July 23, 2019
This week we plunge once again into that scourge of convenience, single-use plastics. Plastics production is doubling every ten years, urged and demanded upon us at every hand (i.e. shrink-wrapped beets), overwhelming our collective ignorance to create mountains of  plastics trash. The irony is, we are beginning to find it in the tissues of the food we eat, and our own and our children’s bodies. It hasn’t taken much time for what goes around to start coming around.
But first the news.

But first about our Fundraiser!

Which is going along very nicely, with about $100 deposited last week. The Banner burns through about $800/year (I know, how could we have so many expenses?? One small but interesting part is keeping our website free of hackers and scam artists, of which an amazing number are reported each week— you forgot there is a website for The Banner with an archive of all past editions, didn’t you… Other than that, our emailing expenses and the WordPress engine used for all our composing, backup services and Poof! there goes all the money. It would be nice to have enough to donate to the independent journalism web sources we depend on. If you’ve a mind to, you can use Paypal to send donations to editor@thebanner.news (missppelled that last week!) or email me at editor@thebanner.news for our mail address if you’d rather send a check. And thank you for your support and interest in The Banner!
And now the news…

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As Climate Scientists Sound New Alarms,
NY Appeals Court Rules
Civil Disobedience to Stop Global Warming Power Plant
Not Justified

Pramilla Malick talks to Jimmy Dore, sounds alarm on fracking & government corruption, 7/17/1

White Plains NY, July 20, 2019—  A New York State Appellate court rejected the necessity defense claim of environmental activists, known as the Wawayanda Six, who were convicted in 2017 for disorderly conduct and obstruction of traffic after blocking construction of a 650 Megawatt fracked gas power plant in December 2015.

James Cromwell, along with two others of the Wawayanda six, Madeline Shaw and Pramilla Malick, Chair of Protect Orange County and 2018 State Senate Candidate, locked to each other with bike locks, in front of the Competitive Power Ventures Valley Energy Center now operational in Orange County NY.

The Appellate Court’s ruling ignored testimony from prominent climate experts including Cornell scientists Anthony Ingraffea and Robert Howarth who testified at the Wawayanda Six trial that the plant operations would increase the state’s greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector by at least 10% and contribute to irreversible climate change. While Ingraffea testified that the plant would depend on 100 to 150 fracking wells per year, Howarth explained how methane specifically derived from fracking is exponentially worse of a global warming gas. Both scientists stated that in their professional opinion the actions of the Wawayanda Six were necessary to prevent imminent harm.

After the initial conviction, Cromwell along with Shaw and Malick, refused to pay the resulting fine and served three days in an Orange County jail instead.

The court considered the climate and public health impacts cited in the necessity defense claim to be “speculative, abstract, or remote” and further agreed with the lower courts assertion that the “public injury which defendant sought to prevent lacked immediacy”.

Malick rebuked the court’s ruling saying in a statement, “we were right” referring to a report the group issued just months ago that documented extreme adverse health impacts in Orange County as the plant became operational in January 2018.

“The court doesn’t seem to understand what immediacy really means in the context of climate science” said Malick. Just days ago Harvard scientist James Anderson issued a warning that by 2022 there will be no ice on either pole, a condition the earth has not seen for 33 million years.
[emphasis added.—Editor]

“The institutions of the state are interested, not in equity nor in justice, but only the maintenance of the status quo.” —James Cromwell

Malick, who ran for State Senate with the promise to shut down the plant also blasted the hypocrisy of both Governor Cuomo, who invokes the Green New Deal, as well as the Democratic majority state legislature who just passed a climate bill promising to cut greenhouse gas emissions 85% by 2050 while failing to address the fact that the state’s recent approvals of both CPV and a sister plant in Dover NY, Cricket Valley, will increase the state’s GHG emissions from the power sector overnight by 25%. “In the midst of this existential crisis we have politicians who respond with publicity stunts,” said Malick

Further reading: New York gets tougher on climate change: Five things to know [A summary for citizens, of leading points of CLACPA.—Editor]

The CPV plant was at the center of a major corruption scandal which led to the conviction on bribery charges of Governor Cuomo’s closest aide, Joseph Percoco, who is now serving a six year sentence, ironically, in Orange County.

We learned our lesson when we took the Minisink case to the D.C. Circuit Court, the 2nd highest court in the country with the best possible facts on our side. We learned our lesson when we went to the 2nd circuit court with video evidence of protected eagles left unprotected.  The courts are not beyond the reach of a company this powerful. The issue before the court was imminence. In December 2015 we blockaded the power plant and just two years later by January 2018 people began to get sick. That impact was imminent then and we were right. Just yesterday the climate news headlines sounded another alarm with permafrost melting 70 years earlier than predicted. As I write this the time frame for what should be considered imminent is accelerating. At this point we may be past imminence, it may be simply too late. Perhaps we should require both our judges and politicians to study more science before taking their jobs.—Pramilla Malick, “As Climate Scientists Sound New Alarms, NY Appeals Court Rules Civil Disobedience to Stop Global Warming Power Plant Not Justified,” Protect Orange County|Action Network, 6/21/19

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Project Drawdown’s Place
in Grass Roots Action on Climate Change

So many of us have been working on environmental protection and climate change issues for decades. Many of us have been overwhelmed by difficult feelings, such as grief, as we watch climate chaos claim more and more innocent lives and unleash nature’s fury in “new normals”. This past weekend in NY saw many events being cancelled due to extreme heat as France was just recovering from record breaking, life threatening heat. 

