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US states have spent the past 5 years trying to criminalize protest

The Minnesota legislature has spent the last five years preparing for the kind of protests that have rocked the city over the past week in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd — by attempting to criminalize them.

From 2016 through 2019, state lawmakers introduced ten bills that either made obstructing traffic on highways a misdemeanor or increased penalties for protesting near oil and gas facilities. Most of these legislative proposals were introduced in response to ongoing protests against a controversial oil pipeline as well as those following the police killing of Philando Castile in a St. Paul suburb in 2016. The bills would have allowed protesters to be jailed for up to a year, fined offenders up to $3,000 each, and allowed cities to sue protesters for the cost of police response. Many of the bills were introduced in 2017 after racial justice activists in the state made headlines shutting down a major highway. A couple others were in response to protests in 2016 and 2019 against the energy company Enbridge’s planned replacement of a pipeline running from Alberta to Wisconsin.

None of the bills have yet become law, but three failed only because they were vetoed by the governor. Two bills introduced earlier this year are still on the table. One would make trespassing on property with oil and gas facilities punishable by up to three years in prison and a $5,000 fine. The other would make those who assist such activity civilly liable for damages.

Over the past half-decade, a wave of bills that criminalize civil disobedience has swept state legislatures across the country — particularly those controlled by Republican lawmakers. According to a new report by PEN America, a nonprofit advocating for First Amendment rights, 116 such bills were proposed in state legislatures between 2015 and 2020. Of those, 23 bills in 15 states became law. While there is no comprehensive count of the number of people arrested and prosecuted under these new laws, activists protesting oil and gas activity have been charged with felonies in Houston and Louisiana.

This year alone, four states — Kentucky, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Utah — passed laws that increased penalties and charges for either interfering with oil and gas activity or disturbing meetings of government officials. (Interfering with oil and gas activity may include obstructing the construction or operation of pipelines and other “critical infrastructure.”) As of May, 12 other bills are pending in various state legislatures — all of them introduced before the past week’s unrest. If passed, these bills would increase disciplinary sanctions for campus protesters, classify trespassing on property with oil and gas infrastructure a felony, and expand the definition of rioting, among other things.

More bills increasing penalties for protesters may be on their way. In response to the recent protests against George Floyd’s killing, a Tennessee lawmaker has proposed increasing penalties for rioting and South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem has said that her administration is looking into legislative proposals to respond to the recent unrest.

“Protest, in the last several years, has absolutely been followed by efforts by state legislators to criminalize the very activity practiced in the mere months prior,” said Nora Benevidez, director of the U.S. Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “There is this larger narrative that is being cast that protest needs to be narrowed — and the definitions around what constitutes acceptable protests are becoming smaller and smaller.”

Benevidez found that, in the years prior to recent large-scale protests and the 2016 election victories of conservative state legislators, proposals chipping away at constitutionally-protected protest activity were few and far between. In 2015 and 2016, only six bills narrowing the rights of protesters were introduced. But in 2017 — in the wake of nationwide protests over the police shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, protests against the Dakota Access pipeline, and marches responding to President Trump’s election — that number rose to 56.

Lawmakers who supported such bills weren’t shy about their intentions. In 2018, Minnesota state senator Paul Utke — the main sponsor of a bill that would have made training, hiring, or counseling those who end up trespassing on property with a pipeline a felony punishable with up to ten years in prison and a $20,000 fine — pointed to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests as a reason for the bill. “We saw what happened in North Dakota and we have a big pipeline project coming up [in Minnesota],” he said.

Only two such laws have been challenged in court. South Dakota’s “riot-boosting” law, which allowed the state to sue protesters for damages, was found unconstitutional in 2019 because it was created in anticipation of protests against the Keystone XL pipeline. Earlier this year, however, lawmakers passed a new version of the law, which has not yet been challenged in court. Litigation against a similar law in Louisiana is pending.

Benevidez said she expects to see many more bills curtailing the right to protest in the coming months.

“The long-term and sustained ways to target certain groups comes not just from moments like this but in the months that follow,” she said. “Even if protests die down, the need to be ready to challenge some of these proposals is going to be really necessary.”

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US states have spent the past 5 years trying to criminalize protest

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Trump is sneaking environmental rollbacks past a nation in quarantine

In the weeks since the novel coronavirus began its exponential spread across America, schools have closed; churches, synagogues, and mosques have canceled services; and non-essential businesses have shuttered. The U.S. economy has ground to a halt. But the Trump administration and some state governments are still going full steam ahead on rolling back environmental protections.

