Climate change is a threat to my family history, my home, and my heritage
Fighting climate change is about trying to change probabilities. The probability that a species will go extinct; the probability that powerful storms will drive people from their homes; the probability that coastal landscapes as we know them will be disfigured. I became aware of climate change because I was a conservation biologist, driven to stop the current mass extinction. While this goal still motivates me every day, I have found a more personal connection to the problems of climate change — I am one of millions of Americans whose lives and histories have been attached to the coast.
Photo by Bill Damon
When I was 23, my favorite part of the day occurred around 7 a.m. each morning when I was taking the train on the red line into Cambridge, the city where I was born. The train would cross over the Charles River via the Longfellow Bridge as the sun rose and its light began to sparkle across the water. As I would watch the boats from the windows of the train car, I’d enjoy my brief personal paradise. Cambridge is one of many places along the coast that are simultaneously connected to my family history and imperiled by climate change.
If you get off the train shortly after crossing the Charles, you’ll find yourself by the campus of the Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT), the school every aspiring science nerd dreams of attending. Back when my father was in college, he used to visit his high school friend here and study in the library. My father-in-law attended MIT for his doctorate in chemistry. Even if you never set foot on campus, some of its landmarks, especially the iconic Great Dome, may be familiar to you, especially if you’ve watched Good Will Hunting.
Should the sea level rise to the levels expected by the end of the century, much of MIT’s campus will be underwater.
Sitting on the red line a little longer will bring you to Harvard square. Harvard is where my story as an activist really begins. While I was intensely interested in climate change and had already made the decision to study it, it wasn’t until my friend and prominent activist Chloe Maxmin handed me a flier: “Care about climate change? Want …more
Restoration program is removing invasive goats and rats from remote Caribbean island, reviving native biodiversity
That was the first word Sophia Punnett-Steele, the Eastern Caribbean projects coordinator for Flora and Fauna International (FFI), used to describe her experience upon initially encountering Redonda, a tiny, 200-hectare island just off the coast of the small twin island Caribbean state of Antigua and Barbuda. “I couldn’t believe how degraded it was,” she continued, before trailing off. “I had seen photographs and video footage, but...”
Photo courtesy of Jenny Daltry/Fauna & Flora International
If one were to view Redonda from a distance, her description appears to be apt. Located 35 miles from Antigua, and 15 miles from the closest inhabited island of Montserrat, Redonda is often described as a “moonscape.” Sharp inclines, with cliffs jutting almost straight down to the sea, give way to its nearly barren landscape.
But despite the sterile surroundings, Redonda is a biodiversity hotspot, hiding secrets in almost every nook and cranny, including at least three species of reptiles found nowhere else in the world, one of which is a yet to be named species of dwarf gecko. And because of these hidden secrets, international efforts are now under way to save the dying biosphere of Redonda.
Redonda wasn’t always a wasteland. It was once a lush and fertile island used as a waypoint for the traveling Indigenous people called the Kalinago (also known as Caribs), who made their way through the islands in dugout canoes, and who had named the island Ocananmanrou before the European settlers arrived to the Caribbean. In 1493, Christopher Columbus spotted the tiny island on his second voyage to the Caribbean. Although he never set foot on it, he named it Santa Maria la Redonda for its round shape, and noted the large number of birds on the island.
At that time, Redonda was an untouched paradise — visited only by the occasional seafarer — home to a rich variety of flora and fauna, including iguanas, borrowing owls, and thousands of birds. By the 1860s, however, the modern history of Redonda began to blossom, ushering in a period of corresponding negative impacts on the biodiversity of the island.
Ironically, it was the large population of seabirds nesting on Redonda that brought about the first permanent settlement there. Every year the birds produced several tons of waste, or guano, which contained the calcium phosphate that was then widely used in gunpowder and …more
State-sanctioned logging in UNESCO world heritage site may be pushing Poland's Białowieża forest ecosystem to point of no return
Scientists and environmental campaigners have accused the Polish government of bringing the ecosystem of the Białowieża forest in north-eastern Poland to the “brink of collapse” one year after a revised forest management plan permitted the trebling of state logging activity and removed a ban on logging in old growth areas.
Photo by Jacek Karczmarz
Large parts of the forest, which spans Poland’s eastern border with Belarus and contains some of Europe’s last remaining primeval woodland, are subject to natural processes not disturbed by direct human intervention.
