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The Pentagon’s Hidden Contribution to Climate Change

World’s single greatest institutional consumer of fossil fuels remains exempt from reporting its pollution

During the November 15, 2015 Democratic presidential debate, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders sounded an alarm that “climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism.” Citing a CIA study, Sanders warned that countries around the world are “going to be struggling over limited amounts of water, limited amounts of land to grow their crops and you’re going to see all kinds of international conflict.”

Army Air Corps Lynx Mk9A Helicopter Refuelling at Camp Bastion, Afghanistanphoto by Defence Images, on FlickrAn Army Air Corps helicopter at a refueling point in Afghanistan. The Pentagon has admitted to burning 350,000 barrels of oil a day.

On November 8, the World Bank predicted that climate change is on track to drive 100 million people into poverty by 2030. And, in March, a National Geographic study linked climate change to the conflict in Syria: “A severe drought, worsened by a warming climate, drove Syrian farmers to abandon their crops and flock to cities, helping trigger a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people.”

But there is another looming threat that needs to be addressed. Put simply: War and militarism also fuel climate change, and the Pentagon is one of the biggest culprits.

The Pentagon occupies 6,000 bases in the US and more than 1,000 bases (the exact number is disputed) in 60-plus foreign countries. According to its Fiscal Year 2010 Base Structure Report, the Pentagon’s global empire includes more than 539,000 facilities at 5,000 sites covering more than 28 million acres.

The Pentagon has admitted to burning 350,000 barrels of oil a day (only 35 countries in the world consume more) but that doesn’t include oil burned by contractors and weapons suppliers. It does, however, include providing fuel for more than 28,000 armored vehicles, thousands of helicopters, hundreds of jet fighters and bombers and vast fleets of Navy vessels. The Air Force accounts for about half of the Pentagon’s operational energy consumption, followed by the Navy (33 percent) and Army (15 percent). In 2012, oil accounted for nearly 80 percent of the Pentagon’s energy consumption, followed by electricity, natural gas and coal.

Ironically, most of the Pentagon’s oil is consumed in operations directed at protecting America’s access to foreign oil and maritime shipping lanes. In short, the consumption of oil relies on consuming …more

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The Path Ahead From Paris

We need to work together to create a “biosphere smart” economy

Paris was an unambiguous endorsement of ecosystem integrity and the need to move beyond fossil fuels. Protecting forests was much discussed and promoting an agricultural systems with carbon rich soil was introduced. That’s really huge – hard to overstate.

Eiffel Tower - COP 21photo by Yann Caradec, on FlickrThe Paris Agreement alone won’t get us back to healthy blue skies, but Paris’ achievements should be appreciated as a major step forward.

While any of us can (and should) kvetch about what didn’t happen or didn’t happen well enough in Paris, here is a list of some of the positive outcomes that can help inspire the ecological-truth-telling-troops. The Paris Agreement alone won’t get us back to the healthy blue sky (280 ppm) gifted to us by the Holocene time period, but Paris’ achievements should be appreciated as a major step forward together.

  1. In Paris we birthed a global agreement designed to be strengthened: The shift toward a focus on 1.5 degrees Celsius is powerful, and the review of commitments every five years is perhaps the most important development.
  2. Protecting primary forest sinks and restoring other forests featured prominently in the talks.
  3. The groundwork was laid for agroecology and soil carbon solutions. While still not mentioned in this agreement, advocates will work to add soil prominently to the picture. This is currently under discussion in the technical body (SBSTA). The new agreement/system is flexible. A country may choose to do soil carbon conservation and restoration in the farming sector even if it’s not in the agreement. However, they must be transparent and show the reductions. There was also broad agreement on the need to move beyond fossil fuels, but fossil fuel elimination is not all we need. Many put forth a more holistic package.
    The emergent “Soil/Forest/Climate Coalition” will be a significant force at all future global climate meetings.
  4. UN Secretary General said: good global solutions help with good local solutions. Both were showcased at the talks.
  5. Reducing ecologically perverse subsidies was prominent and will help get us to a true cost economy.
  6. Nearly 200 country leaders assembled to take a moderately unified stance on global ecological issues. …more

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Living with Stifling Air Pollution in Beijing

Parents are deeply anxious about raising children in China’s smog-choked capital

It’s an unseasonably warm December morning in Beijing, and the sky is dark and brown.

In this suburban neighborhood on the south side of the city, visibility isn’t more than a dozen meters or so. A thick grey haze has enveloped the streets, like a fog machine has been hard at work to recreate the set of a 1980s horror film.

Buses with high beams shining rumble slowly through intersections, and the air smells like dirt.

Photo of Beijing PollutionPhoto by Michael davis-burchat No one is more susceptible to the harmful effects of air pollution than children.

