Influence of Grassroots Anti-Fracking Movement Spreads Like Wildfire
Jill Wiener has dedicated a large part of the past five years of her life to keeping the use of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas extraction out of New York State. The Sullivan County, NY, resident believes that if fracking has yet to happen in a state, it should never be allowed to happen. And where fracking is happening, it should be stopped.
Many of Wiener's fellow grassroots activists in New York share this belief. They're opposed to the regulatory path followed in other states, including in Illinois where some big environmental groups worked with the natural gas industry to get fracking legislation passed and signed into law. So far, the New York activists' strategy for keeping shale gas drilling out of the state has worked: fracking in New York still appears to be a long way off, if it happens at all.
The strength of the resistance manifested itself again June 17 when more than 3,000 people of all ages and backgrounds from across New York gathered in Albany to urge Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislature to end the threat of fracking and promote a clean energy agenda. Robert Boyle, a long-time environmental activist and founder of Riverkeeper, remarked last year that he has never seen an environmental movement "spread with such wildfire" as the anti-fracking movement.
"It took me 13 or 14 years to get the first Riverkeeper going. Fracking isn't like that. It's like lighting a train of powder," he told journalist Ellen Cantarow.
Spreading Like Wildfire
The movement started to spread like wildfire in New York when concerned residents began educating their neighbors about the dangers of fracking. "The grassroots groups actually informed the Big Green groups," Wiener said in an interview with EcoWatch. "This was the grassroots telling the grass tops what was happening on the ground and doing the research and seeing that something was wrong. Back in 2008, the Big Greens thought that natural gas was a good bridge fuel, better for the climate."
Anti-fracking activists in New York were hearing news about what was happening in Pennsylvania, stories that put them on high alert. "We had a head-start because the industry marched through Pennsylvania first," Wiener said. When industry representatives began showing up in New York, they guaranteed millions of dollars to residents if they leased their land and minimal impact on the environment from the shale gas extraction process.
But many residents refused to buy into the industry's narrative. "There are a lot of native New Yorkers here," Wiener said. "We all grew up with the story, 'Well, I've got a bridge to sell you.' We're pretty skeptical."
Wiener became involved in the anti-fracking movement after she ran into a friend at a local supermarket who handed her literature describing what the natural gas industry had up its sleeve.
"I looked at it and said, 'Oh dear! They're never going to do this here. This is a hair-brained scheme,'" she recalled.
Wiener and other anti-fracking activists in the region were feeling good about their chances because they had just finished working with state lawmakers to defeat the construction of an electric transmission line called the New York Regional Interconnect (NYRI). The proposed 400-kilovolt, 1,200 megawatt, high-voltage line would have run about 190 miles from Utica, NY, to Orange County, NY.
"The whole project didn't make sense. It was not easily defeated, but we had our elected officials on our side," explained Wiener. The activists were expecting the same success in the fight against fracking. Getting public officials on board the anti-fracking bandwagon would be a "no-brainer," she thought. Activists soon discovered, though, that the fight against fracking would be much tougher and drawn-out than the campaign against the NYRI electric transmission line.
Wiener's concerns about fracking led her to Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, a group formed in 2008 in reaction to "landmen knocking on doors." The group seeks to educate the public about fracking and to promote clean energy. At Catskill Citizens, no one takes a salary and there's no office. The organization is run by volunteers who make decisions by consensus.
The various anti-fracking groups in New York regularly communicate with each other. "If there is a plan or an action or a piece of legislation, we keep in very close touch. We have open discussions about where we need help," Wiener said.
Catskill Citizens has attracted "creative thinkers from all political stripes," many of whom have organizing experience, she said. "This is not a left-wing, tree-hugging issue. It's a public health issue and everybody deserves clean air, clean water and the right to their property and the quiet enjoyment of their property," she emphasized.
An Artist and an Activist
An artist by trade, Wiener moved into a late nineteenth century farm house in Callicoon, NY, from New York City in 1997, where she set up a pottery studio. Along with running a pottery business, Wiener grows flowers on her farm that she then cuts and arranges for parties, weddings and special events.
