Category Archives: Northeastern

New study helps regions find their renewable energy soul mates

The climate crisis is an intricate and multifaceted problem, but by now most of us understand the essence of the thing: emissions bad, renewables good. A new study from Harvard’s Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment puts a fresh twist on that well-worn equation. Turns out, it’s not enough to grab a handful of renewable energy projects from a clean energy grab-bag and scatter them across the United States like wildflower seeds. Where you put new renewable energy infrastructure is even more important than what kind of renewable you’re dealing with.

By looking at a number of variables in 10 regions across the U.S. and the costs and operational requirements of three types of renewables — utility-scale solar, rooftop solar, and wind power — the study’s authors were able to figure out which region stands to gain the most from which kind of renewable. Kind of like OkCupid but for geography and renewable energy compatibility. The researchers took into account the amount of existing dirty fossil fuel developments in those regions, because implementing renewable energy would replace those power plants and result in more emissions reductions. Here’s what they found:

The Upper Midwest, Lower Midwest, Rocky Mountains, Northwest, and Great Lakes regions stand to experience the greatest reductions in CO2 by replacing coal with clean energy. In terms of public health, the Great Lakes and Upper Midwest regions, followed by the Lower Midwest, saw the greatest hypothetical benefits.
In the Upper Midwest, the economic and health benefits of installing 3,000 megawatts of wind energy top $2.2 trillion, the highest out of any region.
Solar is highly compatible with the Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic regions, where it would produce $113 of economic and health benefit per megawatt-hour of electricity produced.
California and the Southwest generally stand to gain the least from renewables, in part because those regions don’t have a lot of dirty fossil fuels to displace.
Northeasterners, don’t fret! Some oil can be displaced by renewables in that region, and the Northeast also could gain some powerful public health benefits per ton of CO2 displaced, since it’s so densely populated.

Something that surprised the study’s lead author, Jonathan Buonocore, was that the benefits of renewables outweigh the benefits of carbon capture and sequestration. That technology — which is still in development — has been touted as something of a hail Mary for the fossil fuel industry, as it can be used in tandem with dirty energy developments to bring down emissions. But installing renewables literally anywhere in the country was more cost-effective than doing direct air carbon capture, Buonocore told Grist. Installing carbon capture technology on a coal plant, where it can stash away carbon before it’s released into the atmosphere, was about as cost-effective as installing renewables in many places in the U.S. — but that’s only when you’re comparing purely economic benefits. “When you include health, that changes dramatically,” he said. “For a lot of these different regions, if you include health the renewables look much more cost effective than installing carbon capture and coal.”

Buonocore hopes the study will help policymakers make informed decisions about where to put new energy developments, and to take health into account more often. “This is really important to be ideally included in evaluations of all climate policies,” he said. You hear that, politicians? A public health analysis a day keeps the climate catastrophe away.

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New study helps regions find their renewable energy soul mates

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Facing the Wave – Gretel Ehrlich


Facing the Wave

A Journey in the Wake of the Tsunami

Gretel Ehrlich

Genre: Nature

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: February 12, 2013

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Seller: Penguin Random House LLC

** Kirkus Best Books of the Year (2013)** ** Kansas City Star Best Books of the Year (2013)** A passionate student of Japanese poetry, theater, and art for much of her life, Gretel Ehrlich felt compelled to return to the earthquake-and-tsunami-devastated Tohoku coast to bear witness, listen to survivors, and experience their terror and exhilaration in villages and towns where all shelter and hope seemed lost. In an eloquent narrative that blends strong reportage, poetic observation, and deeply felt reflection, she takes us into the upside-down world of northeastern Japan, where nothing is certain and where the boundaries between living and dying have been erased by water.   The stories of rice farmers, monks, and wanderers; of fishermen who drove their boats up the steep wall of the wave; and of an eighty-four-year-old geisha who survived the tsunami to hand down a song that only she still remembered are both harrowing and inspirational. Facing death, facing life, and coming to terms with impermanence are equally compelling in a landscape of surreal desolation, as the ghostly specter of Fukushima Daiichi, the nuclear power complex, spews radiation into the ocean and air. Facing the Wave is a testament to the buoyancy, spirit, humor, and strong-mindedness of those who must find their way in a suddenly shattered world.

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Facing the Wave – Gretel Ehrlich

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Secrets of the Savanna – Mark Owens & Delia Owens


Secrets of the Savanna

Twenty-three Years in the African Wilderness Unraveling the Mysteries ofElephants and People

Mark Owens & Delia Owens

Genre: Nature

Price: $9.99

Publish Date: July 17, 2007

Publisher: HMH Books

Seller: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company

  "Vividly written…Their story is thrilling—the kind of tale that wild-animal lovers won't easily forget."— People In this riveting real-life adventure, Mark and Delia Owens tell the dramatic story of their last years in Africa, fighting to save elephants, villagers, and — in the end — themselves. The award-winning zoologists and pioneering conservationists describe their work in the remote and ruggedly beautiful Luangwa Valley, in northeastern Zambia. There they studied the mysteries of the elephant population’s recovery after poaching, discovering remarkable similarities between humans and elephants. A young elephant named Gift provided the clue to help them crack the animals’ secret of survival. A stirring portrait of life in Africa, Secrets of the Savanna is a remarkable record of the Owenses's unique passions.

