Grassroots Activism—the Core of the Environmental Movement
Grassroots activism is the core of the environmental movement. No where have I found that to be more evident than at Heartwood Forest Council gatherings. Last weekend, I attended the 22nd Annual Heartwood Forest Council in Northwest Pennsylvania, at which nearly 100 of the most passionate and dedicated activists gathered in the Allegheny National Forest next to the land of the Seneca Nation of Indians.
The three day gathering, Become Your Place, Defend Your Self!, was filled with workshops, discussions, keynote speakers, field trips to oil and gas drilling sites in the Allegheny National Forest, late-night revelry at the campfire, live music, and the greatest local and organic vegetarian food prepared by chefs Shane McElwee and Mia Manion.
The first evening kicked off with a showing of Remembering the Removal—a documentary film by Caleb Abrams, a college student and member of the Seneca Nation of Indians—depicting the forced relocation of nearly 700 Senecas who had to abandon their homes in the 1960s—despite a 1794 treaty that had guaranteed them those lands in perpetuity—because of the construction of the Kinzua Dam along the Allegheny River in Warren, PA that submerged more than 9,000 acres of of the Seneca's habitable land.
The next day I sat in on a workshop presented by Veronica Coptis and Melissa Troutman from Mountain Watershed Alliance. Mountain Watershed Alliance works to protect, preserve and restore the Indian Creek watershed and surrounding areas in southwestern Pennsylvania and is the home of the Youghiogheny Riverkeeper. The duo provided one of the most thorough and knowledgeable overviews on the impacts of hydraulic fracturing in Pennsylvania. This workshop covered it all, including the impacts of the construction of the drill sites; pipeline projects underway to transport this domestic energy overseas; massive water withdrawals from local watersheds used in the fracking process; contamination of groundwater from fracking well sites and fracking wastewater; the Marcellus Citizen Stewardship Project that offers basic training on monitoring shale development; increased air quality concerns from dust and diesel fuel emissions from excessive truck traffic, and details on the permitting process, how to file a complaint and how to track permits for proposed oil and gas drilling projects.
During the afternoon I talked with Nathan Johnson, staff attorney for the Buckeye Forest Council, about an Ohio bill that passed last year allowing hydraulic fracturing and clear-cutting in Ohio State Parks, and his newest concern that Ohio's only national forest, the Wayne National Forest, might soon be opened to shale gas drilling. He shared his outrage on the recent passage of Ohio SB 315, one of the worst fracking laws in the nation, allowing health and safety loopholes that put Ohioans at risk. He mentioned the upcoming Don't Frack Ohio rally on June 17 in Columbus, Ohio and hopes there is a huge turnout.
Randy Francisco, an organizer for Sierra Club's Pennsylvania Beyond Coal Campaign and board member for Allegheny Defense Project and Center for Coalfield Justice, shared his concerns for the Allegheny National Forest where he spent much of his childhood hiking and camping. A couple years ago, he did a solo hike in the Allegheny National Forest and was shocked to see how this public forest had been privatized by the oil and gas industry with wells scattered all over his favorite stomping grounds.
"It's clean energy and energy efficiency that is going to get us beyond all of these extractive fossil fuel industries," Francisco said.
On Sunday, Heartwood participants saw firsthand what Francisco meant by wells scattered all over the Allegheny National Forest. While hiking on our public lands, here's what we found:
Click here for a link to Google Maps to get a sense of the elaborate roads and well sites throughout the Allegheny National Forest. The U.S. Forest Service has allowed the oil and gas industry to privatize our public lands. Click here for a map from SkyTruth that illustrates drilling in the Allegheny National Forest from January 2005 - October 2011.
I got the chance to renew old friendship and catch up with old-time activists like Andy Mahler, founder of Heartwood, and Mike Roselle, founder of Climate Ground Zero and collaborator with Coal River Mountain Watch, who has spent the last four years fighting mountaintop removal coal mining in the Coal River Valley of southern West Virginia.
"If we can't stop mountaintop removal, we really can't say we're doing anything to address climate change," Roselle said.
Dave Cooper, a Mountain Justice volunteer, continued the conversation on mountaintop removal and his work over the last eight years doing a roadshow to educate people about the devastating impacts this form of coal mining has on the Appalachian region. Cooper talked about the upcoming event Kentucky Rising on June 1 where people will occupy the Kentucky State Capitol to demand an end to corporate domination of our politics and to expose corporate toady Kentucky Gov. Steve Besher.