And we know that our individual efforts of recycling, LED bulbs, frugal shopping and curtailing our personal consumption is not even making a dent in the problem. We also know that our pleas for help at the highest levels of government are now falling on deaf ears much of the time. Those of us involved in presenting Drawdown share your weariness and grave concern for the generations following us. Project Drawdown, however, is an approach that promises real progress toward reversing global warming and thus reducing climate chaos.

The core of this approach is a scientific study, led by Paul Hawken, that identified 100 solutions that, together, could actually reverse global warming by 2050. These solutions encompass the energy we use, the food we eat, and the cities we live in. Inspired by this revolutionary study, Pachamama Alliance created a series of workshops to support you in getting into action to reverse global warming in your local community.

There are currently two offerings from Project Drawdown:

  • Reversing Global Warming: Introduction to Drawdown is a 2-hour workshop that invites you to see both the possibility of reversing global warming and that you have an important role to play in that process. 
  • Drawdown Solutions: Getting Into Action is a 5-session workshop that supports you in finding your unique contribution to reversing global warming and getting into action with a community of like-minded individuals.

During the Intro you’ll also learn about the four levels of action. Most of us have been most involved in levels 1 and 4 – the individual level and trying to effect change at the federal level. Drawdown instead invites us to work at the third level of paradigm shift – locally and regionally – which is the place we can all make the most difference.There has been nothing like Project Drawdown and the optimism that comes with real, solution based collaboration with others to ensure our planet’s restored health. I hope you will join others at one of the many offerings in the area in the next few months.—Lynne Westmoreland, “Project Drawdown’s Place in Grass Roots Action on Climate Change,” Rochester Pachamama, 7/20/19

Page 1 of 2. Click to download PDF of entire schedule

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Babies Born Near Oil and Gas Wells
Up to 70% More Likely to Have Congenital Heart Defects

Babies Born Near Oil and Gas Wells Are Up to 70% More Likely to Have Congenital Heart Defects, New Study Shows

“Looking at where mothers lived immediately before pregnancy and during the first critical weeks after conception and what was going on at nearby fracking wells, researchers found startling patterns,” said public health advocate Dr. Sandra Steingraber. (Photo: J. Pat Carter/Getty Images)

Proximity to oil and gas sites makes pregnant mothers up to 70 percent more likely to give birth to a baby with congenital heart defects, according to a new study.

Led by Dr. Lisa McKenzie at the University of Colorado, researchers found that the chemicals released from oil and gas wells can have serious and potentially fatal effects on babies born to mothers who live within a mile of an active well site—as about 17 million Americans do.

The researchers studied more than 3,000 newborns who were born in Colorado between 2005 and 2011. The state is home to about 60,000 fracking sites, according to the grassroots group Colorado Rising. In areas with the highest intensity of oil and gas extraction activity, mothers were 40 to 70 percent more likely to give birth to babies with congenital heart defects (CHDs).

“We observed more children were being born with a congenital heart defect in areas with the highest intensity of oil and gas well activity,” said McKenzie in a statement.

The study was more precise than previous reports about the link between oil and gas extraction and CHDs. The researchers studied families in which the pregnant mother lived near an active oil or gas well up to the second month of pregnancy, when fetal cardiac development takes place.

They also estimated the level of intensity of the oil and gas activity, determined exactly how close the pregnant mothers lived to the well sites, and ensured there were no other significant air pollution sources which could skew their results.

One science journalist, on social media, called the study “extremely convincing.”

Biologist Sandra Steingraber was among the experts on the dangers of fossil fuel extraction who pointed to the study as the latest evidence that allowing oil and gas wells to operate, especially near communities, is a public health hazard.

“It’s a strong study,” Steingraber wrote on Twitter after reading the paper, noting that the researchers built on knowledge scientists already have about chemicals that are known to be harmful to prenatal health and that are released during fracking.…—Julia Conley, “Babies Born Near Oil and Gas Wells Are Up to 70% More Likely to Have Congenital Heart Defects, New Study Shows,” Common Dreams News, 7/19/19

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Proposed Galvanizing Mill in Romulus
Touted as Environmentally Benign
Details are Sketchy, Doubters Wary

Proposed Galvanizing Mill in Romulus Touted as Environmentally Benign, but Details are Sketchy, Doubters Wary

That developer, Earl Martin, asserts that his facility would have a comparatively modest environmental footprint and produce virtually no hazardous waste.

Martin intends to dip fabricated steel — shaped for agricultural uses such as cow stalls — into molten zinc, coating it for protection against rust and corrosion.

So far, the coalition of public officials and environmental activists that mobilized to defeat what would have been the state’s largest trash incinerator is taking a wary, wait-and-see stance on the galvanizing facility.

“It is disappointing that the public still does not have specifics of the complete project and all of its impacts,” said Mary Anne Kowalski, research director of Seneca Lake Guardian, which spearheaded the anti-incinerator movement. “SLG will be seeking more information.”

Peter Gamba of the Committee to Protect the Finger Lakes said: “I can’t support it because I don’t think they addressed the risks fully. We need to understand the 15-year plan for waste (disposal).”

The hot-dip galvanizing process has been widely used nationwide for more than a century. It has a long record of yielding hazardous waste byproducts, which for decades were often shipped to deep injection wells in Texas and Ohio.

But Martin says wants to eliminate rather than bury his mill’s waste by adding highly effective recycling features recently pioneered in Italy.…

Martin’s company, Seneca Dairy Systems LLC, is seeking a package of tax breaks for the project from the Seneca County Industrial Development Agency. In its IDA application, the company seeks sales tax exemptions valued at $1.36 million over 10-12 years and a mortgage recording tax exemption worth $90,000.

