By Jeremy Deaton
A driver planning to make the trek from Denver to Salt Lake City can look forward to an eight-hour trip across some of the most beautiful parts of the country, long stretches with nary a town in sight. The fastest route would take her along I-80 through southern Wyoming. For 300 miles between Laramie and Evanston, she would see, according to a rough estimate, no fewer than 40 gas stations where she could fuel up her car. But if she were driving an electric vehicle, she would see just four charging stations where she could recharge her battery.
The same holds true across the country. Gas stations outnumber public charging stations by around seven to one. It's no wonder people get so nervous about driving an electric car.
Numerous studies have shown that consumers steer clear of EVs because they worry about the lack of charging stations. Studies also show that consumers are more likely to buy an electric car when they see stations around town. While fears about range anxiety are largely unfounded — even the cheapest EVs sport enough range to serve nearly all of a driver's needs — the paucity of charging stations is a real concern on longer trips, and it is deterring consumers from going all-electric.
To be clear, it's not just consumers who want to see more chargers. Charging stations are a boon to automakers, who want to sell electric cars, as well as to power utilities, who want to sell more electricity. Some utilities and automakers are investing huge sums into setting up charging stations — including Volkswagen's commitment to spend $2 billion on EV charging infrastructure as part of their settlement over the diesel emissions scandal. But by and large, automakers and power companies are not putting a lot of money towards charging infrastructure.
"I think the biggest problem with charging stations is there is no one responsible for installing charging stations," said Nick Sifuentes, executive director at Tri-State Transportation Campaign. "So you see some automakers, like Tesla, installing charging stations. You see charging stations occasionally getting put out as part of a municipal planning process," he said, "but for the most part, there is no one entity or group that feels responsible for that duty."
Power utilities have a big interest in EVs. Despite continued economic growth, demand for electricity has stayed flat over the last decade, as businesses slash energy use and consumers switch to more power-thrifty appliances — LED light bulbs, flat-screen TVs, high-efficiency washers and dryers. EVs could drive up the demand for electricity, throwing a lifeline to power utilities. And yet, these companies largely aren't building charging stations.
"For power utilities, the question is whether they see it as something that's actually in their bailiwick or not," Sifuentes said. Policymakers have not directed utilities to build out EV infrastructure, and with so few electric cars on the road, utilities are unlikely to take it upon themselves to start building charging stations.
The Tesla Model 3.
"The problem is that the charging infrastructure doesn't have a viable business model yet," said David Greene, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Tennessee. "Although, there are some companies who are working on it really hard."
Private firms like EvBox and ChargePoint are looking to radically expand the number of available charging stations, but these plans depend on exponential growth in the sale of EVs. ChargePoint is looking to add 2.5 million charging stations to its global network of just 50,000, a goal it said is based on a "conservative view" of future EV sales. EvBox, meanwhile, is aiming for 1 million new charging stations. A spokesperson noted this target is "at least partly dependent on the number of electric vehicles on the road," though he was similarly bullish on the growth of EVs. Analysts expect EV sales to increase dramatically in the coming years, though major roadblocks stand in the way of future adoption.
Even if EV sales take off and charging stations proliferate, barriers will remain. Making EVs more viable means installing not just more chargers, but more fast chargers that allow drivers to take long journeys. The difference between a fast charger and a slow charger is the difference between a family stopping for coffee while they refuel their car and a family stopping overnight.
A Chargepoint electric vehicle charging station.
"It's 180 miles from Knoxville to Nashville. Supposedly there's a [direct current] fast charger at a Cracker Barrel in Cookville, which is almost exactly halfway, but it almost never works," Greene said. "The fact that the range is limited and the recharging time can be quite long if one does not have access to fast charging, that's another problem."
There is also the fact that the technology isn't standardized. Different cars use different plugs. Ford and GM use one kind. Tesla uses another. Fast charging requires a different kind altogether. So, while charging stations dot the country, not every station meets every driver's needs. Until manufacturers arrive at an industry standard — or policymakers mandate that standard —
"charging stations are going to need to have two or three different types of plugs, and people will need to be able to charge at different speeds because their car might not have a supercharger," Sifuentes said.
Sifuentes believes that policymakers have a key role to play in building out charging stations. "They have to actually put in place laws and incentives that encourage the development of the necessary infrastructure, and I think that takes place in two ways," he said. "One, encouraging utilities to do that. But also, I think we can't ignore the role that public transit plays here."
Different types of EV plugs.
New York City, he said, has pledged to switch to all-electric buses by 2040. "That means they're going to have to put some serious charging infrastructure in place," Sifuentes said. "If there's a charging location that has to be put in because buses need to charge there but that's available for private use as well, great."
In addition to building public charging infrastructure, governments can also encourage the development of private charging infrastructure. Policymakers in Iowa and Austin, Texas, for example, are working to lower barriers to setting up charging stations, allowing private firms, as opposed to power utilities, to resell electricity. "I think the other role that policymakers have to play here is they have to actually put in place laws and incentives that encourage the development of the necessary infrastructure," Sifuentes said.
In Norway, where EVs account for around a third of all new car sales, the government has gone a step further. The government is installing a fast charging station every 30 miles on main roads. EV drivers can get free charging at public stations in addition to free parking and free access to toll roads. Sifuentes said these kinds of policies are needed to spur the growth of EVs and support the installation of EV charging stations.
"We're absolutely on the tipping point," Sifeuntes said. "The more that we see EVs rolling out, the more and more it's going to look like the right move to be putting this infrastructure in place."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
An examination of monitoring data available for the first time concludes that 91 percent of U.S. coal-fired power plants with monitoring data are contaminating groundwater with unsafe levels of toxic pollutants.
The study by the Environmental Integrity Project, with assistance from Earthjustice, used industry data that became available to the public for the first time in 2018 because of requirements in federal coal ash regulations issued in 2015.
The report found that found that the groundwater near 242 of the 265 power plants with monitoring data contained unsafe levels of one or more of the pollutants in coal ash, including arsenic, a known carcinogen, and lithium, which is associated with neurological damage, among other pollutants.
"At a time when the Trump EPA — now being run by a former coal lobbyist — is trying to roll back federal regulations on coal ash, these new data provide convincing evidence that we should be moving in the opposite direction: toward stronger protections for human health and the environment," said Abel Russ, the lead author of the report and attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP).
"This is a wake-up call for the nation," said Lisa Evans, senior counsel with Earthjustice. "Using industry's own data, our report proves that coal plants are poisoning groundwater nearly everywhere they operate. The Trump Administration insists on hurting communities across the U.S. by gutting federal protections. They are making a dire situation much worse."
The data came from more than 4,600 groundwater monitoring wells located around the ash dumps of 265 coal-fired power plants, which is roughly three quarters of the coal power plants across the U.S. The rest of the plants did not have to comply with the federal Coal Ash Rule's groundwater monitoring requirements last year, either because they closed their ash dumps before the rule went into effect in 2015, or because they were eligible for an extension.
EIP's analysis of the data found that a majority of the 265 coal plants have unsafe levels of at least four toxic constituents of coal ash in the underlying groundwater. Fifty-two percent had unsafe levels of arsenic, which can impair the brains of developing children and is known to cause cancer. Sixty percent of the plants have unsafe levels of lithium, a chemical associated with multiple health risks, including neurological damage.
Many of the coal ash waste ponds are poorly and unsafely designed, with less than 5 percent having waterproof liners to prevent contaminants from leaking into the groundwater, and 59 percent built beneath the water table or within five feet of it.
The report lists and ranks the sites across the U.S. with the worst groundwater contamination from coal ash. Below are the "Top 10" most contaminated sites, according to the monitoring data reported by power companies in 2018:
- Texas: An hour south of San Antonio, beside the San Miguel Power Plant, the groundwater beneath a family ranch is contaminated with at least 12 pollutants leaking from coal ash dumps, including cadmium (a probable carcinogen according to EPA) and lithium (which can cause nerve damage) at concentrations more than 100 times above safe levels.
- North Carolina: 12 miles west of Charlotte, at Duke Energy's Allen Steam Station in Belmont, the coal ash dumps were built beneath the water table and are leaking cobalt (which causes thyroid damage) into groundwater at concentrations more than 500 times above safe levels, along with unsafe levels of eight other pollutants.
- Wyoming: 180 miles west of Laramie, at PacifiCorp's Jim Bridger power plant in Point of Rocks, the groundwater has levels of lithium and selenium (which can be toxic to humans and lethal at low concentrations to fish) that exceed safe levels by more than 100 fold.
- Wyoming: At the Naughton power plant in southwest Wyoming, the groundwater has not only levels of lithium and selenium exceeding safe levels by more than 100 fold, but also arsenic at five times safe levels.
- Pennsylvania: An hour northwest of Pittsburgh, at the New Castle Generating Station, levels of arsenic in the groundwater near the plant's coal ash dump are at 372 times safe levels for drinking.
- Tennessee: Just southwest of Memphis near the Mississippi River, at the TVA Allen Fossil Plant, arsenic has leaked into the groundwater at 350 times safe levels and lead at four times safe levels. Recent studies show a direct connection between the contaminated shallow aquifer and the deeper Memphis aquifer, creating a threat to drinking water for thousands of people.
- Maryland: 19 miles southeast of Washington, DC, at the Brandywine landfill in Prince George's County, ash from three NRG coal plants has contaminated groundwater with unsafe levels of at least eight pollutants, including lithium at more than 200 times above safe levels, and molybdenum (which can damage the kidney and liver) at more than 100 times higher than safe levels. The contaminated groundwater at this site is now feeding into and polluting local streams.
- Utah: South of Salt Lake City, at the Hunter Power plant, the groundwater is contaminated with lithium at concentrations 228 times safe levels and cobalt at 26 times safe levels.
- Mississippi: North of Biloxi, at the R.D. Morrow Sr. Generating Station, the groundwater is contaminated with lithium at 193 times safe levels, molybdenum at 171 times safe levels, and arsenic at three times safe levels.
