May 14, 2019
Henry David Thoreau wrote, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” Humankind’s relationship with wildness has been a fraught and blind one, largely, since it became gospel that humankind is separate from nature. All too often wildness has been an object of profit or trophy pursuit. Now, we are in danger of losing wildness, the network of life that sustains us. This week we explore the vital need to stop the destruction of wildness and life’s sustaining diversity.
But first the news.

Action Alert! May 15th Protest the 5G Roll-out
We need safety testing done!

NYC 5G Wake-up Call is announcing an event to be held next Wednesday May 15 on the National Day of Action to Stop the 5G Roll out. We are asking for a moratorium on the 5G build-out until independent health testing proves that the technology is safe for us and our children. We urge all those interested in stopping the implementation of this new wireless technology to join us!

May 15, 4PM
Near the Verizon store
859 Broadway & 17th St., north of Union Square.

Those who can, please wear costumes that represent the elements of the vast arrays of 5G preparatory equipment that has rapidly sprouted on light poles and rooftops all across the city. Signs should emphasize the danger to our health, and the reduction of use of cell phones, unshielded laptops and wireless routers, especially by children. No costume, no problem.

With no public input and no municipal opt-out, the FCC has ruled that we all must be exposed 24/7 for the telecomm industry to profit from faster downloads of films to compete with Netflix, and to develop the Internet of Things (IoT), such as baby monitors, talking toasters and self-driving cars, etc. that we could easily live without, and may die for. This applies to Smart Meters, the Smart Grid, and Smart City.

The frequencies to be used in 5G include new ones in the low and medium range, and the high-band millimeter waves, pulsed signals that have never been used on a civilian population for any duration. They have been used by the military for crowd control. These pulsed signals reaching out for our phones or app at billions of cycles per second could damage DNA, skin and eyes, fertility of males, and cellular functioning that enables metabolism and hormone balance, besides causing heart arrhythmia and cancer. They will affect animals, plants, wildlife and pollinators.

NYC 5G Wake up Call

More info:
Environmental Health Trust
5G “Mobile” Communications | Physicians for Safe Technology


Open Letter to the NYS Public Service Commission:
National Grid Wants a Fracked Gas Pipeline
We Need Proof of Need

I am opposed to National Grid’s proposed fracked gas pipeline in the Capital District dubbed as “E37 Reliability and Resiliency Project”. National Grid (NG) did not consider alternatives to using a pipeline to transport their gas, and they have not demonstrated a sufficient need for gas.

Non pipeline alternatives were not seriously considered and conservation was not seriously considered by NG either.

In Westchester County, NY, state agencies have allocated over 250 million dollars to foster non pipeline alternatives instead of supporting Con Edison’s gas pipeline plans. This resulted in a Clean Energy Plan, NY Power Authority’s low cost financing, and ultimately Con Edison’s renewable incentives. These feasible alternatives should be carefully looked at and adopted by the lead agency, Public Service Commission (PSC), in Albany and Rensselaer Counties.

Why not use the rate hike money ($70,000,000) to incentivize the use of geothermal heat for new growth and credit entities to not use gas on the few peak demand days each year? With enough incentives other alternatives will develop.

Approval of the pipeline based on an application that relies on a need for supply due to certain average temperature days, without supplying that factual basis in adequate specificity to support a project of this magnitude, would be arbitrary and capricious. Even if that data were supplied, it would have to be sufficient to support such a need. Possible extreme cold days on the order of a few days a year would not constitute such a need. Nor would temperatures based on past data, without valid projections of what future temperatures, constitute such a need.

NG admits there never has been shut off and they don’t forecast one by a supplier, further undercutting the need requirement. Furthermore there was no consideration of climate warming, which will require less gas to heat homes in the future.

NG speculates that there might be an outage on a supply line on the one particular day when the average temperature is 5° F. But NG provides no factual data about the likelihood of an outage. Outages cannot be presumed.

Nor does the NG provide factual data concerning its history of outages or of possible interruptions of supply from Dominion Energy Transmission Inc. or of any of its suppliers.

Without any factual data about past outages or interruptions of supply, or projections from NG about such in the future, the PSC cannot make a determination that outages could occur in the future. All such data must be present in the application for review by the public. Without this data, a PSC determination approving the pipeline would be arbitrary and capricious.

A project of this magnitude, which intrudes on the Hudson River and runs counter to efforts to move our State to clean energy, cannot be authorized, and the cost should not be passed on to ratepayers, merely to try to solve a “projected” 1.1% gap in peak hour usage when it has not been shown that conservation efforts would be impossible to solve that gap.

