Exclusive Interview with Biologist Shane Davis on Fracking Colorado
Colorado had quite a year in 2013. Aside from record setting forest fires, warming temperatures and continued pine beetle infestations, Colorado had a storm in September, typically our dryest month of the year, that has been referred to as a 100 year to a 500 year to even a thousand year flood. Whatever the case, it was a big, big flood with lots and lots of rain, around 17 inches of rain equivalent to around 20 feet of snow.
A drilling rig in Weld County inundated by flood waters near a residential home
on September 13, 2013. Photo credit: The Denver Channel
Shane Davis, a person who feels strongly about fracking and flooding, took some time out of his busy day to talk with me for this EcoWatch exclusive interview. For all of you who don’t know Shane Davis, let me introduce him to you. He is an interesting guy. For starters, his boyhood found him living on the border of Canada and northern Idaho. This put him into the natural world from the very beginning. He’d say he’s been an activist concerned for the environment since the age of seven or eight when he became fully aware of the environment. He had an innate response to the environment. Davis comes equipped with much experience. He was a park ranger for many years, helping create stewards of the natural world as an “interpreter naturalist.”
He worked for the Colorado State Parks, Department of Natural Resources and in the South Pacific as a marine biologist for NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). Davis is a biologist by training. He is a guy with a vast yearning for discovery. He initially focused on biology in college and then switched to molecular genetics, being a National Science Foundation grant recipient in this area. He also received a NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) medal for his work oversees managing an environmental safety and security pilot program.
Davis became interested in fracking more than four years ago while living in Firestone, CO. He helped start the first grassroots organization for anti-fracking in Colorado in mid 2010, and created the website Fractivist.com that
Fracking is a practice that has been used by the oil and gas industry for quite sometime. However its use has been becoming much more sophisticated and escalating at a significant proportion in recent times as oil and gas deposits have been getting scarcer and the exemptions of the 2005 Energy Policy Act kicked in.
Fracking releases oil and gas deposits by drilling down often to depths of two miles or greater and then, in more recent times, horizontally. In Colorado’s Wattenberg oil field in the Denver-Julesburg Basin the current target depths are 7,000 to deeper than 8,000 feet. Injecting water and chemicals at pressure creates a multitude of fractures in the surrounding rock releasing the trapped oil and gas. For a typical well two to four million gallons of water is used. Four to five, or even up to nine, million gallons of water can be used in a horizontal well.
The wastewater mixed with toxic chemicals gets pumped out and often injected into auxiliary holding wells and capped. The oil and gas is released and moves up the well. Many people living near the well sites voice concern and examples of harm to their health, while the general industry stance appears to say that the fracking process is entirely safe and free of harm to people and the environment.
There are about 51,000 active gas wells in Colorado, and 79,000 inactive wells—50-55 percent of these are awaiting the new fracking technology. So approximately 130,000 completed wells exist in Colorado. Weld County amazingly has about 21,000 active wells, more than in any other Colorado county or any other county in the U.S.
MS: Is fracking safe?
SD: Absolutely not. It never will be.
MS: Is using our water worth it for going after oil and gas?
SD: I am absolutely appalled that the oil and gas industry is using our most valuable resource—water—to mine for something far less valuable.
MS: Why are you passionate about preventing fracking?
SD: I think, number one, is to protect the health and safety and welfare of the environment and citizens from the adverse impacts—the very harmful impacts of the fracking process and the drilling ... just everything the oil and gas extraction industry encompasses. But I think even more so, we are so much more smarter, yet extracting yet another fossil fuel. I firmly believe we are going down, backwards. We need to go forward, and have research and development that focuses solely on healthy energies that allows the U.S. to have healthy energy democracy not an extractive oligarchic sort of energy island. Seriously, an oil-garchy is what we call it. We are just going in the wrong direction to serious consequences.
MS: Why should we be concerned about fracking?
SD: Well I think in short why the citizens of America or the globe should be concerned about fracking is that it’s a largely unregulated industry that is not for the benefit of energy democracy in America or the health and welfare of the people, and it’s for the less than 1 percent, and it’s extremely damaging, it’s environmental catastrophe waiting to happen decades from now and human health catastrophe.
A tremendous amount of rain fell down upon Colorado the week of Sept. 9. On Sept. 16, Boulder County gauged a record setting 17 inches of rain. The average yearly precipitation for this county is 20.7 inches and for the month of September 1.7 inches. It is the heaviest recorded rainfall Colorado has seen. If snow fell instead of rain, the Front Range would have been buried by some 20 feet of snow.
While the rain that is responsible for the Big Thompson Canyon flood of 1976 was extremely localized and a rapid downpour, where eight inches fell in the first hour and 12 inches total in the first three hours, Colorado’s September flood waters spread over a vast 2,000 square mile area affecting 17 counties from north to south along the Front Range.
