Tag Archives: puerto rico

The U.N. climate talks have a gender gap. Women plan to fix it.

Nearly two months after Hurricane Maria, public health researchers in Puerto Rico are limited by the same lack of power, clean water, and infrastructure they are there to study.

Puerto Rico–born José Cordero is one such scientist. In the journal Nature, he describes leading a team through the devastated landscape to collect data on how drinking water contamination affects pregnant women. The scientists have to hurry to finish their work everyday, before night falls across the largely powerless island. Limited telephone access makes it difficult to get in touch with subjects.

Cordero’s project started six years ago to focus on water pollution and pre-term births, but this year’s hurricane has changed both the focus and the level of difficulty of the work. Other researchers have been hampered by hospitals that can’t administer routine tests and hurricane-damaged equipment, making it difficult to collect data on how air and water pollution are affecting health.

Still, Cordero’s team has managed to contact several hundred woman and collect samples of groundwater and tap water from homes near flooded Superfund sites. As he told Nature: “The kind of work we’re doing … has to be done now, because a few years from now, it’s too late.”

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The U.N. climate talks have a gender gap. Women plan to fix it.

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Puerto Rico JUST met the halfway mark to restoring power. Then the lights went out again.

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Puerto Rico JUST met the halfway mark to restoring power. Then the lights went out again.

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Puerto Rico’s shady Whitefish deal is canceled, but it’s one more recovery setback.

Sure, the Arizona facility has been a significant source of funding for schools, infrastructure, and other public services. But the Sierra Club estimates that it has contributed to 16 premature deaths, 25 heart attacks, 300 asthma attacks, and 15 asthma emergency room visits each year. That adds up to total annual health costs of more than $127 million.

Beyond that, after natural gas prices fell, the coal-fired plant became unprofitable. So the owners of the Navajo Generating Station decided to close the plant by year’s end. Still, the Interior Department, which owns a 24-percent stake in the facility, has worked to extend a lease agreement through 2019 as it searches for another entity to operate it.

The closure won’t just shutter the plant, but also likely will close a nearby mine. Peabody, the largest coal-mining company in the U.S., began operating on Navajo land in the 1960s. Its Kayenta Mine’s biggest customer is the Navajo Generating Station.

But the mine’s demise might not be a bad thing, as it has depleted billions of gallons of water in the Navajo Aquifer and has led to water shortages for residents of the Navajo Indian Reservation.

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Puerto Rico’s shady Whitefish deal is canceled, but it’s one more recovery setback.

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A leaked contract shows shady details of Whitefish Energy’s Puerto Rico deal.

You’d think that, in an era of increasingly extreme weather and disasters that render whole regions of the country nearly uninhabitable for months, maintaining a weather service in tip-top shape would be a priority.

Turns out, under President Donald Trump, that hasn’t been the case. Shifting priorities and uncertainty over funding at the National Weather Service have led to as many as 700 current staff vacancies, according to a report in the Washington Post. That’s about 15 percent of its mandated positions.

“Given our staffing, our ability to fill our mission of protecting life and property would be nearly impossible if we had a big storm,” Brooke Taber, a weather service forecaster in Vermont, told her local paper.

Some offices, like the one in Washington, D.C., are missing a third of their workforce as hurricane season winds down ahead of winter, traditionally one of the busiest times of the year for storms. Although a weather service spokesperson denied the problem was hurting the quality of its forecasts, the service’s employees union said in a statement that the organization is “for the first time in its history teetering on the brink of failure.”

The report follows a Grist cover story this week that looked at how Trump’s proposed cuts to the National Weather Service are already making the country less safe.

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A leaked contract shows shady details of Whitefish Energy’s Puerto Rico deal.

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Hurricane Maria crushed Puerto Rico farms. This activist wants to grow resilience through food.

