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Arctic

Last week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told the world from the Copenhagen Climate Conference how U.S. public lands, which include the continental shelves off our coastlines, are being managed by the government to reduce climate pollution. What he didn't say was that he had recently approved oil drilling permits allowing Shell Oil to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean, including one site 20 miles offshore of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

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.

Some top stories from the last two weeks at Earthjustice...

The Copenhagen Climate Conference begins next week. President Obama will lead the U.S. delegation, and in anticipation of the conference, the Dalai Lama spoke about the need for governments to put global priorities first.

Studies on the effects of global warming abound; few offer good news. Polar ice is thinner than previously thought, and polar bears are struggling more than ever to survive—only one of many species seriously threatened by climate change. 

Our addiction to coal-fired power is at the heart of global warming. And as we know, coal plants are responsible for much more destruction. Almost a year ago, 500 million gallons of toxic coal ash flooded 300 acres along Tennessee’s Emory River. Now, despite this disaster, some companies are claiming that the location and contents of their toxic coal ash ponds should be left a mystery. Earthjustice disagrees.

Other mysteries, however, are quite welcome—like lonely stones sailing quietly across the desert.

The thin ice polar bears have been on because of global warming is actually thinner than we thought, according to a Canadian researcher.

A ship survey debunked recent satellite data that suggested an improvement in Arctic ice conditions. Instead of thick ice reported by satellite, the ship found thin ice -- too thin for polar bears to stand on. Consequently, there were fewer polar bears.

That alarming news was followed a report that, as a result of the lessening sea ice, starving adult polar bears are eating bear cubs.

 

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.

It's a rare thing to encounter good news regarding climate change. Which is exactly why a bit of hopeful writing from Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute caught my attention. Brown's post, titled "U.S. Headed for Massive Decline in Carbon Emissions," contends that the U.S. has entered a new energy era characterized by declining carbon emissions. Do tell, Lester.

Darkness and, with it, ice, are returning to Arctic Ocean waters after an ice-free summer that allowed two commercial ships to voyage across the top of the world. This is the second consecutive year that global warming unlocked these waters. Scientists believe the freeze-melt cycle will continue—and that, says The New York Times, is bad news for polar bears:

While open Arctic waters could be a boon for shipping, fishing and oil exploration, an annual seesawing between ice and no ice could be a particularly harsh jolt to polar bears.

As Earthjustice has consistently pointed out, Arctic polar bears already are stressed and threatened by industrial activity, and we are fighting to keep oil drilling from expanding into the bears' habitat. The growing impacts associated with climate change make our efforts even more essential.

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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.