"I now spend much more time 'working' with Catskill Citizens than tending to my own businesses," she said. It's Wiener's strong convictions that allow her to work the long hours needed to help sustain a movement. "I don't have kids. It's not like I'm fighting for my own children. But there is right and there is wrong. And, boy, I really hate wrong," she said.
New Yorkers Against Fracking
In her work as an activist, Wiener serves as a member of the board of directors of Catskill Citizens and is on the advisory council of Stop the Frack Attack, a national coalition of anti-fracking groups.
Since moving out of New York City, Wiener also has served on the boards of the Sullivan County Visitors Association, Sullivan County Farmers' Markets, Jeffersonville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Sullivan County Alliance for Sustainable Development. She ran for the Callicoon Town Council in 2011 but did not win a seat. "I believe it is my duty to participate, to try to make our communities better where we can and protect them where we must," she said.
Before she became involved in the anti-fracking movement, Wiener said she had trouble standing up and speaking in front of just a handful of people. In recent years, though, she has become a spokesperson for the movement, speaking at events where she puts her gas industry expertise and her quick wit on display in front of large crowds. "One of my proudest moments was at the [Don't Frack New York rally in Albany in August 2012] when I spoke in front of over 2,000 people," she said.
On most days, Wiener said she is phoning fellow anti-fracking activists to talk strategy, attending meetings or performing ordinary organizational duties to help make the movement even bigger. "Our numbers keep increasing and I think our resolve keeps getting stronger and stronger because everyday something else that is an obvious wrong comes from this industry," she said.
"The industry had for years and years sold natural gas as this perfect solution to our energy problems and to climate change. They sold it as wonderful and clean and green and you put a straw into the ground and you just sort of suck the gas out and it's very simple," Wiener said. "But it really turns out that it wasn't. This is not your grandmother's gas well."
The rush to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale and other shale gas plays is creating industrial zones in rural areas across the U.S. The industrialization of wide swaths of forestland, meadows and mountains is threatening the health of humans who live near the drilling zones and disturbing animal and plant species who inhabit these regions.
Most people agree that the natural gas extraction process harms the environment. But they disagree on the extent of the harm. There's debate on whether the benefits of natural gas production outweigh the harm it causes. According to Wiener, the natural gas industry often takes "one kernel of one word of truth and they surround it in this pile of misinformation."
Five Minutes of Happy Dance
The odds appear to be stacked against anti-fracking activists, especially when they compare their meager budgets with the industry's huge war chests. "It's very hard to break through that with the truth when you're faced with insurmountable amounts of money. But somehow we manage to do it, person to person to person," she said.
Echoing a major theme in Gasland 2, the new documentary made by filmmaker Josh Fox, Wiener said the political elite's overwhelming support for fracking at the state and federal levels demonstrates that the nation has "a democracy problem" and that there is "undue influence by corporate money."
The influence of money also is seen in the nonprofit sector. Referring to the Environmental Defense Fund's (EDF) involvement in the Center for Sustainable Shale Development, Wiener said she takes exception to environmental groups that are "GINO," or green in name only. The Pittsburgh-based center, formed earlier this year, bills itself as a coalition of companies and groups working together to improve environmental performance of industry operations. In addition to EDF, the center's members include Chevron Corp., CONSOL Energy Inc. and Royal Dutch Shell plc, as well as Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future and the Pennsylvania Environment Council.
"If the Environmental Defense Fund actually wanted to do something good, they could take their incredible power and the money that they've gotten from Mayor Bloomberg, and put it to good use by educating the public on the dangers of shale gas extraction," she said. In August 2012, Bloomberg Philanthropies awarded the EDF with a three-year, $6 million grant for its work to "minimize the environmental impacts of natural gas operations through hydraulic fracturing."
