I May Be Facing Felony Charges, But the Real Radicals Are Running the Fossil Fuel Companies
By Emily Johnston
I've been thinking a lot about risk lately—what we're willing to risk and why. I was one of five activists who turned off the major tar sands pipelines coming into the U.S. on Oct. 11, 2016. As a result, I'm risking prison time, ostensibly for property damage (we cut a few chains to access the valves), but really for being disobedient to business as usual. It's also possible they'll file a restitution suit, for temporarily disrupting a pipeline that's highly profitable for some, at the expense of all others.
I took part in the action in full awareness of these risks—in dread of them, to some degree—because of the risk that Enbridge and the other companies engaged in the extraction, transport and sale of tar sands are taking, which is the unimaginably huge risk that if the world's scientists are correct, what really flows through those pipelines is the end of human history.
Does this seem like crazy talk to you? Does it seem obvious that we can't possibly move past fossil fuels, no matter what the risks? What are you risking in order not to try, in order to preserve your belief that the world—or at least your world—is basically okay and you don't need to pay attention to the dire warnings scientists have been giving us?
Last December in Paris, nearly early every nation in the world, including petro-states like Russia and Saudi Arabia, agreed to an aspirational goal of no more than 1.5 C of warming. But it's very aspirational—right now, even if every nation adheres scrupulously to the Paris agreement (and Donald Trump promises that the U.S. won't), scientists say that will only "limit" us to 3.5 C.
That's one of the better scenarios available to us right now—and it risks human extinction. It would make food systems and most other current ecosystems collapse. The reliable seasons that allow human civilization would disappear.
The Paris agreement has 1.5 C of warming as its goal because above that, we can expect worldwide catastrophe: droughts, famines, terrifying sea level rise. A recent report tallied how much fossil fuel we can burn and preserve even a 50/50 chance of staying below that threshold: 353 gigatons of carbon. So even if you're willing to accept odds worse than you'd have in Russian roulette, you can still only burn well under half of the 942 gigatons in existing mines and wells. To limit ourselves to that and still be able to use fossil fuels for a few essential purposes in coming decades, we have to shut down the dirtiest fuels immediately—including tar sands, which means confronting companies like Enbridge and Exxon.
They're certainly managing their risks. After Exxon's senior scientists started raising internal alarms about climate change in the 1970s, Exxon also raised its ocean-based drilling platforms, because it knew sea levels would rise. Meanwhile, its executives lied to the public and funded disinformation campaigns.
New Uncovered Corporate Documents Show #ExxonKnew Much Earlier Than Previously Reported https://t.co/0fH662I1Rs @350 https://t.co/XqIT2fS23r— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1461767231.0
In 1978, a senior scientist told the company, "present thinking holds that man has a time window of 5-10 years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy." Forty years later, thanks to their lies, we're still refusing to make those hard decisions. We're not even close to accepting a 353-gigaton limit. No one in power is even talking about it.
Yet if we don't radically reduce our fossil fuel use in the next few years, one day soon—no one knows precisely when—we may pass the point where we lose all hope of a stable world. Antarctica is almost certainly in a state of collapse, as is Greenland, bizarre weather caused by climate change is already affecting millions, the Great Barrier Reef has been devastated and on and on. The tipping point of Antarctic melt has likely already been reached, but the tipping point of Arctic methane may not have been. Scientists have been warning of these dangers for many years and with real urgency for the last few. This does not come easily to them; their training predisposes them to understatement. But between understated scientists, arrogant executives, beholden politicians and an anxious population going about its daily business, we're running devastating risks.
Stunning Photos Show Huge Crack in Antarctic Ice Shelf https://t.co/Pc1i7H0daP @WRIClimate @CarbonFixIt— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1481850021.0
"The need for hard decisions regarding energy." What are we willing to risk to avoid that, to convince ourselves the world is basically okay, so we can continue business as usual? Are we really willing to risk our kids? Everyone else's kids? The millions of blameless people already struggling with droughts and floods? Half the species of the world? It seems that we are.
It seems utterly crazy to me, and to all of the smart, reasonable scientists and policy wonks I've spoken with, to take such risks. As Bill McKibben has said for years, the real radicals are running the fossil fuel companies—apparently they think it's okay to play dice with every life on the planet.
If we don't agree, we have to move to clean renewables and we have to do it more ambitiously than we've ever done anything. We have to pressure the political system now, in every peaceful and inspiring way that we can, because we are coming to this fight very, very late. We have to start acting like people who have everything to lose. Because we do.
Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.
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Human actions have taken a steep toll on whales and dolphins. Some studies estimate that small whale abundance, which includes dolphins, has fallen 87% since 1980 and thousands of whales die from rope entanglement annually. But humans also cause less obvious harm. Researchers have found changes in the stress levels, reproductive health and respiratory health of these animals, but this valuable data is extremely hard to collect.
