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By Jake Johnson
Common Dreams

Rapidly falling insect populations, said Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson, “will make it even more difficult than today to get enough food for the human population of the planet, to get good health and freshwater for everybody.”

Grasshopper. Photo: PublicDomainPictures.net

A leading scientist warned Tuesday that the rapid decline of insects around the world poses an existential threat to humanity and action must be taken to rescue them “while we still have time.”

Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson, professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and one of the world’s top entomologists, said in an interview with The Guardian that the importance of insects to the planet should spur humans to take immediate action against one of the major causes of insect decline—the climate crisis.

“Insects are the glue in nature,” said Sverdrup-Thygeson. “We should save insects, if not for their sake, then for our own sake.”

Falling insect populations around the world is cause for serious alarm, Sverdrup-Thygeson said, given the enormous impact these tiny creatures have on the global ecosystem.

“I have read pretty much every study in English and I haven’t seen a single one where entomologists don’t believe the main message that a lot of insect species are definitely declining,” said Sverdrup-Thygeson. “When you throw all the pesticides and climate change on top of that, it is not very cool to be an insect today.”

If this decline continues unabated, Sverdrup-Thygeson warned, soon “it will not be fun to be a human on this planet either.”

“[I]t will make it even more difficult than today to get enough food for the human population of the planet, to get good health and freshwater for everybody,” said Sverdrup-Thygeson. “That should be a huge motivation for doing something while we still have time.”

“You can pull out some threads,” she added, “but at some stage the whole fabric unravels and then we will really see the consequences.”

Sverdrup-Thygeson’s call to action came after the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released a comprehensive global biodiversity report, which warned that human activity has pushed a million plant and animal species to the brink of extinction.

According to the report, “available evidence supports a tentative estimate of 10 percent [of insect species] being threatened” by the climate crisis.

“It is not too late to make a difference,” said IPBES chair Sir Robert Watson, “but only if we start now at every level from local to global.”

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License, by Common Dreams.

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By Jill Richardson
Other Words

If environmental solutions aren’t systemic, living green will always mean going against the grain — and usually failing.

Every year around Earth Day, I’m reminded of papers I graded in an environmental sociology class. The assignment was to assess your values, explain how you thought you would live as an adult (about 20 years in the future), and then complete an online calculator to find out: If everyone in the world lived like you, how many planets would we need?

The students were all young and idealistic, and most of them cared deeply about the environment. In their papers, they professed how they would live their lives in the most sustainable ways possible — eating vegan diets, avoiding car travel, growing their own food, and so on.

Most were sure they’d find a way to make it work without sacrificing luxuries like international travel.

Then they calculated how many planets would be needed to support everyone in the world living with their ideal lifestyle. Every single student required more than one planet. Most needed about three.

That’s right: If everyone in the world lived like these idealistic, passionate environmentalists, we’d need three planets to produce enough resources for their needs.

These papers hit me hard emotionally. When I was their age, I was them. Their dreams were my dreams — only for me, those dreams are dead.

Even the most committed of them couldn’t get her environmental footprint down to what one planet can provide. There’s almost no way to live in the United States as it is now and be fully sustainable. Attempting to do so requires a constant, overwhelming amount of effort.

I know because I’ve tried to do it myself. It was exhausting, frustrating, and often unsuccessful.

The question is: What good is it to single handedly live a green life in a society that’s racing toward catastrophic climate change? You’ll still go down with the sinking ship in the end if you’re the only one trying to bail water out of it.

Here’s what I have learned as a sociologist that I wish I could tell my 20-year-old self:

The solutions to environmental problems need to be systemic. They cannot be achieved by a group of do-gooders each trying to individually make good choices within a system designed for the opposite.

Right now, living a sustainable lifestyle is difficult because it requires going against the grain of society constantly. It means reading every label to avoid the ingredients you won’t eat, or requiring extra travel time to take the bus or bike or walk instead of driving. It’s often expensive and time consuming.

Also, systemic solutions need to work for all of us.

