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FERC’s Alternative Climate Facts

Federal agency has made 'no significant impact' determination for every pipeline-related climate assessment since 2009

Long before Trump spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway took the phrase “alternative facts” mainstream, a rogue federal agency with authority to ram giant gas pipelines through people’s property against their will has for years pioneered the Trumpian version of reality when assessing the climate impact of natural gas infrastructure.

photo of pipelinePhoto by Loozrboy, FlickrFERC has approved nearly 200 interstate gas pipelines since 2009, but has not found a single one to have a significant impact on the climate.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), an “independent” agency that regulates the interstate transmission of gas and electricity, has permitted nearly 200 interstate gas pipeline projects stretching over 6,000 miles since 2009, and rejected only a single application. For each of these permitted projects an environmental impact statement was conducted. Where climate was assessed in these studies, the conclusion has always been the same – “no significant impact.”

Oil Change International and partners are launching a series of briefings today, together with a detailed methodology, that set the record straight on FERC’s alternative climate facts. The evidence is as clear as the rain on Trump’s inauguration ceremony. Major interstate gas pipelines cause climate change.

We kick this series off with assessments of two proposed pipelines that would tear through the pristine national forests and historic bucolic farmlands of West Virginia and Virginia (and in the case of one, also through North Carolina), the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines. (Read more about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s impact on Appalachian landscapes and communities here.)

Together these pipelines would cause annual emissions of around 158 million metric tons, equivalent to that of 46 average coal plants or over 33 million passenger vehicles. These projects could deliver these emissions for decades to come, so given the urgency to reduce emissions to close to zero by mid-century to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, a verdict of ‘no significant impact’ seems a little lenient.

So how does FERC manage to portray these emissions as not actually happening? (Sean Spicer should take note here because we’re about to reveal some tricks of the trade.)

First, FERC sticks to long-since-discredited assumptions by ignoring an entire body of research that contradicts its preferred finding. Second, it pretends stuff that’s happening is not happening. 

The discredited assumption FERC is wedded to is the idea that gas is a cleaner fossil fuel than coal or oil and therefore more gas flowing …more

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‘Extraordinary’ Levels of Pollutants Found in Pacific Ocean’s 10-Kilometer-Deep Mariana Trench

Presence of manmade chemicals in most remote place on planet shows nowhere is safe from human impact, say scientists

Scientists have discovered “extraordinary” levels of toxic pollution in the most remote and inaccessible place on the planet — the 10-kilometer-deep Mariana trench in the Pacific Ocean.

Small crustaceans that live in the pitch-black waters of the trench, captured by a robotic submarine, were contaminated with 50 times more toxic chemicals than crabs that survive in heavily polluted rivers in China.

photo of lobster Mariana trenchPhoto by NOAA Ocean Exploration & ResearchA small lobster in the Mariana trench. Scientists have discovered that small crustaceans in the trench, the most remote place on the planet, are contaminated with extraordinary levels of toxic chemicals.

“We still think of the deep ocean as being this remote and pristine realm, safe from human impact, but our research shows that, sadly, this could not be further from the truth,” said Alan Jamieson of Newcastle University in the UK, who led the research.

“The fact that we found such extraordinary levels of these pollutants really brings home the long-term, devastating impact that mankind is having on the planet,” he said.

Jamieson’s team identified two key types of severely toxic industrial chemicals that were banned in the late 1970s, but do not break down in the environment, known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs). These chemicals have previously been found at high levels in Inuit people in the Canadian Arctic and in killer whales and dolphins in western Europe.

The research, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, suggests that the POPs infiltrate the deepest parts of the oceans as dead animals and particles of plastic fall downwards. POPs accumulate in fat and are therefore concentrated in creatures up the food chain. They are also water-repellent and so stick to plastic waste.

“The very bottom of the deep trenches like the Mariana are inhabited by incredibly efficient scavenging animals, like the 2 centimeter-long amphipods we sampled, so any little bit of organic material that falls down, these guys turn up in huge numbers and devour it,” said Jamieson.

He said it was not unexpected that some POPs would be found in the deepest parts of the oceans: “When it gets down into the trenches, there is nowhere else for it to go. The surprise was just how high the levels were — the contamination in the animals was sky high.”

The level of one type of POP, called polychlorinated …more

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This Land Was Built for Bison

A former rancher uses his experience in low-stress cattle handling to manage bison herds in Canada’s Grasslands National Park

Back when Don Gillespie’s mother, Norah, was growing up on the family ranch in the mixed-grass prairie of southwestern Saskatchewan in west-central Canada there were few roads and fewer vehicles. Ranch work was done with horses and fence pastures were scarce. These prairies once held tens of thousands of bison but after European contact the bison were hunted to near extinction and cattle took over as the large grazer in the ecosystem.

photo of grasslands national parkPhoto by Marshal Drummond Grasslands National Park is one of Canada's best bison habitat. Since being reintroduced in 2005 after more than 100 years of absence, the bison population in the park has grown quickly.

