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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Climate change starts to bite: “We’re Choking on Smoke in Seattle”

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Climate change is already degrading the environment in the continental US. Lindy West writes in the NY Times:

The weather forecast for Seattle on Wednesday reads “89 degrees, smoke.” We first noticed the smoke, drifting down from wildfires still burning in British Columbia, around Aug. 2, just as a heat wave sent temperatures spiking well into the 90s (the historical average for that week is 77) and the ubiquitous Pacific winds dwindled to a standstill. “Nature’s air-conditioning is broken,” the National Weather Service told the Seattle Times.

The sky turned brown and opaque. The neighboring city of Bellevue, which normally glitters above Lake Washington to the east, disappeared. The mountains disappeared. I haven’t seen a tree move in a week. It’s as though a giant cloche has been placed over the whole region, like God is playing molecular gastronomy and we are her smoked langoustine cotton candy duck balloons. You can feel the air on your skin, powdery and wrong, somehow both sweltering and clammy. Residents have been warned not to exercise; people with asthma are clutching their inhalers, white-knuckled.

There’s a mental health impact, too. To live in Seattle is to exist, perpetually, in the bargaining stage of grief. From October through May, generally speaking, it drizzles. Every day. This past fall and winter, we broke a 122-year-old record for rain and had only three sunny, mild days in six months. What gets us through the gray, like a mantra, is the promise of summer. Summers in Seattle are perfect, bright blue and fresh, and all winter long we assure ourselves, over and over, “This is worth it, for that.” Please let this one be a good summer, a long summer, a real Seattle summer. We need it. It’s our medicine.

This smoke is stealing our summer. People are on edge. Traffic seems worse. Yesterday, in the car, my husband was telling me about two guys he saw fighting on the street, when I got distracted by two guys fighting on the street. It’s been a freaky, tense time.

It was evocative, to put it mildly, to read in The Times about a forthcoming federal climate change report while choking on hot, brown smoke.

Not only are human behaviors “primarily responsible” for climate change, the report says, but the repercussions are not some vague abstraction for distant equatorial communities or our faceless descendants to deal with. Americans are feeling the impacts of climate change right this second.

“In the United States,” Lisa Friedman wrote, “the report concludes with ‘very high’ confidence that the number and severity of cool nights have decreased since the 1960s, while the frequency and severity of warm days have increased.” The report also notes that cold waves are less common and heat waves are more common.

Scientists are nervously awaiting the Trump administration’s reaction to the report, citing fears that it might be changed or even suppressed altogether in order to appease President Trump’s denialist base and dystopian corporate bedfellows.

I don’t mean to imply that these wildfires and this smoke are the direct result of human-made climate change. I have no idea. I am not a scientist. What I mean is that they have thrown formerly intangible feelings of dread into stark perspective. All week I have stared at the low, dirty sky and thought, “What if this never left? What if it got worse?”

Irrespective of their cause, the fires’ impact — the claustrophobia, the tension, the suffocating, ugly air — feels like a preview (and a mild one) of what’s to come if we don’t take immediate and drastic steps to halt and mitigate climate change. Temperatures will almost certainly rise. Air quality will almost certainly decline. I do not want to live like this, and you don’t either.

It’s easy, if you are not in immediate danger of being swallowed by the sea or strangled by drought, to slip into normalcy. Moment to moment, for a lot of people in America, everything still feels fine, unchanged. Even if you genuinely believe that doom is coming, it is possible to set aside your panic for a while and, say, go get a coffee. Wash your dog. Bicker with your spouse. The stoplights still work and you can still buy avocados at the supermarket and life is still as mundane and tedious as it’s always been. Boredom is somehow even more reassuring than happiness.

But we’re well past the window of procrastination. This is the time.

