By blocking these common sense standards, the administration is reversing progress in cleaning the air we breathe and fighting climate change

On Thursday, President Trump made international headlines by announcing his intent to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement—a landmark decision that was met with outrage and dismay from climate activists and environmentalists. But while the gesture carries great symbolic significance, signaling the president’s disinterest in international climate efforts, any hope of actually achieving our domestic climate goals pledged under the agreement had already long since vanished.

Since January, the Trump administration has taken swift steps to dismantle numerous climate and environmental priorities established under the Obama administration, including the repeal of multiple environmental regulations. And environmentalists are fighting back—by way of the courts, that is. Just about every environment-related action the Trump administration has taken has been met with a legal challenge.

Trump is no stranger to litigation—reports suggest he was sued thousands of times as part of his career in real estate before ever becoming president. But since assuming office, he’s also been met with record-setting numbers of legal challenges. In his first two weeks as president alone, his administration was sued more than 50 times, mostly over the travel ban he implemented shortly after his inauguration. By March, reports suggest the number of lawsuits had risen above 100.

A major reason for the high rate of litigation has to do with the president’s generous use of executive orders, often in ways that environmental and social groups feel oversteps his authority, according to Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School. The travel ban is perhaps the most high-profile example of these.

What we’ve seen with Trump is an attempt to really use the executive order to create whole new policies.

“Executive orders tend to be directives from the president to administrative agencies to carry out internal tasks,” he said. “On occasion, they’re used to set broader policy agendas. But what we’ve seen with Trump is an attempt to really use the executive order to create whole new policies. And some of the policies that these executive orders are seeking to create are at direct odds with the statutes that provide the executive branch with its authority to take any action at all.”

To date, several dozen of the lawsuits currently filed against the Trump administration are directly related to climate and environmental issues. A number of them, although certainly not all, are related to executive orders.

In regard to Paris, White House advisers had actually cited potential lawsuits as an extra reason the president should withdraw from the treaty. Prior to Thursday’s announcement, they’d suggested that if the U.S. remained in the treaty while failing to enforce greenhouse gas-reducing regulations—namely, the Clean Power Plan, which the Trump administration has been actively working to unravel—environmental groups could pin new lawsuits advocating for climate regulations on the commitments laid out in the Paris agreement.

But as The Washington Post’s Amber Phillips recently pointed out, Trump’s getting sued for his environmental policies either way. He’s already facing a handful of cases over major policy points—and now that the Paris announcement has dashed hopes that the administration will make climate action a U.S. priority, more may be coming in the future.

We’ve put together some of the major examples of recent federal actions and the lawsuits they’ve inspired so far.


What we’ve seen with Trump is an attempt to really use the executive order to create whole new policies

The promised border wall

A cornerstone of President Trump’s campaign, from its earliest days, was the promise of a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. And a January executive order on the topic of immigration sealed his intent, calling for the immediate construction of a wall along the Mexican border.

The idea has been met with resistance from a wide array of social communities and organizations, but it’s also been challenged by environmentalists concerned about its effect on the natural landscape. In April, conservation group Center for Biological Diversity and Arizona Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration that would block the project’s construction, claiming that the government failed to adequately assess the wall’s potential environmental impact. The plaintiffs express concern that the wall could have a negative impact on water systems and native species, particularly endangered ones like jaguars.

The revival of the coal industry

Another key Trump campaign promise involved the reinvigoration of the declining coal industry. And in March, the Trump administration took a step in that direction by lifting an Obama-era moratorium on new coal leases on public lands. This directive was also issued in an executive order.

Almost immediately, the Northern Cheyenne tribe in Montana, along with a group of environmental organizations, sued the Trump administration for lifting the ban without completing an environmental review of the coal-leasing program. The plaintiffs suggest that the government should have first evaluated the program’s “significant environmental, health, and economic impacts—including impacts from climate disruption caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, and socioeconomic and environmental impacts to local communities.”

Another chance for Keystone XL

Among the most controversial environmental issues that arose during the Obama administration was that of the Keystone XL pipeline. This proposal called for a new pipeline branch between Alberta and Nebraska, running through parts of Montana and South Dakota in the process. The idea was met with fierce protests from Native American, social justice and environmental groups, and it was ultimately rejected by President Obama.

