Offshore Lease Bids Double in One Year

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who think this is good news, and those who think it’s NOT good news.

From the Houston Chronicle <>

Business // Energy

Interior reports offshore lease sale doubled from 2018

Photo of James Osborne
James Osborne March 21, 2019 Updated: March 21, 2019 10:29 a.m.

Shell’s largest floating platform in the Gulf of Mexico, the Appomattox, trekked from Ingleside in May 2018 to its location 80 miles off the southeastern coast of Louisiana.

WASHINGTON – Oil companies are piling into the Gulf of Mexico once again, according to federal leasing data.

An offshore lease sale held in New Orleans Wednesday drew $244.3 million in winning bids, almost double what a similar lease sale in March 2018 drew.

“Today’s lease sale shows strong bidding by established companies, which indicates that the Gulf of Mexico will continue to be a leading energy source for our nation long into the future,” Interior Assistant Secretary Joe Balash said in a statement.

GULF REVIVAL: The winners and losers of Big Oil’s offshore spending revival

After years in the doldrums, oil prices have stabilized over the last 12 months. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, was trading for $59.09 a barrel on Monday, a few dollars down from the same time last year but up from less than $40 per barrel in 2016.

After recording less than $130 million in winning bids at a lease sale last March, the Interior Department recorded almost $180 million in high bids at an auction in August.

Photo of James Osborne

James Osborne

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James Osborne covers the intersection of energy and politics from the Houston Chronicle’s bureau in Washington D.C. Before arriving at the Chronicle in 2016, he spent three years covering Texas’s energy sector for the Dallas Morning News, where he chronicled the hydraulic fracturing boom, the rise of the wind and solar industries and how technology is changing the ways we produce and consume energy. James’s work has appeared in publications including The Philadelphia Inquirer, Time and Fox News.

Posted in Fun

Never Home Alone – your household biodiversity

[A message from David Duthie, the former public information officer for the Ramsar Convention (wetlands conservation) — if he says this is a worthwhile book — it is.



Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity all commit, in Article 6a, to developing a “strategy and action plan” for their national biodiversity and also, in Article 6b, to mainstreaming that strategy and action plan into other landscape or economic sectors.

“Never Home Alone”, authored by Rob Dunn and recently released by Basic Books, and reviewed (twice) below, demonstrates that within our own homes – homes, not even gardens! – we could have literally hundreds of “housemates” for which you could develop a household strategy and action plan that goes beyond a “scorched earth” chemical attack.

My copy of the book is still in the post, but the two reviews below give a good flavour of the book and the real enthusiasm with which Rob has developed his “niche”, looking at the biodiversity in and immediately around us.

I found the thought experiment of making my house more biodiversity-friendly using some of the normal “ingredients” of a national biodiversity strategy and action plan (PAs, invasive policy, waste management, etc.) quite interesting and I think that Rob would probably give my house a pretty good score as it is – and brought back memories of the cane toad living behind the toilet of our shack when I was a conservation volunteer in Costa Rica (where cane toad is native) a long time ago!

Best wishes

David Duthie

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Moths, maggots and microbes: our 5,000 creepy-crawlie housemates – and the man who loves to hunt them

Biologist Rob Dunn is the David Attenborough of the domestic sphere, uncovering everything from microbes in the shower to spiders in the basement. He goes on safari in the dusty corners of one Copenhagen home

Lars Eriksen

Thu 28 Feb 2019

The good news is that I will never be home alone again. The bad news – well, it’s not in fact bad news, but it is slightly unsettling – is that I share my home with at least 5,000 other species: wasps, flies, spiders, silverfish and an exotic bunch of wild bacteria.

All that information is apparently contained in a patch of grey dust I have just swabbed with my right index finger from a door frame in my living room. It’s like a DNA test of my house, says Rob Dunn, a 43-year-old American biologist who has come to my house in Copenhagen to hunt microbial life. He carries no lab gear and his blue crewneck jumper and striped Oxford shirt are hardly the combat suit of an exterminator. But with every discovery we make, with every spider we find lurking in the corner or each swab of dust, he displays an almost childlike sense of excitement. He swears and smiles, even whoops with delight: “This dust sample contains bacteria, your body microbes, your wife’s body microbes, your child’s body microbes. If you smoke weed we would find marijuana DNA in there. Everything is visible, but it’s also present in every breath. Every time you inhale, you inhale that story of your home.”