There are so many environmental and public safety reasons that should be compelling enough for PSC to reject this application, but at the heart of this application is a lack of research and information provided by National Grid.”
—Chelsea Zantay
, Averill Park, New York


Mayor Myrica Proposes Green New Deal for Ithaca

Goal of a carbon neutral city by 2030 aligns with federal proposal

ITHACA, NY— Mayor Svante Myrick announced last Thursday a proposal for ambitious new goals that amount to a Green New Deal for Ithaca. The announcement closed out an evening event hosted by Sunrise Movement Ithaca that focused on the federal Green New Deal, which aims to avoid the worst consequences of climate change while also trying to fix societal problems like economic inequality and racial injustice. The proposal will be discussed by the City Administration Committee on May 15th.
The new City goals are to:

  • Meet the electricity needs of City government operations with 100% renewable electricity by 2025
  • Achieve a carbon neutral city by 2030 ‐ that is, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 100%

To achieve these goals, the Mayor proposed several specific actions:

  • Create a Climate Action Plan in 2020 to provide details on how to achieve the Ithaca Green New
  • Deal, and update the plan every five years
  • Adopt a Green Building Policy for new buildings in 2019
  • Adopt a Green Building Policy for existing buildings by 2021
  • Assign additional staff as needed to implement the plan

Local activists have been pressing Ithaca City officials to make a priority of addressing climate chaos for years. Recently pressure ramped up in a fight over the City’s approval of a huge Cornell dormitory complex powered by fracked gas. In its wake the formation of “COPE: (City Outreach, Policy, and Education) to keep the pressure on against continued gas-driven development, a local Student Climate Strike, and a meeting between Mayor Myrick and our local Sunrise Movement young people seem to have “woke” the Mayor because he made his Ithaca Green New Deal announcement last Thursday at a Sunrise Movement Town Hall. Activists are lining up to support the Mayor’s initiative and to press to see that the Mayor’s promise turns into timely action steps reflecting up-to-date science and social justice.—Joseph Wilson, Ithaca, New York

“The scale of the problem facing our planet demands that we not simply set goals that we feel are ‘reasonable,’” Myrick says. “Just as Kennedy declared in 1962 that we would put a person on the moon before the decade was out, though how that would be achieved was yet unknown, we must set a similarly bold goal and then challenge ourselves to reach it. With a lack of leadership at the federal level, it has fallen to the states, to local governments, and to individual citizens to lead the way.”

A resolution to adopt the new goals will be considered at the May 15th meeting of the City Administration Committee. The meeting will begin at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall, and as always, the public is invited to make comments at the beginning of the meeting. The meeting agenda, which includes the proposed resolution, will be posted to the City website the afternoon of May 10th.

“The economic development potential of a Green New Deal for Ithaca is exciting and should not be  ignored,” states Deborah Mohlenoff, Acting Mayor and Chair of the City Administration Committee. “Beyond helping address climate goals and improving the health and resilience of our community, this initiative will potentially bring hundreds of millions of dollars of new local investment and hundreds of local jobs in fields such as renewable energy, construction, installation, and home retrofitting.—…Nick Goldsmith, “Mayor Myrick Proposes Green New Deal for IthacaMayor’s Office, Ithaca, New York, 5/10/19


Cuomo Shouldn’t Let a Monopoly Decide
the Fate of the Williams Pipeline

Opinion: Cuomo Shouldn’t Let a Monopoly Decide the Fate of the Williams Pipeline – City Limits

‘Given the potential impact, the burden of proof should be on the private utilities claiming that the pipeline is needed, not on public non-profits and independent researchers, who have already shown so clearly that it isn’t.’

For months, National Grid has been trying to sell an unnecessary new pipeline to New Yorkers. The city is low on gas, utility executives suggest, and unless Governor Cuomo approves the Williams Northeast Supply Enhancement Project—a 23 mile fracked gas pipeline through New York Harbor—they’ll need to issue a moratorium on adding new gas customers in the area. “Economic growth [is] at risk,” they claimed in a recent video sent to ratepayers, before claiming that natural gas was “clean.”

Yet a recent report, authored by a former New York Department of Environmental Conservation regional director, proved that none of this is true. National Grid doesn’t need more gas—not for boiler conversions, not for new customers—nor an invasive new pipeline to deliver it.

