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Cape Town Nurtures its Water Supply in Anticipation of Taps Running Dry

If the South African city can’t avert ‘Day Zero,’ it will be the world's first metropolis to run out of water

Upon entering the South African city of Cape Town via the Cape Town International Airport, you can immediately see that something is amiss.

If you need to use the restroom before heading out from the airport, you will notice that, while you may be able to flush the toilet, the taps in the washbasins have been switched off; waterless hand sanitizer has been provided as an alternative. This is just one of countless measures being taken across the city to address Cape Town’s current drought — the worst in over a hundred years.

Cape Town panoramaPhoto courtesy of Tim Chandler Table Mountain, the flat-topped plateau that overlooks Cape Town, captures onshore winds coming off the South Atlantic Ocean and helps produce rainfall that fill local rivers and aquifers. But a prolonged drought has severely depleted its water supply.

Rental car clerks wearing T-Shirts emblazoned with “Water Warrior” inform customers that cars have not been washed due to the water crisis.

Many businesses display signs noting their use of grey water or other non-potable water for various functions.

Hotels discourage guests from removing the bucket placed in shower enclosures so staff can utilize captured water for other purposes. Locals take five-minute showers and limit toilet flushes whenever possible.

The drought has dealt a blow to businesses in a world-renowned city that relies on tourism as a key source of income — and in a region where agriculture is still a major sector of the economy. The construction industry has also slowed, and contractors are starting to look into the legal ramifications of project delays for which the causal factor is nature.

Residents, too, are trying to adjust to a new water-weary lifestyle in Cape Town, where usage is restricted to 50 litres per person per day. Any usages exceeding the various restrictions incur a steep tariff, with costs reaching almost nine times the pre-drought price of water. These water restrictions, which have been in place since February 1, have done much to avert a full on crisis thus far — but if the drought does not abate, the city says taps may need to be switched off.

According to Cape Town's website, “Day Zero is the day that almost all of the taps in the city will be turned off and we will have to queue for water at approximately 200 sites across the peninsula.” Estimations for when Day Zero might occur have fluctuated, with projected dates pushed back …more

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Mike Pompeo Is a Disaster for the Planet. Why Do Democrats Back Him?

We must pressure Democrats who have backed the CIA director nominee to change course

Ignorant, dangerous, and absolutely unbelievable.” This is how Mike Pompeo, then the nominee for CIA director, described the idea that climate change threatens our nation’s security in his 2017 Senate confirmation hearings. It’s also how our generation and many to come will remember any senator who votes to confirm Pompeo as our next secretary of state.

photo of Mike PompeoPhoto by Gage SkidmoreMike Pompeo accepted nearly $1.5 million from fossil fuel companies between 2009 and 2017.

Donald Trump’s decision to nominate Pompeo to replace the former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson signals loud and clear that he wants fossil fuel barons to continue running our government and state department. Infamous as the “congressman from Koch,” Pompeo is the top all-time recipient of Koch Industries campaign contributions; he accepted nearly $1.5 million from the fossil fuel companies between 2009 and 2017.

In exchange for these payments, he used his tenure in the House of Representatives to stymie progress on climate action, curry favors for big oil and gas, and regularly spread misinformation and lies about climate science to help pad the Koch brothers’ pocketbooks.

There’s no doubt that Pompeo, widely recognized as a militant climate denier and “yes man” to the president, will pick up where Tillerson left off in gutting the department’s climate diplomacy programs and opening the fragile Arctic to drilling for oil and gas that humanity can’t afford to burn.

And though it seems unthinkable that any secretary of state could be worse for the planet than the former CEO of Exxon, Pompeo is even more extreme than Tillerson in his climate denialism and his opposition to the Paris climate agreement (from which Tillerson urged Trump not to withdraw).

What’s more, as warming global temperatures spawn extreme weather events, fuel mass migration, exacerbate humanitarian crises, and undercut global stability, Pompeo’s anti-Muslim and anti-woman stances, war-hawkishness, and abysmal record on human rights will further endanger billions of people who are hit first and hardest by climate impacts.

With only a few years left to avert catastrophic warming, every single vote to confirm Mr Pompeo is a vote to protect profits of big oil billionaires and destroy the lives and livelihoods of millions around the world. …more

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Lawsuits Against North Carolina Hog Farms Could Help Reform State’s CAFO Industry

Hearings begin on first case against Smithfield Foods subsidiary

Roughly 4,000 pink-tinted pools containing pig feces, urine, and blood, are scattered throughout the eastern North Carolina landscape. An estimated nine to ten million pigs in state’s hog farming industry, which mainly comprise large factory farms, produce the untreated waste poured into these cesspools, equivalent to the waste of 100 million humans. The powerful stench from these pools has been making life miserable for nearby residents. So much so, that they have taken their complaint against the hog farms to court.

Swine Facility cesspoolsPhoto courtesy of Waterkeeper AllianceSome 4,000 hog farm "lagoons" containing pig feces, urine, and blood, are scattered throughout the eastern North Carolina landscape. The powerful stench from these pools has been making life miserable for nearby residents.

