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5 Ways Trump Continues His Assault on People and Planet

By Brian Palmer

1. Henhouse, meet foxes.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt renewed his science denier vows on Thursday, telling CNBC that human activity is not a "primary contributor" to the observed warming of the planet in recent decades. So it should come as no shock that he's stocking the upper levels of the EPA with fellow climate change deniers, according to a report by Coral Davenport in the New York Times.

Pruitt has started by borrowing personnel from his fellow Oklahoman, Sen. James Inhofe. To call Inhofe a climate change denier is inadequate. Inhofe is a climate change ridiculer. He is the Don Rickles of climate change, and he relishes his role as pantomime villain for climate change advocates, throwing snowballs in Congress and using the word hoax the same way Trump uses "SAD!" Pruitt's chief of staff and his chief of staff's deputy both come from Inhofe's orbit. Andrew Wheeler, Pruitt's candidate for deputy administrator at EPA, another Inhofe loyalist, has called the Paris climate agreement a "sweetheart deal" for China. It will be interesting to see how a team of science deniers will manage an agency of scientists.

If we must slash the EPA's staff and budget, can we at least keep the real experts and get rid of these guys?

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A beer can at 3,780 meters depth near the Mariana Trench. NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas.

The Most Unexplored Habitat on Earth Is Packed With Pollution

By Jason Bittel

In Disney's latest animated release, titular character Moana and a demigod named Maui dive to the bottom of the ocean to do battle with a giant, David Bowie–channeling crab in a place called the Realm of Monsters. But it's not just for kicks and a catchy dance number, of course. Maui has lost his magical hook and of all the places it could be in the deep blue sea, he suspects that the glam-rock crab called Tamatoa has scooped it up.

Maui, it seems, is a student of marine biology. Plunge more than 36,000 feet below the waves in the real ocean and you will find almost-foot-long crustaceans called amphipods that scuttle about in search of rotting flesh and anything else that plummets into their lightless lair. While they might look like aliens, these guys are actually cousins to the sand hopper, the little, living detritus that pings away as you kick a pile of seaweed.

Now, you might think that a life way under the sea would afford these cryptic crustaceans certain advantages—for one, avoiding humans and all of our waste. After all, it's not as if people are wont to visit a place deeper than Mount Everest is high, a place buried beneath so much black, salty seawater that pressure alone would cause an unprotected human body to implode.

But alas, just as Moana and Maui were able to sneak down and cuss up Tamatoa's day, so have we been able to yet again muck up an ecosystem we've scarcely even explored.

According to research published on Feb. 13 in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, the tissues of deep-sea amphipods are positively teeming with persistent organic pollutants or POPs. These include nasty chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), used for insulators and coolants and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which are found in flame retardants. These substances are so toxic, we banned them both back in the 1970s. POPs have a tendency to bioaccumulate, which is a fancy word for what happens when little fish get eaten by big fish and those big fish absorb all the pollution inside all those little fish. It really adds up. Could that be why an apex predator like Tamatoa glows in the dark?

The findings reveal that even areas of the world that we think of as extreme and remote and pristine are anything but, said lead author Alan Jamieson, a marine ecologist at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom. "Most of the ocean is, in fact, not exempt from what we do up here."

To get his samples, Jamieson and his team deployed remotely operated lander vehicles to some of the deepest known trenches on Earth: the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific and the Kermadec Trench off New Zealand. At depths of more than six miles, the landers lured in bottom-feeders with mesh bags full of mackerel and then funnel traps captured the tiny beasts. (While some amphipods can grow to the size of foot-long hot dogs, these critters were no larger than an inch or about half a cocktail weenie). Back at the surface, scientists analyzed the tissues from three different species of amphipod for concentrations of POPs. What they found was shocking.

