7 Types of Plastic Wreaking Havoc on Our Health

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It’s all around us—in our houses, walls, plumbing pipes, bottles and cans, rugs, dental fillings, eyeglass lenses, phones, cars, garden mulch and much more. We are talking, of course, about plastic.

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PET is commonly used in commercially sold water bottles, soft drink bottles, sports drink bottles and condiment bottles.

Aside from the devastating impact on the planet’s health, plastic’s impact on human health has been insidious. Decade after decade we have watched as prostate and breast cancer rates have risen, fertility rates in men have dropped, young girls have entered early puberty, young boys have become increasingly hyperactive and children have become fatter. All of these conditions result from multiple factors, but the effects of plastic cannot be discounted.

Endocrine disruptors are the link between human health hazards and plastic. Some of the better publicized endocrine disruptors include dioxins and PCBs, which have polluted our nation’s waterways. In the human body, endocrine disruptors mimic the actions of the hormone estrogen. They upset the hormonal balance and can stimulate the growth of tumors in the breast, uterus or prostate. They can affect fertility, pregnancy, and worse, can affect the fetus by interfering with testosterone, disrupting normal sexual development. This disruption is not often apparent until adulthood and includes the increased risk of cancer.

One of the main chemicals used to produce plastics is bisphenol A, or BPA, an endocrine disruptor that is prevalent in a vast number of widely used products, not least of which are plastic food and beverage bottles and the lining of metal cans. Heat, repeated washing, acidity, and alkalinity cause the BPA in plastics to leach into our food and beverages. Further, BPA leaches into our groundwater from all the plastic sitting in landfills. And of course we ingest BPA from all the fish we eat that has previously ingested all that plastic floating around in the ocean.

In one study, the Centers for Disease Control found 95 percent of urine samplescontained some amount of BPA. It’s in our blood, our amniotic fluid, our breast milk. Small children are most at risk because they put everything in their mouths, they breathe and drink more, relative to their size, and they excrete waste more slowly.

The health risks of BPA have been observed primarily through animal testing, and there is some controversy as to whether human risk can be extrapolated from animal testing. However, many of the adverse effects of BPA, such as reproductive cancers, obesity, type-2 diabetes and even autism, have been observed to be increasing in the human population in the past 50 years, mirroring the rise of plastic consumption. While correlation is not causation, the signs are certainly not encouraging.

Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has maintained that the levels of BPA are safe, Sarah Janssen of the Natural Resources Defense Council told Mother Earth News, “BPA should be considered a hazard to human development and reproduction with clear evidence of adverse effects.” Many countries, including the U.S., have banned the presence of BPA in baby bottles. Unfortunately, the common substitute is often Biphenol S (BPS), which is also an endocrine disruptor and seems to cause many of the same problems as BPA.

Polycarbonate water bottles, popular among those who seek to minimize plastic pollution, are a major source of human BPA exposure. Studies have shown that BPA leaches into water even at room temperature, and when exposed to boiling water, BPA leached 55 times more rapidly than it did prior to exposure to the heat.

Another class of endocrine disruptor called phthalates is also present in plastic products containing PVC. Phthalates are used to soften plastic and can be found in toys, deodorants and shampoos, shower curtains, raincoats, food packaging and a myriad of other products. Phthalates are loosely bound to plastic and easily absorbed into food, beverages and saliva, and like BPA, have been commonly detected in our bodies. Most concerning is the effect phthalates have on reproductive health in males. Exposure in fetuses has been linked to the malformation of the male reproductive system.

The dangers from plastic are not just from ingestion. During the industrial manufacturing of plastic, all manner of toxic chemicals are released, many of which are carcinogenic or neurotoxic. These would include vinyl chloride, from PVC; dioxins and benzene, from polystyrene; and formaldehyde, from polycarbonates. Many of these toxins are known as POPs, or persistent organic pollutants. They are highly toxic, and like plastic, they don’t easily go away.

Plastic comes in many variations, different combinations of resins and polymers creating plastics with different properties, and different types of plastic present different dangers. The numbers embedded on most plastic products identify the type of plastic it is made from, ostensibly so it can be properly recycled. (The reality is that barely 10 percent of plastic is recycled, or more accurately down-cycled, say from a soda bottle to winter coat insulation, so it still ends up in a landfill.)

Here are the most common plastics, by number, and some of the hazards they present.

1. PET: polyethylene terephthalate

PET is commonly used in commercially sold water bottles, soft drink bottles, sports drink bottles and condiment bottles (like ketchup). While it is generally considered a “safe” plastic, and does not contain BPA, in the presence of heat it can leach antimony, a toxic metalloid, into food and beverages, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea and stomach ulcers. Some studies have shown up to 100 times the amount of antimony in bottled water than in clean groundwater. The longer the bottle is on the shelf or exposed to heat or sunshine, the more antimony is likely to have leached into the product.

