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A New Call to National Climate Action
By Rhea Suh
Minutes after opening the 116th Congress last week, incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi issued a stirring call to national action on what she called "the existential threat of our time: the climate crisis."
In Pelosi we have a leader who is listening to the science—and to the American people across the country as they rally around the urgent need for effective action to stem this global scourge.
Aided by that rising chorus and the growing movement calling for a Green New Deal, the new Democratic majority in the House has launched an assertive effort to use its power to help avert climate catastrophe, a threat the previous majority ignored.
After two years of watching the Trump administration retreat from climate progress at home and abroad, we've come to a national moment of hope. There's a long road ahead. But now's the time for every American who cares about leaving our children a livable world to stand up, speak out, and add their voice to the growing momentum for progress.
Blockbuster reports last fall from leading climate scientists, both in the U.S. and around the world, made clear the dire straits we're in and the links between climate change and inequality. Seas are rising, threatening our coastal communities and all they support. Croplands are turning to desert, threatening ranches and farms across the American heartland. Entire species are dying off faster than at any other time since the dinosaurs disappeared some 65 million years ago. Storms, wildfires and floods are raging. The Great Barrier Reef is dying.
All over the world, the impacts fall first and hardest on those with the fewest resources to take care of themselves. In our country, low-income communities and people of color often bear the greatest burden of climate hazard and harm.
All of this will get much worse, the science tells us, unless we move quickly and deliberately to cut the dangerous carbon pollution that is driving global climate change. And we must do so in a way that creates good jobs and promotes secure livelihoods for our families.
We've made progress, but not nearly enough. Growing frustration over congressional inaction was a key reason voters handed Democrats a House majority in the midterm elections last fall, after eight years of Republican control. The new majority has gotten the message. Now it's on us to work with them and hold them to account.
On the same day Pelosi assumed the speaker's gavel, using her opening speech to spotlight the urgent need for climate action, the new House voted to create a Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. That's an important step forward. The select committee can help provide the focus and attention the climate crisis deserves, even as standing committees that work on the issue move forward with areas they oversee. Three House committees—Natural Resources; Energy and Commerce and Science, Space, and Technology—plan hearings on climate change.
"The entire Congress must work to put an end to the inaction and denial of science that threaten the planet and the future," Pelosi said in remarks that drew a standing ovation on the packed House floor. Casting the issue as a matter of public health, national security, economic prosperity and moral stewardship, she said congressional inaction was out of step with American priorities. "The American people understand the urgency," Pelosi said. "The people are ahead of the Congress. The Congress must join them."
Independent polling tells the story. Seven in ten Americans understand the growing dangers of climate change and expect the government to take action, a November poll by Monmouth University found.
The House has undergone a sea change, with climate action near the top of the agenda for the largest group of new members in history. The House freshmen elected in November are far younger and more diverse and feature more women, as a group, than the incumbents they'll be working alongside. Of the 101 newly elected House members, two-thirds are Democrats, 42 are women, 24 are people of color, and 22 have served in the military or the Central Intelligence Agency.
They didn't run to anchor the status quo. "They're going to shake this place up," California representative Jackie Speier told the Los Angeles Times.
On the climate front, that's already happening. Led by climate activists like 29-year-old New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman ever elected to the House, this group is demanding an overarching legislative package that puts us on the path to a clean energy future that's equitable and just.
At the grassroots level, the fast-growing, youth-oriented Sunrise Movement is calling for a Green New Deal, a comprehensive slate of policy measures that promote a just and equitable transition away from coal, oil and natural gas and the climate-wrecking carbon pollution that comes from burning those fossil fuels. Demand for climate action, in fact, is rising across generational, geographic, and even partisan lines.
Members of the Sunrise Movement protest at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, December 2018Becker1999 / Flickr
There's no question we need a comprehensive national effort to speed that transition. Already, some 3.2 million Americans go to work each day helping us to do exactly that. The right policy mix can help us create jobs for many millions more, by tying those efforts to a national mission that advances innovation and makes use of the world's most talented and committed workforce.
The Select Committee on the Climate Crisis must help us get that right. That means thorough hearings and investigations into the Trump administration's long record of suppressing science; rolling back commonsense rules that clean up our dirty power plants, trucks and cars; and putting polluter interests ahead of the national interest in averting climate catastrophe. It means transparent and inclusive proceedings that bring in the voices of low-income communities, people of color and others already living on the front lines of climate disaster. It means legislative policy solutions that promote a just and equitable transition to 100 percent clean energy by, for example, speeding the shift to more-efficient cars, homes and workplaces powered by clean, homegrown American energy from the wind and sun. And we must cut carbon pollution entirely, or offset it enough to achieve net zero emissions, by 2050 at the latest.