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Secrets of the Savanna – Mark Owens & Delia Owens

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The ozone mystery got solved. Here’s what could happen next.

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The ozone mystery got solved. Here’s what could happen next.

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You can’t take on climate change without tackling sprawl

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Get rid of all the country’s coal plants, run the country purely on renewables, and we’ll still be left with the top source of greenhouse gas emissions: transportation.

Carbon-belching cars, trucks, and planes are now the greatest source of U.S. carbon emissions, a title held by power generation until 2017. It’s a sprawling problem that accounts for more than a quarter of yearly greenhouse gases.

Our transportation system is designed for long, interstate road trips; climate change isn’t a consideration. At least one critic has said the Green New Deal’s biggest failing is that it doesn’t address the country’s sprawl.

So where do we start? Members of the U.S. House of Representative took up the subject on Tuesday, looking at how the federal government can use infrastructure projects to cut down on emissions, while also helping cities and states protect themselves from rising seas, stronger storms, and other consequences of climate change. The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s hearing didn’t arrive at anything approaching a consensus, even on climate change itself. But the four-hour-plus hearing did bring up some potential avenues to improve our seemingly intractable system of roads, highways, and sprawl. Here are some of the takeaways:

1. We can no longer think about climate change and infrastructure as separate issues

“Going forward, infrastructure policy should be synonymous with sound climate policy,” said Kevin DeGood, the director of infrastructure policy at the Center for American Progress.

Low-carbon and storm resilient transportation systems would come with many additional benefits, like “protecting public health by reducing conventional air pollution, providing more mobility options,” said Vicki Arroyo, the executive director of Georgetown Climate Center.

2. We need more low-carbon trains, buses, and subways

Putting more dollars into light rail systems, buses, and the like would obviously help get cars off the road. Arroyo noted that cities and states are leading the way on this, designing “complete streets” that are safer for pedestrians and bikers, and putting caps on greenhouse gas emissions. She highlighted California’s cap-and-trade program, which includes transportation, and the nine mid-Atlantic states that have developed collective transportation caps on emissions.

Arroyo said that the federal government should also help local governments by increasing federal matching funds for public transit systems. At the moment, the federal government matches 80 percent of local money spent on highways, but just 50 percent for public transit projects.

3. We need to incorporate more nature into our infrastructure design

As climate change helps supercharge storms, it’s become clear that sea walls and levees aren’t enough to protect us. Lynn Scarlett, an environmental policy expert at The Nature Conservancy, pointed out that restored wetlands and forms of natural infrastructure can play a big role in shielding communities from natural disasters. “By using nature, damages and impacts can be minimized, and communities can recover more quickly from disasters and impacts,” Lynn said.

Much like our transportation system, the conversations hit many dead-ends. Representative Sam Graves of Missouri, a Republican, disparaged ambitious measures like The Green New Deal. “We don’t need sweeping mandates that ignore economic reality,” Graves said. It’s an easily disproven comment that ignores the glaring, ever-mounting reality of climate change.

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You can’t take on climate change without tackling sprawl

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The Green New Deal is already at work in one Portland neighborhood

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

It’s a cloudy gray day in Cully, a neighborhood in northeastern Portland, and the air is thick with the smell of burnt tires. The culprit? An asphalt manufacturing plant, where black rubble is piled into one long heaping mound, waiting to be hauled off to areas across the city to fill in old potholes and pave new streets.

Cully is located in one of the city’s most culturally diverse pockets, but the predominantly low-income neighborhood is regularly subject to industrial pollution. Automobile salvage lots, including one that caught fire and spewed toxic chemicals into the air last year, litter entire city blocks with old car parts and used tires.

Across the street from the asphalt plant, a barren parking lot is cordoned off by a chain-link fence. This was formerly the site of the Sugar Shack, a notorious strip club and adult video store that was torn down less than two months ago. After the owners’ arrest in 2015 for tax fraud and running a prostitution ring, the lot became a meeting spot for neighborhood groups and community members. Now, thanks to a coalition of four local organizations that goes by the name Living Cully, the site will soon be home to a new affordable housing complex: Las Adelitas, named in honor of the women soldiers who fought during the Mexican Revolution.

With a large crowd of community members as an audience, the Sugar Shack in Cully neighborhood is destroyed to make room for a new affordable housing development, Las Adelitas.Living Cully

On the surface, this housing complex in one of the most rapidly gentrifying corners of the country will be much like any other development designed to help respond to the national housing crisis. But dig a little deeper, and Las Adelitas has the potential to become a model for much more — a solution not only to the displacement of longtime residents but to the lack of green investment in the low-income communities of color that are already on the front lines of the looming climate change crisis.

