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The U.S. could have avoided Puerto Rico’s water crisis

Fri, 2017-10-20 17:28

The numbers associated with the current situation in Puerto Rico, one month after Hurricane Maria struck the U.S. territory, are baffling.

More than 2.5 million residents are still without power. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is able to offer 200,000 meals to Puerto Ricans daily — but it needs to feed 2 million people. Perhaps most baffling, or at least exasperating, President Donald Trump gives himself a perfect 10 for his response to the storm’s aftermath.

One of the most pressing issues on the island is access to clean water. Officials estimate that more than 1 in 3 residents in Puerto Rico doesn’t have it. Aid agencies on the ground say the number is closer to 1 in 2. Families are drinking water contaminated with sewage and dead animals. Others are drawing from toxic Superfund sites. There have been at least 10 cases of leptospirosis from drinking contaminated water — and officials are investigating four deaths which may have been caused by waterborne bacteria.

Simply put, this is an ongoing public health crisis.

Puerto Rico was in a tough spot before Maria tore through the Caribbean island. Economic and political factors complicated disaster response: The territory was already facing a debt crisis. And limited local resources and poor roads made it difficult to get supplies to storm survivors.

But aid agencies and relief experts believe the current predicament could have been avoided. There are international standards and a clear blueprint for how to get safe water to people after a disaster. But so far, the federal response has failed in providing both immediate help and longer-term solutions — and part of the reason for that could boil down to discrimination.

“We’re a very capable nation, yet we don’t seem to have deployed our capabilities in this instance,” says John Mutter, a Columbia University professor and international disaster relief expert. “This isn’t rocket science. We know what we’re supposed to do. The fact that we’re not doing it needs explanation.”

According to the relief organization Oxfam, the minimum standards for disaster response have not been met. The aid group follows Sphere minimum standards — a set of universal benchmarks for humanitarian responses established in 1997 — which require, for instance, four gallons of water to be provided per day per person for bathing, cooking, and drinking. The water should be delivered in safe containers through water trucks, water bladders, or filters. And initial assistance is supposed to arrive within three to five days after a disaster.

In this case, there has not been enough overall coordination of relief, according to Martha Thompson, Oxfam America’s program coordinator for disaster response in Puerto Rico. Truck deliveries of bottled water are sporadic, and she says that the military has sent water trucks to several sites without providing clean containers to safeguard the water.

U.S. Northern Command, which is coordinating the military’s aid efforts in Puerto Rico, confirmed reports that people are using potentially contaminated containers — often washed out detergent bottles — to collect water. In response, it’s distributing five-gallon collapsable buckets to residents to avoid the possibility of clean water being contaminated by dirty receptacles.

“The military is focused on delivering safe and drinkable water,” says Navy Lieutenant Sean McNevin. “We are very concerned about the safety of Puerto Ricans affected by the hurricane and we’ll make those recommendations and adjustments to what we deliver based on what we know on the ground.”

According to Peter Gleick, a climate and water scientist with the Bay Area public policy nonprofit the Pacific Institute, the U.S. government could have taken steps prior to or immediately after Maria hit Puerto Rico to speed up recovery. Within days of the storm’s landfall, Gleick recommended that the United States quickly move military assets, like desalination units that pull salt out of ocean water, to the islands.

I urge the U.S. to send an aircraft carrier to Puerto Rico for the airstrip, but especially the #water desalination capacity

— Peter Gleick (@PeterGleick) September 22, 2017

He adds that there should be more aggressive water testing to assure residents that they are using safe water sources. “The idea that there are communities forced to take water from wells on Superfund sites is completely inexcusable,” Gleick says.

On Thursday, CNN reported that Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech environmental engineer who ran tests on the contaminated water in Flint, Michigan, had concluded that samples taken from wells at the Dorado Groundwater Contamination Superfund Site, near Puerto Rico’s capital of San Juan, were safe to drink.

Still, residents searching for water on toxic sites or relying on bottled water are the sort of problems the aid community says should have been dealt with long before the one-month mark. Recovery efforts should be transitioning into more sustainable long-term solutions.

“It’s unacceptable that people are still depending on water bottle deliveries for day-to-day survival,” says Oxfam’s Thompson, adding that people continue to fear that future shipments won’t arrive.

By now, what’s needed are water filters and solar-powered generators that communities can use to run pumps to access wells. There also needs to be significant improvement to the territory’s municipal water system, which wasn’t in great shape before the storm hit.

Earlier this year, the Natural Resources Defense Council published a report that found that Puerto Rico had the highest rate of drinking water violations of any state or territory in the United States.

“There’s a question as to whether or not the population was receiving safe drinking water before the storm,” says Adrianna Quintero, NRDC’s director of partner engagement. “So we can only expect that it’s going to be worse post-storm.”

The island’s current safe water shortage is closely tied to power outages, says Peter Gleick. With more than 70 percent of the island lacking power, he says, wastewater treatment and water delivery systems have stalled out.

“This isn’t just a water problem,” Gleick says. “It’s an energy problem.”

Ultimately, Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory might be behind its slow recovery. As part of the United States, the island hasn’t seen the type of international aid that an independent developing country might receive. And yet Puerto Ricans have had to assert their U.S. citizenship to a federal government that allocates them no say in the electoral college or a Congress representative who can vote on legislation.

“There’s this idea that these are not American citizens who are going through this, which is blatantly false,” Quintero says. “I think there’s an element of discrimination there.”

According to Columbia’s Mutter, FEMA’s response to hurricanes Harvey in Houston and Irma in Florida seemed to show that it had learned its lessons from Hurricane Katrina. Critics attributed the agency’s slow response to the 2005 storm and the resulting humanitarian emergency in part to the fact that they affected a primarily black and poor population.

“Now it just seems like they’ve forgotten their lessons,” Mutter says about FEMA. “It seems callous, but it looks like maybe they don’t care as much about Puerto Rico.”

FEMA did not respond to requests for comment.

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló seemed to agree with Mutter when he met with President Trump in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. “Give the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico the adequate resources,” Rosselló pleaded. “Treat us the same as citizens in Texas and Florida and elsewhere.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline The U.S. could have avoided Puerto Rico’s water crisis on Oct 20, 2017.

After decades of trying, petro-companies are one step closer to drilling in the Arctic Refuge.

Fri, 2017-10-20 16:24

This week, Senate Democrats failed to strip a line from the Republican’s budget that would encourage people to pump up and burn all of the hydrocarbon beneath the refuge.

Never mind that it’s also the largest block of undeveloped wilderness in the United States and an important home for many species, including a major caribou herd. The Gwich’in people, who depend on caribou, have opposed drilling, but the Inupiat on the coast have mostly supported it.

If this feels a bit like Groundhog Day, you’re not wrong. Back in 2005, we wrote, “Haven’t we heard this same alarm sounding before? — this time advocates on both sides of the issue agree: Congress is closer than ever before to green-lighting oil and gas drilling in one of the largest remaining undeveloped wild areas in the United States.”

