Pope Francis Proposes Adding “Ecological Sin” to Church Teachings

Pope Francis on Friday issued a warning against the rise of fascist forces worldwide that remind him of the Nazis of the 20th Century as he also railed against corporate crimes and announced consideration of adding “sins against ecology” to the church’s official teachings.

During a speech at the Vatican before the 20th World Congress of the International Association of Penal Law, a network of justice system and criminology experts from around the world, the leader of the Catholic Church said worrying developments both in the political arena and from the world of business remind him of dark episodes from humanity’s past, including Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.

“It is not coincidental that at times there is a resurgence of symbols typical of Nazism,” Francis said as he decried the “culture of waste and hate” represented by contemporary politicians who spew derogatory and racists attacks against homosexuals, gypsies, Jewish people, and others. “I must confess to you,” he continued, “that when I hear a speech (by) someone responsible for order or for a government, I think of speeches by Hitler in 1934, 1936.”

The Pope also highlighted environmental degradation and said the church was considering adding crimes against nature and the environment to the catechism—the official text of church doctrine and teachings.

“We have to introduce, we are thinking about it, in the catechism of the Catholic Church, the sin against ecology, the sin against our common home, because it’s a duty,” he said. Francis has been championed by climate activists for using his position to preach about the urgent need for humanity to recognize the dangers of human-caused global warming and calling on other world leaders—and the estimated 1.2 billion Catholics in the world—to act boldly to address the crisis.

Crimes against the environment, said the Pope, should be seen as “crimes against peace, which should be recognized by the international community.”

Francis also spoke of the crimes of big business, many of which receive too little attention and often go unpunished.

“One frequent omission of penal law,” Francis told the criminal experts at the conference, “is the insufficient attention the crimes of the powerful receive, especially the large-scale delinquency of corporations.”

As the Religious News Service reports:

In his speech, Francis condemned global corporations that are responsible for “countries’ over-indebtedness and the plunder of our planet’s natural resources.” He said that their activities have the “gravity of crimes against humanity,” especially when they lead to hunger, poverty and the eradication of indigenous peoples.

Such acts of “ecocide” must not go unpunished, said the pope, who in October concluded a synod of bishops to discuss the Amazon region and the safeguarding of the environment.

“The principle of profit maximization, isolated from any other consideration, leads to a model of exclusion which violently attacks those who now suffer its social and economic costs, while future generations are condemned to pay the environmental costs,” Francis said.

“The first thing lawyers should ask themselves today is what they can do with their knowledge to counter this phenomenon,” he said, “which puts democratic institutions and the development of humanity itself at risk.”

Can Nuclear Power’s Deadly Waste Be Contained in a Warming World?

Imagine this scenario: You are driving home from work one evening, and you notice a strange metallic taste in your mouth. That night on the evening news, you hear there’s been an accident at the nuclear plant in your community, but that everything is under control.

The next day, the metallic taste is stronger, and you see a rust-colored ring around the bathtub when you drain it. Public announcements continue to say everything is OK. Your eight-month-old daughter has been playing outside much of those two days.

The following day, the governor announces that pregnant women and women with preschool children within five miles of the plant should evacuate. You flee in terror with your daughter, husband and a friend, driving more than 250 miles to a town south and east on the coast. Before you go, you notice a strange thick, heavy, slightly glowing orange haze around the nuclear plant and over the area.

Hospital staff tell you to go to a Civil Defense station, where your car and belongings are scanned for radiation. The Geiger counter goes off the charts.

The day after the accident begins, your husband gets a bad headache that turns into a nasty sinus condition, and he is nauseous. You, your husband and daughter all have extremely sore noses that are too tender to touch. Your gums are purple and bleeding, and your sore noses and bleeding gums last for weeks. The metallic taste stays in your mouth for about three weeks.

You return home after three weeks. In the subsequent days, months and years, every time radioactive gases are vented from the nuclear plant, you know it — whether it’s publicly announced or not — because the metallic taste returns. You are filled with rage and anxiety, and feel helpless to stop the ongoing radiation exposures. When your daughter is two years old, she is diagnosed with severe cataracts in both her eyes, which doctors attribute to juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

When you file a medical claim for your daughter’s radiation-induced illness with the nuclear plant’s insurance company, you are told the claim is absurd. Eventually, 2,000 others in your community join a class action lawsuit for compensation for injuries and illness after the accident. But 18 years later, it is dismissed for lack of evidence after the judge disallowed virtually all of the plaintiffs’ expert testimony. Years later, the official and widely accepted word about the accident that sickened, killed and terrorized so many people in your community is that nobody died. Then, 20 years after that, a study identifies radiation-induced thyroid cancers among area residents, challenging that assertion.

This is not a made-up story. It is what happened to Becky Mease, a nurse in her late 20s, and her family during and after the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island on March 28, 1979. And the railroading that Mease experienced when she tried to demand accountability for the poisoning of her family was not an isolated case, either — it is what happened to all the victims who attempted to get restitution for their suffering.

Nuclear Energy Is Not “Clean”

Ever since the nuclear industry became a global pariah following Three Mile Island and the much more severe accident at Chernobyl in 1986, it has been desperately trying to make a comeback.

In the late 1980s, then-chairman of the International Atomic Energy Agency Hans Blix began touting the idea that nuclear power should play a significant role in combating climate change because it does not release carbon while generating electricity, a position he continues to promote.

Several prominent advocates for addressing the climate crisis have taken up this call, some of the latest being Democratic presidential hopefuls Cory Booker and Andrew Yang.

But the fact that reactors don’t emit carbon while operating doesn’t mean nuclear energy is “clean.” Because of the huge volume of deadly poisons that the nuclear fission process creates, nuclear reactors need an uninterrupted electricity supply to run the cooling systems that keep the reactors from melting down, a requirement that may be increasingly difficult to guarantee in a world of climate-fueled megastorms and other disasters.

The ongoing accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan following the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 demonstrates the vulnerability of nuclear power plants to such disasters.

Nuclear boosters have been remarkably successful in ignoring and erasing the health effects of radiation exposure, enabling them to downplay the impacts of serious accidents. In truth, reactor meltdowns, depending on where they occur, can kill and injure enormous numbers of people and contaminate the air, water, land and food supply over thousands of miles with radiation. A 1982 study by the Sandia National Laboratory, one of the labs run by the U.S. Department of Energy, calculated deaths and injuries within a year of a core meltdown and subsequent cancer deaths at 76 different nuclear power plant sites, many of which were only proposed at that time. According to this study, the Salem nuclear plant outside Philadelphia could kill 100,000 people within a year, result in 40,000 subsequent cancer deaths and give another 70,000-75,000 people a range of radiation-related injuries. A 1997 report by Brookhaven National Laboratory on the potential consequences of a spent fuel accident also forecasted large numbers of fatalities.

Fission 101

The risks of radiation exposure are downplayed and easily dismissed as “irrational fear” because the physics and chemistry of the fission process and the radioactive elements it produces are complex and not understood by the general public and also because, except in cases of acute radiation poisoning, radiation is invisible.

Radioactive fission products are “variant forms of the ordinary chemicals which are the building blocks of all material and living things,” explains Dr. Rosalie Bertell in her book, No Immediate Danger: Prognosis for a Radioactive Earth. The difference is that stable, non-radioactive atoms have an equal number of protons and electrons.

Nuclear fission creates an imbalance between protons and electrons, producing enormous quantities of hundreds of different radioactive elements — the high-level waste and activation products — all of which seek to return to a stable state. These unstable atoms become stable by knocking out the extra particles fission created, a process she says takes hundreds of thousands of years.

“Every such release of energy is an explosion on the microscopic level,” Bertell says. Radiation exposure is particularly damaging to the structure of cells, which is why it is necessary to keep these radioactive elements, known as radionuclides or radioisotopes, out of the bodies of humans, other living beings and the environment.

As climate models have long predicted, our warming world is now experiencing much larger and stronger storms with significantly more rainfall in the Earth’s wetter areas and more sustained and severe drought and wildfires in the drier regions. In 2019, the hottest June on record triggered an unprecedented fire season in the Arctic, with over 100 intense fires. The summer of 2019 also saw 55 billion tons of water melt off Greenland’s ice sheet in just five days, a rate scientists hadn’t expected for 50 years.

A month before the massive ice loss in Greenland, scientists predicted sea levels could rise 6.5 feet by the end of the century, submerging nearly 700,000 square miles of land.

Most nuclear power plants are located beside rivers, lakes, dams or oceans because they need a continuous source of water to cool the reactors. In August 2018, Ensia reported that at least 100 nuclear power plants built a few meters above sea level in the U.S., Europe and Asia would likely experience flooding due to sea level rise and storm surges.