Dig deeper still, and Las Adelitas — together with the whole Living Cully framework — begins to look a lot like the much-touted Green New Deal: a preliminary plan touted by Democratic congressional members to create a “green workforce” that will build out green infrastructure and clean energy projects while bringing economic opportunities to vulnerable communities. The long-term success or failure of Living Cully could provide a window into an ambitious national program that’s still in the visionary stage today.

Now a landscape crew supervisor, Mateo Fletes, center, has specialized in habitat restoration at Verde Landscaping.Naim Hasan

When the Great Recession hit in 2008, Mateo Fletes Cortes, who lives in the town next to Cully, lost his job. Originally from Nayarit, Mexico, Fletes Cortes moved to Oregon with his uncle in 2002, picking up work in construction, building out wooden window frames, installing baseboards, and adding finishing touches to buildings and houses. But when the construction industry collapsed, so did Fletes Cortes’ job stability. He’d heard about opportunities in landscaping work but been reluctant to apply, associating landscaping with unskilled low-wage labor. Then he heard about Verde.

The area nonprofit, which is also the lead organizer of Living Cully, operates a landscaping company called Verde Landscaping. The business was started in 2005 in order to train and employ residents to do sustainable landscaping for affordable housing developments built by Hacienda CDC, a Latino Community Development Corporation. Hacienda is also a member organization of Living Cully, and the owner of Las Adelitas. At Verde, wages start at $13.50 an hour and increase to $18.50 by the third year of employment, with paid training sessions and certification provided, as well as medical and dental benefits. So far, the program has trained over 200 area residents in jobs like stormwater management and habitat restoration, according to Verde’s executive director, Tony DeFalco. Ironically, as the economy has picked up in recent years, it’s become harder to recruit labor for the training program, DeFalco said. “You’ve got historically low unemployment, and so it can be really challenging to be competitive.”

Through Verde’s workforce training program, Fletes Cortes took English classes, received industry certifications, and learned that landscaping was indeed for him. “As fate would have it, I started to work in habitat restoration,” something he’d previously known nothing about, Fletes Cortes said. “I saw that [landscaping] wasn’t just about working a lawnmower.” Rather, it could be about restoring wildlife habitats or redirecting stormwater to hydrate vegetation and native plants and shrubs.

These days, Fletes Cortes spends a lot more time in the office, having been promoted to landscape crew supervisor. Bidding for landscaping contracts and checking on equipment and crewmembers keep him busy. He’s been with Verde for a decade, and today, he manages other employees in the workforce program. When the Las Adelitas project gets fully underway, it will be highly skilled workers like Fletes Cortes who carry out the necessary landscaping and subsequent maintenance work for the planned 140 affordable housing units and ground-level commercial spaces.

Brenna Bailey and Linda Dentler volunteer to inventory Living Cully’s mobile home weatherization program supplies.

Living Cully’s motto can seem counterintuitive at first: “Sustainability as an anti-poverty strategy.” After all, it’s now widely believed that the more green investments like parks and vegetation appear in a neighborhood, the more desirable (and expensive) that place becomes, often pushing longtime residents out of their homes and neighborhoods. The phenomenon even has its own trendy name: “green gentrification.” This is certainly a challenge in Cully, where, despite anti-displacement efforts, housing prices are in fact rising. But DeFalco believes that pairing housing projects with environmental investments will be key to the project’s success. “[That] is a really simple recipe for proofing the community against green gentrification,” he said.

That experiment is coming together in Las Adelitas: Verde Builds will construct the building’s green features; green roofs and walls, solar panels, water reuse systems are all being considered in the design. Verde Landscaping will provide local skilled workers to build out green stormwater infrastructure as well as sustainable landscaping. The housing project is expected to be completed by 2020.

In addition to Las Adelitas, Living Cully partners are not only creating energy-efficient affordable housing but also preserving existing low-income housing, through initiatives like a mobile home weatherization program that aims to lower bills of low-income residents who pay a disproportionate amount of their paychecks to utilities. And there are other benefits: That weatherization allows low-income residents to lower their energy use and therefore, their carbon footprint. In August, Portland City Council passed a new zoning designation to protect mobile home parks in Portland from redevelopment, thanks to organizing efforts by Living Cully partners and other area organizations.

As Congress continues to figure out what a Green New Deal might look like on a national scale, Cully could become a valuable and tangible model community to turn to for inspiration. “We are at a place now, where — as a nation — we can no longer make an environmental investment without social and environmental justice outcomes,” DeFalco said. “What we’ve been able to do here at a smaller scale is basically to demonstrate how you do that.”

