Climate
By Center for American ProgressClimate  08:00AM EST
Extreme Weather Cost U.S. Taxpayers $67 Billion

By Erin Auel and Alison Cassady

One of the most visible and immediate ways climate change has affected—and will continue to affect—Americans is through extreme weather exacerbated by rising global temperatures.

Aerial image of flooding in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Between 2005 and 2015, the annual average temperature in the U.S. exceeded the 20th-century average every year, with increases ranging from 0.15 degrees Celsius to 1.81 degrees Celsius above normal. Moreover, the federal government's most recent National Climate Assessment concludes that as temperatures continue to rise, extreme weather events and wildfires will increase in frequency and intensity.

Climate change will worsen heat waves, winter storms, and hurricanes. It will exacerbate extremes in precipitation, leading to more severe droughts and wildfires in some areas and heavier rainfall and flooding in others. And when the damage is done, taxpayers will be left to pick up the bill.

When extreme weather strikes and state and local governments are overwhelmed, the federal government must often intervene. In the worst cases, the president can declare an emergency or a major disaster, which releases federal funds for the damaged areas. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides financial assistance to local, tribal and state governments, as well as individual households, after the president declares an emergency or major disaster.

The Center for American Progress (CAP) examined FEMA data on weather- and wildfire-related disaster declarations between 2005 and 2015 to identify trends in FEMA disaster spending, which is funded by U.S. taxpayers. CAP found that:

  • Between 2005 and 2015, FEMA issued more than $67 billion in grants to assist communities and individuals devastated by extreme weather and wildfires. Overall, FEMA spent about $200 per U.S. resident for disaster assistance during that time period.
  • FEMA provided the most disaster assistance to Louisiana and New York, which, combined, received more than half of the agency's total assistance over the 10-year period due to damage caused by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, respectively. Texas, Mississippi, and New Jersey rank third through fifth for FEMA disaster spending between 2005 and 2015.
  • The states that received the most FEMA disaster assistance spending per capita were Louisiana ($4,345), Mississippi ($1,607), North Dakota ($843), and New York ($807). In North Dakota, unprecedented flooding events in 2009 and storms in 2011 caused substantial damage, driving up per-person costs among a smaller state population.

These findings likely underestimate the true federal cost—and thus the cost to taxpayers—of extreme weather. FEMA provides assistance in response to the worst natural disasters—those that triggered emergency and major disaster declarations. As a result, the findings do not include the costs of smaller but still destructive storms, costs borne by private insurers, and other government spending, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture's disaster assistance program.

As the climate warms, these types of extreme weather and wildfire events could impose an even greater burden on American communities and taxpayers. In order to prepare for this reality, communities must invest in climate-resilient infrastructure and integrate climate considerations into their development plans.

Findings: FEMA Is Spending Billions on Natural Disasters

Between 2005 and 2015, the president issued 832 separate emergency or disaster declarations for which FEMA provided either public assistance—defined as funding for state, tribal, and local governments—or individual assistance in the form of grants typically made to homeowners and renters whose home damage was not covered by homeowners insurance.

Between 2005 and 2015, FEMA spent $67.7 billion on household and public assistance in response to presidentially declared emergencies and major disasters. Of this amount, $14.36 billion was spent on individual and household assistance, and public assistance outlays to state, tribal and local governments made up the rest—$53.31 billion.

During this 10-year period, there were extreme weather and wildfire events in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and several U.S. territories and throughout all seasons. Severe storms were the most frequent cause of disaster declarations, with 470 distinct declarations across the examined time period.

Although less common than severe storms, hurricanes caused the most damage. Between 2005 and 2015, FEMA spent $49.5 billion on public and individual assistance to help communities recover from hurricanes. FEMA spent $12.7 billion for assistance related to severe storms over the same 10-year period.

Center for American Progress

Hurricanes accounted for eight of the top-10 costliest disaster declarations between 2005 and 2010, including hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, Ike, Wilma, Rita, Gustav, Irene and Isaac.

Center for American Progress

Accordingly, although the total assistance by state varied widely, FEMA directed significant disaster spending to states that experienced historic hurricane damage during the period examined. These states include Louisiana and Mississippi, where Hurricane Katrina hit hardest in 2005, and New York and New Jersey, where Hurricane Sandy landed in 2012.

Nationwide, FEMA spent more than $22 billion in assistance responding to Hurricane Katrina, including allocations for states that provided assistance related to evacuations. The agency provided nearly $16 billion in household and public assistance grants in response to Hurricane Sandy.

Non-hurricane events can cause significant and costly damage as well. In August 2016, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, experienced historic flooding from torrential rainfall. As of Aug. 23, the floods had killed 13 people, and more than 100,000 people had applied for federal assistance. Preliminary analysis from Climate Central and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that increased temperatures due to climate change increased the likelihood of intense downpours in Louisiana by 40 percent.

Floods are among the most costly extreme weather events that can hit an area, as they can destroy large areas of property and can take a long time to recede. Between 2005 and 2015, flooding caused eight of the 10 costliest non-hurricane disaster declarations and occurred across several different regions.

Looking at the per-capita costs of extreme weather reveals that these disasters have a profound impact on individuals and communities. Louisiana received $4,345 per person in FEMA disaster spending between 2005 and 2015, the most of any state. Mississippi received the second-highest amount per capita—more than $1,600. Overall, FEMA spent about $200 per U.S. resident for disaster assistance between 2005 and 2015.

Damage is not just limited to coastal areas. States in the central U.S. with relatively small populations have been hit hard by extreme weather and subsequently received significant assistance from FEMA. North Dakota, for example, ranks third for per-capita FEMA assistance over the analyzed decade due largely to eight distinct flooding events. Iowa ranks fifth for per-capita FEMA spending and seventh for total spending because of severe storms that caused major statewide flooding in 2008. Of the 10 states with the highest per-capita spending, half are located in the central U.S.

