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Atlantic City and Miami Beach: two takes on tackling the rising waters

Sea level rise is making floods more common and as the New Jersey resort braces for the next Sandy, the well-heeled Florida city is throwing money at the problem

The Irish Pub near Atlantic Citys famed boardwalk doesnt have any locks on the doors as it is open 24 hours a day. So when Hurricane Sandy crunched into what was once known as the Las Vegas of the east coast in 2012, some improvisation was needed.

Regular drinkers helped slot a cork board through the frame of the door, wedging it shut and keeping out the surging seawater. The wild night, which severely damaged more than 320 homes and caused a week-long power blackout, was seen out by those taking shelter with the help of several bottles of Jameson.

But Sandy was just the headline act among increasingly common flooding events that are gnawing away at the thin island upon which the city sits.

Sandy, as devastating as it was, isnt the greatest barometer because we have flash floods, said Cathy Burke, who has run the Irish Pub since 1973. Burke, a gravelly voiced institution along the boardwalk, has hoarded treasures from Atlantic Citys zenith. The upstairs of the pub is replete with vintage furniture, gramophones and china dogs.

We can have floods at the drop of a hat, Burke said. Without even realizing were going to have them. Itll be raining and within seconds youll see flooding in the street. You dont read about it in the paper. You dont hear about it on the radio or television. You just have water that just comes up and if you dont have warning and move your car, you have water in the car.

These flooding events have increased seven-fold in Atlantic City since the 1950s, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and are spurred by rainfall or simply a spring tide abetted by unhelpful gusts of wind.

The casinos and boardwalk are protected on the ocean side by a network of beach dunes. But the western side of the city, where few tourists venture and poverty lingers, is more vulnerable. Several times a month water swells in the bay behind Absecon Island the barrier strip dotted by the resorts of Atlantic City, Ventnor, Margate and Longport and with nowhere to go can slosh into the streets, wrecking cars and stranding residents.

The rising ocean, fed by melting glaciers and the expansion of warming water, is piling up water along Americas entire eastern seaboard. To compound the problem much of the mid-Atlantic coast is sinking, a hangover from the last ice age, meaning life and property is being swamped like never before.

atlantic city sea level

And yet with no overarching national sea level rise plan and patchy commitment from states, many coastal communities are left to deal with the encroaching seas themselves. Wealthier areas are raising streets and houses, erecting walls and pumps. Those without the funds or political will have several state or federal grants they can access but often make muddled choices in the face of this sisyphean task.

There is no central place that makes all the decisions, so you get one town building a pump station to push water out and another town pumping the water back to the same place, said Rouzbeh Nazari, an environmental engineering expert at Rowan University.

Nazari is critical of outdated flood maps, risky building in areas prone to flooding and what he considers an undue haste to buy up water-ravaged houses on the cheap to compensate homeowners rather than improve ragged coastal defenses.

It kind of feels like weve just given up, that we cant do anything about it, he said. Im less worried about a Sandy-like event than nuisance flooding. They are losing 20 cars a month to nuisance flooding on Absecon Island. We need a regional solution but New Jersey has no specific plan to deal with it.

A spokesman for New Jerseys department of environmental protection disputes claims that it lacks a plan, pointing to work with the army corps of engineers over future levees and a solution to inadequate stormwater systems that can exacerbate flooding.

We will be working very closely with coastal communities in identifying problem areas and the best ways to deal with them, the spokesman said. Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor, has previously said there was no evidence that Hurricane Sandy was linked to climate change. Asked about flooding at Cape May last year, Christie said: I dont know what you want me to do, you want me to go down there with a mop?

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Tom Quirk, a lifelong resident of Atlantic City, stands in a recently flooded area. Photograph: Laurence Mathieu-Leger for the Guardian

In Atlantic Citys heyday, its Steel Pier hosted concerts by Frank Sinatra and the Beatles, as well as a recurring attraction where a horse was required to dive off a 60ft platform into a pool of water a colossally stupid idea according to the then president of the US Humane Society. Today, it abuts the shuttered Trump Taj Mahal casino, which was sold by the president last year, as well as a tidal gauge that is quietly recording the fate of the city.

The numbers are stark the sea is rising at nearly 1.5 inches (38mm) a decade, streaking ahead of the global average and eroding away the tips of the island. Slender barrier islands such as Absecon arent easy to tame even with a stable sea level. Native Americans used to holiday, but never live, on the shifting sandy outcrop because they knew that it would be perennially mauled by the sea. Today, there are about 40,000 people living in Atlantic City, with the boardwalk drawing in millions of tourists to its hulking casinos.

The Native Americans were a lot smarter than the European settlers, said James Whalen, a former Atlantic City mayor turned state senator. The barrier islands up and down the coast really should not have been built on, but here we are.

And then there are the storms. Ben Horton, a climate scientist at Rutgers University, said that a Sandy-like storm used to occur on the east coast once every 500 years, before industrial activity began loading the atmosphere with greenhouse gases. Now such a storm arrives once every 25 years or so. Should the sea level continue to rise sharply, by 2100 Sandy would visit Atlantic City every five years.

If you chat to people here and you say, How sustainable is the New Jersey shore or Atlantic City to an event of the magnitude of Hurricane Sandy occurring every five years?, youll get a very negative response, Horton said.

The sustainability of Atlantic City consumes the thoughts of Elizabeth Terenik, the citys spry planning director. Terenik said the rise in nuisance flooding has become a major quality of life issue for back-bay residents. Many of those able to have raised their homes new buildings must now be a foot higher than previous codes due to the flooding.

Terenik is plotting new sea walls, a curb on new development in flood-prone areas and an underground canal that can funnel away stormwater. Perhaps most ambitiously, she is taken by an idea, put forward by Princeton University, that would raise the streets and houses in Chelsea Heights, a vulnerable neighborhood, and allow the water to seep into vacant land to create a sort of New Jersey twist on Venice.

Its an exciting project but one that really needs to be looked at closely before anythings moved forward and of course it would need funding, Terenik conceded. A lot of funding.

Miami Beach: climate gentrification

Funding isnt such a problem 1,200 miles south at another barrier island facing a daunting challenge from the seas Miami Beach. While it shares much of Atlantic Citys bygone glory, with its art deco grandeur and former celebrity playground status, Miami Beach linked by causeways to the mainland city of Miami has managed to retain much of the wealth that has allowed it to hurl money at the sea level rise problem.

Pancake flat and built on porous ground that is slowly sinking back to the seabed, Miami Beach is surrounded by seas accelerating at an astonishing 9mm a year vastly more than the 3mm-a-year global average. Should slabs of Antarctic ice start to crumble away into the ocean and fuel a 6ft sea level rise by 2100, Miami Beach will pretty much be swallowed up.

We are facing an existential threat here, said Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, Miami Beachs city commissioner. Gonzalez, a college professor, focused heavily on sea level rise when she was elected last year. Its not really much of a choice these days the mayor, Philip Levine, paddled down a flooded street in a canoe as part of an election stunt.

miami beach sea level

Once known as a sunny place for shady people due to its popularity with pre-war gangsters, Miami Beach is now often referred to as ground zero for the sea level rise phenomenon. But its perhaps more like a living laboratory experiment into what happens when you give a cashed-up place the task of avoiding drowning.

Miami Beach is spending $400m on a network of pumps, sea walls and raised streets in order to beat the tides. One vulnerable neighborhood, Sunset Harbor, has had its streets raised by 2ft at a cost of over $30m. All over the island, predominantly in the wealthier neighborhoods where properties go for $10m or more, streets are being torn up.

Kristen
Kristen Rosen Gonzalez: Were literally going to have to rise above this. Photograph: Michael Landsberg for the Guardian

Were literally going to have to rise above this, Gonzalez said. Thats very scary for many of us because right now, we cant really picture what that looks like. It is so hard to imagine parts of Miami Beach disappearing. A lot of this island is fill. We filled it in once. Well fill it in again.

City engineers admit that they are merely buying themselves time, perhaps 20 years or so, until Miami Beach will need to work the problem out again, possibly with some new technology. The seas are relentless, and rising ever further without end in sight. Much of southern Florida will eventually be reclaimed, but for now there is trillions of dollars of real estate to save.

Retreat isnt on the agenda, but as in Atlantic City theres an equity issue at play. The affluent can afford to raise their homes, lobby for sea walls and water pumps, and stay in a nice hotel if it all gets a bit much.

