Britain's Prince William officially announced the launch of a $65 million-dollar prize to solve some of the climate crisis' most urgent challenges, CNN reported.
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The passing of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg means the nation's highest court has lost a staunch advocate for women's rights and civil rights. Ginsburg was a tireless worker, who continued to serve on the bench through multiple bouts of cancer. She also leaves behind a complicated environmental legacy, as Environment and Energy News (E&E News) reported.
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A plastics plant near Dallas,Texas caught fire midnight Wednesday, sending a column of toxic smoke billowing over North Texas.
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When Hurricane Laura struck the Gulf Coast early on Thursday with record-setting winds and storm surges that caused flooding, it was bearing down on an area full of chemical plants. The fears about having toxic chemicals in an area increasingly vulnerable to tropical storms are playing out as a chemical plant caught fire and sent toxic plumes into the air throughout the day, as The New York Times reported.
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Thousands of homes were evacuated Wednesday after a Colorado wildfire exploded in size, growing at a rate of 6,000 acres per hour.
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By Shelly Miller
The vast majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs indoors, most of it from the inhalation of airborne particles that contain the coronavirus. The best way to prevent the virus from spreading in a home or business would be to simply keep infected people away. But this is hard to do when an estimated 40% of cases are asymptomatic and asymptomatic people can still spread the coronavirus to others.
It’s All About Fresh, Outside Air<p>The safest indoor space is one that constantly has lots of <a href="https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/how-does-outdoor-air-enter-building" target="_blank">outside air</a> replacing the stale air inside.</p><p>In commercial buildings, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK143277/" target="_blank">outside air is usually pumped in</a> through heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems. In <a href="https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/how-does-outdoor-air-enter-building" target="_blank">homes, outside air gets in</a> through open windows and doors, in addition to seeping in through various nooks and crannies.</p><p>Simply put, the more fresh, outside air inside a building, the better. Bringing in this air dilutes any contaminant in a building, whether a virus or a something else, and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0668.2010.00703.x" target="_blank">reduces the exposure of anyone inside</a>. Environmental engineers like me quantify how much outside air is getting into a building using a measure called the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/jes.2013.30" target="_blank">air exchange rate</a>. This number quantifies the number of times the air inside a building gets replaced with air from outside in an hour.</p><p>While the exact rate depends on the number of people and size of the room, most experts consider roughly <a href="https://doi.org/10.1034/j.1600-0668.2002.01145.x" target="_blank">six air changes an hour</a> to be good for a 10-foot-by-10-foot room with three to four people in it. In a pandemic this should be higher, with one study from 2016 suggesting that an exchange rate of nine times per hour <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1420326X16631596" target="_blank">reduced the spread of SARS, MERS and H1N1</a> in a Hong Kong hospital.</p><p>Many buildings in the U.S., <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/ina.12403" target="_blank">especially schools</a>, do not meet recommended ventilation rates. Thankfully, it can be pretty easy to get more outside air into a building. Keeping <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0960-1481(99)00012-9" target="_blank">windows and doors open</a> is a good start. Putting a box fan in a window blowing out can greatly increase air exchange too. In buildings that don't have operable windows, you can change the mechanical ventilation system to increase how much air it is pumping. But in any room, the more people inside, the faster the air should be replaced.</p>
Using CO2 to Measure Air Circulation<p>So how do you know if the room you're in has enough air exchange? It's actually a pretty hard number to calculate. But there's an easy-to-measure proxy that can help. Every time you exhale, you <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/ina.12383" target="_blank">release CO2</a> into the air. Since the coronavirus is most often spread by breathing, coughing or talking, you can use <a href="https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/dd7e/b2870c38f70e5285e5118ed6f158c091f7cf.pdf" target="_blank">CO2 levels</a> to see if the room is filling up with potentially infectious exhalations. The CO2 level lets you estimate if enough fresh outside air is getting in.