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London’s Mayor Announces Clean Air Day to Happen Sept. 22nd

Driving through London yesterday, I (Miro) was trying to imagine what this notoriously trafficy city would look like without cars.

London’s mayor Sadiq Khan has called air pollution “the biggest public health emergency of a generation” and has made tackling the problem an utmost priority during his tenure. This past April, London became the first city in the world to implement a 24-hour, seven day a week Ultra Low Emission Zone, inside which vehicles have to meet stringent emissions standards. And now, Khan announced that September 22nd will be Clean Air Day meaning that 12.4 miles (20km) of roads will be closed to cars in an effort to get Londoners to “reimagine” their city as car-free, and get around by either walking or cycling.

But Why? By The Numbers: According to CNN,

  • More than two million Londoners live in areas that exceed legal limits for nitrogen dioxide — NO2— including more than 400,000 children under the age of 18, according to the mayor’s office.
  • Vehicles are responsible for around half of harmful nitrogen oxide air emissions in the British capital, the mayor’s office said in April. They contribute to a toxic air health crisis that increases the risk of asthma, cancer and dementia as well as causing thousands of premature deaths every year, it added.
  • A recent Transport for London survey found that almost one in two Londoners did not realize vehicles were the main cause of the city’s air pollution.

Perhaps what’s most scary, however, is that the risk of dying from long-term exposure to London’s toxic air has risen for the second year in a row. 

Mayor Khan hopes that more than 150,00 Londoners will take part in car-free events across the city. Eighteen of London’s 32 boroughs have also confirmed events, including the creation of “Play Streets” where children and communities can gather safely.

Why This Matters: Air pollution is lethal–it kills more people than smoking and is a growing threat in many of the world’s cities. Part of the problem is that either people are used to getting around using cars or they simply have no other viable option to get to work and live their lives. It’s up to politicians like mayors to help citizens imagine their lives without reliance on single-occupancy vehicles and also to help provide adequate public transportation to meet the mobility needs of commuters. One car-free day isn’t going to solve London’s air pollution problem but it can help unite the city’s residents behind things like carpooling, biking, and increased use of public transit once they witness the tangible effects of something like Clean Air Day.

 

How to Save Local Wildlife this Pool Season

Ducklings clinging to a FrogLog. Image: Photo: Sandy Forbes/FrogLog

By Madison Pravecek

We are well past Memorial Day which means one thing for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere: pool season! While you may be really excited to use your personal or community pool, for many small animals pools can be quite treacherous. When frogs, chipmunks, salamanders, insects, or other animals enter a pool, they instinctively swim toward the pool wall attempting to escape; however, pool walls are usually too slippery for the trapped animals to escape. When the animal gets exhausted from swimming around the pool, it typically either drowns or gets sucked into the skimmer basket. It’s for this reason that Rich Mason, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, invented the FrogLog, a device that enables animals trapped in pools to escape! When the animals bump into this device (seen in the picture above), they crawl onto the mesh landing strip, move onto the foam pad, proceed up the ramp and are able to escape.

Mason started creating the FrogLog in 2014 as a passion project. An avid animal lover, he would help people who found that animals were trapped in their pool and noted that while people are used to seeing frogs in their pool, they would often be unnerved at seeing drowned chipmunks. He explained that some homeowners would “even find a family because the young chipmunks aren’t as wary as their parents. In the Southwest, it’s lizards, desert rats and scorpions. In California, I have several customers who get ducklings in the pool that can’t get out. I’ve even had someone in Florida who has had larger animals like armadillos and possums in their pool.”

Why This Matters: The last thing a pool-goer wants to do is endanger local wildlife–the FrogLog is a simple and innovative way to protect animals. Since Mason started the project 15 years ago, it is estimated that the FrogLog has saved more than one million animals! Especially since biodiversity loss as a result of human activity is an urgent threat, we need to do everything in our power to protect the animals in our own communities. Some other examples of this type of protection include growing pollinator gardens, encouraging your community to build a wildlife crossing, disinfecting bird baths and eliminating the use of pesticides and herbicides–read more tips here!

Interested in buying a FrogLog for your pool? They can be ordered here

 

One of the Most Ambitious Climate Action Plans in the World Is Taking Place In New York State

Image: KMB

by Alex Patel and Miro Korenha

The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, a landmark climate change bill in New York state is awaiting signature by Governor Andrew Cuomo.  The act would slash New York’s carbon emissions 85% below 1990 levels by 2050 and use alternative measures to remove the remaining 15% of atmospheric carbon dioxide (such as tree-planting or carbon capture). By effectively creating a net-zero economy this legislation would undoubtedly put New York on the map as a global leader on climate action.  