The Department of Interior recommended opening the area to oil drillers in 1987, and it has been an intermittent battle royale for environmentalists ever since. Consider this the bell for the next round.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline After decades of trying, petro-companies are one step closer to drilling in the Arctic Refuge. on Oct 20, 2017.

California wildfires torch the legalization hopes of pot growers

Fri, 2017-10-20 09:08

The wildfires that swept across Mendocino, Sonoma, and Napa counties in Northern California last week devastated many of the region’s legal cannabis growers, torching their crops and facilities at peak harvest time and leaving smaller farmers at risk of collapse.

The fires, which continue to smolder, are the deadliest and most destructive in the state’s history — killing at least 41 people and claiming 220,000 acres and 5,700 homes. The blazes incinerated untold amounts of pot, just as legal sales are set to begin in the state in January.

“The opportunity of legal cannabis is in ashes for many longtime California growers and their communities,” wrote Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, in a message to the trade group’s 1,200 members. “Over the course of the last 18 months, these growers have spent their life savings getting permits and preparing for state licenses.”

Allen said the fires had destroyed at least 21 farms and damaged two others. Even for farms that didn’t burn, the crops may die for lack of water, as many are in areas that are now off-limits. Unlike grape farmers who lost vines in the fires, cannabis growers don’t qualify for crop insurance and can’t apply for federal assistance grants.

Allen was working with state officials to create an insurance program for growers, but it wasn’t in place yet. The farms were already under pressure from growing competition from much bigger operations. “It was just really bad timing,” he told me.

PREVIOUSLY: In pot’s Napa Valley, legalization could wipe out small farmers

The cause of the fires is unknown. Some are pointing fingers at sparking Pacific Gas & Electric power lines on ridge tops. But the real culprit looks like climate change, which will put cannabis growers — and the state at large — at risk in the future, as reported by Sonoma County’s weekly newspaper, The Bohemian.

“That’s the way it is with a warming climate, dry weather and reduced moisture,” California Governor Jerry Brown said in a press conference last week. “These kinds of catastrophes have happened, and they are going to continue to happen.”

All the conditions in place before the fire — hot, dry weather, massive fuel loads, and hurricane-force east winds — are hallmarks of a changed climate. “Climate sets the stage, and we have strong evidence that the global warming that’s already happened has increased wildfire risk in the western United States, through the effects of temperature drying the landscape,” said Noah Diffenbaugh, a Stanford University climate scientist.

Terry Garrett, who serves on the Sonoma County Economic Development Board and its Cannabis Task Force, says damage reports are still coming in, but the losses could be substantial. A typical 10,000-square-foot operation would lose about $1 million in pot, plus infrastructure, he said.

Garrett estimates that Sonoma County produces about $2.5 billion in cannabis revenue per year. That includes indoor and mixed-light production, which is harvested three to five times a year. Outdoor production, the kind most likely to be damaged by the fire, represents the most potential for loss since that crop hadn’t been harvested and dried.

For the cottage-scale growers whose farms were destroyed in the blazes, the disaster intensifies financial pressure that was already pushing them to the brink. The first two weeks of October are generally peak harvest for cannabis growers. Flames got the crop before they could.

To help farmers who suffered losses, the growers association launched a recovery fund. But even that good-faith effort hit a snag. YouCaring, the platform receiving wildfire relief funds for the association, sent the $9,000 raised so far back to the group because of a policy against cannabis campaigns. So the association has moved its fundraising to a new platform.

Most of the losses were in Sonoma County, where the fires were largest. The Emerald Triangle, the traditional heart of Northern California’s cannabis country, begins just north of Sonoma County in Mendocino County; but with an estimated 5,000 cannabis farms, Sonoma County is as much cannabis country as it is wine country.

Just as the fire did not discriminate, incinerating homes in upscale ridge-top areas as well as a vast swath of more than 1,000 working-class homes in hard-hit Santa Rosa, the fire took out pot farms big and small, too.

CannaCraft is Sonoma County’s largest cannabis producer and distributor. The company lost 15 greenhouses in the fires, which represents about 5,000 plants. As a larger company, it will be able to absorb the losses, but smaller operations already struggling to afford often costly state and county permits and fees will have a harder time rebounding. CannaCraft has opened its offices to smaller competitors to help them get back on their feet.

“Getting hit at this time is going to be pretty devastating for some of these people, as they were just coming above board trying to create legitimate businesses,” said Dennis Hunter, CannaCraft’s founder.

A bit of good news: In Sonoma County, growers who had applied for permits are eligible for tax relief if their crops were destroyed or damaged. And although the losses may be extensive, dispensary owners say that because of the record amount of cannabis grown in California this year, they will backfill their supply from other sources. That will benefit small growers who made it through the fires and are struggling to adjust to the new, legal market.

Produced in collaboration with the Food & Environment Reporting Network, a nonprofit, investigative news organization.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline California wildfires torch the legalization hopes of pot growers on Oct 20, 2017.

One month later, most of Puerto Rico is still utterly destroyed.

Fri, 2017-10-20 04:00

Since Hurricane Maria made landfall, the humanitarian crisis has devolved into one of the worst in modern American history. While President Donald Trump rates his own response to the crisis as a “10 out of 10,” the latest numbers show the situation is stark:

CBS News correspondent David Begnaud, who has been in Puerto Rico almost continuously since before Maria struck, called the situation on the ground “an endless emergency.” He told the Lafayette (Louisiana) Daily Advertiser, his hometown newspaper, “It has surpassed anything I’ve reported on before in terms of devastation.”

Citing an “unacceptable” government response, Oxfam, an international humanitarian organization, has mounted a rare effort to assist recovery from a disaster in a developed country. One month in, Oxfam says daily life in Puerto Rico is “untenable.” Furthermore, the organization noted: “The United States has the resources and experience to overcome these obstacles to save lives now and to build the long-term sustainability of Puerto Rico.”

We’re waiting.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline One month later, most of Puerto Rico is still utterly destroyed. on Oct 20, 2017.

Europe’s hurricane-fueled wildfires might become a recurring nightmare

Thu, 2017-10-19 18:37

This week, a hurricane broadsided Europe — a rare event considering most of the continent is closer to the North Pole than it is to the tropics. That would have been enough to make worldwide news, but the continent was due for much more.

As the storm, named Ophelia, approached, it was the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the eastern Atlantic. Although weather watchers were initially focused most closely on Ireland, where the storm made landfall, its deadliest impact occurred hundreds of miles south in Portugal and Spain.

There, strong winds stoked hundreds of wildfires, killing more than 40 people. The ghastly images from southwestern Europe looked less like real life than illustrations from a cautionary fairy tale about the end of the world. Being there, as one person wrote, was like “a nightmare world of smoke and ash.”

These fires would have been the deadliest in Portugal’s history, were it not for massive blazes in June that killed more than 60 people, trapping many in their cars, as flames advanced too quickly for them to escape.

