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Photo: NASA

Next week America will decide what kind of person they want leading the country for the next four years. How greatly this decision will impact the environment cannot be overstated, and the Democratic and Republican candidates are night and day on the issue. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has flip-flopped on how much coal she wants in the country’s energy mix, but she has also publicly endorsed action on climate change. Donald Trump, on the other hand, has called global warming a hoax fabricated by the Chinese.

No matter how things shake out, the top spot in our best or worst environmental story of November is almost assured. But we’re not in November just yet, so let’s round up the worst environmental stories to occur in October 2016.

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Photo courtesy of Li’l Orphan Hammies

5) People Still Believe in Teacup Pigs

Planet Experts reported on the sad state of pet pigs this month, but the problem extends well beyond October. For decades, unscrupulous breeders have sold baby pigs with the promise that they’ll never grow more than 40 pounds. This is a blatant lie. Hopeful pig owners buy the lie because they want something cute and manageable, and when the pig grows up they’re often abandoned.

I ventured north to Santa Barbara county to speak to Sue Parkinson, who runs the Li’l Orphan Hammies sanctuary. She dispelled the lies of the mini pig industry and introduced me to the more than hundred pigs that live on her farm. Read the full story here.

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4) We Broke Another Monthly Heat Record

Surprised? Probably not. But don’t let your cynicism turn to apathy. This month we learned that September 2016 was the hottest September in recorded history (going back 136 years). This marks the eleventh time a monthly heat record has been broken in the past twelve months. Now 2016 is almost certain to surpass the previous “hottest year ever,” 2015, which in turn snatched the crown from 2014.

By themselves, monthly average temperatures do not prove or disprove global warming. The climate is variable. It’s when temperatures consistently increase or decrease over time, that’s when scientists declare a trend.

So consider this: 15 of the 16 hottest years on record (dating back to 1880) have all occurred since 2000. The last record cold year was in 1909.

“Climate scientists have been warning about this since at least the 1980s,” said Andy Pitman, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science at the University of New South Wales in Australia, in May. “And it’s been bloody obvious since the 2000s. So where’s the surprise?”

Unfortunately, the bad news doesn’t end there. This month, James Hansen, former senior NASA climate scientist, and 11 other experts, submitted a paper that states the current rate of global warming hasn’t existed since 115,000 years ago…when the sea level was 20 feet higher than it is today.

On October 4, 2016, Hurricane Matthew made landfall on southwestern Haiti as a category-4 storm—the strongest storm to hit the Caribbean nation in more than 50 years. (Photo Credit: NASA)

On October 4, 2016, Hurricane Matthew made landfall on southwestern Haiti as a category-4 storm—the strongest storm to hit the Caribbean nation in more than 50 years. (Photo Credit: NASA)

3) Hurricanes Are Getting Worse

In October, Hurricane Matthew crashed into Haiti and forced evacuations along the U.S. coast. On the other side of the world, Super Typhoon Haima smashed the Philippines. It was the seventh Category 5 storm to form this year – an above average occurrence for the globe.

For years now, scientists have warned that rising seas and warming temperatures will increase the intensity of hurricanes. Every year, Mother Nature proves them right.

Great Barrier Reef at the Whitsunday Islands, Australia. (Photo Credit: Sarah Ackerman / Flickr)

Great Barrier Reef at the Whitsunday Islands, Australia. (Photo Credit: Sarah Ackerman / Flickr)

2) The Great Barrier Reef Is in Piss Poor Shape

The Australian Climate Council’s Professor Tim Flannery summed it up best: “If [the Great Barrier Reef] was a person, it would be on life support.”

The GBR is currently suffering its worst coral bleaching event in 15 years. Warming ocean waters have compelled the coral that live in the reef to expel the symbiotic algae that help them survive. Across the reef, these coral have turned bone white, and many have died.

Bleached coral aren’t just an eyesore, they impact the entire ecosystem. Some species of fish that eat the coral algae are thriving. Others, like parrot fish, which eat the coral, have “disappeared,” according to Macquarie University’s Professor Lesley Hughes. The GBR is also a valuable asset to the Australian economy, worth an estimated $4.5 billion and employing over 65,000 people in the tourism industry.

“It’s very illustrative that climate change is happening now,” Amanda McKenzie, CEO of the Australian Climate Council, told the Independent. “It’s not a future issue, it’s having an effect now on an enormous ecosystem — you can see the great barrier reef from space. That should be a warning bell for the whole world. This is happening now, and it’s worse than we expected.”

The Dakota Access Pipeline under construction. (Photo Credit: Lars Plougmann / Flickr)

The Dakota Access Pipeline under construction. (Photo Credit: Lars Plougmann / Flickr)

1) The Dakota Pipeline

A battle is brewing in the Peace Garden State. Ostensibly, the fight is over the right to build a massive oil pipeline over Native American land; in reality, it’s the latest episode in the ongoing history of violence and suppression of the continent’s native people.

The fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline has also been a fight for recognition. The Standing Rock Sioux, whose sacred land and burial grounds lie beneath the pipeline’s intended path, have been confronted by armed officers and attack dogs – despite their peaceful protests. The mainstream media has underreported this conflict, save when it involves public figures like actress Shailene Woodley, who was arrested on October 10 for standing with Standing Rock.

Woodley recorded her arrest in a Facebook video, saying, “I don’t know if you guys just heard me, but I was walking back to my RV, which is right there so that we can go back to camp peacefully and they grabbed me by my jacket and said that I was not allowed to continue. And they had giant guns and batons and zip ties and they’re not letting me go.”

When journalist Amy Goodman reported on pepper spray and attack dogs being used against peaceful protesters, she was charged with criminal trespassing. Realizing it wasn’t the wisest charge to levy against a journalist, North Dakota State’s Attorney Ladd Erickson then charged Goodman for participating in a “riot,” arguing that she “was not acting as a journalist.”

That’s not only despicable but also a disturbing threat to the freedoms that underly this nation’s laws.

On the 17th, Judge John Grinsteiner dismissed the riot charges against Goodman, but the lack of mainstream media support for Goodman is disturbing. And the original issue is still unresolved: The Standing Rock Sioux contend that their rights are being violated and that the pipeline’s construction has bypassed crucial environmental review.

“We have laws that require federal agencies to consider environmental risks and protection of Indian historic and sacred sites,” Dave Archambault II, the elected chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said in a statement. “But the Army Corps has ignored all those laws and fast-tracked this massive project just to meet the pipeline’s aggressive construction schedule.”

North Dakota Senator John Hoeven disputes this charge, arguing that the consultation process was followed correctly. “They can protest as long as they do it peacefully and safely, but ultimately their recourse is to the courts,” he told KFYR-TV.

Celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and Susan Sarandon have spoken out on behalf of Standing Rock, as has former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. But Hillary Clinton, the presumptive 45th President of the United States, remains silent on the issue.

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