Though nuclear reactors vary in generating capacity, 1,000 megawatts is common. A reactor of that size contains 100 metric tons of enriched uranium fuel, roughly a third of which needs to be replaced with fresh fuel each year. According to radioactive waste expert Dr. Marvin Resnikoff, the spent fuel, also known as high-level waste, becomes 2.5 million times more radioactive after undergoing nuclear fission in the reactor core.

In a May 2011 report, Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) senior scholar Robert Alvarez, a top official at the U.S. Department of Energy from 1993 to 1999, described the danger of high-level waste this way: “Spent fuel rods give off about 1 million rems (10,000 sieverts) of radiation per hour at a distance of one foot — enough radiation to kill people in a matter of seconds.”

The intense radioactivity the fission process creates is why reactor cores are surrounded by five-feet thick reinforced concrete containment structures and spent fuel must be shielded by at least 20 feet of water in pools for several years after it leaves the reactor.

As of September 2019, 444 nuclear reactors are operating in the world, with 54 under construction, 111 planned and 330 more proposed.

The Three R’s of Nuclear Accidents

David Lochbaum, nuclear engineer and former director of the Nuclear Safety Project at the Union of Concerned Scientists, says nuclear plants are basically vulnerable to three kinds of accidents. “I compare it to the three R’s of reading, writing and ‘rithmetic,” he told Truthout.

The first R — radioactive decay and residual heat — caused three reactors at Fukushima to melt down after the tsunami flooded the plant and knocked out the emergency diesel generators that were meant to kick in to keep the plant’s cooling system operating.

The second R is reactivity control. In this type of accident, operators lose control, as happened at Chernobyl. In that case, Lochbaum says, the reactor was only running at 7 percent power when worker mistakes accelerated it to 1,000 percent in less than a second or so. That blew the building apart and released up to an estimated 9 billion curies of radiation into the air, contaminating many areas in Europe and eventually spreading radioactive particles throughout the northern hemisphere.

Decades of inventory of lethally hot spent nuclear fuel remain stacked in fuel pools at most of the world’s nuclear power plants. These pose the most serious potential for Lochbaum’s third R, an accident sparked by radioactive materials. The explosion of a radioactive waste drum at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, a nuclear weapons waste dump in New Mexico, in 2014 is another example of a third R accident.

Despite housing “some of the largest concentrations of radioactivity on the planet,” Alvarez points out, spent nuclear fuel pools in the U.S., which currently has the world’s largest reactor fleet, mostly reside in “ordinary industrial structures designed to merely protect them against the elements. Some are made from materials commonly used to house big-box stores and car dealerships.”

Because fuel pools on average contain about six times as much irradiated fuel as a reactor core, a fuel pool accident could be significantly worse than a reactor meltdown. So far, no fuel pool accidents have occurred, though one was only narrowly averted at Fukushima.

Anything that interrupts power to the reactor — whether it’s a devastating wildfire, earthquake, tsunami, tornado, hurricane, ice storm, dam failure or some other unforeseen incident — poses a risk of nuclear disaster. “All plants are vulnerable to loss of power for an extended period,” Lochbaum said. “The pathway to get there varies from plant to plant.”

In the U.S., the nuclear industry is responding to the risk of indefinite power outages with a strategy called FLEX. Plant owners are required to purchase portable backup pumps, hoses and diesel generators housed on-site. FLEX also relies on equipment and supplies, like diesel fuel, being trucked or flown in from other places.

Lochbaum is not confident that FLEX is adequate to protect the public from nuclear disaster in a warming world. Over the 20 years he monitored the industry and its government overseer, he says the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has gotten increasingly complacent — and often hostile toward its own staff members who raise questions — about the potential dangers of a technology capable of doing long-lasting, deadly harm over enormous distances.

The nuclear industry and its supporters, of course, see it differently.

In a Bloomberg Businessweek feature in April 2019, former New York Times reporter Matthew Wald, who covered the nuclear industry for years and is now a spokesperson for the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s lobby group in Washington, D.C., downplayed the concern: “There is a perennial problem in any high-tech industry deciding how safe is safe enough,” he said. “The civilian nuclear power industry exceeds the NRC-required safety margin by a substantial amount.”

Yet safety standards set by an agency rolling back safety inspections, loosening safety requirements, permitting less public disclosure of problems, and limiting public input does not inspire confidence.

Nor, Lochbaum says, will it likely serve the nuclear industry’s quest for revival. “If you truly want to expand nuclear power, what’s going on now is the exact opposite of what you should do,” he said. If they don’t regulate the plants and instead let the owners do it and cause a bad accident, that could halt nuclear power. “Just like in Japan, that will bring them all down,” he said.

But at what cost to public health and safety?

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 220 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Our Public Lands Must Be Part of the Climate Change Solution

The millions of acres of public lands that belong to all Americans should be part of the solution to the climate crisis, but mismanagement by the federal government is making them part of the problem. The fossil fuels found on our public lands are significant sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Instead of addressing this problem, the Trump administration is downplaying or outright ignoring it to benefit the oil, gas, and coal industries.

In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a dire warningabout the rapidly shrinking window of time remaining if we want any hope of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, such as extreme temperatures, flooding and drought, sea level rise, and species loss and extinction. Yet the data show we’re still going in the wrong direction—a recent report found that America’s carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion rose by 2.7% in 2018—the second largest annual increase since 2000 after three years of continuous decline. While our emissions are still down overall, we’re not cutting them anywhere near fast enough to meet Paris Agreement climate goals, let alone the more ambitious target of holding global temperature rise to 1.5°C.

A recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey shows that federal lands are a big contributor to U.S. emissions. The researchers found that together, coal, oil, and gas produced on federal lands account for approximately 25 percent of the total fossil fuels produced annually in the United States and that, on average, emissions from combustion and extraction of those fossil fuels accounted for 23.7 percent of national carbon dioxide emissions, 7.3 percent methane emissions, and 1.5 percent of nitrous oxide emissions from 2005-2014.

Many of the subsurface minerals (fossil fuels) managed by U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are in the American West—places like Utah, Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, and New Mexico. These lands are also home to some of our nation’s most spectacular public lands and national monuments, wildlife, culturally significant areas, and stunning landscapes and wilderness.

Natural gas infrastructure in Rifle, CO
Natural gas development in Rifle, Colorado

Source: Alison Kelly, NRDC

Thanks to the Trump administration’s energy dominance agenda, our iconic western landscapes and wildlife face serious threats from fossil fuel leasing and development and the intensive environmental and human health impacts that come with it. Although leasing of federal fossil fuels was a common practice before the 2016 election, this administration is moving with uncommon speed to make western lands available for development. The BLM has offered millions of acres to the fossil fuel industry with minimal public input and little consideration for the climate and other ecological and cultural values.

This is why NRDC and its allies on western conservation and climate have sought relief from the courts—resulting in victories on climate change. For example, a federal judge in Montana found that BLM illegally opened up 80 billion tons of coal and more than 8 million acres for oil and gas development in the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming without considering reasonable alternatives and the resulting impacts on the climate. Similarly, a federal judge in Colorado found that BLM illegally made thousands of acres in Colorado available for oil and gas leasing without considering reasonable alternatives or the impacts of GHGs. And just last month, an appeals court reversed a decision by a federal judge in New Mexico and found that BLM violated the law when it failed to consider the cumulative impacts associated with drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in Greater Chaco—a landscape that Native Americans and surrounding communities regard as culturally significant.

Oil and gas production in Greater Chaco
Oil and gas production in Greater Chaco

Source: Western Environmental Law Center

Yet despite repeated court victories for climate, BLM continues to conceal from the American people the true impacts of its leasing decisions. BLM often fails to fully disclose all possible GHG emissions and, even if it does, generally ignores how those emissions could impact the environment. BLM also relies on outdated and incomplete science to assess the impacts of emissions of a particularly potent greenhouse gas—methane. Getting that assessment right is critical because, relative to carbon dioxide, methane has much greater climate impacts in the near term, which is the time period in which the world’s leading experts tell us we need to make rapid and deep reductions in emissions.

BLM owes the American people a complete picture of how its management of our federal public lands damages our climate. And it’s not enough for BLM to just crunch the numbers—agencies also have a legal obligation to tell us what those numbers mean, by assessing how emissions from federal fossil fuels contribute to climate change and explaining it in a way that decisionmakers and members of the public can understand.

Requiring BLM to provide a full picture on how fossil fuel development on our public lands contributes to climate change will help us defend these iconic places from irreparable harm. We must ensure a transition to a secure and prosperous clean energy future that protects our treasured public lands and the climate. Federal public lands should be part of the climate solution—not a significant contributor to the problem.

84 Environmental Rules on the Way Out Under Trump

President Trump has made eliminating federal regulations a priority. His administration, with help from Republicans in Congress, has often targeted environmental rules it sees as burdensome to the fossil fuel industry and other big businesses.

A New York Times analysis, based on research from Harvard Law SchoolColumbia Law School and other sources, counts more than 80 environmental rules and regulations on the way out under Mr. Trump.

