Trump’s Executive Order Threatens to Wreck Earth as a Livable Planet
By Jeff Masters
Decades of progress on cleaning up our dirty air took a significant hit on Tuesday, along with hopes for a livable future climate, when President Trump issued his Energy Independence Executive Order. Most seriously, the order attacks the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan, which requires a 32 percent reduction in CO2 emissions from existing power plants by 2030 (compared to 2005 emission rates).
Tuesday's blow was just the latest in a series of attacks that threaten our health and the planet's health. On March 15, Trump also ordered the EPA to review tough air pollution rules for cars and light trucks that were set to kick in between 2022 and 2025. Trump's proposed budget for fiscal year 2018, released earlier this month, slashed funding for the EPA by 31 percent and eliminated money for renewable energy programs and energy efficiency efforts such as the Energy Star program.
Trump's war on clean air will potentially kill tens of thousands of people annually and have health costs in the 10 of billions of dollars each year. Separate studies done in 2016 by the World Bank and by the Health Effects Institute (a U.S. non-profit corporation funded by the EPA and the auto industry) estimated that air pollution kills between 91,000 and 100,000 Americans each year—nearly double the number of U.S. combat deaths (58,000) in Vietnam or more than 30 times the death toll of the 9/11 terror attacks. The EPA estimated that tough air pollution regulations under the Clean Air Act that began in 1990 saved more than 164,000 lives in the year 2010 alone.
Damages from U.S. air pollution are extreme. The World Bank study estimated that in the year 2013 alone, the U.S. suffered $473 billion in health-related damages from air pollution—about 2.9 percent of the GDP. Health care consumes one-quarter of the $3.7 trillion federal budget and air pollution is a significant contributor to that bill.
Figure 1. Polling in 2016 by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication revealed widespread support among Americans for the key provision of the EPA's Clean Power Plan. Yale Climate Opinion Maps
Power plants are the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.—about 31 percent of the total and are also a significant source of deadly air pollution—about 26 percent of all air pollution deaths in the U.S. according to a 2013 MIT study. The authority for the Clean Power Plan comes from the EPA's Clean Air Act, along with the Supreme Court's 2007 decision requiring the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant. The Clean Power Plan is a key component of America's commitment to reduce global warming under the 2015 Paris climate agreement and there is broad public support for reducing emissions of CO2 from existing coal-fired power plants (69 percent of Americans, including majorities in all 50 states and all 435 Congressional Districts, see Figure 1).
Figure 2. Weakening of U.S. air pollution regulations goes against widespread public support for clean air.John Mashey / DeSmogBlog
Benefits of the Clean Power Plan Far Exceed the Costs
The EPA estimates that annual costs to industry of the Clean Power Plan will be $1.4 - $2.5 billion in 2020, increasing to $5.1 to $8.4 billion per year in 2030. These estimates factor in the costs of investments in transitioning to lower-carbon electricity options and the savings that result from investments in energy efficiency. Electricity bills are predicted to rise modestly by 2.4 to 2.7 percent in 2020, but then decline by 2.7 to 3.8 percent in 2025 and 7 to 7.7 percent in 2030 as investments in energy efficiency pay off.
The public health and climate benefits of the Clean Power Plan are worth an estimated $34 billion to $54 billion per year in 2030, far outweighing the costs, the EPA estimates. Burning fewer fossil fuels will create less air pollution and air pollution from the power generation industry will fall about 25 percent by 2030 if the Clean Power Plan is adopted. The EPA projects that the reduction in pollution will prevent up to 3,600 deaths, 1,700 heart attacks, 90,000 asthma attacks and 300,000 missed work and school days per year by 2030 (note that a person who dies from air pollution-related causes typically dies about 12 years earlier than they otherwise might have, according to Caiazzo et al., 2013).
For every dollar Americans spend on the Clean Power Plan, four dollars worth of health benefits will result, said the EPA. The greatest benefits would come in the upper Ohio Valley and farther downwind, where pollution from power plants is highest: southeast Ohio, northwest West Virginia and western Pennsylvania—areas Trump carried in the 2016 election, including two swing states that pushed him over the top.
