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Is Bill Gates Right About GMOs?

By Stacy Malkan

The world's wealthiest man really wants Africa to embrace genetically engineered foods or GMOs. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal's Rebecca Blumenstein, Bill Gates explained his views about the controversial food technology:

"What are called GMOs are done by changing the genes of the plant, and it's done in a way where there's a very thorough safety procedure, and it's pretty incredible because it reduces the amount of pesticide you need, raises productivity (and) can help with malnutrition by getting vitamin fortification

And so I think, for Africa, this is going to make a huge difference, particularly as they face climate change ... The U.S., China, Brazil, are using these things and if you want farmers in Africa to improve nutrition and be competitive on the world market, you know, as long as the right safety things are done, that's really beneficial. It's kind of a second round of the green revolution. And so the Africans I think will choose to let their people have enough to eat."

If Gates is right, that's great news. That means the key to solving the hunger problem is lowering barriers for biotechnology companies to get their climate-resilient, nutrition-improved genetically engineered crops to market.

So is Gates right?

Another video released the same week as the Gates Wall Street Journal interview provides a very different perspective.

The short film by the Center for Food Safety describes how the state of Hawaii, which hosts more open-air fields of experimental genetically engineered crops than any other state, has become contaminated with high volumes of toxic pesticides.

The film and report explain that five multinational agrichemical companies run 97 percent of genetically engineered (GE) field tests on Hawaii, and the large majority of the crops are engineered to survive herbicides. According to the video:

"With so many GE field tests in such a small state, many people in Hawaii live, work and go to school near intensively sprayed test sites. Pesticides often drift so it's no wonder that children and school and entire communities are getting sick. To make matters even worse, in most cases, these companies are not even required to disclose what they're spraying."

If the Center for Food Safety is right, that's a big problem. Both these stories can't be right at the same time, can they?

Facts on the ground

Following the thread of the Gates' narrative, one would expect the agricultural fields of Hawaii—the leading testing grounds for genetically engineered crops in the U.S.—to be bustling with low-pesticide, climate-resilient, vitamin-enhanced crops.

Instead, the large majority of GMO crops being grown on Hawaii and in the U.S. are herbicide-tolerant crops that are driving up the use of glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup and a chemical the World Health Organization's cancer experts classify as "probably carcinogenic to humans."

In the 20 years since Monsanto introduced “Roundup Ready" GMO corn and soy, glyphosate use has increased 15-fold and it is now "the most heavily-used agricultural chemical in the history of the world," reported Douglas Main in Newsweek.

The heavy herbicide use has accelerated weed resistance on millions of acres of farmland. To deal with this problem, Monsanto is rolling out new genetically engineered soybeans designed to survive a combination of weed-killing chemicals, glyphosate and dicamba. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has yet to approve the new herbicide mix.

But Dow Chemical just got the green light from a federal judge for its new weed-killer combo of 2,4D and glyphosate, called Enlist Duo, designed for Dow's Enlist GMO seeds. EPA tossed aside its own safety data to approve Enlist Duo, reported Patricia Callahan in Chicago Tribune.

The agency then reversed course and asked the court to vacate its own approval—a request the judge denied without giving reason.

All of this raises questions about the claims Bill Gates made in his Wall Street Journal interview about thorough safety procedures and reduced use of pesticides.

Concerns grow in Hawaii, Argentina, Iowa

Instead of bustling with promising new types of resilient adaptive GMO crops, Hawaii is bustling with grassroots efforts to protect communities from pesticide drift, require chemical companies to disclose the pesticides they are using, and restrict GMO crop-growing in areas near schools and nursing homes.

Schools near farms in Kauai have been evacuated due to pesticide drift, and doctors in Hawaii say they are observing increases in birth defects and other illnesses they suspect may be related to pesticides, reported Christopher Pala in the Guardian and The Ecologist.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, prenatal and early-life pesticide exposures are linked to childhood cancers, decreased cognitive function, behavioral problems and birth defects.

In Argentina—the world's third largest producer of GMO crops—doctors are also raising concerns about higher than average rates of cancer and birth defects they suspect are related to pesticides, reported Michael Warren in the Associated Press.

Warren's story from 2013 cited evidence of "uncontrolled pesticide applications:"

"The Associated Press documented dozens of cases around the country where poisons are applied in ways unanticipated by regulatory science or specifically banned by existing law. The spray drifts into schools and homes and settles over water sources; farmworkers mix poisons with no protective gear; villagers store water in pesticide containers that should have been destroyed."

In a follow-up story, Monsanto defended glyphosate as safe and called for more controls to stop the misuse of agricultural chemicals. Warren reported:

"Argentine doctors interviewed by the AP said their caseloads - not laboratory experiments - show an apparent correlation between the arrival of intensive industrial agriculture and rising rates of cancer and birth defects in rural communities, and they're calling for broader, longer-term studies to rule out agrochemical exposure as a cause of these and other illnesses."

Monsanto spokesman Thomas Helscher responded, “the absence of reliable data makes it very difficult to establish trends in disease incidence and even more difficult to establish causal relationships. To our knowledge there are no established causal relationships."

The absence of reliable data is compounded by the fact that most chemicals are assessed for safety on an individual basis, yet exposures typically involve chemical combinations.

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"We are breathing, eating and drinking agrochemicals"

A recent UCLA study found that California regulators are failing to assess the health risks of pesticide mixtures, even though farm communities—including areas near schools, day care centers and parks—are exposed to multiple pesticides, which can have larger-than-anticipated health impacts.

Exposures also occur by multiple routes. Reporting on health problems and community concerns in Avia Teria, a rural town in Argentina surrounded by soybean fields, Elizabeth Grossman wrote in National Geographic:

“Because so many pesticides are used in Argentina's farm towns, the challenges of understanding what may be causing the health problems are considerable, says Nicolas Loyacono, a University of Buenos Aires environmental health scientist and physician. In these communities, Loyacono says, "we are breathing, eating, and drinking agrochemicals."

In Iowa, which grows more genetically engineered corn than any other state in the U.S., water supplies have been polluted by chemical run off from corn and animal farms, reported Richard Manning in the February issue of Harper's Magazine:

“Scientists from the state's agricultural department and Iowa State University have penciled out and tested a program of such low-tech solutions. If 40% of the cropland claimed by corn were planted with other crops and permanent pasture, the whole litany of problems caused by industrial agriculture - certainly the nitrate pollution of drinking water - would begin to evaporate."

These experiences in three areas leading the world in GMO crop production are obviously relevant to the question of whether Africa should embrace GMOs as the best solution for future food security. So why isn't Bill Gates discussing these issues?

Propaganda watch

GMO proponents like to focus on possible future uses of genetic engineering technology, while downplaying, ignoring or denying the risks. They often try to marginalize critics who raise concerns as uninformed or anti-science; or, as Gates did, they suggest a false choice that countries must accept GMOs if they want "to let their people have enough to eat."