Seattle this week looks like one of those old photos of America’s smog-socked skylines from before the Clean Air Act and the Environmental Protection Agency, an echo as oddly hopeful as it is horrifying. The thing about human-made climate change is that it’s human-made, which means that humans, to some degree, can unmake it. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 August 2017 at 10:12 am

Secrecy and Suspicion Surround Trump’s Deregulation Teams

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Danielle Ivory and Robert Faturechi report in the NY Times:

When President Trump ordered federal agencies to form teams to dismantle government regulations, the Transportation Department turned to people with deep industry ties.

One appointee had previously lobbied the department on behalf of American Airlines. Another held executive roles for several electric and hybrid car companies regulated by the department. A third was a lawyer who represented United Airlines in regulatory matters.

The three appointees have been identified by The New York Times and ProPublica in a continuing effort to track members of the deregulation teams. The appointments, previously unreported, follow a pattern identified by the two news organizations: By and large, the Trump administration has stacked the teams with political appointees, some of whom may be reviewing rules their former employers sought to weaken or kill.

A full vetting of industry connections has been difficult because some agencies have declined to provide information about the appointees — not even their names.

The lack of transparency has concerned several top Democratic members of Congress who serve on committees that oversee regulatory matters. In a letter to the White House on Monday, they called on the administration to release the names of all regulatory team members as well as documents relating to their potential conflicts of interest.

“It is unacceptable for federal agencies to operate in such a clandestine and unaccountable manner especially when the result could be the undoing of critical public health and safety protections,” Representatives Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, Gerald E. Connolly of Virginia and David Cicilline of Rhode Island wrote in the letter.

The congressmen cited a recent investigation by The Times and ProPublica revealing that members of the deregulation teams have included lawyers who represented businesses in cases against government regulators, staff members of political dark money groups and employees of industry-funded organizations opposed to environmental rules.

Since the publication of that investigation last month, the news organizations have identified more than a dozen other appointees through interviews, public records and reader tips — including the three appointees to the deregulation team at the Transportation Department.

In all, there are now 85 known current and former team members, including 34 with potential conflicts. At least two of the appointees may be positioned to profit if certain regulations are undone and at least four were registered to lobby the agencies they now work for. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 August 2017 at 10:56 am

Government Report Finds Drastic Impact of Climate Change on U.S.

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Lisa Friedman reports in the NY Times:

The average temperature in the United States has risen rapidly and drastically since 1980, and recent decades have been the warmest of the past 1,500 years, according to a sweeping federal climate change report awaiting approval by the Trump administration.

The draft report by scientists from 13 federal agencies, which has not yet been made public, concludes that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now. It directly contradicts claims by President Trump and members of his cabinet who say that the human contribution to climate change is uncertain, and the ability to predict the effects are limited.

“How much more the climate will change depends on future emissions and the sensitivity of the climate system to those emissions,” a draft of the report states. A copy of it was obtained by The New York Times.

The report was completed this year and is part of the National Climate Assessment, which is congressionally mandated every four years. The National Academy of Sciences has signed off on the draft and is awaiting permission from the Trump administration to release it.

One government scientist who worked on the report, and who spoke to The Times on the condition of anonymity, said he and others are concerned it will be suppressed.

The report concludes that even if humans immediately stopped emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the world would still feel at least an additional 0.50 degrees Fahrenheit (0.30 degrees Celsius) of warming over this century compared to today. A small difference in global temperatures can make a big difference in the climate: The difference between a 1.5 degree Celsius and a 2 degree Celsius rise in global average temperatures, for example, could mean longer-lasting heat waves, more intense rainstorms and the faster disintegration of coral reefs.

Among the more significant of the study’s findings is that it is possible to attribute some extreme weather to climate change. The field known as “attribution science” has advanced rapidly in response to increasing risks from climate change.

The report finds it “extremely likely” that more than half of the global mean temperature increase since 1951 can be linked to human influence.

In the United States, the report finds with “very high” confidence that the number and severity of cool nights has decreased, while the frequency and severity of warm days has increased since the 1960s. Extreme cold waves, it says, are less common since the 1980s, while extreme heat waves are more common.