But in January, Trump signed an executive order aimed at advancing the project, and in March the administration officially approved the pipeline’s construction. In response, multiple environmental organizations sued the administration, arguing that the approval of the project relied on an outdated environmental assessment and ignored new information about the pipeline’s potential impact. A separate lawsuit was also filed by conservationists and representatives of indigenous groups.

Tough breaks for wildlife

In yet another reversal of an Obama-era rule, Congress voted in February to undo a regulation aimed at protecting certain Alaskan wildlife from predator control operations on public lands, prohibiting the shooting of denning mother bears and wolves as well as certain types of trapping and aerial hunting. President Trump signed the reversal into effect.

In April, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the strategy Congress used to repeal the regulation—a little-known law that allows Congress to overturn federal regulations within a limited amount of time after they’re finalized. The case challenges an aspect of this law that stipulates that after a rule has been repealed in this manner, no substantially similar regulation may be enacted again without congressional approval. The case argues that “this constraint on future rulemaking violates the separation of powers that must be maintained between the legislative and executive branches under the U.S. Constitution.”

At the time it was filed, Reuters reported that the lawsuit—the first of its kind to make such a challenge—stood little likelihood of success.

The expansion of offshore drilling

Last month, President Trump signed an executive order that could expand offshore oil and gas drilling, directing Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to review an Obama ban on drilling in certain parts of the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. In May, a group of environmental groups responded with a lawsuitchallenging the president’s authority to make such a move.

The plaintiffs point out that President Obama initiated the ban in the first place under a law called the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which provides guidelines for oil and gas development leasing. They argue that this act allows presidents to withdraw certain areas from consideration for leasing—but that “neither OCSLA nor any other provision of law authorizes Presidents to undo such withdrawals.”

Attacks on energy efficiency programs

It’s not just environmental groups that are pushing back against the Trump administration’s environmental policies—states are jumping on the bandwagon now as well.

By blocking these common sense standards, the administration is reversing progress in cleaning the air we breathe and fighting climate change.

In January, the White House directed federal agencies to place new or pending regulations on hold until they could be reviewed by incoming Trump administration agency heads. Among the regulations delayed as a result were a series of energy efficiency appliance standards introduced by the Obama administration. Energy efficiency standards are widely regarded by environmentalists as an important way to cut down on the energy consumption of individual households, businesses and other buildings, reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the process.

As a result, in April a coalition of state attorneys general filed a notice of intent with the Department of Energy to sue within 60 days. The states were joined in their protest by the city of New York and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

In a statement at the time, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman decried the delays as harmful to both public health and the environment. “By blocking these common sense standards, the administration is reversing progress in cleaning the air we breathe and fighting climate change – and denying consumers and businesses some $24 billion in savings,” he said.

Written by CHELSEA HARVEY, published in FUSION 5 June 2017.


A Grand New Theory of Life’s Evolution on Earth

A series of energy revolutions—some natural, some technological—built upon one another to give us our rich, diverse biosphere

Written by SARAH ZHANG and published in The Atlantic the 19th of May 2017

The modern world gives us such ready access to nachos and ice cream that it’s easy to forget: Humans bodies require a ridiculous and—for most of Earth’s history—improbable amount of energy to stay alive.

Consider a human dropped into primordial soup 3.8 billions years ago, when life first began. They would have nothing to eat. Earth then had no plants, no animals, no oxygen even. Good luck scrounging up 1600 calories a day drinking pond- or sea water. So how did we get sources of concentrated energy (i.e. food) growing on trees and lumbering through grass? How did we end up with a planet that can support billions of energy-hungry, big-brained, warm-blooded, upright-walking humans?

In “The Energy Expansions of Evolution,” an extraordinary new essay in Nature Ecology and Evolution, Olivia Judson sets out a theory of successive energy revolutions that purports to explain how our planet came to have such a diversity of environments that support such a rich array of life, from the cyanobacteria to daisies to humans.

‘In a Tropical Forest’ (Struggle between Tiger and Bull) by Henri Rousseau


Judson divides the history of the life on Earth into five energetic epochs, a novel schema that you will not find in geology or biology textbooks. In order, the energetic epochs are: geochemical energy, sunlight, oxygen, flesh, and fire. Each epoch represents the unlocking of a new source of energy, coinciding with new organisms able to exploit that source and alter their planet. The previous sources of energy stay around, so environments and life on Earth become ever more diverse. Judson calls it a “step-wise construction of a life-planet system.”

