By Adoma Addo and Kelley Dennings
In the 50 years since the modern environmental movement was born, human population has more than doubled and our demands on the planet have skyrocketed. The pressure of our growing population, along with the consumption driven by the destructive industries that monopolize food and energy production, are widely recognized as key drivers of the climate and extinction crises. Yet, according to recent research, most conservation and environmental organizations don't address population growth head-on.
The Center for Biological Diversity, where we work, conducted an online analysis of 228 organizations' websites — from climate change groups to health institutions — to study how different groups discuss population and their specific areas of focus when talking about population. The goal was to identify areas of overlap for collaboration and the common vocabulary used between these oftentimes siloed fields.
The scan revealed some interesting takeaways useful to all organizations working in the environmental, climate change and conservation fields. Chief among them: We found that incorporating the rights and justice goals of health organizations can help environmental organizations speak directly about how population dynamics affect the environment, which will improve ecological resilience and support the rights and health of people.
We also found that while many climate change organizations' websites discuss the population pressure solutions noted in Project Drawdown (namely, advancement in agricultural, carbon capture and transportation technologies), they often leave out the health and education solutions that affect population growth rates.
Conservation organizations similarly give a nod to population growth as a driver in the extinction crisis but do not discuss solutions-oriented, people-centered approaches to reducing the impacts of human-caused environmental pressure. Many of these groups seem to see population growth as inevitable, offering adaptation-focused solutions aimed at increasing sustainable use of natural resources.
Health organization websites adopt human-centric approaches to reproductive health, highlighting the social, economic and health benefits of improved access to voluntary family planning services. But they do not talk about population pressure.
Population-focused organizations do address the issue head-on because it's core to their mission, but their efforts to educate the public about the effects of population growth often fail to mention the importance of consumption behaviors and systemic inequalities.
When rapid population growth was represented on websites, the most commonly proposed solutions were advocating for voluntary family planning, gender equity and empowerment (usually explicitly for women), youth empowerment, and advocating for and improving access to comprehensive sex education.
Although the topic is often perceived as being controversial, the impacts of population growth are widely recognized across different sectors. Population pressure is not excluded from the present discourse about environmental changes and human/nature interactions, but it also is rarely addressed in a direct or comprehensive way.
While many organizations may support adaptation policies and technologies and/or recognize population growth as an inevitable burden, they fail to acknowledge the structural barriers and inequalities that create unmet needs for family planning and suppress women's voices and autonomy.
Environmental groups that ignore population pressure miss an opportunity to discuss upstream climate mitigation and adaptation solutions — like universal access to family planning — that highlight the intersections of health, justice, equity and choice.
Simply mentioning population growth as a threat to the environment can be reductionist — focusing on numbers alone without considering the oppression of people and the responsibility of wealthy polluters can open the door to eco-fascism. But rather than ignore this important issue, organizations can appropriately campaign around population growth in ways that align with their values:
- Conservation organizations should incorporate solutions-oriented, people-centered approaches to reducing the impacts of human-caused environmental pressure to their work. Such approaches focus on reproductive health, rights and justice and women's empowerment.
- Building cross-sectoral collaborations would support the work of all groups involved and could enhance environmental, social, economic and health benefits.
- All organizations should acknowledge how both patriarchy and capitalism affect people and the planet. These larger systems are impacting the work of all organizations reviewed.
- Given the appeal of technological adaptation to many organizations, environmental groups could extend the use of the term "technology" to contraception (i.e., modern contraception is a climate change mitigation technology) ensuring that the most vulnerable populations are included and empowered in climate action.
- Recognizing how universal access to family planning and comprehensive sex education relate to climate change resiliency may resonate well with other groups across different disciplines.
Because population pressure is a potentially polarizing topic that many groups are averse to discussing, focusing on these rights-based solutions can be helpful when connecting with these different fields.
Reproductive rights and the full ability to decide if and when to start a family vary greatly across the United States. There are differing levels of access to quality health and family planning services, as well as different sexual education standards across states. With the unmet need for family planning ranging from 9% to 13% across various demographic groups and intensifying restrictions on abortion and healthcare coverage, there is a wealth of opportunity for environmental groups to support reproductive justice and human wellbeing while advancing environmental resiliency.
For example, the Global Health, Empowerment and Rights (HER) Act would permanently repeal the Global Gag Rule, which cuts off funding to health care providers that perform, counsel or refer patients on abortion care, interfering in client/health care provider relationships. Or the Health Equity and Access Under the Law (HEAL) Act, which will help immigrants get the health care they need by removing the restrictions that prevent them from being insured; these restrictions disproportionately harm Black, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander and other immigrants of color.
By advocating for reproductive freedom through universal family planning access through the support of the aforementioned acts and increasing comprehensive sex education while supporting gender equity within the United States, we can work for a future in which people and the planet can not only survive but thrive.
Adoma Addo is an intern with the Center for Biological Diversity. She is a senior at Yale College majoring in Environmental Studies with a concentration in human health and a Global Health scholar.
Kelley Dennings is a campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity. She holds a bachelor's degree in natural resources and a master's degree in public health. She is also a family planning counselor.
- For Many Reporters Covering Climate, Population Remains the ... ›
- David Attenborough: 'Population Growth Must Come to an End ... ›
By Kelley Dennings
It's time to talk about something that most of us have been reluctant to face: what to do about the intensifying connection between population gain and environmental loss. A growing body of research shows continued human population growth equates to accelerating species extinction.
