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Neil deGrasse Tyson has an urgent message for Americans, especially for some of our most powerful politicians.

In a video posted April 19 on his Facebook page, which already has more than 16 million views, the famed astrophysicist warns that science denial could ultimately destroy democracy.

Alongside the video post, Tyson wrote:

"Dear Facebook Universe, I offer this four-minute video on 'Science in America' containing what may be the most important words I have ever spoken. As always, but especially these days, keep looking up."

The video shows how the U.S. rose from—as Tyson calls it— a "backwoods country" to "one of the greatest nations the world has ever known" because of science.

"But in this, the 21st century, when it comes time to make decisions about science, it seems to me that people have lost the ability to judge what is true and what is not," he laments.

"When you have an established scientific emergent truth it is true, whether or not you believe in it," he says. "And the sooner you understand that, the faster we can get on with the political conversations about how to solve the problems that face us."

The video then shows debates on heated scientific topics, including GMOs, climate change and vaccines, as well as a clip of Vice President Mike Pence, then a congressman, saying on the House floor, "Let us demand that educators around America teach evolution not as fact, but as theory."

Tyson says this shift in attitudes is a "recipe for the complete dismantling of our informed democracy."

Watch the video here:

By Mikey Jane Moran

"There are no cod left in Cape Cod," said a New England chef with a shrug of his shoulders. And he really means no cod. The salty docks of Gloucester, Massachusetts—once the hub of American fishing culture, bustling with wind-blown fishermen hauling nets full of squirming fish—is nearly deserted.

Due to decades of overfishing, coupled with warming oceans, fish counts within New England's cod fisheries have dwindled to 3 to 4 percent of their historic levels, according to National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates. Populations are facing collapse.

Sacred Cod follows the stories of the people whose way of life is disappearing along with the fish. Fishermen are selling their boats, coast-side industry is drying up and coastal towns once rich with heritage lie abandoned. What was a $118 million fishing industry in the 1990s is now a $9 million industry.

"You may be shaking the hand of the last ice man in Gloucester," said one lonely businessman featured in Sacred Cod. Fewer fishermen, after all, translate to less demand for ice. "We sell more T-shirts than ice."

The documentary details how last-ditch government fishing bans have fomented a culture of mistrust between the scientific community and those fishermen who rely on full nets to support their families. Now, all are in a race to find a compromise before the Gulf of Maine becomes a ghost coast. The documentary portrays climate change not as a looming problem but as a reality shaping lives and communities in the here and now.

David Abel, environment reporter for the Boston Globe and one among a team of filmmakers behind Sacred Cod, has been documenting the cod population collapse since it was first on the horizon, tracing the nuanced problem it has become. We spoke with him about the documentary and about his hopes for the future of cod.

Mikey Jane Moran: You've poured years of research into this topic. Why cod?

David Abel: Cod itself is this iconic species. A wooden replica of the fish hangs from the rafters of the [Massachusetts] state house—it's a symbol of what brought Europeans to the states. It's what sustained the pilgrims when they first moved here and built New England into one of the wealthiest places on the planet. And [the industry's] collapse has caused tremendous hardship for many fishermen.

While Sacred Cod never loses its environmental message, its storytelling stems primarily from the perspective of the fishermen. Why this approach?

We wanted to make people understand there are tangible, human consequences to changes in our environment and to decisions made by government agencies like NOAA. Efforts to regulate things like fisheries in some cases have very meaningful impact on people. We have seen a dramatic collapse in this once incredibly abundant fishery and that collapse has led to hundreds of fishermen losing their jobs. We thought it was important to connect the environmental concerns with the human concerns.

This is an issue of the commons—it impacts everyone. Yet, the two sides are at odds. What is the hope for a compromise?

