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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

NYT: U.S. Chamber of Commerce Works Globally to Fight Antismoking Measures

by Danny Hakim, The New York Times, June 30, 2015

KIEV, Ukraine — A parliamentary hearing was convened here in March to
consider an odd remnant of Ukraine’s corrupt, pre-revolutionary government.
Three years ago, Ukraine filed an international legal challenge against Australia, over Australia’s right to enact anti-smoking laws on its own soil. To a number of lawmakers, the case seemed absurd, and they wanted to investigate why it was even being pursued.

When it came time to defend the tobacco industry, a man named Taras Kachka spoke up. He argued that several “fantastic tobacco companies” had bought up Soviet-era factories and modernized them, and now they were exporting tobacco to many other countries. It was in Ukraine’s national interest, he said, to support investors in the country, even though they do not sell tobacco to Australia.

Mr. Kachka was not a tobacco lobbyist or farmer or factory owner. He was the head of a Ukrainian affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, America’s largest trade group.
From Ukraine to Uruguay, Moldova to the Philippines, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its foreign affiliates have become the hammer for the tobacco industry, engaging in a worldwide effort to fight anti-smoking laws of all kinds, according to interviews with government ministers, lobbyists, lawmakers and public health groups in Asia, Europe, Latin America and the United States.

The U.S. Chamber’s work in support of the tobacco industry in recent years has emerged as a priority at the same time the industry has faced one of the most serious threats in its history. A global treaty, negotiated through the World Health Organization, mandates anti-smoking measures and also seeks to curb the influence of the tobacco industry in policy making. The treaty, which took effect in 2005, has been ratified by 179 countries; holdouts include Cuba, Haiti and the United States.

Facing a wave of new legislation around the world, the tobacco lobby has turned for help to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, with the weight of American business behind it. While the chamber’s global tobacco lobbying has been largely hidden from public view, its influence has been widely felt.

Letters, emails and other documents from foreign governments, the chamber’s affiliates and anti-smoking groups, which were reviewed by The New York Times, show how the chamber has embraced the challenge, undertaking a three-pronged strategy in its global campaign to advance the interests of the tobacco industry.

In the capitals of far-flung nations, the chamber lobbies alongside its foreign affiliates to beat back anti-smoking laws.

In trade forums, the chamber pits countries against one another. The Ukrainian prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, recently revealed that his country’s case against Australia was prompted by a complaint from the U.S. Chamber.

And in Washington, Thomas J. Donohue, the chief executive of the chamber, has personally taken part in lobbying to defend the ability of the tobacco industry to sue under future international treaties, notably the Trans- Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement being negotiated between the United States and several Pacific Rim nations.

“They represent the interests of the tobacco industry,” said Dr. Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, the head of the Secretariat that oversees the W.H.O treaty, called the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. “They are putting their feet everywhere where there are stronger regulations coming up.”

The increasing global advocacy highlights the chamber’s enduring ties to the tobacco industry, which in years past centered on American regulation of cigarettes. A top executive at the tobacco giant Altria Group serves on the chamber’s board. Philip Morris International plays a leading role in the global campaign; one executive drafted a position paper used by a chamber affiliate in Brussels, while another accompanied a chamber executive to a meeting with the Philippine ambassador in Washington to lobby against a cigarette-tax increase. The cigarette makers’ payments to the chamber are not disclosed.

It is not clear how the chamber’s campaign reflects the interests of its broader membership, which includes technology companies like Google, pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer and health insurers like Anthem. And the chamber’s record in its tobacco fight is mixed, often leaving American business as the face of a losing cause, pushing a well-known toxin on poor populations whose leaders are determined to curb smoking.

The U.S. Chamber issued brief statements in response to inquiries. “The Chamber regularly reaches out to governments around the world to urge them to avoid measures that discriminate against particular companies or industries, undermine their trademarks or brands, or destroy their intellectual property,” the statement said, adding, “we’ve worked with a broad array of business organizations at home and abroad to defend these principles.”
The chamber declined to say if it supported any measures to curb smoking.

The chamber, a private nonprofit that has more than three million members and annual revenue of $165 million, spends more on lobbying than any other interest group in America. For decades, it has taken positions aimed at bolstering its members’ fortunes.

While the chamber has local outposts across the United States, it also has more than 100 affiliates around the world. Foreign branches pay dues and typically hew to the U.S. Chamber’s strategy, often advancing it on the ground. Members include both American and foreign businesses, a symbiotic relationship that magnifies the chamber’s clout.

For foreign companies, membership comes with “access to the U.S. Embassy” according to the Cambodian branch, and entree to “the U.S. government,” according to the Azerbaijan branch. Members in Hanoi get an invitation to an annual trip to “lobby Congress and the administration” in Washington.

Since Mr. Donohue took over in 1997, he has steered the chamber into positions that have alienated some members. In 2009, the chamber threatened to sue if the Environmental Protection Agency regulated greenhouse gas emissions, disputing its authority to act onclimate change. That led Nike to step down from the chamber’s board, and to Apple’s departure from the group. In 2013, the American arm of the Swedish construction giant Skanska resigned, protesting the chamber’s support for what Skanska called a “chemical industry-led initiative” to lobby against green building codes.

The chamber’s tobacco lobbying has led to confusion for many countries, Dr. da Costa e Silva said, adding “there is a misconception that the American chamber of commerce represents the government of the U.S.” In some places like Estonia, the lines are blurred. The United States ambassador there, Jeffrey Levine, serves as honorary president of the chamber’s local affiliate; the affiliate quoted Philip Morris in a publication outlining its priorities.

The tobacco industry has increasingly turned to international courts to challenge anti-smoking laws that countries have enacted after the passage of the W.H.O. treaty. Early this year, Michael R. Bloomberg and Bill Gates set up an international fund to fight such suits. Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an advocacy group that administers the fund, called the chamber “the tobacco industry’s most formidable front group,” adding, “it pops up everywhere.”

In Ukraine, the chamber’s involvement was no surprise to Hanna Hopko, the lawmaker who led the hearing in Parliament. She said the chamber there had fought against anti-smoking laws for years.

“They were against the tobacco tax increase, they were against placing warning labels on cigarettes,” she said. “This is just business as usual for them.”

Country-by-Country Strategy

More than 3,000 miles away, in Nepal, the health ministry proposed a law last year to increase the size of graphic warning labels from covering three- fourths of a cigarette pack to 90 percent. Countries like Nepal that have ratified the W.H.O. treaty are supposed to take steps to make cigarette packs less appealing.

Not long afterward, one of Nepal’s top officials, Lilamani Poudel, said he received an email from a representative of the chamber’s local affiliate in the country, warning that the proposal “would negate foreign investment” and “invite instability.”

In January, the U.S. Chamber itself weighed in. In a letter to Nepal’s deputy prime minister, a senior vice president at the chamber, Tami Overby, wrote that she was “not aware of any science-based evidence” that larger warning labels “will have any discernible impact on reducing or discouraging tobacco use.”

A 2013 Harvard study found that graphic warning labels “play a lifesaving role in highlighting the dangers of smoking and encouraging smokers to quit.”

While Nepal eventually mandated the change in warning labels, cigarette companies filed for an extension and compliance has stalled.

“Since we have to focus on responding to the devastating earthquake, we have not been able to monitor the state of law enforcement effectively,” said Shanta Bahadur Shrestha, a senior health ministry official.

The episode reflects the chamber’s country-by-country lobbying strategy. A pattern emerged in letters to seven nations: Written by either the chamber’s top international executive, Myron Brilliant, or his deputies, they introduced the chamber as “the world’s largest business federation.”

Then the letters mention a matter “of concern.” In Jamaica and Nepal, it was graphic health warnings on packages. In Uruguay, it was a plan to bar cigarettes from being displayed by retailers. The Moldovan president was warned against “extreme measures” in his country, though they included common steps like restricting smoking in public places and banning advertising where cigarettes are sold.

A proposal to raise cigarette taxes in the Philippines would open the floodgates to smugglers, the government there was told. Tax revenue has increased since the proposal became law.

“We are not cowed by them,” said Jeremias Paul, the country’s under secretary of finance. “We meet with these guys when we’re trying to encourage investment in the Philippines, so clearly they are very influential, but that doesn’t mean they will dictate their ways.”

Protecting tobacco companies is portrayed by the chamber as vital for a nation’s economic health. Uruguay’s president is warned that anti-smoking laws will “have a disruptive effect on the formal economy.” El Salvador’s vice president is told that “arbitrary actions” like requiring graphic health warnings in advertisements undermine “investment and economic growth.”

On the ground, the chamber’s local affiliates use hands-on tactics.

After Moldova’s health ministry proposed measures in 2013, Serghei Toncu, the head of the American Chamber of Commerce in Moldova, laid out his objections in a series of meetings held by a regulatory review panel.

“The consumption of alcohol and cigarettes is at the discretion of each person,” Mr. Toncu said at one meeting, adding that the discussion should not be about “whether smoking is harmful.”

“You do not respect us,” he told the health ministry at another.

At a third, he called the ministry’s research “flawed from the start.”

His objections were not merely plaintive cries. The American chamber has a seat on Moldova’s regulatory review panel giving it direct influence over policy making in the small country.

“The American Chamber of Commerce is a very powerful and active organization,” said Oleg Chelaru, a team leader on the staff that assists the review panel. “They played a very crucial role in analyzing and giving an opinion on this initiative.”

Mr. Toncu, who has since left the chamber, declined to comment. Mila Malairau, the chamber’s executive director, said its main objective was to make sure the industry “was consulted” in “a transparent and predictable manner.”

After recently passing in Parliament, the long-stalled measures were subject to fresh objections from the chamber and others, and have not yet been enacted.

Fighting a Trade Exception

In Washington, the U.S. Chamber’s tobacco lobbying has been visible in the negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a priority of the Obama administration that recently received critical backing in Congress.

One of the more controversial proposals would expand the power of companies to sue countries if they violate trade rules. The U.S. Chamber has openly opposed plans to withhold such powers from tobacco companies, curbing their ability to challenge national anti-smoking laws. The chamber says on its website that “singling out tobacco” will “open a Pandora’s box as other governments go after their particular bêtes noires.”

The issue is still unresolved. A spokesman for the United States trade representative said negotiators would ensure that governments “can implement regulations to protect public health” while also “ensuring that our farmers are not discriminated against.”

Email traffic shows that Mr. Donohue, the chamber’s head, sought to raise the issue in 2012 directly with Ron Kirk, who was then the United States trade representative. In email exchanges between staff members of the two, Mr. Donohue specifically sought to discuss the role of tobacco in the trade agreement.

“Tom had a couple of things to raise, including urging that the tobacco text not be submitted at this round,” one of Mr. Donohue’s staff members wrote to Mr. Kirk’s staff. The emails were produced in response to a Freedom of Information request filed by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which provided them to The Times.

Mr. Kirk is now a senior lawyer at Gibson, Dunn, a firm that counts the tobacco industry as a client. He said in an interview that during his tenure as trade representative, he met periodically with Mr. Donohue but could not recall a specific conversation on tobacco.
He said trade groups were generally concerned about “treating one industry different than you would treat anyone else, more so than doing tobacco’s bidding.”

The chamber declined to make Mr. Donohue available for an interview.

A Face-Saving Measure

In Ukraine, it was Valeriy Pyatnytskiy who signed off on the complaint against Australia in 2012, which was filed with the World Trade Organization. At the time, he was Ukraine’s chief negotiator to the W.T.O. His political career has survived the revolution and he is now an adviser to the Ukrainian prime minister, Mr. Yatsenyuk.

In a recent interview, he said that for Ukraine, the case was a matter of principle. It was about respecting the rules.

He offered a hypothetical: If Ukraine allowed Australia to use plain packaging on cigarettes, what would stop Ukraine from introducing plain packaging for wine? Then Ukrainian winemakers could better compete with French wines, because they would all be in plain bags marked red or white.

“We had this in the Soviet times,” he said. “It was absolutely plain packaging everywhere.”
Some Ukrainian officials have long been troubled by the case.

“It has nothing to do with trade laws,” said Pavlo Sheremeta, who briefly served as Ukraine’s economic minister after the revolution. “We have zero exports of tobacco to Australia, so what do we have to do with this?”

Last year, he urged the American Chamber in Kiev to reconsider.

“I wrote a formal letter, asking them, ‘Do you still keep the same position?’ ” Mr. Sheremeta said. “Basically I was suggesting a face-saving way out of this.” But when he met with chamber officials, the plain packaging case was outlined as a top priority.