At Governor Hickenlooper’s request, President Obama, on Sept. 12, declared a state of emergency in Boulder, El Paso and Larimer counties, and 12 more counties were added Sept. 16 (Adams, Arapahoe, Broomfield, Clear Creek, Denver, Fremont, Jefferson, Morgan, Logan, Pueblo, Washington and Weld). According to COGCC (Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission), 1,970 active wells were affected by the flood waters with drums tipped over, failure of oil lines and containment facilities, and other equipment damaged. As of the latest Nov. 26 report, 14 confirmed spills occurred spilling 48,250 gallons of oil and indicating the release of 43,479 gallons of produced water (basically toxic liquid industrial waste).
COGCC has admitted that historically 43 percent of oil and gas well spills prior to the flood, in Weld County, resulted in groundwater contamination. Produced water is exposed in open pits and mix readily with the flood waters. Much concern has been raised over the safety of such drilling operations in flood situations.
“Fracking and operating oil and gas facilities in flood plains is extremely risky," said Clean Water Action’s Gary Wockner. "Flood waters can topple facilities and spread oil, gas and cancer-causing fracking chemicals across vast landscapes making contamination and clean-up efforts exponentially worse and more complicated.”
As reported by the Daily Camera, “Lafayette-based anti-fracking activist Clif Willmeng said he spent two days 'zig-zagging' across Weld and Boulder counties documenting flooded drilling sites, mostly along the drainage-way of the St. Vrain River. He observed “hundreds” of wells that were inundated. He also saw many condensate tanks that hold waste materials from fracking at odd angles or even over turned.”
MS: What happened during the flood?
SD: The flood in September was a shocker, not just to Colorado, but the United States and the world that Colorado had its first tropical rainstorm. About 1,970, according to the state, active oil and gas well pads were negatively impacted by the flood as well. The amount of rain that fell was unprecedented. It was an epic flood of epic proportions. And it paved its way through the highest density of active producing well pads in Colorado and the United States. So, it was a shock to the industry and to the people. There were so many people that lost their homes, which is the saddest part of all. So, what we saw here were worst case scenarios, which the state and industry were not prepared for.
MS: Could you tell me what you did during/shortly after the flooding?
SD: I went up into the air five times. I flew over the flood plain from Boulder to nearly the Nebraska border five separate times. I took up CNN, NBC, NPR, New York Times, all kinds of people out into the field, on the ground and in the air. Took several thousand photographs of the well pads that were impacted negatively where you could see the condensate or crude oil tanks or produced water tanks flipped over, pipes broken. So basically what I did was taking maybe three or four dozen people out on the ground and up in the air to show the leading media across the nation what really happened.
MS: What would you say was the most common damage?
SD: I think the most common damage people saw on the surface, was the tanks listing or flipped over on their sides or floating down this new epic river. But one thing I tried to show case was the subsurface infrastructure. The industry and the state were only talking about the equipment that was on top of the ground. And I know being on the ground the floods were so strong they washed away three and four and five feet of top soil in many areas along the river—the South Platte and St. Vrain River. And so what I looked at was these subsurface infrastructure to include flow lines, gathering lines, all the plastic pipelines that carry the petrochemicals to and from the production sites to the gathering stations to the refineries. Just like the Titanic, the Titanic was not sunk from the tip on the iceberg. It was the subsurface infrastructure that caused the most amount of damage. So that was my talking point because the industry can say we sucked up this amount of crude oil, this amount of produced water on the surface that spilled but what they are not telling us is what they don’t know which lies beneath the surface. They don’t know how much of those chemicals are still leaking because they’ll have to inspect every inch of those flow lines and those gathering lines all across the flood plain.
MS: And what would you say are the main types of contamination that especially you’re most concerned about that was released?
SD: Well all of it. Obviously crude oil which is also considered condensate. It’s crude oil but it has a number of other fluids, toxic or endocrine disrupting chemicals that would be mixed in with it until it would be refined or before it was refined. Also, any of the fracking fluid constituents to include naturally occurring radioactive materials that come up from the well bore that are stored in the produced water vaults. So I think it’s everything. I don’t have one in particular. Anything that is not naturally on the surface that is a product of oil and gas that spills on the surface that contaminates the surface is a problem.
A lot of these chemicals people need to know are endocrine disrupting chemicals that are so damaging to our reproductive systems, short term, long term and forever. Any and all of these chemicals that were released is a problem. The oil and gas industry is saying, well there is only a small amount of these chemicals released. That is the problem. And again the industry is saying, “dilution is the solution to pollution.” Well they can’t have that as a best management practice. And that’s what they are relying on all the time ... when you say, “dilution is the solution to pollution.” For example, basically these open evaporation pits on western slope like in Garfield County where hundreds of millions of gallons of toxic industrial liquid waste are being evaporated into the air from the industry’s backyard to your backyard. And the same thing applies when you have huge spills like this, well it spilled into the water so it was diluted. This is our water. These waters of the state. The people’s water. This should never happen. The industry should be held extremely accountable for their actions.
