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(Update: Today, China announced that it, too, will pledge limits on greenhouse gas emissions.)

It's official -- President Obama will lead the U.S. delegation at the Copenhagen climate change conference, and he will promise the world a 17 percent decrease (from 2005 levels)  in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. His pledge mirrors the levels contained in climate change legislation being considered by Congress.

Although this will not improve chances of an actual treaty being reached at Copenhagen, the expectation is for a political agreement among the major nations. Such an agreement depends on what China brings to the conference, and that remains a mystery. China and the U.S. are the planet's two biggest contributors to global warming.

 

(Update: Energy lobbyists are hard at work in developed countries, pressing to make sure the Copenhagen conference doesn't harm the fossil fuel industry, according to an investigative report by the Center for Public Integrity. Check out the Center's interactive map of the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitters.)

(Also: Here is a United Nation's report on what climate change is already doing to the earth and its inhabitants, along with a forecast of what's to come.)

Probably this week, President Obama will announce whether he will attend next month's international climate change conference in Copenhagen -- and what the U.S.will be offering up. The latest news scuttlebutt is that the U.S. delegation is set to propose greenhouse gas emissions limits similar to what Congress is considering.

No one is counting on a treaty to come from the conference, nor is there any hope that Congress will pass a climate change bill by then.

 

Cats have been known to bring their human companions gifts of all sorts. Curiously surprised humans have found themselves proudly offered such choice items as mice, birds, and squirrels—presents that arrive very much dead, very much alive, and in all states between.

Photographer Paul Nicklen found himself in just this situation on a recent expedition to Antarctica. There aren't many house cats on the icy continent, but there are plenty of leopard seals—and small penguins who look particularly tasty to them.

Some top stories from the week at Earthjustice…

Florida got some great news: A historic settlement on November 16 prompted the EPA to set limits for the widespread nutrient poisoning in Florida's waters, which triggers harmful algae blooms and threatens public health. This breakthrough decision could have implications for waterways nationwide.

The all-important Clean Air Act turned 19 on November 15. Hurray for breathing!

Alas, it didn't get a present from Mountain Coal. This Colorado company has long claimed that putting its methane emissions on the market would help save the atmosphere while bringing in extra cash. But last week it said "no thanks" when finally given that option. Why? The company makes some pretty questionable assumptions.

More light was shed on the coal industry by a powerful new film, which had its television premiere. Coal Country chronicles the destruction of mountaintop removal mining through the voices of activists, politicians, and coalfield residents in Appalachia.

A new report found that genetically engineered crops and pesticides go hand in hand. Compared to pesticide use in the absence of GE crops, farmers applied 318 million more pounds of pesticides over the last 13 years as a result of planting GE seeds.
 

Greed is usually the reason we see so many companies foul up our lands, air and water. But in Colorado, where a coal mining company is refusing to make money off the gas it is releasing, a little greed could actually help the environment.

For years, coal companies in Colorado's North Fork Valley have been spewing millions of cubic feet of methane into the atmosphere every day from their underground coal mines. They have to get rid of the methane because otherwise it's a safety hazard.

Luis Medellin and his three little sisters—aged 5, 9 and 12—live in the middle of an orange grove in Lindsay, CA—a small farming town in California's Central Valley. During the growing season, Luis and his sisters are awakened several times a week by the sickly smell of nighttime pesticide spraying. What follows is worse: searing headaches, nausea, vomiting.

Even though a large group of polluters tried to derail it, Earthjustice won this week a historic settlement—with nationwide implications—that requires the Environmental Protection Agency to set legal limits for the widespread nutrient poisoning that triggers harmful algae blooms in Florida waters.

 More than half of the corn, soybeans and cotton grown in the U.S. these days starts as genetically engineered seed. The best-known are produced by Monsanto and called "Roundup-Ready," Roundup being the name of an herbicide also produced by Monsanto. The idea is that the GE crops can be doused with Roundup to kill off weeds without damaging the crops themselves.

Well, someone forgot to tell Monsanto that nature is pretty slick about adapting to change: Weeds have evolved resistance to Roundup, requiring farmers to apply great quantities of different herbicides to kill them, which is expensive and dangerous.

All this and more is detailed in a new report from the Organic Center, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Center for Food Safety, which goes on to reveal that not only must farmers shell out large sums to pay for extra chemicals—the price of the GE seeds has gone through the roof even as their effectiveness declines.

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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.