Category Archives: Advocacy

Pushing Forward in Spite of Methane Rollbacks

In a big setback for US climate action, the federal government has rolled back requirements for capturing methane pollution. On Friday, August 14, the EPA finalized a rule that lets oil and gas companies off the hook for their methane emissions, replacing a 2016 rule that set limits on these emissions and required companies to monitor and repair leaking equipment.

By shifting our support to renewables like solar energy, we can keep polluting oil and gas companies on the hook in spite of rollbacks.
By shifting our support to renewables like solar energy, we can keep polluting oil and gas companies on the hook in spite of rollbacks.

Methane 101 

Methane (or CH4) is the second most abundant greenhouse gas in our atmosphere. Alongside rampant carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses, methane wraps around earth like a blanket – trapping heat inside of our atmosphere and causing our world to change.

When we burn fossil fuels, like oil and gas, we release excess greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere – methane (CH4) included. The atmosphere wraps around Earth like a blanket (trapping heat inside it) and these excess greenhouse gasses make that blanket too thick, hurting plants, animals, and humans.
When we burn fossil fuels, like oil and gas, we release excess greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere – methane (CH4) included. The atmosphere wraps around Earth like a blanket (trapping heat inside it) and these excess greenhouse gasses make that blanket too thick, hurting plants, animals, and humans.

The sources most responsible for methane emissions are the production and transportation of natural gas, oil, and coal; in other words, the fossil fuels we burn for our energy.

But methane also comes from the decomposition of organic material in landfills and livestock farming (such as cattle farmed for beef). Because of the design of their stomach systems, livestock like cows emit methane during digestion. With just how many cows we’re farming for beef and dairy globally, about 1.4 billion, cattle (alongside other grazing livestock) account for 40% of the world’s methane emissions. 

A Cause for Concern 

This recent rollback is especially concerning since methane is more than 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period – which means its warming impact is far more severe in a shorter period of time. To make matters worse, the regulation change comes at a time when research has found much more methane is likely entering the atmosphere than we previously thought. 

We Can Still Make a Difference 

While the rule is now official, having already gone through a public comment process, it is expected to be challenged in court. In the meantime, we can still have an impact on methane emissions by coming together and acting on climate to safeguard our future for people and wildlife alike. Whether you’re a climate action novice or a seasoned pro, here are ways we can act in spite of this rollback.  

Stage 1: Increase Plant-based Meals and Start Composting 

Switching to plant-based meals helps reduce the demand for livestock farming, one of the sources of our global methane emissions. Photo © Keith Weller, USDA.
Switching to plant-based meals helps reduce the demand for livestock farming, one of the sources of our global methane emissions. Photo © Keith Weller, USDA.

A good way to start tackling methane emissions is to look at how we contribute to them. By switching to plant-based meals and encouraging others to do the same, we’re reducing the demand for livestock farming and lowering our personal carbon footprints. Through composting, we shift decomposing, organic materials from landfills (where they release methane) to a compost pile (where the methane is absorbed). 

It’s even more engaging to get your friends, families, and communities involved. For example, do some research to see if there’s a local composting program in your neighborhood, like the City of Boston’s Project Oscar

Stage 2: Urge your Elected Officials to Support Clean Energy 

Recently, the Massachusetts House passed the 2050 Roadmap bill, which brings us closer to an equitable, clean energy future by 2050. Send your local, elected officials a message thanking them for their support, but also urging them to continue their progress on clean energy policy that reduces our fossil fuel emissions.  

Stage 3: Address the Source of our Energy 

The production and transport of fossil fuels is main source of global methane emissions. While the EPA has reversed regulations holding polluting companies accountable, as a collective we still have the power to keep them on the hook by choosing to shift our support towards renewable energy. 

First, you can make the switch to green-powered energy, like solar or wind energy. If you’ve already switched your household over, you can take your support for renewable energy one step further by ensuring your municipality has a Green Municipal Aggregation program. Visit the Green Energy Consumers Alliance’s website to see if your municipality is already involved and how you can opt-in to this community effort.  

A Victory for Birds

Great news for birds and for all of us who care about them!

Great Blue Heron copyright John Yurka
Great Blue Heron © John Yurka

A federal court ruled yesterday that the legal basis for the Trump Administration’s rollback of the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) is inconsistent with the intent and language of the law.

U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Caproni found that the Administration’s legal opinion, which would needlessly put millions of birds at risk, “runs counter to the purpose of the MBTA to protect migratory bird populations” and is “contrary to the plain meaning of the MBTA.”

