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Trump’s ‘Budget for a better America’ means worse climate change

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It’s budget day, and, well, oy vey. President Trump unveiled his “Budget for a Better America” Monday — and it’s giving everyone a serious case of déjà vu.

To the surprise of no one, Trump’s proposed budget would take an ax to many domestic programs — $650 million in programs and activities compared to current funding levels — including several environmental and energy-related activities. The total cost of programs that would be slashed is in the billions, but much of it is countered by a major boost to national security spending.

After Congress told Trump he couldn’t have for $5.7 billion to build his wall, he’s gone and asked for $8.6 billion for a barricade on the U.S.-Mexico border. (The art of the deal, folks!)

Here’s just some of what’s outlined in Trump’s proposal:

A 31 percent reduction in spending at the Environmental Protection Agency. Slashing the agency’s budget keeps his promises on the campaign trail to cut back on enforcement actions that hurt the bottom line of the fossil fuel industry.
The Department of Energy would see an 11 percent decrease from current funding, to $31.7 billion. That smaller budget would mean cuts to the DOE’s well-known innovation arm, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, which is instrumental in developing world-class energy technology needed to help curb climate change.
The Interior Department — now under the helm of newly-minted director (and oil lobbyist) David Bernhardt — would see a 14 percent cut, to $12.5 billion.
A repeal of the tax credit for electric vehicles
Selling off the Washington Aqueduct, which provides water to the metro D.C. area.
Privatizing federally owned transmission lines

On the plus side, lawmakers have declined to enact most of Trump’s previous funding requests. Now that Democrats are in the majority in the House, it’s even more likely this budget is going nowhere.

“This budget is the Republican approach to governing in a nutshell: Cut taxes for the super-rich and then, when it’s time to fund national priorities, lecture us about tightening our belts,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona, in a statement. “If you think environment conservation is an unaffordable luxury, you’ll love this plan. This isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on, it’s dead on arrival in Congress, and printing it was a waste of time.”

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Trump’s ‘Budget for a better America’ means worse climate change

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Pro-Trump billionaires continue to bankroll climate denial

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

The GOP megadonor family that gave more than $15 million to President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign maintained its position as a key funder of climate change denial in 2017, dishing out nearly $5 million to nonprofits and think tanks that peddle misinformation about the global crisis, according to their latest tax records.

The continued largesse by the deep-pocketed but secretive Mercer family included a $170,000 donation to the CO2 Coalition, a right-wing think tank that argues Earth benefits from humans pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. William Happer, a retired Princeton physics professor whom Trump recently tapped to lead an ad hoc panel to conduct “adversarial scientific peer review” of near-universally accepted climate science, co-founded the group in 2015.

Hedge fund tycoon Robert Mercer funds the Mercer Family Foundation, and his daughter, Rebekah Mercer, directs it. The foundation’s six-figure gift to the CO2 Coalition accounts for a quarter of the $662,203 the coalition raised in 2017. The think tank received its first donation of $150,000 from the Mercers in 2016.

The CO2 Coalition was established out of the defunct George C. Marshall Institute, another conservative think tank that cast doubt on climate science before folding in 2015. Happer, a seasoned climate change denier, left the CO2 Coalition last September to serve as Trump’s deputy assistant for emerging technologies on the National Security Council.

Happer has called climate science a “cult,” claimed Earth is in the midst of a “CO2 famine,” and said the “demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler.”

The Mercers divvied out a total $15,222,302 to 37 nonprofits in 2017, according to the foundation’s most recently available 990 tax form, which researchers at the Climate Investigations Center shared with HuffPost. That’s down from the approximately $19 million they gave to 44 nonprofits one year earlier.

Roughly one-third of all the foundation’s 2017 contributions — just shy of $5 million — went to nonprofits that oppose federal regulations targeting greenhouse gas emissions, challenge the scientific consensus that human-caused climate change is an immediate crisis, or promote or funnel cash to denial proponents.

“It appears that climate denial is a priority of the Mercer family,” Kert Davies, director of the Climate Investigations Center, told HuffPost.

The foundation could not be reached for comment Tuesday. And the CO2 Coalition did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

For the second year in a row, the Mercers gave $800,000 to the Heartland Institute, an Illinois-based libertarian think tank that has gained influence during Trump’s tenure and applauded the president’s first year in office as “a great year for climate realists.” The Mercers have given Heartland a total of $6.7 million since 2008.