2. HDPE: high-density polyethylene

HDPE is commonly used in milk and juice bottles, detergent bottles, shampoo bottles, grocery bags, and cereal box liners. Like PET, it is also considered “safe,” but has been shown to leach estrogenic chemicals dangerous to fetuses and juveniles.

3. PVC: polyvinyl chloride

PVC can be flexible or rigid, and is used for plumbing pipes, clear food packaging, shrink wrap, plastic children’s toys, tablecloths, vinyl flooring, children’s play mats, and blister packs (such as for medicines). PVC contains a phthalate called DEHP, which can cause male traits to become more feminized (DEHP-containing products have been banned in many countries, but not the U.S.). In some products, DEHP has been replaced with another chemical called DiNP, which has similarly been shown to have hormone disruption properties.

4. LDPE: low-density polyethylene

LDPE is used for dry cleaning bags, bread bags, newspaper bags, produce bags, and garbage bags, as well as “paper” milk cartons and hot/cold beverage cups. LDPE does not contain BPA, but as with most plastics, it can leach estrogenic chemicals.

5. PP: polypropylene

PP is used to make yogurt containers, deli food containers and winter clothing insulation. PP actually has a high heat tolerance and as such, does not seem to leach many of the chemicals other plastics do.

6. PS: polystyrene

PS, also popularly known as Styrofoam, is used for cups, plates, take-out containers, supermarket meat trays, and packing peanuts. Polystyrene can leach styrene, a suspected carcinogen, especially in the presence of heat (which makes hot coffee in a Styrofoam container an unwise choice).

7. Everything else

Any plastic item not made from the above six plastics is lumped together as a #7 plastic. Any plastic designated #7 is likely to leach BPA and/or BPS, both potent endocrine disruptors linked to interfering with proper mood, growth, development, sexual function, reproductive function, and puberty, among other essential human developmental processes. They are also suspected of increasing the risk of adult reproductive cancers, obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

The Dangers of Outgassing

The danger from chemicals in plastic is not limited to leaching from bottles and food wraps. Another significant source of concern is from outgassing (also known as offgassing). That new-car smell, or the odor from a new synthetic-fiber carpet or new plastic toy is actually called outgassing.

What is chemically happening is that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are evaporating into the air around us. These gases are, in many cases, hazardous to human health.

These VOCs include aldehydes, alcohols, plasticizers, and alkanes. PVC is probably the worst outgassing offender and is prevalent throughout the household. A buildup of VOCs in the household (sometimes called sick building syndrome) can result in symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, allergies, skin/eye/nose/throat irritations, and asthma. Long-term damage can include cancer and heart disease. Heat can speed up the process of outgassing, so it may be helpful to put new products containing plastic out in the sun for a few hours to minimize the indoor VOC buildup.

The ABCs of Avoiding Plastics 

The obvious solution to avoiding plastic toxicity is to avoid plastics, which, in a world awash in plastic, is pretty difficult. In the absence of this, it makes sense to limit your close encounters with plastic as best as you can.

  • Never heat or microwave your food in plastic containers, which increases the leaching of chemicals.
  • Avoid contact with BPA by avoiding plastic wrap (use wax or parchment paper, or aluminum foil), plastic food containers (use metal or glass containers), and disposable water bottles (use reusable non-plastic or BPA-free bottles).
  • Look for BPA-free on the label of products (while this is not a guarantee of safety, it at least limits BPA exposure). Use metal and wooden eating and cooking utensils instead of plastic utensils.
  • Find food and water containers that are BPA-free. Avoid phthalates by primarily avoiding PVC products (labeled as #3 plastic).
  • Look for phthalates-free labels.
  • When possible, air new plastic products like blowup mattresses, synthetic-fiber rugs, tablecloths, and toys outside for a few hours to let the VOCs disperse.
  • Avoid plastics numbered #6 and #7 whenever possible.

Larry Schwartz is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer with a focus on health, science and American history.

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Big Business Steps Up to Help Solve California’s Drought

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Long before the California drought became a national crisis, multinational berry company Driscoll’s knew it had to organize a solution to the water problem its grower partners were facing.

Groundwater was being over-pumped in its major California growing region in the Pajaro Valley, and as a result saltwater was seeping into farmers’ wells from nearby Monterey Bay, threatening berry growers and other farmers in the valley.

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Strawberry field in Pajaro Valley, California.

Finding another sourcing region was not an option for Driscoll’s, even though the company represents community growers in 21 countries around the world.

“There’s a very specific climate for strawberries,” said Driscoll’s then-CEO Miles Reiter at a drought forum last year. “… and none of the growing environments is quite as perfect as California. That means we need to fix the water situation.”

And that’s what Driscoll’s set out to do. In 2010, it launched the Community Water Dialogue, a bold public/private partnership with local landowners, growers and the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz. The dialogue brought disparate and often competing factions together to forge collaborative efforts to solve the valley’s water woes.

