Former EPA leader discusses current issues at TechCrunch Disrupt

Apple’s Lisa Jackson criticizes Trump EPA for lack of transparency

Apple VP of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives Lisa Jackson in an interview on Tuesday said the Environmental Protection Agency, which she led from 2009 to 2013, is under threat from President Donald Trump’s administration for its seeming lack of transparency.

Apple VP Lisa Jackson at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2017. | Source: TechCrunch

On stage at TechCrunch Disrupt conference, Jackson took issue with Trump’s pick for EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, saying the agency is trending away from transparency.

Jackson said she thinks of the EPA as an extension of the Department of Defense because “it protects something really important in this country.” With Pruitt in charge, however, the agency is under threat.

“The EPA has been run by Democrats, by Republicans, but has never, in its history that is 40-plus years old, been run by someone who seems to be determined to do the one thing that could destroy its credibility, which is not making it transparent,” Jackson said.

She clarified that the agency itself is not moving away from transparency, but its leaders are. Jackson failed to provide specific examples of how Pruitt and the Trump administration are failing to meet those long-held standards, but the agency in April updated its website to remove research and data on climate change, reports Reuters.

“Every EPA administrator has committed to regulate transparently,” she said. “We don’t have that commitment anymore. It’s not the EPA, it’s that the leadership has decided to move away from the transparency that assures people that their health and their community come first rather than somebody else’s bottom line.”

Pundits have criticized Jackson’s assessment as hypocritical, noting the former EPA administrator was herself embroiled in a controversy that directly involved agency transparency, or a lack thereof. Before she resigned from her post at the EPA in 2013, Jackson used an agency-vetted email account under the alias “Richard Windsor” to communicate with parties outside the EPA.

A series of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests uncovered evidence of supposed correspondence with environmental activists, as well as other private citizens who would later serve on the Obama administration.

For its part, the EPA in a statement to The Hill in 2013 said internal email accounts are common, and in some cases necessary to communicate with staff and other government officials.

In any case, the revelations, along with evidence of continued use of alternate emails by Jackson’s successor and other officials, raised questions as to whether the EPA was abiding by open-records laws.

Beyond politics, Jackson touched on consumer device repairability and product life cycles, both contentious topics in the world of technology. She said Apple focuses on designing devices with enhanced durability, which minimizes materials invested in repair and replacement.

That said, devices do age and are inevitably replaced. Jackson mentioned Apple’s efforts toward developing a “circular economy” approach to manufacturing in which new devices will be made from parts recycled components. The company has admitted it does not yet know how it will achieve a closed loop process, but Jackson said solutions are in the works.

Editor’s note: Due to its political nature, comments for this article have been disabled.

Did Climate Change “Cause” Harvey? —

Scientists say no—but it did make the storm much, much worse.

Floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey surround homes in Port Arthur, Texas, Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017 Gerald Herbert/AP

Harvey is now, officially, the heaviest and most destructive rainstorm in our nation’s history.

Nearly 25 trillion gallons of water pummeled southeast Texas and Louisiana over the course of a week, totaling more than 51 inches in some places. About 13 million residents came under some type of flood watch or warning, and the storm displaced as many as 30,000 people, many of whose homes and businesses were utterly destroyed. The injury and death totals won’t be settled for days, maybe even weeks. In trying to process the scope of this unprecedented natural disaster, people understandably want to know how and why it happened—and, of course, what we can do to keep it from happening again. So, in our grief and desperation, we ask: Was it climate change? Is that what caused Harvey?

And the climate scientists respond by saying: It’s more complicated than that.

Climate scientists are by nature and training a cautious bunch, and in their admirable caution they can frustrate those of us who clamor for the psychological comforts of a simple answer. We want them to identify a single, villainous entity that we can blame for a calamitous weather event like Harvey, in hopes that we can rally together against that which has been named, collectively staving off a repeat performance. In the face of such suffering, hearing that “it’s complicated” can feel like overcaution bordering on evasion. But it’s not.

In fact, the scientific community’s resistance to easy answers right now is a long-overdue teachable moment. We need to listen very closely to what scientists are telling us. And then, just as soon as we’ve addressed the humanitarian crisis at hand, we need to start talking seriously about the complicated nexus of atmospheric causes and effects, meteorological conditions, and other factors implicated in a disaster of this scale. To attribute Harvey to climate change, and then just leave it at that, would be incomplete and therefore incorrect. But to avoid talking about climate change—to ignore the role that it played in making Harvey much worse than it might have been otherwise—would be incomplete, incorrect, and immoral.