They refused to back down. After Mr. Pyatnytskiy, a tobacco ally, was installed as his deputy, Mr. Sheremeta resigned.

“The world was laughing at us,” he said of the case.

Shortly after The Times discussed the case with Ukrainian government officials, there were new protests from activists. Mr. Yatsenyuk called for a review of the matter. Ukraine has since suspended its involvement, but other countries including Cuba and Honduras are continuing to pursue the case against Australia.

Andy Hunder, who took over as president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Kiev in April, said the organization was moving on, adding, “We are looking forward now.”

Sofiia Kochmar contributed reporting from Kiev, Bhadra Sharma from Kathmandu and Palko Karasz from London.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

"We're f'd!": ocean acidification

Dear Readers, I am going to introduce a sort of series. From time to time, I'm going to post various items that show just how screwed we really are.  The series takes its name from Dr. Jason Box's famous tweet:

rjs's roundup of climate change, environmental and energy news

Bottled Water Recall, 11 States Affected - - If you’re a bottled water drinker, you may want to check the label. Over 14 brands of bottled water distributed to 11 states have been recalled due to a potential E. coli contamination. Among these are food store brands Shoprite, Stop & Shop, Giant, Acme and Wegman’s. The voluntary recall was issued at two of its Pennsylvania facilities after a spring found traces of E. coli in its water. “This is a voluntary recall. Even if the spring has an issue, none of the water showed any issues in our tests,” says Stan Bratskeir, a spokesperson for Niagara Bottling, a family-owned bottled water company in the United States. The following brands bottled between June 10th and June 18th were affected: Acadia, Acme, Big Y, Best Yet, 7-11, Niagara, Nature's Place, Pricerite, Superchill, Morning Fresh, Shaws, Shoprite, Western Beef Blue and Wegman's. “This affects a regional level. Over the eight days, this bottled water was shipped to over 11 states," says Bratskeir in a interview. The states affected include Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Vermont, Virginia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

China Caught Smugglers Trying to Sell Meat from the 1970s -- BBC reports that Chinese authorities seized over 100,000 tons of meat from smugglers in the Hunan province, some dating back to the Carter Administration, as part of a nationwide crackdown on poor food standards. The estimated $438 million worth of flesh—which had been frozen, thawed, and refrozen again during its trek from places like Brazil and India through neighboring countries and into the bellies of unsuspecting consumers—included beef, chick feet, and duck necks.  While Chinese anti-smuggling authorities are investigating 21 gangs, having already arrested 20 people in the Hunan province alone, this seizure coincides with news of a Chinese food safety watchdog urging the Shaanxi province to order a recall on three milk producers in the area, after finding a curiously high amount of nitrate levels in infant formula powders.  Food standard issues are nothing new to the country that engineers genius babies and uses the black market to coax white English speakers to come teach. Back in 2008, Chinese milk producers released a product contaminated by melamine, killing six kids and leaving some 300,000 others ill—and there's also that whole dog meat festival thing.

Poor Sanitation in India May Afflict Well-Fed Children With Malnutrition - His parents seemed to be doing all the right things. His mother still breast-fed him. His family had six goats, access to fresh buffalo milk and a hut filled with hundreds of pounds of wheat and potatoes. The economy of the state where he lives has for years grown faster than almost any other. His mother said she fed him as much as he would eat and took him four times to doctors, who diagnosed malnutrition. Just before Vivek was born in this green landscape of small plots and grazing water buffalo near the Nepali border, the family even got electricity.   So why was Vivek malnourished?  It is a question being asked about children across India, where a long economic boom has done little to reduce the vast number of children who are malnourished and stunted, leaving them with mental and physical deficits that will haunt them their entire lives. Now, an emerging body of scientific studies suggest that Vivek and many of the 162 million other children under the age of 5 in the world who are malnourished are suffering less a lack of food than poor sanitation.Like almost everyone else in their village, Vivek and his family have no toilet, and the district where they live has the highest concentration of people who defecate outdoors. As a result, children are exposed to a bacterial brew that often sickens them, leaving them unable to attain a healthy body weight no matter how much food they eat.“These children’s bodies divert energy and nutrients away from growth and brain development to prioritize infection-fighting survival,” said Jean Humphrey, a professor of human nutrition at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “When this happens during the first two years of life, children become stunted. What’s particularly disturbing is that the lost height and intelligence are permanent.”

Children of Smog in Delhi: Real News video & transcript - Last year the World Health Organization reported that Delhi, the capital city of India, has the worst air pollution of any major city in the world. The issue has begun to get attention in the national and international press. The New York Times, for example, recently reported that nearly half of the city's 4.4 million schoolchildren have irreversible lung damage from the poisonous air they breathe. Here to talk about all of this with us today, who has recently returned from Delhi after spending his spring there, is James K. Boyce. James is the director of the Environment Program at the Political Economy Research Institute in Amherst, Massachusetts. He has joined us again after a long time. Jim, thank you for coming on The Real News.

Remember That Weird In-Flight Mass Fainting Episode? Boeing Faces Lawsuit - Four flight attendants sued the Boeing Company on Tuesday, alleging that crew and passengers are sometimes exposed to toxic fumes in airplane cabins that can lead to devastating health problems. All Boeing commercial jets—with the exception of the company's newest model (the 787 Dreamliner)—use a venting system in which air is pulled through the compressor of the engine to provide pressurization in the cabin. Airbus, Boeing's rival, uses the same system. When something goes wrong in that process—like a leaking engine seal or an overfilling oil reservoir—air can be contaminated by the chemicals in the oil of the engine, mishaps known as "fume events." "Since stepping on that plane my life has been turned upside down," says one of the plaintiffs.The four flight attendants allege that such an event occurred during a 2013 Alaska Airlines flight from Boston to San Diego. Three of the four women lost consciousness, leading the plane to land early in Chicago, where they were hospitalized. According to the complaint, all four flight attendants still suffer from medical problems, including tremors, blurred vision, memory loss, and chronic fatigue. Two of the four flight attendants can no longer work. "Since stepping on that plane my life has been turned upside down," says Vanessa Woods, one of the plaintiffs.

Johnson & Johnson Has a Dirty Secret About Microbeads --Instead of moving to safe, natural alternatives, Johnson & Johnson wants to replace plastic microbeads with more plastic. They recently came out in the New York Times against the California microbead ban, even after pledging in 2013 to ban microbeads in their products. Across the country in states like Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey and Oregon, Johnson & Johnson is working to sabotage microbead bans with a sneaky loophole. By subtly tweaking the definition of a microbead, the loophole would allow companies to replace traditional plastic microbeads with other types of dangerous plastics, like the type used in cigarette filters. Plastic microbeads are found in beauty products like toothpaste and facial scrubs in staggering quantities. One tube of exfoliating scrub can contain more than 350,000 plastic microbeads. It’s estimated that 471 million microbeads are released into the San Francisco Bay every day. No microbead alterative that still uses plastic will stop the toxic effect microbeads has on our oceans and our health.

Climate Change Health Risk Is a 'Medical Emergency,’ Experts Warn - The threat to human health from climate change is so great that it could undermine the last 50 years of gains in development and global health, experts warned on Tuesday. Extreme weather events such as floods and heat waves bring rising risks of infectious diseases, poor nutrition and stress, the specialists said, while polluted cities where people work long hours and have no time or space to walk, cycle or relax are bad for the heart as well as respiratory and mental health. Almost 200 countries have set a 2 degrees C global average temperature rise above pre-industrial times as a ceiling to limit climate change, but scientists say the current trajectory could lead to around a 4 degrees C rise in average temperatures, risking droughts, floods, storms and rising sea levels. "That has very serious and potentially catastrophic effects for human health and human survival,” said Anthony Costello, director of University College London’s (UCL) Institute for Global Health, who co-led the report.The report, commissioned and published by The Lancet medical journal, was compiled by a panel of specialists including European and Chinese climate scientists and geographers, social, environmental and energy scientists, biodiversity experts and health professionals. It said that because responses to mitigate climate change have direct and indirect health benefits - from reducing air pollution to improving diet - a concerted effort would also provide a great opportunity to improve global health. The report said direct health impacts of climate change come from more frequent and intense extreme weather events, while indirect impacts come from changes in infectious disease patterns, air pollution, food insecurity and malnutrition, displacement and conflicts.

Why Researchers Are Sounding The Alarm About Climate Change’s Health Impacts - Climate change and air pollution make a dangerous pair. That’s one of the findings of a report published Monday from the Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change, a group that represents a collaboration between European and Chinese climate scientists and geographers, social and environmental scientists, biodiversity experts, energy policy and health experts, and other professionals. The report, which laid out the health risks of climate change and makes policy recommendations, called air pollution among the most serious of the indirect health effects of global warming.  Here’s why that is: gases that result from the burning of fossil fuels pollute the air, and cause global warming. At the same time, rising temperatures worsen air pollution by increasing ground level ozone, a chemical reaction between sunlight and emissions and the main component of smog. We are seeing the impacts of climate on lung health, and that is a huge concern.  The resulting dirty air — a combination of ozone and fine particles — is very bad for humans, especially children whose lungs are still developing, as well as for the elderly and people with asthma, heart disease or chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). Experts even believe it hurts healthy people as well. “Exposure to air pollution has been directly linked to worsening respiratory disease, and not just in asthmatics,’’ “Pollution has a direct impact, there is no question. We’re seeing a rise in childhood asthma and adult onset asthma too, and increases in COPD, which is becoming a tremendous problem in this country. People are developing it who never smoked, or never had family members who smoked.’’ “We are seeing the impacts of climate on lung health, and that is a huge concern,’’ said Janice E. Nolen, assistant vice president for national policy at the American Lung Association. “We are very worried about the threat it poses today, and will pose in the future.’’

Why climate change is increasingly seen as an urgent health issue -  When people think about health, they generally think about things individuals can do to ward off disease — seeing a doctor, taking medicine, or dieting. But increasingly, many health experts think this mindset needs to change. When we think about health, they say, we need to start thinking about how environmental factors can matter as much as — maybe even more than — any personal behaviors. And that includes big things like climate change: In a big new report released Monday, The Lancet brought together the world’s leading experts on environmental health. They argue that "[t]he implications of climate change for a global population of 9 billion people threatens to undermine the last half century of gains in development and global health": The direct effects of climate change include increased heat stress, floods, drought, and increased frequency of intense storms, with the indirect threatening population health through adverse changes in air pollution, the spread of disease vectors, food insecurity and under-nutrition, displacement, and mental ill health. Over the next five years, the authors urge governments to pay more attention to the health implications of climate change. That includes steps like:
  • Investing in climate change research and surveillance to better understand how the environment is affecting population health
  • Phasing out coal as a source of energy in order to protect people's cardiovascular and respiratory health
  • Redesigning cities to promote healthier lifestyles
Drought, Bird Flu: Farm Sector Earnings Plunge in Early 2015 - Earnings for workers in the U.S. farm sector plunged in the early months of 2015, with all but nine states posting declines, the Commerce Department said Monday. Farm earnings fell 22.4% in the first quarter, which Commerce attributed primarily to lower livestock output. In Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota—where farmers have grappled with severe drought and the spread of avian influenza—first-quarter earnings growth in other sectors was entirely offset by the drop in farm earnings. That led to an overall decline in personal income in those four states, the only states where personal income fell in the first quarter compared with the previous quarter. Iowa posted the biggest drop, at 1.2%. Personal income includes all wages and salaries, property income and government benefits, such as Social Security and Medicaid. Earnings in the mining sector also fell, reflecting the sharp drop in oil prices that has pummeled the energy industry. Mining earnings fell 3.5% in the first quarter, the first decline since the third quarter of 2009. The biggest declines occurred in Wyoming, Louisiana, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Texas. Overall, state personal income grew 0.9% on average in the first quarter, a slower pace than the fourth quarter’s 1.1% growth rate.

