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West Virginia protest calls out Manchin’s dirty coal profits16 people arrested after blocking entrance to Grant Town Power Plant

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/04/2022 - 9:38pm in

[April 9, 2022: Grant Town, WV] A group of more than 50 activists convened on a West Virginia coal power plant, which burns pricey waste coal bought from Sen. Joe Manchin’s company. Calling for the polluting plant's closure, 16 people were arrested after ... READ MORE

Thawing Permafrost Is Roiling the Arctic Landscape, Driven by a Hidden World of Changes Beneath the Surface as the Climate Warms

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 13/04/2022 - 7:36pm in

Not only is permafrost releasing methane, but when it melts, it removes a key support, leading to collapsing soil and loss of lake drainage.

Documents Show How Polluting Industries Mobilized to Block Climate Action

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 13/04/2022 - 1:00am in

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Of the primary reports that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change publishes every four to six years, the mitigation report, focused on what can be done and what’s holding climate action back, only gets more important with every cycle. While the latest mitigation report states clearly that politics and corporate power are the only real impediments to action — not a lack of scientific evidence, technological or policy options, or even money — IPCC authors declined to engage with this problem both in the press conference for the report and in the report’s summary for policymakers. Now, a week after the report’s release, here comes a paper revealing that the IPCC itself has been the target of U.S. vested interests since its inception.

In 1988, climate scientist James Hansen gave a stark warning to the U.S. Senate, testifying, “It is time to stop waffling so much and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here.” Later that year, the IPCC was formed to bring the world’s climate scientists together to help inform governments, the media, and the public about climate change. Just one year before all this action on the “greenhouse effect,” global leaders had effectively joined forces to address the hole in the ozone layer, adopting the Montreal Protocol and agreeing to a mandatory phaseout of the chemicals associated with ozone depletion. Greenhouse gas-emitting industries were very concerned that they would be targeted next. Almost immediately, what environmental sociologists call the “climate countermovement” began to form in response.

One key entity in that movement was the Global Climate Coalition, which emerged in 1989 as a project of the National Association of Manufacturers, with founding members from the coal, electric utility, oil and gas, automotive, and rail sectors. Many scholars have noted the influential role the GCC played in obstructing climate policy in the 1990s, but the first peer-reviewed paper on the group, published this week, reveals that the original and lasting intention of the GCC was to push for voluntary efforts only and torpedo international momentum toward setting mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

Casting doubt on the science was part of that strategy from the beginning — the paper points to a 1994 communications strategy, for example, that suggested industry spokespeople downplay IPCC findings with following talking point: “The IPCC reports no evidence that directly links manmade GHG emissions to changes in global average temperatures.” Also common, though, were the delay tactics we still see today, particularly the economic argument against acting on the climate crisis and the jingoistic argument that America shouldn’t allow the rest of the world to tell it what to do.

“People have been very stuck on this idea that the industry strategy went from climate denial to delay,” said the paper’s author, Brown University environmental sociologist Robert Brulle. “That’s historically inaccurate. It was always about delay, and the PR guys viewed casting doubt on climate science as one of their key talking points, but not the only one and not the central one.”

Leaning on economic and cultural arguments came naturally for the public relations teams working on climate. Those arguments were first developed to help companies like Standard Oil and American Tobacco stave off regulation at the turn of the 20th century and have been deployed consistently, and effectively, ever since.

“People have been very stuck on this idea that the industry strategy went from climate denial to delay. That’s historically inaccurate. It was always about delay.”

Brulle points to the GCC’s involvement in the passage of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC — the framework underpinning the annual Conference of the Parties meetings of global leaders to discuss international climate commitments — as a prime example of how industries have suggested voluntary action as a way to preempt government regulation. “They supported that because it was toothless. It was all about the need to further study the problem and for corporations and governments to take voluntary action.”

Melissa Aronczyk, a media studies scholar at Rutgers University, also documented the influence that the GCC and its primary PR person, E. Bruce Harrison, had on the UNFCCC process in “A Strategic Nature: Public Relations and the Politics of American Environmentalism,” a new book written with Maria Espinoza. “Harrison was invited as communications counsel to the CEOs who were participating at that Earth Summit in Rio [de Janeiro] in 1992,” Aronczyk explained. That was the summit at which global leaders drafted and adopted the UNFCCC. Notably, the U.N.-appointed organizer of that conference was Maurice Strong, a former oilman who believed that no effective climate treaty could be passed without buy-in from corporate interests.

“Because business communities had been invited to the conference and because they knew that their buy-in was so important, they planned extensively in the lead-up to the conference to be able to present what they call their own sustainable development charter. It was a nonbinding, nonlegal document that proposed a voluntary, self-regulating approach,” Aronczyk said. “And as you can imagine, this charter did not contain anything that would have really transformed how companies did business. … But it paid a lot of lip service to the idea of going green, and because they got out in front of the actual conference, they were really able to put that document forward and stave off other kinds of more binding legislation.”

The GCC worked to steer the Conference of the Parties and the IPCC in this direction as well. Many of the source documents Brulle cites in his paper, including Harrison’s 1994-1995 communications plan for the GCC, show this strategy explicitly. “The economic consequences of future actions by the COP are likely to attract more attention than statements about scientific uncertainties,” Harrison’s plan reads. “Especially if the economic stakes can be made apparent to ‘people on Main Street.’” It goes on to lay out specific messages that GCC members should emphasize to the press, politicians, and the public, including: “Voluntary programs for reducing [greenhouse gas] emissions are allowing industry to balance economics and environmental performance without impairing competitiveness.”