This logic leaps over the fact that, after decades of development, most GMO crops are still engineered to withstand herbicides or produce insecticides (or both) while more complicated (and much hyped) traits, such as vitamin-enhancement, have failed to get off the ground.

"Like the hover boards of the Back to the Future franchise, golden rice is an old idea that looms just beyond the grasp of reality," reported Tom Philpott in Mother Jones.

Meanwhile, the multinational agrichemical companies that also own a large portion of the seed business are profiting from herbicide-resistant seeds and the herbicides they are designed to resist, and many new GMO applications in the pipeline follow this same vein.

These corporations have also spent hundreds of million dollars on public relations efforts to promote industrial-scale, chemical-intensive, GMO agriculture as the answer to world hunger - using similar talking points that Gates put forth in his Wall Street Journal interview, and that Gates-funded groups also echo.

For a recent article in The Ecologist, I analyzed the messaging of the Cornell Alliance for Science, a pro-GMO communications program launched in 2014 with a $5.6 million grant from the Gates Foundation.

My analysis found that the group provides little information about possible risks or downsides of GMOs, and instead amplifies the agrichemical industry's PR mantra that the science is settled on the safety and necessity of GMOs.

For example, the group's FAQ states, "You are more likely to be hit by an asteroid than be hurt by GE food - and that's not an exaggeration."

This contradicts the World Health Organization, which states, "it is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GM foods." More than 300 scientists, MDs and academics have said there is "no scientific consensus on GMO safety."

The concerns scientists are raising about the glyphosate-based herbicides that go with GMOs are also obviously relevant to the safety discussion.

Yet rather than raising these issues as part of a robust science discussion, the Cornell Alliance for Science deploys fellows and associates to downplay concerns about pesticides in Hawaii and attack journalists who report on these concerns.

It's difficult to understand how these sorts of shenanigans are helping to solve hunger in Africa.

Public science for sale

The Cornell program is the latest example of a larger troubling pattern of universities and academics serving corporate interests over science.

Recent scandals relating to this trend include Coca-Cola funded professors who downplayed the link between diet and obesity, a climate-skeptic professor who described his scientific papers as "deliverables" for corporate funders, and documents obtained by my group U.S. Right to Know that reveal professors working closely with Monsanto to promote GMOs without revealing their ties to Monsanto.

In an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech professor who helped expose the Flint water crisis, warned that public science is in grave danger:

“I am very concerned about the culture of academia in this country and the perverse incentives that are given to young faculty. The pressures to get funding are just extraordinary. We're all on this hedonistic treadmill - pursuing funding, pursuing fame, pursuing h-index - and the idea of science as a public good is being lost ... People don't want to hear this. But we have to get this fixed, and fixed fast, or else we are going to lose this symbiotic relationship with the public. They will stop supporting us."

As the world's wealthiest foundation and as major funders of academic research, especially in the realm of agriculture, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is in a position to support science in the public interest.

Gates Foundation strategies, however, often align with corporate interests. A 2014 analysis by the Barcelona-based research group Grain found that about 90 percent of the $3 billion the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation spent to benefit hungry people in the world's poorest countries went to wealthy nations, mostly for high-tech research.

A January 2016 report by the UK advocacy group Global Justice Now argues that Gates Foundation spending, especially on agricultural projects, is exacerbating inequality and entrenching corporate power globally.

"Perhaps what is most striking about the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is that despite its aggressive corporate strategy and extraordinary influence across governments, academics and the media, there is an absence of critical voices," the group said.

But corporate voices are close at hand. The head of the Gates Foundation agricultural research and development team is Rob Horsch, who spent decades of his career at Monsanto.

The case for an honest conversation

Rather than making the propaganda case for GMOs, Bill Gates and Gates-funded groups could play an important role in elevating the scientific integrity of the GMO debate, and ensuring that new food technologies truly benefit communities.

Technology isn't inherently good or bad; it all depends on the context. As Gates put it, "as long as the right safety things are done." But those safety things aren't being done.

Protecting children from toxic pesticide exposures in Hawaii and Argentina and cleaning up water supplies in Iowa doesn't have to prevent genetic engineering from moving forward. But those issues certainly highlight the need to take a precautionary approach with GMOs and pesticides.

That would require robust and independent assessments of health and environmental impacts, and protections for farmworkers and communities.

That would require transparency, including labeling GMO foods as well as open access to scientific data, public notification of pesticide spraying, and full disclosure of industry influence over academic and science organizations.

It would require having a more honest conversation about GMOs and pesticides so that all nations can use the full breadth of scientific knowledge as they consider whether or not to adopt agrichemical industry technologies for their food supply.

Stacy Malkan is co-founder and co-director of the consumer group U.S. Right to Know. She is author of the book, 'Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry,' (New Society Publishing, 2007) and also co-founded the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. Follow Stacy Malkan on Twitter: @stacymalkan.

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Now, you can sip that ice cold brew without feeling guilty. The world's largest beer manufacturer, Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, has vowed to completely shift from fossil fuels by 2025, including investing in their own renewable energy sources.

The international business owns 35 titles including Budweiser, Budlight, Stella Artois, Natural Light, Busch, Michelobe Ultra, Schock Top and Goose Island. The company claims it was mere coincidence that their announcement came on the same day as President Trump's executive order to dismantle President Obama's climate policies.

"This has no political connotations at all," said CEO Carlos Alves De Brito in a statement. "We just think this is good for our business and the environment."

The shift will require uprooting 6 terawatt-hours—enough to power Spain for a month—and transferring it to wind and solar. They will begin by installing their own solar panels on their facilities worldwide. They are also making plans to power their facility in Mexico by purchasing 490 gigawatt-hours annually from Iberdrola SA, a Spanish electricity company, that is currently in the process of building a 220-megawatt wind farm in Puebla, Mexico.

AB InBev is the largest beer maker to commit to renewable energy in the world.

"Whether you're brewing beer or making cars, embracing clean and renewable energy is the smart thing to do," Jodie Van Horn, director of Sierra Club's Ready for 100 Campaign, said.

"That's why Anheuser-Busch joins a growing coalition of nearly 90 companies and 25 U.S. cities that have committed to go all-in on clean, renewable energy," Van Horn continued. "As the Trump Administration attempts to unravel protections designed to save billions of dollars and thousands of lives, businesses, cities and states throughout the U.S. and across the world will continue to step-up to lead the transition to clean, renewable energy."

President Donald Trump's executive order to wipe out President Barack Obama's climate legacy was met with widespread opposition from, well, just about anyone who cares about clean air and water.

In response to Tuesday's order, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeted, "Mr. Trump, you cannot run a government by rejecting science. Listen to the scientific community, not the CEOs of the fossil fuel industry."

Sanders—who has one of the strongest records on climate change in the Senate and is one of the new president's harshest critics—also posted a video onto social media calling Trump's "anti-environmental executive orders" a "disaster" and a "threat to the future of this country, and to the future of the world."

Trump's order has rolled back Obama-era regulations such as the Clean Power Plan that limits emissions from power plants. The Clean Power Plan was designed to reduce harmful carbon emissions and particle pollution that would benefit the climate and provide important public health protections at the same time.