Leading Cancer Experts: 2,4-D Weed-Killer Is ‘Possibly Carcinogenic to Humans’ - The decision by an organization of the world’s leading cancer experts to classify the herbicide 2,4-D as a possible carcinogen underscores the risk posed by the U.S. government’s recent approval of 2,4-D for use on genetically engineered, or GMO, crops.  The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a branch of the World Health Organization, said 2,4-D is “possibly carcinogenic to humans” because there is “strong evidence that 2,4-D induces oxidative stress that can operate in humans and moderate evidence that 2,4-D causes immunosuppression, based on in-vivo and in-vitro studies.” “We have known for decades that 2,4-D is harmful to the environment and human health, especially for the farmers and farm workers applying these chemicals to crops,” said Mary Ellen Kustin, senior policy analyst for the Environmental Working Group. “Now that farmers are planting 2,4-D-tolerant GMO crops, this herbicide is slated to explode in use much the way glyphosate did with the first generation of GMO crops. And we know from experience—and basic biology—that weeds will soon grow resistant to these herbicides, making GMO crop growers only more dependent on the next chemical fix.” 2,4-D is one of the two active ingredients in Enlist Duo, a toxic weed-killing cocktail marketed by Dow AgroSciences, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently approved for use in 15 states. The other herbicide in Enlist Duo is glyphosate, which the international cancer agency had previously classified as “probably carcinogenic.” Exposure to both chemicals has separately been linked to non-Hodgkin lymphoma.When the EPA approved Enlist Duo for use on GMO crops, the agency did not consider the effects the two harmful defoliants may have on human health when mixed together.

Pope Francis Slams GMOs and Pesticides for Destroying the Earth’s ‘Complex Web of Ecosystems’ -- Pope Francis’s encyclical didn’t just cover climate change, he also denounced pesticides and genetically engineered (GE) crops, declaring “the spread of these crops destroys the complex web of ecosystems, decreases diversity in production and affects the present and the future of regional economies.”  Biotech companies claim their products are key to solving hunger, but the Pope knows this isn’t true. No commercial GE crops are engineered for increased yield.  The Pope’s message couldn’t come at a better time. Pesticide use is at an all-time high. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says glyphosate use on corn and soy increased from 10 million pounds in 1996, the year Roundup Ready crops were introduced, to 204 million in 2013. The U.S. Geological Survey routinely finds glyphosate in our water. The Word Health Organization just declared glyphosate a probable carcinogen. The Pope observed that pesticide use “creates a vicious circle in which the intervention of the human being to solve a problem often worsens the situation further.” He said, “many birds and insects die out as a result of toxic pesticides created by technology … [and this] actually causes the Earth we live in to become less rich and beautiful, more and more limited and gray …” Pesticides have already made our Earth less rich and more gray by nearly wiping out monarch butterflies, which have declined by 90 percent, largely because increased glyphosate use has wiped out the monarch’s sole host plant, milkweed. Pesticides are a leading cause of our current pollinator collapse. With one-third of the bites we eat requiring bee-pollination, many world leaders, including President Obama, are waking up to the need for action. With this encyclical, the Pope reminds us that our fates are intertwined with all species, and calls us to action.

Raisins: When Insiders Set the Rules: Earlier this week, the US Supreme Court in Horne et al. vs. Department of Agriculture overturned an arrangement that had stood since 1937 for the sale of raisins. The case turned on what is apparently a non-obvious question, given that this program had been around for eight decades and lower courts had ruled differently: Does taking 47% of someone's crop count as a a "taking" in the legal sense prohibited by the 5th Amendment to the US  Constitution, which ends with the words " ... nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the decision for an 8-1 majority. He begins with a compact overview of past practice: The Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937 authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to promulgate “marketing orders” to help maintain stable markets for particular agricultural products. The marketing order for raisins requires growers in certain years to give a percentage of their crop to the Government, free of charge. The required allocation is determined by the Raisin Administrative Committee, a Government entity composed largely of growers and others in the raisin business appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture. In 2002–2003, this Committee ordered raisin growers to turn over 47 percent of their crop. In 2003–2004, 30 percent. Growers generally ship their raisins to a raisin “handler,” who physically separates the raisins due the Government (called “reserve raisins”), pays the growers only for the remainder (“free-tonnage raisins”), and packs and sells the free-tonnage raisins. The Raisin Committee acquires title to the reserve raisins that have been set aside, and decides how to dispose of them in its discretion. It sells them in noncompetitive markets, for example to exporters, federal agencies, or foreign governments; donates them to charitable causes; releases them to growers who agree to reduce their raisin production; or disposes of them by “any other means” consistent with the purposes of the raisin program.

CRP Acreage Down 34 Percent Since 2007 - Kay McDonald - The Agricultural Act of 2014 gradually reduces the cap on land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) from 32 million acres to 24 million acres by 2017. CRP acreage declined 34 percent since 2007, falling from 36.8 million acres to 24.2 million by April 2015. While initially enrolling mainly whole fields or farms (through periodically announced general signups), CRP increasingly uses “continuous signup” (which has stricter eligibility requirements than general signup) to enroll high-priority parcels that often provide greater per-acre environmental benefits. Conservation practices on these acres include riparian buffers, filter strips, grassed waterways, and wetland restoration. Riparian buffers, for example, are vegetated areas that help shade and partially protect a stream from the impact of adjacent land uses by intercepting nutrients and other materials, and provide habitat and wildlife corridors. Enrollment under continuous signup increased by about 50 percent, from 3.8 million acres in 2007 to 5.7 million acres in 2014. (see graphics)

The Surprising Environmental Reason Weed Should Be Legal - Marijuana has a strange legal status. In California, it’s been medically legal for almost two decades, but growing it and selling it for recreational purposes is in a gray area of law enforcement, with federal law prohibiting it altogether and state and local laws cobbled together in a patchwork of regulation. But according to a new study, this pseudo-legalization is bad news for the environment.  The $31 billion marijuana growing business is draining local streams and allowing pesticide runoff to poison fish and wildlife, and it’s “high time” to include environmental regulations in the legalization conversation, states the report, published this week by a team of scientists from the Nature Conservancy, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and University of California Berkeley.  “Illegal marijuana production in California is centered in sensitive watersheds with high biodiversity,” the authors write in the report, which appeared in the journal BioScience. Environmental enforcement bodies don’t have the resources to regulate rogue, unregulated pot growers under a patchwork of state and local legislation, and the federal prohibition “encourages secrecy and invisibility among producers,” the report states, further complicating enforcement. Growers are often squatting on public land, unlicensed and unregistered. The study’s authors take care to note that they are not weighing in on whether marijuana should be legalized — they are simply saying that the environmental implications need to be included in the debate.

Only 60 Years of Farming Left If Soil Degradation Continues - Scientific American  - Generating three centimeters of top soil takes 1,000 years, and if current rates of degradation continue all of the world's top soil could be gone within 60 years, a senior UN official said on Friday. About a third of the world's soil has already been degraded, Maria-Helena Semedo of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) told a forum marking World Soil Day. The causes of soil destruction include chemical-heavy farming techniques, deforestation which increases erosion, and global warming. The earth under our feet is too often ignored by policymakers, experts said. "Soils are the basis of life," said Semedo, FAO's deputy director general of natural resources. "Ninety five percent of our food comes from the soil." Unless new approaches are adopted, the global amount of arable and productive land per person in 2050 will be only a quarter of the level in 1960, the FAO reported, due to growing populations and soil degradation. Soils play a key role in absorbing carbon and filtering water, the FAO reported. Soil destruction creates a vicious cycle, in which less carbon is stored, the world gets hotter, and the land is further degraded.  "We are losing 30 soccer fields of soil every minute, mostly due to intensive farming,"

New Research Warns Of Catastrophic Food Shortages Due To Unchecked Climate Change - New research supported by the United Kingdom’s Foreign Office and insurer Lloyd’s of London finds that, absent major changes, humanity risks a catastrophic collapse in its ability to feed itself by mid-century, due in significant part to human-caused climate change. Last year, the United Nations’ “highly conservative” IPCC climate panel warned that humanity is risking a “breakdown of food systems linked to warming, drought, flooding, and precipitation variability and extremes” on its current path of unrestricted carbon pollution. Many studies in the last 12 months have strengthened the scientific case (see this, for instance). The new research is from the Global Resource Observatory, a project of Anglia Ruskin University’s Global Sustainability Institute (GSI) partnering with the UK government’s Foreign Office; Lloyds of London; a “coalition of leaders from business, politics and civil society”; the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries; and both the Africa and Asian Development Banks.  The GSI group does business-as-usual forecasting using system dynamics modeling — arguably the only type of modeling that treats feedbacks and time delays well enough to even approximate what is coming. GSI Director Aled Jones explains that the group “ran the model forward to the year 2040.” The results were stunning:“The results show that based on plausible climate trends, and a total failure to change course, the global food supply system would face catastrophic losses, and an unprecedented epidemic of food riots. In this scenario, global society essentially collapses as food production falls permanently short of consumption.” The “good” news: That only happens if humanity doesn’t actually do any serious planning for this outcome — and doesn’t do any serious reacting as it plays out. But homo sapiens isn’t a “brainless frog,” are we?

Water Wars Crush California Wineries: "Whoever Has The Longest Straw Wins" --Eerily reminiscent of the determinedly evil oil baron from the movie 'There Will Be Blood'Reuters reports the growing tensions amid California's drought-stricken wineries are boiling over: "There is way too much demand. I blame a lot of vineyards like other people do... It's a matter of who has the longest straw at the bottom of the bucket." No one should worry though, because the government is here to help - with a new water management agency...  Between 1990 and 2014, harvested wine grape acreage in the growing region around Paso Robles nearly quintupled to 37,408 acres, as vintners discovered that the area's rolling hills, rocky soil and mild climate were perfect for coaxing rich, sultry flavors from red wine grapes. But, as Reuters reports, in the last few years, California's ongoing drought has hit the region hard, reducing grape yields and depleting the vast aquifer that most of the area’s vineyards and rural residents rely on as their sole source of water other than rain. Across the region, residential and vineyard wells have gone dry. Those who can afford to – including a number of large wineries and growers – have drilled ever-deeper wells, igniting tensions and leading some to question whether Paso Robles' burgeoning wine industry is sustainable. "All of our water is being turned purple and shipped out of here in green glass," said Cam Berlogar, who delivers water, cuts custom lumber and sells classic truck parts in the Paso Robles-area community of Creston. "There are a lot of farmers who are going to have to farm with a hell of a lot less water." But, spurred by the drought, California Governor Jerry Brown last year signed a package of bills requiring groundwater-dependent areas to establish local water sustainability agencies by 2017. The agencies will then have between three and five years to adopt water management plans, and then another two decades to implement those plans. Some residents worry that Paso Robles can't wait that long.

Troubled Delta System Is California’s Water Battleground - — Fighting over water is a tradition in California, but nowhere are the lines of dispute more sharply drawn than here in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a 720,000-acre network of islands and canals that is the hub of the state’s water system.Giant pumps pull in water flowing to the delta from the mountainous north of the state, where the majority of precipitation falls, and send it to farms, towns and cities in the Central Valley and Southern California, where the demand for water is greatest.For decades, the shortcomings of this water transportation system, among the most ambitious and complex ever constructed, have been a source of conflict and complaint.But in the fourth year of a profound drought, the delta has become a central battle zone, pitting north against south, farmers against environmental groups, farmers against one another and many local residents against California’s governor, Jerry Brown, whose plan to fix the delta’s problems upsets them almost as much as the drought itself.   Water pumped from the delta, the largest estuary on the West Coast, accounts for only about 15 percent of the total water from above-ground sources that is used in California.But the delta pumps help feed more than three million acres of farmland, much of it in the San Joaquin Valley, the agricultural heartland of the state. The estuary’s water is also home to hundreds of wildlife species, including fish — like the winter-run Chinook salmon and the delta smelt — that are listed as endangered and federally protected.

Drought May Prompt Californians to Let Personal Hygiene Slide - Forget the brown lawns. California’s historic drought may make the state’s residents less keen on washing their bodies and their homes. The water woes in the Western U.S. may cut sales of traditional cleaning products sold by the likes of Procter & Gamble Co., Bloomberg Intelligence analysts Deborah Aitken and Gregory Elders wrote in a report Friday. But it could boost sales of dry shampoos, which customers spray on and comb through their hair in lieu of washing in the shower, they said. Consumers changing their cleaning patterns in response to a drought isn’t unheard of. Unilever Chief Executive Officer Paul Polman recently told analysts and investors that Brazilians are showering 15 percent less because of water shortages. Meanwhile, the company’s products that are geared toward helping consumers use fewer resources are growing twice as fast as its other brands, and they’re more profitable, Polman said at a conference this month. Why Everyone in the U.S. Will Feel California's Drought Dry shampoos already had started to gain traction because more consumers want to keep their hair’s natural oils intact and avoid harsh substances. Sales of the products are growing five times as fast as the 2 percent gain predicted for the total shampoo category through 2019, Aitken said, citing Euromonitor International data. “It is now a case of skip a wash, or even two, among some of the users I know,”

California Drought: Support grows in Bay Area for toilet to tap water - Bay Area residents consider California's historic drought so dire that a majority say they would be willing to drink purified toilet water.That's not the only finding in a Bay Area Council poll released Wednesday that used to be considered hard to swallow. Many Bay Area residents appear to be putting aside some long-held notions about the environment, health and public costs to support bolder options to increase the water supply. While 58 percent of those polled say they favor adding appropriately treated recycled water to the drinking water supply, 63 percent say they support building more dams and reservoirs, with 23 percent strongly in favor. "That's a high number in an environmentally-conscious place like the Bay Area," said Rufus Jeffris, a spokesman for the Bay Area Council, a pro-business advocacy group. "This all suggests that people want to look more seriously at these types of solutions that, in the past, haven't had this great acceptance either because of environmental, health or cost reasons."