With its vast forests and typically warm and dry summers, Portugal is already Europe’s wildfire capital. And in recent decades, its profound and unique socioeconomic vulnerability to fire has only grown. Last year, half of the fire acreage burned in all of Europe lay in Portugal — a trend attributed both to haphazard forestry practices and climate change bringing hotter and drier weather.

This year, the sheer scale of the fires has been staggering. On Sunday alone, wildfires burned at least 300,000 acres — more than is normally burned in an entire year. Smoke from the fires quickly spread as far away as London.

Portugal’s wildfires this year have brought sharp focus on the escalating risk of these blazes — and what little officials have done to prevent them. Popular backlash prompted the resignation of a senior government minister and a formal request for a vote of no confidence in the ruling party. But they have also brought a lesson for the rest of the world: As climate change escalates, wildfires are a problem without an easy solution. (Just ask California.)

In a struggling post-recession Portugal, suppliers to its huge paper industry have accelerated a switchover from native species to faster-growing eucalyptus. Since trees consumed by fire can now be replaced more quickly, fire prevention — simple actions like trimming branches and clearing underbrush that could greatly reduce the country’s fire risk — has fallen by the wayside due to cost cutting. Add to that, more and more people are fleeing Portugal’s rural areas — leaving an aging population behind — it’s not clear who will be able to do that work even if resources were available to fund it.

“It really is a textbook example of wildfire as a socio-natural hazard,” José Miguel Pereira, a forest ecologist at the University of Lisbon tells Grist via email. Or to put it another way, human activity is making wildfires worse. These infernos are a product of our disregard for the fact that nature is now almost entirely something we’ve created — these disasters aren’t natural.

And as you know, our influence goes beyond simply neglecting tree management. There’s a growing consensus that the most important reason behind the recent surge in megafires is weather. September was the driest month in Portugal for at least 87 years, and this summer was among the hottest ever measured. All that’s led to a wildfire season that’s 525 percent worse than normal.

Climate models show that a warmer world will mean a drier southern Europe, and increasing ocean temperatures will likely bring more hurricanes further northward. That combination will boost the frequency of massive wildfires in Europe, especially in places like Portugal. On our current warming track, recent research shows the Mediterranean will cross a threshold into megadrought in the next few decades. Many of the trees in the region will likely go up in flames before next century.

This week, with the addition of Ophelia’s winds, weather conditions favorable for fire growth were extreme — and they occurred at a time of the year when farmers routinely set the ground ablaze to clear land. The mix resulted in fires so intense they created their own weather, spawning rare pyrocumulus clouds, literally a fire cloud.

“To the best of my knowledge this is new in Europe,” Paulo Fernandes, a forest ecologist at the University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro, wrote to Grist, adding the weather was far outside what would be expected for mid-October. ”Extreme fires cannot be mitigated by a stronger firefighting force.”

What happened this week in Portugal points toward the scariest aspects of the Anthropocene: We are changing the world around us so fast that, in many cases, adaptation will be near impossible. As a hurricane, Ophelia was literally off the charts, and meteorologists have no doubt that the storm made the fires worse, rapidly transforming the smallest flames into towering infernos.

In my discussions with colleagues this week, not one weather or climate expert could think of an example of a tropical cyclone in the last 90-plus years that has sparked such a series of megafires. The closest corollaries were a 1978 storm in western Australia and a 2011 storm in Texas. Each fanned large fires, but the loss of life was relatively low. In 1923, a typhoon worsened the impact of fires sparked by a massive earthquake in Japan – but again, that required an earthquake.

Like Portugal, California has a Mediterranean climate that features a long summer dry season. In the wake of the state’s record-breaking wildfire season, which occurred under similar weather and climate conditions as the Portuguese fires, there’s a lot the West Coast can learn from what’s going wrong in Portugal. The most important lesson: Once huge fires get going, there’s not much that can stop them. The best hope, instead, is reducing risk in advance by preparing forests for the inevitable.

On Thursday, a bipartisan group of Western senators proposed a reform of forestry practices that will do just that. And it’s already getting praise from firefighters, environmentalists, and industry. In 2017, the U.S. spent a record $2 billion on fighting wildfires, and the new bill would support low-cost preparedness efforts — like those shelved in Portugal — to try to prevent future fires.

In a statement accompanying the release of the bill, Washington Sen. Patty Murray, one of its sponsors said the time for action is now: “We can’t sit by and let devastating wildfires become the new normal.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Europe’s hurricane-fueled wildfires might become a recurring nightmare on Oct 19, 2017.

Old reefs hold the tale of past sea-level rise, and … it’s dramatic.

Thu, 2017-10-19 18:16

Toward the end of the last ice age, about 19,000 years ago, the sea rose in several large spurts, according to a new study of coral reefs that grew during this period.

This contradicts assumptions that sea level rises gradually. Instead, coral fossils show sudden inundations followed by quieter periods. This offers new information that supports the theory that glaciers and ice sheets have “tipping points” that cause their sudden collapse along with a sudden increase in sea level.

Researchers at Rice University surveyed deep-sea coral fossils in the Gulf of Mexico, scanning their 3D structures to analyze them for growth patterns. Coral likes to live close to the surface, so it grows slowly when sea level is constant. But when sea level rises quickly, the coral grows vertically to try to stay near the surface, forming terraces.

“The coral reefs’ evolution and demise have been preserved,” lead author of the study, Pankaj Khanna, said in a press release. “Their history is written in their morphology — the shapes and forms in which they grew.”

Whether the future is written in these forms, too, remains to be seen.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Old reefs hold the tale of past sea-level rise, and … it’s dramatic. on Oct 19, 2017.

The first floating wind turbines just came online, which is very good news, indeed.

Thu, 2017-10-19 15:41

Five giant turbines bobbing in the North Sea, 15 miles off the Scottish coast, are now producing electricity — at peak, enough power for 20,000 homes.

Offshore wind turbines are a key technology for accessing the bulk of the wind energy available on Earth. Earlier this month, researchers calculated that wind could theoretically provide “civilization scale power,” if only we could figure out how to harness the wind whipping at high speed over the oceans.

The Norwegian energy company behind the project, Statoil, may have done that with its new turbines. Each tower rises nearly 600 feet above the water — like a floating Seattle Space Needle — and is chained to three massive upside-down buckets sunk into the sandy bottom, 350 feet below the surface.

The project was expensive, like all initial ventures: It cost $8.8 million per megawatt of generation capacity (versus the going rate of around $4.5 million for conventional offshore turbines). However, Statoil says that it plans to cut that cost in half by 2023, produce electricity as cheaply as onshore wind power by 2030.

Here’s Statoil’s video of the turbines, which, as self-promotions go, is pretty cool. Click for the endearingly earnest Norwegian engineers, and stick around for the jaw-dropping scale:

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline The first floating wind turbines just came online, which is very good news, indeed. on Oct 19, 2017.

New Mexico: OK, fine, we’ll put science back in science standards.

