Tag Archives: natural resources defense council

I’m fighting for you | Letters to the future: The Paris Climate Project

Dear grandchildren, I can only imagine the wonderful world you are growing up in. I think of that world — your future — almost every day. I think about how to make sure it is a place where all your hopes and dreams can come true.

A long time ago, my parents traveled across the world from Korea to the United States in search of a brighter future for me and my sisters.

Today, I am writing you from Paris, a city that I have traveled across the world to get to, in order to make sure the world does the same for you.  I’m fighting for you, for everyone in your generation across the world, to ensure that you have more than a fighting chance at that bright future. A world without the dangers of global climate change is the world that you will inherit.

What is climate change? Never heard of it? I’m so very glad if you haven’t. Let me try to explain. I warn you though, this can be kind of scary. 

When we first started building up our cities, roads and towns in what was called the Industrial Revolution, we burned all sorts of fuels — coal, oil and natural gas. While these things helped us heat our homes, drive our cars, and expand our cities, we didn’t realize that they also clouded our air, dirtied our water, and made us sick. More than that, the burning of all those fuels made our planet sick. All the other animals and plants that we share this world with were getting sick too. The planet became warmer, which created a mixed up chaos of terrible hurricanes, tornadoes, raging wildfires, drought and increased hunger, growing rates of asthma and lung disease and the extinction of animals at an unprecedented rate. 

So my dear grandchildren, we faced a choice: We could keep doing what we had been doing, or we could make the choice to take a stand for our future — your future and the planet’s future — by creating the framework to begin to move away from this scary legacy. 

The wind turbines and solar panels that power your world, electric cars, high-speed trains and solar airplanes weren’t so commonplace in my time. They required a revolution in how we think about energy, about our relationship to the world, about our faith in our own capacity to innovate and change.

What took us so long?

Sigh.

It’s a long story, but like many of the children’s books you grew up with, it was a story of greed, short-sightedness and wizards with too much gold. But against these challenges, sometimes with great bravery, people — young and old from every nation—stood up and demanded that we take the steps to curb this terrible scourge.

I hope you will know this to be true. I hope you will remember that many years ago, your grandma and many others across the world stood up and demanded that we make the world a better place. I hope you know that it was a difficult path, just like my parents so many years ago. And I hope you know we did it thinking of you and the future you now inherit.

Editor’s note: World leaders convene in Paris soon for the critical U.N. climate talks. In fact, December of 2015 may be humanity’s last chance to address the crisis of our time.

Will the nations of the world finally pass a global treaty aimed at reducing the most dangerous impacts of global warming … or will we fail at this most crucial task?

Here and on letterstothefuture.org, find letters from authors, artists, scientists and others, written to future generations of their own families, predicting the success or failure of the Paris talks and what came after. Read these letters and write one of your own. The letters will be sent to targeted delegates and citizens convening at the Paris talks.

Summertime woes worsen with climate change

he Natural Resources Defense Council says climate change will worsen some of the common woes of summertime.

With climate change comes more intensive heat waves and bad air alert days, more insects and poison ivy, more sneezing and wheezing, more foodborne illness and ruined visits to national parks.

“Across America, climate change already is super-charging summer, and with hotter days we’re seeing more risks to our health and happiness,” said Peter Altman, director of NRDC’s Climate Campaign. “We can ease these warm-day woes today, but it would be wrong to doom tomorrow’s families and children to even more heat waves, code red air alerts, disease-carrying ticks, poison ivy rashes, stomach illnesses and degraded national landmarks. That’s not a future they deserve. And that’s why we need to rein in the biggest source of climate pollution, the unrestricted carbon pollution from power plants.”

Heat waves: Temperatures in cities already are higher due to the urban heat island, and rising global temperatures from heat-trapping carbon pollution will make heat waves longer, hotter and more frequent. Eight of the nine warmest years since record-keeping began in 1880 have occurred since 2000. May 2014 was the hottest May ever. And temperatures could be hotter by 4 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.

Today, heat is the leading weather-related killer in the United States. During heat waves, deaths and illness can occur from conditions caused by direct heat exposure (like heat stroke), but extreme heat can also increase hospital admissions or deaths among people with existing health conditions such as cardiovascular, respiratory, or cerebrovascular diseases. Hot nighttime temperatures are especially dangerous to those vulnerable to heat stress.

What should you do?

• Never leave children or pets in unattended parked vehicles on hot days.

• Slow down. Reduce, reschedule or eliminate strenuous activities until the coolest part of the day.

• People with health problems should stay in the coolest place, which may not be indoors. Use shade outdoors, and drink plenty of water.

• Don’t get too much sun; sunburn lowers your body’s ability to dissipate heat.