Some of the amphipods the team sampled showed levels of PCBs 50 times higher than crabs that live in the paddy fields along the Liaohe River, one of China's most polluted waterways. This is more than a little surprising, considering that those crabs live their entire lives bathed in toxins while their amphipod cousins could not live farther away from pollution sources. Even worse, the researchers found PCBs and PBDEs "in all samples across all species at all depths in both trenches."

Nobody knows exactly how the pollution wound up in the deepest of deeps, but the researchers suspect that the substances sprinkle down as tiny particulates or stow away on anything large enough to make the descent in one piece, notably dead whales and fish.

It's unclear what effect, if any, the POPs have on amphipods, said coauthor Stuart Piertney, a molecular ecologist the University of Aberdeen in the United Kingdom, but we know these chemicals are generally endocrine disruptors. So it's possible that the pollutants could be messing with the deep-sea crustaceans' hormone-associated processes. Studies on the effects of endocrine disruptors on humans have linked them to cancers, birth defects and problems reproducing. What they do at the literal bottom of the food chain, we don't know.

According to Jamieson, PCBs affect the reproductive success of crustaceans living in shallower waters. "We can only speculate the same thing occurs in the deep ones," he said. "But again, without being able to study them alive we simply don't know."

Observing life as it naturally operates down in the deep is not easy. Just as a human can't survive the pressures found at the trench floor, deep-sea critters often can't handle the journey to the surface. The best scientists can do sometimes is yank up whatever they can catch and pick through the scraps for meaning.

Whether these polluted amphipods are worse for wear in their home habitat, though, is a little beside the point. They are simply proof that we can't keep treating the sea like a big, black pit. There are currently more than 400,000 tons of PCBs swirling in the seven seas. If the Earth's most inaccessible ecosystems are now coping with the mistakes of nearly half a century ago, how long will it take the environment to bounce back from bad decisions we make today?

Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.

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People, Planet, Paint / Facebook

Here's How This Artist Is Fighting Against Trump's War on the Environment

By Clara Chaisson

Like so many citizens of the world, Monica Rowand spent the weeks following the presidential election feeling panicked about how the Trump administration could roll back years of hard-fought environmental progress. "I really didn't know what I could do," she said. But as she watched the Trump cabinet fill with climate change deniers, an image of a protester she saw kept coming back to mind: a woman wearing nothing but body paint that spelled out a simple fact, "Climate change is real."

"Polar Bear Plight," painted by Cheryl Ann Lipstreu on Bethany Tuttle.People, Planet, Paint

The photo, from a protest in November, became a symbol of hope to Rowand. She channeled her frustrations into action, and less than a month later, People, Planet, Paint was born. The project is using body painting to spread awareness about environmental issues. It officially went live on Inauguration Day.

Naked bodies slathered in depictions of swirling seascapes and glowing coals are attention grabbing, to be sure. And we need as many eyes on climate change as we can get. But it's more than that. "I feel it's more relatable," Rowand said. "It's an actual human that's delivering the message to you, as opposed to something that's stagnant on a wall or on a computer screen."

Devon Weiland paints CR Hall at the event in Boulder, ColoradoSkyelar Habberfield

Rowand spent three years working in communications for the environmental nonprofit Global Green before enrolling in a sustainability-focused MBA program. "It was really hard to get people to listen" as she tried to communicate the threats of global warming, she said. "I would do the check of 'Wait, would I look at this? Would I read this?'"

The medium of the human form also reminds us that climate change will leave no body untouched. Accordingly, Rowand's project is all-inclusive. "All shapes welcome, all sizes welcome, all colors welcome, definitely," she said. "[It's] just inherent to the art form."

"Drowing Waters" painted by Jocelyn Goode on Amy Hope.Jarrett Robertson

So far, People, Planet, Paint has held two painting events, one in Boulder, Colorado and one in Baltimore. Artists and models in the two cities created "Bodies of Change," which depicts the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and other global environmental issues. Each image is paired with additional information on what's at stake and concrete actions individuals can take.

