Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Stop Swooning Over Justin Trudeau: The Man is a Disaster for the Planet

Justin Trudeau
Photograph: Sean Kilpatrick/AP
by B, The Guardian: 

Donald Trump is so spectacularly horrible that it’s hard to look away - especially now that he’s discovered bombs.

But precisely because everyone’s staring gape-mouthed in his direction, other world leaders are able to get away with almost anything. Don’t believe me? Look one country north, at Justin Trudeau.

Look all you want, in fact - he sure is cute, the planet’s only sovereign leader who appears to have recently quit a boy band. And he’s mastered so beautifully the politics of inclusion: compassionate to immigrants, insistent on including women at every level of government. Give him great credit where it’s deserved: in lots of ways he’s the anti-Trump, and it’s no wonder Canadians swooned when he took over.

But when it comes to the defining issue of our day, climate change, he’s a brother to the old orange guy in Washington.

Not rhetorically: Trudeau says all the right things, over and over. He’s got no Scott Pruitts in his cabinet: everyone who works for him says the right things. Indeed, they specialize in getting others to say them too - it was Canadian diplomats, and the country’s environment minister, Catherine McKenna, who pushed at the Paris climate talks for a tougher-than-expected goal: holding the planet’s rise in temperature to 1.5C (2.7F).

But those words are meaningless if you keep digging up more carbon and selling it to people to burn, and that’s exactly what Trudeau is doing. He’s hard at work pushing for new pipelines through Canada and the US to carry yet more oil out of Alberta’s tar sands, which is one of the greatest climate disasters on the planet.

Last month, speaking at a Houston petroleum industry gathering, he got a standing ovation from the oilmen for saying: “No country would find 173bn barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there.” Yes, 173bn barrels is indeed the estimate for recoverable oil in the tar sands.

So let’s do some math. If Canada digs up that oil and sells it to people to burn, it will produce, according to the math whizzes at Oil Change International, 30% of the carbon necessary to take us past the 1.5C target that Canada helped set in Paris.

That is to say, Canada, which represents one half of 1% of the planet’s population, is claiming the right to sell the oil that will use up a third of the earth’s remaining carbon budget. Trump is a creep and a danger and unpleasant to look at, but at least he’s not a stunning hypocrite.

This having-your-cake-and-burning-it-too is central to Canada’s self-image/energy policy. McKenna, confronted by the veteran Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki, said tartly: “We have an incredible climate change plan that includes putting a price on carbon pollution, also investing in clean innovation. But we also know we need to get our natural resources to market and we’re doing both.” Right.

But doing the second negates the first - in fact, it completely overwhelms it. If Canada is busy shipping carbon all over the world, it wouldn’t matter all that much if every Tim Hortons stopped selling doughnuts and started peddling solar panels instead.

Canada’s got company in this scam. Australia’s Malcolm Turnbull is supposed to be more sensitive than his predecessor, a Trump-like blowhard. When he signed on his nation to the Paris climate accords, he said: “It is clear the agreement was a watershed, a turning point and the adoption of a comprehensive strategy has galvanised the international community and spurred on global action.”

Which is a fine thing to say - or would be, if your government wasn’t backing plans for the largest coal mine on Earth. That single mine, in a country of 24 million people, will produce 362% of the annual carbon emissions that everyone in the Philippines produces in the course of a year. It is obviously, mathematically and morally absurd.

Trump, of course, is working just as eagerly to please the fossil fuel industry - he’s instructed the Bureau of Land Management to make permitting even easier for new oil and gas projects, for instance. And frackers won’t even have to keep track of how much methane they’re spewing under his new guidelines. And why should they? If you believe, as Trump apparently does, that global warming is a delusion, a hoax, a mirage, you might as well get out of the way.

Trump is insulting the planet, in other words. But at least he’s not pretending otherwise.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

VIDEO: Shifting From Technologies That Destroy Nature to Those That Conserve It

by Karen Rybold-Chin, Dmitry Orlov, Greg David, originally published by Ontheearthproductions

Nature-like technologies, a phrase coined by Vladimir Putin, is a focal point of discussion in this recent interview with Dmitry Orlov. The technosphere can be a dangerous place, according to Orlov’s new book, Shrinking the Technosphere. There are, however, enduring technologies such as the log cabin, with attributes that have lasted many lifetimes.

A longer version of this production is part of a pilot library project that pairs author interviews and their books, cataloged together, to broaden understanding various topics.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Every Single Piece of Plastic Ever Made Still Exists - Here’s the Story

by Diego Gonzaga, Contributor Content Editor for Greenpeace USA, The Huffington Post:

From the moment we wake up in the morning and brush our teeth to the moment we watch TV at the end of the day, plastic is all around us. So much so that it can be hard to imagine leaving the supermarket without at least one item that isn’t in a plastic container.

It hasn’t always been like this. In fact, there are people alive today who were born in an almost plastic-free world. Imagine going to the beach and not finding a single piece of washed up plastic trash. What, in the course of history, caused such a change?

There are a few stories of what drove the demand for modern plastics. One version is that, in the second half of the 19th century, companies in the billiard ball industry realized they needed a substitute for ivory. By then, humans were consuming at least one million pounds of the material each year, and newspapers were reporting that elephants would soon become extinct if that pace continued.

And so the race to come up with a new material began. Over the course of several decades, chemists from Europe and the U.S. searched for solutions. After years of trial and error, they discovered plastic as we know it today, and by the beginning of the 20th century, people could buy hair combs and clothes with buttons that were not made of ivory.

Even with this scientific development, there were still no plastic bags flying around the cities, or fish being caught up in plastic rings. So, what triggered this explosion of plastic in our lives?

Two important factors pushed manufacturers to embrace this substance. First was the development of mass production assembly lines. Before that, factories required a lot of labour to manufacture even a single product, making plastic prohibitively time consuming.

The second factor was World War II. The material was used in many ways, from bazooka barrels to aircraft components, and between 1939 and 1945, the production of plastic almost quadrupled. With the end of the war, plastic companies needed to keep making a profit, so they had to switch from military vehicles to Barbie dolls. Plastic was so cheap, everyone could afford it: plastic containers, plastic furniture, plastic toys. And that’s when the material gained widespread traction.

