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Outgoing EPA Chief Gina McCarthy Reveals Fears Trump Administration Will Halt Climate Action

EPA staff are ‘nervous’ after the president-elect promised to reduce the environment agency to ‘tidbits’

There is “nervousness” among Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) staff that Donald Trump’s incoming administration will sideline science and reverse action on climate change, according to the agency’s outgoing administrator, Gina McCarthy.

photo of Gina McCarthyPhoto by Chesapeake Bay Program, FlickrGina McCarthy admitted EPA staff are nervous that Donald Trump's administration will reverse action on climate change, but said that the administration will face resistance if it rejects climate science. 

McCarthy told The Guardian that the Trump administration would face resistance from multiple fronts if it ran counter to a widespread shift to renewable energy, as well as scientific opinion, by rejecting climate science and attempting to bolster the fossil fuel industry.

Trump has promised to reduce the EPA to “tidbits” and has nominated the Oklahoma attorney general, Scott Pruitt, to run the agency. Pruitt has sued the EPA 14 times over its pollution regulations, has questioned established climate science and has been criticized by environment groups for his ties to oil and gas interests.

“People at the EPA will be respectful of the new administration but they will continue to do their jobs,” said McCarthy, who was appointed by Barack Obama in 2009 to head the regulator. “I would not be telling the truth if I said there was no sense of nervousness. There is a sense of nervousness that the new administration will take decisions not in line with the science.”

“If they don’t take notice of the science, we will be back to where we were before the last president. We’ve done everything we can to not only reduce greenhouse gases but also send the world a message about the seriousness of the issue. I hope the rest of the world realizes that the vast majority of people here accept that seriousness and that we will remain part of the international action regardless of what the new administration does.”

Trump has previously threatened to pull the US out of the Paris climate agreement but Rex Tillerson, his pick for secretary of state, said last week that the new administration still wanted a “seat at the table” during the climate talks.

EPA action to reduce emissions appears more likely to be axed, however, with the new president expected to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, which sets emissions standards for coal-fired power plants, and do little to enforce regulations that curb pollutants from mining and transportation.

But McCarthy said even if the federal government reverses course on climate change, progress will …more

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Medical Waste Poses a Serious Environmental and Public Health Threat in Pakistan

Lack of enforcement of hazardous waste disposal regulations a major factor

Imdadullah Khan routinely rifles though a garbage bin in front of Lady Reading Hospital, in Peshawar, Pakistan. “I am looking for used syringes, drips, needles in the garbage so that I can sell it and earn money for my family,” says the 25-year-old waste-picker, who has been engaged in this business for 15 years. Khan earns about $5 a day by selling what reusable medical refuse he collects from garbage dumps across the city to scrap dealers.

little girl sitting by garbage filled pondPhoto by Ryan RyanIn Pakistan, where solid waste management is already a matter of major concern, unsafe disposal of medical waste is further exacerbating the problem.

Khan wasn’t aware of the grim fact that he’s at high risk of contracting a lethal disease just by dint of his profession. According to Pakistan’s environment ministry, the country’s healthcare facilities generate nearly 250,000 pounds of medical waste per day. Much of this untreated waste is dumped at regular municipal garbage sites, leaving waste-pickers like Khan extremely vulnerable to exposure to infectious diseases and toxins.

The management of medical waste — refuse generated by hospitals, laboratories, clinics and other healthcare institutions that may be contaminated by blood, body fluids, radioactive materials, or other potentially infectious materials —requires special care and attention. It’s usually recommended that all medical waste materials be segregated at the point of generation, and appropriately treated and disposed of safely. But, in Pakistan, where solid waste management is already a matter of major concern, unsafe disposal of medical waste is further exacerbating the problem, impacting the environment and health of tens of thousands of people.

According to WWF Pakistan, very little of the country’s medical waste is handled according to international standards. Part of the problem is that that Pakistan doesn’t have a well-established waste segregation system and most healthcare facilities, whether public or private, either don’t have adequate knowledge about how to dispose of medical waste or don’t bother follow standard guidelines.

Medical waste from healthcare institutions is often being dumped in the open and mixed with municipal waste, says Rahman, an environmentalist and retired professor of Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Peshawar. He says that such unregulated dumping of medical waste not only pollutes the environment, but also contributes to the spread of certain diseases by exposing health care workers, waste handlers, patients and the community at large to toxins and infections such as hepatitis, diarrhea, food-borne illnesses, skin infections, tuberculosis, and …more

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The Most Ethical Travel Destinations for 2017

Ten countries that protect their environment and respect human rights

The year 2016 brought many challenges, and a sense of loss to many people. Many of us will begin the new year wondering if the world – already girdled by too many borders and conflicts – will become a less welcoming place for some of us to travel.

Paradoxically, though, it’s times like these when travel is critically important. Nothing, as Mark Twain pointed out, shatters our prejudices and preconceptions more effectively than visiting foreign countries – or parts of our own country that seem foreign to us. Few activities are more useful than visiting these places with an open mind, and remembering that the humanity we share is stronger than any attempt at wall-building.

photo of an expansive dryland vistaphoto by Danielle Pereira / FlickrChile made the list of the ten most ethical travel destinations for 2017, in part due to its expanding solar industry in places like the Atacama Desert, pictured above.