Conclusion

Extreme weather is already costing taxpayers and the federal government valuable public dollars and resources. Americans have recognized these costs; in a 2015 New York Times survey, 83 percent of respondents said that unmitigated climate change poses "a very or somewhat serious problem in the future."

Because of the damage already caused to the climate, communities in the U.S. and around the globe will experience more frequent and intense extreme weather events, even if world leaders take immediate action to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Faced with this reality, FEMA has proposed a rule that would establish a deductible for disaster assistance in order to encourage states to make investments in resilience measures before disasters occur. This rule could incentivize states to invest in climate-smart infrastructure to minimize the financial and human toll of extreme weather.

The FEMA proposal is one among many efforts to push communities to better prepare for storms, floods, and other natural disasters—an effort made even more urgent because of climate change—rather than focusing only on responding to a disaster's aftermath. Resilience, however, is only one prong in a coordinated response to climate change. The world must also focus on mitigating the worst impacts of climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning the global economy to cleaner, low-carbon forms of energy.

Methodology

CAP examined FEMA data on presidential declarations of major disasters and emergencies between 2005 and 2015. The data reflect the two primary disaster declaration types: major disaster and emergency. CAP analyzed FEMA data on public and individual/household assistance spending in response to these declarations. The data were last updated on July 12.

For the per-capita analysis in Table 3, CAP used population data obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau. To calculate the per-capita costs by state, CAP averaged the state population totals from 2005, 2010 and 2015. The national per-capita figure in Table 3 reflects FEMA disaster assistance to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories.

CAP developed a methodology for excluding and including disasters to ensure the analysis only includes declarations that reflect the types of events that could become more common with unmitigated climate change.

We included public and individual assistance payments made in response to major disaster declarations and emergency declarations for the following types of incidents: coastal storms, drought, flooding, freezing, hurricanes, mudslides from flooding, severe ice storms, severe storms, snow, tornadoes, typhoons and wildfires. We excluded public and individual assistance payments made for the following types of incidents that occurred between 2005 and 2015: water main breaks, terrorism, explosions, earthquakes, chemical spills, tsunamis, the 2009 presidential inauguration, bridge collapses and volcanoes.

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By Common DreamsClimate  04:05PM EST
Earth Could Reach Critical Climate Threshold in a Decade, Scientists Warn

by Nadia Prupis

The planet could pass the critical 1.5°C global temperature threshold in a decade—and is already two-thirds of the way to hit that warming limit, climate scientists warned on Thursday.

Speaking at a University of Oxford conference this week, led by leading UK climate researcher Richard Betts, scientists said global greenhouse gas emissions are not likely to slow down quickly enough to avoid passing the 1.5°C target.

The goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C was agreed to in the landmark Paris agreement negotiated by 195 nations last year.

But the planet is continuing to experience unprecedented heat month after month, setting 2016 on track to be the hottest year ever recorded. In fact, the scientists said, Earth is currently on a trajectory to hit at least 2.7°C in global temperature rise.

Pete Smith, a plant and soil scientist at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, said mass lifestyle change must be undertaken to combat rising temperatures, such as developing more sustainable diets, reducing food waste and red meat intake, and importing fewer greenhouse gas-heavy vegetables.

"There are lots of behavioral changes required, not just by the government ... but by us," he said. He also warned that controversial geoengineering techniques such as sunlight blocking could become the norm in some countries.

The warning came the same day that Oil Change International released a report that found we have 17 years left to get off fossil fuels, or else face unprecedented and irreversible climate catastrophe.

Yet more bad news also emerged Thursday as a new study published in the journal Science found that the Earth is soaking up carbon at a far slower rate than previously estimated—which could mean a massive setback for environmental efforts.

Once considered a vital weapon in the fight against climate change, the soil, which traps carbon that would ordinarily be released into the atmosphere, has now been found to take a much longer time to absorb carbon than scientists believed—which means its potential for carbon sequestration this century "may only be half of what we thought it was," the Washington Post explains.

As Jim Hall, director of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford, put it at the conference, "We need to get ready to deal with surprise."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

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By EWContributorClimate  10:39AM EST
Who's a Climate Champion and Who's a Climate Disaster?

By Khalid Pitts, Sierra Club Political Committee

This is it. This is the homestretch. It's just under 50 days until the election, which means it's time to put up or shut up—and the Sierra Club is doubling down.

It's hard to look at the stakes in this election and not want to jump in the fight with everything you've got. There's just too much on the line for our environment and the climate, and the contrast is so clear.

Sierra Club Political Committee

That's why we've just officially released our first ever #ClimateVoter web guide, ClimateVoter2016.org, which makes the choice between "Climate Champions" and "Climate Disasters" clear for voters up and down the ballot. One area where that contrast couldn't be clearer is the presidential race.

For the last year, Donald Trump's campaign has laid waste to common sense and decency across the country. His toxic rhetoric has targeted Latinos, Muslims, women, immigrants, the disabled, African-Americans, and basically anyone who respects our nation for what it is and what it stands for. And we know his policy will be just as toxic if and when he steps into office—and so would our air and water.

Trump has promised that he will eliminate the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) if he wins, which means we can kiss the best, most important parts of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act goodbye, along with almost every other federal clean air and water safeguard.

And if you want even more evidence that Trump's extremism will mean havoc for our nation and our planet, look no further than his stance on the climate crisis: he has called it a hoax created "by and for the Chinese."

That's right. If elected, Donald Trump would be the only world leader who denies the science of climate change. He even says he wants to tear up the historic Paris climate agreement, when nearly 200 countries came to the table to finally act together to tackle the climate crisis. His position would be a national embarrassment that would erode our ability to operate on the international stage and threaten U.S. national security.

Thankfully, there's a choice. Secretary Hillary Clinton doesn't just know the climate is changing, she is listening to the scientists and has a strong plan to do something about it.