But what was a solution before is a problem now. Because plastic lasts for so long, every single piece of plastic ever made still exists, and will continue existing for at least 500 years. To put that in context, if Leonardo da Vinci had drunk water from a plastic bottle when he was painting the Mona Lisa, that bottle would not have fully decomposed yet.

Every day, more and more plastic is produced, used and thrown away. In countries where disposable cups are made of plastic, for example, it may take only seconds for one to leave the package, be used, and end up in a trash can. So much plastic is being consumed that there is an area bigger than France of throw-away plastic swirling at all depths in the North Pacific Ocean. It has become so ubiquitous that birds are using it to build their nests.

And it’s not just the amount of plastic being produced. Everything related to plastic is damaging the planet, from the impact of extracting the fossil fuels used to produce plastic, to the health effects of the toxins it releases into the environment when it is burned, to the devastating impact on sea life.

There is something you can do about it. Reducing the amount of plastic you use might seem difficult, but it’s simpler than you think. You can make a difference by many ways, from simple actions like bringing your own bag to the grocery store, to avoiding plastic cutlery and products containing microbeads. What is important is to be conscious about what you are consuming and how it is affecting not only your life and your surroundings, but the whole planet and its many magnificent species, large and small. 

Diego Gonzaga is a content editor for Greenpeace USA.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Climate Change Makes Weather Extremes the New Normal

On World Meteorological Day, DW provides an overview of how global warming is changing our lived experience of the climate.

News of the hottest year, the wettest winter and suffocating summers are no longer a surprise. We're getting used to extreme weather - and that's worrying.

In 2016, Earth's surface reached its warmest temperatures since 1880. It was the third year in a row to set a global record, as confirmed in the recently published World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2016.

Not surprisingly, 2017 is also expected to follow the trend, even though February 2017 was slightly cooler than the same month last year.

During the 20th century, the average temperature on Earth increased by around 1.8 degree Fahrenheit (1 Celsius). That may not seem much. But for comparison, temperatures during the last ice age were only 5 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than today, according to NASA.

Small changes in temperature mean huge changes for the environment, and the Earth's climate record shows such fluctuations have been extremely rare historically.

Infografik Temperaturen 1880-2016 englisch

Violent weather

Extreme weather events used to occur on average only once in 100 years, but climate change is increasing their frequency, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns. And people and ecosystems around the world are feeling the impact.

Hurricane Matthew  had devastating consequences in Haiti and part of the United States. Severe droughts and floods in 2016 have affected millions of people around the world. Australia recently saw a severe heat wave and after years of severe drought, California is now dealing with extreme floods.

In May, Canada suffered its most damaging wildfire - and most costly natural disaster - ever. Some months later, the United States also experienced its most destructive wildfire in modern history. Europe hasn't escaped either. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had their wettest winter on record. Intense flooding hit France and Germany during May and June 2016, while France had its driest July and August on record.

European natural wonders such as the Alps are also at risk. The mountainous area is heating up twice as fast as the global average, which could lead to fire seasons lasting 30 to 50 days longer by 2050. In March 2017, much of Peru is under a state of emergency due to devastating floods.

While some of these events are directly related to human activity and climate change, some remain under question.

Peru | katasrophale Verhältnisse in Lima (DW/E. van Nes) 
Flooding in Peru has precipitated a humanitarian crisis

Climate change to blame

The 2016 European Environmental Agency report on climate change impacts, stated that global climate change had significantly increased the probability of extreme climate events in Europe. Despite a range of factors leading to extreme weather, the vast majority of scientists have no doubt that extreme weather is connected to climate change.

While climate change may not be directly causing such events it is to blame for the increasing frequency and strength with which they hit.

Referring to Peru's recent floods, Mojib Latif, a professor of oceanology and climate dynamics at GEOMA (the Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany), said El Nino events have indeed become more frequent and stronger in recent decades.

USA Extreme rainfalls in California (Getty Images/D. McNew) 
Hundreds of residents were evacuated in California during severe floods on February 2017

The extreme El Nino climate pattern corresponds to climate change models, he said. However, he emphasized, it is still unclear whether this will become a trend. While causes of recent natural disasters are still questioned, a recent study published in Nature Climate Change exposes a close relationship between global warming and concrete climate events.

Peak temperatures influence precipitation rates: For every additional degree Celsius, precipitation rates can increase from 5 to 10 percent.

For scientists, the link between fossil fuel emissions and global warming that is contributing to extreme weather is also beyond question. "With carbon dioxide reaching a record annual average concentration of 400 parts per million in the atmosphere, the influence of human activities on the climate system has become more and more evident," Petteri Taalas, WMO secretary general, said in the report. 

Disastrous consequences

Drought has left millions of people - mainly in Africa - starving because crops have failed, while flooding has displaced thousands of communities in Southeast Asia, the WMO reports.

Agricultural production is at risk in countries affected by flooding - not to mention those hit by natural disasters such as hurricanes. That not only puts food security at risk, but has broader economic impacts. For example, in Australia a threat to agricultural production could have major consequences, as it represents one of the main pillars of the country's economy, the Australian Climate Council reported.

Extreme weather events linked to global warming have reprecussions throughout society. The Union of Concerned Scientists mentions, among others: public health impacts, infrastructural and economic costs, and the destruction of biodiversity.

In cooler climes such as Germany, an early spring might put a smile on many people's faces. But its global consequences threaten to create a very bleak future.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Clean Water: One of the First Casualties of Partisan Attacks to Roll Back Regulations

English: Logo of the US Environmental Protecti...
US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (Wikipedia)

Earlier last week it was reported that President Donald Trump is about to issue the next set of executive orders, this time targeting environmental safeguards for water and climate put in place in 2015.

The water rule - formally titled the Clean Water Rule, but commonly known as Waters of the United States (WOTUS) - and the Clean Power Plan are two of the most comprehensive environmental rules issued by the Obama administration. 

The Clean Water Rule stipulates which water bodies are automatically covered under the Clean Water Act.

Similarly, the Clean Power Plan was developed under the authorization of the Clean Air Act, which requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take steps to reduce air pollution that harms the public’s health. The Plan, for the very first time, provides carbon emission guidelines to existing power plants.

