Rapid and “devastating” Arctic warming is now almost unstoppable, United Nations researchers warn in a major new report.
Unless humanity makes very rapid and deep pollution cuts, Arctic winter temperatures will rise 5.4° to 9.0°F (3° to 5°C) by 2050 — and will reach an astounding 9° to 16°F (5° to 8.8°C) by 2080 — according to a report by the U.N. Environment Program released Wednesday.
Even worse, the report, “Global Linkages: A graphic look at the changing Arctic,” warns that warming will in turn awaken a “sleeping giant” in the form of vast quantities of permafrost carbon. This carbon has been frozen in the permafrost for up to thousands of years, but as the atmosphere warms, the permafrost will thaw. This will release the trapped carbon, and trigger more planet-wide warming in a dangerous feedback loop.
As the report explains, warming in the Arctic is occurring at least twice as fast as warming across the planet as a whole, thanks to Arctic amplification. One reason for this amplification is that when highly reflective snow and ice melts due to higher temperatures, it is replaced by the dark blue sea or darker land, both of which absorb more solar energy than they reflect, leading to more melting.
“Arctic amplification is most pronounced in winter and strongest in areas with large losses of sea ice during the summer,” researchers explain, so winter warming in the region is projected to rise three times faster than the world as a whole.
But as this feedback loop plays out, it also triggers another one: the thawing of the Arctic permafrost and the release of the carbon that it contains.
Thawing permafrost is an especially dangerous amplifying feedback loop because the global permafrost contains twice as much carbon as the atmosphere does today . The permafrost, or tundra, is soil that stays below freezing (32°F or 0°C) for at least two years. It acts like a freezer for carbon, but now humanity has decided to leave the freezer door open.
The thawing releases not only carbon dioxide but also methane — a far more potent greenhouse gas — thereby further warming the planet. And as the planet continues to warm, more permafrost will melt, releasing even more greenhouse gases in a continuous feedback loop.
“New evidence suggests that permafrost is thawing much faster than previously thought,” the report warns. Indeed, a recent study found that Siberian permafrost at depths of up to 30 feet warmed a remarkable 1.6°F (0.9°C) from 2007 to 2016.
The most dangerous climate feedback loop is speeding up
The U.N. report quotes the saying: “What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic.”
For instance, the Arctic’s rapid warming is weakening the jet stream, which leads weather patterns to stall, and that drives more extreme weather in this country, such as heavy precipitation on the East Coast and extreme drought on the West Coast.
And the quicker the Arctic heats up, the quicker the land-based Greenland ice sheet melts and the quicker sea levels rise. One 2017 study concluded that Greenland ice mass loss has tripled in just two decades.
But the authors of the U.N. report explain that simply meeting the initial emissions reduction targets in the 2015 Paris Climate Accord will not be enough to stop “devastating” warming and the loss of nearly half the permafrost this century. Those initial targets would not limit total warming to 2°C (3.6°F), which is why the agreement calls for ratcheting down those targets over time in order to keep warming “well below 2°C.”
So, to avoid accelerated warming, massive permafrost loss, ever-worsening extreme weather, and multi-feet sea level rise, the nations of the world must not only make deep cuts in CO2 emissions over the next decade, but also they must then keep ratcheting down global emissions to near zero around mid-century.
Scientists say Ocasio-Cortez’s dire climate warning is spot on
Yet, President Donald Trump is taking the country in the dangerously wrong direction by starting the process of withdrawing from the Paris agreement and rolling back domestic climate efforts.
What humanity needs to avert catastrophe are the kind of rapid emissions reductions envisioned in the Green New Deal, which aims for a carbon-free power sector by 2030 and the decarbonization of all other sectors as fast as technically possible.
Issues around the impact of dairy farming on the climate have consistently been one of the big topics for addressing climate change globally. A cow can produce around 70 to 120kg of methane each year – the equivalent of 2,300kg of CO2 – with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) stating the overall agriculture sector is responsible for 18% of global emissions.
Arla Foods aims to mitigate the issue of emissions from a dairy value chain comes by reducing a cow’s methane emissions through a series of techniques, such as optimised feed composition. Additionally, the food firm is working with its farmers to quantify and increase the carbon captured and stored in the soil.
According to a recent analysis from the FAO, global milk production has become more sustainable with a global average of 2.5kg CO2 per kilo of milk, but Arla farmers aim, on average, for 1.15kg CO2 per kilo or half of the global level.
The company has conducted 5,000 climate assessments on its 10,300 farms since 2013, and now is accelerating the work through the use of a digital documentation system where farmers can input data about their herd, milking system, feed, grazing, land use, and animal welfare. It claims to be one of the largest dairy farm benchmarking datasets in Europe.
Dairy farmer and chairman of Arla Foods, Jan Toft Nørgaard, said: “The climate assessment is highly motivating because it identifies your farms’ potential for CO2 reductions, which will often lead to cost savings.
“A next step is to include parameters that will indicate the farm’s impact on climate and environment. This will give us an opportunity to see in which areas we have the biggest potential, to identify best practice farms that we can learn from across our cooperative.”
The news follows a number of initiatives by farmers and agriculture firms to mitigate the impact on the environment of their businesses.
The ambitious “Green New Deal” resolution put forward by freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., aims to fundamentally reimagine the U.S. economy with the environment at top of mind.
Among its proposals, the resolution would have the U.S. creating “net-zero” greenhouses gases in 10 years.
Why “net zero”? “We set a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast,” a summary of the proposal says.
US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, and US Senator Ed Markey (R), Democrat of Massachusetts, speak during a press conference to announce Green New Deal legislation to promote clean energy programs outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, February 7, 2019.
The “Green New Deal,” unveiled Thursday, sets sky-high goals to cut greenhouse gases to nearly zilch — but it’s not committed to getting rid of “farting cows” just yet.
Markey and Ocasio-Cortez, the 29-year-old democratic socialist, called for completely ditching fossil fuels, upgrading or replacing “every building” in the country and “totally overhaul transportation” to the point where “air travel stops becoming necessary.”
They also aimed to have the U.S. creating “net-zero” greenhouse gases in 10 years.
Why “net zero”? The lawmakers explained: “We set a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast.”
The FAQ’s released by @AOC ‘s office regarding the “Green New Deal” include the following passage: “We set a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast”
The latest version of FAQ’s on her blog has removed the “f” word in favor of “emissions from cows”
Language notwithstanding, greenhouse gas emissions from cows have a bigger environmental impact than one might expect.
