Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead
Temperince Morgan as the new executive TNC director in Florida.
The Nature Conservancy is pleased to announce Temperince Morgan as the new executive director in Florida.
A Florida native, Morgan is a scientist by training and has spent the last 17 years working on conservation and water issues in Florida,
most recently as the division director for Everglades policy for the South Florida Water Management District.
Morgan will oversee all aspects of the Conservancy’s work in Florida, including protecting critical linkages and
springsheds, increasing the resilience of our coastline and securing water for people and nature.
The Arthur Marshall Foundation for the Everglades
Sequin Palm Beach Reception
Date: Thursday, October 9, 2014
Location: Sequin, Palm Beach
Evening reception to benefit the Marshall Foundation
Annual Cypress Seed Harvest
Date: Saturday, October 25, 2014
Location: Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatachee Wildlife Refuge
River of Grass Gala
Date: Saturday, December 6, 2014
Location: Lady Windridge Yacht, launching from Palm Beach
For more information about any of these events call the Foundation at 561-233-9004 or email email@example.com.
2014 Florida Keys Birding and Wildlife Festival
The 2014 Florida Keys Birding & Wildlife Festival is Tuesday, Sept. 23, through Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014. Save the date, we are currently working hard to get you a complete list of our events, please check back soon. If you have immediate questions, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 305-304-9625 for more information.
Now in its 16th year, the festival offers a variety of programs, field trips, workshops and speakers guaranteed to enthrall nature lovers of all ages. Festival activities span the length of the island chain, from Everglades National Park to the Dry Tortugas, and give participants a unique perspective on the terrestrial and marine habitats of this subtropical paradise.
The festival is anchored at Curry Hammock State Park, mile marker 56.2, which is also home to the annual Florida Keys Hawkwatch, a citizen science effort that monitors the fall migration of raptors over the islands.
The 2014 Festival includes a fantastic selection of birding experts who will lead morning guided walks, mid-day workshops and evening presentations. The festival features field trips to Dry Tortugas National Park, the National Key Deer Refuge, Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock State Park and other national, state and private natural areas. Additional trips include kayaking and boating ecotours, history, natural history, botanical, photography and butterfly field trips, Think of this event as a backstage pass to the natural wonders of the Florida Keys.
Advance registration is requested, as many trips have limits on participants.
Go to website for more info. http://keysbirdingfest.org/
Tall Cypress Natural Area Monthly Bird Walks
Second Sunday of the Month, September 2014-June 2015, 7:30 a.m.
Broward County Parks will be introducing monthly bird walks at Tall Cypress Natural Area in Coral Springs.
The walks will be led by Bruce Pickholtz who is a Florida Master Naturalist, avid birder and Coral Springs resident.
Tall Cypress has become one of Broward’s major “hotspots”, with 150 different species recorded in and around the park.
This is due to the diversity of habitats within this small (66 acre) patch, along with its location along major migration routes.
Year-round and winter residents include:
Painted Buntings, five species of Woodpecker, Great Horned Owl, Red-Tailed Hawk, Summer Tanager,
Sharp-shinned Hawk, Spot-breasted Oriole, Monk and Nanday Parakeets.
During migration, almost anything is possible!
The Bird Walks will be held on the second Sunday of each month, beginning at 7:30am and will be split into two parts:
The first part of the walk
will include the Boardwalk and parking lot area, which are easily accessible to people of all ages and
abilities and will take 1 – 1 1/2 hrs. The total length is a little over half a mile.
The second part of the walk
will include areas along Turtle Run Boulevard and then along the northern and western perimeter of the park
to explore the ponds and some of the less-visited parts of Tall Cypress.
This part of the walk is quite a bit longer (about 1.5 miles) and requires walking on soft dirt trails and is not appropriate
for very young children or for anyone who might have trouble with either the distance or the uneven surfaces.
Individuals with disabilities requiring accommodations in order to participate in programs, services, and activities must contact the Special Populations Section
at 954-357-8170 or TTY 954-537-2844 at least five (5) business days prior to the scheduled meeting or event.
First segment of walk:
boardwalk and parking lot area; just over half a mile; fully accessible
about 1.5 miles, including northern and western borders of site and along Turtle Run Boulevard; terrain more uneven, not appropriate for very young children
More than 150 species documented in/around park, including painted bunting, great horned owl, red-tailed hawk,
sharp-shinned hawk, spot-breasted oriole, summer tanager, monk parakeet, and pileated woodpecker
Peak migration periods: September-October and April-May; additional species may include bald eagle, indigo bunting, and yellow-billed cuckoo
The walks will be led by Bruce Pickholtz, a Florida Master Naturalist, avid birder, and a Coral Springs resident
Tall Cypress Natural Area
3700 Turtle Run Blvd., Coral Springs, FL 33067 • 954-357-5100
Broward County Board of County Commissioners
Parks and Recreation Division
950 N.W. 38th St., Oakland Park, FL 33309-5982
1000 Friends of Florida fall webinars
1000 Friends of Florida has planned an exciting fall season of webinars including September’s state planning resources to address sea level rise, October’s Broward County’s planning strategies for sea level rise, and November’s planning for complete streets in Florida. We will have more details shortly on December’s webinar on Florida greenways. More information and registration links are available at www.1000friendsofflorida.org/communications/webinars and below. These webinars provide a great opportunity to learn about state-of-the-art planning strategies specific to Florida at a cost of only $10 per webinar, We hope you will join us!
October 8 Webinar
Planning for Sea Level Rise: Broward County Responds
REGISTER NOW! October 8, 2014, Noon to 2 p.m. Cost $10.
Planning for Sea Level Rise: Broward County Responds
Broward County and Fort Lauderdale are national leaders in planning for the impacts of sea level rise. This webinar will cover efforts at the regional, county and municipal levels to develop planning strategies for Broward County and the City of Fort Lauderdale. Dr. Jennifer Jurado, Director of Broward County’s Natural Resources Planning and Management Division, will discuss the development and implementation of the Southeast Florida Climate Change Compact, an alliance between Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties and their municipalities to develop joint baselines, mapping, plans and leadership, as well as Broward County’s process to develop and ensure implementation of the climate change element adopted into the local comprehensive plan in 2013. Next, James Cromar of the Broward County Metropolitan Planning Organization will discuss the Federal Highway Administration’s climate resiliency pilot project in the county. Julie Dennis of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity will discuss that agency’s Community Resiliency Initiative and Adaptation Action Area project and guidance for local governments available through this work. City of Fort Lauderdale Assistant City Manager Susy Torriente and Principal Environmental Strategist Jim Koeth will review planning for climate change at the municipal level, including their involvement in DEO’s Adaptation Action Area project. The cost for this webinar is $10. 1000 Friends has applied for professional certification credits for planners (AICP CM), Florida attorneys (CLE), Certified Floodplain Managers (CEC), and Certified Environmental Health Planners (CEPH) but cannot guarantee that credits will be approved.
November 12 Webinar
Planning for Complete Streets in Florida
REGISTER NOW! November 12, 2014, Noon to 1:30 p.m. Cost $10.
Billy Hattaway, FDOT’s District One Secretary who is leading the department’s statewide initiative to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety and the implementation of the Department’s new Complete Streets Policy, will discuss how a context based “complete street” design approach will provide for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and public transportation users of all ages and abilities and enhance accessibility, safety and public health. The first community in Florida to adopt Complete Streets guidelines is the City of Deerfield Beach, and Director of Planning and Development Services Amanda Martinez will review the process they have used to adopt and implement those guidelines. BikeWalkLee’s Darla Letourneau, a founder and steering committee member of that coalition, will focus on the role of citizen advocacy in promoting complete street policy. AARP Florida’s Laura Cantrell will discuss that organization’s perspectives on Complete Streets. The cost for this webinar is $10. 1000 Friends has applied for professional certification credits for planners (AICP CM), Florida attorneys (CLE), Certified Floodplain Managers (CEC), and Certified Environmental Health Planners (CEPH) but cannot guarantee that credits will be approved.
Survey on Climate Change/Sea Level Rise
With more than a thousand miles of coastline and low-lying topography throughout of much of the state’s coastal areas, Florida is at ground zero for the impacts of climate change and associated sea level rise. 1000 Friends of Florida is identifying communities in our state which are using planning strategies to lessen their contributions to climate change and/or build community resilience to address the effects of climate change, including sea level rise.
If your community is taking steps to address sea level rise and/or climate change we hope you will take a few minutes to complete 1000 Friends’ 10-question survey. Your responses are anonymous, unless you chose otherwise. Please note, this survey is not intended to be statistically significant but rather is intended to gather information on current planning efforts in Florida. We will post the results at www.1000friendsofflorida.org in October.
1000 Friends is also compiling information on sea level rise and climate change plans and studies around the state. Check our web page out, and contact Vivian Young with links to information we are missing.
Also, check out the results of 1000 Friends recent survey on Developments of Regional Impact in Florida.
1000 Friends of Florida Seeking President
1000 Friends of Florida is seeking a highly motivated individual with a strong vision and passion for land use planning and with a proven record of successful fundraising in the not-for-profit sector to become its next President. This is a highly visible position and organization, with a strong influence in how smart growth will continue to evolve in Florida. The President will bring inspirational leadership, vision, strategic acumen, sound ethics, outstanding listening abilities, effective management and implementation skills, and public outreach abilities to inspire and collaborate with board, staff, and stakeholders. The deadline is September 30, 2014. Please visit 1000friendsofflorida.org/president.pdf for more information on the position.
1000 Friends of Florida
Of Interest to All
Clouds of water found on “near” planet
Astronomers have found signs of water ice clouds on an object just 7.3 light-years from Earth – less than twice the distance of Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system to the sun. If confirmed, the discovery is the first sighting of water clouds beyond our solar system. The clouds shroud a Jupiter-sized object known as a brown dwarf and should yield insight into the nature of cool giant planets orbiting other suns.
Kevin Luhman, an astronomer at Pennsylvania State University, University Park, recently discovered the nearby object by using images from NASA’s WISE infrared space telescope, which scanned the sky from 2010 to 2011. A brown dwarf is a failed star and has so little mass that it can’t sustain nuclear reactions, so after its birth it fades and cools. This brown dwarf, named WISE J0855-0714, is the coldest known. Its temperature is slightly below the freezing point of water, so it’s colder than Earth’s mean temperature but warmer than Jupiter’s.
“I’ve been obsessed with this object since its discovery,” says astronomer Jacqueline Faherty of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C. The new neighbor resembles a giant planet—it’s as large as Jupiter and three to 10 times as massive—but is solitary, which means it has no sun whose glare interferes with our view of it. Moreover, it’s nearby: the fourth closest system to the sun, after Alpha Centauri, Barnard’s star, and Luhman 16.
Still, because the object is small and cold, it’s so dim that no ground-based observatory had seen it. “I went to battle at the telescope to try and get this detection,” Faherty says. “I wanted to put war paint under my eyes and wear a bandanna, because I knew this was not going to be an easy thing to do. At the telescope, I’ve never been so nervous. I’ve never wanted clear conditions so badly.”
Ken Croswell|Science|September 14, 2014
Read more at Science.
Conservation amendment poised to pass
Will the “Water and Land Conservation” amendment make it harder to balance the state budget?
TALLAHASSEE — Florida voters appear poised in November to pass a constitutional amendment that would require setting aside billions of dollars for land conservation and other environmental projects.
The proposed “Water and Land Conservation” amendment would earmark 33 percent of the state’s documentary-stamp tax revenues — fees paid when real estate is sold — for 20 years. The money would go to buy conservation lands, protect areas vital to the water supply and restore natural systems that have been degraded, such as the Everglades.
But some Republican and business leaders are raising concerns that Amendment 1 could make it harder to balance the state budget in the future.
“In a perfect world, you wouldn’t want it in the constitution,” said incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando. “As a legislator, you want as much flexibility as you can, and it doesn’t belong in the constitution.”
Other critics of the measure include House Speaker Will Weatherford, a Wesley Chapel Republican who has argued that “legislating via constitutional amendments” does not work, and Senate President Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican who has said the amendment would shift too much land to state control.
But supporters of Amendment 1 say it came about after state funding for land preservation dwindled during the last recession.
About Amendment 1:
• Also known as the Water and Conservation amendment
• Will appear on November statewide ballot
• Approval requires a supermajority of 60 percent
• The amendment will earmark 33 percent from the state’s document stamp taxes for the next 20 years to fund conservation and land acquisition
• Polling shows broad public support
“The conservation community took the hit like everyone else when the economy turned south,” said Allison DeFoor, chairman of Florida’s Water and Land Legacy campaign, which backs the amendment. “And then things just didn’t get readjusted when the economy began to turn.”
The proposal appears likely to get the required 60 percent support from voters to pass. According to the Florida Chamber of Commerce — which opposes the measure — 78 percent of the state’s voters support the amendment.
“Little is known about it, but it has a powerfully effective ballot title, in synch with Florida’s pro-environment leanings,” said University of South Florida political science professor Susan MacManus, who expects it to pass.
Supporters point to the Florida Forever program, which uses bonds backed with revenue from documentary stamps and authorizes lawmakers to spend up to $300 million a year for land preservation. The last year Florida Forever’s funding approached that mark was 2008.
Supporters of Amendment 1 say it will generate about $10 billion over 20 years, while the state appears to project higher numbers. A state analysis estimates the total would be $648 million during the fiscal year starting in July 2015 and eventually grow to $1.268 billion by the 20th year.
“You would think that we could at least spend 1 percent of our state budget on water and land conservation,” said Will Abberger, campaign manager for Florida’s Water and Land Legacy. “That’s what Amendment 1 represents: having that constitutional dedication so that no matter who’s in public office, we know that there is going to be funding.”
But others are wary. David Hart, executive vice president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, said Amendment 1 would put state leaders in a bind during an economic crisis.
“It’s hard enough for the Legislature to balance (competing) budgetary needs, but if $20 billion is set aside and untouchable, what else is going to get cut to make up for that?” Hart asked. “Are they going to have to cut education or senior health care? Those are some choices that are very real, should we get another recession.”
DeFoor said the amendment had been carefully crafted to budget for hard times.
“It’s short in duration, it’s only 20 years, it’s reasonable in the amount (and) it puts us kind of back where we were,” he said. “It’s fixed by percentage, so if things get better, we all get better. And if things were, God forbid, to deteriorate, we’d take the hit, too.”
Despite their qualms about Amendment 1, Republican legislative leaders say they respect voters’ support for it.
“If the amendment is passed, then we’re certainly going to scrupulously follow it and put those revenues toward those purposes,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart.
MARGIE MENZEL|The News Service of Florida|September 12, 2014
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Turbines not top threat to birds
Cats, cell towers kill many more wildfowl, says study
Wind turbines kill far fewer birds in North America than do cats or collisions with cell towers, a new study says.
As wind power expands in the United States, critics often blame giant turbine blades for bird deaths. The new analysis says birds face far greater threats.
Wind turbines kill between 214,000 and 368,000 birds annually — a small fraction compared with the estimated 6.8 million fatalities from collisions with cell and radio towers and the 1.4 billion to 3.7 billion deaths from cats, according to the peer-reviewed study by two federal scientists and the environmental consulting firm West Inc.
“We estimate that on an annual basis, less than 0.1 percent … of songbird and other small passerine species populations in North America perish from collisions with turbines,” says lead author Wallace Erickson of Wyoming-based West.
The study based its estimate on data from 116 studies conducted in the U.S. and Canada, after adjusting for the fact that surveys don’t capture all fatalities. Some carcasses are missed by monitors, disappear because of scavenging or decompose before they’re counted.
The wind energy industry has occasionally been at odds with conservation groups because of bird deaths. They clashed in December when the Obama administration, eager to promote nonpolluting renewable energy as a way to address climate change, announced a new federal rule that allows wind farms to lawfully kill bald and golden eagles under 30year permits.
Yet many environmentalists say wind power ultimately benefits birds. It is a “a growing solution to some of the more serious threats that birds face, since wind energy emits no greenhouse gases that accelerate climate change,” said Terry Root of Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.
Earlier this month, a National Audubon Society report said hundreds of bird species in the U.S. — including the bald eagle and eight state birds, from Idaho to Maryland — are at “serious risk” from climate change.
“Our scientists are still reviewing this particular study,” says Audubon spokesman David Ringer.
The study was funded by the American Wind Wildlife Institute, which works with the wind industry, wildlife agencies and environmentalists to promote responsible wind energy.
Wendy Koch|USA TODAY9/16/2014
Estero Council of Community Leaders Meeting
One of the newer concerns that could pose a threat to our water resources is inappropriate oil drilling. Florida sits on a very open, porous lime rock base with a series of underground aquifers, so it is a very fragile environment with a lot of interconnectivity between the different water resources. 90% of Floridians depend on drinking water from these underground aquifers.
State officials had formerly said that “fracking” would not occur in Florida because of its porous geology. The first case of “fracking” in Southwest Florida occurred late last year. Three wells are required for this type of oil drilling. One is a water supply well, as horizontal drilling requires 5 million gallons of water per month per well and often that is being taken from the drinking water source. The other two wells are the actual oil drilling well and a waste water well, as the water from the supply well becomes so polluted it can’t be treated and has to be deep well injected to be disposed of, which could create serious problems in the future. (Jennifer’s PPT presentation can be viewed here.)
Jennifer Hecker|Conservancy of Southwest Florida|Natural Resources Policy Manager|September 12, 2014
A Company’s Trying to Build a Mall in the Grand Canyon
What springs to mind when you think of the Grand Canyon? The unblemished majesty of 6 million years of nature at work (and, of course, life-affirming sunsets), or grabbing an Orange Julius on the way to Banana Republic?
Unfortunately, that latter image is exactly what Confluence Partners, a Colorado-based environmental insurance firm, foresees for the future of one of our oldest and most cherished natural landmarks.
The Grand Canyon Escalade would sit at the junction between the Colorado River and Little Colorado River, and would include shops, a tramway, restaurants and all other manner of gaudy, touristy miscellany.
In defense of their proposed project, Confluence Partners have offered up such compelling arguments as “Are there really sacred sites (in the Grand Canyon)? Really?” and, in regards to rafting permits being granted by the National Park Service each year, “Where do 24,657 people go to party? Why the Confluence, of course!”
Here’s the proposal for the Grand Canyon Escalade:
Confluence Partners have argued that their project will help invigorate the local Navajo community, but members of the local population aren’t feeling the same vibe.
Save The Confluence, a group organized by Navajos exiled under the Bennett Freeze for almost 50 years, was formed with the express intent of keeping the Grand Canyon Escalade from becoming a reality.
Fortunately, at this point, Confluence Partners don’t seem to be gaining any momentum for their proposal. Let’s hope it stays that way.
Johnny Dugan|RYOT|September 18, 2014
This post originally appeared on RYOT.
Turns Out Antibiotic Use on Poultry Farms Is Far Worse Than We Thought
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been under pressure to curb the use of antibiotics on factory farms over concerns that they are contributing to antibiotic resistance, but a new Reuters investigation of the poultry industry has revealed the problem is far more pervasive than either the public or regulators realize.
Adding antibiotics to feed has become a standard practice not only to deal with the unsanitary living conditions animals are forced to live in, but also to promote growth which makes production cheaper. Scientists, health advocates and some lawmakers have raised serious concerns about how giving animals antibiotics in a “non-therapeutic” manner, before they get sick, on a regular basis turns them into reservoirs for bacterial growth that can result in antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria, or superbugs, that modern medicine isn’t equipped to fight.
The problem is serious. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 2 million people are sickened by antibiotic resistant infections every year, with at least 23,000 dying as a result. The World Health Organization estimates that it costs us between $21 billion to $34 billion annually to fight these infections.
Still, even among growing concerns about the trouble this practice causes, an estimated 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used on livestock.
Reuters’ investigation examined internal documents called “feed tickets,” which are issued to producers by the mills that make poultry feed to the companies’ specifications and found that five major poultry producers including Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Perdue Farms, George’s and Koch Foods are all routinely adding antibiotics to feed.
In every instance of antibiotic use identified by Reuters, the doses were at the low levels that scientists say are especially conducive to the growth of so-called superbugs, bacteria that gain resistance to conventional medicines used to treat people. Some of the antibiotics belong to categories considered medically important to humans.
The feed tickets examined represent a fraction of the tens of thousands issued annually to poultry farms run by or for major producers. The confidential information they contain nonetheless extends well beyond what the U.S. government knows. Veterinary use of antibiotics is legal and has been rising for decades.
Some of the antibiotics found included drugs that are considered important for people and were cited to promote growth, or for ‘improved feed efficiency,’ which is contrary to claims from the industry that it’s doing this for the health of its birds. Some were using them solely for that purpose.
More worrisome is that the FDA hasn’t reviewed most of these drugs for the risks their use poses to human health. Reuters found that to date the agency has only reviewed about 10 percent of the approximately 270 drugs containing types of antibiotics the agency considers medically important for treating humans, and has only evaluated the superbug risks of about 7 percent of the approximately 390 drugs containing antibiotics that the agency has approved for veterinary use in chickens, pigs and cattle.
Even with growing concerns, the FDA has failed to take meaningful action in decades. Last year, it announced it would be implementing guidelines to curb their use, but those guidelines were voluntary and unenforceable. The move drew criticism over concerns that the very industries that have been fighting so hard to continue business as usual weren’t just going to roll over and comply.
Now the FDA doesn’t plan on gathering more information on these drugs until 2016, but the investigation has prompted lawmakers to call for action. U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, (D-NY) called the findings “staggering” and announced she is planning on introducing legislation that would authorize the FDA to collect data on “farm-level antibiotic use,” while Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), the only microbiologist in Congress, also denounced the findings and has renewed her efforts to get Congress to act.
Slaughter has been working for years to get the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMPTA) passed without success. Her legislation would amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to effectively ban non-therapeutic use of eight critical classes of antibiotics that are currently being used on healthy animals, while ensuring sick animals would still get treatment. In response to the investigation, she stated:
Since 1999, I have been calling for an end to the overuse of antibiotics on the farm. Industry has kept data showing the rampant, dangerous use of antibiotics hidden from the public for one reason: to protect corporate profits at the expense of public health. It is unconscionable but not surprising that the agribusiness and pharmaceutical companies are still calling the shots. Worse yet, federal agencies have been helpless because they are afraid of litigation. Agencies charged with protecting Americans’ health should not have to wait for the opinion of a judge before fulfilling their obligations.
Hopefully, Reuters’ investigation will add fuel to the calls already being made to those in authority who either aren’t taking this issue seriously, or are just bowing to pressure from the livestock and pharmaceutical industries and will result in meaningful action to stop non-therapeutic use of antibiotics on farms.
Alicia Graef|September 18, 2014
Victory in Maine and Progress on Antibiotics
There’s big news on two important efforts to protect everyone’s right to safe food and public water.
1) Victory for Public Water in Maine!
Earlier today, the Public Utilities Commission in Maine released a report, siding with us against Poland Spring and Nestlé, its parent company. Nestlé has been pushing the town of Fryeburg, Maine to turn over its water system in a contract that could last as long as 45 years. After a flood of support from our members, we were able to afford a lawyer to take Nestlé on and stop this contract from going through.
Defeating Nestlé in Maine is a huge victory for everyone’s right to public water, in Fryeburg and around the world. Nestlé is notorious for trying to bully communities to hand over public water rights for their own private gain. Today, we showed Nestlé that we stand on the right side of the law, and that when we come together, they can’t bully us.
2) Obama Acts on Antibiotics but Fails to Curb Factory Farm Use
Yesterday afternoon, the Obama administration announced steps to address antibiotic resistance.¹ This step forward is a testament to the work you’ve been a part of, calling on lawmakers to address this rising public health threat. But we have a lot more work to do.
The measures announced by the President’s office don’t address the abuse of antibiotics on factory farms — which are responsible for 80% of all antibiotics used in the U.S. We’re working to pass a federal law to end the irresponsible use of antibiotics on factory farms, and we’re making real progress. With your help, we’ve been building a groundswell of public support for sensible policies — sending over 70,000 messages to Congress and passing over 25 city council resolutions across the country so far.
Wenonah Hauter|Executive Director|Food & Water Watch|9/19/14
19-Year-Old Develops Ocean Cleanup Array That Could Remove 7,250,000 Tons Of Plastic From the World’s Oceans
19-year-old Boyan Slat has unveiled plans to create an Ocean Cleanup Array that could remove 7,250,000 tons of plastic waste from the world’s oceans. The device consists of an anchored network of floating booms and processing platforms that could be dispatched to garbage patches around the world. Instead of moving through the ocean, the array would span the radius of a garbage patch, acting as a giant funnel. The angle of the booms would force plastic in the direction of the platforms, where it would be separated from plankton, filtered and stored for recycling.
At school, Boyan Slat launched a project that analyzed the size and amount of plastic particles in the ocean’s garbage patches. His final paper went on to win several prizes, including Best Technical Design 2012 at the Delft University of Technology. Boyan continued to develop his concept during the summer of 2012, and he revealed it several months later at TEDxDelft 2012.
Slat went on to found The Ocean Cleanup Foundation, a non-profit organization which is responsible for the development of his proposed technologies. His ingenious solution could potentially save hundreds of thousands of aquatic animals annually, and reduce pollutants (including PCB and DDT) from building up in the food chain. It could also save millions per year, both in clean-up costs, lost tourism and damage to marine vessels.
It is estimated that the clean-up process would take about five years, and it could greatly increase awareness about the world’s plastic garbage patches. On his site Slat says, “One of the problems with preventive work is that there isn’t any imagery of these ‘garbage patches’, because the debris is dispersed over millions of square kilometers. By placing our arrays however, it will accumulate along the booms, making it suddenly possible to actually visualize the oceanic garbage patches. We need to stress the importance of recycling, and reducing our consumption of plastic packaging.” To find out more about the project or to contribute, click here.
Dragonflies are Dangerous Beauties
Despite their dainty appearance, these backyard visitors are voracious predators
AFRICAN LIONS ROAR AND STRUT and act the apex carnivore, but they’re lucky to catch 25 percent of the prey they pursue. Great white sharks have 300 slashing teeth and that ominous movie sound track, and still nearly half their hunts fail.
Dragonflies, by contrast, look dainty, glittery and fun, like a bubble bath or costume jewelry, and they’re often grouped with butterflies and ladybugs on the very short list of “Insects People Like.” Yet they are also voracious aerial predators, and new research suggests they may well be the most brutally effective hunters in the animal kingdom.
When setting off to feed on other flying insects, dragonflies manage to snatch their targets in midair more than 95 percent of the time, often wolfishly consuming the prey on the spur without bothering to alight. “They’ll tear up the prey and mash it into a glob, munch, munch, munch,” says Michael L. May, an emeritus professor of entomology at Rutgers. “It almost looks like a wad of snuff in the mouth before they swallow it.”
Next step: grab more food. Dragonflies may be bantam, but their appetite is bottomless. Stacey Combes, who studies the biomechanics of dragonfly flight at Harvard University, once watched a laboratory dragonfly eat 30 flies in a row. “It would have happily kept eating,” she says, “if there had been more food available.”
In a string of recent papers, scientists have pinpointed key features of the dragonfly’s brain, eyes and wings that allow it to hunt so unerringly. One research team has determined that the nervous system of a dragonfly displays an almost human capacity for selective attention, able to focus on a single prey as it flies amid a cloud of similarly fluttering insects, just as a guest at a party can attend to a friend’s words while ignoring the background chatter.
Other researchers have identified a kind of master circuit of 16 neurons that connect the dragonfly’s brain to its flight motor center in the thorax. With the aid of that neuronal package, a dragonfly can track a moving target, calculate a trajectory to intercept that target and subtly adjust its path as needed. The scientists found evidence that a dragonfly plots its course to intercept through a variant of “an old mariner’s trick,” says Robert M. Olberg of Union College, who reported the research with his colleagues in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The trick: If you’re heading north on a boat and you see another boat moving, say, 30 degrees to your right, and if as the two of you barrel forward the other boat remains at that 30-degree spot in your field of view, vector mechanics dictate that your boats will crash: better slow down, speed up or turn aside.
In a similar manner, as a dragonfly closes in on a meal, it maintains an image of the moving prey on the same spot—the same compass point of its visual field. “The image of the prey is getting bigger, but if it’s always on the same spot of the retina, the dragonfly will intercept its target,” says Paloma T. Gonzalez-Bellido, an author of the report who now works at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
As a rule, the hunted remains clueless until it’s all over. “Before I got into this work, I’d assumed it was an active chase, like a lion going after an impala,” Combes says. “But it’s more like ambush predation. The dragonfly comes from behind and below, and the prey doesn’t know what’s coming.”
Dragonflies are magnificent aerialists, able to hover, dive, fly backward and upside down, pivot 360 degrees with three tiny wing beats, and reach speeds of 30 miles per hour—lightening fast for an arthropod. In many insects, the wings are simple extensions of the thoracic box and are moved largely as a unit by flexing the entire thorax. In the dragonfly, the four transparent, ultraflexible wings are attached to the thorax by separate muscles and can each be maneuvered independently, lending the insect an extraordinary range of flight options. “A dragonfly can be missing an entire wing and still capture prey,” Combes says.
Dragonflies also are true visionaries. Their eyes are the largest and possibly the keenest in the insect world, a pair of giant spheres each built of some 30,000 pixel-like facets that together take up pretty much the entire head. “They have a full field of vision,” Olberg says. “They can see you when they’re flying toward you and still see you when they’re flying away.”
Their other senses get short shrift. Dragonflies can’t really hear, and with their stubby little antennas they’re not much for smelling or pheromonal flirtations.
For neuroscientists, the dragonfly’s large head capsule, eyes and brain cells hold particular appeal. “It’s that much easier to insert tiny electrodes into single neurons and make neural recordings from inside the brain,” says Steven Wiederman of the University of Adelaide in Australia.
As they reported in Current Biology, Wiederman and his colleague David O’Carroll explored how dragonflies single out one target from a chaotic swarm. Working with the two-inch-long emerald dragonfly often seen darting around Australian ponds, the researchers inserted an electrode about 1/1500th the width of a human hair into a dragonfly neuron known to be involved in visual processing. They then positioned the dragonfly in front of an LCD screen and showed it first one and then two moving targets at a time.
The scientists predicted that the dragonfly’s probed neuron would react to the competing targets as simpler nervous systems do, with the addition of the second target altering and degrading the response to the first. Instead, the scientists were amazed to find that the dragonfly attended to multiple stimuli in primate-like style, concentrating first on one target while ignoring the other, and then suddenly switching full attention to Target B, and then back to Target A—rather as we humans can sequentially shift our focus at a busy party from friend to friend, to a wineglass in need of a refill.
“It suggests the possibility of a top-down process of selective attention of the sort we normally associate with high-order thinking,” Wiederman says. “So here we have a simple brain of less than a million neurons behaving like our own brain of 100 billion neurons.” The scientists have yet to determine what cues might prompt a dragonfly to decide, “ah, there’s the target I will pursue.” Perhaps not surprisingly, much dragonfly research both in this country and abroad is supported by the United States military, which sees the insect as the archetypal precision drone.
Dragonflies are not a very species-rich group. Their order, Odonata, which means “toothed ones” after the notably serrated mandibles that crush prey, includes only some 7,000 species worldwide compared with hundreds of thousands of beetle and butterfly species. (And that 7,000 figure includes dragonflies, with their stiff wings, and the related damselflies, which can fold back their wings.)
Yet dragonflies are rich in history, their ancient lineage dating to the Carboniferous Period, some 300 million years ago. Back then, the atmosphere’s high oxygen content helped give rise to supersize dragonflies with wingspans the length of a human arm, three or four times the dimensions of today’s biggest tropical specimens.
Adults spend the great bulk of their days aloft, and not only to hunt and eat. Males spar with other males in midair and relentlessly swoop after females. Mating takes place on the wing, with male and female forming a circle that can look somewhat heart-shaped but is an awkward, aggressive affair. Grasping the female’s head in his mating pincers, the male first must transfer his sperm from a storage site on his lower abdomen to a copulatory organ inconveniently located on his upper abdomen. Then he must induce his headlocked mate to curl her genitals up toward that loaded midbelly penis. If she’s already mated, the male must pause to expand a little bristled lobe to scrape out the previous suitor’s sperm.
Some dragonfly species migrate long distances each year, a still-mysterious phenomenon not unlike the celebrated flight of the monarch butterfly. Recent studies have shown that green darner dragonflies migrate in sizable swarms each fall and spring between the northern United States and southern Mexico, while the globe skimmer dragonfly lives up to its name: It has been tracked crossing between India and Africa, a round-trip, multigenerational pilgrimage of some 10,000 miles.
Dragonflies migrate to maximize breeding opportunities, seeking warm freshwater ponds in which they can safely lay their eggs. From those eggs hatch dragonfly larvae: astonishing gilled predators that will spend from weeks to years hydrojetting through water and shooting their mouthparts after aquatic prey, until they’re ready to spread their wings and take the hunt to the sky.
Dragonflies and damselflies belong to the insect order Odonata, and most members of this group rely on water throughout their life cycles. The juveniles, or nymphs, live underwater for months and sometimes years before emerging as adults; the adults tend to hunt for insects over water and lay their eggs in water or on adjacent vegetation.
Unless you live in the arid Southwest, your yard may be reasonably close to a stream, pond or wetland with a “source” population of the insects. Dragonflies are strong flyers, and though most individuals stay around their natal pond or stream, some of them will travel. So a backyard pond can attract these aerial acrobats to your yard.
The ideal dragonfly pond should vary in depth, be shallow at the edges and at least 2 feet deep in the center to provide nymphs with a refuge from predators. The British Dragonfly Society recommends building a pond that is about 20 feet in diameter, but under the right conditions, even a smaller pond or water feature will work.
To provide both developing nymphs and adults with perches, place underwater plants in a pond, including emergent vegetation such as sedges and rushes that stick up above the water’s surface. Experts also recommend growing native species of shrubs around the pond to provide more perching places.
Non-target Trapped Animals Represented
Lawsuit Filed Against the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commission
Recently, we told you about an exciting lawsuit that has been filed by two courageous Nevada residents, Mark Smith and Don Molde, against the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners. The lawsuit argues that these officials have failed to protect so-called “non-target” animals, including wild and companion animals from harm caused by recreational trappers.
The press release that accompanied the filing of the legal complaint noted that the state wildlife agency’s own data showed that, “many thousands of unintended or ‘non-target’ animal victims were caught, injured, or killed by trappers over the last ten years.” Some of these trap victims include pack rats, rabbits, golden eagles, domestic pets, and mountain lions.
