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Locusts and coronavirus: A Biblical nightmare strikes the horn of Africa

What if COVID-19 had shown up in the United States last year, just as Hurricane Dorian forced people out of their homes and into shelters? What would it feel like to be told to shelter in place as wildfires approach your doorstep? It’s hard to imagine handling more than one disaster of this magnitude — but before the novel coronavirus struck the horn of Africa, countries already had a plague on their hands.

Toward the end of last year, swarms of desert locusts began flooding the region in numbers not seen in decades. Unusually wet weather over the previous 18 months — likely linked to climate change — created ideal breeding conditions for the insects. Since then, the swarms have multiplied across ten countries as continued rain during what is typically the dry season allowed each new wave of the insects to breed. The plague is especially threatening in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Desert locusts are voracious eaters who travel in swarms the size of cities and will devastate crops, pastures, and forests if they aren’t controlled, posing a major threat to food security in countries where already 20 million people are food-insecure.

Despite the alarming numbers of swarms, they have not dramatically impacted the food supply yet, according to Cyril Ferrand, the East Africa resilience team leader for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). When the locusts arrived in full force in late December, farmers had already secured their seasonal harvest.

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“Our concern is for the season to come,” Ferrand told Grist. Farmers are beginning to plant now for the June/July harvest, just as a new generation of locusts are starting to mature. “There could be up to 100 percent losses,” said Ferrand. “That’s very clear.”

To kill as many locusts as possible, time is of the essence. That’s why Ferrand raised the alarm two weeks ago when a shipment of pesticides to Kenya was delayed due to coronavirus-related flight restrictions. When Grist spoke to him on Friday, he said the stock had been replenished, and that COVID-19 has not been a major impediment to control efforts yet.

In Kenya, where Ferrand is based, there have been under 200 confirmed cases of COVID-19 so far. Social distancing measures are in effect, and masks are mandatory in public places, but the country has declared controlling the locusts a national priority, so spraying and surveying have not slowed down.

The FAO began coordinating aid to affected countries in January and is trying to raise $153 million for control operations as well as to safeguard livelihoods. $114 million has been raised so far. On the control side, the organization provides pesticides and spraying equipment, including planes and trucks, as well as training to conduct surveillance and keep track of where swarms are moving.

But controlling the swarms is a sisyphean task.

“The locust infestation is happening in a very wide area, and you find that every time you are trying to control in one region, there’s another swarm that is happening in a different region,” said Ambrose Ngetich, an FAO project officer in a video produced by the organization. “It is not possible to control them simultaneously, because most of the time they are at different stages.”

Locusts bury their eggs 4-6 inches underground. Once they are laid, spraying cannot prevent a new generation from hatching.

Losses to crops and ranchlands are inevitable. That’s why the FAO also plans to provide cash to affected communities to buy food, compensate farmers so that they can purchase seed for the next planting season, and supply feed to livestock farmers whose pastures get devoured.

The COVID-19 pandemic has not slowed the battle to stop the locusts yet, but if the outbreak becomes more severe and countries begin implementing stricter lockdowns, it could bring control operations to a halt.

“We are talking about a region that is very fragile,” said Ferrand. “After the health impact, the economic one could be extremely severe for a long period of time.”

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Locusts and coronavirus: A Biblical nightmare strikes the horn of Africa

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Carbon dioxide levels just hit 415 ppm. Who saw this coming? Exxon Mobil.

Want to see something terrifying? Watch atmospheric carbon emissions climb to the new all-time high of 415 parts per million.

This emissions update comes from daily data collected via analyzer at Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii, since 1956. After breaking the 400 ppm threshold in 2013, data from 2019 puts emissions at 415 ppm. The “upward trajectory continues,” the video ends on an ominous note.

Who could have seen this coming? As Brian Kahn at Earther pointed out, leaked internal documents from Exxon Mobil reveal that the oil and gas giant has seen this emissions landmark coming since 1982. A graph shows their 2019 estimated carbon dioxide level was between about 385 ppm and 415 ppm, an impressively accurate guess for the time.

Exxon predicted 2019 would hit near 415 ppm.