Poorer residents are less able to do this, nor can they foot the bill for the work Miami Beach has eye-watering average water bills of $350 a month in order to pay for the street work. Some people may have to leave if the costs mount further. Even some of the wealthier residents are buying insurance properties in areas of the mainland, farther from the coast.

Valencia Gunder calls this phenomenon climate gentrification. Gunder is a nascent climate campaigner and resident of Liberty City, a Miami district known for its problems with crime and poverty. Gunder has been agitating, so far unsuccessfully, for some large trees to help shade the Liberty City populace from increasingly frequent heatwaves. She gives a wry smile at the mention of Miami Beachs extreme engineering.

Were noticing things like heatstrokes and people passing out because its so hot outside, people cant take the heat, she said.

I do understand that you want to take care of the community thats right on the shore, but we all are affected. Four hundred million dollars, yes, is needed for resiliency, but just to put it in one neighborhood I think is ridiculous.

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Michel Rodriguez tries to jump to a shallow spot as he crosses a flooded street in Miami Beach in 2015. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

We pay taxes. We live here. We go to school here. We work here. We deserve the same treatment as other communities.

Federal leadership for communities like Atlantic City and Miami Beach is unlikely to arrive before the situation escalates further. Donald Trumps administration has already taken aim at existing coastal resiliency funding and has disparaged basic scientific understanding of climate change.

Should the seas rise by 6ft, 13 million Americans in coastal areas will have to relocate by the end of this century, according to recent research. There will need to be a plan, beyond just cutting emissions, well before this time.

In the meantime, threatened cities such as New York and Boston will mull gargantuan sea barriers, Miami Beach will hoist itself further upwards, and Atlantic City will hope a solution, or a combination of solutions, is found before the next Sandy arrives.

What links these places is the reluctance to abandon them. Miami Beach is one of the most special places in the entire world and we dont plan on going anywhere, said Gonzalez. Were going to be here for the long haul. I love this city. Its my home. I cant imagine there not being a Miami Beach.

Back in Atlantic City, Cathy Burke, surrounded by her Boardwalk Empire-style refinements, is similarly defiant.

I am a diehard Atlantic City native, she said. I love Atlantic City. I dont want to live anywhere else.

Ive seen hotels demolished. Storms, whatever. And as far as Im concerned, Atlantic City will always be here and it will only get bigger and better than ever.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/20/atlantic-city-miami-beach-sea-level-rise


The financial benefits of the EPA data Trump doesn’t want you to know about

Making EPA data easily accessible to the private sector plays a significant role in many billion-dollar industries, from renewable energy to auto manufacturing

For more than 25 years, Walter Hang has helped local governments, engineers and homeowners make sense of hazardous waste. To do that, he digs into the enormous data vault maintained by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and pinpoints information that is useful for his clients to assess the health and financial risks from nearby industrial properties and toxic waste sites.

Hang, who runs Toxics Targeting, now fears this trove of knowledge will become more difficult to access as the EPAs newly minted chief, Scott Pruitt, begins a broad rollback of regulations and shrinks the agencys staff. President Trump has vowed to weaken the EPA, contending that its rules for protecting public health stifle business development. The Trump administration has already eliminated or buried some information on EPA websites and moved to muzzle agency employees.

What Trump doesnt acknowledge is that EPA data isnt just an enforcement tool. The agency employs more scientists than any other government agency except Nasa. Decades of work by those scientists have generated valuable information about air and water pollution, chemical toxicity and hazardous waste cleanup. This information has enabled businesses to develop new products and services and create jobs in the process.

No one has estimated the financial benefits of making EPA data easily accessible to the private sector. But anecdotal evidence shows it plays a significant role in many billion-dollar industries, from lending and real estate to renewable energy development and auto designs and manufacturing. For example, chemical companies use the data to come up with less toxic compounds for dyeing textiles.

Banks wont loan money to a property developer without ensuring that the land is free of contamination, which can be an expensive liability. They rely on pollution data from the EPA, says Hang, who compiles the information into reports for companies in real estate development and transaction.

We are trying to make sure we get as much data as we can, and were trying to make sure we dont have data gaps, Hang says.

Hang isnt alone in worrying about access. Several campaigns, carried out mostly by university professors and students, to download and secure EPA data have sprung up since the November election. One of the first of such efforts began not in the US but in Canada. Matt Price, a history professor at the University of Toronto, helped organize guerrilla archiving events in December. Offering free pizza and coffee, these events recruited a small army of volunteers who began downloading EPA data to secure servers.

Price says he and his colleagues sprang into action after experiencing their own war on science by former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, a conservative who slashed funding for science and ended important environmental monitoring projects. Price and others stepped up to preserve Canadian environmental data during that crisis.

We probably focused immediately on the EPA because of the extremely hostile language that came out of the Trump campaign around the EPA, says Price. We have put a kind of faith in the state as the long term guarantor of the integrity of scientific data. I think that faith may be misplaced.

Many companies rely on the agencys data to build products that tackle some of the biggest health and environmental problems. They sign research and development agreements with the EPA, which provides technical assistance in return for a share of any sales a company generates as a result.

EPA had 97 such contracts active in 2015, which yielded $232,318 in royalties for the agency. The previous year, 129 contracts produced royalties of $438,786.

Aclima, a San Francisco company that develops air-quality sensors and software, is working with the EPA to improve the devices sensitivity in detecting pollution. EPA air pollution data, gathered for decades at a regional scale, serves as an important reference and quality check for the company. Aclima has partnered with Google to collect air quality data by putting its mobile sensors on the StreetView cars that Google uses to create its maps. It plans to offer the resulting data to the public later this year.

Aclima CEO Davida Herzl says the EPAs air pollution data plays a foundational role in everything the company does. Anytime we lose information that is important to public health, that is a concern, Herzl says. It would be a massive blow to the business community in ways that arent always discussed. Innovation and private sector research is happening on top of that foundation of science that EPA has been developing for over 30 years now.

Even businesses that are set to benefit from Trumps plan to loosen environmental regulations are worried about losing access to EPA data, which they need for complying with state or local laws and for their own internal accounting of efficiency and performance, says Gretchen Goldman, research director at the Center for Science and Democracy, a program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The American Gas Association, which represents natural gas distribution utilities, recently notified members to download any EPA data they need in case it is removed from the agencys website. Pam Lacey, the associations chief regulatory counsel, says gas utilities use EPA data and other online resources to track methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas. The data shows distributors have cut methane emissions by 74% since 1990.

They continue to do more work and theyd like to be able to keep the data that demonstrates what theyve done and what theyre doing on an ongoing basis, Lacey says. Also, some companies have their own internal goals for sustainability, and they would want to use that official EPA data.

None of the EPA data has been restricted or eliminated yet, say the scientists involved in the data backup campaigns, but they arent taking any chances. Their concern stretches beyond protecting existing EPA data, however. Major budget cuts, if implemented, means the agency may be unable to collect new data.

EPA officials within the Trump administration did not respond to a request for comment.

Their goal is to defund programs that gather data, says Jared Blumenfeld, former administrator of EPA Region 9 (California, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii), who left the agency in May 2016. Its much, much harder in a digital age to get rid of data. Its a lot easier to not fund science so you dont have the data in the first place.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/mar/15/epa-data-trump-benefits


Fukushima disaster evacuees told to return to abandoned homes

People who fled after March 2011 nuclear meltdown face losing housing subsidies if they do not go back, despite radiation fears

Thousands of people who fled the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant six years ago have been told they must return to their homes or lose housing subsidies, despite lingering concerns over radiation in their former neighbourhoods.

The instruction, condemned by campaigners as a violation of the evacuees right to live in a safe environment, will affect an estimated 27,000 people who were not living inside the mandatory evacuation zone imposed after Fukushima became the scene of the worst nuclear accident in Japanese history.

The meltdown in three reactors occurred after a magnitude-9 earthquake on 11 March 2011 triggered a powerful tsunami that killed almost 19,000 people along Japans north-east coast and knocked out the plants backup cooling system.

As a voluntary evacuee, Noriko Matsumoto is among those who will have their subsidies withdrawn at the end of this month, forcing them to make a near-impossible choice: move back to homes they believe are unsafe, or face financial hardship as they struggle on living in nuclear limbo.

Many of the other evacuees I know are in the same position, Matsumoto said at the launch of Unequal Impact, a Greenpeace Japan report on human rights abuses affecting women and children among the 160,000 people who initially fled from areas near the plant. As of last month, almost 80,000 were still displaced.

Matsumoto said: They would still have to contend with high radiation if they returned, but the government is forcing them to go back by withdrawing housing assistance thats tantamount to a crime.