</p><p>Outdoors, CO2 levels are just above 400 parts per million (ppm). A well ventilated room will have around <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0668.1999.00003.x" target="_blank">800 ppm of CO2</a>. Any higher than that and it is a sign the room might need more ventilation.</p><p>Last year, researchers in Taiwan reported on the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/ina.12639" target="_blank">effect of ventilation on a tuberculosis outbreak</a> at Taipei University. Many of the rooms in the school were underventilated and had CO2 levels above 3,000 ppm. When engineers improved air circulation and got CO2 levels under 600 ppm, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/ina.12639" target="_blank">the outbreak completely stopped</a>. According to the research, the increase in ventilation was responsible for 97% of the decrease in transmission.</p><p>Since the coronavirus is spread through the air, higher CO2 levels in a room likely mean there is a <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/ina.12639" target="_blank">higher chance of transmission</a> if an infected person is inside. Based on the study above, I recommend trying to keep the CO2 levels below 600 ppm. You can buy <a href="https://doi.org/10.5194/amt-7-3325-2014" target="_blank">good CO2 meters</a> for around $100 online; just make sure that they are accurate to within 50 ppm.</p>
Air Cleaners<p>If you are in a room that can't get enough outside air for dilution, consider an air cleaner, also commonly called air purifiers. These machines remove particles from the air, usually using <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cap.2005.07.013" target="_blank">a filter</a> made of tightly woven fibers. They can <a href="https://shellym80304.files.wordpress.com/2020/06/miller-leiden-et-al-1996.pdf" target="_blank">capture particles containing bacteria and viruses</a> and can help reduce disease transmission.</p><p>The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that <a href="https://www.epa.gov/coronavirus/air-cleaners-hvac-filters-and-coronavirus-covid-19" target="_blank">air cleaners can do this for the coronavirus</a>, but not all air cleaners are equal. Before you go out and buy one, there are few things to keep in mind.</p><p>The first thing to consider is <a href="https://shellym80304.files.wordpress.com/2020/06/air-cleaner-report.pdf" target="_blank">how effective an air cleaner's filter is</a>. Your best option is a cleaner that uses a high-efficiency particulate air (<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0021-8502(05)80214-9" target="_blank">HEPA</a>) filter, as these remove more than <a href="https://doi.org/10.1063/1.2771421" target="_blank">99.97% of all particle sizes</a>.</p><p>The second thing to consider is how powerful the cleaner is. The bigger the room – or the more people in it – the more air needs to be cleaned. I worked with some colleagues at Harvard to put together a tool to help teachers and schools determine <a href="https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1NEhk1IEdbEi_b3wa6gI_zNs8uBJjlSS-86d4b7bW098/edit#gid=1275403500" target="_blank">how powerful of an air cleaner you need for different classroom sizes</a>.</p><p>The last thing to consider is the validity of the claims made by the company producing the air cleaner.</p><p>The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers certifies air cleaners, so the AHAM Verifide seal is a good place to start. Additionally, the California Air Resources Board has a <a href="https://ww2.arb.ca.gov/our-work/programs/air-cleaners-ozone-products/california-certified-air-cleaning-devices" target="_blank">list of air cleaners</a> that are certified as safe and effective, though not all of them use HEPA filters.</p>
Keep Air Fresh or Get Outside<p>Both the <a href="https://www.who.int/news-room/commentaries/detail/transmission-of-sars-cov-2-implications-for-infection-prevention-precautions" target="_blank">World Health Organization</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/deciding-to-go-out.html" target="_blank">U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention</a> say that poor ventilation increases the risk of transmitting the coronavirus.</p><p>If you are in control of your indoor environment, make sure you are getting enough fresh air from outside circulating into the building. A CO2 monitor can help give you a clue if there is enough ventilation, and if CO2 levels start going up, open some windows and <a href="https://www.advisory.com/daily-briefing/2020/07/17/outdoor-gathering" target="_blank">take a break outside</a>. If you can't get enough fresh air into a room, an air cleaner might be a good idea. If you do get an air cleaner, be aware that they don't remove CO2, so even though the air might be safer, CO2 levels could still be high in the room.</p><p>If you walk into a building and it feels hot, stuffy and crowded, chances are that there is not enough ventilation. Turn around and leave.</p><p>By paying attention to air circulation and filtration, improving them where you can and staying away from places where you can't, you can add another powerful tool to your anti-coronavirus toolkit.</p>
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Europe's chief policy-making body Wednesday called for a safer, more sustainable chemicals market, plotting a zero-tolerance approach that nearly eliminates hormone mimicking compounds.