Trump, however, does not seem to care about that. At yesterday's signing ceremony, the president surrounded himself with company executives and coal miners and promised that his sweeping order will create jobs.

"C'mon, fellas. You know what this is? You know what this says?" Trump said. "You're going back to work."

But as Sanders' widely viewed video shows, the president's promise to bring back coal jobs is a "flat out lie." U.S. mining jobs have been on the decline for decades whereas the renewable energy sector can create millions of jobs while protecting the climate at the same time.

Indeed, a new Sierra Club analysis of Dept. of Energy 2017 jobs data across the energy sector found that clean energy jobs overwhelm fossil fuels in nearly every state.

"What our job is, is not to expand the use of fossil fuels," Sanders said. "It is to significantly cut back on fossil fuels, move to energy efficiency and sustainable energies like wind, solar and geothermal."

Sanders lamented that the United States is being led by a president who thinks that climate change is a "hoax" created by the Chinese. He believes that Trump's actions threaten "not only this generation" but also "the lives of our kids and our grandchildren," Sanders added. He then vowed to fight the order "every step of the way."

The senator is not alone in his disapproval of the Trump administration's anti-environmental polices.

Jane Goodall called the administration's agenda "depressing," as it could push the United States' pledge to the 2015 Paris climate agreement out of reach.

"I find it immensely depressing because many of us—not just my institute—have been working really hard to create the Paris agreement and global effort to cut carbon emissions," Goodall told reporters before a speech at American University in Washington. "Thinking that the USA isn't going to play its part, such a major industrial country, is really very, very sad and it just means we're going to have to work harder."

The famed primatologist and conservationist went on to say that she's seen the effects of our rapidly warming planet firsthand.

"Because I'm traveling all over the world 300 days a year, I have seen the result of climate change and we know, science has shown, that global temperatures are warming and these so-called greenhouse gases are blanketing the globe," she said.

Goodall then rejected the attitudes of many politicians who actively oppose climate change policies by claiming they do not know the science behind it.

"There's no way we can say climate change isn't happening: it's happened," she said. "The argument that people give is, 'Well, we can't prove that human activities are the main cause of this,' and I just heard the other day that one of the president's people [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt] said, 'Well, we don't think carbon monoxide is the main greenhouse gas.'"

Pruitt notoriously said in an interview with CNBC earlier this month that CO2 is not a primary contributor to global warming.

"So being not a scientist in that field, I tend to listen to scientists who do work in that field, like Nicholas Stern, and I would not dream of refuting the science that shows climate change is happening, it's happening everywhere, it's already having devastating effects in many parts of the word and the droughts are getting worse, flooding's getting worse, storms, hurricanes are getting more frequent and more violent. And the main thing is unpredictability: everywhere I go people say well it's not normally like that at this time of year," Goodall said.

Sponsored

Maryland is on track to become the third state to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for oil and natural gas, after the Senate voted 35-10 on Monday for a measure already approved by the House.

The bill is now headed to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who is in favor of a statewide fracking ban.

Hogan, who once said that fracking is " an economic gold mine," stunned many with his complete turnaround at a press conference earlier this month.

"We must take the next step to move from virtually banning fracking to actually banning fracking," the governor said. "The possible environmental risks of fracking simply outweigh any potential benefits."

Once signed into law, Maryland would be the first state with gas reserves to pass a ban through the legislature.

Don't Frack Maryland, a coalition of more than 140 business, public interest, community, faith, food and climate groups, has campaigned vigorously for a statewide ban through rallies, marches, petition deliveries and phone calls to legislators.

"Today's vote is a result of the work of thousands of Marylanders who came out to town halls, hearings and rallies across the state. The grassroots movement to ban fracking overcame the high-powered lobbyists and deep pockets of the oil and gas industry," said Mitch Jones, Food & Water Watch senior policy advocate. "We worked tirelessly to make sure our legislators and the governor were held accountable to the demands of voters and followed the science. Now we look forward to Governor Hogan signing this bill into law and finally knowing that our water, climate and families will be protected from the dangers of fracking."

Josh Tulkin, director of the Maryland Sierra Club, also commended the Maryland General Assembly for this "bipartisan victory."

"Congratulations go to the thousands of people across the state, particularly those in Western Maryland, who stood up for their beliefs, who organized, lobbied and rallied to get this legislation passed," Tulkin said. "This ban is a major step for Maryland's path to a clean energy economy."

Supporters of fracking say it creates jobs and provides energy security.

"Denying Maryland consumers, businesses and job-seekers the benefits that come with in-state energy production through hydraulic fracturing shuts the door on an important share of the American energy renaissance and western Maryland's future economic growth," Drew Cobbs, executive director of the Maryland Petroleum Council, told the Associated Press after the vote.

But opponents of the drilling process, which involves shooting highly pressurized water and chemicals into underground formations to release oil and gas, cite health and environmental risks such as air and water pollution and earthquakes.

Fracking does not currently take place in Maryland but a moratorium on issuing permits ends in October.

Elisabeth Hoffman of Howard County Climate Action said that alarming research about fracking's harms has emerged during the state moratorium, adding that "voices from fracked states were sounding the alarms as well."

"We are relieved and overjoyed that the state Senate has said NO to fracking," she added.

The implications of the Senate's vote are far reaching, according to Natalie Atherton of Citizen Shale.

"Western Maryland is surrounded by fracking just across our state borders. We have learned from and worked with our neighbors whose health has been compromised for years," Atherton said. "Already Citizen Shale is being approached by communities in other states, hoping to learn how they can ban fracking where they live. This has become a movement of people, and it won't stop with Maryland."

Yesterday's vote was widely applauded by environmental groups especially in light of the Trump administration's apparent assault on environmental regulations.

"Despite Trump's efforts to block climate action and roll back protections for people and the planet, communities in Maryland took matters into their own hands. This is an incredible victory that speaks to the power of grassroots organizing to take on the fossil fuel industry. Fracking is a reckless practice that threatens health and safety while intensifying the climate crisis," 350.org Fracking Campaign coordinator Linda Capato Jr. said.

Capato is urging a similar movement worldwide.

"Maryland is taking a huge step forward, but communities are continuing to suffer as fracking and extreme extraction expands worldwide. This fight is a great reminder that when communities organize, we win," she said. "As more people fight back against this dangerous and dirty industry, elected officials everywhere should follow Maryland and other state's example by banning fracking and putting the health of our communities and climate first."

By Alexandra Rosenmann

President Trump's push for "clean coal," almost makes sense, explained Stephen Colbert.

"I know clean coal sounds like an oxymoron but so does President Trump," the Late Show host noted.

"There's really clean coal," insisted Colbert. "Back in high school, I had a girlfriend in Canada who was a clean coal miner."

Apparently this ex-girlfriend told the host that Canadians "mine the clean coal and put it on that silver-bullet train and then they send it to Narnia where the Keebler Elves use it to power the pump on the fountain of youth. And when you burn clean coal it actually makes the air cleaner. So clean you can just see right through the air, like you can see through [Trump's] lie."

