December 18, 2018
Here in upstate New York we have had several years of odd winter weather. Either unseasonably warm, or bitterly cold (even for Rochester!). All the while these were going on, the Arctic was warmer than Rochester. We may have broken winter. This week we follow a few stories about what is disrupting the polar regions.
But first the news.

The Extinction Rebellion’s Direct-Action Climate Activism
Comes to New York

The Extinction Rebellion’s Direct-Action Climate Activism Comes to New York

The New York chapter of Extinction Rebellion held its first planning meeting on Thursday. Incensed and terrified by the accelerating climate crisis, activists gathered in Manhattan to discuss how they might replicate some of the successes the direct-action group has had in the United Kingdom.

In London, less than a month after Extinction Rebellion activists blocked roads, occupied bridges, lay down in the street and got arrested to draw immediate attention to the climate crisis, Mayor Sadiq Khan declared a climate emergency, vowing to do “everything in our power to mitigate the risk” of climate catastrophe. Coincidence? Greg Schwedock doesn’t think so.

“That was unthinkable before the Extinction Rebellion,” Schwedock told a standing room-only crowd gathered in a Manhattan co-working space on Thursday night. Dressed in office gear and “Rise and Resist” sweatshirts, accompanied by their children and at least one dog, the attendees came together with the hope that a New York chapter of the group might have similar success in sparking a response commensurate with the dire crisis.

“Getting a million people to D.C. isn’t enough. We need to escalate,” said Schwedock, who emphasized that the group will take the path of disruptive, attention-grabbing civil disobedience, rather than just marching and chanting about the importance of climate change. “We’re not the ‘Extinction Yell About It.’”

The explosive growth of the Extinction Rebellion — which began in England with the support of a group of academics just a few months ago and already has 190 affiliates on five continents — is fueled by the ballooning ranks of people around the world who are frustrated, alarmed, and depressed by the failure to tackle the accelerating climate disaster.…—Sharon Lerner, “The Extinction Rebellion’s Direct-Action Climate Activism Comes to New York,” The Intercept, 12/15/18


Congratulations to Gas Free Seneca, EarthJustice, We Are Seneca Lake, the Finger Lakes towns, businesses and people who stood against Crestwood’s plans to make their Seneca Lake facilities the “Gas Storage Hub of the Northeastern U.S.” And to the hundreds of people who repeatedly blockaded Crestwood’s gates, creating an unanswerable challenge to corporate over-reaching and hubris. And to all those who were willing to stop Crestwood even if it meant putting aside their personal lives, supporting others, writing endlessly, lobbying, taking the risk of getting arrested, fined and even jailed from their resistance to the industrialization of  their beloved Seneca Lake.


Gas plant not the smart, healthy alternative for Oneonta

Guest Commentary: Gas plant not the smart, healthy alternative

There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.—Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard

It would be foolish for area residents to accept the Industrial Development Agency’s claim that Oneonta has an energy crisis and that the IDA knows best how to solve it. We should not believe NYSEG’s capricious cost estimates for the DeRuyter pipeline upgrade. It would be equally foolish to ignore the environmental and economic benefits of conservation and renewable energy, as well as the sensible consideration that went into the Town Comprehensive Plan, town zoning and town resolutions opposing gas infrastructure and heavy industry.

The $17.5 million proposal by the IDA to construct a gas plant requires that a couple of dozen compressed gas tractor-trailers come through the dangerous I-88/state Route 205 intersection daily to inject an additional 25 percent capacity into the NYSEG pipeline. Once built, we would be stuck with this gas plant, and whatever it spawned, for 30 years. Even if we need more energy, would it be smart for area businesses and residents to commit to increased payments to the fossil fuel industry through mid-century?

Retrofitting downtown buildings and renovating homes would keep those dollars in our local economy. An average home envelope upgrade costs about $6,500 and typically saves 20 percent of the heat used. So, the dollars for the proposed gas plant could upgrade almost 2,700 homes. Hundreds of workers could be employed. The $6 million saved annually on heating costs through home improvements, and all the money spent on payroll, would remain in the community.…—Dennis Higgins, “Gas plant not the smart, healthy alternative,” The Onteona Daily Star, 12/14/18


A sip of fracking wastewater?

WRITE ON: A sip of fracking wastewater?

In the dry Southwestern state of New Mexico, state officials and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are seriously considering an attempt to clean up toxic wastewater from hydrofracked oil and gas wells so it can be used in agriculture. And as drinking water.

Seriously? Recycling fracking wastewater for drinking?

In published reports in the last two weeks, this notion surfaced against a political backdrop of keeping the oil and gas industry fiscally healthy and profitable.

“Oil and gas in New Mexico provide over a third of our general fund,” Ken McQueen, head of the state’s department of Energy, Mineral and Natural Resources said in the Washington Post. “We have to be concerned we’re doing what’s necessary into the future to make sure this industry continues to be alive and vibrant.”