On the campaign-trail, Mr. Trump had promised to undo these rules, if elected. His first step towards this was to nominate Scott Pruitt - someone with a clear record of hostility for environmental and public health protection at both state and federal levels - to head the EPA efforts. Emails released last week shows close coordination between his office and fossil fuel interests in Oklahoma when he was the attorney general of the state.

Last week, Mr. Pruitt told Wall Street Journal that “he expects to quickly withdraw both the Clean Power Plan (President Obama’s premier climate regulation) and the 2015 Waters of the United States Rule.” This withdrawal carries out the 2017 plans of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce which opposes rules such as the Clean Power Plan and Clean Water Rule that are seen as regulatory over-reach by the EPA. This anti-regulatory agenda is shared by a many corporations engaged in manufacturing, mining, energy sector, agribusiness or construction.

In the meantime, Congress is using a formerly seldom used law, the Congressional Review Act (CRA), to attempt to nullify dozens of environmental and other regulations put in place by Obama administration in its last months in office. 

CRA: A stealth weapon to facilitate deregulatory efforts

The CRA is a little known legislative procedure - used only once successfully since its passing in 1996 - as a way to make it easier to overturn regulations, which are issued by executive branch agencies, pursuant to statutes passed by Congress in the first place. The CRA created  a period of 60 “session days” (days in which Congress is in session) during which Congress could use expedited procedures to nullify a regulation without going through the normal process to change or terminate the legislative authority for a rule.

Under that mechanism, Congress does not go through the politically hazardous process of killing the Clean Water Act itself, but instead kills a rule to implement that Act. CRA resolutions are not subject to the procedural requirements in the Senate, such as a filibuster and the 60 vote requirement to end a filibuster.

Technically, the President could still veto a CRA resolution, but that seems unlikely now with this administration. The CRA process also stipulates that no rules that are “substantially similar” to the nullified rule can be developed in future, unless authorized by a new law, even if an existing law demands the development of the rule.

The CRA mechanism is being utilized now to overturn rules that are the results of years of public consultations. For example, on January 30, Reps. Bill Johnson (R-OH), Evan Jenkins (R-WV) and David McKinley (R-WV) introduced HJ RES. 38-115 “Disapproving the rule submitted by the Department of the Interior known as the Stream Protection Rule.” With President Trump’s signature, this resolution became a public law on February 16, and nullifies the Stream Protection Rule finalized by the Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement on December 20, 2016.

The Stream Protection Rule, developed by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE), had sought to address the impacts of surface coal mining operations on surface water, groundwater, fish, wildlife and the productivity of mining operation sites. It included reforms to revise 33 year old regulations for coal mining and was formulated after an extensive and transparent public process that spanned several years.

According to an  Associated Press report, “The Interior Department said the new [Stream Protection] Rule will protect 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forests, preventing debris from coal mining from being dumped into nearby waters.” According to the Stream Protection Rule Regulatory Impact Analysis by OSMRE, the “Proposed Rule is estimated to yield downstream improvements in 292 miles of stream annually” benefiting those communities living in the vicinity of polluting industries and mines, especially if they were accessing their drinking water from polluted sources.

The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) points out that “the Stream Protection Rule limited the amount of mining waste that could be deposited into streams and required mining companies to monitor the water for coal contaminants and report the findings to the public. […] But now this protection has been stripped from these communities through use of the Congressional Review Act to repeal the rule.”

Even if the forthcoming executive orders targeting Clean Water Rule or Clean Power Plan are deemed illegal - as some Attorney Generals have suggested in late 2016 - these Congressional initiatives have the effect of undoing important regulations that would have improved water quality, public health and environmental health. Moreover, since the rule was reversed through the CRA mechanism, the EPA will be unable issue any new rules to ensure source water protections under the Clean Water Act - compromising the drinking water quality in these mining communities - for a very long time.

This is not an isolated example either: the 115th Congress has introduced more resolutions using CRA in its first ten days than any previous Congress has attempted in its entire term, as shown below in the Washington Post graph.

Community interest vs. corporate interests?

The need for better regulation to ensure safe waters and clean air for American people has been evident for decades. Then the question is: who is interested in the repeal of laws that protect our environment? Who wants corporations to continue their pollution?  Certainly not local communities who use the local waters.

Sen. Todd Young, of Indiana, said that “eliminating this provision”, would bring his constituency one step closer to the goal of better jobs that pay better.” In an opinion piece he wrote: “this regulation does nothing to protect waterways. Instead it’s an attempt to end coal mining operations that employ so many Hoosiers and sustain our communities.” The coal industry has been saying the same thing too.

The National Mining Association (NMA) has claimed that the Stream Protection rule would result in up to 281,000 job disappearing. However, they all seem to have ignored reports on analysis by the Congressional Research Service: According to their assessment, on an average, while the rule would result in reduction of 260 coal related jobs in a year, it would also generate an average of 250 new jobs every year.

This local reaction to Stream Protection Rule rollback from a retired tristate coal miner, Bil Musgrave is telling. Unlike Sen. Young, he was clearly in support of the regulation, and said: “I think that the coal companies and other industries have been abusive of the environment in the past.” He’s right: the lack of clean water and presence of sooty air is likely to be much more acute in the coal mining communities than among communities farther away. The Stream Protection Rule would have helped reduce the water related health problems faced by coal mining communities such as his.

However, to the industry executives, corporate lobbyists, and the Congress men and women who voted on their behalf to roll back the Stream Protection Rule, corporate profits are a priority over the health of the community - let alone the environmental impacts and the health impacts farther away. They and the President will use the language of job creation to justify this kind of assault on regulations. Who wins? Definitely not the coal mining communities.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Activist Toolkit: Your Guide to Defending Wildlands in the Trump Era

Image: Annette Bernhardt, flickr

[Ed: Some great tips here for Australian activists as well - adapt and adopt].

The Trump administration and its supporters in Congress are pushing one of the most dangerous pro-fossil fuel, anti-conservation agendas in modern history.

Americans must be prepared to defend our last unspoiled wildlands and protect our environment for future generations. This activism toolkit will help you get started.

The threats are numerous. The foes of conservation are many. But we can win if we unite around our shared passion and strength. So dig in and let’s get to work! 