Driscoll’s is one of a growing number of companies with large water footprints that are striving to be part of the solution in solving local and global water scarcity challenges. They’re beginning to collaborate at the watershed level in their sourcing regions. They’re enlisting their employees, supply chains and consumers in their conservation efforts, and they’re even stepping into the policy arena to advocate resilient water solutions, such as through Ceres’ Connect the Drops campaign in California.

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Driscoll’s water resources manager Emily Paddock and Watsonville berry grower John Eiskamp. Driscoll’s has helped growers like Eiskamp access a wireless irrigation network that provides real time information on soil moisture and watering needs and has helped growers cut their water use 20-30% while improving berry quality.

Today, at a World Water Day Summit, the White House is recognizing Connect the Drops and its five newest members—Anheuser-Bush InBev, Annie’s, Eileen Fisher, Kellogg Company and Xylem—for their contributions toward building a sustainable water future in California and beyond.

Like Driscoll’s, Anheuser-Bush InBev, whose brands include Budweiser and Stella Artois, is collaborating with stakeholders in the communities where it operates. The beer giant has worked to improve its water efficiency and management, reducing its water usage rate by 23 percent from 2009 through 2015 in the U.S. resulting in water savings of more than 2.5 billion gallons.

Among its many water saving initiatives, it reuses its effluent, reclaimed water, in auxiliary operations to reduce needs from local sources in many breweries such as its Los Angeles brewery, and supplies its effluent to local communities at nearly 40 of its breweries globally for agricultural irrigation, watering public parks and soccer fields, street cleaning, fire-fighting and other community needs replacing the fresh water that would otherwise be used.

Other companies, like Levi Strauss Co., are engaging their peers in water cutting initiatives. Today the iconic jeans brand is making its innovative WaterLess finishing techniques publicly available to spur water conservation across the apparel industry. The techniques reduce water use in garment finishing by up to 96 percent and have helped the company save more than one billion liters of water since 2011—or the equivalent to 10.56 million 10-minute showers.

Levi Strauss Co. also engages it consumers in water conservation because its water footprint analyses show that of the nearly 3,800 liters of water used in the lifecycle of a pair of jeans, consumer care has the second-highest impact on consumption, after cotton. In order to help consumers better understand their environmental impact, LSCo. created the “Are You Ready to Come Clean” quiz.

But are the collective actions and policy advocacy of these companies making a difference in California?

Steven Moore, a member of the California State Water Resources Control Board, thinks so. “Businesses have a unique bully pulpit to put pressure on policy makers,” he said. “More and more we need that voice at the table as we contemplate sustainable water policy.”

In 2014, for example when Driscoll’s Reiter spoke out in favor of California’s historic Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, it helped to break the logjam in the state to pass the critical bill.

Looking ahead, there are still a number of critical policies that California needs to put in place in order to right many years of unsustainable water use.

One such policy is removing perceived barriers created by Prop 218 to implementing tiered water pricing, a system for charging water guzzlers increasingly higher prices at higher volumes of water use. Tiered pricing can be very effective at incentivizing water conservation.

Another is AB 1755, which proposes to bring California closer to having good water data, and being able to act on it. The proposed legislation would create an online water data information system that could set the stage for a well-functioning water market in California.

And for California’s critical groundwater reform to move forward, sustainability plans must be developed at the sub-basin level. Food companies that source from California’s fertile agricultural lands can and should help to develop and implement those plans, following Driscoll’s lead in the Pajaro Valley.

As increasingly more companies realize the critical role the can and must play in the effort to create a sustainable water future, I believe that we will make great strides. As General Mill’s Ellen Silva put it, “We firmly believe that in order for Californian citizens, businesses, farmers and the ecosystem to thrive, we must all work together to manage the water supply sustainably.”

Kirsten James oversees the California policy program at Ceres, a nonprofit sustainability advocacy organization. She directs Connect the Drops, a network of California businesses seeking smart policies and solutions to ensure a sustainable water future in California and is former science and policy director at the Santa Monica-based environmental group, Heal the Bay.

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Shocking Footage of Illegal Fishing in the Indian Ocean

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Sea Shepherd Global’s Flagship, the Steve Irwin, is en route to the Indian Ocean to confront a killer in our oceans.

A fleet of fishing vessels is actively fishing on the high seas of the Indian Ocean using driftnets; a form of fishing banned by the United Nations in 1992 due to its indiscriminate and destructive impact.

Steve Irwin crewmember, Erica, holds a common dolphin, which was retrieved dead in the illegal net. Photo credit: Eliza Muirhead
Steve Irwin crewmember, Erica, holds a common dolphin, which was retrieved dead in the illegal net. Photo credit: Eliza Muirhead

Taking advantage of the remoteness of the region and in the absence of law enforcement, the fleet has demonstrated a resurgence of this out-dated, outlawed practice.

The Steve Irwin first intercepted the fleet of vessels engaged in illegal fishing in January 2016. Sea Shepherd Global has released shocking photographs and video of the encounter, showing sharks, dolphins, seals and multiple species of fish, including critically endangered Southern Bluefin tuna, entangled and dead in the illegal nets.

