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A travel writer contemplates a less mobile future

Henry Wismayer, THE WASHINGTON POST

…the coronavirus shutdowns have reinforced an uncomfortable truth: The way we engage with the wider world has needed to change for a long time.

A future without travel? Until recently, I admit, it’s not a concept I’ve been able to imagine, much less embrace. Ever since I turned 18, I have shaped my life, and scratched a writer’s living, around the pursuit of foreign places. In that time, the weeks that I spend overseas have often seemed like a prerequisite of contentment: a source of not only stimulation, but also self-actualization.

That is how vital travel can feel to those of us who let it. In an era in which spirituality has in many ways been supplanted by a quest for temporal experience, to venture abroad is to accumulate evidence that we are making the best of our short time on Earth. Bask in the afterglow of the last adventure. Count down to the next.

At least that’s how it used to be.

For the last few months, the borders have closed, and the skies have emptied. The cruise ships have all docked, the hotels have shuttered. Suddenly, those of us who love to travel have found ourselves living in a strange limbo, lavished with a surfeit of time, yet deprived of the liberty to take full advantage of it.

In the months since the coronavirus outbreak pushed much of the global population into quarantine, many of us have sought distraction, even enchantment, in photographs of the newly empty human world. Among these, tourist attractions can seem among the most poignant and uncanny, for it is rare that we get to see these places without the throngs of visitors that usually populate them. It is interesting to consider what our response to these images suggests about travel today.

Of course, there is longing. The sight of famous destinations, absent crowds and traffic, evoke a Sartre-like ideal — travel, without the hell of other people — that only accentuates their enticement. But alongside this desire, for me at least, there is also melancholy, for it is impossible to witness the serenity of the paused planet without feeling a tinge of regret for what travel has become. In the same way that some of us have found a misanthropic thrill in apocryphal tales of dolphins swimming up a Venice canal, or satellite images of pollution dissipating over China, the coronavirus shutdowns have reinforced an uncomfortable truth: The way we engage with the wider world has needed to change for a long time.

Recently, I marked 10 years of travel writing feeling uneasy about the state of modern tourism. In part, my idea of foreign places had become infected by the unavoidable backdrop of an angrier, destabilizing world. And while millions still jumped on planes for leisure, I couldn’t shake the creeping sense that so much of what we call travel is extractive, the commodification of someone else’s sunshine, culture and photogenic views. In my most cynical moments, I had started to see travel as something monstrous, a vector of humanity’s infestation that has evolved out of all proportion with what the planet can sustain.

Last summer, I looked on, aghast and complicit, as the world’s most celebrated sights and cities were inundated like never before. Regions once off-limits to all but the most intrepid now teemed with rubberneckers from every corner of the world. Those tourists brought with them a litany of collateral issues, from environmental damage and consumer price inflation to cultural insensitivity and urban displacement. Lines snaked beneath the summit of Mount Everest. Behemoth cruise ships jostled for space at the Venice quayside.
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Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , , ,

Environmentalists protest new gas stations in Sonoma County

Tyler Silvy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A group of Sonoma County residents on Thursday continued their campaign against new gas stations, gathering at Highway 12 and Llano Road to protest a proposed development at the busy intersection. The group has pointed to a variety of problems with the proposal to build a gas station, RV storage park and car wash, including zoning issues. But the Coalition Opposing New Gas Stations, led by Woody Hastings, a longtime Sonoma County environmentalist, centers its objections on opposition to any new fossil fuel infrastructure.

“Building new fossil fuel infrastructure during a climate crisis is inappropriate and contrary to the county’s policies on climate change, including the climate emergency resolution approved in September 2019,” Hastings said in a news release this week.

The CONGAS group previously protested the expansion of an existing 7-Eleven at Highway 12 and Middle Rincon Road.

Source: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/11039816-181/environmentalists-protest-new-gas-stations?sba=AAS

Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , , , , ,

Salmonid counts below replacement level in Eel River, CDFW announces

Lana Cohen, THE MENDOCINO VOICE

Many elements have contributed to the decline of these fish species, including warmer and lower water, sediment flowing into the river, invasive species, and dams as factors that have had the most devastating impact.

In order for the Chinook and steelhead, whose populations are plummeting up and down the West Coast, to rebound in the Eel River, there should be at least 26,400 fish returning from the ocean to the Eel to spawn annually, according to the State of Salmon, a salmon information sharing venue run by The Nature Conservancy.

