Newsdesk – April 30, 2021

Red Cross volunteers assembling gauze masks for use at Camp Devens, near Boston, during the 1918-19 influenza pandemic. Credit…Vintage_Space/Alamy

How Humanity Gave Itself an Extra Life.  Between 1920 and 2020, the average human life span doubled. How did we do it? Science mattered — but so did activism.  In September 1918 Spanish flu (H1N1) spread around the world. In the United States, it would cause nearly half of all deaths over the next year. In some populations in India, the mortality rate for those infected approached 20 percent. The best estimates suggest that as many as 100 million people died from the Great Influenza outbreak that eventually circled the globe. To put that in comparison, roughly three million people died from Covid-19 over the past year on a planet with four times as many people. The H1N1 outbreak of 1918-19 was unusually lethal among young adults, normally the most resilient cohort during ordinary flu seasons.  Since the average human life span has doubled after the Great influenza outbreak, It looks as human beings have been increasingly protected by an invisible shield, one that has been built, piece by piece, over the last few centuries, keeping us ever safer and further from death. It protects us through countless interventions, big and small: the chlorine in our drinking water, the ring vaccinations that rid the world of smallpox, the data centers mapping new outbreaks all around the planet. A crisis like the global pandemic of 2020-21 gives us a new perspective on all that progress. How did this great doubling of the human life span happen? When the history textbooks do touch on the subject of improving health, they often nod to three critical breakthroughs, all of them presented as triumphs of the scientific method: vaccines, germ theory and antibiotics. But the real story is far more complicated. Those breakthroughs might have been initiated by scientists, but it took the work of activists and public intellectuals and legal reformers to bring their benefits to everyday people. From this perspective, the doubling of human life span is an achievement that is closer to something like universal suffrage or the abolition of slavery: progress that required new social movements, new forms of persuasion and new kinds of public institutions to take root. And it required lifestyle changes that ran throughout all echelons of society: washing hands, quitting smoking, getting vaccinated, wearing masks during a pandemic – The New York Times

  • Let’s Launch a Moonshot for Meatless Meat – The New York Times
  • Citizen assembly takes on Germany’s climate pledges – Made for Minds
  • Whales Face New and Emerging Threats – The Revelator
  • The Top 11 Climate Actions of Joe Biden’s First 100 Days – Mother Jones
  • Poland clinches ‘historic’ deal to phase out coal by 2049 – Made for Minds
  • Bolsonaro abandons enhanced Amazon commitment same day he makes it – Mongabay
  • Greta Thunberg or Bill Gates? – Project Syndicate
Because its costs continue to slide with every quarter, solar energy will be cheaper than fossil fuels almost everywhere on the planet by the decade’s end.Photograph by Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times / Getty

Renewable Energy Is Suddenly Startlingly Cheap. Now the biggest barrier to change is the will of our politicians to take serious climate action. If you want real hope, the best place to look may be a little noted report from the London-based think tank Carbon Tracker Initiative titled “The Sky’s the Limit.” It begins by declaring that “solar and wind potential is far higher than that of fossil fuels and can meet global energy demand many times over.” Taken by itself, that’s not a very bold claim: scientists have long noted that the sun directs more energy to the Earth in an hour than humans use in a year. But, until very recently, it was too expensive to capture that power. That’s what has shifted—and so quickly and so dramatically that most of the world’s politicians are now living on a different planet than the one we actually inhabit. On the actual Earth, circa 2021, the report reads, “with current technology and in a subset of available locations we can capture at least 6,700 PWh p.a. [petawatt-hours per year] from solar and wind, which is more than 100 times global energy demand.” And, because costs continue to slide with every quarter, solar energy will be cheaper than fossil fuels almost everywhere on the planet by the decade’s end. The renewable energy is the biggest gift of all for some of the poorest nations, including in Africa, where solar potential outweighs current energy use by a factor of more than a thousand. Only a few countries—Singapore, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and a handful of European countries—are “stretched” in their ability to rely on renewables, because they both use a lot of energy and have little unoccupied land. In these terms, Germany is in the third-worst position, and the fact that it is nonetheless one of the world’s leaders in renewable energy should be a powerful signal.  A wonderful leftover from Earth Day: Tia Nelson, the daughter of the late senator Gaylord Nelson, who launched the April day of action, in 1970, wrote about how her father helped welcome Joe Biden to the Senate, in 1973, comforting him after his wife and infant daughter had been killed in a car crash. Nelson said, of her father, “It would delight him to see that something he started so long ago, to shake the Washington establishment out of its lethargy, still playing such an important role these many years later. And he would be moved to see that the heartbroken young man he helped recover from despair is carrying his legacy forward.” It’s remarkable how long Biden has been around—one good effect is that he’s known some superb people – The New Yorker

Xiye Bastida, 19, was a featured speaker at the first-ever Nobel Prize Summit, Our Planet, Our Future. Photo submitted by Xiye Bastida

Nobel summit predicts ‘transformative decade’ on climate. It’s incumbent on us all to use our knowledge and power to prevent runaway climate change, a teen climate activist from Mexico told a global gathering of climate experts and Nobel Prize winners on Monday. But it’s also critical those experts and world leaders question generally accepted knowledge and start listening to women and Indigenous groups, said Xiye Bastida, 19.  “Instead of always striving to move forward it is time to look back at our ancestral wisdom that teaches us to live in harmony with Mother Earth, with nature and with each other,” Bastida said, speaking at the first-ever Nobel Prize Summit, Our Planet, Our Future.   Bastida was one of several speakers, including former U.S. vice-president Al Gore and U.S. special envoy for climate John Kerry, at the virtual three-day conference that began Monday. The conference drew together Nobel laureates and leaders in the sciences, policy, business and the youth movement to mobilize action on climate change, inequality and technology.  Optimism was expressed, but so was trepidation and concern over everything ranging from the gender imbalance in decision-making to countries that still use coal as a power source to whether empathy makes a better political leader. Bastida also spoke last week at U.S. President Joe Biden’s climate summit, during which Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada was upping its greenhouse gas reduction target to reach 40 to 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Biden announced he plans to cut U.S. coal and petroleum emissions in half by 2030. “I want us to have the heart and the courage to love the world. This is perhaps the most challenging task of all because it means that we have to shift from individualism to coexistence, from competition to co-operation,” Bastida said. “We have been blinded by greed and power.” Gore, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2007 for environmental activism, including the documentary An Inconvenient Truth, told the summit he’s never been more optimistic about the environment, even though humanity is still spewing pollution into the atmosphere “as if it were a global sewer”. “We are living in the early stages of a sustainability revolution empowered by machine learning, artificial intelligence, the internet of things and the biotechnology revolution,” Gore said. “It has the magnitude of industrial revolution coupled with the speed of digital revolution.” We are poised at the precipice of the biggest business opportunity in the history of the world, Gore said. “This moment in which we gather is filled with abundant and, I believe, with legitimate hope that we are right now crossing the long-awaited political tipping point on climate” – Canada’s National Observer

