5 Iconic National Parks Face 'Nightmare Scenario' Following Gov't Shutdown
One-and-a-half-weeks in, the government shutdown is already taking a toll on some of country's most iconic national parks. The parks have remained largely open to the public despite the fact that most of the rangers and other support staff who maintain them are among the hundreds of thousands of government workers now on furlough, and the unsupervised access has led to a buildup of trash and a break-down in visitor behavior, The Associated Press reported Tuesday.
During many previous shutdowns, the parks had closed their gates, but the Trump administration chose to keep them open.
"We're afraid that we're going to start seeing significant damage to the natural resources in parks and potentially to historic and other cultural artifacts," Senior Budget Director of the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association John Garder told The Associated Press. "We're concerned there'll be impacts to visitors' safety. It's really a nightmare scenario," Garder said.
The shutdown plan does give park superintendents the power to close down certain sites or areas if garbage or other problems pose too great a danger to humans or wildlife, National Park Service spokesman Jeremy Barnum told The Associated Press by email. And some parks have already decided to do just that.
Here is a breakdown of how the shutdown has already impacted some beloved parks.
Hetch Hetchy and Mariposa Grove are now closed due to lack of restrooms and resulting impacts from human waste. Peo… https://t.co/SF4utKnkcJ— Yosemite National Park (@Yosemite National Park)1546213730.0
Yosemite National Park had to close two campgrounds and the popular Mariposa Grove of redwoods because of a buildup of human waste along the side of road, The Los Angeles Times reported Monday. With restrooms shuttered, visitors had been relieving themselves off of Wawona Road, which is also California Highway 41, posing a health risk for other visitors.
"It's a free-for-all," 24-year-old Yosemite Valley resident Dakota Snider told The Associated Press of conditions in the park. "It's so heartbreaking. There is more trash and human waste and disregard for the rules than I've seen in my four years living here."
2. Joshua Tree
Campgrounds in the park will be closed effective noon Wednesday, January 2nd. The park is being forced to take this… https://t.co/V92alRMZb6— Joshua Tree NPS (@Joshua Tree NPS)1546282086.0
Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave and Colorado deserts of Southern California has been forced to close all campgrounds starting Wednesday, The San Bernardino Sun reported. Conditions at the park have deteriorated as pit toilets overflow, visitors let their dogs off their leashes and drive off road, and people set up camp in protected areas or sites reserved by others.
The situation has been improved somewhat by volunteers from Friends of Joshua Tree and local businesses, who have raised $5,000 to take out trash and clean toilets. But the work is getting to be too much for the volunteers, Cliffhanger Guides co-owner Sabra Purdy told The Sun.
"It is not sustainable to have volunteers keep doing this," Purdy, who took out three pick-up-truck loads of trash from a campground Monday, said. "We can't afford to wipe all the bottoms who visit Joshua Tree."
3. Sequoia and Kings Canyon
The Generals Highway is closed at Hospital Rock in Sequoia National Park. This closure extends through Giant Forest… https://t.co/SBrHDOc8Td— Sequoia & Kings Cyn (@Sequoia & Kings Cyn)1546371901.0
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, twin parks in California's Sierra Nevada mountains, had to close a variety of sites as of 6 p.m. on Monday because of a trash overflow, USA Today reported Tuesday.
"The parks are being forced to take this action for health and safety concerns," the parks' public affairs officer Sintia Kawasaki-Yee said in a press release reported by USA Today. "Trash receptacles are overflowing, resulting in litter dispersal throughout the area and a threat to wildlife."
4. Rocky Mountain
Due to incoming forecasted weather for snowfall accumulation on Sunday, December 30, US 36 will be closed past Beav… https://t.co/dQHSzrJWrU— RockyNPS (@RockyNPS)1546205068.0
"Park staff are beginning to close restroom facilities and trash receptacles at many park locations due to human waste issues, wildlife concerns and overall public health," the park said in a statement.
