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Dec 03, 2013

Rampaging Moose!

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What do you do if a large moose is charging you in deep powder? In the case of the skiers in the video below, shot in Gaspesia, Quebec, the answer is not very much, although clearly their options are pretty limited. Sierra can, however, offer some professional advice should you find yourself in the middle of a moose tête-à-tête, as happened to runner Sallie Shatz in Utah's Wasatch mountains. This advice from Matt Heid, author of the Appalachian Mountain Club's Best Backpacking Trips in New England.

"If a moose approaches you, it's generally trying to drive you off because it sees you as a threat. In most situations, retreat immediately."

Sadly, advice on moose encounters is at risk of becoming arcane, as moose populations in North America are in steep decline. The precise reason is not clear, although climate change is the most likely culprit.

Note: The first minute of the video is useful mainly for brushing up on your French. Otherwise you can safely skip ahead. 

 

PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress.Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber

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Nov 13, 2013

Australia and Canada, Climate Thugs

MountieIt wasn't very long ago that Canada and Australia were benign figures on the world stage. Canada had a sterling environmental reputation and a leading role in providing aid for the developing world. “I believe the world needs more Canada,” said U2 rocker Bono back in 2003. And only two years ago, Australia passed a historic carbon tax.

That was then. Now, Australia’s new prime minister, Tony Abbott, is pushing for a repeal of the carbon tax, and a host of new coal mines in the Galilee Basin may become the seventh larger carbon emitter in the world, right behind Germany. And Canada, reports The Guardian, now “discourages other industrialised nations from following through on their own climate change commitments.” Prime Minister Stephen Harper “withdrew from the Kyoto protocol on climate change in 2011and Canada has failed to meet its own international [target] to cut greenhouse gas emissions--almost entirely because of its mining of the carbon-heavy Alberta tar sands."  

In a kind of retrograde Anglophone solidarity, Harper also praised Abbot for his efforts to repeal Australia’s carbon tax: “The Australian prime minister’s decision will be noticed around the world and sends an important message.”

And while the Philippine delegate to the United Nations climate change conference in Warsaw was making a dramatic appeal to the nations of the world to “prevent a future where super typhoons become a way of life,” Australia backed out of its previous pledge to help developing nations cope with climate change, calling it “socialism masquerading as environmentalism.” This earned it a “big smile” from Fox News host Stuart Varney: 

 

The scenes of devastation in the Philippines scrolling by in the background are a particularly nice touch. 

PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdatedStrategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress.Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber

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Nov 11, 2013

"The Climate Crisis Is Madness"

Haiyan_amo_2013312_lrgAs super-typhoon Haiyan punishes the Philippines--leaving 10,000 dead and more than 600,000 homeless--the nations of the world are meeting in Warsaw, Poland, for"COP 19," the 19th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. 
"It is the 19th COP, but we might as well stop counting, because my country refuses to accept that a COP30 or a COP40 will be needed to solve climate change," Philippine representative Naderev “Yeb” Saño told the body today. 

What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness....

We can take drastic action now to ensure that we prevent a future where super typhoons become a way of life. Because we refuse, as a nation, to accept a future where super typhoons like Haiyan become a way of life. We refuse to accept that running away from storms, evacuating our families, suffering the devastation and misery, counting our dead, become a way of life. We simply refuse to.

Saño called on the world's nations to, at the least, help finance the Philippines' effort to double its renewable energy capacity by 2020 and triple it by 2030. He also called on the developed nations to raise their emissions reduction targets immediately. (You can read his speech in full here, and the Sierra Club's statement of solidarity here.)

The era of do-nothing international conferences may be reaching its end. Our failure to act in the past is catching up to us now, and with a fury. (With sustained winds of 195 mph and gusts up to 235 mph, Haiyan may be the strongest storm in modern recorded history.) The only alternative to a future of counting our dead is, as Saño called for, "an emergency climate pathway."

NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response

PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdatedStrategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress.Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber
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Nov 06, 2013

Coal Train to Nowhere

IStock_000001004476XSmall (1)Big Coal lost big yesterday when Whatcom County, Washington, elected a slate of four county councilors strongly backed by conservationists (including guess who) opposed to the construction of a $600 million coal terminal at Cherry Point. (As Joel Connelly explains in the Seattle Post Intelligencer, the coal issue was not explicitly debated by the candidates because of their quasi-judicial role in ruling on whether to permit the facility.) Both sides, however, were intensely focused on the central issue, with conservationists and the coal industry spending heavily to support their competing slates. Returns are not yet final (a new round of votes will be released at 4:30 PST), but last night's preliminary figures showed members of the presumed anti-coal slate leading by 9 to 10 percentage points. "The coal industry is in a death spiral," Eric de Place of the Sightline Institute said to Connelly. "They cannot even buy an election right now."