At the time of the incident, Matsumoto was living with her husband and their two daughters in the city of Koriyama, 43 miles (70km) west of the stricken facility, well outside the area where tens of thousands of people were ordered to leave.

Matsumoto initially stayed put, but three months later, with her youngest daughter, then aged 12, having nosebleeds, stomach ache and diarrhoea, she left her husband behind and took their children to Kanagawa prefecture, more than 150 miles south of Fukushima.

She said: The government is playing down the effects of radiation exposure Yet people who dont return to places like Koriyama after this month will be left to fend for themselves. They will become internally displaced people. We feel like weve been abandoned by our government.

Many of the people who left their homes of their own volition after the triple meltdown were mothers and their young children, who experts say face greater risks to their health from prolonged exposure to relatively low levels of radiation.

The voluntary evacuations have forced families to live apart, while parents struggle to earn enough money to fund their new accommodation and keep up mortgage payments on their abandoned homes.

Kazuko Ito, a lawyer and the secretary general of Tokyo-based NGO Human Rights Now, said: The government has a responsibility to protect the human rights of evacuees, but it doesnt not recognise this obligation. Instead, it downplays the health impact of the accident, especially the dangers associated with long-term radiation exposure.

In an arrangement repeated among thousands of other Fukushima families, Matsumotos husband decided to stay in Koriyama, a city of 330,000 people that was never subject to an evacuation order, and run their restaurant, rather than risk becoming unemployed by joining his wife and children in Kanagawa. The high cost of travel means the family gets together once every two months.

The housing subsidy for households of two or more people from Matsumotos neighbourhood is typically 90,000 yen (640) a month, according to local officials, who say some households will receive smaller sums after the subsidy is withdrawn.

Matsumoto said: The nuclear accident is to blame for this situation, yet its been turned around to make it look like its our fault, like we are being selfish.

Residents who were not living in the mandatory evacuation zone when they fled have been campaigning to retain housing subsidies, in a challenge to the authorities attempts to convince more evacuees that some neighbourhoods have been properly decontaminated.

Campaigners have called on the government to declare Fukushima neighbourhoods unfit for human habitation unless atmospheric radiation is brought to below one millisievert (mSv) a year, the maximum public exposure limit recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection.

While 1 mSv a year remains the governments long-term target, it is encouraging people to return to areas where radiation levels are below 20 mSv a year, an annual exposure limit that, internationally, applies to nuclear power plant workers.

Matsumoto said the unprecedented decontamination effort in Fukushima had brought radiation levels in and around her home to below government-set limits, but insisted that children were still at risk from hotspots in places such as parks and forests. Those areas have not been decontaminated, she said. Its true that atmospheric radiation has been lowered, but thats not the case on the ground and in the soil.

At the end of this month, evacuation orders will be lifted in four more towns and villages near Fukushima Daiichi, with only those closest to the plant, where radiation is more than 50 mSv a year, still off-limits.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/10/japan-fukushima-nuclear-disaster-evacuees-forced-return-home-radiation


Building Zion: the controversial plan for a Mormon-inspired city in Vermont

A Mormon businessman is buying up land to build master-planned towns from scratch, based on the church founders idea for a plat of Zion

The roads through rural Vermont wind past rolling forested hills and quaint small towns, including South Royalton used as the quintessential New England village in the opening sequence of the TV series Gilmore Girls.

A short drive away, the Tunbridge Worlds Fair has run almost continuously since 1867, with games, contests for best pig or pumpkin, and displays of old-time printing presses and candle making.

And not far from there, one stop on the areas low-key tourist trail dotted with maple syrup farms, pottery workshops and picturesque covered bridges, is the birthplace of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church.

The site now hosts a museum, run by the church and staffed by cheerful missionaries. Outside, a giant granite obelisk rises towards the sky. Calming music flows from speakers located high up in the trees. It is a peaceful place, designed to inspire reflection.

But, over the last year, it has also found itself at the centre of a controversy. In front of many houses and shops, signs exclaim: Save our communities. Stop NewVistas.

NewVistas is the name of an unusual, indeed, one-of-a-kind project led by a Mormon businessman named David Hall to build new, master-planned towns from scratch inspired by notes written by Joseph Smith himself in 1833.

Hall says these designs, which described how ideal Mormon settlements should be laid out and were drafted almost 200 years ago, offer answers to modern-day challenges of sustainable living. And to make it happen, he has been buying land lots of it.

The first goal is to build a NewVista community near Smiths birthplace in Vermont, which would be home to about 20,000 people. The next step: to build more. Ultimately, Halls vision describes a new city of connected communities, with a total population of up to one million.

The fantastic story first came to light last spring, thanks to the careful eye and diligent research of a librarian in the small town of Sharon, who uncovered a series of local land purchases that she traced to the businessman and his plans.

Reflecting on that time, Nicole Antal, 30, says shed found it all hard to believe particularly the scale.

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Plat of Zion by Joseph Smith in 1833. Photograph: https://newvistasllc.sharepoint.com

This is very big for Vermont, she says. Burlington is 40,000 people. Montpellier, the state capital, is 7,000. This is not one guy buying a house and trying something new.

To date, the NewVistas project is thought to have purchased as many as 1,500 acres in central Vermont with plans to buy much more. Its focused on a largely rural area at the intersection of four tiny towns Royalton, Sharon, Stafford and Tunbridge which have a combined population of just 6,400.

Nor is the project just buying up vacant lots. It appears to be purchasing whatever it can. Antal says a few properties sold to NewVistas were second homes. But so far acquisitions have been fragmented parcels.

Antal first blogged about the land purchases in March 2016, setting off a flurry of articles in the local media. Soon Bloomberg Businessweek and the Wall Street Journal picked up the story, revelling in its unusual characters, audacious vision and local controversy.

Residents in Vermont, meanwhile, had started to organise in opposition.

This threat is like nothing weve ever seen or could have conjured up ourselves, says one long-term local resident Jane Huppe, 58, describing it as a top-down venture that doesnt fit with the areas own ideas for how it should develop.

It hit us like a ton of bricks, she adds, suggesting it could completely overwhelm existing communities. Why does he not bring this to where they need massive amounts of housing, instead of disrupting the rural countryside?

Building Zion

Joseph Smith left central Vermont as a child with his family, moving to rural New York, where he later founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But despite his rural upbringing, Smith outlined a vision for new and compact settlements that would go on to influence the planning of hundreds of American towns.

This farm boy … dreamed to build a metropolis that rivalled the large seaport cities he had only heard about, writes the academic Benjamin Park, in a 2013 paper.

In the 1830s, Smith laid out a detailed plan called the plat of Zion. It described new towns, designed to be self-sufficient, ordered by rigid grids, and surrounded by farmland and wilderness.

The
The memorial of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church at his birthplace in Vermont. Photograph: imageBROKER/Rex/Shutterstock

The plan included ideal sizes of streets, blocks and lots. Roads should be straight and oriented to the points of a compass. Homes, built in uniform stone or brick, should sit within deep individual lots, with front yards and back gardens.

Significantly, the plan lacked designated areas for government buildings and town halls, as well as for markets or commercial districts. Instead, central blocks would be set aside for temples and community buildings.

Once fully occupied, with 15-20,000 inhabitants, the settlement would not be expanded. Instead, others would be built, to fill up the world in these last days.

This wasnt a theoretical plan. Smith hoped to build a new town like this in Missouri, specifically. In 1831, he said that Independence, in Jackson County, had been revealed as the land of promise and the place for the City of Zion.

Unlike other new religious movements in America at the time, which were warning congregants of the evils rooted in urban cities, Smith believed that cities were not to be fled, but sacralised, writes Park. This reflected key Mormon principles that focused on establishing a righteous civilisation … rather than individuals.

[Zion] was literally the centre place for a new civilisation destined to expand as Gods people multiplied. Gathering and city building were not incidental parts of sanctification, but the goal.

In the summer of 1833, Smith and other church leaders met in Kirtland, Ohio, and drew up specific blueprints for a city of Zion, including designs for specific buildings. Smith sent these to church members in Missouri, who were to purchase this whole region of country, as soon as time will permit.

It didnt happen; early Mormon settlers were driven out of Missouri. And in 1844, Smith was killed, before his city plan could be realised.

NewVistas,
A computer rendering of a plan for NewVistas that would house, feed and employ 15-20,000 residents. Photograph: NewVistas Foundation

His designs survived, however, and were later used as a blueprint for as many as 500 communities in the American West. In the 1990s, the American Planning Association went so far as to recognise the plat of Zion documents for their historical significance and influence.

