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U.S. won’t take climate refugees displaced by Hurricane Dorian

President Trump’s ongoing war on migrants and refugees has extended to the Bahamas, where some residents say they’ve received little to no help from their own government after Hurricane Dorian absolutely devastated the area less than two weeks ago. The storm, which hit the islands as a Category 5 hurricane, killed at least 50 people (though that number is expected to rise, as more than 1,000 people are still missing).

While the United States has granted temporary protected status, or TPS, to natural disaster victims in the past, the Trump administration has decided not to extend the designation to Bahamas residents who were displaced by the monster storm. That means Bahamians can still travel to the U.S. temporarily if they have a travel visa, but they will not be granted work permits.

TPS is a form of humanitarian relief intended for people from designated countries where war, famine, natural disaster, or other crises make it difficult for people to return home safely. People with TPS can generally stay in the U.S. for a period ranging from six and 18 months, but the Department of Homeland Security can extend this time if conditions in their home country remain unstable. Those protected under TPS are granted work permits, allowing them to support themselves while living in the U.S. Created by the Immigration Act of 1990, TPS has protected immigrants from 22 countries at various times.

“Generally, under circumstances like this really catastrophic hurricane … TPS would be granted,” the Migration Policy Institute’s Doris Meissner told the Washington Post. The U.S. has over the years offered TPS to residents of Haiti and Nepal after earthquakes devastated those countries in 2010 and 2015 respectively, as well as in South Sudan and Venezuela following armed conflicts in those countries. In the late 1990s, Honduras and Nicaragua were designated for TPS after Hurricane Mitch killed more than 11,000 people in Central America.

One of the Trump administration’s main immigration goals has been to overhaul how the U.S. grants legal immigration status. It envisions a “merit-based” immigration system in which individual immigrants are selected based on their education level, relevant professional skills, and financial self-sufficiency. But critics say the administration is setting the bar so high that many Americans couldn’t pass it.

Trump’s goal of limiting legal immigration has run afoul of many longstanding U.S. immigration policies, but TPS might be the biggest affront to his vision of merit-based entry. Not only does the program extend legal protections to people who want to enter the U.S. based entirely on what’s happening in their home countries, but it also applies to people, whether they are tourists or undocumented immigrants, who are already in the U.S. when TPS is granted. As such, it came as no surprise to some humanitarian workers in Washington that this administration would not be continuing the tradition of offering a temporary home to Bahamians fleeing the storm.

The impacts of Trump’s new TPS approach will likely extend far beyond the hurricane season. As climate change continues to increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, it’s likely that ever-larger numbers of environmental refugees will be forced to leave their homes behind in search of safety. According to a new report from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, for example, 7 million people worldwide were displaced by natural disasters in the first six months of 2019 — “the highest mid-year figure ever reported for displacements associated with disasters.” But with the White House closing off avenues for migrants hoping for respite in the U.S., those climate refugees will see their options shrink just as they need help the most.

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U.S. won’t take climate refugees displaced by Hurricane Dorian

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Scientists are baffled by a giant spike in this greenhouse gas (it’s not CO2)

The unexpected culprit that could throw a wrench in the world’s efforts to stop climate change? Runaway methane levels. Researchers monitoring air samples have noticed an alarming observation: Methane levels are on the rise and no one’s quite sure why.

NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory scientists have been analyzing air samples since 1983. Once a week, metal flasks containing air from around the world at different elevations find their way to the Boulder, Colorado, lab. The scientists look at 55 greenhouse gases, including methane and its more-famous climate villain, CO2.

You might know methane as the stuff of cow farts, natural gas, and landfills. It’s also an incredibly potent greenhouse gas, absorbing heat 25 times more effectively than CO2. While the rise of carbon dioxide has been stealing the spotlight as of late, methane levels have also been on the incline.

Methane levels, not surprisingly, have been steadily rising since the Industrial Revolution. Things picked up in 1980 and soon after, the NOAA scientists began consistently measuring methane. Levels were high but flattened out by the turn of the millenium. So when levels began to increase at a rapid rate in 2007, and then even faster in 2014, scientists were baffled. No one’s best guesses came close to predicting current methane levels of around 1,867 parts per billion as of 2018. This means studies evaluating the effects of climate change and action plans to address them, like the Paris Climate Agreement, may be based on downplayed climate crisis forecasts.