Figure 3. Levels of the deadliest pollutant, fine particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM 2.5), have fallen by 37 percent and prevented tens of thousands of premature deaths since 2000, thanks to EPA Clean Air Act regulations.EPA
Opposition to the Clean Power Plan
As one should expect, lobbying groups who receive money from the fossil fuel industry are unhappy with the Clean Power Plan and criticize the plan's complexity and large number of regulations. They have a point—it would have been far simpler and more effective to achieve the plan's goals through a cap-and-trade system or through a cap-and-dividend approach or by having Congress adopt a simple carbon tax of $40 per ton (a version of which was proposed in February by a group of Reagan and Bush-era Republicans called the Climate Leadership Council). However, Congress failed to pass a cap-and-trade bill during Obama's first term. He was forced to use the regulatory power of the EPA to bring about the reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions needed for the Paris climate agreement.
Critics also dispute EPA's cost estimates, saying the costs will be much higher. Several of these criticisms state only the costs, not the benefits, and also ignore the huge death toll of air pollution. And at least one study has found that the EPA underestimated the benefits and lives saved by the Clean Power Plan. This was an independent analysis by Energy Innovation: Policy and Technology LLC, an energy and environmental policy firm. In a 2017 study, they estimated that the cumulative savings to the U.S. economy (in reduced capital, fuel and operations and maintenance expenditures) of adopting the Clean Power Plan would exceed $100 billion by 2030 and reach almost $600 billion by 2050, assuming that pollution reductions continue to stay strong after 2030. Failure to adopt the Clean Power Plan would cause more than 40,000 premature deaths annually in 2030 and more than 120,000 per year by 2050. Energy Innovation came up with their estimates using the Energy Policy Simulator open-source computer model.
Figure 4. Costs and benefits of the Clean Power Plan as estimated by the EPA. EPA
Repealing the Clean Power Plan Won't Happen Quickly
The Clean Power Plan will be difficult to undo quickly. The plan was finalized by EPA in 2015 and is currently being reviewed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Under the new executive order, the Department of Justice will ask the court to suspend the case until the EPA can review and write a new version of the rule. (Before that happens, the court may still rule on the plan as written, which will influence how the EPA can rewrite the rule).
Once the case is removed from the court, the EPA will have to legally withdraw the existing rule and propose a new rule to take its place, a process that could take years, as the new rule will have to be justified in court and would likely be challenged in court by environmental groups, according to an in-depth analysis by Brad Plumer at Vox. In the meantime, nothing prevents states from continuing to reduce emissions by implementing renewable energy standards, efficiency programs or cap-and-trade programs like exist in California and the Northeast. Thus, some of the benefits of the Clean Power Plan will happen regardless of Trump's orders and 31 states are on track to be more than halfway toward their near-term Clean Power Plan emission reduction requirements (Figure 5).
Existing clean energy commitments already place 31 states on track to be more than halfway toward their near-term Clean Power Plan emission reduction requirements, with 21 states set to surpass them. Union of Concerned Scientists Analysis
New Executive Order Attacks the "Social Cost of Carbon"
The "social cost of carbon" is an estimate of how much human emissions of carbon dioxide cost society via damage to the climate. In 2015, this number was set at $36 per ton of carbon dioxide pollution and the social cost of carbon underpins at least 150 federal regulations. The "social cost of carbon" tries to answers the question, "how much should we be willing to pay to avert future climate damages?" This number is highly uncertain, but is definitely not zero. Trump's executive order calls for a reassessment of the social cost of carbon, with the aim of reducing it or entirely circumventing it. Carbon Brief has an excellent explainer on the "social cost of carbon."
Automobile Fuel Efficiency Standards to Be Reviewed
President Trump, speaking in Detroit this month to a group of autoworkers, said the EPA will take action to potentially relax tough air pollution rules for cars and light trucks that were set to kick in between 2022 and 2025. A review of the rules was completed in 2016, ahead of a 2018 deadline. "It was necessary (to resume the review) because the standards were set far into the future," Trump said. "If the standards threaten auto jobs, then common sense changes could have—and should have—been made." The review opens up the possibility that the strict fuel economy regulations for 2022 to 2025 will be significantly weakened; it is relatively easy for the EPA to undo the regulations, according to a New York Times analysis.
Once the 2017 review is finished, the EPA can withdraw the current rule for post-2021 emissions and put forth an alternative set of standards within a year. The EPA may also withdraw a waiver that allows California (and other states that have joined it) to enforce stricter auto emissions standards than the federal government imposes. Air pollution from vehicles in the U.S. is responsible for about 26 percent of all U.S. air pollution deaths, so weakening these regulations will likely result in thousands of premature deaths that would not have occurred otherwise—in addition to the thousands of deaths we can expect from a weakening of the Clean Power Plan.
