Enbridge Pipeline Day of Reckoning? Indigenous Rights Groups Join Michigan Gov. Whitmer in Demanding Shutdown
By Julia Conley
Indigenous rights and climate action groups are set to hold an "Evict Enbridge" celebration on Wednesday and Thursday to mark Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's deadline for Canadian oil and gas company Enbridge to shut down its Line 5 pipeline.
Ahead of Wednesday's deadline, which Whitmer set last November, the Democratic governor called Enbridge's continued use of the Straits of Mackinac — under which Line 5 has carried more than half of Ontario's oil supply since 1953 — a "ticking time bomb."
"Their continued presence violates the public trust and poses a grave threat to Michigan's environment and economy," Whitmer said in a statement this week.
Whitmer, who campaigned on shutting down Line 5, announced last November that she was revoking an easement granted by the state of Michigan nearly 70 years ago, saying Enbridge has violated safety requirements.
Although no oil or gas leaks from Line 5 — which carries 540,000 barrels of oil per day — have been reported, the pipeline has been struck by boat anchors and other equipment in recent years. Last year, the line was shut down temporarily after an anchor support sustained damage.
Whitmer said last year that Enbridge violated a rule prohibiting unsupported gaps beneath the pipeline, and another pipeline run by the company spilled more than 845,000 gallons of oil in 2010, affecting the Kalamazoo River.
According to a 2017 National Wildlife Federation report, more than two dozen spills from other sections of Enbridge's pipelines exceeded one million gallons.
A 2018 poll of Michigan residents found that 54% of the state wants Line 5 shut down and 87% are concerned about the pipeline spilling into the Straits of Mackinac.
At the Evict Enbridge event in Mackinaw City this week, environmental justice advocate Winona LaDuke will be among the speakers.
"Will Enbridge shut [Line 5] down or will the public do it for them?" said Honor the Earth, LaDuke's organization, on social media Monday.
Line 5 D-Day: May 12—Will Enbridge shut it down or will the public do it for them? https://t.co/EsixXoORbp via @WCMCooperative— Honor the Earth (@Honor the Earth) 1620668351.0
Enbridge has "imposed on the people of Michigan an unacceptable risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes that could devastate our economy and way of life," Whitmer said when announcing the easement, which was granted despite the fact that the federal government generally regulates oil pipelines.
In February, a federal court ordered state officials and Enbridge to enter mediation, and the company has vowed to continue running Line 5 while the dispute is resolved. Canadian Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan said last month that the continued operation of the pipeline is "non-negotiable."
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel denounced the company and the Canadian government for putting the state "in a position where Canada stands to gain nearly all the benefit and the state of Michigan bears all the risks."
We shouldn't be in a position where Canada stands to gain nearly all the benefit and the state of Michigan bears all the risks.— Dana Nessel (@Dana Nessel) 1620743076.0
According to the Michigan Advance, state officials will need a court order to shut down the pipeline on Wednesday, as Enbridge says it will not comply with Whitmer and Canadian officials have lined up behind the company.
"Our Great Lakes are more important than Canadian fossil fuel profit using the Straits of Mackinac as a shortcut," said Michigan group Clean Water Action. "Enbridge had a 50 year easement — it's been nearly 68 years now. Michigan has given them more than enough time."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
Long lines of drivers waited at gas stations across the South yesterday — except for the stations that had already run out of gas — as the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline caused panic buying and chaos.
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said the "crunch" in the Southeast will take several days to alleviate and that Pipeline Officials told her they could make a decision on a "full restart" as soon as Wednesday evening.
The pipeline will be "substantially" back online by the weekend, Granholm said.
The administration has issued dozens of waivers of environmental and labor regulations, including rules requiring cleaner gasoline to be sold in urban areas.
The vulnerability of pipelines to cyberattack is not new nor unexpected — FERC commissioners wrote an op-ed in 2018 about essentially this very scenario.
Though this gasoline pipeline disruption has not led to the deadly outcomes of the natural gas system failures that plunged much of Texas into darkness and caused disruption across the Great Plains in February, the current crisis illustrates the chaos that can be caused by failures of fossil fuel infrastructure.
Yet, even in the midst of a crisis, Colonial Pipeline didn't even notify the Department of Homeland Security's cybersecurity division after the attack and still had not shared important technical information with the agency as of Tuesday, Politico Pro reported.
Despite the disruption and panic, the American Petroleum Institute told reporters Tuesday new cybersecurity mandates suggested by Republican lawmakers and federal energy regulators were premature.
For a deeper dive:
Fuel shortages: Washington Post, Bloomberg, E&E, AP, New York Times, The Hill, Washington Examiner, The Hill; Security: Earther, The Hill, Grist, Politico Pro, Utility Dive, Axios, Washington Post, The Hill; Administration response: Politico, The Hill, Politico, The Hill, Politico Pro, Politico Pro; API response: Washington Examiner
- Pipeline Spill Triggers Supplier 'Red Alert' in Alabama, Georgia ... ›
- 1 Dead, Several Injured in Colonial Pipeline Explosion - EcoWatch ›
- Cyberattack Shuts Down Major U.S. Pipeline - EcoWatch ›
The contents of our mattresses are often an afterthought. That's a mistake, as research shows that the quality of your sleeping surface can significantly impact your health.
As consumers gain awareness about the health effects of sleeping on potentially toxic compounds, mattress companies are responding with new beds made from better materials. Today, you can choose from a broad range of mattresses made from all-natural components, including organic wool, cotton, and latex. Here's a summary of the best non-toxic, eco-friendly mattresses available today and how to decide between them.
Why You Should Choose an Organic Mattress
Traditionally, mattresses contain trace amounts of chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that act as flame retardants and coatings on plastic components. While the popular view is that these VOCs are found in too low of concentrations to be concerning, a 2019 study published in Environmental Science and Technology indicates that body heat may transform them into toxic vapors that you breathe in through the night.
That's a reason for concern, as according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the potential health effects of VOC exposure include headaches and eye, nose, and throat irritation. In extreme cases, they may trigger cancer cell development or organ damage.
8 Top-Rated Organic and Natural Mattress BrandsEach product featured below has been selected by the writer. You can learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the included links, we may earn a commission.
- Best Overall – Avocado Green Mattress
- Best Cooling – GhostBed Natural Mattress
- Best Hypoallergenic – Plushbeds Botanical Bliss
- Best for Lower Back Support – Saatva Zenhaven Latex Mattress
- Best for Couples – My Green Mattress Natural Escape
- Best 100% Certified Organic - Happsy Mattress
- Best Fair Trade Certified – Birch Natural Mattresses
- Most Affordable – Eco Terra Latex Hybrid
- Best Give Back Program – Awara Organic Luxury Hybrid Mattress
How We Chose These Products
When comparing the best natural mattress options, we looked at several specific factors to determine which ones stand out. Here are some of the distinguishing features.
The best non-toxic mattress brands today exclusively use certified organic textiles like cotton and wool.
Is it certified GOLS (Global Organic Latex Standard) or GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard)? As the leading natural certifications for textiles and latex materials, GOLS and GOTS-certified products meet stringent requirements for responsible social and environmental practices.
The best nontoxic mattresses are compressed into boxes for shipping and then expand to full size once you unpack them. Environmentally speaking, smaller packages mean less fuel wasted on transportation. Others are sent in pieces or in full form and require a delivery team for installation.
Give Back Programs
The best eco-friendly mattress brands also support nonprofit programs that benefit the environment. We like brands where a percentage of your purchase may go towards a worthwhile cause.
Many of the best organic mattresses are handcrafted in the United States, which shrinks their environmental footprint by keeping production and transportation within a smaller area.
Standard practice in the mattress industry is to offer sleep trial testing periods. These range from three months to a year or longer.
Direct to Consumer
Direct-to-consumer mattress companies are increasing in popularity. They tend to be less wasteful than traditional retailers because the brand isn't putting resources towards maintaining showrooms.
9 Best Natural and Organic Mattresses of 2021
Best Overall - Avocado Green Mattress
- Materials – 100% GOTS certified cotton and wool, 100% natural latex, steel support coils
- Manufacturing – Handmade in USA
- Delivery – Mattress arrives compressed in a box
- Certifications – GREENGUARD Gold, Rainforest Alliance, eco-INSTITUT®, and Formaldehyde-Free certified, OEKO-TEX® Standard 100 certified wool, GOTS and GOLS certified materials
- Sleep Trial/Warranty – 100-night sleep trial, 25-year warranty
This mattress-in-a-box brand doesn't compromise its eco-friendly principles for low cost or convenience. The Avocado Green mattress boasts a gentle latex support system for balanced firmness that's ideal for larger people and those who sleep on their back or side.
Why buy: Avocado is a leading brand for affordable mattresses made from natural materials. The Green mattress makes this list for its affordable price point and five-zone support system with up to 1,400 pocketed steel support coils. Equally impressive, Avocado maintains control over its whole supply chain and employs strict social and environmental standards for every product.
Best Cooling - GhostBed Natural Mattress
- Materials – Natural wool, GOLS certified Dunlop & Talalay latex, USDA organic and GOTS certified cotton
- Manufacturing – Manufactured in the USA
- Delivery – Mattress arrives vacuum sealed in a box
- Certifications – USDA organic, Control Union certified, OEKO-TEX® certified, GOLS and GOTS certified materials
- Sleep Trial/Warranty – 101 night sleep trial, 25-year warranty
The GhostBed Natural mattress offers five layers of natural comfort materials. Each mattress is made from natural wool, genuine Dunlop and Talalay latex, and organic cotton for solid support and air-flow cooling. This is an eco-friendly mattress made for comfort, cooling, and support.
