Environmentalists are incensed at a recent Trump administration decision to allow the importation of elephant parts collected during trophy hunting trips to Africa, but this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the federal government’s efforts to dismantle our endangered species protection mechanisms. Credit: Skip Russell, FlickrCC.

Dear EarthTalk: Now Trump is going to allow the importing of elephant “trophies” after all! Where do things stand overall now in the fight to protect endangered species, especially as wildlife now also face threats from climate change? — Mark Harrison, Sumter, SC

In what some see as another capitulation to the National Rifle Association (NRA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) undid an earlier ban on importing elephant parts from Africa, now allowing hunters to get permits on “a case-by-case basis.”

News like this makes the whole wildlife situation seem grim — and it is. But many scientists and activists are working hard to try to secure protections for threatened species and wildlife habitat in the face of many assaults by the pro-development Trump administration and Republican-controlled Congress.

Back in mid-2016, candidate Trump’s talk of reneging on the Paris climate accord didn’t bode well for wildlife facing increasing threats due to global warming. After all, many of the 340 species added to the nation’s endangered species list during President Obama’s watch got there due to climate-related threats.

Last Fall the White House denied petitions to add some 25 threatened wildlife species — including the Pacific walrus, Florida Keys mole skink, and eastern boreal toad — to the nation’s endangered species list. Officials from USFWS cited “uncertainty” over the future effects of climate change as a rationale.

“You couldn’t ask for a clearer sign that the Trump administration puts corporate profits ahead of protecting endangered species,” says Noah Greenwald of the non-profit Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). “Denying protection for these 25 species despite the imminent threat of climate change and ongoing habitat destruction is typical of the Trump administration’s head-in-the-sand approach.”

The appointment of Ryan Zinke to head the Department of Interior was further proof that President Trump values resource extraction on public lands over conservation of wildlife.

And the story only gets worse. This past January, USFWS initiated proceedings to take the Canadian lynx off the threatened list altogether and downgrade a number of other species from endangered to threatened.

CBD has led the charge in filing several concurrent lawsuits against these moves by the Trump administration. Most recently, the group filed suit in federal court to overturn the White House decision to deny threatened protection for the Pacific walrus. “We’re confident the court will see this…as a politically driven decision that completely ignores the agency’s legal obligations to protect imperiled wildlife,” says CBD attorney Emily Jeffers.

Meanwhile, the legislative branch isn’t helping wildlife or its advocates much either. Congress’ 2018 budget bill is chock full of “riders” aimed to cut endangered species protections for wolves in Wyoming and the Midwest, the greater sage grouse of the Southwest and other iconic American wildlife species, not to mention cuts to funding to bolster states’ endangered species protection programs.

Wildlife lovers everywhere can keep their fingers crossed that upcoming mid-term elections will at least be a step in the right direction — as long as Democrats can gain seats in the House and Senate — when it comes to saving the wildlife that helped make America great in the first place.

Contacts: CBD, biologicaldiversity.org; USFWS, www.fws.gov.


The average American uses more than 38,000 straws over a lifetime without thinking about the implications of all this plastic going to waste and polluting our oceans. Credit: Horia Varlan, FlickrCC.
Dear EarthTalk: What’s the deal with some restaurants no longer offering straws to their customers? What’s so bad about sipping your drink through a straw anyway? — Jeffrey Edwards, Seattle, WA

Americans use 500 million plastic straws — or 1.6 per person on average — every day. Based on this, a typical American will use more than 38,000 plastic straws over the course of a lifetime. While drinking through a single-use plastic straw seems innocent enough, don’t fool yourself: many of these straws find their way into our oceans, polluting underwater ecosystems and harming marine wildlife.

Researchers warn that if we don’t clean up our act, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050. Plastics don’t biodegrade, but instead break into tiny pieces which are scooped up by marine organisms unable to digest them — or end up in huge mid-ocean gyres too clogged for ships to pass through. Cutting way back on or eliminating single-use plastic straws won’t completely solve our ocean waste problem, but it will go a long way toward cutting back on plastic in the ocean as well as raising public awareness of the issue in general.