Instead of using this knowledge to prevent it from becoming a reality, Exxon launched a series of climate denial efforts. It published anti-climate change ads in The New York Times, lobbied against government efforts to regulate emissions, and helped start the Global Climate Coalition to cast doubt on climate change.

After decades pushing climate denial, oil and gas companies are starting to face the consequences. Countless lawsuits are cropping up from states, cities, tribes, and fishermen that call for oil companies to finally own up to the self-serving role they’ve played in exacerbating the climate crisis.


Carbon dioxide levels just hit 415 ppm. Who saw this coming? Exxon Mobil.

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The Weather Channel’s new climate change video is … really intense

“The Arctic — the fastest warming area on Earth,” Weather Channel meteorologist Jen Carfagno narrates in a new video as the camera speeds you under an iceberg arch, through the spray from a breaching whale, and past ice-capped peaks so realistic you can almost feel the Arctic chill. “Changes here are drastic, undeniable, and all too real.”

It’s the latest in a Weather Channel video series that uses immersive mixed reality technology to help you visualize extreme weather up close. The first video went viral last September, when meteorologist Erika Navarro was virtually transported from the studio to a flooded neighborhood street in North Carolina to demonstrate storm-surge projections for Hurricane Florence in person.

“For 30 years, weather presentation has been very consistent,” Michael Potts, the vice president of design at the Weather Channel, told New York Magazine’s Intelligencer. “Usually it’s a person in front of a map. We wanted to engage the audience more and find a way to go deeper into the science of weather.”

And, in this latest video, they do. Instead of regurgitating statistics or presenting another doomsday scenario, the video portrays global warming in a gripping yet realistic way, transporting you from a rooftop above flooded city streets to a rocky coast in front of a collapsing iceberg. Carfagno takes you from 1851 to 2100, visiting Charleston, South Carolina; Norfolk, Virginia; and Greenland’s famous Jakobshavn Glacier — all in the span of under two minutes. How’s that for high-speed time travel?

Using an immersive graphics technique popular in video games to produce the clip, the Weather Channel hopes to turn climate change into a vivid experience for viewers.

“By engaging our senses of sight and sounds — and our tendency to focus on things that move — they earn our full attention, and are experienced more like real lived experience than like book learning,” Edward Maibach, director of George Mason’s Center for Climate Change Communication, told the Verge.


The Weather Channel’s new climate change video is … really intense

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Greta Thunberg dresses down more global elites for climate inaction

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Young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg is continuing her tour of speaking truth to power. Last December, she accused the delegates to the U.N. climate talks in Poland of “stealing” their children’s futures. And on Friday, at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, she delivered another powerful speech, calling for quick and bold progress on climate change.

“At places like Davos, people like to tell success stories,” Thunberg told the audience. “But their financial success has come with an unthinkable price tag.”

Climate change became a hot topic of discussion at the 2019 meeting of the global elite. Sixteen-year-old Thunberg joined the ranks of Prince William and British naturalist and TV personality Sir David Attenborough, who also urged decisive action on climate change. National leaders, like Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, unveiled plans and goals for tackling warming at the forum.

Although Thunberg’s message was dire, she stopped short of saying the world is doomed. “Yes, we are failing, but there is still time to turn everything around — we can still fix this,” Thunberg said. “I want you to act as if the house was on fire. Because it is.”

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Greta Thunberg dresses down more global elites for climate inaction

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A puzzling promo video earns the U.N. new criticism over its support of carbon offsets

The international organization coordinating the world’s effort to stop global warming posted a strange video to social media on Wednesday morning.

The 52-second video from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is a bizarre promotion to call attention to the organization’s newly redesigned online platform for purchasing carbon offsets. It’s been deleted from Twitter and Facebook but you can still find it on YouTube and in an official press release.

It’s hard to know what the UNFCCC was thinking in producing this video, which makes fun of well-established ways to cut carbon emissions — like limiting driving, air travel, and meat consumption — in favor of purchasing controversial offset credits. Offsets are an accounting method favored by high-polluting industries as a way of evading real-world change.

The video was swiftly attacked by climate campaigners — a Swiss environmental lawyer called it “shameful” — and no justification has yet been given for its removal. (The UNFCCC did not immediately respond to an inquiry from Grist about the video’s production and its removal from social media.)

