Russian official: Another nuclear pact with US in trouble
By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV
Thursday, February 7
MOSCOW (AP) — Another U.S.-Russian nuclear pact is in danger following the U.S. move to withdraw from a Cold War-era arms control treaty, a senior Russian diplomat said Thursday.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov charged that the U.S. refusal to negotiate an extension to the New Start treaty signals Washington’s intention to let it expire in 2021. He warned that time is running out to save the pact, which was signed in 2010 by U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
Ryabkov said that the U.S. has shown “no readiness or desire” to engage in substantive talks on extending the pact, which limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers.
U.S. Undersecretary of State Andrea Thompson argued in Wednesday’s phone call with reporters that there is enough time to discuss the treaty’s extension.
“We have until 2021,” Thompson said. “It is a relatively simple treaty to extend, so we have time with that.”
But Ryabkov warned that the procedure isn’t going to be simple. He noted that the U.S. said it has converted 56 Trident submarine-launched intercontinental ballistic missiles and 41 B-52H strategic bombers that carried nuclear weapons for use with conventional weapons, but stonewalled Russia’s repeated requests for a verifiable way to exclude their conversion back to nuclear status.
“In the worst-case scenario, they may carry 1,286 nuclear warheads,” he said, meaning that the U.S. could nearly double the number of deployed warheads allowed by the New Start treaty.
He said “that there is almost no time left” to discuss that and other issues for the treaty to be extended by another five years as envisaged during the signing.
“It gives reason to suspect our American counterparts of setting ground to avoid those discussions … and just let the treaty quietly expire,” Ryabkov said.
Ryabkov also said Russia stands ready for talks on a possible successor to the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.
“We are ready for dialogue,” Ryabkov said. “If the U.S. is interested, it should spell out its proposal.”
Citing Russian violations, the U.S. on Saturday formally suspended its obligations under the INF that bans all land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers (310 to 3,410 miles), setting the stage for the treaty to terminate in six months. Russia, which has denied any breaches, has followed suit.
Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed the military over the weekend to work on developing new land-based weapons that were previously forbidden by the INF treaty, but emphasized that such new weapons won’t be deployed to the European part of Russia or any other region unless the U.S. does so in those areas.
Ryabkov expressed particular worry about U.S. plans to produce new, low-yield nuclear weapons, warning that it could dramatically lower the threshold for their use.
“It’s very alarming,” he said, adding that the plans could revive old Cold War era concepts.
“It throws us many decades back to the ideology of nuclear battlefield weapons,” he said. “There are just a couple of steps left … before the revival of nuclear artillery, nuclear mortars, nuclear mines, nuclear grenades and other things like that. It appears to reflect the eagerness of those who have grown up in the age of computer games to easily push the button.”
Why stop at plastic bags and straws? The case for a global treaty banning most single-use plastics
February 7, 2019
Author: Anastasia Telesetsky, Professor of International Environmental Law , University of Idaho
Disclosure statement: Anastasia Telesetsky does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Single-use plastics are a blessing and a curse. They have fueled a revolution in commercial and consumer convenience and improved hygiene standards, but also have saturated the world’s coastlines and clogged landfills. By one estimate 79 percent of all plastic ever produced is now in a dump, a landfill or the environment, and only 9 percent has been recycled.
This growing legacy poses real risks. Plastic packaging is clogging city sewer systems, leading to flooding. Abandoned plastic goods create breeding grounds for mosquitoes, and can leach toxic additives such as styrene and benzene as they decompose. Single-use plastics are killing birds and harming marine life.
I study international environmental law with a focus on marine ecosystems. In my view, land-based pollution from single-use plastics is a slow-onset disaster that demands a global response.
One attractive strategy is pursuing a legally binding phase-out of most single-use plastics at the global level. I believe this approach makes sense because it would build on current national and municipal efforts to eliminate single-use packaging, and would create opportunities for new small and medium-sized businesses to develop more benign substitutes.
Single-use plastic bans
About 112 countries, states and cities around the world have already imposed bans on various single-use plastic goods. Of these measures, 57 are national and 25 are in Africa. And the list of these restrictions continues to grow.
Most of these bans target thin single-use plastic carrier bags or imports of non-biodegradable bags. Some, such as the one in Antigua-Barbuda, include other single-use or problematic items, such as foam coolers and plastic utensils. A few measures – notably, Kenya’s plastic bag law – impose stiff punishments on violators, including jail time and fines of up to US$38,000.