What’s To Be Done: New York currently gets about 60 percent of its electricity from carbon-free sources, mostly hydroelectric dams and nuclear power plants and some wind and solar, but needs to transition to 70% by 2030 and be entirely carbon-free a decade later to reach the goals set by this bill. To meet its new targets, the state plans to construct massive offshore wind turbines, ramp up rooftop solar programs and install large new batteries.

Green Jobs: While bearing heavy costs in its implementation, this bill is predicted to create 200,000 jobs in the next decade within the green industry. More specifically, this bill is dedicating 35 percent of the state’s clean energy funds towards investment in environmentally vulnerable low-income communities – $370 million in this past fiscal year. This bill is not just confronting the current trend of climate inaction within America but is also tackling racial injustice and environmental racism.

An Uphill Battle: From 1990 to 2015, New York has only been able to reduce its emissions by 8%. Industrial facilities, residential homes, office buildings, the transportation system, and the approximately 10 million cars, trucks and buses within the state must all become notably cleaner for New York to become a net-zero economy.

  • Around one-quarter of emissions come just from residential and commercial buildings. The estimated cost for building owner to comply with these new laws is estimated to exceed $4 billion.
  • Transforming vehicle emissions is a major challenge as the Trump administration has made it their mission to roll back federal vehicle efficiency rules and make it harder for individual states to impose stricter standards.
  • Capital flight is also a major concern, as many see the potential for companies to move their operations in the face of rising costs of production and electricity prices – especially for small businesses. However, companies have the means to attain renewable energy and be a part of the solution.

Why This Matters: The federal government has often been slow to act on the adoption of renewable energy, but currently progress has ground to a halt. This bill will be critical in giving renewable energy a pathway to flourish in the Northeast. If it passes, New York will follow in the footsteps of Maine, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, New Mexico, California, and New Jersey, all of which have passed substantive clean energy policies recently-as has Hawaii has had its 100 percent renewables target in place since 2015. The more states that are encouraged to pass similar legislation, the more renewable energy will be solidified as a primary source of energy generation.

 

Oregon Senate Shuts Down Amid Republican Walkout and Threat by Militia Groups

Missing Oregon Senators        Image: KEZI/KGW/CNN, via WXFG.com

A vote on “cap and trade” climate change legislation in the Oregon Senate prompted a walkout by all the Republican Senators on Friday, and the Governor later sent state police to track down them down and bring them back — they are allegedly in hiding in Idaho.  Tensions grew higher when Senate President Peter Courtney told The Associated Press (AP) that the Oregon state police “recommended that the Capitol be closed tomorrow [Saturday] due to a possible militia threat.”

Why This Matters:  The Republican Senators have every right to vote against the climate legislation — but they cannot hold the entire state hostage and frustrate the will of the people of Oregon.  The legislative session ends by law in a week. Democracy means the majority rules and the Democrats outnumber Republicans 18-12 in the Senate.  And for right-wing groups to threaten violence against the Senate and Governor for demanding that the Republicans return and do their job is a tragedy and an anathema to our system of government.  We settle policy disputes by debate and voting not by taking up arms.  We also believe in the rule of law, but somehow even this basic principle is eroding with Republican Senators threatening violence against state police.  This may not end well.

Republican Senators Taunt the Police With Threats.

  • According to the AP, one of the Republicans, Senator Brian Boquist, “urged” the state police to “send bachelors and come heavily armed” when they come to bring him back to the Capitol.
  • Democratic leaders of the Oregon House and Senate put out a joint statement in response saying, “His comments have created fear among employees in our workplace…We will always defend free speech and welcome frank policy discussions, but threats like these are unacceptable.”
  • This Oregon dispute is a reminder of the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016 when dozens of militia member occupied the remote Oregon refuge for more than a month to protest federal control of Western lands, which only ended after authorities fatally shot the group’s spokesman and arrested key leaders.

What The Proposed Law Would Do.  The AP reported that the bill cannot move forward to a vote without a quorum of the Senate present, which is 20 of the 32 members.  The Senate president has threatened to impose a $500 fine for each day the Republicans delay a vote on a landmark climate plan.

The opponents of the law argue that it would widen a growing divide between the liberal, urban parts of the state and the rural areas.

Massive Explosion at Philly Refinery on Friday, Toxic Gas Release Narrowly Averted

A massive explosion at an old oil refinery shook South Philadephia early Friday morning, causing the city to issue orders for nearby residents to shelter in place, and the fire, while controlled, continued to burn into Saturday until the refinery was able to turn off a valve, according to Philadelphia fire and emergency management officials.  The explosion occurred after one of a series of gas blasts at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery sent a fireball into the air and “rocked people awake” for miles at around 4:30 a.m.  Four workers at the plant were injured, but the blast, according to Reuters, “renewed concerns about the oil industry’s use of a highly toxic chemical to make high-octane gasoline at plants in densely populated areas.”

