The last year has been unprecedented in terms of climate change and climate news. President Trump pulling out of the Paris Agreement while two other remaining holdouts signed on, making the United States now the only country in the world that is not a signatory. Not only that, but he rolled back environmental regulations on everything from oil drilling to pesticide use.
In the face of inaction from the U.S. government, it is up to states, cities, and individuals to step up and be even more active on behalf of the environment. Everything from being better about recycling to writing to your Congresspeople and Senators will be a huge help in the fight for the earth.
May the New Year be filled with positive news about the climate and newly energized climate activists who are shining a light on the things the current U.S. government is doing to destroy our climate. It’s time for us to get engaged, get active, and make the environment a priority, both individually and politically.
There’s a new charity in town—one whose goal is to launch a global reforestation project to counteract negative effects caused by the Trump administration’s policies and actions on climate issues.
Founded by two twenty-something activists in New Zealand who, according to the Huffington Post, “felt compelled to act after Trump’s executive order in March that essentially prioritized the fossil fuel industry over the environment,” the goal is for Trump Forest (tagline: “where ignorance grows trees”) to grow so large that it can offset the additional carbon released into the atmosphere if the White House rolls back the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.
The target of the campaign, called “Make Earth Great Again,” is to have more than 110 billion trees donated to local tree-planting organizations.
Dr. Daniel Price, a climate scientist and glaciologist based in New Zealand, is one of the three activists. He said, “We wanted something tangible that people could do that would actually have a physical impact on what the U.S. government is doing.”
Participants in Trump Forest can use the projects website to donate to Eden Reforestation Projects, a charity that plants trees in Madagascar, or make a donation in Trump’s name to a local tree-planting organization.
As of August 4, the number of trees pledged has hit the 50,000 mark since it launched in March of 2017.
Activist Adrien Taylor, also based in New Zealand, has paid about NZ$3,000 (about $2,100 US) to plant the first 1,000 trees along the Port Hills mountain range near Christchurch.
“We’re working with the nonprofit Trees for Canterbury, which specializes in planting native trees throughout the Canterbury region of New Zealand and the South Island, as well as the local city council,” Taylor told Fast Company. But, Taylor said, “We have no intention of making any money from this, or handling money in any way whatsoever. If you do make a pledge, we’ll link you to reputable local or international tree-planting organizations. You will make the donation directly to them.”
The Trump Forest team will ask for a receipt so they can visualize its global forestry efforts—a virtual map that will allow viewers to see all the trees planted in response to the Trump administration’s environmental policies.
“I think the real and exciting part of this is that there’s an actual benefit growing from Trump’s stupidity,” Taylor said.
On June 14, a federal judge put a temporary block on the use of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline by stating that the Army Corps of Engineers needs to reconsider some of its environmental impact studies.
U.S. district judge James Boasberg said that the corps had failed to take into account the level to which a spill might affect “fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice, or the degree to which the pipeline’s effects are likely to be highly controversial.”
Boasberg had previously rejected two of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s appeals—one based on the fact that construction threatened sites of historical and cultural significance to the tribe, and the other that oil in the pipeline under Lake Oahe would damage sacred waters.
“Now that the court has rejected these two lines of attack, Standing Rock and Cheyenne River here take their third shot, this time zeroing in on DAPL’s environmental impact,” Boasberg wrote in his decision. “This volley meets with some degree of success.”
The judge wrote that while the Army Corps of Engineers had “substantially complied” with the National Environmental Policy Act, federal permits issued for the pipeline were in violation of the law in certain ways. “To remedy those violations, the Corps will have to reconsider those sections of its environmental analysis upon remand by the Court,” Boasberg wrote.
Later on, the judge will consider whether the pipeline must halt operations while the additional research is being conducted. A status conference is scheduled for the week of June 19.
Whether the pipeline is shut during the review or not depends on whether the omissions in the Corps’ analysis can be addressed quickly, or whether they’re large errors that might require more study.