A new study finds increasing encroachment of humans into tropical forests and other pristine habitats threatens to destroy about a quarter of the planet's remaining wildlife habitat in this century, pushing many more species to the brink. Losing these irreplaceable ecosystems would be devastating. And as our numbers continue to soar, humans are rapidly losing the biodiversity we need for everything from regulating pests to carbon sequestration.
Fifty years ago, most agricultural development was in Europe and North America. Since then, large areas of the tropics have been cleared for agriculture, and human population doubled while wildlife populations plummeted 68%. Last year, the United Nations reported that a million species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades due to human activity.
Population growth and consumption are two of the major drivers of species extinction, and they are intertwined. Humans put enormous pressure on the environment through mining, grazing, deforestation and other destructive activities, stoked by the global North's outsized consumption habits. With nearly 8 billion people on the planet and ever-increasing demand from industrialized countries and emerging economies, we're creating and accelerating twin crises of species extinction and climate change.
It's a hard issue to talk about. Despite scientific research recognizing humans' role in driving environmental harms, the need to slow population growth to address environmental damage has rarely been acknowledged and is sometimes deliberately soft-pedaled, even by environmentalists.
But there are signs that this resistance may be changing, at least in the public's view. In November a national survey by the Center for Biological Diversity found that three out of four Americans think the world's population is growing too fast. The same number agree that human population growth is driving other animal species to extinction. One in three agree that stabilizing population growth will help protect the environment. These numbers have all grown significantly since 2013.
A vast majority of respondents believe society has a moral responsibility to prevent wildlife extinctions. Sixty-five percent said population growth and consumption are responsible for the rapid loss of species biodiversity. That's a significant shift, too. It means that a majority of Americans now understand that biodiversity loss cannot be oversimplified as either a population growth or a consumption problem — it's both.
Although there is growing agreement about the problem, there's less understanding of solutions. That's why we need the environmental community to provide some leadership and broach the difficult discussion of how to equitably reduce humans' footprint and leave room for wildlife.
No one is suggesting we should institute human population "control" to conserve biodiversity. That would be a violation of human rights, as unethical as it would be unnecessary. But we should be able to talk about ways to advance human rights that align with slower population growth and a healthier biosphere.
For example, when people can choose freely whether and when to have children, they tend to have smaller families. That aligns with pursuing gender equity, because when girls stay in school longer and enjoy equal opportunities, they tend to delay starting a family and increase the time between births. Ultimately they choose to have fewer children during their lifetime as a matter of exercising their rights, which benefits people and the planet.
Pursuing gender equity and reproductive health and rights also lead to better conservation policy. Women are traditionally on the frontlines of environmental issues because nearly 50% work in agriculture, giving them valuable insight into how to protect the land and create more resilient communities. Countries with women in leadership positions are more likely to ratify environmental treaties. But communities can only benefit from women's experience and leadership when they have equal opportunity to apply it.
The key is to align our thinking about population and conservation with human rights. The reason the subject has been taboo is that historically, slowing population growth has been connected to human rights violations. Asserting and defending false claims to land and resources has led to atrocities we're still reluctant to face, from Native American genocide to ICE detainees being given hysterectomies without consent.
It's high time to face them. We can and must talk about how to slow population growth in ways that advance human rights, empower people and improve resilience and health outcomes, while reducing pressure on wildlife and the environment.
Admittedly, it won't be an easy conversation. But the environmental movement has a responsibility to conduct it. Not only is it mission-critical for fighting biodiversity loss and climate change, it's an opportunity to change systems of oppression that threaten human rights and create a more resilient, equitable world. The public increasingly understands this part of the puzzle. Now it's time for the environmental movement to put the pieces together.
Kelley Dennings is a population and sustainability campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity.
If you live in an apartment without its own roof or if you're a business owner renting a commercial space, a community solar project may help you save on electric bills. Community solar power is a great option for individuals and businesses who can't install their own solar panels.
You can join a community solar project by purchasing a share or by paying a subscription. Then, the electricity production that corresponds to your ownership percentage or subscription will be measured and subtracted from your power bills. This is possible even if the community solar panel installation isn't located in your neighborhood — by investing in the project, your share of the solar generation is simply subtracted from your bill.
In this article, we'll outline the pros and cons of community solar subscriptions and help you decide whether to invest in your local program.
What is Community Solar?
Community solar is a term used to describe photovoltaic systems that are shared by many consumers, including homeowners, renters, businesses, nonprofit organizations and more. Electricity savings and other benefits from the solar project are split among its shareholders and subscribers at a rate based on the level of investment.
When starting a community solar project, developers will establish the geographic area from which consumers are eligible to join. Some programs have installed multiple solar power systems in the same area, allowing a larger number of shareholders and solar subscribers.
Community solar power is possible thanks to virtual net metering. Through this process, a percentage of the electricity produced by the community solar panels is subtracted from the total amount of power you use in your home even though the panels aren't located on your property. Here are a few key things to note:
- The kilowatt-hours produced by a community solar project are measured for each billing period and are divided based on ownership shares.
- If a community solar array produces 10,000 kWh of electricity and you own 5% of the project, you get 500 kWh for that billing period.
- The value of those 500 kWh will be subtracted from your power bill, so if you use, for example, 750 kWh of electricity in your home, you'd only pay your utility company for 250 kWh.
Benefits of Community Solar
The main benefit of community solar is saving on power bills, especially in places with high electricity prices and abundant sunshine. However, the concept of sharing a solar array brings many other benefits, both technical and economic. These include:
- Community solar can be used by homeowners or renters who can't install rooftop or ground-mounted solar panels. Some roof structures are not suitable for solar panels, and others are too shaded from surrounding buildings or objects to be effective. Community solar may also be an option if you live in an apartment without its own roof or if you simply don't like the appearance of rooftop solar panels.