The foundation also upped its contribution to the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, a group founded by Art Robinson, a biochemist floated as a candidate for Trump’s national science adviser and whom FiveThirtyEight dubbed “the grandfather of alt-science.” Robinson used the organization to circulate an infamous and bogus petition that claimed 30,000 scientists had declared there is no evidence of anthropogenic climate change. The Mercers gave the group $500,000 in 2017, up from $200,000 the previous two years. The foundation has given the group nearly $2.2 million since 2005.

The Mercers in 2017 also made a first-time donation of $200,000 to the Energy & Environment Legal Institute (formerly the American Tradition Institute), a climate denial group that has received funding from coal companies and repeatedly filed lawsuits in an effort to obtain the personal emails of climate scientists.

Foundation money also went to the Media Research Center ($2 million), the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research ($450,000), and the Cato Institute ($300,000). Donors Trust, a conservative group that has funneled millions of dollars to climate denier groups like Heritage and the American Legislative Exchange Council, received $500,000, down from $2.5 million in 2016. Mother Jones called Donors Trust “the dark-money ATM of the right.”

The White House’s plan to convene a group of fringe researchers for a new climate panel is the latest in an ongoing effort to discredit and downplay decades of all-but-irrefutable climate science — a torch that has long been carried by Mercer- and fossil fuel-funded think tanks.

In May 2017, the CO2 Foundation, the Heartland Institute, and dozens of other climate denial groups signed onto a letter calling on Trump to fully withdraw from the historic 2015 Paris climate accord. Doing so, they told Trump, was “an integral part of your energy agenda.” Less than a month later, Trump announced plans to do just that.

In addition to Happer, those under consideration for the White House panel include retired MIT professor Richard Lindzen. Last year, Lindzen spearheaded a letter signed by more than 300 climate skeptics urging Trump to pull the U.S. out of the United Nations’ climate change agency.

Lindzen is both on CO2 Coalition’s board of directors and a distinguished senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Washington, D.C., that is funded by the fossil-fuel billionaire Koch brothers.

It appears the National Climate Assessment, a congressionally mandated report that scientists from 13 federal agencies released in November, will be a prime target of the new committee, according to reporting by The Washington Post and E&E News. That dire report, which the Trump administration signed off on but the president said he doesn’t believe, concluded that planetary warming “could increase by 9 degrees F (5 degrees C) or more by the end of this century” without dramatic emission reductions.

In a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer vowed to introduce legislation to defund Trump’s “fake climate panel,” should the president move forward with it. As an “ad hoc group,” the committee would not be required to meet in public or be subject to public records requests, according to The Washington Post.

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Pro-Trump billionaires continue to bankroll climate denial

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Off-roading, chopped Joshua trees, overflowing toilets: Our national parks during a shutdown

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Ever wanted to cut down an iconic Joshua tree in order to create space for some off-roading? No? Well, we thank you. But during the government shutdown, some fine folks did just that.

National parks are filling with garbage, and not just the kind that comes in trash bags. Since the government shut down 20 days ago, Joshua Tree, which is about the size of Delaware and located two hours east of Los Angeles, has been forced to reduce its number of rangers from 100 to only eight. The lack of staff is making it difficult to keep up with the mayhem that is illegal off-roading and road creation, damage of federal property, overflowing garbage and toilets, out-of-bounds camping, and the chopping down of literal Joshua trees.

And it isn’t just Joshua Tree bearing the brute force of the barbaric human. Reports have been surfacing of human waste and trash pile-up in a number of national parks, from Yosemite to Death Valley.

“I think there are a number of things that are not very obvious to the general public, like the trash and toilets [are], that are pretty consequential when you have a shutdown,” National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis told the the National Parks Traveler.

While the sight of overflowing waste and cut Joshua trees is shocking (and quite frankly repulsive), there is also major damage happening out-of-sight. The longest-running research initiative in the Shenandoah National park — 200,000 acres in the mountains of Virginia — has come to a grinding halt during the government shutdown. The study examines the impact of acid rain in the mid-Atlantic forests, and the research has been used to understand the effects of air pollution on natural systems. No big deal, unless you like breathing clean air.

Earlier this month, Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt instructed all national parks to use fee revenues in order to keep parks open during the shut down. Parks that require an entrance fee often save 80 percent of that revenue for ongoing projects such as park maintenance, visitor services, wildlife habitat needs, and law enforcement.