It's encouraging that the woman chosen to chair the select committee, Florida representative Kathy Castor, is a longtime climate advocate and clean energy champion who has pledged to work with proponents of a Green New Deal. "There's some fabulous proposals in the Green New Deal," Castor told The Hill last month. "This will be a committee clearly in the spirit of the Green New Deal."
It's important to bear in mind what the House is up against. Its investigative work must hold to account fossil fuel interests that have thwarted climate action. Since the select committee lacks subpoena power, the standing committees should be prepared to use their authority if necessary.
And, of course, the GOP-controlled Senate and White House continue to deny the climate realities before our very eyes and promote the fossil fuels that are driving the crisis. That's why it's so important that we raise our voices and step up our engagement to help support the work of the new House majority, make sure the country understands how important it is and keep the focus on the action we need.
At the same time, there's much progress we can make even in this divided Congress. Leaders in both houses have called out national infrastructure investment as a bipartisan priority. A forward-looking infrastructure package should help us to modernize the nation's electrical grid so we can make better use of solar and wind power, adopt building and design approaches that make our communities more resilient in the face of climate-related hazard and ongoing harm, and prioritize electric charging stations to better service the growing number of electric car owners.
There's also broad support for increasing investment in research and development to help ensure that American workers are winners in the fast-growing clean energy market, expected to attract $8.4 trillion in global investment over just the next three decades.
There's hard work ahead, to be sure. What's important is that, at last, we have House leadership that understands the stakes—for our families, our communities and our country—in standing up to climate change. We have leadership that understands the clock is ticking and we're running out of time to get this right. And we have leadership that's listening to the American people, who expect our government to take action to fight the central environmental challenge of our time.
"We have no illusions that our work will be easy, and that all of us in this chamber will always agree," Pelosi said. "But let us pledge that when we disagree, we respect each other—and we respect the truth."
Count us on board with that pledge as well.
Rhea Suh is president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Tom Duszynski
The coronavirus is certainly scary, but despite the constant reporting on total cases and a climbing death toll, the reality is that the vast majority of people who come down with COVID-19 survive it. Just as the number of cases grows, so does another number: those who have recovered.
In mid-March, the number of patients in the U.S. who had officially recovered from the virus was close to zero. That number is now in the tens of thousands and is climbing every day. But recovering from COVID-19 is more complicated than simply feeling better. Recovery involves biology, epidemiology and a little bit of bureaucracy too.
How does your body fight off COVID-19?<p>Once a person is exposed the coronavirus, the body starts producing <a href="https://www.mblintl.com/products/what-are-antibodies-mbli/" target="_blank">proteins called antibodies to fight the infection</a>. As these <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/27/serological-tests-reveal-immune-coronavirus/" target="_blank">antibodies start to successfully contain the virus</a> and keep it from replicating in the body, symptoms usually begin to lessen and you start to feel better. Eventually, if all goes well, your immune system will completely destroy all of the virus in your system. A person who was infected with and survived a virus with no long-term health effects or disabilities has "recovered."</p><p>On average, a person who is infected with SARS-CoV-2 will feel ill for about seven days from the onset of symptoms. Even after symptoms disappear, there still may be small amounts of the virus in a patient's system, and they should stay <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/steps-when-sick.html" target="_blank">isolated for an additional three days</a> to ensure they have truly <a href="https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/coronavirus-recovery-what-to-know" target="_blank">recovered and are no longer infectious</a>.</p>
What about immunity?<p>In general, once you have recovered from a viral infection, your body will keep cells called lymphocytes in your system. These cells "remember" viruses they've previously seen and can react quickly to fight them off again. If you are exposed to a virus you have already had, your antibodies will likely stop the virus before it starts causing symptoms. <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.5114%2Fceji.2018.77390" target="_blank">You become immune</a>. This is the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK27158/" target="_blank">principle behind many vaccines</a>.</p><p>Unfortunately, immunity isn't perfect. For many viruses, like mumps, immunity can wane over time, leaving you <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160421145747.htm" target="_blank">susceptible to the virus in the future</a>. This is why you need to get revaccinated – those "booster shots" – occasionally: to prompt your immune system to make more antibodies and memory cells.</p><p>Since this coronavirus is so new, scientists still don't know whether people who recover from COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/faq.html" target="_blank">immune to future infections of the virus</a>. Doctors are finding antibodies in ill and recovered patients, and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/clinical-guidance-management-patients.html" target="_blank">that indicates the development of immunity</a>. But the question remains how long that immunity will last. Other coronaviruses like <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/jmv.25685" target="_blank">SARS and MERS produce an immune response</a> that will protect a person at least for a short time. I would suspect the same is true of SARS-CoV-2, but the research simply hasn't been done yet to say so definitively.</p>