Most famously, church leader Brigham Young drew on the plat for the design of Salt Lake City, which was established by Mormon settlers in 1847. The citys core still reflects this: it features wide streets, oriented north-south, and mammoth blocks focusing on Temple Square, where a church museum also holds the original plat of Zion documents.

The concept of Zion remains key to the Mormon faith. The church explains that it represents the pure in heart, but also a place where the pure in heart live. It says: In the latter days a city named Zion will be built [in Missouri] … to which the tribes of Israel will gather. In the meantime, members are counselled to build up Zion wherever they are living.

Salt Lake City itself was also, of course, heavily influenced by broader trends in American life, such as the completion of the transnational railroad in the 19th century, which brought new visitors and migrants, and later by car culture and sprawl.

In December 2016, a popular architecture and design podcast noted that the citys design means that addresses can read like sets of coordinates. 300 South 2100 East, for example, means three blocks south and 21 blocks east of Temple Square. But, it said, the most striking thing about Salt Lakes grid is the scale:

The streets are so menacing and crossings so long that the city has placed plastic buckets on lampposts which hold flags that pedestrians can carry to the other side while crossing. In present-day Salt Lake City, its hard to get around without a car.

Nevertheless, some experts argue that the plat of Zion was a precursor to intelligent urban planning and leaves a legacy that could help tackle haphazard developments today.

The NewVistas project

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A design of food production in the NewVistas Mormon development, Vermont. Photograph: NewVistas Foundation

This is of little comfort for those Vermont residents who oppose NewVistas. The Mormon church, too, is apparently displeased: they dont support the plan.

David Hall, the businessman behind the contemporary and controversial NewVistas project, lives in Provo, Utah. His background is in big energy: he reportedly made his fortune selling sophisticated drilling tools to the oil and gas industry.

In an interview with the Guardian, he says Smiths city plans remain remarkably relevant for todays challenges.

The plat describes a very low footprint, 20,000 people on only three square miles. Everything else was supposed to be wilderness. Its telling us not to sprawl, which is what we do, we even go into the mountains, Hall says. It really makes sense for our time.

The projects website says it follows the plat laid out by Smith and that its architectural plans are also based on the same sizing specifications for early Mormon temples, which were designed to fulfil multiple functions.

David
David Hall with a modular kitchen design in Provo, Utah. Hall, a wealthy Mormon businessman, plans communities of tiny dwellings based on the teachings of church founder Joseph Smith. Photograph: Rick Bowmer/AP

But, Hall says, the goal is to develop secular, sustainable communities taking advantage of modern technology, including food production techniques that make it possible for people to live in ever-smaller spaces. It is envisaged for Mormons and non-Mormons alike.

The NewVistas Foundation argues: Sustainable living in the modern world requires high density urban development, pointing out that sprawl consumes too much energy and other resources, not just in urban areas but rural as well.

It presents a detailed, wide-ranging plan, including specific designs for three-storey standard buildings with apartments, businesses, and some farming and manufacturing, all located in one place.

More futuristic ideas include internal walls and floors that could be moved by robotic systems, so that families could live in small spaces that are easily rearranged. Outside, walkway-podway systems (something like elevated sidewalks and an underground tube network) would operate on multiple levels to transport people and goods. New toilets would monitor users health.

Not unlike Smiths original vision, the foundation says the goal is massive scalability, so that these communities can be replicated to encompass all of the earths billions of people. It calls itself nothing less than a new urban model and economic system for the 21st century.

Each complete NewVista would have as many as one million people, but be composed of 50 similar and carefully designed communities, each with a population of 15,000 to 25,000 and the capacity to be self-sufficient with respect to basic needs.

There are also unusual proposals for how these places will be run: organised according to a private capitalistic economic structure. The community is not a political entity but a productive enterprise, like a company town.

There is even a suggestion that a NewVista Community Corporation would have control over things like land use, transportation, and community environment, which are usually matters of government concern.

Hall predicts that the first NewVistas community could require as much as $3bn (2.3bn) to build, expecting 20% to come from the first residents and the bulk from other investors with nothing from the church.

NewVistas is my own modern interpretation of Joseph Smiths community documents and I have not ever discussed the ideas with the church and wont involve them in the future.

Vermont strikes back

We didnt waste any time when this came up, says Michael Sacca, 61, director of the Alliance for Vermont Communities, a new non-profit organisation formed by local residents in opposition to Halls plans and any other similar large-scale developments in future.

Sitting on the porch outside the house he and his wife built themselves 15 years ago, with the sun setting below the hills around him, he says: We want to protect our future and our childrens future and the region … we want to maintain our lifestyle and our communities.

The NewVistas plans simply dont fit into local, regional or state visions of how Vermont should develop, Sacca argues, which instead aim to concentrate development as much as possible in village centres, town centres, leaving rural areas for rural life.

Sacca also describes the corporate structure envisaged for NewVistas as Orwellian and as an experiment designed to stand on its own as an insulated corporate town.

Residents
Residents attend a public meeting in Tunbridge, Vermont to discuss the NewVistas development, which many oppose. Photograph: Lisa Rathke/AP

Opposition to the project, which would transform the area, has been vibrant and vocal. Sign and stickers are visible on the streets of central Vermont, and petitions are calling for discussion at town meetings in March.

The Alliance is also tracking land purchases. By their count, NewVistas has already acquired an estimated 1,200-1,500 acres of land with purchases continuing despite the controversy.

The Mormon church is itself, a significant land and real estate developer, with farms, ranches, residential and commercial properties across the US. In Florida, a church-owned property is now set to become the site of a new city for as many as half a million people by 2080.

However, it does not seem to be too happy about the NewVistas project either.

In August 2016, a church spokesman said: This is a private venture and is not associated with The Church … [which] makes no judgment about the scientific, environmental or social merits of the proposed developments. However, for a variety of reasons, we are not in favour of the proposal.

The NewVistas website explains that the community layout envisaged follows a city plot pattern created by Joseph Smith in June of 1833. But it also carries an Important Note stating that its model is not presented as a fulfilment of Joseph Smiths vision. It is not supported or endorsed by the Church.

The church in Salt Lake City did not respond to requests for comment or further elaboration of its position.

In Vermont, some of the projects opponents hope they can use Act 250 the states premier land use law to stop it. This law was enacted decades ago after new highways and ski resorts lured investors into the state. It requires that developers comply with regional plans, as a way to manage growth and protect the environment.

Hall acknowledges his project has been controversial and many people are against it. But he says hes drawn to Vermont in particular because of its connection to Joseph Smith, because land is relatively cheap, and because there is too much of what he calls rural sprawl.

Theres lots of rules that keep you from building things, so Vermonters would eventually have to approve it but not right away, Hall adds, stressing that nothing is happening overnight and it would take decades to realise his plan.

He says technical components must first be worked out, and he needs to consolidate land, which can take generations because weve had this trend of subdividing and sprawl, so the reverse process will take a long time. The project, he argues, is very unique, but I have a hard time getting people to really look at it and study it.

Meanwhile, land is also being bought in his home town of Provo, Utah, where NewVistas is again facing local opposition. Professor emeritus at Brigham Young Universitys Marriott School, Warner Woodworth, who lives in Provo, described it as a takeover.

To have someone with money and power enter our area and gradually buy up homes, offering distorted purchase power to grab residences, is troubling. It shakes the peace and violates the sense of continuity and mutual care for one another, Woodworth wrote in September, arguing that Halls plans are also a far cry from the original plat of Zion idea:

Halls system is corporatist, while Josephs was more communal. Hall wants to establish a top-down power structure, whereas Joseph envisioned a bottom-up community of common consent. Hall seeks to control. Joseph sought to liberate. The early Zion plat consisted of large family yards and agriculture. In contrast, Hall plans for tiny urban apartments of 200 square feet in a bare, boring apartment.

But, he suggested: It may have been more achievable and acceptable if he had engaged more participants from the beginning. While one may disagree with some of his ideas, its the process he uses that becomes the fatal step.

As for Antal, who first discovered Halls project, she is concerned about the impact on her family.

There are some good ideas [in the NewVistas project] … Polluting less, creating local agriculture. But I dont think it applies to Vermont. I think Vermont is doing a pretty good job at being sustainable, she says. I dont like that this is being imposed on us.