McQueen gushed that part of keeping the industry vibrant could include using cleaned-up toxic wastewater to irrigate crops and provide water for domestic taps. He also opined it might be used to revive dried-up wildlife wetlands.

An added benefit, which he didn’t emphasize, is that it would save oil and gas companies large sums of money now spent on injecting the toxic wastewater into deep wells.

If this cleanup scheme seems a horrendously bad idea, that’s because it is.

Hydro-fracking wastewater is almost always disposed of by injecting it deep into the earth because the stew of chemicals in it is so toxic. The chemical-laced wastewater also often contains additional hazardous substances picked up in the drilling process, including radioactive material.

The idea that fracking wastewater could be cleaned up is certainly attractive in arid oil-producing states. It takes 4 million to 8 million gallons of water to drill each oil or gas well, sometimes resulting in water shortages in communities where fracking takes place.

The cleanup option is also attractive because when wastewater is injected into the earth, it can trigger earthquakes.

But the technical and political hurdles are huge and complicated.

The politics are complicated because the fracking industry is exempt from key provisions of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

Nor are companies required to disclose the chemicals they put into the hydrofracking cocktail injected into the ground. The chemicals are a closely guarded secret and considered propriety information.…—Michael J. Fitzgerald, “WRITE ON: A sip of fracking wastewater?Finger Lakes Times, 12/14/18


Cuomo Should Declare Climate Emergency
100% Renewable Now NY Campaign

Cuomo Should Declare Climate Emergency – 100% Renewable Now NY Campaign

Call for 100% renewable energy by 2030; A Robust Carbon Tax; Halt to Fossil Fuels

Climate activists are urging Governor Cuomo to declare an emergency climate mobilization in New York in response to the recent report by the United Nations that we have only 12 years left to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Cuomo is expected to preview his 2019 legislative agenda, including on climate, in a speech on Monday.

Cuomo’s climate efforts over the last 8 years have left NY with only 4% of its electricity coming from wind and solar. Even less progress has been made on transportation and heating / cooling of buildings which have even bigger carbon footprints. Cuomo’s reliance upon tweaking the markets has been a climate disaster. He needs to step up and be a true climate hero by committing to saving life on the planet by launching a full-scale emergency mobilization.

The Greens want Cuomo to support 100% renewable energy / net zero carbon emissions by 2030; an immediate halt to any new fossil fuel infrastructure (e.g., gas pipelines, power plants); a robust state carbon tax; renewable heat for buildings; increasing funding for mass transit; a goal of all new vehicles by 2025 being Zero Emission; and comprehensive state and local climate plans with detailed benchmarks and timelines.

A declaration of an emergency is needed not only to better marshal and target state resources to avoid a climate disaster but to increase the state’s legal authority to take stronger action. London recently became the 11th city to declare a climate emergency, joining Hoboken, NJ and half a dozen in California.

New York needs to dramatically speed up the siting of large-scale renewables. The Green Party has called for increased public ownership of the energy system including providing state funds to any community that agrees to site major solar, wind and geothermal projects.…—Mark Dunlea, “Cuomo Should Declare Climate Emergency,” Green Education and Legal Fund, 12/16/18


PUC panel sees ‘statewide concern’ with pipeline corrosion after ME1 leak

PUC panel sees ‘statewide concern’ with pipeline corrosion after ME1 leak | StateImpact Pennsylvania

Investigators at the Public Utility Commission blamed corrosion for a leak of natural gas liquids from Sunoco’s Mariner East 1 pipeline in April 2017, and said they are concerned about the company’s corrosion-control program throughout the ageing statewide line.

The PUC’s Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement issued a formal complaint late Thursday saying that ethane and propane leaked from the line at Morgantown in Berks County, and the leak was discovered by a resident who reported “bubbling” out of the ground on April 1.

Two days later, Sunoco workers dug up that section of the pipe, and concluded that it was corroded at the bottom. That was later confirmed by a laboratory that examined an eight-foot section of the pipe, the complaint said.

The company said at the time that about 20 barrels of liquids leaked.

The bureau faulted Sunoco’s use of cathodic protection – a technique to prevent metal corrosion – saying that its level did not meet official requirements for minimum protection.

Further reading Pipeline Safety: Guidance for Pipeline Flow Reversals, Product Changes and Conversion to Service|PHMSA
Sunoco’s sudden, desperate, and dangerous switch to Plan B

And it said the incident raised questions about possible corrosion elsewhere along the line, which was first installed in about 1931 to carry refined petroleum products, and in recent years has been re-purposed for highly volatile natural gas liquids.

“While the data reviewed was largely specific to the site of the leak, SPLP’s procedures and overall application of corrosion control and cathodic protection practices are relevant to all of ME1 and thus I&E alleges that there is a statewide concern with SPLP’s corrosion control program and the soundness of SPLP’s engineering practices with respect to cathodic protection,” the bureau wrote in the 16-page complaint.