Dunn is to house insects and indoor bacteria what Marie Kondo is to neatly folded shirts. He wants us to study the wildlife in our homes and realise that what we discover should spark much more joy than fear. When he began working as a biologist he went to the jungle to study wild beasts, but now his research is dedicated to species much closer to home: to the flies, spiders and bacteria hidden in every nook and cranny of our kitchens, bathrooms and basements. To the “jungle of everyday life”, as he describes it in his new book.

Never Home Alone tracks how we have been disconnected from the ecosystems of our homes. It’s a book of hard truths – I now know that I shed 50m flakes of skin every day, providing food for thousands of bacteria, and that cockroaches are basically our perfect interspecies Tinder-match. It also confronts our irrational relationship with cleanliness. Our modern instinct might be to swat a spider on the kitchen worktop or blitz creepy crawlies into oblivion with antimicrobial sprays, but we could be killing useful allies, according to Dunn: “The key thing is that your life is going to be full of life. And your only choice is which life. Our default is that we try to kill everything and fill our houses with stuff that’s totally terrible for us. We might kill 99%, but that leaves 1% – and that 1% is never the good stuff.”

Dunn is in Copenhagen for work and has agreed to come to my home to go through dusty corners and spider webs to point out where I might find some of the 5,000 species I bunk with. I suspect our 110-year-old house, shared with another family, is a fertile hunting ground, and Dunn seems optimistic. Using a screwdriver and tweezers, he pokes at light fittings and sifts through the basement, which can be a mould-friendly hangout during sticky, wet summers.

While I’m making coffee, Dunn lets out a yelp: “Oh yes, this is good!” He has spotted a globe-shaped lamp hanging in the basement hallway, and in the bottom of the hazy glass cover is a Pollockesque pattern of dead wildlife. He tips the contents of the lamp on to a fold-out table and uses the tweezers to organise the harvest: two types of fly, a wasp, a meal moth, some aphids and various planthoppers. He takes a closer look at two of the dead flies: “I can tell they are likely to be the same species, but I don’t know for sure until I look at their genitals.”

He turns to the silver-shiny meal moth. “Isn’t it just beautiful? It moved in with humans in ancient Egypt and has moved with humans again and again.”But how would it have ended up in our home?“

This meal moth could have come in with grains.”

Like from a box of cereal?


Dunn wants us to see our homes the way we see our gardens. There are pests and pathogens we need to control – those that make us sick – but we also want to preserve diversity. He says fewer than 100 species of bacteria, protists and viruses cause nearly all infectious diseases today. We try to keep these in check with vaccinations and antibiotics, and by washing our hands. But that leaves us with a jungle of tens of thousands of other species, many of which we know little about, but which Dunn’s work suggests can often be more beneficial than harmful. For example, studies have shown that a higher diversity of bacteria on people’s skin – bacteria linked to soil and plants – can reduce the risk of allergies. He also mentions the discovery of a bug that could be a new source of useful enzymes:by testing the microbes in the gut of the camel cricket, found in many American homes, Dunn’s research team discovered bacteria that were able to break down industrial waste and turn it into energy. Making “cool discoveries” like this and enlisting the public to sieve through their homes for wildlife has spurred interest in a field he says has been neglected for too long.

“The first drawings of microscopic life are all of household species,” says Dunn, “but once we figured out the germ theory of disease it shifted, and both scientists and the public started to think that what was indoors belonged to pest control. Ecologists went to the Galapagos, we went to the rainforest, but it pushed us away from the home and it left us with this huge blind spot.”