Bad air alert days: With climate change, days will be hotter and that will amp up ground-level ozone smog pollution and increase the number of “bad air days.” These days, marked by local code red or code orange alerts warning people to curtail outdoor activities are based on daily air monitoring data gathered in the EPA’s Air Quality Index.

Bad air days put many of us at risk for irritated eyes, noses and lungs — but air pollution is particularly dangerous for people with respiratory diseases like asthma. Already about 27 million Americans suffer from asthma, according to the American Lung Association. As the climate changes, unhealthy air pollution will get worse. Here’s how: Ozone smog forms when pollutants from vehicles, factories and other sources react with sunlight and heat. Increasing temperatures speed this process up, resulting in more smog. Added to the mix are ragweed and other allergens in the air—which are expected to worsen as climate change leads to more pollen production. Also, as dry areas get drier, wildfire risks go up and smoke from burning landscapes will further decrease air quality.

And so, those with asthma, allergies and other respiratory diseases will have a harder time in our hotter future.

What should you do?

• On high-smog days, take breaks and do less intense activities.

• Asthma sufferers should follow their asthma action plans and keep their quick relief medicine handy.

• Use the Air Quality Index to learn about local ozone smog conditions, and take precautions on bad air days.

Ticks and mosquitoes: Tick and mosquito bites are not only a nuisance of summertime, they transmit serious diseases. Unfortunately, climate change may create more favorable conditions for the spread of disease-carrying insects.

Warming temperatures and a changing climate are particularly likely to turn some U.S. regions into new suitable habitat for Lyme-carrying ticks. And the EPA just added Lyme disease as a new indicator of climate change.

Mosquito species that can transmit dengue fever typically live in tropical regions, but two species of mosquitoes that are capable of spreading dengue are now found in 28 states.

Scientists have projected that higher temperatures and lower precipitation leads to a higher probability of West Nile virus infections. One study estimates that by 2050, approximately 68 percent of California will face increased risk from West Nile virus due to climate change. West Nile is also projected to spread northward into other previously unaffected areas. A harbinger: in 2012, Maine recorded its first human case of West Nile Virus.

What should you do?

• After spending time outdoors, especially in wooded or grassy areas, check for ticks and remove them with tweezers. If a tick is attached for less than 24 hours, the chance of getting Lyme disease is lessened.

• To avoid insect bites, tuck in your shirt and wear long sleeves, long pants, and socks when spending time outside.

• Eliminate standing water in rain gutters, buckets, plastic covers and other potential breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Empty and change water in bird baths, rain barrels and wading pools.

Poison ivy: Today, about 350,000 cases of poison ivy-induced contact dermatitis are reported each year. This will get worse with climate change because poison ivy grows faster and is more toxic as carbon dioxide pollution increases.

Even now, the plant can be found in forests, roadsides and even backyards in every state except California (although poison oak grows there with similar health impacts), Hawaii and Alaska.

What should you do?

• Wear long pants, long sleeves, boots, and gloves when working outside. If clothing is exposed, wash separately with hot water and detergent

• Do not burn poison ivy, as the smoke can cause severe allergic respiratory problems.

• If you come in contact, immediately and repeatedly rinse skin with dishwashing soap or detergent and water. Oatmeal baths and hydrocortisone cream can reduce itching.

Sneezing and wheezing: Climate change may already be making life miserable for the 30 to 40 million seasonal allergy sufferers nationwide, according to a number of scientific studies conducted over the past several years. Rising carbon dioxide levels and global temperatures are driving the growth of the very plants that make us sneeze and wheeze.

A 2011 study confirmed that ragweed, a major culprit in seasonal allergies, now sheds pollen up to a month longer than it did in 1995 in some parts of North America. In late summer, higher temperatures can worsen ozone smog at the same time ragweed plants produce their allergenic pollen, creating a “double-whammy” for respiratory health.

What should you do?

• Check daily pollen reports and ozone air quality conditions online, particularly on sunny, still, hot days.

• On days when pollen counts or ozone levels are high, minimize outdoor activities and keep windows closed when possible.

• Shower and wash bedding and outdoor clothing to remove pollen that settles on pillows and sheets and vacuum regularly. After outdoor work or play, use a damp cloth to remove pollen from hair and skin—or shower.

Foodborne illness: Salmonella and Campylobacter are two of the most common forms of bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Scientists have shown that hotter summer temperatures are closely associated with the number of Salmonella and Campylobacter infections. These and other diarrheal diseases are more common when temperatures are higher. Climate change also is expected to increase harmful algal blooms in some areas, which may lead to increases in illnesses from seafood consumption. Already, an estimated 10 percent of foodborne disease outbreaks in the United States result from seafood contaminated with algal toxins.

What should you do?

• Keep perishable food refrigerated — don’t leave out food for more than one hour when temperatures are above 90 Fahrenheit.