- You can easily take your solar savings to another home or apartment. If you install solar panels and decide to move in a few years, you must either sell them or take them with you. On the other hand, when joining a community solar project, you can simply assign the savings to your new address.
- You can sometimes sell or donate your community solar share (depending on program conditions). This is useful if you move to a location that is not covered by the community solar program or if you decide to install your own solar panels in the future.
- Community solar supports a more diverse customer base. To install your own solar panels, you must have the cash for an upfront payment or qualify for a loan. This financial barrier is eliminated with community solar — consumers can pay a monthly subscription or can purchase a small share according to their budget.
- With community solar, you can forget about maintenance and part replacements. Solar panels need regular cleaning to stay productive, and components like inverters and solar batteries must usually be replaced after about 10 years. However, you don't have to worry about maintenance with community solar, as there is a project developer in charge.
- Community solar shareholders are eligible for the federal solar tax credit. When purchasing a share of a community solar project, you can deduct 26% of your investment on your next tax declaration. Just keep in mind that this benefit is not available when joining as a subscriber, since technically you don't own a part of the community solar farm.
Community solar is an easier alternative to installing your own solar power system. The project developer is responsible for financing, installation, operation and maintenance, and you can reduce your electricity bills by simply buying a share of the project or subscribing.
However, installing your own solar power system also brings many benefits. You save the full economic value of the electricity generated, for example. Onsite solar power also increases the value of homes and commercial buildings, and many incentive programs are only available when you buy solar panels directly.
If you're weighing each option, it can be helpful to get a free quote for a home solar installation. Fill out the form below to get connected with a top solar company near you.
How Does Community Solar Work?
In a few words, community solar lets you save on power bills with a shared photovoltaic array, instead of having your own system. However, not all community solar projects are alike, and they can be classified into several types:
- On-site vs. off-site
- Ownership vs. subscription
Community solar should not be confused with group purchasing, which happens when many homeowners or businesses purchase individual solar systems at bulk prices. This does not count as community solar, since the project is split into many private installations.
On-Site Vs. Off-Site Community Solar
Many real estate developers use on-site community solar projects in their residential, commercial or mixed-use projects. The electricity generated by solar panels reaches consumers through a private power system, without depending on the local electric grid. On the other hand, off-site community solar is supplied via the grid.
Here are the main benefits and drawbacks of each type of community solar project:
|On-Site Community Solar||Off-Site Community Solar|
|Pros||On-site community solar systems often achieve higher savings — because they don't use the local electric grid, they don't pay transmission and distribution fees to a utility company.||Off-site community solar projects can serve a larger number of customers. You can also keep your ownership share or subscription when moving to another address, as long as you stay within the project's service area.|
|Cons||On-site community solar is only available for local property owners and tenants of communities that have installed these energy projects.||Depending on limitations with your local power grid, you may not yield as high of savings with off-site community solar.|
Ownership Vs. Subscription Model
Community solar projects offer ownership shares and subscriptions. Some projects only have one option available, while others let you choose. You can save on power bills with both options, but understanding the differences between them is important:
- When you purchase an ownership share in a community solar project, the corresponding percentage of power generation is yours for the entire service life of the project. Also, since you're a partial owner of the system, you can claim 26% of your investment as a federal tax deduction. However, owning part of a community solar project means you must have the capital to pay upfront.
- When you subscribe to a community solar project, there is no upfront investment. Instead, you pay a monthly fee. This means there is an ongoing cost, but the corresponding power bill savings are higher than the subscription fee. Keep in mind that subscription costs may increase over time, while an ownership share represents a single upfront payment.
Each option has pros and cons — you will generally save more when you become a shareholder in a community solar project, but a subscription comes with zero upfront cost. Also, consider that you must sell your share if you move to a location not covered by a community solar project, while a subscription can be easily canceled.
Is Community Solar Available Near You?
Community solar offers many benefits, but it is not available nationwide. To scale these types of projects, state governments must first enable this business model by law. Also, developers are more likely to invest in community solar projects if market conditions are favorable. Generally, the best states for solar power are those with incentive programs, abundant sunshine and/or high electricity prices.
There are currently 40 states with at least one community solar project in operation, and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) reported that 3.1 GW of community solar were online and operational by the end of Q1 2021. There is an optimistic outlook for community solar, and the SEIA has forecast a growth of 4 GW over the next five years. Each gigawatt of solar power can cover the electricity needs of around 186,000 American homes.
If you're interested in community solar power, you can check local government and utility websites — there could be several projects available near you.
FAQs: Community Solar
Is community solar legit?
Like all power generation projects, community solar systems are subject to laws and regulations. If you look for a developer that uses high-quality solar components and qualified installers, community solar is a reliable option to save on power bills for many years.
Is community solar a good deal?
To join a community solar project, you must become a shareholder with an upfront investment or pay an ongoing subscription. The power bill savings achieved will be higher than your monthly utility payments in both cases, but depending on the pricing model of your community's program, one option may present a better deal than the other.
What is community solar, and how does it work?
Community solar is an alternative to installing your own solar panels: You participate in a shared solar project as a shareholder or subscriber, and you get part of the electricity produced. This is a great option for individuals or companies who can't install their own solar panel systems due to lack of space or other limitations.
How does community solar make money?