What’s also painfully obvious in these documents is just how close the international process came to forcing action on climate in the 1990s — the decade in which it would have had the most impact. The 1994-95 GCC communications plan shows that the group and the industries it represented were losing the fight and that momentum was building for a binding international treaty that would mandate emissions reductions. “Dozens of U.N. agencies, international organizations and special interest groups are driving events — regardless of economic costs and remaining scientific uncertainties — toward a conclusion inimical to the interests of the GCC and the U.S. economy,” the plan reads.

What’s painfully obvious in these documents is just how close the international process came to forcing action on climate in the 1990s.

A few pages later it notes, “The window for influencing U.S. decisions on future U.N. actions is relatively narrow. During the next 18-24 months there will be a number of critical decision points as the Parties to the FCCC advance toward the COP’s 1997 deadline for elaborating new policies and measures.”

The 1997 Conference of the Parties was, of course, when the Kyoto Protocol was introduced; the international agreement mandated emissions reductions for certain countries, something the Clinton administration had already indicated it supported. It was a make-or-break moment for industries concerned about the impact that mandatory emissions reductions would have on their bottom line, and the GCC redoubled its efforts.

First it targeted key U.S. politicians. Working with Sens. Chuck Hagel and Robert Byrd, Brulle writes, the group rounded up support for an amendment to set strict criteria for any international climate accord. “This effort contributed to the passage of the Byrd-Hagel Amendment in July 1997,” Brulle writes. “This amendment required that any climate accord would have to include [emissions] reductions by developing countries and could not result in serious harm to the U.S. economy. These provisions damaged the credibility of the U.S. because it showed a lack of consensus among the different branches of government about an international climate accord.”

That argument stands in stark contrast to the fossil fuel industry’s narrative today, which holds that out-of-touch climate elitists are trying to force emissions reductions on countries that deserve to use fossil fuels to develop. Passage of the Byrd-Hagel amendment was the GCC’s first big victory after its success in shaping the UNFCCC. In the wake of that victory, GCC members poured $13 million into a PR campaign centered on the argument that the international accord would raise gasoline prices and harm the economy. The tag line of the anti-Kyoto campaign was “It’s not global and it won’t work.

“They get a map of the globe and they start cutting out the countries that don’t have to comply,” Brulle said. “And then they hold up this map with all of these holes in it, and they said, ‘This is unfair. It won’t work and it’s not fair.’ And that’s what they ran on. And guess what? It works! It was very effective. And you still hear that today when folks argue against climate policy by saying, ‘What about China? What about India?’”

The group also commissioned third-party economists and policy analysts to bolster its argument that mandatory emissions cuts would spell death for the American economy. “It was very much, play up the economic impact, play up the threat to the ‘American way of life,’” Brulle said. “When you can attack the science, do that, but always, always play up the economics.”

That’s particularly interesting in the context of recent research in which some of the same economists the GCC hired have admitted that their models were deeply flawed. The paper “Weaponizing Economics,” published last year by Stanford University researcher Ben Franta, shows that the economists working for the GCC and other anti-climate policy groups in the 1990s were using models that inflated the cost of climate policy while ignoring entirely the economic benefit of avoiding climate impacts.

Franta found that the same small group of economists was being routinely commissioned not only by the GCC but also the American Petroleum Institute (a founding GCC member) and various conservative think tanks; every time a policy was proposed that would limit carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gas emissions, this same model would get trotted out, and industry spokespeople and politicians would warn that acting on climate change would put companies out of business and cost the average American family thousands of dollars.

“Eventually their analyses became conventional wisdom,” Franta said. “The scientific merchants of doubt ultimately failed; their power waned. But this, the economics part, their power did not really wane in the same way. And you know, the implications are larger. I mean, it’s a fraudulent economic product. And now we have economists who worked on those models saying, by their own admission, that this analysis that showed it would be too expensive to act on climate is not true. And this has been going on for decades. So now the question is, what do we do about this?”

Brulle’s recent findings make it that much more concerning that the IPCC allowed mentions of obstructionism and vested interests to be scrubbed from its summary for policymakers. “That document was like Star Wars without Darth Vader,” he said. “This research gives us a history of what actually happened. It puts Darth Vader back in the story.”

The post Documents Show How Polluting Industries Mobilized to Block Climate Action appeared first on The Intercept.

Citizens push back on Palau’s plan to open marine sanctuary to commercial fishing and exploration

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/04/2022 - 7:38pm in

The move is meant to aid pandemic-related economic loss

Originally published on Global Voices


The “Milky Way” cove in Palau seen from the air. Photo from Flickr page of LuxTonnerre, (CC BY 2.0)

Palau's Olbiil Era Kelulau (Congress) is considering a bill that will open their expansive marine sanctuary, the Palau National Marine Sanctuary (PNMS), to commercial fishing and oil exploration. In response, citizens are circulating an online petition opposing the proposal.

Palau is a small archipelago of more than 500 islands located on the western side of the Pacific. In 2015, the Palau government established the PNMS which designated 80 percent of the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as a conservation area with no international or domestic fishing, while 20 percent was set aside as a domestic fishing zone. This marine protected area became one of the largest in the world and was hailed as a model for countries that want to conserve their marine resources. After five years of planning, the PNMS became fully operational in 2020.

