By Bruce Melton
Our planet's systems have a tremendous capacity to absorb punishment before they begin to show signs of degradation. Earth's ecology self-heals like a cut on a finger. It assimilates pollution by chemical, physical and biological means—it changes pollutants into non-hazardous materials and proceeds upon its merry way as if there had been no pollution at all. Up to a point.
Acid rain is an excellent example of how our planet can self-heal. By the late 1960s, the U.S. was emitting so many sulfate and nitrate pollutants (smog) from burning fossil fuels, that sulfuric acid washed from the sky was killing forests and lakes. President Richard Nixon's Clean Air Act stopped about half of the sulfur from going into our atmosphere. This was enough to allow nature to take over again and our forests and lakes began to heal.
Global warming didn't really get started in a big way until the 1950s. Today, the warming rate is seven times greater than it was in the 1950s and the carbon emission rate is four times greater than in the '50s.
That same sulfur pollution that caused all the acid rain in the '60s and '70s is a global cooling pollutant that hides warming. With grossly increasing smog in Asia since about the turn of the century, the results have been that 30 percent of warming that should have occurred has been masked or covered up by global cooling sulfate smog.
It's also a very common misconception that some of the warming is natural. However, until about 100 years ago, our climate was cooling. The planet cooled about 5 degrees F in polar regions near Greenland (half or less globally) over the last 6,000 years. This research comes from mini-icecaps on Baffin Island where easily dateable rooted plants were revealed from melt. In the last 100 years, the temperature on Baffin has warmed about 7 degrees Fahrenheit; 2 degrees warmer than at any time in the last 120,000 years. Most of this warming has occurred since the 1950s.
The extremes we are experiencing now (temperature, rainfall, drought, etc.) will not increase at the same rate as the average temperature. The physics of thermodynamics say extremes will increase nonlinearly. Earth has lost its ability to buffer the warming. As we replace coal with non-fossil fuel alternatives, masking of warming by global cooling pollutants will also disappear, compounding the nonlinear rate of increasing extremes.
We live on a very complicated and dangerous planet that is worthy of great respect and awe. The past year's advances in climate science should urge us to put that respect and awe into practice, taking definitive action against global warming.
The American Meteorological Society's latest report on weather extremes tells us: "Without exception, all the heat-related events studied in this year's report were found to have been made more intense or likely due to human-induced climate change and this was discernible even for those events strongly influenced by the 2015 El Niño."
Human-caused "anthropogenic" influence was documented in 23 of 28 major global geographic regions. The events included increasing average temperature, warming of winter extremes, decreasing humidity due to warming, increasing dryness, increasing heavy precipitation, increased sunshine, more extreme drought, more extreme tropical cyclones, increased wildfire burn area and intensity, decreased arctic sea ice, more high tide flooding and decreased snowpack.
2. Attempts at Climate Reform
President Obama's Clean Power Plan (CPP), which is the first policy to set a national limit on power plant-generated CO2 pollution, was one of the major developments of 2015. The CPP is almost identical to the U.S. Kyoto Protocol commitment (created in the mid-1990s) of reducing CO2 emissions but the CPP is 18 years behind Kyoto. In other words, the new regulations are no different than they were a generation ago and we have emitted almost as much additional carbon dioxide during the delay. Implementation of the CPP began in June 2015, six years after carbon dioxide was successfully declared a pollutant by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In February 2016 however, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the CCP back to Federal Appeals Court to determine if it is legal or not. This is the first time that the U.S. Supreme Court has ever blocked an EPA rule.
The U.S. climate commitment at Paris, 80 percent CO2 emissions reductions by 2050, is 30 percent less than and 30 years behind Kyoto Phase 2, which was supposed to be implemented by 2020. President-elect Trump has threatened to back out of the Paris Agreement and he will also have final say over the CPP when it returns from court. After over 20 years of trying, we remain without meaningful climate pollution regulations, even though the U.S. is the single country that has unarguably emitted a third of all CO2 ever emitted—three times more than China. It is also very important to note that the U.S. is the only country in the world that did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol.
3. Increasing Wildfires Across Western North America
Work from the Sierra Nevada Research Institute by Anthony Westerling reveals the western U.S. wildfire season has increased by more than 60 percent since the 1970s, from 138 days to 222 days, because of earlier onset of spring. The average burn time has increased nearly 800 percent, from six days to 52 days, because of deeper drying from early snowmelt. Burned area increased an astonishing 12 times (1,271 percent). Human-caused ignition has played a very small role in increasing wildfire trends. Westerling also notes: "Given projections for further drying within the region due to human-induced warming, this study underlines the potential for further increases in wildfire activity."
