Mann
No movie is complete without the bad guys. And DiCaprio is keen to stress the role that "corporate interests" have played in spreading "disinformation" about climate change.
A cast of villains is introduced ranging from right-wing newspapers and TV networks in the U.S. through to politicians and "front groups." All seek to cast doubt on the science and, in doing so, attack climate scientists.
No scientist has been more in the crosshairs than Michael E Mann, the director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center who is best known for his famous hockey stick graph showing a recent spike in global temperatures.
Publishing that graph proved to be a huge turning point, Mann told DiCaprio:
"I set myself up for a completely different life … I was vilified … I was called a fraud. I was being attacked by Congressmen. I had death threats, which were actionable enough that the FBI had to come to my office to look at an envelope that had white powder [in it]. I've had threats made against my family. These folks know they don't have to win a legitimate scientific debate. They just need to divide the public. All of that hatred and fear is organized and funded by just a few players. Fossil fuel interests … finance a very large echo chamber of climate change denialism. They find people with very impressive looking credentials who are willing to sell those credentials to fossil fuel interests. Front groups funded by corporate interests."
DiCaprio's frustration was clear: "If I were a scientist, I would be absolutely pissed every day of my life."
Footage from Frank Capra's 1958 short film for Bell Labs, The Unchained Goddess, which explains what impact burning fossil fuels will have on the climate, plays in the background.
"We've know about this problem for decades and decades," lamented DiCaprio. "Imagine the world right now if we'd taken the science of climate change seriously back then. Since then our population has grown by five billion people and counting. The problem has become more difficult to solve."
3. Dr. Sunita Narain
After a trip to Beijing to witness the smog and speak to experts about how releasing pollution data to citizens has helped to change public attitudes, DiCaprio arrives in India.
His meeting with Sunita Narain, director of the Centre for Science and Environment, provides, arguably, the key scene of the whole film. They discuss the sweetspot of the climate conundrum: How do developing nations with fast-rising populations raise standards of living for all without emitting vast volumes of greenhouse gases?
"We are a country where energy access is as much a challenge as climate change," said Narain. "We need to make sure that every Indian has access to energy."
DiCaprio mulled on that: "From what I understand, there are 300 million people without power in India. That's equivalent to the entire population of the United States."
As footage shows women in the village of Kheladi in Haryana burning uplas (cowdung cakes), Narain passionately lays out India's predicament:
Sunita Narain: Coal is cheap, whether you or I like it or not. You have to think of it from this point of view. You created the problem in the past. We will create it in the future. We have 700m household using biomass to cook. If those households move to coal, there'll be that much more use of fossil fuels. Then the entire world is fried. If anyone tells you that the world's poor should move to solar and why do they have to make the mistakes we have made … I hear this from American NGOs all the time. I'm like, wow. I mean, if it was that easy, I would really have liked the U.S. to move to solar. But you haven't. Let's put our money where our mouth is.
Leonardo DiCaprio: We have to practice what we preach. Absolutely.
Sunita Narain: I'm sorry to say this and I know you're American, so please don't take this the wrong way, but your consumption is really going to put a hole in the planet. I think that's the conversation we need to have. I'll show you charts from this perspective. [Shows page from a book]. Electricity consumed by one American at home is equivalent to 1.5 citizens of France, 2.2 citizens of Japan and 10 citizens of China, 34 of India and 61 of Nigeria. Why? Because you're building bigger, you're building more and using much more than before. The fact is we need to put the issue of lifestyle and consumption at the centre of climate negotiations.