U.S. Paris Climate Agreement Commitments Unlikely to Be Met
Trump's executive order and proposed budget make it clear that we can expect most of the efforts to reduce U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases under the Paris climate agreement to come under attack and it is unlikely the U.S. pledge will be met. In that landmark agreement, the U.S. promised a 26 to 28 percent reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, as its fair share of the effort to keep global warming no more than 2°C above preindustrial levels (the generally accepted goal for avoiding dangerous impacts).
According to an excellent analysis by Vox, the Clean Power Plan accounts for roughly one quarter of all the emission reductions promised by the U.S. as part of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. The other three-quarters of the reductions were to come primarily from stricter fuel economy stands for vehicles, tighter emission standards for new coal- and gas-fired power plants, new regulations to curtail methane leaks and limit methane from agriculture, energy efficiency measures and initiatives to curtail hydrofluorocarbons (another potent greenhouse gas).
Taken altogether, the numbers from these efforts don't quite add up to the promised 26 to 28 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2025, said a 2015 World Resources Institute analysis—and thus additional actions beyond what Obama proposed would be needed. According to a 2016 paper, Assessment of the climate commitments and additional mitigation policies of the United States and the Climate Action Tracker web site, current U.S. policies, including the Clean Power Plan, would only reduce emissions by nine percent below 2005 levels by 2025. A much more aggressive Clean Power Plan was being counted on, plus a whole host of "TBD" actions needed from President Obama's successor.
An excellent new analysis by the Rhodium Group predicts that Trump's current executive orders and proposed budget will most likely result in a 14 percent reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2025—far below the promised 26 to 28 percent reduction of the Paris climate accord. The Rhodium Group's worst-case scenario—if further efforts to weaken greenhouse gas regulations occur, such as a rollback of automobile emission standards for the 2022 to 2025 period—was a nine percent reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2025; their best-case scenario was a 17 percent reduction.
Figure 6. U.S. greenhouse gas emissions as projected in 2008 for a "business as usual" scenario (gray dotted line) and under the pledge made as part of the Paris Agreement (orange and green dotted lines).Earth Institute / Columbia University
Assault on Methane Emission Rules
Methane is also a major greenhouse gas and Trump's executive order directs efforts to reconsider and rewrite rules on methane emissions. This follows the March 2 directive from the EPA to withdraw a 2016 Information Collection Request which directed existing oil and gas facilities to provide data needed to best reduce methane and other harmful emissions from the oil and natural gas industry. However, new methane rules will take years to rewrite and will have to suffer court challenges and one state—California—voted on March 23 to approve new methane regulations that are the strictest ever adopted in the U.S.
More Serious Attacks on Clean Air and Clean Water Likely Coming
Wunderground's climate change blogger, Dr. Ricky Rood, in a 2017 editorial in EOS warned that, "Following Trump's rhetoric, we must be prepared to face efforts aimed at weakening the Clean Air Act itself. Also in the crosshairs are many other environmental statutes passed in the 1970s, such as the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. In terms of enduring impacts, weakening of these underlying statutes will be more consequential than scuttling the Clean Power Plan."
In an email to me, Dr. Rood said he believes that a rollback of auto emission standards will ultimately end up being more consequential to air pollution and the climate than a rollback of the Clean Power Plan. This will be because market forces are making it likely that the power generation industry will head towards renewable energy sources, but market forces are not acting that way on the auto industry—external regulation is needed to force emission reductions.
The latest assault on climate science by House Republicans happens on March 29, when the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology holds a two-hour hearing titled Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications and the Scientific Method. The Republicans have called three witnesses: Dr. Judith Curry, Dr. John Christy and Dr. Roger Pielke, Jr., all of whom are unfriendly to climate science. The Democrats got to call one witness, Dr. Michael Mann of climate "hockeystick" fame. The hearing is being live streamed here. The Democratic press team will be using the hashtags #defendscience and #ActonClimate during the hearing.
Brad Plumer of Vox has an excellent explainer on Trump's executive order.
Follow the Climate Deregulation Tracker website to monitor efforts undertaken by the Trump administration to scale back or wholly eliminate federal climate mitigation and adaptation measures.
EPA Chief Denies Basic Climate Science, my March 10 post.