The IDA has scheduled a public hearing on the application for July 24 (6 p.m.) at the town’s Willard municipal building.

To introduce the project to the public, Martin brought a team of lawyers and consultants to the July 11 information session, which drew about 30 people.

Most of the audience seemed to accept the notion that the galvanizing mill represents a far less serious environmental threat than the incinerator, but a few expressed deep skepticism.

“I worked at a galvanizing mill for 30 years, and it’s not a very clean process,” said John S. Makai of Ovid, who worked for Bethlehem Steel in Lackawanna before the company, swamped with environmental woes, went bankrupt.

“You had to dispose of the wastewater that was put in the slag containers,” Makai added. “And now you go by that place and all you see is skull and bones and them telling you to stay out of there because it’s a restricted area of toxic waste.”…—Peter Mantius, “Proposed Galvanizing Mill in Romulus Touted as Environmentally Benign, but Details are Sketchy, Doubters Wary,” Water Front, 7/15/19

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Activists Call on Retiring FERC Commissioner LaFleur
to Heed her Better Angels

Washington, DC –  For the past 30 years FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, has voted in favor of 398 out of 400 applications for mostly fracked gas interstate pipelines and related projects.  Fracked gas is at least 95% methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that is 100 times worse for the climate than carbon dioxide over a 10-year period. Meanwhile, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says we have 11 years left to avoid unstoppable climate catastrophe.

These facts are top of mind as FERC commissioners hold their next regular monthly meeting on July 18 – the last meeting for Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur, who is stepping down after eight years. Over her tenure she has moved toward considering the climate impacts of these fracked gas projects and has occasionally voted against them. But as recently as April, she voted to approve not one, not two, but three huge liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals, which would super-charge fracking around the country as well as global methane emissions.

Beyond Extreme Energy (BXE) and their allies held a press event outside the building at 9:30 AM to call on LaFleur to use her final meeting to stand on the right side of history, to throw aside her convoluted rationales that allow her to both call for consideration of climate impacts and to still approve these projects that will be spewing climate-and community-wrecking emissions for the next 40 years – well past the time the U.S. and the world need to transition to a 100 percent clean energy economy.

“Twice FERC had all the information necessary to make the correct decision to deny the Jordan Cove Energy Project.” said Deb McGee 350Eugene Volunteer/Director. “The only thing that has changed is that Green House Gasses in our atmosphere have risen to 415ppm, causing more extreme weather, more fires, and making every reason to deny the permit even clearer and more profound. If we are to survive we must build no new fossil fuel infrastructure! Keep it in the Ground!”

“After years of extreme storms, polluted water supplies and devastating fires, FERC has fueled climate change and poisoned our planet,” said Donna Chavis, senior fossil fuel campaigner at Friends of the Earth.  “If we want to stop climate change, FERC should commit to a policy of no more fossil fuel infrastructure and put an end to projects like the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.”

“Three and one half years ago we learned that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would cut our property in half with over 3,000 feet of 42 inch pipeline, coming within 600 feet of our home.” Said Bill Limpert, who lives with his wife in a retirement home and property in Bath County, Virginia. “We have since learned that the 3M Scotchkote Fusion Bonded Epoxy 6233 coating used on the pipes for the ACP contains carcinogenic, mutagenic, and toxic properties. Manufacturer 3M states that this product degrades and chalks. FERC has said they are investigating this but that is not enough; they should issue a stop work order immediately for the ACP.”

Kim Fraczek, Director of Sane Energy Project stated, “FERC continues to pillage our community in New York City and global climate health by approving more fracked gas infrastructure by facilitating rather than regulating. We are now facing yet another fracked gas pipeline, the Williams NESE pipeline, approved by FERC against the will of the community, and against our state law, and twice denied by our Department of Environmental Conservation, and without consensus of FERC commissioners, considering Commissioner Richard Glick’s dissent surrounding this pipeline’s approval. We understand that FERC won’t get paid unless they approve pipelines, and today, we are here to insist on a complete revision of an agency that is in charge of interstate energy infrastructure since the DNA of FERC is a captive agency controlled by the very industry its assigned to regulate. There is a national consensus from communities that we can never expect to see justice from FERC in its current form.”

“The State of Oregon and communities impacted by the Jordan Cove LNG export terminal and pipeline are sending a strong message to FERC that they must consider the full climate impacts of a project before approval,” said Allie Rosenbluth, Campaigns Director at Southern Oregon-based community group Rogue Climate. “By standing up against new fracked gas projects and ensuring FERC considers climate before permitting new projects, Commissioner LaFleur has an opportunity to leave a climate legacy at the agency.”

“Not only is the Jordan cove project a thirty five year commitment to fossil fuels hobbling the change to clean energy but after 14 years the project still is terrorizing landowners like us.” said Larry and Sylvia Mangan, north bend Oregon, landowners along one of the routes of the pacific gas connector. “A Canadian corporation should not be allowed to use eminent domain against US citizens for private gain.”—Ted Glick, “Activists Call on Retiring FERC Commissioner to Heed her Better Angels,”  Friends of the Earth, 7/18/19

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A Plastic Irony
The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet

The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet | FracTracker Alliance

Plastic has been getting a lot of negative press lately.

It’s killing marine life, forming vortexes in the ocean, and being burned instead of recycled. But until recently, most of the attention has focused on plastic pollution – the waste that turns up after a product has served its purpose.

Now that’s changed- the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) has recently released “Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet;” two reports that show us the consequences of plastic across its entire lifecycle. The first, Plastic & Health, explores human health impacts, while the second Plastic & Climate, tackles greenhouse gas emissions.

For the first time, we know the full scope of plastic’s impact – and it’s not looking good.

