5 Things to Watch for During The Weather Channel’s 2020: The Race to Save the Planet
By Rachel Cleetus
The Weather Channel will be airing today a special on climate change, 2020: The Race to Save the Planet, featuring interviews with eight presidential candidates from both parties. It couldn't come at a more appropriate time: the reality of climate impacts and the opportunities of a just transition to a clean energy economy are crystal clear, and we are desperately in need of federal climate leadership.
2020 Race to Save the Planet will include interviews with five Democratic and three Republican presidential candidates. (President Trump declined to participate). Weather Channel meteorologist Dr. Rick Knabb will be the host.
Here are five things I hope to hear from the candidates:
1. An understanding of the latest climate science and its stark implications.
The U.S. Fourth National Climate Assessment and the IPCC 1.5 C special report make clear that climate change is already with us, causing significant impacts for people, ecosystems and the economy, and that these impacts will greatly worsen if we fail to make swift and deep cuts in global carbon emissions. Yet the current administration is acting in ways diametrically opposed to the science and rolling back or undermining federal climate policies, while continuing to prop up fossil fuel interests. The administration's continued attacks on climate science are deeply problematic. Our next administration needs to lead with the science and put us firmly on a path to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, if not before.
2. A recognition of the terrible human toll and steep costs of recent climate catastrophes, both here and around the world, and what’s needed to limit these harms going forward.
People around the U.S. have experienced a devastating series of climate-related extreme weather events recently, including the wildfires burning in California right now, record-breaking flooding in the Midwest and the Southeast, the impacts of hurricane Dorian and other intense storms, and an extreme heat wave that blanketed the nation this July. NOAA data show that so-called billion-dollar weather and climate-related disasters are on the rise, and 2019 is the fifth consecutive year in which the U.S. has experienced ten or more of these types of events. Elsewhere in the world, a series of catastrophic climate-related events have also unfolded this year, including Cyclone Idai, Cyclone Fani, Typhoon Hagibis, record-breaking heat waves in Europe and the Arctic, and flooding in Bolivia and Iran. Extreme weather events displaced more than 7 million people in just the first half of 2019. Our current efforts to respond to these extreme events—as well as ongoing slow moving disasters like sea level rise—are falling far short. We need to invest much more in preparing and protecting communities well in advance, including respecting the human rights of those who are displaced.
3. Excitement about the incredible economic and public health benefits of a clean energy transition and support for a suite of policies to accelerate the momentum already underway.
We've seen an extraordinary growth in clean, renewable energy resources across the country and are on pace to get to 20 percent renewable electricity by 2020. Double-digit annual cost declines in wind and solar power and battery storage signal the promise of the future. Clean energy has widespread bipartisan support because it means affordable power, jobs and cleaner air and water. We need robust federal policies to ramp up renewable energy and energy efficiency, increase electrification in the transportation and industrial sectors, and invest in enhancing and safeguarding our forests and soils that store carbon. Working across the economy we should aim to get to 100 percent clean energy by 2050, if not before.
4. A commitment to investing in bold climate action that centers justice and equity.
Many communities who have been historically sidelined and discriminated against, who are experiencing a disproportionate health burden of our dependence on fossil fuels and who bear the brunt of climate impacts, want to hear that past injustices will be addressed and their health and well-being will be prioritized in a climate-altered world. Working people whose toil and sweat is the bedrock of our nation's prosperity need to hear that we will invest in creating good quality jobs and diversifying the economy in their communities as we transition away from fossil fuels to clean energy. Many young people on the cusp of being of voting age (and many even younger) have inspired us with their call to action; they deserve political leaders that are doing their best to safeguard their future. Rural communities whose economic struggles are worsened by climate impacts need solutions that work for them. And around the world millions of people living in poverty need climate solutions that also help raise their standard of living. Our next President must connect climate solutions to people's daily life concerns. We won't solve the climate crisis if we don't solve it in a just and equitable way.
5. A complete disavowal of the Trump administration’s shameful and reprehensible withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, and details of how the U.S. aims to demonstrate global climate leadership.
Earlier this week the administration announced its formal intent to step away from the Paris Agreement, and the U.S. withdrawal will take effect on Nov. 4, 2020, a day after the election. This is yet another cheap political gambit from this administration, a deeply cynical move that shows how little it cares about the health and well-being of future generations and our planet. Our next President must not only rejoin the global climate agreement, but also commit the U.S. to doing its fair share to help meet global goals. That includes contributing finance and technology to help least developed nations transition to clean energy and cope with the impacts of climate change, as well as taking meaningful steps to address the needs of the many around the world who will find themselves displaced by climate change, unable to live safely in the places they call home now.
