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Americans have planted so much corn that it’s changing the weather

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This story was originally published by Atlas Obscura and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Corn farmers in eastern Nebraska have long claimed weather patterns are changing, but in an unexpected way.

“It’s something I’ve talked about with my dad and granddad many times,” says fifth-generation corn farmer Brandon Hunnicutt. Along with his father and brother, the 45 year old lives in the 400-person village of Giltner and grows about 2,000 acres of corn each year. From above, the area looks like a blip of homes surrounded by an expansive grid of circular fields. Though Brandon’s grandfather is retired, he takes an active interest in the business. “Contrary to what you’d think should be happening, both him and my dad swear up and down [that] droughts used to come more often and be a lot worse,” says Hunnicutt. “Considering it’s been 30 years since we had a really bad one, I’ve started kind of taking them at their word.”

This is not the only noticeable development — University of Nebraska climatologists say the growing season has gotten 10-14 days longer since 1980. Hunnicutt now waits until the first weeks of November to pilot his 40-foot-wide, dump-truck-sized combine through the farm’s widely arching, seemingly endless rows of corn — enough to cover 800 city blocks.

Though subtle, the Hunnicutts have noticed these changes and more.

“To be successful in this business, you’ve got to pay close attention to the weather,” explains Brandon. In the past 20 years, on top of the above, he’s noted a gradual decrease in 100-degree days during the summer. “That missing digit isn’t something you overlook,” he asserts with a laugh. “High temperatures create a lot of anxiety. If they go on long enough, they’ll scorch your corn and put a hurtin’ on your bottom line!”

A 2018 report issued by climate researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology claims to have solved the mystery and verified farmers’ suspicions: Namely, that large-scale corn production has changed the weather.

Over the past 70 years, farmers in America’s midwestern Corn Belt have made vast leaps in production. From 1950 to 2010, annual harvests increased by more than 400 percent, jumping from 2 billion to 10 billion bushels. In addition to making the area the world’s most productive agricultural region, climate scientists at MIT say the boom has created its own weather patterns.

“We studied data from the past 30 years and found that the intensification of corn production has increased average summer rainfalls by about 35 percent and decreased [average summer] temperatures by as much as one degree Celsius,” says former MIT researcher Ross E. Alter, now a research meteorologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Alter was the lead author of a 2018 report published in the journal of the American Geophysical Union that demonstrated how land use has impacted the region’s climate more than greenhouse gas emissions. “What makes these findings so fascinating is that, while global temperatures have risen, areas like eastern Nebraska have actually cooled,” continues Alter, referring to yearly averages. “We think it’s likely heavy agriculture counteracted rising summer temperatures that might have otherwise resulted from increasing greenhouse gases.”

In other words, the human-made shift has been helpful. By increasing yields, farmers have unintentionally created weather patterns that seem to be protecting their crops and helping them grow more corn. (Of course, burning fossil fuels to plant, cultivate, harvest, process, and ship farm products has been shown to be a major contributor to rising levels of greenhouse gases.)

Though similar effects have to some degree been observed in the rice-growing regions of eastern China, the report marks the first time the effects of agriculture on regional climate change in the central U.S. have undergone comprehensive analysis. The findings document the most significant human-made regional climate shift in world history.

“On a global level, this research is important because it proves the influence of agricultural intensification is really an independent problem from greenhouse gas emissions,” explains Alter.

By comparing observed historical trends in the Corn Belt’s climate to those predicted by a variety of global simulations used by the World Climate Research Program, which coordinates climate research sponsored by various international organizations, the report showed the models were inaccurate for the region (they predicted summer temperatures would rise and rainfall would increase by just four percent). Though the WCRP models accounted for greenhouse gas emissions and other human and natural factors, they did not consider agricultural intensification.

“Our findings are a bit different from what people thought about the mechanisms of climate change,” says Alter. He believes that accurately simulating and understanding climate change at the local level will require a look at cases of agricultural intensification like Nebraska’s corn boom.

But how, specifically, has growing more corn changed the climate? Associate Nebraska State Climatologist Al Dutcher says it’s complicated.

On one hand, it has to do with what Hunnicutt and other farmers refer to as “corn sweat.” This happens when photosynthesis boosts the amount of water vapor in the air.

“When a plant’s pores, called stomata, open to allow carbon dioxide to enter, they simultaneously allow water to escape,” writes Kimberly Hickok, who covers climate change for Science Magazine and reviewed the report. Known as transpiration, the process cools the plant and surrounding air, and increases the amount of water going into the atmosphere and returning as rainfall. As Hickok notes, “the cycle may continue” as that additional rainwater evaporates back into the atmosphere and causes rainfall on other farms and towns downwind.

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Put another way: More corn means more transpiration. Which, in turn, produces slightly cooler temperatures and increased precipitation. The fact that corn is a non-native species boosts the effect.

“The predominant native vegetation in central and eastern Nebraska is grass,” explains Dutcher. Farmers have replaced the area’s vast seas of grass with more than 9 million acres of corn, which transpires at a rate 20 percent higher than indigenous grasses. “Agriculture is literally funneling moisture into the atmosphere, and all that humidity has created a kind of protective bubble against rising temperatures.”

Dutcher and Hunnicutt say growing more corn — and thus, creating more transpiration — would have been impossible without advances in farming efficiency. The introduction of high-yielding varieties, better irrigation, and soil management techniques, along with the ability to use computer sensors to closely monitor field conditions, have all contributed to soaring yields.

“One of the biggest factors is the widespread use of cover crops, crop residue management, and no-till farming methods,” writes University of Nebraska-Lincoln Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources extension engineer Paul Jasa. Together, the practices have erased the need for conventional tillage, dramatically increased organic matter in the soil, reduced evaporation and runoff, and lowered summer surface temperatures. “With time, the [native clay-based] soil has become much healthier and better at retaining water,” Jasa continues. “This has made crops more resilient to traumatic weather events and, in general, much more productive.”

Hunnicutt says automated irrigation has helped boost overall production and allowed him to grow corn in pivot corners where his grandfather could not. Upward of 340 acres that formerly yielded nothing now contribute as much as 180 bushels per acre. In his tenure as a farmer, full-field yields have grown by more than 50 bushels an acre.

“I can get minute-to-minute weather predictions and tell you moisture levels anywhere in our fields just by glancing at my phone,” says Hunnicutt. “In the 1950s, my grandad was using a Farmers’ Almanac. Back then, if they thought the soil was too dry, they just dumped water on it. Now, I know exactly what my plants need and when to apply it.”

As might be expected, Alter’s report has a dark side. And that dark side has global implications.

