Civilization… wrecks the planet from seafloor to stratosphere. ~Richard Bach
FWC to meet Sept. 2-3 in Fort Lauderdale
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will meet Sept. 2-3 at the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina,
1881 SE 17th St., Fort Lauderdale. Both sessions are open to the public.
The meeting both days starts at 8:30 a.m. and the public will be provided opportunities to speak.
Those who cannot attend can follow live coverage at Twitter.com/MyFWC (Twitter@MyFWC) and join in the conversation at the #FWC2015 hashtag.
Check the Florida Channel for possible live video coverage at TheFloridaChannel.org.
Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge Announces Proposed Expansion of Public Uses
The Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge is proposing to expand the walking, hiking and bicycle riding public access on the A.B,C impoundments as well as on the L-40, L-39, and L-7 levees.
The proposed expansion of uses will provide visitors additional areas to experience the myriad of wading birds, waterfowl, hawks, and alligators
that use the Refuge and surrounding natural areas. The Refuge interior is bounded by a perimeter canal and
levee system. The draft compatibility determination (CD), based on sound professional judgment,
is a written determination that proposed uses will not interfere with or detract from the fulfillment of the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System or purpose of the Refuge.
A copy of this draft CD can be downloaded from the following web site:
We respect and appreciate your input on the compatibility determination for the expansion of public use opportunities at the Refuge.
Comments and suggestions can be submitted to ARMLoxahatchee@fws.gov Subject Line: Compatibility Determination.
The public comment period is scheduled to run through Aug. 31, 2015.
The National Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act of 1997 identifies six priority public uses that are appropriate on National Wildlife Refuges,
including hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, wildlife photography, interpretation, and environmental education.
The overall goal for the hunt program at the Refuge is to develop and conduct a quality and biologically sound program that:
1) leads to enjoyable recreation experiences;
2) leads to greater understanding and appreciation of wildlife resources;
and 3) aids in the conservation of wildlife populations and their habitats.
The refuge is located off U.S. 441/SR 7, two miles south of SR 804 (Boynton Beach Blvd.) and three miles north of SR 806 (Delray Beach’s Atlantic Avenue).
The refuge is currently open from 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., seven days a week.
Refuge hours are posted at each entrance.
The Visitor Center hours are 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.,
seven days a week. An entrance fee of $5.00 per vehicle or $1.00 per pedestrian is charged. A variety of annual passes, including a $12.00 refuge specific annual pass, are available.
Please visit the refuge website at www.armloxahatchee.fws.gov
or call the Administration Office at (561) 732-3684.
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve,protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.
We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence,
stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service.
For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov
Big Float for Clean Water Postponed until Sept. 12th
Due to Tropical Storm/Hurricane Erika, we’re pushing back our clean water celebration! We hope you can still join us for a day of family fun at the beach with Miami Waterkeeper, Biscayne Nature Center, Sweetwater Brewery, and Sidewalk Salads.
Of Interest to All
As River Runs Orange, Mining Industry Attacks Tool to Prevent Toxic Spills
The images are frightening, surreal, sickening. A spill of polluted water from a closed gold mine turned the blue Animas River in Colorado’s southwest corner a vomit orange hue last week.
And while initial tests seemed to show fish could weather the hugely increased levels of toxic metals in the bright plume, the spill immediately dealt a body-blow to communities in the Four Corners region. Many communities, including the Navajo Nation, couldn’t drink the water and were desperately searching for alternate water sources. Rafting companies and anglers—both important to the local economy in and around Durango, Colo.—were ordered off the river. Without safe irrigation water, many farmers crops may dry up.
As High Country News’ Jonathan Thompson put it in his excellent article:
The Animas River courses through the middle of Durango, provides a portion of its drinking and irrigation water, and over the last few decades has become the recreational and aesthetic, wild, green heart of the city. The spill essentially stopped the heart’s beat.
And it may be years, if not decades, before the long-term impacts to the health of the Animas and the people and wildlife who use it are known.
The immediate cause of the spill was a botched effort by the EPA to shore up a dam holding polluted water from the inactive Gold King mine. Enter politicians attacking the EPA’s slow response and poor communications.
Some criticism of the EPA was deserved. And the agency still has a lot of work to do to ensure that people and businesses get the help they need to recover from this disaster.
But it’s important to remember that bashing the EPA won’t fix the bigger issue. The agency was not the ultimate cause of the pollution. It was the mining industry, which has a rich tradition of walking away from its messes. The Colorado River watershed is home to hundreds of abandoned mine sites, many of which are ticking toxic time bombs because they haven’t been properly cleaned up or reclaimed.
There’s a lot that could be done to address mine pollution. One long-discussed way to reduce the huge number of potential mine pollution accidents is to pass legislation that shields from liability the “good Samaritans” who take over mine sites to clean them up.
The best approach, though, is always prevention; that is, restricting damaging mining in areas where mining poses a threat to watersheds, wildlife and people.
But as the mass of orange water makes its way from the Animas, to the San Juan and then to the Colorado River, the National Mining Association is fighting in court to make it impossible for the federal government to wield one of its more powerful tools to prevent future mining pollution.
That tool is called a mineral “withdrawal.” Under current law, the Secretary of the Interior has the power to place public land more than 5,000 acres in size off-limits to new mining claims areas for 20 years. In the past decade, the secretary has used that power to protect habitat for bighorn sheep, desert tortoise and antelope, to safeguard rivers, and to put the brakes on uranium mining around Grand Canyon National Park.
But in a lawsuit challenging the Grand Canyon withdrawal, the mining industry argues that the legal provision giving the Interior secretary authority to withdraw large areas from mining is unconstitutional. It’s an argument that Earthjustice helped defeat in federal district court in Arizona. But the industry continues to fight to gut the Interior Department’s authority in an appeal to the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco. We’ll be filing our brief opposing the industry association early next month.
The stakes are huge, as the spill in the Las Animas underscores. If the mining industry succeeds in gutting the secretary’s withdrawal authority, it will be impossible for the Interior Department to put large areas off limits to new mining claims for more than a few years, whatever pollution or environmental damage new mining may cause. And so it will become more difficult to prevent future spills.
Because no matter how modern the mining industry’s methods are today, accidents can happen. And, as we were reminded last week, they almost always do.
A short video with footage of the spill.
Ted Zukoski|August 12, 2015
California Pushes to Label Foods Containing Produce Irrigated With Fracking Water
The race to find cleaner energy sources has led to a boon in hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in search of natural gas. Highly pressurized chemicals and water are pumped deep underground to break shale and release natural gas for harvesting. Residents and environmentalists have long been opposed to the process, which has seen an increase of health issues due to contaminated water. In drought stricken California, there is also concern about the amount of water being used in fracking operations, as well as what is done with the wastewater.
California farmers are frustrated with oil companies that have encroached on their areas. Fertile farm land is also filled with natural gas and there has been an increase in fracking operations. As the name implies, hydraulic fracturing is a water-intensive process. At the front-end, freshwater is infused with chemicals and is pumped into the shale. This has put farmers and oil companies in competition for the ever decreasing amount of water available.
As a result, more farmers are purchasing treated fracking wastewater from the oil and gas companies to irrigate their crops. An estimated 21 million gallons a day of treated wastewater are sent to Central Valley farmers. While this practice has happened for nearly two decades, the drought-induced increase has caused alarm. Through lobbying, oil and gas companies have been successful in limiting the amount of testing of the fracking water. The limited testing that is done is over a decade old and only tests for known chemicals and not the ones used in the fracking process.
California has been slow to act on regulation, but has started pushing for greater transparency. Last year, a law establishing stricter reporting requirements was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year. It requires companies to indicate the source of the water, what chemicals are used to treat it, and how the wastewater is disposed. The disposal report is required to include information as to whether the wastewater is reused in the fracking process, as well as if it is recycled and sold for other purposes – like farming.
One of the main concerns about the use of fracking wastewater for irrigation is that no one knows how or if the chemicals end up in the food chain. Part of the problem has been that farmers and scientists don’t even know what to test for. The first reports under the new requirements were issued this March. This allowed scientists to discover there are 316 chemical additives used in fracking. Many have never been studied to determine the impact on water quality. Still, it will be some time for research to be done to detail how much of the known chemicals end up in the treated water and if there is any risk to the food chain.
In the meantime, another California legislator wants to keep the public informed that recycled fracking wastewater is used on the food they eat. Rep. Mike Gatto of Glendale wants to amend the California Health and Safety code to require manufacturers that “produces packaged food that contains a plant irrigated with wastewater from oil and gas field activities” to label the package accordingly. In addition, farmers and other suppliers are required to inform buyers if they used fracking wastewater during irrigation.
The bill does not stop the use of recycled fracking wastewater, but allows for greater transparency of its use. Activists have pushed for more labeling on foods in light of greater knowledge of how our food is grown and distributed. A proposition to require labeling of products that use GMO crops failed to pass by voters in 2012. The fracking wastewater bill takes a similar approach to labeling requirements.
The amount of water used for fracking is much less than that used for agriculture. Nevertheless, with water sources literally drying up every drop matters and the prioritization of its use is paramount. Interestingly, a new process to increase the amount of wastewater that is reused in the fracking process has been developed. Instead of using freshwater at the front end, wastewater is treated and modified enough and reduces the amount of freshwater used. A fracking site in Pennsylvania has been able to recycle nearly 80 percent of its water.
Some companies in California have started reusing a small amount of wastewater, but still all rely on freshwater. While the bill introduced by Gatto will do nothing to reduce the use of wastewater in irrigation, if passed, it will allow Californians to be more aware. Consumers have no control over food production. However, knowing what’s involved in the process allows them to make an informed choice as to what makes it to the dinner table.
Crystal Shepeard|August 23, 2015
Broward County takes step to oppose Everglades drilling
Cities, county vow to fight Everglades drilling proposal
In a County Commission meeting Tuesday, commissioners unanimously voted to pursue an amendment to state law clarifying that counties have the power to decide whether drilling can occur in unincorporated areas, just as state law says cities do within their borders.
Opposition to the proposed drilling has grown since the company applied for an exploratory drilling permit in early July.
Edna LaRoche, executive assistant to Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam, said a “league of cities” stands with Miramar to oppose Kanter’s application, including Sunrise, Pembroke Pines, Hallandale Beach, Plantation, Tamarac, Weston and Wilton Manors.
Miramar, the closest city to the proposed drilling site, will hold a town hall meeting Tuesday, Aug. 18, at 6:30 p.m. in the Miramar City Hall.
The meeting will allow Broward County cities to discuss methods to organize efforts and respond to actions taken by the state, LaRoche said.
According to Jay Schwartz, a Pembroke Pines commissioner, the city will also hold a town hall meeting on Aug. 20 at the River of Grass Theater at 7 p.m.
Of the 18 people who spoke Tuesday, only one supported exploratory drilling in the Everglades.
Commissioner Dale Holness said he wholeheartedly supports the effort to amend the statute.
“This is a critical thing that we must do,” he said. “We have to protect [the environment] not only for us today, but for our children and grandchildren. I hope our steps to get the legislation in place that gives us more empowerment will be done as speedily as possible.”
Brooke Baitinger|Sun Sentinel
Why Miami [and all of South Florida] is mostly unprotected from hurricanes
On the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is far better protected now than it was then. The same can’t be said about Miami.
As Tropical Storm Erika stalks the Western Atlantic Ocean and threatens to morph into a hurricane, Miami’s multibillion dollar coastline has little protection from storms.
Erika could change course or intensity at any time, meaning that it could weaken by the time it reaches the coast as easily as it could strengthen. Emergency preparations are already underway in some Florida communities, even though the storm is not expected to reach the state until early next week.
It brings to mind a daunting realization: America’s coasts are packed with people and property, and yet they are highly vulnerable to extreme storms.
“Of the 20 large (global) cities that people talk about as being highly at risk for coast storms, about eight of them are on the American coast: the East Coast and the South coast,” said Greg Baecher, a professor of engineering at the University of Maryland.
“If a Katrina directly hit Miami, you are talking about damages that could be several multiples of what happened in New Orleans,” Baecher told CNBC. “First, you have the size of the city, and the fact that there is nothing between the coast and the ocean.”
Miami has become more committed to storm preparedness since Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992, causing $26 billion in damage. At the time, Andrew was the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history.
South Florida does have levees, canals and other systems for reducing the impacts of flooding. For example, there are levees that prevent the Everglades from flooding nearby dry land. But there is still little shielding the city from the ocean and the path of ocean hurricanes.
The rock beneath Miami—and the ocean water immediately around it—is a kind of porous limestone that presents challenges as the population of South Florida grows, as its coastline becomes developed, and as nature changes. The limestone bedrock makes rising sea levels a concern—saltwater from the ocean can penetrate the rock and seep into Florida’s freshwater supply, said Ben Kirtman, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Miami.
The limestone is so porous, “that to build a seawall, you would actually have to drill way deep to get past the limestone in order to build an effective wall,” Kirtman said.
Building levees or seawalls on that kind of rock may protect against the force of some storm surge, but water can still seep up through the pores, bypassing the walls entirely.
“I have seen that even during hurricanes, where houses are flooded not because of overland flooding, but because the water is coming up through the rock from underneath,” said Harold Wanless, a professor of geological sciences at the University of Miami.
But even above the ground and water level, Miami isn’t well protected. The area has a few seawalls in select places, but nothing resembling a complete levee system. The city also is low lying.
“Only 9 percent of Miami-Dade County is more than 10 feet above sea level at high tide,” Wanless said. “It’s crazy how low we are, and how vulnerable we are to storm surges, to flooding.”
Miami relies heavily on a pumping system to push water back out faster than it can flood the city.
“That sounds crazy, but for the near term, that is probably one of the most viable solutions,” Kirtman said.
Sea levels around South Florida are expected to rise between 6 and 9 inches by 2030, and Kirtman’s own guess is toward the high end of that.
Rising sea levels will cause average yearly global flood losses to increase to $52 billion by 2050, up from about $6 billion a decade ago, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
“Due to their high wealth and low protection level, three American cities”—Miami, New York and New Orleans—”are responsible for 31 percent of the losses across the 136 cities” by 2050 around the world, the report said. New Orleans and New York have already been hit in recent years by Katrina and Sandy, respectively.
Some of that flooding will be chronic, or seasonal. But a severe storm with a large surge of ocean water is also a danger.
Robert Ferris|27 Aug 2015
Be prepared to be amazed and angered.
Birds and Butterflies
Male Eastern Bluebirds learn to shout above the traffic
A new study, led by scientists from the University of Exeter, has been looking at how Eastern Bluebirds in the US change their songs in response to increases in nearby background noise such as traffic.
They found that the birds altered their songs immediately after noise levels intensified, making ‘real-time’ adjustments in order to produce songs that are both louder and lower-pitched.
This enabled them to produce songs that were more likely to be heard by potential mates or rivals.
The results suggest that birds are able to perceive increases in noise and respond accordingly – not unlike the way humans do when they are in a noisy environment.
Dr Caitlin Kight, a behavioral ecologist based at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, led the study entitled Eastern Bluebirds Alter their Song in Response to Anthropogenic Changes in the Acoustic Environment, and published in the scientific journal Integrative and Comparative Biology.
Dr Kight says that the research could help improve our understanding of environmental constraints on animal communication, as well as enhance our awareness of what sorts of human modifications can impact animals, and how we might be able to reduce any negative effects of these disturbances.
“Although many manmade noise regimes are often very different from those found in nature,” he says. “There can be surprising similarities in certain features, including volume, pitch, or timing.
“Sounds caused by traffic, for example, may not be hugely different from those produced by waterfalls or heavy winds.
“Animals that evolved in habitats with those natural features may therefore already have, within their existing repertoires of behaviours, the flexibility to respond to noise pollution. This certainly seems to be the case with bluebirds.”
Although it has previously been shown that birds in noisier areas tend to sing differently to those in quieter surrounds, it was not immediately clear whether birds were able to make vocal adjustments in real time.
However, real-time modifications have now been observed in five different avian species, although the current study is the first to describe this behaviour in a member of the thrush family.
Dr Kight recorded songs produced by 32 male Eastern Bluebirds, and analysed two from each male – those produced during the quietest and loudest period of ambient noise – to investigate whether males changes their songs between these two conditions.
Co-author Dr John Swaddle, from The College of William and Mary in Virginia, USA, cautions against interpreting these findings as evidence that noise pollution has no adverse impacts on wild animals.
Dr Swaddle says: “Unfortunately, the world is getting so noisy that even the most flexible of species will eventually reach a threshold beyond which they will have difficulty communicating – which will impact their ability to breed successfully.
“When we build roads and airports near human neighbourhoods, we employ noise abatement protocols in an effort to mitigate against the negative impacts of noise pollution.
“It is time to apply similar caution to conservation, management, and landscaping plans that impact wildlife and their habitats.”
From Wildlife Extra
Majestic Monarch Mural Unveiled in Minneapolis
In the third installment of the Center’s Endangered Species Mural Project, artist Roger Peet has painted a beautiful, colorful mural of one of North America’s most beloved and iconic butterflies, the monarch, on the wall of Toni’s Market, in diverse south Minneapolis.
The monarch butterfly undertakes an amazing multigenerational migration each year, with the butterflies that metamorphose in Minnesota and other northern locales in late summer flying all the way to Mexico to overwinter before heading north to lay the next generation of eggs in the southern United States the following spring. Once the common backyard friends of children across the continent, monarchs have declined by more than 80 percent in the past 20 years due to pesticide use and development.
The unveiling of the monarch mural included music, educational events and a talk by Center biologist Tierra Curry, a lead author on a petition by the Center and allies to protect monarchs under the Endangered Species Act. It was the third gala in our new Endangered Species Mural Project. The others are in Sandpoint, Idaho, and Butte, Mont.
Learn more about our Endangered Species Mural Project and read about the monarch’s plight in The Washington Post.
Center for Biological Diversity |Endangered Earth
Earth’s Highest-flying Bird Soars Seven Miles Up
On Nov. 29, 1973, a commercial aircraft cruising over western Africa collided with a Rüppell’s griffon vulture. The impact damaged an engine, shutting it down. Fortunately, the plane was able to land safely; unfortunately, the bird was not. Investigators had to rely on five complete feathers and 15 partial feathers, cross-referenced with material in the National Museum of Natural History, to identify the species as Gyps rueppellii.
In the age of high-volume commercial air traffic, the event may seem ordinary: More than 9,000 birds are reported struck annually by planes in the United States alone, and since pilots don’t have to log “inconsequential” bird strikes, the numbers are likely higher than that.
What’s extraordinary is the altitude at which the impact took place: 37,000 feet. No other bird had ever been recorded soaring more than 7 miles above the Earth.
Tragically, these extraordinarily high flyers — like nearly all species of vulture in Africa — are at high risk of extinction.
Center for Biological Diversity |Endangered Earth
Galapagos Penguin: The Beach Bum
Think of a penguin. What do you see? Allow me to hazard a guess: You see a cathedral of snow and ice, and towering glaciers. You see, in the cold, crystalline waters, icebergs so white they seem to glow blue. You see a remote and forbidding landscape, thousands of miles from everywhere, and in the midst of that emptiness you see a gathering of monkish, black-and-white birds huddled against the unrelenting winds, the very essence of animal stoicism.
Now let me propose an alternative. Replace the snow with sand. Instead of ice, think of lava rock. Instead of bitter cold, think dazzling sun. And instead of a somber group of birds utterly at home in those freezing climes, far removed from any trace of people, imagine a gaggle of penguins who enjoy frequent visits from a steady stream of human well-wishers, and who have never encountered ice or snow in their entire lives—and wouldn’t even know what to do with the stuff if they did.
You can, however, keep the wind.
This is the life of the small (a little more than a foot tall, weighing about five pounds), churlish (it’ll snatch fish right out of a pelican’s beak), and vocal (its territorial call sounds a heck of a lot like a donkey braying) Galapagos Penguin, or Spheniscus mendiculus. Truth be told, it’s actually the life a surprising number of penguins—only two of the 18 penguin species live solely in Antarctica—but the Galapagos Penguin does have the distinction of being the only penguin in the world that breeds in the northern hemisphere. Debating whether penguins have it better down at the icy southern tip of the world or the sunny, sandy middle is as fruitless as debating the merits of L.A. versus New York—but I know which one I’d choose.
Living as they do smack on the equator, Galapagos Penguins have had to adapt to the hot desert, where temperatures regularly run north of 100 degrees, and they beat the heat in a number of ways. For one thing, feathers can get burdensome in the heat, so when they breed, Galapagos Penguins will shed the feathers around their bills and eyes, exposing bare skin, which helps keep them cool. They’re also experts in thermodynamics: They know to stand so that the glaring sun is facing their reflective white belly, not their heat-absorbing black back. And then there’s the matter of refrigerating their eggs: The sun-exposed lava rocks over which Galapagos daintily hop can become so hot as to boil an egg, so the penguins will nest in lava tubes, caves, cracks in the rocks—any place they can squeeze into and find a little shade.
One more thing: They pant, like dogs.
So the Galapagos Penguin has adapted to the heat—but so have a lot of animals. What really sets these birds apart is how they have adapted to the predictable unpredictability of their environment. One of the quirks of living on the equator is that the Galapagos Penguin doesn’t encounter the strong seasonality that penguins elsewhere have to deal with. Instead, it is subject to the whims of the currents, and one in particular: the Cromwell Current. A deepwater current that runs along the equator, the Cromwell Current is extremely productive: During periods of upwelling, when its deep, cold, nutrient-rich waters are hauled to the surface, marine life abounds around the Galapagos. For the penguins, this means a glut of fish on which they happily feast—anchoveta, pilchard, and mullet, among other things.
But while these penguins can be sure that the eating will be good when the Cromwell Current comes to town, they can never be sure when that will actually happen. And a visit from the Cromwell doesn’t mean that all the penguins have to do is kick back and gorge themselves—the wealth of nutrition also makes it prime breeding time. That means that the Galapagos Penguins have to be ready to breed at a moment’s notice. March, November—it doesn’t matter to them; when the water gets cold they get down to business. Sometimes pairs will successfully breed two or three times a year to take advantage of abundant food—each go of it results in a two-egg clutch, and the chicks will be ready to fledge a few months later—and then go for months or longer without breeding at all.
That the Galapagos Penguins have adapted to roll with the currents has the unfortunate side effect of making them vulnerable to strong El Niño events, during which the ocean around the islands stays warm, food levels plummet and penguins stop breeding. And these birds need to breed: The Galapagos Penguin is one of the rarest penguins, with a population of somewhere between 1,500 and 4,700 individuals. As climate change takes its toll, El Niños are only expected to increase in frequency and strength, which has scientists worried about the Galapagos Penguin’s future. On the other hand, just last week scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution released a study suggesting that climate change may actually be helping the Galapagos Penguin by shifting the path of the Cromwell Current so that it reaches parts of the island that haven’t in the past been graced by its cold, fish-filled waters, expanding the penguins’ habitat. Hot sun, cold grub, a (possible) lifeline from the threat of climate change—those little guys down in Antarctica don’t know what they’re missing.
HELP PROTECT THE FLORIDA PANTHER
On Wednesday, September 2, 2015, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will have a meeting to discuss the fate of Florida panther management in the state of Florida.
The panther, Florida’s official state mammal, is an endangered species with a recent official population estimate of only 160-180 individuals. The current Florida Panther Recovery Plan is rooted in science and determines when the panther population is considered to be secure from the threat of extinction. Unfortunately, a proposed FWC policy change undermines these scientifically-based recovery goals and would limit agency resources for expanding panther populations north of the Caloosahatchee River.
At the FWC’s last meeting, the state wildlife agency reviewed a draft Position Statement regarding panther management, and directed staff to amend the statement to ensure that protections and recovery actions would not be weakened for the critically-endangered panther. While the revised draft has improved, the proposal still contains detrimental new policies and should not be approved:
The Position Statement inappropriately asserts that the current recovery goals are not achievable, though they are based on best available science. The Florida panther population has improved from a low of approximately 20 panthers, the current population is making progress to an ultimate goal of 3 populations of 240 cats each. Scientific studies show that this is necessary to fully protect and recovery the panther.
The Position Statement asks for revision of the science-based recovery goals in spite of their federal partner US Fish and Wildlife Service’s current process (the Panther Recovery Implementation Team) to review recovery criteria. The state agency should wait for the completion of this process.
The Position Statement inappropriately seeks to limit the panther population to a size that is “compatible” with human-panther conflicts, even though the species is still imperiled and the population needs to increase. This may result in the FWC seeking to limit panthers to a population below what is needed for recovery.
Instead, the FWC should be working with the federal lead agency, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, through the existing Panther Recovery Implementation Team process which the FWC is a participant in, to collaboratively develop consensus-based policy positions on the recovery of the federally endangered Florida panther.
Here are ways you can weigh in on this major decision concerning panther conservation:
- Contact FWC Commissioners
Complete the Policy Alert which will allow you to send comments directly to the FWC Commissioners.
Download this handout and attend the meeting in Fort Lauderdale where you can give a comment before the FWC Commissioners directly. Public citizens typically have 3 minutes to provide input. Information about the meeting location and materials can be found by clicking here.
Hunting Pythons in the Park ?
Environmental group challenges 2016 Python Challenge
A national environmental group has challenged the 2016 Python Challenge.
From Jan. 16 through Feb. 14, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will hold its second competition to remove pythons from public lands in South Florida; this year, hunting grounds have been expanded to include parts of Everglades National Park.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, based in Washington, D.C., oppose the park’s involvement because, among other things, hunting in U.S. National Parks is illegal, PEER executive director Jeff Ruch said.
At fault, Ruch said, is Pedro Ramos, who became superintendent of Everglades National Park in January after five years as superintendent of Big Cypress National Preserve.
“This is about the unprofessionalism of park management, particularly the superintendent,” Ruch said. “He doesn’t have the statutory authority to allow a hunt in Everglades National Park. He just came from Big Cypress, where hunting is allowed: Perhaps he didn’t realize there’s no hunting in national parks.”