Our list represents two types of policy changes: rules that were officially reversed and rollbacks still in progress. The Trump administration has released an aggressive schedule to try to finalize many of these rollbacks this year.

49
35
84

ROLLBACKS COMPLETED
ROLLBACKS IN PROCESS
TOTAL ROLLBACKS
Air pollution and emissions
10
12
22
Drilling and extraction
9
9
18
Infrastructure and planning
12
1
13
Animals
8
2
10
Toxic substances and safety
3
2
5
Water pollution
4
3
7
Other
3
6
9

The Trump administration has often used a “one-two punch” when rolling back environmental rules, said Caitlin McCoy, a fellow in the Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard Law School who tracks regulatory rollbacks. “First a delay rule to buy some time, and then a final substantive rule.”

But the process of rolling back regulations has not always been smooth. In some cases, the administration has failed to provide a strong legal argument in favor of proposed changes or agencies have skipped key steps in the rulemaking process, like notifying the public and asking for comment. In several cases, courts have ordered agencies to enforce their own rules.

Several environmental rules — summarized at the bottom of this page — were rolled back and then later reinstated, often following legal challenges. Other rollbacks remain mired in court.

Here are the details for each of the policies targeted by the administration so far. Are there rollbacks we missed? Email climateteam@nytimes.com or tweet @nytclimate.

Air pollution and emissions

COMPLETED

1. Canceled a requirement for oil and gas companies to report methane emissions.Environmental Protection Agency | Read more
2. Revised and partially repealed an Obama-era rule limiting methane emissions on public lands, including intentional venting and flaring from drilling operations.Interior Department | Read more
3. Loosened a Clinton-era rule designed to limit toxic emissions from major industrial polluters.E.P.A. | Read more
4. Stopped enforcing a 2015 rule that prohibited the use of hydrofluorocarbons, powerful greenhouse gases, in air-conditioners and refrigerators.E.P.A. | Read more
5. Repealed a requirement that state and regional authorities track tailpipe emissions from vehicles traveling on federal highways.Transportation Department | Read more
6. Reverted to a weaker 2009 pollution permitting program for new power plants and expansions.E.P.A. | Read more
7. Amended rules that govern how refineries monitor pollution in surrounding communities.E.P.A. | Read more
8. Directed agencies to stop using an Obama-era calculation of the “social cost of carbon” that rulemakers used to estimate the long-term economic benefits of reducing carbon dioxide emissions.Executive Order | Read more
9. Withdrew guidance that federal agencies include greenhouse gas emissions in environmental reviews. But several district courts have ruled that emissions must be included in such reviews.Executive Order; Council on Environmental Quality | Read more
10. Lifted a summertime ban on the use of E15, a gasoline blend made of 15 percent ethanol. (Burning gasoline with a higher concentration of ethanol in hot conditions increases smog.)E.P.A. | Read more

IN PROCESS

11. Proposed weakening Obama-era fuel-economy standards for cars and light trucks. The proposal also challenges California’s right to set its own more stringent standards, which other states can choose to follow.E.P.A. and Transportation Department | Read more
12. Announced intent to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement. (The process of withdrawing cannot be completed until 2020.)Executive Order | Read more
13. Proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan, which would have set strict limits on carbon emissions from coal- and gas-fired power plants. In April 2019, the E.P.A. sent a replacement plan, which would let states set their own rules, to the White House for budget review.Executive Order; E.P.A. | Read more
14. Proposed eliminating Obama-era restrictions that in effect required newly built coal power plants to capture carbon dioxide emissions.E.P.A. | Read more
15. Proposed a legal justification for weakening an Obama-era rule that limited mercury emissions from coal power plants.E.P.A. | Read more
16. Proposed revisions to standards for carbon dioxide emissions from new, modified and reconstructed power plants.Executive Order; E.P.A. | Read more
17. Began review of emissions rules for power plant start-ups, shutdowns and malfunctions. In April, the E.P.A. filed an order reversing a requirement that 36 states follow the emissions rule.E.P.A. | Read more
18. Proposed relaxing Obama-era requirements that companies monitor and repair methane leaks at oil and gas facilities.E.P.A. | Read more
19. Proposed changing rules aimed at cutting methane emissions from landfills. In May, 2019, a federal judge ruled against the E.P.A. for failing to enforce the existing law and gave the agency a fall deadline for finalizing state and federal rules. E.P.A. said it is reviewing the decision.E.P.A. | Read more
20. Announced a rewrite of an Obama-era rule meant to reduce air pollution in national parks and wilderness areas.E.P.A. | Read more
21. Weakened oversight of some state plans for reducing air pollution in national parks. (In Texas, the E.P.A. rejected an Obama-era plan that would have required the installation of equipment at some coal-burning power plants to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions.)E.P.A. | Read more
22. Proposed repealing leak-repair, maintenance and reporting requirements for large refrigeration and air conditioning systems containing hydrofluorocarbons.E.P.A. | Read more

Drilling and extraction

COMPLETED

23. Made significant cuts to the borders of two national monuments in Utah and recommended border and resource management changes to several more.Presidential Proclamation; Interior Department | Read more
24. Rescinded water pollution regulations for fracking on federal and Indian lands.Interior Department | Read more
25. Scrapped a proposed rule that required mines to prove they could pay to clean up future pollution.E.P.A. | Read more
26. Withdrew a requirement that Gulf oil rig owners prove they could cover the costs of removing rigs once they have stopped producing.Interior Department | Read more
27. Approved construction of the Dakota Access pipelineless than a mile from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. Under the Obama administration, the Army Corps of Engineers had said it would explore alternative routes.Executive Order; Army | Read more
28. Revoked an Obama-era executive order designed to preserve ocean, coastal and Great Lakes waters in favor of a policy focused on energy production and economic growth.Executive Order | Read more
29. Changed how the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission considers the indirect effects of greenhouse gas emissions in environmental reviews of pipelines.Federal Energy Regulatory Commission | Read more
30. Permitted the use of seismic air guns for gas and oil exploration in the Atlantic Ocean. The practice, which can kill marine life and disrupt fisheries, was blocked under the Obama administration.National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration | Read more
31. Loosened offshore drilling safety regulationsimplemented by the Obama administration following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill. The revised rules include reduced testing requirements for blowout prevention systems.Interior Department | Read more

IN PROCESS

32. Completed preliminary environmental reviews to clear the way for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.Congress; Interior Department | Read more
33. Proposed opening most of America’s coastal waters to offshore oil and gas drilling, but delayed the plan after a federal judge ruled that Mr. Trump’s reversal of an Obama-era ban on drilling in the Arctic Ocean was unlawlful.Interior Department | Read more
34. Lifted an Obama-era freeze on new coal leases on public lands. But, in April 2019, a judge ruled that the Interior Department could not begin selling new leases without completing an environmental review. A month later, the agency published a draft assessment that concluded restarting federal coal leasing would have little environmental impact.Executive Order; Interior Department | Read more
35. Repealed an Obama-era rule governing royalties for oil, gas and coal leases on federal lands, which replaced a 1980s rule that critics said allowed companies to underpay the federal government. A federal judge struck down the Trump administration’s repeal. The Interior Department is reviewing the decision.Interior Department | Read more
36. Proposed “streamlining” the approval process for drilling for oil and gas in national forests.Agriculture Department; Interior Department | Read more
37. Ordered review of regulations on oil and gas drilling in national parks where mineral rights are privately owned.Executive Order; Interior Department | Read more
38. Recommended shrinking three marine protected areas, or opening them to commercial fishing.Executive Order; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration | Read more
39. Ordered review of regulations on offshore oil and gas exploration by floating vessels in the Arctic that were developed after a 2013 accident. The Interior Department said it was “considering full rescission or revision of this rule.”Executive Order; Interior Department | Read more
40. Approved the Keystone XL pipeline rejected by President Barack Obama, but a federal judge blocked the project from going forward without an adequate environmental review process. Mr. Trump later attempted to side-step the ruling by issuing a presidential permit, but the project remains tied up in court.Executive Order; State Department | Read more

Infrastructure and planning

COMPLETED

41. Revoked Obama-era flood standards for federal infrastructure projects, like roads and bridges. The standards required the government to account for sea-level rise and other climate change effects.Executive Order | Read more
42. Relaxed the environmental review process for federal infrastructure projects.Executive Order | Read more
43. Revoked a directive for federal agencies to minimize impacts on water, wildlife, land and other natural resources when approving development projects.Executive Order | Read more
44. Revoked an Obama executive order promoting“climate resilience” in the northern Bering Sea region of Alaska, which withdrew local waters from oil and gas leasing and established a tribal advisory council to consult on local environmental issues.Executive Order | Read more
45. Revoked an Obama executive order that set a goal of cutting the federal government’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent over 10 years.Executive Order | Read more
46. Reversed an update to the Bureau of Land Management’s public land use planning process.Congress | Read more
47. Withdrew an Obama-era order to consider climate change in managing natural resources in national parks.National Park Service | Read more
48. Restricted most Interior Department environmental studies to one year in length and a maximum of 150 pages, citing a need to reduce paperwork.Interior Department | Read more
49. Withdrew a number of Obama-era Interior Department climate change and conservation policies that the agency said could “burden the development or utilization of domestically produced energy resources.”Interior Department | Read more
50. Eliminated the use of an Obama-era planning system designed to minimize harm from oil and gas activity on sensitive landscapes, such as national parks.Interior Department | Read more
51. Eased the environmental review processes for small wireless infrastructure projects with the goal of expanding 5G wireless networks.Federal Communications Commission | Read more
52. Withdrew Obama-era policies designed to maintain or, ideally improve, natural resources affected by federal projects.Interior Department | Read more

