Laurel Whitney

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Laurel Whitney is an up and coming contender in the climate change arena. Currently residing in New York City, she is an adjunct professor in the Environmental Studies department at Pace University, where she gets to depress aspiring freshman about how the world is riding a flaming rollercoaster towards ecological disaster. She also works as an environmental/climate change consultant, working on a diverse array of projects including documentary production, environmental education, activist organizing, and the occasional spout of journalism. She has lectured around the country, and will be published in an upcoming book called The Next Eco-Warriors.

Laurel takes the newfangled attack on scientific integrity quite personally as she doesn’t ever remember taking a class on How to Make Up and Manipulate Your Data 101 or How to Get Rich Off of Government Research Contracts 110 while attaining her multiple science degrees. She received her BS in marine science and chemistry from the University of South Carolina, where she researched Arctic biogeochemistry for several years. Realizing scientists had a knack for articulating but not captivating, she went on to study the many ways (well, failures) climate change is relayed to and perceived by the American public. She received her multidisciplinary MA in Climate and Society from Columbia University where she had the honor of working with and learning from many leading scientists at the International Research Institute of Climate and Society and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Since then, she’s focused on cultivating creative media projects that poke at the emboldening battle between multinationals, politicos, and the scientific community. Now she spends her days feeding her obsession to save the world and illuminate these crucial issues with an additional spoonful of comedy, satire, and logic. Past collaborators include Earthjustice, The Age of Stupid, The Yes Men, Rainforest Alliance, and hopefully many more to come.

US Tar Sands Operations Challenged By Grassroots Opposition

While many environmental advocates urge consumers to buy local, in this case, local isn't always better. While the Canadian tar sands are more notorious, developments here in the US are moving forward as local governments issue more permits to allow companies to start mining.

More than half of the U.S. tar sands resources in active play are in Utah. As DeSmog reported previously, the first US tar sands mine was approved in Utah back in October 2012, with plans to seek a few more permits and begin construction in 2013. After the Utah Water Quality Board approved the permit, the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining also gave the operation the green light to move forward with production.

Since then, US Oil Sands Inc., the company developing the land for extraction, is marching forward. According to exploratory analysis, the 5,930 acres under lease contain approximately 184.3 million barrels of oil. That's not including over 26,000 acres that weren't evaluated in the report.

“Based on the [report] and the positive results provided by our exploratory drilling program, we are able to credibly showcase the potential our Utah properties hold for the company and demonstrate that we are one step closer to execution of the first phase of development of PR Spring,” announced CEO Cameron Todd in an earlier report, “…detailed pit planning is now underway in these locations.”

The company plans to be commercially operational by 2014.

New Nature Study Calls Melting Underwater Arctic Permafrost An "Economic Time Bomb"

Three academics walk into a bar.

After what must have been the worst happy hour ever, they emerge having discovered that melting oceanic permafrost could come with a hefty $60 trillion dollar price tag, slightly less than the entire world economy.

We calculate that the costs of a melting Arctic will be huge, because the region is pivotal to the functioning of Earth systems such as oceans and the climate. The release of methane from thawing permafrost beneath the East Siberian Sea, off northern Russia, alone comes with an average global price tag of $60 trillion in the absence of mitigating action — a figure comparable to the size of the world economy in 2012 (about $70 trillion). The total cost of Arctic change will be much higher.

Penned in a recent issue of Nature, Gail Whitman (Sustainability professor at Erasmus University Netherlands), Chris Hope (Policy modeler, University of Cambridge) and Peter Wadhams (Ocean physics, University of Cambridge) set out to calculate the economic consequences of an ice-free Arctic, which some have estimated could happen as early as 2020.

Their main concern followed the melting of underwater permafrost - called methane clathrates - in which natural methane gas beneath the ocean is trapped in frozen beds of ice. Normally, the cold temperatures of ocean water and high pressure of ocean sitting atop the clathrates keep them in place. But with the Arctic ice cap quickly melting, the warming may penetrate farther toward the ocean floor and release this 50 Gt reservoir of methane.

