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A Year of Climate Change, as (Not) Presented by the EPA
By Jeff Turrentine
"This page is being updated." So begins the message that has greeted visitors to the climate change page on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) website for just over a year now. "We are currently updating our website to reflect EPA's priorities under the leadership of President Trump and Administrator Pruitt."
As the Washington Post recently reported, those "priorities under the leadership of President Trump and Administrator Pruitt" would seem to include withholding important information about climate change—both its causes and its effects—from the general public, perhaps in perpetuity. Two (anonymous) employees of the agency have glumly confirmed that the "update" is a sham. "There's definitely no progress on the website," one of them told the Post. "I'm not sure anyone's even addressing it."
I was curious: What climate-connected events and milestones have occurred while the page has sat stagnant? As agency officials spent the past year pretending to mull over their position on climate change, what kind of a year did the rest of us have?
As it happens, the period from May 2017 to May 2018, from a climate change perspective, has been one of the most devastating and costly 12-month spans ever recorded. The EPA really picked one hell of a year to stop informing the American people about the single-greatest threat to the environment. Here's a recap.
Record-Breaking Heat Around the Globe
The EPA may have determined that 2017 was the year global warming should go underground, but the atmosphere didn't listen. According to NASA, 2017 was incontrovertibly the second-hottest year on earth since 1880, when such record-keeping first began. Europeans understandably bestowed the name Lucifer on a summer heat wave that reached as high as 117 degrees in some parts of Spain and brought lengthy stretches of triple-digit temperatures to many other countries. India continued its miserable, years-long streak of deathly hot summers, with the mercury rising as high as 120 degrees in some areas; hundreds of deaths all over the subcontinent were attributed to the heat. Here in the U.S., we experienced our third-hottest year on record, with five states—Arizona, Georgia, New Mexico, North Carolina and South Carolina—reaching new all-time highs.
Arctic Ice Loss, Out of Control
Glacial is a word you might well use to describe the pace at which the EPA's webmasters are working to update the agency's climate change page. Unfortunately, it is also a word that's becoming less and less apposite for describing the home of glaciers: the Arctic. According to the National Snow & Ice Data Center, Arctic sea ice extent for April of 2018 was measured at 980,000 square kilometers below average—meaning that this year has tied 2016 for the lowest April sea ice extent on record. In plain language: There's less ice atop Arctic waters right now than ever before in the nearly 40 years that we've been keeping track of such a thing, save for two years ago, when it was about the same.
The Costliest Wildfire Season in U.S. History
As the EPA was reconsidering its "priorities" regarding how to address climate change, nearly 50,000 separate wildfires were consuming millions of acres, destroying tens of thousands of structures, and killing dozens throughout the American West. The U.S. Forest Service spent more than $2 billion fighting these fires last year, a new record. In California, where the 2017 wildfire season lasted well past Christmas (it usually subsides around October), the damage—exacerbated by years of drought and high temperatures—was enough to make it the worst season in the state's history. And as the 2018 wildfire season approaches, analysts are already making ominous forecasts.
The Costliest Hurricane Season in U.S. History
While EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was openly pushing for a series of public debates on the science of climate change—a dumb-to-begin-with scheme that we've just now learned would have been rigged to favor climate skeptics—Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria were laying waste to giant swaths of the U.S. and the Caribbean. They killed more than a thousand people, damaged or destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes, and cost our country more than $282 billion. In Puerto Rico, where Maria hit last September, many Americans are still living without water and electricity. Residents there and on the Gulf Coast have spent the past nine months trying to rebuild after what experts have deemed the fifth-most catastrophic hurricane season since such record-keeping began—and the most expensive ever. Meanwhile, the 2018 hurricane season begins on June 1and experts are already predicting it to be "above average" in activity.
A Fired-Up Resistance
The past 12 months were marked by a string of menacing superlatives: most, worst, hottest, driest, priciest, even melty-est. But amazingly, it wasn't all bad. If our natural systems spent much of the past year in open revolt, our human systems have risen to the occasion. In the vacuum created by the Trump administration's shameful inaction, states, other countries, and even corporations have stepped up. Last July, for instance, Gov. Jerry Brown announced that California would be hosting a global climate action summit this September in San Francisco, with the purpose of moving members of the international community—including the U.S., with or without the support of its federal government—toward the goals spelled out in the Paris climate agreement. (You remember, the one President Trump pulled out of last June).