Puerto Rico’s local food movement was in revival mode. While the island struggled with an ongoing debt crisis and a shrinking population, farming was finally growing after a century of decline. More than 1,700 farms opened up since 2013, boosting agricultural jobs by 50 percent. The number of farmers markets tripled over five years; young people were moving back to open up restaurants and food trucks.

Rodríguez Besosa

 

Isabel Gandía, NYC/PR

Then, Hurricane Maria hit. With 80 percent of the island’s crops ruined, farmers face huge losses from their stripped fields, not to mention their damaged homes.

Tara Rodríguez Besosa’s sustainable restaurant was wiped out by the hurricane. As the local food advocate deals with her own losses, she’s coordinating relief efforts through the Puerto Rico Resiliency Fund to send food and seeds to farmers devastated by Hurricane Maria. In the long term, she’s collaborating with different organizations to create a national sustainable farming proposal plan for Puerto Rico.

The local food movement was fighting against the tide even before the hurricane. Like many islands today, Puerto Rico depends on imported food, which accounts for 85 percent of what residents eat.

I spoke with Rodríguez Besosa to learn how farmers are coping and how Puerto Rico can rebuild its food system with resilience in mind. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Q. How are farmers doing right now?

A. They just lost their jobs, they just lost their houses. We’re still, even after weeks, getting in contact with them and getting them out of their houses. There have been landslides, there are fallen trees all over, there are bridges that are completely erased. They are not doing so well.

Obviously, we are still in the emergency relief situation, but food takes time to grow. And so we really, really need to see this as an immediate issue. How do we get farmers back to farming? How do we get a roof over their heads? How do we get them seeds? How do we get them tools? Because it takes a while to not only be happier, but to be more autonomous.

Q. What should people should know about sustainable food in Puerto Rico?

A. Just like most everything else, sustainable food is fighting colonization. At the end of the day, the issue is that we are a colony of the United States. And not even most people in the United States know that. The hurricane is unveiling an already humongous problem. We’re dealing with the Jones Act. We don’t vote for the president of the United States. A whole bunch of issues surface once something like a natural disaster happens.

It’s all about creating resilient communities, about creating autonomy, about having power over our food. You know, food is a really powerful tool. So how can we use food to gain independence? We don’t want to receive aid just as much as Trump doesn’t want to give it to us. But we need to grow our own food to be able to get out of this.

Vegetables canned by the Queer Kitchen Brigade in Brooklyn wait to be delivered to farmers in Puerto Rico.Tara Rodríguez Besosa

Q. Other than the warming-worsened hurricane, how have farmers in Puerto Rico felt the impacts of climate change?

A. We’re an island, so the whole coast of Puerto Rico has definitely been impacted by climate change. If we’re talking about food, the seasons have completely changed. A lot of farmers are finding it very drastic, the changes in atmosphere and climate.

And this is not going to be the last hurricane, right? We just got hit by one hurricane, and then completely destroyed by another one two weeks later.

Q. Tell me about your restaurant.

A. It wasn’t profitable, but it was great! The best ingredients ever!

It was an experiment. I was 26 years old and super-frustrated that restaurants weren’t supporting farmers in the way that I thought that they could. Our kitchen started as a way to prove that you could have a restaurant that used only local, sustainable produce.

But the restaurant was completely flooded during the hurricane and then it got broken into a few times. The restaurant right now is on pause. We decided, let’s focus now on getting these farms back on track.

A community garden that worked with the restaurant was wiped out by Irma and Maria.Tara Rodríguez Besosa

Q. One farmer I spoke with mentioned the idea that local, organic farms in Puerto Rico could be “hubs of resilience” for communities going forward.

A. They already are, to be honest.

One of our proposals is to start these small community food hubs all along the island, so different farmers can have access to a walk-in cooler with a place where they can sell their food, with a community kitchen that can cook that food and then reach out to the community.

That’s part of a more elaborate plan. Because again, we’re still dealing with a really immediate emergency situation. A whole bunch of deaths have been going on because people are drinking contaminated water. People in the middle of the mountain towns don’t have access to food. A lot of my farmers can’t get out of their homes. We’re trying to get chainsaws through so that people can move trees away. In Puerto Rico in general right now, people are doing it themselves with very little means and very little food.