So what’s been happening while we’ve been sheltering in place? A whole lot. “Consistent” isn’t generally a word used to describe this president, but Trump has been nothing if not consistent in his commitment to ensuring unfettered freedom for big polluters.

On Tuesday, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency put the nail in the coffin of President Obama’s 2012 rule aimed at curbing auto emissions. That rule would have required automakers to improve the fuel economy standards of their cars and light fleet trucks to by 5 percent on average a year. Trump’s new rule will only require them to raise those standards by 1.5 percent annually. For an idea of how easy Trump has made life for automakers, the industry has said it would boost standards 2.4 per year sans regulation.

Trump says the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles rule will make new cars cheaper and bolster auto manufacturers in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. But loosening restrictions on automakers will lead to a billion more tons of carbon dioxide emitted and 80 billion more gallons of gasoline consumed cars over the course of their lifetimes. California is currently in a courtroom tussle with the EPA over a waiver that would allow the state to sidestep Trump’s rule and continue imposing stricter tailpipe emissions rules on vehicles driven in its jurisdiction.

Speaking of the EPA, the agency, helmed by former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, is steadily moving forward with other rollbacks. Among them, a rule that could hobble future federal health regulations by limiting the studies regulators can use in the rulemaking process. Wheeler says the agency’s new rule to require disclosure of the raw data behind scientific studies used by the government to make regulations will increase transparency. Health experts argue it’ll exclude key studies that rely on confidential medical data.

Not content to move ahead with rollbacks that were already in the works, the EPA is also using the coronavirus as an excuse to let polluters loose on the playground. Last week, the agency announced it was going to let facilities like power plants and factories regulate themselves during the pandemic. The EPA will not issue fines for some air, water, and hazardous waste violations, and that loosening of restrictions will take retroactive effect going back to March 13. Companies should “act responsibly,” according to the EPA. Fat chance.

At the Department of the Interior, a similar saga is playing out. Last week, the department refused to extend the public comment period on its proposed reinterpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a 1918 rule protecting more than 800 avian species. The agency also kept moving along plans this month to consider drilling projects on previously protected lands in Alaska and New Mexico, and is continuing oil and gas drilling lease auctions apace.

States are getting in on the deregulatory action, too. Over the past two weeks, Kentucky, South Dakota, and West Virginia quietly passed laws that would penalize pipeline protesters. Under the new state laws, fossil fuel infrastructure like the Dakota Access Pipeline are designated “critical infrastructure” or “key infrastructure assets.” Causing damage above a certain dollar amount or tampering with those assets could now lead to felony charges.

Meanwhile, the governors of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Illinois have already temporarily banned or officially discouraged reusable bags in grocery stores, and Maine’s plastic bag ban is being postponed until January 2021. Republican officials arguing against efforts to limit plastic pollution are taking talking points from the plastics industry. The president of the Plastic Industries Association recently said, “As the coronavirus spreads across the country, single-use plastics will only become more vital.” But the science behind the assertion that plastic bags spread the virus is thin, and a recent study showed the virus is still viable on plastic surfaces after 72 hours.

It’s clear that the coronavirus crisis has handed Trump and conservative state lawmakers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do away with environmental protections they find too burdensome. Too bad social distancing isn’t effective for pollution.

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Bees face yet another lethal threat in dicamba, a drift-prone pesticide

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This story was originally published by Reveal and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. The article was produced in collaboration with the Food & Environment Reporting Network, an independent nonprofit news organization.

While soybean farmers watched the drift-prone weed killer dicamba ravage millions of acres of crops over the last two years, Arkansas beekeeper Richard Coy noticed a parallel disaster unfolding among the weeds near those fields.

When Coy spotted the withering weeds, he realized why hives that produced 100 pounds of honey three summers ago now were managing barely half that: Dicamba probably had destroyed his bees’ food.

In October, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency extended its approval of the weed killer for use on genetically modified soybeans and cotton, mostly in the South and Midwest, for two more years. At the time, the EPA said: “We expect there will be no adverse impacts to bees or other pollinators.”

But scientists warned the EPA years ago that dicamba would drift off fields and kill weeds that are vital to honeybees. The consequences of the EPA’s decisions now are rippling through the food system.

Dicamba already has destroyed millions of dollars’ worth of non-genetically modified soybeans and specialty crops, such as tomatoes and wine grapes. And now it appears to be a major factor in large financial losses for beekeepers. Hive losses don’t affect just the nation’s honey supply: Honeybees pollinate more than $15 billion worth of fruits, nuts, and vegetables a year, largely in California, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“It seems like everybody’s been affected,” said Bret Adee, whose family runs the nation’s largest beekeeping outfit, in South Dakota. He thinks 2018 might be “the smallest crop in the history of the United States for honey production.”