Last week, a federal court in Raleigh kicked off the first trail in a series of lawsuits against Murphy-Brown LLC, the hog-production subsidiary of the Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, which oversees the production of many of these industrial-scale pig farms in North Carolina. The suits could lead to long overdue changes in how these factory farms operate in the state.

The lawsuits, 26 in all, by over 500 people living near industrial pig farms in the eastern North Carolina, were filed in 2014. The plaintiffs allege the stench and pollutants from the open hog-waste pools have been detrimental to their health and wellbeing. The waste from these pools is usually sprayed onto nearby fields as fertilizer. The plaintiffs complain that that malodorous mist from the spray wafts over to their properties; that improperly dumped rotting-pig carcasses add to the general stink that makes it impossible to spend any quality time outside.

This first trial concerns 10 plaintiffs in Bladen County who live near Kinlaw Farm, which has three open-air cesspools. The farm owners, who raise some 15,000 hogs each year under contract with Murphy-Brown, are not defendants in the case. This suit, like the other 25 as well, is against Murphy-Brown since the company sets rules for how these farms should operate.

“I’ve never been to hell before, but it’s like living in hell,” says Rene Miller, a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits. “I have no control over my own land, my own house, because of the scent, the spray. I have rats coming in my house now.”

Miller explains that living so close to the hog farming waste lagoons has contributed to serious health problems for her and her neighbors. She cites asthma, sinus problems, high …more

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Pruitt Isn’t Reforming the EPA, He’s Trying to Kill It

Why one former EPA advisor is suing the agency, and how he thinks we can reinvent it

In 2017, just a few days after Donald Trump was sworn in as president, a freshman GOP lawmaker with only a few days on the job of his own, proposed House Resolution 861. Its language was ominous: “The Environmental Protection Agency shall terminate on December 31, 2018.”

photo of Pruitt protestPhoto by Lorie ShaullSince taking over as EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt has overseen the appointments of a diverse array of lobbyists, put the brakes on enforcement of environmental regulations, and suspended progressive regulatory actions initiated by his predecessors.

I was in my sixth year on the EPA’s Science Advisory Board when H.R.861 was introduced. When I called senior EPA colleagues to assess the threat, I was assured that it would never happen; the nation’s environmental laws, and the agency that makes and enforces them, could not be killed in two years by a ten-word resolution written by a rookie congressman.

Then along came Scott Pruitt.

Since taking over as administrator, Pruitt has overseen the nominations and appointments of a diverse array of lobbyists and corporate insiders while at the same time letting key vacancies languish. He has put the brakes on enforcement, slowed or suspended progressive regulatory actions initiated by his predecessors, and defended draconian budget cuts proposed by the White House.

He has also gutted the agency’s science advisory boards, one of which I proudly served on. Pruitt’s directive to “reform” the EPA’s science advisory boards, which I believe is both unethical and illegal, led me to join a group of scientists who are suing the agency.

From where I sit as both a scientist and former EPA adviser, the motivation behind Scott Pruitt’s actions is as clear as day: He isn’t reforming the agency; he’s trying to kill it.

The good news for the EPA is that a majority of Americans support its fundamental mission to protect the environment and public health. And, judging by recent reports, bipartisan calls for Scott Pruitt to resign are growing louder. But for the EPA to really rebound after Pruitt’s repeated assaults, the agency will need to address some of its legitimate shortcomings.

Toxic and risky

I’ve been dedicated to environmental science since college, and I have devoted a large chunk of my academic career to government service since shortly after George W. Bush was elected president.

My first job advising the EPA came in 2003 …more

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Not Strawberries Again!

For third year running, popular fruit tops list of produce containing pesticides

It’s common knowledge these days that nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables are part of a healthy, well-rounded diet. But according to the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) annual “Dirty Dozen” list, there are  some conventional produce items that it may be best to avoid.

photo of strawberriesPhoto by snekse/Flickr Conventional strawberries are treated with large quantities of pesticides, making them among the most pesticide-contaminated produce sold in the United States.

For the third year running, conventional strawberries topped the list of pesticide-contaminated produce. According to EWG’s analysis, 99 percent of sampled strawberries tested positive for residues of at least one pesticide, with an average of 7.8 pesticides detected per sample. The humble strawberry’s reign on top of the Dirty Dozen list isn’t entirely surprising — on average, every acre of strawberry field in California is treated with some 300 pounds of pesticides, including sprayed chemicals and toxic fumigants injected directly into the soil. But it is worrisome, given that the average American eats about 8 pounds of strawberries a year.

Of course, conventional strawberries, are far from the only contaminated produce making its way into American’s grocery carts. Overall, nearly three-quarters of conventional fruits and vegetables contain pesticide residue even after they are washed.

“I think most people are just really astounded to find out that about 70 percent of grown produce has measurable amounts of pesticides on them,” says Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst with EWG and lead author of the report. “People see food as being so clean, and symmetrical, and fragrant, and when you’re buying it at the grocery store, you’re hardly thinking about the farm fields.”