Ramos could not be reached for comment, but he is quoted in a recent press release about the 2016 Python Challenge as saying, “We look forward to expanding access into the park and to providing more opportunities for members of the public to become approved authorized python agents.”
In response to a letter from PEER to the National Park Service concerning the Python Challenge, park service officials are reviewing its authorized agent program, through which members of the public are trained to capture pythons in and remove them from Florida’s national parks, spokesman Bill Reynolds said.
According a Project Synopsis for the program: “Within the Parks, existing regulations prevent ‘hunting’ and removal of wildlife from the Parks. Through the authorized agent program, members of the public are authorized to participate in python removal as ‘agents of the NPS.'”
Reynolds also said the service would “not respond to name-calling” or to specific concerns raised by Ruch to The News-Press.
“The review will be complete next week and will address all of PEER’s questions,” Reynolds said. “I can’t speculate on what the results of the review are going to be.”
Burmese pythons are non-natives and a major ecological concern in South Florida because they are apex predators that feed on many native mammal, bird and reptile species.
Pythons were first documented in Everglades National Park in 1979, and more than 2,000 have been removed from the park since 2000.
FWC held the first Python Challenge in 2013 in four Wildlife Management Areas, which are managed by FWC; Everglades National Park was not part of the 2013 event.
About 1,600 people from 38 states, the District of Columbia and Canada registered for the 2013 challenge; FWC officials don’t know how many people actually participated, but those who did removed 68 Burmese pythons.
In the 2013 Python Challenge, cash awards were given for most and longest pythons captured; categories for the 2016 challenge haven’t been determined, but awards will be given for the longest snakes captured, according to FWC spokeswoman Carli Segelson.
“This is not an Everglades National Park activity,” Ruch said. “It’s an FWC activity, billed as a competition with awards. If you let this kind of thing in National Parks, it would set a precedent, and you’d have competitions in National Parks to see who can shoot the biggest bison. It would change the character of National Parks.”
FWC officials didn’t want to weigh in on PEER’s concerns, Segelson said.
Another PEER complaint is that Ramos didn’t take steps to make sure capturing pythons in Everglades National Park complies with the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires national agencies to assess environmental effects of proposals before making decisions.
“The last time they did this, they had 1,600 people, and this one is supposed to be bigger,” Ruch said. “So, say you have 2,000 people tromping through the Everglades, capturing things they think are snakes. We don’t know what collateral damage it will have. A NEPA analysis would lay that out.
“This is like the Mickey Rooney Andy Hardy movies, where he says, ‘Hey, kids, my uncle has a barn: Let’s put on a show,’ except it’s the superintendent saying, ‘I got a National Park: Let’s put on a high-profile python hunt.’
California Has its First Wolf Pack After Nearly a Century
Wolf advocates are celebrating big news with the confirmation that California has become home to its first official pack for the first time in almost 100 years.
Officials from the Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) confirmed there are now two adult wolves and five pups living in Northern California. They’ve been designated the Shasta Pack.
Just weeks ago, the agency confirmed a sighting of a lone wolf who was captured in images by a remote trail camera set up in southeastern Siskiyou County. After the sighting, more cameras were set up, which caught the adults and pups who are believed to be about four months old.
“This news is exciting for California,” said Charlton Bonham, director of the CDFW, in a statement. “We knew wolves would eventually return home to the state, and it appears now is the time.”
The news is definitely big for wolves and for those who have been pushing for them to return to their historic range. The first confirmed wolf to make its way the state since the last one was killed in 1924 was the now infamous 0R-7, who appeared in 2011.
He’s since returned home to Oregon and has settled down and started his own family. But his appearance helped clear the way for others to safely follow. In an effort to prepare for their eventual return, last year the the California Fish and Game Commission voted to protect gray wolves under the state’s Endangered Species Act, which makes it illegal to harm, harass or kill wolves in the state – who are also still federally protected.
The latest sighting also couldn’t have come at a better time either, as the CDFW is preparing to release its wolf management plan for public comment, giving those who want to see wolves return to California’s landscape a chance to weigh in on their future there. Opposition to their presence is being made known by the hunting and ranching community, so now is the time to grow the conversation about how we can coexist with wolves as they establish territories in their rightful place in the wild.
According to the CDFW, they will be working to revise the plan to reflect the pack’s arrival before releasing it for public comment, while the agency has meanwhile declined to share their exact location in an effort to protect them from both people who are curious and anyone who might intend to harm them.
The confirmation of California’s new wolf family also coincides with news that another lone wolf was spotted in the Black Hills in South Dakota. Unfortunately for these lone wanderers, like we saw with the Grand Canyon’s lone wolf Echo, who was shot and killed, without enough awareness about their presence, they’re far easier to kill by hunters who claim they mistook them for coyotes.
California’s wolves are at least black, making that a poor excuse. But others trying to disperse might not be so lucky. Following the sighting in South Dakota the Center for Biological Diversity called on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to increase public education about the difference between wolves and coyotes and highlight the fact that they are protected as endangered species under federal law. Unfortunately, as of last week, the agency declined to do anything.
Alicia Graef|August 24, 2015
Sumatran Rhino Goes Extinct in Malaysia, Is Indonesia Next?
By now, most of us care about the plight of African rhinos. But a new report shows that the less-known plight of Asian rhinos is just as bad. For instance, a new study published in Oryx, the International Journal of Conservation, declared that the Sumatran rhinoceros is extinct in Malaysia’s wild. The only hope for the Sumatran rhino is less than 100 individuals roaming free in Indonesia and nine rhinos in captivity.
The time to act is now!
Indonesia Could be the Next Malaysia
This is a critical time for the Sumatran rhinos, a species who used to roam most of South-east Asia. The less than 100 wild rhinos left are divided into three main populations, one of which has been cut by 70 percent. The rhinos disappeared right before our eyes: the population fell from around 500 to extinction between 1980 and 2005 in Sumatra’s largest protected area, Kerinci Sebelat National Park.
Like African rhinos, Asian rhinos are also poached for their horns. The Sumatran rhino is one of three rhino species left in Asia. The Sumatran rhino shares the honor with the greater one-horned rhino and Javan rhinos, and all three species have been on the brink of extinction.
While this is a heartbreaking loss, we’ve seen the bad news coming. Except for the two female rhinos who were captured for breeding in 2011 and 2014, a wild Sumatran rhino hasn’t been seen in Malaysia’s wild since 2007.
But conservationists urge Indonesia to step up their conservation efforts to avoid the same fate. The experts suggest treating the remaining population as one entity because they’re too scattered right now. Treating the rhinos like they’re a metapopulation will ensure that they are “managed in a single program across national and international borders in order to maximize overall birth rate.” Sumatran rhinos in captivity should still fall under the same metapopulation.
While captivity can benefit some species, breeding rhinos in captivity is easier said than done. For example, one zoo took the desperate measure of breeding a brother and sister. The appropriate breeding technology just isn’t there, and it “may still take years to develop, during which time we may lose the Sumatran rhino in the wild, says the authors.”
Saving the Sumatran rhino won’t take a miracle — it will take political clout from Indonesia’s leadership. Political muscle is needed for the necessary intensive management zones and anti-poaching teams. Additionally, Widodo Ramono, co-author and Director of the Rhino Foundation of Indonesia (YABI), stresses the following to ensure the Sumatran rhino’s survival:
Jessica Ramos|August 24, 2015
Thousands of Saiga Antelope die in mass mortality mystery
Nearly 140, 000 of the critically endangered saiga antelope (saiga tatarica), which lives in the Central Asian steppe, have died suddenly in Kazakhstan, almost half the global population, over a two week period.
The reason for this mass die-off is still unknown, and the mystery continues to baffle conservationists, who arrived in the breeding areas to find entire herds dying or dead on the ground, the majority consisting of mothers and new born calves. Herds several kilometres apart succumbed at the same time, mystifying scientists as to what has caused this population crash.
Nida Al Fulaij, from one of the charities involved in investigating the circumstances, People’s Trust for Endangered Species, says, “PTES has been supporting work on saiga antelope through the Saiga Conservation Alliance for some years and, because we have such strong links with the teams on the ground, we are able to respond quickly to channel much needed financial support where it’s most needed. This event is simply catastrophic for the long term survival of this critically endangered species.
“Right now we need the public’s help, and donations are urgently required so our team can determine what has caused such a high number of saiga antelope to die in Kazakhstan in such a short space of time. This was an abnormal occurrence, and it’s important to us to find some immediate answers’.
For many years saiga antelope have been persecuted, and since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, their global population has plummeted by 95%, with over a million animals being lost. As the USSR collapsed, the saiga population fell with it. Previously closed borders opened up and uncontrolled illegal hunting for their horns, for use in traditional Chinese medicine, surged. Poaching is still a major threat and this antelope, unique to Central Asia, is unlikely to survive in the wild unless something is urgently done to help them.
Researchers and scientists are now trying to investigate the cause to try and prevent it from happening again.
From Wildlife Extra
Insect thought extinct found in Edinburgh
The Bordered Brown Lacewing (Megalomus hirtus) has been rediscovered on Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh after having not been seen for over 30 years, and feared to be extinct in the UK.
The last record was from Edinburgh in 1982. The new specimen was found by Mike Smith, an intern with Buglife as part of a project supported by the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species (PTES).
Mike Smith, Buglife intern says: “Finding the lacewing has been a really exciting start to my project and now we know that it’s not extinct, we can start learning more about it.
“We think it might live on Wood Sage but we’re not sure and so we need to investigate further to make sure that this rare Scottish insect has everything it needs to survive.”
Colin Plant, the national recorder for lacewings, who confirmed the identification, says: “The rediscovery of the Bordered Brown Lacewing in Edinburgh is really good news for biodiversity.
“The discovery gives hope that other rare invertebrates might still be hanging on in areas where their micro-habitats still remain.
“The ongoing campaign by Buglife to preserve habitats remains key to the long term survival of a huge range of invertebrates.”
Further work will now be done to work out how healthy the population at Arthur’s Seat is, as well as searching other old sites where the lacewing had been found previously.
Nida Al-Fulaij, Grants Manager at PTES, which has been supporting the internship, says: “It’s really important to support and nurture the next generation of conservation scientists and biologists here in the UK.
“Mike Smith, who discovered the specimen as part of his intern project, has shown what can be achieved by an enthusiastic and dedicated young researcher when given the backing and guidance they need.”
From Wildlife Extra
How Drones and Marines Are Helping Save Olive Ridley Sea Turtles
The heartbreaking viral video of one Olive Ridley turtle getting a straw removed from its nose made headlines, but the sad truth is that the entire species is crying out “S.O.S.” The turtles don’t need to be saved from plastic — they need to be saved from poachers. After centuries of overexploitation, Mexico is enlisting the help drones and marines to save the turtles in the beaches of Escobilla and Morro Ayuta.
Cracking Down on Egg Extraction, Commercialization, Sale and Distribution
It’s an amazing sight to behold. Starting in May, droves of turtles appear on Mexican beaches and get to work. They’ll scoop holes in the sand about two feet deep. The mothers will carefully place their eggs in them, using the sand to incubate. At peak, there could be thousands of turtles on the beach at once. But human greed is stopping these eggs from ever hatching.
As reported in teleSUR, Mexico’s is devoting $4 million to buy drones to survey the popular egg-laying beaches. And Mexico is using some of its highest intelligence to catch the poachers in the act and dismantle their entire network. Apart from capturing the physical egg extraction on film, government officials will also investigate the commercialization, sale and distribution of the eggs.
The goal of the initiative is to eradicate the illegal activity. The combination of drones and marines looks promising. In the past month, with only two drones, footage of locals stealing hundreds of turtle eggs has been captured. If eggs are retrieved within a few days — before the fetus develops — then they can be returned to incubation. Otherwise, the eggs will be sold for $0.90 each.
Saving the Olive Ridley Turtles Won’t Be Easy
But the fight to save the Olive Ridley turtles won’t be easy. This isn’t Mexico’s first rodeo trying to save the Olive Ridley turtles and their eggs. The military has been involved in their protection before. In 1996, the military was forced to abandon the beaches and an estimated 800,000 to 1,000,000 eggs were stolen.
The incentive to steal the eggs isn’t entirely monetary. Obviously, money is a factor. But there’s more to the story. Stealing the turtle eggs only became a crime resulting in federal prison two decades ago. Consuming turtle meat and eggs and using turtle skin dates back to the ancient civilizations of the Americas. As one local told NPR, “You make a small hole, put lemon and chili, and it is delicious. That’s one of our pre-Hispanic dishes — before the Spanish arrived, our people would eat them.” Like rhino horn, there’s also a bogus claim that turtle eggs are a type of aphrodisiac.
But the Mexican government can no longer keep its head buried in the sand — the time to protect the Olive Ridley turtles is now. Without any protection, the struggling turtles are doomed. According to the IUCN Red List, “On unprotected solitary nesting beaches (most are unprotected), egg extraction often approaches 100%.”
On top of the egg stealing, the species is also still trying to recover from centuries of overexploitation. In Mexico’s Pacific coast during the 1960s, over 1 million turtles were slaughtered for their meat and skin. While this practice is illegal today, turtles continued to be slaughtered and sold on the black market.
Jessica Ramos|August 25, 2015
Giant Panda Gives Birth to Twins at National Zoo
Giant panda’s aren’t too interested in having sex, so when the endangered species produces offspring, it’s a big deal.
Mei Xiang, a 17-year-old giant panda, gave birth to healthy twin cubs at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, DC, on Saturday.
The cubs are Mei Xiang’s third and fourth. She gave birth to two cubs in 2013, although one was stillborn. Her first cub was born in 2005.
There are roughly 1,800 giant pandas left in the world, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Pandas are vital to China’s forests, as they help facilitate vegetation by spreading seeds, but they’ve become endangered owing to habitat loss. They are also notoriously difficult to breed: Female pandas only have a 24- to 72-hour fertility window each year. While in captivity, pandas appear to lose interest in mating or simply don’t know how.
That’s why Mei Xiang was artificially inseminated back in April. Zookeepers discovered she was pregnant just three days before she gave birth.
Photo credit: Smithsonian National Zoo
Veterinarians examined one of the cubs. It weighs 4.8 ounces and is hairless and blind—totally normal for a baby bear. Although the cubs appear healthy, zoo officials note that this is crucial time for their survival.
Photo credit: Smithsonian National Zoo
“We’re very cautious,” zoo director Dennis Kelly said at a press conference. “In 2012, we lost a cub after six days. This is still a very fragile time.”
Photo credit: Smithsonian National Zoo
Mei Xiang will care for one cub at a time while veterinarians care for the other, so both can receive sufficient bonding time. The sex of the cubs has yet to be determined, with officials waiting to name them until they determine the genders.
Samantha Cowan|TakePart|August 24, 2015
Panda cub’s a boy; zoo says father is Tian Tian
The surviving panda cub at Smithsonian’s National Zoo is a boy, and his father is the zoo’s own Tian Tian, the zoo announced Friday morning.
National Zoo staff also revealed details about the newborn cub’s deceased fraternal twin, who was also male and shared the same father.
The panda cub’s mother, Mei Xiang, was artificially inseminated with semen from Hui Hui in China and Tian Tian from the National Zoo. There was a possibility that the two cubs could have had different fathers.
For the paternity tests, scientists compared the cubs’ DNA profiles to profiles from Mei Xiang, Tian Tian and Hui Hui, a panda living at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in Wolong, China. Veterinarians collected the cheek-cell samples from the cubs with a small swab during a preliminary health check Monday.
Mei Xiang gave birth to the twins Aug. 22. The smaller cub died Wednesday. Zoo officials believe he died from complications associated with aspiration of food into its respiratory system, which caused pneumonia.
Craigslist: Elephant Haters or Lovers?
Thought Craigslist was a harmless forum for posting local classifieds? Think again. A report published this spring by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) reported finding that $1.5 million worth of ivory was available for sale on Craigslist at one time, with an estimate of $15 million annually. So, is Craigslist now contributing to the potential extinction of elephants? Sadly, yes.
It is illegal to buy or sell ivory that has recently been imported into the United States. Craigslist can have no doubt that the sale of the vast majority of all ivory being sold on its site is prohibited by this law. It has been estimated that upwards of 90 percent of the ivory sales in Los Angeles and San Francisco are actually illegal.
In a news piece covering the story, Vice.com has quoted one of the world’s largest online petition site Avaaz’s senior campaigner Joseph Huff-Hannon as saying: “Craigslist bans ivory on their site, but without enforcement it’s an empty gesture—the company can do much more to monitor sales, and report illegal ivory sales to authorities.”
Critically Endangered Seals Get a Boost in Hawaii
Hawaii’s monk seals have become one of the most endangered marine mammals on the planet, but this week they got a boost with an announcement from the government that their protected habitat will be exponentially expanded in an effort to help them recover.
Monk seals were first listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1976, but despite protection their numbers have continued to decline since the 1950s. Today, there are only an estimated 1,100 left in the wild whose numbers are believed to be dropping at a rate of 3 percent every year.
They face the many of the usual threats marine life including limited food, entanglement, pollution, disease and development, which could be made worse as climate change continues to alter their environment and beaches they rely on to give birth.
In 2008, the Center for Biological Diversity, KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance and the Ocean Conservancy petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to expand their critical habitat under the ESA to include areas of undeveloped coasts of the main Hawaiian Islands, including Oahu and Kauai, where it’s believed their best chances of survival are.
The Center for Biological Diversity notes that federal data shows that endangered species with critical habitat protections are twice as likely to recover as those without. With so few left, efforts to protect them need to be undertaken before it’s too late.
This week their efforts paid off with an announcement from the NMFS that it will be protecting an additional 7,000 square miles for these seals as critical habitat.
The designation won’t stop anyone from enjoying beaches, or engaging in other activities like recreational or subsistence fishing, but it will help put limits on activities that could that could alter, damage or destroy their homes.
Several conservation organizations issued a joint statement applauding the move and hope additional measures will help keep these seals from disappearing forever.
“Hawaiian monk seals have been in serious trouble for a long time, and these new habitat protections will give them a desperately needed chance at survival,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Monk seals are nearly extinct, so we need to make sure our coasts offer them a safe haven.”
In a separate action to help them recover, the NMFS also just released its latest management plan, which aims to more than double the population on the main islands to at least 500 by protecting their habitat, reducing the threat of diseases and conflicts with fisheries and by engaging the public through conservation education and outreach, among other actions.
“Preventing the monk seal from going extinct is not rocket science; we can do this. The seals in the main Hawaiian Islands need critical habitat, NOAA has to be serious about implementing its own recovery plan, and we need to work with the communities and fishers in Hawaii to listen to their concerns and reduce any conflicts with the seals. If we lose the battle to save the Hawaiian monk seal, we’ll have only ourselves to blame,” said Mike Gravitz, director of policy for Marine Conservation Institute and leader of its monk seal program.
The management plan is now open for public comment until September 9, 2015. To submit one in support of increasing protection for these imperiled seals, send it to email@example.com.
Alicia Graef|August 27, 2015
Baby Sea Lions Are Dying
Sea lions have been having a rough couple of years. In 2013, starving pups began washing up on California beaches by the hundreds. This year, the number of stranded sea lions has increased dramatically. And now, a giant toxic algal bloom is growing in the Pacific and poisoning sea lions’ sources of food. How bad has it gotten for these playful critters? We talked to wildlife experts to find out more about how much danger they’re in and what’s in store for their future:
What’s going on here? What’s causing sea lions to get so sick? An unusually warm pocket of water in the Pacific, dubbed “the blob,” has rocked the sea lions’ environment on the Pacific coast. The anchovies, hake, squid, and shell fish that sea lions eat have been moving farther away to find nutrient-rich cold waters. While adult sea lions have been adapting and going longer distances to find food, pups and yearlings don’t have the strength to swim far enough or dive deep enough. Instead, young sea lions have been washing up on shore. Often they are malnourished, dehydrated, and stranded from their mothers, who are searching for faraway food.
How unusual is the the current situation? Pup strandings happen every year when young sea lions start trying to feed themselves in late spring or early summer. But beginning in 2013, sea lion pups started washing up on shore in much greater numbers than usual, and as early as January—long before pups typically wean. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration deemed the spike in sea lion deaths an “unusual mortality event.” This year, the number of stranded pups skyrocketed far above 2013 levels: During the first five months of 2015, more than 3,000 stranded sea lion pups washed up onto California beaches. That’s seven times the annual average over the past decade, and nearly three times as many as in 2013.
As a result, wildlife groups have been working overtime. During a typical year, the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California, rescues between 500 and 700 stranded marine mammals along California’s coast. But according to Claire Simeone, a veterinarian at the center, during the past few years that number has dramatically increased, mostly due to the stranded sea lion pups. The center has rescued more than 1,500 young sea lions alone this year, although in recent weeks the pups finally stopped appearing (either because they’ve all been rescued or have already died at sea, according to Simeone). But with warm waters likely to remain, pups are expected to begin stranding again next season, as early as December.
The strandings represent a stark reversal in the fortunes of sea lions. After Congress passed the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972, the species thrived on the Pacific Coast. It was just six or seven years ago that sea lion populations began to show some signs of stress due to climate variability driving away prey, according to Sharon Melin, a wildlife biologist at NOAA’s National Marine Mammal Laboratory. Now things have become far worse.
Will El Niño exacerbate the situation? Yes. With a strong El Niño system predicted to hit California later this year, warm waters are expected to persist and allow similar patterns to continue: Sea lions’ food will continue to migrate farther to find cold waters, and sea lions, especially the pups, will continue to struggle to find it.
I’ve heard about that giant toxic algal bloom. Is that affecting sea lions, too? Yes. As if their food sources swimming away wasn’t enough to deal with, a giant toxic algal bloom has been expanding in the Pacific since May. It’s poisoning much of the sea lions’ remaining food. The Marine Mammal Center has seen an increase in the number of sea lions washing up with amnesiac shellfish poisoning caused by exposure to domoic acid, a neurotoxin produced by the algal bloom. It’s made sea lions lethargic and can cause memory loss and seizures.
On Tuesday, yet another adult sea lion washed up onto a beach in Alameda county on the San Francisco Bay. The center attempted to rescue the animal, but it did not survive. No trauma was immediately visible on the critter’s body, which is being tested for domoic acid poisoning. (The test results won’t be available for months.)
Where does climate change fit into all of this? There’s no established connection between human-caused climate change and the blob, the toxic algal bloom, or the coming El Niño. But experts warn that increased climate variability linked to global warming could make these sorts of events more frequent—and more intense—in the future. “With a changing climate and increasing temperatures, we are only going to see more of the same,” Simeone says. She adds that sensitive animals, such as sea lions, should be looked to as bellwethers for how the changing environment will affect animal life more broadly, including humans. “It’s important to listen to what they are telling us,” she says.
So what’s going to happen to the sea lions? Melin points out that sea lions live a long time, up to 30 years. Over the years, they amass knowledge about their environment, which helps them predict the location of food sources. Finding prey quickly is especially important for mothers who cannot be away from their pups for very long while they nurse and wean them. Events such as warm water bands and algal blooms are creating a particularly difficult challenge as they struggle to adjust to constantly changing conditions in the ocean. But while wildlife groups are making plans to take in more animals and train more volunteers for the coming year, Melin remains optimistic about sea lions’ ability to adapt. After decades of robust growth, she says, sea lions are far from endangered. “They are going to work it out,” she says.
Luke Whelan|Aug. 26, 2015
Bad news for bees
Bees are dying by the millions—and pesticide companies have launched a major PR offensive to block action.
Retailers are taking bee-killing pesticides off the shelf. Local governments are taking action. President Obama even announced a federal action plan.
But now a coalition backed by the pesticide industry is threatening to halt and even reverse our momentum—teaming up with pro-polluter lobbying groups like ALEC to block action to save the bees.
And their strategy appears to be working. In fact, the U.K. just lifted a ban on bee-killing pesticides—one of the first countries to pass and then actually repeal a law that protects bees.5 Now polluters are pushing similar attacks here in the U.S.
The companies that produce bee-killing pesticides are using the same tactics used by oil companies to deny climate change to stop progress to save the bees.
They’re funding pro-pesticide scientists, using PR “greenwashing” to make it seem like they care, and lobbying policymakers to block, weaken, or delay any action at all.
A whopping 71 percent of our food crops are pollinated by bees. We’re talking about apples, grapes, tomatoes, broccoli, beets… the list goes on.
No bees, no food.
Elizabeth Ouzts|Regional Program Director|Environment Florida|8/27/15
Everglades Water Quality Improvement Program Marks 20 Years of Success
Everglades Agricultural Area consistently achieves phosphorus reduction goals
West Palm Beach, FL — For a milestone 20th year, water flowing from farmlands in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) achieved phosphorus reductions that significantly exceed those required by law.
Implementation of improved farming techniques, known as Best Management Practices (BMPs), produced a 79-percent phosphorus reduction in the 470,000-acre EAA farming region south of Lake Okeechobee for the Water Year 2015 monitoring period (May 1, 2014 – April 30, 2015). The requirement is a 25-percent phosphorus reduction.
Over the program’s 20-year compliance history, the overall average annual reduction from the implementation of BMPs is 56 percent, more than twice the required amount.
“Two decades of successfully meeting and exceeding phosphorus reductions to improve Everglades water quality is a great accomplishment,” said Daniel O’Keefe, Chairman of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board. “South Florida’s agricultural communities are clearly demonstrating a long-term commitment to restoration efforts.”
Examples of BMPs include refined stormwater management practices, on-farm erosion controls and more precise fertilizer application methods. These and other management practices by agricultural growers reduce the amount of phosphorus transported in stormwater runoff that reaches the Everglades and its connected water bodies.
BMP Program Delivering Successful Results
To meet the requirements of Florida’s Everglades Forever Act, the amount of phosphorus leaving the EAA must be 25 percent less than before reduction efforts started. A science-based model is used to compute the reductions and make adjustments that account for variable rainfall.
