Global Warming: Northeast Ohio and Beyond

by Lorraine McCarty

Because of its location and plentiful water, the Midwest was thought to be sheltered from the worst disasters of climate change–but not from everything. Ohio’s record rainfall last year, Lake Erie’s water levels rising higher than they have been in a long time, farmers having a tough year, many communities with flooding problems and rains that never seem to stop have become common occurrences. Government leaders are beginning to pay attention. Some of them have implemented countermeasures, while others are considering or planning for stormwater management and ways to lessen flooding. 

These actions, however, do not address the underlying problem, which requires putting coal-burning utilities out of business and learning to enjoy electric cars fueled by wind- and solar- generated electricity.

Meanwhile, many environmental changes are occurring around the world as officials and others argue about what the next steps should be. This following are a few items from recent news reports that illustrate some of the world’s environmental problems and the sporadic progress (or lack of it) being made to resolve the problem:

Rising Seas

Jakarta, Indonesia

The sea is rising, prompting Indonesia to move its capital, Jakarta, farther inland. Jakarta has sunk more than 10 feet in the last 30 years, and estimates of average global sea-level rise this century ranges from 3 feet to as much as eight feet-amounting to a wake-up call for other coastal cities such as Mumbai (which is ranked as most threatened), New Orleans, Houston, Tampa, London, Tokyo, Copenhagen, Bangkok, Calcutta, Shanghai and Manilla (along with many others). Preparing for rising sea levels requires adapting to a new normal, and coastal communities need to be looking at 30-year master plans to positively address the threat, which could be different depending on location but are necessary for a sustainable future.


Record-High Carbon Dioxide Levels

Carbon dioxide levels measured at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii reached record levels of 415 parts per million, which is the highest that carbon dioxide levels have been in the last 3 million years. Three million years ago, the seas were 65 feet higher than today and America was covered by forests.

From Coal to Renewables in Great Britain

Great Britain was without coal power for a week in May for the first time since the 19th century. Plans call for the removal of coal entirely from the energy-generation mix by 2025. The government also set a deadline of 2050 for the elimination of all greenhouse gas emissions, which environmentalists say is not soon enough.

Diminished Role for Coal-Powered Electricity in Ohio

Coal’s role in electricity in Ohio shrank from 87% 12 years ago to 47% last year. Natural gas generated 34% of Ohio’s energy need last year, while nuclear generated 15% and renewables 3%. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio’s forecast shows that the production of power from these sources in 2036 will be much as it is today.

Increase in Natural Disasters in Central U.S.

In the central U.S., levee breaches have caused floodwaters to inundate towns around the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers.In late May, 15 tornadoes in Ohio left a great deal of devastation. In Montgomery County, 631 homes were unlivable, while 2,550 more homes and 173 businesses were damaged. In Harrison County, 84 homes and 14 businesses were destroyed and 134 homes, and 19 businesses had major damage. In Dayton, 39 homes were destroyed, and 95 others were heavily damaged. Brookville also recorded 39 homes destroyed and another 42 unlivable. The preliminary count in Trotwood showed 33 homes destroyed and another 98 unlivable. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross were offering help.

Climate’s Effect on Baby Lobsters

The number baby lobsters is very high in Canada but lower than expected in New England. Some scientists have said the shellfish appear to be moving north as the New England waters warm because of climate change. The decline in the settlement of baby lobsters has raised concerns in Maine, although the industry is described as strong.

New Mexico Plan for Wind Farm

New Mexico’s plan for a wind farm is moving forward and is projected to generate 250 megawatts, which is enough to power 250,000 households. Scout Clean Energy won the bid for 25 square miles of property and will build the Great Divide Wind Farm. Construction could take two years.

Nuclear Plant to Shut Down

The Three Mile Island nuclear plant will begin shutting down June 1 because a financial rescue did not materialize. The expected shutdown has generated a debate about the zero-carbon-emissions characteristic of nuclear power in a time of global warming.