Colbert then pointed out how this aspect of the plan takes America's climate policy back decades, through an updated version of the iconic "Woodsy the Owl."

"Woodsy," famous for his "Give a hoot—don't pollute!" motto, is a national public service icon dating back to 1971.

Except today, Woodsy's message would be "Go Pollute! F*ck the Planet!"

Watch:

Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.

Sponsored

Amid questions over whether the executive order would end U.S. involvement in the Paris agreement—and with no firm indication from the White House about staying in the agreement—top European Union climate official Miguel Arias Cañete expressed "regret" over Trump's policies Tuesday, promising that the European Union "will stand by Paris, we will defend Paris and we will implement Paris."

China showed it would continue to cement its global leadership on climate, as officials reaffirmed to press the country was still committed to the Paris agreement and adding "China's resolve, aims and policy moves in dealing with climate change will not change."

Former United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change leader Christiana Figueres expressed confidence in the agreement's durability, telling Fusion in an interview that the economic benefits of a global clean energy transition make the agreement "unstoppable."

"It's important to understand that no single country, no matter how large or small, can cancel the Paris Climate Agreement," explained Figueres. "The Paris Agreement is a multilateral agreement that has gone into force, and any country has the right to exit the agreement, or in fact to exit the Convention, but that doesn't mean that the multilateral structure is actually canceled."

For a deeper dive:

EU: Washington Post, AP, WSJ, The Guardian China: New York Times, Reuters

Figueres: PRI, Fusion Commentary: The Guardian, Damian Carrington analysis

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for daily Hot News.

I led a coalition of 23 states, cities and counties in opposing President Trump's executive order today that the administration described as paving the way to eliminating the Clean Power Plan rule.

The coalition—which includes the Attorneys General of New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and the District of Columbia, as well as the chief legal officers of the cities of Boulder, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, South Miami and Broward County, Florida—issued the following statement today:

"We strongly oppose President Trump's executive order that seeks to dismantle the Clean Power Plan.

"Addressing our country's largest source of carbon pollution—existing fossil fuel-burning power plants—is both required under the Clean Air Act and essential to mitigating climate change's growing harm to our public health, environments and economies.

"We won't hesitate to protect those we serve—including by aggressively opposing in court President Trump's actions that ignore both the law and the critical importance of confronting the very real threat of climate change."

The Clean Power Plan is the culmination of a decade-long effort by partnering states and cities to require mandatory cuts in the emissions of climate change pollution from fossil fuel-burning power plants under the Clean Air Act. The Clean Power Plan, along with the companion rule applicable to new, modified and reconstructed power plants, will control these emissions by setting limits on the amount of climate change pollution that power plants can emit. The rule for existing plants is expected to eliminate as much climate change pollution as is emitted by more than 160 million cars a year—or 70 percent of the nation's passenger cars.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency adopted the Clean Power Plan through a multi-year stakeholder process that drew heavily on the experience of states and utilities in reducing power plant greenhouse gas emissions. A number of states have already taken a leading role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by moving forward with their own programs. These states recognize that, on such a crucial issue that is already costing taxpayers billions of dollars in storm response and other costs, state action alone will not be enough and strong federal actions like the Clean Power Plan are needed.

In November 2015, a coalition of 25 states, cities and counties, which I led, intervened in defense of the Clean Power Plan against legal challenge in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. The court heard oral argument en banc for a full day in late September; a decision is expected soon.

On Dec. 29, 2016, a broad coalition of states and localities called on President-Elect Trump to continue the federal government's defense of the Clean Power Plan in a letter, urging him to reject "misguided advice" from a group of Attorneys General led by West Virginia to discard the Clean Power Plan.

A quick overview of the Trump administration's pro-fossil fuel agenda and its roster of climate-denying oil and gas cronies in cabinet seats could lead anyone to believe that matters of energy policy are more partisan than ever. And indeed, it's clear that at the national level, the Republican Party as a whole is still largely committed to an antiquated and thoroughly dangerous plan to keep the country hooked on fossil fuels indefinitely.

Yet suddenly, the old rules do not apply. Maryland's state legislature has passed a ban on fracking, which, with the blessing of the Republican governor of the state, is expected to be signed into law any day now. This twist shows fracking is not a partisan issue and puts additional pressure on Democratic leaders to actually lead to protect our communities or air and water and our climate—and oppose fracking.

Earlier this month, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) had this to say about fracking:

"The possible environmental risks of fracking simply outweigh any potential benefits ... I've decided that we must take the next step and move from virtually banning fracking to actually banning fracking."

It's Not Just Maryland: Florida's Bi-Partisan Ban Bill Moving

Now, for the first time, a Republican governor has listened to the science and popular opinion by declaring opposition to fracking. In so doing, he has not just toppled a wall of partisanship on the issue in the state, but also made it impossible for the undecided Senate Democratic leadership to do anything but pass a ban on fracking.

But Republican support for banning fracking is not just limited to Maryland. In Florida, bills have been introduced in both houses by Republicans with a bi-partisan group of co-sponsors to ban fracking in a state. The Senate bill has already advanced through its first committee by a unanimous vote and support for both bills continue to grow.

Maryland's Ban Another Milestone for the Movement

Maryland's ban on fracking will mark the latest in a series of recent milestones for the anti-fracking movement, each pointing to steadily evolving politics on the issue:

New York

The first milestone came when Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned fracking in New York at the end of 2014. Vermont had banned fracking earlier, in what was an important but largely symbolic political statement given that the state does not have gas reserves. New York, though, with its large swath of rural land sitting above the Marcellus shale formation (which also runs under western Maryland), was very much desired by the fracking industry. In response, Food & Water Watch joined with hundreds of local groups to form a robust statewide coalition, New Yorkers Against Fracking, that coordinated an unprecedented multi-year grassroots campaign to ban fracking there.

In the end, Gov. Cuomo was compelled to ban fracking not just by a thorough examination of the science and facts on the hazardous practice—which his Department of Health dutifully undertook—but also by the overwhelming grassroots movement that had emerged around the issue. A huge corner had been turned: For the first time in America, fracking was banned in a place where it was otherwise very likely to happen. Additionally, the anti-fracking movement finally had a leader of national prominence willing to stand up to the fossil fuel industry and say "no."

The 2016 Presidential Race

Another key milestone in the fight against fracking came with the emergence of Sen. Bernie Sanders as a potent political force in the 2016 presidential campaign. Initially dismissed by pundits and party insiders as a fringe candidate, the Sanders campaign steadily rose to become a legitimate threat to Hillary Clinton's political machine. Among Sanders' most popular and potent policy planks was his call to ban fracking everywhere.

Sanders' rise was another shot in the arm for the anti-fracking movement. His clear call to ban fracking may have seemed unusually bold to some, but in fact he was simply responding to the will of the people. By early 2016, national polling had clearly swung against fracking, with a majority of all Americans—and an even greater majority of Democrats—opposed to it. Still, despite his advocacy and the overwhelming support for a fracking ban among Democrats, the party establishment still managed to prevent the party platform from embracing a ban on fracking.