When measured in actual mass, 147 metric tons of phosphorus were prevented from leaving the EAA and entering the regional canal system, which sends water into the Everglades, during the Water Year 2015 monitoring period. Over the past 20 years, the BMP program has prevented 3,001 metric tons of phosphorus from leaving the EAA.
Just west of the EAA, in the 170,000-acre C-139 Basin, a BMP program has been in place for the past 11 years. In November 2010, the program requirements were enhanced to better control the nutrient runoff. For the Water Year 2015 monitoring period, data show the actual mass of phosphorus discharged from the basin during that time was 27 metric tons. Ongoing work continues to focus on improving phosphorus reductions in this basin, which historically has reported elevated nutrient levels in its soils and runoff.
Stormwater Treatment Areas Provide Additional Improvements
Water leaving the EAA and C-139 Basin receives additional treatment in one of several Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs) before entering the Everglades. These constructed wetlands are filled with native vegetation that serve as “green technology” to further reduce phosphorus levels.
Since 1994, the network of five STAs south of Lake Okeechobee — currently with 57,000 acres of effective treatment area — have treated more than 16 million acre-feet of water and retained approximately 2,012 metric tons of phosphorus that would have otherwise entered the Everglades. Last year, the STAs treated approximately 1.4 million acre-feet of water, retaining 83 percent of phosphorus from water flowing through the treatment cells.
Through the end of April 2015, more than 4,860 metric tons of phosphorus have been prevented from entering the Everglades through treatment wetlands and the BMP program combined. Overall, Florida has invested more than $1.8 billion to improve Everglades water quality since 1994. Additional improvements in Everglades water quality are being achieved by Governor Scott’s Restoration Strategies initiative, which includes more than 6,500 acres of STA expansions and construction of 116,000 acre-feet of additional water storage.
Water Quality Issues
Two Major US Aquifers Found to Be Saturated with Uranium
Researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have just completed a comprehensive analysis of roughly 275,000 water samples from 62,000 locations across the United States. These samples were mostly derived from two massive underground aquifers that supply drinking water for millions of people, and what they reveal about the safety of drinking water in America is absolutely horrifying.
They found that the parts of the High Plains Aquifer (also often referred to as the Ogallala) is saturated with uranium at a level that is 89 times higher than the EPA’s safe limit. The southern half of California’s Central Valley was even worse, with a uranium concentration that is 180 times higher than the EPA’s “maximum contaminant level.”
Altogether, almost 2 million people live above the most contaminated sections of these aquifers. The research suggest that the uranium contamination is being caused by agricultural activities. The nitrates in fertilizers and animal waste can cause the oxidation of naturally occurring uranium, which makes it more water-soluble.
However, this research won’t come as a surprise for many Americans. Two years ago it was revealed that Texas state officials had been concealing the radioactive content of state drinking water for many years, so this is no isolated incident. In truth, the toxicity of the drinking water found across America, is an open secret.
Joshua Krause|Daily Sheeple|August 21, 2015
6.5 Million Americans Drink Water Contaminated With the Chemical Used to Make Non-Stick Pans
When you drink a glass of water, you expect it to be clean and pure, not contaminated with invisible toxic chemicals. But nationwide testing has found that 6.5 million Americans in 27 states are drinking water tainted by an industrial compound that was used for decades to make Teflon.
The chemical, known as PFOA, has been detected in 94 public water systems. The amounts are small, but new research indicates that it can be hazardous even at the tiniest doses. PFOA and closely related fluorinated chemicals—including PFOS, once used to make Scotchgard—can cause cancer, birth defects and heart disease and weaken the immune system.
Even the lowest level of PFOA detected by the water testing, which was mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), was about five times higher than what’s safe to drink, according to the new research. This means that even if the EPA has not reported finding PFOA in your drinking water supply, it could still be contaminated.
Want to know whether the testing found PFOA, PFOS or any one of four other highly fluorinated chemicals in your drinking water? Environmental Working Group’s interactive map below shows every U.S. county where the chemicals were detected. Click on your county to see if your water utility found any.
In a signal of the growing scientific alarm over the dangers of PFOA, the National Toxicology Program recently announced a systematic re-evaluation of the chemical’s effect on the immune system. The program’s Office of Health Assessment and Translation will evaluate ongoing and upcoming studies. It also plans to assemble an expert panel of scientists to review the findings.
Americans should be protected against water contamination by PFOA and other so-called perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs. PFOA and PFOS are just two members of this large family of chemicals, which do not break down in the environment. They’ve spread to the farthest reaches of Earth, are in virtually every American’s blood and can be passed from mother to child in the womb and in breast milk. PFOA and PFOS have been phased out in the U.S., but scientists have raised concerns that the new chemicals that replaced them may be no safer.
David Andrews|Environmental Working Group|August 28, 2015
New Study Highlights Toxic Chemicals Travelling Through Breastmilk
Many new mothers worry about what they consume while they’re breastfeeding. Obvious risks such as passing along medications or alcohol are well known to impact the development and health of their child. But a new study from Harvard shows that a certain chemical composition, all around us, could be impacting newborns more than we ever realized.
The study looked at a group of chemicals known as perfluorinated alkylate substances, also referred to as PFASs.
PFASs are found in products that are designed to repel water and oil such as food packaging, clothing, cosmetics, paints and stain-proof fabrics. These chemicals often make their way into the water supply and that’s how they wind up in our bodies. These are present in most mammals all over the world and are known to have impacts on the reproductive system, immune function and certain types of cancers.
The transfer of PSAFs in breast milk has been studied before, but most of those studies looked at the quantity of PSAFs in the milk itself, which is usually fairly low. This study, however, looked at the build up in the blood of infants over time. What they found is that these chemicals tend to increase by 20-30 percent in the blood stream every month the child is breastfed. As breastfeeding stops, the amount decreases. Those who were partially breastfed also tended to have lower levels of PFASs in their system.
Phillipe Grandjean, the adjunct professor of environmental health at Harvard Chan School says that, “There is no reason to discourage breastfeeding, but we are concerned that these pollutants are transferred to the next generation at a very vulnerable age.” He also notes that currently there is no legislation in the U.S. that requires testing of PFASs and their ability to move through mediums such as breast milk.
It seems like just another worry to add onto a pile of endless worries when a new baby arrives. But women can help keep PSAFs at bay by avoiding tap water while breastfeeding – which is the primary way that humans ingest these chemicals. In addition, women who are worried about continuous build up can supplement with formula during their breastfeeding period.
Yet the public must demand more studies on how certain products and chemicals can transfer to infants via breast milk. Many scientists lament the lack of funding and published, peer reviewed data on the subject. Judith S. Schreiber, a PhD who works for the Environmental Protection Bureau in New York State, writes that at the moment we mostly test for chemical toxicity in full grown adult men, and often at high doses. “Maternal, chemical, and physiologic factors influence the degree to which environmental chemicals are present in breast milk and are important determinants of the magnitude of the potential exposure of the infant,” she writes. So why aren’t there more tests out there to help determine the effect such chemicals can have on infants?
Organizations to combat this dearth of information, such as Make Our Milk Safe (MOMS), have sprung up, advocating for more studies and legislation on hazardous chemicals and how they are ingested and transferred.
MOMS spells out their mandate: “We believe that corporations have a responsibility to ensure the safety of the products they sell. We believe that government has a responsibility to ensure that pregnant women, nursing mothers, and their children are adequately protected by environmental health regulations.”
However, despite such grassroots efforts, it will take a coming together of the scientific community, activists and environmental protection officers to really impact the level of PFASs that are currently finding their way into our water system.
Lizabeth Paulat|August 28, 2015
The amount of rainfall a place gets isn’t the only factor in how much water is available to it. These major urban areas show how dire the coming global freshwater shortage could get.
Earlier this year, an obscure United Nations document, the World Water Development Report, unexpectedly made headlines around the world. The report made the startling claim that the world would face a 40 percent shortfall in freshwater in as soon as 15 years. Crops would fail. Businesses dependent on water would fail. Illness would spread. A financial crash was likely, as was deepening poverty for those just getting by.
The U.N. also concluded that the forces destroying the world’s freshwater supply were not strictly meteorological, but largely the result of human activity. That means that with some changes in how water is managed, there is still time—very little, but enough—for children born this year to graduate from high school with the same access to clean water their parents enjoyed.
Though the U.N. looked at the issue across the globe, the solutions it recommended—capturing rainwater, recycling wastewater, improving sewage and plumbing, and more—need to be implemented locally. Some of the greatest challenges will come in cities, where bursting populations strain systems designed to supply far fewer people and much of the clean water available is lost to waste and shoddy, centuries-old infrastructure.
We’ve looked at eight cities facing different though representative challenges. The amount of water in the earth’s atmosphere is more or less fixed, meaning that as populations and economies grow, what we have needs to be clean, available, and conserved. Economies, infrastructure, river systems, and climates vary from place to place, and the solutions will have to as well. Here is how eight of the world’s major cities are running out of water, and trying to save it.
Tokyo shouldn’t have a water problem: Japan’s capital enjoys average precipitation similar to that of Seattle or London. But all that rainfall is compressed into just four months of the year, in two short seasons of monsoon and typhoon. Capturing and storing so much water in such a short period in an area four times as dense as California would be a challenge anywhere. One weak rainy season means droughts—and those are now coming about once every decade.
Betting on the rain will be a precarious strategy for the world’s most populous city and its suburbs, home to more than 30 million people. When the four rivers feeding Tokyo run low, crisis conditions arrive fast. Though efficient, 70 percent of Tokyo’s 16,000-mile-long plumbing system depends on surface water (rivers, lakes, and distant snowpack). With only 30 percent of the city’s water coming from underground aquifers and wells, there are not enough alternative sources to tap during these new cyclical droughts.
The Japanese government has so far proved forward-thinking, developing one of the world’s most aggressive programs for capturing rainwater. In Sumida, a Tokyo district that often faces water shortages, the 90,000-square-foot roof of Ryogoku Kokugikan arena is designed to channel rainfall to a tank, where it’s pumped inside the stadium for non-potable use.
Somewhat more desperate-seeming is a plan to seed clouds, prodding the environment to do what it isn’t doing naturally. Though tested in 2013 with success, the geo-engineering hack is a source of controversy; scientists debate whether the technique could produce enough rain to make much of a difference for such a large population.
Though most Americans’ concern with water shortage in the U.S. is firmly focused on California at the moment, a crisis is brewing in the last place you’d figure: South Florida, which annually gets four times as much rain, on average, as Los Angeles and about three times as much as San Francisco.
But according to the U.S. Geological Survey, the essential Biscayne Aquifer, which provides water to the Miami–Dade County area, is falling victim to saltwater intrusion from the Atlantic Ocean. Despite the heavy rains replenishing the aquifer year-round, if enough saltwater enters, all of it will become unusable.
The problem arose in the early 20th century, after swamps surrounding the city were drained. Osmosis essentially created a giant sucking effect, drawing the Atlantic into the coastal soils. Measures to hold the ocean back began as early as the 1930s, but seawater is now bypassing the control structures that were installed and leaking into the aquifer. The USGS has made progress mapping the sea water intrusion, but ameliorating it seems a ways off. “As sea level continues to rise and the demand for freshwater increases, the measures required to prevent this intrusion may become more difficult [to implement],” the USGS noted in a press release.
London faces a rapidly growing population wringing every last drop out of centuries-old plumbing. Water managers estimate they can meet the city’s needs for the next decade but must find new sources by 2025—even sooner than the rest of the world, by the U.N.’s measure. London’s utility, Thames Water, looked into recycled water—aka “toilet-to-tap”—but, being English, found it necessary first to politely ask people if they’d mind.
At least four urban districts in California use recycled water, which is treated, re-treated, and treated again to be cleaner than conventional supplies before being pumped into groundwater or other supply sources. The so-called “yuck factor” could be an impediment to this solution spreading to London and elsewhere.
Five thousand years ago, an ample water supply and a fertile delta at the mouth of the Nile supported the growth of one of the world’s great civilizations. Today, while 97 percent of Egypt’s water comes from the great river, Cairo finds itself downstream from at least 50 poorly regulated factories, agricultural waste, and municipal sewage systems that drain into it.
Though Cairo gets most of the attention, a UNICEF–World Health Organization study released earlier this year found that rural areas to the city’s south, where more than half of Egyptians live, depend on the river not just for irrigation and drinking water but also for waste disposal. Engineer Ayman Ramadan Mohamed Ayad has noted that while most wastewater discharged into the Nile upriver from Cairo is untreated, the river’s enormous size has historically been sufficient to dilute the waste to safe levels (and Cairo’s municipal system treats the water it draws from the river). Ayad argues, however, that as the load increases—with 20 million people now discharging their wastes to the Nile—this will no longer be possible. The African Development Bank recently funded programs to chlorinate wastewater before it’s dumped in the river, but more will need to be done.
On the demand side, more than 80 percent of the water taken from the Nile each year is used for irrigation, mostly the inefficient method of just flooding fields, which loses significant amounts to evaporation. Two years ago, initial steps were taken to modernize irrigation techniques upriver. Those programs have yet to show much progress, however.
When it rains in Brazil, it pours. In São Paolo, where in an average year it rains more than it does in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, drains can’t handle the onslaught, and what could be the resource of desperately needed drinking water becomes instead the menace of urban floodwater.
With the worst drought in a century now in its second year, São Paolo’s reservoirs are at barely a quarter of capacity, down from 40 percent a year ago. Yet the city still sees heavy rainstorms. But reservoirs outside the city are often polluted and are too small even at capacity to supply the metropolitan area of 20 million. Asphalt covering the city and poor drainage lead to heavy floods on city streets after as little as a quarter-inch of rain. It’s hard to believe a drought is under way if your house is ankle-deep in water, so consumers haven’t been strident about conservation. The apparent paradox of flooded streets and empty reservoirs will likely fuel an ongoing debate over proposed rationing.
Poor air quality isn’t the only thing impinging Beijing citizens’ ability to enjoy a safe environment. The city’s second-largest reservoir, shut down in 1997 because of pollution from factories and agriculture, has not been returned to use.
Ensuring the cleanliness of its water is even more crucial in China than elsewhere, as there is little it can afford to lose: With 21 percent of the world’s population, China has only 6 percent of its freshwater—a situation that’s only going to get worse, as it’s raining less in northern China than it was a century ago, and glaciers in Tibet, once the largest system outside the Antarctic and Greenland and a key source of drinking water in the country’s south and west, are receding even faster than predicted. The U.N. Environment Programme estimates that nationally, Chinese citizens can rely on getting just one-quarter to one-third of the amount of clean water the rest of the world uses daily.
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Hope emerged, however, from a 2013 study from Montreal’s McGill University, which found that an experimental program targeting farmers outside the capital showed promising results over nearly two decades. The vast Miyun reservoir, 100 miles outside Beijing, had seen its reserves reduced by nearly two-thirds because of increasing irrigation demands—while becoming polluted by agricultural runoff. Revenue from a tax on major water users in Beijing was spent paying farmers upstream from Miyun to grow corn instead of rice, which requires more water and creates more runoff.
Over the following 15 years, the study authors wrote, “fertilizer runoff declined sharply while the quantity of water available to downstream users in Beijing and surrounding areas increased.” Farmer income was not significantly affected, and cleaner water downstream led to higher earnings for consumers in the city despite the tax.
Earlier this year, a report by India’s comptroller and auditor general found that the southern city was losing more than half its drinking water to waste through antiquated plumbing systems. Big losses from leaks aren’t uncommon—Los Angeles loses between 15 and 20 percent—but the situation in Bangalore is more complicated. A technology boom has attracted new residents, leading to new housing construction. Entire apartment blocks are going up faster than local officials can update the plumbing to handle additional strain on the water and sewage systems.
Bangalore’s clean-water challenges illustrate a dynamic that’s repeating itself across the world’s second-largest nation. India’s urban population will grow from 340 million to 590 million by 2030, according to a 2010 McKinsey study. To meet the clean-water needs of all the new city dwellers, the global consulting firm found, the government will have to spend $196 billion—more than 10 percent of the nation’s annual GDP. (McKinsey has a potential financial interest in India’s infrastructure, so its numbers may be inflated.)
In Bangalore, they’re already behind schedule. The newspaper The Hindu reported in March that a 2002 plan to repair the existing system and recover the missing half of Bangalore’s freshwater had yet to be implemented.
Gravity always wins. At more than 7,000 feet above sea level, Mexico City gets nearly all its drinking water by pumping it laboriously uphill from aquifers as far as 150 miles away. The engineering challenge of hauling that much water into the sky adds to the difficulty of supplying more than 20 million residents through an aging system. Mexico City’s public works loses enough water every second—an estimated 260 gallons—to supply a family of four for a day, according to CONAGUA, Mexico’s national water commission. CONAGUA estimates that between 30 and 40 percent of the capital’s potable water is lost to leaks and spills. The good news is that leaks can be fixed.
Water quality remains a worry, however. Unsurprisingly, companies selling bottled water have done very well in Mexico. The economy growing around the lack of potable water has attracted companies such as Coca-Cola and France’s Danone, whose Bonafont (“good spring”) brand is advertised in Mexico as a weight-loss aid. (Toting a bottle will help you “feel thinner anywhere,” according to a popular television ad.)
Meanwhile, disputes over who will get access to underground supplies have turned violent: In February 2014, residents of the town of San Bartolo Atepehuacan, on Mexico City’s outskirts, clashed with police over a waterworks project they feared would divert local springs to the city’s business district. At least 100 people were injured and five arrested as the disturbances continued for more than three months.
Marc Herman|June 26, 2015
Great Lakes & Inland Waters
Grand Canyon Stretch of the Colorado River Threatened by Mercury Pollution
Even one of America’s most iconic landmarks is not immune from pollution. The Grand Canyon segment of the Colorado River is suffering from exposure to toxic chemicals, including mercury, according to a study from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
“Concentrations of mercury and selenium in Colorado River food webs of the Grand Canyon National Park regularly exceeded risk thresholds for fish and wildlife,” the USGS team said in a statement. The concentrations of toxins in some fish were so high that they could be harmful if consumed by wildlife or humans. The researchers noted that their findings build further evidence that even extremely remote ecosystems, such as this stretch of the Colorado River, are “vulnerable to long-range transport and bioaccumulation of contaminants.”
“Managing exposure risks in the Grand Canyon will be a challenge because sources and transport mechanisms of mercury and selenium extend far beyond Grand Canyon boundaries,” said Dr. David Walters, lead author of the study.
Researchers took samples from six sites along the nearly 250 miles of the Colorado River downstream from Glen Canyon Dam within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Canyon National Park in the summer of 2008. They found that “mercury and selenium concentrations in minnows and invertebrates exceeded dietary fish and wildlife toxicity thresholds.”
Though researchers point out that the number of samples was relatively low, bigger trout did not seem to be as affected.
“The good news is that concentrations of mercury in rainbow trout were very low in the popular Glen Canyon sport fishery, and all of the large rainbow trout analyzed from the Grand Canyon were also well below the risk thresholds for humans,” said co-author of the study Dr. Ted Kennedy.
This made for some surprising findings because “biomagnification usually leads to large fish having higher concentrations of mercury than small fish,” says the researchers. “But we found the opposite pattern, where small, three-inch rainbow trout in the Grand Canyon had higher concentrations than the larger rainbow trout that anglers target.” Why this happened has to do with the unique ecology of the Grand Canyon.
“Insect food sources for fish are quite limited in the Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam, most likely due to temperature and flow regimes of the regulated river,” Kennedy told The Arizona Daily Sun. “While smaller fish can satisfy their caloric needs by eating just insects, there aren’t enough of the invertebrates to make up the entire diet of larger fish, forcing them to feed on other less calorie-dense organic matter like algae.”
But one of those insects, the black fly—a major food source for trout—is also a prime source of mercury contamination because it consumes a kind of algae that contains large amounts of a bioavailable form of mercury. “We think [the mercury] is getting picked up by that algae in Lake Powell and exported into Grand Canyon,” Kennedy said.
Another interesting finding was that the fish they sampled had none of the deformities often associated with mercury poisoning.
“That finding is evidence of a well-documented relationship between selenium and mercury whereby, in the right concentrations, selenium protects animals from mercury toxicity,” Kennedy said. “If both of these things are at high levels together, it can mitigate effects of having just one of them in a high concentration.”
The researchers believe most of the mercury isn’t coming from Lake Powell, though. They blame airborne transport and deposition for most of the mercury pollution in the Grand Canyon. This is a common way for remote ecosystems to become contaminated, says the USGS team. As for the selenium, they believe pollution from upstream sources is the culprit. “Irrigation of selenium-rich soils in the upper Colorado River basin contributes much of the selenium that is present in the Colorado River in Grand Canyon,” say researchers.
Though environmental groups have honed in on the Navajo Generating Station and other coal-fired power plants around Lake Powell for their mercury pollution, David Gay of the National Atmospheric Deposition Program, points out “Linking mercury contamination in Lake Powell, or in the Colorado River Basin, to specific sources is difficult because it remains in the atmosphere for up to six months after it is initially emitted. That’s long enough for mercury emitted in one place to waft up into the atmosphere and then get carried hundreds or thousands of miles.” He points to studies which show that mercury pollution in the area can come from as far away as California and even Asia.
“Mercury is a global pollutant,” Gay said. “Everybody is in it together.”
No human consumption advisories have been put in place yet, but researchers plan to do further studies to assess the potential risks to humans that may consume fish from this area. Selenium and mercury exposure has been linked to lower reproductive success, growth, and survival of fish and wildlife, say the researchers.
Experts warn people of all ages, but in particular pregnant women and children, to monitor their seafood intake due to high levels of mercury in some species. Consumer Reports even found that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was advising people to consume fish at levels for which its own data indicated elevated risks. And last year, consumer protection and environmental advocates sued the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for failing to give consumers clear, accurate and accessible information about toxic mercury in the seafood they eat.
Cole Mellino|August 25, 2015
FWS Would Make Three Sisters Springs A True Winter Sanctuary
FWS Would Make Three Sisters Springs A True Winter Sanctuary
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has released a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) containing several proposed alternatives to address out-of-control human overcrowding and manatee harassment at the small 1.5 acre Three Sisters Springs in Citrus County, Florida. Keep in mind that there are nearly 600 acres and many other places in Kings Bay for swimmers and divers.
For more details, click here to review the Draft EA and related documents.
Offshore & Ocean
Droves of Whales Are Dying Off the Alaska and British Columbia Coast
An unusually large amount of whale deaths has been reported off the coast of both Alaska and Canadian British Columbia. The amount of dead whales, nearly unprecedented, has left scientists baffled as they scramble to discover the cause.
The first group of whales, from the fin whale family, were discovered near the Kodiak Archipelago in late May and early June. Fin whales are the second largest whales on earth, and are only susceptible to attack from killer whales or humans.
Kate Wynne, a professor and marine mammal specialist and the University of Alaska told reporters, “The evidence suggests that all of these whales that we’ve found died at about the same time, which is like the third week of May, around the 20th, in a short period of time in a fairly localized area.” Wynne went on to say they would be testing for toxins and algae blooms in the water because, “the fact that the carcass are intact, it rules out killer whale predation. But other than that, we’re at a loss.”
Yet the mystery deepened when water taken from the area showed no signs of bio-toxin and samples from one of the carcasses came back negative for algae bloom toxins. And as the months rolled by the death toll rose. By August, a mix of humpbacks and fin whales amassed a startling total of 30 deaths in Alaska. Scientists say this is over three times the normal rate.
And this frightening pattern is now extending south; last week the discovery of six dead humpbacks along the BC coastline had marine biologists and conservationists searching for answers. Two fairly fresh carcasses washed ashore and were immediately taken for a necropsy, which is an animal autopsy, however the results are unlikely to come back before the month is out.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada is now collaborating with the US’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). A biotoxin is still being batted around as a possible cause despite earlier testing. However, some are raising concerns that the cause of these deaths could be far more nefarious.
Some are speculating that the Fukushima nuclear disaster that rocked Japan in 2011 could be to blame. Fukushima Watch, a website that has followed the disaster for years writes that, “Scientists predicted that radiation leaking from the power plant should hit North American coasts by early 2014…Some scientists have tried to annul these worries by claiming that the radiation from the Fukushima power plant has become so diluted in the Pacific Ocean that it does not pose a serious health threat to the coast. Yet the recent rise in whale deaths shows otherwise…Furthermore, the radiation from the Fukushima power plant has not stopped leaking into the Pacific Ocean.”
And although there hasn’t been any credible scientific proof that radiation played any role in the whale deaths, scientists do say they will be testing the newest carcasses washed up on the BC coastline for any form of radioactive poisoning.
It is likely that when the results of the necropsies are returned we will have more answers. However for now both the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the NOAA are asking citizens to be on the lookout and to contact them immediately if any dead whales are discovered in the waters or washed onto the coastline, as the sooner they can get to the site and test, the sooner this mystery can be unraveled.
Lizabeth Paulat|August 24, 2015
The World’s Oceans Are in Peril
The world’s oceans—covering nearly two-thirds of the Earth’s surface, and on which much of human life depends—are under severe pressure, a new report says.
Overfishing has dramatically reduced fish stocks. The thousands of tons of rubbish dumped in the oceans wreak havoc on marine life, while climate change is warming and acidifying them, putting them under further stress.
Over-exploitation of fish stocks compounds ocean damage from climate change. Photo credit: John Wallace / NOAA via Wikimedia Commons
These are the sobering conclusions of a wide-ranging study of the Earth’s ecosystems by the Worldwatch Institute, a U.S.-based organization widely rated as one of the world’s foremost environmental think-tanks.
“Our sense of the ocean’s power and omnipotence—combined with scientific ignorance—contributed to an assumption that nothing we did could ever possibly impact it”, says Katie Auth, a researcher at Worldwatch and one of the authors of the report.
“Over the years, scientists and environmental leaders have worked tirelessly to demonstrate and communicate the fallacy of such arrogance.”
More than 50 percent of commercial fish stocks are now fully exploited with another 20 percent classified as over-exploited, the report says, while the number of dead zones—areas of the ocean depleted of oxygen and incapable of supporting marine life—has doubled in each decade since the 1960s.