Drought So Bad, California Received 1 Year Worth Of Rain Over Last 4 Years « — Brown grass, low reservoirs and worsening wildfires are undeniable signs of California’s worsening drought. New rainfall comparisons highlight just how thirsty the Golden State is, but rising ocean temperatures are giving climate experts hope for a wet winter.The National Weather Service showcased those unsettling rainfall totals in an illustration to document the change in climate since July 2011, when California’s drought began.The below graph shows San Francisco received a four year deficit of 31.51 inches of accumulated participation , or 133 percent of annual normal. Meanwhile, Livermore saw a deficit of 21.87 inches of rainfall and Santa Cruz a staggering 50.54 inches — 161 percent of the yearly average.  While California has received some rainfall from passing winter storms, particularly during the Bay Area’s “hella storm” last December, the overall number of sub-tropic “atmospheric rivers” responsible for those torrential downpours are well below average. Instead, a stronger than usual high-pressure ridge over the western U.S. continues to push storms to the north, creating long-term dry conditions. But lately, climate experts are leaning into new El Nino data that shows rising Pacific Ocean surface temperatures. An anomaly in the range of 1.5 to 3.5 degrees Celsius would be considered characteristic of an El Nino. The warmer and more widespread the water in the Pacific Ocean, the stronger the El Nino. The temperature anomaly is presently 1.8 degrees Celsius, according to the National Weather Service. In July, scientists will compare the latest computer models for a better idea of what California’s winter may look like.

Republicans Introduce Bill Based On The Idea That Environmentalists Caused California’s Drought --The billintroduced this week by Rep. David Valadao (R-CA), would direct officials to release more water through the state’s Central Valley Project, which provides irrigation and city water sources to a large portion of the state’s Central Valley. Under the bill, water flows couldn’t be limited by concerns about fish species like salmon and the Delta smelt unless there was concern over extinction of the species. By ensuring that more water moves through the project’s canals, supporters hope to make water more available to residents. The bill has the backing of California’s entire Republican House delegation, the Hill reports.  Valadao’s bill is based of an idea that’s been cited by Republicans before: that environmentalists have prevented California from building key water infrastructure, in part because of their concerns about the Delta smelt, a threatened fish species that could be nearing extinction. In 2008, in an attempt to protect the fish, the Fish and Wildlife Service moved to restrict the amount of water that’s pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta south to water districts and farms.Valadao’s office said in a statement that water policy aimed at protecting “certain species of fish listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is a significant obstacle hindering water delivery in Central and Southern California.” The bill, the statement said, “will cut red tape holding back major water storage projects that have been authorized for over a decade, which will aid the entire Western United States during dry years.” Several California Republicans agree with Valadao’s premise.  “Droughts are nature’s fault; water shortages are our fault,” California Rep. Tom McClintock, a supporter of Valadao’s bill, said in a statement. “For a generation, we have failed to build the facilities needed to store water from wet years to have it in dry ones and radical environmental laws have squandered the water we did store. Our water shortage is caused by a shortage of sensible water policy. This bill begins fixing that.”

Lake Mead sinks to record low, risking water shortage --Lake Mead sunk to a record low Tuesday night, falling below the point that would trigger a water-supply shortage if the reservoir doesn't recover soon. Water managers expect the lake's level to rebound enough to ward off a 2016 shortage thanks to a wetter-than-expected spring. But in the long run, as a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman said, "We still need a lot more water."  The reservoir stores water for parts of Arizona, Southern California, southern Nevada and northern Mexico — all of which have endured a 15-year drought that continues. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will announce a 2016 shortage in August if it projects Lake Mead won't rise above 1,075 feet by January. Assessments are updated in the middle of every month. This month's report forecasts an improved outlook.  But Tuesday's record low — registering 1,074.99 feet — signals that Colorado River water users consume more than the river provides, said water-policy manager Drew Beckwith of the Western Resource Advocates, a nonprofit environmental law and policy organization."This is the check-engine light," Beckwith said. "It really does (make critical) the fact that we have to start changing." For Las Vegas, the record reinforces the need for a nearly $1.5 billion project to tap deeper into Lake Mead. The Southern Nevada Water Authority soon will complete a 3-mile tunnel that will suck water from an 860-foot elevation level. The plan also includes a pumping station.

Lake Mead Hits Historic Low -- Lake Mead hit a record low last night by falling below 1,075 feet in elevation at 1,074.98 feet, which would trigger a water-supply shortage if the reservoir doesn’t recover by January. The threshold for mandatory cuts was set in a 2007 agreement as part of the U.S. Department of Interior’s Colorado River Interim Guidelines. These cuts would be the first set of mandatory water delivery curtailments to Lake Mead. Should the water levels continue to drop, as they are expected to, more cuts would be required. “Water managers expect the lake’s elevation level to rebound enough to ward off a 2016 shortage thanks to a wetter-than-expected spring,” says The Arizona Republic. However, Rose Davis, a Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman, told The Arizona Republic, “We still need a lot more water.”  The U.S. had the wettest month ever recorded in May—”the wettest places were parts of Arizona, Southern California, Northern Utah, a tiny spot in Nevada and a small spot on the border of Texas and Oklahoma, where precipitation was at least 500 percent of average,” said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Still, the recent rains were not enough to end the Southwest’s 15-year drought. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will announce a 2016 shortage this August if its projections show that Lake Mead will still be below 1,075 feet in January. The elevation, which is recorded hourly, climbed to 1,075.05 feet this morning. Davis says the agency is expecting several more drops below 1,075 feet in the coming weeks, but they estimate the lake level will rise by the end of the year to about 1,081 feet, according to CBS News. Still, many water policy experts are pushing for long-term solutions.

Leaking Las Vegas: Lake Mead At Record Lows, "We Have To Change" - This is it, warns one water advocate, "it really does (make critical) the fact that we have to start changing." Lake Mead water levels have sunk to their lowest levels on record (below the levels when the dam was built) at 1075 feet. This is a major problem, as USA Today reports,since Las Vegas water authority's current "straws" glean water from 1,050 feet and 1,000 feet - leaving the first straw just 25 feet away from pulling in air. With the drought only set to get worse as the summer begins, the water wars are just beginning as Lower-basin states are still taking more than the river system can sustain. As USA Today reports, Lake Mead sunk to a record low Tuesday night, falling below the point that would trigger a water-supply shortage if the reservoir doesn't recover soon. the long run, as a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman said, "We still need a lot more water." The reservoir stores water for parts of Arizona, Southern California, southern Nevada and northern Mexico — all of which have endured a 15-year drought that continues.

Caribbean swelters under worst drought in five years - The worst drought in five years is creeping across the Caribbean. From Puerto Rico to Cuba to St Lucia, crops are withering, reservoirs are drying up and cattle are dying while forecasters worry that the situation could only grow worse in the coming months. Thanks to El Niño, a warming of the tropical Pacific that affects global weather, forecasters expect the hurricane season that began in June to be quieter than normal, with a shorter period of rains. That means less water to help refill Puerto Rico’s thirsty Carraizo and La Plata reservoirs as well as the La Plata river in the central island community of Naranjito. A tropical disturbance that hit the US territory on Monday did not fill up those reservoirs as officials had anticipated. Puerto Rico is among the Caribbean islands worst hit by the water shortage, with more than 1.5 million people affected by the drought so far, according to the US National Drought Mitigation Center. Tens of thousands of people receive water only every third day under strict rationing recently imposed by the island government. Puerto Rico last week also activated national guard troops to help distribute water and approved a resolution to impose fines on people and businesses for improper water use. The Caribbean’s last severe drought was in 2010. The current one could grow worse if the hurricane season ending in November produces scant rainfall and the region enters the dry season with parched reservoirs, said Cedric Van Meerbeeck, a climatologist with the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology. “We might have serious water shortages … for irrigation of crops, firefighting, domestic consumption or consumption by the hotel sector,” he said.

Satellites Find Less Groundwater Left - Groundwater supplies around the world are scanter than previously thought and are depleting fast in many places, according to a set of two studies published yesterday online in Water Resources Research. Groundwater is the primary water source for about 2 billion people worldwide. But estimates of supplies are based on rough estimates of withdrawals and deposits, and as such, are all over the map. “It is absolutely insane that we do not know how much water we have in the world’s major aquifers, and that the range of estimates is so great that the numbers are effectively meaningless,” said study co-author Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a professor at the University of California, Irvine. Famiglietti and his fellow researchers used NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites, which orbit the Earth at a distance of 400 kilometers, to measure the gravitational pull of masses of water. The data spans from January 2003 to December 2013. By looking at total storage in groundwater basins, rather than just estimating the amount that leaves and re-enters them each year, satellite measurements can add a significant dimension to current understanding of water storage. Yesterday’s studies found that of the world’s 37 largest aquifers, 13 are being depleted, with little to no water re-entering them. The most-stressed aquifer is the Arabian Aquifer System, followed by the Indus Basin in northwestern India and Pakistan and the Murzuk-Djado Basin in northern Africa. Fourth is California’s Central Valley, where drought has been increasingly driving farmers to tap groundwater to supplant meager river flows (ClimateWire, Dec. 17, 2014).

The world is quickly running out of water, new NASA study says - The world is losing groundwater, fast. That is the conclusion of a new study published by researchers at NASA, which drew on satellite data to quantify the stresses on aquifers. The researchers found that over the decade-long study of the 37 major aquifers worldwide, 21 experienced a depletion of their water supply. Especially alarming was the study’s finding that the Indus Basin aquifer, which supplies much of India’s water supply, has depleted rapidly. “The potential consequences are pretty scary,” NASA scientist Matthew Roddell, a lead author of the study, tells Quartz. “At some point those aquifers might run dry.” To measure the water level changes, the researchers studied the gravitational orbit of NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite caused by the shifting of earth’s mass. Because water is one of the larger and constantly shifting masses on earth, this allowed them to measure changes to groundwater supplies.  The researchers found that California’s Central Valley aquifer was the most depleted of all aquifers in the US, because Californians have relied more heavily on drawing groundwater as rain water has dissipated during California’s long drought. Preserving water in aquifers is especially problematic in agricultural areas like India, which relies heavily on water-intensive rice farming. According to Rodell, over 68% of our water supply is used for agriculture. But unlike, say, water used to cool a power plant, water used in agriculture is not recyclable, Rodell explains. “The people who are using the water don’t necessarily recognize that it will ever run out. It is used as a resource that will last forever,” Rodell says. If we continue with our current consumption practices, hesays,”these people and those farmers that rely on that water won’t have it anymore.”

The water story - The crisis - Water: Many women and children in rural areas of the developing world spend hours each day walking miles to collect water from dirty or unsafe pools and rivers. In urban areas they collect it from polluted waterways or pay high prices to buy it from vendors. Carrying heavy water containers is an exhausting task, which takes up valuable time and energy. It often prevents women from doing vital domestic or income-generating work and stops children from going to school. The tragedy is that the water they have worked so hard to collect is often unsafe and contaminated with deadly diarrheal diseases such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery. Every day 1,400 children in the developing world die from preventable water-related diseases, that's one child every minute. People suffering from these diseases or caring for children who are ill from them are often unable to work to earn money, yet face large medical bills. They remain trapped in poverty. Lack of water, sanitation and hygiene costs Sub-Saharan African countries more in lost GDP than the entire continent gets in development aid.Unsafe water and poor sanitation cause diarrheal diseases, which kill over 500,000 people every year and lead to malnutrition; parasitic infections such as bilharzia and hookworm; and water-washed diseases including the eye infection trachoma and skin infections such as scabies. Many children are frequently absent from school because they are collecting water or are sick with water-related diseases. Parasitic infections transmitted through unsafe water can hamper children’s learning potential. It is also difficult to recruit good teachers to work in schools where there is no clean water.