Succeeding as a rancher on the large open prairies took patience and skill, especially when herding cattle. Norah discovered that if one was quiet in gesture and voice, a person could move large numbers of cattle with a small number of people and fewer problems. “The first guy to holler had to go to the house," Gillespie says, recalling his mother’s insistence on using low-stress animal handling techniques. "The only way you can handle livestock in big pastures is slow. You have to keep the energy level down, if you don’t, you are running the weight off the cattle.”

Gillespie learned from his mother to work with the landscape and took over the family ranch when his parents retired, carrying on the work of previous generations.

"My family's ranch had been in my family for a hundred years," says Gillespie, whose deeply crinkled eyes hint at a life spent living and laughing on the land. "My wife and I had two daughters. One wanted to work in finance and found a good job at a bank in the city. Our other daughter loved the land and ranching but she was killed in 2008." Gillespie paused, as if remembering happier times. "With no one to leave the land too," he continued, "it made sense to make it part of Grasslands National Park."

In 2008 he sold and the family’s 32 square miles of land became part of Grasslands National Park. One of the few remaining natural grasslands in North America, the park contains over 70 different species of grass and more than 50 wildflower species. It is also home to several at-risk species, including the burrowing owl and black-tailed prairie dog.

"It's bittersweet," Gillespie says about being the last Gillespie to live on the land. "Grasslands National Park has …more

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The Planet Needs Radical Compassion

Action built upon care and concern for all human and nonhuman beings can lend power to the environmental movement

Deborah Eden Tull was born an activist. “My mom, Tanya Tull, founded four nonprofits to end homelessness and my grandparents were old-time social justice activists and artists,” says Tull, who took on environmentalism as her branch of the family effort. Early in her career, Tull worked for many well-known environmental groups. “I deeply loved and respected the outer work … these activists were doing. But I also got to witness the imbalance.” In Tull’s words, the environmentalists and other activists she grew up with were prone to “depletion, anger, competition, finger pointing, and just plain not getting along.”

photo of hugsPhoto by Guillaume DELEBARRE, Flickr Tull and others in the eco movement are calling on environmentalists to become radically compassionate, aware of the interdependence of all things and everybody.

“One of the things I learned [early on] was that they were doing things in ways that led to burnout and stress rather than peace,” says Tull, who is an Ojai, California-based mindfulness teacher and sustainability educator. She’s also a teaching assistant for UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center.

In today’s political climate, where environmentalists feel under siege — consider a recent email blast from the Sierra Club, for example, that says the “E” in EPA will soon stand for “eliminated” if the Trump administration and likeminded members of congress have their way — activism burn-out is top of mind.

This is why Tull — and others in the eco movement — are calling on environmentalists to become radical. That is, radically compassionate. Compassion — an awareness of the interdependence of all things and everybody — is the only way to move from a place of real power and have a lasting impact, says Tull.

This sentiment is echoed by Paul Wapner, professor of global environmental politics at American University in Washington, DC, and author of Living Through The End of Nature. “In my mind, the environmental movement itself is fundamentally a compassion movement in the sense that one of the things it tries to do is extend moral consideration across time to future generations,” Wapner says. “Certainly it does this across space. Part of our concern is for those living downstream, suffering the consequences of environmentally harmful behavior. And also across species to the extent that we’re extending care to the more-than-human world.”

If the movement is compassionate, though, activism has not always been.

“People tend to react to environmental issues, the election, social justice issues, anything that …more

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Small Northern California Town Taking On Timber Giant for the Right to Local Water

Residents are engaged in a legal battle with company that has told them to find water elsewhere

For 107 years, residents of Weed, California, a picturesque hamlet nestled against the flanks of snow-capped Mt. Shasta, have been drinking water from nearby Beaughan Spring. The water is so pure it flows straight to their faucets; no treatment is necessary. Locals take gallon jugs of it with them when they leave town.

photo of Weed, CaliforniaPhoto by Don Barrett, Flickr The Roseburg Forest Products mill in Weed, California. The timber giant, which asserts ownership over a local spring, has told the city to find a new source of water.

But Roseburg Forest Products (RFP), the Oregon-based timber giant that owns the land around the spring, has other uses for that pure water. Crystal Geyser already bottles Beaughan Spring water in Weed, and residents believe Roseburg wants to sell them even more. The timber company has told the 2,700 folks who call Weed home to find their water elsewhere.

"No way,” says Michael Yates of the Water for Citizens of Weed, California. “I've been drinking that water for 60 years. I can taste the chlorine in other tap water. Even my dog gets sick drinking that stuff.”

Before it was a stop along Interstate 5, Weed was a classic timber company town. Abner Weed bought the land and the Siskiyou Lumber and Mercantile Mill in 1897 for $400. RFP is still the largest private employer in town.

The company changed hands a few times before 1959, when International Paper approached the state for permission to subdivide the land and sell it to residents. A condition of the sale, completed in 1961, was creation of the non-profit Weed Water Works to provide water, sewer, and fire protection for the fledgling community. Rates and charges are determined by the California Public Utilities Commission.