Environmental policies reflect the power dynamics within our society. If mostly white, urban, middle to upper class, college-educated people — the people hold the most power in our society — make our environmental policies, then the policies they craft will work best for themselves, and less well (or not at all) for other groups of people.

The rich and the powerful are often hypocrites. They might grow organic gardens or drive electric cars but live in a huge home (or several) and take multiple international trips each year. Instead of inflicting hardship on more marginalized groups — with bad policy or bad habits — they should begin by holding a mirror up to themselves.

Until we reach a place where we find solutions collectively in a way that is inclusive of all groups within our society, and until we make sustainable living the default or easy choice, we won’t reach the point where the one planet we’ve got can support all of us.

OtherWords commentaries are free to re-publish in print and online, with attribution to OtherWords.org.

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By Jessica Corbett
Common Dreams

Far-reaching global assessment details how humanity is undermining the very foundations of the natural world

Photo: James Temple

 
 
On the heels of an Earth Day that featured calls for radical action to address the current “age of environmental breakdown,” Agence France-Presse revealed Tuesday that up to a million species face possible extinction because of destructive human behavior.

The warning comes from a forthcoming United Nations report, a draft of which was obtained by AFP, that “painstakingly catalogues how humanity has undermined the natural resources upon which its very survival depends.”

A product of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the landmark three-year assessment was prepared by 150 experts from 50 countries, with additions from another 250 contributors.

As John Vidal wrote in a preview of the study for HuffPost last month, “It is the greatest attempt yet to assess the state of life on Earth and will show how tens of thousands of species are at high risk of extinction, how countries are using nature at a rate that far exceeds its ability to renew itself, and how nature’s ability to contribute food and fresh water to a growing human population is being compromised in every region on Earth.”

Outlining some of the experts’ key findings, AFP reported Tuesday:

The accelerating loss of clean air, drinkable water, CO2-absorbing forests, pollinating insects, protein-rich fish, and storm-blocking mangroves—to name but a few of the dwindling services rendered by nature—poses no less of a threat than climate change…

The direct causes of species loss, in order of importance, are shrinking habitat and land-use change, hunting for food or illicit trade in body parts, climate change, pollution, and alien species such as rats, mosquitoes, and snakes that hitch rides on ships or planes, the report finds.

 Although IPBES chair Robert Watson declined to divulge the new report’s details to AFP, he said that “there are also two big indirect drivers of biodiversity loss and climate change—the number of people in the world and their growing ability to consume.”

“We need to recognize that climate change and loss of nature are equally important, not just for the environment, but as development and economic issues as well,” Watson added. “The way we produce our food and energy is undermining the regulating services that we get from nature.”

As AFP reported, the draft document warns that “subsidies to fisheries, industrial agriculture, livestock raising, forestry, mining and the production of biofuel, or fossil fuel energy encourage waste, inefficiency, and over-consumption.”

Unsustainable human activity, according to the document, already has “severely altered” 40 percent of the marine environment, 50 percent of inland waterways, and three-quarters of the planet’s land.

Looking ahead, the report says that “half-a-million to a million species are projected to be threatened with extinction, many within decades.” It also warns that indigenous peoples and poor communities—who are already at risk because of the global climate crisis—will be negatively impacted by biodiversity loss.

“The loss of species, ecosystems, and genetic diversity is already a global and generational threat to human well-being,” Watson said in a statement from IPBES. “Protecting the invaluable contributions of nature to people will be the defining challenge of decades to come. Policies, efforts, and actions—at every level—will only succeed, however, when based on the best knowledge and evidence. This is what the IPBES Global Assessment provides.”

Some of the language may change in the report—which echoes previous warningsabout mass extinction—during the upcoming seventh session of the IPBES Plenary, scheduled for April 29 to May 4. However, the major figures and conclusions are expected to remain the same. The final document is due out May 6.

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By Jessica Corbett
Common Dreams

“We face a stark choice [between] radical, disruptive changes to our physical world or radical, disruptive changes to our political and economic systems to avoid those outcomes.”

