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Mother Nature took a toll in 2017. Here are five environmental issues that swept the US.



From America's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement to extreme weather trends, Mother Nature took a toll in 2017.

But in case you missed it the first time around, here are five environmental issues that stormed American consciousness in the past year.

#1: The United States withdraws from the Paris Agreement

In June, President Trump reversed years of domestic environmental policy when he announced during a press conference that the U.S. would no longer participate in the 2015 Paris Agreement, an international framework that united nearly 200 countries in the global fight against climate change.

Among the reasons for initiating the withdrawal, the 45th commander-in-chief cited American workers, saying that the pact unfairly advantaged foreign countries.

"At what point does America get demeaned? At what point do they start laughing at us as a country?"
President Trump

Though the State Department officially has since notified the United Nations of the country's withdrawal, the end is far from near. Because former President Obama already signed the international agreement, the U.S. is subjected to certain terms of the deal, meaning that the earliest any country could withdraw from the accord is November 4, 2020.

#2: Extreme weather

From Houston to Puerto Rico, 2017 marked a year of fierce hurricanes across the country. And while the storms have passed, local communities are still expected to grapple with their effects long after the New Year.

"In the U.S. alone, it's been estimated almost half a trillion dollars worth of property damage alone," said Dr. Paul Salaman, CEO of Rainforest Trust. "Millions of American families have been impacted, hundreds of lives have been lost."

These are the most destructive hurricanes in United States history.
Take a look

Some weather experts, in fact, believe that Hurricane Harvey could be the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, coming in at more than $190 billion. That prediction surpasses deadly Hurricane Katrina, which is estimated to have cost $160 billion, according to the Center for Disaster Management and Risk Reduction.

And besides bearing unprecedented economic consequences, the human toll continues to be widespread as well, especially in Puerto Rico. Before Hurricane Maria ransacked the U.S. jurisdiction in September, Puerto Rico was already struggling from a failing economy and dilapidated infrastructure. Officials recently warned that the island may not have its power fully restored until May 2018, leaving many of its most vulnerable residents -- such as the elderly and sick -- forced to improvise without electricity for months on end.

But hurricanes weren't the only examples of extreme weather this year. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2017 is set to be among the three hottest years on record. Salaman said that's particularly alarming, since 2017 didn't have an "El Nino" episode.

"In 2015 and 2016, we were in the midst of an El Nino episode and that in itself threw the climate out a bit, but this past year has been what would be classified as a normal year and, yet, we've seen even more horrendous weather impacts in the U.S. and across the world."
Dr. Paul Salaman

#3: Wildfires

Wildfires ripped across northern and southern California in 2017.

"At the moment, we're in the midst of the largest forest fire in California's history, ongoing at the moment, devastating many communities," Salaman said.

Salaman is referring to the Thomas Fire that ignited in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. Firefighters have gained nearly total containment of California's largest-ever fire, and evacuation orders have since been lifted.

Now, communities must deal with the massive destruction left behind. The wildfire, according to CNBC, charred at least 273,400 acres. That's more than 427 square miles, and slightly more than the previous record of 273,246 acres charred in the 2003 Cedar blaze in San Diego. The flames were indiscriminate, burning mobile homes and middle-class neighborhoods as well as multimillion-dollar estates.

The Thomas Fire is the second wildfire to rock California in recent months. In October, blazes in and around Napa Valley -- known for its wine vineyards -- caused at least $1 billion in damage to insured property, destroying nearly 6,000 homes and businesses. But that's not all: air quality suffered too, leading to some of the worst air pollution ever recorded in the area.

#4: Wildlife protections

The world's largest land mammal stormed headlines in November after the Fish and Wildlife Service lifted an Obama-era ban on importing elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Vehement opposition almost immediately followed. Congressional leaders and conservationists say poaching harms the declining elephant population, and also helps fund terrorist organizations abroad. But backers of the ban's lifting argue the opposite, saying that trophy hunting and expensive safari fees generate income that goes back to the communities that live near the animals, creating an incentive for them to protect the wildlife.

One day after the announcement, Trump said he would delay the lifting of the ban until all the facts were reviewed.

#5: Scaling back national monuments

Upon entering the Oval Office, Trump signed an executive order directing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review 27 national monuments that were created under the Antiquities Act, which gives the president authority to safeguard federal lands and waters under threat.

In a follow-up September report, Zinke recommended that Trump modify nearly a dozen national monuments in places like Utah, Nevada and Maine. That process officially began in early December when Trump scaled back two monuments in Utah, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, by some two million acres.

"And that is why I’m here today: Because some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington," Trump said during a speech in Utah. "And guess what? They’re wrong."

The decision to scale back the monuments riled up local community leaders, as well as environmentalists, who argue that the sacred land must be protected from oil and gas extraction, as well as other commercial activities.

Following the announcement, outdoor retail company Patagonia, as well as Native American tribes vowed to take legal action, meaning the issue could be revisited in 2018.

Check out Circa's full coverage of these environmental events:trel
Companies from Tesla to Disney pledge their allegiance to Mother Earth, not the government
Maria wiped out 80% of Puerto Rico’s crops. This farmer is keeping things in perspective.
These before and after photos of the California wildfires show extreme devastation

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