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U.S. Soldiers and Minorities Unduly Impacted by Excessive Heat From Climate Change

A new Defense Department report on the security impacts of climate change provides startling evidence of the impacts of climate change on military readiness and the welfare of servicemembers — health impacts from heat have already cost the military as much as nearly $1 billion from 2008 to 2018 in lost work, retraining and medical care, according to a new report by NBC News and Inside Climate News.  Similarly, Ecowatch reported that based on the data contained in the Union of Concerned Scientists’ recent report entitled “Killer Heat,” African Americans have been disproportionately affected by extreme heat — approximately 40 percent of the total U.S. African American population vs. 3.0. percent of the U.S. general population will be affected as a result of global warming.

Why This Matters:  You might not think of poor and minority communities as having that much in common with members of the military, but in fact, both groups lack the power to alter their circumstances when it comes to exposure to extreme heat.  Low income and minority victims are trapped by their lack of means, but soldiers and sailors are also powerless and trapped in the heat during training, at the mercy of their commanders.  With this knowledge of the disproportionate impacts, policymakers and military commanders should do more to ensure that both populations are better protected from heat stress.  The military, in particular, should raise awareness among commanders of the dangers of heat illness because there was evidence in the NBC/Inside Climate News report that a disregard for heat safety rules led to the deaths of service members.

Service Members At Greater Risk Than a Decade Ago

African Americans In the South Suffer From the Heat

The Union of Concerned Scientists’ Adrienne Hollis and Dr. Kristy Dahl, a co-author of the Killer Heat report, examined the average number of days with a heat index above 105°F in counties with an African Americans population of 25 percent or more as compared to those counties with fewer than 25 percent African American.  They found that “counties with large African American populations are exposed to extreme temperatures 2-3 more days per year than those counties with smaller African American populations. And by midcentury, the expectation is that those same counties would experience about 20 more extreme heat days per year.”

GOP Senators Tried to Squash Climate Training for Meteorologists

2019 Global Temperatures Through June: Among Top 5 Hottest on Record

An example of the type of graphics Climate Central provides free of charge.

Climate Central is a nonprofit website that brings scientifically rigorous information about climate change to people in easy to read graphics and statistics. While we often cite them, meteorologists have been big consumers of their data, much to the chagrin of some Senate Republicans who want to nix this source of climate training for meteorologists. As the LA Times reported, “while TV meteorologists have been gobbling up reports and camera-ready graphics on climate change, the work of the New Jersey-based group has alarmed those who seek to cast doubt on the science that defines global warming. Last year, four climate skeptics in the U.S. Senate demanded an investigation of the $4 million in federal funding provided for the Climate Central program, saying it “is not science — it is propagandizing.””

The Accusations: Republican Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and James M. Inhofe and James Lankford, both of Oklahoma wrote a letter of protest to the National Science Foundation in June 2018 charging it with issuing grants to organizations (such as Climate Central) that they view as being in the position to influence politics. They explained in their letter to Inspector General Allison Lerner that the agency had strayed from its mission to support science and possibly violated the Hatch Act, the federal law that prohibits federal employees from taking public political positions. An internal investigation at NSF concluded that limitations on political activity at NSF were not violated in a recent memorandum to the senators. Neither was the Hatch Act. 

  • More specifically, the NSF investigation concluded that the Hatch Act had not been violated. Since violation would include “activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group” the grant that NSF gave to Climate Central did not fit the bill.

Why This Matters: The actions of Senators Cruz, Paul, Inhofe, and Lankford are nothing more than a political stunt. These men are United States senators and have access to the best data and statistics and therefore they can’t feign ignorance when it comes to climate science. Rather they’re simply doing this for political optics. Furthermore, the data that Climate Central provides meteorologists can help them to forecast and warn people of the impacts of natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes–extreme weather events that are a threat in Texas, Oklahoma and Kentucky. This information can help save lives so what reasonable person wouldn’t want it readily accessible?