As people across the globe mobilize to demand bold action to combat the climate crisis and scientific findings about looming “environmental breakdown” pile up, a startling new study published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience warns that human-caused global warming could cause stratocumulus clouds to totally disappear in as little as a century, triggering up to 8°C (14°F) of additional warming.

Stratocumulus clouds cover about two-thirds of the Earth and help keep it cool by reflecting solar radiation back to space. Recent research has suggested that planetary warming correlates with greater cloud loss, stoking fears about a feedback loop that could spell disaster.

For this study, researchers at the California Institute of Technology used a supercomputer simulation to explore what could lead these low-lying, lumpy clouds to vanish completely. As science journalist Natalie Wolchover laid out in a lengthy piece for Quanta Magazine titled “A World Without Clouds“:

The simulation revealed a tipping point: a level of warming at which stratocumulus clouds break up altogether. The disappearance occurs when the concentration of CO2 in the simulated atmosphere reaches 1,200 parts per million [ppm]—a level that fossil fuel burning could push us past in about a century, under “business-as-usual” emissions scenarios. In the simulation, when the tipping point is breached, Earth’s temperature soars 8 degrees Celsius, in addition to the 4 degrees of warming or more caused by the CO2 directly…

To imagine 12 degrees of warming, think of crocodiles swimming in the Arctic and of the scorched, mostly lifeless equatorial regions during the [Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum or PETM]. If carbon emissions aren’t curbed quickly enough and the tipping point is breached, “that would be truly devastating climate change,” said Caltech’s Tapio Schneider, who performed the new simulation with Colleen Kaul and Kyle Pressel.

Quanta Magazine also broke down the study’s key findings in a short video shared on social media: https://www.quantamagazine.org/cloud-loss-could-add-8-degrees-to-global-warming-20190225/

The study elicited alarm from climate campaigners along with calls for the “radical, disruptive changes” to society’s energy and economic systems that scientists and experts have repeatedly said are necessary to prevent climate catastrophe:

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the amount of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere has surged from about 280 ppm to more than 410 ppm today. Although concentrations will continue to rise as long as the international community maintains unsustainable activities that generate greenhouse gas emissions, some observers pointed out that atmospheric carbon hitting 1,200 ppm is far from a foregone conclusion.

However, as Washington Post climate reporter Chris Mooney concluded in a series of tweets, “the point is not that this scary scenario is going to happen. Given the current trajectory of climate policy and renewables, it seems unlikely. Rather, the key point—and it’s a big deal—is that there are many things we don’t understand about the climate system and there could be key triggers out there, which set off processes that you can’t easily stop.”

In other words, as MIT professor Thomas Levenson put it: “The really terrifying aspect of this research is the reminder that we do not yet know all the ways catastrophic outcomes can emerge from this uncontrolled experiment on our only habitat.”

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By Jon Queally
Common Dreams

“This is the stuff that worries me most. We don’t know what we’re doing, not trying to stop it, [and] with big consequences we don’t really understand.”

The marine insect Halobates sericeus, also known as a “sea skater” or “oceanic water strider.” Photo credit: Anthony Smith.

The first global scientific review of its kind reaches an ominous conclusion about the state of nature warning that unless humanity drastically and urgently changes its behavior the world’s insects could be extinct within a century.

Presented in exclusive reporting by the Guardian‘s environment editor Damian Carrington, the findings of the new analysis, published in the journal Biological Conservation, found that industrial agricultural techniques—”particularly the heavy use of pesticides”—as well as climate change and urbanization are the key drivers behind the extinction-level decline of insect populations that could herald a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems” if not addressed.

“If insect species losses cannot be halted, this will have catastrophic consequences for both the planet’s ecosystems and for the survival of mankind,” report co-author Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, at the University of Sydney, Australia, told the Guardian. Sánchez-Bayo wrote the scholarly analysis with Kris Wyckhuys at the China Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing.

Calling the current annual global insect decline rate of 2.5 percent over the last three decades a “shocking” number, Sánchez-Bayo characterized it as “very rapid” for insects worldwide. If that continues, he warned: “In 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none.”