Davis clarified at another point in this interview that the main contaminants to be especially concerned about are Benzene, Ethylbenzene, Toluene and Zylene, which are called BTEX chemicals. There is also Methyl Chloride (extremely dangerous), Cyclopentane and dozens of other chemicals released. A common batch of fracking fluid could hold 500 or more different ingredients that is currently not required to be disclosed to the general public or the government.
MS: What should we do in the future with fracking?
SD: Well outside of banning it completely, I think that in the interim while we can figure how to ban it there should be an enormous severance tax to research and development for the state in which it’s conducted. I also believe money should be set aside, millions and millions of dollars for environmental remediation and any associated health impacts.
They have a bond. Every operator has a surface bond and a surface agreement, a land use agreement, with the private land owner or state or federal mineral holder rights. But their bond is anywhere from two to 25 thousand dollars. And just simple remediation of a well pad—let’s say there was a thousand barrels of oil that spilled on the surface, just the remediation if that was in an agricultural area which 90 percent of all oil and gas wells are in Weld County, they are right in the center of an Agriculture area—the bond they put up, the two to 25 thousand dollars, doesn’t even begin to start the remediation. So, the fines and the bonds are so outdated that they don’t cover actual/factual costs. We need to envision something that is going to remediate the damage that the oil and gas industry imposes on our ways of life. And let us not forget that the federal exemptions, that the oil and gas industry currently lavishes in, strips our civil rights and protections. Now the citizens, free citizens of America cannot protect themselves from the adverse impacts of the fracking processes—to include the development, the drilling, the fracking, the production, the transportation.
Active wells are supposed to get inspected every year, and inactive every five years. That’s the rules and regulations right now. But the inactive are as problematic as the active ... if not more so. I absolutely believe the abandoned wells should be inspected (if they are not) twice per year especially in the winter [they experience a lot of contraction and expansion].” Colorado has 13 field inspectors and about four that sit at a desk directing the field inspectors. These people are staffed through COGCC, which is state funded.
There has been a lot of activity, especially in local Colorado communities, fighting for a ban on fracking. Longmont voted for a ban in 2012 that was challenged by the oil and gas industry organization (COGA) and the state (COGCC). In the Nov. 5 election, Fort Collins, Boulder, Lafayette and Broomfield had moratorium/banning initiatives on their ballots.
"It's amazing, every time there is a public meeting, more people show up than the last time," said Russell Mendell, state organizer for Frack Free Colorado in The Daily Camera. "And it just seems like people are starting to be educated on the issue, and more and more people are showing they are passionate about protecting the community from the impacts of fracking. It represents the citizen movement that has been really sort of spreading across Colorado and across the country as well, as people learn about the health impacts of fracking, the impacts on home values, the impacts to so many different elements of people's lives including the economy, and the tourism economy and to local business.”
MS: Could you give me an update on the local initiatives of the last election and the US House legislation vote?
SD: Fort Collins has a five year moratorium [passed with 55 percent]. Longmont we know they are obviously being sued. They had a 60 to 40 [passed] initiative which is a ban on fracking. Boulder has a five year moratorium in which more than 70 percent voted in favor of it. Lafayette has [by 58 percent] a Community Bill of Rights ban which is extremely unique in that the Community Bill of Rights ban is just not for fracking but trumps corporate rights. It says, “Community rights now preempt corporate rights.” That one is extremely symbolic for Colorado. And Broomfield just recently passed their moratorium with  votes ... Loveland was going to be number five that took a really weird turn. Loveland was set to have a two year moratorium put on the ballot and this city council found a loophole in their local policy that stripped the voters’ rights to be able to put the two year moratorium on the ballot.
MS: How would you interpret the results in what happened with Boulder, Broomfield, Fort Collins, Lafayette, Longmont and regards to the U.S. House/FRAC Act related voting?
SD: I interpret the results as the voice or courts of public opinion. Colorado people have spoken. They’re concerned citizens for the health and welfare of their families and the environment. What you’re seeing is this is a civil rights movement right now. It’s no longer truly just about hydraulic fracturing. It’s taking on this new life of civil rights movement because right now Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), is now suing Longmont, they’re suing Fort Collins and they’re suing Lafayette, and they’ll probably sue Broomfield as well. But suing because we enacted and demonstrated our democratic vote tells me that there is something substantially wrong with our political environment today. If COGA, the oil and gas industry’s mouthpiece, is suing to take away our democracy and our votes, that’s absolutely unconstitutional and a violation of our civil rights. So, I think what you’re seeing is the general public becoming more aware not just of the hazards of hydraulic fracturing but how the industry, the oil and gas industry, is marginalizing and suing to take away our rights.
