Thursday, April 20, 2017 | By mcoppola | No Comments
(From Food Mill)
In celebration or Earth Day, here’s 7 easy ways to celebrate your mother (Earth, that is):
- Avoid plastics. Water bottles, straws, and plastic cutlery may contain toxins. They are also harmful to the environment when they are not properly re-used or recycled. Click here for avoidance tips and plastic-substitution options.
- Plant a garden. Save money, and eat healthy by growing your own food. For the best growth, consider companion planting.This strategy involves placing two or more plants next to each other that will benefit each other. Learn more here.
- Eco-Construction. If you’re building a new kitchen or remodeling an old one, embrace green living techniques to make the room more sustainable and energy efficient. Check outthese tips.
- Natural Spring Cleaning. Consider cleaning with safe and all-natural supplies or productsto avoid harsh chemicals. If you are trying to save, make your own organic cooking spray.
- Do It Yourself! There are many home products that can be made from simple kitchen ingredients. If you are looking to go all-natural, try making your own deodorant or facial masks.
- Green Groceries. Buy organic, non-GMO, or fair trade for products that are healthy and made sustainably. Create budgeting strategies, or learn more about product labeling before your next trip to the store.
- Go Outside! Spring has finally sprung, and it’s time to explore the outdoors. Have a picnic, or play sports with friends or family. Make sure to stay hydrated, and avoid insect bites or ticks.
Thursday, April 20, 2017 | By Tom Philpott | No Comments
Engorged with $120 million in cash from top-shelf Silicon Valley venture-capital firms and declared the “coolest invention of 2016” by Goop, Juicero debuted last year, peddling pricey subscription bags of pre-chopped produce and a $700 contraption to crush them into juice.
What a difference a year makes. The company has slashed the price of its contraption to $400. Juicero founder Doug Evans—who once vowed to do for juicing what Steve Jobs did for personal computing—has been replaced as CEO by a former Coca Cola exec. And that fancy juicer? Turns out to be a bit extraneous. Bloomberg reporters Ellen Huet and Olivia Zaleski found that just squeezing the Juicero bag with one’s bare hands works nearly as well as popping it into the proprietary contraption—and is actually faster. (Their video is must-watch):
In Bloomberg’s squeeze tests, hands did the job quicker, but the device was slightly more thorough. Reporters were able to wring 7.5 ounces of juice in a minute and a half. The machine yielded 8 ounces in about two minutes.
Now, unlike human hands, Juicero’s juice machine connects to the internet and “reads a QR code printed on the back of each produce pack and checks the source against an online database to ensure the contents haven’t expired or been recalled,” the reporters note. But “the expiration date is also printed on the pack.” So….
On Thursday, that former Coke CEO, Juicero honcho Jeff Dunn, leapt to the defense of the company and its gadget in a Medium post. He announced that the “value of Juicero is more than a glass of cold-pressed juice. Much more.” Indeed, he revealed, it’s the vehicle that has “let me connect my work to my personal mission and passion: solving some of our nation’s nutrition and obesity challenges.” Apparently, overcoming those challenges requires everyone to shell out $400 for a machine that saves the trouble of squeezing a bag for 90 seconds.
Last year, I cast a skeptical eye on Juicero and cheekily suggested the unlikely scenario that it would emerge as the Uber of $7-per-pop home juices. The Bloomberg reporters write that investors were thinking more along the lines of Nespresso and Dollar Shave Club: “businesses that combine the one-time sale of hardware that ends up leading to repeat purchases of consumable packages.”
But their story suggests a different direction. Doug Evans has apparently revolutionized juicing after all, by unwittingly inventing a highly effective way of doing it by hand, without the need for an elaborate mechanical device: probably more artisanal and less lucrative than his what his Silicon Valley funders had in mind.
Wednesday, April 19, 2017 | By Karen Hao | No Comments
In his America First Energy Plan, President Donald Trump boasts that “protecting clean air” will “remain a high priority” during his presidency. But just a few months into his term, Trump proposed cutting funding to the Environmental Protection Agency and signed an executive order to roll back the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era regulation central to the enforcement of the Clean Air Act. Bad timing. According to a new report published today by the American Lung Association, nearly 4 in 10 Americans live in places where it is unhealthy for them to breathe.
The ALA’s “State of the Air 2017” report analyzed air pollution data collected by the EPA from 2013 to 2015 and found that 125 million people live in counties that have unhealthful levels of either ozone (smog) or particle pollution. Though this represents a “major improvement” from the 2016 report, which placed the number at 166 million, or more than half of all Americans, the ALA is concerned that the recent progress could reverse. “Implementing and enforcing the Clean Air Act is responsible for the progress that we’ve seen so far, and it’s the tool to continue progress,” says Paul Billings, ALA’s national senior vice president.
The installation of modern pollution controls on power plants and retirement of old plants, the increasing reliance on renewable energy sources and natural gas over coal, and the creation of more stringent fuel emission standards have all contributed to the pollution declines, he says. Trump’s proposed cuts “would not only eviscerate programs at the EPA and at regional offices, but also dramatically cut the grants that pass through EPA to state and local environmental agencies”—a big chunk of which is used for air pollution control work.