IN PROCESS

53. Proposed plans to streamline the environmental review process for Forest Service projects.Agriculture Department | Read more

Animals

COMPLETED

54. Opened nine million acres of Western land to oil and gas drilling by weakening habitat protections for the sage grouse, an imperiled bird with an elaborate mating dance.Interior Department | Read more
55. Overturned a ban on the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle on federal lands.Interior Department | Read more
56. Overturned a ban on the hunting of predators in Alaskan wildlife refuges.Congress | Read more
57. Ended an Obama-era rule barring hunters on some Alaska public lands from using bait to lure and kill grizzly bears.National Park Service; Interior Department | Read more
58. Withdrew proposed limits on the number of endangered marine mammals and sea turtles that people who fish could unintentionally kill or injure with sword-fishing nets on the West Coast. In 2018, California issued a state rule prohibiting the use of the nets the rule was intending to regulate.National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration | Read more
59. Amended fishing regulations for a number of species to allow for longer seasons and higher catch rates.National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration | Read more
60. Rolled back a roughly 40-year-old interprentation of a policy aimed at protecting migratory birds, potentially running afoul of treaties with Canada and Mexico.Interior Department | Read more
61. Overturned a ban on using parts of migratory birds in handicrafts made by Alaskan Natives.Interior Department | Read more

IN PROCESS

62. Proposed stripping the Endangered Species Act of key provisions.Interior Department | Read more
63. Proposed relaxing environmental protections for salmon and smelt in California’s Central Valley in order to free up water for farmers.Executive Order; Interior Department | Read more

Toxic substances and safety

COMPLETED

64. Narrowed the scope of a 2016 law mandating safety assessments for potentially toxic chemicals, like dry-cleaning solvents and paint strippers. The E.P.A. will focus on direct exposure and exclude air, water and ground contamination.E.P.A. | Read more
65. Reversed an Obama-era rule that required braking system upgrades for “high hazard” trains hauling flammable liquids, like oil and ethanol.Transportation Department | Read more
66. Removed copper filter cake, an electronics manufacturing byproduct comprised of heavy metals, from the “hazardous waste” list.E.P.A. | Read more

IN PROCESS

67. Rejected a proposed ban on chlorpyrifos, a potentially neurotoxic pesticide. In August 2018, a federal court ordered the E.P.A. to ban the pesticide, but the agency is appealing the ruling.E.P.A. | Read more
68. Announced a review of an Obama-era rule lowering coal dust limits in mines. The head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration said there were no immediate plans to change the dust limit, but the review is continuing.Labor Department | Read more

Water pollution

COMPLETED

69. Revoked a rule that prevented coal companies from dumping mining debris into local streams.Congress | Read more
70. Withdrew a proposed rule aimed at reducing pollutants, including air pollution, at sewage treatment plants.E.P.A. | Read more
71. Withdrew a proposed rule requiring groundwater protections for certain uranium mines.E.P.A. | Read more
72. Weakened federal rules regulating the disposal and storage of coal ash waste from power plants. (A second phase of this rollback is still under way.)E.P.A. | Read more

IN PROCESS

73. Proposed rolling back protections for certain tributaries and wetlands that the Obama administration wanted covered by the Clean Water Act.E.P.A.; Army | Read more
74. Delayed by two years an E.P.A. rule regulating limits on toxic discharge, which can include mercury, from power plants into public waterways.E.P.A. | Read more
75. Ordered the E.P.A. to re-evaluate a section of the Clean Water Act and related guidance that allows states to reject or delay federal projects – including pipelines and other fossil fuel facilities – if they don’t meet local water quality goals.Executive Order; E.P.A. | Read more

Other

COMPLETED

76. Prohibited funding environmental and community development projects through corporate settlements of federal lawsuits.Justice Department | Read more
77. Announced intent to stop payments to the Green Climate Fund, a United Nations program to help poorer countries reduce carbon emissions.Executive Order | Read more
78. Reversed restrictions on the sale of plastic water bottles in national parks desgined to cut down on litter, despite a Park Service report that the effort worked.Interior Department | Read more

IN PROCESS

79. Proposed limiting the studies used by the E.P.A. for rulemaking to only those that make data publicly available. (The move was widely criticized by scientists, who said it would effectively block the agency from considering landmark research that relies on confidential health data.)E.P.A. | Read more
80. Proposed repealing an Obama-era regulation that nearly doubled the number of light bulbs subject to energy-efficiency standards set to go into effect next year.Energy Department | Read more
81. Proposed changes to the way cost-benefit analyses are conducted under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and other environmental statutes.E.P.A. | Read more
82. Delayed compliance dates for federal building efficiency standards until Sept. 30, 2017. No updates have been published, and the status of the rule remains unclear.Energy Department | Read more
83. Proposed withdrawing efficiency standards for residential furnaces and commercial water heatersdesigned to reduce energy use.Energy Department | Read more
84. Initially withdrew then delayed a proposed rule that would inform car owners about fuel-efficient replacement tires. (The Transportation Department has scheduled a new rulemaking notice for 2020.)Transportation Department | Read more

9 rules were reinstated following
lawsuits and other challenges

1. Reinstated a rule aimed at improving safety at facilities that use hazardous chemicals following a federal court order.E.P.A. | Read more
2. Reversed course on repealing emissions standards for “glider” trucks — vehicles retrofitted with older, often dirtier engines — after Andrew Wheeler took over as head of the E.P.A.E.P.A. | Read more
3. Delayed a compliance deadline for new national ozone pollution standards by one year, but later reversed course.E.P.A. | Read more
4. Suspended an effort to lift restrictions on mining in Bristol Bay, Alaska. But the Army Corps of Engineers is performing an environmental review of an application for mining in the area.E.P.A.; Army | Read more
5. Delayed implementation of a rule regulating the certification and training of pesticide applicators, but a judge ruled that the E.P.A. had done so illegally and declared the rule in effect.E.P.A. | Read more
6. Initially delayed publishing efficiency standards for household appliances, but later published them after multiple states and environmental groups sued.Energy Department | Read more
7. Reissued a rule limiting the discharge of mercury by dental offices into municipal sewers after a lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group.E.P.A. | Read more
8. Re-posted a proposed rule limiting greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft, after initially changing its status to “inactive” on the E.P.A. website. In May 2019, the agency confimed it would issue the rule.E.P.A. | Read more
9. Removed the Yellowstone grizzly bear from the Endangered Species List, but the protections were later reinstated by a federal judge. (The Trump administration appealed the ruling in May 2019.)Interior Department | Read more

Carbon Capture: What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Climate Change

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reportlays out a rather grim set of observations, predictions and warnings. Perhaps the biggest takeaway? That the world cannot warm more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (1.5°C) over pre-industrial levels without significant impacts.

If the world warms a mere half a degree more than that, hundreds of millions of people could face dire consequences — namely famine, disease and displacement — from things like rising sea levels and increased drought and flooding.

Time for action to stem the worst effects of climate change is quickly running out, however. If we’re to stay below or within range of that 1.5°C threshold, global carbon emissions must decrease by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, and we must reach zero carbon output around 2050. Energy sector carbon emissions, however, are still growing, not shrinking.

What’s more, it won’t be enough to simply slash carbon emissions to zero. As the latest IPCC report points out, we’ll also need to suck up to 1 trillion metric tons of carbon from the biosphere over the 21st century.

If large-scale CO2 extraction is to be effective, many experts warn that such efforts will need to begin in earnest within the next few years. But carbon extraction is far from a primary feature of climate discussions among policy makers. Glen Peters is a climate researcher at the CICERO Center for International Climate Research in Oslo. He told Norway’s VG News:

There are media reports of images showing wind turbines and solar panels. It is well and good, but meeting the goals in the Paris agreement requires so-called negative emissions — removing much of the CO₂ that has already been released. The subject is little talked about, but politicians will eventually come to understand what a huge task it is.

The other problem is that the technologies currently capable of sucking CO2 from the air are still being developed and are too expensive to be commercially viable, which leaves experts hamstrung as to whether this is the right approach to stall global warming. In a 2016 paper published in Science, Peters and Kevin Anderson, the deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester, called the assumption that these technologies and concepts will work to scale in time a “moral hazard.”