It also criticized Sunoco’s record keeping, saying that it failed to say anything about corrosion in a report on an inspection of that section of pipe in July 2017, even though metal loss on the pipe “signifies the presence of corrosion.”

And it proposed that Sunoco should conduct a “remaining life study” of the pipeline and consider when it will retire the line.…—Jon Hurdle, “PUC panel sees ‘statewide concern’ with pipeline corrosion after ME1 leak,” StateImpact Pennsylvania, 12/15/18


Quoting ‘The Lorax,’ court tosses permit for pipeline
to cross Appalachian Trail

Quoting ‘The Lorax,’ court tosses permit for pipeline to cross Appalachian Trail

RICHMOND, Va. – A permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross two national forests, including parts of the Appalachian Trail, was thrown out Thursday by a federal appeals court that harshly criticized regulators for approving the proposal.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond blasted the U.S. Forest Service for granting a special-use permit to build the natural gas pipeline through parts of the George Washington and Monongahela National Forests, and granting a right of way across the Appalachian Trail.

“A thorough review of the record leads to the necessary conclusion that the Forest Service abdicated its responsibility to preserve national forest resources,” Judge Stephanie Thacker wrote for the panel in the unanimous ruling.

Further reading: Congress considers changing law for pipeline crossing of Appalachian Trail, Blue Ridge Parkway

The court said the agency had “serious environmental concerns” about the project that were “suddenly, and mysteriously, assuaged in time to meet a private pipeline company’s deadlines.”

‘The trees have no tongues’

The ruling also quoted “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss, saying the Forest Service is trusted to “speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.”

…The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Sierra Club, Virginia Wilderness Committee and other environmental groups. Patrick Hunter, a staff attorney for the center, said the ruling is a “huge problem” for Dominion.…—Denise Lavoie, “Court quotes Seuss, tosses pipeline permit to cross Appalachian Trail,” Ashville Citizen Times, 12/13/18


Judge Denies TransCanada Request for Pre-Construction Work on Keystone XL Pipeline

Cathie and Tom Genung, landowners in Holt County, NE near the Elkhorn River. Tom is chair of the Nebraska Easement Action Team landownwers’ collective. (Photo: Mary Anne Andrei)

Ruling Deals Yet Another Setback to Proposed Dirty Fossil Fuel Project

Great Falls, MT — Today, a federal judge reaffirmed that TransCanada cannot conduct any pre-construction field activities on its proposed Keystone XL pipeline. This ruling means that construction on the controversial tar sands pipeline will continue to be delayed.

Earlier this month, the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana ruled that the Trump administration violated bedrock U.S. environmental laws when approving a federal permit for the pipeline. The ruling blocked any construction while the government revises its environmental review.

The court today clarified that the company can continue planning activities and surveys necessary to revise the environmental review documents and maintain security efforts, but rejected TransCanada’s request to continue pre-construction activities.

“Farmers and ranchers thank the judge for seeing through TransCanada’s transparent power grab. Not an ounce of steel should be moved, given this foreign company does not possess a federal permit,” said Jane Kleeb, Bold Alliance president. “The Trump administration keeps thumbing their noses at the concerns of rural communities. We want our property rights and water protected, yet all the Trump administration cares about is aiding a foreign oil corporation.”…—Mark Hefflinger, “Judge Denies TransCanada Request for Pre-Construction Work on Keystone XL Pipeline,” Bold Nebraska, 12/8/18


Anti-fracking advocates push for action on Delaware River Basin

Anti-fracking advocates push for action on Delaware River Basin

Activists display on Albany “Golden Stairway” steps the scroll of thousands of petitioners to keep fracking away from the Delaware River Basin

ALBANY — A coalition of environmental groups presented over 100,000 signatures to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Monday, urging him to support a full ban on hydraulic fracking and its related activities in the Delaware River Basin.

The activists gathered at the state Capitol’s historic Million Dollar Staircase and called on the governor to expand the state’s 2014 ban on hydraulic fracking by prohibiting use of the basin for treatment and processing of fracking waste, or for water withdrawals for fracking.

Cuomo is among four state governors and a regional U.S. Army Corps engineer — the federal representative — who make up the Delaware River Basin Commission that was created in 1961.

The commission is expected to vote on proposed regulations to permanently ban fracking in the basin, which stretches more than 300 miles from the Catskill mountains to the Delaware Bay south of New Jersey.

“The dangers of fracking have been well established, to the point that New York state has banned the practice outright,” [NY State Senator Liz] Krueger said. “So it makes no sense to allow fracking or fracking waste anywhere near the Delaware watershed, or to let this pristine public water resource be used to support fracking operations elsewhere.”

Four years ago, Cuomo announced the statewide ban on fracking. Advocates say expanding the ban is a crucial step in shifting New York off fossil fuels to renewable energy.