Your guide to activism in the Trump era 

Environmental threats posed by Trump and Congress

The 2016 presidential election could prove catastrophic for America’s wild places, undoing the progress we’ve made to address climate change. Trump’s agenda is pro-polluter and pro-Big Oil. He has already issued numerous executive orders to roll back commonsense oil, gas and coal reforms and he’s filled important cabinet positions with anti-regulation climate change deniers.

At the same time, Congress is dominated by politicians bent on an anti-conservation, pro-fossil fuel agenda. Backed by oil money, the worst offenders are pushing massive roll backs of Obama’s energy reforms, as well as land giveaways to oil and gas, mining and other extractive industries. 

A few bad apples are even pressing to undo national monument protections for places like Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments in Utah. The American people are now the last hope to stop Congress from implementing an agenda to sell out our environment to special interests. 

What’s working in our favor?

 The momentum is on our side. Protests across the nation and a storm of phone calls and social media targeting congressional offices is helping lawmakers see that Americans will not stand for attacks on our wildlands and environmental protections. Already, we’re gaining strength and winning battles. 

In the West, people have rallied in front of congressional offices to protest rollbacks of Obama-era energy reforms. Recreation industry leaders have decided to move their $45 million Outdoor Retailer show out of Utah in reaction to that state’s lobbying of Trump to undo the new Bears Ears National Monument. 

And a groundswell of phone calls recently persuaded anti-conservation Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, to make the unusual move of withdrawing his own land grab bill. We also have numerous conservation champions in Congress and others who can be persuaded to do the right thing with enough public pressure.

Who needs to hear from you

In the past, American conservationists were able to accomplish a great deal through bipartisan efforts in Congress supported by the president and environmental agencies within the president’s cabinet, including the EPA, Forest Service, Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management. 

Local communities were given a voice during public comment periods and listening sessions hosted by the administration, and Americans helped win new national monuments as well as greater protections for our shared public lands. 

Given the Trump administration’s agenda, it is unlikely that this route will yield the same positive outcomes. That said, the Trump administration has shown itself to be highly sensitive to public opinion, so Americans should continue to attend rallies and express themselves to the administration and its agencies. The White House comment line can be called Monday-Friday 9am-4pm Eastern time: (202) 456–1111. 

Congress: Our best hope to defend our last remaining wildlands and protect our environment may be through Congress. We must draw the line and demand that our elected representatives resist attacks on conservation.

How your Members of Congress think

Members of Congress want to hear from their constituents. In addition to legislative work, they have the non-stop job of planning their re-election. House representatives are elected every two years and senators are elected every six years. This continual election work creates a need to keep a close watch on constituent opinion. They are aware that they can’t afford to look weak or unfavorable in their home districts.

An ardent foe of conservation - especially one who receives heavy campaign funding from the oil and gas industry - may never be swayed, but we can slow their attacks by showing other lawmakers that supporting pro-pollution, anti-conservation bills can be toxic to their image. There are also many environmental champions in Congress who wish to effect positive change and they need our support. Communicating with supportive members of Congress reinforces their understanding of our issues and can help fuel their fight against bad legislation.

Speak up! Action steps for being heard

1. Contact your Members of Congress frequently … and at key times 

You have three members of Congress: two senators and one representative. If you don’t know who they are, you can find your representative here and your senators here. Any contact with your congress member is good, but concentrating phone calls and letters around key times, such as the week before an important vote, can be more effective. Most of us don’t have the time to monitor the daily workings of Congress, but you can join networks of dedicated people who will help you stay informed. 

Calling your Members of Congress

Members of Congress expect to hear from voters and their offices keep track of the types of phone calls received each day. Staff tally up the calls received on various issues, including the number of calls for, and against various bills and policies. But they will only tally calls from their own constituents. Be prepared to provide your zip code or your town when you call.

A groundswell of opposition can push legislators to back off an issue or slow down the progress of legislation while they take time to hear from more stakeholders. If you feel passionate about an issue, it’s perfectly acceptable to call your Congress members every day. A simple message stating your position and why people of your community could be affected will suffice. 

Face-to-face contact 

Meeting with your Congress member is certainly the most memorable way to reach out. While it may be difficult to secure that meeting, you could opt for an appointment with a staff member as a starting point. Be sure to bring fact sheets or other written materials that will help staff understand the issue after you’ve left. Another important way to connect is through town hall meetings and other public forums. To find out about these events, you can sign up for your representatives’ e-mail list and social media feeds. 

Mention your Congress member in letters to the editor 

Submitting a letter to the editor to your local paper is a great way to gain visibility for our issues, and actually mentioning a Congress members’ name will ensure attention by congressional staff who cull through the newspapers each day, looking for mentions of congressional members and issues. More on submitting letters and op-eds to the media. 

What about letters and e-mails? 

Physical meetings and personal phone calls are best, but an e-mail or a personal letter should not be overlooked if that’s all you can do. The key is to personalize that letter to show that you care about the issue. Tell them why you are for or a against a bill and how it could affect you or your community. Your personal story may even be used by the Congress member to publicly support his or her stance. 


· Know your member’s stand on the issue.
· Make one single, clear request, such as supporting or opposing a bill. Avoid ranting or listing off a laundry list of issues.
· Explain why you care about an issue and include your rationale or a personal Tell them why you are for or against a bill and explain how it could affect you or your community.
· Call as often as once a day 


2. Attend town hall meetings and public forums

One of the most important ways to be heard by your members of Congress is to attend town hall meetings or other forums. Members of Congress traditionally hold town halls several times a year to hear from their constituents and report back what they’ve been working on in Washington. 

What if my member of Congress has stopped holding town halls? Following outpourings of anger at local town halls in early February, many Republicans are avoiding such forums to prevent being challenged by angry crowds or becoming fodder for negative social media. Some are holding “tele-town halls” and Facebook Live events. These are not a great substitutes since questions can be screened and audience feedback may be limited. For that reason, constituents are within reason to pressure office holders to hold in-person forums. 

If your elected official has refused to hold in-person events, you can continue to encourage them to do so through phone calls, emails and social media mentions. Another option is to reach out to your Congress members at other scheduled events that are open to the public. 