Thu, 2017-10-19 14:55

Last month, the state’s public education agency proposed science standards with a few substantial omissions: human-caused climate change, evolution, and the age of the Earth.

After backlash from state politicians, scientists, teachers, and others, New Mexico’s Public Education Department said it would reverse course and restore some of those references. The new language in the standards will better reflect science, replacing a mention of the “fluctuation” in global temperatures over the past century with the more accurate term “rise.”

The initial New Mexico proposal was based off the Next Generation Science Standards — a well-respected STEM education model — but officials either dropped language about global warming and evolution or replaced it with more evasive, misleading wording. One education department employee who helped develop the standards before quitting the agency told Mother Jones that those edits were made by people who were “really worried about creationists and the oil companies.”

New Mexico hasn’t yet agreed to adopt the language of the Next Generation Science Standards in full. Still, the revisions represent a small victory for science in the larger battle over climate change in American classrooms.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline New Mexico: OK, fine, we’ll put science back in science standards. on Oct 19, 2017.

How to stamp out sexual harassment when it’s reached the ends of the Earth

Wed, 2017-10-18 19:27

On Oct. 6, the day after The New York Times broke the story that Harvey Weinstein had serially sexually assaulted and harassed women across Hollywood, Science Magazine published a quieter exposé of abuse. Geoscientist Jane Willenbring — along with several other women — brought allegations of sexual harassment against her former advisor at Boston University for his conduct with her on a field research trip in 1999.

In a written complaint to BU’s Dean of Arts and Sciences, Willenbring alleges that Antarctic Research Group director David Marchant threw rocks at her as she tried to urinate; ranted about her being a “slut” and a “whore”; insisted that his brother, another researcher on the trip, expose himself to her in the tent that they shared; and shoved and otherwise physically abused her. Daily, Willenbring says, Marchant would insist that he needed to break her down and build her up “in his image.”

While the Weinstein allegations were bleakly unsurprising to many women — there is the expectation, however depressing, that the film industry operates on the exploitation of women — Willenbring’s story carries a fresh element of awfulness: “Can you believe women even have to defend themselves in Antarctica?”

But yes? Of course? Because there is nowhere that the lure of misusing power will not be tempting to certain men. And that power, cruelly wielded across ice sheets, classrooms, and laboratories, pushes hordes of women from scientific pursuits. In any effort to fight climate change, we cannot afford that kind of attrition.

There is something uniquely lawless about remote, field-based research: A 2014 survey of field researchers found that 64 percent of respondents experienced sexual harassment in their fieldwork. When I asked whether Marchant’s behavior changed between campus and Antarctica, Willenbring said yes: “That was when the civilized constraints seemed to be lifted.”

“I remember going through, in my mind, all the possible things I could do: saying nothing and ignoring him, or yelling at him,” Willenbring told me. “I tried to swear at him. I tried to joke back a couple times. There was nothing that would work. The more I didn’t get bothered by it, the more he would get annoyed, and sometimes he would get really violent.”

“Civilized constraints,” however, don’t deter men in more formal settings. In fact, most of the institutions that we consider exemplars of modern civilization — like universities — function on the power of men and their ability to silence women.

To report Marchant, on whose recommendation the rest of Willenbring’s career depended, would have threatened her employment opportunities. (According to Willenbring, another female student had reported Marchant for sexual harassment before her time at BU, to no result. BU would not confirm this.) When Willenbring concluded her master’s program, she decided to pursue her doctorate in Arctic as opposed to Antarctic science to avoid any further interaction with him.

When success is predicated upon silence about sexual harassment, we get an impossible, self-defeating dichotomy. It is courageous to jeopardize the career that you have worked so hard to build. But to identify that decision as brave creates a flip-side in which the women who do not report harassment can be considered cowardly (even by themselves). Add to that the fact that we praise women who break glass ceilings in STEM fields for their commitment to their work — the very trait that might dissuade them from reporting sexual discrimination. Willenbring waited until she was secure in her career as a professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to speak up.

She reported her case in October 2016, and it has been under investigation by BU’s Title IX department for the past year. A statement from BU noted that the time elapsed since the events of the case makes it difficult to investigate, but Willenbring points out that the Science reporter investigated it in a matter of weeks. Last week, in light of the Science report, Marchant was placed on administrative leave from his position as chair of the Earth and Environment department.

Still, Willenbring notes that reporting harassment alone isn’t going to solve the problem. What women scientists really need are female mentors in their fields who will invest in and support their careers. The problem being, of course, that women occupy a fragment of positions of power in STEM fields. In doctorate-level positions in science and engineering, they are outnumbered nearly 2 to 1 by men. It’s a difficult riddle.

But it’s one that management consultant Fabian Dattner and marine ecologist Jess Melbourne-Thomas are trying to solve. They co-founded the Homeward Bound Program in 2015, an Australia-based, international initiative devoted to increasing the number of women in positions of power in science across disciplines, like academia, business, communications, and the arts. Specifically, they want to elevate 1,000 women to leadership roles by 2026. Their 12-month program culminates in a research trip to Antarctica.

Lee Constable hopes to be one of those thousand women, and she’ll be trekking to the icy shores of our most remote continent in February 2018 through Homeward Bound.

At 27, Constable is the host of an Australian public television show called Scope, which is kind of like Bill Nye: The Science Guy if it were hosted by someone who yells at their audience less. Constable, who is warm and instantly personable over Skype, tells me that she has never felt that she was somehow inadequate in science as a woman. She’s acutely aware, however, that her experience is not the norm.

That can be attributed to Constable’s undergraduate experience with Marilyn Ball, an environmental biologist at Australian National University, studying coastal mangroves and then spending a year in Ball’s lab. While Constable loved the work, she became interested in how people who may never see a mangrove forest think about and act on climate change.

In 2016, she took over Scope from a male host who had launched it 11 years prior. The transition marked a change in the show’s approach: a less academic slant, and more intentionally accessible to kids who might not consider themselves stand-out students. She applied to the Homeward Bound program specifically to develop her leadership skills, now that she has the platform to involve more young people — and hopefully, more young women — in science.

“For me, being a leader might mean actually setting an example or having a positive influence on someone I may never meet,” Constable explains. “Now that more people are listening to me and asking for my opinion on things, I’m seriously considering how to make that into something positive in terms of climate action.”

There are a few networks that share the goals of Homeward Bound — Million Women Mentors, for example, or eAlliances, an initiative of the American Association of Physics Teachers. Neither are as interdisciplinary, or as specifically programmed, as the fledgling Homeward Bound, which is funded by a motley handful of public and private entities. The $26,000 cost of the trip to Antarctica is partially borne by the participants themselves, which obviously excludes low- or even middle-income women who cannot secure outside funding. Homeward Bound is currently developing scholarships for women from the most immediately climate change-impacted countries.

As Constable points out, these initiatives tend to be directed and founded by women. “Women are the ones who are always organizing the ways to help women stop their own discrimination,” she notes.