Five Main Thrusts<p>The new European plan, dubbed the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability, is part of the broader Europe Green Deal, a sweeping proposal for the European Union to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, eliminate pollution, and promote a sustainable economy.</p><p>The strategy released Wednesday has five main thrusts:</p><ol><li>Tighter scrutiny of hormone-mimicking compounds, along with an early warning system for chemical risks before such compounds hit the market.</li><li>A "one substance, one assessment" approach to increase chemical testing transparency.</li><li>Incentives for green chemistry and non-toxic materials development.</li><li>Information and tools for citizens to understand chemical risks.</li><li>Pressure on international markets to improve chemical safety globally.</li></ol><p>At its core, the strategy makes use of the precautionary principle—forcing companies or manufacturers to prove chemicals are safe before they go to market, and making them pay when there is pollution.</p>
Concern From Business<p>While environmental and health advocates lauded the move, business interests cautioned it will stifle commerce and innovation.<br></p><p>"Production cycles and supply chains are complex ... (and) not always well understood by decision makers," wrote EuroCommerce, representing the continents' retail and wholesale business sectors, in a position paper as the policy was being crafted this summer. "We ask the Commission to keep a close eye on the impact of individual initiatives, and its cumulative effects on the retail and wholesale sector and how it affects their economic viability."</p>
Contrast With United States<p>The Commission's plan stands in sharp contrast to the United States. Despite decades of warnings from academic scientists, U.S. regulators have largely ignored independent, non-industry science about the dangers of chemicals that impact our hormones, often at very low doses.<br></p><p>Endocrine-disrupting compounds are a particular concern, based on science from research labs worldwide. The compounds—added to a broad range of products such as plastics, toys, cosmetics, food packaging—have been linked to myriad health problems, including birth defects, obesity, diabetes, certain cancers, as well as impacts to the brain and reproductive and immune systems.</p><p>The highest profile—and highest dollar— effort by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to get on the same page of academic scientists and Europe on endocrine disruptor science has only deepened divides. An <a href="https://www.ehn.org/is-bpa-dangerous-for-health-2641153205.html" target="_blank">EHN investigation</a> of the FDA's effort on just one chemical, BPA, found the agency stacked the deck against findings from independent scientists studying BPA. It also found that many chemicals used to replace BPA in "BPA-free" products have the same adverse health impacts as the original chemical.</p>
Separate Focus on PFAS<p>Also released Wednesday was an EU strategy that specifically takes aim at PFAS, compounds so persistent they're called "forever chemicals." PFAS, used in products including firefighting foam, non-stick cookware and some clothing, have been found in the water of roughly 2,230 U.S. communities in 49 states, affecting more than 100 million people.<br></p><p>The new European strategy would only allow for PFAS use when the chemicals are "essential for society." In addition, it will fund research for safe alternatives and for monitoring and cleanup.</p>
Toward 'Zero Pollution'<p>The framework stems from political guidelines laid out at the end of 2019 by European Union President Ursula von der Leyen that pointed Europe toward "zero pollution."</p><p>"I will put forward a cross-cutting strategy to protect citizens' health from environmental degradation and pollution, addressing air and water quality, hazardous chemicals, industrial emissions, pesticides and endocrine disruptors," President von der Leyen wrote <a href="https://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/43a17056-ebf1-11e9-9c4e-01aa75ed71a1" target="_blank">in the report.</a></p><p>The Commission plans to release a Zero Action Pollution Action Plan on air, water and soil next year to complement the chemicals strategy.</p>
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If you lived in a community suffering from bad air quality in 1981, chances are your neighborhood hasn't improved much. That's the takeaway from a new study that found despite years of progress to improve air pollution, wealthy, white Americans are breathing much cleaner air than low-income communities of color, The Guardian reported.
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By Sharon Zhang
Back in March, when the pandemic had just planted its roots in the U.S., President Donald Trump directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to do something devastating: The agency was to indefinitely and cruelly suspend environmental rule enforcement. The EPA complied, and for just under half a year, it provided over 3,000 waivers that granted facilities clemency from state-level environmental rule compliance.
What does the climate crisis look like? As wildfires continue to rage up and down the U.S. West Coast, we have some terrifying answers: orange skies; burnt-out buildings; a horse, seemingly abandoned, running past a stall as the hill above erupts in flames. These images help to ground an unfathomable reality.
