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Rainforest in ruin. Mighty Earth

Chocolate Barons Devastate National Parks in West Africa

By Davis Harper

For several years, chocolate barons have devastated forests to make room to plant cocoa, a crop that naturally grows in shade. Now, a report from Mighty Earth—a nonprofit that works to conserve threatened landscapes—shows new evidence that illegal deforestation is occurring in protected areas; specifically, in the national parks of West Africa.

The Ivory Coast and Ghana produce a combined 2.6 million tons of chocolate—60 percent of the world's supply. It's no wonder so many of these nations' protected lands are at risk. According to Mighty Earth's report, 10 percent of Ghana's tree cover has been replaced by cocoa monocultures. The Ivory Coast, once heavily forested and extremely biodiverse, has lost seven of its 23 protected areas to cocoa. Due to habitat loss, its chimpanzees are now endangered, and its elephants are nearly extinct. This means that companies like Mars, Nestlé, Hersey's and Godiva are on the hot seat for making products using cocoa grown by uncertified sources.

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Bloomberg Donates $64 Million to Shut Down Coal Power Plants

Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg's charity will give $64 million to help accelerate the retirement of coal plants in the U.S., Bloomberg announced yesterday following the Trump administration's move to kill the Clean Power Plan.

Bloomberg Philanthropies has already given $110 million to the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, which aims to help shutter two-thirds of U.S. coal-fired power plants by 2020. Despite Scott Pruitt's proclamation earlier this week that the CPP rollback means the "war on coal is over," market forces don't seem to have gotten the memo.

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Irma Omerhodzic

Michael Brune: Trump's War on Clean Energy

For Donald Trump, people seem to belong in one of four categories: family, assets, enemies or irrelevant. Most of the American public has been consigned to the last category. That's why you'll never catch this president rhapsodizing about the honor of public service. The sole basis, apparently, for any decision Donald Trump makes is whether he believes it will help Donald Trump. The concept of public welfare—including whether people live or die—simply isn't part of his calculus.

That was reinforced Wednesday as Trump announced that his asset at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, will replace the Clean Power Plan. Carefully developed during the Obama administration as a way to limit carbon pollution from power plants, the Clean Power Plan is a centerpiece of our nation's climate policy. Pruitt, though, claims that because the plan demands clean air, it is effectively picking winners and losers in the energy market. After all, if the goal is clean air, then dirty fuels can't compete because they're, well, dirty.

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Animals
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Wildlife Rehabilitators: The Hidden Heroes of Hurricane Season

By Meredith Brown

Thousands of people affected by the past two months' hurricanes owe their lives to the brave emergency responders at state and city police departments, 911 call centers, fire stations, the National Guard, and the Red Cross. But what about the wild animals whose habitats have also been destroyed? That's where wildlife rehabilitators, or "rehabbers," come in—specially trained and licensed individuals (often working as volunteers) who typically work in collaboration with local wildlife centers to retrieve and rehabilitate mammals, birds, reptiles and other species in distress.

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Across the Ohio River from Powhatan Transportation Center—owned by Murray Energy—is a power plant servicing coal mines. Jessica Cheung/NPR

Trump Nominates Coal Lobbyist for Number Two EPA Job

The White House announced Thursday that President Trump has officially nominated coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler for the deputy administrator position at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Before becoming a lobbyist in 2009, Wheeler served as a congressional aide to prominent climate-denying (and snowball-tossing) Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK). While Politico reported on Wheeler's likely nomination in March, Wheeler remained registered as a lobbyist for coal company Murray Energy until mid-August.

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Mogun Frejo outside his home in Stillwater, OK and Morgun Frejo at Pawnee Camp in Oceti Sakowin at Standing Rock. Joseph Rushmore

Standing Rock: One Year Later

By Liz Blood

A little over a year ago, Morgun Frejo, a member of the Pawnee, Otoe-Missouria, Navajo nations, began camping at Oceti Sakowin at Standing Rock. The Missouri River is sacred to both his Pawnee and Otoe-Missouria tribes and Frejo recalls elders in both tribes telling him stories of its importance as a child.

He lived at Standing Rock from mid-August 2016 to late February 2017, just before the camp was evicted and closed by the National Guard and local law enforcement.

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October Astronomical Highlights: Harvest Moon, Orionid Meteors

By Kelly Kizer Whitt

Orionid Meteor Shower

October boasts the Orionids, one of the better meteor showers of the year. You can see the meteors between Oct. 20 and 27, with your best bet being the night of Oct. 21. Orionid meteors zip quickly across the sky but leave persistent trains, so if you catch a glimpse of one, keep your eye trained on the spot and you might see a fading yet still luminous glow marking its path. At the shower's peak, up to 25 meteors an hour can be seen–all debris left over from Halley's Comet, which spewed off gas and dust that we barrel through every October.

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The Torrey pine is one of California's most iconic trees. Jill Hamilton

'Genetic Rescue' May Be the Secret to Saving This Iconic Tree

By Jake Buehler

The wind rips across California's Santa Rosa Island, howling as it flattens dry grass and sage in unrelenting waves. Downhill, a small group of trees, stark against the cobalt blue of the Pacific, stand firm. Their gnarled branches barely sway, knotted up in a cloud of green needles, perpetually pinned backward like a flag in a storm.

The trees seem like an avatar of resilience in an austere environment, but Torrey pines (Pinus torreyana) are some of the most rare and critically endangered pines in the world. A century ago, the pines went through a near-extinction-level population crash when the trees, never common, were largely cleared for pastureland development. The survivors were mostly in isolated areas—like Santa Rosa Island—that had only been settled by a few trees to begin with. The number of trees has increased since then, and their blown-up bonsai appearance has made Torrey pines popular ornamental trees. But the population bottleneck caused by the near-extinction meant the obliteration of nearly all of the species' genetic diversity.

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Could California Join China in Banning Gas Guzzlers?

After China announced plans to ban new diesel and gasoline-powered cars, California Gov. Jerry Brown is said to be considering the same option, according to Bloomberg.

"I've gotten messages from the governor asking, 'Why haven't we done something already?'" Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, told the publication. "The governor has certainly indicated an interest in why China can do this and not California."

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