Watch here:

 

The goal of this new campaign, Operation Driftnet, is to confront the vessels while they are engaged in the act of illegal fishing and subsequently employ direct-action techniques to shut-down their operations.

Sea Shepherd Global will also document the vessels and collect evidence of their operations to aid with land-based investigations.

Using this combination of at-sea and on-land actions, Sea Shepherd aims to end the destructive streak of these vessels.

Campaign leader and Captain of the Steve Irwin, Siddharth Chakravarty said, “Driftnets were banned in 1992 by a United Nations moratorium. The nations of the world were concerned 24 years ago about the negative impact of this form of fishing. Driftnets didn’t have a place in the world’s oceans then and they don’t today. Our role is to ensure the ban is enforced.”

Sea Shepherd Global expects to engage with the fleet of illegal vessels in the coming days.

Here are more photos from the campaign:

Crew of the Steve Irwin hauls the abandoned driftnet out of the ocean. Photo credit: Eliza Muirhead
Crew of the Steve Irwin hauls the abandoned driftnet out of the ocean. Photo credit: Eliza Muirhead

 

Capt. Chakravarty with some of the many animals slaughtered in the illegal driftnet. Photo credit: Tim Watters
Capt. Chakravarty with some of the many animals slaughtered in the illegal driftnet. Photo credit: Tim Watters

 

A brown seal, retrieved dead from the illegal nets. Photo credit: Eliza Muirhead
A brown seal, retrieved dead from the illegal nets. Photo credit: Eliza Muirhead

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This Country Isn’t Just Carbon Neutral … It’s Carbon Negative

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Bhutan is often overlooked by the international community. The small nation lies deep within the Himalayas between China and India, two of the most populated countries in the world.

But the country of about 750,000 people has set some impressive environmental benchmarks. As we’ve written about in the past, Bhutan is not merely carbon neutral, it’s also a carbon sink—making it one of the few countries in the world to have negative carbon emissions.

The Punakha Dzong (the Palace of Great Happiness). It’s located at the confluence of Mo Chhu and Pho Chhu (Mother and Father rivers) in Bhutan. Photo credit: Marina and Enrique / Flickr

This means the country’s carbon sinks, such as its forests, absorb more carbon dioxide each year than its sources of pollution, such as factories, emit.

“According to recent figures, the country emits around 1.5 million tonnes of carbon annually, while its forests absorb over 6 million tonnes,” Proudly Carbon Neutral said.

To boot, Bhutan is aiming for zero net greenhouse gas emissions, zero-waste by 2030 and to grow 100 percent organic food by 2020. The Himalayan nation is currently 72 percent forested and the constitution requires that no less than 60 percent of it remains forested. It has even banned export logging.

Trees hold special value in Buddhism, the nation’s dominant religion. Last June, a team of 100 volunteers set a world record for planting 49,672 trees in just one hour. And earlier this month, to celebrate the birth of the first child of King Khesar and Queen Jetson, all 82,000 households in Bhutan planted a tree, while volunteers planted another 26,000 in various districts around the country, for a total of 108,000 trees.

Bhutan also refuses to judge its success on Gross Domestic Product, instead using an index that measures Gross National Happiness.

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Congress, Listen to the People, Not the Polluters

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As I write this, corporate interests are holding our democracy hostage. Voter suppression—targeting communities of color, students and low-income Americans—is running rampant, fossil fuel money is warping our electoral process and now, leaders in Congress are even blocking the fair consideration of a Supreme Court nominee.

Photo credit: Shayne Robinson / Greenpeace
Photo credit: Shayne Robinson / Greenpeace

Democracy is one of the best tools we have to protect the environment, but our system has been polluted by big money. We deserve a democracy that represents all of us, not just a wealthy few. A democracy that allows us to take swift action on today’s most urgent issues, like stopping runaway climate change and preventing environmental health disasters like the Flint water crisis.

Right now—as we prepare to elect our next president and members of Congress—we have a chance to make it happen.

Democracy Awakening is a movement of thousands working for a system in which everyone can participate and every voice is heard. With your help, it can be a movement of millions.

Here’s what we’re fighting for.

Restore Voting Rights

Casting our votes one of the most important political cards many of us have to play—and it’s been hard won by many seeking enfranchisement. But in this election, the right to vote is more at risk that at any time since the passage of the Voting Rights Act 50 years ago. Thanks to a 2013 Supreme Court ruling, we’ve seen state after state pass laws that restrict the right to vote, almost all of them targeting low-income groups, people of color and students.

And you better believe that matters for environmental justice.

These groups are by far the most likely to suffer environmental harms—like industrial waste sites in their backyards and lead in their water—and have the fewest means to counteract these injustices. Blocking the right to vote only makes it worse.

Instead of restricting rights, it’s time we start knocking down barriers and propping up the right to vote.

