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Latest Stories | Our Daily Planet

Latest Stories

One Big Gulp Thing: Watch Out Sea Lion!

Photo: Chase Dekker, via The Washington Post

Off the coast of California on July 22nd, a wildlife photographer Chase Dekker caught a rare moment on film — a humpback whale coming up and “encountering” a sea lion that had been feasting on anchovies.  Talk about wrong place, wrong time!  Dekker shared his incredible photo with The Washington Post who asked Ari Friedlaender, an ecologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz who is an expert on the foraging behavior of marine mammals, to explain it.  Friedlander told The Post “’This was a once-in-a-million time that the sea lion zigged when it should have zagged and kind of got taken for a ride,’ he said, noting that there was ‘no intent by the whale to eat the sea lion.’”  Wow!  We had to share this “once in a lifetime” pic!

Trump Administration Full Speed Ahead on Drilling and Mining In Alaska

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge    Photo: Nathaniel Wilder, Politico

The Trump Administration in recent days has moved to quickly walk back protections for pristine areas of Alaska, advancing projects to develop the Pebble Mine that threatens Bristol Bay and its billion-dollar salmon fishery and also oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) over the strenuous objections of Alaska native tribes and their corporations, local communities, fishers, tourism businesses, and environmental groups.  

  • EPA had originally decided to keep in place an Obama Administration decision blocking the mine because of the potential to harm the Bristol Bay salmon fishery, but then reversed course and on Tuesday announced that it was lifting its “veto” of a Clean Water Act permit that the Army Corps of Engineers will now be able to grant to allow the mining company to fill in wetlands.
  • A recent exposé in Politico described how the Secretary of Interior (who is a former oil and gas lobbyist) is determined to complete the environmental reviews of oil and gas drilling in ANWR in half that time, and conduct lease sales for areas in ANWR before the end of 2019.

Why This Matters:  Rushing to drill and destroy our national heritage, this Administration is acting like they won’t have a second term to finish what they have started.  Alaska is melting and burning because of fossil fuels and this Administration — and Alaska’s Republican politicians who know what is happening to their state — are just barreling ahead with these projects.  We still have the basic environmental laws on the books, but legal challenges to their implementation may only be able to slow the Administration down enough to keep the drilling and digging from starting before the next election – but they probably cannot prevent them.  The fate of Alaska’s unspoiled natural resources, more than 10,000 fishing jobs, and the Native Alaskan’s heritage and way of life hang in the balance of the 2020 election. 

Pebble Mine vs. Salmon

  • The Pebble Mine mineral deposit sits beneath state land, according to The Anchorage Daily News.  And it is surrounded by two National Parks — Katmai and Lake Clark — that are some of the wildest parks remaining.  This is public space and natural resources that are being compromised.
  • The National Parks and Conservation Association explains that “Lake Clark protects the headwaters of the Kvichak and Nushagak Rivers that flow into Bristol Bay, home to the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon run. Wild salmon feed generations of families in the region, play an essential role in the ecosystem and anchor the local economy with its $2 billion fishing industry.
  • Katmai National Park is home for “one of the most incredible bear-watching opportunities anywhere on the planet.”

ANWR –  Politico Reveals Trump Administration Squelching the Science on Drilling Impacts

  • “Documents leaked to POLITICO Magazine and Type Investigations reveal that the work of career scientists has at times been altered or disregarded to underplay the potential impact of oil and gas development on the coastal plain.”
  • “Moreover, DOI has decided it will undertake no new studies as part of the current review process, despite scientists’ concerns that key data is years out of date or doesn’t exist.”

To Go Deeper:  Read the full Politico story – it is worthy of your time.

One Skeevy Thing: Swarms of Grasshoppers Invade Sin City

In what could be interpreted as a Biblical plague, swarms of grasshoppers have taken over Las Vegas, NV making it virtually impossible for tourists to walk the street of Sin City without encountering the swarming insects. In fact, the grasshoppers even showed up on radar observed by the National Weather Service. But not to worry, as Smithsonian Magazine explained, the grasshoppers, which are likely migrating in greater numbers due to the year’s unusually heavy rainfall, pose no threat to humans.

Debate 2, Night 1: Progressives vs. Moderates

Image: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Last night was the first night of the second round of the Democratic primary debates where 10 candidates had 2 hours to discuss a full gambit of voter issues including climate change. Which, by our count, got 14 total minutes of the 120-minute debate. The resounding theme for much of the evening was the disparity between progressive and moderate candidates on how they would use federal dollars and government resources to enact climate action policies.