Q. How are you doing, given everything you’re doing and what’s going on?

A. I’m getting hundreds of emails a day. We’re receiving donations, coordinating fundraising events, coordinating groups of people to go see farms. We’re emotionally drained.

If you work with sustainable food, one of the major things is: “Why do we feed each other?” We feed ourselves and we feed each other this food because it nourishes us and it makes us happy. So how do we give farmers the kind of attention that right now they need? And how do we nourish them during a time when they are doing more physical labor than before?

It’s a long way ahead. Just imagine that a match was dropped over Puerto Rico and it just went poof! all over the place. To have something like this happen really shakes you up.

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Hurricane Maria crushed Puerto Rico farms. This activist wants to grow resilience through food.

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One month later, most of Puerto Rico is still utterly destroyed.

Toward the end of the last ice age, about 19,000 years ago, the sea rose in several large spurts, according to a new study of coral reefs that grew during this period.

This contradicts assumptions that sea level rises gradually. Instead, coral fossils show sudden inundations followed by quieter periods. This offers new information that supports the theory that glaciers and ice sheets have “tipping points” that cause their sudden collapse along with a sudden increase in sea level.

Researchers at Rice University surveyed deep-sea coral fossils in the Gulf of Mexico, scanning their 3D structures to analyze them for growth patterns. Coral likes to live close to the surface, so it grows slowly when sea level is constant. But when sea level rises quickly, the coral grows vertically to try to stay near the surface, forming terraces.

“The coral reefs’ evolution and demise have been preserved,” lead author of the study, Pankaj Khanna, said in a press release. “Their history is written in their morphology — the shapes and forms in which they grew.”

Whether the future is written in these forms, too, remains to be seen.

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One month later, most of Puerto Rico is still utterly destroyed.

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Federal officials accidentally emailed a reporter their plans to spin Puerto Rico.

In a memo leaked last week, Department of Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert recommended White House staff pivot to a “theme of stabilizing” with regard to messaging around the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico.

President Trump, however, appears to have missed that particular update. On Thursday morning, he threatened to pull federal relief workers from the devastated island just three weeks after Maria made landfall.

Meanwhile, most of Puerto Rico is still without power, hospitals are running out of medical supplies, and clean water remains scarce.

Trump isn’t the only prominent Republican refusing to recognize the severity of the crisis. In an interview with CNN on Thursday morning, Representative Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican, accused host Chris Cuomo of fabricating reports of the severity of the disaster.

“Mr. Cuomo, you’re simply just making this stuff up,” Perry said. “If half the country didn’t have food or water, those people would be dying, and they’re not.”

45 Puerto Rican deaths have been officially confirmed so far, and reports from the ground indicate the unofficial number of deaths due to the storm is higher.

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Federal officials accidentally emailed a reporter their plans to spin Puerto Rico.

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Donald Trump is threatening to end federal relief to Puerto Rico — on Twitter, of course.

In a memo leaked last week, Department of Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert recommended White House staff pivot to a “theme of stabilizing” with regard to messaging around the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico.

President Trump, however, appears to have missed that particular update. On Thursday morning, he threatened to pull federal relief workers from the devastated island just three weeks after Maria made landfall.

Meanwhile, most of Puerto Rico is still without power, hospitals are running out of medical supplies, and clean water remains scarce.

Trump isn’t the only prominent Republican refusing to recognize the severity of the crisis. In an interview with CNN on Thursday morning, Representative Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican, accused host Chris Cuomo of fabricating reports of the severity of the disaster.

“Mr. Cuomo, you’re simply just making this stuff up,” Perry said. “If half the country didn’t have food or water, those people would be dying, and they’re not.”

45 Puerto Rican deaths have been officially confirmed so far, and reports from the ground indicate the unofficial number of deaths due to the storm is higher.