Here are two things that climate scientists agree on. Warmer air has a greater “carrying capacity” for moisture. That is, it can hold (and eventually deposit) a lot more water than cooler air can. At the same time, warmer ocean waters often bring more intense storms—and as it happens, waters in the Gulf of Mexico have been unusually warm lately. Put these two uncontroversial facts together and you arrive at an equally uncontroversial prediction: Rising air and ocean temperatures increase the risk that when hurricanes and tropical storms occur, they will bring with them a greater chance of extended rainfall and extensive flooding.

For a Harvey-like deluge to occur, though, a storm system needs to stay put over a given area instead of moving along at its normal rate of speed. This phenomenon, known as a block or a blocking pattern, occurs when a storm gets trapped between two high-pressure areas that end up pushing against it with roughly equal force—the storm gets stuck and hovers in place, possibly for days. We saw this in Colorado’s “superflood” in 2013, and we seem to be experiencing more and more of this pattern lately. Scientific unanimity hasn’t yet been reached in regard to what causes blocking patterns, but an increasing number of scientists believe the melting of Arctic ice may be involved.

Think of it this way: There have always been and always will be tropical storms, but global warming is making them wetter. Similarly, storms and hurricanes have always posed and will always pose a threat to coastal communities, but it’s very possible that global warming is encouraging these storms to stick around longer, and do more damage, before dissipating.

These statements were true before Harvey. What’s changed in the past week, of course, is that these truths have been made even more visible and palpable for Americans, bitterly and tragically so. In other parts of the world—where deadly flooding is just as terrible, but much more common—the connection between devastation and a warming planet has been firmly established in the public mind for years. In South Asia, flooding has killed more than 1,200 people this week in what experts and locals are calling the worst monsoon season in memory. On Tuesday alone, the city of Mumbai received nearly a month’s worth of rainfall in a single day.

It’s fine—and even appropriate—for scientists to balk when asked, point-blank, if climate change “caused” Harvey or some other disastrous weather event. Because it actually ismore complicated than that. But within that complexity is a compelling argument for acknowledging the role that a warmer atmosphere is playing in this ongoing pageant of human misery—and an equally compelling plea for us to do whatever we can to minimize damage and loss of life. We may not have the power to stop storms, hurricanes, or flooding events from taking place. But if it’s within our power to make them less devastating in the future, how can we, in good conscience, decline to act?

onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


via Did Climate Change “Cause” Harvey? —

Teaching Children Environmentalism

More than ever before, there is a need for people who are passionate about the environment. Understanding the basics of a “green” lifestyle and being environmentally-friendly is a great way to help take care of the natural world, and there is no better time to start than in childhood. The idea of taking care of […]

via Helping Kids Understand the Importance of Being Environmentally-Friendly — Biofriendly Planet Magazine

Wake-Up Call for Climate Action from Houston to Mumbai —

Reuters – I45 with Houston skyline in background


Co-Authored by Henry Ruehl, NRDC Energy Fellow

Cities across the globe from Houston to Mumbai have been ravaged by catastrophic floods. In the United States and South Asia, this summer has combined record-breaking temperatures and heatwaves with unprecedented rainfall levels, and the human and economic toll has been severe. More worrisome still, climate change is increasing both the frequency and severity of extreme weather events like extreme rains, which can result in flooding, and heatwaves. It’s likely that terrifying rains, flooding, and coastal storm damage like that seen in Hurricane Harvey and this year’s monsoon are set to become more common in the future. This summer, heatwaves and floods are a wake-up call for immediate action on climate and disaster preparedness to protect our communities and public health.

With dozens of lives lost, chemical and pathogen-laden floodwaters swamping much of the Houston area, and vast areas still likely to be uninhabitable for weeks or months, Harvey is estimated to be the most destructive natural disaster in U.S. history. AccuWeather estimates the full economic cost of the hurricane to be $190 billion – as much as the cost of Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy combined. The United States has lost 1% of its GDP, and its fourth-largest city has been devastated.

The damage and death tolls in South Asia have been even more staggering. Communities in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh are suffering from the worst monsoon in decades. Over 1,200 people have died with numbers rising, and the economic damage is commensurately severe. Mumbai’s largest hospital was knee-deep in water. One third of Bangladesh is underwater, for example, and nearly 1.5 million acres of farmland in the country have been damaged or washed away outright. All told, over 41 million people have been affected by the flooding. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pledged $78 million in relief for victims, but the cost for replacing millions of homes, businesses, and other buildings will likely be many times greater.