The Divide: Progressive candidates like Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders support bold federal action to tackle climate change, create jobs, and spur clean energy innovation. The centrist candidates like former congressman John Delaney, Montana Governor Steve Bullock, and congressman Tim Ryan called progressive plans like the Green New Deal unrealistic and something that’s merely a wish. Though the centrists all endorsed green principles such as a just transition for fossil fuel workers, energy innovation, and sustainable agriculture (all components of the Green New Deal resolution btw) they were wary that a comprehensive plan that addresses all of the above was not marketable to American voters.

Environmental Justice: This round of debates is taking place in Detroit, MI, a city that has been grappling with gross environmental injustice while in its neighboring city to Flint, residents still do not have clean public water to drink. The only question addressing environmental justice was directed to Senator Amy Klobuchar who has released a $1 trillion infrastructure plan that would also address water infrastructure around the country. Klobuchar did not broach the social injustice aspects of the fact that 1/4 of Americans drink water from systems that don’t meet safety standards but author Marianne Williamson dove right into environmental justice by saying that water issues extend far beyond Flint and that it’s poor and communities of color that are being forced to endure deadly pollution because they don’t have the resources to wage a political fight. That was a big point to be made on national television!

The Surprise: When Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who mentioned climate both in his opening and closing remarks, was asked about climate change by the CNN moderators he punted the issue in favor of talking about his broader advantages over other candidates when it comes to beating Donald Trump. While Buttigieg doesn’t shy away from talking about climate issues he still has yet to release a climate plan that’s on par with the likes of Washington Governor Jay Inslee.

Why This Matters: According to CNN’s own polling, climate change is a top issue for likely Democratic Iowa caucusgoers yet climate questions weren’t asked of the candidates until about 3/4 of the way through the evening. Furthermore, climate change encompasses every other major voting priority like immigration and healthcare and yet when climate questions were asked this interconnectedness was never addressed. For instance, moderators could have asked candidates how they would tackle rising healthcare costs resulting from climate change.

Room for Improvement: When candidates attempted to delve into policy specifics they were often cut off as they had reached their allotted response time. The format only underscored the need for a more substantive climate forum (like the one we’re hosting with GU Politics and MSNBC) where candidates will be given ample time to address a topic as deeply complicated as climate change without overgeneralizing.  Primary debates are great for showcasing personalities but when it comes time for substance, 30-second soundbites don’t get the job done. We’ll see what night 2 brings!

Sharks on the High Seas Need Protection Too

A bronze whaler shark. Image: Andrew Fox/Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions

Sharks often end up as bycatch in commercial fishing lines (it’s one of the biggest issues facing sharks) but new research is showing that even highly migratory species of sharks have little refuge in the open ocean from fishing fleets. As Phys recently reported, regional declines in abundance of some shark populations such as —the fastest shark in the sea—have led to widespread calls for catch limits in the high seas where there is currently little or no management for sharks.

What This Means: A global scientific effort has shown that about one-quarter of shark habitats fall within active fishing zones. The Indian Ocean and the North Atlantic had the highest overlap of shark populations and commercial fishing operations.

What’s A Shark to Do: The research published in the journal Nature explained that the results show that sharks don’t have many options when it comes to seeking refuge from fisheries. The authors of the study suggested creating protected areas around important shark hotspots as a global conservation effort.

Why This Matters: Even protected shark species like great whites had 50% of their range overlapping with commercial fishing. This means that international cooperation to protect shark species that live on the high seas should become a priority.

Go Deeper: Scientists at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in Wachapreague are experimenting with tiny electrical fields that might be able to deter sharks from commercial longlines.

 

Ethiopia’s Green Legacy – Hundreds of Millions of New Trees Planted

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed plants a tree in Addis Ababa.     Photo: Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office via Ecowatch

On Monday, Ethiopians around the nation planted trees — and not just a few — the citizens of the second-largest African nation planted 353 million trees in just 12 hours as part of the “Green Legacy” initiative led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. This is believed to be a new world record for the number of trees planted in a day, and it exceeded the 200 million trees goal — India was the previous record holder for planting 66 million in one day in 2017.

