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Then, the oil and gas industries face major contractions as countries impose travel restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Finally, Peter and Bobby take a look back at shark, sewage and medical waste scares along the New Jersey coast. Also, eye contact can be powerful, a knowing look exchanged between beings.
Also, why racial justice goes hand in hand with the fight for a cleaner environment, and the big takeaways that the coronavirus pandemic has for the climate crisis.
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Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs. So you can have a fire - there's so much organic matter below the ground that the fires in the Arctic don't just burn vegetation above ground, it burns peat in the organic material below ground.
And that fire can last from one season - so you can see a fire burning in August and September below ground, and then it resurfaces early season in the spring, and it just had been smoldering throughout the winter below the ground.
Amidst the heatwave in the Arctic, wildfires are increasing in number and intensity. And as you mentioned, the permafrost soil is basically peat, which I understand holds more carbon dioxide than all of the world's rainforests.
I mean, that's a shocking statistic. So if the Arctic melts and releases that carbon, what does that mean for the world's carbon budget and climate change?
NATALI: Yeah, this is one of the big global concerns, or the big global concern related to permafrost thaw is, as you said, there's a lot of carbon that's stored below ground.
That carbon currently isn't fully accounted for, those carbon losses aren't fully accounted for.
So when we think about trying to stay below 1. So it's going to make it really challenging to keep these temperature targets that were set out in these international climate agreements.
What happened there? NATALI: The ground structure in the Arctic is maintained because there's frozen ground below it, but when the ice that's in the permafrost melts, you get ground collapse, you get subsidence, you can get very extreme, you know, abrupt events.
But even gradual events is enough to cause cracks in a building, or to, you know, cause gas tanks or other types of infrastructure to fall and to crack, and this is what's happening in some areas of the Arctic.
You know, this got a lot of attention because it was so big. But if you think about a community, even if it's just, you know, a community of or - that may not sound that big - when they're dealing with impacts to their important infrastructure like a sewage lagoon, or an oil storage tank or, you know, a city dump, you know, these human health risks are impacting Arctic communities in many places.
And so even these other incidents that don't get these big headlines are really concerning because they are impacting people's cultures and their health and their livelihoods.
I would think even, you know, homes and buildings, places where people work, that the ground underneath them is literally shifting.
I mean, it must wreak havoc on cities and towns. And you even, you know, one of the things that struck me when I first started chatting with people from the Arctic is, those of us who don't live in the Arctic don't realize that people in the Arctic have to prop their houses up to level it.
This is something I never would have thought of to do, I would have no idea how to do this, right?
And people are talking about, oh, we used to have to do this once a year, and now we're having to do it three times a year or four times a year, and so these changes that are happening are becoming a part of people's daily lives.
When we think about climate change, we often talk about what's going to happen in the future, we think about what's happening in And I think the important thing to think about with the Arctic is that this is actually something that's happening now.
And there are people being impacted by this now. And there's infrastructure that's being impacted by this now.
And so, you know, there's global implications for permafrost thaw, and there are feedbacks on global climate that may be happening now and expected to continue to happen into the future, but there's also these regional impacts, as you see ground collapsing on the people who are living in the Arctic.
What's the most striking change that you've noticed personally, in your time studying this area? It wasn't a single change, but it was a series of changes across the landscape.
You know, we were out in the tundra in July, and it was 90 degrees Fahrenheit. And so one, just feeling that temperature in the tundra is just, it's surprising, and there's no trees in the tundra, so you're just out and it's really, really warm.
In addition to that, we saw lightning, which is something that is really not common in the tundra. In addition to that, there were wildfires in the area, so there was a lot of smoke around us.
And then there was also a lot of ground cracking and ground collapse. And, you know, this was a region that had experienced wildfire in And so in the area, that experienced wildfire, the ground thaw was so extreme, it was double than what it had been in previous years.
And you literally would walk in some places, and because the ground had, was collapsing because of permafrost thaw, because some of it had burned off in the fire, your foot would fall into the ground, like up to your knee.
So it was just striking because it was a place that I knew, and to see that level and number of changes in a single year, I had never seen that.
And I had never seen changes, so many changes in the landscape. I mean, that seems to be the real, real problem here is the changes are happening so quickly.
I mean, nothing can adapt - no plants, animals, people. I don't like to think of it as insurmountable problem in that like, oh well, this is done and there's nothing we can do, right?
Because, you know, one, the Arctic is a very large area and some regions have already undergone pretty extreme permafrost thaw.
But sort of the actions that we take now in terms of our fossil fuel emissions will really have a big difference on how much of the Arctic will thaw and how many of these communities will be impacted, and, you know, how much economic costs there will be.