“In terms of the Corn Belt, the degree of agricultural intensification we’ve seen in the last 30 years isn’t sustainable,” he says. “It’s projected to soon come to an end and may even decline.” And if that happens, the mitigating effect of agriculture will disappear, and global temperatures will rise even faster.

Though studies have yet to be conducted around the world, Alter says that areas that have experienced substantial agricultural intensification have likely experienced similar benefits: more rainfall and cooler average temperatures during the summers. Like Nebraska, the effects have probably masked negative changes and will eventually be overwhelmed.

“I know some of the anti-climate change folks will probably poo-poo this, but it’s something my family takes very seriously,” says Hunnicutt. “We’ve been in this business for five generations, and I hope to see my children and grandchildren carry on that tradition. We’re doing everything we can to reduce fuel consumption and increase efficiency. Our hope is these [mitigatory effects] will give us enough of a window to make adjustments and prepare for what’s coming.”

In the meantime, he hopes the world gets its act together and curbs emissions before it’s too late.

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Americans have planted so much corn that it’s changing the weather

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Trump wants to ramp up coal. Spain has found a way to quit it.

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This story was originally published by the HuffPost and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Villablino, Spain — When the shutters come down on the last 10 privately owned pits in northwest Spain’s once mighty coal industry later this month, there will be tears and trauma in the region where the country’s mining unions were born.

There is also a fragile hope that a better, cleaner future could follow — but a barely hidden warning that the despair that propelled Trump to power in the U.S. lurks in the wings if it does not.

Spain’s uneconomic coal industry has been killed by a pincer movement: cheaper imports from developing countries on one flank and falling renewable energy prices on the other, fanned by binding E.U. targets to reduce emissions and a dawning awareness of coal’s climate and other environmental costs.

Industry shutdowns are painful, especially in sectors like coal mining which go back generations. The risk is unemployment and social dislocation. But this one may play out differently: in a “just transition” deal — brokered by unions and a new leftwing government — that could have implications for other coal-producing countries, including the U.S.

Spain plans to support laid-off miners and their communities by plowing $285 million over a decade into compensation payouts, retraining for low-carbon jobs and environmental restoration work in pit communities. The aim is to ensure a safety net to catch those whose jobs will disappear as the economy shifts to a low-carbon one. Politicians and union officials say the deal will ensure both environmental and social protection as the economy shifts away from coal.

However, on the ground in Spain, there is suspicion about this promised new future from workers who have watched an industry, identity, and way of life dying around for them for some two decades. More than a thousand miners and contractors will be laid off around Christmas, a third of them in the northern region of Castilla y León, home to Villablino, and there is concern over whether new jobs will materialize.

“New jobs are a utopia in our country,” says Salvador Osario, a 47-year-old miner from Castilla y León who took early retirement after 20 years of digging coal. “The miners are alone. No one wants to support us. Not the left- or the right-wing parties. Even the unions are divided.”

Salvador Osario, 47, is a retired miner in the Castilla y León region of northern Spain.Arthur Neslen / HuffPost

The valleys of Castilla y León once thrummed to the sound of the coal industry, and relics from its retreat are everywhere. Pit shafts litter the hillsides and monuments to miners are sprinkled around town squares. Diner cafes have stickers of miners on the doors, and coal train statuettes outside.

Coal workers here have a brave history of fighting fascism during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. In the early 1960s, miners in Villablino formed Spain’s first clandestine union, the Confederacion Sindical de Comisiones Obreras (CCOO), which continued the fight against the dictator General Franco.

Spain’s coal industry employed more than 100,000 miners back then. That number had fallen to 45,000 by the late 1980s — nearly half of them in Castilla y León — and it continued to drop. More than 5,000 still worked in the northwest mines of Castilla y León, Asturias, Aragón, and Palencia at the start of this century. Next year, there will be none.

A monument to coal miners in Villablino, Spain.Arthur Neslen / HuffPost

The dying embers of Spain’s coal industry may leave a sad legacy for the miners, but coal needs to be phased out if we are to keep temperature increases below the levels at which we’ll see catastrophic climate change, climate scientists say. Coal emits more carbon dioxide than any other fossil fuel, as well as deadly toxins such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter, which are responsible for more than 20,000 deaths each year in Europe alone.

“The deal is a way forward for many problems that will appear and we are committed to it,” said Mariano Sanz Lubeiro, CCOO’s confederal secretary, from his Madrid office.

This sentiment is echoed by Teresa Ribera, Spain’s minister for the ecological transition. “We have worked hard to restore trust in regions that have suffered a long restructuring process, negotiating and coming up with social protection measures that the unions could accept,” she told HuffPost. “Now we have to deliver. Climate ambition and social protection have to go hand in hand if we want to succeed.”

“The objective we have is that the miners will be offered a [green-collar] job. We will have to register all of them. Instead of one year, it may take one year and three months, but that is very much the plan,”Laura Martin-Murillo, a government negotiator, said.

As well as work in solar or wind energy, she also believes there will be jobs in biomass, making energy from organic matter such as wood pellets or agricultural waste. They are also thinking about labor-intensive work such as retrofitting buildings to be more environmentally friendly.

But miners on eligible contracts will have to live on social benefits until an environmental restoration plan kicks in next autumn, at the earliest. Those who claim the retirement offer will take home around $20,000 a year on average.

This community has been here before. When the last round of closures happened 20 years ago, the miners affected felt it was not a just transition.

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Anxiety is clear in the bleary eyes of Rolando Prieto Perez, 43, an electrician in the century-old La Escondida pit who has just come off a night shift when I meet him in the Villablino CCOO office.

“We’re suffering from depression,” he says wearily. “We have the blues. The situation is unpredictable and our futures look bleak. Sometimes we just feel confused.”

Rolando Prieto Perez, 43, a miner.Arthur Neslen / HuffPost

Prieto Perez is a few years too young to qualify for early retirement, and while the government is registering all miners for new jobs, these could arrive at any time between March 2019 and March 2020: months, if not years, after the mine closures.

Stuck between the beneficiaries of the post-war boom and the clean energy transition, Prieto Perez says he is part of “the unlucky generation.”

Mining is “part of the DNA of this region and its people,” says Sanz Lubeiro, CCOO’s confederal secretary. “That is why its loss has been so traumatic for the community.”

“If the transition is not done right,” he added, “we are preparing the ground for populism which blames climate action or technology or migrant workers,” he says.

There are signs that this may already be beginning in Villablino. “I don’t support this climate change idea,”Prieto Perez says. “I consider this news very manipulated. The government only speaks about global warming, but they want to close the mine for [economic] reasons.”