If you would like to play your part in ending discrimination in science, regardless of whether or not you are a woman, try any of these:

  • Be able to identify and respond to sexual harassment of your peers and colleagues when you see it.
  • Install — and support — women in visible positions of authority, both in academia and media.
  • Help fund programs and initiatives that support mentorship of women in science — particularly those in communities most endangered by climate change.
  • In short: Do anything you can do to ensure that a man in power is balanced by a woman.

The current and coming generations of young women in science should not have to wait nearly 20 years to report their abuse, as Jane Willenbring did. Multiple women have contacted Willenbring to thank her for coming forward — and to agree that they, too, would have waited (or are waiting) until they are more secure in their careers to do the same. But Willenbring’s decision to come forward was also catalyzed by her daughter.

“I took her to my lab, and she realized with me in my lab coat that I was actually a scientist and not just telling her that,” she recounts. “She said, ‘I want to be a scientist just like you, mommy,’ and that hit me so hard.”

Her voice breaks, barely perceptibly. “I imagined her going through the exact same thing, and I’m coming apart, again, just thinking about it.” And then, firmly: “That can’t happen.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline How to stamp out sexual harassment when it’s reached the ends of the Earth on Oct 18, 2017.

A town hit hard by Hurricane Harvey may never fully recover.

Wed, 2017-10-18 17:58

The mayor of the coastal town of Rockport, Texas, said on Tuesday that the community will likely suffer permanent damage from the Category 4 storm.

It’s been nearly two months since Hurricane Harvey tore through Texas, leaving behind decimated buildings, torn-up infrastructure, and thousands of displaced people. While most national media attention focused on Houston, Rockport, population 10,645, suffered some of the hurricane’s worst wind and storm surge damage.

During a panel discussion in Victoria, Texas, Mayor Charles Wax said that approximately one-third of the town was destroyed in the hurricane, and a significant portion of that will be impossible to rebuild.

Only 300 of Rockport’s 1,300 businesses have reopened since the storm, 856 of Rockport’s 2,400 students have left the school district, and the town lost most of its trees in the storm. Disaster relief crews have cleared almost 800,000 cubic yards of vegetation felled by hurricane winds and rain. 

Wax, along with three other coastal Texas mayors coping with staggering devastation from the hurricane, said he has received more help from the state government than from FEMA. The agency is definitely spread a bit thin, it seems.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline A town hit hard by Hurricane Harvey may never fully recover. on Oct 18, 2017.

Half of all rides on Uber and Lyft didn’t have to happen.

Wed, 2017-10-18 16:06

Those trips — 49 to 61 percent of all rides in metro areas — would otherwise have been made on foot, bike, or public transit, according to new analysis from UC Davis.

Sustainability-inclined urbanists — including us — often credit car- and ride-sharing services for reducing the overall number of cars in cities. After all, if people know they can get a ride when they need one, they will presumably be less likely to invest in a car of their own.

But the UC Davis study shows that the vast majority of ride-sharing users — 91 percent — have not made a change in their personal vehicle ownership as a result of Uber or Lyft. Meanwhile, these ride-share users took public transit 6 percent less.

That means that ride-hailing services aren’t necessarily taking people out of their cars — they’re taking them off of buses and subways.

There’s still lots of evidence that shows car ownership is an increasingly unappealing prospect for young people in America’s cities (after all, a big chunk of that 91 percent may not own a car in the first place).

Taxi apps may help kill the private car, but they won’t fix all our traffic and transit problems, either. That will take more work.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Half of all rides on Uber and Lyft didn’t have to happen. on Oct 18, 2017.

Nearly half of the country thinks Donald Trump is handling hurricane season well.

Wed, 2017-10-18 14:43

A new poll from CNN shows that public opinion of President Donald Trump’s approach to hurricane recovery has drastically fallen — but still remains pretty high!

After hurricanes Harvey and Irma made their mark on the Gulf Coast in September, 64 percent of the public approved of Trump’s disaster relief efforts. But in light of his response to Hurricane Maria’s devastation in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, that approval rating has dropped to 44 percent.

No wonder: Trump blamed Puerto Rico’s devastation for upsetting the national budget, threw paper towels at a crowd of hurricane victims, and publicly attacked the mayor of San Juan. Throughout it all, he blamed the media for failing to recognize his good deeds.

In that context, 44 percent is still remarkably high. For comparison, 43 percent of Buzzfeed respondents believe that Mariah Carey is the best female vocalist of the ’90s, which is a good and correct opinion.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Nearly half of the country thinks Donald Trump is handling hurricane season well. on Oct 18, 2017.

California wildfires could cost ‘wine country’ its immigrant population.

Wed, 2017-10-18 14:29

While many homeowners in Sonoma and Napa Counties are returning to pick up the pieces after the deadliest blazes in state history, an estimated 32,000 undocumented immigrants — a majority of workers employed by the wine industry — might not come back.

Fear of deportation has kept immigrant workers and families from seeking shelter in evacuation centers, with some choosing to camp outside or sleep in their cars with their children. Fire officials are still working to stem rumors that immigrants could be detained by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement for seeking refuge.

The wildfires in Northern California have put some undocumented immigrants in a tough spot.

— AJ+ (@ajplus) October 17, 2017

Undocumented immigrants aren’t eligible for FEMA assistance, unemployment benefits, or welfare. Add to that, housing is already pricey in the region. A two-bedroom apartment rents for $1600 a month. An agricultural worker might earn just $2,400 a month, meaning these laborers might simply move on.

A shortage of immigrant workers in construction is also expected to slow rebuilding, Robbie Hunter of the Building and Construction Trades Council of California told the Sacramento Bee. “There is a shortage of people willing to work for less than minimum wage,” he said. “And that’s the workforce that has largely been building residential projects.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline California wildfires could cost ‘wine country’ its immigrant population. on Oct 18, 2017.

Trump abandons Obama-era plan to help climate refugees

Tue, 2017-10-17 18:52

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

As hurricane after hurricane ravages Puerto Rico and the Gulf Coast, the Trump administration has quietly walked away from a government-wide effort to help the growing number of American communities whose very existence is threatened by climate change.

In the final year of the Obama administration, nearly a dozen federal agencies — led by the Department of Housing and Urban Development — began laying the groundwork for a cohesive federal approach to the so-called climate refugee problem. In December 2016, a top HUD official signed a memorandum of understanding, which would have committed these agencies to work together to develop a strategy for relocating homes, infrastructure, and — in some cases — entire municipalities put at risk by rising seas, melting permafrost, and more dangerous storms.

But since then, the group has done nothing, according to current and former officials familiar with the effort. No other agency appears to have signed off on HUD’s plan, and it has never gone into effect.

It might not be surprising that a president who calls global warming a Chinese hoax would be slow to address its impacts. But for those in the most vulnerable parts of the country, there’s no time to wait. With each severe storm comes the prospect of evacuation and destruction. Thousands are left temporarily displaced or stranded. This cycle, made worse with climate change, is becoming too much for some residents; relocation may soon be their only option. But without a clear government plan to address the problem — and pay for a solution — finding a new home will be all but impossible.