Isn’t this a bit alarmist? Anticipating that concern, Sánchez-Bayo said the language of the report was intended “to really wake people up,” but that’s because the findings are so worrying.

Not involved with the study, Professor Dave Goulson at the University of Sussex in the UK, agreed. “It should be of huge concern to all of us,” Goulson told the Guardian, “for insects are at the heart of every food web, they pollinate the large majority of plant species, keep the soil healthy, recycle nutrients, control pests, and much more. Love them or loathe them, we humans cannot survive without insects.”

As Carrington reports:

The planet is at the start of a sixth mass extinction in its history, with huge losses already reported in larger animals that are easier to study. But insects are by far the most varied and abundant animals, outweighing humanity by 17 times. They are “essential” for the proper functioning of all ecosystems, the researchers say, as food for other creatures, pollinators and recyclers of nutrients.

Insect population collapses have recently been reported in Germany and Puerto Rico, but the review strongly indicates the crisis is global. The researchers set out their conclusions in unusually forceful terms for a peer-reviewed scientific paper: “The [insect] trends confirm that the sixth major extinction event is profoundly impacting [on] life forms on our planet.”

Doug Parr, the chief scientist for Greenpeace U.K., responded to the reporting by saying these are the climate-related developments that concern him most of all.

“I spend so many hours a week concerned climate change,” he said in a tweet linking to the story. “But this is the stuff that worries me most. We don’t know what we’re doing, not trying to stop it, [and] with big consequences we don’t really understand.”

According to Sánchez-Bayo, the “main cause of the decline is agricultural intensification,” and he put special emphasis on new classes of pesticides and herbicides that have been brought to market over the last twenty years alongside a global surge in industrialized monocultures. “That means the elimination of all trees and shrubs that normally surround the fields, so there are plain, bare fields that are treated with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides,” he said.

As campaigners worldwide intensify their collective demand that elected leaders, governments, communities, and businesses do significantly more to address the crisis of a warming planet and halt the destruction of the Earth’s natural systems, journalist David Sirota contrasted evidence of species loss—and the threat it contains—with those voices who say something like a Green New Deal would somehow be “too expensive” or disruptive to the status quo:

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By Jake Johnson
Common Dreams

And colleague says “global warming” no longer strong enough term. “Global heating is technically more correct because we are talking about changes in the energy balance of the planet.”

Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Declaring that after three decades of studying the climate he’s “never been as worried” about the future of the planet as he is today, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber—founding director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany—warned that even as extreme weather wreaks havoc across the globe and experts issue one terrifying prediction after another, political leaders are still refusing to confront the climate crisis with the necessary urgency.

“I’ve worked on this for 30 years and I’ve never been as worried as I am today,” Schellnhuber declared during the COP24 climate summit in Poland, arguing that even the language commonly used to describe the changing state of the climate doesn’t sufficiently convey the enormity of the crisis.

“Global warming doesn’t capture the scale of destruction. Speaking of hothouse Earth is legitimate,” added Schellnhuber, who co-authored a “terrifying” study warning that humanity may be just 1°C away from irreversible planetary catastrophe.

Richard Betts, professor of climate impacts at the University of Exeter, agreed with Schellnhuber’s dire assessment, and argued that “global heating” is more accurate than “global warming” in describing what continued carbon emissions are doing to the climate.

“Global heating is technically more correct because we are talking about changes in the energy balance of the planet,” Betts said. “The risks are compounding all the time. It stands to reason that the sooner we can take action, the quicker we can rein them in.”

But Betts went on to express dismay at the suicidally slow pace at which world leaders are working to confront the crisis that—if immediate and bold action is not taken—threatens to render the planet uninhabitable for future generations.

“Things are obviously proceeding very slowly,” Betts said. “As a scientist, it’s frustrating to see we’re still at the point when temperatures are going up and emissions are going up. I’ve been in this for 25 years. I hoped we’d be beyond here by now.”

As world leaders refuse to ditch fossil fuels or—in the case of the Trump administration—attempt to increase production, people around the world are mobilizing around ambitious solutions like a Green New Deal, which is rapidly gaining support in the U.S. Congress.