"Together we are going to start a new energy revolution," Trump said, upon signing Tuesday's executive order. However, his order promotes dirty and deadly 19th century coal technology, instead of clean 21st century renewable energy solutions like wind and solar power, making his remarks sadly preposterous. The name of his order, the Energy Independence Executive Order, is also preposterous, since the U.S. doesn't import coal and the stated primary aim of the new order is to revive the coal industry (coal miners were on hand for the signing ceremony).
In his first speech to Congress, Trump promised that his administration would work to "promote clean air and clean water." This promise has been exposed as a blatant falsehood by his executive orders and proposed budget, which move us sharply in the opposite direction. By itself, a U.S. failure to make its emission reduction targets of the Paris climate agreement will not doom the world to a dangerous rise in temperature above the 2°C threshold. However, we'll be lucky to hold global warming to an extremely dangerous 3°C above pre-industrial levels, even if all of the promises made by the 195 nations that signed the Paris agreement are met. That agreement counted on strong additional actions and leadership by the biggest emitting nations to force additional cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
Lack of inspirational American leadership, as glaringly evident in Mr. Trump's latest executive order, will hurt global efforts to meet even the grossly inadequate goal of keeping global warming below 3°C, increasing the odds that humanity will have to resort to desperate geoengineering efforts to keep climate mayhem from wrecking Earth as a livable planet for humans. We must resist and protest Trump's assault on clean air and a livable climate as if our lives depend upon it—because they do.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Weather Underground.
Next week marks the second Earth Day of the coronavirus pandemic. While a year of lockdowns and travel restrictions has limited our ability to explore the natural world and gather with others for its defense, it is still possible to experience the wonder and inspiration from the safety of your home.
Here are three new films to watch this Earth Week that will transport you from pole to pole and introduce you to the scientists and activists working to save our shared home.
Where to Watch: Apple TV+
When to Watch: From April 16
The coronavirus pandemic has brought home the stakes of humanity's impact on the environment. But the lockdowns also proved how quickly nature can recover when humans give it the space. Birds sang in empty cities, whales surfaced in Glacier Bay and capybara roamed the South American suburbs.
The Year Earth Changed captures this unique year with footage from more than 30 lockdowned cities between May 2020 to January 2021. Narrated by renowned wildlife broadcaster David Attenborough, the film explores what positive lessons we can take from the experience of a quieter, less trafficked world.
"What the film shows is that the natural world can bounce back remarkably quickly when we take a step back and reduce our impact as we did during lockdown," executive producer Alice Keens-Soper of BBC Studios Natural History Unit told EcoWatch. "If we are willing to make even small changes to our habits, the natural world can flourish. We need to learn how to co-exist with nature and understand that we are not separate from it- for example if we closed some of our beaches at for a few weeks during the turtle breeding we see that it can make a huge difference to their success. There are many ways that we can adapt our behavior to allow the natural world to thrive as it did in lockdown."
Where to Watch: San Francisco International Film Festival
In 1989, Will Steger led an international team of six scientists and explorers to be the first humans to cross Antarctica by dogsled. Steger and his team weren't just in it for the adventure. They also wanted to draw attention to the ways in which the climate crisis was already transforming the icy continent and to rally support for the renewal of the Antarctic Treaty, which would keep the continent safe from extractive industries.
In After Antarctica, award-winning filmmaker Tasha Van Zandt follows Steger 30 years later as he travels the Arctic this time, reflecting on his original journey and once again bringing awareness to changes in a polar landscape. The film intersperses this contemporary journey with footage from the original expedition, some of which has never been seen before.
"Will's life journey as an explorer and climate activist has led him not only to see more of the polar world than anyone else alive today, but to being an eyewitness to the changes occurring across both poles," Van Zandt told EcoWatch. "But now, these changes are happening in all of our own backyards and we have all become eyewitnesses. Through my journey with Will, I have learned that although we cannot always control change, we can change our response. I feel strongly that this is a message that resonates when we look at the current state of the world, as we each have power and control over how we choose to respond to hardships, and we all have the power to unite with others through collective action around a common goal."
After Antarctica is available to stream once you purchase a ticket to the San Francisco International Film Festival. If you miss it this weekend, it will screen again at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival from May 13 to May 23.
Tasha Van Zandt
Where to Watch: Virtual Cinema
While many films about the climate crisis seek to raise awareness about the extent of the problem, The Race to Save the World focuses on the people who are trying to stop it. The film tells the story of climate activists ranging from 15-year-old Aji to 72-year-old Miriam who are working to create a sustainable future. It follows them from the streets to the courtroom to their homes, and explores the impact of their advocacy on their personal lives and relationships.