- Kentucky: At the Ghent Generating Station northeast of Louisville, lithium is in the groundwater at 154 times safe levels and radium at 31 times safe levels.
The researchers of this report could not determine the safety of drinking water near the coal ash dumps analyzed in this study because power companies are not required to test private drinking water wells.
However, the report contains examples of several well-documented instances of residential tap water contaminated by coal ash. For example:
- At the Colstrip Power Plant in Colstrip, Montana, unsafe levels of boron, sulfate and possibly other pollutants migrated into a residential neighborhood. The owners of the plant had to provide clean water, and settled a lawsuit with 57 local residents for $25 million in damages.
- At the Oak Creek Power Plant in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, contamination with elevated levels of molybdenum seeped from ash landfills into at least 33 nearby drinking water wells. Wisconsin Energy purchased at least 25 homes around the site and demolished several of them.
- At the Yorktown Power Station in Yorktown, Virginia, gravel pits were filled with fly ash, contaminating the water supply for 55 homes with arsenic, beryllium, chromium, manganese, selenium and other pollutants.
- At Battlefield Golf Course in Chesapeake, Virginia, about 25 drinking water wells had elevated levels of boron, manganese or thallium that may have leaked from coal ash used as a construction material beneath a golf course.
- At a coal ash landfill in Gambrills, Maryland, ash dumped in an old sand and gravel quarry caused unsafe levels of arsenic, beryllium, lithium and other pollutants in multiple residential wells. Constellation Energy settled a lawsuit with impacted residents for $54 million.
Additional examples of contamination of residential drinking water outlined in the report are in Indiana, Illinois, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Wisconsin and North Carolina.
"This report is yet another example of why we must require full cleanup of these unlined and leaking coal ash pits," said Amy Brown, a resident of Belmont, North Carolina, who lives near coal ash waste sites of the Duke Energy Allen Steam Station.
"The findings of this report are disturbing, but unfortunately not surprising," said Jennifer Peters, National Water Programs Director for Clean Water Action. "For decades, coal utilities have been dumping their toxic waste in primitive pits — often unlined, unstable and near groundwater — while state and federal regulators have mostly looked the other way. These dangerous coal ash ponds should have been closed and cleaned up years ago."
The report details steps that EPA should take to more effectively protect public health and the environment from coal ash pollution. A more successful regulatory program would: regulate all coal ash dumps, including those that are inactive; require the excavation of dumps within five feet of the water table; require more monitoring, especially of nearby residential wells and surface water; and mandate more transparency and public reporting.
New Report Reveals Severe #Groundwater Contamination at Illinois #CoalAsh Dumps https://t.co/kAM9ixJyRk @BeyondCoal @Coal_Ash— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1543788038.0
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Throughout Texas, there are a number of solar power companies that can install solar panels on your roof to take advantage of the abundant sunlight. But which solar power provider should you choose? In this article, we'll provide a list of the best solar companies in the Lone Star State.
Our Picks for the Best Texas Solar Companies
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Sunpro Solar
- Longhorn Solar, Inc.
- Solartime USA
- Kosmos Solar
- Sunshine Renewable Solutions
- Alba Energy
- Circle L Solar
- South Texas Solar Systems
- Good Faith Energy
How We Chose the Best Solar Energy Companies in Texas
There are a number of factors to keep in mind when comparing and contrasting different solar providers. These are some of the considerations we used to evaluate Texas solar energy companies.
Different solar companies may provide varying services. Always take the time to understand the full range of what's being offered in terms of solar panel consultation, design, installation, etc. Also consider add-ons, like EV charging stations, whenever applicable.
When meeting with a representative from one of Texas' solar power companies, we would always encourage you to ask what the installation process involves. What kind of customization can you expect? Will your solar provider use salaried installers, or outsourced contractors? These are all important questions to raise during the due diligence process.
Texas is a big place, and as you look for a good solar power provider, you want to ensure that their services are available where you live. If you live in Austin, it doesn't do you much good to have a solar company that's active only in Houston.
Pricing and Financing
Keep in mind that the initial cost of solar panel installation can be sizable. Some solar companies are certainly more affordable than others, and you can also ask about the flexible financing options that are available to you.
To guarantee that the renewable energy providers you select are reputable, and that they have both the integrity and the expertise needed, we would recommend assessing their status in the industry. The simplest way to do this is to check to see whether they are North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) certified or belong to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) or other industry groups.
Types of Panels
As you research different companies, it certainly doesn't hurt to get to know the specific products they offer. Inquire about their tech portfolio, and see if they are certified to install leading brands like Tesla or Panasonic.
Rebates and Tax Credits
There are a lot of opportunities to claim clean energy rebates or federal tax credits which can help with your initial solar purchase. Ask your solar provider for guidance navigating these different savings opportunities.
Going solar is a big investment, but a warranty can help you trust that your system will work for decades. A lot of solar providers provide warranties on their technology and workmanship for 25 years or more, but you'll definitely want to ask about this on the front end.
The 10 Best Solar Energy Companies in Texas
With these criteria in mind, consider our picks for the 10 best solar energy companies in TX.
SunPower is a solar energy company that makes it easy to make an informed and totally customized decision about your solar power setup. SunPower has an online design studio where you can learn more about the different options available for your home, and even a form where you can get a free online estimate. Set up a virtual consultation to speak directly with a qualified solar installer from the comfort of your own home. It's no wonder SunPower is a top solar installation company in Texas. They make the entire process easy and expedient.
Sunpro Solar is another solar power company with a solid reputation across the country. Their services are widely available to Texas homeowners, and they make the switch to solar effortless. We recommend them for their outstanding customer service, for the ease of their consultation and design process, and for their assistance to homeowners looking to claim tax credits and other incentives.
Looking for a solar contractor with true Texas roots? Longhorn Solar is an award-winning company that's frequently touted as one of the best solar providers in the state. Their services are available in Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio, and since 2009 they have helped more than 2,000 Texans make the switch to energy efficiency with solar. We recommend them for their technical expertise, proven track record, and solar product selection.
Solartime USA is another company based in Texas. In fact, this family-owned business is located in Richardson, which is just outside of Dallas. They have ample expertise with customized solar energy solutions in residential settings, and their portfolio of online reviews attests to their first-rate customer service. We love this company for the simplicity of their process, and for all the guidance they offer customers seeking to go solar.
Next on our list is Kosmos Solar, another Texas-based solar company. They're based in the northern part of the state, and highly recommended for homeowners in the area. They supply free estimates, high-quality products, custom solar designs, and award-winning personal service. Plus, their website has a lot of great information that may help guide you while you determine whether going solar is right for you.
Sunshine Renewable Solutions is based out of Houston, and they've developed a sterling reputation for dependable service and high-quality products. They have a lot of helpful financing options, and can show you how you can make the switch to solar in a really cost-effective way. We also like that they give free estimates, so there's certainly no harm in learning more about this great local company.
"Powered by the Texas sun." That's the official tagline of Alba Energy, a solar energy provider that's based out of Katy, TX. They have lots of great information about solar panel systems and solar solutions, including solar calculators to help you tabulate your potential energy savings. Additionally, we recommend Alba Energy because all of their work is done by a trusted, in-house team of solar professionals. They maintain an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, and they have rave reviews from satisfied customers.
Circle L Solar has a praiseworthy mission of helping homeowners slash their energy costs while participating in the green energy revolution. This is another company that provides a lot of great information, including energy savings calculators. Also note that, in addition to solar panels, Circle L Solar also showcases a number of other assets that can help you make your home more energy efficient, including windows, weatherization services, LED lighting, and more.
You can tell by the name that South Texas Solar Systems focuses its service area on the southernmost part of the Lone Star State. Their products include a wide range of commercial and residential solar panels, as well as "off the grid" panels for homeowners who want to detach from public utilities altogether. Since 2007, this company has been a trusted solar energy provider in San Antonio and beyond.
Good Faith Energy is a certified installer of Tesla solar technology for homeowners throughout Texas. This company is really committed to ecological stewardship, and they have amassed a lot of goodwill thanks to their friendly customer service and the depth of their solar expertise. In addition to Tesla solar panels, they can also install EV charging stations and storage batteries.
What are Your Solar Financing Options in Texas?
We've mentioned already that going solar requires a significant investment on the front-end. It's worth emphasizing that some of the best solar companies provide a range of financing options, allowing you to choose whether you buy your system outright, lease it, or pay for it in monthly installments.
Also keep in mind that there are a lot of rebates and state and federal tax credits available to help offset starting costs. Find a Texas solar provider who can walk you through some of the different options.
How Much Does a Solar Energy System Cost in Texas?
How much is it going to cost you to make that initial investment into solar power? It varies by customer and by home, but the median cost of solar paneling may be somewhere in the ballpark of $13,000. Note that, when you take into account federal tax incentives, this number can fall by several thousand dollars.
And of course, once you go solar, your monthly utility bills are going to shrink dramatically… so while solar systems won't pay for themselves in the first month or even the first year, they will ultimately prove more than cost-effective.
Finding the Right Solar Energy Companies in TX
Texas is a great place to pursue solar energy companies, thanks to all the natural sunlight, and there are plenty of companies out there to help you make the transition. Do your homework, compare a few options, and seek the solar provider that's right for you. We hope this guide is a helpful jumping-off point as you try to get as much information as possible about the best solar companies in Texas.
Josh Hurst is a journalist, critic, and essayist. He lives in Knoxville, TN, with his wife and three sons. He covers natural health, nutrition, supplements, and clean energy. His writing has appeared in Health, Shape, and Remedy Review.
By Michael Goldberg
In February of this year, I was one of around 100 members of the grassroots animal rights network Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) who walked into a Whole Foods store on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, California. Several of the activists rolled a small wooden calf hutch with a young woman inside into the store. The hutch was four feet wide, six feet long and four feet high, the size used by dairy farms DxE visited; dozens of milk cartons were placed in front of the hutch. All of this was meant to dramatize the violence and cruelty inherent in raising cows and taking their milk for human consumption.