Ask a question: Typically there is a Q&A portion of town hall meetings that will allow you to ask questions about how your Congress member is working for - or against - our wildlands and environmental protections. When asking your question, be sure to include a little context about bill numbers to help jog the members’ memory and educate the audience about the issue. You can also try to speak with your Congress member immediately after the session. 


Find upcoming town hall meetings through the Town Hall Project or Legistorm 

3. Say thank you and applaud good actions

Congress members need to know that voters approve of efforts to initiate positive environmental legislation. Give them a phone call to show you noticed and approve of their efforts. If they have recently introduced a positive bill, let them know you appreciate that bill and would like them to fight hard to get the bill passed.

You can also show the love by sharing the congress members’ social media posts or leaving positive comments on their Facebook posts. Just remember that singular comments aren’t as impressive as larger numbers, so it’s best if you can enlist others from your networks to give thanks as well.

4. Help rallies and protests succeed

Is your Congress member supporting bad legislation affecting climate change, undermining conservation laws or threatening a sell off of wildlands your state enjoys? Help make a strong showing outside a Congress member’s office on rally day. 

Before the rally: Spread the word by sharing invitations or Facebook event pages on your social networks. If you are an organizer, be sure to let local newspapers and media know days ahead of time.

At the rally: Organizers often provide tools for making signs, but you can make your own ahead of time to ensure a strong visual statement. If there is a check-in table, be sure to stop by and sign your name to any petitions as well as any mailing lists for future events.

Be peaceful and respectful to passers by, and ignore those who taunt or attempt to incite violence. Shouting at onlookers only undermines our cause. And of course, never damage public property.

Be willing to talk to local media about why you have come, or help find an articulate spokesperson. When speaking to reporters, stick to the issues and how the outcomes could affect your community. Avoid character attacks or other polarizing commentary that doesn’t further the debate in a constructive way. 

Keep the buzz going: During and after the rally, keep the attention going by sharing photos as well as local news stories on your social networks using popular hashtags. You can also tag your Congress member to help drive publicity they’re receiving about the event. 

If local media cover the rally on social media, be sure to share their posts and leave supportive comments on their social media feeds. Media editors study engagement and readership rates to inform the newspapers’ coverage of specific topics, so the more sharing the better. 

You can also use the comments section of Facebook posts to add any critical information about the issue that the reporter may have left out. This helps educate casual readers and can also help reporters who monitor comments to get a pulse on community perception of events and issues - and sometimes to collect quotes for future stories. 

5. Organize your own event

Image: Mike Weissman

If you can’t find a local or nearby rally or event, organize your own. This can be a demonstration to put pressure on office holders or a public forum or panel of experts to raise awareness for a specific environmental issue. Partnering with local conservation groups will ensure extra support and participant turn out. 

Before the event, be sure to alert local press to the event to ensure coverage in local news outlets and social media. Invite attendees with a Facebook events page and ask partner groups to share on their networks. You can also submit it here for extra reach. If your event is a protest, be sure to find out if your city requires a permit for demonstrations.

6. Contribute to media coverage 

Call your local media outlets and pitch the story. Anyone can call their local newspaper and media outlets to suggest coverage of an issue. Start by calling and asking if the paper has an environmental or lands reporter. If not, you can ask for a news editor. Reporters are always looking for story tips and unusual local angles to follow. 

You can start the conversation by sharing any insider information or story angles that you think your community should be aware of. You are most likely to be successful if you can explain how a policy would impact local people or businesses. It can also help to share written information, such as press releases, fact sheets, relevant stories and contact information for experts or community members the reporter can speak to for additional information and perspectives. 

Show your local paper what local readers want. Newspaper editors keep a tally on the number of visitors to online pages to help inform future coverage. Help show your paper what the public wants by clicking and sharing the stories you care about. You can also engage on social media posts through comments. Your comment, when stated politely, can help educate other readers or correct a falsehood or mistake in a story. 

Write a letter to the editor or an op-ed for your local papers

 Congress members have staff members who cull through the newspapers for mentions of the member and any policies pertinent to that member. Those stories are compiled and delivered to the member each day. Writing a letter to the editor is a great way to get visibility for our issue and have it put directly before your Congress member. If you have a little more time and know your facts very well, you can also submit an “op-ed” or fuller editorial piece. Submission requirements vary for each publication - so know the rules before you get started. 

Tips for having you work accepted:

• Newspaper editors are always looking for quality letters with unique and clear perspectives. You have a strong chance of being printed if your letter is well composed, succinct and ties to recent stories or local issues in a timely way.
• If your issue has been recently covered or written about in an op-ed, cite the article in your letter and say what you agree or disagree with.
• Offer a strong well-supported opinion, but don’t rant endlessly.
• Expertise and personal stories stand out, so be sure to mention if you are an issue expert and/or include any relevant personal anecdotes that shed light on the issue.
• If the paper has published similar letters on your topic, look for unusual side angles that have yet to be explored by recent opinion writers.
• Don’t worry if your prose isn’t perfect. Your letter will be edited for grammar, typos and clarity. What’s most important is the strength of your voice.

7. Use your social networks

Social media is a great way to drive attention to a conservation threats and issue. Facebook is good for sharing information with friends, such as rally invitations, phone calling campaigns and petitions. If you’re big on sharing news stories, you might want to expand beyond your Facebook network. Twitter is more news oriented and allows for greater reach to diverse audiences you wouldn’t normally find in your Facebook feed.

On that note, if you do tweet, be sure to develop relationships with like minded conservationists who can amplify your message. But avoid tweeting in a “bubble.” It’s always a good idea to follow friendly people from other interest circles who may not otherwise be exposed to your ideas, or you to theirs.

When tweeting, be sure to include your Congress members’ @tag on tweets about rallies and protests that pertain to them. While one mention of your congress member in social media will not likely get much attention from his or her office, a cluster or larger number of tweets can grab attention, especially if any are from influential members of the public. When you mention Congress members on social media, ask influential people and friends to do the same.When sharing opportunities for engagement on social media, be sure to add popular hashtags so that the message goes beyond your own followers. 