Based on your ownership share or subscription type, you get part of the electricity produced by a community solar array. The kilowatt-hours generated are subtracted from your power bill — just like when you own solar panels directly.
Leonardo David is an electromechanical engineer, MBA, energy consultant and technical writer. His energy-efficiency and solar consulting experience covers sectors including banking, textile manufacturing, plastics processing, pharmaceutics, education, food processing, fast food, real estate and retail. He has also been writing articles about energy and engineering topics since 2015.
Scientists announced Thursday that only 10 vaquita porpoises likely remain in the world and that the animal's extinction is virtually assured without bold and immediate action.
The vaquita, the world's smallest and most endangered cetacean, is found only in Mexico's northern Gulf of California. The release of the new vaquita estimate comes just two days after reports of the possible first vaquita mortality of 2019. More details are expected in the coming days.
Thursday's announcement from the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita also calls on Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to end all gillnet fishing and adopt a "zero tolerance" policy of enforcement in the vaquita's small remaining habitat. The committee is an international team of scientific experts assembled in 1996 to assist in vaquita recovery efforts.
"One of Earth's most incredible creatures is about to be wiped off the planet forever," said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Yet Mexico has only made paper promises to protect these porpoises from deadly nets, without enforcement on the water. Time is running out for President Lopez Obrador to stop all gillnet fishing and save the vaquita."
The vaquita faces a single threat: entanglement in illegal gillnets set for shrimp and various fish species, including endangered totoaba. Totoaba swim bladders are illegally exported by organized criminal syndicates from Mexico to China, where they are highly valued for their perceived medicinal properties.
Despite efforts in Mexico to curb gillnet fishing of shrimp and other fish and efforts in China to reduce demand for totoaba, the vaquita's population dropped 50 percent in 2018, leaving an estimate of around 10 remaining vaquita, with no more than 22 and perhaps as few as six.
"There is only the tiniest sliver of hope remaining for the vaquita," said Kate O'Connell, a marine wildlife consultant with the Animal Welfare Institute. "Mexico must act decisively to ensure that all gillnet fishing is brought to an end throughout the Upper Gulf. If the vaquita is not immediately protected from this deadly fishing gear, it will go extinct on President Lopez Obrador's watch."
In 2017, in the face of international pressure, Mexico banned the use of most gillnets within the vaquita's range, but enforcement has been lacking. For example, during the 2018 illegal totoaba fishing season, nearly 400 active totoaba gillnets were documented in a small portion of the vaquita's range, and gillnets continue to be found within the vaquita refuge. Recent violence against conservationists in the region has limited critically important net removal efforts.
"If Mexico doesn't want to be guilty of wiping out a species, it needs to secure 100 percent gillnet-free habitat now," said Zak Smith, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council's Marine Mammal Protection Project. "What's happening to the vaquita is a disgrace and entirely preventable, yet the Obrador administration has not committed to a robust vaquita recovery plan and has already missed deadlines on vaquita conservation commitments."
"The organized criminal networks trafficking totoaba swim bladders from Mexico to China are responsible for the illegal fishing nets driving the vaquita to extinction," said Clare Perry, ocean campaign leader for the Environmental Investigation Agency. "Unless Mexico gets serious about enforcement and works with China and key transit countries to dismantle those networks, there is no hope for the remaining vaquita."
Despite the marine mammal's alarming decline, the international committee emphasized that the vaquita is not extinct and that recovery remains possible. They are still producing offspring, and the remaining animals are healthy, showing no signs of disease or malnutrition. The international community plays a critical role in vaquita conservation.
In 2018 a U.S. court temporarily banned the import of seafood caught with dangerous gillnets in vaquita habitat. This year parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the World Heritage Convention are considering additional conservation measures for the vaquita and totoaba.
On March 12th, 2019 The @MVFarleyMowat crew discovered a dead vaquita trapped in a totoaba gillnet. 🐬😢 Read the ar… https://t.co/leT1V0p8KW— Sea Shepherd SSCS (@Sea Shepherd SSCS)1552582471.0
- Vaquita Still Doomed Without Further Disruption of Totoaba Cartels ... ›
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- Vaquita ›
Advocates from public-health and environmental groups delivered more than 45,000 petition signatures to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday asking the agency to deny a proposal that would expand spraying antibiotics on citrus fields.
If that proposal is approved, citrus growers could spray more than 650,000 pounds of the antibiotic streptomycin on citrus fields every year to treat the bacteria that causes citrus greening disease. Streptomycin belongs to a class of antibiotics considered critically important to human health by the World Health Organization. By contrast, people in America only use 14,000 pounds of that antibiotic class each year.
"The more you use antibiotics, the greater the risk that bacteria resistant to the drugs will flourish and spread. The bottom line is that the potential problems created by spraying massive amounts of streptomycin on citrus fields could outweigh the original problem the EPA wants to solve," said Matt Wellington, U.S. PIRG's Stop the Overuse of Antibiotics campaign director.
Spraying 650,000 pounds of #antibiotics on citrus trees is an irresponsible use of life-saving medicines that may t… https://t.co/d1WkDqMBUv— U.S. PIRG (@U.S. PIRG)1552423440.0
Spraying antibiotics on citrus fields does not cure citrus greening disease or prevent its spread. If allowed, this would be the largest-ever use of a medically important antibiotic in plant agriculture in the U.S. The EPA has not fully considered the consequences of this unprecedented antibiotic use, especially given its limited potential for success, as laid out in comments by the Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and U.S. PIRG.
