There’s no hiding this news: The latest National Climate Assessment, released the Friday after Thanksgiving–a day often reserved for news government officials would like to bury–was a wallop of a reality-check on what climate change has wrought for the U.S. already and where we are headed. The federal government is required to publish the assessment every four years. This one included the most detailed analysis yet of the financial costs expected by the end of the century, write Coral Davenport and Kendra Pierre-Louis of The New York Times: $141 billion from heat-related deaths, $118 billion from rising seas and $32 billion in damage to infrastructure. Climate change will almost certainly become an increasingly disruptive factor in manufacturing and international trade. It will make vulnerable populations more vulnerable. And it will necessitate mass migrations as sea levels rise, something communities today are unprepared for. How did President Trump respond to the report’s findings that climate change could be devastating to the U.S. economy, causing a 10 percent decline by century’s end? “I don’t believe it,” he said.
- Also: Reporters around the country explained local ramifications of the climate report’s findings. Important fisheries in New England will continue to decline with rising water temperatures and increasing ocean acidity. Increased drought and wildfire will take a toll on quality of life in the Southwest. Heat waves could become unbearable for many people in cities like Philadelphia.–Climate experts say the world needs to stop using coal power. But last year, its use increased, writes Somini Sengupta in The New York Times, “because coal is a powerful incumbent.”
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The romaine problem: Federal health officials have narrowed the focus of their investigation of an E. coli outbreak that began just before Thanksgiving, sickening 43 people to date in 12 states, including 13 who were hospitalized, plus more in Canada. The Food and Drug Administration had warned people to avoid all romaine lettuce, but Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced on Monday that the source of the outbreak had been tracked to romaine grown in the Central Coast region of California, where the lettuce season was ending. Romaine growers have agreed to label the date and location of lettuce harvests so consumers know where their lettuce comes from. The FDA has urged people not to eat romaine that doesn’t have that labeling. Though the outbreaks are not directly related, this one involves the same strain of E. coli that killed five people earlier this year and sickened hundreds who ate lettuce grown in the Yuma region of Arizona. It’s a complicated problem, but not one without possible solutions, or at least improvements. Maryn McKenna explains in Wired, “There’s no question there’s a loophole in food safety on produce farms: They’re not required to test their water for pathogens or attempt to sanitize it.” The Obama administration, with a 2011 mandate from Congress, put in place a water-testing program. The Trump administration shelved it.
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Quick devastation, long-lasting effects: The wildfires that ravaged California through much of November have been contained, though it will be a long time until the people and communities affected have a real accounting of the damage. The Woolsey Fire burned more than 96,000 acres in Los Angeles and Ventura counties and killed three people. Heavy rains helped contain the devastating Camp Fire in Butte County, which killed at least 88, left 203 people still unaccounted for and destroyed nearly 14,000 homes. What could an ever-intensifying fire season mean for Californians over the long term? Possibly poorer health, writes Emily Atkin of The New Republic. She looks at a just-released Air Quality Life Index, a measure of the long-term health impact of air pollution, which suggests that exposure has already shaved off about a year of life for people in much of the state. That picture could worsen with more, or more extreme, fires. Maggie Koerth-Baker of FiveThirtyEight writes about what 50 baby rhesus monkeys incidentally exposed to wildfire smoke in 2008 are teaching scientists about the effects of exposure. Compared with monkeys born at the same site a year later, when there was no significant wildfire smoke exposure, the 2008 cohort had reduced lung function and weaker immune systems.
- Also: In a New York Times story about how extreme wildfires are changing the landscape for property insurance is this quote from California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones: “We’re slowly marching toward a world that’s uninsurable.” –– Jennifer Medina looks at how the Woolsey Fire scorched areas that were beloved for being a place of respite in nature, including 88 percent of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
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Palm oil pitfall: This deeply reported piece from Abrahm Lustgarten about how biofuels have backfired is well worth your time. In the 10 years after President George W. Bush called for a switch to biodiesel, the U.S. replaced 35 billion gallons of petroleum with alternatives, Lustgarten writes in ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine. But American agriculture never could have met the demand. Instead vast landscapes of old growth forest in places like Borneo have been cleared for the production of palm oil. “Instead of creating a clever technocratic fix to reduce American’s carbon footprint, lawmakers had lit the fuse on a powerful carbon bomb that, as the forests were cleared and burned, produced more carbon than the entire continent of Europe,” Lustgarten writes.