“We applaud the courts for protecting our laws and regulations from undue political influence, and we will ask the Court to shut down pipeline operations immediately,” Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault said in a statement.
Just days after being sworn in, President Trump issued an executive order directing the Corps to do whatever it needed to do to get the pipeline construction underway. In February, the Corps granted the final easement needed to finish the pipeline.
This decision marks “an important turning point,” said Jan Hasselman, attorney for Earthjustice, which is representing the tribes in the lawsuit. “Until now, the rights of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe have been disregarded by the builders of the Dakota Access pipeline and the Trump administration…prompting a well-deserved global outcry.”
Although the protests by the Standing Rock tribe and its allies were effectively over in February, when the main encampment was cleared and the pipeline completed, this decision by Judge Boasberg shows that the struggle for justice—both for the environment and for the tribe—is not over yet.
At least five academic scientists have been dismissed from a major review board, according to the New York Times.
J.P. Freire, a spokesman for EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, said Pruitt would consider replacing the academic scientists with representatives from industries that are supposed to be regulated by the EPA. “The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community,” Freire said.
This isn’t a surprising move, given that Pruitt is a former oil company executive who has questioned human-caused climate change—something that has been agreed on by at least 97 percent of the scientific community—and has been tasked by President Trump to roll back Obama-era regulations on clean water protection and climate change.
The scientists were dismissed from the 18-member Board of Scientific Counselors, which reviews and evaluates the research conducted by the EPA’s scientists.
“We want to expand the pool of applicants” for the scientific board, Freire said, “to as broad a range as possible, to include universities that aren’t typically represented and issues that aren’t typically represented.”
Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said, “This is completely part of a multifaceted effort to get science out of the way of a deregulation agenda.”
“I see the dismissal of the scientists from the Board of Scientific Counselors as a test balloon,” said Joseph Arvai of the University of Michigan, a member of the Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), a 47-member commission that advises the EPA on areas on where it should conduct research and evaluates the scientific integrity of EPA regulations. “This is clearly very political, and we should be very concerned if it goes further.”
On the other hand, Texas Republican Representative Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, said the SAB had become nothing but a rubber-stamp organization that approves all of the EPA’s regulations. He wrote a bill designed to restock that board with more members from the business world.
“The EPA routinely stacks this board with friendly scientists who receive millions of dollars in grants from the federal government,” Smith said. “The conflict of interest here is clear.”
“Today I was Trumped,” Robert Richardson, an environmental economist wrote on Twitter. “I have had the pleasure of serving on the EPA Board of Scientific Counselors, and my appointment was terminated today.”
“I believe this is political,” said Dr. Courtney Flint, a professor of natural resource sociology at Utah State University, said of the dismissals from the Board of Science Counselors. “It’s unexpected. It’s a red flag.”
The EPA periodically performs controlled human inhalation exposure (CHIE) studies, in which people are exposed to air pollutants in order to study their short-term effects. The concentration and duration of such exposure is minimal, intended to not have any lasting harm on participants, and of 845 such participants in eight studies between 2009 and 2016, only one person had an unexpected complication.
But that does mean that there is some potential risk to participants who, while they are provided with information about the potential risks of such studies, are given that information through highly technical consent forms. The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recently finished a study that found that the value of the CHIE studies outweighs their risk, with some caveats.
Primarily, they suggest that the EPA develop clearer language for participant consent forms, in order to prevent further dangers. “While communicating with potential participants, it’s particularly important to appropriately characterize the risks,” said Robert Hiatt, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco. “EPA needs to make every effort to ensure that these descriptions are accurate, scientifically grounded, and comprehensible to people.”
But overall, the studies have been found to benefit society far more than they endanger participants, which is exactly what one might want from such studies. By looking at how pollutants interact with human biology on their own, we can learn more about those pollutants in particular, which informs laws about air quality. It also helps us to determine what might be to blame when pollutants mix in the atmosphere and cause otherwise unforeseen problems.