From 2016 to 2017, U.S. honey production dropped 9 percent. Official statistics for 2018 have not been released.

Beekeepers long have struggled to protect their hives from parasites, viruses, insecticides, and other colony-destroying threats. All these factors, as well as climate change, have been linked to colony collapse disorder, which emerged more than a decade ago and destroyed 30 to 90 percent of some beekeepers’ hives. Now with dicamba, beekeepers must contend with a scourge that can wipe out the food and habitat bees need to thrive.

Nine years ago, agricultural ecologist David Mortensen had told EPA officials that allowing dicamba use on genetically modified crops would pose serious risks to wild plants and the pollinators they sustain. In 2011, the EPA’s own scientists cited Mortensen’s work to conclude that increased use of dicamba could affect pollinators.

But the agency registered dicamba in 2016 despite the warnings, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting and the Food & Environment Reporting Network reported in November. Last fall, the agency extended approval through 2020.

EPA officials declined to comment, citing the government shutdown.

‘Pretty damning’ evidence

No one factor can explain what’s driving hive losses. But the evidence is “pretty damning” that dicamba affects both pollinator forage and the bees themselves, said Mortensen, chair of University of New Hampshire’s Department of Agriculture, Nutrition, and Food Systems.

Dicamba damaged nearly 5 million acres of soybeans in the Midwest over the past two years, and “you know that all the field edges anywhere near the damaged crops were hammered by the herbicide,” Mortensen said, “which would mean the broadleaf plants the bees go to were hammered.” Dicamba has little effect on grasses, including corn and wheat, but even tiny doses can injure soybeans, wildflowers, and other broadleaf plants.

Dicamba was a hot topic at the annual American Honey Producers Association meeting earlier this month, said Darren Cox, a Utah beekeeper who stepped down as head of the association last year.

“We’re very concerned about dicamba and the impacts it’s having on the honey industry and the health of bees,” Cox said.

This year’s honey crop was “very poor” in several regions, he said. Drought in several top honey-producing states not only depleted bees’ forage, but also led to more herbicide use because stressed plants don’t easily absorb the chemicals. As a result, Cox said, “you tend to have weaker hive strength because of lack of forage and nutrition.”

South Dakota, where Adee Honey Farms is based, reported about 250,000 acres of dicamba-injured soybeans since 2017. The Adees typically manage 80,000 to 90,000 hives, “but our numbers have been so destroyed the last couple of years, we’ve started using other people’s bees,” Adee said.

More than 70 percent of the nation’s commercial honeybees are shipped to pollinate California’s million acres of almond orchards every winter. But this season, beekeepers have been struggling to fill their trucks with hives and are facing massive cuts to what is typically their biggest paycheck of the year.

Lyle Johnston, president of the Colorado Professional Beekeeping Association, typically sends almond farmers 75,000 hives, including about 7,000 of his own. Johnston hasn’t had trouble with his bees, which he raises far from agricultural fields. (Colorado is among 34 states where it’s legal to spray dicamba on genetically modified crops, though few acres are planted with soybeans.) But in three decades of running bees to California, he says he’s never had so many beekeepers tell him they’ve come up short. Coy and several other beekeepers who typically send him as many as 10 truckloads of bees are sending half that this season.

California almond orchard.Barbara Rich / Getty Images

“It’s going to be a train wreck come the 5th of February, when the bloom starts,” Johnston said.

Many beekeepers near soybean fields said they are losing half their hives — losses similar to those attributed to colony collapse disorder.

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“We can’t breed bees fast enough to keep up with the losses and maintain healthy colonies,” Adee said.

Gary Mackrill of North Dakota’s Mackrill Honey Farms thinks dicamba sprayed near his hives might be making bees more vulnerable to pathogens, cold, and other stressors. Mackrill lost nearly 40 percent of his hives last fall. The year before was even worse, he said.

“Our bee outfit has been devastated,” he said.

Over the last two years, when hundreds of thousands of acres of North Dakota soybeans were damaged by dicamba, Mackrill lost some 3,000 hives and more than a quarter-million dollars in pollination contracts. Last year, North Dakota banned dicamba applications after June 30, but it was too late.

By early July, “the honey flow just turned off like you turned off a faucet,” Mackrill said. “And it never resumed.”

Then after a cold snap hit North Dakota in the fall, Mackrill’s bees started freezing to death. Even when the mercury dips below zero, you might see a couple of dead bees, he said, “but handfuls of dead bees? That’s abnormal.”

