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By Jeff Turrentine
From day to day, our public health infrastructure — the people and systems we've put in place to keep populations, as opposed to individuals, healthy — largely goes unnoticed. That's because when it's working well, its success takes the form of utter normalcy.
By Jeff Turrentine
Back in 2017, a few weeks before Donald Trump became the most powerful individual in the world, a New Yorker cartoon by Will McPhail did what the best New Yorker cartoons do: It made you laugh, and then — once you stopped laughing — it made you think. Trump had just won the presidency in part by redefining populism as the belief that experience and expertise should count for far less than ideology and intensity. Without mentioning him by name, and without even making reference to politics for that matter, McPhail managed to capture the frustration and anxiety that millions were feeling.
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By Jason Bittel
When you walk into the tropical rainforest room at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, the first thing you'll probably notice are the hyacinth macaws perched in mango trees. The feathers of these massive parrots are so impossibly blue that the birds look like birthday party piñatas. And the first thing you'll likely hear is the trill of the much tinier laughing thrushes as they swoop from tall cacao plants to the indoor-jungle floor. But watch out for Gus! He's the blue-headed great argus pheasant who likes to commandeer the walkway while unfurling his four-foot-tall fan of feathers in an attempt to woo female pheasants.
Well, he told us he would do it. And now he's actually doing it — or at least trying to. Late last week, President Trump, via the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management, announced that he was formalizing his plan to develop lands that once belonged within the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in southern Utah. The former is a stunningly beautiful, ecologically fragile landscape that has played a crucial role in Native American culture in the Southwest for thousands of years; the latter, just as beautiful, is one of the richest and most important paleontological sites in North America.
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By Jeff Turrentine
By fourth or fifth grade, most American schoolchildren have learned about the water cycle. They come to appreciate water's elegant efficiency as it moves from phase to phase: journeying from sea to sky to land and back out to sea again, supporting all life on earth along its transmutative path. I still smile at the memory of my own daughter excitedly sharing with me what she'd discovered about the water cycle at school, the way her voice rose as she informed me that "all the water is connected!" The idea that the substance making up the world's creeks, streams, rivers, lakes and oceans was the very same stuff — literally, the same molecules — as what she found in her bath, or in a snowman, or coming out of a water fountain ... well, it just blew her little mind.
By Jason Bittel
High up in the mountains of Montana's Glacier National Park, there are two species of insect that only a fly fishermen or entomologist would probably recognize. Known as stoneflies, these aquatic bugs are similar to dragonflies and mayflies in that they spend part of their lives underwater before emerging onto the land, where they transform into winged adults less than a half inch long. However, unlike those other species, stoneflies do their thing only where cold, clean waters flow.
From left: meltwater lednian stonefly (Lednia tumana); a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey looks for aquatic insects in an alpine stream at Glacier National Park.
Clockwise from top: a meltwater stonefly at Glacier National Park; close-up of two meltwater lednian stoneflies; close-up of western glacier stonefly (Zapada glacier)
Glacier NPS / Flickr. Western glacier stonefly: Joe Giersch / USGS
By Jeff Turrentine
To celebrate the 50th birthday of one of America's most important environmental laws, President Trump has decided to make a mockery out of it.
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By Jeff Turrentine
At first glance, the images seem more like nightmares than real life. Blood-red skies that appear to have seeped into the earth below, staining it hellishly. Cyclone-like whirls with columns of flame at their centers. People and animals huddled close together on a beach, ready to jump into the ocean should the encroaching fires reach their makeshift camp and leave them with no choice.
By Courtney Lindwall
President Trump says fulfilling the country's commitment to the Paris climate agreement would be bad news for the U.S. economy, but the growing tally of business leaders pledging to take action anyway suggests otherwise. These businesspeople understand that while climate action costs money, climate change costs far more.