Why have so few people officially recovered in the US?<p>This is a dangerous virus, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is being extremely careful when deciding what it means to recover from COVID-19. Both medical and testing criteria must be met before a person is <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/disposition-in-home-patients.html" target="_blank">officially declared recovered</a>.</p><p>Medically, a person must be fever-free without fever-reducing medications for three consecutive days. They must show an improvement in their other symptoms, including reduced coughing and shortness of breath. And it must be at least seven full days <a href="https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/coronavirus-recovery-what-to-know" target="_blank">since the symptoms began</a>.</p><p>In addition to those requirements, the CDC guidelines say that a person must test negative for the coronavirus twice, with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/care-for-someone.html" target="_blank">tests taken at least 24 hours apart</a>.</p><p>Only then, if both the symptom and testing conditions are met, is a person officially considered recovered by the CDC.</p><p>This second testing requirement is likely why there were so few official recovered cases in the U.S. until late March. Initially, there was a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/18/health/coronavirus-test-shortages-face-masks-swabs.html" target="_blank">massive shortage of testing in the U.S.</a> So while many people were certainly recovering over the last few weeks, this could not be officially confirmed. As the country enters the height of the pandemic in the coming weeks, focus is still on <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/hcp/clinical-criteria.html" target="_blank">testing those who are infected</a>, not those who have likely recovered.</p><p>Many more people are being tested now that states and private companies have begun <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/testing-in-us.html" target="_blank">producing and distributing tests</a>. As <a href="https://www.dispatch.com/news/20200406/coronavirus-in-ohio-from-its-rocky-start-testing-for-covid-19-slowly-ramping-up" target="_blank">the number of available tests increases</a> and the pandemic eventually slows in the country, more testing will be available for those who have appeared to recover. As people who have already recovered are tested, the appearance of any new infections will help researchers learn <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/24/we-need-smart-coronavirus-testing-not-just-more-testing/" target="_blank">how long immunity can be expected to last</a>.</p>
Once a person has recovered, what can they do?<p>Knowing whether or not people are immune to COVID-19 after they recover is going to determine what individuals, communities and society at large can do going forward. If scientists can show that recovered patients are immune to the coronavirus, then a person who has recovered could in theory <a href="https://www.vox.com/2020/3/30/21186822/immunity-to-covid-19-test-coronavirus-rt-pcr-antibody" target="_blank">help support the health care system</a> by caring for those who are infected.</p><p>Once communities pass the peak of the epidemic, the number of new infections will decline, while the number of <a href="https://www.newsweek.com/china-says-passed-peak-coronavirus-epidemic-covid-19-1491863" target="_blank">recovered people will increase</a>. As these trends continue, the risk of transmission will fall. Once the risk of transmission has fallen enough, community-level isolation and social distancing orders will begin to relax and businesses will start to reopen. Based on what other countries have gone through, it will be <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00154-w" target="_blank">months until the risk of transmission is low</a> in the U.S.</p><p>But before any of this can happen, the U.S. and the world need to make it through the peak of this pandemic. Social distancing works to slow the spread of infectious diseases and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/what-you-can-do.html" target="_blank">is working for COVID-19</a>. Many people will <a href="https://www.yalemedicine.org/stories/2019-novel-coronavirus/" target="_blank">need medical help to recover</a>, and social distancing will slow this virus down and give people the best chance to do so.</p>
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts
The future for the world's oceans often looks grim. Fisheries are set to collapse by 2048, according to one study, and 8 million tons of plastic pollute the ocean every year, causing considerable damage to delicate marine ecosystems. Yet a new study in Nature offers an alternative, and more optimistic view on the ocean's future: it asserts that the entire marine environment could be substantially rebuilt by 2050, if humanity is able to step up to the challenge.
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By Zulfikar Abbany
Bread has been a source of basic nutrition for centuries, the holy trinity being wheat, maize and rice. It has also been the reason for a lot of innovation in science and technology, from millstones to microbiological investigations into a family of single-cell fungi called Saccharomyces.
