The U.S. Interior Department recently canceled seven oil and gas leases in Alaska’s pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that were hastily sold during the final days of the Trump administration. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland stated that with the cancellation, “no one will have rights to drill for oil in one of the most sensitive landscapes on earth.” However, a 2017 law requires another lease sale by late 2024, which the Biden administration says it intends to comply with.

The Arctic Refuge’s remote 1.5 million-acre coastal plain along the Beaufort Sea is considered sacred to the Indigenous Gwich’in people, as it is where the caribou they rely on migrate and give birth each year. For decades, Alaska politicians have pushed to open the area up to oil and gas drilling, and in 2017 they succeeded in getting language inserted into a federal tax law that mandated two lease sales in the region before 2024.

In 2021, the Interior Department under President Biden issued an executive order to pause the leasing program so it could conduct a new rigorous environmental review, arguing the Trump administration’s rushed process had “multiple legal deficiencies.” Earlier this month, a federal judge upheld the delay for further analysis as reasonable (Washington Post).

While Alaska leaders aim to allow oil and gas extraction in the refuge, conservation groups and the Gwich’in Steering Committee see the area as sacred and ecologically fragile. The coastal plain provides important habitat for polar bears, migratory birds, and the Porcupine caribou herd.

The fate of the Arctic Refuge remains unsettled. For now, the Biden administration has pushed the pause button on drilling, but may be required to hold another lease sale in the coming years. Environmental advocates continue to urge permanent protections, while Alaska officials want to tap into potential oil reserves. The back-and-forth leaves the future of this sensitive landscape uncertain.

Biden Administration to Bar Drilling on Millions of Acres in Alaska (New York Times)

Biden to cancel oil and gas leases in Alaska issued by Trump administration (The Guardian)

Biden cancels Trump drilling leases in Alaska’s largest wildlife refuge (BBC)

Ruling clears Joe Biden’s 2021 pause on new oil, gas leases (NPR)

Ecowire Terms of Use
(Effective as of 2-1-2010)

Welcome to the Ecowire service (the “Service”).

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MODIFICATION OF TERMS OF USE
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GENERAL TERMS
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Introducing Earthwire

Big Changes Coming for Geo

Geo, the popular website for environmental news and activism, is getting a major upgrade. The company announced today that it will be transitioning Geo from a website to a native mobile app called Earthwire.

Earthwire will be available on both iPhone and Android as a free, open-source, non-profit app. This shift to mobile is intended to make it transparent and more free from profit-driven agendas. Funding will come from .orgs and NGOs, with links to organizations working to improve our planet and communities.

The Earthwire app will maintain all the best parts of Geo while adding some great new features. Users will still be able to post updates to their feeds, create articles, and follow other activists and organizations. With the new updates, they will now be able to connect with sustainability entrepreneurs and read timely and relevant stories about the environment.

Earthwire will also allow users to write full-length blog articles, not just short posts. This will provide activists and writers a platform to share more in-depth content about environmental issues.

In addition to posts and articles, Earthwire will highlight convenient ways for users to donate to environmental causes directly through the app. This will make supporting important green initiatives seamless and simple.

The move to a dedicated mobile app marks an exciting evolution for Geo. Earthwire promises to maintain the community and activism Geo is known for while modernizing the user experience. We can expect the app to be released later this year.

Signup

On Thursday, two former leaders affiliated with the right-wing organization known as the Proud Boys were handed substantial sentences for their involvement in the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. These sentences represent some of the lengthiest penalties imposed on individuals connected to the 2021 attack. Joseph Biggs, who previously led the Florida chapter of the group, has been sentenced to 17 years in federal prison, while Zachary Rehl, the former leader of the Philadelphia chapter, received a 15-year sentence.

In May, both individuals were found guilty of seditious conspiracy and additional charges, alongside other prominent figures within the Proud Boys, including Enrique Tarrio, the group’s former national chair. Tarrio is scheduled for sentencing in the upcoming week. These severe sentences underscore the viewpoint of the Justice Department and the presiding judge that the Proud Boys played a significant role as organizers, planners, and executors of the events on January 6.

Andy Campbell, a senior editor at HuffPost and author of a book about the Proud Boys, observed that these sentences reflect the recognition that Proud Boys leaders held pivotal positions in orchestrating the riots of January 6. He further notes that the Proud Boys maintained close connections with influential allies of former President Trump. This suggests a level of awareness regarding the potential for violence on January 6 when Trump encouraged his supporters to march on the Capitol. In Campbell’s words, “We are confronted with a deeply rooted extremist crisis at the highest echelons of right-wing governance.”

Democracy Now

School shootings have become a devastating reality in America. The memories of these tragedies are seared into our collective consciousness, as we grapple with the senseless loss of innocent lives. They live on in our collective memory with names like Columbine and Sandy Hook  recalling images of both sadness and terror.