Moderate Dems Announce GND Alternative to Reach “100 by 50”

On Tuesday, moderate Democrats in the House of Representatives, led by Congressman Frank Pallone of New Jersey, announced at a press conference that they will develop a “concrete” new climate proposal as an alternative to the Green New Deal, with a goal of achieving 100 percent clean energy by 2050.  While it is not clear what will be in the “concrete” proposal, the lawmakers promised to consult with stakeholders in developing it, and it is less ambitious than the Green New Deal, which sets a goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2030 in order to aggressively deal with the crisis and improve the odds that we stay within the 1.5-degree Celsius temperature increase that the IPCC recommends.  The Green New Deal already has garnered 94 supporters in the House and has the support of all the leading Democratic candidates for President.

Why This Matters:  A public splintering of Democrats on addressing the climate emergency is not helpful to the drafting or the passage of climate legislation.  Just like with other issues, divisions will only make it easier for climate-denying  Republicans and President Trump to succeed in rolling back current climate protections further.  Discussion is important.  Debating policy ideas is critical.  Dissension and division among supporters of climate action will undermine all our efforts.  As Greta Thunberg said in her speech to the French National Assembly, let’s unite behind the science (which both groups maintain supports their position), and stop talking about what we disagree about, and start drafting real proposals.

The GND Alternative

The “100 by 50” proposal will be done by the end of the year, according to the leaders behind it, and they intend to hold a number of hearings and meetings with business leaders and environmentalists in developing it.

  • Representative Paul Tonko said, “We can do any kind of whimsical thing but we have to do this in a way that includes conversations with stakeholders, their buy-in and their involvement in a consensus bill.”
  • Representative Tonko will be one of the lead architects of the “100 by 50” plan and will chair many of the hearings that will inform an eventual bill.
  • The Sunrise Movement reacted to the news saying, “Pallone and Democratic leaders are right that this is a crisis. But by setting a goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 here in the United States, they’re not acting like it.”
  • But other groups supported the “100 by 50” proposal — The National Resources Defense Council said House Democrats “are setting bold goals to protect our children and grandchildren from climate catastrophe,” and the Sierra Club said that these House Democrats are “taking the 100 percent clean energy progress happening in cities and states all across the country to a national scale.”

What The Real Other Side Is Saying

Fox News, meanwhile, reported that according to a new study by the Heritage Foundation, the goal of drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 is practically impossible.

  • The Heritage study also concluded that just “a 58 percent reduction would, by 2040, cost the economy $15 trillion in lost gross domestic product and an average of 1.1 million jobs per year. The average family of four would also see a total income loss of $165,000, or nearly $8,000 each year.”

One Cool Thing: All Female Sailing Expedition to Study Ocean Plastic

Emily Penn, eXXpedition Director and Sky Ocean Rescue Ambassador, at the helm. Image: Courtesy of Eleanor Church/Larkrise Pictures/eXXpedition

In October more than 300 women will join a round-the-world sailing expedition to highlight the devastating impact of plastic pollution in the oceans and conduct scientific research into the escalating crisis. The two-year, 38,000 nautical mile trip being organized by eXXpedition, a non-profit focusing on marine pollution, will travel to the Arctic, the Galapagos Islands, the South Pacific islands, and as well as other coastal areas where plastic pollution gathers.



Ohio’s Billion Dollar Nuclear Bailout Comes at the Expense of Renewables

Image: Greentech Media

The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that “Ohio has become the next state to bail out its nuclear plants with fees on ratepayers’ electric bills. On Tuesday, Gov. Mike DeWine signed the controversial House Bill 6, which will add new fees to Ohioans’ electric bills for two nuclear plants owned by the bankrupt FirstEnergy Solutions in northern Ohio.” This will happen at the same time that the state will slash existing efficiency and renewable energy mandates. While DeWine has claimed that the legislation will save jobs and costs for ratepayers, many aren’t convinced that’s the real motive. The Plain Dealer recently investigated the fact that while FirstEnergy claims that its nuclear plants are losing money and need a public bailout, it won’t actually reveal its financial data to back up this claim to Ohio taxpayers. 

A Strong Opposition: A recent poll done by API Ohio of registered Ohio voters found that 70% of voters oppose the bill. Additionally, HB 6 is facing widespread opposition from environmental groups and renewable energy advocates. As Greentech Media explained, “opponents say it’s a backhanded way to accomplish a longstanding goal of state Republicans to undo the state’s efficiency and renewables mandates, and that it will increase power costs and pollution compared to investing in cleaner alternatives.