Why This Matters:  Look what people can do when they just try.  The Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker editorialized that “At the moment, our biggest problem – climate change – can be ended by simply planting trees. OK, so a trilliont rees, according to a Swiss study published earlier this month in the journal Science. But how hard is that, really?”  I (Monica) laughed when I read it, but I am changing my tune, given what Ethiopia managed to pull off in just a day.  How hard would it be?  How many could we plant here in the U.S. if we tried creating carbon sinks instead of pulling carbon out of the ground and the ocean?  No one really thinks we can fully solve the climate change problem without curing our fossil fuel addiction, but we could make a visible start if we RE-planted

Green Legacy Sets Ambitious Goal

CNN reported that Ethiopia’s overall goal is  HUGE — the nationwide campaign aims to plant 4 billion trees during “the rainy season” — between May and October according to a tweet by the Prime Minister.  Why is this so important?

CNN reported that in 2017, Ethiopia joined more than 20 other African nations in pledging to restore 100 million hectares of land as part of the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative.
How Effective is Tree Planting?
It turns out, according to researchers in Switzerland, that planting trees is an effective way to take carbon out of the atmosphere.  Tom Crowther, one of the authors of the study, calculated that there are about 3 trillion trees already on earth — much higher than NASA’s previous estimate of 400 billion. The research team further calculated that if we planted an additional 1.2 trillion across the planet, there would be huge benefits in terms of absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide, the main driver of climate change.

Current trees are in green and trees that could be planed are in yellow. 

Pristine Patagonia Oiled in Major Spill

Photo: Chilean Navy via AP

By Alexandra Patel and Monica Medina

At the southernmost tip of South America, ten thousand gallons of diesel fuel spilled into the sea off the coast of Chile’s Patagonia, in one of the most pristine areas of the world. The oil spill originated at a terminal on Guarello Island, which lies approximately 1,700 miles south of Santiago. The Chilean Navy confirmed the spill on Saturday — it was reported by CAP mining, who said in a statement that the spill is now being contained. The spill had spread into the South Pacific Ocean where the Navy is currently working to stem it. Despite the size of the spill — approximately 40,000 liters (10,600 gallons) —  as of Sunday, some 15,000 liters have been successfully contained.

Why This Matters: It is a terrible tragedy that this pristine and highly sensitive area that is so important ecologically has been damaged by a spill — because there is no such thing as a total clean up. Oil spills will always occur – they are an unavoidable risk when drilling for oil and gas. The only way to ensure their demise is the elimination of natural gas and oil drilling in the first place. And despite knowing of the disastrous environmental effects of oil spills, the Trump administration is making moves to open almost all of America’s coastal waters to offshore oil and gas drilling – giving companies more than a billion acres off the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic coasts. That is a bad decision and hopefully can be reversed before drilling would actually begin in the ocean.

Teeming With Life: Patagonia is a biodiversity hotspot and an area with limited accessibility. The effects of the spill could be especially devastating here considering the pristine nature of the waters, as well as be much harder to clean up.

  • Patagonia is an area roughly the same size as Alaska and his home to some of the largest coastal colonies of marine animals and birds.
  • Oil spills threaten these communities by blocking light needed by ecosystems through the leftover residue on the waters surface, as well as by releasing toxins in the ocean.

As stated by Greenpeace Chile Director Matías Asun “It is an area of great richness of marine mammals, like whales and dolphins, which could see themselves seriously affected in their habitat given that when coming to the surface to breathe they could meet this layer of oil.”

Clean Water Emerging as A Top Tier Campaign Issue

Last week, Senators Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand made safe drinking water a key environmental plank in their campaigns.  Harris promised to work for passage of her “Water Justice Act” that would invest nearly $220 billion in clean and safe drinking water programs, with priority given to high-risk communities and schools. Senator Gillibrand promised in her climate change plan to pass a bill to address contamination of PFAS (a flame retardant chemical) in the drinking water around military bases to remove these chemicals nationwide, and she also has introduced the “Promoting Infrastructure and Protecting the Economy (PIPE) Act” to create a $5 billion federal water infrastructure grant program to help communities address urgent water projects.