Get Money Out

There’s a pretty straightforward reason that the same lawmakers standing in the way of a people-powered democracy are the ones denying the science of climate change and blocking environmental action: money. Fossil fuel money, to be exact.

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Too many of our politicians are acting in the interests of coal and oil barons instead of the people they’re supposed to represent. Texas Senator and GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz, for example, has taken the most money from fossil fuel lobbyists in this election. He’s also one of the most egregious climate deniers in office or maybe even in existence.

There’s also a pretty straightforward fix to this issue: get big money out of politics. Campaign finance reform, transparency and overturning Citizens United aren’t just solutions for fixing democracy. When it comes to fossil fuel money, they’re the stepping stones we need to make real progress on environmental issues.

When It Comes to Democracy, It’s About All of Us

Democracy Awakening is not just about the environment. It’s about groups from labor, students, racial justice, civil rights and more coming together as a united pro-democracy movement. Because if we’re going to make our democracy work for all of us and win on the issues that matter most, we need as many voices as possible on our side.

That’s why I’m confident we’ll succeed. Together, we can build a democracy in which money doesn’t buy access to power and where everyone has an equal say in our shared future.

With every person that joins us, we’re that much closer to awakening a democracy that works for us—not corporate powers. Join the Democracy Awakening movement today!

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Musk, DiCaprio and Rive Talk the Future of Solar at Tesla Gigafactory

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As the battle over Nevada’s solar-killing fees wages on, state lawmakers, government officials and prominent renewable energy advocates descended upon Tesla’s Gigafactory near Reno this week to discuss the future of clean energy in the Silver State.

At Wednesday’s event, attendees were given a tour of the still-in-construction Gigafactory. Once complete, the massive $5 billion battery plant will be 100 percent powered by renewable energy sources, with the goal of achieving net zero energy.

The Associated Press reported that actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio was also at Gigafactory the same day to film a documentary he is directing on green energy. He was not part of the program but reportedly interviewed Tesla CEO Elon Musk for the film and met with some organizers and attendees, including Nevada Senate Minority Leader Aaron Ford (D-Las Vegas).

The event was organized by Musk and SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive to advance the development of solar energy in Nevada and to discuss how Tesla’s suite of in-home batteries works in tandem with a residential array. As Vegas Inc reported:

[Rive’s presentation focused] on how energy storage batteries and rooftop solar can work to reduce strain on the grid and help utilities operate more efficiently. The batteries, which are already being produced at the Tesla Gigafactory, can store solar-generated power so that it can be used at night or during times of peak power usage.

According to a copy of his presentation, Rive will encourage the lawmakers to look differently at the grid and embrace disruptive technologies, such as rooftop solar and home energy storage.

“Nevada is at the forefront of the future of energy,” the text of Rive’s presentation said. “But the future of energy will need leadership to enable change.”

Though it wasn’t explicitly said, Rive’s comment takes aim at Nevada’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which voted in December to increase a fixed monthly fee for solar customers by about 40 percent while simultaneously reducing the amount customers get paid for excess power they sell to the grid.

A fierce net metering battle has since ensued and is framed by media as a showdown between Warren Buffett—whose Berkshire Hathaway Energy owns NV Energy, the state’s largest utility—versus Musk, the chairman and largest shareholder in SolarCity.

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Worldwide Shift to Renewable Energy Played ‘Critical Role’ in Stalling Carbon Emissions

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A growing worldwide shift to renewable energy has played a “critical role” in stalling global carbon emissions, the world’s leading energy analysts declared on Wednesday.

According to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) preliminary analysis of 2015 data, for the second year in a row, the amount of carbon emitted from the world’s power sector remained essentially flat at 32.1 billion tons.

In 2015, renewables accounted for roughly 90 percent of new electricity generation in 2015, with wind alone producing more than half of that new power. Photo credit: Mathias Appel / Flickr
In 2015, renewables “accounted for roughly 90 percent of new electricity generation in 2015,” with wind alone producing more than half of that new power. Photo credit: Mathias Appel / Flickr

Declining coal use in China and the U.S., the world’s two biggest emitters of carbon and a surge in new renewable energy production were credited for driving that trend.

According to the figures, which will be included in the IEA’s annual World Energy Outlook report at the end of June, renewables “accounted for roughly 90 percent of new electricity generation in 2015,” with wind alone producing more than half of that new power.

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Those trends offset rising emissions in a number of developing countries in Asia and the Middle East as well as a “moderate increase” in Europe.

At the same time, the global economy grew more than 3 percent, prompting the agency to declare that the “decoupling of global emissions and economic growth” has been officially “confirmed.”

Though environmentalists and other analysts agree that the “endless growth” demanded by a capitalist system is not sustainable, the findings nonetheless underscore the viability of a global shift to clean energy—and put an end to many of the arguments against such a change.

“The new figures confirm last year’s surprising but welcome news: we now have seen two straight years of greenhouse gas emissions decoupling from economic growth,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said.

“Coming just a few months after the landmark COP21 agreement in Paris, this is yet another boost to the global fight against climate change,” Birol added.