The Plan: Starting in 2021, Ohio residential ratepayers will see their energy bills go up to help offset the cost of the FirstEnergy nuclear plants. The Cincinnati Enquirer explained that the bill would also guarantee that utilities can charge customers up to $1.50 a month for two coal plants operated by Piketon-based Ohio Valley Electric Corporation until 2030. That fee is already on most customers’ bills right now. To pay for those new or recurring fees, Ohio lawmakers slashed renewable energy requirements – eliminating them after the end of 2026 and lowering the percentage of energy that must come from those sources before then – and effectively ended energy efficiency mandates after 2020. 

Why This Matters: Ohio residents are being asked to bail out aging nuclear plants at the cost of developing clean, renewable energy in their state and the jobs that come along with it. Ohio actually has immense capacity for wind energy but since the state has some of the most restrictive wind turbine rules of anywhere in the United States, the wind industry is being strangled in the state. Opponents of renewable energy claim that it can’t compete without subsidies but that’s not the reality as all of our other energy sources are subsidized yet they aren’t sustainable. Existing nuclear reactors haven’t been able to compete on price with natural gas and renewables for quite some time and certainly aren’t creating new jobs. If we’re going to get serious about fighting climate change, we have to double down on clean energy resources that are thriving and stop throwing good money at those that can’t compete.

Sea of Shadows Comes to DC

If you didn’t think that a wildlife documentary could feature suspense and drama centered around drug cartels and crime chases, then think again. National Geographic’s latest acclaimed film Sea of Shadows, directed by Richard Ladkani (with executive producer Leonardo DiCaprio), takes a look at the vaquita–a small, highly endangered porpoise–their struggle to survive in the Gulf of California, and the team of dedicated scientists, high-tech conservationists, investigative journalists and courageous undercover agents working to save them. As the New York Times explained, “the illicit trade for the totoaba, a fish whose swim bladders have been called the “cocaine of the sea” for the high price they fetch in China, has taken a devastating toll on the vaquita, which get caught in nets intended for their more expensive aquatic neighbors.”

The Plight of the Vaquita: Sea of Shadows centers around the shy vaquita that scientists estimate could become extinct as soon as 2022 because of illicit fishing. Fewer than 15 vaquitas are believed to exist in the wild as they continue to become ensnared as bycatch in illegal fishing traps. Recently, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee designated the vaquita’s only remaining habitat, off Mexico’s coast, as “in danger.” The listing will help drive support and financing from governments of other nations, such as China and the United States, to help Mexico build out a full conservation program.

What The Critics Say: Overall the response to Sea of Shadows has been largely positive as films like The Cove and Blackfish have paved the way for these sorts of eco-thrillers to experience commercial success. In Guy Lodge‘s review for Variety he said of the film that “at times, it seems to be two different films entirely — one, a gritty probe into the dark heart of a Baja California crime syndicate, the other an emotion-drenched study of a marine life rescue mission — that wouldn’t necessarily gel if not for the fact that tragic reality has inextricably yoked them together.”

Why This Matters: Nature films can be some of the most meaningful art because they serve to connect audiences to nature when many of us live daily lives that are pretty disconnected from the natural world. These films can help people become more in-tune with the threats facing animals and ecosystems and perhaps even examine their own role in contributing to the degradation of nature–think how Planet Earth II drew awareness to plastic pollution.

If you live in DC, Sea of Shadows will premiere at E Street Cinema this Friday. Click here for tickets and showtimes. Otherwise, you can check here to see where the film is playing near you.

Pipeline Company Challenges Gas Venting and Flaring in Texas

A flaring well in Garden City, Texas.     Photo: Gabriel C. Pérez, KUT Austin NPR

In a first of its kind challenge, the Williams Pipeline Company is fighting to prevent natural gas venting and flaring by Exco Resources Inc., which is seeking to release nearly all of the gas produced by a group of its South Texas wells as a byproduct of its drilling for shale oil — Williams argues that this practice is a massive waste of natural gas and the flaring is banned by law.  Indeed, according to The Wall Street Journal, “the Texas Railroad Commission has received more than 27,000 requests for flaring permits in the past seven years and has not denied any of them.”   And the Environmental Defense Fund reported last January, and a new study from researchers at Texas A&M confirms that natural gas waste and pollution in the Texas Permian Basin is two times higher than what industry reports to the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC).