The report also found an increase in dangerous short-term spikes in particle pollution, or the tiny solid and liquid particles mixed into the air we breathe. Breathing in smog and particle pollution can cause serious health problems, increasing the risk of asthma and infections and cancers of the lungs, and also possibly contributing to heart disease, obesity, and more terrifyingly, degenerative brain diseases.
Many of the cities that reported the worst number of unhealthy days are concentrated in the Western states, including California, Oregon, and Nevada, and experienced wildfire smoke. Given the strong link between climate change and the increasing frequency and intensity of droughts and wildfires, the report concluded that the data “adds to the evidence that a changing climate is making it harder to protect human health.”
Air pollution control is “a multifaceted problem, and it requires a comprehensive solution with many different strategies,” says Billings. “So we need to make sure things like the Clean Power Plan are implemented. If you don’t have strict enforcement, companies cheat and the consequences are dire.”
Look up the air quality of your city and county here.
Saturday, April 15, 2017 | By Kiera Butler | No Comments
Perhaps you’ve heard by now about the Instant Pot, a slow cooker, rice cooker, food warmer, pressure cooker, sauté pan, and yogurt maker all rolled into one slightly unwieldy programmable metal contraption. Over the last few months, this kitchen gadget has garnered a lot of attention. It’s a bestseller on Amazon. The New York Times took it for a spin, as did NPR’s The Salt. Bon Appétit claimed it “will change your life.”
But there’s one group that applies exceptional creativity to the Instant Pot: people who cook Indian food. On a private Facebook group called Instant Pot for Indian Cooking, home chefs adapt traditional dishes—dals, biryanis, curries, and more—and post the photos and recipes to 70,000 members. They also poll each other for advice—questions like “How much paneer do you get from a gallon of whole milk” in the Instant Pot? and “Has anyone used packaged fried onion from the store for Instant Pot biryani?”
These folks are devoted to their Instant Pots. Many members boast that they’ve thrown away their traditional Indian pressure cookers. Someone recently posted a photo of her Instant Pot overlooking a scenic mountain vista. Yes, the Instant Pot went camping.
So what makes the Instant Pot so good for Indian cuisine? On the last episode of Bite, our food politics podcast, I had a quick lesson with Pooja Verma, who cooks a lot of Indian food for her family in Fremont, California. (The segment starts at 02:28)
Pooja told me she now does an impressive 80 percent of her cooking in the Instant Pot. One reason she likes it, she says, is that it’s great for recipes that usually only work in India’s hot climate. Take idlis—dumplings made from fermented rice and lentil flour. The key to making great idlis, Pooja explained, is that the batter must ferment without the addition of yeast. “So some smart people have figured out that the yogurt function in the Instant Pot emanates just the right amount of heat to get the batter fermented overnight.” For more Instant Pot cooking tips from Pooja, listen to our latest episode of Bite.
Bite is Mother Jones‘ food politics podcast. Listen to all our episodes here, or by subscribing in iTunes or Stitcher or via RSS.
Saturday, April 15, 2017 | By Nathanael Johnson | No Comments
This story was originally published by Grist and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.
What Jonathan Sanderman really wanted was some old dirt. He called everyone he could think of who might know where he could get some. He emailed colleagues and read through old studies looking for clues, but he kept coming up empty.
Sanderman was looking for old dirt because it would let him test a plan to save the world. Soil scientists had been talking about this idea for decades: farmers could turn their fields into giant greenhouse gas sponges, potentially offsetting as much as 15 percent of global fossil fuel emissions a year, simply by coaxing crops to suck more CO2 out of the air.
There was one big problem with this idea: It could backfire. When plants absorb CO2 they either turn it into food or stash it in the ground. The risk is that if you treat farms as carbon banks, it could lead to smaller harvests, which would spur farmers to plow more land and pump more carbon into the air than before.
Back in 2011, when Sanderman was working as a soil scientist in Australia (he’s now at Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts), he’d figured out a way to test if it was possible to produce bumper crops on a piece of land while also banking carbon in it. But first, he needed to get his hands on that really old dirt.
Specifically, he needed to find a farm that kept decades of soil samples and precise records of its yields. That way he could compare the amount of carbon in the soil with the harvest and see if storing carbon kneecapped production.
Sanderman’s office was in the southern city of Adelaide, directly across the street from the Waite Agricultural Research Institute. The researchers there supposedly had the soil and records that Sanderman needed, dating back to 1925. But no one had any idea where to find the dirt. After numerous dead ends, a chain of clues led Sanderman into the basement of a big research building down the road, covered in greenhouses.
The basement was a big, dimly lit room full of floor-to-ceiling shelves crammed with boxes in various stages of disarray. He walked the rows slowly, scanning up and down until they were in front of his nose: scores of gallon jars made of thick, leaded glass with yellowing labels. “Like something you’d find in a second-hand store and put on your shelf,” Sanderman says.
He felt a rush of excitement. Then he squinted at the labels. There were no dates or locations. Instead, each bore a single series of numbers. It was a code, and Sanderman had no clue how to crack it.