When I asked Bill Belitskus, board president of the Allegheny Defense Project, what is the biggest threat to the people and environment of Pennsylvania, he said: "Unconventional hydrocarbon shale gas extraction is the single greatest catastrophe facing Pennsylvania since the turn of the century when the timber barons clear-cut our forested watersheds and the coal barons strip mined our lands for coal and gave us the legacy of acid mine drainage."
According to the natural gas industry, there are more than 350,000 conventional oil and gas wells that have been drilled in Pennsylvania. Belitskus expressed his deep concern over the onslaught of shale gas drilling where each drilling site can be as large as 20 acres, and according to Royal Dutch Shell, can use as much as 7.5 million gallons of consumptive water to frack just one Marcellus well. He said it is "consumptive use of water since once they are finished using the water it is so highly polluted and contaminated that it is a net loss to the watershed and can not be used again."
Laurie Barr, board member of Save our Streams PA and who helped me write the captions for the photos above, locates and promotes the plugging of Pennsylvania's abandoned oil and gas wells. She described the Scavenger Hunt PA where they train people to find abandoned wells, photograph them with the GPS location, and then ask the state government to recognize the hazards posed by these wells and provide the resources to plug them adequately.
Alex Lotorto from Occupy Well Street encouraged people to get involved in the campaign to Save Riverdale, a mobile home park where more than 30 families are being displaced by Aqua America, a company that plans to build a three million gallon per day water withdrawal site to service the natural gas industry.
The closing keynote was given by Tyler Heron, a Seneca Nation member who elaborated on the impacts of the Kinzua Dam on his people. Heron mentioned that before the Kinzua Dam his people could survive. They had dairy farms, grew their own vegetables, canned for the winter and made their own clothes. But now, after Kinzua Dam took their land away, he said, "we can live, but not survive. We are now just like you."
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By Melissa Hawkins
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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By Emma Charlton
Gluts of food left to rot as a consequence of coronavirus aren't just wasteful – they're also likely to damage the environment.
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>
Food decay leads to production of greenhouse gases, methane and carbon dioxide. EPA<p>Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, 28 to <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/SYR_AR5_FINAL_full.pdf" target="_blank">36 times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat</a> in the atmosphere over a 100-year period, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.</p><p>"Many export-oriented producers produce volumes far too large for output to be absorbed in local markets, and thus <a href="https://unctad.org/en/pages/newsdetails.aspx?OriginalVersionID=2333" target="_blank">organic waste levels have mounted substantially</a>," says Robert Hamwey, Economic Affairs Officer at UN agency UNCTAD. "Because this waste is left to decay, levels of methane emissions, a greenhouse gas, from decaying produce are expected to rise sharply in the crisis and immediate post-crisis months."</p>
Food supply chains are easily disrupted. UN FAO<p>Dumping food was already a problem before the crisis. In America alone, <a href="https://www.refed.com/?sort=economic-value-per-ton" target="_blank">$218 billion is spent growing, processing, transporting</a> and disposing of food that is never eaten, estimates ReFED, a collection of business, non-profit and government leaders committed to reducing food waste. That's equivalent to around 1.3% of GDP.</p><p>Since the pandemic took hold, <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-52267943" target="_blank">farmers are dumping 14 million liters</a> of milk each day because of disrupted supply routes, estimates Dairy Farmers of America. A chicken processor was forced to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/11/business/coronavirus-destroying-food.html" target="_blank">destroy 750,000 unhatched eggs a week</a>, according to the New York Times, which also cited an onion farmer letting most of his harvest decompose because he couldn't distribute or store them.</p>
Food Prices Collapsing<p>The excess has also seen prices collapse. The <a href="http://www.fao.org/worldfoodsituation/foodpricesindex/en/" target="_blank">FAO Food Price Index</a> (FFPI) averaged 162.5 points in May 2020, down 3.1 points from April and reaching the lowest monthly average since December 2018. The gauge has dropped for four consecutive months, and the latest decline reflects falling values of all the food commodities – dairy, meat, cereal, vegetable – except sugar, which rose for the first time in three months.</p><p>All this while the pandemic is exacerbating other global food trends.</p><p>"This year, some 49 million extra people may fall into extreme poverty due to the COVID-19 crisis," said António Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN. "The number of people who are acutely food or nutrition insecure will rapidly expand. <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGhLKAbNDiY&feature=youtu.be" target="_blank">Even in countries with abundant food, we see risks of disruptions in the food supply chain</a>."</p>
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