However, Roger Aines, chief scientist of the energy program at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, disagrees. The “magnitude of the problem” is such, he told Truthout, that “we have to get started” with widely employing technologies capable of removing CO2 from the air. “It’s the question of how to get started,” he said, “that occupies a lot of my time.”

How to Achieve Negative Emissions

For the past few decades, talk of CO2 filtration has largely surrounded carbon capture and storage (CCS). In essence, CCS is when CO2 is removed at the source of the emission, like a power plant smokestack, before being repurposed. In most cases, the captured CO2 is piped back underground to boost oil production in wells that are drying up.

There’s a reason CCS is crucial when it comes to carbon extraction: It’s far easier to filter out CO2 at the source than it is directly from the air. That’s because the ratio of CO2 in, say, a coal power-plant exhaust flue (about 10 percent CO2) is that much higher than the ambient air (where CO2 is about 0.04 percent). The problem is that most CCS technologies are, at the very best, carbon neutral, meaning they squirrel away as much CO2 as they emit in the first place. However, if we’re to remain under that 1.5°C threshold, we’ll need to employ large-scale use of negative emission technologies — in other words, technologies that extract more CO2 from the atmosphere than they release.

The carbon capture and storage process prevents the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by separating and capturing it from the emissions of industrial processes and storing it in deep underground geologic formations.
The carbon capture and storage process prevents the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by separating and capturing it from the emissions of industrial processes and storing it in deep underground geologic formations.
US ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) receives broad support in the negative emissions arena. The overall premise behind BECCS is fairly simple: Growing trees and tall grasses for use as an energy source. As they’re growing, these plants will absorb CO2 from the air, and then, when burned for energy, the CO2 emitted will be captured and piped back underground. Therefore, the whole process would absorb and store away more CO2 than it would emit. Voila! Negative emissions.

There are, however, any number of major obstacles standing in the way of BECCS being employed on a scale large enough for it to make a significant impact. For one, the amount of land required to make BECCS feasible under the Paris agreement is staggering — as much as three times the area of India. Furthermore, as Harvard Professor David Keith warned in Carbon Brief, “[W]e must be cautious of technologies that aim to remediate the carbon problem while greatly expanding our impact on the land.”

Then there’s the potentially complicated international logistics of growing the crops in one country, shipping them to another for combustion, and then to another for permanent storage — each layer possibly adding a separate carbon footprint, while making the measuring, reporting and verification of the system a nightmare of bureaucratic red tape.

All of which explains why there is currently no commercially operable BECCS facility, explained Corinne Le Quéré, professor of climate change science and policy at the University of East Anglia. Nevertheless, it’s an exciting technology in regard to its electricity-producing potential, and is being seriously explored by the chemical industry as a power source, she added. “The fact that BECCS produces energy and an income from the process itself is a very big incentive.”

Low-Carbon Biofuels

The cost of negative emissions has always been prohibitive. An American Physical Society report from 2011 put the price of capturing CO2 directly from the air between $600 and $1,000 per metric ton. In contrast, the cost of capturing CO2 at the source can be roughly 10 times less. Nevertheless, a Canadian company called Carbon Engineering claims that its pilot plant in Calgary can extract CO2 from the air for between $94 to $232 per metric ton. To put that into perspective, carbon is currently priced in Europe at $20.03 a metric ton, and if the Paris Climate Agreement’s emissions targets are to be met, Carbon Tracker warned, the price of traded carbon allowances must rise to levels that make even efficiently run coal power plants unprofitable.

In short, Carbon Engineering’s technology works like this: When air is blown through towers containing a potassium hydroxide solution, the CO2 molecules react with the chemical mixture to make potassium carbonate, which is then processed into calcium carbonate pellets. When heated, the pellets release CO2 for capture. What then? Carbon Engineering plans to use the CO2 to make low-carbon biofuels.

Carbon Engineering is one of only a few companies seriously developing direct air capture technologies at reasonable costs. At its Iceland power plant, Climeworks built a unit that extracts CO2 directly from the ambient air and pipes it underground, where it combines with the country’s basaltic rock to create fast-forming minerals, according to a report in Quartz — part of its fantastic recent series on climate change. Earlier this year in Zurich, Climeworks launched the world’s first commercial direct air capture plant, where the filtered CO2 is supplied to a nearby greenhouse to grow vegetables.

According to Graciela Chichilnisky, CEO and co-founder of carbon-capture company Global Thermostat, the company’s technology — which is powered by low-cost leftover heat — will be able to remove CO2 for between $25 and $80 per metric ton when it’s scaled up (and depending on capacity).

There are other more speculative projects in the pipeline. Back in 2007, the British billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson offered $25 million to anyone who develops a commercially viable technology capable of removing at least 1 billion tons of CO2 annually from the air for 10 years. The prize remains unclaimed, but is still up for grabs.

Klaus Lackner, director of the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions at Arizona State University, is currently working on a pilot direct air capture technology that he hopes will be, within a couple of years, capable of removing from the air about a ton of CO2 a day. Commercially speaking, these technologies as a whole are “truly interesting when below $100 a [metric] ton,” he said, “but you could imagine that, if things are really hurting, people are going to do it anyway, even if it is more expensive.”

Action Must Be Quick

Besides BECCS and direct air capture technologies, there are other proposed ways to suck CO2 from the biosphere, most of which are laid out in a recent European Union report. Afforestation — the planting of forests in treeless areas — is one method bandied around by experts. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s Roger Aines has other ideas.

“The last 200 years or so, we have lost the equivalent of 500 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide from the carbon content of our agricultural soil. So, it’s reasonable to say, if we use good agricultural practices, that we can return that carbon from the air to the soil,” he said. While a variety of negative emissions technologies must be employed together to tackle climate change, better land use practices are the ones most likely to have the “biggest impact,” he added.

Nevertheless, “the reality of this is that it’s like a major war. The next 20 years are going to be pretty bad, from a climate perspective,” Aines said, mirroring the findings of the latest IPCC report: that any increase in global temperatures will only worsen the impacts from extreme weather patterns already being felt. And while Aines still believes that “we’re going to figure things out,” what’s now clear is that we only have a dozen or so years to actually do so.

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

As the Biosphere Dies, So Do We: Using the Power of Nature to Heal the Planet

 

One only need look outside the window to understand that human-caused climate disruption is in overdrive.

Record warm temperatures, floods, droughts, wildfires and increasing incidents of extreme weather events have run rampant across the Northern Hemisphere this summer. These events, at least in part, stem from a global temperature increase of “only” 1 degree Celsius (1°C) above preindustrial baseline temperatures.

Harvard and MIT biogeochemist and climate and coral reef expert Dr. Thomas Goreau put this in stark perspective.

“Today’s carbon dioxide levels at 400 parts per million (ppm) [are] akin to bringing about a steady state temperature of 7°C higher and sea levels 23 meters higher than they are today,” Goreau, who is also president of the Global Coral Reef Alliance and coordinator of the Soil Carbon Alliance, told Truthout. In other words, the last time there was this much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it increased the Earth’s temperature to a point 7°C higher than it is today, and increased sea levels 23 meters above their current level. Hence, we are now only waiting for the planet to catch up to what we’ve done to the atmosphere.

More than three decades ago, Goreau and some of his colleagues were already pointing out that the only way runaway global warming could be avoided was by utilizing and expanding carbon sinks – a natural or artificial area where carbon is stored — as a way of sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Despite this not happening on the scale necessary to avert widespread impacts of runaway climate change, Goreau, along with many others, is as determined as ever to utilize various methods of “eco-restoration” to draw carbon out of the atmosphere.

These recommendations have gained more attention lately. A recent BBC headline stated, “Large-scale wind and solar power ‘could green the Sahara.’” The article touts the possibility that if massive numbers of solar panels and wind turbines were installed across the Sahara Desert, they could dramatically improve the amount of rainfall, lower temperatures and increase vegetation.

Goreau is not alone in his idea of large-scale projects that could lead to this sort of mitigation. Adam Sacks is the executive director of Biodiversity for a Livable Climate (Bio4Climate), an organization working to promote eco-restoration approaches. These include the reintroduction of abundant growth to billions of acres of land that has been severely degraded or turned into desert as a result of human mismanagement.

“Clearly, there are many steps along the way, and a primary one is to shift the climate narrative from one focused almost exclusively on alternative energy and reducing fossil fuel emissions to one that’s at least half about restoring global biodiversity and pulling carbon out of the atmosphere into the soils through photosynthesis,” Sacks told Truthout.

His approach is to focus on the extraordinary power of nature as a means of healing what ails the planet.