These calamities demonstrate that cities worldwide are desperately in need of stronger disaster preparedness and climate resilience strategies. Hurricane Harvey has been estimated to be a 1,000-year- storm – in other words, a storm of Harvey’s magnitude could hit the western Gulf only once, on average, every thousand years. Yet it follows just twelve years after Hurricane Katrina, which itself was a 400 to 500-year storm. Rising global temperatures are increasing the amount of rain that drenches us in the heaviest storms, and making heat waves more frequent and intense.

As climate change continues to fuel these types of extreme weather, it is critical that communities take steps to strengthen climate resilience and disaster preparedness. Heatwaves and floods call for programs like early warning systems, improved infrastructure, inter-agency coordination, more funding for emergency personnel and supplies, and raising public awareness, which are all crucial to increasing resilience to extreme weather events. Unregulated urban growth that paves over and develops flood-prone areas can compound flooding when deluges strike. Zoning codes and urban planning can make the most of natural flood protections and avoid developing flood-prone areas. This is especially critical for coastal cities, because rising sea levels can heighten storm surge and flood larger inland areas.

For heatwaves, simple, cost effective measures, such as providing more shade, drinking water, and cooling centers, are proven solutions to limit the impact of extreme heat on communities. Thankfully, many communities have already been working to improve climate resilience and disaster preparedness programs. For example, over 30 cities and 11 states in India are working on early warning systems for extreme heat, Heat Action Plans, developed in partnership with NRDC.

As storms, heatwaves, and other extreme weather events become more frequent, communities must adapt and plan for them. This year’s monsoon will not be the last, nor will Harvey be the last hurricane. Climate resilience strategies and disaster preparedness mechanisms can help us to limit the damage that extreme storms wreak, and are essential to saving lives.

via Wake-Up Call for Climate Action from Houston to Mumbai —

The NRDC explains Carbon Offsets

Should You Buy Carbon Offsets?

A practical and philosophical guide to neutralizing your carbon footprint.

If you want to go carbon neutral, you could do what Daniel Suelo did. In 2000, Suelo moved into the caves in Arches National Park, where he forages for food, buys nothing, and doesn’t own a car. He’s also sworn off heating and cooling devices.

You don’t have to go quite that far, though, to live a carbon-neutral life. (Nor should you—Suelo’s lifestyle raises some serious legal and environmental issues.) Start by reducing your emissions. Then, after you’ve done all you can to shrink your personal carbon footprint, it’s time to consider buying offsets.

You’ve almost certainly been given the opportunity to buy carbon offsets. Some airline websites, for example, offer the option to buy them from third-party sellers to counterbalance the considerable carbon pollution associated with flying. Should you buy them? Yes, but selectively. Low-quality carbon offsets were once common, so you first have to do some legwork to ensure authenticity.

To illustrate the difference between a quality carbon offset and a scam, consider a hypothetical example: The offset seller will give your money to a landowner in the Amazon who promises to leave his trees standing to maximize carbon sequestration.

The offset seller should make several guarantees in this transaction. First, that the offsets are real—that there’s an actual landowner who owns actual land with actual trees. This guarantee shouldn’t be necessary, but unfortunately there have been cases of groups collecting money for offset projects that don’t yet exist. Relatedly, the offset should be verified and enforceable—a third party should have laid eyes on the trees, and there must be a mechanism for penalizing the landowner if he doesn’t follow through. The offset should also be permanent. If the guy who gets your money can burn his trees to the ground six months later, your money will have been wasted.

Finally, the offset must be additional. This is the trickiest issue with carbon offsets. What if the Amazonian landowner never had any intention of clear-cutting his land in the first place? Then your purchase would be a gift rather than an offset. The landowner would be taking advantage of the offset system to collect a windfall for doing exactly what he would have done anyway. Your transaction would have no effect on the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

A corollary to “additionality”—yes, carbon offset wonks use that word—is leakage. Let’s say your money prevented the Amazonian landowner from selling his plot to a logging company. That’s great, but what if the logging company simply bought the plot next door? That’s leakage. Your offset dollars shifted deforestation rather than preventing it.

Both individuals and corporations buy carbon offsets. Big companies have the resources to research the legitimacy of an offset themselves. Google, for example, employs people to investigate the quality of the company’s carbon offset outlays. You probably don’t have the time or money to fly to Ecuador and poke around a forested plot, to inspect a methane capture system, or to visit an urban forestry project. Fortunately, a quality assurance system has developed to verify the quality of your offsets. At the top level are standard-setting groups, such as the Climate Action Reserve, which establish rules and protocols for offset projects. Below them are retail certification programs, like Green-e Climate, which help individuals identify reliable carbon offset sellers.