Why buy: The GhostBed Natural mattress is a great option if you tend to get hot when you sleep, as it includes both a naturally cooling latex core and cooling airflow coil technology to help you sleep better. We also love that it is made in the United States with organic and natural materials like sustainably-sourced latex and USDA organic cotton.
Best Hypoallergenic - Plushbeds Botanical Bliss
- Materials – GOLS certified latex, GOTS certified cotton and wool
- Manufacturing – Handcrafted in California
- Delivery – Delivered in two boxes, the customer must assemble
- Certifications – GOLS certified latex, GOTS certified cotton and wool, GreenGuard Gold Certified, OEKO-TEX® Standard 100 Certified, eco-INSTITUT® certified, Control Union Certified, Forest Stewardship Council Certified
- Sleep Trial/Warranty – 100-night sleep trial, 25-year warranty
Plushbeds mattresses are handcrafted in the US from certified organic materials. Orthopedic specialists recommend them for their buoyant support and pressure point relief, along with an organic latex core you can customize.
Why buy: With Plushbeds' Botanical Bliss mattress, you get a non-toxic, hypoallergenic sleeping surface that keeps you cool through the night. This bed is dust mite resistant to eliminate most home's primary allergy problems and includes an organic cotton cover for comfort.
Best Luxury - Saatva Zenhaven Latex Mattress
- Materials – Certified organic cotton, all-natural Talalay latex, 100% organic New Zealand wool
- Manufacturing – Made in USA within 19 independent factories
- Delivery – Purchase comes with free white glove delivery and setup, including old mattress removal
- Certifications – OEKO-TEX® Standard 100, eco-INSTITUT®, Rainforest Alliance, and Cradle to Cradle certified
- Sleep Trial/ Warranty – 180-day sleep trial, 20-year warranty
The Saatva Zenhaven mattress is naturally hypoallergenic and made using environmentally responsible practices. The manufacturing process is entirely water-based and produces minimal byproducts. Even the certified organic cotton cover is protected by a proprietary nontoxic botanical antimicrobial treatment. Rather than using traditional flame retardants, the mattress contains a protective layer of organic New Zealand wool.
Why buy: As Saatva's premium mattress, the Zenhaven is made for low back support and a cooling, comfortable night's sleep. This 100% Talalay latex mattress contains durable materials for supported rest and boasts a flippable design for two firmness levels. This is the best option for a luxurious yet eco-friendly mattress.
Best for Couples - My Green Mattress Natural Escape
- Materials – GOTS certified cotton, GOLS certified Dunlop latex
- Manufacturing – Handcrafted in a certified organic factory in Illinois
- Delivery – White glove delivery service available for $199 for setup and old mattress removal.
- Certifications – GreenGuard Gold Certified, GOTS Certified cotton, GOLS certified Dunlop latex
- Sleep Trial/Warranty – 120-night sleep trial, 20-year warranty
The Natural Escape mattress boasts a responsive zoned pocketed coil spring system covered with GOLS certified Dunlop latex for breathability. With an adaptive support system that conforms to the contours of your spine, the company recommends it for couples with opposite body types or who prefer different sleeping positions from each other. The mattress itself is button tufted to pull the layers together without the use of any potentially toxic adhesives or VOCs.
Why buy: The Natural Escape mattress from My Green Mattress delivers stellar lumbar support and proper spinal alignment—all underneath a comfortable organic cotton cover. It also provides limited motion transfer thanks to an upgraded innerspring system, making it a great option for couples as you won't disturb your partner when you move.
Best 100% Certified Organic - Happsy Mattress
- Materials – Organic cotton filling, organic wool, certified latex
- Manufacturing – Handmade in USA
- Delivery – Ships compressed in a single box
- Certifications – GOTS-certified cotton, Certified Made Safe, GOLS-certified latex, Forest Stewardship Council Certified, Rainforest Alliance Certified, GreenGuard Gold Certified, Underwriters Laboratories verified formaldehyde-free, Green America Certified Business
- Sleep Trial/Warranty – 120-night sleep trial, 20-year warranty
Happsy's mattresses combine comfort, the latest technology in certified organic mattress design, and premium earth-friendly materials for a bed you can feel good about from every angle. In fact, the included zipper lets you peek inside to see what you're really sleeping on. The mattress utilizes a breathable coil system designed to wick moisture away to keep you cooler at night than sleeping on heat-trapping synthetic foams.
Why buy: Happsy is a small mattress brand focused on making mattresses with a conscience — meaning that all materials are chosen for being easy on the environment. The company forgoes all glues and adhesives in favor of its own pocketed spring design that keeps the mattress supportive, but never "bouncy."
Best Fair Trade Certified - Birch Natural Mattresses
- Materials – Organic cotton, wool, birch wool, natural latex, steel coils
- Manufacturing – Handmade in USA
- Delivery – Ships compressed in a box
- Certifications – GreenGuard Gold Certified, GOTS Certified, OEKO-TEX®Standard 100, Eco INSTITUT® Tested Product, Wool Integrity NZ, Fair Trade Certified Factory
- Sleep Trial/Warranty – 100-night sleep trial, 25-year warranty
Birch by Helix makes a range of natural bedding options constructed in ways that support the environment. Each mattress is made from premium materials that together work to relieve your body's pressure points, no matter how you prefer to sleep. The company claims this premium product has natural flexibility that allows it to retain its shape to provide enough softness for coziness while still offering full-body support.
Why buy: We love that all Birch mattress wool comes from New Zealand sheep farms that meet Wool Integrity NZ standards, which ensures the animals are treated ethically at every stage of production. Plus, the cotton within each mattress is Fair Trade certified, making this a responsible sleep option.
Most Affordable - Eco Terra Latex Hybrid
- Materials – 100% natural latex foam rubber, organic wool, organic cotton
- Manufacturing – Designed and handcrafted in Los Angeles, CA
- Delivery – Free standard delivery across the US, White Glove delivery available for an extra cost
- Certifications – OEKO-TEX® Standard 100 certified, GOTS Organic wool, GOTS organic certified cotton
- Sleep Trial/Warranty – 90-day sleep trial, 15-year warranty
Eco Terra offers a budget-friendly latex hybrid mattress that includes natural materials, unobtrusive pocket support coils, and a 90-day sleep trial. Eco Terra's latex mattress is available in both a medium and medium-firm firmness level to support a wide range of sleepers. The bed is free of synthetic foams and VOCs, favoring a three-inch-thick layer of Talalay latex instead.
Why buy: Eco Terra offers a more budget-friendly option than other latex hybrid brands, making this mattress an excellent choice for comfortable sleep without compromising on natural materials. One thing to note is that this latex isn't GOLS-certified, though the other materials are GOTS certified.
Best Give Back Program - Awara Organic Luxury Hybrid Mattress
- Materials – Dunlap latex, organic New Zealand wool, organic cotton, steel coils
- Manufacturing – Made in China
- Delivery – Arrives compressed in a box
- Certifications – Rainforest Alliance certified latex, certified organic wool, certified organic cotton
- Sleep Trial/Warranty – 365-night sleep trial, Forever Warranty (lifetime guarantee against sagging and manufacturing defects)
Awara features premium Sri Lanka latex and wrapped coil springs to provide contour and a touch of bounce for supportive sleep throughout the night. At the core of this mattress are nine-inch pocketed coils that are thicker than standard. This gives the bed a firmer, more responsive feel that minimizes the sense of sinking when you reach the outer edge, so it's suitable for back, side, and stomach sleepers alike.
Why buy: Awara's natural latex mattress stands out for being slightly firmer than some other options. The mattress itself is made from quality materials with GOLS, GOTS, and Rainforest Alliance certification. Awara also partners with Trees for the Future to support forest systems throughout Africa. Every purchase funds the planting of ten trees throughout Kenya, Senegal, Uganda, or Tanzania.
The best night's sleep takes place on a mattress that won't make you or the environment sick. Today, there are more options than ever for finding the best organic and nontoxic mattress for your family. Seek out brands that use certified organic materials and that guarantee each bed is free from VOCs to rest easy every night.
Lydia Noyes is a freelance writer specializing in health and wellness, food and farming, and environmental topics. When not working against a writing deadline, you can find Lydia outdoors where she attempts to bring order to her 33-acre hobby farm filled with fruit trees, heritage breed pigs, too many chickens to count, and an organic garden that somehow gets bigger every year.
By Erin Baker and Matthew Lackner
The United States' offshore wind industry is tiny, with just seven wind turbines operating off Rhode Island and Virginia. The few attempts to build large-scale wind farms like Europe's have run into long delays, but that may be about to change.
On May 11, 2021, the U.S. government issued the final federal approval for the Vineyard Wind project, a utility-scale wind farm that has been over a decade in the planning. The wind farm's developers plan to install 62 giant turbines in the Atlantic Ocean about 15 miles off Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, with enough capacity to power 400,000 homes with clean energy.
The project is the first approved since the Biden administration announced a goal in March to develop 30,000 megawatts of offshore wind capacity this decade and promised to accelerate the federal review process. To put that goal in perspective, the U.S. has just 42 megawatts today. Vineyard Wind expects to add 800 megawatts in 2023.
So, are we finally seeing the launch of a thriving offshore wind industry in North America?
The Conversation /CC-BY-ND. Global Wind Energy Council
Several wind farm developers already hold leases in prime locations off the Eastern Seaboard, suggesting plenty of interest.
As engineering professors leading the Energy Transition Initiative and Wind Energy Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, we have been closely watching the industry's challenges and progress. The process could move quickly once permitting and approvals are on track, but there are still obstacles.