Rowand takes inspiration from how quickly people came together to make People, Planet, Paint a reality. Artists, models and other volunteers answered the call, a local business in Boulder donated space and photographers pitched in to document the event. "It's not me on an island. Clearly, other people are willing to step up and take action."

"Wood You?" painted by Niazja Rios on Coral LopezJarrett Robertson

Going forward, People, Planet, Paint aims to produce two projects a year, focusing on specific issues related to climate change and sustainable development. Next up: the People's Climate Movement on April 29. Get ready for some skin, Washington, DC.

Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.

Here's What Elephant Extinction Sounds Like

By Clara Chaisson

Elephants are extinct.

If that sentence became fact, how would you feel? Artist Jenny Kendler's Music for Elephants: A Eulogy for the Future attempts to evoke the grief of such a loss through a seamless combination of piano music, data and symbolism.

The 10-minute song is a translation of projected elephant population numbers over time into a musical score. The notes emanate from an unmanned player piano, adding a ghostly presence to the already haunting tones. The restored 1920s instrument has keys made of ivory—the very substance for which poachers slaughter these animals each year by the tens of thousands. If and when the piano falls silent, the elephant has disappeared from the Earth forever.

Kendler has been striving to combine her two great loves, art and the natural world, her entire life. As a baby, her parents have told her, one of her first words was picture. Kendler grew up in a solar-powered home and "it was only as I got older that I realized other people didn't talk about global warming at the dinner table in the '80s," she said. Her efforts to synthesize creativity and conservation are epitomized by her current role as Natural Resource Defense Council's (NRDC) first-ever artist-in-residence.

Detail of the perforated player piano roll.Jenny Kendler


Kendler says she's been thinking for years about elephants' similarities to humans, with their well-established social structures and emotional complexity. The severity of the poaching crisis inspired her to take creative action. The piano—an instrument with emotional range and keys historically made from elephant tusks—felt like the perfect medium.

With help from wildlife experts at NRDC, Kendler spent months researching elephant birth and death rates and poaching statistics. Along with her husband, a software developer, she used the data to create a predictive model.

Each note of Music for Elephants represents one month and its pitch the number of elephants that have died in those four weeks. Higher notes correspond to fewer poaching incidents, while lower notes mean more elephants are dying. "Nothing is random," Kendler said. "Everything in the way that the score is played is completely derived from the numerical set itself." Her algorithm assumes that poaching will continue to increase at a rate of 1.5 percent each year, culminating in extinction 25 years from now.

Recent hopeful events may make that timeline less likely. In December, China promised to shut down its ivory trade by the end of 2017. An estimated 70 percent of all illegal ivory goes through China, which is why Kendler sees the announcement as "straight-up good news."

But the situation for elephants is still dire. Illegal channels for ivory will likely persist and consumer education is key. At the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, which exhibited Music for Elephants in November, Kendler said, "People would say to me, 'Oh, people are still killing elephants for ivory? I didn't know that.'"

Take a listen to her work below.

Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.

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7 Ways Trump’s First Week in the White House Was a Complete Disaster

By Brian Palmer

1. A Mission Long Since Accomplished

One of Donald Trump's first acts as president will be to solve problems we don't have. His America First Energy Plan promises to free us from "burdensome regulations" and end our "dependence on foreign oil."

Dependence on foreign energy was a legitimate concern in the 1970s, a decade when oil imports increased fivefold. This is not an issue anymore. During the Obama administration, oil imports dropped 25 percent. Bemoaning our dependence on imported oil in 2016 is to pretend the past eight years never happened. Take a look.

Trump taking credit for American energy independence is the equivalent of storming into the middle of a touchdown celebration, ripping the ball out of the scorer's hands and spiking it.

2. Which America?

When President Trump promises to put "America First," he means the part of America that voted for him. (Not to belabor the point, but that's substantially less than half the U.S. voting population.) The other America, it seems, can take a hike.