Methane levels from 1950 to present. 2° Institute

So what’s the big deal? Carbon dioxide emissions are relatively well understood and can be tracked to various human activities like transportation and electricity, which means policies can be enacted to target and lower emissions. Pinning down the source of methane, on the other hand, is a little more complicated.

“The really fascinating thing about methane,” Lori Bruhwiler, a NOAA research scientist, told Undark, “is the fact that almost everything we humans do has an effect on the methane budget, from producing food to producing fuel to disposing of waste.”

As if things weren’t complicated enough, a study published in AGU100 distinguished microbe-produced methane from fossil fuel methane — historically the more abundant one — and found that “natural” methane had taken the lead. This unexpected result might explain the upticks in methane levels that do not seem correlated with human activity. Of course, it could also be any number of human-made causes, including warming temperatures freeing up the gas and more frequent floods amplifying the methane output of wetlands.

Natural methane or not, this finding doesn’t exonerate anyone. The study’s authors made that clear in their concluding remarks.

“If the increased methane burden is driven by increased emissions from natural sources,” they wrote, “and if this is a climate feedback—the warming feeding the warming—then there is urgency to reduce anthropogenic emissions, which we can control.”

Curbing methane could be a powerful tool in our upcoming climate fight. Since the greenhouse gas is relatively short lived, only around 12 years, versus the 20 to 200 years of CO2, and is more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, addressing methane emissions could be effective as a short-term climate remediation tool. The first step? Bringing more attention to methane so we can figure out where it comes from and nip it in the bud.

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Scientists are baffled by a giant spike in this greenhouse gas (it’s not CO2)

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The tax bill for many big polluters last year: $0

Adapting to our warming world is expensive. It costs a lot to build sea walls, cure disease outbreaks, and rebuild after floods. It takes money to invent better batteries, turn farms into carbon sinks, and replace polluting power plants with clean energy.

Instead of maybe taxing carbon emissions to pay for all this, the United States is giving tax breaks to the giant corporations profiting from fossil fuels. Several of the biggest of them paid no taxes last year, according to a new report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, or ITEP, a nonpartisan think tank. It’s the first look at the effect of the 2017 Trump tax cuts, which slashed the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. Companies are still finding ways to avoid paying anything.

Last year, for instance, Chevron made $4.5 billion in profits. If it had paid the (newly reduced) corporate tax rate of 21 percent, it would have coughed up $955 million in taxes. That’s enough money to triple funding for ARPA-E, the U.S. energy research and development program that pays for moonshot inventions like wind-turbines on kites. Instead, Uncle Sam handed Chevron $181 million at tax time.

Power utilities and oil and gas companies account for 22 of the 60 biggest companies that paid no taxes last year, according to ITEP’s study. Some of the well-known names on the list include Kinder Morgan, Occidental Petroleum, and Halliburton. The think tank didn’t crunch the most recent numbers for every company, just the biggest ones, but if you go back a few years, ITEP calculated that oil and gas companies avoided paying $27 billion in taxes from 2008 through 2015, while power utilities evaded $86 billion.

To be sure, there’s often a good reason for a tax break. Politicians use them to help get new industries — like the renewable energy industry — up on their feet. Duke Energy, for instance, got a tax credit of $129 million for renewable energy production in 2018. Economists call such credits and exemptions “tax expenditures.” It’s like the government is spending money because these tax breaks leave a hole in the federal budget.

The problem is that many of these subsidies outlive their usefulness.

“Unlike ARPA-E, which has to rationalize its existence and budget every year, these tax expenditures — and they are expenditures — just stay there even if they are no longer relevant,” said Matt Gardner, senior fellow at ITEP. “Are these tax breaks still useful? We want to be in a position where lawmakers are asking if they still make sense every year.”

And about ARPA-E’s budget. In the ten years of its existence, the program has yielded 1,500 inventions (of things like high-energy iron slurry batteries and clothes that automatically warm you up when it gets cold) and over 50 new companies. Nonpartisan groups say ARPA-E provides a good return on investment, and Republicans and Democrats come together to pay for it every year. But the Trump administration wants to cut its budget to zero.