Dunn grew up in rural Michigan, hunting snakes and turtles, building tree forts and being “more curious about nature than your average child”. Today, he is a professor in the department of biological sciences at North Carolina State University, where he has spent the past decade involving his colleagues and the public in studying the microbial landscape of our bodies and our homes. Part of the thrill of his new book is the sense of discovery and engagement with the world outside the lab. We head deeper into the basement, to the water-heating system, where one of the pipes has a leak; water drips into a chalk-crusted yellow bowl. Dunn grabs the bowl and tips it on to its side so we can see the puddle: “You could start a sourdough loaf with this.” The water heater is an example, he says, of the extreme conditions we create in our houses. These specific ones are similar to what you might find in an Icelandic geyser, which means that our basement heating system now attracts bacteria that would normally thrive in volcanic hot springs. He moves on to a sprawling mess on the wall next to the boiler. “That’s a lovely spider web,” he says excitedly. I feel a strange sense of pride and relief that my lack of cleaning is potentially boosting the ecosystem I inhabit. “This kind of spider is super-common in houses and can live for many, many years. This can grow up with your kid.”

I’m not sure I’m ready for an in-house pet spider, but while our natural inclination might be to shriek or stamp them out, Dunn wants us to protect them. “The natural enemies of the pests in our homes are very often, whether you like it or not, spiders,” he writes in Never Home Alone: “If you kill the spiders in your home (and this is precisely what we do with many kinds of pesticide applications), you do so at your own expense.”

The curse of pesticides brings us to the bathroom and another key area of his research: shower heads. Dunn and his team asked people from across the US and Europe to send in swabs from their shower heads. And within the biofilm – “a fancy word for the gunk” that builds up inside them – they discovered a pathogen, non-tuberculous mycobacteria (NTM), that is linked to lung disease in people with weak immune systems. What they didn’t know was why this pathogen seemed more prevalent in some regions than others. “There was more of the NTM in the US and in particular in chlorinated water,” says Dunn. They came to the conclusion that “residual chlorine kills all the competing bacteria and just leaves the NTM, which are chlorine-intolerant.” And when the competition is eliminated, the pathogens thrive.

He unscrews the shower head from the hose and runs his finger along the rubber fitting. There is very little biofilm-gunk, which he credits to the quality of the local water supply. “Most of Copenhagen still has untreated groundwater that relies on the wild biodiversity of crustaceans and bacteria to clean it. But if you break that – like we do in the US – it’s super-expensive to fix it and it sucks. And it makes you sick.”


“Yes, in some cases you can encounter small crustaceans in the tap water here. Denmark tastes like biodiversity.”

We continue through the living room and kitchen. He pulls a book from the shelf to test for book lice, and picks up a log of firewood that has a spidery, grey pattern of reindeer lichen growing on the bark. In the kitchen he checks the dishwasher soaptray for a particular form of bacteria that is otherwise only found “in the faeces of tropical fruit bats”. Even our salt jar is apparently full of life: “Almost every crystal of salt has bacteria inside, and when you brine something in salt, those bacteria contribute to the flavours of the brine. The longer it sits in the brine, the more the microbes in the brine are going to contribute to it. Isn’t that cool?”

Food is an area where Dunn has found the influence of microbes and bacteria to be more palatable to people he meets. Food is alive – whether it’s sourdough bread, kimchi or beer – and we are cool with that. Much more so than with the spider crawling across our windowsill. Dunn describes a study of how specific microbes found on bakers’ skin influence sourdough starters and the flavour of bread. His team gathered 15 bakers at a facility in Belgium and tasked each of them with making sourdough starters from identical ingredients. When they tested the bakers’ hands afterwards, it showed a close relationship between the microbial makeup of each starter and the bacteria found on the skin of the baker who made it. In his book Dunn describes how the bakers and biologists, drunk on spontaneously fermented Belgian beer, tucked into the breads and broke into an impromptu toast: “‘To bread, and to microbes!’ And to a house in which both are delicious. ‘To bread and to microbes!’ And houses in which we are all healthy. ‘To bread and to microbes!’ And to lives filled with wild species we have yet to study or understand, species that float like mysteries all around us and offer services we are only beginning to measure.”

