Great American Outdoors Act Approved by Senate in Major Conservation Win
The Senate overwhelmingly approved a major conservation bill worth billions on Wednesday. The Great American Outdoors Act provides a stimulus to nationwide conservation projects, outdoor recreation and maintenance of national parks and other public lands, according to AP News. The bill's supporters say the legislation would be the most significant conservation legislation enacted in nearly half a century.
The bill passed the U.S. Senate in a bipartisan 73-25 vote. It would permanently provide $900 million in oil and gas revenues for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which helps secure land for trails and parks.
Proponents, including the bill's sponsor, Republican Cory Gardner of Colorado, tout the Great American Outdoors Act as a way to get people back to work after millions have been laid off in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, as Outside Magazine reported.
"Years of bipartisan work have led to this moment and this historic opportunity for conservation," said Gardner, according to Outside Magazine. "Today the Senate passed not only the single greatest conservation achievement in generations but also a lifeline to mountain towns and recreation communities hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic."
As USA Today reported, West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who helped craft the measure, called it "one of the most important things we've done in the conservation world in the last 50 years. So we're very proud of that."
In total, federal lands may receive up to $1.9 billion per year over the next five years, which would make an enormous difference in maintaining parks and national forests. Right now, federal public lands are suffering from $20 billion in deferred maintenance costs, with $12 billion of that accumulated by the National Park Service, according to Outside Magazine.
"Park roads and bridges are collapsing, water systems are failing, and visitor centers are crumbling," said Theresa Pierno, president and CEO for National Parks Conservation Association, as USA Today reported. "This momentous bill not only provides an opportunity to better care for these treasured places, it will help to increase access to public lands across the country, provide jobs and bring much-needed relief to local communities suffering through hard times."
"[This] will be a monumental victory for conservation and the places where we all get outside," said Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM). He cited studies showing that each dollar spent by the fund creates an additional four dollars in economic value.
Outside of parks, communities around national parks suffer from high unemployment rates since many of their economies are deeply affected by the COVID-19 lockdowns, according to AP News.
Montana Republican Stephen Daines also pushed for the bill. Both he and Gardner are extremely vulnerable incumbents in November's election. It seems Republicans may have pushed forward and supported the bill to help the Colorado and Montana senators in the next election, especially since they each represent a state where the outdoor economy and tourism at sites such as Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone national parks play an outsize role, according to AP News.
Maintaining federal lands, where deferred projects are in every state, is popular with the American public. A Pew survey last year found that eight of 10 registered voters support using oil and gas revenues to cover the maintenance backlog, as USA Today reported.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The number of forest fires in Brazil's Amazon rainforest increased 28% in July in comparison to last year, the country's National Institute for Space Research reported Saturday.
Government Measures Not Enough<p>On July 16, the Brazilian government banned burning in the Pantanal wetlands and the Amazon forest for four months.</p><p>President Bolsonaro also issued an order in May for the military to coordinate environmental actions in the Amazon.</p><p>But experts say the fire numbers indicate the government's response has not been effective. The deforestation index also remained high this year until July, compared to the last couple of years, according to Carlos Nobre, a researcher at the Advanced Studies Institute in the State University of Sao Paulo.</p>
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By Johnny Wood
What better place to build a Doomsday Vault than the remote, snow-covered islands of Norway's Arctic Svalbard? Sitting around 1,000 kilometers from the North Pole, the facility is buried in permafrost to protect the precious seed samples housed there. But a freak heatwave is causing the region's ice to melt.