"Spraying orange and grapefruit trees with an antibiotic we use to treat human disease is a dangerously shortsighted idea," said Emily Knobbe, EPA policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. "In addition to increasing the risk of antibiotic resistance, the EPA's own analysis indicates streptomycin could harm foraging mammals like rabbits and chipmunks."
Recent research suggests that up to 162,000 Americans die each year from antibiotic-resistant infections. The World Health Organization ranked antibiotic resistance among the top 10 health threats in 2019. Overusing antibiotics in any setting fuels the spread of drug-resistant bacteria.
Antibiotics should be used as sparingly as possible and only when absolutely necessary. Spraying massive quantities of a medically important antibiotic on citrus fields doesn't fit those requirements.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported last week that in 2018 it issued so-called "emergency" approvals to spray sulfoxaflor—an insecticide the agency considers "very highly toxic" to bees—on more than 16 million acres of crops known to attract bees.
Of the 18 states where the approvals were granted for sorghum and cotton crops, 12 have been given the approvals for at least four consecutive years for the same "emergency."
Last year the EPA's Office of the Inspector General released a report finding that the agency's practice of routinely granting "emergency" approval for pesticides across millions of acres does not effectively measure risks to human health or the environment.
"Spraying 16 million acres of bee-attractive crops with a bee-killing pesticide in a time of global insect decline is beyond the pale, even for the Trump administration," said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "The EPA is routinely misusing the 'emergency' process to get sulfoxaflor approved because it's too toxic to make it through normal pesticide reviews."
Under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, the EPA has the authority to approve temporary emergency uses of pesticides, even those not officially approved, if the agency determines it is needed to prevent the spread of an unexpected outbreak of crop-damaging insects, for example. But the provision has been widely abused.
That widespread abuse was chronicled in the Center for Biological Diversity's recent report, Poisonous Process: How the EPA's Chronic Misuse of 'Emergency' Pesticide Exemptions Increases Risks to Wildlife. The report concludes that emergency exemptions for sulfoxaflor are essentially a backdoor authorization allowing for its ongoing use on millions of acres of crops where exposure to pollinators through contaminated pollen is high. In fact, the so-called "emergencies" cited are routine and foreseeable occurrences.
Previously, in response to a lawsuit by beekeepers, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the EPA's original registration of sulfoxaflor in 2015. The EPA's new 2016 registration for sulfoxaflor—purportedly designed to ensure essentially no exposure to bees—excluded crops like cotton and sorghum that are attractive to bees.
A compilation of federal register notices indicates that sulfoxaflor was approved on 16.2 million acres of cotton and sorghum crops in 2018 on an emergency basis. Emergency approvals were granted in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
"The EPA is far too eager to find loopholes to approve harmful pesticides when it should be focusing on keeping people and wildlife safe from those pesticides," said Donley. "The routine abuse of emergency exemptions has to stop."
A recent study published in Nature found that sulfoxaflor exposure at low doses had severe consequences for bumblebee reproductive success. The authors cautioned against the EPA's current trajectory of replacing older neonicotinoids with nearly identical insecticides like sulfoxaflor.
A major study published earlier this month found that more than 41 percent of the world's insect species are on the fast track to extinction, and that a "serious reduction in pesticide usage" is key to preventing their extinction.
Drone footage of new border wall in New Mexico shows that the Trump administration's border militarization is already damaging ecosystems and wildlife. Trump waived 25 laws that protect clean air, clean water, public lands and endangered wildlife to speed construction of 20 miles of new walls.
The video, taken by the Center for Biological Diversity and available for media use, shows the 18-foot-tall bollard-style barrier constructed in the remote Chihuahuan Desert. The wall replaced waist-high vehicle barriers that allowed wildlife to move back and forth across the border.
"Trump's destructive wall is already being built, as this video shows," said Laiken Jordahl, the Center for Biological Diversity's borderlands campaigner, who helped shoot the video. "He just ripped a 20-mile scar through spectacular New Mexico landscape while Washington politicians fight over the difference between a 'fence' and a 'wall.' It's a ridiculous argument that's completely lost on wildlife harmed by these barriers. Congress shouldn't give Trump another cent for these devastating projects."
The remote wilderness of sagebrush and soaptree yucca is not a crossing point for drug smugglers or migrants. But it is home to rare animals, including the Mexican gray wolf and Aplomado falcon, as well as kit foxes, bighorn sheep and ringtail cats.
The new bollard-style wall blocks the natural migration of wildlife. The $73 million wall is also likely to cause flooding and erosion.
This month the Trump administration is expected to break ground on more border-wall construction in Texas' Rio Grande Valley, using $1.6 billion approved by Congress last year. The Texas walls would cut through the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, National Butterfly Center, Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park and the grounds of the historic La Lomita Chapel, as well as family farms and other private property.
Beyond jeopardizing wildlife, endangered species and public lands, the U.S.-Mexico border wall is part of a larger strategy of ongoing border militarization that damages human rights, civil liberties, native lands, local businesses and international relations. The border wall impedes the natural migrations of people and wildlife that are essential to healthy diversity.
A Literal Wall Expert Explains Why Trump's Wall Won't Even Work https://t.co/RsiTtXCini— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1547501748.0
Conservation groups filed a lawsuit Thursday challenging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' approval of a permit that allows a huge master-planned sprawl development project near Benson, Arizona to proceed. The Villages at Vigneto would transform 12,167 acres of largely undeveloped habitat into 28,000 residences, 3 million square feet of commercial space, four golf courses, fountains, lakes and a resort.