The group notes that in the more than 40 years since they have been tracking carbon emissions, there have only been four periods during which emissions stood still or declined. With the exception of the past two years, those stalls all occurred during periods of global economic slowdowns.

The report notes that in the U.S., carbon emissions fell two percent in 2015—a decline which was largely attributed to the switch from coal to natural gas. However, natural gas production releases significant emissions of methane, which scientists say is an even more potent greenhouse gas than carbon. The preliminary data does not factor in emissions of methane.

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Rescued Chimp Who Lived Alone for 18 Years Won’t Stop Holding Hands With New Friend

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Sometimes, all you need is a friend.

Two rescued chimpanzees found exactly that in each other. In fact, they’re holding onto their friendship and refusing to let go.

A recent video posted by the Save the Chimps sanctuary in Florida shows Terry and Jeannie, two rescued chimpanzees, holding each other’s hands, never breaking contact—even when one of them flips over and repositions:

Terry spent years of his life with someone who trained chimpanzees for the Ice Capades, although he never performed himself. In 1995, he and another chimpanzee named Simon were moved to the Las Vegas Zoo, but Terry didn’t have his companion for long, as Simon died shortly after the move. For 18 years, Terry was held in solitary confinement at the decrepit Las Vegas Zoo, a notoriously substandard facility that confined 150 animals on just three acres. However, in 2013, when all the zoo staff mysteriously quit, he finally had a chance and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) saw an opportunity to help him.

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We contacted the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance to express our support for sending Terry to a sanctuary instead of another roadside zoo. That required funds and that’s where our hero Sam Simon and another wonderful PETA President’s Circle patron stepped in. Thanks to their generous support, PETA could contribute to Terry’s transfer to Save the Chimps, where he has lived ever since.

But despite Save the Chimps’ sprawling acreage and outstanding care, Terry didn’t adjust right away. The more than 250 chimpanzees at Save the Chimps live on 12 separate islands in large “family” groups. According to the sanctuary’s site, Terry didn’t get along with all the members of the family in which he was initially placed. This prompted the sanctuary to move him to another group—Jeannie’s.

Jeannie—lovingly called “Jeannie Mama” by some—was rescued from a notorious laboratory in 2002, after 20 years spent there, according to Save the Chimps. During her time there, she was used for breeding and gave birth to at least four babies and had two miscarriages. Even though the bond between chimpanzee mothers and babies is similar to the one that humans share with their children, Jeannie’s babies were taken away from her at birth. Despite never having raised her own babies, at Save the Chimps, she is free to “mother” and care for the other rescued chimpanzees, a role that was denied to her for so many years.

She and Terry may share painful pasts, but now they seem to have all the love they need. Sometimes, they demonstrate even more affection than just by holding hands:

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And now they can be together for the rest of their days.

What You Can Do

Although Terry and Jeannie were rescued, so many other chimpanzees need our help. Click here to learn about how you can help chimpanzees kept in solitary confinement.

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20 Stunning Photos of the World’s Most Beautiful Trees

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Trees are often referred to as the “lungs of the Earth“—and for good reason. Trees take in carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, creating a hospitable environment for humans and other life forms.

Last year, researchers at Yale University estimated that the planet is home to 3.04 trillion trees—that’s 422 trees per person. But according to those researchers, humans are removing trees at the rate of 15 billion per year. And there are now about half as many trees as there were at the dawn of civilization.

Aside from all of the crucial ecosystem services that trees provide, they’re also often stunningly beautiful.

Here are 20 Instagram photos of some of the world’s most beautiful trees:

How beautiful is the Lord’s creation!!! #spring #springblooms #springblossom #springflowers #springweather #cherryblossoms #appleblossoms #beautiful #beautifulwalkway #beautifultrees #bloomingtrees #beautifulpath #godscreation #godscreationisbeautiful #ourcreator #creatoroftheuniverse #awesomecreator #loveofbeauty #creation #hiscreation

A photo posted by Xay Thao (@xay.thao) on Mar 11, 2016 at 12:30pm PST

#beautifultrees #favoriteflowers #oldtruck #nature #love #sunshine #socal #sunnysandiego

A photo posted by Aisha Baker-Pernel (@lovelyday24) on Mar 9, 2016 at 12:03pm PST

#love #beautiful #heartit #follow #likeit #colorful #red #beautifultrees #sky #painting #lovely #amazing #awesome #wonderful #wonderful_places

A photo posted by If Not Us, Who? (@we_used_to_be_normal) on Feb 27, 2016 at 2:52am PST

#cherryblossom #peachblossom #treelove #beautifultrees

A photo posted by gsab18 (@gsab18) on Mar 6, 2016 at 9:19am PST

#MichellePaulPhotography #Photos #Photography #PhotographyLife #PhotographyLove #PhotographyPorn #PhotographyFreak #centennialhighschool #photooftheday #PhotographyIsMyPassion #sunset #SunsetLove #SunsetPorn #sunsetlovers #bakersfield #cloudscape #Clouds #BakersfieldCa #PhotographyIsMyLife #BeautifulTrees #ThatTimeOfYearAgain #iPhone6s #iPhonePhotography #iPhone #CloudPorn #BakersfieldSunset #ilovesunsets #sky #instagram #MyPhotographyLife 📷💕

A photo posted by Michelle Paul (@hazleyez) on Mar 2, 2016 at 7:36pm PST

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The United States of Monsanto?