The problem with carbon offsets is clear. They’re designed to avoid immediate changes in behavior in favor of less verifiable and less reliable ways of reducing emissions by relying on someone else. You could, say, pay to plant some trees, which then must be tended and kept alive for decades, to atone for a single airline flight.

Sometimes offsetting is worse than doing nothing: It perpetuates high-carbon activities and shifts responsibility from the people and organizations most responsible for climate change. After a brief moment of popularity a decade ago, the credits faded from favor, in part because of these concerns.

This isn’t the first time the U.N. has come under fire for promoting carbon offsets. During the Paris climate conference in 2015, the U.N. set up a booth where attendees could supposedly neutralize the impact of their travel to the summit for as little as $1.  Some observers found that difficult to believe. On a much larger scale, in 2016, the U.N. organization tasked with overseeing the global airline industry was strongly criticized for favoring offsets in an attempt to avoid more radical (and expensive) changes in aircraft design that could reduce emissions.

More recently, at the World Cup in Russia this summer, the U.N. again promoted its carbon offset scheme; again it came under fire for “greenwashing” and relying on questionable math that meant only a small fraction of the promised offsets were actually reducing emissions.

Admittedly, the video is pretty funny as a piece of satire. But I’m not sure that’s what the U.N. was going for.

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A puzzling promo video earns the U.N. new criticism over its support of carbon offsets

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We recycle so much trash, it’s created an international crisis

You may have heard the delicate whispers on the wind: “China doesn’t want to take our recycling anymore.” And you ignored those whispers, because you didn’t know China took our recycling in the first place, and there’s no way this has anything to do with your life! Right?

Oh, dear. As a nation, we’ve been passing on too many low-quality recyclables to other countries — China, primarily — to get them to deal with it. Watch our video above to find out what has to change.

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We recycle so much trash, it’s created an international crisis

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4 Tips for Going Solar in 2018


Solar energy production has skyrocketed in recent years in the United States. With more than 49 megawatts of installed solar capacity, there are now enough solar panels to power 9.5 million homes, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Are you interested in getting on the solar bandwagon? Ultimately, determining if it is financially savvy to go solar depends on numerous factors, including the cost of electricity in your area, the price and output of the solar system, and available solar energy incentives.

Is 2018 a good year for you to go solar? Here are some tips on making an informed decision.

Understand Your Local Net Metering Laws

Net metering laws require power companies to bank excess credits for solar electricity fed to the utility grid for later use by the homeowner. For example, let’s say your solar panels generated 10 kWh of excess electricity for the grid during a sunny day and then you consumed 10 kWh of electricity at night. Under net metering laws, you would neither owe money nor be reimbursed for this power, given that you provided as much power as you later consumed.

In 2015, 43 states had net metering laws. Now, only 38 states do. In some areas, solar homeowners are not rewarded at a retail rate for the excess power they supply. Find out what the laws are in your state to better understand the return on investment of your solar system. In some areas where net metering laws are changing, existing solar system owners are grandfathered in under the old system. If the new rules haven’t taken effect yet, you still might be able to get compensated under the old, higher rate.

Consider Solar Equipment Warranties

Solar product warranties vary among manufacturers, and they are an important consideration before installing a solar system. Equipment warranties can protect you, making solar a safer long-term investment. Ask your solar installer or conduct independent research to determine product warranties, as they can vary widely by manufacturer and product. Recently, some manufacturers have been setting themselves apart by offering exceptional warranties.

Solar panel warranties, in particular, are an important consideration, as they are typically the most expensive equipment in your solar system. Over time, even the best solar panels produce less energy due to product degradation. Although all solar panels are less effective at generating electricity over time, the degradation rate varies by the panel. Performance guarantees help ensure that solar electric panels are producing at a certain percentage of their original generation capacity after a given number of years.

Currently, many manufacturers guarantee 90 percent production for 10 years and 80 percent for 25 years. Some panel manufacturers set themselves apart by offering stronger warranties. SunPower, for example, leads the industry by offering a 92 percent performance guarantee for 25 years.