The plaintiffs have the data to prove that many mountain lions suffer from trap-related injuries before they are killed by hunters. In fact, one out every six mountain lions killed and taken through certain hunter check stations in Nevada show these kind of trap injuries. Mountain lions are injured and killed because they inhabit similar habitats as bobcats, who are being relentlessly pursued and killed by trappers for their fur, which can easily fetch $1000 per bobcat on the global fur market. It goes without saying that what happens to mountain lions (let alone bobcats and other furbearing animals), happens to other animals—wild and domestic—as well.
The plaintiffs argue that the Commission has failed to carry out its statutory obligation to “preserve, protect, manage and restore wildlife within Nevada”—wild animals, who “belong” to all residents of Nevada, including the plaintiffs, and not just to hunters and trappers. However, through the Commission’s recent approval of requiring trappers to check their traps in a mere 96-hour (4 days!) interval, the Commission has placed trappers’ convenience above its general obligation to protect so-called non-target species, including mountain lions and domestic animals, from injury or death from accidental trap and snare encounters.
One desirable outcome of this legal action would be an injunction preventing or delaying the imminent trapping season. The lawsuit was filed on August 28, and the Commission now has 30 days to respond, so we should expect some news at the end of September. We will continue to follow this potentially landmark lawsuit and bring you updates as they occur.
Web Team|September 17th, 2014
Calls to Action
Help avert a disaster for birds in the Klamath – Here
Cut Pollution from the Oil & Gas Industry – here
Tell FWS to list the northern long-eared bat as endangered – here
Tell FWS to give Mexican gray wolves the help they need to survive – here
Take Action For Plovers Now – here
Birds and Butterflies
Alafia Bank Bird Sanctuary Gets Needed Upgrade
This summer, Audubon Florida’s Coastal Islands Sanctuaries installed another 425 feet of offshore breakwater at the Richard T. Paul Alafia Bank Bird Sanctuary in Hillsborough Bay, south of Tampa.
The breakwater, created from large pH-balanced hollow concrete pyramids, intercepts waves and ship wakes, slowing erosion of the bird nesting habitats for the nearly 6,000 pairs of colonial waterbirds that nested on the Alafia Bank this spring and summer. The project was funded by a $250,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Shell Marine Grant, funds generated from oil recovered and sold by the government following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. This installation is the second large-scale breakwater placed on the north shore of the Alafia Bank, adding to 800 feet installed in 2011.
The 8,000-lb concrete pyramid units were lowered into place by a large crane mounted on a barge. The pyramids’ hollow structure and overlapping placement dissipate wave energy, creating a quiet shoreline to protect the island from erosion, which has been toppling bird nesting trees. Oysters and barnacles readily attach to the pH-neutral pyramids, providing habitat for fish and crabs.
The Alafia Bank Bird Sanctuary, owned by The Mosaic Company and leased to Audubon for management as a bird sanctuary, is a critically important bird nesting site for 16 species of birds, including Brown Pelicans, herons and egrets, White and Glossy Ibis, Roseate Spoonbills, and American Oystercatchers.
Coastal Conservation,FL|Coastal Islands Sanctuaries|August 14, 2014
Are you a Citizen Scientist?
Help the Avian Research Conservation Institute (ARCI) monitor Swallow-tailed Kites and other species such as Short-tailed Hawks, Reddish Egrets and Crested Caracara. Your observations can really help conserve these species for future generations to enjoy.
Report sightings here http://arcinst.org/arci-report-sightings-2
New Video: Birds and Climate Change
Check out this incredible video illustrating what global warming is doing to our beloved birds. Bird lovers everywhere love this video and are sharing it with others—more than 3,900 views so far. Now it’s your turn. Spread the word that climate change is the No. 1 threat to birds by sharing this video with your Chapter members, friends, and family—and ask them to share it with others. Together we can reach 10,000 views!
Floridians Would Tax Selves to Fight Invasive Species
Floridians would likely support a 1 percent sales tax bump to prevent and eradicate disruptive invasive species, a new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences public opinion survey shows.
The survey also shows that residents say they’re not as up to speed on endangered and invasive species as they would like to be.
An online survey in July of 515 Floridians found respondents believe environmental conservation is an important issue and ranked it sixth of 10 public-interest topics: well behind the economy and health care, but ahead of immigration and climate change.
For the second annual survey on endangered species, researchers from the UF/IFAS Center for Public Issues Education, or PIE Center, included questions about invasive species, said Alexa Lamm, the center’s associate director.
The last decade has seen the state struggle with a growing number of non-native species that can wildly disrupt the ecosystem, including the Burmese python, the Argentine black and white tegu lizard and lionfish from the Indo-Pacific.
Florida has 121 animal and plant species listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, including Florida panthers, American crocodiles and aboriginal prickly-apples.
Jack Payne, UF’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources, said as someone whose research centered on wildlife and conservation, the issues are close to his heart.
“I’m thrilled that the people of Florida want to know more about the animals and plants in our state that are imperiled,” Payne said. “That’s what UF/IFAS Extension is for — educating the public on topics critical to the state’s future.”
In the survey, 55 percent of respondents said they would support a 1 percent increase in the state’s sales tax rate to fund prevention and eradication efforts for invasive species. But their support only goes so far, with just 18 percent willing to support a 5 percent sales tax increase for the same purpose.
UF wildlife ecology and conservation professor Frank Mazzotti, one of the state’s scientists on the front lines of the invasive species battle, said if Floridians were ever to approve better funding for his research team’s work, he’d fight in this precise order: prevention, early detection and rapid response, containment, and long-term management.
Ecologists use a term called “the invasion curve” to illustrate why he’d choose that order. The more time a species has to become established and the larger an area it becomes established in, the more expensive control costs will be.
“Keeping them out in the first place is always your best bet,” Mazzotti said. “It’s time to stop playing Dutch boy and the dike.”
To mount such a funding effort would take education, however. Fewer than 15 percent of the survey’s respondents considered themselves highly or extremely knowledgeable about threats to endangered species, how to prevent endangerment or even which species are currently endangered.
Sixty-two percent of the survey’s respondents said they were either not knowledgeable or only slightly knowledgeable on the invasive species topic, with many suggesting they don’t know what types of invasive species are living in Florida or what they can do to prevent invasive species from entering the state.
“It’s interesting that this is one of the topics Floridians have the least amount of knowledge about, but the most passion for,” said Lamm, an assistant professor of agricultural education and communication.
The PIE Center will host a free webinar on the endangered and invasive species topic at 2 p.m. Aug. 20. Register in advance at http://www.piecenter.com/endangered.
Lamm will moderate and Steve Johnson, an assistant professor in wildlife ecology and conservation, will offer insight.
Besides endangered and invasive species, PIE Center survey topics have included public perceptions about water quality and quantity, immigration, food safety, food security and genetically modified organisms.
Mickie Anderson|University of Florida|August 19th, 2014
Tying conservation with faith to protect a big cat
In a bid to protect the snow leopard, conservation groups are merging western and traditional approaches by teaming up with local monasteries, shamans and indigenous communities who live in the big cat’s habitat.
High up in the cold and rugged mountains of Pakistan, China, Tajikistan and Afghanistan, a smoke-colored cat glides silently and almost invisibly as it hunts blue sheep and ibex. The region’s top predator, the snow leopard, is not just notoriously elusive. It’s also endangered with likely fewer than 7,000 animals left in its vast range across central and South Asia. As one of the top predators in the high mountain food chain of Central Asia, the snow leopard is considered an indicator species
Formal conservation programs focus on designating nature reserves, fighting poaching and creating incentives for herders to protect the snow leopard. But, recent research suggests that an unlikely force has for a long time played a key role in contributing to the cats’ survival – the Buddhist monastery, an influential institution in nearly 80 percent of the snow leopard’s global range spanning 12 countries.
Last year, a study of the big cat’s territory across the Tibetan Plateau found that the region’s more than 300 Buddhist monasteries lie mostly within or near important snow leopard habitats. Carried out by Chinese researchers from Peking University, it focused on the Sanjiangyuan Nature Reserve in north-western China. About 2,000 – 4,000 snow leopards remain in China.
The research found that monasteries make for natural protective grounds with the snow leopard holding a special place in Tibetan Buddhism. “Each monastery is associated with a sacred mountain or forest that they protect,” Tom McCarthy, director of Snow Leopard Programs at the US-based Panthera conservation group who works closely with the Peking University team.
He adds that monks often organize patrols of their sacred landscapes to enforce strict Buddhist edicts concerning the reverence for all life. High-ranking monks or Rinpoches, also play a critical role in educating local communities about environmental protection. “It has a huge impact when senior Buddhist monks stand up during annual festivities and get local people to pledge not to kill wildlife,” McCarthy, says. “That helps preserve both the snow leopard’s prey and habitat. But our associates at Peking University understand that monasteries in the region have been doing this for years.”
McCarthy says Panthera’s approach has been to supplement the traditional ecological knowledge of monasteries and local communities by training them in modern patrolling techniques and providing them with tools such camera traps to monitor wildlife. And, following last year’s study, Panthera also plans to start discussions in other snow leopard countries about including more monasteries in conservation programs.
Taking into account the religious and cultural beliefs of local communities and institutions to preserve species is an increasingly acceptable concept in conservation. In recent decades, an entire field of academic research has sprung up around the idea of strengthening connections between conservation and faith.
Biologists are turning to learn from the tradition, culture and ways of life of people who have, in some cases, lived for thousands of years on the very landscapes they seek to protect.
“Over the past ten years, we’ve seen more people in conservation being receptive to the spiritual dimension that nature has to people and which is, for example, evident in sacred natural sites,” Bas Verschuuren, co-Chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Specialist Group on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas, says.
”These places are some of the oldest protected areas in the world because they inform people’s connection to nature and motivate them to revere and care for the environment,” he says.
Sacred landscapes include groves, forests, mountains and valleys across places like the Himalayas, parts of Africa and Asia and the Andes. Often, they are home to ancient indigenous societies such as the Yanomami in the Brazilian Amazon, the Soliga and the Bishnoi in India or the Kalinga in the Philippines who have for centuries managed vast areas of biologically rich land.
At some of the sacred sites, tree felling or hunting are prohibited; at others resource-use is strictly controlled while some communities fiercely guard water bird nesting sites or fish reserves. They often have detailed knowledge of the flora and fauna; to put it simply, they know things we don’t.
“Many of the cultural and spiritual values of sacred natural sites are intangible and mark people’s relationship with a space, plants, animals or nature, in general,” Netherlands-based Verschuuren, who has written widely on sacred sites, says.
“So it’s easy to overlook if you’re a western-educated conservation biologist or ecologist. It requires respect and willingness to look at the world through someone else’s eyes and to imagine a worldview other than your own. That kind of thinking unfortunately doesn’t come naturally to everyone,” he adds.
But that is changing, especially in the isolated and harsh habitats of snow leopards where conservation groups are heavily reliant on local communities and their knowledge of the area.
The secretive snow-colored cat is the focus of several ancient traditions, legends and beliefs in many mountain regions. The animal is often considered a protector of sacred mountains, a unifying force and a source of spiritual power and wisdom. Some of the beliefs are part of religious rituals practiced by indigenous healers and shamans in Kyrgyzstan, northern Nepal and the Altai mountains that stretch across Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Russia.
“In these places, the snow leopard is a mythical animal that constitutes a link between the spirit and the natural world of which humans are also a part,” Verschuuren, who has met with shamans from the spectacular Altai region, says. “It’s drawn attention to the role of local shamans and traditional healers in these areas in preserving the habitat of the snow leopard.
In a way, their work over many generations has made them real and important conservationists in their own right,” he says, adding “you even have shamans being invited to the table to join conservation biologists and scientists to ensure the spiritual significance of the snow leopard becomes an integral part of their conservation.”
That was evident last year at a meeting in Kyrgyzstan of the 12 Asian snow leopard countries. For the first it included input by local shamans and elders, giving them a direct voice in government level planning for protection of the wild cats.
It seems formally educated conservationists need no nudging to include traditional knowledge systems and insights when it comes to saving the snow leopard. And, that’s good news for the endangered big cat.
Bangladesh lags behind in protection of tigers
Bangladesh lags behind in protection of tigers as compared to other countries.
Not only India and Russia, Bhutan and Myanmar are also far more successful in their tiger conservation programs than Bangladesh.
The Global Tiger Initiative (GTI) has published a report evaluating the progress of nine initiatives taken up in 13 countries of the world. The report comments on this position of Bangladesh.
Evaluating the initiatives for the protection of tigers, GTI has termed the achievements of seven countries as good and satisfactory. Bangladesh is not in that category. India is the most successful in this regard, followed by Thailand. Russia, Nepal, Bhutan and Indonesia have also displayed success in meeting several of the nine targets of GTI.
Along with Bangladesh, the countries which have failed to meet GTI targets for tiger conservation are Nepal, Cambodia, China and Vietnam.
Bangladesh has failed to meet with success in any of the nine targets. Every initiative of Bangladesh in this regard has been termed as “under process”.
The GTI conference began in Dhaka on Monday, to be concluded today with a Dhaka Declaration. While Bangladesh is the host of the conference, it could not even given an update on the number of tigers in its own country.
GTI Operations Officer Andrew Zakharenka tells Prothom Alo, full points for fulfilling the nine targets is 2 and in this regard, 1.24 indicates the minimum points for satisfactory performance. Bangladesh achieved 1 point as it could not complete any of the initiatives. This falls below the average mark.
The progress report presented by Bangladesh depicts its successes in the increase of the Forest department funds by 95 percent, the efficiency of newly appointed personnel and procurement of new patrol boats. However, the GTI report stated that the recovery of three tigers smuggled out by poachers and the treatment of two wounded tigers which were then sent back to the Sundarbans, were examples of success.
Dr. Tapan Kumar Dey, Conservator of Forests, Wildlife Department, says that the measures taken by the Forest Department for the conservation of tigers will soon see success. He said that Bangladesh’s position will be good by the coming year.
Tigers have been identified as a critically endangered species. GTI has recommended a number of targets for the conservation of this animal These include increasing the required infrastructure, ensuring safety of its habitat, involving the local people in tiger conservation, ensuring afforestation of the tiger’s habitat, allocation of adequate funds for tiger conservation, involving businesspersons and industrial institutions in the protection of the tiger, creating awareness and increasing supervision of tiger conservation.
Bangladesh has said it would employ 957 persons over the past two years in the Forest department for tiger conservation purposes. Till last July, 807 persons were appointed. The target for temporary employees was 231, but only 131 were appointment. Despite the commitment, no risk allowance and communication allowance is paid to the forest staff. The Forest Department is yet to procure the two sea trawlers, a launch to oversee tiger safety and two launches for the Forest Department officials.
The Bangladesh Forest Department was also supposed to procure 30 shotguns for the forest guards to protect the tigers and five tranquilizer guns, but have not done so. The GTI report also pointed out that sufficient fuel was not provided for the boats used for overseeing the tiger protection work.
The tiger survey carried out by the Forest Department with the assistance of UNDP in 2004, by monitoring paw tiger marks, put the number of tigers in Bangladesh at 440. In 2006, a survey carried out by photographs taken by Professor Dr. Monirul H Khan of Jahangirnagar University’s Department of Zoology, at the initiative of the Zoological Society of London, showed the number to be 200.
From last June another camera survey, financed by the World Bank and assisted by the Forest Department of India, has been undertaken. It is estimated that there won’t be more than 200 tigers in Bangladesh.
Tiger specialist Prof. Monirul H Khan of Jahangirnagar University tells Prothom Alo Bangladesh is leading the global initiative to conserve tigers by organizing the tiger conference. This will reveal the true picture of Bangladesh’s initiatives for the protection of tigers. This will help Bangladesh is conserving the tigers of the Sunderbans.
Iftekhar Mahmud |Sep 16, 2014
A death sentence for the bees
A massive pesticide company has just asked the U.S. government to increase the legal limit for its bee-killing pesticides by 40,000%.
That’s right. Forty Thousand Percent.
Bees are already facing a massive global die-off. This could be a death sentence for millions more bees.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is accepting public input on the decision for the next 27 days.
Bees fill a crucial ecological role as pollinators and are essential for agriculture, and are responsible for every third bite of food we eat. In other words: No bees, no farms. No farms, no food. These pesticides are already banned in Europe. But rather than phase them out for the sake of our bees, pesticide companies are suing the European Union to overturn the ban. Now, they’re petition the US government to massively increase the limits of pesticide residues — residues that are actively harmful to bees, and can stay in the soil for up to a year.
Pesticide companies are already spending millions to get their way — to beat them, we need to show the depth of public opposition to this move.
So here’s the plan: First, we’ll use social media, our five million member email list, and online ads to alert the public about this dangerous new threat. Then, we’ll organize beekeepers to speak out in the media to put pressure on the EPA to reject the proposal.
We know we can win this. A massive public campaign helped get these bee-killing pesticides temporarily banned in the EU, and SumOfUs members are crowd-funding a legal intervention to protect the ban, too. This is just one battle in a larger fight — but we have to win in the US, now, if we’re going to win for the bees all around the world.
Syngenta asks EPA to raise tolerance level for ‘bee-killing’ chemical, E&E Greenwire, September 5, 2014
USDA’s Controversial Wildlife Services Refuses to Help Endangered Ocelot
Wildlife groups announce plans to sue to protect the rare cat from unlawful snares and traps
Tucson, AZ—Today, the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and WildEarth Guardians (Guardians), represented by the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC), notified the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Wildlife Services program of their intent to sue over the program’s failure to ensure it is not harming rare ocelots, which are listed as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The potentially harmful effects of Wildlife Service’s lethal wildlife management activities on the endangered ocelot trigger a requirement that the program consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The program failed to do so, violating the ESA.
“Wildlife Services is not above the law,” said Drew Kerr, carnivore advocate with WildEarth Guardians. “The law requires Wildlife Services ensure its activities do not further endanger critically imperiled wildlife like the extremely rare ocelot.”
FWS listed ocelots as endangered under the ESA in 1982. Historically, the beautiful cats inhabited southeastern Arizona and the southern Rio Grande Plain area of Texas. Although once thought extirpated from Arizona, multiple ocelot sightings occurred between 2009 and 2012. In April 2014, a remote camera detected a male ocelot in the Santa Rita Mountains, southeast of Tucson, Arizona, confirming the rare species roams the area. Ocelots are extremely vulnerable, threatened by habitat fragmentation, trapping, roads, development and capture for the pet trade.
Wildlife Services is a relatively unknown federal program of the USDA responsible for the deaths of millions of wild animals each year under the auspices of wildlife damage management. The use of lethal non-discriminate management techniques to remove carnivores in and near areas where ocelots live—including blind sets, baited and scented traps, draw stations, leg and foot snares, and M-44 cyanide capsule ejectors—puts the endangered ocelot at risk of death or injury. With as few as two ocelots in Arizona, the death or injury of just one of the cats represents a major threat to the species’ survival. In violation of federal law, Wildlife Services has never consulted with FWS about the impact of its activities in ocelot habitat in southern Arizona.
“Wildlife Services routinely fails to comply with federal laws like the Endangered Species Act,” said Tara Zuardo, wildlife attorney with AWI. “Few ocelots remain in the U.S. and they require basic protection to ensure that they are not killed by the very devices Wildlife Services indiscriminately uses on public lands to kill predators, like leghold traps and cyanide capsules.”
The fundamental purpose of the ESA is to conserve endangered and threatened species and the ecosystems upon which they depend for survival and recovery. The ESA requires federal agencies consult with federal wildlife biologists to ensure that their activities do not jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species or adversely modify a listed species’ critical habitat.
“It’s exciting that the ocelot, a nearly extinct species, is returning to its historic Arizona habitat. But Wildlife Services’ continued use of lethal, non-discriminate management techniques in the ocelot’s habitat runs the unacceptable risk of killing one of the few returning cats,” said John Mellgren, an attorney with WELC, who is representing the groups. “We are simply asking that Wildlife Services comply with the law and consult with the federal biologists to ensure that its activities do not pose a danger to the cats.”
Drew Kerr|September 3, 2014
Almost exactly one year ago, the 96 Elephants campaign launched. And it’s grown every single day since. Whether it’s signing petitions, contacting state and federal officials, posting on social media, or making a donation to support elephant-saving programs, this community has come through.
We’ve had more victories than I can possibly list here. Skim through the highlights below to get a sample and get inspired by watching this stunning video. Here’s a look behind all of those emails we send asking for your help, and the wins you’ve helped accomplish along the way.
Ivory sales are now banned in New York – which was the largest market for legal ivory in the United States until now.
The legal market was providing a front to allow the illegal market to thrive. The only way to prevent that was to close the legal market.
For five months, more than 18,000 of you tirelessly sent letters to the New York State legislature and Gov. Cuomo urging a ban.
- Your letters hit at the most strategic moments: each new wave of messages came during various committee votes, important legislative milestones, and key talks between our staff and state leadership.
- WCS staff testified before New York’s Committee on Environmental Conservation – a committee that proved critical to securing a legislative win – to educate them on how legal ivory markets kill elephants.
- We commissioned a poll that found that more than 80% of New Yorkers supported a ban on ivory sales.
- We personally met with the Governor to make sure that he was on our side and would sign the bill we were pushing so hard to pass.
- Our New York City team collected elephant drawings with heartfelt messages from more than 7,200 kids, which we hand-delivered to the Governor’s office right as we were asking him to sign the newly passed bill.
And New York wasn’t the only ivory victory, New Jersey also instituted a ban and the Obama Administration announced a proposed federal ban on ivory sales!
35,000 of you asked PBS’s Antiques Roadshow to stop appraising ivory on-air. They listened.
After receiving the first flood of letters, our targets at PBS quickly shut down their email accounts. So we found more ways to reach them and new targets to contact.
- Antiques Roadshow posted a statement on its website reiterating its ivory policy and removed prominent examples of past ivory appraisals.
- Unsatisfied, we launched our second round of pressure with a quirky video parody of an appraisal.
- PBS then agreed to open a dialogue with us.
- In the meantime, on social media, we took over the Antiques Roadshow hashtag during a Monday night broadcast.
- After a few rounds of talks, they announced an end to all on-air appraisals of carved tusks, removed past appraisals from the series archive on the Antiques Roadshow website, and added information to the show’s site discussing the severity of the ivory crisis.
Against all odds, elephant populations are holding steady in two parks we help manage in the Republic of Congo.
Elephant numbers in the Nouabale-Ndoki National Park have held steady since 2006. In Conkouati-Douli, the number of elephants has increased by as much as 50 percent since 2010.
- The parks are becoming safe havens and elephants know it. Researchers on the ground are documenting elephants from surrounding areas relocating to the parks.
- WCS-trained ecoguards in Conkouati-Douli are so vigilant and effective that elephants now venture into parts of the park they were too afraid to visit a decade ago.
- Through a combination of your generous support, smart park management, protecting elephants on the ground, and educating the surrounding community we’ve shown we CAN turn the tide against poachers.
Be proud. These are amazing accomplishments. Of course, our work is not complete. Much still has to be done to bring African elephants back from the brink of extinction. However, I’m confident that with you standing with us, the next year of our campaign will achieve even more for these amazing animals.
Without a doubt, there’s more left for this community to do in the coming year, but we’re making real, substantial strides. Thank you for being there for elephants.
John F. Calvelli|Executive Vice President, Public Affairs|Director, 96 Elephants|Wildlife Conservation Society
This elephant cried tears of joy
Raju the elephant’s story went viral after he was rescued from a life of pure misery and placed in our Wildlife SOS sanctuary in India. Raju was kept in chains for approximately 50 years, since he was a baby, and was regularly abused for cheap entertainment, rituals, and other events. When we finally removed his spiked chains and introduced him to a kind and caring environment at our sanctuary, he was photographed with what appeared to be tears of joy.
At the time of Raju’s rescue, he was emaciated, dehydrated, and had hundreds of wounds covering his body. He was near death as he was bound in spiked chains and forced to beg on the streets by his owner, Mr. Shahid. Now, despite the Forest Department’s approval to rescue Raju, Mr. Shahid is asking a court in Allahabad to have permission to take him from our rescue center and back into an abusive environment out on the streets.
The court process has been frustrating. Already, the proceedings have been delayed a few times. However, your signature will ensure that they know that the world is watching and that Raju needs to be declared a free elephant once and for all.
Justice needs to prevail for Raju and the many other elephants who are suffering, not just in India, but all over the world.
Nikki Sharp|Executive Director|Wildlife SOS-USA|9/20/14
State tweaks rules to help save the underdog gopher tortoise
Gopher tortoises have been roaming Florida for millions of years. Both the animal and its burrow are protected under state law. Biologists say gopher tortoise burrows can be home to more than 350 species of animals, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects.
TAMPA — A lot of attention gets paid to the sleek and proud Florida panther in its struggle to overcome the odds of survival in a shrinking habitat. And people love the West Indian manatee, a roly-poly caricature of an underwater W.C. Fields.
Not so much love is given to the grizzled gopher tortoise, whose head looks like a craggy rock with eyes.
Still, there is a fascination there with this threatened reptile.
“Most people want to do something to help gopher tortoises in Florida,” said Deborah Burr, coordinator of the state’s Gopher Tortoise Conservation Program. “This to me is very encouraging for the future of this native Florida reptile.”
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which oversees the program, gets hundreds of calls a week about the slow-moving tortoises, known in scientific circles as Gopherus polyphemus. The tortoises have been munching greens in Florida for millions of years, but seven years ago gopher tortoises were declared a threatened species. Both the animal and its burrow are protected under state law.
The reason is a familiar chorus in Florida: Humans are taking over much of the gopher tortoise environment and plowing under those crescent-shaped burrows that also serve as homes for hundreds of other species.
Burr has been overseeing the state’s gopher tortoise protection efforts for seven years.
“This is a funny job,” she said. “I really love it. Gopher tortoises are just an intriguing species. They’ve been around 60 million years and here they are. It’s amazing to see how they adapt over time and still survive.”
The commission’s gopher protection plan, which undergoes review about every year, is being tweaked now, and the state is in the process of taking public comment. The proposal is expected to be presented to the full commission in February.
The plan includes guidelines for landowners whose property contains gopher tortoises, habitat acquisition plans and permitting guidelines. Current rules require builders to get permits to relocate any tortoises — which can live for more than 60 years — found on property about to be developed. Most of those regulations won’t change much.
Among the proposed changes are rules that would eliminate the 1,000-acre minimum standard for new relocation sites, require permitted gopher tortoise relocation sites to include a strategy to deal with multiple tortoise deaths and add a time frame for experience to obtain state certification to handle gopher tortoises.
Burr is working more than ever with state parks, the forestry service and private land owners to save the species and its habitat. There are 28 sites, both public and private, across the state that are designated as relocation sites, and more are being sought. Owners who seek relocation designation forfeit the right to future development, but can, in most cases, continue to cut timber and graze cattle. There are financial incentives as well, she said. And gopher tortoises benefit their environment.
According to the Defenders of Wildlife, when feeding, gopher tortoises only prune the plants they eat, typically leaving a healthy plant ready to regrow new leaves.
Seeds go through the tortoise and sprout elsewhere in its home range afterward.
Other species rely on their burrows.
Biologists say gopher tortoise burrows are regular country inns and can be home to more than 350 species of animals, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects. If gopher tortoises disappear, so will their burrows and thus the habitat of all those other creatures.
A 2006 biological status report estimated there might be 400,000 gopher tortoises wandering around Florida, half of what the population was in the 1920s, when their numbers began to decline.
Because they are slow to reproduce, and even though there is plenty of suitable habitat in North Florida, gopher tortoise numbers never returned to what they were.
“Populations in the Panhandle,” the report said, “likely are still recovering from the heavy harvest of adults for food during and after the Great Depression.”
Naturally, people root for an underdog, and Floridians try to help gopher tortoises at every turn, whether it’s helping them cross roads or moving them from the path of heavy equipment. Unless the beasts are in danger, though, people should leave them alone.
The commission “understands that people’s compassion for wildlife can be a wonderful conservation tool, however sometimes a person’s actions can result in a negative impact on the individual or species of interest,” the state guidelines say. “When encountering a gopher tortoise, the best option is to leave the tortoise where it is found.”
Can a homeowner live with a gopher tortoise in the back yard?
“Yes,” Burr said with enthusiasm. “Gopher tortoises and humans have coexisted for a long time.” She said the state encourages all homeowners with gopher tortoises nearby to observe, learn and enjoy “the front-row seat to nature.”
The plodding reptiles are found in all 67 Florida counties. They like sandhill, scrub and pine flat woods, dry prairies and coastal dunes.
Conservation efforts on behalf of gopher tortoises have increased significantly in Florida since the first management plan was put in place in 2007, and more and more permits are being pulled to relocate gopher tortoises from areas that are being developed. From July 2009 to July 2010, 314 permits were pulled. From July 2013 to July 2014, 683 were issued.
Gopher tortoises could benefit at the polls Nov. 4, when Florida voters cast ballots on Amendment 1, a proposed constitutional amendment that, if passed, would broaden the scope of the Land Acquisition Trust Fund.
The amendment calls for dedicating 33 percent of documents taxes, mostly from real estate sales, to help acquire and improve conservation land and corridors, which could mean more money for gopher tortoise habitat restoration and maintenance.
Julie Morris, a consultant who works with Wildlands Conservation of Venice and who instructs a class on how to become state certified gopher tortoise handler, has had a long-time interest in the species.
“I think they are the poster child for human/wildlife conflicts in Florida,” she said. “They like to live and make burrows where we like to live. The gopher tortoise serves as the face of that conflict.”
Saving the species will require cooperation from many people, she said, including the state, conservationists, county governments and private landowners; developers and ranchers; farmers and timber companies.
But, she said, things are looking up.
“In the past the agricultural and conservation communities were at odds,” she said, “and now that has shifted. They are working together.
“We’ve come a long way,” she said, “since the early days.”
Gopher tortoise facts:
♦ Gopher tortoise burrows average 7 feet deep and 15 feet long but may be more than 40 feet long.
♦ A tortoise may have multiple burrows within the area it spends most of its time.
♦ Burrow openings are half-moon shaped with the curve at the top, and its size is a fair representation of the size of the tortoise. A burrow with a round opening has generally been taken over by an armadillo.
♦ Adult tortoises generally are 9 to 11 inches long and weigh 7 to 9 pounds.
♦ Females begin to reproduce somewhere between nine and 21 years old, depending on local conditions, and males begin slightly younger.
♦ They breed between March and October but usually dig nests in May and June. One clutch is laid per year with an average of six eggs, though many eggs are eaten by mammals, birds and snakes before they hatch.
♦ The biggest threat to the gopher tortoises’ long-term survival is loss of habitat.
Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Got a gopher tortoise living in your yard?
♦ Leave the tortoise alone and keep dogs and small children away from it and its burrow.
♦ Use tortoise-friendly plants to landscape your yard. In addition to providing excellent food for the tortoise, the plants will require very little watering once established.
♦ Allow the tortoise to come and go freely from your yard. Fencing it in or restricting its movements in any way is illegal.
♦ It is acceptable to trim tall grass around the burrow if necessary but leave the burrow and mound alone.
♦ If possible, avoid mowing, digging, driving over or otherwise disturbing the area right around the burrow, which includes the entrance apron and 25 feet beyond the burrow opening.
♦ Never block the entrance to the burrow, it could harm the tortoise or prevent its exit.
♦ Do not put the tortoise in the water. Gopher tortoises are terrestrial turtles, which means they live on land.
Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Keith Morelli|Tribune Staff|Tampa Bay Tribune|September 14, 2014
New Report: Fast-track Permit System for Watercraft Access Ignores Manatee Deaths, Speedily Approving Thousands of New Docks, Ramps
Boat Strikes Remain Lead Cause of Death for Endangered Manatees
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— A new report issued today by the Center for Biological Diversity reveals that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state of Florida have failed to consider cumulative impacts of thousands of recently permitted docks, piers and boat ramps on manatees, slow-moving and gentle endangered marine mammals. Today’s report finds that the government’s fast-track authorization of watercraft-access projects without analyzing their collective impacts is likely a key factor in enabling the boat collisions that continue to be the leading killer of manatees, resulting in an average of 82 manatees every year.
The report, Collision Course: The Government’s Failing System for Protecting Florida Manatees From Deadly Boat Strikes, details how the Fish and Wildlife Service and Army Corps have sidestepped required cumulative-impact analyses. Instead they have prioritized permits that facilitate watercraft access, leading to deadly manatee collisions with boats and other vessels.
“The manatee has come too far, and Florida has invested too much, to be undermined by the government’s shortsighted permitting scheme,” said Jaclyn Lopez, the Center’s Florida-based attorney. “It can and must do a better job authorizing projects and managing their impacts to avoid these grave results.”
Some of the report’s key findings include:
- Mortality from collisions from watercraft continues to be the leading cause of death for manatees.
- Neither the Army Corps of Engineers nor the Fish and Wildlife Service appear to even keep track of how many watercraft permits are issued in Florida.
- The Corps issued at least 4,086 distinct permits facilitating watercraft access from 2008 to 2013 without considering cumulative impacts on manatees.
- Hundreds of other permits were issued by the state of Florida that similarly avoided consideration of cumulative impacts.
The report recommends that the agencies rescind the permitting regime, known as the Manatee Key, which circumvents required analyses, including consulting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on impacts to protected manatees. They should reevaluate areas that are deemed adequately protected and require additional boater education about, and stricter enforcement of, speed zones.
The report comes out only weeks after the Fish and Wildlife Service closed the comment period for a proposal to downlist Florida manatees from endangered to threatened. The Service will consider the comments and review the best available scientific information before announcing its final decision.
A reclassification is not warranted, and the best available science supports the Service’s continued listing and management of the species as “endangered” — particularly in light of the fact that current efforts are insufficient to reduce manatee mortality from watercraft collisions.
Jaclyn Lopez|Center for Biological Diversity|September 12, 2014
Fire in Everglades intended to kill non-native plants
Ten thousand acres of Everglades National Park will burn Tuesday, as the park attempts to destroy an infestation of plants from Asia and Africa that can kill native vegetation.
Unless bad weather forces a postponement, a helicopter will drop plastic spheres of combustible chemicals over an area of sawgrass and tree islands just north of the main park road. On the ground, an engine crew will use drip torches to dribble flaming liquid on vegetation along about 200 feet of the road.
The object of this assault by fire is a plant called lygodium, or Old-World climbing fern, a plant that has overrun parts of the Everglades, from the southern end of Everglades National Park to the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in western Palm Beach County.
The fern covers trees and plants with macabre green shrouds, killing them by depriving them of sunlight. It can kill mature trees, climbing up their trunks to smother them with dense green mats.
“It causes landscape-level changes to the ecosystem,” said Jonathan Taylor, restoration program manager for the park.
Some animals may be harmed, some may benefit, he said. But the main problem is that it can transform classic Everglades landscapes into something else entirely.