Leonardo DiCaprio: Look, there's no way I don't agree with you. Absolutely correct. Yes, it's a very difficult argument to present to Americans that we need to change our lifestyle and I would probably argue that it's not going to happen. If we want to solve the climate crisis on, hopefully, that renewables like solar and wind will become cheaper and cheaper as more money is funneled into them and we invest into them, and, ultimately, we will solve that problem. But I … [Narain shakes her head]. You are shaking your head, obviously…
Sunita Narain: I'm shaking my head Indian style, which means "no." Who will invest? Let's be real about this. Who will invest? And how will they invest? We are doing more investment into solar today. China is doing much more investment in solar today than the U.S. is. What is the U.S. doing which the rest of the world can learn from? You are a fossil-addicted country, but if you are seriously disengaging, that's something for us to learn from. And it's leadership that we can hold up to our government and say if the U.S. is doing—and the U.S. is doing it—then, despite all the pressures, then we can do it as well … But it's just not happening. People like us, we are rich enough to withstand the first hit of climate change. But it's the poor of India, it's the poor of Africa, the poor of Bangladesh, who are impacted today in what I believe are the first tides of climate change … We need countries to believe that climate change is real and it is urgent. It's not a figment of their imagination
The scene concludes with DiCaprio musing on his conversation with Narain:
"There's no doubt we have all benefitted from fossil fuels. I know I have. My footprint is probably a lot bigger than most people's. And there are times when I question what is the right thing to do. What actions should we be taking? There are over a billion people out there without electricity. They want lights. They want heat. They want the lifestyle that we've had in the United States for the last hundred years. If we are going to solve this problem, we all have a responsibility to set an example. And, more than that, help the developing world to transition before it's too late."
4. Prof. Gidon Eshel
It is well known that DiCaprio has donated a significant proportion of his wealth and time to various habitat conservation projects, notably focused on oceans and tropical forests. So it isn't a surprise that he visits such locations in Before the Flood.
He views dead coral with marine biologist Jeremy Jackson. ("We're pushing this system really hard"). He flies over Sumatran forests being cleared by palm oil plantations with HAkA's Farwiza Farhan. ("I've never seen anything like this"). He feeds baby orangutans at a rescue center in the Mount Leuser National Park with Dr. Ian Singleton. ("They are refugees from the burning forest").
The message is clear. Lifestyle choices are damaging these carbon-absorbing habitats. Boycott companies which use palm oil to make their products, urges DiCaprio. Switch from eating beef to chicken.
This particular suggestion is put forward by the next person DiCaprio visits. Gidon Eshel, a professor of environmental science and physics at Bard College in New York, was the lead author of a study published in 2014 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It made headlines around the world and found that beef is about 10 times more damaging to the environment than any other form of livestock. Eshel said:
"Of all the reasons for tropical deforestation, the foremost is beef. Beef is one of the most inefficient use of resources on the planet. In the U.S., 47 percent of land is used for food production and, of that, the lion's share is just to grow feed for cattle. The things that we actually eat—fruit, vegetables, nuts—it's a percent. Most importantly, cows produce methane. And methane is a powerful greenhouse gas … About 10-12 percent of total U.S. emissions is due to beef. It's staggering … Maybe not everyone is ready to eat tofu 24/7. I get that. But even if you just have to have some flesh between your teeth, if you switch to chicken, you will have eliminated 80 percent of what you emit, depending on where you are coming from."
5. Elon Musk
DiCaprio in now looking out across Los Angeles from a vantage point up in the Hollywood hills.
"Every single light that you see has to be completely different—has to come from a new power source. We need to build all those things differently. All the cars that are on the road need to be different. This is one city. If you zoom out to a map of the world at night, you see electrification all over the world. And we're fighting powerful fossil fuel interests who basically want to keep doing business as usual. How are we possibly going to turn all this around?"
Next he is in the Nevadan desert visiting the "gigafactory," the latest project of Tesla founder Elon Musk. Once at full operation by 2020, the vast factory aims to be producing annually 500,000 electric vehicles and batteries/cells equal to 85 GWh/yr. Musk explains why this could be a game-changer:
Elon Musk: What would it take to transition the whole world to sustainable energy? What kind of throughput would you actually need? You need a hundred gigafactories.
Leonardo DiCaprio: A hundred of these?
Elon Musk: A hundred. Yes.
Leonardo DiCaprio: That would make the United States…
Elon Musk: No, the whole world.
Leonardo DiCaprio: The whole world?!
Elon Musk: The whole world.
Leonardo DiCaprio: That's it?! That sounds manageable.
Elon Musk: If all the big companies do this then we can accelerate the transition and if governments can set the rules in favour of sustainable energy, then we can get there really quickly. But it's really fundamental: unless they put a price on carbon…
Leonardo DiCaprio: … Then we are never going to be able to make the transition in time, right?
Elon Musk: Only way to do that is through a carbon tax.
[Carbon Brief has asked Tesla to explain how Musk arrived at this "100 gigafactory" claim. This article will be updated, if a reply is received].