Bottom Lines<p>Trump often says that the Paris Agreement "<a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/statement-president-trump-paris-climate-accord/" target="_blank">punishes</a>" the U.S., particularly its businesses, but he outright ignores the far more destructive economic force of climate change. According to a <a href="https://www.nber.org/papers/w26167" target="_blank">recent study</a> from the National Bureau of Economic Research, a business-as-usual high-emissions scenario (like the one Trump touts) could result in a <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2019/08/19/climate-change-could-cost-us-up-percent-its-gdp-by-study-finds/" target="_blank">7.2 percent drop in GDP</a> per capita worldwide by the end of the century. Disruptions to global supply chains are <a href="https://epsnews.com/2018/02/01/resilinc-supply-chain-disruptions-nearly-doubled-2017/" target="_blank">already upon us</a>, and as carbon pollution continues to collect in our atmosphere, more will come. <a href="https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2019/06/20/climate-change-economy-impacts/" target="_blank">Experts predict</a> far-reaching impacts to the infrastructure that supports nearly all businesses, such as extreme weather affecting the transportation of raw goods and rising sea levels swamping the fiber-optic cables essential to the internet.</p><p>Of course, climate change will also jeopardize specific industries, such as winter sports (see: <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/onearth/year-without-snow" target="_blank">decreases in snowfall</a>), and products, like your morning cup of coffee. In fact, it's little wonder that Starbucks has also <a href="https://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/news/2017/06/05/trump-paris-climate-amazon-microsoft-starbucks.html" target="_blank">signed on</a> to We Are Still In. Climate change may bring increasingly irregular growing seasons (and skyrocketing prices) for <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/news/17012019/coffee-climate-change-risk-wild-arabica-endanagered-kew-study" target="_blank">coffee beans</a> on top of increased sick days for field workers exposed to <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/onearth/too-hot-handle" target="_blank">extreme heat</a>. Such concerns would apply to almost any business dependent on either agriculture or a global workforce, or both. According to a <a href="http://dels.nas.edu/resources/static-assets/materials-based-on-reports/booklets/warming_world_final.pdf" target="_blank">2011 National Academy of Sciences</a> report, for every additional degree Celsius that the planet warms, we can expect a 5 to 15 percent reduction in total crop yield.</p>
Big Penance<p>While many corporations have spewed more than their fair share of carbon pollution, several are now taking the opportunity to have a supersize impact on emissions reductions. Look at the world's two biggest retailers: Amazon and Walmart. Amazon says it will go carbon neutral by 2040, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/19/technology/amazon-carbon-neutral.html" target="_blank">10 years ahead</a> of the Paris goals, and recently made moves to start transitioning its <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/story-normal-car-factory-abandoned-gas-guzzlers-soon-be-buzzing-electric-vehicles" target="_blank">fleet of delivery trucks</a> to electric vehicles. Soon after Trump took office, Walmart announced its <a href="https://www.walmartsustainabilityhub.com/project-gigaton" target="_blank">Project Gigaton</a> initiative, which set the ambitious goal of lowering the company's global carbon emissions — by pressing for action on the part of its suppliers — by one billion metric tons before 2030. Walmart has since reported that it's <a href="https://www.greenbiz.com/article/walmart-inches-toward-audacious-project-gigaton-goal" target="_blank">on track to meet</a> its goal, which is no small feat: the entire U.S. emitted <a href="https://www.c2es.org/content/u-s-emissions/" target="_blank">6.5 billion metric tons</a> of carbon in 2017.</p>
Market Trends<p>Climate action is <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-false-choice-between-economic-growth-and-combatting-climate-change" target="_blank">no longer seen as the enemy</a> of economic progress. While the <a href="https://www.e2.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/E2_CleanEnergyJobs_National.pdf" target="_blank">clean energy industry</a> has known this for a while, the notion is (finally) catching on in other corners of the economy — and most excitingly it's creating opportunities for market-disrupting innovation.