Although the Eels fish population was larger this year than last, Fish and Wildlife’s June 1 report shows that the population fell far below the margin for species recovery. Only 8,263 made the journey, they wrote.

Due to the dwindling population of fish, Fish and Wildlife has set a two fish limit per day for recreational salmon fishing. More details can be found at the Fish and Wildlife’s Ocean Salmon Sport Regulations page.

Read more at https://mendovoice.com/2020/06/salmonid-counts-below-replacement-level-in-eel-river-cdfw-announces/

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, HabitatsTags , ,

Courts rein in fossil fuel agenda

ASSOCIATED PRESS

U.S. officials ignored potential ecological damage, judges rule.

Federal courts have delivered a string of rebukes to the Trump administration over what they found were failures to protect the environment and address climate change as it promotes fossil fuel interests and the extraction of natural resources from public lands.

Judges have ruled administration officials ignored or downplayed potential environmental damage in lawsuits over oil and gas leases, coal mining and pipelines to transport fuels across the U.S., according to an Associated Press review of more than a dozen major environmental cases.

The latest ruling against the administration came Thursday when an appeals court refused to revive a permitting program for oil and gas pipelines that a lower court had canceled.

Actions taken by the courts have ranged from orders for more environmental analysis to the unprecedented cancellation of oil and gas leases across hundreds of thousands of acres in Western states.

“Many of the decisions the Trump administration has been making are arguably illegal and in some cases blatantly so,” said Mark Squillace, associate dean at the University of Colorado Law School and a specialist in natural resources law. “They’ve lost a lot of cases.”
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Posted on Categories Air, Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable LivingTags , , ,

Global emissions plunged an unprecedented 17 percent during the coronavirus pandemic

Chris Mooney, Brady Dennis and John Muyskens, WASHINGTON POST

But scientists say the drivers of global warming could quickly bounce back as social distancing ends and economies rebound.

The wave of shutdowns and shuttered economies caused by the coronavirus pandemic fueled a momentous decline in global greenhouse gas emissions, although one unlikely to last, a group of scientists reported Tuesday.

As covid-19 infections surged in March and April, nations worldwide experienced an abrupt reduction in driving, flying and industrial output, leading to a startling decline of more than 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions. That includes a peak decline in daily emissions of 17 percent in early April, according to the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change. For some nations, the drop was much steeper.

Scientists have long insisted that the world must scale back carbon pollution significantly — and quickly — to mitigate the worst effects of climate change over coming decades, although none have suggested that a deadly global pandemic is the way to do so.

Tuesday’s study projects that total emissions for 2020 will probably fall between 4 and 7 percent compared to last year — an unheard-of drop in normal times, but considerably less dramatic than the decline during the first few months of the year when economies screeched to a halt. The final 2020 figure will depend on how rapidly, or cautiously, people around the world resume ordinary life.

The unprecedented situation produced by the coronavirus has offered a glimpse into the massive scale required to cut global emissions, year after year, to meet the most ambitious goals set by world leaders when they forged the 2015 Paris climate accord. Last fall, a U.N. report estimated that global greenhouse gas emissions must begin falling by 7.6 percent each year beginning in 2020 to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Read more at https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2020/05/19/greenhouse-emissions-coronavirus/?arc404=true

Posted on Categories Air, Climate Change & Energy, WaterTags , , , ,

‘Ozone friendly’ chemicals are polluting the environment

Jordan Davidson, ECOWATCH

The Montreal Protocol of 1987 committed nations around the world to stop using the chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) that created a hole in the ozone layer. While it stands as one of the most effective environmental commitments the globe has seen, new research shows the side effects have been costly as chemicals dangerous to human health build up in the environment, as the BBC reported.

New research published in the journal Geographical Research Letters analyzed Arctic ice and found an unintended consequence of the Montreal Protocol. The compounds that replaced CFCs have been transported and transformed in the atmosphere, depositing far from their sources. The new generation of chemicals that replaced Freon, but are used in refrigerators, air conditioners and new cars have been accumulating since 1990.

“Our results suggest that global regulation and replacement of other environmentally harmful chemicals contributed to the increase of these compounds in the Arctic, illustrating that regulations can have important unanticipated consequences,” said Cora Young, a professor at York University in Canada, and an author of the paper, in a York University statement.

