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Researchers blast ‘forever chemicals’ into oblivion with plasma

Christopher Sales is an environmental microbiologist, and until recently, his world was about harnessing the power of microorganisms to break down contaminants in the environment. But a resilient intruder that does not succumb to the same old tricks has shaken up the remediation community and led Sales to look outside of his field for a solution. It’s a chemical that’s been found in water, soil, and food all over the planet: PFAS.

PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a group of chemical compounds used in carpet, waterproof clothing, nonstick pans, and many other common products, that have gone unregulated and been dumped into the environment for decades. Exposure studies have linked some forms of PFAS to thyroid disease and some cancers, but there’s very little health research on most of them. They’ve been dubbed “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down over time, and now scientists like Sales are racing to figure out how to clean PFAS up.

“PFAS is becoming a big issue,” Sales told Grist. “It’s being found in a lot of different places, and unfortunately we haven’t found a microorganism that can degrade it.”

Sales is a professor at Drexel University, and he has experimented a little bit with biological treatments for PFAS with little success. But while chatting with one of his colleagues at Drexel’s Nyheim Plasma Institute, he learned that plasma was being used to kill bacteria and other contaminants in water, and wondered if it might be effective on PFAS. Plasma is the fourth state of matter after solids, liquids, and gases, and it is created by applying heat or electricity to gas. In September 2017, when the Department of Defense announced new funding for technologies to degrade PFAS, Sales asked the Nyheim researchers if they would be interested in collaborating. They secured a grant and got to work.

In January, Sales published a study detailing the results of that collaboration. After testing a new plasma-based treatment system on water samples contaminated with 12 different types of PFAS, they found that it degraded significant amounts of all of the compounds, and for some types of PFAS, the system degraded more than 90 percent of the contamination.

Degrading PFAS doesn’t necessarily remove their threat, because it can result in new, smaller molecules of PFAS. The real target, and the more challenging one, is to defluorinate them, or break apart their carbon-fluorine bond. In some of the tests at Drexel, the plasma treatment system successfully defluorinated about a quarter of the compounds.

“In terms of treatment efficiency, plasma technology ranks really high,” said Jinxia Liu, an environmental engineering professor at McGill University who was not involved in the study. Liu said that plasma treatments for PFAS are promising because they do not require any added chemicals and do not seem to produce harmful byproducts.

There are two ways to remove PFAS from water. Right now, the most widely used approach is to filter them out. But because PFAS don’t break down, filters just transfer the contamination from one medium to another. If the filter ends up in a landfill, PFAS can still seep out into groundwater. The other approach is to try to destroy the compounds altogether. Currently, the only scalable method to destroy PFAS is incineration, but that requires large amounts of heat and is very energy intensive.

Sales’ plasma treatment still requires energy, but much less. In plasma, what were once gas molecules have been broken apart, creating what scientists call a highly reactive environment. The freely floating electrons, ions, and unstable neutral atoms in this environment can be deployed as a sort of arsenal of weapons against other molecules. Depending on what the original gas was, some of these weapons will attack pollutants like PFAS. In their study, the Drexel researchers used regular air, which is cheap and abundant, as the gas.

The study results are encouraging, but they do not necessarily translate to a breakthrough in real-world decontamination efforts. The concentrations of PFAS in the water in Sales’ experiments were much higher than levels that are found in the environment. Sales said that at lower levels, the compounds become more difficult for the plasma to target. But this system was just a proof of concept on one liter of water. If Sales can secure another grant, he plans to scale the experiment up.

Another lab at Clarkson University has developed a plasma treatment system with comparable results using real groundwater samples. Last fall, the Clarkson researchers were also able to test it in the real world with a field demonstration on the groundwater at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. Groundwater near military bases is notoriously contaminated with PFAS, since the chemicals have long been a key ingredient in the firefighting foam used to put out blazes during training exercises.

The EPA recently announced long-awaited plans to develop a drinking water limit for two specific PFAS compounds, PFOA and PFOS. Currently, the agency has only set a recommended “health advisory level” for drinking water of 70 parts per trillion. Although they haven’t published the results yet, Clarkson researcher Thomas Holsen told Grist that his team’s system lowered PFAS concentrations below that level at Wright-Patterson in most of the experiments. Their system can treat one gallon per minute, which doesn’t exactly compare to the filtration systems at wastewater treatment plants that process hundreds of gallons per minute. Then again, those systems don’t actually destroy PFAS.

