unEARTHED, the Earthjustice Blog

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Everyone has The Right To Breathe clean air. Watch a video featuring Earthjustice Attorney Jim Pew and two Pennsylvanians—Marti Blake and Martin Garrigan—who know firsthand what it means to live in the shadow of a coal plant's smokestack, breathing in daily lungfuls of toxic air for more than two decades.

Coal Ash Contaminates Our Lives. Coal ash is the hazardous waste that remains after coal is burned. Dumped into unlined ponds or mines, the toxins readily leach into drinking water supplies. Watch the video above and take action to support federally enforceable safeguards for coal ash disposal.

ABOUT EARTHJUSTICE'S BLOG

unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders.

Learn more about Earthjustice.

View Terry Winckler's blog posts
14 December 2009, 8:24 AM
Highlights from the climate change conference on Dec. 14

(Editor's Note: This file presents news and information from the Copenhagen climate change conference on Dec. 14, distilled from news outlet reports. Check for updates during the day.)

<Update>: As we head into the conference's final week, The New York Times gives a quick review of what's happened so far, what to expect over the next few days, the real issues at stake, and who are the key players.

Climate change negotiations came to a sudden halt today as a bloc of developing nations led by China withdrew in protest of what they called the Danish government's tilt toward the interests of developing countries. <Update>: Talks have resumed, according to reports.

Mayors from around the world are holding their own climate conference in Copenhagen, based on the premise that since cities produce two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions they should be on the front line of controlling them. <Update>: California's Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will speak at the mayor's conference tomorrow to push his theme that local government action is essential for planetary success.

CO2 is the bogeyman in Copenhagen for good reason—it accounts for half of global warming. But how about that other half? wonders The Los Angeles Times. We're talking about methane, black carbon (soot) and other emissions that could be reined in more easily, more quickly, and at much less cost than carbon dioxide.

<Update>: For a mix of reports from environmental journalists, check out the "Copenhagen News Collaborative" reports. The collaborative comprises Mother Jones, Grist, The Nation, Treehugger, The Uptake, ForaTV, Pulitzer Center, Discover, and OnEarth. 

View Martin Wagner's blog posts
13 December 2009, 7:41 PM
Bolivia leads movement to respect all natural beings

(Editor's Note: Earthjustice attorneys Martin Wagner and Erika Rosenthal are blogging live from the Copenhagen climate change conference. This is today's post by Martin)

What makes these negotiations so important, of course, is that human activities are changing our planet's systems of self-regulation. Global warming pollution from human activities is altering those systems faster than many ecosystems and species—including humans—can keep up with.

In recognition of this, a number of countries, led by Bolivia, are advocating for the final Copenhagen agreement to "take into account not only the right of human beings, but also the right of Mother Earth and its natural beings."

When countries object to proposals in the formal negotiations, they do so by insisting that the problematic proposal be surrounded by brackets in the formal negotiating documents. The brackets indicate that the proposal is not a consensus position, and thus remains subject to further discussion. In negotiations late last night, the United States and a number of other developed countries insisted that any reference to the rights of the earth be bracketed.

Given what is at stake here, it is frightening to think that Mother Earth might remain in brackets.

 

View Terry Winckler's blog posts
12 December 2009, 4:54 PM
Highlights from the climate change conference on Dec. 12

(Editor's Note: This file presents news and information from the Copenhagen climate change conference on Dec. 12, distilled from news outlet reports. Check for updates during the day.)

It may seem contradictory, but business interests are among the strongest supporters of climate change action in Copenhagen, reports The Los Angeles Times. The growing international market in alternative energy will really boom if nations turn away from fossil fuels.

Thousands of people and hundreds of organizations across the planet participated today in "Global Day of Climate Action," but Copenhagen is where the real action happened, where some 1,000 protesters were arrested.

View Martin Wagner's blog posts
12 December 2009, 12:38 PM
While U.S. fritters, Tuvalu could disappear underwater

I was in a plenary session of the Copenhagen climate meeting this morning, when Ian Fry, the representative of the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu made an impassioned statement to the assembled government representatives.

He noted that nearly everyone in Tuvalu lives less than 7 feet above sea level, which puts them at risk of rising sea levels and increased storm intensity. He called for governments to adopt a legally binding agreement to cut carbon emissions, and expressed his frustration that "[i]t appears we are waiting for some senators in the US Congress to conclude before we can determine what will happen to the rest of the world."

On the verge of tears, he concluded by saying, "I woke up this morning and I was crying, which is not easy for a grown man to admit. Madame President,…the fate of my country is in your hands."

View Erika Rosenthal's blog posts
11 December 2009, 4:57 PM
Nightmare of drought and drowning is no dream scenario

(Editor's Note: Earthjustice attorneys Martin Wagner and Erika Rosenthal are blogging live from the Copenhagen climate change conference. This is today's post by Erika).

The Copenhagen talks opened with nightmare images of catastrophic climate crisis. The first session included an apocalyptic video in which a Danish girl dreams a parade of climate horrors—first she's walking through endless drought-stricken land, then she's clinging for dear life as the sea rises around her.

New research indicates that both these nightmare scenarios could come to pass far sooner than scientists dreamt even a few years ago.

Global warming is accelerating snow and ice melt around the world. When Arctic glaciers like the Greenland Ice Sheet melt it shrinks the planet's cooling ice cap and sea causing sea level to rise. When high mountain glaciers melt, like the massive "third pole" in the Himalayas, it threatens drought for more than a quarter of the world's population.

View Terry Winckler's blog posts
11 December 2009, 11:14 AM
Highlights from the climate change conference on Dec. 11

(Editor's Note: This file presents news and information from the Copenhagen climate change conference on Dec. 11, distilled from news outlet reports. Check for updates during the day.)