The road connecting Isle de Jean Charles to the mainland floods for days at a time. Kyla Mandel/Mother Jones

Nowhere is the problem of climate dislocation more apparent than on Louisiana’s Isle de Jean Charles, which was hit by Hurricane Harvey on Aug. 30. Residents there were cut off from the mainland, their only road off the small bayou island submerged beneath the Gulf. This is actually nothing new; the road often floods for days at a time during storm season. Next time could be a lot worse.

When I visited Isle de Jean Charles earlier this year, fat drops of rain were beating down in the yard of Chief Albert Naquin. “You want to know what we’re going through?” he said, sitting on a swinging couch inside his office — a square veranda set up in his driveway. “We’re going through a lot of red tape. A lot of bureaucracy. That’s why I wear a red shirt.”

This January will mark two years since HUD made headlines by awarding Louisiana $48 million to move Naquin’s entire community off of the island, a sliver of land just a quarter-of-a-mile wide and less than two miles long that is slowly being swallowed by the Gulf of Mexico. It was the first federal grant intended to move an entire community of climate refugees.

For nearly 20 years, Naquin has been trying to relocate his Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe. A mere 320 acres are all that remain of the island, down 98 percent since 1955, thanks to a combination of erosion and sinking land, rising seas, and more intense storms. Until a new community is built, though, the tribe remains on the island.

“This is our second hurricane season since we received the money,” said Naquin, as he complained about the glacial place of government. “Even the big turtles can walk faster than them. The snails can walk faster than them.”

But as frustrated as they may be, the residents of Isle de Jean Charles are actually among the lucky ones. Their HUD grant has already gone through, and even the Trump administration hasn’t tried to block it.

Beyond Louisiana, native communities along the coasts of Alaska and Washington state have also spent decades wading through the muddy waters of bureaucracy and a tangled network of grant programs, searching for help to move to safer ground. They’ve had much less success. It was only during the final months of the Obama administration that the government began tackling the issue of climate relocation on a national scale. Now, under Trump, even that limited progress is in jeopardy.

Isle de Jean Charles has lost 98 percent of its land since 1955. Kyla Mandel/Mother Jones

Long before the widely criticized response to Hurricane Maria, government officials privately conceded that the feds simply aren’t doing enough to help communities facing climate catastrophe. “We’re in a state of active learning,” one former government staffer told me in March. “We know it’s happening, and it will more and more, but we haven’t had an organized approach … We saw Katrina, and what happens when you react instead of plan. It’s more of a mess.”

There is also an endless string of costs associated with integrating communities into a new area, from infrastructure to social services and health care. “It’s massive and all at once,” the staffer said. “We’re just not prepared.”

If you add up the estimates that exist for how much it would cost to move just five small villages that are currently seeking relocation — about 2,185 people in three states — the price tag comes to roughly $500 million.

But that’s just the beginning. Thousands of people never returned to New Orleans after Katrina. Many fled to Houston, where some of them faced disaster once more when Harvey struck. Tens of thousands of people could leave Puerto Rico in the wake of Irma and Maria.

In less than 30 years, roughly 1 million Americans living in coastal areas will already be dealing with about 1 foot of sea level rise. Scientists project that by the end of the century, seas could rise by as much as 3 feet. That would leave more than 4 million people at risk of flooding, according to one recent study in Nature Climate Change. There are no official estimates for how much this would cost the country. My back-of-the-envelope math puts the price of relocation for those five villages at $239,000 per head. Multiply that by the number of people at risk nationwide by the end of the century, and the total price tag could surpass $1 trillion. The Nature study suggests it could be even higher: $1 million per person.

Despite these costs, for years there was no federal strategy to tackle climate-driven human displacement.

Near the end of the Obama administration, this began to change. In February 2016, 11 federal agencies and departments — led by HUD and the Department of Agriculture — started discussing climate migration. Together, they wanted to determine what sort of role there should be, if any, for the federal government. The agencies met for the first time in April 2016, and, under the guidance of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, began to draft a memorandum of understanding.

The memorandum, obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, states that the agencies planned to “work together to collaborate to support communities’ migration away from vulnerable areas, particularly those threatened by recurring natural disasters and the cumulative effects of severe environmental changes.”

The purpose was to create a more coordinated approach and help agencies assess the best way they could work with affected communities. According to the former government staffer, the idea was to bring together different funding streams in order to make the administrative process for communities easier. “It’s about fiscal responsibility, human safety, and planning,” the former staffer said. “It’s about moving people out of harm’s way when they’ve decided that’s their best option.”

The memorandum did not prescribe any specific policy, nor did it formally establish federal responsibility for tackling climate migration. But it was a start. It laid out a plan for the interagency working group to meet every other month. Within nine months, the group was supposed to have developed a multiyear strategy to achieve its goals.

The aim, said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official Jeff Payne, was to have the entire thing “signed, sealed, and delivered” before the Trump administration took over. But that doesn’t appear to have happened. Nine months into Trump’s term, the memorandum has never taken effect.

I reached out to all 11 agencies involved, as well as to the White House. Most, including a White House spokesperson, referred me back to HUD or the interagency group. The Department of Agriculture, which, according to the memo, was supposed to chair the working group, said it was “not familiar” with the plan. The Environmental Protection Agency said that it is “not actively involved in this work.” According to both Payne and a former federal employee under Obama and Trump who was involved in the effort, the working group has not met since Trump took office. It seems unlikely that it ever will.

So, while the roadmap still exists, the coordinated approach will be lost. With Obama’s staff leaving, “and the lack of direction from the new administration on what it wants to do in this domain, it is not clear when things may pick up, if at all, on this,” Payne told me.

Meanwhile, some agencies have tried to get a sense of what programs they have available to help vulnerable communities. Staffers at HUD even began drafting a memo to present to senior leadership to discuss the scale of the risk, all without using the words “climate change,” according to the former federal employee who was involved in the working group. (HUD Secretary Ben Carson told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2015, “There is no overwhelming science that the things that are going on are man-caused and not naturally caused. Gimme a break.”)

The most likely outcome, though, is that the memorandum will continue to lie dormant. Maybe it will get picked up again under a friendlier administration. But for some, four years is too long to wait. “There are communities that need help right now,” says Payne. “They’re struggling, they’re asking, and the resources to assist them are … very limited.”

And this season’s hurricanes haven’t helped, Payne explained in an email: “They have likely amplified the risk and vulnerability of some populations, including low-income folks where impacts and the ability to recover are likely beyond their current means barring any federal or other assistance.”

Back on Isle de Jean Charles, residents are still waiting for the next step: acquiring a plot of land where they can build their new community. Together with the state, they are in the process of securing a new site, which sits on higher ground inland. Next come the environmental assessments and negotiating the purchase agreement.

