Jeremy Prevost, Greenstar Home Services CEO comments on the importance of annual air...
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In-Pipe Technology® Company, Inc. announced today the acquisition of TEI Analytical, Inc., an independent laboratory.
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As soon as Nick Shapiro turned into the parking lot of the Tumbleweed Inn in Alexander, N.D., he recognized the trailers. They were off-white, boxy, almost cartoonish, and unadorned with any of the frills — racing stripes, awnings, window treatments — that a manufacturer would typically add to set a trailer apart on a display lot.Nick Shapiro
But these trailers had never seen a display lot. Shapiro had first seen them when he was living in New Orleans in 2010, doing fieldwork for his Oxford University PhD. In New Orleans, everyone knew what they were, and the city was desperate to get rid of them. They had been built fast, and not to last. The fact that some people were still living in them because they had never gotten enough money to rebuild their homes, or had run afoul of unethical contractors, was just an unwanted reminder of just how far the city still had to go to recover from Hurricane Katrina.
But in the oil fields of Alexander, where Shapiro found them, people had, at best, only a dim memory of hearing something bad about the trailers on the late night news.
Only one person in the improvised trailer park near the Tumbleweed Inn knew where the trailers were from. Now 19, he’d lived in one as a child, after his family’s home was destroyed when the levees around New Orleans broke in 2005. “It feels like home,” he said, looking around the park. “Not the landscape. The trailers. I’m used to it.”
Most of the people living in the trailer park were like him: men, young, drawn to North Dakota from all over the U.S. by the prospect of making $16-an-hour minimum in an oil boomtown. So what if they had to pay $1,200 a month to live in a trailer out on the prairie? They made it work. They slept in bunk beds, seven to a trailer, so that they could save as much as they could, and then get the hell out of there.
Get me 120,000 trailer homes, pronto!
The story of the trailers — which Grist has assembled from Freedom of Information Act requests, interviews, and the public record — goes like this: Less than 24 hours after the New Orleans levees broke, trailer companies were in touch with local officials for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), setting up contracts to provide housing for people whose homes were destroyed in the flood. Since 80 percent of New Orleans, plus a whole lot of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama coastline, had been flooded, the need for housing was overwhelming. At the time, there were about 14,000 trailers in lots around the country, waiting to be sold; FEMA needed 120,000. It ordered nearly $2.7 billion worth of travel trailers and mobile homes from 60 different companies, and the production lines cranked into overdrive.
This map shows initial deployments of FEMA trailers in Louisiana between September 2005 and October 2009:
Still, a month after Katrina and Rita hit landfall, Louisiana had only managed to get 109 families into trailers. The alternatives were overcrowded shelters, or squatting in the wreckage of the flood.
As new trailers arrived, they brought hope: They were shiny and new, and most importantly, had never been buried under 12 feet of water. But when the people who were supposed to live in them opened the doors, many noted a strong chemical smell inside. Some thought it was OK: It smelled kind of like a new car in there! Others did not think it was OK, especially after they started to get nosebleeds and headaches, and began to have trouble breathing. Local pediatricians began to notice an epidemic of respiratory infections in children in the area — and all of them seemed to be living in FEMA trailers.
“After the storm, about half of the people I knew were in FEMA trailers,” said Sierra Club organizer Becky Gillette. “Some of them were fine. The smokers didn’t complain much. But I had a friend who would wake up in the middle of the night, gasping for air.” Gillette knew a fair amount about air pollution — she’d worked on social justice campaigns around the local oil refinery. The link between mobile homes and formaldehyde was well documented; the low ceilings and small size concentrated any fumes emanating from the particleboard they were built with.
Even after the National Institutes of Health declared formaldehyde to be a carcinogen, the Department of Housing and Urban Development didn’t bother to regulate levels of formaldehyde for travel trailers or motor homes, under the theory that they were only temporary lodging. Formaldehyde test kits were about $35 apiece, and they added up fast. Gillette ordered 32 of them — over $1200 worth. When 30 of the 32 tested positive for high formaldehyde levels, she shared the information with FEMA — which, she said, did nothing. So Gillette got a grant from the Sierra Club to buy even more kits.
