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Our Daily Planet: A Green Superbowl, Staking Claims in UT Monuments, STL Superfund Cleanup, Exxon Climate Risk, Citizen Scientists, Saved by the Whale
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By: Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

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Monday, February 5th, 2018

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 At Superbowl LII, the Green Team Wins!

This year's Superbowl organizers aimed high -- for a ZERO waste event.  Their game plan, along with PepsiCo, Aramark, U.S. Bank Stadium, the NFL and the Minnesota Sports Facility Authority, was to recover more than 40 tons of stadium waste during the game.  The campaign, called Rush2Recycle, had three elements: a tri-bin waste collection system in the stadium, a dedicated organics compactor, and a detailed post-game waste-sort.   Organizers worked with Recycle Across America to put standardized labels on the recycling bins at US Bank Stadium and at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to make it easy for people to begin to recycle from the minute they arrived in town for the big game.  PepsiCo brought in 200 students to act as "ambassadors" at the stadium to assist patrons with recycling, and Aramark used all compostable materials in the stadium.  Anything that cannot be recycled will be incinerated rather than going into a landfill.  They are also using the #rushtorecycle hashtag to capture on social medium people's best "recycling moves" and then display them on their website.  

Why This Matters:  Americans can do better at recycling -- for example, we recycle less than half of our bottles and cans.  We need to work at it just as they did for the Superbowl.  According to  Sustainable Brands, since June 2017, U.S. Bank Stadium partners had already increased the stadium’s diversion rate by roughly 55 percent, reaching a high of 83 percent by January 2018. And their successes can provide a recycling "playbook" for other sports and large event facilities and even families like ours.  With effort, it is possible for everyone to re-use, reduce, and recycle more waste.  

What You Can Do:  Recycle at home!  Go through your own Super Bowl party trash and make sure you have it sorted properly and then recycling all you can.  For more tips, click here.

H/T to Eric DesRoberts for his Superbowl blog here and their Trash Free Seas Campaign for highlighting why this is the best Superbowl ever from an environmental perspective. 

Did You Buy A Chalice?   In an ad called "Taps," Stella Artois makes a bold promise to provide clean water to a person in the developing world for five years for each one sold.  But NPR takes a hard look at their claims.  Learn more here.  

And Congrats to the Victorious Philadelphia Eagles!  It was a great game. We loved JT's halftime show and moving purple skyline tribute to Prince and the s/o to First Responders at the end.   
For a Chuckle Watch the Rush to Recycle Hustle with Steelers Great Hines Ward


Farmington Hill residents Minali Bhatt and her mother, Anandhi Chandran, spend time mapping vernal pools in Oakland County parks. Photo: Minali Bhatt
Utah Monuments Now Up For Grabs Under Gold Rush Era Law

Last Friday morning, 60 days after he rescinded their monument status, parcels of the lands of Grand Staircase Escalante and Bears Ears could be leased by anyone for $212 permit fee.  The statute governing these prospecting claims is called The General Mining Law of 1872, which was passed when Ulysses S. Grant was President and has not been significantly amended since.  The Interior Department has also instructed its field offices to “simplify and streamline the leasing process” to 60 days. The process for staking a claim remains almost identical to what it was during the Gold Rush era.  However, regulations promulgated in 2001under a different law, require mining reclamation (or clean up), and that detailed Mining Plans be submitted before mining begins.  

Why This Matters: These lands are chock full of spiritual and historic artifacts.  Native American Tribes, outdoor 
businesses, and environmental groups have sued the President to block mining claims, arguing that his action to rescind protection of these lands was illegal.  But until there is a decision in these cases, according to the Department of Interior, prospectors are welcome to stake their claims. Legislative proposals to modernize the mining claims process have failed twice in recent years.  But this begs the question, why should essentially the privatization of publicly-owned lands, and what lied beneath them, still be governed by a law passed nearly 150 years ago?  Even if no claims are filed in the former monuments, anyone can steal or destroy the artifacts there and nothing can be done about it because they no longer have legal protection.  


Jacob Hamblin Arch in Coyote Gulch, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah 

Photo: Koji Hirano/Getty Images via Earthjustice

Citizen Scientists Do Their Part

Citizen scientists are amateurs who conduct scientific research on their own and help the pros with monitoring and data collection. Citizen scientists work on all sorts of projects:

Extreme athletes (part of a group called Adventure Scientists who connect outdoor adventurers with researchers) are cross skiing through Yellowstone National Park to help scientists collect water samples from the Gallatin River. Getting samples from remote areas like this can be very costly and these adventurers help save researchers precious dollars. 

16-year-old Minali Bhatt and her mother Anandhi Chandran volunteer with Michigan Conservation Stewards Program to measure vernal pools (knows as Michigan's "coral reefs" for their ecological value) in Detroit's parks. The CSP program works with Michigan State University to restore and conserve natural areas throughout the state. 