The findings by the National Academy come at a time when the EPA is under considerable scrutiny by Congress and the President. Anything that can help the EPA prove that they’re helping the American people will be welcome in keeping that agency funded and active, which is necessary if we’re to do anything about climate change and other human activities which damage the planet.
On Tuesday, March 28, President Trump signed an executive order that rescinded Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The president lifted carbon emissions regulations in order to resume coal-mining operations.
“My administration is putting an end to the war on coal,” Trump asserted. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy to reverse government intrusions and to cancel job killing regulations.”
Environmentalists saw this coming from a mile away. They tried to voice their concerns in the form of protests, but their collective cries fell on deaf ears. That’s because money appears to be the only language that the current administration understands. In other words, the time for talking about sustainability is over. It’s time to take action by investing in clean energy alternatives.
Some companies, such as private equity firm KKR, are already leading the way in this regard. KKR has invested an astounding $5 billion into ESG (environment, social, and governance) driven companies.
“Investors can play a central role in resolving some of the global challenges in a way that civil society or government organizations cannot do alone,” writes Ken Mehlman, Member and Global Head of Public Affairs at KKR. “Our portfolio company Afriflora is a good example. Located in Ethiopia, Afriflora cultivates and produces Fair Trade Certified, sustainably-grown roses.”
It’s like the old saying goes: money talks. And while the average citizen certainly can’t afford to shell out the kind of dough that KKR does, they can still make an impact by purchasing small shares of green companies.
So which companies should environmentalists invest in? According to Investopedia, the top four alternative energy stocks for 2017 are:
NRG Yield Inc.
Atlantica Yield PLC
Covanta Holding Corp.
If there’s anything that the current administration has taught us, it’s that climate change facts and statistics aren’t enough. Environmentalists will have to reach deep into their pockets if they want to influence the future of energy.
New regulations currently being discussed by the Brazilian legislature could have catastrophic results for the country’s environment and indigenous groups. Two initiatives would roll back environmental licensing laws, while the third would allow the building of several new industrial waterways without requiring assessment of potential environmental or social impacts.
According to Mauricio Guetta, a lawyer for the Socio-Environmental Institute, a Brazilian NGO, these new laws would represent “the most worrying regressions of [Brazil’s] recent history.
“If approved, they will certainly make it impossible for Brazil to meet its commitments under the Paris agreement,” Guetta added.
Brazil has agreed to cut 37 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 and end illegal deforestation by 2030.
However, if these new laws go into effect, Brazil’s standard environmental licensing procedures would change dramatically. Not only would the overall process speed up, but some companies would be allowed to supply their own licenses—or forgo them entirely. This could be particularly problematic when it comes to greenhouse gas, since 52 percent of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture and the way land and forests are used.
About 250 organizations, including NGOs and environmental prosecutors have signed a bill denouncing the potential laws, noting previous environmental disasters like the dam burst in Mariana, which flooded the countryside with millions of liters of mining waste.
The trouble is, in many ways, political. President Temer’s cabinet has shown a tendency to cater to a powerful bloc of pro-agribusiness lawmakers called the ruralista, who advocate legislature that serves local business, often without regard for potential environmental fallout.
The ruralista are also increasingly pushing for changes in how indigenous lands are used and protected—or made unprotected. Another drafted law would transfer control over demarcation of indigenous lands from the executive to the legislative branch. This law would only allow land occupied by indigenous groups from 1988 on to be held as reserves. That means land where indigenous peoples were expelled would now be available for economic development.
Then there are the bills known as Decretos Legislativos, or PDCs. Their passage through the legislature has been stalled, but by no means stopped entirely. These bills would authorize the construction of three industrial waterways in major river basins on the Tapajós River, the Amazon, the Tocantins and Araguaia Rivers, and the Paraguai River. While the waterways would help expedite shipments of soy and other products, they would be built without any environmental oversight beyond whatever is supplied by the companies themselves.
The fight between Brazilian environmental activists and a government hoping to improve the economy at the expense of oversight is set to continue in February 2017 after the parliamentary recess.