The question that Sanderman wanted to answer was laid out by the Canadian soil scientist Henry Janzen. In 2006, Janzen published a paper, “The soil carbon dilemma: Shall we hoard it or use it?” Janzen pointed out that since the dawn of agriculture, farmers have been breeding crops that suck carbon out of the air and put it on our plates, rather than leaving it behind in the soil.
“Grain is 45 percent carbon by weight,” Janzen told me. “So when you truck away a load of grain, you are exporting carbon which, in a natural system, would have mostly returned to the soil.”
Janzen has the rare ability to explain complicated things with such clarity that, when talking to him, you may catch yourself struck with wonder at an utterly new glimpse of how the world works. Plants, he explained, perform a kind of alchemy. They combine air, water, and the sun’s fire to make food. And this alchemical combination that we call food is, in fact, a battery—a molecular trap for the sun’s energy made of broken-down CO2 and H2O (you know, air and water).
Sugars are the simplest batteries. And sugars are also the building blocks for fat and fiber, which are just bigger, more complicated batteries. Ferns, trees, and reeds are the sum of those parts. Bury these batteries for thousands of years under conditions of immense heat and pressure, and they transform again—still carrying the sun’s energy—into coal, oil, and gas.
To feed our growing population, we keep extracting more and more carbon from farms to deliver solar energy to our bodies. Janzen pointed out that we’ve bred crops to grow bigger seeds (the parts we eat) and smaller roots and stems (the parts that stay on the farm). All of this diverts carbon to our bellies that would otherwise go into the ground. This leads to what Janzen dubbed the soil carbon dilemma: Can we both increase soil carbon and increase harvests? Or do we have to pick one at the expense of the other?
Sanderman thought he could help answer those questions if he could crack the codes on those glass bottles. But the codes on the labels didn’t line up with the notes that Waite researchers had made. After a flurry of anguished emails, Sanderman tracked down a technician who had worked at Waite 25 years earlier, and she showed him how to decode the numbers. Finally, after a year of detective work, he could run his tests.
In January, Sanderman and his colleagues published their results. Carbon wasn’t simply going into the ground and staying there, they found; it was getting chewed up by microbes and floating into the air again. Fields with the biggest harvests had the most carbon turnover: more microbes chewing, while carbon gas streamed out of the soil.
Bizarrely enough, these same fields with the biggest harvests also had the most carbon in their soils. How could this be?
To answer that, it helps to think of carbon like money. We have an impulse to hide our savings under a mattress. But if you want more money, you have to invest it.
It’s the same with carbon. Life on earth is an economy that runs on carbon—the conduit for the sun’s energy. You have to keep it working and moving if you want your deposits to grow. The more busily plants and microbes trade carbon molecules, the more prosperous the ecological economy becomes.
That’s the key—you’ve got to use carbon to store carbon. By amping up harvest and turning up the volume on the microbes, sure, you get higher carbon emissions, but you also get more vigorous plants sucking up even more carbon. That, in turn, gives the plants enough carbon to produce a big harvest with a surplus left over to feed the dirt.
“You can have your soil carbon and eat it, too,” Sanderman says.
Is all this too good to be true? Soil scientist Whendee Silver at U.C. Berkeley had some reservations about Sanderman’s methods. She wondered if the Australian soils that he studied might have changed during decades of storage, and if the results would have been different if researchers had looked at more than just the top 10 centimeters of soil.
That said, Silver thought Sanderman’s conclusions made sense: Grow more stuff, and you get more carbon left behind in the soil. Rattan Lal, director of the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center at Ohio State, also gave the study his seal of approval.
The implications are huge. The study suggests we can slow climate change simply by feeding people. But there’s a gap between discovering something and putting it to use.
Solving one puzzle often opens up many, many more. Humphry Davy invented the electric light in 1802, but lightbulbs weren’t available for regular use until Thomas Edison’s day, 75 years later.
In this case, Sanderman’s sleuthing provides a proof of concept. To apply it, farmers would have to get more plants turning carbon to sugars on every acre of land. Now scientists and policy makers just need to find the barriers that prevent farmers from putting this knowledge into practice.
One issue is that the high-yield Australian fields in Sanderson’s study were growing grass, not wheat or corn. Grass directs its carbon into roots that stay in the soil, while grains are bred to shove carbon into their seeds. That doesn’t compromise the point of the study; the grass was still able to produce tons of hay for harvest while also making the dirt carbon-rich.
But it does add a new riddle: How do we get food crops to act like grass and spend more of their carbon budget on their roots, while still producing bountiful harvests?
The simplest answer, Janzen says, would be to boost yields. Anything farmers can do to allow more plants to thrive—like improving nutrition, irrigation, and protection from insects—will mean more carbon flowing into the soil. And in the long run, breeding for more roots as well as more grain will be a key to getting carbon into the ground without losing food production. Ultimately, that requires improving on photosynthesis, which is as difficult as putting a man on the moon (yep, scientists are working on it).
Another approach is to grow plants on fields that would otherwise be bare. By rolling out a carpet of green during the winter, farms could suck more carbon from the air into the soil. Some farmers are already doing this—growing cover crops like clover and ryegrass and experimenting with a suite of techniques often called “climate-smart agriculture.”
