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How “Cheap Talk” Helped Environmentalists and Water Managers Find Common Ground

Book Excerpt: Water is for Fighting Over and Other Myths about Water in the West

Sid Wilson, one of Arizona’s senior water managers, thought Jennifer Pitt was some sort of crazy tree hugger. Pitt, who worked on Colorado River issues for the Environmental Defense Fund, imagined Wilson as something akin to Genghis Khan. But until they set out on a boat trip together down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in the spring of 2004, the two had never actually met. The first night, Wilson, standing on a sandbar, kicked off the relationship by explaining why he didn’t trust environmentalists.

Colorado River Mile 53 from the The Anasazi GranaryPhoto by Andrew LangdalThere is something about nights in the depths of the Grand Canyon — the quiet water, the sliver of star-speckled sky between upraised cliffs, a beer shared on sandbars overlooking the river — that changes people.

It’s remarkable what a river trip will do. There is something about nights in the depths of the Grand Canyon — the quiet water, the sliver of star-speckled sky between upraised cliffs, a beer shared on sandbars overlooking the river — that changes people. When Pitt and Wilson emerged from the canyon, the politics of Colorado River water management had changed with them. A fragile bond had been forged, one that would strengthen during the coming years into collaboration.

“Maybe it was that we were wearing shorts and drinking beer, or maybe it was the magic of the river itself,” Pitt later explained.

The river trip, organized by one of the federal government’s senior water managers, brought together federal officials, state water managers, and Pitt (the token environmentalist). There also was an air of theater about it. In the midst of growing drought, the feds invited five of the most prominent journalists covering water in the western United States. The goal was to get the basin’s key decision makers together in one place to talk about solutions to their shared problems. Bennett Raley, the Bush administration assistant interior secretary who organized the expedition, recognized that the issues were deep and that remedies handed down by the federal government were unlikely to work. Best to get the players onto the river, organize daily seminars, run some rapids, ply them with alcohol, and see what happened. “They will come up with a much more durable solution than we could by imposing one on them,” Raley said.

The trip on the Colorado River came at a pivotal moment. Lake Mead, full as recently as 1998, was dropping fast. In the …more

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‘Trump’s Promises Are Empty:’ Energy Experts Lay Waste to His Proposals

From making coal great again to ‘cancelling’ the Paris accord, industry analysts say Trump's ideas are farfetched

Donald Trump’s energy agenda — which includes pledges of “complete energy independence,” making coal great again and ditching the Paris climate deal — is drawing bipartisan fire from industry analysts, former members of Congress, and even one coal mogul.

All of them, to varying degrees, fault the billionaire’s basic premises and call his promises farfetched and at times contradictory.

caimanPhoto by Gage Skidmore Republican presidential candidate Donald trump has referred to climate change as a hoax.

They say the Republican presidential candidate uses faulty math to tout his vision of America’s energy independence, fails to understand energy economics in his pledge to revive the coal industry, and is peddling a big myth by claiming that global warming is a hoax.

Some energy analysts also observe that Trump’s energy prescriptions, including big regulatory cutbacks that have long been industry wishes, are politically expedient and unrealistic. In making his promise to “save the coal industry,” for instance, Trump has backed slashing environmental rules, taking that message to West Virginia earlier this year, when he pledged that the state’s miners, as well as those in Ohio and Pennsylvania, “are going to start to work again, believe me.”

But Charles Ebinger, a senior fellow at Brookings for energy security and climate issues, told the Guardian that “coal jobs aren’t coming back and for Mr. Trump to say they’re coming back is erroneous and fanciful.” Noting that cheap natural gas has been the primary driver behind years of decline for the coal industry, Ebinger added that Trump seems to be “pandering to coal miners.”

Other analysts concur. “Donald Trump’s promise to revive the US coal sector can only be realized by reining in hydraulic fracking,” said Jerry Taylor, the president of libertarian thinktank the Niskanen Center.