The protest was one of numerous nonviolent actions, both inside Whole Foods stores and outside in their parking lots, that have been held during the past four years. Until recently, Whole Foods employees, managers and security, at least in the Bay Area where I live, let them happen. DxE activists have never been arrested at Bay Area Whole Foods protests, which have also included holding a mock Thanksgiving dinner in the meat department with a live human in place of a roasted turkey.
DxE holds mock Thanksgiving dinner in Whole Foods meat department on Nov. 23, 2017.Michael Goldberg
But toward the end of September 2018, Whole Foods (which was purchased by Amazon in 2017) changed its tactics. Whole Foods Market California decided to sue DxE, asking for a prohibitory injunction to prevent activists from protesting on Whole Foods property throughout California, including inside stores and outside in the parking lots.
DxE targets Whole Foods because the grocery chain misleads the public. For years now, Whole Foods has marketed itself as selling meat and animal products that come from animals that are humanely raised. DxE has conducted numerous investigations of farms that supply Whole Foods such as Diestel Turkey Ranch and Petaluma Farms, and the investigative teams have found and documented, in photographs and on video, a wide range of atrocities, including, depending on the farm investigated, dead birds among the living, birds trapped in their own feces, birds crammed together in barns, birds that live their entire short lives inside barns, untreated wounds and/or cannibalisms.
DxE activist inside calf crate as other activists place containers of milk in front of crate on Feb. 24 at a Whole Foods store on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, California.Michael Goldberg
DxE says the very notion that it's okay to kill an animal as long as you raise the animal in a decent manner is wrong. As DxE points out again and again in chants and speak-outs, and as anyone who cares for a dog or cat knows, "Animals want to live, just like us."
The odd thing about Whole Foods filing a lawsuit against DxE is that for most of the past four years, there appeared to be an understanding on the part of Whole Foods managers and employees that they were to let DxE activists come into their stores, protest and leave, without trying to stop them or have them arrested. On one occasion, a friendly store employee even pointed out to me that I was holding my protest sign upside down.
What signaled a real change on the part of Whole Foods was the 11th-hour legal request for an injunction to ban Wayne Hsiung, co-founder of DxE, and other DxE activists from all California Whole Foods stores. The ostensible reason: DxE had announced a week-long protest called "Occupy Whole Foods," planned for the Telegraph Avenue store and set to start on September 23 of this year.
In court on the Friday before Occupy Whole Foods was to begin, a judge said that banning DxE from Whole Foods stores throughout California was out of the question, but she did grant a temporary restraining order prohibiting Hsiung and other DxE members from stepping onto the company's Telegraph Avenue property.
The reason for the restraining order was an Occupy Whole Foods Facebook event page the judge said indicated DxE activists were planning to occupy the store despite the fact that DxE's lawyer Dan Siegel stated that the activists were not using the word "occupy" in a literal manner but rather, in the symbolic spirit of the "Occupy Wall Street" protests that took place all over the country, and that DxE members were actually going to protest on the sidewalk bordering Whole Foods property, and not in the store or parking lot.
The judge also said that another judge would hear the Whole Foods vs. DxE case at a future date and would then decide if a permanent ban from all stores in California and/or the Telegraph store was warranted.
Surprisingly, though Whole Foods managers began asking DxE not to enter at least one of their stores in early 2018, Bay Area stores where DxE continued to hold protests had apparently no problem with activists protesting on Whole Foods property, outside the front entrances of the stores.
On April 28 in Berkeley, a store manager directed dozens of activists to leave the Telegraph store but said, "You guys are more than welcome to protest outside." That protest, held on Whole Foods property right in front of the store, took place with no interference from security or police. On July 29 of this year, more than 100 DxE activists marched from Petaluma Farms, a Whole Foods egg supplier, to the Petaluma Whole Foods and stood outside the store in the parking lot doing speak-outs about the animal cruelty involved in egg production, and chanting animal rights slogans such as "It's not food, it's violence." Both Whole Foods management and Petaluma police (who followed the protesters from the farm to the store) stood by; no one was arrested.
DxE believes the recent legal challenge is Whole Foods' attempt to stifle free speech and prevent DxE from engaging in the public good of alerting Whole Foods customers that Whole Foods' multimillion-dollar, multi-year humanely raised marketing campaign is a lie. DxE also argues that activists have the right to protest inside Whole Foods because the stores are public forums. After all, Whole Foods invites people to hang out in areas of their stores where they provide tables and seating, and where people sometimes spend much of the day working on their laptops (electrical outlets provided), talking to friends and engaging in other social activities.
In mid-November, during an animal rights conference held in Salt Lake City, hundreds of activists filled a local Whole Foods store and protested the company for animal cruelty and consumer fraud while police and store employees looked on; no one was arrested or detained.
In addition to the Whole Foods suit, DxE has, since early 2018, been under fire from authorities in multiple states. Hsiung himself has been charged with numerous felonies in Utah, North Carolina, Colorado and most recently, Sonoma Country, California, for rescuing sick or injured animals from farms, or, in one case, for simply entering a Whole Foods store in Colorado and asking a store manager about the animal products sold at the store. (In early December, the Colorado charges against Hsiung were dismissed.)
These prosecutions are being coordinated across the country by authorities pressured by or beholden to Big Ag in the hopes of shutting down DxE. In advance of a conference DxE held in Salt Lake City in November, the Utah Farm Bureau alerted its members that "the militant animal activist organization, Direct Action Everywhere" would be coming to Salt Lake City and that "ANY farm, ranch or operation may be targeted." (It should be noted that DxE is not a "militant" group and that nonviolence is a core value of DxE. Co-founder and former Northwestern law professor Hsiung is a student of both Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.; DxE holds a number of nonviolence training workshops throughout the year.)
In advance of a planned December DxE protest, California's leading dairy industry group, the Modesto-based Western United Dairymen, wrote about DxE in a recent newsletter, "As the domestic terrorist threat of animal rights activists continue to increase throughout the state, it's important to make you aware that multiple county sheriff's departments have begun to adopt a Zero Tolerance Policy for these triggered terrorists."
Whether or not Whole Foods succeeds in getting DxE banned from its stores in California (a judge is due to rule any day now), the activist group intends to keep protesting Whole Foods' humane lie, and has also been protesting Amazon directly (including the creation of oneclickcruelty.com, a website that explains why DxE protests the mega online retailer), and will continue investigating so-called humane farms in order to inform the public as to where the animal products sold at Whole Foods and elsewhere come from—and how those animals were raised.
Michael Goldberg is a lead researcher on the Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) investigatory team and was an investigative reporter and senior writer at Rolling Stone for 10 years. He has contributed to Wired, Esquire, Details, The Daily Pitchfork and other publications. His third novel, Untitled, was published in August 2017. He is also a photojournalist and has been documenting DxE for more than two years.
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
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By Diane Gandee Sorbi
I'm one of six activists currently facing up to 10 years in federal prison. Our crime? We walked onto a factory farm and carried out a pair of dying turkeys from among thousands languishing in a filthy shed. We then rushed them to a vet for life-saving medical care.
The farm I visited is owned by Norbest, a company that sells turkeys in rural Utah. Its marketing showcases a gorgeous alpine vista and sprawling meadows with "mountain-grown" turkeys.
But the reality we found was a nightmare. The birds were crammed into filthy industrial sheds by the thousands. I saw gaping head wounds, turkeys struggling to stand in their own feces and dying birds amongst the living.
During another visit, on a particularly frigid night, the team spotted a lump in the middle of the road. This something revealed herself to be someone—a young turkey later named Grace. She had likely fallen from a transport truck and, against all odds, had survived her injuries.
Grace was wrapped in a blanket and received personal care before a vet appointment the following morning. She would occasionally make eye contact, accompanied by a gentle chirp. Unfortunately, the vet explained, both of her fragile legs were broken and she had extensive internal injuries. The kindest thing we could do was to let her go. Her small body was given one last kiss before her breathing stopped.
Grace was a precious individual who was never given a chance at life, like millions of other turkeys trapped on farms across the country. Unlike her brothers and sisters, she was at least shown compassion and a gentle touch in her last hours. That makes her, disturbingly, one of the lucky ones.
As a 63-year-old retiree residing in the San Francisco Bay Area, I spend much of my free time volunteering at local animal shelters. I will always consider any opportunity to help those less fortunate, including animals.
And I am not alone. Most Americans care deeply about the suffering of animals; a 2017 study found that nearly half of Americans would support a total ban on slaughterhouses. Yet animals on industrial farms remain largely unseen, unable to speak for themselves. With 85 million families across the U.S. having animal companions whom they love as family members, our connection to other species is already intense, and need only to be expanded beyond traditional "pets." I've witnessed this same interspecies loving kinship between my friends and their rescued chickens, pigs, cows and turkeys. I have seen not only the cruelty that industrial farming inflicts on the animals caught in its cogs, but also the beauty of a turkey who steps outside for the first time in her life, feels the sun's warmth and spreads her wings.
The vast majority of the public would consider the care of an injured and suffering turkey to be noble act of compassion, not a punishable offense. Yet from "ag gag" laws, to the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, to our crew facing felony charges for rescuing dying animals of zero economic value, our political institutions are systematically weaponized at the behest of billion-dollar entities desperate to silence the truth. The proponents of animal cruelty—and related cover-up efforts—are the executives and lobbyists for companies such as Norbest, Smithfield and Tyson—not ordinary people.
As I prepare for ongoing legal matters, I call on each of you—difficult though it is—to look behind Big Ag's closed doors to see these individuals' fear and pain. Take a stand against the corporate and government entities that not only support this brutality but actively seek to suppress transparency efforts—despite societal values very much to the contrary.