Clinton is running on the strongest environmental and climate action platform of any nominee in history. She wants to implement the Paris agreement and more, with a plan to install half a billion new solar panels and generate enough clean, renewable energy to power every home in the country. She rejects the toxic Trans-Pacific Partnership, and would put an end to dangerous drilling in the Arctic, the Atlantic and on our public lands.

Beyond the presidential race, there are profound choices to make up-and-down the ballot between climate disasters and climate champions, and voters deserve to know the difference there too.

Take North Carolina, for example. Republican Sen. Richard Burr is another climate denier, claiming falsely that he doesn't "think science can prove" climate change.

Burr, we have a few hundred scientific studies you should take a look. Or you could just refer to NASA, which the Republican Party went out of their way to celebrate at their most recent convention. Frankly, it's no surprise that a denier like Burr also has no interest in a landmark policy like the Clean Power Plan—the EPA's first ever effort to cut carbon pollution from power plants while growing our clean energy economy.

On the other hand, Burr's opponent Deborah Ross strongly supported legislation that spurred the growth of clean energy jobs in North Carolina, while opposing environmentally harmful fracking. She's supported policies to protect clean air and clean water while opposing tax breaks for polluters. So it's clear all around that right now Congress desperately needs more climate and environmental champions like Deborah Ross in the Senate, and fewer climate deniers like Richard Burr.

The same story repeats itself in top Senate races in the country, where climate champions like Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Jason Kander (D-Mo.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) face climate disasters like Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Darryl Glenn (R-Colo.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Joe Heck (R-Nev.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).

Sierra Club Political Committee

So if you're all revved up and ready to go, you're in just the right place because you can learn far more about each of these races by viewing checking out our #ClimateVoter web guide today.

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By Bill McKibbenClimate  09:19AM EST
Fighting Big Oil and Big Banks to Save Sacred Lands, Precious Water and Unraveling Climate

Most Americans live far from the path of the Dakota Access Pipeline—they won't be able to visit the encampments on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation where representatives of more than 200 tribes have come together in the most dramatic show of force of this environmental moment. They won't be able to participate in the daily nonviolent battle along the Missouri River against a $3.7 billion infrastructure project that threatens precious water and myriad sacred sites, not to mention the planet's unraveling climate.

TD Bank in Providence, Rhode Island, became the target of environmental and Native American rights activists.Steve Ahlquist / RIFuture.org

But most of us live near a bank.

Maybe there's a Citibank branch in your neighborhood. Or Wells Fargo or Bank of America or HSBC. Maybe you even keep your money in one—if so, you inadvertently helped pay for the guard dogs that attacked Native Americans as they tried to keep bulldozers from mowing down ancestral grave sites.

Maybe you have a retirement plan invested with Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley—if so, you helped buy the pepper spray that the company used to clear the way for its crews as they cleared the right of way straight to the Missouri River.

Perhaps you bank overseas. Credit Agricole? Deutsche Bank? Sumitomo? Royal Bank of Scotland? Barclays? Yeah, them too.

In fact, virtually every name in the financial pantheon has extended credit in some form to the Dakota Access Pipeline project, according to a remarkable dossier assembled by the organization Food & Water Watch. It shows a credit line of $10.25 billion (that's a b) for the companies directly involved in building the project—from 38 banks—a list of names that, the group adds, "might give you flashbacks to the 2007 financial crisis."

Sporadic protests have begun at some of the banks—activists occupied a Vancouver branch of TD Bank and across the continent in Philadelphia held a protest outside another of the giant's outlets. The same thing happened at a Citibank in downtown Chicago.

"It's unlikely that Citibank customers support poisoning indigenous peoples' water, desecrating sacred burial sites, or contributing to global climate change," said Gloria Fallon of Rising Tide Chicago. Which is true.

But banks love these kinds of deals precisely because they're so capital-intensive. (And because they're financially stacked in favor of the developers: Federal tax breaks worth more than $600 million helped make the balance sheet for Dakota Access Pipeline.)

The key Dakota Access Pipeline loan, said Rainforest Action Network's Amanda Starbuck, is still pending. It's a multibillion-dollar line of credit, but only $1.1 billion of the loan can be doled out until the company "resolves certain governmental permits." Citi, Mizuho, Bank of Tokyo MUFJ, and Mizuho Bank are leaders on that loan.

Many of these banks may be vulnerable to pressure. For one thing, they're eager to appear green: Bank of America, for instance, recently announced plans to make all its bank branches "carbon-neutral" by 2020. Which is nice—solar panels on the roof of the drive-thru tellers are better than no solar panels. But as Starbuck said, it's basically meaningless stacked up against Bank of America's lending portfolio, chock full of loans to develop "extreme fossil fuels, which are simply incompatible with a climate-stable world."

Put another way: They're going to be the vegan owners of a global chain of slaughterhouses.

Rainforest Action Network's numbers make clear just how mammoth this problem is for those of us fighting to keep fossil fuels in the ground: In June, it reported that just 25 banks have invested "$784 billion in coal mining, coal power, 'extreme oil' and liquefied natural gas facilities between 2013 and 2015."

But there are success stories: Australian campaigners, led by indigenous groups downunder and working with campaigners across three continents, persuaded most of the world's banks to stop bankrolling plans for what would have been the world's largest coal mine and port, and in turn, that has helped bring the project to a standstill.

The pressure will increase after this week's release of a new report from Oil Change International, which makes clear that the oil fields, gas wells, and coal mines already in operation have enough carbon to carry us past the 2-degree target the world set in Paris a year ago (and to absolutely annihilate the stretch goal of 1.5 degrees).

That is to say: At this point, anyone who finances any fossil fuel infrastructure is attempting to make money on the guaranteed destruction of the planet.

So those Dakota Access Pipeline loans should come under new scrutiny—moral, as well as financial—since they assume that governments won't enforce their Paris promises. That's a gamble accountants might want to think twice about, especially after this week's news that the SEC was investigating Exxon for its refusal to write down the value of its reserves in light of the global accords.