Scientists first discovered ozone depletion in the 1970s when they detailed the deterioration of the stratospheric ozone layer around the earth’s poles. As the hole over Antarctica opened and expanded, scientists found that the depletion of ozone was responsible for a greater intensity of ultraviolet radiation from the sun, causing an increase in the prevalence of skin cancer, eye cataract disease and other harmful effects on humans, as Courthouse News reported.

Scientists were soon able to pinpoint manufactured chemicals used in air conditioners and refrigerators, as well as solvents, propellants and chemical agents found in foam as the cause of the depleted ozone layer.

Now pollution from the chemicals that were created to replace the CFCs, known as short chain perfluoroalkyl carboxylic acids (scPFCAs), has proliferated around the world. The replacement chemicals are a class of PFAS, or forever chemicals, that have polluted waterways and made groundwater in certain areas toxic to drink.

Read more at https://www.ecowatch.com/ozone-friendly-chemicals-air-pollution-2646006974.html

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, HabitatsTags , , ,

Governor’s May revision to California budget proposal puts air quality, other environmental outcomes at risk

Kathryn Phillips, SIERRA CLUB CALIFORNIA

Governor Gavin Newsom released his May revision of his January budget proposal today and environmental quality is among the revised budget’s most hard-hit victims.

Since January, the state has suffered a dramatic shutdown in economic activity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The current budget estimate by the Department of Finance continues to be that the state will suffer a $54.3 billion deficit.

In his May revision, the governor proposes cutting general fund contributions to the California Environmental Protection Agency by more than 94 percent. That agency houses departments and boards that oversee air pollution control, water quality, and pesticide and toxic substance control.

Moreover, about $83 million in funds collected by the California Air Resources Board from fees and settlements from polluters will be shifted over to the Department of Toxic Substance Control and the State Water Board “to reduce costs” for those two entities.

The May budget proposal also eliminates a biodiversity program proposed in January, and raids a fund for habitat conservation to spend the money for other purposes.

The proposal mentions that $995 million in funds from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Funds collected through the cap-and-trade program will be prioritized for a list of programs. It is unclear whether those programs will include funding for incentives to accelerate transition of diesel and gas buses and heavy-duty trucks to zero-emission electric trucks and buses.

Statement of Kathryn Phillips, Director of Sierra Club California:

“Nobody envies this governor or legislature for the job they need to do in this tragic year to balance the state’s budget.

“But cutting and shifting funds away from key environmental programs that will protect the basic needs of life—clean air, clean water, healthy ecosystems—is the wrong approach.

“We look forward to working with the legislature to refine this budget to make sure it doesn’t slow the march toward a healthy environment for everyone in California.”

http://www.sierraclubcalifornia.org

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Local coalition advances plan to remove Scott Dam on the Eel River, acquire Potter Valley Project from PG&E

Ryan Burns, LOST COAST OUPOST

n a major development for both water rights and the environment on the North Coast, an unlikely coalition of five regional entities today filed a plan with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to take over the Potter Valley Project, a hydroelectric facility that diverts water from the Eel River.

For Humboldt County residents in particular, the plan is significant because it calls for the removal of Scott Dam, a 98-year old hydroelectric wall that has had major detrimental impacts to native migratory fish populations, including salmon and steelhead.

The five entities in the coalition known as the Two-Basin Partnership include the County of Humboldt, the Mendocino County Inland Water & Power Commission, the Round Valley Indian Tribes, California Trout and the Sonoma County Water Agency.

These groups have distinct and sometimes conflicting objectives for the water that’s at stake, with environmental interests clamoring for fisheries restoration while agricultural users in the Potter Valley and water agencies in the Russian River basin have their own uses in mind. Agricultural interests in the Potter Valley and upper Russian River basin want the water to irrigate their crops, primarily vineyards. Sonoma and Mendocino water agencies want it to supply their customers and meet their contract obligations.

