EPA plans to ignore thousands of deaths by changing its methods of risk assessment

The New York Times reports:

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to change the way it calculates the future health risks of air pollution, a shift that would predict thousands of fewer deaths and would help justify the planned rollback of a key climate change measure, according to five people with knowledge of the agency’s plans.

The proposed change would dramatically reduce the 1,400 additional premature deaths per year that the E.P.A. had initially forecast as a result of eliminating the old climate change regulation — the Clean Power Plan, which was President Barack Obama’s signature climate change measure. It would also make it easier for the administration to defend its replacement, known as the Affordable Clean Energy rule.

It has been a constant struggle for the E.P.A. to demonstrate, as it is normally expected to do, that society will see more benefits than costs from major regulatory changes. This is one of many examples of the Trump administration downgrading the estimates of environmental harm from pollution in regulations.

The new modeling method, which experts said has never been peer-reviewed and is not scientifically sound, would most likely be used by the Trump administration to defend further rollbacks of air pollution rules if it is formally adopted. But the proposed change is unusual because it relies on unfounded medical assumptions and discards more than a decade of peer-reviewed E.P.A. methods for understanding the health hazards linked to the fine particulate matter produced by burning fossil fuels. [Continue reading…]

Air pollution is deadlier than tobacco smoking

The Guardian reports:

Air pollution may be damaging every organ and virtually every cell in the human body, according to a comprehensive new global review.

The research shows head-to-toe harm, from heart and lung disease to diabetes and dementia, and from liver problems and bladder cancer to brittle bones and damaged skin. Fertility, foetuses and children are also affected by toxic air, the review found.

The systemic damage is the result of pollutants causing inflammation that then floods through the body and ultrafine particles being carried around the body by the bloodstream.

Air pollution is a “public health emergency”, according to the World Health Organization, with more than 90% of the global population enduring toxic outdoor air. New analysis indicates 8.8m early deaths each year – double earlier estimates – making air pollution a bigger killer than tobacco smoking. [Continue reading…]

Plastic waste pact approved with U.S. among few holdouts

The Associated Press reports:

Almost every country in the world has agreed on a legally binding framework for reducing polluting plastic waste, with the United States a notable exception, United Nations environmental officials said Friday.

An agreement on tracking thousands of types of plastic waste emerged at the end of a two-week meeting of U.N.-backed conventions on plastic waste and toxic, hazardous chemicals. Discarded plastic clutters pristine land, floats in huge masses in oceans and entangles wildlife, sometimes with deadly results.

Rolph Payet of the United Nations Environment Program said the “historic” agreement linked to the 186-country, U.N.-supported Basel Convention means countries will have to monitor and track movements of plastic waste outside their borders.

“It’s sending a very strong political signal to the rest of the world — to the private sector, to the consumer market — that we need to do something,” Payet said. “Countries have decided to do something which will translate into real action on the ground.”

The deal affects products used in a broad array of industries, such as health care, technology, aerospace, fashion, and food and beverages.

Countries will have to figure out their own ways of adhering to the accord, Payet said. Even the few non-signatory countries, like the United States, could be impacted when they ship plastic waste to countries that are on board. [Continue reading…]

U.S. fossil fuel subsidies exceed Pentagon spending, says IMF

Rolling Stone reports:

The United States has spent more subsidizing fossil fuels in recent years than it has on defense spending, according to a new report from the International Monetary Fund.

The IMF found that direct and indirect subsidies for coal, oil and gas in the U.S. reached $649 billion in 2015. Pentagon spending that same year was $599 billion.

The study defines “subsidy” very broadly, as many economists do. It accounts for the “differences between actual consumer fuel prices and how much consumers would pay if prices fully reflected supply costs plus the taxes needed to reflect environmental costs” and other damage, including premature deaths from air pollution. [Continue reading…]

Humans are wiping out life on Earth

The New York Times reports:

Humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscapes so dramatically that as many as one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction, posing a dire threat to ecosystems that people all over the world depend on for their survival, a sweeping new United Nations assessment has concluded.