Why  This Matters:  Aging refineries and industrial facilities sited in large urban areas are a real risk and their safety must be very closely monitored and they should potentially be closed if they do not meet strict safety standards.

Indeed, one member of the Board told the local NBC news affiliate that the region dodged a bullet and that if another chemical had been involved, the explosion could have been a catastrophe to human life.  We need to know what other facilities like this are at risk and to examine the impacts of facilities like these on the mostly poor and minority communities in which they are located.  This facility dates back to the 19th century — it opened a year after the Civil War ended.

The Explosion Could Have Been A Real Disaster.  

According to the local NBC news station, a “plume of thick, black smoke billowed east from the large complex near Philadelphia International Airport and over portions of South Philadelphia, the Delaware River and into South Jersey.” Though city health officials said the area was safe, the smoke could be dangerous, according to an air-quality expert. “Immediate exposure can trigger asthma and other issues,” he cautioned. “If it were me, what I would do is leave the area for as much of the day as possible.”

The Week Ahead: June 24th-28th

Happy Monday – thanks for starting your week with us!  We hope you had a great weekend filled with summer fun — including some outdoor time.  This week’s news will be dominated by the first debate between twenty of the Democratic contenders, more on that in a minute, and the President’s trip to the G-20 in Japan where he is expected to meet with President Xi on the sidelines and perhaps get trade talks back on track, as well as Congress working hard before heading into a July 4th district work week next week.

Politics: The first debate is really two debates — Wednesday and Thursday nights — it will be interesting to see how they vary because of the candidates being different — whether the questions will be the same or similar from night to night. We are hoping there is at least one substantive question each night on the climate crisis. The debates will be from 9-11 p.m. each night on NBC, MSNBC, and Telemundo. They also will stream online via multiple digital and social platforms, including NBCNews.com, MSNBC.com, and the NBC News Mobile App. The first hour will be moderated by Lester Holt with Savannah Guthrie and José Diaz Balart assisting, and the second hour will be co-moderated by Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow. It sounds like there will be so many people — moderating and debating — that it will be hard to follow.  We will see.

ICYMI:  Scroll down for our “cheat sheets” on the candidates’ positions on climate change issues.

Capitol Hill:  On Tuesday at 2  pm, the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee will hold the third in a series of hearings on responding to climate disasters entitled “Recovery, Resiliency and Readiness — Contending with Natural Disasters in the Wake of Climate Change.”  The House Natural Resources Committee is holding a hearing on Tuesday at 10 am entitled, Uranium Mining: Contamination and Criticality,which could be interesting given the Supreme Court’s latest decision on this topic.  And the House Agriculture Committee will hold a hearing entitled “Managing for Soil Health: Securing the Conservation and Economic Benefits of Healthy Soils” also on Tuesday at 10 am.

And the US Women play Spain today at noon for the right to advance to the quarter-finals of the Women’s World Cup. Go Team USA! 

One Cool Thing: Conservation at “Downton Abbey”

The meadow looking up to Highclere Castle.

I (Miro) got a chance to visit Highclere Castle yesterday (aka the real Downton Abbey) and aside from the stunning beauty of the grounds and the castle, I was taken with the message that Lord and Lady Carnarvon (owners of the estate) shared with us about their attitude toward conservation. Lady Carnarvon explained that in addition to maintaining the several-hundred-year-old home, the Earl’s family actively works to conserve the local soil, use renewable energy, and help protect animal species. She said that “there’s a saying that we must protect and preserve for future generations to enjoy, but we aim to protect and preserve for the sake of nature itself,” adding that while neither her nor her husband will be around in 150 years to enjoy the majesty of the cedar trees they’ve planted that she hopes they can inspire their heirs also act as good stewards of nature as well.

How Do the Democratic Candidates Stack Up on the Climate Crisis?

By Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

The first of the Democratic debates will take place this week. The Democratic Party refuses to hold a debate focused on climate change, and the candidates are likely to get only one question – if that – on this important topic. The New York Times asked all the candidates this week if they think we can beat climate change – and you can see their answers here. But the real question is how do they plan to do it if elected President?

We looked at their web sites, public remarks, and various interviews and compiled a “cheat sheet” of their positions on a series of climate change issues organized by debate night – you can see them below. We broke it down for you so that the candidates who have put together a serious plan on addressing the climate crisis stand out.  The charts are easy to read — if there is a check mark in a box they have stated a position that is supportive of climate action — if it is empty it means they have not that we could find or they oppose.  It is as simple as that.