But just as we have knuckleheads, we too have good samaritans: Volunteers across the country are showing up to clean toilets and take out the trash, helping to tidy up the government-made mess.

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Lisa Murkowski’s new plan for the Arctic gets a little help from … Santa Claus?

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Ho ho ho! It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas … for industries that stand to benefit from a melting Arctic. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, introduced something called the Arctic Policy Act last week, and she’s getting a boost from Old Saint Nick.

The bill is a new and improved version of the Arctic Research and Policy Act of 1984, which the senator says needs updating to keep up with the changing Arctic. It’s not lost on anyone that vanishing ice means more economic opportunities for Alaska. And Murkowski has been fighting hard to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling. Thanks to President Trump, that dream could soon become reality.

As part of the senator’s new bill, the president would appoint nine members to the Arctic Research Commission. Seven of those members would be indigenous residents and researchers, and two would be industry representatives. (Looks like this is one list you can get on whether you’re naughty or nice.)

Speaking of Christmas, Murkowski tried to highlight the opportunities for Arctic commerce by invoking the holiday spirit. “I think Santa had this figured out a long time ago,” she said during a Senate floor speech. “Even Santa understood the geo-strategic position of the Arctic.”

Baby, it’s warm outside! Especially in the Arctic, which is warming at a rate double the rest of the planet.

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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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The smoke’s gone, but hearts and lungs still may be in danger months after wildfires

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

Three days after the Camp Fire erupted, incinerating the Northern California town of Paradise and killing 85 people, Katrina Sawa found herself struggling to breathe.

But Sawa wasn’t anywhere near Paradise. She lives almost 100 miles away in Roseville, a suburb northeast of Sacramento. Sawa puffed on her emergency asthma inhaler over and over again.

“Usually, I use it once a month,” said Sawa, a 48-year-old business coach who has had asthma since she was 13. “After using it four times in one day, I knew it was time to go to urgent care.” There, doctors had her inhale a powerful steroid medication to soothe her inflamed airways.

For two weeks after the fire ignited, the air in Northern California, stretching as far as 200 miles from the flames, was so full of smoke that it was deemed unhealthy to breathe, especially for people with heart and respiratory ailments.

But the health problems Sawa and others experienced while the blaze raged are just the beginning of effects that could plague people from Sacramento to the San Francisco Bay Area long after the smoke clears.

An analysis of hospital data by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting found that emergency room visits surged several months after a previous large wildfire was extinguished.

Three to five months after the 37,000-acre Tubbs Fire in Napa and Sonoma Valleys in October 2017, the region’s emergency rooms treated about 20 percent more patients for respiratory and cardiac ailments compared with previous years, according to the analysis, which used state data. At the time, the Tubbs Fire was the most destructive in California history, killing 22 people and destroying nearly 6,000 structures.

Seven of nine hospitals in Napa and Sonoma counties reported either significantly or slightly more cardiovascular and respiratory cases from January through March 2018 compared with the same period in 2016 and 2017. For instance, at Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa Medical Center in Sonoma County’s largest city, emergency room visits for respiratory problems jumped by 570, or 37 percent, from January through March 2018 compared with the same period in 2017. Twenty miles down Highway 101 at Petaluma Valley Hospital, heart cases increased by 61 patients, or 50 percent.

Medical experts say these findings raise troubling questions about the long-term health effects of wildfires, which, worsened by drought and global warming, are raging across the West.

The life-threatening effects of smoke disproportionately harm the elderly, children, and low-income people of color. More than 2.3 million adults and 644,000 children in California have asthma and another 1.7 million suffer from heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and California Department of Public Health. Adult asthma rates are highest for multiracial people and African Americans, while heart ailments tend to afflict the state’s poorest and least educated residents across all racial groups.

Reveal’s analysis does not take into account other factors that might have driven up the emergency room visits, such as other pollutants or the weather. But the conclusion is in line with a growing body of research that has found more people suffer respiratory problems and heart attacks within days of being exposed to wildfire smoke.

“The uptick in ER visits is very consistent” with scientific research about smoke, said Kari Nadeau, director of Stanford University’s Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma Research.

John Balmes, a pulmonologist and professor at the University of California San Francisco who studies air pollution, is not surprised that emergency room visits increased three months after the wine country fire.