Liu said the best application of plasma might be at the end of a treatment train, after other technologies have concentrated the contamination. “There are a lot of different treatment needs. There’s drinking water treatment, groundwater, processing water” — the kind used in industrial plants. “There’s no one solution that fits all. People need all these different technologies, and it depends on the situation,” she said.

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The Demon in the Machine – Paul Davies


The Demon in the Machine

How Hidden Webs of Information Are Solving the Mystery of Life

Paul Davies

Genre: Science & Nature

Price: $17.99

Publish Date: October 16, 2019

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Seller: Chicago Distribution Center

What is life? For generations, scientists have struggled to make sense of this fundamental question, for life really does look like magic: even a humble bacterium accomplishes things so dazzling that no human engineer can match it. Huge advances in molecular biology over the past few decades have served only to deepen the mystery. In this penetrating and wide-ranging book, world-renowned physicist and science communicator Paul Davies searches for answers in a field so new and fast-moving that it lacks a name; it is a domain where biology, computing, logic, chemistry, quantum physics, and nanotechnology intersect. At the heart of these diverse fields, Davies explains, is the concept of information: a quantity which has the power to unify biology with physics, transform technology and medicine, and force us to fundamentally reconsider what it means to be alive—even illuminating the age-old question of whether we are alone in the universe. From life’s murky origins to the microscopic engines that run the cells of our bodies, The Demon in the Machine journeys across an astounding landscape of cutting-edge science. Weaving together cancer and consciousness, two-headed worms and bird navigation, Davies reveals how biological organisms garner and process information to conjure order out of chaos, opening a window onto the secret of life itself. Electronic rights 50/50 Ebook notes:  The Publishers will not knowingly or systematically sell or allow downloads of the Electronic Edition outside the Territory. The Electronic Edition shall not be enhanced, amplified, adapted, abridged, bundled or combined with any other work/s nor vary from the Print Edition in any material way without the prior written approval of the Proprietor. For the avoidance of doubt, the right to sell or distribute the Electronic Edition via any digital subscription service is not permitted under this Agreement.

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The Demon in the Machine – Paul Davies

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Every Tool’s a Hammer – Adam Savage


Every Tool’s a Hammer

Life Is What You Make It

Adam Savage

Genre: Science & Nature

Price: $12.99

Publish Date: May 7, 2019

Publisher: Atria Books


“An imperative how-to for creativity.” —Nick Offerman Adam Savage—star of Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters and one of the most beloved figures in science and tech—shares his golden rules of creativity, from finding inspiration to following through and successfully making your idea a reality. Every Tool ’ s a Hammer is a chronicle of my life as a maker. It’s an exploration of making and of my own productive obsessions, but it’s also a permission slip of sorts from me to you. Permission to grab hold of the things you’re interested in, that fascinate you, and to dive deeper into them to see where they lead you. Through stories from forty-plus years of making and molding, building and break­ing, along with the lessons I learned along the way, this book is meant to be a toolbox of problem solving, complete with a shop’s worth of notes on the tools, techniques, and materials that I use most often. Things like: In Every Tool There Is a Hammer —don’t wait until everything is perfect to begin a project, and if you don’t have the exact right tool for a task, just use whatever’s handy; Increase Your Loose Tolerance —making is messy and filled with screwups, but that’s okay, as creativity is a path with twists and turns and not a straight line to be found; Use More Cooling Fluid —it prolongs the life of blades and bits, and it prevents tool failure, but beyond that it’s a reminder to slow down and reduce the fric­tion in your work and relationships; Screw Before You Glue —mechanical fasteners allow you to change and modify a project while glue is forever but sometimes you just need the right glue, so I dig into which ones will do the job with the least harm and best effects. This toolbox also includes lessons from many other incredible makers and creators, including: Jamie Hyneman, Nick Offerman, Pixar director Andrew Stanton, Oscar-winner Guillermo del Toro, artist Tom Sachs, and chef Traci Des Jardins. And if everything goes well, we will hopefully save you a few mistakes (and maybe fingers) as well as help you turn your curiosities into creations. I hope this book inspires you to build, make, invent, explore, and—most of all—enjoy the thrills of being a creator.