Newsdesk – March 31, 2021

A wind turbine near Canberra. Low green investment is ‘a missed opportunity’ for Australia, Brian O’Callaghan of Oxford University’s Economic Recovery Project says. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

Australia lags far behind other top economies on ‘green recovery’ pandemic spending. Australia is the worst performer on a list of the world’s 50 largest economies for “green recovery” spending to kickstart economic growth after the Covid pandemic, according to research conducted for the United Nations environment program. “Overall we find that 18% of total recovery spending around the world has gone towards green initiatives, but in Australia, the figure is 2%. Of the major economies, Australia was the worst.”The research suggests Australia spent US$2bn on green initiatives during the coronavirus recovery, compared with US$57bn in France, US$54bn in South Korea, US$47bn in Germany, US$42bn in the United Kingdom, US$41bn in China and US$24bn in Japan. Germany spent $9bn on hydrogen alone.  Brian O’Callaghan, an Australian economist and engineer who leads Oxford’s Economic Recovery project is saying that Australia has spent considerably more on recovery initiatives than most other countries.” The US and the UK last week issued a joint statement urging all countries “to take the steps needed to keep a 1.5C temperature limit within reach, including through ambitious nationally determined contributions and long-term strategies to cut emissions and reach net zero”. Australia also remains under pressure from key allies to lift the level of climate policy ambition – The Guardian

  • Is There Anything Funny About the Climate Crisis? – The New Yorker
  • 5 lessons from COVID-19 that will help us build a sustainable future – Fast Company
  • More than 430 manatees have perished in 2021. Why are they dying? – National Geographic
  • Lights off: France parkour collectives fight pollution one store sign at a time – The Guardian
  • Low-income and Latino neighborhoods endure more extreme heat in the Southwest, study shows – AZ Central
  • How Dirt Could Help Save the Planet – Scientific American
  • A Meat War Is Waged Across State Lines – The New York Times

Canada is drowning in plastic waste — and recycling won’t save us. For the first 50 years after plastic was invented, the idea of only using the long-lasting material once was blasphemous, an affront to values of frugality honed over years of war and economic strife. Lloyd Stouffer was a U.S. plastics marketing guru and the man who, in 1956, first pitched the idea that a virtually indestructible material — plastic — should be sold as disposable. Since then, about 8.3 billion tonnes have been produced; most has been thrown out. Landfills are stuffed. Oceans and the animals in them are choked. Plastic particles are even showing up in human placentas, with unknown health impacts. But can recycling really save us? “It’s a great industry — it provides jobs, it makes use of what’s around — but it doesn’t have anything directly to do with improving the environment,” says Samantha MacBride, an expert in solid waste management and a professor of urban environmental studies at the Marxe School of Public Affairs at Baruch College of CUNY in New York City. Only 9 percent — or 305,000 tonnes of plastic — is recycled, the 2019 study found. That’s no surprise. Low oil prices make it difficult for plastic recyclers, who must invest in expensive sorting and processing facilities, to compete against already established petrochemical manufacturers, whose facilities are well integrated with the oil and gas industry. It’s cheaper to make plastic from so-called “virgin oil” and put the waste in landfills than it is to recycle old plastics into new products – National Observer.

Electric Cars Are Coming. How Long Until They Rule the Road? – These vehicles represent the 250 million cars, S.U.V.s, vans and pickup trucks on America’s roads today. The vast majority run on gasoline. Fewer than 1 percent are electric. Automakers are now shifting to electric vehicles, which could make up one-quarter of new sales by 2035, analysts project. But at that point, only 13 percent of vehicles on the road would be electric.  Even in 2050, when electric vehicles are projected to make up 60 percent of new sales, the majority of vehicles on the road would still run on gasoline. Slow fleet turnover is a major challenge for climate policy. If the United States wanted to move to a fully electric fleet by 2050 — to meet President Biden’s goal of net-zero emissions — then sales of gasoline-powered vehicles would likely have to end altogether by around 2035, a heavy lift. Around the world, governments and automakers are focused on selling newer, cleaner electric vehicles as a key solution to climate change. Yet it could take years, if not decades before the technology has a drastic effect on greenhouse gas emissions. One reason for that? It will take a long time for all the existing gasoline-powered vehicles on the road to reach the end of their life spans. So policymakers may need to consider additional strategies to clean up transportation, experts said. That could include policies to buy back and scrap older, less efficient cars already in use. It could also include strategies to reduce Americans’ dependence on car travel, such as expanding public transit or encouraging biking and walking, so that existing vehicles are driven less often – The New York Times 

Newsdesk – February 21, 2021

In the face of climate change, some environmentalists are fighting not to close power plants but to save them.Illustration by Clément Thoby; Source photograph by David Paul Morris / Bloomberg / Getty

