Last week, the world got a preview of America’s new post Citizens United petro plutocracy with the oil lords flexing their political muscles like oil soaked body builders pumped up on a steroid drip of campaign dollars. It was all about fracking. The petro tycoons first orchestrated the firing of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) top frac patch enforcer, then adeptly forced the same cowed agency to stall its release of a damaging scientific study on fracking and finally strong armed the Interior Department to open America’s public lands to gas companies without prior disclosure of their frac chemicals.
On Monday, the oil industry showcased its political muscle by forcing the resignation of EPA’s popular environmental enforcement chief for the Gulf region, Dr. Al Armendariz. Dr. Al was beloved by environmentalists, civic leaders, and poor and minority communities across five states for his willingness to strictly enforce environmental rules regardless of the lawbreakers’ political clout. But Armendariz’s courage won him powerful enemies as well. He was steadfastly undeterred by relentless pressure from polluters and their allies including political intrigue, hamstringing budget cuts, and even death threats directed at him and his family. But this week, the world’s most powerful cartel—an international syndicate feared even by the Obama Administration—finally brought Dr. Armendariz down. Armendariz’s mistake was promising to enforce the law against Big Oil in the shale gas fields.
Several weeks ago, a two-year-old videotape surfaced showing Dr. Armendariz addressing a group of frightened and skeptical businessmen, civil leaders and property owners in Dish, Texas, a gas patch town familiar with government’s anemic enforcement record against the oil barons. Dish’s citizenry were terrified that reckless, dangerous and illegal practices by shale-gas fracking companies might jeopardize their community’s property values, water supplies, jobs, local businesses and human health. Dish’s Mayor, Calvin Tillman, who attended the meeting, had already moved his home away from the frac fields due to the daily nosebleeds afflicting his children ever since fracking operations commenced. Armenderiz assured Dish’s shaken citizens that the EPA would enforce the law strictly in order to quickly bring industry outlaws into line. This was too much for Congress’ “law and order” Republicans who apparently believe that oil companies, and shale fracking in particular, should be above the law. Lead by U.S. Senator, James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Big Petroleum’s sock-puppet-in-chief, Congressional Republicans forced Armenderiz’s dismissal. (As a private citizen, Dr. Al is no longer entitled to FBI protection and has had to appeal to the Dallas police for protection against continuing assassination threats.) Instead of the deterrence, for which Dr. Al had hoped, the episode sent an altogether different public message—government enforcers can lose their jobs by suggesting that the oil companies ought to obey America’s laws.
The republicans complained that Armenderiz, by way of reassuring Dish’s frightened and skeptical townsfolk, referenced, as a metaphor, the ancient Roman practices of roadside crucifixion and burning villages to deter violators. Attorneys are familiar with such historical touchstones that are routinely invoked by law professors and “tough on crime” prosecutors to illustrate the concept of deterrence. If Armedariz had been speaking about any other crime than pollution from fracking, and any type of criminal other than oil frackers, the same republican lawmakers would have applauded his muscular commitment to merciless rigor.
From its inception, hydrofracking has been an outlaw enterprise. The industry was born in a provision drafted in secret by oilman Dick Cheney’s clandestine energy task force specifically exempting it from the Safe Drinking Water Act, a shale fracking method devised and patented by Cheney’s former company Halliburton. The Vice President’s henchman then rammed the exemption though a supplicant post 9/11 Congress. Rough and tumble competition among fracking companies have turned the frac fields from North Dakota to Pennsylvania into modern Dodge Cities. Regulatory capture has given the industry’s worst actors de facto immunity from their criminal behavior. In states like Pennsylvania and West Virginia, the fracking industry has become an outlaw enterprise, flourishing through habitual law breaking including illegal dumping of horrendous toxins into public sewage treatment plants utterly unequipped to treat those poisons, using substandard casing protocols that regularly contaminate people’s groundwater with carcinogenic benzene and explosive methane, and illegally filling streams to build roads, pipelines and drill pads. These species of habitual lawbreakers require the protection of crooked politicians and captive agencies to insulate criminal companies from the consequences of their illegal behavior. Oil companies are experts at using campaign contributions to purchase this class of government cooperation.
In another demonstration of its impressive power, two days after Dr. Al’s resignation, the frac industry won another political battle—forcing cowed Interior Department officials to allow gas companies to frac on our federal public lands without first disclosing the constituents of the lethal fracking fluid they intend to inject into our purple mountains’ majesty and amber waves of grain.