Despite the differences, there are common themes that emerge. One is the urgent need for better mental health care in this country. Many of the shooters had a history of mental illness, yet were able to obtain guns and carry out their heinous acts. Another is the need for stricter gun control laws. It is clear that guns are far too easy to obtain in America, and that our lax gun laws are contributing to the problem.

These tragedies serve as a painful reminder of the devastating consequences of gun violence and the urgent need for change in our society. We must work together to create a safer, more just world for future generations.

The air pollution from industrial plants in America has led to an estimated quarter of a million Americans being at a higher risk of cancer. Many areas, including the infamous 85-mile stretch of the Mississippi River in Louisiana, remain unknown to residents who routinely breathe the contaminated air. Cancer-causing chemicals from thousands of hazardous air pollution sources across the country have spread between 2014 and 2018. The result is toxic air blooms around industrial facilities and nearby communities.

The majority of residents in these areas are people of color and they experience about 40% more cancer-causing industrial air pollution on average than tracts where the residents are mostly white. The analysis also revealed that companies across the United States, particularly in Texas and Louisiana, manufacture ethylene oxide, the biggest contributor to excess industrial cancer risk from air pollutants nationwide.

Despite years of advancements, air quality has started to deteriorate. The Trump administration removed over a hundred environmental safeguards, which included around twenty-four regulations concerning air pollution and emissions.

The EPA has reinvigorated its commitment to protecting public health under President Joe Biden’s administration, however, flaws with the EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act, a landmark law that dramatically reduced air pollution provided less protection to those who live closest to industrial polluters, or so-called “fence-line communities.”

The agency’s assessment of the risk significantly underestimates the exposure of residents. Instead of considering the cumulative cancer risk in cases where polluters are concentrated in a particular neighborhood, the EPA focuses on examining specific types of facilities and equipment in isolation without considering much of the industrial support necessary at sites like this.

“The environmental regulatory system wasn’t set up to deal with these things. All of the parts of the system have to be re-thought to address hot spots or places where we know there’s a disproportionate burden.” -Matthew Tejada, director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice

Residents living near polluting facilities are often left in the dark about the toxins that they are being exposed to, as the Clean Air Act does not frequently mandate monitoring by either the EPA or industry. Moreover, companies are allowed to use flawed formulas and monitoring methods to estimate their emissions when reporting to the EPA.

The concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere has reached its highest level in recorded human history. Again.

In April, the level of CO2 was 27% higher than it was 50 years ago, according to the latest data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. (Methane, a gas with about 85 times the near-term warming effect of CO2, has risen more than 16% since 1984, the first full year that NOAA collected data.)

Climate change is exposing where the bodies are buried, literally. Boaters and paddle boarders discovered two corpses in early May in Lake Mead, as water levels fell to their lowest point since the reservoir was filled in the 1930s. Lake Powell has also dropped to its lowest point since being filled. The ongoing drought appears to be the worst in 1,200 years, according to research recently published in the journal Nature Climate Change. Around the region, there have been hotter temperatures, smaller snowpack and an earlier start to the fire season. Wildfires have already torched more than 300,000 acres near Santa Fe in northern New Mexico this year.

This new reality threatens the Southwest, the fastest-growing region in the U.S., and the 40 million people who rely on the Colorado River, while offering a glimpse at what climate change will bring there and elsewhere.

“This happens to be one of those years when we can look out the window and look at the future as the smoke pall floats overhead,” said David Gutzler, a professor emeritus who researches climatology and meteorology at the University of New Mexico’s Earth and Planetary Sciences department.

To better understand how climate change is and will continue to affect the Southwest, ProPublica spoke to three experts: Gutzler; Mikhail Chester, a professor in Arizona State University’s engineering school and the director of the Metis Center for Infrastructure and Sustainable Engineering; and Gregg Garfin, a climatologist at the University of Arizona and co-lead author of the Southwest chapter in the Fourth National Climate Assessment.

In a Q&A with ProPublica, experts describe how a new climate reality threatens the Southwest, the fastest-growing region in the U.S. The conversations have been edited for length and clarity.

Wildfires are burning near Santa Fe, while the Boulder, Colorado, area is still reeling from a fire that burned a developed area in the dead of winter. What are the connections between a changing climate and wildfires?

Gutzler: We make the extremes worse. That’s a bit different than saying a wildfire is caused by climate change. As temperatures rise, hot temperature-related extreme events are likely to become more frequent and more severe, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing across the West right now.

Garfin: There are also parts of the region where there’s a link between fire severity and climate change. The way that plays out is that climate change affects the hydrology, so it leads to a shorter snow-cover season, less snow-covered area, soils that are desiccated, and then temperature also puts stress on trees that dries out the fuels.

Research also suggests the Colorado River’s flow is down about 20% this century. How might the region’s river systems be shaped by climate change?

Gutzler: We should plan for diminished flows, particularly out of snow-fed rivers. … What snow there is melts earlier and melts faster. That’s exactly what we saw this year. In the Rio Grande Basin, snowpack was pretty close to what most people would consider average right around the time of peak snow, a month and a half ago. But it has just melted really fast in this hot weather, so the effect of that on streamflow is we get less flow in the river for the same amount of snow that fell last winter.

