2018 Wasn’t a Completely Horrible Year for the Environment
By Jeff Turrentine
Was 2018 a tough year for the environment? Absolutely. But were there bright spots and victories among the attacks on biodiversity, climate and public health? Of course there were. Here are just a few, in case you're feeling blue about the state of our only planet.
The Ousters of Pruitt and Zinke
The first few weeks of 2018 saw Scott Pruitt, then administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, trying to deflect attention from several corruption scandals by publicly declaring his intention to halve the agency's workforce and slash its operating budget by 30 percent, all toward his stated goal of "protecting taxpayer dollars." Meanwhile, over at the Department of the Interior, then-Secretary Ryan Zinke was announcing his plan to get rid of 4,000 employees as a part of the largest reorganization in Interior's history—one that would accommodate President Trump's proposal, supported by Zinke, to cut the department's budget by $1.6 billion.
By that point in their now mercifully truncated careers, both men had made clear their willingness to abuse their substantial power in order to reward cronies and supporters from the fossil fuel industry. This article is too short to list all of their various crimes against the environment and public lands and health, but they include the rollback of air and water protections, the opening up of U.S. coastal waters to offshore drilling, the shrinkage and pillaging of our national monuments and the cynical rejection of climate science.
Their boss, President Trump, admired his two hires' dedication to destruction. But he came to hate the near-daily cavalcade of news stories detailing their shady dealings, which reinforced his administration's reputation as an incubator of graft. Pruitt's departure in July and Zinke's resignation last week were met with cheers by practically every American who's not currently employed in the oil, gas, or chemical industries—though their respective replacements, Andrew Wheeler and likely David Bernhardt, are every bit as dangerous (if not every bit as sleazy).
Keystone XL, Now on Ice
President Trump had been in office for only four days when, in one of his very first official acts, he signed an executive order advancing the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project that President Obama had blocked in 2015, signaling the brand-new administration's old-fashioned obeisance to the fossil fuel industry. His signature (accompanied by the comment that he hoped his reversal of Obama's decision would help "get that pipeline built") was meant to fast-track the construction of a 1,179-mile tube designed to carry 830,000 barrels a day of filthy, toxic tar-sands oil from Alberta to Nebraska.
If Trump's environmental policy was a race to the bottom, this act was the starting gun—alerting everyone (but especially oil and gas companies) that concerns about the climate and the environment were no longer germane to our national conversation about energy. Although Obama had managed to slow the pipeline's progress substantially, KXL seemed to be coming back from the dead ... until last month, when a federal judge in Montana temporarily blocked the construction of Keystone XL, ruling that Trump's State Department hadn't provided sufficient justification for its approval.
The judge, Brian Morris, furthermore criticized the administration for neglecting to factor in the risk of ruptures and spills, asserting that the State Department's analysis of the project's environmental impact "fell short of a 'hard look.'" While this latest delay isn't the death knell that many have been hoping for, every day that passes without "that pipeline built" adds to the sense of uncertainty about KXL's ultimate fate.
A Congress Going Green?
When the 116th Congress convenes in a few weeks, it will contain more women and people of color than ever before. It will also be, collectively, one of the youngest groups ever to be sworn in: 25 members of the new class are 40 years of age or younger, and the average age of new members is 10 years younger than the average age of the 115th Congress.
With youth and diversity comes a greater climate consciousness, and there is already much buzz around a Green New Deal. The 116th Congress just may be the one to usher in a paradigm-shifting economic and legislative package that creates thousands of new jobs in an expanded clean-energy sector designed to generate 100 percent of America's electricity from clean sources, and puts the country on a path to net-zero carbon pollution by 2050. Just a few years ago, such an endeavor was little more than a progressive pipe dream. Now it's got real momentum to match its real popularity among Americans of all political stripes. A recent poll of registered voters showed that 92 percent of Democrats, 88 percent of independents, and 64 percent of Republicans support a Green New Deal.
Numbers like that strongly suggest that we're beyond talking about whether some ambitious effort to curb U.S. greenhouse gas emissions will pass; instead it's a matter of when. Politicians who were once afraid to talk about climate change on the floor of the House or the Senate—calling it a "divisive" issue—are soon going to be afraid of avoiding the topic.
Year of the Elephant
Last Dec. 31, 2017, China finally put an end to its legal, government-sanctioned ivory trade. That ban is already yielding results: According to a recent study, the number of people in China who say they intend to buy ivory has dropped by almost half this year, and 9 out of 10 Chinese citizens asked about the ban say that they support it. In a happy inversion of the laws of economics, demand seems to be falling even as supply dwindles.
Now, almost exactly a year later, the United Kingdom has announced an incoming ivory ban of its own, imposing stringent new rules on the trade that are being touted as some of the toughest in the world. That announcement follows news that the Dutch intend to ban all sales of raw ivory in their country beginning in March. A similar ban proposed by Singapore's government is currently undergoing public debate.
Much more needs to be done, of course, to put an end to the killing of elephants for ivory. There are still way too many loopholes that help elephant poachers and ivory traffickers stay in business, and too many countries that have yet to stop their domestic ivory trades. (We're looking at you, EU and Japan.) And under President Trump, the U.S.—which instituted a near-total ban on African ivory in 2016—recently relaxed its rules that forbade the importing of elephant trophy parts, a setback for our country and a horrible message to send to the rest of the world. But overall, the global momentum is shifting on this issue, and it's moving in the right direction.
The new year will be full of challenges, the biggest of which will be getting the nations of the world (including our own) to agree on a means of curbing carbon pollution and combating climate change. But the climate isn't all that's changing. The mood appears to be changing, too—and for the better.
Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.
Many people shop online for everything from clothes to appliances. If they do not like the product, they simply return it. But there's an environmental cost to returns.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.
We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
Time for Action<p>I have spoken to many scientists, particularly federal scientists, who are eager to turn the page so they can hurry back to the work they had been doing before this administration, but I urge caution in assuming that things can be "normal" again.</p><p>Before Trump, I naively thought the scientific integrity policies established during the <a href="https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/12/19/scientific-integrity-policies-update" target="_blank">Obama administration</a> would be sufficient. I never imagined that any administration could so willfully ignore and attack expert advice and evidence that is intended to protect us and our public lands.</p><p>I have personally witnessed how hard our federal scientists work. They put in long hours with minimal pay (far less that what they could get if they worked in private industry) to pursue one simple goal: to make things better for the nation.</p><p>We need stronger scientific integrity policies to protect these people and their work. But more than that, we need stronger scientific integrity laws because they also benefit society.</p>
By Andrea Germanos
Environmental campaigners stressed the need for the incoming Biden White House to put in place permanent protections for Alaska's Bristol Bay after the Trump administration on Wednesday denied a permit for the proposed Pebble Mine that threatened "lasting harm to this phenomenally productive ecosystem" and death to the area's Indigenous culture.
<div id="da98c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="478a197b7c59c92787c92bec92f1ac39"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1331662923710693376" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Bristol Bay forever, Pebble mine never. #NoPebbleMine #SaveBristolBay https://t.co/CBQ9zuy8A5</div> — Save Bristol Bay (@Save Bristol Bay)<a href="https://twitter.com/SaveBristolBay/statuses/1331662923710693376">1606328156.0</a></blockquote></div>
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OlgaMiltsova / iStock / Getty Images Plus
By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.