Methane gas produced by bovine flatulence contributes a significant portion of the greenhouse gases contributing to global warming, according to the United Nations.
Livestock farming produces about 18 percent of all those environmentally damaging gases — and about a quarter of that chunk comes from cow farts and burps, the U.N. says.
The lawmakers appear to recognize this. One of the Green New Deal’s 14 infrastructure and industrial proposals is to “work with farmers and ranchers to create a sustainable, pollution and greenhouse gas free, food system that ensures universal access to healthy food and expands independent family farming.”
Spokespersons for Markey and Ocasio-Cortez did not immediately respond to CNBC’s questions about the reference to cow farts in the summary of their Green New Deal.
In the meantime, America’s nearly 100 million cows can look forward to years of munching grass and passing gas still ahead of them.
This is a hard piece to write, partly because we, too, are baffled. Environmental collapse, coupled with living in the sixth mass extinction, are new territory. We are still in the process of confronting the reality of living with the prospect of an unlivable planet. These thoughts emerge out of our sober forays into an uncertain future, searching for the right ways to live and serve in the present. The second reason for our reluctance to share this contemplation is anticipation of the grief, anger and fear it may trigger. We visit these chambers of the heart frequently, and know the challenges of deep feeling, particularly in a culture that denies feelings and pathologizes death.
As the unthinkable settles in our skin, the question of what to do follows closely. What is activism in the context of collapse? Professor of sustainability leadership and founder of the Institute for Leadership and Sustainability(IFLAS) at the University of Cumbria (UK) Jem Bendell’sdefinition of collapse is useful: “the uneven ending of our current means of sustenance, shelter, security … and identity.” Bendell isn’t the first to warn of collapse — NASA warned of it five years ago. Anyone who takes in the realities of our times will need to find their own relationship to the hard truths about converging environmental, financial, political and social unraveling. There are billions on the planet who are already experiencing the full direct effects of this right now. Forty percent of the human population of the planet is already affected by water scarcity. Humans have annihilated 60 percent of all animal life on the planet since 1970.
Described here, borrowing from Bendell’s analysis, are three responses to imminent collapse. The first is characterized by intensifying efforts to fixthe mess we have created. The idea here is that if we just work harder, we can change the situation. The second is mitigation of inevitable suffering and loss, easing the pain and harm that is already underway. Mitigation slows the demise down, giving us the time for the third, which is adaptation to the life-threatening scenarios before us, or in Bendell’s words, “deep adaptation.”
The three-tier framework we’re suggesting is more like a spectrum, and the tiers interlace at times. As our understanding of the biosphere catastrophe evolves, we may shift our focus of activism. Our age and stage of life also affect where we invest our lifeblood.
The downside of the first response, “fixing” the crisis, is that it often galvanizes false hope in an external panacea that we can vote for or count on. Riveted on the fixes, attention can be diverted away from the adaptation to the crisis that needs to happen in short order, both personally and within our institutions. For example, it takes time to plan for waves of millions of refugees and extreme food and water shortages. Solutions centered on “fixing” often sell books and technological promises. The opportunists are eyeing the take. This motivation is more of the same mentality that got us into this situation in the first place.
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The upside of the fixing response, however, is the upwelling of the human spirit through intensified social movements. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s New Green Deal is a valiant example of a fresh plan to “fix” what is broken in the United States. The direct actions of the Extinction Rebellionare a powerful force, not to mention the electrified youth marchesgathering momentum around the world. Sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg spearheaded a stunning victory in the EU recently. If the impeded stream sings, as Wendell Berry put it, these are rivers of rousing choirs.
The second response, mitigation, also has merit. It aims to stave off the collapse long enough to get needed preparation in place for what is to come.
Stellar examples of this are found in the regenerative agriculture movement. A farmer in drought-stricken Australia told us about the macadamia farm his family owned. He remembers his mother saying, “We’ll plant ’til we can’t.” That day came, so they decided to give farming a go in New South Wales. He described digging a posthole three feet deep recently. At the bottom of the hole was more dust. He and his family are joining fourth generation farmers who are jettisoning traditional farming practices that further deplete the parched earth. He uses no chemicals, rotates stock every three or four days, and is building every condition for the native grasses to thrive once again. Neighboring farms are “destocking” (i.e. slaughtering) sheep and cattle as feed disappears. Food supplies are dwindling for people and animals alike. But he will plant ’til he can’t. When asked about his motivation to persist in such difficult and heartbreaking work, he said it was for love of the land, but most importantly, love for his children. He wants to provide a safe refuge for them for as long as possible.
Regardless of the plethora of geoengineering plans to draw down CO2 levels or reflect solar radiation back into space, the tough reality is that the effects of CO2 already present in the biosphere are irreversible, and intensifying rapidly. Barring unforeseen forces at work, a consensus of scientific research tells us that a minimum of three degrees Celsius (3°C) warming is already baked into the system under current global climate pledges. A study published in Nature magazine showed that over the last quarter-century, the oceans have absorbed 60 percent more heat annually than estimated in the 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. The study underscored that the oceans have already absorbed 93 percent of all the heat humans have added to the atmosphere and that planetary warming is already far more advanced than had previously been grasped. If the oceans had not absorbed that heat, global atmospheric temperatures would be 97 degrees Fahrenheit (97°F) hotter than they are today. Today’s carbon dioxide levels at 410 parts per million (ppm) are already in accordance of what historically brought about a steady state temperature of 7°C higher and sea levels 23 meters higher than they are today.
Anyone who thinks there is still time to wholly remedy the situation must answer the question: How do we remove all the heat that’s already been absorbed by the oceans? Invigorated activism, as heartening and important as it is, is not going to completely stem these tides.
Thus, the third level of activism, adaptation, comes into focus.
Adaptation is new territory. Here is the realm of healing, reparation (spiritual and psychological, among other ways) and collaboration. It is strangely rich with a new brand of fulfillment and unprecedented intimacy with the Earth and one another. It invites us to get to the roots of what went astray that has led us into the sixth mass extinction. Given that with even our own extinction a very real possibility, even if that worst-case scenario is to run its course, there is time left for amends, honorable completions, and the chance to reconnect in to this Earth with the utmost respect, and in the gentlest of ways.
The window for practical preparation for accelerating collapse and chaos is now open.
“Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well,” Czech dissident, writer and statesman Václav Havel said, “but the certainty that something is worth doing no matter how it turns out.”