“You would look at it and say, ‘This isn’t what my grandfather saw,'” Taylor said.
The burn will take place about six miles north of the Flamingo area in a region threaded with wetlands that won’t burn, said Katie Corrigan, a spokeswoman for the park. She said this will leave unburned areas to which animals can escape.
Old-World climbing fern first came to South Florida as an ornamental plant, cultivated at a Delray Beach nursery in 1958, according to a study by the University of Florida. It was found in wild in 1960, and by the late 1970s was well established in South Florida.
“It has the potential to outcompete native plants,” Corrigan said. “By using fire, we can maintain those prairies.”
Fire is one of a trio of control methods used against Old-World climbing fern, including the use of insects and herbicides. But despite years of work to fight it, the plant reproduces very quickly and effectively, with a single leaf sending out more than 28,000 spores.
Of the three methods of attacking the plant, fire is relatively cheap and effective, according to the park.
“We have found that treating Lygodium with prescribed fire at about a dollar per acre is a cost effective technique,” said Jennifer Adams, a prescribed fire specialist at the park.
All areas of the park will remain open during the burn, although the park said visitors, including boaters, should stay clear of the fire and proceed cautiously, with lights on, if there’s smoke.
David Fleshler|Sun Sentinel|September 15, 2014
Legislation filed for CEPP – next phase of Everglades restoration
Florida lawmakers from both sides of the aisle in both the U.S. House and Senate today signaled they want to accelerate action on a major Everglades project that has been stalled by red tape. Legislation was filed today in both the House and Senate authorizing money for what is called the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), immediately upon final approval by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. (Please find attached a copy of the legislation).
The project itself is intended to reduce harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee overflows into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers by allowing more water to move south.
“The urgent need for this project is clear,” said Rep. Patrick Murphy (FL-18), a chief advocate of the project and the lead House sponsor of the bill along with fellow Florida House member Rep. David Jolly (FL-13). “This bill would cut through bureaucratic red tape and authorize the project as soon as it is finalized by the Corps.”
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who filed the companion measure to Murphy’s in the Senate said, “we’re going to get this done.
“We’re not only going to restore one of the world’s great environmental assets, we’re going to clean up the rivers and streams that so many in South Florida rely on for clean water,” Nelson said.
The measure has garnered bipartisan support in both the House and Senate with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) joining Nelson’s version and Jolly joining Murphy’s.
“The Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) is critical to restoring the Everglades and will reduce the volume of polluted water devastating the coastal ecologies and economies,” said Jolly. “This innovative project is a major step towards restoring one of Florida’s greatest treasures and protecting it from future destruction.”
“The Everglades is one of the most beautiful and ecologically diverse places on earth, and Florida is lucky to have this national treasure in our own backyard,” said Rubio. “The Central Everglades Planning Project is not only an important component that will help ensure that future generations of Americans can enjoy all the Everglades has to offer, it is also a project that is essential to water management in our state. It was a shame the recently passed water bill did not include CEPP, but I’m hopeful that Congress, regardless of who controls it, will soon openly consider, debate and approve this important priority.”
Among some of the other House cosponsors are Florida Reps. Corrine Brown (FL-05), Ted Deutch (FL-21), Lois Frankel (FL-22), Joe Garcia (FL-26), Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20), Bill Posey (FL-08), and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23).
“Year after year, our Treasure Coast-Palm Beach community has suffered the devastating consequences of decisions made decades ago that disrupted the natural flow of the Everglades, resulting in toxic discharges and polluted runoff inundating our vital waterways,” said Murphy. “This project is a step towards reversing those damaging decisions.”
Erin Moffet Hale|Washington, Sep 18
Big Sugar turns to mass development, potentially affecting Everglades restoration efforts
Environmental groups around the state are alarmed at U.S. Sugar’s plans to potentially develop huge tracts of land it owns in Hendry County, which might affect Everglades restoration efforts.
Earlier this month Craig Pittman of The Tampa Bay Times reported U.S. Sugar was looking to change up its business plan by taking on big development projects in Florida. According to the Times, The company, which has been growing and processing sugar cane in South Florida since the 1930s, has mapped out a way to turn itself into one of Florida’s biggest developers.
On 67 square miles of sugar land southwest of Lake Okeechobee in Hendry County, U.S. Sugar and Hilliard Brothers of Florida, another sugar company with adjoining property, have joined forces on a project that would plop down 18,000 homes and 25 million square feet of stores, offices, warehouses and other commercial buildings amid the rural landscape. But the land that U.S. Sugar wants to designate for development is the same land that Florida officials have an option to buy for Everglades restoration.
If the sugar companies’ development plan is approved, that land would be worth a lot more – making it more expensive for the state to purchase.
“It’s good for business but bad for taxpayers,” said David Crawford of the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council.
U.S. Sugar says this is not a problem, because it’s not inclined to develop its land any time soon – only if the market dictates such development would be worthwhile. If approved, the plan could be developed any time before 2060, but some land would remain designated for agriculture, the company said…..
The South Florida Water Management District has the ability to buy 100 percent of U.S. Sugar’s land through October 2020- and there’s an option for the state agency to acquire only 47,000 acres expiring in October 2015. Even though this has been available to the state, Gov. Rick Scott has not dedicated funding to buy the rest of that sugar land.
……Dan Christensen with BrowardBulldog.org reports state and local officials will ultimately be key in getting the Sugar Hill plans approved. According to Christensen, various state agencies have been or will be involved in reviewing the giant project by the two Clewiston-based companies. They include Florida’s departments of Economic Opportunity, Transportation, Agriculture and Environmental Protection, as well as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the South Florida Water Management District.
The plan for Sugar Hill, which documents show has been discussed with various state and local officials since July 2013, appears to be on a fast track. The plan was formally submitted to Hendry County on June 2. The county commission gave its initial thumbs-up last week by approving U.S. Sugar/Hilliard’s lengthy development application for transmittal to Tallahassee.
Under a law signed by Gov. Scott in 2011, the state’s sector planning program now lets local governments engage in long-term planning for large areas with minimal state interference. The same law abolished Florida’s Department of Community Affairs, which had overseen state growth management efforts and reviewed local comprehensive plans, and transferred its planning function to the newly created Department of Economic Opportunity.
Christensen also reports that the possible development largely hinges upon whether plans for an airport in Hendry County, called Airglades, gets approved. The hope is that Airglades- as well as developments such as Sugar Hill- will serve as a means of economic growth in the area, which has been struggling to get on its feet.
In the meantime, future plans depend on approval from various agencies- and possibly the results of the state’s upcoming gubernatorial election.
Ashley Lopez|Florida Center for Investigative Reporting|FlaglerLive.com|September 17, 2014
Water Quality Issues
Everglades Water Quality Report Shows 19th Consecutive Year of Passing Marks
Everglades restoration – a colossal task starved as much for good press as it is water – received more than a passing grade in one of its indicators Thursday, when water managers announced phosphorus-reduction results for the most recent water year were two times better than expected.
The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) reported to its governing board that the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) — the farming region between Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades – reduced phosphorus by 63 percent in the water leaving the region. The Everglades Forever Act mandates a 25 percent reduction each year. This is the 19th consecutive year that the region has reduced more phosphorus than the goal, according to the district.
“Everglades restoration relies on a suite of water quality improvement strategies, and BMPs are an essential component,” said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Daniel O’Keefe after the staff presentation. “Reducing phosphorus and exceeding these requirements year after year reflects a long-term commitment to water quality improvements by South Florida’s farmers.”
Sugar farmers, who comprise much of the 470,000-acre region, were quick to react to the good news, crediting their “state-of-the-art farming methods, developed in conjunction with university scientists and unparalleled in the United States” for the success.
Farmers also pointed to the fact the EAA is the only “significant agricultural watershed” in the country that must comply with phosphorus-reduction mandates. According to their statement, the EAA “is the only area that requires each farm to measure and report rainfall, the volume of water leaving each farm and the phosphorus concentration of the water. This requires thousands of laboratory samples every year and the results are without question.”
The SFWMD reports the EAA has averaged 55 percent reduction over the two-decade life of the program. In actual terms, it means 2,854 metric tons of phosphorus have been prevented from reaching the Everglades. The district reported the C-139 basin, west of the EAA, was also in compliance and stopped 28 metric tons of phosphorus from flowing south.
Even so, environmentalists have targeted BMPs, which are part of current litigation. Eric Draper of Audubon Florida, which lost its original challenge against BMPs, said he had not seen Thursday’s report but added, “It’s the annual success story the water management district puts out every year to give themselves a pat on the back.” He said the “limited success” of the BMP program would not affect the group’s appeal of the ruling.
The last line in the restoration system also showed favorable results. Over the past year, according to the SFWMD, the five stormwater treatment areas (STAs), which encompass 57,000 acres of man-made filter marshes, retained 81 percent of the phosphorus from the 1.3 million acre-feet of water that flowed through them. Since their inception, the STAs have cleansed 14.8 million acre-feet of water and removed 1,874 metric tons of phosphorus.
NANCY SMITH|August 14, 2014
EPA Administrator Won’t Back Down on Controversial Water Rules
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said Monday she’s not backing down on her agency’s efforts to implement a new rule that would assert regulatory authority over many of the nation’s streams and wetlands despite criticisms that it amounts to a federal water grab.
The U.S. House approved a bill last week that would block the agency from moving forward with the rule, which aims to clarify the streams and waterways that could be protected from development under the Clean Water Act.
McCarthy denied the rule would expand the jurisdiction of the act, but she said it’s time — given drought pressures in the West and the effects of climate change — to clarify some of the act’s provisions to make them more understandable and to establish regulatory certainty when it comes to drinking water supplies.
“We’ve seen some things happen with water that made us realize we need to do better and work together,” she said. “But one of the most important things is, as you take a statute that’s over 40 years old and say what it means, that you look at the science and the law and you stay within your boundaries.”
House Republican leaders have said the rule would extend the EPA’s power to include streams, ponds, ditches and even stormwater runoff, with economic consequences for everyone from farmers to small businesses.
McCarthy said her agency will continue talking to states and communities about the need for the rule and what the Obama administration hopes to achieve.
McCarthy made her comments Monday during a visit to New Mexico, where she helped to commemorate the start of a $2 million flood-control project aimed at keeping sediment out the Rio Grande and alleviating flooding concerns for the village of Corrales.
Once the catchment basins and other features are complete, officials say the area along the arroyo where storm runoff currently rushes through will be more like a park, where residents can hike or bike. Boulders and other natural features will be used to slow down the water and catch the sediment before it’s funneled into Corrales and the Rio Grande. Reclaimed water from the nearby city of Rio Rancho will be used to irrigate native vegetation throughout the area.
Funding for the project comes from a federal loan and a grant. Officials said it marks the first time in New Mexico that clean water funds have been used for such a project.
The Aquatic Preserve Society
Working for water
Florida aquatic preserves aren’t as recognizable as the award-winning state park system. You can paddle, fish or cruise these waters, and be unaware of their protected status and value to the region.
That could change: The Aquatic Preserve Society - a new, statewide citizens support organization – is forming. It will be a nonprofit group; details are still being fleshed-out. Goals will include improving public awareness, while gaining leverage to keep Florida’s aquatic preserves in tip-top shape.
Nine of Florida’s 41 aquatic preserves have their own support organizations, said Pine Island resident Liz Donley. She’s a founding member of the Aquatic Preserve Society and president of the Friends of the Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves, a citizen support organization for the Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves and Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park.
Donley hopes a statewide support organization will:
* Increase volunteer service at preserves throughout Florida;
* Support preserves that don’t have their own friends group;
* Help identify and secure funding to preserve and protect these waters; and
* Make sure protections for aquatic preserves aren’t weakened.
There’s a lot of work to do: Florida’s aquatic preserves encompass more than 2.2 million acres.
“Aquatic preserves are free, and open 24-7,” Donley said, adding that, “as the state budget has tightened, there’s less staff
to manage more (submerged) lands.”
The new statewide group could help recruit more volunteers, including citizen-scientists such as Terry Cain, president and founding member of Estero Bay Buddies.
Cain has a college degree in marine science, and works in land stewardship for Lee County Parks & Recreation. Her volunteer service on behalf of Estero Bay includes leaving home before sunrise one day a month to take water quality samples.
Estero Bay, designated as an aquatic preserve in 1966, was the state’s first, and became a model for Florida and the nation.
Volunteers perform water-quality tests at 46 Southwest Florida locations stretching from Venice south to Fort Myers Beach.
Twenty-nine employees work to protect and manage Florida’s aquatic preserves.
Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection doesn’t have a volunteer count. However, Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserve alone benefits from a pool of about 80 volunteers, said Melynda Brown, a state-employed environmental specialist.
Water monitoring at Gottfried Creek, a tributary of Lemon Bay in Charlotte and Sarasota counties, detected a high level of fecal coliform, a potential health hazard and an indicator septic tanks in the area are leaking.
State officials and others are now exploring solutions, Brown said, adding: “We have more than 15 years of invaluable data. with which to assess water quality status and trends.”
Brown added that Charlotte Harbor’s CSO or friends group lends support by finding money for additional staff training and informative field trips for the volunteers, as well as organizing days to rid the area of such wildlife-hazards as discarded monofilament fishing line.
On Estero Bay, Cain said she gives her time out of concern for quality of life and for the economy: “People come here for clean air and clean water.”
There’s no economic impact estimate for aquatic preserves statewide. However, a 2012 report by economist Richard Weisskoff looked at the Estero Bay watershed and found that nearly $1.2 million in tourist spending annually is related directly to the aquatic preserve.
He broke the numbers down even further, suggesting that 18,974 jobs are sustained by the Estero Bay basin’s preserve lands.
What makes aquatic preserves stand out from other waters? Mainly, it’s the monitoring – and the regulatory protections.
For example, if someone applies for a permit to build a dock jutting into an aquatic preserve, it won’t be granted simply because the addition poses no harm to the waters or to the buffer land: “There has to be a public benefit associated with it,” Donley said.
Although many environmental scientists get active in aquatic preserve support groups, Donley thinks there’s room in the statewide organization for such people as fishing guides and even non-expert beach-lovers.
“Any new member of (the Aquatic Preserve Society) should have a passion for the environment,” said Brian Powers, DEP special projects planner, who’s compiling a list of interested persons. “Specialized degrees will not be necessary.”
If you’re interested in joining a local aquatic preserve’s citizens support organization or the statewide Aquatic Preserve Society, contact:
Brian Powers, special projects planner, Department of Environmental Protection, email@example.com
Florida’s aquatic preserves: www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/sites/
Laura Ruane|news-press.com|July 15, 2014
Florida’s Springs Receive $69 Million Boost
~Legislative approval brings total investment to $100 million in last two years~
On Wednesday, the Joint Legislative Budget Commission approved the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s proposed $69 million in springs projects leveraged by the $30 million Governor Scott secured in the “It’s Your Money Tax Cut Budget.” This approval brings the total investment in springs projects to more than $100 million in the last two years.
“I would like to thank Governor Scott for his leadership in providing record-setting funding for springs restoration. The health of our springs is a top priority for the department, and the Florida Legislature, the water management districts and local elected officials continue to show their commitment to protect and restore springs throughout the Sunshine State,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. “Approval of this great plan will enable state and local partners to implement projects that will protect the quality and quantity of water that flows from our springs.”
The project plan is a collaborative effort with the department, water management districts, community leaders and local stakeholders. The contributions and cooperation of these agencies and individuals have been crucial throughout the development process. Combining efforts and resources from various agencies across Florida allows for more efficient and comprehensive water restoration.
A total of 27 projects will benefit the following springs and spring systems:
Northeast Florida – $15,242,175
- Ichetucknee, Santa Fe and Suwannee Rivers and associated springs
- Levy Blue
Northwest Florida – $15,917,210
- Holmes Creek
- Jackson Blue
Central Florida – $14,330,000
Southwest Florida – $24,156,433
The objective of the project plan is to effectively address water quality and water quantity by supporting both urban and agricultural projects across geographic regions of the state where springs occur in the natural landscape. The projects were selected based on pollutant reduction, water quantity conservation, cost effectiveness and available matching grant funding.
For a list of the approved springs projects, click HERE.
latashawalters|DEP|September 16, 2014
The Lake Okeechobee Ecosystem: A Delicate Balance of Water
The marshes of Lake Okeechobee are a paradise of biodiversity. Everglade Snail Kites, Roseate Spoonbills, Tricolored Herons, and a plethora of other wildlife abound in this great ecosystem at the heart of the Greater Everglades.
For this incredible habitat to thrive, Lake Okeechobee’s water levels cannot be too high or too low. Marsh habitat drowns when water is too deep. When water is too low, marsh habitat dries up and is destroyed.
Last century, the Northern Everglades faced serious alterations to its natural system, as developers ditched and drained land.
As a result, the natural system is off kilter and Lake Okeechobee now experiences rapid fluctuations in water levels. This results in harmful effects to the delicate Lake ecosystem.
Water managers send large releases of Lake water to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Estuaries for flood control. These releases have long term negative impacts on their ecosystems and local communities.
In addition, some water users in the south demand the Lake function as a reservoir for their water supply needs, despite the fragile nature of the ecosystem. Lake Okeechobee’s natural balance of life must be protected.
The Audubon Everglades Conservation Team advocates to state and federal partners to manage Lake Okeechobee with its precious ecosystem in mind.
The long term fix is to store more water north of the Lake. Audubon supports Kissimmee River Restoration, easement programs, and partnerships with ranchers and landowners to achieve this goal.
There are many exciting Everglades restoration initiatives that can help. Lake Okeechobee’s water levels require proper management to protect this treasured habitat for years to come.
Click here to download our fact sheet.
Audubon Florida News|June 17, 2014
Managing Lake Okeechobee
At the heart of the greater Everglades ecosystem, Lake Okeechobee historically overflowed its banks, sending a sheet flow of water south through the Everglades. Today, the 730-square-mile lake is part of a massive flood control system known as the Central & Southern Florida Project, which stretches from just south of Orlando to Florida Bay and serves 8.1 million people.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages Lake Okeechobee water levels with the goal of balancing flood control, public safety, navigation, water supply and ecological health. The Corps bases operational decisions – whether to retain or release water in the massive lake – on its regulation schedule and the best available science and data provided by its staff and a variety of partners, including the South Florida Water Management District.
Lake Okeechobee Releases to Coastal Estuaries
In a fixed regional water management system with limited storage, the Corps must sometimes release water from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers to protect public safety when lake levels get too high.
Under its revised 2008 regulation schedule, the Corps strives to maintain Lake Okeechobee’s water level between 12.5 feet and 15.5 feet NGVD, in part to protect the integrity of the aging Herbert Hoover Dike that surrounds the lake. The lake’s water level can rise up to six times faster than water can be discharged. For example, heavy rains from Tropical Storm Isaac in August 2012 raised the lake level by 3 feet in a month.
The Corps continuously monitors the effects of any releases on the estuaries and consults with its partner agencies and stakeholders to modify releases to help minimize impacts to coastal waters.
During dry periods, the Corps may also release fresh water from Lake Okeechobee to help maintain appropriate salinity levels in the Caloosahatchee Estuary. In their advisory capacity, SFWMD water managers use a guidance document known as Adaptive Protocols to make recommendations to the Corps on lake operations in these situations.
- Just the Facts: Lake Okeechobee Operations – Goals, Roles and Responsibilities [PDF]
- Just the Facts: Lake Okeechobee Coastal Releases [PDF]
- Just the Facts: Adaptive Protocols for Lake Okeechobee Operations [PDF]
- Water’s Role in South Florida History
Great Lakes & Inland Waters
Water Accountability Sought for Rio Grande
River Needs Sustained Flows to Thrive
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—To protect essential flows in the Rio Grande and curb depletions from an already stressed ecosystem, WildEarth Guardians today warned the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District and the State of New Mexico that the District’s continued excessive and unregulated diversions from the river in central New Mexico and the State’s lack of oversight harm imperiled species in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
The group’s notice highlights the District’s unauthorized Water Bank as a prime example of the excessive pressures placed on the already overtaxed flows in the Rio Grande and the State’s general complacence in allowing such illegal uses to continue unchecked.
“Outrage would ensue if a bank opened its doors and began providing loans without any money in its vaults,” said Jen Pelz the Wild Rivers Program Director at WildEarth Guardians. “Yet, this is exactly what the District is doing with its Water Bank. The District has provided no proof to the State that water actually exists for distribution to additional users.”
In 1997, the State raised significant concerns regarding the validity of the Water Bank and insisted that the District prove-up its water rights before opening the bank. As it has done over the past 80 years, however, the District refused to submit its proof of beneficial use to the State and proceeded to operate its Water Bank. Despite the State’s serious concerns over the validity of the Water Bank, it has not taken any action to curtail deliveries to Water Bank lessees or shutdown the bank until it is authorized.
“Progress toward a living river is not possible with a system of water law that is so lacking in accountability,” added Pelz. “The District is not above the law and we plan to provide order in this system of chaos.”
While the group’s lawsuit targets the Water Bank’s impacts to flows in the river and thereby harming endangered species, operation of the bank also threatens the ability of state and federal agencies to meet their obligations to senior water users—such as the six Middle Rio Grande Pueblos—and may limit the State’s ability to meet its obligation under the Rio Grande Compact.
“The wild west approach to water management can no longer account for the complex demands on and climatic changes to the river and reform is long overdue,” added Pelz. “The Rio Grande is an artery of life that sustains all New Mexicans and its health is essential in order to sustain future generations.”
Jen Pelz|August 20, 2014
Steinhatchee River Designated Florida’s 50th State Paddling Trail
With the addition of the Steinhatchee River, Florida now has 50 state paddling trails. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Greenways & Trails designated the Steinhatchee River during the Taylor County Commission meeting on Sept. 16. The Florida Paddling Trails Association also presented signs designating the communities of Keaton Beach and Steinhatchee as “Blueway Communities.”
“We are proud to add the Steinhatchee River as our 50th designated state paddling trail,” said Florida State Park Director Donald Forgione. “Designation of the river creates well-deserved recognition of this excellent destination for paddling, fishing and wildlife viewing and will promote sustainable tourism and boost the economy for the local communities.”
The scenic Steinhatchee River is the latest of Florida’s outstanding waterways to be designated a state paddling trail. The river’s spring-fed, tea-colored water meanders through a shady corridor of moss-draped trees flanking the river. It widens gradually as it flows through the colorful fishing villages of Steinhatchee and Jena before joining the Gulf of Mexico. The roughly eight-mile designated portion begins just below the historic Steinhatchee Falls, which has been an accessible river crossing for countless travelers through the ages.
Wagon ruts can still be seen today where Native Americans, Spanish explorers and early settlers crossed the shallow limestone shelf that creates the low, cascading waterfall. Steinhatchee Falls offers a pleasant picnic area and hand-launch access for small fishing boats, canoes and kayaks. There is also a three-mile, multi-use trail that can be enjoyed by hikers, off-road cyclists and those seeking vibrant seasonal wildflowers and wildlife.
Fishing from a boat or kayak is an interesting prospect for anglers, as both freshwater and saltwater species may be encountered depending upon the stretch of river. Delicious “pan fish” abound in the upper stretches of the Steinhatchee, while saltwater species appear as the river mingles with the Gulf waters. Improved boat ramps on both sides of the river in the towns of Steinhatchee and Jena mark the lower end of the paddling trail and provide good access for all types of boaters.
Visitors are urged to bring binoculars and a camera to capture photos of the wildlife frequently seen along the river corridor and the Gulf coastline. In the fall, colorful monarchs and other butterflies feed upon wildflowers as they migrate southward. Spectacular flocks of white pelicans and other migrating birds are supported by vast tracts of public conservation land that bracket the Steinhatchee River, providing critical habitat for an array of wildlife species inland and along the coastline.
latashawalters|September 18, 2014
Public input sought on permit request allowing lake restoration in north central Florida
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has applied for a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District to conduct restoration activities on 11 lakes and water bodies in the FWC’s North Central Region.
This permit is required pursuant to Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899. The request is part of an overall initiative in which the FWC is working with the Corps to obtain permits for routine restoration work in 94 lakes and water bodies throughout Florida.
The following water bodies within the FWC’s North Central Region are included in the permit application:
- Cross Creek, Little Lochloosa Lake, Lochloosa Lake, Newnans Lake and Orange Lake in Alachua County
- Orange Creek Recreation Area in Alachua and Marion counties
- Withlacoochee River in Pasco, Hernando, Sumter, Citrus, Marion and Levy counties
- Alligator Lake in Columbia County
- Mystic Lake in Madison County
- Suwannee Lake in Suwannee County
- Tsala Apopka Chain of Lakes in Citrus County
The FWC is seeking a permit that would authorize all of its routine mechanical aquatic plant maintenance activities related to habitat restoration and navigation maintenance within these water bodies for a period of 15 years. The proposed maintenance techniques include mechanical harvesting and shredding of aquatic vegetation and use of earth-moving and tilling equipment on vegetated areas during dry conditions.
The proposed restoration activities on lakes and other water bodies would improve habitat for fish and wildlife and provide outdoor opportunities for boating, angling and wildlife viewing.
The Corps permitting process requires the opportunity for public comment. On Sept. 18, the Corps published a Public Notice for the proposed work on its website: www.saj.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory/PublicNotices.aspx. To view the notice, click on the following file number to open the Public Notice: SAJ-2014-01962 (SP-JED). If you would like to provide comments or have any questions regarding the Corps permit process, please follow the directions included in the Public Notice. Note that the Web address is case-sensitive and should be entered as it appears above.
Learn more about mechanical control of aquatic plants at http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/manage/control-methods/mechanical-control.
Offshore & Ocean
Newly Discovered Sea Creatures Are Like Nothing We’ve Seen Before
Two new sea creatures discovered off the coast of southeast Australia are unlike anything seen before, according to the scientists that found them.
The New York Times reported that the team from Copenhagen University found that the creatures defy “all existing classifications of life.”
Their findings were published in PLOS ONE, and it outlines the details of these strange, mushroom-like organisms.
“A new genus, Dendrogramma, with two new species of multicellular, non-bilaterian, mesogleal animals with some bilateral aspects, D. enigmatica and D. discoides, are described from the south-east Australian bathyal (400 and 1000 metres depth). A new family, Dendrogrammatidae, is established for Dendrogramma,” the study explains.
These sea creatures have bodies that look like a flat disc with a mouth at the end of a stalk-like growth. They somewhat resemble fossilized life-forms from 635 million to 540 millions years ago.
Apparently, the creatures were found during a scientific cruise back in the ’80s, but researchers only noticed them while categorizing other samples. However, because the samples were preserved in 80 percent alcohol, genetic analysis is impossible.
Co-author of the study Jorgen Olesen told BBC News that, “Finding something like this is extremely rare, it’s maybe only happened four times in the last 100 years… We think it belongs in the animal kingdom somewhere; the question is where.”
These aren’t the first wild sea creatures to be discovered in recent years, but they’re certainly the first to be found that look nothing like anything that currently exists. A pretty crazy find indeed.
This post originally appeared on RYOT.
Viola Knowles|RYOT|September 15, 2014
Federal Protections Proposed for Imperiled Nassau Grouper
Feds Propose Listing the Species as Threatened Due to Overfishing and Habitat Loss
Washington, DC—As a result of WildEarth Guardians’ 2010 petition to list Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus), today the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed the species for protection as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). NMFS identified historic and continued human exploitation, and inadequate regulatory protections from overfishing as primary threats to the species.
Washington, DC—As a result of WildEarth Guardians’ 2010 petition to list Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus), today the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed the species for protection as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). NMFS identified historic and continued human exploitation, and inadequate regulatory protections from overfishing as primary threats to the species.
“We’re thrilled the Nassau grouper is finally moving closer to the protection it so desperately needs to survive and recover,” said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians.
“We urge the agency to work quickly to finalize the listing and protect these amazing fish from exploitation.”
Nassau groupers live in coral reefs in the western North Atlantic from Bermuda, Florida, and the Bahamas to the Yucatan Peninsula and throughout the Caribbean to southern Brazil, including occasional sightings in the Gulf of Mexico. They can grow up to four feet in length and live up to 29 years.
Nassau groupers follow the cycle of the moon. Though normally solitary reef-dwellers, they form large spawning aggregations, from a few dozen to historically over 100,000 individuals, on or near full moons between December and March. Unfortunately, these aggregations are vulnerable to intensive fishing since they are always in the same place at the same time. Often, the discovery of a spawning aggregation is followed by heavy exploitation, and the local population can disappear in as little as a few years. Over 60 percent of known spawning aggregations are already gone due to human exploitation, and the rest are reduced.
“Reining in human exploitation of Nassau grouper spawning aggregations is key to protecting these magnificent fish,” said Jones. “The agency should also designate critical habitat in the U.S. portions of the species’ range to protect the coral reefs and spawning sites these fish need to survive.”
Protection under the ESA is an effective safety net for imperiled species. More than 99 percent of listed plants and animals still exist today. The law is especially important as a bulwark against the current extinction crisis; plants and animals are disappearing at a rate much higher than the natural rate of extinction due to human activities. Scientists estimate that 227 species would have gone extinct if not for ESA protections.
Taylor Jones|September 2, 2014
Arctic Cod fishery recovery aided by Norway and Russia
The prime cod fishing grounds of North America have been depleted or wiped out by overfishing and poor management. But in Arctic waters, Norway and Russia are working cooperatively to sustain a highly productive — and profitable – northern cod fishery.
What years of dwelling in the cold Atlantic had amassed, an army of knife-wielding, white-suited Norwegian factory workers were taking apart in just minutes. In a consummate display of optimization, streams of fish parts were whisked along on conveyor belts around and above me, with various cuts destined for their most appropriate markets. Nothing was wasted, not skin, fins, bones, offal, or roe. Fresh tongues went straight to Oslo. Whole heads were bound for Nigeria.
What was most remarkable, though, was the identity of the fish being processed in what seemed like a sheer embarrassment of biomass: The Atlantic cod – a species that many North Americans would recognize as an emblem of overfishing and regulatory failure.
At Georges Bank and other historical cod fishing grounds of New England, stocks of the once plentiful groundfish are at near record lows. In the fisheries of the Canadian Maritimes, the cod population long ago succumbed to overfishing and collapsed. And yet in the Arctic Circle village of Melbu, at one of nine Norway Seafoods cod processing plants, a productive fishing industry is thriving.
John Waldman|Yale Environment360||September 19, 2014
Read more at Yale Environment360.
Red Tide Off Florida Smothering Everything In Its Path; Could Cause ‘Considerable’ Damage
CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) — It’s like Florida’s version of The Blob. Slow moving glops of toxic algae in the northeast Gulf of Mexico are killing sea turtles, sharks and fish, and threatening the waters and beaches that fuel the region’s economy.
Known as “red tide,” this particular strain called Karenia brevis is present nearly every year off Florida, but large blooms can be particularly devastating. Right now, the algae is collecting in an area about 60 miles wide and 100 miles long, about 5 to 15 miles off St. Petersburg in the south and stretching north to Florida’s Big Bend, where the peninsula ends and the Panhandle begins.
Fishermen who make a living off the state’s northwest coast are reporting fish kills and reddish water.
“It boils up in the propeller wash like boiled red Georgia clay. It’s spooky,” said Clearwater fisherman Brad Gorst as he steered the charter fishing boat Gulfstream 2 in waters near Honeymoon Island, where dead fish recently washed ashore.
Red tide kills fish, manatees and other marine life by releasing a toxin that paralyzes their central nervous system. The algae also foul beaches and can be harmful to people who inhale the algae’s toxins when winds blow onshore or by crashing waves, particularly those with asthma and other respiratory ailments.
In 2005, a strong red tide killed reefs, made beaches stinky and caused millions in economic damage. A weaker red tide in 2013 killed 276 manatees, state records show, after infecting the grasses eaten by the endangered creatures.
“This red tide … will likely cause considerable damage to our local fisheries and our tourist economy over the next few months,” said Heyward Mathews, an emeritus professor of oceanography at St. Petersburg College who has studied the issue for decades.
Despite years of study, there is nothing anyone has been able to do about it. In the 1950s, wildlife officials tried killing the red tide algae by dumping copper sulfate on it, which made the problem worse in some ways. But some researchers are working to change that.
Predicting when red tides are going to be especially bad can help fishermen and beach businesses prepare.
Right now, much of the information comes from satellite images, which are often obscured by clouds.
“In this particular red tide, we got a good image on July 23 — then we went weeks without another image,” said University of South Florida ocean scientist Robert Weisberg.
Weisberg is one among a team of researchers developing a prediction model based on ocean currents data, rather than satellite images.
The prediction model tracks the currents that bring natural nutrients like phytoplankton the red tide needs to gain a foothold. Unlike other red tide species, Karenia brevis is not believed to be caused by man-made pollution such as agricultural runoff, and historical accounts of what is believed to be the same red tide date back to the 1700s.
Using his method, Weisberg in March predicted the current late summer bloom that is now causing so much worry. It allowed state officials to issue a warning July 25.
While the project recently received “rapid response” money from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to send a data-collecting robotic glider into the bloom, future funding for this work is in doubt.
Weisberg said the team is still trying to develop a model that can look further into the future.
But the tides often start far offshore, where gathering data and images can be a time-consuming, expensive undertaking. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has tried to stem this data gap by giving fishermen sampling jars to take out to sea with them.
While a good stopgap, Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly, who represents St. Petersburg, has called for more NOAA funding to help prepare for future events.
“Using fishermen to collect samples clearly shows we have a research gap,” Jolly said. “The more we learn about it, the more we can prevent a spread and protect our shoreline.”
NOAA spokesman Ben Sherman said the president’s 2015 budget does ask for a $6 million increase for research related to red tide forecasting, including the Gulf of Mexico, but Congress still has to approve it.
Fishermen say a better warning system could help save time and money.
“If we had more of a head’s up we could plan out where we would go fish,” said Mike Colby, captain of the Double Hook fishing vessel in Clearwater.
JASON DEAREN| |09/17/2014
Wildlife and Habitat
Can the World Really Set Aside Half of the Planet for Wildlife?
The eminent evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson has an audacious vision for saving Earth from a cataclysmic extinction event
“Battles are where the fun is,” said E.O. Wilson, the great evolutionary biologist, “and where the most rapid advances are made.” We were sitting in oversized rocking chairs in a northwest Florida guest cottage with two deep porches and half-gallons of butter-pecan ice cream in the freezer, a Wilson favorite. He’d invited me here to look at what he considers a new approach to conservation, a new ecological Grail that, naturally, won’t happen without a fight.
Wilson, 85, is the author of more than 25 books, many of which have changed scientific understanding of human nature and of how the living part of the planet is put together.