But there’s yet another barrier here: money. For farmers, the costs of planting cover crops often outweigh the immediate benefits. That’s why Ohio State’s Lal argues that farmers should get some help. “We have to recognize that farmers are making an investment that benefits society as a whole,” she says. “They should be compensated. My estimate is $16 per acre per year.”
Some companies have already started paying farmers to employ these techniques, says Roger Wolf, director of the Iowa Soy Association’s environmental programs. These corporations see a trend toward sustainability, with more of their customers pushing for environmental stewardship, and are trying to get out in front of it. The food and cosmetics giant Unilever and the grain trader ADM offer farmers a premium price for adhering to practices that accrue carbon.
Ever since people began pushing seeds into the dirt, we’ve been eating away the carbon from our topsoil. Now we’re finally developing the knowledge necessary to pump that carbon back into the ground. We have a proof of concept and Sanderson has taken the next logical step: He’s working on creating the tools farmers need to put this knowledge into practice. It’s one more link in the chain humans are forging to hold back the worst ravages of climate change.
Thursday, April 13, 2017 | By Emily Benson | No Comments
This story was originally published by High Country News and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.
Fat flakes of snow tumbled from the sky and collected on Frank Gehrke’s shoulders as he stood high in the Sierra Nevada on March 30, measuring the winter’s frozen bounty. Gehrke, head snow surveyor at the California Department of Water Resources, plunged a hollow metal pole into the snow, then weighed its contents. His measurements showed that the snow was nearly 8 feet deep at Phillips Station, south of Lake Tahoe, and the amount of water held within it was 183 percent of the long-term average for this time of year. Overall, the Sierra snowpack was 164 percent of the historical average. That’s a stark contrast to the record low April 1 reading two years ago, when the statewide snowpack was just 5 percent of average. “This is an extremely good year from the snowpack standpoint,” Gehrke said in a statement. This year’s abundant snow, he added, is providing “great reservoir recovery.”
Following a years-long drought—which California Gov. Jerry Brown declared over on April 7—this winter’s record-breaking wet weather has recharged surface water supplies across California: By the end of February, reservoirs in about 80 percent of the state’s river basins were above historical average capacity. Reservoir levels are also above average in most Western states, including Nevada and Wyoming, which each experienced their wettest winter on record. This year’s plentiful precipitation is pushing water-forecasting models to their limits as analysts predict summer water supply based on winter rain and snowfall amounts outside historical norms. While variable winter weather isn’t new in the West—wild swings in precipitation from year to year are a fact of life here, experts say—climate change may be intensifying those fluctuations. The lessons forecasters and reservoir managers are learning this year could help them deal with the uncertain future ahead.
Several states across the West received substantial snow this winter, says Jolyne Lea, a hydrologist with the National Water and Climate Center in Portland, Oregon. “From the Sierra through Utah and into Colorado, there was a swath of very heavy snow,” Lea says, while other areas experienced more typical precipitation. Montana’s statewide snowpack, for example, was 92 percent of the historical average by the beginning of April. The National Water and Climate Center, part of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, creates forecasts of spring and summer runoff using models that take into account historical data on snow, rain, stream flow and other factors. Municipalities, irrigation districts, reservoir managers, farmers, ranchers, fish and wildlife managers, recreational rafters and even bankers eyeing agricultural loans use the forecasts, Lea says.
Yet those predictions become more uncertain when the precipitation numbers they’re based on have little historical precedent. “When we see more extremes, it becomes very difficult to try and use the past to predict the future,” Lea says. “My concern is, how accurate can I be out in an area that the model might not be used to handling?” Continuously gathering new information and adding it to the model can help fix the problem. Tracking this year’s voluminous Sierra snowpack, for example, and the amount and timing of runoff it generates, will make it easier to predict runoff during future high snow years. “If we keep our models updated with current information, we can kind of stay on top of the changes we’re seeing,” Lea says.
The late March or early April California snowpack reading is crucial for the managers that allocate water to irrigation districts and customers downstream of Trinity Lake, the third largest reservoir in the state, says Donald Bader, manager of the Northern California Area Office of the Bureau of Reclamation, which manages about a dozen California reservoirs. That’s because Trinity—which was 92 percent full on April 9—gets about 80 percent of its water from snow, while rain provides the rest. California’s largest reservoir, Lake Shasta, is the opposite: Shasta receives only about 10 percent of its water from snow.
And while Mother Nature pelted the Sierra Nevada with snow this year, she didn’t forget about rain: the amount of water flowing into Shasta this year is on track to be the second highest in the reservoir’s history, Bader says. Several rainstorms in quick succession early in the season forced dam managers to unleash water releases matching the biggest on record for the reservoir, up to 79,000 cubic feet per second. Coming on the heels of the crumbling spillway at the Oroville Dam, where fears of a massive flood triggered an evacuation order affecting nearly 200,000 people, “there was a lot of high interest in what we were doing,” Bader says, including daily meetings with emergency personnel from nearby communities. Forecasting and early flood control releases are crucial tools to avoid even higher outflows and potentially disastrous downstream consequences, like collapsing levies on the Sacramento River, Bader says.