Here are a few stories about adaptation, to give a feel for actions that flow out of this type of hope — a hope that includes a hard-won acceptance of the very real possibility of impending collapse.
— An association of mental health workers has created the Climate Psychologists Alliance, in the U.K., Scotland and the U.S. They provide newly adapted psychological services for understanding and facing human-caused climate disruption, along with the difficult truths that come along with it, and helping one another engage while responding to our ecological crisis.
— Gerri Haynes is a 75-year-old and mother of four children and many precious grandchildren. She and her husband, Bob, live in Seattle. They have asked their children and families to remain located nearby in anticipation of duress to come. Their top priority in life, after years of work with Physicians for Social Responsibility, is keeping their family safe and together. The bonds are deep and will carry them through.
— Siena is an 18-year-old Canadian who has opted out of the university track, despite top grades. She has chosen to go to a local trade school where she is studying metal work (milling), welding, plumbing, electrical and carpentry. Her focus will be horticulture. Siena loves working with her hands both for practical purposes and for the joy of creating beauty. She is keenly aware of the usefulness of these skills should industrial infrastructure collapses. She is adapting to our global crisis with great enthusiasm, amid her keen awareness of how much is changing and the challenging times that are imminent.
— Dahr recently spoke to a class at Cabrillo Junior College, elaborating on the climate science in his book, The End of Ice, that explores bearing witness and finding meaning amidst climate disruption. At the end of his talk, a young woman raised her hand and asked, “What can I do? I am poor and have so little to offer.” Later on, in a conversation she mentioned that she was the mother of a young child. This brought tears. The act of parenting, while fully conscious of our likely demise, could now be one of the most heroic forms of activism on the planet. Though the future looks bleak, how can we live in a way that supports seven generations hence? What a form of activism, raising children who cherish this world, who are secure and confident in themselves, who can see and think clearly, who know they matter, who walk on this Earth with respect and curiosity?
— The two of us, along with neighbors, maintain a large garden that provides us vegetables, fruit and berries, along with the calm satisfaction of watching the insects and birds it attracts. Millions of people are already wisely and instinctively following their interests in growing food. Here is intense satisfaction, joy and preparation.
— Finally, a tribute to Stan Rushworth who is filling in a critical void in our attempts to reconnect with the Earth in the time before us. An elder of Cherokee descent who was brought up by his grandfather in traditional ways, Stan knows that all trees and rocks are alive, and that all beings are connected and communicating in their own ways. He knows there is no back-to-the-Earth movement in the United States that does get our history straight. The truth is that the first colonists arrived in North America when it was the thriving home of over 60 million Native people. In very short order, 96 percent of these men, women and children were cruelly sacrificed in the spirit of “manifest destiny” as one of the most barbaric rapid genocides that has ever been carried out. Rushworth teaches at a community college, where his labor of teaching this critical history to younger generations has gone on for a quarter of a century. Without commitment to acknowledge, work against and build reparations for the abomination of Native genocide, we have no foundation upon which to live.
Way upstream of all these noble stories is a subtle and profound kind of activism that could permeate every action we choose to take, on any tier. Author and teacher Joanna Macy, who is a scholar of Buddhism, systems thinking and deep ecology describes an activist as “anyone who does something for more than personal advantage.” The implications of generous action begin to tip a massive scale away from the pervasive greed and self-centeredness that fuels the root causes of this sixth mass extinction. In fact, we belong to a complex and wondrous net of life, characterized by balance, natural limits and respect.
What if, in the time we have left, we can simply remember this? Then we enable ourselves to walk away from the illusion of separation. Luckily, we already have a compass within ourselves, ready for activation. During a recent unseasonable cold snap in our hometown, one of our friends, Casey Taylor, spontaneously took it upon himself to make a large bag of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and search out homeless people in the woods. He delivered the sandwiches along with blankets and heating fuel to everyone he could find. He knew of a need and deployed himself, no matter his humble resources, to fill it.
Perhaps one of the most potent rebellions of this time is the refusal to walk in the mainstream western herd, conforming to expectations and values that have ultimately ravaged the Earth. Opting out at its core means realignment with an inner knowing about what is ours to do, from the inside out.
Each one of us must choose the path that is ours. The sum total of this is legions of people taking action in their unique ways, and supporting one another.
Consider this story of a father’s support for his daughter’s choice to follow her calling. Mark Oates, father of 17-year-old Shayla, wrote to Barbara about his despair and fear, as his daughter heads into a dicey climate march that risks repercussions:
Shayla has decided she needs to rebel again and will be putting up posters for the School Strike 4 Climate on Friday in preparation for the 15th of March. She knows that it is too late, but will rebel anyway…. It is what she feels she needs to do…. I will be overseas during the school strikes, or I would have gone with her. My mum, Rosemary is going with her instead.
I have a tear in my eye … the grief, the courage of the young and old, the pride in her … she has always been one to stand up and protect another that is being victimized … but why is it the young and the old that are standing in front of the machine? So sad that we got to this place…. With love.
Barbara wrote him back:
Mark, I honor your clear sight and feel your breaking heart in all this. Amazing, your mom and Shayla going together. Even though we know how advanced the demise is, there are things we all need to do, to be able to live with ourselves, to galvanize in ourselves the ferocity to live in these times, to feel the oneness that pervades in these events. Intuitively I feel it is something formative and essential for Shayla. And REALLY hard on the heart of a Dad. Arms around your whole family and blessings on the Earth you walk on.
This reflection was written on the backs of many conversations … with one another, Mark Oates, Joanna Macy, Sarah-Jane Menato and indirectly, Jem Bendell. It is our hope that these words inspire these challenging conversations with your friends and loved ones.
Lastly, what if all the fixing and mitigating and adapting fail? Perhaps we will have become worthy human beings, having acted during this time of crisis with extraordinary love and integrity. We will turn toward one another and all the beings on the planet, with clear and humble love, knowing we are one living whole. On bended knee, we will weep in abject gratitude for the gift of life itself entrusted to us. In this is profound meaning and purpose.
Perhaps the singing of the impeded stream is, in the end, enough.
“Deep Adaptation,” by Jem Bendell. A paper that provides readers “with an opportunity to reassess their work and life in the face of an inevitable near-term social collapse due to climate change.”
Joanna Macy, Ph.D., is an author and teacher, scholar of Buddhism, systems thinking and deep ecology. She is a respected voice in movements for peace, justice and ecology. Macy interweaves her scholarship with learnings from six decades of activism.
