by Amy Mathews Amos
The Cessna single engine plane could seat only four people, but LightHawk pilot Jamie Gamble, Tioga County Planner Jim Weaver, chief photographer George Patterson of The Downstream Project and Downstream’s Director Bill Howard were serving as the eyes for thousands of concerned citizens on the ground. In a first time ever collaborative effort on May 31, they took grass roots monitoring of Marcellus shale gas activity in north central Pennsylvania to the sky, combining cutting edge technologies with the expertise of at least nine different nonprofit organizations and government partners. As they looked down at the landscape below, dotted with farms, forests and small towns, the guys in the cockpit realized this was a game changer: Even in the remote forests of Pennsylvania, the impacts of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” for natural gas would no longer be hidden.
Getting to this point had taken a lot of coordination and it showed. To plan for the flight, the remote sensing organization SkyTruth had created a flight map of about 20 permitted gas drilling sites using satellite imagery, state records and Google Earth. The Downstream Project preloaded that flight map, along with GPS capabilities, onto an iPad provided to Weaver. In this way the iPad automatically tracked the plane’s location on the map with an icon. As Weaver watched the miniature plane migrate across his screen, he directed pilot Jamie Gamble to the next drilling location and provided running commentary on the activities going on below. Howard snapped more than 700 aerial photos, each automatically sourced to the plane’s location through the camera’s own GPS capabilities. Patterson filmed the view from the sky, but also the activity in the cockpit. “Blending those GPS tracking photos, the GPS following along the map data on an iPad, and all the collaboration on the inside, we were all flying that plane together,” he told me afterward.
I know Patterson from my work as a sometime consultant for The Downstream Project. And I know the SkyTruth crew even better—I’m an officer of that organization and the wife of founder John Amos. Even so, I found the cockpit collaboration impressive. And as I learned more about the project, I became equally impressed with their partners in Pennsylvania. Because this bird’s eye view adds a new dimension to the hands-on monitoring already being done by local grassroots programs such as the God’s Country Waterdogs, Pine Creek Waterdogs and local Trout Unlimited chapters. Groups such as these in Tioga, Potter and other counties have recruited their neighbors, friends and anyone else interested to get their feet wet and measure water quality in areas experiencing—or expected to experience—heavy fracking activity. No one claims volunteer monitoring captures all the potential impacts, but as volunteer and retired U.S. Geological Survey ecologist Bob Ross notes, “it’s a red flag” for when something has gone seriously wrong.
With roughly 2,000 sites permitted across a five county region that includes remote state forest land—and more than 10,000 sites permitted statewide since 2008—information gaps are inevitable. Questions remain about what people are finding in their watersheds and just what everyone should be looking for in the first place.
“The science isn’t here now to really understand the impacts of fracking on the environment for the long term,” according to Julie Vastine, Director of the Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring (ALLARM). ALLARM developed the scientific protocol used by many local groups to measure changes in water quality, and over the past two years has trained more than 750 people in Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia to monitor their water for fracking impacts. But they want to do more.
“We had this really big aha moment about six months into our program,” says Vastine, when they realized that combining data across the state was critical. “Because we have so many streams—83,000 miles of streams and rivers in the state—as many volunteer sites that we can add to a central repository will add to our knowledge of what’s happening.”
SkyTruth, based in neighboring West Virginia, can help. SkyTruth’s Alerts System already maps sites permitted for fracking activity by state agencies in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, making basic information about drilling activity accessible to the public. The next step is helping citizens and scientists share their data to study impacts as gas sites morph over time from pristine forest land to active drilling sites to spent wells. The Shale Network, a collaborative effort involving Penn State University, ALLARM and the University of Pittsburgh, is working to make those data available to government and academic scientists around the world for in depth studies. High on the list of priorities: creating an interactive, user-friendly portal that will give the Waterdogs and other citizen’s groups an easy way to connect with the universities’ networks and share their information with scientists.