</p><p>Take electric vehicles (EVs). While Trump <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/onearth/trump-trying-stand-way-electric-cars-theyre-breezing-right-past-him" target="_blank">fights the auto industry's progress</a> in manufacturing cleaner cars and trucks, countries such as China are investing in zero-emission vehicle technology at warp speed. According to a <a href="https://www.jpmorgan.com/global/research/electric-vehicles" target="_blank">recent report by JP Morgan Research</a>, China is expected to account for <a href="https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/327143" target="_blank">nearly 60 percent</a> of all global EV sales by next year, and many Chinese businesses (the ride-sharing company Didi Chuxing, for example) are eager to profit while they help the world progress. The same goes for the folks behind other innovations — like <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/09/30/can-a-burger-help-solve-climate-change" target="_blank">plant-based faux meats</a>, and energy-efficient fabrics <a href="https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/78m7mz/this-taiwanese-company-makes-clothes-out-of-coffee-grounds" target="_blank">made from coffee grounds</a>, and <a href="https://reset.org/blog/compostable-bottle-every-use-veganbottle-11192017" target="_blank">petroleum-free plastics</a>, and delivery vans <a href="https://www.fastcompany.com/3068244/these-grocery-delivery-trucks-are-powered-by-food-waste" target="_blank">fueled by food waste</a> and ... you get the idea. A poll by the data firm Nielsen showed that <a href="https://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/article/2018/global-consumers-seek-companies-that-care-about-environmental-issues/" target="_blank">81 percent</a> of consumers feel strongly that companies should help improve the environment. The sustainability economy is booming — and <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/onearth/friday-school-out-and-climate-strike" target="_blank">climate-conscious Gen Z'ers and millennials</a> are ready to buy accordingly.</p>
Consumer Trust<p>At their best, corporate climate pledges open business practices up to public accountability and mark a first step toward real-life emissions cuts. At their worst, they provide a greenwashed shield behind which polluting companies can hide their status quo behaviors. Procter & Gamble, for one, boasts about the forest-friendly sourcing and certifications of its Charmin toilet paper (the company has no climate pledges to speak of). But in practice, P&G has been <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/shelley-vinyard/unrolling-charmins-sustainability-claims" target="_blank">clear-cutting</a> one of the world's most important carbon sinks, Canada's boreal forest, in the name of softer TP.</p><p>We are all in this climate crisis together, which is why it's crucial to make sure our leaders and retailers keep their promises. Presidents have power, but so do corporations. Corporations have power, but so do consumers.</p>
By Jeff Turrentine
Years ago, my wife and I decided to while away an idle summer afternoon in her Texas hometown by driving our infant daughter to a neighborhood park. We pulled into the empty lot, liberated the baby from her car seat, and made our way somewhat warily through this public yet noticeably deserted space toward its small, forlorn playground. If the grass had ever been green there, it wasn't any longer; the punishing South Texas sun had dried it into a brittle yellow hay. There were few trees next to the playground equipment, and no shade of any kind to be found, so any metal or even plastic surface was searingly hot to the touch. The slide was a nonstarter. I flinched and had to let go immediately when I grasped the chains of the baby swing. The water fountain didn't work. We lasted all of five minutes before returning to the car.
By Jason Bittel
Authorities in Hong Kong intercepted some questionable cargo three years ago — a rather large shipment of shark fins that had originated in Panama. Shark fins are a hot commodity among some Asian communities for their use in soup, and most species are legally consumed in Hong Kong, but certain species are banned from international trade due to their extinction risk. And wouldn't you know it: this confiscated shipment contained nearly a ton of illegal hammerhead fins.
Silky shark. NOAA / Teachers at Sea Program<p>For instance, <a href="https://conbio.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/conl.12457" target="_blank">a study</a> of Hong Kong's market, published last year in <em>Conservation Letters</em>, found that silky sharks were the second-most commonly sold species there from 2014 to 2016. The animals are considered <a href="https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/39370/117721799" target="_blank">vulnerable to extinction</a> by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. And close behind the silkies, ranking fourth and fifth, were scalloped hammerheads (<a href="https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/39385/10190088" target="_blank">endangered</a>) and smooth hammerheads (<a href="https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/39388/10193797" target="_blank">vulnerable</a>). All <a href="https://www.cites.org/eng/prog/shark/history.php" target="_blank">three species are listed</a> under Appendix II of CITES, which strictly regulates their trade. The study also found evidence of illegal hammerhead fins in 46 out of 46 sampling events in Hong Kong.</p><p>The U.S. obviously can't control what happens in every market all over the world. But we could be doing more to watch over what's moving in and out of our own ports<em>.</em></p><p>Part of the answer is logistics, says Murdock. Better communication among agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Customs and Border Protection, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration could help. Some budgetary improvements could also be made — currently, wildlife shipments are mandated to funnel through just 17 U.S. ports that have the appropriate inspection personnel.</p><p>But honestly, a lot of the problem comes down to wording.</p>
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