According to Wiener, the EDF "could walk into Pennsylvania because they have relationships there and say, 'That's enough now, stop! You put a moratorium on this right now. Unless and until you get it right and you're not putting people's lives at risk and polluting their air and changing the character of your state in an irreversible way, you don't do it.'"
North of the border, in New York, pro-industry officials and environmental activists alike are beginning to believe the strength of the anti-fracking movement could spoil the natural gas industry's dream of a shale gas bonanza in the state. Wiener, who describes herself as "really stubborn," believes New York can remain free of shale gas drilling as long as she and fellow activists keep applying pressure.
But what if anti-fracking forces do succeed in New York? That was a question that a state lawmaker asked Wiener at a recent meeting. "My own state senator—not particularly on our side—said, 'Jill, what are you going to do if you ever manage to stop this? Are you going to sit back and do everything you did before?'"
"I said, 'No, if we can stop it in New York, you think I'm going to leave everybody else behind? No. Five minutes of happy dance and then we're right back to work.'"
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
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By Zahida Sherman
Cooking has always intimidated me. As a child, I would anxiously peer into the kitchen as my mother prepared Christmas dinner for our family.
Falling in Love With Food All Over Again<p>Slowly, through my most intimate relationships with friends and partners, I began to see the beauty — and rewards — of cooking.</p><p>I got tired of giving in to defeat and always bringing chips or paper products to social gatherings. I started asking my mom to send me her Christmas and Thanksgiving recipes. I even volunteered to host Thanksgiving dinner at my place.</p><p>Each time I heard my loved ones sing the praises of the foods I prepared for them, I felt a tinge more confident that I could carry out our traditions my way.</p><p>In reaching out to other relatives for their favorite recipes, I learned that they had a little help of their own. They didn't rely solely on their ancestral cooking instincts. They turned to Black chefs for guidance.</p><p>These 7 cookbooks by Black chefs have inspired my family and fed us in nutrients, joy, and spiritual sustenance. They're also helping me overcome my personal fears of cooking.</p>
Get CookingWhether you're in recovery from cooking fears like me, or are just looking to expand your culinary confidence with dishes honoring Black heritage, these Black chefs are here to support you on your journey.Turn on some music, give yourself permission to make mistakes, and throw down for yourself or your loved ones. Glorious flavors await you.
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By Tara Lohan
The conclusion to decades of work to remove a dam on the Middle Fork Nooksack River east of Bellingham, Washington began with a bang yesterday as crews breached the dam with a carefully planned detonation. This explosive denouement is also a beginning.
The History<p>The Middle Fork Nooksack drains glacier-fed headwater streams that run off the icy summit of 10,778-foot Mt. Baker. The Middle Fork joins the North Fork and then the mainstem of the Nooksack River, which travels to Bellingham Bay and Puget Sound. The entire Nooksack watershed stretches 830 square miles across Washington and into British Columbia.</p>
A Plan Comes Together<p>The Middle Fork dam is not a pool dam built for water storage. Much of the time, water flows over the top until dam operators drop a floodgate to divert water to new locations. That water travels about 14 miles through tunnel and pipeline to Mirror Lake, then Anderson Creek, and to Lake Whatcom before finally being delivered to residents' taps.</p><p>Before removing the dam, engineers had to move the water intake 700 feet upstream and situate it at an elevation that still enabled city water withdrawals throughout the year, regardless of flow conditions.</p><p>They also needed to make sure that the rushing water didn't sweep up fish and accidentally send them through the water-supply system.</p><p>"The solution required a fairly complex design in the intake structure, including a fish exit pipe out of that structure to put fish back into the river in a way that meets current environmental permit standards," explains LaCroix.</p>
Project layout for the removal of the Middle Fork Nooksack diversion dam and rebuilding of water intake. City of Bellingham<p>Despite the cost and the work, she says, being able to continue to meet their municipal water obligations while opening up habitat for threatened species has been a win-win.</p><p>"I think there's a lot of benefits to having a dam removal versus fish passage — the main one being that you get a free-flowing river that can be a dynamic ecosystem and change over time," she says. "A static fish ladder just can't provide that same level of ecosystem benefit."</p>