Popular conservation hashtags include

Public land takeover movement 

National monuments defense 

Arctic Refuge threats 

Standing Rock/Dakota Access Pipeline 
#Standing Rock

Rollbacks of Obama energy reforms 

Climate change/pollution 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Galapagos Giant Tortoises Make a Comeback Thanks to Innovative Conservation Strategies

Tortoise remains killed by hunters, 1903 R.H. Beck/LOC
by James P. Gibbs, State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, The Conversation:

The Galapagos Islands are world-famous as a laboratory of biological evolution.

Some 30 percent of the plants, 80 percent of the land birds and 97 percent of the reptiles on this remote archipelago are found nowhere else on Earth.

Perhaps the most striking example is the islands’ iconic giant tortoises, which often live to ages over 100 years in the wild. Multiple species of these mega-herbivores have evolved in response to conditions on the island or volcano where each lives, generating wide variation in shell shape and size.

Over the past 200 years, hunting and invasive species reduced giant tortoise populations by an estimated 90 percent, destroying several species and pushing others to the brink of extinction, although a few populations on remote volcanoes remained abundant.

Now however, the tortoise dynasty is on the road to recovery, thanks to work by the Galapagos National Park Directorate, with critical support from nonprofits like the Galapagos Conservancy and advice from an international team of conservation scientists.

Together we are advancing a broad multiyear program called the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative, overseen by Washington Tapia, Linda Cayot and myself with major collaboration from Gisella Caccone at Yale University. Using many novel strategies, the initiative helps guide the Galapagos National Park Directorate to restore viable, self-sustaining tortoise populations and recover the ecosystems in which these animals evolved.

Back from the brink

As many as 300,000 giant tortoises once roamed the Galapagos Islands. Whalers and colonists started collecting them for food in the 19th century. Early settlers introduced rats, pigs and goats, which preyed upon tortoises or destroyed their habitat. As a result, it was widely concluded by the 1940s that giant tortoises were headed for oblivion.

After the Galapagos National Park was established in 1959, park guards halted killing of tortoises for food. Next, biologists at what was then known as the Charles Darwin Research Station did the first inventory of surviving tortoises. They also initiated a program to help recover imperiled species.

One species, the Pinzon Island tortoise, had not produced any juveniles for over 100 years because nonnative black rats were preying on hatchlings. In 1965 park guards started methodically removing eggs from tortoise nests, rearing the offspring to “rat-proof” size in captivity and releasing them back into the wild. More than 5,000 young tortoises have been repatriated back to Pinzon Island. Many are now adults. This program is one of the most successful examples of “head-starting” to save a species in conservation history.


The Española tortoise, which once numbered in the thousands, had been reduced to just 15 individuals by 1960. Park guards brought those 15 into captivity, where they have produced more than 2,000 captive-raised offspring now released onto their home island. All 15 survivors are still alive and reproducing today, and the wild population numbers more than 1,000. This is one of the greatest and least-known conservation success stories of any species.

Eliminating non-native threats

Over the past 150 years, goats brought to the islands by early settlers overgrazed many of the islands, turning them into dustbowls and destroying forage, shade and water sources that tortoises relied on. In 1997 the Galapagos Conservancy launched Project Isabela, the largest ecosystem restoration initiative ever carried out in a protected area.

Over a decade park wardens, working closely with Island Conservation, used high-tech hunting tactics, helicopter support and Judas goats - animals fitted with radio collars that led hunters to the last remaining herds - to eliminate over 140,000 feral goats from virtually all of the archipelago.

Building on lessons learned from Project Isabela, the Galapagos National Park Directorate and Island Conservation then eradicated nonnative rats from Pinzón Island in 2012, enabling tortoise hatchlings to survive and complete their life cycle again for the first time in a century.

Restoring ecosystems with tortoises

The argument for tortoise conservation has been strengthened by reconceptualizing giant tortoises as agents whose actions shape the ecosystems around them. Tortoises eat and disperse many plants as they move around - and they are more mobile than many people realize. By attaching GPS tags to tortoises, scientists with the Galapagos Tortoise Movement Ecology Programme have learned that tortoises migrate tens of kilometers up and down volcanoes seasonally to get to new plant growth and nesting sites.

As they move, tortoises crush vegetation. They may be an important factor in maintaining the native savannah-like ecosystems on the islands where they live. When tortoises are scarce, we think that shrubs sprout up, crowding out many herbaceous plants and other animal species.

We need data to support this theory, so we have constructed an elaborate system of “exclosures” on two islands that wall tortoises out of certain areas. By comparing vegetation in the tortoise-free zones to conditions outside of the exclosures, we will see just how tortoises shape their ecosystems.

Restoring ecosystems on islands where tortoises have gone extinct requires more drastic steps. Santa Fe Island lost its endemic giant tortoises more than 150 years ago, and its ecosystems are still recovering from a scourge of goats. Park managers are attempting to restore the island using an “analog,” nonnative species - the genetically and morphologically similar Española tortoise.

In 2015 the Galapagos National Park Directorate released 201 juvenile Española tortoises in the interior of Santa Fe Island. They all appear to have survived their first year there, and 200 more are scheduled for release in 2017. Española tortoises are still endangered, so this strategy has the extra value of creating a reserve population of them on Santa Fe island.

On Pinta Island, which also has lost its endemic tortoise, park managers have released sterilized nonnative tortoises to serve as “vegetation management tools” that can prepare the habitat for future introductions of reproductive tortoises. These initiatives are some of the first-ever to use analog species to jump-start plant community restoration.

Reviving lost species

The endemic tortoises of Floreana Island are also considered to be extinct. But geneticists recently discovered that in a remote location on Isabela Island, tortoises evidently had been translocated from around the archipelago during the whaling era. In a major expedition in 2015, park rangers and collaborating scientists removed 32 tortoises from Isabela Island with shell features similar to the extinct Pinta and Floreana species.

Now the geneticists are exploring the degree of interbreeding of these 32 distinct tortoises between the extinct species and native Wolf Volcano tortoises. We are hoping to find a few “pure” survivors from the extinct species. Careful and selective breeding of tortoises in captivity with significant levels of either Pinta or Floreana ancestry will follow to produce a new generation of young tortoises to be released back on Pinta and Floreana Islands and help their ecosystems recover.