As many Mass Audubon members know, the MBTA’s passage in 1918 was a direct outgrowth of the advocacy spurred by Harriet Hemenway and Minna Hall, who more than two decades earlier had founded the Massachusetts Audubon Society to end the slaughter of birds for their feathers.

It is heartening to know our founders’ legacy lives on in the actions and support by nature lovers that continue to inspire today.

The court’s decision comes as a result of lawsuits filed by environmental organizations and eight states, including Massachusetts; we specifically thank Attorney General Maura Healey and her staff for their stalwart determination to help bring about the ruling.

To be sure, this fight is not over. Mass Audubon has formally objected to the proposed regulatory rollbacks and supported legislation in opposition.

But we need your help to stop any future attempts by the Trump Administration and its allies to dismantle the founding achievement of the Audubon movement and one of the nation’s bulwark legal protections in support of thriving wildlife.

Please make a donation today so we can continue to advocate for the birds that we all love.

David O’Neill
President

Paving the Way Towards an Equitable, Net-Zero Future

Photo © Rishi Jain.

Last week the Massachusetts House passed our priority climate bill, An Act creating a 2050 roadmap to a clean and thriving Commonwealth (H.4912). The bill includes critical language highlighting the role of natural and working lands in reaching net zero emissions, as well as protections for frontline communities. This action brings us one step closer to making an equitable carbon neutral future a reality. Here’s why: 

We Don’t Have to Wait for Technology 

Climate solutions already exist all around us. Take a look outside your window, and you’ll probably see a critical tool that’ll help ensure we can reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. 

That’s right. Nature is an indispensable ally in our collective climate fight. Not only does nature make us more resilient to climate impacts like heat, floods, and droughts, it also can help us prevent some of the worst impacts altogether.  

Forests, farms, and wetlands, for example, soak up rampant carbon dioxide like a sponge – removing excess greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change from our atmosphere. This removal process, along with limiting the burning of fossil fuels, is a climate mitigation strategy: it addresses the crisis at its roots by reducing the net amount of emissions that remain in the atmosphere.  

Climate Mitigation and a Net Zero Carbon Future Go Hand in Hand 

Natural climate solutions are crucial mitigation tools for reaching our 2050 net zero goal. It’s up to us to make sure that we urgently utilize them to tackle climate change.  

As amended, the 2050 Roadmap bill makes natural climate solutions a priority for achieving carbon neutrality statewide. It requires the state to measure the carbon stored by and released from natural and working lands across Massachusetts, and create a plan for increasing those absorption levels while reducing carbon emissions. 

Safeguarding Our Future for People and Wildlife Alike 

The amended 2050 Roadmap bill also formalizes a definition of environmental justice, which will help ensure equitable access to future environmental decision making. Environmental injustices and climate impacts are disproportionately harming low-income communities and communities of color, and the bill establishes long overdue protections to address these disparities.  

We Have a Part to Play in our Collective Climate Fight 

Mass Audubon is dedicated to boldly acting on climate change so that we can protect both our communities and our wildlife. As one of the largest conservation nonprofits in New England, we see the value of nature firsthand every day, especially in solving the climate crisis.  

We’ve been advocating for the 2050 Roadmap bill all session, and we’re excited to see it making progress. Right now, we’re thanking legislators that supported it, and you can, too. Next, the bill will head to a conference committee where we’ll continue pushing for its passage. 

We don’t have time to wait. Our future is one we must work to protect right now – and nature can help us pave the way towards equitable carbon neutrality. 

Eastern Bluebird on Winterberry © Cheryl Rose

A Crushing Blow to Birds

Eastern Bluebird on Winterberry © Cheryl Rose
Eastern Bluebird © Cheryl Rose

The United States government has released a draft environmental impact statement that will crush the bird conservation successes of the last 100 years.

Their report recommends ending federal protections for harassing, trapping, or killing birds, or taking nests and eggs, unless it can be proven that the intent of the action was only to kill birds, or the species is an endangered species. This kind of loss, called incidental take (detailed here), kills millions of birds every year, even with federal protections in place enabling responses to reduce impacts. Removing these protections will unleash unbridled assaults on our native birds, which is why this change must be stopped.

Join us and act now to protect birds, and stop this regulatory change.

An Age of Enlightenment

Since 1918 the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) has protected our native birds from purposeful or incidental losses.  Mass Audubon’s founding mothers, Minna Hall and Harriet Hemenway, built public support to end the feather trade and protect all birds. Some species were split off to be managed as game – and they flourished with special protection.