Deep Trouble?<p>The <a href="https://www.sciencealert.com/here-s-what-it-s-like-inside-the-doomsday-vault-that-stores-every-known-crop-on-the-planet" target="_blank">Svalbard Global Seed Vault</a> – also known as the Doomsday Vault – is a gigantic bunker, sitting deep inside a mountain surrounded by snowy wastelands. The facility stores close to <a href="https://www.seedvault.no/about/the-facility/" target="_blank">900,000 seed samples</a> from around the world and acts as a sort of back-up plan for agriculture, should disaster render parts of the planet unlivable or the world suffer a catastrophe, such as nuclear war or extreme climate change.</p><p>It's been described as an "<a href="https://www.newscientist.com/article/2235116-svalbard-doomsday-vault-gets-first-big-seed-deposit-since-upgrade/" target="_blank">insurance policy for food security</a>."</p><p>Inside the vault, <a href="https://www.sciencealert.com/here-s-what-it-s-like-inside-the-doomsday-vault-that-stores-every-known-crop-on-the-planet" target="_blank">temperatures are kept below minus 18℃</a>, cold enough to keep the seed samples safe for at least 200 years, even without backup power. But climate change is causing problems for the vault.</p><p>In 2016, which was the <a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2841/2018-fourth-warmest-year-in-continued-warming-trend-according-to-nasa-noaa/" target="_blank">warmest year on record according to NASA</a>, soaring temperatures caused <a href="https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/05/20/doomsday-arctic-seed-vault-breached-permafrost-melts/" target="_blank">meltwater to breach the vault's entrance tunnel</a>. While no seeds were damaged, the <a href="https://www.sciencealert.com/svalbard-home-of-the-doomsday-vault-just-recorded-its-highest-ever-temperature" target="_blank">floodwater left an expensive repair bill</a> and tarnished the vault's reputation as impregnable to natural or manmade disasters.<span></span><br></p>
The Heat Is On<p>Warming in the islands has been underway for some time. Figures for 2017 show average temperatures are between 3-5℃ hotter than in 1971, according to the <a href="https://www.miljodirektoratet.no/globalassets/publikasjoner/M1242/M1242.pdf" target="_blank">Climate in Svalbard 2100</a> report, with the largest increases affecting the inner fjords.</p><p><span></span>Between 2071 and 2100, average temperatures throughout the archipelago will increase by between 7-10℃, the report predicts, shortening the snow season and causing loss of near-surface permafrost.</p><p><span></span>What's happening in Svalbard is symptomatic of wider changes impacting the Arctic expanse, which is <a href="https://www.upi.com/Science_News/2018/12/12/NOAA-Arctic-warming-at-twice-the-rate-of-the-rest-of-the-planet/5141544580754/" target="_blank">warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet</a>. Parts of the <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2019GL082187" target="_blank">Canadian Arctic are thawing 70 years earlier than predicted</a>, scientists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks found, a sign that climate change could be happening faster than first thought.</p><p>As warmer-than-average summers destabilize permafrost, much of which has lain frozen for millennia, methane and other gases trapped in the ice could be released at scale, accelerating climate change. In turn, warmer temperatures would lead to further permafrost loss.<br><br>Melting ice, on land and at sea, <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/11-arctic-species-affected-climate-change" target="_blank">destroys animal habitats for species like polar bears and Arctic foxes</a>, which use their snowy white coats as camouflage either to hunt for food or avoid predators.</p>
As climate activists, we can't fight the climate crisis without considering the systemic impacts that environmental racism and White supremacy have on the frontline communities most affected by pollution and our warming world.