Orange Skies<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzk3Mjc5MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNTM5OTc2NH0.loFijHZV5bLC6hKOJ_T0avHsIGIwkO86UcuqQ6yySZU/img.jpg?width=980" id="01daa" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8c43082a48f1c103935ac648e6dfa31b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A boat motors by as the Bidwell Bar Bridge is surrounded by fire in Lake Oroville during the Bear Fire in Oroville, California on Sept. 9, 2020. Josh Edelson / AFP / Getty Images<p>People in Northern California looked out their windows Wednesday to a scene out of a <a href="https://twitter.com/Bunny_Godfather/status/1303909838376722432?ref_src=twsrc%255Etfw%257Ctwcamp%255Etweetembed%257Ctwterm%255E1303909838376722432%257Ctwgr%255Eshare_3&ref_url=https%253A%252F%252Fwww.newsweek.com%252Fbay-area-orange-skies-blade-runner-2049-1530961" target="_blank">science-fiction movie</a> as the sky glowed orange. Clouds of smoke covering the state filtered the sun's light and energy, tinting skies and lowering temperatures, <a href="https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/inpictures/pictures-dull-orange-sky-wildfires-rage-western-200910140117147.html" target="_blank">Al Jazeera reported</a>. In San Francisco, the unusual color was a combination of ash from the Bear Fire mixed with the marine layer that provides the city's famous fog, <a href="https://abc7news.com/smoke-in-the-air-today-why-is-sky-orange-quality-index-oakland-bay-area/6414147/" target="_blank">ABC 7 News explained</a>. The effect was so remarkable that Hillary Clinton shared the image above, taken in Oroville, on her <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/CE9XN59p0L7/" target="_blank">Instagram</a>. "None of this is normal, and confronting climate change is on the ballot this year. Vote, as early as you can, for a habitable planet," she wrote.</p>
Creek Fire Destruction<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzk3NDQ1OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NDI0MzIyM30.wL48hRI2OB72D0P_-4HoVfNYK01iIMcxOuDn6ELNIrw/img.jpg?width=980" id="ff2e3" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="33d8df94a86c9c1037d1075358ff1b6b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A community of forest homes lies in ruins along Auberry Road in the Meadow Lakes area after the Creek Fire swept through on Sept. 8, 2020 near Shaver Lake, California. David McNew / Getty Images<p>The Creek Fire started on Friday, Sept. 4, just as large swaths of California were facing <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/california-heat-wave-wildfires-2647443443.html" target="_self">record-breaking heat for Labor Day weekend</a>. The fire spread quickly through the western edge of the Sierra National Forest. Hundreds of people were airlifted away from the fast-spreading fire earlier in the week, according to <a href="https://abc7.com/creek-fire-214-people-airlifted-from-mammoth-pool-reservoir-in-daring-rescue/6411589/" target="_blank">KABC</a> in Los Angeles. So far, the fire has burned through 175,893 acres and was only 6 percent contained Thursday, according to the <a href="https://www.fresnobee.com/news/california/fires/article245647305.html" target="_blank">Fresno Bee</a>. <a href="https://www.fire.ca.gov/incidents/2020/9/4/creek-fire/" target="_blank">Cal Fire's statistics</a> say the fire, which has ripped through the remote mountain town of Big Creek, has destroyed hundreds of homes and buildings. "My family has been part of this community since 1929 and knowing it's probably never going to be the same is just gut-wrenching," said Toby Walt, the superintendent of Big Creek School District, to <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/10/us/california-family-wildfire-home-escape/index.html" target="_blank">CNN</a>.</p>