Most solar panel manufacturers also protect against defects. Many solar panels have a 10-year equipment warranty on the integrity of the panel. Now, SunEdison, Solaria and SunPower solar panels have a 25-year equipment warranty.

Shop around when installing a solar system to find the best price, warranties and solar equipment quality. UnderstandSolar is an excellent free service that links solar shoppers with top-rated solar installers in their area for personalized solar estimates, and EnergySage allows you to make apple-to-apple comparisons.

Take Advantage of the Federal Tax Credit and Solar Incentives

There is a federal tax credit in effect that reduces the total net cost of a solar system by 30 percent! A tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction in federal income taxes owed, so it is more valuable to the taxpayer than a tax write-off.

If you install a $10,000 solar system, you can qualify for a $3,000 tax credit. This solar incentive will start scaling down in 2020. Keep in mind that some states or municipalities offer incentives for using solar.

Start with Energy-Efficiency Improvements

Although this is not a new development in 2018, it is important to consider whenever someone is going solar. Before sizing your solar system, look for ways to cut your home electricity use. Refrigerators, lighting, electric water heaters and air-conditioners are common electricity hogs. In many cases, it is worthwhile to replace old appliances with high-efficiency models.

Also, explore if you have any vampire loads that suck power even when appliances or electronics are turned off. Home entertainment and office equipment often continuously drain power. Smart power strips are a great solution to stop energy vampires in their tracks.

Consider Solar Loans

As the solar energy industry matures, there are now more solar loan products available than ever before. Solar loans make the most financial sense when the amount you pay on the loan is less than your monthly utility savings. This means that the loan allows you to save money on your solar system from day 1. Make sure to take the loan fees and interest into consideration. A home equity line of credit is another option, and the interest is likely tax-deductible.

Ultimately, the decision to go solar is multifaceted. Many homeowners choose solar because they want to do their part to help stop climate change or to wean themselves off of fossil fuels. Now that the cost of solar has dropped so much, many install solar systems merely for the cost savings. In much of the U.S., 2018 is a good year to go solar.

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4 Tips for Going Solar in 2018

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How Trump’s EPA is like your worst college roommate


How Trump’s EPA is like your worst college roommate

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The Police Officer Who Killed 12-Year-Old Tamir Rice Has Been Fired

Mother Jones

The police officer who fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice in a Cleveland park in November 2014 has been fired, Cleveland’s police chief said at a press conference on Tuesday. The decision comes two and a half years after Rice was killed. Officer Timothy Loehmann was fired not for shooting Rice but for lying on his job application about his disciplinary record at a previous police department, according to the termination documents. (Another officer who had been on the scene of the shooting was suspended for 10 days.)

Loehmann, who started working for the Cleveland Police Department in early 2014, failed to disclose that although he voluntarily left his job at another department, he was allowed to resign after a series of incidents in which supervisors deemed him unfit for duty, according to Cleveland.com. He also did not disclose that he had failed a written exam for employment at a second police department.

Loehmann shot Rice after he and his partner responded to a 911 call about a person in a park waving a gun. His death became an early touchstone for the Black Lives Matter movement. Video of the shooting showed that Loehmann shot the child, who was holding a toy pellet gun, within two seconds of arriving on the scene. A grand jury declined to charge the officers involved.

A dispatcher who took the initial 911 call was suspended in March for failing to tell the responding officers that the caller had said the person with the gun might be a juvenile and that the gun could be fake. A June 2015 Mother Jones investigation revealed how that failure contributed to the child’s death.

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The Police Officer Who Killed 12-Year-Old Tamir Rice Has Been Fired

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Happy 100 Day Trumpiversary, Everyone. Here Are His First 100 Days in 100 Seconds.

Mother Jones

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Small crowds. Millions march. “Alternative facts.” Hiring freeze. Pipelines revived. Tiny desk. Bannon unleashed.

And that was just the first week.

After that? Well, lots of golf. How have the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency played out in the news? Mother Jones put together a definitive day-by-day guide. Judge for yourselves.

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Happy 100 Day Trumpiversary, Everyone. Here Are His First 100 Days in 100 Seconds.

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