Why This Matters;  Climate change is an increasingly salient issue for Americans and it absolutely deserves the President’s immediate attention.  But so is cleaning up our nation’s drinking water — and it is an issue that straddles party lines.  Our drinking water is not crystal clean — there is unsafe drinking water all over the country — both because our infrastructure is old and because we are allowing too much pollution that is seeping into our groundwater and rivers and streams.  And this water contamination problem is hurting frontline communities — minorities, rural communities and the poor — disproportionately. Many of the candidates say that clean drinking water is a basic human right that all Americans deserve it — but we need to demand specifics from all of them.  

Harris’ Plan

In addition to the $220 billion, Harris would dedicate $50 billion in emergency funds to be given to communities whose water supplies have been contaminated, such as Flint, Mich., including funds to pay for water testing and to make emergency repairs of infrastructure that is tainting the water.

  • “Every American has the right to clean water, period,” Harris said in a press release. “We must take seriously the existential threat represented by future water shortages and acknowledge that communities across the country — particularly communities of color — already lack access to safe and affordable water.”

Gillibrand’s Plan

Gillibrand actually proposed a plan for Flint’s water crises three weeks ago.  Gillibrand would revise the law that allows the government to respond to natural disasters to include man-made disasters like contaminated water supply (or a major oil spill).  She will also repurpose the money President Trump repurposed for the border wall and instead use it to address the water infrastructure problem — to get ahead of it by starting to make repairs.  She will also raise the safety standard for drinking water and dedicate $400 billlion for water infrastructure repairs over the next 10 years.

Klobuchar Too

Senator Amy Klobuchar was actually the first to talk about aging infrastructure including water infrastructure — she proposed a $Trillion dollar plan that included a commitment to addressing our drinking and wastewater infrastructure, in particular for those in low-income communities, communities of color, and rural communities.

Democratic Debate Tonight: What Might CNN Ask?

The second Democratic debate tonight and tomorrow night, which is being held in Detroit, offers CNN an opportunity to ask some environment/climate questions that are particularly of interest due to the local audience who are drawn from a “frontline community” as conceived of in the Green New Deal that has been endorsed by several candidates.  The Motor City is known for being the home of the U.S. auto industry, but also for pollution (see the Sunrise Movement’s #Visit48217 tweets), and as a city in transition on its way back.  In nearby Flint, the tainted drinking water that made headlines during the last Presidential election is still an issue. Will CNN take the opportunity to ask questions on these topics, or will they wait until their climate town hall in 5 weeks — that is the question. 

Why This Matters:  Senator Kamala Harris and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced on Monday that they intend to introduce a bill called the “Climate Equity Act,” that will  “ensure that the United States government makes communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis the foundation of policy related to climate and the environment, including the policies to build a Green New Deal.”  That sure sounds like it is aimed at Detroit, among other places.  Senator Harris also announced last week she is introducing another bill called the “Water Justice Act” that would invest nearly $220 billion in clean and safe drinking water programs, with priority given to high-risk communities and schools.  Harris has moved aggressively to address two issues important to Michigan residents and many other Democratic voters in advance of the debate.  Where are the other candidates on the eve of the debate? Of the candidates appearing tonight, Beto O’Rourke, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and John Delaney have the most detailed climate change plans. 

What Could CNN Ask?

We are just spitballing here, but the CNN moderators could ask the candidates questions like:

  • How quickly do you think the U.S. should try to transition to zero-emission electric vehicles, and how much should the government spend to encourage it?
  • What would you do to ensure that the government is helping everyone, not just people who can afford a Tesla, to have access to electric vehicles?
  • What would you do to ensure that other communities like Flint will have safe drinking water?  How would you prioritize what needs to be done to fix our country’s aging water infrastructure?
  • How will you help frontline communities like Detroit rid themselves of pollution and become hubs for a more sustainable economy?
  • What would you say to auto workers whose factories have closed in recent years about their ability to participate in the new more sustainable economy? What will you do to help them?

We will do a wrap up of tonight’s climate and environment questions and answers and preview tomorrow night’s debate in tomorrow’s ODP.  

A Bold New Commitment to Covering Climate

Covering Climate Now, is a new project aimed at breaking the climate silence that has long prevailed in the news media. The project, co-founded by The Nation and the Columbia Journalism Review and in partnership with The Guardian, officially has 60 media outlets committing to more climate coverage including the likes of CBS News and the Harvard Business Review. As CJR explained, each of these outlets has committed to running one week of focused climate coverage, to begin September 16 and culminate September 23, the day of the landmark international Climate Action Summit hosted by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in New York.