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The European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service has announced that 2016 will be the warmest year in recorded history — by a lot.
The Arctic had an especially warm year, and experienced the sharpest rise in temperatures, while Africa and Asia also felt unusually high temps. Globally, surface temperatures climbed to an average 58.6 degrees F, 2.3 degrees F higher than before the Industrial Revolution, when humans got serious about burning fossil fuels.
The warming temps continue a well-established trend: Last year was also the hottest year on record at the time, and 2014 was the hottest year on record before that. In fact, 10 of the hottest years on record have occurred since 1998.
This warming trend has name — it’s called climate change, if you weren’t aware — and these rapidly accelerating temperatures come with severe consequences, including worsening storms, wildfires, droughts, and other extreme weather events. And climate change isn’t just scary — it’s expensive.
Despite all the evidence, the incoming president and much of the GOP-controlled Congress either ignore climate change or thinks it’s a giant ruse created by Al Gore. As for how they explain another hottest year of record — well, maybe it’s the just heat from the burning dumpster fire that was 2016.
This year was chock-full of superlatives — and not the good kind — thanks to a sweltering El Niño on top of decades of climate change:
1. The longest streak of record-breaking months, from May 2015 to August 2016. It was the hottest January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, and September since we began collecting data 137 years ago, according to NOAA.
2. The largest coral bleaching event ever observed. As much as 93 percent of the Great Barrier Reef experienced record-breaking bleaching over the Southern Hemisphere summer, which also wreaked havoc to reefs across the Pacific in the longest-running global bleaching event ever observed.
3. The Arctic is getting really hot. Alaska saw its hottest year ever, with temperatures an average of 6 degrees F above normal. Arctic sea ice cover took a nosedive to a new low this fall, as temperatures at the North Pole reached an insane seasonal high nearly 50 degrees above average. Reminder: There is no sun in the Arctic in December.
5. The hottest year. Pending an extreme plunge in global temperatures in the next few days, 2016 will almost certainly be the warmest year humans have ever spent on the Earth’s surface.
Even if it weren’t the hottest year yet, context matters more than year-to-year comparisons. The last five years have been the hottest five on record. The last 16 years contain 15 of the hottest years on record. We are living in unprecedented times.
The congressman accused the Securities and Exchange Commission Thursday of unfairly targeting the oil giant by investigating whether the company disclosed its financial risks from climate change and greenhouse gas regulations to investors.
In a letter to SEC Chair Mary Jo White, Smith demands that the commission provide his committee with documents related to the Exxon probe by Oct. 13.
Smith writes that the SEC has advanced “a prescriptive climate change orthodoxy that may chill further climate change research,” which seems odd for someone who doesn’t actually believe in climate change.
Still, it’s about what we’d expect from Smith, a recipient of $680,000 from oil and gas over his career.
Smith — who, ironically, is both a climate denier and the head of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology — has used his position to aid Exxon before: He’s accused 17 state attorneys general of violating the corporation’s right to free speech by looking into allegations that Exxon has known about climate change for decades.
Why does Smith go to bat for Exxon repeatedly, despite risking political backlash? Gretchen Goldman, an analyst at Union of Concerned Scientists (one of the groups being targeted by Smith), has a theory.
“If you’re talking about climate change and doing anything to try to hold actors accountable, he wants to intimidate you.”
Turns out the largest sea creatures are most likely to go extinct, according to research published today in Science.
The research, led by Stanford’s Jonathan Payne, compared modern marine vertebrates and mollusks to their ancestors in the fossil record, all the way up to the last mass extinction 66 million years ago. Today, unlike in any previous time studied, a 10 percent increase in body size means a 13 percent increase in extinction risk.
This differs from a run-of-the-mill mass extinction, when your likelihood of dying off has a lot more to do with, say, where you live in the ocean or where you fall on the evolutionary tree.
And the biggest-is-not-best pattern has human fingerprints all over it — just think of the mastodon and moa.
“Humans, with our technology, have made ourselves into predators that can go after very large animals,” says Payne. But there’s an upside. Unlike the huge environmental changes that spurred mass extinctions in the past (and perhaps the near future), human activity has been known to do a quick 180.
After all, the oceans have seen very little extinction in the Anthropocene. “We still have a huge opportunity to save almost everything,” Payne says.
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Activists wanted to clean up a coal ash dump. Dump sued activists for complaining.