None of this can happen without close collaboration among like-minded players. As my friend Patterson noted, “That’s kind of the new way to get things done these days… You’ve got to pool your resources and everybody work together and do things that the other guy can’t do to really paint an accurate picture of what’s going on.”
Organized citizens have always been the only truly effective antidote to concentrated money or power. And in the 21st century, it’s clear that new technologies and capabilities can play to our advantage, if we know how to use them.
“Everybody up there had their different frameworks that they’re good at,” says Patterson of that groundbreaking LightHawk flight. “When you put it all together, the sky’s the limit.”
By Anne-Sophie Brändlin
1. My Octopus Teacher (2020)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="43d618cfe4dea9f32fdb2880868a6f5f"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/3s0LTDhqe5A?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>No person has ever gotten as <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/my-octopus-teacher-movie-2647785692.html">close and intimate with a wild octopus</a> as South African filmmaker Craig Foster, who decided to head out to an underwater kelp forest in the Atlantic Ocean every day for an entire year to capture the life of the mesmerizing creature. An unusual, touching friendship develops that will likely change the way you see your relationship to animals and the planet.</p>
2. David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet (2020)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bab38965d072e9023c9c36b1ccf622c9"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/64R2MYUt394?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/David-Attenborough">David Attenborough</a> is the godfather of environmental docs. In his 94 years, the Briton has visited every corner of the world, documenting nature in all its variety and wonder. His latest film is a witness statement, in which he reflects upon the devastating changes he's seen in his lifetime. He also gives a vision of the future in which we work with nature, rather than against it.</p>
3. The Human Element (2019)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f426ed5154f3133a6f8cb5d8d39cf211"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/k34FhplukXQ?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>This doc follows environmental photographer James Balog on his quest to portray Americans on the frontlines of climate change whose lives and livelihoods have been affected by the collision between people and nature. Balog captures how the four elements of earth, water, air and fire are being transformed by a fifth element — the human element — and what that means for our future.</p>
4. Before the Flood (2016)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="619d7c35d25e9cfc6e239bc1bd7d1ea2"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/D9xFFyUOpXo?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>In <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/leonardo-dicaprio-before-the-flood-2057070140.html">this doc</a>, actor Leonardo DiCaprio teams up with National Geographic to travel the globe and witness the effects of global warming that are already visible, such as rising sea levels and deforestation. Featuring prominent figures such as Barack Obama, Ban Ki-moon, Pope Francis and Elon Musk, the doc offers solutions for a sustainable future and shows how we can challenge climate change deniers.</p>
5. Tomorrow (2015)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8fdcf7de6bd422b6ab96134ce49366d9"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/NUN0QxRB7e0?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Need an optimistic view on how to tackle the climate crisis? Then this upbeat French doc seeking out creative alternatives to our current form of agriculture, energy supply and waste management is for you. It introduces everyday sustainability innovators from across the world, such as urban gardeners and renewable energy enthusiasts, to inspire the rest of us to make local changes</p>
6. Racing Extinction (2015)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6ec29ed8282004cb6ccc6e0eae7de1ae"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/MwxyrLUdcss?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>In this film by Oscar-winning director Louie Psihoyos, a team of activists expose the illegal trade of endangered species and document the global extinction crisis, which could result in the loss of half of all species. By using covert tactics and state-of-the-art technology, they take you to places where no one can go, uncover secrets and show you images you have never seen before.</p>
7. Virunga (2014)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6922c47a9603f24dd431f6e5282f7cb5"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/wxXf2Vxj_EU?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the only places in the world where you can still find wild mountain gorillas. But the park and its inhabitants are under attack from poachers, armed militias and companies wanting to exploit natural resources. This gripping doc follows a group of people trying to preserve the park and protect these magnificent great apes.</p>
8. Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret (2014)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9b7e7a93c26b3a3fc4f8a8374d98e2f2"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/nV04zyfLyN4?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>This crowdfunded documentary explores the impact of animal agriculture on the environment and investigates why the world's leading environmental organizations are too afraid to talk about it. The film has caused controversy by suggesting that animal agriculture is the primary source of environmental destruction and the main emitter of greenhouse gases, rather than fossil fuels.</p>
9. Years of Living Dangerously (2014)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="585f966df408ae57e3e31747a6c0a66b"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/juXzfwvVHZQ?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>In this Emmy-winning documentary series, celebrity correspondents travel the world to interview experts and scientists on the climate crisis and its effects. But rather than focusing on its star power, the two-season series also shines a spotlight on ordinary people affected by the climate crisis and shows how we can save our world for future generations.</p>
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Victoria Masterson
Using one of the world's problems to solve another is the philosophy behind a Norwegian start-up's mission to develop affordable housing from 100% recycled plastic.