Garfin: We’re seeing less snow-covered area, less water content in the snowpack, early runoff in the late winter and early spring at elevations lower than around 7,000 feet, an increased fraction in the precipitation that we get coming as rain rather than snow and reduced soil moisture. All of these things combine to reduce the efficiency of runoff. …

We’re already seeing an increasing water supply coming from treated effluent that’s primarily being used to irrigate parks or golf courses. Probably we’ll be seeing more of our potable water supply coming from treated effluent. Another thing — we saw this in Arizona in the State of the State address from Gov. (Doug) Ducey — he said let’s put billions of dollars into developing desalinated water supplies, and there have been plenty of feasibility studies. It’s expensive and it takes a lot of energy, but we could end up with some technological breakthroughs. … Water managers throughout the Colorado River Basin have been creative in finding ways to keep more water in the reservoirs. Obviously that’s not enough, but I think there will be water marketing and trading maneuvers — because some tribes have large amounts of water — to create the legal mechanisms for the cities to buy more water from tribes.

What about the impact of climate change on living things in the region? What do we know about changes to ecosystems and biodiversity?

Gutzler: The change in the climate is happening at the same time as humans affect ecosystems in other ways that aren’t connected to climate change, just by habitat destruction and all the other things that people do to change the environment. I view climate change as an added stress to wild ecosystems that are already stressed by large numbers of people moving into the Southwest.

One way for mobile species to adapt to climate change is to move north. … If people have built fences or, at the U.S.-Mexico border, a wall, then the combined effect of a changing climate and barriers to migration can jeopardize the health of species and ecosystems.

In addition to biodiversity, how does a changing climate interact with the Southwest’s rapid population growth?

Garfin: We’ve got a lot of people who have built their homes or expanded towns into the so-called wildland-urban interface, and that puts infrastructure at risk (to wildfires). Also, if we have severe fire, eventually there’s going to be rain — it doesn’t even have to be record rainfall — and all that stuff that has burned is going to find its way into watercourses. We end up with debris flows that can take out infrastructure, that can take out roads or that can end up in reservoirs and increasing the sediment load and decreasing water quality.

Chester: We are figuring out already how to deal with extremes in terms of heat, in terms of monsoons, in terms of drought that are beyond the forecasts of most other places in the United States. The worst of the worst in a particular place in Illinois, let’s say, is probably not close to what you get in Phoenix, so we’re already living with these extremes. … For the most part, things aren’t breaking right now. …

Now, you’re running into the reality that the conditions that we’re designing for are not necessarily what we will live with in the future. So, if we designed for 120 degrees Fahrenheit maximum temperatures, is that what’s going to be the max 20 years from now, 30 years from now, or is it going to be greater?

If the Phoenix metro area is doing pretty well overall, are there any examples of infrastructure that’s already nearing the breaking point?

Chester: You get a lot more blackouts and brownouts in the power system when you have these heat waves. That’s the case anywhere in the U.S., but you certainly have that here. You get inundation of the stormwater system. … Everything breaks more frequently when you have hotter temperatures. That’s the simpler way of looking at it.

The Southwest is a very ethnically diverse region. How does that affect the calculus as society pursues solutions?

Garfin: If we don’t deal with equity in climate solutions, then we’re going to shoot ourselves in the foot. Through the impacts to vulnerable communities and less economically well-off communities, it’ll end up being more costly anyway. … Previous failures were that housing developments in less affluent parts of our cities have typically lacked the kinds of landscaping that would reduce the heat-island effect and that would absorb more stormwater, so we know that now and we know that we haven’t done well by those communities.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published reports this year that came with a warning — we’re likely to miss the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. What does that mean for the Southwest?

Gutzler: We’re living it this year. … You can take an extreme drought of the sort that we’re experiencing now and the way that it has impacted the environment, the water supply across the board, and say that is the direction the Southwest is headed unless we do something about climate change.

Garfin: We already have amplified heat in our cities from the urban heat-island effect, from just changing from natural vegetation to the built environment. Also, as you increase the background temperature, the effects that we see in our large cities — Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas — more people are exposed to the public health effects of extreme heat. … In places like Tucson or Las Cruces, our future might look like Phoenix, and Phoenix’s future might look like Middle Eastern cities. … Then, what’s projected is continued decreases in snowpack, perhaps more extreme high flows, but more days with very low flows. That leads to a much less reliable surface water supply.

Are there examples of steps being taken in the region to address climate change through mitigation or adaptation?

Garfin: If we look to some of the more progressive climate change plans like Flagstaff’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan, they’re doing a couple things in terms of wildfire. One is insisting through their public policy that there’s more defensible space around houses and other structures that are in the wildland-urban interface. Then, they also had a bond in 2012 where city residents overwhelmingly voted to tax themselves to pay for forest treatments on public, federal lands in their watershed to reduce the risk of really severe fires.

