When did Donald Trump become an environmentalist?

Well before he became a presidential candidate, Donald Trump professed a deep concern about the welfare of birds endangered by wind turbines:

“[Wind power] kills all the birds,” Trump told 2012 Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain on the latter’s radio show Tuesday. “Thousands of birds are lying on the ground. And the eagle. You know, certain parts of California — they’ve killed so many eagles. You know, they put you in jail if you kill an eagle. And yet these windmills [kill] them by the hundreds.”

Wind turbines do kill birds — but not in the numbers Trump claims.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service reported in 2018, based on data published between 2008 and 2015, that:

Bird/turbine collisions in California are estimated to be an average 7.85 birds/turbine/year, higher than in the East (6.86 birds/turbines/year), the West (4.72 birds/turbine/year), and the Great Plains (2.92 birds/turbine/year).

The agency says that in aggregate:

The most comprehensive and statistically sound estimates show that bird deaths from turbine collisions are between 140,000 and 500,000 birds per year. As wind energy capacity increases under the DOE’s mandate (a six-fold increase from current levels), statistical models predict that mean bird deaths resulting in collisions with turbines could reach 1.4 million birds/year.

But during his first year in office, it was clear how much concern Trump actually had about birds. In December, 2017, Huffpost reported:

In a reversal of yet another Obama-era rule, the Trump administration has moved to protect energy companies and other parties from being prosecuted for unintentionally killing migratory bird species.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 only prohibits the intentional hunting, capturing or killing of bird species, according to a legal opinion the Interior Department’s solicitor’s office published Friday. Accidental deaths, including those caused by oil rigs, wind turbines and power lines, will no longer violate federal law.

So where does Trump’s opposition to wind turbines come from? The clearest articulation of his concern almost certainly relates to the value of his golf courses and his expectation that their appeal to customers would diminish if wind turbines were allowed to spoil the surrounding views.

As Trump wrote to Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond in 2012:

Wind turbines in inappropriate locations are a disastrous mistake for Scotland. They will certainly be very destructive to major golf resorts (such as mine) and tourism will greatly suffer.

Trump made no reference to the threat to birds.

In another letter to Salmond, Trump predicted that the installation of wind turbines would result in Scotland becoming “a third world wasteland that global investors will avoid.” Again, no mention of birds.

Among the human-caused threats to birds, the greatest currently comes from domestic cats that kill an estimated average of 2.4 billion birds a year in the U.S. After that, the largest hazard is posed by buildings — especially the kind that Trump owns — that kill an estimated average of 600 million a year. Moreover, as The Guardian now reports, that figure may be as high as a billion:

Scientists estimate that at least 100 million and maybe as many as a billion birds die each year in the US when they collide with buildings, especially glass-covered or illuminated skyscrapers. And, in a new report, conservationists now have a better idea which American cities are the deadliest for those on the wing.

Chicago, with its many glass superstructures that spike into what is the busiest US avian airspace during migration, is the most dangerous city for those feathered travelers. More than 5 million birds from at least 250 different species fly through the Windy City’s downtown every fall and spring.

They journey twice a year, many thousands of miles, going north in the spring from Central and South America, across the Great Lakes to Canada, and back south in the fall.

So wherever Trump brags about owning the tallest building, it’s reasonable to also infer it’s the building that kills the most birds.

Coral reproduction on the Great Barrier Reef falls 89% after repeated bleaching

By Morgan Pratchett, James Cook University

The severe and repeated bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef has not only damaged corals, it has reduced the reef’s ability to recover.

Our research, published today in Nature, found far fewer baby corals are being produced than are needed to replace the large number of adult corals that have died. The rate at which baby corals are settling on the Great Barrier Reef has fallen by nearly 90% since 2016.

While coral does not always die after bleaching, repeated bleaching has killed large numbers of coral. This new research has negative implications for the Reef’s capacity to recover from high ocean temperatures.

[Read more…]

The natural world can help save us from climate catastrophe

George Monbiot writes:

I don’t expect much joy in writing about climate breakdown. On one side, there is grief and fear; on the other side, machines. I became an environmentalist because I love the living world, but I spend much of my life thinking about electricity, industrial processes and civil engineering. Technological change is essential, but to a natural historian it often feels cold and distancing. Today, however, I can write about something that thrills me: the most exciting field of research I have covered in years.

Most climate scientists agree that it is now too late to prevent 1.5C or more of global heating only by cutting our production of greenhouse gases. Even if we reduced our emissions to zero tomorrow, we would probably overshoot this crucial temperature limit. To prevent a full-spectrum catastrophe, we need not only to decarbonise our economy in the shortest possible time, but also to draw down carbon dioxide that has already been released.