Should this election mean the end of Cherry Point as a terminal for shipping Powder River Basin coal to Asian power plants and smelters, the coal industry's export options would dramatically narrow. As I write in the current issue of Sierra: 

The coal industry hoped to increase its export capacity by building six new terminals in Oregon and Washington. Fierce opposition from Beyond Coal and other environmental groups, together with the dicey economics of the situation, meant a quick end to three. Left standing are proposed facilities at the Port of Morrow in Oregon and Cherry Point and Longview in Washington.

With the tide apparently turning against Cherry Point, that leaves only two ports left standing. That's what a death spiral looks like. 

Image by kurmis/iStock

PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdatedStrategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress.Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber




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Oct 15, 2013

Indoor Cats vs. Outdoor Cats

Clipboard01Ruthless killing machines, but oh so cute! Sierra's contributing writer Dashka Slater bravely ventures into the fraught subject of the environmental effects of cats (and dogs!) in the current issue of the magazine, below. For another charming take on the same subject, see the short video by Caroline Paul and Wendy MacNaughton at bottom (with thanks to @brainpicker).

ON THE ONE HAND. . . Soft, whiskered, and purring, your cat may not look like a ruthless killing machine. But a study from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute indicates that more birds and small mammals die via Fluffy's claws than via cars, pesticides, poisons, colliding with windows, or any other human cause. The study found that cats kill between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds each year, along with 6.9 to 20.7 billion mammals. While feral cats are responsible for the vast majority of the carnage, even well-fed house cats kill an average of 2.1 animals every week they are outside. Worst of all, cats seem to prefer killing native species over icky invaders like the Norway rat.

ON THE OTHER . . . Dogs are worse. Catering to a medium-size dog's carnivorous instincts requires an ecological pawprint twice as large as it takes to build and fuel a large SUV. Worse, once Fido is sated, he has plenty of energy to chase birds, disrupt their nesting sites, exhaust them during migration stops, or kill them outright. A single dog killed more than half of the members of a New Zealand kiwi colony over the course of a few weeks, while five dogs destroyed Italy's largest flamingo colony in one day. And forget those long walks in the woods: A 2007 Australian study found that walking even leashed dogs in a park led to a 35 percent reduction in the number of bird species found there.

 —Dashka Slater

  

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Oct 10, 2013

Point of No Return

Rush hour in JakartaMark your calendars. A new study published in the journal Nature maps out “climate departure,” the year when the average temperature of the coolest year will be warmer than the average historic temperature of the hottest year for several hundred locations around the world. For New York and Washington, D.C., it’s 2047: In about 35 years, even the coldest monthly temperatures on the east coast of the U.S. will be warmer than any time in the past 150 years. The tropics, on average, will get there 15 years earlier – Jakarta, Indonesia and Lagos, Nigeria in 2029, for example. “By 2050, 5 billion people may face extreme climates, and migration and heightened competition for natural resources may trigger violence and instability,” reports Bloomberg News. 

The study assumes we’ll be reckless-as-usual. If the world stabilizes greenhouse-gas emissions, climate departure could be delayed by more than two decades. “Conservation practitioners take heed: the climate-change race is not only on, it is fixed, with the extinction finish line looming closest for the tropics,” writes Eric Post, a professor of biology at Pennsylvania State University, in an article accompanying the study.

The Indonesian city of Manokwari is expected to get to the unfortunate finish line first, in 2020 -- the same year that a binding treaty to combat climate change would take effect, if U.N. envoys can complete negotiations by 2015.

Image of rush-hour traffic in Jakarta, Indonesia by iStock/Herianus.

HS_ReedMcManusReed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”

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Oct 04, 2013

How the Stalled Government Hurts Our Environment

The United States Capitol Building where the decision to shutdown was madeThe government shutdown has forced the closure of the national parks, threatening tourism-based local economies and blocking our ability to marvel at the beauty of nature. But what does the shutdown mean for the agencies that work to expand our knowledge of the environment and protect us from pollution? Here's a rundown of how the nation's regulatory, research, and safety programs are faring. 

The Environmental Protection Agency
With only a fraction of its staff, the EPA is a shadow of its formal self. Regulatory bodies focusing on air, water, and soil will be crippled, and pending legal actions are put on hold. Plans to drastically increase regulations for coal- and gas-fired power plants and efforts to increase renewable fuel volume standards are also stalled. 

The Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board
This board is charged with overseeing and identifying the causes of chemical hazards and spills. During the shutdown, it has only three active employees -- one of whom is an IT specialist. We hope there aren't any dangerous spills in the coming days.

Continue reading "How the Stalled Government Hurts Our Environment" »

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Sep 26, 2013

Confidence Men

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There’s an increasing smell of desperation coming from our neighbors to the north. In June, President Barack Obama said he’d OK the Keystone XL pipeline “only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” Since Keystone obviously flunks that test, Canadian Prime Minister John Harper has reportedly promised to somehow mitigate the carbon pollution from Keystone if only Obama would approve it. (In a letter to Obama, Sierra Club Executive Director @bruneski called the offer "a rubber check written against an empty account.")