Work from the University of Idaho and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory led by John Abatzoglou revealed that most of the increase in wildfire across the American West has happened since about 2000 and beetle killed trees are not factored into the trends (40 million acres across the US West has been killed by native beetles since 2000). Abatzoglou said that in 20 to 30 years, so much of the forest will have burned that the annual burn rate will begin to fall even with continued warming, because there will be too little forest left to burn.
4. The Amazon Continues to Emit More Carbon Than it Absorbs
It began in 2005 with a 100-year drought. Then in 2010, there was another, more extreme drought. Billions of trees were killed. As a result, the Amazon is no longer absorbing CO2. Instead, it is emitting it to the tune of 257 megatons annually—more than half of Brazil's annual emissions. The most recent and extensive study of this topic, from 56 researchers at the University of Exeter in the UK, led by Ted Feldpausch, showed the decreasing sequestration was not from drought kill alone, but drought stress induced by higher temperatures was also responsible.
In 2010, I spoke with Leeds University researcher Simon Lewis who performed some of the first work on Amazonia after the 2010 drought. He said billions of trees were killed in the two droughts, and that for all of the trees to decay will take a relatively short 29 years in the rain forest. Lewis continued, "Two droughts like this in one decade will not completely offset the sink within that decade, but three in a decade may." Considering the newer work by Feldpausch shows the flip has already occurred, it's clear that—as so often happens with climate science—the deeper we look, the more extensive the damage really is.
A massive iceberg is towering over a Newfoundland town, as climate change continues to cause dramatic and spectacular events.
The giant iceberg near Ferryland, Canada has created quite a stir and even caused traffic jams as locals stop to take pictures.
Icebergs commonly appear off the coast of Ferryland—in fact, this area called "Iceberg Alley" is famous for iceberg tours that start in May. However, this particular iceberg is unusual for its mammoth size and early appearance.
The Canadian Ice Service classified the iceberg as "large," their second largest category that includes heights of 151-240 feet and lengths of 401-670 feet.
According to Gabrielle McGrath, commander of the United States Coast Guard International Ice Patrol, 616 icebergs have already moved down the North Atlantic this year, while last year, 687 were counted by late September.
"When you look at the iceberg chart, it's truly incredible," Rebecca Acton-Bond, acting superintendent of ice operations with the Canadian Coast Guard, told CBC News.
"Usually, you don't see these numbers until the end of May or June. So the amount of icebergs that we're seeing right now, it really is quite something."
This rare climate event is only one of several reported this month. Scientists discovered a giant waterfall forming in Antarctica and an entire river in Canada's Yukon territory suddenly and unexpectedly changing direction.
Awarded annually to environmental heroes from each of the world's six inhabited continental regions, the Goldman Prize recognizes grassroots activists for significant achievement to protect the environment and their communities.
The winners will be awarded the prize at an invitation-only ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the San Francisco Opera House (this event will be live streamed online). A ceremony at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC will follow on April 26.
This year's winners are:
Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo, Democratic Republic of Congo
Putting his life on the line, Rodrigue Katembo went undercover to document and release information about bribery and corruption in the quest to drill for oil in Virunga National Park, resulting in public outrage that forced the company to withdraw from the project.
Goldman Environmental Prize
Prafulla Samantara, India
An iconic leader of social justice movements in India, Prafulla Samantara led a historic 12-year legal battle that affirmed the indigenous Dongria Kondh's land rights and protected the Niyamgiri Hills from a massive, open-pit aluminum ore mine.
Goldman Environmental Prize
Uroš Macerl, Slovenia
Uroš Macerl, an organic farmer from Slovenia, successfully stopped a cement kiln from co-incinerating petcoke with hazardous industrial waste by rallying legal support from fellow activists and leveraging his status as the only citizen allowed to challenge the plant's permits.
Goldman Environmental Prize
Wendy Bowman, Australia
In the midst of an onslaught of coal development in Australia, octogenarian Wendy Bowman stopped a powerful multinational mining company from taking her family farm and protected her community in Hunter Valley from further pollution and environmental destruction.