Why This Matters:  What a colossal waste and a huge breach of the public’s trust by the State of Texas that has completely frustrated the intent of the law against natural gas flares by agreeing to every single exception it has entertained — and allowing the major underreporting of what is vanishing into the air.  All that methane gas being vented and flared is also contributing to the climate crisis trashing the atmosphere with approximately 740 million cubic feet of gas a day.  The wasted gas would be worth about “$1.8 million a day at current prices, and it produces greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to that of nearly five million cars driving for a day,” according to estimates from the World Bank and the Environmental Protection Agency, the Wall Street Journal reported.  If they don’t say no this time, the Railroad Commission might as well just throw out the rule book because the law means nothing.

The Stakes Are High

The Railroad Commission staff recommended that Commission approve Exco’s flaring request, but last month the agency’s elected Commissioners put off a vote on the matter until August or later.

  • The real issue is money, of course.  The Journal explains that Williams wants to build more pipelines to capture that gas and sell it, but that would restrict the flaring and require the producers to capture it, which could cause drillers to curtail oil production.
  • The current system allows the drillers to flare and vent the gas for free rather than paying to transport the gas.
  • Exco argues that if the Commission rejects its permit, that could force a shutdown of the oil wells — it seems the company is not on strong financial footing — it only recently emerged from bankruptcy.
  • There are some who want to keep the free flaring and venting going as well because they fear more natural gas entering the market will create a glut — Texas’ gas output is expected to increase 30% over the next five years.

Graphic: Environmental Defense Fund

Gorilla Glue Warriors — Extinction Rebellion Activists Gum Up Capitol

Yesterday evening, in an effort to get Congress to declare a climate emergency, protesters with the group called the Extinction Rebellion superglued themselves across a corridor blocking a tunnel connecting offices to the House of Representatives preventing Members of Congress from getting to the House floor for a vote.  The Extinction Rebellion has been extremely active in London, bringing the city to a virtual halt earlier this year, but they had not made such a news splash in the U.S. until yesterday.  According to Roll Call,  seventeen protesters were arrested and charged with disrupting Congress, as well as defacing public property.

Why This Matters:  The protesters claimed they were “shutting down Congress” due to the climate emergency — but it didn’t last long.  Still, they made news and perhaps just keeping climate change in the news is helpful in making the case that Congress should address climate change as the urgent problem that it is.  Unfortunately, it is hard for an issue like climate change to break through the news coverage or the Congressional docket, given the obsession of the day — Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony today.  But it should.  It may take more than a little gorilla glue to get it done, however. 

Members of Congress Worked Their Way Around the Protesters

Roll Call reported that “Republican Rep. Ron Estes of Kansas said he just ducked under a protester’s arm to get by” and Indiana Republican Rep. Jim Banks said on Twitter said it was ‘hard to take any protester seriously who superglues himself together with another protester …  I found another route!'”

  • According to The Guardian, the protesters were “draped in yellow and red tape that said ‘Caution’ and wore yellow hazard signs that said ‘Declare climate emergency’ or ‘Closed. We’re sorry. Due to the climate emergency, Congress is shut down until sufficient action is taken to address the crisis.'”
  • Kaela Bamberger, a spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion, said “We believe the issue is so urgent it should be treated as a top priority. Petitioning and lobbying have been shown to be ineffective in the past, so we are taking extreme action to reflect the extreme nature of the crisis. The climate emergency should be treated with the gravity it deserves.”
  • She went on to say, “The legislative process has failed on the issue. We’re using nonviolent civil disobedience to combat complacency in Congress.”

The protesters were unglued from the doors of Congress without losing any skin, in case you wondered.

Shark Week Starts Sunday, but Its Been Shark and Now Tornado Summer on Cape Cod

Whoaaa!  Check out the video above taken off Cape Cod this week.  Sharks are have frequented the Cape in the past, but this year, according to the local TV station KSBW8, there has been a marked increase in sightings and they are coming closer to humans.  Interestingly, the Boston Globe reported yesterday that those same sharks are rarely sighted in Rhode Island.