Going to Water, by Stan Rushworth. An historical novel, and one of the greatest books ever written about healing. “The journal of a Cherokee woman with tremendous courage and determination to persevere in the face of all odds, one who carries a transcendent vision while struggling with everyday life. Where she succeeds and fails is determined by her clarity of focus, by her trust in culture and family, by the powerful responses to the emotional ride she takes on her journey, and by her enduring love.”
The Climate Psychology Alliance provides a forum for people wanting to make connections between depth psychology and climate change, as we all face the difficult truths of climate change and ecological crisis.
Dahr Jamail’s “Climate Disruption Dispatches.” Jamail’s regular updates on the science of climate change are reliable sources of scientific truth.
The climate change lawsuit that could stop the U.S. government from supporting fossil fuels
A lawsuit filed on behalf of 21 kids alleges the U.S. government knowingly failed to protect them from climate change. If the plaintiffs win, it could mean massive changes for the use of fossil fuels
Of all the cases working their way through the federal court system none is more interesting or potentially more life changing than Juliana v. United States. To quote one federal judge, “This is no ordinary lawsuit.” It was filed back in 2015 on behalf of a group of kids who are trying to get the courts to block the U.S. government from continuing the use of fossil fuels. They say it’s causing climate change, endangering their future and violating their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property. When the lawsuit began hardly anyone took it seriously, including the government’s lawyers, who have since watched the Supreme Court reject two of their motions to delay or dismiss the case. Four years in, it is still very much alive, in part because the plaintiffs have amassed a body of evidence that will surprise even the skeptics and have forced the government to admit that the crisis is real.
The case was born here in Eugene, Oregon, a tree-hugger’s paradise, and one of the cradles of environmental activism in the United States. The lead plaintiff, University of Oregon student Kelsey Juliana, was only five weeks old when her parents took her to her first rally to protect spotted owls. Today, her main concern is climate change, drought and the growing threat of wildfires in the surrounding Cascade Mountains.
Kelsey Juliana: There was a wildfire season that was so intense, we were advised not to go outside. The particulate matter in the smoke was literally off the charts. I mean, it was so bad it was past severe, in terms of danger to health.
Steve Kroft: And you think that’s because of climate change.
Kelsey Juliana: That’s what scientists tell me.
It’s not just scientists. Even the federal government now acknowledges in its response to the lawsuit that the effects of climate change are already happening and likely to get worse, especially for young people who will have to deal with them for the long term.
“The government has known for over 50 years that burning fossil fuels would cause climate change. And they don’t dispute that we are in a danger zone on climate change.”
Steve Kroft: How important is this case to you?
Kelsey Juliana: This case is everything. This is the climate case. We have everything to lose, if we don’t act on climate change right now, my generation and all the generations to come.
She was 19 when the lawsuit was filed and the oldest of 21 plaintiffs. They come from ten different states and all claim to be affected or threatened by the consequences of climate change. The youngest, Levi Draheim, is in sixth grade.
Steve Kroft: You’re 11 years old, and you’re suing the United States government, that’s not what most 11-year-olds do, right?
Levi Draheim: Yeah…
He’s lived most of his life on the beaches of a barrier island in Florida that’s a mile wide and barely above sea level.
Steve Kroft: What’s your biggest fear about this island?
Levi Draheim: I fear that I won’t have a home here in the future.
Steve Kroft: That the island will be gone.
Levi Draheim: Yeah. That the island will be underwater because of climate change.
Steve Kroft: So you feel like you’ve got a stake in this.
Levi Draheim: Yes.
The plaintiffs were recruited from environmental groups across the country by Julia Olson, an oregon lawyer, and the executive director of a non-profit legal organization called “Our Children’s Trust.” She began constructing the case eight years ago out of this spartan space now dominated by this paper diorama that winds its way through the office.
Steve Kroft: So what is this?
Julia Olson: So this is a timeline that we put together…
It documents what and when past U.S. administrations knew about the connection between fossil fuels and climate change. The timeline goes back 50 years, beginning with the presidency of Lyndon Johnson.
Julia Olson: So during President Johnson’s administration, they issued a report in 1965 that talked about climate change being a catastrophic threat.
Whether it was a Democrat or a Republican in office, Olson says, there was an awareness of the potential dangers of carbon dioxide emissions.
Julia Olson: Every president knew that burning fossil fuels was causing climate change.
Fifty years of evidence has been amassed by Olson and her team, 36,000 pages in all, to be used in court.
Julia Olson: Our government, at the highest levels, knew and was briefed on it regularly by the national security community, by the scientific community. They have known for a very long time that it was a big threat.
Steve Kroft: Has the government disputed that government officials have known about this for more than 50 years and been told and warned about it for 50 years?
Julia Olson: No. They admit that the government has known for over 50 years that burning fossil fuels would cause climate change. And they don’t dispute that we are in a danger zone on climate change. And they don’t dispute that climate change is a national security threat and a threat to our economy and a threat to people’s lives and safety. They do not dispute any of those facts of the case.
The legal proceedings have required the government to make some startling admissions in court filings. It now acknowledges that human activity – in particular, elevated concentrations of greenhouse gases – is likely to have been the dominant cause of observed warming since the mid-1900s… That global carbon dioxide concentrations reached levels unprecedented for at least 2.6 million years… That climate change is increasing the risk of loss of life and the extinction of many species and is associated with increases in hurricane intensity, the frequency of intense storms, heavy precipitation, the loss of sea ice and rising sea levels. And the government acknowledges that climate change’s effects on agriculture will have consequences for food scarcity.
Steve Kroft: So you’ve got them with their own words.
Julia Olson: We have them with their own words. It’s really the clearest, most compelling evidence I’ve ever had in any case I’ve litigated in over 20 years.
The lawsuit claims the executive and legislative branches of government have proven incapable of dealing with climate change. It argues that the government has failed in its obligation to protect the nation’s air, water, forests and coast lines. And it petitions the federal courts to intervene and force the government to come up with a plan that would wean the country off fossil fuels by the middle of this century.
Steve Kroft: You’re just saying, “Do it. We don’t care how.”
Julia Olson: Do it well and do it in the timeframe that it needs to be done.
Steve Kroft: You’re talking about a case that could change economics in this country.
Julia Olson: For the better.
Steve Kroft: Well, you say it changes the economy for the better, but other people would say it would cause huge disruption.
Julia Olson: If we don’t address climate change in this country, economists across the board say that we are in for economic crises that we have never seen before.
The lawsuit was first filed during the final years of the Obama administration in this federal courthouse in Eugene.