In the epoch of geochemical energy 3.7 billion years ago, the first living organisms “fed” on molecules like hydrogen and methane that formed in reaction between water and rocks. They wrung energy out of chemical bonds. It was not very efficient—the biosphere’s productivity then was an estimated a thousand to a million times less than it is today.

Sunlight, of course, was shining on Earth all along. When microbes that can harness sunlight finally evolve, the productivity and diversity of the biosphere leveled up. One particular type of bacteria, called cyanobacteria, hits upon a way of harnessing the sun’s energy that makes oxygen (O2) as a byproduct, and with profound consequences: The planet gets an ozone (O3) layer that blocks UV radiation, new minerals through oxygen reactions, and an atmosphere full of highly reactive O2.

Which brings us to the epoch of oxygen. Given an opportunity, oxygen will steal electrons from anything it finds. New oxygen-resistant organisms evolve with enzymes to protect them from oxygen. They have advantages too: Because oxygen is so reactive, it makes the metabolism of these organisms much more efficient. In some conditions, organisms can get 16 times as much energy out of a glucose molecule with the presence of oxygen than without.

With more energy, you can have motion and so in the epoch of flesh, highly mobile animals become abundant. They can fly, swim, ran to catch prey. “Flesh” is source of concentrated energy, rich in fats and protein and carbon.

Then one particular type of animal—those of the genus Homo—figure out fire. Fire lets us cook, which may have allowed us to get more nutrition out of the same food. It lets us forge labor-saving metal tools. It lets us create fertilizer through the Haber-Bosch process to grow food on industrial scales. It lets us burn fossils fuels for energy.

This is only a short summary, but I encourage you to read the essay in full; it’s highly readable despite being published in an academic journal. Judson is a writer by profession; she’s the author of the best-selling Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation, and she recently reviewed a book on the octopus for TheAtlantic.

Aside from the big thematic framework, the essay is packed with small insights that will make you sit up a bit straighter and think a bit harder. (My favorite is her description of how viruses operate as “agents of death,” and play a significant role in the evolution of early microbes.) “I think any paper that can elicit that response regardless of the field is cool, especially us for jaded scientists who are often like ah yeah yeah” says Noah Fierer, a microbiologist at the University of Colorado, who also called the paper a “must read” for microbiology students.

The essay is a condensed and crystallized version of a book Judson has been writing for a decade. It reads like the synthesis of research over many years and in many disciplines because it is. When I asked Judson about her book, she replied with this email describing the writing process:

“For several years, I thrashed. I wrote fragments. I read more papers, collected more examples.  I took trips to look at rock formations, or at colonies of bacteria. I pestered people with questions. (Many of these were total strangers; their generosity has been prodigious.) I bored my friends. I thrashed. I hired a coach. I wrote more fragments. Until, one day, I had a kaleidescope moment: the material suddenly rearranged itself in my mind, making a new picture.  It happened after I had given a talk at an institute in France; later that day, I was speaking to a friend…and suddenly this pattern of energy expansions leapt out at me. I knew how to organise the book.”

“Buoyed up by this ‘eureka’ feeling,” Judson said, she decided to put her ideas out in the scientific literature. The peer review process also connected her with other people thinking about the same ideas. “It was pleasant surprise that we found another kindred spirit,” Timothy Lenton, an earth system scientist at the University of Exeter, told me. Lenton reviewed her essay for the journal and has also written about energy revolutions. The two have since corresponded.

Lynn Rothschild, an astrobiologist at NASA Ames, told me “It was one those papers where damn, I wish I thought of writing it.’” At the very end, Judson speculates that other life-planet systems in the universe may have also evolved through a series of energy expansions. If we want to look for life, we shouldn’t only look for planets look like present-day Earth—a point Rothschild  has been making for years. “When people talk about looking for an Earth-like planet, they say it’s got to have oxygen and I go, ‘Are you crazy?,’” she says. “If you were looking at Earth billions of years ago you wouldn’t have seen it.”

So Earth’s evolution over billions of years might give us a blueprint for finding life less complex than ours. But what might a planet that has been through more energy expansions than Earth look like? Put another way, what’s next for the Earth?

One way to ask that question is to ask what innovation will launch us into the next energetic epoch and leave it’s mark on the environment. Another is to ask what life will look like in that epoch—both what lifeforms could become extinct and what could eventually become possible. After all, it took billions of years and several energy expansions to make oxygen-breathing, flesh-eating, fire-wielding humans possible on Earth.