Booming Shale Business in Ohio

Ohio’s shale business is booming. It is estimated that by 2040, the Utica and Marcellus shale regions in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania will supply energy to 45% of the United States. Natural gas liquids (i.e., ethane, propane and butane) are expected to double during the period from now until 2040.

Pittsburgh Plans for 100% Renewable Energy by 2035

Pittsburgh has pledged to get 100% of its energy from renewable sources by 2035, while Illinois has pledged to do so by 2050 and California and Hawaii by 2045. Nevada pledged to get 50% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. In addition, 101 U.S. cities, 174 large corporations and many other entities have pledged to switch to 100 percent renewable energy. In 2017, public utilities in the United States invested more than $7.8 billion in energy-efficiency programs. The following year, substantial commitments were made by state and local governments to engage in energy-conservation efforts.

Planting of One Trillion Trees an Antidote to Climate Crisis

Research shows that planting one trillion trees could capture huge amounts of carbon dioxide, and this is by far the largest and cheapest way to tackle the climate crisis. Scientists calculated how many more trees could be planted without encroaching on crop land or urban areas and found that planting 1 trillion more trees could remove two-thirds of all emissions that have been pumped into the atmosphere by human activity. Other scientists, however believe the estimates are overly ambitious. In any case, everyone can get involved by growing trees themselves or by donating to forest restoration organizations.
So, when it comes to climate change, we know what to do. We just need to find a way to do it.

Sources: The Signal Tree Newsletter (Portage Trail Group of the Sierra Club), July/August 2019; Akron Beacon Journal, April 25, 2019, May 6, 2019, May 7, 2019, May 9, 2019, June 4, 2019, July 3, 2019; Record-Courier, June 7, 2019, July 1, 2019; The Plain Dealer, May 17, 2019; NRDC Bulletin, Spring 2019; Solutions, Spring 2019; Guardian, July 4, 2019.

U.N. Report: A Million Species–and Human Society–Face Dire Risk

by Lorraine McCarty

A United Nations biodiversity report in early May warned that 1 million of the planet’s 8 million plant and animal species face the threat of extinction, many of them within decades. This is happening tens to hundreds of times faster than the rate over the past 10 million years.

The 7 billion people on earth are all exploiting natural resources, causing pollution and driving climate change–an unnatural history. Urban areas have just about doubled since 1992, and crop production has tripled since 1970. Plastic pollution has risen tenfold since 1980. Human activity has “severely altered” 66% of marine and 75% of land environments, and native species have fallen by a fifth. More than 33% of marine mammals, almost a third of reef-forming corals and 40% of amphibians are threatened with extinction, and 10% of insects also are at risk.

The United Nations is calling for the world to see the situation as a climate emergency because human life is inextricably linked with 

natural ecosystems. Authors of the report note that three quarters of the world’s crops depend on animal pollination and that $577 billion worth of crops could be lost each year is pollinators were to become extinct. Twenty-three percent of land already is degraded and less productive, and coastal habitat destruction has heightened flood and hurricane risk for 100 million to 300 million people. Robert Watson, one of the report’s authors, said, “We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

Source: Time, May 20, 2019.

On a related note, KEC member Karl Liske recommends the book Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? by Bill McGibbon. Amazon.com says this about McGibbon’s book:
“Bill McKibben’s groundbreaking book The End of Nature . . .  was the first book to alert us to global warming. But the danger is broader than that: even as climate change shrinks the space where our civilization can exist, new technologies like artificial intelligence and robotics threaten to bleach away the variety of human experience.
Falter tells the story of these converging trends and of the ideological fervor that keeps us from bringing them under control. And then, drawing on McKibben’s experience in building 350.org, the first truly global citizens movement to combat climate change, it offers some possible ways out of the trap. We’re at a bleak moment in human history–and we’ll either confront that bleakness or watch the civilization our forebears built slip away.

Falter is a powerful and sobering call to arms, to save not only our planet but also our humanity.”

50 Years of Recovery Celebrated

by Lorraine McCarty

Longtime KEC member Rick Feinberg wrote the following poem years ago after a hike through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where his son decided to “wash” his hands in Brandywine Creek. 
River of Illumination
There’s a chemical solution where you go for your ablution
In the River of Pollution that is flowing through the Park.
From the muck and from the mire rise the molecules of fire
As the flames burn ever higher and illuminate the dark.