FracTracker is proud to partner with CIEL and several other organizations, including Earthworks, 5 Gyres, TEJAS, UPSTREAM, GAIA, Exeter University, and Environmental Integrity Project to release these reports.

You know, now what?

These reports make it clear: the impacts of plastic are serious, and they’re everywhere. We have the evidence to justify an immediate global move away from our disposable, single-use lifestyle. Tackling this toxic crisis will require action across all levels of society- corporations must consider the full life cycle of their products, policy makers must enact plastic reduction measures, and of course, industry needs to rectify its toxic impacts. Eager to encourage these entities to take action, the FracTracker team is committed to doing our own part to solve this plastics problem, and we hope that it inspires individuals, companies, community leaders, and politicians to join in.

Further reading Top 20 Countries That Are Used As Dumping Grounds Of The World’s Trash
  A running list of action on plastic pollution

Here’s what we’re doing to help the world #BreakFreeFromPlastic…—Erica Jackson, “The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet,” FracTracker Alliance, 5/16/19

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The alarming trend of beached whales
filled with plastic,
explained

The alarming trend of beached whales filled with plastic, explained

The sperm whale that just washed ashore in Italy is just the tip of the iceberg.

Another dead whale has washed ashore with a belly full of plastic.

<pstyle=”text-align: left;”>This week, the carcass of the young sperm whale, estimated to have been 7 years old, was found on a beach in Cefalù, Italy. Investigators aren’t certain whether the plastic killed the whale. But it’s part of a gruesome pattern that’s become impossible to ignore.

In April, a pregnant sperm whale washed up on a beach in Sardinia with nearly 50 pounds’ worth of plastic bags, containers, and tubing in her stomach. Biologists in Florida last month euthanized a baby rough-toothed dolphin with two plastic bags and a shredded balloon in its stomach.

“The dolphin was very young and emaciated,” said Michelle Kerr, a spokesperson for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, in an email. “Due to a poor prognosis, the decision was made to humanely euthanize the animal on scene.”

In March, a 1,100-pound Cuvier’s beaked whale was recovered in the Philippines filled with 88 pounds of plastic bags, fishing line, and rice sacks. A beached sperm whale was found in Indonesia last year with more than 1,000 pieces of plastic inside.

As the quantity of plastic humans dump in the ocean has reached obscene proportions, we’re seeing more and more sea life — including birds, otters, sea turtles, and fish — choking on it.

Further reading: Half of dead baby turtles found by Australian scientists have stomachs full of plastic

But the impact on whales is particularly alarming. After centuries of whaling and overfishing, the survival of many whale species is already precarious. Now, just as their numbers are starting to recover, whales are consuming our toxic waste. And their deaths aren’t just about biodiversity loss: Whales play a critical role in marine ecosystems, which provide 3 billion people with their primary sources of protein.

To find out more about why whales are so vulnerable to plastic waste, I talked to Lars Bejder, director of the Marine Mammal Research Program at the University of Hawaii Manoa. He said there are multiple mechanisms at work here and that dying isn’t the only plastic hazard for whales, and explained why the problem will only get worse.

There’s a gargantuan amount of plastic in the ocean

The root cause of these stranded, plastic-filled whales is that plastic is cheap and easy to produce but almost impossible for nature to destroy. Chunks of plastic linger for decades, breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces. This waste then churns in the ocean in massive gyres.

Roughly 8 million metric tons of plastic — a mass greater than that of the Great Pyramid of Giza — enters the ocean each year.…—Umair Irfan, “Whales dying from plastic bags: The alarming trend, explained,” Vox, 5/25/29

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Breaching a “carbon threshold” could lead to mass extinction

Breaching a “carbon threshold” could lead to mass extinction

In the brain, when neurons fire off electrical signals to their neighbors, this happens through an “all-or-none” response. The signal only happens once conditions in the cell breach a certain threshold.

Now an MIT researcher has observed a similar phenomenon in a completely different system: Earth’s carbon cycle.

Daniel Rothman, professor of geophysics and co-director of the Lorenz Center in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, has found that when the rate at which carbon dioxide enters the oceans pushes past a certain threshold — whether as the result of a sudden burst or a slow, steady influx — the Earth may respond with a runaway cascade of chemical feedbacks, leading to extreme ocean acidification that dramatically amplifies the effects of the original trigger.

This global reflex causes huge changes in the amount of carbon contained in the Earth’s oceans, and geologists can see evidence of these changes in layers of sediments preserved over hundreds of millions of years.

Rothman looked through these geologic records and observed that over the last 540 million years, the ocean’s store of carbon changed abruptly, then recovered, dozens of times in a fashion similar to the abrupt nature of a neuron spike. This “excitation” of the carbon cycle occurred most dramatically near the time of four of the five great mass extinctions in Earth’s history.

Scientists have attributed various triggers to these events, and they have assumed that the changes in ocean carbon that followed were proportional to the initial trigger — for instance, the smaller the trigger, the smaller the environmental fallout.

But Rothman says that’s not the case. It didn’t matter what initially caused the events; for roughly half the disruptions in his database, once they were set in motion, the rate at which carbon increased was essentially the same.  Their characteristic rate is likely a property of the carbon cycle itself — not the triggers, because different triggers would operate at different rates.

Nonlinear Tipping of Oceanic Carbon Cycle Driving Mass Extinctions: 1 of 2

What does this all have to do with our modern-day climate? Today’s oceans are absorbing carbon about an order of magnitude faster than the worst case in the geologic record — the end-Permian extinction. But humans have only been pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for hundreds of years, versus the tens of thousands of years or more that it took for volcanic eruptions or other disturbances to trigger the great environmental disruptions of the past. Might the modern increase of carbon be too brief to excite a major disruption?