“The glue that has held this two-basin solution together is that everybody has a heck of a lot to risk here,” Congressman Jared Huffman told the Outpost this morning. “Nobody has a slam dunk on what they want.”
Continue reading “Local coalition advances plan to remove Scott Dam on the Eel River, acquire Potter Valley Project from PG&E”

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Habitats, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , ,

Scott Dam slated for removal in plan by Sonoma County and partners to control hydropower project

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Enviro Updates: From the Eel River Action Plan 2016, by California Trout: “The Eel River is the third largest river entirely in California.The Eel River ecosystem, its salmon and steelhead populations, and other native fish and wildlife populations have been in decline for the past century and a half. It has been transformed from one of the most productive river ecosystems along the Pacific Coast to a degraded river with heavily impaired salmonid populations.”

A nearly century-old dam on the Eel River that impounds Lake Pillsbury is slated for removal under a $500 million proposal helmed by Sonoma County and four other regional partners seeking to take over from PG&E a remote but pivotal hydropower project in Mendocino County.

The coalition, including Mendocino and Humboldt counties, hailed the proposal as a milestone in their effort to meet the needs of all three counties, protecting water supplies for farmers, fish and communities, including a key source of supplemental water for the Russian River system that serves 600,000  customers in Sonoma and Marin counties.

The dam removal alone, a long-sought goal of environmental groups and fish advocates, would be the highest-profile project to improve habitat for imperiled North Coast salmon and steelhead in decades, perhaps behind only the dam removals planned on the Klamath River within the next two years.

“The good news is that Scott Dam is coming out,” said Scott Greacen, conservation director for Friends of the Eel River, a nonprofit that for decades has been pursuing removal to open up more than 300 miles of spawning habitat in the upper Eel. Due mainly to dams, water diversion and other development, the river’s salmon and steelhead “have paid a devastating price, going from a million fish a year to the brink of extinction,” he said.

The proposal, submitted Wednesday to federal officials, has also stirred passions among those dismayed by the prospective loss of a 2,300-acre recreational lake deep in the Lake County portion of Mendocino National Forest. Santa Rosa residents George and Carol Cinquini, who have held a cabin at Lake Pillsbury since the 1940s, are annoyed that the 450 homeowners, ranchers and small business owners in the lake community were excluded from the planning process.

“We tried to get our foot in the door,” said Carol Cinquini, vice president of the Lake Pillsbury Alliance, which was formed last year.

“We’re very upset,” said George Cinquini, an alliance board member. The reservoir, about two hours from Santa Rosa is a haven for water sports, and without it, Cinquini warned, Russian River flows will be diminished in dry years.

But North Coast Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, who brought local shareholders together to chart the project’s future, said the proposal is the only way to guarantee a “really important water resource” for the Russian River.

The 98-year-old dam has long outlived its purpose, he said, and the coalition project, dubbed the Two-Basin Partnership, calls for habitat restoration “to rejuvenate one of our great salmon rivers in California.”

State Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, whose district stretches across both drainages, called for Lake County to be added to the partnership because Lake Pillsbury and most of the Eel River’s headwaters are in the county.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10960029-181/sonoma-county-backs-plan-to

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Land Use, TransportationTags , ,

Seattle will permanently close 20 miles of residential streets to most vehicle traffic

Michelle Baruchman, THE SEATTLE TIMES

Nearly 20 miles of Seattle streets will permanently close to most vehicle traffic by the end of May, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced Thursday.

The streets had been closed temporarily to through traffic to provide more space for people to walk and bike at a safe distance apart during the coronavirus pandemic.

Now the closures will continue even after Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order is lifted.

Over the next couple of weeks, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) will replace the temporary closure signs on the so-called Stay Healthy Streets with permanent markings, guiding drivers to other routes.

The program, which has rolled out in phases, has been implemented in the Aurora-Licton Springs, Ballard, Central District, West Seattle, Greenwood, Othello, Rainier Beach and Beacon Hill neighborhoods.

Residents, delivery drivers, garbage and recycling workers, and emergency response vehicles can continue to use the streets, but no through traffic is allowed.

“Our rapid response to the challenges posed by COVID-19 have been transformative in a number of places across the city,” SDOT Director Sam Zimbabwe said. “Some of the responses are going to be long lasting, and we need to continue to build out a transportation system that enables people of all ages and abilities to bike and walk across the city.”

More streets could be closed to through traffic in the coming months, depending on community demand. SDOT will evaluate streets based on whether they reach dense areas, allow people to stay close to home and keep parks from getting crowded, among other factors.

Read more at https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/transportation/seattle-will-permanently-close-20-miles-of-residential-streets-to-most-vehicle-traffic/?amp=1