People await the passing
of the torch

Well, the polluted and burning-river image is being put to rest this year on the 50th anniversary of the last fire on the Cuyahoga River, the one that appeared in Time magazine and helped spark the environmental movement and the Clean Water Act. The Cuyahoga River was named “River of the Year” by the group American Rivers in honor of all the hand work that groups have done to clean and restore the river and make it an example for the rest of the country. 

All along the Cuyahoga River this year, the Xtinguish Torch Fest helped to highlight the progress that has been made. In Kent, the event was sponsored by the Kent Environmental Council, Davey Tree, Hometown Bank, Kent Parks and Recreation Department, the Portage Foundation, the Portage County Stormwater District, and the city of Kent. Many other groups and individuals donated money or their time to help plan the event.

There were many environmental exhibitors and food vendors for attendees to visit, and the Wick Poetry Center was helping people write more poems about the river. Although the rain canceled two band performances, music played from speakers on the Main Street bridge as Hal Walker rode in a bicycle cab while playing his instrument. The Kent Women’s African Drum Ensemble played from the river level, as experienced kayakers braved the very high and fast-moving river, and Marlys Rambaugh brought the torch in from the river’s source in Geauga County. Speakers talked about the improved habitat for fish and invertebrates, the increase in wildlife, healthier water and environment, and increased recreation on the river and on trails nearby. 

Fourth-grader Kora Mendez (left) and sculptor George Danhires pose by Danhires’ relief sculpture of the Cuyahoga River and a blue heron.

A relief sculpture by George Danhires was installed on the railing below the bridge overlooking the river and formally dedicated. The image is of the river and a blue heron, which is a regular visitor to the waterway in Kent. The sculpture also displays the following poem written by fourth-grader Kora Mendez, which she read aloud during the ceremony:

The river knows that place in your mind that flows.
You can feel the rocks on the bottom of your feet.
And then it takes you home.

The torch was then passed to Elaine Marsh to take it to Cuyahoga Falls. From there, the torch was carried though the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and up to the mouth of the river in Cleveland.

Catherine Ricks from the Kent Parks and Recreation Department summed up the event best when she said: “The synergy of the torch festival team, public and participants was incredible and the rain feeding the energy of the river only heightened my awareness of the Cuyahoga being the reason we were gathered there. The river was singing her own renaissance song . . . loud and clear. We all followed her beat.”

Xtinguish Torch Fest Events in Kent Set for June 20

Xtinguish Torch Fest is a community-wide celebration of recovery for the Cuyahoga River–50 years after the river caught fire. That incident played a role in the development and passage of the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Acts and helped to spur the environmental movement overall. We hope all of you will join us. The festivities will take place in downtown Kent on Thursday, June 20, from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Music, food, bands, interactive displays, a dragon trash monster, poetry, dedication of a large bronze sculpture near the river, and a passing of the torch from the headwaters through Kent, on to the Falls and then to the mouth of the river in Cleveland. Come and be part of this historic event. See details below:

This Is No Ordinary Lawsuit

by Lorraine McCarty

Juliana v. United States has been working its way thought federal courts since 2015, when it was filed on behalf of 21 children trying to stop the United States from using fossil fuels. The plaintiffs say that fossil fuels are causing climate change, endangering their future, and denying their rights to life, liberty and property. This story was reported by Steve Kroft on the March 3 edition of “60 Minutes.” 


Kelsey Juliana

Kelsey Juliana, the oldest of the plaintiffs, was 19 when the lawsuit was filed in 2015 in Oregon. Juliana lives in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains, where she has had to deal with droughts and wildfires. She talked on this show about being unable to go outside because the air quality was so bad. She said that scientists have told her it’s bad for health and that the federal government said in its response to the suit that the effects of climate change are already happening, and young people could have to deal with those effects for the long term.