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The tax bill for many big polluters last year: $0

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Renewable energy outpaced coal in April for the first time ever

In April, renewables outpaced coal in energy production in the U.S. for the first time — ever. And it looks like the trend could continue through the end of May. Is even our energy sector getting KonMari-ed?

Coal is typically our second largest source of energy after natural gas. That changed this spring: Renewable energy, like hydro, solar, wind, and geothermal, is projected to exceed coal-powered energy by 325,000 megawatt hours per day in April, and by 32,000 megawatt hours per day in May, according to a new report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.


This landmark win for clean energy is, however, short-lived. By June, these same projections estimate coal will reclaim its No. 2 position. Coal-powered plants undergo seasonal cycles of output that often result in a slow spring period as plants close for maintenance to prepare for the more demanding summer. Coincidentally, spring also sees hydro power spike in energy production. The IEEFA estimates that it will be a few years still before renewables can consistently surpass coal in energy production.

The growth of renewable technology over coal reflects the ascent of natural gas to energy dominance. In April 2015, natural gas saw its moment in the spotlight as it outpaced coal for the first time. After a few fluctuations, by the beginning of 2018, natural gas became the uncontested primary energy source. So that’s a good indicator for renewables.

“Coal’s proponents may dismiss these monthly and quarterly ups and downs in generation share as unimportant,” the IEEFA report concluded. “But we believe they are indicative of the fundamental disruption happening across the electric generation sector.”

With over 100 U.S. cities committed to clean energy, and with the price of solar and wind falling by 90 percent and 70 percent, respectively, in the last decade, the future’s looking bright — and powered by renewables.

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Renewable energy outpaced coal in April for the first time ever

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How one activist used a little shaming and a lot of patience to clean up Chinese factories

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

One humid July day, the Chinese environmentalist Ma Jun stood in front of an alley sandwiched by two warehouses at the factory of an Apple supplier called Catcher, a two-hour bullet-train ride south of Beijing. He wore safety goggles and scribbled in a notebook. Two Apple executives flanked him.

Guides from Catcher toured Ma around towering black tanks and large sheds containing vats and pipes that disposed of the toxic chromium waste produced in manufacturing parts for iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks. Apple and Catcher said the state-of-the-art system processed the waste without any discharge. Ma’s group, the Institute for Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE), was considering writing a report on the technology, if it could verify the claim. After a tour of the nearly 500-acre facility, Ma and the executives adjourned to an office conference room on the campus. The atmosphere was cordial, one of partners rather than adversaries.

Apple’s meetings with Ma weren’t always like this. The first one, at its California headquarters in 2011, when he confronted the company about environmental problems at multiple factories, was tense. IPE had issued a damning report on the behavior of tech companies in China, and Apple took a year and a half to set up a meeting with IPE. The discussion lasted about five hours, with Apple ceding little beyond a vague statement about transparency. More than seven years later, IPE has helped audit many of Apple’s factories and suppliers in China, and the group now ranks the company first on its list of the most transparent companies.

Apple isn’t the only company that Ma has helped push toward reform. Since IPE was founded in 2006, his team has gotten more than 1,300 factories to address environmental messes such as discharging waste into rivers. The secret to Ma’s success is a clever tool: IPE has compiled a database of more than 1.3 million environmental violations committed by Chinese factories. It publicly displays this information in online maps and apps, pushing factories and the brands they supply to clean up. Many of them do, agreeing to third-party audits approved by IPE and its partner organizations to clear their records from IPE’s database. With this, Ma has convinced two of the world’s most opaque institutions — international corporations and the Chinese government — that publicly monitoring pollution is in their interest. For his accomplishments, he has won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize and many other awards, making him a major face of China’s environmental movement.

Despite the accolades, Ma’s demeanor is humble and self-deprecating. He sees his work as an effort to help companies, not undermine them. His modesty is likely one of the reasons the Chinese government doesn’t feel threatened by him. “There were all these fire-breathing Greenpeace types,” one observer of the Goldman award ceremony told me. “And then there was Ma Jun.”

