One of President Joe Biden’s endeavors that can be fairly described as awesome is his “30 by 30” initiative to conserve and protect 30% of America’s land and water by 2030. Currently, just 12% falls into the protected category. The key question: Where do we find the rest and how do we protect it? Designating additional national monuments provides one way, with choices available from coast to coast.
As Mike Painter from Californians for Western Wilderness points out in an email, there are campaigns right now in California to designate three new national monuments in the state and expand two existing ones. He says, “One of the exciting aspects of these proposals is that all are being led by California tribes or have significant tribal involvement.” The Los Angeles Times published a supportive editorial in December, titled “Biden should protect more of California’s mountains and deserts as national monuments.”
Legislation has been introduced in Congress for some of these. But the current Congress is brimming with representatives who don’t even like the size of the current roster of national monuments or the fact that some of them are huge. That puts chances for approving new or expanded monuments in any state pretty much off the table for the time being. However, one thing these legislators haven’t been able to do so far is subvert the Antiquities Act of 1906, although they have twice weakened it. Pressed into existence by President Theodore Roosevelt, the law gives presidents the power to designate monuments without additional congressional authority.
Getting more national monuments designated depends on public support. This can be expressed by signing petitions and writing letters to the White House, members of Congress, and newspapers. The more ambitious advocates can also buttonhole a reporter or editor of a local publication to cover the campaign to designate these new monuments. The coordinated California campaign wants supporters to send a letter to Biden, starting out by thanking him for the national monuments he’s already designated, and following up by asking him to designate all five monuments. It would be helpful to mention the names of all five in any letter you send, along with your impressions if you have visited one of these areas or have some connection to them. Here’s another way to get your message to the White House.
From south to north, here are the proposed monuments:
Kw’tsán National Monument
The Fort Yuma Quechan Indian Tribe seeks protection for more than 390,000 acres of the tribe’s ancestral homelands located in Imperial County. These lands, currently managed by the Bureau of Land Management, contain cultural, ecological, recreational, scenic, and historic values that the tribe is asking be preserved for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. A fact sheet can be found here, and the campaign website is here.
Chuckwalla National Monument
Democratic Rep. Raúl Ruiz has introduced legislation to establish the Chuckwalla National Monument in the Coachella Valley and to expand Joshua Tree National Park. The area stretches from the Salton Sea to the Colorado River, covering about 600,000 acres. It is rich in biodiversity and is a culturally significant tribal landscape. It also contains more recent historically significant sites. For more information, visit the homepage.
San Gabriel Mountains Expansion
Advocates seek to add 109,000 acres to the western edge of the existing San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, designated by President Obama in 2014. The monument currently encompasses 346,177 acres. The area of the proposed expansion is one of the most heavily-visited areas of the Angeles National Forest and is also the headwaters for the Los Angeles River, an important source of drinking water for the Los Angeles Basin. For more information, visit the homepage at San Gabriel Mountains Forever.
Berryessa Snow Mountain/Molok Luyuk Expansion
Supporters want to add the nearly 14,000 acres of the currently named Walker Ridge along the eastern edge of the existing monument and rename it Molok Luyuk, “Condor Ridge” in the language of the Patwin, a band of the Wintun people of Northern California. The area is rich in Indigenous significance, both sacred and as a crossroads of trading routes for many California tribes. Its complex tectonic geology and accompanying serpentine soils make it home to many rare and specialized plants, with spectacular wildflower displays in the spring. It is also home to many wildlife species. Finally, the landscape itself is spectacular, with vistas stretching from Mt. Shasta in the north to Mt. Diablo and Mt. Tamalpais in the south, the Sierra Nevada to the east, and the Inner Coast Range to the west.For more information, visit Expand Berryessa. California State Sen. Bill Dodd’s press release can be accessed here on the expansion can be found here.