MS: Still on the horizon is the FRAC Act (Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act), which has been reintroduced each Congress since 2008 by Diana DeGette (D-CO). Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) has co-sponsored with DeGette and more recently Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO). In 2013, for the first time, the bill was introduced as a bipartisan measure with Chris Gibson (R-NY). Nevertheless, the U.S. House knocked out the FRAC Act once again during this Congressional session.
The FRAC Act establishes common sense safeguards to protect groundwater, requires disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking fluids and removes the oil and gas industry’s exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the provision added to the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The lobbying group Energy in Depth said the FRAC Act is an "unnecessary financial burden on a single small-business industry, American oil and natural gas producers," and claims enacting new regulation could result in half of the U.S. oil wells and one third of the gas wells being closed. Congressman Hinchey said, "We need to know exactly what chemicals are being injected into the ground and we must ensure that the industry is not exempt from basic environmental safeguards like the Safe Drinking Water Act.”
Can you share your thoughts on the FRAC Act?
SD: It’s gaining a lot more nationwide illumination. And the activists around the nation are trying to rally around the FRAC Act, the Breather Act. Those are to essentially overturn the federal exemptions in the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act. The industry is exempt as you know from key provisions in those federal laws. And so Jared and Diana DeGette’s FRAC Act would actually overturn those exemptions for water. Right now the water and chemicals the industry are putting down the bore hole are not considered hazardous materials—that’s their exemption. I don’t know where it stands now but I know they are fighting tooth and nail. Diane DeGette is a champion for us. But she really has to continue through. I know it’s a good act, that needs to happen. Like all the 2005 Energy Policy Act exemptions for the industry, all of them need to be overturned. And so the FRAC Act and Breather Act are parts and pieces of the whole that we need to pursue.
The anti-fracking successes in the last local election in Colorado and the continued, now bipartisan, efforts to pass the FRAC Act are signs of how the fight against fracking is trending in Colorado and elsewhere. However, former Republican Colorado State House Rep. B.J. Nikkel is quoted as saying about the Colorado election results: “This is round one of a much longer match.”
The oil and gas industry is likely to do similar things as they did in Longmont. This stems from interpreting the current rules overseeing fracking as placing the authority at the state level. The argument can be had that local municipalities do not have the right to govern the banning of fracking.
Pro-fracking advocate Tisha Schuller, president of the COGA, argues that the Boulder and Lafayette bans are merely symbolic because “Lafayette's last new well permit was in the early 1990s and Boulder's last oil and gas well was plugged in 1999.” It appears likely that COGA will go after the Fort Collins and Broomfield with their more heavily producing areas in similar fashion (and perhaps Lafayette) as how they’re suing to stop the Longmont ban.
Overall Davis thinks the recent election shows a hopeful sign that the escalating use of fracking will slow and be subjected to more thoughtful watchful scrutiny and regulation. Nikkel sees things differently, saying “As the debate moves from places like Boulder and Lafayette—which come with highly Democratic constituencies—to purple Colorado, you're going to see a different outcome.”
Davis is hopeful that the state of Colorado will be able to generate a fund (perhaps in the likes of a Superfund that handles hazardous waste sites) to help inspect, monitor and remediate active and closed oil and gas wells. He is hopeful that the State will get more than the 13 field and four office inspectors that they currently have to inspect the some 51,000 active wells in Colorado and nearly 79,000 abandoned/inactive wells.
Michael Sobczak is a writer living in Boulder, CO at the base of the Rocky Mountains with a strong interest in environmental issues both locally and those surrounding us.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
Next week marks the second Earth Day of the coronavirus pandemic. While a year of lockdowns and travel restrictions has limited our ability to explore the natural world and gather with others for its defense, it is still possible to experience the wonder and inspiration from the safety of your home.
Here are three new films to watch this Earth Week that will transport you from pole to pole and introduce you to the scientists and activists working to save our shared home.
Where to Watch: Apple TV+
When to Watch: From April 16
The coronavirus pandemic has brought home the stakes of humanity's impact on the environment. But the lockdowns also proved how quickly nature can recover when humans give it the space. Birds sang in empty cities, whales surfaced in Glacier Bay and capybara roamed the South American suburbs.
The Year Earth Changed captures this unique year with footage from more than 30 lockdowned cities between May 2020 to January 2021. Narrated by renowned wildlife broadcaster David Attenborough, the film explores what positive lessons we can take from the experience of a quieter, less trafficked world.
"What the film shows is that the natural world can bounce back remarkably quickly when we take a step back and reduce our impact as we did during lockdown," executive producer Alice Keens-Soper of BBC Studios Natural History Unit told EcoWatch. "If we are willing to make even small changes to our habits, the natural world can flourish. We need to learn how to co-exist with nature and understand that we are not separate from it- for example if we closed some of our beaches at for a few weeks during the turtle breeding we see that it can make a huge difference to their success. There are many ways that we can adapt our behavior to allow the natural world to thrive as it did in lockdown."