“That’s because low-cost natural gas (courtesy of fracking) has done far more to shut down coal-fired power plants and, correspondingly, reduce demand for US coal than has EPA regulations. Given that he promises exactly the opposite — moving heaven and earth to increase US natural gas production — Trump’s promises are empty.”

Even Trump backer and coal mogul Bob Murray, who runs Murray Energy, which has given $100,000 to a pro-Trump Super Pac, says that the coal industry won’t ever be great again. “I don’t think it will be a thriving industry ever again,” Murray told an energy publication this year. “The coal mines cannot come back to where they were or anywhere near it.”

Likewise, Trump used …more

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Will the Aviation Sector’s Planned Carbon Offset Scheme Help Curb Emissions from Air Travel?

Critics say focus on offsets rather than reductions gives the industry license to continue polluting

Some may have noticed aviation’s conspicuous absence from the Paris climate negotiations last December. Worldwide, the aviation industry accounts for approximately 4.9 percent of anthropogenic global warming. It is also the fastest growing emitter, with some estimates expecting it to become the number one driver of global warming by 2050. Despite this, aviation emissions were unaccounted for in the Paris Agreement, leaving, what Lou Lenard of World Wildlife Fund called a gaping hole in the plan “big enough to fly an airplane through.”

airplane with contrail Photo by Aero PixelsThe aviation industry accounts for approximately 4.9 percent of anthropogenic global warming. It is also the fastest growing carbon emitter.

Negotiators are now scheduled to take up the issue during the UN International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) meeting that kicked off in Montreal yesterday. Here, they hope to sign the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), a first of its kind global, sectoral emissions  plan. 

Supported by the UN, governments across the world, and the aviation industry itself, this plan may stand a pretty good chance of actually being implemented. But it also has many NGO’s crying foul, claiming that its focus on emissions offsets rather than reductions, as well as its lack of transparency and its voluntary nature will give individuals and the aviation industry a license to continue escalating their emissions instead of actually reducing them.

What is it?

In its current draft form, the CORSIA will seek to mitigate international aviation’s emissions by using a “basket of measures” to achieve net carbon neutral growth from 2020 levels. In other words, it will set a cap on emissions at 2020 levels, and all emissions that exceed this cap will need to be offset. While this basket of measures will include incentives for efficiency improvements and alternative low CO2 fuels, a Global Market Based Measure (GMBM) will take on the bulk of aviation’s CO2 emissions growth. The market in this case is a carbon market, and the commodity traded is emissions units. The GMBM will employ two main types of emissions units, trading allowances between sectors and purchasing offset credits to achieve net carbon neutral growth.

Critics of this scheme say not only is its level of ambition  well below what is required to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, but the proposal’s ability to even meet its own targets is dubious as well.


To begin with, CORSIA is not comprehensive. Most developing …more

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Long Journey to a More Righteous Shore

IUCN’s recognition of Indigenous peoples’ contributions to conservation was long overdue

Boats from Maui arrived offshore at dawn, when winds, swell, and currents were expected to be at their calmest. On board were Indigenous sacred site guardians from around the world, seeing their first glimpse of uninhabited Kaho‘olawe: a rough and revered island, recovering from military target use, alive once again as the spiritual and ecological heart of the Hawaiian renaissance.

woman wading in the sea helped by two companionsPhoto by Toby McLeodAltantsetseg Tsedendamba of Mongolia, one of the brand-new swimmers, being helped by her companions. A group of Indigenous leaders from across the world and their allies met on Kaho‘olawe island in Hawaii ahead of the IUCN conference.

For some of the Indigenous guardians and interpreters — non-swimmers from an African desert, or land-locked Central Asia — the trip marked the first time they'd seen an ocean. After a permission chant, answered by voices chanting on shore, Native Hawaiians from the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana (PKO) confidently and tenderly helped the newcomers swim through the surf and find their footing among the rocks, then join the brigade passing bags hand-to-hand from boat to shore. The joy and exhilaration of all present needed no translation.