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The Green New Deal is already at work in one Portland neighborhood

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We broke down what climate change will do, region by region

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Look, at this point, even the most stubborn among us know that climate change is coming for our asses. We really don’t have much time until the climate plagues we’re already getting previews of — mega-wildfires, rising sea-levels, superstorm after superstorm — start increasing in frequency. The 4th National Climate Assessment says all that and much more is on its way.

Here’s the thing: Not all regions in the U.S. are going to experience climate change in the same way. Your backyard might suffer different climate consequences than my backyard. And, let’s be honest, we need to know what’s happening in our respective spaces so we can be prepared. I’m not saying it’s time to start prepping your bunker, but I would like to know if my family should consider moving to higher ground or stock up on maple syrup.

Luckily, that new report — which Trump tried to bury on Black Friday — breaks down climate change’s likely impacts on 10 specific regions. Unluckily, the chapters are super dense.

Silver lining: We at Grist divvied up the chapters and translated them into news you can actually use.


Ahh, the Northeast, home to beautiful autumn leaves, delicious maple syrup, and copious amounts of ticks bearing disease. What’s not to love? A lot, according to this report.

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Our region is looking at “the largest temperature increase in the contiguous United States” — 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit by the time 2035 rolls around. We’re going to be slammed with the highest rates of sea-level rise in the whole damn country, and we’re going to have the highest rate of ocean warming. Urban centers are particularly at risk (remember Superstorm Sandy?). And if you’re a fan of snuggling up beside the fire in your Connecticut mansion (or whatever), be warned that winters are projected to warm in our region three times faster than summers. That means delayed ski seasons and less time to tap maple trees.

Things are gonna be rough on us humans, but dragonflies and damselflies — two insects literally no one ever thinks about, but that flourish in healthy ecosystems — are pretty much doomed. The report says their habitat could decline by as much as 99 percent by 2080.

Sea-level rise, flooding, and extreme weather poses a mental health threat to Northeasterners. Impacted coastal communities can expect things like “anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.” But it’s not all bad: The assessment portends more intense (read: Instagram-able) fall foliage and more forest growth.

Zoya Teirstein


If, like me, you love your filthy, dirty South, you’ll be pleased to hear that summer thunderstorms, skeeters, ticks, and hot, muggy weather aren’t going anywhere! (Actually, don’t be pleased. This is serious.)

Southerners are accustomed to warm days followed by warm nights, but as the heat continues to turn up, those nights just might be our downfall. Urban and rural areas alike can expect to sweat through up to 100 additional warm nights per year by the end of this century. Hot, sticky nights make it harder for us to recover from the heat of the day. This is especially bad in parts of many Southeastern cities, where residents suffer from the “heat island effect.”

“I think it’s really important to look at the heat-related impacts on labor productivity,” says chapter author Kirstin Dow, a social environmental geographer at the University of South Carolina. Under one scenario, the Southeast could see losses of 570 million labor hours, amounting to about $47 billion per year — one-third of the nation’s total loss. What’s more, Dow says, “Those changes are going to take place in counties where there’s already chronic poverty.”

Warming waters will also push the infamous lionfish closer to the Atlantic Coast. In addition to being invasive, this freaky-looking fish is venomous, and swimmers and divers can expect more encounters (and stings) as the climate brings them closer to our beaches.

Claire Elise Thompson


For someone who doesn’t like donning heavy clothing during the winter, the Caribbean has the perfect weather: year-round warm days with ocean breezes. Climate change, according to the report, means we can’t have nice things.

In the near future, the Caribbean will experience longer dry seasons and shorter, but wetter rainy seasons. To make matters worse: During those arid periods, freshwater supplies will be lacking for islanders. And since islands (by definition) aren’t attached to any other land masses, “you can’t just pipe in water,” says Adam Terando, USGS Research Ecologist and chapter author.

The report confirmed something island-dwellers know all too well: Climate change is not coming to the Caribbean — it’s already there. And it’ll only get worse. Disastrous storms the likes of Hurricane Maria — which took the lives of nearly 3,000 Puerto Ricans — are expected to become more common in a warming world.

Another striking result: Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are projected to lose 3.6 percent and 4.6 percent of total coastal land area, respectively, posing a threat to critical infrastructure near its shores. The tourism industry will have to grapple with the disappearance of its beaches. Even notable cultural sites aren’t safe: Encroaching seas threaten El Morro — a hulking fortress that sits majestically on the coast of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

“Our island is trying to limit its emissions — but we’re not big emitters,” lead chapter author Ernesto L. Diaz, a coastal management expert at Puerto Rico’s Dept. of Natural and Environmental Resources, tells Grist.

Paola Rosa-Aquino


What’s in store for the Midwest? Oh hello there, crop diseases and pests! Hold onto your corn husks, because maize yields will be down 5 to 25 percent across the region by midcentury, mostly due to hot temps. And soybean hauls will decline more than 25 percent in the southern Midwest.