The Activists Who Embrace Nuclear Power. Heather Hoff had earned a B.S. in materials engineering from the nearby California Polytechnic State University and work only in a series of eclectic entry-level positions until she started working in one of the county’s major employers,  the Diablo Canyon Power Plant.  Jobs there were stable and well-paying. But Diablo Canyon is a nuclear facility—it consists of two reactors and Hoff, like many people, was suspicious of nuclear power. Her mother had been pregnant with her in March 1979, when the meltdown at a nuclear plant on Three Mile Island, in Pennsylvania, transfixed the nation. Hoff grew up in Arizona, in an unconventional family that lived in a trailer with a composting toilet. She considered herself an environmentalist and took it for granted that environmentalism and nuclear power were at odds. Hoff was hired in Diablo Canyon as a plant operator. In the course of years, Hoff grew increasingly comfortable at the plant. She began to believe that nuclear power was a safe, potent source of clean energy with numerous advantages over other sources. For instance, nuclear reactors generate huge amounts of energy on a small footprint: Diablo Canyon, which accounts for roughly nine percent of the electricity produced in California, occupies fewer than six hundred acres. It can generate energy at all hours and, unlike solar and wind power, does not depend on particular weather conditions to operate. Hoff was especially struck by the fact that nuclear power generation does not emit carbon dioxide or the other air pollutants associated with fossil fuels. Eventually, she began to think that fears of nuclear energy were not just misguided but dangerous. Her job no longer seemed to be in tension with her environmentalist views. Instead, it felt like an expression of her deepest values. Hoff and her co-worker Kristin Zaitz organized a series of meetings at a local pipe-fitters’ union hall. They served pizza for dozens of employees and their family members, who wrote letters to the State Lands Commission and other California officials. Other nuclear plants across the country were also at risk of closing, and soon they decided that their mission was bigger than rescuing their own plant. They wanted to correct what they saw as false impressions about nuclear power—impressions that they had once had themselves—and to try to shift public opinion. They would show that “it’s O.K. to be in favor of nuclear,” Zaitz said—that, in fact, if you’re an environmentalist, “you should be out there rooting for it” – The New Yorker

  • Nature Makes Wood. Could a Lab Make It Better? – Wired
  • A Different Kind of Land Management: Let the Cows Stomp – The New York Times
  • The life-altering effects heat is having on American children – The Guardian
  • Guest post: Health benefits of Paris climate goals could save millions of lives by 2040 – Carbon Brief
  • Blaming the Wind for the Mess in Texas Is Painfully Absurd – The New Yorker
  • Germany concerned about Poland’s nuclear energy plans – Made for Minds
  • Australians fear climate change more than catching Covid, survey shows – The Guardian
  • ‘Making Peace With Nature’- Made for Minds
Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico was nominated to lead the Interior Department. She is the first Native American to be chosen for a cabinet position.Credit…Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

Native Americans ‘Left Out in the Cold’ Under Trump Press Biden for Action. After showing political clout in the 2020 election, tribal communities are hoping for more attention and money to address their long-running problems with poverty, health care and other issues. When President Biden introduced Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico as his pick for interior secretary, making her the first Native American to be selected for a cabinet position, he acknowledged the country’s long history of failing the land’s first citizens. Tribal communities angry over their treatment during the Trump administration, which oversaw a deeply flawed response to the pandemic on tribal lands, are now hopeful that Mr. Biden, who benefited from their enthusiastic support in battleground states like Arizona last year, will back a far-reaching agenda to address the poverty that has long ravaged their communities. They are pushing to ensure that any infrastructure plan the Biden administration pursues includes substantial money to improve access to water and electricity and to improve roads and bridges. They want more funding for their woeful health care service. They want changes to the federal land-use policy to minimize environmental damage from energy projects. And they want a renewed commitment to improving their schools. During the campaign, Mr. Biden released a policy agenda outlining his plans for Native Americans and tribal communities. It included proposals to immediately reinstate the annual White House Tribal Nations Conference, nominate judges who understand federal Indian law and fully fund the Indian Health Service. Mr. Biden received about 13,500 more votes from the reservations than Hillary Clinton did in 2016. Jonathan Nez, the president of the Navajo Nation, one of the hardest-hit areas by the pandemic in the country, was among the Native American voters who helped Mr. Biden win Arizona. The tribe, which is in parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, has suffered more than 1,000 coronavirus-related deaths and over 28,000 positive cases among the reservation’s more than 170,000 residents –  The New York Times

The Brazilian Amazon isn’t the only Mercosur region under intense environmental pressure. The Gran Chaco biome located in Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina has been devastated by encroaching agribusiness and cattle ranching. In Argentina, nearly 8 million hectares (19.7 million acres) of forest have been cleared. Jan 30, 2020 Image © Martin Katz / Greenpeace.

European public roundly rejects Brazil trade deal unless Amazon protected.  The gigantic trade agreement between the European Union and the Mercosur South American bloc (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay), if ratified, would be the biggest trade deal in history, totaling the US $19 trillion. It would greatly benefit Brazilian agricultural commodities producers and the nation’s struggling economy. However, the South American country’s horrific environmental record under President Jair Bolsonaro could now doom the agreement, as the EU’s conservation-sensitive public rejects Mercosur. “The Mercosur deal is important for the Brazilian government,” said Marcio Astrini at Observatório do Clima, a network of Brazilian environmental NGOs, who commented on the poll results. “Our message to European leaders is that any [trade] deal involving Brazil must be conditional on concrete measures and verifiable results to stop the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. We are happy to note that the European public agrees. We hope European politicians will listen too.” France, along with other European countries and the European Commission (an institution that represents the interests of the EU) have expressed their concern. Emmanuel Macron’s government recently sent a document — called a side paper — to the EU Trade Policy Committee asking that new deforestation and global warming commitments be made by Mercosur members before the trade agreement can be ratified. “The current deforestation in the Mercosur countries, which may be a consequence of adopted policies,… does not meet the goals set out in the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Convention on climate change,” says the document. Besides France, the Parliaments of the Netherlands, Austria, and Belgium’s Walloon region, have already announced they will not endorse the trade pact. The ratification also finds resistance by Ireland and Luxembourg. “The first ever European Climate Law will hopefully soon come into force… We will put forward legislation to ensure that the EU market does not drive deforestation on the other side of the world,” declared von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission.  “We know how important this is for investors, who are looking for truly sustainable projects. Our European Union green bond standard, for example, and taxonomy will lead the way. It will bring clarity on what accounts for sustainable, eco-friendly activities. We all benefit from nature and we all benefit from the protection it gives us. So I think we all have to play our role in this game”- Mongabay