According to Rothman, today we are “at the precipice of excitation,” and if it occurs, the resulting spike — as evidenced through ocean acidification, species die-offs, and more — is likely to be similar to past global catastrophes.

“Once we’re over the threshold, how we got there may not matter,” says Rothman, who is publishing his results this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Once you get over it, you’re dealing with how the Earth works, and it goes on its own ride.”…—Jennifer Chu, “Breaching a “carbon threshold” could lead to mass extinction,” MIT News, 7/8/19

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How the Plastics Industry Is Fighting
to Keep Polluting the World

How the Plastics Industry Is Fighting to Keep Polluting the World

The students at Westmeade Elementary School worked hard on their dragon, it paid off. The plastic bag receptacle that the kids painted green and outfitted with triangular white teeth and a “feed me” sign won the students from the Nashville suburb first place in a recycling box decorating contest. The idea, as Westmeade’s proud principal told a local TV news show, was to help the environment. But the real story behind the dragon — as with much of the escalating war over plastic waste — is more complicated.

The contest was sponsored by A Bag’s Life, a recycling promotion and education effort of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, a lobbying group that fights restrictions on plastic. That organization is part of the Plastics Industry Association, a trade group that includes Shell Polymers, LyondellBasell, Exxon Mobil, Chevron Phillips, DowDuPont, and Novolex — all of which profit hugely from the continued production of plastics. And even as A Bag’s Life was encouraging kids to spread the uplifting message of cleaning up plastic waste, its parent organization, the American Progressive Bag Alliance, was backing a state bill that would strip Tennesseans of their ability to address the plastics crisis. The legislation would make it illegal for local governments to ban or restrict bags and other single-use plastic products — one of the few things shown to actually reduce plastic waste.

A week after Westmeade’s dragon won the contest, the APBA got its own reward: The plastic preemption bill passed the Tennessee state legislature. Weeks later, the governor signed it into law, throwing a wrench into an effort underway in Memphis to charge a fee for plastic bags. Meanwhile, A Bag’s Life gave the Westmeade kids who worked on the bag monster a $100 gift card to use “as they please.” And with that, a minuscule fraction of its vast wealth, the plastics industry applied a green veneer to its increasingly bitter and desperate fight to keep profiting from a product that is polluting the world.

A Bag’s Life is just one small part of a massive, industry-led effort now underway to suppress meaningful efforts to reduce plastic waste while keeping the idea of recycling alive. The reality of plastics recycling? It’s pretty much already dead. In 2015, the U.S. recycled about 9 percent of its plastic waste, and since then the number has dropped even lower. The vast majority of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic ever produced — 79 percent — has ended up in landfills or scattered all around the world. And as for those plastic shopping bags the kids were hoping to contain: Less than 1 percent of the tens of billions of plastic bags used in the U.S. each year are recycled.

In 1967, when Dustin Hoffman’s character in “The Graduate” was being advised to go into plastics, less than 25 million tons were produced each year. Even back then, the companies that made the plastic were already aware of the growing waste problem. Yet by 1980, production had doubled. Ten years later, it doubled again to 100 million tons, surpassing the amount of steel produced globally.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t try to properly dispose of the array of toys, single-use clamshells, bottles, bags, takeout containers, iced coffee cups, straws, sachets, yogurt tubs, pouches, candy bar wrappers, utensils, chip bags, toiletry tubes, electronics, and lids for everything that passes through our lives daily. We have to. But we are well past the point where the heartfelt efforts of schoolchildren or anyone else on the consumer end can solve the plastics problem. It no longer matters how many hoots we give. There is already way too much plastic that won’t decompose and ultimately has nowhere to go, whether it’s mashed into a dragon container or not.

China’s National Sword

China’s decision in 2017 to stop receiving the vast majority of plastic waste from other countries blew the flimsy lid off our dysfunctional recycling system. That year, when the Chinese government announced the National Sword policy, as it’s called, the U.S. sent 931 million kilograms of plastic waste to China and Hong Kong. The U.S. has been offloading vast bundles of scrap this way since at least 1994, when the Environmental Protection Agency began tracking plastics exports. The practice has served to both mask the mounting crisis and absolve U.S. consumers of guilt. But in fact, much of the “recycled” plastic scrap that the U.S. sent to China appears to have been burned or buried instead of being refashioned into new products.…—Sharon Lerner, “The Plastic Industry’s Fight to Keep Polluting the World,” The Intercept, 7/20/19

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The 9-Percent Lie:
Why Are the USDA and EPA Hiding the Facts:
Half of All US Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Come from Industrial Food, Farming and Land Use?

The 9-Percent Lie: Why Are the USDA and EPA Hiding the Fact that Half of All US Greenhouse Gas Emissions Come from Industrial Food, Farming and Land Use?

The Climate Emergency is finally getting the attention of the media and the U.S. (and world) body politic, as well as a growing number of politicians, activists and even U.S. farmers.

This great awakening has arrived just in time, given the record-breaking temperatures, violent weather, crop failures and massive waves of forced migration that are quickly becoming the norm. Global scientists have dropped their customary caution. They now warn us that we have to drastically reduce global emissions—by at least 45 percent—over the next decade. Otherwise, we’ll pass the point of no return—defined as reaching 450 ppm or more of CO2 in the atmosphere sometime between 2030 – 2050—when our climate crisis will morph into a climate catastrophe. That’s when the melting polar ice and Arctic permafrost will trigger catastrophic sea rise, fueling deadly forest fires, climate chaos, crop failures, famine and the widespread disintegration of society as we know it.