On smogless days in Beijing, the city’s west side is visible from IPE’s office tower. Ma Jun, 50, grew up there in the early years of the Cultural Revolution, born in 1968 to an engineer and government administrator. Mao Zedong had disbanded traditional schools, and Ma spent much of his childhood playing with crickets and beetles and exploring farmland. His childlike curiosity has stayed with him, though the fields have been overrun by Beijing’s sprawl. After graduating from college, he found a job as an assistant for the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s leading English newspaper. He cut out every environmental story he found, studying what few articles he came across, and spent vacations reporting on water pollution in China. The country’s rivers, he discovered, were catastrophically polluted and overdrawn. He wrote a book about the issue that reached a wider audience than he’d expected, and soon, among global environmental circles, it began drawing comparisons to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.

After the book’s publication, Ma worked for an energy consulting firm in Beijing and then left to study at Yale’s World Fellows program, which helps train up-and-coming leaders from around the world. He studied American environmental law, contemplating which regulatory tools could be best applied in China. By the end of his time in New Haven, he’d written a new book that argued for progressive legal reforms to Chinese environmental law, including ones that emphasized greater environmental transparency from both government and corporations along with remedies for the victims of pollution. Editors in China were afraid to publish it. “They told me I’d forgotten where I was,” he recalls.

Instead of publishing the book, he decided to implement its ideas through a non-governmental organization. For its first project, in 2006, Ma’s three-person staff mined every available government record of water pollution in China, transcribing them by hand, then publishing a rudimentary interactive map online. “In the beginning, all that work felt useless,” says Wang Jingjing, one of IPE’s early staffers, and now married to Ma. IPE’s first breakthrough came after Panasonic executives contacted it about one of their factories on the map. Together with IPE, they orchestrated a full cleanup. Soon, other companies began contacting IPE for help, often after journalists or activists used IPE’s map to expose factories’ environmental violations.

IPE’s reputation continued to grow within environmental circles, and in 2014, it released a pollution-tracking app now called the Blue Map. The app’s greatest success came amid somewhat awkward circumstances: in China’s most famous environmental documentary film, Under the Dome — which the government first promoted and then censored — Chai Jing, the film’s reporter-director, gave the app a shout-out, encouraging people to download it. The film received around 300 million views within a week of its release, and the app crashed. To get it back online, IPE turned to software engineers who manage train ticketing systems during China’s lunar new year, the greatest annual migration in the world, when 400 million people return home for the holidays.

For thousands of years, Chinese rulers have struggled to enforce laws passed in Beijing at the local level. “Heaven is high and the emperor is far away,” goes one proverb. Local officials are largely promoted based on economic growth, which makes them wary of enforcing costly environmental laws. It’s common, for example, for officials to tip off factories before environmental inspections occur, reminding them, say, to turn on the scrubbers that clean the emissions passing through a smokestack. Regulators and judges have limited power to prevent such moves, since they’re subordinate to these officials or can be easily ignored. In the short term, it’s often more effective for IPE to sidestep local governments and directly contact brands and factories about the information it’s collected. After seeing their records made public, factory owners often agree to address them. “What we’ve done is kind of like Chinese acupuncture,” Ma told me. “You press one spot in one place, and that causes a reaction in another.”

If IPE can persuade companies to behave better, Ma argues to skeptical officials, this makes the Communist Party look more effective and enhances social stability — the only performance metric the government considers as important as economic growth. It’s working: Over the years, as Ma has won the trust of China’s leaders, his access to them has increased. A few weeks after the Catcher visit, he spent two days in a neighboring province training local officials on the benefits of transparency. “It’s funny, local regulators love him,” says Alex Wang, a former lawyer at the Natural Resources Defense Council, who is on IPE’s board.