Newsdesk – January 15, 2021

What clean energy might look like in 2021. Despite the intense challenges of 2020, local leaders stepped up to demonstrate their commitment to fighting climate change last year — a movement that is set to flourish in 2021. 2020 was undoubtedly one of the most tumultuous years in American history — one that was rocked not only by a global health pandemic but also by unprecedented political divisions that infiltrated most facets of life in the country. Last year we also saw that states, cities, utilities, and businesses were not waiting for federal directives before implementing green infrastructure of their own. With local leaders continuing to step up to the plate, we can expect even more climate-conscious decision-making to take place in 2021. In 2020, several states took the first steps in reexamining the long-term future of their gas distribution systems. California, Colorado, Massachusetts, and New York all opened proceedings focused on gas planning, often following the lead of local city and town actions to limit or even phase out gas appliances. One state that has already made bold climate change promises for 2021 is New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently outlined an ambitious agenda during a State of the State address. Cuomo shared that he plans to make New York the “green economy of the world,” and announced 24 new renewable energy projects that will take off this year, creating nearly 11,000 jobs in upstate New York alone. 2021 will mark a new era of accelerated funding for climate resilience infrastructure that directly benefits environmental justice communities, and expands the role consumers play in expediting decarbonization,” predicts Nicole Sitaraman, vice president of strategic engagement at Sustainable Capital Advisors during a recent interview with Forbes.  Sitaraman points to Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris for evidence to back up the prediction; they pledged $2 trillion in sustainable infrastructure investment – The Hill

  • A Green Transformation for the ‘World’s Most Beautiful Avenue’ – Bloomberg City Lab
  • How to transform your street into a 1-minute city – Fast Company
  • Madrid Is Buried Under Heaviest Snowfall in 50 Years – The New York Times
  • Pandemic and Africa on agenda at 2021 One Climate Summit – DW Made for Minds
  • Award-winning Thai community continues the fight to save its wetland forest – Mongabay
  • Garden of Hope – Grist
  • Many Overheated Forests May Soon Release More Carbon Than They Absorb – Inside Climate News
  • The Capitol Riot and Climate Disinformation – The New York Times
Mekong Delta near Can Tho, Vietnam. Photo © J. Carl Ganter/Circle of Blue
Mekong Delta near Can Tho, Vietnam. Photo © J. Carl Ganter/Circle of Blue

Four International Water Stories to Watch in 2021. The travails of the last year, when a bat virus-infected humans and turned the world upside down, were an unfortunate reminder of the inseparable ties between society and the natural environment. So it is with water, which will again this year direct the course of history, through events small and large. The fallout from the pandemic will continue to cast a shadow. So will negotiations between countries that share major rivers with unsettled politics, like the Mekong and Nile. 2021 will bring more awareness of the water risks for businesses and the need to restore ecosystems to build resilience to rising seas, stronger storms, and harsher droughts. The Climate Adaptation Summit on January 25-26 will set the stage for more discussion of the topic at the UN climate conference in Glasgow in November. The pandemic brought about one of the most significant reversals of fortune in recent history. The World Bank expects that 88 million to 115 million person to fall into extreme poverty this year, meaning that they live on less than $1.90 a day. This is after three decades of near-continuous reductions in extreme poverty. Hunger is on the rise.  Relief agencies like the International Rescue Committee have issued alerts that food aid is needed across a swathe of Africa’s Sahel region. Millions of people in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and Yemen also face acute hunger due to drought, floods, political violence, and reduced household income during the pandemic. If La Niña conditions persist, these areas would see continued dryness in the early months of 2021. There’s a big new dam in the Nile basin, and it’s causing a stir. For the last few years, representatives of Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan have failed to secure an agreement on how to Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will be filled and operated during times of drought. Water levels in the lower Mekong have perked up after last year’s severe drought. But rainfall is not the only variable that influences river flows. Chinese dams have been the source of much consternation among the four downstream countries of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam – Circle of Blue

Smoke and flames rise from an illegal fire in the Amazon rainforest reserve, south of Novo Progresso in Para state, Brazil. Photograph: Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty

Top scientists warn of the ‘ghastly future of mass extinction’ and climate disruption.  A sobering new report says the world is failing to grasp the extent of threats posed by biodiversity loss and the climate crisis. The planet is facing a “ghastly future of mass extinction, declining health and climate-disruption upheavals” that threaten human survival because of ignorance and inaction, according to an international group of scientists, who warn people still haven’t grasped the urgency of the biodiversity and climate crises. The 17 experts, including Prof Paul Ehrlich from Stanford University, author of The Population Bomb, and scientists from Mexico, Australia, and the US, say the planet is in a much worse state than most people – even scientists – understood. Frontiers in Conservation Science report, which references more than 150 studies detailing the world’s major environmental challenges, warns that climate-induced mass migrations, more pandemics, and conflicts over resources will be inevitable unless urgent action is taken. “Ours is not a call to surrender – we aim to provide leaders with a realistic ‘cold shower’ of the state of the planet that is essential for planning to avoid a ghastly future,” it adds. The report comes months after the world failed to meet a single UN Aichi biodiversity target, created to stem the destruction of the natural world, the second consecutive time governments have failed to meet their 10-year biodiversity goals. This week a coalition of more than 50 countries pledged to protect almost a third of the planet by 2030. An estimated one million species are at risk of extinction, many within decades, according to a recent UN report. Large populations and their continued growth drive soil degradation and biodiversity loss, the new paper warns. “More people means that more synthetic compounds and dangerous throwaway plastics are manufactured, many of which add to the growing toxification of the Earth. It also increases the chances of pandemics that fuel ever-more desperate hunts for scarce resources” – The Guardian

Newsdesk – December 5, 2020

Hurricane Eta’s Category 4 winds slammed into Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast on November 3—it was one of the most devastating hurricanes in decades. On November 16, Hurricane Iota made landfall less than 40 kilometers south of where Eta came ashore. Iota was the first Category 5 hurricane to form in the Atlantic in November since 1932. Photo by dpa picture alliance/Alamy Stock Photo

