For five years, the struggle over the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline dominated U.S. and Canadian energy politics. When President Obama finally rejected the project last fall, he was able to start a new chapter with recently elected Prime Minister Trudeau, who seemed eager to move past the toxic politics of his predecessor, Stephen Harper.
But as Trudeau and Obama meet in Washington this week to discuss a joint approach on climate change, new fossil fuel fights, including several Keystone XL-like pipelines, pose challenges for both leaders and threaten to exacerbate tensions between neighbors.
“Keystone XL was just the beginning,” said May Boeve, executive director of 350.org. “This movement is now engaged in major fossil fuel fights on both sides of the border and is ready to oppose any new project that is proposed. Keeping fossil fuels in the ground is the new test for climate leadership and both Trudeau and Obama have more work to do.”
Organizing under the “keep it in the ground” banner, 350.org and other climate groups are engaging in a continental wide fight against the fossil fuel industry, challenging new projects and going after existing production.
High up on the list are a group of other tar sands pipelines that resemble Keystone XL. In Canada, both the Kinder Morgan and Energy East projects are facing tough opposition. In the U.S., local and national groups have targeted a system of Enbridge pipelines proposed across the Midwest.
“If Trudeau is serious about the climate pledges he made in Paris, he needs to freeze tar sands expansion as soon as possible,” said Cam Fenton, Canadian tar sands campaign manager with 350.org. “You can play with the numbers all you want and there’s still no way to match further tar sands production with keeping global warming below 2 degrees, let alone 1.5 degrees. New pipelines fail the climate test, plain and simple.”
Activists are also pushing both leaders to go beyond the Arctic and protect all coastal areas from offshore drilling. President Obama came under fire last year for allowing Shell to explore for oil off the coast of Alaska. He’s now coming under increasing pressure to ban all new drilling in federal waters, including in the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.
“The Arctic is a spectacular treasure and so are the people, cultures and ecosystems in the Gulf,” said Boeve. “No community should have to live with the risk of a massive oil spill and constant pollution from fossil fuel development, especially low income and communities of color who are on the front lines of climate change. These communities got hit with Katrina, got hit with the BP Oil Spill, but they’re fighting to recover each and every day. Our government shouldn’t keep putting them directly in harm’s way. We say protect the polar bears, but protect the people too.”
A broad coalition of groups in the Gulf are planning a major protest at an auction for offshore drilling permits at the Superdome in New Orleans this March 23. The demonstration will highlight the irony of selling more fossil fuels at a national landmark for climate impacts.
In Canada, Indigenous communities and First Nations have an Aboriginal rights legal regime comprised of inherent and treaty rights embedded in section 35 of the Canadian constitution. This is a considerable power that Prime Minister Trudeau must consider and deal with, according to Clayton Thomas-Muller, Stop It At The Source campaigner with 350.org.
“The Trudeau government ran on the election promise to respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples to say ‘No’ to pipeline projects on their lands, while also committing to implement the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples across the board” said Thomas-Muller. “Using Transcanada’s Energy East or Kinder Morgan’s Transmountain tar sands pipelines as the trade off to deliver on these promises shows yet another campaign promise being broken and shows that the influence of oil lobbyist money to Ottawa continues to flow.”
Over the coming months, 350.org and its allies will continue to intensify the fight against the fossil fuel industry on both sides of the border, protesting fossil fuel extraction on public lands in the U.S. and pressuring the Canadian government to stop tar sands at the source.
In May, groups will be coming together under the “Break Free” platform, a worldwide week of action targeting major fossil fuel projects around the world. In the U.S., activists will target new tar sands pipelines in the Midwest, fracking in the Mountain West, "bomb trains" carrying fracked oil and gas in New York, refinery pollution north of Seattle, offshore drilling in an action in Washington, DC and dangerous oil and gas drilling in Los Angeles. In Canada, activists are preparing to protest tar sands development while calling for clean energy solutions for communities who were on the front lines of pollution and climate change.
“In Paris, world leaders made a promise to move the world beyond fossil fuels,” said Boeve. “We intend to hold them to it and do everything we can to accelerate that transition. This problem is ultimately a race against the clock. Luckily, this movement is beginning to really hit its stride.”
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After sustained declines in the number of COVID-19 cases over recent months, restrictions are starting to ease across the United States. Numbers of new cases are falling or stable at low numbers in some states, but they are surging in many others. Overall, the U.S. is experiencing a sharp increase in the number of new cases a day, and by late June, had surpassed the peak rate of spread in early April.