What is problematic here isn’t so much that National Grid is making false claims; it is that politicians and some members of the public are taking these claims even remotely seriously in the first place.

Why, in other words, is a monopoly utility with only corporate shareholders to answer to setting the terms of the debate about a billion-dollar pipeline that would only add to its profits?…— Robert Wood, Aaron Eisenberg, “Opinion: Cuomo Shouldn’t Let a Monopoly Decide the Fate of the Williams Pipeline,” City Limits, 5/6/19


Show commitment to renewables in Sheridan Hollow

Commentary: Show commitment to renewables in Sheridan Hollow

People who live and work in downtown Albany have reason to be optimistic about the future — cautiously optimistic. That’s because this year, with the support of the Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a budget was passed that gave renewable energy a fighting chance for New York’s capital.

For more than a century, Sheridan Hollow — a community of color just blocks from the governor’s office — has suffered from pollution to meet the energy needs of government. Since 1911, every sort of combustible — coal, oil, garbage, and today fracked gas — has been burned at facilities on Sheridan Avenue to produce hot steam that is delivered through a half-mile-long tunnel to the state Capitol. In the 1970s, the system was expanded to serve the entire Empire State Plaza and use steam to additionally drive chillers that are now 50 years old. Since super-charged steam is needed for both heating and cooling, fossil fuels are burned year around.

More recently, Sheridan Hollow has been targeted once again — this time with a plan to install massive gas-fired turbines in the community to generate electricity for the plaza. Patterned after a project at Rikers Island prison, the proposed cogeneration power plant would operate around the clock, perpetuating an archaic combustion-based system of heating and cooling, and burning nearly 50 percent more gas in Sheridan Hollow than today.

However, this year’s budget offers hope for a different solution — one that could signal an end to a hundred years of environmental injustice. Striking all mention of fossil fuels, the Legislature deleted prior budget language that had explicitly earmarked $88 million for a gas-fired co-gen plant on Sheridan Avenue. Instead, funds were appropriated for an efficient energy system to meet “heating, cooling, and/or electricity” needs of the Empire State Plaza using renewables “to the extent possible.” While these nuanced words indicate that it’s not yet time to celebrate, they do suggest an important shift. What’s needed now is for state agencies, which had previously dismissed renewables, to enthusiastically embrace what energy experts know to be not only possible, but eminently doable.…—Keith Schue, David Musser, “Commentary: Show commitment to renewables in Sheridan Hollow,” Times Union, 5/7/19


Key State Certification Denied For SW Oregon’s
Jordan Cove Natural Gas Export Project

Key State Certification Denied For SW Oregon’s Jordan Cove Natural Gas Export Project

Oregon environmental regulators delivered a blow to the Jordan Cove energy export project on Oregon’s south coast, saying the liquefied natural gas project doesn’t meet water quality standards.

Oregon environmental regulators delivered a blow Monday to a controversial energy export proposal on Oregon’s south coast, saying the Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas pipeline and terminal project falls short of meeting clean water standards.

The state Department of Environmental Quality announced in a press release its decision that Jordan Cove doesn’t meet standards required under the 401 Water Quality Certification program, which regulates the extent to which projects like this can pollute or otherwise degrade waterways.

Further reading As Oregon Sends Jordan Cove LNG Back to Drawing Board, Gulf Coast Projects Press Forward
Kinder Morgan sets service date for Elba Island LNG, moves forward on Gulf LNG

For Jordan Cove, this would include impacts to rivers and streams from pipeline crossings, dredging, filling in wetlands and storm water runoff.

Click for full-size map

DEQ, which is in charge of enforcing Clean Water Act standards in Oregon, says Jordan Cove still will have the option to reapply for the certification, submitting “additional information that could result in a different decision.”

DEQ concluded that “some standards are more likely than not to be violated,” although it’s possible that additional information could show otherwise.

DEQ spokesperson Katherine Benenati said DEQ requested additional information from Jordan Cove last September, December and March.

“Jordan Cove has responded to some of those information requests, but not all of them,” she said.…—Jes Burns, “Key State Certification Denied For SW Oregon’s Jordan Cove Natural Gas Export Project,” Oregon Public Radio, 5/6/19


Pursuing Wildness
These Scientists Did More
Than Tell Us We Were Doomed

These Scientists Did More Than Tell Us We Were Doomed

The UN-backed IPBES report is a dire warning but also a guidebook for stopping the sixth great extinction

For about half a day earlier this week, the news was apocalyptic. “Humans are leading planet into sixth mass extinction” read a typical headline. “Humanity Is About to Kill 1 Million Species in a Globe-Spanning Murder-Suicide,” read another. That news—like all news these days—was quickly superseded by the relentless churn of the news cycle: incredible outfits at the Met Gala; the president squandered a billion dollars.