Whether dicamba is affecting bees’ ability to stay warm is unclear. Mackrill hopes to find out by sending samples of dead bees to Strong Microbials, run by microbiologist Slava Strogolov in Milwaukee. Strogolov will test for dicamba and other pesticides in the bees’ guts.

Strogolov thinks dicamba might be harming gut microbes critical for bee health.

“Whenever honeybees land on the flower that’s been sprayed, they will ingest that pollen and the gut microbes will be the first ones exposed to these chemicals,” he said.

Honeybees rely on gut bacteria to digest pollen. If they don’t get enough pollen, they can’t make the fat they need to handle the cold.

Losing wild pollen sources

Coy became convinced that plummeting honey production at Coy’s Honey Farm, which is Arkansas’ largest beekeeping operation, was due to dicamba after reading one of Mortensen’s studies. The research showed that doses of dicamba that mimicked the drift associated with spraying the weed killer delayed flowering and reduced by half the number of flowers that plants produced and the number of pollinator visits.

Coy first saw dicamba symptoms on a major bee food called redvine, a flowering plant that snakes through tree canopies along fence rows. In 2017, the vine’s shiny teardrop leaves looked warped and wilted. By last summer, he said, the vines were dead.

Bees depend on redvine for nectar and pollen, the protein source that helps hives survive freezing temperatures, parasites, and other stressors. If queens lack pollen, they won’t lay eggs and the population stagnates or declines.

When Coy inspected hives closer to Mississippi, at sites where farmers didn’t use dicamba, he found redvine bursting with seed pods and flowers. Nearby hives hummed with bees that produced a hundred pounds of honey and five to six frames of stored pollen.

But the majority of hives in Arkansas, where the Coys kept most of their 13,000 hives, were too anemic to ship to California almond growers. Last year, Coy said, “turned out to be a disaster for us.”

In years past, some commercial beekeepers tried moving their hives into Arkansas’ hill country to get away from pesticides, said Jon Zawislak, a University of Arkansas extension entomologist and apiary expert. But seasonal drought in July and August leaves wildflowers in the hills without much nectar and beehives without much honey. Historically, hives did better around agriculture, he said, because irrigated fields kept flowers blooming, and beekeepers would shift the bees around to avoid pesticides.

But moving hives doesn’t work with a weed killer like dicamba that can evaporate for days after spraying.

“The situation with dicamba is brand new,” Zawislak said. Beekeepers are trying to adapt, he added, “but they can’t maintain hundreds or thousands of colonies in areas that simply don’t produce anything.”

And although agricultural fields help bees weather drought, Zawislak’s recent research shows that bees get the lion’s share of their pollen from wild vegetation.

On New Year’s Day, after losing more than a million dollars’ worth of honey and pollination contracts over the past two years, the Coys closed Crooked Creek Bee Co., their retail honey business, and made plans to relocate to Mississippi.

“We can only produce about 50 percent of the honey that we’ve produced prior to in-crop use of dicamba,” Coy said. “We have no choice but to leave Arkansas.”

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Bees face yet another lethal threat in dicamba, a drift-prone pesticide

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This GIF shows how far the 100th Meridian has shifted since 1980

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Climate change works in mysterious ways; it isn’t limited to wildfires and melting ice. Today’s climate exhibit: The 100th Meridian — the famous dividing line that separates America’s wet East from the dry West — has migrated 140 miles east since 1980.

The boundary passes through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas — America’s breadbasket. Once you cross the divide, the rain-soaked grasses of the East turn into dusty plains, with the occasional cactus dotting the landscape.

“Passing from east to west across this belt a wonderful transformation is observed,” remarked John Wesley Powell, famous explorer of the West, in 1890. The conservationist was the first to mark the transition line, which became known as “100th Meridian” because it closely follows the 100th meridian of longitude (a vertical line that stretches from the North to South Poles).

But we may have to change the line’s name someday. The shift is the result of rising temperatures drying out parts of the northern plains and less rain falling further south, YaleEnvironment360 reports. This could be due to natural variability — changes caused by nonhuman forces — but the migration aligns with what researchers tell us to expect from global warming.

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This GIF shows how far the 100th Meridian has shifted since 1980

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‘He’s a political prisoner’: Standing Rock activists face years in jail

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

Standing Rock saved Little Feather’s life. Then the U.S. government took it from him.

Little Feather was one of thousands of Native Americans who traveled to North Dakota in 2016 to fight the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. The 45-year-old member of the Chumash Nation was battling drug addiction at the time, said his wife, Leoyla Cowboy. But the “water protector” movement gave him a sense of purpose, a renewed connection to indigenous elders, and sobriety.