A UNESCO natural world heritage site — the only one in Poland — the forest is home to about 1,070 species of vascular plants, 4,000 species of fungi, more than 10,000 species of insect, 180 breeding bird species and 58 species of mammal, including many species dependent on natural processes and threatened with extinction.
“At some point there will be a collapse, and if and when it happens, it’s gone forever — no amount of money in the universe can bring it back,” said Proffesor Tomasz Wesołowski, a forest biologist at the University of Wrocław who has been conducting fieldwork in Białowieża for each of the last 43 years. “With every tree cut, we are closer to this point of no return.”
Logging is prohibited in the Białowieża national park nature reserve, which contains woodland untouched by humans for thousands of years, but the reserve only accounts for 17 percent of the forest on the Polish side, leaving approximately 40,000 hectares vulnerable to state-sanctioned logging.
On recent visits to the forest, The Guardian encountered evidence of widespread logging of trees in apparent contravention of Polish and European law, including many trees that appeared to be more than 100 years old in UNESCO-protected areas, with logs marked for commercial distribution.
“They are logging natural, diverse forest stands which were not planted by humans and replacing them with plantations of trees of a single age and species,” said Adam Bohdan of the Wild Poland Foundation, which monitors logging activity and provides data for scientists working at the Białowieża botanical research station.
Photo by GreenPeace Poland
“They are logging in UNESCO …more
As nonnative snakes decimate native species, hunters find a role in conservation efforts
“The word ‘Everglade’ means river of grass,” explains our airboat driver, who goes by Alligator Rob. We are out under the hot sun in the middle of the Florida Everglades, or “glades,” and Rob is addressing some engine trouble that has us stalled. He chats while he tinkers. “Not only is it a river, but it is the slowest moving river in the world. It only travels one mile a day. [It’s] 120 miles long, 50 miles wide. This is everybody’s fresh water supply from Pompano Beach all the way to the Keys.” Airboat rides in the Florida Everglades are a classic draw for tourists, skimming over the water and grass, with cameras pointed at the apex predator — the alligator. But there’s another predator now taking over the spotlight — the unwelcome, nonnative Burmese python.
Since the python population exploded in the late 1990s — by some estimates, there are now as many as 150,000 snakes in the Everglades — these huge reptiles have decimated native wildlife, including, raccoons, marsh rabbits, and birds. According to one study, mammal counts during nighttime road surveys in Everglades National Park decreased substantially for several species between 2003 and 2011, including by 99 percent for raccoons, 99 percent for opossum and 88 percent for bobcat. As populations of these smaller mammals dwindle, the effects can be felt up the food chain, as native predators like panthers and alligators lose their primary food sources. The python issue is yet one more challenge facing the Everglades ecosystem, which once sprawled across more than 6,250 square miles, but has now shrunk by half, and which has been dissected by dikes, roads and canals that have diverted the natural flow fo fresh water.
Desperate measures are required to protect native wildlife, so the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) has picked a select group of 25 hunters out of some 1,000 applicants to participate in a pilot python-hunting program this year on SFWMD lands. Other hunts are also taking place throughout the year in parts of Everglades National Park, sponsored by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.
The troublesome snakes seem to have originated from two sources: jaded pet owners dumping their charges, and the destruction of an Everglades breeding facility during Hurricane …more
Countries show that progress will not be deterred by shifting political winds in any one nation
Climate negotiations just concluded in Bonn demonstrated that countries are fully committed to continue global climate action and implement the Paris Agreement. During the two-week meeting, delegates made important progress on an outline for a detailed rulebook (also known as implementation guidelines) for the Paris Agreement and started building a process for countries to take stock of progress, highlight opportunities for action, and create a springboard for enhanced action. Delegates are now well-positioned to deliver a first draft of the negotiating text by the end of the UN climate summit in November, with the aim of adopting the guidelines in 2018.
Photo by UNClimateChange
Uncertainty about continued US participation in the Paris Agreement did not slow progress in Bonn. If anything, countries were emboldened to move forward and show that international climate action will not be deterred by the shifting political winds in any one country.
The steady progress made in Bonn showed these two weeks was evidence of countries’ commitment to deliver on the progress made at the climate summit in Marrakech last year and finalize the guidelines for the Paris Agreement by the 2018 meeting in Poland, known as COP24.