Removing a Wolf Volcano tortoise from Isabela Island for the Floreana tortoise restoration initiative. Jane Braxton Little, CC BY-NC-ND

Converting tragedy to inspiration

Lonesome George, the last known living Pinta Island giant tortoise, died in 2012 after decades in captivity. His frozen remains were transferred to the United States and taxidermied by world-class experts. In mid-February Lonesome George will be returned to Galapagos once again and ensconced as the focus of a newly renovated park visitation center.

Some 150,000 visitors each year will learn the complex but ultimately encouraging story of giant tortoise conservation, and a beloved family member will rest back at home again.

James P. Gibbs, Professor of Vertebrate Conservation Biology and Director of the Roosevelt Wild Life Station, State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Deadly Addiction: Why Capitalism is Hopelessly Devoted to Fossil Fuels

by Amy Leather, Climate and Capitalism:

With Donald Trump in the White House the future for our climate looks bleak, but capitalism’s love affair with fossil energy runs much deeper than the desires and personalities of individual politicians. Republished, with permission, from the UK magazine Socialist Review, January 2017.

World leaders are failing on climate change. Theresa May’s Tory government has given the go ahead to a new nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point, backed the expansion of Heathrow airport and overturned the local decision in Lancashire to stop fracking. Meanwhile climate change denier Donald Trump is heading to the White House.

The last decade has seen a massive expansion of so-called “dirty energies” such as fracking, deep water drilling, and tar sand extraction. The pledges to reduce carbon emissions in the Paris Agreement, signed by 196 countries in December 2015, are only voluntary. Even if signatories kept to them we would still be on track for global warming far higher than is sustainable.

The scale of the crisis is widely recognized. Climate scientists and environmentalists such as Ian Angus have shown that we have entered a new geological era - the Anthropocene - in which the dominant influence on the environment is human activity. Unless urgent action is taken we face catastrophic climate change. The solution to global warming is quite simple - we need to stop burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas which release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and instead make a rapid switch to renewables.

So why won’t our rulers act? We need to look beyond the individual politicians. There are, of course, the climate change deniers, who must be challenged and stopped, but much of the ruling class does accept that climate change is a reality. The problem is they are guardians of a system with fossil fuels at its heart. Tackling the climate crisis would mean tackling the vested interests of the fossil fuel corporations - some of the most profitable companies in the world. To understand why capitalism and fossil fuels are so intertwined we need to go back to the time of the industrial revolution in Britain.

Andreas Malm, in his book Fossil Capital, outlines how in the early 1800s an energy transition took place in Britain. The first machines of the industrial revolution, the spinning and weaving machines of the cotton industry, were driven by water. In 1800 there were at least 1,000 water mills concentrated in Lancashire and Scotland. Even as late as the 1820s most mills in Manchester were still water-powered. Just ten years later steam generated by burning coal had overtaken water. 

Protracted battle

This transition to steam was not an inevitable consequence of James Watt’s invention of the rotative steam engine in 1784. A protracted battle took place in industry. Water’s main advantage was that it was free, as well as being abundant in the rain-soaked areas of Scotland and the north-west of England, where the cotton industry was based. But steam allowed capitalists to exploit labor more efficiently. Coal was mobile. The capitalist could move it to where the labour sources were, rather than having to move people to where the energy source was.

Water-powered mills or factories had to be built next to the water source. A disciplined workforce was hard to find in such rural areas and so the mill owners would have to invest in building a “colony” - a settlement near the water source to house and service workers. This was both an extra outlay and an invitation to industrial strife. In contrast coal was a “ticket to the town” giving capitalists better access to disciplined workers in the newly expanded urban areas. The cost of coal began to be offset by these benefits.

A number of factors came together in the 1820s and 1830s. The Factory Acts, which limited working hours, had a greater impact on the factories powered by water. Previously, if these mills lost production time due to a lack of water supply, they would make it up by imposing longer hours to offset the lost production. Once this avenue was closed the advantage began to fall to steam.

So the fossil economy has one incontestable birthplace: Britain. However, this wasn’t a collective decision by the whole British population. In fact the introduction of steam was often fiercely resisted by workers, such as in the Plug Plot Riots of 1842, which were linked to the Chartist movement. Workers pulled the plugs out of the steam engines, stopping production by allowing the water to escape.

The introduction of steam unleashed a process, a path of development, with fossil fuels at its heart. The nature of capitalist competition meant that once one capitalist introduced a new method others were forced to follow in order to keep up. The shift to coal didn’t stay confined to Britain. Economic and military competition meant that the fossil economy was soon projected across the globe. By the end of the 19th century industry and railroads in the US were burning more coal than those in Britain, while Germany and a number of other European countries were also about to catch up. 

New market

The introduction of oil further drove this process. Petroleum had previously been used mainly for lighting as kerosene and as lubrication. The inventions of the internal combustion engine in the 1880s and of the aeroplane in 1903 created a new market for it. These new machines used gasoline - a part of petroleum that refiners had been previously discarding. In the early 20th century imperial armies became major customers for gasoline. Oil-powered tanks, airplanes, destroyers and submarines played decisive roles in the First World War.

One breakthrough for petroleum was Britain’s decision in 1912 to convert its battleships from coal to oil. Class interests played a major role in the decision. The only source of the high-grade anthracite coal that fuelled battleships was the Welsh mines. In 1910 Winston Churchill had used the army to break strikes in these pits. When he took responsibility for the army in 1911 he immediately initiated a program to convert the battleships to oil. He said that in doing this the government “was freeing itself from the political claims of the miners”.

Shortly after the First World War mass production of cars began. By 1929 the car industry was the largest in the US. Meanwhile the chemical industry was developing new products made either from the by-products of oil refining or requiring the high levels of energy that only oil could provide. The 1930s saw the invention of synthetic fibres such as nylon and the first mass-produced plastics and industrial chemicals.

From the 1880s onward the concentration and centralization of capital saw giant companies dominating the global economy - nowhere more so than in the fossil industries. In 1930 over half of the 200 largest industrial companies in the US were in the chemicals, petroleum, metals, rubber or transportation industries. Such concentrated power meant that decisions made in a handful of enterprises could rapidly change whole industries and affect the entire world.