“The underlying principle of New York’s fracking ban is that it is too dangerous to be done safely anywhere,” said Roger Downs, conservation director for the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter. “To still have the Delaware River Basin, a drinking water source for 17 million people, remain potentially open to drilling represents a disproportionate risk that defies common sense and the science that supports effective public health policy.…—”Anti-fracking advocates push for action on Delaware River Basin,” Albany Times Union, 12/12/18


Letter to the Editor: Investors Representing $32 Trillion in Assets
Call for Climate Change Action

While the United States sided with Russia, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to block a key climate change report at the talks in Poland, the business community is sending a clear statement regarding the dangers we face by ignoring the science behind climate change.

Four hundred and fifteen institutional investors representing $32 trillion in assets issued a statement calling for “full support for the Paris Agreement and strongly urge all governments to implement the actions that are needed to achieve the goals of the Agreement, with the utmost urgency.”

They called for a number of  actions that include:
■ Put a meaningful price on carbon
■ Phase out fossil fuel subsidies by set deadlines
■ Phase out thermal coal power worldwide by set deadlines.

For the complete statement and list of signatures go to The Investor Agenda.

We can be a part of making a difference by asking Rep. Katko to support a bipartisian bill introduced in the House in 2018 called the, Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act.

Please let him know you support this Initiative by calling his office at  (202) 225-3701.

Peter Wirth
Climate Change Awareness and Action
Fayetteville, NY


At last, divestment is hitting the fossil fuel industry where it hurts

At last, divestment is hitting the fossil fuel industry where it hurts | Bill McKibben

The list of institutions that have cut their ties with this most destructive of industries encompasses religious institutions large and small (the World Council of Churches, the Unitarians, the Lutherans, the Islamic Society of North America, Japanese Buddhist temples, the diocese of Assisi); philanthropic foundations (even the Rockefeller family, heir to the first great oil fortune, divested its family charities); and colleges and universities from Edinburgh to Sydney to Honolulu are on board, with more joining each week. Forty big Catholic institutions have already divested; now a campaign is urging the Vatican bank itself to follow suit. Ditto with the Nobel Foundation, the world’s great art museums, and every other iconic institution that works for a better world.

Thanks to the efforts of groups such as People & Planet (and to the Guardian, which ran an inspiring campaign), half the UK’s higher education institutions are on the list. And so are harder-nosed players, from the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund (at a trillion dollars, the largest pool of investment capital on Earth) to European insurance giants such as Axa and Allianz. It has been endorsed by everyone from Leonardo DiCaprio to Barack Obama to Ban Ki-moon (and, crucially, by Desmond Tutu, who helped run the first such campaign a generation ago, when the target was apartheid).

Divestment by itself is not going to win the climate fight. But by weakening – reputationally and financially – those players that are determined to stick to business as usual, it’s one crucial part of a broader strategy.

And the momentum just keeps growing: 2018 began with New York City deciding to divest its $189bn pension funds. Soon the London mayor Sadiq Khan was on board, joining the New York mayor Bill de Blasio to persuade the other financial capitals of the planet to sell. By midsummer Ireland became the first nation to divest its public funds. And this month, a cross-party group of 200 MPs and former MPs called on the their pension fund to phase out its substantial investment in fossil fuel giants.

Heavy hitters like that make it clear that the first line of objection to fossil fuel divestment has long since been laid to rest: this is one big action you can take against climate change without big cost. Indeed, early divesters have made out like green-tinged bandits: since the fossil fuel sector has badly underperformed on the market over recent years, moving money into other investments has dramatically increased returns. Pity, for instance, the New York state comptroller Thomas DeNapoli – unlike his New York City counterpart, he refused to divest, and the cost has been about $17,000 per pensioner.…—Bill McKibben, “At last, divestment is hitting the fossil fuel industry where it hurts,The Guardian, 12/16/18


Glick predicts return to resilience debate as
MacNominee McNamee prepares to take FERC seat

Glick predicts return to resilience debate as McNamee prepares to take FERC seat

  • Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner Richard Glick on Monday predicted a return to the debate over coal and nuclear compensation at FERC, telling a Washington audience, “I don’t think the issue is dead.”

  • With an emergency bailout reportedly on hold at the White House, “a lot of the focus is returning to FERC” on grid resilience issues, Glick said. FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee will determine the direction of its resilience docket, but Glick said he is “not entirely sure where the chairman wants to go with that proceeding yet.”

  • Glick’s comments came one day before the swearing-in of incoming Commissioner Bernard McNamee, who helped craft a coal and nuclear bailout proposal at the Department of Energy that FERC unanimously rejected in January. Glick told Utility Dive he has not yet spoken about policy with the new regulator and declined to weigh in on mounting calls for McNamee to recuse himself from the resilience docket.