FEMA — or at least some parts of FEMA — did know that the trailers were dangerous, though that would not emerge until the congressional hearings on the issue in 2008. FEMA appears to have stopped testing trailers in early 2006, after a field agent discovered that one trailer, which was occupied by a couple expecting their second child, had formaldehyde levels at 75 times the recommended threshold for workplace safety. The couple was relocated, and management pushed back against further testing, even after a man was found dead in his trailer a few months later. “Do not initiate any testing until we give the OK,” a FEMA lawyer named Patrick Preston advised on June 15, 2006. “Once you get results and should they indicate some problem, the clock is running on our duty to respond to them.”
That same month, the Sierra Club announced that, out of 44 trailers tested with kits purchased from Gillette’s grant, 40 had dangerously high formaldehyde levels. Mary DeVany, an occupational safety consultant who worked with the Sierra Club on interpreting the results, theorized that the plywood that was used to build some of the trailers wasn’t heat-treated properly. Trailers built by three companies in particular — Pilgrim International, Coachman Industries, and Gulf Stream Coach — had the highest levels. Kevin Broom, a spokesperson for the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, told reporters that trailer residents needed to open their windows.Nick Shapiro
Used trailers, warning stickers, and the free market
FEMA ultimately succeeded in deploying 140,000 trailers up and down the ravaged Gulf Coast. Then it had to start figuring out what to do with them as people began to rebuild their lives and leave them behind. The agency had planned on getting rid of the trailers by selling them, possibly even to the people who were living in them, but that was no longer an option. In July of 2007, FEMA suspended sales of the trailers to the public, and in November, it announced plans to move as many residents as possible out of the trailers — partly, a FEMA spokesperson said, because of formaldehyde levels.
Around the same time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began running its own tests. It announced the results in early 2008: On average, the 519 trailers the CDC tested had five times the formaldehyde levels found in most modern homes, but a few were dramatically higher — about 40 times the recommended levels. The CDC’s then-director urged FEMA to relocate anyone still living in trailers, particularly children and the elderly, before summer, when heat would make the fumes even worse.
Even unoccupied, the trailers were costing nearly $130 million a year to store, according to federal records, but what to do with them had become a loaded question. Congressional hearings held in spring 2008 established that the trailers were unsafe. In February of 2009, the CDC started a $3.4 million pilot program designed to find people — especially children — who had lived in FEMA trailers and track the their health over time. And a massive class-action lawsuit filed by trailer residents against FEMA and the trailer manufacturers continued to work its way through the court system.
But on Jan. 1, 2010, a court injunction banning the sale of the trailers expired, and FEMA handed them off to the General Services Administration (GSA) to auction them off, for about 7 percent what FEMA had originally paid for them. The GSA made buyers sign an agreement promising not to sell them as housing, and it slapped stickers on them saying that they were not to be used for human habitation — just storage or recreation.
This map shows the locations of FEMA trailer auction buyers. Mouse over a cluster for the number of trailers purchased. Note that data are circa 2011–12, and many trailers have been resold (and relocated) since then:
Observers were aghast. “What if Toyota ordered a recall, then simply put a sticker on its vehicles saying they were unfit to drive before reselling them?” said Becky Gillette. In late 2008, FEMA had quietly sold about a thousand Katrina trailers and mobile homes as scrap; six months later, they were spotted in mobile home parks in Missouri and Georgia. What was to stop the same thing from happening over and over again — stickers or no stickers?Nick Shapiro
As it turned out, nothing. FEMA trailers began to turn up everywhere, particularly in places where people needed a lot of housing fast, no questions asked. The stickers that read “NOT TO BE USED FOR HOUSING” were gone from the trailers almost as soon as they left the auction lot, though none of the buyers would admit to removing them.