Our house tour and inspection has come to an end. I’m curious about the professor’s verdict. Is this a happy, fungi-rich, insect-thriving home? “You have a lot of species that I think of as being part of a healthy house,” Dunn says. “To me, your house is rich in biodiversity and seems dominated by those things that you either shouldn’t worry about, or that are beneficial. Also, I don’t see antimicrobial products all over the place.”

He points to the leftovers of a coffee kombucha-glazed Danish pastry we were eating earlier. “And then you have things that spark joy for you: fermented pastries, salt that’s alive and healthy water from Denmark that we know is alive.”

Whether we like it or not, the species living in our homes are a measure of our lives, says Dunn, and his biggest fear is that we risk killing off that biodiversity. “If spiders scare the hell out of you, but you are willing to have one living in the corner, and maybe approach it sometimes to keep an eye on it, then that’s great. That’s much better than if your response is to jump away from it and spray pesticides all over your home, because that will only favour species that cause us harm and are resistant to pesticides. But it’s not easy. This book won’t solve [the problem], but maybe it will open some new conversations.”

As he says goodbye and walks down the garden path, I spot a tiny moth in our living room, flapping frantically in the corner. I don’t freak out or necessarily feel any great joy, but I leave the moth be. After all, there are 5,000 of us here, and you need to give your housemates some privacy.

Never Home Alone by Rob Dunn is published in the UK by Basic Books (£22.99) on 14 March


A Book That Will Make You Terrified of Your Own House

By Robin Marantz Henig

Dec. 31, 2018

NEVER HOME ALONE: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live

By Rob Dunn

A young man I know used to say that humans have no need to bathe, since our hair and bodies are designed to self-cleanse. I would fight him on it, being of the opinion that washing up occasionally was good for us — and for the people with whom we lived. But now, after reading the entomologist Rob Dunn’s description of the myriad microbial life-forms that take up residence in a typical American showerhead, I’m starting to think maybe that young man was onto something.

With an army of collaborators, Dunn, a professor of applied ecology at North Carolina State University, took samples of the gunk inside hundreds of showerheads, and found a profusion of microbial fauna. Tap water itself, he writes in the chatty, informative “Never Home Alone,” teems with amoebas, bacteria, nematodes and crustaceans. As the water passes through the showerhead, these microbes lay down a kind of scaffolding known as biofilm to protect themselves from getting washed away with every ablution. They make the biofilm “out of their own excretions,” Dunn writes bluntly. “In essence, by working together, the bacteria poop a little indestructible condominium in your pipes.”

It gets worse. Filtered through that poop-biofilm, the water that washes over you, as you supposedly scrub yourself clean, might contain not only all those harmless amoebas and nematodes but a few bacteria that can be dangerous — in particular some species of Mycobacterium, cousins of the Mycobacterium that causes tuberculosis. And the pathogens are there because we provided the perfect breeding ground for them, when we tried to purify our tap water in the first place. Municipal water treatment plants use chlorine and other chemicals that kill off the bacterium’s natural predators, allowing Mycobacterium to thrive. Tap water that comes from a well, in contrast, has never gone through a treatment plant and has a rich microbial life. It might look more dangerous, but it’s actually safer, Dunn explains. All those organisms in well water are themselves harmless, and they tend to fight off the potentially dangerous ones like Mycobacterium — that’s how biodiversity works.

News from the showerhead biome is just one part of this fact-filled, occasionally disgusting, slightly alarming book. Dunn has been involved in an obsessive quest to document the tiny inhabitants of indoor environments, a project that involves teams of professional and amateur bug-watchers to take samples not only from showerheads but from door frames, refrigerators, hot water heaters, cellars, toilets, pillowcases, all sorts of surfaces from the places we call home. These workers swab and seal, swab and seal, and send their thousands of samples to Dunn’s lab in Raleigh, or to his other lab at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, for an ongoing microbial census.

“We expected to find a few hundred species,” Dunn writes of his first foray into indoor microbe-hunting, which involved 1,000 homes from around the world. Instead, he and his colleagues found a “floating, leaping, crawling circus of thousands of species,” perhaps as many as 200,000, many of them previously unknown to science.