In China, environmental activism tends to be tolerated more than other types of advocacy, even under President Xi Jinping’s more repressive politics. Yet Ma is careful not to push the government too far. Scholars who study Chinese politics sometimes refer to its authoritarianism as strategically “consultative” of civil society; officials have actively asked for comment and feedback from grassroots groups and independent experts on major policies like the 2014 Environmental Protection Law. Influential public figures like Ma have developed a kind of expert status in official circles, and they’ve worked hard to keep the Chinese government open to allowing — and even inviting — such public feedback. Sometimes, maintaining that cooperation requires backpedaling and finesse. Once, a team from one of IPE’s partner NGOs was driving around the countryside with a camera, photographing factories with violations listed in IPE’s database. It posted the photos on social media, revealing the precise locations of the pollution. Ma received a firm order to halt the project, which was unnerving the government. He assented, knowing that alienating officials could result in IPE losing favor, or even being shut down.

Ma knows that this delicate dance means progress is slow. Moving hundreds of China’s millions of factories toward compliance, “is only a drop in the bucket,” he admitted to me. IPE, with 37 staffers, cannot monitor all of Chinese manufacturing on its own, and it will need more reform and resources from the government to scale up its approach. State-owned enterprises, too, will need to become more transparent.

At the Catcher tour, the wrap-up meeting in the conference room ended well. Ma smiled and said he was impressed with the factory’s efforts. There was just one matter left to be sorted out: At the end of the disposal system sat a white container about the size of a doghouse, holding the final waste product, which was shipped to a recycler. For Apple and Catcher to receive the zero-discharge rating they sought, IPE would have to confirm that the waste was being properly disposed of offsite. The executives promised to follow up on that, and the mood in the room remained jovial.

In the car ride back to the train station, Ma was reflective. A week earlier, in Beijing, Dell officials had arrived to discuss speeding up their environmental auditing process, challenging Apple for the top spot in IPE’s rankings. “To see what the best companies can do now,” he said optimistically, “it’s just incredible.”

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How one activist used a little shaming and a lot of patience to clean up Chinese factories

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John Hickenlooper has a curious connection to a Trump Cabinet secretary

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

Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper’s ties to the oil and gas industry run deep, especially when compared to those of other candidates in the unwieldy 2020 Democratic field. In some ways, given that Hickenlooper served two terms in the fifth-largest oil-and-gas-producing state, these connections are not surprising. But what may be less apparent is that his government service also intersected with David Bernhardt, the new secretary of the Interior responsible for opening public lands to industry development. Hickenlooper has also often ended up aligned with Bernhardt’s former law and lobbying firm, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, on matters regarding fracking, the use of public lands, and support for the oil and gas industry over the interests of consumers.

Any governor of Colorado, no matter what party, would inevitably come into contact with the firm, which represents dozens of clients across the energy sector alone. His own chief of staff, Doug Friednash, came from Brownstein in 2015, only to return to it again before the governor’s tenure ended last year. Hickenlooper has been dubbed “Frackenlooper” by critics who claim he’s prioritized major oil and gas development at the expense of citizen activism.

Brownstein is one of the most profitable lobbying firms in the country, and its influence naturally extends into Colorado government as well. According to the Denver alt-weekly Westword, “When there’s a hot political issue in Colorado, the Brownstein firm usually has a seat at the table … and sometimes more than one.”

Now, internal emails reveal how the law firm enjoyed a seat at the table very close to the governor’s. They show how Brownstein became a conduit for the relationship between Hickenlooper’s administration and one of its most prominent Colorado clients, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), an industry group that led the way in trying to thwart local attempts to restrict fracking. In this matter, pitting local communities against the fossil fuel industry, Bernhardt, who was the chair of Brownstein’s natural resources division, and Hickenlooper’s administration repeatedly fought on the same side to clear hurdles to drilling.

In 2012 and 2013, two Colorado towns, Longmont and Fort Collins, had placed a moratorium on fracking development. The communities, worried about potential groundwater contamination, argued that municipalities should have the right to reject Colorado’s fracking expansion, setting up a face-off with the considerably more lax Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, whose appointments by the governor often include regulators with extensive energy sector connections.

Hickenlooper’s administration sued Longmont and Fort Collins for preempting state law, and, on behalf of COGA, Brownstein sued them in a case that worked its way all the way up to the state Supreme Court. Before becoming Ryan Zinke’s deputy at the Department of the Interior, Bernhardt was the energy and natural resources chair at the firm with broad responsibilities and a long list of his own clients in the oil sector. In 2016, the state Supreme Court struck down the bans in Longmont and Fort Collins, setting a precedent statewide and providing a big win for Brownstein, Hickenlooper, and COGA.