Emmy award-winning documentary filmmaker Joe Gantz told EcoWatch that he wanted to make a film about climate change, but did not want to depress viewers with overwhelming statistics. Instead, he chose to inspire them by sharing the stories of people trying to make a difference.
"Unless millions of people take to the streets and make their voices heard for a livable future, the politicians are not going to get on board to help make the changes needed for a sustainable future," Gantz told Ecowatch. "I think that The Race To Save The World will energize and inspire people to take action so that future generations, as well as the plants, animals and ecosystems, can survive and thrive on this planet."
Check back with EcoWatch on the morning of Earth Day for a special preview of this inspiring film!
By Michael Svoboda
For April's bookshelf we take a cue from Earth Day and step back to look at the bigger picture. It wasn't climate change that motivated people to attend the teach-ins and protests that marked that first observance in 1970; it was pollution, the destruction of wild lands and habitats, and the consequent deaths of species.
The earliest Earth Days raised awareness, led to passage of new laws, and spurred conservation. But the original problems are still with us. And now they intersect with climate change, making it impossible to address one problem without affecting the others.
The 12 books listed below remind us about these defining interconnections.
The first three focus on biodiversity and on humanity's fractured relationships with the animals we live with on land.
The second trio explores the oceans and, at the same time, considers social and cultural factors that determine what we know – and don't know – about the 75% of our planet that is covered by water, perhaps the least well understood part of the climate system.
Agriculture and food security are examined by the third tranche of titles. This set includes a biography that may challenge what you think was/is possible, culturally and politically, in the American system.
Finally, there is the problem of waste, the problem of single-use plastics in particular. These three titles offer practical advice and qualified hope. Reducing litter might also reduce emissions – and vice versa.
As always, the descriptions of the works listed below are drawn from copy provided by the publishers or organizations that released them. When two dates of publication are included, the latter is for the paperback edition.
A Life on Our Planet My Witness Statement and Vision for the Future, by David Attenborough (Grand Central Publishing 2020, 272 pages, $26.00)
See the world. Then make it better. I am 93. I've had an extraordinary life. It's only now that I appreciate how extraordinary. As a young man, I felt I was out there in the wild, experiencing the untouched natural world – but it was an illusion. The tragedy of our time has been happening all around us, barely noticeable from day to day – the loss of our planet's wild places, its bio-diversity. I have been witness to this decline. A Life on Our Planet is my witness statement, and my vision for the future. It is the story of how we came to make this, our greatest mistake – and how, if we act now, we can yet put it right. We have one final chance to create the perfect home for ourselves and restore the wonderful world we inherited. All we need is the will to do so.
Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction, by Michelle Nijhuis (W.W. Norton 2021, 352 pages, $27.95)
In the late 19th century, as humans came to realize that our industrializing and globalizing societies were driving other animal species to extinction, a movement to conserve them was born. In Beloved Beasts, science journalist Michelle Nijhuis traces the movement's history. She describes the vital role of scientists and activists such as Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson; she reveals the origins of organizations like the Audubon Society and the World Wildlife Fund; she explores current efforts to protect species; and she confronts the darker side of conservation, long shadowed by racism and colonialism. As the destruction of other species continues and the effects of climate change escalate, Beloved Beasts charts the ways conservation is becoming a movement for the protection of all species – including our own.
How to Be an Animal: A New History of What It Means to Be Human, by Melanie Challenger (Penguin Random House 2021, 272 pages, $17.00 paperback)
How to Be an Animal tells a remarkable story of what it means to be human and argues that at the heart of our existence is a profound struggle with being animal. We possess a psychology that seeks separation between humanity and the rest of nature, and we have invented grand ideologies to magnify this. In her book, nature historian Melanie Challenger explores the ways this mindset affects our lives, from our politics to our environments. She examines how technology influences our relationship with our own animal nature and with the other species with whom we share this fragile planet. Blending nature writing, history, and philosophy, How to Be an Animal both reappraises what it means to be human and robustly defends what it means to be an animal.
Ocean Speaks: How Marie Tharp Revealed the Ocean's Biggest Secret, by Jess Keating, Illustrated by Katie Hickey (Tundra Books 2020, 34 pages, $17.99)
From a young age, Marie Tharp loved watching the world. She loved solving problems. And she loved pushing the limits of what girls and women were expected to do and be. In the mid-twentieth century, women were not welcome in the sciences, but Marie was tenacious. She got a job at a laboratory in New York. But then she faced another barrier: women were not allowed on the research ships (they were considered bad luck on boats). So Marie stayed back and dove deep into the data her colleagues recorded. At first the scientific community refused to believe her, but her evidence was irrefutable. The mid-ocean ridge that Marie discovered is the single largest geographic feature on the planet, and she mapped it all from her small, cramped office.