But two years later, the government is already considering reopening 50 percent of Palau’s EEZ to foreign fishing fleets in order to generate revenue and stimulate the economy. House Bill No. 11-30-2S proposes temporarily reopening the PNMS and allowing commercial fishing and even oil exploration as the nation grapples with dwindling resources caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Palau’s tourism sector, which employs 20 percent of the population, was severely affected by the pandemic.

As of 2021, Palau's GDP had contracted 17. percent due to pandemic-related losses, according to the International Monetary Fund.

The bill says that “foreign fishing agreements brought significant revenue to the Republic,” adding:

By temporarily permitting fishing pursuant to foreign fishing agreements within EEZ, the Republic will bring much-needed revenue for the national and state governments, as well as local vendors and will have a significant positive impact on the economy.

Before the closure, the government received around USD 700,000 per year from fishing licenses through its vessel day scheme (VSD), equaling about USD 40,000 per state. The VSD is an agreement between some Pacific island nations that sets limits on the number of days a fishing vessel can fish in each nation's economic zones and is considered one of the most complex, yet successful, fishing regulations in the world.

Palau receives an average of USD 8 million per year from the VSD.

However, other estimates show that between international conservation and development grants — both money and supplies — Palau has received over USD 70 million so far as a result of the PNMS. This year alone, Palau received USD 1.8 million from the United Nations Development Project (UNDP) to help implement the PNMS over a four-year period, according to reporting from the Mariana Variety, Micronesia's leading news outlet.

Environmental cost

The bill was criticized by Palau environmentalists, community elders, and concerned citizens alike. Environment group Ebiil Society initiated an online petition against the bill. The petitioners have a reminder for Palau authorities:

…While it is understood that there is a need to seek ways to bolster our revenue earning capacity, short-term solutions should not jeopardize well thought out long-term policy objectives established for our Republic by the Palauan people.

…We believe there is a multitude of unexplored alternatives resulting in sustainable revenues that return social and environmental gains, that reflects our deep wisdom and connection to the ocean, which has cradled our lives and sustained our culture for many generations.

Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. acknowledged the petition and responded that the government is offering a solution. He said this to the media:

We want to come up with a solution. So I don’t know if they’re opposing the solution or they’re opposing something else. What we’re doing is providing a solution. So I hope we can all work together to solution that benefits everyone. That’s really the goal. So I think a lot of times we do petitions or we run around doing things being misinformed.

During a public hearing for the bill, House Speaker Sabino Anastacio pointed out that the funds that Palau is entitled to receive from international environment donors are not being used to finance the country’s needs. He added that the state is not aware about how some of the grants given to Palau are being spent by non-profit organizations.

When the money comes, these are non-profit so we don’t see the paperwork. We don’t know how much goes to the [salaries] and where the rest of the money goes.

During the same hearing, some stakeholders asserted that Palau stands to benefit more if the PNMS is maintained.

The hashtag #SaveMySanctuary is used to mobilize online support against the bill.

The Friends of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary Facebook page has uploaded several videos featuring Palau residents who want to preserve the PNMS.

Ngatpang Chief and Chairman of Belau Offshore Fisheries, Inc. Rideb Okada Techitong explained how the PNMS was conceived as an application of the indigenous Palau practice of “bul” which prescribes a moratorium on the use of resources to prevent the destruction of a habitat or species.


A screenshot from the Friends of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary Facebook video

Dora Benhart, Department of Conservation and Law Enforcement Outreach Officer, warned about how reopening the PNMS will negatively affect the Palau way of life.


A screenshot from the Friends of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary Facebook video

Fisherman and Friends of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary board member Adolph Demei recalled how overfishing has caused a decline in Palau’s fisheries which prompted elders to declare a “bul” and led to the establishment of the PNMS.


A screenshot from the Friends of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary Facebook video

Ironically, Palau will host the 7th annual “Our Ocean Conference” on April 13–14 as representatives of governments and civil society organizations from around the world will meet and discuss new and significant measures to protect the ocean.

Chemours Claims Toxic PFAS Chemical GenX Protects the Climate

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 11/04/2022 - 8:00pm in

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Chemours has offered a novel argument in defense of one of its toxic PFAS chemicals, known as GenX: that the compound, which causes cancer and other health effects in lab animals and was released by the company into the drinking water of hundreds of thousands of people, is necessary for the fight against climate change.

Chemours, a chemical company that was spun off from DuPont in 2015, made the case for GenX as an environmental good in response to a toxicity assessment of the chemical that the Environmental Protection Agency finalized in October. The EPA document set a safety threshold for GenX based on studies showing that it causes liver effects in rats, including cancerous tumors. But in a March 18 request for correction, Chemours’ attorneys asked the agency to weaken its threshold, arguing that GenX is necessary for the country’s transition away from fossil fuels.

“Chemours’s chemistries are critical to achieving the United States’ energy transition and decarbonization ambitions,” attorneys from the firm Arnold & Porter wrote, going on to note that GenX is used in the process of creating compounds called fluoropolymers, which are used to make lithium-ion batteries used in electric cars, membranes used for water purification, and hydrogen from renewable sources.