“We appreciate the Supreme Court’s guidance on balancing private property rights and local government jurisdiction of oil and gas operations in Colorado,” Hickenlooper said in a celebratory statement that struck his usual theme of working with industry, not against it. “We’ll continue to work creatively and energetically with communities and industry to ensure our world-class environment is protected while remaining a place that is welcoming to business and jobs.”

It is unclear how direct a role Bernhardt played in the industry’s fight as chair of the natural resources division, and the matter doesn’t appear on the listed conflicts of interest in his ethics disclosure. But he was front and center celebrating his firm’s victory in a May 2016 press release issued from the firm: “This case involved precedent-setting issues pertaining to state preemption of oil and gas activities,” Bernhardt said in a statement commending his employee, whose “knowledge of energy and land use law were on exceptional display in front of the Supreme Court, showing the depth and breadth of our team.”

A few months after the 2016 state Supreme Court win, environmental activists were gathering signatures for a pair of ballot initiatives, Nos. 75 and 78, that would have given municipalities the power to ban fracking and force fracking operations to be located 2,500 feet from occupied buildings. COGA objected to the efforts and sought a series of meetings, including getting oil and gas executives on the “governor’s dance card” to plot a strategy to defeat or at least undermine the initiatives, according to emails obtained through state requests by the watchdog group Documented and shared with Mother Jones.

The ballot initiatives barely gathered support, and neither one cleared the threshold for enough valid signatures to make the 2016 cycle. Activists tried again in 2018 with Proposition 112, a state initiative that would have required the sites for new oil and gas wells to be located more than 2,500 feet away from any occupied building — schools, homes, and sensitive areas — because of health concerns. Once more, Hickenlooper was on the side of COGA and opposed Proposition 112, arguing that the measure would impose excessive burdens on the economy and state budget. Both the governor and COGA pointed to the estimate that 85 percent of non-federal lands would be off the table. The industry contributed $38 million to help defeat it and back a different initiative, which also failed.

Nonetheless, before leaving office in 2018, the state commission struck a compromise ahead of a newly elected Democratic wave, unanimously approving a more narrow order setting new fracking operations back 1,000 feet from schools.

Now Hickenlooper is on the campaign trail, Bernhardt is running the Department of the Interior, and COGA is working with the Colorado arm of the American Petroleum Institute in its next fight: preventing the new Democratic majority in Colorado from passing a law to give local entities more power to curb fracking. Tracee Bentley, Hickenlooper’s legislative director at the time, started the American Petroleum Institute’s Colorado arm in 2015 and is working on the side of oil and gas on this effort.

Last year, Bentley hosted an American Petroleum Institute roundtable in which she sounded the alarm about citizen efforts to rein in the oil industry and praised compromise in terms that Hickenlooper now echoes on the campaign trail. “I know that the key to our success is collaboration,” she said in a statement, “and we will continue to work hand-in-hand with government partners, communities and stakeholders alike to ensure that our shared future betters the lives of all Coloradans.”

Appearing on the same panel was then-deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.

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John Hickenlooper has a curious connection to a Trump Cabinet secretary

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Just how bad for you is breathing in air pollution? Well, it depends whom you ask.

Ask almost any scientist how bad air pollution is for people, and the answer is likely, pretty darn bad. Last week, a global report published by the Health Effects Institute found that breathing dirty air shortens the average expected lifespan of a child born today’s by 20 months, compared to how long they would live in the absence of air pollution. Robert O’Keefe, Vice President of the Institute, said in a statement that the research is part of “a growing worldwide consensus – among the World Health Organization, World Bank, International Energy Agency and others – that air pollution poses a major global public health challenge.”

But if you listen to Tony Cox, chair of the Chartered Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee and appointee of former Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt, you’ll hear a completely different message. During a public meeting in late March, Cox said he is “actually appalled” with what he considers a limited body of evidence that links particulate matter in the air with premature death.