Sáttítla-Medicine Lake Highlands
In the northeast corner of the state lies Sáttítla, known in English as the Medicine Lake Highlands. It’s an area of great cultural significance to the Pit River Tribe, which is spearheading the campaign for protection. It’s also important to other tribes, including the Karuk, Modoc, Shasta, and the Wintu. The Highlands are in the Shasta-Trinity, Klamath, and Modoc national forests and have long been the subject of proposals for geothermal development. Establishment of a monument would protect it from this as well as allowing tribes to continue their traditional cultural practices. For more information visit Protect Medicine Lake Highlands.
A new study published in the journal Nature Communications by researchers in The Netherlands and Germany says that by 2050, 3 billion people and countless numbers of wildlife will be affected by unsafe river water sources. And by 2100, the risk could affect 6.8 to 7.8 billion people, far more more than in conventional estimates that focus on quantity and not quality.
The U.N. science panel has warned that water scarcity is already a fact of life for half of the world’s population at least a month out of the year. Rising demand because of population increases, urbanization, and industrial uses plus the impacts of global warming are already exacerbating this scarcity. The researchers, led by Mengru Wang, of Wageningen University & Research, investigated 10,000 river sub-basins around the world, with a focus on nitrogen pollution in rivers by integrating land-system, hydrological, and water quality models. These sub-basins are crucial sources of drinking water and often serve as centers of urban and economic activity. From the abstract:
We found that water pollution aggravates water scarcity in [more than] 2000 sub-basins worldwide. The number of sub-basins with water scarcity triples due to future nitrogen pollution worldwide. In 2010, 984 sub-basins are classified as water scarce when considering only quantity-induced scarcity, while 2517 sub-basins are affected by quantity & quality-induced scarcity. This number even increases to 3061 sub-basins in the worst case scenario in 2050. This aggravation means an extra 40 million km2 of basin area and 3 billion more people that may potentially face water scarcity in 2050. Our results stress the urgent need to address water quality in future water management policies for the Sustainable Development Goals.
Just as humans continue to add prodigious quantities of global-warming greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, we are also adding gobs of chemicals, plastics, nitrogen, and pathogens to water systems. The nitrogen from massive amounts of agricultural fertilizers contributes to algae growth that that threaten marine life and impair water quality. In effect, the water is poisoned.
Said co-author Benjamin Bodirsky, a senior scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said the modeling of three different scenarios showed that "The deterioration of water access can be halted, and to some extent even reversed, by adopting more efficient fertilizer use as well as more vegetarian diets, and by connecting a larger proportion of the global population to water treatment facilities." However, he added, nitrogen pollution is likely to remain at "substantial levels" in important agricultural areas of Europe, China, and India. —MB
After Hurricane Katrina blasted the Gulf Coast in 2005, I wrote Eco New Orleans: 'A Shining Example for the Whole World' (a version of which also appeared at Grist). Excerpt:
The tragedy wrought by Katrina provides a chance to do what [New Orleans] Mayor Ray Nagin said George Bush told him after the head-bumping died down last week: New Orleans can be remade into "a shining example for the whole world."
I don't know if Bush actually said that, and if he did, it surely wasn't an environmentally sound renaissance he had in mind. In fact, I'd be willing to bet my mortgage that, when they're not figuring how to blame somebody else for the lethal federal foot-dragging just witnessed, many in the Administration are pondering schemes to enhance their personal assets via this disaster. "Shining" to them has a distinctly different meaning than what I'm talking about.
Needed is a new city paradigm. Call it Eco New Orleans, a place attuned to the definition of "sustainability" found in the 1987 Brundtland Commission: "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
Not just the city, of course, but the other places blasted by Katrina and Dubyanocchio's five days of indifference. New Orleans doesn't exist in a vacuum, and the Eco New Orleans I'm talking about extends for scores of miles in every direction.
Similarly, when Joplin, Missouri, was struck by a tornado in 2011 that destroyed 8,000 buildings and caused $2.8 billion in damages, I wrote that the city—and all cities hit by such disasters—should take the opportunity and rebuild sustainably for resilience.