“People with asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and other lung diseases could have persistent exacerbations,” he said, adding that inhaling ash could have longer-term consequences, too. The effects of smoke months or years after a fire are not well understood.

There was only a slight increase in immediate emergency room visits during the days when last year’s Tubbs Fire burned. That’s because two of the largest hospitals were evacuated and a third was destroyed. As a result, the analysis was based on the period three to five months later, using data from California’s Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.

Busier ERs in Bay Area, Sacramento

This month’s Camp Fire — the deadliest and largest in California history — was more than four times bigger than the Tubbs Fire. Throughout much of the Bay Area and Sacramento area, the smoke was so intense and widespread that many people wore masks, stayed indoors and bought air purifiers. At least two Northern California hospitals have reported busier ERs due to smoke from the fire, which burned 153,000 acres in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

Robin Scott, director of the emergency department at Adventist Health Clear Lake, reported a 43 percent increase in respiratory diagnoses when the smoke hung over the region compared with the two previous weeks.

In Berkeley, 160 miles from the fire, Sutter Health’s Alta Bates Summit Medical Center treated “increasing numbers of patients with chief complaints that appear to be connected to the poor air quality,” including “asthma, eczema, respiratory illness — as well as worsening heart conditions like congestive heart failure and chest pain,” said Ronn Berrol, medical director of the emergency department.

Other hospitals in the region, however, reported small increases, while some, including Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, reported no increases.

“There has been a slight uptick in terms of patients coming through our ER with respiratory issues. Most have been quickly treated and discharged,” said William Hodges, director of communications at Dignity Health in Sacramento. “I would say the impact has been minimal at most.”

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Francesca Dominici, a biostatistics professor at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said understanding the health effects is critical because climate change is making fires more frequent, ferocious, erratic, and long lasting.

Dominici was on a team of researchers that published a study last year that collected data from wildfires across the West between 2004 and 2009 and compared it with hospitalizations of elderly residents. About 22 percent more African Americans 65 and older were hospitalized for respiratory problems on smoky days than on non-smoky days. For elderly women of all races, respiratory hospitalizations increased more than 10 percent on smoky days, and for elderly men, 4 percent.

Five of the 10 largest wildfires in California history have occurred in the last two years, and many of the state’s largest population centers have been exposed to smoke repeatedly.

Dominici said the impacts are likely cumulative.

“More people are becoming susceptible to air pollution because they have been breathing bad air from previous wildfires,” she said. “For these people, the risk of adverse health effects is going to be even larger than the rest of the population.”

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency researchers, in a study published in April, examined more than a million emergency room visits during California’s 2015 fire season and found a 42 percent increase in heart attacks among adults over 65 on days with dense wildfire smoke. They also found increases in strokes and other cardiovascular effects.

The EPA researchers expressed a willingness to speak about their research, but the agency would not grant permission.

Tiny particles harm hearts, lungs

A major health concern is the makeup of the smoke. Fires emit clouds of fine particles known as PM2.5. For decades, researchers have shown that whenever these tiny particles — which largely come from vehicles and other sources of fuel combustion — increase in the air, deaths and hospitalizations from heart attacks and respiratory problems rise. The particles can irritate airways, travel deep into the lungs and disrupt the heart.

In addition, fires can emit toxic gases from a variety of sources, including oil, metals, and pesticides.

Among the estimated 19,000 buildings destroyed in the Camp Fire were gas stations, two grocery stores, eight schools, and a hotel.

“When you’re breathing smoke from that wildfire,” said Stanford’s Nadeau, “you’re breathing paint thinner, Drano, plastics, heavy metals, and burned leaves, which are very similar to tobacco.”

The long-term effects of breathing this cocktail are unknown.

In Palo Alto, 200 miles from the Camp Fire, pediatrician Kellen Glinder said he has seen a marked increase in number of children with breathing problems during each of California’s recent wildfires.

On Friday, after rain cleared much of the wildfire smoke, the waiting room at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, a clinic where Glinder works, wasn’t as busy as it was in previous days. Several children sat or crawled around as a television played Toy Story overhead. But Glinder said he still was treating kids affected by the smoke.

About one third of the 20 children he treated each day during the fires — six to eight kids per day — had conditions the smoke exacerbated, Glinder said.

“We (saw) a lot of things hidden under the guise of a cold that wouldn’t have gotten worse unless the air quality was so bad,” he said.

