Get a FREE Issue of Earth Island Journal
Sign up for our no-risk offer today.

Go Back: Home > Earth Island Journal > Latest News

Latest News

Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute

California State Parks urging campers to clean up after themselves, in a novel effort to protect the endangered marbled murrelet

When campers register at the headquarters of Big Basin Redwoods State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, they receive the usual trail map and, for the past couple years, instructions on how to be “crumb clean” and why this matters to the fate of the endangered marbled murrelet, a seabird about the size of a robin.

California State Parks launched its  “keep it crumb clean” campaign to educate visitors about the importance of never feeding wildlife and picking up after themselves. The campaign has been propelled forward by a 2014 lawsuit settlement agreement with the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, which had claimed the government was failing to protect the bird under its new general plan for Big Basin. The planned expansion of public uses and infrastructure in the bird’s habitat exacerbated the species’ risk for extinction, according to the lawsuit.

Marbled MurreletPhoto by USFWS The planned expansion of public uses and infrastructure in the marbeled murrelet's habitat exacerbated this small seabird's risk for extinction.

“Education is such a big part of the solution,” says Shaye Wolf, a wildlife biologist and the climate science director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Most park visitors would be heartbroken to learn their trash is contributing to the decline of this beautiful, endangered seabird … What we’re trying to do with the settlement is educate and increase public participation in the solution.”

The marbled murrelet’s low reproductive rate makes it especially vulnerable. A mature female lays only one egg high in the mossy branches of ancient coast redwoods (or other conifer such as firs) that stretch up the Pacific coastline from central California into Oregon, Washington, and as far north as Alaska. The parents take turns incubating the egg and flying miles away to the ocean to eat herring, smelt and anchovies and then returning to feed the nestling. A mere month or so after hatching, a chick will make its first flight to the ocean. That is, if it survives till then.

Murrelets face a mighty foe in corvid predators — mainly Stellar’s jays and ravens that are intelligent enough to know food follows humans. When these birds finish foraging around people, they notice murrelet nests high in the trees and attack the eggs and chicks. Jays are a natural part of …more

(0) Comments

Obama’s Clean Power Plan Hailed as US’ Strongest Ever Climate Action

Hundreds of businesses including eBay and Nestle back federal rules to cut emissions and switch away from coal to clean energy

Hundreds of businesses including eBay, Nestle and General Mills have issued their support for Barack Obama’s clean power plan, billed as the strongest action ever on climate change by a US president.

The rules, announced on Monday, are designed to cut emissions from power plants and have been strengthened in terms of the long-term ambition as originally proposed by the president last year, but slightly weakened in the short-term in a concession to states reliant on highly-polluting coal.

Wind turbines by a rural roadPhoto by clarkmaxwell/FlickrThe rules are expected to trigger a “tsunami” of legal opposition from states and utilities who oppose the plans, which will significantly boost wind and solar power generation.

White House adviser Brian Deese said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules represented the “biggest step that any single president has made to curb the carbon pollution that is fuelling climate change”. The US is the world’s second biggest carbon emitter after China.

The rules are expected to trigger a “tsunami” of legal opposition from states and utilities who oppose the plans, which will significantly boost wind and solar power generation and force a switch away from coal power. Republican presidential hopefuls moved quickly to voice their opposition, saying they would be economically damaging.

But 365 businesses and investors wrote to 29 state governors to strongly support the rules, which they said would benefit the economy and create jobs.

Mindy Lubber, who is attending the launch ceremony of the rules on Monday and is the president of Ceres, a network of investors that organized the letter, said: “The clean power plan is the right measure at the right time. It’s a flexible, practical and economically sound blueprint to transition America toward a low-carbon future.”

Other signatories included Unilever, L’Oreal, Levi Strauss, L’Oreal, Staples, renewable energy company SunEdison and Trillium Asset Management, which manages $2.2bn in assets. It is the largest group of businesses to support the rules so far.

The final rules propose a 32 percent cut in carbon emissions from power plants by 2030 on 2005 levels, up from the initial proposal of 30 percent. However states will only have to comply by 2022 rather than 2020 as originally proposed, and will be able submit their plans on meeting the targets by 2018 …more

(0) Comments

“Hope Is the Thing with Feathers”

Western burrowing owls have found sanctuary on the grounds of a California prison, providing inspiration for the women inside.

Once a month, I facilitate a meditation group at a women’s prison in California. I leave my cell phone, cash, and lipstick in the car—inside, they’re contraband—and take with me only pens and paper. As I walk towards the prison, small ground-dwelling owls keep vigil at the entrances to their burrows. Long-legged, with huge yellow eyes, they watch me warily, and if I come too close, hop into their holes, heads bobbing up to keep me in view.  

Burrowing Owl guarding its nestPhoto by Numb Photo/FlickrThe burrowing owl used to exist in much greater numbers across North America. Although protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, its population has been steadily declining.