When the Weed Water Works sold all assets to the city in 1966 they included the infrastructure but excluded rights to the water. Instead they granted a 50-year lease to provide 2.0 cubic feet per second to the city for $1 a year. That lease expired June 26, 2016.

Beaughan Spring is located on RFP property, but ownership of the water rights is murky. Twenty years ago Crystal Gyser began negotiating directly with the city for rights to bottle more of that pure spring water. Finding a cloud over the water rights, they turned their attention to the land owners. Five years ago, RFP …more

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Air Pollution Problem Could Disrupt Nepal’s Tourism Industry

Consistent haze is interfering with the stunning views many trekkers expect, raising concern among some industry professionals

South Asia’s notorius “atmospheric brown cloud” could impact Nepal’s appeal as a tourist destination. Visitors are voicing their concern about the three-kilometer-thick toxic cloud that sits over much of the region, including large swaths of Nepal, and interferes with their experience of a country promoted as a trekker’s paradise.

photo of nepal hazePhoto by keso s, Flickr Tourists, expecting clear skies and crisp views, are often disappointed by hazy conditions in Nepal.

“I am asthmatic so I find the pollution exhausting,” Jacob Beehan, a German tourist, tells me over coffee in Kathmandu’s Thamel area. But what has been particularly disturbing for me has been the how the pollution has spoiled some of the views. It’s really bad in this city.”

Tourism is a major source of revenue for Nepal. In 2014, the country welcomed 790,118 tourists, and earned roughly $780 million, or 4.3 percent of the GDP in the process,. (The numbers dropped by more than 44 percent in 2015 due to the devastating earthquake and a blockade at its borders with India, Nepal’s neighbour and largest source of tourists.) A 2014 report by Nepal’s Ministry of Culture, Tourism & Civil Aviation estimates that every six tourists create one job in Nepal.

A growing number of tourists have been sharing their disappointment about the air pollution and haze on prominant travel sites like Lonely Planet in recent years. “My family and I visited Nepal for three weeks from late March to mid-April [2013]. I would never go back at this time again as the visibility was TERRIBLE! We were in Kathmandu, Nargokot, Baktipur, Pokhara, Sarangot, and the Seti River area. We got one hazy glimpse of a snow topped mountain in Pokhara on one afternoon. We NEVER saw the mountains again,” vents a disappointed traveller under the username Kazmom on the Lonely Planet website.

The atmospheric brown cloud (ABC) is composed primarily of man-made pollutants, including toxic ash, black carbon, sulphate, nitrates, and aerosols, and is a global phenomenon. The densely populated Indo-Gangetic plain — a fertile plain that extends through parts of Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and southern Nepal —  however, is one of the five ABC regional hot spots identified by the United Nations Environment Programme, meaning the pollution is worse and blocks a higher percentage of sunlight. Across the plain, forest fires combine with smoke from slash and burn agriculture, emissions from automobile vehicles, and industrial and indoor pollution to add …more

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Floods and Erosion Are Ruining Britain’s Most Significant Sites

From Wordsworth’s gardens to the salmon rivers in Wales, climate change is wrecking historic sites and harming wildlife habitat, finds report

Climate change is already wrecking some of Britain’s most significant sites, from Wordsworth’s gardens in Cumbria to the white cliffs on England’s south coast, according to a new report.

Floods and erosion are damaging historic places, while warmer temperatures are seeing salmon vanishing from famous rivers and birds no longer visiting important wetlands.

photo of ShanghaiPhoto by loki973, Flickr, Flickr Over the last 50 years, about 67 centimeters of the white cliff's on England's south coast have been eroded each year. During the winter storms of 2013 to 2014, the equivalent of seven years of erosion occurred in just two months.

The report was produced by climate experts at Leeds University and the Climate Coalition, a group of 130 organizations including the RSPB, National Trust, WWF and the Women’s Institute.

“Climate change often seems like a distant existential threat [but] this report shows it is already impacting upon some of our most treasured and special places around the UK,” said Professor Piers Forster of Leeds University.

“It is clear our winters are generally getting warmer and wetter, storms are increasing in intensity and rainfall is becoming heavier. Climate change is not only coming home — it has arrived,” Forster said. It is also already affecting everyday places such as churches, sports grounds, farms and beaches, he said.

Wordsworth House and Garden in Cockermouth, where the romantic poet William Wordsworth was born in 1770 and learned his love of nature, was seriously damaged by two recent flooding events linked to a changing climate.

In November 2009, torrential rain caused £500,000 of damage, sweeping away gates and walls that had survived since the 1690s. Floods inundated the site again during Storm Desmond in December 2015. “When I saw the damage the floods had caused in 2009 I was shocked and it took almost three years to repair the garden,” said the house’s head gardener, Amanda Thackeray. “Then after all that hard work to see the devastation from flooding in 2015 was very upsetting.”

A century-long record shows the UK is experiencing more intense heavy rainfall during winter. Researchers can also use climate models to reveal the influence of global warming on some extreme events and have found the UK’s record December rainfall in 2015 was made 50 to 75 percent more likely by climate change. Another study found by The Guardian – February 7, 2017

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