What Does Our Nation's Standing Rock Moment Look Like?
By Mark Trahant
It's easy for me to dismiss 2016 as a horrible year.
There have been eight years of relative progress on issues I care about, from the climate to equality. The election reversed that. Big Oil is now in charge of the environment, a senator with a history of hate is now in charge of the Justice Department, and the new government seems to be of the billionaires, for the billionaires, and by the billionaires.
The Latin phrase for horrible year rings hollow when you think about the events of this year and the Lakota phrase mni wiconi. Water is life. Make no mistake: Year 2016 is an inspirational and historic moment. Standing Rock is no longer just a geographic location but words that call each of us to do more. Standing Rock is a reminder that people standing together can do amazing things when facing injustice.
Think about the ways we have been seduced by our own progress. In September, for example, President Barack Obama praised the Paris agreement on climate change and called it "the single best chance that we have to deal with a problem that could end up transforming this planet in a way that makes it very difficult for us to deal with all the other challenges that we may face." Lofty words. Yet the actual government actions to implement those words have been, at best, limited. Baby steps. Imagine a framework that starts with the promise of Paris and then builds decisions based on that. In that scenario there would have been no debate about the Dakota Access Pipeline because we wouldn't need it.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr: 'I'll see you at #StandingRock' https://t.co/YOs1gMR9b4 via @EcoWatch #climate #NoDAPL… https://t.co/2dZMUN2nfx— climatehawk1 (@climatehawk1)1480552261.0
But at least for the next four years, the government will be the adversary. The entire apparatus of state will look more like the Morton County Sheriff's office than our ally. We will all face water cannons rather than comforting language. But we can be clear about the challenges ahead knowing that the government is absolutely wrong about the very nature of the problem.
So what does our nation's Standing Rock moment look like?
In some ways it's already unfolding. The BP Statistical Review, an energy industry outlook, reports that carbon emissions in 2015 already showed "the lowest growth in emissions in nearly a quarter of a century, other than in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis." Similar data show we are driving fewer miles and there is steady growth in renewable energy sources. And there's this tell: The amount of capital that's being invested in clean energy development, $328 billion, is the most ever.
Federal processes will delay the Dakota Access Pipeline beyond its promised January 2017 operational target date, and litigation with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe could delay the project for many more months. And every day, every week, and every month of delay makes the Dakota Access Pipeline less compelling from a financial point of view.
Oil production in the Bakken region was down in 2016 by some 13,000 barrels a day. The oil industry hopes that the new Trump administration will change that and flip the switch that brings back consumption. In fact, oil companies, as well as the state of North Dakota, cling to the idea that oil production will magically double to around 2 million barrels a day. And that idea is bolstered by upticks in oil prices, new well production, and more drilling.
Trump's Pick for Energy Secretary Sits on Board of Dakota Access Pipeline Company https://t.co/KBfYj4c7Tu @dhlovelife @dirtyoilsands— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1481681407.0
But the opposite is possible. We can continue to shrink our oil appetites. We can set Standing Rock as the framework for consumption. This is one way to challenge the oil uber alles mentality of the Trump administration. We walk. We adjust the temperature in our houses. We measure our own carbon consumption with the goal of reducing it by 20 percent or more.
Standing Rock captured our imagination. And while it was only one battle, the tribe and its allies showed the world how to defeat powerful forces. Now the larger test is making further oil production irrelevant.
Mni wiconi. And in 2017, that means we pick up the fight in new ways.
Mark Trahant is an independent journalist and a journalism professor at the University of North Dakota. He's a member of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes. His most recent project is TrahantReports.com. He is a contributing editor at YES! Follow him on Twitter at @TrahantReports. Reposted with permission from your media associate Yes! Magazine.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Emily Grubert
Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
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What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
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By Charli Shield
When an elephant dies in the wild, it's not uncommon to later find its bones scattered throughout the surrounding landscape.
Elephant Burial Grounds<p>Highly social creatures that form deep familial bonds, elephants have long been observed gathering at the site where a peer or family member has died — often spending hours, even days, quietly investigating the bodies or the bones of other dead elephants.</p><p>Although the popular idea that dying elephants are instinctively drawn to special communal graves — so-called "elephant graveyards" — is a myth, their tendency to go out of their way to visit the bones and tusks of the deceased isn't unlike human rituals at graveyards, says animal psychologist Karen McComb.</p><p>"They spend a lot of time touching and smelling skulls and ivory, placing the soles of their feet gently on top of them, and also lifting them up with their trunks," McComb, who's been studying African elephants for 25 years in Kenya's Amboseli National Park, told DW.</p><p>The most striking part of watching an elephant experience loss, Poole recalls, is the quietude. She still remembers one of the first elephant deaths she witnessed; a mother who birthed a stillborn calf. That elephant stayed with its baby for two days, trying to lift it and defending it from vultures and hyenas.</p><p>"I was so struck by the expression on her face and her body. She looked so dejected. It was really like, 'Oh God, these animals grieve…'. It was just so different," Poole told DW. </p>
Witnessing Emotions in Animals<p>Not all scientists are comfortable concluding that elephants grieve. Among the more than 30 reports of elephant reactions to death that Wittemyer co-reviewed in <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10329-019-00766-5" target="_blank">a study published in November 2019</a> were accounts of "enormous variation and nuance" he says. "It can be incredibly involved and intricate for extended periods or can be relatively cursory checks."</p><p>In Wittemyer's own experience, it can be difficult not to attribute some kind of emotional experience to the more involved interactions between elephants and their dead.</p><p>He shares the story of an "extraordinary event" involving the death of a 55 year-old matriarch in Kenya in a protected area that happened to be near his place of work. She was visited by multiple unrelated families while she was dying, including another matriarch that exerted such enormous effort attempting to lift her to her feet that she broke her tusk, which Wittemyer says, is "like breaking a tooth." </p><p><span></span>"It was a remarkable example of this heightened emotional state, it was very clearly a very stressful interaction," he says.</p>
A Different Sensory World<p>One factor that limits our ability to fully grasp the way elephants process and respond to loss is our markedly different sensory experiences of the world.</p><p>An elephant's world is fundamentally olfactory — based on smell. Ours is visual. Previous <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25053675/" target="_blank">research</a> has shown elephants possess the most scent receptors of any mammal, and can <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17949977/" target="_blank">use smell</a> to discern the difference between different human tribes from the same local area.</p><p>That could explain why elephants exhibit such interest in sniffing the bones and tusks of others, as a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1617198/" target="_blank">2005 study</a> from McCombs highlighted. When presented with the skulls and ivory of long-dead elephants and those from other large herbivores, including rhino and buffalo, McCombs and her team found elephants approached and were specifically attracted to the remains of their own species. </p><p>Without access to the smells an elephant picks up on, Wittemyer says "an enormous amount of stuff" could be missed by humans when studying these behaviors.</p>
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