• Cook poultry, beef and eggs thoroughly. If you are served undercooked meat in a restaurant, don’t hesitate to send it back.

• Pay attention to shellfish warnings and alerts about harmful algal blooms. Cooking does not destroy algal toxins, so avoiding consumption of contaminated seafood is the only method to prevent illness from harmful algal blooms.

Dangerous swimming conditions: Climate change is expected to increase harmful algal blooms and runoff of pollution into beaches and waterways, leading to more unsafe swimming conditions. Harmful algal blooms, including “red tide” and blue-green algae, can cause respiratory symptoms and also irritate the eyes and skin.

Already, the Great Lakes states are seeing an abundance of algae growth causing beaches to be closed to swimming earlier in the year. Climate projections also show that, in the Great Lakes region, the amount of untreated sewage overflowing into waterways could increase significantly in coming decades as combined sewer systems are overwhelmed with rainwater, triggering even more beach closings.

What should you do?

• Check the safety of your local beach before swimming. Take a look at NRDC’s Testing the Waters Guide.

• Do not swim at your local beach for a day or two after heavy rainstorms, especially if your city does not monitor water quality.

Ruined visits to national landmarks and parks: Many of the United States’ iconic national parks, landmarks and heritage sites are at risk from climate change. Sea level rise, coastal erosion, increased flooding, heavy rains, and more frequent wildfires are damaging park land, archaeological resources, historic buildings, and cultural landscapes across the nation, according to research by the Union of Concerned Scientists, which recently provided case studies on 25 impacted sites.

What should you do?

• Send in a statement of support for the EPA’s Clean Power Plan to curb carbon pollution from power plants.

• Support efforts to build climate resiliency and prepare national parks and historic sites for the impacts of climate change.

Supreme Court upholds cross-state air pollution rule

The Supreme Court on April 29 upheld, by a 6-2 vote, the cross-state air pollution rule, described by some environmentalists as one of the most significant health standards ever adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

John Walke, director of the Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, responded: “This is great news for millions of people who suffer from serious health problems caused by the soot and smog-causing pollution from power plants in other states. Implementation of these long overdue protections will prevent thousands of premature deaths and save tens of billions of dollars a year in health costs. The EPA safeguards follow the simple principle that giant utility companies shouldn’t be allowed to dump their dirty emissions onto residents of downwind states. The Supreme Court wisely upheld this common-sense approach.”

The rule would prevent up to 34,000 premature deaths each year and provide up to $280 billion in health and environmental benefits by reducing pollution that crosses state lines.

The EPA finalized the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule in July 2011, requiring 28 states in the East, Midwest and South to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) that cross state lines and worsen air quality in downwind states.

In August 2012, a divided U.S. Court of Appeals panel voted 2-1 to throw out the rule. But in a 44-page dissent, Judge Judith Rogers said the two-judge majority ignored the law and court precedent and instead applied their “own notions of absurdity and logic that are unsupported by a factual record.”

The Supreme Court decision sides with Rogers’ dissent and reinstates the health standards.

Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen said, “The Supreme Court’s decision is welcome news to millions of Americans whose lungs are on the receiving end of badly polluted air. EPA’s 2011 power plant pollution rule is a vital public health protection that will each and every year prevent thousands of premature deaths, and hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and other illnesses. People who live downwind from this deadly pollution have the right to breathe air that doesn’t sicken and kill them. After years of delay, the time is long overdue for this urgently needed safeguard to be allowed to take effect.”

Suit against EPA seeks ban on pesticides in flea treatments

The Natural Resources Defense Council has filed a lawsuit seeking to push the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency  to respond to its petitions and ban two hazardous pesticides used in popular pet flea treatment products.

The EPA has restricted household use of some neurotoxic pesticides due to concerns that the products can harm children’s brains and nervous systems, but it still allows neurotoxic propoxur and tetrachlorvinphos (TCVP) to be used in flea treatments for dogs and cats.

The lawsuit filed this week seeks to force EPA to respond to cancel all pet uses and manufacturer registrations fo the two chemicals.

“These flea collars leave a toxic residue on pets’ fur, exposing children to chemicals which can have harmful effects on their brains, similar to those from lead,” said Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, senior scientist with NRDC’s health program. “Luckily, there are less-toxic alternatives readily available to control fleas. Nearly a decade has passed since NRDC urged EPA to get these toxic chemical collars off store shelves, but the agency continues to drag its feet. After all, EPA decided long ago that nervous system-damaging chemicals shouldn’t be used indoors, so why is it OK to put them on our pets?”

Flea collars are designed to leave pesticide residues on pet fur, exposing people to the chemicals they contain when they play with their pet or touch pet bedding. Once on a child’s skin, the pesticide is absorbed through the skin or it can be ingested when a child puts their hand in their mouth.