Everyone's hope, no matter where they stand, is that the fishery rebounds. If you ask scientists and bureaucrats, they hope that surveys are wrong and that the data somehow is flawed. But in repeated surveys, the data seems to be borne out that cod have declined substantially. Scientists and regulators are not trying to make fishermen miserable. There is an argument for trying to reduce the pressure on cod so hopefully, one day, they can rebound, as we are seeing in other places, like Newfoundland, Canada.

The hope is that fishermen and federal regulators recognize the benefits of protecting the fisheries and protecting the fishermen. Trying to find a way to create a sustainable fishery is vital to the health of the ecosystem and the health of the community.

The documentary ends on a somewhat happy note. Are you optimistic about the state of cod in New England?

I don't think it has a happy ending as much as an offer of hope and a recognition that things can change. If we really commit to creating sustainable fisheries—by creating rules that are sensible and that work—a fishery that has been decimated can rebound. Not all endings have to be apocalyptic.

Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.

Sponsored
Fracking

Energy Transfer Partners' new Rover Pipeline has spilled millions of gallons of drilling fluids into Ohio's wetlands. Construction of the $4.2 billion project only began last month.

According to regulatory filings obtained by Sierra Club Ohio, on April 13, 2 million gallons of drilling fluids spilled into a wetland adjacent to the Tuscarawas River in Stark County. The next day, another 50,000 gallons of drilling fluids released into a wetland in Richland County in the Mifflin Township. The spills occurred as part of an operation associated with the pipeline's installation.

Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners is the same operator behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.

The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the Rover Pipeline's construction in February. The 713-mile pipeline will carry fracked gas across Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and Michigan and Canada, and crosses three major rivers, the Maumee, Sandusky and Portage, all of which feed into Lake Erie. The pipeline is designed to transport 3.25 billion cubic feet of domestically produced natural gas per day.

Completion of the Rover Pipeline is planned for November 2017. Energy Transfer spokeswoman Alexis Daniel told Bloomberg that the spills will not change the project's in-service date.

"Once the incidents were noted, we immediately began containment and mitigation and will continue until the issues are completely resolved," she said.

Environmental groups are fighting to stop the pipeline's construction.

"Construction just began just a few weeks ago, yet Energy Transfer has already spilled more than 2 million gallons of drilling fluids in two separate disasters, confirming our worst fears about this dangerous pipeline before it has even gone into operation," said Jen Miller, director of the Ohio chapter of the Sierra Club.

"We've always said that it's never a question of whether a pipeline accident will occur, but rather a question of when. These disasters prove that the fossil fuel industry is unable to even put a pipeline into use before it spills dangerous chemicals into our precious waterways and recreation areas.

"Construction on the Rover Pipeline must be stopped immediately, as an investigation into Energy Transfer's total failure to adequately protect our wetlands and communities is conducted."

Fracking
BP Global

BP and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials spent the holiday weekend trying to repair a leaking oil well on Alaska's North Slope. Officials said the well is too unstable to shut down because of frigid temps in the high Arctic, but have released the pressure on one of the main leaks.

It appears that 1.5 acres of the remote area near Deadhorse, Alaska have been affected by the spill. Native communities were notified and non-essential workers were forced to evacuate. However, no injuries to crew or wildlife have been reported.

"Crews are on the scene and are developing plans to bring the well under control," said BP spokesperson Brett Clanton, in a release on Saturday. "Safety will remain our top priority as we move through this process."

There were initially two main leaks, one near the top of the rig that was releasing methane and the other down the assembly line spraying crude oil in a mist over the ice. Officials were able to detect both leaks using infrared cameras.

"Based on an overflight with infrared cameras, the release appears to be contained to the gravel pad surrounding the wellhead and has not reached the tundra," Clanton said.

Crews are still getting the situation under control and no updates have been reported in the last 12 hours.

As natural gas operations have begun taking shape in Alaska, reports of leaks have become more frequent. There had been an ongoing, very large leak occurring at Cook Inlet, which was spewing 210,000 cubic feet of gas per day for nearly four months, but finally Hilcorp Alaska announced Friday that a temporary repair has stopped the leak. However, the effects on marine life, including critically endangered beluga whales, is still unknown.