Dive Insight:

Glick’s comments on Monday illustrate how the specter of a federal bailout for uneconomic coal and nuclear plants has hung over Washington throughout the year.

In January, FERC unanimously rejected a proposal from the DOE to provide cost recovery to plants with onsite fuel, opening a longer term proceeding on grid resilience. The White House responded in June with a directive to DOE to find another way to save the plants, but that plan is reportedly on hold within the administration.

If that continues, Glick said bailout backers are likely to redirect their attention back to his commission.…—Gavin Bade, “Glick predicts return to resilience debate as McNamee prepares to take FERC seat,” Utility Dive, 12/11/18


Winter, Interrupted
Arctic Report Card: Update for 2018

Effects of persistent Arctic warming continue to mount

Continued warming of the Arctic atmosphere and ocean are driving broad change in the environmental system in predicted and, also, unexpected ways. New emerging threats are taking form and highlighting the level of uncertainty in the breadth of environmental change that is to come.


  • Surface air temperatures in the Arctic continued to warm at twice the rate relative to the rest of the globe. Arctic air temperatures for the past five years (2014-18) have exceeded all previous records since 1900.
  • In the terrestrial system, atmospheric warming continued to drive broad, long-term trends in declining terrestrial snow cover, melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet and lake ice, increasing summertime Arctic river discharge, and the expansion and greening of Arctic tundra vegetation.
  • Despite increase of vegetation available for grazing, herd populations of caribou and wild reindeer across the Arctic tundra have declined by nearly 50% over the last two decades.
  • In 2018 Arctic sea ice remained younger, thinner, and covered less area than in the past. The 12 lowest extents in the satellite record have occurred in the last 12 years.
  • Pan-Arctic observations suggest a long-term decline in coastal land-fast sea ice since measurements began in the 1970s, affecting this important platform for hunting, traveling, and coastal protection for local communities.
  • Spatial patterns of late summer sea surface temperatures are linked to regional variability in sea-ice retreat, regional air temperature, and advection of waters from the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
  • In the Bering Sea region, ocean primary productivity levels in 2018 were sometimes 500% higher than normal levels and linked to a record low sea ice extent in the region for virtually the entire 2017/18 ice season.
  • Warming Arctic Ocean conditions are also coinciding with an expansion of harmful toxic algal blooms in the Arctic Ocean and threatening food sources.
  • Micro-plastic contamination is on the rise in the Arctic, posing a threat to seabirds and marine life that can ingest debris.

Executive Summary

In its 13th year, NOAA’s Arctic Report Card ( reflects on a range of land, ice, and ocean observations made throughout the Arctic during the 2018 calendar year. A series of 14 essays written by more than 80 scientists from 12 countries are included in the 2018 Arctic Report Card. As in previous years, this update highlights the changes that continue to occur in, and among, the physical and biological components of the Arctic environmental system.

In 2018, surface air temperatures in the Arctic continued to warm at roughly twice the rate relative to the rest of the globe, a phenomenon that has been termed “Arctic Amplification.” The year 2018 was the second warmest year on record in the Arctic since 1900 (after 2016), at +1.7° C relative to the long-term average (1981-2010). Arctic air temperatures for the past five years (2014-18) have exceeded all previous records since 1900. Growing atmospheric warmth in the Arctic results in a sluggish and unusually wavy jet-stream that coincided with abnormal weather events in both the Arctic and mid-latitudes. Notable extreme weather events coincident with deep waves in the jet-stream include the heat wave at the North Pole in autumn 2017, a swarm of severe winter storms in the eastern United States in 2018, and the extreme cold outbreak in Europe in March 2018 known as “the Beast from the East.”

Continued warming of Arctic atmospheric temperatures in 2018 is an indicator of both regional and global climate change and a driver of broad Arctic environmental change. In the terrestrial system, atmospheric warming continued to drive broad, long-term trends in declining terrestrial snow cover, melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet and lake ice, increasing summertime Arctic river discharge, and the expansion and greening of Arctic tundra vegetation. Despite the growth of vegetation available for grazing land animals, herd populations of caribou and wild reindeer across the Arctic tundra have declined by nearly 50% over the last two decades.

As a result of atmosphere and ocean warming, the Arctic is no longer returning to the extensively frozen region of recent past decades. In 2018 Arctic sea ice remained younger, thinner, and covered less area than in the past. The wintertime maximum sea ice extent measured in March of 2018 was the second lowest in the 39-year record, following only 2017. For the satellite record (1979-present), the 12 lowest sea ice extents have occurred in the last 12 years. The disappearance of the older and thicker classes of sea ice are leaving an ice pack that is more vulnerable to melting in the summer, and liable to move unpredictably. When scientists began measuring Arctic ice thickness in 1985, 16% of the ice pack was very old (i.e., multiyear) ice. In 2018, old ice constituted less than 1% of the ice pack, meaning that very old Arctic ice has declined by 95% in the last 33 years. The pace and extent of the changes to summer sea ice cover, along with regional air temperatures and advection of waters from the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, are linked to the spatial patterns of late summer sea surface temperature. August mean sea surface temperatures in 2018 show statistically significant warming trends for 1982-2018 in most regions of the Arctic Ocean that are ice-free in August.…—E. Osborne, J. Richter-Menge, M. Jeffries, “Arctic Report Card,” NOAA, 2018