<Update>: What the Los Angeles Times described as a "flurry" of draft proposals flooded the conference today, bringing fresh impetus. Meanwhile, The Times of London portends that two agreements will come out of the conference because the major countries can't agree on key issues.

<Update>: The official draft climate plan has just been released in Copenhagen - and it's a doozy. The goals it sets for getting major countries to limit carbon emissions and to pay off developing countries are much more than what President Obama is pledging. This should generate a lot of developments during the day. <Update>: The chief U.S. negotiator ispooh-poohing the official draft plan because it is too lenient on China and India.

China verbally attacked the U.S. chief climate negotiator today in Copenhagen for being "irresponsible" in saying that China should not get climate financing from the U.S. It's all about his assertion that the U.S. owes nothing to the world for past greenhouse gas emissions.

The latest version of a Senate climate change bill calls for 17 percent cuts in carbon emissions by 2020 - matching what President Obama is proposing at Copenhagen. It also includes nuclear power plants and increased offshore oil and gas drilling.

View Martin Wagner's blog posts
10 December 2009, 6:10 PM
Nations must put human rights on their agenda at Copenhagen

(Editor's Note: Earthjustice attorney Martin Wagner is blogging from the Copenhagen climate change conference. Here is his report for Dec. 10).

Happy Human Rights Day.

Sixty-one years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was born. The Declaration and subsequent human rights agreements represent humanity's best expression of the minimum conditions for a life of dignity, and of the need to hold governments accountable for guaranteeing them.

Climate change threatens those rights.

 Warming temperatures melt glaciers that communities rely upon for dry-season water, directly undermining their rights to water, health and life. Increased droughts and ecosystem loss threaten the right to food. Sea-level rise and more intense storms threaten to wipe out island and coastal communities, undermining their right to life and physical security.

The list goes on, with unfortunate emphasis on indigenous peoples, the low-income, women and people of color—all of whom are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

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View Sam Edmondson's blog posts
10 December 2009, 5:19 PM
Senators release framework for global warming legislation
Photo by AP

The Senate's Three Amigos—Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John Kerry (D-MA), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT)—today released their framework for tackling global warming, our planetary El Guapo. The 5-page document lays out some broad principles for a Senate bill but is slim on specifics.

Crystal clear, however, is the senators' desire for a market-based system (i.e. one in which supply and demand reigns) rather than a system of government regulation: "Monday's endangerment finding by the EPA underscores the importance of Congressional action to address greenhouse gas emissions before the EPA moves unilaterally."

The endangerment finding—which makes possible the regulation of global warming pollution through the Clean Air Act—is a bitter pill to most business groups and industries, whose spokespeople quickly fired off "economy killer" statements when the finding was announced.

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View Molly Woodward's blog posts
10 December 2009, 4:40 PM
Copenhagen, the Chukchi Sea, Clean Air, Trees

Some top stories from the last week at Earthjustice...

The Copenhagen conference started off with a bang of optimism when the EPA announced that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health. The cooperative spirit quickly fizzled after a draft agreement surfaced that apparently favors the interests of the U.S. and other wealthy nations. There’s more news by the hour: Be sure to check out our daily reports from Copenhagen, and analysis by two attending Earthjustice attorneys, Erika Rosenthal and Martin Wagner.

All the buzz from the conference nearly drowned out a disturbing, and related, piece of news: Shell Oil was granted conditional approval to drill exploratory wells in the Chukchi Sea. Earthjustice attorney Erik Grafe warned that the approvals outpace the science of what we know about Arctic waters.

On the same day that the EPA released its endangerment finding, Earthjustice challenged the agency on a toxin polluting the air in Appalachia, to the point where kids can’t play outside. It’s coal dust, and we think the coal plants that produce it should do something about it. 

Farm workers and their families will get some long-awaited help to deal with toxic pesticides poisoning the air around their homes and schools, thanks to a new EPA policy. Going forward, the EPA will assess the health risks posed by pesticide drift with the same standards by which pesticides in food are assessed. 

And finally, this week Earthjustice saved taxpayers $1.5 million!and 4.3 million board-feet of old-growth forest in the Tongass to boot. This also means we kept a little C02 out of the atmosphere. Indeed, one of the least controversial ideas out of Copenhagen is also one of the simplest: don’t cut down trees.

View Terry Winckler's blog posts
10 December 2009, 9:01 AM
Highlights from the climate change conference on Dec. 10

(Editor's Note: This file presents news and information from the Copenhagen climate change conference on Dec. 10, distilled from news outlet reports. Check for updates during the day.)

<Update>: At Copenhagen, the simplest idea for corraling climate change is this: don't cut the trees. Logging in tropical forests releases 1.6 billion tons of C02 each year. When it's in the ground, it's not in the atmosphere. Same principle for old growth forests in the northwest United States and in the Tongass National Forest.

<Update>: Here's an interesting take by the Washington Post on the EPA's announcement that greenhouse gases can be regulated. Says the Post: "The threat of the EPA regulating in Congress's stead should persuade lawmakers to look at climate-change afresh." The announcement was made as the Copenhagen conference opened Monday.

<Update>: The world's two biggest greenhouse gas emitters - China and the U.S. - squabbled in Copenhagen today over who is responsible and who should pay. Here's the latest on this story.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Interior Sec. Ken Salazar is leading a "charm offensive" in Copenhagen to sell world government and business leaders on the United States' increased commitment to renewable energy and combating climate change. Not charmed are Alaskan Natives who protested in Copenhagen over Salazar's approval of drilling by Shell Oil in the Chukchi Sea.

In Copenhagen it's all about the money—and there's not enough of it being proposed by rich nations to help poor nations deal with impacts of climate change, says American billionaire George Soros. He's got an idea.