Political will is the biggest obstacle to climate action.
Despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of American voters support climate action and the latest science underscores the growing urgency to act, we continue to see this issue get sidelined and tangled up in partisan politics. We need to hear clearly from the presidential candidates that they understand their responsibility to act, and act boldly.
In the absence of federal action, many states, cities and local jurisdictions have stepped up to do their part. Our next President should partner with the growing number of state and local officials, business leaders, and others who are making transformational climate action commitments.
The next president needs to both make full use of their executive authority under existing legislation such as the Clean Air Act, and also work with Congress on passing a bold suite of appropriations, tax, clean energy standards and other policies to decarbonize the U.S. economy and help communities deal with mounting climate impacts. It's also an urgent imperative to support states and communities whose economies and tax bases are currently dependent on fossil fuels to transition to a more sustainable economic model.
We have many of the technological solutions to cut emissions now (and many more on the horizon); the biggest missing ingredient is political will. The window to forestall some of the worst impacts of climate change is fast closing and the next administration and Congress must act quickly and decisively.
It’s a global climate (and economic, humanitarian and environmental) crisis. Let’s start acting like it.
Scientists have been sounding the alarm on climate change for decades. Just yesterday 11,000 of them joined together to issue the World Scientists' Warning of a Climate Emergency, declaring "clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency."
Anyone running for President in 2020 should have a bold, actionable plan for how they will address the climate crisis. That's just a basic prerequisite for the job.
The Weather Channel calls it 2020: The Race to Save the Planet, but the candidates should make no mistake: it's also the race to save ourselves, our kids and grandkids.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Michelle D. Holmes
Most Americans know about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans primarily through their colorful representations: the original food pyramid, which a few years ago morphed into MyPlate. The guidelines represent the government mothering us to choose the healthiest vegetables, grains, sources of protein, and desserts, and to eat them in the healthiest portions.
As innocuous as the food pyramid and MyPlate seem, they are actually a matter of life and death.
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Democrats in the House and Senate have introduced legislation to ban some of the most toxic pesticides currently in use in the U.S. D-Keine / E+ / Getty Images
By Jake Johnson
Democrats in the House and Senate on Tuesday introduced sweeping legislation that would ban some of the most toxic pesticides currently in use in the U.S. and institute stronger protections for farmworkers and communities that have been exposed to damaging chemicals by the agriculture industry.
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BP, the energy giant that grew from oil and gas production, is taking its business in a new direction, announcing Tuesday that it will slash its oil and gas production by 40 percent and increase its annual investment in low-carbon technology to $5 billion, a ten-fold increase over its current level, according to CNN.
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By Alex Thornton
The Australian government has announced a A$190 million (US$130 million) investment in the nation's first Recycling Modernization Fund, with the aim of transforming the country's waste and recycling industry. The hope is that as many as 10,000 jobs can be created in what is being called a "once in a generation" opportunity to remodel the way Australia deals with its waste.
Waste Mountain<p>The need for a dramatic increase in Australia's recycling capacity pre-dates the COVID-19 pandemic. <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-27/where-does-all-australias-waste-go/11755424" target="_blank">Australians create approximately 67 million tons of waste a year</a>, and like in many wealthy countries, much of that was sent overseas. That all changed when China announced it was <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/10/china-has-banned-foreign-waste-so-whats-the-future-of-world-recycling" target="_blank">banning the import of a huge range of foreign waste</a> and recyclables. Soon <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/05/malaysia-flooded-with-plastic-waste-to-send-back-some-scrap-to-source" target="_blank">other countries followed suit</a>, and Australia was forced to look for alternative solutions.</p>
Biggest exporters of plastic. Statista
Waste Export Ban<p>Australia has adopted a strategy of taking responsibility for its own waste. Starting in January 2021, it is phasing in <a href="http://www.environment.gov.au/protection/waste-resource-recovery/waste-export-ban" target="_blank">bans on the export of different forms of waste</a>. By mid 2024, Australia's home-grown recycling industry will have to deal with an extra 650,000 tons of waste plastic, paper, glass and tires.</p><p>"As we cease shipping our waste overseas, the waste and recycling transformation will reshape our domestic waste industry, driving job creation and putting valuable materials back into the economy," federal environment minister Sussan Ley said in a <a href="https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-australia-waste/australia-to-set-up-132-million-fund-to-boost-recycling-following-export-curbs-idUKKBN247060" target="_blank">statement to Reuters</a>.</p>