Known as the father of sociobiology, he is also hailed as the pre-eminent champion of biodiversity: Wilson coined the word “biophilia” to suggest that people have an innate affinity for other species, and his now widely accepted “theory of island biogeography” explains why national parks and all confined landscapes inevitably lose species. He grew up in and around Mobile, Alabama, and has been at Harvard for over 60 years but still calls himself “a Southern boy who came north to earn a living.” He is courtly, twinkly, soft-spoken, has a shock of unruly white hair, and is slightly stooped from bending over to look at small things all his life—he’s the world’s leading authority on ants. Wilson has earned more than a hundred scientific awards and other honors, including two Pulitzer Prizes. And perhaps his most urgent project is a quest to refute conservation skeptics who think there isn’t enough left of the natural world to be worth saving.
Throughout the 544 million or so years since hard-shelled animals first appeared, there has been a slow increase in the number of plants and animals on the planet, despite five mass extinction events. The high point of biodiversity likely coincided with the moment modern humans left Africa and spread out across the globe 60,000 years ago. As people arrived, other species faltered and vanished, slowly at first and now with such acceleration that Wilson talks of a coming “biological holocaust,” the sixth mass extinction event, the only one caused not by some cataclysm but by a single species—us.
Wilson recently calculated that the only way humanity could stave off a mass extinction crisis, as devastating as the one that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, would be to set aside half the planet as permanently protected areas for the ten million other species. “Half Earth,” in other words, as I began calling it—half for us, half for them. A version of this idea has been in circulation among conservationists for some time.
“It’s been in my mind for years,” Wilson told me, “that people haven’t been thinking big enough—even conservationists. Half Earth is the goal, but it’s how we get there, and whether we can come up with a system of wild landscapes we can hang onto. I see a chain of uninterrupted corridors forming, with twists and turns, some of them opening up to become wide enough to accommodate national biodiversity parks, a new kind of park that won’t let species vanish.”
I had also begun to think about such wildland chains as “Long Landscapes,” and Wilson said he liked the idea that they could meet climate change head on: Those that run north-south, like the initiative in the West known as Yellowstone-to-Yukon, can let life move north as things warm up, and those that run east-west may have the benefit of letting life move east, away from the west, which in the future may not see as much rain. “Why, when this thing gets really going,” Wilson said, “you’ll be so surrounded, so enveloped by connected corridors that you’ll almost never not be in a national park, or at any rate in a landscape that leads to a national park.”
Is this Half Earth vision even possible, I wondered, and what might it look like? The question would send me across the States, to a bison ranch in Montana and to emerging wildlife corridors in New England, but according to Wilson, the pathway to a planet permanently half-protected—something he thinks we could accomplish in half a century—begins right beyond our cottage near the town of Freeport, Florida, in a forest being created by M.C. Davis, a multimillionaire who grew up in a Panhandle trailer and as a young man raised his first stake playing poker.
Like Wilson, M.C. Davis is a tireless, elaborately courteous Southern charmer. But Wilson himself is quick to point out a difference: “I only write about saving biodiversity. He’s actually doing it.”
Davis’ idea has been to revive the “Piney Woods,” the signature ecosystem of the American Southeast. The longleaf pine forest once covered 90 million acres, or about 60 percent of the land, in a virtually continuous 1,200-mile stretch across nine states from Virginia to East Texas. That forest has been reduced by 97 percent, and there are about three million acres of it left. That’s more catastrophic than what has happened to coral reefs (10 percent to 20 percent destroyed) or the Amazon rainforest (more than 20 percent). The longleaf pine forest’s “Big Cut,” as it’s still known, began after the Civil War and left behind what commentators referred to as “a sea of stumps.” Much of the land has since been reforested, but de-longleafed, and is now planted with row after row of faster-growing pines raised for pulpwood.
Davis, a commodities trader in timber and oil and gas rights, who grew up 65 miles west of his forest, is jovial, folksy, forceful, slightly rumpled-looking, unassuming (“I’m a dirt-road, Panhandle guy”). But for the past decade he has been spending half a million dollars a year planting longleaf pine trees and another half million on other parts of a longleaf forest.
Davis remembers his awakening. He got stuck in a big pileup on I-4 near Tampa, saw a high-school marquee with the sign “Black Bear Seminar” and walked in the door: “There was an old drunk, and a politician who’d thought there’d be a crowd, and a couple of Canadians looking for day-old doughnuts and coffee—and, up on the stage, two women talking about saving black bears. They were riveting. The next day I gave those ladies enough money to keep going for another two years, which I think scared them, it was so out of the blue. Then I asked them for a 100-book environmental reading list for me, for my education. I spent a year reading Thoreau, John Muir, Ed Wilson. Then I started buying up land to see what I could do.”
If you were going to save Florida black bears, it was clear from the start, you’d have to save longleaf forests, their preferred habitat. An adult male black bear roams across perhaps a hundred square miles of land. North Florida already had some good-sized clusters of publicly owned longleaf—national forests, state forests, wildlife management areas and, in the western Panhandle, Eglin Air Force Base, a huge facility that back before World War II had itself been a national forest. If you could add in enough territory to put these pieces together, they’d amount to something greater than just a “postage stamp” of the natural world, as conservationists had started calling the national parks. The problem was that 70 miles separated the first two protected longleaf forests—and it was another 95 miles to the third.
As he dug deeper, Davis realized that the coastal Southeast is a “hyperdiverse” biological hotspot with up to 60 different species in a single square yard—though you might not think so when you see it, since a mature longleaf forest looks clipped and kempt, more like a big city park. Without any human intervention, here is a forest with tall, straight trees that are rather widely spaced, plenty of sunlight and lots of open, grassy meadows. Longleaf branches out only after it’s high overhead, where glistening needles up to two-and-a-half-feet long are arrayed in pompon-like sprays. Below the branches is empty space a hawk can glide through.
Davis’ plan was to buy up and re-longleaf the “in-between” open space east of Eglin and west of a protected river corridor. The available land was close to people, just a few miles inland from the sugar-white sands and high-rise condos of Gulf Coast beach towns. These tourist-driven communities used to be known as the Redneck Riviera, featuring attractions like the Snake-a-Torium, but more recently have been marketing themselves as the Emerald Coast (with slightly confusing slogans like “White Sand, White Wine, White Necks”). There was nothing, however, even remotely upscale about the land Davis had his eye on. It was dismal-looking rather than dazzling, a series of abandoned peanut farms and unproductive pulpwood forests with low asking prices.
Davis’ approach—“M.C.’s folly,” conservationists called it, because it seemed too ambitious—was something that emerged from Wilson’s mid-1960s demonstration that islands of habitat lose species over time. “Ed set the course,” Davis told me, “by showing us that doing something huge is our only hope. We’re all marching under his umbrella, and he’s so inspirational he makes people like me take action.”
Davis bought 51,000 acres of degraded farms and forests, a swath of land up to five miles wide that included barely 1,500 acres of longleaf pine in scattered patches. Basically, he’d be starting from scratch, and would be “rewilding” his property. Davis named his bedraggled purchase Nokuse Plantation. Pronounced “No-GO-see,” Nokuse means “bear” in the language of the Muskogee people who once lived there, but their written alphabet doesn’t have a hard “G.” Nokuse is the biggest private preserve and the biggest restoration project east of the Mississippi.
To honor Wilson, Davis built the dazzling, $12 million E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center at one edge of Nokuse, where thousands of fourth through seventh graders from six counties get free classes that let them hold real baby gopher tortoises and clamber and pose for pictures on a giant ant sculpture.
Wilson regards Nokuse as part of “the final stage of conservation.” Back in 1871, the United States electrified the world by inventing the national park, setting aside 2.2 million acres, an area larger than Delaware, to create Yellowstone National Park as a public “pleasuring ground.” (The world now has 5,000 national parks among its 200,000 protected areas.) Half a century ago, the vision expanded. Fifty years ago this month, President Johnson signed the Wilderness Act, which for the first time permanently protected land for its own sake, establishing a National Wilderness Preservation System of areas where “the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man is only a visitor who does not remain.” This was hailed as securing the “freedom of the wilderness”; Wilson would call it “the conservation of eternity.” The 9.1 million acres of American wilderness protected in 1964 have since grown to 109.5 million acres (4 percent of the country), thanks to citizen groups working on behalf of the rest of life.
The new challenge, as Wilson sees it, is to link up national parks and wilderness reserves and restored landscapes to “protect in perpetuity entire faunas and floras.” He has high praise for several such projects out West—especially the Yellowstone-to-Yukon initiative to join vast areas of the U.S. and Canada, and the even more extensive Western Wildway vision, a tri-national arc of land along the length of the Rockies from Mexico to Alaska sponsored by the Wildlands Network, a consortium of biologists and activists headquartered in Seattle.
In early sketches of some proposed “cores and corridors” systems, the connecting corridors look thin and spindly, like brain cells yoked together by the wiring of narrow, protruding axons. Even the word “corridor” sounds restrictive and unwelcoming, conjuring up images of school and hospital hallways, non-places for hurrying along or skulking through on the way to where you’re really going. Davis’ new longleaf corridor had to be more than just a pass-through place. In a hotspot where so many species are so densely crowded together, each rewilded acre had to be a stopping place, as well—a haven and a highway.
Although, frankly, much of Nokuse is still scruffy. A longleaf reforestation turns out to look a lot like a construction zone, as Davis acknowledged while driving me over bumpy trails in a golf cart. “Well,” he said, “I tell people we’re in Year 13 of a 300-year program. I could easily make 1,000 acres look beautiful, but the extinction clock’s ticking, so I decided to take on the bigger challenge.”
At Nokuse, Davis and his crew of workers have thinned 22,000 acres of pulpwood pines and planted eight million longleaf seedlings. He’s brought flames back to the woods after a half-century absence, setting carefully controlled fires on about 10,000 acres every year. For the past 25 million years, a prominent feature of the weather in this coastal environment has been violent summer thunderstorms and strobe-like lightning strikes. What grew here, uniquely, was a fire-and-rain forest, one that to stay healthy and keep its open glades, thirsts as much for scorching as it does for drenching (the one starts seeds germinating, the other lets them grow). Longleaf itself only thrives because it has evolved a slow, intricate fire dance that lets it evade being burned: An infant longleaf looks like a clump of ground-hugging grass, and it keeps that humble shape for up to 15 years before entering a “rocket stage” and growing four feet straight up in a single burst that takes it beyond a ground fire’s lethal reach.
Something’s going right at Nokuse—bears have reintroduced themselves, having ambled in from Eglin Air Force Base next door and then stuck around. Davis is planning to bring back red-cockaded woodpeckers, and, one starry night out on the guest-cottage porch, he also started talking to Wilson and me about finding a place for bison (the area’s last known woodland bison was shot just before the American Revolution).
“Oh, now you’ve got me dreaming,” Wilson said about the bison. “You’ve set my imagination on fire!”
So far, though, Davis’ proudest accomplishment has been an intense statewide recruitment for a seemingly uncharismatic creature, the foot-long gopher tortoise. Nokuse Plantation director Matt Aresco, a biologist with a PhD in turtle studies, has retrieved 3,500 otherwise doomed gopher tortoises from all over Florida. These “ecosystem engineers,” as one conservation biologist calls them, have the kind of transforming influence on their surroundings that beaver families do—although it’s unseen. Only two-thirds of a longleaf forest ecosystem is visible (trees and ground cover), with the rest underground, and 360 animal species take shelter in the 40-foot-long, 10-foot-deep burrows excavated by shy and dusty gopher tortoises. They retreat down these paths to where fires and hurricanes can’t penetrate, and where temperatures never sink below 55 degrees in winter or get above 80 in summer. The Florida mouse digs side tunnels, and a tiny, tiny ant lives on the eggs of a spider found only in these burrows.
The tortoises, guarantors and guardians of longleaf abundance, have suffered badly at the hands of both rich and poor: During the Depression, they were dug up and eaten (known back then as “Hoover chickens”). Now they’re buried and left there. The sandy soils they dig through are the same soils that developers build on, and gopher tortoises can’t dig up, only down, so to kill a gopher tortoise you only have to stop up the tunnel entrance.
In the luminous glow of intense orange Florida sunsets, Davis and Wilson would sit on the porch, planning. They pored over maps of nearby industrial timberland that if acquired and re-longleafed, could link Nokuse to the protected half-million-acres almost due east, thereby summoning a Long Landscape—more than 160 miles of continuous longleaf in a grand biodiversity corridor. Then there’d be room enough, Davis pointed out, for even the widest-ranging species, like red wolves and panthers.
Davis kindly offered Wilson and me a ride to Boston in his Cessna Citation jet, which had a black bear, the Nokuse logo, emblazoned on its tail. (He has since sold that aircraft.) Wilson, who is indefatigable, had suffered a slight stroke during our April 2013 visit, but he bounced out of the hospital two days later and by the following day was holding his hospital-issued walker over his head like a barbell. He has made a complete recovery, and this year, on our return visit to Nokuse, he spent a morning chasing butterflies. On the plane we talked about a park within the longleaf corridor in Mobile, a project that Wilson is working on with a horticulturist named Bill Finch, who, Wilson says, “is one of the two best naturalists in the world—and the other’s in Mozambique.” The Mobile Delta is a vast and diverse wilderness with over 300 species of birds. You’d think you’d returned to the early 19th century—it has been called “America’s Amazon.” But this would be an urban park, too, since the wild lands begin only 200 yards from the courthouse in downtown Mobile.
Looking out the window as we flew along the Appalachians, I told Wilson that I saw some Long Landscape parallels with the interstate highway system down below. A wilderness Appalachian corridor could run up and down the East Coast. The great, unbroken forests across all of northern Canada could be another. Together with the Western Wildway and a resurgent longleaf forest, this pattern would almost completely enclose the edges of the continent in a sequence of interlocking Long Landscapes bordered by the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans and the Gulf of Mexico. From sea to shining sea and then some. With, of course, additional and more inland routes to be added later, such as the sweeping grasslands of the Great Plains, which cover parts of ten states just east of the Rockies.
It all sounded within reach, from high in the air.
New England would seem to be a Half Earth slam dunk, a landscape on the upswing of a yo-yoing transformation. The region was 90 percent forested when the Pilgrims arrived, but almost 200 years later farmers chopped down all but 20 percent of the trees during a “sheep fever” that can in part be blamed on Napoleon and the first stirrings of globalization.
When Napoleon overran Portugal in 1810, a Vermonter carried off a herd of merino sheep, prized for their soft, premium-priced wool, which until then had been a monopoly of the Portuguese aristocracy. The 30-year wool craze that followed has been called “a mania as powerful as any religious fanaticism.” New England’s famous stone walls, rocks piled up by hand, like the Egyptian pyramids, and with more stones than the pyramids, are a remnant of that period. Then this vast series of sheep pens was abruptly abandoned as farmers and herders moved west.
The forests returned, though no one in the 21st century will see anything like those first forests’ practically sequoia-size Eastern white pines, trees that awed early settlers. Timbering is common in the newer woods, and even if left strictly alone, white pines need 400 years to tower over everything in sight. The “reforests,” if you can call them that, instill their own wonder, though. Self-seeded, they’ve spread again to cover 79 percent of New England, and a recent report refers to the entire six-state region as a “continental-scale habitat corridor.” If the pace of land conservation can be doubled, says this same clarion-call report, “Wildlands and Woodlands,” then 50 years from now New England can stay 70 percent forested forever. The area, it says, is something rare in the biosphere: a “second-chance landscape.”
Some of the conservationists who toured me around give this outcome no better than a 50-50 chance. Most of the land in New England is in private hands, with, in general, larger tracts up north and much smaller holdings as you move south (100-, 60-, or 20-acre lots). Which means that property maps of New England display a fragmented landscape rather than a reunified one. No one is proposing turning New England into a national park. What you can do, though, conservationists say, is ensure biodiversity on private property by paying landowners to protect present and future forests; in technical terms this is known as a “conservation easement.” Approaching thousands of individual landowners about this, one at a time, could defend and define natural corridors so they remain seamless for animals and plants, setting up formal connections between parcels that previously were in a legal sense merely adjacent.
Money is an obstacle—though easements cost less than outright land purchases—and another is finding the people to do the paperwork, which traditionally has been handled by small local groups called land trusts; they’re now amalgamating themselves into larger associations called RCPs, regional conservation partnerships, so as to take on bigger projects. Ed Wilson identified biophilia as the innate affinity for the rest of life within us all. How large a force field can biophilia exert within a second-chance landscape?
One of the most mind-opening aspects of the Half Earth quest is that it’s a reimagining of the possible, bringing into focus what had been a blur. I found one north-south wildlife corridor, about 200 miles in length, that couldn’t be called forgotten because it was never celebrated, although Thoreau wrote lovingly about one mountaintop, Monadnock, up near its northern end. On a satellite-generated nighttime map of New England, now that such things exist, this corridor pops out unmistakably. These maps show city lights as bright white smears separated by a fascinating absence and emptiness, the almost uninterrupted blackness of the “dark landscapes” in between—that dark is where the wild things are.
The column of dark land in the middle of southern New England has a band of light on one side, made by New York and the cities along the Connecticut River Valley, and a splash of white on the other, radiated by Boston and Providence. The dark land itself is a cascade of rolling, wooded hills that course down from the White Mountains through New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut on their way to the marshes along Long Island Sound. It’s a corridor that’s never had a name, except for a geological one, “eastern uplands.” Its hills are humbler than the Taconics and Berkshires to the west, so it has never attracted a school of painters or their wealth or cachet. But because of its intactness, this potential corridor—White Mountains to Whitecaps, it might be called, or W2W—is the single decisive interruption in what is now a 400-mile-long line of cities from Washington to Boston, the so-called Northeast Megaregion.
W2W derives much of its strength from an act of brute force. In the 1930s, Boston drowned four towns, evicted 2,500 people and moved 7,600 graves to create the Quabbin Reservoir, a huge, U-shaped lake in the center of Massachusetts. Further development was banned on 56,000 acres of woodland around the reservoir to keep its water pure. Moose, black bears and bald eagles, all long gone, returned. Anchored by this “accidental wilderness,” as it’s been called, three active RCPs lead off from the reservoir, two to the north, one to the south. The biggest is Q2C, the Quabbin-to-Cardigan Partnership, whose goal is to protect up to half of the two million acres between the reservoir and a mountain at the southern tip of the White Mountains.
Outstandingly and even improbably, W2W offers an older, slower sense of countryside that’s no longer common in the East; it’s a Truman-era setting, a seemingly endless landscape, where towns are like way stations or solitary boats bobbing on what an 18th-century geographer called “an ocean of woods.” Which is what you see today looking down from a small plane—a few towns, a few farms and the ceaseless woods. “There are hawks in my yard,” says Chris Wells, a Q2C coordinator who grew up in suburban New Jersey, studied planning in Manhattan and now lives in tiny Wilmot, New Hampshire. “Bobcats on the front lawn. Some nights you hear coyotes howl—I could be living in the African veld.”
Dan Donahue is director of land protection and stewardship at the Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary, which straddles the Massachusetts-Connecticut border not far south of Quabbin. The core of Norcross’ 8,000 acres has a remoteness to it, a hushed, back-of-beyond quality that encourages you to speak more quietly. The land was bought in the 1930s by Arthur D. Norcross, founder of the Norcross Greeting Card Company (still remembered for popularizing Valentine’s Day cards). His great interest was “rescue work,” relocating plants about to be destroyed—including, as he noted proudly, an entire colony of Hartford fern taken from a doomed Quabbin town just “before the bulldozer and the flame throwers did their work and the area was flooded.”
Donahue told me he sees W2W as a fire wall that can dramatically slow climate change. “Mr. Norcross saw this place as an ark,” Donahue said. “The truth is you can’t make an ark big enough to save species. But you can have arcs instead—arcs of land, like the one we’re standing right in the middle of. ”
In Montana’s Gallatin Valley one July afternoon, a pickup-truck prowl at the Flying D Ranch, near Bozeman, felt like an instantaneous return to an unrecoverable past, to the “seens of visionary inchantment” that Meriwether Lewis came across when he and William Clark made their way across Montana in 1805. Lewis recorded encountering—there was no spell check in the expedition’s equipment—“immence herds of Buffaloe, Elk, deer & Antelope feeding in one common and boundless pasture.” We were on the lookout for wolves; I was willing to settle for bison.
The 113,613-acre Flying D, up at the northwest corner of Greater Yellowstone, is a Ted Turner operation, and only a smidgen of the two million acres he owns in the United States and Argentina. The ranch has almost 2,000 elk and maybe 5,000 bison. Before the 1870s, it has been said, it would’ve been easier to count all the leaves in a forest than to count the bison. After 15 years of mass slaughter, though, there were only 325 bison left in the nation.
Like Nokuse in Florida, the Flying D is a large-scale, long-term experiment in ecosystem restoration. The premise, according to State Senator Mike Phillips (the pickup- truck driver), is that in ranch country, a wildlife refuge can pay for itself if it’s also run as a business. The big bison herd, which replaced a cattle operation, is largely raised for sale—bison burgers are available at all of Turner’s 45 Ted’s Montana Grill restaurants around the country. A few bull elk are hunted annually by high-end outfitters. Other species are welcomed, celebrated: mule deer, grizzlies, cougars, moose, pronghorn antelope, cutthroat trout, the occasional wolverine—nearly all the animals that were present before settlers arrived in Lewis and Clark’s wake. Wolves found their way to the D in 2002, seven years after being reintroduced to Yellowstone. The D’s wolf pack, called the Beartrap pack, is the largest in Greater Yellowstone—or was until a year ago, when it got so big it split into two separate groups.
Phillips, a biologist and a friend of Wilson’s, was elected to the Democratic minority in the Montana Senate two years ago. Since 1997 he has also served as the founding executive director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund (TESF), “the largest and most significant such family-funded initiative that we know of in the world,” he says. I ask him what the D will look like a hundred years from now. “Exactly like now,” he says with a laugh, “providing we get a good June rain.”
Ted Turner was making one of his many visits to the D that afternoon for a private meeting celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, the ecosystem’s biggest advocacy group, and made a point of introducing himself. In jeans and a crisp sport shirt, he seemed quite chipper. “Here’s a piece of land,” he said, pointing from his back porch to the high, snowcapped peaks behind him, “that could’ve been a resort—28 minutes from the airport, or downtown, or a good Division II football game. But it’s perfectly placed as a beachhead for wildness. Seemed to me the choice was obvious, and it’s a good thing we stepped in when we did.”
He said the Flying D is the largest private property in Greater Yellowstone—a critically important part of this connected landscape. “It’s clear nowadays that to protect imperiled species we need to operate at enormous scales that make sense to nature but that transcend anything people have assembled,” he said. “And it’s just as clear that no country will ever have the money to buy up all the unprotected pieces. But it doesn’t all have to happen on public land, since private ranches like this one can promote ecological integrity. Private lands are working landscapes; they’re money-making businesses. And I think we’ve invented something entirely new here—call them ‘wild working landscapes’—where we make a profit and so does the planet.”
Large carnivores, Phillips says, are an excellent lens for looking at landscapes. Their movements and migrations define broad corridors that already exist physically. The unanswered question is whether we can develop “socially accepted corridors,” as he calls them, along these same routes, so that the people within this now-inhabited habitat can co-exist with the big creatures in their midst. “The GYC folk talk about moving from tolerance to acceptance to appreciation, though I usually substitute ‘admiration.’” It sounds like Wilson’s biophilia, in bite-size, time-released doses.
The bison weren’t thundering as we moved slowly through them, merely standing around massively, impressively, the calves frisky, the bulls larger than our truck. It seemed to take forever to get past the great herd. Then we struck off cross-country and uphill. “Let’s go howl at the wolves,” Phillips said. A bald eagle perched on a fencepost, a couple of four-foot-tall, reddish sandhill cranes stalked sedately through rolling, grassy slopes filled with purple lupine, white yarrow and yellow blanket flowers. We stopped at a high, sweet-smelling meadow and, once Phillips cut the engine, an enormous silence enveloped us, broken only by the buzzy trill of a song sparrow.
We had to whisper because sounds carried so well in this natural amphitheater. Valpa Asher, the TESF wolf biologist accompanying us, told us some wolves might show up, about a mile away. “You’ll think they’re floating,” she said quietly. “Wolves are all leg.” They’d be at eye level halfway up a steep, rocky slope over on the far side of a deep valley. No guarantees, of course. We were looking at a “rendezvous site,” a kind of aboveground den, where wolf pups that were old enough get brought to learn the landscape.
Farther away, the skyline was dominated by the pointed crests of the Spanish Peaks, snowcapped even in summer. There was a rumble of thunder, and it suddenly started to pour. Wind whistled in our ears. It got colder, and we retreated to the truck, where Phillips broke out deli sandwiches and cans of Jamaican lemonade. Then the sun came out again, and there was a double rainbow to our right. “The D is showing off—this is too cool,” Phillips said matter-of-factly, far more restrained than YouTube’s “double rainbow guy.”
Then—there they were. Dots to the naked eye, but vividly close through a spotting scope. A black adult, a gray adult with a black ruff and six pups, four black and two gray, gamboling, sniffing the ground, chasing each other, dispersing and then regrouping.
Definitely floating. Phillips grinned, threw his head back and howled across the valley. On the other side, the two adult wolves threw back their heads and howled. The sounds were faint but unmistakable. For the moment, at least, Half Earth felt whole.
Tony Hiss|Smithsonian Magazine|September 2014
Brutal Quadruple Murder of Anti-Logging Activists in Peru
The brutal murder of four Saweto community members, Edwin Chota Valero, Jorge Ríos Pérez, Leoncio Quinticim and Francisco, has finally hurtled the plight of the Ashéninka indigenous settlement of Saweto (Peru) into the public eye.
For the past 10 years, Chota (54) who was the president of the Ashéninka indigenous settlement of Saweto, a 275-square-mile (712-square-kilometer) headwaters region in the upper reaches of the Alto Tamaya River, rallied and protested against the violations that he saw happening to his people’s land and its forests.
He rallied against drug traffickers who would use the porous border on his land to transport coca paste into Brazil and criminal timber syndicates that have been operating across Peru’s borders with little to no restraint.
Despite the obvious dangers of confronting these people, Chota remained adamant.
Chota’s efforts were far from selfish: They were for the good of his community. On their land they hoped to create one day create an ecological reserve for the their people to live sustainably on, using only the bounty of their land, the forest and the lake as their home and sustenance.
But what Chota was doing was indeed dangerous, and the danger, according to National Geographic reporter Scott Wallace, was very real. Three years previously, Chota had remarked to Scott:
“Welcome to the land without law. The only law here is the law of the gun.”
Chota is referring to his battle with the Ucayali regional government in Pucallpa to gain legal title for his people’s land for the last 10 years. The ongoing petitioning with little or no response, has meant that Chota’s attempts to remove illegal loggers and drug traffickers were made that much more difficult.
Chota remarked that even though “they threaten us, they intimidate, they have the guns” he was still determined that he had to confront the logging crews that came upriver from Pucallpa to cut limber illegally within the borders of Saweto’s land, a land that Chota and his people had no legal title to:
“As long as we don’t have title, the loggers don’t respect native ownership,”
Last year, Chota successfully helped police locate a sawmill outside Pucallpa on the banks of Ucayali River, where they found piles of raw timber that had been illegally harvested from Saweto.
After the timber was impounded, powerful logging bosses threatened that “someone from Saweto is going to die”.
But while he pleaded with the government for more security, those please fell on deaf ears.
To make the whole situation worse, the bodies of the four murdered activists have yet to been recovered.
The widows have pleaded with the Peruvian government to retrieve the bodies and provide more security for the remaining community,but again, their voices have fallen on deaf ears.
“We want the bodies of our husbands that have been left out in the jungle as though they were animals,” says Ergilia López, the widow of murdered community treasurer Jorge Ríos Pérez.
Frustrated with Peru’s slow response to recover the bodies, the Ashéninkas’ Brazilian relatives from Apiwtxa sent their own team of 16 tribal members down. The team arrived at the scene or the murders two days ago, finding only the body of Jorge Ríos, who had been shot in the base of the neck, and nothing but the belongings of the others.
They’re believed to have been washed away by heavy rain.
Sarah Burke|September 15, 2014
Global Warming and Climate Change
Reclaim the Climate Movement
I’m sure you’ve heard that everyone – or, at least, everyone who cares – will be marching for the climate this weekend. If you’re not marching, then you’re not doing anything at all, or so we’re told.
False dichotomies aside though, I won’t be marching this weekend. I’ll be taking action instead. I agree with Chris Hedges: the march is nothing more that street theatre. It won’t lead to any policy changes; it won’t wave a magic wand over corporate ecocide; and it sure as hell won’t get middle-class white folk to iveup their privilege and downshift. It will be a colorful (well, mainly blue t-shirts) climate-themed street parade, complete with back-slapping and high-fiving over how amazing the climate movement is for managing to get so many people outside on a weekend for a stroll around a city.
Here in Australia we’ve watched the situation go from bad to worse in the year since we elected the worst of all possible governments to power. To say Australia lacks the political will to address “the greatest moral and social challenge of our time” is to state the obvious. Instead of being shocked, perhaps our response should be disgust, followed by action.
We should be disgusted by the scrapping of the Climate Commission, the repeal of the carbon tax and mining tax, and the removal of funding for the Environmental Defender’s Offices. The irony of these backward steps, taken while greenhouse gas emissions are increasing faster than at any point in the last three decades, should not be lost on anyone with a finger on the pulse.
For all our polite letter-writing campaigns and clicktivist petitions, for all our colorfully theatrical street rallies, these policy backslides are evidence that this government doesn’t give a damn what ‘we the people’ think, or want. They’re not intimidated – they know there’s no “or else” clause in any of those letters or petitions. They know the rallying troops will never threaten direct action, or show up on their doorsteps to demand action.
Approvals for mega-mining projects in Queensland’s Galilee Basin – including the largest coal mine in Australia, Indian company Adani’s Carmichael mine – and for dredging and dumping on the Great Barrier Reef are a poignant reminder that we are “in the coal business.” So much so, in fact, that Queensland’s newly passed Mineral and Resources bill prohibits anyone not “directly affected” from objecting to carbon-intensive mining proposals while also prohibiting all objections to so-called low-impact mining, effectively exempting some 90% of operations. Concerned citizens have effectively been legislated out of the conversation in an appalling attack on democracy.
One can criticize the incumbent government for many things, but not for failing to cover all bases. A return to witch-hunts against environmental NGOs looms large on the horizon, with a number of organizations facing legal and financial ruin by the very government whose policy gaps they are working so hard to close. Recommendations to strip environmental NGOs of their ability to receive tax-deductible donations and the proposed repeal of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission (ACNC) are effectively moves to de-claw the climate movement, and ensure that business as usual proceeds without so much as a hiccup.
So what can a climate movement with no backbone achieve?
Historically, gaps in policy have been met with strong civil society action. It’s time we rose to our historic moment, as Naomi Klein urges. “We the people” need to reclaim the climate movement.
While mainstream climate activists emphasize market-dependent initiatives such as divestment from fossil fuels, getting behind renewable energy, and putting in place carbon-pricing mechanisms, there are a handful of voices from the margins promoting alternative strategies, including the controversial and challenging measures of economic de-growth, and direct action. A few pariahs are even urging preparation for the tough times ahead.
But these alternative voices are weak, drowned out by the mainstream mantras of “we’ve got to put a price on carbon,” “move your money!” and “100% renewable for the win!” What the climate needs right now is for transitioners, de-growthers, permaculturists, and other resilience-oriented folk to stop watching from the sidelines as the movement is declawed at best, and at worst, co-opted by spurious sales reps for greenwashed industry.
So this weekend I won’t be marching for the climate. And I won’t be sitting around doing nothing either. I’ll be at the sixth annual Australian Climate Action Summit held this year in Queensland, our Sunshine State. And I’ll be delivering some inconvenient truths. My presentation on de-growth is my offering as an apostate from the churches of economic growth and techno-optimism. The climate movement needs to hear this – that the pursuit of perpetual growth is what got us into this mess, and that tech-fixes won’t get us out of it. We are going to have to make major changes to our way of life.
A call to action for Australians to engage with opportunities and solutions, the Summit is also an invitation to debate which tactics will actually work to reduce our collective carbon footprint. Most transitioners, de-growthers and permaculturists are just as guilty of groupthink and huddling together with like-minds, in my view, as the mainstream climate movement is. If we never emerge from our silos then what do we really stand to achieve?
Preaching to the choir is a reassuring experience, well within the comfort zone, but it’s not going to get those inconvenient truths across to the movement in the tiny window of time we have available. We have to transcend comfort zones and network with unlike minds if we are to have a shot at making a real difference. And the more people we can work with, the better chance we’ll all have.
I’m not alone in this view, thankfully.
The climate movement’s pet projects receive plenty of scrutiny and critique from climate deniers and right-wing political pundits, but these are not the only folk who have questions, or challenges. The movement is not without its controversy, and the Summit is an excellent opportunity to place a few cards on the table and get talking about tactics that will really slash emissions.
Consumer actions such as ethical investment and divestment from the fossil fuel industry are presented as simple, empowering moves that anyone can make. Money talks – and those who have the most are heard above all others, thanks to their well-paid lobbyists – so it makes sense to put your money where your mouth is. But divestment as a tactic is not without its critics, and questions need to be asked regarding how far it will get us, and how quickly it will get us there.
The market forces of supply and demand hold sway, revealing two inconvenient truths: fossil fuel supply must be disrupted, and demand must be reduced or eliminated. The extent to which divestment can disrupt supply hinges upon how much money can be pulled out of the industry, while failure to impact demand renders divestment moot. An industry that is still profitable is vulnerable to share buy-outs at fire-sale prices by unscrupulous investors who stand to make a killing. The divestment debate is clearly one that needs to be teased out, and Sustainability Showcase’s David Zwolski will do just that at the Summit.
The push for 100% renewable energy is a major aspect of the climate movement, touted as not only essential, but also entirely possible to achieve within a mere decade. Renewable energy lobby group Beyond Zero Emissions has achieved rock star status in the Australian climate movement with bold claims that 100% renewable energy is achievable, affordable, and can launch Australia to the status of renewable energy superpower. Too good to be true? Perhaps.
The climate movement is not without its renewable energy skeptics, although they are generally considered apostates in the church of fossil-free energy. The skeptics have a point though. Renewable energy delivers low returns on energy invested, is dependent on fossil fuels for its implementation, and brings a series of environmental hazards of its own. Replacing one environmental disaster with another is an approach that would have many old-school environmental activists spinning in their graves. Radical environmental group Generation Alpha’s Ben Pennings may make himself less than popular at this year’s Climate Action Summit by calling into question the ecological viability of aiming for 100% renewable energy in lieu of slashing our energy requirements. He won’t be alone in doing so.