Later that week, A.P. reporters documented how the frac industry was using its clout to escape, not just the laws of government, but of science. On Thursday, AP’s investigators forced the U.S. EPA to admit that it had withheld—for nearly a month—a devastating study showing groundwater contamination linked to fracking from oil and gas wells in Pavillion, Wyoming. At the command of Wyoming’s republican Governor Matt Mead—an indentured servant to the fracking industry—the EPA delayed issuing the report. Mead then ordered state officials to “take a hard line” on the industry’s behalf. A team of tobacco scientists and biostitutes at Wyoming’s Department of Environmental Quality next dutifully used the delay to gin up critical questions meant to debunk EPA’s science to help soften the blow from the federal study that sent shock waves through the oil and gas industry.
Law-abiding gas patch residents like the citizens of Dish, Texas understand something that Congressional Republicans apparently don’t—environmental crime is real crime with real victims. Pollution doesn’t just attack water and wildlife and put fishermen out of work. It harms human health, private property and often takes human life. Oil pollution damages the brains of little children and kills both young people and adults. Emissions from burning oil and coal kills tens of thousands Americans annually from cancer and respiratory illnesses, and impose hundreds of billions of dollars yearly in health care damage. Oil and coal’s other costs include global warming, acid rain, mercury contamination and ocean acidification. The carbon cronies have demonstrated an uncanny talent for writing loopholes and exemptions into health, safety and environmental laws to escape the consequences of damaging private property, public health, the shared commons and the welfare of the American people. When their lobbying and drafting tricks fail to give oil titans full protection, compliant enforcement and regulatory officials dull the sting of noncompliance. It’s no wonder that frightened gas field communities seek assurance that government regulators will enforce the anemic laws that still exist to protect them. In the southern Gulf states, Armendariz was respected by coastal communities as one of the few public officials who had not been corrupted by Big Oil. In that sense, Armendariz is an American hero in the mould of Eliott Ness, Pat Garret, Wyatt Earp and Thomas Dewey.
Unfortunately, most of our political leaders lack Dr. Al’s courage and integrity. Instead of protecting America’s citizenry from oil industry atrocities, Senator Inhofe and the republicans see their job as protecting oil company brigands from the law and its enforcers. Inhofe’s reasoning is not obscure, the oil and gas industry pumps hundreds of millions of dollars annually into elections and lobbying to purchase friends like Senator Inhofe. Big Oil is now the richest industry in history. Last year, Exxon contributed $54 million to the political process. The gravities of this lucre are irresistible to politicians of a certain stripe. Exxon’s record quarterly profits of $145 million per day will allow that company to dramatically increase its political investments. More importantly, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United case removes all the past restrictions that once deterred Big Oil from employing these enormous profits to completely dominate America’s political system. As a result of that court ruling, the oil barons will pick the winners and losers in America’s upcoming elections at every level—in secret if they desire.
The industry is already poised to flood America’s political landscapes with hundreds of millions of dollars in newly legalized bribery. In addition to their generous contribution to the Tea Party, CATO Institute and other oil industry front groups, and oil tycoons Charles and David Koch, on Feb. 3 pledged an extra $60 million of their private money for direct campaign donations to ensure that their oil friendly candidate wins the presidential election in November.
Chevron, Exxon, the American Petroleum Institute and other oil moguls will match the Koch brothers’ largesse many times over. The oil barons must find great comfort in historic data assembled by the Center for Responsive Politics demonstrating that, in 94% of American elections, the candidate with the most money wins.
It was the underlying idealism of our successful experiment with self-government that made America an exemplary nation and the template for the world’s democracies. If American democracy is to survive, we clearly need to restore integrity and representative democracy to our electoral process and get control of an industry that is using its enormous financial power to enrich itself, destroy the planet and undermine everything we value. Last week’s events are merely a foreshadowing of the devolution that is inexorably propelling us toward a corrupt venal and petro kleptocracy.
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If weather is your mood, climate is your personality. That's an analogy some scientists use to help explain the difference between two words people often get mixed up.