Such green rebuilding didn’t take place. But 2024 is the “Year of Resilience” at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, initiating a change of approach. FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell said in early December, “We are already feeling the influence of climate change on a global scale as severe weather becomes stronger and more frequent. FEMA is typically recognized as a response and recovery agency, but now more than ever, we are a resilience agency. FEMA’s Year of Resilience is an opportunity to share best resilience practices, advance new innovative ideas, and protect even more Americans against disasters.”
That protection is becoming ever more needed because billion-dollar disasters have become more frequent and severe. Since 2019, according to FEMA, the United States has seen an average of 20.4 weather and climate disasters annually costing more than $1 billion each. That’s up from the annual average of 3.3 such disasters in the 1980s. Last year, damage from 28 U.S. weather and climate disasters cost more over $1 billion each.
One new program of the FEMA’s resilience effort was announced Jan. 30 by Criswell and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas while Republicans were gearing up to impeach him. In the wake of future disasters, FEMA will provide grants for net-zero energy projects including solar microgrids, heat pumps, passive heating and cooling, and certified efficient appliances for the rebuilding of schools, hospitals, fire stations, and other community infrastructure. Funding will come from the Inflation Reduction Act. Not only will this boost energy reliability, but the projects will also cut utility costs, according to the agency.
Covering the cost of these projects is “the single most effective measure” the agency can take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Criswell said in a statement. FEMA will reimburse at least 75% of the cost of rebuilds and repairs, leaving state, local, tribal, and territorial governments to pay the remainder. —MB
HALF A DOZEN OTHER THINGS TO READ (OR LISTEN TO)
The Promise — and the Perils — of Hawai’i’s Renewable Energy Revolution by Jennifer Oldham at Capital & Main. The closer Hawai’i gets to reaching its groundbreaking clean energy goals, the harder it will be to achieve them. This island—like so many others in the Pacific Ocean—is on the front lines of climate change. But unlike most others, it is carving out a place at the vanguard of a renewable energy revolution by leading the decarbonization of what has long been the most oil-dependent U.S. state. In 2015, state legislators became the first in the nation to require electric utilities to generate power almost entirely from renewable energy and to mandate that the economy make enormous progress in leaving carbon-based fuels behind — both by 2045. That was a tall order in a state that has historically produced the lion’s share of its electricity from oil and coal, in addition to its heavy consumption of gasoline and airplane fuel. Today, Hawaii leads the nation in the amount of rooftop solar installed per person, far ahead of second and third place states, Massachusetts and California. The islands are on track to hit a 2030 milestone by generating 40% of its electricity from renewables — a stark contrast from 20 years earlier, when about 90% came from burning petroleum and even more polluting coal. The state ranks third for the highest level of electric vehicle adoption, behind California and Washington. Hawai’i also shuttered its last remaining coal plant in 2022. Yet as it approaches the 10-year anniversary of the first of its pioneering climate laws, which requires utilities to produce virtually all of their power from renewables by 2045, the nation’s 50th state faces an energy reckoning that requires tough tradeoffs as it works toward its carbon-free goal.
From murder to mining, threats abound in Colombian Amazon Indigenous reserves by Dora Montero at Mongabay. A reporting team has analyzed the impact of environmental crimes in 320 Indigenous reserves that are part of the Colombian Amazon biome. According to Global Forest Watch, more than 19,000 hectares (more than 47,000 acres) of tree cover were lost in 218 of these reserves in 2022. Illegal groups that exercise territorial control with weapons are threatening Indigenous governance and keeping inhabitants confined to their territories. “Every community that lives in the Amazon has its beliefs that enable them to survive because that’s what Indigenous peoples have done in our country — survive,” Carlos Alberto Gaitán, Piapoco Indigenous leader and coordinator of OPIAC, says in an interview with Mongabay Latam. According to Gaitán, this difficult path of resistance has resulted in many fatalities in recent years. According to the nongovernmental organization Global Witness, Colombia is among the most dangerous communities in the world for environmental and territorial defenders. In the past 10 years, at least 382 environmental defenders were murdered in Colombia, 159 of whom were Indigenous people. “In our country, some leaders have died defending the territory. We have our own way of governing, but we don’t believe in weapons; we’re more about spirituality. So, because we’re peaceful and therefore vulnerable, the [armed] groups have abused us,” says Gaitán.