Read the first part of Claire Provosts investigation into the role of Mormons in city planning here. Follow Guardian Cities on Twitter and Facebook to join the discussion, and explore our archive here

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/jan/31/building-zion-controversial-plan-mormon-inspired-city-vermont


From book to boom: how the Mormons plan a city for 500,000 in Florida

The Mormon church owns vast tracts of US land, and now envisages a huge new city on its Deseret Ranch but at what cost?

Everything about the Deseret cattle and citrus ranch, in central Florida, is massive. The property itself occupies 290,000 acres of land more than nine times the size of San Francisco and almost 20 times the size of Manhattan. It is one of the largest ranches in the country, held by the one of the biggest landowners in the state: the Mormon church.

On an overcast weekday afternoon, Mormon missionaries give tours of the vast estate. Fields, orange trees and grazing animals stretch as far as the eye can see. While central Florida may be best known for Disney World, the ranch roughly an hours drive away is nearly 10 times bigger. It is home to a jaw-dropping 40,000 cows and has grown oranges for millions of glasses of juice.

Now there are ambitious, far-reaching plans to transform much of this land into an entirely new city, home to as many as 500,000 people by 2080. Deseret has said that while nothing will be built here for decades, its plans are necessary because urban growth in the area is inevitable and the alternative is piecemeal development. A slide from a 2014 presentation explains: We think in terms of generations.

The
The Deseret Ranch in central Florida. The Mormon church has said it plans are necessary because urban growth in the area is inevitable. Photograph: John Raoux/AP

Deserets plans, which were given the green light by local county commissioners in 2015, are thought to be the largest-ever proposed in the state and have attracted high-profile attention. Critics have accused the plans of putting already stressed natural habitats and critical resources, such as water, in further jeopardy.

This is not a typical housing development. It is an entire region of the state of Florida and it is the last remaining wilderness, said Karina Veaudry, a landscape architect in Orlando and member of the Florida Native Plant Society. It is, she stressed, a plan on an unprecedented scale: This project impacts the entire state, ecologically.

For years, environmental groups protested that it was too risky to build so much on such ecologically important land particularly in one of the few areas of Florida that hasnt already been consumed by sprawling developments. We fought it and fought it and fought it, said Veaudry, who described it as nothing less than a David and Goliath struggle.

Except this time, Goliath was part of the property empire of the Mormon church.

Faith and property

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long influenced urban developments in America through specific ideas about town planning. In the 1830s, the churchs founder, Joseph Smith, laid out a vision for compact, self-sufficient agrarian cities. These were utopian in conception and have been hailed as a precursor to smart growth planning.

The plans for the Deseret ranch in central Floridahave shone a spotlight on another side of the churchs influence: its investments in land and real estate. Today, the church owns land and property across the US through a network of subsidiaries. Its holdings include farmland, residential and commercial developments, though it remains notoriously tight-lipped about its business ventures.

The church has been buying up land in central Florida since the 1950s, starting with 50,000 acres for Deseret Ranch since expanded almost sixfold. Its most recent major acquisition, by the church-owned company AgReserves, was another 380,000 acres in the states north-western panhandle the strip of land that runs along the Gulf of Mexico. Deseret Ranchs website quotes the late church president, Gordon B Hinckley, as saying that farms are both a safe investment where the assets of the church may be preserved and enhanced and an agricultural resource to feed people should there come a time of need.

Across America, subsidiaries of the church reportedly hold 1m acres of agricultural land. This is thought to include land in Nebraska, Oklahoma, Utah and Texas. Church companies are also thought to hold land outside the US, including in Canada and Brazil. In 2014, when church-owned farms in Australia were put up for sale, reports estimated their worth at about $120m (72.8m).

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The Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City where the church has its headquarters. Photograph: George Frey/Getty Images

Recent real estate investments by church companies include the 2016 purchase of a 380-unit apartment complex in Texas, estimated to be worth tens of millions of dollars, and, in Philadelphia, a shopping area, a 32-storey apartment block and a landscaped plaza being built across the street from a newly constructed Mormon temple.

In Salt Lake City, where the church has its headquarters, a church company is currently working on a new master-planned community on the citys west side for almost 4,000 homes. Last year, another investment was unveiled: the new high-end 111 Main skyscraper. Goldman Sachs is reportedly signed up as a tenant.

This city was built by Mormons. In the 19th century, early Mormon settlers gave Salt Lake City bridges, miles of roads, rail and other infrastructure. Hundreds of businesses were also set up: banks, a network of general stores, mining companies. The citys Temple Square is filled with statues glorifying the pioneers.

Nearby is a more contemporary monument to the investing and enterprising church: the City Creek Center, a new shopping mall with 100 stores and a retractable glass roof. It cost an estimated $1.5bn. At its grand opening, a church leader cut a pink ribbon and cheered: One, two, three lets go shopping!

The church said its investment in the mall would help revitalise central Salt Lake City as part of a wider multibillion-dollar initiative called Downtown Rising. Bishop H David Burton said it would create the necessary jobs and added that any parcel of property the church owns that is not used directly for ecclesiastical worship is fully taxed at its market value.

The City Creek Center project has been controversial, however even among Mormons. Some current and former church members have questioned why money invested in such projects isnt spent on charitable initiatives instead.

In 2013, Jason Mathis, executive director of Salt Lake Citys Downtown Alliance business development group, said the church was an interesting landlord. Theyre not worried about the next quarter, he explained. They have a much longer perspective they want to know what the city will look like in the next 50 or 100 years.

The
The City Creek shopping centre in Salt Lake City, which reportedly cost $1.5bn. Photograph: Rick Bowmer/AP

Black box finances

Projects such as the Salt Lake City shopping centre have certainly focused attention on the churchs investments, but it remains secretive about its revenues and finances.

An entity called Deseret Management Corporation is understood to control many of the churchs enterprises, through subsidiaries focused on different commercial interests including insurance and publishing.

Several church ventures bear the name Deseret itself a term from the Book of Mormon meaning honeybee and intended to represent goals of productivity and self-sufficiency.

In central Florida, the churchs Deseret Ranch is understood to sell cows to Cargill, a Minnesota-based trading company, and oranges to Tropicana, as well as renting land to hunters and other companies.

Deseret, however, declined to confirm this. It said: As a private investment affiliate of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Deseret Ranch does not release financial information or details about our production and customers.

The churchs press office in Salt Lake City also did not respond to emails from the Guardian.

Previously, church officials have emphasised that finance for its companies investments do not come from tithing donations (church members are supposed to contribute 10% of their income each year) but from profits from other such ventures.

But these and other claims, even when offered, are also difficult to verify. Ultimately their finances are a black box according to Ryan Cragun, associate professor of sociology at the University of Tampa.

Cragun previously worked with Reuters to estimate in 2012 that the church owns temples and other buildings worth $35bn and receives as much as $7bn in members tithing each year. But he says the church stopped releasing annual financial information to its own members many years ago.

Estimating their total land holdings? Good luck, says Cragun. Nobody knows how much money the church actually has and why theyre buying all of this land and developing land.

The
The Mormon church-owned skyscraper at 111 Main in Salt Lake City. Photograph: City Creek Reserve

A new city for Florida

Over the last half-century, Florida has become something of a laboratory for ambitious and sometimes surreal master-planned communities. In southern Florida, for example, the founder of Dominos Pizza funded the construction of a Catholic town called Ave Maria. Closer to Orlando is the town of Celebration, developed by the Walt Disney Company, where shops on meticulously maintained streets sell French pastries and luxury dog treats.

Across Florida, more new subdivisions and developments are planned. Many of these projects have drawn criticism for their potential impact on Floridas already stressed water resources.

Sprawl is where the money is, and people want homes with big lawns and nearby golf courses, a columnist for the Florida Times-Union newspaper recently lamented. He suggested the state should step in to ban water-hungry grass varieties and introduce stronger planning procedures to limit large-scale developments.

The ranchs plans are the largest of these yet. Indeed, they are thought to be the largest-ever proposed in the state, and this land lies in an area thats been called Floridas last frontier.

In 2015, local Osceola county officials approved the North Ranch sector plan, which covers a 133,000-acre slice of Deseret property. As part of this plan, tens of thousands of these acres have been earmarked for conservation lands, not to be built on; and, in addition, Deseret has insisted that it will also continue ranching operations here for generations in the future.

But most of this land, under the approved plan, could be transformed into a new urban landscape. By 2080, it could be home to as many as 500,000 people. The plan explicitly refers to a new fully functioning city.

It envisages a massive development complete with a high-intensity, mixed-use urban centre and a variety of centres and neighbourhoods. There would be 16 communities and a regional hub with a footprint of around one square mile equal to [that] of downtown Orlando.

