FB Unfriendly to Endangered Wildlife, Top 10 Endangered Rivers, and Oliver on Pruitt for a Laugh
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By: Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

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Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

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Dislike--Facebook's Role in Wildlife Trafficking 

Yesterday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before a joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees about data privacy on the behemoth social media platform. In the hearing, Senator Chris Coons (D-Delaware) referenced a Time Magazine piece that was just published exposing that wildlife traffickers are still using Facebook to sell illegal animal parts. 

"Facebook is displaying advertisements for well-known American corporations on group pages operated by overseas wildlife traffickers illegally selling the body parts of threatened animals, including elephant ivory, rhino horn and tiger teeth."

Negotiations over price and delivery are often initiated by Facebook Messenger. Instagram and WhatsApp, social media platforms that Facebook also owns. The revelations about Facebook and illegal trafficking of wildlife are surfacing while the company is already struggling to recover from a privacy scandal that has wiped out $79 billion in shareholder wealth during the past three weeks.

Gretchen Peters, executive director of the Center on Illicit Networks and Transnational Organized Crime, which has analyzed online groups where wildlife goods are being marketed said, “I have looked at thousands of posts containing ivory, and I am convinced that Facebook is literally facilitating the extinction of the elephant species.”

Why This Matters: Aside from the fact that Facebook could be playing a role in the killing of critically endangered animals, it's failure to stop illicit traders using its service for illegal activity violates the social network’s responsibilities as a publicly traded company.

High-Tech to Low-Tech: Ecologist Henri Weimerskirch has turned wild wandering albatrosses into spies, using the animals’ natural movements to track illegal fishing. The albatrosses will fly up to 3,000 km in search of food and tend to congregate around fishing vessels in search of a meal. When fitted with a lightweight device the birds are able to track the activities of fishing boats operating in international waters



Bristol Bay Watershed  Photo: Robert Glenn Ketchum, Earth Justice

Ten Most Endangered U.S. Rivers 

The environmental group American Rivers each year announces its list of the most endangered rivers in the U.S.  The purpose of the list is to raise awareness in the areas surrounding these rivers and engage people there to send a message to politicians and decision-makers to do the right thing for the rivers and the communities they support. This year's list came out on Monday and, not surprisingly, the most threatened rivers are in jeopardy as a result of impending decisions by the Trump Administration.

According to American Rivers, three factors put rivers on the list: the significance of the river to human and natural communities; the magnitude of the threat to the river and its nearby communities, especially in light of a changing climate; and a major decision that the public can help influence in the coming year
If you want to see the full list, click here The top five rivers are:  
  • Big Sunflower River (Mississippi), threatened by the revival of the Army Corps of Engineers Yazoo Pumps project that would drain critical wetlands at enormous taxpayer expense.
  • Rivers of Bristol Bay (Alaska), threatened by the world’s biggest open-pit mine that could devastate a $1.5 billion salmon fishery.
  • Boundary Waters (Minnesota), threatened by mining that would pollute pristine waters and harm a thriving recreation economy.
  • Lower Rio Grande (Texas), threatened by a border wall that would cut off people and communities from the river, exacerbate flooding, and destroy wildlife habitat.
  • South Fork Salmon River (Idaho), threatened by mining that could have lasting consequences for clean water and the Wild and Scenic mainstem Salmon River.
Why This Matters:  These rivers are important not just for their beauty, but also because they are important to their local economies.  Bristol Bay in Alaska is home to the most important wild salmon fishery in the world.  Boundary waters in Minnesota is a driver of local tourism and important to Canada as well. Conserving them is good for public health, species protection, water quality and local economies.  It's a win-win-win-win.  

What You Can Do:  If you want to show your support for conserving these rivers, you can start by tweeting about them -- see the suggested tweet below, or just click on the tweet symbol at the bottom of this story.

 Climate Change

Extreme Heat, An Extreme Problem

Extreme heat claims American lives. As Science News reported since 1986, the first year the National Weather Service reported data on heat-related deaths, more people in the United States have died from heat (3,979) than from any other weather-related disaster — more than floods (2,599), tornadoes (2,116) or hurricanes (1,391). Beyond death, researchers are beginning to discover the other ways in which heat affects human health: heat appears to rob us of sleep, brain function, and of healthy births.