The island journey was a pre-ramble, before 10 days in Honolulu among thousands of participants at the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) World Conservation Congress that took place earlier this month. Days of ceremony and a night of shooting stars on the remote island energized the emissaries from Mongolia, Kenya, California, Kyrgyzstan, Borneo, the Russian republics of Altai and Buryatia, and Papua New Guinea.

The Indigenous peoples’ group, an informal delegation to the IUCN put together by their allies, followed Dr. Noa Emmett Aluli, whose occupation of Kaho‘olawe 40 years ago helped turn the public against the Navy's bombardment of Kaho‘olawe. Prof. Davianna McGregor pointed out rock shrines that wondrously survived the military era. The chanting of PKO members gave full voice to the story of the island's birth, a sacred red child of earth mother Papahanaumoku and sky father Wākea.

“Sacred sites are the oldest form of protected area on the planet," said Christopher “Toby” McLeod, project director of Earth Island Institute's Sacred Land Film Project, who led the effort to bring sacred site guardians together on the island. "Forty years ago, Indigenous people were in a very different place. It has been a huge struggle."

Aloha Āina, love the land: that has been the guiding principle of the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana. PKO member Craig Neff …more

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Drought Leaves Paraguayan Caimans in Peril

A wildlife crisis on the Pilcomayo River spurs “futile” rescue effort by citizens

They call it Agrophil Cemetery. A desiccated wasteland is all that’s left of a vast marsh that stretched along the Pilcomayo River in Paraguay. Now, dozens of dead and dying caimans lie mired in mud, bare earth extends to the horizon, and patient vultures perch in the branches of leafless trees.

Agrophil is at the epicenter of the worst drought the region has weathered in nearly two decades. As wildlife suffer and Argentina and Paraguay jockey for control of the river’s remaining waters, some activists have travelled to the river to take matters into their own hands: relocating the aquatic reptiles to wetter areas and demanding that the government drill wells for the surviving wildlife.

caimanPhoto by Dick KnightAs the drought in the region worsens, some wildlife activists have begun relocating caimans to wetter areas,

But the Pilcomayo is a dynamic river undergoing unprecedented change, and the activists’ actions have prompted debate and derision. Many fear their attempts to rescue wildlife are misguided, if not futile, and direct attention away from the root causes of the river’s plight.

Alberto Meza, president of the group Ya Estamos Cansados de Sus Leyes (which translates to “We’re Tired of Their Laws”), says his team of volunteers has helped rescue more than 130 animals over three trips to the river. And with every trip, he’s seen the situation on the Pilcomayo worsen. “Ninety percent of the animals still there are already dead,” he says. A nearby ranch owner told Meza that vultures were feasting on the dead and dying alike.

Ordinarily, the Pilcomayo supports an abundance of wildlife. Tens of thousands of caimans sun themselves along the river’s banks and hunt for frogs, fish and small mammals in its waters. (Caimans are closely related to alligators and crocodiles, though they are often smaller and have much narrower bodies). Capybara, one of the world’s largest and most adorable rodents, live along the shores, and sábalo and other fish migrate up the river to spawn.

Meza says “hundreds and hundreds” of caiman have already perished in the drought, along with fish, capybaras, and livestock. But the crocodilians bear the brunt of the drought because most other animals are more mobile and can seek water elsewhere when the river runs dry.

Officials from Paraguay’s Secretary of the Environment (SEAM) and the

Ministry of Public Works and Communications dispute Meza’s account. They say that only three large marshes, or bañados, have been severely impacted by the drought …more

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7 Popular Foods That Might Disappear Because of Climate Change

Search is on for ancient or near-extinct crops that might be better suited for this new reality

Throughout history, different types of food have surged and dropped in popularity, and some foods that existed at one point just aren’t around anymore. But we’re not talking about foods that aren’t popular, quite the opposite in fact. Some of our favorite foods and drinks could be considered “endangered” because the places where they are grown are being severely impacted by climate change. If this isn’t proof that we need to do something about climate change, I don’t know what is. To start off, here are a few foods that are part of our every lives that might not be around for long.

a cup of coffee and slice of choloclate cakePhoto by Taidoh/FlickrCoffee and chocolate are among globally popular foods that might soon become scarce because the places where coffee and cocoa beans are grown are being severely impacted by climate change.