“Since the first microbes appeared over 3.5 billion years ago and began inventing all the biochemistry of life, living things have crafted planet Earth out of dead rock, water and gas,” Sacks said. “We have destroyed much of that life as our world population grew, and while humans are very clever about expanding carrying capacity, we have overdrawn our resource account and our talents have finally reached their limits. This has happened in many ways, but global warming is the culmination of millennia of hyper-technology.”

Sacks reminds us that if the biosphere itself is ill, so are humans, as we are simply one of its creatures.

“As the biosphere dies, so do we,” he added. “Fortunately there are thousands if not millions of people pulling in that direction on millions of acres. We need to multiply that a thousandfold to successfully address climate change.”

“We Already Know How to Do This”

Sacks feels that every country on Earth has grossly underestimated the severity, extent and rapidity of the impacts of climate disruption, and has been dismayed by how, as he sees it, “The full implications are only appreciated when the damage has been done and all that’s left is to watch as destruction and death have their way.”

This is why he founded Bio4Climate, as an attempt to avert these outcomes for millions of species, including humans.

For Goreau, who collaborates with Bio4Climate, this work is nothing new. He has been writing scientific papers on recycling carbon dioxide through the tropical biota to prevent runaway global warming for nearly 35 years. He made the first measurements of greenhouse gas emissions from deforested Amazonian soils and virgin jungles, and wrote the very first short paper on the subject.

Goreau’s 1987 paper even argued for a carbon tax, although at the time, he called it an “energy-growth” tax which would transfer income from fuel burners to environmentally sound tropical development.

Through books, talks and papers, Goreau has long been suggesting methods to the general public, as well as interested governments, for implementing the concept of regenerating carbon in soils and biomass while simultaneously pulling it out of the atmosphere.

“The idea is scientifically sound and has occurred independently to many people … as people try to think about solving climate change seriously,” Goreau said, though he noted that not many people seem to be familiar with the history of the concept of eco-restoration.

Last year, Goreau presented a paper at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization Global Symposium on Soil Organic Carbon that investigated how long it would take to stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide at safe preindustrial levels by way of drawing carbon into soils.

“Stabilization could be achieved in decades only if we used the best existing carbon-farming practices, but never if we keep on doing what we are doing now,” Goreau said. “Thousands of farmers are out there doing the right thing and regenerating their soils, but the millions out there who are just running their soils down and amplifying the problem need to improve their act quickly for there to be any solution at all.”

Sacks is also realistic about what it would take. NASA climate scientist James Hansen sounded the alarm about anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) to Congress in 1988, and despite the ongoing efforts of tireless advocates, atmospheric greenhouse gas burdens have worsened almost every year, due in large part to burning fossil fuels.

“It should have been clear from the beginning that, even with effective sources of alternative energy, a global infrastructure would take a long time to reconstruct,” Sacks said.

But how feasible are projects like greening the Sahara? This one, in particular, would require nearly 3.5 million square miles of solar panels and wind turbines to produce the necessary change. What government on the planet is currently willing to invest in this scale of a project — even if we acknowledge that these kinds of projects may well be the last hope for mitigating some of the dramatically increasing impacts of runaway ACD?

Sacks readily admits that, on our current path, “there is no emissions scenario that can or will scale this large enough to truly mitigate the worsening impacts from human-caused climate disruption.”

“Even if we go to zero [emissions] tomorrow, the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and their committed effects are consigning us to a future that will make life for humans extremely difficult or impossible,” he said.

John Liu is the ecosystems ambassador for the Commonland Foundation, a group working towards the realization of large-scale landscape restoration with local farmers and land users. He is also a groundbreaking filmmaker who focuses on documenting ecological restoration around the planet.

Liu told Truthout he is “excited and hopeful” about the large amount of energy and interest in large-scale ecosystem restoration that he says is “exploding all over the world.”

In addition to the work of the Commonland Foundation, Liu, who is also a visiting research fellow at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology of the Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences, points to Ecosystem Restoration Camps Foundation (a group working to restore ecosystem functionality),which he sees as proof that people anywhere can self-organize and self-govern in a way that is restorative of the Earth.

While Liu acknowledges that our current situation is “fraught with danger,” he added that he believes “we are entering a new era of human civilization in which we are required to collectively understand that we all have a responsibility to act to restore the systems that naturally regulate the Earth’s life-support systems.”

Liu said his greatest hope is in the Earth’s resilience, and pointed out that it is not the planet that is most at risk, but human civilization.

While most people point towards the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as the primary issue that needs addressing, Liu sees this carbon disequilibrium in the atmosphere as an “indicator.”

“What I have learned is that we cannot simply consider carbon in the atmosphere and believe that sucking it down will solve our problems,” he said. “Even in terms of human impact on the greenhouse effect, carbon dioxide is not the greatest anthropogenic cause. Most people are unaware that moisture-laden air in the upper atmosphere caused by temperature increases from devegetation is a greater anthropogenic contributor to the greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide.”

Like Liu, Sacks and Goreau both believe it is possible to mitigate the worsening impacts.

“Nature can do the recovery if we help by putting the necessary pieces into place,” Sacks said. “Just as absent beavers or wolves in a formerly intact habitat can completely transform the ecosystem within a few years, humans are also a keystone species, and can help nature recover orders of magnitude faster than nature would recover on its own.”

Sacks’s organizational compendium shows, as he put it, how “we already know how to do this in virtually all habitats between the poles.” He describes the methods as inexpensive and low-tech, and believes they increase productivity significantly, improve local economies and self-sufficiency, restore local water cycles, mitigate droughts and floods, and reduce resource conflicts.

“The challenge is that we would have to move this effort to a global war footing immediately,” he said. “The ‘windows of opportunity’ to act on global warming have been opening and closing and opening again (and closing again) over the past 30 years, and those squandered opportunities are just about dried up.”

There is no way to seriously mitigate the impacts of runaway climate disruption without drawing vast amounts of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, and Sacks and Goreau are convinced that the fastest way to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is via the biological sink.

“We’ve destroyed half the biomass in the world and turned it into carbon dioxide, and we’ve lost about half the carbon in the soil by burning it off,” Goreau said. “But if we were doing what the best people are doing here, we could solve the problem in a manner of decades.”

Given that there is five times the amount of carbon in soils as there is in the atmosphere, Goreau believes it is possible to sequester an immense amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide back into the Earth via natural processes like increasing nutrients in soils, as well as restoring wetlands and mangroves on a mass scale.

“From my point of view, we’ve got to be restoring carbon in all habitats and ecosystems,” he said.

Both Sacks and Goreau feel a lot of the responsibility lies with farmers and those who manage pastures, who should be regenerating the areas where they work, as opposed to industrial agriculture which, as Goreau puts it, “runs land dry of carbon.” Of course, this would entail governments supporting farmers — financially and otherwise — in working towards this way of operating.

“When you look at how effective the good farmers are at sequestering carbon, it is well within our reach to sequester enough carbon dioxide, and if there were carbon credits so they were rewarded, it would happen,” he said.

What to Do?

It’s not only farmers who are capable of acting on eco-restoration. What steps can each of us take?

“The most important is to change the mindset from ongoing growth to reducing resource exploitation and steady-state, regenerative land management and economics,” Goreau said.

For starters, he suggests that people with homes can transform their lawns into native plant and food forests, and everyone should begin to work within their communities towards urban or suburban farming. Sacks also promotes the movement to depave (roads and parking lots, for example). Depavement removes unnecessary impermeable surfaces and replaces them with green, growing things wherever possible. Additionally, Sacks points to forest regeneration efforts, and suggests that those who are interested in exploring more options should visit the Regeneration International website.

Liu admits that the question of what to do is challenging “even to discuss,” and that “it isn’t very helpful to suggest small measures that are unlikely to really change the situation.”

Still, on a personal level, he tries to slow down and consider his motivations and intentions. He says that the dominant culture’s media and education system have instilled ambitions for him — and most of us — “to rush around, to buy and sell things, to desire the ‘conveniences’ that I thought I ‘needed,’ to meet the expectations of society that have been conditioned into me through socialization. “

Liu believes each of us needs to be mindful and question the forces that drive our pursuits.

“Is our worldview something that is truth, or does it emerge from the past through norms created by those who practiced genocide, slavery, greed, power, brutality?” he asks.

Liu points out that shifting consciousness must occur alongside efforts towards biospheric restoration.

“There is [an] enormous disparity between the wealthy and the poor. There is also a growing sense of hopelessness that manifests in depression, suicide, nihilistic acts like mass shootings and great unhappiness,” he said. “The types of social dysfunction that we are witnessing are similar to witnessing ecosystem dysfunction in various biomes. A logical conclusion could be that our human social ecosystem is degraded.”

Goreau, meanwhile, is working on coral reef restoration “because we’ve already lost most of them to global warming.”

He has been warning of coral bleaching from overly warm ocean waters since the 1980s, and believes the tipping point for coral bleaching already occurred during that decade. He reminds us that our current global climate crisis is already “much more dire than most people realize.”