These denizens of interior spaces are our most frequent companions. In the industrialized world, we spend upward of 90 percent of our time indoors. Luckily, most of our co-habitators are either benign or actually beneficial in some way, like the house spiders that keep down indoor populations of flies or mosquitoes that can carry disease. But because we’ve become so hyper about making our surroundings as pristine as possible — sealing off our homes from the outdoors and using pesticides and antimicrobials with a vengeance — we’ve tipped the scales away from those harmless or helpful bugs, in favor of some of the bad guys.

According to Dunn, indoor microbes are among the fastest-evolving species on the planet; they have an uncanny ability to live in ecological niches you could hardly imagine existing, like the dead skin cells we slough off every day (which is all that’s needed to survive for a class of bacteria known as detritivores).

They manage to evade our assaults, and evolve their way out of just about every biocide we throw at them. We’re left to contend with the consequences of our own warfare, such as pesticide-resistant German cockroaches and bedbugs, and antibiotic-resistant MRSA bacteria. We have turned a relatively harmless indoor biome into something that can make us sick.

That’s the take-home message of “Never Home Alone,” that the richer the biodiversity in our indoor environment, the better. “The biodiversity of plants and soil can help our immune systems function properly,” Dunn writes. “The biodiversity in our water systems can help keep pathogens in the water in check. … The biodiversity of spiders, parasitoid wasps and centipedes can help control pests. The biodiversity in our houses provides the opportunity, too, for the discovery of enzymes, genes and species useful to all of us, whether to make new kinds of beers or to transform waste into energy.”

I’m not quite as enamored of our microbial roommates as the author is. (I’m sorry, Professor Dunn, but I’m just being honest here: Those photos of the camel cricket and the American grass spider clinging to basement pipes and door thresholds — well, yuck.) It probably takes the soul of an entomologist, or maybe of a 9-year-old child, to love these bugs as much as Dunn does. Still, it’s hard not to be occasionally charmed by his prose, as when he catalogs the arthropods with whom we share our homes: “biting midges, mosquitoes, lesser house flies, phantom midges, freeloader flies and shore flies. This is not to mention fungus gnats, moth flies and flesh flies. Or crane flies, winter crane flies and minute black scavenger flies.” And it’s hard not to share, at least a little, his awe at their diversity, even in a single household. “If you see two flies in your home,” he writes, “the odds are that they are two different species. Heck, if you see 10 flies in your house, they are likely to be five different species.”

And don’t even get him started on the aphids. He’s amazed by them, as he is by “the wasps that lay their eggs in the bodies of aphids as well as the wasps that lay their eggs in the bodies of the wasps that lay their eggs in the bodies of aphids.”

There’s a real sense of “gee-whiz” in this book, but it’s mostly in service of Dunn’s overarching goal: to preach the preservation of biodiversity, not only in the lush forests and streams that fit our traditional image of nature’s abundance, but in the most humble places, too, where the vast majority of us will have most of our cross-species encounters — our basements, mattresses, refrigerator drawers and showerheads.

About those showerheads: Dunn isn’t suggesting that we give up showers. But he does say we might want to change the showerhead a little more often — and consider switching from metal to plastic, where biofilm is less likely to accumulate. Nonetheless, his bottom line for showerheads is like his bottom line for other aspects of the roiling microbial mix we live in: Don’t be afraid of letting life inside. “The water that is healthiest for bathing is that which comes from aquifers rich with underground biodiversity including crustaceans,” he writes. “The crustaceans in these aquifers are an indication not of the dirtiness of the water but of its health.”


Robin Marantz Henig is a New York science journalist whose books include “The Monk in the Garden: The Lost and Found Genius of Gregor Mendel.”

Posted in Fun

Gizmodo: Arctic to Warm 15º by 2100

From Gizmodo <> ——

Climate change

The Arctic Is on Track to Warm Over 15 Degrees This Century Even If We Meet the Paris Agreement Pledges

Brian Kahn
Yesterday 12:32pmnvvhp0xzzaggr0su10nw.jpg

Photo: Getty

A new report from the United Nations shows that it’s basically game over for the Arctic as we know it.