Levi Drehan

The youngest plaintiff, Levi Drehan, is now in sixth grade and lives with his family on a barrier island in Florida, which is only one mile wide and just barely above sea level. He is afraid he won’t have a house in the future. The other 19 children from 10 states involved in the lawsuit also worry about the effects of climate change on their lives. 

While many people did not take the lawsuit very seriously at first, it is still winding its way through the courts, and two motions by the government to delay or dismiss the case have been rejected twice by the U.S. Supreme Court. The plaintiffs have amassed such a huge body of evidence that it will surprise even skeptics and is forcing the government to admit that the crisis is real.


Attorney Julia Olsen

The children are represented by Julia Olsen, an Oregon attorney and director of the nonprofit For Our Children’s Trust. A timeline that goes back 50 years lines the walls of the organization’s office. The timeline shows that for the past 50 years, all government administrations knew about the connection between fossil fuels and climate change and that every president since Lyndon Johnson was aware that fossil fuels were causing climate change. The evidence against the government, said Olsen, totals 36,000 pages and will be used in court. For 50 years, Olsen added, the government was briefed regularly by the national security community and the scientific community about climate change. She noted that government attorneys do not want it to go to trial because they know they will lose, given the evidence that will be presented. Attorneys for the federal government have admitted in court that the government knew the burning of fossil fuels would cause climate change, that the government does not dispute the claim that the planet is in a danger zone because of the effects of climate change, and that the government does not dispute that climate change is a threat to people’s lives and safety. The defendants also admit that human activity, particularly elevated concentrations of greenhouse gasses, is likely the dominant cause of observed warming that has occurred since the mid-1990s and that greenhouse-gases have been at unprecedented levels for at least 2.6 million years-resulting in an unprecedented loss of life, the extinction of many species, an increase in the intensity of hurricanes and severe storms, an increase in precipitation, an increase in the loss of sea ice, and rising sea levels. The government also has acknowledged that the effect of climate change on agriculture will lead to food scarcity.


Attorney Julia Olsen agrees with economists who say that failure to address climate change will have a devastating effect on the economy.


Olsen said that Juliana v. United States is the easiest case she has ever litigated because she simply is using the government’s own words to prove her case. Olsen said that because the government has failed to protect the country’s air, water, forests and coastlines, the lawsuit is asking the defendants to devise a plan to wean the country off fossil fuels by the middle of this century. In his reporting, Kroft noted that some people say the abandonment of fossil fuels will cause economic disruption, to which Olsen responded, “If we don’t address climate change in this country, economists across the board say that we are in for economic crises we have never seen before.” 

Kroft asked Olsen why the federal government was responsible for climate change. Olsen told Kroft the government is to blame because it subsidies the country’s fossil fuel energy systems, allows every aspect of the country’s fossil fuel energy system to exist and allows energy companies to extract fossil fuels from public lands.

Ann Aiken, a federal judge in Eugene, Oregon, denied a motion to dismiss the case, saying that “exercising my reasoned judgment . . . I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.” The courts have never before recognized a constitutional right to a stable climate and there is no passage in the constitution that says this, but she believed it was not a stretch. Justice Department briefs have called the lawsuit misguided, unprecedented and unconstitutional. The briefs also argue that energy policy is the legal responsibility of the Congress and the White House and not a single judge and that climate change is a complicated global problem that cannot be solved by the United States alone.

The next oral arguments in the case will be in June in Portland, Oregon. While it is impossible to predict how both storms and lawsuits are likely to end, one environmental attorney notes that courts have been asked the government to do bold things in the past, such as desegregation (Brown v. Board of Education) and that perhaps this case will be similar. 

Recommended Reading

by Karl Liske

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate

By Peter Wohlleben

Drawing on groundbreaking new scientific discoveries, Wholleben tells us about the previous unknown life of trees and their communication abilities. Much like human families, tree parents live together with their family members, support them as they grow–sharing nutrients with those trees that are sick or struggling and creating an ecosystem that mitigates the impact of extremes of heat or cold for the whole group. Trees in a family or community can live to be very old. In contrast, solitary trees have a tough time and, in most cases, die much earlier than those in a group. Wohlleben translates this knowledge into good forest practices.

Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America

By Michael Ruhlman

If you care about why you eat what you eat, and want to do something about it, you need to read this book that talks about the growing and marketing of food and its costs to people’s health.

–Karl Liske

Blue Orchard Bees: A Natural Solution to the Decline of Honeybee

by Bob Heath

With the noted decline in success of rearing honeybees, many growers and home gardeners have begun to worry about the reliability of counting on honeybees alone for pollination of their crops and gardens.  Besides the problems with maintaining hives of honeybees because of loss of habitat, pests and increased use of harmful pesticides, there are several other reasons to look beyond honeybees for adequate pollination of fruits and flowers.  Honeybees are good, but not great, pollinators of many flowers.  Their time per flower is longer than some bees, and there are bees that carry more pollen per visit than honeybees. Honeybees avoid pollinating members of the nightshade family (Solanaceae), which includes tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and potatoes. Honeybees avoid dim habitats (such as the edge of forests), become disoriented in greenhouses, and take the day off if it rains. Finally, honeybees aren’t fully active until May, although many flowering crops bloom from late March through April. For these reasons, many people are looking for native bee species for crop pollination. Bees that are gentle and easily handled are at the top of the list. Among the best of these native bees for use in Northeast Ohio is the blue orchard bee (Osmia lignaria).

The blue orchard bee (BOB, for short) is a member of the family of mason bees, so named because they lay their eggs in small chambers walled off with mud, just as a mason lays bricks separated by cement.  No queen bees here. As with most bee species, these are solitary bees that build individual nests rather than an organized social-colony hive headed by a queen.  BOB overwinters in a cocoon, emerging when temperatures reach above 55 degrees Fahrenheit for several consecutive days. The males emerge first, followed in a couple days by the females. The first thing the female BOB does is mate with one or two males. After mating, she spends several days sucking up nectar until her ovaries mature, then she gets down to business of building a nest. She will seek out a nesting site that is a tube-shaped cavity around six inches long and just the right diameter of 5/16 inch. When selecting a nest, the female BOB flies back and forth in front of the hole to make sure she can remember exactly where it is located. She also wants to be sure the correct type of mud–a silt-clay mixture moist enough to be balled up–is in the vicinity to pack into the nest.

Blue Orchid Bee

She begins building the nest by carrying some mud in her mandibles and packing it at the back of the nest. Then she forages for pollen and nectar in nearby flowers, generally within 100 yards of the nest. BOBs prefer Rosaceae–flowers of the rose family, such as apples, pears, almonds and blackberries. The female BOB can visit as many as 75 flowers in one trip to provision the nest with a mix of pollen and nectar; it takes about 25 trips to provision one compartment in the nest. She flies from dawn until dusk, even if it’s windy or drizzly. When the compartment in the nest is sufficiently provisioned, she lays a fertilized egg and then closes the compartment with a dollop of mud. Next, she collects pollen and nectar for the next compartment, lays an egg and closes it off. She builds the nest from the back to the front but, as she approaches the front of the nest, she lays unfertilized eggs. Fertilized eggs become females, while unfertilized eggs become males; the sex ratio in BOBs is two females to three males. When the nest is complete, she walls it off with a dollop of mud, then begins the process all over again, seeking a new nesting site and so on. Inside the nest the eggs hatch. Each larva goes through three molts, then pupates and overwinters in the cocoon, hatching only when the weather turns from cold to cool the following spring.

Think about all the flowers the female BOB visits to complete one compartment of the nest: 75 flowers per trip x 25 trips per compartment = more than 1,800 flower visits, and there are about eight compartments per nest. And each female BOB builds several nests during her lifetime, which is only four to eight weeks long. Wow!! BOBs visit more flowers per minute than honeybees, and they collect more pollen per visit than honeybees, making them highly efficient, valuable pollinators. They are so valuable that a cottage industry has sprung up, selling mason bee “hotels,” which provide the right length and diameter for BOB nests. But wait, there’s more! You also can buy BOB cocoons and mason bee mud. Mud, cocoons and “hotels” can then be placed in an orchard or a flower garden. It has been noted that by encouraging BOBs into an orchard, crop yields can be noticeably improved. The blue mason bee is active early in the season, from late March through early June.