Democratic Governors That Still Support Fracking

Gov. Hogan's support of a fracking ban in Maryland draws a stark contrast with several Democratic governors who claim to have green credentials, but have been unwilling to listen to their constituents and stand up to the oil and gas industry.

California: Gov. Brown

California's Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, for instance has attempted to claim the mantle of environmental leadership in the Trump era, yet he stubbornly defends oil fracking taking place throughout his state, even as his own constituents, county by county, are steadily rejecting the practice.

Fracking is now banned in six California counties and grassroots campaigns are currently underway to ban it in others. Most notably, in November last year, voters in Monterey County took to the polls to ban fracking and further drilling in the county, despite millions being spent by the industry against this grassroots movement. This marked the first county in the country to ban fracking where the industry was already well-established. Not only did Brown not support the community in this case, but he continues to allow dangerous practices like the use of oil wastewater to irrigate crops and the injection of wastewater in to aquifers.

Pennsylvania: Gov. Wolf

In Pennsylvania, Democrat Tom Wolf was elected governor in 2014, promising to bring an outsider reform perspective to a state that has suffered the blight of fracking for years. However, while Wolf has pledged to continue to prevent fracking from being done in the Delaware River Basin, he remains committed to allowing and potentially expanding fracking throughout the rest of state even as residents fall ill and more and more water supplies are contaminated. His current budget proposal calls for a new extraction tax on gas drilling, which would make the state's budget dependent on the continuation of this dirty practice.

And, Gov. Wolf also continues to push additional infrastructure linked to fracking. Just this month his office released a study backing four new ethane cracker plants to support fracking for natural gas liquids in Pennsylvania. The report declared that these developments would also attract "a world-class petrochemical industry" to the state, provided there were sufficient pipelines and storage facilities to enable it. This will ensure continued drilling and fracking in Pennsylvania.

Colorado: Gov. Hickenlooper

Colorado is another state where a Democratic governor has sided with the oil and gas industry over the health and safety of its communities. Gov. Hickenlooper has a long history of supporting fracking and related activities. In 2012, he appeared in industry-sponsored ads proclaiming fracking to be safe. The following year, he sued the city of Longmont after it passed its own local ballot measure banning fracking. He won and the people of Longmont lost.

Most recently, Hickenlooper was an outspoken opponent of the 2016 ballot initiative effort that would have guaranteed local municipalities like Longmont the right to enact moratoriums or bans on fracking and enact a 2,500 foot setback to protect water, health and communities.

Growing the Movement

As it becomes increasingly clear that we need to leave the vast majority of fossil fuels in the ground in order to stave off the worst impacts of climate change, the Maryland ban and positive movement in Florida proves that fracking is a bipartisan issue. But with Republicans nationally denying climate change and several leading Democrats refusing to take meaningful action to leave fossil fuels in the ground, it's critical that we continue to organize and build political power in legislative districts across the country to fight for what we really need for the future of the planet: A ban on fracking, rejection of related infrastructure and a quick transition to 100 percent renewable energy future.

Republican legislators in Florida and the governor in Maryland are far better on oil and gas policy than so called environmental leader Jerry Brown. As a movement, we need to hold all these elected officials accountable—regardless of party affiliation—and highlight those who are taking meaningful action for the survival of our planet.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday to begin the process of repealing several Obama-era actions tackling the climate crisis and protecting clean air and water, including steps to begin the process of dismantling the Clean Power Plan, roll back Oil and Gas New Source Performance Standards, rescind National Environmental Policy Act guidance that directs agencies to account for the climate crisis and end efforts to reform the broken federal coal leasing program.

A new Sierra Club analysis of Department of Energy 2017 jobs data across the energy sector makes it clear that the sector Scott Pruitt and Trump will be attacking—clean energy—employs far more American workers than the fossil fuel industry. Coal is declining so rapidly—thanks to grassroots activism and market forces in the U.S. and abroad—and clean energy is growing at such a fast pace that the U.S. is on track to meet its Clean Power Plan goals and the U.S. has a path to meet its goals under the Paris climate agreement.

Pruitt's own agency confirmed that the Clean Power Plan will lower electricity rates while saving billions of dollars and thousands of lives every year. Meanwhile, there are legions of obstacles Trump must overcome to actually dismantle the Clean Power Plan—he can't do it with the stroke of a pen.

Donald Trump's executive order would let dirty power plants spew unlimited pollution into our air while ignoring the climate crisis, unraveling protections that are designed to save billions of dollars and thousands of lives. In fact, Trump's sweeping order is the single biggest attack on climate action in U.S. history, period.

The safeguards Trump is trying to throw out protect all families in America by curbing dangerous carbon pollution and reducing other dangerous pollutants like mercury, methane and sulfur dioxide—but unfortunately Trump would rather pad the fossil fuel industry's profits. But it's not just padding their profits with threats to our health, it's also being done with our wallets. Ending the coal leasing moratorium does nothing but sell-out our publicly-owned lands for pennies on the dollar to coal companies.

Worse, Trump's attack ignores reality—not just the reality of the climate crisis, but the reality that the clean energy economy is rapidly growing in both red and blue states, creating jobs and safeguarding our air and water. The best way to protect workers and the environment is to invest in growing the clean energy economy that is already outpacing fossil fuels and ensuring no one is left behind at a time when we can declare independence from dirty fuels by embracing clean energy, this action could only deepen our dependence on fuels that pollute our air, water and climate while making our kids sicker.

Meanwhile, grassroots advocates have helped push coal to its lowest level in history by retiring nearly 250 plants nationwide and cities ranging from Salt Lake City, Utah to Georgetown, Texas are committing to 100 percent clean energy.

Because of strong local action to replace coal and gas with clean energy we are on track to meet the Clean Power Plan's 2030 emissions targets as soon as next year and clean energy growth nationwide will continue unabated. However, the Clean Power Plan is a critical tool that helps every state benefit from the clean energy economy and plan for an orderly and effective transition away from fossil fuels. Sadly, Trump's aggressive pro-polluter action means residents living downwind of the remaining coal- and gas-powered power plants will suffer from dirtier air while missing out on many of the benefits of the fair and just clean energy economy the Clean Power Plan would help create. And kids everywhere face a deeply uncertain future, with a president content to let the climate crisis spiral out of control.

The good news is that the safeguards Trump wants to shred—like the Clean Power Plan—are on a strong legal footing and the public will have the chance to voice its objections as the Trump administration tries to roll them back. Trump can't reverse our clean energy and climate progress with the stroke of a pen and we'll fight Trump in the courts, in the streets and at the state and local level across America to protect the health of every community.

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Food
Is Bill Gates Right About GMOs?