The trailers showed up later in 2010, at the Deepwater Horizon spill. They showed up in 2011 in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Tennessee, in neighborhoods that had been flattened by tornadoes.
That was when Shapiro decided to follow up and started testing the trailers himself. He’d become preoccupied with them — how ubiquitous they remained despite their known risks. He defrayed his expenses by calling in favors; there was the analytical chemistry lab that agreed to run the tests for free, and a colleague who applied part of a grant from the National Science Foundation towards shipping.
Word got out that he was testing trailers, and people from Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, Georgia, and Illinois began to seek him out. Every test he did came in above the 16 ppm (parts per million) threshold that had been established as the new FEMA standard after the congressional hearings. None of the people who contacted Shapiro had been told, before they bought the trailers, that they were dangerous to live in. Most of them told Shapiro they couldn’t afford to move; they just appreciated knowing the risk.
Those who did try to get rid of the trailers, though, found that it wasn’t easy. Marty Horine of Clinton, Mo., bought a 32-foot ex-FEMA Gulfstream Cavalier for her son in 2007, two weeks before the trailers were officially declared unfit to live in.
Horine tried to return the trailer. The seller refused, and promptly declared bankruptcy. Horine contacted the General Services Administration, the government agency that had handled the trailer auctions. (“I’m a retired schoolteacher,” she says, dryly. “We’re a little bit of a bulldog, schoolteachers.”) But the GSA told Horine that they would only take it back if she brought it to Hope, Arkansas, the site of the original auction, and they would only buy it back for what the GSA had sold it for. Horine had bought hers from a reseller, for $6,000, while that reseller had bought it at auction for around $1,000.Nick Shapiro
Horine still sees FEMA trailers for sale in Clinton from time to time. Three years ago, over a hundred of them appeared for sale on a nearby lot, with the stickers scraped off. “I went over there, just acting dumb, because that’s not hard to do,” Horine drawled. “Then I said to the girl who was in charge of selling them, ‘You know this is illegal.'” The woman said that she didn’t know what Horine was talking about, but Horine noticed that the trailers were gone the next day.
Horine’s trailer remains unoccupied. She feels that selling it would be unethical. Even if she sold it on the cheap to someone who was aware of the risks, who’s to say that person wouldn’t turn around and sell it as a home to someone else? “It’s still sitting down there,” she said when I called her, as though she was describing a visitor that had overstayed its welcome.
Shapiro began to file public records requests to find out as much as he could about the trailers, and where they went. Now, when people contacted him, he had a collection of spreadsheets that he could search through to verify whether their trailer was one of the 120,000.
When a boomtown looks like a refugee camp
When Shapiro arrived in North Dakota, he was following a rumor: that the oil boom in the Bakken Shale had attracted the Katrina trailers from across the country like filings to a magnet. What he didn’t expect was to find the trailers surrounding the towns of the Bakken boom at Katrina-level densities. These boomtowns were hard to distinguish from refugee camps.
How the trailers had made their way to North Dakota from Louisiana was a riddle. Back in 2010, FEMA donated several hundred trailers to the local Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa; it would not have been hard for the trailers to migrate again out of Turtle Mountain and into the oil fields. Shapiro was expecting to find oil and gas workers living in them. But instead the trailers were occupied by young men seeking their fortunes in the service economy that had sprung up around the oil and gas workers.
The oil and gas workers lived in nicer trailers, a few feet away. But the ones the service workers occupied were falling apart: Mold was blooming out of vents and improperly sealed crevices. In a sense, the trailers had been embalmed; now they were beginning to decompose.
The good news was, after four years of air-quality readings in FEMA trailers, the levels of formaldehyde were dropping. This spring, Shapiro returned to retest a trailer owned by a retired Mississippi couple that he had tested when they contacted him back in 2011. Back then the air had measured 105.6 ppb of formaldehyde – dangerously high.