Non-violent direct action is a controversial last resort in our most civilized of civil societies, but let’s not beat about the bush. Wins were inarguably achieved by the Suffragettes, the American Civil Rights movement, and Gandhi’s Indian independence movement, thanks to the willingness of a few brave activists to go a step beyond begging the powers that be to instigate change. Make no mistake: the suffragettes would not have won votes for women had they not taken direct action; they had no recourse through the electoral system. The Civil Rights movement would have achieved little if they’d waited for sympathetic white folks to recognize the rights of African-Americans. India would still be under the rule of the Raj had Gandhi opted for simply imploring the colonial overlords to play nice.
Now that we have been stripped of our policy safety-nets and the right to even object to carbon-intensive mining projects, imploring politicians and polluters to maintain a safe climate threshold seems less than adequate. Generation Alpha’s call for extensive non-violent direct action tactics regarding Queensland’s Galilee basin could well come in handy.
With the recent vindication of the 1970’s Limits to Growth study an even more inconvenient truth than climate change looms large. It’s not news to transitioners and de-growthers that we are set to hit hard limits in the not-too-distant future, relegating perpetual growth to the realm of fantasy. Apostates from the church of economic growth, Sustainability Showcase will explain, in no uncertain terms, that it is precisely our pursuit of infinite growth on this finite planet that is the cause of our climate change predicament. Mother Nature does not negotiate, so it is we who will have to change our ways.
Reaching limits to growth poses a double-edged sword, however – one that can effectively slash our emissions, but also one that poses immense challenges for our economic future, and one that starkly defines techno-fixes as mere wishful thinking. This tough news will be inconvenient indeed for pro-growth true believers and techno-optimists. But one must ask: if we so readily accept what science tells us about climate change, then why is it so hard for us to accept what science tells us about limits to growth, the carrying capacity of our finite planet, and the ability of our biosphere to absorb all that we shock it with?
This year’s Summit features controversial commentary and solutions worthy of consideration, from the fringes not usually present at such events. Sustainable Population Australia’s Dr. Jane O’Sullivan will provide a critique of population overshoot and what can be done to address it. Peak oil and finance analyst Nicole Foss will provide a reality check on financing the future, pouring cold water on claims that we can innovate our way out of the mess we’re in. And Doing It Ourselves’ Theo Kitchener will invite attendees to consider climate action through the lens of a potential economic collapse. One inconvenient truth resonates loud and clear: business as usual is not an option.
Leaders don’t expect much of climate summit
Event about pomp, not action
WASHINGTON — New York City will be full of planet-saving pomp this week but short on action to rescue the world. More than 120 world leaders convene Tuesday for a U.N. summit aimed at galvanizing political will for a new global climate treaty by the end of 2015. Environmentalists will take to the streets Sunday in what is being billed as the largest march ever on global warming. Celebrities, CEOs and climatologists will appear at a string of events as part of New York’s annual climate week. The hope is to recapture the momentum lost after the disappointing 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, when world leaders left without a binding treaty.
he one-day U.N. summit, while not part of the formal negotiation process, is the pinnacle of the tenure of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has made fighting climate change his rallying cry and traveled the globe to personally invite world leaders to the gathering.
Yet whatever happens at the U.N. summit is unlikely to bring the Earth closer to a goal set in Copenhagen: preventing Earth’s temperature from rising more than 2degrees Fahrenheit from where it is now.
“Our expectation is this is a political event,” said Zou Ji, deputy director of China’s National Center for Climate Change Strategy.
Rather than firm commitments from closed door negotiations, the summit is expected to jump-start a series of much-publicized initiatives and partnerships.
Six oil companies will join with governments and environmental advocacy groups to slash methane leaks from the production of natural gas. There will be a massive commitment to combat deforestation, as well as initiatives announced to clean up agriculture and make freight shipments greener.
“Ultimately, we are going to need much more ambitious, concerted government action and government policies,” said Nat Keohane, who worked as a special assistant to President Barack Obama o n energy and climate issues before rejoining the Environmental Defense Fund in 2012. “This summit is not going to be one fell swoop where we are going to announce all those policies.”
The U.S. heads into the summit in the strongest position it has been in years. It has cut emissions by10 percent from 2005 to 2012, more than any other country. Officials say about half of that reduction is because of the economic recession, but it puts the U.S. well on its way toward meeting its goal to cut emissions by 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels.
White House officials said Obama will leverage the progress the U.S. has made to pressure other major polluters like India and China to take more aggressive action.
Dina Cappiello|Associated Press|9/20/2014
310,000 people take to the streets of New York City to call for climate action
Today, 310,000 people took to the streets of New York City to call for climate action — the largest climate march in history. And we were joined by hundreds of thousands of others around the world at over 2646 events in 156 countries.
And on Tuesday, the world’s politicians will gather in New York to talk about climate action — 125 heads of state in total. They’ll be gathering with the knowledge that more people than ever are demanding action, not just words, and that their political future is on the line — as well as the future of the planet.
We will bring that message to the top leadership of the UN inside Tuesday’s summit, with a hand-delivered message to top UN climate negotiators.
If you stand with the hundreds of thousands of people who marched today around the world, tell world leaders that you mean business: act.350.org/letter/ready-for-action/
Today people from the communities where fossil fuels are dug up marched alongside people who live where they are burned. Thousands of workers, the people who stand ready to build a clean, renewable energy system, walked alongside indigenous communities that are already leading with their own climate solutions. New Yorkers, including those whose homes were wrecked by Superstorm Sandy, marched in huge numbers, standing alongside international ambassadors from communities responding to climate disasters worldwide.
Organizing a big march is like throwing a rock in a pond: the splash is exciting, but the real beauty is in the ripples. And the ripples of the People’s Climate Mobilization are already spreading. A people’s summit outlining the path to a just transition away from fossil fuels starts tomorrow, along with actions targeting corporate polluters in New York.
Hopefully, Tuesday will help rock world leaders into action, where they have only offered words before.
We are mobilizing at the scale that science and justice demand, and it is beautiful in a way we could not have imagined.
Now our work continues — and nothing will be the same.
United Nations Makes Leonardo DiCaprio Messenger of Peace
Leonardo DiCaprio’s the king of the world! Well, not really, but being named as the new United Nations Messenger of Peace on Climate Change is a pretty big deal.
As if the Oscar-nominated actor, environmentalist and activist isn’t busy enough, he will now be taking on this new role. His first task? Speaking at the U.N.’s Climate Summit in New York on Sept. 23., where he’ll raise awareness about global warming issues.
DiCaprio released a statement about his new title and said, “It’s an honor to accept the role of UN Messenger of Peace on Climate Change and to support the Secretary General in his efforts to address one of the most important issues we face as a global community. I feel a moral obligation to speak out at this key moment in human history – it is a moment for action. How we respond to the climate crisis in the coming years will likely determine the fate of humanity and our planet.”
This really doesn’t come as a surprise, especially since DiCaprio’s known for his eco-goodness and animal-friendliness. Not only will he be honored at the Clinton Global Citizen Awards, but most recently “The Wolf of Wall Street” star voiced a documentary titled “Carbon” and even tweeted against tar sands oil production in Canada.
Like DiCaprio, Charlize Theron, Stevie Wonder, Edward Norton and George Clooney have all been honored with the title of Messenger of Peace.
Calif. wildfire grows; teams assess damage
Assessment teams hope to get an idea Saturday of just how many structures have been damaged or destroyed by a massive wildfire that threatens thousands of homes in Northern California.
Though officials confirmed that several structures have been lost in what is being called the King Fire, dangerous conditions have prevented them from determining an exact number, fire spokesman Mike McMillian said. The blaze began one week ago, and a man accused of starting it is held on $10 million bail.
Although record amounts of retardant have been dropped on the fire that’s about 60 miles from Sacramento, the blaze spread another 6 square miles overnight, and forecasters said smoke from it could be seen in the San Francisco Bay Area. Nearly 5,000 firefighters — from as far as Florida and Alaska — are helping California crews battle the blaze that’s consumed extremely dry tall timber.
“That’s what makes it difficult for a direct attack,” McMillian said. “The main fuel that is burning is the tall timber. We’re making some progress, but it is slow going in some areas as we’re trying to construct more contingency and control lines.”
Also of concern are possible wind gusts of up to 30 miles per hour that could push the fire, which spread north to the south, state fire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff said.
“That would open up a whole new area for it to burn in,” she said.
The fire has spread to the Tahoe National Forest northwest of Lake Tahoe, McMillian said. Also, the fire is threatening a key University of California, Berkeley research station that’s home to scores of experiments on trees and wildlife.
Burning in rugged, steep terrain, the wildfire has consumed about 126 square miles, forced the evacuation of 2,800 people and burned multiple structures. More than 21,000 structures are threatened, and the fire is 10 percent contained.
California battling wildfires and floods as it hones its disaster response
California is rolling out a textbook response to simultaneous floods in the south and wildfires in the north, backed up by a National Guard back to full strength at home.
LOS ANGELES — The twin perils of fires and floods are hitting both ends of California at the same time.
With at least 20 simultaneous wildfires burning in the north, prompting evacuations and a state-of-emergency declaration from Gov. Jerry Brown (D) on Saturday, flashflood warnings have been issued across several counties in the south.
No stranger to disaster, the state is responding with a studied coordination of local, state, federal and volunteer responders, including the resources of a National Guard that is back to full strength at home.
“I would tell you that, fortunately for us, we are drawing on decades of experience of dealing with floods, fires, mudslides – everything that could happen over 158,000 square miles of terrain from below sea level, to nearly three miles high,” says Kim Zagaris, fire and rescue chief at the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.
Should these conflagrations and floods not be contained by current personnel and equipment, the state has contingency plans, including multistate fire compacts in which neighboring states send resources and a National Guard in the rare position of having all 22,000 members inside the state, back from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
No fewer than 74 local, state, and federal fire strike teams are already sharing strategy, tactics and resources, including 377 fire engines, 1,566 firefighters, and 14 Chinook, Blackhawk and Lakota helicopters, equipped with 660-gallon and 2,000-gallon water buckets to help fight the flames. Navy and Marine helicopters are being made available as well, Mr. Zagaris says.
CalFire, the state’s fire agency, is currently training 240 National Guard troops to become on-the-ground hand crews, learning how to use hoses, dig ditches, and scale steep terrain with equipment.
California’s historic drought has not only expanded the firefighting season, but made fires harder to put out once they are started. “We now have the situation where embers are floating out to between a half-mile to a mile-and-a-half ahead of these fires,” says Zagaris.
“Fire behavior for the Oregon Gulch Fire was extreme with rapid rates of spread,” said a statement posted on the official wildfire incident website. “The fire has moved east, deeper into Klamath County.”
The scope of the wildfires is beyond the control of any one local government and thus will demand combined forces of various government entities to combat, Brown said in his Saturday proclamation.
Brown obtained a federal grant on Saturday to cover 75 percent of the cost to fight a wildfire that started in Oregon and crossed into California. The lightning-sparked Oregon Gulch fire destroyed at least three homes and was threatening about 270 structures on both sides of the border.
Meanwhile, a much-needed storm dumped four inches of rain in one hour into parched and steep terrain that stranded about 2,500 people in the San Bernardino area. Six-to-eight homes were deemed uninhabitable, and roads were blocked by several feet of rocks, mud, debris, and washed-away cars.
San Bernardino County Fire Capt. Josh Wilkins told Fox News that dozens of swift-water rescue teams and fire engines had been dispatched to remote areas. One creek, which had not run in the summer for two years, became a torrent of logs and rocks, spilling over its banks and across an adjacent road.
According to the National Weather Service, a single downpour dumped 3.5 inches of rain on Forest Falls, and nearly 5 inches on Mt. Baldy, one of the highest peaks in Southern California.
NWS also said that several other areas in the West have remained under flash flood watch. Heavy rains brought flooding to Albuquerque and other towns in eastern New Mexico. And flooding forced Las Vegas to close streets in its northwest section during the Monday morning commute. Phoenix, also, had to close a stretch of highway for eight hours after a cable line fell across it.
“We are not the only state that is dealing with both floods and fires at the moment,” says Zagaris. “It is making for a shared experience in more ways than one.”
Daniel B. Wood|Staff writer|August 4, 2014
Fire to Flooding: Can California’s Economy Survive Nature’s Fury?
When it comes to disasters, California can’t seem to catch a break.
Wildfires are scorching thousands of acres. Floods and droughts are unleashing havoc on homeowners and farmers. Last month, an earthquake destroyed thousands of barrels of Napa Valley’s world famous Chardonnays, Malbecs and Pinot Noirs.
But while the impact of a spate of natural disasters is being felt unevenly among industries and regions, economists say the Golden State’s economy is unlikely suffer overall.
Like much else that happens in the country’s most populous state, California has been experiencing more than its share of nature’s wrath. After a series of temblors in March, Napa Valley wine growers last month woke up to a 6.0 Richter scale jolt that made a mess of some 120 wineries and inflicted an estimated $300 million in damages.
This weekend, thousands of firefighters are battling more than a dozen wildfires consuming tens of thousands of acres. State officials say this year’s fire season, which runs from May to October, is on track to be the most destructive on record. A devastating three years of drought has dried out brush and trees, helping fuel the flames.
That drought has also left the state’s farm industry scrambling to find water to save parched crops and livestock. In January, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency and called for a voluntary 20 percent cut in water use statewide. Last week, Brown signed a series of bills to help ease water shortages that are expected to cost the state an estimated $2.2 billion in lost crops, jobs and other damages.
Those losses are likely to continue. Climate scientists say California –- along with much of the western U.S. — could be in for a long dry spell. But while individual homeowners and businesses will feel the impact severely, California’s overall economy is weathering the disasters well, economists say.
Dallas-based Comerica Bank, which maintains an index that tracks the California economy, says the indicators are trending higher.
‘While the drought is real, and it will cause economic losses, particularly in certain agricultural quarters, overall the state is not likely to be greatly impacted.’
‘We expect to see ongoing gains for the California economy through the second half of 2014,’ said Robert Dye, Comerica’s chief economist.
One reason is that -– despite the devastating impact on households and individual business — California’s economy remains one of the largest and most diversified in the world. If it were a country, California’s $2 trillion gross domestic product would rank seventh.
‘While the drought is real, and it will cause economic losses, particularly in certain agricultural quarters, overall the state is not likely to be greatly impacted,’ UCLA Anderson economist Jerry Nickelsburg said in a report on the drought’s impact earlier this year.
To be sure, the drought has hit farmers hardest. Agriculture consumes about 80 percent of the state water supplies, and produces about half of all the fruits, nuts and vegetables consumed in the U.S.
But farming represents only about 2.5 percent of the state’s employment. And while the drought has wiped out farmers who’ve run out of water, lower yields of many commodities have raised prices for the majority who are still in business.
That’s helped boost incomes for farmers who still have water. California’s total revenue from agriculture, forestry, farming and fishing jumped to nearly $47 billion last year -– up from $25 billion in 2009.
Overall, the states gross domestic product has bounced back strongly after the Great Recession and housing bust, expanding by 3.6 percent last year –- well ahead of the national pace of just 2.2 percent.
California’s job market remains relatively weak -– with statewide unemployment at 7.4 percent as of last month, higher than the national 6.1 percent level. But that average masks a wide range of job prospects –- depending on where you live.
Among major metro areas, El Centro has the highest jobless rate –- nearly one in four of those in the labor force are out of work.
Meanwhile, thanks largely to an ongoing technology boom, the jobless rate has fallen below six percent in San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Rosa and Napa.
California’s housing market, once the epicenter of the industry’s collapse, has rebounded in many parts of the state. The share of houses seeing prices rise in value is well above the national average, according to data tracked by Zillow.
And after struggling for years to rein in spending and tame a large pile of debt, officials in Sacramento have apparently steered the state’s finances on a more sustainable course. In June, bond rater Moody’s upgraded the state to an A-1 credit rating, citing a ‘rapidly improving financial position,’ declining debt, and strong job growth.
John W. Schoen|21 Sep 2014
Genetically Modified Organisms
What’s the Big Deal about GMOs?
Genetically engineered foods are in almost all processed food products in the United States. A simple reading of the label will reveal one or more of the following ingredients in every one of them: corn or corn oil, cottonseed oil, canola oil (made from rapeseed oil, a GMO product), soy and/or soybean oil, and/or high fructose corn syrup.
Genetically engineered corn and soy are used for most of the animal feed in the United States. And GMO sweet corn is now appearing in stores. There are no current federal labeling laws for GMO products, and two labeling measures in California and Washington have been defeated, in the wake of heavy spending of millions of dollars against the measures by Monsanto, Dow Chemical, Bayer, Kellogg’s, and many others whose name you will see on products on your breakfast, lunch or dinner table. A member of the board of directors of McDonald’s and one from Sara Lee sit on the board of directors of Monsanto.
Government reports from scientists at the FDA, EPA and USDA reporting GMOs as unsafe and calling for toxicology reports and further testing are real, having been accessed through litigation using the Freedom of Information Act, and you can read them on the Internet. Arpad Pusztai conducted the first experiments on lab rats, and whose work was severely discredited until the UK government found out the real truth; that it had rushed into early approval of GMO foods and its ministers had hired Pusztai to do the study in two weeks, after already having approved GMO foods for public consumption.
Since chemical companies invented genetically engineered seeds designed to withstand heavy sprayings of glyphosate, global use of Roundup and related weed killers has jumped to nearly 900 million pounds annually. That is due to the fact that, since the crops are engineered to be resistant to Roundup, it can be sprayed on the entire field, not just on the weeds, making it much easier for farmers to manage weed kills. Glyphosate is a systemic chemical, meaning once sprayed, it travels up inside of the plants that people and animals eat and they consume the glyphosate as well as the nutrients in the plants. As more farm fields have converted to GMO crops, federal regulators at the EPA (and former employees of Monsanto) have quietly allowed an increase in the levels of glyphosate allowed in our food, something from which we should see tragic long term consequences.
According to Stephanie Seneff, PhD, senior research scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, glyphosate acts as a potent bacteria-killer in the gut, wiping out delicate beneficial microflora that helps protect us from disease. Harmful pathogens like Clostridium botulinum, Salmonella, and E. coli are able to survive glyphosate in the gut, but the “good bacteria” in your digestive tract, such as protective microorganisms, bacillus and lactobacillus, are killed off.
Even Monsanto knows about this. About 10 years ago, the company registered a patent for glyphosate’s use as an antimicrobial agent. This damage to your digestive system can cause other problems, including “leaky gut,” where the protective lining of the gut is compromised, allowing for toxins and bacteria to enter the bloodstream. This causes the body to send off an immune response to attack the wayward bacteria, potentially sparking autoimmune diseases.
Moreover, glyphosate interfere with tryptophan, the precursor of serotonin, an important neurotransmitter linked to happiness and well-being. Low serotonin levels have been linked to suicide, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other ailments. Not only does glyphosate hamper tryptophan production in your gut, it also lowers levels of it in plants, causing even more of a deficiency.
Virtually all of the genetically engineered (GMO) Bt corn grown in the U.S. is treated with neonicotinoid pesticides. A 2012 study found high levels of clothianidin in pneumatic planter exhaust. In the study, it was found that the insecticide was present in the soil of unplanted fields nearby those planted with Bt corn and also on dandelions (a favorite of bees) growing near those fields. Once in the soil, the pesticide remains for many years, and is absorbed by any new plant life.
The Bt toxin, which was the subject of Seth’s study in the story, essentially pokes “holes” in the cells of insects’ stomachs, killing them, and has been found to poke holes in human cells as well. In one study, it was found in the blood of 93% of pregnant women tested, and in the blood of 80% of their unborn fetuses, which gets into the brains of the fetuses, due to the fact that there is no blood-brain barrier at that stage of development.
Peer reviewed studies are rare in the case of GMOs, as the only ones who have the desire or the budget to perform them are the same chemical companies which fund most of the scientific research. However, the few independent studies that have been done all point to the danger of GMOs.
Specificity of the association of GMO foods and specific disease processes is also supported. Multiple animal studies show significant immune dysregulation, including up-regulation of cytokines associated with asthma, allergy, and inflammation. Animal studies also show altered structure and function of the liver, including altered lipid and carbohydrate metabolism as well as cellular changes that could lead to accelerated aging. Changes in the kidney, pancreas and spleen have also been documented.
A recent 2008 study links Bt corn with infertility, showing a significant decrease in offspring over time and significantly lower litter weight in mice fed Bt corn. American pig farmers have reported infertility and false pregnancies in their livestock after feeding them Bt corn. The study also found that over 400 genes were found to be expressed differently in mice fed Bt corn. These are genes known to control protein synthesis and modification, cell signaling, cholesterol synthesis, and insulin regulation. Studies also show intestinal damage in animals fed GMO foods, including proliferative cell growth and disruption of the intestinal immune system.
Because of this mounting data, it is biologically plausible for genetically modified foods to cause adverse health effects in humans. In spite of this risk, the biotech industry claims that GMO foods can feed the world through production of higher crop yields. However, a recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists reviewed 12 academic studies and indicates otherwise: “The several thousand field trials over the last 20 years for genes aimed at increasing operational or intrinsic yield (of crops) indicate a significant undertaking. Yet none of these field trials have resulted in increased yield in commercialized major food/feed crops, with the exception of Bt corn.” However, it was further stated that the increase in yields was largely due to traditional breeding improvements.
Therefore, because GMO foods pose a serious health risk in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune function, reproductive health, and metabolic, physiologic and genetic health and are without any of their claimed benefits, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) believes that it is imperative to adopt the precautionary principle, which is one of the main regulatory tools of the European Union environmental and health policy and serves as a foundation for several international agreements. The most commonly used definition is from the 1992 Rio Declaration that states: “In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.”
The FDA does not test the safety of GMO crops. Instead, all GMO foods are assumed to be safe unless there is already evidence to the contrary. The FDA relies on self-reported data from the companies that manufacture the crops as to their safety. Moreover, due to legal and copyright restrictions surrounding GMO patents, independent scientists must ask for the chemical companies’ permission before publishing research on their products. As a result, almost all of the long-term animal feeding studies that have ever been conducted on GMO feed have been carried out by the biotech companies themselves, with their own rules and using their own standards of reporting. What few independent studies have been conducted have shown a range of adverse health effects from reduced fertility to immune system dysfunction, liver failure, obesity and cancer.
The revolving door between big agriculture, the FDA, the USDA and the EPA is also true. In a classic case of revolving door politics, the Obama administration’s Deputy Commissioner of Foods, Michael Taylor, refuses to make FDA testing of GMO food safety mandatory. Taylor worked for the FDA from 1976 to 1981, when he went into private practice at a law firm who represented Monsanto, only to return through the revolving door to the FDA in 1991. In 1988 he published an article entitled “The De Minimis Interpretation of the Delany Clause: Legal and Policy Rationale ” in the Journal of the American College of Toxicology (now called the International Journal of Toxicology), which he had previously presented in December 1986 at a symposium on Topics in Risk Analysis, sponsored by International Life Sciences Institute Risk Science Institute, Society for Risk Analysis, and Brookings Institution. The paper was delivered and published during the midst of a debate and litigation over federal agencies’ interpretation of the Delaney clause, a part of federal law written in 1958 that on its face, literally prohibits any chemical from being added, in any amount, to food that is processed, if that agent is carcinogenic.
As analytical instrumentation increased in power and more and more agents were found to be carcinogenic at very low levels, the agencies had developed a quantitative risk assessment approach to interpreting the Delaney Clause, which stated that if a carcinogen was present at levels less than 1 in 1,000,000 parts, the risk of that carcinogen was “de minimis” and it could be allowed on the market. In the article, Taylor presented arguments in favor of this approach. Advocates in favor of organic food have criticized Taylor for taking this stance and have attributed the stance not to a good faith effort to reasonably regulate, but to an alleged desire to benefit Monsanto financially.
Between 1994 and 1996 Taylor went back through the revolving door to the USDA, where he acted as Administrator of the Food Safety & Inspection Service. During that term he implemented a science-based approach to raising safety standards for meat and poultry production over the protests from industry, which has been called by food safety advocates “a truly heroic accomplishment” (but that was the only one). Between 1996 and 2000, after briefly returning to King & Spalding, he then returned to Monsanto to become Vice President for Public Policy. In 2009, Taylor once again returned to government through the revolving door as Senior Advisor to the FDA Commissioner, and was appointed by President Obama on January 13, 2010 to another newly created post at the FDA, this time as Deputy Commissioner for Foods.
Former EPA head William Ruckelshaus, spent 2 years on Monsanto’s board of directors. Linda J. Fisher spent a decade working as Assistant Administrator of the EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention, before leaving to head up Monsanto’s lobbying team. Margaret Miller spent her time at Monsanto working on Monsanto’s GMO bovine growth hormone and wrote the report on it that was submitted to the FDA before taking a job as Deputy Director of the FDA, where she approved her own report.
In July 2013, the EPA, under the leadership of former Monsanto employees, increased the allowable levels of glyphosate in food, up to 100 ppm in animal feed and 40 ppm in oilseed crops, and from 0.2 ppm to 3 ppm for sweet potatoes, and 5 ppm in carrots (15 and 20 times the prior allowed rates).
The first version of GMO corn was attacked because it was found to be deadly to Monarch butterflies. That corn has been banned in Poland for where it has been found to be a threat to bees.
Beta carotene producing rice is being pushed in the Philippines, where neighbors near a Bt cornfield have already reported allergy and respiration problems. It is expected to be pushed in India as well. And Indonesia is taking steps to approve GMO corn and soy.
Finally, the world is now suffering from what seven out of ten biologists believe is a sixth mass extinction. The last mass extinction was 65 million years ago when the dinosaurs disappeared from the earth. This mass extinction is being caused by man. The use of non-renewable energy, pollution, deforestation, and the overuse of water and pesticides in agriculture are the primary culprits of what will be man’s demise from the destruction of his environment. We will kill off everything that lives on the earth now, but nature will come back, this time without us. But maybe that’s a good thing for the planet.
Kenneth G. Eade|author of “Bless the Bees: The Pending Extinction of our Pollinators and What You Can Do to Stop It|9/15/14
General Mills buys Annie’s, GMO opponents go berserk
The news broke a week ago: General Mills will buy Annie’s Homegrown for $820 million. This is no big deal, figuratively speaking. Yes it’s a close to billion dollar deal, but companies get bought and sold all the time.
If you’re unfamiliar with Annie’s Homegrown, it makes “all-natural,” “healthy,” organic, GMO-free packaged foods like pastas, cookies, crackers and frozen meals. They’re considerably pricier than their counterparts, and marketed to parents that buy into an all-natural lifestyle. Fair enough. I certainly won’t pay a premium for boxed foods purporting to be “healthier” than other boxed foods, but I certainly don’t knock a business for capitalizing on a demographic that will.
I should have been surprised (but wasn’t) over the raving commotion on social media about Annie’s selling out to a supposedly uncaring, pro-GMO conglomerate. I can’t possibly include all of the hubbub in this post, but here’s a representative Facebook thread.
I broadly categorized much of the backlash after perusing the uproar. I can only broadly categorize because the sheer volume of hostile comments is astounding. I’ll discuss a typical comment from each category. I’m not going to post the screen caps, but feel free to pore over the Annie’s Facebook page, you’ll see them.
- Buying “all-natural,’ organic food is part of my carefully crafted image
“Sadly, you are missing the bigger picture. We purchased your products as a way to show the world we were anti-GMO…Even if you want to stay true to your mission, you no longer have that control. You gave that up, along with your consumers that chose you over General Mills.”
Of course, nobody openly admits s/he buys certain products to sustain a high-end image. Still, the above demonstrates how important it is for some people to “show the world” their stance. Clearly, for some people it’s not only important to choose so-called healthy foods, but to show that they are connoisseurs of elite brands.
- GMOs are bad
“GM DOES support GMO harmful ingredients in their foods.”
“I will not support ANY organic food company which is owned by a large corporation intent on killing GMO labeling and killing us with all of the additives in what they have the nerve to call food. Luckily for me, I have a Whole Foods near by and their Mac n Cheese and kid snacks are just as tasty as Annie’s and they have pledged to keep GMOs out of their stores.”
Here we go again with the “GMOs are dangerous” theme. I thought the public was starting to see the light, but apparently Annie’s most outspoken fans still haven’t. I’ll say it again: GMOs are inherently harmless. Here is one of my posts on why GM tech is safe. I also encourage everyone to check out this resource on GENERA (GENetic Engineering Risk Atlas), demonstrating that a whopping half of all research showing the safety of genetic engineering is independently conducted and not industry-funded.
- General Mills is against GMO labeling, and is therefore evil
“They use their money to try to stop GMO labeling at every opportunity and that is in direct opposition with my beliefs. Sorry Annie’s, I’m gone.”
Ah, the old label GMOs argument. The Annie’s Facebook page comments were saturated with the “label GMOs, let the consumer decide” refrain. In my opinion (a rather conventional opinion in the pro-GM camp), labeling GMOs would prove problematic at best. Genetic modification of food is necessary to sustain and nourish the world’s population with the resources at hand. At worst, mandatory GMO labeling will hinder or halt the GMO technology needed to achieve these goals. As anti-GMO advocate and hawker of pricey organic products Dr. Mercola has stated,
“I believe GM foods must be banned entirely, but labeling is the most efficient way to achieve this. Since 85 percent of the public will refuse to buy foods they know to be genetically modified, this will effectively eliminate them from the market.”
Far from supporting consumers’ so-called right to know, pro-labeling advocates hope to play on stigma of GMOs and effectively prey on the scientifically illiterate subset of the American public to wipe out demand.
Kavin Senapathy|Genetic Literacy Project|September 17, 2014
2,4-D, glyphosate-tolerant corn, soy approved by USDA
USDA approves Doe’s herbicide-resistant corn, soybeans
The headline speaks for itself. Big Ag is going to be able to dump even more chemicals and pesticides on our food – including one of the primary ingredients in Agent Orange. I don’t need to tell you that our fight for GMO labeling has never been more important.
This week the USDA gave Dow Chemical the green light to sell corn and soybeans that are genetically distorted to be resistant to the toxic pesticides 2,4-D and glyphosate — two of the most potent herbicides available. You know what this means: even more pesticide-drenched GMO crops will be making their way to your plate unlabeled.
No surprise, Dow is one of the chemical companies that is spending BIG to fund the opposition to labeling. They know that if consumers are able to identify their genetically engineered products, many will opt for a more natural choice.
Another Independent Study Confirms Monsanto’s RoundUp Chemicals are Lethal, Even in Small Doses
Published just this month in the International Journal of Toxicology, the study “Glyphosate Commercial Formulation Causes Cytotoxicity, Oxidative Effects, and Apoptosis on Human Cells: Differences With its Active Ingredient,” proposes what most of us have already surmised: Glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide du jour – RoundUp – is utterly killing us. What’s more – it kills us in much smaller servings than the Agriculture industry is dishing out in its common GMO and pesticide spraying practices, and it is made stronger by the additional chemicals used in the RoundUp formula.
“Aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA), and a glyphosate formulation (G formulation) were examined in HepG2 cell line, at dilution levels far below agricultural recommendations” and they are causing toxic effects on the human genome. It is the adjuvants in RoundUp working together with the glyphosate which really causes the problem.
“The glyphosate formulation studied also triggered two ‘death proteins’ in human cells known as caspase 3/7, inducing pathways that activate programmed cell death (apoptosis), a clear sign of significant toxicity.”
As many scientists have suspected, glyphosate does not reveal its true toxicity alone – but works in tandem with the other chemicals in RoundUp so that the levels of toxicity on human cells becomes catastrophic. One plausible cause is that the surfactant polyoxyethylene amine within Roundup dramatically enhances the absorption of glyphosate into exposed human cells and tissue.
Another study published in November of last year points to adjuvants working with glyphosate to cause a particularly lethal concoction. “Ethoxylated adjuvants of glyphosate-based herbicides are active principles of human cell toxicity” states:
“. . . Here we demonstrate that all formulations are more toxic than glyphosate, and we separated experimentally three groups of formulations differentially toxic according to their concentrations in ethoxylated adjuvants. Among them, POE-15 clearly appears to be the most toxic principle against human cells, even if others are not excluded. It begins to be active with negative dose-dependent effects on cellular respiration and membrane integrity between 1 and 3ppm [parts per million], at environmental/occupational doses.
We demonstrate in addition that POE-15 induces necrosis when its first micellization process occurs, by contrast to glyphosate which is known to promote endocrine disrupting effects after entering cells. Altogether, these results challenge the establishment of guidance values such as the acceptable daily intake of glyphosate, when these are mostly based on a long term in vivo test of glyphosate alone. Since pesticides are always used with adjuvants that could change their toxicity, the necessity to assess their whole formulations as mixtures becomes obvious”
Argentina has sued Monsanto for its toxic, cancer causing chemicals and GMO, but if you want to be able to sue Monsanto for their dastardly deeds, you better speak up. It is becoming nearly impossible to sue the company in the US, and legal action is just one way of taking down this eugenically motivated monster.
Other Popular Stories:
- Monsanto’s RoundUp Poison 125 Times More Dangerous than Regulators Admit
- Totally Safe: China Greenlights Monsanto’s RoundUp After Hiding Safety Studies From Public
- Exposing Monsanto’s RoundUp and Glyphosate: Human Blood is Not ‘RoundUp Ready’
- Should Monsanto’s RoundUp Herbicide Be Banned?
- Monsanto’s Roundup is Causing DNA Damage
- New Study Confirms GMO Crops Causing More Pesticide Use, Superweeds
Christina Sarich|September 20th, 2014
Japan: ‘solar islands’ replace nuclear power
As Japan seeks to end reliance on nuclear power, one of the answers is floating ‘solar islands’, writes Jon Major. A 70MW solar island opened last year, and two additional plants have just been announced.
Two companies in Japan recently announced they are to begin building two large solar power islands that will float on reservoirs.
This follows smartphone maker Kyocera’s Kagoshima Nanatsujima Mega Solar power plant, the country’s largest at 70 megawatts, which opened in late 2013 and is found floating in the sea just off the coast of southern Japan.
The two new solar islands, to be built by Kyocera and commercial partners, will form a network of thirty 2MW stations – adding another 60MW of solar capacity.
The move comes as Japan looks to move on from the Fukushima disaster of 2011 and meet the energy needs of its 127m people without relying on nuclear power.
Before the incident around 30% of the country’s power was generated from nuclear, with plans to push this to 40%. But Fukushima destroyed public confidence in nuclear power, and with earthquakes in regions containing reactors highly likely, Japan is now looking for alternatives.
Solar power is an obvious solution for relatively resource-poor nations. It is clean, cost-competitive, has no restrictions on where it can be used and has the capability to make up for the energy shortfall.