References:

Wilson, J.S., & Carril, O.M. (2016). The Bees in Your Backyard: A Guide to North American Bees. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-16077-1

Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osmia_lignaria

EPA and Environmental Watch

Summarized by Lorraine McCarty

The acting Environmental Protection Agency administrator and the Trump administration in general continue to support fossil-fuel use and deregulation at the risk of the health and wellness of the people and the planet. Here are some of the actions they have taken:

  • Rollback of Mercury Regulations. The EPA and the Trump administration have ordered a rollback of mercury regulations from coal plants. Those regulations have cut mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants by 85% in the last decade. Environmentalists have described the regulatory rollback as snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Mercury causes brain damage, learning disabilities, and other health defects in children and enters the food chain through fish and other items people eat. The Obama administration projected that mercury restrictions would prevent 130,000 asthma attacks and 11,000 premature deaths in the United States. The rule change for mercury emissions is in the comment period.
  • Gutting of the Clean Water Act. The EPA and the Trump administration are attempting to gut the Clean Water Act by exempting ephemeral streams and wetlands that have no aboveground connection to larger bodies of water–a move that would leave half or the nation’s wetlands subject to pollution and destruction. Ohio has already lost 90% of its wetlands, and the gutting of the Clean Water Act would harm another 50% of what is left. These intermittent streams, however, are important to the health of the environment. They filter out pollutants, and the water flows to larger tributaries that provide drinking water to millions of people. Environmentalists say the administration’s move favors developers and fails to heed basic science that shows how these streams and wetlands prevent flooding by absorbing significant amounts of rainwater and snowmelt that otherwise would reach larger streams and basic scientific evidence that the streams and wetlands provide habitat for wildlife and protection from predators. Nationwide, flooding causes $8 billion in damage every year to property and crops. Agriculture already is largely exempted from the Clean Water Act (which adds to the problem of algal blooms in Lake Erie). Industrial rights groups and rural landowners, however, want to weaken the law further.
  • Carbon-Capture Rollbacks. The EPA has proposed rolling back a regulation to require cutting-edge carbon-capture techniques for new coal plants to remove what the agency calls “excessive burdens” on the energy industry.
  • Propping Up the Coal Industry. The Trump administration incorrectly blamed the coal industry’s problems on overregulation aimed at decreasing carbon and mercury emissions and finding ways to deal with coal-ash disposal issues. The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s annual energy outlook, however, forecasts a 21% decline in coal production over the next 20 years–an even steeper decline than expected two years ago when there was more regulation of the industry. Technology developments that have led to the shale gas revolution are providing a much cheaper alternative to coal, and renewables have made faster than expected technological advances–leaving coal in the dust.
  • Fixation on Natural Gas. The U.S. Gas Infrastructure Exports Initiative has as its mission to drive sales of American natural gas by pumping dollars into pipelines and gas-producing facilities overseas. The organization is a coalition of companies, trade groups, law firms, a nonprofit think tank, and at least five federal agencies. Launched a year ago, the organization continues to market liquified natural gas (LNG) as a “clean” energy source that is clearly in U.S. economic interests. The organization has funded 13 gas projects in more than 20 countries and generated more than $1.5 billion in exports. The U.S. Trade and Development Agency (which describes itself as “an independent agency of the United States government, established in 1961 to advance economic development and U.S. commercial interests in developing and middle income countries) is considering action to fund some of the 40 international gas-related facility proposals it has received this year as part of its effort to help countries in emerging markets develop the infrastructure necessary to be long-term recipients of U.S. LNG exports. The United States has a handful of export terminals now, and plans call for a dozen more. Environmentalists’ support for LNG as a “clean” transitional alternative to coal and diesel has eroded because methane leaks at oil and gas sites are 60% over estimates and because LNG still emits a significant amount of carbon dioxide. Environmentalists say it is time to look beyond natural gas to renewables.
  • Limits on States’ Ability to Block Interstate Pipelines. And last but not least for this month, the Trump administration is considering taking steps to limit the ability of states to block interstate pipelines. This action is aimed mainly at Northeastern and Midwestern states. New York successfully blocked an interstate pipeline by denying a water-quality permit. Pipeline advocates say that states have abused their authority under the Clean Water Act to block pipelines and that even if Trump tires to use an executive order to get what he wants, real change may require legislation to alter the statute itself.