Colorado has also been experiencing a wet winter, says Erik Knight, a hydrologist with the Bureau of Reclamation in Grand Junction, Colorado. But for reservoir managers, the season’s most unusual feature so far is not the amount of snow, but the timing of when it began to melt. Following above average temperatures in March, high flows—similar to what one might expect to see in early May—arrived two months early, Knight says. Blue Mesa, for example, the largest reservoir in Colorado, was at 69 percent capacity by the end of March; that’s 126 percent of the historical average for that time of year. While lower elevations probably won’t see much more snow, winter isn’t necessarily over higher up, Knight says. “Do (high water levels in March) mean that runoff is coming in early and that it won’t be there later on in the year? Or is this additional water and we’re still going to be seeing a big runoff?” Knight asks. “We don’t really know yet.”
Though this year’s winter precipitation has set some records, rain and snow are inherently variable from year to year in the West, says Jay Lund, director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California Davis. When Gehrke tried to measure the snowpack at Phillips Station on April 1, 2015, for example, the area was completely bare. He posed for photographs with a snow-measuring pole in his hands, his feet firmly planted on last year’s faded grass. This winter, he wore snowshoes. The last few years have clearly revealed the need for dams, reservoirs, spillways and other water infrastructure that can cope with a wide range of snowfall and rain, Lund says—a need that will likely grow as climate change pushes extreme storms beyond the bounds of historical conditions. From drought to deluge, he says, recent years have been “a reminder of how variable the weather is in the West.”
Monday, April 10, 2017 | By Chelsea Harvey | No Comments
This story was originally published by Fusion and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.
It’s a precarious time for federal climate change action in the US, to say the least. Just last week, a sweeping executive order signed by President Trump moved to roll back the Obama administration’s flagship Clean Power Plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions from power plants—the latest in a series of efforts by Congress and the White House to repeal various Obama-era rules.
But even as the Trump administration continues reversing federal environmental regulations, state governments are stepping up as the nation’s new front line of defense against climate change. The same day as last week’s executive order was revealed, Gov. Jerry Brown of California and Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York released a joint statement reaffirming their commitment to curbing their states’ carbon emissions.
“Climate change is real and will not be wished away by rhetoric or denial,” the statement said. “We stand together with a majority of the American people in supporting bold actions to protect our communities from the dire consequences of climate change.”
California and New York currently maintain some of the nation’s most ambitious state-level climate action plans, including goals in both states to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions 40% below their 1990 levels by the year 2030, and 80% by the year 2050. Both states also have plans for the advancement of clean energy and energy efficiency programs, and both participate in carbon pricing schemes—California has had its own statewide cap-and-trade program since 2012, and New York is one of nine northeastern states participating in a joint cap-and-trade scheme known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
These goals are even more ambitious than the federal targets previously set by the Obama administration, which pledged to reduce U.S. emissions by 26-28% below their 2005 levels by the year 2025.
But New York and California are hardly the only states in the nation with climate action plans in place. In fact, states and even cities began creating their own climate mitigation strategies even before the federal government began to act on climate change, according to Serena Alexander, a professor of urban and regional planning at San Jose State University who has conducted research on the effectiveness of state-level climate action plans.
“Generally speaking, there’s a lot of creative, innovative pieces of legislation in the nation,” she said.
Washington state, for instance, has an existing goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions down to 25% below their 1990 levels by the year 2035—and the state Department of Ecology has recently recommended that this goal be increased to 40% below 1990 levels. And Colorado released a comprehensive climate action plan in 2015 outlining recommendations for action across a variety of sectors, including energy, transportation and agriculture. Like other states, it’s also introduced legislation that would require utilities to generate a certain percentage of their electricity—in Colorado’s case, 30%—from renewables by the year 2020.
Altogether, 34 states, including both red and blue states, have adopted some form of a climate action plan, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Many of these plans involve concrete emissions reduction goals, such as those laid out by New York, California and Washington, although they differ in the ambition level of these goals, as well as their plans to achieve them.
Because of their ability to create jobs and improve the economy through the expansion of renewable energy and energy efficiency programs, these plans are often able to transcend partisan boundaries—which is hardly the case lately at the federal level. Massachusetts’ climate action plan was first instituted in 2004 under conservative Republican governor Mitt Romney, Alexander pointed out, adding that “if you take a look at that plan, it mostly focuses on job creation.”
And there’s reason to believe that, on the clean energy front at least, states will continue to enjoy bipartisan cooperation. A November report from the Georgetown Climate Center highlights the milestones in clean energy expansion at the state level in recent years, including in highly conservative states like Louisiana. It would seem that state governments are generally more capable of looking past the partisan quibbles that tend to be associated with climate action at the federal level, instead evaluating climate mitigation strategies based on their potential economic benefits.
And in addition to their leadership in clean energy and their individual emissions reduction goals, some states have attempted to pursue other, even more aggressive climate mitigation efforts.
Several states, for instance, have proposed legislation that would implement a state-wide carbon tax, a carbon pricing scheme widely acknowledged by economists as one of the most effective potential means of encouraging a reduction in carbon emissions. In Washington state, a proposed carbon tax made it all the way to the ballot for November’s election, but ultimately failed to pass.