The vast majority of species like bluebirds, hummingbirds, terns, and owls all entered a new era of protection and conservation. They were given a reprieve from hunting and harassment, egg and nest collecting, and any other behaviors that killed birds without a permit. This helped drive innovative conservation initiatives that allow industry to thrive, and native bird populations to coexist with a booming economy. It worked well – maybe better than in any other country in the world.

The Return of the Dark Ages

Despite these conservation successes, decades of economic expansion, and public comments representing hundreds of thousands of citizens, the Trump administration has chosen to recommend advancing regulatory changes that will make it legal for anyone to kill unlimited numbers of birds, as long as their action is “otherwise lawful.”

The federal government did this while admitting their chosen path would serve the single benefit of “improving legal certainty,” but have negative effects on all other environmental conditions – including bird populations.

So, if you want to build a shopping center, and construction starts in June, and there is colony of herons or a nest of owls on the land, you can legally cut down the trees, destroying the nests, eggs, and chicks.

And, importantly, if your industry is a repeat offender and kills thousands of birds each year in uncovered oil waste pits (because you won’t follow best practices and cover the pits), there is no penalty.

There will be no repercussions, and no incentive, for making even minor changes to construction or industry practices to protect non-game birds like wrens, egrets, and loons, unless your state has legislation that covers these species. At this time Massachusetts does not have legislation that protects these species – we have always relied on the federal MBTA to do that.

What You Can Do

Join Mass Audubon and others who care about birds:

  • Donate to Mass Audubon so we can keep fighting to save the birds we all love and care for.
  • Submit comments opposing the proposed elimination of incidental take protections for birds. Let federal officials know you support Alternative B to restore the Incidental Take provision.
  • Let your Congressional representatives know that you support legislation to restore MBTA protections, and that you support bird conservation.

Birds fill our lives with curiosity, hope, and wonder. We marvel at their audacious colors, ability to withstand freezing nights, and migrations across the hemisphere. We benefit as they help ecosystems thrive by pollinating plants and eating pesky bugs that damage crops.

But they need us more than they have in the last hundred years. It is our turn to step up and make our voices heard.

Surprised Eastern Screech Owl © Jason Goldstein

Moving Forward Despite Rollback Attempts

If you’ve been reading the headlines, you may be alarmed at the attempts by the current administration to roll back or halt efforts to curb the impacts of climate change at a federal level.

Surprised Eastern Screech Owl © Jason Goldstein
Eastern Screech Owl © Jason Goldstein

First came the announcement of the intended withdrawal from the Paris Accord. Then the decision to allow offshore oil and gas leasing off US coastlines. And most recently they created a new rule that would give state’s the authority to set coal emission standards and, in doing so, rendering the Environmental Protection Agency ineffective.

Before you throw up your hands in despair and start searching for funny cat videos, know that the headlines are only telling part of the story. Lawyers have been working tirelessly to block the rollbacks. In fact, according to the Columbia Law School, “no climate change-related regulatory rollback brought before the courts has yet survived legal challenge.”

While that’s happening at a federal level, Mass Audubon and its partners continue to speak up for robust and innovative policy in Massachusetts. For example, we were instrumental in the passage of the Environmental Bond Bill. We work directly with municipalities through the state’s Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) program, which fosters climate adaptation practices at the local level. And last week we submitted written testimony in support of S.10 An Act providing for climate change adaptation infrastructure investments in the Commonwealth.

Stay informed about climate change policy by signing up for our weekly Beacon Hill Round Up email. And if you want to share resources and information about fighting the impacts of climate change and inspire others to take action in new and creative ways, join our Climate Action Facebook Group.

Be a Nature Hero: Vote!

Ahead of the state and federal elections this fall, Mass Audubon wants elected officials to know that people who are interested in protecting the environment vote. Voting by interested and informed citizens strengthens the impact of Mass Audubon’s legislative advocacy.

Pledge to Vote

We believe that it’s important for Mass Audubon members’ voices to be heard in our elections. Most people just need a small nudge to remember to vote, so Mass Audubon and the Environmental Voter Project are working together to remind you to vote in each election. These simple reminders can dramatically increase someone’s likelihood of voting.

Take the Pledge >

Register to Vote

The voter registration deadline in Massachusetts for the 2018 mid-term election is October 17. You can register to vote, update your voter registration info, and check your registration status online via the Secretary of State’s website.