Four residents of a tiny Alabama town are fighting back against a giant landfill operator after the Georgia-based company, Green Group, filed a $30 million defamation suit against them. The American Civil Liberties Union asked a federal court to dismiss the suit on Thursday.
Green Group operates a toxic coal ash dump in Uniontown, Ala., a small, mostly black community where half the residents live below the poverty line. The Arrowhead landfill draws coal ash — the sludge left by burning coal — from across the country. Opposition to the landfill gained strength after waste from the largest coal ash spill in U.S. history was dumped in Uniontown. In total, Arrowhead takes up to 15,000 tons of toxic waste from 33 other states every day.
Three years ago, members of a group called Black Belt Citizens Fighting for Health and Justice and other residents filed a civil rights complaint with the EPA against the Alabama Department of Environmental Protection (ADEM), the state agency that oversees the landfill. The complaint against ADEM says that dust from the dump gets into homes and on cars and causes serious health problems. Three years later, the agency is still investigating.
Black Belt Citizens operates a Facebook group where residents talk about the town’s toxic sites — the landfill, as well as the sewage overflow and massive cheese processing plant. The landfill sits on a former slave plantation, and borders a historic black cemetery.
After residents filed the civil-rights complaint, Green Group approached four members of Black Belt with a settlement offer. To avoid a lawsuit, Mary Schaeffer, Ellis Long, Benjamin Eaton, and Esther Calhoun needed to remove their names from the EPA complaint, retract all their statements about the landfill, then pin that retraction to the group’s Facebook page for two years. The agreement would have given Green Group the right to look through their phones and laptops for text messages and emails.
The four refused, and were slapped with a defamation suit for what they said online. They’re now represented by the ACLU.
“State officials would never have allowed the landfill to be here if we were a rich, white neighborhood,” said Esther Calhoun, president of Black Belt Citizens, in a statement from the ACLU. “They put it here because we’re a poor, Black community and they thought we wouldn’t fight back. But we are fighting back and we’re not afraid to make our voices heard.”
The legacy of racism and enslavement compound the environmental injustice that Uniontown faces today. Once a plantation, now a toxic landfill, where silence is expected and modest objection — even simple Facebook posts — leads to ludicrous lawsuits.
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America sucks at recycling, so we’re burning trash again
Americans produce a whopping 4.4 pounds of waste per person per day, more than any other nation in the world. Recycling facilities and landfills can’t seem to keep up. Hence the resurgence of a decades-old disposal idea: trash incinerators.
But today’s incinerators — including the country’s first commercial-scale incinerator in 20 years, about to be fired up in West Palm Beach, Fla. — are waste-to-energy plants, promising to turn garbage into electricity. The EPA classifies them as “renewable energy” and plans are unfolding in half a dozen states across the country.
Here’s the catch: They’re pretty damn dirty (emitting mercury and lead and dioxins, among other things) and expensive. A controversial incinerator proposal in Baltimore is now expected to cost $1 billion, though it’s still three years away from completion, and — of course! — slated to be built a low-income neighborhood in South Baltimore already plagued by a deluge of industry-associated health impacts. Reports the New York Times:
The problem is that Curtis Bay already hosts a 200-acre coal pier that produces black dust that collects on local streets and drifts inside windows, a fertilizer plant reeking of fresh manure, one of the nation’s largest medical waste incinerators, chemical plants, fuel depots, and an open-air composting site. […]
The proposed facility would be allowed to emit up to 240 pounds of mercury and 1,000 pounds of lead annually in a neighborhood with three schools and high rates of cancer and asthma.
In fact, in 2009, Curtis Bay was pegged as the second-most toxic zip code in the country. In 2013, the city of Baltimore had the highest emissions-related mortality rate in the nation. As Grist’s Brentin Mock pointed out in December 2013, and again last summer, students who would attend school less than a mile from the plant have been protesting, and with good reason:
[The facility] plans to comply with state and federal air pollution standards through offsets. Translation: The company will pay for air quality improvement somewhere else to make up for its dirty emissions in Baltimore.
Industry experts say that the failure of efforts to curb consumption, and recycle and compost, is to blame for the uptick in incinerator projects. Recycling programs have stalled nationwide and are starting to look too expensive; Ocean City, Md., has dropped recycling altogether for that very reason. For $1 billion, though, you’d think we could think of something.
, New York Times.
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