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Northernmost Population of Italian Wall Lizards in North America Discovered in Boston

Species is the first known lizard to make its way to the city

On a warm, sunny, late June afternoon, Colin Donihue, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University in the department of organismic and evolutionary biology, spots a greenish-colored lizard scrambling into a large compost pile in the Fenway Victory Gardens, a seven-and-a-half-acre public gardening area in Boston. He carefully stalks the reptile, then moves into position with his lizard noose — a collapsible, 14-foot-long graphite pole with a loop of thread on the end.

photo of Italian wall lizardphoto Tim BeaulieuColin Donihue holds an Italian wall lizard in a public gardening area in Boston. The species is the first known lizard to live within the city.

Siting the lizard in a pile of dead twigs and branches, Donihue slowly maneuvers the tip of the pole toward the skittish animal. While he had spotted a few other lizards earlier, he was unable to get close enough to catch them. The pole trembles a bit, but he manages to slip the tiny noose over the lizard’s head. As he lifts the animal off the compost pile it flops around wildly like a fish on a line. As Donihue gently wraps his hand around the feisty creature, it opens its jaws wide to try to bite him before eventually settling down.

“All right, it’s a male,” proclaims Donihue. “Podarcis siculus, the Italian wall lizard.”

The lizard is quite colorful, mostly green on its back with a line of dark brown patches down the middle and along its sides, and a whitish belly. He can tell it’s a male by its relatively large size, as well as its triangular-shaped head and wide jaws.

Had Donihue caught this lizard in Italy or adjacent Mediterranean countries, its natural home range, or even in New York City or Greenwich, Connecticut, where they’ve been introduced and have managed to thrive for many years, it would have been no big deal. But this is the first time these animals have ever been documented in Massachusetts. In fact, there are no known lizards of any type in Massachusetts, so this is quite a surprising discovery. “It’s really incredible that they’re this far north,” says Donihue. "This is their northernmost range in North America and certainly the coldest climate they're found in."

Elizabeth Bertolozzi, vice president of the Fenway Victory Gardens, had emailed Donihue photos of lizards she had seen in her garden plot last fall, which he identified as Italian wall lizards. “I first found out about them in an email …more

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California Lawmakers Extend Controversial Climate Program

Environmental groups divided on bill, which extends state's carbon market to 2030

California lawmakers extended the state's climate legislation Monday night, in what is being considered a victory for Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to lower greenhouse emissions.

The legislation, a package of bills that extends California's plan to address climate change, passed with a supermajority in both the Assembly and the Senate, insulating it from any legal challenges. The bill passed the Senate 28-12 and was approved 55-21 in the Assembly. Eight Republican lawmakers in the Assembly voted in favor of the bill, and three democrats voted against it. In the Senate, one Republican joined the Democrats voting for the legislation.

photo of oil refinery Photo by Thomas Hawk Environmental groups have divided on the bill, which will extend California's cap-and-trade program to 2030.

Brown's signature on the bill will extend the world's second-largest carbon market to 2030.

"Tonight, California stood tall and once again, boldly confronted the existential threat of our time," Gov. Brown said in a statement. "Republicans and Democrats set aside their difference, came together and took courageous action. That's what good government looks like."

However, as Inside Climate News reported, not everyone is celebrating:

When Brown last week announced the legislation to extend the program, three vocal factions emerged: Republicans pleaded with the governor to back away from the proposal, saying it would hurt California's economy. Progressive environmental groups—including may representing polluted minority communities—bashed the proposals as a giveaway to polluters, particularly the oil industry. Other influential environmental groups applauded the legislation, saying it represented a reasonable balance that represented the best change for moving the program forward.

State Sen. Andy Vidak, speaking in opposition to the bill, said the laws represented a "regressive" tax that would not make any impact on climate change. "We could shut down the entire state of California and it would have no effect on the global climate," Vidak said.

Sen. Vidak is not alone in speaking out against the bill. The extension of AB 398, the state's cap-and-trade program, is being criticized by more than 50 California leading environmental organizations for making concessions to industry and consulting with the oil and gas lobby. The extension on the cap-and-trade program has very few changes. It still allows big polluters to continue buying permits to emit more greenhouse gases and bars some separate regulations on refineries.

"This bill makes a bad cap-and-trade system even worse," Adam Scow, California director for Food & Water Watch. "It was written with oil …more

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Putting the Climate Necessity Defense in Front of Juries

By denying climate activists the right to present their cases to a jury, judges are cutting democracy out of political trials

Political activists challenging the ascendancy of President Donald Trump are increasingly availing themselves of the criminal legal system as a means of defending their ideas and confronting government repression. From Inauguration Day protesters who have pledged to go to trial to combat unprecedented felony charges to climate campaigners seeking ratification of their anti-fossil fuel industry actions through the climate necessity defense, courtroom activism has become an important front for the grassroots opposition. But cases from the climate movement suggest a worrying trend: judges are denying climate activists the right to present their cases to a jury, effectively banning discussion of the world’s most pressing crisis from the courtroom.

photo of civil disobedience against Keystone XL Photo by John Brusky Climate activists protested the Keystone XL pipeline in 2014 by engaging in a civil disobedience action in front of the White House. So far, US judges have have not allowed activists to present evidence of climate change to juries when defending themselves in court.