Even if carbon pollution magically stopped tomorrow, the region’s winters would still warm an astonishing 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) by century’s end. Meeting the Paris Agreement pledges—which do not get us to the two degree warming goal—would lead to that level of warming by midcentury and up to 9 degrees Celsius (16.2 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100, along the way unraveling one of the most fragile ecosystems on the planet and displacing people who have done very little to cause the disruption.

The report was released on Tuesday at a meeting of the United Nations Environment Program. The synthesis pulls together recent research and puts it all in one terrifying graphic-driven document. The litany of changes that have already occurred is unsettling, but the real shock is in what could come next.

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe, which translates to dramatic change. Sea ice extent, which has shrunk about 40 percent since regular satellite monitoring began in 1979, could reach zero percent in summer as early as the 2030s. Old, thick sea ice will likely be gone even sooner. Permafrost, frozen ground full of carbon, could thaw out and destroy a third of all the infrastructure in the Arctic (and also release deadly strains of anthrax). Rising temperatures could also unleash a host of other infectious diseases like Lyme disease, which is already on the rise in Canada.

“Insects like mosquitoes and ticks have the potential to connect the Arctic and tropics,” the authors write, which sounds like the sequel to Contagion.

The cruel irony of this is that like their small island counterparts, the 4 million people living the Arctic have contributed precious little to the carbon pollution causing those dramatic changes. In the case of permafrost, its thaw could also hasten climate change along by releasing methane and carbon dioxide in a vicious feedback loop.

And all these bleak findings don’t even get into other issues like plastic pollution, heavy metal contamination, or ocean acidification, all of which are and will continue to compound the region’s woes. The report concedes that the best way forward for the region with little sway on carbon pollution is adapting to whatever changes are coming its way.

“Challenges can no longer be managed in isolation: a holistic, ecosystem-based approach that considers multiple drivers and cumulative pressures is needed,” the report said. “In the years and decades to come, adaptation that integrates and respects local knowledge and Indigenous knowledge will be vital to help Arctic societies address the coming challenges.”

And there is sure to be no shortage of them.

Posted in Fun

Get Girls Hiking

From High Country News — one of my favorite (weekly) newspapers <>



The outdoors gender gap needs to be closed

Women’s tax dollars help fund public land – yet that public asset isn’t seen as safe for all people to enjoy.

Liz Thomas Opinion Essay May 10, 2016 Like Tweet Email Print

Women often wonder whether it is safe for them to hike solo. For me, the answer clearly is yes: I’ve hiked 8,000 miles by myself, pioneered routes in Utah and the Columbia River Gorge, and set an Appalachian Trail speed record. But others argue that in the eyes of a good chunk of women – heck, in the eyes of many people in this country – what I do is an exception.

Which makes me wonder: Since no one questions female pilots, police officers or professional athletes these days, why should hikers be any different?

The truth is, as the daughter of two conservative, middle-class parents, I grew up internalizing the idea, rooted in historic and cultural sexism, that walking solo is unsafe for women, whether in nature or in urban settings. For centuries, unaccompanied women frequently were attacked because women, for religious or cultural reasons, aren’t “supposed” to be out. That’s still true in many countries. Even in supposedly safe places that don’t hold such religious or cultural norms, like U.S. cities, women walking alone experience high rates of street harassment. For women, going into the outdoors sometimes is a confidence issue— the fear of being alone, paired with just the plain, old fear that everyone has going outdoors, whether because of four-legged critters or just the two-legged.

Liz Thomas treks through a Seattle neighborhood on an “urban thru-hike.”
Glenn Nelson/TrailPosse

The perception of the outdoors as “not a woman’s place” even has been reinforced by institutions charged with managing public lands. At its inception in 1916, the National Park Service listed park ranger jobs as “men’s only.” Things hadn’t changed much by 1967. With a line straight out of Mad Men, then Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall responded to a woman’s discrimination complaint by assuring the public that it was “our concern and affection for girls that prevents our saddling them with the full load of ranger duties.” Sporting airline-attendant inspired uniforms, so-called “rangerettes” were barred from law enforcement training and the ability to carry a gun until 1971. High Country News recently has published stories chronicling decades of sexual harassment and gender bias in the Park Service with a survey showing more than half of the female rangers and three-quarters of the female park police reporting on-the-job sexual harassment.