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Donald Trump is threatening to end federal relief to Puerto Rico — on Twitter, of course.

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Obama’s FEMA chief: To rebuild after hurricanes, let’s talk climate change

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The former Federal Emergency Management Agency chief has some advice for the Trump administration after back-to-back hurricanes in the past month: You have to look at climate change science if you want smarter disaster relief.

Drawing on eight years of experience leading FEMA under President Barack Obama, Craig Fugate warned on Tuesday that flood-prone areas can’t simply “rebuild to the past” using historical data on 100-year flood risk. Instead, he said at an event at the liberal Center for American Progress, the country needs to “build to future risk.”

The situation is especially critical now that Congress will be appropriating billions in aid to Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Climate change is helping make these disasters bigger and nastier, but Fugate said they are only natural hazards that “become natural disasters when we’re pricing risk too low. We’re putting vulnerable populations and your tax dollars at risk.”

Fugate refused to discuss President Donald Trump’s or FEMA’s response in Puerto Rico in his remarks or in conversations with the press on Tuesday, but his discussion of the Obama administration’s response to Superstorm Sandy in 2013 presented a stark contrast. He recounted how Obama gave him a specific charge after Sandy, saying that “we need to start talking about climate adaptation” to better cope with the new risks posed by rising global temperatures.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt had the opposite response after the hurricanes, saying a discussion of “a cause and effect isn’t helping.” When Trump was asked about climate change after Harvey, he said only, “We’ve had bigger storms.”

Just 10 days before Harvey’s record rainfall in Houston, Trump reversed Obama’s 2015 executive order to hold federal infrastructure spending to higher elevation standards in floodplains. Building even a foot or two above the existing standards saves money, and potentially lives, in the long-term, Fugate said. “Putting more money in the front end, we save the taxpayer in the long run,” he said. He also criticized the federal flood insurance program for pricing risk so low that it encourages overdevelopment in vulnerable areas, shifting the losses from flooding to the federal taxpayer.

Speaking to reporters at the event, Fugate gave an example of why climate adaptation is necessary. If, after a natural disaster, you rebuild a fire station at the same elevation, to the same building codes, then you risk losing critical emergency resources when they’re needed most. But if you build it to withstand the future risk we know is coming, then the fire station stays intact to help residents through the disaster.

“In many cases we’re doing things that just don’t make sense … and you’re saying you’re building back better,” Fugate said, adding, “We have to rebuild [Puerto Rico] back for a Maria.”

Mother Jones AJ Vicens has been reporting on the ground from Puerto Rico; read his story about how FEMA supplies and assistance have been slow to reach some communities, including one just 45 minutes from the capital, San Juan.

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Obama’s FEMA chief: To rebuild after hurricanes, let’s talk climate change

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Here are the most baffling things Trump said on his visit to Puerto Rico.

President Trump visited the U.S. territory on Tuesday, two weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. Half of Puerto Ricans lack clean water and 95 percent are without power.

So, how did the president approach the unfolding humanitarian crisis? Let’s hear it:

Trump said that Hurricane Maria wasn’t a “real catastrophe” like Hurricane Katrina at a briefing with local officials. He compared the certified death count of the disasters as evidence: “You can be very proud, only 16 instead of thousands in Katrina.” To point out a few problems: The official death toll in Puerto Rico is underreported, it will likely continue to climb, and maybe we shouldn’t frame death tolls as something to be proud of.

“I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget out of whack,” Trump said at the briefing — apparently joking about the disaster aid pending in Congress.

“Have a good time,” Trump told a family after they showed him their storm-damaged home.

The president went mostly off-script from the White House’s Puerto Rico media coverage plan, but he did take the opportunity to tout the success of the relief effort. “Everybody watching can really be very proud of what’s been taking place in Puerto Rico,” he said.

We can only hope he’s not talking about his own performance.

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Here are the most baffling things Trump said on his visit to Puerto Rico.

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