But it’s important to remember that none of those apocalyptic headlines were really an understatement. They were all based on a summary report released by the UN-backed Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)—a committee of scientists who are not prone to exaggeration and who nonetheless concluded that nearly 1 million species currently face extinction because of human actions. It’s also important to remember that the IPBES didn’t just lay a 39-page PDF of doom on us. The committee also offered solutions.

Further reading: IPBES Report: Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’

As committees go, the IPBES is on the cautious and conservative side. Like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which released an equally dire climate report last October, it’s made up of volunteer scientists who synthesized nearly 15,000 studies and government reports in order to arrive at their conclusions. Every statement of fact in the summary comes with a note as to how accepted that fact is—as in, “Only 3% of the ocean was described as free from human pressure in 2014 (established but incomplete).”

Unlike the members of the IPCC, which was created in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme, the scientists who wrote the report study ecosystems, not weather, and their solutions reflect that grounding in landscapes. If you want to call off the sixth mass extinction, according to the summary, this is what will actually work.

Reverse the expansion of monoculture

In 1845, a water mold decimated potato crops throughout Europe and sent a million refugees fleeing Ireland. Those doomed crops were clones of a single potato that had been brought to the country from Peru—but, fortunately, Peruvian farmers were still cultivating thousands of potato varieties, some of which proved resistant to the blight.…

Restore and protect coastal marine ecosystems

As the summary puts it, “Coastal marine ecosystems are among the most productive systems globally, and their loss and deterioration reduces their ability to protect shorelines, and the people and species that live there, from storms, as well as their ability to provide sustainable livelihoods (well established).” Wetlands, in particular, are also fantastic at sequestering carbon from the atmosphere.…

Protect fish for real

Protecting fish would mean not only an international crackdown on illegal fishing and hard catch quotas, but also working to keep oceans and the streams that lead into them free of pollution. It also means eliminating the subsidies that many countries (the European Union, Japan, China, the United States, and Russia are among the biggest spenders) give to their fishing industries in the form of tax breaks, cheap fuel, low-interest loans to build new boats, and state-supported infrastructure like ports and processing plants.

Put Indigenous people in charge

Place them in charge of their own territory (including the oil, gas, and minerals underneath it), but also tap them as collaborators in other local sustainability efforts, since their history of literal dependence on the landscape means they are likely to know better than anyone else what a particular ecosystem needs. Heads of state who threaten Indigenous sovereignty, the way that Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has, would find themselves under significant international pressure.

Reconsider roads

When paved roads go into formerly roadless areas, they increase the likelihood that outsiders can come in and strip an area of natural resources. Since it’s easier to not build a road than it is to police that road, letting wild areas remain roadless is one of the cheapest ways to keep an ecosystem relatively intact.

Make life good for everyone

At several points in the summary, the IPBES describes “ever-increasing material consumption” as a concept that is incompatible with leading a good life in the future. Instead, they say, addressing inequality, lowering consumption, expanding access to education, and supporting sustainable technology are our best bet for relieving the pressures that lead to illegal logging, poaching, overfishing, and generally living beyond our means.…—Heather Smith, “These Scientists Did More Than Tell Us We Were Doomed,” Sierra Club, 5/9/19


‘Exterminator of the future’
Brazil’s Bolsonaro denounced for environmental assault

‘Exterminator of the future’: Brazil’s Bolsonaro denounced for environmental assault

In this picture from 1988, trees burn in the Amazon after a fire started by ranchers in Rondonia state. Critics said Bolsonaro’s policies were already damaging the country’s international standing. Photograph: Stephen Ferry/Getty Images

Activist and politician Marina Silva warns Brazil’s rainforest protections being destroyed but vows ‘we can’t let that happen’

Jair Bolsonaro is transforming Brazil into an “exterminator of the future”, the activist and politician Marina Silva has warned, as she and seven other former environment ministers denounced the far-right president’s assault on rainforest protections.

The eight former ministers – who served governments across the political spectrum over nearly 30 years – warned on Wednesday that Bolsonaro’s government was systematically trying to destroy Brazil’s environmental protection policies.