Steve Kroft: Did they take this case seriously when you filed it?
Julia Olson: I think in the beginning they thought they could very quickly get the case dismissed.
In November 2016, a federal judge stunned the government by denying its motion to dismiss the case and ruling it could proceed to trial. In what may become a landmark decision, Judge Ann Aiken wrote, “Exercising my reasoned judgment, I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.”
Steve Kroft: A federal judge ever said that before?
Julia Olson: No judge had ever written that before.
The opinion was groundbreaking because the courts have never recognized a constitutional right to a stable climate.
Ann Carlson: That’s a big stretch for a court.
Ann Carlson is a professor of environmental law at UCLA. Like almost everyone else in the legal community, she was certain the case was doomed.
Ann Carlson: There’s no constitutional provision that says the that environment should be protected.
Steve Kroft: Why is the idea that the people of the United States have a right to a stable environment such a radical idea?
Ann Carlson: Well, I think that Judge Aiken actually does a very good job of saying it’s not radical to ask the government to protect the health, and the lives and the property of this current generation of kids. Look, If you can’t have your life protected by government policies that save the planet, then what’s the point of having a Constitution?
Steve Kroft: How significant is this case?
Ann Carlson: Well, if the plaintiffs won, it’d be massive, particularly if they won what they’re asking for, which is get the federal government out of the business of in any way subsidizing fossil fuels and get them into the business of dramatically curtailing greenhouse gases in order to protect the children who are the plaintiffs in order to create a safe climate. That would be enormous.
So enormous that the Trump administration, which is now defending the case, has done everything it can to keep the trial from going forward. It’s appealed Judge Aiken’s decision three times to the ninth circuit court in California and twice to the Supreme Court. Each time it’s failed.
Julia Olson: They don’t want it to go to trial.
Steve Kroft: Why?
Julia Olson: Because they will lose on the evidence that will be presented at trial.
Steve Kroft: And that’s why they don’t want one.
Julia Olson: That’s why they don’t want one. They know that once you enter that courtroom and your witnesses take the oath to tell the truth and nothing but the truth the facts are the facts and alternative facts are perjury. And so, all of these claims and tweets about climate change not being real, that doesn’t hold up in a court of law.
The Justice Department declined our request for an interview, but in court hearings, in briefs, it’s called the lawsuit misguided, unprecedented and unconstitutional. It argues that energy policy is the legal responsibility of Congress and the White House, not a single judge in Oregon. And while climate change is real it’s also a complicated global problem that was not caused and cannot be solved by just the United States government.
In other words, it’s not responsible.
Steve Kroft: Why is the federal government responsible for global warming? I mean it doesn’t produce any carbon dioxide. How are they causing it?
Julia Olson: They’re causing it through their actions of subsidizing the fossil fuel energy system, permitting every aspect of our fossil fuel energy system, and by allowing for extraction of fossil fuels from our federal public lands. We are the largest oil and gas producer in the world now because of decisions our federal government has made.
Steve Kroft: What about the Chinese government? What about the Indian government?
Julia Olson: Clearly, it’s not just the United States that has caused climate change but the United States is responsible for 25 percent of the atmospheric carbon dioxide that has accumulated over the many decades.
Julia Olson is confident they’re going to prevail in court. Ann Carlson and most of the legal community still think it’s a longshot, but she says she’s been wrong about this case every step of the way.
Ann Carlson: Courts have asked governments to do bold things. The best example would be Brown versus the Board of Education, when the court ordered schools to desegregate with all deliberate speed. So there have been court decisions that have asked governments to do very dramatic things. This might be the biggest.
Steve Kroft: You’ve been stunned by how far this case has gotten. Why has it gotten this far?
Ann Carlson: I think there are several reasons this case has actually withstood motions to dismiss. I think the first is that the lawyers have crafted the case in a way that’s very compelling. You have a number of kids who are very compelling plaintiffs who are experiencing the harms of climate change now and will experience the harms of climate change much more dramatically as they get older. I think the hard question here is the law.
The next oral arguments in Juliana v. United States are scheduled for June in Portland. But whatever happens next will certainly be appealed. Two-thousand miles away, in the aptly named town of Rayne, Louisiana, the family of one of the plaintiffs, 15-year-old Jayden Foytlin, is still rebuilding from the last disaster in 2016 that dumped 18 inches of rain on Rayne and Southern Louisiana in just 48 hours.
Jayden Foytlin: That’s just something that shouldn’t happen. You can’t really deny that it, climate change has something to do with it. And you can’t deny that it’s something that we have to pay attention to. I’m not sure if most of Louisiana, of South Louisiana is going to be here, that’s just a really big worry of mine.
For the foreseeable future, it’s impossible to predict when and how the storms and the lawsuit are likely to end.
Produced by Draggan Mihailovich. Associate producers, Katie Brennan and Chrissy Jones
In an exciting stroke of the pen, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that New Mexico will join the U.S. Climate Alliance, adding New Mexico to the growing list of states pledging to embrace the necessary and ambitious goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement (“On climate, Lujan Grisham starts to deliver,” Our View, Jan. 31). Surrounded by environmental advocates, young people from the Santa Fe-based Global Warming Express, and heads of state agencies, we were honored to stand near the governor as she specifically named methane capture as a focal point in the state’s effort to combat climate change.
Climate change is a big, complex issue that can be difficult to understand. Within this complicated issue, methane has been overlooked and action on it has been consistently delayed or even rolled back. Gov. Lujan Grisham understands this and her actions demonstrate the crucial role that methane capture will play in the fight against climate change. The impacts of climate change pose dramatic challenges for New Mexico, including fires, flooding, drought, health impacts, and dramatic shifts in our state’s climate that will cause cascading damages to the state’s ecosystems and cultural resources.
The most recent report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change highlights the narrow 12-year window we have to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. Because of its potency as a greenhouse gas, regulating methane emissions is one of the most promising ways to make dramatic short-term changes to the atmosphere that could be the difference between manageable climate impacts and disastrous ones.
We are proud to have a governor that is taking such decisive action, and we are proud to be part of the diverse coalition keeping climate change in the forefront of the state’s legislative agenda. Over the past couple of years, Climate Advocates/Voces Unidas, known as CAVU, has worked hard to inform a wide audience about the the impacts of methane emissions to New Mexico. Our Unearthed film series continues to bring together a wide range of stakeholders to discuss the opportunities and challenges presented by oil and gas development in our state. By creating dialogue, we can work toward common sense solutions that protect our environment and move our economy forward. It is encouraging to see this work translate into policy.