Beyond wilting crops, extreme heat puts lives at risk. The Midwest may see the biggest increase in temperature-related deaths compared to other regions, putting everyone from farmworkers to city-dwellers at risk. In one particularly bad climate change scenario, late-21st-century Chicago could end up seeing 60 days per year above 100 degrees F — similar to present-day Las Vegas or Phoenix.

The Great Lakes represent 20 percent of freshwater on the world’s surface, but lately, they’re looking … not so fresh. Climate change and pollution from farms are leading to toxic algae blooms and literally starving the water of oxygen.

But hey, there’s a silver lining. Midwesterners (myself included) have developed a bad habit of leaving their homeland for other parts of the country. That trend may reverse. “The Midwest may actually experience migration into the region because of climate change,” Maria Carmen Lemos, a Midwest chapter author and professor at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability, said in a statement. So while you may have to reconsider your ice-fishing plans, Midwesterners, it could be a whole lot worse.

Kate Yoder

Northern Great Plains

The Northern Great Plains is far from any ocean. Water melts off mountain snowpack, slowly trickles down glaciers, and pools up in basins. The largely arid region is dominated by thirsty industries like agriculture, energy extraction, and tourism. There’s a byzantine system of century-old water rights and competing interests.

Or as my dad, a Montana cattle rancher, puts it: “Whiskey is for drinking. Water is for fighting.”

Residents might want to steel themselves with a little bourbon as climate change will escalate those water woes, according to the report. Winters will end earlier and snow could decline as much as 25 to 40 percent in the mountainous regions.

It’s not just some far-off problem for cross-country skiers and thirsty critters. The authors point to the behavior of the mountain pine beetle as one example of a climate-influenced tweak that’s had devastating impact. Warmer winters and less precipitation have enabled the bugs to kill off huge swaths of forest in the region.

Lest you think what happens in the Dakotas stays in the Dakotas: While only 1.5 percent of the U.S. population lives in this region, it contributes nearly 13 percent of the country’s agricultural market value.

It’s culturally critical, too: The area is home to 27 federally recognized tribes that are already experiencing climate threats such as a lack of access to safe water and declining fisheries.

Darby Minow Smith

Southern Great Plains

The Southern Great Plains flips between heat waves, tornadoes, drought, ice storms, hurricanes, and hail. The weather is “dramatic and consequential” according to the report. It’s “a terrible place to be a hot tar roofer,” according to me, a former Kansas roofer. In a warmed world, none of this improves. Well, maybe the ice storms.

The region will continue to have longer and hotter summers, meaning more drought. Portions of the already shrinking Ogallala Aquifer, which is critical to a huge western swath of the region, could be completely depleted within 25 years, according to the report.

Texas’ Gulf Coast will face sea-level rise, stronger hurricanes, and an expanded range of tropical, mosquito-borne diseases like dengue and Zika. It’ll also experience more intense floods. Many of the region’s dams and levees are in need of repair and aren’t equipped for the inundations.

One of the chapter’s lead authors, Bill Bartush, a conservation coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, tells Grist that how landowners handle the extremes of water management will be key to climate adaptation. Given the region’s high rates of private land ownership, it’s essential to get them on board.

In weirder news, the region’s Southern Flounder population is declining because the fish’s sex is determined by water temperature. Warmer winters mean more males. It’s like a terrible reboot of Three Men and a Baby, but with more flounder and no baby.

Daniel Penner


The Pacific Northwest has more rain in its winter forecast. That might not sound unusual for a region known for its wet weather, but more winter rain — as opposed to snow — could impact the region’s water supply and entire way of life.

Most of the Northwest relies on melting mountain snow for water during the summer. Climate change will replace more of that snow with rain, which flows downstream right away rather than being stored on mountainsides until the temperatures warm. Less snowmelt during hot summers could damage salmon habitat, dry out farms, harm the region’s outdoor industry, and increase wildfire risk.

“It’s like our tap is on all the time,” said Heidi Roop, a research scientist at the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group, which helped author the chapter.

The report forecasts a lot of change in the Northwest, including flooding and landslides. But rainy winters? That’s one thing that’s not going away anytime soon.

Jesse Nichols


“I am large. I contain multitudes,” Walt Whitman said of himself. But he could have very well said it of the Southwest, where stretches of desert give way to soaring, snow-capped mountains. Yet this might not be the case for long. Climate change threatens all of this beautiful ecological diversity, as well as the 60 million people who call this area home, including 182 tribal nations.

The hottest and driest corner of the country is already suffering from heat waves, droughts, and increased wildfires. As a result, the Southwest, to put it bluntly, is running out of water. With water at already record low levels and a population that continues to grow, the region is working on a recipe for water scarcity.

“Lake Mead, which provides drinking water to Las Vegas and water for agriculture in the region, has fallen to its lowest level since the filling of the reservoir in 1936 and lost 60 percent of its volume,” coordinating chapter author Patrick Gonzalez, a climate scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, tells Grist.

