Friday, December 23, 2016

Top 5 Environmental News Stories of 2016

Click for photo credit.
It is an end of the year tradition at On the Brink to post several end of the year lists. Today I list my top 5 environmental news stories of 2016. If you think I left something out, please post your thoughts in the comments of the blog.

1. Standing Rock. The Standing Rock Pipeline protests were interesting for many reasons. I wrote a 7-part series about Standing Rock that delved into the historic and geographic issues around the pipeline project and resulting protests that you can find here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. What makes Standing Rock such an important news story is that it was ultimately successful. It galvanized the environmental community in ways that haven't been seen in some time.

2. Cabinet picks. The new administration picked some very anti-environmental individuals to lead cabinet posts. I expect there will be significant conflict over many of the picks should they try to gut some important programs. A few of the picks are climate change deniers and have promised to eliminate climate change policy. See 1 above for some expected pushback.

3. Warming climate.The graph and map below show recent trends in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and global temperature. While I could link to recent articles about the warming Arctic, what matters are these long-term trends. They continue to follow the predictions of climate scientists. There is no denying that we are in a distinct warming phase that is largely driven by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Carbon dioxide trends at Mauna Loa, Hawaii. We used to be nervous about the atmosphere
reaching 400ppm concentration of carbon dioxide. We are now above that level.
2015 was the hottest year on record. Click for photo credit. Click for photo credit.

4. Sinkhole leaks 215 million gallons of radioactive acidic water into aquifer. I think this story is one of the most underreported stories of the moment. Some nasty liquid mining waste leaked into the aquifer near Tampa and the mining company and the state neglected to tell residents about the issue for weeks. Where did the water go? Who is impacted? Why didn't the state report the leak to local residents for weeks? What are the ongoing risks? What are the long term risks? I don't think this story is going away any time soon.

5. Yemen foreshadows water conflicts. The world is in a difficult place at this moment. One of more problematic areas is Yemen where Saudi Arabia (with the U.S.) and Iran are sponsoring a civil war. Yet underneath this conflict is the fact that Yemen is very quickly running out of water. The capital of Sana'a has depleted its aquifer and the arid climate of the country limits any kind of significant water works development. While the conflict in that country is partially about religion and culture, another part of it is about access to limited water resources.The Centre for International Governance and Innovation gets the issue exactly right in this piece where Yemen is called the "country in a coal mine." Many areas of the world are running out of water and Yemen is but the first to face this issue. Will the fight for limited water resources lead to war in other areas?

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