Omar Garcia Alvarez, a local miners leader, claims that if every miner were guaranteed a job in clean energy, there would be no problem with closing the mines. But “there is no ecological transition,” he says. “We don’t believe in the deal because we don’t trust the government.”

Miners Salvador Osario and Omar Garcia Alvarez look through a window in derelict mine.Arthur Neslen / HuffPost

He notes that the $285 million will have to be split between four regions over 10 years — giving Castilla y León only 6 million euros (or $6.8 million) a year with which to heal its wounds.

Just 39 years old, Garcia Alvarez was forced to quit his pit job last August by spinal injuries caused by his job. He now speaks with a sense of romanticism about the industry and the solidarity it produced.

“All people have a right to defend their jobs,” he says when asked what he thinks about U.S. coal miners, who are facing their own struggle. “I don’t agree with Donald Trump’s politics, but if he supports the miners, it is very good news for them.” Appalachia’s miners are widely thought to have helped Donald Trump win in Kentucky.

Yet Trump’s promises to bring back coal haven’t been fulfilled. “Across the USA you can see the devastation already caused in communities that have lost livelihoods that were dependent on [fossil fuel] corporations who made the decision to exit,” said Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, the world’s largest trade union confederation.

Burrow said Spain’s scheme should be a model for countries such as the U.S. to achieve their own just transition away from fossil fuels. “We need urgent climate ambition to save the planet — and humanity itself,” she said. “But if you don’t negotiate with working people, if plans are not transparent and communities don’t have trust in their futures, then resistance to climate action is absolutely a risk.”

Clean air and a climate-safe future mean little when you can’t put food on the table right now, says Brad Markell, the executive director of the industrial union council of AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the U.S.

“There is no question that people in coal mining regions and around coal-fired generation plants thought that Trump was going to save them. He said he would and they thought it was worth taking a chance on him,” he said.

Markell would not comment on the gamble’s wisdom, despite mounting evidence that miners are now suffering from it. But he questioned whether a deal like Spain’s would translate to the more cutthroat U.S. labor market, where it could involve a 50 percent pay cut on a fossil fuel worker’s hourly rate. Starting pay in the U.S. solar sector can be as low as $15 an hour.

“It would be to everyone’s benefit if the new jobs created in the clean energy sector were high paying — and made available to people losing their jobs — but they won’t be, because in the USA, you’re on your own. That’s how things work here. We have a general deficit of working-class power and until we are able to reclaim that, it will be difficult to achieve economic justice.”

The Spanish government will this month outline how its just transition strategy will be rolled out nationally across all industries, including the car industry.

The issue is also taking center stage at the U.N. climate summit in Katowice which started this week, with Poland trumpeting a just transition for weaning countries off fossil fuels. Critics, however, say the aim is to mask international divisions over emissions-cutting obligations and targets, and divert attention from Poland’s own lack of climate ambition.

In Villablino, Eduardo Gonzalez Menazas, 60, a retired miner turned environmental activist, agrees that a just transition is “fundamental, very necessary, but at the moment too slow.”

He estimates only around 30 percent of his fellow miners believe that global warming is a problem and that saddens him, he said. In his spare time he plants trees around deserted mines. Menazas has noticed that the valley’s climate is already warming, with less snow and bird species such as the capercaillie nesting higher up.

“All people in Spain are responsible for this disaster,” he said.

“The energy transition has to be just because miners also need help from the government,” Gonzalez Menazas said. “In this area, there are no choices for people and that is also a problem. The transition has to be for everyone.”

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Trump wants to ramp up coal. Spain has found a way to quit it.

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How Harvard’s investments exacerbate global land and water conflicts

In late May, an open letter appeared on Medium penned by Kat Taylor, an overseer of Harvard’s investment fund. Taylor was resigning her position in protest because portions of the university’s multi-billion-dollar endowment have gone to “land purchases that may not respect indigenous rights” and “water holdings that threaten the human right to water.”

“We should and would be horrified to find out that Harvard investments are actually funding some of the pernicious activities against which our standout academic leadership rails,” she wrote.

A similar letter appeared in 2014, this time written by an international group of leaders from civil society organizations, like the Croatan Institute and the Global Forest Coalition. “Four decades ago, Harvard was in fact a leader in the movement for more responsible institutional investment,” the coalition wrote. “Today Harvard can no longer claim to play such a role.”

Harvard began investing in farmland in the aftermath of the world food price crisis in 2007, which made agricultural land desirable, and the financial crisis in 2008, which increased the appeal of more tangible assets. In the subsequent decade, the Harvard Management Company, as the school’s investment arm is known, has purchased large swaths of farmland in Brazil, South Africa, Russia, the Ukraine, New Zealand, Australia, and the U.S.

The elite university has quietly become one of the largest owners of farmland in the world, according to a new report by GRAIN, an international nonprofit supporting small farmers, and Brazil-based Rede Social de Justiça e Direitos Humanos (Social Network for Justice and Human Rights). The investigation found that Harvard’s estimated 1 billion dollars of investments are often made without due diligence or respect for the people who have lived for generations on the land it acquired.

“This is a really tough document to read about essentially how Harvard has blood on its hands,” says Keisha-Khan Perry, a professor of Africana studies at Brown whose research focuses on black social movements and land rights within the Americas.

The report extensively documents many Harvard-financed land acquisitions that directly led to the devastation of indigenous peoples, the creation of internal refugees, and the destruction of sacred and ecologically important areas. Among numerous examples: Harvard’s investors acquired several South African farms. Post-apartheid land reforms had granted property rights to black workers who once worked the land and their families. After taking over these parcels in 2011, Harvard put in place farm managers who restricted those families’ rights, including for grazing their cattle and accessing family burial sites. The managers also imposed a system of penalties that could result in the expulsion of a family if any of its members disobeyed the restrictions.

Perry notes that the school’s large-scale investments in indigenous land — which she says is part of a broader phenomenon known as “land grabbing” — can contribute to ecological degradation, land conflicts, and even warfare. “It’s almost like investing in gold in Sierra Leone, or oil in Nigeria, or diamonds on South Africa,” she explains.

A Harvard Management Company spokesperson, Patrick McKiernan, pushed back against characterizations like the ones made by Perry and the new report. “Harvard Management Company focuses on environmental, social, and governance matters for all of its investments, to ensure long-term value for both the asset and the communities in which we invest,” he wrote to Grist. “This commitment to responsible investing involves working with relevant constituents, including local authorities, to address any issues that arise during our investment, even if they predate HMC’s involvement.”