In more hopeful news, the states of California, New Mexico, New York and Washington have joined     conservationists and tribes to sue coal companies in an attempt to revive former President Barack Obama’s moratorium on new lease sales for federal lands that hold billions of tons of coal. The moratorium was issued because coal is a source of pollution that puts the climate and public health at risk. U.S. District Judge Brian Morris is expected to issue a ruling in the coming months. The National Mining Association argues that the moratorium was a voluntary step and that the Trump administration has the right to end it. Environmentalists want to resume a sweeping review of the moratorium’s environmental effects.

Also, earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the EPA’s delay in implementing the Chemical Disaster Rule was unlawful. This ruling will expedite key protections to safeguard the public and first responders from chemical disasters.

Sources: Record-Courier, December 30, 2018; Akron Beacon Journal, December 7, 2018, December 13, 2018, December 21, 2018, January 22, 2019, January 26, 2019, January 31, 1019; EarthJustice, October 30, 2018.

In Memoriam: Helen Gregory

by Jane Preston Rose and Ann Ward

When Helen moved from environmentally forward-thinking Boulder, Colorado, to Kent, she saw no evidence of such consciousness in her new hometown. That dismay turned to delight when she came across Ruth Meade, Walt and Nancy Adams, Joan Sturtevant, and Joyce Keller standing by a truck in Acme Plaza. They were collecting newspapers as part of Kent Environmental Council’s nascent recycling efforts. She enthusiastically connected with the group, helping their efforts to clear the Cuyahoga River banks and supporting the recycling program.

The recycling effort flourished, and a recycling center was built off Lake Street in Kent, staffed by volunteers. Helen’s first foray into fundraising began when money was needed to support the fledgling recycling center. Recognizing that a recycling center might not be of great interest to many potential donors, Helen conceived and led a fund-raising effort to raise money for a Kent beautification program that also would provide some funds to support the recycling center. That effort successfully raised funds to help beautify entrances to Kent. The eight-year Haymakers Parkway landscaping project along the State Route 59 bypass netted contributions totaling $70,000 from the community. Helen enlisted the support of her husband, Stanford, to build an attractive Kent sign at the north entrance to the city on Mantua Street. That carved wood sign grounded in cement continues to welcome people to the city.

Helen Gregory (seated) on the Portage Hike and Bike Trail

A talented writer, Helen launched a column for KEC in the Record-Courier titled “Eco-Focus,” which was published regularly for four years. Her columns covered a wide range of subjects with intriguing titles such as: 

  • Waste not with compost ‘magic’
  • Try alternatives to junking junk mail
  • Thinking ‘green’ good idea for gifts
  • ‘Green’ office means reducing waste stream
  • It’s time to learn to love your leaves

Helen served as chair of KEC in the early 1990s and was member of the Portage Park District Foundation Board. She also was engaged in other leadership and service efforts in the community. In 2018, Helen received the Environmental Conservation Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Portage Park District.

Helen was a relentlessly positive person, and we will sorely miss her energy and encouragement.

Yes, Virginia, Climate Change Is Real

by Lorraine McCarty

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), on her first day as speaker of the House of Representatives, said that “[Climate change is] the existential threat of our time. The entire Congress must work to put an end to the inaction and denial of science that threaten the planet and the future.” She then proceeded to create the Climate Crisis Committee to help lead the nation to take decisive action on climate change. While the committee has no subpoena power and cannot write bills, acknowledgement from a legislative leader that the climate is in crisis and the announcement that the house will studying the issue are two huge steps. According to Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), chair of the new panel, “The Democratic caucus is unified under the belief we have to take bold action on the climate crisis.” She sees the committee’s job as taking general concepts of the Green New Deal (a separate effort) and turning them into a real policy framework and legislative language and eventually law. The name of the committee is significant, as it will help to remind people about what is at stake when the committee reports its findings.