On behalf of CAVU and the many organizations working to make New Mexico a leader in climate policy, we want to thank the governor for taking the lead with this executive order. As she said herself, “It’s up to us” to face this problem head on.
Twelve years will pass in the blink of an eye. For the sake of our children, we look forward to finding solutions to the most pressing issue of our time.
Jordan Vaughan Smith and David Smith are the founders of Climate Advocates/Voces Unidas. They live in Santa Fe.
Opinions on the “Green New Deal” run the gamut from calling it “a bold, ambitious vision” to warning that it represents “the first step down a dark path to socialism.” A fairly common critique, though, is that it is unrealistic in whole or part; and that’s a view that crosses political lines. Even Speaker Nancy Pelosi pointedly referred to the proposals put forward by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey as “the green dream, or whatever they call it” in an interview with Politico.
Producers of oil, natural gas and coal — those squarely in the GND’s crosshairs — may be tempted to draw comfort from, or mimic, Pelosi’s offhandedness. I think that would be a mistake.
There are two reasons why dismissing the GND as unrealistic would be an error. First, to do so would be to merely state the obvious. A 14-page set of non-binding resolutions encompassing everything from getting the U.S. to net-zero carbon emissions to overhauling the nation’s transportation infrastructure and even implementing a federal job guarantee is plainly not what you would call ready-to-go legislation. And while AOC’s many critics may deride her as inexperienced, surely even they don’t think she’s unable to count how many Republican senators there are right now.
Rather, the GND is a set of sketched-out goals; a flag to rally support around for what its authors surely know will be a multi-year, and grinding, political battle. As ClearView Energy Partners put it in a report on the GND — coming as it does from a master of social media in our increasingly clickable political culture — this is about “counting likes (not votes).” By marrying environmental objectives with issues related to economic insecurity, Ocasio-Cortez and Markey are attempting to recast the doom-laden threat of climate change as an opportunity for economic and national renewal — a stance that mixes FDR liberalism with dashes of America First populism.
Far from thinking the GND’s enormous scope renders it an unrealistic mess, the fossil-fuel industry should consider it an opening gambit. Many of the proposals could be ditched or modified over time and America might still be left with far-reaching federal measures curbing the use of oil, natural gas and coal when the smoke clears. As it stands, polling shows comfortable majorities of Americans already think climate change is happening and is mostly man-made. Perhaps more importantly, roughly four-in-ten discuss the issue “often or occasionally” with family and friends, the highest proportion since the “Climate Change in the American Mind” survey was launched in 2008.
Such shifts in attitudes are why many fossil-fuel producers have also shifted in recent years toward acknowledging the reality of climate change and the role of their products in causing it. Herein lies the second reason why the GND’s lack of “realism” isn’t a promising line of attack over the long term.
As I wrote here, the incumbent energy industry’s change of heart comes after decades of rejecting warnings about climate change and helping to transform it from a question of science to one of political tribalism. Oil majors calling for carbon taxes after spending so many years of denying the need for action now actually find themselves to the left of a lot of senior Republican politicians on that specific issue. When even relatively straightforward measures like pricing carbon have become untouchable for one of the major U.S. parties, yet even producers admit there’s a problem, something has to give.
Sarah Ladislaw, a director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who published this smart blog post on the GND’s potential, offers this succinct rebuttal to the “realist” school of criticism:
It’s a hard conversation to calibrate. If the Green New Deal is infeasible, what do you call managing climate-change impacts? Surely that’s infeasible.
If the GND’s ambition is a testament to anything, it is that there are no easy solutions here. We have built our standard of living on forms of energy that we now know pose a threat to our very existence. That is a simple summation of a monumental challenge; one where time has eroded our margin for incremental action. No matter what you think of the specifics, or lack of them, this is a conversation that is long overdue — and necessarily begins with a shout, not a whisper.
A group of top hurricane experts, including several federal researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, published striking new research Thursday suggesting that hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean have grown considerably worse, and climate change is part of the reason why.
The study focused on rapid intensification, in which hurricanes may grow from a weak tropical storm or Category 1 status to Category 4 or 5 in a brief period. They found that the trend has been seen repeatedly in the Atlantic in recent years. It happened before Hurricane Harvey struck Texas and before Hurricane Michael pummeled the Gulf Coast with little warning last fall. Hurricane Michael, for example, transformed from a Category 1 into a raging Category 4 in the span of 24 hours.
The study, published in Nature Communications, describes its conclusion in blunt language, finding that the Atlantic already has seen “highly unusual” changes in rapid hurricane intensification, compared to what models would predict from natural swings in the climate. That led researchers to conclude that climate change played a significant role.
“Natural variability cannot explain the magnitude of the observed upward trend,” they wrote. The research was led by Kieran Bhatia, who conducted the research as a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University and NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory.
“There’s just a whole host of issues that come along with rapid intensification, and none of them are good,” said Jim Kossin, one of the study’s authors and also a hurricane expert with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Kossin said that more rapidly intensifying storms means both that there are more strong storms overall, but also that there are more risky situations near land.
“Rapid intensification is exceedingly dangerous because people, they’re not warned adequately, they’re not prepared, many of them don’t evacuate,” he said.
The findings come in the wake of two of the most damaging years for hurricanes and other extreme events. In 2017, according to NOAA figures, the United States saw $306 billion in disaster losses, largely driven by Hurricanes Harvey, Maria and Irma. In 2018, Hurricanes Florence and Michael were major factors in a $91 billion damage total.
Rapid intensification is generally measured by comparing the strength of a hurricane over a 24-hour period. A change in storm wind speed of greater than 35 mph in 24 hours is generally the cutoff.
By this measure, the five most destructive Atlantic storms of the past two years all went through rapid intensification:
Chris Mooney/The Washington Post
In the new study, the researchers used two separate data sets of storm behavior to analyze changes in the tendency of hurricanes to rapidly intensify. They looked at the globe and also at the Atlantic region specifically, but had less confidence in global figures, given that record-keeping of storm behavior is less reliable in other regions than in the carefully studied Atlantic.
Over a 28-year period from 1982 to 2009, the percentage of Atlantic storms that rapidly intensified had tripled, the study found. This was true of both data sets used, one of which records official hurricane statisticsfrom global monitoring agencies, such as the National Hurricane Center, and one of which uses satellite imagery to estimate storm strengths.
