Mike Gaworecki

How Tropical Deforestation Is Driving the Rise of Infectious Diseases

There’s already ample evidence of the ways environmental degradation can contribute to the spread of infectious diseases, and now a recent study provides an example of how the disruptions to an ecosystem caused by deforestation and other land-use change can help spread a bacterial pathogen.

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Is Your Retirement Fund Contributing to Deforestation and Climate Change?

Even as a new administration hostile to efforts to combat global warming is poised to take over the White House, climate activists in the U.S. are continuing to push for action in myriad and sometimes even unexpected ways. For instance, you may not realize that saving for your golden years could have an impact on the global climate, but a movement is currently underway to make the retirement funds relied on by millions of Americans free of any connection to deforestation and associated carbon emissions due to investments in palm oil producers.

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U.S. Gov't Pressured Cameroon to Approve Destructive Oil Palm Development for Agribusiness Land Grab, Documents Reveal

Cables obtained by the non-profit Oakland Institute through a Freedom of Information Act request reveal that U.S. government officials pushed the Central African nation of Cameroon to approve a deeply controversial oil palm development owned by Herakles Farms despite full knowledge of the project’s negative impacts on the environment and local communities.

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Presidential Hopefuls Who Deny Climate Science Can Forget About Winning the Latino Vote

Presidential hopefuls looking to win the Latino vote know they need to take a thoughtful approach to immigration policy, but it turns out it’s just as important that they support efforts to protect the environment and combat climate change.

According to a new poll, 90 percent of Latinos are in favor of strengthening the Clean Water Act, 85 percent want reduced smog and air pollution and 78 percent want more clean energy. Meanwhile, some 80 percent of Latinos say it’s important for the President and Congress to address immigration reform.

Pollsters also found that Latinos are far ahead of other Americans in terms of awareness of the science of global warming, which is bad news for any candidate denying climate science while looking to win over Latino voters.

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How Oil Trains Drive Environmental Racism

People of color and low-income communities are bearing a disproportionate burden of risk from dangerous oil trains rolling through California, according to a new report by ForestEthics and Communities for a Better Environment.

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California Finds Several Negative Impacts of Fracking, Approves Offshore Frack Jobs Anyway

California regulators released a final environmental review yesterday that found fracking has “significant and unavoidable impacts” — less than a week after they approved nine new offshore frack jobs.

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Fracking Flowback From California Oil Wells Contains High Levels Of Carcinogenic Chemicals

Adding to the already lengthy list of reasons to be concerned about the disposal of oil industry wastewater in California, the Center for Biological Diversity says it has found dangerous levels of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals such as benzene and toluene in fracking flowback.

Flowback is a fluid that floats up to the surface of fracked wells that contains clays, dissolved metal ions and total dissolved solids (such as salt) in addition to chemical additives used in the fracking process.

As such, flowback is a component of oil industry wastewater, and one of the chief reasons why the wastewater must be disposed of in a very cautious manner.

In California, where the toxic and cancer-causing chemicals were found to be present in flowback by the CBD, oil industry wastewater is not, unfortunately, disposed of in a cautious manner.

The most common wastewater disposal method is to inject it underground. It was recently revealed that California regulators have allowed hundreds of injection wells to pump wastewater into aquifers protected under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. Regulators also permitted thousands more wells to inject fluids from “enhanced oil recovery” techniques like acidization and cyclic steam injection into protected aquifers.

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Free Trade Deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership Are Bad News For Climate Change

President Barack Obama could not have signaled more clearly in his 2015 State of the Union address that he intends to fight for his legacy on climate change in the face of a hostile, anti-science GOP-led House and Senate.

But it was what the President didn’t mention that could negate his climate legacy: free trade deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership that undermine local efforts to lower emissions, projects like Keystone XL that lock us into decades of continued dirty energy use, and the exporting of American-made coal, crude oil and natural gas to overseas markets.

Which is not to say that every policy position Obama laid out regarding energy and the environment entirely matched his lofty rhetoric about climate change.

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5 Top Clean Energy Stories of 2014

The steady march of renewable energy, primarily wind and solar, toward mainstream usage continued apace in 2014.