The study examines every corner of the United States and finds that all of it was touched by climate change. It said the average annual rainfall across the country has increased by about 4 percent since the beginning of the 20th century. Parts of the West, Southwest and Southeast are drying up, while the Southern Plains and Midwest are getting wetter.

With a medium degree of confidence, the authors linked the contribution of human-caused warming to rising temperatures over the Western and Northern United States. It found no direct link in the Southeast.

The Environmental Protection Agency is one of 13 agencies that must approve the report by Aug. 13. The agency’s administrator, Scott Pruitt, has said he does not believe that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 August 2017 at 5:36 pm

Ecology is an intricate system: Wolves changing rivers

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 August 2017 at 1:49 pm

Posted in Environment, Science

100,000 Pages Of Chemical Industry Secrets Gathered Dust In An Oregon Barn For Decades — Until Now

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Sharon Lerner reports in The Intercept:

FOR DECADES, SOME of the dirtiest, darkest secrets of the chemical industry have been kept in Carol Van Strum’s barn. Creaky, damp, and prowled by the occasional black bear, the listing, 80-year-old structure in rural Oregon housed more than 100,000 pages of documents obtained through legal discovery in lawsuits against Dow, Monsanto, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Forest Service, the Air Force, and pulp and paper companies, among others.

As of today, those documents and others that have been collected by environmental activists will be publicly available through a project called the Poison Papers. Together, the library contains more than 200,000 pages of information and “lays out a 40-year history of deceit and collusion involving the chemical industry and the regulatory agencies that were supposed to be protecting human health and the environment,” said Peter von Stackelberg, a journalist who along with the Center for Media and Democracy and the Bioscience Resource Project helped put the collection online.

Van Strum didn’t set out to be the repository for the people’s pushback against the chemical industry. She moved to a house in the Siuslaw National Forest in 1974 to live a simple life. But soon after she arrived, she realized the Forest Service was spraying her area with an herbicide called 2,4,5-T — on one occasion, directly dousing her four children with it as they fished by the river.

The chemical was one of two active ingredients in Agent Orange, which the U.S. military had stopped using in Vietnam after public outcry about the fact that it caused cancer, birth defects, and serious harms to people, animals, and the environment. But in the U.S., the Forest Service continued to use both 2,4,5-T and the other herbicide in Agent Orange, 2,4-D, to kill weeds. (Timber was — and in some places still is — harvested from the national forest and sold.) Between 1972 and 1977, the Forest Service sprayed 20,000 pounds of 2,4,5-T in the 1,600-square-mile area that included Van Strum’s house and the nearby town of Alsea.

As in Vietnam, the chemicals hurt people and animals in Oregon, as well as the plants that were their target. Immediately after they were sprayed, Van Strum’s children developed nosebleeds, bloody diarrhea, and headaches, and many of their neighbors fell sick, too. Several women who lived in the area had miscarriages shortly after incidents of spraying. Locals described finding animals that had died or had bizarre deformities — ducks with backward-facing feet, birds with misshapen beaks, and blinded elk; cats and dogs that had been exposed began bleeding from their eyes and ears. At a community meeting, residents decided to write to the Forest Service detailing the effects of the spraying they had witnessed.

“We thought that if they knew what had happened to us, they wouldn’t do it anymore,” Van Strum said recently, before erupting into one of the many bursts of laughter that punctuate her conversation. We were sitting not far from the river where her children played more than 40 years ago, and her property remained much as it was back when the Forest Service first sprayed them with the herbicide. A mountain covered with alder and maple trees rose up across from her home, just as it did then, and the same monkey puzzle tree that was there when she moved in still shaded her dirt driveway.

But Van Strum, now 76, is much changed from the young woman who politely asked that the federal agency stop spraying many years ago. After the Forest Service refused their request to stop using the herbicides, she and her neighbors filed a suit that led to a temporary ban on 2,4,5-T in their area in 1977 and, ultimately, to a total stop to the use of the chemical in 1983.