In August, when the Mendocino Complex Fire blazed through the state, Glinder treated more patients with asthma and other conditions. And last year, the Santa Rosa fires brought similar health concerns.

“Each forest fire is going to have its own particular combination of chemicals, depending on what’s getting incinerated and blowing our way,” he said. “With this particular fire, I saw a lot more … skin irritation, headaches, and nausea than I had seen in prior forest fires.”

The waiting room had a box of miniature paper masks for the kids, decorated with Mickey Mouse heads. Glinder, however, said such flimsy masks are ineffective at protecting people from smoke’s particles and gases; they are designed to contain germs from colds and flu.

Like the elderly, children are particularly sensitive to soot and smoke.

“Children’s lungs are still growing, their nervous systems are still growing,” Glinder said. “That makes them more susceptible to these pollutants.”

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The smoke’s gone, but hearts and lungs still may be in danger months after wildfires

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Bitcoin: Are we really going to burn up the world for libertarian nerdbucks?

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The continued growth of power-hungry Bitcoin could lock in catastrophic climate change, according to a new study.

The cryptocurrency’s growth, should it follow the adoption path of other widely used technologies (like credit cards and air conditioning), would alone be enough to push the planet to 2-degree C warming, the red line value the world agreed to in the 2015 Paris climate accord.

Bitcoin essentially converts electricity into cash, via incredibly complex math problems designed to eliminate the need for government-sponsored currencies. It’s made a lot of bros rich over the past few years, but it’s also raised some significant concerns about the ethics of sucking up excess energy on a finite planet.

The libertarian nerdbucks account for only a tiny fraction (0.033 percent) of global transactions right now, but its rapid growth and already sizable energy usage are worrisome. This latest study, from researchers at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, adds to the pile of evidence that Bitcoin needs to cut down dramatically on energy use — or risk taking down our chances for a clean energy future with it.

The Hawaii researchers looked at every single Bitcoin that was “mined” in 2017 and the mix of fuel used to create the electricity that powered the huge computer farms that produced each of them. Unlike past calculations, they put a stronger emphasis on the types of computer processing equipment, factoring in older, less-efficient models still in routine use by Bitcoin miners. Through this analysis, they found that Bitcoin is likely already producing more than double the greenhouse gases of previous best estimates. That means that despite its infinitesimal reach, the global Bitcoin network already uses a lot of electricity — about as much as the entire country of Austria.

“Currently, the emissions from transportation, housing and food are considered the main contributors to ongoing climate change,” said Katie Taladay, one of the paper’s authors, in a statement. “This research illustrates that Bitcoin should be added to this list.”

Earlier this month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its starkest warning yet about what a world that’s 1.5 or 2 degrees warmer than pre-industrial levels would be like, saying that civilization itself is at stake if the world fails to reduce emissions by half before 2030.

The entire world has somewhere between 250 and 750 billion tons of remaining carbon that can enter the atmosphere before a 2-degree world becomes inevitable. This includes everything: Every factory, every airplane, every tractor delivering hay to cattle on every ranch, every light in every building everywhere in the world.

The Hawaii study found that Bitcoin alone could use that entire budget in 22 years if it grows at the slowest rate of widely used technologies. And it could use it up in just 11 years — by 2029 — if it grows at a rate equal to the fastest-uptake technologies.

Or, Gaia willing!, Bitcoin could crash and burn or remake itself to use vastly less energy, according to the Hawaii team. The authors are clear that they’re not predicting exactly what will happen, only imagining the stakes of the worst-case scenario — with Bitcoin as ubiquitous as microwave ovens, with no significant changes to its algorithm to get more energy efficient.

There are glimmers of hope that have emerged in 2018 that Bitcoin could be heading for that first crash and burn scenario. After rising in value more than 300 percent in a little over a month late last year, Bitcoin has given up all those gains and stagnated for most of 2018. Lower prices for Bitcoin have given its proponents less of an incentive to invest in expanding the network.

And the Hawaii team pointed to tweaks to the overall system that could reduce energy usage. One of those modifications, building a Bitcoin mining system based on trust rather than continuing to escalate a computational arms race, has already been championed by some of the more ethical cryptocurrency activists. Bottom line: This is a solvable problem. And our future depends on us solving it.

What’s absolutely clear in a world like this is that we can’t afford to waste our precious time and energy on things (like Bitcoin) that aren’t directly related to decarbonizing the global economy as quickly as possible.