Harvard’s most extensive and conflict-ridden land acquisitions have occurred in Brazil. The university acquired nearly 300,000 hectares of land in the Cerrado, the world’s most biodiverse savannah that’s home to 80 different indigenous ethnicities. The area has become a “new frontier,” as the report notes, for soy, sugarcane, and large-scale monoculture commodities — which makes it a safe investment.

The investigation documents what happened in Baixão Fechado, one village that was impacted by these investments. Activities on two farms Harvard acquired have resulted in mass deforestation and the diversion of water used by the local community for agricultural irrigation. “[Residents say] the large amounts of water the farms use for irrigation, have badly affected their access to water which was previously plentiful and of good quality,” the report notes. “The situation has become so bad that the village has had to start bringing in water by trucks.”

Further, pesticides used on the Harvard-owned land have also contributed to health problems, the contamination of fishing grounds, and the destruction of crops, all of which disrupted the local community’s “way of life,” according to Perry.

In the northeastern part of the Cerrado, there’s a widespread practice of falsifying property titles to legitimize the occupation of public lands — a form of land grabbing. As the report explains, the lands are fenced to give the appearance of a farm and the fraudulent titles are then sold to companies often connected to foreign investors. The report notes that Harvard channeled funds through three different business groups in this region and acquired land from a Brazilian businessman well-known for this scheme.

It’s this deliberate or neglectful disregard of the region’s sociopolitical context and history that Rede Social de Justiça e Direitos Humanos’ Maria Mendonca, one of the authors of the report, finds highly troubling.

“Any casual look into what’s happening in that part of Brazil should have set off alarm bells,” she explains. “If they just looked into the historical records of these land areas, they would have been able to see that there are existing land conflicts, and they should have stayed away from that.”

There’s a better way to invest in the region, Mendonca says: Harvard and others could promote organic agriculture and invest in the region’s hundreds of small farming communities who have worked the land for generations.

“That’s not what they’re doing,” Mendonca says. “They fence the area, they displace people, and then they pollute the water, the soil, the land.”

Institutions are actually attracted to Brazil in part because of the country’s history of violent land grabs, says Madeleine Fairbairn, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who studies agriculture systems and land rights. That’s because Brazil’s land is concentrated among relatively few owners so institutional investors can acquire large swaths of property with very few transactions, she says

Even so, Fairbairn notes, that’s no excuse for not performing due diligence on investments. “Unfortunately, many investors fail to ask the difficult questions about how the previous owner came to control such a great big expanse of Brazilian savannah in the first place,” she explains. By naming subsidiaries that Harvard Management Company used to acquire farms, as well as tracking where the properties were located, Fairbairn says GRAIN and Rede Social de Justiça e Direitos Humanos are “pulling back the veil that shields institutional investors from public scrutiny.”

It’s not only Harvard and other universities that are invested in this farmland. Professors and other employees are passive participants, as well: Their retirement plans are often managed by the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association. The association, as the reports shows, acquired more farmland than any other pension fund. “We cannot continue to say that we do not know where our money is being invested,” says Perry, the professor at Brown, a university that has a $3.5 billion endowment. “At some point, as faculty, as the report urged, we need to figure out how to make a case for divestment.”

In her resignation letter, Kat Taylor — the former overseer of Harvard’s investment fund — says she made that same case for years, but her “soft power approach” failed to move the needle. Left with no other recourse, she felt that resigning publicly was the only card she could play — a last-ditch effort to get Harvard to rid itself of these controversial investments. (The decision was largely a symbolic gesture, given that her six-year term was to conclude the next day.)

“For Harvard to continue to profit from activities that might and likely do accelerate us toward climate disaster, enslave millions to unfair labor practices, or proliferate more and more weapons in society that threaten especially young lives is unconscionable,” she wrote. “I fervently hope that all of you will demand accountable financial transactions on behalf of us all as I have tried to do.”

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How Harvard’s investments exacerbate global land and water conflicts

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Trump’s latest rule rollback makes natural gas as dirty as coal

This story was originally published by High Country News and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

This summer’s statistics on electricity use and generation included a significant gem: Over the last 12 months, power generation from coal has dropped to a three-decade low. That was party-worthy news for the climate, for air quality, for folks who live near power plants, and for the natural gas industry, which is partly responsible for coal’s decline. Just days later, however, the Trump administration crashed the shindig, causing a major buzzkill.

No, the president’s attempts to revive coal have not succeeded. But on September 18, the Interior Department snuffed out new rules aimed at lowering the oil and gas industry’s methane emissions, just days after the EPA started the process of euthanizing its own methane regulations. This is a bummer not only for the planet, but also for the natural gas industry’s efforts to portray its product as the clean fossil fuel.

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Coal began its climb to dominate the electricity mix in the 1960s, peaking in the mid-2000s, when power plants burned about 1 billion tons per year, generating about half of the nation’s electricity — and an ongoing disaster. Donald Trump likes to talk about “clean, beautiful coal.” It’s anything but. The smokestacks that loom over coal power plants kick out millions of tons of planet-warming carbon dioxide annually, along with mercury, sulfur dioxide, arsenic, and particulates, all of which wreak havoc on human health. What’s left over ends up as toxic (sometimes radioactive) piles of ash, clinkers, and scrubber sludge.

When natural gas is burned to produce power, however, it emits only about half the carbon dioxide of coal, and virtually none of the other pollutants associated with burning coal. So during the 2008 election season — when climate politics were less polarized than now — both parties pushed natural gas in different ways, with Republicans chanting, “Drill, baby, drill,” and Democrats calling natural gas a “bridge” to greater reliance on renewable energy sources. At the same time, advances in drilling were unlocking vast stores of oil and gas from shale formations, driving down the price of the commodity, and making it more desirable to utilities.

(Video via Andrew Thorpe and Joshua Krohn / NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

As a result, natural gas gobbled up a growing share of the nation’s electricity mix, while coal’s portion withered. In 2008, natural gas generated 21 percent of the electricity in the United States; now, its share is 33 percent. Coal use, meanwhile, plummeted from 48 percent to 29 percent over the same period. In consequence, the electric power sector’s total carbon dioxide emissions have dropped by 700 million metric tons over the last decade, with an attendant decrease in other harmful pollutants. Every megawatt-hour of coal-fired electricity that is replaced by gas-fired electricity is a net win for the planet — and the humans who live on it.

Except when it’s not. Natural gas has an Achilles’ heel: When it is sucked from the earth and processed and moved around, leaks occur. The main ingredient in natural gas is methane, a greenhouse gas with 86 times the short-term warming potential of carbon dioxide. Every punctured pipeline, leaky valve, and sloppy gas-well completion eats away at any climate benefits. And if methane’s leaking, so too are other harmful pollutants, including benzene, ethane, and hydrogen sulfide. And so the fuel’s green credentials, and one of the industry’s main marketing tools, end up wafting into thin air.