And at least one bank is waking up. Amalgamated—the New York-based, labor-affiliated bank—announced jointly with Bank of America that it would make its branches carbon neutral. More significantly, it also announced it was divesting from the fossil fuel business.

"We need to be honest, we have a growing environmental crisis unfolding and Amalgamated Bank will no longer sit on the sideline," said Keith Mestrich, President and CEO of Amalgamated Bank. "As an industry that prides itself on innovation and bold action, we must all be leaders and take real action to change our course."

Put another way: They're vegans who will now be lending to tofu makers.

But it's probably sustained public pressure that will do the most good.

"Oil companies are always going to drill for oil and build pipelines—it's why they exist," Rainforest Action Network's Scott Parkin. "But the banks funding this pipeline have a choice as to where they put their money. Right now, Citibank, TD Bank and others have chosen to invest in a project that violates indigenous rights and destroys the climate."

Parkin points to the protests that have already sprung up at dozens of banks from DC to New Orleans to Tucson to Long Beach to the Bronx.

"We have the power to derail that loan with a different kind of currency," he said. "Putting our bodies on the line at any financial institution that says 'Dakota Access Pipeline, we're open for business.'"

And if anyone has any doubts that civil disobedience can be useful, remember how the amazing activists at Standing Rock forced the federal government to blink, pausing construction earlier this month. Their nonviolent leadership has inspired all of us—and it should have sent a shiver down the spine of a few bankers.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Yes! Magazine.

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By TomDispatchClimate  02:24PM EST
Peace Pipes, Not Oil Pipes: Indians Battle Modern-Day Cowboys to Save Sacred Lands

Cowboys and Indians are at it again.

Americans who don't live in the West may think that the historic clash of Native Americans and pioneering settlers is long past because the Indians were, after all, defeated and now drive cars, watch television, and shop at Walmart. Not so.

That classic American narrative is back big time, only the Indians are now the good guys and the cowboys—well, their right-wing representatives, anyway—are on the warpath, trying to grab 640 million acres of public lands that they can plunder as if it were yesteryear.

Meanwhile, in the Dakotas, America's Manifest Destiny, that historic push across the Great Plains to the Pacific (murdering and pillaging along the way), seems to be making a return trip to Sioux country in a form that could have planetary consequences.

@mikewfritz / Twitter

Energy Transfer Partners is now building the Dakota Access Pipeline, a $3.7 billion oil slick of a project. It's slated to go from the Bakken gas and oil fracking fields in northern North Dakota across 1,100 miles of the rest of the Dakotas and Iowa to a pipeline hub in Illinois. From there, the oil will head for refineries on the Gulf Coast and ultimately, as the emissions from fossil fuels, into the atmosphere to help create future summers so hot no one will forget them. Keep in mind that, according to global warming's terrible new math, there's enough carbon in those Bakken fields to roast the planet—if, that is, the Sioux and tribes allied with them don't stop the pipeline.

This time, in other words, if the cavalry does ride to the rescue, the heroes on horseback will be speaking Lakota.

Last Stand at Standing Rock

If built as planned, the Dakota Access Pipeline will snake through the headwaters of the Missouri River, a life-giving source of fresh water for millions of people who live downstream, including Native Americans. It's supposed to pass under that river just a few miles from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation that straddles North and South Dakota. Protestors point out that, eventually, the pipeline is likely to leak into that vital watershed and the contamination could prove catastrophic.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which green-lighted the project's design, and Energy Transfer Partners have continued to insist that there is no such risk—even though, suspiciously enough, they decided to change the pipeline's route to avoid the water supply of North Dakota's capital, Bismark. As ever, tribal leaders point out, they were ignored rather than consulted in the planning stages, even though the project was to pass directly through their lands.

When the Keystone XL pipeline, slated to bring especially carbon-heavy tar sands from Alberta, Canada, to the U.S. Gulf Coast, was killed thanks to years of fierce environmental protests, the stakes were raised for the Dakota Access Pipeline. Keystone was a disaster for the energy industry. In its wake, opponents claim, the new project was fast-tracked without the usual environmental reviews so that construction could be completed before a Keystone-style opposition formed. Fast as they were, it turns out that they weren't fast enough.

Keep in mind that such a project wasn't exactly a first for the native peoples of the region. In the wake of their defeat and confinement to reservations in the 19th century, they lived through a profound transformation of their landscape. Settlers let cattle loose on meadows cleared of wolves, cougars and bears. The rude stamp of progress followed: fences, roads, dams, mines, sawmills, railroads, power lines, towns, condos, resorts. And in the 21st century, vistas increasingly pockmarked with fracking's drill rigs and service roads.

In the Dakota prairies, hundreds of species of grass and flowers were replaced by monocultures of soy and corn, while millions of cattle were substituted for herds of free-roaming bison. As recently as the 1950s and 1960s, the neighboring Sioux and Cheyenne lost 200,000 more acres of valuable reservation farmland to dams built without their permission. Entire villages had to relocate. The Dakota Access Pipeline is just the latest of these assaults and yet, in every way, it's potentially more disastrous. As Lakota Chairman David Archambault puts it, "To poison water is to poison the substance of life."

Slaughter, internment and neglect were bad enough, say tribal leaders, but threatening the people's life-giving water was the last straw. As a result, thousands of Native Americans drawn from 280 tribes across the country and even around the world are now camping out at the construction site where the Dakota Access Pipeline nears the tip of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Almost 2 million signatures have been gathered on a petition opposing the pipeline, dozens of environmental groups have signed on to the resistance and tribes nationwide have expressed their solidarity.

On Sept. 3, the private security guards hired by Energy Transfer Partners used pepper spray and dogs on those trying to block the pipeline. This eruption of violence halted work until U.S. District Judge James Boasberg could rule on the tribe's request for an injunction to block construction while its case was heard in court.