The park has also had to close down some roads due to snowfall because it does not have the staff to sand or plow them.
Amidst news of National Parks chaos, I’d like to share my wonderful experience at #Yellowstone NP. The private vend… https://t.co/VbjEZgG83y— Susan Pohl, MD FAAFP (@Susan Pohl, MD FAAFP)1546448446.0
Access to Yellowstone National Park has also been threatened by snowfall. Normally, during the winter, vehicle access is blocked off and visitors access the park via snowmobile tours over pre-groomed trails. With the park service unable to maintain these trails, private companies are splitting the cost of keeping them clear, as well as replacing toilet paper and emptying trash, so they can continue to run tours. See Yellowstone Alpen Guides General Manager Travis Watt told The Associated Press that the tour companies could continue to do this throughout the winter if they have to.
"It's definitely not our preference—the park service does a good job doing their thing and we hate to see them out of work," Watt told The Associated Press. "But it's something we can handle."
By Victoria Masterson
Using one of the world's problems to solve another is the philosophy behind a Norwegian start-up's mission to develop affordable housing from 100% recycled plastic.
Sustainable Homes<p>UN-Habitat says an <a href="https://unhabitat.org/un-habitat-aims-to-use-plastic-waste-to-support-housing-for-all" target="_blank">estimated 60% of people living in urban areas of Africa are in informal settlements</a>. At the same time, between 1990 and 2017, African countries imported around 230 metric tonnes of plastic, "which mostly ended up in dump sites creating a massive environmental challenge," the agency adds.</p><p>UN-Habitat deputy executive director, Victor Kisob, said the aim of the partnership with Othalo was to "promote adequate, sustainable and affordable housing for all."</p>
Artist's impression of an Othalo community, imagined by architect Julien De Smedt. Othalo<p>Othalo's process involves shredding plastic waste and mixing it with other elements, including non-flammable materials. Components are used to build up to four floors, with a home of 60 square metres using eight tons of recycled plastic. A factory with one production line can produce 2,800 housing units annually.</p><p>Following successful laboratory tests, Othalo's factory in Estonia has started producing components to build three demonstration homes for Kenya's capital, Nairobi; Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon and Dakar, the capital of Senegal.</p><p>Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti has been developing and testing the technology since 2016 in partnership with <a href="https://www.sintef.no/en/" target="_blank">SINTEF</a>, a 70-year-old independent research organization in Trondheim, Norway, and experts at Norway's <a href="https://en.uit.no/startsida" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Tromsø</a>.</p>
Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti. Othalo<p>Almost <a href="https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html" target="_blank">seven out of every 10 people in the world are expected to live in urban areas by 2050</a>. More than 90% of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.</p><p>"In the absence of effective urban planning, the consequences of this rapid urbanization will be dramatic," UN-Habitat warns.</p><p>Lack of proper housing and growth of slums, inadequate and outdated infrastructure, escalating poverty and unemployment, and pollution and health issues, are just some of the effects.</p><p>Mindsets, policies, and approaches towards urbanization need to change for the growth of cities and urban areas to be turned into opportunities that will leave nobody behind, UN-Habitat says.</p>
Pioneers of Change<p>Reimagining cities and communities for greater resilience and sustainability was a key topic at the<a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020" target="_blank"> World Economic Forum's Pioneers of Change Summit 2020</a>.</p><p>The digital event brought together innovators and stakeholders from around the world to explore solutions to the challenges facing enterprises, governments and society.</p><p>Opening the summit, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020/sessions/opening-plenary-8f731cbc65" target="_blank">Stephan Mergenthaler, the Forum's Head of Strategic Intelligence and a member of the Executive Committee</a>, said: "We need to change the way we produce, the way we live and interact in our cities to make this transition to net-zero emissions a reality…</p><p>"And as this year has illustrated so dramatically, we need to make every effort that we keep populations healthy, if we want to avoid jeopardizing all this progress."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/un-africa-recycled-plastic-housing/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649069252#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.