Today, more than ever, the people on this small and singular planet recognize how interconnected and interdependent we are. This becomes strikingly clear when we travel. We become both courageous and vulnerable; an unusual combination that makes us open to (and dependent on) random acts of generosity, sudden friendships, and the spontaneous invitations that Kurt Vonnegut Jr. called “dancing lessons from God”.

Every journey, if we wish it so, is a series of surprises. A life-changing encounter could be waiting in any museum, café or train car. It’s during times like these – when those in power seem most intent on accentuating our differences – that we instinctively express our solidarity. Whether we are traveling to Chile or China, to Mongolia or Mexico, we recognize the opportunity to unravel the knot that Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters defined in three words: Us and Them.

But travel is more than an opening for good will. It is one of the world’s most powerful economic engines, and can drive the way countries treat their citizens, indigenous peoples, wildlife and the environment. Travel is the world’s largest industry, with a trillion-dollar annual footprint. This means that travelers have enormous power. Where we put our footprints has reverberations reaching far beyond our personal experience. By “voting with our wings” – choosing our destinations well and cultivating our roles as citizen diplomats – we can help to change the world for the better.

Every year, Ethical Traveler reviews the policies and practices of over one hundred developing nations. We then select the ten …more

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Nonnative Species are Posing Management Challenges in Parks Across the US

Problem exacerbated by climate change, which has plants and animals moving beyond their historical ranges

While heading to the Bear Lake parking lot in Rocky Mountain National Park, I was aware of the preserved, splendid wilderness in all directions. The road meanders from civilization in Estes Park, Colorado, to the deep environs of a vast wild land that sits 9,475 feet above sea level. My goal for the day was a hike from Bear Lake to the Fern Lake trailhead, a trek of nearly 10 miles that allows hikers a chance to experience cascading waterfalls, high peaks, and dense forests.

Rocky Mountain Goat sitting on a rockPhoto by Justin RatcliffRocky Mountain goats, usually found in the northern Rockies in and around Glacier National Park in Montana, occasionlly stray into the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, putting the park's bigorn sheep at risk of contracting diseases.

Breaking a sweat and taking in the environment were the objectives, but I would not have been opposed to some wildlife sightings. Elk, bighorn sheep, and moose are common distractions in the park, resulting in traffic jams and selfie-taking tourists attempting to snag a closer look. Perhaps an elusive mountain lion or black bear would be in the cards — from a safe distance, of course. In reality, the largest species I saw was a pika, a small mammal that looks like a cartoon mouse with adorably large ears. However, unbeknownst to me at the time was that one species could have be seen on the hike, and if the sighting occurred, it would have been a rare and historically inappropriate encounter.

Defenders of Wildlife estimates there are 100,000 mountain goats in North America. The shaggy, cliff-dwelling mammals are often found in the northern Rockies in and around Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana. However, on occasion, a mountain goat will stray into the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, and then the National Park Service has a predicament on their hands. The goats are listed as a nonnative species for the park, but because they were introduced in the Mount Evans area by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the animals sometimes travel north and enter the national park, according to the RMNP website.

When a goat is found in Rocky Mountain, disease spread to the native bighorn sheep becomes a real possibility. “We’ve had a couple of instances where we’ve seen mountain goats come into Rocky Mountain National Park,” said John Mack, acting chief of resource stewardship for RMNP. “To tell you exactly where they came …more

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Protests Escalate Over Louisiana Pipeline by Company Behind Dakota Access

Residents are making themselves heard about the disputed Bayou Bridge pipeline

Scott Eustis did not stop smiling for hours. The coastal wetland specialist with the Gulf Restoration Network was attending a public hearing in Baton Rouge. Its subject was a pipeline extension that would run directly through the Atchafalaya Basin, the world’s largest natural swamp. Eustis was surprised to be joined by more than 400 others.

photo of Atchafalaya SwampPhoto by Matt Northam, Flickr If approved, the Bayou Bridge pipeline extension would pass through the Atchafalaya Basin, the world’s largest natural swamp.

“This is like 50 times the amount of people we have at most of these meetings,” said Eustis, adding that the proposed pipeline was “the biggest and baddest I’ve seen in my career.”

The company behind the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), had seemed to turn its attention to Louisiana just one day after Native American protesters thwarted the company’s Dakota Access project last month.

A spokeswoman for ETP, Vicki Granado, said the Bayou Bridge pipeline extension was announced in June 2015. If approved, the project will run though 11 parishes and cross around 600 acres of wetlands and 700 bodies of water, including wells that reportedly provide drinking water for some 300,000 families.

At the public hearing in Baton Rouge on Thursday, the first speaker, Cory Farber, project manager of the Bayou Bridge pipeline, said it was expected to create 2,500 temporary jobs. When Farber then said the project would produce 12 permanent jobs, the crowd laughed heartily.