Size Matters<p>Climates are a bit like woven tapestries. The big picture is important, no question. But so are all the seemingly minor details found inside the larger whole.</p><p><a href="https://research-information.bris.ac.uk/en/persons/tommaso-jucker" target="_blank">Tommaso Jucker</a> is an environmental scientist at the University of Bristol. In an email, Jucker says he'd define the term microclimate as "the suite of climatic conditions (temperature, rainfall, humidity, solar radiation) measured in localized areas, typically near the ground and at spatial scales that are directly relevant to ecological processes."</p><p>We'll talk about that last bit in a minute. But first, there's another criteria to discuss. According to some researchers, a microclimate — by definition — must differ from the larger area that surrounds it.</p><p><a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/research/paleoecologylab/publications/Davis_et_al_2019_Ecography.pdf" target="_blank">Forests</a> provide us with some great examples. "The climate near the ground in a tropical rainforest is dramatically different from the climate in the canopy 50 meters [164 feet] above," says University of Montana ecologist <a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/personnel/details.php?ID=1110" target="_blank">Solomon Dobrowski</a> in an email. "This vertical gradient among other factors allows for the staggering biodiversity we see in the tropics."</p><p>Likewise, scientists observed that a 2015 partial <a href="https://animals.howstuffworks.com/insects/bees-stopped-buzzing-during-2017-solar-eclipse.htm" target="_blank">solar eclipse</a> caused the air temperature of an Eastern European meadow to <a href="https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/wea.2802" target="_blank">change more dramatically</a> than it did in a nearby forest. That's because trees provide not only shade, but their leaves also reflect solar radiation. At the same time, forests tend to reduce wind speeds.</p><p>All those factors add up. A 2019 review of 98 wooded places — spread out across five continents — found that forests are 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) <a href="https://natureecoevocommunity.nature.com/posts/47363-forests-protect-animals-and-plants-against-warming" target="_blank">cooler on average</a> than the areas outside them.</p><p>Now if you hate the cold, don't worry; there's a cozy exception to the rule. According to that same study, forests are usually 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than the external environment during the wintertime. Pretty cool.</p>
A Bug's Life<p>When does a microclimate stop being, well, micro? In other words, is there a maximum size we should be aware of when discussing them?</p><p>Depends on who you ask. "In terms of horizontal scale, some have defined 'microclimate' as anything that is less than 100 meters [328 feet] in range," Jucker says. "I'm personally less prescriptive about this."</p><p>Instead, he says the "scale at which we want to measure [a particular] microclimate" ought to be "dictated" by the questions we're trying to answer.</p><p>"If I want to know how temperature affects the photosynthesis of a leaf, I should be measuring temperature at centimeter scale," Jucker explains. "If I want to know if and how temperature affects the habitat preference of a large, mobile mammal, it's probably more relevant to capture temperature variation across [tens to hundreds] of meters."</p><p>For instance, solitary plants have the power to generate itty-bitty microclimates. Just ask <a href="https://www.colorado.edu/geography/peter-blanken-0" target="_blank">Peter Blanken</a>, a geography professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder and the co-author of the 2016 book, "<a href="https://amzn.to/2XN6FT8" target="_blank">Microclimate and Local Climate</a>."</p>
The urban heat island effect is a good example of how microclimates work. NOAA
Microclimates on a Grand Scale<p>It's no secret that our planet is going through some rough times at the macro level. The global temperature is <a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/" target="_blank">climbing</a>; nine out of the <a href="https://www.noaa.gov/news/2019-was-2nd-hottest-year-on-record-for-earth-say-noaa-nasa" target="_blank">10 hottest years on record</a> have occurred since 2005. And by one recent estimate, roughly 1 million species around the world are <a href="https://ipbes.net/sites/default/files/2020-02/ipbes_global_assessment_report_summary_for_policymakers_en.pdf" target="_blank">facing extinction</a> due to human activities.</p><p>"One of the big questions that ecologists and environmental scientists are trying to answer right now is how will individual species and whole ecosystems respond to rapid climate change and habitat loss," says Jucker. "...To me, [microclimates are] a key component of this research — if we don't measure and understand climate at the appropriate scale, then predicting how things will change in the future becomes a lot harder."</p><p>Developers have long understood the impact small-scale climates have on our daily lives. <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/urban-heat-island.htm#pt0" target="_blank">Urban heat islands</a> are cities that have higher temperatures than neighboring rural areas.</p><p>Plants release vapors that can moderate local climates. But in cities, natural greenery is often scarce. To make matters worse, plenty of our roads and buildings have a bad habit of absorbing or re-emitting heat from the sun. <a href="https://www.google.com/books/edition/Microclimate_and_Local_Climate/LHUZDAAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=urban%20heat%20island" target="_blank">Vehicle emissions</a> don't exactly help the situation.</p><p>Still, it's not like Boston or Beijing are thermal monoliths. Sometimes, the documented temperatures <a href="https://e360.yale.edu/features/can-we-turn-down-the-temperature-on-urban-heat-islands" target="_blank">within a single city</a> vary by 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (8.3 to 11.1 degrees Celsius).</p><p>That's where metro parks and city trees come in. They have nice cooling effects on nearby neighborhoods. "Several cities around the world have developed programs to increase urban green spaces," says Blanken. "Tree planting programs and green roof programs, have been shown to lower surface temperatures, decrease air pollution and decrease surface water runoff (urban flash-flooding) in urban areas."</p>
An "explosive" wildfire ignited in Los Angeles county Wednesday, growing to 10,000 acres in a little less than three hours.