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Police firearms unguarded: A review of records from 100 police departments found that 1,781 police firearms went missing over a 10-year period. The investigation by The Trace found that some of the guns were later involved in crimes, including aggravated assault and homicide. The number may not seem like much when you consider that, in the same 10 years, at least 1.9 million guns were lost or stolen in the U.S. But David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, told The Trace that it’s a symbolic figure. “There are enough people in the world who are careless about guns, so you want [police] to set a standard,” he said. But often, they didn’t follow even their own rules for tracking and securing firearms, with audits turning up sloppy record-keeping and lax practices. The investigation prompted at least one police chief, in Atlanta, to impose stronger penalties for officers who violate gun storage rules.
What’s in a bug-free future?: Brooke Jarvis in The New York Times Magazine goes deep on something that you’ve probably never heard of but you may have noticed: the windshield phenomenon. Around the globe, insects of all sorts are disappearing. Perhaps even more significant and harder to measure, many more are in decline. People have begun noticing an emptiness in places once teeming with bugs, including roadways at dusk. The bug-splattered windshield may be on the decline, too. Jarvis spent time with the citizen scientists and professionals trying to document the change, and the challenge they face in not having reliable measures of bug populations past. “We see a hundred of something, and we think we’re fine,” David Wagner, an entomologist at the University of Connecticut, told her, “but what if there were 100,000 two generations ago?”
Shedding light on shady ads:If you come across a questionable advertising claim while doing your shopping, there’s a new way to complain. The Better Business Bureau this week, as part of its BBB AdTruth program, is launching an online tool for consumers to report potentially bogus ads for BBB specialists to investigate. “Although BBB has always called out fraudulent, confusing or unsubstantiated advertising, this new reporting function provides another way for consumers to be our allies in the fight for truth-in-advertising,” said Melissa Trumpower, executive director of the BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust.
Lost in a field: A company that provides temporary agricultural labor for corn detassling has been cited for a serious violation and ordered to pay $11,641 after a migrant worker died while working in a Nebraska cornfield on a day with a heat index of 100. It took more than a day of searching to find the body of Cruz Urias-Beltran, a 52-year-old from Arizona, in the nearly 300-acre field, according to the local ABC affiliate. Inspectors found that the company failed to properly train employees on heat injury and illness prevention. “This tragedy underscores the need for employers with workers exposed to high temperatures to take simple, well-known precautions – such as ensuring workers have access to water, rest, and shade – to keep workers safe in extreme heat,” OSHA’s Omaha Area Office Director Jeff Funke said in a press release.
- Also: Derek Williams, owner of the Florida roofing company Elo Restoration, faces proposed penalties of $116,551 for exposing workers to fall hazards at two work sites, after being cited for similar violations in May. Williams also was cited along with Travis Slaughter, owner of Florida Roofing Experts, for fall hazards at a St. Augustine work site. The two companies each face the maximum allowable penalty of $129,336, a press release said.–– Southern Classic Food Group of Alabama faces proposed penalties of $164,997 after employees were injured in two incidents, six days apart, one burned while working with hot water under pressure and another who suffered the amputation of a fingertip.
Fraud at workers’ expense: A Cleveland man has been sentenced to two years in prison, three more of supervised release, and a $781,000 penalty after a jury convicted him in June of stealing money from his workers’ paychecks and retirement account. C. David Snyder was found guilty on charges of embezzling more than $126,000 from the employee 401(k) and profit-sharing account at Attevo, a now-defunct technology consulting company where he was chief executive officer. He was found guilty on five charges for collecting nearly $860,000 from employees in tax money but never sending it to the IRS.
- Also: Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope, a federal government contractor in Colorado, has agreed to pay $395,000 in back wages and offer jobs to people who were affected when the company discriminated in its hiring practices against white and black men and all women, in favor of Hispanic men, according to a Department of Labor press release. –– The owner of Pho Ha Vietnamese restaurant in Pomona, California, will pay $219,716 in back wages after investigators found that employees were routinely denied overtime pay and some were not paid the minimum wage.
Chelsea Conaboy is a FairWarning contributor and freelance writer and editor specializing in health care. Find more of her work at chelseaconaboy.com.