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The Lake Nona complex of master-planned communities where the grass is greener. Photograph: Claire Provost

New office blocks, civic buildings, high-rise hotels and apartment buildings are among the structures anticipated, along with new schools, a hospital, parks and a university and research campus. New motorways and rail lines would connect it all to Orlando and cities along Floridas eastern coast.

The document argues that the plan is necessary to prepare for expected population growth. More than 80% of the vacant developable land in the very area where demographic and economic forces are propelling an increasing share of the regions population and job growth is located on Deserets North Ranch, it says.

In an email to the Guardian, Dale Bills, a spokesperson for Deseret Ranch, said it offers a framework for future land use decisions but will not be implemented for decades.

Were not developers, but the sector plan allows us to be involved in shaping what the ranch will look like over the next 50-60 years, Bills said. When growth does come to the region the plan will help create vibrant communities that are environmentally responsible and people-friendly, he said.

The plan also provides for continued farming operations, Bills added, meaning that generations from now, Deseret will still be doing what we love growing food and caring for the land.

Meanwhile, the ranch has set aside another, smaller block of its land for a separate and more immediate project called Sunbridge, to be developed by the Tavistock Group known in the area for its Lake Nona complex of master-planned communities just south-east of Orlandos international airport.

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A render of the Lake Nona development. Photograph: KPMG

On a weekday afternoon, the still largely empty Lake Nona development is silent. Signs planted by the road proclaim it is where the grass is greener. At the visitors centre, a pair of well-dressed women chat over coffee. A sales agent hands out glossy brochures with aspirational verbs embossed on its cover: DISCOVER. EVOLVE. INNOVATE.

Still under construction, Lake Nona describes itself as a city of the future with super-fast internet connections, one of the top private [golf] clubs in the world and homes ranging from luxury apartments to sprawling estates. Less than an hours drive from the ranch, it offers a potential hint of whats to come.

The damage is done

Until this happened [the ranch] was a quiet neighbour, said Jenny Welch, 54, a registered nurse and environmental activist who lived in the area for decades before leaving earlier this year. When I first moved here in 1980, I thought it was great because it would never be developed. This is such environmentally important land. Its a wildlife corridor. There are wetlands.

Major concerns about the Deseret North Ranch plan have included how much water it will consume, the impact of proposed new roads and the amount of land set aside for conservation.

Veaudry, the Orlando landscape architect, said environmental groups tried to engage with the Deseret plans from the beginning by raising concerns but also suggesting enhanced measures to protect local ecosystems.

But, she said, what was ultimately approved was pretty much the nail in the coffin for decades-long efforts to establish a north-south ecological corridor to allow wildlife and ecosystems to flow across the state. It would put literally a city right in the middle of it, she said.

The new city envisaged for this land wont be constructed overnight. While the overall plan for the area has been approved, more approvals will be needed on specific details. This has not reassured critics.

Florida environmentalist Charles Pattison has argued that the long time frame only makes it harder to monitor the project. People involved in this today will not be around to see [it] through to completion, as many new administrative and elected officials will come and go over that time, he said.

The main guidelines, the amount of conservation, how wide the buffers have to be, all of that is already approved and set, said Veaudry. As far as I understand it, the damage is done. Locals know what happened. The Mormon church is the largest landowner here. And they have enormous resources.

The second half of Claire Provosts exploration of Mormon city planning will appear tomorrow. Follow Guardian Cities on Twitter and Facebook to join the discussion, and explore our archive here

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/jan/30/from-book-to-boom-how-the-mormons-plan-a-city-for-500000-in-florida


Trump interior secretary pick on climate change: ‘I dont believe its a hoax’

Ryan Zinke distanced himself from the president-elect in confirmation hearing: The climate is changing. The debate is what is that influence and what can we do

Donald Trumps nominee for secretary of interior, Ryan Zinke, distanced himself from the president-elect on Tuesday, saying the climate is changing. The debate is what is that influence and what can we do.

Zinke, a two-term congressman for Montana, had been asked by Bernie Sanders about Trumps infamous 2012 tweet where the real estate developer described climate change as created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.

Zinke, a former navy Seal, responded by stating matter of factly, I dont believe its a hoax.

The statement came in a hearing on his nomination held by the Senate energy and natural resources committee on Tuesday.

However, the Trump cabinet nominee insisted he wasnt a climate science expert and stated his belief in being prudent towards what he characterized as a lot of debate on both sides of the aisle.

Zinke also differed from many in his own party by insisting: Im absolutely against transfer or sale of public lands. Many Republicans have long pushed for the federal government to transfer ownership of public lands to the states, and this was included as a plank in the partys platform. However, the Montana Republican still made clear his support for fossil fuel drilling on federal lands, saying We have to have an economy.

Zinke is expected to sail through the Senate with bipartisan support. He was introduced by both of his states senators, Democrat Jon Tester and Republican Steve Daines, before the hearing on Tuesday. Zinke had long been considered the strongest general election opponent to Tester in 2018 but his appointment likely prevents him from seeking a Senate bid and boosts Democratic chances of holding onto Testers seat in the midterms.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/17/trump-interior-secretary-pick-ryan-zinke-climate-change


Satellite Eye on Earth: December 2016 in pictures

London at night, snow in the Sahara and Hawaiis volcanoes are among the images captured by European Space Agency and Nasa satellites last month

A night-time view of western Europe captured by crew members aboard the International Space Station. London is visible in the centre of the image, photographed from more than 250 miles above.

Northern
Credits: Copernicus Sentinel-2A/Esa

The northern part of western Australia close to the edge of the Great Sandy Desert presents a landscape of desert plains and grasslands. At the centre of the image is the Wolfe Creek Crater, the remnant of a meteorite crash some 300,000 years ago. The crater measures about 875 metres across and plants grow at its centre, likely thriving off water reserves from seasonal rain. The name for the crater comes from the nearby Wolfe Creek, after being spotted during aerial surveys in the 1940s. But the crater has long been known to Aboriginal people as Kandimalal and is believed to be the site where a rainbow-coloured snake emerged from the ground to create Wolfe Creek. Mystical reptiles aside, the park is home to the brown ring-tailed dragon a type of lizard. While roads appear as straight lines cutting across the landscape, some other lines appear brighter, particularly in the lower central part of the image. These are sand ridges shaped by east-west prevailing winds; their brightness comes from a difference in vegetation, or lack of vegetation.

Snow
Credits: EMT+/Landsat 7/Nassa

Snow on the edge of the Sahara desert is rarebut on 19 December snow fell on the Algerian town of An Sfra, sometimes referred to as the gateway to the desert. The town of about 35,000 people sits between the Atlas mountains and the northern edge of the Sahara. The last recorded snowfall in An Sfra occurred in February 1979. The scene shows an area near the border of Morocco and Algeria, south of the city of Bouarfa and southwest of An Sfra.

Ladd
Credits: Planet Lab/Reuters Photograph: Trevor Hammond/Planet Labs/Reuters

Sand spills from a newly dredged channel in this view of Vietnamese-held Ladd Reef, in the Spratly Island group in the South China Sea. An outpost that houses a Vietnamese garrison can be seen on the central northern part of the reef, accessed by two small perpendicular channels.

Smog
Credits: Modis/Aqua/Nasa

Officials issued pollution alerts for more than 40 cities in northern China in mid-December 2016. During its latest bout of intense smog, which led to red alerts in more than 20 cities, authorities shut down schools and airports and told citizens to stay indoors.

Smog was particularly bad in cities like Beijing, which declared a five-day pollution red alert. The Chinese capital reached dangerous levels of more than 400 micrograms per cubic metre. In Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei province, airborne pollutants surpassed World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines by 100 times on 19 December.

From space, the smog appears grey in this view of north-eastern China. Heavy smog shrouds parts of the country, while the brightest, whiter areas are likely clouds or fog.

While smog regularly occurs in China, the extent of this event stands out and is comparable to a record-breaking air pollution event in January 2013, when ground-based sensors at the US embassy in Beijing reported PM2.5 measurements of 291 micrograms per cubic metre of air.

Low winter temperatures often cause dense, smog-laden air to be trapped low in the atmosphere. According to Andrew Sayer, an atmospheric scientist working for Universities Space Research Association at Nasas Goddard Space Flight Center, there are some indications that such incidents have been happening more frequently in the past few decades, though the reason for the increase has yet to be determined. People are trying to figure out whether its due to changing air patterns, he said, or whether theres more stuff in the air that stagnates.