The company, which makes GenX in its plant in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and uses the chemical at its facilities in New Jersey and West Virginia, also insisted that continued domestic production is important for U.S. energy independence: “There are often no domestically manufactured alternative replacement products available for these mission-critical applications.”

According to Chemours, which reported net sales of $6.3 billion last year, restrictions on GenX are not just a threat to the company’s bottom line. Noting that “fluoropolymers are used in every car, airplane, cellphone, as well as semiconductor and computer chips” and are also used in the production of “the vast majority of prescription drugs,” the company’s attorneys argued that the “EPA’s Toxicity Assessment, unless corrected, has the potential to cause significant harm to Chemours as well as to the broader United States economy.”

In recent years, as the climate crisis has escalated, fossil fuel companies have responded with a flurry of greenwashing, false pledges, and branded content that inaccurately absolves oil and gas from responsibility for climate change. Even in this context, Chemours’ attempt to position its toxic chemical as a solution to energy and water problems has struck some environmental advocates as remarkably cynical. They object to the company’s pitting of one environmental cause against another and scoff at the notion that GenX, one of a class of chemicals that has caused one of the most widespread and persistent pollution problems in recent history, is truly helping address the spiraling climate catastrophe.

“Chemours currently manufactures PFAS by using and releasing potent greenhouse gas chemicals such as HCFC-22. They are clearly part of the climate pollution problem, not the solution,” said Laurie Valeriano, executive director of the advocacy group Toxic-Free Future. “A clean energy future includes safer products made without emissions of potent greenhouse gases and hazardous chemicals.”

Toxic History

Veterans of the battle over PFAS contamination find the company’s claims about the environmental and economic benefits of GenX familiar. “This is the same kind of argument we’ve been hearing for several decades now,” said Rob Bilott, an attorney who sued DuPont over another toxic PFAS chemical, PFOA, in 1999. The company had used PFOA for decades to make Teflon and other products — and spent years defending it as an industrial necessity. DuPont only agreed to phase it out in 2006 after Bilott shared voluminous evidence with the EPA showing that exposure to the chemical led to cancers, liver damage, and immune effects — and only after the company had selected a substitute: GenX.

“It’s just remarkable to see how the spin continues, trying to implicate these chemicals with products that will resonate with consumers,” said Bilott. “They’re trying to create fear that by actually regulating these chemicals that present a public health threat, you’re going to force people to make choices about these products.”

“It’s just remarkable to see how the spin continues, trying to implicate these chemicals with products that will resonate with consumers.”

Bilott knows firsthand about such efforts to fend off regulation, having first discovered the documents showing that DuPont (along with 3M, which first created PFOA) had known about the environmental and health harms of PFOA for decades and had hidden the evidence from the public and regulators. The EPA fined DuPont $10.5 million over its deception — the biggest penalty in the agency’s history at the time. But the punishment came too late to protect health and the environment. By the time the fine was levied, PFOA had already contaminated the drinking water of some 80,000 people living near a DuPont plant in West Virginia. The exposure was later found to have caused a local increase of kidney and testicular cancer in the exposed population.

GenX emerged from complex negotiations between the EPA and DuPont over the phaseout of PFOA. While the environmental agency was slapping the chemical manufacturer on the hand for withholding evidence of the harms of that chemical, it also agreed to allow the company almost a decade to phase in its replacement. During the back-and-forth between the company and the agency in 2006, DuPont had insisted that the EPA give its substitute compound “timely review and approvals.” By then, the company already had evidence that GenX had some of the same effects as PFOA on lab animals. DuPont’s own studies, submitted to the EPA between 2006 and 2013, showed that the replacement chemical caused liver and kidney damage; developmental effects, including early deliveries and delays in genital development; immune suppression; and cancerous tumors in both the liver and pancreas, as The Intercept first reported in 2016.

Despite the alarming evidence of harm, the EPA went ahead with the timely approval of GenX as DuPont had requested, issuing a consent order in 2009 that acknowledged that the replacement chemical could present the same risks as PFOA — including cancer, systemic toxicity, and reproductive toxicity — while allowing DuPont and, after 2015, Chemours to make GenX at its North Carolina plant. In the following years, as the company was releasing its new product into the Cape Fear River and into the air through its stacks, DuPont was also quietly handing over additional research to the EPA that showed that the toxicity profile of its new chemical in fact did match that of its old one — and that in some cases, GenX was even more toxic than PFOA. The January 2022 toxicity assessment that drew on these studies set a safety threshold that was considerably lower than that of PFOA. The EPA says that it is currently reviewing the PFOA standard and plans to issue a drinking water health advisory for GenX based on the assessment this spring.

But as with PFOA, these regulatory steps, taken 16 years after DuPont submitted its first GenX study to the EPA, came too late to protect the public. Residents of the Wilmington, North Carolina, area have already spent decades drinking water laced with the compound, which was released into the Cape Fear River as a byproduct of other processes before DuPont began producing it in 2009. In 2019, as news of the contamination spread, Chemours entered into a consent order with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality and the environmental group Cape Fear River Watch, in which it agreed to provide replacement drinking water to residents whose water has been contaminated with GenX.

People look on at the Cape Fear river as it crests from the rains caused by Hurricane Florence on September 18, 2018 in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

People look at the Cape Fear River as it crests from rains caused by Hurricane Florence on Sept. 18, 2018, in Fayetteville, N.C.