Goldman Environmental Prize
mark! Lopez, United States
Born and raised in a family of community activists, mark! Lopez persuaded the state of California to provide comprehensive lead testing and cleanup of East Los Angeles homes contaminated by a battery smelter that had polluted the community for over three decades.
Goldman Environmental Prize
Rodrigo Tot, Guatemala
An indigenous leader in Guatemala's Agua Caliente, Rodrigo Tot led his community to a landmark court decision that ordered the government to issue land titles to the Q'eqchi people and kept environmentally destructive nickel mining from expanding into his community.
Goldman Environmental Prize
By Lauren McCauley
The amount of carbon in the Earth's atmosphere is now officially off the charts as the planet last week breached the 410 parts per million (ppm) milestone for the first time in human history.
"It's a new atmosphere that humanity will have to contend with, one that's trapping more heat and causing the climate to change at a quickening rate," wrote Climate Central's Brian Kahn. "Carbon dioxide hasn't reached that height in millions of years."
The milestone was recorded Tuesday at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii by the Keeling Curve, a program of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California San Diego. Since the planet reached the dangerous new normal of 400 ppm last year, scientists have warned that that the accelerated rate at which concentrations of CO2 are rising means that humanity is marching further and further past the symbolic red line towards climate chaos.
What's more, as Aarne Granlund, a graduate student researching climate change at the University of the Arctic, pointed out, the recording was taken before carbon levels are expected to reach their annual peak, meaning they could soon notch even higher.
But despite the unprecedented threat, climate action has ground to a halt in the U.S. under the leadership of President Donald Trump and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, forcing campaigners and concerned citizens to take to the streets in droves to prompt the government to do something to address the threat of planetary devastation.
Saturday's March for Science saw tens of thousands of people rally in Washington, DC and across the world to send a message to the Trump administration that governance should be based on research and facts—not ideology.
Speaking at the march in San Diego, Ralph Keeling, director of the CO2 program at Scripps whose father founded the Keeling Curve, gave an impassioned speech on why legislators need to abandon the partisan effort to stymie environmental legislation, declaring: "The climate change debate has been over for decades."
Now, infused by the energy of the March for Science, campaigners are gearing up for next weekend's Peoples Climate March with a week of action that centers on creating a just transition away from fossil fuels.
"The Peoples Climate March is the next step for the March for Science, a call to get more engaged in our political system, to confront power and to demand solutions," explained May Boeve, executive director of 350.org.
"The demands we will put forward—respect for Indigenous peoples, investments in communities on the front lines of the climate crisis, transitioning from fossil fuels to 100 percent clean energy economy that works for all and more," Boeve continued, "highlight the intersections between our different struggles and the common solutions we can work for together."
Dubbed "From Truth to Justice: Earth Day to May Day 2017," the more than 50 events in the lead-up to Saturday will include strategy sessions, a massive youth convergence, the introduction of a 100 percent Clean Energy Bill in Congress and non-violent direct actions.
On Friday, activists will form "Mother Earth's red line" on the Capitol lawn to symbolize the multiple lines that must not be crossed by corporations and governments in the increasingly severe climate crisis, organizers said.
"This is about strength in unity; diverse groups of people are coming together like never before and are creating a red line of protection against capitalism, militarism and racism," said Kandi Mossett, Indigenous energy and climate campaign organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, one of the group's organizing the direct action. "We are here to push for solutions like Indigenous rights, divestment and renewable energy as we continue to fight for a just transition away from a fossil fuel based economy."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
According to Business Insider, each pair uses an average of 11 plastic bottles and incorporates recycled plastic into the shoe's laces, heel webbing, heel lining and sock liner covers.
"The new additions to the adidas x Parley collection are another step in our journey to creating one million pairs of Ultraboost from up-cycled marine plastic," said Mathias Amm, a product category director at adidas.
The new, ocean-inspired sneakers will be available in-store and online May 10.
Adidas partnered with Parley for the Oceans—a team of artists, musicians, actors, directors, fashion designers, journalists, architects, product inventors and scientists addressing major threats to the world's oceans— to develop materials made from ocean plastic waste to use in its products starting in 2016. Last November, adidas and Parley rolled out 7,000 pairs of its 3D-printed shoes made from recycled ocean plastics.
To ramp up its commitment to sustainability, adidas phased out plastic bags in its 2,900 retail stores around the world, saving 70 million plastic shopping bags by switching to paper bags in its stores.