Strait
Credits: Modis/Aqua/Nasa

The Strait of Gibraltar is a narrow waterway that separates Spain from Morocco, Europe from Africa, and which exchanges water between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. The narrowest point is only 8.9 miles (14.3 km) wide, while the waters are about 980 metres (2,950 feet) deep. Spain sits in the north, Morocco in the south, the Atlantic Ocean in the west and the Mediterranean Sea in the east. Sediment discolours the waters of the Atlantic off the coastlines of both continents. Grey pixels mark the locations of human habitation, most notable are Tangiers, on the western tip of the Strait in Morocco and the group of cities surrounding the Bay of Gibraltar on the east of the Spanish side of the strait.

Port of rotterdam
Credits: Landsat/USGS

Expansion at the port of Rotterdam has changed the shape of the coastline of the Netherlands while increasing the cargo capacity at Europes largest port. This pair of Landsat images spanning 15 years shows the development of the Maasvlakte 2 project. The port provides accessibility for the transportation of cargo from Rotterdam to the rest of Europe. Land building at Maasvlakte 2 began in 2008. About 230m cubic metres of sand were dredged from the North Sea to create about 5,000 acres of new land. In addition, 7m metric tonnes of stone were used to construct new seawalls.

Commercial cargo operations at the new Maasvlakte 2 facility began in December 2014. Its terminals currently can hold 2.7m individual 20-foot shipping containers. There is more space for terminals to be built on the new land once demand increases, which would increase the ports cargo handling capacity further. The expansion of land resulted in some loss of permanently flooded sandbanks that affected the availability of food for some protected bird species, such as the common scoter, the sandwich tern, and the common tern. However, this loss was compensated for by establishing a protected seabed area south of the Maasvlakte 2 in the Voordelta. Also, three bird-resting areas in the seabed were established where boat traffic is restricted. Landsat can help monitor this coast to ensure the positive impact of these protected areas as compensation for the land expansion.

Great
Credits: VIIRS/Suomi NPP/Nasa

This image captures the reflection of the full moon on the fresh snow around the US Great Lakes, using day/night band that can detect faint light sources. An Arctic air mass brought more snow to communities around the Great Lakes on 14 December, on top of an earlier accumulation that piled up to several feet in some areas. The crisp, bright glow of city lights in Chicago and Detroit offers further evidence that the ground is covered in snow. If the white shade in the image were due to cloud cover, an overcast sky would likely obscure lights on the ground. Note how clouds blur the landscape in the bottom left part of the image. Cloud streets appear above lake Huron and lake Superior. These parallel rows of clouds are created by cold, dry air blowing over a lake and accumulating water vapour.

Arabian
Credits: Modis/Aqua/Nasa

A natural-colour image of dust over the Arabian Sea. The vortex of clouds and dust rotates in a direction dictated by the Earths rotation. In the northern hemisphere, this cyclonic rotation is counter-clockwise when looking down from space. The dust arrived over the sea with a mass of warm desert air a condition known to suppress cloud formation. It is possible that the warm, dry centre of the vortex had not mixed much with the moist marine air surrounding it. The edges of the vortex may have mixed more with the marine air, giving rise to shallow, isolated cumulus clouds.

Dust
Credits: VIIRS/Suomi NPP/Nasa/NOAA Photograph: VIIRS/Suomi NPP/Nasa/NOAA

A large dust cloud hangs over the Atlantic along the north-western coast of Africa in this colour-enhanced image. The bright colours shown here are the result of dust enhancement an experimental data product created by scientists at the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (Eumetstat). Based on infrared channel data, this RGB (red-green-blue) enhancement was created to help analysts monitor the evolution of dust storms. According to Eumetstat, monitoring dust in the atmosphere 24 hours a day can be a challenge because the appearance of dust in satellite imagery changes drastically from day to night. The orange-brown colour is atmospheric moisture. Dust appears as magenta or pink. Reds mark thick cirrus clouds; dark blues are thin cirrus clouds; and the other shades of blue indicate the surface (land and water) of the Earth. The bright yellow is the hot surface of the Sahara.

Krasne
Credits: Planet Labs

Krasne Lake, Crimea. These hypersaline lakes in northern Crimea are home to a variety of algae and other micro-organisms that are the root cause of the lakes vibrant, otherworldly colours.

Seville
Credits: Sentinel-2A/ESA

The western area of Spains province of Seville and its capital with the same name, showing its location on the Guadalquivir river. While the original course of the river is visible snaking through the city on the right, we can see where water has also been redirected in a straighter course on the left. The fertile valley of the Guadalquivir is evident by the plethora of agricultural structures, particularly noticeable in the upper right. The Sierra Morena mountain range runs north of the Guadalquivir basin, and we can see the foothills in the upper left corner.

In the upper-central section of the image an open-pit copper mine, appears white. This type of mining is often practised when deposits of minerals or rocks are found near the surface. To the west of this mine are two other open-pit mines filled with water. South of these water-filled mines are two circular structures reminiscent of clamshells. These are large solar power plants.

Wadi As-Sirhan basin, Saudi Arabia
Credits: Landsat 5 and Landsat 8/USGS

In the mid-1980s, Saudi Arabia embarked on an ambitious agricultural plan to grow crops in its desert areas using ancient fossil water deep beneath the sand. Centre-pivot irrigation systems were installed in the barren Wadi As-Sirhan basin in the north-west of the country. The water, once used to grow fruit, vegetables and wheat, was buried deep underground for thousands of years.

These Landsat images show the remarkable transformation of desert sand in 1986 into green, circular fields some as large as 1km across by 2016.

The drawback with centre-pivot irrigation lies in the fact that water in these aquifers is not recharged. Rainfall here only averages 100mm to 200mm per year, making groundwater in the area a non-renewable resource. Hydrologists predict it will only be feasible to pump the groundwater for another 50 years, so domestic wheat production will be phased out. Local farmers are being encouraged to engage in alternative sustainable agricultural activities, such as greenhouse farming using advance drip irrigation techniques to produce fruits and vegetables.

Jane Fonda targets Trump over climate and inequality: ‘A boy in the bully pulpit’

Actor says her biggest fear about the incoming administration is Trumps pick to lead the EPA and she is ready to do whatever it takes to fight back

The screen legend and activist Jane Fonda said shes prepared to do whatever I need to do to counter a Donald Trump administration, and called the president-elect a sexist boy in a bully pulpit who is missing an opportunity to be an eco-hero.

The actor let loose on Trumps choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, the global-warming skeptic Scott Pruitt, and called the pick her greatest fear about the incoming administration.

A self-confessed late bloomer as a feminist, Fonda also predicted that womens rights are going to come under incredible attack at the federal and state level in the aftermath of the Trump election victory.

But she chose the environment when asked to name her biggest worry about a Trump White House in an interview with the Guardian.

We are confronted by someone who is against the very existence of the agency hes being put in charge of. There are many dangers with Trump but the difference here is that we have no time. The tipping point for climate change is looming, Fonda said.

Experts are warning that Pruitt will be an unprecedented disaster for the environment, not just in the US but the world if he leads the charge to unwind Barack Obamas push against carbon emissions and pollution and his commitment to the global agreement signed in Paris to combat soaring atmospheric and ocean temperatures.

Thats what scares me the most. I will not be around to see the ultimate fallout from climate change, but its coming. I hoped the fact that he was meeting with Al Gore meant that he was open to seeing the light, but then he appointed Pruitt, she said.

Gore, a Nobel prize-winning environment campaigner and Bill Clintons vice-president, met with Donald Trump in New York last Monday and declared afterward that it was a productive session and they expected to talk further.

Three days later Trump announced his new head of the EPA would be Pruitt, the attorney general of Oklahoma who has been one of the chief architects of state-led legal challenges to Obamas environmental agenda.

Unlike Gore and his fellow eco-campaigner Leonardo DiCaprio, who met Trump last Wednesday, Fonda has failed in apparent attempts to connect with the president-elect to argue the case for action on climate change.

Her voice heavy with sarcastic humor, Fonda described her unorthodox efforts to win an audience with Trump prior to his naming Pruitt.

I was hoping there was some way I could reach Trump. He knows my favorite ex-husband, Ted Turner, whos a staunch environmentalist; he knows me. I thought if I come with Ted and some gorgeous women and explain to him that he is in a position where he can save the world … but its too late now because of his appointment of Pruitt, she said.

Fonda said she had hoped to visit the president-elects Trump Tower residence and offices in New York with the actors Pamela Anderson and Rachel McAdams, who had agreed to lobby with her, she said.