But last year as the oil pipeline began operations, authorities jailed him and charged him with felonies stemming from his involvement in the demonstrations. Little Feather’s case and the prosecution of hundreds of others is part of what activists say is an aggressive campaign by U.S. law enforcement to suppress indigenous and environmental movements, using drawn-out criminal cases and lengthy prison sentences.

“He has been taken from us, and it’s a huge void in our lives,” Cowboy, 44, told the Guardian in a recent interview after Little Feather, also known as Michael Giron, was sentenced to three years. “He is a political prisoner … We were protecting our land. It’s something we have to do, and we’re going to be met with this violence from these agencies, from the federal government, from the state.”

As Red Fawn Fallis prepares for her sentencing next week in the movement’s most high-profile prosecution, activists are speaking out about the toll the cases have taken — continuing to drag on and tear apart families — all as Standing Rock has almost entirely disappeared from headlines.

After Donald Trump took office and ordered expedited approval of the $3.7 billion pipeline last January, the crackdown on activists escalated. The cases stemmed from clashes with police in late 2016 when thousands gathered at Oceti Sakowin and other campsites by the pipeline, facing a highly militarized operation, brutal shows of force, mass arrests and widely condemned jail conditions.

Under Trump, who has had financial ties with the pipeline company, the U.S. Department of Justice has pressed forward with six cases against Native Americans. North Dakota prosecutors meanwhile have pursued more than 800 state cases against people at Standing Rock, including 165 still pending, according to the Water Protector Legal Collective, a legal support team.

“They needed these convictions to make examples of people,” said Rattler, another federal defendant who, like Little Feather, agreed to a plea deal. “We got their attention, and they are scared of us.”

Rattler, a Lakota Oglala man, and Little Feather were each charged with two felonies — civil disorder and use of fire to commit a felony — related to a standoff on Oct. 27, 2016, when police deployed pepper spray and armored vehicles in response to a roadblock set up by activists. More than 140 people were arrested.

The arson charges related to the fact that “several fires were set by unidentified protesters” to thwart police, as prosecutors wrote in one court filing.

If the men were convicted, they faced a mandatory minimum of 10 years. Activists argued the charges were excessive, and some thought the men would prevail in a courtroom, especially considering reporting by the Intercept, which uncovered how a private security firm had used military-style counter-terrorism methods to target and infiltrate the protests.

But the defendants and their attorneys ultimately had concerns about the risks of a trial. One survey of jury-eligible locals found that 82 percent to 94 percent had prejudged protesters as guilty or were biased against them.

“Having a fair trial in Bismarck was going to be impossible,” said Rattler, 45, whose legal name is Michael Markus. “If you go to court in North Dakota, you are going to get convicted.”

Wasté Win Young, a Standing Rock member who is still facing trespassing and rioting charges in North Dakota court, said she was now regularly targeted and racially profiled by locals and police in the area.

“It’s just surreal still living here,” she said, noting that the fossil fuel industry had a lot of influence in the area and that there was heavy local bias against the demonstrations. “They feel like their security, their well-being was threatened by the so-called violent protesters, which was not the case at all.”

Still, Young said she was not afraid to go to court: “I stood my ground and it was in honor of my ancestors and to protect their way of life.”

Red Fawn Fallis was originally accused of shooting at law enforcement, facing a potential life sentence. The case moved forward even after it was reported that a paid informant for the FBI had developed a romantic relationship with her during the protests and was the owner of the gun she allegedly fired. Prosecutors eventually dropped the charge in exchange for her pleading to lesser offenses, and on Monday, she is expected to receive a seven-year prison sentence.

The U.S. attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Rattler, who is expected to get three years in prison, said the pending case meant he was restricted from freely traveling to indigenous ceremonies and other events.

“That’s been going on for hundreds of years — the federal government telling indigenous people where they can and can’t go,” said Ollie, Rattler’s partner who requested not to use her full name. “They do it just because they can.”

Sandra Freeman, Rattler’s attorney, said it had been difficult coming to terms with the reality of his plea agreement: “He is someone who is a really gentle, non-violent person who has accepted significant, significant time in the Federal Bureau of Prisons.”

Despite everything, Rattler said he was glad he was involved in the movement and wanted to eventually continue the work: “I have no regrets about what I did.”

After Little Feather’s personal transformation at the Standing Rock camps, Cowboy said she was eager to start their lives together: “I have been praying for a person like Little Feather all my life.”

But her husband has been incarcerated since last March when police pulled them over and arrested him while the newlyweds were traveling to an indigenous march in Washington D.C.

With sentencing over, there was some relief in knowing he would eventually come home, Cowboy said. But she also recognized that there would be lasting consequences.