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Bitcoin: Are we really going to burn up the world for libertarian nerdbucks?

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China said it was done with these coal plants. Satellite imagery shows otherwise.

Newly released satellite photos appear to show continuing construction of coal plants that China said it was cancelling last year, according to CoalSwarm.

“This new evidence that China’s central government hasn’t been able to stop the runaway coal-fired power plant building is alarming,” said Ted Nace, head of CoalSwarm, the nonprofit research network which analyzed and released the satellite images. “The planet can’t tolerate another U.S.-sized block of plants to be built.”

Experts said the images provide credible evidence that China is still building more coal-fired plants than its government claims. Take a look at these shots, the first from January 2017 and the second from this February.

Before…Planet Labs / CoalSwarm…and afterPlanet Labs / CoalSwarm

China burns more coal than the rest of the world combined. The dirty fossil fuel has powered the country’s rapid economic expansion over recent decades, the main reason China is the world’s largest polluter ahead of the United States. This is a problem China wants to fix — and it’s retiring the worst sources of pollution while bringing great gobs of cleaner power online. The country has pledged to begin reducing its rising greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2030. It can’t do that while also burning a lot more coal.

In January 2017, China announced that it was canceling more than 100 coal plants across 13 provinces. At the time, a researcher familiar with Chinese politics said that regional officials might try to skirt the central government’s order.

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“Some projects might have been ongoing for 10 years, and now there’s an order to stop them,” Lin Boqiang, an energy policy researcher at Xiamen University in southeastern China, told the New York Times. “It’s difficult to persuade the local governments to give up on them.”

Burning more coal is bad news for the climate and people’s lungs. But if new coal plants replace older, dirtier ones, “it actually could be good news,” said David Victor, a professor at the University of California, San Diego.

Most of the pictures CoalSwarm released show plants that are much more efficient than the Chinese average, Victor said. Of course, it would be better news for the climate if they were replacing those old coal plants with zero-carbon power.

Ultimately, China’s ability to cut carbon emissions will will depend on how quickly the economy transforms from dirty industrial manufacturing to “less carbon-intensive service sector growth,” said Peter Masters, who watches China’s energy moves for the research firm Rhodium Group.

In other words, China’s past economic growth came from building things like iPhones but future growth could come from designing and marketing their own gadgets. If China’s next wave of workers are designers, economists, and architects, rather than factory workers, it won’t necessarily need a surge of coal power.

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China said it was done with these coal plants. Satellite imagery shows otherwise.

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A more inclusive Global Climate Action Summit can stop us from ‘losing Earth’

Nathaniel Rich has driven much of the summer’s national conversation on climate change with his blockbuster New York Times Magazine piece, “Losing Earth.” Sprawling over more than 66 pages and drawing on more than 18 months of research, Rich tackles the failure of efforts 30 years ago to tackle global warming.

It’s masterful as a piece of storytelling, but Rich’s narrative centers on the unheeded warnings of a small, elite group of scientists and activists. As a result, he misses crucial context and ultimately draws deeply flawed conclusions. And those shortcomings could have serious implications for efforts currently underway to address the still ongoing climate crisis.

What Rich left out is that the mainstream environmental movement – the ecosystem of big green organizations and funders – consistently excluded and failed to provide resources to organizations representing those most vulnerable to climate change: communities of color and low-income communities.

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“There can be no understanding of our current and future predicament,” Rich writes, “without understanding why we failed to solve this problem when we had the chance.”

Who exactly is “we” in Rich’s take? Certainly he’s not implicating all of humanity for ignoring a few brave heroes — especially when a key constituency of the environmental movement was seldom included at the table.

Rich’s striking omission is on my mind as we gear up for the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco. The summit will bring together a broad coalition of leaders – representing “states, regions, cities, companies, investors, and citizens” – who remain committed to the Paris Agreement and staving off the worst effects of climate disruption. It is an enormous opportunity for catalyzing sustained action in the face of a lack of leadership at the federal level.

But at this massive table of stakeholders, equity-focused movement leaders are largely still fighting for more meaningful seats at the forum — and are instead holding satellite events.

Rich writes that preventing the worst effects of rising temperatures “will take more than good works and voluntary commitments; it will take a revolution. But in order to become a revolutionary, you need first to suffer.”

