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Bombs Chase Away Drilling in Eastern GOM, Virginia is for Solar, and Skip the Straw in NYC
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By: Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

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Monday, May 14th, 2018

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U.S. Navy personnel detonate a floating mine during an exercise in the Gulf of Mexico.
Photo: Patrick Connerly, U.S. Navy
Military Says No Go to Drilling in Eastern Gulf of Mexico

In a report to Congress delivered last week, the Pentagon stated that the eastern part of the Gulf of Mexico is too important to military training to allow oil and gas drilling.  The Navy and Air Force use the eastern Gulf -- in an area east of the "Military Mission Line" that extends two hundred miles to the west of Florida -- to test laser weapons, long-range strike weapons, new vessels and mine warfare, among other activities, and drilling rigs could hamper those operations. The Defense Department report said, the area “is an irreplaceable national asset used by [the Department of Defense] DOD to develop and maintain the readiness of our combat forces, and is critical to achieving the objectives contained in the National Defense Strategy.”

The oil and gas industry spun the report as good news.  According to The Hill, Randall Luthi, the president of the National Ocean Industries Association, said the report showed, "There is a lot of ocean out there and while there will be devils in the details, the overall message from the Pentagon should be interpreted as cooperation and coordination."  The Trump administration is pushing to increase offshore oil and gas all around the U.S. coast.  In the most recent Gulf of Mexico auction, held in March, there were many bids for an area close to the Military Mission Line known as DeSoto Canyon, including a BP claim on about 171 square miles about 100 miles off the Louisiana coast.

Why This Matters: The Trump
Administration's plan to expand offshore drilling has been very controversial in most coastal states, including Florida. Florida's Republican Governor, who is running for Senate, seemed to get a special exemption for Florida from increased offshore drilling.  But according to Marine Link, the Administration has been in secret discussions for months with the oil and gas industry about expanding drilling east toward the Military Mission Line. We are betting on the Pentagon to hold their line -- in debates like this, national security generally wins -- and in this case, that would be better for tourism, and the Governor's Senate bid.  Sounds like a trifecta.  

 Climate Change

Climate Change May Be to Blame for America's "Allergy Explosion" 

If you've felt like your seasonal allergies have been especially bad this year, science can back you up on it! According to a new report from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology from 1995-2011, the pollen season throughout America grew from 11 to 27 days and as well as a jump in people who experience seasonal allergies. The report noted that increased atmospheric carbon encourages plants like ragweed to grow faster and larger, and that higher carbon levels can actually make pollen that produces a stronger allergic reaction.

As NBC News reported, rising temperatures, changes in worldwide weather patterns and increasing airborne pollen levels for a longer period of time can even affect the healthy; for those with a family history of allergies, the result is a more intense allergic reaction. Additionally, warmer and wetter winters help fungal spores grow which when inhaled can cause lung diseases. 

Why This Matters: Aside from being uncomfortable and inconvenient, increased pollen seasons are yet another way that a warming planet affects our health. For people who are really allergic, this is going to mean more money spent on medication and doctors visits to help them find treatment plans that alleviate symptoms. 

Watching this will make you sneezy!


Virginia Makes Big Solar Play

Thanks to a historic solar power purchase by Microsoft, the state of Virginia is expected to launch industrial-size solar facilities this year at two sites across 3500 acres that will generate 500 MW of power.  “When companies like Microsoft invest in Virginia solar, they opt for clean and reliable energy as well as new jobs in the energy economy we are working hard to build,” said Virginia Governor Ralph Northam

These new Virginia facilities rival the large industrial facilities in California -- the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in San Bernardino County, California generates the highest peak capacity of 392 megawatts, and the Solar Energy Generating Systems in the Mojave Desert of California that generates 354 megawatts at its peak, the equivalent of 232,500 homes.
  • The total generating capacity for Virginia solar power will continue to grow at a fast pace; more specifically, it will reach up to around 2,000 megawatts in the next five years.
  • For added perspective, that’s enough to power nearly 200,000 homes across the state.
Microsoft will soon have 1.2 gigawatts in its global renewable energy portfolio.  All of this is meant to contribute to the organization’s ultimate goal of being 60 percent dependent on wind, solar, and hydropower energy by 2020. 

Amazon likewise has been working on ways to sustainably power their massive data centers in Virginia since 2016 when they announced that five new solar farms would open across the state. These facilities were expected to generate 580,000-megawatt hours of annual energy.