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By Jeff Berardelli
Note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2020
If asked to recall a hurricane, odds are you'd immediately invoke memorable names like Sandy, Katrina or Harvey. You'd probably even remember something specific about the impact of the storm. But if asked to recall a heat wave, a vague recollection that it was hot during your last summer vacation may be about as specific as you can get.
<div id="ecf36" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c2dcc9d48a6cd61f247df1544539a783"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1290959314132361216" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Naming heatwaves is a good idea—making the abstract concrete, the invisible visible. Why should hurricanes and wild… https://t.co/hDWgYb79Ob</div> — Ed Maibach (@Ed Maibach)<a href="https://twitter.com/MaibachEd/statuses/1290959314132361216">1596623660.0</a></blockquote></div>
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Thailand has a total population of 5,000 elephants. But of that number, 3,000 live in captivity, carrying tourists on their backs and offering photo opportunities made for social media.
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One of the challenges of renewable power is how to store clean energy from the sun, wind and geothermal sources. Now, a new study and advances in nanotechnology have found a method that may relieve the burden on supercapacitor storage. This method turns bricks into batteries, meaning that buildings themselves may one day be used to store and generate power, Science Times reported.
Bricks are a preferred building tool for their durability and resilience against heat and frost since they do not shrink, expand or warp in a way that compromises infrastructure. They are also reusable. What was unknown, until now, is that they can be altered to store electrical energy, according to a new study published in Nature Communications.
The scientists behind the study figured out a way to modify bricks in order to use their iconic red hue, which comes from hematite, an iron oxide, to store enough electricity to power devices, Gizmodo reported. To do that, the researchers filled bricks' pores with a nanofiber made from a conducting plastic that can store an electrical charge.
The first bricks they modified stored enough of a charge to power a small light. They can be charged in just 13 minutes and hold 10,000 charges, but the challenge is getting them to hold a much larger charge, making the technology a distant proposition.
If the capacity can be increased, researchers believe bricks can be used as a cheap alternative to lithium ion batteries — the same batteries used in laptops, phones and tablets.
The first power bricks are only one percent of a lithium-ion battery, but storage capacity can be increased tenfold by adding materials like metal oxides, Julio D'Arcy, a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, who contributed to the paper and was part of the research team, told The Guardian. But only when the storage capacity is scaled up would bricks become commercially viable.
"A solar cell on the roof of your house has to store electricity somewhere and typically we use batteries," D'Arcy told The Guardian. "What we have done is provide a new 'food-for-thought' option, but we're not there yet.
"If [that can happen], this technology is way cheaper than lithium ion batteries," D'Arcy added. "It would be a different world and you would not hear the words 'lithium ion battery' again."
One of the concerns about a warming planet is the feedback loop that will emerge. That is, as the planet warms, it will melt permafrost, which will release trapped carbon and lead to more warming and more melting. Now, a new study has shown that the feedback loop won't only happen in the nether regions of the north and south, but in the tropics as well, according to a new paper in Nature.
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By Jessica Corbett
A sheriff in Florida is under fire for deciding Tuesday to ban his deputies from wearing face masks while on the job—ignoring the advice of public health experts about the safety measures that everyone should take during the coronavirus pandemic as well as the rising Covid-19 death toll in his county and state.
<div id="7a571" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aad9dcf60e7385e6553ff23ffc1ae75d"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1293527664389693447" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Deaths hit a record in Florida yesterday. This guy's jail system is rife with COVID. And he's banned masks in his s… https://t.co/Cbp2wR32o1</div> — Michael McAuliff (@Michael McAuliff)<a href="https://twitter.com/mmcauliff/statuses/1293527664389693447">1597236002.0</a></blockquote></div>
<div id="79024" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4ac086eab58b9713f2ad777c40938252"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1293578984148606977" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">This actively puts peoples' lives at risk. https://t.co/GKF0Xgjyex</div> — CAP Action (@CAP Action)<a href="https://twitter.com/CAPAction/statuses/1293578984148606977">1597248238.0</a></blockquote></div>
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