Warming in Arctic Raises Fears
of a ‘€˜Rapid Unraveling’€™ of the Region

Warming in Arctic Raises Fears of a ‘Rapid Unraveling’ of the Region

Persistent warming in the Arctic is pushing the region into “uncharted territory” and increasingly affecting the continental United States, scientists said Tuesday.

“We’re seeing this continued increase of warmth pervading across the entire Arctic system,” said Emily Osborne, an official with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who presented the agency’s annual assessment of the state of the region, the “Arctic Report Card.”

The Arctic has been warmer over the last five years than at any time since records began in 1900, the report found, and the region is warming at twice the rate as the rest of the planet.

Dr. Osborne, the lead editor of the report and manager of NOAA’s Arctic Research Program, said the Arctic was undergoing its “most unprecedented transition in human history.”

In 2018, “warming air and ocean temperatures continued to drive broad long-term change across the polar region, pushing the Arctic into uncharted territory,” she said at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in Washington.

…Susan M. Natali, an Arctic scientist at Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts who was not involved in the research, said the report was another warning going unheeded. “Every time you see a report, things get worse, and we’re still not taking any action,” she said. “It adds support that these changes are happening, that they are observable.”…—John Schwartz, Henry Fountain, “Warming Arctic Enters ‘Uncharted Territory,’ With Effects Felt in U.S., Scientists Say,” The New York Times, 12/11/18


Can Adopting a Complementary Indigenous Perspective Save Us?

Can Adopting a Complementary Indigenous Perspective Save Us?

As we move into mid-December and recognize the only month designated to honor Native American Heritage has passed, we must acknowledge that an Indigenous perspective needs to be considered not just every November, but every month of the year.

Indigenous cultures have known for thousands of years that a human-centered perspective always leads to dangerous imbalance. Without earnest reflection that seeks complementarity between this Indigenous worldview precept and the anthropocentrism of the dominant worldview, we will continue our death march.

Traditional, nonhierarchical Indigenous approaches to learning about life skills and values hold the idea of being intimately related to nonhuman life forms as paramount. Honoring and learning from animals, plants, bodies of water and the organisms that dwell in them remains inseparable from any learning experience and from any ultimate application of learning. Moreover, an Indigenous perspective sees humans as the younger brothers and sisters of the nonhuman elders of creation, and the nonhuman elders as our teachers.

When one lives in such a way as to see a tree as a relative rather than a resource, diversity and inclusion, as relates to fellow human beings, follows. Couple this with the concept of Earth as our “Mother,” as with matrilineal cultures, and we can understand why most pre-contact cultures were organized along more egalitarian lines. The scholars who contributed to Heide Göttner-Abendroth’s edited volume, Societies of Peace, reveal that such societies were also nonviolent and practiced great respect for all living creatures, without exploiting humans, animals or their environment.

Further reading: Societies of Peace: Matriarchies Past, Present and Future – Review by Pegi Eyers

Re-embracing a non-anthropocentric worldview and respect for diversity thus requires re-learning a new level of respect for nonhuman life. This requires living according to an Indigenous worldview that understands complementary duality, in contrast to Western models that see opposites as incompatible and result in antagonistic or competitive behaviors. This idea is foundational to the Indigenous worldview that guided us for most of human history, one that understood how all forms of nature have varying degrees and kinds of sentience. The time for reflecting on worldview as the source of our problems is now, instead of continuing to ignore or dismiss the one that guided us for most of human history, and which still guides Indigenous cultures that protect 80 percent of the biodiversity that remains on our planet.…—Four Arrows, “Can Adopting a Complementary Indigenous Perspective Save Us?Truthout, 12/15/18


COP24 climate talks end in agreement, barely

COP24 climate talks end in agreement, barely

Katowice, Poland (CNN)After two weeks of discordant and emotional negotiations, the nations of the world agreed Saturday night on a set of rules meant to help curb global warming.

But scientists and even the negotiators themselves know the so-called “Paris Rulebook” won’t be enough on its own to stop carbon pollution from reaching critical levels.

Countries would have to do far more to curb fossil fuel use and deforestation to avoid the droughts, super-storms, deadly heat waves and coastal floods associated with global warming.

This rule book is supposed to put into motion the Paris Agreement on climate change, a landmark 2015 accord that the US Trump administration has promised to abandon.