“We are watching them deconstruct everything we’ve put together,” said José Sarney Filho, who served as environmental minister under the right-wing presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Michel Temer.

“We’re talking about biodiversity, life, forests … the Amazon has an incredibly important role in global warming. It’s the world’s air conditioner; it regulates rain for the entire continent.”

Silva, the environment minister under Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, said: “What is happening is a dismantling, taking education and the environment and making them ideological issues.”.…—Anna Jean Kaiser, “‘Exterminator of the future’: Brazil’s Bolsonaro denounced for environmental assault,” The Guardian, 5/9/19


More Evidence of Undisclosed Carcinogens
at Site of Enbridge’s Proposed Greater Boston Gas Project

More Evidence of Undisclosed Carcinogens at Site of Enbridge’s Proposed Greater Boston Gas Project

Newly uncovered air quality samplings by the State of Massachusetts showed elevated levels of carcinogens and other pollutants at Enbridge’s proposed natural gas compressor station in a densely populated site near Boston.

Newly uncovered air quality samplings by the State of Massachusetts showed elevated levels of carcinogens and other pollutants at Enbridge’s proposed natural gas compressor station in a densely populated site near Boston.

The data, revealed in written testimony this week by a Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) official responding to an appeal over the Weymouth station’s air permit, joins other samplings showing toxics in the area, which DeSmog exclusively reported last month.

The samples were not disclosed in the project’s health impacts assessment (HIA), which Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker ordered following a public outcry over the risks posed by the facility that will keep gas pumping through pipelines and is situated near residential streets and environmental justice communities.

The fact that they would just ignore these samples is extremely troubling,” said Andee Krasner from the group Mothers Out Front, which is fighting the gas compressor project. “It’s a clear threat to the health of children and families in the Fore River Basin.”

The New Samples

In their air permit appeal, several opponents of the project cited DeSmog’s reporting in April on publicly undisclosed air sampling canisters the DEP sent last summer to the Rhode Island Department of Health’s (RIDOH) state lab as part of the HIA.

In those samples, RIDOH discovered elevated levels of several carcinogens and other toxic chemicals, including 1,3-butadiene and acrolein. Establishing the existing pollution levels at the proposed compressor station site is important for understanding the health and environmental impacts of potentially increasing pollution levels for the surrounding community once the facility is built and operating.

Yet while the RIDOH lab emailed the results back to the DEP in late December last year, the DEP did not include them in the HIA report it published in early January.

That report helped greenlight the issuance of the air permit.…

Why Were the Data Left Out?

Keith said in his testimony that a lower level DEP staffer emailed the results to her superiors late, and that he received the results only on January 4, the day the HIA was published.

Yet DeSmog has found that nearly all the nine samples DEP sent to the Rhode Island lab between August and November were analyzed by the lab within two weeks of arrival. This suggests DEP could have reached out earlier to RIDOH, during the assessment, to obtain the results.

An RIDOH spokesperson confirmed that had the DEP requested so, the lab would have provided the results before sending them out at the end of each reporting quarter.

The DEP did not immediately provide comment.…—Itai Vardi, “More Evidence of Undisclosed Carcinogens at Site of Enbridge’s Proposed Greater Boston Gas Project,” DeSmogBlog, 5/8/19


The secret was in the trees.
Humans are making droughts worse

The secret was in the trees. Humans are making droughts worse

The secret was in the trees. Looking at tree rings from ancient trees, scientists in a new study say they’ve finally found the fingerprint of human-caused global warming on drought.

Looking at tree rings from ancient trees, scientists in a new study say they’ve finally found the fingerprint of human-caused global warming on drought and rainfall patterns worldwide from as far back as 1900.

Amazingly, tree ring data is an accurate gauge to determine past climates: The rings are thinner in years when it’s dry and may not grow at all in stressful conditions like drought.

In fact, researchers can use tree ring data to “find” droughts as far back as 1400, centuries before reliable weather data was available.

According to NASA, “we now know that greenhouse gases caused by humans have been affecting global drought since the early 20th century.”…—Doyle Rice, “Droughts: Human-caused global warming have worsened dry times,” USA Today, 5/1/19


The resignation of Britain’s shale-gas tsar
is a big fracking setback

The resignation of Britain’s shale-gas tsar is a big fracking setback

After a decade of controversy, the fracking industry is on its last legs

MUCH OF THE time and money spent trying to ignite a shale-gas boom in Britain over the past decade or so has gone not on drilling boreholes for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) but on lobbying for permission. Fracking’s backers have had politicians to woo, regulators to persuade and a wary public to reassure. It seemed to be working. In October, after years of vigorous promotion, a firm called Cuadrilla started fracking at two wells on a site near Blackpool.