Despite all of these recent efforts, though, Alexander points out that for climate action at the state level, “the progress is slow, and the near-term targets are low.” Not everyone is as ambitious as New York and California. South Carolina, for instance, has set a goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to just 5% below their 1990 levels by the year 2020, and has set no longer-term targets.
This means that, even as states are becoming the new front-runners for climate action in the U.S., their efforts will likely still not be enough to offset an absence of federal action by the Trump administration.
“Going back to the question of whether state-level or local level action is sufficient, I believe the answer is no,” Alexander told Fusion. “There are certain areas where we need higher-level governments to get involved.”
The Paris climate agreement, for instance, hinges on emissions reduction commitments made by national governments. Even if all states with climate action plans met their near-term goals, it would not be enough for the nation as a whole to fulfill its pledge under the Paris Agreement. And many experts have also suggested that a lack of federal involvement could potentially weaken other nations’ commitment to the treaty.
That said, pushing the federal government for increased climate mitigation efforts is one more way states can make a difference under the Trump administration, according to Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School.
“Litigation will play an essential role during the Trump administration, both in holding the line against federal deregulation and in pushing the federal and state governments to take action,” Burger said in an email. “We have already seen states and environmental groups sue to block Trump’s initiatives.”
Indeed, a coalition of states and local municipalities led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has already issued a statement vowing to “protect those we serve—including by aggressively opposing in court President Trump’s actions that ignore both the law and the critical importance of confronting the very real threat of climate change.”
And just a few days ago, Schneiderman’s office also announced the commencement of a lawsuit against the Trump administration for delaying energy efficiency standards for certain consumer products.
At the signing of last week’s executive order on energy independence, which unravels the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan and lifts restrictions on federal coal leasing, President Trump remarked that “we are returning power to the states—where that power belongs. States and local communities know what is best for them.”
But if the states have anything to say about, a plan for tackling climate change may be what they demand. In addition to the joint statement issued by the governors Brown and Cuomo, another group of six states—including California and New York, but also Oregon, Connecticut, Minnesota and Washington, along with a handful of mayors within those states—also issued a statement last week decrying the federal government’s recent actions.
“As Washington, D.C. delays, the work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our cities and states continues,” they stated. “Our commitment to limiting global average temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius remains. We will not waver. And we will continue to enlist like-minded cities, states, regions and countries around the world to join this fight.”
Saturday, April 8, 2017 | By EarthShare | No Comments
Defending Science with Dr. Gretchen Goldman
Union of Concerned Scientists/Audrey Eyring
From hurricane forecasting to product testing, scientific research plays a vital role in keeping Americans safe and healthy. But this work is under threat with Congress and the new administration proposing significant federal agency budget cuts and environmental rollbacks.
On April 22, 2017, scientists will descend on Washington, DC for the March on Science, a mass demonstration to champion evidence-based policies and speak out against recent attacks on scientific research and the environment.
We spoke with Dr. Gretchen Goldman, research director for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), to explain the situation leading up to this historic moment. She says that while scientists are alarmed by these new threats, they have also never been more willing to get politically involved.
Your background is in environmental engineering and atmospheric science. How did you end up doing advocacy?
I researched the health effects of air pollution in grad school, and it became apparent to me that the reasons we don’t have cleaner air is because of policy. So I moved to Washington, DC to try and get into policy work – it felt very action-oriented. I had known about the Union of Concerned Scientists in school and admired their smart balance of science and advocacy. I’ve been working here for five years and it’s been as great as I imagined it would be.
There are large gaps in scientific consensus on issues like climate change, and what the public believes. Who is doing the best work in communicating science and closing this gap?
There’s a wealth of research on science communications now. At UCS we try to incorporate social science knowledge to make sure it’s appropriate to specific audiences.
As a society we’re kind of obsessed with polling data, but we also need to think about how we get action. We didn’t advance civil rights in the 1960s because we changed everyone’s mind. It’s not necessarily about convincing people – it’s about effective political action.
There’s been a lot of ink spilled over the idea that we live in a “post-truth” society. Do you agree with that idea?
It’s important that we don’t throw up our hands and say “facts don’t matter”. I’m more concerned about the places where those facts and policies affect real people. The administration and Congress can’t hide from that. There’s a lot we can and should do to push back and prevent the damaging real-world impacts these policies could have.
What should the relationship be between scientific research and its practical applications?
I think the scientific community is struggling with that. Many scientists are now realizing that science is political and that our values include things like diversity and ethics. UCS was founded because people were concerned about the use of science for military applications. This moral question is at our organization’s core. Ultimately, the goal of science is to serve society.
With groups like 314 Action (an organization recruiting scientists to run for public office), we’re beginning to see more scientists get involved in politics. Do you think this trend is likely to continue?
I hope so. I’ve been amazed at how much interest in policy the scientific community is displaying – it’s on a whole new level. Historically, scientists have been reticent to be political, but that reticence is gone. They’re starting to say “What can I do? I want to do more than sign a letter”. It’s been incredible to see groups like 314 Action and 500 Women Scientists come up organically. That it’s happening outside traditional organizations gives people a new perspective and shows how much passion there is.
Tell us more about the upcoming March for Science and how UCS is getting involved.