After fraught and much-delayed talks at the COP24 climate change conference here in Polish coal country, more than 190 countries agreed to the rules. They punted, however, on a critical but complicated issue involving how countries trade and account for certain pollution. Brazil nearly blocked the process amid concerns that its proposals would lead to “double counting” and, essentially, cheating, according to observers and a senior negotiator involved in the discussions.

That issue will have to be taken up at a later date in 2019.

Ministers also did not agree to emphatically embrace the latest climate science, which stunned some attendees. Countries reached a “compromise” statement in which they welcomed the publication of an alarming report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

They stopped short, however, of welcoming its actual findings.

That “administrative” compromise fails to underscore the extreme urgency posed by the climate crisis, said Simon Stiell, Grenada’s minister for climate resilience and environment.

Further reading Climate change: IPCC report warns rapid changes needed to stem catastrophic global warming
One suspected driver of the ‘caravan’: climate change
COP24: Climate conference in the heart of Poland’s coal country

Vulnerable countries, including small island states that could see their entire territories disappear as seas rise, agreed to the text to ensure the rule book moved forward, he told CNN.

“We understand the need to consensus-build,” he said. “And for small island developing states we have achieved our minimum — minimum — asks with regard to key issues.”…—John Sutter, “COP24 climate talks end in agreement on ‘rule book’,” CNN, 1215/18


PG&E Falsified Gas Pipeline Safety Records, Regulators Say

PG&E Falsified Gas Pipeline Safety Records, Regulators Say

Utility giant Pacific Gas and Electric is being accused of falsifying gas pipeline safety records by California regulators in the aftermath of a pipeline explosion that killed eight people in 2010.

The California Public Utilities Commission says it has opened a proceeding for what its staff says are “systemic violations of rules” governing pipeline safety. An investigation found that the utility falsified records over a five-year period.

In a statement, the CPUC said,

“A CPUC Safety and Enforcement Division (SED) staff investigation report alleges that PG&E falsified locate and mark records from 2012 to 2017. Specifically the report finds that PG&E: lacked sufficient staffing to locate and mark natural gas pipelines in compliance with law; pressured supervisors and locators to complete the work resulting in PG&E staff falsifying data so requests for pipeline locating and marking would not appear as late; had common knowledge among its supervisors that locators falsified data; and received input from external parties that there were discrepancies in its late locate and mark reporting.”

The investigation followed the gas pipeline explosion in 2010 that incinerated a neighborhood in San Bruno, just south of San Francisco.

PG&E said it is cooperating with the investigation.

“We’re committed to accurate and thorough reporting and record-keeping, and we didn’t live up to that commitment in this case,” PG&E spokesman Matt Nauman said in an e-mailed statement to NPR.…—Richard Gonzales, “PG&E Falsified Gas Pipeline Safety Records, Regulators Say,” NPR, 12/14/18


See the Scars That Oil Exploration Cut Across Alaska’s Wilderness

See the Scars That Oil Exploration Cut Across Alaska’s Wilderness

Matt Nolan, who runs a mapping business in Alaska using aerial photography, was flying a small plane to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the northeastern part of the state last month when he noticed a pattern on the tundra.

Dr. Nolan, a geophysicist, saw a grid of tracks left by heavy vehicles involved in recent seismic testing for oil and gas exploration in an area called Point Thomson. The tracks, several hundred yards apart, were as regular as a checkerboard and ran across the landscape just outside of the refuge.

A similar dense grid may soon cover some of the refuge itself, perhaps beginning as early as December, if seismic testing starts under a plan to sell leases for oil and gas exploration that was approved by Congress last year and that is strongly opposed by environmental and conservation groups. The northern part of the refuge, 1.5 million acres of the Arctic coastal plain known as the 1002 Area, is thought to overlie billions of barrels of oil and gas.:

Further reading ANWR: Trump administration takes first step toward oil and gas drilling
As administration pursues ANWR drilling, Trump official accuses federal employees of creating ‘road bumps’
Drilling in Arctic refuge could put North America’s largest caribou herd at risk

Disturbances like the tracks Dr. Nolan saw could remain for decades or longer like a tattoo on the refuge, a vast tableau of mosses, sedges and shrubs atop permafrost that is considered one of the most pristine landscapes in North America. There are still signs, for example, of a much less dense pattern of tracks from the only other time testing was allowed there, in the mid-1980s, and of the only drilling pad, which was built at the same time.

Any new tracks could also potentially alter how surface water flows in the tundra, draining lakes or accelerating the thawing of permafrost in some areas.

Dr. Nolan spent most of July flying across the 1002 Area making a high-resolution elevation map that will serve as a baseline for any changes to come. When he saw the tracks outside the refuge (lingering snow and ice made some of them easier to spot) he decided to map those as well. He found that they were up to half a foot deep.