In the coming years, temperatures in this region will soar. Droughts, including megadroughts lasting 10 years, will become commonplace. Agriculture will take a steep hit, causing food insecurity. Expect those lovely desert sunsets to take on an unsettling pink, as the snow-capped mountains grow bald.

Greta Moran


In Alaska, water is life, life is shellfish, shellfish is power. But, alas, climate change is about to do a number on the state’s marine life, food webs, and species distributions. According to the climate assessment, ocean acidification is expected to disrupt “corals, crustaceans, crabs, mollusks,” as well as “Tanner and red king crab and pink salmon.” Lots of indigenous peoples rely on that variety of marine life.

The largest state in the country is already ground zero for climate change. Thawing permafrost means structures are literally sinking into the ground all over the state.

What does a temperature increase really mean? Well, under the worst-case scenario, the coldest nights of the year are projected to warm 12 DEGREES F by midcentury.

I know I said water, either frozen or liquid, is the name of the game in Alaska, but the report says the state should expect more wildfires in the future, too. Under a high-temperature-increase scenario, as much as 120 million acres could burn between 2006 and 2100. That’s an area larger than California.

Oh yeah, and the report says there’s going to be an increase in “venomous insects.” Cheers.

Zoya Teirstein

Hawaii and the Pacific Islands

This region houses 1.9 million people, 20 indigenous languages, countless endemic (one-of-a-kind) flora and fauna species, and the freaking Mariana Trench (the world’s deepest point).

Pacific island communities can expect to grapple with the usual climate change suspects: rising sea levels, weird rainfall patterns, drought, flooding, and extreme temperatures. But all those things have unique implications for supplies of island drinking water. In short, like those who live in the Caribbean, these communities’ ability to survive depends on protecting their fresh water.

Extremes in the weather patterns El Niño and La Niña could double in the 21st century, compared to the previous one. El Ninos bring drought, which means Pacific communities have to desalinate water to make up for dwindling rainfall. But rising sea levels contaminate groundwater supplies and aquifers, which basically means Pacific Islanders have it coming from all sides.

Wait, there’s more. Too much freshwater is bad, too. Under a higher-warming scenario, rainfall in Hawaii could increase by 30 percent in wet areas by the end of the century. Think that’s good for dry areas? Think again! Projections suggest rainfall decreases of up to 60 percent in those. So more rain where rain isn’t needed and less rain where it’s dry. Great.

To end things on a sad note — because why the hell not — the National Climate Assessment states that “nesting seabirds, turtles and seals, and coastal plants” are going to be whacked by climate change. 🙁

Zoya Teirstein

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We broke down what climate change will do, region by region

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6 tick-borne illnesses that will haunt your dreams tonight

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If you live in an area with a few trees and shrubs, you’re likely cohabitating with a network of bloodsucking, disease-ridden arachnids. That’s right, ticks are your next-door neighbors … except the diseases they carry aren’t neighborly at all.

On Wednesday, we were hit with a double whammy on these nasty little buggers. A committee submitted a report to Congress found that tick-borne illnesses are spreading to more people and present “a serious and growing threat to public health.” Take Lyme disease, an illness that’s caused by bacteria carried by blacklegged (AKA deer) ticks. The report found that over the past 25 years, the disease has increased by more than 300 percent in Northeastern states.

Here’s that second whammy: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the kinds of diseases ticks carry are growing in number as well. The CDC says 2017 was a “record year” for ticks and the freaky bugs they carry.

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In the U.S., there are currently 18 tick-borne illnesses recognized by the CDC, but researchers uncover more regularly that aren’t yet recognized by the agency. “The continued spread of ticks, the discovery of new tick-borne pathogens, and the spreading outbreak of human disease is a near certainty,” the committee report gloomily concludes.

Before we get into which new diseases you should be biting your nails over this year, there’s a big question worth answering: What’s to blame for this Great Tick-ward Expansion?

The answer is multi-faceted, but climate change plays a role. Warmer winters mean more ticks survive the cold season and can travel farther by hitching rides on deer, whose range expands in milder weather. Also at fault: exploding deer populations and human populations expanding into wooded areas. Here’s what new or rising illnesses you should be on the lookout for:


Ladies and gentlemen, meet the tick that can make you allergic to meat. Alas, this is not a prank. Lone star ticks, which were first discovered in the Southeast, have army-crawled their way into the Northeast, and their bite can trigger a serious allergy to red meat in humans. Not to mention, they hunt in packs like a gang of aggressive vampires. The cure to the allergy? Stop eating red meat, lol.

Heartland virus

Lone star ticks also carry a recently discovered illness called Heartland virus, which has a 12 percent mortality rate and causes symptoms like fever, diarrhea, and myalgia (muscle pain). Also no cure. Cheers, guys.