In the top tier of candidates who have seriously considered what to do about the climate crisis are Governor Inslee, who is running primarily on the issue of climate change, Vice President Biden, who put together a very comprehensive plan, Beto O’Rourke and Senator Warren who have fairly comprehensive if more issue-specific plans, and little known candidates John Delaney and Senator Bennet, who have more “moderate” but detailed plans. There are many candidates who have not said much beyond expressing support for the Green New Deal, but who have significant records in Congress to run on. In this category, we would put Senators Sanders and Booker, Representative Gabbard, Governor Hickenlooper, and Mayors De Blasio and Buttigieg. For the rest of the field, it is hard to know how much of a priority the climate crisis is, and what they would actually do if elected.

Considering all the issues under the climate crisis umbrella, general support for the Green New Deal framework and rejoining the Paris Agreement are two topics on which most of the candidates have taken a position – and thus do not provide much differentiation between them. In our view, the “Top 5” issues to consider when assessing the seriousness of the candidates are:

  1. Does the candidate put a date on when they want the U.S. to be carbon neutral, and does he/she say how much they are willing to spend to get there? And how aggressive is each of those things?
  2. Does the candidate look beyond clean energy — is he/she willing to put in place policies that will make needed changes across many sectors of the economy and society?
  3. Does the candidate have a climate security plan beyond rejoining the Paris Agreement?
  4. Does the candidate have a proposal on environmental justice, reigning in pollution generally, and conserving our parks and natural resources, as well as protecting frontline and vulnerable communities?
  5. Does the candidate believe that displaced workers in fossil fuel industries deserve public support, and will he/she take the “no fossil fuel contributions” pledge?

In our view, any candidate who now or in the future takes a pro-conservation/pro-climate action position on all five of these issues deserves an “A” on addressing the climate crisis. But without a debate or town hall type forum, we may never know the answer for many of the candidates. On questions that are this important to both the electorate and our country’s future, that is a real shame. In the meantime, here is our cheat sheet. We will continue to fill it in as the candidates take positions on these topics so that it will be a resource for all the voters who care about them. And if we missed something in these charts, please let us know and we will fix it.

To Go Deeper: Here are links to the plans of the candidates who have them: Marianne Williamson, John Hickenlooper, Andrew Yang, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Michael Bennet, John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, Jay Inslee, Beto O’Rourke, Tim Ryan, Elizabeth Warren.

*The Biden Campaign asked Monica for advice before they rolled out his plan and she gave it. We thought you should know.

One Cool Thing: Captured Belugas Return to Icelandic Sanctuary

Image: Aaron Chown/PA

After being captured from the while and performing for years in a Shanghai aquarium, two 12-year-old beluga whales named Little Grey and Little White will be flown to a whale sanctuary in Iceland where they will be able to live out the remainder of their lives. Their new sanctuary is roughly 6,000 miles from Shanghai, in Klettsvik Bay, on the Icelandic island of Heimaey and is the world’s first open water beluga sanctuary. As the BBC reported, if they thrive they could live to between 40 and 60 years old and the sanctuary could become home to other belugas as well.

 

Millennials Week Recap

We wanted to thank all of our interviewees this week for their thoughtful answers about why they’re fighting for our planet and more equitable circumstances for all people. This generation often gets accused of being entitled and self-centered but this interview series has shown that the challenges they’re actively trying to solve are not only daunting but require an immense amount of personal sacrifice. Millennials are working in jobs that didn’t previously exist and through ingenuity and entrepreneurship, are paving the path to a more sustainable future. We wanted to recap a couple of quotes shared by our interviewees that really speak to this notion. Thanks for reading this Millennials Week and for all your kind feedback that we’ve received! 

I feel like our generation doesn’t mind looking at the status quo and asking: “is there a better way to do this?” The solutions that will help us mitigate climate change are opportunities to do things better, and that’s a great purpose to get up in the morning for.” – Dave Folk, co-founder of Cloverly 

“We are witnessing more extreme weather events across the globe, with no signs of slowing. Whether that’s the record high temperatures, sea level rise, Arctic sea ice decline, a warming ocean, I could go on — there is a ton of evidence that climate change is not some far off-event. Many of us (Millennials) feel an innate responsibility to evolve beyond business as usual, probably because we realize it is not going to serve us in the long-haul.”– Jenny Hogrefe, Wellness and Sustainability Manager at KIND Snacks

“I went to law school to equip myself with the legal skills to fight climate change, and while there, realized I also had a passion for immigration issues. I also learned that climate migrants don’t enjoy the same legal protection as other people who are forced to leave their homes–this struck me as a huge gap.” – Ama Francis, legal fellow at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law

“In the 2018 U.S. midterm elections, there was a record number of Millennial candidates that ran and were elected to public office, yet in the current U.S. Congress, the average age of a lawmaker in the House is 58 and the Senate 62. We need to change this by voting and running for public office where our voice will have a bigger microphone—or a nice pen to write laws.” – Melvin Alvarez, policy consultant at the United Nations Environment Program