The oceans play a key role in absorbing vast amounts of greenhouse gases and slowing the warming of the atmosphere.
The report says: “… Evidence suggests that as the ocean becomes saturated with CO2, its rate of uptake will slow, a process that has already begun.”
Sea surface temperatures are rising, putting marine systems under pressure and causing fish and sea bird populations to migrate to colder areas.
Worldwatch says there must be big cutbacks in fossil fuel emissions: “If emissions continue at current levels, ocean acidity in surface waters could increase by almost 150 percent by 2100, creating a marine environment unlike anything that has existed in the past 20 million years.”
The Worldwatch report, State of the World 2015, examines a range of sustainability issues. It says the goal of continued economic growth—an economic doctrine which has prevailed only since the 1950s—is a threat to the sustainability of multiple ecosystems.
The world’s resources—whether its fossil fuels or water resources—cannot go on being plundered. Changes in climate—in particular the prevalence of drought in some of the world’s main food-producing regions—is threatening the planet’s ability to feed itself.
The report concludes: “There is no question that scholars and scientists who study the human economy, the earth and the interactions between them are drawing profoundly troubling conclusions…
“It is time for homo sapiens sapiens to live up to its somewhat presumptuous Latin name, and grow up.”
Kieran Cooke|Climate News Network|August 23, 2015
Scientists Explore Remote, Healthy Reef In Gulf Similar To Florida Keys Reef
Submerged 250 to 300 feet in the Gulf of Mexico lies a coral reef that could hold the key to crucial information and resources for the Florida Keys reef.
A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research cruise is currently operating at Pulley Ridge, 100 miles west of Key West, where scientists are using a remotely operated vehicle to collect videos and samples from the sea floor.
“What they’re looking at is its connectivity, in terms of natural resources, to the Florida Keys,” said Sean Morton, superintendent of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. “Many of the coral we have here in the Florida Keys are the same ones we have out in Pulley Ridge, as are many of the fish that spawn. That spawn comes into the Gulf Stream and populates the Florida Keys.”
Coral reefs, although usually associated with shallow water, easily accessible by scuba divers and snorkelers, can be found at greater depths.
This year’s expedition, which is scheduled to last until Sept. 4, is part of a five-year mission to explore the area. The Keys sanctuary is in the middle of a review and update of its management plan. That update might include extending its boundaries to include Pulley Ridge.
The area is important, even if it is too deep to be visited by recreational divers, Morton said.
“The Pulley Ridge is a special place,” Morton said. “It’s an area that certainly needs more study, because of its health in terms of coral reefs and the problems that we’re seeing with the coral reefs here in the Florida Keys but also worldwide.”
Nancy Klingener|Aug 27, 2015
A Giant Glob of Deadly Algae Is Floating off the West Coast
Here’s everything you need to know about it.
From the air, the Pacific algal bloom doesn’t look like much of a threat: a wispy, brownish stream, snaking up along the West Coast. But it’s causing amnesia in birds, deadly seizures in sea lions, and a crippling decline in the West Coast shellfish industry. Here’s what you need to know about it, from what this bloom has to do with the drought to why these toxins could be a real threat to the homeless.
“These are the highest levels of toxicity we’ve ever seen,” says one expert.
What’s causing it? The culprits are single-celled, plant-like organisms called pseudo-nitzschia, a subset of the thousands of species of algae that produce more than 50 percent of the world’s oxygen through photosynthesis. They’re a hardy variety usually found in cool, shallow oceans, where they survive on light and dissolved nutrients, including silicates, nitrates, and phosphates. “They’re sort of like the dandelions of the sea,” says Vera Trainer, who manages the Marine Biotoxin Program at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. “They’re always there in some low numbers, just waiting for nutrients to be resupplied to the ocean’s surface.” In most years, blooms in the eastern Pacific are contained near “hot spots” that dot the West Coast—relatively shallow and sheltered places like California’s Monterey Bay or the Channel Islands. They usually flare up in April or May as trade winds cycle nutrient-rich waters from offshore depths to the coast in a process called “upwelling,” but they fade after only a few weeks.
Why is it sticking around so long? The jury’s still out, but scientists are beginning to get a clearer idea. These past few years have been “incredibly weird” in the northeast Pacific, says Nate Mantua, a research scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in Santa Cruz. He points to the same “ridiculously resilient ridge” of high pressure that’s been causing the historic drought in the western United States: This pressure also resulted in a pool of exceptionally warm water in the Pacific (known as “the blob”), with little weather to disperse it. Those conditions, along with prevailing winds and colder currents that ferry nutrients back to the coast, seem to be supplying the algae with a seemingly endless feast.
That makes the source of this bloom different from its cousin in the Gulf of Mexico, where fertilizers flowing from as far as Iowa are feeding a zone of algae that’s as large as New Jersey. “We’re seeing them in relatively pristine waters of the US West Coast,” Trainer explains, though she adds runoff and sewage discharge may be playing some role in the blooms off Southern California.
So just how big is this thing? Bigger than researchers have ever seen: a patchy stream that stretches from Southern California up along the Alaskan coast. The hot spot blooms that appear each spring are merging for the first time, Trainer explains. Though the combined mass has ebbed and flowed over the past four months, it hasn’t let up; her team finds algae each time they journey out to sea, with no signs of abatement soon. And it’s also unusually potent. “These are the highest levels of toxicity we’ve ever seen,” says Raphael Kudela, a professor of ocean sciences at the University of California-Santa Cruz. “It’s a truly extraordinary phenomenon.”
How deadly are these “dandelions”? The algae produce a compound called domoic acid, a type of amino acid that leads to a condition commonly known as “amnesic shellfish poisoning” in humans. Shellfish and some small fish, like sardines and anchovies, feed on the algae and concentrate the toxin in their flesh. When animals further up the food chain—like birds—eat those fish and shellfish, the domoic acid seeps into the bloodstream and eventually the brain, where it attacks cells in the hippocampus, the brain’s command center for memory and learning. The result: amnesia-stricken birds that will repeatedly fly into windows, and sea lions that writhe on the shore, plagued by seizures. Both are symptoms of rapidly firing neurons in the hippocampus, which will eventually burn out and kill the animal. Beaches have been littered with dead fish, birds, and sea lions up and down the Pacific coast since May—all the way up to Alaska, where NOAA is investigating the deaths of fin whales in connection with the toxin.
Will it kill me? Probably not. Amnesic shellfish poisoning was discovered in 1987, when what was then a mysterious illness killed three people and sickened 105 more on Prince Edward Island, Canada. But cases since then have been rare. That’s due to a bevy of regulations that shut down recreational shellfish harvesting when toxicity spikes and require commercial shellfish operations to test each batch for toxins. Those moratoriums have cut into Washington’s $84 million crab industry, while a ban on recreational clam digging has hurt smaller, more remote communities, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. Trainer points to indigenous regions in coastal Washington, like the Quinault Indian Nation, where many members make ends meet by harvesting razor clams for healthy meals in the winter. Though fish are also tested, the toxins seep into their guts, which don’t usually find their way to the dinner table.
Homeless people looking to shellfish as a free meal could be inadvertently exposing themselves to the toxins.
Researchers are also investigating what low levels of domoic acid can do to the brain over many years of exposure. Trainer cautions that the mild symptoms of low-level contamination mean most people wouldn’t be aware of the problem: “They might think they have a cold, or a little flu,” she says. Results from an ongoing inquiry into the effects of domoic acid on Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest have found evidence of memory and learning impairment, while studies in sea lions found antibodies for domoic acid, suggesting even low-level contamination can cause an adverse physiological response. Kudela also suggests that the homeless around Monterey Bay, where his team is located, could be looking to shellfish as a free meal, inadvertently exposing themselves to the toxins.
What happens next? Researchers are waiting for this fall’s big coastal storms, which should churn up waters and disperse the nutrients that allow the algae to thrive. Those systems should gather between late September in the Pacific Northwest and early winter in California. But from then on it’s harder to say. The “blob” could persist through or return after the El Niño expected this winter. But if it is strong enough, the El Niño could also lead to less predictable conditions come spring and even make another large bloom unlikely for years to come, explains Mantua, the NOAA climate scientist. That would make this current, extreme algal bloom look more like an anomaly than a new trend.
Still, even if the coast sees some relief from algae for the next few years, big changes can be expected in the coming decades as oceans warm worldwide. That could produce more hospitable conditions for algae and lead to different ecological threats, like red tides and dead zones, in the Pacific. “I think this is a window into the future,” Trainer says. “We can expect more of this to come.”
Gregory Barber|Aug. 25, 2015
Wildlife and Habitat
Beneficial Spiders Become Victims of Pesticides
The things we do for science are sometimes strange, as evidenced by a recent study at McGill University in Canada, where a team of scientists set out to learn more about the effects of the pesticide Phosmet on spiders. In the field, they’d noted erratic spider behavior in arachnids exposed to the pesticide, and they wanted to take it into the lab to learn more — in this unfortunate case, they had to use living creatures in research because simulations of spider nervous systems aren’t available yet, but their spider intoxication study provided important information for protecting spiders as a whole. The findings of the study were valuable, though, as they demonstrated that while Phosmet is not toxic to the bronze jumping spiders they studied, it does have some potentially devastating effects on the rather charming, and useful, arachnids.
Bronze jumping spiders, like many of their fellow spiders, might be scary for some humans, but they actually serve a very important role in the environment and they’re considered an example of a beneficial organism — terrifying for humans, but very good for ecology. This holds true in agricultural settings as well, where jumping spiders eat a variety of harmful insects, limiting crop damage the natural way. Farmers interested in farming holistically often actively work to encourage beneficial insects (as well as plants) to thrive on their farms so they can manage pests without having to resort to agricultural chemicals. Other farmers, however, prefer to use various pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals to manage their farms.
Regulatory agencies test compounds used on farms for both human and animal safety — sadly, usually they use inhumane studies to do so, and most of those studies don’t result in thoughtful policy changes that reflect what they observed in the lab. This case provides an example of a failing of such testing, and evidence that when alternatives to animal testing aren’t available — as when we need to know how a pesticide acts in the nervous system of a living insect and there’s no way to simulate it — we need to use the outcomes of such studies responsibly and ensure that they weren’t conducted in vain. One issue government regulators evaluate is whether agricultural chemicals cause what amounts to collateral damage — in other words, if they target organisms other than those they’re supposed to. This has become a subject of particular interest in the world of bees, where there are concerns that pesticides may be harming the global bee population. In the case of bronze jumping spiders and the popular pesticide Phosmet, however, authorities determined that the chemical isn’t fatal, and thus could be used without additional regulation.
However, there’s a difference between “fatal” and “harmful,” and that’s what the McGill researchers set out to explore.
Their study focused on something that members of the general public might find hard to believe: spider personalities. Spiders, just like everyone else, have distinct personalities, as well as gene clusters that tend to code for particular behaviors. In particular, bronze jumping spiders can be loosely divided into bold and shy categories. Bold spiders are more aggressive and they’re more active hunters, while shy spiders are more withdrawn, as their categorization implies. The researchers took at look at spiders in both groups exposed to Phosmet, and they found that the chemical effectively acted like an intoxicant, changing the way the spiders behaved when they had ingested it.
Bold spiders became more confused and less aggressive, sometimes refusing to eat at all. Shy spiders became more aggressive and behaved erratically. The personality changes caused by Phosmet exposure wouldn’t read as fatal to regulatory agencies, but they would interfere with ability to function, and could potentially endanger spider populations. Changes in behavior can alter the way spiders interact, breed, hunt, lay eggs and more, all of which can add up to reductions in spider populations — and a subsequent imbalance in the populations of the insects they feed on, which can have a magnifying effect. The farmer who uses minimal amounts of Phosmet, for example, might increase the amount she applies to compensate for the uptick in the insect population caused by a drop in the spider population, harming the spiders even more.
The researchers hope their findings will encourage regulators to think more carefully when they evaluate new agricultural chemicals and look at reported incidents in field environments. Potential effects on animal populations aren’t as simple as life and death, as it turns out, and require thoughtful research into how individual behaviors change when under the influence, so to speak. The study also highlights the fact that the use of agricultural chemicals can have unintended consequences, something people are already thinking about in an era when bees appear to be struggling at least in part because of poor regulation of pesticides. Being more aggressive about evaluation of chemical compounds before they hit the market could result in a safer environment for everyone.
In addition, the sad story of the bronze jumping spider illustrates something else about farming: Beneficial animals, insects and plants are free, while agricultural chemicals are not, and they generate animal suffering to boot. Firms that manufacture such chemicals have to perpetuate a market for them and use a variety of tactics to do so, from lobbying regulatory agencies to growing crops tailor-made to work with specific compounds. This can create dependency on such compounds, making it difficult to transition to forms of agriculture that rely on beneficial insects and crops to manage soil and pests and locking farmers into dependence on potentially expensive and sometimes hazardous compounds. Fighting for spiders doesn’t just benefit them, but other organisms at risk from agricultural chemicals, as well as workers endangered by pesticide and herbicide exposures.
Despite the apparent necessity of using animals in this study, we don’t endorse using animals — of any species — in research. Care2 promotes the development of detailed simulations that allow researchers to explore the possible effects of drugs, cosmetics and other compounds on living organisms without using animals as study subjects.
s.e. smith|August 25, 2015
Big Ag Is Devastating the Amazon, but a New Plan Could Preserve Rainforests and Wildlife
Scientists propose creating networks of forests within farming areas to keep species from winking out.
What’s the hidden cost of your coffee, tobacco, and beef?
Every year, the U.S. imports more than $3 billion worth of agricultural goods from Brazil. Those products, more often than not, are grown in the Amazon, where deforestation has removed or devastated the habitat of thousands of native species.
Numerous studies over the past few years have linked deforestation to declines in biodiversity, but a new study takes our understanding a bit further. Published in the journal Ecology Letters, the study examined forest areas that have been converted for logging zones, livestock grazing, or agriculture and found universal declines in the numbers of plant, ant, bird, beetle, and bee species that once called the forests home.
That might seem obvious, but previous studies have focused more on individual species or the difference between forests and ex-forests. The new paper is broader. It examined 300 types of landscapes and nearly 2,000 species to provide a more complete picture of the effects of deforestation.
Those effects varied quite dramatically, said the study’s lead author, Ricardo Solar of Brazil’s Universidade Federal de Viçosa. Degraded forests had much lower levels of biodiversity, which Solar said indicates that many species are “forests specialists” restricted to undisturbed forests. These forest specialists were the species most likely to have suffered as logging, wildfires, or agriculture started to chip away at their habitat.
Other species, however, stuck around. “We were surprised by the fact that degraded forests, over large scales, can sustain diversity levels comparable to intact forests,” Solar said. The effect varied by how much the forests had been impacted by development, but “some of the disturbed forests were able to maintain up to 80 percent of the species found in pristine forests.”
This, he said, was enough to give the research team hope. The paper suggests that creating a network of forest reserves nestled inside agricultural areas would be the most beneficial way to preserve biodiversity. These would include a mix of undisturbed and partially degraded forests.
That’s not the way reserves are created. Instead, they tend to be focused on specific areas located outside agricultural or private land.
“There remains a widespread assumption that concentrating conservation efforts on the protection of isolated reserves is the best way we can safeguard biodiversity,” study coauthor Toby Gardner, of the Stockholm Environment Institute, said in a statement. “Our work shows that in areas of private land that have already been disturbed—which dominate much of the tropics—we need to maintain and protect a wide network of forest areas. Without such a landscape-scale approach we can expect many species to go regionally extinct.”
The landscape approach would have many benefits, including the ability for species to migrate from one patch of forest to another, he said.
Solar said selectively controlling logging and preventing wildfires in all forests, including those on private land, would be an important part of that process, as would laws recently enacted in Brazil that allow for the creation of privately held reserves.
The research offers new clues, but the team isn’t done yet. Solar said it plans to follow up to try to determine what factors in forest preservation would also enable species conservation. That might make your next burger a bit more palatable.
John R. Platt|Aug 25, 2015
Malaysia’s crackdown on courageous environmental activist
Malaysia has issued a warrant for the arrest of investigative journalist Clare Rewcastle Brown. Her “crime”: exposing the unholy alliance of the timber mafia and highest levels of government. Tell Malaysia to fight environmental destruction, not the courageous individuals who bring the truth to light!
Fight high-level corruption and deforestation in Malaysia, not those who bring it to light.
Sarawak’s timber companies are relentless – not even the most pristine, biodiverse forests are safe from them. Their greed is abetted by friends in the highest places: former Chief Minister Taib Mahmud is said to have pocketed billions as the alleged gray eminence of the Malaysian state’s timber mafia. Corruption and deforestation are tightly intertwined in Sarawak.
London-based investigative journalist Clare Rewcastle Brown has spent years exposing the drivers of deforestation in her blog, Sarawak Report. The Malaysian government is now striking back: in early August, it issued a warrant for her arrest. The government accuses her of engaging in “activity detrimental to parliamentary democracy” and publishing false reports that “caused concern in the minds of the public”. If convicted on both counts, she could face 25 years in prison.
Rewcastle Brown had provoked the Malaysian government’s ire by reporting that nearly $700 million had been paid into the personal accounts of Prime Minister Najib Razak from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a state investment fund.
The journalist is convinced that her e-mail has been hacked, as her contacts in Malaysia have been arrested. She has been put under police protection after being stalked and photographed around London.
The Rewcastle Brown case is typical of the heavy hand with which the Malaysian government deals with its critics. She has little doubt about the government’s motives: “I’m not scared, this isn’t about intimidating me, this is about intimidating [Malaysia’s] own domestic population.”
When critical journalists are silenced and corrupt businessmen and officials are left unfettered, democracy, the people and the environment all suffer.
Rainforest Rescue |8/28/15
Global Warming and Climate Change
4 Surprising Countries That Give You Hope for Climate Action
The fossil-fuels crowd seems to have a thing for China and India. It feels like at least in the U.S., at least half the discussions of clean energy and climate change you see on television end with the anti-renewable voice saying, “Well what about China and India? It doesn’t matter what we do if they keep polluting.”
The world’s first largest economy, China, is stepping up its commitment to renewable energy and working to peak its carbon emissions by 2030.
The rest tends to go to script as, almost without fail, a satisfied smirk the size of Texas then creeps into view as our fossil-fuels friend then leans back in his or her chair. Job done. Mission accomplished. Time to head home and light up a victory-lap Cuban.
But here’s the thing. When we think about the biggest reasons for hope that humanity is finally getting its act together to protect this precious planet of ours from climate change, what comes to mind isn’t the Gigafactory that Tesla CEO Elon Musk is building to revolutionize electric vehicles and energy storage. Or how Costa Rica is committed to going carbon-neutral by 2021. Or the fact that Norway is dropping coal investments from its sovereign wealth fund.
It’s China and India.
The world’s first and third-largest economies in 2015 (measured by purchasing power parity) are both stepping up their commitment to renewable energy and China in particular is also working to peak its carbon emissions by 2030—and aiming to do so sooner. Maybe the most exciting part of all is the fact that this choice isn’t driven by any kind of misguided idealism. It’s a clear-eyed business decision made by leaders looking at the realities of fossil fuels and what they mean for the health of millions of citizens and their respective economies – and recognizing that clean energy is the smart long-term bet.
Admittedly, China’s further along this path than India and both have some ways to go before their power plants are no longer belching dirty coal soot and carbon pollution by the metric ton. But when nations of this size and aspiration begin shifting to new models of development increasingly powered by renewables and seeing it pay off as their economies keep growing, it sends a clear signal to other emerging countries that clean energy can work.
After highlighting some of the countries with a track record of embracing renewables and flourishing today we’re looking at how recent converts to the clean-energy cause are showing over and over that the way to economic success in the twenty-first century is powered by smart technologies like wind and solar. So the next time someone says, “Well what about China and India,” you can say, “Well let me tell you about China and India. And Brazil and Mexico too …”
Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room right up front: China’s powered much of its remarkable growth in the twentieth and twenty-first century with fossil fuels. So much so that it’s poised to catch up with the US on the list of all-time historical carbon polluters before too long (which does beg the question, does the fossil fuel crowd in China try to end debate with the question, “Well what about the Americans?”).
That said, in recent years, China has become a renewable-energy juggernaut, moving full-steam ahead and showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Without the space to single out everything happening in a nation of about 1.4 billion, a few headlines really stand out:
- Last year, China led the world in investments in renewable energy, upping its stake in the sector to $89.5 billion.
- China also led the world in building new generating capacity from renewable sources like solar, wind, and hydropower.
- China keeps setting increasingly ambitious goals for solar year after year and is working to more than triple its solar capacity to 100 GW by 2020.
- To put a finer point on it, China set a new record for new wind power capacity in a single year in 2014 and aims to nearly double its already significant capacity to 200 GW by 2020.
- Thanks in part to such initiatives, the nation pledged to use non-fossil fuel sources to supply 20 percent of its energy use by 2030 in its recent commitments for the UN climate talks in Paris. In the same set of commitments, China also increased its goal to reduce the country’s carbon intensity by 60—65 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
We’ve made this point before, but China is choosing to do all of this—and a whole lot more—as the world’s largest economy. With the lives and well-being of nearly 1.4 billion people on the line. And if that’s not proof that clean-energy can work on a massive scale—and that’s before counting all the health and other benefits of addressing climate change in the near term—then nothing could be.
India hasn’t always made the right kind of headlines when it comes to climate change, thanks to the serious amounts of coal powering its economy—and air pollution choking its cities. But what many critics overlook is how the nation is also making some very ambitious commitments to renewable energy. Two things India has going for it are abundant natural resources (read: “lots and lots of sun and wind”) and a strong entrepreneurial culture with a habit of seizing big growth markets. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made solar an integral part of the government’s efforts to end energy poverty and bring electricity to every Indian household, including the 300 million people currently living without it. Some clear indicators of this progress include:
- Renewables made up about 14 percent of India’s installed energy capacity in 2013 and the nation is looking to quintuple—quintuple—this number to 175 GW by 2022.
- As part of this effort, the government recently raised its targets for growing solar by a factor of five, raising its targets from 20 GW by 2022 to 100 GW in the same year.
- The country is also the world’s fifth-largest market for wind power, with a cumulative capacity of nearly 22.5 GW installed at the end of last year.
- Investors are taking note, pouring $7.9 billion into clean energy projects in 2014. For 2015, this number is projected to surpass $10 billion, a sign of real confidence in the sector’s promise.
To propel these efforts, the Indian government has also introduced a range of forward-looking policies that mandate reductions in energy use from large industries and encourage state electricity providers to use renewables, among other measures. And while there’s no way around the fact that the nation clearly has a long ways to go, the fact that real progress is happening in a nation of India’s size and footprint is a real reason for hope.
The clean-energy turnaround stories happening in China and India aren’t the only ones pointing to an ongoing shift in global attitudes. Though its noisy neighbors to the north tend to hog the spotlight when it comes to climate news, Mexico has quietly been building the second-largest clean energy market in Latin America while making strong commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Along the way, it’s also been reforming its electricity sector to pave the way for significantly greater use of renewables in the years ahead.
What does this all mean in practice? Well, one research firm ranked Mexico second in Latin America for solar installations in 2014 and forecasted that the sector would grow by 84 percent through 2018. The country has also set ambitious goals to grow domestic wind power from just over 2,500 MW of capacity last year to 15,000 MW by 2022. Which is not a small undertaking.
Of course, if you want to get a real picture of what’s happening, follow the money (we’ve heard that’s a smart idea). And in Mexico, the money is moving into clean energy, with investors first putting $2.2 billion into renewables in 2013 and then adding $1.3 billion more in just the first six months of 2014. Fueled by this support, developers are busy working on a range of clean energy projects in areas from biofuels to geothermal to small hydropower to solar to wind.
From the second-largest clean energy market in Latin America to the largest: Brazil. While many countries in the region have looked to fossil fuels or foreign resources to power their economies, Brazil has a long history of working for self-sufficiency and using its own natural resources. The result is that the nation has been able to supply over 80 percent of its electricity needs with renewables, with the bulk coming from hydropower.
Admittedly, large-scale hydropower is not without its own issues and so the good news is that other sectors like wind and solar are starting to really pick up in Brazil. Already, the nation was one of the top 10 globally for clean energy investment in 2013. Plus, wind, to pick just one sector, could reach 12 percent of the nation’s generation capacity by 2023 if Brazil meets its current goals. And with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff recently pledging that the country will generate 20 percent of its energy with non-hydropower renewables by 2030, there’s every reason to expect it will.
Perhaps most importantly, while Brazil was creating a low-carbon economy, it was also living through a decade of extraordinary growth and social progress from 2003—2013 in which over 26 million people emerged from poverty and the country made major strides in reducing inequality.
Reasons For Hope
The bottom line is that we’re seeing countries in every part of the world and all along the economic spectrum increasingly turn to clean energy and thriving as a result. So while the recent headlines on what’s happening in Greenland and Antarctica make for some sobering reading, places like China and India and Mexico and Brazil are proving that we can make smart decisions on how we power our lives without plunging our economies into chaos, like the fossil fuel crowd would have you believe. And that’s a reason for hope worth sharing.
The Climate Reality Project|August 14, 2015
Glacier May Have Lost Largest Chunk of Ice in Recorded History
With the world’s glaciers melting at record rates, the Jakobshavn—Greenland‘s fastest-moving glacier and one of the fastest melting in the world—may have lost its largest chunk of ice in recorded history.
The Washington Post reported that members of the Arctic Sea Ice Forum examined satellite images of the glacier between Aug. 14 and Aug. 16 and found that a large chunk of ice (an estimated total area of of 12.5 square kilometers or five square miles), had broken away from the glacier’s face. The amount is quite possibly the largest ever recorded, some members have speculated.
According to forum member Espen Olsen, this loss is “one of the largest calvings in many years, if not the largest.” (Calving is the sudden release and breaking away of a mass of ice from a glacier, iceberg, ice front, ice shelf or crevasse).