B. Miyamotoi

Blacklegged ticks have it all: They carry Lyme in addition to a host of other diseases, including a newly discovered infection called B. miyamotoi. Symptoms include fever, chills, sweats, fatigue, and more flu-like effects. The only real difference between B. miyamotoi and Lyme is that the former doesn’t come with a tell-tale rash. “The better to trick you with, my deer,” says a blacklegged tick, probably, rubbing two of its eight creepy feet together.

Powassan virus

The Powassan virus is a rare illness that causes fevers, confusion, and memory problems. It’s carried by blacklegged ticks as well as some mosquitos and groundhog ticks. Surprised to discover groundhog ticks exist? Same and I’m a real tick aficionado.

Bourbon virus

Pour yourself a stiff drink, because ticks might carry something called Bourbon virus, now (researchers don’t know if it’s ticks for sure, yet, let alone which ones carry it). The first reported case was in Bourbon County, Kansas, in 2014, and the poor guy who had it died. There have been a few other cases since, but that’s pretty much all we know so far.

Bonus tick

S.F.T.S.! It’s not a new acronym the youngsters are using. It’s a syndrome that causes fever and messes with your blood, and it’s carried by a tick called the Asian longhorned tick. Not to be confused with the Asian longhorned beetle, which has its own set of problems — you know what they say! The longer the horn the longer the problem (they don’t really say that).

An Asian longhorned tick infestation was first found in New Jersey in 2017, but the ticks have now spread to seven states in total. None of the ticks found in America so far are diseased, but, in other countries like Asia, the longhorned tick carries S.F.T.S, which kills 15 percent of infected people. Have fun trying to sleep tonight.

Does any of this mean you shouldn’t step outside anymore? Hell no! We can’t just hand the great outdoors over to the ticks. That means they win. And doctors, by the by, agree with me. I’m sure as heck not gonna let a bunch of hungry sesame seeds scare me out of living my life, and neither should you. For more information about how to avoid getting bitten by these mean bloodsuckers go here.

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6 tick-borne illnesses that will haunt your dreams tonight

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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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National park officials were told climate change was ‘sensitive.’ So they removed it from a key planning report.

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

Park officials scrubbed all mentions of climate change from a key planning document for a New England national park after they were warned to avoid “sensitive language that may raise eyebrows” with the Trump administration.

The superintendent of the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park in Massachusetts had signed off a year ago on a 50-page document that outlines the park’s importance to American history and its future challenges. But then the National Park Service’s regional office sent an email in January suggesting edits: References to climate change and its increasing role in threats to the famous whaling port, such as flooding, were noted in the draft, then omitted from the final report, signed in June.

The draft and the emails were obtained by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

The documents provide a rare peek behind the usually closed curtains of the Trump administration. They illustrate how President Donald Trump’s approach to climate change impacts the way that park managers research and plan for future threats to the nation’s historic and natural treasures.

The editing of the report reflects a pattern of the Trump administration sidelining research and censoring Interior Department documents that contain references to climate science.

The New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, located on the shore of southeast Massachusetts, preserves the nation’s whaling history.New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park

Earlier this year, Reveal exposed an effort by park service managers to remove references to human-induced climate change in a scientific report about sea-level rise and storm surge at 118 national parks. The Guardian recently reported on the Trump administration’s efforts to stall funding for climate change research in the Interior Department by subjecting research projects to unprecedented political review by an appointee who has no scientific qualifications.

In a survey by the Union of Concerned Scientists, government scientists reported being asked to stop working on climate change and connecting their science to industry actions. These are just a few of the examples of science under siege compiled by Columbia University in its “silencing science” tracker.

The email suggesting changes in the New Bedford park report was sent in January by Amanda Jones, a community planner with the park service’s northeast region.

“You’ll see that anything to do with ‘climate change’ has been highlighted in these documents. In a nutshell, we’re being told that we can talk about climate change in terms of facts — if we have data to back our claim, that is OK. We should, however, avoid any speculative language — like what ‘may’ happen in the future,” she wrote to Meghan Kish, the New Bedford park’s superintendent.

Scientists say telling park managers to avoid references to “what may happen in the future” is worrisome.


Steven Beissinger, a professor of conservation biology at University of California, Berkeley who reviewed the emails and edits in the New Bedford report, called it “irresponsible to future generations of Americans” for the park service to direct managers to ignore research on the future risks of rising sea levels, risks to endangered species, worsening wildfires, and other effects.

“We should have confidence in scientists’ projections and prepare for those kinds of scenarios,” Beissinger said. “We can hope they won’t happen, but we surely want to be prepared for them. We have to be looking at the future because places are going to be changing.”

A comparison of the draft and final documents shows all 16 references to “climate change” were removed.

Park service officials involved in editing the New Bedford report did not respond to repeated requests for interviews. But a park service spokesperson said parks are told to “address issues like climate change … using the best available scientific information.”