So it's not an all or nothing situation in the Arctic. It's like recognizing like, yes, we've already bought in for some of these changes that are already happening that are going to happen.
But like, let's act now and act soon to sort of reduce that impact for people in the Arctic and also globally.
Susan, thank you so much for taking this time with me today. Ante Gelo, Town Hill Records]. A child wears a protective face mask during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Peter's an editor with Environmental Health News--that's ehn. Hey there, Peter, what do you have for us this week? We've also gotten an opportunity to watch a twisted cousin of climate denial take hold.
Disease denial, COVID denial, whatever you want to call it, has people out there that view not wearing a mask in defiance of state orders as an act of patriotism.
And in states like my own state, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Texas, states that have reopened their societies too quickly, are now seeing COVID deaths and diagnoses increase,.
And now Just a prudent health measure. But of course the virus doesn't discriminate if you're a Republican or a Democrat. Well, what else do you have for us this week, Peter?
DYKSTRA: Something that was pointed out to me by an article in the online magazine Quartz, oil and gas companies may be set to lose a trillion dollars or more in revenues.
This year, the oil and gas industry, including all of the major oil companies, made 2. This year, it by some estimates may be only a trillion, or maybe a trillion and a half, which gets to be real money.
The oil industry has struggled during the COVID pandemic, particularly due to declining demand for gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.
Contrast that to a company like Apple. Apple's worth about a third of a trillion. They haven't passed the oil and gas industry yet, but the momentum for both is clear.
Oil and gas is slowly dying off and software companies are constantly growing. And at some point, Apple is going to catch up to Exxon Mobil, BP, Texaco, and all the other companies that have driven not only our economy, but our international policies for almost literally the last century.
Well, you're comparing apples to petroleum here, though. I mean, how fair is that? It may be very, very fair in the near future. And it's something we'll be looking for.
The clean energy sector, wind and solar, they've got a much, much longer way to catch up to oil and gas, but the momentum is clear.
The US hadn't even entered World War I yet, but there were attacks along the Jersey shore, specifically by sharks against humans.
And 60 years later, that string of attacks that terrorized, much of the East Coast and certainly New Jersey became the inspiration for Peter Benchley's book, and the movie Jaws, one of the biggest, most successful movies of all time.
They formally ended that practice on June 30, Fast forward to five years later, medical waste started washing up on the beaches of New Jersey that lasted through the summer season.
And it became an impetus to better enforce and strengthen ocean pollution and water pollution laws around the country. A biplane flies over beachgoers on the New Jersey shore.
I mean, that's not that long ago to be dumping medical waste and raw sewage into the ocean off one of the most populated cities in the country.
And if you consider that was when James Hansen really sounded the alarm that the public first heard about climate change.
And, look, we're here 32 years later, and climate denial, along with coronavirus denial, still sits in the White House.
Well, thank you. Peter Dykstra is an editor with Environmental Health News. That's ehn. We'll talk to you again real soon.
Laurenz, Radio Netherlands]. Helping boaters race clean, sail green and protect the seas they love. More information at sailors for the sea dot org.
The females are the ones that bite and thereby spread disease from their saliva. Photo: Courtesy of Oxitec Ltd. BASCOMB: No one likes mosquitoes, the annoying buzzing in our ears, the itchy bites they bring and of course the diseases they can transmit.
In fact, some three quarters of a million people die each year from mosquito borne illnesses, indirectly making the lowly insect responsible for more human deaths than any other animal in the world.
And now researchers with the biotech company Oxitec have come up with a genetically engineered mosquito that they hope will reduce mosquito populations without using ecologically damaging pesticides.
But the approval is controversial and has garnered push back from ethicists and molecular biologists including Natalie Kofler.
Natalie Kofler, welcome to Living on Earth! And the way that they're they've made a genetically modified version of this mosquito is they've introduced a gene into the mosquito that when it makes in the wild, it will pass on a gene to its offspring that causes lethality or death in the female offspring of that mosquito.
In this way, all female mosquitoes from those meetings will die. And over time, as you can imagine, if there aren't females around, the population will collapse.
So the intention is to reduce local mosquito populations. And in doing that be able to then hopefully reduce transmission of the diseases they carry.
Natalie Kofler is the founding director of Editing Nature, a working group on the ethics of genetic modification, as well as an adviser for the Scientific Citizenship Initiative at Harvard Medical School.
Photo: Courtesy of Natalie Kofler. What are they trying to do there and how likely is it to be allowed to move forward? KOFLER: So really what the EPA here is allowing Oxitec to do is release their mosquitoes into the wild and test to see if they are actually able, with their genetically modified mosquitoes, to reduce the population Aedes aegypti in those locations.