By Stacy Malkan

The world's wealthiest man really wants Africa to embrace genetically engineered foods or GMOs. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal's Rebecca Blumenstein, Bill Gates explained his views about the controversial food technology:

"What are called GMOs are done by changing the genes of the plant, and it's done in a way where there's a very thorough safety procedure, and it's pretty incredible because it reduces the amount of pesticide you need, raises productivity (and) can help with malnutrition by getting vitamin fortification

And so I think, for Africa, this is going to make a huge difference, particularly as they face climate change ... The U.S., China, Brazil, are using these things and if you want farmers in Africa to improve nutrition and be competitive on the world market, you know, as long as the right safety things are done, that's really beneficial. It's kind of a second round of the green revolution. And so the Africans I think will choose to let their people have enough to eat."

If Gates is right, that's great news. That means the key to solving the hunger problem is lowering barriers for biotechnology companies to get their climate-resilient, nutrition-improved genetically engineered crops to market.

So is Gates right?

Another video released the same week as the Gates Wall Street Journal interview provides a very different perspective.

The short film by the Center for Food Safety describes how the state of Hawaii, which hosts more open-air fields of experimental genetically engineered crops than any other state, has become contaminated with high volumes of toxic pesticides.

The film and report explain that five multinational agrichemical companies run 97 percent of genetically engineered (GE) field tests on Hawaii, and the large majority of the crops are engineered to survive herbicides. According to the video:

"With so many GE field tests in such a small state, many people in Hawaii live, work and go to school near intensively sprayed test sites. Pesticides often drift so it's no wonder that children and school and entire communities are getting sick. To make matters even worse, in most cases, these companies are not even required to disclose what they're spraying."

If the Center for Food Safety is right, that's a big problem. Both these stories can't be right at the same time, can they?

Facts on the ground

Following the thread of the Gates' narrative, one would expect the agricultural fields of Hawaii—the leading testing grounds for genetically engineered crops in the U.S.—to be bustling with low-pesticide, climate-resilient, vitamin-enhanced crops.

Instead, the large majority of GMO crops being grown on Hawaii and in the U.S. are herbicide-tolerant crops that are driving up the use of glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup and a chemical the World Health Organization's cancer experts classify as "probably carcinogenic to humans."

In the 20 years since Monsanto introduced “Roundup Ready" GMO corn and soy, glyphosate use has increased 15-fold and it is now "the most heavily-used agricultural chemical in the history of the world," reported Douglas Main in Newsweek.

The heavy herbicide use has accelerated weed resistance on millions of acres of farmland. To deal with this problem, Monsanto is rolling out new genetically engineered soybeans designed to survive a combination of weed-killing chemicals, glyphosate and dicamba. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has yet to approve the new herbicide mix.

But Dow Chemical just got the green light from a federal judge for its new weed-killer combo of 2,4D and glyphosate, called Enlist Duo, designed for Dow's Enlist GMO seeds. EPA tossed aside its own safety data to approve Enlist Duo, reported Patricia Callahan in Chicago Tribune.

The agency then reversed course and asked the court to vacate its own approval—a request the judge denied without giving reason.

All of this raises questions about the claims Bill Gates made in his Wall Street Journal interview about thorough safety procedures and reduced use of pesticides.

Concerns grow in Hawaii, Argentina, Iowa

Instead of bustling with promising new types of resilient adaptive GMO crops, Hawaii is bustling with grassroots efforts to protect communities from pesticide drift, require chemical companies to disclose the pesticides they are using, and restrict GMO crop-growing in areas near schools and nursing homes.

Schools near farms in Kauai have been evacuated due to pesticide drift, and doctors in Hawaii say they are observing increases in birth defects and other illnesses they suspect may be related to pesticides, reported Christopher Pala in the Guardian and The Ecologist.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, prenatal and early-life pesticide exposures are linked to childhood cancers, decreased cognitive function, behavioral problems and birth defects.

In Argentina—the world's third largest producer of GMO crops—doctors are also raising concerns about higher than average rates of cancer and birth defects they suspect are related to pesticides, reported Michael Warren in the Associated Press.

Warren's story from 2013 cited evidence of "uncontrolled pesticide applications:"

"The Associated Press documented dozens of cases around the country where poisons are applied in ways unanticipated by regulatory science or specifically banned by existing law. The spray drifts into schools and homes and settles over water sources; farmworkers mix poisons with no protective gear; villagers store water in pesticide containers that should have been destroyed."

In a follow-up story, Monsanto defended glyphosate as safe and called for more controls to stop the misuse of agricultural chemicals. Warren reported:

"Argentine doctors interviewed by the AP said their caseloads - not laboratory experiments - show an apparent correlation between the arrival of intensive industrial agriculture and rising rates of cancer and birth defects in rural communities, and they're calling for broader, longer-term studies to rule out agrochemical exposure as a cause of these and other illnesses."

Monsanto spokesman Thomas Helscher responded, “the absence of reliable data makes it very difficult to establish trends in disease incidence and even more difficult to establish causal relationships. To our knowledge there are no established causal relationships."

The absence of reliable data is compounded by the fact that most chemicals are assessed for safety on an individual basis, yet exposures typically involve chemical combinations.

Read page 1

"We are breathing, eating and drinking agrochemicals"

A recent UCLA study found that California regulators are failing to assess the health risks of pesticide mixtures, even though farm communities—including areas near schools, day care centers and parks—are exposed to multiple pesticides, which can have larger-than-anticipated health impacts.

Exposures also occur by multiple routes. Reporting on health problems and community concerns in Avia Teria, a rural town in Argentina surrounded by soybean fields, Elizabeth Grossman wrote in National Geographic:

“Because so many pesticides are used in Argentina's farm towns, the challenges of understanding what may be causing the health problems are considerable, says Nicolas Loyacono, a University of Buenos Aires environmental health scientist and physician. In these communities, Loyacono says, "we are breathing, eating, and drinking agrochemicals."

In Iowa, which grows more genetically engineered corn than any other state in the U.S., water supplies have been polluted by chemical run off from corn and animal farms, reported Richard Manning in the February issue of Harper's Magazine:

“Scientists from the state's agricultural department and Iowa State University have penciled out and tested a program of such low-tech solutions. If 40% of the cropland claimed by corn were planted with other crops and permanent pasture, the whole litany of problems caused by industrial agriculture - certainly the nitrate pollution of drinking water - would begin to evaporate."

These experiences in three areas leading the world in GMO crop production are obviously relevant to the question of whether Africa should embrace GMOs as the best solution for future food security. So why isn't Bill Gates discussing these issues?

Propaganda watch

GMO proponents like to focus on possible future uses of genetic engineering technology, while downplaying, ignoring or denying the risks. They often try to marginalize critics who raise concerns as uninformed or anti-science; or, as Gates did, they suggest a false choice that countries must accept GMOs if they want "to let their people have enough to eat."

This logic leaps over the fact that, after decades of development, most GMO crops are still engineered to withstand herbicides or produce insecticides (or both) while more complicated (and much hyped) traits, such as vitamin-enhancement, have failed to get off the ground.

"Like the hover boards of the Back to the Future franchise, golden rice is an old idea that looms just beyond the grasp of reality," reported Tom Philpott in Mother Jones.