The researchers then used a model that can reliably simulate hurricanes to determine whether the rates of rapid intensification found in the study are significantly greater than seen in a version of the model that did not include human-caused climate change. One obvious inference is that warmer ocean temperatures, which provide the fuel for hurricanes, are probably driving explosive storm strengthening.
Kossin said that if hurricanes have the potential to achieve higher intensities because of warmer ocean conditions, they’ll also probably rapidly intensify more frequently, since they have more “headroom” to grow in strength. That could explain the results.
And Kossin noted that the study only went through 2009, due to limitations in the satellite data set. That means it did not include multiple recent rapidly intensifying storms — if it had, the findings might have been even stronger.
“We’re finding trends even without including what we’ve been seeing in the last few years,” Kossin said.
Still, the study did include some major devastating storms, such as 2005′s Hurricane Wilma, which rapidly intensified from a strong tropical storm into a Category 5 hurricane in just 24 hours.
“It is fortunate that this ultrarapid strengthening took place over open waters, apparently void of ships, and not just prior to a landfall,” the National Hurricane Center wrote in a post-season analysis of the storm.
Kerry Emanuel, a hurricane expert at MIT, said the new results make theoretical sense — that storms are intensifying faster as the climate warms.
“One theoretical prediction, backed up by modeling results, is that intensity change should increase faster with global warming than intensity itself,” he said by email.
Emanuel added that rapid intensification creates a major emergency response problem — since rapid intensification is so hard to forecast, “important decisions, like whether not to evacuate a region, may have to be delayed.”
“Rapid intensification is a nightmare for hurricane forecasters especially for storms nearing land,” added Ryan Maue, a meteorologist with Weather.us. “As the climate warms, some ocean regions may disproportionately see more intense and rapidly intensifying storms.”
“This study uses an advanced climate model to determine if a climate warming signal has already emerged in recent decades. Their initial results suggest just that.”
Benjamin Strauss, chief executive and chief scientist at the research organization Climate Central, said the study seems in line with a growing body of research identifying the fingerprints of climate change in extreme weather events.
“This is a case where science seems to be following common sense. We’ve had so many badly destructive hurricanes strike the U.S. over the last 15 years that it’s hard not to feel something is amiss,” Strauss said.
“The intuition is easy: If you turn up the heat under a pot of water, it can shift quickly from simmer to boil,” Strauss added. “But the science of attributing hurricane characteristics to climate change has been difficult and requires a lot of computing power. This team has done important work, and I suspect it foreshadows a great deal more findings in the same direction.”
A black bear, in front of the front-end loader, rummages around equipment at Kincaid Park on Jan. 25, 2019. (Craig Norman photo)
A black bear was spotted last week in Anchorage’s Kincaid Park, the wooded and popular recreation area on the west side of town.
Some reported the bear eating grass or drinking water or just wandering around, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. At least a few young skiers with the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage’s Junior Nordic League saw the bear off the snowmaking loop last Wednesday evening during a particularly busy evening at the park. They reported the sighting to their coach, Geoff Wright.
“I assumed they were looking at a moose or a large dog or a coyote, but probably not a bear,” Wright said. “It’s stories from 6- and 7-year-old kids and they say all sorts of funny things.”
Like many park users, Wright has spotted bears in Kincaid in the summer. But in his 20 or so years of skiing in the park, he said, he’d never seen a bear there in the middle of winter. Still, he told his group to turn around just in case. Later, another skier showed him a picture of the bear taken that evening. Bear sighting confirmed.
Fish and Game hasn’t gotten a report of the Kincaid bear since last Friday, so it has likely headed back to its den, said department spokesman Ken Marsh. The department is aware of bear dens in Kincaid.
“They usually don’t stay up long unless they have that consistent food source,” Marsh said.
But the midwinter bear spotting raises the questions: Why was the bear awake? Did it have to do with the warmer-than-usual temperatures last week? Do bears actually sleep all winter?
Sean Farley, a Fish and Game wildlife physiologist, didn’t see the Kincaid Park bear last week, but here’s what he said about why a bear might be wandering around Anchorage in January:
Weather plays a role in when bears head into their dens. In the Anchorage area, black and brown bears generally hibernate from late October or November to April or May, he said. Female bears that are pregnant typically go in earliest and come out the latest.
Farley described hibernation as a “spectrum of physiological adaptations” to conserve energy. Arctic ground squirrels, for instance, can drop their body temperatures to below freezing. Bears aren’t like that.
“They’re not out cold like ground squirrels, they’re more like a sleeping dog that can be roused pretty easily,” Farley said. “They’ll get up and move around and thrash around.”
For bears, hibernation means heading into dens and lowering their metabolic rate. Their body temperature lowers from roughly 101 degrees to about 90 or 91 degrees, Farley said. It’s a survival tactic to make it through the winter, when there’s little to no food available.
During hibernation, bears usually don’t eat, drink, urinate or defecate. They’ll lose about 20 to 25 percent of their body weight. Mostly fat, Farley said.
Yes, they also sleep, but not the whole time.
Bears cycle through periods of deep sleep and periods of arousal. Their body temperature will increase a bit when they’re aroused. They might shift positions. They might poke their heads out of their den. They might even leave for a few hours and come back — that’s not common, but it’s not unheard of, Farley said.
“When we say ‘leave the den,’ they don’t usually go on big walks,” he said.
Pregnant bears will give birth just a couple of months into hibernation. They’ll nurse their cubs in their dens, despite not eating or drinking.
“They’ve got these newborn cubs that they’ve got to take care of. They can’t go to sleep and just be out of it,” Farley said. “The cubs can’t do anything. … All they can do is eat and scream and that’s about it. She has to move them around and hold them close to her body so they can nurse. She has to clean them.”
It’s very unlikely that a female bear with cubs will leave its den in the winter, Farley said.
A bear might get restless and want to stretch its legs, Farley said.
It’s also possible the bear went into a den too skinny. Its energy reserves might have gotten so low at some point that it prompted the bear to wake up and go look for food. It’s that or starve to death, Farley said.
Or, maybe a noise outside of the den stirred it when it wasn’t in a deep sleep. Farley noted, however, that he has photographs of snowmachine tracks that go over a den hole that’s covered in snow.
What about last week’s weather? Temperatures spiked to 44 degrees on Friday at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. Could that be why the black bear wasn’t in its den?
A goal of a bear den: To keep the cold out, Farley said. So mild fluctuations in outside temperature shouldn’t really impact bears in insulated dens.