Where to Watch: San Francisco International Film Festival
In 1989, Will Steger led an international team of six scientists and explorers to be the first humans to cross Antarctica by dogsled. Steger and his team weren't just in it for the adventure. They also wanted to draw attention to the ways in which the climate crisis was already transforming the icy continent and to rally support for the renewal of the Antarctic Treaty, which would keep the continent safe from extractive industries.
In After Antarctica, award-winning filmmaker Tasha Van Zandt follows Steger 30 years later as he travels the Arctic this time, reflecting on his original journey and once again bringing awareness to changes in a polar landscape. The film intersperses this contemporary journey with footage from the original expedition, some of which has never been seen before.
"Will's life journey as an explorer and climate activist has led him not only to see more of the polar world than anyone else alive today, but to being an eyewitness to the changes occurring across both poles," Van Zandt told EcoWatch. "But now, these changes are happening in all of our own backyards and we have all become eyewitnesses. Through my journey with Will, I have learned that although we cannot always control change, we can change our response. I feel strongly that this is a message that resonates when we look at the current state of the world, as we each have power and control over how we choose to respond to hardships, and we all have the power to unite with others through collective action around a common goal."
After Antarctica is available to stream once you purchase a ticket to the San Francisco International Film Festival. If you miss it this weekend, it will screen again at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival from May 13 to May 23.
Tasha Van Zandt
Where to Watch: Virtual Cinema
While many films about the climate crisis seek to raise awareness about the extent of the problem, The Race to Save the World focuses on the people who are trying to stop it. The film tells the story of climate activists ranging from 15-year-old Aji to 72-year-old Miriam who are working to create a sustainable future. It follows them from the streets to the courtroom to their homes, and explores the impact of their advocacy on their personal lives and relationships.
Emmy award-winning documentary filmmaker Joe Gantz told EcoWatch that he wanted to make a film about climate change, but did not want to depress viewers with overwhelming statistics. Instead, he chose to inspire them by sharing the stories of people trying to make a difference.
"Unless millions of people take to the streets and make their voices heard for a livable future, the politicians are not going to get on board to help make the changes needed for a sustainable future," Gantz told Ecowatch. "I think that The Race To Save The World will energize and inspire people to take action so that future generations, as well as the plants, animals and ecosystems, can survive and thrive on this planet."
Check back with EcoWatch on the morning of Earth Day for a special preview of this inspiring film!
By Michael Svoboda
For April's bookshelf we take a cue from Earth Day and step back to look at the bigger picture. It wasn't climate change that motivated people to attend the teach-ins and protests that marked that first observance in 1970; it was pollution, the destruction of wild lands and habitats, and the consequent deaths of species.
The earliest Earth Days raised awareness, led to passage of new laws, and spurred conservation. But the original problems are still with us. And now they intersect with climate change, making it impossible to address one problem without affecting the others.
The 12 books listed below remind us about these defining interconnections.
The first three focus on biodiversity and on humanity's fractured relationships with the animals we live with on land.
The second trio explores the oceans and, at the same time, considers social and cultural factors that determine what we know – and don't know – about the 75% of our planet that is covered by water, perhaps the least well understood part of the climate system.
Agriculture and food security are examined by the third tranche of titles. This set includes a biography that may challenge what you think was/is possible, culturally and politically, in the American system.
Finally, there is the problem of waste, the problem of single-use plastics in particular. These three titles offer practical advice and qualified hope. Reducing litter might also reduce emissions – and vice versa.
As always, the descriptions of the works listed below are drawn from copy provided by the publishers or organizations that released them. When two dates of publication are included, the latter is for the paperback edition.
A Life on Our Planet My Witness Statement and Vision for the Future, by David Attenborough (Grand Central Publishing 2020, 272 pages, $26.00)
See the world. Then make it better. I am 93. I've had an extraordinary life. It's only now that I appreciate how extraordinary. As a young man, I felt I was out there in the wild, experiencing the untouched natural world – but it was an illusion. The tragedy of our time has been happening all around us, barely noticeable from day to day – the loss of our planet's wild places, its bio-diversity. I have been witness to this decline. A Life on Our Planet is my witness statement, and my vision for the future. It is the story of how we came to make this, our greatest mistake – and how, if we act now, we can yet put it right. We have one final chance to create the perfect home for ourselves and restore the wonderful world we inherited. All we need is the will to do so.
Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction, by Michelle Nijhuis (W.W. Norton 2021, 352 pages, $27.95)
In the late 19th century, as humans came to realize that our industrializing and globalizing societies were driving other animal species to extinction, a movement to conserve them was born. In Beloved Beasts, science journalist Michelle Nijhuis traces the movement's history. She describes the vital role of scientists and activists such as Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson; she reveals the origins of organizations like the Audubon Society and the World Wildlife Fund; she explores current efforts to protect species; and she confronts the darker side of conservation, long shadowed by racism and colonialism. As the destruction of other species continues and the effects of climate change escalate, Beloved Beasts charts the ways conservation is becoming a movement for the protection of all species – including our own.