Meanwhile, the multinational agrichemical companies that also own a large portion of the seed business are profiting from herbicide-resistant seeds and the herbicides they are designed to resist, and many new GMO applications in the pipeline follow this same vein.

These corporations have also spent hundreds of million dollars on public relations efforts to promote industrial-scale, chemical-intensive, GMO agriculture as the answer to world hunger - using similar talking points that Gates put forth in his Wall Street Journal interview, and that Gates-funded groups also echo.

For a recent article in The Ecologist, I analyzed the messaging of the Cornell Alliance for Science, a pro-GMO communications program launched in 2014 with a $5.6 million grant from the Gates Foundation.

My analysis found that the group provides little information about possible risks or downsides of GMOs, and instead amplifies the agrichemical industry's PR mantra that the science is settled on the safety and necessity of GMOs.

For example, the group's FAQ states, "You are more likely to be hit by an asteroid than be hurt by GE food - and that's not an exaggeration."

This contradicts the World Health Organization, which states, "it is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GM foods." More than 300 scientists, MDs and academics have said there is "no scientific consensus on GMO safety."

The concerns scientists are raising about the glyphosate-based herbicides that go with GMOs are also obviously relevant to the safety discussion.

Yet rather than raising these issues as part of a robust science discussion, the Cornell Alliance for Science deploys fellows and associates to downplay concerns about pesticides in Hawaii and attack journalists who report on these concerns.

It's difficult to understand how these sorts of shenanigans are helping to solve hunger in Africa.

Public science for sale

The Cornell program is the latest example of a larger troubling pattern of universities and academics serving corporate interests over science.

Recent scandals relating to this trend include Coca-Cola funded professors who downplayed the link between diet and obesity, a climate-skeptic professor who described his scientific papers as "deliverables" for corporate funders, and documents obtained by my group U.S. Right to Know that reveal professors working closely with Monsanto to promote GMOs without revealing their ties to Monsanto.

In an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech professor who helped expose the Flint water crisis, warned that public science is in grave danger:

“I am very concerned about the culture of academia in this country and the perverse incentives that are given to young faculty. The pressures to get funding are just extraordinary. We're all on this hedonistic treadmill - pursuing funding, pursuing fame, pursuing h-index - and the idea of science as a public good is being lost ... People don't want to hear this. But we have to get this fixed, and fixed fast, or else we are going to lose this symbiotic relationship with the public. They will stop supporting us."

As the world's wealthiest foundation and as major funders of academic research, especially in the realm of agriculture, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is in a position to support science in the public interest.

Gates Foundation strategies, however, often align with corporate interests. A 2014 analysis by the Barcelona-based research group Grain found that about 90 percent of the $3 billion the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation spent to benefit hungry people in the world's poorest countries went to wealthy nations, mostly for high-tech research.

A January 2016 report by the UK advocacy group Global Justice Now argues that Gates Foundation spending, especially on agricultural projects, is exacerbating inequality and entrenching corporate power globally.

"Perhaps what is most striking about the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is that despite its aggressive corporate strategy and extraordinary influence across governments, academics and the media, there is an absence of critical voices," the group said.

But corporate voices are close at hand. The head of the Gates Foundation agricultural research and development team is Rob Horsch, who spent decades of his career at Monsanto.

The case for an honest conversation

Rather than making the propaganda case for GMOs, Bill Gates and Gates-funded groups could play an important role in elevating the scientific integrity of the GMO debate, and ensuring that new food technologies truly benefit communities.

Technology isn't inherently good or bad; it all depends on the context. As Gates put it, "as long as the right safety things are done." But those safety things aren't being done.

Protecting children from toxic pesticide exposures in Hawaii and Argentina and cleaning up water supplies in Iowa doesn't have to prevent genetic engineering from moving forward. But those issues certainly highlight the need to take a precautionary approach with GMOs and pesticides.

That would require robust and independent assessments of health and environmental impacts, and protections for farmworkers and communities.

That would require transparency, including labeling GMO foods as well as open access to scientific data, public notification of pesticide spraying, and full disclosure of industry influence over academic and science organizations.

It would require having a more honest conversation about GMOs and pesticides so that all nations can use the full breadth of scientific knowledge as they consider whether or not to adopt agrichemical industry technologies for their food supply.

Stacy Malkan is co-founder and co-director of the consumer group U.S. Right to Know. She is author of the book, 'Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry,' (New Society Publishing, 2007) and also co-founded the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. Follow Stacy Malkan on Twitter: @stacymalkan.

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The majority of European Union governments voted against a proposal to authorize two new strains of genetically modified (GMO) maize today.

The two varieties of maize, DuPont Pioneer's 1507 and Syngenta's Bt11, kill insects by producing its own pesticide and is also resistant Bayer's glufosinate herbicide.

If approved, the varieties would be the first new GMO crops authorized for cultivation in the EU since 1998.

However, as Reuters noted, the votes against authorization did not decisively block their entry to the EU because the opposition did not represent a "qualified majority."

A qualified majority is achieved when at least 16 countries, representing at least 65 percent of the European population, vote in favor or against. (Scroll down for the vote breakdown)

The majority of EU governments also voted against renewing the license for another maize, Monsanto's MON810, the only GMO crop currently grown in the EU. The votes against its renewal was not considered decisive either.

MON810 is banned in 17 EU countries and is grown on less than 1 percent of agricultural land, mainly in Spain and Portugal, according to Friends of the Earth Europe.

The Brussels-based environmental advocacy group says the fates of the three crops now rests with the European Commission and is calling on Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, to reject the new GMO crops.

"Whether he likes it or not, the buck now stops at Jean-Claude Juncker," said Mute Schimpf, food campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, in a statement. "He can put himself on the side of the majority of countries, citizens and farmers who do not want genetically-modified crops, or he can back the mega-corporations behind the industrialization of our countryside."

Greenpeace EU explained that if the three authorizations are approved, they would only be valid in nine out of 28 EU countries, as well as in three regions (England in the UK, Flanders and the Brussels region in Belgium). The remaining 19 EU countries and regions in the UK and Belgium have used the EU's opt-out mechanism to prevent GMO crops from being grown in their territories.

Although GMO crops are grown in many parts of the world, the topic is fraught with contention in Europe. While many scientific reviews have concluded that the crops are safe for human consumption and the environment, there are many others that conclude the opposite. Many EU countries have strict laws against GMOs due to public health and environmental concerns. All 28 EU member countries require GMO labeling.

Friends of the Earth Europe has expressed safety concerns of these GMO crops, "especially whether they unintentionally kill butterflies and moths."

"There is no political or public support for genetically-modified crops; farmers don't even want them. It's time for President Juncker to pull the plug on this failed technology once and for all, and to focus on how we make farming resilient to climate change, save family farms and stop the destruction of nature. It's time to close our countryside to genetically-modified crops and move on," Schimpf added.

Similarly, Greenpeace EU food policy director Franziska Achterberg commented that the European Commission should back away from supporting "risky" products.