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Every Tool’s a Hammer – Adam Savage

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Indoor Gardening For the Brown Thumb

Do you have a knack for killing your indoor houseplants? While all plants require some TLC, cultivating a green thumb doesn?t need to be hard. If you?ve been known to have a brown thumb, the trick to success is finding some greenery that only requires occasional attention.

Start by choosing a few easy-to-grow varieties and selecting plants that are right for your home. Before you settle on any specific type, pay attention to the natural light from your windows. All plants need some light, but some like it bright, while others do well in lower settings. Be sure to read the plant tags to find one that will do well with the light in your house.

6 easy-to-grow houseplants

Ready to take the plunge into indoor gardening? Start with one or two of these low-attention varieties:


This lush green houseplant is easy to keep vibrant all year. It won?t do well baking in the hot sun all day, but medium-to-bright light is okay. Let it grow long in a hanging basket, or put it in a cute pot and keep it short with an occasional haircut. Don?t worry?trimming won?t hurt it.


Also known as the mother-in-law?s tongue, the tall spikes on this plant are stunning. This variety can live for a long time and does best in low-to-medium light. It doesn?t like extra water, so always let it dry out before watering again, and pour out any excess water in the pot?s saucer.

Aloe vera

Aloe is a sun-loving succulent that does not like water?an especially good starter plant for a brown thumb. To care for it, place it in your brightest window, let the soil dry before watering, and remove any standing water from the pot.


Also known as a Schefflera, this easy-to-grow plant likes medium light. Let it dry out between watering?start by watering it once a week and see how it does.

Asparagus fern

Lacy and trailing, the asparagus fern is perfect for a tall stand or hanging basket. This plant likes humidity, making it a great choice for a kitchen or bathroom. It does well in medium-to-bright light with frequent watering. One thing to note: Although it has soft foliage, there are thorns on the stem.


With long, variegated leaves, this plant will add the perfect green hue to your d?cor. This variety prefers moist soil and low-to-medium light. To keep it from drying out too quickly, don?t place it near a heat vent.

Three steps to indoor gardening success

These three simple steps can help you grow an indoor garden you?ll want to show off:

Put your plant in a bigger pot

When you pick up a small, full plant at the garden center, you?ll find the most success by repotting it as soon as you get home. A small pot can only hold a small amount of nutrients and water. To keep it looking as good as the day you bought it, switch it to a bigger pot, so it has plenty of room to grow. Plus, this gives you a chance to move it from the plastic nursery container to a pot that matches your furnishings.

These steps will help you properly repot your plant:

Choose a pot slightly bigger than the current container. It should have a drain hole and a saucer to catch any extra water that escapes.
Place a rock over each of the pot?s drain holes to keep dirt from clogging them.
Place a small amount of potting soil in the bottom of the pot.
Gently remove your new plant from its old container and place it in the bigger one.
Fill the pot with dirt by lightly spooning it around the plant. Leave about an inch of space at the top, so it doesn?t overflow when you water it.

Feed with love

If you don?t have a natural green thumb, you probably don?t use fertilizer very often. Never fear?you have a few easy options. You can choose to sprinkle time-release fertilizer on top or use fertilizer spikes that are pushed into the soil. Both last for months. Note on your calendar when it will be time to fertilize again.

Remember to water

A once-a-week watering schedule is all you need with these suggested houseplants. A few, like the aloe and the snake plant, can skip a week if the soil still seems moist. The trick to remembering to water is to pick a day and stick to it. A reminder alarm on your phone is a great way to get into a watering routine.

Your plant will tell you if it becomes unhappy. You might see it wilt, turn yellow, or get spots on the leaves. If this happens, go back to the basics. By making sure it has the right amount of light and giving it the proper amounts of water, you?ll soon be able to show off your green thumb with a beautiful indoor garden.

A home and gardening expert,?Lea Schneider?has published?advice?in?publications like?The Washington Post, Woman?s Day, Family Circle, Consumer Reports?ShopSmart, and Better Homes and Gardens.?She?covers home-improvement and gardening tips for?Groupon.?You can find savings on gardening supplies and more?on Groupon?s Home Depot page here.