How to Be an Animal: A New History of What It Means to Be Human, by Melanie Challenger (Penguin Random House 2021, 272 pages, $17.00 paperback)
How to Be an Animal tells a remarkable story of what it means to be human and argues that at the heart of our existence is a profound struggle with being animal. We possess a psychology that seeks separation between humanity and the rest of nature, and we have invented grand ideologies to magnify this. In her book, nature historian Melanie Challenger explores the ways this mindset affects our lives, from our politics to our environments. She examines how technology influences our relationship with our own animal nature and with the other species with whom we share this fragile planet. Blending nature writing, history, and philosophy, How to Be an Animal both reappraises what it means to be human and robustly defends what it means to be an animal.
Ocean Speaks: How Marie Tharp Revealed the Ocean's Biggest Secret, by Jess Keating, Illustrated by Katie Hickey (Tundra Books 2020, 34 pages, $17.99)
From a young age, Marie Tharp loved watching the world. She loved solving problems. And she loved pushing the limits of what girls and women were expected to do and be. In the mid-twentieth century, women were not welcome in the sciences, but Marie was tenacious. She got a job at a laboratory in New York. But then she faced another barrier: women were not allowed on the research ships (they were considered bad luck on boats). So Marie stayed back and dove deep into the data her colleagues recorded. At first the scientific community refused to believe her, but her evidence was irrefutable. The mid-ocean ridge that Marie discovered is the single largest geographic feature on the planet, and she mapped it all from her small, cramped office.
Science on a Mission: How Military Funding Shaped What We Do and Don't Know about the Ocean, by Naomi Oreskes (University of Chicago Press 2021, 744 pages, $40.00)
What difference does it make who pays for science? After World War II, the US military turned to a new, uncharted theater of warfare: the deep sea. The earth sciences – particularly physical oceanography and marine geophysics – became essential to the US Navy, which poured unprecedented money and logistical support into their study. In Science on a Mission, historian Naomi Oreskes delves into the role of patronage in science, what emerges is a vivid portrait of how naval oversight transformed what we know about the sea. It is a detailed, sweeping history that illuminates the ways funding shapes the subject, scope, and tenor of research, and it raises profound questions about American science. What difference does it make who pays? A lot.
Dark Side of the Ocean: The Destruction of Our Seas, Why It Matters, and What We Can Do About It, by Albert Bates (Groundswell Books 2020, 158 pages, $12.95 paperback)
Our oceans face levels of devastation previously unknown in human history due to pollution, overfishing, and damage to delicate aquatic ecosystems affected by global warming. Climate author Albert Bates explains how ocean life maintains adequate oxygen levels, prevents erosion from storms, and sustains a vital food source that factory-fishing operations cannot match. Bates also profiles organizations dedicated to changing the human impact on marine reserves, improving ocean permaculture, and putting the brakes on heat waves that destroy sea life and imperil human habitation at the ocean's edge. The Dark Side of the Ocean conveys a deep appreciation for the fragile nature of the ocean's majesty and compels us to act now to preserve it.
The Planter of Modern Life: Louis Bromfield and the Seeds of a Food Revolution, by Stephen Heyman (W.W. Norton 2020, 352 pages, $26.95)
Louis Bromfield was a World War I ambulance driver, a Paris expat, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist as famous in the 1920s as Hemingway. But he cashed in his literary success to finance a wild agrarian dream in his native Ohio. There, in 1938, Bromfield transformed 600 badly eroded acres into a thriving cooperative farm, which became a mecca for agricultural pioneers and a country retreat for celebrities like Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. This sweeping biography unearths a lost icon of American culture. While Bromfield's name has faded into obscurity, his mission seems more critical today than ever before. The ideas he planted at his utopian experimental farm, Malabar, would inspire America's first generation of organic farmers and popularize the tenets of environmentalism years before Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.
Food Fights: How History Matters to Contemporary Food Debates, edited by Charles C. Ludington and Matthew Morse Booker (University of North Carolina Press 2019, 304 pages, $32.95 paperback)
What we eat, where it is from, and how it is produced are vital questions in today's America. We think seriously about food because it is freighted with the hopes, fears, and anxieties of modern life. Yet critiques of food and food systems all too often sprawl into jeremiads against modernity itself, while supporters of the status quo refuse to acknowledge the problems with today's methods of food production and distribution. Food Fights sheds new light on these crucial debates, using a historical lens. Its essays take strong positions, even arguing with one another, as they explore the many themes and tensions that define how we understand our food – from the promises and failures of agricultural technology to the politics of taste.
