By Annie Notthoff, December 17, 2015 | Annie Notthoff is director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s California advocacy program.
The spending and tax policy agreement Congress and the White House have reached to keep the government funded and running includes important wins for health and the environment.
But there’s good news to report, only because of the Herculean efforts of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and the White House, who worked tirelessly to block nearly all of the dozens and dozens of proposals Republican leaders were pushing.
Those proposals would have blocked action on climate, clean air, clean water, land preservation and wildlife protection and stripped key programs of needed resources. The Republican leaders’ proposals were the clearest expression yet of their “just say no” approach to environmental policy. They literally have no plan, except to block every movement forward on problems that threaten our health and our planet.
The worst aspect of the budget agreement is another clear indication of Republican leaders’ misplaced priorities — they exacted an end to the decades-long ban on sending U.S. crude oil overseas in this bill, in return for giving up on key elements of their antienvironment agenda.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made that give-away to the oil industry one of his top priorities. It will mean increased oil drilling in the U.S., with all the attendant dangers, with the benefits going to oil companies and overseas purchasers. That won’t help the American public, or the climate. It’s simply an undeserved gift to Big Oil.
In good news, the agreement extends tax credits for wind and solar energy for five years, which will give those industries long-sought certainty about their financing.
Wind and solar will continue to grow by leaps and bounds, helping domestic industry, reducing carbon pollution and making the U.S. less vulnerable to the ups and downs of fossil fuel prices.
Democratic leaders deserve all our thanks for what they were able to keep out of the budget deal. Gone are the vast majority of obstacles Republican leaders tried to throw in the way of environmental protection. Recall for a moment the 100 or more antienvironmental provisions Republican leaders tried to attach to these spending bills. Those included efforts to:
• Block the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which sets the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants — our best available tool to combat dangerous climate change.
• Roll back the Obama Administration’s Clean Water Rule, which would restore protections for the potential drinking water supplies of 1 in 3 Americans.
• Repeal the EPA’s newly issued health standards to protect us from smog.
• Bar the Interior Department from protecting our streams from the pollution generated by mountaintop removal during coal mining.
• Strip Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves, the greater sage grouse, elephants, the Sonoran Desert tortoise, and other threatened animals.
• Force approval of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline, which President Obama already has rejected.
There’s more work ahead to protect the environment, starting with eliminating the threat of oil drilling in the Arctic and off the Atlantic Coast.
But despite the efforts of Republican congressional leaders to hold the public hostage and bring us to the brink of another government shutdown, a budget deal has emerged that protects environmental progress.
“After years of exhaustive research and examination of the science and facts, prohibiting high-volume hydraulic fracturing is the only reasonable alternative,” said New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens in a statement. “High-volume hydraulic fracturing poses significant adverse impacts to land, air, water, natural resources and potential significant public health impacts that cannot be adequately mitigated. This decision is consistent with DEC’s mission to conserve, improve and protect our state’s natural resources, and to enhance the health, safety and welfare of the people of the state.”
The Findings Statement concludes that “there are no feasible or prudent alternatives that adequately avoid or minimize adverse environmental impacts and address risks to public health from this activity.” Two groups heavily involved in the campaign, New Yorkers Against Fracking and Americans Against Fracking, praised the decision.
Mark Ruffalo, an advisory board member of Americans Against Fracking, worked diligently to ban fracking in his home state and recently made an appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to encourage the U.S. to go 100 percent renewable by 2050. In a statement on the finalization of New York’s ban on fracking, Ruffalo said:
I applaud the Cuomo Administration for protecting the public health and safety of New Yorkers by finalizing the ban on high volume fracking. Governor Cuomo has set a precedent for the nation by carefully considering the science, which shows a range of public health and environmental harms, and doing what’s best for the people, not the special interests of Big Oil and Gas. Already, other states and countries are following New York’s lead, with prohibitions including Maryland, Scotland, Wales and just today a crucial county in England. Along with many New Yorkers, I look forward to working on advancing renewable energy and efficiency, showing the world that a cleaner, healthier, renewable energy future is possible. Today I’m proud and thankful to be a New Yorker.
Industry groups have, of course, threatened to sue but the attorneys at Earthjustice are confident that the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s exhaustive review “will withstand legal challenge” and Earthjustice pledges “to stand alongside the state in any legal challenge.”
“Today, nearly a year to the day after communities won the right to ban fracking, New York’s historic statewide ban on fracking is now the law of the land,” says Earthjustice Managing Attorney Deborah Goldberg, who represented the town of Dryden, New York, which won its precedent-setting fracking ban case one year ago tomorrow. “We salute Governor Andrew Cuomo’s refusal to bow to industry pressure. He had the courage to do what no other state or federal leader has had the courage to do: let the available scientific evidence dictate whether fracking should proceed in New York.”
