Heavy Pollution in Southwest Detroit Will Worsen With the Gordie Howe Bridge
By Sierra Searcy
This week, progressive Democrats and youth advocates are launching a nationwide tour to win support for the Green New Deal. Though popular, the ambitious plan to tackle climate change has struggled to earn the endorsement of centrist Democrats in Rust Belt states like Michigan, the second stop on the tour.
Champions of the Green New Deal have a powerful argument to make in industrial centers like Michigan, as the proposal would prioritize communities saturated by pollution from highways, power plants and manufacturing facilities, and it would ensure that those communities are involved in the planning of new infrastructure projects. Cities like Detroit are precisely why these provisions exist.
Head south from the stately skyscrapers downtown to southwest Detroit, a community rich in culture, but suffocating in pollution. The predominantly Hispanic community is known for its colorful murals, Spanish groceries, historic churches and Mexicantown, one of the top tourist destinations in the city. But southwest Detroit has another, more ignominious claim to fame as one of the most polluted places in Michigan, surrounded, as it is, by three busy highways, a coal-fired power plant, a gas-fired power plant, an oil refinery, a steel mill and a wastewater treatment plant. If that weren't enough, the state is now building a six-lane bridge through the middle of the neighborhood.
"They dump everything here," said Cassandra Compton-Montgomery, executive director of the People's Community Services, a nonprofit based in southwest Detroit. "When they need somewhere to put waste, it's like they think, 'Oh let's put it in Southwest.' It's almost like we are the toilet bowl of the city."
This map shows the major roads and highways that run through southwest Detroit (shaded in pink). The Ambassador Bridge (orange) and planned Gordie Howe Bridge (red) will be major sources of pollution, particularly for those living near the bridge. During the planning of the Gordie Howe Bridge, it was called the new trade crossing, or NTC. The dark orange line around the bridge denotes the NTC Impact Region, the area researchers identified as being most affected by the project.
Source: Community Action to Promote Healthy Environments, University of Michigan School of Public Health
In October, construction began on the $4.4 billion Gordie Howe Bridge, named after the all-time Red Wings great, a project that promises to expedite the flow of traffic to and from Canada. Many residents opposed the project from the start, and some are now calling for restitution to the community, which is coping with contamination so severe that locals complain of the foul odor.
"Where I live, most of our pollution comes from the Marathon refinery. The smell is sometimes gas or a rotten stench, and how bad it is depends on which way the wind is blowing," said southwest Detroit native Nathan Love. "During the summer, we just pray the wind doesn't blow our way."
The smell comes from the high concentration of sulfur dioxide, a dangerous pollutant emitted by oil refineries and steel mills, as well as cars and trucks. The high volume of diesel exhaust from surrounding highways, as well as the the Ambassador Bridge, is only making the problem worse.
Concentrations of sulfur dioxide or SO2 (left) and particulate matter or PM2.5 (right), two dangerous pollutants, are highest in southwest Detroit.
Source: International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
A 2016 report from the University of Michigan noted that southwest Detroit sees more traffic than any other part of the city, and warned that the Gordie Howe Bridge would bring more contamination to the heart of southwest Detroit, a neighborhood that "has had, and continues to have, the highest levels of [sulfur dioxide, particulate matter] and toxic pollutants that have been measured in Detroit, and in many cases, in Michigan," the authors wrote.
The findings were corroborated by a 2017 study, which found that the community is burdened by the heaviest pollution in Detroit, given its proximity to several industrial facilities and a high concentration of diesel-powered trucks. It further found that the risk of cancer is higher in southwest Detroit than in other parts of the city.
Heather Gordin, vice president of communications for the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, defended the Gordie Howe Bridge by explaining that it would keep traffic moving so that trucks and cars don't sit still and churn out exhaust. "A lot of pollution and air quality concerns come from the stopping and starting of vehicles and the backing up of vehicles on highway infrastructure, so we spent a lot of time on how to keep vehicles moving to mitigate that type of pollution," she said.
A rendering of the Gordie Howe International Bridge
Source: Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority
While the addition of a second bridge may cut pollution associated with stopped cars, it will also bring more pollution to southwest Detroit. And truck exhaust isn't the only problem. Construction has also displaced hundreds of residents. Roughly 300 locals who once lived in the footprint of the bridge have been relocated from their homes. Salandra Lopez, a longtime southwest Detroit resident, relocated via the home swap program. She said it was hard to leave her childhood home, but she had no other choice.
"I lived there since I was a child. I am 43 now. These were my people. We are a very close-knit community, rich in language culture and history," Lopez said. "I had to do what I had to do. These big business only think about profit. They don't think about the people they're impacting. They don't care about the little people."
Mohammed Alghurabi, a senior project manager with the Michigan Department of Transportation, is sympathetic to the hardship faced by longtime residents who were forced to move. "The process was very friendly, although it was very hard and very difficult because that's peoples' home, so I have a lot of empathy and I feel for the people who went through the process," he said. While officials say they endeavored to do right by locals, longtime residents remain frustrated with the project.