The development would rely solely on groundwater, draining the San Pedro River and harming millions of migratory birds, including threatened and endangered species. Yet the Corps refused to analyze these staggering impacts, confining its analysis to a small fraction of the development.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Tucson, says the Corps failed to prepare a comprehensive environmental analysis of the entire development in violation of the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. The groups are asking the court to invalidate the permit and order the Corps to complete the necessary environmental analysis.
"The San Pedro River is the last remaining intact natural river ecosystem in southern Arizona—an oasis in the desert that supports a rich array of species, including millions of migratory songbirds," said Peter Else, chair of the Lower San Pedro Watershed Alliance, a landowner-based conservation association. "It is essential that we take every step to preserve this critical resource, protect wildlife habitat and migration corridors, sustainable rural lifestyles, and valuable recreation opportunities."
The proposed development would depend solely on groundwater to satisfy the water needs of approximately 70,000 people. That would dramatically increase demand on groundwater resources from approximately 800 acre-feet per year to a projected 8,427 acre-feet per year.
This magnitude of pumping would deplete surface flows along the San Pedro River and at the St. David Cienega, a groundwater-fed marsh within the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. The development would also transform thousands of acres of upland habitat into impervious surfaces, increasing storm-water runoff, flooding and destructive sediment accumulation in the river.
The San Pedro riparian area contains about 40 miles of the upper San Pedro River.Bureau of Land Management
"Hydrology studies show that this development would suck the St. David Cienega dry and have a devastating impact on wildlife that depend on it for their survival," said Robin Silver, cofounder of the Center for Biological Diversity. "The science is clear that this level of water pumping would irreversibly degrade the riparian habitat and harm migratory birds, including multiple endangered and listed species. The Corps has abdicated its responsibility to consider these significant impacts."
The San Pedro River depends on groundwater contributions from the regional aquifer, especially during the driest times of the year. In 1988 Congress expressly reserved water rights for the conservation area to protect the river's aquatic and riparian resources, including the St. David Cienega.
Reports already show that groundwater pumping is depleting the aquifer at an unsustainable rate, threatening the future of the river and riparian habitat that is essential to wildlife.
"What is most alarming about this proposal for those along the Lower San Pedro River is that a new upstream city of 70,000 people will be pulling water from the ground in an unsustainable way. Most of that water will never be replaced. It's a potential death sentence for the Lower San Pedro," said Pearl Mast, board member of the Cascabel Conservation Association.
The Corps did not analyze the potential harm to the river or the conservation area caused by the development, claiming they are outside its "scope of analysis." The Corps confined its analysis to 1,919 acres, a small fraction of the proposed development.
"There is no rational basis for the Corps' refusal to consider the full impacts of the Vigneto development on these unique and critical resources," said Stu Gillespie, a staff attorney with Earthjustice. "This is a clear example of the Trump administration trying to game the system and shirk its duty to consider and disclose the impacts of its decisions."
"The San Pedro River is this incredible asset to our state, providing habitat for a diversity of species, a flyway for migratory birds and a wildlife viewing paradise for people from around the world," said Sandy Bahr, director of Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Chapter. "Several species that are dependent on the river are also threatened or endangered due to habitat loss. Arizona has allowed development and other diversions to dry up and destroy several important rivers. We cannot, we must not, allow the San Pedro to join that list."
"The San Pedro River was the first Global Important Bird Area for the United States and both birds and birders continue to flock to the critical and unique habitat the river provides," said Nicole Gillett, a conservation advocate with Tucson Audubon. "A development of this scale and design is unsustainable and will damage not only the environment but the economy built around it."
The lawsuit was filed by the Lower San Pedro Watershed Alliance, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Tucson Audubon Society, Maricopa Audubon Society and Cascabel Conservation Association. The groups are represented by Earthjustice.
Trump Opens Door to Dangerous Fracking in Northern Arizona https://t.co/TOV5ngCmu9 #fracking #Arizona #publiclands… https://t.co/xPu1aUGS8G— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1527003537.0
The yearly count of monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico, released Wednesday, shows an increase of 144 percent from last year's count and is the highest count since 2006. That's good news for a species whose numbers had fallen in recent years, but conservationists say the monarch continues to need Endangered Species Act protection.
The count of 6.05 hectares of occupied forest is up from 2.48 hectares last winter. The increase is attributable to favorable weather during the spring and summer breeding seasons and during the fall migration. Monarchs have lost an estimated 165 million acres of breeding habitat in the U.S. to herbicide spraying and development.
"This reprieve from bad news on monarchs is a thank-you from the butterflies to all the people who planted native milkweeds and switched to organic corn and soy products," said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. "But one good weather year won't save the monarch in the long run, and more protections are needed for this migratory wonder and its summer and winter habitats."
In 2014 conservationists led by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Food Safety petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the butterfly under the Endangered Species Act. The Fish and Wildlife Service's initial decision was that endangered species protection may be warranted, and a final decision will be issued by June.
"The question is whether the Trump administration wants to do Monsanto's bidding or protect monarchs for future generations," said George Kimbrell, legal director at the Center for Food Safety. "This year's count is a temporary reprieve that doesn't change what the law and science demands, which is that we protect monarchs under the Endangered Species Act before it's too late."
As recently as the mid-1990s, monarchs covered nearly 21 hectares of forest in their wintering ground, falling to less than 1 hectare in 2014. Scientists estimate that 6 hectares is the threshold to be out of the immediate danger zone of migratory collapse.
About 99 percent of all North American monarchs migrate each winter to oyamel fir forests on 12 mountaintops in central Mexico. Scientists from World Wildlife Fund Mexico estimate the population size by measuring the area of trees turned orange by the clustering butterflies.