New York now joins Vermont in outlawing the practice altogether, which has been banned in the Green Mountain state since 2012. As Ruffalo mentioned, this spring Maryland approved a moratorium on fracking in the state until October 2017. Scotland and Wales have also instituted moratoriums. And today a county in England rejected applications for fracking permits, which the Wall Street Journal says “effectively extends the moratorium on fracking in the U.K.” Meanwhile, Texas and Oklahoma both passed legislation this spring, barring local municipalities from instituting fracking bans.
“New Yorkers can celebrate the fact that we won’t be subjected to the toxic pollution and health risks fracking inevitably brings,” said Alex Beauchamp, northeast region director for Food & Water Watch. “By banning fracking, Governor Cuomo stood up to the oil and gas industry, and in so doing became a national leader on health and the environment. He set a standard for human health and safety that President Obama and other state leaders should be striving for.”
Repost from TruthOut [Editor: a good summation of the latest evidence that runaway anthropogenic climate disruption continues to escalate. A new study reports that climate change is ”worse than we thought” because it is happening ”faster than we realized.” – RS]
As Casualties Mount, Scientists Say Global Warming Has Been “Hugely Underestimated”
October 20, 2014, By Dahr Jamail
As we look across the globe this month, the signs of a continued escalation of the impacts of runaway anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) continue to increase, alongside a drumbeat of fresh scientific studies confirming their connection to the ongoing human geo-engineering project of emitting carbon dioxide at ever-increasing rates into the atmosphere.
A major study recently published in New Scientist found that “scientists may have hugely underestimated the extent of global warming because temperature readings from southern hemisphere seas were inaccurate,” and said that ACD is “worse than we thought” because it is happening “faster than we realized.”
As has become predictable now, as evidence of increasing ACD continues to mount, denial and corporate exploitation are accelerating right along with it.
The famed Northwest Passage is now being exploited by luxury cruise companies. Given the ongoing melting of the Arctic ice cap, a company recently announced a 900-mile, 32-day luxury cruise there, with fares starting at $20,000, so people can luxuriate while viewing the demise of the planetary ecosystem.
This, while even mainstream scientists now no longer view ACD in the future tense, but as a reality that is already well underway and severely impacting the planet.
To provide perspective on how far along we are regarding runaway ACD, another recent study shows that the planet’s wildlife population is less than half the size it was four decades ago. The culprits are both ACD and unsustainable human consumption, coupling to destroy habitats faster than previously thought, as biodiversity loss has now reached “critical levels,” according to the report. More than half of the vertebrate population on the planet has been annihilated in just four decades.
Let that sink in for a moment before reading further.
Meanwhile, the situation only continues to grow grimmer.
The effects of all these developments are especially evident in the Arctic, where sea ice coverage reached its annual minimum on September 17, continuing a trend of below-average years. According to the NASA-supported National Snow and Ice Data Center, Arctic sea ice coverage this year is the sixth lowest recorded since 1978.
Equally disconcerting and symptomatic of the aforementioned, 35,000 walruses crowded onto land near the Northwest Alaska village of Point Lay late last month, when they couldn’t find their preferred resting grounds of summer sea ice.
The European Space Agency announced that, due to billions of tons of ice loss, a dip in the gravity field over the Western Antarctic region has occurred, making even gravity itself the latest casualty of ACD.
A recent analysis of 56 studies on ACD-related health problems revealed that increasing global temperatures and extreme weather events will continue to deleteriously impact human health on a global scale.
Further north, warming temperatures continue to disrupt the fragile ecological balance in the Canadian Arctic, which is warming faster than most of the rest of the planet. Canada’s minister for natural resources provided a new report detailing the impact ACD is having on that country’s forests, which are being impacted “faster than the global average.”
In neighboring Alaska, summer heat and invasive insects are taking a similar toll on interior Alaska birch trees, according to experts there.
Wildlife populations continue to struggle to adapt to the dramatic changes wrought by ACD. In California, one of the largest populations of state-protected Western pond turtles in the southern part of that state is struggling to survive as its habitat, a natural two-mile long lake, has become a smelly, severely alkaline death trap due to drought and fires there.
Of course it isn’t just wildlife that is struggling to adapt and cope with ACD.
Members of the Swinomish tribe, located north of Seattle, were recently awarded a large grant from the federal government in order to deal with rising seas and flooding, as they live near the mouth of the Skagit River.