Written by PUT A PRICE ON IT and published in Years of Living Dangerously 

As actress and activist Nikki Reed learned during the second season of YEARS OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY, there’s a growing number of people who are working to solve climate change by pushing for a price on carbon. Carbon pricing is an economic tool that encourages polluters to switch to clean energy, by making the cost of polluting high. It’s an elegant solution that’s been supported by people on both the right and the left of the political spectrum.

The problem is that not enough people are talking about it—yet.

Carbon pricing can seem like a difficult topic to talk about. Maybe that’s because it feels abstract, dry, or boring. Maybe talking about climate change can see too depressing or overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be that way, considering that climate change touches us all.

In the following videos, campaigners Tom Erb and Camila Thorndike offer some useful examples of how you can start a conversation about carbon pricing with different types of people: your friends, your college president and your elected representatives in government.

One of the goals of the #PutAPriceOnIt campaign, created by Our Climateand YEARS OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY, is to gain support for carbon pricing from colleges and universities. So far, presidents at over 30 schools around the U.S. have endorsed carbon pricing policy thanks in part to conversations with student campaigners. In the next video, Tom shows how to do it successfully.

Now, if we really want there to be a price on carbon, we need to let your representatives in government know. Writing letters and calling your state and federal officials is a good start, but the best way to get the message across is by meeting face-to-face. In this video, Tom and Camila have scheduled appointments at the Oregon Statehouse, but you can also use these tips if you have the opportunity to speak with elected officials at a town hall or as part of a listening tour.


Portraits of the Earth-Moon System

Article produced by ALAN TAYLOR and published in TheAtlantic the 24th of April 2017

The Earth and its moon almost form a binary planet system. The moon is enormous—relative to the size of its planet—compared with the rest of the solar system. Since the 1960s, spacecraft and astronauts have been able to “step back” far enough to capture combined portraits of the Earth and its moon, separated by some 240,000 miles. Gathered below are some of the best of these portraits, some from as far away as 100 million miles.

The Earth straddling the limb of the moon, as seen from above Compton crater by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter on October 12, 2015. The large tan area in the upper right is the Sahara desert, and just beyond is Saudi Arabia. The Atlantic and Pacific coasts of South America are visible to the left.

An image of Earth and the moon, acquired on October 3, 2007, by the HiRISE camera orbiting Mars on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. At the time the image was taken, Earth was 142 million kilometers (88 million miles) from Mars. The phase angle is 98 degrees, which means that less than half of the disk of the Earth and the disk of the moon have direct illumination. We could image Earth and moon at full disk illumination only when they are on the opposite side of the sun from Mars, but then the range would be much greater and the image would show less detail.

Observing the moon from Earth orbit, aboard the International Space Station over the western Atlantic, on September 26, 2007.

A crew member aboard the International Space Station took this image of the northern Mediterranean Sea, centered on the island of Elba, with city lights of the Italian towns of Piombino and Punta Ala image right. Shooting towards the reflection of the moon on the sea surface, moonglint reveals the highly complex patterns on the sea surface—in the night equivalent of sunglint. The strongest reflection is near the center of the moon’s disc, which brightens the sea surface around the island of Elba. But in the complex patterns seen from space, the dark areas of the sea surface even make the islands like Elba, Montecristo (lower left) and Pianosa (left) more difficult to see. Photographed on October 17, 2013.

Long before man journeyed to the moon and looked back at the tiny, fragile planet that houses humanity, remote orbiters were sending back pictures of home. Sent to scope out potential landing sites on the moon, NASA’s series of five Lunar Orbiters also sent back the earliest views of Earth from another celestial body. This image, taken in 1966 by Lunar Orbiter 1, is among the first views of Earth from the moon. When the orbiter sent back the data in 1966, the technology did not exist to produce a full-resolution image. For decades, the image existed as a grainy black-and-white photo. More than forty years later, NASA recreated the image from the original data, producing for the first time a high-resolution view of the moon and Earth from the Lunar Orbiter Missions. The image was released on November 13, 2008.

Earth and the far side of the moon on July 5, 2016, also featuring Typhoon Nepartak over the Pacific Ocean, imaged by NASA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite, about 1.5 million km (930,000 mi) from Earth,.