“The Nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.” Franklin D. Roosevelt 1943

Most people now understand that we must quickly move to renewable forms of energy, such as wind and solar, and reduce our fossil fuel emissions as much as possible. But it’s far less widely understood that energy conservation and renewables can’t do the job alone.

Alongside the massive political and economic campaign to move to nearly 100% renewable energy as soon as possible, we must put an end to the massive emissions of our corporate-dominated food and farming and start drawing down and sequestering in our soils and forests billions of tons of “legacy” CO2 from the atmosphere, utilizing the enhanced photosynthesis of regenerative farming, reforestation and land restoration.

Regenerative Agriculture” refers to farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity. This results in both carbon drawdown and improved water infiltration and storage in soils. Regenerative practices include:

  • Reduction/elimination of tillage and use of synthetic chemicals.
  • The use of cover crops, crop rotations, compost, and animal manures.
  • Integrating animals with perennial and annual plants to create a biologically diverse ecosystem on the farm.
  • Grazing and pasturing animals on grass, and more specifically using a planned multi-paddock rotation system.
  • Raising animals in conditions that mimic their natural habitat.

If regenerative food, farming and land use—which is essentially moving to the next stage of organic farming, free range livestock grazing and eco-system restoration—are just as essential to our survival as moving beyond fossil fuels, why aren’t more people talking about this? Why is it that moving beyond industrial agriculture, factory farms, agro-exports and highly-processed junk food to regenerating soils and forests and drawing down enough excess carbon from the atmosphere to re-stabilize our climate is getting so little attention from the media, politicians and the general public?

The International Food Information Council Foundation released a poll on May 22, 2019, that found that “22 percent [of Americans] had heard of regenerative agriculture and 55 percent said they had not heard of it but were interested in learning more.”…—Ronnie Cummins, “The 9-Percent Lie: Why Are the USDA and EPA Hiding the Fact that Half of All US Greenhouse Gas Emissions Come from Industrial Food, Farming and Land Use?Organic Consumers Association, 7/17/19

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The plastic in our bodies

The plastic in our bodies

Nobody, it seemed, had thought to look before.

When two Austrian scientists discovered last year that it’s likely most people have plastic inside their bodies, it wasn’t because they had invented some new, complicated scientific method. It was because they were the first to check.

Their approach was simple. They asked eight people, mostly in Europe, but also in Japan and Russia, to keep a week-long food diary. Then, they examined stool samples from their subjects, looking for plastic.

They found it in every single one: On average, 20 tiny pieces in each 10 grams of stool; given that humans poop on average 400 to 500 grams a day, that means their subjects were likely passing some 800 to 1,000 pieces of so-called microplastic daily.

The scientists, Philipp Schwabl, a researcher at the Medical University of Vienna, and Bettina Liebmann of Austria’s environment agency, are the first to admit their findings are at best preliminary. Their results don’t say where that plastic came from, what exactly it contains, and how — or whether — it is affecting our health.

Further reading Why we don’t know if plastics are safe
Plastics that save us may also hurt us
Where microplastics come from …
Intentionally added microplastics likely to accumulate in terrestrial and freshwater environments
Americans May Be Ingesting Thousands of Microplastics Every Year

The study is just now undergoing peer review, and much larger sample sizes will be needed to confirm its conclusions. But based on their results, the scientists estimate that more than half of the world’s population might have plastic passing through their bodies.

The study set off a wave of concern about the potential impact plastic could be having on humans, adding momentum to the transformation that plastic is undergoing in the public consciousness.

In its short history, plastic has gone from miracle material to a cause of mounting global concern. The Great Pacific garbage patch; debris found in fish, turtles and whales; microscopic pieces within us — plastic, it seems, is literally everywhere.

And as a substance, it’s turning out to be devilishly difficult to do something about. Plastic is cheap to produce, useful nearly everywhere and incredibly durable. These qualities make it nearly indispensable to large swathes of the modern economy, from packaging and fashion to medicine and transportation. They also make it a nightmare to regulate or dispose of.

At the same time, even if the science isn’t yet clear about the effect plastics have on our bodies, worries are rapidly mounting.

“We’re running this big human experiment on how they will affect us,” said Alice Bernard, a lawyer for environmental advocacy group ClientEarth. “It was not thought through at all.”…—Ginger Hervey, “The plastic in our bodies,” Politico, 5/5/19

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State bans on local initiatives to reduce plastic pollution

Bans on bans block local progress to reduce plastic pollution

How preemption law is being used to blunt grassroots efforts

Sometimes the rule of law means cities and counties can’t speak for themselves. Consider this: The Minneapolis City Council voted 10 to 3 in 2016 to implement a ban on plastic bags, because it recognized the toll this single-use product has on our environment and recycling infrastructure. However, in 2017, a day before the ban was to go into effect, the Minnesota state legislature imposed what is known as a “preemption law” for plastic bags. A preemption law allows a higher level of government to pass a law that overrides local level efforts.

Preemption laws can be used for good, such as when the U.S. government introduced the Clean Water Act in 1972. In that instance, it set a robust baseline national standard, preempting anything states previously had on the books regarding water quality. However, when it comes to reducing plastic waste, this legal tactic is being used as a weapon. Minnesota is a perfect example. There, the preemption legislation was introduced at the State House with the clear purpose of preventing cities and counties from making laws restricting plastics. This shift of power to state lawmakers not only led to the invalidation of the Minneapolis ban, but also hamstrung local authorities in other jurisdictions who otherwise would have enacted bans or fees on plastics.