And you don't have to wait long to be a part of historic action. Make plans now to join us as we go right back to the Utah frontlines during the upcoming Animal Liberation Western Convergence, Nov. 16-20 in Salt Lake City. There will be trainings, community events and mass actions for animals as hundreds come together to turn repression into liberation at the doorstep of Big Ag. Our mass actions garner the massive social and mainstream media attention to spark a necessary societal dialogue.
Animals' lives—and in many ways our democracy itself—lie in the balance.
Diane Gandee Sorbi is an investigator with Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) living in Redwood City, California.
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
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By David Gessner
I am sitting near the top of the eastern ear, or rather the eastern earlobe, of Bears Ears, the redock buttes that give our most controversial national monument its name. From up here I can look back on my starting point, the meadow far below and two miles north where a big white tent marks the social center for the reunion of five Native American tribes during the fourth annual Bears Ears Summer Gathering. Hundreds of Indigenous people, environmental organizers, and members of the media like me make up the first meeting of this sort since President Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced, last December, that they were going to reduce Bears Ears by 85 percent.
Although this July celebration is taking place legally on public land—land that is still, despite the reduction of a million acres around it, a national monument—the event hasn't exactly been greeted with open arms by the local white ranchers. In fact, as one young Navajo man put it earlier, it feels a little like we are under siege.
"You look like an environmentalist. Get back in your truck!" This was the greeting one of my fellow celebrants got from one area resident when he stopped to check how deep his back tire had sunk in the muck. Other cars had been tailgated as they made the drive to the celebration. Someone moved the signs for the event so that many of the attendees—and the porta-potties—ended up in the wrong place. The ribbon that marked the pull-off for the road to the gathering was stolen. The Native American organizers responded by placing volunteers on the roads at each turn to make sure guests weren't being misled. Not long ago a private plane buzzed low over our campsite.
"You can tell how special a place is by how many people try to keep you away from it," Navajo elder Jonah Yellowman told me soon after I arrived. I saw what he meant during my hike up here. After lunch these matching buttes looked like an open invitation, and since we were on monument land, I assumed I could walk directly toward them. But barbed-wire fences and grazing cows cut off most of the access, siphoning me to the single point where I could open a gate, scramble up a gully to the public road, and finally get to the base of the eastern butte. Then I climbed to the spot where I sit now. But even then the fence followed me. In a strange marriage of redrock and barbed wire, of public and private, the fence continues right up to where the rock turns vertical, a place no cow could climb.
It feels odd to be fenced in on land that even Donald Trump and Ryan Zinke admit is still a national monument. Public lands are said to belong to all of us, but hiking here, I have experienced the anxiety of the intruder. Looking out at hundreds of miles of land and a half-full moon through an opening in a fence, I am in a fought-over spot in this fought-over landscape in our fought-over country. Maybe this place embodies our world right now. All the battles between red and blue, future and past, are being fought right here, at this point where redrock meets barbed wire and where Native peoples celebrate while white ranchers resentfully prowl the outskirts.
On the hike back, I think of a statistic I recently read: Over a third of the land in the contiguous United States is pasture land, with a quarter of that being land leased by the government, and that almost all of that land serves the cow. I am very careful to reattach the wire loop that secures the gate that leads back to the meadow. Just last week saw the beginning of the trial of environmental activist Rose Chilcoat and her husband, Mark Franklin, in what some of us are choosing to call Gate-gate. Chilcoat was a former director of the environmental group the Great Old Broads for Wilderness, and she and her husband are accused of closing a gate on a rancher's property that denied his cows access to a watering hole. This is just the sort of battle that makes San Juan County seem both uniquely quirky and a microcosm for the rest of the country. Here the wars never stop raging between environmentalists and those who resent federal intrusion, and between Native people and locals.
But who are the real locals? Over 50 percent of the residents of San Juan County are Indigenous people and, if the recent primary election is any indicator, two out of the three San Juan County commissioner seats could go to Navajos. Meanwhile "local" Zane Odell, one of the most vociferous opponents of Bears Ears, is actually a Colorado resident. As for the land I am now walking through, it was once the childhood romping grounds of the great Navajo chief Manuelito. He used Bears Ears in the 1860s to hide out from the U.S. Army but then gave himself up to join his people and care for the children and elderly during the Long Walk, the forced eviction and march of Navajos to Fort Sumner in New Mexico. And the Navajos are not alone in seeing this land as a homeland. The Ute traditional territory encompasses Bears Ears, and the Ancestral Puebloan people, including the Hopis and Zunis, don't have to look hard to see clear evidence that this was once their home. That evidence still inhabits the landscape in the form of the plentiful ancient dwellings and artifacts.
"Chief Manuelito wanted peace, but he was ready to fight," Kenneth Maryboy, a Navajo member who is the current Democratic nominee for one of the three county commissioner seats, is now telling a few dozen of us who are gathered under the huge tent. "Manuelito said, 'There is a day when my enemy is going to kill me. But I'm not going to go quietly. Trees and rocks will be ripped up around me. I will take many with me before I go.'"
Perhaps Maryboy is in a fighting mood, having just won the primary for a commissioner seat over Rebecca Benally, who stood next to Trump when he announced the Bears Ears reduction in Salt Lake City last February.
Maryboy's words are inspiring, but they are one of the few aggressive notes during the weekend gathering. The theme of this year's celebration is "Bears Ears Is Healing" and that seems to be happening. A couple hundred of us are camping here, and it's the most social camping I've ever done. Each morning a color guard made up of veterans raises the U.S. flag. We then greet the sunset near the Bear Totem Pole that was carved and brought here as a gift of goodwill and support from the Lummi Nation of Washington State. Then everyone goes in search of coffee in the kitchen tent. All three days, the weather is perfect, and violet morning light plays off of Bears Ears, with its rich, almost edible, red-orange colors shining out from below the green of ponderosa and piñon pines. Mountain bluebirds and cliff swallows shoot from tree to tree in the meadow below the ears.
William Greyeyes, the board chairman of the Utah Diné Bikéyah and one of the original leaders in the struggle to establish Bears Ears, tells me that the lack of local hospitality is nothing new.
"This has happened in past years too," he says. "We just ignored them and re-established our path and kept going forward. That's the only way to do it. These are public lands, federal public lands. It's open to everybody. And they are welcome to put forward a proposal to the United States government. Just as we did."
And so the weekend continues peacefully, including prayer, medicinal plant walks, programs for kids, the dedication of the bear totem, a 5K run, and more mutton than I have ever eaten in my life. By the end of the second day, the anger from the locals has died down and the mood of the gathering is buoyant. Speakers remind us of what was gained, what still is, and what might be again. Of possibilities, not loss.
On Saturday night, the final night of the gathering, I decide to pack it in early after a delicious dinner of bison and beans. Too tired for any more interviews, I stumble back to my tent. But then, lying there, I hear the music. And then a voice over the microphone. The voice belongs to Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk, the former councilwoman for the Ute Mountain Ute on the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition. Lopez-Whiteskunk was the first person to tell me the Bears Ears story, back in January, and soon I am climbing out of my sleeping bag and heading back to the big white tent. Lopez-Whiteskunk, dressed in traditional Ute clothing, is dancing to music played by her father and other family members. Her granddaughters, also in traditional dress, sit on the stage and whisper to each other. I join along with everyone else in the final dance, a great snaking circle that turns inward on itself and tightens until we are one great, knotted ball. The dance ends in laughter and applause.
After the dancing, Lopez-Whiteskunk talks to the crowd. Her theme is how to deal with Trump's assault on Bears Ears, and the aggressive opposition the tribes face.
"This is not new for us," she says calmly. "We are used to this. We will adapt."
She reminds us of what has already been accomplished.
"We did it. Yes, they are trying to take it away. But we did it. Remember that."
I like her calm. It soothes. But I also remember Kenneth Maryboy's sterner message.
Taken together, they sound something like this:
We talk, we plan, we teach, we learn, we celebrate, we dance. We try to heal.
But, if necessary, we fight. Like Manuelito, we won't go quietly.
We will fight, and trees and rocks will be ripped up around us . . .
By Kate O'Neill
A global plastic waste crisis is building, with major implications for health and the environment. Under its so-called "National Sword" policy, China has sharply reduced imports of foreign scrap materials. As a result, piles of plastic waste are building up in ports and recycling facilities across the U.S.
In response, support is growing nationally and worldwide for banning or restricting single-use consumer plastics, such as straws and grocery bags. These efforts are also spurred by chilling findings about how microplastics travel through oceans and waterways and up the food chain.
I have studied global trade in hazardous wastes for many years and am currently completing a book on the global politics of waste. In my view, today's unprecedented level of public concern is an opportunity to innovate. There is growing interest in improving plastic recycling in the U.S. This means getting consumers to clean and sort recyclables, investing in better technologies for sorting and reusing waste plastics, and creating incentives for producers to buy and use recycled plastic.
Critiques of recycling are not new, and critiques of recycling plastic are many, but I still believe it makes sense to expand, not abandon, the system. This will require large-scale investment and, in the long term, implementing upstream policies, including product bans.
Easy to Use, Hard to Destroy
Plastics make products lighter, cheaper, easier to assemble and more disposable. They also generate waste, both at the start of their life cycles—the petrochemicals industry is a major source of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions—and after disposal.
The biggest domestic use by far for plastic resin is packaging (34 percent in 2017), followed by consumer and institutional goods (20 percent) and construction (17 percent). Many products' useful lives can be measured in minutes. Others, especially engineered and industrial plastics, have a longer life—up to 35 years for building and construction products.
After disposal, plastic products take anywhere from five to 600 years to break down. Many degrade into micro-plastic fragments that effectively last forever. Rather like J.R.R. Tolkien's One Ring, plastics can be permanently destroyed only through incineration at extremely high temperatures.
Why the U.S. Recycles So Little Plastic
Less than 10 percent of discarded plastics entered the recycling stream in the U.S. in 2015, compared with 39.1 percent in the European Union and 22 percent in China. Another 15 percent of U.S. plastic waste is burned in waste-to-energy facilities. The remaining 75 percent goes to landfills. These figures do not include any dumping or illegal disposal.