Young people look at the rare sight of the setting sun appearing as crescent as the moon moves in alignment between the Sun and the Earth during a partial solar eclipse, as seen from Manila Bay on January 26, 2009.

Earth viewed over the lunar horizon, as seen from Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s SELENE lunar orbiter, on October 7, 2016.

On December 16, 1992, 8 days after its encounter with Earth, the Galileo spacecraft looked back from a distance of about 6.2 million kilometers (3.9 million miles) to capture this remarkable view of the moon in orbit about Earth. The moon is in the foreground; its orbital path is from left to right. Brightly colored Earth contrasts strongly with the moon, which reacts only about one-third as much sunlight as our world.

This distorted view of a full moon seen through the Earth’s atmosphere was photographed by an Expedition 14 crew member aboard the International Space Station on December 4, 2006. Visible at bottom center, the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain massif in southwestern China.

In the lower left portion of this image, the Earth can be seen, as well as the much smaller moon to Earth’s right, on May 6, 2010. When the MESSENGER spacecraft took this image, a distance of 183 million kilometers (114 million miles) separated the spacecraft and Earth. To provide context for this distance, the average separation between the Earth and the Sun is about 150 million kilometers (93 million miles). Though it is a beautiful, thought-provoking picture, viewing our planet from far away was not the main reason that the mission team planned the collection of this image. Instead, this image was acquired as part of MESSENGER’s campaign to search for vulcanoids, small rocky objects that have been postulated to exist in orbits between Mercury and the Sun.

On September 13, 2015, as NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, kept up its constant watch on the sun, its view was photobombed not once, but twice. Just as the moon came into SDO’s field of view on a path to cross the sun, Earth entered the picture, blocking SDO’s view completely. When SDO’s orbit finally emerged from behind Earth, the moon was just completing its journey across the sun’s face. Earth’s outline looks fuzzy, while the moon’s is crystal-clear. This is because-while the planet itself completely blocks the sun’s light-Earth’s atmosphere is an incomplete barrier, blocking different amounts of light at different altitudes.

Crowds look on as the super moon rises behind the Fremantle War Memorial at Monument Hill on November 14, 2016 in Fremantle, Australia.

Texas at night. This wide-angle, nighttime image was taken by astronauts looking from the International Space Station out southeastward over the Gulf of Mexico on February 11, 2015. Moonlight reflects diffusely off the waters of the gulf (image center left) making the largest illuminated area in the image. The sharp edge of light patterns of coastal cities trace out the long curve of the gulf shoreline¡ªfrom New Orleans at the mouth of the Mississippi River, to Houston (both image left), to Brownsville (image center) in the westernmost gulf.

The Apollo 11 Lunar Module (LM) ascent stage, with astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. onboard, is photographed from the Command and Services Modules (CSM) in lunar orbit on July 21, 1969. This view is looking west with the Earth rising above the lunar horizon.

Eclipsed by the silhouetted horizon of the moon, the crescent Earth appears in the shape of a pair of horns in this unusual Apollo 17 photograph made on December 19, 1972. The three astronauts–Eugene A. Cernan, Ronald E. Evans and Harrison H. Schmitt–were just about to begin their journey homeward following the successful lunar landing phase of their mission.

The moon, viewed from the International Space Station, over a cloudy western Pacific Ocean, on August 5, 2003.

This picture of a crescent-shaped Earth and Moon was recorded on September 18, 1977, by NASA’s Voyager 1 when it was 7.25 million miles (11.66 million kilometers) from Earth. The moon is at the top of the picture and beyond the Earth as viewed by Voyager. In the picture are eastern Asia, the western Pacific Ocean and part of the Arctic. Voyager 1 was directly above Mt. Everest (on the night side of the planet at 25 degrees north latitude) when the picture was taken.

An Indian man rides a horse past people watching the ‘supermoon’ rise at Marina Beach in Chennai on November 14, 2016.

Backdropped by the blackness of space and Earth’s horizon, the Harmony node in Space Shuttle Discovery’s payload bay, vertical stabilizer and orbital maneuvering system pods are featured in this image photographed by a STS-120 crewmember on October 24, 2007. Earth’s moon is also visible at center.

This July 1969 view from the Apollo 11 spacecraft shows the Earth rising above the moon’s horizon. The lunar terrain pictured is in the area of Smyth’s Sea on the nearside.

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