For Van Strum, the suit was also the beginning of lifetime of battling the chemical industry. The lawyer who had taken their case offered a reduced fee in exchange for Van Strum’s unpaid research assistance. And she found she had a knack for poring over and parsing documents and keeping track of huge volumes of information. Van Strum provided guidance to others filing suit over spraying in national forests and helped filed another case that pointed out that the EPA’s registration of 2,4-D and other pesticides was based on fraudulent data from a company called Industrial Bio-Test Laboratories. That case led to a decision, in 1983, to stop all aerial herbicide spraying by the Forest Service.

“We didn’t think of ourselves as environmentalists, that wasn’t even a word back then,” Van Strum said. “We just didn’t want to be poisoned.”

Still, Van Strum soon found herself helping with a string of suits filed by people who had been hurt by pesticides and other chemicals. “People would call up and say, ‘Do you have such and such?’ And I’d go clawing through my boxes,” said Van Strum, who often wound up acquiring new documents through these requests — and storing those, too, in her barn.

Along the way, she amassed disturbing evidence about the dangers of industrial chemicals — and the practices of the companies that make them. Twodocuments, for instance, detailed experiments that Dow contracted a University of Pennsylvania dermatologist to conduct on prisoners in the 1960s to show the effects of TCDD, a particularly toxic contaminant found in 2,4,5-T. Another document, from 1985, showed that Monsanto had sold a chemical that was tainted with TCDD to the makers of Lysol, who, apparently unaware of its toxicity, used it as an ingredient in their disinfectant spray for 23 years. Yet another, from 1990, detailed the EPA policy of allowing the use of hazardous waste as inert ingredients in pesticides and other products under certain circumstances.

There were limits to what Van Strum could prove through her persistent data collection. The EPA had undertaken a study of the relationship between herbicide exposure and miscarriages and had taken tissue samples from water, animals, a miscarried fetus, and a baby born without a brain in the area. The EPA never released the full results of the “Alsea study,” as it was called, and insisted it had lost many of them. But a lab chemist provided Van Strum with what he said was the analysis of the test results he had been hired to do for the EPA, which showed the samples from water, various animals, and “products of conception” were significantly contaminated with TCDD.

When confronted, the EPA claimed there had been a mix-up and that the samples were from another area. Van Strum filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the results and, for years, battled in court to get to the bottom of what happened. Though the EPA provided more than 34,000 pages in response to her request (which Van Strum carefully numbered and stored in her barn), the agency never released all the results of the study or fully explained what had happened to them or where the contaminated samples had been taken. And eventually, Van Strum gave up. The EPA declined to comment for this story. . .

Continue reading.

And read the related articles listed at the bottom of the article at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 July 2017 at 11:21 am

Oklahoma’s plague of earthquakes, thanks in part to Scott Pruitt

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Who is now dedicating himself to destroying the EPA. Take a look at the 1-minute video. The Oklahoma government stoutly denied that fracking had anything at all to do with earthquakes in Oklahoma, until it got so bad that even they thought some action should be taken. The video is shocking.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 July 2017 at 8:36 pm

One Year, One Facility, 1.7 Million Pounds of Hazardous Waste Burned in Open Air

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Lylla Younes and Abrahm Lustgarten have an interactive graphic in ProPublica that shows, just for one location, the hazardous wastes that are burned in the open. Their introduction:

At least 61 active burn and denotation sites currently operate in the U.S. Most are run directly by the Department of Defense or its contractors, and do not publicly report what they burn. ProPublica obtained the delivery manifests for the only burn site that is commercially licensed and allowed to accept explosives from off-site, run by a company called Clean Harbors in Colfax, Louisiana.

In 2015, the site received more than 1.7 million pounds of hazardous explosives waste from across the country — from the U.S. military as well as from commercial users like Disney, which sends unexploded fireworks to the facility to be destroyed. Here’s what the facility burned or detonated that year. Related story.

You can filter the list by (for example), lead, or arsenic, or others.

Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 July 2017 at 2:37 pm

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