Communities of color and low-income communities have been suffering. They have the most at stake in a warming world. But too many decisions about how to reverse our course continue to be made, as in Rich’s narrative, within the most exclusive, least diverse circles: the top levels of government, big green NGOs, the C-Suite, and science-based organizations.

The shallow engagement of traditionally excluded communities is the Achilles’ heel of the movement. In 1990 – the year following the period of Rich covers in his reporting – a group of leaders from the more grassroots, people of color-led wing of the movement famously wrote a letter to the 10 most prominent environmental organizations of the time.

The letter decried the groups’ dismal diversity records and their engagement with polluters at the expense of communities of color. “It is impossible for you to represent us in issues of our own survival when you are accountable to these interests,” the leaders write. “Such accountability leads you to pursue a corporate strategy towards the resolution of the environmental crisis, when what is needed is a people’s strategy which fully involves those who have historically been without power in this society.”

In 2014, a generation after that prophetic letter, Green 2.0 — a campaign guided by a diverse, intergenerational working group — collaborated with celebrated environmental movement scholar Dorceta Taylor to take stock of representation in mainstream environmentalism. Its research made headlines for the sad reality that the boards and top executives guiding the movement remained overwhelmingly white, even as the country grew steadily more diverse.

Yes, decades ago a small group of individuals alone was not capable of addressing the climate crisis. However, I remain optimistic that today we – in the fullest sense of the word – are up to the challenge. Transformative change requires a people-centered movement demanding action.

Grassroots organizations, though under resourced, have been rolling up their sleeves to ensure that a transition from dirty to clean energy sources is fair and equitable. Jobs to Move America, for example, is working with labor partners in California to ensure that those manufacturing electric buses are paid living wages. The NAACP is building bridges with international climate justice leaders. And People’s Action in Chicago is fighting to ensure that low-income communities benefit from solar energy policies.

Transformative change will require that our strategies rely on a more powerful political force that combines both the grassroots and the grass tops. As one example among many, a coalition of community-level and mainstream organizations saved California’s landmark global warming bill in 2010 when oil interests tried to brand it a job killer. Equity-focused groups ensured that a meaningful chunk of the billions raised as a result of the legislation would benefit those most affected by climate change.

The task ahead is to harness what the full movement has to offer locally, regionally, and at a national scale. We must focus not only on the necessary transition to a low-carbon future but ensure that the benefits of a transition away from fossil fuels flow to everyone. Research shows that the clean energy economy continues to gain in strength, creating jobs and wealth-building opportunities that can produce shared prosperity.

Some philanthropic foundations, have been evolving to support greater inclusion of diverse leaders and equity-focused solutions at policy-shaping events like the upcoming climate summit in California and driving more funding to people of color-led organizations. (And of course, many funders and NGOs are working on their own leadership diversity.) But many of the largest environmental philanthropies need to accelerate their efforts to match the urgency of the climate crisis.

The stories we tell ourselves about what went wrong will shape the remedies of the future. Apple’s entertainment arm has optioned Nathaniel Rich’s New York Times story – a welcome opportunity to share the tale of our climate crisis with broader audiences beyond the paper’s subscribers. My hope is that this version and other efforts that build on “Losing Earth” will offer a more accurate and inclusive history – one that reflects the contributions of a broader swath of activists and leaders – and guide us toward the right solutions.


Danielle Deane-Ryan is director of the Inclusive Clean Economy program at the Nathan Cummings Foundation. Her multi-sector experience includes serving as the first executive director of Green 2.0 and as a senior advisor to the Obama Administration at the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

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A more inclusive Global Climate Action Summit can stop us from ‘losing Earth’

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The Secret Life of Lobsters – Trevor Corson

READ GREEN WITH E-BOOKS

The Secret Life of Lobsters
How Fishermen and Scientists Are Unraveling the Mysteries of Our Favorite Crustacean
Trevor Corson

Genre: Nature

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: October 13, 2009

Publisher: HarperCollins e-books

Seller: HARPERCOLLINS PUBLISHERS


In this intimate portrait of an island lobstering community and aneccentric band of renegade biologists, journalist Trevor Corson escorts the reader onto the slippery decks of fishing boats, through danger-filled scuba dives, and deep into the churning currents of the Gulf of Maine to learn about the secret undersea lives of lobsters. This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

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The Secret Life of Lobsters – Trevor Corson

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