Designing the Guidelines
At Bonn, countries set out key issues in accounting for finance that countries have provided and mobilized. They also discussed various ways the Adaptation Fund could serve the Paris Agreement and the necessary steps to make this happen. There was progress on developing guidance for regularly communicating adaptation efforts and fruitful discussions on reporting emissions and financial support. Negotiations advanced on how to establish a committee to facilitate implementation and promote compliance with the Paris Agreement. Delegates also continued to work through the complicated issues involved in designing a global stocktake (when countries gather every five years to assess progress thus far) that includes all core elements including mitigation, adaptation and finance. There was also clear recognition that all of the elements of the Paris Agreement are linked, and that understanding and mapping these linkages to develop a framework that is coherent and mutually reinforcing is essential to ensure the Paris Agreement reaches its full potential.
The Paris Committee on Capacity Building met for the first time in Bonn. They consulted with stakeholders on how to address the lack of tools, technical expertise and organizational and institutional capacity in developing countries to both contribute to the design of the implementation …more
Gulf of Mexico campaign was part of two-part industry effort to make way for megaships
The deal, which includes the export of other commodities from the US to China, was signed about a month after President Donald Trump met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Much of the LNG in this deal will move across a recently expanded Panama Canal, offering a fast-track route to Asia for larger vessels, an expansion for which the oil and gas industry lobbied.
Photo by World Bank Photo Collection, Flickr
A DeSmog investigation has revealed that expanding the Panama Canal was part of a two-part process, which included an oil and gas industry push to deepen ports in the Gulf of Mexico as well. Emails obtained under the Texas Public Records Act show that lobbyists for ExxonMobil were leading this effort.
In an interview with Fox Business Network, US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross touted the deal with China and its implications for the global LNG market.
“We have worked out a new regime for LNG exports. As you probably know, China is the world's number one importer of LNG [and] we're just in the early days of exporting,” Ross told Neil Cavuto. “LNG prices have been languishing for quite a little while because, frankly, we have a good deal of oversupply. So it seemed weird, we have too much of it, it’s much cleaner than coal would be, and yet we weren’t really doing a big job of exporting it to China.”
Not long after the deal was signed, Cheniere, a top US exporter of LNG, also declared that it may soon be shipping more of its product to China. However, without Congress taking legislative action back in 2014, pushed by Exxon's lobbyists, the US-China LNG export deal may have never existed at all.
Art of LNG Deal
In 2014, Congress passed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (H.R. 3080/S. 601), which gave US ports like the Sabine-Neches Navigation District in Texas the legal authority to deepen their waters.
Deepening ports allows them to receive bigger and heavier tankers that sit lower in the water column, such as those carrying LNG or larger shipments of …more
Papahānaumokuākea Marine Monument is the largest fully protected marine zone in the world
When Donald Trump called for a review of some of America’s most spectacular land and seascapes last month, he clearly intended to toss out their protected status and tap them for their oil, gas, and minerals.
The president ordered the Department of Interior to review as many as 27 large national monuments created over the past two decades under the Antiquities Act by presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. Trump’s action could open up almost 1.2 million square miles of land and sea for development.
Photo by kris krüg
“Catering to the extractive industries and their allies in Congress, this order is part of a much broader, well-funded agenda to seize America’s best assets and turn them into cash cows for oil, gas and mining companies,” Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society, said in a statement. “We will fight every last rollback on behalf of the American people.”
Williams could have added fish to the list of assets to be sold off — in particular, the swordfish, tuna, sharks, and groupers that live within the expansive boundaries of the largest monument on the list: the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the state of Hawaii.
Papahānaumokuākea is much more than a sanctuary for fish. The remote archipelago northwest of Kauai, known for its coral reefs and dense bird populations, is fully protected against all extractive activities, which means that with few exceptions, no one can remove any living thing, cultural artifact, or even a piece of coral from there. The Trump order could wipe all those protections away.
Scientists have documented 7,000 endemic and endangered species living among the chain of 120 atolls, reefs, shoals, pinnacles, islands, and seamounts. Also known as the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, it is larger than any fully protected wilderness, park, or marine reserve ever created on Earth.
Papahānaumokuākea provides more protection to the northwestern Hawaiian Islands than Yellowstone National Park provides to northwestern Wyoming. The key difference is human access. Access to the marine reserve is allowed only for conducting cultural practices and research, habitat restoration …more