Do a Social Media Audit and Reconsider Who You Follow<p>As the movement for social and environmental justice continues, it's important to pay attention to the voices and media outlets you're consuming information from. Take a few minutes to look at your social media feeds – do you follow people of color and diverse voices? Do you follow credible news sources?</p><p>Take a look at what you've posted so far and think about <em>why </em>you posted. As allies, we can help the movement by centering our posts and online actions around supporting the activists and organizers on the ground. Think or ask about how you can best amplify these causes – for many that could mean retweeting or reposting, educating your followers, or even by directing followers to donation or petition pages.</p><p>Next, take a look at who you follow. It can be easy to get stuck in a <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/better/lifestyle/problem-social-media-reinforcement-bubbles-what-you-can-do-about-ncna1063896" target="_blank">social media bubble</a>, where your social feed will filter out opinions you may not necessarily agree with. By continuing to audit your social media and expand your range of news sources or pages you follow to have varying opinions or backgrounds, you ensure you have a well-rounded news feed and could even hear about a news story that you may not have known about before!</p><p>For many environmental justice fights around the US and world, local news outlets and activists may be the ones covering the story first. By taking a look at our follower lists, it gives us space to recognize any information gaps! Check out the accounts of people you trust to follow useful resources and activists.</p><p>Need some recommendations to start you off? Here are some of the <a href="https://www.climaterealityproject.org/blog/top-climate-experts-follow-twitter" target="_blank">top climate scientists</a> and <a href="https://www.climaterealityproject.org/blog/young-climate-activists-follow-twitter" target="_blank">youth activists</a> we suggest you follow on social media.</p>
Challenge Yourself and Others to Continue Learning<p>It's okay not to know everything. In fact, it's completely normal.</p><p>One of the best parts of being a climate advocate is that we continue to learn and grow with the climate movement and science. To protect our air, water, and land from pollution, we have to stay up to date with the newest science and solutions – it's the same thing when advocating for social and environmental justice!</p><p>For many, this means keeping up to date on social media and in the news with what protests are happening and why, how we can support them, and what local organizations are doing to defend their communities. It also means trying to keep an ear out for the stories that major outlets aren't covering extensively.</p><p>Take the <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/atlantic-coast-pipeline-canceled-after-years-delays-accusations-environmental-injustice-n1232987" target="_blank">recent victory in the fight against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline for example</a>. Local environmental justice groups in West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina had been fighting for years against the pipeline. When it was canceled a few weeks ago, activists celebrated, but the story never seemed to get the same level of attention as the latest tweet from the White House.</p><p>Social media gives us the opportunity to learn from others with varied experiences and gain resources to information that can make us better activists.</p>
Expect to Make Mistakes and Learn to Listen<p>We will all make mistakes. It's a part of continuing to educate ourselves and growing as an ally and activist. Even the most experienced advocates have said the wrong thing or made a mistake in their time.</p><p>For many of us, especially White climate activists, these may be relatively new concepts, but we must make the fight against racism our fight. Take a look back at what you've posted before and learn from any past mistakes, using this moment to learn what went wrong and share what you learned with others. By educating yourself, you can help others who may be experiencing similar mistakes or have questions.</p><p>Additionally, the best way to learn about the impacts of systemic racism on frontline communities being impacted by police brutality or climate change is to listen. Give Black activists and people of color an opportunity to tell their stories and give yourself time to reflect on their experiences. It may (and probably will be) uncomfortable in some moments but it's necessary to make progress in a movement where we can fight together for long-awaited justice.</p>
Use Your Platform and Following to Amplify Diverse Voices<p>Whether you have a big social media following, only follow close family and friends on social media, or don't have social media accounts at all – use the platform or online environment you have to amplify the voices of Black activists and people of color.</p><p>It can be as simple as sending an email to close friends or retweeting posts from local organizers. Sharing information from those on the front lines to those who trust and follow you not only helps local activists but can help educate others!</p><p>For many, you're a trusted messenger. What does that mean? You can read more about it in one of our <a href="https://www.climaterealityproject.org/blog/why-trusted-messengers-matter" target="_blank">past blogs</a>, but here's a quick definition from <a href="https://www.bu.edu/ise/2019/04/16/trusted-messenger/" target="_blank">Boston University:</a><br>"People believe people whom they trust, and they're more likely to act based on the recommendation of that influential other person."</p><p>Your family, friends, and followers trust you – use that privilege as an opportunity to educate them and amplify the voices of those leading the social and environmental justice fight!</p>
Want to Learn More About Climate Activism and Environmental Justice?<p>Feeling inspired to join the movement for environmental and climate justice? Sign up to learn more by becoming a Climate Reality Leader.</p><p>By signing up for one of our Climate Reality Leadership Corps trainings, you'll learn about fossil fuel pollution and climate impacts on low-income families and communities of color, and how to build the broad, inclusive, and powerful coalitions necessary to fight back.</p><p>Join former Vice President Al Gore and an all-star lineup of environmental justice leaders, climate scientists, business leaders, and more to learn how to fight for a just, healthy future for all.</p>
By Eoin Higgins
Environmental groups on Friday condemned the announcement of a new rule proposed by President Donald Trump that would further weaken the Endangered Species Act by making it easier to destroy habitats vulnerable species rely on for survival.