A gaggle of children in blue uniforms walk with their parents to a local elementary school. Their chatter and giggles are muffled under white and pink masks. For these kids, it’s just another day in one of the most polluted cities on earth.

The shift in 1979 from socialism to the free-market rescued millions of Chinese people from grinding poverty. But liberalizing the economy came at a cost: the brutalization of China’s natural environment.

Millions of acres of the country’s farmland is so contaminated from industrial run-off that growing food crops on that land is now banned, and nearly two-thirds of China’s underground water is unfit for human contact, according to the Chinese ministry of environmental protection.

Soil and water contamination are, clearly, serious issues in China, but perhaps nothing symbolizes the country’s ecological degradation more dramatically than air pollution.

In cities like Beijing, smog has become a national embarrassment. 

Air cleanliness is measured by the amount of microscopic pollution particles ­— called PM2.5 — present in the air. The World Health Organization states that exposure to a PM2.5-level greater than 25 over a 24-hour period can be potentially harmful.

During the wintertime in Beijing, the city’s PM2.5 level regularly hovers around the 300 or 400 mark, and it’s not uncommon for it to skyrocket above 600. 

There are significant health problems linked to toxic air. A recent study by Berkeley Earth, a research organization based in California, concluded that air pollution contributes to the deaths of approximately 1.6 million people in China each year. 

And no one is more susceptible to the harmful effects of air pollution than children. 

“Children are impacted in many ways [by poor air quality], but particularly …more

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View From the Edge

In Tanzania, researchers are using drones to develop a clearer picture chimpanzee behavior and human evolution

In 2003, while working as field researchers in Fongoli, Senegal, Alex Piel and his wife, Fiona Stewart, contracted the chimpanzee bug. Piel and Stewart were among the first in a long succession of researchers to be inspired by the Fongoli chimpanzees’ uniquely human behavior. For instance, the chimpanzees often sharpened sticks to spear their dinner, a mouse-sized primate called a bush baby. Also, the woodland-savanna landscape of southeast Senegal, where Fongoli is located, with its long distances between food- and water-rich forests, had caused the chimpanzees to become peripatetic – sort of like American retirees in RVs, chasing warm weather down the interstate. Such roaming behavior posed a basic yet vexing research problem: with such large and often remote territories, how do you keep tabs on the savanna chimpanzee?

Five years later, in 2008, Piel and Stewart’s work led them to the Issa Valley, in the Ugalla region of western Tanzania, where they encountered terrain similar to Fongoli’s, and chimpanzees whose ranges stretched to around 125 square miles. “In places like Uganda, the chimps’ ranges are probably about five or six kilometers,” Piel told me recently. “Here it’s a much vaster area.” That year, Piel and Stewart launched the Ugalla Primate Project, an ongoing collaborative research project focused on the chimpanzees and other primates in Ugalla. When I spoke to Piel, he and Stewart were in Arusha, in Tanzania’s north, and preparing to leave for the project’s research station, about a 900-mile drive west. The journey, normally routine, would be trickier this time. “This is our first trip with our eight-month-old,” Piel said. “Each day is an accomplishment.”  

You might notice a theme developing: Piel and Stewart–now “Drs.” Piel and Stewart – are drawn to the challenge of distance and the rewards of accomplishment. Over the past seven years, they have built the Ugalla Primate Project from a self-funded passion project to a full-time, 13-member hub for chimpanzee and other primate research collaborations. The project’s success has a lot to do with the fact that the Issa Valley is similar to what the African savanna was six million years ago. Having the ability to closely track how the region’s chimpanzees move may provide clues as to how our ancestors took their first steps. In order to lend a hand to science’s effort to …more

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FDA’s Ban of 3 Toxic Chemicals in Food Packaging Comes Too Late, Say Critics

Chemicals industry has already replaced these compounds with new ones that have received little scientific scrutiny

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it will ban three grease-resistant chemicals from food packaging materials like pizza box liners, microwavable popcorn bags, and sandwich wrappers. The newly banned substances all come from a family of chemicals, known as perflourinated chemicals, known to be associated with cancer, digestive ailments, and reproductive harms. 

pizza boxPhoto by Lis Ferlaperflourinated chemicals found in food packaging material like pizza box liners, microwavable popcorn bags and sandwich wrappers have been associated with cancer, digestive illness, reproductive harms

The catch? The ban only applies to perflourinated chemicals that have already largely been taken off the market, while leaving dozens of other similar chemicals on the FDA's approved list for use materials (like packaging) that come in contact with food, according to Environmental Working Group (EWG), an environmental organization.

"Industrial chemicals that pollute people's blood clearly have no place in food packaging," EWG President Ken Cook said in a statement. "This is another egregious example of how, all too often, regulatory actions under the nation’s broken chemical laws are too little and too late to protect Americans' health."

