DNC Ignores Progressive Climate Activists
By Jessica Corbett
Despite mounting pressure on the party to craft a 2020 platform that includes ambitious climate policies, Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez on Monday announced a drafting committee that, in the words of journalist Emily Atkin, "snubs progressive climate activists again."
Perez's announcement followed reporting that Democratic Party leadership was "irked" when the DNC Council on the Environment and Climate Crisis released policy recommendations for the platform on June 4 that are bolder than the proposals in presidential candidate Joe Biden's climate plan. Party insiders told Reuters the panel is an "insurgent" group that is not "taken seriously."
Several climate advocacy groups have endorsed the panel's recommendations, including Greenpeace USA on Tuesday. Charlie Jiang, a campaigner for the group, declared that "as we confront the interwoven crises of climate change, white supremacy, and Covid-19, we must demand nothing short of a visionary, transformative agenda from Democratic leadership."
Perez, for his part, said in a statement that "crafting our party platform is important work, and I'm confident that the members of this committee will engage Americans in a substantive dialogue of ideas and solutions that will articulate our party's vision for the country and mobilize voters in every community to elect Joe Biden."
However, the positions and backgrounds of those charged with drafting that Democratic Party's platform suggest the final version could fall far short of climate activists' demands. As Atkin detailed in her HEATED newsletter Tuesday:
[The] majority of people on the drafting committee are Gen Xers and Baby Boomers (average age: 55) who have either have no history of prioritizing climate; aren't on record as supporting the Green New Deal; and/or haven't signed the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge. There's only one person on the drafting committee who could credibly considered a climate-focused Democrat. There are more big bank executives on the Democratic platform drafting committee than there are climate activists or millennials.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms will chair the drafting committee, Biden adviser Carmel Martin will be a non-voting member, and Rep. Barbara Lee (Calif.) will be an ex-officio member. The other members are Tony Allen (Del.), Stuart Appelbaum (N.Y.), Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), Sen. Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), Rep. Sylvia Garcia (Texas), Heather Gautney (N.Y.), Don Graves (Ohio), Rep. Deb Haaland (N.M.), Analilia Mejia (N.J.), Josh Orton (Wis.), state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez (Fla.), Julianne Smith (D.C.), Richard Trumka (Penn.), and former Gov. Tom Vilsack (Iowa).
Breaking: DNC announces membership of the 15-person #DemPlatform2020 Drafting Committee. A sub-committee of the 187… https://t.co/iDWmFmZSIv— DNC Environment and Climate Council (@DNC Environment and Climate Council)1592868223.0
Atkin created a spreadsheet of all the committee members with identifiers such as age, gender, and race as well as parts of their political histories—including whether they endorsed Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) or Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who were the two most progressive 2020 Democratic presidential primary candidates before suspending their campaigns.
Haaland is the only elected official on the committee who has signed the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, and she and Clark are the only two members who supported Warren's presidential run, according to the spreadsheet. Just Gautney, Mejia, and Orton backed Sanders—who, as Atkin noted, "had the most aggressive climate plan."
Atkin's analysis came after she reported for HEATED last month that Michelle Deatrick, who chairs the DNC climate panel, was worried that the platform drafting committee "would be filled with people who don't prioritize progressive climate policy like the Green New Deal." As Atkin put it Tuesday: "Her fears were founded."
The DNC's powerful platform drafting subcommittee announced yesterday does not include anyone from the DNC climate… https://t.co/AiVUrgAZUC— Emily Atkin (@Emily Atkin)1592923892.0
The DNC council launched in February to pressure the party to pursue more aggressive policies in the wake of Perez refusing to hold a climate-focused primary debate. Deatrick is a former Sanders campaign surrogate and the panel's platform recommendations largely align with the former presidential candidate's climate plan.
The panel suggested spending $10-$16 trillion on tackling the climate crisis over the next decade and committing to various emissions and renewable energy targets—specifically, "near-zero emissions by 2040; 100% clean renewable energy by 2030 in electricity generation, buildings, and transportation; and 100% zero-carbon new building infrastructure by 2025."
The council also called for prioritizing "working families above fossil fuel corporations by ensuring a just transition and building a green economy with millions of new, family-sustaining jobs" and addressing "the disproportionate environmental and climate harms to frontline and vulnerable communities"—and detailed various policies for each of those demands.