Why Offshore Wind Plans Stalled Under Trump
Vineyard Wind had planned to begin construction in 2019, but a ruling by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management under the Trump administration stalled it. The ruling cast a shadow over other wind farm plans and hopes for an U.S. offshore wind industry.
The agency ruled that the developers needed to address what is called "cumulative impacts" – what the East Coast will look like when there are not one or two, but 20 or 40 large-scale wind farms. That part of the U.S. coast is ideal for wind power because of its wide, shallow shelf and proximity to cities that are looking for renewable electricity to reduce their climate impact.
Developers already hold wind energy leases for several areas off the East Coast. BOEM
Many researchers studying offshore wind, including some of our colleagues, urge planners to take this perspective.
But thinking carefully about a far future with several wind farms does not justify blocking the first utility-scale wind farm now. That first large wind farm will be an opportunity to learn, including about how wind turbines will interact with marine ecosystems. Right now there is almost no data on the impacts of offshore wind on the region's marine wildlife. The knowledge gained will be invaluable in moving forward responsibly.
Is Fast-Tracking Federal Approvals Enough?
Speeding up federal approvals for offshore wind farms is an important first step, but those aren't the only hurdles for offshore wind farm developers.
A large number of state environmental and coastal agencies also must approve offshore wind farm plans, and the communities where cables come ashore have a say.
Many of the Northeastern states, including Massachusetts, have their own offshore wind energy goals, so they're likely to support wind farms. But some wealthy communities and the fishing industry have pushed back on wind power in the past. Vineyard Wind's developers worked with community groups and fishermen from the region and agreed to compensate them for potential revenue losses.
Vineyard Wind's location and cable plan. Vineyard Wind
The federal approval process, even fast-tracked, is also time-consuming. The government conducts reviews and requires site assessment plans, including geological, environmental and hazard surveys. From planning to construction, the entire process can take five to six years or more.
Is the U.S. Ready to Build Offshore Turbines?
Some other big questions revolve around construction.
Under a 1920 law known as the Jones Act, only U.S.-registered vessels operated by U.S. citizens or permanent residents can move cargo between U.S. ports. In December 2020, Congress made clear that this law applies to wind turbine construction, too.
When companies build offshore wind turbines today, they use special vessels for the installation of the most common offshore turbine designs. The U.S. doesn't have any of these vessels yet, and the Jones Act makes it difficult to rely on vessels from Europe to do the job. There is promise, though: The first U.S.-made version of this vessel is being built in Texas right now. That's one – the country will need several to meet the new goal.
Vineyard Wind's plan uses one of the world's largest turbines, GE's Haliade-X, to reduce the number of turbines needed. Each has a capacity of 13 megawatts and blades the length of a football field.
A thriving wind power industry will also need ports for storing and deploying the long turbine blades, plus a trained workforce for construction and turbine maintenance.
A few coastal states have a head start on this. Massachusetts started laying the groundwork early and already has a port terminal in New Bedford to support the construction and deployment of future offshore wind projects. New Jersey recently announced a plan for a new offshore wind port that will start construction in 2022, and Delaware has been considering one.
States are also investing in training. New York state announced a $20 million offshore wind training institute in January 2021 with the goal of training 2,500 workers. The Biden administration envisions 44,000 people employed in offshore wind by 2030, and many more in communities connected to offshore wind power activity.
Costs and Benefits of Offshore Wind
In Europe, where many governments have reduced regulatory risks to the industry, the cost of offshore wind energy has come down much faster than experts expected, to around $50 per megawatt-hour. If the Biden administration's new approach allows U.S. wind farms to achieve costs like this, then offshore wind, with its proximity to large urban centers on the East Coast, will be competitive.
It's also important to recognize other benefits. Every year of delay for a large-scale wind farm costs the U.S. hundreds of millions of dollars in climate benefits. The Biden administration calculates that its new wind power goal would avoid 78 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, roughly equivalent to taking 17 million cars off the road for a year.
Erin Baker is a professor of industrial engineering applied to energy policy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Matthew Lackner is a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Disclosure statement: Erin Baker receives funding from the National Science Foundation and Sloan Foundation. Matthew Lackner receives funding from the U.S. Department of Energy.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
- Biden White House Announces Major Boost for Offshore Wind ... ›
- Biden Admin Advances First Major US Offshore Wind Farm - EcoWatch ›
- U.S. Offshore Wind Power Blown on Course - EcoWatch ›
By Anne Petermann
On August 18, 2020, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) published a petition by researchers at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) seeking federal approval to release their genetically engineered (GE) Darling 58 (D58) American chestnut tree into U.S. forests. Researchers claim the transgenic D58 tree will resist the fungal blight that, coupled with rampant overlogging, decimated the American chestnut population in the early 20th century. In fact, the GE American chestnut is a Trojan horse meant to open the doors to commercial GE trees designed for industrial plantations.
The D58 would be the first GE forest tree approved in the U.S. and the first GMO intended to spread in the wild. (GE canola plants were discovered in the wild in 2010 but that was unplanned.) "This is a project to rapidly domesticate a wild species through genetic engineering and accelerated breeding, and then to put it back into ecosystems to form self-perpetuating populations—an intentional evolutionary intervention that has never been attempted before with any species," explain scientists at the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and International Center for Technology Assessment (ICTA), which are nonprofits based in Washington, D.C.
"The Southern U.S. is global ground zero for the forest products industry and we see genetically engineered chestnut trees as this industry's sneaky way of opening the floodgates for 'frankentrees' that will harm forests, biodiversity and local communities across the region," explains Scot Quaranda of Dogwood Alliance, a nonprofit based in North Carolina that works to protect Southern U.S. forests. "Our natural forests that support wildlife and the economic sovereignty of rural communities will rapidly be replaced with tree plantations for wood pellets, paper and more, leaving environmental and climate injustice in their wake."
The GE American chestnut faces an uphill battle due to decades of opposition to GE trees by Indigenous peoples, scientists, students, activists, foresters and others, including a GE tree ban by the Forest Stewardship Council and a United Nations decision that warns countries of the dangers of GE trees and urges use of the precautionary principle while addressing the issue.
By October 19, 2020, the close of the public comment period on the petition, 109 organizations, representing millions of members, plus an additional 123,426 individuals had registered their opposition to the D58. The next step is the creation of a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) by the USDA recommending action on the petition. The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) estimates this could take up to a year to complete. Following this, another public comment period will be undertaken to review the draft EIS, after which the agency will develop a final EIS with a decision on the petition.
D58 Safety Studies 'Invalid,' Warn Scientists
While American chestnut trees are known to live hundreds of years, D58 trees have only been growing since 2017, calling into question the ESF petition assertion that "Darling 58 has been studied in detail and no plant pest or environmental risks have been observed."
In a report on the GE American chestnut she co-wrote, Dr. Rachel Smolker from Biofuelwatch explains, "Given the long lifespan of trees and varying environmental conditions they face, we cannot extrapolate from tests done on very young trees under controlled lab and field conditions. How GE trees might behave in the diverse and changing context of natural forests over long periods of time is unknown and likely to remain unknown even after they are released."
Scientists at CFS and ICTA warn of problems with the D58 safety studies, writing, "Given the young age of Darling 58 trees and corresponding dearth of tissue samples, conclusions from most of the animal experiments described in the Petition are too preliminary to depend upon."
In studying ESF's assessment of the impacts of inserting the blight-resistant oxalate oxidase (OxO) transgene into the chestnut genome, both CFS and ICTA further point out that some D58 studies did not, in fact, use material from transgenic D58 trees, rendering them invalid. "Petitioners did experiments to study how bumblebees might be affected by Darling 58, but did not have enough Darling 58 pollen for the experiments so used non-transgenic pollen instead, to which they added purified OxO from barley seeds. … Other important initial studies on animals reported in the Petition are of limited use because they involved feeding leaves from the Darling 4 instead of Darling 58… even though Darling 4 has much lower levels of OxO in leaves… again invalidating the conclusions for risk assessments." The Darling 4 was an earlier version of the American chestnut genetically engineered with the OxO transgene.
While researchers have argued that a strict regulatory process will ensure the safety of the D58 GE tree, a 2019 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine titled, "Forest Health and Biotechnology: Possibilities and Considerations," raises flags: "Forest health is not accounted for in the regulations for the use of biotechnology or for other approaches to mitigating forest tree insect pests or pathogens. … There are no specific regulations or policies that those agencies apply to biotech trees."
Profit Motive Trumping Morality?
Proponents argue that there can be no downside to releasing a tree engineered to resist an introduced blight. But like fire suppression, which has led to devastating wildfires due to an unnatural buildup of flammable materials in the forest, the future impacts of even a well-meaning action can become catastrophic, especially in combination with the unpredictable effects of climate change and extreme weather. Yet, researchers are engineering trees with the conviction that because they can, they should.
In her book Can Science Make Sense of Life?, Dr. Sheila Jasanoff, Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies at the Harvard Kennedy School, explains the implications of this arrogance. "For life scientists and their enthusiastic promoters, the arc of the technologically possible, often coincident with the promise of financial gain, increasingly… defines the boundaries of the morally permissible."
Researcher William Powell, whose GE American chestnut research has received both financial and technical support from companies with a vested interest in the approval of the GE American chestnut—including Monsanto, ArborGen and Duke Energy—defends his approach. In an article in the Conversation, Powell says, "One of the key advantages of genetic engineering is that it's far less disruptive to the original chestnut genome—and thus to its ecologically important characteristics. The trees remain more true to form with less chance of unforeseen and unwanted side effects. Once these genes are inserted, they become a normal part of the tree's genome and are inherited just like any other gene."
