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So much bad news.

So bad. And so much of it. About sea level rise and species extinction and massively destructive storms that change lives forever. 400. 

It’s a veritable Pandora’s box of bad.

So much bad that it’s tempting to push it aside.

But just like we teach children, the truth sets free to make different, better choices. Telling our friends and family and customers and colleagues and suppliers the truth about the real, imminent dangers facing humanity is the only way out.

And moreover, this is about respect.

Do I respect myself, and every person I meet, enough to act with integrity? To think beyond my own needs to what they need? And what our children need?

Via sehn.org, authored by the world’s preeminent scholar on the Precautionary Principle, Carolyn Raffensperger:

Why We Should Tell People the Truth About the Environment Even When It Is Bad News

I think unless the people are given information about what is happening to them, they will die in ignorance. And I think that’s a big sin. I mean, if there is such a thing as a sin, that’s it, to destroy people and not have them have a clue about how this is happening.”  Alice Walker

When people find out what I do for a living—addressing climate change, toxic chemicals, and loss of species—they ask me if I am optimistic that things will turn out ok. They ask, do I think there’s a viable future for their kids and their grandchildren? They are asking me for my professional judgment about the state of the world since I live and breathe each new study and every fact.

And my colleagues and allies in the environmental work have the same kinds of discussions about the science of endocrine disruptors, rising levels of carbon dioxide, and the acidification of the ocean. My colleagues say “that’s too negative. Focus on the good news! The solutions! We can’t tell people the bad news because it will turn them off!”

But here’s the deal—we are in deep trouble. Recent data suggest that humans will suffer more chronic debilitating diseases, most of our own making; climate will ricochet from one calamitous weather pattern to another; and frogs and pollinators will not survive the predations of industrial civilization. I write this essay from central Iowa where in 2010 we had record flooding. In 2012 we had record drought. And now in 2013 we have record rainfall and flooding, again.

Here is my list of reasons for why I have come to believe that people need to know the truth about the bad environmental news.

Raffensperger’s closing thought about “looking to the birds” reminds me of the famous Mr. Rogers quote. When asked how to talk to children about horrible things, he said, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Remember what’s at the bottom of that box.

Hope.

“Where there’s hope, there’s life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.”

 

 

Science tells us what. Policy tells us what to do about it.

Human-caused climate change is happening and it’s hurting the world we live on.

So why aren’t more citizens, businesses, and governments taking action?

I attended a lecture last night on just that topic at Rutgers University by Dr. Michael E. Mann, climate scientist and author of  “The Hockey Stick and The Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines.”

Dr. Mann started off stating that climate change science is not controversial.  Climate change science rests on established and well-understood facts and validated models.

The earth’s climate is changing rapidly, and perhaps irreversibly, due to human-created carbon emissions into our atmosphere.

With that out of the way, he recounted his reluctant evolution from policy-eschewing scientist to a front-line climate science  defender.

Think Attorney General subpoenas, Congressional inquiries, and even death threats.

All waged by policymakers, politicians, and those with financial interests in keeping climate change science from being accepted as basic fact.

It’s a fascinating story and I strongly recommend the book.

Watch a condensed 16-minute version of this same talk from his Dec. 2011 TEDx talk:

TEDxPSU – Michael Mann – A Look Into Our Climate: Past To Present To Future

And about that hockey stick?

Kudos for my alma mater’s student newspaper The Daily Targum for covering the well-attended event:

Author makes case for rising temperatures

Michael E. Mann, a professor in the Department of Meteorology at Pennsylvania State University, came to speak about his book, “The Hockey Stick and The Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines,” yesterday at the Cook Campus Center.

 “The hockey stick is a graph that my co-authors and I published more than a decade ago, which was an attempt to find how the temperature of the earth has changed over 1,000 years,” Mann said.

“It quickly became an icon in the climate change debate because it told such a simple story,” he said. “You didn’t need to understand the physics of how a climate model works to understand what this graph is telling you.”

His talk ended on the positive note that there is still time, not a lot,  to take action before we hit the point of no return. (Wonky but worth it.)

But first, we need to stop arguing about the science.

Learn More:

Aug. 30 White House Executive Order Signed by President Obama to Accelerate Energy Efficiency

Sept 6. Greenbiz.com: Article White House Efficiency Plan Will Up Output, Curb Emissions
(Greenbiz.com is a for-profit online news source covering Sustainable Business and related topics)

Sept. 7 New York Times: Obama Counterpunches “Climate Change is Not a Hoax”

Sept 7 Inside Climate News: Major Corporations Aren’t Waiting for Washington to Reduce Emissions and Save Money
(Inside News is a non-profit, non-partisan news source)

There’s a fight brewing in Washington, D.C. over the new standards for LEED, the leading green building certification standards, run by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The new proposed LEED Version 4 standard will give credits for building teams that don’t use certain plastics and chemicals, such as polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, that are linked to health and environmental negative impacts.

Some members of the plastics and chemicals industry are not happy with these proposed changes.

So unhappy that they’ve set up their own council to counter LEED, called the American High-Performance Buildings Coalition.

Background on what’s at stake for capturing U.S. Government building dollars, via Greenbiz.com:

Will the Plastics Industry Kill LEED?

LEED is the most-used green building standards globally, as well as in the United States, where more than 400 cities and communities, 39 states and 14 federal agencies currently require builders to meet LEED standards. LEED is voluntary, but it has been adopted by the GSA and other government agencies as the required building standard for new construction. Government agencies have been critical to LEED’s success: roughly a third of LEED projects are government-owned.