The FDA's move comes at a time when there is growing public awareness of the hazards of PFOA or C8, a perflourinated chemical that DuPont used for decades to manufacture Teflon-coated pots and pans and other goods. As I reported in Earth Island Journal’s latest issue, in October 2015 an Ohio jury awarded $1.6 million to cancer survivor Carla Bartlett, the first of over 3,000 plaintiffs who have sued DuPont over C8 contamination of drinking water supplies near DuPont's Parkersburg, West Virginia plant. DuPont had been using the chemical in its products for more than 50 years even though it knew C8 was making people sick. Legal battles against DuPont over C8 have already spanned nearly two decades, and are still continuing.

Perflourinated chemicals are remarkable for several reasons. First off, they spread easily through the environment — so much so that they've already entered the bloodstream of an astonishing number of Americans. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control, more than 98 percent of Americans have at least one of a dozen perflourinated chemicals, including C8, in their blood. They're also extraordinarily long lasting. Unlike many chemicals, perflourinated chemicals generally …more

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A Report from Porter Ranch

What the catastrophic Aliso Canyon methane leak teaches us about our reliance on fossil fuels

It’s early December, and I’m siting in a mega-church packed with more than 500 people. They’re here to listen to an update on the efforts to contain an enormous natural gas blowout that occurred more than a month before. Gas from the leak is being blown by prevailing winds right into their community of Porter Ranch, in Los Angeles County, CA. 

People are mad. 

Image of Aliso Canyon wellpadPhoto by Earthworks The Aliso Canyon gas well has been leaking methane since October 23, 2015 .

Hundreds of families have left their homes to get away from the rotten-egg smell of the gas, and moved into temporary homes elsewhere. Children are attending other schools further from the leak, which is spewing some 110,000 pounds of methane per hour from a broken well less than a mile from the neighborhood.  

Trust between the gas company, regulators, and community members seems absent. 

People question what else is in the gas that might have long-term health impacts. They want to know why many are suddenly reporting headaches and bloody noses.

I’m sitting in this church because my colleague Hilary Lewis and I were invited to Porter Ranch with our infrared gas-finding camera to see what this high profile disaster actually looks like. Before we arrived, the public had no access to images or video of the gas itself, as it’s invisible to the naked eye. 

We meet a local organizer in a supermarket parking lot, exit the vehicle, and even my horrible sense of smell instantly reacts to the scent of the gas more than two miles from where we stand. It’s coming from a well at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility, an 8,000-foot deep sandstone formation — a depleted oil field — that SoCalGas uses to hold vast quantities of gas. In fact, it’s one of the largest gas storage fields in the nation, comprising some 115 extraction and injection wells, some of which operate at pressures above 2,000 pounds per square inch — a hefty load for well casings over 60 years old. 

We hike the hills and document the gas blowing sideways and downhill into town. Later that night, we see a plume of gas at least a mile long spanning Aliso Canyon. Of all the sites I’ve shot …more

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Different Destinies at Stake in Oregon

A reflection on the men behind the siege of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters

There’s plenty to read about the Angry White Men who’ve occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters in Burns, Oregon. I’ve called them “Angry White Men” because that’s all I’ve seen in the hundreds of photos published since last Saturday, when the whole thing began. Calling them anything else (they’ve been called terrorists, revolutionaries, militants, patriots, jamokes, stunted halfwits, YallQaeda, etc. ) for me, is besides the point I want to make.

Cliven and Ammon BundyPhoto by Gage SkidmoreAmmon Bundy with his father Cliven Bundy at a conference. The Bundys and their band of "Angry White Men" want to ramp up all the activities that got us into this global warming jam to begin with, and spell certain doom if continued.

Yes, I believe that if these people were black or Muslim, they’d be dead and the refuge would be on fire. And, yes I believe that using deadly force to change anything is wrong-headed and doesn’t work. Do I have a solution for this? No, but it seems to me that the longer this goes and the more the men learn about how the world sees them, the more embarrassed they’ll be. Hopefully, sooner than later, they’ll  figure out how to diffuse the situation and slink away as uneventfully as possible. Hopefully, no one on either side of this does something stupid. Hopefully, the punishment they receive will be not only what they deserve, but enough to discourage them — or anyone else — from committing similar crimes against the American people.

By referring to Ammon Bundy and his camouflaged comrades as “Angry White Men” I put them into a group that, I believe, is largely responsible for much of what we see happening in the world today. Angry White Men — not all of them police — are responsible for most of the 30,000 shootings occurring in America each year. They want to control the bodies of women, as women threaten their power. Angry White Men support any war against any group made up of people who either are non-white, non-male, or non-angry. Angry White Men oppose any efforts to protect or defend any of American’s natural resources, refusing to see any value beyond financial. For Angry White Men, holding onto the last of the power they were born …more

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