Earth Matters is a Daily Kos compendium of wonderful, disturbing, and hideous news briefs about the environment.
Nearly 2,000 miles of the Great American Rail-Trail have already been put together, mostly from 145 existing paths. The project has been a dream for decades. The Rail-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) has raised more than $4 million in public and private funds for the trail that it says will serve 50 million people within 50 miles of the trail once finished. “We know that it will take a significant investment of time, resources and energy to complete the Great American Rail-Trail—but it will be worth it,” said Kevin Mills, RTC’s vice president of policy. The trail begins in Seattle and when finished will run through Missoula, Cedar Rapids, Dayton, Columbus, and Pittsburgh before ending in Washington, D.C. The map above shows the “preferred route,” but that may change over time. “As the Great American Rail-Trail connects more towns, cities, states and regions, this infrastructure serves as the backbone of resilient communities, while uniting us around a bold, ambitious and impactful vision,” said RTC President Ryan Chao.
While the trail and many others brought into being by RTC can be used by joggers, hikers, and horse riders as well as cyclists, the World Economic Forum notes that the economic lockdowns to fight the coronavirus have boosted cycling. Bike sales soared across the world as people sought to avoid public transport because of the pandemic. The Great American Rail-Trail is certainly ambitious, but it’s not alone. There is the 2,765-mile EuroVelo 6 route that runs through 10 nations as it crosses Europe all the way to the Black Sea. And last year, the U.K. launched the 807-mile Great North Trail running from the Peak District in the north of England to John O’Groats at Scotland’s northeastern tip.
Biden transition officials say their agency review teams have found the budget cuts were deeper, the staff losses wider, and the systematic elimination of climate programs and research worse than they had realized. “There is hard work ahead to rebuild agencies and our capacities from the ground up,” Gina McCarthy, the incoming White House national climate adviser, said in a statement. “While implementing [Biden’s climate] plan will not happen overnight the Biden Administration will work tirelessly by marshaling every part of our government, working directly with communities, and harnessing the forces of science—and the values of environmental justice—to build a better future.”
All that carbon industrial age Earthlings have added to the atmosphere has already locked in this temperature rise no matter what is done to curb it, say the study’s authors. Scientists refer to this effect as “committed warming.” It’s the increase in future temperature based on carbon emissions already in the atmosphere. It’s like what happens when you’re driving and apply the brakes—the vehicle takes a while to stop. Temperatures have risen by 1.1 degree C over the pre-industrial period. Previous measurements have put “committed warming” at around 1.3 degrees C. That’s well above the 1.5 degrees C rise that grassroots climate hawks and signers of the Paris climate agreement have pushed as a goal to reduce impacts of climate change, particularly on poor and low-lying nations. And it’s more than the 2-degree rise that scientists say would make for big, damaging changes but still be tolerable for humans, at least in some parts of the planet.
Andrew Dessler, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University who is a co-author of the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, warned against what he called “climate doomers.” If the world manages to get to zero carbon emissions soon, he said that 2 degrees of warming might be delayed for centuries. “If we don’t, we’re going to blow through (climate goals) in a few decades,” he said. “It’s really the rate of warming that makes climate change so terrible. If we got a few degrees over 100,000 years, that would not be that big a deal. We can deal with that. But a few degrees over 100 years is really bad.”
Judge Sharon Gleason for the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska on Tuesday rejected calls from environmental advocates and Native groups to block the government’s planned lease sale in the refuge or prevent seismic activity until she considers the substance of their complaints. “The Court finds that Plaintiffs have not established that they are likely to suffer imminent irreparable harm absent a preliminary injunction,” she wrote in the 27-page order. Gleason indicated that once she has scrutinized the complaints, she might rule for the plaintiffs. The Trump regime has since November moved to impose various anti-environmental policies before the new administration takes over in two weeks. President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to protect the refuge and to end all new oil and gas permitting on federal lands and offshore. Alaska’s development bank has approved $20 million for making bids on the leases. Given the difficulties of drilling in the Arctic, many observers think it’s likely the leases won’t get many takers and the bids that are offered will be low.
The endangered mammals, genetic cousins of minks, were rescued from extinction 40 years ago. But the death from the coronavirus of tens of thousands of farmed minks in the United States and the culling of millions in Europe after they caught COVID-19 alarmed the staff at the National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center in Fort Collins, Colorado. Consequently, the 120 ferrets there were vaccinated over the summer. A big concern overall is that animals—ferrets or others—could contract the virus from humans, which could then mutate into a more contagious or deadly strain that then loops back and reinfects humans. Even people who have received their own vaccination might not be immune to illness from such a mutated virus. No COVID-19 cases have been found among ferrets at the conservation center.
As if the 130 rollbacks of environmental protection rules weren’t bad enough, the Trump regime is determined to cause as much damage as it can on the way out the door. A key item is the “secret science” rule. This requires scientists to provide all their raw data, including confidential medical records, for findings used to develop new regulations. This, critics say, will curtail the types of scientific and medical research the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can use in making policies. The problem is that much research depends on confidential information including medical records, which cannot be disclosed. “As I said earlier this year, it’s hard to imagine a time when our nation needed to embrace science more than we do at this very moment,” Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement. “Almost a year into our battle against the coronavirus pandemic, that’s even truer today.” Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), chairwoman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, echoed Carper’s remarks, calling the rule one of the Trump administration’s most “pernicious efforts to roll back environmental protections.” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler claimed at a virtual meeting of the Competitive Enterprise Institute this week that neither Congress nor the White House can kill the rule under the Congressional Review Act because it is essentially a procedural matter. But critics don’t agree. James Goodwin, a regulatory analyst at the Center for Progressive Reform, told E&E News, “The bottom line is that some member of Congress could and should ask for a GAO ruling on whether this rule is subject to the CRA. And I will bet a million pesos that they conclude that it is.” Bernard Goldstein, a professor emeritus in environmental and occupational health at the University of Pittsburgh, explains why this rule endangers public health.
• Senator Raphael Warnock will bring a history of Black faith leaders’ environmental activism to his new job:
Said Dianne M. Stewart, an associate professor of religion and African American studies at Emory University in Atlanta, who studied with Warnock at the Union Theological Seminary in the 1990s, “He could offer an intelligent perspective or analysis that is theologically informed, if that is called for, that would challenge many of the positions that certain right-wing evangelicals have taken on climate change. The question is, will he prioritize that?”
Some Black pastors and their churches have been engaged in environmental issues for decades. They were the driving force behind environmental justice struggles in the 1980s and 1990s, fighting toxic dumps or chemical plants in their communities, without much help from white-led environmental groups.
“They were trying to answer the question of why their environment was not as protected as other people’s environment,” said the Rev. Michael Malcom, founder and executive director of the Alabama People’s Justice Council and Alabama Interfaith Power and Light, both faith-based justice groups.
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