As the Post noted in its report, calving isn’t unusual for this area in Greenland due to rising air and sea temperatures in the Arctic. “As of 2012, the glacier was pouring out ice at a speed of 150 feet per day, nearly three times its flow rate in the 1990s,” the report stated.
“Overall, I don’t think that they really can nail the ‘largest’ [calving event] or not,” he wrote in an email to the publication. “I wouldn’t get too excited on this, even though it is not good news.” He added that the satellite images the forum members observed were only spaced by one full day and the ice loss could have broken off in separate smaller events instead of one giant calving.
Even if this event isn’t the largest ice loss recorded on the glacier, as you can see from these satellite images captured on July 31 and Aug. 16 of this year (just two weeks apart!) by Joshua Stevens, a senior data visualizer and cartographer at NASA’s Earth Observatory, the Jakobshavn is going through tremendous ice loss.
“The calving events of Jakobshavn are becoming more spectacular with time, and I am in awe with the calving speed and retreat rate of this glacier,” said Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a NASA Earth Observatory post. “These images are a very good example of the changes taking place in Greenland.”
The Jakobshavn Glacier on July 31, 2015. Photo credit: NASA
The same glacier on August 16, 2015. Photo credit: NASA
“What is important is that the ice front, or calving front, keeps retreating inland at galloping speeds,” Rignot said.
The Jakobshavn is of particular significance since it is responsible “for draining a large portion of the Greenland Ice Sheet,” and “could contribute more to sea level rise than any other single feature in the Northern Hemisphere,” the Earth Observatory post stated.
According to University of Washington glaciologist Ian Joughin, Jakobshavn’s calving front has moved about 600 meters (2,000 feet) farther inland than the summer before for the last several years.
The Jakobshavn is also one of the fastest-flowing glaciers in the world. In the summer of 2012 alone, the glacier accelerated at a rate of 17 kilometers (10 miles) per year, a speed never witnessed before. On average, the glacier moved nearly three times faster in 2012 than it did in the mid-1990s.
Worldwide, the current rate of glacier melt is without precedent. Recent data compiled by the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) show that several hundred glaciers are losing between half and one meter of thickness every year—at least twice the average loss for the 20th century—and remote monitoring shows this rate of melting is far more widespread.
Lorraine Chow|EcoWatch|August 24, 2015
New Orleans launches resilience roadmap to tackle climate and social challenges
As well as focusing on climate-related catastrophes, the 41-step resilience strategy addresses social issues such as poverty, racial inequality and crime
In the week that marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans officials have launched a comprehensive “resilience strategy” aiming to secure the city’s future.
As well as seeking ways for the city to both prevent and survive more climate-related catastrophes, it treats social challenges such as poverty, racial inequality and crime as disasters that must be addressed if New Orleans is to become truly “resilient”. In the strategy’s parlance, it tackles both “shocks” and “stresses”.
Resilient New Orleans is a joint effort between the city and the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative, which provides money and technical support for urban areas facing threats to their long-term prosperity.
Conceived as a roadmap that highlights priority areas and seeks to close gaps in existing plans, the strategy proposes 41 actions designed to make the city more equitable, adaptable and prosperous, from promoting energy efficiency to enlarging the public transportation network to establishing personal emergency savings accounts to boosting resources to combat the erosion of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands, which are a vital line of defence against severe weather.
While numerous plans and ideas to improve conditions have been proposed in the wake of Katrina, which killed some 1,000 people in Louisiana and displaced hundreds of thousands when levees failed and flooded 80% of New Orleans, officials insisted that the wide-ranging blueprint has the means to succeed.
A short film created to mark the launch of the New Orleans resilience strategy
“People in New Orleans are tired of planning and this strategy is a means to take action,” said Jeff Hebert, the city’s chief resilience officer, at the launch on Tuesday. A statement said that “partners in the private and philanthropic sector will provide greater than $1m in immediate tools and services” to begin implementing the strategy, and more funds will be sought from a variety of sources.
“All of the actions have pretty clear ownership and there’s been a lot of work already to identify who the partners are who will support the actions,” said Michael Berkowitz, the 100 Resilient Cities president. “Cities that have that catalyst for change, the ones that have suffered through severe events or have really clear risk profiles, those cities sometimes do the most innovative work because the mayor doesn’t have to convince anyone that business as usual’s not going to work. Everybody in the city describes time as ‘before Katrina’ and ‘after Katrina’.”
The mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, said the city is in negotiations with FEMA, the federal emergency management agency, about how to proceed with the reconstruction of its water and drainage system. In an example of how the project seeks to foster interconnectedness, Landrieu said he hoped the overhaul would provide employment and training opportunities for many of the city’s jobless. “Everything we do now has a resilience lens on it,” he said.
The 90-page strategy (PDF) was developed over nine months and sought input from members of the local community. One, Jeffrey Schwartz, is the executive director of Broad Community Connections, an organisation aiming to revitalize one of the city’s most historic and busy thoroughfares.
“New Orleans has horrible rates of obesity and diabetes; that is in part because we suffer from not having enough fresh food access and access to healthcare,” Schwartz said. He said that one of the group’s aims is to “overlay real-estate development with programming” – not installing business tenants who are able to pay the highest rents, but ones who best meet local needs.
The strategy calls for leveraging resources for coastal projects – for example, by using money from the BP oil spill settlement – as well as an outreach campaign to improve public awareness of environmental issues. It also stresses the importance of implementing projects that will help urban areas live with stormwater, not simply keep it out.
A microgrid project is planned that will enhance the city’s backup electricity generation and mitigate the effects of outages, which could be vital in keeping essential services running in the event of another hurricane. Another suggestion is to put solar panels on New Orleans’ city hall.
“If you’re going to live in a coastal city, you have to speed up your ability to respond. It’s not just about building to prevent a disaster, it’s got to be about the response and the comeback after a disaster,” said David Muth, director of the Gulf Restoration Program at the National Wildlife Federation.
Muth said the rebuilt levees ($14.5bn has been spent on upgrades to the flood defence system since Katrina) plus a recent influx of new residents who were not in the city during the 2005 storm risked breeding a sense of complacency that is dangerous given the worsening effects of climate change on the region.
Jeff Hebert was moved to return home to New Orleans by the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. In the decade since, he has been at the heart of efforts to rebuild a stronger city, culminating in today’s launch of a future master plan
On average, the Louisiana coast is losing wetlands at the rate of a football field every hour: “Deltas are not static … the sea has been winning for 300 years and that victory has accelerated over the past 100 years,” Muth said. “The cost of prevention is tiny compared to the cost of rebuilding and eventually having to move much of the city’s infrastructure because we can’t hang on to it where it is … We’ve had a series of storms that really bring home the message: ‘Guys, we’re way more vulnerable than we thought.’”
As part of the strategy, a “resilience center” will open in New Orleans to serve as a resource and training facility for cities around the world, encouraging the sharing of ideas and best practices.
“What makes [the strategy] so impressive is that it’s so fully integrated,” said Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation. “It really is looking at the physical infrastructure, both natural and built, and linking it to economic and social resilience. For New Orleans to really recover and for most cities around the world to become truly resilient, the three domains – physical, economic and social – need to be tightly interwoven, and this really does do that.”
Video: 100 Resilient Cities
Tom Dart in New Orleans|26 August 2015
Deadly Heat Waves Sweep the Globe
This summer is undoubtedly one for the record books. Brutal heat has literally melted roads, ignited forest fires and affected millions around the planet. Extreme weather has scorched the Middle East, Asia, Europe and the U.S, as weather experts predict that this year will surpass last year as the hottest in recorded history.
“I’d not be surprised if 2015 ends up the warmest year on record,” said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) climate monitoring chief Derek Arndt in June.
The Middle East
Death tolls are currently climbing in Egypt as temperatures soar to 114 degrees Fahrenheit. The Associated Press reported that more than 60 people—mostly elderly—have died from the heat and high humidity. An additional 581 people have been hospitalized for heat exhaustion.
The entire region has been devastated by the relentless heat. Earlier this week, Iran hit a sweltering 164 degrees—just a few degrees shy of the highest ever record heat index. Pakistan’s devastating heat wave in June killed 1,233 and hospitalized more than 1,900 due to dehydration, heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses. In neighboring India, 2,500 people succumbed to heat a month earlier.
Japan is experiencing heat-related deaths in 29 out of its 47 prefectures, with Tokyo currently experiencing an “unprecedented” streak of temperatures over 95 degrees, according to Weather.com. The week of July 27 through Aug. 2—where 25 people died from heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses—was considered the “deadliest” week in the country and nearly equaled the death toll of 30 in the preceding three months combined, Weather.com added in its report.
Elsewhere in Asia, Chinese weather authorities have issued heat wave alerts as some parts of the country experienced temperatures in the triple digits. The Guardian also reported in July that North Koreans were ordered to start work at 5 a.m. in order to cope with temperatures around 104 degrees Fahrenheit in Pyongyang.
The heat has smashed records across the continent, reminding some of the devastating summer of 2003 that claimed 30,000 lives. “Europeans have been painfully aware of the dangers of extreme heat since the killer heat wave of July 2003,” said Weather.com senior meteorologist Nick Wiltgen.
“This July 2015 was the warmest July on record for Spain, Italy, Switzerland and Austria,” Dr. Jeff Masters, Weather Underground’s director of meteorology, told the website.
Eastern Europe is also seeing temperatures up to the mid-90s, when highs around 75 are more common this time of year, AccuWeather wrote. And Poland is also experiencing the mass extinction of one very unsuspecting victim: IKEA meatballs.
Although summer is coming to an end, many parts of the U.S. will still be baking in the sun’s rays. Some Los Angelenos, for instance, will feel temperatures in the 100s this week, the Los Angeles Times reported. Stuart Seto, a weather specialist with the National Weather Service, told the publication on Monday that while the city’s temperatures are not record-breaking, they are still about 10 degrees above average for this time of year.
The American summer of 2015 has also been marked by destructive wildfires that have burned through the West. So far, flames have burned nearly 5 million acres (an area the size of Connecticut) in the state of Alaska. Climate Central even created an interactive map that shows in real time the active wildfires in the U.S.
Global warming has been suggest as one of the possible culprits of this extreme heat.
“The heat wave is still ongoing and it is premature to say whether it can be attributed to climate change or whether it is due to naturally occurring climate variability,” stated Omar Baddour, who coordinates the World Meteorological Organization’s World Climate Data and Monitoring Program.
“But climate change scenarios predict that heat waves will become more intense, more frequent and longer. It is notable that the time between major heat waves (2003, 2010 and 2015) is getting shorter,” he added.
Lorraine Chow|August 13, 2015
Drought may worsen wildlife encounters
Scarcity of food spurs unusual activity in Calif.
LOOMIS, Calif. — The scarcity of food in the wild has been blamed for unusual animal activity during California’s drought including a recent bear attack, mountain lion sightings and an uptick in orphaned animals.
But the devastating four-year drought that’s dried up streams and vegetation isn’t the sole cause, state officials and experts say. Instead, they say the drought is worsening long-term trends and natural animal behaviors in a state that is becoming increasingly developed.
Pools and lush gardens in residential areas are attractive to animals forced out of their normal homes. The construction of roads and business developments, along with man’s increased movement into rural areas, had begun fragmenting habitats before the drought.
“You have a longer-term trend exacerbated by this acute change in water availability,” said Dick Cameron, a scientist who studies habitat fragmentation for The Nature Conservancy in California.
Diane Nicholas, 63, believes a dearth of water and fresh vegetation in the Sierra Foothills is behind what’s been the busiest year for her fawn rescue in Loomis, California, near Sacramento. For nine years, the Kindred Spirits Fawn Rescue has cared for hundreds of fawns found injured on roads or caught in fences, near dead mothers in the wild or alone on suburban lawns.
Nicholas, an interior designer, said she received more baby deer in April than in any other year and is on track to rehabilitate a record 200.
Some were found stuck in nearby canals where they had gone in search of water. Five fawns came to her weighing less than 2 pounds, the first she’s ever seen them so small. Others were found near underweight mothers that apparently died in childbirth.
“These does have been in such poor health that when they give birth it takes it all out of them,” Nichols said. “We have to assume it’s a lack of food and water.”
Marc Kenyon, who oversees the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s human conflict program, said rangers are also seeing an uptick in orphaned mountain lion kittens and bear cubs. He said officials need years of data before determining a drought link because unusual trends may also be driven by climate change, disease or genetics.
Meanwhile, Nichols isn’t only worried about deer in the drought. A bear wandered on her property for the first time.
Unusual bear activity around the state has raised alarms. An increased number of bears — in new areas — have been spotted in Bakersfield in Southern California. Statewide, there has been an uptick in black bear-human encounters, including a recent non-fatal attack on a man who lives near Yosemite National Park.
Wildlife officials say it’s indisputable that some bears are expanding their search for food, but populations have been thriving.
“Just the sheer fact you see animals around you doesn’t mean it’s a true drought relationship,” said Jason Holley, a supervising wildlife biologist for the state. “Most large animals are drought-adapted in California. They’ve gone through this stuff before, and they’ll find resources they need.”
Even though California is almost entirely in drought, food supplies have been replenished in pockets of the state. Summer thunderstorms in the Sierra Nevada are helping mushrooms and grass sprout in swaths of forestland.
Fraser Schilling, co-director The Road Ecology Center at the University of California-Davis, said his study of 29,000 road kill reports from volunteers over five years makes him think animals seem to be crossing more roads in the search for food.
“There are so many stresses on wildlife populations from things that are our responsibility that when drought comes along, it really slams them up against the ropes,” Shilling said.
FENIT NIRAPPIL|ASSOCIATED PRESS|8/23/15
Extreme weather could bring food shortages
Food shortages and price increases caused by extreme weather will be three times more likely in the coming decades, according to a new report.
The U.K.-U.S. Taskforce on Extreme Weather and Global Food System Resilience found that unless better planning, modeling and trade arrangements are put in place, massive disruptions to the food supply that usually only occur once a century will happen every 30 years.
Extreme weather in areas that produce the most important crops is largely the cause. A massive drought is already underway in California — the world’s richest food-producing region — causing a loss of 30 percent of its cropland.
The U.S. isn’t alone in feeling the effects of extreme weather. Venezuela is undergoing beer shortages because of a heat wave.
Countries that are heavy grain importers will be the most vulnerable, the task force reported. The U.S. and European Union will likely be sheltered from widespread effects because of the ability to outbid other countries for food supplies, the report found.
California Isn’t the Only State With a Drought Problem
National headlines are dedicated to California’s wildfires this year, as the state is already experiencing massive and difficult to control fires. Unfortunately, the situation will likely get worse as the summer progresses. However, as a series of very aggressive fires in Oregon and Washington illustrates, California isn’t the only state struggling to get a handle on runaway fires — and it’s also not the only state facing the severe drought that tends to fan the flames. As California occupies a lion’s share of national and international headlines about extremely dry conditions, other states are getting short shrift. This isn’t just an issue of losing out at the senior dance: Such coverage can affect water policy and financial aid to help affected states.
Some climatologists believe that the United States may be looking at a “megadrought.” All states west of the Mississippi are experiencing water shortages, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data indicates that California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Idaho and Montana are all likely to experience an “intensification” of drought conditions. Arizona and New Mexico are also looking at low water supplies, though NOAA officials believe it’s possible drought conditions may be lifted in future climate projections.
Climatologists assessing the possible causes of the megadrought are also reluctant to blame it on global warming, as historic evidence suggests that it may be natural and part of a cyclical pattern. Native communities may have survived droughts via tactics like relocating and changing their practices — though some, like the Pueblo, appear to have been unable to cope with the change in climate — but Europeans stumbled upon North America when the continent was rich in water supplies, and colonized it accordingly, without consideration for future water conservation. Now, they’re dealing with the consequences.
This illustrates that shrinking water supplies and inadequate rainfall aren’t just a problem in the Golden State, and all states need to begin to think about reforming water policy to address the possibility of a long-term change in water availability. Water shortages across the West have already caused problems like mass livestock dieoffs in Texas, uncontrolled wildfires in Montana, and the deaths of acres of orchards in California. These problems are having a direct social and economic impact on affected states, cutting at the baseline of their economy and making financial survival difficult for those who rely on the land to make a living — farmers in particular are struggling across the West because they can’t irrigate crops and provide water for their livestock. That has a ripple effect along the economic chain, as reduced farm profits equate to reduced tax profits, export dollars and other benefits for the state economy as a whole, while fires necessitate substantial expenses for paying fire crews, evacuating affected communities, and providing financial aid and assistance for fire recovery.
The drought is also permanently changing the landscape of the American West. Low rainfall paired with depletion of the region’s aquifers has resulted in desertification in some regions, and some authorities believe that so-called “desert bands” may be on their way North. Desert conditions currently seen in regions like Arizona and Southern California could work their way into some of the most fertile parts of the country, which could be potentially devastating for food security as well as economic health; California, for example, could go from an extremely wealthy state to one that needs considerable federal assistance to cope with changes in the landscape.
California’s famous changes to water policy — many of which unfortunately focus on individuals rather than big culprits like the agricultural industry — are capturing attention, but other Western states have been slow to enact water restrictions. Some, like Arizona, believe they have sufficient reserves to weather out, so to speak, conditions that they see as temporary. Others may not realize the extent of the problems they’re facing, an issue that could potentially have a devastating effect on residents and the natural environment. Water rights have historically been an extremely contentious issue in the West, with states battling for bigger shares of sources like the Rio Grande River, and the problem will escalate unless they can reach a uniform convention, not just on water rights, but water policy within individual states, as those with more radical conservation measures may come to resent those without such measures in place.
s.e. smith|August 24, 2015
Extreme Drought Hits South Florida
While the drought in California grabs headlines across the country, other places around the U.S. and the world are experiencing brutal droughts. It’s well known that much of the Western U.S. is in some level of a drought—parts of Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana are all experiencing severe to exceptional drought. But little attention has been paid to the drought gripping South Florida.
Much of South Florida is in severe to extreme drought. Photo credit: U.S. Drought Monitor
While it has not been languishing for four years like the state of California, South Florida is in the midst of a severe to extreme drought, according to the latest data from the U.S. Drought Monitor. And South Florida happens to be home to a whole lot of people—the drought there is affecting more than 5.5 million.
South Florida’s tropical savanna climate has two distinct seasons: wet and dry. The dry season is considered to be roughly from November to April and makes up for about 25 percent of yearly rainfall. That means three-quarters of South Florida’s rainfall arrives between May and October, and to date, many areas are recording 10 to 16 inches below normal with North Perry Airport recording a whopping 20 inches below normal as of Aug. 20. Rainfall that low has resulted in the driest wet season on record for North Perry along with Fort Lauderdale and Tamiami. And almost every other area in South Florida is having one of its driest wet seasons on record.
In addition to a lack of rainfall, “fresh water usage has been a big factor” in South Florida’s drought, reports The Washington Post. “Agricultural irrigation, commercial and residential needs place demands on the region’s fresh water supply, both in lakes and in the subterranean aquifers,” said The Post.
Far too much of the freshwater that is available is polluted from farm runoff. The South Florida Water Management District board applauded farmers earlier this month for reducing phosphorus pollution again this year, but environmentalists were quick to point out that due to water quality restrictions the water could not go to the southern Everglades, where the water is desperately needed.
Cole Mellino|August 25, 2015
Humans to Blame for Catastrophic Drought in California, Scientists Say
One way or another, humans are to blame for the catastrophic drought in California that scientists say may be emerging as a “new normal.”
Either humans have mismanaged the state’s water or human-triggered global warming has begun to help turn America’s landscape of wine and roses into a dustbowl, according to two new studies.
And the arguments have relevance extending far beyond the U.S. west, as the European Drought Observatory has warned that much of mainland Europe is now caught up in the continent’s worst drought since 2003.
The consequences of any drought could also be more enduring than expected. A research team in the U.S. reports in the journal Ecological Applications that trees that survived severe drought in the U.S. southeast 10 years ago are now dying—because of the long-ended drought.
Such statements are simple, but the connections with climate change are complex. That is because drought is a natural cyclic turn of events, even in well-watered countries. It is one of those extremes that, summed up, make the average climate.
Global warming or not, droughts would happen. California in particular has a history of periodic drought that dates back far beyond European settlement and the state’s growth to become the most populous in the U.S.
But the drought that began in 2012—and which has cost the agricultural industry more than $2 billion, lost 17,000 jobs and so far killed 12 million trees—is the worst in at least a century.
Amir AghaKouchak, a hydrologist at the University of California Irvine and colleagues say in Nature journal that they want authorities to recognize that human factors are making cyclic water scarcity worse.
“Severe and long-lasting droughts have occurred in reconstructions of the region’s past climate, so it is not clear whether California’s current drought is a temporary weather condition or is the emergence of a ‘new normal.’
“Observations and climate projections indicate that California’s climate is warming, with more winter rainfall instead of snow, earlier snow melt and decreases in spring and summer stream flows. Future droughts will be compounded by more-intense heatwaves and more wildfires.
“Soaring temperatures will increase demand for energy just when water for power generation and cooling is in short supply. Such changes will increase the tension between human priorities and nature’s share.”
The researchers leave open the question of the role of global warming, fueled by rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide because of increasing fossil fuel combustion. But U.S. scientists report in Geophysical Research Letters that they think global warming could have contributed up to 27 percent of the present drought.
Their study, based on analysis of month-by-month meteorological data for more than a century, identifies a trend towards drought that is in step with warming since 1901. And they argue that even through the present drought is natural, it has been modestly intensified by climate change.
More ominously, global warming has amplified the probability of severe drought. The new study suggests that by the 2060s, California may be in more or less permanent drought. Rainfall might increase, but not enough to make up for greater evaporation because of rising temperatures.
“A lot of people think that the amount of rain that falls out the sky is the only thing that matters,” says the report’s lead author, A. Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “But warming changes the baseline amount of water that’s available to us, because it sends water back into the sky.”
Tim Radford|Climate News Network|August 28, 2015
Ten Years After Katrina
Hurricane Katrina killed more than 1,800 people, devastated a great American city and caused more than a hundred billion dollars of damage. An enormous natural disaster was amplified by governmental incompetence and indifference into a human tragedy that shocked the world. Today, a full decade later, aftershocks of Katrina are still being felt, particularly in New Orleans, which has never completely recovered.
Although the events of 10 years ago were certainly momentous enough in and of themselves to warrant commemoration, Katrina is also a harbinger of our future. We know that climate disruption threatens to increase the frequency of extreme weather events, from droughts to heat waves to hurricanes. Extreme storm surges like those from Katrina and Superstorm Sandy will become 10 times more frequent, even if we succeed in limiting global temperature increase to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. That works out to a Katrina every other year.
But the most important lesson we can take from Katrina has more to do with people than weather. The storm itself was only partially responsible for the extensive damage and suffering in New Orleans. When the levees failed, it was because no one cared enough to ensure that they were properly engineered and constructed. When thousands of people found themselves caught in the storm’s path, it’s because no one cared enough to help them evacuate. Even after the storm had passed and survivors were sickened by the formaldehyde in FEMA trailers … well, you get the idea.
When it comes to disasters caused by climate disruption and extreme weather, there’s nothing fair about which people will end up being hurt the most. Low-income communities and communities of color are not only the first in the line of fire but also the last when it comes to getting help. In New Orleans, for Katrina, it was the Lower 9th Ward. In New York, for Sandy, it was the outer boroughs. But look almost anywhere and you’ll find people living in frontline communities that are both more vulnerable to disasters and less able to recover in the aftermath.
In fact, the same kind of injustice applies on a global scale—many of the poor and developing nations that have been the least responsible for climate disruption will nevertheless be the hardest hit by its effects.
That is why we cannot tackle climate disruption without also addressing climate justice. That means dismantling the racial and economic injustice that leaves some people, through no fault of their own, at much greater risk from the effects of climate disruption.
Watch a video
Michael Brune|President and Director|Sierra Club|August 29, 2015
Thousands of Walruses Stranded Ashore in Alaska Once Again Due to Rapidly Melting Sea Ice
In what has now become a regular occurrence, thousands of walruses are being forced ashore on a remote barrier island in Alaska, threatening their survival. Walruses use sea ice to rest and feed. But with Arctic sea ice hitting a new low this past winter and fears that the Arctic could be entirely ice-free in summer months by the 2030s, walruses have no choice but to crowd ashore in mass numbers.
The first reported sighting this year was earlier this week. Gary Braasch, an environmental photographer, told The Guardian he first spotted the walruses coming ashore on the southern end of the barrier island, about two miles from the hamlet of Point Lay. The mass stranding comes ahead of President Obama’s visit to Alaska to shed a spotlight on the toll climate change is taking on the Arctic region.
Last year, upwards of 35,000 walruses were forced ashore, setting a record. U.S. government agencies and the Native village of Point Lay ask that the media refrain from visiting the community to film or “sightsee” as “the walruses need space to reduce disturbance and possible trampling of animals.” Since at least 2007, due to the loss of sea ice in the Chukchi Sea, “walrus females and calves are coming ashore in the late summer/early fall in large numbers near the community,” said U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Geological Survey in a joint statement.
Thousands of walruses are once again forced ashore due to rapidly melting Arctic sea ice. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries
The site has been occupied by as many as 20,000 to 40,000 animals at its peak, according to Jim MacCracken, supervisory wildlife biologist with the USFWS. Scientists worry that any disturbances could lead to large stampedes, which injure and kill some walruses, especially calves.
“Last year, it was estimated that 60 young walruses were killed because of the sheer number of animals gathered together,” said the agencies. The noise from overhead aircraft is of particular concern, and the agencies are considering placing temporary flight restrictions within the vicinity of the “haulout”—the term given to when walruses rest and feed in coastal areas during their migration.
It’s common for Pacific walruses to use coastal haulouts for resting during the fall southward migration, the agencies explained. Adult males, in particular, routinely use coastal haulouts along the Bering Sea in both Russia and the U.S. during the summer months, as evidenced by this live cam of 14,000 walruses relaxing on an Alaskan island. But females and their calves prefer to rest and feed more on ice floes until they begin to migrate back to the Bering Sea for the winter.