Restoration Success<p>Despite local authorities' championing dam removal on the Middle Fork, the project has largely flown under the radar, overshadowed in the Pacific Northwest by heated discussions about a much larger potential project — removing <a href="https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/feds-reject-removal-of-4-snake-river-dams-in-key-report/" target="_blank">four federal hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River</a>, a major tributary of the Columbia River.</p><p>Proponents of dam removal there see it as the best chance for recovering threatened salmon populations, including Chinook, which could help starving Southern Resident killer whales. Those dams also provide irrigation water, barge navigation and hydropower, so there's been more pushback against removal efforts.</p><p>Previous dam removals around the country, however, have proved successful at aiding fish recovery and river restoration.</p><p>Most notably the 1999 demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/edwards-dam-removal/" target="_blank">Edwards Dam on Maine's Kennebec River</a> restored the annual run of alewives, a type of herring essential to the food web. The fish run has gone from zero to 5 million in the two decades since dam removal. Blueback herring, striped bass, sturgeon and shad have also extended their reach. And the resurgence has brought back osprey, bald eagles and other wildlife, too.</p><p>The overwhelming success of river restoration on the Kennebec helped to spur a nationwide dam removal movement that's now seen 1,200 dams come down since 1999. Last year a record <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/conservation-resource/a-record-26-states-removed-dams-in-2019/" target="_blank">90 dams</a> were removed in 26 states, including <a href="https://therevelator.org/cleveland-forest-dam-removal/" target="_blank">20 dams in California's Cleveland National Forest</a>.</p>
Spider excavators remove on dam on San Juan Creek in California's Cleveland National Forest. Julie Donnell, USFS<p>The results have been seen in the Pacific Northwest, as well, which boasts the largest dam removal thus far in the country. In 2011 and 2014, the demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/elwha-dam-removal/" target="_blank">two dams</a> on Elwha River, which runs through Washington's Olympic National Park, opened up 70 miles of habitat that had been blocked for a century. Scientists have started seeing all five species of salmon native to the river coming back, particularly Chinook and coho. Bull trout, they've observed, have increased in size since the dams were removal.</p>
Benefits on the Middle Fork Nooksack<p>McEwan hopes to see a similar outcome on the Middle Fork.</p><p>Like the Elwha the Middle Fork Nooksack is a relatively pristine river with little development, and dam removal is expected to provide a big boost to fish. The additional miles of spawning habitat are important, but so is the temperature of that water.</p><p>The dam removal will open access to cold upstream waters, which are ideal for salmon and getting harder to come by as climate change warms waters and reduces mountain runoff.</p><p>"This is really great for the climate change resiliency for these species," says McEwan.</p><p>Steelhead will get back 45% of their historic habitat in the river, and scientists expect Chinook populations to increase in abundance by 31%.</p><p>That <em>could</em> help Southern Resident killer whales.</p><p>"When you get to the ocean, it's a little bit of a black box in terms of what you can model and say definitively is going to help, but more fish is better for orcas," McEwan says.</p><p>Upstream habitat will see benefits, too.</p><p>Oceangoing fish like salmon enrich their bodies with carbon and nitrogen while at sea. When they return to their natal rivers to spawn and die, the marine-derived nutrients they carry back upriver become important food and fertilizer for both riverine and terrestrial ecosystems — aiding everything from trees to birds to bears.</p><p>"Once the fish start making their way back, it will start changing the whole ecological system," says Delgado.</p><p><span></span>But any ecological benefit from salmon restoration, either in the ocean or the upper watershed, won't be immediate.<br></p><p>"The population of salmon on the Middle Fork is so low that we expect it's going to take quite a while to rebound," she says. "But the big picture is that what's good for salmon is good for the region — our history and our destiny are intricately intertwined."</p><p>After decades of work, that process of restoration has finally begun.</p>
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By Katie Howell
A new tool called The Food Systems Dashboard aims to save decision makers time and energy by painting a complete picture of a country's food system. Created by the Johns Hopkins' Alliance for a Healthier World, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Dashboard compiles food systems data from over 35 sources and offers it as a public good.