In 2015, the level was down to 20 ppb — a fifth as high, but still over the 16 ppb safety threshold. What exactly did this mean? It’s hard to say, because no one has systematically studied how the toxic trailers might have actually harmed their residents. The CDC had a plan, known as KARE (aka, Katrina and Rita Exposures), to register and track the health of FEMA trailer residents, but it never moved past the pilot stage. Shapiro says he asked CDC why and received a letter saying that the decision to not proceed rested solely with FEMA.
Shapiro gave the couple a prototype “air remediation device” – a houseplant hooked up to an aquarium pump with the diaphragm reversed. In the last year, he’d been working with a research group called Public Lab on low-cost ways that people could monitor and clean the air in their own homes. For Shapiro, the project was a morale-booster in the face of the relentlessly dispiriting trailer research. But he also worried that the plant was a kind of cop-out — a form of potted surrender to the fact that not all environmental justice campaigns result in actual environmental justice.
He tested the couple’s trailer again, anyway. A month after the installation of the “remediation device,” the formaldehyde levels had fallen 40 percent, to 12 ppm. A decade after Katrina had summoned the trailers into existence, the ill-fated homes might almost be safe to live in.
Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Cities, Politics
Meeting market needs through family-owned forests, while protecting and enhancing forest health and wildlife habitat.
(PRWeb August 26, 2015)
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New Name Reflects Increased Alliances with U.S.-Based Independent Fashion Designers and Manufacturers
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Philip Harris expresses variety of interests as senior citizen
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Solar industry leaders commended today's decision by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to leave the state's net metering policy unchanged, calling it a "fair outcome"...
(PRWeb August 26, 2015)
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The Federal Savings Bank shares data from a presentation the National Association of Realtors gave in Chicago on August 10th. The NAR suggests strong job growth is helping the housing market, The...
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Shaw Industries Group, Inc. (Shaw) has announced it is investing at least $45 million in its Lexington County, S.C. carpet fiber plant for additional capacity for both nylon and polyester production....
(PRWeb August 26, 2015)
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Telling kids they have to eat something is not a winning strategy. I know this both as a parent of two small girls (and as an immature adult myself). If I want my 4-year-old to try her beans, I have to somehow trick her into thinking it’s her own idea.
New research suggests this phenomenon may be playing out in school lunchrooms. A paper published Tuesday in Public Health Reports found that students in two schools were actually eating less fruit and vegetables after new rules from the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act made the produce compulsory. The kids took more apples and salads (they had no choice) — but they also threw more in the trash.
The researchers photographed the lunch trays before the students sat down to eat, and again as they headed for the garbage cans.Sarah Amin
The students didn’t eat a whole lot less fruit and veggies. “It was only about a tablespoon less, in terms of consumption,” said Sarah Amin, lead author of the paper. But this evidence does add some weight to the critique by the School Nutrition Association, which has argued that the new rules make the lunch programs too expensive and made the food unappealing to students. The U.S. Government Accountability Office also noticed a sharp drop-off in the number of students taking school lunches, and offered its own recommendations.Sarah Amin snaps a picture of a student’s lunch.
Other researchers studying this policy have had different results. Harvard researchers found an increase in fruit and vegetable consumption. Utah State researchers found that young kids (first-third graders) were eating more fruit and veggies, while older ones (fourth and fifth graders) were eating less. Amin said these different results probably reflect different populations. “No one should extrapolate too much from our results. It’s just one snapshot of a bigger picture,” she said.
Despite her somewhat discouraging findings, Amin thinks the efforts to improve student nutrition are probably working. “Overall we are very optimistic,” she said. There’s more that cafeterias could do to make healthy foods appealing to children, she said, but added, “It’s also really important to cultivate whole-fruit and vegetable preferences. Kids just might need more time being exposed to these foods.”