Mass Evacuations in Washington<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzk3MzE0Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzkzNTQ2N30.00ruy9U0-r1ZGhxKoolxUnjANilP5HBuyHnQ6F9CU-E/img.jpg?width=980" id="0395e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6bc6a225c344d37cc052d492ebdf6571" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Tinted orange by wildfire smoke from Oregon and southern Washington, the sun sets behind a hill on Sept. 9, 2020 in Kalama, Washington. David Ryder / Getty Images<p>As of Wednesday, wildfires had scorched 587,000 acres of Washington state, nearly half the area of land that burned during the entire record-setting fire season of 2015, <a href="https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/wildfire-updates-september-10-what-to-know-today-about-the-destructive-fires-in-washington-state-and-on-the-west-coast/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Seattle Times reported</a>. The fires prompted Washington Governor Jay Inslee to sign an emergency declaration Wednesday, and to promise cash assistance for people who have lost their homes to the flames. Hundreds of families have had to evacuate, including residents of Tacoma suburb Bonney Lake. One of them was Christian Deoliveira, who fled his home with his fiancé and five-year-old son early Tuesday morning. "I woke up at about 3 a.m. to a neighbor knocking on the door, saying the whole hillside's on fire," Deoliveira told <a href="https://www.thenewstribune.com/news/local/article245572380.html" target="_blank">The News Tribune</a>.</p>
Animals Affected by Wildfires<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzk3MzU5NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMTUxMTgwOX0.8NceC4kmCJuDzYdE6sbCKFa2vAcLQvQNdDJfDUl8FAk/img.jpg?width=980" id="adfad" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e2452f6e5e5ed4a0c4bf276335c7fd3e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A horse runs by a stall as flames from the Hennessey fire approach a property in the Spanish Flat area of Napa, California on Aug. 18, 2020. Josh Edelson / AFP / Getty Images<p>Wild animals in the West are accustomed to wildfires as a natural part of the ecosystem. Some even need the burnt-out areas for their breeding grounds, while other predators will lie in wait for prey fleeing the fire. But the size and intensity of the current fires is beyond what most animals have adapted to. While scientists do not have a count of how many animals die in wildfires, they do know that smoke, fire and heat are extremely dangerous for animals that can't escape fast enough, particularly young and small animals, according to <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/09/150914-animals-wildlife-wildfires-nation-california-science/#close" target="_blank">National Geographic</a>. It's not just wild animals that suffer. Domestic pets are also left behind to fend for themselves as fire approaches and pet owners need to evacuate. Animal rescue crews are scrambling to find cats and dogs that were left behind. After finding one dog, Farshad Azad of the North Valley Animal Disaster Group told the <a href="https://www.timesheraldonline.com/2020/09/10/california-wildfires-conditions-improve-for-firefighters-but-siege-continues/" target="_blank">Vallejo Times-Herald</a>, "Everything around him was incinerated." He added, "People are really afraid. And people are hurting because their animals are missing."</p>
The Human Toll<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzk3MzczMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMjU0NDAyNn0.zlna_AJwNcN5lABL8rtMthgcT12n4_4nv_SwZ56AwRk/img.jpg?width=980" id="82961" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8bb1df61a935c816093b6efb2110d306" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Resident Austin Giannuzzi cries while embracing family members at the burnt remains of their home during the LNU Lightning Complex fire in Vacaville, California on Aug. 23, 2020. Josh Edelson / AFP / Getty Images<p>The fires have claimed at least 23 lives and destroyed hundreds of homes in all three states. One of the hardest hit areas has been California's Butte County, which was also the site of 2018's Camp Fire, the fire that scorched the town of Paradise and was the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/camp-fire-california-wildfire-deaths-2620067114.html" target="_self">deadliest and most destructive in the state's history</a>. Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said Thursday at least 10 people in his county had died in the North Complex fires, while dozens were missing and hundreds of homes were feared lost, according to USA Today. The blaze even menaced Paradise again, though <a href="https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/09/11/9-a-m-update-fire-crews-continue-bear-fire-battle/" target="_blank">The Mercury News</a> reported evacuation orders for part of the town had been lifted. But Paradise's experience was repeated in the Butte County community of Berry Creek, which was obliterated by a part of the North Complex Fire Tuesday night. "The school is gone, the fire department's gone, the bar's gone, the laundromat's gone, the general store's gone," 50-year-resident John Sykes, who watched the blaze from a mile away, told <a href="https://www.sacbee.com/news/local/article245611590.html" target="_blank">The Sacramento Bee</a>. "I'll never go back. I don't want to see it. That's why I'm leaving. I never want to see California again."</p>