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Escaping Financial Responsibility

As the company freely admitted in its March request for correction, a change to the safety threshold set in the EPA’s toxicity assessment could relieve the company of some of its legal obligations under that consent order. In the agreement, the level of GenX in drinking water that triggers Chemours’ responsibility to provide clean water “is subject to adjustment based on an ‘applicable EPA health advisory,’” as the lawyers note. “An EPA health advisory for [GenX] could therefore substantially affect Chemours’s obligations under the North Carolina Consent Order.” Because the new level set by the EPA is more protective than the one set by North Carolina, Chemours could face additional financial obligations in North Carolina if its petition fails. If it succeeds, the company could wind up spending less, since it would be responsible for providing fewer people with clean water.

Even if the EPA denies Chemours’ request for correction, drinkers of the contaminated water are already being forced to pick up hundreds of millions of dollars in costs to purify it. Brunswick is one of two counties in North Carolina that recently increased water rates to cover the cost of new systems installed to filter out PFAS. “Brunswick County is a poor, rural county, and people there are now paying to put in a reverse osmosis plant for their water treatment to PFAS specifically because Chemours won’t,” said Johnsie Lang, a scientist who has studied GenX. Lang, who lives in the county, saw her own monthly water bill rise from $130 to $180 in March.

The request for correction comes at a time when Chemours is facing increasing costs in North Carolina. The consent order requires the company to provide clean water to households whose water is contaminated above a certain level. “But they had no idea how big their plume was. At first, it looked like there would probably be like 100 or less houses,” said Lang. But more than 6,000 now qualify. “And the number is still growing. I think they thought they were done, that they spent the money they wanted to spend.”

Chemours paid over $100 million for technology that reduces air emissions of GenX by 99.99 percent, as the consent order required. But the company has also been fined by the state Department of Environmental Quality for at least 16 violations of the consent order and related regulations, including exceeding the air emissions limit, disposing of waste improperly, and releasing more PFAS into water than allowed. And while the amount of GenX released from the North Carolina plant has clearly been reduced, shorter-chain PFAS have been found in water around the state — including on beaches and in home gutters, some as far as 80 miles from the plant.

bottle3_2021May13_oceancrestfishingpier2

PFAS-contaminated foam is seen on the beach near Ocean Crest Fishing Pier in Oak Island, N.C., on May 13, 2021.

Photo: Emily Donovan/Clean Cape Fear

And while GenX has become the focus of Chemours’ anti-regulatory efforts, it is only one of the chemicals the company emits. Chemours has identified more than 250 “unknown” PFAS compounds in its wastewater. “They’re talking about GenX right now because it’s the only one where [the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services] set a value,” said Lang. “What about all the other compounds?”

Testicular and Liver Cancer

It is not unusual for companies to challenge EPA science that threatens to reduce profits. Nor is it uncommon for such companies to offer a range of criticisms in the hope that at least one might prevail. In the case of GenX, Chemours has argued not only that the chemical is essential to halt the climate crisis, but also that the science used to calculate the safety threshold is flawed. In the request for correction, the company’s lawyers claimed that the EPA failed to consider epidemiological data released by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services in 2017 and that “NCDHHS concluded that rates of liver and other cancers are generally lower in North Carolina counties with exposures to [GenX] the rates reported in the U.S. general population, in the state of North Carolina, and in North Carolina counties without alleged exposure to [GenX].”

Asked to confirm this finding, a North Carolina health agency representative said that Chemours’ interpretation of its data was not accurate. “NCDHHS did not conclude that rates of liver and other cancers are generally lower in North Carolina counties with exposures to [GenX] than the rates reported in the U.S. general population, in the state of North Carolina, or in North Carolina counties without alleged exposure” to GenX, Catie Armstrong, a spokesperson for the department, wrote in an email to The Intercept. Armstrong also noted that while overall cancer rates in the four counties studied were similar, in New Hanover County rates of testicular cancer were elevated over a 20-year period and rates of liver cancer were higher over a five-year period. The cancer rates collected by the health department are descriptive, Armstrong said, and “only a comprehensive research study can provide information about whether a specific exposure might be associated with increased rates of cancer.”

For local advocates have who been asking for such a detailed epidemiological study of people who drank contaminated water in the area, most explicitly in a petition local environmental groups submitted to the EPA in October 2020, the company’s misinterpretation of incomplete data is particularly galling. “One of the big pushes in our petition is for a comprehensive epidemiological study for people in that portion of North Carolina,” said Bob Sussman, an attorney representing the environmental groups that submitted the petition, which also demands health and environmental studies of 54 PFAS compounds that Chemours emitted in the area. “Chemours’ misrepresentation of a study that in fact shows increases in liver tumors in PFAS-impacted areas is disturbing and of a piece with the company’s resistance to conducting the research requested in the petition.”

Another Chemours strategy that is vexing for clean water advocates is its argument that the EPA is incorrectly applying “uncertainty factors” in its calculation of the safety standard for GenX. The agency uses the numbers, which make safety thresholds more protective, to compensate for gaps in knowledge about the effects of chemicals. Chemours says that the EPA has inappropriately inflated the uncertainty factors, resulting in a threshold that’s too low. But Sussman pointed out that the agency used the factors because the company didn’t provide studies that show definitively how the chemical affects people.

“In our petition, we say that we need all this additional testing on GenX. And here’s Chemours coming in and not even addressing the central point — that we don’t have the data we need,” said Sussman. “What I would say to Chemours is, if you don’t like these uncertainty factors, then you better go out and do some testing.”