Our Changing Menu: Climate Change and the Foods We Love and Need, by Michael P. Hoffmann, Carrie Koplinka-Loehr, and Danielle L. Eiseman (Comstock Publishing Associates 2021, 264 pages, $21.95 paperback)
Our Changing Menu unpacks the increasingly complex relationships between food and climate change. In it, Michael Hoffmann, Carrie Koplinka-Loehr, and Danielle Eiseman offer an eye-opening journey through a complete menu of before-dinner drinks and salads; main courses and sides; and coffee and dessert. Along the way, they examine the escalating changes occurring to the flavors of spices and teas, the yields of wheat, the vitamins in rice, and the price of vanilla. Their story ends with a primer on the global food system, the causes and impacts of climate change, and what we can do. Our Changing Menu is a celebration of food and a call to all – from the common ground of food – to help tackle the greatest challenge of our time.
Plastic Free: The Inspiring Story of a Global Environmental Movement and Why It Matters, by Rebecca Prince-Ruiz and Joanna Atherhold Finn (Columbia University Press 2020, 272 pages, $28.00)
In July 2011, Rebecca Prince-Ruiz challenged herself and some friends to go plastic free for the whole month. Since then, the Plastic Free July movement has grown from a small group of people in the city of Perth into a 250-million strong community across 177 countries. Plastic Free tells the story of this world-leading environmental campaign. From narrating marine-debris research expeditions to tracking what actually happens to our waste to sharing insights from behavioral research, Plastic Free speaks to the massive scale of the plastic waste problem and how we can tackle it together. Interweaving interviews from participants, activists, and experts, it tells the inspiring story of how ordinary people have created change in their homes, communities, workplaces, schools, businesses, and beyond. Plastic Fee offers hope for the future.
Can I Recycle This? A Guide to Better Recycling and How to Reduce Single Use Plastics, by Jennie Romer (Penguin Books 2021, 272 pages, $22.00)
Since the dawn of the recycling system, men and women the world over have stood by their bins, holding an everyday object, wondering, "Can I recycle this?" This simple question links our concerns for the environment with how we interact with our local governments. Recycling rules seem to differ in every municipality, leaving average Americans scratching their heads at the simple act of throwing something away. Taking readers on an informative tour of how recycling actually works (setting aside the propaganda we were all taught as kids), Can I Recycle This gives straightforward answers to whether dozens of common household objects can be recycled. And it provides the information you need to make that decision for anything else you encounter.
Zero Waste Living: The 80/20 Way: The Busy Person's Guide to a Lighter Footprint, by Stephanie J. Miller (Changemaker Books 2020, 112 pages, $10.95 paperback)
Many of us feel powerless to solve the looming climate and waste crises. We have too much on our plates, and so may think these problems are better solved by governments and businesses. This book unlocks the potential in each "too busy" individual to be a crucial part of the solution. Stephanie Miller combines her climate-focused career with her own research and personal experience to show how relatively easy lifestyle changes can create significant positive impacts. Using the simplicity of the 80/20 rule, she shows us those things (the 20%) that we can do to make the biggest (80%) difference in reversing the climate and waste crises. Her book empowers busy individuals to do the easy things that have a real impact on the climate and waste crises.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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Over the past year, Amazon has significantly expanded its warehouses in Southern California, employing residents in communities that have suffered from high unemployment rates, The Guardian reports. But a new report shows the negative environmental impacts of the boom, highlighting its impact on low-income communities of color across Southern California.
The report, from the People's Collective for Environmental Justice (PCEJ) and students from the University of Redlands, shared with The Guardian, is meant to serve as an "advocacy tool to help raise awareness related to the warehouse industry's impacts on Southern California's air pollution issues," Earthjustice noted.
California's Inland Empire, 60 miles east of Los Angeles, has emerged as one of the largest "warehousing hubs" in the world in just the past few decades, according to Grist. Since establishing its first warehouse in the region in 2012, Amazon has become the largest private employer in the region, where 40,000 people now work in Amazon warehouses, picking, packing, sorting and unloading, as well as driving trucks and operating aircrafts, The New York Times Magazine reported.
"The company is so enmeshed in the community that it can simultaneously be a TV channel, grocery store, home security system, boss, personal data collector, high school career track, internet cloud provider and personal assistant," The New York Times Magazine added.
In just the last year, Amazon has tripled its delivery hubs in the region due to the demand for online shopping during the COVID-19 crisis. But despite the economic boom, heavy air pollution mainly from trucks going in and out of the warehouses infects nearby communities, the new research showed, according to The Guardian.
The research found, for example, that the populations living within a half-mile of the warehouses are 85 percent people of color, while California's overall population is 64 percent people of color, The Guardian reported. The research also found that communities with the most Amazon warehouses nearby have the lowest rates of Amazon sales per household.
"Amazon has boomed in 2020 and tripled the amount of money it's making, and it is happening at a cost to the folks who live in these communities," Ivette Torres, a PCEJ environmental science researcher and analyst, who helped put the research together, told The Guardian.