As a parent, I’ve seen this principle in action: A kid might refuse her broccoli at four dinners, and then try it and gobble it down on the fifth try. The finding from Utah suggests that younger kids are more willing to go with the new rules, and Amin said it will be interesting to see how students who have known no other system develop their food norms.Sarah Amin
Congress is supposed to decide whether to reauthorize the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act next month. A recent survey suggests that average Americans think school lunches are getting better under the law.
Filed under: Article, Food, Politics
In case disappearing coastlines, hellish wildfires, and starving baby sea lions aren’t enough to make you care about climate change, maybe this will: Global temperature rise could kill the Christmas movie.
Vanity Fair reports that climate change is making it difficult for Hollywood to produce films set in winter. According to Fargo executive producer Warren Littlefield, temperatures were so unseasonably warm while filming the TV show in Calgary, Alberta, in 2014 that they actually had to truck in snow. “They’d bring back these huge blocks of snow and then we had kind of a wood chipper that worked through these blocks of snow and ice and then just spit it out into a spray,” Littlefield told Vanity Fair. Not exactly what you’d expect from that wood chipper.
From Vanity Fair:
Climate change is no breaking news story — but it’s one that Hollywood, an industry built on the forging of fantasies, is increasingly confronting. And it’s something that a business famed for its control freaks, from auteur directors to studio heads, has no power over. Mother Earth has been throwing Hollywood climate curveballs with increasing frequency, reminding the town that she is more powerful than Ari Gold, Harvey Weinstein, and Scientology combined. And it has the potential, it seems, to get worse.
Unfortunately for Hollywood (and the planet), the disappearing snowpack in locations like Calgary or Lone Pine, Calif. — a town whose snowcapped mountains have been featured in more than 300 films — means either creating your own snow, like they did for Fargo, or moving elsewhere. And while some big-budget directors could move production to Siberia or the Himalayas or Argentina, it’s not just expensive, it ultimately makes the problem worse.
It’s not just snow that’s the issue. It’s also dirt. From Vanity Fair:
On the other side of the globe, months later, director Baltasar Kormákur was grappling with one of the most fatal effects of these fluctuating temperature waves while filming his biographical disaster drama Everest in Italy. A native of Iceland, Kormákur had initially planned to shoot in his home country, but the glaciers there are becoming blacker and ashier—no longer the crisp, white ice sheets seen in science books—and he did not think it was the right look for his film.
When Iceland proved too ashy, Kormákur moved to the Italian Alps … where an avalanche very rudely wiped out his set. Later, they moved production to Everest itself, and were filming in Camp II when an avalanche killed 16 climbers last year.
Hollywood is far from the only industry facing disruption from climate change, and unlike, say, ski resorts, they can always CGI their way to a snowy landscape. Besides, this could all be a temporary problem: As snow disappears from our planet, it may disappear from our storylines as well.
Filed under: Article, Living
Does the Ted Cruz in you ever wonder whether global warming really is just a hoax? Whether skeptics really are the Galileos of our time? Whether climate scientists really do just want to make money? Well, wonder no more. A group of researchers just tried to replicate 38 peer-reviewed studies that support skeptic talking points, and surprise! They ran into some trouble.
In a paper published last week in the journal Theoretical and Applied Climatology, the researchers reported a number of problems with the 38 studies, including questionable physics and incomplete data sets. They also found that some of the studies were published in peer-reviewed journals that didn’t specialize in climate science, and therefore probably didn’t have the proper experts looking over the work.
One of the most common problems the researchers encountered was something called “cherry-picking.” Not to be confused with actual cherry-picking (which is now endangered thanks to climate change), data cherry-picking is a big science no-no in which researchers falsify results by including only the data that support those results and not the data that don’t.
Dana Nuccitelli, one of the coauthors of the study, gave an example of such cherry-picking in an article he wrote for the Guardian. In the example, Nuccitelli and his colleagues were trying to reproduce a 2011 study linking climate change to the moon and solar cycles:
When we tried to reproduce their model of the lunar and solar influence on the climate, we found that the model only simulated their temperature data reasonably accurately for the 4,000-year period they considered. However, for the 6,000 years’ worth of earlier data they threw out, their model couldn’t reproduce the temperature changes. The authors argued that their model could be used to forecast future climate changes, but there’s no reason to trust a model forecast if it can’t accurately reproduce the past.