A small fact that solar researchers love to trot out is that enough sunlight falls on the earth’s landmass around every 40 minutes to power the planet for a year. To put this another way, if we covered a fraction of the Sahara desert in solar panels we could power the world many times over.
The technology already exists, so producing enough solar power comes primarily down to one thing: space. For countries such as the USA with lots of sparsely populated land this is not an issue, and there have already been a large number of solar farms installed around the country.
But Japan where space is limited, more inventive solutions are required. This is the principle reason behind the decision to move their solar power generation offshore.
While the land is highly congested, and therefore expensive, the sea is largely unused. It therefore makes a good degree of sense to use this space for floating power plants.
Jon Major|The Ecologist|September 15, 2014
Continue reading at ENN affiliate The Ecologist.
Fantasy Becomes Real: First Commercial Cellulosic Biofuel Plant Opens in US
POET-DSM’s 20 million gallon cellulosic ethanol plant opens with hoopla and heartfelt messages about the spirit of innovation, a time for technology change and policy firmness.
Iowa, USA — “Once, we all lived off the land, sun, wind and water and it provided everything we needed,” said DSM CEO Feike Sijbesma, surveying a crowd of more than 2,000 crowding a biomass storage facility in Emmetsburg, Iowa — converted temporarily into the world capital of advanced biofuels. “Then came our historic shift to a dependence on, and an addiction to, fossil fuel resources.”
And so, the opening of the POET-DSM plant was underway, complete with a light show, royalty, corporate chieftains, a cabinet secretary, a former NATO commander, and a governor.
It was billed as a “grand opening” and biofuels has never had a grander stage. But Sijbesma avoided the temptation to mark a corporate milestone. He was there to tell a story.
“The world will run out of fossil fuels, it is inevitable. we just don’t know when,” he continued. “Meanwhile, our energy needs will grow, and one day $100 oil will seem cheap. And the climate is changing, the consumption of fossil fuels is driving drastic changes.
“We don’t need to wait until we run out. The Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones, but because better technology became available. The first pioneers came to Iowa dreaming of a better life. As pioneers of today, we stand on their shoulders as we bring this new technology.”
POET chairman Jeff Broin joined Sijbesma on stage, as a hush fell over the crowd and Broin related the story of POET and the army of naysayers encountered in the turbulent journey towards cleaner fuels.
“Three and a half hours northwest of here,” Broin recalled, “is the family farm where I grew up, and in Scotland, South Dakota my family bought a foreclosed small ethanol plant. Ever since then, I’ve spent a lot of time talking with farmers about renewable fuels. Some bought in to the vision, many thought we were crazy.
“When we turned to this venture, there were naysayers who said ‘you’ll never get enough biomass’ or ‘you’ll never be cost-competitive’. Some called it fantasy fuel. Today, it’s real.”
The crowd cheered, and Broin paused, before issuing a challenge.
“This marks the beginning, It’s the tip of the iceberg, the foundation for the impending transformation of our energy supply, from a fossil economy to a renewable economy. It may not be completed in our lifetime, but it will happen.”
Deputy Undersecretary of Energy Dr. Michael Knotek then took the stage, and referred back to the fight for reduced emissions, and increased economic opportunity and energy security.
“Biofuels addresses all our challenges. Trust me, this plant is a big, big deal. We’ve invested for 30 to 40 years in these technologies, and we need 1000 of these. Lately, U.S. oil imports have fallen because of increased domestic production, but oil prices are still tied to a global market and our economy is tied to that volatility.”
Turning to climate change, Knoteck was direct: “Climate change is here, it’s real, its caused by humans, and we have to do something about it.”
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was direct — but he refused to see a partisan divide over biofuels, seeing instead a geographic split.
“It’s less Democrat Republican, and more geographic, though some Democrats do not understand the environmental efficiency of these fuels. We just need to get the product out.”
Iowa Governor Terry Brandstad agreed, saying ” If consumers have the access, they will purchase it. It’s not the time to backtrack on renewable fuels. It’s a win-win for Iowa and America.
Asked about the regional naysayers, Branstad pointed to disinformation. “People on the west and east coats are misled. The misinformation on the coasts is phenomenal. Just listen to CSPAN. We’ve got to fight that.”
“Our country fits three and one-half times in the state of Iowa” remarked His Majesty King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands. Yet we support 17 million people and, after the U.S., we are second in the world in agricultural exports. From that very small place on the North Sea, we are capable of something because of innovation, innovation, innovation.”
DSM Chairman and CEO Feike Sijbesma, Willem-Alexander, King of The Netherlands, and POET Chairman Jeff Broin
Vilsack reflected on what he called “the true message of Emmetsburg. It demonstrates to all the young people living in Smalltown USA that there is nothing that will stand in your way. If you have any doubt about the effectiveness of these fuels, come to Emmetsburg. If you have any doubt about the impact of these fuels, come to Emmetsburg.”
Broin added: “I have a firm belief that farming is the noblest profession. We have been called to this, we have been given a great opportunity to change history. It is my belief that hundreds of years from now it will be said that these people, in a small town in Iowa, changed the world.”
Jim Lane|Biofuels Digest|September 04, 2014
Obama’s International Climate Strategy: More Grease for Renewables
Virginia, USA — It was good news for renewable energy when President Barack Obama in June proposed carbon dioxide restrictions on existing power plants. It is even better news now that he may use the plan to leverage an international climate accord.
That’s the word from renewable energy advocates who are closely watching as Obama works to broker a climate agreement with the world’s largest economies for signature at next year’s United Nations summit in Paris.
“Renewable energy is growing significantly in both developed and undeveloped country markets now. Any kind of international agreements, no matter how informal, just provides more grease in the financial community to sustain the support and direction in growing companies and projects globally,” said Scott Sklar, clean energy policy strategist and president of The Stella Group.
Such international brokering might have been more difficult if the Environmental Protection Agency were not moving forward seriously on the domestic proposal, called the Clean Power Plan, or 111D in Washington parlance. The proposal calls for reducing carbon 30 percent by 2030 over 2005 levels. EPA hopes to have a final rule in place next year.
The U.S. suffers from weak credibility internationally on climate change issues because of polarization in Congress. But now Obama can point to the Clean Power Plan as evidence that he’s figured out how to bypass Congressional gridlock and take action on carbon reduction.
“Having the Climate Action Plan in place helps the administration’s negotiating position, to the extent that they can now credibly say they have a plan in place to meet the U.S.’s short-term emission reduction commitment,” said Evan Juska, who heads U.S. policy at The Climate Group, an international non-profit organization.
Obama is using the same strategy on the international front as he did in pushing forward the Clean Power Plan — he is skirting a need for a Congressional vote, citing his executive authority.
To that end, Obama is pursuing not a treaty, but an international agreement. A treaty would require a Senate vote; an agreement does not. The down side is that an agreement will not carry the force of law. To be effective, the deal relies instead on a kind of public scorekeeping, what some describe as “name and shame” to encourage countries to meet their carbon commitments.
“It’s probably not as effective as a legally binding treaty would be, but it can encourage countries to do more than they otherwise would,” Juska said.
Sklar likens the approach to the kind of labeling and shorthand that are already commonplace in the energy arena. Consumers understand MPG for cars, energy efficiency ratings for appliances, and building benchmarking.
“So it’s not a big step to essentially label what countries are doing and make a ranking public — so as to highlight who is making strides and who is not. I do not see that as a problem, I think just as we do with human rights, scorecards can be helpful,” he said.
In fact, the most important aspects of the international climate proposal center on measurement, said Hilary McMahon, director of research at the Carbon War Room. Countries would measure, report and verify their greenhouse gas emissions reductions, which would make clear the source of emissions and any actions taken to reduce them.
“This is an effective strategy as long as the focus is on supporting, improving and sharing our successes and failures, and not just producing a report that sits on shelf, with little attention or use. This requires a dynamic process, not a static process,” McMahon said.
While the international climate agreement would be a good next step, some question whether it is enough. Poor countries fear they will see little or no financial support to help them in dealing with the consequences of severe weather unless a deal is legally binding.
“Developing countries are especially concerned about climate finance, which has been difficult for the U.S. to deliver to date,” Juska said.
Early findings of a United Nations report recently leaked to Bloomberg say that risk exists of irreversible damage on ecosystems without quicker action on climate change. Should the findings bear out in the final report, they could help accelerate Obama’s efforts.
“The report just piles more international pressure on the world’s players — big and small — and does give the President some political momentum to try to move the ball on international agreements on climate, as well as pursuing more domestic mitigation strategies,” Sklar said.
Others, however, say economics continues to be the key driver to decarbonize the economy, spur more renewables and win over skeptics.
“The only way to give velocity to Obama’s efforts is to highlight the opportunity for companies, governments, and private citizens to bolster the economy,” said the Carbon War Room’s McMahon.
John Kourtoff, CEO, president & director of Toronto-based Trillium Power Wind, sees the climate agreement as important to “turbo charge” renewables. But the U.S. also needs to get energy economics right in its own backyard: the nation does not properly account for greenhouse gas emissions from coal, nor does it fully value renewables. Consumers do not see an “honest price” for energy, he said, because the U.S. socializes the environmental costs of fossil fuels.
“It is a replay of the 99 percent/one percent. You have one percent of the people who are benefitting from their investment in fossil fuels and you have the 99 percent who are paying the price,” he said.
Focusing federal efforts on carbon emissions from transportation — and accelerating the market for electric vehicles — would be a step in the right direction, he said. (The Clean Power Plan applies only to stationary emission sources.) Vehicles account for about 32 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the US, while electricity production is responsible for 38 percent, according to the EPA.
In any case, with or without an international climate agreement, an energy transformation is clearly underway. Renewables are the fastest-growing sector in the power industry, according to the International Energy Agency’s second annual Medium-Term Renewable Energy Market Report issued in June.
Green energy will become almost 25 percent of the global power mix by 2018, including hydro. Not including hydro, renewables will make up 8 percent of the mix by 2018, up from four percent in 2011 and just two percent in 2006, the IEA report said.
That’s a strong trajectory. But Kourtoff points out there is still a long way to go and “knuckle draggers” abound.
“We’re in the top third of the top half of the first inning in renewables. We’re at the beginning of the beginning,” he said. “An international agreement will have a tremendous boost.”
Elisa Wood|Contributing Editor|September 10, 2014
Jatropha Biofuel Around the World: A 13-country Tour of Development Activity
The 2000s-era wonder crop went quiet as “plant anything, anywhere” gave way to the “develop genetics, boost yield” movement, led by SGB. Today, SGB moves forward again with $11 million in new financing.
In California, SGB announced an $11 million Series C financing to drive commercial rollout, after reducing the time to maturity from 5 years to 1-2 years in its latest generation of Jatropha hybrids.
Based on 100 acres of pre-commercial trials of its top 10 hybrids, SGB’s best performing hybrid to date eclipsed an equivalent of 300 gallons of oil per acre in year one with a corresponding protein production of 0.6 metric tons, surpassing protein yield of soybean by more than 30 percent. Total yield also includes 20 metric tons of green biomass per acre.
A white paper released last week authored by Dr. Bob Schmidt, SGB’s chief scientist outlines how SGB has accomplished the domestication of a new crop species.
The $11 million financing is led by SGB’s current investors including Thomas McNerney & Partners, Finistere Ventures and Flint Hills Resources (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries). Concurrent with the raise, SGB’s board has appointed Arama Kukutai as executive chairman and Miguel Motta as president and chief operating officer. Kirk Haney has stepped down as CEO to pursue other opportunities but remains a director of the company. The funding will be used to drive commercial partnerships and project deployments focused on Central America, India and Southeast Asia, and to further advance genetic improvement, and agronomic best practices to maximize the full potential of the crop.
“The yield from our hybrids are stunning, and SGB’s investors clearly recognize the significant opportunity arising from having the first new proven crop for protein and oil since Canola was developed in the 1970s,” said Kukutai, who doubles as managing director of Finistere Ventures. “Our scientific and breeding teams have cracked the code and the technology is now ready for full-scale commercial deployment of Jatropha. This financing underscores that Jatropha has risen from the ashes and will be a major plantation crop and viable alternative to palm and soybean as a sustainable source of oil and protein.”
Five things to note here:
1. The time machine effect. We’re seeing the timeline getting crushed down for a) bringing a crop forward to maturity and b) taking a crop from wild through to hybrid domestication in around 6 years, or about a decade faster than canola, and decades faster than corn or soy in their day. That’s very interesting material to chew on for those who think the venture model is broken.
2. The soybean model. The real breakthrough here is going to be less on the yields, and more on opening up jatropha meal as a protein feed product. That takes this from a fuel play to a soy oil / soy meal play — and if you’re thinking “Asia”, that’s a good direction to point one’s imagination in. Especially for those parts of South Asia where soy has proven problematic. Think India, of course.
But it’s more than geography, it is the model — where you can subsidize the entry into the fuel markets with the protein value — or, when fuel prices are high and food prices low, subsidize the other way. There’s some hedging in there — and, ultimately, two gigantic markets to chase.
3. The land value lift. One of the most interesting aspects of jatropha is how it is likely — because it is not a water or nutrient-hog (though it needs both, don’t kid yourself) — to be deployed into land with lower-intensity agriculture. Possibly abandoned land. Think agroforestry or low-density grazing land. That is to say, not conflicting with food crops — going, rather, the other way. “Changing the class of use is the top strategy of every farmer,” SGB chairman Arama Kukutai told The Digest. “When you have an old low-value use, and a new higher-value use enabled by technology, on Wall Street they call it arbitrage. In the ag world, they call it farming.”
Suggesting that the combination of an emerging land-use technology and underused, undervalued land assets are a classic investment match. We’ll be interested to see how companies like SGB develop business models to enable grower adoption and investment, while retaining for the company a share in all the value-add across the supply chain.
4. Couple of directions to think about for jatropha’s future development. One, think in terms of developing it as an annual, rather than a perennial. Happened with cotton, could happen again. And — in addition to the work done on fruit size and time to maturity — perhaps we’ll see the kind of “transistors on a chip” work done on increasing the number of plantings per hectare. That sums up a lot of the yield increase with corn, could happen again.
5. The idea of a company approaching jatropha as a wild genome that needs technology developed to domesticate, hybridize, stabilize, and develop high-return possibilities. That’s new since the “plant ‘em if you got ‘em” years, which retiring SGB CEO Kirk Haney described as “the days of jatropha 1.0″. Most of what we still see around the world are jatropha 1.0 efforts — that’s not to say they are doomed to fail, but rather they are likely to succeed, where they do succeed, because of unique conditions pertaining to geography and agronomics.
Jatropha Around the World
The Bahamas. Last November we reported that Grand Bahama Power Company (GBPC) held the opening ceremony on Tuesday for their Biofuel Demonstration Project. Partnering with the Grand Bahama Port Authority, The Grand Bahama Development Company and the Garden of the Groves, the project focuses on the feasibility of cultivating jatropha to make biodiesel fuel that would be burned in the GBPC facilities to make electricity.
Botswana. In August, we reported that the country aims to approve a national energy policy by 2015 that will include a large renewable energy component, including biofuels. The government has been working with the Japanese to develop varieties of jatropha that will be tolerant to the extreme weather shifts experienced in the country. The energy minister admitted that a lack of policy had hindered investment in biofuels thus far.
Costa Rica. Last December, we noted that Alternative Fuels America was beginning a three-phase trial production run of jatropha-based biofuel as the next step toward commercialization of its “seed to pump” vertically-integrated endeavor. The feedstock for Phase 1 will come from AFAI’s plantation in Tempate, Costa Rica.
Ethiopia. In July, we reported that the Ethiopian government is investing US$2.8 million, with the help of funding from the Norwegian government, to produce 500 million liters per year of biodiesel from jatropha. The project will take place in 18 districts in five states and is estimated to help more than 14 million farmers and pastoralists.
Ghana. In August of last year, we reported that Smart Oil Ltd had signed a license and services agreement with QUINVITA. This agreement provides access to the QUINVITA advanced agronomy know how and to seed of the best QUINVITA (QVP) cultivars of Jatropha curcas. Niqel Lda., a Mozambique based company active in the production of renewable energy from Jatropha curcas, has also signed a license and services agreement with QUINVITA.
Guatemala. Last October, we reported that SGB had signed a mandate letter with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for the debt financing of its 25,000 acre Jatropha bioenergy project in Guatemala. The project cost is estimated at approximately US$76 million. The mandate letter enables the bank and SGB to proceed with financial, technical and environmental due diligence on a project that aims to produce 6.2 million gallons of plant oil and 640,000 metric tons of biomass per year while stimulating rural economic and social development, including the creation of more than 1,000 new jobs, improved infrastructure and health and education programs.
India. In July, we reported that the government regulator Sebi has found Sunshine Global Agro Limited (formerly known as Sunshine Forestry Private Ltd) cheated 40,000 investors who were told that by investing 1,000 rupees in a jatropha seedling, they would be worth 3,000 rupees seven years later. The scheme has also included goats, cows and emu birds in an attempt to shore up investors.
Last September, we shared that Indian Railways’ research arm had approved field trials using jatropha-based biodiesel in two locomotives in Jetalsar. The three to four month trials will start with B10 and will work their way higher. Lab tests have been successful using 100% jatropha biodiesel in locomotives.
In June, we reported that researchers at the Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute (CSMCRI) at Bhavnagar found that jatropha is safer and provides better fuel economy than fossil-based diesel. However, the researchers reported minimal availability of jatropha seeds, despite the 4% lift in fuel economy. This report is here.
Jamaica. In March, we tipped a story that Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica research shows that a variety of castor been that comes from China, Zibo 8, could be the most productive for local production. Following two years of variety trials under the Scale Biodiesel Pilot Project, Zibo 8 had the highest oil yield. A Brazilian variety had slightly higher oil content but the overall yield per acre was higher for the Chinese variety. A total of 16 acres were planted under the trials where five varieties of castor bean and one variety of jatropha were grown.
Kenya. In June, we shared a study from ICRAF this spring showed that jatropha isn’t a viable crop for the country because there is no market for the seeds, the values and yields are low, farmers don’t know how to grow it well and its early reputation as a miracle crop has destroyed most of the farmer appetite for the plant.
Mexico. In July, we reported that Bosques Energeticos EBE S.A. de C.V. has secured 7 more hectares on top of the current 11 hectares it already has in Morelos state to plant its G4J cultivar of jatropha. The cultivar is bred to be early, high-yielding and non-toxic. The company has a total of 28,000 jatropha trees in the ground, half of which are G4J, and 16,000 pongamia trees along with 3,000 castor plants.
Sudan. In late 2012, we reported that Saudi Arabian company Tala had teamed with Canada’s Nova Global on a $650 million sugarcane project that will produce sugar and ethanol in Sinnar state, as well as a jatropha project that will supply oil to Middle Eastern airlines. The project will encompass about 156,000 acres.
USA. In Hawaii, jatropha harvesting began in August 2013 at the Hawaii Pure Plant Oil (HIPPO) farm founded in 2008 by father and son partners Christian and James Twigg-Smith. HIPPO has planted a total of 200 acres of jatropha in the Puna district of Hawaii Island with the intent of harvesting its seeds and extracting the oil for biodiesel production. Now, five years after the farm’s inception, the Twigg-Smiths have formed a direct collaboration with Pacific Biodiesel Technologies under its federally funded Hawaii Military Biofuel Crop project. The project involves developing production models for jatropha and other crops to share with potential biofuel crop growers throughout the state.
Zimbabwe. In June, we shared a report conducted by Environment Africa and WWF did a study on jatropha production at household level and found that it was economically viable even if yields were as low as .5kg per hectare when jatropha cake along with other byproducts and household lighting were the aim. When the model was to sell the seeds to crushers for biodiesel production, the benefits didn’t work out for communities.
SG Biofuels plant biotechnology program is accelerating the improvement of Jatropha through the association of molecular markers with trait genes and the development of plant regeneration, transformation and dihaploid technologies. The company has sold more than 250,000 acres of its hybrid Jatropha seed.
Through its JMax hybrid seed product line, and patent-pending hybrid seed production methodology, SG Biofuels provides growers high yielding, uniform and profitable Jatropha seeds that have been adapted to their growing conditions. Hybrid seeds result in greater yield, uniformity and vigor while significantly reducing handling and deployment costs.
The yield goal? One metric ton of product per acre per year — competitive with typical rubber yields out of Southeast Asia — by 2018-19. And progress from around half that yield between now and then.
The cost goal? SGB says that its hybrid Jatropha can produce high quality Jatropha crude oil at a cost of between $99 or less per barrel today, with a clear path to reduce production costs through molecular breeding and biotechnology.
In April 2013, Bloomberg reported that jatropha 2.0 developer SG Biofuels is “seeking a partner in Southeast Asia or Africa and expects to complete a cooperation deal within 180 days” to expand its growth in the hot, “growing zone” for jatropha. SGB has signed up partners with more than 250,000 acres signed up in various field trial and deployment agreements – including an agreement to trial jatropha with Bharat Petroleum in India with 86,000 acres for first phase commercial deployment following the trials — and a similar 75,000 acre deal in Brazil with a consortium including JETBIO, Airbus, the Inter-A
Largest City In Vermont Now Gets All Its Power From Wind, Water And Biomass
The 42,000 people living in Burlington, Vermont can now feel confident that when they turn on their TVs or power up their computers they are using renewable energy. With the purchase of the 7.4 megawatt Winooski One hydroelectric project earlier this month, the Burlington Electric Department now owns or contracts renewable sources — including wind, hydro, and biomass — equivalent to the city’s needs.
“We’re now in a position where we’re supplying Burlington residents with sources that are renewable,” said Ken Nolan, manager of power resources for Burlington Electric Department, earlier this month. “The prices are not tied to fossil fuels — they’re stable prices — and they provide us with the flexibility, from an environmental standpoint, to really react to any regulation or changes to environmental standards that come in the future.”
According to Nolan, the utility will get about one-third of its power from the Joseph C. McNeil Generating Station, one-third from wind energy contracts, and one-third from the hydroelectric stations Winooski One and Hydro-Québec. The McNeil power station is a biomass facility that primarily uses wood chips from logging residue leftover from the harvesting of wood for other products.
Vermont has a statewide goal of getting 90 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050, including electricity, heating, and transportation. Christopher Recchia, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service, told the Associated Press that Burlington’s achievement shows that they’re able to make this transition cost-effectively and “in a way that makes Vermonters really positioned well for the future.”
The Washington Electric Co-operative, which has about 11,000 customers across central and northern Vermont, also reached the 100 percent renewable milestone earlier this year. Both utilities acknowledge that when renewable sources aren’t readily available — if the wind isn’t blowing or water levels are low — they will purchase traditional fossil fuel-generated electricity. However, when the wind is strong and water levels are high more than enough electricity is generated and the surplus can be sold to other utilities. On average, they will be selling more than they buy.
In a fancy accounting measure, both Burlington and Washington Electric sell renewable energy credits for the power they produce to utilities in southern New England, where their value is highest, before then buying less expensive credits from other sources to offset those they just sold. While this could be criticized as a questionable practice it also helps keep prices low and adheres to the rules of RGGI.
RGGI, or the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, is a nine-state market-based regulatory program to cap and reduce power sector CO2 emissions across much of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic. A RGGI auction earlier this month sold almost 18 million carbon allowances and generated $87.8 million for reinvestment by the RGGI states in a variety of initiatives including energy efficiency, renewable energy, and greenhouse gas abatement programs. All of the available allowances were sold.
As Vermont takes initiative to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, a new report by a team of University of Vermont and other scientists estimates the local impacts of climate change on the state. In an effort to downscale global climate models to convey local impacts the researchers looked at climate change in northern Vermont and southern Quebec. They found that annual precipitation will increase by between a third and half an inch per decade and average temperatures will rise by around five degrees Fahrenheit by 2050.
They also found that annual snowfall at six major ski resorts in the region could decrease around half by the late this century and that the growing season will get about six weeks longer. Vermonters may be most distraught to learn that these climate changes are likely to significantly reduce the number of days suitable for making maple syrup. Vermont is the largest producer of maple syrup in the country, providing around 40 percent of the entire supply.
American Development Bank, Bioventures Brasil, Air BP and TAM Airlines. SGB has been relatively cagey about yields — pointing out that they will vary substantially depending on geography, but some time ago they pointed to 350 gallons per acre as a suitable target given effective site selection and cultivation processes. Even 200-300 gallons in cold regions like the United States. That’s a huge improvement over the 60 gallons of oil per acre that soybean produces.
Ari Phillips|Jim Lane|Biofuels Digest|September 15, 2014
Experts Call on Obama to Ban Fracking in Lead Up to People’s Climate March
Americans Against Fracking, a coalition of more than 270 national and local groups opposed to hydraulic fracturing, held a media teleconference today to call on President Obama to ban fracking in the lead up to the People’s Climate March.
The press call highlighted a new report by Food & Water Watch, The Urgent Case for a Ban on Fracking, providing a comprehensive compilation of research on the harmful effects of fracking. It makes the case that the huge amount of methane released during the fracking process traps 87 times more heat pound for pound than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.
“Gas wells are like chimneys in the Earth and what they leak goes straight into our atmosphere,” said Sandra Steingraber, science advisor to Americans Against Fracking, and national expert on climate change and scientist at Ithaca college. “Fracked gas wells leak heat-trapping methane into the atmosphere which cripples any chance we have to combat climate change—unless we halt fracking. We’ve underappreciated just how powerful a greenhouse gas methane is. That’s why we’re calling methane the new carbon dioxide.”
Actor and anti-fracking activist Mark Ruffalo joined a group of scientists and environmental leaders to launch the #DontFrackOurClimate campaign. The social media campaign is timed to hit ahead of the People’s Climate March on Sunday and UN Climate Summit on Tuesday in New York City. The goal is to focus attention on methane as the new carbon dioxide.
“Climate change is the challenge of our lifetimes, and millions of lives and future generations depend on us meeting that challenge,” said Ruffalo. “By banning fracking, we can move forward with clean energy, the power of the 21st century, and create twice the amount of jobs in the renewable energy sector. We already have the technology; we can make this change today. We need the will and the political leadership.”
“The industry has successfully spun fracking as good for the climate, but the science shows it’s anything but,” said Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter. “If President Obama wants to be a leader in curbing the global climate crisis, he can’t continue to ignore the climate-related effects of methane from fracked gas. The science is now clear that natural gas dependence causes much more global warming than previously thought.”
Food & Water Watch initially called for a ban on fracking in 2011, arguing that it was unsafe. “Since then, scientists have published more than 150 studies that clarify what is known, and what remains unknown, about the risks and harms that fracking brings to communities—the water pollution, air pollution, climate pollution and earthquakes, as well as other drivers of economic and public health problems,” says the report.
“Everything that comes before and after fracking is an opportunity for methane to be emitted,” said Tony Ingraffea, scientist and engineer at Cornell University. “There is far more methane getting into the atmosphere than we thought and the impact of methane on climate change is much higher than we thought. We only have two decades before we reach our tipping point. If we don’t halt the production of shale gas, and slow down the release of unburned methane, we’ll be committing climate suicide.”
Anastasia Pantsios|September 16, 2014
Guardians Calls on Court to Block Public Lands Coal Mining in Northwest Colorado
Secret Mine Approvals Fueling Coal-fired Craig Coal-fired Power Plant, Threatening Clean Air
Denver—In defense of clean air and the climate, WildEarth Guardians today called on a federal court to overturn the U.S. Interior Department’s illegal and behind closed doors approval two coal mine expansions in northwestern Colorado.
“It’s time to put an end to the Interior Department’s practice of secretly approving public lands coal mining,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director. “Not only does mining take a tremendous toll on our western landscape, it’s fueling coal-fired power plants that are spewing out millions of tons of carbon and other toxic air pollution.”
In an opening brief filed today, Guardians exposed how the Interior Department and the U.S. Office of Surface Mining secretly and illegally approved the expansion of the Colowyo and the Trapper coal mines without analyzing the impacts to clean air or addressing the impacts of coal combustion.
Both the Colowyo and Trapper mines fuel Tri-State Generation and Transmission’s Craig coal-fired power plant, the second largest coal-fired power plant in Colorado. Annually the three smokestacks of the power plant spew 12,000 tons of smog and haze-forming nitrogen oxide gases, equal to the amount released every year from 1.3 million passenger vehicles.
The power plant also releases nearly 9 million tons of carbon pollution every year, making it one of the largest single sources of greenhouse gases in Colorado.
In 2007 and in 2009, the Office of Surface Mining Interior Department approved expanded mining at Colowyo and Trapper, respectively. No public notice of these decisions was provided, even though they green-lighted the mining of more than 50 million tons of publicly owned coal from more than 5,000 acres.
In approving the mine expansions, the agencies relied on environmental reviews prepared in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and asserted that there would be “no significant” impacts to human health or the environment. Neither decision addressed or even acknowledged the current impacts of the Craig coal-fired power plant, including its air pollution impacts, even though it’s one of the largest polluters in the state of Colorado.
“This is the worst kind of coal industry kowtowing that we’ve seen from the Interior Department,” said Nichols. “Here, Interior not only kept the public in the dark, they completely turned their back on addressing the environmental impacts of mining and the inevitable impacts of coal burning.”
Today’s opening brief called on the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado to overturn these mining approvals, not only over the failure of the Interior Department and Office of Surface Mining to provide any public notice, but also over the failure of these agencies to limit environmental impacts as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
So far, the Interior Department and Office of Surface Mining have defended their decisions, asserting they provided public notice by shelving documents at an agency library on the 34th floor of an office building in downtown Denver, and that relying on environmental reviews prepared in the 1970’s and 1980’s is appropriate.
Guardians has filed similar challenges over federal coal mining approvals in Montana and New Mexico. A ruling from the court is likely in 2015.
Jeremy Nichols|Climate and Energy Program Director|WildEarth Guardians|August 22, 2014
Miami-Dade wants more scrutiny of FPL cooling canals, fearing bigger problems
Worried that rising temperatures and a festering algae bloom in Turkey Point’s cooling canals may hint at bigger problems for Florida Power & Light, Miami-Dade County officials said Tuesday they plan to assert the county’s regulatory power to find out what’s ailing the aging canals.
“Clearly the cooling canal water is migrating outside the boundaries of their system,” Lee Hefty, director of the Division of Environmental Resources Management, told county commissioners before suggesting the county take action.
Since June, FPL has been struggling to control the hot canals and an algae bloom that has spread throughout the 168-mile loop. The canals were dug in the 1970s and act like a radiator to help keep the nuclear power plant from overheating.
The utility has twice asked the South Florida Water Management District for more water to freshen the canals. Earlier this summer, the agency signed off on up to 14 million gallons a day from the Floridan aquifer and last week agreed to a temporary permit for up to 100 million gallons of freshwater a day from a nearby canal.
The utility needed the county’s permission to lay pipes across endangered wetlands, a request that could have been granted by staff. But environmental groups asked for a public hearing, warning that a spreading underground saltwater plume potentially worsened by the hot canals posed a bigger risk to Biscayne National Park and area water quality.
“We have the distinction of being the only national park adjacent to a nuclear power plant,” park superintendent Brian Carlstrom told county commissioners. “We really need to understand why this unprecedented event is happening.”
The utility has blamed below-normal rainfall on the rising temperatures and increased salinity. In July and August, temperatures exceeded 102 degrees and twice threatened to shut down the plant. Because of the spike, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission raised temperature limits to 104 degrees to keep the plant operating.
Jenny Staletovich|Sep. 17, 2014
Will China’s great fracking leap help it wean off coal?
Fracking technology has crossed over from the fields of Pennsylvania and Texas to the mountains of Sichuan, but so have risks and consequences, reports Mother Jones.
On a hazy morning last September, 144 American and Chinese government officials and high-ranking oil executives filed into a vaulted meeting room in a cloistered campus in south Xi’an, a city famous for its terra-cotta warriors and lethal smog. The Communist party built this compound, called the Shaanxi Guesthouse, in 1958. It was part of the lead-up to chairman Mao’s Great Leap Forward, in which, to surpass the industrial achievements of the west, the government built steelworks, coal mines, power stations, and cement factories—displacing hundreds of thousands and clearcutting a tenth of China’s forests in the process. Despite its quaint name, the guesthouse is a cluster of immense concrete structures jutting out of expansive, manicured lawns and man-made lakes dotted with stone bridges and pagodas. It also features a karaoke lounge, spa, tennis stadium, shopping center, and beauty salon.
The guests at the compound that week were gearing up for another great leap: a push to export the United States’ fracking boom to China’s vast shale fields—and beyond. Attendees slid into black leather chairs behind glossy rosewood tables, facing a stage flanked by large projector screens. Chinese businessmen wore high-waist slacks with belts clasped over their bellies. I watched as one thumbed through business cards bearing the logos of Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Halliburton. Behind closed doors, a select group of Chinese and American officials and executives held a “senior VIP meeting.” Outside, a troop of People’s Liberation Army guards marched in tight formation.
The US-China Oil and Gas Industry Forum, sponsored by the US departments of commerce and energy, as well as China’s National Energy Administration, has convened for the last 13 years. But the focus turned to shale gas in 2009, when President Obama and then-President Hu Jintao announced an agreement to develop China’s immense resources. The partnership set the stage for companies in both countries to forge deals worth tens of billions of dollars.
Here at the 2013 conference, the first American to take the podium was Gary Locke, the US ambassador to China at the time. He wore a dark suit and a striped red-and-purple tie; his slick black hair glistened in the fluorescent light. “From Sichuan to Eagle Ford, Texas, from Bohai Bay to the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and Ohio, US and Chinese companies are investing and working together to increase energy production in both countries,” he proclaimed. US and Chinese companies were so tightly knit, Air China had recently started offering nonstop flights between Beijing and Houston, “making business trips much quicker for many of you gathered here.”
The soft, static voice of a Chinese interpreter seeped from the headphones as young women in red vests quietly passed through each row, pausing to pour hot tea, their strides almost synchronized. Tiny plumes of steam arose from the teacups lining each table, like miniature smokestacks. It seemed fitting, because underlying all the talk of new energy was an urgency to wean China from its decades-long addiction to coal. Locke promised that shale gas would do just that: “We can make further strides to improve energy efficiency, produce cleaner energy, increase renewables, and increase supply,” he asserted. “Unconventional gas, especially shale gas, is just the start.”
There are two main reasons behind China’s newfound zeal for gas. As Michael Liebreich, the founder of New Energy Finance, an energy market analytics firm now owned by Bloomberg LP, put it, “One is to feed the growth. There has to be energy and it has to be affordable in order to continue the growth machine. But the other one is that they’ve got to get off this coal.”