"When he was elected, Commission President Juncker promised more democratic decision-making. This vote leaves no doubt that approving these GMO crops would break that promise," Achterberg said in a statement. "A majority of governments, parliamentarians and Europeans oppose them, and two thirds of European countries ban GMO cultivation on their lands. Instead of backing risky products peddled by multinational corporations, the commission should support ecological farming and the solutions it provides for rural areas, farmers and the environment."

Katherine Paul, associate director of Organic Consumers Association agrees. "President Juncker has an opportunity to do the right thing, by siding with the majority of EU countries that oppose the introduction of these new GMO crops," she told EcoWatch.

"To do anything less, would send EU leaders and citizens the wrong message—that corporations can buy the approval of crops that farmers and citizens don't want, crops that must be grown using chemicals that are toxic to humans and the environment. We hope Mr. Juncker will stand up to corporate pressure, and instead come down in favor of health, safety and organic, regenerative alternatives to chemical agriculture."

Ken Roseboro of the Organic & Non-GMO Report shared the same sentiment. "The European Union has remained steadfast in rejecting GM crops in their member states for nearly 20 years, and these votes reflect that anti-GMO stand," he said. "The European people don't want to eat GM foods, there is not market for them there, and yet the biotech companies continue to try to push their GMOs. Hopefully,Commission President Juncker will side with the wishes of the majority of the European people and reject approval of these GM crops."

Here is Monday's vote breakdown, according to Friends of the Earth Europe:

On renewal of GMO maize MON 810

8 Member States voted in favor, representing 34.45% of the EU population: CZ, EE, ES, NL, RO, FI, SV, UK.

6 Member States abstained, representing 22.26% of the EU population: BE, DE, HR, MT, PT, SK

14 Member states voted to reject, representing 43.29% of the EU population: BG, DK, IE, EL, FR, CY, LV, LU, HU, AT, PL, SL, IT, LT 14

On authorisation of GMO maize 1507

6 Member States voted in favor, representing 30.45% of the EU population: EE, ES, NL, RO, FI, UK

6 Member States abstained, representing 22.28% of the EU population: BE, CZ, DE, HR, MT, SK

16 Member states voted to reject, representing 47.27% of the EU population: BG, DK, IE, EL, FR, CY, LV, LU, HU, AT, PL, SL, SV, IT, LT, PT

On authorisation of GMO maize Bt 11

6 Member States voted in favor, representing 30.45% of the EU population: EE, ES, NL, RO, FI, UK

6 Member States abstained, representing 22.28% of the EU population: BE, CZ, DE, HR, MT, SK

16 Member states voted to reject, representing 47.27% of the EU population: BG, DK, IE, EL, FR, CY, LV, LU, HU, AT, PL, SL, SV, IT, LT, PT 47,27%

By Fossil Free Penn

At 9 a.m. today, 33 students at the University of Pennsylvania entered College Hall, sleeping bags in tow, to sit in with two demands. These demands were:

1. The immediate divestment of the University's endowment from all companies involved with the extraction of coal and tar sands.

2. The establishment and commencement of a plan for full divestment from all fossil fuel corporations within six months.

The students plan to stay until these demands are met and are prepared to risk potential university disciplinary action.

"The fossil fuel industry is directly responsible for the continued exacerbation of climate change, a crisis that disproportionately harms marginalized people and groups," Wharton freshman Megan Kyne said. "The University of Pennsylvania's investment in this financially, logically and morally unsound industry perpetuates practices that endanger all and contradict its own claims of dedication to sustainability and equality."

After more than two years of Fossil Free Penn's campaigning, students sit in out of necessity. In response to a 48-page research document detailing the merits of divestment from the top 200 fossil fuel companies, the board of trustees rejected the proposal with a mere 19-word rebuttal in September 2016. Most recently, in response to an open invitation to engage in a public discussion about divestment, the board of trustees refused.

"We have exhausted every other avenue for appealing to reason and logic, but the administration has been uncooperative. They leave us no choice but to sit in," college senior Peter Thacher said.

Students and faculty support Fossil Free Penn's demands, 87.8 percent of undergraduate students voted in favor of fossil fuel divestment in a February 2015 referendum and a faculty letter of support released in April 2016 has amassed 129 signatures. Thus, Fossil Free Penn demands a plan for full fossil fuel divestment. Immediately, however, Fossil Free Penn calls for divestment from coal and tar sands, an imperative step that peer institutions have already made.

Fossil Free Penn and its allies are prepared to maintain their presence in College Hall indefinitely in hopes of ensuring climate justice.

Climate change is amplifying a jet stream pattern responsible for driving many extreme weather events, new research has found.

The study, published Monday in the journal Scientific Reports, found that climate change has enhanced a planetary airstream that has influenced many recent extreme, persistent weather events, including the 2010 Russian heat wave and wildfires, the 2011 Texas heat wave and drought and the 2013 European floods. The study is the first of its kind to make such a robust connection.

"Human activity has been suspected of contributing to this pattern before, but now we uncover a clear fingerprint of human activity," climate scientist Michael Mann, author of the study, told The Guardian.

For a deeper dive:

The Guardian, The Independent, Phys.org

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for daily Hot News.

By Pam Eaton

The Trump administration is desperate to give another gift to the fossil fuel industry—and using every trick in the book to do it.

Last week, the administration asked a court to stop a rule designed to ensure taxpayers get a fair return from oil, gas and coal sold from mines and wells on public lands by asking for a "stay." The "Valuation Rule" was designed to prevent coal companies from pocketing millions of dollars that rightly should go to the American taxpayers. The Wilderness Society had filed court papers to intervene in the court case to defend the rule when the administration asked the court to put the rule on hold.

The new court filing came on the heels of an earlier action last month to shortchange the public to benefit the fossil fuel industry. At the end of February, the Office of Natural Resource Revenue, the agency that is charged with making sure the public gets what it owed for oil, gas and coal on public lands, unilaterally and unlawfully told companies they didn't have to comply with the rule.

"This is an attack on one of our bedrock minerals and environmental laws, the Mineral Leasing Act, which requires the government to get fair market value when federal fossil fuels like coal are developed," said Nada Culver, senior counsel and director of The Wilderness Society's Bureau of Land Management Action Center. "In abandoning the rule, the Trump administration [was] trying to cloak itself in legal terms like 'stay,'—but the action is still not legal," Culver said.

Having given the fossil fuel companies a break from having to pay, the Trump administration intends to make it permanent by rescinding the rule altogether.

The Valuation Rule is also under attack in both the House and the Senate where bills have been introduced to strike down the rule using the Congressional Review Act. Only used once before this year due to its extreme nature, the Congressional Review Act circumvents normal federal procedures and empowers Congress to pursue its own agenda and undo commonsense agency rules.

The administration is using similar tactics to undo other important safeguards on our public lands. On March 15, the Trump administration asked another court to stop legal proceeding challenging the Hydraulic Fracking Rule so it can get started on rescinding that rule too.

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