Locked In

Environmental scientists agree with Chemours on at least one point: that GenX is now used to make fluoropolymers that wind up in a wide range of products, including, as the company’s attorneys pointed out to the EPA, computer chips, light-weight vehicles, and “piping and vessels to protect employees from harsh chemicals.” Such economic facts are irrelevant to the science about the chemical — and have no place in a toxicity assessment, according to Linda Birnbaum, who directed the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and served as the country’s chief toxicologist until 2019. Still, said Birnbaum, “the issue that they raised — that PFAS are everywhere — that’s absolutely true. The point is that it’s a bad thing.”

The thornier question is how to make those products without using such dangerous chemicals. Some manufacturers have already begun to create fluoropolymers without PFAS — one did so back in 2008. Still, a full transition away from GenX will take time, according to Mark Rossi, executive director of Clean Production Action. “If it’s currently necessary in the moment, I would say it’s not necessary in the long run,” said Rossi. “If you said, from today, you have to be out of all PFAS in manufacturing in five to 10 years, I’d say that’s a reasonable timeline.”

“The issue that they raised — that PFAS are everywhere — that’s absolutely true. The point is that it’s a bad thing.”

While the nonessential uses of PFAS could easily be immediately stopped, the gradual phaseout from more critical products will take both commitment and investment as well as time, according to Zhanyun Wang. “Nonfluorinated alternatives exist, but they require innovation,” said Wang, a scientist at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, known as EMPA. “Until you train the next generation of scientists, they always follow the same chemistry.”

The public has frustratingly little say over whether the production of our cellphones, cars, and allergy medicines involves the contamination of the environment. “The companies always say that they are customer-driven,” said Wang. “But if you think about it, it’s actually the companies deciding for us.”

Climate activists refer to the phenomenon of a polluting industry doubling down on nonsustainable practices that are profitable in the short term — and catastrophic in the long term — as “lock-in.” Ironically, with its challenge to the EPA, Chemours is using the promise of helping fight the lock-in of fossil fuels to justify further locking in the use of PFAS, arguing that its own environmental contaminants are essential and immutable.

Chemours declined to answer a question about the relevance of the economic arguments to the toxicity assessment. Instead, it provided The Intercept with an emailed statement that said, in part, “We support science-based regulation that is protective of public health and the environment, and we are committed to manufacturing our advanced chemistries responsibly — including by working to achieve our ambitious corporate responsibility goals.”

The post Chemours Claims Toxic PFAS Chemical GenX Protects the Climate appeared first on The Intercept.

‘Another Shocking Example of Waste’: UK Spends At Least £23.4 Million to Dispose of Unused PPE

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/04/2022 - 9:37pm in

The Government has spent billions on PPE from the private sector – and is now spending tens of millions recycling the equipment it doesn’t need

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Two contracts have been published by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) worth at least £11.7 million each for services to dispose of unused personal protective equipment (PPE) bought during the Coronavirus pandemic, the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal.

The contracts, awarded to Veolia and Suez Recycling and Recovery, were published on 1 April and run for two years. Both companies are large French multinationals headquartered in Paris.

The National Audit Office (NAO) recently reported that 14 billion items of PPE bought by the UK Government remained in storage – nearly half of the total procured during the pandemic. These items had a purchase price of £8.6 billion, out of a total PPE spend of some £13 billion. For context, the Treasury’s recent National Insurance hike is set to produce £12 billion a year in revenues for the Government.

In a Public Accounts Committee hearing in Parliament on 7 March, Labour MP Nick Smith questioned Sir Chris Wormald, Permanent Secretary to the DHSC, about the amount of waste in PPE procurement, saying: “Your PPE spending for the period was £12 billion. The figures show that £4 billion of the PPE you purchased cannot be used by the NHS. That is a third of the budget.”

Wormald replied that “we bought some masks that were not up to the usual standard of the NHS in case we ran out of the ones that were”. These were meant to be "back ups" and the strategy was felt to be “perfectly sensible risk management”, he added.

Jonathan Marron, director-general of the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities at the DHSC clarified that, out of the Government’s total PPE spending, £673 million could not be used at all. These items included “masks… that we think are counterfeit. There are some gowns that failed various tests – they are not water-repellent”.

£360 million worth of these unusable items were provided by companies channelled through the Government’s controversial ‘VIP’ lane for firms with links to ministers, advisors and officials, Byline Times has revealed.

Marron said that another £2.5 billion worth of items had passed technical specifications, but DHSC had chosen not to use them in the NHS, because better quality masks were available, for example.

Marron said that DHSC had “managed to donate or sell a billion items” of PPE. However, a report in The Times today suggests that PPE bought for hundreds of thousands of pounds is being auctioned off online for a fraction of its cost.

It appears that the contracts published on 1 April are aimed at either turning the PPE into new products or burning the equipment to make electricity. Byline Times obtained an email from Suez in December 2021, in which it approached firms about assisting with the recycling of PPE.

“We could either deliver the containers full of boxes for you to separate, or break them down into the recyclable parts,” the email said. “This is a massive contract that will continue for a couple of years.”