This week thousands of Americans took time out of their busy days to call their Senators to demand that they vote against the DARK Act, a bill sponsored by Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, which would prevent consumers from knowing if the food they eat and feed their families contains genetically engineered (GMO) ingredients. Their support for GMO labeling was echoed by more than 600 organizations, including farming and fishing groups and food companies, representing tens of millions of members and customers who this week also urged the Senate to reject this troubling bill.

This week thousands of Americans took time out of their busy days to call their Senators to demand that they vote against the DARK Act.

GMO crops are created by transferring genetic material from one organism into another to create specific traits, such as resistance to treatment with herbicides or to make a plant produce its own pesticide to repel insects. Unlike traditional plant and animal breeding, which tries to develop better varieties by selecting traits from the same species, genetic engineering techniques can insert specific genes from any plant, animal or microorganism into the DNA of a different species.

The DARK Act passed out of committee last week by a 14-6 vote and is expected to hit the Senate floor any day now. The House already passed a similar bill in July. If passed in the Senate, it will block state laws that require labeling of GMOs, instruct the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to implement a voluntary labeling program and kick off a USDA propaganda program to sell the public on GMOs.

But an overwhelming majority of Americans—more than 90 percent in many polls—support GMO labeling. Three states— Vermont, Connecticut and Maine—have passed laws to that effect. Now, some in the Senate want to thwart these efforts. Why is it that so many politicians are all about letting states make decisions on controversial issues—until some states want to do something that Big Food companies oppose?

As with most battles brewing inside the Beltway, the answer can be found at the end of a paper trail—a green paper trail. Monsanto, a leading manufacturer of GMO seeds (and the herbicides used with them) has spent millions of dollars over the past several years to block GMO labeling efforts, most notably state and local ballot initiatives in California, Colorado, Hawaii and Oregon that failed.

Follow the Money

Since 1999, the fifty largest agricultural and food patent-holding companies and two of the largest biotech and agrochemical trade associations have spent more than U.S. $572 million in campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures, much of it to create a favorable political context to allow GMOs to proliferate. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents food companies like Kraft and Pepsi, has spent millions of dollars lobbying in favor of the DARK Act too. Washington’s Attorney General recently accused the Grocery Manufacturers Association of maintaining an “egregious” plot to conceal the identity of the corporate donors behind its $11 million campaign to defeat that state’s 2013 food-labeling initiative.

What’s happening here is painfully obvious. The public is rejecting GMOs, a dubious technology upon which Big Food has built its empire and now it’s pulling out all the stops to protect its market shares and its profit margins.

The public is rightfully suspicious of GMOs. We simply don’t know enough about their long-term effects, so it’s logical that consumers would want to know whether or not they are eating them. Support for GMO labeling is so strong in fact that Campbell’s recently announced it would label GMOs in its products and even withdrew its support for anti-labeling efforts. But we can’t rely on individual corporations to decide these matters for us.

And “voluntary” labeling is not the answer, either, since it effectively upholds the status quo and translates to very little, if any, labeling at all. While there is talk of amending the DARK Act to include an amendment to encourage voluntary labeling, it’s crucial to note that this so-called “compromise” will do little to help consumers know if the food they’re eating contains GMOs. This clearly won’t do.

Reclaiming Democracy

Industry’s attempt to block GMO labeling laws is yet another symptom of a democracy hijacked by corporate interests. We the people have elected our leaders to Congress to represent our interests, because we live in a democracy—not a nation controlled by a corporate oligarchy. At least, that’s the way it should be. That’s why we’re urging the Senate to reject the DARK Act and any compromise that results in anything less than on-package labeling that tells consumers if a product contains GMO ingredients.

This piece was originally featured on Food Water Watch.

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Yellowstone Sends 100 Wild Buffalo to Slaughter

Addressing our relationship with the buffalo, Buffalo Field Campaign co-founder Lakota Elder Rosalie Littler Thunder once said, “human beings have forgotten their purpose.” Indeed, those who work for Yellowstone National Park have certainly forgotten theirs: to preserve [wild buffalo], unimpaired, for present and future generations.”

One hundred and fifty of America’s last wild buffalo were certainly “impaired” this week, having endured the hells of Yellowstone’s Stephens Creek capture facility. For some, this nightmare journey is still underway.