For instance, Trump's America First Energy Plan contains no mention of renewable energy. Solar ("very, very expensive," claims Trump, wrongly) now employs more Americans than oil, gas, or coal. Wind (a "very, very poor form of energy," in Trump's estimation) now generates more than 20 percent of the electricity in three states. Nearly two million Americans work full- or part-time jobs in energy efficiency, an industry that Trump undermined on his first day in office.

Of course, those jobs are in states with foreign-sounding names like "California" and "Hawaii." Mr. President, are these places not the America you were talking about?

3. Welcome to America, Censorship!

Speaking of real things that Trump doesn't believe in, the White House website now has virtually zero mentions of climate change. According to reports, the Trump administration has ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct a similar information purge. Trump has also banned press releases and social media posts at most agencies with any relationship to science—the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Health and Human Services, etc. Shut up, science!

Fortunately, universities around the world have been toiling to preserve existing U.S. government data by copying it onto websites beyond Trump's reach. Meanwhile, someone has set up an uncensored alternative Twitter account for the National Park Service and the EPA (among others), and media outlets are offering how-to pages for aspiring government whistleblowers and document leakers.

Enraged scientists are considering a march on Washington (working title: "the Nerd Pride Parade"). There are more than six million scientists in the United States. If just 10 percent of them attend the march, they will outdraw the Trump inauguration. Do it, nerds!

The whole incident is a classic example of censorship backfire. Trump's attempt to stop people from talking about climate change has only multiplied the chatter. Experts refer to this as "the Streisand Effect."

4. The Trump-ian Inquisition

To further its war on scientific integrity, the Trump administration has ordered the EPA to submit all studies and data to political review before public release.

Extremism has a certain internal logic that you have to respect. Myron Ebell, the professional climate change denier who's leading the EPA transition, believes that "science is having a corrupting influence on politics." That idea is obviously backward. It's the scientists who identify facts and the politicians who take those facts and do unspeakable things to them.

However, in the context of Ebell's bizarre worldview, subjecting scientific studies to political review makes perfect sense. Ebell is the sort of man who looks at the Galileo affair and thinks, "Life at the center of the universe was so much better. They were too easy on him."

5. Participation Trophies?

Moving from censorship to outright lies, a major newspaper finally fact-checked Donald Trump's repeated boast that he has "received many, many environmental awards." The results are in. I hope you're sitting down for this—there is no evidence that Trump has ever won an award for environmental stewardship. The Washington Post gave him four Pinocchios for the whopper.

"I've actually been called an environmentalist, if you can believe that," Trump once said.

I can believe that, because the person doing the calling was Trump himself, and the audience laughed so hard when he said it that the hearing room had to be called back to order.

6. Pipelines: They're Baaack

President Trump signed an order on Tuesday expediting the Dakota Access Pipeline, which was under environmental review by the Army Corps of Engineers. He also formally requested that TransCanada reapply to build the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, an abrupt about-face from the Obama administration's KXL position, which could be summarized in two letters.

Trump, being Trump, had to toss out a falsehood while signing the order, muttering "lot of jobs, 28,000 jobs" in a supervillain voice that almost made it sound like he intended to keep all the jobs for himself. In fact, the KXL project would create a maximum of 4,650 jobs for only two years. Over the long-term, the pipeline would create just a few dozen permanent jobs.

7. It's Getting Chilly

In one of his first acts, President Trump froze all regulations made under the Obama administration that have not yet been finalized. Caught up in the freeze were 30 EPA rules, including the Renewable Fuel Standard and a formaldehyde-emission limit for wood products. Imagine the damage to U.S. businesses if the EPA had been allowed to limit the amount of formaldehyde—a skin irritant and known carcinogen—in the wooden floorboards our babies crawl on. Oh, the humanity. Trump also ordered a hiring and contracts freeze at the EPA, lest the agency try to save us from other dangers.

Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.