While she was inspired to see the momentum from Standing Rock spread to other fights, she said, it sometimes felt like those still suffering from the North Dakota movement had been left behind. “They are forgetting that we are still here.”

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‘He’s a political prisoner’: Standing Rock activists face years in jail

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What is Scott Pruitt so afraid of?

For a country that already imports 99 percent of its oil, France’s decision to end all new oil development and phase out existing projects by 2040 may not seem all that meaningful. The Guardian called it a “largely symbolic gesture.”

But actually, as geoscientist Erik Klemetti noted, France is committing to keeping a massive oil reservoir in the ground. The Paris Basin, a region in northern France, may contain nearly as much underground petroleum as the huge Bakken Formation in North Dakota. Extracting that oil and gas would require extensive fracking.

Klemetti calculates that France could extract 100 years worth of oil for the country by fully exploring the Paris Basin — which could contain, according to the top estimate, 5 billion barrels of oil. At current oil prices (around $58 per barrel), that’s worth about $290 billion.

Instead, France decided to say au revoir to oil and gas altogether.

Earlier this year, the country also announced it would ban internal combustion engines by 2040. With decisions like these, France is positioning itself on the right side of history. And it’s sending a message to a world that’s floundering on climate change: A more just and prosperous future is possible, and it doesn’t require the dirty fuels of the past.


What is Scott Pruitt so afraid of?

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When stories about drought spike, people use less water.

The demonstrations call on households, cities, and institutions to withdraw money from banks financing projects that activists say violate human rights — such as the Dakota Access Pipeline and efforts to extract oil from tar sands in Alberta, Canada.

The divestment campaign Mazaska Talks, which is using the hashtag #DivestTheGlobe, began with protests across the United States on Monday and continues with actions in Africa, Asia, and Europe on Tuesday and Wednesday. Seven people were arrested in Seattle yesterday, where activists briefly shut down a Bank of America, Chase, and Wells Fargo.

The demonstrations coincide with a meeting in São Paulo, Brazil, involving a group of financial institutions that have established a framework for assessing the environmental and social risks of development projects. Organizers allege the banks have failed to uphold indigenous peoples’ right to “free, prior, and informed consent” to projects developed on their land.

“We want the global financial community to realize that investing in projects that harm us is really investing in death, genocide, racism, and does have a direct effect on not only us on the front lines but every person on this planet,” Joye Braun, an Indigenous Environmental Network community organizer, said in a statement.


When stories about drought spike, people use less water.

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Indigenous-led, anti-fossil fuel protests are shutting down banks in cities across the globe.

The demonstrations call on households, cities, and institutions to withdraw money from banks financing projects that activists say violate human rights — such as the Dakota Access Pipeline and efforts to extract oil from tar sands in Alberta, Canada.

The divestment campaign Mazaska Talks, which is using the hashtag #DivestTheGlobe, began with protests across the United States on Monday and continues with actions in Africa, Asia, and Europe on Tuesday and Wednesday. Seven people were arrested in Seattle yesterday, where activists briefly shut down a Bank of America, Chase, and Wells Fargo.

The demonstrations coincide with a meeting in São Paulo, Brazil, involving a group of financial institutions that have established a framework for assessing the environmental and social risks of development projects. Organizers allege the banks have failed to uphold indigenous peoples’ right to “free, prior, and informed consent” to projects developed on their land.

“We want the global financial community to realize that investing in projects that harm us is really investing in death, genocide, racism, and does have a direct effect on not only us on the front lines but every person on this planet,” Joye Braun, an Indigenous Environmental Network community organizer, said in a statement.

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Indigenous-led, anti-fossil fuel protests are shutting down banks in cities across the globe.

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The Standing Rock Sioux could still beat the Dakota Access Pipeline — in court

By some accounts, the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline now looks unwinnable. Standing Rock became a ghost town last week after police raided and razed the prayer camp that once hosted thousands of water protectors. Earlier this month, the Trump administration fast-tracked approval to build the final section of the pipeline and cancelled the environmental impact statement ordered by President Obama. Construction is nearing completion and oil could flow through the pipeline as early as March 6. For the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, time is running out — fast.

The Sioux’s best shot at stopping Dakota Access now lies in court. It may be a long shot, but a legal win is still possible, some advocates say.

A legal challenge filed by the tribe on Feb. 14 charges pipeline builder Dakota Access, LLC, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with a range of environmental, cultural, and treaty-based violations. It asks a federal judge to rule on whether the Army Corps broke laws and treaties by allowing construction of the last leg of the pipeline under Lake Oahe, a reservoir along the Missouri River in North Dakota.

