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Our Daily Planet: Where the Smog Is, Song Bird Songs & Noise, Sharkoptimism, Carbon Tax, Environment on Exhibit, and DC Green Infrastructure Training
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By: Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

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Wednesday, March 14th, 2018

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Dear Our Daily Planet Readers,

When we launched Our Daily Planet just over two months ago, we had no idea what to expect.  The response has been amazing and we have grown more than we could have imagined.  We have also been touched by your loyal support and your emails and tweets, likes and shares on social media.  Thanks to you, Our Daily Planet's readership has been growing and we have already seen the impact of our work.  Our goal is to change the conversation about conservation and build a broad community of people who care about a more sustainable future.  We love writing this newsletter and we are so glad that you enjoy it!

Today we are taking the next step in our evolution. We have launched our website, where you can always go to read today's issue and to search and share previous issues and stories that caught your interest.  You can also learn more about us and what we hope to accomplish. Check us out at  And please share with your friends and colleagues so we can continue to grow and expand our ODP community.   Special thanks to Matt at Flying Dog Creative for making this beautiful site.  And most of all thanks to our biggest supporters, Ron and Kurt and our families, for encouraging us to follow this dream.
                                                                Gratefully yours,
                                                                Monica and Miro


Photo: Frederic Brown, AFP via Think Progress

Welcome, Sulphur Dioxide. Hello, Carbon Monoxide.

A California federal court judge ruled on Monday that the EPA violated the Clean Air Act when it failed to provide an update by the statutory deadline naming the areas of the country that are not in compliance with clean air standards.  This is a fundamental tenet of the Act -- that the public has the right to know if the air it breaths does not meet the law's health-based standards. The Hill reports that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced last October which regions of the country were in compliance with the standard for smog, but he did not make clear in the announcement which areas were out of compliance.  Indeed, in the litigation, the agency did not even mount a defense -- it admitted it was not in compliance.  So the judge ordered the EPA to publish it’s findings for most of the country by next month.

At the same time, the EPA yesterday moved to loosen the rules on updating pollution controls for "new sources" of industrial air pollution. Large emitters had been required as the first step for approval to report to the EPA any emissions increases expected from a plant expansion or other significant changes to the amount of pollution it emits.  Under the new EPA policy guidance, industrial facilities making changes will report both the increases and the potential decreases caused by the change in the facility.  Environmental groups argue that this could mask the actual size of the increase with unaccounted for decreases.

Why This Matters:  EPA simply is not meeting its statutory obligations under the nation's clean air law. By its failures to implement the law and its policy guidance that has the effect of weakening the law's requirements, the EPA is undoing the will of Congress in passing this landmark law.  On smog, in areas that don’t meet the standard, states are supposed to write up plans to reduce pollution and come into compliance.  Each day that the EPA drags its feet or fails to act, they allow smog to remain at unhealthful levels in our communities.  On new sources of pollution, the agency just made it easier for facilities (like coal plants) that are going to increase their emissions to get permits to do so.  The Trump Administration is determined to ease regulations on heavy industry and our most vulnerable citizens -- the elderly and children -- will pay the price.  

To Go Deeper:  Read the judge's decision on smog here.


Photo: Craig Warga/Bloomberg/Getty
Universities Show Carbon Taxation Works 

Carbon taxation is a market-based approach to reducing carbon emissions without additional regulation by requiring those in the economy that emit CO2 to pay to emit it by taxing emissions.  Economists such as MIT's Christopher Knittel argue that carbon pricing is often between 5 to 10 times more efficient than regulations like fuel economy standards for cars, or renewable energy requirements for electricity companies. Unfortunately, a carbon tax is a tough sell even in a very blue state -- just 2 weeks ago a bill to institute the nation’s first carbon tax died in the Washington State Senate. Our nation's universities, however, are demonstrating to politicians that carbon taxation can work. 

As Wired reported, last July, Yale "deployed a clever charging scheme for its buildings, based on facilities' energy use relative to the campus as whole. “If in any period an individual building does better compared to its historical period than Yale does compared to its historical period, then that building gets money back,” says Casey Pickett, director of Yale's carbon charge project. “If it does worse than Yale did, then it ends up paying money.” Other universities have implemented similar programs and with their diverse array of buildings, serve as good stand-ins for entire cities to better research carbon taxation. 

Why This Matters: While a carbon tax may not be enough to combat climate change it's often a solution that people all along the political spectrum can agree upon. Economists generally agree that a carbon tax is the most efficient way to reduce emissions but politicians still seem to disagree. In the meantime, universities are leading the way and hopefully can demonstrate to lawmakers the merits of a carbon tax. 

Go Deeper: Listen to one of the most influential economists in the world, Harvard Professor Gregory Mankiw, explain why a carbon tax makes sense. 

More on Market-Based Solutions: H/t to UCSB Environmental Law Professor Jim Salzman for his tip about payments for ecosystem services (PES). PES encourage people that benefit from ecosystem services (such as clean air, water, and biodiversity) pay for land management practices. While some argue that nature's value can't be priced and should be inherently protected, some PES programs have succeeded in their conservation goals. The world's largest PES program is America's Conservation Reserve Program which pays enrolled farmers to plant resource-conserving covers to protect lands deemed environmentally-sensitive by the government. 


Sharks Rebound In Marine Protected Areas

A new study by the Australia Institute for Marine Sciences finds that in surveys of the world’s sharks on coral reefs, researchers found that sharks can recover surprisingly quickly when protected by a well-managed marine park. According to the findings published recently in the journal Biological Conservation, scientists Conrad Speed, Mike Cappo, and Mark Meekan surveyed the shark population on Ashmore Reef in Western Australia in 2004, when it was unprotected, and again in 2016, eight years after the creation and strict enforcement of a marine protected area. During the 12 years between surveys, shark population numbers had increased more than 3.5 times.