But this is really a landmark decision. It's the first time a genetically modified mosquito has been approved for release in the United States.
Oxitec did attempt to do this already in and , in trying to release a previous version of this mosquito. And they actually were eventually rescinded their request, because of public pushback within the communities in Florida, where they were trying to release.
So this is sort of their second attempt of doing this. And it's something that we're watching really, really closely to make sure that this moves forward in a responsible way.
KOFLER: I mean, generally concerns is probably what anyone would sort of be concerned about the idea of a genetically modified organism and being sort of the first test site in the US where that would be released into your into your common environments, right.
There's no way to do these field trials in a contained way. The mosquitoes are literally you know, sent out into the air and fly around and are sent out to mate with other wild mosquitoes.
And so people had a variety of concerns both for their own health as well as for the health of the environment.
Of course, there's concerns at that point of what happens if a genetically modified mosquito were to bite me, you know, is there any risk to me, or an allergenic risk if a GM mosquito were to bite?
This new strategy that they're using is a bit different because only female mosquitoes are able to bite and Oxitec's new version of this mosquito exclusively with releasing males.
So there shouldn't be any risk there if it works as expected. And then, of course, there was also a lot of concerns around potential ecological damage.
You know, what happens when you start collapsing populations in the wild in this way? So there's a lot of uncertainty here. And I think that's really the main sort of underpinning of why people have a lot of concerns.
We just don't know enough yet about how this would work in the wild. BASCOMB: What sorts of rules are in place for testing and oversight before these modified mosquitoes are released into the environment?
KOFLER: Well, so Oxitec you should know has already been releasing these mosquitoes for over a decade, at least certain versions of them, in Brazil and other countries in South America.
So, we would not be the first site where release has occurred. And they have been doing assessment of these mosquitoes to see whether or not for example, they integrate into the wild as they shouldn't, to see if they can see collapse of the populations, they do see collapse of the populations.
However, they have yet to prove any reduction in say Dengue fever transmission in Brazil, where they were doing field trials.
And so, there are some preliminary data that shows that this technology could be effective in reducing mosquito populations.
What we have concerns about is that there isn't necessarily adequate data about around ecosystem impacts, really adequate, stringent studies on potential health impacts and the changes in vector capacity that happens when these mosquitoes are specifically targeted through a genetically modified technology.
And the third concern and a really major one is a lot of the data that's being presented to say the EPA in this case has been accumulated assessed and experiments designed by Oxitec themselves.
So there's very little data coming from third party independent researchers. A capsule of GM Mosquito eggs held by an Oxitec scientist.
The tests in Florida are for release from boxes spread in strategic locations sometimes in human populated areas , and Oxitec is developing egg capsules for more efficient releases.
Continuous release is required to prevent recolonization by the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. I'm concerned that there's not enough interdisciplinary oversight.
You know, these are really complex decisions that are being made. You need to have ecologists, you need to have public health experts, you need to have vector biologists, you need to have ethicists, and geneticists all at the table to make these choices.
And so I also have concern that there isn't even the broad amount of expertise that needs to be there. And of course, it's also concerning when it's a, when it's a for profit company.
And in some ways, they have a lot of vested interest to make sure that they do this well and safely or that, and they, because they could lose a lot of money and they could lose, you know, trust in their product.
But at the same time, it leads to a lot of opacity in this process. And so I think that's concerning as well is that it needs to be more transparent and there's a lot of parts of the EPA submission that the public is generally not allowed to access because it's, you know, under patent protection and things like that.
So there's a really strong justice argument here where those people that live in those environments have the right to the decisions that are being made about release of genetically modified mosquitoes into their communities.
And right now, our regulatory processes do not engage the public even close to the level that they should be to make these choices fairly.
I mean, plenty of birds and bats rely on mosquitoes as part of their diet. And I've heard of some species of orchids that are only pollinated by mosquitoes.
KOFLER: The general belief is that there are you know, in the world there's thousands of different mosquito species and even in these locations where the Aedes aegypti GM mosquito would be trialed, there are other mosquito species present.
So the idea is that you could have other mosquito species fill those voids in a way that may actually in some ways if it could be done safely more environmentally sustainable than sort of doing broad application of pesticide for example, which would kill all mosquitoes and perhaps many other insects as well.
So there's the possibility that if it's done well, it could actually be a more environmentally responsible measure.
Again, this comes back to the situation of just how little we still know. And there's a lot of uncertainty. And I think we need to be understanding the unknown risks, you know, or at least acknowledging the unknown risks of what could happen when you start messing with food networks this way.
And I think the second issue that needs to be really strongly considered, you know, with this appreciation of the intricate link between environmental health and human health, you know, is what happens when you specifically target one vector of a disease is another vector going to step in another mosquito species that may be more difficult to control that might be even more able to spread the disease more easily, and be more virulent.