Inside, I’m escorted to the chapel, where inmates wait seated in a circle on the floor. I read a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye or Pablo Neruda, or some passage that speaks to the women’s lives inside. We talk about forgiveness, finding compassion, staying present with difficulty. We talk about loss and devastation. Then we write, an endeavor akin to meditation in my experience: the practice of receiving the world by letting it inhabit and blow through you like a breeze.

The women in the meditation group are inside mostly for drug and immigration offenses. Many are wives and mothers. Their individual reasons for incarceration are usually unknown to me, though there have been notable exceptions. One former inmate was incarcerated for her role in the politically motivated crimes of the Black Liberation Army and Weather Underground. When I first started volunteering at the prison, this inmate was the respected elder in the weekly meditation group. She walked with a limp from a gunshot wound to her leg. She died in 2010, just a few weeks after she was paroled. Her irrepressible spirit was a lamp of hope for other inmates, and for me, too. She was elegant and charismatic, open-eyed, quietly but fiercely determined. She wore lipstick with her regulation khakis and wrote dazzling poems. She found a way to thrive in the most unlikely of places—prison—not unlike the burrowing owls outside.

On the prison grounds, there’s a wild, winged kingdom in defiant contrast to the gray hardscape and razor wire—Canada geese, wild turkeys, herons, and Athene cunicularia hypugaea, the Western Burrowing Owl. Named for the Greek goddess …more

(0) Comments

Evidence at TransCanada’s Keystone XL Permit Renewal Hearing Sheds Light On Serious Pipeline risks

Just because TransCanada continually states that the Keystone XL pipeline will be the safest pipeline ever built, doesn’t mean it is true.

The company’s pipeline construction record is facing intense scrutiny in America’s heartland, where many see no justifiable rationale to risk their water and agricultural lands for a tar sands export pipeline.

New documents submitted as evidence in the Keystone XL permitting process in South Dakota – including one published here on DeSmog for the first time publicly – paint a troubling picture of the company’s shoddy construction mishaps. This document, produced by TransCanada and signed by two company executives, details the results of its investigation into the “root cause” of the corrosion problems discovered on the Keystone pipeline.

TransCanada Corporation is continuing its push to build the northern route of the Keystone XL pipeline. On July 27, the company appeared at a hearing in Pierre, South Dakota, to seek recertification of the Keystone XL construction permit that expired last year.

The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission must decide if TransCanada can guarantee it can build the pipeline under the conditions set in 2010, which it must do in order to have the permit reapproved.*

High-profile spills and other incidents already tar TransCanada’s safety record. The company faces at least two known ongoing investigations by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). The incident records of the southern route of the Keystone XL (renamed the Gulf Coast Pipeline) and the Keystone 1 Pipeline call into question TransCanada’s claim that its pipelines are among the safest ever built.

Over the last couple of years TransCanada’s public relations team, with the help of friendly regulators, have kept critical evidence away from the public and quashed many media inquiries.

But evidence of TransCanada’s poor performance continues to emerge. Earlier this year, DeSmog obtained documents revealing extreme external corrosion in a section of the Keystone 1 pipeline that was only two years old.

 This figure from TransCanada's “root cause analysis” report shows damage to the Keystone pipeline.

Documents the group obtained during discovery show that the corrosion occurred dangerously close to the Mississippi River near St. Louis.

“Talk about a near miss,” Robin Martinez, a lawyer for the grassroots citizens group Dakota Rural Action fighting to …more

(0) Comments

Warning: Industry Spin Likely Bad For Your Health and the Environment

Big food and ag companies are spending hundreds of millions to manipulate the public conversation about food

Beware the amicable folks on trendy blogs or slick web sites who promise to restore common sense or set the record straight about GMOs or organic food. They get paid to dupe the public.

Record growth of organic, non-genetically modified food sales has beefed-up efforts by the industrial food and agriculture sector to manipulate a public fearful of contaminated food. American consumers forked over $35 billion for certified organic products in 2013. Last year, shoppers spent $ 10 billion on non-GMO certified food.

organic veggiesPhoto by shashinjutsu/FlickrIndustry-funded websites portray organic food advocates as “elitist food nannies.”

The trend has not gone unnoticed. According to a report released by Friends of the Earth earlier this month, a giant backlash designed to advance the causes of industrial agriculture is underway. Food industry and agrochemical industry trade associations spent an estimated $126 million from 2009 to 2013 to engineer the conversation surrounding food, sustainability, public health, and policy.

Using a technique devised in 1913 when the pork industry paid a group of doctors to extol the health benefits of bacon, corporations and special interest groups employ a front groups, or “third-parties” to endorse their products and share industry-friendly messages.

Today, advertising hotshots create covert organizations that sound legitimate to “craft a narrative about food that is intended to defuse public concern about the real risks of chemical-intensive industrial agriculture and undermine the public’s perception of the benefits of organic food and diversified, ecological agricultural systems.”