As Common Dreams reported, the “Extinction Rebellion” movement—which is demanding that governments reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025—has spread to 35 countries in just six months.

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By Julia Conley
Common Dreams

“Nature is not a ‘nice to have’—it is our life-support system.”

Photo: James Temple

Scientists from around the world issued a stark warning to humanity Tuesday in a semi-annual report on the Earth’s declining biodiversity, which shows that about 60 percent of mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles have been wiped out by human activity since 1970.

The World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Index details how human’s uncontrolled overconsumption of land, food, and natural resources has eliminated a majority of the wildlife on the planet—threatening human civilization as well as the world’s animals.

“We are sleepwalking towards the edge of a cliff,” Mike Barrett, executive director of science and conservation at WWF, told the Guardian. “If there was a 60 percent decline in the human population, that would be equivalent to emptying North America, South America, Africa, Europe, China, and Oceania. That is the scale of what we have done.”

Killer whales were named as one species that is in grave danger of extinction due to exposure to chemicals used by humans, and the Living Index Report highlighted freshwater species and animal populations in Central and South America as being especially affected by human activity in the past five decades.

“Species population declines are especially pronounced in the tropics, with South and Central America suffering the most dramatic decline, an 89 percent loss compared to 1970,” reads the report. “Freshwater species numbers have also declined dramatically, with the Freshwater Index showing an 83% decline since 1970.”

Destruction of wildlife habitats is the leading human-related cause of extinction, as people around the world are now using about three-quarters of all land on the planet for agriculture, industry, and other purposes, according to the report.

Mass killing of animals for food is the second-largest cause of extinction, according to the report, with 300 mammal species being “eaten into extinction.”

“It is a classic example of where the disappearance is the result of our own consumption,” Barrett told the Guardian.

The report stresses a need to that shift away from the notion that wildlife must be protected simply for the sake of ensuring that future generations can see species like elephants, polar bears, and other endangered animals in the wild.

Rather, the survival of the planet’s ecosystems is now a matter of life and death for the human population, according to the WWF.

“Nature contributes to human wellbeing culturally and spiritually, as well as through the critical production of food, clean water, and energy, and through regulating the Earth’s climate, pollution, pollination and floods,” Professor Robert Watson, who contributed to the report, told the Guardian. “The Living Planet report clearly demonstrates that human activities are destroying nature at an unacceptable rate, threatening the wellbeing of current and future generations.”

“Nature is not a ‘nice to have’—it is our life-support system,” added Barrett.

Many scientists believe that studies like that of the WWF demonstrate that a sixth mass extinction is now underway—a theory that would mean the Earth could experience its first mass extinction event caused by a single species inhabiting the planet. The loss of all life on Earth could come about due to a combination of human-caused effects, including a rapidly warming planet as well as the loss of biodiversity.

“The Great Acceleration, and the rapid and immense social, economic and ecological changes it has spurred, show us that we are in a period of great upheaval,” reads the study. “Some of these changes have been positive, some negative, and all of them are interconnected. What is increasingly clear is that human development and wellbeing are reliant on healthy natural systems, and we cannot continue to enjoy the former without the latter.”

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By Jessica Corbett
Common Dreams

“This is a wake-up call,” says one Australian marine biologist. “Given sea temperatures usually increase as we get towards March, this is probably conservative.”

Delivering yet another “wake-up call” after recent studies have shown that heat stress from anthropogenic global warming has killed half of the Great Barrier Reef’s corals since 2016, a new analysis from U.S. scientists warns that the entirety of world’s largest coral system is at risk of bleaching and death as Australia enters it summer months.

The forecast from U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for November 2018 to February 2019 indicates that the whole reef has a 60 percent chance of reaching “alert level one,” under which bleaching is “likely.”

When coral is exposed to warm water or pollution, it expels the algae living in its tissues—its main source of food—and turns completely white. Although bleached coral is still alive, the reaction makes it more susceptible to disease and death.