Groups of states are starting to enact regional policies. The East African Legislative Assembly has passed a bill to ban the manufacture, sale, import and use of certain plastic bags across its six member states, with a combined population of approximately 186 million people. And in October 2018 the European Union Parliament approved a ban on a number of single-use plastic items by 2021, along with a requirement to reduce plastic in food packaging by 25 percent by 2025 and cut plastic content in cigarette filters 80 percent by 2030.
Most of these bans are quite new or still being implemented, so there is limited research on how well they work. However, researchers at the United Nations who have reviewed 60 “national bans and levies” estimate that 30 percent of these measures have reduced consumption of plastics.
Plastics manufacturers contend that better recycling is the most effective way to reduce the environmental impact of their products. But many factors make it hard to recycle plastic, from its physical characteristics to insufficient market demand for many types of recycled plastics. In many instances, single-use plastics can only be recycled, optimistically, 10 times before their fibers become too short to be reprocessed.
Lessons from other global bans
Several global bans and product phase-outs offer lessons for a treaty banning single-use plastic goods. The most successful case is the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. This treaty phased out production and use of chlorofluorocarbons in a variety of products, including refrigerators and spray cans, after they were shown to harm Earth’s protective ozone layer.
Today scientists predict that stratospheric ozone concentrations will rebound to 1980 levels by the middle of this century. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Montreal Protocol has prevented millions of cases of skin cancer and cataracts from exposure to ultraviolet radiation. In 2016 nations adopted the Kigali Amendment, which will phase out production and use of hydrofluorocarbons, another class of ozone-depleting chemicals.
Why has the Montreal Protocol worked so well? One key factor is that every nation in the world has joined it. They did so because alternative materials were available to substitute for chlorofluorocarbons. The treaty also provided financial support to countries that needed help transitioning away from the banned substances.
Where countries trying to reduce use of these chemicals fell short of their goals, the Protocol provided institutional support rather than punishing them. But it also included the option to impose trade sanctions on nations that refused to cooperate.
Another pact, the 2001 Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, banned or severely limited production and use of certain chemicals that threatened human and environmental health, including specific insecticides and industrial chemicals. Today 182 nations have signed the treaty. Concentrations of several dangerous POPs in the Arctic, where global air and water currents tend to concentrate them, have declined.
Nations have added new chemicals to the list and created “elimination networks” to help members phase out use of dangerous materials such as PCBs. And producers of goods such as semiconductors and carpets that use listed chemicals are working to develop new, safer processes.
Even though the United States has not signed the Stockholm Convention, U.S. companies have largely eliminated production of the chemicals that the treaty regulates. This shows that setting a global standard may encourage nations to conform in order to maintain access to global markets.
Other international bans have been less successful. In 1989, seeking to reduce the slaughter of elephants for their tusks, parties to the Convention in Trade of Endangered Species banned ivory sales by ending trade in African elephant parts. Initially demand for ivory fell, but in 1999 and 2008 treaty states allowed African nations to sell ivory stockpiles to Japan and China, ostensibly to fund conservation. These two sales reignited global demand for ivory and created unregulated domestic markets that stimulated high levels of poaching.
An opportunity to lead
What lessons do these treaties offer for curbing plastic pollution? The Montreal Protocol shows that bans can work where substitute products are available, but require reliable monitoring and the threat of sanctions to deter cheating. The Stockholm Convention suggests that industries will innovate to meet global production challenges. And struggles to curb the ivory trade offer a cautionary message about allowing exceptions to global bans.
I believe the rapid spread of single-use plastic bans shows that enough political support exists to launch negotiations toward a global treaty. Emerging economies such as Kenya that are aggressively tackling the problem are especially well placed to take a lead at the U.N. General Assembly in calling for talks on stemming the tide of plastic pollution.
Fossil fuels are bad for your health and harmful in many ways besides climate change
February 7, 2019
Noel Healy, Associate Professor of Geography, Salem State University
Jennie C. Stephens, Dean’s Professor of Sustainability Science & Policy, Director, School of Public Policy & Urban Affairs, Global Resilience Institute, Northeastern University
Stephanie Malin, Associate Professor of Sociology, Colorado State University
Disclosure statement: Noel Healy has received funding from the Rachel Carson Center Ludwig-Maximillian University, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), and the Jasper and Marion Whiting Foundation. He is affiliated with Witness For Peace, Divest Salem State, Sunrise Salem and the Multi-School Divest Fund.
Jennie C. Stephens receives funding from the National Science Foundation. She is affiliated with Environment Massachusetts, Mothers Out Front, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and New England Women in Energy and Environment.
Stephanie Malin has received funding from the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences, the Rural Sociological Society, and has also received support from the CSU Water Center and School for Global Environmental Sustainability.