An aerial view taken by the airborne imaging spectrometer AVIRIS-NG of a methane plume from a gas storage tank in Kern Front oil field. The leak persisted for multiple years.Riley Duren, Andrew Thorpe and Stanley Sander / NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

When the Obama administration proposed rules that would make the oil and gas industry clamp down on methane emissions, it was a gift, not a punishment. Not only would people and the climate benefit; the natural gas industry would be able to sell itself as a clean fuel and a bridge to the future.

The Obama-era rules are similar to those passed in Colorado in 2014, with the industry’s support. Far from being onerous, they simply require companies to regularly look for and repair leaks and to replace faulty equipment. Some companies already do this on their own; the Obama rules would simply mandate this responsible behavior across the board. That’s why the Republican-controlled Congress ultimately decided not to kill the rules. That, however, did not discourage Trump.

Trump is not being “business-friendly” by ending the rules. Rather, he is once again indulging his own obsession with Obama and with destroying his predecessor’s legacy, regardless of the cost to human health and the environment. Trump’s own EPA estimates that its rule rollback will result in the emission of an additional 484,000 tons of methane, volatile organic compounds, and other hazardous pollutants over the next five years. Meanwhile, the death of Interior’s methane rule on Tuesday will add another half-million tons of pollutants to the air. In the process, it will erode the pillars of the once-vaunted natural gas bridge.

Then again, maybe the time has come to let that bridge burn. We get 70 times more electricity from solar sources now than we did in 2008, and renewables hold 11 percent of the total share of power generation. Perhaps just as significant is a less-noticed fact: Electricity consumption in the U.S. has held steady for the last decade, even dropping during some years, despite a growing population, a burgeoning economy, harder-working air conditioners, and more electric devices. That means we’re becoming more efficient and smarter about how we use energy. If we keep this up, we’ll be able to cross that fossil fuel chasm, no matter how many bridges Trump burns down.

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Trump’s latest rule rollback makes natural gas as dirty as coal

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7 Easy Eco-Friendly Lifestyle Changes You Can Make Today

Whether you?re a full-time eco-warrior or just learning about sustainability, there are many modifications you can make to your lifestyle to support a healthy planet. Here are seven cheap and easy changes you can make starting today.

1. Drive greener

The average American driver spends roughly 17,600 minutes behind the wheel each year, according to AAA. And each minute, traditional vehicles release pollutants that can spell trouble both for your health and the environment. ?Pollutants released by vehicles greatly increase air pollution levels and have been linked to adverse health effects, including premature mortality, cardiac symptoms, exacerbation of asthma symptoms, and diminished lung function,? according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So if you burn fuel every day, it?s time to re-evaluate your commute. Look for alternatives, such as walking, biking, carpooling and public transportation. Find out whether you can telecommute to work or shift your hours to avoid sitting in heavy traffic. And try to run errands when traffic is light. The gas money you?ll save is just an added bonus to breathing cleaner air.

2. Create a meal plan

Are you guilty of buying more food than you can finish before it goes bad? You?re definitely not alone. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 22 percent of discarded solid municipal waste is food. That?s a serious waste problem, especially given the environmental impact of food production.

But with a bit of effort, you can dramatically cut your food waste. Simply plan your meals, write out a shopping list and stick to it. You don?t have to cut out impulse buys completely ? though you should avoid shopping on an empty stomach ? but if you do purchase something unexpected, be sure to adjust your meal plan so nothing spoils. And try to share or donate any excess food before it ends up in a landfill.

3. Learn what goes into your food

On the topic of food, you also should know what you?re buying. Food production often involves the use of chemical fertilizers, burning fossil fuels for transportation, inhumane treatment of animals, harm to wildlife and more. So as a consumer, it?s up to you to make responsible choices.

Buy local, organic and humanely raised food whenever possible. Look for ?fair trade? on the label for goods that promote better standards for the producers and the environment. And refuse to support restaurants and other establishments that don?t make these environmentally conscious choices.

4. Cut plastic waste

Plastic waste is a massive problem for our planet. It?s polluting oceans, killing wildlife and making us sick. Still, it?s unfortunately difficult to entirely avoid plastic in everyday life, but we can be more responsible about our use of it.

?You can start cutting down on your plastic waste in a few simple steps: use reusable bags when you shop, ditch single-use water bottles, bags, and straws and avoid products made from or packaged in plastic whenever possible,? the Center for Biological Diversity recommends. Consider buying items used instead of new to avoid plastic packaging. Shop local, and cut down on online purchases, which often come wrapped in plastic. And, of course, recycle everything you can. Saying no to that straw won?t clean an entire ocean, but it might save one sea animal?s life.

5. Switch to natural cleaners

Chemical cleaning products might make your home smell “meadow fresh” ? whatever that means ? but at a huge cost to actual meadows and your health. ?Store-bought cleaners typically contain dangerous chemicals, contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and are packaged in petroleum-based products,? according to Ohio University?s Office of Sustainability.

Luckily, you can find eco-friendly cleaning products at most retailers, and you can easily make your own. Most clean and disinfect just as well as the chemicals, and you don?t have to be afraid to breathe while you knock out your chore list.

6. Question your purchases

You might buy something based on impulse, hours of research and everything in between. Hopefully, you at least pause to think about the impact of your purchase. ?Every product we purchase has an environmental footprint, from the materials used to create it to the pollution emitted during manufacturing to the packaging that ends up in landfills,? the Center for Biological Diversity says.

So first ask yourself, ?Do I really need this?? If the answer is yes, as it often is, then look for items that have a smaller environmental impact. Upgrade to energy-efficient appliances or a fuel-efficient vehicle. Purchase furniture made from sustainable materials, such as bamboo ? or better yet, buy it secondhand. Basically, if you?re already putting in research before buying an item, don?t forget to consider the environment as a factor.

7. Time your showers

There?s plenty you can do to make your home more eco-friendly ? and much of it adds up to cost savings and better health for you, too. Upgrade your home?s insulation, and seal any air leaks to save on heating and cooling. Switch to energy-saving light bulbs and low-flow faucets. And grow low-maintenance, native plants in your garden.

If you?re a new eco-warrior, all those green options can be dizzying. So here?s a good place to start: Time your showers. To save water, you first have to realize how much you use. Try to beat your time each day by a minute, and ultimately you?ll learn only to use the water you need to get the job done. Then, let this victory in sustainability inspire you to branch out and live a more eco-friendly lifestyle.

