Category Archives: Climate Change & Environmental Issues

Donald Trump doesn’t understand Haiti, immigration or American history

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After Haiti signed its Declaration of Independence from France, in 1804, the U.S. started a 60-year political and economic embargo that hobbled the young nation’s growth. Wikimedia

Chantalle F. Verna, Florida International University

Donald Trump’s denigrating comments about Haiti during a recent congressional meeting shocked people around the globe, but given his track record of disrespecting immigrants, they were not actually that surprising.

Despite campaign promises that Trump would be Haiti’s “biggest champion,” his administration had already demonstrated its disregard for people from this Caribbean island. In November 2017, the Department of Homeland Security announced it would end the Temporary Protected Status that had allowed 59,000 Haitians to stay in the U.S. after a calamitous Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake.

Their TPS was extended after Hurricane Matthew devastated Haiti again in 2016. Without protected status, these Haitian migrants have until July 2019 to get a green card, leave voluntarily or be deported. Continue reading

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New Report on Radioactive Tap Water Renews Concerns About Trump Nominee for Top Environmental Role

Critics are challenging Trump’s “outrageous” and “alarming” move to renominate the former head of a Texas environmental agency who has admitted to falsifying reports of radiation levels in drinking water

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 1-12-2018

A new investigation reveals that from 2010 to 2015, more than 170 million Americans—including about 25 million in California and 22 million in Texas—were drinking water contaminated with radioactive elements. (Photo: Steve Johnson/Flickr/cc)

A new five-year investigation revealing that more than 170 million Americans were drinking water contaminated with radioactive elements is also renewing concerns about President Donald Trump’s pick for a top environmental position in his administration—Kathleen Hartnett White, who ran Texas’ environmental agency while it was falsifying reports of radiation levels in tap water.

White chaired the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) from 2003 to 2007, and admitted to local reporters in 2011 that the agency intentionally lowered the radiation level reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because, “We did not believe the science of health effects justified EPA setting the standard where they did.”  Continue reading

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Corporate Media ‘Failed’ to Connect 2017’s Extreme Weather to Climate Crisis: Study

“We can’t fix the climate crisis if we aren’t talking about it. It’s critical that the media start reporting on the crisis with the quality and quantity it merits. We’re talking about the greatest challenge of our time.”

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 1-5-2018

“Given the gravity and urgency of the climate crisis, as well as a surfeit of relevant, newsworthy developments, one would expect U.S. media to report on climate and clean energy issues daily,” Public Citizen’s David Arkush writes. (Photo: Public Citizen)

Despite the fact that 2017 saw a flurry of devastating and “record-shattering” hurricanes, enormously destructive wildfires, and extreme droughts, a new report by Public Citizen published on Friday concludes that major American media outlets “largely failed” to connect these weather events to the broader global climate crisis.

Titled “Carbon Omission: How the U.S. Media Underreported Climate Change in 2017” (pdf) and written by Public Citizen’s climate program director David Arkush, the analysis takes an in-depth look at the 2017 weather coverage of more than a dozen prominent newspapers and television networks, from the New York Times to the Denver Post to the Fox News Network. Continue reading

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With Oceans Under Greatest Threat Ever, Trump Administration Urges Even Less Protection for Marine Life

“It shouldn’t be too much to ask to protect two percent of the U.S.’s exclusive economic zone off the Atlantic coast for future generations.”

By Julia Conley, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 1-2-2018

President Trump’s Interior Department has recommended shrinking the protected area of the Pacific Remote Islands marine monument, the largest protected area of the world’s oceans. (Photo: NOAA Photo Library/Flickr/cc)

With the world’s oceans more severely threatened than ever before, President Donald Trump’s Interior Department is recommending even less protection for the fraction of ocean life the U.S. has guarded from commercial fishing and other activities in recent years.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has proposed that three ocean monuments in the Pacific and Atlantic be opened up to commercial fishing, shrinking the protected areas to undetermined sizes. Critics see no reason to give less protection to underwater life, with Jane Lubchenco, former head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), arguing, “There are plenty of other places in the ocean to fish.” Continue reading

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The most important person in America is not Trump

Our most admired, most important Person of the Year for 2017 goes to…

Written by Carol Benedict

Screenshot: Euronews

2017 is a year no one will miss much. We struggled through the year with the “deer in the headlights” syndrome across our populace; so much so that “not normal” became expected, and the expected became obscure.