While the human body is great at maintaining our internal body temperature and can even tolerate a good deal of heat it has its limits. If the outside is hotter than the body, blood at the skin surface won’t release heat. If humidity is high, sweating won’t cool the skin. When our bodies have to combat heat without a break they get tired and susceptible to heat exhaustion which can lead to heat stroke--an often fatal condition. While no one is immune to heat the elderly (who have fewer sweat glands), children (who haven't fully developed the ability to regulate heat), pregnant women, and people with chronic diseases are especially at risk. 

Why This Matters: Climate change is expected to only make extreme heat worse but there are actions we can take. Since 80% of Americans live in urban areas (which are more susceptible to heat through the urban heat island effect) there are opportunities to cool cities and make extreme heat less fatal. One approach is to plant more trees as they lower the air temperature by transferring water from the soil through the tree to the air. New York City has planted over a million trees since 2007 to combat the heat.  Another method is to paint roads, roofs and surfaces light colors. These actions can only have so much impact, ultimately in order to prevent extreme heat deaths we're going to have to make a drastic effort to reduce our GHG emissions. 


Southern Company Phasing Out Coal

At an energy conference yesterday, the CEO of the Southern Company, which is the largest power company in the southeastern U.S., announced that the company intends to be carbon free by 2050.  Energywire reports that the company, which spent millions of dollars fighting the clean power plan under the Obama Administration, now has succumbed to market forces and is ramping up their purchases of wind and solar power.  The company also switched to natural gas for a new plant it built in Mississippi, that was supposed to be coal-fired.  The CEO claimed this phase-out of carbon had been the subject of internal planning for months, but only now have they made it public.

The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) praised the announcement, but want to see the company's next power plan to understand the details.  "This is an important acknowledgment by one of the world's leading carbon polluters that it needs to do more to rein in its emissions," said Kurt Ebersbach, an attorney with SELC's Atlanta office.  One other issue the company must face is what to do about a new nuclear plant under construction (the only one in the country) that is billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule but will also be carbon free.

Why This Matters:  According to power industry experts, the move to carbon-free power generation is inevitable.  One industry analyst put it this way: "With all due respect to our president, he just can't overcome the economics of gas, as much as he would like to help coal."   Southern Company's carbon-free goal is eminently do-able  The bulk of the company's coal-fired power plants will go offline by 2030 -- with only 18% of their power coming from coal plants after that -- which gives them 20 more years to get down to zero.  That will mean the elimination of 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution out of the air.  


Bottom Trawling Banned by Fishermen In California

The Pacific Fishery Management Council voted this week to protect a 16,000-square-mile area of sensitive ocean habitat off Southern California, as reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune yesterday.  The decision was praised by marine conservationists and fishing fleets.  The new protected area consists of the waters around the Channel Islands from San Diego to Point Conception, which will now be off-limits to trawling.  Trawling is a fishing technique that involves dragging large nets across the seafloor. The process is used to catch rockfish, but can damage deep-sea corals and other sensitive habitats.  

The Council also voted to open some previously closed historic fishing grounds that were less sensitive habitat.  As a result, there is improved protection for high-priority habitats, such as the rocky outcroppings, reefs, coral gardens and sponge beds that harbor rich biodiversity and serve as nurseries for young rockfish and other species.  

Why This MattersThis is a win-win for conservation and for fishermen. And it sets a high bar for habitat protection on the west coast.
Geoff Shester, California program director for the conservation group Oceana, one of the organizations that drafted the proposal, put it well when he said, “[t]his is something that will pay dividends for marine conservation, climate resilience, biodiversity creation and productive fisheries. This is a gift to future generations.”
The corals of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary as photographed by the NOAA Okeanos Explorer.


One Funny (if it weren't so sad) Thing: John Oliver on Scott Pruitt

The Last Week Tonight host tore into EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's outlandish spending habits. It made us laughcry. 

As Grist noted, "A real nugget of laughs came from Pruitt’s LinkedIn profile, which embarrassingly has not been updated with his current position — it still lists him as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.”

It’s the little things."

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