Building on a healthy tradition of criminal trials as political showdowns and relying on American’s fascination with the criminal process, the new wave of protester-defendants seeks to use the jury trial as a supplement to our broken electoral and lobbying systems. They’re in good company. In 1733, a jury refused to convict New York newspaper editor John Peter Zenger for violating a law that made it a crime to criticize the royal governor; the case was foundational in developing freedom of the press. In 1969, the infamous Chicago Seven conspiracy trial against political activists involved in protests at the Democratic National Convention served as a crucial dramatization of the cross-cutting political and cultural attitudes of the day.

In political trials as in others, juries play an essential role. They provide a check against the bias of prosecutors and judges. They democratize an otherwise elitist and hard-to-understand forum. They give citizens the opportunity (or at least the obligation) to engage in a major part of civic life.

Crucially, juries guarantee that defendants, including political activists, will be judged by their peers rather than by faceless bureaucrats or punitive authoritarians. The Sixth Amendment requires that "in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury." In Chambers v. Mississippi, the Supreme Court ruled that the right to present evidence to a jury was a basic requirement of due process. Availing themselves of …more

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New Documentary Brings Viewers Beneath the Waves to See the Coral Bleaching Crisis

In Review: Chasing Coral

One of the difficulties of challenging climate change deniers, as well as with building public support and momentum for climate action, is that some of global warming’s most devastating effects occur out of the public eye in corners of the planet usually inaccessible to most people. As the old saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.” But then again, as another truism puts it: “What you don’t know may kill you.”

photo of coral bleachingphoto courtesy of Chasing CoralChasing Coral takes viewers underwater to witness the impact climate change is having on coral reefs.

To make what seems invisible visible — and with the hope of spurring robust climate action — photographer James Balog and filmmaker Jeff Orlowski have traveled far and wide, bringing with them innovative cameras and audiovisual recording equipment to render the remote nearer. For his award-winning 2014 documentary Chasing Ice, Orlowski and the Extreme Ice Survey made far-flung expeditions to Greenland, Iceland, and Alaska, using state of the art time lapse cinematography to irrefutably document glacial melt due to global warming. For his latest film, Orlowski transitioned from the Arctic to the tropics, setting his sights on coral reefs.  

Chasing Coral was actually the idea of former London adman Richard Vevers, who was alerted to ocean issues when he noticed during diving trips that the Weedy Sea Dragon, a beloved species he observed during deep sea diving, was disappearing. Learning that Elkhorn Coral, which was commonplace in the Caribbean, had been “virtually all wiped out,” as he puts it in the film, stiffened Vevers’ resolve to do something about these dramatic changes taking place underwater. After watching Chasing Ice, Vevers had an epiphany about the connection between melting ice and coral bleaching, saying, “It dawned on me that we were doing exactly the same thing, but with coral reefs.”

Vevers approached Orlowski with the notion of filming an underwater counterpart to Chasing Ice, and a team of technicians, cinematographers, and coral experts was assembled to explore the coral bleaching phenomenon, which is caused by warming waters, in the northern and southern hemispheres. The intrepid Orlowski and a crew of Argonauts embarked on Oceanic odysseys to find out what’s happening to the planet’s reefs — and why.

Orlowski took his cutting edge cameras beneath the waves in American Samoa, Australia, Bermuda, Hawaii, Bahamas, New Caledonia, the Florida Keys, and some 30 other countries and territories to make Chasing Coral. The result is …more

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EU Calls for Immediate Logging Ban in Europe’s Last Primeval Forest

Last year Polish government tripled logging operations at Białowieża forest, a UNESCO world heritage site

Europe’s last major parcel of primeval woodland could be set for a reprieve after the EU asked the European court to authorize an immediate ban on logging in Poland’s Białowieża forest. (Read more about how logging has decimated the forest.)

photo of Bialowieza Forest Photo courtesy of Greenpeace Poland Logs cut and ready for removal from Poland's Białowieża forest. The EU has called for an immediate ban on logging at the world heritage site.

Around 80,000 cubic meters of forest have been cleared since the Polish government tripled logging operations around the UNESCO world heritage site last year.

The European commission said that it had acted because the increased logging of trees over a century-old “poses a major threat to the integrity of this ... site.”

EU environment commissioner, Karmenu Vella told The Guardian: “We have asked that Polish authorities cease and desist operations immediately. These actions are clear, practical steps that the European commission has taken to protect one of the last remaining primeval forests in Europe.”

Environmentalists applauded the move, with WWF Poland’s Dariusz Gatkowski calling for the commission “to quickly implement today’s positive decision and take Poland to court, fulfilling its role as guardian of Europe’s natural heritage and the laws that protect it.”