The Internet provides a particularly effective arena to orchestrate insidious campaigns that downplay the benefits of food grown without chemicals. Not only do these campaigns vilify GMO critics, they perpetuate a myth that merely questioning the alleged safety of GMOs demonstrates scientific ignorance on par with climate change denial.

Groups with credible-sounding names — like US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, Center for Consumer Freedom, Center for Food Integrity and Keep Food Affordable — have co-opted the look and language of legitimate, science-based websites to advance the cause of companies like Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences, the California Strawberry Commission, Merck Animal Health, and the National Pork Board.

Industry-funded websites bombard consumers with confusing messages and distorted, false information. They portray organic food advocates as “elitist food nannies,” claiming that organic food is no better than conventional. They claim that GMOs …more

(0) Comments

Tempest in a Green Bin

Uproar over compost and recycling fees in Oakland illustrates challenges of achieving a zero-waste goal

When Oakland restaurateur Gail Lillian received her July compost bill for her food truck and brick and mortar restaurant, Liba Falafel, she was shocked by the dollar figure. Lillian was expecting to see some increase in her waste disposal bill. She had received notices from the trash and recycling companies about a coming rate hike, and she remembered the contentious and controversial fight that occurred last fall over the City of Oakland’s new contract for waste hauling. But she was unprepared to get hit with such huge jump in her compost bill.

Jepson Organics Composting Facility Tour-43photo by Marc on Flickr A composting facility.

“My compost rates more than doubled – from $225 per month to $460 per month. That’s huge, it’s really huge,” Lillian told me. “When I suddenly have to spend almost $3,000 more [annually] for compost, for a service I was already happy with, that is really hard to swallow. I don’t know where to come up with that.”

So Lillian and other Oakland restaurant owners decided to push back. Earlier this month she organized a press conference on the steps of city hall denouncing the rate increases and complaining that the new fees create a disincentive for businesses to compost. Some businesses – notably Luka’s Taproom & Lounge, a downtown Oakland institution that says its monthly composting fee has gone up by $700 – say they have stopped composting altogether. Oakland landlords and residents are also upset as some multi-unit apartment buildings in the city experience increases of almost 200 percent on their trash and composting bills, along with an increase for recycling services.  

“It’s not OK where the rates are,” Lillian says. “I want rates that resemble other cities, and I want our compost rates to be far below the trash rates. … The rates have to be set to incentivize people to compost.”

The backlash from Lillian and others has sparked something of a political firestorm in the city of 400,000 people located across the bay from San Francisco. Last week the city council convened a special meeting to address residents’ and businesses’ concerns – a meeting that gave locals a chance to vent, but resulted in no action from the council other than a …more

(0) Comments

Major San Francisco Bayfront Developments Advance Despite Sea Rise Warnings

Builders plan to invest more than $21 billion in offices and homes in flood-prone areas, where waters could climb 8 feet above today’s high tide by the end of this century

By Kevin Stark, Winifred Bird and Michael Stoll

Like every body of water that opens onto a global ocean, San Francisco Bay is virtually guaranteed to rise several feet in coming decades, climate scientists say. But that has not deterred real estate developers from proposing and building billions of dollars worth of new homes and offices in bayfront areas that current climate change predictions show could flood by century’s end.

photo of the San Francisco skyline and waterfront as seen from nearby Treasure IslandPhoto by Peter Snarr, San Francisco Public Press.Built on landfill for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition, Treasure Island will get 8,000 homes, 235,000 square feet of retail and three hotels, plus 300 acres of open space. Developers plan to protect against seas 3 feet higher with a berm that could be raised over decades.

Land-use records and environmental applications reveal that the building boom, fueled by a white-hot tech economy, is moving too fast for regulators to keep pace. Most cities and regional agencies have not yet adopted tools to address flooding in areas where thousands of acres are threatened by sea level rise.

Developers say they have engineering and financial solutions to deal with any reasonable future flooding risk. But critics, including climate scientists, urban planners and environmental activists, say the current wave of construction might leave taxpayers on the hook for enormously expensive emergency protections and repairs.

Researchers studying climate change predict that the rise in ocean levels will accelerate later this century as the atmosphere heats the ocean and melts glaciers. Many of their models show that by 2100, occasional flooding could reach as high as 8 feet above current high tide, in the event of a severe coastal storm.

photo of a houseboatPhoto by Peter Snarr, San Francisco Public Press.An apartment tower rises in Mission Bay, bringing new neighbors for Jack Wickert, 78, a retired
music teacher and playwright who lives in a houseboat on Mission Creek. Asked if he was
worried about sea level rise, he quipped: I’ll rise with it.

Even the scenario widely considered “most likely” – 3 feet of permanent rise – would put thousands of acres of the current shoreline underwater.

Developers are planning or currently building at least 27 major commercial …more

(0) Comments

Older →

View Posts by Date View Posts by Author

Subscribe
Today

Four issues for just
$10 a year.

cover thumbnail EIJ

Join Now!

 

0.1930