Time to ban horsemeat trade in all of North America, as investigation in Mexico uncovers horse sold as beef

Horses in the United States are raised as companions and partners in work and sport, and not as food animals. Above, rescued horses at the Duchess Sanctuary. Photo by Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

Mexico is forging ahead on animal protection. Earlier this year, its Congress made dogfighting a felony throughout the nation. Mexico City adopted an extraordinary charter on animal protection. A number of major food retailers in Mexico have said they will change their purchasing practices to stop buying eggs and pork from operations that confine hens . . . 

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Everything you need to know about climate tipping points

By Casey Ivanovich

(This post was co-authored by EDF Climate Scientist Ilissa Ocko)

Imagine cutting down a tree. Initially, you chop and chop … but not much seems to change. Then suddenly, one stroke of the hatchet frees the trunk from its base and the once distant leaves come crashing down.

It’s an apt metaphor for one of the most alarming aspects of climate change – the existence of “tipping elements.”

These elements are components of the climate that may pass a critical threshold, or “tipping point,” after which a tiny change can completely alter the state of the system. Moving past tipping points may incite catastrophes ranging from widespread drought to overwhelming sea level rise.

Which elements’ critical thresholds should we worry about passing thanks to human-induced climate change?

You can see the answer on this graphic – and find more information below.

The most immediate and most worrisome threats

  • Disappearance of Arctic Summer Sea Ice – As the Arctic warms, sea ice melts and exposes dark ocean waters that reflect sunlight much less efficiently. This decreased reflectivity causes a reinforcement of Arctic warming, meaning that the transition to a sea-ice free state can occur on the rapid scale of a few decades. Some scientists have suggested that we have already passed this tipping point, predicting that Arctic summers will be ice-free before mid-century.
  • Melting of the Greenland Ice SheetThe Arctic warming feedback described above may one day render Greenland ice-free. Research predicts that the tipping point for complete melt can occur at a global temperature rise of less than two degrees Celsius – a threshold that may be surpassed by the end of this century. While the full transition to an ice-free Greenland will take at least a few hundred years, its impacts include global sea level rise of up to 20 feet.
  • Disintegration of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet – The bottom of this ice sheet lies beneath sea level, allowing warming ocean waters to slowly eat away at the ice. There is evidence that this tipping point has already been surpassed – possibly as early as 2014. Like the Greenland Ice Sheet, full collapse would require multiple centuries, but it could result in sea level rise of up to 16 feet.
  • Collapse of Coral ReefsHealthy corals maintain a symbiotic relationship with the algae that provide their primary food source. As oceans warm and become more acidic, these algae are expelled from the corals in an often fatal process called coral bleaching. Research predicts that most of our remaining coral systems will collapse even before a global temperature rise of two degrees Celsius.

Tipping points in the distant future

  • Disruption of Ocean Circulation Patterns – The Thermohaline Circulation is driven by heavy saltwater sinking in the North Atlantic, but this water is becoming fresher and lighter as glaciers melt in a warming climate. The change in water density may prevent sinking and result in a permanent shutdown of the circulation. Research suggests that weakening of the Thermohaline Circulation is already in progress, but that an abrupt shutdown is unlikely to occur in this century. Some models suggest that these changes may prompt a secondary tipping element in which the subpolar gyre currently located in the Labrador Sea shuts off. Such a change would dramatically increase sea level, especially on the eastern coast of the United States.
  • Release of Marine Methane HydratesLarge reservoirs of methane located on the ocean floor are stable thanks to their current high pressure-low temperature environment. Warming ocean temperatures threaten the stability of these greenhouse gas reservoirs, but the necessary heat transfer would require at least a thousand years to reach sufficient depth, and may be further delayed by developing sea level rise.
  • Ocean AnoxiaIf enough phosphorous is released into the oceans – from sources including fertilizers and warming-induced weathering, or the breakdown of rocks –regions of the ocean could become depleted in oxygen. However, this process could require thousands of years to develop.