After Eta and Iota, Central America Braces for a COVID-19 Surge. Swaths of Central America are still underwater and hundreds of thousands of people are homeless after two major hurricanes, Eta and Iota, pummeled the region in November. Governments won’t know the extent of the damage until the floodwaters recede, but hospitals, health authorities, and first responders are already bracing for another disaster: a spike in COVID-19. Alida Hernandez, a 38-year-old tortilla vendor from Tocoa, Honduras, was eight months pregnant with twins when Hurricane Eta hit. She thought her house was safe, since the hurricane had lost its power by the time it reached her town. But heavy rains caused a nearby river to overflow. Hernandez fled to a nearby terrace with her partner and seven children while their house and all of their belongings were swept away. They were stranded for three days before being rescued by boat. Hernandez is now living with her sister, mother, and three other family members. She recently gave birth to her twins, and they all sleep together in her sister’s one-room home. But the destruction wrought by the back-to-back hurricanes means the region is now facing the difficult task of confronting a surge of COVID-19 cases with a decimated healthcare system. “We’ve had problems shipping our samples to Tegucigalpa where they’re processed,” says Xiomara Arita, the executive director of the 52-bed hospital just a block away from the beach. “We haven’t been able to diagnose, because we haven’t been able to test.” As a result, Ugarte says Honduras has seen a dramatic drop in reported coronavirus cases—a sign that the surveillance system is struggling. “This is clearly a challenge for reporting new cases and detecting new cases.” But the coronavirus isn’t the only disease health professionals are keeping their eyes out for. Water sources throughout the region have been contaminated, and have become breeding grounds for dengue, malaria, and chikungunya. In Nicaragua alone, the Red Cross estimates that 4,500 wells have been compromised by the hurricanes and associated flooding. The water, contaminated with fungi and bacteria, can’t even be used for hand-washing. Studies have linked stronger hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean to warming seas, and 2020 saw the most named storms on record. With once-in-a-lifetime hurricanes now coming multiple times a season, healthcare workers are learning to adapt – Hakai Magazine

  • Polish-built electric buses take over the European market – Made for Minds
  • The fight to stop the next pandemic starts in the jungles of Borneo – Popular Science 
  • ‘Turning fear into strength’: One woman’s struggle for justice and land rights in Sulawesi – Mongabay
  • No-kill, lab-grown meat to go on sale for first time – The Guardian
  • Can Local Food Feed Big Cities? Yes, if We Cut Down on Meat – Civil Eats
  • North American farmers profit as consumers pressure food business to go green – Reuters
  • This ferocious water flea is mauling the Great Lakes – National Geographic 
Used cooking oil is one of the ingredients in renewable diesel, which generates far less emissions than conventional diesel and allows refineries to take advantage of federal and state incentives.Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Oil Refineries See Profit in Turning Kitchen Grease Into Diesel. People who buy diesel may not even know they are using renewable diesel because pumps can handle it, oil-based diesel or a combination of the two and typically carry no special labels. Renewable diesel, like biodiesel, is produced from waste agricultural products and animal fats, but it is processed differently to make it chemically identical to conventional petroleum diesel. Neste Oyj supplies its two biggest markets, Europe and North America, from refineries in Singapore, the Netherlands and Finland, and is looking to find or build another plant. The company collects grease from tens of thousands of restaurants worldwide, including in the United States, then mixes it with waste from around the world at its refineries. Once processed into renewable diesel, the fuel is sent around the world, including to California and Oregon. One of its customers is Oakland, which uses fuel in city vehicles. Renewable diesel is emerging at a time of severe stress for the oil and gas industry, with refiners closing plants across Europe and North America. Researchers, farmers, and some environmentalists have long worked on making renewable fuels a bigger part of the nation’s energy mix, with mixed success. Proponents of renewable diesel say it has many advantages over ethanol, especially when it is made from waste that would otherwise be dumped into landfills. The fortunes for renewable diesel brightened in 2011 when California enacted its Low Carbon Fuel Standard, requiring sharp cuts in carbon emissions from transportation. Under the system, producers of low-carbon fuels such as electricity for electric vehicles, hydrogen and renewable diesel can sell credits to producers of high-carbon fuels. Oregon and British Columbia have adopted similar systems, and Canada is scheduled to begin a national clean fuel standard in 2022 The New York Times



The trees, plants, funghi and microbes in forests are so thoroughly connected some scientists describe them as superorganisms. Mycorrhizas in the soil, right, provide the network

The Social Life of Forests.  What trees are sharing with one another? Underground, trees and fungi form partnerships known as mycorrhizas: Threadlike fungi envelop and fuse with tree roots, helping them extract water and nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen in exchange for some of the carbon-rich sugars the trees make through photosynthesis. For her doctoral thesis, a professor Simard of forest ecology at the University of British Columbia, decided to investigate fungal links between Douglas fir and paper birch in the forests of British Columbia. Now, Simard, who is 60, has studied webs of root and fungi in the Arctic, temperate and coastal forests of North America for nearly three decades. She has discovered that fungal threads link nearly every tree in a forest — even trees of different species. Carbon, water, nutrients, alarm signals and hormones can pass from tree to tree through these subterranean circuits. Resources tend to flow from the oldest and biggest trees to the youngest and smallest. So-called chemical alarm signals. generated by one tree prepare nearby trees for danger. Seedlings severed from the forest’s underground lifelines are much more likely to die than their networked counterparts. And if a tree is on the brink of death, it sometimes bequeaths a substantial share of its carbon to its neighbors. An old-growth forest is a vast, ancient and intricate society. There is conflict in a forest, but there is also negotiation, reciprocity and perhaps even selflessness. In a TED Talk Simard gave in 2016, she describes “a world of infinite biological pathways,” species that are “interdependent like yin and yang” and veteran trees that “send messages of wisdom on to the next generation of seedlings.” in his international bestseller, ” The Hidden Life of Trees”, the forester Peter Wohlleben writes that trees optimally divide nutrients and water among themselves, that they probably enjoy the feeling of fungi merging with their roots and that they even possess “maternal instincts.”- The New York Times 

Newsdesk – November 2

(Photo: Gillfoto/Creative Commons)