Communities Threatened and Destroyed in Oregon<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzk3Mzg4MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MDk0ODc2OH0.hech4k958pQJXxCUupOLssjn9IzJcLkgbMzlH7rlCGA/img.jpg?width=980" id="90499" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1e39326a344d708fda44864f6a4d17a2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A sprinkler wets the exterior of a home as wildfires approach nearby in Clackamas County on Sept. 9, 2020 in Oregon City, Oregon. David Ryder / Getty Images<p>High winds have fueled the rapid spread of the wildfires in Oregon, which are threatening the Western part of the state at an unprecedented rate. More than a half-million people have fled from the fires, which makes up more than 10 percent of the state's population of 4.2 million, according to the <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-54113416" target="_blank">BBC</a>. As of Thursday, there were 37 different blazes in the state, affecting people along the Interstate 5 corridor from Ashland in the south to Portland in the north. That includes Salem and Eugene. The blazes, which are only 1 percent contained, have decimated the towns of Phoenix and Talent, destroying hundreds of homes. "We have never seen this amount of uncontained fire across the state," said Governor Kate Brown, as the BBC reported. "This will not be a one-time event. Unfortunately, it is the bellwether of the future. We're feeling the acute impacts of climate change."</p>
Wildfires During a Pandemic<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzk3NDA0My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MjI0MzA0OH0.kAZxX16X3_YVrcpdl5T-dSYUEaPovpK2l-R2-EmhtT8/img.jpg?width=980" id="53edf" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5a47def2d11a34a4f305408fcd0f6f00" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A sign warning people about COVID-19 is surrounded by flames during the Hennessey Fire near Lake Berryessa in Napa, California on Aug. 18, 2020. Josh Edelson / AFP / Getty Images<p>The intense fires in the midst of a pandemic that requires social distancing is complicating evacuation strategies. Usually, people fleeing fires will huddle together in school gymnasiums. The COVID-19 pandemic has made that a no-no. The same restrictions apply to firefighters who would usually bunk together in small spaces, according to <a href="https://www.huffpost.com/entry/what-happens-wildfire-coronavirus-pandemic_n_5f3d6b90c5b609f4f673c34c?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubW90aGVyam9uZXMuY29tL2Vudmlyb25tZW50LzIwMjAvMDgvd2hhdC1oYXBwZW5zLXdoZW4tYS13aWxkZmlyZS1tZWV0cy1hLXBhbmRlbWljLw&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAANojonNDvEAcRnmhHQ_z_PTE54ALNvD_SBsIQgQff-H-nYonNfU6J5v8YXtuuVJKfuKxVIJauaGs0cc8lkSGIRnvDag0ya1gRxxKjmtfTicljJ3rOyvhs2RfGfK6RUTubneJ6wfnUQfyQdtH5YzY_qoEWYRvvrntI3C9DGrqPIfX" target="_blank">HuffPost.</a> Complicating matters further is that the poor air quality from the smoke may affect recovery from COVID-19. "We know that wildfire exposure to communities increases the risk of lower respiratory tract infection," such as acute bronchitis and pneumonia, said Dr. John Balmes, a physician at the University of California, San Francisco, as HuffPost reported. "So there's concern in the context of the pandemic that wildfire smoke exposure would increase the risk of moving from mild to more severe COVID-19."</p>
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By Isabella Garcia
On Thanksgiving Day 2019, right after Caroline Laur had finished giving thanks for her home, a neighbor at church told her that a company had submitted permit requests to build an asphalt plant in their community. The plans indicated the plant would be 250 feet from Laur's backdoor.