By Bob Spires
As American school officials debate when it will be safe for schoolchildren to return to classrooms, looking abroad may offer insights. Nearly every country in the world shuttered their schools early in the COVID-19 pandemic. Many have since sent students back to class, with varying degrees of success.
Israel: Too Much, Too Soon<p>Israel took stringent steps early on in the coronavirus pandemic, including severely restricting everyone's movement and closing all schools. By June, it was being <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/08/middleeast/israel-coronavirus-second-wave-netanyahu-intl/index.html" target="_blank">lauded internationally</a> for containing the spread of COVID-19.</p><p>But shortly after schools reopened in May, on a <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/224fa625-657c-4ffb-a6a0-a40e04d685b9" target="_blank">staggered schedule paired with mask mandates and social distancing rules</a>, COVID-19 cases <a href="https://twitter.com/DrEricDing/status/1278682387325616129" target="_blank">surged</a> across Israel. <a href="https://www.thedailybeast.com/israeli-data-show-school-openings-were-a-disaster-that-wiped-out-lockdown-gains" target="_blank">Schoolchildren and teachers</a> were among the sick. Today, <a href="https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/07/school-openings-across-globe-suggest-ways-keep-coronavirus-bay-despite-outbreaks" target="_blank">several hundred Israeli schools have closed again</a>.</p><p>Some blame <a href="https://www.vox.com/2020/7/15/21324082/coronavirus-school-reopening-trump-children-safety" target="_blank">lax enforcement of health guidelines</a> in schools. The weather didn't help: In May, a <a href="https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/07/school-openings-across-globe-suggest-ways-keep-coronavirus-bay-despite-outbreaks" target="_blank">record heat wave hit Israel</a>, making masks uncomfortable for students to wear.</p><p>But schools were only part of a broader reopening in Israel that, many experts say, <a href="https://www.timesofisrael.com/where-we-went-wrong-expert-says-these-3-blunders-caused-new-israeli-covid-chaos/" target="_blank">came too soon and without sufficient testing capacity</a>.</p><p>"The reopening happened too fast," said <a href="https://www.thedailybeast.com/israeli-data-show-school-openings-were-a-disaster-that-wiped-out-lockdown-gains" target="_blank">Mohammed Khatib, an epidemiologist on Israel's national COVID-19 task force</a>. "It was undertaken so quickly that it triggered a very sharp spike, and the return to more conservative measures came too little, much too late."<br></p><p>Israel's public health director, Siegal Sadetski, resigned in early July, saying the health ministry had ignored her warnings about <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/israel-battles-new-wave-coronavirus-infections-after-reopening-n1233139" target="_blank">reopening schools and businesses</a> so rapidly.</p>
Sweden: A Hands-Off Approach<p>Schools never closed in Sweden, part of the Scandinavian country's risky <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/05/15/world/europe/sweden-coronavirus-deaths.html" target="_blank">gamble on skipping a coronavirus lockdown</a>. Only students 16 and older stayed home and did remote learning. <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/2020/05/sweden-hasnt-locked-down-but-normal-life-is-a-luxury/" target="_blank">Social distancing</a> and <a href="https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/07/school-openings-across-globe-suggest-ways-keep-coronavirus-bay-despite-outbreaks" target="_blank">masks were recommended but optional</a>, in line with the Swedish government's emphasis on personal choice.</p><p><span></span>This strategy earned <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/schools-reopening-coronavirus/2020/07/10/865fb3e6-c122-11ea-8908-68a2b9eae9e0_story.html" target="_blank">praise from President Donald Trump</a> but some resistance from Swedish parents, especially those whose children have health issues. The government threatened to <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-sweden-compels-parents-send-kids-to-school-2020-5" target="_blank">punish parents</a> who didn't send their kids to school.