But how? The best-known proposal is called bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). This means growing wood or straw in plantations, burning it in power stations to produce electricity, capturing the carbon dioxide from the exhaust gases and burying it in geological formations. Yet, if deployed at scale, it is likely to trigger either an ecological or a humanitarian disaster.

One BECCS proposal, favoured by certain governments, would cover an area three times the size of India with plantations. This involves converting agricultural land, in which case BECCS would cause mass starvation, or converting wild land, in which case almost lifeless plantations would replace 50% of the world’s remaining natural forests. Even so, it might not be effective, as any carbon savings would be counteracted by the use of nitrogen fertiliser and the release of greenhouse gases from the soil as it’s churned up for planting. BECCS can lead only to catastrophe, and should be immediately abandoned.

Another option is direct air capture: extracting carbon dioxide with machines. Aside from the expense, which is likely to be massive, the amount of steel and concrete required to build these machines could help to push the world beyond certain climate tipping points before the positive effects are felt.

None of this is necessary, however, because there is a much better and cheaper way of drawing carbon from the air. [Continue reading…]

Insects have ‘no place to hide’ from climate change, study warns

The Guardian reports:

Insects have “no place to hide” from climate change, scientists have warned, following an analysis of 50 years of UK data.

The study showed that woodlands, whose shade was expected to protect species from warming temperatures, are being just as affected by climate change as open grasslands.

The research examined the first springtime flights of butterflies, moths and aphids and the first eggs of birds between 1965 and 2012. As average temperatures have risen, aphids are now emerging a month earlier, while birds were laying eggs a week earlier. The scientists said this can mean animals become “out of sync” with their prey, with potentially serious ramifications for ecosystems.

Researchers are increasingly concerned about dramatic drops in populations of insects, which underpin much of nature. Some warned in February that these falls threaten a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems” and the widespread loss of pollinating insects in recent decades in Britain was revealed in March.

Other studies, from Germany and Puerto Rico, have shown plunging numbers in the last 25-35 years, while new research shows butterflies have declined by at least 84% in the Netherlands over the last 130 years. [Continue reading…]

Across the Middle East and North Africa, environmentalists are coming under attack like never before

Peter Schwartzstein writes:

Conservation NGOs have been closed or so suffocated that they’re as good as dissolved. Activists and experts have been threatened into silence—or worse. A community that had until recently mostly escaped the fate of much of the region’s civil society has suddenly fallen afoul of the authorities. Its plight mirrors the difficulties faced by environmentalists worldwide. Globally, 197 environmental defenders were killed in 2017, according to the UN Environment Programme, a fivefold increase from a decade ago.

There’s little mystery to why this is happening. Debilitating droughts, worsening pollution, and soaring temperatures have contributed to severe resource scarcity in the Middle East and North Africa in recent years. And as environment-related unrest has proliferated, with protests in at least a dozen regional countries, people who were previously viewed as largely harmless “tree huggers” have been reappraised as spy-gear-wielding, frontier-traipsing, data-sharing threats. In a sad repetition of the security-state playbook, they, too, must now be co-opted or crushed.

“The intelligence system now feels that environment is a space that they need to be afraid of, because it can unite a lot of opposition voices, a lot of anger,” Kaveh Madani, a senior fellow at Yale University and a visiting professor at Imperial College London, told me. Madani served as deputy head of Iran’s Department of Environment until he was arrested and then fled the country last spring. “Over the years, they’ve seen the problems increase and felt that things were getting out of control.” [Continue reading…]

Trump’s order to open Arctic waters to oil drilling was unlawful, federal judge finds

The New York Times reports:

In a major legal blow to President Trump’s push to expand offshore oil and gas development, a federal judge ruled that an executive order by Mr. Trump that lifted an Obama-era ban on oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean and parts of the North Atlantic coast was unlawful.

The decision, by Judge Sharon L. Gleason of the United States District Court for the District of Alaska, concluded late Friday that President Barack Obama’s 2015 and 2016 withdrawal from drilling of about 120 million acres of Arctic Ocean and about 3.8 million acres in the Atlantic “will remain in full force and effect unless and until revoked by Congress.” She wrote that an April 2017 executive order by Mr. Trump revoking the drilling ban “is unlawful, as it exceeded the president’s authority.”

The decision, which is expected to be appealed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, immediately reinstates the drilling ban on most of the Arctic Ocean off the coast of Alaska, a pristine region home to endangered species including polar bears and bowhead whales where oil companies have long sought to drill. Along the Atlantic coast, it blocks drilling around a series of coral canyons that run from Norfolk, Va., to the Canadian border which are home to unique deepwater corals and rare fish species. [Continue reading…]

The plague killing frogs everywhere is far worse than scientists thought

Carl Zimmer reports:

On Thursday, 41 scientists published the first worldwide analysis of a fungal outbreak that’s been wiping out frogs for decades. The devastation turns out to be far worse than anyone had previously realized.