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Indoor Gardening For the Brown Thumb

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The Perfect Predator – Steffanie Strathdee, Thomas Patterson & Teresa Barker


The Perfect Predator
A Scientist’s Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug: A Memoir
Steffanie Strathdee, Thomas Patterson & Teresa Barker

Genre: Biology

Price: $14.99

Publish Date: February 26, 2019

Publisher: Hachette Books

Seller: Hachette Digital, Inc.

A “fascinating and terrifying” ( Scientific American ) memoir of one woman’s extraordinary effort to save her husband’s life-and the discovery of a forgotten cure that has the potential to save millions more. Epidemiologist Steffanie Strathdee and her husband, psychologist Tom Patterson, were vacationing in Egypt when Tom came down with a stomach bug. What at first seemed like a case of food poisoning quickly turned critical, and by the time Tom had been transferred via emergency medevac to the world-class medical center at UC San Diego, where both he and Steffanie worked, blood work revealed why modern medicine was failing: Tom was fighting one of the most dangerous, antibiotic- resistant bacteria in the world. Frantic, Steffanie combed through research old and new and came across phage therapy: the idea that the right virus, aka “the perfect predator,” can kill even the most lethal bacteria. Phage treatment had fallen out of favor almost 100 years ago, after antibiotic use went mainstream. Now, with time running out, Steffanie appealed to phage researchers all over the world for help. She found allies at the FDA, researchers from Texas A&M, and a clandestine Navy biomedical center-and together they resurrected a forgotten cure. A nail-biting medical mystery, The Perfect Predator is a story of love and survival against all odds, and the (re)discovery of a powerful new weapon in the global superbug crisis.


The Perfect Predator – Steffanie Strathdee, Thomas Patterson & Teresa Barker

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Can hamburgers survive the Green New Deal? The facts behind Trump and Ocasio-Cortez’s latest beef

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There’s been an awful lot of talk about cow farts and the Green New Deal, despite the fact that the resolution for a Green New Deal never mentions the word cow, nor fart (more’s the pity). It was President Donald Trump who made that connection.

The resolution’s co-sponsor, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, recently clarified the point on Showtime’s Desus & Mero show: “It’s not to say you get rid of agriculture. It’s not to say we’re gonna force everybody to go vegan or anything crazy like that,” she said. “But it’s to say, ‘Listen, we gotta address factory farming. Maybe we shouldn’t be eating a hamburger for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”

Politically, it makes sense to tell people that they can keep something popular, like eating (just a little less) beef, while promising to crack down on something unpopular like factory farms. But if you want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it’s a bit backwards. Get rid of factory farms, and we’d have to cut way, way back on the hamburgers.

As you can see in the graph below, the biggest climate problem with beef isn’t farting cows, it’s the space that grass-fed beef takes up.

World Resources Institute

Because feedlots, or “factory farming,” minimizes land use and shortens the time cattle need to grow to full size, feedlot beef often has a lower greenhouse gas footprint than pasture-raised variety. There are exceptions: A few studies have shown that, with the right management and conditions, pastures can suck up more carbon than the cattle belch out (yes, it’s mostly belching, not farting).

To be sure, there are other thorny issues surrounding cattle on feedlots, but none of them are clear cut. Whether you are talking about the environment, health, or animal welfare, it’s all complicated. One way or another, those champion carnivores known as Americans are going to have to eat a lot less beef if we want to reverse climate change.

It’s no surprise that Trump tweeted that the Green New Deal would “permanently eliminate” cows, and no surprise that Ocasio-Cortez attempted to deflect the criticism to factory farms. It’s the perfect provocation. Food isn’t just fuel, it’s the stuff of sensory memories, families gathering around the table. It’s a tool by which culture is transmitted through generations. Mess with someone’s food traditions and you are messing with their identity.

As the Chinese writer Lin Yutang asked: “What is patriotism but the love of food one ate as a child?”


Can hamburgers survive the Green New Deal? The facts behind Trump and Ocasio-Cortez’s latest beef

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California’s battle against climate change is going up in smoke

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

Just a few months ago, climate activists in California were celebrating an impressive victory: New data showed that the state had brought greenhouse gas emissions down to 1990 levels, four years earlier than planned. The win, a cut of emissions to 429.4 million metric tons (the equivalent of taking 12 million cars off the road) was the result of steady decreases in emissions most years.