Why This Matters:  When companies like Microsoft make big investments in renewable energy, they make it possible for everyone to purchase renewable energy at more affordable prices.  The new site, at 3,500 acres in size, is more than five square miles. It would take nearly 500 square miles of solar panels to supply all the homes in the state — and considerably more to supply all the businesses.  The limiting factor for solar growth in Virginia may ultimately be space.  

H/T to new reader Steve Goodin for this tip about Virginia's solar power boom.  



Photo: Center for Biological Diversity

Endangered Dolphins Listed, Caribou Down To Single Digits

The National Marine Fisheries Service last week, granted a March 2016 petition from the Animal Welfare InstituteCenter for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians, to provide U.S. protections under the Endangered Species Act to the Taiwanese Humpback dolphin to help prevent their extinction -- fewer than 100 remain in the wild.  According to Ecowatch, Taiwanese humpback dolphins are threatened by gillnet fishing, pollution, boat traffic and development along Taiwan's densely populated west coast, including the proposed construction of large wind farms.  An endangered listing will enable the U.S. to provide technical expertise and resources to support Taiwan in conserving the rare dolphin.

Meanwhile, scientists conducting aerial surveys confirmed that only three female woodland caribous remain -- they are members of the Selkirk herd, named for the mountains that span the border between British Columbia and Washington -- the only type native to the U.S. There were around 12 individuals in 2016, down from 50 in 2009.  Woodland caribou, not surprisingly, need woodlands, but they have lost much of their habitat to timber, mining and climate change.   Protecting large expanses of boreal forest is the best hope for saving these reindeer in Canada.

Why This Matters: Most dolphins species are plentiful, but there are a variety of rare ones that are on the brink of extinction. When species get down to numbers in the tens, it is only a matter of time -- any extreme event can push them over the edge.  The vaquita -- the smallest dolphin species endemic to Mexico -- is similarly close to extinction and none of the herculean efforts by conservationists seem to be sufficient.  Likewise, in Canada much has been tried to save the woodland caribou -- such as taking pregnant mothers captive to protect them and thief offspring from predators, but to no avail. The key is starting to take habitat conservation measures sooner to stave off extinction.  

Photo: Camilla Ibrahim, Defenders of Wildlife


NYC Businesses Passing on Plastic Straws

After images of animals suffering from human plastic pollution (like this poor turtle with a plastic straw up its nose) began to surface public awareness campaigns like Stop Sucking and the Last Plastic Straw have declared war on straws. Joining the ranks, cities like Malibu and Seattle responded by banning plastic straws to help protect their coastlines. While New York City hasn't formally banned usage of plastic straws many businesses in the cities are making a voluntary switch to paper straws or going straw-free entirely in an effort to reduce plastic pollution. As the New York Times reported, establishments like Smith Canteen (a coffee shop in Brooklyn), Inday (a chain of fast-casual Indian restaurants in Manhattan), and Atla and Cosme (two upscale Mexican restaurants) are leading the charge to offer paper or metal straws on-demand to their patrons

“People stopped asking for them,” said Inday owner Basu Ratnam. “Straws are a small, nonessential beverage accessory that we found people aren’t super attached to. We have been able to change customer behavior without being disruptive.”

Why This Matters: People don't mind making the switch to paper or metal straws. Straws are a habit people have grown used to but aren't actually essential for enjoying a beverage, the hope is that we can make a cultural shift away from using them (in the same way that people have started using reusable bags at grocery stores instead of opting for disposable plastic ones). The only way to render straws obsolete is to redesign lids and cups, said Mr. Ratnam, of Inday. “The onus is on the restaurant owners to work with buyers and manufacturers to come up with a solution that can accommodate the functionality of a straw without using one,” he said. “If enough restaurant owners came together, you could force innovation.”

Looking to Make The Shift Yourself? These reusable metal straws are a stylish alternative to plastic straws and make a great hostess gift! I (Miro) have them and love them! 


One Cool Thing Update: Rainforest "Guardians" Preventing Illegal Logging

We previously gave you a brief intro to Rainforest Connection, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that used retrofitted old mobile phones to create listening devices (referred to as "Guardians") that scan rainforests and detect sounds of illegal logging. Under the leadership of CEO Topher White, Rainforest Connection has deployed in forests in Peru and nine other nations in recent years. Since March their devices have already lead to critical arrests in Peru's Tambopata National Reserve. The nonprofit has more expansion plans in store: 

“Over the next six to eight months, we expect to launch at least 200 Guardians in 20 new endangered forest sites across the Amazon, Africa, Indonesia and North America,” Saskia Fisher, an outreach coordinator for the nonprofit, told NBC News MACH in an email.

She said the additional devices would help protect an additional 2,000 square miles of forest — the equivalent of taking four million cars off the road for a year.

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