“Ice floes provide protection from predators, allow walrus to haul out in smaller groups and provide easy access to feeding areas below,” said the agencies. With Alaska and the rest of the Arctic rapidly warming, that leaves walruses no choice but to come ashore.
Cole Mellino|August 28, 2015
Genetically Modified Organisms
The Latest Herbicide Scare: Here’s What You Need to Know
Two scientists have spoken out in the New England Journal of Medicine saying that the EPA’s continued support for the herbicide glyphosate, better known as the major component of Roundup, may be putting people at risk. Are these claims credible, and if so what should happen next?
The researchers, Doctor Philip Landrigan, Dean for Global Health at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, and Professor Chuck Benbroo of Washington State University’s crops and soil science department, argue that the GMO crop boom teamed with “growing” herbicide use may pose a risk to public health and at the very least requires further study.
The researchers are also highly critical of the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent approval of Enlist Duo, a weed killer that contains glyphosate as well as a herbicide known as 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, another herbicide that some campaigners contend is dangerous. In approving Enlist Duo, the EPA said there was no convincing evidence of glyphosate being unsafe, however the opinion piece disputes that claim:
In our view, the science and the risk assessment supporting the Enlist Duo decision are flawed. The science consisted solely of toxicological studies commissioned by the herbicide manufacturers in the 1980s and 1990s and never published, not an uncommon practice in U.S. pesticide regulation. These studies predated current knowledge of low-dose, endocrine-mediated, and epigenetic effects and were not designed to detect them. The risk assessment gave little consideration to potential health effects in infants and children, thus contravening federal pesticide law. It failed to consider ecologic impact, such as effects on the monarch butterfly and other pollinators. It considered only pure glyphosate, despite studies showing that formulated glyphosate that contains surfactants and adjuvants is more toxic than the pure compound.
The researchers call for the EPA to “delay implementation of its decision to permit use of Enlist Duo.” It also urges authorities to “revisit the United States’ reluctance to label GM foods,” arguing, “Labeling will deliver multiple benefits. It is essential for tracking emergence of novel food allergies and assessing effects of chemical herbicides applied to GM crops.”
While there is a side-swipe at GMOs in this opinion piece (which we’ll return to later), the underlying complaint about glyphosate use has taken on renewed importance this year.
What is the Current Thinking of Other Nations on Glyphosate Support?
Countries like El Salvador have already banned glyphosate use for general farming purposes. A number of European states have also banned or restricted glyphosate-based products. However other governments argue that glyphosate actually makes crop management safer because it doesn’t require multiple insecticides and instead can be blanket applied and its effects carefully tracked.
That acknowledged, we can’t help but mention that earlier this year the cancer research arm of the World Health Organization (known as the International Agency for Research on Cancer) issued a determination saying glyphosate herbicides are “probably carcinogenic” to humans and should be classed as a Group 2A substance, this being the second highest risk classification. The researchers noted that there are few studies that directly link glyphosate exposure to an increased risk of cancer, and even some large reviews dispute it, but there is limited evidence to show crop field workers tend to be at higher risk of lymphoma, while animal studies have shown that exposure to high levels of the herbicide appears to increase tumor risk.
Supporters of the herbicide have hit back saying that those animal tests all used exposures that were far higher than would actually be present in every day life, but critics of glyphosate reply that, given that glyphosate is being specifically prepared for use with the growing GMO crop industry and therefore will be used more widely in the future, highlighting the potential–though not proved–risk is sensible.
Monsanto, the company behind Roundup, has arranged for an independent review of WHO’s findings and disputes its claims.
Is This Opinion Piece Credible?
Some critics of the opinion piece point out that it scaremongers about GMO crops–which of themselves have been found to be safe by literally hundreds if not thousands of studies–but that this is no surprise because both scientists but particularly Charles Benbrook are anti-GMO and anti-herbicide campaigners. This of course isn’t proof of bias however.
In terms of more substantial criticism, a number of researchers have accused Benbrook and Landrigan of misleading people with their choice of facts. Dr. Andrew Kniss of the University of Wyoming is quoted as saying: Dr. Landrigan and Dr. Benbrook cite glyphosate-resistant weeds as a primary reason why “fields must now be treated with multiple herbicides.” … [G]glyphosate-resistant weeds may certainly have increased the number of herbicides used per acre compared to 5 years ago, but the change has been relatively modest when compared to herbicide use before the adoption of GMO crops.”
It appears that while the piece raises a number of important issues, like that of weed resistance and the World Health Organization’s determination against glyphosate, there are several weaknesses that make its general points difficult to take seriously.
What Can We Take From This Media Storm?
The good news is that this opinion piece actually provides little in the way of evidence to support any major concerns over glyphosate that weren’t already known. Going forward then, continued discussion and investigation into herbicide use will be key.
In the meantime, campaigners will no doubt continue to call on the EPA to rethink its support for glyphosate products, especially in light of the World Health Organization’s controversial findings.
Steve Williams|August 23, 2015
Pesticides in paradise: Hawaii’s spike in birth defects puts focus on GM crops
Local doctors are in the eye of a storm swirling for the past three years over whether corn that’s been genetically modified to resist pesticides is a source of prosperity, as companies claim, or of birth defects and illnesses
The baby was born minutes before with a severe heart malformation that would require complex surgery. What worried her as she waited for the ambulance plane to take the infant from Waimea, on the island of Kauai, to the main children’s hospital in Honolulu, on another Hawaiian island, was that it was the fourth one she had seen in three years.
In all of Waimea, there have been at least nine in five years, she says, shaking her head. That’s more than 10 times the national rate, according to analysis by local doctors.
Nelson, a Californian, and other local doctors find themselves in the eye of a storm swirling for the past three years around the Hawaiian archipelago over whether a major cash crop on four of the six main islands, corn that’s been genetically modified to resist pesticides, is a source of prosperity, as the companies claim – or of birth defects and illnesses, as the doctors and many others suspect.
After four separate attempts to rein in the companies over the past two years all failed, an estimated 10,000 people marched on 9 August through Honolulu’s Waikiki tourist district. Some held signs like, “We Deserve the Right to Know: Stop Poisoning Paradise” and “Save Hawaii – Stop GMOs” (Genetically Modified Organisms), while others protested different issues.
“The turnout and the number of groups marching showed how many people are very frustrated with the situation,” says native Hawaiian activist Walter Ritte of the island of Molokai.
Seventeen times more pesticide
Waimea, a small town of low, pastel wood houses built in south-west Kauai for plantation workers in the 19th century, now sustains its economy mostly from a trickle of tourists on their way to a spectacular canyon. Perhaps 200 people work full-time for the four giant chemical companies that grow the corn – all of it exported – on some 12,000 acres leased mostly from the state.
In Kauai, chemical companies Dow, BASF, Syngenta and DuPont spray 17 times more pesticide per acre (mostly herbicides, along with insecticides and fungicides) than on ordinary cornfields in the US mainland, according to the most detailed study of the sector, by the Center for Food Safety.
That’s because they are precisely testing the strain’s resistance to herbicides that kill other plants. About a fourth of the total are called Restricted Use Pesticides because of their harmfulness. Just in Kauai, 18 tons – mostly atrazine, paraquat (both banned in Europe) and chlorpyrifos – were applied in 2012. The World Health Organization this year announced that glyphosate, sold as Roundup, the most common of the non-restricted herbicides, is “probably carcinogenic in humans”.
The cornfields lie above Waimea as the land, developed in the 1870s for the Kekaha Sugar Company plantation, slopes gently up toward arid, craggy hilltops. Most fields are reddish-brown and perfectly furrowed. Some parts are bright green: that’s when the corn is actually grown.
Both parts are sprayed frequently, sometimes every couple of days. Most of the fields lie fallow at any given time as they await the next crop, but they are still sprayed with pesticides to keep anything from growing. “To grow either seed crops or test crops, you need soil that’s essentially sterile,” says professor Hector Valenzuela of the University of Hawaii department of tropical plant and soil science.
When the spraying is underway and the wind blows downhill from the fields to the town – a time no spraying should occur – residents complain of stinging eyes, headaches and vomiting.
“Your eyes and lungs hurt, you feel dizzy and nauseous. It’s awful,” says middle school special education teacher Howard Hurst, who was present at two evacuations. “Here, 10% of the students get special-ed services, but the state average is 6.3%,” he says. “It’s hard to think the pesticides don’t play a role.”
At these times, many crowd the waiting rooms of the town’s main hospital, which was run until recently by Dow AgroSciences’ former chief lobbyist in Honolulu. It lies beside the middle school, both 1,700ft from Syngenta fields. The hospital, built by the old sugar plantation, has never studied the effects of the pesticides on its patients.
The chemical companies that grow the corn in land previously used for sugar refuse to disclose with any precision which chemicals they use, where and in what amounts, but they insist the pesticides are safe, and most state and local politicians concur. “The Hawai‘i legislature has never given the slightest indication that it intended to regulate genetically engineered crops,” wrote lawyer Paul Achitoff of Earthjustice in a recent court case.
As for the birth defects spike, “We have not seen any credible source of statistical health information to support the claims,” said Bennette Misalucha, executive director of Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, the chemical companies trade association, in a written statement distributed by a publicist. She declined to be interviewed.
Nelson, the pediatrician, points out that American Academy of Pediatrics’ report, Pesticide Exposure in Children, found “an association between pesticides and adverse birth outcomes, including physical birth defects”. Noting that local schools have been evacuated twice and children sent to hospital because of pesticide drift, Nelson says doctors need prior disclosure of sprayings: “It’s hard to treat a child when you don’t know which chemical he’s been exposed to.”
Her concerns and those of most of her colleagues have grown as the chemical companies doubled to 25,000 acres in a decade the area in Hawaii they devote to growing new varieties of herbicide-resistant corn.
Today, about 90% of industrial GMO corn grown in the US was originally developed in Hawaii, with the island of Kauai hosting the biggest area. The balmy weather yields three crops a year instead of one, allowing the companies to bring a new strain to market in a third of the time.
Once it’s ready, the same fields are used to raise seed corn, which is sent to contract farms on the mainland. It is their output, called by critics a pesticide delivery system, that is sold to the US farmers, along with the pesticides manufactured by the breeder that each strain has been modified to tolerate.
Corn’s uses are as industrial as its cultivation: less than 1% is eaten. About 40% is turned into ethanol for cars, 36% becomes cattle feed, 10% is used by the food industry and the rest is exported.
‘We just want to gather information’
At a Starbucks just outside Honolulu, Sidney Johnson, a pediatric surgeon at the Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children who oversees all children born in Hawaii with major birth defects and operates on many, says he’s been thinking about pesticides a lot lately. The reason: he’s noticed that the number of babies born here with their abdominal organs outside, a rare condition known as gastroschisis, has grown from three a year in the 1980s to about a dozen now.
“We have cleanest water and air in the world,” he says. So he’s working with a medical student on a study of his hospital’s records to determine whether the parents of the gastroschisis infants were living near fields that were being sprayed around the time of conception and early pregnancy. He plans to extend the study to parents of babies suffering from heart defects.
“You kind of wonder why this wasn’t done before,” he says. “Data from other states show there might be a link, and Hawaii might be the best place to prove it.”
Unbeknownst to Johnson, another two physicians have been heading in the same direction, but with some constraints. They’re members of a state-county commission appointed this year to “determine if there are human harms coming from these pesticides”, as its chairman, a professional facilitator named Peter Adler, tells a meeting of angry local residents in Waimea earlier this month. Several express skepticism that the panel is anything but another exercise in obfuscation.
The panel of nine part-time volunteers also includes two scientists from the chemical companies and several of their critics. “We just want to gather information and make some recommendations,” Adler tells the crowd of about 60 people. “We won’t be doing any original research.”
But one of the two doctors, a retired pediatrician named Lee Evslin, plans to do just that. “I want see if any health trends stand out among people that might have been exposed to pesticides,” he says in an interview. “It won’t be a full epidemiological study, but it will probably be more complete than anything that’s been done before.”
The panel itself, called the Joint Fact-Finding Study Group on Genetically Modified Crops and Pesticides on Kauaʻi, is the only achievement of three years of failed attempts to force the companies to disclose in advance what they spray and to create buffer zones – which they do in 11 other states, where food crops receive much less pesticides per acre.
The pushback from the expansion of the GMO acreage first emerged when Gary Hooser of Kauai, a former state senate majority leader who failed in a bid for lieutenant governor in 2010, ran for his old seat on the Kauai County council in 2012.
“Everywhere I went, people were concerned about GMOs and pesticides. They were saying, ‘Gary, we gotta do something’,” he recounts over coffee at the trendy Ha Coffee Bar in Lihue, the island’s capital. “Some were worried about the GMO process itself and others by the threats of the pesticides, and it became one of the dominant political issues.”
Once elected, Hooser, who has a ruddy complexion, piercing blue eyes and arrived in Hawaii as a teenager from California, approached the companies for information about exactly what they were spraying and in what amounts. He was rebuffed.
In the process of what he called “doing my homework”, he discovered that the companies, unlike regular farmers, were operating under a decades-old Environmental Protection Agency permit to discharge toxic chemicals in water that had been grandfathered from the days of the sugar plantation, when the amounts and toxicities of pesticides were much lower. The state has asked for a federal exemption for the companies so they can avoid modern standards of compliance.
He also found that the companies, unlike regular farmers, don’t pay the 4% state excise tax. Some weren’t even asked to pay property taxes, worth $125,000 a year. After pressure from Hooser and the county tax office, the companies paid two years’ worth of back taxes.
So with the backing of three other members of the seven-member Kauai council, he drafted a law requiring the companies to disclose yearly what they had grown and where, and to announce in advance which pesticides they proposed to spray, where and when. The law initially also imposed a moratorium on the chemical companies expanding their acreage while their environmental impact was assessed.
After a series of hearings packed by company employees and their families wearing blue and opponents wearing red, the bill was watered down by eliminating the moratorium and reducing the scope of the environmental study. The ordinance then passed, but the companies sued in federal court, where a judge ruled that the state’s law on pesticides precluded the counties from regulating them. After the ruling, the state and the county created the joint fact-finding panel officially committed to conducting no new research.
Hooser is confident the ruling will be overturned on appeal: the Hawaii constitution “specifically requires” the state and the counties to protect the communities and their environment.
In his appeal, Achitoff of Earthjustice argued that Hawaii’s general pesticide law does not “demonstrate that the legislature intended to force the county to sit and watch while its schoolchildren are being sent to the hospital so long as state agencies do not remedy the problem.”
In the Big Island, which is called Hawaii and hosts no GMO corn, a similar process unfolded later in 2013: the county council passed a law that effectively banned the chemical companies from moving in, and it was struck down in federal court for the same reasons. A ban on genetically modified taro, a food root deemed sacred in Hawaiian mythology, was allowed to stand.
In Maui County, which includes the islands of Maui and Molokai, both with large GMO corn fields, a group of residents calling themselves the Shaka Movement sidestepped the company-friendly council and launched a ballot initiative that called for a moratorium on all GMO farming until a full environmental impact statement is completed there.
The companies, primarily Monsanto, spent $7.2m on the campaign ($327.95 per “no” vote, reported to be the most expensive political campaign in Hawaii history) and still lost.
Again, they sued in federal court, and, a judge found that the Maui County initiative was preempted by federal law. Those rulings are also being appealed.
In the state legislature in Honolulu, Senator Josh Green, a Democrat who then chaired the health committee, earlier this year attempted a fourth effort at curbing the pesticide spraying.
In the legislature, he said, it’s an open secret that most heads of the agriculture committee have had “a closer relationship with the agro-chemical companies than with the environmental groups”.
Green, an emergency room doctor who was raised in Pennsylvania, drafted legislation to mandate some prior disclosure and some buffer zones. “I thought that was a reasonable compromise,” he says. Still, he also drafted a weaker bill as a failsafe. “If even that one doesn’t pass, it’s going to be obvious that the state doesn’t have the political will to stand up to the chemical companies,” he said in a phone interview at the time. “That would be terrible.”
The chairman of the senate agricultural committee, Cliff Tsuji, didn’t even bring the weaker bill to a vote, even though Hawaii’s governor had pledged to sign any bill that created buffer zones.
Asked by email what he would do now, Green replied with a quip: “Drink scotch.”
Christopher Pala in Waimea|23 August 2015
The New England Journal of Medicine Asks FDA to Reconsider Labeling GMO Foods
If 64 countries including Russia and China have transparency in labeling genetically modified foods, or GMOs, why doesn’t the U.S.?
Two big reasons: Big Food and Big Ag lobbyists. Our policy is to approve first and ask questions later.
Trans fats are a perfect example. Trans fats killed hundreds of thousands of people before they were banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration 50 years after they were found to be harmful.
Do we have to wait that long for GMOs? If the conservative The New England Journal of Medicine is calling for better research, clear food labeling and calling out a warning about GMOs, we should be worried!
Here’s an excerpt from what The New England Journal of Medicine said in its recent post “GMOs, Herbicides and Public Health”:
The application of biotechnology to agriculture has been rapid and aggressive. The vast majority of the corn and soybeans grown in the United States are now genetically engineered. Foods produced from GM crops have become ubiquitous. And unlike regulatory bodies in 64 other countries, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require labeling of GM foods.
Two recent developments are dramatically changing the GMO landscape. First, there have been sharp increases in the amounts and numbers of chemical herbicides applied to GM crops, and still further increases—the largest in a generation—are scheduled to occur in the next few years. Second, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified glyphosate, the herbicide most widely used on GM crops, as a “probable human carcinogen” and classified a second herbicide, 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), as a “possible human carcinogen.”
Finally, we believe the time has come to revisit the United States’ reluctance to label GM foods. Labeling will deliver multiple benefits. It is essential for tracking emergence of novel food allergies and assessing effects of chemical herbicides applied to GM crops. It would respect the wishes of a growing number of consumers who insist they have a right to know what foods they are buying and how they were produced. And the argument that there is nothing new about genetic rearrangement misses the point that GM crops are now the agricultural products most heavily treated with herbicides and that two of these herbicides may pose risks of cancer. We hope, in light of this new information, that the FDA will reconsider labeling of GM foods and couple it with adequately funded, long-term post-marketing surveillance.
Write to your representatives, sign petitions and boycott GMO foods (by buying organic when you can). But don’t be complacent. Your future and your children future is at stake!
Dr. Mark Hyman|August 24, 2015
Damning New Study Demonstrates Harm to Animals Raised on GMO Feed
Just when you thought the market for controversy over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) was completely saturated, a new study published in the Journal of Organic Systems finds that pigs raised on a mixed diet of GM corn and GM soy had higher rates of intestinal problems, “including inflammation of the stomach and small intestine, stomach ulcers, a thinning of intestinal walls and an increase in hemorrhagic bowel disease, where a pig can rapidly ‘bleed-out’ from their bowel and die.” Both male and female pigs reared on the GM diet were more likely to have severe stomach inflammation, at a rate of four times and 2.2 times the control group, respectively. There were also reproductive effects: the uteri of female pigs raised on GM feed were 25 percent larger (in proportion to body size) than those of control sows. (All male pigs were neutered, so scientists were unable to study any effects on the male reproductive systems.)
The study confirms anecdotal evidence from hog farmers who’ve reported reproductive and digestive problems in pigs raised on GM feed. Those who were following this sort of news in 2011 will remember an open letter to the USDA from Dr. M. Huber, a professor at Purdue University, about an unknown organism in Roundup Ready crops causing miscarriages in farm animals.
A common complaint from critics of GM technology — often painted as “anti-science” by GM proponents — is that they’ve been inadequately studied. (Don’t think about that for too long — your first instinct is correct, it doesn’t make sense.) The European Union has long based its regulatory framework (and resultant slow adoption of GMOs) on the precautionary principle. And in fact, according to this study, most of the research on the health impacts of GMOs has either been short term (less than 90 days), performed on non-mammals or failed to examine multiple GM traits concurrently, despite that many new GM crops “stack” traits, and that many diets — of both animals and humans — include multiple types of GMOs.
The scientists behind the study report having chosen pigs as their subject for the similarity between their digestive systems and those of humans, and the mixed GM diet for its similarity to the real-life diets of both swine and humans, so this is really damning stuff. They also describe their findings as conservative, noting that even the control group is likely to have been exposed to GMOs in indirect ways they couldn’t avoid, such as trace amounts of GMOs in non-GM feed, and parents fed GM diets.
As one might expect, the scientists conclude their report with a call for more testing, particularly of whether the findings also apply to humans. Scientists at the Consumers Union go one further, saying that concerns raised by the study further underscore the need to label GMOs.
Will the government listen? Time will tell. It’s also hard to predict the potential impact of this study on the U.S. pork market — or on the prices of corn and soy. As we saw recently when Japan and South Korea canceled orders for U.S.-produced wheat after the discovery of unapproved GM wheat in Oregon, not all countries take a laissez-faire approach to GMOs. And what about that merger/takeover of Smithfield Foods by Chinese-held Shanghai, rumored to have been spurred in part by friction over the livestock drug ractopamine? For that matter, will American hog farmers — seeking rightly to avoid sickening their own hogs — seek non-GM feed from other countries?
For now, more questions than answers, but if the findings of this study are as serious as they look, American agriculture may be on the verge of paying a very dear price for a long roll in the hay with the biotech industry.
Leslie Hatfield|Senior editor|GRACE|06/11/2013
Originally published at Ecocentric.
Monsanto ups Syngenta bid, values firm at $47B
U.S.-based Monsanto sweetened its offer to buy Switzerland’s Syngenta, valuing the company at around $47 billion as it tries to lure the Swiss firm to the negotiating table, a person familiar with the matter said on Monday.
Monsanto, which wants to combine its world-leading seeds business with Syngenta’s own seeds and pesticides, raised its offer to 470 Swiss francs ($501.98) per share from CHF 449 per share, the person said.
The increased offer, which sent Syngenta’s shares jumping, is aimed at ending the stalemate between the two firms. Syngenta rejected a previous proposal in April and has refused to open its books to its rival.
Monsanto’s sweetened offer is primarily comprised of an increase to the cash portion of its cash and stock proposal, the person added.
Some top investors had been pushing Syngenta to at least sit down with Monsanto and seek a better offer. Cedric Lecamp, senior investment manager at Pictet Asset Management, the 17th-biggest investor in Syngenta, told Reuters earlier this year he thought a deal could get done above 500 Swiss francs.
A Sanford C. Bernstein survey earlier this month of nearly 100 current and former Syngenta investors found that about 92 percent were in favor of a negotiated deal, and would accept a 5 percent higher offer from Monsanto. The average acceptable offer price among the investors was 473 Swiss francs, according to the report.
The new offer also includes an increase in the break-up fee to $3 billion from $2 billion if the transaction is blocked by regulators or falls apart for other reasons, the person said.
The offer is not necessarily Monsanto’s best and final bid, and the door could be open to negotiations if Syngenta engages, according to the person familiar with the matter.
A representative for Syngenta, the world’s largest maker of farming pesticides, told Reuters on Monday, “There is no comment to make.” A spokeswoman for Monsanto, the world’s leading seed company, declined to comment.
The increased offer was first reported by Bloomberg on Monday.
The value of Monsanto’s share and cash offer has been challenged by a souring U.S. agricultural economy and the recent ructions in the global financial markets.
Its stock price has fallen nearly 20 percent in the past three months, as grain prices remain soft and U.S. grain exports are hampered by a strong dollar. Its market capitalization is now about $45.6 billion.
Syngenta’s U.S. listed shares jumped 10 percent on Monday after closing in Zurich at 357.6 Swiss francs a share, putting the company’s market value at roughly $35.5 billion.
While Monsanto has so far ruled out taking its bid hostile, sparring between the two companies has become increasingly tense with both launching websites promoting their cause and executives from each meeting investors.
Monsanto, which courted Syngenta twice previously without success, has argued the deal will make both firms more efficient by developing seeds and pesticides in tandem and integrating sales and distribution strategies for the two product categories.
Syngenta has argued the deal faces tough regulatory hurdles that Monsanto has not addressed and that the offer undervalues the company.
“We said no in 2011, we said no in 2012, we said no in 2015. What part of no don’t they understand?” Chief Executive Michael Mack told a press conference in July at the group’s Basel, Switzerland headquarters.
Monsanto has promised to sell off Syngenta’s overlapping seed and chemical assets if it wins control of the Swiss company. But the deal could still face regulatory challenges in the U.S., Brazil, China and elsewhere, creating hurdles that could delay or force major concessions to the deal, should it go forward.
Reuters|25 Aug 2015
Nine States Prove Cutting Carbon Saves Money, Generates Jobs
The Clean Power Plan, the EPA’s safeguard to rein in carbon pollution from its largest domestic source, coal-fired power plants, has taken more than its share of criticism and attacks from the courts, Congress and industry since it was unveiled last year. But a recent study provides solid evidence in favor of the plan based on a large-scale project that successfully reduced carbon pollution and could be used as a reference and inspiration for state and regional efforts to comply with the Clean Power Plan.
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, (pronounced REh jee) has been around since 2009. It’s a program to cap and reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector in nine trailblazing states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. And it has worked in more ways than its founders thought possible.
A recent study by the Analysis Group of RGGI from 2012 to 2014 shows that the program has proven economic benefits. The reduction in electricity costs and fossil fuel imports, along with net job increases in the region, can all be attributed to RGGI. Households, businesses and government entities have recouped about $460 million dollars through lower energy bills. By RGGI’s second three-year term, the program had also created 14,200 new jobs.
RGGI also provides states with flexibility and authority during implementation. States can choose how much of their revenue is invested in RGGI. From there, state allowances generated from greenhouse gas reductions are auctioned off and the money is given back to the states depending on how much was originally invested. In the past six years, auctioning these CO2 allowances has generated almost $2 billion in profit that was then reinvested. States have the discretion to use the profits however they see fit. Examples of reinvestment include education and job training, renewable power projects, and assistance to help lower-income customers pay electricity bills.