We need to contrast Pelosi’s initiative with action of President Donald Trump’s nominee for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Andrew Wheeler, who did not read the landmark  federal report on climate change published in late 2018 that the EPA helped put together. Wheeler does not believe the EPA has the authority to regulate carbon emissions in any significant capacity and proudly supports dismantling the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. To read the Environmental Defense Fund’s case against confirming Wheeler as the permanent EPA administrator, click here.   

Climate Reality Check: After several years of little growth, global emissions of carbon pollution were up in 2018. In the United States, the Global Carbon Project estimates that from 2017 to 2018, carbon pollution rose by 2.7%. Fossil fuels still account for 81% of energy use worldwide. The use of coal–the biggest carbon emitter–is rising. Even though countries are using more renewable fuels in an attempt to reduce carbon output, emissions from cars and planes are increasing steadily. If you want to know more about why carbon emissions are referred to as greenhouse gasses, click here for a great summary by the Climate Reality Project. 

Increased carbon emissions mean warmer temperatures, but local cold snaps are not proof that climate change is a hoax. Weather is like a mood and is fleeting. Climate is like a personality and more long-lasting and spans continents, hemispheres and the planet. The recent climate report from the EPA points out that “over    climate timescales of multiple decades, however, global temperatures continue to steadily increase.” The reports cites numerous studies that show that 90% of the current warming is caused by humans, with no credible alternative explanation supported by observational evidence.

The report also warns that “warming charged extremes have become more frequent, intense, widespread or of long duration.” Think of California’s catastrophic wildfires and heavy rains followed by mudslides and massive hurricanes, just to name just two examples. The report says that damaging weather in the United States cost nearly $400 billion from 2015 to the fall of 2018. Global warming is changing how and where people live and presents growing challenges to health, quality of life, the economy and national systems that support the population. Increased air pollution will cause more heart and lung problems. Diseases from insects and tropical   infections will increase. Deaths from heatwaves and nastier allergies will increase. The flooding of sewage system can cause the spread of gastrointestinal disease, and droughts in some regions can cause food shortages. The ice caps in both the Arctic and Antarctica are melting much faster than expected (including ice the size of Idaho that was lost during two weeks in February of 2018 in the Arctic). Two ice basins in the Antarctic are threatened and, if both collapse, sea levels could rise by 92 feet, submerging communities around the world. Rising seas and severe storm surges will lower property values and force people to relocate. And the list goes on….

According to a recent AP poll, disasters influence 75% of the public’s thinking on climate change. Their observations of natural disasters and the weather around them have more impact than stories or statements from leaders. The public increasingly believes that climate change is real and is caused by human activity or an equal mix of human activity and natural causes. Only 1 in 10 attribute climate change to natural causes only. Cities, states and businesses are moving forward and developing plans to cut carbon emissions rather than rely on the federal government to take action. Fortunately, businesses are starting to account for estimated climate change risks in their financial disclosures. Businesses also are starting to take climate risks more seriously, although companies concerned with short-term challenges may not be accurately reporting long-term risks to their investors–sometimes issuing estimates 100 times smaller than the most conservative scientific estimate.

Climate scientists from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predict that a climate catastrophe just 12 years away, with many ill effects already       evident. One can only hope that the 2018 U.S. Climate Report not only will make it more difficult to ease regulations but also will spur limits on emissions and more investment in research to develop clean energy technology. The world came together on limiting the chemicals that were creating the ozone hole in the atmosphere, and the hole is disappearing. The world must do the same when it comes to halting climate change. That action cannot come too soon. We have been warned, and we need to act. Now.

Sources: Akron Beacon Journal, November 24, 2018, December 6, 2018, December 12, 2018, December 13, 2018, January 23, 2019; Record-Courier, November 24, 2018, February 10, 2019; 314Action, January 9, 2019; Time, October 22, 2018; Climate Hawks Vote, January 4, 2019; The Week, January 11, 2019.