"Oil companies continue to treat Alaska with reckless abandonment, threatening its pristine waters, wildlife and communities," said Dan Ritzman, director of Sierra Club's Alaska Program.

"Big Oil has repeatedly proven it can't drill for fossil fuels safely, it has repeatedly proven they can't transport it safely, and it has repeatedly proven they can't be trusted with the safety and well-being of the state and its habitat. It's past time that Donald Trump and his friends in the fossil fuel industry put Alaska ahead of corporate polluter's profits which only threaten the state's beauty and environment."

Sponsored
The Smoky Hills Wind Farm in Kansas. Photo credit: Drenaline

By Molly Taft

When President Trump signed his executive order targeting Obama-era climate policies in March, he made sure to get the optics right. "You're going back to work," he promised the coal miners surrounding him. "We will produce American coal to power American industry."

But for all the show during the signing, power utilities don't seem to have gotten Trump's message. Last week, a Reuters survey of utilities in states that sued to block the Clean Power Plan found that, despite Trump's executive order, most remained committed to their long-term plans to shift away from coal. Coal-fired power plants, the largest customer for the American coal industry, will continue their slow decline, spurred by the rise of cheap natural gas and renewable energy.

Then, last month, coal got a break in Kansas, where the state Supreme Court ruled against Earthjustice and the Sierra Club, granting a permit to the Sunflower Electric Power Corporation to build an expansion to its coal-fired power plant in Holcomb. The expansion would be the first coal-fired plant built in the state since the original Holcomb plant came online in 1983, according to the Sierra Club.

If the White House is right—if onerous environmental regulations are dragging down the coal industry—the ruling in the Holcomb case should have been cause for celebration. But the utility has kept quiet on its plans for the plant. In a statement following the court's decision, Sunflower said it would "continue to assess the project relative to other resources," such as wind and natural gas. A spokesperson for the company reiterated that position via email, saying, "With all project decisions, Sunflower factors in the myriad influences in the electric industry."

When asked if regulatory changes would impact plans for the plant, a Sunflower spokesperson would only confirm that the company "has always followed state and federal regulations and will continue to do so."

Dorothy Barnett of the Climate + Energy Project, a renewable-energy advocacy group not involved with the lawsuit, noted Sunflower's silence on the Holcomb expansion in recent appearances before the state legislature.

"I almost feel like I bet they'd wished that they would lose," she said. "They would have been able to say, 'Oh, we did our best, blame the Sierra Club.' In reality, I'd be surprised if Sunflower customers would be willing or able to construct that plant."

If Sunflower decides to proceed with construction, the new Holcomb plant would join an exclusive club. Only four other coal plants are proposed or under construction in the U.S., according to SourceWatch, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy. Two of these projects have faced major setbacks in recent months and the other two have stalled. Meanwhile, 251 U.S. coal plants have been retired since 2010.

Ironically, if constructed, the Holcomb expansion will owe its existence to renewable energy. At the time the plant was initially proposed, clean-power advocates were pushing for a renewable-energy mandate in the legislature. The state struck a deal: Sunflower could build its coal plant if the company and state utilities supported the legislature's new mandate, which would require utilities to source 20 percent of their power from renewables by 2020.

The deal was a shot of adrenaline for renewables in Kansas—especially the wind industry. Today, Kansas generates 30 percent of its electricity from wind, more than any state except Iowa. "Even the companies who were so supportive and wanted to build [the Holcomb] plant themselves have invested in wind energy in the state," Barnett said in an interview with Climate Nexus.

Wind power is thriving in the Great Plains states. AWEA

In 2015, the Kansas legislature did away with the mandate. But utilities had already surpassed the original targets and have continued to purchase more and more wind power since. Barnett said that the mandate pushed utilities toward wind, "but it was the economics that helped them decide to continue. It was the cost of wind that made them do that."