The research also demonstrated that the top 10 communities with the most warehouses in the region also experience pollution from other facilities, like gas plants and oil refineries, Earthjustice wrote in a statement.
"The Inland Empire, probably more than any region in the United States, has disproportionately [borne] the brunt of the environmental and economic impact of goods movement, and Amazon is driving that now in the Inland Empire," Jake Wilson, a California State University, Long Beach, professor of sociology, told Grist.
Last year, the San Bernardino International Airport Authority ratified a decision to allow an air cargo facility development at the airport, allowing Amazon to operate more flights out of the region, Grist reported.
Among the local residents to oppose the decision was Jorge Osvaldo Heredia, a resident of San Bernadino in Southern California since 2005. "This whole region has been taken over by warehouses," Heredia told Grist, and commented on the "horrible" air quality in the city on most days. "It's really reaching that apex point where you can't avoid the warehouses, you can't avoid the trucks," he added.
Advocates who published the research are pushing on the South Coast Air Quality Management District, a local air pollution regulatory agency, to move forward with the Warehouse Indirect Source Rule, which would require new and existing warehouses to take action to reduce emissions locally each year, The Guardian reported. Some solutions include moving towards zero-emissions trucks and mitigation fees.
"Last year, we saw some of the worst air quality, with wildfires adding to it, and the trucks were still in and out of our communities. So this is a huge change that we need right now, and that we actually needed yesterday," Torres concluded, according to The Guardian.
Scientists at the University of Purdue have developed the whitest and coolest paint on record.
Painting buildings white to help cool down cities has long been touted as a climate solution. However, the white paints currently on the market reflect only 80 to 90 percent of sunlight and cannot actually cool a roof to below air temperature, The Guardian reported. However, this new paint can.
"Our paint can help fight against global warming by helping to cool the Earth – that's the cool point," University of Purdue Professor Xiulin Ruan told The Guardian. "Producing the whitest white means the paint can reflect the maximum amount of sunlight back to space."
The new paint, introduced in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces on Thursday, can reflect up to 98.1 percent of sunlight and cool surfaces by 4.5 degrees Celsius. This means it could be an effective replacement for air conditioning.
"If you were to use this paint to cover a roof area of about 1,000 square feet, we estimate that you could get a cooling power of 10 kilowatts. That's more powerful than the central air conditioners used by most houses," Ruan said in a University of Purdue press release.
The new paint improves upon a previous paint by the same research team that reflected 95.5 percent of sunlight. Researchers say it is likely the closest counterpart to the blackest black, "Vantablack," which can absorb as much as 99.9 percent of visible light. The new paint is so white for two main reasons: It uses a high concentration of a reflective chemical compound called barium sulfate, and the barium sulfate particles are all different sizes, meaning they scatter different parts of the light spectrum.
White paint is already being used to combat the climate crisis. New York has painted more than 10 million square feet of rooftops white, BBC News reported. Project Drawdown calculated that white or plant-covered roofs could sequester between 0.6 and 1.1 gigatons of carbon between 2020 and 2050. The researchers hope their paint will enhance these efforts.
"We did a very rough calculation," Ruan told BBC News. "And we estimate we would only need to paint one percent of the Earth's surface with this paint — perhaps an area where no people live that is covered in rocks — and that could help fight the climate change trend."
The research team has filed a patent for the paint and hope it will be on the market within two years, according to The Guardian. However, Andrew Parnell, who develops sustainable coatings at the University of Sheffield, said it would be important to calculate the emissions produced from mining barium sulphate and compare those with the emissions saved from using the paint instead of air conditioning.
"The principle is very exciting and the science [in the new study] is good. But I think there might be logistical problems that are not trivial," Parnell told The Guardian. "How many million tons [of barium sulphate] would you need?"
Parnell thought green roofs, or roofs on which plants grow, might prove to be a more ecologically friendly alternative.
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Less than three years after California governor Jerry Brown said the state would launch "our own damn satellite" to track pollution in the face of the Trump administration's climate denial, California, NASA, and a constellation of private companies, nonprofits, and foundations are teaming up to do just that.
Under the umbrella of the newly-formed group Carbon Mapper, two satellites are on track to launch in 2023. The satellites will target, among other pollution, methane emissions from oil and gas and agriculture operations that account for a disproportionate amount of pollution.
Between 2016 and 2018, using airplane-based instruments, scientists found 600 "super-emitters" (accounting for less than 0.5% of California's infrastructure) were to blame for more than one-third of the state's methane pollution. Now, the satellite-based systems will be able to perform similar monitoring, continuously and globally, and be able to attribute pollution to its source with previously impossible precision.
"These sort of methane emissions are kind of like invisible wildfires across the landscape," Carbon Mapper CEO and University of Arizona research scientist Riley Duren said. "No one can see them or smell them, and yet they're incredibly damaging, not just to the local environment, but more importantly, globally."
For a deeper dive:
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