“If they’re deep inside in some sort of den, maybe covered with snow, they’re insulated,” he said. “So fluctuations in the ambient temperature outside the den don’t get reflected as strongly inside the den. Plus they’re in the den heating it themselves because they’re at least 90 degrees or so.”
SINCE THE TRUMP administration took office, it has been fighting what they call an “anti-growth” agenda put in place by the Obama administration. Regulations that required businesses to spend time and money to meet the former administration’s environmental standards were swiftly reviewed and, in many cases, rolled back.
States, municipalities, and NGOs have responded to these changes by filing lawsuits to block the administration. Some, like lawsuits against the Keystone XL pipeline, have successfully kept public land closed to additional development.
Below are 15 influential decisions made by the Trump administration that could impact the future of our nation.
1. U.S. pulls out of Paris Climate Agreement
This is perhaps the decision that set the tone for the Trump administration’s approach to the environment: when he moved to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement in June of 2017. To many, it signaled less U.S. leadership in international climate change agreements. (Read more about this decision.)
2. Trump EPA poised to scrap clean power plan
The Clean Power Plan was one of the Obama’s signature environmental policies. It required the energy sector to cut carbon emissions by 32 percent by 2030, but in October 2017 it was rolled back by Trump’s EPA. Among the reasons cited were unfair burdens on the power sector and a “war on coal.” (Read more on why Trump can’t make coal great again.)
3. EPA loosens regulations on toxic air pollution
This regulation revolved around a complicated rule referred to as “once in, always in” or OIAI. Essentially, OIAI said that if a company polluted over the legal limit, they would have to match the lowest levels set by their industry peers and they would have to match them indefinitely. By dropping OIAI, the Trump EPA forces companies to innovate ways to decrease their emissions, but once those lower targets are met, they’re no longer required to keep using those innovations. (Read more about air pollution.)
4. Rescinding methane-flaring rules
Under the Affordable Clean Energy rule issued in August 2018, states were given more power over regulating emissions. In states like California, that means regulations would likely be stricter, whereas states that produce fossil fuels are likely to weaken regulations. The following month, the EPA announced they would relax rules around releasing methane flares, inspecting equipment, and repairing leaks. (Read more about methane.)
5. Trump announces plan to weaken Obama-era fuel economy rules
Under the Obama administration’s fuel economy targets, cars made after 2012 would, on average, have to get 54 miles per gallon by 2025. In August 2018, the Trump Department of Transportation and EPA capped that target at 34 miles per gallon by 2021. The decision created legal conflict with states like California that have higher emission caps. (Read more about speed bumps in the way of super-efficient cars.)
6. Trump revokes flood standards accounting for sea-level rise
In August 2017, President Trump revoked an Obama-era executive order that required federally funded projects to factor rising sea levels into construction. However, in 2018, the Department of Housing and Urban Development required buildings constructed with disaster relief grants do just that. (Read more about how rising sea levels may imperil the internet.)
7. Waters of the U.S. Rule revocation
What are the “waters of the U.S.?” President Trump issued an executive order in 2017 ordering the EPA to formally review what waters fell under the jurisdiction of the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers according to the 1972 Clean Water Act. The proposed change narrowed the definition of what’s considered a federally protected river or wetland. (Read more about Trump’s plans to roll back the Clean Water Act.)
8. NOAA green lights seismic airgun blasts for oil and gas drilling
Five companies were approved to use seismic air gun blasts to search for underwater oil and gas deposits. Debate over the deafening blasts stem from concerns that they disorient marine mammals that use sonar to communicate and kill plankton. The blasts were shot down by the Bureau of Energy Management in 2017 but approved after NOAA found they would not violate the Marine Mammal Protection Act. (Read more about how scientists think seismic air guns will harm marine life.)
LEARN WHAT IT MEANS TO BE AN ENDANGERED SPECIES
This critically endangered South China tiger lives at the Suzhou Zoo in China. This is a species that may be gone from the wild now. As of 2015 there were only 100 in captivity.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTO ARK
This is a central Bornean orangutan. Bornean orangutan numbers have been more than halved in the past 60 years, mainly due to humans encroaching on its habitat.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTO ARK
Giant panda numbers increased enough for the IUCN Red List to downlist it from endangered to vulnerable 2016.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTO ARK
Hawksbill sea turtles are listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. The tortoiseshell trade, collection of their eggs for food, and destruction of coral reefs have all contributed to their declining numbers.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTO ARK
Asian elephants are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List, threatened by habitat loss and poaching.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTO ARK
9. Interior Department relaxes sage grouse protection
10. Trump officials propose changes to handling the Endangered Species Act
In July of 2018, the Trump administration announced its intention to change the way the Endangered Species Act is administered, saying more weight would be put on economic considerations when designating an endangered animal’s habitat. (Read more about the rollbacks facing endangered animals.)
11. Migratory Bird Treaty Act reinterpretation
Companies installing large wind turbines, constructing power lines, or leaving oil exposed are no longer violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act if their activities kill birds. This controversial change was declared by the Trump administration in December of 2017. (Read more about why legally protecting birds is important.)
Opening public lands for business
12. Trump unveils plan to dramatically downsize two national monuments
Unlike national parks, which have to be approved by Congress, national monuments can be created by an executive order, which the president said means they can be dismantled just as easily. Such was the case for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah, which President Trump reduced and opened for mining and drilling companies in 2017. Tribes and environmental groups are challenging that interpretation in court. (Read more about the impacts of downsizing these two monuments.)
13. Executive order calls for sharp logging increase on public lands
Just a day before the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, President Trump issued an executive order that called for a 30 percent increase in logging on public lands. The decision was billed as wildfire prevention, though environmental groups say it ignores the role climate change plays in starting wildfires. (Read more about California’s historic wildfires.)
Security & Enforcement
14. Trump drops climate change from list of national security threats
The Trump administration’s decision to delist climate change from national security threats in December of 2017 meant less Department of Defense research funding and a nationalistic viewpoint on the potential impacts of wildfires, droughts, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. (Read more about how climate change is forcing migration in Guatemala.)
15. EPA criminal enforcement hits 30-year low
The size and influence of the EPA has shrunk under the Trump administration, and it’s illustrated by their diminished prosecuting power. Criminal prosecutions are at a 30-year low, and many violations that would have been prosecuted in the past are now being negotiated with companies. The administration says this is streamlining its work, but environmentalists have warned it could lead to more pollution. (Read more about the scientists pushing back against President Trump’s environment agenda.)