How to Vote for the Environment This Year. A guide to key ballot measures and Senate and House races that will have huge impacts on the way we address climate change. If you’re voting for the environment, the presidential race is clear. One candidate has a plan to address climate change, and the other has consistently eviscerated international climate goals, stripped environmental protections, and ignored or blocked science. In Arizona, Republican Martha McSally, was appointed to fill John McCain’s seat after he passed away during his term. So if her opponent, astronaut Mark Kelly, a Democrat, wins, he could be sworn in as early as November 30, changing the balance of power in the Senate. She’s been categorically bad on public-land protection and pollution. The League of Conservation Voters put her on its Dirty Dozen this year. Kelly, on the other hand, says he’s seen the impacts of deforestation firsthand—from space! He’s been endorsed by the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter and the League of Conservation Voters for his science-based plan to address climate change in the desert.  In Montana Democratic Governor Steve Bullock is running against incumbent Steve Daines. Daines shepherded the showy Great American Outdoors Act, along with Colorado Senator Cory Gardner, but his longer record shows votes to defund the same act, particularly during years when he wasn’t up for election.  Steve Bullock initiated the Montana Climate Assessment and has led the charge to remove dangerous acting BLM head, William Perry Pendley,  whose appointment was never approved by Congress, which is in violation of the Constitution. As governor, Bullock has done a good job of listening to constituents’ climate, water, and land-use concerns and acting on them, and I believe he’ll do the same as a senator.    Washington governor Jay Inslee gained national attention when he entered the Democratic presidential primary on a climate-focused ticket. As governor, he’s pushed the state’s clean-energy portfolio and worked on salmon and orca conservation, which are hot topics in the Puget Sound area. In the state race, he’s running against small-town police chief Loren Culp, who identifies as a sportsman and whose platform as such is slightly obtuse: “As governor, he says, “I will measure Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s performance by a simple set of questions: Are there fish in the water? Are there deer and elk on the land? Are sport hunters content? Are commercial fishermen content?” The race is an ideological battle over government overreach, but it has the power to change the direction of the state’s climate momentum. Inslee is at the forefront of pushing climate policy on the state and national level. Let’s keep him there – Outside 

  • Typhoon, landslides leave 35 dead, dozens missing in Vietnam – AP News
  • Harley-Davidson is making electric bikes now – Fast Company
  • How Does Your State Make Electricity? – The New York Times
  • Here’s What a Carbon Offset Actually Looks Like – Outside
  • South Korea formally commits to cutting emissions to net zero by 2050 – Climate Home News
  • Typhoon Goni: Philippines hit by year’s most powerful storm – BBC
  • Japan net zero emissions pledge puts coal in the spotlight – Climate Home News
Bethany Davis Noll (Courtesy of Institute for Policy Integrity)

If Biden Wins, Here’s How He Could Undo Trump’s Deregulation Agenda. The Trump administration, more than any other in U.S. history, aggressively pursued the rollback of federal regulations, particularly the ones put in place by President Barack Obama — including a rule meant to prevent people with mental health issues from buying guns and a regulation aimed at keeping coal companies from dumping mining waste into streams. Biden has already said that, if he wins, he plans to roll back more than 100 Trump administration public health and environmental regulations, including his reversal of protections for transgender people.  Davis Noll, litigation director for the Institute for Policy Integrity at the New York University School of Law says,  “When Biden wins, you’ll see agencies getting back to doing their job, like looking at their statutes, which often say something like “reduce emissions,” in the case of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or “regulate this thing that is harmful to the public.” And you’ll see agencies getting back to doing the business of the agencies. That’s what we’ve been missing.  The Biden administration can then pull that record up from the previous Obama administration rule and update it. And it should be pretty simple to say, “This record still works. You know, there hasn’t been that much time that has passed, and this rule that was vastly beneficial to the American people is still a good idea.” The thing that has happened in the last 20 to 30 years is presidents have more and more turned to their agencies to make policy because we can’t get much out of Congress these days. There’s just massive gridlock there. It’s been there for a while, and it seems like it’s continuing. There was this really great article written by Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, when she was a law professor, called “Presidential Administration” back in 2001. It was about the Clinton administration. And she said the Clinton administration had basically turned to its agencies to make policy because of congressional gridlock. And she predicted that future presidents would do that more and more – Public Integrity


Greta Thunberg reflects on living through multiple crises in a ‘post-truth society. Since her first sit-in outside the Swedish parliament building more than two years ago, Greta Thunberg’s fundamental message has been clear and unchanging: The climate crisis is humanity’s greatest existential threat and we need to treat it as such. That message inspired millions of young activists to protest for change and led to a series of viral speeches that have defined Thunberg’s global fame. She was Time’s 2019 Person of the Year and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize two years in a row. Now, though, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic—a global crisis of a much different nature—and the looming threat of the U.S. backing out of the Paris Agreement, the 17-year-old activist is back at school in Sweden. National Geographic spoke with Thunberg via Zoom about how her activism has changed over the past year, and how her message might survive an increasingly complex world. There are some weekly digital strikes, Greta says,  which have been successful. And many groups have done symbolic actions. Some have put up signs or shoes outside the parliament buildings to symbolize that we should be here, but we are home. So there are lots of creative ways people have adapted. Climate crisis has never once been treated as a crisis, like the pandemic, for example. In the interview, Greta stated, “That we live in a post-truth society today, and that we don’t care that we have lost empathy. We have stopped caring for each other in away. We have stopped thinking long-term and sustainable. And that’s something that goes much deeper than just climate crisis deniers. The climate crisis is not the only problem here. It is just a symptom of a larger crisis. Like the loss of biodiversity, acidification of the oceans, and loss of fertile soil, and so on. And these things will not just be solved by stopping our emissions of greenhouse gases. The earth is a very complex system. If you take one thing and put it out of balance, then that will have an impact on things beyond our comprehension. There are no excuses left. Now, it’s just, either you try to minimize the crisis or just completely deny it, or you try to distract. We just need to start treating the crisis like a crisis and continue to lift up the science, but now everyone’s blaming each other and we are stuck in a loop. We won’t get anywhere unless someone breaks that chain, so to speak” – The National Geographic 