Agata Szafraniuk of the ClientEarth legal firm, said: “Decisive and immediate action is the only way to avoid irreversible damage to this ancient forest. We hope that the court of justice will impose the ban on logging, as a matter of urgency, before breaking for the summer holiday, which starts on July 21st.”

Last week, UNESCO threatened to put Białowieża on its list of world heritage sites in danger unless Poland halted the deforestation, which has felled 30,000 cubic meters of coppice in just the first four months of 2017.

But quick compliance from the Polish government is thought unlikely, after the country’s environment ministry tweeted that it was “delighted” at the prospect of a court case yesterday. A second tweet said: “We have hard data on the #Buszowska (Białowieża) forest and we will be pleased to present it before the tribunal.”

Last month, Poland’s environment minister, Jan Szyszko, called for the site to be stripped of its Unesco status, despite fears of a collapse in its biodiversity, which includes wolves, lynx and Europe’s largest bison …more

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Surprising Stories of Climate Activists

From kids, to grandparents, to climate clowns, Stepping Up podcast features the folks taking on global warming

There’s a new podcast on the audio scene, and it will spark both your interest and your imagination. Stepping Up tells the stories of climate advocates who are stepping up their game in unexpected ways. Grannies and kids, evangelicals and clowns, they are figuring out new ways to act – and act out – about the biggest crisis of our times.

photo of young people examining objects in the sand at an ocean beachphoto Sarah CraigHeirs of the Ocean members Elliot, Kirin, Dakota,  and Charlie are stepping up to the challenge of climate change.

The first episode, called The Loudest Smallest Voices, was released last week. It features the tales of several young activists, and will make you laugh and cry.

The episode starts with12-year-old Kiran Garewal’s visit to the lab of climate scientist Dr. Vania Coelho at the Dominican University of California. As he walks in, he sees a room cluttered with science equipment, and another humming with the sound of aquarium tanks. Kiran is there because he’s heard from his friends that coral reefs are dying and he wants to ask Dr. Coelho, an expert of coral bleaching, why.

Kiran’s interest in coral was piqued when, several months earlier, his friends came back from a trip to the islands of Palau in the South Pacific. They told him that they went kayaking and saw huge swaths of white dead coral. It was scary to discover that the oceans were in such a state of disaster.

Kiran and his friends are part of Heirs to Our Oceans – a group of 17 kids who are on a mission to save the oceans. These kids live in the San Francisco Bay Area and are home-schooled using a curriculum that is hands-on and project-based. The club arose out of that curriculum. By studying the oceans, they’re learning to research, write, speak and think critically.

Back in the lab, Kiran learns that coral bleaching comes from heat stress – in this case, warming waters – and it can kill almost an entire reef if it’s intense enough. He asks the professor about the impacts on the food web when this happens. “As the corals start to die, you start to have less and less fish in those areas because they don’t have enough habitat anymore to survive,” says Dr. Coelho. Kiran suggests they can move to another habitat. “Oh no, no,” she responds. “Those …more

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Advocates Plan Solar Installations Along Keystone XL Route

Environmental groups hope to block pipeline’s path, promote renewable energy as Nebraska ponders pipeline approval

When President Donald Trump signed off on a presidential permit okaying the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline in March, it was a real blow to an environmental movement that had tasted victory over the dirty tar sands clunker back in 2015 when President Obama withdrew the permit for the project. With Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau united in their support of the pipeline, it seemed little could stand in the way of some 830,000 barrels of dirty tar sands fuel barreling down a 36-inch crude oil pipe from Hardisty, Alberta through Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska to export terminals in the Gulf of Mexico. The pipeline seemed destined to pass over, under, and through environmentally sensitive areas such as Nebraska’s Sandhills, and putt at risk the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world’s largest underground freshwater sources .

photo of pipelinePhoto Shannon RamosEnvironmental groups have launched a campaign to install solar panels along the Keystone XL route, literally and symbolically blocking the pipeline with a renewable energy future.

But not so fast. Anti-pipeline activists are holding strong. And last week, they announced Solar  XL, the latest move in a battle waged against the pipeline. Launched July 7 by a coalition of groups including Bold Nebraska, 350.org, Indigenous Environment Network, and Oil Change International, the campaign features a series of solar panel arrays installed directly on the KXL pipeline route as it passes through Nebraska.

“We are putting solutions in the path of the problem,” said Sara Shor, a campaigner for 350.org.  “TransCanada will have to literally dig up these solar arrays in order to build a polluting pipeline of the past that will pollute land and water, increase carbon emissions, and make climate change worse. The first project will be completed by the time the hearing in Lincoln starts in August.”

Each installation will cost $15,500 for a nine-panel frame, net-metering connection to the Nebraska power grid, and labor. The groups aim to raise $50,000 via crowdfunding at the Action Network to help finance the installation in locations where landowners have refused to sell to TransCanada.

The energy produced by the arrays will be used by Nebraska farmers and ranchers leading the fight against KXL in Nebraska, both symbolically and literally putting a renewable energy future directly in the path of some of the dirtiest fuel on the planet.

“I am vehemently opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline mainly because of …more

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