Already registered? Tell your friends and family to register as well!

Action Alert: Oppose Offshore Drilling

The US Department of the Interior recently made a decision to expand offshore oil and gas leasing to encompass around 90% of US coastlines. This means that the coast off of New England, could now be opened up to drilling.

This decision could have severe impacts on the environment, and you can help stop this from happening. The deadline to submit comments to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is March 9.

© Jennifer Childs

Impact of Offshore Drilling

The exploration, development, and production of oil and gas off the Massachusetts Outer Continental Shelf would have severe impacts on fisheries, wildlife habitat, and geological resources.

Offshore drilling could threaten areas like Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, which provides feeding grounds for species like the endangered humpback whale and Kemp’s ridley sea turtle.

It also poses a risk to the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Marine Monument, home to four underwater, extinct volcanoes, which feature thousand-year-old corals found nowhere else on earth.

Massachusetts and all of New England depend on a thriving coastal and ocean economy – which brings in $17.5 billion annually to the region’s – and that success in turn depends on healthy coastal and ocean ecosystems.

Let BOEM know that we can’t afford to place our invaluable natural spaces at risk by submitting comments online today. You can read the comments Mass Audubon submitted and learn more about the issue of off-shore drilling.

Thank you for taking this action to protect the nature of Massachusetts!

Wellfleet Bay

Speak Up On Climate Change Legislation

A key climate change preparedness bill is being discussed in the Massachusetts House this week and it needs your support. The Comprehensive Adaptation Management Plan (CAMP) will:

  • Help protect people and wildlife from climate change
  • Safeguard our infrastructure
  • Set an example of responsible climate action for the rest of the country to follow

Take action by calling your state representative in the House and tell them to support CAMP (HB2147).

Why Support CAMP?

Climate change is already affecting Massachusetts. Many of our communities are unprepared for rising seas, stronger storms, more dangerous heat waves, and myriad other challenges. CAMP would help them prepare.

CAMP will require the state to identify our people and places that are most vulnerable. It will help us prepare for a greater risk of natural disasters. It will establish new ways for municipalities to prosper in the face of climate change, and will encourage communities to work with willing landowners to reclaim and protect threatened areas.

The Massachusetts Senate has already passed the CAMP bill, the first of its kind in the United States, and it’s time for the Massachusetts House to do the same.

Call your state representative and tell them to send the rest of the country a powerful message that Massachusetts intends lead in the fight against climate change.

 

Bee-hind This Year’s Camp Patch

Every year, campers at Mass Audubon’s 18 day camps and Wildwood, our overnight camp, receive a patch at the end of their session. These patches have featured everything from fireflies to fiddlehead ferns.

The last six years of camp patches.

This year’s patch shines a light on bees, but not just any bee. It’s the rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis). This important pollinator that officially landed on America’s endangered species list. It’s the first time in our nation’s history that a bee species is under federal protection.

As recently as 30 years ago, this bumblebee was commonly found in a variety of habitats including prairies, woodlands, marshes, agricultural landscapes, and residential parks and gardens. Their precipitous decline started in the mid-1990s, and today they are very rarely found anywhere.

What happened to this once common bumblebee? Scientists cite a combination of impacts:

  • introduced pathogens from contact with commercial bee colonies
  • “neonicotinoid” insecticides (used widely on farms and in urban landscapes) that are absorbed by plants and can be present in pollen and nectar, making them toxic to bees
  • habitat loss and degradation

At Mass Audubon, we’re protecting and maintaining old field habitats and designing pollinator gardens to support these bees and many other pollinators that live in the Commonwealth.

We’re also supporting state legislation, An Act to Protect Pollinator Habitat (S.451/H.2926), establishing a commission to improve pollinator health by increasing and enhancing native pollinator habitat, as well as other legislation to reduce pesticide use and establish official guidance for pollinator forage.

Take Action!

Want to help the rusty patched bumble bee and other pollinators?

Thank You for Speaking Up

Earlier this spring we put out a call for people to Speak Up for Nature by writing messages to Massachusetts’ members of Congress and the U.S. Senate in Washington D.C. The response was fantastic and the notes and drawings were hand-delivered by Mass Audubon’s President in May. See a few of the messages below.

Looking to take more action? You can still get post cards at many of our wildlife sanctuaries or download them online and send to your Congressperson and US Senators. And be sure to subscribe to our Advocacy blog, Political Landscapes, where every Monday they will publish Action You Can Take This Week.