His projects entail the use of very low electric currents to stimulate coral growth, by way of steel grids erected underwater onto which then limestone rock grows, hence the building of reefs. He has found that in this way, coral can be kept alive at warmer temperatures as well, but added, “This is only a temporary measure to buy us some time until we can get more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.”

Goreau is currently aiming to revive 400 reefs around the world, and admits this is but a fraction of what needs to happen.

“Death Is a Natural Part of Life”

Goreau reminds us that all of these projects are taking place against the backdrop of runaway ACD. The reality, he says, is even more devastating than most mainstream predictions show.

“This is far worse than the IPCC’s [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] worst-case scenarios,” he said. Goreau noted that even the IPCC’s worst-case scenarios are “so minimal” because it takes the oceans 1,500 years to mix and turn themselves over. This is relevant, he said, because oceans “are storing 95 percent of the heat we’ve generated.”

Hence, until the cold water of the depths mixes with the warmer surface water, “We’re still not feeling the full impact of the heat we’ve placed in the oceans.”

This means that we will not feel the full impact for another 1,500 years — yet, as Goreau pointed out, the IPCC ignores this “because they are only looking 100 years ahead, which is 1/15th of the time it takes for the oceans to mix. They are simply looking at the wrong time horizon.”

As we reflect on how conditions have gotten to this point, Liu also reminds us how “death is a natural part of life,” given that the dominant culture ignores this reality, with dangerous consequences.

In his view, this denial of death “has inflated our opinion of ourselves and limited our understanding and happiness. It can be hard to accept, but death is inevitable and being aware of it is very useful.”

From his perspective, it is important to remember this not just as humans, but to do so for all of life.

This is all the more reason to focus on eco-restoration — and relatedly, Liu says, on the importance of the natural world more broadly.

“We need to look carefully and compare our creations to the eternally evolving life systems on the Earth and realize that everything we have ever made and everything that we will ever make combined is worth less that the fragile atmosphere that was respirated by living things over prodigious time,” he said.

In order to undertake eco-restoration on the scale that would be necessary to mitigate the impacts of ACD, those in power in countries around the world would have to immediately prioritize that “fragile atmosphere” above all else.

Hurricane Florence Releases Toxic Coal Ash in North Carolina 

Protesters outside a Duke Energy shareholders meeting in 2014.
Photo: Davis Turner Getty

Just a few days ago, Duke Energy, the largest utility company in North Carolina, said they weren’t concerned about the ponds of coal ash that might be flooded by Hurricane Florence. Now, at least one of those ponds has given way, releasing 2,000 cubic yards of the ash, according to NBC.

Coal ash is a highly toxic byproduct of coal power plants that is linked to respiratory illnesses and cancer. It contains heavy metals like arsenic, lead, mercury and selenium.

When one of the slopes of a pond at a closed power station outside of Wilmington, NC collapsed during the storm, Duke says that the ash within most likely flowed into their cooling pond, Sutton Lake. “The company hasn’t yet determined if the weir that drains the cooling pond was open or whether any contamination may have flowed into the swollen Cape Fear River,” NBC says.

North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality spokesperson Megan S. Thorpe said the state will inspect the site as soon as they can. “DEQ has been closely monitoring all coal ash impoundments that could be vulnerable in this record breaking rain event,” Thorpe told NBC. She added that the state will “hold the utility accountable for implementing the solution that ensures the protection of public health and the environment.”

It’s likely that other coal ash ponds will be impacted by the storm. A power station near Goldsboro was flooded by Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and officials say it will probably flood again. Another cooling pond at a plant near Lumberton, NC, is expected to flood as well.

“Unfortunately, Duke Energy has spent years lobbying and litigating and still has not removed the coal ash from its dangerous riverfront pits in the coastal area, some of which are in the floodplain,” Frank Holleman, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center told NBC. “When a hurricane like Florence hits, we have to hope and pray that our communities do not suffer the consequences of years of irresponsible coal ash practices by the coal ash utilities.”

In 2015, Duke Energy were sentenced to pay a $102 million fine after pleading guilty to nine violations of the Clean Water Act for a record-breaking coal ash spill.

Coal ash isn’t the only concern for those worried about the environmental impact of the storm. Lagoons filled with waste from the pork industry and Superfund sites in the area could also contribute to environmental damage. Environmental groups and the EPA are monitoring these sites as the storm continues to batter the Carolinas.

Tons of Plastic Trash Enter the Great Lakes Every Year — Where Does It Go?

Awareness is rising worldwide about the scourge of ocean plastic pollution, from Earth Day 2018 events to the cover of National Geographic magazine. But few people realize that similar concentrations of plastic pollution are accumulating in lakes and rivers. One recent study found microplastic particles – fragments measuring less then five millimeters – in globally sourced tap water and beer brewed with water from the Great Lakes.

According to recent estimates, over 8 million tons of plastic enter the oceans every year. Using that study’s calculations of how much plastic pollution per person enters the water in coastal regions, one of us (Matthew Hoffman) has estimated that around 10,000 tons of plastic enter the Great Lakes annually. Now we are analyzing where it accumulates and how it may affect aquatic life.

No Garbage Patches, but Lots of Scrap on Beaches

Plastic enters the Great Lakes in many ways. People on the shore and on boats throw litter in the water. Microplastic pollution also comes fromwastewater treatment plantsstormwater and agricultural runoff. Some plastic fibers become airborne – possibly from clothing or building materials weathering outdoors – and are probably deposited into the lakes directly from the air.

Sampling natural water bodies for plastic particles is time-consuming and can be done on only a small fraction of any given river or lake. To augment actual sampling, researchers can use computational models to map how plastic pollution will move once it enters the water. In the ocean, these models show how plastic accumulates in particular locations around the globe, including the Arctic.

When plastic pollution was initially found in the Great Lakes, many observers feared that it could accumulate in large floating garbage patches, like those created by ocean currents. However, when we used our computational models to predict how plastic pollution would move around in the surface waters of Lake Erie, we found that temporary accumulation regions formed but did not persist as they do in the ocean. In Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes, strong winds break up the accumulation regions.

Subsequent simulations have also found no evidence for a Great Lakes garbage patch. Initially this seems like good news. But we know that a lot of plastic is entering the lakes. If it is not accumulating at their centers, where is it?

Using our models, we created maps that predict the average surface distribution of Great Lakes plastic pollution. They show that most of it ends up closer to shore. This helps to explain why so much plastic is found on Great Lakes beaches: In 2017 alone, volunteers with the Alliance for the Great Lakes collected more than 16 tons of plastic at beach cleanups. If more plastic is ending up near shore, where more wildlife is located and where we obtain our drinking water, is that really a better outcome than a garbage patch?

Searching for Missing Plastic

We estimate that over four tons of microplastic are floating in Lake Erie. This figure is only a small fraction of the approximately 2,500 tons of plastic that we estimate enter the Lake each year. Similarly, researchers have found that their estimates of how much plastic is floating at the ocean’s surface account for only around 1 percent of estimated input. Plastic pollution has adverse effects on many organisms, and to predict which ecosystems and organisms are most affected, it is essential to understand where it is going.

We have begun using more advanced computer models to map the three-dimensional distribution of plastic pollution in the Great Lakes. Assuming that plastic simply moves with currents, we see that a large proportion of it is predicted to sink to lake bottoms. Mapping plastic pollution this way begins to shed light on exposure risks for different species, based on where in the lake they live.

According to our initial simulations, much of the plastic is expected to sink. This prediction is supported by sediment samples collected from the bottom of the Great Lakes, which can contain high concentrations of plastic.

In a real lake, plastic does not just move with the current. It also can float or sink, based on its size and density. As a particle floats and is “weathered” by sun and waves, breaks into smaller particles, and becomes colonized by bacteria and other microorganisms, its ability to sink will change.

Better understanding of the processes that affect plastic transport will enable us to generate more accurate models of how it moves through the water. In addition, we know little so far about how plastic is removed from the water as it lands on the bottom or the beach, or is ingested by organisms.

Prediction Informs Prevention

Developing a complete picture of how plastic pollution travels through waterways, and which habitats are most at risk, is crucial for conceiving and testing possible solutions. If we can accurately track different types of plastic pollution after they enter the water, we can focus on the types that end up in sensitive habitats and predict their ultimate fate.

Of course, preventing plastic from entering our waterways in the first place is the best way to eliminate the problem. But by determining which plastics are more toxic and also more likely to come into contact with sensitive organisms, or end up in our water supply, we can target the “worst of the worst.” With this information, government agencies and conservation groups can develop specific community education programs, target cleanup efforts and work with industries to develop alternatives to products that contain these materials.