Sustainable Homes<p>UN-Habitat says an <a href="https://unhabitat.org/un-habitat-aims-to-use-plastic-waste-to-support-housing-for-all" target="_blank">estimated 60% of people living in urban areas of Africa are in informal settlements</a>. At the same time, between 1990 and 2017, African countries imported around 230 metric tonnes of plastic, "which mostly ended up in dump sites creating a massive environmental challenge," the agency adds.</p><p>UN-Habitat deputy executive director, Victor Kisob, said the aim of the partnership with Othalo was to "promote adequate, sustainable and affordable housing for all."</p>
Artist's impression of an Othalo community, imagined by architect Julien De Smedt. Othalo<p>Othalo's process involves shredding plastic waste and mixing it with other elements, including non-flammable materials. Components are used to build up to four floors, with a home of 60 square metres using eight tons of recycled plastic. A factory with one production line can produce 2,800 housing units annually.</p><p>Following successful laboratory tests, Othalo's factory in Estonia has started producing components to build three demonstration homes for Kenya's capital, Nairobi; Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon and Dakar, the capital of Senegal.</p><p>Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti has been developing and testing the technology since 2016 in partnership with <a href="https://www.sintef.no/en/" target="_blank">SINTEF</a>, a 70-year-old independent research organization in Trondheim, Norway, and experts at Norway's <a href="https://en.uit.no/startsida" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Tromsø</a>.</p>
Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti. Othalo<p>Almost <a href="https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html" target="_blank">seven out of every 10 people in the world are expected to live in urban areas by 2050</a>. More than 90% of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.</p><p>"In the absence of effective urban planning, the consequences of this rapid urbanization will be dramatic," UN-Habitat warns.</p><p>Lack of proper housing and growth of slums, inadequate and outdated infrastructure, escalating poverty and unemployment, and pollution and health issues, are just some of the effects.</p><p>Mindsets, policies, and approaches towards urbanization need to change for the growth of cities and urban areas to be turned into opportunities that will leave nobody behind, UN-Habitat says.</p>
Pioneers of Change<p>Reimagining cities and communities for greater resilience and sustainability was a key topic at the<a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020" target="_blank"> World Economic Forum's Pioneers of Change Summit 2020</a>.</p><p>The digital event brought together innovators and stakeholders from around the world to explore solutions to the challenges facing enterprises, governments and society.</p><p>Opening the summit, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020/sessions/opening-plenary-8f731cbc65" target="_blank">Stephan Mergenthaler, the Forum's Head of Strategic Intelligence and a member of the Executive Committee</a>, said: "We need to change the way we produce, the way we live and interact in our cities to make this transition to net-zero emissions a reality…</p><p>"And as this year has illustrated so dramatically, we need to make every effort that we keep populations healthy, if we want to avoid jeopardizing all this progress."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/un-africa-recycled-plastic-housing/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649069252#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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By Brett Wilkins
Despite acknowledging that the move would lead to an increase in the 500 million to one billion birds that die each year in the United States due to human activity, the Trump administration on Friday published a proposed industry-friendly relaxation of a century-old treaty that protects more than 1,000 avian species.
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Many people shop online for everything from clothes to appliances. If they do not like the product, they simply return it. But there's an environmental cost to returns.
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By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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