UCS is partnering with the march because we believe that science is the foundation is a strong democracy and we need to protect that. UCS will have a group marching at both the March for Science and the People’s Climate March. I attended Boston’s Science March on February 19. It was so exciting to see the thousands that came out and all the fantastically nerdy signs and people in lab coats. I also marched with a group of scientists at the Women’s March in January. It’s a lot of people realizing that they’ve been marching all along, but now their identifying themselves as scientists and joining together.
What else is UCS focusing on now?
We’ve just launched a website, ucsusa.org/attacksonscience that documents all the ongoing attacks on science from both Congress and the Trump administration. Some of the things we’re tracking include the removal of data from agency websites, funding cuts, gag orders on federal science communications, and the politicization of federal contracts. We’re also accepting anonymous tips from federal employees on abuses at http://www.ucsusa.org/center-science-democracy/promoting-scientific-integrity/how-to-securely-share-information-about-scientific-integrity-abuses.
Federal agencies keep us safe in ways we aren’t even aware of. Cutting programs at place like the EPA will be detrimental to public health and safety.
How can the average person support this work?
People can sign up for our activist network to stay informed, talk to decision-makers, and write letters to the editor. We work with thousands of citizens and scientists to push back on attacks on science. Our Science Network also has a lot of resources and tools for scientists looking engage in the policy process and communicate their work.
What excites you most about this work?
I’ve always cared about this work, but I feel like I have newfound purpose. It’s so clear now the value of what we’re doing and why it matters to people. When UCS launched the Center for Science and Democracy, its focus was abstract to me, but now it feels like we were born for this moment. This is exactly the kind of institution we need right now.
Saturday, April 8, 2017 | By Tom Philpott | No Comments
After California’s wetter-than-normal winter—and the official end to its drought—you’re probably not thinking much about water scarcity and the food supply. But our food-and-water woes go well beyond the Sunshine State’s latest precipitation patterns, as this new Nature study from a global team of researchers—including two from the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies—shows.
The paper notes that the globe’s stores of underground water, known as groundwater—the stuff that accumulates over millennia in aquifers—is vanishing at an “alarming” rate, driven mainly by demand for irrigation to grow crops. You can think of such reserves as “fossil” water, since it takes thousands of years to replenish once it’s pumped out. Once it’s gone, some of the globe’s key growing regions—the breadbaskets for much of Asia and the Middle East—will no longer be viable. Here in the United States, we rely heavily on California’s Central Valley for fruit, vegetables, and nuts—which in turn relies on some of the globe’s most stressed aquifers for irrigation. Tapped-out aquifers point to a future marked by high food prices and geopolitical strife.
The Nature researchers found that the most severe depletion is concentrated “in a few regions that rely significantly on overexploited aquifers to grow crops, mainly the USA, Mexico, the Middle East and North Africa, India, Pakistan and China, including almost all the major breadbaskets and population centres of the planet.”
The group mapped global food trade flows from these areas with the most-stressed aquifers—places like the California Central Valley, the Midwest’s High Plains (where farmers have for years been draining the Ogallala aquifer to grow corn and cotton), India’s breadbasket, the Punjab, and China’s main growing region, the North Plain. That these crucial resources are being rapidly used up is well established—for example, see the 2014 Nature paper, using satellite data by NASA water scientist James Famiglietti, which I discussed here.
What the new paper adds to that chilling assessment isn’t comforting to US eaters, or people who look at long-term geopolitical trends. They name the seven countries where farmers are drawing the most from overstressed aquifers: India, Iran, Pakistan, China, the United States, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia. Together, agriculture within these countries is responsible for more than 90 percent of the globe’s irrigation water taken from overdrawn aquifers
Such withdrawals rose by 22 percent between 2000 and 2010, they found. Three countries drove most of that gain: India, where unsustainable groundwater withdrawals for irrigation jumped 23 percent; China, where such water use doubled; and the United States, where it grew by nearly a third. These rates are higher than global population growth, which was about 13 percent between 2000 and 2010.
Note that the group was looking at data from a period just before the onset of California’s recent drought (2011-2016), which triggered a massive frenzy of water-pump drilling and an epic drawdown of aquifers. The new study underlines a point I’ve made before: Water reserves in California’s Central Valley are in a long-term state of decline—aquifer recharge during wet years never fully replaces all that was taken away during dry times.
The Nature team took withdrawal data and overlaid them with food-trade data. Of those seven countries that use massive amounts of water from dwindling aquifers to grow crops, just three are major exporters of those crops: the United States, Mexico, and Pakistan. Here in the United States, the two farming regions that lean heavily on unsustainable water, California and the Plains, are also major crop exporters. So it’s no surprise that 42.6 percent of US food grown with fossil water is sold abroad. China, a massive buyer of US soybeans and other crops, was the No. 1 destination of such US exports in 2010, the study found.
They also looked at countries that rely most on imported food grown with fossil water. The researchers found that a “vast majority of the world’s population lives in countries sourcing nearly all their staple crop imports from partners who deplete groundwater to produce these crops, highlighting risks for global food and water security.” The countries with the biggest fossil-water footprints for imported food were, in order, China, the United States, Mexico, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. The No. 1 source for US imports of aquifer-draining food, which nearly doubled between 2000 and 2010, was Mexico, a major supplier of our fruits and vegetables.