“This is really the first warning bells going off that we are heading for an extraordinarily warm summer and there’s a very good chance that we’ll lose parts of the reef that we didn’t lose in the past couple of years,” marine biologist Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, the director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland in Australia, told the Guardian. “These are not good predictions and this is a wake-up call.”

Hoegh-Guldberg expressed concern that the analysis shows bleaching could occur before March, which historically has been the main month for such events. “To really have the full picture we’re going to have to wait for those projections that cover the main part of bleaching season,” he said. “Given sea temperatures usually increase as we get towards March, this is probably conservative.”

While NOAA’s predictions provoked alarm, Mark Eakin, head of the agency’s Coral Reef Watch, noted that “lots of things, including major weather patterns, can change the probabilities over the next three months.”

Although “it’s much too early to predict that with any certainty,” Eakin told Australia’s ABC that “depending on what happens with the El Niño,” or the warming of the ocean surface in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, “we could see another global bleaching event in 2019” that would impact not only the Great Barrier Reef but also other coral systems across the globe.

Regardless of whether an El Niño emerges and triggers another bleaching event, scientists are urging governments to heed the urgent warnings of the recent IPCC report—which detailed what the world could look like if the global temperature rises 1.5°C versus 2°C (2.7°F versus 3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels—and ramp up efforts to avert climate catastrophe.

The IPCC report found that coral reefs “are expected to decline by a further 70 to 90 percent even under 1.5ºC, but that rises to more than 99 percent reef loss as temperature rises hit 2ºC,” according to ABC. “Researchers say at current emissions rates, the world will hit that point between 10 and 14 years from now.”

NOAA’s new forecast for bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef is “very consistent with what the IPCC 1.5 degree report told us,” concluded Hoegh-Guldberg. “It’s extremely important that politicians and our leaders stand up and make the changes we need to make so we don’t tread down an even more dangerous path.”

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By Mason Adams
Yes! Magazine

A program in eastern Kentucky is retraining miners in industries that help mitigate the environmental impacts of mining on communities.

Creative Commons: Greg Goebel

Like many men raised in eastern Kentucky, Frank Morris spent a chunk of his working life in the coal industry.

Raised in the city of Hazard, Morris did a little bit of everything, from shoveling belt to diesel mechanics.

“Back then, if you were going to pick to live around here and make good money, you either went into the coal business or you went into the medical field,” Morris said.

Like many others, however, Morris was laid off several years ago when the coal industry started contracting. Metallurgical coal, used for making steel, was waning as part of a regular global cycle, and steam coal, used to produce electricity, suffered a long-term decline as power utilities increasingly moved toward cheaper, cleaner-burning natural gas and renewable wind and solar energy.

Morris found a job at Walmart, but given the cost of child care, he realized he was actually losing money by working there. He tried being a stay-at-home dad, but he found himself yearning to contribute to his family’s financial well-being in a more tangible way, so he started taking small carpentry jobs. Morris had been doing that for a while when he heard about an internship for former coal miners.

The six-month internship with Mountain Association for Community Economic Development offered training in new energy efficiency professions, placement with a local employer, and the potential for longer-term employment after the job ended. Morris applied for the internship and was accepted, along with another ex-miner named Randall Howard. The two received hands-on training in conducting energy audits—learning how to use equipment such as infrared cameras, duct blasters, blower doors, and much more—and went to work at their respective jobs, Morris for the nonprofit Housing Development Alliance and Howard for Christian Outreach with Appalachian People, an affordable housing organization.

Today “things are a lot better for us,” Morris said. “We’re in a better position financially and with our home lives. I’m able to be home every day, most days, before 5 o’clock. That’s something I’ve never had before in my life.”

The money isn’t quite what he made working coal, but it’s a lot better than what he earned at Walmart. He’s also found a better work-life balance than either of those two previous jobs offered.

MACED’s energy efficiency internship program is just one of many initiatives designed to retrain workers laid off during the cratering of the coal industry over the last decade. The coal industry has steadily declined since the 1950s, largely because of mechanization. With the advent of hydraulic fracturing technology in the 2000s leading to an abundance of natural gas, as well as federal regulations that resulted in the closure of older coal-fired power plants, the industry has collapsed in the last decade. Many companies went into bankruptcy or shuttered, resulting in mass layoffs and a ripple effect that’s spread to related businesses, such as railroads and equipment manufacturers.