Alaska’s climate hell: Record heat, wildfires and melting glaciers signal a scary new normal -  Here’s the immediate problem: Alaska is on fire. Wildfires have been raging all week in the northernmost state: two major ones are currently being fought near the communities of Sterling (#CardStreetFire) and Willow (#Sockeyefire), while more than fifty smaller blazes are demanding firefighting crews’ attention across the state. The Card Street fire exploded in size Thursday evening: at 12,000 acres, it’s officially the nation’s top wildfire priority. .@MatSuBorough says of about 50-100 structures destroyed in #SockeyeFire, 26 were homes  The sheer number of fires, said Pete Buist, a spokesman for the state Division of Forestry, “in Alaska terms is not the end of the world” — 2004, which saw a record 6.7 million acres burn, demonstrated just how catastrophe the state’s wildfire season has the potential to get. But crews have been preparing for a season marked by unusually hot, dry weather — and following a winter marked by below-average snowfall — that can exacerbate the blazes. Any associations you might have with Alaska being a generally chilly place, actually, were belied by last month’s heat wave: with average temperatures 7.1 degrees above normal, the state had its hottest May in 91 years of record-keeping. Here, via NASA’s Earth Observatory, is what that deviation looked like:

We Cooked the Planet – Now the Planet Strikes Back! --In the wake of major hurricanes, floods and heat waves, scientists are quick to say that no single weather event can be attributed to climate change until careful analysis draws that conclusion. Now, a new study argues that thinking is backwards, that all extreme weather has a link to climate change.The default position has been holding science back in connecting weather and climate, concludes the authors of a peer-reviewed paper published Monday in Nature Climate Change.  This “could be a game changer in how these studies are done in [the] future,” lead author Kevin Trenberth said in an email.Trenberth is a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), and one of three researchers behind the study.The paper presents a new research technique that grew out of an idea Trenberth first proposed at a conference in 2010. It also provides scientists examples of how to apply the method, and challenges the conclusions of a 2014 paper that found no climate influence in the massive floods that swept Boulder, Colo., in 2013.Trenberth said his approach is new, and conventional research methods still dominate the field.Traditionally, researchers begin with a default assumption that the extreme weather event they’re examining is not influenced by human-caused climate change. They then run computer models or other tests to see if global warming has increased the intensity or likelihood of that event.  But Trenberth’s team says this method can lead to “false negatives” that underestimates the role of climate change. It’s particularly problematic when scientists are studying extreme weather driven by atmospheric circulation—factors such as weather patterns and storm patterns—when it’s difficult to separate the influence of climate change from natural variability.

Pakistan heatwave: Emergency measures as toll nears 700 - BBC News: Pakistan's PM Nawaz Sharif has called for emergency measures as the death toll from a heatwave in southern Sindh province reached nearly 700. The army is now being deployed to help set up heat stroke centres, with temperatures reaching 45C (113F). Officials have been criticised for not doing enough to tackle the crisis. There is anger among local residents at the authorities because power cuts have restricted the use of air-conditioning units and fans, correspondents say. Matters have been made worse by the widespread abstention from water during daylight hours during the fasting month of Ramadan. On Tuesday, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said it had received orders from Mr Sharif to take immediate action to tackle the crisis. This came as Sindh province Health Secretary Saeed Mangnejo said 612 people had died in the main government-run hospitals in the city of Karachi during the past four days. Another 80 are reported to have died in private hospitals. Thousands of people are being treated in the Sindh province, and some of them are in serious condition Many of the victims are elderly people from low-income families. Thousands more people are being treated, and some of them are in serious condition. Hot weather is not unusual during summer months in Pakistan, but prolonged power cuts seem to have made matters worse.

Extreme Heat, Fueled By Climate Change, Leaves More Than 800 Dead In Pakistan -- More than 800 have died from heat stroke and thousands more have been hospitalized as a heat wave scorches much of Pakistan with temperatures as high as 113 degrees. While officials have rolled out emergency response efforts, poor infrastructure and the unpredictable patterns of extreme weather have made the crisis particularly devastating. India is fraught with such infrastructure issues as well, and it too saw similar patterns of extreme weather — and extreme loss of life — in recent months. Nearly 1,700 died in a heat wave that swept the India in May. The majority of those who have lost their lives due to heatstroke in Pakistan have been elderly or low-income residents of Karachi, Pakistan’s most populous city. The impact of the heat wave may be compounded by the fact that many in the Muslim-majority country are abstaining from food and water for Ramadan.  In recent years, Pakistan’s longstanding energy crisis has meant that people across the country face rolling power outages that can last 10 hours in urban areas, and up to 20 in rural ones.The power outages mean that people are unable to run air-conditioners or even electric fans — and that they have little access to water, which is largely moved through pipes by electric pumps. In Karachi, electricity shortages kept the water supply system from pumping millions of gallons of water, according to the state-run water utility service.“[T]he blame is squarely on the shoulders of the government for its lackluster performance in providing water and electricity,” according to an editorial in the Pakistani daily, The Nation.

Death Toll Soars in Climate Change-Related Pakistan Heat Wave --A deadly heat wave spreading through southern Pakistan has killed nearly 800 people in just a few days—a number that threatens to rise as temperatures remain unusually high this week.  At least 740 people have died of dehydration, heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses in Karachi, the country’s largest city, since Saturday, with various sources estimating the death toll to have hit anywhere from 744 to 775. Local media reports that an additional 38 people have died in other provinces. As temperatures hit 45 °C (113 °F) yesterday, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared a state of emergency for hospitals, many of which have hit full capacity, with thousands needing care for heat stroke and dehydration. Al Jazeera writes: “The mortuary is overflowing, they are piling bodies one on top of the other,” said Dr Seemin Jamali, a senior official at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC), the city’s largest government hospital. “We are doing everything that is humanly possible here,” she said, adding that since Saturday, the JPMC had seen more than 5,000 patients with heat-related symptoms. Of those, 384 patients had died, she said.“Until [Tuesday] night, it was unbelievable. We were getting patients coming into the emergency ward every minute,” she said.  Among those who have died, most have been either elderly or poor, officials say. A former director of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency, Asif Shuja, said earlier this week that the soaring temperatures are an impact of climate change, fueled by rapid urbanization, deforestation and car use. But as the Daily Pakistan points out, only 15 percent of Pakistani citizens believe climate change is a major threat, while 40 percent are unaware or deny its existence. That makes Pakistan the “least aware” country in the South Asian region of the threats of climate change.

6 Devastating Heat Waves Hitting the Planet  - Need proof that we’re having the hottest year on record? Scorching heat is searing parts of the world, sparking wildfires and claiming lives due to heat stroke and dehydration.
  • 1. India. The relentless heat since mid-April has claimed about 2,330 lives, overwhelming hospitals and devastating the country. As we previously reported, officials have blamed the heat on global warming.
  • 2. Pakistan. India’s neighboring country is also suffering from the horrible heat, with the city of Karachi experiencing temperatures of 113 degrees Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius). According to BBC News, the weather has led to the deaths of nearly 700 people, mostly poor and elderly.
  • 3. The U.S. Southeast. Over on our shores, temperatures in the American South are about 5-15 degrees higher than usual with temperatures ranging between 100 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit, AccuWeather noted. Southerners, especially in southern Georgia and Florida, are also sweltering in the extreme humidity (in the upper 60s and 70s), making it feel even hotter, reported.
  • 4. Alaska. Not only are glaciers rapidly melting, the northernmost U.S. state experienced record heat at the end of May where parts of Alaska recorded temperatures higher than in Arizona. Unseasonably high temperatures, unpredictable winds and low humidity have been the perfect storm for wildfires to break out in the state, and as of last Sunday, more than 100 new fires have ignited across the state.
  • 5. Israel. Temperatures recently reached 113 degrees Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius) in some parts of the country, causing fires to break out. In the photo below, animals kept in Israeli zoos are being fed frozen treats to help cool off.
  • 6. Japan. The East Asian country has been shattering their temperature records. According to the Weather Channel, in the city of Otsu in Hokkaido, its April high of 89.4 degrees Fahrenheit (31.9 degrees Celsius) smashed the usual high of 50.9 degrees Fahrenheit (10.5 degrees Celsius). And just this month, roughly 780 people across the country were admitted into hospitals due to a heat wave, Sputnik reported.
2015 is likely to beat 2014 as the warmest year on record - The Earth just had its warmest May on record, hottest spring and mildest year-to-date, according to new data released Thursday. The climate statistics indicate the year is on course to set another milestone for the warmest year on record, surpassing the previous warmest year, set in 2014. The data, released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), also bolsters the clarion call for climate action released by Pope Francis, since they are a sign of longterm warming caused by human activities, scientists said.  According to NOAA, May was not only the warmest such month on record, globally, coming at 1.57 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average, but it also blew away the old record by 0.14 degrees Fahrenheit. The old record was set just last year, indicating that 2015 is running hotter than 2014. (Typically, these records are exceeded by smaller margins of 0.1 or 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit.) In fact, May had the fourth-largest temperature departure from average of any month on record, NOAA said.  The spring months of March through May also set a record for the warmest such period on record since 1880, surpassing the previous warmest spring, set in 2010.  The year so far is running a temperature departure from average of 1.53 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average, which is the highest for the January through May period on record, beating 2010 by 0.16 degrees Fahrenheit.

El Nino Gains Strength as Pacific Warms Just Like It's 1997 - The El Nino developing across the Pacific strengthened further, according to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, which again highlighted patterns shown by the data that are similar to the record 1997-1998 event. Sea-surface temperature indexes for the central and eastern tropical Pacific are more than 1 degree Celsius above average for a sixth week, the bureau said. Models showed the central Pacific will warm further over the coming months, it said. El Ninos have the potential to affect weather and harvests around the globe by baking parts of Asia, dumping rain across South America and bringing cooler summers to North America. The event poses a risk for the global economy in the second half as it can hurt crops and boost inflation, according to Citigroup Inc. The 1997-98 El Nino was the strongest on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “It is unusual to have such a broad extent of warmth across the tropical Pacific,” the Melbourne-based bureau said in its fortnightly update on Tuesday. “The last time this occurred was during the 1997–98 El Nino.” The Australian bureau’s update contained twin warnings that it isn’t possible at this stage to determine how intense this event will be, and also that an El Nino’s strength doesn’t always correspond to its impact. In May, forecasters at the center said they expected the current event to be substantial. The majority of models suggest the Pacific will continue to warm in the coming months, possibly reaching strong El Nino levels, the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization said on June 15. Outlooks at this time aren’t as accurate as ones in the second half, and more-confident estimates of the event’s strength will be available after mid-year, it said.

El Nino Threatens Modi Inflation Hopes as Monsoon Stymied -  The El Nino strengthening across the Pacific Ocean is threatening to curb India’s monsoon rainfall and hamper Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s chances of capping food costs. The Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology predicts a “large-scale reduction” during the first half of July after a wetter-than-normal June that caused Mumbai’s worst floods in 10 years. The El Nino that forecasters are likening to a record event almost two decades ago may disrupt sowing and stunt growth of rice, cotton and soybeans. Modi is banking on a normal monsoon to help curb inflation and buoy sales of everything from smart phones to gold among the 833 million people who depend on farming in India. While the early downpours prompted the longest advance in Indian shares since January this week, the prospect of insufficient rain renews concern that damaged crops will boost food prices. “If the prediction of weak rains prove correct, there’s going to be an adverse impact on the economy as a whole, more so on agriculture,” Shashanka Bhide, director of the Madras Institute of Development Studies, said by phone from Chennai on Thursday. “The government’s worry last year was to keep inflation down. This year also the main worry would be the impact on prices.” The Reserve Bank of India said it’s closely watching the rains after identifying a monsoon shortfall as the biggest risk to the economy that depends on agriculture for about 15 percent of gross domestic product. Consumer prices in India, where food costs represent almost half of the retail inflation index, jumped more than 5 percent in May, official data showed June 12.

World Cities, Home to Most People, to Add 2.5 Billion More by 2050 -  (Reuters) - More than half of the world's seven billion people live in urban areas, with the top "mega cities" - with more than 10 million inhabitants - being Tokyo, Delhi, Shanghai, Mexico City and Sao Paulo, according to a United Nations report on Thursday. That proportion is expected to jump, so that more than six billion people will be city dwellers by 2045, the U.N.'s World Urbanization Prospects report said. The jump will be driven by a "preference of people to move from rural to urban areas, and the overall positive growth rate of the world's population, which is projected to continue over the next 35 years," John Wilmoth, director of the Population Division in the UN's Department of Economic and Social Affairs said at a news conference Thursday at the UN. Indeed, urbanization, combined with overall population growth, will boost the number of people in cities by 2.5 billion over the next three decades, with much of that growth in developing countries, especially in Asia and Africa. India, China and Nigeria will make up 37 percent of the projected growth in the next three decades, with India adding 404 million city residents, China 292 million, and Nigeria 212 million, by 2050. The key challenge for these countries will be to provide basic services like education, health care, housing, infrastructure, transportation, energy and employment for their growing urban populations.