Here are the top 5 clean energy revolution stories of the year:

1. Solar And Wind Continued To Surge In The U.S. In November 2014, nearly three-fourths (71.82%) of the 873 megawatts (MW) of new electricity generation capacity installed in theU.S. was powered by wind and solar, according to data from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Clean energy installations kept up at a furious pace this year, with renewable sources providing the majority of newly installed electricity generation capacity in nine of the past 11 months.

The Obama Administration has made renewable energy targets a key aspect of the emissions reductions it hopes to achieve with the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, but those targets have been criticized as not nearly ambitious enough. Many states like California, Colorado and Hawaii, have already set their own goals that meet or beat those proposed in the EPA's plan. Local governments in cities like Austin, TX and Burlington, VT are committing to strong clean energy policies, as well.

Perhaps they're inspired by the example set by countries like Scotland, which has shown that it is possible to generate more than enough electricity to meet all household needs via renewable sources.

Renewable energy (including water, wind, solar and geothermal sources) now accounts for more than 15% of total installed generating capacity in the U.S.

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What Americans Don't Know About Climate Change Can Be Very Bad For Their Health

When it comes to the health impacts of global warming, Americans are woefully uninformed.

In fact, according to a survey conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, only about one in four can even name a health problem associated with global warming that their fellow Americans might be suffering from.

Only 14% of Americans are aware of one of the most obvious health impacts of all the global warming pollution that has been dumped into our atmosphere: respiratory problems like asthma and other lung diseases. A mere 6% make the connection between illness, injury, and death resulting from extreme weather events and climate change.

Less than 5% of Americans could name any of the other consequences to human health from global warming.

Perhaps that’s no surprise, given that the survey also found 70% of Americans have given “little or no thought” to how global warming could affect human health in the first place.

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Newspapers Complicit In Selling Phony “War On Coal”

U.S. newspapers are helping conservatives push their misleading “war on coal” narrative, according to a new report.

There are a number of reasons why the tide has turned against the coal industry around the globe. Mining and burning coal for energy poses huge risks for human health and the environment, for instance, mainly due to the vast amounts of air and water pollution created throughout coal’s lifecycle.

Then of course there’s the fact that coal is the single largest source of global warming pollution—while coal-fired power represents only 39% of all electricity generated in the U.S, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it is responsible for 75% of carbon emissions.

And of course the health of coal miners and the safety of mining operations is a cause for concern, as well. The indictment of coal baron Don Blankenship is proof enough of that—a U.S. attorney recently pressed conspiracy charges against Blankenship for violating federal mine safety and health standards and impeding federal mine safety officials, among other offenses committed before and after the explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine in 2010 that took the lives of 29 workers.

If you need more proof, there was a study conducted this year that found a severe form of black lung is affecting miners in Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia at levels not seen in four decades.

But it’s not just the dangers of the job that are driving coal miners out of work: greater automation in coal mining operations and the rise of cheap, abundant natural gas thanks to fracking have also taken a heavy toll on the coal industry.

Yet a Media Matters analysis of the 233 articles published in major U.S.newspapers this year that mentioned the phrase “war on coal” found that more than half ignored all of these underlying causes of the coal industry’s decline.

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Call For Crude-By-Rail Moratorium In California After Train Derailment

A train derailment last week has prompted a California state legislator to call for a moratorium on crude-by-rail shipments through the state’s “most treacherous” passes.

Twelve cars derailed on a Union Pacific rail line along the Feather River northeast of Oroville, CA in the early morning hours of November 5th. The state Office of Emergency Services responded by saying “we dodged a bullet” due to the fact that the train was carrying corn, some of which spilled into the river, and not oil.

State Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), a vocal critic of the state’s emergency preparedness for responding to crude-by-rail accidents, does not think California should wait around for a bullet it can’t dodge before taking action. Hill sent a letter to Governor Jerry Brown calling for a moratorium on shipments of volatile crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale and other hazardous materials via the Feather River Canyon and several other high risk routes throughout California.