“California set the toughest emissions targets in the nation, tracked progress and delivered results,” Governor Jerry Brown tweeted. The next step was to cut emissions another 40 percent by 2030 — “a heroic and very ambitious goal.”

But by November, skies across the state were gray. Wildfires were raging, including a blaze which would prove to be the deadliest and most destructive in state history. The conflagrations have set California back: The recent Camp and Woolsey Fires, officials say, have produced emissions equivalent to roughly 5.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, more than three times the total decrease in emissions in 2015. Recently, the Department of the Interior announced that new data shows the 2018 California wildfire season is estimated to have released emissions equal to about one year of power use.

California’s wildfire problem

Of course, wildfires are not new to the West Coast. But the kind of vast, devastating conflagrations seen in California in recent years — this fall’s Camp Fire decimated 153,000 acres in the Butte County area and destroyed almost 14,000 homes — are becoming more common. According to the state’s most recent climate assessment, California could see a 77 percent increase in the average area burned in wildfires by 2100.

All this is bad news for a state committed to decreasing its carbon footprint. But California’s official emissions score will not be affected by the extraordinary amount of carbon released during wildfires this year, because the agency that calculates emissions — the California Air Resources Board — considers wildfires to be a part of the earth’s natural carbon cycle. (The ARB is a regulatory body and, as agency spokesperson Dave Clegern noted, “can only regulate what can be controlled.”)

But the agency is looking into ways to better track carbon emissions from conflagrations. Right now, Clegern says, the ARB uses data including the size of the fire and the kind of fuel burned to estimate its carbon footprint. But, he said, scientists don’t currently have a good way to accurately calculate emissions from disasters like the Camp Fire, which burn residential and commercial properties. While those findings won’t be included in the state’s emissions tally, Clegern said it’s still important to gather the data: “We need to know what goes up in the air when these things happen. Our first mission is to protect public health.”

The increasing size of wildfires in California is driven by several factors linked to climate change, scientists say, including a shift in the jet stream that causes the state to suffer more hot, dry spells. The state’s seven-year drought has weakened forests and left millions of acres highly susceptible to lethal attacks from insects like bark beetle. In recent years, more than 100 million trees are estimated to have died statewide. Dry, dead forests are a fire hazard, and they pose a threat so severe that, in 2015, Governor Brown declared a state of emergency and created a task force to identify areas of particular risk. This January, scientists at the University of California-Berkeley reported that the situation was “compounded by the long-established removal” of naturally occurring, frequent, and low-intensity fires in the state’s forested areas, “a key ecosystem process” in hazardous wildfire prevention.

Aside from preventing deadly conflagrations, protecting forests also means preserving the state’s best tool for regulating carbon emissions. By removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it as carbon in soil, branches, and tree trunks, forest have historically worked as a “carbon sink” for the state. But research shows that between 2001 and 2010, tree die-off meant California’s forests emitted more carbon than they sequestered.

Wildfires accelerate this process. Conflagrations release carbon into the atmosphere as they burn and, once the smoke has cleared, leave fewer trees to sequester carbon. In the years following a fire, dead trees begin to release their stored carbon back into the atmosphere. And a recent study also showed that forests which burned at high severity suffered worryingly low regeneration rates. In some places, no trees grew back at all.

But the damage doesn’t end there. When a forest is burned for the first time, “between 5 and 20 percent of the carbon goes up,” explained Nic Enstice, regional science coordinator at the state’s Sierra Nevada Conservancy agency. That’s because even a high-severity fire will not incinerate every tree in a forest. But if a second wildfire ravages through an already-burned area, the dead trees are more readily consumed, resulting in even greater carbon release.

The fire season’s growing effect on the state gives scientists all the more reason to study its emissions. “That’s the kind of issue we’re wrestling with now,” Clegern said.