“Those who have airboat companies and equipment companies that specialize in putting in equipment, they’re not opposed to pipelines because of the short-term jobs,” said Jody Meche, president of the state Crawfish Producers’ Association, one of dozens who spoke at the hearing.

“But once that pipe is in there, the jobs are gone.”

Other attendees applauded in favor of the pipeline, and former US senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, a supporter, was in attendance. But Native Americans also dotted the crowd, many of them fresh from Standing Rock.

“The Native Americans in North Dakota get a lot of credit for showing people their power,” Eustis said.

Protester Cherri Foytlin, organizer of the pro-sustainability Bridge the Gulf project, brought her teenage daughters, Jayden and Erin. In November, Erin and 20 other kids from around the country filed a lawsuit against the federal government for ignoring …more

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Death of Silicon Valley Grey Foxes Point to Urgent Need for Wildlife Corridors

DNA bottlenecks, inbreeding make animals susceptible to disease, says “Fox Guy”

Bill “Fox Guy” Leikam hopes the most recent chapter in the story of the Silicon Valley urban fox is not the beginning of a tragedy for connecting healthy ecosystems. As reported by the San Jose Mercury News last week, up to 18 urban gray foxes belonging to four different “skulks,” or groups, that Leikam has studied and researched over the last seven years in Palo Alto, California, died last month of canine distemper – a contagious viral infection with no known cure.

photo of a dead foxphoto © Bill LeikamA dead gray fox pup. In December, 18 gray foxes belonging to four different skulks in and around Palo Alto died of canine distemper.

This is the first time in recent memory that local wildlife observers have seen such a big wildlife die-off. “We have 12 fox carcasses and six more that are missing and presumed dead,” Leikam, , founder of the Urban Wildlife Research Project,  told Earth Island Journal. “[December] was like a dark wind carrying the virus as it swept through, taking all of the foxes throughout the region and possibly even up into East Palo Alto. “

The gray fox, a small, tree-climbing member of the canid family, is one of the few wild carnivore species that seems to have successfully adapted to living in and around big cities, though it still faces many threats.  A small population of these urban-dwelling canids, comprising several skulks, have captured the hearts of residents and researchers in California’s Silicon Valley, including Leikam who has been researching their role in the local ecosystem as well as the challenges urban habitats present to grey foxes.

It’s hard to pin down the exact number of foxes living in the South Bay Area. Leikam says they seem to be living in “pockets” and regions from south Redwood City, south through Alviso and up the eastern side of the Bay to at least the southern edge of the Oakland International Airport. They have also been spotted in the foothills of Los Altos, Saratoga, and on south.

photo of Gray fox pup One Eye - Last pic alivephoto © Bill LeikamThe last living image of a pup called One Eye, who too, succumbed to the disease. Animals dying from distemper is not something Leikam ever wants to witness again.

Watching animals die from distemper – especially animals you have studied and protected and know by name – is not something “I …more

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Environmental Bloopers from the Obama Era

Smears, hoaxes, and whoopers on climate and the environment, including a few from the president himself

As the curtain comes down on Barack Obama’s eight years in the White House, most Americans seemed convinced of one of two things: We’re either about to Make America Great Again®, or we’re about to hurtle into an uncertain epoch that I like to call the Idiocene.

photo of President ObamaOfficial White House photo by Pete SouzaThere were some big environmental wins during the Obama years, but there were also some farces and scams when it came to climate and the environment.

But before we turn the page on this administration let’s take a look back at the tall tales, regrettable pronouncements, farces and scams on climate and the environment during the Obama years. Anti-regulatory zealots led the pack, but President Obama contributed a few of his own — starting on his first full day in office:

1) January 2009: The most transparent administration? Not quite.

A day after his inauguration, President Obama signed a memorandum promising: “the most transparent administration in history.”

By May 2016, a different verdict came in. Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan called it “one of the most secretive.” In August 2015, 52 journalism organizations, including the Society of Environmental Journalists, sent an appeal to the White House, asking for an end to restrictions on government employees’ contact with reporters.

2) October 2009: Global warming stops (except it totally doesn’t)

Scientists begin asking questions about why the pace of rising temperatures seems to be defying projections and slowing. Despite the emergence of serious, credible reasons for this — notably that the oceans are working overtime to absorb excess heat — climate deniers have a field day with cherry-picked data.

Even as daily, monthly, and annual warmth records continue to be broken, there’s been “no global warming at all” for nearly two decades in Deniertown.

3) November 2009: War is declared, a slogan is born

In a press release, the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce declares the “War On Coal” is underway.

4) November 2009: Russian hack (no, the other one)

Hackers, believed to be Russian-based, steal thousands of emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit. Climate deniers spin a few poorly worded correspondences between scientists into a vast conspiracy to fake climate research.

The faux scandal upends coverage of the Copenhagen climate summit, the scientists are cleared of any wrongdoing by multiple investigations, and the hackers are never caught. But their work foreshadows the 2016 election hack. 

5) January 2010: Moderate Republicans join Endangered Species List


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