Last September the city of Seattle went strawless in solidarity with the Lonely Whale Foundation’s Strawless Ocean campaign (look for #StopSucking on Twitter), a global initiative to remove 500 million plastic straws from the U.S. waste stream in 2017. Some 2.3 million plastic straws were permanently removed from the city’s restaurants, cafes, bars and other businesses — and in July 2018 an official ban on plastic straws will go into effect there. Lonely Whale hopes that other cities will follow in Seattle’s forward-thinking footsteps.

For those who still love using straws, there are a growing number of reusable alternatives to plastic now available. Bambu Home’s handmade reusable bamboo straws come with a cleaning brush and can be used hundreds of times. Eco at Heart sells reusable steel straws that are durable, easy to clean and portable, so you can bring them into the car, work or anywhere. Steelys reusable steel straws come in a wide variety of sizes, including versions with bent tips. Aardvark’s paper straws are flexible, customizable and durable — and biodegrade on their own within 90 days.

Meanwhile, another eco-friendly option is glass, such as those made by Hummingbird Straws. And perhaps even greener are Harvest Straws, which are grown, harvested and cut by hand in Southern California from heritage, non-GMO grain grown without irrigation, using no chemicals in any part of the process. And reusable water bottles with built-in straws — such as steel and silicone models from Klean Kanteen or glass and metal varieties from Simply Straws — are also a good alternative to plastic straws. You can shop for these and other alternatives to plastic via the strawslessocean.org website.

Using disposable paper straws or opting out from using a straw at a restaurant or drive through are much better options than the conventional plastic straws that will end up as pollution in our oceans or in marine animals’ bodies. It may require a bit of extra work but using reusable straws or alternatives can make a big difference for wildlife and for ourselves.

Contacts: Strawless in Seattle, www.strawlessocean.org/seattle; Lonely Whale Foundation, www.lonelywhale.org; Bambu Home, www.bambuhome.com; Harvest Straws, www.harveststraws.com; Aarvark Straws, www.aardvarkstraws.com; Simply Straws, www.simplystraws.com; Klean Kanteen, www.kleankanteen.com.


The Global Climate Action Summit, coming up next September in San Francisco, is the brainchild of California’s 79-year-old outgoing governor Jerry Brown, one of the country’s great crusaders for cutting carbon emissions despite lack of federal interest in solving the climate crisis. Credit: Neon Tommy, FlickrCC.
Dear EarthTalk: How did the Global Climate Action Summit coming up later this year in San Francisco come about and what do organizers hope to accomplish? — Jamie Smith, San Jose, CA

The purpose of the forthcoming 2018 Global Climate Action Summit — scheduled to take place September 12-14 in San Francisco — is to showcase the actions that state and local leaders, businesses, investors, scientists, students, non-profits and other so-called “sub-national actors” have taken to reduce their emissions already. Organizers hope to secure bold commitments from them to do even more, thus showing that decarbonization and economic growth go hand-in-hand and galvanizing a global movement for climate action that leaves no one behind.

This new international meeting is the brainchild of California’s 79-year-old outgoing governor Jerry Brown, one of the country’s great crusaders for cutting carbon emissions despite lack of federal interest in solving the climate crisis. According to Brown, subnational actors are a critical part of the climate solution and can help push the world’s leaders to go further, faster. These leaders will join citizens from around the world to showcase examples of major climate action initiatives already taking place without the aid of the federal government. They hope to inspire deeper commitments from each other and from national governments in support of the Paris Agreement.

Brown has tapped three leaders as summit co-chairs: Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change; Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra Group, an Indian conglomerate that recently committed to meet its Paris climate agreement commitments; and Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City and founder/CEO of Bloomberg LP who is a vigorous campaigner for and generous donor to environmental causes. These three are primarily responsible for shaping the event’s purpose, format and overall curation and leveraging their voices and network for the cause.