October 8, 2020


Prince William, left, and the British naturalist and broadcaster David Attenborough in Davos, Switzerland, in 2019. Mr. Attenborough is one of the high-profile figures behind the prize.Credit…Fabrice Coffrini/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Prince William Announces New Prize Aimed at ‘Repairing’ the Planet. Prince William on Thursday announced the establishment of an environmental prize worth 50 million pounds, or $65 million, that will reward climate change solutions over the next 10 years, saying it was an effort to “turn the current pessimism surrounding environmental issues into optimism.” “We have to have a decade of change, a decade of repairing the planet so we can hand it on to the next generation and future generations,” Prince William said, adding that he didn’t want to “let down” his children by not acting. The prize joins a long list of distinctions aimed at rewarding initiatives to tackle climate change. The prize comes amid growing concerns over climate change worldwide. Droughts have intensified in regions like the Middle East and Africa, and many areas keep registering their hottest months on record — September was just the latest example. Wildfires and heat waves are expected to increase, and rising sea levels are set to affect hundreds of millions across the world as experts predict that by 2050, the Arctic’s ice could melt entirely in the summer. Scientists have also predicted that global warming could trigger the greatest wave of global migration the world has seen, and warned that it might be too late to reverse the course of climate change. Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, promised to donate $500 million last year to close every coal-fired power plant in the United States. Prince William launched the prize through the Royal Foundation, which supports charitable initiatives engaged in by him and his wife, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. It will be supported by a network of donors that include the Aga Khan Development Network, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and the Jack Ma Foundation, among others. The prize joins a long list of distinctions aimed at rewarding initiatives to tackle climate change – The New York Times

  • New Delhi Introduces Campaign to Curb Air Pollution Ahead of Winter – The New York Times
  • Rooftop farming takes off in Singapore – Bangkok Post 
  • RBC becomes first major Canadian bank to refuse to fund oil drilling in Arctic refuge – The Narwhal
  • Activists try to stop autobahn being built through German forest – The Guardian 
  • Cities That Were Poised to Absorb Climate Migrants Face a New Challenge – Bloomberg CityLab
  • Venezuela, Once an Oil Giant, Reaches the End of an Era – The New York Times
  • Powering all UK homes via offshore wind by 2030 ‘will need £50bn’ – The Guardian
Electric taxis in Henan. ‘China is home to nearly half the world’s passenger electric vehicles, 98% of its electric buses, and 99% of its electric two-wheelers.’ Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

What China’s plan for net-zero emissions by 2060 means for the climate.  Perhaps the most important news of 2020 that you may have missed that China has stepped up on its own as a climate leader. On 22 September, President Xi Jinping announced in a video address to the UN general assembly that China would aim to become “carbon neutral” before 2060 – Beijing’s first long-term target. China is currently responsible for 28% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, more than the United States and the European Union combined. As a practical matter, becoming “carbon neutral” means that China will have to reduce its carbon emissions by as much as 90%.  If successful, this effort alone will shave around 0.2C to 0.3C from global warming projections, making Xi’s pledge the world’s single largest climate commitment to date. China burns half the world’s coal and is still building new coal power plants, though they are increasingly uneconomic and unnecessary.  But here’s the paradox: it also leads the world in the very clean technologies that make Xi’s plans feasible. China is by far the largest investor, producer, and consumer of renewable energy. One out of every three solar panels and wind turbines in the world are in China. It is also home to nearly half the world’s electric passenger vehicles, 98% of its electric buses and 99% of its electric two-wheelers. The country leads in the production of batteries to power electric vehicles and store renewable energy on power grids. To reach carbon neutrality, China will need to rapidly accelerate all that it has done so far. It must double its annual investment in solar and triple or quadruple its investment in wind. It will also need to channel enormous efforts toward developing the next generation of expensive but potentially transformative technologies such as green hydrogen, energy storage and offshore wind. Can we trust these ambitious promises? Most certainly. China has a track record of underpromising and overdelivering on its climate commitments. China’s central government has some built-in advantages over the EU and US. It has the capacity for long-term industrial planning, backed by massive investments and supportive policies. It can, and will, direct every provincial governor and city mayor to develop their own long-term climate plans – The Guardian 

Melissa, left, and Bear LeVangie.

New England’s Forests Are Sick. They Need More Tree Doctors. Climate change is taking a toll on woodlands in the Northeast. As climate change accelerates, the trees in the Eastern forests of the United States are increasingly vulnerable. For many arborists ( tree doctors) the challenges facing trees are reshaping and expanding the nature of their work. Many said they are spending more time on tree removal than ever before — taking down dead or unhealthy trees, or trees damaged or felled by storms. “We are a heavily treed state,” said Kristina Bezanson, an arborist who lives and lectures at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “We are having more tree problems that require lots of arborists, and there is a shortage of arborists.” Many New England towns are verdant, and the area is roughly 75 percent forest. To the untrained eye, it looks good: lots of green. Not to the trained eye. Many species — including ash, oak, maple, hemlock, elm, and white pine — have their own particular pest or disease threatening them. And there are more pests and diseases on the horizon. Many trees are also stressed by bouts of drought or intense rain, by rising temperatures and changing season length, by extreme weather — by all the various manifestations of climate change. You already see so many young maples with red and yellow leaves. “People look at that and say ‘Oh look, fall is coming early, it is going to be a colorful fall!’ No. This is happening early because the trees are very stressed out,” said Bear LeVangie, who works for Eversource, traveling a circuit of 35 towns in Connecticut, overseeing trimming and pruning crews and looking for “hazard trees,” including those that are dead or dying. Her twin sister, Mellisa,  who works for Shelter Tree, a tree care supply company, is also a tree warden, or caretaker, for the town of Petersham in central Massachusetts. More arborists are incorporating climate change into their decisions. “We are seeing things on the horizon that are very disconcerting, very unnerving,” said Mr. Ron Yaple of Race Mountain Tree Services in Sheffield, Mass.  “So when people ask us to recommend tree plantings, we suggest that people plant trees that are very happy in the Mid-Atlantic states.” Many experts, from arborists working with individual trees to foresters working with vast woodlands, are increasingly managing for diversity. “If you have 12 species of trees in one forest and now the ash is dying, that is terrible, but at least you have 11 other species,” said Michael Mauri, a consulting forester based in South Deerfield, Mass. “Protecting and maintaining diverse species is kind of our best defense against all the stuff, known and unknown, that is going to be visited upon us”- The New York Times 