Partners: Colorado State University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Many Democratic lawmakers aim to pass a Green New Deal, a package of policies that would mobilize vast amounts of money to create new jobs and address inequality while fighting climate change.
Led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey, they are calling for massive investments in renewable energy and other measures over a decade that would greatly reduce or even end the nation’s overwhelming reliance on fossil fuels.
As experts in environmental geography, sociology, and sustainability science and policy, we wholeheartedly support this effort. And, as we explained in a recently published study, climate change is not the only reason to ditch fossil fuels.
The coal, oil and natural gas industries are also major contributors to human rights violations, public health disasters and environmental devastation.
While conducting our research, we constantly encounter new evidence that depending on fossil fuels for energy harms people and communities at every point along fossil fuel supply chains, especially where coal, oil and natural gas are extracted.
Fossil fuels require what journalist Naomi Klein calls “sacrifice zones” – places and communities damaged or even destroyed by fossil fuel drilling and mining. But we have observed that politicians and other decision-makers tend to overlook these harms and injustices and that most energy consumers – meaning most people – are generally unaware of these issues.
We see no sign that decisions about new pipelines, power plants and other fossil fuel infrastructure account fully for the harms and costs of these industries to society and the toll taken on nature from pollution and other problems attributable to burning fossil fuels.
Burning coal, oil and natural gas is particularly bad for public health. This combustion generates a lot of air pollution, contributing to 7 million premature deaths worldwide every year.
One Duke University-led study of climate scientists determined that reducing greenhouse gas emissions in line with a goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 C, a level that scientists believe could avert disastrous consequences from climate change, would prevent 153 million premature deaths, largely by reducing air pollution.
Some communities are harmed more than others. For instance, EPA researchers studying data collected between 2009 and 2013 found that black Americans are exposed to 1.5 times more pollutants than white people.
More than 2,000 miners across Appalachia are dying from an advanced stage of black lung disease. This illness, also known as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, comes from inhaling coal mine dust.
And thousands of coal miners have died horrible deaths from silicosis after inhaling tiny silicon particles in mines. And the communities where oil and gas is being extracted are exposed to water and air pollution that endangers their health, such as increasing the risk to certain childhood cancers.
Even living near coal mines or coal-fired power plants is a health hazard.
A team of Harvard school of public health scientists estimated that 53 premature deaths per year, 570 emergency room visits, and 14,000 asthma attacks annually could be attributed to pollution from a coal power plant in Salem, Massachusetts, one of the sites we studied.
What’s more, the people living within 30 miles of the coal plant, which was replaced with a natural gas-burning power station in 2018, were between two and five times more likely to get respiratory problems and other illnesses than those living farther away do.
But what we call the “hidden injustices” tied to Salem’s coal plant didn’t stop there.
The plant burned coal imported from La Guajira, Colombia, that was mined from Cerrejón, one of the world’s largest open-pit coal mines. That same mine has displaced thousands of indigenous people through physical force, coercion and the contamination of farmland and drinking water.
The Cerrejón open-pit coal mine in Colombia has severely disrupted life for indigenous people across La Guajira.
As coal plants shut down, more natural gas is being burned. That should be cleaner and safer – right? Not exactly.
First, the methane and other greenhouse gases that leak from natural gas pipelines and other infrastructure mean that using gas warms the climate nearly as much as coal does.
Second, fracking, horizontal drilling and the other so-called unconventional methods for extracting natural gas and oil are introducing new dangers. There is growing evidence that living close to fracking sites causes various public health complications including: increased risk of birth defects, certain cancers, asthma and other respiratory ailments, earthquakes, and occupational health and safety problems like exposure to crystalline silica, a type of sand used during fracking.
Many of the Pennsylvanians we interviewed for our study told us that they feared for their health due to their potential exposure to the chemicals and toxicants used in fracking. Other research indicates that living near fracked natural gas wells can increase the probability of skin and respiratory conditions.
At every stage, natural gas operations can pollute water, air and land, harming ecosystems.
In California, a catastrophic natural gas leak at Aliso Canyon storage well in 2016 spewed as much pollution as some 600,000 cars would over a year. Hundreds of neighboring residents experienced nausea, headaches and other health problems.
The Aliso Canyon gas leak near Los Angeles in 2015 released more than 100,000 tons of methane into the atmosphere.
Natural gas is also highly flammable. Two serious accidents in January 2019, the deadly gas explosions at a bakery in Paris and the more than 89 people killed in Tlahuelilpan, Mexico, highlighted how risky natural gas can be.