To drive this point home, DiCaprio then speaks to Gregory Mankiw, a Harvard economics professor, who has long argued for a carbon tax. ("Let me get this straight, you're a Republican who wants more taxes?") During a "call to action" segment at the end of the film before the credits roll, a link to Carbotax.org is shown.
6. Barack Obama
When you're Leonardo DiCaprio you can request a meeting with anyone on the planet. Which other filmmaker could include personal conversations with the U.S. president, the Pope and the UN secretary general in one film?
Barack Obama: [Paris] creates the architecture. I was happy with that. The targets set in Paris are nowhere near enough, compared to what the scientists tell us we need to solve this problem. But if we can use the next 20 years to apply existing technologies to reduce carbon emissions and then start slowly turning up the dials as new technologies come online and we have more and more ambitious targets each year, then we're not going to completely reverse the warming that now is inevitable, but we could stop it before it becomes catastrophic … Even if someone came in [to the White House] denying climate science, reality has a way of hitting you on the nose if you're not paying attention and I think the public is starting to realize the science, in part because it is indisputable.
Leonardo DiCaprio: You have access to information. What makes you terrified?
Barack Obama: A huge proportion of the world's population lives near oceans. If they start moving, then you start seeing scarce resources are subject to competition between populations. This is the reason the Pentagon has said this is a national security issue. And this is in addition to the sadness I would feel if my kids could never see a glacier the way that I did when I went up to Alaska. I want them to see the same things that I saw when I was growing up.
7. Dr. Piers Sellers
There are very few people who can say they've had the privilege of being able to look down at the Earth from space. Piers Sellers, the British-born astronaut, spent a total of 35 days in orbit in the 1990s on three separate flights aboard the space shuttle. But back on Earth, he has spent much of his professional life modeling the climate system at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Earlier this year, he wrote in theNew York Times about how being diagnosed with terminal cancer has sharpened his thinking on climate change.
Dr. Piers Sellers: I realized that, as the science community, we have not done the best job, frankly, of communicating this threat to the public. When you go up there and see it with your own eye, you see how thin the world's atmosphere is. Tiny little onion skin around the Earth … [Sellers shows a visualization]. Here's an example of one thing we can see—ocean surface temperature, as measured from space. You can see the poles melting.
Leonardo DiCaprio: Wow.
Dr. Piers Sellers: This is the way to do it, man. This is the way to really see what's going on. This is the Gulf Stream. Look at this. This is the motion of the ocean.
Leonardo DiCaprio: This is like a great piece of art.
Dr. Piers Sellers: It is, isn't it? The biggest impact will be here. [Sellers points].
Leonardo DiCaprio: In the Gulf Stream.
Dr. Piers Sellers: This current … the dumping of ice off Greenland could stop this conveyor belt and the Gulf Stream would slow down and stop its transport of heat from here to there and then Europe would get cold toes because there is a lot of heat transport from across the tropics, across the north Atlantic that keeps Europe warm.
Leonardo DiCaprio: Europe would get colder? A big misconception with climate change is that everything gets warmer.
Dr. Piers Sellers: And here's the most advanced precipitation satellite in the world. It's very important, because we think the biggest impact from climate change is the moving of the precipitation belts from the equator to further out. We're already seeing more persistent drought…
Leonardo DiCaprio: …more drought in places that are already too hot?
Dr. Piers Sellers: Yes. And there are a lot of papers written in the States and elsewhere about how that same drought has help to fuel conflict in the Syrian civil war, Darfur, Sudan, all these places that are short of water and short of food.
Leonardo DiCaprio: Is just here or across the whole planet?
Dr. Piers Sellers: We are expecting elsewhere. Bits of India. In the U.S., in Oklahoma, the Dust Bowl region, we expect that to be much, much drier over the next few decades.
Leonardo DiCaprio: Oh my god. And what about my home state of California?
Dr. Piers Sellers: Not looking great, I'm afraid. Our models predicted persistent drought in the Dust Bowl and here 50 years from now. But we're just seeing the worst drought in 900 years here right now, so it's coming a bit earlier than we thought. We're talking about this happening over the period of a few decades…
Leonardo DiCaprio: This is not great news.
Dr. Piers Sellers: People get confused about the issue, but the facts are crystal clear—the ice is melting, the Earth is warming, the sea level is rising—those are facts. Rather than being, "Oh my god, this is helpless", say, "Ok, this is the problem, let's be realistic and let's find a way out of it". And there are ways out of it. If we stopped burning fossil fuels right now, the planet would still keep warming for a little while before cooling off again.