Why now? According to Brown, 2018 is a turning point: Countries and all of us must step up the commitments that were made in Paris and do more. “The momentum we generate this year must lead to a climate turning point by 2020 in order to prevent the worst effects of climate change,” says Brown. “It must be the beginning of a new phase of action and ambition on climate change.”

Participants are expected to go beyond just sharing what they have achieved to date and announce stepped-up commitments to usher in what organizers are hoping will be “a new era of decarbonization and prosperity.” The culmination of the meeting will be a call to action to nations to step up their ambition under the Paris Agreement and cut emissions on a science-based trajectory that limits warming to well below two degrees Celsius.

“The Summit seeks to change the climate conversation, broaden and depoliticize the issue, and activate everyone to call for change to preserve our future,” Brown concludes. The governor’s actions in steering California to be one of the world’s most fuel efficient large economies is even more inspiring than his words. Given that Brown won’t be able to run again for governor due to term limits, the Summit may represent the last hurrah of his storied political career.

Contacts: Global Climate Action Summit, globalclimateactionsummit.org.


Tankless units heat water directly on demand without the use of a storage tank, making the long wait to get into the shower or wash your face a thing of the past. Credit: Kevin Shorter, FlickrCC.
Dear EarthTalk: One source of water waste is running the tap until it changes from cold to hot. Any thoughts on how to deal with this? — Joanne Leussing, via e-mail

Running the water to wait for it to get hot is a huge waste of water. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a leading non-profit green group, upwards of 10 percent of all the hot water drawn for showering in a typical single-family home is wasted waiting for hot water to arrive.

“With Americans taking over 200 million showers a day, that’s a lot of water and energy literally down the drain, of no benefit to anyone,” reports Ed Osann, NRDC’s Senior Policy Analyst and Water Efficiency Project Director. “Using EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) estimates of shower water use, that’s about 280 million gallons of hot water wasted each day — water that has been heated by a water heater, but then allowed to cool as it sits in long pipe runs that are not insulated.”

The energy used to heat this wasted hot shower water generates about the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as 1.6 million cars plying our roadways. “And that’s not even counting the additional water that gets wasted while waiting for hot water to arrive at a lavatory faucet or the kitchen sink,” adds Osann.

Waiting for hot water isn’t just a problem in older homes. “As homes grew bigger during the housing bubble, floor plans expanded, piping was extended and wait times grew even longer,” explains Osann. “Additionally, although the flow rates for new faucets and showers have come down over the last 20 years in response to state and federal efficiency standards, designers often neglect to downsize the pipes serving these more efficient fixtures.” The result is large amounts of water sitting in pipes cooling between uses.

For its part, NRDC has been working to reduce this unnecessary waste — especially in new construction — by advocating for upgraded building and plumbing codes. In 2015, the group scored a double win by convincing both the International Code Council (ICC) and the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) to upgrade their respective efficiency requirements — which most states and the federal government automatically follow — for hot water piping.

But unfortunately, the ICC ignored subsequent calls by NRDC to mandate more compactly designed hot water pipe layouts in new buildings, although Osann thinks it’s only a matter of time before such changes are uniformly adopted by the standards bodies and most states.

As for what you can do now to reduce the waste of water while waiting for it to warm up, Osann recommends clustering tasks that require hot water close together to reduce the “cool-down” effect between uses, and capturing some portion of the initial draw in a container and using it to water the plants or fill up Fido’s dish. You can also insulate hot water pipes that are exposed in a basement, attic or crawl space to keep the hot water warm while it idles in the pipe awaiting your next shower.

Better yet, replace your hot water heater with a tankless water heater, which heats water directly on demand without the use of a storage tank. When hot water is turned on, cold water travels through a pipe into the unit, where either a gas or electric burner heats it instantaneously. As a result, tankless water heaters deliver a constant supply of hot water and there is no energy or water waste due to waiting or to water cooling — and then needing re-heating later — in your conventional water heater’s storage tank.

Contacts: NRDC, www.nrdc.org; ICC, www.iccsafe.org; IAPMO, www.iapmo.org.

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