California’s best hope for reaching its ambitious climate goals may lie in technology and rebuilding the state’s dilapidated forests. The state is relying on energy companies like utility giant PG&E to increase purchases of renewable power and invest heavily in burgeoning industries like electric transportation over the next decade. (PG&E, meanwhile, could be on the hook for billions of dollars in fines if an investigation finds the company’s equipment ignited some of California’s recent conflagrations.) Plans are also underway to push harder on forest restoration efforts: In May, the state announced its Forest Carbon Plan, which included a pledge to double the rate of forest rehabilitation to an average 35,000 acres a year by 2020.

“We know that we have to increase the health of our forests pretty significantly over the coming years,” Enstice said.“What we saw in the Camp Fire, the Rim Fire, the King Fire — these are all out of the normal patterns.”

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David Attenborough’s dire climate warning: ‘Our greatest threat in thousands of years’

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

David Attenborough, the famed naturalist and conservation advocate, issued a dire warning for the world during a speech at the United Nations’ annual climate summit on Monday: Act now, or the natural world, humanity included, may soon collapse.

“Right now we’re facing a man-made disaster of global scale, our greatest threat in thousands of years: climate change,” Attenborough, 92, said. “If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”

The comments came at the beginning of a two-week climate conference in Katowice, Poland, where emissaries from nearly 200 nations are meeting to determine how the world can dramatically scale back greenhouse gas emissions to abide by the landmark Paris climate agreement and, by doing so, stave off the worst effects of climate change.

“The world’s people have spoken. Their message is clear: Time is running out,” Attenborough said Monday. “They want you, the decision-makers, to act now. They’re behind you, along with civil society represented here today.”

The conservationist is serving in the “People’s Seat” during the conference, a role in which he will present comments from members of the public affected by climate change to the dignitaries and officials present at the summit.

The U.N. released a dire report in October that warned of severe, climate-related effects by as early as 2040 unless there is dramatic action to curb global emissions. The effects would include a mass die-off of coral reefs and an increase in extreme weather events. The world is working to implement the commitments made under the Paris Agreement but is still far off track from preventing catastrophic levels of warming.

At the same time, U.S. President Donald Trump has regularly denied the existence of climate change and its links to humanity. Following the White House release last month of a sweeping, 1,656-page report that warned of a bleak future for the country, Trump alluded that he was too intelligent to believe in the phenomenon. He has also moved to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris pact.

The U.N. has urged world leaders to unveil ambitious efforts to tackle emissions, calling this month’s summit the most important in years.

“Climate change is running faster than we are, and we must catch up sooner rather than later, before it is too late,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, said at the beginning of the event. “For many people, regions, and even countries, this is already a matter of life or death.”

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Deadly Camp Fire sparks new lawsuit against California utility

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On Tuesday, about two dozen victims from the Northern California town of Paradise, which was destroyed in last week’s deadly Camp Fire, filed suit against Pacific Gas and Electric Co (PG&E) alleging that the company’s lax maintenance and “inexcusable behavior” contributed to the cause of the blaze.

“Most of [the victims] are aware of PG&E’s history of starting wildfires and trying to get away with it,” Mike Danko, a lawyer from one of the three law firms representing the wildfire victims, told Grist. “They want their voice to be heard.”

The victims of the fire who are now suing PG&E lost their homes and possessions, many barely escaping with their lives. The Camp Fire — the deadliest wildfire in California’s history — has already claimed the lives of at least 56 people, with 130 still missing as of Thursday morning.

PG&E and another major utility, Southern California Edison, reported to regulators they experienced problems with transmission lines around the time the blazes started On top of that, just prior to the Camp Fire, PG&E began warning customers it might turn off power because of the high risk of wildfires. But the company ultimately decided to cancel the anti-fire measure, according to a press release:

“Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) has determined that it will not proceed with plans today for a Public Safety Power Shutoff in portions of eight Northern California counties, as weather conditions did not warrant this safety measure,” reads the statement published November 8 — the same day the Camp Fire began.

The cause of the Camp Fire has yet to be determined — something PG&E officials are quick to point out. “Right now, our primary focus is on the communities, supporting first responders and getting our crews positioned and ready to respond when we get access so that we can safely restore gas and electricity to our customers,” the company said in a statement.

Danko calls PG&E’s comment “empty words.” This is not the first time the utility has been accused of being responsible for a major wildfire. In 2017, Cal Fire concluded that PG&E broke safety laws — namely, poor maintenance of trees along power lines — which led to a wildfire that took the lives of 22 people.