Even the most easily recyclable plastics have a lengthy journey from the recycling bin to their final destinations. Many barriers have become painfully apparent since China, which until recently accepted half of all U.S. plastic scrap, implemented its crackdown on March 1.
First, there are many different types of plastics. Of the seven resin identification codes stamped on the bottom of plastic containers, only 1's and 2's are easily recyclable. Public education campaigns have lagged, particularly with respect to cleaning and preparing plastics for recycling. Getting consumers to commit to more stringent systems is critical. But scolding can backfire, as experience with food waste shows.
Another factor is U.S. reliance on single-stream recycling systems, in which all recyclables are placed in the same receptacle. This approach is easier for consumers but produces a mixed stream of materials that is difficult and expensive to sort and clean at recycling facilities.
The U.S. currently has 633 materials recycling facilities, which can clean, sort and bale a total of 100,000 tons of recyclables per day. Today they are under growing pressure as scrap piles up. Even before China's restrictions went into effect, materials recycling facilities operators threw out around half of what they received because of contamination. Most are not equipped to meet China's stringent new contamination standards, and their processing rates have slowed—but garbage production rates have not.
Finally, since China was the U.S. plastic scrap market's main buyer, its ban has eliminated a key revenue stream for municipal governments. As a result, some waste collection agencies are suspending curbside pickup, while others are raising prices. All 50 states have been affected to some extent.
Over 70 percent of U.S. plastic waste goes to landfills. USEPA
No Silver Bullets
Numerous public and private entities are working to find a more viable solution for plastics recycling. They include plastics producers and recyclers, corporations such as Coca-Cola, colleges and universities, foundations, international organizations, advocacy groups and state governments.
Upgrading materials recycling facilities and expanding domestic markets for plastic scrap is an obvious priority but will require large-scale investments. Increasing waste-to-energy incineration is another option. Sweden relies on this approach to maintain its zero waste model.
But incineration is deeply controversial in the U.S., where it has declined since 2001, partly due to strong opposition from host communities. Zero-waste and anti-incineration advocates have heavily criticized initiatives such as the Hefty EnergyBag Program, a recent pilot initiative in Omaha, Nebraska to divert plastics to energy production. But small companies like Salt Lake City-based Renewlogy are working to develop newer, cleaner ways to convert plastics to energy.
Efforts to cut plastic use in the U.S. and other wealthy countries are focusing on single-use products. Initiatives such as plastic straw and bag bans build awareness, but may not significantly reduce the problem of plastic trash by themselves. For example, plastic straws account for only 0.03 percent of the plastic that is likely to enter the oceans in any given year.
To stem ocean plastic pollution, better waste management on land is critical, including steps to combat illegal dumping and manage hard-to-recycle plastics. Examples include preventing BPA leaching from discarded products, dechlorinating polyvinyl chloride products, on-site recycling of 3D printer waste, and making virgin-quality plastic out of used polypropylene.
The European Union is developing a circular economy platform that contains a multi-part strategy to increase plastics recycling and control waste. It includes making all plastic packaging recyclable by 2030 and reducing leakage of plastic products into the environment. The U.S. is unlikely to adopt such sweeping policies at the national level. But for cities and states, especially those where support for environmental protection is strong, it could be a more attainable vision.
Scientists Develop 'Infinitely' Recyclable Plastics Replacement https://t.co/q8lK2Fq8xq @savingoceans @PlasticPollutes— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1524878404.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
Minneapolis City Council and Mayor Jacob Frey announced Friday the city's pledge to achieve 100 percent renewable electricity for municipal facilities and operations by 2022 and citywide by 2030.
Minneapolis is committing to using 100% renewable energy by 2030. From our pollution control ordinance to green bus… https://t.co/CDVMy8Yzoo— Jacob Frey (@Jacob Frey)1524850839.0
"Climate change is one of the gravest challenges we face, and renewable energy is one of the solutions," said Council Member Cam Gordon, co-author of the resolution. "This resolution builds on the work of our adopted Climate Action Plan, and will help us reach our aggressive goal of reducing carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050."
The City Coordinator's Office has now been directed to bring forward a blueprint by the first quarter of 2019 on how to reach this ambitious goal.
The blueprint will also include strategies "to ensure that all consumers, especially those who have been left out of the benefits of energy programs in the past, communities of color, low-income communities, renters, and communities that have borne the brunt of past environmental racism, receive equitable benefit from this transition."
Council Member Steve Fletcher, co-author of the resolution noted, "In addition to being the right thing to do for the planet, investing in renewable energy allows us to keep more energy generation revenue in the city and create jobs for Minneapolis people of color who have been historically excluded from the old energy economy."
Renewable energy is Minnesota's second largest source of electricity generation, besting nuclear power but trailing coal, the Star Tribune reported last month. The newspaper observed that cost of wind energy in the state now appears lower than electricity produced from both natural gas and coal, even without tax subsidies.
Minnesota also has abundant solar energy. In 2008, the U.S. Department of Energy recognized St. Paul and Minneapolis as "Solar America Cities."
In contrast to the U.S. government's current push for fossil fuels, many American cities and municipalities are playing a key role in the clean energy revolution by committing to 100 percent renewables. They include Atlanta; Boulder, Colorado; Orlando, Florida; Madison, Wisconsin; Portland, Oregon; Rochester, Minnesota; St. Louis; Saint Louis Park, Minnesota; San Francisco; San Diego and Salt Lake City.
In addition to the city's pledge, Mayor Frey also joined the Sierra Club's Mayors for 100% Clean Energy initiative, a growing coalition of nearly 200 mayors aiming to transition their communities to clean energy.
Mayor @jacob_frey signing the #Mayors4CleanEnergy pledge! He joins nearly 200 Mayors across the country who have pl… https://t.co/35erfSvzEp— SierraClubMN (@SierraClubMN)1524854088.0
By Tara Lohan
Gene Likens has been studying forest and aquatic ecosystems for more than half a century. In that time he's seen a change in the chemistry of our surface waters—including an increase in the alkalinity and salinity of waterways—something he and his colleagues have dubbed "freshwater salinization syndrome."
Likens coauthored a report published last month that found that not only is salinity increasing in many surface waters, but when you add salt to the environment it can mobilize heavy metals, nutrient pollution and other contaminants that are combining to create new "chemical cocktails" in rivers, streams and reservoirs.
These cocktails can be a danger to our drinking water, wildlife and riverine ecology. And they've already contributed to a public health crisis in at least one U.S. city.
"I didn't expect the massive scale of change across the lower 48 that we found—or the magnitude of change," said Likens, who is president emeritus of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and a distinguished research professor at the University of Connecticut.
Lead poisoning was the top headline from the recent water crisis in Flint, Michigan, but salt played a key role in the tragedy.
When the city switched sources of water to the highly polluted Flint River, the water had a much higher salinity because of runoff from road salts, which, without proper treatment, increased the corrosivity of the water. "That change in the chemistry of the water flowing through the pipes liberated lead from the pipes or lead-soldered connections," explained Likens. Lead was the villain, but salt was its enabler.
Salt was part of the catalyst for Flint, Michigan's water crisis.George Thomas / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Flint isn't the only metropolitan area at risk from salinity-induced water concerns. The researchers also studied public water supplies in the Washington, DC-Baltimore area and found "some of those areas are increasing in salt content rather seriously," said Likens. "It's not just some little stream in your backyard along the interstate highway. It can be very widespread."
Sujay Kaushal found this out firsthand. Kaushal, a professor of geology at the University of Maryland and lead author of the study, turned on his tap at his Maryland home in 2015 to find a blackish-colored water coming out. He realized that increased salinity in the water was causing manganese, a neurotoxin, to leach from the pipes in neighborhood homes.
The problem isn't isolated to a few cities either.
An earlier study by Kaushal, Likens and colleagues, published in January 2018, analyzed data dating back a century in different localities and found freshwater salinization syndrome had become widespread. The researchers found that 37 percent of the watersheds in the lower 48 had a significant increase in salinity, and 90 percent for alkalinity. Their most recent study, from December 2018, took the research even farther, looking at rivers across North America and Europe, but also a few sites around the world, including in Iran, Russia and China.
"What was surprising was that in all of these different world regions there's well-known waterways that show this freshwater salinization syndrome occurring," said Kaushal. "Even our Great Lakes show these patterns of increasing salts and the Great Lakes contain about 20 percent of the world's fresh water."
Salt on its own has been shown to be problematic. Too much of it in the water can be a health risk for someone with hypertension, says Likens. And salts washing off roadways have been shown to damage or kill vegetation. It can also seep into drinking water wells. High enough levels of salinity can be toxic to some aquatic life, too, said Likens.
Other new research has honed in on this threat from salt. "Increased salinity in freshwater systems is expected to cause extensive changes in biota and potentially in ecological function, and some losses of freshwater resources," freshwater scientist John R. Olson from California State University Monterey Bay wrote in a recent study. His work found that by the end of the century, half the country's streams could have an increase in salinity of 50 percent.
But that's not the only concern.
Salts, Kaushal and his colleagues found, can liberate heavy metals and other elements in soils and concrete surfaces, which can be more dangerous when mixed together than any one of them singly. Salts can also mobilize nitrates, stimulating harmful algal blooms that threaten the health of fish and other marine organisms.
Kaushal and his colleagues analyzed streams near the University of Maryland after a snowstorm and found spikes in the concentration of metals like copper, zinc, manganese and cadmium.
And after a storm salt concentrations can stay elevated for months, increasing the amount of time that the salts can draw these chemical cocktails out of the soil and into waterways.
Sources of the Problem
Where Likens lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the roads in winter are often busy with visiting skiers traveling up from nearby Boston, Hartford or New York. To keep the traffic safely moving in wintry conditions the roads are often doused with salt—a lot of it. He's found that at times local municipalities have used up to a ton of salt per road mile per day.