However, in a briefing paper published by the Federation of German Scientists, Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher, a molecular geneticist, and Antje Lorch, a biologist, counter that the genetic engineering process is inherently risky. The paper states, "It is well documented that the processes of plant transformation give rise to many mutations throughout the plant genome as well as at the insertion site of the transgene. … Any robust risk assessment study needs to take several generations into account, for example to assess the stability and heritability of the transgene, unintended side effects and changes due to transformation impact."
Why the American Chestnut?
The D58 American chestnut is the culmination of decades of effort to open the doors to GE trees in the U.S. by biotechnology and timber companies. In 1999, Monsanto joined with timber companies from the U.S. and New Zealand to form a "forestry biotechnology joint venture," which later became ArborGen, one of the world's leaders in GE tree research and development. GE tree research was originally focused on trees and traits valued by the forest products industry; trees like poplar, pine and eucalyptus, and traits like insect resistance, herbicide tolerance, faster growth or altered wood composition.
American chestnut seedling. Anne Petermann
Other early associations—including the Tree Genetic Engineering Research Cooperative at Oregon State University, launched in 1994—brought together university researchers with timber and biotechnology giants as well as the U.S. Forest Service to develop genetically engineered trees for industrial timber plantations.
These efforts were met with widespread opposition and sabotage, leading the industry to conclude that they needed a charismatic "test tree" to try to win over the public opinion relating to GE trees.
A 2007 published paper explains, "There is opposition to commercial application of trees, engineered specifically for fast growth and increased yields, by those whose stance is that the value accrues only to 'big companies.' It will remain for traits that have broad societal benefits, such as conservation… for acceptance to be gained."
The D58 is seen as a positive example for the beleaguered biotechnology industry of the benefits of 'biotechnology for conservation.' Duke Energy also sees the American chestnut for its value as a greenwashing tool. Duke Energy invested millions into the GE American chestnut through the Forest Health Initiative. Its hope was to use the American chestnut to help "green" its devastated mountaintop removal mining lands.
Naturalist and author Bernd Heinrich has one such grove growing on his land in Maine. In a New York Times op-ed in 2013, he wrote, "I have been enjoying American chestnuts for several years now, harvested from some trees that are now part of my forest of 600 acres in western Maine. I planted four seedlings in the spring of 1982. Beyond all my expectations, the trees thrived, and some are now 35 feet tall. … In my small corner of western Maine, the American chestnut is now promising to again become a significant component of the ecosystem."
Once dominant in Eastern U.S. forests, the American chestnut was highly valued for its beautiful and rot-resistant wood, and abundant nuts. While few actually remember the tree, which largely disappeared from the landscape by the 1920s, a public relations effort was launched in the early 2010s with articles appearing in numerous major publications heralding the return of this "mighty giant" through the wonders of genetic engineering. Millions of American chestnut stumps, meanwhile, continue to send up shoots that occasionally grow into trees large enough to produce nuts, and in some locations, wild American chestnuts are spreading on their own, showing at least some evolving blight tolerance.
Another decades-long program by the American Chestnut Cooperators' Foundation is successfully breeding pure wild American chestnuts that are naturally blight-resistant.
In spite of examples like this, GE chestnut proponents have declared the American chestnut functionally extinct, and insist that its survival hinges on the release of unproven and risky genetic engineered American chestnut trees into forests. But Lois Breault-Melican, a former board member of the American Chestnut Foundation who publicly resigned from the TACF over the organization's support for the GE American chestnut, points out that this argument ignores the risks posed to organic and other chestnut growers: "These growers are concerned about the potential GMO contamination of their orchards caused by the unregulated and unmonitored planting of genetically engineered American chestnut trees. If the USDA approves these GE American chestnuts, the integrity of chestnut orchards would be forever compromised."
Indigenous Sovereignty Concerns
Indigenous peoples in the regions of proposed D58 releases have expressed concern that unregulated distribution of a GE tree would violate their sovereign right to keep their territories free from GMOs. They insist that Indigenous peoples be consulted in the process of reviewing the D58 American chestnut.
"Today, there remain large areas of traditional and treaty lands on which much is forested and managed as sovereign territory of many different Native American Peoples," explains BJ McManama of the Indigenous Environmental Network. "These forests are not only a source of economic self-determination but hold great cultural significance to include sacred sites where trees are an element of sustenance, knowledge and familial identity. Every living being within the forests [is] related in some form and nothing within these lands lives in isolation; therefore, changing or altering the original instructions of any one or any part of these elements threatens the natural order established over millennia."
The Eastern Band of Cherokee, members of the Lumbee Tribe of central North Carolina and Seminole Peoples from unceded Florida territory joined the Campaign to STOP GE Trees for an October 2014 gathering in the mountains of North Carolina to protest GE trees as a form of colonization. Their concerns were focused on the GE American chestnut trees.
Lisa Montelongo, a member of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee, explained, "I'm very concerned that GE trees would impact our future generations and their traditional uses of trees. Our basket makers, people that use wood for the natural colors of our clay work—there would be no natural life, no cycle of life in GE tree plantations."
Following the camp, the Band's Tribal Council passed a unanimous resolution prohibiting GE trees from their lands: Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians (EBCI) Tribal Council Resolution No. 31 (2015): "We commit to rejecting biomass, genetically engineering the natural world, carbon trading, carbon offsets and carbon sequestration schemes as they are false solutions to the climate change." Concerns were focused on the inability of the tribe to keep the GE American chestnut tree off of their lands if it were released into surrounding forests, which they describe as a violation of the Free, Prior and Informed Consent mandate under the UN's Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Global Impact of the Genetically Engineered D58 American Chestnut Tree
In the end, the potential deregulation of the D58 is not about restoring a "mighty giant" to Eastern U.S. forests. Its approval is about paving the way for the deregulation of all GE trees, toward the creation of an oxymoronic future "bioeconomy" where biodiverse forests are replaced with specially engineered trees for the manufacture of fuels, chemicals, textiles, plastics and other goods in a "green" version of "business as usual." Implicit in this scheme is a massive increase in the consumption of wood. This in turn will drive accelerated conversion of carbon-rich native forests, critical for climate regulation, and other ecosystems for conversion to fast-growing plantations that include GE trees with traits to expedite their use as feedstocks. Existing non-native plantations of eucalyptus, the most common plantation tree, are already notorious for their devastating social, ecological and climate change impacts. But new research out of Oregon State University is attempting to "green" these plantations with claims that eucalyptus trees can be genetically engineered to be infertile, through a process to "knock out LEAFY," the gene believed to control flower formation. The research claims this would prevent eucalyptus trees from invading native ecosystems, though it does nothing to address the ability of eucalyptus to spread asexually through vegetative propagation.
American chestnut tree, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Canadian Biotechnology Action Network
This new technology also does nothing to address the serious problems caused by industrial plantations of eucalyptus. These impacts, outlined in detail by the World Rainforest Movement, include depletion of fresh water; forced displacement of Indigenous groups, rural communities and subsistence farmers; and catastrophic wildfires. In fact, the addition of GE trees to these plantations could exacerbate known impacts and/or lead to new, unknown and potentially irreversible problems.
Another attempt to "green" GE trees for the bioeconomy involves the development of trees specially engineered to store extra carbon as a supposed climate change mitigation tool. But a new article in Yale Environment 360 challenges schemes like this that focus on tree planting for climate mitigation. Echoing the findings of the World Rainforest Movement and others, the article reports "a growing number of scientists and environmentalists are challenging this narrative on tree-planting. They say that planting programs, especially those based on large numerical targets, can wreck natural ecosystems, dry up water supplies, damage agriculture, push people off their land—and even make global warming worse." In addition, they say, "Tree planting can distract from the greater priorities of protecting existing forests and reducing fossil fuel use."
The attempts to greenwash genetically engineered trees with their unpredictable and irreversible impacts are being opposed globally by a broad coalition of scientists, Indigenous peoples, agronomists, peasant farmers, foresters, teachers and others, as well as organizations focused on protecting forests, human rights and climate justice. GE trees have no place in an ecologically and socially just future.
Author's note: Following the initial publication of this article, Reuters reported that a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed on April 21 between the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians (EBCI) and the American Chestnut Foundation. The MOU, described by EBCI members as highly controversial, would allow the planting of GE American chestnuts on Cherokee land.
Anne Petermann is the executive director of Global Justice Ecology Project. She has been working on issues related to protecting forests and defending the rights of Indigenous peoples since 1990 and co-founded the first global campaign against genetically engineered trees in 2000. In the years since, she has presented the social and ecological dangers of genetically engineered trees at conferences, with community groups, and at the United Nations and other international fora on five continents. She currently coordinates the Campaign to STOP GE Trees, which she co-founded in 2014. Follow her on Twitter: @AnneGJEP.
By Walé Azeez
While global car sales took a pandemic-related hit last year, electric vehicles (EVs) bucked the trend.
The number of EVs registered across the globe expanded massively in 2020, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA) – and this is set to continue over the next decade.
Here are five facts about the market from the agency's first Global Electric Vehicle Outlook report.
1. There Were 11 Million Registered Electric Vehicles on the Road at the End of Last Year
10 million of these were cars. The total number of electric cars, buses, vans and trucks is projected to rise to 145 million, or 7% of road transportation, by the end of the decade under governments' existing energy and climate policies.
With even bolder climate programs and emission reduction targets, there could be up to 230 million electric vehicles on our streets – 12% of all road transport – by 2030. Motorcycles and mopeds were not included in the figures.