Not surprisingly, Cox’s statements have landed him in hot water with prominent scientists and public health advocates who say he could wind up undermining decades of work to clean up America’s air since Cox’s committee has been charged with advising the Environmental Protection Agency on its air quality standards.

The EPA is in the midst of reassessing its national air quality standards, which it does every five years to ensure that it is reviewing the latest scientific evidence available. It recently submitted a 1,800-page ‘Integrated Science Assessment’ compiling research on the health impacts of particulate matter pollution to the Chartered Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, which is independent of the EPA but influential in their final decision. That committee will give its recommendations on whether to strengthen or adjust existing federal standards.

Under the Trump administration, the Chartered Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee has undergone somewhat of a scientific makeunder. For one, the committee is much smaller than it has been in the past, once boasting 28 members and now staffed only by its minimum of seven. Environmental organizations contend that former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt and other members of Trump’s administration appointed largely pro-fossil fuel industry members, including Cox — who has previously worked as a consultant for the American Petroleum Institute and the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association. The EPA also disbanded a Particulate Matter Review Panel that previously weighed in Integrated Science Assessment alongside Cox’s committee.

As head of the committee advising the EPA on air quality, Cox has recommended that the agency only consider studies that make a causal link between air pollution and health outcomes through a scientific approach called manipulative causality — essentially a way of determining a potential hazard’s effect on health by looking at what happens when exposure stops. But limiting the scientific evidence under consideration to one methodology versus what scientists call a “weight of evidence approach” would exclude the vast body of research on air pollution.

Jonathan Samet, the former chair of the Chartered Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, explained to Grist that using the weight of evidence method has been the practice for policy decisions for half a century. “This is the kind of approach used to decide that smoking causes lung cancer or that smoking causes heart disease,” Samet said.“These are constructs that are broad and holistic and have long been in place,” he said.

Samet compared manipulative causality to waiting to see whether a smoker’s health improves once they quit the habit. The approach can be prohibitively time-consuming, and it’s just one way of assessing the broad health implications of a potential toxin. And importantly for the EPA’s upcoming air quality decision, there aren’t many studies published already that fall within this framework.

In a scathing article published last week in the journal Science, research director Gretchen Goldman of the Center for Science and Democracy and the Union of Concerned Scientists and Harvard biostatistician Francesca Dominici wrote that “a requirement of manipulative causation fails to recognize the full depth and robustness of existing approaches in epidemiology, statistics, and causal inference and the degree to which they deal with confounding factors.”

A separate statement by the Union of Concerned Scientists contended that if the EPA adopts Cox’s recommendation via the Chartered Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee for limiting studies to the much narrower approach, “It will be virtually impossible to prove particle pollution harms public health, despite the vast array of studies that show otherwise.”

In an email to Grist, a spokesperson for the EPA wrote that “Administrator Wheeler thanks the CASAC for all their efforts and will take all the CASAC advice under consideration.”

Vijay Limaye is a fellow at the Natural Resources Defense Council who previously worked at the EPA and helped write the Integrated Science Assessment that Cox’s committee is now scrutinizing. Limaye says the vast majority of the evidence it considers, as well as the research compiled in this week’s State of the Global Air, would be “pushed to the side” under Cox’s approach. “It would basically rob the EPA of a number of tools it’s already been using to characterize the harmful effects of air pollutants.”

The Chartered Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee will finalize its particulate matter review of the EPA’s assessment in the coming weeks.


Just how bad for you is breathing in air pollution? Well, it depends whom you ask.