On Sept. 9, while conceding that "the United States' relationship with Indians has been contentious and tragic," he denied that request. Then, in a move described even by the Sioux as stunning, the Obama administration suddenly stepped between the protesters and the pipeline construction crews. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of the Interior and even the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers called for a halt to the process until the permitting procedure could be reviewed.

Although putting an oil pipeline under a major river should have triggered an environmental review, the Corps chose not to do one. Now, it will take a second look. The administration also committed itself to finding better ways to include Native Americans in future land-use decisions.

Where this goes next is anyone's guess. The construction halt could, of course, be lifted if the protesters were to disperse under a false sense of victory. The Sioux now plan to litigate vigorously against the pipeline. One prediction, however, is easy enough. The unity and purpose experienced by the people in that encampment will resonate powerfully for years to come. A movement has been born along the banks of the Missouri River.

Native Americans have played the crucial role in this campaign to "keep it in the ground," just as they were leaders in the successful struggle to block the Keystone XL pipeline, the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline that would have carried dirty crude across Canada to the Pacific, and the building of a massive coal export port on Canada's Pacific coast. As Native American leader Winona LaDuke puts it, "For people with nothing else but land and a river, I would not bet against them."

This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the cowboys have been engaged in a not-so-old-fashioned range war over who can best manage 640 million acres of public lands now owned collectively by the American people. Backed by the Koch Brothers and their American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) legislators across the American West—where most of the public lands are located—are calling on the federal government to cede control and management of them to counties and states. This would include some of our most beloved national parks.

In Utah where I live, the Republican-dominated legislature has put forward the Public Lands Initiative (PLI). It's the latest round in a 30-year feud pitting conservationists and businesses tied to tourism and recreation against ranchers and miners. At stake: whether to give the last publicly controlled wild places in the state formal wilderness status and federal protection or (though this isn't often directly said) let private interests exploit the hell out of them. Every few years the Utah legislature's "cowboy caucus" has pushed just such a "wilderness bill" filled with poison pills and potentially devastating loopholes that the local conservation community can't abide.

Billed this time as a potential grand bargain to settle who controls public lands and how they can be used, the PLI has proven no different. It was, in fact, generated by local fears that President Obama might use his wide-ranging powers under the Antiquities Act to create a new national monument in the state as he left the Oval Office. This was exactly what Bill Clinton did in 1996, establishing the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument on 1.9 million acres of land in southern Utah's spectacular canyon country, already the home of five national parks.

That 1906 act, passed while Teddy Roosevelt was in the White House, gives the president wide-ranging authority to create national monuments from public lands in order to protect significant natural, cultural or scientific features. Since activities like drilling for oil and gas, mining, timber cutting and grazing are barred or tightly restricted on such protected lands, Western politicians tend to regard them as a tool wielded by conservationists to suppress economic development.

Grave Robbing for Fun and Profit

Sure enough, the nightmare of the cowboys is being realized. A coalition of five tribes, all either presently in Utah or claiming ancestral lands there, is now pushing a bold proposal for just such a national monument—a park co-managed by the five tribes and the U.S. National Park Service (which in itself would be a significant first for the Native American community). It would include 1.9 million acres of the ancestral grounds of the Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Ute Mountain and Ute Indian tribes and would be known as the Bears Ears after the area's most famous landmark, twin buttes that are said to resemble a bear's ears.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewel recently toured the proposed monument and was amazed by what she saw, including spectacular cliff-house ruins, as well as paintings and rock carvings depicting clan signs, shamanic visions and ghostly herds of bighorn sheep and elk. Bears Ears would possess more than 100,000 archaeological sites, including many of the oldest and most spectacular ruins in the U.S. Members of the coalition of tribes regard them and the ground littered with their ancestors' artifacts and bones as sacred.

A grassroots group, Utah Dine Bikeyah, did extensive groundwork collecting data and interviews to create cultural maps of the region. The extraordinary archaeological and historical record they built effectively made their case that the ancestors of the coalition tribes have relied on that landscape for hunting, gathering and ceremonial activities for centuries. The Utah conservation community, which had mapped out its own plans for such a monument, stepped aside for the tribal proposal.

Protecting the Bears Ears is considered an urgent matter. A mere handful of rangers currently patrol thousands of square miles of rugged canyons where the looting of archaeological sites for fun and profit is a rural tradition. In remote outposts like Blanding, Utah, Indian grave robbing was considered an acceptable family pastime until agents from the FBI infiltrated the black market for artifacts and busted a prominent local family. Ute leader Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk expresses a motivating concern of the tribal leaders.

"Without swift action we fear that the archaeological and cultural riches of the Bears Ears will suffer shameful, disgraceful dissolution and obliteration," she said.

Her fear is well founded. In recent years, for instance, rural county commissioners have led illegal all-terrain-vehicle rallies on a route through Recapture Canyon that Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rangers shut to motorized traffic because it crosses several key archaeological sites.

State and county politicians were not content to challenge the BLM's closure of that canyon in court. Instead, they openly promoted such rides to defy the feds. The last of these protests in 2014 did, in fact, significantly damage unprotected archeological sites. The indigenous community saw it as a shocking show of disrespect, like driving directly over cemetery graves. The well-armed vigilantes who rode through Recapture Canyon were led by Ryan Bundy, son of Cliven Bundy and the famous hothead of the Bundy clan.

You may remember the colorful Bundy boys. After all, they became the stars of the "cowboy rebellion" against federal regulation on public lands. In 2014, BLM rangers were dispatched to Nevada to remove Cliven Bundy's cows from lands on which they had been grazing illegally for 20 years. The feds claimed that he owed the taxpayers a million bucks in unpaid grazing fees. He, on the other hand, insisted that such public lands belonged to the ranchers whose grandparents first grazed them.

The rangers sent to enforce the law were met by hundreds of armed cowboys, many of whom took up sniper positions around them. Faced with such overwhelming firepower and the prospect of bloodshed, they withdrew and a range war was on.