2. Electric Car Buying Remained High in the Face of the Pandemic
Electric car registrations were up 41% in 2020, despite a 16% drop in overall car sales across the world.
Last year was indeed a ground-breaking one for the sector, as Europe overtook China as the centre of the global electric car market for the first time. From global electric car sales of 3 million, registrations in Europe more than doubled to 1.4 million, while in China they increased to 1.2 million.
Global electric car registrations and market share 2015-2020: Europe surpassed China for the first time in 2020. IEA
3. Consumer and Government Spending on Electric Cars Rose in 2020
A rise in the number of different EV car models available in the market to 370 and the falling cost of batteries saw consumers spend 50% more on electric cars in 2020, to the tune of $120 billion.
Governments also continued to encourage the move to EVs, spending $14 billion on direct purchase incentives and tax deductions – a 25% rise year-on-year. Before the pandemic, many countries strengthened key policies such as CO2 emission standards and zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) directives. By the end of 2020, more than 20 countries had either announced bans on sales of internal combustion engine cars or decreed that all new sales be zero-emission.
Some European countries increased buying incentives and incorporated the promotion of EVs into their post-pandemic economic recovery plans. China postponed the end of its New Energy Vehicle (NEV) subsidy scheme to 2022, to safeguard EV sales from the economic downturn.
Consumer and government spending on electric cars rose in 2020. IEA
4. Electric Bus and Truck Registrations Also Increased Within the World's Largest Markets
Across China, Europe and North America these rises were mainly due to municipal governments imposing greater emission reductions on commercial vehicles operating within their towns and cities. China, for example, commands a 27% share of all electric bus sales, where new registrations were up 9% in 2020.
Electric heavy-duty trucks, while more established in China, have only recently begun to come on stream further afield, currently consisting of around 1% of all truck sales in both Europe and the US.
5. Widespread EV Adoption Could Significantly Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The IEA says mass adoption has the potential to cut emissions by more than one-third by 2030 under the existing 'stated' green policies
Up to two-thirds of emissions could be slashed in that time if countries endorse more ambitious 'sustainable development' targets.
Long Road to Sustainability
While progress is being made, electric cars currently make up 1% of the global fleet. And significant barriers to the wholesale adoption of EVs remain, the report says.
Insufficient charging infrastructure continues to prevent wider use, as does the low supply of appropriate electric vehicles in many sectors, such as heavy industry. Despite falling battery costs, rising vehicle production to meet demand, and the promise of savings over the lifetime of an EV from lower fuel and maintenance costs, upfront prices remain prohibitive for some.
On the supply side, there are also challenges related to the poor sustainability levels associated with EV batteries: the sourcing of raw materials is frequently concentrated in a few developing countries that are often politically volatile and economically fragile.
A related concern is around recyclability. EV batteries consist of multiple Lithium-ion cells that are largely difficult to dismantle and which contain hazardous materials.
But there are some recent examples of the industry responding to this challenge.
Nissan is now reusing batteries from its Leaf cars to power automated guided vehicles used around assembly plants. And while Volkswagen has also redeployed old batteries, it has also opened a recycling plant in Salzgitter, Germany.
Global Battery Alliance
But until recycling moves from the fringe to the mainstream of EV battery production, demand for critical raw materials will only grow.
The Global Battery Alliance (GBA), initiated with support of the World Economic Forum, is a public-private collaboration between 70 organizations across manufacturing, public service and civil society that was established to address this issue by working to bring sustainability to the battery value chain.
The GBA advocates for the production of EV batteries and their by-products to be integrated into the circular economy and promoting transparency and reduction of greenhouse emissions from battery manufacturing.
Last year, the alliance outlined 10 guiding principles for a sustainable battery value chain, to significantly reduce the 40% of all annual global carbon emissions that the transport and power industry is currently responsible for.
It is also committed to policies in which EV battery production takes into account local economies, their environments and human rights, especially in relation to child labor exploitation.
Reposted with permission from World Economic Forum.
- Koch Brothers Plotting Multimillion Dollar War on Electric Vehicles ... ›
- How Norway Convinced Drivers to Switch to Electric Cars - EcoWatch ›
- Big Oil Gearing Up to Battle Electric Vehicles - EcoWatch ›
- Texas Blackouts Reveal How Electric Vehicles Can Provide Power ... ›
- Electric Vehicles Could Be 100 Percent of New Car Sales by 2035 ... ›
That's the warning from a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Monday, which analyzed how the world's reefs would fare under a low, medium and high emissions scenario.
"Our work highlights a grim picture for the future of coral reefs," study lead author and Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington marine biologist Christopher Cornwall told ABC News.
Scientists have long known that the climate crisis threatens coral reefs in two major ways. First, the increase of carbon dioxide in the ocean leads to a process called ocean acidification, which makes it harder for corals to form calcium carbonate skeletons, a process known as calcification. Secondly, warming ocean temperatures increase the risk of coral bleaching, when corals expel the algae that give them food and color. The warming can also interfere with the calcification process.
But there's more. A certain type of algae known as calcifying red algae, or coralline algae, acts as adhesive binding reefs together and can even form its own reefs, Cornwall explained in a Victoria University of Wellington press release.
"While corals are highly susceptible to ocean warming, coralline algae are more vulnerable to ocean acidification. Coral reef growth is also dictated by the removal of this calcium carbonate through either bioerosion — living organisms eating the reef — or the dissolution of sediments that help fill in the cracks between larger pieces of calcium carbonate," Cornwall explained. "Both processes are likely to accelerate under ocean acidification and warming. However, no one study had put these processes together quantitatively previously."
Monday's study sought to fill in this research gap by looking at calcification, bioerosion and sediment erosion rates for 233 areas on 183 reefs worldwide. Forty-nine percent of the reefs studied were in the Atlantic Ocean, 39 percent in the Indian Ocean and 11 percent in the Pacific Ocean. The researchers then used models to determine what would happen to the reefs in 2050 and 2100 based on low, medium or worst-case emissions scenarios.
The news is grim. By 2100, the rate of carbonate production on the reefs will decline by 76 percent under a low emissions scenario, 149 percent under a medium emissions scenario and 156 percent under a high emissions scenario, the study found.
While 63 percent of reefs would continue to grow under a low-emissions scenario by 2100, 94 percent of them would begin to decline as soon as 2050 in the worst-case scenario. Under both the medium and high emissions scenario, reef growth would not be able to keep pace with sea level rise by the end of the century.
This would be a devastating blow for the marine biodiversity and human livelihoods that reefs support, ABC News pointed out. Furthermore, the decline of reefs would deprive coastal areas from an important protection against rising sea levels and surges from more extreme storms.
"The only hope for coral reef ecosystems to remain as close as possible to what they are now is to quickly and drastically reduce our CO2 emissions," Cornwall told ABC News. "If not, they will be dramatically altered and cease their ecological benefits as hotspots of biodiversity, sources of food and tourism, and their provision of shoreline protection."
The research also looked at which reefs would be most vulnerable, and found that Atlantic Ocean reefs, which are already more damaged, would be worse off compared to Pacific Ocean reefs. The researchers also predicted that coral bleaching would be the lead cause of these declines.
"We are already observing global shifts in coral assemblages and severely reduced coral cover due to mass bleaching events. It is very unlikely corals will suddenly gain the heat tolerance required to resist these events as they become more frequent and intense," Cornwall said in the press release.
- The Climate Crisis Has Already Cost the Great Barrier Reef More ... ›
- Report Details Climate Crisis Impacts on Coral Reefs, Warns of ... ›
- Coral in Crisis: Can Replanting Efforts Halt Reefs' Death Spiral ... ›
- Ocean Warming Threatens Coral Reefs and Soon Could Make It ... ›
What is fracking?
Fracking is a process of blasting water, chemicals and frac sand deep into the earth to break up sedimentary rock and access natural gas and crude oil deposits. The fracking industry, which has sought to promote the practice as safe and controlled, has preferred the term "hydraulic fracturing."
Fracking emerged as an unconventional, "relatively new" and extremely popular technique only about 20 years ago in the U.S., after advances in technology gave it an unprecedented ability to identify and extract massive amounts of resources efficiently.
Fracking is one of the most important environmental issues today, and it's a prime example of how a new technology that offers immediate economic and political benefits can outpace (often less obvious) environmental and health concerns.
Why is fracking so controversial?
Modern fracking emerged so quickly, faster than its impacts were understood. Just as importantly, once scientists, health experts and the public started to object with evidence of harm it was causing, business and government succeeded in perpetuating a message of uncertainty, that more research was necessary, further enabling the "full speed ahead" fracking juggernaut.
How does fracking impact the environment?
Fracking's supporters have pushed an environmental angle, insisting that natural gas can be a "bridge fuel," a cheaper, cleaner option than coal before we have a large-scale transition to renewable energy. This claim has some merit, as natural gas does emit much less carbon dioxide than coal or oil. However, it is still a fossil fuel, adding harmful emissions while the climate crisis worsens. Moreover, fracking wells leak methane, a greenhouse gas more than 25 times more potent than CO2.
In order to break up rock formations one to two miles deep, a fracking operation requires millions of gallons amount of water. After it's used, the resulting wastewater, which contains chemicals is pumped back into injection wells, sent to treatment plants, or can be dangerously dumped or spilled.
In 2016 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a report skewed friendly to industry in its language: Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas: Impacts from the Hydraulic Fracturing Water Cycle on Drinking Water Resources in the United States. The EPA acknowledged that drinking water contamination was possible, but ultimately came to this conclusion: "Data gaps and uncertainties limited EPA's ability to fully assess the potential impacts on drinking water resources locally and nationally."