The Holcomb expansion, meanwhile, became bogged down in legal battles. After languishing in legal limbo for a decade, the project emerged onto a landscape where wind is cheaper than coal.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.

Renewable Energy
Photo credit: Portland General Electric

The city of Portland and Multnomah County in Oregon are joining the growing list of communities transitioning entirely to renewable energy.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury made the announcement Monday at the June Key Delta Community Center in North Portland—the site of a former gas station-turned green building.

Portland is likely the largest city in the U.S. to take this ambitious step, the Sierra Club told the Portland Business Journal. The two areas join 25 other communities that have made similar announcements.

According to Oregon Live, the plan involves meeting all electricity needs from renewable sources by 2035. To up the ante, fossil fuels for heating and transportation will also be phased out by 2050.

Wheeler acknowledged that this commitment would not be easy.

"They will be difficult to achieve," the newly elected mayor said.

"We're actually going to have to make deliberate steps, and deliberate investments, and deliberate policy changes in order for this to become a reality," Wheeler said, adding "and I'm committed to that."

Oregon Live noted that "the city and county can lead the way in some respects, but much of the heavy lifting will depend on utilities and the market for electric vehicles accelerating." For instance, utilities like Portland General Electric will have to quickly phase out coal and other fossil fuels.

As EcoWatch mentioned previously, committing to 100 percent renewables is not as far-fetched as it seems. The Solutions Project, which is aiming to make clean energy accessible and affordable for all, is advocating for towns, cities, states and even the whole country to convert its energy infrastructure to renewables.

The Solutions Project team published a study and roadmap illustrating how each U.S. state can replace fossil fuels by tapping into the renewable resources they have available, such as wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, as well as small amounts of tidal and wave power.

The authors found that converting the nation's energy infrastructure into renewables is ideal because it helps fight climate change, saves lives by eliminating air pollution, creates jobs in the rapidly booming renewable energy sector and also stabilizes energy prices.

Sponsored
Photo credit: Environmental Law & Policy Center of the Midwest

The DC Circuit Court ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Tuesday to close a loophole that has allowed hazardous substances released into the environment by concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to go unreported.

"We applaud the DC Circuit Court's clear decision to enforce this vital environmental safeguard to protect public safety," said Earthjustice attorney Jonathan Smith, who helped argue the case before the court.

"In the words of the court, the risk of air emissions from CAFOs 'isn't just theoretical; people have become seriously ill and even died' from these emissions. But the public cannot protect itself from these hazardous substances if CAFOs aren't required to report their releases to the public. The loophole also prevented reporting of these toxics to local and state responders and the court held that plainly violated the law."

CAFOs are large-scale livestock facilities that confine large numbers of animals in relatively small spaces. A large CAFO may contain upward of 1,000 cattle, 2,500 hogs or 125,000 chickens. Such facilities generate a massive amount of urine and feces, which is commonly liquefied and either stored under the facility or nearby in open-air lagoons. This waste is known to release high levels of toxic pollutants like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide into the environment.

The court's decision closes a loophole that exempted CAFOs from the same pollutant reporting required of other industries to ensure public safety. Prior to the promulgation of this loophole at the end of the Bush administration in 2008, federal law long required CAFOs, like all other industrial facilities, to notify government officials when toxic pollution levels exceeded public safety thresholds.

"Corporate agricultural operations have always been well-equipped to report on hazardous substances," said Abel Russ of the Environmental Integrity Project. "Now they will once again be required to do so."

This ruling is the latest turn in Earthjustice's advocacy on behalf of environmental and animal advocacy groups including Waterkeeper Alliance, Humane Society of the United States, Sierra Club, Center for Food Safety and Environmental Integrity Project.

"People have a right to know if CAFOs are releasing hazardous substances that can pose serious risks of illness or death into the air near their homes, schools, businesses and communities," said Kelly Foster, senior attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance.