But frackers appear to have been outclassed on the public-relations front. On April 26th the government’s shale-gas tsar, Natascha Engel, said she was resigning, after just six months in the job. The government pays more attention to anti-fracking campaigning by environmental groups such as Greenpeace than to businesses ready to invest, she complained.

The antis cite earthquakes, water pollution and global warming as reasons to fight fracking (shale gas emits far less than coal [sic] but is a fossil fuel). Well-organised protesters have dug in at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site. The final straw for Ms Engel appears to have been the attention lavished on Greta Thunberg, a teenage Swedish protester against climate change who told Parliament last month that British support for shale gas was “beyond absurd”.…—”The resignation of Britain’s shale-gas tsar is a big fracking setback – Bad vibrations,” The Economist, 5/4/19


The Importance Of Keystone Species

The Importance Of Keystone Species

Keystone species are integral to their specific ecosystem and habitat, as they play a role deemed vital to the existence of the species which share their home. They define an entire ecosystem. Without its keystone species, ecosystems would be dramatically different or cease to exist altogether. Here we explore the importance of Keystone Species.

Although every species plays an important role in maintaining an ecosystem, some species have a disproportionately larger effect on their environment; these species are called “keystone species”, and they have a critical role in maintaining the structure of a specific habitat, even though they may be small in numbers. Their existence is often viewed as crucial for their ecosystem, and they can affect many other organisms in the same ecosystem, helping determine the types and numbers of various other species in the community.

The term keystone species was first coined by Robert Paine (1966) after his extensive studies examining food webs in intertidal ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest. It was discovered that the purple sea star, also known as the Pisaster Orchraceus, prevented mussels from overpopulating rocky intertidal ecosystems. In Paine’s experiment, in which he removed the Pisaster from the intertidal ecosystem, he noticed dramatic changes to the area. Within three months of the Pisaster’s removal, one species of barnacle had occupied 60% to 80% of the available space, and within nine months, a different species of barnacle had replaced it. Eventually, the succession of species wipes out populations of benthic algae, and as a result, some species, such as the limpet, emigrated from the ecosystem due to a lack of food. This discovery was merely the beginning of learning about the importance of Keystone Species.

Other Keystone Species

There is a variety of different categories of Keystone Species, and they all play a different role in their ecosystem. There are Keystone Predators, such as the Grey wolf and the sea otter; if predators are removed from the ecosystem, populations of their prey exponentially increase. When there are predators, there is prey, and species of Keystone Prey include salmon and kelp. Other categories of Keystone Species include Keystone Modifiers and Keystone Mutualists; the modifiers modify their habitats such as beavers and prairie dogs, and keep habitats maintained for themselves and other species. Mutualists participate in mutually beneficial interactions, with the most notable example being hummingbirds. Otherwise known as link species, hummingbirds pollinate highly specialized plants adapted to pollination only by these birds.

Elephants: The Mega-Gardeners of the Forest

It has been noted that without the help of the elephant, a single species of acacia tree tends to dominate the forests of Africa. Whilst usually, the thriving of a plant species would be deemed a good thing, the problem with the fluctuation of acacia trees is that they block sunlight for many other plants they share their space with, and balance is key in nature. This is where elephants come in – being the big, arguably clumsy animals they are, the gentle giants knock down acacia in their search for food, opening up space for other plants to flourish. Furthermore, the holes that are created on acacia trees from the branches falling being knocked create perfect small hiding places for lizards; reportedly much more common in areas where elephants roam!…—Fran Collis, “The Importance Of Keystone Species,” Frontier Blog, 11/23/17


Landmark UN plastic waste pact gets approved but not by US

Landmark UN plastic waste pact gets approved but not by US

United Nations officials say nearly all of the world’s countries have agreed on a deal to better manage plastic waste, with the United States a notable exception

Nearly every country in the world has agreed upon a legally binding framework to reduce the pollution from plastic waste except for the United States, U.N. environmental officials say.

An agreement on tracking thousands of types of plastic waste emerged Friday at the end of a two-week meeting of U.N.-backed conventions on plastic waste and toxic, hazardous chemicals.

Discarded plastic clutters pristine land, floats in huge masses in oceans and rivers and entangles wildlife, sometimes with deadly results .