“What you have is this well-supported decision from a past administration to do more and give a full consideration to treaty rights, and then the second administration throws it in the trash,” says Jan Hasselman of Earthjustice, who’s representing the tribe in its lawsuit. “That’s just not how it works.”

“It’s absolutely not over,” says Kyle Powys Whyte, a professor of philosophy and community sustainability and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. He’s been closely tracking the battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and he thinks the tribes fighting the project have a good legal case. “Absolutely I think there’s a chance to stop this thing.”

One of the Sioux’s main legal complaints is that construction of the pipeline near its reservation and through sites it considers sacred would violate the tribe’s treaty rights — specifically, its rights under the 1851 and 1868 Fort Laramie treaties. At the heart of the matter is the Sioux’s right to self-determination and tribal sovereignty. Tribes like the Sioux are independent, self-governing nations like any other in the world. And the sovereignty of tribal nations preexists the United States, just like the nations themselves.

Many Native Americans believe that this sovereignty is now under extreme threat. The administration of Donald Trump may be the most hostile to Indian tribes since that of Andrew Jackson, who caused the Trail of Tears in the 1830s, argues Matthew Fletcher, a professor of law at Michigan State University and a member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.

The tribe’s legal motion also charges that the Army Corps violated the National Environmental Policy Act by terminating an environmental review of the pipeline, and violated the Clean Water Act as well.

The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe has joined the Standing Rock Sioux in its legal challenge, and on Feb. 22, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe filed its own motion in the case, calling on the court to reject the Army Corps’ permit for pipeline construction. Several other allies, such as the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, have filed amicus briefs supporting the Standing Rock Sioux’s legal case.

Hasselman believes the Sioux have strong legal claims that could lead to the pipeline’s approval being overturned. If the current legal motion fails, he says the tribe will appeal in federal circuit court. Even if oil starts flowing in the pipeline in the interim, it could still be shut off down the line, Hasselman told the Bismarck Tribune.

And tribes are waging other legal battles against the pipeline too. On Feb. 9, the Cheyenne River Sioux filed a motion to temporarily halt construction on the grounds that the pipeline would violate their right to religious freedom by desecrating the sacred waters of Lake Oahe.

“I really hope that the case for religious freedom works,” Powys Whyte says. “This can’t possibly be a country where someone’s business idea can trample someone’s constitutional right to practice their religion.”

The Oglala Sioux Tribe joined the fray on Feb. 13 with its own lawsuit claiming that the pipeline threatened its treaty rights to safe drinking water.

The Cheyenne River Sioux’s religious claim is being heard on Feb. 28, and other motions should be considered in the coming weeks. Still, it could take months, if not years, for all of these cases to move through the courts.

Even if pipeline opponents’ lawsuits are not successful in stopping the pipeline, Powys Whyte sees other gains that have come from the #NoDAPL fight. Standing Rock has provided a template for an indigenous-led movement against projects that pose threats to the environment and to tribes’ sovereignty — a template that could prove crucial to activists over the next four years. He points to two other battles for indigenous rights that will be heating up in coming months: the resistance against the Keystone XL Pipeline and the Tohono O’odham Nation’s staunch opposition to Trump building a border wall on their reservation in Arizona.

Powys Whyte urges non-indigenous environmentalists to get educated about Native American history and tribal rights, and to consult with tribes and incorporate their concerns into campaigns. “Part of the reason why non-indigenous activists are coming late to the Dakota Access fight is because they weren’t aware of the vulnerability and susceptibility Native tribes have,” Powys Whyte says. To learn more, he recommends reading the Native Appropriations blog and the Standing Rock syllabus.

“Literally, if more people supported democratic tribal sovereignty, we wouldn’t have something like the Dakota Access Pipeline happening,” Powys Whyte says.

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The Standing Rock Sioux could still beat the Dakota Access Pipeline — in court

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American Kids Are About to Get Even Dumber When It Comes to Climate Science

Mother Jones

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

The debate surrounding science education in America is at least as old as the 1925 Scopes “monkey trial,” in which a high school science teacher was criminally charged for teaching evolution in violation of Tennessee law. But bills percolating through state legislatures across the US are giving the education fight a new flavor, by encompassing climate change denial and serving it up as academic freedom.

One prominent example, South Dakota’s Senate Bill 55, was voted down Wednesday, but others are on the docket in three states, with possible others on the way. Advocates say the bills are designed to give teachers additional latitude to explain scientific theories. Opponents say they empower science denial, removing accountability from science education and eroding the foundation of public schools.