According to a report produced by Kentucky state officials and reported in the Lexington Herald Leader, the number of coal jobs in 2013 had declined to 12,550—the lowest since the state started recording the figure in 1927. By August 2018, coal jobs had dropped even further to 6,238, according to the Kentucky Office of Energy Policy, which produces quarterly reports on the coal industry.

As a result, many coalfield communities have suffered economic distress and depopulation. Local and state officials have tried a number of approaches to reverse that trend, retraining miners for jobs in industries on the rise, such as computer coding and outdoor recreation.

MACED’s program, funded by a $2 million grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, $100,000 from Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program Inc., and a $1 million match from MACED’s venture capital loan fund, is designed to build on related skills used in mining that can be adapted for energy efficiency, a growing sector. According to a study by E4TheFuture and Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), nearly 2.25 million Americans work in energy efficiency, including 24,579 people in Kentucky. That figure includes those who work with efficient appliances and lighting, heating and ventilation systems, building materials and insulation, energy audits, building certifications, and more. MACED saw the internship program as an opportunity to add to a growing field while also building local expertise.

“We thought, let’s see if we can develop some local champions who have technical skills,” said Chris Woolery, a program coordinator at MACED. “They can be advocates, they can be independent third-party experts, and they can connect folks to financing through various mechanisms. When I come to Hazard and talk about the gospel of energy efficiency, I’m not received the same way Frank Morris is when he speaks to his community. When Frank became the resident efficiency person at HDA [Housing Development Alliance], we immediately we saw the ripple effects.”

As the first two interns, Howard and Morris were both placed at affiliate organizations of the Appalachia Heat Squad, a collaborative program aimed at expanding access to energy efficient home improvements. They learned how to evaluate a home’s energy efficiency, how to identify and implement improvements, and how to educate homeowners about programs that could help them fund those investments. During their internships, Morris conducted 23 audits and 13 retrofits, while Howard did 22 audits and 5 retrofits.

“Energy efficiency is something that is especially needed in the coal regions,” Morris said. “Around here, electricity has always been cheap. Now we’re getting all these rate increases. That touches everybody—not just doctors and lawyers but grandmothers on fixed incomes, people who have to make a decision: ‘If I don’t pay my electrical bill they’ll cut my power off, but if I do, I might have to miss a few meals this month. Or do I really need my blood pressure medicine this month?’ It’s a hard decision.”

Instead of providing financial aid to pay those electric bills, the Heat Squad aims to fix the issue that’s causing the bills to be high, Morris said.

“Especially around here, housing stock is especially old,” Morris said. “And people living in mobile homes and double-wides can really benefit from this program.”

These energy efficiency programs carry additional possibilities for improving people’s lives. A five-year study of respiratory health in Letcher and Harlan counties found that people who lived in either a mobile home or public housing were twice as likely to have been diagnosed with asthma than people who lived in single-family housing.

The study, known as the Mountain Air Project, now in its second phase, involves prevention. Study participants who have been diagnosed with asthma and had symptoms within the past year meet four times with a trained nurse, and on the third visit, they receive a home assessment. In Harlan County, that’s conducted by Howard, one of the former MACED interns.

“He looks for sources of allergens and irritants in the home,” said Beverly May, a 28-year nurse pursuing a doctor of public health degree at the University of Kentucky, and who manages the Mountain Air Project.

She said Howard is “really brilliant in finding things that can cause trouble. He’s looking for leaks under the sink, pests that are hidden away in dark places you wouldn’t think to look, sources of mold around the outside of the house, water in the basement. Then he talks with the homeowner about what they can do to correct the situation.”

There’s often overlap between healthy homes and those that are energy efficient.

“If a home has cracks and crevices, the door isn’t properly sealed, the windows aren’t properly sealed, then not only does cold air come in during the winter, but there’s also the possibility for pests to come in,” May said. “If you can fix one problem, you might be fixing several problems.”