Potentially disastrous elements, but with considerable uncertainty

  • Dieback of the Amazon Rainforest Deforestation, lengthening of the dry season, and increased summer temperatures each place stress on rainfall in the Amazon. Should predictions that at least half of the Amazon Rainforest convert to savannah and grasslands materialize, a considerable loss in biodiversity could result. However, the dieback of the Amazon Rainforest ultimately depends on regional land-use management, and on how El Niño will influence future precipitation patterns.
  • Dieback of Boreal Forests – Increased water and heat stress could also lead to a decrease in boreal forest cover by up to half of its current size. Dieback of boreal forests would involve a gradual conversion to open woodlands or grasslands, but complex interactions between tree physiology, permafrost melt, and forest fires renders the likelihood of dieback uncertain.
  • Weakening of the Marine Carbon Pump – One mechanism through which oceanic carbon sequestration takes place is the marine carbon pump, which describes organisms’ consumption of carbon dioxide through biological processes such as photosynthesis or shell building. As ocean temperatures rise, acidification progresses, and oxygen continues to be depleted, these natural systems could be threatened and render the carbon sequestration process less efficient. More research is necessary in order to quantify the timescale and magnitude of these effects.

Tipping elements complicated by competing factors

  • Greening of the Sahara/Sahel As sea surface temperatures rise in the Northern Hemisphere, rainfall is projected to increase over the Sahara and Sahel. This increased rainfall would serve to expand grassland cover in the region, but is balanced by the cooling effect of human-emitted aerosols in the atmosphere.
  • Chaotic Indian Summer MonsoonThe fate of the Indian Summer Monsoon similarly depends upon a balance of greenhouse gas warming and aerosol cooling, which strengthen and weaken the monsoon, respectively. On the timescale of a year, there is potential for the monsoon to adopt dramatic active and weak phases, the latter resulting in extensive drought.

More research necessary to establish as tipping elements

  • Collapse of Deep Antarctic Ocean CirculationAs in the case of the Thermohaline Circulation, freshening of surface waters in the Southern Ocean due to ice melt may slowly alter deep water convection patterns. However, the gradual warming of the deep ocean encourages this convection to continue.
  • Appearance of Arctic Ozone HoleUnique clouds that form only in extremely cold conditions currently hover over Antarctica, serving as a surface for certain chemical reactions and facilitating the existence of the ozone hole. As climate change continues to cool the stratosphere, these “ice clouds” could begin formation in the Arctic and allow the development of an Arctic ozone hole within a year.
  • Aridification of Southwest North America As global temperatures rise, consequential changes in humidity prompt the expansion of subtropical dry zones and reductions in regional runoff. Models predict that Southwest North America will be particularly affected, as moisture shifts away from the southwest and into the upper Great Plains.
  • Slowdown of the Jet Stream A narrow and fast moving air current called a jet stream flows across the mid-latitudes of the northern hemisphere. This current separates cold Arctic air from the warmer air of the south and consequentially influences weather in its formation of high and low pressure systems. A slowing of the jet stream has been observed over recent years. Should slowing intensify, weather patterns could persist over several weeks with the potential to develop into extended extreme weather conditions.
  • Melting of the Himalayan Glaciers – Several warming feedbacks render the Himalayan glaciers vulnerable to dramatic melt within this century, though limitations on data availability complicate further study. Dust accumulation on the mountainous glaciers and the continual melt of snow and ice within the region both prompt a decrease in sunlight reflectivity and amplify regional warming.

Gradual, continuous changes

  • More Permanent El Nino State90 percent of the extra heat trapped on Earth’s surface by greenhouse gases is absorbed by the oceans. Though still under debate, the most likely consequence of this oceanic heat uptake is a gradual transition to more intense and permanent El Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) conditions, with implications including extensive drought throughout Southeast Asia and beyond.
  • Permafrost MeltingAs global temperatures rise and the high latitudes experience amplified warming, melting permafrost gradually releases carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere and creates a feedback for even more warming.
  • Tundra Transition to Boreal Forest – Much like the conversion of the Amazon Rainforest and boreal forests to other biomes, tundra environments may transition into forests as temperatures increase. However, this process is more long-term and continuous.

With a range of critical thresholds on the horizon, each tipping element demonstrates the potential implications of allowing climate change to progress unchecked.

As tipping points loom ever closer, the urgency for emissions mitigation escalates in hopes of sustaining the Earth as we know it.