Here in the U.S., a series of deadly explosions and gas-fueled fires in September 2018 in the Merrimack Valley in Massachusetts intensified debates over the future of natural gas.
Despite global reliance on oil and petroleum products like plastics, oil extraction, whether through traditional drilling technology or fracking, is dangerous. Its distribution by pipelines, trains and trucks is also risky.
Decades of oil spills in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta has made the region one of the most polluted places on earth. And the mining of Canada’s tar sands has desecrated land belonging to First Nations, as most of the indigenous people of Canada are known.
In addition to the environmental devastation of massive oil spills like the Exxon Valdez and BP’s Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill of 2010, these leaks can cause pollution and serious health hazards.
In the wake of the Gulf Coast oil disaster, Dr. Farris Tuma, chief of the NIMH Traumatic Stress Research Program, addressed mental health challenges facing residents and health care providers.
Like virtually all environmental scholars, we consider global warming to be an urgent and existential threat. We recognize that replacing fossil-fuel infrastructure is an enormous endeavor. But the latest National Climate Assessment, a federal report predicting dire consequences from global warming, showed how ignoring this problem could cost more in the long term.
Based on our research, we believe that phasing out fossil fuels can improve public health, enhance human rights and empower communities politically. Moreover, a Green New Deal has the potential to create many jobs and enhance global stability.
As the debate about the Green New Deal takes shape, we hope that more lawmakers will recognize that above and beyond the benefits of a more stable climate, phasing out fossil fuels as soon as possible would also improve the lives of many vulnerable communities in the U.S. and around the world.
Professors Healy, Stephens and Malin:
You say that you “consider global warming to be an urgent and existential threat” and that you “wholeheartedly support” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s call for a “Green New Deal”: LINK. You provide a link to an article in Vox which, in explaining the GND, refers to a recent UN report and notes that,
“humanity has just over a decade to get carbon emissions under control before catastrophic climate change impacts become unavoidable.”
The idea that the GND could be implemented by 2030 seems fanciful. Perhaps you disagree? But surely its overriding flaw is that, apart from a rather patronising comment about an aim “to help other countries achieve a Green New Deal”, it contains no firm proposal about what the US should do about the international situation? Your profiles indicate that you must all have some knowledge of what’s happening globally – that’s especially true of Dr Healy. So how can you possibly believe that there’s any prospect of the radical and urgent greenhouse gas reductions called for by the IPCC being achieved if major economies such as China, India, Russia and Japan show no practical sign of any intent to make such reductions. For example, China and India (already jointly responsible for 36% of global emissions – compared to the US’s 14%) are continuing to emit vast amounts of GHG.
Do you agree that its failure to incorporate a serious proposal about the all-important international situation is a major deficiency in Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal? And can you suggest a solution?
Jon Richfield, logged in via Facebook:
Two items that seldom seem arise in these debates, puzzle me. (So do several others, but they are chewed to rags already by parties determined not to listen as long as they can shout fast enough.)
Nearly all our oxygen used to be in chemical combination until a lot of, first microbes, and then plants, stripped it from various chemicals. At that time that took, not millions of years, but hundreds of millions of years. Their remains, minus a lot of oxygen, now are being dug up and recombined with that same oxygen, and vastly faster than they stripped it off in the first place. Roughly speaking most of the fossil fuels we use, require more than three time their own mass of oxygen to burn, whether profitably or not.
Now, we are a long way from worrying about our oxygen supplies, but looking around me at the attitudes of the people burning our organic fuels, I am trying to imagine humanity’s chances of survival if they are equally smart at reading the first signs of atmospheric oxygen supply.
Then there is the other thing. We appear to be ducking the energy bullet OK in the next few decades, what with the advances in renewables, and with any luck, in nukes as well, but what gets me is not the lack of fuel once we peak in fossil fuels, but the very idea of burning coal, oil, and the like. It is like burning banknotes. I don’t have hard figures, but I reckon that our fossil organic chemical consumption is something like 1% of the amount that we burn. What we have burnt, we cannot get back, and certainly not anything like as fast as we burnt it, let alone 100 times as fast.
Cowboy maxim: when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging!
And are we in a hole? I’ll leave some of our tame optimists to examine their horizons, and explain to anyone listening why what they see at the tips of their noses is good news.
Meanwhile, maybe some folks you know have read this little item:
Vestiges of obliterated civilizations cover the earth; no savage but has camped upon the sites of proud and populous cities; no desert but has heard the statesman’s boast of national stability. Our nation, our laws, our history–all shall go down to everlasting oblivion with the others, and by the same road. But I submit that we are traveling it with needless haste. — Ambrose Bierce