I wanted to have beautiful celebrities who are very smart and passionate to get his attention – and I would have said: You can turn the rust belt into the green belt and save the environment and jobs, she said.

Fonda indicated that she wanted Trump to develop an economic strategy that would create jobs developing clean energy equipment in areas where traditional industry is in decline and frustrated voters had turned to the real estate magnate as a savior.

The people who voted him in in the rust belt, most are not gloating, they are not thrilled with him, and they are going to be hurt and disappointed under his administration, she said.

Fonda, 78, is currently starring in the TV series Grace and Frankie, with Lily Tomlin, and remains a vigorous political activist.

In 1972, the year she won her first best actress Oscar, she also became known worldwide for her activism when she traveled to Hanoi to protest US bombing damage during the Vietnam war.

She spoke to the Guardian last Thursday at an event for Donor Direct Action, a New York-based non-profit she is involved with that supports womens causes around the world and is campaigning with the Nigerian womens organization WRAPA to rescue almost 200 girls still being held by the extremist rebel group Boko Haram after a mass abduction in 2014.

Fonda called the women standing up for feminist rights in countries like Nigeria fierce and said that women and other activists in the US must be ready to counterattack expected threats to their freedom in a Trump administration.

In Trump we have a boy in the bully pulpit. He is sexist and his whole sense of self is based around dominating women, said Fonda.

He does not like a free press and wants to shrink government, and people are going to be really badly hurt by that, so they will start protesting and there will be a further militarization of the police in response.

She intends to continue with her activism and said she would do whatever it takes to make her voice heard in resistance to Trump.

She declined to be specific about what that could include but hinted at direct action.

Im old now what have I got to lose?

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/dec/12/jane-fonda-donald-trump-climate-change-interview


EPA fears ‘unprecedented disaster’ for environment over Scott Pruitt pick

Senate Democrats vow to fight Trumps nominee to lead the EPA, a climate denier who has sued the agency multiple times as attorney general of Oklahoma

Democrats have promised to stage a last-ditch effort to thwart the appointment of Scott Pruitt as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, amid fears within the agency that he will trigger an unprecedented disaster for Americas environment and public health.

Donald Trump has nominated Pruitt to lead an agency he has sued multiple times in his role as attorney general of Oklahoma. Pruitt has vowed to dismantle serried environmental rules and is currently involved in a legal effort by 27 states to overturn Barack Obamas clean power plan, the presidents centerpiece policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The American people are tired of seeing billions of dollars drained from our economy due to unnecessary EPA regulations, and I intend to run this agency in a way that fosters both responsible protection of the environment and freedom for American businesses, Pruitt said in a statement.

Trump said Pruitt is a highly respected attorney general who will reverse the EPAs out-of-control anti-energy agenda that has destroyed millions of jobs. Earlier this year, the president-elect said there would be just little tidbits left of the EPA if he made it to the White House.

Environmental groups have reacted with dismay at the nomination of Pruitt, warning that he will not only tear up much of Obamas climate legacy but also imperil the reliably clean air and water that Americans have largely enjoyed over the past 40 years. Democrats have vowed to fight Pruitts nomination, with Chuck Schumer, the minority Senate leader, promising a torrid confirmation hearing for the Republican lawyer.

Some Democrats are hopeful that a number of Republicans could join them to block Pruitts confirmation. This is full-fledged environmental emergency, this is someone (Pruitt) who is a professional climate change denier, said Brian Schatz, a senator from Hawaii. This is a litmus test for every member of the Senate who believes in science. We are going to do everything to oppose his nomination, and we are confident we can do so.

Other elected Democrats have also vowed to take on Pruitt, with Eric Schneiderman, attorney general of New York, promising to use the full power of my office to compel the EPA to uphold federal environment laws.

Republicans, the majority party in the Senate, have largely welcomed Trumps pick. James Inhofe, an Oklahoma senator and a vocal denier of climate science, said Pruitt is thoughtful, experienced and a natural pick for the EPA administrator role. Inhofe is chairman of the Senate environment committee, which will question Pruitt prior to his confirmation.

EPA staff have expressed nervousness over Pruitts nomination, given his zealous pursuit of the agency. Pruitt has fought against EPA regulations that prevent air pollution haze in national parks, methane leaks from drilling and mercury and arsenic seeping from power plants.

The attorney general has proved to be such a staunch advocate for fossil fuels that he allowed Oklahoma firm Devon Energy to use his letterhead to send a three-page complaint to the EPA in 2014. He has questioned the accepted scientific stance on climate change, claiming in May that the debate is far from settled. Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.

One EPA scientist, who asked not to be named, said that Pruitt risks being an unprecedented disaster for the natural world and public health. Other EPA advisers warned that the agency risks being trampled under Trumps agenda of boosting corporations and eviscerating climate action.

Pruitt doesnt believe in the mission of the EPA, which is to protect human health and the environment, said Lisa Garcia, vice-president of Earthjustice and a senior adviser to the last two EPA administrators.

This isnt a business agency, its an environmental agency. Its scary to have someone who doesnt believe in the mission of the EPA walking in to run it. I expect they will choke the funding of the EPA and stop enforcing laws. The work of the agency will basically come to a halt.

People at the EPA are in shock, they are worried about carrying out its mission. People are worried about how they will do their jobs, even people who voted for Trump. They didnt expect this. Clean air and water, safe places for our children to play these things should be bipartisan. They should be above politics.

Trump has previously called climate change a hoax and threatened to end all spending on climate change and clean energy, but environmentalists saw a glimmer of hope when the real estate magnate met with Al Gore, the former vice-president, and the actor Leonardo DiCaprio. Both regularly call for action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The nomination of Pruitt, however, presages a lengthy battle between the Trump administration and green groups.

Donald Trump has made it clear that he intends to wage war on clean air and clean water, said Benjamin Schreiber, climate and energy program director at Friends of the Earth US. Trump has also put our climate in peril and shown he is out of step with the American people. With this EPA pick, Donald Trump is putting all Americans at risk.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/dec/08/epa-scott-pruitt-disaster-environment-senate-democrats


Trump supports Dakota pipeline but claims it’s not due to his investment in it

Transition team says that the president-elects endorsement of the controversial Dakota Access pipeline has nothing to do with his personal investments

Donald Trump has said he supports a controversial oil pipeline that runs next to a Native American reservation in North Dakota a project that the president-elect is personally invested in.

A briefing from Trumps transition team said that the real estate magnate supports the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline and that his backing has nothing to do with his personal investments and everything to do with promoting policies that benefit all Americans.

Financial disclosure forms released earlier this year show that Trump has a stake in Energy Transfer Partners, the Texas-based firm behind the pipeline, and Phillips 66, which will hold a share of the project once completed.

Trumps investment in Energy Transfer Partners dropped from between $500,000 and $1m in 2015 to between $1,500 and $50,000 this year. His stake in Phillips 66, however, rose from between $50,000 and $100,000 last year to between $250,000 and $500,000 this year, according to the forms.

The financial relationship has run both ways. Kelcy Warren, chief executive of Energy Transfer Partners, gave $103,000 to elect Trump and handed over a further $66,800 to the Republican National Committee after the property developer secured the GOPs presidential nomination.

However, Trumps transition team dismissed any conflict of interest. Those making such a claim are only attempting to distract from the fact that president-elect Trump has put forth serious policy proposals he plans to set in motion on day one, said a briefing note that was sent to campaign supporters.

In
In this 25 November 2016 satellite image taken by DigitalGlobe, construction of the Dakota Access pipeline is shown at the top right. Photograph: AP

Mary Sweeters, a spokesperson for Greenpeace, said Trumps support showed that crony capitalism will run his administration.

This is the definition of corruption, she said. The president of the United States should not be trading favors with oil and gas corporations. Millions of people will lose access to a clean water supply, including the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, and the rest of America will face the impacts of catastrophic climate change from burning fossil fuels.

A protest camp has grown in North Dakota since April, amid fears that the $3.8bn Dakota Access pipeline will threaten the water and cultural artifacts of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. The 1,170-mile pipeline will take oil from North Dakotas Bakken fields to a refinery in Illinois and will cross the Missouri river the main source of water for the tribe.

The long-running protest has unified Native American tribes against the project, with repeated clashes between protesters and police. This week, North Dakota governor Jack Dalrymple ordered the immediate evacuation of the protest camp, amid accusations of police violence from the mass arrests and water cannon deployment that have echoes of the civil rights protests of the 1960s.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/dec/02/donald-trump-dakota-access-pipeline-support-investment


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