Chester: There’s got to be a readjustment of how we utilize ecological infrastructure. … You’re going to have a lot of small-scale failures, and at times it might make sense to allow those failures to happen.

I’m not suggesting we allow loss of life. I’m not suggesting we allow major economic damages. So, a great example here of safe-to-fail infrastructure is Indian Bend Wash in Scottsdale. We’ve basically said, when the monsoon rains come, we are going to allow a giant river to move through the wash, and it might take out the golf courses, the bike paths, the Frisbee golf, the dog park. … The cost of replacing it is pretty low, but the benefit we get is enormous. The benefit is social in terms of all this space. The benefit is ecological; there’s a lot of green infrastructure in there. There’s also the benefit of stormwater attenuation.

With all this in mind, what does the future hold for the Southwest?

Chester: The problem — from my perspective as an engineer who studies infrastructure — is the rigidity of everything we’ve built out. … For the past century we’ve gotten away with these design assumptions that things can be rigid, can be based on a future that is largely predictable. Here we are in the future saying that doesn’t seem to be the case. We need a lot of flexibility.

Gutzler: Ultimately, carbon energy will be replaced on purely economic grounds by renewables, so there’s hope there. But the Southwest is inevitably going to become a hotter and drier place than it is now with huge stresses on human societies and wild ecosystems. That’s what’s in store for us, so we better adapt to it as intelligently as we can.

This story was originally published by ProPublica.

by Craig Silverman and Jeff Kao

Just before 11 a.m. Moscow Standard Time on March 1, after a night of Russian strikes on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities, a set of Russian-language Twitter accounts spread a lie that Ukraine was fabricating civilian casualties.

One account created last year, @Ne_nu_Che, shared a video of a man standing in front of rows of dark gray body bags that appeared to be filled with corpses. As he spoke to the camera, one of the encased bodies behind him lifted its arms to stop the top of the bag from blowing away. The video was taken from an Austrian TV report about a climate change demonstration held in Vienna in February. But @Ne_nu_Che claimed it was from Ukraine.

Russian-language Twitter accounts posted a video that they claimed showed Ukrainian media had faked reports of civilian casualties. It is actually an unrelated clip from an Austrian TV report in February. The accounts were later removed by Twitter for violating its platform manipulation and spam policy. Credit:Screenshots captured by ProPublica 

“Propaganda makes mistakes too, one of the corpses came back to life right as they were counting the deaths of Ukraine’s civilians,” the tweet said.

Two other accounts created last fall within a few days of @Enot_Kremle_Bot soon shared the same video and accusations of fake civilian casualties. “Ukrainian propaganda does not sleep,” said one.

The Twitter profiles are part of a pro-Putin network of dozens of accounts spread across Twitter, TikTok and Instagram whose behavior, content and coordination are consistent with Russian troll factory the Internet Research Agency, according to Darren Linvill, a Clemson University professor who, along with another professor, Patrick Warren, has spent years studying IRA accounts.

The IRA burst into the American consciousness after its paid trolls used thousands of English-language accounts across social media platforms to influence American voters during the 2016 presidential election. The IRA was at the center of a 2018 Department of Justice criminal indictment for its alleged effort to “interfere with elections and political processes.”

“These accounts express every indicator that we have to suggest they originate with the Internet Research Agency,” Linvill said. “And if they aren’t the IRA, that’s worse, because I don’t know who’s doing it.”

An analysis of the accounts’ activity by the Clemson Media Forensics Hub and ProPublica found they posted at defined times consistent with the IRA workday, were created in the same time frame and posted similar or identical text, photos and videos across accounts and platforms. Posts from Twitter accounts in the network dropped off on weekends and Russian holidays, suggesting the posters had regular work schedules.

Many of the accounts also shared content from facktoria.com, a satirical Russian website that began publishing in February. Its domain registration records are private, and it’s unclear who operates it. Twitter removed its account after being contacted by ProPublica.

The pro-Putin network included roughly 60 Twitter accounts, over 100 on TikTok, and at least seven on Instagram, according to the analysis and removals by the platforms. Linvill and Warren said the Twitter accounts share strong connections with a set of hundreds of accounts they identified a year ago as likely being run by the IRA. Twitter removed nearly all of those accounts. It did not attribute them to the IRA.

Late last month, the network of accounts shifted to focus almost exclusively on Ukraine, echoing similar narratives and content across accounts and platforms. A popular post by the account @QR_Kod accused the Ukrainian military of using civilians as human shields. Another post by @QR_Kod portrayed Ukraine as provoking Russia at the behest of its NATO masters. Both tweets received hundreds of likes and retweets and were posted on the same day as the body bag video. At least two Twitter accounts in the network also shared fake fact-checking videos.

Twitter accounts such as @QR_Kod shared memes that echo propaganda spread domestically by Russian state media. @QR_Kod was later removed by Twitter for violating its platform manipulation and spam policy. Credit:Screenshots captured by ProPublica

The findings indicate that professionalized trolling remains a force in domestic Russian propaganda efforts and continues to adapt across platforms, according to Linvill.