Timeline for Australia's waste export ban. Australian Government
Trash Into Treasure<p>The benefits to the environment of boosting recycling rates are well known – less landfill, less plastic in our ocean, reduced need for virgin materials, and lower carbon emissions. The Recycling Modernization Fund initiative aims to divert more than 10 million tons of waste from landfill, part of an <a href="http://www.environment.gov.au/protection/waste-resource-recovery/publications/national-waste-policy-action-plan" target="_blank">overall strategy to reduce the total waste generated per person by 10%</a>, and push <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/7381c1de-31d0-429b-912c-91a6dbc83af7/files/national-waste-report-2018.pdf" target="_blank">Australia's total resource recovery rate from 58% in 2017</a> to 80% by 2030.</p><p>But like many countries, Australia is focusing on the economic benefits of better waste management as well.</p><p>"This will mean Australia converts more waste into higher valued resources ready for reuse locally by manufacturers and brands in their packaging and products," Rose Read, CEO of the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council, <a href="https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-australia-waste/australia-to-set-up-132-million-fund-to-boost-recycling-following-export-curbs-idUKKBN247060" target="_blank">told Reuters</a>.</p>
Green Jobs<p>The great potential of the circular economy to create green jobs is being recognized across the world.</p><p>In the UK, the Waste and Resources Action Program has launched a <a href="https://wrap.org.uk/buildbackbetter" target="_blank">six-point plan which it claims could add $90 billion to the economy, and create 500,000 new jobs</a>. Investment in the circular economy forms a significant part of the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/us/politics/biden-climate-plan.html" target="_blank">$2 trillion climate plan that Democratic candidate Joe Biden</a> is taking into November's US presidential election. And the <a href="https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_940" target="_blank">European Union has put its Green New Deal at the heart of its plans for recovery</a> from the economic shock of COVID-19.</p><p>The World Economic Forum's <a href="http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_The_Future_Of_Nature_And_Business_2020.pdf" target="_blank">Future of Nature and Business</a> report identifies 15 systemic transitions with annual business opportunities worth $10 billion a year that could create 395 million jobs by 2030.</p><p>As is the case with Australia's Recycling Modernization Fund, a combination of private enterprise and government investment can offer ways to get people back to work by building a more environmentally sustainable economy.</p>
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The Great American Outdoors Act is now the law of the land.
<div id="e0008" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ffc07febbf5d2d585ad06d3f43e2be56"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1290667833999929344" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Breaking News: The President has just signed the bipartisan #GreatAmericanOutdoorsAct. It will help: 🏗️ Restore… https://t.co/RPefKPMn7S</div> — Fix Our Parks (@Fix Our Parks)<a href="https://twitter.com/FixOurParksUS/statuses/1290667833999929344">1596554165.0</a></blockquote></div>
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By Andrew J. Whelton and Caitlin R. Proctor
In recent years wildfires have entered urban areas, causing breathtaking destruction.
Survivors left everything to flee the Camp Fire's path. Andrew Whelton / Purdue University
Wildfires and Water<p>Both the Tubbs and Camp fires destroyed fire hydrants, water pipes and meter boxes. Water leaks and ruptured hydrants were common. The Camp Fire inferno spread at a speed of one football field per second, chasing everyone – including water system operators – out of town.</p><p>After the fires passed, testing ultimately revealed widespread hazardous drinking water contamination. Evidence suggests that the toxic chemicals originated from a combination of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/aws2.1183" target="_blank">burning vegetation, structures and plastic materials</a>.</p>
Pipes, water meters and meter covers after wildfires destroyed them. Caitlin Proctor, Amisha Shah, David Yu, and Andrew Whelton/Purdue University
Dangerous Contamination Levels<p>Benzene was found at concentrations of 40,000 parts per billion (ppb) in drinking water after the Tubbs Fire and at more than 2,217 ppb after the Camp Fire. According to the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, children exposed to benzene for a single day can suffer <a href="https://engineering.purdue.edu/PlumbingSafety/resources/Benzene-Levels-in-Water.pdf" target="_blank">harm at levels as low as 26 ppb</a>.</p><p>The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends limiting children's short-term acute exposure to <a href="https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2018-03/documents/dwtable2018.pdf" target="_blank">200 ppb</a>, and long-term exposure to less than <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/national-primary-drinking-water-regulations" target="_blank">5 ppb</a>. The EPA regulatory level for what constitutes a hazardous waste is <a href="https://19january2017snapshot.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-06/documents/tclp.pdf" target="_blank">500 ppb</a>.