EcoWatch has extensively covered the devastating global issue of ocean plastic, which is a major threat to marine life, marine ecosystems and our own health. A staggering 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into the oceans every year.
Tens of thousands of people celebrated Earth Day Saturday by taking to the streets in a historic day of action for science and truth. A massive March for Science took place in Washington, DC, and more than 600 sister marches took place in other cities around the world.
"We are marching today to remind people everywhere, our lawmakers especially, of the significance of science for our health and our prosperity," Bill Nye, honorary co-chair of the March for Science, told the crowd in DC.
Saturday's March for Science was the perfect launching pad to a week of action that will culminate in the Peoples Climate March in Washington, DC, on April 29. As Ploy Achakulwisut, PhD Candidate in Atmospheric Science at Harvard University, put it, "the Science March is about respecting science, the People's Climate March is about acting on it."
The week of action, dubbed "From Truth to Justice: Earth Day to May Day 2017," will feature more than 50 events, including the launch of visionary clean energy legislation, a speak-out of the 21 young people suing the U.S. government, massive youth convergence, direct actions and more.
"Scientists have not been eager to get politically involved, but in the face of unceasing attacks and organized denial, they're putting their credibility to good use," Bill McKibben, 350.org co-founder, said. "Now the rest of us can back them up next weekend when everyone gets to march!"
May Boeve, 350.org executive director, shared the same sentiment.
"The Peoples Climate March is the next step for the March for Science: a call to get more engaged in our political system, to confront power and to demand solutions," she said.
"The demands we will put forward—respect for Indigenous peoples, investments in communities on the front lines of the climate crisis, transitioning from fossil fuels to 100 percent clean energy economy that works for all, and more—highlight the intersections between our different struggles, and the common solutions we can work for together."
In addition to the march in DC this weekend, there will be hundreds of sister marches in cities across the globe.
Check out these amazing tweets from the March for Science:
Opendata.epa.gov—the U.S. government's largest civilian-linked data service, storing crucial information on climate change, life cycle assessment, health impact analysis and environmental justice—could face shut-down this Friday, according to people familiar with the plan.
"Last week, after numerous conversations with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Environmental Information (OEI), and various technical contractors who support them, we were notified that funding is not available to continue operation U.S. EPA's flagship Open Data Web service," wrote open data scientist Bernadette Hyland—the CEO and co-founder of 3 Round Stones, a platform for publishing data on the web—in a Medium post on Sunday.
A screenshot taken from the site this morning around 7:50 a.m. shows a popup announcing the Friday shutdown.
Hyland noted in her post that the U.S. EPA Open Data Service website, which has been publicly available since 2016, provides human- and machine-readable information for more than 4 million EPA-regulated facilities, from dry cleaners to nuclear power plants. The critical service contains linked open data on 30 years of toxic releases into the environment maintained by the EPA Toxics Release Inventory Program, she wrote.
Hyland detailed how the EPA contacted her Fredericksburg, Virginia-based company and said, "We need to be ready to turn-off the EPA Open Data web service by noon on April 28, 2017—the last day of the current continuing resolution. If Congress does not pass a budget, we will be facing a government shutdown and won't be able to give technical direction to continue any work."
Reports of the EPA Open Data web service going dark spread wide Monday morning, prompting online backlash and efforts to quickly copy the data.
As the Independent explained, if the site were to shut down, this means that "citizens will no longer be able to access information on their environment and climate, keeping them from researching potentially fatal changes to their area."
It is well known that President Trump's administration has been wiping Obama-era climate initiatives off the Internet. Rex Tillerson's State Department has scrubbed from its websites the mention of President Obama's Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon pollution and other efforts on fighting climate change.
And it emerged last week that Rick Perry's Department of Energy has significantly altered its websites on renewable energy, removing references on how clean energy technologies can reduce the nation's reliance on fossil fuels and help lower climate-changing emissions.
Meanwhile, Reuters reported that the president will sign new executive orders this week, including two on energy and the environment to make it easier for the U.S. to develop energy on and offshore.
Following a four-month battle for his life, Chris Linaman committed to sharing his story to help raise awareness about the growing threat posed by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. As executive chef at a large medical center, he is also driving change at an institutional level, harnessing his purchasing power to support the responsible use of antibiotics in food animals.