Humans creating sixth great extinction of animal species, say scientists -- The modern world is experiencing a “sixth great extinction” of animal species even when the lowest estimates of extinction rates are considered, scientists have warned.  The rate of extinction for species in the 20th century was up to 100 times higher than it would have been without man’s impact, they said.  Many conservationists have been warning for years that a mass extinction event akin to the one that wiped out the dinosaurs is occurring as humans degrade and destroy habitats.   But the authors of a study published on Friday said that even when they analysed the most conservative extinction rates, the rate at which vertebrates were being lost forever was far higher than in the last five mass extinctions. “We were very surprised to see how bad it is,”. “This is very depressing because we used the most conservative rates, and even then they are much higher than the normal extinction rate, really indicating we are having a massive loss of the species.”  Previous studies have warned that the impact of humans taking land for buildings, farming and timber has been to make species extinct at speeds unprecedented in Earth’s 4.5bn-year history. Ceballos said that his study, co-authored by Paul R Ehrlich who famously warned of the impact of humanity’s “population bomb”, employed better knowledge of natural or so-called background extinction rates. He said it was conservative because it looked only at species that had been declared extinct, which due to stringent rules can sometimes take many years after a species has actually gone extinct. Under a “natural” rate of extinction, the study said that two species go extinct per 10,000 species per 100 years, rather than the one species that previous work has assumed. Modern rates of extinction were eight to 100 times higher , the authors found. For example, 477 vertebrates have gone extinct since 1900, rather than the nine that would be expected at natural rates.

Sixth mass extinction is here: US study - (AFP) - The world is embarking on its sixth mass extinction with animals disappearing about 100 times faster than they used to, scientists warned Friday, and humans could be among the first victims. Not since the age of the dinosaurs ended 66 million years ago has the planet been losing species at this rapid a rate, said a study led by experts at Stanford University, Princeton University and the University of California, Berkeley. The study "shows without any significant doubt that we are now entering the sixth great mass extinction event," said co-author Paul Ehrlich, a Stanford University professor of biology. And humans are likely to be among the species lost, said the study -- which its authors described as "conservative" -- published in the journal Science Advances. "If it is allowed to continue, life would take many millions of years to recover and our species itself would likely disappear early on," said lead author Gerardo Ceballos of the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico. The analysis is based on documented extinctions of vertebrates, or animals with internal skeletons such as frogs, reptiles and tigers, from fossil records and other historical data.  If the past rate was two mammal extinctions per 10,000 species per 100 years, then the "average rate of vertebrate species loss over the last century is up to 114 times higher than it would be without human activity, even when relying on the most conservative estimates of species extinction," said the study.

Study: The World Is In The Midst Of A Mass Extinction, And Humans Are To Blame --There have been five documented mass extinctions in the Earth’s history, including when the dinosaurs were suddenly wiped out 65 million years ago. Those extinctions are thought to have been caused by natural disasters, such as massive, earth-darkening volcanic eruptions or cataclysmic asteroid strikes. But a study published Friday concluded that a sixth, human-caused mass extinction is happening now.  We are the problem, according to Gerardo Ceballos, one of the study’s authors and a professor at the Institute of Ecology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.  “We know that we have been destroying habitat; deforestation is huge,” Ceballos told ThinkProgress. “Thousands of animals are being killed every year for trade, and also by pollution. All these factors, these human factors, are major, and now we have climate change.” The results were incredibly, incredibly shocking  Climate change puts animals at risk in two ways, Ceballos said. One is increased extreme weather, such as a hurricane that hits Puerto Rico and damages the endangered Puerto Rican parrot population. The other is rising temperatures that delicate amphibians can’t adapt to. Both are contributing to the continued loss of biodiversity.  Based on the researchers’ data, published Friday in Advanced Sciences, over the course of the Earth’s existence, it would have taken up to 10,000 years for some of the species that have gone extinct in the last century to disappear. The analysis is based on a “very conservative” estimate that looks only at vertebrate species and uses a high threshold of documentation for extinction, the study said. “The results were incredibly, incredibly shocking,” Ceballos said. “To be honest… because we were using such conservative measures, I thought that we wouldn’t be able to find that we were going into a mass extinction.”

A Nasty Surprise in the Greenhouse -- Peter Sinclair The disaster movie “The Day After Tomorrow” was based on long-term scientific concerns about global warming’s impact on the North Atlantic Current – what most people think of as “The Gulf Stream” – although that is a simplification. The movie was obviously over the top in terms of the projected impacts, but after a decade in which science has downplayed the possibility of such an event, a new paper shows that the circulation is indeed slowing down. This could signal potential impacts on weather, the food chain, and circulation of oxygen and nutrients throughout the ocean. I’ve been interviewing key authors of the paper: lead author Stefan Rahmstorf, as well as paleoclimate expert Mike Mann, and glaciologist Jason Box. This is a paper that could have substantial impact, and might very well be distorted or sensationalized,  – so bookmark this post as a damper for overhyped speculation, as well as a warning about real impacts. Lead Author Stefan Rahmstorf in RealClimate: The North Atlantic between Newfoundland and Ireland is practically the only region of the world that has defied global warming and even cooled. Last winter there even was the coldest on record – while globally it was the hottest on record. Our recent study (Rahmstorf et al., 2015) attributes this to a weakening of the Gulf Stream System, which is apparently unique in the last thousand years. So what’s so special about this region between Newfoundland and Ireland? It happens to be just that area for which climate models predict a cooling when the Gulf Stream System weakens (experts speak of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation or AMOC, as part of the global thermohaline circulation). That this might happen as a result of global warming is discussed in the scientific community since the 1980s – since Wally Broecker’s classical Nature article “Unpleasant surprises in the greenhouse?” Meanwhile evidence is mounting that the long-feared circulation decline is already well underway.

Pope’s Encyclical Makes Grade in Climate Science -- When it comes to the science of climate change, Pope Francis’ environmentally focused encyclical makes the grade, experts said Thursday. Francis makes clear in the document that humanity bears most of the blame for the warming of the planet and he lays out the main findings of climate science -- that greenhouse gases are causing global temperatures to rise, that sea levels are also rising, that extreme weather events are becoming worse, and that polar ice is melting, further imperiling the planet.  Though discussing the science is not the main purpose of the Pope’s message, which centers more on the moral reasoning for taking care of the environment, “he gets the science right,” climate scientist Michael Mann, of Penn State, said in an email. The Pope’s message is coming at a time when records for the warmest years are being set as global average temperatures have risen 1.6 °F since beginning of 20th century. That temperature rise is fueled by the ever-increasing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere put there by human activities. Carbon dioxide has hit levels not seen in modern human history, and seas have risen by 8 inches over the past century. Heat waves like the deadly one that struck India recently are expected to occur more often in a warmer world, as are torrential downpours that can cause flash floods.

The most radical part of Pope Francis’s message isn’t about climate change -- With such a hot-button issue in the mix, it’s no wonder that climate change has been the main focus of the discussion around the encyclical. But it’s by no means the only environmental issue the final document is expected to address — nor is it necessarily the most important. “If you look at a lot of the extractive industries that are fueling climate change, we’ve kind of been hit twice by our errors,” says Kelly Mitchell, energy campaign director for Greenpeace. The same industries that contribute so substantially to climate-altering greenhouse gas output, such as mining and coal-burning, often have the added effect of contributing to the degradation of natural habitats, the endangerment of wild species and the quality of our air and water, she says.  In a second double whammy, these same environmental concerns are likely to be exacerbated in a major way by climate change itself. Scientists generally agree that global warming poses broad threats to the environment, having been linked to an increase in severe weather events, droughts, fires, disease, extinctions and crop failures, to name a few. In these ways, all of the environmental issues likely to be discussed in the papal encyclical are inextricably tied to one another. Dan Misleh, founding director of the Catholic Climate Covenant, argues that the encyclical’s historic nature has less to do with its climate stance — although certainly that’s making enough waves on its own — and more to do with the fact that “it’s the first time that an encyclical has ever been written just on the environment.” “The Vatican has already announced that this encyclical is intended for the entire world, not just the Catholic community,” and its far-reaching impact could be owed to another aspect of the document, which ties together all of the environmental concerns it will address: its focus on environmental justice. It also includes major sections dedicated to diminishing quality of human life, social degradation and planetary inequalities.

Eight things we learned from the pope's climate change encyclical - Pope Francis has released an unprecedented encyclical on climate change and the environment. The 180-page document calls on rich nations to pay their “grave social debt” to poorer countries and lambasts the UN climate talks for a lack of progress. Here are eight things we learned:
  1. He thinks we should phase out coal
  2. He thinks the UN climate talks have failed to achieve much
  3. He doesn’t like carbon trading
  4. But he does like community energy
  5. He is neither pro nor anti genetically modified food
  6. He thinks consumption is a bigger problem than population
  7. He says iPhones and all our other gadgets are getting in the way of our relationship with nature
  8. Our gift to the next generation may be desolation
Pope Francis’ Call to Action Goes Beyond the Environment -- IN Pope Francis’ sprawling new encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” there are many mansions.  What everyone wants to know, of course, is whether the pope takes sides in our most polarizing debate. And he clearly does. After this document, there’s no doubting where Francis stands in the great argument of our time. But I don’t mean the argument between liberalism and conservatism. I mean the argument between dynamists and catastrophists. Dynamists are people who see 21st-century modernity as a basically successful civilization advancing toward a future that’s better than the past. They do not deny that problems exist, but they believe we can innovate our way through them while staying on an ever-richer, ever-more-liberated course. Dynamists of the left tend to put their faith in technocratic government; dynamists of the right, in the genius of free markets. But both assume that modernity is a success story whose best days are ahead. Catastrophists, on the other hand, see a global civilization that for all its achievements is becoming more atomized and balkanized, more morally bankrupt, more environmentally despoiled. What’s more, they believe that things cannot go on as they are: That the trajectory we’re on will end in crisis, disaster, dégringolade.  Like dynamists, catastrophists can be on the left or right, stressing different agents of our imminent demise. But they’re united in believing that current arrangements are foredoomed, and that only a true revolution can save us. This is Pope Francis’ position, and the controlling theme of his encyclical. It includes, as many liberals hoped and certain conservatives feared, a call to action against climate change, which will no doubt cause Republicans to squirm during political campaigns to come.

Few Echo Pope’s Environment Plea in Sunday Sermons -- On the first Sunday after Pope Francis issued a landmark document on the environment, Roman Catholics attending Mass in Kenya, France,MexicoPeru and the United States said they were thankful that he was using his pulpit to address climate change, pollution and global inequality. But few priests or bishops — other than in parts of Latin America — used their own pulpits on Sunday to pass on the pope’s message, according to parish visits, interviews with Catholic leaders and reports from Catholics after Mass. Despite the urgent call to action in Francis’ document and the international attention it received, it will take some time to know whether Catholic clergy are familiar or comfortable enough with its themes to preach them to the faithful.  It traditionally takes months for papal teaching documents, known as encyclicals, to be read, understood and disseminated. And this one, “Laudato Si’,” or “Praise Be to You: On Care for Our Common Home,” is long, nearly 200 pages, and intricately weaves spiritual and moral teachings with economic, scientific and political analysis. It includes a forceful denunciation of a global economic system that the pope says plunders the resources of the poor for the benefit of the rich, leaving the poor to disproportionately suffer the consequences, including the effects of climate change.