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Pope Francis Criticizes Continued Search for Fossil Fuels at Meeting with Oil Executives

At Vatican conference, Pope Francis implores investors, oil leaders to help stop climate change, saying the poor ‘suffer most from the ravages of global warming’

“Civilization requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilization!” Pope Francis said at a Vatican climate change conference.
“Civilization requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilization!” Pope Francis said at a Vatican climate change conference. PHOTO:VINCENZO PINTO/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Pope Francis warned against the “continued search” for fossil fuels Saturday and urged a gathering of oil executives, investors and officials to meet the world’s energy needs while protecting the environment and the poor.

“Civilization requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilization!” he said at a Vatican climate change conference attended by top executives including Exxon Mobil Corp. Chief Executive Darren Woods,  BP PLC Chief Executive Bob Dudley and BlackRock Inc. Chief Executive Laurence Fink.

Environmental protection has been a signature theme for Pope Francis, who has said he took the name of St. Francis of Assisi in part because of the medieval saint’s love for the natural world.

At the conference, co-sponsored by the University of Notre Dame and featuring nearly 20 speakers Friday and Saturday, the pope said that an estimated 1 billion people still lack electricity and noted that access to energy is an essential resource for escaping poverty.

But he warned that a failure to reduce the use of fossil fuels would lead to a “spiral of extreme climate changes due to a catastrophic rise in global temperatures, harsher environments and increased levels of poverty.”

The poor “suffer most from the ravages of global warming,” he said, through water shortages and extreme weather which in turn drive mass migration, among other ways.

Pope Francis commended oil and gas companies for adopting policies that account for “assessment of climate risk” and he encouraged the practice of environmentally sensitive “green finance” investment strategies. But he warned that “markets and technology” wouldn’t be sufficient to stop climate change, since our “current economic system thrives on ever-increasing extraction, consumption and waste.”

He lamented the “continued search for fossil fuel reserves” in spite of 2015 Paris Agreement, which “clearly urged keeping most fossil fuels underground.”

Pope Francis on Saturday urges a small gathering of energy executives, investors and officials at the Vatican to balance the world's energy needs with environmental protection.
Pope Francis on Saturday urges a small gathering of energy executives, investors and officials at the Vatican to balance the world’s energy needs with environmental protection. PHOTO:VATICAN MEDIA

The leaders of energy companies speaking at the two-day event included  Claudio Descalzi, chief executive of Italy’s Eni SpA, Occidental Petroleum Corp. Chief Executive Vicki Hollub, and former Royal Dutch Shell PLC Chairman Mark-Moody Stuart.

Others slated to speak were Hiromichi Mizuno, the chief investment officer of Japan’s public pension fund, Anne Simpson, director of corporate governance at the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, and Ernest Moniz, who served as U.S. energy secretary under former President Barack Obama.

Oil leaders were expected to discuss their view that providing energy to those who don’t have it alleviates poverty. The companies also planned to stress their support for global action to reduce emissions, such as a tax on carbon emissions, according to people familiar with prepared remarks on the meeting. Many companies also have begun to invest in renewable energy or potential technological breakthroughs to mitigate the impact of warming temperatures.

Exxon is studying how fuel cells can be used to capture carbon emissions at power plants. BP is one of the top generators of wind power in the U.S. and recently invested in a solar company. Norway’s state energy company, formerly known as Statoil, has changed its name to Equinor  and is developing offshore wind projects.

Earlier this year, BlackRock’s Mr. Fink in a letter urged chief executives at global companies to “make a positive contribution to society.” The world’s largest asset manager has played a key role behind the scenes in insisting that companies take action to respond to climate change.

Pope Francis’ meeting with oil executives and investors comes almost exactly three years after the publication of his encyclical Laudato Si’, in which he called global warming a major threat to life on the planet and said it is mainly caused by human activity.

In that document, which as an encyclical ranks among the highest levels of papal teaching, the pope blamed special interests for blocking policy responses and indicted the market economy for plundering the Earth at the expense of the poor and future generations.

Pope Francis’ acknowledgment of the challenge inherent in meeting global energy demand while limiting the harmful effects of climate change will be encouraging to oil and gas professionals, said William Arnold, a former Shell executive who teaches at Rice University.

“This is an inspirational effort to find a balance between environmental protection and developing resources the world needs,” said Mr. Arnold. “It’s become increasingly difficult in the industry to find settings where you can have this kind of discussion.”

Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/31/avoiding-meat-and-dairy-is-single-biggest-way-to-reduce-your-impact-on-earth

Biggest analysis to date reveals huge footprint of livestock – it provides just 18% of calories but takes up 83% of farmland

 Cattle at an illegal settlement in the Jamanxim National Forest, state of Para, northern Brazil, November 29, 2009. With 1,3 million hectares, the Jamanxim National Forest is today a microsm that replicates what happens in the Amazon, where thousands of hectares of land are prey of illegal woodcutters, stock breeders and gold miners. Photograph: Antonio Scorza/AFP/Getty Images

Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, according to the scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet.

The new research shows that without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world. Loss of wild areas to agriculture is the leading cause of the current mass extinction of wildlife.

The new analysis shows that while meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of protein, it uses the vast majority – 83% – of farmland and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. Other recent research shows 86% of all land mammals are now livestock or humans. The scientists also found that even the very lowest impact meat and dairy products still cause much more environmental harm than the least sustainable vegetable and cereal growing.

https://interactive.guim.co.uk/charts/embed/jun/2018-06-01T12:19:37/embed.html

The study, published in the journal Science, created a huge dataset based on almost 40,000 farms in 119 countries and covering 40 food products that represent 90% of all that is eaten. It assessed the full impact of these foods, from farm to fork, on land use, climate change emissions, freshwater use and water pollution (eutrophication) and air pollution (acidification).

“A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use,” said Joseph Poore, at the University of Oxford, UK, who led the research. “It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” he said, as these only cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“Agriculture is a sector that spans all the multitude of environmental problems,” he said. “Really it is animal products that are responsible for so much of this. Avoiding consumption of animal products delivers far better environmental benefits than trying to purchase sustainable meat and dairy.”

The analysis also revealed a huge variability between different ways of producing the same food. For example, beef cattle raised on deforested land result in 12 times more greenhouse gases and use 50 times more land than those grazing rich natural pasture. But the comparison of beef with plant protein such as peas is stark, with even the lowest impact beef responsible for six times more greenhouse gases and 36 times more land.

https://interactive.guim.co.uk/charts/embed/may/2018-05-31T10:56:47/embed.html

The large variability in environmental impact from different farms does present an opportunity for reducing the harm, Poore said, without needing the global population to become vegan. If the most harmful half of meat and dairy production was replaced by plant-based food, this still delivers about two-thirds of the benefits of getting rid of all meat and dairy production.

Cutting the environmental impact of farming is not easy, Poore warned: “There are over 570m farms all of which need slightly different ways to reduce their impact. It is an [environmental] challenge like no other sector of the economy.” But he said at least $500bn is spent every year on agricultural subsidies, and probably much more: “There is a lot of money there to do something really good with.”

Labels that reveal the impact of products would be a good start, so consumers could choose the least damaging options, he said, but subsidies for sustainable and healthy foods and taxes on meat and dairy will probably also be necessary.

One surprise from the work was the large impact of freshwater fish farming, which provides two-thirds of such fish in Asia and 96% in Europe, and was thought to be relatively environmentally friendly. “You get all these fish depositing excreta and unconsumed feed down to the bottom of the pond, where there is barely any oxygen, making it the perfect environment for methane production,” a potent greenhouse gas, Poore said.

The research also found grass-fed beef, thought to be relatively low impact, was still responsible for much higher impacts than plant-based food. “Converting grass into [meat] is like converting coal to energy. It comes with an immense cost in emissions,” Poore said.

The new research has received strong praise from other food experts. Prof Gidon Eshel, at Bard College, US, said: “I was awestruck. It is really important, sound, ambitious, revealing and beautifully done.”

He said previous work on quantifying farming’s impacts, including his own, had taken a top-down approach using national level data, but the new work used a bottom-up approach, with farm-by-farm data. “It is very reassuring to see they yield essentially the same results. But the new work has very many important details that are profoundly revealing.”

Prof Tim Benton, at the University of Leeds, UK, said: “This is an immensely useful study. It brings together a huge amount of data and that makes its conclusions much more robust. The way we produce food, consume and waste food is unsustainable from a planetary perspective. Given the global obesity crisis, changing diets – eating less livestock produce and more vegetables and fruit – has the potential to make both us and the planet healthier.”

Dr Peter Alexander, at the University of Edinburgh, UK, was also impressed but noted: “There may be environmental benefits, eg for biodiversity, from sustainably managed grazing and increasing animal product consumption may improve nutrition for some of the poorest globally. My personal opinion is we should interpret these results not as the need to become vegan overnight, but rather to moderate our [meat] consumption.”

Poore said: “The reason I started this project was to understand if there were sustainable animal producers out there. But I have stopped consuming animal products over the last four years of this project. These impacts are not necessary to sustain our current way of life. The question is how much can we reduce them and the answer is a lot.”