And these are really major concerns that again, we still don't have have the answers to. Natalie, thank you for taking this time with me today.
He told our producer that the EPA reviewed thousands of pages of data Oxitech submitted to them. EPA is a government agency.
And so they are the primary reviewers of this technology and of any technology that's it calls itself a pesticide or a bio pesticide as this is.
And so EPA scientists that worked on this, included molecular biologists, they included ecologists, they included experts in modeling of what happens to populations.
A study published in May from the National Institutes of Health linked the herbicide dicamba to the increased likelihood of developing one of several kinds of cancer.
In , the Environmental Protection Agency approved the herbicide Dicamba for its use on cotton and soybean plants genetically engineered to survive its application.
But on June 3rd of this year, a federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled that the EPA ignored evidence of risk posed by the chemical and did not have enough evidence to support its approval.
The court banned farmers from spraying Dicamba and companies from selling it. Four organizations filed the petition that led to that decision, including the Center for Biological Diversity.
It hadn't been very popular for a while because it is notoriously drift-prone, and it's also highly volatile. So it doesn't do a very good job at staying where it's supposed to stay.
Typically, if you spray a plant with a herbicide, it kills the plant. And so it hadn't been in very widespread use.
But just a few years ago, Monsanto and some others requested that EPA approve its use for genetically engineered soybeans and cotton that are designed to withstand what would normally be a fatal, over-the-top use of the herbicide.
These are genetically engineered so that you can spray them with the herbicide and they won't die from it. And when it gets to the new location, it kills plants.
It's an herbicide. So it's designed to kill plants. And so that's why it's had so much controversy around it because when it drifts and then volatilizes again, it is killing plants that it's not intended to be coming in contact with.
BURD: So the National Institute of Health put out a study in May finding that the use of Dicamba can increase the risk of developing multiple cancers, including liver cancer, bile duct cancer, acute and chronic leukemia and mantle cell lymphoma.
So this is also not a benign herbicide for humans. BURD: It's been a catastrophic few years, and that was one of the things that the court really highlighted multiple times in this decision.
There were thousands of complaints and farmers are not the complaining type. And so if they're calling their state Departments of Agriculture and saying my non-Dicamba tolerant crops have all been damaged, I've lost my garden, my trees have been killed.
That's really significant. There was a murder over use of Dicamba that the court talked about. A neighbor murdered their neighbor because one neighbor complained about the Dicamba use and the neighbor who they were complaining to killed them.
Dicamba has been especially criticized due to its tendency to spread and damage crops in neighboring fields.
What exactly was the decision that the Environmental Protection Agency made about Dicamba-based pesticides in ?
BURD: So they reapproved the Dicamba formulas for over-the-top use on cotton and soybeans at that time. They had approved it previously and we sued over that first approval also.
And then EPA mooted that first lawsuit, which a decision was pending on by issuing a new decision. Just how much power does the EPA have under this law?
BURD: It gives them an enormous amount of power and discretion. So they asked them to look at you know, what are the benefits?
Growers want a new herbicide product to use for whatever reason, they have weeds. What are the costs? Are there significant environmental costs, social costs economic costs?
So what the court found here is that EPA both ignored information about the harms that Dicamba was causing, and it minimized the harms that it did acknowledge.
And in doing that cost-benefit analysis, the court found that they both discounted the damage that they were hearing about--that they knew about--in their analysis, and they refused to consider a lot of damage that they should have considered.
BURD: So on the economic impacts, what they looked at was harm to neighboring farms and other entities that experienced drift like resorts, home garden growers, people like that.
And they also looked at the anti-competitive impacts of Dicamba, meaning that many growers who did not want to grow the Dicamba-tolerant soybean, were forced to buy the Dicamba-tolerant soybean seeds so that drift from their neighbor's Dicamba use would not kill their soybeans.
This forced them to buy a product they did not want, they shouldn't have needed and they had to spend more money on which was unfair.
Sadly, this was you know, the office that came out of the legacy of Rachel Carson to protect humans and the environment from dangerous chemicals that weren't being properly evaluated.
But they've really taken a turn to being a rubber stamping agency for industry. Even when Dicamba was first proposed for this use, there was broad opposition.
Agricultural experts, professors, agronomists--they all said this is going to be too dangerous. And you know, sometimes it's terrible to be right, and this is one of those instances.
The 9th U. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the EPA had substantially understated the risks that dicamba herbicides pose.
And now if they follow the law, they can't use that as an herbicide to weed their plantings. So what does this really mean for those farmers and their crops, do you think?
This is a crisis manufactured by them.