Propoxur and TCVP are types of pesticides that are known to be toxic to brain development, nervous system communication and can cause cancer. Children are particularly vulnerable because their smaller bodies are still developing and their activities, such as putting their hands in their mouths after petting animals or playing, increase the likelihood and amount of these pesticides that can enter their bodies, according to the NRDC.

In large doses, these chemicals can also harm or kill dogs, cats and in extreme poisoning cases, even humans.

To protect against exposure to these chemicals, NRDC recommends avoiding flea collars brands that use them, including: Sergeant’s Pet Care Products, Inc., Wellmark International and Hartz Mountain Corporation. NRDC has updated its Green Paws product guide, which encourages consumers and pet owners to use safer methods of pet flea control.

NRDC’s Green Paws guide also ranks more than 125 flea and tick products based on ingredients, categorizing them by the level of their potential health threat to people and animals.

Conservationists warn of monarch butterfly decline

Conservation experts this week announced that a record low number of monarch butterflies returned this year to wintering grounds in the mountains of Mexico and their annual migration is at “serious risk of disappearing.”

Monarchs, which migrate from Mexico across North America and back every year, have been in serious decline since the 1990s.

Experts believe the widespread use of glyphosate weed killer, sold as Round-Up, in connection with genetically engineered glyphosate-resistant corn and soybeans, may be destroying once-widespread milkweed, which monarchs rely on exclusively for reproduction.

“This news raises a disturbing question that can no longer be ignored: Are our actions causing the rapidly dwindling population of monarchs?” said Peter Lehner, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We must urgently review the widespread use of glyphosate, which may be wiping out milkweed plants, essential for the Monarchs’ survival. It would be heartbreaking if we inadvertently destroyed in just a few years the millennia-old miracle of the Monarchs’ unique migration.”

The NRDC said Mexico estimated the winter population of monarchs at 33.5 million individuals. The estimate is a huge drop from a high of 1 billion in 1997 and down from a long-term average of 350 million over the last 15 years.

The decline also also epresents the ninth consecutive yearly measurement below the long-term average, according to the nonprofit enviromental group.

Report: FDA allowed harmful antibiotics in farm animals

The Food and Drug Administration allowed 30 potentially harmful antibiotics, including 18 rated as “high risk,” to remain on the market as additives in farm animal feed and water, according to records obtained by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The data, released on Jan. 28, show the use of the drugs in livestock likely exposes humans to antibiotic resistant bacteria through the food supply, the NRDC said. The FDA’s reviews of the antibiotics occurred between 2001 and 2010, yet the drugs remain approved and, in many cases, on the market for use in industrial animal agriculture operations.

“Drugmakers never proved safety. And FDA continues to knowingly allow the use of drugs in animal feed that likely pose a ‘high risk’ to human health,” said Carmen Cordova, NRDC microbiologist and lead author of the new NRDC analysis. “That’s a breach of their responsibility and the public trust.”

Cordova added, “This discovery is disturbing but not surprising given FDA’s poor track record on dealing with this issue. It’s just more overwhelming evidence that FDA — in the face of a mounting antibiotic resistance health crisis — is turning a blind eye to industry’s misuse of these miracle drugs.”

The NRDC report, “Playing Chicken with Antibiotics,” shows safety reviews of various drugs in the penicillin and tetracycline drug classes — antibiotics considered important to human medicine, which together comprise nearly half of all antibiotics used in animal agriculture in the United States.

NRDC, in the report, said FDA papers obtained through freedom of information requests, show:

• None of the 30 antibiotics would likely be approved as new additives for livestock use if submitted under current FDA guidelines, because drugmakers have not submitted sufficient information to establish their safety.

• 18 of the 30 antibiotic feed additives reviewed were deemed to pose a “high risk” of exposing humans to antibiotic resistant bacteria through the food supply and of adversely affecting human health.

• Drug manufacturers never submitted sufficient information for the remaining 12 products to establish safety, meaning there is no proof of their safety for humans when used in animal feed and the products could not be approved today.

• 29 of the reviewed additives fail to satisfy FDA’s first iteration of safety requirements from 1973.

A large body of scientific work on bacterial cross- and co-resistance has established that the misuse of one antibiotic can lead to bacterial resistance to other antibiotics.

According to the NRDC, the 30 penicillin- and tetracycline-based animal feed additives could reduce the effectiveness of a range of other medically important antibiotics that are solely used to treat people.

FDA first recognized the risks from the use of antibiotics in animal feed in 1977 when it proposed to withdraw approvals for animal feed containing penicillin and most tetracyclines. NRDC won a lawsuit against the FDA for failing to follow through and address the threat posed by the misuse of penicillin and tetracyclines in the livestock industry.

The FDA appealed, and a decision is pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York.