Of course, RGGI also reduces carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, the primary goal of the initiative. The initial emissions cap was set at 188 million tons of carbon dioxide from power plants in 2009. In 2014, the cap was 91 million tons and it is expected to fall at a constant rate of 2.5 percent per year. By 2018, the initiative should lead to an overall 10 percent drop in carbon dioxide emissions.
Although RGGI has performed above expectations, it has also been the target of criticism. The power sector is expected to sustain a profit loss of $500 million by 2025 from greater energy efficiency. But at the end of the day, the benefits outweigh the losses energy providers will incur, and ratepayers come out ahead. The report points out, “Given the complex relationship within economies, the multiplier effect of the economic gains ends up having larger impacts than those attributable to power plant owners’ revenue losses.”
RGGI is a model states can look to when crafting their policies to meet Clean Power Plan standards. If RGGI has managed to create a working relationship among nine separate states and their economies, other states and regions would do well to follow the example.
Elaine Lac|July 31, 2015
Illegal Oil and Gas Leases Once Again Threaten the Badger Two-Medicine, Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness
Blackfeet Tribe and others call for the cancellation of the leases
Today’s ruling is not the last word on the fate of the Badger-Two Medicine region. The remaining oil and gas leases in the Badger-Two Medicine were never validly issued in the first place. They should be cancelled in the interest of preserving one of our country’s last great wild places and an irreplaceable spiritual home for the Blackfeet Nation.
Federal District Court Judge Richard Leon in Washington, D.C. ruled today on a Louisiana oilman’s bid to drill for natural gas in the heart of the Badger-Two Medicine area of Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front. The judge has ordered the U.S. Forest Service to “submit, and to stick to, an accelerated and fixed schedule” for determining whether to lift the suspension. The government must submit this schedule to the court within 21 days. The decision advances the efforts of Solenex, LLC to construct six miles of new road, a bridge across the Two Medicine River and a four-acre drill pad—all on public, roadless lands directly adjacent to Glacier National Park.
Kendall Edmo, a member of the Blackfeet Nation who has become deeply involved in the Badger-Two Medicine area and now works as the Bison Project Coordinator for the tribe, views the recent ruling as a serious threat to both spiritual practices and critical natural resources.
“The Badger-Two Medicine area should be protected not only because it is culturally significant to the Blackfeet people, but because we as human beings deserve access to clean water,” she says. “Solenex is threatening the same ecosystem my ancestors belong to, including major headwaters that run into the Blackfeet Reservation.”
Prior to the ruling, two local groups, the Blackfeet Headwaters Alliance and Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance, joined 10 conservation organizations supporting the Blackfeet Tribe’s request for the cancellation of all oil and gas leases it the Badger-Two Medicine area.
The 165,588-acre area (encompassing lands within the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, the Lewis and Clark National Forest, and Flathead National Forest) was designated a Traditional Cultural District under the National Preservation Historic Act in recognition of its importance to the Blackfeet people. Biologically, this area is the last remaining stronghold along the Front for genetically pure west slope cutthroat trout. The area also provides key winter and summer range for over 800 elk and represents a large block of crucial secure habitat for grizzly bears.
In a letter delivered to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, the 12 organizations, representing tens of thousands of Montanans, requested that the natural and cultural resources of the Badger be protected and the threat of development finally be put to rest. The letter states that the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service issued the leases in violation of bedrock environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, and that the agencies have a legal and moral responsibility to cancel them.
“Today’s ruling is not the last word on the fate of the Badger-Two Medicine region,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso. “The remaining oil and gas leases in the Badger-Two Medicine were never validly issued in the first place. They should be cancelled in the interest of preserving one of our country’s last great wild places and an irreplaceable spiritual home for the Blackfeet Nation.”
Two additional letters, one from Backcountry Horsemen of Montana and another from five sportsmen’s groups, also support lease cancellation.
The history of conservation efforts in this area of northern Montana spans more than a century, beginning with the creation of Glacier National Park (1910), followed by the establishment of the Sun River Game Preserve (1913) and the designation of the Bob Marshall Wilderness (1964). These historic milestones have been complemented by recent activities that directly impact the Badger, including the ban on future oil and gas leases (2006 law introduced by then Senator Burns, R-MT), the prohibition on motorized use (2009 Travel Plan Decision), and the ultimate establishment and expansion of the Traditional Cultural District (2014). These Reagan-era leases stand out as dramatic inconsistencies and were granted without either tribal consultation or sufficient review of cultural resources.
Kendall Flint, of the Glacier Two-Medicine Alliance, sees today’s decision as having serious implications.
“Aside from sanctioning the unethical idea of invasive oil and gas exploration in a sacred and federally-recognized Traditional Cultural District, this ruling poses a grave threat to the landscape’s glorious wildlife, breathtaking scenery, and widely-enjoyed recreation,” he said. “The threat of lifting the Federal suspension leaves the entire Badger-Two Medicine vulnerable to the extractive industrial development by all four remaining lease holders.”
Five tribal and conservation organizations—including the Blackfeet Headwaters Alliance, Glacier Two Medicine Alliance, National Parks Conservation Association, Montana Wilderness Association, and The Wilderness Society, all represented by Earthjustice—filed for intervenor status in the Solenex, LLC lawsuit, but the request was denied. The groups subsequently filed an amicus curiae or “friend of the court” brief to explain why Solenex had failed to justify its request to drill for oil and gas in the midst of sensitive cultural and environmental resources.
“The stories handed down for generations by Piikani People have taught us about the connections we have with all things,” says Terry Tatsey, Director of Institutional Development at Blackfeet Community College. “The relationships our people have with this area date back to our origin stories where it was known as a place for learning and respecting.
Tim Preso|Managing Attorney|Earthjustice|July 27, 2015
You won’t believe who is attacking rooftop solar
One of our best hopes in the fight against climate change is the massive explosion of rooftop solar, which has more than tripled since 2010!
But a multi‐billionaire has launched a war against the rooftop solar market in Nevada, and his name is not David or Charles Koch.*
Believe it or not, it’s Warren Buffett, the “Oracle of Omaha” known for his personal frugality and folksy charm.
Buffett, through NV Energy — a utility that he owns — is urging the Nevada Public Utilities Commission to gut the state’s popular net metering program, which pays solar panel owners for the energy they send back to the grid.
NV Energy claims that rooftop solar customers raise prices for other Nevadans, even though a report prepared for the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) says exactly the opposite! But Buffett’s real reason is that rooftop solar cuts into the profits of his utility.
If Buffett get his way, the solar market in Nevada would tank, costing as many as 6,000 jobs. But this is way bigger than Nevada — because a victory there would embolden Buffett and other utility owners as they attack rooftop solar across the country.
The Public Utilities Commission in Nevada will make a decision this week. Shining a light on Warren Buffett’s role will help ensure that the nation is paying close attention, and push the PUC to do the right thing.
Warren Buffett is known as an advocate for renewable energy, and he has promised to spend as much as $30 billion on solar and wind projects. But it turns out that the only renewable energy Warren Buffett likes is the kind he can make money from. When homes and businesses go solar on their own, they cut into the profits of Buffett’s utilities, which is why he’s leading this attack in Nevada and has done the same in Utah via Rocky Mountain Power, another utility he owns.
Buffett’s attack on rooftop solar hinges on one crucial piece of disinformation: the idea that rooftop solar customers and net metering raise costs for everyone else.
Here’s how a Berkshire Hathaway Senior Vice President put it at a conference last July:
“…allowing DG [distributed generation] customers to continue to be served by residential rates that do not reflect the costs of serving DG customers and which shift costs to other customers is arguably the situation that would be deemed unreasonably discriminatory.”
The problem with this argument is that it’s not supported by the facts. A study commissioned by the Nevada PUC to answer this exact question found that “… we do not estimate a substantial cost shift to nonparticipants due to (net metering) going forward …” Similar studies in Missouri, Vermont, Arizona, and Hawaii have found the same thing. Because while rooftop solar customers do pay less for grid maintenance, they also bring many benefits like reducing the demand for power at peak times (when it is the most expensive to produce), reducing energy loss during transmission, and reducing the need for new power plant construction.
ClimateTruth.org spends most of our time fighting the most blatant forms of disinformation, like outright denial of climate science. But as we are increasingly successful in pushing climate deniers to the margins, the half‐truths we need to counter will become more subtle and even more pernicious. That’s why it’s so important to push back against Warren Buffett’s attack on rooftop solar.
The Nevada PUC will make a decision about net metering in Nevada this week.
Study: Florida Third-Worst For Power Plant Pollution
Even though Florida is known for its sunshine, we have the third-worst carbon* pollution of any state, at least according to one report.
A citizen advocacy group, Environment Florida, released a report today called “America’s Dirtiest Power Plants.” Environment Florida used 2011 federal data to rank the dirtiest power plants nationwide. Florida ranks third in electric power sector emissions, particularly in carbon dioxide.
The top polluting power plant is Duke Energy’s Crystal River Plant, which is up for retirement. The second most polluting power plant is TECO’s Big Bend in Apollo Beach.
Environment Florida spokeswoman Jennifer Rubiello said these findings shouldn’t be ignored.
“If we want a cleaner, safer future for our kids, we can’t afford to ignore power plants’ overwhelming contribution to global warming,” Rubiello said.
TECO spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs is disputing the report’s claims.
“Tampa Electric, over a 10 year period, has invested more than $1.2 billion in state-of-the-art environmental improvement at our power plants including Big Bend,” Jacobs said. “We have fully scrubbed the Big Bend power plant.”
According to the study, Florida’s power plants produce as much carbon dioxide yearly as almost 25 million cars.
It also states that Florida’s power plants are the single largest source of carbon pollution, making up 49 percent of statewide emissions.
The Worst 5 States in Power Plant Carbon Dioxide Emissions
Top 5 Most Polluting Power Plants in Florida
- Duke Energy’s Crystal River (Crystal River)
- Tampa Electric Company’s (TECO) Big Bend (Riverview)
- West County Energy Center (Palm Beach County)
- Seminole Electric Cooperative Inc.’s Seminole (Tampa)
- JEA’s St. Johns River Power Park (Jacksonville)
Yoselis Ramos|Sep 11, 2013
Fracking Linked to Heart Conditions and Neurological Illness
People who live near fracking sites suffer higher rates of heart conditions and neurological illnesses, says new research.
People who live in fracking zones appear to suffer a higher rate of heart conditions and neurological illnesses, according to new research.
Although the U.S. study was unable to determine a specific reason, it suggests there may be a link between drilling and ill health, scientists said.
Residents in high-density areas of fracking made 27 per cent more hospital visits for treatment for heart conditions than those from locations where no fracking took place, according to a new study of drilling in Pennsylvania between 2007 and 2011.
“This study captured the collective response of residents to hydraulic fracturing in zip codes within counties with higher well densities,” said Reynold Panettieri, professor of medicine at Penn University.
“At this point, we suspect that residents are exposed to many toxicants, noise and social stressors due to hydraulic fracturing near their homes and this may add to the increased number of hospitalizations.”
The findings revealed that cardiology and neurological in-patient prevalence rates were significantly higher in areas closer to active wells. Hospitalizations for skin conditions, cancer and urological problems also increased with proximity to wells.
Prof Panettieri cautioned that the study did not prove that fracking actually caused the health problems and said more research was needed to determine exactly what effect any pollution associated with the technique may be contributing to heart conditions or neurological illnesses.
But the significant increase in hospital visits observed relatively quickly after fracking began in an area “suggests that healthcare costs of hydraulic fracturing must be factored into the economic benefits of unconventional gas and drilling”, said the report, which is published in the journal PLOS One and also involved Columbia University in New York.
The highly controversial technique of fracking, that releases oil or gas from shale by blasting a mixture of water, chemicals and sand into rock, is yet to be employed in the U.K. on a commercial scale. It is widespread in the U.S., however, where it has frequently been linked to groundwater and air pollution.
Yet a series of reports in the U.K. have concluded that the problems arising from fracking in the U.S. are down to weak regulations and poor techniques. Advocates say that any fracking in the U.K. would be done safely, meaning residents will be shielded from the difficulties experienced by locals in the U.S.
But opponents of fracking – including the Scottish and Welsh Governments – argue that still far too little is known about the effects of the technique, and say more research needs to be done before it is deployed in the U.K.
This latest report will be seen as further evidence that more research needs to be conducted before fracking is allowed in the U.K. – even though it does not get to the bottom of the causes of the health problems
Tom Bawden|The Independent|July 17, 2015
Algae Nutrient Recycling is a Triple Win
Nitrogen and phosphate nutrients are among the biggest costs in cultivating algae for biofuels. Sandia molecular biologists Todd Lane and Ryan Davis have shown they can recycle about two-thirds of those critical nutrients, and aim to raise the recycling rate to close to 100 percent.
Recycling nitrogen and phosphate has benefits that go far beyond cost. While nitrogen can be produced through a costly artificial nitrogen fixation process using natural gas and atmospheric nitrogen, phosphate is a limited natural resource that can be toxic at high concentration.
“We have a finite amount of phosphate in the world, but it’s in high demand as a fertilizer. Half of the phosphates that go into our crops in the form of fertilizer end up in the Gulf of Mexico, contributing to hypoxic zones,” said Lane. Better known as “dead zones,” hypoxic zones are areas of low oxygen concentration that kill or drive out marine life.
Economic models show that replacing just 10 percent of liquid transportation fuels with algal-derived fuels, though beneficial to the environment in many ways, could double fertilizer consumption, which, in turn, would drive up the cost of food.
But recycling phosphates means everyone wins: algal-derived biofuels producers, farmers and the environment. “By recycling phosphates from one batch of algae to the next, we save money, no longer compete with agriculture for a non-renewable resource and keep those phosphates out of the environment,” said Lane.
Lane and Davis are considering other applications for their closed-loop algae nutrient recycling methods.
“Our method could be used to strip phosphates from the agricultural runoff before it reaches the Salton Sea,” said Davis. Fertilizer runoff into the saltwater sea, California’s largest lake, has led to dead zones that threaten fish and other wildlife. “Those nutrients that would otherwise further contribute to the dead zone could be used to grow algae intentionally for biofuels and other biobased commodities.”
Osmotic Shock Key to Releasing Phosphates
Lane and Davis found their nutrient recycling method works on many different algae feedstocks, even mixed feedstocks. Because algae have more genetic diversity than any other organism, many methods developed in the past haven’t worked universally.
The researchers use a fairly simple process, osmotic shock, to liberate phosphate from the cultivated algae. “We shock the algae with fresh water while controlling certain conditions like pH and temperature. This disrupts the internal structure of the cell and releases naturally occurring enzymes,” explained Lane. “These enzymes chew up the cell and rapidly release the phosphates.”
The next step is fermentation to convert the nitrogen, which is mostly in the form of amino acids, into ammonia. The phosphates and ammonia are then recombined — with help from magnesium, present in great quantities in the algal biomass — to form struvite, a solid salt.
In 2014, a Sandia team proved the method with 20 weeks of continuous recycling and reuse of phosphates and nutrients. They were able to carry over 60 to 80 percent of the nutrients from batch to batch.
“Every two weeks, we recycled the nutrients and fed them back into the next batch of algae,” said Davis. “The process worked better than we expected, as we saw enhanced growth with the recycled nutrients. We aren’t quite sure why this happened. It could be from trace metals carried over in the phosphate.”
Lipid Extraction Enables Nutrient Recycling
The algae nutrient recycling research is part of a larger project funded by the Department of Energy’s BioEnergy Technologies Office, part of the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program. The Sandia team’s partners include Texas A&M AgriLife Research, which grows marine strains of algae, and Texas-based OpenAlgae, which patented methods to lyse algal cells and recover algal lipids without using solvent. Recovered algal oils could be turned into fuel.
“We were very interested in OpenAlgae’s lipid extraction because it doesn’t use solvents, so the biomass is left in a native conformation that works very well with our process,” said Lane.
OpenAlgae’s method subjects algae cells to high energy electromagnetic pulses that rupture the cell walls and cause the cells to burst, releasing the lipids. In this disrupted state, the algae cells are much more susceptible to osmotic shock.
The nutrient recycling process also releases more compounds that can be turned into fuels. “There is a lot of protein in biomass and that soaks up the nitrogen. As we’re liberating the ammonia, we’re also capturing that carbon so it can be turned into fuel,” said Davis.
Better and Easier Nutrient Recycling
Lane and Davis are working to further refine their method to recycle more of the nutrients, including a collaboration with James Liao of the University of California, Los Angeles, to genetically refine their fermentation strain to increase yield and extract different fuel products. Liao runs the Metabolic Engineering and Synthetic Biology Laboratory and is chairman of the department of chemical and bio-molecular engineering and the department of bioengineering.
Another facet of the project is the development of a reactor system to capture the ammonia as the biomass is fermented to release phosphates. Currently, these steps are performed separately.
“The goal is a one-pot system,” said Davis. “That will be the tipping point for scaling up our method. We grew 2 liters of algae in our 20-week test. The next step is to grow 3,000 liters in our raceways.” Later this year, Sandia will open three 1,000-liter raceway testbeds, shallow artificial ponds for algae cultivation.
Pond-side processing is another goal. A single module combining lipid extraction and nutrient recycling could separate biomass into nutrients and fuel at a cultivation facility.
Panning for Phosphate Gold
Lane and Davis think their method could help the environmental if applied to agricultural runoff.
Nutrient recycling is like panning for gold — or in this case, phosphates — anywhere that fertilizer-laden agricultural runoff enters bodies of water. The key, said Lane, is getting the concentrated runoff before it enters the body of water and dilutes.
“Our method can’t fix the existing dead zones,” said Lane. “But it can stop them from growing. The irony is that those nutrients are so valuable to growing plants, but so damaging when they flow into large bodies of water. Isaac Asimov famously called phosphates ‘life’s bottleneck.’ We aim to put an end to that bottleneck.”
Patti Koning|Sandia National Labs|August 24, 2015
Corporate Rights Trump Democracy in Ohio Fracking Fight
People who oppose having their communities transformed into corporate resource colonies are familiar with the Halliburton Loophole, a secretly drafted edict that places the oil and gas industries above the law, exempting them and no one else from obeying the clean water act, the clean air act, the safe water drinking act, and others. Now, Ohio Sec. of State Jon Husted has unilaterally placed those same corporations above the Ohio State Constitution.
On Aug. 13, Husted declared that the people’s right to change their government, ensconced since 1851 in Article 1, Section 2 of the Ohio Constitution, is null and void when it interferes with the profit interests of these industries. Under that Section’s title “Right to alter, reform, or abolish government, and repeal special privileges,” Ohio’s highest law declares:
All political power is inherent in the people. Government is instituted for their equal protection and benefit, and they have the right to alter, reform, or abolish the same, whenever they may deem it necessary; and no special privileges or immunities shall ever be granted, that may not be altered, revoked, or repealed by the general assembly.
Clearly, the general assembly has no intention to subordinate the special privileges of giant energy corporations to the right of the people to govern in their own communities. And when citizens, in whom “all political power is inherent,” attempt to alter their county governments by asking the voters to consider a home rule style of government, the state, represented by Husted, steps in to block them from exercising that right.
Apparently seeking any legal means available to justify a decision that was foreordained by the power of money, Husted erroneously claimed that the charters proposed for Fulton, Medina and Athens Counties were flawed because they would not create an executive power, as required by law for alternate forms of county government. But home rule is not one of the alternate statutory forms available. It is unique in that it allows the people to fully exercise their right to alter their government by creating a local constitution, a county charter. There is no requirement for a proconsul-like executive under home rule.
County commissioners and corporate industry associations encouraged everyone with an interest in keeping the average citizen out of the democratic process to file complaints and legal briefs opposing the proposed charters for Medina, Athens and Fulton Counties. The charters propose new forms of county governments that allow people in unincorporated parts of these counties to exercise initiative and referendum powers—what’s known as direct democracy. But complainers claimed foolishly, duplicitously, that the charters would change nothing.
Not to be outdone, corporate players and their social representatives entered friend of the court briefs, arguing that expanding democratic rights for all would interfere with their “right” to make money in those people’s communities, with or without their consent. The American Petroleum Institute, Ohio Oil and Gas Association and Ohio Chamber of Commerce all weighed in against democracy.
The government formula Husted, along with the multiple complaint filers, and the amicus brief filers, presumed they have a right to control the governing authority of the people, and not the reverse. But their efforts are patently anti-democratic, and Husted’s use of his power as Secretary of State illustrate just how removed from democracy Ohio’s state government has become. As a representative of the executive branch of government, he presumes to act the role of judge and jury, based on what he mistakenly perceives as “unfettered authority” to act the tyrant. Husted is busted.
Imperial comments like “I am unmoved by petitioners’ argument,” “I am empowered by the unique language … that provides unfettered authority …” “I am unconvinced,” and “I am un-persuaded” pepper Husted’s unilateral decision, which he arrogantly announced to the world in a press release without deigning it necessary to inform the petitioners or their legal representatives first, so certain he seems to be in the righteousness of his position.
But it is the people of Ohio, and these bold county citizens, who are empowered by right to define the kind of government and the permissible corporate activities that will be allowed in their communities. This is the lesson to be learned as this political ordeal unfolds. And if, as the petitioners appeal Husted’s democracy loophole, the Supreme Court rules that the Secretary of State indeed can act so imperiously, so undemocratically, perhaps it is time to amend the state constitution in order to make very plain that it is WE THE PEOPLE and not “they the corporations,” who have authority to govern the places where we live and raise our families.
Ben Price|Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund|August 24, 2015
Why Coal Is No Longer King
In West Virginia, the writing has been on the wall for decades. Scholars have been predicting this day for 40 years. But coal companies and their representatives in Charleston and Washington, DC, have traditionally viewed economic diversification in southern West Virginia as bad for business.
State officials choose not to look inward. They blame the federal government for the dramatic downturn in the coal industry. And many West Virginians have bought into the coal industry-fed narrative. They’ve been taught to believe the only things preventing prosperity in West Virginia are environmentalists and federal regulations.
President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency is the latest to face the wrath of West Virginians. But state officials, including the West Virginia Coal Association, were blaming outsiders for downturns in the coal sector long before Obama took office in 2009.
“You’re dealing with decades of the companies controlling the narrative around here,” Chuck Keeney, a West Virginia historian and expert on the state’s coal industry, told EcoWatch. “It wasn’t just as though Obama getting elected exasperated all these feelings. These feelings were already there against the federal government.”
Across southern West Virginia’s coalfields, “Friends of Coal” signs are everywhere, paid for by the West Virginia Coal Association. Keeney, who grew up in West Virginia and attended West Virginia University, said students in schools are taught climate change is a hoax or a liberal lie.
“Many families think they’re losing their job because some Washington politicians believe in a hoax. But of course that ignores the fact that the coal industry has failed to compete in the open marketplace. Natural gas is overtaking it,” explained Keeney, who teaches history at Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College.
Only a few years ago, coal companies active in Appalachia were making huge acquisitions. Among the largest was Alpha Natural Resources Inc.’s $8.5 billion combination with Massey Energy Co. in 2011.
“When Alpha bought Massey, they couldn’t pay for it. They had to take out huge loans. They were expecting a big boom to come in metallurgic coal. And it didn’t come. And as a result, coal is now taking this unbelievably dramatic downturn,” Keeney said.
West Virginia native, journalist and environmental communicator Jeff Young believes it is important for people to recognize that West Virginia is “less a fully functioning state government than a resource-extraction colony.” From timber and salt to coal and now natural gas, the political, economic and institutional forces of the state are almost completely aligned with the needs of the companies who are taking raw natural gas materials form the state and exporting them.
“Yes, there have been heroic political stands against coal’s abuses [Ken Hechler and Denise Giardina] and, yes, many have fought for environmental sanity and economic justice in the coal fields [RIP Judy Bonds, Larry Gibson and James Weekley],” Young told reporter David Roberts in 2014. “But the politics are such now that the electoral winners will be the ones who double down on the dumbness of ‘standing up for coal.’”
Anybody who speaks about economic diversification in southern West Virginia, Keeney emphasized, gets quashed very quickly. “The industry has self-serving reasons for that. You don’t want to have an automobile plant here because then your coal miners can vote with their feet. They can go to the job that they may not get squashed to death. You don’t want the people here to have options,” he said.
In West Virginia, Keeney contends the industry and the politicians remain one in the same. “Many of the key politicians have major stock holdings in companies and many of them are executives themselves,” he said. “We have a number of our House of Delegates who are executives in coal companies and in the land companies.”
Today, coal is still king only in the minds of most West Virginia politicians. Unlike in Kentucky, where political leaders have approved state-sponsored economic transition efforts for the coal industry, West Virginia’s political establishment has pushed residents to fend for themselves in the midst of coal’s decline over fears of angering the coal companies.
“People are afraid of being seen as anti-coal because it is such a dominant political force,” said Jeff Kessler, a West Virginia state senator and gubernatorial candidate who tried (but failed) in 2014 to get support for a publicly funded jobs initiative similar to one pushed by political leaders in Kentucky.
Mark Hand|August 17, 2015
A Key Carbon Offset Program May Have Increased Emissions!
A central part of the UN’s carbon emission reduction program has been the carbon credit scheme. But a new review of that process reveals that, rather than reducing carbon emissions, countries abusing that system may have produced millions of tons of extra emissions.
The problem centers around the only binding international environmental agreement to tackle climate change known as the Kyoto Protocol and its use of carbon credits. We have a thorough exploration of carbon credits here but, briefly, the Protocol allows for countries to buy and sell carbon credits which are created when countries cut carbon emissions. This was seen as a necessary incentive to ensuring that nations would adhere to the Protocol, as it meant that there could be reimbursement and even profit made for whatever outlay was needed to cut carbon emissions in the first place.
However, new research by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) shows that several countries may have abused a particular facet of the carbon credit scheme known as Joint Implementation. Under the scheme, countries like Russia and the Ukraine have been claiming carbon credits for things like putting restrictions on gas emissions from petroleum production and the like. They then sold those carbon credits on for a profit. But the SEI says those reductions in emissions weren’t real and would have happened anyway independently of the carbon credit scheme.