“This incident serves as a warning alarm to the State of California,” Hill wrote in the letter. “Had Tuesday’s derailment resulted in a spill of oil, the spill could have caused serious contamination in the Feather River, flowing into Lake Oroville and contaminating California’s second largest reservoir that supplies water to the California Water Project and millions of people.”

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Walmart Heirs Giving Millions to Attack Rooftop Solar Panels

A recent trend has seen utilities deciding that since they haven't been able to beat back the rise of rooftop solar companies, they might as well join them (or at least steal their business model). But the Walton Family, owners of Walmart as well as a stake in a manufacturer of solar arrays for utilties, aren't ready to give up the fight.

A new report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has found that, through their Walton Family Foundation, the Waltons have given $4.5 million dollars to groups like the American Enterprise Institute, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and Americans for Prosperity—groups that are attacking renewable energy policies at the state level and, specifically, pushing for fees on rooftop solar installations. The head of ALEC has even gone so far as to denigrate owners of rooftop solar installations as “freeriders.”

But support for groups seeking to halt the rise of clean energy is only half the story. According to Vice News, the Waltons own a 30% stake in First Solar, a company that makes solar arrays for power plants as “an economically attractive alternative or complement to fossil fuel electricity generation,” per its 2013 annual report, which also identifies “competitors who may gain in profitability and financial strength over time by successfully participating in the global rooftop PV solar market” as a threat to First Solar's future profitability.

Perhaps it was that threat to its long-term strategic plan that led First Solar CEOJames Hughes to publish an op-ed in the Arizona Republic voicing his support for a proposal by Arizona Public Service, the state's biggest energy utility, to charge owners of rooftop solar installations a fee of $50 - $100 a month, which would effectively wipe out any economic benefits of generating one's own power. A compromise was eventually reached to adopt a lower fee of roughly $5 per household, but even that has had a chilling effect on the growth of rooftop solar in Arizona, as residential solar installations subsequently dropped 40% in APSterritory.

Bryan Miller, president of the Alliance for Solar Choice, said at the time that First Solar's move was unprecedented: “no solar company has publicly advocated against solar until First Solar did it.”

Having collected its scalp in Arizona, First Solar is now attacking policies that foster rooftop solar in California and Nevada, according to the ILSR report.

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Solar Could Be Our Biggest Energy Source By 2050, If We Elect the Right Politicians

The sun could be our biggest single source of energy and prevent 6 billion tons of climate-warming CO2 pollution by 2050, according to two new reports.

Issued by the International Energy Agency, the two “Technology Roadmap” reports conclude that solar photovoltaic (PV) systems could supply 16% of the world's electricity needs and concentrating solar power (CSP) plants could provide another 11% by the mid-point of the 21st century.

Underscoring these findings, IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven says, “The rapid cost decrease of photovoltaic modules and systems in the last few years has opened new perspectives for using solar energy as a major source of electricity in the coming years and decades.”

To get there, however, the reports warn that “clear, credible and consistent signals from policy makers” must be provided in order to inspire confidence in investors, as both PV and solar thermal electricity technologies like CSP require big up-front capital expenditures.

“Lowering the cost of capital is thus of primary importance for achieving the vision in these road maps,” Van der Hoeven adds.

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California Farmers File Suit Alleging Oil Companies' Faulty Wastewater Injection Caused Crop Loss

A farming company in Kern County, California, has sued four oil producers over claims that their faulty wastewater injection methods led to the contamination of groundwater it uses for irrigation.

Palla Farms LLC, a ninety-two-year-old family farm operation, says it had to tear out hundreds of cherry trees due to high levels of salt and boron in the groundwater it has used to irrigate its crops for the past 25 years. The company claims its almond orchard has also experienced production declines.

Palla Farms' suit alleges that the four oil companies—Crimson Resource Management Corp., Dole Enterprises Inc., E&B Natural Resources Management Corp. and San Joaquin Facilities Management Inc.—violated state environmental regulations when disposing of produced water, drilling mud, and flowback waterfrom fracking, which led to the contamination of the groundwater.