Excited by @greenpeaceusa's endorsement of @DNCClimate Council's bold, science-based Recommendations for the 2020 D… https://t.co/9w3m1Z8sa5— Michelle Deatrick (@Michelle Deatrick)1592924262.0
In Greenpeace USA's endorsement of the recommendations, Jiang celebrated that the council decided to "stake a bold and much-needed new direction for the Democratic Party" and expressed hope that "the many visionary and essential elements of this proposal [will be] included in the official DNC platform to be finalized in August."
"It's critical that candidates and elected officials champion a Green New Deal and a managed transition away from fossil fuels, including the end of federal permits, subsidies, and financing for oil, gas, and coal," he said. "A world beyond fossil fuels—one that prioritizes justice for workers and communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis over corporate profit—is possible if our elected officials are willing to fight for us."
"As platform negotiations continue, we hope to see more details emerge as to how the part plans to meet its important goals for achieving 100% clean power, transportation, buildings, agriculture, and industry; deploy federal investments quickly and equitably; and meaningfully engage with impacted workers and communities," Jiang added. "We must prioritize racial and economic justice for frontline communities while mobilizing the full power of the federal government to tackle the historic crises we face."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Melissa Gaskill
Two decades ago scientists and volunteers along the Virginia coast started tossing seagrass seeds into barren seaside lagoons. Disease and an intense hurricane had wiped out the plants in the 1930s, and no nearby meadows could serve as a naturally dispersing source of seeds to bring them back.
Restored seagrass beds in Virginia now provide habitat for hundreds of thousands of scallops. Bob Orth, Virginia Institute of Marine Science / CC BY 2.0<p>The paper is part of a growing trend of evidence suggesting seagrass meadows can be easier to restore than other coastal habitats.</p><p>Successful seagrass-restoration methods include <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304377099000078?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">transplanting shoots</a>, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1061-2971.2004.00314.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mechanized planting</a> and, more recently, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-17438-4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">biodegradable mats</a>. Removing threats, proximity to donor seagrass beds, planting techniques, project size and site selection all play roles in a restoration effort's success.</p><p>Human assistance isn't always necessary, though. In areas where some beds remain, seagrass can even recover on its own when stressors are reduced or removed. For example, seagrass began to recover when Tampa Bay improved its water quality by reducing nitrogen loads from runoff by roughly 90%.</p><p>But more and more, seagrass meadows struggle to hang on.</p><p>The marine flowering plants have declined globally since the 1930s and currently disappear at a rate equivalent to a football field every 30 minutes, according to the <a href="https://www.unep.org/resources/report/out-blue-value-seagrasses-environment-and-people" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Environment Programme</a>. And research published in 2018 found the rate of decline is <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2018GB005941" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">accelerating</a> in many regions.</p><p>The causes of decline vary and overlap, depending on the region. They include thermal stress from climate change; human activities such as dredging, anchoring and coastal infrastructure; and intentional removal in tourist areas. In addition, increased runoff from land carries sediment that clouds the water, blocking sunlight the plants need for photosynthesis. Runoff can also carry contaminants and nutrients from fertilizer that disrupt habitats and cause algal blooms.</p><p>All that damage comes with a cost.</p>
The Value of Seagrass<p>As with ecosystems like rainforests and <a href="https://therevelator.org/mangroves-climate-change/" target="_blank">mangroves</a>, loss of seagrass increases carbon dioxide emissions. And that spells trouble not just for certain habitats but for the whole planet.</p><p>Although seagrass covers at most 0.2% of the seabed, it <a href="https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/seagrass-secret-weapon-fight-against-global-heating" target="_blank">accounts for 10%</a> of the ocean's capacity to store carbon and soils, and these meadows store carbon dioxide an estimated 30 times faster than most terrestrial forests. Slow decomposition rates in seagrass sediments contribute to their <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/238506081_Assessing_the_capacity_of_seagrass_meadows_for_carbon_burial_Current_limitations_and_future_strategies" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high carbon burial rates</a>. In Australia, according to <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.15204" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> by scientists at Edith Cowan University, loss of seagrass meadows since the 1950s has increased carbon dioxide emissions by an amount equivalent to 5 million cars a year. The United Nations Environment Programme reports that a 29% decline in seagrass in Chesapeake Bay between 1991 and 2006 resulted in an estimated loss of up to 1.8 million tons of carbon.</p>