Why Pope Francis’s climate message is so hard for some Americans to swallow -  With the official release of Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment, it’s clear that several strains of thought prominent in the U.S. will be particularly challenged by the document. That includes U.S. individualists who tend to support limited government and fewer environmental restrictions — Rush Limbaugh has already accused Francis of Marxism — and also those who perceive a strong conflict between science and religion. The Pope’s entire case for caring for “our common home,” as he puts it, is moral. And the precise moral worldview being articulated — what might be called communitarianism, the idea that we’re all in it together, that “it takes a village” — deeply challenges an individualistic value system that research suggests is quite prevalent in the U.S. In several places in the text, indeed, the pope explicitly critiques “individualism” by name. “In the particular case of the United States of America, which does have a strong individualistic trend, we will be challenged by the Pope,” says Bill Patenaude, a Rhode Island based Catholic commentator who writes the blog Catholic Ecology. At the same time, the document also represents a mega-merger of religious faith and a vastness of carefully researched scientific information — challenging the conflict-focused way that so many Americans have been conditioned to think about the relationship between science and religion. In essence, then, the Pope rolls science and faith into a comprehensive statement about our global, common responsibility to address the planet’s vulnerability. Let’s take them in turn:

A Harvard Don is Enraged that Pope Francis is “Opposed to the World Economic Order”-  William K. Black --A New York Times article entitled “Championing Environment, Francis Takes Aim at Global Capitalism” quotes a conventional Harvard economist, Robert N. Stavins. Stavins is enraged by Pope Francis’ position on the environment because the Pope is “opposed to the world economic order.” The rage, unintentionally, reveals why conventional economics is the most dangerous ideology pretending to be a “science.” Stavins’ attacks on the Pope quickly became personal and dismissive. This is odd, for Pope Francis’ positions on the environment are the same as Stavins’ most important positions. Stavins’ natural response to the Pope’s views on the environment – had Stavin not been an economist – would have been along the lines of “Pope Francis is right, and we urgently need to make his vision a reality.” Stavins’ fundamental position is that there is an urgent need for a “radical restructuring” of the markets to prevent them from causing a global catastrophe. That is Pope Francis’ fundamental position. But Stavins ends up mocking and trying to discredit the Pope. I was struck by the similarity of Stavins response to Pope Francis to the rich man’s response to Jesus. Pope Francis’ positions on the environment and climate are the greatest boon that Stavin has received in decades. The Pope, like Stavins, tells us that climate change is a disaster that requires urgent governmental action to fix. Stavins could receive no more joyous news. Instead of being joyous, however, Stavins is sorrowful. Indeed, unlike the wealthy man who simply leaves after hearing the Rabbi’s views, Stavins rages at and heaps scorn on the prelate, Pope Francis. Pope Francis says, as did Jesus, that this means that we must not worship “free markets,” that we must think first of the poor, and that justice and fairness should be our guides to proper conduct. Stavins, like the wealthy young man, is forced to make a choice. He chooses “great possessions.” Unlike the wealthy young man, however, Stavins is enraged rather than “sorrowful” and Stavins lashes out at the religious leader. He is appalled that an Argentine was made Pope, for Pope Francis holds views “that are opposed to the world economic order [and] fearful of free markets.”

God Admits He Too Close To Creation To Judge Whether It Any Good Or Not - Saying that His opinion of the heavens and the earth seems to change every time He looks at them, The Lord Our God, Supreme Ruler of the Universe, admitted Monday that He is simply too close to His divine creation to judge whether it’s any good or not. “I worked on this thing for over 13 billion years, so sometimes I wonder whether I really have enough critical distance,” said God Almighty, adding that, having poured His heart and soul into the universe for so many eons, His attachment to it may be blinding Him to some of its flaws. “I’m still on the fence about certain creative choices I made, but there are also times when I feel like I’m probably being too critical about small corners I cut when making the cosmos—things that only I would ever notice. What I could really use is an outsider’s perspective.” At press time, the Lord had decided to step away from His work for a few millennia and hopefully come back to it with a fresh set of eyes.

E.P.A. Warns of High Cost of Climate Change -   the absence of global action to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the United States by the end of the century may face up to $180 billion in economic losses because of drought and water shortages, according to a report released Monday by the White House and Environmental Protection Agency. White House officials said the report, which analyzes the economic costs of a changing climate across 20 sectors of the American economy, is the most comprehensive effort to date to quantify the impacts of global warming. The report comes as President Obama is trying to build political support both at home and abroad for an ambitious climate change agenda. During the president’s six and a half years in office, the E.P.A. has released a series of regulations and legal decisions aimed at reining in planet-warming greenhouse gases from cars, trucks, power plants and airplanes. Mr. Obama hopes to use those regulations as leverage to broker a United Nations accord in Paris this December that would commit all nations to enacting similar emissions cuts.“That’s what we’re going to use to push other countries to join in global climate action,” The report used existing scientific and economic studies on the projected impacts of unchecked global climate change emissions. It compared those with a future in which global emissions are reduced enough to prevent a rise in average atmospheric temperatures of 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the point at which, scientists say, the planet will be locked into an irreversible future of rising sea levels, stronger storms, extreme drought, food shortages and other damages. The results were peer reviewed in scientific literature, and the summary report was independently reviewed by seven external experts.The report found that global policy to curb climate change could prevent 12,000 deaths from extreme heat and cold, or what it estimated as $200 billion in savings to the American economy by 2100. It also said climate policy could prevent 720 to 2,200 bridges from becoming structurally vulnerable for an estimated savings by the end of the century of $1.1 billion to $1.6 billion.

EPA report touts big benefit to US from global climate policies - The Obama administration unveiled a new weapon Monday in its fight against climate change, with a report showing billions of dollars in domestic benefits from aggressive international climate policies. The report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cuts across many areas of concern and sectors of the economy, including public health, electricity, water resources and agriculture. It’s meant to show Americans and world leaders alike what could happen by the end of the century if climate change goes unabated and what it would look like to cut greenhouse gas emissions significantly. It comes at an important time for President Obama’s climate agenda, as House Republicans vote this week on a pair of bills to significantly weaken or outright repeal the administration’s limits on power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions, the main and most controversial pillar of Obama’s second-term climate push....The analysis specifically looks at the benefits in the United States by the year 2100 if world leaders successfully limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.  It finds billions of dollars in avoided problems and costs in each of six areas: health, infrastructure, electricity, water resources, agriculture and forestry and ecosystems. It does not account for the costs of the carbon controls, since it does not analyze specific policies. But officials said the costs would pale in comparison to the benefits.

House Votes To Weaken And Delay The EPA’s Climate Rule  -- The House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday that would delay and weaken the federal government’s proposed regulations on power plant emissions. The bill, called the Ratepayer Protection Act and sponsored by Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), would allow governors to refuse to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which aims to curb greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants. Governors who claim that the regulations would have a “significant adverse effect” on electric bills or grid reliability in their states could opt out of making plans to cut power plant emissions.  “This is a worldwide problem and there’s no reason for the president of the United States to unilaterally punish America for what we’ve already accomplished,” Whitfield said of the carbon rule. “It’s such a power grab, unprecedented, that we are going to take it up on the floor today to delay this radical regulation.”  The bill, which passed 247-180, would also delay the implementation of the Clean Power Plan until all the court challenges surrounding the proposed regulation are resolved. Two of those lawsuits — one from a group of energy companies led by coal company Murray Energy Corp., and the other from a group of 15 states led by coal-heavy West Virginia — were dismissed earlier this year, when a judge ruled that because the rule isn’t yet finalized, it’s too early to be considering legal challenges. But once the rule is finalized, more lawsuits will likely be filed.

Indiana will defy Obama on climate change plan: — Indiana will not comply with President Barack Obama's plan to battle climate change by requiring reductions in emissions from coal-fired power plants, Republican Gov. Mike Pence said Wednesday. The proposal as currently written, known as the Clean Power Plan, will make Indiana electricity more expensive and less reliable and hurt economic growth in Indiana and across the nation, Pence wrote in a letter to Obama. The plan targets pollution from the coal-fired power plants that Indiana relies on. Pence said the Indiana coal industry employs more than 26,000 people. "If your administration proceeds to finalize the Clean Power Plan, and the final rule has not demonstrably and significantly improved from the proposed rule, Indiana will not comply. Our state will also reserve the right to use any legal means available to block the rule from being implemented," Pence wrote. Indiana is not the only state to defy the president on the issue. Oklahoma's Republican Gov. Mary Fallin issued an executive order in April prohibiting her state from developing a plan to reduce its carbon dioxide emission from power plants.

Combating Climate Change With Science, Rather Than Hope -  Is the American approach to combating climate change going off the rails?  Last year, President Obama set a goal of reducing carbon emissions by as much as 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025, only 10 years from now. Now, environmental experts are suggesting that some parts of the strategy are, at best, a waste of money and time. At worst, they are setting the United States in the wrong direction entirely.  That is the view of some of the world’s top environmental organizations, including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club. On Tuesday, they argued in a letter to the White House that allowing the burning of biomass to help reduce consumption of fossil fuels in the nation’s power plants, as proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency, would violate the Clean Air Act.  It’s also the view of economists from the University of Chicago and the University of California, Berkeley, who on Tuesday released the disappointing results of a field test of the federal Weatherization Assistance Program, the government’s largest effort to improve residential energy efficiency.  It turns out that burning biomass — wood, mainly — for power produces 50 percent more CO2 than burning coal. And even if new forest growth were to eventually suck all of it out of the atmosphere, it would take decades — perhaps more than a century — to make up the difference and break even with coal.   The energy efficiency push has a different problem: It is much too expensive. The weatherization improvements cost more than twice as much as households’ energy savings. Even after including the broad social benefits from less pollution, it was still a bad deal. Indeed, the program spent $329 per ton of CO2 it kept out of the air, some eight times as much as the administration’s estimate of the social cost of damages caused by carbon.

Warning: Climate Change Is Hazardous to Your Health - As 100-degree temperatures broke Washington, DC records on Tuesday, I was pleased to be at the White House Public Health and Climate Summit listening to Surgeon General Murthy tell the American people that climate disruption poses an extremely dangerous risk to Americans’ health. If this sounds familiar, it should. Fifty years ago Americans received a similar warning from then Surgeon General Terry, on the terrible health risks of smoking tobacco. With Surgeon General Terry’s warning, our country was made bluntly aware of the dangers of cigarettes and Tuesday, Surgeon General Murthy was just as direct about the severe health consequences of climate disruption. Climate disruption is fueled primarily by carbon pollution coming from fossil fuels and fossil fuel power plants contribute 40 percent of all U.S. carbon emissions. Therefore, it’s logical to think dirty fossil fuel burning power plants now deserve a bold-print warning label that lets Americans know of the dire consequences similar to a pack of cigarettes. As climate policy director at Sierra Club, people often ask me if I still use my public health degree and today the Surgeon General answered that question for me by making it abundantly clear that good climate policy is good health policy. The reverse is also true: if we keep burning fossil fuels like we are today, we will destroy our health and the health of our children. This message connecting two important facets of good government is what attracted pillars of the American medical community to the summit including the American Lung Association, the American Public Health Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics. It goes without saying that I was honored to be there with them and join them in celebrating the historical significance of Surgeon General Murthy’s words.

Dems propose carbon tax - Two Senate Democrats sponsored a bill Wednesday to institute an economy-wide tax on carbon dioxide emissions, revenue that would be returned through rebates and tax cuts. Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) pitched their proposal at an event hosted by the conservative American Enterprise Institute, saying that their bill aligns with conservative economic principles and Republicans should support it.  The tax would be charged at $45 per ton of carbon dioxide or equivalent greenhouse gases for coal, oil, natural gas and other hydrocarbons, collected at the place where it is produced or refined. “The basic idea is simple: you levy a price on a thing you don’t want — carbon pollution — and you use the revenue to help with things you do want,” Whitehouse said. “Whether you call them neighborhood effects or negative externalities, the effects of carbon pollution harm all of us.” Whitehouse said that effects of climate change from carbon emissions amounts to a subsidy for fossil fuels, and a carbon tax would significantly cut that subsidy. “Right now, for fossil fuel producers, that subsidy is immense, giving them artificial advantage over cleaner energy sources,” Whitehouse said. “A carbon fee can repair that failure by incorporating unpriced damage into the cost of fossil fuels. Then, the free market — not industry, not government — can drive the best energy mix for the country, with everyone competing on level ground.” Schatz said the proposal in the bill is for “a highly efficient tax to make sure that those who emit carbon pollution pay the full cost. By pricing carbon more accurately, our bill would drive down emissions and correct a market defect that has stunted the development of renewable energy.”