Main image credit: Sasiistock/Thinkstock

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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7 Easy Eco-Friendly Lifestyle Changes You Can Make Today

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Your future home could be in a flood zone — and no one’s required to tell you

Olga McKissic lives in an airy, white-brick home with a pillared porch, the kind where you might sit and watch fireflies late in the night. The only issue is that every few years, the rising waters from a nearby river pour into her Kentucky home, ascending the porch like an uninvited guest. Her home flooded in 1997, 2006, 2013, and 2015.

“That property that we purchased back in 1986, that we thought was such a wonderful, tranquil, lovely place — it’s a nightmare to live here with the thought that it is going to flood again,” says McKissic in a video produced by the Natural Resources Defense Council. She explains that the first time it flooded, she replaced the carpet with tiles. When the water tore up the tiles, she installed linoleum. And when the linoleum failed to survive the next flood, she settled for just painting the concrete.

McKissic is just one of 30,000 homeowners or renters in the United States who live on a severe repetitive loss property, by National Flood Insurance Program standards. In North Carolina, where flooding from Hurricane Florence continues to threaten homes and lives, there are 1,132 such properties. From 1978 to 2018, the National Flood Insurance Program shelled out over $1.2 billion to North Carolina alone to repair and rebuild properties damaged by flooding, which often need to be rebuilt all over again after the next flood.  

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So why do homeowners all over the country invest in flood-prone property in the first place? One issue is that they don’t have enough information to know better. Due to an insubstantial patchwork of flood risk disclosure laws, “many Americans who are about to make one of the biggest financial investments of their lives have zero knowledge of whether a house has flooded and is likely to flood again,” according to research published last month in a joint project between the NRDC and the Sabin Center for Climate Law.

In 21 states, there are no statutory or regulatory requirements for a seller to disclose a property’s flood risks or past flood damages to a potential buyer, according to the research. The other 29 states have varying degrees of disclosure requirements. Kentucky and North Carolina, for instance, have some requirements, but not enough to protect many homeowners. (View an interactive map of your state’s laws here.)

“What Hurricane Florence and other major flooding events have really illustrated over the past few years is that the nation’s flood risk is getting worse,” explains Joel Scata, a climate and water attorney at the NRDC. “That really sets potential home buyers to be in a bad situation where they are buying property where they are not fully informed of the risk.”

The Carolinas’ vague, insubstantial disclosure laws likely helped contribute to the situation they now find themselves in: While millions of homes at risk of flooding, only 335,000 have flood insurance.

“Both North Carolina and South Carolina’s disclosure requirements were rated inadequate in our assessment,” explains Dena Adler, a researcher for the flood risk disclosure project and fellow at the Sabin Center for Climate Law. The research found that there are no requirements in North Carolina for home sellers to disclose previous flood damage to structures on the property or any requirement to carry flood insurance for the property.

In North Carolina, the Real Estate Commission must disclose that a property is located within a federally designated flood zone, which is based on hundred-year floodplains. That’s the land predicted to flood during a 100-year storm — one so severe it has a 1 percent chance of occurring during any given year. But storms have been getting stronger lately. In the last two years, North Carolina has seen two 1,000-year flood events: Hurricane Matthew and now, Hurricane Florence.

For more accurate flood risk maps, FEMA needs to take climate change into account. “Climate change is a loaded dice, because it makes the risk different,” Scata says. “By not looking at the future effects of climate change on flooding, like sea-level rise and bigger rain events contributing to bigger floodplains, you’re not getting the full picture.”

Scata and the NRDC recommend that states participating in the National Flood Insurance Program should explicitly disclose flood risks. Additionally, FEMA should provide homeowners a “right to know” about their property’s past history and create a public, open-data system to share information related to flood damage.

If better laws were in place, they could help mitigate what has become an unsustainable cycle: real estate developers buying up coastal properties, selling them to unknowing buyers, and then forcing them into a cycle of flooding and buyout.

Another solution is a significantly improved and expanded voluntary property buyout program, where FEMA provides funding for the local government to purchase the flood-prone property and convert it to open space. Currently, the National Flood Insurance Program focuses most of its funding on rebuilding homes, many of which are destined to flood again, and there is only a limited pool of money for property buyouts. As a 2017 report from NRDC puts it: “For every $100 FEMA has spent to rebuild properties through the NFIP, a paltry $1.72 has been spent to help move people to higher ground.”

Oh, and one more thing: The future of flood risk is closely related to what we do about climate change. As Scata explains, “Our future greenhouse gas and carbon emissions will dictate the various levels of sea-level rise. So if it’s going to be business as usual, it’s going to be a lot higher risk than if we take action.”

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Your future home could be in a flood zone — and no one’s required to tell you

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5 Ways You Might Be Contributing to Water Pollution

The health of our planet?s water is critical to life on Earth, yet it?s being polluted at an alarming rate. And humans are to blame. In fact, roughly 80 percent of ocean pollution comes from land, primarily from human activity. Here are five ways people contribute to water pollution in their everyday lives ? and what you can do to help combat the problem.

1. Plastic use

Maybe you?ve seen the viral video of the sea turtle who got a plastic straw stuck up its nose, and you decided to give up straws. That?s a great start. But the plastic problem facing the ocean goes a whole lot deeper. Millions of metric tons of plastic enter the ocean each year, influenced by population size and waste management standards, according to one study.

It all comes down to how much plastic people use. If you want to do your part to minimize plastic pollution, avoid disposable plastics wherever you can ? straws, drink lids, cutlery, grocery bags, water bottles, etc. Steer clear of beauty products with plastic microbeads. Consider the packaging when you make a purchase. For instance, you might be able to buy food from bulk bins using your own reusable containers, rather than purchasing a product packaged in plastic. And, of course, always responsibly recycle plastic whenever you can.

2. Pouring toxins down the sink or toilet

If your kid tries to flush one of their toys down the toilet, it might just mean a hefty plumber?s bill for you. But if an item that isn?t biodegradable makes it down a drain, that could affect the sewage treatment process. Those items often end up polluting water and beaches, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, so never let them go down the drain.

Furthermore, keep toxins far away from your drains, as well ? think old paint, chemical cleaners and unused medication. Instead, find a hazardous waste collection facility near you to dispose of them responsibly. The extra effort certainly is worth it to avoid those chemicals someday making an appearance in your drinking water.