According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, just about every coffee growing region in the world is being threatened by higher temperatures, longer droughts, and more intense rainfall and plant diseases. Coffee-producing countries are seeing their yields decline already. If temperatures continue to increase, 80 percent of the land in Brazil and Central America, where the most popular coffee bean, Arabica, is currently grown, will be unsuitable by the year 2050. During that same time period, a 50 percent decline in growing regions around the world can be expected.


Unlike coffee, rising temperatures alone isn’t necessarily putting this food on the endangered list. Cacao trees thrive in hot, humid environments, and can only be grown on land about 20 degrees north and south of the equator. The rainforest regions near the equator are perfect for the cacao trees. But the problem is that while the temperature is increasing, the amount of rainfall in these areas is not increasing, so the heat is sapping the moisture from the plants and the ground, decreasing humidity in these regions.


In 2015, 42 beer companies signed the Brewery Climate Declaration to call attention to how climate change is threatening the industry, while committing to lowering their own carbon footprints. Warmer temperatures and extreme weather in the Pacific Northwest are damaging hop plants, which means lower yields. At the same time, high demand for beer has pushed the price of hops up by more than 250 percent over the last decade. Clean water is also becoming an issue in the west with droughts and reduced …more

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Pesticide Manufacturers’ Own Tests Reveal Serious Harm to Honeybees

Bayer and Syngenta criticized for secrecy after unpublished research linked high doses of their products to damage to bee colonies

Unpublished field trials by pesticide manufacturers show their products cause serious harm to honeybees at high levels, leading to calls from senior scientists for the companies to end the secrecy which cloaks much of their research.

The research, conducted by Syngenta and Bayer on their neonicotinoid insecticides, were submitted to the US Environmental Protection Agency and obtained by Greenpeace after a freedom of information request.

Honeybeephoto by Keith McDuffeeThe newly revealed studies show Syngenta’s thiamethoxam and Bayer’s clothianidin seriously harmed colonies at high doses.

Neonicotinoids are the world’s most widely used insecticides and there is clear scientific evidence that they harm bees at the levels found in fields, though only a little to date showing the pesticides harm the overall performance of colonies. Neonicotinoids were banned from use on flowering crops in the EU in 2013, despite UK opposition.

Bees and other insects are vital for pollinating three-quarters of the world’s food crops but have been in significant decline, due to the loss of flower-rich habitats, disease and the use of pesticides.

The newly revealed studies show Syngenta’s thiamethoxam and Bayer’s clothianidin seriously harmed colonies at high doses, but did not find significant effects below concentrations of 50 parts per billion (ppb) and 40ppb respectively. Such levels can sometimes be found in fields but concentrations are usually below 10ppb.

However, scientists said all such research should be made public. “Given all the debate about this subject, it is hard to see why the companies don’t make these kinds of studies available,” said Prof Dave Goulson, at the University of Sussex. “It does seem a little shady to do this kind of field study — the very studies the companies say are the most important ones — and then not tell people what they find.”

Prof Christian Krupke, at Purdue University in Indiana, said: “Bayer and Syngenta’s commitment to pollinator health should include publishing these data. This work presents a rich dataset that could greatly benefit the many publicly funded scientists examining the issue worldwide, including avoiding costly and unnecessary duplication of research.”

Ben Stewart, at Greenpeace, said: “If Bayer and Syngenta cared about the future of our pollinators, they would have made the findings public. Instead, they kept quiet about them for months and carried on downplaying nearly every study that questioned the safety of their products. It’s time for these companies to come clean about what they really know.”

Syngenta had told Greenpeace in …more

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