The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight

That retreat in Nevada undoubtedly emboldened the Bundy clan and their militia allies to seize Oregon's Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in January 2016. Well-armed, they occupied the visitor center at that bird refuge, leaning on every cowboy cliché in the book. They dressed the part with chaps, boots, buckles and Stetson hats, carried American flags, and regularly posed with their horses for news photographers.

In the end, despite the Marlboro Man look and the Clint Eastwood demeanor, the Bundyites came across as the gang that couldn't shoot straight. The "constitutional revolution" they wanted to spark by seizing Malheur fizzled amid a festival of cognitive dissonance and irony: men carrying assault rifles and threatening to use them proclaimed themselves "peaceful protesters" and, while declaring it off limits, attempted to "return" land to the American people—land that they already owned.

Federal agents eventually arrested all of the principal players in both the earlier Nevada standoff and the Malheur fiasco, except for one killed at a roadblock when he charged armed rangers and reached for his gun. Trials began on Sept. 7 and are slated to last for months.

Given the open hostility of state and local politicians to the protection of sacred sites, as well as their willingness to break the law and offer tacit support for vigilantes like the Bundys, tribal leaders decided to take their concerns about protecting their ancestral grounds to the top. A delegation traveled to Washington and met with President Obama, while a media campaign was begun to persuade others to endorse the plan.

A broader coalition of tribes and the conservation community rallied to the idea, especially because it was the first time that Native American tribes had proposed such a monument. The vision of a park to honor sacred indigenous lands, shaped and directed by Native Americans themselves, caught the public imagination. The New York Times and The Washington Post have both written editorials urging the president to create such a park and Utah polls show a solid majority of citizens in favor of it.

Peace Pipes, Not Oil Pipes

The genocidal policies that accompanied settlement across North America crested in Sioux country at the close of the 19th century. The survivors of the vanquished indigenous nations there were interned on reservations. Their children were taken from them and sent to boarding schools where their hair was cut and their language and ceremonies banished. This was—and was meant to be—a form of cultural genocide.

In the Bears Ears and Sioux country today, however, the culture of Native Americans endures. The descendants of those warriors who died defending their homeland and of those children taken from their families and their native cultures have proven remarkably resilient. They are once again defending their world and, as it happens, ours too, because even if you don't share the Missouri River watershed, you live on a planet that is being rapidly transformed by the sort of toxic cargo that will fill a future Dakota Access Pipeline.

In the Hollywood Westerns of my youth, Indians were often one-dimensional villains who committed atrocities on good white folks trying to bring civilization to the frontier. As with so many notions I inherited in my youth, reality has turned out to be another story.

Certainly, before the onslaught of colonialism, the way indigenous people across the planet viewed what we now call our environment has come to seem like sanity itself. The land, as the Sioux and other tribal peoples saw it, was a living being saturated with spirits that humans should both acknowledge and respect.

The Indians whom the cowboys and bluecoats fought didn't share European concepts of cash, property, profit, progress, and, most importantly, technology. Once upon a time, we had the guns and they had the bows and arrows, so we rolled over them. But here's the wondrous thing: a story that seemed to have ended long ago turns out to be anything but over. Times have changed, and in the process the previous cast of characters has, it seems, swapped roles.

An economy hooked on carbon is threatening life on Earth. The waters of seas and oceans are warming fast; the weather is becoming unpredictable and harsh. Perhaps it's time to finally listen to and learn from people who lived here sustainably for thousands of years.

Respecting Sioux sovereignty and protecting the sacred sites of tribes in their own co-managed national monument could write the next chapter in our American story, the one in which the Indians finally get to be heroes and heroines fighting to protect our way of life as well as their own.

Reposted with permission from our media associate TomDispatch.

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By Kristin FalzonClimate  01:33PM EST
Trump Touts 'Dirty-Fuels-First Plan' at Fracking Conference

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump spoke to a crowd of fossil fuel industry executives at the Shale Insight conference in Pittsburgh Thursday making it clear that he is continuing to push a fossil fuel agenda.

"America is sitting on a treasure trove of untapped energy—some $50 trillion in shale energy, oil reserves and natural gas on federal lands, in addition to hundreds of years of coal energy reserves ... [and] it's all upside," Trump said to the crowd made up of executives from Marcellus Shale Coalition, the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, and the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association.

Trump said the country needs an "America-First energy plan" and touted his ideas to "open up federal lands for oil and gas production, open offshore areas, and revoke policies that are imposing unnecessary restrictions on innovative new exploration technologies."

His "American Energy Renaissance" also includes:

  • Streamlining the permitting process for all energy infrastructure projects, including the billions of dollars in projects held up by President Obama.
  • A temporary moratorium on new regulations not compelled by Congress or public safety.
  • Unlocking America's shale oil and gas.
  • Renegotiating America's trade deals, and the enforcement of trade rules.

Environmentalists slammed Trump's self-proclaimed energy revolution which, as he reiterated Thursday, would end the war on coal and scrap the $5 trillion Obama-Clinton Climate Action Plan and the Clean Power Plan.

"Donald Trump ... takes talking points from the biggest polluters in the country to slap together his disastrous energy positions," Sierra Club political director Khalid Pitts said.

"Trump's dirty-fuels-first plan is pretty simple: drill enough off our coasts to threaten beaches from Maine to Florida, frack enough to spoil groundwater across the nation, and burn enough coal to cook the planet and make our kids sick. In stark contrast, Hillary Clinton is the only candidate in this race who is committed to grow the booming clean energy economy to create jobs and help tackle the climate crisis."

Greenpeace USA spokesperson Cassady Sharp agrees. "Donald Trump proved again that he is an unfit leader with no grasp on reality," she said.

"Trump pandered to the Marcellus Shale industry today, singing the praises of a dangerous energy extraction process that threatens the health and safety of families and communities all over this country, and promising to slash critical regulations and the EPA [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency]. This man has no business dealing with America's energy policy, and he would be a belligerent catalyst of catastrophic climate change if he were elected president."

