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Our Daily Planet: CA fires spread by wind, Companies step up to phase our toxic chemicals & improve packaging and a climate change rat explosion!
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By: Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

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Tuesday, November 13th, 2018

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Photo: Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families 

Retailers Willing Pull Toxic Chemical Despite EPA Inaction 

Last year after 31-year-old Drew Wynne died by suffocating on a chemical called methylene chloride, the toxic chemical gained the nation’s attention and calls to ban it gained national coverage. Wynne’s mother along with other advocacy groups pressed then-EPA administrator Scott Pruitt to ban methylene chloride and shortly after the  EPA announced it intended to go forward with an Obama-era proposed rule to ban the chemical. But as NPR reported, the proposed rule has yet to become an actual ban. Methylene chloride manufacturers opposed it, and in public comments in the spring of 2017, the Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance urged the agency to delay it, saying the regulation would have a “devastating impact on consumers and small businesses.” This October, budget documents released by the Trump administration suggested a rule would be finalized sometime in December, but didn’t announce a specific date. And the second hazardous chemical, NMP, is no longer included.

In response to the federal government’s inaction on banning the chemical, many top retailers have vowed to stop selling it (methylene chloride is commonly found in paint-strippers). Lowe’s, Home Depot, Sherwin Williams and other retailers all announced they would stop selling methylene chloride paint removers by this January, with many starting this month. 


Why This Matters: Since 1980, more than 50 deaths had been attributed to methylene chloride, according to an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and Slate. Short-term exposure can lead to decreased visual, auditory, and motor functions while long-term exposure can cause cancer and birth defects. The Trump EPA has been slow-walking implementing this rule, a move that keeps in line with its industry-friendly attitude but ultimately hurts consumers. Although people will still be able to buy paint strippers with methylene chloride as some stores, big retailers have the ability to put pressure on product manufacturers to phase out the chemical. This is similar to what happened with BPA earlier in the decade, consumers put pressure on retailers to stop selling products with the chemical and they obliged even before the federal government stepped in

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 Land

Current Active Fires in California. Source: Cal Fire 
More Active Fires Erupt in California 

California’s two major wildfires are still burning with Southern California’s Woolsey Fire being 20% contained as of Monday morning and Northern California’s Camp Fire still being reported as being 25% contained.  As CBS News reported, very strong winds and tinder-dry conditions threaten areas statewide through the rest of the week, which has made evacuations and containment efforts even more difficult. It doesn’t help that new smaller fires have erupted in Southern California. Officials also said that it could take weeks to fully contain the deadly wildfires raging across the state. At least 42 people have been killed, and that number is likely to grow as authorities begin the grim task of trying to identify bodies among the ashes in Northern California. These fatalities have made the Camp Fire the deadliest fire in California’s history. 

Firefighters from 9 neighboring states have sent crews to help combat the fires in California, which is becoming a regular occurrence. Firefighters have had to combat so many fast-moving fires that their work is now becoming reactionary rather than proactive. LA County’s Fire Chief took serious issue with President Trump’s tweet blaming the wildfires only on poor forest management and responded saying, “We’re in extreme climate change right now … I personally find that statement unsatisfactory, and it’s very hurtful for all first responders.”

Why This Matters: Massive, destructive wildfires are completely unsustainable in terms of money, first-responder capacity, and the toll on human life and wildlife. Climate change is making these fires worse and the media must state that fact when reporting these events and our leaders in Congress must do everything in their power to transition us to a clean energy future. There is no part of this country that is unaffected by climate change (in some places it’s more prevalent than others) and our commander-in-chief is acting recklessly if he refuses to acknowledge this reality. 

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 Climate Change

Is Controlling Climate Change Hopeless?  

Yesterday in her weekly column “Harder Line,” Axios reporter Amy Harder argues “America’s divisive politics and the sheer math of cutting heat-trapping emissions indicate the world’s prospect of substantively tackling climate change is getting out of reach.”  Instead, she posits that as a nation we should “focus more on adapting to a warmer world.”  In her view, the situation is all but lost:
  • we cannot possibly achieve the reduction of emissions required to reach the Paris Agreement targets;
  • the vast majority of Republicans in Congress and the President don’t believe climate change is man-made so in their view;
  • big oil and gas are fighting climate change reforms;
  • and other nations are not on track to meet their commitments.
Harder does provide the counterpoint — that states and local governments and Wall Street are increasingly getting behind clean energy and other climate change initiatives.  But she says the good news is not nearly enough.  