As long as we’re predicting the future with a faulty model of the past, give me your hand — I’ll tell you how happy you’ll be in 10 years. And speaking of magic, another problem that Nuccitelli and his colleagues came across in multiple studies was a disregard for basic physics:
In another example, Ferenc Miskolczi argued in 2007 and 2010 papers that the greenhouse effect has become saturated, but as I also discuss in my book, the ‘saturated greenhouse effect’ myth was debunked in the early 20th century. As we note in the supplementary material to our paper, Miskolczi left out some important known physics in order to revive this century-old myth.
Dubious physics came up again in the context of “curve fitting” — what scientists do when they fit data to a certain trend like rising temperatures. It’s pretty easy to abuse this practice, otherwise known as “mathturbation” or “graph cooking,” as Nuccitelli points out on the website Skeptical Science. Take, for example, the time that Peabody Energy found a positive correlation between life expectancy and coal use. In order to do it right, Nuccitelli writes in the Guardian, scientists should at least obey the laws of physics:
Good modeling will constrain the possible values of the parameters being used so that they reflect known physics, but bad ‘curve fitting’ doesn’t limit itself to physical realities. For example, we discuss research by Nicola Scafetta and Craig Loehle, who often publish papers trying to blame global warming on the orbital cycles of Jupiter and Saturn.
OK — so these contrarian studies are a bit dodgy. But then again, Galileo wasn’t perfect, either. When it came to understanding how tides worked, he was totally off! Granted, he was at least obeying the laws of physics as scientists understood them at the time, but who knows? Maybe these climate change contrarians just know something that we don’t.
Fortunately, Nuccitelli and his colleagues made the software that they used for their research open source, so anyone can replicate their replications. And then someone else can replicate their replication of the replications, and so on and so forth until we’re all burnt to a crisp and microbes have taken over the Earth.
Filed under: Climate & Energy, Science
Le dérèglement climatique tue, proclaims a new campaign. “Climate change kills.” It’s the message being pushed in a new essay collection by the likes of Naomi Klein, Vandana Shiva, Bill McKibben, and Desmond Tutu — a book that seeks to inspire ambitious civil action before the U.N. climate negotiations in Paris this December. The collection, called Stop Climate Crimes!, features a joint statement signed by these high-profile characters and others, including Vivienne Westwood and Noam Chomsky.
“In the past, determined women and men have resisted and overcome the crimes of slavery, totalitarianism, colonialism or apartheid,” reads the statement. “They decided to fight for justice and solidarity and knew no one would do it for them. Climate change is a similar challenge, and we are nurturing a similar uprising.” The signatories are expected to issue an official call to action on Thursday, components of which could include calls for large street protests in Paris during the climate negotiations.
The Guardian reports:
Bill McKibben, founder of environmental movement 350.org, which has launched the project with the anti-globalisation organisation Attac France, described the move as a “good first step” towards Paris.
“It’s important for everyone to know that the players at Paris aren’t just government officials and their industry sidekicks. Civil society is going to have its say, and noisily if need be. This is a good first step,” he said.
There are now less than 100 days until the UN’s Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris, where leaders from more than 190 countries will gather to discuss a potential new agreement on climate change. Last week the EU’s climate commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete warned that negotiations ahead of the conference must accelerate if any agreement is to be meaningful.
The statement demands an end to fossil fuel subsidies and the freezing of fossil fuel extraction. It also singles out trade liberalization and emission-heavy corporations as instrumental in causing the world’s climate woes. The statement and book constitute a portion of Attac France’s “Let’s change the system, not the climate” campaign, an anti-globalization effort that seeks to mobilize citizens against free trade initiatives in favor of climate security.