The best carbon offset programs are transparent. If you have concerns, you should contact the seller to find out exactly what you’re buying. Many will allow you to direct your money to specific projects or away from others. You may, for example, prefer not to invest in a factory farm, even if the money is earmarked for methane capture. Or you may wish to look for programs that offer benefits beyond carbon reduction, such as employment in low-income areas or improvements in public health.

In addition to these practical issues, you should be aware of a larger philosophical argument about carbon offsets. While proponents view high-quality offsets as a way to support carbon-fighting projects, critics say they are merely a license to pollute. When you buy an offset, you are paying someone to cut her emissions so you don’t have to.

That’s why your first move should always be to reduce your own emissions. Drive fewer miles, fly less, don’t overheat or over-cool your home. But before you resign yourself to moving to a cave, know that high-quality carbon offsets are available to eliminate the last traces of your carbon footprint.

Plastic Garbage Patch Bigger Than Mexico Found in Pacific – NatGeo

This recent video from Taiwan shows how the global ocean plastic pollution problem has become ubiquitous.

Water, water, everywhere—and most of it is filled with plastic.

A new discovery of a massive amount of plastic floating in the South Pacific is yet another piece of bad news in the fight against ocean plastic pollution. This patch was recently discovered by Captain Charles Moore, founder of the Algalita Research Foundation, a non-profit group dedicated to solving the issue of marine plastic pollution.

Moore, who was the first one to discover the famed North Pacific garbage patch in 1997, estimates this zone of plastic pollution could be upwards of a million square miles in size. (Read: A Whopping 91% of Plastic Isn’t Recycled.)

The team is currently processing the data and weighing the plastic so they can get a handle on exactly how much garbage they’ve discovered in this area off the coast of Chile and Peru.

The term “patch” referring to the plastic pollution in oceanic gyres can be misleading. The pieces of plastic are not necessarily floating bottles, bags, and buoys, but teeny-tiny pieces of plastic resembling confetti, making them almost impossible to clean up.

These microplastic particles may not be visible floating on the surface, but in this case, they were detected after collecting water samples on Moore’s recent six-month expeditionto the remote area that had only been explored for plastic once before. (See a map of plastic in the ocean.)

On the first transect of the South Pacific gyre in 2011, Marcus Eriksen, marine plastic expert and research director at the 5 Gyres Institute, did not spot much plastic. In only six years, according to the new data collected by Moore, things have changed drastically.

Henderson Island, located in this South Pacific region, was recently crowned the most plastic-polluted island on Earth, as researchers discovered it is covered in roughly 38 million pieces of trash.

The problem of plastic pollution is becoming ubiquitous in the oceans, with 90 percent of sea birds consuming it and over eight million tons of new plastic trash finding its way into the oceans every year.

France May Say ‘Au Revoir’ to Fossil-Fueled Vehicles

Paris Traffic(Nelson Minar – Flickr/Creative Commons)

French motorists are known for their laissez-faire driving and scenic roads. But in 20 years or so, driving in France will lack something that’s all too familiar: fossil fuels. As Jack Ewing reports for the New York Times, France plans to stop selling gas and diesel vehicles by 2040.

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The French environment minister announced the plan as part of a strategy to tackle global warming, reports Ewing—and the country will also stop allowing oil and gas exploration and phase out coal-powered electricity production. As The Guardian’s Angelique Chrisafis and Adam Vaughan report, all three moves are expected to dramatically reduce France’s carbon output.

France has been vocal about the need to stem climate change, partnering with nations like India to develop new solar energy options and even pledging research dollars to American scientists willing to emigrate to work on climate projects. But it’s far from the first country to announce it’s ditching gas-powered vehicles. Norway plans to phase out fossil-fueled vehicles by 2025, and India will do the same by 2030. Meanwhile, Volvo recently announced that all of its new car models will be at least partially electric beginning in 2019.

France has recently made many moves in the name of the environment. The country recently nixed plastic tableware and has implemented strict regulations on how stores deal with food waste. Many such regulations have had a measurable impact: For example, when Paris held its first car-free day, banning cars in 30 percent of the city, it cut exhaust emissions by 40 percent.

There’s good reason to say non to gas-burning automobiles. Burning fossil fuels like gas and diesel emits carbon dioxide, which contributes to climate change by trapping heat in the atmosphere. Cars, trucks and other vehicles also emit black carbon and ozone-producing gases—pollutants that create smog, drive poor air quality and contribute to acid rain. According to the World Health Organization, nine in ten people worldwide breathe dangerous air daily, and that dirty air can fuel chronic illnesses and impact lung health.

Even when France does phase out gas and diesel cars, existing ones are expected to stay on the roads for years. But every vehicle counts—and by saying au revoir to fossil fuels, France might just show the rest of the world it’s possible.