There are two main challenges. One is that people often feel uncomfortable letting strangers examine their homes, even for a beneficial reason. The other is that the repairs needed to fix problems sometimes outstrip the finances of homeowners. In both cases, Howard is well-positioned to help.

As a local, Howard can talk to homeowners to reassure them.

“I’ll try to connect with them in any way possible to try to ease their mind about letting me go through their home,” Howard said. “I try to show them I’m more of a friend than an enemy, that I’m there to help them. I live in the mountains myself. I guess they connect with me pretty good because I have lived in the past in some of the conditions that they live in. I’m open with them. I tell them I ain’t here to judge you because you’ve got clothes piled up in the corner or dirty dishes in the sink. That’s no concern to me unless there’s mold growing on it. I talk to them a little bit to show them I ain’t there to judge them.”

As for the financial piece, the mission of Howard’s employer, Christian Outreach with Appalachian People, is to build affordable rural housing and offer programs that can offset costs.

The results can make a big difference in a homeowner’s life. Howard describes one such rehabilitation project: “We went in, it didn’t have no insulation under the floor, and the roof was leaking. We put a new roof on, insulation under the floor, a new heat pump. I had to go back later to test everything out. I walked in and there’s an 80-year-old man. He stood up, walked over to me, and gave me a hug. He said, ‘We’ve been here 15 years and I’ve never been as comfortable as we are now. You’ve made this house better, so much more comfortable.’”

The homeowner’s electric bill was cut in half, Howard said.

MACED has now hired two more interns in Hazard for its second round of the program. Their focus is on commercial and industrial instead of residential projects. Because of economies of scale, Woolery said, businesses are often quicker to invest in energy efficiency projects than individual families, and there’s more immediate work available. MACED is hiring for three more internships as well: one doing commercial energy efficiency work in Paintsville, a second more focused on the marketing of energy efficiency and renewable energy in Berea, and a third trained for solar photovoltaic cell installation in Lexington.

Woolery hopes to push some of those interns toward the solar power, where there’s potentially even more opportunity.

“We’re just showing that there’s a ton of different ways we could diversify this economy,” Woolery said. “Knowing we don’t have access to any silver bullets, all we can do is shoot as many silver BBs as we can.”

This article was funded in part by a grant from the One Foundation – and is shared under a Creative Commons License by Yes! Magazine.

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By Julia  Conley
Common Dreams

“Our message as scientists is simple: Our planet’s future climate is inextricably tied to the future of its forest.”

With a new statement rejecting the notion that drastically curbing emissions alone is enough to curb the threat of human-caused global warming, a group of scientists are urging world leaders to take immediate action to stop deforestation—calling it a key solution to stem the planetary climate crisis.

Forty scientists from five countries signed a statement days before the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is scheduled to meet in South Korea, warning that stopping deforestation is as urgent as ending the world’s dependence on fossil fuels.

“We must protect and maintain healthy forests to avoid dangerous climate change and to ensure the world’s forests continue to provide services critical for the well-being of the planet and ourselves,” the statement read. “Our message as scientists is simple: Our planet’s future climate is inextricably tied to the future of its forest.”

Because forests absorb about a quarter of the carbon released by human activity, the elimination of forests and jungles around the world would release more than three trillion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere—more than the amount that could be released from all of the world’s oil, gas, and coal reserves.

“The forest piece of the conversation is often lost and I don’t think the IPCC report will highlight it enough,” Deborah Lawrence, a professor at the University of Virginia who signed the statement, told The Guardian.

Deforestation represents a vicious cycle in the fight against the climate crisis. As the burning of fossil fuels leads to a warmer planet, changes in the climate have had multiple effects including wildfires like the ones that have swept through Europe and the U.S. in recent months, contributing to more deforestation which then releases more carbon.

“We will have a hotter, drier world without these forests” Lawrence told The Guardian. “There needs to be an international price on carbon to fund the protection of forests.”

The IPCC is scheduled to meet Monday.

This work is licensed by Common Dreams under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

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