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.
"The people are ahead of the Congress. The Congress must join them." @speakerpelosi @sunrisemvmt @usrepkcastor https://t.co/hoy3K4FMcy— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1546694591.0
Rhea Suh is president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
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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