The extremes of water, flooding and drought continue to persist and escalate as ACD continues.
In East Porterville, a small rural community in Tulare County, California, the situation has become so desperate that residents are no longer able to flush toilets, fill a glass with water or wash their hands without using bottled water.
Dairy farmers in that state are struggling to survive the drought, as the cost for feed and water is being driven up by the lack of water.
The US Energy Information Administration announced that California’s ability to produce electricity from hydroelectric dams is being significantly hampered by the drought, which covers 100 percent of the state now. This is because the reservoirs, which create power when the water in them is released into turbines, are drying up, thus providing less pressure to spin the turbines. The first six months of this year have seen the state’s hydropower generation decrease by half.
And it’s not just California that is experiencing drought. The better part of the entire Western Hemisphere has experienced some form of drought in recent years, according to another recent report published in the journal Science which states: “A dry spell has killed cattle and wiped out crops in Central America, parts of Colombia have seen rioting over scarce water, and southern Brazil is facing its worst dry spell in 50 years.”
Across the Atlantic, at a recent international conference that was held to discuss the growing global water crisis, experts warned that Britain must prepare for the “worst droughts in modern times.”
On the other end of the water spectrum – melting and flooding – we continue to see global evidence of the impact of ACD. The aforementioned recent satellite observations from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center revealed in October that the Arctic ice cap has melted so much that open water is now a mere 350 miles from the North Pole, which is the shortest distance ever recorded, according to scientists.
This coincides with predictions from leading British and American polar researchers that Truthout has previously interviewed who predict the ice cap will melt completely during the summer as early as next year.
A recent report by the Union for Concerned Scientists warned that several major US cities will see at least 10 times more coastal flooding by 2045, in addition to at least 11 inches of sea level rise by the same year.
In Delaware, they aren’t waiting. There, millions of dollars have been spent to pump sand in to build up dunes along the beaches in order to create a buffer from future storms and sea level rise.
Down in Miami, hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent to install new storm pumps and storm drains in order to combat sea level rise at Miami Beach. Near the Cape Canaveral area, a low-lying barrier island is getting even lower as sea levels continue to rise, so communities there are investigating ways to keep the water at bay, or to plan a retreat.
Edmonton, Canada, is pushing forward with a $2.4 billion bill for flood prevention, as that city is seeing increasingly severe downpours.
Southern France experienced a deluge of 10 inches of rain in just three hours, which amounted to half a year’s worth of rain in one day in Montpellier.
In Norway, massive amounts of melt-water from streams and blue ice on mountains indicated that the ice fields and glaciers on central Norway’s highest peaks were in full retreat, and exposed rock and ice that had not been seen for 6,000 years. On that note, recent studies also show that sea-level rise over the last century (20 centimeters) has been unmatched in 6,000 years.
Recent reports indicate that the Gulf of Alaska has become unusually warm, warmer in fact than since researchers began tracking surface water temperatures in the 1980s, according to NOAA.
In the Atlantic, lobsters off the coast of southern New England are moving up into Canada due to warming waters. The exotic lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific, is also heading north up the Atlantic coast, as warming waters are changing ocean habitats.
In Greenland, “dark” snow atop the ice sheet is now being called a “positive feedback loop” by an expert there, as the increasing trend is reducing the Arctic’s ability to reflect sunlight, further contributing to runaway ACD.
Recent analysis indicates that scientists could have underestimated the size of the heat sink across the upper ocean, according to a recent report. The study, published in Nature Climate Change, found that the upper 700 meters of the ocean have been warming 24 to 55 percent faster since 1970 than previously thought. This means that the pace and scale of planetary warming is much faster than previously believed.
Lastly in this section, and possibly the most distressing, a recent report revealed that fish are failing to adapt to increasing carbon dioxide levels in the oceans. This means that within just a few generations of fish, a mass die-off could occur due to lack of adaptation. More carbon dioxide in the oceans is adversely changing the behavior of fish through generations, which means that marine species may never fully adapt to their changing environment.
A study published in Geophysical Research Letters showed that tornado activity in “Tornado Alley” in the Midwestern United States is peaking two weeks earlier than it did 50 years ago, and ACD is the culprit.
Erratic jet stream behavior is now believed to be caused by the rapid retreating of Arctic sea ice as a result of ACD. The increasingly unpredictable jet stream is being blamed for more frequent, prolonged spells of extreme weather in Europe, North America and Asia. This includes more and longer freezing temperatures, storms and heat waves.