Climate change keeps happening whether the EPA acknowledges it or not. Fortunately, the global, national and local fights against it continue, too, whether the U.S. government takes part in them ... or not.
Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Julia Conley
Scientists at the United Nations' intergovernmental body focusing on biodiversity sounded alarms earlier this month with its report on the looming potential extinction of one million species — but few heard their calls, according to a German newspaper report.
The climate crisis is a major concern for American voters with nearly 40 percent reporting the issue will help determine how they cast their ballots in the upcoming 2020 presidential election, according to a report compiled by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
Of more than 1,000 registered voters surveyed on global warming, climate and energy policies, as well as personal and collective action, 38 percent said that a candidate's position on climate change is "very important" when it comes to determining who will win their vote. Overall, democratic candidates are under more pressure to provide green solutions as part of their campaign promises with 64 percent of Democrat voters saying they prioritize the issue compared with just 34 percent of Independents and 12 percent of Republicans.
The climate crisis has become a driving and dividing factor in the political arena in recent years. According to the survey, almost three-quarters of respondents think global warming is happening (though that number varies across party lines) with more than half of registered voters agreeing that it is driven by human activities. As such, six-in-ten voters are worried about the current state of the climate — a marked increase from the last survey conducted in March 2018.
When asked how much they would support different strategies the government could use to reduce air pollution, more than three-quarters agreed that investing in renewable energy research and infrastructure and regulating pollution was a priority, as well as taxing pollution (requiring companies to pay a tax on pollution they emit to encourage a reduction in emissions). A majority of respondents also support more specific policies to reduce carbon pollution and promote clean energy, including a revenue-neutral carbon tax and a fee on carbon pollution that distributes money to U.S. citizens through monthly dividend checks. Furthermore, many support a Clean Power Plan that implements strict carbon dioxide emission limits on existing coal-fired power plants. A majority of voters also say they want policies that address the pollution that causes global warming and reduces pollution investments, regulations and taxes.
Climate change ranks as the 17th most important voting issue and is a more polarizing topic than abortion. So much so, that almost half of registered voters say they would support a president who declared global warming a national emergency if Congress does not act.
A handful of 2020 presidential candidates have put climate change at the forefront of their campaign platform as part of ongoing pressure to combat the effects of climate change. The Green New Deal, unveiled in part by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) earlier this year is a decade-long plan that will "mobilize every aspect of American society ... to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and create economic prosperity for all," according to a section of the resolution from her office posted by NPR.
Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, who introduced a plan just a few days ago to combat climate change. In it, Bennet calls for the establishment of a "Climate Bank" to use federal spending to incentivize the private sector to transition to net-zero emissions by 2050. His opponent, Governor Jay Inslee of Washington State, similarly announced a clean energy plan earlier this month dubbed the "100 Percent Clean Energy for America Plan" that would aim to phase out coal over the next decade and require all power production to be emissions-free by 2035.
Former Vice President Joe Biden also threw his name into the running hat but didn't mention climate change in his announcement. His overall stand on the Green New Deal and fossil fuel infrastructure is hazy. His campaign website promises environmental action but does not go into further detail. If elected president, Senator Elizabeth Warren has promised an executive order to ban new fossil fuel extraction leases in federal lands and waters.
- Abortion and the 2020 Election – Mother Jones ›
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President Donald Trump has agreed to sign a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill that will help Americans still recovering from the flooding, hurricanes and wildfires that have devastated parts of the country in the past two years. Senate Republicans said they struck a deal with the president to approve the measure, despite the fact that it did not include the funding he wanted for the U.S.-Mexican border, CNN reported.
"The U.S. Senate has just approved a 19 Billion Dollar Disaster Relief Bill, with my total approval. Great!" the president tweeted Thursday.
"There was a lot of devastation throughout the state," Governor Mike Parson said at a Thursday morning press conference, as NPR reported. "We were very fortunate last night that we didn't have more injuries than what we had, and we didn't have more fatalities across the state. But three is too many."
georgeclerk / E+ / Getty Images
By Jennifer Molidor
One million species are at risk of extinction from human activity, warns a recent study by scientists with the United Nations. We need to cut greenhouse gas pollution across all sectors to avoid catastrophic climate change — and we need to do it fast, said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
This research should serve as a rallying cry for polluting industries to make major changes now. Yet the agriculture industry continues to lag behind.
"The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism wishes to inform the public that following extensive consultations with all stakeholders, the Government of Botswana has taken a decision to lift the hunting suspension," the government announced in a press release shared on social media.