The island has less than 50 years left before it’s expected to be almost entirely inundated. But it will be uninhabitable before then. “It’s Mother Nature against man,” said Chris Brunet as he sat underneath his house, the foundation and floorboards raised above his head by 11-foot-tall wooden posts that protect them from flooding. “The Gulf of Mexico, it’s just so powerful and it wants to come in. And that, with the coastal erosion, with the land loss that’s taken place, it just seems like it can’t hold it back anymore.”

“If nothing is done to change that,” he added, “well, then it’s just bound to get worse.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Trump abandons Obama-era plan to help climate refugees on Oct 17, 2017.

Photos show Portugal and Spain in flames.

Tue, 2017-10-17 16:59

A series of fires in both countries this week killed more than 40 people and injured at least 63 more.

The fires began over the weekend and grew stronger on Sunday as remnants of ex-Hurricane Ophelia exacerbated the flames. Portugal’s forests have been burning all summer, and the Portuguese Institute of Sea and Atmosphere reports September was the country’s driest month on record since 1930.

Drought and high temperatures magnified fires that Spanish authorities believe were started by arsonists. “What we are dealing with here is something that is not caused by accident. It has been provoked,” Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told the press on Monday.

Fires are still burning in northwestern Spain but don’t currently pose a threat to population centers. As of Tuesday morning, all active fires in Portugal had been extinguished. However, frightening images of smoke and destruction remain:

Sky blackened by smoke from fires in Vieira de Leiria, Portugal today, stoked by unseasonal heat. Via @severeweatherEU #climatechange

— UN Climate Change (@UNFCCC) October 15, 2017

Smoke is seen amidst burned trees after a forest fire in Chandebrito, Galicia, northern Spain. REUTERS/Miguel Vidal A vehicle turns around as a forest fire burns by the road near Vigo, Spain. REUTERS/Miguel Vidal

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Photos show Portugal and Spain in flames. on Oct 17, 2017.

A judge lets pipeline protesters mount an unusual defense.

Tue, 2017-10-17 16:26

Last year, protesters were arrested and charged with felonies after turning off valves that control the flow of crude oil from Canada’s tar sands into the U.S. They intended to prevent damage to the climate and show solidarity with Standing Rock.

A Minnesota judge decided that three activists could use the “necessity” of confronting climate change as justification in court. They’ll call on scientists and present evidence of harms from climate change to show they violated the law to protect people and had no legal alternatives.

This is one of very few times where a court has allowed the so-called “necessity defense” — which activists have previously used in cases related to the Vietnam War and abortion — in a case about climate change.

Enbridge, the Canadian company operating the pipelines that were shut down, argues that the protesters took “reckless and dangerous” actions. The court will consider whether the dangers of climate change outweigh the risks of the protesters’ actions.

“The prosecutor will probably put people on the stand who will say, this is dangerous,” Patrick Parenteau, an environmental law professor at Vermont Law School, told InsideClimate News. So, it’s a long shot.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline A judge lets pipeline protesters mount an unusual defense. on Oct 17, 2017.

The National Park Service has both a sexual harassment and a discrimination problem.

Tue, 2017-10-17 15:14

A recent internal study reveals that within the past year more than one in six female employees have experienced sexual harassment, and one in three women have experienced some form of gender-based harassment.

The findings come amid reports of sexual harassment and assault allegations involving Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Women around the world are detailing their own experiences on social media using the hashtag #MeToo.

At the National Park Service, the discrimination goes beyond just women. Nearly 40 percent of employees have reported experiencing harassment or assault based on gender, sexual orientation, race, etc. One in 5 employees of color said that they had been harassed based on their racial or ethnic background. Only 35 percent of employees who registered a complaint knew that the person who they told took action.

“The days of watching things, not saying anything, and not taking action are over,” said Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told National Park Service employees in an address last Friday. He added that he has removed several Park Service employees due to improper behavior.

Diversity might lay at the heart of the Park Service’s issues: of its 22,000 employees, less than 40 percent are women and fewer than 20 percent are people of color.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline The National Park Service has both a sexual harassment and a discrimination problem. on Oct 17, 2017.

6 threats to the Arctic Refuge

Mon, 2017-10-16 17:43

This article is sponsored by:

You already know that a changing climate is bad news for polar bears. What you might not know is exactly what that changing climate means for a region in which you might not live: the Arctic. Climate change does threaten wildlife up there, but it also poses serious danger to the indigenous populations who subsist on the land. And global warming isn’t the only threat to the people and animals who live in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In the densely interwoven relationships between people and place, any disturbance offers ground for domino-toppling danger.

Maybe you already care about the majesty of the Arctic Refuge and the coastal plain. But as we know here at Grist, wading through the data deluge of climate change and environmental degradation can sometimes be a bit much. What, exactly, is at stake up there? And what’s posing these risks? Can we just blame King Coal and call it a day?

Not necessarily. Here are the top threats to the Arctic Refuge and the coastal plain:

1. Temperature spikes

Let’s start with a climate-change classic. With rising temperatures comes a longer growing season for Arctic plants rooted above the permafrost. That’s all well and good for the lichens, but there’s a sensitive tipping point here. With warmer weather and longer summers come more standing water, which means more mosquitoes and black flies. For the caribou, these pests can become so dense and annoying that the mammals can’t feed.

2. Melting sea ice

When sea ice thins, the animals that depend on this ice — you know, the kind that rhyme with “molar chair” — end up treading cold water. But melting sea ice also offers an opportunity for oil and gas companies: a clearer drilling path. The prospecting that results poses an obvious physical threat to the land and introduces a new possibility:

3. Pipeline spills and habitat destruction

The Chukchi and Beaufort seas surrounding the Arctic Refuge are home to the usual climate-change suspects: the walruses, the birds, the seals, the whales (Save ’em!). But an extractive oil and gas industry poses new danger to already vulnerable animal populations. Pipeline spills are a reality of the extraction game, and as many an oil-covered pelican know, slicks can destroy animals’ livelihoods.

Spills are also particularly difficult to clean up when combined with sea ice and extreme weather. On land, risks are also high. Emboldened by the Trump administration’s fossil-fuel agenda, Congress has relaunched the decades-long battle to open the Arctic Refuge to oil and gas drilling. Drilling noise and infrastructure here would threaten polar bears, caribou and other species. And when core species are threatened, that can lead to:

4. Ecosystem spirals

It’s never just about the whales. Because of the fragile, volatile nature of the Far North, Arctic ecosystems are infinitely more sensitive than those in other regions. The food webs are simple. And when simple food webs are disturbed, the ripples are widely and sharply felt. For the people who depend on animals of the coastal plain — as, for example, the Gwich’in people do on the caribou — food web shocks are a matter of life and death.

(Don’t even get us started on how things like mercury, DDT, and ozone depletion affect these ecosystems. You deserve at least a wink of sleep tonight.)