In October, California found itself in yet another heat wave, with record-breaking temperatures reported in several cities and hotter-than-usual temperatures across the state. The National Weather Service put the San Francisco Bay area and San Diego under a heat advisory and issued a hazardous weather outlook for the Los Angeles area. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) cancelled outside activities and sports for the better part of a week due to the extreme heat, which was the second time this school year that LAUSD has had to cancel activities because of high temperatures.
On one day, downtown Los Angeles reached 92 degrees by noon, whereas the average October temperature for that city is 79 degrees. Several cities in Southern California broke record temperatures. Oxnard reached 98 degrees, breaking an almost 70-year-old record.
As wildfires continued to burn across parts of drought-stricken California, a record-breaking amount of fire retardant was used (203,000 gallons in one day alone) while combatting a massive wildfire in Northern California. The fire was burning so hotly and expanding so explosively, due to the prolonged drought, that firefighters found that normal amounts of retardant weren’t stopping the flames.
It is now well known that fire season in California, as well as across all the other Western US states, is extending due to ACD.
Denial and Reality
The person who runs the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a free-market lobbying group that opposes policies to mitigate ACD, is not sure whether humans actually cause ACD, according to an interview recently published in National Journal.
When asked specifically whether or not she thought human carbon emissions are causing climate change, ALEC CEO Lisa Nelson said, “I don’t know the science on that.”
The denial-based antics of Gov. Chris Christie are ongoing as well. He recently said that a regional cap-and-trade program from which his state of New Jersey withdrew in 2011 was “a completely useless plan” and added that he “would not think of rejoining it.”
Louisiana’s Gov. Bobby Jindal, a potential Republican presidential candidate for 2016, is taking a “soft denial” approach by admitting that ACD is real, while saying the extent to which humans have a role is still in “doubt.”
The denial project’s success is evidenced by large numbers of Americans racing to buy and develop seashore properties in areas well known to be at high-risk for rising seas and increasingly intense storms. Mike Huckabee, now apparently a chronic presidential candidate, is among those racing to build on shores that will be submerged in the not-so-distant future.
It’s no coincidence that merely 3 percent of current Congressional Republicans have even gone on record to accept the fact that climate disruption is anthropogenic, according to PolitiFact, which also found that there is a grand total of eight Republican non-deniers, total, in the House and Senate.
Another interesting turn of events shows companies like GE and Google operating as large companies do in advance of elections – funding both sides to safeguard their interests. In this case, these companies, along with others, are making campaign contributions to Congressional ACD-deniers – while simultaneously professing to be pro-sustainability companies.
Meanwhile the media blitz continues, as the Rupert Murdoch-owned and ACD-denying Wall Street Journal recently ran an article titled “Climate Science Is Not Settled,” which was chock full of the usual ACD-denier talking points. The article provides us with a prime example of how the doubt narrative is consistently slipped in as a meme: “Any serious discussion of the changing climate must begin by acknowledging not only the scientific certainties but also the uncertainties, especially in projecting the future.”
In stark contrast to the “doubters” and “deniers,” the Pentagon recently announced that ACD poses an “immediate risk” to national security, according to the Department of Defense’s 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap.
Shaun Donovan, the new US director of the Office of Management and Budget, used his first speech to talk about the dangers of inaction on climate change, in regards to the federal budget. “From where I sit, climate action is a must do; climate inaction is a can’t do; and climate denial scores – and I don’t mean scoring points on the board,” he said. “I mean that it scores in the budget. Climate denial will cost us billions of dollars.”
Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently admitted that funding ALEC was a “mistake,” and said that the group’s spreading of disinformation and lies about ACD was “making the world a much worse place.” During an NPR interview, Schmidt said, “Everyone understands climate change is occurring and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren. . . . And so we should not be aligned with such people – they’re just, they’re just literally lying.”
The Endangered Species Coalition recently released a list of things people should take their children to go see outdoors, because if they wait too long, their kids might not get a chance to see them before they become extinct. The list includes monarch butterflies, polar bears, great white sharks, white bark pine trees and Snake River sockeye salmon.
A study published in Environmental Research Letters showed that switching to natural gas will not reduce carbon emissions very much, and could in fact increase them slightly, due to the fact that it would discourage the use of carbon-free renewable energy sources. This is significant because there are many lawmakers who are ACD “realists,” including President Obama, who advocate that natural gas is a “solution” to ACD.
A remarkable electronic dashboard created by The Guardian shows some of the key indicators of planetary health, where you can view updated snapshots of the impacts your country, as well as humans, are having on the environment.
Lastly, possibly the most disturbing reality check of all comes from MIT’s 2014 Climate and Energy Outlook. The recently released report revealed that global energy use and carbon dioxide emissions will likely double by 2100.