Generous servings of road salt are common across the Northeast and upper Midwest and are one of the biggest contributors to salinization of waterways in those parts of the country, but the researchers found other kinds of salts, not just the commonly used sodium chloride, also contribute to the increase of salinity in waterways—things like fertilizer runoff, water softeners, fracking brine and sewage discharges.
Untreated water goes directly into a stream. MN Pollution Control Agency / CC BY-NC 2.0
"There're just a variety of things that we humans add to the surface that eventually find their way to streams and lakes and reservoirs and increase their salinity," said Likens.
The weathering of concrete infrastructure like our bridges and roads from acidic rain (which has been reduced but not eliminated) also contributes to increases in salinity and alkalinity.
So too does building impervious surfaces, such as roads and parking lots.
The researchers found that in the Baltimore area an increase of one percent in the amount of impervious surfaces caused a 10 percent increase in salinity. Chemicals and salts that would have been absorbed by soils instead ran off those hard surfaces and into waterways.
All indicators are that the salinity problem is getting worse over time. "The graphs consistently are increasing," said Likens. "Not every stream shows the effect, but the vast majority do."
The new research raises more questions than it answers, including what the impacts of these chemical cocktails may be and how we can manage them to ensure safe drinking water and a healthy environment.
The study recommends that we manage the problem by "considering chemical mixtures and potential interactive effects as a syndrome of multiple stressors instead of single contaminants."
That's easier said than done.
"We have regulations and management strategies which are focused on a single contaminant and it's almost like our brain is just able to handle one thing at a time," said Kaushal. "In reality these mixtures have interactive effects, sometimes synergistic effects, which contribute to toxicity where the overall effect of the mixture or the interaction is greater than the sum of the parts."
But recognizing the dangers of these elements in combination is one thing. Testing for them is quite another.
Thankfully there are also other tactics that could help, including better buffers around rivers, streams and wetlands to reduce runoff. Smarter use of road salts would also be an improvement. Already some municipalities are using brines applied before winter storms to help reduce the volume of salt needed later.
"I think another approach would be to reduce impervious surfaces because we're constantly developing new lands and putting down more roads which eventually break down and contribute to these salts," said Kaushal. "So, I think being more judicious about creating new roads, parking lots, pavement and other development, as well as putting in regulations in place for the salts themselves."
With a long lens on the health of our waterways, Likens sees cause for concern as scientists learn more about the impacts of salinization—and as the Trump administration attempts to roll back protections for clean water.
"At the end of November President Trump announced that our water was at 'record clean,'" said Likens. But scientific research proves otherwise. "This idea that we can do whatever we want to the environment, to the water we all depend on, and everything's going to be okay—that's just not correct."
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.
By Jeremy Deaton
At the start of 2017, just 22 cities had committed to sourcing all of their power from clean energy by 2050. As of this week, that number is 72. Since President Trump moved into the Oval Office and started ripping up federal climate policy, dozens of cities in conservative states have set ambitious goals for clean power, including Salt Lake City, St. Louis and Atlanta. Now for the hard part. These cities must chart a course to reaching their goal.
Atlanta recently laid out three options for hitting 100 percent clean energy. The document reveals two important facts. First, if Atlanta invests in new clean energy projects—as opposed to buying credits for clean energy generated out of state—it will see more jobs, smaller energy bills and less pollution. Second, if Atlanta wants to rely solely on locally sourced renewable power, it will need the help of the state legislature and the public service commission, both of which are controlled by Republicans, many of whom are wary of wind and solar. The proposals speak both to the promise of renewable power and to the limitations of local government. It will be hard to achieve 100 percent clean energy, but as former vice president Al Gore recently said, if Atlanta can do it, anybody can.
Officials listed the three proposals in increasing order of difficulty. The first calls for buying clean power credits from out-of-state wind farms to make up for power purchased from coal, gas and nuclear power plants. This option could be executed more quickly and cheaply than the other two, but it offers the smallest upside. In this scenario, Atlanta would support the development of clean energy, and thereby stem climate change, but it would not manage to shrink power bills, cut local pollution or create jobs for residents.
The energy mix in the first scenario. REC stands for "Renewable Energy Credits," while SREC stands for "Solar Renewable Energy Credits." City of Atlanta Mayor's Office of Resilience
The second option calls for investing in solar energy and energy efficiency. Like the first scenario, it also requires buying clean power credits, some from out-of-state wind farms and some from in-state solar farms—assuming Georgia Power, the local utility, invests in solar power. This scenario boasts the highest cost-to-benefit ratio, meaning the greatest savings on electricity and healthcare per dollar spent on clean power.
The energy mix in the second scenario. REC stands for "Renewable Energy Credits," while SREC stands for "Solar Renewable Energy Credits." City of Atlanta Mayor's Office of Resilience
The third option calls for going all in on clean energy, making big investments in rooftop solar arrays and community solar farms, in addition to making buildings more efficient. Even in this scenario, however, the city would rely in part on fossil fuels for power, and it would have to buy solar energy credits to reach its goal.
Overall, this proposal would yield the biggest returns. Officials say this option would create almost 8,000 jobs and produce nearly $12 billion in returns by slashing power bills and cutting pollution, thereby reducing healthcare costs. In this scenario, the city would also save 10 billion gallons of water that would otherwise be used in the operation of coal, gas and nuclear power plants—the largest water savings of any option.
The energy mix in the third scenario. REC stands for "Renewable Energy Credits," while SREC stands for "Solar Renewable Energy Credits." City of Atlanta Mayor's Office of Resilience
If the officials want to pursue the second or third options, they will need the help of the Georgia Public Service Commission and the state legislature. The Public Service Commission, for example, would need to direct Georgia Power to build enough solar power in Georgia to satisfy Atlanta's aims, allowing the city to purchase clean energy credits that support local solar projects instead of distant wind projects.
"We recognize that we can't put all of the renewable energy in the city limits. So that means it's going to have to come from somewhere else," said Ted Terry, director of the Georgia chapter of the Sierra Club. "We don't want to be exporting our dollars to other states. No offense to Oklahoma, but we've got the energy resources right here in our state to power our state." Terry wants to see Atlanta source power from in-state solar arrays, "built by Georgia workers that will add value to the tax base of Georgia."
A solar array on the roof of the Carbon Neutral Energy Solutions Laboratory at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Georgia Institute of Technology
The legislature could help by allowing solar owners to sell more of their power back to the grid or by creating a renewable portfolio standard, asserting the state must source a certain portion of its power from wind and solar. Terry said that a renewable portfolio standard is unlikely to pass the Republican-dominated legislature, but a tax credit for solar installations or energy efficiency upgrades just might. "The legislature is very politicized and ideological," Terry said.
Given the political hurdles, authors of the three proposals warned that trying to achieve 100 percent clean energy by 2035 would likely result in the city "simply purchasing large amounts of renewable energy credits rather than achieving the goal through energy efficiency and in-state renewable generation." They urged the city council to aim for the more modest date of 2050, which would provide "a realistic timeline in which to achieve an equitable, affordable, and cost-effective 100 percent clean energy future."
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. Afdahe
As officials noted, the more power the city can generate locally, the greater the benefits for its poorest residents, who devote up to a 10 percent of their monthly income to electricity costs. "Energy equity was a huge deal—relieving the energy burden for people who are lower income," Terry said. Officials called for shrinking power bills and funding efficiency upgrades in the homes of low-income families. The right policies could radically cut the cost of power, which would be significant for families struggling to pay rent.
"This is not just a plan drafted in a vacuum at City Hall—our aim is to unlock the potential of Atlantans to take action to make our home more resilient to the shocks and stresses of a warming planet," wrote Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms in an introductory letter. Bottoms described Atlanta's plan for clean energy as "a social contract to protect the health and welfare of its citizenry."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
The world is watching as Cape Town residents count the days (and drops) to Day Zero—when the city's tap run dry. The South African city is in the midst of its worst drought in history, and unless a substantial amount of rain falls in the coming months, it could become the first major city to run dry. Poorer citizens are already bearing the brunt of the water crisis, and all residents have been advised to limit their water consumption to only 50 liters, or 13.2 gallons a day. Think two-minute showers and reusing your bathing water to flush the toilet.
It sounds like a Mad Max movie, but the Cape Town water shortage is quite real and could be closer to reality for the rest of us than we would like. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that by 2025, two-thirds of the world population could be struggling with water shortage. And right here in the U.S., cities across the country are watching their water reserves dwindle.
Although factors such as poor planning and population growth are driving droughts in some regions, there is one common culprit that is exacerbating water crises around the globe: climate change. Experts point to high temperatures, drying rivers and melting snowpack as some of the factors behind the dry spells. They're also a wake-up call that the climate crisis is no distant threat. In fact, it's already affecting three big American cities and the daily lives of millions.
Here are three big American cities that could be the next Cape Town:
1. Los Angeles
California has a long history of water shortage, and Los Angeles is often at the center of the dust storm. In the early twentieth century, the dispute for water between the city and rural farmers was so bitter that it became known as the California Water Wars (and was turned into the Academy Award-winning movie Chinatown (1974) starring none other than Jack Nicholson).
Decades have passed since, but the city's water woes are seemingly getting worse. In 2014, the City of Angels was listed as one of the most water-stressed large city in the world by The Nature Conservancy. One of the proofs was that LA was hit with the worst drought in at least 1,200 years in 2014, triggered by high temperatures and reduced rainfall linked to the change of climate and weather patterns.
As a result, for the first time in history, Angelenos were instructed to limit their water usage by 25 percent in 2015. The directive has since been lifted, but if the world doesn't tackle the climate crisis, new dry spells will always be on the horizon. This year, for instance, snowpacks in the northern part of the state are frighteningly low—and they're one of the main suppliers of water for California.