In response, the USGBC staked its ground with the red, white and blue: LEED Is Private, Voluntary, Transparent and Democratic,

More coverage via treehugger.com:

July 18–Plastic People Set Up “American High-Performance Buildings Coalition” To Fight Restrictions on Plastics in Green Building

July 18–Update on The American High-Performance Buildings Coalition: Their Website is Live, and Here Are Their Members

July 19–What Are The Plastic People So Afraid Of That They Want To Kill LEED?

This promises to be a very interesting discussion.

NOAA Fisheries officials presented 2012 first quarter data on the status of U.S. fish stocks to Congress May 15.

Read the 2012 Status of U.S. Fisheries report.

Coverage of the congressional report comes via Gloucestertimes.com:

NOAA sustainability reports shows new gains

By Richard Gaines Staff Writer

NOAA made its annual report Monday to Congress on the status of the nation’s fish stocks, and noted that, in 2011 the so-called Fish Stock Sustainability Index — a kind of Dow Jones Industrial Average for 230 key fish stocks — continued improving for the 11th straight year.

The good news on top  is that progress is being made toward ending overfishing and rebuilding fish stocks, “due to the commitment of fishermen, fishing communities, nongovernment organizations, scientists and managers.”

Well enough.

But good enough, and more importantly, fast enough?

Probably not.

Here’s where things stand today with 2011 cod catch limits, and the forecast for next year:

Based on the 2011 assessment, the catch limit on Gulf of Maine cod for the 2012 fishing year that started May 1 is set at 22 percent lower than it was in 2011. But far more drastic cutbacks are expected from NOAA beginning May 1, 2013. The 22 percent cut is considered an interim measure.

It’s hard to stay positive about real, incremental positive improvement in recreational and commercial inshore stocks when offshore draggers are scraping the bottom of the Stellwagen Bank ocean clean of  fish. Read more on this.

How are these major commercial fishing operations getting away with this? By exploiting weaknesses in the Catch Share program rules. Read an article on some ways that draggers may be beating the rules.

It’s a very very complicated issue.

But at the end of the day, once the vastly diminished cod stocks are gone, they’re gone.

Ciao Cod.

Related article: If We Eat All the Fish, Whose Tragedy Is it?

 

Good news for the health of soup-consumers everywhere: Camden-based Campbell’s Soup has announced the company will phase out BPA chemicals from its cans.

Mmm mmm good for them in making a strategic business decision that reaches past short-term profits to consider long-term consumer relationships.

It’s a win-win-win for consumers, the environment, and I’m willing to bet, their profits.

Via grist.org:

Campbell’s to ditch BPA from soup cans

The announcement is big news because the soup behemoth has been seriously dragging its can on the BPA front. Companies like Muir Glen, Eden Foods, and Trader Joe’s eliminated BPA from their products ages ago, and Heinz, Hain Celestial, and ConAgra already committed to phase out the chemical, which has been linked to heart disease, early onset puberty, diabetes, obesity, hyperactivity, and cancers, just to name a few.

The Precautionary Principle asks manufacturers to prove no harm before a product is released to the marketplace. That clearly did not happen in this case.

While a lot of BPA-laced water is already well under the bridge–and in our bodies–this welcome change is better late than never.

If you sell you something that makes you terribly sick, who is to blame?

Seems like an obvious question, right? Especially if you are applying chemicals that are designed to kill living organisms.

The thing is, it’s often a very hard thing to prove, especially when it comes to illnesses linked to toxic chemicals and pesticides exposure. U.S. agri-giant Monsanto has relied upon this absence of causal scientific  linkage–the proverbial “smoking gun”–to maintain its lack of culpability when people get sick from their products.

Until today. A French judge has found Monsanto directly culpable and responsible for a farmer’s illness after exposure to one of the company’s pesticides.

Via the Guardian:

Monsanto found guilty of chemical poisoning in France

French farmer Paul Francois says he suffered neurological problems after inhaling Monsanto’s Lasso weedkiller

A French court has declared the US biotech giant Monsanto guilty of chemical poisoning of a French farmer, a judgment that could lend weight to other health claims against pesticides.

In the first such case heard in court in France, the grain grower Paul Francois, 47, said he suffered neurological problems including memory loss, headaches and stammering after inhaling Monsanto’s Lasso weedkiller in 2004.

He blames Monsanto for not providing adequate warnings on the product label.

The ruling was given by a court in Lyon, south-east France, which ordered an expert opinion of Francois’s losses to establish the amount of damages.

“It is a historic decision in so far as it is the first time that a [pesticide] maker is found guilty of such a poisoning,” Francois Lafforgue, Francois’s lawyer, told Reuters.

Monsanto said it was disappointed by the ruling and would examine whether to appeal against the judgment.

“Monsanto always considered that there were not sufficient elements to establish a causal relationship between Paul Francois’s symptoms and a potential poisoning,” the company’s lawyer, Jean-Philippe Delsart, said.

Previous health claims from farmers have foundered because of the difficulty of establishing clear links between illnesses and exposure to pesticides.

This “burden of proof” is a really interesting element to the whole discussion of causing harm and assigning responsibility. United States law has traditionally flowed from a risk assessment strategy that favors trade and enterprise over public and environmental safety. Weigh the outcomes, then proceed. Assume the best, deal with the rest.

In contrast, European Union law rests upon a a precautionary mindset. If you want to sell it, you have to prove that it’s not harmful before you proceed.

From wikipedia.com:

The precautionary principle or precautionary approach states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action.

The problem, of course, with betting on things being OK is that they are–until they’re not. Once illness strikes or a watershed is bespoiled, we all suffer the consequences. There’s no unringing the bell. No matter who was to blame in the right place.  That’s good enough reason to stop throwing dice with our health and our environment.