Why This Matters:  With all due respect, “news” like this is not news and it is dangerous because it causes people to give up.  We need to remain focused on reducing climate-impacting air pollution and transitioning away from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy.  Of course, we must work hard to prepare for the inevitable climate impacts that our country and our planet will undoubtedly face,  But it’s not a binary choice — we have to both prepare AND push hard to limit our fossil fuel consumption.  No amount of preparation will fire or storm-proof us from all impending disasters. 

What’s more, we are beginning to make progress. 
  • Vox reported in October that in the U.S. more than 80 cities, five counties, and two states have committed to 100 percent renewables and 152 private companies across the globe have committed to 100 percent renewables, including some of the largest in the world such as Google, Ikea, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Nike, and GM.
  • Consumer Reports found last year that consumers overwhelmingly want to buy cars that are more fuel efficient, including large cars and trucks and indeed, E&E News reported that the Trump Administration is preparing to issue a rule tightening tailpipe emissions for trucks.
  • USA Today reported last spring that an increasing number of Americans are planning to buy an electric vehicle as their next car.  
  • Our own ODP poll last May revealed that a majority of Americans prefer solar and wind power over coal and other fossil fuels.  
Bottom line: we have to do the hard work of making the change to renewable energy and sustainability happen every day, even in the face of all the challenges in front of us.  Giving up is not an option.
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 People

Washington Ferries and Commuters Giving Killer Whales a Brake

Last week, ferries that serve thousands of commuters in Seattle were delayed as much as 25 minutes per trip — but for a good cause.  The ferries were surrounded by a group of Southern Resident Killer Whales (a.k.a. orcas) — and they slowed to a stop until the whales were out of the way.  There are only 76 Southern Resident Orcas remaining — they are on the brink of extinction, as we have reported.  One of the other measures being proposed also involves ships.  Governor Jay Inslee appointed a Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force to try to find ways to save the whales from extinction, and one of their recommendations is a limit on whale watching trips. Some argue that the ban would actually be harmful because the whale watching operators play a role in the monitoring and conservation of the whales.  A decision on the steps that will be taken is due soon. ​

Why This Matters:  It is good to see this kind of public awareness by mariners in Puget Sound — the whales are well served by these sorts of voluntary efforts to avoid harming them.  The issue of whale watching vessels is a touchy one and has been for a long time.  But it is in everyone’s interest to find ways to help the population survive.  This is the appropriate role for government and it is good to see the Governor working to find ways to reduce the risks to this population. Public education is also key — check out the new video below from Oceana explaining the existential threat to this orca population.  

To Go Deeper:  You can listen to the orcas vocalizations in real time by clicking here.  To read the draft Task Force Report, click here. 

Orcas Are At Grave Risk of Extinction — Oceana Explains Why
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 Sustainability

P &G’s New Eco-Friendly Flat Packaging 

Tide detergent’s parent company, Proctor &Gamble, made a splash today by introducing new packaging for its Tide Detergent that resembles a shoe box and is sized for e-commerce. The detergent has a new formula that contains less water than normal Tide and uses 60% less plastic Better yet, this new packaging doesn’t require additional layers of cardboard boxing or bubble wrap — it is designed to be delivered directly to the customer — by Amazon or another e-retailer. It’s also lighter and takes up less space in a delivery truck.  

But it’s not just Tide — the company is also redesigning its other packaging to make it more eco-friendly and easy to shipAccording to CNN, Proctor & Gamble has had to rethink its packaging for online shipments and pressure from Amazon’s shipping standards.  So look for a new “AeroFlexx” flat packaging for liquid products like Dawn soap and Old Spice body wash.  Tide Eco-Box will join Tide’s lineup on Amazon (AMZN), Walmart’s website (WMT) and other P&G (PG) retail partners’ sites starting in January.

Why This Matters:   Consumer demand matters and the pressure to improve shipping waste is working.  Products like laundry detergent and personal grooming products don’t spoil, are hard to carry, and cheaper to buy in bulk, so buying them online is easier than schlepping them.  P & G’s digital sales grew 30% last year to $4.5 billion — so clearly this is a trend.  But the chance to re-design the package made it better — the cap-less bottle and flatter design uses 50% less plastic and doesn’t need bubble wrap to ship and the more flexible bottle makes it easier to pour and convenient to use with one hand. Looks like a win-win-win for consumers, sustainability and e-commerce businesses.
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 Animals   

Photo: Phys
One Creepy Thing: Climate Change = Rat Explosion 

Scientists are warning that rising global average temperatures will lead to lead to a serious increase in rat populations especially as winters get warmer. Higher temperatures help rats reproduce more frequently and have explosive population growth. This is especially true of cities, and New York City has already seen an uptick in rats which only projected to get worse. Do you have the chills yet? Because we do! 
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