Like stinky bubbles emanating from their Arctic bathtub, methane, a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2 with about 20x the warming capability, could either be released gradually over time, or in one fell swoop, accelerating atmospheric warming.

USGS Study Connects Earthquake Risk To Wastewater Injection, Fracking Advocates Say, "Who Cares?"

A new study out in Science by US Geological Survey scientist William Ellsworth links earthquakes to wastewater injection sites. These earthquakes, thought to be caused by pressure changes due to excess fluid injected deep below the surface, are being dubbed “man-made” earthquakes.

It's not the first time scientists have used that moniker, as earthquakes have been associated with other industrial operations that mess with underground formations such as surface and underground mining or dams that impound water into reservoirs.

Yet, in more recent years, we're seeing more and more of them,

“The number of earthquakes has increased dramatically over the past few years within the central and eastern United States. More than 300 earthquakes above a magnitude 3.0 occurred in the three years from 2010-2012, compared with an average rate of 21 events per year observed from 1967-2000.”

Many likely know that “wastewater” is a byproduct of many fossil fuel processes. It can come from raw material itself or is a leftover from purification steps during the extraction and processing phases of fuel production.

Tim DeChristopher, Imprisoned For Nearly Two Years, To Be Released On Earth Day

Climate activist Tim DeChristopher is set to be released from prison on Earth Day, this Sunday April 21st, since being incarcerated on July 26, 2011.

Tim DeChristopher created quite a ripple in the activist community when he tried to buy millions of dollars of land in December of 2008 in order to stop the oil and gas industry from snatching it up at an illegitimate auction put on by the outgoing Bush administration. While the incoming Obama administration cancelled the auction, Tim was caught in the fallout, while the rest of the auctioneers presumably roam free.

He was slapped with two federal felony charges - one for making false statements and violating the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act.

Tim's trial was pushed back 6 times over two years and was fraught with maddening plot twists. The judge refused to let Tim use the Necessity Defense or let the jury know crucial facts, including that the auction was illegal. Tim was also prohibited from testifying on how he acted on moral convictions relating to climate change.

His prison term was no less eventful. During March of last year, Tim was thrown in isolated confinement for two and a half weeks after writing correspondence that the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) deemed potentially harmful because it contained the word “threat.” It turned out he was only “threatening” to return a potential legal fund donation from a company whose ethics weren't aligned with his own.

Rumors went around that an unnamed Congressman had put in the order, but investigations never figured out if it was true.

Shell Wriggles Free Of Oil Spill Liability In Nigeria, But Case Is Far From Closed

A Dutch court acquitted oil giant Shell of allegations regarding oil contamination in Nigeria. Reported earlier in The Guardian, the court ruled in favor of the company for 4 counts of polluting land and waterways in the African country, but was held accountable on a fifth count.

The suit was put forward by Friends of the Earth alongside four Nigerian farmers in the areas of Goi, Ogoniland, Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom. They claimed oil pollution from leaky, unsafe oil pipelines devastated livelihoods of local citizens and farmers in the area. Elder Friday Akpan had 47 catfish farms destroyed from previous oil spills:

“The fishes died completely. I was confused because it left me completely empty,” Akpan added. “I did not have some money to pay school fees for my twelve children, and nothing to allow me to earn my livelihood again. Debts I had borrowed I could not repay. There was nothing for me. I was finished.”

The plaintiffs pushed for a hearing in the Netherlands over Nigeria. They hoped it would be strategically more advantageous to hold trial in the country of the company's headquarters versus taking there chances in a Nigerian court where often times the oil companies have more power than the government. Additionally, the Netherlands would more likely properly enforce any damages awarded by the court.

“Shell is a very stubborn company, and in Nigeria, in some situations, it is more powerful than the Nigerian government,” said Prince Chima Williams, head the legal affairs department at the Environmental Rights Action group.

Thousands of Miners' Benefits In Jeopardy As Patriot Coal Claims Bankruptcy

On January 29, Patriot Coal Co. will begin Chapter 11 bankruptcy hearings in St. Louis, MO claiming that it's become a “victim of the markets” and can no longer pay its debts. These “debts” include millions of dollars of retiree health benefits. If the company goes under, the benefits may go along with it.