</p><p>Sweden's plan <a href="https://www.axios.com/coronavirus-schools-sweden-denmark-5ff88c81-67e3-4c33-8b74-fe57b9555827.html" target="_blank">seems to have been safe enough</a>. Its health agency reported on July 15 that <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-sweden-schools/swedens-health-agency-says-open-schools-did-not-spur-pandemic-spread-among-children-idUSKCN24G2IS" target="_blank">COVID-19 outbreaks among Sweden's 1 million school children</a> were no worse than those in neighboring Finland, which did close schools. And pediatricians have seen <a href="https://doi.org/10.1093/cid/ciaa864" target="_blank">few severe COVID-19 cases</a> among school-age children in Stockholm. Only <a href="https://www.statista.com/statistics/1107913/number-of-coronavirus-deaths-in-sweden-by-age-groups/" target="_blank">one young Swedish child is believed to have died of the coronavirus</a> as of this article's publication.</p><p>However, officials in Stockholm have admitted they don't know how the disease may have affected teachers, parents and other adults in schools.</p><p>Sweden had <a href="https://www.coronatracker.com/country/sweden/" target="_blank">over 70,000 COVID-19 cases</a> as of July 21, which puts it in the middle of the pack in Europe, according to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1093/cid/ciaa864" target="_blank">a joint study</a> from Sweden's Upsala University and the University of Virginia. Of those, slightly more than <a href="https://www.folkhalsomyndigheten.se/contentassets/c1b78bffbfde4a7899eb0d8ffdb57b09/covid-19-school-aged-children.pdf" target="_blank">1,000 involved children and teens</a>.</p>
Japan: So Far, So Good<p>Japan, which has mostly <a href="https://www.coronatracker.com/?country_code=JP" target="_blank">kept COVID-19 under control</a>, took <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/japan-coronavirus-schools-reopen/2020/06/06/9047be8c-a645-11ea-8681-7d471bf20207_story.html" target="_blank">a conservative approach</a> to reopening schools in June.</p><p>Different schools have <a href="https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2020/06/bdd000c967a7-school-restarts-picking-up-in-japan-amid-lingering-coronavirus-fears.html" target="_blank">different strategies</a>, but generally Japanese students <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/05/18/national/japan-schools-reopen-state-of-emergency/" target="_blank">attend class in person on alternating days</a>, so that classrooms are only half full. Lunches are silent and socially distanced, and students undergo daily temperature checks.</p><p>These precautions are <a href="https://globalhealth.washington.edu/sites/default/files/COVID-19%20Schools%20Summary%20%282%29.pdf?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTkRreE5XWXlORFF3TXpNeCIsInQiOiJIbVNQTTVySEo0Vzk1cHVBZVVqWnFGVmR1UEJxRGdpd01mTXg4OGw3Mk5nTnpmaUoyMGt2UXIwWVZBOE5GVjIybHA5aStrbzJ3MUxsanoxamZibmlocmpSbXZyVFVoV0VHYU1aTGx0RnpsMXlmOEtXSVJqaDJsZ0RJU1BQcVZjZSJ9" target="_blank">more stringent than those in many other countries</a>. Still, some Japanese school children have <a href="https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2020/06/bdd000c967a7-school-restarts-picking-up-in-japan-amid-lingering-coronavirus-fears.html" target="_blank">gotten COVID-19</a>, particularly in major cities.</p><p>A survey from Save the Children found that Japanese school children <a href="https://www.nippon.com/en/japan-data/h00744/" target="_blank">wanted more clear and detailed information</a> about the virus and the outbreaks. <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/04/06/national/japan-parents-back-to-school-coronavirus/" target="_blank">Parents</a>, students and <a href="https://japan-forward.com/what-its-like-going-back-to-school-after-the-coronavirus-emergency/" target="_blank">teachers</a> continue to express hesitancy about returning to school and <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/06/09/national/japanese-students-coronavirus-measures-school/" target="_blank">displeasure over reopening measures</a>.</p>