“I can’t stress enough the importance of understanding the way that this is a tool for Putin to control narratives among his own people, a way for him to lie to his own people and control the conversation,” Linvill said. “To suggest that the West is blanketly winning this information war is true only in some places. Putin doesn’t have to win the information war, he just has to hold his ground. And these accounts are helping him do that.”

After inquiries from ProPublica, all of the active accounts were removed from TikTok, and nearly all were suspended by Twitter. Meta said it removed one Instagram account for violating its spam policy and that the others did not violate its rules. None of the platforms attribute the accounts to the IRA. Twitter and TikTok said the accounts engaged in coordinated behavior or other activity that violated platform policies.

A TikTok spokesperson said the initial eight accounts shared with it violated its policy against “harmful misinformation.” TikTok removed an additional 98 accounts it determined were part of the same pro-Putin network.

“We continue to respond to the war in Ukraine with increased safety and security resources to detect emerging threats and remove harmful misinformation,” said a statement provided by the company. “We also partner with independent fact-checking organizations to support our efforts to help TikTok remain a safe and authentic place.”

A Twitter spokesperson called the roughly 60 accounts it removed “malicious” and said they violated its platform manipulation and spam policy, but declined to be more specific. They said the company had determined that the active accounts shared by ProPublica had violated its policies prior to being asked about them. Twitter decided to leave the set of 37 accounts online “to make it harder for bad actors to understand our detections,” according to the spokesperson.

The accounts were removed by Twitter within 48 hours of ProPublica contacting the company about them. The week before, Twitter removed 27 accounts that the Clemson researchers also identified as likely IRA accounts.

“Our investigation into these accounts remains ongoing, and we will take further action when necessary,” said a statement from a Twitter spokesperson. “As is standard, when we identify information operation campaigns that we can reliably attribute to state-linked activity, we will disclose this to the public.”

Twitter declined to offer more details on why it left roughly 30 accounts that it identified as violative online to continue spreading propaganda. It also declined to comment on connections between the roughly 60 accounts in this recent network and the hundreds of accounts flagged by Linvill and Warren last spring as possible IRA profiles. Linvill said he identified the recent accounts largely based on their commonality with the previous set of 200.

“I connect these current accounts to the ongoing activity over the course of the past year by carefully tracking accounts’ tactics, techniques and procedures,” he said.

Platforms may be hesitant to attribute activity to the IRA in part because the agency has adapted and made its efforts harder to expose, according to Linvill. But he said social platforms should disclose more information about the networks it removes, even if it can’t say with certainty who is running them.

“In every other area of cybersecurity, dangerous activity from bad actors is disclosed routinely without full confidence in the source of the activity. We name and disclose computer viruses or hacker groups, for instance, because that is in the public interest,” he said. “The platforms should do the same. The Russian people should know that some sophisticated and well-organized group is covertly using social media to encourage support for Putin and the war in Ukraine.”

The Internet Research Agency is a private company owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian entrepreneur known as “Putin’s Chef.” Prigozhin is linked to a sprawling empire ranging from catering services to the military mercenary company Wagner Group, which was reportedly tasked with assassinating President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The IRA launched in St. Petersburg in 2013 by hiring young internet-savvy people to post on blogs, discussion forums and social media to promote Putin’s agenda to a domestic audience. After being exposed for its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. election, the IRA attempted to outsource some of its English-language operations to Ghana ahead of 2020. Efforts to reach Prigozhin were unsuccessful.

But it never stopped its core work of influencing Russian-speaking audiences. The IRA is part of a sprawling domestic state propaganda operation whose current impact can be seen by the number of Russians who refuse to believe that an invasion has happened, while asserting that Ukrainians are being held hostage by a Nazi coup.

Prior to the invasion, accounts in the network identified by the Clemson Media Forensics Hub and ProPublica celebrated Russian achievements at the Olympics.

“They were deep in the Olympics, tweeting about Russian victories and the Olympics and how the Russians were being robbed by the West and not allowed to compete under their own flag,” Linvill said.

After the invasion began, they moved to unify people behind Putin’s war.

“It was a slow shift,” he said. “And this is something I’ve seen from the IRA before: When a significant world event happens, they don’t always know immediately how to respond to it.”

By late February, the network had found its voice in part by echoing messages from Russian officialdom. The accounts justified the invasion, blamed NATO and the West and seeded doubts about civilian death tolls and Russian military setbacks. When sanctions kicked in and Western companies began pulling out of Russia, they said it was good news because Russian products are better. (Two Twitter accounts in the network shared the same video of a man smashing an old iPad with a hammer.)

Accounts in the network responded to sanctions by posting videos disparaging Western products. Credit: Screenshot captured by ProPublica

“These accounts were sophisticated, they knew their audience, and they got engagement far surpassing the number of followers that they had,” Linvill said.