Sadly, Minnesota is not alone. Already, twelve states are shackled with some form of preemption, restricting local control to reduce plastic. Meanwhile, six additional states have faced recent threats of preemption. These numbers beg the question: Why has this form of law become so popular? Well, as we saw with Minneapolis, it is an effective tactic to squash grassroots efforts to pass local bans on straws, bags and other pernicious plastics.

Making matter worse, this push for preemption frequently comes from a well-funded, coordinated group of outsiders. This opposition, known as the American Progressive Bag Alliance, lobbies across the country for state plastics preemption. They bypass local communities, effectively telling them they don’t know what’s best for their community.

Despite its benign sounding name, the American Progressive Bag Alliance is made up of powerful plastics industry leaders. They believe that “American-made plastic products [are] the smartest, most environmentally friendly choice at the checkout counter for both retailers and consumers.”

As part of their argument, they say single-use paper and reusable bags present their own environmental impacts. There is some truth in that statement, but the Bag Alliance isn’t painting the whole picture. The problem with their assertion is it only considers a small portion of the life-cycle of plastic bags.

The group lives in a fantasy world where every plastic bag is recycled or reused infinitely, which is incredibly difficult and unlikely. The Bag Alliance also states that “plastic bags are 100% recyclable,” which is hypothetically true. But in reality, most single-stream facilities cannot recycle them; the thin bags often get stuck and cause malfunctioning in machinery. These plastic bags will more likely end up in landfills or the environment, spending centuries breaking down and releasing toxins, or in incinerators, immediately causing noxious pollutants.…—Adair Andre, “Bans on bans block local progress to reduce plastic pollution,” Medium, 3/15/19

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The dystopian lake filled by the world’s tech lust

Baotou Iron and Steel Group, Baotou Steel or Baogang Group is an iron and steel state-owned enterprise in Baotou, Inner Mongolia, China. The mining of iron ore produces low level toxic sludge that is discharged into a sludge lake. The lake is so large it can be. seen from space. As the water evaporates and the sludge dries into a toxic silt, prevailing winds carry the radioactive sand ladened with rare earth elements into the local village, poisoning its residents

The dystopian lake filled by the world’s tech lust

Hidden in an unknown corner of China is a toxic, nightmarish lake created by our thirst for smartphones, gadgets and green tech, discovers Tim Maughan.

From where I’m standing, the city-sized Baogang Steel and Rare Earth complex dominates the horizon, its endless cooling towers and chimneys reaching up into grey, washed-out sky. Between it and me, stretching into the distance, lies an artificial lake filled with a black, barely-liquid, toxic sludge.

Dozens of pipes line the shore, churning out a torrent of thick, black, chemical waste from the refineries that surround the lake. The smell of sulphur and the roar of the pipes invades my senses. It feels like hell on Earth.

Welcome to Baotou, the largest industrial city in Inner Mongolia. I’m here with a group of architects and designers called the Unknown Fields Division, and this is the final stop on a three-week-long journey up the global supply chain, tracing back the route consumer goods take from China to our shops and homes, via container ships and factories.

You may not have heard of Baotou, but the mines and factories here help to keep our modern lives ticking. It is one of the world’s biggest suppliers of “rare earth” minerals. These elements can be found in everything from magnets in wind turbines and electric car motors, to the electronic guts of smartphones and flatscreen TVs. In 2009 China produced 95% of the world’s supply of these elements, and it’s estimated that the Bayan Obo mines just north of Baotou contain 70% of the world’s reserves. But, as we would discover, at what cost?

Element of success

Rare earth minerals have played a key role in the transformation and explosive growth of China’s world-beating economy over the last few decades. It’s clear from visiting Baotou that it’s had a huge, transformative impact on the city too. As the centre of this 21st Century gold-rush, Baotou feels very much like a frontier town.…—Tim Maughan, “The dystopian lake filled by the world’s tech lust,” BBC, 4/2/2015

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Peter Wadhams is back on ScientistsWarning.TV with a comprehensive analysis of the reticent approach that part of the scientific community has been taking toward the potentially very dangerous methane hydrate situation in shallow Arctic sea waters.

Specifically, he comments on a video that had been issued by Yale Climate Connections in January 2019 in which it was stated that there really wasn’t too much to worry about.

Further reading: Permafrost is thawing rapidly. How much should we worry? Yale Climate Connections

But it’s not only climatologists who sometimes seem to be showing a ‘lack of objectivity,’ according to Dr. Wadhams – it’s also risk analysis that has been missing so far and that should be done now as a high priority task.—Stuart Scott, “Dr. Peter Wadhams: Methane Hydrates & Arctic Research,” UPFSI|YouTube, 7/21/19

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Shocking Truth Behind Australia’s Recycling Revealed

Shocking Truth Behind Australia’s Recycling Revealed

An investigation spearheaded by 60 Minutes revealed that the real problem of Australia’s recycling is that there is no truth to its existence.

AUSTRALIA — An independent group of researchers revealed Australia recycle program turns out to be a sham. Rather than recycling their trash, it embarks on an international journey, making the country of destination its official “dumping site.”

Australia has been named as one of the most wasteful nations despite efforts to lessen the use of single-use plastics in the country. In a desperate attempt to clean up the country and help save the environment, the citizens of Australia were forced to reduce, reuse and recycle. However, the reporter of 60 Minutes, Liam Bartlett revealed that the efforts of the citizens to recycle the plastic that they use every day are simply a waste of time. The reporter tracked the process of where these reusable plastics go and to their surprise, it doesn’t end at a recycling plant somewhere in the suburbs of Australia.

Instead, they go to an illegal dumping site in Malaysia where the discarded garbage are dumped. It is then either buried or burned.