Uruguay: A+ for Safety<p>Analysts credit Uruguay's <a href="https://www.wlrn.org/post/small-uruguay-big-proof-committing-public-health-can-contain-covid-19#stream/0" target="_blank">well-organized and efficient public health system</a> and Uruguyans' <a href="https://theconversation.com/uruguay-quietly-beats-coronavirus-distinguishing-itself-from-its-south-american-neighbors-yet-again-140037" target="_blank">strong faith in government</a> for its success stopping the coronavirus. The progressive South American country of 3.4 million has the region's <a href="https://www.wlrn.org/post/small-uruguay-big-proof-committing-public-health-can-contain-covid-19#stream/0" target="_blank">lowest rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths</a>, and it never shut down its economy entirely.</p><p>Uruguay was one of the Western Hemisphere's first countries to send its students back to school, using a <a href="https://blogs.iadb.org/educacion/en/uruguayreopening/" target="_blank">staged approach</a>.</p><p>In late April, Uruguay <a href="https://www.elobservador.com.uy/nota/gobierno-anuncio-que-el-22-de-abril-se-pueden-retomar-las-clases-en-973-escuelas-rurales-202048204622" target="_blank">reopened schools in rural areas</a>, where the student population is small. In early June, it brought vulnerable student groups, which were <a href="https://blogs.iadb.org/educacion/en/uruguayreopening/" target="_blank">struggling to access online learning</a>, and high school seniors back into classrooms. Then all students in non-urban areas went back to classrooms.</p><p>Finally, on June 29, <a href="https://www.infobae.com/america/america-latina/2020/06/29/uruguay-completa-la-reapertura-de-las-escuelas-256-mil-alumnos-vuelven-a-clase-en-montevideo/" target="_blank">256,000 students in the capital of Montevideo</a> returned to school. An <a href="https://labs.ebanx.com/en/notes/uruguay-one-of-the-first-in-the-americas-to-reopen-schools/" target="_blank">alternating schedule</a> of in-person and virtual instruction reduces the number of students in classrooms at one time.</p><p>Uruguay is notable for residents' <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-30/in-midst-of-covid-chaos-one-latin-american-nation-gets-it-right" target="_blank">consistent and early adoption of measures</a> like social distancing and masks. Its successful pandemic response comes despite its <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-30/in-midst-of-covid-chaos-one-latin-american-nation-gets-it-right" target="_blank">proximity to hard-hit Brazil</a>, where schools remain closed.</p>
Final Grades<p>There is no perfect way to reopen schools during a pandemic. Even when a country has COVID-19 under control, there's no guarantee that schools can reopen safely.</p><p>But the policies and practices of countries that have had some initial success with schools point in the same direction. It helps to slowly stage the reopening. Strict mask wearing and social distancing is critical, both in schools and surrounding communities. And both officials and families need <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/puar.13252" target="_blank">reliable and up-to-date data</a> so that they can continually assess outbreaks – and change course quickly if necessary.<span></span></p>
- Young Children May Have Higher Coronavirus Levels, Raising ... ›
- COVID-19: What Experts Think About Reopening Schools - EcoWatch ›
By Danielle Nierenberg and Maya Osman-Krinsky
In the United States, over 2,000 acres of agricultural land are sold every day for housing or commercial development, according to the American Farmland Trust. This has especially affected Black farmers who, since 1920, have seen nearly a 90 percent decline in land ownership, according to the U.S. Census.