Are environmental toxins reducing men's fertility? From McGill University. In a study that signals potential reproductive and health complications in humans, now and for future generations, researchers from McGill University, the University of Pretoria, Université Laval, Aarhus University, and the University of Copenhagen, have concluded that fathers exposed to environmental toxins, notably DDT, may produce sperm with health consequences for their children.The decade-long research project examined the impact of DDT on the sperm epigenome of South African Vhavenda and Greenlandic Inuit men, some of whom live in Canada's North.The study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, demonstrates a link between long-term exposure to DDT and changes in the sperm epigenome. These changes, particularly in genes vital for fertility, embryo development, neurodevelopment, and hormone regulation, correspond to increased rates of birth defects and diseases, including neurodevelopmental and metabolic disorders. [...] Despite a global ban on DDT to protect humans and the environment from its effects, the South African government has special permission to use it as an insecticide to control malaria. "The reality is that people, especially young children and pregnant women, are still dying from malaria. We cannot afford for people in malaria-endemic regions to refuse spraying of their houses, as it will increase their risk of getting malaria," says Tiaan de Jager, Ph.D., Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences and Professor in Environmental Health at the School of Health Systems and Public Health at the University of Pretoria. Moreover, the number of people and animals exposed to DDT is reportedly increasing due to climate change. DDT can travel vast distances through what is known as the "grasshopper effect," evaporating with warm air and returning to Earth with rain and snow in colder regions, where it persists in the Arctic food chain.
Lessons from NuScale’s terminated project will help pave the way for advanced nuclear energy by Judi Greenwald, Jeremy Harrell and Jessica Lovering at Utility Dive. Supporting advanced nuclear energy as a climate solution remains crucial. Although setbacks are inevitable, it is essential to view them in context. NuScale’s technology received regulatory approval from the NRC. Other reactor developers are already in the process of applying to the NRC for regulatory approval as well. Parts of the expected submission of the CFPP’s Combined License application to build and operate their project can be repurposed for similar future projects, demonstrating the adaptability and versatility of advanced nuclear solutions. Nuclear energy is not alone in facing these challenges. A recent survey by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that one-third of wind and solar projects proposed in the last five years have been canceled. For wind projects, the primary cause of cancelation was community opposition. The collective understanding that all these low-carbon technologies are essential in addressing climate change is vital, and setbacks should be seen as opportunities to learn and improve across the clean energy industry. Continued public and private financial support for advanced nuclear energy research, development, demonstration and deployment is even more important now.
As Use of A.I. Soars, So Does the Energy and Water It Requires by David Berreby at Yale Environment 360. Two months after its release in November 2022, OpenAI’s ChatGPT had 100 million active users, and suddenly tech corporations were racing to offer the public more “generative A.I.” Pundits compared the new technology’s impact to the Internet, or electrification, or the Industrial Revolution — or the discovery of fire. Time will sort hype from reality, but one consequence of the explosion of artificial intelligence is clear: this technology’s environmental footprint is large and growing. A.I. use is directly responsible for carbon emissions from non-renewable electricity and for the consumption of millions of gallons of fresh water, and it indirectly boosts impacts from building and maintaining the power-hungry equipment on which A.I. runs. As tech companies seek to embed high-intensity A.I. into everything from resume-writing to kidney transplant medicine and from choosing dog food to climate modeling, they cite many ways A.I. could help reduce humanity’s environmental footprint. But legislators, regulators, activists, and international organizations now want to make sure the benefits aren’t outweighed by A.I.’s mounting hazards.