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Drawdown – Paul Hawken



The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming

Paul Hawken

Genre: Science & Nature

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: April 18, 2017

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group


•  New York Times  bestseller  • The 100 most substantive solutions to reverse global warming, based on meticulous research by leading scientists and policymakers around the world “At this point in time, the  Drawdown  book is exactly what is needed; a credible, conservative solution-by-solution narrative that we can do it. Reading it is an effective inoculation against the widespread perception of doom that humanity cannot and will not solve the climate crisis. Reported by-effects include increased determination and a sense of grounded hope.” —Per Espen Stoknes, Author,  What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming   “There’s been no real way for ordinary people to get an understanding of what they can do and what impact it can have. There remains no single, comprehensive, reliable compendium of carbon-reduction solutions across sectors. At least until now. . . . The public is hungry for this kind of practical wisdom.” —David Roberts,  Vox “This is the ideal environmental sciences textbook—only it is too interesting and inspiring to be called a textbook.” —Peter Kareiva, Director of the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, UCLA In the face of widespread fear and apathy, an international coalition of researchers, professionals, and scientists have come together to offer a set of realistic and bold solutions to climate change. One hundred techniques and practices are described here—some are well known; some you may have never heard of. They range from clean energy to educating girls in lower-income countries to land use practices that pull carbon out of the air. The solutions exist, are economically viable, and communities throughout the world are currently enacting them with skill and determination. If deployed collectively on a global scale over the next thirty years, they represent a credible path forward, not just to slow the earth’s warming but to reach drawdown, that point in time when greenhouse gases in the atmosphere peak and begin to decline. These measures promise cascading benefits to human health, security, prosperity, and well-being—giving us every reason to see this planetary crisis as an opportunity to create a just and livable world.

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Drawdown – Paul Hawken

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Climate change could push tropical diseases to Alaska, according to a new study

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Nearly a billion people could be newly at risk of tropical diseases like dengue fever and Zika as climate change shifts the range of mosquitoes, according to a new study.

Since the life cycle of mosquitoes is temperature sensitive, scientists have long been concerned about how their prevalence might spread as the world continues to warm. The study is one of the first to examine in detail how that might happen by using an overlap of two disease-carrying mosquitoes’ range and projected monthly temperature changes under a variety of future warming scenarios.

In the most extreme scenario of more than 4 degrees C (7.2 degrees F) warming by 2080, certain tropical disease-carrying species of mosquitoes currently found only seasonally in the U.S. South and southern Europe could greatly expand their range, as far north as Alaska and northern Finland — north of the Arctic Circle. That would force a redefinition of the term “tropical” diseases.

The sheer enormity of people who could be exposed gave the lead author pause. “It’s rather shocking,” said Sadie Ryan, a disease ecologist at the University of Florida’s Emerging Pathogens Institute, in an interview with Grist.

In Europe alone, the number of people exposed to the dengue-carrying Aedes egypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes could roughly double within the next 30 years. In currently warm climates like the Caribbean, West Africa, and Southeast Asia, tropical disease incedence could actually decrease as those climates become so warm that they “exceed the upper thermal limits for transmission.” In other words: It will be too hot for the mosquitoes to effectively carry dengue.

On the whole, “climate change will dramatically increase the potential for expansion and intensification of Aedes-borne virus transmission,” according to the study.

“Climate change is one of the biggest threats to global health,” Ryan said. “There are many more vector-borne diseases out there that are temperature sensitive.” Ryan also cautioned that mosquitoes, ticks, bark beetles, and invasive fungus threaten animals and plants as well as human health, and climate change is making many of them worse.

Malaria, which was not considered in this study, already affects nearly half of the world’s population, according to the World Health Organization, killing more than 400,000 people each year — one of the leading causes of death for children in Africa. Previous studies have shown that hundreds of millions of people could be newly exposed to malaria by the end of the century, which is carried by a different species of mosquito. Dengue is one of the most common tropical diseases, but it is far less deadly than malaria — out of 100 million infections, it causes about 22,000 deaths each year.

According to the work from Ryan and her colleagues, Europe could be hardest hit because it sits on the leading edge of where mosquitoes can now survive. The worst-case scenario that Ryan and her colleagues explore is actually worse than business-as-usual — it’s a world where civilization doubles down on fossil fuels and planetary systems cause the world to heat beyond the 3.4 degrees C (6.1 degrees F) currently projected.

Ryan said her results should send a clear message to public health departments to boost their budgets in preparation.

There are countless reasons to be scared of climate change, and invading mosquitos might be one of the most tangible. Still, Ryan points out that it’d probably be among the least of our worries — sea-level rise, food shortages, mass migration, and financial collapse would probably pose a much greater risk to civilization.

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Climate change could push tropical diseases to Alaska, according to a new study

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Pro-Trump billionaires continue to bankroll climate denial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pro-Trump billionaires continue to bankroll climate denial

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