Constituting a whopping 70% of China’s energy supply, coal has allowed the country to become the world’s second-largest economy in just a few decades. But burning coal has also caused irreparable damage to the environment and the health of China’s citizens. City officials have been forced to shut down roads because drivers are blinded by soot and smog. China’s Civil Aviation Administration ordered pilots to learn to land planes in low-visibility conditions to avoid flight delays and cancellations. Scientists wrote in the medical journal The Lancet that ambient particulate matter, generated mostly by cars and the country’s 3,000 coal-fired power plants, killed 1.2 million Chinese people in 2010.
In late 2013, an eight-year-old girl in Jiangsu province was diagnosed with lung cancer; her doctor attributed it to air pollution. And earlier this year, scientists found that up to 24% of sulfate air pollutants—which contribute to smog and acid rain—in the western United States originated from Chinese factories manufacturing for export.
“The air quality in China has reached a kind of tipping point in the public consciousness,” says Evan Osnos, The New Yorker’s former China correspondent and author of Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China. “The entire Chinese political enterprise is founded on a bargain: We will make your lives better, if you’ll allow us to stay in power.” As more Chinese citizens demand clean air and water, China’s leaders and foreign businessmen have taken drastic measures to get rid of pollution. Some local officials have tried to wash away soot by cloud seeding, a process in which chemicals are rocket-launched into clouds to make it rain. One company is developing a column of copper coils that will use electric charges to suck soot out of the air like a hoover. Environmental officials in the northern city of Lanzhou attempted to level its surrounding mountains to let the wind blow the soot away—not to be confused with the city’s actual plan to demolish 700 mountains in order to expand its footprint by roughly the area of Los Angeles.
But China’s push to wean itself from coal has also triggered a rush to develop alternative power sources. The natural gas that lies deep within its shale formations is now a top contender. By current estimates from the US Energy Information Administration, China’s shale gas resources are the largest in the world, 1.7 times those in the United States. So far, fewer than 200 wells have been drilled, but another 800 are expected by next year. By then, China aims to pump 230bn cubic feet of natural gas annually from underground shale—enough to power every home in Chicago for two years. By 2020, the country expects to produce as much as 4.6 times that amount. It’s moving at “Chinese speed,” as one energy investment adviser put it—the United States took roughly twice as long to reach that volume.
Yet just as fracking technology has crossed over from the fields of Pennsylvania and Texas to the mountains of Sichuan, so have the questions about its risks and consequences. If fracking regulations in the United States are too weak, then in China the rules are practically nonexistent. Tian Qinghua, an environmental researcher at the Sichuan Academy of Environmental Sciences, fears that fracking operations in China will repeat a pattern he’s seen before. “There’s a phenomenon of ‘pollute first, clean up later,’” he says. “History is repeating itself.”
When my colleague James West and I traveled to China last September, it didn’t take long to see the toll of the country’s coal addiction: James had a burning cough by our second day. On a bullet train from Beijing to Xi’an (roughly the distance between San Francisco and Phoenix), we whizzed along at 150 miles per hour through some of China’s most polluted pockets, including the northeastern city of Shijiazhuang, where the smog registers at emergency levels for a third of the year—twice as often as in Beijing. A thick miasma hung heavy, clinging so low to fields of corn that it was hard to see where the earth met the dark, grey sky. Every few minutes we passed another giant coal-fired power plant, its chimneys spewing a continual billow of thick, white smoke.
By the time of our trip, villagers living near fracking wells had already complained about the deafening noise of drilling machinery, the smell of gas fumes, and strange substances in their water. One night last April, in a small southwestern town called Jiaoshi, an explosion at a shale gas drilling rig rattled residents awake, triggering a huge fire and reportedly killing eight workers. In the wake of the accident, an official from the ministry of environmental protection said: “The areas where shale gas is abundant in China are already ecologically fragile, crowded, and have sensitive groundwater. The impact cannot yet be estimated.”
“We call this shale county,” the driver shouted to us in the backseat as he steered the four-wheel-drive SUV up a steep mountain in Sichuan province. The clouds faded as we climbed, revealing a quilt of farmland dotted with pingfang, or flattop houses. We drove down a road lined with new hotels, small restaurants, and hardware stores—the markings of a boomtown. Roughly the size of Minnesota, the Sichuan Basin—where many of China’s experimental fracking wells are located—is home to some 100 million people, many of them farmers. It’s not the only part of China with shale gas, but fracking requires a lot of water, and with a subtropical climate and proximity to the mighty Yangtze River, Sichuan has that, too, making it the nation’s first fracking frontier.
With each turn, the road became narrower and muddier, until we stopped at a gate behind which a tall red-and-white drilling rig shot up as high as the lush mountains surrounding it. We were at a shale gas well owned by China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), one of the nation’s largest energy companies and its leading oil producer. Most of China was on holiday that week to commemorate 64 years since Mao declared the founding of the People’s Republic, but out here there was no sign of rest. Workers in red jumpsuits drove by in bulky trucks. A drill spiraled 3,280 feet underground in search of shale gas, screeching as it churned around the clock.
An engineer whom we’ll call Li Wei greeted us, peering out from under a hard hat. In his mid-20s, with a brand new degree, Li worked for a Chinese energy firm partly owned by Schlumberger, the Houston-based oil service company. Last July, Schlumberger opened a 32,000-sqft laboratory in the region devoted to extracting hydrocarbons from shale gas resources. Like many other engineers at China’s new wells, Li had never worked on a fracking operation before. We watched as he shooed away neighborhood kids playing by a brick structure straddling a pool marked “hazard” as though it were their tree house.
At first, Li said, drilling here didn’t go so smoothly: “We had leaks, things falling into the well.” They had to slow down operations as a result. Still, the team planned to drill and frack about eight other new wells in the area in the coming months.
China’s early fracking operations face many risks, but the incentives to keep drilling are too good to pass up. Based on early sampling, Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s Liebreich estimates that China is currently extracting shale gas at roughly twice the cost of the United States. Analysts expect those costs to fall as China gains experience, but even at current levels, shale gas production has been up to 40 percent cheaper—and geopolitically more desirable—than importing gas. As China’s demand for natural gas continues to grow—between 2012 and 2013 it grew at 15 times the rate of the rest of the world’s—domestic reserves will become increasingly important, says Liebreich: If China can continue to extract shale gas at the current cost, that “would be a game-changer.” The “golden age” of natural gas that took root in North America, the International Energy Agency declared in June, is now spreading to China.
All that growth comes with a steep learning curve. Fracking requires highly trained engineers who use specialized equipment to mix vast quantities of water with chemicals and sand and shoot it into the ground at high pressures, cracking the dense shale bed and releasing a mix of gas, water, and other sediments to the surface. That’s why service companies like Schlumberger and Halliburton have much to gain: China needs technology and know-how—and is willing to pay handsomely. “Selling the picks and shovels for the gold rush would be the analogy,” Liebreich says.
No wonder, then, that multinational oil and gas giants have pounced. In 2012, Royal Dutch Shell inked a contract with CNPC. A company executive pledged to invest around $1bn a year for the next several years in shale gas. BP, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, and Hess also have signed joint ventures to exploreshale prospects with Chinese energy companies. In return, Chinese companies have invested in US fracking operations. Since 2010 the Chinese energy company Sinopec, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), and the state-owned Sinochem spent at least $8.7bn to buy stakes in shale gas operations in Alabama, Colorado, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming. Chesapeake Energy alone got $4.52bn out of its deals with CNOOC.
“The reason Chinese oil companies have gone after Chesapeake in the past year was because they wanted to apply the technology to tap the world’s No. 1 shale gas reserves in China,” Laban Yu, a Hong Kong investment analyst, told Bloomberg News. Whether or not China will be able to replicate the American shale gas revolution, it is clearly determined to try.
One humid and drizzly night, James and I found ourselves in Chongqing, a hilly metropolis on the Yangtze whose population is more than triple that of New York City. Chongqing’s GDP grew an astonishing 12.3% in 2013, 4.6 points higher than the runaway Chinese economy as a whole. Its skyline looks like every major world city smashed into one—including near full-size replicas of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Empire State Building. The area is also home to castles modeled after those in France’s Loire Valley, as well as “Foreigner Street,” a 24/7 theme park where visitors can wander through an Egyptian pyramid haunted house, play mahjong by a Venetian canal, or sing karaoke under Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer. Foreigner Street also boasts a 1,000-toilet public bathroom, the world’s largest.
Chongqing is one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, in both height and sprawl, with a half-million new residents arriving each year. It is something of a gateway to China’s vast and relatively undeveloped west, booming like Chicago in the late 19th century. Its per capita natural gas consumption rate is one of the highest in the country and is currently rising by 8.5% a year, according to a report by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Much of the natural gas produced in Sichuan’s fields ends up here. The city’s officials expect that the municipality will need 530bn cubic feet of natural gas by 2015—2.5 times the figure in 2011.
Chongqing’s urban center is only 200 miles from the mountainside fracking fields we visited, but it might as well have been a different planet. From our hostel, we followed the neon lights until we reached Jiefangbei, a glitzy shopping district named after the tower it encircles, built in the 1940s to commemorate victory over the Japanese during the second world war. Now banks, hotels, and skyscrapers dwarf the monument, their electric facades flashing the night sky, their tops fading into the clouds. People clutching umbrellas hurried past the Louis Vuitton, Cartier, and Gucci stores that were studded with giant light bulbs.
Chongqing’s unbridled growth is paralleled by a widening wealth gap and rampant corruption. It’s a place where laobans—bosses—reserve $100 tables and drink $200 bottles of Moët & Chandon at nightclubs mere blocks from where porters haul shipments of clothes or steel goods from the riverbanks to shops atop the city’s steep hills for a few pennies. It’s also so overrun by triads—Chinese mafias sometimes deployed by the government as backup muscle—that when the city cracked down on crime in 2009, one criminologist estimated that at least 77 officials were arrested for colluding with gang members and protecting them from the law.
“Let some get rich first, and others will follow” is the philosophy that has driven China’s economic reforms since 1979. But the disparity between rich and poor has grown so much that, during a meeting of China’s top political advisers earlier this year, one attendee opined that the quality of life for 90% of peasants was no better than it was 40 years ago, in part due to burdensome medical expenses and limited access to education. In April, researchers at the University of Michigan calculated that in 2010, China’s Gini coefficient—a measure of income inequality—was 0.55, compared to 0.45 in the United States. The United Nations considers anything above 0.4 a threat to a country’s stability.
“You’ve got this ‘damn the torpedoes’ development strategy that sets out all sorts of quotas, expectations, and productivity targets that are not constrained or balanced in any way by environmental protection or public participation to hold people to account,” says Sophie Richardson, director of Human Rights Watch’s China program. Throw in corruption, she adds, and you see a toxic mix, one that has contributed to an unprecedented level of social unrest. By the latest official estimate, China has an average of 270 “mass incidents”—unofficial gatherings of 100 or more protesters—every day. In a 2014 study of mass incidents, researchers at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences found that they were usually sparked by pollution, land acquisitions, labor disputes, and forced demolitions.
Fracking may soon join that list. Protests have already stymied drilling operations in Sichuan. From 2010 to March 2013, the Wall Street Journal reported, Shell had lost 535 days of work at 19 of its shale gas wells due to villager blockades or government requests to halt operations. “There are a lot of people in China who don’t want to take political risks—they have too much at stake,” Osnos says. “But when it comes to something as elemental as their health, and that’s what pollution really is about, then they’re willing to take a risk.”
Despite being touted as a cleaner alternative to dirty coal, fracking in China comes with plenty of environmental problems. The country’s shale gas lies deeper underground and in more complex geologic formations than those deposits in the flatlands of Pennsylvania, North Dakota, or Texas. As a result, researchers estimated that the Chinese wells will require up to twice the amount of water used at American sites to crack open the reserves. Indeed, researcher Tian Qinghua points out that it’s hard to imagine how there will be enough water to support an American-style fracking boom in a country with less water per capita than Namibia or Swaziland, where land twice the size of New York City turns to desert every year. Today more than a quarter of the country has already dried up, the equivalent of about a third of the continental United States.
An engineer who formerly designed cigarette and paper factories in the 1990s, Tian—who is in his 50s with spiked hair, rectangular glasses, and a professorial air—traces his environmental conversion back to the time he trained a group of technicians from Burma at a sugar factory in Yunnan province. If they built a factory like this one back home, they asked him, would their river become black like the Kaiyuan River? “I began to doubt my career,” he told us, sipping hot green tea out of a glass beer stein. “All the factories I designed were heavy polluters.” He quit his job and began pursuing environmental research. “I wanted to pick a career I could be proud of by the time I retire,” he said.
In addition to his concerns about fracking’s enormous appetite for water, Tian also worries about its waste: the chemical-laden water that comes back out of the rock with the natural gas. In the United States, it is typically stored in steel containers or open pits and later injected underground in oil and gas waste wells. In China’s early wells, wastewater is often dumped directly into streams and rivers. If fracking—most of which takes place in China’s breadbasket—contaminates water or soil, Tian argues, it could jeopardize the nation’s food supply. In a seismically active area like Sichuan, leaks are a major concern: Even a small earthquake—which, emerging evidence suggests, wastewater injection could trigger—might compromise a well’s anti-leak system, causing more pollution. In the past year alone, more than 30 earthquakes were recorded in the Sichuan area.
In 2012, Tian and his team from the Sichuan Academy of Environmental Sciences proposed environmental standards for fracking in the province. Lacking financial and political support from the government, the proposal languished in the bureaucratic process and never became law. In June, Beijing officials announced that China will adopt new standards for shale gas development before the end of this year. But without proper enforcement, Tian says the standards will not necessarily prevent China’s growing fracking industry from discharging waste and pollution—a cost he fears the environment can’t afford.
Back at the guesthouse compound in Xi’an one evening, after the conference had adjourned for the day, we sat for a lavish banquet of salty braised greens, fried eggplant, steamed fish, and roasted pork. A thin film of soot clung to the marble floors, tablecloths, and curtains.
I shared a table with Ming Sung, a lean, wispy-haired man in his late 60s who serves as the Asia-Pacific chief representative for Clean Air Task Force, a Boston-based partnership between environmental advocates and the private sector that’s focused on reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Sung, who spent 25 years as an engineer and manager for Shell, now splits his time between Texas and China, helping US and Chinese oil and gas companies lower their emissions.
Sung told us that shale gas, despite its reputation as a cleaner fuel, could be a huge pollution problem, if the technology wasn’t handled correctly. For example, he says, if “you don’t seal the wells properly, methane will leak.” Although natural gas can generate electricity at half the carbon dioxide emissions of coal, methane is as much as 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas over a 20-year-period. (Some scientists argue that carbon dioxide is still more potent because it lasts longer in the atmosphere than methane, which has an atmospheric lifetime of 12 years.) The EPA estimates that drilling for natural gas emits 0.04 to 0.30 grams of methane per well per second in the United States, the annual greenhouse gas equivalent of as many as 24 million cars.
But beyond the mechanical risks of fracking, there’s a more fundamental problem: shale gas might not even significantly reduce China’s coal dependence. In the United States, fracking proponents have argued that natural gas is crucial to help with the shift from the dirtiest fossil fuels to renewable resources. But that argument falls apart in China. Unlike what happened in the United States, the Energy Information Administration’s future projections of China’s energy demand suggest that in 2040, coal will continue to dominate while natural gas, even with a golden era, will fuel only 8% of demand. “The whole pie is growing so rapidly that you still see a very carbon-intensive mix,” says Rachel Cleetus, a senior economist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. As China continues to grow its economy and expand its cities, it will need every resource it can get—coal, gas, solar, wind, hydropower, and nuclear.James Fallows, a senior correspondent at The Atlantic who spent many years covering China, notes that the Chinese government “is pushing harder on more fronts than any other government on Earth” to develop energy sources other than coal. “The question is, will they catch up? Who will win that race between how bad things are and how they’re trying to deal with them?”
Despite all these unknowns, the Obama administration is now encouraging other countries to tap their shale reserves. A year after Obama and Hu announced their shale gas agreement, in 2010, the State Department launched the Global Shale Gas Initiative, an “effort to promote global energy security and climate security around the world,” as one researcher put it. As a JPMorgan research memo stated, “Unless the popular environmental concerns are so extreme, most countries with the resources will not ignore the [shale gas] opportunity.”
Towards the end of our trip, we visited a village near Luzhou, a port city on the Yangtze with a population bigger than Los Angeles. We met a middle-aged woman named Dai Zhongfu, who told us that in 2011, Shell and PetroChina set up a shale gas well right next to her house. Standing under the shade of her plum tree and sporting a cropped haircut and a navy blue windbreaker, Dai said that occasionally someone would show up here and take a water sample from her well. They never identified themselves or returned with the results. By the time we arrived, Dai and her neighbors had grown wary of outside visitors; when we first met, her neighbors mistook us for water testers and advised her not to bother talking to us.
As the drilling continued, Dai said, her groundwater started to run dry, and now only rain replenished it. She doubted the water was fit for drinking. “After you use it, there’s a layer of white scum clinging to the pot,” she said. They couldn’t even use it to cook rice anymore. “You tell me if there’s been an impact!”
When I asked Dai why she and her neighbours hadn’t protested, she said, “You know that we rural folk really have no recourse,” she said. The drilling was over, and now that the well was producing, all that was left were a few surveillance cameras and a concrete wall. “Now there’s no chance they’ll pay attention to us—where we get our drinking water, how we use it,” Dai said. “People here have been abused so much that they’re afraid.”
Jaeah Lee and James West|Mother Jones|Guardian Environment Network|theguardian.com|18 September 2014
Windmills in the Ocean and the Hamptons May Answer Energy Problems
You may not know this, but about 20 miles off Montauk, just south of Block Island, there are five steel windmills under construction that will soon rise hundreds of feet above the ocean’s surface to start spinning away converting the wind into power.
You won’t see these windmills from Montauk, but you will see them from Block Island. Block Island is one of the windiest places in America, and Block Islanders often proudly tell you to hang onto your hat because of that, so for them to see the windmills offshore spinning away is a matter of pride.
Last month, however, the private power company constructing these windmills applied to build 35 more windmills in the ocean in order to provide power, this time to Long Island from a cable coming under the ocean to attach to a power station here. Don’t get all excited about hearing this. God forbid there should be any windmill paddles spinning away 600 feet up and visible at the horizon off Montauk’s pristine beaches. The 35 additional windmills are to be located 16 miles off Martha’s Vineyard, further from Montauk.
Did I just hear a very soft “hooray!” Yes?
Fact is that we have a simply terrible record about wind power. We all declare ourselves in favor of alternative energy, be it solar, wind or wave power. But when a farm of windmills all in a row sitting on the ocean floor was proposed off Jones Beach a few years ago, the citizenry sounded the alarm and opposition groups formed whose members quickly contacted their congressmen. Fish would accidentally bump into the underground legs of the windmills. Freighters would crash into them, founder, capsize and sink, sending hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of, for example, naked Barbie Dolls bobbing onto our beaches. The windmill people slunk away.
Still other proposals for ocean windmill farms that might have been in Long Island Sound or off Southampton were floated and sent up the flagpole to see if anyone would salute, but all of those were shot down.
The real scandal, however, is that for more than 300 years, we have actually had windmills here in the Hamptons and, in spite of enormous sums of money spent, not a single one of them has ever provided even one single watt of power.
All together we have 11 of them. We have the largest collection of wooden windmills in the United States right here in the Hamptons. We have one on Gardiner’s Island, four in East Hampton, one in Amagansett, one in Bridgehampton, one in Southampton, one on Shelter Island, one in Wainscott, and one in Water Mill, all of them built between 1770 and 1830, a half-century span when the residents here, on the very leading edge of environmental awareness, did their best to make a situation where the energy they consumed equaled the energy produced. Their desire was to harness the wind and create no environmental damage whatsoever, instead of what they correctly felt was the wasteful consumption of consumables such as, over the years, whale blubber, kerosene, wood fires, coal, oil, shale and natural gas, which, as we know, pollute the planet.
Granted, the windmill efforts made during that 60-year period (known today as the East End Spring—like the Arab Spring) were not very effective. But what could you expect? This was long before the invention of the telephone, the light bulb, the automobile, washing machine, airplane, hula-hoop or the internet.
These early experimental efforts did leave us with a legacy, though. All these windmills still stand. It had been the hope, those early pioneers felt, that improvements in the efficiency of these windmills would one day bring a time when all energy problems would be solved with the engines of our wind power and the improvements made could be given away and duplicated elsewhere around the country.
But that did not happen. Over the past 200 years, our governments—village, town, county, state and federal—have poured thousands of dollars, even millions and billions and trillions of untold dollars, to restore, rebuild and improve these windmills so they can do the job. But it has all been just a complete waste of money.
Two years ago, East Hampton Village spent nearly a $100,000 to get the Hook Mill on the Town Green to turn out power. Before that, tens of thousands of dollars were spent in Bridgehampton trying to get the Beebe Mill to produce power. But no. It was a complete waste of money. It’s a scandal.
Who benefits from these clumsy and futile attempts to get these beautiful windmills operational? It’s been said that the tourists like to take pictures of them, sitting there still and inert and doing nothing, so that is good for the economy. But when more of these tourists come out to take these pictures, burning gasoline in their cars, oil and natural gas in their homes and coal in their office buildings, it just adds to the environmental pickle we find ourselves in today.
Why have we not hired scientists and engineers to guide this work, to apply their inventiveness and new ideas to the task at hand? We haven’t done that. Instead, in every case, we hire “restorers” who haven’t a clue on how to make these things work. All they know to do is how to get the windmills repaired to the way they were before when they didn’t work. What an utter waste of time and money.
It might have been money well spent if these funds had been used to at least attempt to provide new experimental ways to harness the wind. I read in The New York Times recently that one scientific group somewhere in the country is sending up giant weather balloons with paddles on them, held fast to the ground with long ropes, so the wind can turn the paddle blades way up there to create the power.
It’s time to put an end to this scandalous waste of taxpayers’ money here on the East End. I’m told that, as another poke in the eye, much of this money is spent to accomplish nothing more than to grind down an occasional husk of corn into flour so the workmen can sit around, snack and drink on their frequent coffee breaks, lunch hours and poker sessions while on the job.
We’ve landed on the moon, built bridges across the Hudson River, gotten airplanes to fly 2,000 miles an hour, created iPhones and television and atomic bombs, and not one single kilowatt of energy in all this time from our windmills.
It’s long past time to begin investigating the wasteful bureaucratic mess that has spawned this two-century-long boondoggle and put an end to it once and for all.
Dan Rattiner| April 19, 2014
[The idea of using wind is one of the best answers to power generation conceivable. However, siting must be the primary consideration. The Atlantic Migratory Flyway, used by millions of birds twice annually, extends into the Atlantic Ocean and must be considered in the placement of windmills. Computer programs are available that will shut down a windmill when birds are in the proximity, and at the very least, should be included in windmills placed near flyways.]
Thousands of U.S. Schools Are Going Solar, Says New Study
The report card is in, and thousands of U.S. schools are bringing home straight A’s for going solar.
In a comprehensive, first-of-its-kind study released today, America’s K-12 schools have shown explosive growth in their use of solar energy over the last decade, soaring from 303 kilowatts (kW) of installed capacity to 457,000 kW, while reducing carbon emissions by 442,799 metric tons annually—the equivalent of saving 50 million gallons of gasoline a year or taking nearly 100,000 cars off U.S. highways.
Brighter Future: A Study on Solar in U.S. Schools was prepared by The Solar Foundation (TSF)—with data and analysis support from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)—and funded through a grant provided by the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot program.
The Solar Foundation’s report is the first nationwide assessment of how solar energy helps to power schools in communities across America. Most importantly, the report shows that thousands of schools are already cutting their utility bills by choosing solar, using the savings to pay for teacher salaries and textbooks. What’s more, the report estimates that more than 70,000 additional schools would benefit by doing the same.
Here are the report’s key findings:
- There are 3,752 K-12 schools in the U.S. with solar installations, meaning nearly 2.7 million students attend schools with solar energy systems.
- The 3,727 PV systems have a combined capacity of 490 megawatts (MW), and generate roughly 642,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity each year, which represents a combined $77.8 million per year in utility bills—an average of almost $21,000 per year per school.
- Despite this promising progress, solar potential remains largely untapped. Of the 125,000 schools in the country, between 40,000 and 72,000 can “go solar” cost-effectively.
And if you think that’s good news, then get a load of this: An analysis performed for this report found that 450 individual school districts could each save more than $1,000,000 over 30 years by installing a solar PV system. That’s right—a million bucks!
In a time of tight budgets and rising costs, solar can be the difference between hiring new teachers—or laying them off. Just as importantly, solar is also helping to fight pollution, providing hope for our children, as well as for future generations of children.
The new report also found:
- More than 3,000 of the 3,752 systems were installed in the last six years. Between 2008 and 2012, solar installations on U.S. schools experienced a compound annual growth rate of 110 percent.
- Nearly half of the systems currently installed are larger than 50 kilowatts (kW) and 55 schools have systems that are 1 megawatt (MW) or larger. About a quarter of the PV systems at schools are smaller than 5 kW.
- As schools system sizes increase, so too does the incidence of third-party ownership.
- Excluding small demonstration systems, the median system size of K-12 school PV systems was found to be 89 kW (approximately equal to 18 average residential solar PV systems).
As is the case with the solar industry at large, the report found that more schools are going solar as installation costs decrease. According to the SEIA/GTM Research U.S. Solar Market Insight report, by the second quarter of this year, national blended average system prices had dropped 53 percent since 2010.
So anyway you look at it—from economics to innovation to the environment—more and more U.S. schools deserve high marks for their commitment to America’s future.
New Research Improves on Earlier Bird-Killing Turbine Studies
On the heels of tempering bird mortality accusations in the concentrating solar power industry, a new study also calms the wind critics.
California, USA — The first-ever study using data from modern wind farms throughout North America finds that avian mortality among most species of small passerines (birds) may be biologically insignificant.
The concentrating solar power industry recently faced heavy criticism due to “solar flux” causing bird deaths, which recent studies have tempered. Now, a new study for the wind industry is also adjusting the bird death numbers.
The study, which includes wind farm data across North America (the U.S. and Canada), is the most comprehensive to date, as previous studies over-sampled outdated turbines. The U.S. generates about a third of the world’s wind energy, with 81 GW of capacity, most of which was installed in the last ten years using modern turbines.
The study was supported by the American Wind Wildlife Institute (AWWI), a non-profit focused on bringing together the wind industry, wildlife management agencies, and science and environmental organizations, to facilitate responsible wind energy development while protecting wildlife, for example, in replacing unsafe turbines at Altamont Pass, or use of bird detection and deterrents.
The peer-reviewed study found that an estimated 134,000 to 230,000 small passerines collide annually with turbines across the U.S. and Canada. Using conservative estimates, this amounts to less than 0.01 percent of the population of small passerines, while an estimated 30 percent die of natural causes yearly.
North America’s 5 billion small passerines — a taxonomic group that includes all small songbirds like larks, blackbirds, warblers and sparrows — produce up to eight young annually. “Small passerines have high annual mortality,” said Taber Allison, Director of Research and Evaluation at AWWI. “Two to three years is a typical lifespan, though individuals can of course live longer.”
The avian mortality rate found in the new study updates estimates from previous studies that over-sampled information from the earliest wind farms at California’s Altamont Pass. The faster-turning small kilowatt-level 1980s turbines were low on the hillside, where raptors swoop on updrafts to hunt prey on the ground.
“When you have a sample that is heavily weighted with data from the Altamont and you apply that analysis to the entire country, it may result in an overestimate,” said Allison.
Today’s U.S. wind farms use 1- to 3-MW turbines, are sited on flatter ground, turn much higher on concrete towers — out of the hunting range of raptors, while lower than the migration corridor of small passerines.
To reach the most reliable numbers possible, the authors analyzed data from these more representative conditions, while correcting for missing and scavenged corpses and missed birds due to detection bias.
“This study was the most comprehensive. It includes the most data that is available,” said Allison. “The other studies that came out earlier did not have as many studies to work with.”
Currently these researchers are working with the USGS on a new study, as one of several analyzing the effects of wind farms on birds and bats.
“We are currently conducting similar analyses on data related to the other bird taxa including birds of prey like raptors and water-associated birds, and have plans to publish these studies by the end of the year,” said Erickson.
Susan Kraemer|Correspondent|September 19, 2014
DEP Surpasses Goal To Sell $40 Million in Land Sales to Benefit Conservation
~The department sold two correctional facilities to raise funds for conservation purchases~
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of State Lands has surpassed the goal of selling $40 million of non-conservation land to purchase new, valuable conservation lands. The division finalized the sale of two more state-owned surplus non-conservation lands on Monday, Sept. 15, increasing the budget for future purchases to $43,991,070. The move supports the vision of the 2014-2015 Legislature, which gave the department the authority to sell up to $40 million worth of non-conservation land. The department can now ask the legislature for authorization to spend the additional funds over $40 million.
Since January 2014, the division has sold 12 state-owned non-conservation lands.
“Acquiring and managing conservation lands is a priority of the department,” said Division of State Lands Director Kelley Boree. “Our team has worked hard with other state agencies to identify and sell non-conservation lands that are no longer needed. This supports the priority and helps the state own and manage property efficiently.”
This week, the division sold the former 66-acre Broward County Correctional Institution for $13,519,470. The Board of Trustees acquired the property in December 1973 and subsequently granted a 99-year lease to Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) in May 1974. The property contains 40 buildings totaling 233,375 square feet.
Additionally, the division sold the former Hillsborough County Correctional Institution for $3,500,100. In July 2014, the sites of the former Hendry County Correctional Institution was sold for $3,750,000, and the Glades Correctional Institute and Work Camp in Belle Glade was sold for $1,224,000. These correctional facilities closed in 2012 as part of DOC’s statewide consolidation plan.
Earlier this month, the division sold the site of the former A.G. Holley State Hospital in Palm Beach County for $15,600,000. The 79.91-acre property ceased operations in 2012. In August 2014, two half-acre parcels were sold in the city of Miami for $4,700,000. A Florida Department of Transportation facility in Volusia County sold for$540,000. In June 2014, a half-acre parcel was sold in Monroe County for $33,000.Earlier in 2014, four additional properties sold for a total of $1,124,500.
To see a current list of state-owned surplus properties for sale, visit the department’s website here.
latashawalters|September 18, 2014
The Top 5 Most Polluted Countries in the World
The World Health Organization has released a new study ranking countries with the worst air pollution. When we consider air pollution most of us will automatically think of China. However, it was nowhere to be found in the top 10 offenders. This, by the way, is not because they’ve suddenly cleaned up their act, but rather because this study ranked countries as a whole, rather than cities.
So here are the top 5 countries with the worst air pollution, and what they are trying to do to combat it.
Pakistan made #1 on the list with a PM 2.5 pollution level of 101 ug/m3. Now, that might not make sense so let me break it down: PM 2.5 stands for the size of the particles of pollution. The size (2.5) is frequently cited as the most detrimental because it can travel deep into lungs and cause a variety of ailments. Good examples of these particles are smoke, mold and dust. The ug/m3 part stands for micrograms per unit meter of air. So Pakistan has 101 micrograms of PM 2.5 pollutants per unit meter of air.
This level of pollution can be fatal to certain people with compromised respiratory systems and is blamed for killing thousands each year. Such pollutants also cause at least 80,000 hospitalizations in Pakistan alone. Although Pakistan has hosted a number of green air initiatives, and Coca-Cola has even led the fight in establishing better air quality, the country continues to suffer from some of the worst pollution on the planet.
Part of this is because Pakistan is dealing with crippling security threats on an everyday basis. Recent attacks on Karachi’s International Airport and Taliban offenses from the Afghan border mean that much of the government budget is devoted to security rather than health and the environment. Because of this, Pakistanis will continue to suffer a host of complications due to pollution.
Qatar ranks in as the second worst country with 92 units of PM 2.5 micrograms per unit meter of air. Heavy construction in a relatively small area, combined with one of the biggest growing international airports have converged to create truly terrible air quality. However, Qatar is doing something about this.
The Sahara Forest Project, which is somewhat oddly named as the desert in Qatar is not the Sahara (not even close), is using state of the art techniques to plant trees, bushes, and bring sustainable water and energy designs to the miles of desert that surround the city’s countryside. Further, by trapping seawater and evaporating it into the air, they are looking to reduce desert temperatures to create a more humid climate. If it is successful, it could help bring down the pollution levels in Qatar substantially.
Although some flinch at the idea of removing a desert ecosystem that has existed for thousands of years, projects such as these have been accomplished before, in desertification areas of Northern Africa. The results have actually been positive, showing little impact on overall environmental stability.
Afghanistan comes in just after Qatar with a PM 2.5 level of 84 micrograms per unit meter of air. Part of this naturally has to do with the recent war. Rubble, creating a mix of toxic building materials in the air, along with bombs, smoke, generators which run on diesel, and air travel in and out of the country have come together in a disastrous mix of toxic pollutants.
Sadly, not a whole lot is planned for invigorating the air quality of the country. Although Afghanistan does have a Green Club, a lot of the activities are simply raising awareness for the problem as actual funds to institute programs are near impossible to find.
This is one of the few nations where air quality has fallen steadily over the past few years, the air here has a PM 2.5 level of 79 micrograms per unit meter of air. Air quality is something which sends thousands of Bangladeshis to hospitals every year, especially in urban areas where massive factories have sprung up.
Part of this is because the country provides very cheap labor and industry, which has led to a deregulation of sorts in the country. Because of loose standards for the environment, companies can save labor money but create a large environmental impact.
Enter the Bangladesh Green Roof Movement. Started by local groups, this is a movement which could have a great impact on the country. By planting gardens they not only help with food sustainability, but help reduce the pollution levels inside the country. While Bangladesh has a long way to go, it’s heartening to see that the citizens are taking it upon themselves to try to create a greener future.
Iran rounds out the top five most polluted countries with a PM 2.5 level of 76 micrograms per unit meter of air. Part of the reason for this is simply a lack of quality products. The gasoline used is often poor quality, the building materials used contain asbestos, and overcrowding and a large youth population has led to congested streets.
However, with such a large youth population, Iran has also started championing some interesting environmental movements. Demonstrations where people line up inside of public parks with breathing masks on have spread on social media. Although environmental issues are often the bastion of upper-middle class people in developing nations, in Iran’s case citizens from all walks of life have gotten involved. This includes villagers renouncing poor cooking methods and poaching.
Although the current president of Iran has remained fairly mum on the environment, most agree he is far more open to it than Iran’s former president. This has given the Iranian youth hope that environmental consciousness improves as their country moves forward.
Lizabeth Paulat|September 14, 2014
Air pollution found harmful to young brains
Findings by University of Montana Professor Dr. Lilian Calderón-Garcidueñas, MA, MD, Ph.D., and her team of researchers reveal that children living in megacities are at increased risk for brain inflammation and neurodegenerative changes, including Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.