Despite the cultural taboos, I decided almost 10 years ago to backpack solo from Georgia to Maine on the Appalachian Trail. Those first few nights camping alone I was on such high alert that the U.S. Army Rangers, who use the trail to practice stealth travel skills, failed their mission. As they attempted to sneak past my lone hammock, I shined my headlamp on them. Dejected, the men disappeared into the woods, their training officer chastising them.

The more I hiked, the more I saw that, mile after mile, night after night, nothing bad happened. The vigilance that kept me up at night stirring with every sound quickly seemed unnecessary. My concerns about hiking solo were similar to those of a teenager learning to drive a car: Those first miles are exciting and scary, and then it becomes normal and routine. In fact, solo hiking and camping reinforced my sense that good things happen when going alone. I gained skills, bolstered my self-reliance, and observed and appreciated nature differently than when I hiked with men.

My story of discovery on the trail is not unique. Women have proven they can excel and can even surpass men in outdoor abilities, particularly during the past decade. Jennifer Pharr Davis was the National Geographic Adventurer of the Year in 2012. Heather Anderson is the thru-hike record holder for unsupported treks of both the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails. Kristin Gates was the first female to solo hike the 1,000-mile-long Brooks Range in Alaska. Female outdoor adventurers have let their love of the mountains be their reward; their stories rarely get the traction (or, like their sports-athlete sisters, the sponsorship and funding) that male adventure athletes receive.

Still, while elite women are pushing the limits and shattering the glass ceiling, the message that hiking is safe and fun still hasn’t filtered down to your average elementary school girl.

That’s why I urge all women – especially younger women – to get outdoors during Hike Like a Girl Weekend, May 14-15. Whether you hike solo or with other women, the weekend is not only supposed to be fun, it also is meant as an act of defiance against norms that seem 100 years old yet persist today. It’s standing against every stereotype or micro-aggression ever foisted our way – from the women who are told “be safe” instead of “have fun,” to every company that designs women’s gear by shrinking-and-pinking men’s models, to the ranger who asks the solo female hiker, “Are you doing this all by yourself?” Women’s tax dollars also go to fund public land – yet we still live in a world where that public asset isn’t perceived as safe for all people to enjoy. Trees, rivers and mountains should be spaces that feel welcoming to everyone.

Knock on wood, but I’ve never had a problem while hiking alone. I also try to be smart about making sure conditions are right, doing research, and keeping a rational head.

While I’d like to believe my anecdotal evidence – female adventurers like me sharing stories that hiking solo is safe – will inspire other women to get outdoors, either by themselves or with a friend, real change happens when women go out and take that first step in the woods. The real empowering education and confidence comes from showing yourself that you can do something that previously seemed impossible. The experience becomes proof more powerful than any athlete’s testimony that hiking is safe and not a strange thing for a woman to do.

Hike Like a Girl Weekend doesn’t require you to go out and buy fancy gear. A pair of running shoes, polyester gym clothes and a school backpack will do. Bring water, snacks, a flashlight, sun protection and some extra layers. Bring friends or family, too, if you’d like. For just one day or just one weekend, try something completely off your radar – something that seems outside your limits – whether it’s going beyond your routine run, visiting a new park or trail or hiking solo for the first time. You may be surprised by what you learn. Like me, you may find yourself coming back to hike again.

Note: “Hike Like a Girl,” organized by Teresa Baker of African American National Parks Event, encourages females of all ages to walk or hike this weekend, May 14-15, and post about their experiences on social media with the hashtag, #HikeLAG.