Of course, drastically altering our consumption habits and corporate power structures is a tall order. “We know that this implies a great historical shift,” the signatories state. But their call is steadfast. “We will not wait for states to make it happen. Slavery and apartheid did not end because states decided to abolish them. Mass mobilisations left political leaders no other choice.” As some would say, it’s a move that requires changing everything.
Filed under: Climate & Energy
New ROC-LOC Secures Containers to Hoist or Trailer for Safe, Secure Transport of Containers
(PRWeb August 26, 2015)
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Sea lions have been having a rough couple of years. In 2013, starving pups began washing up on California beaches by the hundreds. This year, the number of stranded sea lions has increased dramatically. And now, a giant toxic algal bloom is growing in the Pacific and poisoning sea lions’ sources of food. How bad has it gotten for these playful critters? We talked to wildlife experts to find out more about how much danger they’re in and what’s in store for their future:
What’s going on here? What’s causing sea lions to get so sick? An unusually warm pocket of water in the Pacific, dubbed “the blob,” has rocked the sea lions’ environment on the Pacific coast. The anchovies, hake, squid, and shell fish that sea lions eat have been moving farther away to find nutrient-rich cold waters. While adult sea lions have been adapting and going longer distances to find food, pups and yearlings don’t have the strength to swim far enough or dive deep enough. Instead, young sea lions have been washing up on shore. Often they are malnourished, dehydrated, and stranded from their mothers, who are searching for faraway food.Sea lions in rehab at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, Calif.NOAA via Pacific Marine Mammal Center
How unusual is the current situation? Pup strandings happen every year when young sea lions start trying to feed themselves in late spring or early summer. But beginning in 2013, sea lion pups started washing up on shore in much greater numbers than usual, and as early as January — long before pups typically wean. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration deemed the spike in sea lion deaths an “unusual mortality event.” This year, the number of stranded pups skyrocketed far above 2013 levels: During the first five months of 2015, more than 3,000 stranded sea lion pups washed up onto California beaches. That’s seven times the annual average over the past decade, and nearly three times as many as in 2013.
As a result, wildlife groups have been working overtime. During a typical year, the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, Calif., rescues between 500 and 700 stranded marine mammals along California’s coast. But according to Claire Simeone, a veterinarian at the center, during the past few years that number has dramatically increased, mostly due to the stranded sea lion pups. The center has rescued more than 1,500 young sea lions alone this year, although in recent weeks the pups finally stopped appearing (either because they’ve all been rescued or have already died at sea, according to Simeone). But with warm waters likely to remain, pups are expected to begin stranding again next season, as early as December.
The strandings represent a stark reversal in the fortunes of sea lions. After Congress passed the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972, the species thrived on the Pacific Coast. It was just six or seven years ago that sea lion populations began to show some signs of stress due to climate variability driving away prey, according to Sharon Melin, a wildlife biologist at NOAA’s National Marine Mammal Laboratory. Now things have become far worse.After being tube fed a mixture of food and water, a malnourished sea lion pup rests in the arms of an animal care specialist at Sea World in San Diego, Calif. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Will El Niño exacerbate the situation? Yes. With a strong El Niño system predicted to hit California later this year, warm waters are expected to persist and allow similar patterns to continue: Sea lions’ food will continue to migrate farther to find cold waters, and sea lions, especially the pups, will continue to struggle to find it.
I’ve heard about that giant toxic algal bloom. Is that affecting sea lions, too? Yes. As if their food sources swimming away wasn’t enough to deal with, a giant toxic algal bloom has been expanding in the Pacific since May. It’s poisoning much of the sea lions’ remaining food. The Marine Mammal Center has seen an increase in the number of sea lions washing up with amnesiac shellfish poisoning caused by exposure to domoic acid, a neurotoxin produced by the algal bloom. It’s made sea lions lethargic and can cause memory loss and seizures.