Despite the great efforts Australians put into segregating their trash to ensure that the recyclables could still be reused, very little effort is put on the reprocessing of these items. The only exceptions are the soft drinks and milk bottles as they have a very specific target market that turns it into home soil.

Haydn Breheny who runs his own recycling business in the southeast of Australia revealed to 60 Minutes that if the plastic that arrives in the plant cannot be sold in the Asian markets, then it could not be recycled. The plastic would often end up at the tip.…—Lysette Maurice N. Sandoval, “Shocking Truth Behind Australia’s Recycling Revealed,” Science Times, 4/14/19

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Deforestation and Climate Change
Could Split the Amazon Rainforest in Two

Deforestation and Climate Change Could Split the Amazon Rainforest in Two, Study Finds

When I worry about the Amazon Rainforest, I typically worry about deforestation. Maybe I should start worrying about climate change, too. A new study published June 24, 2019 shows that climate change plus deforestation equals disaster for the Amazon: The average number of tree species present in a given patch of rainforest could decline by up to 58 percent by 2050. What’s more, all the human-induced destruction may wind up effectively dividing the Amazon into two separate forests, one of which would be “severely fragmented.”

Published in Nature Climate Change, the study reminds us how fragile the world’s largest rainforest is. Since 1970, it’s lost nearly 20 percent of its tree cover, according to Mongabay. Just last month, the Brazilian Amazon saw a spike in deforestation rates. And while deforestation alone is obviously destructive, climate change is making matters worse by warming and drying the rainforest, making parts of it unsuitable for the species that call it home.

Further reading: The Amazon Rainforest Is Adapting to Climate Change, But Not Fast Enough

“The impacts of deforestation are local. We can see clearly the area we are impacting,” said author Vitor Gomes, an environmental scientist at the Federal University of Pará in Brazil, to Earther. “Climate change may impact the whole area. Climate will be changing all over the forest area.”…—Yessenia Funes, “Deforestation and Climate Change Could Split the Amazon Rainforest in Two, Study Finds,” Earther|Gizmodo, 6/25/19

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The Night I Joined the Cajun Navy

How One Woman Helped Save People During Hurricane Harvey with Just Her Phone and a Laptop

Safe at home when Hurricane Harvey hit, one East Texas woman was desperate to help her neighbors. Then she turned on her computer—and began saving lives.

I had been watching TV coverage of Hurricane Harvey pummeling the Texas coast for four days when the storm finally turned on my city, Houston. I’m a 47-year-old high school journalism teacher who lives alone. Luckily, my house was spared. But with floodwaters reaching 20 feet, many others were not.

On that day, August 29, 2017, I turned off the TV around 11 p.m., lay in bed, and picked up my phone to do a quick check of email and Facebook. I read an article about the ­Cajun Navy—the thousands of selfless volunteers, most from Louisiana, who pilot their boats into flooded ­areas, helping overwhelmed emergency responders. They were now in Houston en masse, plucking stranded residents from rooftops and flooded cars. The article explained that they were using a walkie-talkie-type app called Zello to communicate with one another. I downloaded the app, found the Cajun Navy channel, and started listening.

I was completely enthralled. Voice after voice coming through my phone—some asking for help, others replying that they were on their way. At first, most of the transmissions were from Houston, but as Harvey moved eastward, panicked calls started coming in from Port Arthur and Orange, Texas. Now that the volunteers knew folks were trapped in their homes there, the rescuers—with boats in tow—were driving straight into the middle of Harvey.

A couple of women who had been taking calls came on the line around 12:30 a.m. and said they had to sign off. They asked whether anyone could work through the night taking rescue requests.

I sat up, timidly pushed the Talk button, and said, “I can.”

I got a two-minute “training” session and a “Good luck!” When I heard a rescue request, I was to ask the person for his or her phone number, then call the person directly to avoid clogging up the app (which, like a walkie-talkie, allows only one person to speak at a time). After the phone call, I was to log the information on a designated website. When all of that was done, dispatchers would give the location to those on the boats while I moved to the next call.

Minutes after my tutorial, I was on the phone with Karen in Port Arthur. She 
was sitting on top of her kitchen cabinets with seven other adults, 
two teenagers, and a newborn. The water was almost to the counter-tops. I assured her we would get someone to her as soon as we could and told her to stay safe. (This is how you can prep your home for hurricane season.)

I spoke to another woman. She and her kids were sitting on their kitchen counter and needed to be rescued, but she was scared to get off the counter when boats arrived because there were snakes in the water in their house.

By this time, Cajun Navy rescuers had begun arriving by car in Port Arthur, but the Coast Guard wouldn’t let them set their boats in the water because the storm was just too strong. It was gut-wrenching to hear so many calls coming in and have to tell the people on the other end that there was nothing we could do until the storm calmed down a little.

I took several more calls. They were coming in faster than I could type them into the website’s data bank. I would listen to each request, write down the info by hand, and then begin typing it in. In the time I could enter one request, three more would come in. What began as nice, neat notes quickly devolved into chaotic scribbles.

I had begun the job while sitting up in bed with my laptop, my phone in hand and a notepad on my nightstand. Pretty quickly, I moved to my dining room table and poured a huge glass of iced tea.…—Holly Hartman, “This Woman Helped Save People During Hurricane Harvey from Home,” Reader’s Digest, May, 2019

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And That’s A Wrap! Thanks to everyone who sent in news, action announcements and comments this week. Send kudos, rotten tomatoes and your story ideas, your group’s action events, and news of interest to intrepid climate change and environmental justice warriors! Send to editor@thebanner.news.