The EWG analysis is based on US Department of Agriculture testing, which found a total of 230 different pesticides and pesticide breakdown products on sampled produce. Some of the pesticides are relatively benign, at least in terms of human health. Others have been linked to serious risks, including damage to the brain and nervous system. Evidence suggests that humans are particularly vulnerable to exposure in utero and during early childhood. Farmworkers and their children, who are routinely exposed to these pesticides, are among the most at risk groups.

But we are still learning about the full range of potential effects of pesticide exposure. A 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that consumption of two or more servings of produce with high pesticide residues was associated with a 26 percent lower chance of …more

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Kinder Morgan Suspends Trans Mountain Oil Pipeline Expansion Project

Activists hail news as a sign the project might eventually be scrapped due to public resistance

In a sea of bad news stories about human impacts on the natural environment and the toll already taken by a changing climate, good news stories are a welcome relief. So when American energy infrastructure company Kinder Morgan announced the suspension of work on its Canadian $7.4 billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project yesterday, whether temporary or not, the news was greeted by activists with enthusiasm, relief, and renewed commitment to ensure the pipeline never gets built.

kinder morgan protestBy William Chen/Wikimedia CommonsProtests against the project — which involved expanding the existing Kinder Morgan line built in 1953 to increase its capacity to transport 890,000 barrels of crude oil per day from the tar sands mines of Alberta — had ratcheted up in recent weeks.

The announcement came a day after some 300 people braved stormy weather on Burnaby Mountain to demonstrate against the project.

Protests against the project — which involved expanding the existing Kinder Morgan line built in 1953 to increase its capacity to 890,000 barrels of crude oil per day — had ratcheted up in recent weeks in British Columbia, with hundreds taking part in numerous marches and sit-ins led by Indigenous rights activists and supported by local environmental groups.

“This is a sign that organizing works and it could well be the beginning of the end for this dangerous pipeline,” said Clayton Thomas-Muller, Stop-it-at-the-Source campaigner with, who led one of the protests on March 17 and was arrested later that day. “Kinder Morgan’s investors have seen that people all across Canada are choosing Indigenous rights, clean water, and a safe climate over this dangerous pipeline. Now it’s time for Justin Trudeau to do the same.”

“The Indigenous chiefs who risked arrest today are some of the most visionary and principled leaders in the world,” author and climate activist Naomi Klein said during the Saturday, April 7, protest. “They are willing to put their bodies on the line to protect the land and water that are inextricable from their human rights as Indigenous peoples and from the habitability of our shared planet.”

In a press release, Kinder Morgan explained that the decision to suspend the project was the result of the opposition presented by the British Columbia government, which has been putting up barriers to the project in direct conflict with the Canadian federal government and the Alberta government. Kinder Morgan did, however, leave an opening for negotiation with stakeholders with a deadline of May 31 …more

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The Rangers Risking Their Lives for Virunga’s Gorillas

The huge national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the most dangerous conservation projects in the world

It is dawn on the shores of Lake Edward and the sun is rising over the volcanoes on the eastern skyline. Mist lies over the still water. In the forest there are elephant, hippopotamus and buffalo. Guarding them are 26 rangers in a single fortified post.

Then the silence is rudely broken. There are shouts, scattered shots, volleys from automatic weapons. Waves of attackers rush through the brush and trees. Some are close enough to hurl spears and fire arrows.

mountain gorilla in Virunga park, CongoPhoto by Joseph KingThanks to the efforts of a committed force of rangers, populations of endangered species are recovering in the national park. The endangered mountain gorilla population, for instance, now stands at more than 1,000.

Later, the rangers will tell their commanders that their assailants numbered more than a hundred. For 45 minutes the unequal battle continues. Then the guards, ammunition running low, withdraw. They take with them the bodies of three of their comrades. At least a dozen of their enemy lie on the ground.

“This is not an easy profession. Losing your friends and colleagues is very painful. But we chose to do this, and we know the risks,” said Innocent Mburanumwe, the deputy director of Virunga National Park, an enormous stretch of more than 5,000 square miles of woodland, savannah and mountains on the eastern border of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The clash last August was the bloodiest in the park for many years. There was little elation when the post was retaken four hours after the rangers’ initial retreat. The steady attrition of what Mburanumwe calls “a low intensity war” in the Virunga has claimed the lives of more than 170 rangers over the last 20 years, a toll earning the park a reputation as one of the most dangerous conservation projects in the world.

“Every day when the patrols set out, we know that they may come under fire. We know we may lose someone or we may be killed ourselves,” said Mburanumwe.

The threats facing the Virunga, home to one of the world’s largest populations of critically endangered mountain gorillas as well as hundreds of other rare species, are multiple.

There are armed rebel groups, hardened by years of combat against the Congolese government troops or those of neighboring countries, local bandits and self-defense militia, and poachers out for ivory or bush meat. Then there is the hugely lucrative charcoal industry, for which the …more

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