Why This Matters:  Shark attacks of humans are rare, and as we have often emphasized, humans are more dangerous to sharks than the other way around.  We love the way these kids react in the video — with wonder and amazement rather than fear or a desire to conquer.  The fact that top predators like sharks are more evident along the Atlantic coast is a good sign for these coastal ecosystems.  Sharks and most of their food sources have been protected under federal laws like the Endangered Species Act for a couple of decades and these laws are apparently working.

Sharks Spotted at the Cape

  • According to KSBW8, during one week at the end of June, researchers spotted 12 great white sharks in the vicinity of Cape Cod Bay.
  • Then, just last week, Head of the Meadow Beach on the Cape was ordered closed to swimmers after several sharks were photographed swimming close to shore, CNN affiliate WHDH reported.
  • Shark researchers say that the sharks tend to head up to Cape Cod rather than frequenting Rhode Island’s coast because there are aren’t enough seals in the waters off Rhode Island to cause the sharks to linger there.
  • But that has not stopped the public from being afraid — on July 3, Rhode Island state officials decided to limit swimming at two beach parks in Narragansett when a swimmer and a lifeguard claimed to see a “fin” cutting through the water — though it was likely a case of mistaken identity.
  • According to The Globe, Rhode Island hasn’t had a confirmed fatal shark attack since August of1895

Tornado Too — But No Sharknado

Yesterday a terrible storm roared across Cape Cod leaving tens of thousands of people after the National Weather Service says an EF -1 tornado touched down in South Yarmouth, Massachusetts.

  • Authorities in several towns on Cape Cod late yesterday were warning residents to stay in their homes because extensive damage from downed wires and trees made roads impassable.

Global Professionals Believe We Are Heading to the Point of No Return on Climate Change

Bloomberg today released the results of a survey of 2,000 business professionals from across the globe who were asked what the future will hold as the world shifts towards new economies, and a majority from both developed and emerging countries said they believe that by 2035 the world will be reaching “the point of no return” on climate change. 

  • Bloomberg’s chief economist, Tom Orlik,  told ODP that he believes the survey results point to “a shift in the mindset of professionals across the globe,” that climate change as an issue should be elevated, and that this realization “should be sparking significant policy changes” by governments and also that “businesses need to be preparing.

Why This Matters:  President Trump said as recently as the G20 in June that the U.S. should not join with the rest of the world on tackling climate change because the rest of the word must first do its part when it comes to reducing their emissions.  What this survey shows is that business professionals around the globe see climate for the threat it is. The U.S. can either lead on climate change and reap the benefits of the new economic opportunities that business professionals around the world foresee, or we can be destined to follow the leaders.  In the meantime, let’s hope that when Bloomberg convenes its New Economy Forum in Beijing next November with 500 of the world’s most influential leaders in business, tech, academia, and government (including from the U.S.) they come up with some innovative solutions to climate challenges so we don’t end up at the point of no return.

Climate Change and Tech Are the Future

  • Of the majority of business professionals across the world who agree that by 2035, we will be reaching the point of no return on climate change, 58 percent globally strongly agree or agree.
  • This belief is strongest in developed economies such as the United Kingdom (64 percent), France (63 percent) and Germany (59 percent).
  • Interestingly, 52 percent of global business professionals also agree that rising sea levels will have already wiped the first low-lying country off the map by 2035.
  • Respondents in Asia believe self-driving cars will be more common than individually owned automobiles in 2035.
  • Bloomberg’s Andrew Browne, summed up the survey findings this way: “Developing countries, in general, see technology more as an opportunity while the developed world has a greater sense of technology as a threat.”

Survey Says China and India Will Pass the U.S.

According to the survey results, 54 percent of the respondents from developed and emerging countries are convinced that by 2035, China and India will have surpassed the U.S. as the world’s centers of tech innovation.

  • A substantial percentage (49 percent) of the survey’s respondents in developed markets (including U.S. respondents) strongly agreed or agreed with the prediction that China and India will eclipse the U.S. in technology.
  • Even more (59 percent) respondents in emerging markets predicted that China and Indian will dominate the sector by 2035.
  • And 39 percent of global respondents believe that Beijing will be the world’s top tech city by 2035, with more respondents (45 percent) in emerging markets strongly agreeing and agreeing than in developed markets (31 percent).