Liz “Snorkel” Thomas is a Japanese American fast, light and long-distance hiker who held the unsupported speed record for the Appalachian Trail from 2011-15. She has completed the so-called “Triple Crown” of thru-hiking (Appalachian, Pacific Crest and Continental Divide Trails), and is vice-president of the American Long Distance Hiking Association, an ambassador for the American Hiking Society, the instructor for Backpacker Magazine’s online course, Thru-hiking 101, and author of the newly released, The Best Hikes on the Continental Divide Trail: Colorado. She writes about her adventures at and tweets at @eathomas.

Posted in Fun

How Rising Seas Eat Home Values

The economic effects discussed here for mid-Atlantic coastal states in the continental USA also operate on housing and other coastal development in the Eastern Caribbean.

Rising Seas Soaked Home Owners for $16 Billion over 12 Years

The threat of flooding has driven some buyers away and caused losses in property values

Rising Seas Soaked Home Owners for $16 Billion over 12 Years
Flooded street in the Broad Channel section of Queens in New York on March 3, 2018. Credit: Don Emmert Getty Images

Sea-level rise has cost homeowners on the East and Gulf coasts nearly $16 billion in property value as floods and the threat of flooding drive some buyers away, according to a study released this week.

Analysts at the nonprofit First Street Foundation in Brooklyn studied millions of residential home sales in 17 states from Maine to Alabama and found that coastal property values were rising at a slower rate in flood-prone areas than in areas that did not flood.

“The market is already reacting,” First Street Executive Director Matthew Eby said. “There’s no longer a conversation of what sea-level rise will do in 2050 or 2100.”

Delaware Gov. John Carney said the study shows the need for “a serious, coordinated approach to confront the real threats posed by climate change. It’s clear that climate change already is having real effects in Delaware—the lowest lying state—and in states across our country.”

Carney, a Democrat, said Delaware has worked with a coalition of governors called the U.S. Climate Alliance to cut carbon emissions. “We cannot afford to delay action on this issue,” Carney said in an emailed comment.

The slower appreciation rates are affecting both expensive vacation properties in places such as the Hamptons in New York and middle-class homes in communities such as Norfolk, Va., Eby said. Although much of the $16 billion in eroded value occurred in pricey coastal communities, middle-class areas saw the largest percentage of loss, Eby said.

First Street has released a series of reports since June analyzing the effect of sea-level rise on property in various coastal regions from 2005 to 2017. The group issued its latest report yesterday covering Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania, which completes its analysis of all 17 coastal states.

The three mid-Atlantic states were affected moderately compared with their coastal neighbors, largely because they have less coastline than states like Florida and New Jersey. In Maryland, with a population of 6 million, 29,404 homes saw their property values depressed by sea-level rise, losing a total of $556 million in expected appreciation, the study found. Values were affected both on Maryland’s celebrated Atlantic shore and in inland communities along the Chesapeake Bay.

In Delaware, 9,552 homes were affected, and in Pennsylvania, 1,639 were affected, largely in the Philadelphia area along the Delaware River.

First Street says its study breaks ground by quantifying the effect of sea-level rise in the current real estate market and differs from other studies that have analyzed potential flood damage to homes in the future from climate change.

First Street analyzed 13.3 million real estate sales in the 17 states over 12 years and tried to assess the effect of flooding on sales prices. “We found that places that experience flooding are appreciating at a slower rate than places that don’t flood,” First Street data analyst Jeremy Porter said.

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After determining the effect of flooding on properties that had been sold, First Street applied that measure to 26 million coastal properties and found that communities had lost a total of $15.8 billion in expected appreciation. Florida and New Jersey, with their long stretches of densely populated oceanfront communities, accounted for nearly $10 billion of the lost appreciation. They were followed by New York, South Carolina and Connecticut.

First Street seeks to quantify the effects of sea-level rise and has created an online interactive website that shows flood risks to individual properties.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at

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Most US coal plants are contaminating groundwater with toxins, analysis finds

Another nice piece of reporting from The Guardian <>

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Of 265 US power plants that monitor groundwater, 242 report unsafe levels of at least one pollutant derived from coal ash
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Blue Dolphin Cottages — 16 Feb 2019

Bruce Potter443-454-9044

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