Paul Stronski, a senior fellow in the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, reviewed content shared by more than two dozen of the Twitter accounts prior to their suspension. “A lot of this is the type of stuff I would expect from Russian trolls,” said Stronski, who reads and speaks Russian.

He said many of the accounts adopt an approachable and humorous tone to generate engagement and appear relatable to younger audiences present on social media.

“They’re very critical of prominent Russians who have criticized this war, questioning their patriotism,” Stronski said. “They’re saying in effect that during wartime you shouldn’t be criticizing your own. You should be lining up behind the state.”

When President Biden flubbed the pronunciation of “Ukrainians” during his recent State of the Union address, several of the accounts on Twitter, TikTok and Instagram shared the clip and mocked him. While that clip spread widely outside of the suspected IRA network as well, the accounts often spread more obscure content in coordination. Multiple Twitter accounts, for example, shared a screenshot of a Russian actor’s tweet that he cared more about being able to use Apple Pay than the war in Ukraine. The accounts criticized him, with one warning that “the internet remembers everything.”

Before the account takedowns, the Russian government had begun closing off the country from global social media and information sources. It restricted access to Twitter and blocked Facebook. The Russian legislature passed a law that allows for a 15-year sentence for people who contradict the official government position on the war. As a result, TikTok announced it would pause uploads of new videos in Russia.

Some of the accounts in the network saw the writing on the wall and prepared their audience to move to Telegram, a Russian messaging service.

“Friends! With happiness I’d like to tell you that I decided to make the t.me/enot_kremlebot channel, in which you will see analytics to the fullest extent. Twitter could block us any minute!” tweeted @Enot_Kremle_Bot on March 5. “I really don’t want to lose my treasured and close-to-my-heart audience! Go to this link and subscribe.”

This story was originally published by ProPublica.

Climate change will impact us all, no matter who we are or where we live. But that doesn’t mean it will hit us equally.

Climate change may not discriminate, but people do.

As a reporter at ProPublica, my focus is on environmental justice, how low-income, underserved and disenfranchised people have been forced to bear an unequal burden of pollution. That’s the same focus I’m bringing as one of the hosts of “Hot Mess” — a PBS Digital Studios YouTube series about the complexities of climate change.

People are the most complex variables in the climate change equation. And my first episode, out today, focuses on the nexus of climate change and environmental justice — and how we need to do a better job connecting the two.

As the effects of climate change intensify, so too will the stark differences in consequences experienced by the privileged and the disadvantaged. So as we see more intense storms and extreme temperatures, it’s important to examine the systemic and structural deficiencies that exacerbate inequity.

It’s why we dug into Houston’s response to Hurricane Harvey, and found that officials botched plans for an organized way to handle natural disasters. It’s why we held FEMA accountable for the anemic response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. It’s why we’re focusing on the rollback of key environmental regulations by the Trump administration, and the people who will be left unprotected.

Not everyone can move away from a floodplain, or a toxic site, or a disaster zone.

It’s important to talk about the choices people make that push the impacts of climate change more heavily onto certain groups.

Help keep this conversation going. How has climate change impacted your community? Email me at talia.buford@propublica.org.

This story was originally published by ProPublica.

 

 

When claims from Europe accused British America of being inferior on account of its colder weather, Thomas Jefferson and his fellow Founding Fathers responded with patriotic zeal that their settlement was actually causing the climate to warm. Raphael Calel explores how, in contrast to today’s common association of the U.S. with climate change skepticism, it was a very different story in the 18th century.

Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale (1805)

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale (1805). Note the furs – Source.

The United States has in recent years become a stronghold for climate change skepticism, especially since the country’s declaration in 2001 that it would not participate in the Kyoto Protocol. Nevertheless, though it is a well-documented fact, it might surprise you to learn that, a far cry from the United States’ recent ambivalence with respect to the modern scientific theory of man-made climate change, the country’s founders were keen observers of climatic trends and might even be counted among the first climate change advocates.

From the start, the project to colonize North America had proceeded on the understanding that climate followed latitude; so dependent was climate on the angle of the sun to the earth’s surface, it was believed, that the word ‘climate’ was defined in terms of parallels of latitude. New England was expected to be as mild as England, and Virginia as hot as Italy and Spain. Surprised by harsh conditions in the New World, however, a great number of the early settlers did not outlast their first winter in the colonies. Many of the survivors returned to Europe, and in fact, the majority of 17th-century colonies in North America were abandoned.

Jamestown in snow

Jamestown colonists endured a severe winter in 1607-1608, black and white copy of a painting by Sidney King for the Colonial National Historical Park – Source.