Researchers work with trained dolphins to learn more about their sensory abilities, seen here testing a dolphin's hearing. Jason Bruck / CC BY-ND
A Lot to Learn From Hormones<p>When sampling the blow, we are looking for hormones in mucus as these can be used to gauge psychological and physiological health. We are specifically interested in <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0114062" target="_blank">hormones like cortisol</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ygcen.2018.04.003" target="_blank">progesterone</a>, which indicate stress levels and reproductive ability respectively, but can also help determine overall health.</p><p>Additionally, blow samples can detect <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1128%2FmSystems.00119-17" target="_blank">respiratory pathogens</a> in the lungs or nasal passages - blowholes evolved from noses after all.</p><p>This health analysis is especially important in areas with oil spills as the chemicals can cause hormonal problems that harm <a href="https://www.carmmha.org/investigating-how-oil-spills-affect-dolphins-and-whales/" target="_blank">development, metabolism and reproduction</a> in dolphins.</p><p>Hormone samples can provide scientists with valuable data, but collecting them from intelligent and unpredictable animals is challenging.</p>
Cetacean Collaborators<p>To build a drone that can stealthily collect spray from moving dolphins, we needed more data on their eyesight and hearing, and this is data that couldn't be collected in the wild nor simulated in a lab.</p><p>We worked with dolphins at facilities like Dolphin Quest in Bermuda, which provides guests opportunities to learn about dolphins while allowing <a href="https://dolphinquest.com/about-us/our-story/" target="_blank">scientists access to animals for noninvasive research</a>. Here the dolphins can swim away if they choose not to work with us, so we had to design the study like a game; the way a kindergarten teacher entertains a class. If the dolphins aren't interested, we don't get to do the science.</p><p>Over the course of hundreds of sessions, we sought to answer two questions: What can dolphins hear and what can they see around their heads?</p><p>To test dolphin hearing, we set up microphones and cameras to record dolphin behavior as we played drone noise in the air. We analyzed the responses to each noise – such as how many dolphins looked at the speaker – and used these as a proxy for their ability to hear the sounds.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5f31daf07a652b8d64a093b993ee4e96"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UjmQeH3vXHI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Robodolphin doesn't look like a real dolphin, but it doesn't need to in order to train our drone pilots. C.J. Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND<p>To build robodolphin, we worked with dolphins trained to "chuff" or sneeze on command to measure spray characteristics. We used high-speed photography to see the dolphins' breath as it moved through the air. Then we conducted high resolution CT scans of a dolphin head and 3D-printed a replica of a nasal passage.</p><p>Now, we have a complete robodolphin and are tweaking its sprays to be nearly identical to the real thing. This will allow us to determine how close we need to get to collect the samples, and therefore, how quiet our drone needs to be.</p>
The replica dolphin blowhole was designed from a scan of a real blowhole passage, and the spray it produces closely matches the real thing. Alvin Ngo, Mitch Ford and CJ Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND
A Bit of Practice, Then Into the Wild<p>In the next few months, we will test flights over robodolphin with existing drones to determine the timing and strategy for collection. From there, we will fabricate a low-noise drone that can fly fast enough and with sufficient maneuverability to capture samples from wild dolphins. Like a video game, we will use the visual field data to develop approach trajectories to stay in the visual blindspots.</p><p>We plan to test our drones on a truck-mounted robodolphin moving down a runway, then using a boat to simulate realistic conditions. The next steps will involve ocean testing with dolphins trained for open ocean swimming. These tests will determine if our devices can catch and hold the hormones as the drone flies back to a researcher's boat.</p><p>Finally, we will deploy the system to collect data on wild dolphins. Our first goal is to test resident dolphins – animals that live on the coasts and deal directly with boat and oil industry noise – which will allow us to learn more about stress resulting from human impacts.</p><p>Those samples are a way off, but if all goes well we will have a specially built drone capable of flying long distances and capturing samples undetected in a few years. The samples collected will allow researchers to do better science with impact on the animals they study.</p>
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Environmental and Health Hazard<p>Experts say e-waste, which is now the world's fastest-growing domestic waste stream, poses serious environmental and health risks.</p><p>Simply throwing away electronic items without ensuring they get properly recycled leads to the loss of key materials such as iron, copper and gold, which can otherwise be recovered and used as primary raw materials to make new equipment, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions from extraction and refinement of raw materials.</p><p>Refrigerants found in electronic equipment such as fridge and air conditioners also contribute to global warming. A total of 98 Mt of CO2-equivalents, or about 0.3% of global energy-related emissions, were released into the atmosphere in 2019 from discarded refrigerators and ACs that were not recycled properly, the report said.</p><p>E-waste contains several toxic additives or hazardous substances, such as mercury and brominated flame retardants (BFR), and simply burning it or throwing it away could lead to serious health issues. Several studies have linked unregulated recycling of e-waste to adverse birth outcomes like stillbirth and premature birth, damages to the human brain or nervous system and in some cases hearing loss and heart troubles.</p><p>"Informal and improper e-waste recycling is a major emerging hazard silently affecting our health and that of future generations. One in four children are dying from avoidable environmental exposures," said Maria Neira, director of the Environment, Climate Change and Health Department at the World Health Organization. "One in four children could be saved, if we take action to protect their health and ensure a safe environment."</p>
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