But what did we find when we looked at the year to decide who was the biggest influence on us, who did we turn to for hope and inspiration in our darkest moments? Our collective minds turn to the voice of the resistance – every person, team, organization, group and crowd that forged a line and said “ENOUGH!” in one great shout. Continue reading

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In Bid to Save Big Oil $900M, Trump Moves to Scrap Offshore Drilling Safety Rules

The BSEE proposes eliminating regulations that were put in place in response to the deadliest offshore drilling disaster in U.S. history

By Julia Conley, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 12-26-2017

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill, found to be partially caused by lax safety regulations, killed 11 people and injured 16. (Photo: Florida Sea Grant/Flickr/cc)

The oil and gas industry is poised to save hundreds of millions of dollars over the next decade thanks to a rollback of offshore drilling safety regulations that have been proposed by the Trump administration—including the elimination of the word “safe” from one rule.

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Oil Giants Invest $180B in Plastics, Propelling Oceans Toward ‘Near-Permanent’ Pollution

“We could be locking in decades of expanded plastics production at precisely the time the world is realizing we should use far less of it.”

By Julia Conley, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 12-26-2017

A seal trapped in plastic pollution. Environmental advocates are concerned that a rise in plastics production will bring the world’s oceans to a state of “near-permanent” pollution. (Photo: Nels Israelson/Flickr/cc)

Scientists and environmental protection advocates are warning that a coming plastics boom could lead to a permanent state of pollution on the planet—and denouncing the fossil fuel industry for driving an increase in plastics production amid all that’s known about the material polluting the world’s oceans.

“We could be locking in decades of expanded plastics production at precisely the time the world is realizing we should use far less of it,” Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law (CEIL), told the Guardian. The CEIL has compiled several reports about the plastics industry since September. Continue reading

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Why Americans will never agree on oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to a great diversity of wildlife – one reason environmentalists oppose oil and gas drilling. US Fish and Wildlife Service, CC BY-SA

Scott L. Montgomery, University of Washington

After decades of bitter struggle, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge seems on the verge of being opened to the oil industry. The consensus tax bill Republicans are trying to pass retains this measure, which was added to gain the key vote of Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

This bill, however, stands no chance of being the final word. ANWR has been called America’s Serengeti and the last petroleum frontier, terms I’ve seen used over more than a decade studying this area and the politics around it. But even these titles merely hint at the multifold conflict ANWR represents – spanning politics, economics, culture and philosophy.

Differing views from the start

Little of this debate, which stretches back decades, makes sense without some background. Let’s begin with wildlife, the core of why the refuge exists.

With 45 species of land and marine mammals and over 200 species of birds from six continents, ANWR is more biodiverse than almost any area in the Arctic. This is especially true of the coastal plain portion, or 1002 Area, the area now being opened up to exploration and drilling. This has the largest number of polar bear dens in Alaska and supports muskoxen, Arctic wolves, foxes, hares and dozens of fish species. It also serves as temporary home for millions of migrating waterfowl and the Porcupine Caribou herd which has its calving ground there.

All of which merely suggests the unique concentration of life in ANWR and the opportunity it offers to scientific study. One part of the debate is therefore over how drilling might impact this diversity.

Map of northern Alaska showing locations of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, including. the 1002 Area, which is slated to be opened for oil and gas drilling, and the National Petroleum Reserve–Alaska (NPRA). U.S. Geological Survey

At the same time, debate over this area’s mineral resources has existed since even before Alaska’s founding. An effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to withdraw part of northeast Alaska from mining (later drilling) was eventually passed by the House in 1960 but then killed in the Senate, on the urging of both Alaska senators. It was resurrected by President Eisenhower through an executive order establishing a wildlife range (not refuge, which requires government protection and study).