Inside Yellowstone's Stephens Creek bison trap. Photo credit: Stephany Seay / Buffalo Field Campaign
Inside Yellowstone’s Stephens Creek bison trap. Photo credit: Stephany Seay / Buffalo Field Campaign

On Tuesday and Wednesday, in response to a public access lawsuit, Yellowstone National Park granted a media tour of their Stephens Creek trap. Mike Mease and I attended on behalf of the Buffalo Field Campaign. What we saw will give us nightmares, but it is critical for us to be here to get a brief glimpse of what goes on in this area Yellowstone hides from the public.

Captive buffalo were run through the gauntlet of a fortified livestock corral, “worked” in a squeeze chute called the “Silencer,” where their blood was drawn, their teeth were checked for age and where they were weighed, tagged and “released” to flee down a long, dusty corridor where they were separated by age and sex and forever torn from their families. As you read this they are in the process of being shipped to slaughter.

Park wranglers haze buffalo deeper into Yellowstone's trap. Photos credit: Stephany Seay / Buffalo Field Campaign
Park wranglers haze buffalo deeper into Yellowstone’s trap. Photos credit: Stephany Seay / Buffalo Field Campaign

Tuesday morning, beginning at the break of dawn, 75 frightened and confused wild buffalo were run through this house of horrors; early Wednesday morning 30 female buffalo from this group were crammed onto two livestock trailers hired by the InterTribal Buffalo Council and shipped to the slaughterhouse. Later that same morning, the remaining 75 buffalo endured the same mistreatment. On Thursday morning, 63 more buffalo went to slaughter, with another 75 calves and yearlings are being held “just in case” Yellowstone’s 50 bison quarantine plan is approved.

The noise in the trap was deafening. Buffalo were slamming against the walls, ramming into each other and bellowing in fear or to find family members. The sounds they made with their voices and their bodies took over everything. They were crammed into the trap’s “bull pen,” where park wranglers on catwalks—silent for the media tour, but normally “yipping” and hollering—jabbed and prodded them from above, forcing them to move to desired locations and where pushed into “the Silencer.”

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Fukushima Should Have Served as Wake-Up Call for U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

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On March 11, 2011, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and 50-foot tsunami triggered meltdowns at three of six nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan. It was the one of the worst accidents in the nuclear industry’s 60-year history, contaminating thousands of square miles, displacing more than 150,000 people and costing Japanese taxpayers nearly $100 billion.

negin_fukushima_750

The disaster was a wake-up call for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). After all, nearly a third of the 104 U.S. reactors operating at the time were General Electric Mark I or Mark II reactors, the same as those in Fukushima. The accident raised an obvious question: How vulnerable are those reactors—and the rest of the U.S. fleet for that matter—to comparable natural disasters?

The NRC set up a task force to analyze what happened at Fukushima and assess how to make U.S. reactors safer. In July 2011, the task force offered a dozen recommendations to help safeguard U.S. nuclear plants in the event of a Fukushima-scale accident.

Unfortunately, the NRC has since rejected or significantly weakened many of those recommendations and has yet to fully implement the reforms it did adopt, according to a new Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) report. UCS also found that the agency abdicated its responsibility as the nation’s nuclear watchdog by allowing the industry to routinely rely on voluntary guidelines, which are, by their very nature, unenforceable.

“Although the NRC and the nuclear industry have devoted considerable resources to address the post-Fukushima task force recommendations, they haven’t done all they should to protect the public from a similar disaster,” said report author Edwin Lyman, a UCS senior scientist and co-author of the 2014 book, Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster. “If the NRC is serious about protecting the public and plant workers, it should reconsider a number of recommendations it scrapped under pressure from the industry and its supporters in Congress.”

Half-Baked Reforms

The post-Fukushima task force’s top priority was overhauling what it called a “patchwork” of NRC regulations and industry voluntary guidelines for “beyond-design-basis” events—incidents that plants were not designed to withstand. The task force argued that both regulators and plant owners would benefit from a coherent set of standards that would guard against severe events like Fukushima and provide a framework for implementing its other recommendations. After several years of deliberation, however, the NRC ultimately passed on making any fundamental changes, maintaining that its regulatory framework doesn’t need fixing.

Lyman said this was a critical mistake. “By rejecting the task force’s top recommendation,” he said, “the NRC regulatory regime will remain full of holes, leaving the public at risk from potential accident scenarios that regulators may overlook.”

The NRC then relied heavily on its vaguely worded “backfit” rule to reject many of the other recommended post-Fukushima safety upgrades. The rule limits the agency’s ability to require new safety rules if a proposed upgrade’s cost is deemed to exceed its benefits. Many important safety recommendations failed to pass this test, despite the fact that they would have made plants safer.

“The post-Fukushima, lessons-learned process provided the NRC a golden opportunity to reform its inconsistent approach to regulating the industry,” Lyman said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t take advantage of it.”

Letting the Industry Make the Rules

The NRC and the nuclear industry’s main response to the Fukushima accident is what they call the “diverse and flexible coping capability” program or FLEX for short, which will provide extra backup emergency equipment to cool reactors and spent fuel pools during a prolonged power loss.

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