3. Washing your own car

Being a model car owner doesn?t just make the roads safer. It also can keep our water cleaner. ?Good maintenance can reduce the leaking of oil, coolant, antifreeze, and other nasty liquids that are carried by rainwater down driveways or through parking lots and then seep into groundwater supplies,? according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

So what about a car wash? Although it costs more money, it actually might be more environmentally friendly to head to a professional car wash instead of doing it yourself. ?The pros are required to drain their wastewater into sewer systems, where the water is treated for all the bad stuff before being discharged,? the Natural Resources Defense Council says. ?Many even recycle that water.?

4. Not picking up after your dog

If you have a dog, hopefully you?re already a responsible pet owner picking up its waste. And you can pat yourself on the back twice because you?re also preventing pathogens from entering our water supply. ?Rain can carry pathogens in dog waste into streams where people swim, making them sick,? according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. The nitrogen and phosphorus in dog waste also can contribute to toxic algae blooms and harm marine life.

And if you have a feline friend, never flush your cat?s poop down the toilet unless it has tested negative for toxoplasmosis. Cats excrete the parasite that causes the disease, which can lead to serious health complications in some people. If you don’t have a municipal compost program that accepts pet waste, the most practical option is to bag it ? preferably in an eco-friendly bag ? and throw it in the trash.

5. Applying lawn chemicals

As long as people insist on having the greenest lawn on the block and growing plants that don?t really belong in their environment, they?ll use fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Those chemicals might make your grass green, but they also have some serious consequences.

?When lawn chemicals are applied improperly, they can run off into streams, harming fish and other animals and contaminating our drinking water,? according to the Environmental Protection Agency. ?Overapplication of any lawn chemical can result in runoff that carries toxic levels of chemicals or excessive nutrients into lakes, streams and groundwater.?

Thankfully, there are many viable alternatives to toxic lawn chemicals that will keep your garden growing. Try organic lawn treatments or compost to feed your plants. Landscape with native species, which require less assistance from you. And test your soil for nutrient deficiencies before you apply anything unnecessarily.

Main image credit: Toa55/Thinkstock

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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5 Ways You Might Be Contributing to Water Pollution

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The Puerto Rican diaspora gets ready to flex its political power

It has been one year since Hurricane Maria laid waste to Puerto Rico and one week since President Trump denied official reports that the storm took nearly 3,000 lives. To honor those lives and demand accountability for failures in the federal response to the storm, thousands are expected to march on the White House, Trump Tower, and Mar-a-Lago today.

“From the day Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, President Trump has shown a level of of indifference and callousness towards the people of Puerto Rico that is nothing short of reprehensible,” José Calderón, president of the Hispanic Federation, said in a statement announcing nationwide actions. “It is time for our elected officials to feel the brunt of our outrage and let it be known that we will remember in November whether they stood with us or not.”

A coalition of civil rights, faith-based, labor, and advocacy groups have called for a national week of action that they’re calling “Boricuas Remember.” They are leading mass vigils and marches in D.C., Florida, and New York today, as well as other events across the country through the 22.

In a separate but coinciding effort at New York’s Union Square this evening, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Elizabeth Yampierre, and Naomi Klein will join other big names, grassroots leaders, and artists who are calling for community-led solutions and a just transition away from fossil fuels.

Protest organizers say that policymakers can expect the thousands hitting the streets today to also march to ballot boxes during this year’s elections. Since Hurricane Maria, at least 135,000 people have moved from Puerto Rico to the mainland U.S. and could make a major impact now that they’re eligible to vote in congressional and presidential elections.

At the end of August, the “Respeta Mi Gente” coalition launched in Central Florida to activate Puerto Rican voters and center their priorities during 2018 midterm elections in the swing state. Frederick Velez, the campaign director for Respeta Mi Gente, says disaster resiliency is a top priority. “No. 1 is, how can we use the power of the million Puerto Ricans in Florida to affect congressional legislation so that we can get a good recovery and rebuild in Puerto Rico?” says Velez, adding that it’s important to not only repair the infrastructure but to ensure that the territory is prepared for another disaster.

Former New York City council speaker and campaign director of Power 4 Puerto Rico Melissa Mark-Viverito says the Puerto Rican community is geared up to shape policy across the country. “If we are decisive in these elections,” says Viverito, who is speaking at a vigil in New York today, then, “what comes with political muscle is political leverage.”

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A year after an environmental disaster in Texas, chemical company executives face charges

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Hurricane Harvey struck southeast Texas last August with 130 mph winds and dumped more than 50 inches of rain across the region. In the aftermath of the second-costliest storm in recent American history, a Category 4 nightmare that left at least 88 Texans dead and forced thousands to flee into shelters, government agencies have finally begun reckoning with Harvey’s environmental cost. The storm contributed to the release of more than 8 million pounds of air pollution and more than 150 million gallons of wastewater.

Arguably no city was hit harder by the environmental devastation during the storm than Crosby, a 2.26-square-mile satellite of Houston with fewer than 3,000 residents. Chemicals left in refrigeration trailers at a plant owned by the multinational chemical manufacturer Arkema Inc. in the northeast part of town caught fire on August 31 and September 1, sending toxic clouds of smoke billowing into the air. More than 200 neighbors evacuated their homes, and 21 first responders sought medical treatment for the nausea, vomiting, and dizziness they experienced after exposure to the chemicals.

Along with hundreds of residents, those first responders have sued Arkema in a pair of class-action lawsuits for negligence, charging that the company did not properly safeguard its chemicals or inform the community of the “unreasonably dangerous condition” created by their release. Harris and Liberty counties have separately sued the company. Arkema has fiercely denied any wrongdoing, but now, a year after the disaster, its leaders may have more to worry about than fronting a huge payday for disgruntled residents.

On August 3, a Harris County grand jury indicted the company’s chief executive, Richard Rowe, and the Crosby plant’s manager, Leslie Comardelle, for “recklessly” releasing chemicals into the air and putting residents and emergency workers at risk. “Companies don’t make decisions, people do,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a statement. “Responsibility for pursuing profit over the health of innocent people rests with the leadership of Arkema.”

“These criminal charges are astonishing,” Arkema responded in a statement. “At the end of its eight-month investigation, the Chemical Safety Board noted that Hurricane Harvey was the most significant rainfall event in U.S. history, an Act of God that never before has been seen in this country.”

The series of fires at Arkema’s plant were far from the only environmental disasters to hit southeast Texas in Harvey’s wake. Matt Tresaugue, who studies air quality issues at the Environmental Defense Fund, says Arkema barely even cracked his top 10 list. More serious, he argued, was the cumulative impact of several lesser-known incidents across the region. But fairly or not, Arkema remains, for many people, the most public example of executive malfeasance in the face of environmental calamity during Harvey. Companies like Valero and Chevron, among many others, were sued over their actions during the hurricane, but only Arkema’s executives face possible criminal penalties.