ANWR thus began as a battleground over state versus federal control of resources. Change came with the oil crises of the 1970s. After much debate, Congress passed and President Carter signed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act in 1980, increasing the size of the area to 19.4 million acres and changing it to a “refuge.” ANILCA also mandated an evaluation of wildlife, oil and natural gas resources, and impacts if drilling occurred.

Map shows the 1002 Area, which will be opened up to oil and gas exploration, along with existing drilling sites in the region. US Geological SurveyMap shows the 1002 Area, which will be opened up to oil and gas exploration, along with existing drilling sites in the region. US Geological Survey

Such evaluation was delivered to Congress in 1987, with three principal conclusions. First, the 1.5 million-acre 1002 Area, had “outstanding wilderness values.” Second, it also had large hydrocarbon resources, likely tens of billions of barrels. Third, oil development would bring widespread changes in habit, but adequate protection for wildlife was achievable and leasing should proceed.

Made public, these results ignited major opposition from environmental groups. However, low oil prices meant that no companies would be interested in drilling so no action toward leasing was taken. Over the next 20 years, Congress and the President traded blows over drilling, with Republicans passing or proposing legislation in favor and Democrats voting down or vetoing or the relevant bills.

Matters of wilderness

These struggles added support to a larger view: that wilderness is incompatible with any level of development. The stance is often referenced to the 1964 Wilderness Act, a venerable law protecting wildlands but one whose definition of “wilderness” is ambiguous: “an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character…[that] generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable.” The vagueness here allows for ANILCA’s position that drilling could happen so long as protection of wildlife and reclamation of land occurred.

Caribou grazing on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The area is more diverse than any area on the Arctic. US Fish and Wildlife Service, CC BY

Today, however, no such allowance is accepted by pro-wilderness organizations and the FWS. “You can have the oil. Or you can have this pristine place. You can’t have both. No compromise,” as put by Robert Mrazek, ex-chair of the Alaska Wilderness League.

Saving ANWR has thus become an effort to save the very idea of wilderness, culturally and philosophically.

How much oil?

The most recent comprehensive assessment of oil and gas in the 1002 Area was by the U.S. Geological Survey in 1998. This work shows a mean estimate of 10.4 billion barrels of oil and 35 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, which at today’s prices ($57/bbl oil, $3/kcf) equals a total value of about $600 billion before drilling.

If well costs were $50 a barrel (low for onshore Arctic drilling today but possible with cost reductions spurred by 1002 development), the value after extraction would be $100 billion, from which a federal royalty of 12.5 percent must be subtracted, yielding $87.5 billion – a significant sum. Obviously if well costs are higher, this figure would be lower. Note that Alaska gets 90 percent of that federal royalty and pays a yearly dividend to every state resident – one reason many Alaskans favor drilling and reject the uncompromising wilderness position.

ConocoPhillips in October 2015 became the first to drill for oil in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, which is adjacent to the area that Congress intends to open up for more drilling. AP Photo/Mark Thiessen

When considering how oil and gas is available, the USGS estimates should be considered low, even minimal. This is because they were made well before the current era of shale oil and gas and tight oil and gas development. New discoveries and use of fracking to the west of ANWR suggest there is more accessible petroleum. How much more? It’s impossible to say, given the many uncertainties.

Though only one well has ever been drilled in the 1002 Area, dozens have been sited in surrounding onshore and offshore areas. These have resulted in a number of limited discoveries and one substantial field, Point Thomson, which is estimated to have recoverable reserves of up to 6 trillion cubic feet of gas and 850 million barrels of oil plus condensate. It began producing in 2016, yet its reservoir is geologically complex, challenging and insufficiently understood, causing difficulties and raising costs.

But Point Thomson’s larger significance could stem from its location: Close to the northwestern margin of 1002, it has brought a pipeline connection to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline right to ANWR’s doorstep.