The North Face

Stunning Portraits Put a Human Face on Climate Change

By Clara Chaisson

The image of a solitary polar bear stranded on a melting ice floe is the unofficial poster child of the climate movement. But the world's climbing temperatures are threatening more than charismatic megafauna; people's lives and cultural heritage are at risk, too. With his portraits, artist Sean Yoro is helping to put a human face on the climate change issue.

Yoro, aka "Hula," grew up in Oahu, Hawaii. Now based in New York City, he honors his childhood love of the ocean with a unique approach to "street art," painting semi-submerged murals on walls, shipwrecks and abandoned docks while perched atop a stand-up paddleboard. His latest canvas of choice? Sea ice.

"A'o 'Ana (The Warning)"Hula

Some of Yoro's recent projects have taken him to the front lines of global warming, where his portraits that disappear in response to environmental changes are a powerful metaphor for climate change. The murals, rendered in nontoxic paints made from natural pigments and linseed or safflower oil, are transient by design.

Sean Yoro stands on an iceberg freshly broken off from a nearby glacier in northern Iceland.Hula

Yoro paints his murals from a stand-up paddleboard—in the Arctic.Hula

Yoro traveled to northern Iceland in November 2015 to paint a woman's likeness on icebergs from a melting glacier. Last summer, he teamed up with apparel company The North Face to complete a portrait in the Arctic waters of Baffin Island, Nunavut.

His timing couldn't have been better. Temperatures in the Arctic are increasing at double the rate of the rest of the globe—in November, for instance, the mercury rose more than 36 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's recently released Arctic Report Card for 2016 paints a grim picture of "persistent warming," "loss of sea ice" and "extensive Arctic changes." The report calls for "more effective and timely communication of these scientific observations to diverse user audiences."

Enter Yoro. To better understand how climate change is affecting the residents of Baffin Island and share their message with the world, the artist first cultivated a relationship with the area's Inuit community. He spent time with local Jesse Mike, who ended up becoming the model for Yoro's ice mural.

Mike told him: "For most people it's about the polar bears, not about the people. Inuit want to make it about the people."

Watch What If You Fly, a short video about Yoro's trip to the Arctic, below:

Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.

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This Statue at Standing Rock Sends a Powerful Message of Resistance

By Clara Chaisson

Since April, thousands of demonstrators have been camping out at the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota. These peaceful water protectors—representing more than 200 Native-American tribes, plus many nonnative allies—are demanding a halt to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which threatens the water and sacred land of the Standing Rock Sioux. Tensions are escalating—on the night of Nov. 20, North Dakota law enforcement deployed water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets against the unarmed group in subfreezing temperatures.

On a hill above the Sacred Stone camp, a metal and concrete statue of a seated man surveys it all—the camp, the rivers, the impending construction, the often intense conflict—his expression calm but resolute. Not Afraid to Look, completed in October, is the work of Charles Rencountre, a Lakota artist based in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Originally from South Dakota, Rencountre got his start as an artist 30 years ago by teaching himself to carve traditional, effigy-style Lakota pipes, as his grandfather did before him. Today Rencountre still focuses on effigies, though on a different scale, transforming the tiny carvings his ancestors made into monumental sculptures.

Friends of Not Afraid to Look

The statue at Standing Rock is based on one such effigy, a mid-19th-century Lakota pipe titled Not Afraid to Look the Whiteman in the Face. The piece features a bowl shaped like a white man's head; on the stem, an American Indian man sits looking directly at him. The pipe was made during a time of intense conflict between indigenous tribes and the U.S. government.

"It was a really difficult time for our people. We'd pretty much lost everything we knew," Rencountre said. "Some man out there in that world, that reality, was carving a pipe—it was a political piece that was saying, 'We're not afraid.'"

The Dakota Access Pipeline represents a modern-day threat to native rights. If completed, the $3.7 billion pipeline would transport 470,000 barrels of crude oil every day across four states from North Dakota's Bakken region to a production facility in Illinois. Its path threatens sacred American Indian sites, including ancient burial grounds and the rivers' confluence, and endangers the Standing Rock Sioux's primary source of drinking water, Lake Oahe.

