As we look back on the most noteworthy environmental stories of 2017, one cannot help but start with the extreme weather that has caused so much destruction to so many around the globe. And with that, the year brought heightened concern for protecting our planet with focused attention on issues like renewable energy, electric vehicles and plastic pollution. And while 2017 was also marked by challenges with the U.S. pulling out of the Paris agreement and making other questionable environmental policy changes, we all enter a new year with the ability to make positive change.
1. Extreme Weather on the Rise
The 2017 hurricane season was one of the most catastrophic in decades. In August, Hurricane Harvey caused major damage in Houston, Texas. Then Hurricane Irma followed as the most powerful Caribbean storm on record. And on Sept. 20, Hurricane Maria swept over Puerto Rico, killing 64 people, destroying the power grid to such an extent that half the island is still without power, and causing billions of dollars in damage. In addition to the hurricane season, wildfires stretched across the west with the Jones and Whitewater fires in Oregon, the Pyette Wilderness fires in Idaho, and the Reef fire in Montana. Several more fires continued to blaze through the end of the year, with the most notable being the Thomas Fire, the largest blaze in California in history, which began burning in early December and will likely continue into 2018. Earthquakes also shook the world in unprecedented numbers. A 6.7 magnitude earthquake in the Philippines in February displaced more than 3,000 families. And in December, a 6.5 magnitude quake in Cipatujah, Indonesia could be felt from 190 miles away. The U.S. also experienced several small earthquakes, including eight quakes in August in Oklahoma and a few more recently in Santa Clara County and San Jose, California.
Roosevelt Skerrit / Flickr
2. The U.S. Withdraws From the Paris Agreement
On June 1, President Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris agreement, spurring backlash from nation leaders worldwide. Emmanuel Macron, President of France, started a campaign called "Make Earth Great Again," and announced that he would be giving away $70 million in multi-year grants to climate scientists who want to continue their research in France. The U.S. now stands as the only country in the UN that does not support the agreement.
3. Continuing Rise of Renewables
Despite the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris agreement, many cities and States made huge progress in 2017. Oregon and Washington joined a global alliance in November, promising to phase out coal by 2030. In May, Madison, Wisconsin committed to 100% renewable energy and net-zero carbon emissions and Abita Springs, Louisiana voted to go all renewables by 2030.
4. New U.S. Leadership Steps up to Fill the Void
The U.S. also had major corporations and private and public leaders step up to the challenge in the wake of President Trump's withdrawal. At COP23 in Germany, 20 companies promised to phase out coal including BT, Engie, Kering, Diageo, Marks & Spencer, Orsted and Storebrand. In October, New York City's former Mayor Michael Bloomberg pledged $64 million to shut down coal plants in the U.S. And in June, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a nonbinding agreement with China to cooperate on renewable energy technology, including zero-emissions vehicles and lower greenhouse gas emissions.
California Gov. Jerry Brown and President Xi JinpingAaron Berkovich
5. China Takes Huge Steps in Renewables
In possibly the most unexpected scenario, China, which topped the charts with nearly double the carbon emissions of the U.S., made drastic changes to their consumption. In January, the country announced a $361 Billion Renewable Energy Investment by 2020 and started work right away. They installed 35GW in just seven months—more than twice as much as installed by any other country in all of 2016—increasing their solar PV capacity to 112GW total. They've also temporarily shut down thousands of factories to cut down on the deadly air pollution and the city of Shenzen has almost completely electrified their bus fleet. China's new perspective on climate action has already changed the lives of the more than 1.3 billion of its people and will no doubt be making the planet healthier for all of us in the future.
A 40-megawatt floating solar farm in China's coal-rich Anhui provinceSungrow Power Supply Co., Ltd.
6. Pruitt Undermines the EPA
On Feb. 17, Scott Pruitt was sworn in as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) administrator. Pruitt, the former attorney general of Oklahoma, sued the EPA more than a dozen times before taking leadership of the agency. Pruitt has made an effort to dismantle the EPA by dismissing several scientists from its Board of Scientific Counselors, supporting the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris agreement, and lifting federal regulations on the oil and gas industry. Then, after a six month review, on Oct. 9 Pruitt signed a measure to repeal the Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce carbon emissions from electric power generated by coal-burning power plants by 32 percent by 2030, relative to 2005 levels.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt visited the USS Lead Superfund in East Chicago, Indiana. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency / YouTube
7. Zinke Shrinks National Monuments
While Pruitt undermines the EPA, Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke has reduced precious regulations on U.S. protected lands. With Zinke's support, on Dec. 4, Trump announced huge reductions to two national monuments in Utah—the Bears Ears National Monument and the Grand Staircase-Escalante—rolling back two million acres of federally protected land and potentially opening it up to oil drilling and logging. Zinke also urged unspecified reductions in Nevada's Gold Butte National Monument and Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, which straddles the California-Oregon border. The report also urges the president to consider changing the boundaries of two marine monuments in the Pacific Ocean: Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll. And in December, Zinke auctioned off 700,000 acres of public lands for fracking.
Bears Ears National Monument Valley of the GodsBob Wick / BLM
8. President Trump Signs Executive Order on DAPL and Keystone XL
On Jan. 24, President Trump signed an executive order to move the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines forward. Just one day later, on Jan. 25, a diesel pipeline in Northern Iowa spilled 138,600 gallons from a leaked system. It was also reported on Jan. 23, that 52,830 gallons of crude oil spilled onto an aboriginal land in Saskatchewan, Canada.
Water protectors and state security personnel faced off across a fence near the Dakota Access Pipeline construction site. Rob Wilson / Facebook
9. Oceans Littered With Plastic
A number of studies were released in 2017 that opened the lid on plastic pollution in the world's oceans. In June, it was reported that microplastic particles have infiltrated the pristine Antarctic, and the levels are five times higher than previously estimated. In November, it was found that deep sea creatures who live seven miles below the surface were consuming plastics. And there were several instances were whales, birds and other marine life were found dead with stomachs full of plastic. Fortunately, there were many who stepped up to start cleaning beaches and find innovative ways to clean the sea.
Greenpeace Philippines sent a strong message about plastic pollution with a giant "Dead Whale" art exhibit.Vince Cinches
10. Electric Vehicles Change the Game
Electric vehicle sales surged 63 percent in 2017, with China topping the market. Several car brands also announced their own inexpensive electric models including Volvo and Volkswagen, making them more affordable and accessible than ever. In addition to the surge, Tesla installed huge supercharger stations in California, making it ever more possible to get from point A to point B without fear of the batteries running out.
The 40-stall "Mega" Supercharger station in Kettleman City, CaliforniaTesla
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By Kristen Fischer
It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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By Eoin Higgins
Over 300 groups on Monday urged Senate leadership to reject a bill currently under consideration that would incentivize communities to sell off their public water supplies to private companies for pennies on the dollar.
<div id="fea63" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9a6f211c2bc5aedd34837944cb8eeedf"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1281000111481294849" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Water in Illinois is overwhelmingly public. Why is Tammy Duckworth sponsoring a bill that aims to change that? https://t.co/1V36Kkd99s</div> — The American Prospect (@The American Prospect)<a href="https://twitter.com/TheProspect/statuses/1281000111481294849">1594249201.0</a></blockquote></div>
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