2. Salt Lake City
Thomas Hawk / Flickr CC by NC 2.0
For every degree Fahrenheit of warming in the Salt Lake City region, the flow of nearby streams could decrease by an average of 3.8 percent annually, according to a recent report by the Western Water Assessment. The number is worrisome, considering that global temperatures have been steadily rising, and the city depends on healthy streams for its fresh water supply.
Making matters even worse, rivers that flow into the Great Salt Lake—and that could be an alternative source of water to the city—are headed in the same direction. The lake itself has shrunk to nearly half of its former size in the last 170 years. It's no wonder that in 2014, the University of Florida's Environmental Hydrology Laboratory found that Salt Lake City was at a high level of fresh water vulnerability.
Residents have already started feeling the effects of water scarcity. In 2015, the mayor's office asked for cautious with water waste. Instructions included adjusting sprinklers and checking for leaks to protect the city's fragile water supply. If you ask us, it's time for the city to take climate action, especially since its population is expected to nearly double by 2050.
Why is Miami on this list? After all, the city is surrounded by water in all forms—it literally sits on the sea and has access to plenty of rain, lakes and groundwater. However, the megacity is facing climate-related water concerns no less daunting than any other city on this list.
We all know that climate change has been fueling rising sea levels, and it's not just in the Pacific Islands. In America's Magic City, the rising seawater is leaking into, and contaminating, fresh water supplies above and underground. And although the problem has been around since the 1930s, rising sea levels mean these leaks are increasing at unprecedented rates . The water is even breaching underground defense barriers that were installed in recent decades and reaching freshwater wells.
As a result, neighboring cities are already struggling to find drinkable water. Hallandale Beach, which is just a few miles north of Miami, had to close six of its eight wells due to saltwater intrusion. And residents of the nearby Everglades National Park (including alligators) are getting salty with the ocean sweeping into the swamps. Miami-Dade residents all well aware of the risks, as more than 50 percent believe that the climate crisis will impact them personally.
As mean temperatures creep up, there's a risk that the crisis will worsen water stress across the U.S. and the rest of the world. But it's not a lost cause. We can work together with government officials, businesses, schools and faith communities to take climate action to the next level. Together we can reduce carbon emissions by adopt viable climate solutions—such as ditching dirty fossil fuels and embracing renewable energy.
Want to dive deeper into how the climate crisis is affecting rainfall, droughts and even hurricanes? Download our Climate Change and the Water Cycle e-book and check out answers to four of the most confusing questions about how the crisis impacts this vital resource. And learn why citizens everywhere support policies that accelerate the global transition to a clean energy economy.
By Jana Richman
In a dark time, the eye begins to see.
It slips in quietly. A hint of terseness marks his voice, an opaque film covers his blue eyes, his face flushes and its lines deepen. His 6'4" frame droops toward the floor as if he's ashamed to drape his sorry self over it, and he tries to creep from the room unnoticed. It hurts him to be seen.
We share the only bed in our house, but he curls close to the edge, his face in the moonlight twisted and consternated. I want to reach out with a soothing touch, but I have learned not to. When he is deep in his dark world, a simple touch will send a startle response through his bones. He will burst from the bed as if facing a knife- wielding attacker and his wild eyes will be locked on me.
When I wake in the morning to find his side of the bed cold, I search for signs: a spoon in the sink indicates coffee was made; a creaking floor in his upstairs office indicates movement. From the signs, I can measure the depth of his depression and the probable length of its stay. No signs at all, and I feel as if I've been stalked into a dead-end alley.
I once believed myself capable of empathetic greatness, a belief that's been gutted and redesigned like a nineteenth-century farmhouse. The crumbling bricks still hold, but the interior structure bears little resemblance to the original.
Steve was fifty when we met; I was forty-eight. Our future held no golden wedding anniversary; silver was dubious. Such reckonings cut short the discovery period of romance enjoyed by the young. We acknowledged our love for each other, and, almost in the same breath, we acknowledged our impediments: Steve's depression, my anxiety.
Having anxiety in our anxious culture is like wearing a white T-shirt—it's not conspicuous—so I had minimal awareness of its scope. And being wholly naïve about depression, I shrugged it off in the name of love. With less caution than warranted, Steve and I joined hands and stepped into the abyss.
Anxiety and depression share commonalities. In our case, the emotional memories of each are decades—maybe generations—old, with no faces, no bodies, no specific points of origin. These similarities generate compassion between us but not necessarily understanding. And distinct differences make us ill-suited for sharing a life.
Anxiety gushes out, soliciting reassurance and relief; depression pulls in and sets up barriers. Anxious people want to process, often in a desperate, frenetic way. But insisting that a depressed person process his current state is worse than futile; it is merciless. Working together, depression and anxiety construct a near impermeable trap. When I sense Steve's depression, I churn in angst. When Steve senses my anxiety, he drops deeper.
Steve's depression is episodic, triggered in a moment that takes him down. And in that moment, life is brusquely shifted, shut down for an indefinable period. When I first saw it, although I had been forewarned, I had no idea what I was seeing. The shift in his physical appearance alone pulled me up short, and the abrupt change in personality seemed like a subterfuge. And for many years I treated it as such, demanding that he stop and explain himself.
He retreats into his impenetrable misery behind the closed door of his office. I walk to keep my body occupied while my emotions lurch from confusion to sadness to anger to desperation. I return to a quiet house, no traces of movement. I search the bookshelves and Internet for comfort. So much advice—all of it familiar, none of it useful.
Two days go by without verification of life. I stew and listen and watch. I dissect the days and hours leading up to the moment it slithered in. I pinpoint the trigger and rewrite the script. I chant a whispered mantra: This will end.But I worry that it won't end, that we'll be here on our respective sides of a cheap, hollow door three weeks, three months, three years from now.
On the third day, the door opens and I jump to attention. He slouches down the stairs without making eye contact, looking ten years older than he looked four days prior. I offer to make soup, I suggest a hike, I extend bookshelf advice in a cheerful voice tinged with urgency. I speak to him as if he doesn't understand his own mind. He goes back upstairs and shuts the door.
Steve embodies light and dark in their extremities. The dark runs deep and murky, but radical light runs parallel. I fear the dark will snuff out the light and destroy him, destroy us. He assures me that will never happen, and like a religious skeptic teetering on the edges, I work to keep the faith. I want to pry him apart, separate light from dark. I want the model with the personalized options, not the package deal, but his GPS is already installed. Ripping it out would leave him lighter, yes, but also deformed, shrunken, misshapen. Much of his beauty comes out of the shadow. His gentleness, his patience, his wisdom, his passion—all flow from having dwelt in the tender place of despair. I deeply understand the truth of this. Still, I want it to be easier—for him, yes, but mostly for me. He knows this darkness, and he oddly draws strength from its familiarity, as if it constitutes some sort of sacred ritual. I cower in its presence.
On the fourth day, I wake to find the office door open and him gone. I breathe a sigh of relief for a morning without his dark presence and say a small prayer to the gods he worships: redrock canyons and sagebrush flats. He has gone to the desert.
I walk out to the garage to see what's not there: a cot, a sleeping bag, a five-gallon water jug. All good signs. He will spend nights under a dark sky, and when the sun rouses him, he will walk between redrock walls, bumping against them in his rawness. He will find a flat run of slickrock to lie upon, and he will stay until desert light finds a fissure in his constructed shield. Then he'll come back to me.
Shortly after I met him, Steve said something that would become a refrain in our relationship: I need to go to the desert. We met in Tucson and lived in Salt Lake City, so technically we had always been in a desert, but that's not what he meant. He sought a desert free of humans and their debris, full of light, where he could dwell undisturbed for an extended period of time.
Having grown up in Utah's West Desert, I, too, have an appreciation for such places, but I initially thought him prone to hyperbole. Imprudently clinging to the popular view that all power lies within, I equated Steve's stated need to the exaggerated notions of a teenager needing a new iPhone. But after twelve years of inadvertent research, my flippancy has waned.
On our wedding day, Steve promised to always rescue himself—it was written into the vows. In my most anxious moments, I have extracted the promise from him again and again, but the last time I did was in the autumn of 2013, which was when I, at long last, understood that he has only one fail—safe rescue: the desert.
It was our worst year together, high anxiety and deep depression, each tightening the knots of the other. We futilely tugged from opposite ends for eight months. In the fall, I suggested a weekend backpack on the Escalante River, and he nodded his agreement. But on the day we were supposed to leave, he couldn't rally the energy to abide my company, having, no doubt, sensed my desperate reach for relief. After he shut the upstairs door, I sat amid the mess of freeze-dried food packets and cried. Then I packed.
I would like to say I left the house quietly, but I didn't. I breached the sanctity of the closed door and made a dramatic, sobbing speech and exit. I no longer remember the words, but I remember the cruelty behind them. I'm sure I demanded some sort of promise or explanation that he could not possibly give. I remember his horrified face as I loaded my pain onto his.
I drove fifteen miles to the trailhead shaking with the kind of generalized rage that has no receptacle. Only after hoisting the pack and splashing through the knee-high, sun-warmed water for the first of many river crossings did I acknowledge that I had never backpacked alone, never spent a night out there by myself. It was an easy three-mile hike upriver to the Sand Creek confluence where I planned to camp, and the physical risk was minimal. But the sun drops early in the river gorge, and the long stretch of night ahead played on my nerves.
Righteous indignation propelled me forward, a feeling of something having been thrust upon me that I did not deserve. I slogged through deep sand, stumbled often, and expended a great deal of energy to gain little ground. Had I lifted my eyes from the trail, I might have been awed by Escalante Natural Bridge, a sturdy, flat-topped, deep red and brown arch that spans a side canyon like a train trestle. Had I lifted my eyes, my heart may have been lightened—or at least distracted—by the Indian domicile ruins on a ledge next to a wall of seven-hundred-year-old petroglyphs. But I did not lift my eyes. I rounded the bend in the river that alerted me to the confluence without acknowledging the painted red snake on the slickrock I skirted, without pondering its symbolism, although it may have been as relevant to me as it was to its creator. Rebirth? Resurrection? Initiation?