“Sound management requires that we rely on specific, measurable data when making management and planning decisions,” Jeremy Barnum, chief park service spokesperson, said in an email response to Reveal. “Climate change is one factor that affects park ecosystems, resources, and infrastructure.”

Barnum did not answer questions about the deletions from the New Bedford park report, which is known as a “foundation document.” But he said such documents are reviewed “to ensure that they are consistent with current policy and directives.”

The New Bedford park was created by Congress in 1996 to preserve 13 city blocks of a Massachusetts seaport that was home to the world’s largest whaling fleet in the 19th century. The park tells the broader history of American whaling.

Flooding from rising seas, increased snow melt and stormwater, larger storm surges and extreme heatwaves are among the threats from human-caused climate change to the park’s historic structures. A 1960s hurricane barrier that protects New Bedford is vulnerable to widespread failure in a 100-year storm if sea levels rise by 4 feet. A Category 3 hurricane could breach the barrier at current sea levels.

The original draft obtained by Reveal was dated Sepember 29, 2017, and signed by Kish. The final version, signed by Kish and Gay Vietzke, regional director of the park service’s northeast region, is dated June 2018. It is not yet available online, but the park sent Reveal a printed version of the 50-page booklet.

Among the sections highlighted for review and then deleted were references to climate change in charts outlining threats to New Bedford’s historic structures, port, and natural resources.

This sentence was removed: “Climate change and sea-level rise may increase the frequency of large storms and storm surge, rising groundwater tables, flooding, and extreme heat events, all of which havepotential to threaten structures.” In its place, the final document says: “Large storms and storm surge, rising groundwater tables, flooding, and extreme heat events all of have the potential to threaten structures.”

Also, in a section about research needs, the original draft called for a “climate change vulnerability assessment.” That’s missing from the final version, which instead calls for an “assessment of park resilience to weather extremes.”

In several places, the phrase “changing environmental conditions” is substituted for the deleted term “climate change.”

Also deleted is a mention of how development near the park “could impact character and ambiance of historic district.” Elsewhere, a reference to “gentrification” is replaced with “urban renewal.” Mentions of declining park service funding and the limited control that managers have over privately owned buildings in the park are also removed. The museum in the park, which contains ships, skeletons, and whaling artifacts, is privately owned.

Skeletons of sperm, humpback, right, and blue whales on display.New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park

The January email suggests that the edits are part of a broader review of foundation documents that Vietzke assigned a park service official named Ed Clark to conduct for the northeast region, which includes 83 national parks in 13 states.

“This late review came at Gay’s (Vietzke) request when she began her role as (regional director). Ed Clark was asked to review all foundation documents for sensitive language that may raise eyebrows especially with the current administration,” the email from Jones says. She wrote that the edits are “for your consideration, but not mandatory.”

Jonathan Jarvis, who headed the National Park Service under President Barack Obama, said that the direction to scrub the foundation documents must have originated from Trump administration officials, because he knows regional director Vietzke well.

“She would not be doing this of her own accord. This would have come down from on high, verbally,” he said.

Jarvis said career park service officials told him that their supervisors verbally directed them to make changes in a sea-level rise report so that they did not leave anything in writing.

Scientists say climate change already is affecting parks and that the threats will increase if people continue to release greenhouse gases, which come largely from burning fossil fuels.

Jarvis was director of the agency in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy brought devastation to the northeastern coast, including several national parks. The parks incorporated climate change projections into rebuilding efforts, including moving utilities out of the basements in the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, both of which were flooded by the storm.

“Without considering climate change, we would have put them back in the basement. That’s why it has to be in a planning document,” Jarvis said.

In many national parks, flowers are blooming sooner and birds are nesting earlier, temperatures and seas are rising, and glaciers are disappearing.

Mary Foley retired in 2015 after 24 years as the chief scientist for the park service’s northeast region. She said she was frustrated during the Bush administration because the park service lacked permission and funding to solicit key research about climate change. But she said the Trump administration’s policy of sidelining climate science is much more concerning. Now much of the science has been done, but the unwritten policy seems to be to order park managers to ignore it, she said.

“Managing a park is a difficult and expensive task,” Foley said. “It’s pretty shortsighted to ignore future climate change. If you are going to plan for construction of a visitor center you wouldn’t want to put it where sea-level rise is going to challenge that structure.”

But Foley and other former park service leaders said they hope that park managers will incorporate science into the planning for parks even if they scrub documents to please Trump’s team.

“Current managers are pretty knowledgeable of the implications of climate change. Whether or not that is written into formal documents, I don’t think that they will ignore it,” Foley said.

“The bottom line is, this is just paper,” Jarvis added. “You can’t erase in the superintendents’ minds the role of climate change. They’re going to do the right thing even if it’s not in the policy document.”

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National park officials were told climate change was ‘sensitive.’ So they removed it from a key planning report.

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