Chemical leavening<p>If you like a little heft in your loaf, you will need a leavening agent.</p><p>For those short on time, you can use baking soda. That's a chemical compound of sodium bicarbonate mixed with potassium bitartrate, or cream of tartar.</p><p>Soda breads have their traditions in parts of eastern and central Europe, and in Ireland and Scotland, with Melrose loaves and "farls."</p><p>They can taste a bit bland, though, and are often considered only as an emergency solution on Sundays. No disrespect intended: They taste just fine fresh from the oven.</p><p>Whether it's chemical or more "natural," leavening relies largely on the production of carbon dioxide.</p><p>When you mix an acid, such as vinegar, buttermilk, yogurt or apple cider, with an alkaline compound like baking soda, you get CO2. That CO2 creates bubbles, which in turn capture steam in the oven and allow a bread to rise.</p><p><span></span>But it's better with yeast. Tastes better, too. It just takes more time. </p>
What is yeast?<p>There are yeasts all around us — on grains, in the air, in biofuels. It even lives inside us, but that's not always a good thing.</p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1090575/pdf/1471-2334-5-22.pdf" target="_blank">Candida yeast</a> can cause infections of the skin, feet, mouth, penis or vagina if it builds up too much in the body.</p><p>One of the most common yeasts, however, is <em>Saccharomyces cerevisiae</em>. That's <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/an-early-beer-archaeologists-tap-ground-at-worlds-oldest-brewery/a-45480731" target="_blank">"brewer's"</a> or "baker's" yeast.</p><p>You can get fresh baker's yeast, often in 42-gram (1.48-ounce) cubes, or as dried yeast (quick action or active, which requires rehydration) in a sachet of 7 grams.</p><p>There's little difference: One is compressed and the other is dehydrated and granulated. But they do the same thing, essentially. </p><p>Some commercial yeast producers add molasses and other nutrients. But natural yeast has plenty of useful nutrients in it anyway, including B group vitamins, so who knows whether it's good or necessary to add them. </p>
How does yeast work?<p>When you mix flour, yeast and water, you set off a veritable chain reaction. Enzymes in the wheat convert starch into sugar. And the yeast creates enzymes of its own to convert those sugars into a form it can absorb.</p><p>The yeast "feeds" on the sugars to create carbon dioxide and alcohol. The yeast burps and farts, releasing gases into the mix, and that creates bubbles to trap CO2. </p><p>It's a vital fermentation process that breaks down the gluten in the flour and helps make your bread more digestible.</p><p>The yeast cells split and reproduce, generating lactic and carbonic acid, raising the temperature and ultimately adding flavor to the mix.</p><p>The longer you leave the yeast to do its thing, the better for your bread. Time is more important than the amount of yeast. </p><p>In fact, that's an enduring question — how much yeast? I'll use 20 grams fresh yeast for 500 grams of flour. Others say that's enough yeast for 1 kilo. If you are converting a dry-yeast recipe to fresh yeast, some bakers advise tripling the weight. So, if a sachet of dried yeast is 7 grams, your fresh yeast is 21 grams.</p><p><span></span>But that also depends on the flours you are using, temperatures in the bowl and the room, and a host of other things. You'll just have to experiment and see. No number of books (and I've read a stack on bread) will help as much as trial and error.</p>
Wild yeast: Sourdough<p>So, good bread needs time. If you have a lot of time, why not move it up a notch and grow wild yeast — a sourdough starter — in your own home?</p><p>A sourdough starter is not to be mistaken (as it often is) for the leaven, or "mother," "sponge," or <em>levain</em>. That's more a second stage, a descendant of the starter. You take a scoop from your starter and add it to another flour and water mixture when you prepare the dough for a new loaf. </p><p>The sourdough process utilizes yeasts naturally present in flour and … yet more time. A longer fermentation process allows a richer lactic acid bacteria <em>lactobacilli</em> or LAB to evolve, and that can be healthy for your gut microbiome.</p><p>It's simple enough to start a sourdough starter. All you need is flour, warm water and time.</p><p>Some suggest equal measures of whole-grain flour and water at 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit), some say room temperature — just don't let the water exceed 40 C or the yeasts will die. Some suggest two parts flour to three parts water. But it's up to you whether you want a drier or wetter starter. You will know only through experimentation. </p><p>Some say you should filter tap water to remove chemicals like fluoride and avoid using water that's boiled and then cooled. Others say that really doesn't matter.</p><p>The main thing is, keep it clean and give it time. Days, weeks, months and years.</p>
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