A DHSC spokesperson told Byline Times: “Having too much PPE was preferable to having too little in the face of an unpredictable and dangerous virus, given this was essential to keep our NHS open and protect as many people as possible. Now we are confident we have sufficient PPE to cover any future COVID demands, we are taking decisive action to save up to £93 million of taxpayers’ money per year by reducing storage costs for excess stock.”

The NAO report revealed that it had cost the DHSC £737 million to store PPE before November 2021, which included £436 million of penalty charges due to the department being unable to remove items from shipping containers on time. The DHSC is currently spending an estimated £7 million a month storing the items it does not need.

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Climate Hypocrisy?

In the Public Accounts Committee hearing, Marron said that some unused visors could be turned into food trays, aprons could be turned into bin bags, while the Government would also be “using some of the product to drive power generation”.

“We are also exploring… using the waste to provide power,” he said. “We are looking at those items and we think we can move up to about 15,000 pallets a month when we get these contracts in place.”

The contracts for Veolia and Suez therefore seem to be aimed, at least in part, at burning unused pallets of PPE to make electricity.

One NHS Procurement veteran who spoke to Byline Times anonymously said: “We were shocked to hear at the Public Accounts Committee how they were planning to burn 15,000 pallets a month – transported by the equivalent of 576 trucks. And now we know it’s going to cost £23.4 million just to burn it. It’s just another shocking example of waste.” 

The procurement expert added that “the hypocrisy is also killing me – [the Government has] just mandated net zero in the procurement of all supply contracts.”

Veolia operates a number of energy recovery facilities (ERFs) in the UK. The website for the firm’s Hampshire facility states: “Energy recovery makes an important contribution to reducing the UK’s long-term energy gap and helps to increase landfill diversion as part of an integrated waste management strategy.”

According to Utility Week, “these facilities are said to generate around 1.4TWh of electricity through non-recyclables per year and have helped tackle pandemic medical waste”.

Veolia’s Donald Macphail told the website: “As more baseload generators such as nuclear, coal and CCGTs retire, ERFs are set to play an increasingly important role in keeping the lights on during winter evenings and during days where wind generation is low.”

Clearly, the Government and companies like Veolia want to promote their ETFs as an environmentally friendly source of energy. However, burning unused PPE is clearly not environmentally friendly and should never have been required in the first place.

There is also an ongoing question about why the Government procured so much surplus PPE – and how long the public will continue to pay for its misjudgements.

Veolia and Suez did not respond to requests for comment.

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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Book Review: Making Kin: Ecofeminist Essays from Singapore edited by Esther Vincent and Angelia Poon

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/04/2022 - 8:49pm in

In Making Kin: Ecofeminist Essays from Singapore, editors Esther Vincent and Angelia Poon offer an evocative collection of personal essays by a diverse group of women as they experience life in Singapore and beyond. Eloquently crafted to ‘make time’ for ruminating on the overlapping discourses of selfhood, family, home, community, nation and ecology, this book will be of interest to readers of ecofeminist and ecocritical literatures, writes Alexandria Z.W. Chong.

Making Kin: Ecofeminist Essays from Singapore. Esther Vincent and Angelia Poon (eds). Ethos Books. 2021.

Making Kin book coverIt has been nearly five decades since Françoise D’Eaubonne coined the term ‘ecofeminism’ in her 1974 book Le Feminisme ou la mort (Feminism or Death). Generations of academics and activists have sought to (re)examine and augment the ways in which feminist and ecological matters of concern intersect by deconstructing historical binaries such as man/woman, culture/nature, reason/emotion and theory/practice within Western thought (Douglas A. Vakoch and Sam Mickey 2018). Therefore, at its core, ecofeminism is about making visible the connection between the structural oppression of women and the destruction of the environment under a capitalist, patriarchal global order.

The eighteen personal essays in Making Kin form an exploratory dialogue that interrogates the experiential ways in which gender (and, to a far lesser extent, sex and sexuality) connects with nature, life and embodiment. It opens with Esther Vincent’s ‘The Field’, which traces her childhood memories. Through the language of poetry, she weaves together a constellation of intellectual thoughts (primarily Martin Heidegger’s topology of being, place and world) with Singapore’s perpetual territorial transformation. This lyrical essay zooms in on the displacement of human and non-human species, bringing the reader on a fleeting journey of loss and longing.

In ‘The Spell of the Forest’, Prasanthi Ram confronts her hylophobia (the fear of wooded areas). The dark, balmy spell of the tropical jungle morphs into the paralysing fear of contracting COVID-19 as Ram, a PhD candidate, is her father’s caregiver. The parent-child relationship is also explored by several other essayists. In ‘There Will Be Salvation Yet’, Tania de Rozario reflects on her troubled relationship with her mother and how religion magnifies within a person what already exists. And in ‘Coming Home: Healing from Intergenerational Trauma’, Nurul Fadiah Johari writes about how the intersecting forms of injustices of gender, class and race affect the mental health as well as the wellbeing of women in her family. For Johari, reconnection or the act of ‘returning home’ begins with communal meals and other everyday rituals learnt from her Nenek (grandmother) and Ibu (mother).

Dawn-joy Leong’s ‘Scheherazade’s Sea: Five Women and One’ excoriates the social-political-cultural-economic structures of shame and subjugation as well as the brutal plundering of Earth in the name of ‘development’. As an autistic person, Leong assiduously recounts her formative years of being forcefully trained to see and experience the world ‘from the prescribed, normative human-centric paradigm’ (110). This opposes the sensing-cognitive quality of the autistic mind, which Leong describes as being attached to a network of sentience within the living environment.