Monarch butterflies west of the Rocky Mountains overwinter on the coast of California. Their numbers dropped to fewer than 30,000 this year, down from 1.2 million two decades ago.
A recent study found that if current trends continue, the western population has a 63 percent chance of extinction in 20 years and more than an 80 percent chance of extinction within 50 years. The western population is now at the threshold of extinction.
The caterpillars only eat milkweed, but the plant has been devastated by increased herbicide spraying in conjunction with corn and soybean crops that have been genetically engineered to tolerate direct spraying with herbicides. In addition to glyphosate, monarchs are threatened by other herbicides and by neonicotinoid insecticides that are toxic to young caterpillars.
Climate change also threatens to disrupt the monarch's migration and render its overwintering habitats unsuitable by the end of the century.
Graph by Tierra Curry, Center for Biological Diversity
5 Ways to Make a Difference in the Life of a #Monarch @HFSciencePub @jnp_mn @BetteAStevens https://t.co/ZDP5MNdneR— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1543329699.0
The return of supersonic airplanes would result in 96 million metric tons of carbon pollution per year, according to a new study released Wednesday by the International Council on Clean Transportation.
"In our era of runaway climate change, swapping fuel efficiency for speed is a devil's bargain," said Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. "The aviation industry should be reducing its massive carbon footprint, not enlarging it with exorbitant luxuries for the super-wealthy. Supersonics are catastrophic for the climate."
Aviation startups envision a fleet of 2,000 supersonic planes, which will burn five to seven times more fuel per passenger than standard airliners, serving 500 cities by 2035. The study estimates that this fleet would emit 1.6 to 2.4 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide over a 25-year service lifetime—eight times more than the entire U.S. aviation industry emits in a year.
Supersonic planes also create a loud roar, called a sonic boom, when they break the sound barrier. That continues along the entire supersonic flight route. The planes could double the area exposed to harmful noise pollution around airports compared to standard planes of the same size, the study found. Exposure to aircraft noise is linked to high blood pressure and heart disease, cognitive impairments in children, and life-threatening disturbance for sensitive and endangered wildlife.
U.S. airports expected to experience 100 or more supersonic landing and takeoffs per day include Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York's JFK. Parts of the country could be exposed to between 150 and 200 sonic booms per day, or up to one boom every five minutes over a 16-hour flight day.
In August 2018, 38 environmental, public-health and community groups successfully urged the Senate to reject a provision in the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill that would have lifted a 45-year ban on overland supersonic flight in the U.S. But the bill passed in October 2018 with a provision requiring the FAA to start setting certification standards that will let civilian supersonic planes fly in U.S. airspace—and to consider repealing the overland supersonic flight ban.
"Federal aviation officials should take a hard look at the science and set standards that keep these flying gas-guzzlers out of our skies altogether," Lakewood said. "Keeping the air we breathe clean and preserving a livable planet are simply more important than trimming flight times."
"This news is worrying and compelling." In my first @EcoWatch post today, the @metoffice has some scary predictions… https://t.co/gqzaSMG0Ky— Olivia Rosane (@Olivia Rosane)1548445511.0
Omar Chatriwala / Moment / Getty Images
On Thursday more than 600 environmental groups called on the U.S. House of Representatives to pursue ambitious climate legislation that matches the scale and urgency of the climate crisis.
The groups' letter calls for a thoughtful phaseout of fossil fuel production, a transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035, complete decarbonization of the transportation system, use of the Clean Air Act to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, a just transition to a new green economy and the adherence to treaties upholding Indigenous rights when pursuing these actions.
"To effectively tackle climate change, policymakers need to commit to transforming the global economy to serve the interests of people and planet, and not the profits of the one percent," said Angela Adrar, executive director of Climate Justice Alliance. "Such a new, green economy needs to be guided by the leadership and knowledge of those most burdened by pollution, poverty and other forms of institutional violence waged by the corporations causing this global ecological crisis."
"As the world teeters on the brink of climate catastrophe, we're calling on Congress to take large-scale action," said Bill Snape, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Americans want a livable future for their children, and that requires keeping fossil fuels in the ground while greening the economy on a wartime footing."
"The disproportionate impacts of climate change and dirty energy development in the traditional territories and lands of American Indian and Alaska Natives must be taken into account to ensure the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples are fully recognized in the just transition to a new green economy," said Tom BK Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network. "Indigenous and other frontline communities are ready to take the lead with real solutions to move away from a fossil fuel economy."
Months before the 116th Congress opened, a series of scientific reports warned of the dire consequences of inaction on climate change.
In October the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that policymakers must take "unprecedented action" to limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. In November the Fourth National Climate Assessment reported that the health and economic costs of climate change are already being felt in the U.S., and that those harms will intensify without "immediate and substantial" cuts to greenhouse gas pollution.
"At precisely the time that we need our energy policy to swiftly move us into a managed decline of fossil fuel production, the Trump administration is working with the fossil fuel industry to tear down policies and dangerously expand our fossil fuel extraction," said David Turnbull, strategic communications director at Oil Change USA. "We need real climate leaders willing to stand up to this onslaught and work to phase out fossil fuel production, rather than digging the hole deeper."
"We cannot stop climate change and rising inequality with the half-solutions of the past," said Nicole Ghio, senior fossil fuels manager at Friends of the Earth. "We need action on climate that ends our dependence on dirty energy, puts power in the hands of communities and provides good jobs. If candidates and elected officials say they are committed to climate solutions, this is the litmus test."