Everything You Should Know about Taxing Carbon -- From the pope’s encyclical to the upcoming United Nations conference in Paris, leaders are debating how to slow and eventually stop the warming of our planet.  We economists think we have an answer: put a price on carbon dioxide and the other gases driving climate change. When emissions are free, businesses, consumers, and governments pollute without thinking. But put a price on that pollution and watch how clean they become. That’s the theory.  But a carbon price that works well in principle may stumble in practice. A real carbon price will inevitably fall short of the theoretical ideal. Practical design challenges thus deserve close attention.To help policymakers, analysts, and the public address those challenges, we have published a new report, “Taxing Carbon: What, Why, and How,” on putting a price on carbon.Some highlights:
  • Lawmakers could put a price on carbon either by levying a tax or by setting a limit on emissions and allowing trading of emission rights.
  • Carbon prices already exist. At least 15 governments tax carbon outright, and more than 25 have emissions trading systems. Those efforts have demonstrated that the economists’ logic holds. If you put a price on carbon, people emit less.
  • Figuring out the appropriate tax rate is hard. The Obama administration estimates that the “social cost of carbon” is currently about $42 per metric ton. But the right figure could easily be double that, or half.
  • Taxing carbon could reduce the need for regulations, tax breaks, and other subsidies that currently encourage cleaner energy.
  • By itself, a carbon tax would be regressive: low-income families would bear a greater burden, relative to their incomes, than would high-income families. We can reduce that burden, or even reverse it, by recycling some carbon revenue into refundable tax credits or other tax cuts focused on low-income families.
  • By itself, a carbon tax would weaken the overall economy, at least for several decades. That too can be reduced, and perhaps even reversed, by recycling some carbon revenue into offsetting tax cuts, such as to corporate income taxes.
  • Unfortunately, there’s a tradeoff. The most progressive recycling options do the least to help economic growth. And the recycling options that do the most for growth would leave the tax system less progressive.

Trucking industry is O.K. with new fuel standards -- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing new fuel standards for heavy-duty trucks, such as semis, and the industry gives their full approval. The EPA is proposing higher standards for fuel efficiency of heavy-duty trucks, which the trucking industry is welcoming with open arms, considering it spent $150 billion on diesel fuel just last year, said the American Trucking Association (ATA). Bill Graves, President and CEO of the ATA, commented on the fuel standards changes Fuel is an enormous expense for our industry – and carbon emissions carry an enormous cost for our planet … That’s why our industry supported the Obama administration’s historic first round of greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards for medium and large trucks, and why we support the aims of this second round of standards.As reported by the Columbus Business First, “The new rules aim to reduce fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions by 24 percent for semi-trucks, large pickup trucks and vans, buses and work trucks. The new standards cover model years 2021-2027. The first round of fuel efficiency standards covered 2014-2018 models.” According to the EPA, the previous fuel standards cut carbon dioxide emissions by 270 million metric tons. The new standards will reduce CO2 emissions by another 1 million metric tons.

Why the Senate Must ‘Vote No’ on Fast-Tracking the TPP - Fast Track would railroad the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) through Congress. Thanks to leaks, we know that the TPP includes provisions that would harm the environment and accelerate climate change. A provision was even added to the Fast Track legislation forbidding climate issues from being included in U.S. trade pacts for the next six years.  After six years, TPP negotiations are almost completed but the text remains secret from the public and press and Congress only has limited access. But 500 official U.S. trade advisors mainly representing corporate interests have had special access to the negotiations and text and now want to use Fast Track to impose through the TPP an anti-environmental agenda that could not withstand open public debate. Thanks to leaks, we know that the TPP would empower foreign corporations to challenge our sovereign laws that protect the environment and our citizens by dragging the U.S. government to tribunals where corporate lawyers serve as “judges.” These tribunals would be empowered to order the U.S. government to pay corporation that claim our laws violate their new TPP rights unlimited taxpayer compensation for their lost future profits. In my own state of New York, where hundreds of thousands of people worked together to get a ban on fracking, we could be sued for billions of dollars for protecting our communities. This is not a hypothetical threat: already under a narrower version of these rules, the Lone Pine Corporation sued Canada demanding hundreds of millions in compensation for a moratorium on fracking under the St. Lawrence Seaway. If the TPP is Fast Tracked into place, overnight 9,000 additional foreign firms would have the rights to attack U.S. environmental policies. The European pact now being negotiated would quadruple our liability to these attacks—almost 40,000 new firms could newly use the tribunals to attack U.S. laws passed by Congress and state legislatures that our domestic courts have said were just fine.

G7: Make ‘climate fragility’ a foreign policy priority: No-one could have predicted in 2008 that seven years later Islamic State militants would be terrorizing eastern Syria and destroying ancient shrines. Nor could they have foreseen how many Syrians would drown in the Mediterranean as they made a desperate bid for Europe. But as the country entered its third year of drought – a symptom of climate change – the warning signs for conflict were mounting up. Cases like this are why “climate fragility” should be made a foreign policy priority, according to an in-depth report commissioned by the G7. UK foreign minister Baroness Anelay picks on Syria as an example of the importance of global warming to her brief. Speaking at the report’s London launch, she says: “Climate change is not only a threat to the environment but also to our global security, to poverty eradication and economic prosperity. “That therefore makes it a top priority not only for environment ministers but foreign ministers too.” Report: Climate change a likely factor in Syria civil war Drawing on scientific research, consultations in 10 countries and surveys of policymakers, the report aims to link climate change with humanitarian aid and peacebuilding. Where the climate community talks about “adaptation” to the effects of a warming world, the buzzwords here are “fragility” and its opposite, “resilience”. “The G7 has the capacity to be a leading force in setting the global resilience agenda,” says lead author Dan Smith.

Power grids brace for second big solar storm this week – Power grids across North America and Europe have been on high alert all week as two massive solar storms have battered Earth, threatening to disrupt electricity supplies to millions of homes and businesses. On Monday, PJM Interconnection, which coordinates power to 61 million people across 13 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, alerted generators and transmission companies as the first storm was upgraded from “strong” to “severe” by the U.S. government’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) in Boulder, Colorado. Controllers across the United States and Canada have been issuing similar warnings and preparing to stabilize their grids as unusually strong electromagnetic radiation emitted from the sun interacts with the Earth’s own magnetic field and induces freak currents across the electricity transmission network. A second storm is set to peak around 23:00 GMT on Wednesday, when highly charged particles which erupted from the surface of the Sun on Monday are forecast to reach Earth, according to the SWPC. Grid controllers aim to prevent a repeat of the events of the night of March 13-14, 1989, when a geomagnetic storm induced severe currents on high voltage power lines near the U.S.-Canadian border and created a cascading failure which knocked out the entire Hydro-Quebec power grid in just 92 seconds.

Why the Saudis Are Going Solar - Near Riyadh, the government is preparing to build a commercial-scale solar-panel factory. On the Persian Gulf coast, another factory is about to begin producing large quantities of polysilicon, a material used to make solar cells. And next year, the two state-owned companies that control the energy sector—Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil company, and the Saudi Electricity Company, the kingdom’s main power producer—plan to jointly break ground on about 10 solar projects around the country. The Saudis burn about a quarter of the oil they produce—and their domestic consumption has been rising at an alarming 7 percent a year. Turki heads two Saudi entities that are pushing solar hard: the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, a national research-and-development agency based in Riyadh, and Taqnia, a state-owned company that has made several investments in renewable energy and is looking to make more. “We have a clear interest in solar energy,” Turki told me. “And it will soon be expanding exponentially in the kingdom.” Such talk sounds revolutionary in Saudi Arabia, for decades a poster child for fossil-fuel waste. The government sells gasoline to consumers for about 50 cents a gallon and electricity for as little as 1 cent a kilowatt-hour, a fraction of the lowest prices in the United States. As a result, the highways buzz with Cadillacs, Lincolns, and monster SUVs; few buildings have insulation; and people keep their home air conditioners running—often at temperatures that require sweaters—even when they go on vacation.

The People v. the Coal Baron - Mr. Blankenship’s quasi-dictatorial management style as chief executive produced spectacular results for Massey, transforming it from a relatively modest business dominated by a single family into a corporation that operated more than 150 mines and brought in more than $2.6 billion in revenue. And Massey’s success lifted Mr. Blankenship out of an impoverished speck of Appalachia to a perch as one of West Virginia’s most feared and powerful figures. When he encountered politicians and judges who stood against his free-market, anti-regulatory views, he spent millions of dollars to end their careers or thwart their initiatives.  But on April 5, 2010, Mr. Blankenship’s singular role in West Virginia changed. That day, an explosion at the Massey-run Upper Big Branch coal mine in Montcoal, W.Va., killed 29 men; it was the deadliest disaster in the industry in 40 years. A government task force would ultimately determine that corners had been cut on important safety measures and that managers had hoodwinked regulators by tipping off miners about imminent inspections. Federal prosecutors came to the conclusion that Donald L. Blankenship, 65, was behind what they described as misconduct, and last November they indicted him on four criminal counts, including conspiracy to violate mine safety standards and conspiracy to impede federal mine safety officials. He could face up to 31 years in prison. The trial, originally scheduled to start in January, has been pushed to Oct. 1. Mr. Blankenship has pleaded not guilty. The indictment was hailed in The Charleston Gazette as a breakthrough, and denounced by Mr. Blankenship’s allies as politically motivated and grossly unfair. On one point, there was agreement: Federal authorities had taken a step without precedent in West Virginia.

Michigan lawmakers irate over Canada ‘s proposed burial site near Lake Huron - A first-of-its-kind underground nuclear waste dump proposed for excavation less than a mile from Lake Huron in Canada has prompted a heavy dose of fallout from U.S. politicians who want to see the waste stored elsewhere. At issue is Ontario Power Generation’s solution for coping with low- and medium-level waste from 20 reactors operating in the province. The publicly owned utility has been pursuing underground storage for almost 15 years and won an endorsement last month from an advisory panel that recommended construction of a “deep geological repository” by Canadian Minister of Environment Leona Aglukkaq. The review panel under the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission found no reason to not move forward with what would be the first such operating project in North America and the first anywhere to dig a nuclear repository out of limestone rock formations. Crucially, the site would not house spent fuel rods, though there is a separate process afoot in Canada much like the ongoing battle over Yucca Mountain , Nev. , in the United States to find a suitable long-term federal site for high-level radioactive waste.

Aging Nuclear Power Plant Must Close Before It Closes Us - We must face facts regarding the Indian Point nuclear plant. Its infrastructure is aging, its safety is dubious and most everyone knows it. What many people don’t know is that it can be replaced at little cost to ratepayers—and energy technologies taking its place would create new economic opportunities for New York.  Indian Point—just 38 miles north of New York City—is vulnerable to terrorism, has 2,000 tons of radioactive waste packed into leaking pools and relies on an unworkable evacuation plan. While some argue that transformer accidents—such as the one that occurred last month—can happen at any power facility, they happen with astonishing frequency at Indian Point. Its age is problematic: You wouldn’t rely on a 40-year-old appliance, why extend this trust to a nuclear plant? Moreover, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) says Indian Point 3 has the highest risk of earthquake damage of all the nation’s reactors. About 20 million people live within 50 miles of Indian Point. If a catastrophic accident occurred, the consequences would be unimaginable.

What's Really Going On At Fukushima? --  Fukushima’s still radiating, self-perpetuating, immeasurable, and limitless, like a horrible incorrigible Doctor Who monster encounter in deep space.  Fukushima will likely go down in history as the biggest cover-up of the 21st Century.Governments and corporations are not leveling with citizens about the risks and dangers; similarly, truth itself, as an ethical standard, is at risk of going to shambles as the glue that holds together the trust and belief in society’s institutions. Ultimately, this is an example of how societies fail.  Tens of thousands of Fukushima residents remain in temporary housing more than four years after the horrific disaster of March 2011. Some areas on the outskirts of Fukushima have officially reopened to former residents, but many of those former residents are reluctant to return home because of widespread distrust of government claims that it is okay and safe. Part of this reluctance has to do with radiation’s symptoms. It is insidious because it cannot be detected by human senses. People are not biologically equipped to feel its power, or see, or hear, touch or smell it (Caldicott). Not only that, it slowly accumulates over time in a dastardly fashion that serves to hide its effects until it is too late.  Dr. Caldicott gave a speech about Fukushima at Seattle Town Hall (9/28/14). Pirate Television recorded her speech; here’s the link:  Dr. Helen Caldicott is co-founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility, and she is author/editor of Crisis Without End: The Medical and Ecological Consequences of the Fukushima Nuclear Catastrophe. For over four decades Dr. Caldicott has been the embodiment of the anti-nuclear banner, and as such, many people around the world classify her as a “national treasure.” She’s truthful and honest and knowledgeable.  Fukushima is literally a time bomb in quiescence. Another powerful quake and all hell could break loose. Also, it is not even close to being under control. Rather, it is totally out of control. According to Dr. Caldicott, “It’s still possible that Tokyo may have to be evacuated, depending upon how things go.” Imagine that!