According to the U.S. Geologic Survey, disposal of wastewater has caused an increase in earthquakes in the central U.S. Seismologists have reported that fracking's initial blasting process can trigger earthquakes.
In addition to methane, fracking releases many toxic contaminants into the air. EPA has acknowledged the public health threat, but a lack of urgent political pressure has sidelined the agency into advising on ways to control and reduce, rather than eliminate, the danger.
Fracking fluids contain unknown chemicals and known carcinogens such as benzene. Fracking companies haven't been required to disclose their proprietary formulas, however. This is yet another example of how uncertainty serves as an enabling force. The EPA has identified more than 1,000 different chemicals used in fracking fluid.
How does fracking affect the economy?
The fracking boom made the U.S. the world's largest producer of oil and gas, reducing its energy imports from 26% to less than 4%. It has lowered oil and gas prices and created thousands of industry jobs. While fracking companies profited greatly at first, as prices dropped their margins collapsed. Many are now going bankrupt.
How is fracking regulated?
Congress has enabled the oil and gas industry to be exempt from such regulations as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Fracking surged during the Obama administration, which moved to protect water from fracking on federal lands in 2015. Subsequently, the Trump administration sought to roll back protections and expand fracking on federal lands.
Key Examples of Fracking in the United States
Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale is the source for about 40% of shale gas production in the U.S.
While the Marcellus Shale also runs through New York, the state has banned fracking.
Texas produces more crude oil than any other state.
The Bakken Shale in North Dakota has been one of the main sites for the fracking boom and subsequent bust, leaving behind extensive environmental damage.
A recent report found that all 50 states could provide 100% (or even greater) in-state renewable energy.
Outside the U.S., only Canada, China and Argentina have commercial fracking operations. A UN report in 2018 said that other countries were "highly unlikely" to produce at such a large scale as the U.S., due to political and cultural factors, and existing infrastructure.
The Future of Fracking
While renewables were considered a solution for "peak oil" only a decade ago, fracking changed the terms of the debate, with a new focus from environmentalists to "keep it in the ground" starting in 2015.
The Biden administration now stands at a pivotal moment in the climate crisis. Biden's stance on fracking is not yet entirely clear, but he has rejoined the Paris agreement and appears to take climate seriously. At the same time, he is sympathetic to workers in fossil fuel industries, was vice president during the fracking boom years under Obama, and may be more inclined to seek a gradual transition than one fast enough to help solve the crisis.
- What the Industry Doesn't Want You to Know About Fracking ... ›
- It's Official: New York Bans Fracking - EcoWatch ›
- Texas Passes Ban on Fracking Bans (Yes, You Read that Right ... ›
- Long-Awaited EPA Study Says Fracking Pollutes Drinking Water ... ›
- Delaware River Basin Commission Votes to Ban Fracking - EcoWatch ›
By Richard Connor
A spokeswoman for the Extinction Rebellion group on Tuesday said one of its cofounders had been arrested by officers from London's Metropolitan Police.
The group, whose stated aim is to use nonviolent protest to force government action on climate change, has staged numerous high-profile protests in the UK, US and other developed nations including Germany.
Why Was She Arrested?
The group said Bradbrook had been arrested on charges relating to its action campaign against financial institutions known as "Money Rebellion."
"Extinction Rebellion cofounder Gail Bradbrook was arrested by officers from the Metropolitan Police at her home in Stroud at around 5:30 a.m. this morning for conspiracy to cause criminal damage and fraud in relation to Money Rebellion's debt disobedience," a spokeswoman for the group said.
BREAKING: Extinction Rebellion Co-founder Gail Bradbrook arrested at her home this morning Extinction Rebellion co… https://t.co/ixq6VHdQFy— Extinction Rebellion UK 🌍 (@Extinction Rebellion UK 🌍)1620724507.0
Activists from the Extinction Rebellion smashed window frontages of HSBC and Barclays in the British capital in March. The group also targeted the Lloyds of London insurance market as part of its action.
The spokeswoman added that the fraud allegation stems from a campaign to use personal credit card debt to make donations to groups allegedly damaged by banks. The borrower would then refuse to pay off the debt.
Who Is Gail Bradbrook?
The 49-year-old Bradbrook, who holds a doctorate in molecular biophysics, has said she believes only large-scale civil disobedience can bring about government action on climate change.
She started Extinction Rebellion in 2018 along with her former partner Simon Bramwell, and organic farmer and activist Roger Hallam.
The group says the UK and other countries are acting too slowly to stop climate change. It also accuses the Western financial system of fueling the abuse of the planet.
In April 2019, Extinction Rebellion rose to prominence when it occupied five prominent sites in central London over several days.
In November that year, Hallam caused outrage and issued an apology for "hurt and offense caused" after comments that appeared to downplay the Holocaust.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
- Philanthropists to Raise $62.5 Million for Extinction Rebellion and ... ›
- Landmark Win for 5 Extinction Rebellion Activists Who Used ... ›
- 1,000+ Arrested as Extinction Rebellion Protests in London Enter ... ›
- 70 Arrested at Extinction Rebellion Protest Demanding More Urgent ... ›
- Extinction Rebellion Returns to UK Streets - EcoWatch ›
Methane pollution from oil and gas extraction operations on Navajo Nation lands harms the health of local residents and robs the tribe of critical income, writes Hannah Grover for the New Mexico Political Report.
An EDF report released late last month found the industry releases 1.5 million cubic feet of so-called "natural' gas," comprised mostly of methane, into the atmosphere in Navajo Nation each year. That methane gas pollution amounts to 5.2% of the gas extracted, a loss rate double the national average, and costs the tribe $1.2 million in lost royalties and taxes.
The harmful methane pollution can have a major impact on Navajo Nation residents. Carol Davis, the director of the environmental advocacy group Diné CARE, said just a visit left her with nausea, headaches and a panic attack. "It's just amazing," she added, "that people have lived there for so long in an area where they're exposed to that kind of pollution." According to EDF, about a third of those losses could be addressed through regular detection and maintenance.
For a deeper dive:
- Haaland's Confirmation as Interior Secretary Hailed as 'Historic and ... ›
- Tribes Struggle to Adjust After the Largest Coal Mine in the West ... ›
- This Is How COVID-19 Is Affecting Indigenous People - EcoWatch ›
By Simon Evans
Furthermore, the IEA's "renewable energy market update" forecasts nearly 40% higher growth in 2021 than it expected a year ago, putting wind and solar on track to match global gas capacity by 2022.
The Paris-based agency says a "huge" 280 gigawatts (GW) of renewable capacity – primarily wind and solar – was installed globally last year, some 45% higher than the level in 2019, after the largest annual increase in more than 20 years.
This "exceptional" level of annual additions will become the "new normal" in 2021 and 2022, the IEA says, with the potential for further acceleration in the years that follow.
Overall, the IEA says that renewables accounted for 90% of new electricity generating capacity added globally last year and that they will meet the same share in each of the next two years.
In its latest update, the IEA says wind and solar growth forecasts have been "revised upwards by over 25% from last year."
This is based on comparing the new forecast for growth in 2021 (red line in the chart below) to the "main case" published in November 2020 (dashed mid blue). Looking at the figures for 2022, the IEA's new forecast is 30% higher than the main one it published last November.
Annual global growth of wind and solar capacity, 2000-2025. Actual growth is shown in black, while various IEA forecasts are shown in red and shades of blue. Source: Carbon Brief analysis of IEA forecasts. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.
Wind and solar are now expected to surpass even the "accelerated case" outlined by the agency in November 2020 (dashed dark blue), in which they matched global gas capacity by 2022.
Moreover, the new forecast for 2021 is nearly 40% higher than the one published by the IEA just a year ago, in May 2020 (dashed light blue line).
At the time, the agency had expected renewable additions to be badly hit by the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic, but impacts on the sector were largely confined to the first quarter of the year.
The IEA has repeatedly raised its expectations for wind and solar over the past decade, drawing fire from critics that say – in the words of a 2019 Reuters article – that it has "underplay[ed] the speed at which the world could switch renewable sources of energy."
Last year's flagship IEA World Energy Outlook made a major update to the agency's assumptions about the costs of financing the construction of wind and solar over the next two decades. This gave a significant boost to the agency's expectations for the growth of renewables.
But today's new report, which focuses on near-term growth in 2021 and 2022, contains even higher forecasts for wind and solar growth.
This is shown for solar in the chart below, with red triangles marking the solar growth figures in today's report, the red line showing historical data and the blue and black lines showing successive World Energy Outlooks for solar over the next 20 years, as published between 2009-2020.
Gigawatts of solar capacity added around the world each year (red line) and the IEA renewable market update 2021 (red triangles), as well as IEA World Energy Outlooks published between 2009-2020. Source: Carbon Brief analysis of IEA reports. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.
Explaining its new forecasts, the IEA points to a number of changes over the past year, as well as areas where its earlier expectations have proved too pessimistic.
The biggest changes in this year's forecast are for China, the IEA notes, where more projects are going ahead without government subsidies than expected. The update says:
"The pipeline of solar PV and wind plant projects accepting provincial electricity prices without additional subsidies has increased since last year, resulting in a more optimistic forecast."
The IEA has, therefore, increased its forecast for growth in China by 45%, boosting total additions in 2021 and 2022 from around 150GW to around 230GW, as shown in the chart below.
Wind and solar growth during 2021 and 2022, according to the IEA's November 2020 forecast (green) and its May 2021 figures (blue). Forecast capacity growth is shown by the bars and the left axis. The percent revision between forecasts is shown by the dots and the right axis.Source: IEA Renewable Energy Market Update 2021
The new China forecast for 2021 and 2022 is lower than the growth seen in 2020, when developers rushed to secure subsidies before they expired, but the IEA now sees less of a slowdown than it had previously expected.