Leonardo DiCaprio: Would that Arctic ice start to then increase again?
Dr. Piers Sellers: Once the cooling started, yeah.
Leonardo DiCaprio: So there really is a possibility to repair this trajectory that we're on? Interesting.
Dr. Piers Sellers: Yeah. There's hope … I'm basically an optimistic person. I really do have faith in people. And I think once people come out of the fog of confusion on this issue and the uncertainty on this issue and realistically appreciate it on some level as a threat, and are informed on some level on what the best action is to do to deal with it, they'll get on and do it and what seemed almost impossible to deal with becomes possible.
Before the Flood opens in cinemas on Oct. 21 and will be broadcast on the National Geographic Channel on Oct. 30.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Carbon Brief.
Munganga Nzonga Jacques, 26, died Oct. 4 in an area in the Tshivanga region of the park, an area previously believed to be safe for the gorillas, showing the dangers conservationists face in unstable regions, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) said.
Jacques is the second ranger to be killed in the park in the last six months. Rebel groups shot and killed park ranger Oscar Byamungu Mianziro back in March.
Park rangers carrying out an anti-poaching patrol in Kahuzi-Biega National Park.A.J.Plumptre / WCS
"We are very concerned about these increased threats to the rangers and their families, and to the protection of these animals," Andrew Plumptre, WCS senior conservation scientist for Africa, said in a statement.
Grauer's gorilla—a subspecies of eastern gorilla, the world's largest ape—are confined to eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. They were listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species back in September after their population dropped 77 percent.
In 1998, it was estimated that 17,000 Grauer's gorillas lived in the forests of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Now, fewer than 3,800 of these gorillas still live in the wild, according to a report from the WCS, Flora and Fauna International and the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature.
The main cause of the decline is hunting for bushmeat and civil unrest, which is taking place around villages and mining camps that have been established by armed groups deep in the forests in eastern DR Congo.
"The civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo has led to the wide availability of arms and created a plethora of militia groups who control different territories in the east of the country," Andrew Plumptre, senior conservation scientist for the WCS Africa Program, told PLoS One. "This has been terrible for conservation of its wildlife."...
The most remote village on Earth, located on Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic Ocean, is about to get a 21st century upgrade thanks to an international design competition aimed at creating a more sustainable future for the farming and fishing community.
Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, Tristan da Cunha, South Atlantic Oceanmichael clarke stuff / Wikipedia
RIBA Competitions launched the competition in March 2015 on behalf of the Tristan da Cunha government and narrowed down the 37 anonymous entries from around the world to five teams. A little over a year later, the team led by Brock Carmichael Architects was identified as the winner of the competition because of its "practical approach and in-depth understanding of the issues."
A wind farm, modernized buildings with heated floors and insulated roofs, greenhouses in backyards, communal kitchen gardens, community composting and a waste to energy incinerator are some of the improvements in the team's initial plans for the 265-member community.
Rendering of community garden, island store, kitchen garden and fisheries.Brock Carmichael Architects
However, creating this sustainable community will be a challenge.
The island—located 1,750 miles (7 to 10 sailing days) southwest of Cape Town, South Africa—can only be accessed by sea on a passenger or cargo ship eight times a year due to the severity of the ocean swells and limitations of the harbor facility.
German research vessel Maria S. Merian in front of the island Tristan da Cunha. In the background is the settlement Edinburgh of the Seven Seas.Mison / Wikipedia Commons
With the village so isolated, the main goal of this project is help create a self-sufficient community that future generations can manage themselves.
"Over a course of time, key people would be trained in any areas of expertise required to deliver these design proposals and acquire the knowledge and skills that can be passed down to generations to come," Martin Watson, director of operations for Brock Carmichael Architects, said.
The main way Brock Carmichael Architects propose getting this done is to prototype materials and products found on the island—such as sheep wool, basaltic blocks and seaweed—to assess its performance in the exposed marine environment and build-ability using locally-trained labor.
Along the way, the Island Council will have the final say in what will be added to the final plans, and their goals are ambitious, wanting to produce 30 to 40 percent of their own energy within the next five years.
Brock Carmichael architects will head out to the island in summer 2017 to inspect the island before fleshing out more details in their designs....