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How Regenerative Food and Farming Can Reverse Rural Poverty and Forced Migration in the Americas

One of the most politically charged debates today, especially in the U.S. and Europe, is the so-called “immigration crisis.” There are approximately 250 million (3 percent of the world’s 7.6 billion people) migrants in the world today. About 20 percent, or 47 million of those, live in the U.S. Another 35 million live in Europe.

At the recent regional Summit on Migration and Repatriation in Quetzaltenango (Xela), Guatemala, October 20-21, a new and promising solution to the global “immigration crisis” emerged: the creation of local, grassroots-powered economic development projects based on regenerative food, farming and land-use practices.

Regenerative food and farming is the new gold standard for climate and environmentally friendly agriculture and land use across the world. An increasing number of food and farming leaders have described regenerative agriculture as the “next stage” of organic food and farming.

A growing number of regenerative farms and ranches worldwide are demonstrating how farmers and herders can restore soil health, improve food nutrition and increase yields, while at the same time strengthening local food systems and traditional practices (such as seed saving and small-scale animal husbandry), empowering women and youth, and restoring or enhancing community food security.

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HSI and partners launch campaign to end Indonesia’s cruel dog meat trade

The dogs, including some pets, are snatched from the streets, their muzzles tied tight with strings, after which they are stuffed into small sacks and packed into trucks, barely able to move or breathe. Photo by Dog Meat-Free Indonesia

The images in the video are the kind that tear more than tug at the hearts of dog lovers. Animals are snatched from the streets (including owned pets), their muzzles tied tight with strings, after which they are stuffed into small sacks and packed into trucks like vegetables or wine bottles, barely able to move . . . 

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New initiative in Congress takes aim at staged animal fighting in every corner of the U.S.

Animal fighting is the most widely criminalized form of animal cruelty in the United States, but ambiguities in the federal law have provided an opening for cockfighters to claim that it’s okay for this kind of staged cruelty to occur in U.S. territories. No longer if the PACE Act passes. Photo by Meredith Lee/The HSUS

When Hurricane Maria scoured the landscape of Puerto Rico, it killed people. It flattened and swallowed structures. It cut off power and left people in the dark and without refrigeration or air conditioning. It killed a lot of animals. We know, because our teams were there after the storm hit, providing humanitarian assistance and animal . . . 

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Large gas buyers set environmental performance indicators for how gas is produced

By Mark Brownstein

Co-authored by Beth Trask

Utilities who deliver gas to homes and businesses, and/or generate electricity from gas, are important stakeholders along the natural gas supply chain. They are the face of natural gas to their customers; and, thus, they need to know that the gas they sell is being produced in the most responsible and transparent way possible—one in which the impacts to the air, water, and communities are minimized.

This week, some of the nation’s largest gas buyers joined forces in a new voluntary coalition, the Natural Gas Supply Collaborative (NGSC). Together, they released a set of 14 performance indicators—spanning air, water, chemicals and community/worker safety—that they’d like to see natural gas companies report on publically on an annual basis.

Developed in consultation with environmental NGOs, including EDF, and with input from a handful of gas company representatives, these indicators are positive step toward a more transparent gas supply chain in which buyers and sellers can have informed dialogue about how gas is being produced.

We encourage more large gas buyers to join the coalition and get involved in this conversation.

Customers are watching

There are nine participants in the NGSC, including Austin Energy, NRG Energy, and Pacific Gas and Electric Company. Combined, these nine companies deliver enough natural gas to meet the needs of more than 36 million households and business customers. They supply enough electricity from natural gas to power over 17 million U.S. homes annually.

Thus these large gas buyers and others like them have influence in the marketplace. And when they enter into contracts with oil and gas companies, they have an obligation to discuss how air and water pollution is being minimized and how the well-being of communities and workers is being protected.

As with all supply chain management work, these conversations begin with transparency—the foundation for the NGSC’s 14 indicators.

Better reporting on methane

About one-quarter of the warming we experience today is caused by methane from human activities, and the oil and gas industry is one of the largest human-caused methane sources on the planet.

Recent data from the International Energy Agency shows that at least 75% of global oil and gas methane emissions can be cut cost-effectively with existing technology.