Arkema was certainly not the only entity at fault during the storm, but in its lack of preparedness and defiant defense of its actions, the company struck residents — and Harris County prosecutors — as eager to prioritize its profits over safety. The firm’s history did not help.

The year before Harvey, Arkema was slapped with a nearly $92,000 fine after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found 10 violations at the Crosby plant related to its handling of hazardous materials. Previous incidents, including the release of sulfuric acid in 1994 that left a 5-year-old girl with severe burns, led one Crosby resident to tell the Houston Chronicle she had “a bitter taste in [her] mouth about Arkema.”

Perhaps most troubling, Arkema has twice before faced civil penalties for improperly storing organic peroxides, the same chemicals that caught fire during Harvey. In 2006, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality cited the Crosby plant for releasing 3,200 pounds of pollutants because a “pallet of organic peroxide was stored inappropriately” and burned up. The state imposed a $20,300 penalty five years later, after finding that Arkema was not maintaining the proper temperature in the devices it used to decompose dangerous gases.

Arkema’s passionate defense of its behavior has led its representatives to quibble over relatively minor concerns. Janet Smith, a company spokesperson, responded to a request for comment from Mother Jones by first criticizing other media companies, such as the New York Times and CNN, for using the term “explosion” to describe what happened last August at the Crosby plant.“The flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey led to a series of short-lived fires at our Crosby plant, but there was no explosion,” she wrote in an email. “We have repeatedly pointed this out to news media covering the incident, but the inaccurate coverage persists.”

Even as residents have begun the process of returning home and paying off storm-related debts, many neighbors still do not know the long-term health effects of exposure to the toxic cloud, because federal investigators could not figure them out, according to a lengthy U.S. Chemical Safety Board report published in May.

The models Environmental Protection Agency staffers used to track how local air and water quality were being affected by the Arkema fires “did not reflect the nature of actual dispersions that occurred,” the CSB found. Combined with “other practical difficulties,” the EPA was unable to draw any firm conclusions about the health threats brought about by Arkema’s plant.

In its public statements soon after the disaster, the EPA was also not clear about the risks posed to residents who were soon forced to evacuate. After testing water samples near the Crosby plant, the EPA announced that the results “were less than the screening levels that would warrant further investigation.” The agency’s inspector general’s office said on August 2 it would investigate how the EPA responded to accidents during Harvey.

The Trump administration played a role, too. Under President Barack Obama, the EPA proposed a series of rules designed to strengthen industry’s reporting requirements to mitigate future chemical disasters. Known as the Chemical Disaster Rule, the proposal was opposed by companies like Arkema and indefinitely delayed once President Donald Trump’s first EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, took office. Pruitt defended his reasoning after the Arkema fires by claiming that terrorists could have exploited the information chemical companies would have been forced to give up under the rule.“What you’ve got to do is strike the balance,” he said, “so that you’re not informing terrorists and helping them have data that they shouldn’t have.”

For now, at least, that rule has been restored. On August 17, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned the EPA’s decision to delay the rule. Calling the agency’s actions “arbitrary and capricious,” the court ordered the EPA to let the rule remain until the agency amends its requirements by standard regulatory action. That ruling may only prove temporary given the Trump administration’s commitment to rolling back dozens of Obama-era environmental regulations.

Whether the Chemical Safety Board even exists the next time another environmental disaster occurs is an open question. Embattled former chair Rafael Moure-Eraso was the target of a series of congressional probes into his workplace conduct during a five-year tenure that ended in 2015. Since taking office, Trump has tried to eliminate the agency twice in the White House’s budget proposals, but Congress has restored full funding both times. The resulting uncertainty has impeded “the CSB’s ability to attract, hire, and retain staff,” according to a report from the EPA inspector general’s office in June.

Stopping the next Arkema disaster will require more stringent oversight from federal regulators and a willingness by industry leaders to pony up the cash for frequent safety evaluations and up-to-date equipment. With industry-friendly leaders at the helm of the EPA and a CSB clinging to life, those reforms do not appear likely anytime soon.

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A year after an environmental disaster in Texas, chemical company executives face charges

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5 Time-Tested Ways to Make Your Groceries Last Longer

You spend hours?each week planning out your meals, gathering up reusable bags and hauling groceries from the store to the house.?And then they all go bad on you??That’s just not nice.

Produce is fickle stuff?? it starts fresh, then quickly devolves into a mess of green goo, mold and wilted leaves. What can you do? Fortunately, lots of things! Here are a few of the secrets you need to know.

1) Store leafy greens loose and dry.

The bane of all leafy greens ? arugula, spring lettuce, spinach ??is moisture. If left bunched up, unwashed, in the back of the fridge, they?will wilt.

To keep your greens from spoiling too quickly, first remove any ties or rubber bands, then rinse and dry (fully!) before wrapping loosely in a dry tea towel. Hardier varieties, like curly kale for example, will do best when placed in a cup of water like a bouquet.

2) Store?bulbs and tubers in the dark.

Bulb vegetables like onions and shallots, as well as tubers like sweet potatoes and golden potatoes, should be stored in as cellar-like an environment as possible.

Cool, dark, dry, with a bit of air circulation. That’s ideal. Placing them on the counter or?? please no?? in the fridge is a recipe for greening or growing eyes. Yuck!

3) Store?fleshy fruit vegetables in the crisper.

Fruit vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers (basically, all the good stuff) have a tendency to soften and mold due to their high moisture content.

Again, moisture is a serious no-no. Lay down a tea towel in the bottom of your fridge’s vegetable crisper, then wash and dry fully everything that will be placed there. Set up reminders to eat these! They’ll last longer when kept well, but longevity isn’t their strength to begin with.

4) Store?soft fruit in a paper bag on the counter.

Stone fruit?? think apricots, avocados, peaches?? come with the summer and go just as fast. Mold comes quickly, so you have to be vigilant and eat these at their prime.?

First, get them to?just ripe on the counter top (speed up the process by placing them in a paper bag) and then pop these beauties into the fridge when at their peak.

5) Store?melons uncut and out of sight.

Melons may be stored as-is on the counter, but you’ll want to keep them far away from direct sunlight. Cantaloupe and honeydew in particular are prone to sogginess, so follow the rules if you want to keep them fresh for long.

Once ripe, slice and store in a reusable container with a dry towel. This will help sop up any excess moisture and prevent ripe melon slices from becoming soft and unappetizing.

What creative tricks do you have up your sleeve for keeping produce fresh? Let us know!

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4 Surprising Reasons to Eat Ugly Fruit

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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