Grassroots Resistance<p>The plant that would threaten Laur's health and home was awaiting the approval of an air permit by the North Carolina Department of Air Quality which, if approved, would basically greenlight the project. "This made me get out and go door to door," Laur says. One by one, she alerted her neighbors to the prospect of the asphalt plant. "I got to meet some of my neighbors I never knew before," she says. "There's no secret that there has always been a pretty strong line between the White community and the Black community here." In the end, three neighbors joined her efforts—the Rev. Bryon Shoffner, Anita Foust, and Bill Compton. Together, they formed the Anderson Community Group to advocate for environmental justice in their community.</p><p>"We are all the four corners of the community," Laur says with a laugh. "You've got a sick old White lady, Rev. Shoffner is a disabled vet, you've got Anita, who is a Black woman, and you've got a White, old country farmer. We all come from different faiths, but we've all come together as one."</p><p>Suddenly thrust into activism, the group contacted the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, a coalition that provides resources and connections with other groups. "We advocate, we organize, and we assist communities with whatever actions they are thinking of trying to protect themselves," says Naeema Muhammad, the network's co-director. Muhammad met with the activists from Anderson and recognized their need for legal advice, so she connected them with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. The legal resources were key when the group determined that the data from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality's environmental justice report wasn't adding up.</p><p>The report—a requirement for all DEQ permit requests—stated that the Anderson community was 33% minority. That seemed far too low to the residents, so the Anderson Community Group did a census of each house within a 1-mile radius of the proposed plant—the same radius considered in the DEQ's environmental justice report.</p><p>"Rev. Shoffner went out into the community and did his own survey and found out that it was more than 70% minority," Laur says. "That was huge, because that changed the situation to a Title VI matter." Title VI is a federal civil rights law that prevents people from being discriminated against on the grounds of race, color, or national origin. Title VI cases require a more rigorous and comprehensive environmental justice report, so recognizing the Anderson community as a Title VI matter increases the strength of their request for a more in-depth report.</p><p>The massive difference in race demographics comes down to census data, Laur says. The DEQ was using race data from the 2010 census, which was only <a href="https://www.censushardtocountmaps2020.us/?latlng=35.77385,-78.73807&z=7&query=coordinates::36.44038,-79.36343&promotedfeaturetype=states&arp=arpRaceEthnicity&baselayerstate=4&rtrYear=sR2010&infotab=info-rtrselfresponse&filterQuery=false" target="_blank">completed by about 64% of the population of Caswell County</a>—the county where Anderson is located. Laur says the Anderson population response rate could be even lower because the community is considered <a href="https://www.nccensus.org/about-the-census#hard-to-count-communities" target="_blank">"hard-to-count" by the U.S. Census Bureau</a>.</p><p>"The people who don't fill it out are rural people who want to keep their land and don't want zoning and minorities," Laur says, which creates skewed race demographics. The Anderson Community Group said that when they brought up this issue with the director of North Carolina DEQ, he said he was aware of the problem.</p><p>"So that tells me that all the EJ reports in North Carolina that have been done may not even be valid, just like ours," Laur says. "We were told that we are the first [community members] who have ever doubted it and checked it out."</p>
Elevating Voices<p>Determined to have new data collected, the Anderson Community Group rallied in early 2020. After learning from the state Department of Air Quality, the department responsible for approving or rejecting the asphalt air permit, that 100 statements of concern from community members would be sufficient to trigger a public hearing, the Anderson group gathered letters of concern from their community. They submitted more than 108.</p><p>"Then we were told there wasn't enough concern to have a public hearing," Laur says. "So, we started inundating the [Department of Air Quality director with emails and phone calls from the community."</p><p>Finally, in February 2020, the DEQ declared a public comment period for the issue, effectively placing the air permit for the asphalt plant on hold until a public hearing August 3. The public hearing will be held online because of COVID-19, but Laur says most people in Anderson don't own computers, and won't be able to attend. When the community group filed a complaint regarding accessibility, the DEQ then allowed public comments to be submitted via voicemail.</p><p>"Well, we don't have a cell tower out here," Laur says. She has personally never been able to use her cellphone in her home, and even her landline phone drops calls frequently. Even being able to afford a landline is a luxury in Anderson, Laur says.</p>
As the Gulf states get pummeled by intense hurricanes and California burns in record-breaking wildfires, many in regions like these have contemplated moving to places projected to fare better in the face of the climate crisis. The ability to work from home, indefinitely for some, has also inspired interest in relocation away from expensive cities like San Francisco and New York that are vulnerable to climate disasters, reported SF Gate.
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By Meredith Ayan
While pet foster and adoption rates have soared in New York and many parts of the United States, globally, the situation is much direr.
In the face of COVID-19, these shelters are continually facing critical challenges, including food shortages, spikes in pet abandonment with a plummeting and near-zero rate of adoptions, overcrowding, and fears of culling. Thanks to our work with partners all over the world, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) International has a direct line of communication with these international shelters and a unique insight into their experiences during the pandemic. What we've been hearing is harrowing.