In bills making their way through statehouses in Indiana, Oklahoma, and Texas, and a potential measure in Iowa, making common cause with climate change denial is a way for advocates to encourage skepticism of evolution, said Glenn Branch, deputy director for the National Center for Science Education, an advocacy group.

“The rhetoric falls into predictable patterns, and the patterns are very similar for those two groups of science deniers,” he said.

Science defenders like the NCSE say science denial has three pillars: That the science is uncertain; that its acceptance would have bad moral and social consequences; and that it’s only fair to present all sides. All three are at work in the latest efforts to attack state and federal education standards on science education, Branch said.

According to a survey published last year, this strategy is already making headway. The survey, in the journal Science, found that three-fourths of science teachers spend time on climate change instruction. But of those teachers, 30% tell their students that it is “likely due to natural causes,” while another 31% teach that the science is unsettled. Yet 97% of scientists who actively study Earth’s climate say it is changing because of human activity.

In South Dakota, state Rep. Chip Campbell, R-Rapid City, said the bill would have enabled broader discussions in the classroom, according to The Argus-Leader.

“In science it is imperative that we show not only the strengths but also the weaknesses of theories,” he said. “Weaknesses, not strengths, are the key to finding the truth.”

Many of these bills are being pushed in response to recently adopted federal standards for science education. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), developed by 26 states, were finalized in 2015. As of November 2016, 16 states had adopted them, and the guidelines are under consideration in several others.

Efforts to undermine science education are often related to adoption of the new standards. In West Virginia in 2016, for example, lawmakers removed language in the standards that said human activity has increased carbon dioxide emissions and affected the climate. In Wyoming, lawmakers passed a statute banning public schools from teaching climate change is caused by humans, though that was later repealed. Also in 2016, Idaho lawmakers passed a bill permitting the use of the Bible in public schools as long as it was in connection with astronomy, biology, and geology. The bill passed in a modified form without referencing those scientific topics, but it was later vetoed.

“The concerns of these anti-science officials aren’t rooted in peer-vetted science. They are rooted in opposition to learning the truth about climate change,” said Lisa Hoyos, the director of Climate Parents, an offshoot of the Sierra Club that supports climate education. “The purpose of these bills is to create space for peer-reviewed, evidence-based science to be challenged based on teachers’ political opinions.”

It’s part of a third wave of anti-science legislation at the state level, according to Branch.

The first wave, specifically targeting evolution, dissipated after 1968, when the Supreme Court ruled in Epperson v. Arkansas that prohibiting the teaching of evolution was unconstitutional. The second wave focused on “intelligent design,” a branch of creation theory that postulates a higher power guides and shapes the process of evolution. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, anti-evolutionists focused on bills that would require teachers to say evolution was controversial, while staying silent on possible alternatives, Branch said. Later Supreme Court cases also rejected these policies on various First Amendment grounds.

The newest wave, which began around 2004, focuses on “academic freedom—teach the controversy, talk about theories’ strengths and weaknesses,” Branch said.

“They all have the same effect, which is to free teachers from having to teach evolution as accepted science, and to prevent state and local officials from doing anything about it,” he said.

The bills initially targeted evolution, but later, advocates came up with a standard list: biological evolution, the origin of life, global warming, and human cloning are considered the controversial topics in science education, Branch said.

He and Hoyos both noted that the bill would have protected teachers who wanted to teach anything at all, not just skepticism of climate change and evolution.

“A teacher could, on the public dime, teach creationism, flat-Earthism, white supremacism, and there would be nothing that the taxpayers could do about it,” Branch said. “It’s not that science teachers shouldn’t have some freedom to do what they do; but all of these states already have all various kinds of regulations, policies, and informal practices that give a reasonable degree of freedom.”

Similar active bills include Indiana’s Senate Resolution 17, Oklahoma’s Senate Bill 393, and Texas’s House Bill 1485, Branch said. Because Indiana’s is a resolution, it would have no legal effect other than to express the intent of lawmakers, which Branch said was an “interesting variant.” In Iowa, lawmakers are discussing a measure that would make the next generation standards optional, he said.

To date, South Dakota’s was the only measure to have been passed by a chamber of the legislature; the state Senate passed it in January. It’s also the first measure to die. It lingered in a House education committee before a hearing was scheduled for Wednesday, and it was defeated, 11-4. Its sponsor, Republican Sen. Jeff Monroe of Pierre, had introduced different versions of the bill for the past four years, but it never made it as far as it did in 2017, Hoyos said.

“Perhaps that’s because of the political climate we’re in, with the president actively opposing climate science,” she said. “From the president on down, there are some political forces in our society who think it is open season to attack climate science.”

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American Kids Are About to Get Even Dumber When It Comes to Climate Science

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