Amateur astronomer Scott Tilley single-handedly located the weather-tracking spacecraft IMAGE, which NASA launched in 2000 and lost contact with five years later. Other amateur astronomers have made numerous discoveries as well:
  • In 2012, a group of amateur astronomers discovered 42 planets.
  • In 2013, Michael Sidonio sighted a new dwarf galaxy, NGC 253-dw2.
  • In 2015, a group of amateur astronomers poring over NASA images spotted yellow “space balls” that NASA says are a rare view of the early stages of massive star formation.
  • In 2016, two amateur astronomers,  John McKeon from Ireland and Gerrit Kernbauer of Mödling, Austria filmed an asteroid impact on Jupiter in 2016.
Why This Matters: Science and the data behind it are critical to better understanding and protecting our planet, the more people we have helping scientists track, measure, and monitor the better. The good news is you don't have to have a Ph.D. to join the cause, if you're interested in getting involved and becoming a citizen scientist yourself check out this Big Think article (scroll to the bottom) for a list of organizations that can use your efforts. 

 Climate Change

Amidst Shareholder Pressure, Exxon Releases Report on Climate Risk 

Last May, ExxonMobil shareholders voted to require the world's largest oil and gas company to report on the impacts of climate change to its business. Despite opposition from managment, this marked a milestone for activist investors who have tried for years to get Exxon to make this information available. 

As Inside Climate News reported, "62 percent of shareholders voted for Exxon to begin producing an annual report that explains how the company will be affected by global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris climate agreement."

Last Friday, Exxon released the report and according to them their business operations and reserves face little risk from climate change. With Darren Woods, the company's chairman, adding, "We are well positioned to succeed in a changing world." The report focused heavily on Exxon's investment in carbon-capture and storage (CCS) technology which is often criticized as being a distraction from the goal to reduce overall GHG emissions. In the U.S. the technology hasn't yet been scaled to make economic sense and of the biggest domestic projects filed for bankruptcy last year. It still hasn't been determined if the sparse report will face a backlash from shareholders. 

Why This Matters: Exxon's report assumed that fossil fuels will be used at their current rates in the future and didn't account for countries making more aggressive emissions cuts in order to hold warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels (as urged by the Paris agreement). Additionally, the report didn't account for the growing list of states who are suing Exxon and other fossil fuel companies for their contributions to climate change. As people around the world begin to see the effects of climate change firsthand they're going to want polluters who have misled the public to be held accountable. It's a notable step that a vast majority of Exxon's own shareholders want this same accountability. 


Nuns Protesting Across the Street From West Lake Landfill in 2014
Photo: Phil Hastings via St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Its About Time: EPA Finally Orders Cleanup of Nuclear Waste Superfund Site Outside St. Louis

Late last week, the EPA ordered the $236M cleanup of the West Lake Landfill in suburban St. Louis housing tons of Manhattan Project nuclear waste originally controlled the U.S. Government's Atomic Energy Commission.   Administrator Scott Pruitt announced the decision as a demonstration of his commitment to revitalizing the Superfund program, which is supposed to clean up the nation's most polluted sites.  Like most Superfund sites, the cleanup of this site is quite complicated -- and Pruitt aims to streamline it as much as possible.  Dawn Chapman, the founder of Just Moms STL, was hoping for a full excavation of the site and relocation of the families that live nearby.  She anticipates many battles remain vowing, "to fight to get even more waste removed."  The price tag is higher than the private companies responsible for the mess hoped to pay but significantly less than the $700M estimated cost for full excavation.  Residents have complained of numerous health problems and quality of life issues associated with living near the West Lake Landfill.

Why This Matters:  Administrator Pruitt has promised rapid clean up of 21 priority sites across the country, but simultaneously cut the Superfund program budget by 30% (approx $300M) a year.  Even if fully funded, there is not enough money to go around for the 21 priority sites, much less the 1400 sites on the "national priority list" for cleanup (see below).  Many of these sites are orphans and have been waiting for decades for action.  The highest priority for the federal government are the 107 spent nuclear fuel sites like West Lake that are the most difficult to clean up, whose area is equal to the size of the states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined.  
Superfund National Priority List Sites in Continental U.S.
Source:  EPA   For an interactive view of this map, click here.


National Geographic Video
Saved By The Whale

Last October, when swimming in the Cook Islands, biologist Nan Hauser was approached by a 25-ton male humpback whale, who started nudging, lifting, and covering her.  Hauser now believes it was acting to protect her from a nearby tiger shark, and she has this incredible video, which has received more than 7 million views so far, to prove it.  The biologist was shocked but went along, saying "I've spent 28 years underwater with whales, and have never had a whale so tactile and so insistent on putting me on his head, or belly, or back, or, most of all, trying to tuck me under his huge pectoral fin."  It was only when she came back to her research vessel that she learned of the dangerous tiger shark. Tiger sharks are responsible for more attacks on humans than any other shark species, including great whites.  Another whale, not visible on the videotape, was persistently tail slapping and keeping the shark away from Nan and the whale that was pushing her.

Why This Matters:  Scientists had believed that whales engaged in altruistic behavior - protecting their young, other species of whales, seals, and dolphins - but scientists have never seen humpbacks actually protecting humans. The biologist hopes that by sharing this footage that she and her team will expand research and awareness of such actions by whales and provide proof of a whale's intuitive nature to protect other animal species.  Amazing!
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