Elsewhere, the IEA has boosted its U.S. forecasts by more than 20% thanks to the expected extension of renewable energy tax credits.
It also points to better-than-expected solar auction volumes in India during 2020, but adds that the ongoing COVID-19 surge in the country creates "short-term uncertainty."
The IEA says there were "record-breaking" competitive auctions for renewable contracts last year, with India and China securing almost 55GW of new capacity at average prices of $60 per megawatt hour (MWh) for wind and $47/MWh for solar.
There was another record-breaking year for corporate renewable energy deals, the IEA adds, with companies signing "power purchase agreements" for nearly 25GW in 2020 – a 25% increase.
In a press release announcing the new figures, IEA chief executive Fatih Birol says:
"Wind and solar power are giving us more reasons to be optimistic about our climate goals as they break record after record. Last year the increase in renewable capacity accounted for 90% of the entire global power sector's expansion…A massive expansion of clean electricity is essential to giving the world a chance of achieving its net-zero goals."
The update says renewables will again meet 90% of the global power sector's capacity growth in 2021 and 2022.
Reposted with permission from Carbon Brief.
- Renewable Energy Smashes Records in 2020 - EcoWatch ›
- New Report Shows U.S. Can Achieve Net-Zero Emissions by 2050 ... ›
- Is Mexico's Wind Sector Repeating Fossil Fuels' Mistakes? - EcoWatch ›
- IEA: Renewables on Track to Become Largest Source of Global ... ›
By Malavika Vyawahare
"Tell me what you eat, and I shall tell you what you are," the French lawyer Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote in his 1826 opus, Physiologie du Goût. This is quite literally the case, scientists decoding the human body have found.
Now, an analysis of chemical signatures in human hair and nails shows that as more of our food is mass-produced, we are beginning to "look" increasingly similar. If not in the flesh, then in the bones.
"Reliance on international food distribution and industrial agriculture has changed the chemistry of the entire human race," said Michael Bird, first author of a recent paper in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Only communities that rely on subsistence agriculture have bucked the trend, the paper found.
This change is especially true for urbanized and wealthier communities. In nations where annual per capita income exceeds $10,000, supermarkets supply most of the food. Another hallmark of the modern diet is the reliance on wheat, maize, rice, and a handful of other starchy cereals.
A supermarket in North America. Image courtesy of Flickr
Archaeologists routinely draw conclusions about past diets from skeletal remains. Bird and his collaborators analyzed hair and nail samples from present-day populations and compared them with archaeological data on the diets of people living before 1910. It was around this time that synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, one of the pillars of industrial farming, came into widespread use.
The researchers looked specifically at the ratio of different isotopes of nitrogen and carbon found in corporal remains. Isotopes are versions of the same element that differ in mass. By studying these ratios, scientists can draw conclusions about the food that people eat.
In the case of nitrogen-based fertilizers, the proportion of nitrogen isotopes reflects their ratio in the atmosphere, not what would exist in naturally fertile soils. When nitrogen-fixing microbes extract nitrogen from the atmosphere, it yields a different ratio of the two isotopes than chemical fertilizer.
When plants take up nitrogen from the soil, they absorb two stable nitrogen isotopes in a fixed proportion. This ratio changes as the nutrients make their way up the food chain via the guts of other organisms. The lighter form of nitrogen is more likely to be used for bodily functions and excreted as waste, but the body retains heavier isotopes. Thus, more of the heavier nitrogen isotope survives the ascent from prey to predator.
For folks buying food at mega marts supplied by factory farms, nitrogen isotope values across populations are in general lower and lie within a narrower band. If you consume meat from cows on large industrial-scale farms or plants grown in monoculture fields with the help of fertilizers, the nutrients come to you through an artificially shortened route.
"We're sort of short-circuited many of the natural processes that go into making the food for people in prehistory, or people who still live a subsistence lifestyle," Bird said.
Carbon isotopes, in turn, shed light on what kinds of foods people consume: a diet rich in corn or one where rice is a staple will leave behind a different carbon isotope signal in human tissue. The range of values for carbon isotopes has also shrunk today, the analysis found, because we're eating similar kinds of food.
"We know that agricultural production and food consumption patterns were narrowed down globally over the last 100 years due to research and policy concentrating mostly on a few major crops — cereal grains, oilseeds, sugar — while neglecting many others," said Matin Qaim, an agricultural economist at the University of Goettingen, Germany, who was not involved in the study. "Of course, food collection from the wild — roots, leaves, berries — also declined in importance for most humans in modern times."
However, communities that rely on subsistence agriculture exhibit isotope ratios that are similar to pre-1910 human diets.
That's not necessarily a good or bad thing in terms of health. "The authors of this paper show that diets were more diverse on average before 'industrial agriculture' started, but this does not mean that people had a better nutritional status back then," Qaim said.
The problem with this mode of sustenance, divorced from natural complex food chains, is a loss of resilience. The simplification of the food chain and overreliance on one- or two-step food chains worry researchers like Bird. "It's a demonstration that being reliant to a very great degree on technology in the form of industrial agriculture is potentially a risk," he said.
A disruption, like a plant disease, locust invasion, or pandemic, can throw the entire system into disarray. Short of dismantling the industrial, agricultural complex, there is no way to revert to earlier production modes. Given the ballooning human population, such a campaign would also undermine the food security of millions of people. According to economic historians, the availability of chemical fertilizers is one major reason for the burgeoning human population in the first place.
"Agricultural production and food consumption patterns should be diversified, meaning that more different types of crops should be produced and consumed locally and globally. This would have nutritional, health, and environmental benefits," Qaim said. "We cannot roll back agricultural technology to what it was 100 years ago. We need technology, including new technologies to feed and nourish the world, but need more diversity and reduce the environmental footprint."
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
- Climate-friendly Food Is Easier Than We Think | World Resources ... ›
- 20 Most Sustainable Food and Health Solutions on the Planet ... ›
- UN Warns of Impending Food Crisis - EcoWatch ›
- How Can the Biden Administration Fix America's Broken Food ... ›
- How Safe Is Your Baby Food? Here's What You Need to Know ... ›
- Neonic Pesticides Could Spell Disaster for Our Food Supply | NRDC ›
On May 10, 1996, an unexpected storm engulfed the summit of Mt. Everest, killing eight climbers. At the time, it was the deadliest disaster in the mountain's history. Twenty-five years later, scientists and the mountaineering community are still taking steps toward safer expeditions. But with the climate crisis taking its own toll on the mountain, climbing the world's highest peak may become more dangerous than ever.
Disaster On High
In the spring of 1996, guided climbing teams from around the world gathered at base camp, preparing their attempts to summit Mt. Everest. Among them were Adventure Consultants, led by Rob Hall, and Mountain Madness, led by Scott Fischer, two of the most well-respected and experienced guides in Himalayan mountaineering.
After months of preparation and acclimatization, Hall and Fischer's teams were making their summit push the second week of May. After staying a couple of nights lower on the mountain, they departed their final camp, Camp IV, just after midnight on May 10 and headed toward the highest point on Earth.
As a safety precaution, teams summiting Everest set a turnaround time to make sure they have enough daylight and resources to get back down the mountain safely. For Hall and Fischer's teams, that time was 2 p.m. If clients hadn't summited by then, they'd have to turn around, thousands of dollars and months of preparation squandered — but at least they'd make it home.
A cloudy day in the Himalaya. Toomas Tartes / Unsplash
On May 10, however, multiple delays caused many of the climbers to miss this window, and for reasons nobody will ever be sure of — maybe client dedication, maybe high-altitude brain fog, maybe a combination of both, or maybe something different entirely — neither guide turned his clients around at the agreed-on time. Instead, climbers were struggling up the mountain through the afternoon, even as snow started to fall around 3 p.m. Fischer himself didn't summit until 3:45.
Although the forecast had shown clear weather, by 5 p.m., the top 3,000 feet of the mountain were engulfed in an unpredicted, unforgiving blizzard.
About 2,500 feet below the storm at Camp III was the Alpine Ascents team, which included guide Pete Athans, a long-time mountaineer who earned the nickname "Mr. Everest" after becoming the first Westerner to summit seven times. Athans had been climbing alongside both Hall and Fischer for years, as all were part of the close-knit Himalayan guiding community.
The Alpine Ascents team was planning to make its summit push two days after Mountain Madness and Adventure Consultants, but as they watched the high-altitude storm blow in above them, they soon realized they'd have to make it a rescue mission instead.
"Around 10:30 or 11 p.m., we were still hearing [via radio contact] that there were more than 18 people that had not made it down [to camp]," Athans said. Two of those stranded climbers were Hall and Fischer. "At that point, we realized likely something was wrong there."
Athans and co-guide Todd Burleson, while hoping for the best, made a plan for the worst. At 3 a.m. on May 11, they woke up and began climbing.
"Our plan was to keep going up the mountain until we found Rob and Scott," Athans said. But when they got to Camp IV, they realized how many other people needed attention after a night spent blasted by near-hurricane-force winds.
There were still people missing from camp, and by that point, they'd heard via radio that Fischer had collapsed and had likely perished at a spot called the Balcony, which lies at about 27,500 feet, and that Hall was still alive but in need of assistance to descend further than where he'd spent the night about 28,700 feet up the mountain.
A team of six Sherpa, or Himalayan support climbers, began ascending to attempt a rescue of the two stranded guides, but the still-fierce wind prevented them from being successful. Neither Rob Hall nor Scott Fischer made it down the mountain alive.