Writing in the journal Science, the researchers conclude that populations of more than 500 species of amphibians have declined significantly because of the outbreak — including at least 90 species presumed to have gone extinct. The figure is more than twice as large as earlier estimates.

“That’s fairly seismic,” said Wendy Palen, a biologist at Simon Fraser University who is a co-author of a commentary accompanying the study. “It now earns the moniker of the most deadly pathogen known to science.”

Scientists first noticed in the 1970s that some frog populations were declining quickly; by the 1980s, some species appeared to be extinct. The losses were puzzling, because the frogs were living in pristine habitats, unharmed by pollution or deforestation. [Continue reading…]

Interior nominee intervened to block report on endangered species

The New York Times reports:

After years of effort, scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Service had a moment of celebration as they wrapped up a comprehensive analysis of the threat that three widely used pesticides present to hundreds of endangered species, like the kit fox and the seaside sparrow.

“Woohoo!” Patrice Ashfield, then a branch chief at Fish and Wildlife Service headquarters, wrote to her colleagues in August 2017.

Their analysis found that two of the pesticides, malathion and chlorpyrifos, were so toxic that they “jeopardize the continued existence” of more than 1,200 endangered birds, fish and other animals and plants, a conclusion that could lead to tighter restrictions on use of the chemicals.

But just before the team planned to make its findings public in November 2017, something unexpected happened: Top political appointees of the Interior Department, which oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service, blocked the release and set in motion a new process intended to apply a much narrower standard to determine the risks from the pesticides.

Leading that intervention was David Bernhardt, then the deputy secretary of the interior and a former lobbyist and oil-industry lawyer. In October 2017, he abruptly summoned staff members to the first of a rapid series of meetings in which the Fish and Wildlife Service was directed to take the new approach, one that pesticide makers and users had lobbied intensively to promote. [Continue reading…]

Protecting indigenous lands protects the environment. Trump and Bolsonaro threaten both

Deb Haaland and Joênia Wapichana write:

On Tuesday, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will meet with President Trump at the White House. Both administrations are pushing a host of policies that are detrimental to the rights of indigenous people. As two of the first female indigenous members of Congress in the United States and Brazil, respectively, we are concerned about these policies and the mounting threats facing our communities. We must stand up against toxic rhetoric and brutal attacks on the rights of indigenous peoples.

Indigenous communities from Standing Rock to the Amazon are leading the way on protecting our Earth. Recent research has found that indigenous peoples in control of their lands are the most effective stewards of climate-regulating tropical forests. In the United States, Standing Rock was a culmination of indigenous people organizing to protect their resources. More recently, indigenous groups in New Mexico helped prevent the lease sale of Chaco Canyon for oil and gas development, defending sacred lands and heritage from harmful extraction.

Yet indigenous environmental defenders face tremendous risks, encountering pushback and even criminalization for simply protecting critical family resources. We saw it in Standing Rock, when police had confrontations with peaceful protesters. We see it now in Brazil, which is the deadliest country for environmental defenders in the world, with intimidation and lethal violence falling heavily on indigenous peoples and land rights activists. [Continue reading…]

As costs skyrocket, more U.S. cities stop recycling

The New York Times reports:

Recycling, for decades an almost reflexive effort by American households and businesses to reduce waste and help the environment, is collapsing in many parts of the country.

Philadelphia is now burning about half of its 1.5 million residents’ recycling material in an incinerator that converts waste to energy. In Memphis, the international airport still has recycling bins around the terminals, but every collected can, bottle and newspaper is sent to a landfill. And last month, officials in the central Florida city of Deltona faced the reality that, despite their best efforts to recycle, their curbside program was not working and suspended it.

Those are just three of the hundreds of towns and cities across the country that have canceled recycling programs, limited the types of material they accepted or agreed to huge price increases.

“We are in a crisis moment in the recycling movement right now,” said Fiona Ma, the treasurer of California, where recycling costs have increased in some cities.

Prompting this nationwide reckoning is China, which until January 2018 had been a big buyer of recyclable material collected in the United States. That stopped when Chinese officials determined that too much trash was mixed in with recyclable materials like cardboard and certain plastics. After that, Thailand and India started to accept more imported scrap, but even they are imposing new restrictions.

The turmoil in the global scrap markets began affecting American communities last year, and the problems have only deepened. [Continue reading…]