Leaders from the food industry issued a warning to Congress recently, telling elected politicians to take action on climate change or face a global food shortage. Leaders from companies such as Kellogg’s, General Mills, Nestle, Mars, and many others co-signed a letter published in The Washington Post, where they warned about the threats that climate change poses to the food industry.
For most Western societies, climate change has largely been an “out of sight, out of mind” issue. Even the disasters that we have seen in America – more extreme droughts, floods, hurricanes, etc. – have not been enough to spark meaningful action from the government. But for people in developing parts of the world, the effects of climate change are not only real, but they are severely impeding their way of life right now.
A new report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) says that those same developing countries, which also happen to be some of the most impoverished nations in the world, are already experiencing the disastrous effects of climate change at an alarming rate. And because they are so poor, they are unable to fund both anti-poverty initiatives and climate change mitigation programs.
The report lays out the problem bluntly:
The international community has fundamentally failed to put in place at sufficient scale either the financing or the delivery mechanisms needed to strengthen the resilience and enhance the adaptation capabilities of vulnerable people. As a result, government and household budgets in the poorest countries have been left to foot the bill for a threat that originates principally in richer countries.
We've now entered the fourth day of the government shutdown, and the economic impacts are already being felt by states all over America. As it turns out, the environmental services provided by the government – everything from running our national park system to renewable energy development – is quite an important part of our economy.
The most obvious and immediate effect is the loss of roughly $76 million every day from the closure of national parks and zoos. This loss of revenue will have a ripple effect throughout local economies, impacting small businesses, restaurants, lodges, and so on.
According to the Center for American Progress, the hit to the National Parks Service is adding “insult to injury,” as they were hit particularly hard by previous funding cuts, as well as the sequester cuts earlier this year:
Since 2010, the budget to operate national parks has been slashed by 13 percent in today’s dollars, or $315 million. Chronic underfunding of national parks and public lands has contributed to an estimated $12 billion backlog of deferred maintenance at national parks.
As a result of mandatory funding cuts under the sequester, the national parks were unable to hire 1,900 workers for the busy 2013 summer season. Several national parks, including the Grand Canyon, Glacier National Park, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, had to implement seasonal closures, reduce visitor-center hours, and cancel interpretive programs. Twenty-nine national wildlife refuges had to close for hunting in 2013 as a result of the sequester.
But even though tourists won’t be able to enjoy our federal lands, the dirty energy industry is still allowed full access. As the funding for energy exploration is provided by the companies themselves, they are exempt from the federal rules put in place that demand all “non-essential” services be immediately put on hold.
This doesn’t mean that drillers are enjoying this shutdown. The Interior Department was forced to stop the permitting process for energy exploration, leaving the dirty energy industry unable to open up any new areas for exploitation.
The rush to drill for unconventional gas, enabled by a process popularly known as “fracking,” or hydraulic fracturing, has brought with it much collateral damage. Close observers know about contaminated water, earthquakes, and climate change impacts of the shale gas boom, but few look at the entire life cycle of fracking from cradle to grave.
Until recently, one of the most underlooked facets of the industry was the “cradle” portion of the shale gas lifecycle: frac sand mining in the hills of northwestern Wisconsin and bordering eastern Minnesota, areas now serving as the epicenter of the frac sand mining world.
The silence on the issue ended after several good investigative stories were produced by outlets in the past year or so, such as Wisconsin Watch, PR Watch, The Wisconsin State Journal, the Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal, Orion, EcoWatch, and most recently, Tom Dispatch. These various articles, all well worth reading, explain the land grab currently unfolding in the Midwest and the ecological damage that has accompanied it.
That sand, which props open fractures in the shale, has to come from somewhere. Without it, the fracking industry would grind to a halt. So big multinational corporations are descending on this bucolic region to cart off its prehistoric sand, which will later be forcefully injected into the earth elsewhere across the country to produce more natural gas. Geology that has taken millions of years to form is now being transformed into part of a system, a machine, helping to drive global climate change.
Frac sand, which consists of fine-grained sillica, can cause the respiratory illness, silicosis. Washing the frac sand in preparation for the fracking process is also a water intensive process, particularly threatening in the age of increasing water scarcity in the United States and around the world.