I dropped into a hole that brought the river to my upper thighs before climbing the sandy, steep bank on hands and knees. Knowing that seeking ant-free ground would be futile, I pitched my tent among the small creatures under a cluster of cottonwoods and cooked dinner before the sun went down. Then I crossed the cold, shin-high waters of Sand Creek and set my Therm-a-Rest chair on a partially dry, flat rock in the last splice of sunlight. I faced a soaring, creamsicle-orange wall with white streaks—as if someone had poured a bucket of Clorox from the top every few yards—and waited for darkness to descend. But it never did.
The wall, a magnificent domed rock bestowed with runs of creamy smoothness from calving, was the last in the canyon to lose light. It presided over the celestial ceremony of sundown—quieting the whistling birds, hushing the croaking ravens, piloting a change of temperature and a kettle of turkey vultures on a gust. As the diurnal fell silent, whispering grasses and rustling river willows filled the void. On my right, a tranquil spring wallpapered the Navajo sandstone with ivy, ferns, and columbine before trickling through a crack in many straggling fountains at mouth level and leaving the rocks below it covered in spongy lime-green moss.
Sand Creek approached me from behind a grassy bend, ran over slickrock and sand, bumped against, and parted for, volcanic boulders, passed me close enough to splash my left arm and leg, gathered spring water from the right, and then disappeared around an eastern bend to meet the river. Near and distant, peach and rose, honey and ginger colored walls, polished to a high sheen by desert varnish and pockmarked by wind and water, surrounded me on all sides, sharing the warmth of the sun.
As the reigning wall lost its light, the hanging garden lost its shimmer in the shadows, the creek gurgled, the spring trickled, and a warm breeze blew. I sat very still, every sense heightened—and pacified. Tranquility edged in like rainwater through a crack in sandstone. After a while, I could no longer discern my feet on the rock or sand on my skin. The place integrated my presence as if I were natural to it, and I felt the whole of it.
I sat. I had been breathing shallowly for many months, holding myself together with a pinched brow and rigid muscles. I breathed. My shoulders fell. Fear and dread oozed from my body and was cleanly washed away by Sand Creek—as if it were no problem at all—and delivered to the river where it would flow out of reach. Shhhh, the place whispered. Be still.
Moonlight climbed sandstone walls bringing with it the thought of Steve's refrain: I need to go to the desert. I had heard the urgency in his voice, but I refused to hear the truth in his words. I had scoffed at the idea that a place could do for him what I could not—that a place could hold him, soothe him, reach into the depths of that darkness and pull him out. And now, here I sat, held by the place. And here was the thing that left me dumbfounded: the place had been here all along. Through many months of homebound angst, through my desperation and rage, through my vain perseverance, the place was here—flowing, buzzing, being.
That night on the slickrock bank of Sand Creek, I understood what I had been doing to Steve for twelve years. I had done what every well-meaning person in his life—every lover, every friend—had done. I had tried to fix him. And in doing so, I had delivered a sharp message: I cannot love you this way.
The next morning, I was sitting on a log, swiping ants off my legs and sipping a cup of tea, when Steve walked into camp. He was not entirely tall and steady, but he was upright. He smiled weakly but genuinely, and I thought if ever there were an element natural in its desert environment, there it stands.
We walked up Sand Creek without conversation, each sensitive to the other's fragility. When we reached a sandy beach on the water's edge, we sat facing a hollowed-out red wall. I have a gift for you, I said. He turned toward me, blue eyes tired but clear. I told him I would no longer participate in his depression; I would no longer view it as a problem to be fixed. I am giving you the gift of your own depression, I told him. He looked at me for a long moment, and when he started breathing again, vestiges of apprehension drained from his face. Thank you, he said.
I have since kept my promise. It turns out, I can love the whole of him, and doing so has settled something in me. I don't hold any notion that he will one day be cured of depression, and I no longer seek that. But removing myself as custodian of his state of being has given us space without shame. The chasm is shallower, more light filters in. In turn, I am released from my own shaking hellhole of onus and distress.
And then there's the desert, right here, where it's always been—gushing, illuminating, revealing.
From Nature Love Medicine: Essays on Wildness and Wellness, edited by Thomas Lowe Fleischner. Published by Torrey House Press, www.torreyhouse.org
Reposted with permission from our media associate YES! Magazine.
By Alan Poole
A hundred years ago, a person wandering the back roads of coastal New England might have come across an odd sight: at the edge of a farmyard, cheek by jowl with pigs and chickens and cows, a tall pole topped with a massive stick nest. And standing guard in the nest, a large brown-backed, white-headed wild bird of prey — an osprey (Pandion haliaetus).
Farmers in this region knew that nesting ospreys were vigilant watchdogs, quick to chase "chicken-hawks" and other predators away. But as fish eaters, ospreys were no threat to farm animals. And they were trusting enough to live comfortably near humans. So farmers lured them by building them places to nest — generally, an old wagon wheel atop a bare pole, mimicking the dead trees in which ospreys had nested for millennia.
Although these clever farmers didn't know it, they were pioneering methods that would help to bring ospreys back from the edge of extinction decades later. As I recount in my new book, Ospreys: The Revival of a Global Raptor, these birds have made a spectacular recovery from chemical pollution, guns and traps, thanks to many dedicated conservationists and an amazing ability to thrive in close quarters with humans.
An osprey fishing in spectacular super slow motion | Highlands - Scotland's Wild Heart youtu.be
Gone in the Blink of an Eye
Up to 1950, ospreys were one of the most widespread and abundant hawks in North America. Few rivers, lakes or ocean shorelines lacked a nesting pair. In certain favorable spots, such as islands along the Atlantic coast, wooded swamps in Florida and western states, and shallow-water lagoons bordering the Gulf of Mexico and Baja California, hundreds of nests were often clustered together in just one or two square miles.
But the bottom dropped out after World War II. Insecticides developed for military use — particularly DDT — flooded onto the civilian market to control farm and forest pests and mosquitoes in towns and villages. These chemicals accumulated in food chains, so ospreys received large doses from the fish they consumed. In their bodies, DDT thinned their eggshells, causing a disastrous drop in the number of eggs that produced live chicks. In addition, other insecticides poisoned nestling and adult ospreys.
By the mid-1960s, the number of ospreys breeding along the Atlantic coast between New York City and Boston had fallen by 90 percent. And, as I document in my book, most other populations in the U.S. and Canada had declined by half to two-thirds.
Spraying DDT in Barker County, Oregon to control spruce budworm, 1955 R. B. Pope / USDA Forest Service / Wikimedia
Ospreys played a lead role in this drama. Their well-documented crash provided concrete data for court cases brought to block indiscriminate spraying. Sanity prevailed: The most lethal and persistent insecticides were banned by the 1970s, giving ospreys and other birds, including the Bald Eagle and Peregrine Falcon, a respite in the nick of time.
A Seismic Shift in Nesting Sites
But restoring robust numbers of ospreys to regions where most or all of the breeders were gone required more than just curbing the flow of environmental contaminants. Nest sites were increasingly scarce along shorelines as development consumed old pastoral landscapes. With fewer safe places to raise young, osprey recovery prospects appeared dim, no matter how clean the environment or how abundant local fish populations were.
But concerned naturalists took a cue from those old farmyard nest poles and began to erect new poles in the 1970s and '80s, especially along the broad ribbon of salt marshes hugging the Atlantic seaboard. Ospreys adapted remarkably, zeroing in to nest on these poles, as well as on a kaleidoscope of other artificial sites springing up along U.S. coasts and rivers: power and lighting structures, channel markers and buoys, and more recently, even megatowers supporting cellphone and other electronic communications equipment. Other nesting birds of prey make occasional use of such sites, but ospreys have been the champion colonizers.
No one could have predicted such a dramatic shift a generation ago, or what a boost it would give to osprey numbers. Within just a few miles of where I live along the Massachusetts coast, more than 200 ospreys now nest each year, lured in by abundant nest poles we've built on wide-open marshes. Fewer than 20 ospreys were found here in the 1960s.
This is not an isolated phenomenon. Thousands of pole nests now dot the coastal landscape from Maine to Florida — testimony to persistent work by hundreds of dedicated people. In Florida, at least 1,000 pairs of ospreys have made cell towers their nesting homes. Along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, nearly 20,000 ospreys now arrive to nest each spring — the largest concentration of breeding pairs in the world. Two-thirds of them nest on buoys and channel markers maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard, who have become de facto osprey guardians.
A Global Resurgence
These new nests have powered quick growth in numbers, with more ospreys in the U.S. and Canada today than ever before. Many are colonizing new areas.
And this revival extends well beyond the Americas. Ospreys have a global reach, from Scotland to Japan and from the Mediterranean to Australia. Particularly in Europe, where most ospreys were eliminated by guns and traps rather than by insecticides, we are seeing extraordinary recoveries.
Traveling to Europe in the summer of 2016 to research my book, I discovered flourishing new osprey populations. Artificial nest sites — supports built mostly in trees to stabilize existing nests and encourage new ones — were plentiful and packed with young ospreys ready to fledge. In Germany, shallow wire baskets secured atop enormous power pylons provided foundations for hundreds of new nests that had taken hold in areas long-abandoned by ospreys.
Some researchers complain that providing these birds with nest sites is making them "prisoners of platforms" — creating artificial populations where none were meant to be. But rampant coastal development, plus industrial farming and forestry in surrounding regions, have badly degraded the landscapes in which ospreys once thrived. To have robust numbers of this species back again is a reward for all who value wild animals, and a reminder of how nature can rebound if we address the key threats.
In a rare bipartisan push, the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of a major public lands package on Tuesday… https://t.co/r7qYOSF7DH— John Lundin 🌊 (@John Lundin 🌊)1550151386.0
Alan Poole is a research associate at Cornell University and the author of Ospreys: the Revival of a Global Raptor.
Disclosure statement: Johns Hopkins University Press provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
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