Thursday's letter also notes that the groups will oppose legislation that rolls back existing climate policies, shields the fossil fuel industry from liability or promotes market-based approaches like pollution trading and offsets.
"The excitement around the Green New Deal should energize Congress to take bold, transformative action on climate change," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. "This means a halt to all new fossil fuel development now, and it means a rejection of dangerous false solutions like market-based emissions trading programs."
On Tuesday the Trump administration offered more than 150,000 acres of public lands for fossil-fuel extraction near some of Utah's most iconic landscapes, including Arches and Canyonlands national parks.
Dozens of Utahns gathered at the state Capitol to protest the lease sale, which included lands within 10 miles of internationally known protected areas. In addition to Arches and Canyonlands, the Bureau of Land Management leased public lands for fracking near Bears Ears, Canyons of the Ancients and Hovenweep national monuments and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
"Utahns have demonstrated their commitment to transition away from dirty fossil fuels through clean energy resolutions passed in municipalities across our state. Yet, these commitments continue to be undermined by rampant oil and gas lease sales, which threaten our public health, public lands, and economy. While Utah's recreational and tourism economies continue to flourish, these attempts to develop sacred cultural, environmental, and recreational spaces for dirty fuels remain a grave and growing threat." said Ashley Soltysiak, director of the Utah Sierra Club. "Utah is our home and the reckless sale of our public lands with limited public engagement is simply unacceptable and short-sighted."
Fracking in these areas threatens sensitive plants and animals, including the black-footed ferret, Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker and Graham's beardtongue. It also will worsen air pollution problems in the Uinta Basin and use tremendous amounts of groundwater. Utah just experienced its driest year in recorded history.
"This is a reckless fire sale of spectacular public lands for dirty drilling and fracking," said Ryan Beam, a public lands campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. "These red-rock wonderlands are some of the West's most iconic landscapes, and we can't afford to lose a single acre. Fracking here will waste precious water, foul the air and destroy beautiful wild places that should be held in trust for generations to come."
This lease sale is part of a larger agenda by Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to ramp up fossil fuel extraction on public lands, threatening wildlife, public health and the climate. This year the BLM has offered more than 420,000 acres of public land in Utah for oil and gas extraction. The agency plans to auction another 215,000 acres in March. The Trump administration also has issued new policies, which are being challenged in court, to shorten public-comment periods and avoid substantive environmental reviews.
"BLM's shortsighted decision threatens Utah's red rock wilderness as well as significant cultural and archaeological resources," said Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. "BLM's 'lease everything, lease everywhere' approach to oil and gas development needlessly threatens iconic red-rock landscapes and irreplaceable cultural history in the ill-conceived push for 'energy dominance.'"
Fracking destroys public lands and wildlife habitat with networks of fracking wells, compressor stations, pipelines and roads. Injecting toxic wastewater into the ground pollutes rivers and groundwater and causes earthquakes that damage infrastructure and property. Oil industry activities also pollute the air with dangerous toxins linked to human illness and death. The federal government's own report shows that oil and gas production on public land contributes significantly to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Kara Clauser / Center for Biological Diversity
New analysis from the Center for Biological Diversity, Farm Forward and Brighter Green Sunday finds that the meat-heavy menu at the United Nations' Framework Convention on Climate Change conference COP24 could contribute more than 4,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases to the climate crisis.
The data found that if all 30,000 visitors choose meat-based dishes at the conference's largest food court during the 12-day conference, they would contribute the equivalent of burning more than 500,000 gallons of gasoline or the greenhouse gas emissions attributed to 3,000 people flying from New York to Katowice.
The groups that compiled the research called on the United Nations to create a framework for host countries to prioritize climate-friendly menus at future climate meetings.
"The meat-laden menu at COP24 is an insult to the work of the conference," said Stephanie Feldstein, director of the Population and Sustainability program at the Center for Biological Diversity. "If the world leaders gathering in Poland hope to address the climate crisis, they need to tackle overconsumption of meat and dairy, starting with what's on their own plates. That means transitioning the food served at international climate conferences to more plant-based options with smaller carbon footprints."
The menu features twice as many meat-based options as plant-based ones. These meat dishes generate average greenhouse gas emissions four times higher than the plant-based meals. The two dairy-free, plant-based options generate one-tenth of the emissions.
In addition to higher greenhouse gas emissions, the meat-based dishes on the menu require nine times more land and nearly twice as much water as the plant-based dishes.
Melissa Amarello / Center for Biological Diversity
"What people eat at a conference may seem like small potatoes when it comes to curbing global emissions," added Farm Forward's Claire Fitch. "But if those at the forefront of global climate negotiations aren't going to 'walk the talk' at the highest-level climate conference, how can we expect the rest of the world to get on board?"
Studies have shown that it will not be possible to meet global climate targets without reducing meat and dairy consumption and production. Yet the need to tackle the overconsumption of animal-based foods has been largely absent from international climate negotiations and commitments. The majority of food-related efforts focus on improving production practices with few or no significant targets for shifting to less climate-intensive diets.
"We know that we cannot meet the Paris Agreement goals, or the 1.5C target, with business as usual," said Caroline Wimberly of Brighter Green, who will be in Katowice for COP24. "Food is not a matter only of personal choice, but an essential factor in solving the climate crisis. Demand-side policies and efforts, including food waste reductions and shifting diets—prioritizing populations with the highest consumption of animal-based foods—are critical in achieving a climate compatible food system and curtailing emissions."