By Manuela Callari
It can grow to a maximum of six inches (16 centimeters), change color depending on mood and habitat, and, like all seahorses, the White's seahorse male gestates its young. But this tiny snouted fish is under threat.
Building an Ocean Seahorse Destination<p>Seahorses are found in tropical and temperate coastal water worldwide, but are most abundant around Australia, China and the Philippines. </p><p>Trade in the tiny creatures is strictly regulated because of their use in traditional medicine, aquariums and their sale as dried curios. But because they are poor swimmers and cannot easily move elsewhere, habitat loss is a particular threat for these curious animals. </p><p>Seahorses wrap their tails around seagrass and corals to avoid being carried away on currents. They use the habitat to spawn and hide from predators such as crabs, while also feeding on riches of plankton and small crustaceans living in the reef.</p><p><span></span>Where corals aren't available, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/aqc.1217" target="_blank">scientists</a> found seahorses taking up residence in fishing nets and old crab traps abandoned at the bottom of the ocean. </p>
Mixing With the Locals<p>Baby seahorse mortality is high in the wild because they are easily caught, so those bred in the protected environment of the aquarium weren't ready to be released into the wild until early May.</p><p>The team released 90 new arrivals into Sydney Harbor, placing some directly into the purpose-built hotels, and others onto a net that wild seahorses had already settled on.</p><p>Before setting them free, the researchers marked each young seahorse with a fluorescent tag with unique IDs inserted just beneath the skin to track how they get on in the different environments. </p><p>"The most exciting part was being able to put these animals into the wild and then go back a month later and still see them surviving and growing," said McCracken. </p><p>The seahorses will be old enough to mate and reproduce around October or November 2020. And researchers hope that by then, they will be able to breed with the wild population. </p>
Building a Global Seahorse Hotel Chain<p>With seahorses everywhere facing the loss of their coral reef homes, similar projects have sprung up in places like Greece and South Africa, home to the world's most endangered seahorse, the Knysna seahorse. </p><p>"The endangered South African seahorse is benefiting from something quite similar, even though it wasn't intentional," said Peter Teske, professor at the Department of Zoology, University of Johannesburg.</p><p>In the South African <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322649251_An_endangered_seahorse_selectively_chooses_an_artificial_structure" target="_blank">case</a>, seahorses have bedded down in "Reno mattresses" — wire cages filled with rocks — that were used to build a new marina. Researchers from NGO Knysna Basin Project found the structures acted as a refuge for the animals.<span></span></p><p><span></span>While Teske describes the seahorse hotels as "a positive news story" and a great way to create public awareness of conservation, he added that establishing artificial habitats in some areas will only prevent the extinction of local populations.</p><p>"For a complete recovery, it is necessary to give the natural habitat a chance to regenerate," said the seahorse expert. </p>
Underwater Mascot<p>In Australia, the researchers hope the project could provide an opportunity to raise awareness not only of the plight of the Sydney seahorses but the other animals with which it shares its ocean habitat.</p><p>The waters around Sydney and the east coast are rich in biodiversity and include several threatened species like the weedy seadragon — a relative of the seahorse — and the grey nurse shark. Like the seahorse, they're also under pressure from pollution, ocean traffic and habitat loss through storms and coastal construction. </p><p>"It's a good thing to get people's support and interest. The seahorses are a useful vehicle to get people concerned if the harbor is in trouble," said David Booth, professor of marine ecology at the University of Technology Sydney who is also working on the project. </p><p>The hotels have become an attraction for divers hoping to catch a glimpse of these small but near mythical creatures. </p><p>"Everyone loves seahorses," added Booth, "they are so popular." </p>
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