Dr. Nolan, a former research professor at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks who has mapped changes in land and glaciers for years, said he was not taking sides in the fight over drilling in the refuge, “but I want to make sure that whatever happens out here happens in the most responsible way.”…—Henry Fountain, “See the Scars That Oil Exploration Cut Across Alaska’s Wilderness,” The New York Times, 8/3/18


The Biggest Estate on Earth

The Biggest Estate on Earth

Reveals the complex, country-wide systems of land management used by Aboriginal people in pre-settlement Australia

 Across Australia, early Europeans commented again and again that the land looked like a park, with extensive grassy patches and pathways, open woodlands, and abundant wildlife. Bill Gammage has discovered this was because Aboriginal people managed the land in a far more systematic and scientific fashion than most people have ever realized. For more than a decade, he has examined written and visual records of the Australian landscape. He has uncovered an extraordinarily complex system of land management using fire, the life cycles of native plants, and the natural flow of water to ensure plentiful wildlife and plant foods throughout the year. Aboriginal people spent far less time and effort than Europeans in securing food and shelter, and this book reveals how.

Once Aboriginal people were no longer able to tend their country, it became overgrown and vulnerable to the hugely damaging bushfires Australians now experience. With details of land-management strategies from around Australia, this book rewrites the history of the continent, with huge implications for today.…—Bill Gammage, “The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia,” Goodreads, 2014


Maersk wants to slash carbon emissions from shipping to zero.
But it needs help

Maersk wants to slash carbon emissions from shipping to zero. But it needs help

Maersk (AMKBY), which is based in Denmark, said it’s aiming to become carbon neutral by 2050 and is urging other shipping companies to do the same and help it develop the technology for a new generation of vessels.

“This is a call for action,” Maersk Chief Operating Officer Soren Toft told CNN’s Richard Quest on Tuesday, describing climate change as “one of the most significant issues facing the planet.”

Further reading: Norsepower: Why European Ships Are Switching Back To Sails

The shipping industry “will need to find new technologies, new innovative ways of basically providing the future efficient ships,” Toft said. “These ships are not available today, and that’s why we are reaching out.”

The shipping industry burns huge quantities of heavy fuel oil and is estimated to account for roughly 2% to 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

That compares to roughly 3% generated by international aviation and 11% by agriculture, according to 2014 data from the European Environment Agency. In April, the IMO pledged to reduce the industry’s annual emissions by at least half by 2050.

But Maersk is pushing for it to go much further.

“It’s vital that we find solutions for this problem,” Toft said. “We want many future generations to have a healthy and peaceful existence on this earth.”…—Jethro Mullen, “Maersk: Carbon emissions from shipping must be cut to zero by 2050,” CNN, 12/5/18


Native Knowledge: What Ecologists Are Learning from Indigenous People

Native Knowledge: What Ecologists Are Learning from Indigenous People

While he was interviewing Inuit elders in Alaska to find out more about their knowledge of beluga whales and how the mammals might respond to the changing Arctic, researcher Henry Huntington lost track of the conversation as the hunters suddenly switched from the subject of belugas to beavers.

It turned out though, that the hunters were still really talking about whales. There had been an increase in beaver populations, they explained, which had reduced spawning habitat for salmon and other fish, which meant less prey for the belugas and so fewer whales.

“It was a more holistic view of the ecosystem,” said Huntington. And an important tip for whale researchers. “It would be pretty rare for someone studying belugas to be thinking about freshwater ecology.”

Around the globe, researchers are turning to what is known as Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) to fill out an understanding of the natural world. TEK is deep knowledge of a place that has been painstakingly discovered by those who have adapted to it over thousands of years. “People have relied on this detailed knowledge for their survival,” Huntington and a colleague wrote in an article on the subject. “They have literally staked their lives on its accuracy and repeatability.”

One estimate says that while native peoples only comprise some 4 or 5 percent of the world’s population, they use almost a quarter of the world’s land surface and manage 11 percent of its forests. “In doing so, they maintain 80 percent of the planet’s biodiversity in, or adjacent to, 85 percent of the world’s protected areas,” writes Gleb Raygorodetsky, a researcher with the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance at the University of Victoria and the author of The Archipelago of Hope: Wisdom and Resilience from the Edge of Climate Change.

Tapping into this wisdom is playing an outsized role in sparsely settled places such as the Arctic, where change is happening rapidly – warming is occurring twice as fast as other parts of the world. Tero Mustonen, a Finnish researcher and chief of his village of Selkie, is pioneering the blending of TEK and mainstream science as the director of a project called the Snowchange Cooperative. “Remote sensing can detect changes,” he says. “But what happens as a result, what does it mean?” That’s where traditional knowledge can come into play as native people who make a living on the landscape as hunters and fishers note the dramatic changes taking place in remote locales – everything from thawing permafrost to change in reindeer migration and other types of biodiversity redistribution.…—Jim Robbins, “Native Knowledge: What Ecologists Are Learning from Indigenous People,” Yale Environment 360, 4/26/18


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