Eelgrass in the river delta at Prince William Sound, Alaska. Alaska ShoreZone Program NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC; Courtesy of Mandy Lindeberg / NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC<p>Seagrasses also protect costal habitats. A healthy meadow slows wave energy, reduces erosion and lowers the risk of flooding. In Morro Bay, California, a 90% decline in the seagrass species known as eelgrass caused extensive erosion, according to a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272771420303528?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> from researchers at California Polytechnic State University.</p><p>"Right away, we noticed big patterns in sediment loss or erosion," said lead author Ryan Walter. "Many studies have shown this on individual eelgrass beds, but very few studies looked at it on a systemwide scale."</p><p>In the tropics, seagrass's natural protection can reduce the need for expensive and often-environmentally unfriendly <a href="https://www.nioz.nl/en/news/zeegras-spaart-stranden-en-geld" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">beach nourishments</a> regularly conducted in tourism areas.</p><p>Seagrass ecosystems improve water quality and clarity, filtering particles out of the water column and preventing resuspension of sediment. This role could be even more important in the future. By producing oxygen through photosynthesis, meadows could help offset decreased oxygen levels caused by warmer water temperatures (oxygen is less soluble in warm than in cold water).</p><p>The meadows also provide vital habitat for a wide variety of marine life, including fish, sea turtles, birds, marine mammals such as manatees, invertebrates and algae. They provide nursery habitat for <a href="https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/32636/seagrass.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly 20%</a> of the world's largest fisheries — an <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/science/seagrass-meadows-harbor-wildlife-for-centuries/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">estimated 70%</a> of fish habitats in Florida alone.</p><p>Conversely, their disappearance can contribute to die-offs of marine life. The loss of more than 20 square miles of seagrass in Florida's Biscayne Bay may have helped set the stage for a widespread <a href="https://www.wlrn.org/2020-08-14/the-seagrass-died-that-may-have-triggered-a-widespread-fish-kill-in-biscayne-bay" target="_blank">fish kill</a> in summer 2020. Lack of grasses to produce oxygen left the basin more vulnerable when temperatures rose and oxygen levels dropped as a result, says Florida International University professor Piero Gardinali.</p>
Damaged Systems, a Changing Climate<p>Governments and conservationists around the world have already put a lot of effort into coastal restoration efforts. And that's helped some seagrass populations.</p><p>Where stressors remain, though, restoration grows more complicated. <a href="https://www.rug.nl/research/portal/en/publications/the-future-of-seagrass-ecosystem-services-in-a-changing-world(3a8c56db-7bed-4c9e-ac7f-c72453e2a102).html" target="_blank">Research</a> published this September found that only 37% of seagrass restorations have survived. Newly restored meadows remain vulnerable to the original stressors that depleted them, as well as to storms — and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/climate-crisis">climate change</a>.</p>
Seagrass in Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida. Alicia Wellman / Florida Fish and Wildlife / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>In Chesapeake Bay a cold-water species of seagrass is currently hitting its heat limit, especially in summer, according to Alexander Challen Hyman of University of Florida's School of Natural Resources and Environment. As waters continue to warm due to climate change, the species likely will disappear there.</p><p>Climate-driven sea-level rise complicates the problem as well. Seagrasses thrive at specific depths — too shallow and they dry out or are eaten, too deep and there isn't enough light for photosynthesis.</p>
But There’s Good News, Too<p>Luckily, left to its own devices, a seagrass meadow can flourish for hundreds of years, according to a <a href="https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2019.1861" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> published last year by Hyman and other researchers from the University of Florida. The researchers arrived at their conclusion by looking at shells of living mollusks and fossil shells to estimate the ages of meadows in Florida's Big Bend region on the Gulf Coast.</p><p>That area has extensive, relatively pristine seagrass meadows. "Our motivation was to understand the past history of these systems, and shells store a lot of history," said co-author Michal Kowalewski.</p><p>A high degree of similarity between living and dead shells indicates a stable area, while a mismatch suggests an area shifted from seagrass to barren sand. The researchers found that long-term accumulations of shells resembled living ones, suggesting that the seagrass habitats have been stable over time.</p><p>That stability allows biodiversity to thrive, creating conditions where specialist species can survive and flourish, according to Hyman.</p><p>Discovering the long-term stability of seagrass meadows has implications for choosing restoration sites, Kowalewski notes.</p><p>"There must be reasons they thrive in one place, while a mile away they don't and fossil data says they probably never did," he said. "If we remove a seagrass patch, we cannot hope to plant it somewhere else. It's not just the seagrass that is special. The location at which it's found is special, too."</p><p>A better approach is conserving these habitats in the first place, but we're not doing enough of that right now. The UN reports that marine protected areas safeguard just 26% of recorded seagrass meadows, compared with 40% of coral reefs and 43% of mangroves.</p>
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