</p><p>In early 2019, California conducted contaminated water testing on humans by taking contaminated water from the Paradise Irrigation District and asking persons to smell it. The state found that even when people smelled contaminated water that had less than 200 ppb benzene, <a href="https://engineering.purdue.edu/PlumbingSafety/resources/Dissipatiion-of-Burn-Related-VOC-From-Water.pdf" target="_blank">at least one person reported nausea and throat irritation</a>. The test also showed that water contained a variety of other benzene-like compounds that first responders had not sampled for.</p><p>The officials who carried out this small-scale test did not appear to realize the significance of what they had done, until we asked whether they had had their action approved in advance by an institutional review board. In response, they asserted that such a review was not needed.</p><p>In our view, this episode is telling for two reasons. First, one subject reported an adverse health effect after being exposed to water that contained benzene at a level below the EPA's recommended one-day limit for children. Second, doing this kind of test without proper oversight suggests that officials greatly underestimated the potential for serious contamination of local water supplies and public harm. After the Camp Fire, together with the EPA, we estimated that some plastic pipes needed <a href="https://engineering.purdue.edu/PlumbingSafety/opinions/Final-HDPE-Service-Line-Decontamination-2019-03-18.pdf" target="_blank">more than 280 days</a> of flushing to make them safe again.</p>
Plastic pipes can be damaged by heat and fire contact. Andrew Whelton / Purdue University
Building Codes Could Make Areas Disaster-Ready<p>Our research underscores that community building codes are inadequate to prevent wildfire-caused pollution of drinking water and homes.</p><p>Installing one-way valves, called backflow prevention devices, at each water meter can prevent contamination rushing out of the damaged building from flowing into the larger buried pipe network.</p><p>Adopting codes that required builders to install fire-resistant meter boxes and place them farther from vegetation would help prevent infrastructure from burning so readily in wildfires. Concrete meter boxes and water meters with minimal plastic components would be less likely to ignite. Some plastics may be practically impossible to make safe again, since all types are susceptible to fire and heat.</p><p>Water main shutoff valves and water sampling taps should exist at every water meter box. Sample taps can help responders quickly determine water safety.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9540d7e271306ed417112042a3efc9a4"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GnlrzI1wdAI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Smell Test Doesn’t Work<p>Under no circumstance should people be told to <a href="https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/press_room/press_releases/2018/pr122418_voc.pdf" target="_blank">smell the water</a> to determine its safety, as was recommended for months after the Camp Fire. Many chemicals have no odor when they are harmful. Only testing can determine safety.</p><p>Ordering people to boil their water will not make it safe if it contains toxic chemicals that enter the air. Boiling just transmits those substances into the air faster. "Do not use" orders can keep people safe until agencies can test the water. Before such advisories are lifted or modified, regulators should be required to carry out a full chemical screen of the water systems. Yet, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/aws2.1183" target="_blank">disaster</a> after <a href="https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlehtml/2017/ew/c5ew00294j" target="_blank">disaster</a>, government agencies have failed to take this step.</p><p>Buildings should be tested to find contamination. <a href="https://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2020/Q1/study-your-homes-water-quality-could-vary-by-the-room-and-the-season.html" target="_blank">Home drinking water quality can differ from room to room</a>, so reliable testing should sample both cold and hot water at many locations within each building.</p><p>While infrastructure is being repaired, survivors need a safe water supply. Water treatment devices sold for home use, such as refrigerator and faucet water filters, are not approved for extremely contaminated water, although product sales representatives and government officials may <a href="https://undark.org/2019/09/19/camp-fire-california-drinking-water-carcinogens/" target="_blank">mistakenly think</a> the devices can be used for that purpose.</p><p>To avoid this kind of confusion, external technical experts should be called in assist local public health departments, which can quickly become overwhelmed after disasters.</p>
<div id="71cf9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e059d199e8368d282a31601e372e4dda"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1204068265980547075" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">The Los Angeles City Council's Planning and Land Use Committee signed off on an effort to expand the city's fire-re… https://t.co/fP8Z8mUq7R</div> — IntlCodeCouncil (@IntlCodeCouncil)<a href="https://twitter.com/IntlCodeCouncil/statuses/1204068265980547075">1575907219.0</a></blockquote></div>
Preparing for Future Fires<p>The damage that the Tubbs and Camp fires caused to local water systems was preventable. We believe that urban and rural communities, as well as state legislatures, should establish codes and lists of authorized construction materials for high-risk areas. They also should establish rapid methods to assess health, prepare for water testing and decontamination, and set aside emergency water supplies.</p><p>Wildfires are coming to urban areas. Protecting drinking water systems, buried underground or in buildings, is one thing communities can do to prepare for that reality.</p>
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