Linaman is the recipient of the "Sustainable Food Procurement Award" by Health Care Without Harm, an international coalition committed to environmentally responsible health care. As part of Pew's Supermoms Against Superbugs initiative, Linaman recently met with policymakers in Washington, urging them to maintain sufficient funding for efforts that are critical to combating antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which has become a public health crisis. He spoke with Pew about his illness and his advocacy.
Chris Linaman. © The Pew Charitable Trusts
Q: Can you tell us about your MRSA infection and how it affected you and your family?
A: My nightmare started as a basketball injury. I'd had a successful ACL surgery and several weeks into my recovery was doing great and thought my incision was fully healed. But that all changed very quickly. After a weekend trip to visit friends, I went to sleep on a Sunday night feeling fine and woke up Monday morning to find my knee had swollen to the size of a melon. It was bright red and hot to the touch. Within hours, my MRSA infection had been diagnosed and I was in emergency surgery—the first of several surgeries I would need over the course of four days.
Unfortunately, that wasn't the end of my struggle to survive MRSA.
Just a few days after being sent home from the hospital, my wife found me nearly unconscious, with a swollen face and a temperature of 105 degrees. She rushed me back to the hospital and the doctors told her to begin making plans because they didn't expect me to make it. Luckily, the spinal tap showed the infection had not yet gotten to my brain. But I needed to have even more surgeries to get rid of it and I also lost my epidermis—the outer layer of my skin—over my entire body, due to an allergic reaction to the antibiotic they were using to treat me.
Ultimately, the doctors were able to get the infection under control within a few weeks, but the road to recovery was long and painful. Even after my infection was cleared and I was out of the hospital, my body was still reeling from all it had been through. My leg muscles were wrecked from all of the surgeries and it took extensive physical therapy to get me back to anything resembling normal. To help put it in perspective, my original ACL surgery had been in early May and it wasn't until mid-July that I was even able to walk around the block in my neighborhood, a feat that took more than an hour.
Beyond the physical trauma, the whole ordeal also nearly ruined our family financially and it was emotionally devastating as well. At the time, our two kids were just 2 and 4 years old and they didn't understand what was going on. It still breaks my heart to think about it. Those were the darkest days of my life and, honestly, it's hard to believe that I'm still here.
Q: Why do you think it's so important for superbug survivors to share their stories?
A: I don't think enough people realize the extent of what's at stake. People have maybe heard the term "post-antibiotic" era but don't really understand what that could mean to them and their families. While it's still very difficult for me to talk about—even today, more than 10 years later—sharing my experience can help show what that future could look like if we don't keep up the fight and do what we can today. As horrible as my MRSA infection was, I'm the "good" outcome—I survived. Way too many others have not.
Q: Why do you advocate for the responsible use of antibiotics in food animals and how have you brought that advocacy to life in your work?
A: It's absolutely essential that we have effective antibiotics available when people need them. I know this firsthand and I want to make sure that my kids never live in a world where there are no antibiotics to help them. So we need to do anything and everything we can to conserve these lifesaving drugs so that they work when they're needed—that includes making sure antibiotics are used appropriately and only when necessary—both in people and in animals.
Shortly after I recovered from my MRSA infection, I began working as the executive chef at Overlake Medical Center in Bellevue, Washington and in that role I created a procurement policy for the center that prioritizes bringing healthy food to our community and gives preference to food producers who are working to reduce antibiotic use. That policy has really been the foundation for driving significant increases in the proportion of responsibly raised food we're able to source. We've gone from approximately 19 percent of our proteins being classified as "reduced antibiotic use" in 2012, up to 80 percent in 2016. And during this same time, I've seen the market for responsibly raised meats evolve as well. It's been increasingly easier and less expensive to find these types of proteins and that's part of what's made our dramatic shift at Overlake possible. It's not just small and local famers offering these types of products anymore, it's also producers on a larger scale and that's encouraging.
Q: What can individuals do to support the responsible use of antibiotics in animal agriculture?
A: Everyone can do something. As patients, we can talk to our doctors about whether an antibiotic is necessary. When it comes to reducing antibiotic use in food animals, we can all commit to doing our research and being mindful shoppers who choose to purchase products from farmers and companies that are committed to minimizing antibiotic use. Consumer demand for responsibly raised food has been a powerful force for change in recent years and together we can make sure that demand continues to grow and make a real difference.
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