Source: Sierra Searcy
A survey commissioned by Southwest Detroit Community Benefits Coalition (SWDCBC), asked residents living near the planned bridge about their worries. Respondents said their top five concerns about the project were rats, clogged sewers, traffic congestion, air quality and road dust. Respondents also said they wanted decision-makers to consider pollution and public health issues in undertaking the new bridge.
To compensate for the many burdens associated with the new bridge, the SWDCBC is calling on the city to develop a nearly $8 million community benefits plan. The money would pay for job training, health care and home repair and other services for the remaining residents living near the bridge, as well as pollution monitoring after the bridge opens.
Organizers are hopeful that the Detroit will adopt the plan. "I am eager to see [if the city] will do right by the people that are here," Compton-Montgomery said. "Those that are left really don't want the bridge, but there's not much they can do about it."
The abandoned Boblo Island Boat Dock Building in southwest Detroit
Source: Sierra Searcy
According to Gordin, the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority has been working closely with residents on plans to build a 100-foot buffer around the base of the bridge that will include a walking path and green space. But residents feel like these efforts aren't enough.
"We keep seeing what they plan on doing and none of it is enough for me," said southwest Detroit resident Selena Burgess. "I don't want the bridge here. Never really did. But there's nothing we can do. It's coming."
For residents like Burgess and others throughout southwest Detroit, the Gordie Howe Bridge highlights the need for city and state officials to work with communities to ensure they benefit from new infrastructure projects. For now, southwest Detroiters have little recourse for dealing with the Gordie Howe Bridge.
Detroit Neighborhood Turns to Solar for Urban Renewal https://t.co/qgPoF8YHTW @SolarEnergyNews @SolarPowerWorld— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1525210806.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
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By Emily Grubert
Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6bd9fda1316965a9ba24dd60fd9cc34d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/3KaMnkmf0tc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
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By Charli Shield
When an elephant dies in the wild, it's not uncommon to later find its bones scattered throughout the surrounding landscape.
Elephant Burial Grounds<p>Highly social creatures that form deep familial bonds, elephants have long been observed gathering at the site where a peer or family member has died — often spending hours, even days, quietly investigating the bodies or the bones of other dead elephants.</p><p>Although the popular idea that dying elephants are instinctively drawn to special communal graves — so-called "elephant graveyards" — is a myth, their tendency to go out of their way to visit the bones and tusks of the deceased isn't unlike human rituals at graveyards, says animal psychologist Karen McComb.</p><p>"They spend a lot of time touching and smelling skulls and ivory, placing the soles of their feet gently on top of them, and also lifting them up with their trunks," McComb, who's been studying African elephants for 25 years in Kenya's Amboseli National Park, told DW.</p><p>The most striking part of watching an elephant experience loss, Poole recalls, is the quietude. She still remembers one of the first elephant deaths she witnessed; a mother who birthed a stillborn calf. That elephant stayed with its baby for two days, trying to lift it and defending it from vultures and hyenas.</p><p>"I was so struck by the expression on her face and her body. She looked so dejected. It was really like, 'Oh God, these animals grieve…'. It was just so different," Poole told DW. </p>
Witnessing Emotions in Animals<p>Not all scientists are comfortable concluding that elephants grieve. Among the more than 30 reports of elephant reactions to death that Wittemyer co-reviewed in <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10329-019-00766-5" target="_blank">a study published in November 2019</a> were accounts of "enormous variation and nuance" he says. "It can be incredibly involved and intricate for extended periods or can be relatively cursory checks."</p><p>In Wittemyer's own experience, it can be difficult not to attribute some kind of emotional experience to the more involved interactions between elephants and their dead.</p><p>He shares the story of an "extraordinary event" involving the death of a 55 year-old matriarch in Kenya in a protected area that happened to be near his place of work. She was visited by multiple unrelated families while she was dying, including another matriarch that exerted such enormous effort attempting to lift her to her feet that she broke her tusk, which Wittemyer says, is "like breaking a tooth." </p><p><span></span>"It was a remarkable example of this heightened emotional state, it was very clearly a very stressful interaction," he says.</p>
A Different Sensory World<p>One factor that limits our ability to fully grasp the way elephants process and respond to loss is our markedly different sensory experiences of the world.</p><p>An elephant's world is fundamentally olfactory — based on smell. Ours is visual. Previous <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25053675/" target="_blank">research</a> has shown elephants possess the most scent receptors of any mammal, and can <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17949977/" target="_blank">use smell</a> to discern the difference between different human tribes from the same local area.</p><p>That could explain why elephants exhibit such interest in sniffing the bones and tusks of others, as a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1617198/" target="_blank">2005 study</a> from McCombs highlighted. When presented with the skulls and ivory of long-dead elephants and those from other large herbivores, including rhino and buffalo, McCombs and her team found elephants approached and were specifically attracted to the remains of their own species. </p><p>Without access to the smells an elephant picks up on, Wittemyer says "an enormous amount of stuff" could be missed by humans when studying these behaviors.</p>
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