Gardens in the Bay, Singapore

Image Credit: Photo by Kit Suman on Unsplash

In ‘Marvels of Nature Just Outside My Window’, veteran civil activist Constance Singam takes a tender introspection into the troublesome periods of illness and depression. Singam’s essay complements fellow climate and disability activist Tim Min Jie’s ‘Care is Revolutionary’. Written during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tim expresses her desire to ‘feel more anger’ (187) towards the draconian laws that put migrants (employed in Singapore’s construction, manufacturing, service and marine shipyard sectors) under the longest period of COVID-19 confinement faced by anyone in the world. Tim then confides to the reader her raw struggles with burnout while drawing on the ethics of care as an active prefiguring of a better world to work towards. The volume closes with Diana Rahim’s ‘Liquid Emerald’, which traces the lasting colonial denigration of native and traditional forms of medicine and, by extension, knowledge.

With its autobiographical subject matter, the eclectic and expansive collection of personal essays in Making Kin creates a deep sense of intimacy between the essayist and the reader that soars above theoretical abstractions. The conversational tone and occasional inventiveness in structure help tease out the quotidian truths experienced by the essayist while inviting the reader to mediate within an ecocentric praxis of kinships and entanglements. These personal essays get as detailed and, perhaps, as uncomfortable as the essayist chooses to interpret the women-nature connection.

Although the back cover asserts that the volume ‘blurs the boundaries between the personal and the political’, few essays actually manage to achieve that. The volume does not construct a dialogue across differences (which the capitalist patriarchy interprets as hierarchical) to explore the tensions between ‘global’ and ‘local’, two concepts widely circulated within ecological and development discourses. This omission is analytically glaring as Cynthia Enloe (2014, 343), paraphrasing the second-wave feminist slogan, reminds us that ‘the personal is international, and the international is personal’ when it comes to questioning the logics of capitalist patriarchy.

Owing to the editorial choice of centring personal essays as a textual medium, Making Kin is also at times too liberal with its interpretation of what women-nature connections count as ecofeminist in their orientation, value, practice and/or principle. This is exemplified by Andrea Yew’s ‘Grappling’ (on being a judo practitioner), Poon’s ‘Travelling in Place’ (on the sojourner as a literary figure) as well as Grace Chia’s ‘Conquering Yeast’ (on the comfort and joys of breadmaking during lockdown). Readers looking for discussions that further ecofeminism as a relational praxis will have to engage with literature elsewhere.

Editor Vincent’s personal note to the volume, where she recalls her own experiences of reading Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene that ‘inspired [her] to edit a book of similar imperative’ (12), underscores the complexities of foregrounding women’s voices while tapping on the democratising potential of personal essays to frame Singapore’s postcolonial development. There is a missed opportunity to engage with topical Singaporean subjects, such as urban agriculture and food security (the ’30 by 30’ vision was introduced in 2020) as well as family planning (pro-natalist policies were introduced in 1987, reversing one-and-a-half decades of anti-natalist policies). It would also have been analytically worthwhile for essays in the volume to draw on postcolonial ecofeminist literature from South and Southeast Asia.

Nonetheless, the genial collection of essays in Making Kin is, in the context of contemporary Singapore literature, ground-breaking to say the very least. They engage with personal events unfolding in the past, present and future (sometimes all at once), filling the reader with a vicissitude of emotions and thoughts on the overlapping discourses of selfhood, family, home, community, nation and ecology. However, for those looking for critical perspectives from and about Singapore, the volume’s attempt at viewing the world through an ecofeminist lens intermittently lacks the urgency to ‘critique, influence and change’ (Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva 2014, xiii). Perhaps greater editorial reflexivity and criticality on what ‘nature’ means within the women-nature connections that essays in this volume have sought to make visible would have been beneficial. Put simply, Making Kin is an ingenious piece of work that could ‘make more time’ to contemplate the inter- and intraspecies kinships and entanglements in Singapore and beyond.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

 

IPCC Adaptation Report: It’s Later Than You Think

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/04/2022 - 7:55pm in

“It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5C,” IPCC Working Group III co-chair Jim Skea announced.

CHEAT SHEET: The New UN Climate Report

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/04/2022 - 4:39am in

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Environment

 The New UN Climate Report

Welcome to the Cheat Sheet, The Lever’s new weekly feature exclusively for our supporting subscribers that quickly gets you up to speed on a pressing news matter. Each week, we will show you exactly what you need to know — including vital information corporate media is trying to cheat you out of learning.

Cheat Sheet is designed to be succinct and respect your time. Give us just a few minutes, and you’ll be up to speed.

This week, we start with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s latest report on the climate crisis – this time focused on solutions. The report warns that the world is on track to overshoot the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warning to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the decade, paving the way for more frequent extreme weather events, food scarcity, and political unrest. But the report also points out that the groundwork has been laid for a rapid energy transition — if only the fossil fuel industry and petrostates would step out of the way, and capital could be redirected towards renewable energy.

Read all about it in today’s Cheat Sheet below, exclusively for supporting subscribers.

A Sobering View of High Fuel Prices, Green Energy, and Biden’s Plans to Help Europ

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 07/04/2022 - 11:55pm in

An assessment of current economic conditions, including rising prices, how long the pain might last, and possible paths forward.

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