In his book, Facing the Anthropocene, Ian Angus points to “the Great Acceleration” in global warming that took place after 1945. Total world energy consumption more than tripled in the post-war period. The conditions for this were shaped by developments made during the Second World War.

The US government pumped massive amounts of money into oil-related industries to help the war effort. Six out of every seven barrels of oil used by the Allied Forces came from US wells and were refined by US oil companies. The government built new pipelines and refineries equipped with new technology. The US car industry stopped commercial production and instead made 2 million jeeps and trucks plus airplane engines, tanks, armored cars, machine guns and bombs - funded by $29 billion in government subsidies. These industries ended the war with updated and expanded facilities, which laid the basis for a massive expansion of production.

The US government also plowed money into the petrochemical plants to produce nitrogen for explosives, synthetic rubber for tires and nylon for parachutes. After the war the government sold these new updated factories and plants at knock down prices to private oil and chemical companies, paving the way for a new age of plastic. This state-led renewal of manufacturing had enormous implications for both the global role of the US and the use of fossil fuels. 

Marshall Plan

The Marshall Plan of 1948 strengthened the global role of US corporations. The US state gave vast amounts of money to European countries so they could buy oil from US oil companies. Between 1948 and 1951 more than half of the oil sold to Western European buyers by US oil companies was paid for with Marshall Plan funds.

The US government also subsidised the expansion of its oil companies into new facilities in Saudi Arabia in order to meet European demand. Before the war 20 percent of Europe’s oil imports came from the Middle East, rising to 85 percent in 1950. This setup accelerated Europe’s long-term transition from coal to oil dependence. World oil production grew by more than 700 percent in the period 1946-73.

The Second World War fundamentally shaped the terrain, enabling the growth of massive corporations in the fossil fuel economy. Other trends drove this further, such as the industrialization of agriculture with its use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides derived from oil. Today’s food system is reliant on fossil fuel inputs at every stage of production, distribution, packaging and consumption. Continued high military expenditure after the war also had an impact.

Today the US military is the world’s largest user of petroleum, the largest polluter - producing more hazardous waste than the five largest US chemical companies combined - and the largest producer of greenhouse gases.

The whole infrastructure of capitalism has been built on fossil fuel. These enormous historic investments would have to be written off if we were to make a transition to renewables. Such a vast global write-off of capital would be unprecedented in scale. Globally the replacement cost of the existing fossil fuel and nuclear power infrastructure runs into trillions of dollars. It is unlikely that companies operating it would be happy to write off that amount and replace it with a renewable energy system carrying an even higher price tag.

Capitalists want to retrieve their costs. Even once the cost of, for example, a power plant has been recovered it is still better to keep it in operation for as long as possible. Decommissioning the structure and constructing another would be to start all over again and lose any market advantage. Two thirds of US power plants built since the 1890s are still in use.

Capital has a vested interest in the endurance of the fossil fuel landscape. Although it is rational from the point of view of the planet to switch to renewables, it is completely irrational from the point of view of each individual capitalist. And, of course, the fossil fuel industries have plenty of money to ensure they do continue. Naomi Klein in her book, This Changes Everything, exposed the vast lobbying power of these companies.

In 2013 in the US alone the oil and gas industries spent $400,000 every day lobbying Congress and government officials. The problem gets worse as time goes on. Investment in fossil industries doesn’t stop while governments argue over what to do about emissions.

When and if the decision is finally made to cut emissions seriously, far more capital will have to be liquidated than if the process had been started decades ago. In the first decade of the new millennium more coal-fired power plants were constructed than in any previous decade. In the three years from 2010 to 2012 more than two and a half times more coal capacity was added than in the entire decade of the 1990s. 


As Angus makes clear, “Fossil fuels are not an overlay that can be peeled away from capitalism - leaving the system intact, they are embedded in every aspect of the system.” It is common within the climate movement to hear the argument that we are all to blame for climate change. However, it is clear that the decisions to adopt fossil fuels and continue and expand their use were not made by everyone. Rather the decision was made by those early capitalists at the start of industrialization in Britain as a way to better exploit workers in order to maximize profit.

Of course, those capitalists in the 1830s could not have known they were setting the world on course for catastrophic global warming - although is worth noting that air quality and related issues were subject to much complaint by the working class at the time. But the point is we now know the consequences of burning coal, oil and gas.

Yet the irrationality of capitalism dictates the opposite from the action that needs to be taken. This is not a technical problem. Studies show that a full transition to renewable, non-carbon fuels is physically possible. Of course, it would cost money but, as we’ve seen, states have made investments on this scale before, particularly during wartime. But the historic investment in the fossil fuel industries and the colossal vested interests with the power to lobby governments mean that we are up against massive economic and political obstacles.

If we accept that fossil fuels are completely embedded in capitalism then the conclusion must surely be that we have to get rid of that system. But this is not an argument for us to wait until the revolution to sort out climate change. The problem is immediate. There are battles constantly within capitalism. Sometimes there are struggles explicitly about climate change and the environment, for example over fracking in Britain.

The oil and gas companies some years back claimed fracking would be in full production by now. In fact there has only been one frack so far in Britain. Campaigning has made a difference; it has helped stop the further expansion of the fossil fuel landscape.

The sustained protest at Standing Rock in Dakota has seen a victory, at least for now, with the US engineer corps saying it will allow a massive oil pipeline to be routed beneath the Missouri River. But other fights can also show the power to take on those vested interests of the oil and gas companies. The strikes in France over the new work law in 2016 took place in oil refineries and involved blockades of fuel depots. The action led to a petrol shortage and hit power output. The strikes were about the new work law but they showed where power lies to take on the giant fossil fuel multinationals.

In every movement wider questions are raised about capitalism and where power lies in society to bring about change. As revolutionaries and environmentalists we should be part of every fight over the issue of the climate - as well as raising the question of climate change in every struggle. The impact of climate change intensifies all struggles bred by capitalism.

We have to be part of those struggles, link them together and crucially connect them to the power to get rid of capitalism completely. We have to fight now to stop the further expansion of fossil fuels but we also need to fight to replace a society based on accumulation for profit with one based on production for need. 

Amy Leather is joint national secretary of the UK Socialist Workers Party.