When Rencountre saw the movement happening at Standing Rock, he knew Not Afraid to Look belonged there. "Seeing that so many native tribes from across the nation had shown up at Standing Rock to support these folks that were protesting the pipeline ... That was extremely powerful to me," he said. Rencountre and his wife, fellow artist Alicia Marie Rencountre-Da Silva, decided to retain just the first half of the namesake pipe's title to reflect the more diverse nature of today's many environmental threats.

Rencountre and Da Silva are interested in creating art that builds community and this piece was no exception. Many at the Sacred Stone Camp pitched in, lending a hand with their carpentry and welding skills. With their help, Rencountre spent 30 days working from sunup to sundown.

Friends of Not Afraid to Look

This isn't the first time Rencountre has sculpted Not Afraid to Look. Another version of the statue sits outside the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The husband-and-wife team envisions Not Afraid to Look becoming a symbol of strength for people fighting to protect natural resources around the world.

On Nov. 14, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers halted construction of the pipeline pending further environmental review and consultation with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. The CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of the Dakota Access Pipeline, however, then stated: "If [protesters] want to stick around and continue doing what they're doing, great, but we're building the pipeline."

Whatever happens next, Not Afraid to Look will be there for years to come as a concrete symbol of people's power to stare down injustice.

Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.

8 Incredible Images Win Top Prize for 'Illustrating the Rich Diversity of Life on Earth'

By Clara Chaisson

What on Earth have you photographed?

This open-ended question, asked annually by the BigPicture Natural World Photography Competition, invites predictably diverse submissions: A leopard prowling around Mumbai's Aarey Milk Colony, a Chilean volcano's violent eruption, and the surprisingly peaceful relationship between a blackfish and a venomous Portuguese man o' war, just to name a few.

But out of some 5,000 images, it was White Rhino, by Maroesjka Lavigne of Ghent, Belgium, that snagged the grand prize.

"White Rhino," photographed by Maroesjka Lavigne in Etosha National Park, Namibia.Maroesjka Lavigne

"I love the camouflage and the texture—you can almost feel the cracked mud," wildlife photographer Suzi Eszterhas, who chaired the panel of expert judges, said in a press release. "This photograph also has a poignant, ghostly quality that reflects how rhinos are slipping away before our eye."

For the last six years, the number of rhinos poached for their horns has been climbing and the International Union for Conservation of Nature said poachers killed 1,338 of the endangered animals in 2015. The photo competition hopes that capturing the natural world's incredible variety on film will inspire us to save it in real life.

The "BigPicture" exhibit, on display at the California Academy of Sciences through Oct. 30, features 48 photographs from 27 countries. The judges this year awarded prizes in seven categories: Human/Nature; Terrestrial Wildlife; Landscapes, Waterscapes, and Flora; Aquatic Life; Winged Life; Art of Nature; and Photo Essay: Coral Reef.

Explore the prize-winning images below:

"Big Cat in My Backyard!" photographed by Nayan Khanolkar in Mumbai, India.Nayan Khanolkar

"The Courageous Crossing," photographed by Manoj Shah in Kenya's Maasai Mara National Reserve.Manoj Shah

"The Awakening: Landscape of Fear," photographed by Francisco Negroni in Comuna de Fresia, Region de los Lagos, Chile.Francisco Negroni

"Deep Sky," photographed by Eduardo Acevedo in Los Gigantes, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain.Eduardo Acevedo

"Pelicans Composition," photographed by Marco Urso in Lake Kerkini, Greece.Marco Urso

"Microscopic View of Sulfar Crystals in Polarized Light," photographed by Peter Juzak in Wennigsen, Germany.Peter Juzak

"The Coral Triangle," photographed by Eric Madeja in Coral Triangle.Eric Madeja

Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.

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