Science on a Mission: How Military Funding Shaped What We Do and Don't Know about the Ocean, by Naomi Oreskes (University of Chicago Press 2021, 744 pages, $40.00)
What difference does it make who pays for science? After World War II, the US military turned to a new, uncharted theater of warfare: the deep sea. The earth sciences – particularly physical oceanography and marine geophysics – became essential to the US Navy, which poured unprecedented money and logistical support into their study. In Science on a Mission, historian Naomi Oreskes delves into the role of patronage in science, what emerges is a vivid portrait of how naval oversight transformed what we know about the sea. It is a detailed, sweeping history that illuminates the ways funding shapes the subject, scope, and tenor of research, and it raises profound questions about American science. What difference does it make who pays? A lot.
Dark Side of the Ocean: The Destruction of Our Seas, Why It Matters, and What We Can Do About It, by Albert Bates (Groundswell Books 2020, 158 pages, $12.95 paperback)
Our oceans face levels of devastation previously unknown in human history due to pollution, overfishing, and damage to delicate aquatic ecosystems affected by global warming. Climate author Albert Bates explains how ocean life maintains adequate oxygen levels, prevents erosion from storms, and sustains a vital food source that factory-fishing operations cannot match. Bates also profiles organizations dedicated to changing the human impact on marine reserves, improving ocean permaculture, and putting the brakes on heat waves that destroy sea life and imperil human habitation at the ocean's edge. The Dark Side of the Ocean conveys a deep appreciation for the fragile nature of the ocean's majesty and compels us to act now to preserve it.
The Planter of Modern Life: Louis Bromfield and the Seeds of a Food Revolution, by Stephen Heyman (W.W. Norton 2020, 352 pages, $26.95)
Louis Bromfield was a World War I ambulance driver, a Paris expat, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist as famous in the 1920s as Hemingway. But he cashed in his literary success to finance a wild agrarian dream in his native Ohio. There, in 1938, Bromfield transformed 600 badly eroded acres into a thriving cooperative farm, which became a mecca for agricultural pioneers and a country retreat for celebrities like Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. This sweeping biography unearths a lost icon of American culture. While Bromfield's name has faded into obscurity, his mission seems more critical today than ever before. The ideas he planted at his utopian experimental farm, Malabar, would inspire America's first generation of organic farmers and popularize the tenets of environmentalism years before Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.
Food Fights: How History Matters to Contemporary Food Debates, edited by Charles C. Ludington and Matthew Morse Booker (University of North Carolina Press 2019, 304 pages, $32.95 paperback)
What we eat, where it is from, and how it is produced are vital questions in today's America. We think seriously about food because it is freighted with the hopes, fears, and anxieties of modern life. Yet critiques of food and food systems all too often sprawl into jeremiads against modernity itself, while supporters of the status quo refuse to acknowledge the problems with today's methods of food production and distribution. Food Fights sheds new light on these crucial debates, using a historical lens. Its essays take strong positions, even arguing with one another, as they explore the many themes and tensions that define how we understand our food – from the promises and failures of agricultural technology to the politics of taste.
Our Changing Menu: Climate Change and the Foods We Love and Need, by Michael P. Hoffmann, Carrie Koplinka-Loehr, and Danielle L. Eiseman (Comstock Publishing Associates 2021, 264 pages, $21.95 paperback)
Our Changing Menu unpacks the increasingly complex relationships between food and climate change. In it, Michael Hoffmann, Carrie Koplinka-Loehr, and Danielle Eiseman offer an eye-opening journey through a complete menu of before-dinner drinks and salads; main courses and sides; and coffee and dessert. Along the way, they examine the escalating changes occurring to the flavors of spices and teas, the yields of wheat, the vitamins in rice, and the price of vanilla. Their story ends with a primer on the global food system, the causes and impacts of climate change, and what we can do. Our Changing Menu is a celebration of food and a call to all – from the common ground of food – to help tackle the greatest challenge of our time.