Along with Mexico, Iran, and China, the researchers placed the United States among a handful of countries that are “particularly exposed” to the risks of groundwater scarcity “because they both produce and import food irrigated from rapidly depleting aquifers.”
The paper isn’t trying to make the point that food trade is somehow bad. Rather, it’s that global food trade hinges increasingly on a vanishing resource, and that the water footprint of our food supply is largely invisible to both end consumers and policymakers. As NASA’s Famiglietti put it in his 2014 Nature paper, “groundwater is being pumped at far greater rates than it can be naturally replenished, so that many of the largest aquifers on most continents are being mined, their precious contents never to be returned.” As for regulation, a “veritable groundwater ‘free for all'” holds sway globally, and “property owners who can afford to drill wells generally have unlimited access to groundwater,” Famiglietti notes.
And trade means we’re all in this together. Food choices made by consumers in Qatar can have an outsize impact on aquifers in geopolitical hot spots like Pakistan, while decisions made by those who control China’s food system can tax aquifers under Kansas and Fresno County, California. Like climate change and antibiotic resistance, water scarcity is a global problem that requires global solutions.
Saturday, April 8, 2017 | By Eleanor Goldberg | No Comments
This story was originally published by the Huffington Post and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.
Climate change threatens our cities, our crops, our health and our safety. What many people don’t know is that it also threatens our minds.
On Wednesday, just a day after President Donald Trump signed an executive order undoing the Obama administration’s climate change efforts, the American Psychological Association and the environmental group ecoAmerica published a report describing how climate change is poised to take a grievous toll on our mental health. The report, “Mental Health and our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications and Guidance,” concludes that people living in a number of regions could become more susceptible to post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, suicide, and other mental health issues as a result of climate change.
“It all sounds quite drastic, but it’s not inevitable,” Susan Clayton, one of the authors of the report, said Wednesday during a webinar on the topic.
In addition to outlining the connection between climate change and mental health, the report also offers guidance on how to help people who are most vulnerable. That includes expanding infrastructure for mental health programs in susceptible communities and better preparing first responders to address mental health issues in the wake of a disaster.
Here are some of the connections between changing weather patterns and mental health:
Disasters are linked to short- and long-term mental health issues
In 2014, human-induced climate change played a role in at least 14 extreme weather events, National Geographic reports. These included Hawaii’s active hurricane season, droughts in East Africa, and record rains in New Zealand and France. People who endure such events may subsequently experience immediate or long-term psychological trauma due to personal injury, death of a loved one, or loss of personal property or livelihood, among other issues.
Acute traumatic stress is the most common mental health problem that survivors of natural disasters experience, according to the report. But it’s far from the only one.
Of a sample of people affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, for example, 1 in 6 had post-traumatic stress disorder. Suicide and suicidal ideation—also known as suicidal thoughts—more than doubled among this group in the aftermath of the storm. And nearly half the people developed an anxiety or mood disorder such as depression.
Hot weather is associated with increased aggression, suicide
In the U.S. alone, the number of heat waves tripled between 2011 and 2012. Studies have found that hot temperatures are associated with increased aggression—which can lead people to hurt themselves and others.
Homicide rates rise when temperatures go up, a number of studies have concluded. Higher temperatures have also been linked to increased instances of suicide, because the “distress” of feeling hot can sometimes overwhelm people with pre-existing mental health conditions.
Displacement can lead to feelings of severe loss
By 2050, about 200 million people will be displaced due to climate change. This is expected to occur because of a number of factors, including rising sea levels and certain areas becoming unable to support crops. Losing one’s home can lead to a condition called solastalgia, characterized by intense feelings of desolation and loss.
“Loss of place is not a trivial experience,” the authors of the report note. “Many people form a strong attachment to the place where they live, finding it to provide a sense of stability, security, and personal identity.” People who maintain an attachment to their local community also report experiencing greater happiness, life satisfaction and optimism.
Compounding the problem is the fact that people who are forced to move will also lose social connections, meaning their crucial support systems are likely to erode. The loss of these networks would put people’s sense of continuity and belonging at risk.
Loss of land and occupation leads to loss of identity
People with location-based occupations, like farmers and fishermen, will have to abandon their work if the natural world changes too much. This is happening in communities worldwide, but the circumpolar north is especially vulnerable. It’s warming at more than twice the global average rate, putting local indigenous people at what the report calls “the frontlines in experiencing climate change effects.”
In Canada, for example, Inuit people hunt, fish, forage and harvest regularly. Mental health professionals have a number of concerns about this specific community, whose well-being could be compromised with even a subtle change to their environment. Inuit people say they’re turning to drugs and alcohol to help fill “the newly ’empty’ time” they once used for land-based activities, the report notes. Professionals are also concerned that members of this community could lose a sense of their cultural identity and a feeling of balance and good health that they derive from the natural world.
“I think for the Inuit, going out on the land is just as much a part of our life as breathing,” a local leader said, according to the report. “So if we don’t get out, then, for our mental well-being, it’s like you are not fulfilled.”
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.