On Tuesday, yet another adult sea lion washed up onto a beach in Alameda county on the San Francisco Bay. The center attempted to rescue the animal, but it did not survive. No trauma was immediately visible on the critter’s body, which is being tested for domoic acid poisoning. (The test results won’t be available for months.)
Dean C. Smith (@DeanCSmith) August 18, 2015
Where does climate change fit into all of this? There’s no established connection between human-caused climate change and the blob, the toxic algal bloom, or the coming El Niño. But experts warn that increased climate variability linked to global warming could make these sorts of events more frequent — and more intense — in the future. “With a changing climate and increasing temperatures, we are only going to see more of the same,” Simeone says. She adds that sensitive animals, such as sea lions, should be looked to as bellwethers for how the changing environment will affect animal life more broadly, including humans. “It’s important to listen to what they are telling us,” she says.
So what’s going to happen to the sea lions? Melin points out that sea lions live a long time, up to 30 years. Over the years, they amass knowledge about their environment, which helps them predict the location of food sources. Finding prey quickly is especially important for mothers who cannot be away from their pups for very long while they nurse and wean them. Events such as warm water bands and algal blooms are creating a particularly difficult challenge as they struggle to adjust to constantly changing conditions in the ocean. But while wildlife groups are making plans to take in more animals and train more volunteers for the coming year, Melin remains optimistic about sea lions’ ability to adapt. After decades of robust growth, she says, sea lions are far from endangered. “They are going to work it out,” she says.
Filed under: Climate & Energy, Science
Christopher Horner has made his career fighting climate change, but not in the way you’re thinking: He’s been fighting the notion that it exists at all.
Horner is senior fellow and lawyer for the Competitive Enterprise Institute — a think tank devoted to promoting free market ideals and less governmental regulation of industries like tobacco and fossil fuels. You know, the good guys. Horner is also a vocal climate denier, and has written books with titles like The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming (and Environmentalism) and Red Hot Lies: How Global Warming Alarmists Use Threats, Fraud, and Deception to Keep You Misinformed. He makes regular appearances on Fox News when they need an expert on the climate change hoax, and his Twitter feed looks like a tween conspiracy theorist’s.
One of Horner’s preferred tactics is to inundate climate researchers with records requests so they get too bogged down with his bullshit to do actual work. He was also an instrumental figure in promoting the smear campaign known as “Climategate,” in which thousands of emails and other documents were hacked from a server at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in the U.K. Conservative groups and climate deniers used the documents to allege a systematic attempt on the part of scientists to defraud the public about the causes of global temperature increases. Unfortunately for Horner (and the planet), eight subsequent investigations revealed no wrongdoing on the part of the researchers.
The question is: Why? What drives a seemingly intelligent (or at least educated) human being to look decades of scientific data in the eye and go, “Nah. The world is cooling. Definitely cooling.”
Turns out, it’s money.
The Intercept analyzed bankruptcy filings of the one of the largest coal companies in America, Alpha Natural Reserves, and found line items for Horner’s home and work — suggesting Horner’s work spouting bullshit about global cooling is paid for by Big Coal itself. The Intercept’s Lee Fang reports:
The Alpha Natural Resources filing corroborates the suggestion in a recent email from chief executives of major coal firms that they are underwriting Horner’s current work.
In early June this year, the Coal & Investment Leadership Forum, a trade show, sent this message to its email list: “As the ‘war on coal’ continues, I trust that the commitment we have made to support Chris Horner’s work will eventually create great awareness of the illegal tactics being employed to pass laws that are intended to destroy our industry.” The email was signed by Alliance Resource Partners’ Joe Craft III, Alpha Natural Resources’ Kevin Crutchfield, Drummond Company’s Gary Drummond, Arch Coal’s John Eaves and United Coal Co.’s Jim McGlothlin.
Well, would you look at that. Color us surprised. It’s almost like this dude cares more about his own wallet and insane political agenda than he does the fate of this poor spinning planet we call home. Sounds like he’d make a great presidential candidate.
Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics
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