A view formed in Europe that the New World was inferior to the Old. In particular, medical lore still held that climate lay behind the characteristic balance of the Hippocratic humors – it explained why Spaniards were temperamental and Englishmen reserved – and it was believed that the climate of the colonies caused physical and mental degeneration. Swedish explorer Pehr Kalm, who had travelled to North America on a mission from Carl Linnaeus, observed in his travel diary that the climate of the New World caused life – plants and animals, including humans – to possess less stamina, stature, and longevity than in Europe. The respected French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, explained in his encyclopaedia of natural history that “all animals of the New World were much smaller than those of the Old. This great diminution in size, whatever maybe the cause, is a primary kind of degeneration.” He speculated that the difference in climate might be the cause:

It may not be impossible, then, without inverting the order of nature, that all the animals of the new world originated from the same stock as those of the old; that having been afterwards separated by immense seas or impassable lands, they, in course of time, underwent all the effects of a climate which was new to them, and which must also have had its qualities changed by the very causes which produced its separation; and that they, in consequence, became not only inferior in size, but different in nature.

Dutch philosopher Cornelius de Pauw believed that “The Europeans who pass into America degenerate, as do the animals; a proof that the climate is unfavorable to the improvement of either man or animal.” Scientific and artistic genius, according to a prominent theory put forth by the French intellectual Jean-Baptiste Dubos, only flourished in suitable climates – climate accounted for the marvels of Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, the Italian Renaissance, and, thanks to rising temperatures on the European continent that Dubos thought he observed, the Enlightenment. French writer Guillaume Raynal agreed, and made a point of saying that “America has not yet produced one good poet, one able mathematician, one man of genius in a single art or a single science.”

In this edition of Cornelius de Pauw’s Researches Philosophiques sur les Américains, the usual ornamentation preceding the chapter on the American climate is sardonically replaced with this apparently frozen landscape – Source.

In the New World, refuting such theories became a matter of patriotism. In the rousing conclusion to one of the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton wrote:

Men admired as profound philosophers have, in direct terms, attributed to her inhabitants a physical superiority, and have gravely asserted that all animals, and with them the human species, degenerate in America–that even dogs cease to bark after having breathed awhile in our atmosphere. Facts have too long supported these arrogant pretensions of the Europeans. It belongs to us to vindicate the honor of the human race, and to teach that assuming brother, moderation. Union will enable us to do it. Disunion will will add another victim to his triumphs. Let Americans disdain to be the instruments of European greatness!

Building on the theories of John EvelynJohn WoodwardJean-Baptiste Dubos, and David Hume – who all believed that the clearing and cultivation of land in Europe accounted for the temperate climate that had enabled the Enlightenment – the colonists set about arguing that their settlement was causing a gradual increase in temperatures and improvement of the flora and fauna of North America.

Hugh Williamson, American politician and a signatory of the Constitutional Convention, believed that “within the last forty or fifty years there has been a very great observable change of climate, that our winters are not so intensely cold, nor our summers so disagreeably warm as they have been,” a fact he attributed to the clearing of forests. “The change of climate which has taken place in North America, has been a matter of constant observation and experience,” wrote Harvard professor Samuel Williams. Benjamin Franklin wrote of the “common Opinion, that the Winters in America are grown milder.” Measurements were as yet inadequate to the task of proving this, he said, but he found the proposed mechanism (i.e. clearing and cultivation) sufficiently persuasive that, even if the winters were not milder already, he could not “but think that in time they may be so.” Benjamin Rush, physician and signatory of the Declaration of Independence, speculated that, if cultivation kept pace with clearing of new lands, climate change might even reduce the incidence of fevers and disease.

Thomas Jefferson was especially eager to rebut Buffon and the proponents of the theory of climatic degeneracy. He expended substantial efforts to this effect in his Notes on the State of Virginia (1785), with page after page of animal measurements showing that the American animals were not inferior to their European counterparts. He also had help from James Madison, who shared his own measurements with Jefferson, urging him to use them in his arguments against Buffon.

jefferson notes on virginia

Thomas Jefferson compared the weight of European and American animals, in order to disprove Buffon’s claims that the animals of the New World were smaller degenerate forms of their Old World counterparts. Notice that he includes the Mammoth at the top of his list. – Source.

Their impassioned advocacy would occasionally lead them astray, though. Samuel Williams claimed that winter temperatures in Boston and eastern Massachusetts had risen by 10-12˚F in the previous century and a half, a climatic transformation too rapid to be believed perhaps. Jefferson, convinced that the American climate could sustain large animals too, insisted to a friend that “The Indians of America say [the Mammoth] still exists very far North in our continent.” Anxious to disprove claims of degeneracy, he wrote a letter to the American Philosophical Society in which he openly speculated that elephants, lions, giant ground sloths, and mammoths still lived in the interior of the continent. Later, believing he was on the verge of proving the skeptical Europeans wrong, he wrote a letter to the French naturalist Bernard Germain de Lacépède boasting that “we are now actually sending off a small party to explore the Missouri to it’s source,” referring to Lewis’ and Clark’s expedition. “It is not improbable that this voyage of discovery will procure us further information of the Mammoth, & of the Megatherium,” Jefferson continued, concluding “that there are symptoms of [the Megalonyx’s] late and present existence.”