Category 6-level hurricanes are already here, a new study says by Kate Yoder and Jake Bittle at Grist. A super-hurricane is brewing in the Atlantic Ocean in the opening pages of The Displacements, a novel by Bruce Holsinger published in 2022. “This is the one the climatologists have been warning us about for 20 years,” one character declares. Forty pages in, so-called Hurricane Luna makes a surprise turn for Miami and ends up demolishing Southern Florida with a wall of water, buckling skyscrapers, leveling wastewater plants, and filling the Everglades with contaminated silt. With 215-mile-per-hour winds, faster than a severe tornado, the fictional Luna is the world’s first Category 6 hurricane. In the real world, Category 5 is synonymous with the biggest and baddest storms. But some U.S. scientists are making the case that it no longer captures the intensity of recent hurricanes. A paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences lays out a framework for extending the current hurricane rating system, the Saffir-Simpson scale, with a new category for storms that have winds topping 192 miles per hour. According to the study, the world has already seen storms that would qualify as Category 6s. “We expected that climate change was going to make the winds of the most intense storms stronger,” said Michael Wehner, a coauthor of the paper and an extreme weather researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “What we’ve demonstrated here is that, yeah, it’s already happening. We tried to put numbers on how much worse it’ll get.”
Related Story: Scientists suggest dialing up hurricane scale as planet warms
“The earth is not dying, it is being killed, and those who are killing it have names and addresses.” —Utah Phillips
We need to reframe our thinking about what’s wild by Ruxandra Guidi at High Country News. For years now, researchers like Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado Boulder, have acknowledged that animals are conscious beings, capable of complex feelings like empathy and emotion. Yet that awareness hasn’t been enough to change our behavior toward them. Then again, it sadly — and obviously —hasn’t kept us from hurting our fellow human beings, either. We haven’t changed, even though we now know that our impact — not just on wild animals but on the ecosystems that they, and we, depend on — won’t be easily reversed. Let’s take the Arizona Mexican wolf pup reintroduction effort that I heard about in the news: Back in the 1970s, the species was on the edge of extinction — the last sighting of a Mexican wolf in the wild happened in 1970. Then, 25 years ago, a federal reintroduction program was launched in New Mexico and Arizona; today, almost 250 Mexican wolves are believed to be in the wild, although every year, humans illegally kill one out of 10. Think about it: For the past 25 years, scientists have been working diligently to restore the native wolf population, and yet are unable to neutralize its greatest threat. The wolf recovery effort is necessary, but it’s extremely difficult because we humans keep getting in the way. We hold the key to the animals’ future: Whether they survive or go extinct largely depends on us.
Why Small Farming Is Essential for Creating a Sustainable Future by Chris Smaje. Let me start this journey with my feet on my farm. When people visit it, I notice three main responses. One is an unbidden enthusiasm for the rural paradise we’ve created, the beauty of the place, and our great good fortune in avoiding the rat race and producing honest food from the land. Sometimes, the words are spoken, and sometimes, I only see it in their eyes, but the sentiment that usually accompanies it is: “This is great. I wish I could do something like this, but I can’t because…” The second response takes in our rustic accommodation, the compost toilets, the rows of hard-won vegetable beds, the toolshed speaking of the work to be done, and the reek of manure and compost with a kind of recoiling pity. It seems to say: “You went to graduate school and got a well-paid job. Then this. How did it go so wrong?” Or the more actively disdainful: “Each to their own. But nobody wants to farm anymore. All that backbreaking work!” The third response is that of the harsher critic, whose gaze homes in on specifics—the tractor in the yard, the photovoltaic panels on the roof, the tilled beds in some of the gardens. “Look how tied in you are to the global fossil fuel economy and its cash nexus.” This critique comes from both sides of the green divide. “You haven’t properly escaped and found a truly natural way of life,” says one side. “You talk about sustainability, but you’re no better than the rest of us. Besides, small farms like this can’t feed the world,” says the other. Small farms like this can feed the world, and, in the long run, it may only be small farms like this that can. But criticisms must be addressed—the compromises with the status quo, the low prestige, and the toil associated with an agrarian life, as well as the global flight from the land. One thing that encourages me is that, of the three responses I mentioned above, the first seems the commonest—it simply isn’t true that nobody wants to farm.