That's why the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) is suing. Filed back in October, the lawsuit cites the Employee Retirement and Income Securities Act, which states that coal companies must provide health insurance for retired miners.

However, the UMWA isn't suing Patriot Coal.

Most of the 10,000 workers in the class action lawsuit have never actually worked for Patriot. They actually put in their time (many with upwards of 30 years of service) with Peabody Energy Corp. and Arch Coal Inc. The UMWA contends that Peabody and Arch sold off the benefits to a company that was doomed to fail, therefore getting rid of the debt and leaving thousands without health insurance.

How Electric Providers Use Sleazy Scams To Sell Energy

Imagine this:

You're working from home on a Friday, winding down from the week, furiously reading the latest climate news until you commute from the living room to your bed to begin your normal 3:00 brainstorming session (aka a nap). Suddenly, the door rings. Who could be stopping by on a Friday afternoon?

Groggy from your midday siesta, you drag yourself to the front door wearing your pink fluffy robe (because seriously, if you're working from home and taking a nap, you're not wearing pants), only to open it to two smiling men in business suits.

“Ma'am, there's something wrong with your energy bill, you're being charged too much. May we see it?”

In your somewhat drunken stupor, you're baffled as to how that could be, but oblige. Somehow, 20 minutes later, you're signing a contract just to get these weirdos out of your doorway and back to your nap.

All of a sudden, the realization sets in- you've been scammed by energy brokers.

Medical And Scientific Experts Urge Halting Fracking Rush Until Medical Unknowns Are Better Understood

This week, the group Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy (PSE) declared they would submit a petition to the White House signed by 107 experts to urge the administration to slow down and consider the health effects of natural gas fracking before allowing any new permits. They want the government to consider the two ethical principles adhered to by physicians: “do no harm” and that of “informed consent.”

The petition stems from the possibility that the Obama administration might “fast-track” the permits for LNG exports. LNG, or liquefied natural gas, comes almost exclusively from the fracking process. The government wants to build export terminals to sell the gas overseas, which would increase demand and production for fracked gas within our borders.

The main concern is with flowback water produced during the fracking process that comes back up to the surface. Companies still won't reveal what's in the chemical fluid mixed with water used to extract the gas citing a potential “loss of competitive advantage.”

Even with known chemicals, doctors and scientists are still studying the ways that public health could be put at risk by exposure. The flowback water from the wells poses a high risk to communities through both water and air contamination.

ACCCE PR Rhetoric On Low-Income Households Does Not Compute

The ACCCE PR robots suffered a bit of malfunction recently when attempting to spit out the coal industry's usual talking points. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst released a report last week which discovered that low-income households, and often minorities that encompass the low-income bracket, are disproportionately affected by coal pollution.

The report looked at the distribution of people who live within 3 miles of coal-generating power plants. Residents living within this range are the most likely to suffer negative health effects associated with sulfate and nitric oxide pollution.

Unsurprisingly, most of the people living in this zone are low-income or people of color. So how did the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity PR bots respond?


NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg Endorses Obama, Cites Climate Change

Earlier today, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave his official endorsement to President Barack Obama.

After a lukewarm statement yesterday about climate's effect on the storm, now climate change is front and center on Bloomberg's radar.

Our climate is changing,” penned the mayor in a Bloomberg News editorial. “One [candidate] sees climate change as an urgent problem that threatens our planet; one does not. I want our president to place scientific evidence and risk management above electoral politics.”

President Obama says he is “honored” to have Mayor Bloomberg's endorsement, and broke his own climate silence in response (other than MTV, he hasn't discussed it):

I'm honored to have Mayor Bloomberg's endorsement.  I deeply respect him for his leadership in business, philanthropy and government, and appreciate the extraordinary job he's doing right now, leading New York City through these difficult days.  

While we may not agree on every issue, Mayor Bloomberg and I agree on the most important issues of our time - that the key to a strong economy is investing in the skills and education of our people, that immigration reform is essential to an open and dynamic democracy, and that climate change is a threat to our children's future, and we owe it to them to do something about it. …” [H/T TPMemo]