Calderón-Garcidueñas’ findings are detailed in a paper titled “Air pollution and children: Neural and tight junction antibodies and combustion metals, the role of barrier breakdown and brain immunity in neurodegeneration.”
The study found when air particulate matter and their components such as metals are inhaled or swallowed, they pass through damaged barriers, including respiratory, gastrointestinal and the blood-brain barriers and can result in long-lasting harmful effects.
Calderón-Garcidueñas and her team compared 58 serum and cerebrospinal fluid samples from a control group living in a low-pollution city and matched them by age, gender, socioeconomic status, education and education levels achieved by their parents to 81 children living in Mexico City.
The results found that the children living in Mexico City had significantly higher serum and cerebrospinal fluid levels of autoantibodies against key tight-junction and neural proteins, as well as combustion-related metals.
“We asked why a clinically healthy kid is making autoantibodies against their own brain components,” Calderón-Garcidueñas said. “That is indicative of damage to barriers that keep antigens and neurotoxins away from the brain. Brain autoantibodies are one of the features in the brains of people who have neuroinflammatory diseases like multiple sclerosis.”
The issue is important and relevant for one reason, she explained. The breakdown of the blood-brain barrier and the presence of autoantibodies to important brain proteins will contribute to the neuroinflammation observed in urban children and raises the question of what role air pollution plays in a 400 percent increase of MS cases in Mexico City, making it one of the main diagnoses for neurology referrals.
University of Montana|via EurekAlert|September 15, 2014
Read more at University of Montana.
Think We Can Do Better?
Power Plants in the US Produced Nearly as Much Carbon Dioxide Pollution as the Amount Collectively Produced by the Following Fifteen Countries
* Argentina * Guyana
* Bolivia * Mexico
*Brazil * Paraguay
*Canada * Peru
* Colombia * Suriname
* Chile * Uruguay
* Ecuador * Venezuela
* French Guiana
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle- 9 Ways to Cut Down on Excess Waste (slideshow)
STATEMENT FROM DEP SECRETARY HERSCHEL T. VINYARD JR. REGARDING
Water Management District Support of the Indian River Lagoon
I commend the Governing Board Members of the St. Johns River and the South Florida Water Management Districts for their commitment to provide technical assistance and significant funding to support the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program.
“The Indian River Lagoon is one of the most unique and treasured ecosystems in the world and it deserves our protection. No one knows that better than the thousands of area residents who are fighting to restore the health of the lagoon each and every day, many through the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program. These local stakeholders need our support and I’m confident they will put these state and regional resources to good use on behalf of lagoon restoration.”
latashawalters |September 16, 2014
Benefits of Controlling Nuisance Aquatic Plants and Algae in the United States
New CAST Commentary Examines the Effects of Nuisance Weeds on Our Water Supply
July 16, 2014…Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, Ames, Iowa. Safe, accessible water resources are essential, but various threats are closing the taps. A growing problem comes from nuisance aquatic plants that invade rivers, lakes, and other aquatic ecosystems. They can affect aesthetics, drainage, fishing, water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, flood control, human and animal health, hydropower generation, irrigation, navigation, recreation, and, ultimately, land values.
Led by Kurt Getsinger (Chair), the authors of this commentary emphasize the necessity for the skillful management of nuisance aquatic plants–they hope regulators, managers, stakeholders, and legislators gain scientific insights about this important issue. Using specific examples, tables, and detailed explanations of the situation,
the paper thoroughly examines the negative impacts of nuisance plants and the need to be aware, informed, and–when possible–proactive about the problems.
Sections of this paper focus on certain parts of the United States, but the general need is obvious–invasive aquatic plants and algae are progressively disrupting the ecological balance required for maintaining adequate freshwater resources for flora, fauna, and humans. The authors encourage
- long-term funding,
- sustained research, and
- creative problem solving.
They believe that a collaborative push to meet the challenges posed by nuisance aquatic plants will support a sustainable civilization that depends on clean and abundant freshwater resources.
Task Force Authors:
Kurt Getsinger (Chair), U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, Vicksburg, Mississippi
Eric Dibble, Mississippi State University
John H. Rodgers, Jr., Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina
David Spencer, United States Department of Agriculture-ARS, Davis, California
CAST Commentary QTA2014-1 and its companion Ag quickCAST are available online at the CAST website, www.cast-science.org, along with many of CAST’s other scientific publications. All CAST Issue Papers, Commentaries, and Ag quickCASTs are FREE.
Contacts for this Issue Paper:
CAST is an international consortium of scientific and professional societies, companies, and nonprofit organizations. It assembles, interprets, and communicates credible science-based information regionally, nationally, and internationally to legislators, regulators, policymakers, the media, the private sector, and the public.
EPA Proposes One Hazardous Waste Site in the Southeast to Superfund’s National Priorities List
Cleaning up hazardous waste sites protects human health, raises property value, and facilitates the economic restoration of communities
Atlanta – Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it is proposing the 35th Avenue site in Birmingham, AL, a site that pose risks to human health and the environment, to the National Priorities List (NPL) of Superfund sites.
The Superfund program, a federal program established by Congress in 1980, investigates and cleans up the most complex, uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites in the country and converts them into productive local resources by eliminating or reducing health risks and environmental contamination associated with hazardous waste sites.
“Cleaning up hazardous waste sites protects our country’s most vulnerable populations, prevents diseases, increases local property values and facilitates economic restoration of communities across America,” said Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. “By listing a site on the Superfund National Priorities List, we’re taking an important action to protect human health and encourage economic restoration of communities.”
Recent academic research, from the study Superfund Cleanups and Infant Health, demonstrated that investment in Superfund cleanups reduces the incidence of congenital abnormalities for those living within 5,000 meters (or 5,468 yards) of a site. Another study conducted by researchers at Duke and Pittsburgh Universities, concluded that making a site final on the NPL may increase housing prices by signaling that a site has been placed on the path towards remediation. Furthermore, the study found that once a site has all cleanup remedies in place, nearby properties have a significant increase in property values as compared to pre-NPL proposal values.
The Superfund program uses remedy effectiveness information to actively manage site operations and refine remedial strategies in order to efficiently move sites to completion. Today, more than 800 Superfund sites across the nation support some type of continued use, active reuse or planned reuse activities.
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), the law establishing the Superfund program, gives EPA the authority to clean up releases of hazardous substances and directs EPA to update the NPL at least annually to protect human health and the environment with the goal of returning these sites to communities for productive use. The NPL contains the nation’s most serious uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites. The list serves as the basis for prioritizing both enforcement actions and long-term EPA Superfund cleanup funding; only sites on the NPL are eligible for such funding.
Federal Register notices and supporting documents for the final and proposed sites: http://www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/npl/current.htm
Information about how a site is listed on the NPL: http://www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/npl/npl_hrs.htm
Superfund sites in local communities: http://www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/index.htm
More information about the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), the law establishing the Superfund program, can be found at: http://epa.gov/superfund/policy/cercla.htm
James Pinkney|U.S. EPA|9/16/14
Fishermen’s Tips for Releasing a Hooked Bird
Wherever fishermen and birds overlap, sooner or later a bird gets hooked or entangled in fishing line. What happens next will determine the fate of the bird: If the fisherman cuts the line, the bird likely will die from starvation, as its capacity to forage is impaired, or dehydration, if the line becomes entangled in the trees at its roost site. Or a savvy fisherman will reel the bird in, set it free, and save its life. But to protect him or her self from the bird, which will flap long wings, squawk loudly, and snap its beak, a fisherman needs to take some basic precautions:
- Put on sunglasses or other eye protection.
- Enlist a partner to help with controlling the bird.
- Grasp the bird’s head firmly and then cover the eyes with a towel, shirt, or even a hat to calm it.
- Fold the wings up and secure the feet, holding firmly.
- Cut off the hook’s barb and back the hook out. This removes the hook without causing more damage to the bird.
- Check the bird for other hooks or line and remove them too. Often a bird has been hooked before.
- Put the bird on the dock, facing the water and step back. A feisty bird is likely to survive.
- If the bird is seriously injured, has swallowed the hook, or doesn’t fly, it should be taken to a veterinarian or wildlife rehabilitator. Call the Wildlife Commission 1-888-404-3922 for one near you.
Congratulations! You have saved the life of a bird!
Birding|Coastal Conservation|August 13, 2014
Learning in nature is good for teachers and students
Children belong outdoors. We know this intuitively, but now an extensive and ever-growing body of research supports it. Kids who spend time outside every day are healthier, happier, more creative, less stressed and more alert than those who don’t. Several recent studies even show time in nature or green space helps reduce ADHD symptoms.
But what about teachers who take children outdoors, contributing to their learning and growth? More alert, calm and creative students are a plus to them as educators. Could they also benefit as individuals from taking students outside every day?
With most of Canada’s educators back from the summer break, facing the many challenges that contribute to the country’s high rates of teacher attrition — from increasing class sizes to mounting curriculum expectations — it’s a good time to ask: How can “nature as classroom” support teacher well-being?
So far, only a few studies focus on the benefits of green time for teachers, but those indicate that teaching in nature has great effects. A study out of the U.K.’s King’s College London suggests teaching outdoors makes educators more confident and enthusiastic about their work, and more innovative in their teaching strategies. By extension, schools benefit from the leadership and influence of their teachers who take students outside.
Rob Ridley, field center coordinator with Ontario’s Peel District School Board, says he has seen many educators gain confidence and renew their interest in teaching simply from taking their classes outdoors.
“Going outside takes away the boundaries of your classroom walls,” he says. “It opens you up to new ideas and lesson plans. You’ll step outside to study science or social studies, and suddenly you’ll see ways to connect it to math or language arts.”
Hopi Martin, who teaches at the Toronto District School Board’s Forest Valley Outdoor Education Centre, agrees: “Teaching outdoors demands that we respond to the wonder of students and opportunities that arise. I could have a beautiful lesson on tree identification prepared that gets totally derailed by the discovery of ants on a tree. Going outside has made me a stronger, more innovative, more resilient teacher.”
For Michael Mendoza, a teacher-librarian at Wilmington Elementary School in Toronto who regularly takes students outdoors, it’s seeing “an immediate absorption of knowledge, and the students’ contagious eagerness and curiosity” that refreshes and inspires him as an educator. On a personal note, he adds, “Being outside makes me feel more awake and alive.”
“The fact is, teachers aren’t just teachers, they’re human beings,” says Aryne Sheppard, senior public engagement specialist at the David Suzuki Foundation. “And research has shown time and again that nature makes humans happier, less irritable, and more creative and generous. Teaching is stressful work, and nature provides a powerful stress buffer.”
Despite all the benefits for students and educators, moving classes outdoors can be daunting. Teachers cite a host of barriers, from parental concerns to lack of time, confidence and support from administration.
So how can a teacher ease in (or jump right in) to teaching outside?
Ridley suggests joining forces with fellow educators for support and advice. Mendoza also seeks out guidance from outdoor enthusiasts. Several online communities exist to help and inspire, like the popular weekly #EnviroEd Twitter chats.
Organizations all across the country, including the David Suzuki Foundation, offer workshops for educators interested in taking students outside. These often include sample activities, logistical tips and advice for getting parents and administration on-board. And many of the same organizations have published excellent educational resources for teaching outdoors. The Foundation’s own Connecting With Nature guides for kindergarten through Grade 8 are full of lesson plans, step-by-step instructions and ideas for engaging local communities.
So while the idea of moving science or math class outdoors might be unnerving at first, the end result is more than worth it, for the well-being of everyone involved.
“If teachers are happy and connected to nature, they can pass that on to their students,” Sheppard says. “They can be the role models parents want for their children — role models the world needs.”
After all, those who learn to appreciate and love nature are more likely to protect it.
By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Connecting Youth With Nature Project Lead Rachelle Delaney
Global Population May Surpass 13 Billion by End of Century
By 2100, over 13 billion people could be walking the planet. That’s the conclusion of a new study published today in Science, which employed UN data to explore the probability of various population scenarios. The new study further demolishes the long-held theory that human population growth will quit growing by mid-century and then fall.
“Analysis of these data reveals that, contrary to previous literature, world population is unlikely to stop growing this century,” reads the paper.
It’s worth noting that 13 billion is at the very high end of the researcher’s projections and, therefore, unlikely, but hardly impossible. The scientists estimated that there is an 80 percent probability the global population fall somewhere between 9.6 and 12.3 billion in 2100, meaning there is a ten percent chance that population will be above 12.3 billion.
Going further, there was a 95 percent probability that the population will be between 9.0 and 13.2 billion, putting the chances of a population exceeding 13.25 billion at 2.5 percent.
The results follow a revision by the UN last year of population projections, which first reported that global population rates were not behaving as expected, due largely to stubbornly high fertility rates in Africa.
“What’s new is that we are able to quantify the confidence that underlie the projected population growth. Earlier projections were strictly based on scenarios, so there was no uncertainty,” explained lead author Patrick Gerland with the Population Division at the United Nation. “This work provides a more statistically driven assessment that allows us to say how likely particular outcomes are.”
So, the most likely scenario? Around 10.9 billion, which is a 55 percent increase over today’s current population.
Prior to recent revisions, many demographers believed global population would essentially take care of itself. Due to declining fertility rates, populations would peak somewhere between 2050 and 2100 before dropping slowly. Increasingly, experts say that’s no longer the case.
“Population growth was a major world concern up to the 1990s, but then fell down the world’s agenda in favor of other important issues such as climate change and the HIV/AIDS epidemic,” co-author Adrian Raftery with the University of Washington told mongabay.com. “This seems now to have been premature, especially as too rapid population growth can make other problems worse. There’s a need for the world to focus again on population issues and policies that can support families and governments in lowering fertility.”
Jeremy Hance|MONGABAY.COM|September 19, 2014
Continue reading at ENN affiliate, MONGABAY.
The Future of Vertical Farming
From big company agricultural farming, to communal farming or even personal agronomy, the business of growing crops for an expanding global population will be crucial in the near future.
The two most important resources needed to run these farms are one, water, and two, land. But these resources often come at a premium, especially with growing populations and increased food demand. Farmers and researchers have already started leaning towards genetic engineering and industrial processing to help with their crop yields, but a new solution in agribusiness is emerging. Vertical farming.
“Vertical farming” was coined back in 1915, but the practice has not yet become mainstream. That is, until now. Stacked greenhouses that use artificial light to grow crops have numerous benefits and the business itself is starting to take off.
Last year, PlantLab began the construction of a $22-million, 200,000-square-foot headquarters, including multiple plant production units (PPUs) and research units.
PlantLab’s claims that a PPU the size of a city block and just a few stories high could produce the same volume of high-quality crops as a large farm, while consuming fewer resources. Water used for the plants does not evaporate or runoff, and because of this, PPUs consume only about 10 percent as much water as traditional farms. Other benefits include no pesticides and that the plants are protected from weather-related problems.
PPUs allow production to occur locally (thereby reducing transport costs and wastage) and on demand, under controllable conditions. In other words, any kind of fruit or vegetable can be grown anywhere, year-round.
Not only do PPUs offer major savings in terms of resources and transportation; they are also not prohibitively expensive to build. Indeed, for something like $100 million, a partner could purchase the required land and construct a 500,000-square-foot (46,450 m2) PPU, with ten growing levels about five feet apart.
The resulting farm would employ about 200 people for seeding, growing, harvesting, packaging, sales, logistics, maintenance, and management. And it would supply 50,000 people with a consistently high-quality seven-ounce daily requirement of fresh herbs, vegetables, and ground fruits like berries for at least ten years—all in less space that the average multi-story parking lot. This might sound expensive. But, at just $2,000 per person, the cost is far lower than the $8,000 the average American spends in annual health-care costs. Given that a PPU will last for at least a decade, and offer considerable health benefits to local populations, it is a small price to pay.
Allison Winter|ENN|September 19, 2014
Read more at Policy Innovations.
Pesticide residue found on nearly half of organic produce
‘I would hope that the products are without pesticides,’ says organic food consumer
Nearly half the organic fresh fruits and vegetables tested across Canada in the past two years contained pesticide residue, according to a CBC News analysis of data supplied by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
Of the 45.8 per cent of samples that tested positive for some trace of pesticide, a smaller amount — 1.8 per cent — violated Canada’s maximum allowable limits for the presence of pesticides, the data shows.
Mathieu Rey, an organic food consumer in Winnipeg, says he did not expect to hear that the produce he buys may contain pesticides. (CBC)
The data released to CBC News under the federal Access to Information Act includes testing of organic fruits and vegetables sampled between September 2011 and September 2013.
The results were not what Winnipeg organic consumer Mathieu Rey was expecting.
“I would hope that the products are without pesticides. That is what I would be looking for,” Rey said in an interview.
“I’m trusting the companies to provide a non-pesticide or pesticide-free product.”
As widespread as the pesticide residues were, they were still considerably less than the 78.4 per cent of non-organic samples the inspection agency found containing pesticide residues, violating the allowable limits 4.7 per cent of the time.
The CFIA told CBC News that none of the test results posed a health risk. The agency did not prevent any of the food from being sold as organic.
Most of the fresh produce sampled was imported, with only one-fifth of it grown in Canada.
Of the domestically grown samples, about 43 per cent tested positive for at least one pesticide — slightly lower than the 46 per cent of imported samples.
Matthew Holmes, head of the Canada Organic Trade Association, says it’s ‘really hard to have a zero pesticide residue any longer.’ (CBC)
Matthew Holmes, executive director of the Ottawa-based Canada Organic Trade Association, called the findings concerning.
“We see pesticide residues throughout our environment. It’s in our soil, they’re in our water, drinking water now, and there’s new reports coming out showing there’s pesticides in fetal cord blood. So unfortunately, it’s really hard to have a zero pesticide residue any longer,” he said.
Pesticides were measured in amounts as little as 0.0001 parts per million (ppm) to greater than three ppm.
“These are very low amounts,” Holmes said.
Rick Holley, an expert in food safety at the University of Manitoba, agreed the residue measurements are small.
But Holley added that the data indicate that consumers who often pay extra to buy organic food might not always be getting their money’s worth.
“If the money is being spent to avoid pesticide residues and have access to food which is healthy, then I think the money is not well-spent,” he said. “[Pesticides] will not be absent.”
Holley said that’s partly because the analytical methodologies are capable of detecting residues in parts per billion or parts per trillion, well below the allowable limits.
He explained that pesticides can get onto organic produce through contamination of water or soil through pesticide spray drift from neighbouring farms, and through contact with non-organic produce after harvest.
But Holley said some of the larger residue measurements suggest an organic producer deliberately used a pesticide that is not allowed.
“Where pesticide residue levels are at or above the maximum residue levels prescribed, then I think that there’s probably reasonable evidence that that has been the situation,” he said.
Take, for example, an organic tomato imported from Mexico, sampled in the Manitoba-Saskatchewan region. It was tested for four different pesticides and contained residues of two of them — both in amounts that exceeded the allowable limits for those pesticides.
In contrast, some of the samples tested positive for numerous pesticides but at lower levels.
An organic pepper imported from Mexico and sampled in Quebec was analyzed for 13 different pesticides and was found to contain minute amounts of 10 of them.
None of the amounts measured on that pepper violated the maximum allowable residue limits for the pesticides in question.
Holmes said past studies have shown the quantity and incidence of pesticide residues in organic produce are consistently lower than those in non-organic.
Analysis of the fungicide thiabendazole in the CFIA’s latest data suggests the amount of pesticide present in the organic produce is lower than on regular produce.
The average quantity of thiabendazole measured on organic apples was 0.02 ppm whereas the average amount measured on non-organic was 0.3 ppm — about 15 times higher.
“I think consumers are looking for not necessarily a zero level, but they’re looking to not contribute to the pesticide residues that are out there and they’re looking to reduce their exposure as much as possible. And I still think we’re seeing in this data that organic offers that,” Holmes said.
He acknowledged there is room for improvement on the part of organic producers, and said he would like to see the amount of pesticide as low as possible.
“The organic sector absolutely believes in continuous improvement, and I would love to see that level go down for all products, not just organic,” said Holmes.
Synthetic pesticides are not allowed under certified organic production regulations, but some other types of pesticides are permitted.
The CFIA did not analyze the data to determine what proportion of the positive tests are for pesticides permitted in organic production.
Some types of organic produce had a higher rate of residue presence than others. For example, 77 per cent of organic grape samples tested positive; apples were in the middle at 45 per cent testing positive; carrots had a lower positive rate at 30 per cent.
‘We’ve soiled our own bed’
Mark Kastel, a farm policy analyst at the Cornucopia Institute in Wisconsin, said even with nearly half the organic samples containing pesticide residues, organics are still better than non-organic produce.
“It’s a dramatically lower figure than conventional food, so it illustrates the advantages of organics. But it’s also very disturbing that it very clearly illustrates the fact that we’ve soiled our own bed,” Kastel said in an interview with CBC News from his farm near Rockton, Wis.
“Since 1950, we’ve seen an exponential increase in the use of synthetic toxic chemicals to grow our food, and that there now is a high level of contamination in the soil, in groundwater, in surface water,” he added.
“Obviously we’re concerned in the organic industry about fraud,” said Kastel, who has been both an advocate and watchdog of the organic industry on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.
“I’m very comfortable that the vast majority of all organic fruits and vegetables and other commodities are produced with high integrity, but we do need to protect the ethical farmers that are participating, and businesses in the organic industry — and, most importantly, consumers who are seeking authentic food.”
Kastel called on government regulators to do a better job of scrutinizing organic produce.
The Canadian government brought in the Organic Products Regulations in 2009 requiring organic food producers to have their products certified by an accredited third-party certification body.
The certifiers conduct annual farm and facility inspections meant to ensure the organic producers are following the rules.
Rola Yehia, acting national manager of the CFIA’s consumer protection division, said, “If there is non-permitted substances found in organic products, we would notify the CFIA-accredited certification body who would request the organic operator to take corrective action.”
“So we have the system in place, and we have the confidence in our system, and we have the mechanism to address any non-compliances if they arise,” said Yehia, whose oversight includes the Canada Organic Office of the CFIA.
“We have a good relationship with the industry, so we work together to correct any gaps in the system,” Yehia added.
Despite the presence of pesticide residues, consumer Mathieu Rey said he will continue to buy organic.
“That would encourage me to get to know local farmers more and more, get to know the community-supported agriculture in each neighborhood,” he said, adding that he thinks that’s the best way to know what’s in the food he buys.
Joanne Levasseur and Vera-Lynn Kubinec|CBC News|Jan 08, 2014
FDA tweaks food-safety rules due next year
WASHINGTON — The government said Friday that it will rewrite sweeping new food-safety rules after farmers complained that earlier proposals could hurt business. New proposals by the Food and Drug Administration would make it easier for farmers to meet water-quality standards and allow farmers to harvest crops sooner after using raw manure as fertilizer.
The FDA proposed the revised rules Friday. The final rules are due next fall. The FDA has been haggling over how to write them since Congress passed a food-safety law in 2010.
The rules proposed last year would require farmers to take new precautions against contamination, making sure workers’ hands are washed, irrigation water is clean and that animals stay out of fields, among other things. Food manufacturers would also have to submit food-safety plans to the government to show they are keeping their operations clean.
None of those priorities would change in the revised rule. But after complaints from farmers big and small who said the rules were too burdensome, the new proposal would lower some standards for the amount of bacteria that can be found in irrigation water and reduce the frequency with which it is tested. The proposal also reduces the amount of time required between using raw manure and harvest and allows farmers to hold produce in a packinghouse without facing further regulations. The smallest farms would continue to be exempted from the rules. The rules would mark the first time the FDA would have real authority to regulate food on farms. The agency said when it proposed the rules that they could cost large farms $30,000 a year.
The food-safety law was passed by Congress at the end of 2010, weeks before Republicans assumed control of the House. Since then, many GOP lawmakers have said the rules are too burdensome for farmers. Some Democrats advocating for organic farmers have also been critical, saying small farms can’t afford the new standards.
Government inspectors have pointed to dirty equipment, unsanitary conditions and animal feces as likely causes for salmonella, E. coli and listeria poisonings that have sickened hundreds in recent outbreaks.
The rules governing produce are already somewhat tailored to make the changes easier on farmers. They would apply only to certain fruits and vegetables that pose the greatest risk, like berries, melons, leafy greens and other foods that are usually eaten raw.
Mary Clare Jalonick|Associated Press|09/20/2014
Do Airplanes Dump Chemicals when Flying?
Air travel has come a long way since the Wright brothers made the first flight in 1903. Nowadays, we think nothing of jumping on a plane and flying off to the other side of the world. Few of us understand the science and engineering that keep planes in the sky, and why sometimes the sky seems to be full of vapor trails.
Many believe that these trails are in fact chemicals, spread into the atmosphere as the plane flies.
But is there any truth in this theory?
Are Our Governments Using Airplanes to Dump Chemicals?
In the aviation industry, the trails left by some airplanes as they fly across the sky are known as condensation trails, or “contrails” for short. These are caused by the hot, damp air pushed out by the jet’s engines forming tiny ice crystals in the sky. How long the contrails last depends very much on how humid the atmosphere is at that time.
If there is a lot of dampness in the air, the ice crystals will grow and last for a long time once the plane has passed. If the atmosphere is a lot drier, the contrails will disappear more quickly.
As it can be hard to predict how long contrails will last, this has given rise to theories that it’s not just damp air and heat that the planes are pumping out.
The ideas that planes are being used to pump chemicals into the atmosphere come in no small part from a paper published in the 1990s by the American government, looking at whether it would be possible to affect weather patterns by using aircrafts to spread chemicals or other substances into the upper atmosphere. The US military stated that investigations into this went no further than the drafting of the original document, but conspiracy theorists believe that the US government are indeed using aircraft to either modify weather patterns, control the population or cause illnesses, such as breathing difficulties.
Adding more fuel to the theorists’ fire is the fact that military aircraft generally do not create vapour trails as they fly at a lower altitude. Any denial of involvement from the government just makes the theorists sure that they are on the right track with their thinking.
Some of the theories may appear to make sense when you look into the sky and see several trails, all evenly spaced and heading in the same direction. However, there is a simple explanation for this.
Air traffic, especially from Western Europe heading across the Atlantic, follows a number of set flight paths, sort of like motorways in the sky. Planes follow each other at a set distance between them because this makes managing traffic simpler for the air traffic controllers.
This is the reason why contrails look as if they are in regular patterns.
Governments around the world have categorically denied that they are involved in any sort of spreading of chemicals from civilian or military aircraft and all major airlines have denied knowledge of chemical spreading too. Of course, the conspiracy theorists don’t believe the denials and state that the airlines, governments and air traffic authorities are all in cahoots and covering up the truth, but the facts are that there is no hard evidence that chemicals have ever been spread from airplanes in the way that is being alleged.
It seems reasonable to think that if chemicals were being loaded into hundreds or thousands of planes around the world every day, a pilot, airport worker or government employee would have blown the whistle at some point.
Contrary to popular belief, planes don’t drop toilet waste out of the skies either. Waste is sucked into huge tanks which are emptied when the plane reaches its destination. Sometimes ice can form on the outside of planes and this has been known to drop off planes as they start their descent and cause damage to property on the ground.
Finally, there are also special crop spraying aircraft which fly at a much lower altitude and spray fertilizers and pesticides onto growing crops. These do not even fly high enough in the sky to form contrails.
Ant Langston|September 18, 2014
Japanese researchers’ banana peel study wins Ig Nobel award
BOSTON – Researchers who measured the slipperiness of banana peels, the ability of pork strips to stop nosebleeds and the reactions of reindeer to humans in polar bear suits were among the winners of this year’s Ig Nobel prizes for comical scientific achievements.
The annual prizes, meant to entertain and encourage global research and innovation, are awarded by the Annals of Improbable Research as a whimsical counterpart to the Nobel Prizes, which will be announced next month.
A team of Japanese scientists earned the Ig Nobel Physics Prize for detailing the hazards of stepping on a banana peel in their paper titled “Frictional Coefficient under Banana Skin.”
The researchers were identified as Kiyoshi Mabuchi, Kensei Tanaka, Daichi Uchijima and Rina Sakai from Kitasato University in Kanagawa Prefecture. They were awarded for their study of the slipperiness of banana peels.
“When I heard that we had won an Ig Nobel, I was equal parts surprised and pleased,” said Mabuchi, 63, in an interview with before the award ceremony. Mabuchi traveled to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to accept the award on the team’s behalf.
The project had applications in Mabuchi’s area of research, which is human joints.
“The mechanism that reduces friction in joints is the same one that makes a banana easy to slip on,” he said.
At the ceremony, Mabuchi sang about that similarity to the tune of the 1960s pop hit “I Will Follow Him,” including the chorus, “Banana, banana, banana, why are you so slippy, so slippy, so slippy?”
Other teams earned prizes for studying what happens in the brains of people who see the face of Jesus in their toast, how infant poop can be used in the production of fermented sausages and how pork strips can be stuffed into peoples’ nostrils to stop severe nosebleeds.
Ig Nobel prizes this year also went to researchers who measured the relative pain people suffer while looking at an ugly painting, investigated whether cat ownership can be mentally hazardous and studied how people who routinely stay up late can be more psychopathic.
Former winners of real Nobels handed out the spoof awards at a ceremony at Harvard University on Thursday. The ceremony included a three-act mini-opera about people who stop eating food and instead nourish themselves entirely with pills, inspired by the pill-heavy diet of Google engineering director Ray Kurzweil.
A personal favorite of Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals and architect of the Ig Nobels, was a study by a team of Norwegian and German researchers who tested how reindeer react to seeing humans wearing polar bear costumes.
“I’ve never in my life met anyone who disguised himself as a polar bear to frighten a reindeer,” Abrahams said.
Thursday’s winners also included scientists from the Czech Republic, Germany and Zambia who determined that dogs prefer to align their body axis with the Earth’s north-south geomagnetic field lines while defecating, and the Italian government’s National Institute of Statistics for increasing the official size of the economy by including revenues from prostitution, drugs dealing, smuggling and other crimes.
Reuters|AP|Kyodo|Sep 19, 2014
Fort Ross Windmill – The first windmill built in California
Fort Ross had two windmills. The first windmill west of Mississippi was constructed in 1814, not long after the Russians settled Fort Ross. The second mill was built in 1841. The windmills served two purposes: to grind grain into flour for baking bread for both Settlement Ross and the Russians’ Alaskan settlements, and to power the stamping of local tan bark, used in the hide tanning industry. These were California’s first windmills, and very likely the first windmills west of the Mississippi River.
The first windmill was located across the ravine south of the Visitor Center. This windmill reconstruction is located not far from the second mill site, believed to have been located nearby in the cypress grove. However, while we know generally where the mills were located, archaeologists continue to search for their precise locations.
The windmill is a gift to Fort Ross from Link of Times, a Russian-based cultural and historical foundation chaired by Viktor Vekselberg. It was constructed in Vologda Oblast in Russia, where Ivan Kuskov and other RAC employees were from, and then disassembled, put into two containers, and shipped to California, where it cleared customs and was trucked to Fort Ross in September, 2012, as part of the Fort Ross Bicentennial.
The design was based on the 1841 color painting of Fort Ross by Ilya Voznesensky. Research by Russian historical architect Igor Medvedev revealed that the Fort Ross windmills were similar to “stolbovka” (post) windmills made at that time in the northern Russian regions of Vologda and Archangelsk, home to many of the earliest Ross settlers.
While the original windmill was made mostly of redwood, this Russian reconstruction is primarily pine, with birch and spruce gears, bracing and other components. The substantial pine log-frame cribbing base is constructed around a central post sunk eight feet into the ground, backfilled with crushed rock.
The windmill, which measures thirty-two feet high and boasts thirty-eight foot blades, is manually turned on this central post to face into the wind. The main post and the twelve radial bollard posts below grade are fire-charred, a historic technique to reduce wood rot. On top is constructed the swiveling granary story with gears and four blades to face into the wind.
The mill was constructed using traditional woodworking techniques, using axes, adzes, drawknives and wooden pegs. The entire mill sits on 12 boulders; the force of gravity and the interlocking of the logs around the center post provide stability. The bottom logs are scribed to the contour of the boulders. Birch bark provides the water proofing membrane to protect the bottom of the logs from rot where they are in contact with the stones. Hand-forged iron fittings & braces, as well as two 200-year-old millstones from old Russian windmills were added to complete the windmill assembly.
To operate the mill, the mill house is rotated so that the blades face into the wind. To stop the mill, there is a brake to the main gear which stops the blades from rotating. When harvest season ends, the mill house is rotated so that the blades are turned out of the wind. The large yoke that comes from the mill house to the ground allows a team of men or animals to turn the mill house and also allows the orientation of the blades to be set and stabilized.
The mill house has two floors. The lower floor houses the main shaft and the main gear. The upper floor contains the mill stones and the hopper that feeds the grain into the mill stones. The two mill stones sit on top of one another wherein the top stone is supported by its shaft so that it barely touches the lower stone. The blades turn a series of gears which turn the top stone against the bottom stone. Grain is fed through a cloth funnel from a hopper into a center hole in the top mill stone. The grain is pulverized by the stones and exits through a chute into a sack or vessel.Brief History of Windmill
The site of California’s first windmill appears on the 1817 map of Fort Ross. From this map the windmill is located northwest of the fort on a rise midway between the northwest blockhouse, the Visitor Center and Highway One. The windmill is visible on the 1841 watercolor by Russian naturalist and artist, Ilya Gavrilovich Voznesenskii. There were two windmills at Fort Ross in 1841, with their grindstones, as well as an animal powered mill.
The original Russian millstones are now located inside the fort compound.
Grinding stones, up to three feet in diameter and one foot thick, were made of indigenous sandstone. They were once used for grinding flour at Fort Ross.
The windmills highlight the important agricultural aspect of the Russian-American Company settlement at Fort Ross. One important reason for the establishment of the colony was to grow wheat and other crops for the Alaskan settlements.
The coastal fog, wind, rocky terrain, gophers and lack of trained agriculturalists combined to thwart this effort. Although the Company established three farms at inland sites between Fort Ross and Port Rumiantsev (Bodega Bay), and agriculture intensified after sea otter hunting diminished in the early 1820s, production was still insufficient. Trade with Spanish and Mexican California was conducted to increase the food supply to Alaskan settlements, and after 1839 a contract with the Hudson’s Bay Company supplied Russian Alaska with grain and other necessities.
On the hill to the north above the fort, just below the tree line, you can see the Russian orchard. The original Russian orchard encompassed two to three acres, and contained approximately 260 trees at its peak. Fruit trees were planted to provide for the Ross settlement in the early 1800s, and to supplement other agricultural products such as wheat and barley grown in California and shipped to the Russian colonies in Alaska. It has not yet been determined whether the oldest surviving trees date back to the Russian settlement.
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