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By Lorraine ChowClimate  09:39AM EST
Nestlé Can Keep Piping Water Out of Drought-Stricken California Despite Permit Expiring in 1988

In a major setback for environmental groups, a federal judge in California has tossed out allegations that the U.S. Forest Service allowed Nestlé's bottled water operation to take water from the San Bernardino National Forest on a permit that expired back in 1988.

A federal court has ruled in favor of the U.S. Forest Service for allowing the Nestlé' to continue its use of a four-mile pipeline that siphons water from the San Bernardino National Forest.

The decision regards a lawsuit filed against the Forest Service in October 2015 by the Courage Campaign Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Story of Stuff Project. The groups alleged that the agency was allowing Nestlé Waters North America to pipe water from public lands on a permit that had long expired.

With the ruling, the multinational food and drink corporation can continue its use of a four-mile pipeline that siphons thousands of gallons of public water a day from the Strawberry Creek watershed and sell it back to the public as bottled water. The water is sold under the Arrowhead brand.

U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal wrote in a Sept. 20 order that since the Forest Service received a request to renew the permit in May 1987, the effort was considered a "timely and sufficient application for renewal," thus keeping the original permit valid.

Bernal rejected the plaintiffs's argument that the Forest Service's failure to act on the May 1987 request renders the permit invalid.

"Plantiffs do not identify, and the court cannot find, any authority holding that an agency's failure to act within a reasonable time" invalidates a special use permit, Bernal wrote.

The decision was criticized by the three environmental groups that initiated the lawsuit.

"The court has just confirmed what many Americans fear, massive corporations play by a different set of rules than the rest of us," Eddie Kurtz, executive director of Courage Campaign Institute, said in reaction to yesterday's decision. "Nestlé has been pulling a fast one for nearly 30 years, taking a public resource, depriving plants and animals of life-sustaining water, and selling that water at an obscene profit without the right to do so, but apparently our justice system is OK with that."

"We're shocked by the court's decision to let Nestlé continue its operations, and we will continue to stand with hundreds of thousands of Californians and people across the nation to take back control of this public water," added Michael O'Heaney, executive director of the Story of Stuff Project. "This fight is far from over."

Let's not forget that California is experiencing its fifth year of an epic drought. The Center for Biological Diversity pointed out that in 2015 alone, Nestlé had piped away an estimated 36 million gallons of water from the forest to sell as bottled water. Nestlé pays an annual permitting fee of $524 for permission to run its pipeline.

"Reports from the end of 2015 and the summer of 2016 indicate that water levels at Strawberry Creek are at record lows, threatening local wildlife that are already dealing with the ongoing drought in Southern California," the Center for Biological Diversity said.

"The court's decision is disappointing, but the real tragedy lies in the fact that Strawberry Creek is drying up, dooming the plants, fish and animals that have relied on it for tens of thousands of years" said Ileene Anderson, senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "Bottling water is not worth sacrificing Strawberry Creek, so we're considering our options for appeal."

Environmentalists have long decried bottled water as wasteful, expensive, unnecessary and a major source of plastic pollution.

Annie Leonard, the executive director of Greenpeace USA, argued in November: "A four-year review of the bottled water industry in the U.S. and the safety standards that govern it, including independent testing of over 1,000 bottles of water found that there is no assurance that just because water comes out of a bottle it is any cleaner or safer than water from the tap. In fact tap water is tested more frequently than bottled water."

Nestlé Waters was not a party in the case but told EcoWatch in a prepared statement it was "pleased" with the ruling.

"The Forest Service has acknowledged that our permit is in full force and effect until the renewal process is concluded," Christopher Rieck, spokesman for Nestlé Waters North America Inc., said. "We look forward to working in close cooperation with them to continue to manage the Arrowhead Springs in Strawberry Canyon sustainably for the long-term."

The company added that it recognizes "the impact the drought is having across the state, and we have implemented new technologies in our California facilities that will conserve 55 million gallons of water each year."

Nestlé carefully monitors all spring sources and manages them to ensure long-term sustainability and healthy habitats, he said.

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By Climate NexusClimate  08:05AM EST
Greenland Ice Sheet Melting 7% Faster Than Previously Thought

By Jeremy Deaton

You might know the feeling—after months of encouraging news from your bathroom scale, you discover the device is broken. The outlook on your weight-loss goal is worse than you realized.

Scientists just went through something similar, except instead of a scale, it was a system of satellites, and instead of your winter weight, it was the Greenland ice sheet.

Zachariae Isbrae, in northeast Greenland.Anders A Bjork/The Ohio State University

Researchers have been tracking Greenland's ice sheet melt by measuring the shrinking mass of the island via satellite. It now seems there was an error in measurement. A new study published in the journal Science Advances finds the ice is melting 7 percent faster than previously thought.

Scientists use satellites to map Earth's gravity field, gathering information about the distribution of mass around the globe. Earth doesn't exert gravity equally in all directions. Where there is more mass, satellites detect a stronger gravitational pull.

Using satellite data, scientists can measure various geophysical phenomena, including the melt of the Greenland ice sheet. As ice dissolves, the island loses mass and exerts a weaker gravitational pull—at least that's the idea.

An artist's rendering of NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites measuring Earth's gravity field.NASA/JPL-Caltech

In practice, it's a little more complicated. Satellites can only detect a change in mass. They can't determine how much of that mass is ice, how much is land and how much is mantle ebbing and flowing beneath the Earths' crust.

"[The system] cannot tell the difference between ice mass and rock mass," said study co-author Michael Bevis, professor of Earth sciences at Ohio State. "So, inferring the ice mass change from the total mass change requires a model of all the mass flows within the Earth."

Here's where this gets interesting.