"It still brings up a wealth of sadness that I wasn't able to do more for Rob and Scott," said Athans, now 64 and living in Bainbridge Island, Washington. "Back in that day, I had always thought I'd continue working and climbing and being friends with those guys. They were a big part of our community; they were larger than life — great sense of humor, fun to be around, really congenial and convivial people, and good climbers.
"It's hard to lose people like that. You know if you spend much time in mountain-climbing circles, you lose important people to you along the way. It happens, unfortunately."
Hall and Fischer were two of eight climbers who died due to the storm that struck Mt. Everest on May 10, 1996.
Evolutions in Tourism
In the past quarter-century, there have been a number of other deadly seasons on Everest, and commercialization has played a major role in these losses.
"Base camp has a thousand people at the height of the climbing season," said Paul Mayewski, director and professor at the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine. "The actual climbing window is during the last two weeks of May usually. In that climbing window, you'll look for ideally two to three days during which the weather is really good for people to make the ascent."
Climbers form a line to the top of Everest. GESMAN TAMANG / AFP via Getty Images
Unfortunately, not every year has enough good weather days to space out expeditions. This is the scenario that played out in the 2019 season, one of the deadliest on record. Poor weather allowed just a few opportunities to climb, which led to about 800 people trying to summit each day. Lines up at the summit looked like something you'd see at Disney World. That year, 11 people died trying to achieve their Everest dreams.
So, why not just restrict the number of climbers? While the Nepalese government has considered cutting the number of permits issued each year, "it's really tough when your economy is completely reliant," Athans said. "There are some small industries [in Nepal], but really their chief economic motor is tourism — everything from people going into the Kathmandu valley for a weekend to people going on months-long Everest expeditions."
That isn't to say that the government isn't concerned about these issues, especially considering their own people, the Sherpa climbers, have the most dangerous jobs on the mountain.
"It's not that they've been operating in bad faith," he said. "They're operating in good faith, they're just in a really difficult place."
One possibility that's often discussed is that the government could issue fewer permits but charge more for them. Today, climbing Everest can cost anywhere from $40,000 per person if going at it alone to more than $100,000 for a guided trip with your own personal Sherpa and extra oxygen.
According to Athans, in the early '90s, expedition permits jumped from $12,000 to around $50,000 per team, which the government hoped would be a significant deterrent. However, "in a couple of years, they were getting more applications than they ever had before," he said. And costs have held pretty consistent over the past 25 years — in 1996, Adventure Consultants charged $65,000 a head to join its expedition, and the company raised its prices by just $4,000 since.Although going on a guided expedition isn't a guarantee you'll summit, if climbers were to make a more significant financial commitment due to higher permit fees, guides may feel increased pressure to get their clients to the top of Everest, leading to a situation in which they become unfit to lead, as happened with Hall and Fischer.
On the other hand, increasing the cost of an expedition may weed out some of the inexperienced or out-of-shape travelers that can easily get themselves into trouble high on the mountain. Both Western teams that got caught in the 1996 storm included climbers of varying experience levels, which likely contributed to the severity of the catastrophe.
"It's unfortunate, because so many of the teams are commercial teams," Athans said. "There are going to be people who are novice climbers, and they're just not going to be as strong or as fast as more experienced, expert climbers."
Mountaineers push for the summit of Mt. Everest. STR / AFP via Getty Images
While there has been talk of implementing a sort of experience-based selection process — and much of that may fall on the guiding companies themselves — for now, the community is focusing on improving safety on the mountain for those that do attempt a climb.
One issue that's been worked on over the past 25 years is marking the trail with flags and setting more fixed ropes. Due to the storm, visibility became dangerously low, and nine of Fischer and Hall's climbers got lost on the way to camp, having to spend a night exposed to the elements. This resulted in the death of one client, Yasuko Namba, and severe frostbite that warranted extremity amputations for another, Beck Weathers.
"In general, the guiding community there, which has grown substantially since '96, is a bit more conservative and now fixes continuous lines from the high camp at 26,000 feet to the summit," Athans said. "Before then, only the steeper sections were actually equipped with fixed rope. This practice might well have helped those who were stranded out away from the camp in '96 and may have guided them in successfully."
Another major development over the past few years has been the professionalizing of the Sherpa workforce. Although his guiding days are behind him, as the director of the Khumbu Climbing Center, Athans has played a large role in shaping the future of the industry.
"We've been training the guides on everything from high-altitude biodiversity to ice climbing skills to medical skills to just better guiding overall," Athans says. "We definitely see some Nepalese operators, but there are as many or more foreign operators, and those businesses should really be managed by the Sherpa or certainly by the Nepalese."
After all, with their more efficient use of oxygen and unique metabolisms, those born in the Himalaya makes them naturals at climbing the region's peaks, even without supplemental O2. This is why they're contracted as support for international expeditions — carrying large loads in thin air is physiologically easier for them.
By learning the technical and physical skills exhibited by Western guides, the Sherpa can take more ownership of what is, effectively, their own mountain.
"It's right in their backyard. It's something they revere, and having a sustainable business practice there is part of their mythology, is part of their religion," Athans said. "The overall improvement and the innovating of how they guide and use more technology will just be game-changing in the coming years on Everest."
A Changing Mountain
Although expedition companies are working to make their trips safer, recent scientific analysis shows the mountain itself will pose more threats to climbers in the coming years.
In the spring of 2019, Mayewski led a scientific expedition supported by National Geographic and Rolex to take a closer look at the human impact on Everest and how the mountain has changed over time. His research team, which included Athans, spent months collecting hundreds of samples of ice, water, rock, snow, and more that's since been analyzed in top laboratories across the world.
What they've found is that Everest is warming faster than most places on Earth. One of the major issues this causes is ice and snowmelt.
"We were surprised to find out how much ice was lost at very high elevations," Mayewski said. "As you go higher up, your temperatures get lower. You would assume that the snow and ice would be preserved better, but it's not. It actually has a significant loss of ice. You are seeing exposed, old ice at 26,000 feet. That has big implications."
Not only does an absence of snow and ice high on the mountain mean it will become harder for climbers to access drinking water, but also, the snow is melting and flowing around existing ice sheets, which can cause them to shift and trigger avalanches.
Climbers set up tents at Everest base camp on Khumbu Glacier. Frank Bienewald / LightRocket via Getty Images
Runoff water poses a unique risk at base camp, too. Glacial melt has caused this area to sink more than 150 feet in the past 35 years, and small lakes have formed. According to Mayewski, these will eventually become larger and connect with the underground rivers that flow beneath the camp.
"It'll begin to look more and more like swiss cheese," Mayewski said. "There will be times that if people aren't careful, they'll slide into these rivers, and if you do come out, you come out in little bits. It'll become more dangerous."
Additionally, scientists found that the water from melting glaciers contained a multitude of toxic chemicals, like cadmium and lead, which can pose major threats to the health of those living downstream. And this wasn't the only pollution seen on Everest — microplastics were also found in snow samples taken less than 1,500 feet from the summit.
The amount of waste on the mountain has led to Everest being nicknamed the "world's highest garbage dump" in recent years. Thanks to the efforts of local NGOs and the Nepalese government, climbers have started carrying extra trash down from high altitudes. Expeditions also hire Sherpa to carry their trash down, which Athans says poses its own dilemma.
"If you can't make the mountain pristine, at least try to clean the mountain of everything that you brought," Athans said. "For every load of trash [climbers leave behind], that's one more Sherpa trip through the Khumbu Icefall, one of the more dangerous parts of the mountain. Morally, ethically, do you really want to risk someone's life for a load of trash?"
The Khumbu Icefall is where the Khumbu Glacier flows over the mountain (similar to a waterfall). The glacier moves 3 to 4 feet every day, creating massive crevasses and the potential for a collapse or avalanche. Between 1953 and 2016, about 25% of the recorded deaths on the Nepalese side of the mountain occurred in the Icefall, and according to Mayewski, this area will only become more treacherous as temperatures rise.
Interestingly, scientists also found climate change is making the air near the summit thicker, which would make it easier for climbers to breathe once they do make it past the Icefall.
"As you begin to make the ascent into the highest parts of Everest, with warming, there will actually be a little bit more oxygen," Mayewski said.
Climbers approach the top of the world. PHUNJO LAMA / AFP via Getty Images
To monitor things like air pressure, temperature, and wind speed on Everest, scientists installed five weather stations on various parts of the mountain during the 2019 expedition. These will operate for a number of years and will be used both to make climate-related predictions and to forecast weather to ensure climbers have the safest conditions during their ascents.
Mayewski and Athans agree that the data from these stations, if available a quarter-century ago, could have helped Hall and Fischer avoid their fateful storm.
"Understanding what's coming in these big storms and helping climbers to know exactly what the best window is will be a tremendous help," Mayewski said. "That's one of the primary reasons for putting the weather stations up there."
A follow-up to the 2019 scientific expedition was planned for the spring of this year but has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So, instead of being in Nepal for the 25th anniversary of the disaster, Athans is planning to spend some reflection time on Mount Rainier, which he calls a "little slice of the Himalaya here in the lower 48 — one of the few places in the U.S. that you can go to that's a bit like Everest."
When the expedition is rescheduled either in the fall or next spring, Athans plans to return to base camp, continuing research and making technological advances. Hopefully, his work will prevent future climbers from finding themselves in a disastrous situation such as that struck those in his own community all those years ago.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
- Microplastics Discovered Near Mount Everest Summit - EcoWatch ›
- Tourists Are Trashing the World's Tallest Mountain, So China Has ... ›
- This Man Is Helping Explorers Carry out Scientific Research at the ... ›