Rolph Payet of the United Nations Environment Program said the “historic” agreement linked to the 186-country, U.N.-supported Basel Convention means that countries will have to monitor and track the movements of plastic waste outside their borders.

The deal affects products used in a broad array of industries, such as health care, technology, aerospace, fashion, food and beverages.

“It’s sending a very strong political signal to the rest of the world — to the private sector, to the consumer market — that we need to do something,” Payet said. “Countries have decided to do something which will translate into real action on the ground.”…—Associated Press, “Landmark UN plastic waste pact gets approved but not by US,” ABC News, 5/11/19


As More Diverted Floodwaters Head Their Way,
Dolphins Keep Dying in Louisiana

As More Diverted Floodwaters Head Their Way, Dolphins Keep Dying in Louisiana

As an unprecedented amount of floodwater makes its way down the Mississippi River, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers today opened the Bonnet Carre Spillway for the second time this year. Done to prevent New Orleans from being flooded, the action marks the first time the spillway, which diverts the Mississippi’s nutrient- and pollutant-heavy freshwater into Lake Pontchatrain, has been opened twice in the same year. 

The historic opening of the spillway is happening in the midst of an ongoing and mysterious dolphin die-off in the Gulf of Mexico and the same week that the United Nations released its most comprehensive report on the state of biodiversity.

The report warns that the rate species are going extinct is speeding up and can only be slowed by simultaneously combating climate change and directly protecting species and their habitats. But in Louisiana, despite more frequent and intense extreme weather and the current dolphin die-off, the local, state, and federal governments are showing little political appetite to deal with either.  

Only yesterday the Corps announced it would open the spillway again this year, but quickly moved up the planned date of May 14 to May 10 after regional rainfall caused the Mississippi River to rise 6 inches in 24 hours, with more rain expected this weekend. 

The diverted freshwater will make its way from Lake Pontchartrain to the Breton and Mississippi Sounds, where a dolphin die-off is underway. The Breton Sound, a fish- and oyster-rich estuary where salt and freshwater meet, is located about 35 miles southeast of New Orleans and leads into the Gulf of Mexico. Historically, freshwater from the Mississippi River fed the sounds, but devices like locks and dams have drastically reduced the water flow into them over the years, creating more brackish environments than normal. These water-control mechanisms, created to protect human developments along the Mississippi River, allow for controlled releases such as the one today. 

A Meeting Postponed

This morning, May 10, inclement weather postponed a meeting scheduled for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the lead agency investigating the dolphin deaths to meet with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF); the Army Corps of Engineers; the National Audubon Society; and local officials and fishermen in St. Bernard Parish to discuss how to respond to the dolphin die-off.

Further reading: Our warming oceans are killing the sea star population

Everything is weather-related in Louisiana,” said Randy Myers of LDWF when he alerted me of the postponed meeting. His comment comes off as particularly poignant in a state where climate science deniers continue to govern as if humankind’s role in climate change were insignificant.…—Julie Dermansky, “As More Diverted Floodwaters Head Their Way, Dolphins Keep Dying in Louisiana,” DeSmogBlog, 5/10/19


The United States just had its wettest 12 months on record.
It’s nearly drought-free, but flooding is rampant.

Analysis | The United States just had its wettest 12 months on record. It’s nearly drought-free, but flooding is rampant.

An aerial photo of Davenport, Iowa, shows Modern Woodmen Park, top, and the surrounding area covered by Mississippi River floodwaters on May 3. (Kevin E. Schmidt/Quad City Times via AP)

Rainfall famine has turned to rainfall feast in the past year. But that could be too much of a good thing.

Analysis | The United States just had its wettest 12 months on record. It’s nearly drought-free, but flooding is rampant.

In just over a year’s time, the nation’s rainfall fortunes have shifted suddenly and dramatically. Rainfall famine has turned to rainfall feast.

Thanks to its wettest 12-month period in recorded history, the amount of U.S. real estate covered by drought has plunged to its lowest level in recent decades, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Wednesday. But at the same time, excessive rainfall and flooding plague large areas of the country.

The wettest 12 months in U.S. history

Precipitation over the last year (May 2018 to April) in the United States has been extraordinary. An average of 36.2 inches has fallen over the Lower 48, the first time it has topped 36 inches over a 12-month period in over 120 years of record-keeping. This amount is more than six inches above average, according to Weather Underground meteorologist Bob Henson, who first reported the record.