The 1,500-page report, compiled by hundreds of international experts and based on thousands of scientific studies, is the most exhaustive look yet at the decline in biodiversity across the globe and the dangers that creates for human civilization. A summary of its findings, which was approved by representatives from the United States and 131 other countries, was released Monday in Paris. The full report is set to be published this year.

Its conclusions are stark. In most major land habitats, from the savannas of Africa to the rain forests of South America, the average abundance of native plant and animal life has fallen by 20 percent or more, mainly over the past century. With the human population passing 7 billion, activities like farming, logging, poaching, fishing and mining are altering the natural world at a rate “unprecedented in human history.”

At the same time, a new threat has emerged: Global warming has become a major driver of wildlife decline, the assessment found, by shifting or shrinking the local climates that many mammals, birds, insects, fish and plants evolved to survive in. [Continue reading…]

Loss of biodiversity is just as catastrophic as climate change

Robert Watson writes:

A colleague recently described how fish would swim into her clothing when she was a child bathing in the ocean off the coast of Vietnam, but today the fish are gone and her children find the story far-fetched.

Another recalled his experiences just last year in Cape Town – one of the world’s most attractive tourism and leisure destinations – when more than 2 million people faced the nightmare prospect of all taps, in every home and business, running dry.

These instances, on opposite sides of the world, are two faces of the same problem; the relentless pressure we are putting on biodiversity and the contributions that nature makes to our wellbeing, and the way we humans are changing the Earth’s climate.

The rich variety of nature provides us with the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe, and countless moments of personal inspiration spent in forests and mountains, exploring beaches and rivers, or even listening to a simple birdsong in a quiet moment.

We have all assumed that nature would always be here for us and our children. However, our boundless consumption, shortsighted reliance on fossil fuels and our unsustainable use of nature now seriously threaten our future.

Environmentalists, scientists and indigenous peoples have been sounding the alarm for decades. Our understanding of the overexploitation of the planet has advanced with grim, sharp clarity over that time.

We have entered an era of rapidly accelerating species extinction, and are facing the irreversible loss of plant and animal species, habitats and vital crops, while coming face to face with the horrific impacts of global climate change. [Continue reading…]

Biodiversity crisis is about to put humanity at risk, UN scientists to warn

The Guardian reports:

The world’s leading scientists will warn the planet’s life-support systems are approaching a danger zone for humanity when they release the results of the most comprehensive study of life on Earth ever undertaken.

Up to 1m species are at risk of annihilation, many within decades, according to a leaked draft of the global assessment report, which has been compiled over three years by the UN’s leading research body on nature.

The 1,800-page study will show people living today, as well as wildlife and future generations, are at risk unless urgent action is taken to reverse the loss of plants, insects and other creatures on which humanity depends for food, pollination, clean water and a stable climate.

The final wording of the summary for policymakers is being finalised in Paris by a gathering of experts and government representatives before the launch on Monday, but the overall message is already clear, according to Robert Watson, the chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

“There is no question we are losing biodiversity at a truly unsustainable rate that will affect human wellbeing both for current and future generations,” he said. “We are in trouble if we don’t act, but there are a range of actions that can be taken to protect nature and meet human goals for health and development.” [Continue reading…]

Indigenous Waorani win landmark legal case against Ecuador government

Al Jazeera reports:

The indigenous Waorani community in Ecuador won a landmark lawsuit on Friday against three government bodies for conducting a faulty consultation process with the community before putting their territory up for sale in an international oil auction.

The ruling immediately suspends any possibility of selling the community’s land for oil exploration. It also sets an important precedent for other communities in Ecuador’s southern Amazon rainforest, trying to keep oil extraction out of their territories.

“Today, the courts recognise that the Waorani people, and all indigenous peoples, have rights over our territories that must be respected,” said Nemonte Nenquimo, one of the Waorani plaintiffs and representative of the Coordinating Council of the Waorani Nationality Ecuador Pastaza (CONCONAWEP).

“The government’s interests in oil is not more valuable than our rights, our forests, our lives,” she added. [Continue reading…]

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…]