A cross-section of Earth. The Earth's crust rests on a thick layer of mantle. Below that lies the Earth's solid core.NASA/JPL, Université Paris Diderot and the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris

Tectonic plates are always moving. The plate under North America—including Greenland—has been traveling northwest for millions of years. Around 40 million years ago, Greenland slid over an extra hot column of partially molten rock. This hot spot softened up the crust below the island's east coast. (The hot spot now rests beneath Iceland, where it is driving all manner of volcanic activity—warming hot springs and fueling the country's geothermal power plants.)

The softening of Earth's crust beneath Greenland had consequences during the last ice age, when Greenland's ice sheet was significantly thicker. The weight of all that ice caused the island to sink into the supple crust below. When the ice age passed and the ice began to melt, the island rebounded. Mantle flowed in beneath Greenland, causing the land to rise again. It's still rising today.

You can imagine how this would interfere with satellite readings. The loss of ice is weakening Greenland's gravitational pull. At the same time, the accumulation of mantle is strengthening its gravitational pull.

One of dozens of GPS units researchers used to measure the rise of land.Dana J. Caccamise II/The Ohio State University

Scientists previously accounted for the flow of mantle, but they underestimated its effect. The study's authors used GPS technology to measure the rise of land at various points along Greenland's east coast. They discovered that mantle is gathering beneath Greenland more quickly than they had realized.

What this means is that scientists have been underestimating ice loss by 20 billion metric tons per year. More of the melting is occurring along Greenland's east coast than previously thought.

Water overflow from a lake formed from melted ice carved this 60-foot canyon into the Greenland ice sheet.Ian Joughin, University of Washington

"By refining the spatial pattern of mass loss in the world's second largest—and most unstable—ice sheet, and learning how that pattern has evolved, we are steadily increasing our understanding of ice-loss processes, which will lead to better-informed projections of sea-level rise," said Bevis.

The study has implications for Antarctica—the 800-pound gorilla of global sea-level rise. Scientist will need to deploy more GPS measurement stations at Earth's southern pole to accurately measure the flow of mantle beneath the continent and get a better reading of Antarctic ice melt.

Better data will allow scientists to predict future sea-level rise more accurately. That could prove crucial for coastal cities preparing for the impacts of climate change.

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By Dr. David SuzukiClimate  11:28AM EST
World's Biggest Sockeye Run Shut Down as Wild Pacific Salmon Fight for Survival

Salmon have been swimming in Pacific Northwest waters for at least 7 million years, as indicated by fossils of large saber-tooth salmon found in the area. During that time, they've been a key species in intricate, interconnected coastal ecosystems, bringing nitrogen and other nutrients from the ocean and up streams and rivers to spawning grounds, feeding whales, bears and eagles and fertilizing the magnificent coastal rainforests along the way.

Salmon have been swimming in Pacific Northwest waters for at least seven million years.iStock

For as long as people have lived in the area, salmon have been an important food source and have helped shape cultural identities. But something is happening to Pacific coast salmon.

This year, British Columbia's sockeye salmon run was the lowest in recorded history. Commercial and First Nations fisheries on the world's biggest sockeye run on British Columbia's longest river, the Fraser, closed. Fewer than 900,000 sockeye out of a projected 2.2 million returned to the Fraser to spawn. Areas once teeming with salmon are all but empty.

Salmon define West Coast communities, especially Indigenous ones. The West Coast is a Pacific salmon forest. Today, salmon provide food and contribute to sustainable economies built on fishing and ecotourism. West Coast children learn about the salmon life cycle early in their studies.

Salmon migrations, stretching up to 3,000 kilometers, are among the world's most awe-inspiring. After spending adult lives in the ocean, salmon make the arduous trip up rivers against the current, returning to spawn and die where they hatched. Only one out of every thousand salmon manages to survive and return to its freshwater birthplace.

So what's going wrong? Climate change is amplifying a long list of stressors salmon already face. Sockeye salmon are sensitive to temperature changes, so higher ocean and river temperatures can have serious impacts. Even small degrees of warming can kill them. Low river flows from unusually small snowpacks linked to climate change make a tough journey even harder.

Oceans absorb the brunt of our climate pollution—more than 90 percent of emissions-trapped heat since the 1970s. Most warming takes place near the surface, where salmon travel, with the upper 75 meters warming 0.11 C per decade between 1971 and 2010. Although ocean temperatures have always fluctuated, climate change is lengthening those fluctuations. A giant mass of warmer-than-average water in the Pacific, known as "the blob," made ocean conditions even warmer, with El Niño adding to increased temperatures. Salmon have less food and face new predators migrating north to beat the heat.

Beyond creating poor environmental conditions for salmon, climate change increases disease risks. Warm conditions have led to sea lice outbreaks in farmed and wild salmon, and a heart and muscle inflammatory disease has been found in at least one farm. Scientists researching salmon movement through areas with farms are finding wild fish, especially young ones, with elevated parasite levels. Diseases that cause even slight deficiencies in swimming speed or feeding ability could make these marathon swimmers easy prey.

Some question whether wild salmon will remain a West Coast food staple. For the first time, the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program has advised consumers to avoid buying chinook and coho from four South Coast fisheries. Researchers also predict changing conditions will drive important food fish north by up to 18 kilometers a decade.

Disappearing salmon don't just affect humans but all coastal ecosystems and wildlife. Eighty-two endangered southern resident killer whales depend on chinook salmon to survive. As chinook stocks go down, the likelihood that these whales could become extinct goes up.

Although the federal government has committed to implement recommendations from Justice Bruce Cohen's inquiry into Fraser River sockeye and to follow the Wild Salmon Policy, reversing this dire situation will take widespread concerted and immediate action. A weak provincial climate plan that fails to meet emissions targets and acceptance of new ocean-based fish farm applications won't help wild salmon. We need to move fish farms out of the water and onto land.

Salmon are resilient and have survived ice ages and other challenges over millions of years. They've survived having their streams paved over. They've survived toxins dumped into their environments. The question is, can they—and the ecosystems that depend on them—survive climate change and fish farms and all the other stressors humans are putting on them?

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