“The Daily” runs a greenwashing BP ad by Emily Akins and Arielle Samuelson at Heat substack. In 2021, in response to growing concerns about the fossil fuel industry’s role in climate delay, The New York Times pledged to ban oil and gas companies from sponsoring “its climate newsletter, its climate summit or its podcast ‘The Daily.’” But it appears there are limits to that pledge. Because last week, The Daily aired an ad from BP touting the petroleum giant’s climate credentials. “It's a pretty clear cut case of misleading advertising,” said Robert Brulle, a professor at Brown University who studies the fossil fuel industry’s influence on the media and government. “They're trying to create this veneer of being part of the solution [to climate change], not part of the problem.” A close look at BP’s operations show its emissions reductions are minimal relative to its entire operation. The oil giant is electrifying its diesel generators and compressors in the Permian Basin, limiting its gas flaring, and installing methane monitors so it can catch leaks from its own gas pipelines. Meanwhile, BP says it will double its production of oil by 2030 and expand its liquefied natural gas production to 30 million tons per year. “All they're doing is reducing the leaks from their production process to bring us more fossil fuels,” said Brulle, who published a paper in the journal Climatic Change in 2020 about how fossil fuel companies try to influence public perception through well-respected media outlets.
Freeway Fighters: ‘Stop the Highway-Expansion Madness,’ New Coalition Demands by Gersh Kuntzman at Streetsblog. Leaders at all levels of government need to stop expanding highways, not only because such projects disproportionately impact low-income communities, but also because they are contrary to our climate and fiscal goals, a coalition of nearly 200 livable streets groups argues in a new campaign launching today."Endless highway expansions are pulling our country into an environmental, budgetary, and public health crisis. It’s time to end this destructive, unsustainable practice and set a responsible course toward a cleaner and more equitable future," says a letter signed by 194 community groups across the country that will be sent to state and federal transportation leaders. It's obviously not the first time that local leaders on the ground have demanded transportation policies that "put communities and people first" — ahead of the needs of drivers who speed through or over them — but it's certainly one of the biggest efforts. The urgency comes from the billions of dollars that are being funneled towards road projects from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which did indeed provide record funding for transit and even created a "Reconnecting Communities" program — but still is mostly a highway-construction slush fund.
Our Financial System Is a Suicide Machine—by Bill McKibben at The Crucial Years substack. Bank of America has its roots in California. Founded in Los Angeles in 1923, it was acquired by a San Francisco bank, which took the name in 1930—and over time it has grown to become the world’s second-largest bank by deposits, second only to New York-based Chase. I tell you this for two reasons. One, California is, as of this writing, being absolutely battered by an “atmospheric river” that has knocked out power to hundreds of thousands and caused mudslides on high ground along the Pacific Coast. As Andrew Dessler pointed out yesterday, the physics are pretty simple: “A warmer planet has more water vapor in the atmosphere. And, everything else being the same, an atmospheric river carrying more water vapor will cause more rainfall when it hits land and starts rising.” And second, Bank of America is a proximate cause of this kind of chaos, because it refuses to stop lending for fossil fuel expansion. Indeed, last week it engaged in perhaps the single most irresponsible about-face of the climate era. Three years ago—in the wake of the Greta-inspired mass uprising of young people around the world—Bank of America apparently felt it had to make some gesture, so it chose a pretty easy route to demonstrate its newfound greenness. It said it would no longer lend for new coal mining or coal-fired power plants or for new oil exploration in the Arctic. These were seen to be beyond the pale because… well, they are. They represent some of the most egregious possible insults to this planet. But last week they said, never mind. If you want some money for a new coal mine, our window is open again. If you’re an oil company that feels like searching for oil in the Arctic now that you’ve melted it, we can make a deal.
Related Story: Banks Continue to Prop Up the Fossil Fuel Industry
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