Why This Matters: An estimated 100 million sharks are caught every year, 90 percent of the world’s fisheries fully or over-fished, and oceans in trouble worldwide.  But studies like this one provide growing optimism that conservation can work and restore healthy seas. We know what we need to do.  We need to assess the health of endangered marine species like sharks, protect them from the threats of illegal fishing and overfishing, and create and enforce large marine protected areas around biological hotspots.  Marine parks are the cornerstone in conserving and recovering shark populations and ocean health.  And an abundance of apex predators like sharks are the key to healthy reef ecosystems.  

To Go Deeper With The Sharks: Check out Paul Allen's website and watch the video below.
Just look at the difference marine protection makes!


A male Savannah sparrow in prairie sagebrush near Brooks, Alberta. Photo: Paulson Des Brisay
Birds Change Their Love Songs In Response to Oil Machinery

Dr. Miyako Warrington of the University of Manitoba studies how noise generated by human activity affects animals. The New York Times wrote the quirky story about Dr. Warrington's studies of the Savannah sparrows of Alberta, Canada. Dr. Warrington's team "analyzed hundreds of hours of Savannah sparrow love songs and discovered something extraordinary: To be heard above the din, the birds are changing their tune in complex ways that scientists are only starting to understand." 

Listen to the changes in sparrow love songs in noise-free versus noisy environments. Using past research on sparrow songs, Dr. Warrington offered an approximate translation of what is essentially a pickup line: “Hey, hey, sexy, hey, I’m Bob, a Savannah sparrow, I’m sexy, sexy.” (LOL)

Further research will study how this noise pollution harms the reproductive chances of the sparrows. Some encouraging early data suggests that "female Savannah sparrows’ mating behavior — reciprocal calls, flirtatious wing flicks, annoyed attacks — showed that the male birds may be successfully wooing their belles with their modified tunes. "

Why This Matters: The oil and gas industry has brought pumps and drills to large swaths of North America and this alters how animals communicate and even poses a detriment to their health. Science is beginning to understand just how problematic noise pollution is to wildlife and humans alike. 



Raymond Coates is learning how to build, inspect and keep up green infrastructure.
Photo: Allyson Chiu
, Washington Post
Green Infrastructure in D.C. Is Changing Landscapes and Lives

If Congress needs to see the benefits of green infrastructure projects, they don't have to go far to see them first hand.  Green infrastructure is now a major part of D.C.'s Clean Rivers Project -- the District’s $2.6 billion plan to reduce the amount of sewage that overflows into the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers when rainfall surges causing runoff.  In order to help make the program more accepted in the community, D.C. created the National Green Infrastructure Certification Program in partnership with the Water Environment Federation.  The program educates and trains new workers in how to build, inspect and keep up green infrastructure projects like rain gardens, roof gardens, and pavement that absorbs water - so that it provides local jobs as well as environmental benefits. 

The best part of the Certification program is that it is free and focuses on recruiting people who are out of work or need help finding a steady career — which sets it apart from a majority of similar green jobs programs in the region that often re-train county employees, landscapers, and engineers.  The Washington Post yesterday told the story of how Raymond Coats, who had been employed at a community social services organization for nearly two decades, enrolled in the training program and that helped him start a career in environmental work despite his lack of experience and a criminal record.  “When I saw green infrastructure, I realized that what I was fixing to do was already here, I just had to learn it,” Coates said in explaining how he came to be part of a D.C. jobs training effort.

Why This Matters:  This is conservation at its best -- it has the power to transform lives today and for the future.  With the training he received, Mr. Coates said he hopes to one day run a landscaping business that would make his neighborhood greener and employ local residents.  He said that he is inspired by picturing his grandchildren walking across a landscape he helped build.  “This is the beginning of how the world is going to be long after I’m gone,” he said.  Exactly.  The National Green Infrastructure Certification Program is in pilot phase in Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri, 
and Wisconsin, and on the verge of a nationwide rollout.  


Demian DinéYazhi´’s “Rez Dog, Rez Dirt,” 2013 (on exhibit at the Whitney Museum)
Environmental Awareness and Social Justice on Exhibit at the Whitney

The Whitney Museum's new exhibition, “Between the Waters,” opened March 9th and focuses on the precarious state of the environment. The exhibition brings together artists from across the United States—Carolina Caycedo, Demian DinéYazhi´ with Ginger Dunnill, Torkwase Dyson, Cy Gavin, Lena Henke, and Erin Jane Nelson—whose work responds to the precarious state of the environment through a personal lens.

As NRDC's onEarth reported, Caycedo, for example, has created several projects that refer to the construction of hydroelectric dams in South America and the consequences for local populations. While Lena Henke, contributed sculptures that tell the story of New York City neighborhoods that were gouged from the map in the 1930s by city planner Robert Moses to make way for expressways.

The piece shown above is created by Naasht’ézhí Tábąąhá who used his iPhone to capture video of his grandparents’ land and added narration about his feelings of disconnection. “It is about being tied to who I am, but realizing my current life is about migration,” he says.

Why This Matters: The relationship between the natural world and people is inherent but not always easily expressed. This exhibition brings awareness about our environment what its degradation means to marginalized people in a way that words on a screen cant. “Between the Waters” is currently on display at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City and is accessible to the public for free--if you get a chance to see it, tweet at us and give us your thoughts! 
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