Seven day rolling average of number of people confirmed to have COVID-19, per day (not including today). This chart gets updated once per day with data by Johns Hopkins. Johns Hopkins university doesn't provide reliable data for March 12 and March 13. Johns Hopkins CSSE Get the data
To Have a Second Wave, the First Wave Needs to End.<p>A wave of an infection describes a large rise and fall in the number of cases. There isn't a precise epidemiological definition of when a wave begins or ends.</p><p>But with talk of a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/27/new-covid-19-clusters-across-world-spark-fear-of-second-wave" target="_blank">second wave in the news</a>, as an <a href="https://www.american.edu/cas/faculty/mhawkins.cfm" target="_blank">epidemiologist and public health researcher</a>, I think there are two necessary factors that must be met before we can colloquially declare a second wave.</p><p>First, the virus would have to be controlled and transmission brought down to a very low level. That would be the end of the first wave. Then, the virus would need to reappear and result in a large increase in cases and hospitalizations.</p><p>Many countries in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-0908-8" target="_blank">Europe and Asia have successfully ended the first wave</a>. <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/08/new-zealand-abandons-covid-19-restrictions-after-nation-declared-no-cases" target="_blank">New Zealand</a> and <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/06/08/how-iceland-beat-the-coronavirus" target="_blank">Iceland</a> have also made it through their first waves and are now essentially coronavirus-free, with very low levels of community transmission and only a handful of active cases currently.</p>
Different States, Different Trends<p>Looking at U.S. numbers as a whole hides what is really going on. Different states are in <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html" target="_blank">vastly different situations right now</a> and when you look at states individually, four major categories emerge.</p><ol><li>Places where the first wave is ending: States in the Northeast and a few scattered elsewhere experienced large initial spikes but were able to mostly contain the virus and substantially brought down new infections. <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/new-york-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">New York</a> is a good example of this.</li><li>Places still in the first wave: Several states in the South and West – see <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/texas-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Texas</a> and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/california-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">California</a> – had some cases early on, but are now seeing massive surges with no sign of slowing down.</li><li>Places in between: Many states were hit early in the first wave, managed to slow it down, but are either at a plateau – like <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/north-dakota-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">North Dakota</a> – or are now seeing steep increases – like <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/oklahoma-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Oklahoma</a>.</li><li>Places experiencing local second waves: Looking only at a state level, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/hawaii-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Hawaii</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/montana-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Montana</a> and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/alaska-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Alaska</a> could be said to be experiencing second waves. Each state experienced relatively small initial outbreaks and was able to reduce spread to single digits of daily new confirmed cases, but are now all seeing spikes again.</li></ol><p>The trends aren't surprising based on how states have been dealing with reopening. The virus will go wherever there are susceptible people and until the U.S. stops community spread across the entire country, the first wave isn't over.</p>
What Could a Second Wave Look Like?<p>It is possible – though at this point it seems unlikely – that the U.S. could control the virus before a vaccine is developed. If that happens, it would be time to start thinking about a second wave. The question of what it might look like depends in large part on everyone's actions.</p><p>The <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1086%2F592454" target="_blank">1918 flu pandemic</a> was characterized by a mild first wave in the winter of 1917-1918 that went away in summer. After restrictions were lifted, people very quickly went back to pre-pandemic life. But a second, deadlier strain came back in fall of 1918 and third in spring of 1919. In total, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-commemoration/1918-pandemic-history.htm" target="_blank">more than 500 million people were infected</a> worldwide and upwards of <a href="https://theconversation.com/compare-the-flu-pandemic-of-1918-and-covid-19-with-caution-the-past-is-not-a-prediction-138895" target="_blank">50 million died</a> over the course of three waves.</p><p>It was the combination of a quick return to normal life and a mutation in the flu's genome that made it more deadly that led to the horrific second and third waves.</p><p>Thankfully, the coronavirus appears to be much more <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.meegid.2020.104351" target="_blank">genetically stable</a> than the influenza virus, and thus less likely to mutate into a more deadly variant. That leaves human behavior as the main risk factor.</p><p>Until a <a href="https://theconversation.com/what-needs-to-go-right-to-get-a-coronavirus-vaccine-in-12-18-months-136816" target="_blank">vaccine or effective treatment is developed</a>, the tried-and-true public health measures of the last months – <a href="https://theconversation.com/this-simple-model-shows-the-importance-of-wearing-masks-and-social-distancing-140423" target="_blank">social distancing,</a> <a href="https://theconversation.com/masks-help-stop-the-spread-of-coronavirus-the-science-is-simple-and-im-one-of-100-experts-urging-governors-to-require-public-mask-wearing-138507" target="_blank">universal mask wearing</a>, frequent hand-washing and avoiding crowded indoor spaces – are the ways to stop the first wave and thwart a second one. And when there are surges like what is happening now in the U.S., further reopening plans need to be put on hold.</p>
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Methane on the Rise<p>Not only is this a tragic waste of food at a time when many are going hungry, it is also an <a href="https://donatedontdump.net/2014/07/07/the-effects-of-food-waste-on-the-environment-by-junemy-pantig/" target="_blank">environmental hazard</a> and could contribute to global warming. Landfill gas – <a href="https://www.epa.gov/lmop/basic-information-about-landfill-gas" target="_blank">roughly half methane and half carbon dioxide (CO2)</a> – is a natural byproduct of the decomposition of organic material.</p>
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