The new suit cites 18 separate fires and explosions caused by PG&E infrastructure since 1991, including a 2010 explosion at a PG&E natural gas pipeline that killed eight people and led to a fine to the tune of $1.6 billion from state regulators and a felony conviction issued by a jury in federal court.

If PG&E is found liable for the Camp Fire, the company’s payout could exceed its insurance coverage. This could spell financial trouble, not only for PG&E but for California customers. In September, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill designed to help PG&E cope with the fire-related costs of 2017’s wildfires by allowing the utility to pass on some of those costs on to their customers — including those who lost their homes to the wildfires.

The bill was met with swift opposition by consumer advocates who saw the bill as a bailout for a company with a damming record of lax safety oversights. “We don’t think this is safety for Main Street — we think this is safety for Wall Street,” said Mindy Spatt, a spokesperson for The Utility Reform Network consumer group. “We urged the Legislature to do something that would protect consumers and residents, but this wasn’t it.”

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Deadly Camp Fire sparks new lawsuit against California utility

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The U.N.’s watchdog on indigenous rights has her eye on climate change initiatives

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, fights a complicated climate battle. She’s a member of the Kankanaey Igorot people of the Philippines, and it’s her job to monitor threats being posed to indigenous communities and report her findings to the U.N. human rights council.

And there are many fronts to those threats: Fossil fuels push indigenous communities from their territories and destroy the ecosystems they depend on, all while a warming world threatens their traditions and livelihoods. Renewable energy is an important solution, but it has also caused harm — from companies grabbing tribal lands to governments criminalizing indigenous activists who oppose new energy projects, says Tauli-Corpuz.

Tauli-Corpuz highlighted the opportunities and risks that need to be navigated in the transition towards a fossil fuel-free future during an affiliate avent at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco. The event highlighted work by the Right Energy Project, an international collaboration that aims to provide 50 million indigenous peoples with access to renewable energy by 2030. The project also advocates for renewable energy that respects human rights.

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Energy is key for indigenous peoples achieving self-determined development, Tauli-Corpuz said during the panel. There’s a high demand for renewable energy projects in those communities, she added. But the U.N. special rapporteur noted an important caveat: “I have been to several countries where renewable energy projects are put in place but without consulting indigenous peoples, without involving them in planning, and without them benefiting from it.”

In the worst cases, indigenous leaders have been targeted and killed for their opposition to controversial energy projects billed as “renewable.” She pointed to the death of Honduran activist Berta Caceres, who was killed while mounting a campaign against a large hydroelectric dam. “This is one example of how to do it wrong, how to approach renewable energy projects in a deadly way,” Tauli-Corpuz said. She submitted a report to the Human Rights Council this month on the criminalization of indigenous peoples defending their rights. Tauli-Corpuz herself was accused of terrorism by the Government of the Philippines: “How will we get stronger solidarity when indigenous peoples are subjected to those kinds of treatments?” she asked.

Tauli-Corpuz said that a human rights-based approach to renewable energy means that local people are consulted and that free, prior and informed consent is obtained — the standard established in the United Nations’ International Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

Grist also asked Tauli-Corpuz what her hopes and expectations are as the Global Climate Action Summit unfolds.

She pointed to Tuesday’s announcement that foundations were committing $450 million for forest conservation and protection. The anti-deforestation efforts are supposed to boost indigenous peoples’ rights and opportunities in the process. “Donors said that indigenous peoples’ rights should be respected and violence against them should be stopped,” Tauli-Corpuz said.” For me as a rapporteur, I think those are very good indications.”

Still, Tauli-Corpuz will be keeping a close eye on how this shakes out: “How will we make sure these funds will go directly into the communities? In our experience, if there are announcements like that, big intermediaries come into the picture and eat up 80 percent of the budget and 20 percent only is left with the indigenous peoples.”

Finally, she pointed to the various partnerships between local governments, the private sector, foundations, and indigenous peoples: “Those are the areas which need much more work.” Throughout the week, indigenous activists are holding protests and coordinating their own programming to bring forth community-led solutions and demand participation in policy-making.

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The U.N.’s watchdog on indigenous rights has her eye on climate change initiatives

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