Today, according to Bloomberg News, Harper "said he remains optimistic the project will be found to be in the national interest of the U.S." A dive into the archive by our friends at Bold Nebraska found, however, that such assertions of confidence are apparently de rigueur for Keystone supporters. A brief history: 

 

July, 2010: “TransCanada Corp, the county's No. 1 pipeline and power company, said on Thursday it does not expect significant delays to its $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline project to the U.S. Gulf Coast.”
 
February, 2011: “[TransCanada] said it now expects U.S. authorities to approve the project in the last six months of 2011. Its previous estimate was for early in the year.”
 
September, 2011: “We are increasingly optimistic about the likelihood of a presidential permit, which will be based on his analysis of the national interest.”
 
November, 2011: “TransCanada said it was optimistic its Keystone XL oil pipeline would be approved even after Washington said it would consider alternative routes.”
 
December, 2011: “TransCanada expects Keystone XL, including the Houston Lateral, to be in service by the end of 2014.
 
January, 2012: Pourbaix is confident a deal will be in place with Nebraska by September. The company would then apply for federal approval to connect the pipeline to the Alberta oil sands after it begins construction in the States.”
 
February, 2012: “Proceeding with the southern leg of its Keystone XL route reflects TransCanada Pipeline's confidence the rest of the controversial project will be approved by Washington, said company spokesmen.”
 
 
November, 2012: TransCanada still expects to receive White House approval for its 830,000-bpd Keystone XL pipeline project after President Barack Obama's re-election, the company said Friday.”
 
February, 2013: “A senior executive of TransCanada Corp. said Tuesday the company expects final State Department approval for the Keystone XL pipeline expansion in two to three months, following a final U.S. environmental assessment, which he said was ‘imminent.’”
 
February, 2013: “TransCanada, which has been waiting for White House approval for the 830,000 barrel-a-day pipeline expansion for years, expects to receive the necessary permit ‘by the first half of 2013,’ Paul Miller, TransCanada's senior vice president in charge of oil pipelines, said.
"We anticipate to have this in service by end of 2014 or beginning of 2015," Mr. Miller said.
 
September, 2013: “An executive for the Canadian firm that plans to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline through northeast Montana said Wednesday he’s confident the project will get final approval from the U.S. State Department.”
 

Image by fotoscape/iStock

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PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber

 

 

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Sep 19, 2013

Passing The Sniff Test

Smelling bad milkLast week, this blog noted the massive carbon footprint –- 3.3 billion tons per year -- of global food waste. (When compared to the greenhouse offal of entire countries, that puts “food waste” just behind China and the United States.) This week, the Natural Resources Defense Council released a useful “issue brief” that spells out ways public agencies and individuals can begin to trim kitchen waste. Among the easiest: Ignore those “sell-by” dates you find on food products. 

And risk spending the night doubled over the porcelain throne? Well, no. But “sell by” and “best by” date stamps aren’t indicators of safety, just a manufacturer’s best guess of peak freshness. Confusion over labeling, according to the Food Marketing Institute, leads nine out of ten Americans to throw away perfectly good food. In The Dating Game: How Confusing Labels Land Billions of Pounds of Food in the Trash, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic suggest that a revised food-labeling system (which, except for infant formula, is managed state-by-state) could clear up some confusion. One of their potentially contentious ideas is to make invisible to consumers “sell by” dates, which are designed to help a store manage inventory and does not tell consumers how long a product will be good after it’s purchased. The groups also suggest clarifying labeling language: “Best by” could be replaced by “Peak freshness guaranteed by,” for example.

In the end, we should rely more on our skills honed as daily eaters. “Having a date on a package of food is reassuring,” Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (And What We Can Do About It), told the Washington Post. “But you should always trust your senses before that arbitrary date on the package. Look, smell, and if it comes to it, taste it before you throw it away.”

Image by iStock/3bugsmom.

HS_ReedMcManusReed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”

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Sep 18, 2013

"Build Keystone XL Or We'll Shut Down the Government"

NattielampWhat do Congressional Republicans hate as much as Obamacare? This: the possibility that President Obama will nix the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada. Their current strategy re. Obamacare is to leave funding for the Affordable Care Act out of their upcoming stopgap spending bill and see if the Tea Party caucus in the Senate can persuade the Democratic majority to go along. Since the odds for that are vanishingly unlikely, the House leadership is adding further pie-in-the-sky demands to the bill--including construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

House GOP leaders will seek to advance the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline in legislation to raise the debt ceiling, lawmakers said Wednesday.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters the bill would provide a “path forward” on the Keystone pipeline, but the specifics of the GOP Keystone plan were uncertain Wednesday.

President Obama's determination on whether building Keystone is in the national interest is not expected until next year. In June, he declared that "Our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution." To make his decision easier, the Sierra Club has put together a comprehensive report: "FAIL: How the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline Flunks the Climate Test." It would make good reading for Eric Cantor and John Boehner as well.

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PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber

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