You’re probably catching on to the fact that these threats are interwoven. Time to throw an Arctic monkey wrench in the chain: You’re right! One of the most worrisome threats to the Arctic is:

5. Itself

The cycles described above are self-reinforcing. As white sea ice melts, dark seas absorb more sunlight, which in turn speeds up warming. Further burning of oil and gas, too, means more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And melting permafrost releases methane: a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of warming potential.

These relationships mean an oil-rich and warming Arctic poses a threat to itself — and to the rest of the planet. Greenhouse gases and rising seas respect no borders. Which brings us to our final threat:

6. Inaction

Unchecked, the above risks will be more than threats: They’ll be promises. Luckily, there’s still an opportunity to keep some of these threats in check. First we need to keep the wolves at bay by stopping Congress from opening the refuge to drilling. They need to hear from you soon because they will be voting on a 2018 budget that includes a sneaky provision for Arctic Refuge drilling. You can help by telling them not to pass this budget as long as it includes the Arctic. Don’t let your inaction, indifference, or misinformation allow the oil and gas industry from sneaking into this fragile place. A protected coastal plain might not stop the world from warming, but it can certainly keep a corner of it a little safer.

The Arctic Refuge is the ultimate environmental battle — severely vulnerable to climate change, marginalized indigenous communities and a stunning web of wildlife all in the crosshairs of the oil and gas industry. Americans have defended this unique refuge for decades. But, again, all could be lost if Congress includes Arctic drilling in their 2018 budget. Please call your senators before it’s too late. Tell them to remove the Arctic Refuge from the budget!

Learn More

Here at Grist, you know what we like almost as much as solar panels? Partners! They help us keep the lights on so we can keep bringing you the best and most Gristy journalism on the planet. Click here for more information.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline 6 threats to the Arctic Refuge on Oct 16, 2017.

The environmental injustice of the Arctic refuge

Mon, 2017-10-16 17:43

This article is sponsored by:

Spend enough time in climate circles and you’re bound to see a lot of polar bears. Spend enough time in the greater Arctic Circle and you might see caribou, as well. But there’s something else at the intersection of these circles: people.

300 miles south of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastline is Arctic Village, a remote town that lives up to the color of its name. If you find yourself here in Arctic Village, the people surrounding you are the indigenous Gwich’in. “Gwich’in” translates to “the Caribou People.” They have been here with the caribou for thousands of years.

Newer residents of the Arctic Refuge aren’t Gwich’in at all, though. They go by names you’re more likely to associate with kerosene than caribou; names that are hungry for something else. Look: A caribou pokes his hoof at the snow, scratching around for lichen. These other residents dig for something deeper — something black and slick. They scratch at the earth, and in doing so, they scratch at the caribou.

So what?

Oil and gas extraction is a fact of the current global economy — for the climate-conscious, a deplorable fact, but a fact nonetheless. So if this post is just another story of Potential Oil Spill Threatens Wildlife, then why not just sign the petition and move on? Yeah, yeah: The land should be protected. Yeah, yeah: We care about the caribou.

And maybe you do. But frankly, it’s hard to really care about the caribou if you don’t subsist on them — if your life isn’t intertwined with their well-being to the extent that the region’s indigenous peoples’ are with the Porcupine Caribou Herd of the Arctic Refuge. For the Gwich’in, the coastal plain where the Porcupine Herd calves is “the sacred place where life begins.”

The so-what here isn’t just about conservation. It’s about justice.

Environmental justice would see the effects of an extractive economy distributed equitably. It would ensure the drilling sites and the smokestacks of our economic engine aren’t always in the backyards of the same people. Too often, they are.

Environmental injustice infiltrates. It is nonconsensual. Often it hides in plain sight. Here in the Lower 48, you need look no further than the familiar headline buzzwords: the Flints, the Standing Rocks, the Bears Ears, the countless other stories of ooze and emissions imposed on populations who already bear more than enough weight. You don’t need to go as far north as the Arctic, but the injustice is there, too.

Look again at Standing Rock. The proposed Dakota Access pipeline isn’t unjust simply because it stands to poison a water supply. It’s unjust because a white neighboring population already rejected the plan on the same grounds, and the default reroute led the pipeline through Native land instead. It’s unjust because a default reroute shouldn’t be allowed to violate a treaty between sovereign nations for the sake of industrial expediency.

The injustice of the Arctic coastal plain, then, isn’t only found in the potential loss of the caribou and the subsequent disturbances in their ecological web. No, the injustice here is of the same old colonial tack: A Native population is saying no, but their protest is silenced by richer, more powerful voices.

There’s an urgency here that will never be captured by a fragile caribou population, and it stems from the fact that the United States elected a president of the Drill Baby Drill variety. A plan to put America First will never put Native America first. A dismantled EPA and a propped up fossil-fuel sector will not serve justice where justice is due.

At stake is more than vistas and roaming beasts. Environmental injustice is a story of equity and rights — about the principles this country professes to hold dear. In a time of division and uncertainty, the Arctic refuge is a battleground for the values slipping through our fingers. We ought to grasp at what we can.

The Arctic Refuge is the ultimate environmental battle — severely vulnerable to climate change, marginalized indigenous communities and a stunning web of wildlife all in the crosshairs of the oil and gas industry. Americans have defended this unique refuge for decades. But, again, all could be lost if Congress includes Arctic drilling in their 2018 budget. Please call your senators before it’s too late. Tell them to remove the Arctic Refuge from the budget!

Learn More

Here at Grist, you know what we like almost as much as solar panels? Partners! They help us keep the lights on so we can keep bringing you the best and most Gristy journalism on the planet. Click here for more information.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline The environmental injustice of the Arctic refuge on Oct 16, 2017.

Ophelia is the strongest storm to hit Ireland in at least 50 years.

Mon, 2017-10-16 17:16

With winds approaching 100 mph, storm surge has breached coastal defenses, pushing the Atlantic Ocean inland. The Irish Defense Force is on standby to assist with rescue and recovery.

Hundreds of thousands of people are without electricity, a situation the Irish power network is calling “unprecedented territory.” Officials say it will take weeks to repair the damage.

Meanwhile, Ophelia’s strong winds, as well as lingering dry conditions from a record hot summer heatwave nicknamed “Lucifer,” have worsened hundreds of wildfires that are raging mostly out of control in parts of Portugal and Spain. Dozens of people have died, and thousands of firefighters are working to quash the flames, which have encroached on several urban areas.

Suomi-NPP pass produced this #VIIRS image of #Ophelia tracking over Ireland. Image from @DundeeSat here:

— Alex Lamers (@AlexJLamers) October 16, 2017

Late last week, Ophelia became the first hurricane ever seen of Category 3 strength or greater in the eastern Atlantic. While its wind speed weakened as it approached, it made landfall in Ireland as a superstorm that had grown substantially in size. Recent studies argue that storms like Ophelia will affect Europe much more often as the Atlantic continues to warm and the belt of tropical winds expands. By 2100, the region could see a four-fold increase in frequency of storms of Category 3 or higher.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Ophelia is the strongest storm to hit Ireland in at least 50 years. on Oct 16, 2017.


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