Newsdesk – September 19, 2020

Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg poses during the official Supreme Court group portrait at the Supreme Court on November 30, 2018 in Washington, D.C. [Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Pool/Sipa USA/Newscom]
Ginsburg death leaves ‘no environmental voice’ on bench. The passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg could shake the foundation of America’s bedrock environmental laws, leaving a chasm on the bench where once sat an environmental champion. Ginsburg, who died two days ago, was the Supreme Court’s longest-serving liberal justice, and she played a critical role in opening courtroom doors to green groups and established broad interpretations of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and other laws. “In the environmental cases, she often asked the questions that guided the final opinion,” said John Cruden, the former assistant attorney general of the Environment and Natural Resources Division at the Department of Justice. Ginsburg’s most notable environmental ruling concerned whether environmental groups can seek penalties against a company discharging more pollutants than allowed under its Clean Water Act permit. In Friends of the Earth Inc. v. Laidlaw Environmental Services Inc., Ginsburg in 2000 reversed an appeals court ruling that dismissed the case as moot because the company had stopped operating the facility releasing pollutants into the North Tyger River in South Carolina. Ginsburg wrote that the company could restart operations — and their resulting discharges — any time, so the case couldn’t be dismissed. But perhaps most importantly, Ginsburg’s Laidlaw ruling established a broad view of environmental groups’ standing to sue. In 2014, she penned a 6-2 decision that revived the Obama administration’s effort to regulate air pollution that drifts across state lines. Cruden noted that her opinion in EPA v. EME Homer City Generation showed that Ginsburg “was a compelling advocate for the environment” – E&E News

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Newsdesk – September 5

The extra energy trapped by the atmosphere is expressing itself every second of every hour, usually quietly; you may not notice it, but eventually a downpour turns into a flood.Photograph by Eric Thayer / Getty

How Fast Is the Climate Changing?: It’s a New World, Each and Every Day. Every once in awhile, it’s worth stepping back and reminding ourselves what’s actually going on, silently, every hour of every day. And what’s going on is that we’re radically remaking our planet, in the course of a human lifetime. Hell, in the course of a human adolescence. The sun, our star, pours out energy, which falls on this planet, where the atmosphere traps some of it. Because we’ve thickened that atmosphere by burning coal and gas and oil—in particular, because we’ve increased the amount of carbon dioxide and methane it contains—more of that sun’s energy is trapped around the Earth. About three-fourths of a watt of extra energy per square meter, or slightly less than, say, one of those tiny white Christmas-tree lights. But there are a lot of square meters on our planet—roughly five hundred and ten trillion of them, which is a lot of Christmas-tree lights. It’s the heat equivalent, to switch units rather dramatically, of exploding four Hiroshima-sized bombs each second. With temperatures warming, unless there are increases in precipitation or atmospheric moisture to compensate, our fuels are going to get drier,” the University of Alberta fire scientist Mike Flannigan. Fuels, in this case, means grass, brush, and trees, and they dry out at a predictable pace, which becomes much faster in a heat wave. For almost all of human history, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide stuck at about two hundred and seventy-five parts per million, meaning that the planet’s energy balance was essentially unchanged. The physical world worked in predictable ways. But there’s around twenty-five parts per million more CO2 in the air now than there was a decade ago: That’s more change in ten years than over all the millennia from the invention of agriculture to the start of the Industrial Revolution. What if a tree burns in the forest and everyone sees it on TV, but no one says why it caught on fire? Noting that it’s been 15 years since Hurricane Katrina left its mark on New Orleans, and news outlets are still failing to discuss the links between fossil fuel pollution, climate change, and extreme weather. Polling makes it clear that even amid the pandemic and resulting recession, public interest in the climate is unabated. Sixty-eight percent of Americans want the government to do more to deal with climate change; a quarter of the country feels that the issue is very important to them personally – The New Yorker

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Newsdesk – August 25

Embers blow off a burned tree after the LNU Lightning Complex Fire burned through the area on August 18, 2020 in Napa, California. Credit: Justin Sullivan Getty Images

Fast-Moving California Wildfires Boosted by Climate Change. Firefighters battled nearly two dozen wildfires in California three days ago after a week of raging blazes blackened more than 1 million acres across the state. The fast-moving fires, which are seen by many scientists as a sign of climate change, have killed five people, destroyed more than 1,000 structures, and forced thousands to flee.  Altogether, the fires have burned an area the size of Rhode Island.  The fires on Saturday burned part of the oldest state park in California, Big Basin Redwoods State Park in Santa Cruz County. Flames damaged historic buildings, the campground, and “all of the infrastructure.” The week was filled with horror stories and heroic efforts. Volunteers helped evacuate senior citizens from a Vacaville retirement home in the middle of the night as fire raced toward the facility. Others helped rescue “dozens and dozens of individuals with intellectual disabilities” in Santa Clara. Hundreds saw their homes destroyed. The American Red Cross, wary of the coronavirus pandemic, put some survivors in hotel rooms so they could be separated from other evacuees, said Jim Burns, a Red Cross spokesman. Others went to evacuation shelters where protocols were in place to keep people spaced out. The Red Cross was also talking to colleges to see whether dorm rooms were available. Fires erupted beginning Aug. 15 when more than 1,200 lightning strikes hit the baking landscape within 72 hours. Those came “the exact week that we were experiencing some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded in human history, 130-degree temperatures in the southern part of the state,”  Gov. Gavin Newsom said. It was “maybe the hottest modern recorded temperature in the history of the world.”  Hotter temperatures, less dependable precipitation and snowpack that melts sooner lead to drier soil and parched vegetation. Climate change also affects how much moisture is in the air, said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA. “It’s actually drying out the air during these extreme heat events,” which zaps plants of additional moisture, Swain said. That left much of the state a tinderbox when hundreds of lightning strikes scorched the countryside –  Scientific American

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