Further reading: The UK has already had more wildfires in 2019 than any year on record

Heavy precipitation extremes have been a staple of U.S. climate conditions over the past year whether Hurricane Florence’s record-setting rain in the Carolinas, the wettest year on record in Washington, Baltimore and much of the Mid-Atlantic, a sopping wet winter in California, and recent flooding in the central United States.

Except for the Pacific Northwest and large swaths of New Mexico and Colorado, almost the entire contiguous United States has been wetter than normal over the last 12 months.…—Jason Samenow, “The United States just had its wettest 12 months on record. It’s nearly drought-free, but flooding is rampant.The Washington Post, 5/8/19


The U.K. Has Declared a Climate Emergency
but a New Report Advocates More Aggressive Action

The U.K. Has Declared a Climate Emergency—but a New Report Advocates More Aggressive Action

A new report pushes for zero carbon emissions by 2050, more electric vehicles, and retrofitting urban buildings.

In an unprecedented step toward a comprehensive climate change response among G7 countries, British Parliament voted to declare a “climate emergency” in the United Kingdom earlier this month. The motion came from the main opposition Labour Party, which has championed environmentally ambitious policies.

Further reading: Scotland and Wales: World’s first governments to declare a climate emergency

“We have no time to waste. We are living in a climate crisis that will spiral dangerously out of control unless we take rapid and dramatic action now,” Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, told Parliament, according to Reuters.

Because it is a non-binding motion, however, while the government has to respond to the declaration, it isn’t committed to any specific climate change policies. The vote is largely symbolic, according to Baroness Bryony Worthington, executive director of Environmental Defense Fund Europe and a lead author on the U.K.’s Climate Change Act (legislation from 2008 that established climate goals for the U.K.). It’s not equivalent to other emergency declarations the government has issued in the past in response to issues such as natural disasters or terrorism, which led to specific policy responses.

Still, the vote “indicates that there is a majority of voices in the House of Commons who support more ambitious action to address the risk of global climate change,” Worthington says.

Mik Aidt, a journalist at the Centre for Climate Safety, says that the new declaration is different from environmental agreements that preceded it. He runs two environmental websites, one of which urges governments to declare climate emergencies. The Paris Agreement, Aidt argues, “sent the signal that we still have plenty of time to get it all sorted.” In contrast, he says, the emergency declaration “justifies that new and faster measures are taken, and it justifies a lot of ‘deeper’ actions in terms of how we structure our lives, how and who we employ to specific leadership roles, and whether they are on board with the new emergency situation.”…—Leah Dunlevy, “The U.K. Has Declared a Climate Emergency—but a New Report Advocates More Aggressive Action,” Pacific Standard, 5/8/19


The Art of Building Artificial Glaciers

The Art of Building Artificial Glaciers

At the edge of the Himalayas, an ancient tradition is reinvented for the era of climate change.

A stupa—the word comes from the Sanskrit, meaning “to heap” or “to pile up”—is a Buddhist monument that often houses a relic. Over the millennia, stupas have been built from many materials—wood, stone, earth, clay, brick—and have taken many forms, from simple domes to ornately tiered towers.

The first ice stupa was created in 2013, in Ladakh, in Kashmir. Villages in Ladakh, a high mountain-desert region bordered by the Himalayas, largely depend on glacial runoff for water. As the glaciers recede, owing to climate change, the flow of water has become more erratic. Sometimes there’s too much, producing flash flooding; often, there’s too little. The ice stupa, a kind of artificial glacier, is the brainchild of a Ladakhi engineer named Sonam Wangchuk. In a way, it, too, is designed to house relics.

The stupas are created in winter, using runoff or spring water that’s been piped underground and downslope. The water is released at night, when temperatures can drop below zero degrees Fahrenheit. It shoots through a sprinkler into the air and freezes. In the course of the season, elaborate conical structures take shape, with the contours of the drip castles that kids make on the beach.

Ice stupas can reach the height of a ten-story building. They start to melt in March, and at higher elevations—some villages in Ladakh sit more than fifteen thousand feet above sea level—the process can last through July. The meltwater helps farmers get through the crucial spring planting season, when they sow vegetables, barley, and potatoes. (Rainfall in the region averages only around four inches a year.)

“Ladakh being a high-altitude desert, they only have one farming season,” Simant Verma, who has worked as a project manager on the ice stupas, explained. “So, if they don’t get water in those months, they lose out.”…—Elizabeth Kolbert, “The Art of Building Artificial Glaciers,” The New Yorker, 5/20/19


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