"This ruling ensures that the public will be able to obtain this information in the future and will hopefully spur EPA to start responding when hazardous substances reach toxic levels."

Nearly three-quarters of the nation's ammonia air pollution come from CAFOs. Once emitted into the air, this ammonia then redeposits on land or water, adding to nitrogen pollution and water quality impairments in places like the Chesapeake Bay.

"CAFO waste pollutes our air and waterways and creates dangerous food pathogens. This decision forces these operations to be transparent about their environmental impact," said Paige Tomaselli of the Center for Food Safety.

CAFOs can be terrible air polluters. People who live near them often suffer from constant exposure to foul odors and the toxic effects of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide. Low levels of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide can irritate the eyes, nose and throat and high levels can be fatal.

"This safeguard isn't just about protecting the environment; it's about making entire communities safe for the people who live in them," said Sierra Club staff attorney Katie Schaefer.

Unsurprisingly, CAFO pollution also severely impacts the animals raised at the CAFO.

"Animal factories force billions of animals to suffer dangerously high levels of toxic air pollution day after day for their entire lives," said Humane Society of The United States' Chief Counsel Jonathan Lovvorn. "This ruling helps shine a light on the horrors of factory farms and the hidden costs to animals, people and the environment."

Fracking
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Conservation groups have filed Tuesday an administrative protest challenging a federal decision to offer for leasing in June more than 100,000 acres of federal public land in northern Colorado for oil and gas industry fracking. The leasing decision, being pushed by the Trump administration's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) over local community opposition, threatens some of Colorado's most treasured and scenic landscapes and wildlife species.

"Fracking these pristine public lands would come at the cost of imperiled wildlife, clean air and clean water, meanwhile worsening climate change," said Michael Saul, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. "This is classic Trump corporate cronyism that sacrifices public values for oil industry profits."

The decision paves the way for thousands of new fracked oil and gas wells in the Piceance Basin, increasing the strain on the already overdrawn Upper Colorado River with water withdrawals and the threat of new oil spills. It would pave the way for fracking in largely untouched Grand County, the headwaters of the Colorado River and a world-famous destination for fishing, hiking and tourism.

"The water quality of the Colorado River headwaters is at an all-time low and water demand is at an all-time high. Awarding leases that allow fossil fuel extraction in the headwaters will not improve the looming water crisis," said John Weisheit, Colorado Riverkeeper with Living Rivers. "Restraint on all forms of consumptive use is the best and wisest solution for improving a damaged watershed. Public land management decisions must be based on this reality and BLM must take the lead in restraining those uses, not open the door to more."

This massive plan, casually dismissed by the BLM as having "no significant environmental impact," will harm a host of sensitive and listed species including Colorado River and greenback cutthroat trout, greater sage grouse, Canada lynx, black-footed ferrets, white-tailed prairie dogs, rare wildflowers, deer, elk and moose. Resulting greenhouse gas pollution would worsen climate change, whose impacts the region is already feeling with reduced Colorado River flows.

"Protecting the quantity and quality of Colorado River flows, which face overwhelming challenges from increased demand and reduced supply, is inextricably linked to management decisions on public lands that cut back on water use and protect water quality," said Kate Hudson, western U.S. advocacy coordinator with Waterkeeper Alliance.

"BLM's pending decision to open over 100,000 acres of public lands in the headwaters of the Colorado River to oil and gas leasing and the inevitable impacts that fossil fuel extraction will have on the river, its tributaries and our climate, heads us in exactly the wrong direction. It will only hasten the collapse of this critical and fragile resource."

The giant sale threatens to industrialize lands and pollute air and water at the doorsteps of Rocky Mountain National Park and Dinosaur National Monument. Groups filing the protest include the Center for Biological Diversity, Living Rivers, Waterkeeper Alliance and Sierra Club.

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