The NGSC performance indicators prioritize the importance of methane emission reduction to a producer’s social license to operate. They suggest that companies disclose their methane emissions, in total and by intensity. Suggested remediation techniques include developing leak detection and repair (LDAR) practices and schedules; developing methane reduction goals; reducing flaring and venting practices; and participating in the field testing of new technologies designed to detect leaks.

Leading practices on wastewater management

The report also shines a spotlight on aspects of production relating to water, chemical use, community, and safety that would benefit from enhanced transparency and action. Of particular note are a number of performance measures related to water and wastewater management. Wastewater, or “produced water,” in particular can pose serious risks to water and land resources surrounding operations if spills and leaks occur, and even if wastewater is treated onsite and intentionally released to nearby waterways or fields without proper controls. This is due to not only the high salinity of wastewater, but also hundreds of potentially toxic pollutants that may be present.

NGSC calls for gas companies to report on the number and volume of wastewater spills each year and to disclose their strategies for managing and ultimately disposing of wastewater. Significantly, the report notes that the emerging practice of reusing wastewater in novel ways—for example selling wastewater to farmers to irrigate crops—is a concern. Before embarking on wastewater reuse, producers should participate in research to better understand the environmental and public health risks.

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Pruitt takes steps to remove science from decisions affecting the health of American families

By Sarah Vogel

Today EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced additions to the Agency’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) and the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC). Taken in conjunction with the drastic policy shift also announced today, Pruitt is set to fundamentally undercut the role science in driving EPA decisions that directly affect the health and safety of American families and communities.

The new policy would exclude any scientist receiving an EPA grant from serving on any of the agency’s advisory panels. This creates a profound hypocrisy: under the policy scientists who take money from ExxonMobil or even Russia—since funding from other governments wouldn’t be disqualifying—Pruitt would regard as trusted to offer impartial advice. Meanwhile, those who have grants from the US environmental agency – whose research program was praised by the National Academy of Sciences in a report just this past summer – cannot.

In Pruitt’s Alice-in-Wonderland world, the EPA advisory panels intended to ensure the agency is making use of the best and latest science should be populated overwhelmingly by industry-affiliated scientists, at the expense of independent academic scientists.

Along with the policy, Pruitt’s new appointments to the SAB and CASAC (see below) include longtime fossil fuel and chemical industry advocates, who have consistently played down or outright dismissed concerns about the risks of pollution or toxic chemical exposures based on discredited and outrageous scientific claims. Although the SAB is supposed to “provide independent advice and peer review on the scientific and technical aspects of environmental issues to the EPA’s Administrator,” these additions cannot be relied upon to faithfully uphold the Board’s mission.

Meanwhile, Pruitt also took the unprecedented step of not renewing any appointments for members whose terms expire this year. This allows Pruitt to reshape the panel in his own image more quickly.

All told, the goal is as clear as it is concerning: to create a rubber-stamp set of scientific advisers that can distort the science while still lending an aura of credibility to Pruitt’s destructive actions at the Agency.

The real losers are not the researchers, but rather American families who depend on having an agency that actually works to protect their health.

Meet some of Mr. Pruitt’s new science advisers

Texas official with a long record of downplaying health concerns about pollutants and toxic chemicals ranging from ozone to benzene. Honeycutt argued against stronger ozone standards by noting most people spend their days indoors. He also claimed that “some studies even suggest that PM [particulate matter] makes you live longer.”

  • Dr. Tony Cox (Named to chair the CASAC)

Denver-based consultant with long track record of conducting research that disputes the public health benefits of reducing air pollution. Cox has stated that there is “no evidence that reductions in air pollution levels have caused any reductions in mortality rates.”

Record of disputing the benefits of clean air and air pollution limits; said that “Modern air … is a little too clean for optimum health.”

Professor at NC State affiliated with the climate-denying Heartland Institute, who claims that the “evidence is overwhelming” that if temperatures do increase, it will be “better for humans.”

Former Secretary of North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ), who questions the well-established scientific consensus of climate change and, had a controversial tenure at the agency, notably over health advisories to well owners whose water might have been contaminated by coal ash.

Smith is a Managing Director of NERA Economic Consulting and co-head of its environmental practice. In work funded by the fossil fuel industry trade group the American Petroleum Institute, Smith argued that EPA data on lung response to ozone is imprecise, roundly debunked by policy experts and independent fact-checkers.

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