The Bakersfield Californian has the details on the allegations:

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Green Energy Jobs Surge Just in Time for Labor Day

“This Labor Day weekend, the story is that more Americans are working because of clean energy.”

That's the statement released by Environmental Entrepeneurs Executive Director Bob Keefe to accompany his organization's Labor Day jobs report.

As the report shows, it's certainly looking sunny for the sustainable energy and transportation sectors, which created some 12,500 new jobs in the second quarter of 2014, more than double the number of jobs added in Q1.

Solar continued its hot streak, adding 5,300 jobs, followed by wind with 2,700. Manufacturers of electric cars Tesla and General Motors also provided significant bumps, according to the report.

But Keefe did have some words of caution about his report's findings, as well: “to keep that growth going, we need our state and federal leaders to do their jobs too,” he said. “We need them to support smart policies that grow our economy and protect our environment – policies like the federal Clean Power Plan.”

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Oil Industry Front Group Sets Sights On Santa Barbara County Measure That Would Ban 'Extreme Oil Extraction'

Local activists in California’s Santa Barbara County have placed Measure P on the November ballot to ban “extreme oil extraction” practices such as fracking, acidization, and steam injection over concerns that they make global warming worse, cause earthquakespollute aquifers, andwaste massive amounts of water at a time when the state is experiencing extreme drought.

The LA Times label for these same practices is a bit less rhetorically provocative: the paper calls them “high intensity petroleum operations.”

But according to Jim Byrne, a spokesman for Santa Barbara County Coalition Against the Oil and Gas Shutdown Initiative, which is running a No On Measure P campaign, both “extreme oil extraction” and “high intensity oil operations” are labels applied by activists seeking to ban practices that have been used in the county “for the past 50 years.”

The real purpose of Measure P? “It’s a shutdown initiative,” Byrne argues.

Byrne is echoing the sentiments of many in the oil industry who argue that Measure P would effectively end all oil operations in Santa Barbara County despite the measure being explicitly worded to allow existing projects to continue operating.

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Fracking is Making California's Drought Worse, Say Activists

California is in the middle of an epic water shortage, with nearly 80% of the state experiencing “extreme or exceptional” drought conditions. Check out this animated map to get a sense of how extensively the drought has impacted the Golden State.

Things have gotten so bad that California enlisted Lady Gaga to record a public service announcement (PSA)

Given the situation, anti-fracking activists say it’s time for Governor Jerry Brown to put a stop to water-intensive fracking, claiming that the controversial oil and gas production method is exacerbating the problem.

“We’re talking about a triple threat to our water from fracking,” says Adam Scow, the California Director for Food & Water Watch.

The first threat: The fracking process requires a lot of water, which then becomes unsuitable for any other use.

While it’s true that fracking in California doesn’t require as much water as it does in Texas and Pennsylvania, Scow contends that any amount lost to fracking is unacceptable: “In the middle of the worst drought in 50 years, they’re taking 140,000 to 150,000 gallons of water out of the water cycle per frack job. They’re destroying that amount of water on a daily basis.”

It’s also possible that fracking fluid could leach into underground aquifers, and of course the toxic wastewater left over from fracking has to be disposed of somehow — and therein lies the second threat to California’s water supply.

The California Department of Gas and Geothermal Resources (known asDOGGR) recently ordered 11 fracked wells shut down over fears that they were contaminating potential sources of potable water. As many as 100 other fracking sites are under review, as well.

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5 Reasons the TransPacific Partnership Fast Track Must Be Stopped

Time is running out to stop a secretive global trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership from getting Fast Track status at the end of January.

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How Palm Oil in Everything From Food to Fuel Is Killing Orangutans and Exacerbating Climate Change

Palm oil. It’s the ubiquitous additive in everything from soaps and lotions to cookies and diet foods. It’s found in junk food like Cheez-Its, Tootsie Rolls, and M&Ms, but it’s also found in the products of more ecologically conscious companies like Ben & Jerry’s, Nature’s Way, and Toms of Maine. According to Rainforest Action Network (RAN), palm oil can be found in almost half of the products found in grocery stores. The US consumes most of its 1.2 million metric tons of palm oil per year through these products.

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