Plastic Free: The Inspiring Story of a Global Environmental Movement and Why It Matters, by Rebecca Prince-Ruiz and Joanna Atherhold Finn (Columbia University Press 2020, 272 pages, $28.00)
In July 2011, Rebecca Prince-Ruiz challenged herself and some friends to go plastic free for the whole month. Since then, the Plastic Free July movement has grown from a small group of people in the city of Perth into a 250-million strong community across 177 countries. Plastic Free tells the story of this world-leading environmental campaign. From narrating marine-debris research expeditions to tracking what actually happens to our waste to sharing insights from behavioral research, Plastic Free speaks to the massive scale of the plastic waste problem and how we can tackle it together. Interweaving interviews from participants, activists, and experts, it tells the inspiring story of how ordinary people have created change in their homes, communities, workplaces, schools, businesses, and beyond. Plastic Fee offers hope for the future.
Can I Recycle This? A Guide to Better Recycling and How to Reduce Single Use Plastics, by Jennie Romer (Penguin Books 2021, 272 pages, $22.00)
Since the dawn of the recycling system, men and women the world over have stood by their bins, holding an everyday object, wondering, "Can I recycle this?" This simple question links our concerns for the environment with how we interact with our local governments. Recycling rules seem to differ in every municipality, leaving average Americans scratching their heads at the simple act of throwing something away. Taking readers on an informative tour of how recycling actually works (setting aside the propaganda we were all taught as kids), Can I Recycle This gives straightforward answers to whether dozens of common household objects can be recycled. And it provides the information you need to make that decision for anything else you encounter.
Zero Waste Living: The 80/20 Way: The Busy Person's Guide to a Lighter Footprint, by Stephanie J. Miller (Changemaker Books 2020, 112 pages, $10.95 paperback)
Many of us feel powerless to solve the looming climate and waste crises. We have too much on our plates, and so may think these problems are better solved by governments and businesses. This book unlocks the potential in each "too busy" individual to be a crucial part of the solution. Stephanie Miller combines her climate-focused career with her own research and personal experience to show how relatively easy lifestyle changes can create significant positive impacts. Using the simplicity of the 80/20 rule, she shows us those things (the 20%) that we can do to make the biggest (80%) difference in reversing the climate and waste crises. Her book empowers busy individuals to do the easy things that have a real impact on the climate and waste crises.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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Over the past year, Amazon has significantly expanded its warehouses in Southern California, employing residents in communities that have suffered from high unemployment rates, The Guardian reports. But a new report shows the negative environmental impacts of the boom, highlighting its impact on low-income communities of color across Southern California.
The report, from the People's Collective for Environmental Justice (PCEJ) and students from the University of Redlands, shared with The Guardian, is meant to serve as an "advocacy tool to help raise awareness related to the warehouse industry's impacts on Southern California's air pollution issues," Earthjustice noted.
California's Inland Empire, 60 miles east of Los Angeles, has emerged as one of the largest "warehousing hubs" in the world in just the past few decades, according to Grist. Since establishing its first warehouse in the region in 2012, Amazon has become the largest private employer in the region, where 40,000 people now work in Amazon warehouses, picking, packing, sorting and unloading, as well as driving trucks and operating aircrafts, The New York Times Magazine reported.
"The company is so enmeshed in the community that it can simultaneously be a TV channel, grocery store, home security system, boss, personal data collector, high school career track, internet cloud provider and personal assistant," The New York Times Magazine added.
In just the last year, Amazon has tripled its delivery hubs in the region due to the demand for online shopping during the COVID-19 crisis. But despite the economic boom, heavy air pollution mainly from trucks going in and out of the warehouses infects nearby communities, the new research showed, according to The Guardian.
The research found, for example, that the populations living within a half-mile of the warehouses are 85 percent people of color, while California's overall population is 64 percent people of color, The Guardian reported. The research also found that communities with the most Amazon warehouses nearby have the lowest rates of Amazon sales per household.
"Amazon has boomed in 2020 and tripled the amount of money it's making, and it is happening at a cost to the folks who live in these communities," Ivette Torres, a PCEJ environmental science researcher and analyst, who helped put the research together, told The Guardian.
The research also demonstrated that the top 10 communities with the most warehouses in the region also experience pollution from other facilities, like gas plants and oil refineries, Earthjustice wrote in a statement.
"The Inland Empire, probably more than any region in the United States, has disproportionately [borne] the brunt of the environmental and economic impact of goods movement, and Amazon is driving that now in the Inland Empire," Jake Wilson, a California State University, Long Beach, professor of sociology, told Grist.