But will they come?

Given the substantial possible reserves and at least some pipeline access, how interested might energy companies actually be in ANWR? The answer for now seems to be: not very. This comes from my own discussions with industry personnel and from the results of a recent lease sale in NPR-A, the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska to the west of ANWR: Out of 900 tracts offered, only seven received bids (0.008 percent). A December 7, 2017 lease sale on state lands did only somewhat better (0.04 percent), with a single company bidding on tracts near the 1002 Area, adjacent to the Point Thomson field, and in the immediate area of two small, undeveloped discoveries (Sourdough and Yukon Gold) made by BP in 1994.

If this be any indication, another multiyear period of high oil prices – in a range, say, over $80 per barrel – needs to arrive before 1002 looks attractive. Leasing and drilling in an area with extreme weather, little detailed data on the subsurface geology, no discoveries or production, and no existing infrastructure is considered high risk, all the more so in an uncertain price environment like today’s.

My own guess is that the estimated $1.1 billion revenue from an ANWR leasing program has roughly the same probability of coming true as the discovery that climate change is indeed a Chinese hoax. Similarly, we should probably view with a dash of skepticism Sen. Murkowski’s statements that opening ANWR will “create thousands of good jobs … keep energy affordable for families and businesses … reduce the federal deficit, and strengthen our national security” by reducing foreign oil. Regardless of what claims are being made now, one can say the measure would undoubtedly deliver on a long-standing promise to Alaskan voters.

Meanwhile, from an environmental perspective, climate change continues to alter and damage the Arctic, even if no development happens. As such, it is hard not to hope that we will never need the oil that lies beneath the refuge.

In the end, whichever way we turn, no stable compromise exists in this conflict. Opening the area to leasing now will not prevent a closing or ban later on. Even native voices are divided on the issue: The Inupiat who live in Kaktovik, who depend on sea life for sustenance, would welcome the work that drilling could bring, while the Gwich’in to the south, who rely on the caribou, see development as jeopardizing their culture.

Legal challenges to any level of leasing are certain, including those intended to slow the process until drilling opponents will win later elections, if they can.

The ConversationThe one truth all can agree on is that ANWR has never been a “refuge” in the landscape of American society.

Scott L. Montgomery, Lecturer, Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Ignoring Public Opinion and Pentagon, Trump Denies Climate Change Is Threat to National Security

“If we want to keep our country safe, Trump should take military advice from the military, not fossil fuel executives who are pushing to deny climate science and boost their profits at any cost.”

By Julia Conley, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 12-18-2017

Months after Hurricane Harvey caused an estimated $180 billion in damage in Houston, Texas, President Trump declined to include any mention of climate change in his strategy for national security. (Photo: Texoma Classics/Flickr/cc)

While 56 percent of Americans and the Pentagon hold that the deepening climate crisis is a serious threat to the country’s safety, President Donald Trump left the issue out of his speech on his national security strategy on Monday—angering critics and green groups.

“Trump is not just ignoring science and public opinion about the dangers of the climate crisis, he’s ignoring American generals and the Pentagon about what it takes to keep our military and our country safe,” said Michael Brune, the executive director of Sierra Club, in a statement released after the president’s speech. Continue reading

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Mercury from industrialized nations is polluting the Arctic – here’s how it gets there

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Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska. Plants on the Arctic tundra absorb mercury from the air, then transfer it to soil when they die. Paxson Woelber, CC BY

Daniel Obrist, University of Massachusetts Lowell

Scientists have long understood that the Arctic is affected by mercury pollution, but know less about how it happens. Remote, cold and seemingly pristine, why is such an idyllic landscape so contaminated with this highly toxic metal?

I recently returned from a two-year research project in Alaska, where I led field research into this issue alongside fellow scientists from the University of Colorado; the University of Nevada’s Desert Research Institute; the University of Toulouse and the Sorbonne University in France; and the Gas Technology Institute in Illinois. Continue reading

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