The Founders did not settle for mere advocacy, though. Keen to present as strong a case for climate change as possible, and moderated by their scientific temperament perhaps, they wanted more and better evidence. To decide the issue of lions and mammoths, Jefferson instructed Lewis and Clark to pay special attention to “the animals of the country generally, & especially those not known in the U.S. the remains and accounts of any which may [be] deemed rare or extinct.” Although they didn’t find mammoths, they discovered many animals and plants previously unknown to science.

On the question of whether the winters were getting milder, Franklin wrote to Ezra Stiles, president of Yale University, encouraging him to make “a regular and steady Course of Observations on a Number of Winters in the different Parts of the Country you mention, to obtain full Satisfaction on the Point.” Madison made regular observations at his estate, which he assiduously entered into his meteorological journals. Jefferson, too, kept meticulous records, and encouraged his friends and colleagues to submit their measurements to the American Philosophical Society, “and the work should be repeated once or twice in a century, to show the effect of clearing and culture towards the changes of climate.” Jefferson himself made significant contributions to the development of modern meteorology. In 1778, for instance, Jefferson and the Reverend James Madison, president of The College of William & Mary and cousin of the fourth President of the United States, made the first simultaneous meteorological measurements. Jefferson promoted methodological standardization and expansion of geographical coverage, and was an early proponent of establishing a national meteorological service.

jefferson weather record

Detail from a page of Thomas Jefferson’s “Weather Record (1776-1818)”, in which he meticulously and somewhat obsessively notes down the temperature on everyday of the year. In this detail, from the year 1777, we see evidence of a particularly cold spring in Virginia, with frost on the ground as late as early April – Source.

One need hardly belabor the point that the early climate change advocates were wrong. Modern climate reconstructions show there was a brief warming period in New England during the late 1700s, but Jefferson’s and Williams’ measurements predate any actual man-made climate change. Their theories were pre-scientific in the specific sense that they predate a scientific understanding of the greenhouse effect. It is true that the French scientist Edme Mariotte had, as early as 1681, noticed the greenhouse effect, but it was not until the 1760s and 1770s that the first systematic measurements were made, and it would still be another century before anyone imagined that human activities might influence atmospheric composition to such an extent that the climate might be modified by this mechanism. Their pre-scientific theories also led them to believe that a changing climate would necessarily be beneficial, whereas today we are much more aware of the dangers of climate change.

Yet one should not belittle the efforts of these early climate change advocates. Fighting back against the European ‘degeneracy theory’ was necessitated by pride as much as a concern that these ideas might negatively affect immigration and trade from Europe. Their search for evidence, moreover, resulted in substantial contributions to zoology, and was instrumental to the foundation of modern meteorology and climatology. One might speculate, even, that a belief in degeneracy contributed to England’s refusal to afford its North American colonial subjects representation in parliament, and so helped spark the American revolution. In this case, one might construe the Founders’ climate change advocacy partly as an attempt to facilitate a peaceful resolution of their grievances with the Crown. Indeed, so politically important was their advocacy efforts thought at the time that Senator Sam Mitchell of New York, in his eulogy at Thomas Jefferson’s funeral, raised them to the same level as the American revolution itself.

jefferson

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by his close friend, soldier and part-time painter, Tadeusz Kościuszko (1746-1817). Jefferson’s turn to the hot-coloured break in the clouds perhaps not entirely devoid of symbolism – Source.

It is an interesting historical footnote that, during a visit to London, Benjamin Franklin met and became friends with Horace Benedict de Saussure, the Swiss scientist credited with the first systematic measurements of the greenhouse effect. Franklin exchanged letters with Saussure, and encouraged his experiments on electricity. So impressed by Saussure’s work was Jefferson that he would later write to George Washington to suggest recruiting Saussure to a professorship at the University of Virginia, which was then under construction.

Far from a stronghold of climate change skepticism, as the United States is sometimes seen today, the country’s founders were vocal proponents of early theories of man-made climate change. They wrote extensively in favor of the theory that settlement was improving the continent’s climate, and their efforts helped to lay the foundation of modern meteorology. Much of the climate change skepticism of the day, on the other hand, was based on the second- and third-hand accounts of travelers, and the skeptics rarely made efforts to further develop the science. In addition, one cannot ignore its political convenience for many in Europe; for instance, Cornelius de Pauw was even hired by the King of Prussia to discourage Prussian citizens from emigrating or investing their capital in the New World.

Even if the parallels between the past and present are too obvious to spell out, they can be of some use to us today. While modern climate change advocates and skeptics have become experts at pointing to each other’s errors, we are usually the last to notice our own faults. An episode in our history that bears such strong resemblance to our present provides a rare opportunity to examine ourselves as if through the eyes of another. Today’s climate change advocates may recognize in themselves some of the overzealousness of the Founding Fathers, and therefore better guard against potential fallacies. Skeptics may recognize in themselves the often anti-scientific spirit of the degeneracy-theorists, and hopefully make greater efforts to engage constructively in the scientific enterprise today. One can hope, at least.