Last year, the San Bernardino International Airport Authority ratified a decision to allow an air cargo facility development at the airport, allowing Amazon to operate more flights out of the region, Grist reported.
Among the local residents to oppose the decision was Jorge Osvaldo Heredia, a resident of San Bernadino in Southern California since 2005. "This whole region has been taken over by warehouses," Heredia told Grist, and commented on the "horrible" air quality in the city on most days. "It's really reaching that apex point where you can't avoid the warehouses, you can't avoid the trucks," he added.
Advocates who published the research are pushing on the South Coast Air Quality Management District, a local air pollution regulatory agency, to move forward with the Warehouse Indirect Source Rule, which would require new and existing warehouses to take action to reduce emissions locally each year, The Guardian reported. Some solutions include moving towards zero-emissions trucks and mitigation fees.
"Last year, we saw some of the worst air quality, with wildfires adding to it, and the trucks were still in and out of our communities. So this is a huge change that we need right now, and that we actually needed yesterday," Torres concluded, according to The Guardian.
Scientists at the University of Purdue have developed the whitest and coolest paint on record.
Painting buildings white to help cool down cities has long been touted as a climate solution. However, the white paints currently on the market reflect only 80 to 90 percent of sunlight and cannot actually cool a roof to below air temperature, The Guardian reported. However, this new paint can.
"Our paint can help fight against global warming by helping to cool the Earth – that's the cool point," University of Purdue Professor Xiulin Ruan told The Guardian. "Producing the whitest white means the paint can reflect the maximum amount of sunlight back to space."
The new paint, introduced in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces on Thursday, can reflect up to 98.1 percent of sunlight and cool surfaces by 4.5 degrees Celsius. This means it could be an effective replacement for air conditioning.
"If you were to use this paint to cover a roof area of about 1,000 square feet, we estimate that you could get a cooling power of 10 kilowatts. That's more powerful than the central air conditioners used by most houses," Ruan said in a University of Purdue press release.
The new paint improves upon a previous paint by the same research team that reflected 95.5 percent of sunlight. Researchers say it is likely the closest counterpart to the blackest black, "Vantablack," which can absorb as much as 99.9 percent of visible light. The new paint is so white for two main reasons: It uses a high concentration of a reflective chemical compound called barium sulfate, and the barium sulfate particles are all different sizes, meaning they scatter different parts of the light spectrum.
White paint is already being used to combat the climate crisis. New York has painted more than 10 million square feet of rooftops white, BBC News reported. Project Drawdown calculated that white or plant-covered roofs could sequester between 0.6 and 1.1 gigatons of carbon between 2020 and 2050. The researchers hope their paint will enhance these efforts.
"We did a very rough calculation," Ruan told BBC News. "And we estimate we would only need to paint one percent of the Earth's surface with this paint — perhaps an area where no people live that is covered in rocks — and that could help fight the climate change trend."
The research team has filed a patent for the paint and hope it will be on the market within two years, according to The Guardian. However, Andrew Parnell, who develops sustainable coatings at the University of Sheffield, said it would be important to calculate the emissions produced from mining barium sulphate and compare those with the emissions saved from using the paint instead of air conditioning.
"The principle is very exciting and the science [in the new study] is good. But I think there might be logistical problems that are not trivial," Parnell told The Guardian. "How many million tons [of barium sulphate] would you need?"
Parnell thought green roofs, or roofs on which plants grow, might prove to be a more ecologically friendly alternative.
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Less than three years after California governor Jerry Brown said the state would launch "our own damn satellite" to track pollution in the face of the Trump administration's climate denial, California, NASA, and a constellation of private companies, nonprofits, and foundations are teaming up to do just that.
Under the umbrella of the newly-formed group Carbon Mapper, two satellites are on track to launch in 2023. The satellites will target, among other pollution, methane emissions from oil and gas and agriculture operations that account for a disproportionate amount of pollution.
Between 2016 and 2018, using airplane-based instruments, scientists found 600 "super-emitters" (accounting for less than 0.5% of California's infrastructure) were to blame for more than one-third of the state's methane pollution. Now, the satellite-based systems will be able to perform similar monitoring, continuously and globally, and be able to attribute pollution to its source with previously impossible precision.
"These sort of methane emissions are kind of like invisible wildfires across the landscape," Carbon Mapper CEO and University of Arizona research scientist Riley Duren said. "No one can see them or smell them, and yet they're incredibly damaging, not just to the local environment, but more importantly, globally."
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