Why is this important? Given that Europe and the UN have been building targets around the carbon markets and claims of offsetting and trade, this means the figures have to be revised and, if the SEI’s analysis is anything to go by, substantially.
Says the SEI:
“The analysis indicates that about three-quarters of JI offsets are unlikely to represent additional emissions reductions. This suggests that the use of JI offsets may have enabled global GHG emissions to be about 600 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent higher than they would have been if countries had met their emissions domestically.”
Out of all the programs the SEI assessed, it found that only the N2O abatement from nitric acid production program appeared to have what has been dubbed “environmental integrity” or, to put it another way, translated into real-world reductions that wouldn’t have happened as a result of other practices or trends.
In terms of the real world harm that this could have done to European emission tracking, the researchers believe it may add up to around $2 billion, which is the equivalent to about 400 million tons of carbon.
Of particular concern was that the review, part of which is published in Nature this month with more to come later, finds that Russia and the Ukraine made money from saying they had reduced the chemicals HFC-23 and sulphur hexafluoride, which have both been found to have a heavy warming effect when in our atmosphere. Rather than cutting emissions, though, the research suggests that Russia and Ukraine ramped up production of the chemicals specifically in order to destroy them. That means that they likely released more emissions into the atmosphere on top of that, and so could have ended up causing more total emissions as a result.
Russian officials speaking to the BBC deny these accusations and say that Russia has always acted within the rules of the Kyoto Protocol. However, a UN official speaking anonymously to the Guardian confirmed for the paper that this report is “thoroughly researched and probably correct”, and that widespread abuse of the credit scheme by some countries was well known to the UN. Experts from the Ukraine have also agreed that there appears to have been a desire to game the system in order to benefit, particularly in the face of the EU tightening its grip on credits in other areas.
The review did find some positives though. Carbon offsetting in other countries such as Germany and Poland was regulated by strict criteria, and the carbon credits these countries sold were found to largely tally with real efforts to reduce emissions. As such, we know that schemes like this can work but must be tightly controlled. As such, experts are warning that this is a wake up call ahead of December’s climate talks in Paris.
In addition to ensuring that countries like China and India–who are among the biggest producers of carbon emissions in the world today–are not left out of these talks, there is a need to create a binding agreement that has strict enforcement measures that are not left up to the discretion of individual nations. Instead, they should be assessed by a central body whose own selection is carefully monitored and is completely transparent.
What’s clear from the SEI’s revelation about carbon credits is that there remains an appetite to undermine and even profiteer from environmental policies, and usually at the cost of the environment we are seeking to protect. Only an agreement that actually has teeth will be acceptable come December’s talks. Sadly, that’s anything but guaranteed, but some nations, including the US, are making encouraging steps toward meaningful change.
Steve Williams|August 27, 2015
EPA Urged by Nearly 100,000 Americans to Redo Highly Controversial Fracking Study
The public comment period for the highly controversial U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) fracking study ends today. Food & Water Watch, Environmental Action, Breast Cancer Action and other advocacy groups delivered nearly 100,000 comments from Americans asking the U.S. EPA to redo their study with a higher level of scrutiny and oversight.
The study produced significant controversy due to the discrepancy in what the EPA found in its report and what the agency’s news release title said. The study stated that “we did not find evidence” of “widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources,” but the title of the EPA’s news release said, “Assessment shows hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources”—a subtle but significant difference that led to most news coverage having headlines like this one in Forbes, “EPA Fracking Study: Drilling Wins.”
In addition to the misleading EPA headline, the groups were also quick to point out that the study had a limited scope and was conducted with a lack of new substantive data. “Concluding that fracking is safe based off a study with such a limited scope is irresponsible,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch. “How many more people must be poisoned by the oil and gas industry for the EPA to stand up and protect people’s health? It’s time for the agency to do its job and stop letting industry shills intimidate it.”
The groups emphasize that despite the limitations of the report, the agency still found numerous harms to drinking water resources from fracking. For instance, the EPA found evidence of more than 36,000 spills from 2006 to 2012. That amounts to about 15 spills every day somewhere in the U.S.
“By downplaying its findings of water contamination from fracking, the EPA ultimately provided cover for the fracking industry to continue to poison our drinking water with chemicals linked to a variety of health problems, including breast cancer,” said Karuna Jaggar, executive director of Breast Cancer Action. “When the EPA finalizes its study, they need to focus on protecting public health—not the fracking industry—by highlighting and condemning drinking water contamination from fracking.”
But still, groups claim that there was huge oversight in the report. “The EPA’s report clearly shows that fracking pollution harms our water supplies, but the agency also turned a blind eye to some of the biggest risks of this toxic technique,” said Clare Lakewood of the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s bizarre and alarming that the EPA report refused to look at the harm caused by the disposal of toxic fracking waste fluid into unlined pits and underground injection wells. The EPA needs to get serious about the threat of fracking and look at every pathway to water contamination.”
Jennifer Krill, Earthworks‘ executive director, agrees. “In its June study on fracking’s impacts on water, EPA cited more than 140 waste spills alone that contaminated water. And they found those instances despite industry obstruction, and despite not looking in places where community complaints and EPA’s own investigations suggested such pollution was occurring.”
Cole Mellino|August 28, 2015
Alarm sounded as TransCanada set to drill in Bay of Fundy
‘No consent for Energy East’: New Brunswick groups say they weren’t consulted or warned
“TransCanada has botched both their public relations strategy and their official application to build Energy East, so it’s not surprising that they seem desperate to get some shovels in the ground prior to the federal election.” – Keith Stewart, Greenpeace Canada climate campaigner.
An open letter was released today by 20 groups in New Brunswick opposed to TransCanada’s plans to begin drilling in the Bay of Fundy. The signatories cite a six-page document obtained outlining TransCanada’s work plans for exploratory borehole drilling related to the Saint John, New Brunswick terminal of the proposed Energy East pipeline. TransCanada has confirmed to Ricochet that drilling work is slated to begin shortly.
The open letter warns the drilling could begin as early as today: “This procedure is invasive and has the potential to hurt resident’s foundations, drinking water, along with the natural environment that we all value and protect. Why are boreholes being drilled before this project is approved without consultation with residents and others affected?”
Hotly debated pipeline
Concerns enumerated in the open letter include potential impacts on nearby homes and roads, and on shorebirds and marine life. A recent study by the Conservation Council of New Brunswick found that the increased tanker traffic associated with Energy East would increase stress levels for the Bay of Fundy’s endangered North Atlantic right whales.
The letter also alleges the company has not received free, prior and informed consent from local Indigenous communities, noting “this shore and seabed is on un-ceded Wolastoq territory.”
The signatories say they were only informed of the drilling plans by “a last-minute release of a letter from TransCanada on August 25.”
Energy East would be the largest tar sands pipeline in North America, carrying an estimated 1.1 million barrels per day from Alberta to the Atlantic coast. The proposed mega-project has been one of the most hotly debated issues in the federal election campaign.
The Conservatives support Energy East, while the NDP and Liberals have taken more ambivalent positions. All three major parties have been targeted by protesters opposed to the pipeline. The Bloc Quebecois have made opposition to Energy East a signature of their campaign efforts.
In New Brunswick, visible opposition to Energy East has been growing in recent months, despite strong political support for the pipeline and marine export terminal from the provincial government led by Premier Brian Gallant.
“As a resident of New Brunswick my biggest concerns are about water as it goes through nearly 300 waterways in this province and then on to the Bay of Fundy,” local organizer Lynaya Astephen told Ricochet by email. “It’s not if but when a pipeline spill happens.”
In late May, over 500 people marched through the Saint John, N.B. community of Red Head to the Bay of Fundy to oppose the pipeline.
Drill first, get approval later?
The open letter complains that TransCanada’s drilling is proceeding without Energy East first completing the National Energy Board review process and receiving the necessary federal and provincial permits. (The TransCanada work plan document, it’s important to note, describes this new drilling as “an extension of preliminary work conducted in 2014.”)
Under the Conservative government, the NEB review process for major projects like pipelines has been significantly weakened.
“Any assessment that includes a rigorous assessment of climate impacts will have to reject this project,” Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada told Ricochet by email, noting that the NDP in particular has promised to include climate impacts and Canada’s ability to meet international greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments in a revamped NEB process.
With the election campaign underway and a pivotal United Nations climate summit beginning at the end of November, the timing of TransCanada’s work in the Bay of Fundy is potentially inflammatory.
“I believe the work being done right before an election is not a coincidence,” Astephen told Ricochet.
“TransCanada, with the support of the Harper Conservative government, continues to operate in a way that does not respect democracy in Canada or the right to free, prior, and informed consent of First Nations affected by this ludicrous proposal,” said Clayton Thomas-Muller, a climate justice organizer with 350.org.
UPDATE Aug. 27 1:05 PM EDT: Energy East spokesperson Tim Duboyce has replied to our request for comment, sending us the following statement by email:
“To answer your question this geotechnical work is a critical part of the design process for the proposed Canaport/Energy East Marine Terminal. The sampling the barge will be collecting is the continuation of work which we began in 2014. This work will help determine things like composition of rock and soil to ensure the Canaport/Energy East Marine Terminal is planned and designed in the safest manner possible.
We first made land owners located adjacent to the proposed Canaport site aware of this work back in mid-July. It is important to note the work will not be disruptive. We simply wanted to keep people informed of what the barge was doing there.
The actual beginning of the work will depend on weather and some other factors, but it will be starting soon.”
Derrick O’Keefe|August 27, 2015
Injunction Seeks to Restore Money to State’s Conservation Land-buying Fund
TALLAHASSEE – In a legal filing today, the Florida Wildlife Federation and three other citizen groups are seeking an injunction to stop state officials from diverting the state’s conservation land-buying fund to pay for other state functions.
“The voters who approved the Water and Land Conservation Amendment 1 last November are clear – by a 75 percent majority – that they want this tax money to buy conservation land,” Florida Wildlife Federation president Manley Fuller said. “In our court filing today, we point out that the Legislature took the land conservation money and earmarked it for a variety of things it isn’t supposed to pay for, including worker’s comp claims and executive salaries.”
The suit asks a Leon Circuit Court judge to order the Legislature to return monies back to the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund. Earthjustice is representing the Wildlife Federation and three other groups — Sierra Club, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida in the lawsuit. Today’s action is an amendment to a legal complaint the groups filed in June.
According to today’s legal complaint, the Legislature has diverted funds from the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund to pay for various appropriations, including:
– $1,222,158 for risk management insurance for the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Department of State and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, covering liability for, among other things, damage awards for Civil Rights Act violations, damage claims against the agencies for negligent injuries to people and for property damage, and worker’s compensation claims;
– $623,043 to pay for executive leadership and administrative services to wildlife programs in the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission;
– $21,697,449 to the Department of Agriculture ($5,000,000 of which was vetoed by the Governor) to pay for implementation of agricultural best management practices on non-conservation, privately owned lands;
– $174,078,574 for salaries and overhead for personnel within the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the Department of State;
– $838,570 for wildfire suppression vehicles for the Department of Agriculture;
– $5,000,000 to the Department of Agriculture to pay agricultural operations to keep their pollution on their own land;
– $38,575,538 to the Department of Environmental Protection that can be used to build sewage treatment plants and storm water treatment systems.
“We understand that many of these programs are important state programs, but they should not be funded by the conservation amendment funds,” Fuller said. “They should be funded by other state revenue sources.”
The Water and Land Conservation Amendment that voters passed in November, 2014 requires that, for the next 20 years, 33 percent of the proceeds from real estate documentary-stamp taxes go for land acquisition. It did not impose a new tax; the documentary-stamp tax has long funded Florida’s conservation land-buying programs. For the upcoming year, the share of the real-estate tax is projected to bring in more than $740 million.
Because the case seeks an injunction to transfer surplus budget money into the Amendment 1 fund instead of invalidating existing appropriations, it would not stop any project that the Legislature has already funded.
“We are hoping the court will correct the Legislature’s mistake, and return money to the conservation land-buying fund, because that is what the voters directed,” Fuller said.
Manley Fuller|President|Florida Wildlife Federation|August 27, 2015
Sierra Club and allies file for an injunction to restore Amendment 1 funding
(August 28, 2015 -Tallahassee) The Sierra Club, the Florida Wildlife Federation, St. Johns Riverkeeper and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida represented by Earthjustice filed suit today asking the courts to force the Florida Legislature to return Amendment 1 funds to a conservation land buying fund.
“We are asking for Florida’s courts to uphold the constitution as amended by the voters,” said Sierra Club Florida Conservation Chair Tom Larson. “The legislature needs to be held accountable for ignoring the will of the people.”
The funds from documentary stamps on land transactions, which are expected to reach $740 million next year, were diverted by the Legislature to accounts that had nothing to do with land acquisition. Among other things, they were used to pay state executive salaries, agricultural pollution subsidies and insurance premiums.
According to the suit: “The Legislature owes the people of the State of Florida a duty to honor and effectuate the intent of the voters in the use of the funds placed in trust under this constitutional amendment.”
The November 2014 ballot summary stated:
Funds the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to acquire, restore, improve, and manage conservation lands including wetlands and forests; fish and wildlife habitat; land protecting water resources and drinking water sources, including the Everglades, and the water quality of rivers, lakes and streams; beaches and shores; outdoor recreational lands; working farms and ranches; and historic or geologic sites, by dedicating 33 percent of net revenues from the existing excise tax on documents for 20 years.
An extraordinary 75 percent of the electorate voted for Amendment 1 proving that the people of the state understand the need to protect the richness of Florida’s wild heritage and unique waters.
Boyan Slat’s ‘Mega Expedition’ Shows ‘Our Oceans Are Riddled With Plastic’
A few years ago, when then-17-year-old Boyan Slat claimed he could rid the world’s oceans of plastic, many thought it was just a nice idea. But flash forward four years and what appeared to be merely youthful idealism has turned into concrete action. Yesterday, Slat’s nonprofit The Ocean Cleanup returned from a 30-day voyage through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
The team was on a reconnaissance mission to determine just how much plastic is floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, “a swirling mass of human-linked debris spanning hundreds of miles of open sea where plastic outnumbers organisms by factors in the hundreds.”
The researchers collected samples ranging from microscopic to as large as a 2,000-pound fishing net in what the group claims is “the largest ocean research expedition in history.” Using a series of measurement techniques, including trawls and aerial surveys, the fleet of close to 30 vessels sampled the concentration of plastic—all in preparation for the largest clean up of the area set to begin in 2020.
The team’s findings confirm the well-documented fact that our oceans are riddled with plastic.
“I’ve studied plastic in all the world’s oceans, but never seen any area as polluted as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” Dr. Julia Reisser, lead oceanographer at The Ocean Cleanup, said.
“With every trawl we completed, thousands of miles from land, we just found lots and lots of plastic.” In so-called “hot spots” of the garbage patch, “there were hundreds of times more plastics … than there were organisms,” Reisser told Reuters.
Although the samples collected during the expedition still have to be analyzed, preliminary findings indicate a higher-than-expected volume of large plastic objects floating in the ocean.
“The vast majority of the plastic in the garbage patch is currently locked up in large pieces of debris, but UV light is breaking it down into much more dangerous microplastics, vastly increasing the amount of microplastics over the next few decades if we don’t clean it up,” says Slat. “It really is a ticking time bomb.”
The next phase begins in 2016 when the team will test out a one-mile barrier of its ocean-cleaning system near Japan. The system will contain “floating stationary booms tethered to the ocean floor and linked in a V shape intended to skim and concentrate surface plastics floating on top of ocean currents,” according to Reuters. Ultimately, Slat’s goal is to develop a 60-mile barrier in the middle of the Pacific.
Some have criticized the effort as being too costly and ineffective, but one of the project’s financial backers, Sales force chairman, CEO and founder Marc Benioff had this to say: “Protecting the oceans should be a priority for all of Earth’s citizens. The Ocean Cleanup is taking an innovative approach to preserving one of our most critical resources and raising visibility of this global challenge.”
Cole Mellino|August 24, 2015
10 Tips For Using Less Plastic
It’s impossible to avoid plastic entirely, but there are effective ways to limit your exposure.
Plastic is so commonplace in our world today that it’s nearly impossible to imagine a life without it. Striving for a plastic-free life, however, remains a noble and worthwhile goal – and it’s becoming easier with every year that passes, as more people demand plastic alternatives and refuse to participate in the grotesque plastic waste that’s filling our planet’s landfills. Here are some tips on how to get rid of plastic at home. Don’t worry; it’s easier than you think!
1. Avoid the worst plastic offenders
If you check the bottom of any plastic container, you’ll see a number (1 through 7) inside a triangle made of arrows. The worst plastics are:
- #3 – Polyvinyl Chloride, an extremely toxic plastic that contains dangerous additives such as lead and phthalates and is used in plastic wrap, some squeeze bottles, peanut butter jars, and children’s toys
- #6 – Polystyrene, which contains styrene, a toxin for the brain and nervous system, and is used in Styrofoam, disposable dishes, take-out containers, plastic cutlery
- #7 – Polycarbonate/Other category, which contains bisphenol A and is found in most metal food can liners, clear plastic sippy cups, sport drink bottles, juice and ketchup containers
2. Use non-plastic containers
Carry a reusable water bottle and travel mug wherever you go. Pack your lunch in glass (Mason jars are wonderfully versatile), stainless steel, stacking metal tiffins, cloth sandwich bags, a wooden Bento box, etc. Take reusables to the supermarket, farmers’ market, or wherever you’re shopping, and have them weighed before filling. (Here is a list of 7 plastic-free lunch options.)
3. Never drink bottled water
Buying bottled water in North America is absurd, especially when you consider that bottled water is less regulated than tap water; it’s usually just filtered tap water; it’s exorbitantly expensive; it’s a gross waste of resources to collect, bottle, and ship it; and it results in unnecessary plastic waste that’s usually not recycled. (via Life Without Plastic)
4. Shop in bulk
The more items you can buy in bulk, the more you’ll save in packaging. While this mentality has been the norm for years at special bulk food stores, it’s fortunately becoming more common in supermarkets. You’ll save money in food costs and, if you drive, in the gas used for extra trips to the store.
Search for items such as large wheels of cheese, without any plastic packaging, and stock up on those whenever possible.
5. Avoid frozen convenience foods
Convenience foods are among the worst culprits for excessive packaging waste. Frozen foods come wrapped in plastic and packaged in cardboard, which is often lined with plastic, too. There’s not any way around it; it’s a shopping habit that will have to go if you’re serious about ditching plastic.
6. Avoid non-stick cookware
Don’t expose yourself and your family to toxic perfluorochemicals that are released when non-stick surfaces such as Teflon are heated. Replace with cast iron (which works just as well as non-stick if seasoned and cared for properly), stainless steel, or copper cookware.
Katherine Martinko|TreeHugger|August 27, 2015
This could be a fun experiment in canning, and if you dedicate a whole day to it, you could have enough to last the whole year. Make cucumber or zucchini relish and ketchup when late-summer vegetables are at their peak. Items such as chocolate sauce, mustard, and mayonnaise are quick and simple to make once you get the hang of them. Everything can be kept in glass jars.
8. Let baking soda and vinegar become your new best friends
Baking soda, which comes for cheap in large cardboard boxes, and vinegar, which comes in large glass jars, can be used to clean, scour, and disinfect the house and wash dishes, replacing plastic cleaning bottles; soda can be turned into an effective homemade deodorant; and both soda and vinegar (apple cider, specifically) can replace shampoo and conditioner bottles. (Read about how I haven’t used shampoo for 18 months.)
9. Use natural cloths instead of plastic scrubbers
If you need something with scrubbing power, go for copper instead of plastic. Use a cotton dishcloth or a coconut coir brush for dishes, instead of a plastic scrub brush. Use cotton facecloths instead of disposable wipes. Don’t underestimate the versatility of old rags!
10. Keep your laundry routine plastic-free
Use soap flakes, soap strips, or soap nuts instead of conventional laundry detergents that come in plastic-lined cardboard with plastic scoops or thick plastic jugs. They are truly awful for the planet. You can read more about that here.
Along the same lines, use bar soap instead of liquid hand soap. Bar soap works as a good shaving cream alternative, too.
Katherine Martinko|TreeHugger|August 27, 2015
Treating Bee, Wasp and Hornet Stings – Know the Difference
This summer while rafting the Salmon River in Idaho, my youngest daughter stepped on a bald-faced hornet—and her misstep did not end well for either the hornet or my child. After realizing why she was screaming bloody murder, and then identifying the culprit, I immediately began recalling what I learned about insect stings from when I lived in the Amazon and worked as a jungle guide.
First, I remembered that not all stings are treated in the same way since some insects have alkaline venom while others have acidic venom. Knowing who injects which poisons is key to treatment and pain alleviation. So, let me share with you my home remedy guide to basic stings:
OUCH! You, or someone with you, has been stung. First try to identify the culprit, and second, if the stinger is still embedded in soft tissue, remove it as soon as possible. Tweezers, a needle, a credit card or fingernails can be used to scrape/pop out that venom-laced mini-dagger. Try not to “pinch” the stinger as that can cause more venom to be released. Then wash the area with soap and water, if available.
Most insects under the category of hornets and wasps possess powerful alkaline venom. Thus, the best home treatment is something powerfully acidic such as white vinegar. The acid will neutralize the alkaloid, which may ring a bell if you were paying attention in high school chemistry class. Apply the vinegar by first directly pouring a small amount on the sting. Relief may be nearly immediate. For continued application, which may be needed, soak a thin cloth or bandage with the vinegar and leave on the sting for 15 minutes or until the pain has subsided.
If the pain reappears, as it often does minutes to hours later, just repeat the remedy. In addition to the vinegar treatment, I also gave my daughter a homeopathic remedy called Apis mellifica.
If you are backpacking, rafting or otherwise going to be in the great outdoors, I advise adding a a little vial of white vinegar to your first aid medical kit.
Most insects in this category have acidic venom and therefore need an alkaloid, such as baking soda to neutralize the venom. The easiest way to apply the baking soda is by making a paste by adding a bit of water. Cover the sting site with the paste for 5 to 15 minutes. Reapply as needed. Again, I recommend adding a little vial of baking soda in medical kits, so it is on hand when needed. Additionally, wet chamomile tea bags or a chamomile tincture are both effective at soothing the skin post-sting and after/between the baking soda treatments. The homeopathic remedy Apis mellifica is also effective for yellow jacket and bee stings.
For all insect stings, ice is also recommended to cool the skin, if available. Of course, all of the above home remedies can be complimented with over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen and over-the-counter antihistamines.
When to Seek Emergency Care:
The above home remedies are fine and good when the body’s reaction is mild, but according to WebMD, if any of the following severe symptoms emerge, seek medical care immediately, as they could be life-threatening (anaphylaxis):
- Difficulty Breathing or Wheezing
- Feeling of Dizziness or Faintness
- Tightness in Throat
- A Swollen Tongue
- A history of severe allergic reaction to insect strings
- Nausea, abdominal pain or vomiting
- Loss of Consciousness
- Severe skin reaction
If you plan to be in an area without quick access to emergency care like we were in the Frank Church Wilderness of No Return in Idaho, consider taking an EPI Pen, which requires a doctor prescription, but can save lives. In fact, while being an Amazon jungle guide, the one time I was confronted with a life and death situation was not with snakes, piranhas or jaguars, but with a simple bee sting.
Asbestos cleanup delays DTE plant implosion
Destruction of the remainder of the site put off until mid-October
MARYSVILLE — More asbestos than originally anticipated has prolonged the possible implosion of the Marysville power plant.
From afar, the former DTE power plant gives the illusion of standing on steel stilts — crews have carefully dismantled nearly 70 percent of the building since work started in spring 2014 at the site on Busha Highway and Gratiot Boulevard.
Implosion of the remainder of the site has been delayed to mid-October as crews waited for regulatory approvals, said Randall Jostes, Environmental Liability Transfer chief executive officer. Officials had hoped to bring the building the ground this summer.
“The quantities have proven to be more than originally anticipated,” he said. “But we are moving forward and properly disposing of that material.”
Jostes said work is ongoing to remove asbestos and other environmentally hazardous materials.
Commercial Development Company, based in Missouri, purchased the old plant from DTE Energy in May. Commercial Development Company is the parent company of Environmental Liability Transfer, which is tasked with conducting the environmental property assessments.
The energy plant operated from 1932 through 2001 and generated about 167 megawatts of electricity. The plant was decommissioned in 2011.
Marysville City Manager Randy Fernandez said the delay and extra work did not cost the city anything since the owners of the building are responsible for cleaning it up, not the city.
While Jostes said the implosion of the 12-story building that sits on a 45,000square-foot footprint will happen in mid-October, Fernandez said the implosion is not a done deal yet.
Once knocked down, it will take 18 to 24 months to clean the site before redevelopment can begin.
Fernandez said he is hoping for an update from Sitetech, the company contracted to dismantle the building, at the next city council meeting Sept. 14.
“The fact that the building has not been imploded has nothing to do with
whether or not the city has approved the site for implosion,” said Marysville Mayor Dan Damman. “Sitetech and the sub-contractors are finishing the abatement of asbestos on the site and then the Michigan (Department of Environmental Quality) has to sign off that the asbestos has been abated.”
Damman said he believes that the asbestos abatement process will be complete by Labor Day.
“The city has some concerns before we give approval to implode,” Damman said.
For example, Damman wants to know how loud the explosion will be and if residents will feel the ground shake before giving his OK.
“We are of the opinion that (the implosion company) will be able to comply with our conditions and ultimately the site will be imploded,” Damman said. “CDI has an impeccable track record and a long history of imploding buildings in far more precarious places than the DTE site.”
Controlled Demolition Inc., will be the company imploding the building, if it is imploded.
Damman said the implosion delay is not a concern to him because if it means ensuring the safety of the city’s residents and the site workers.
“We are thankful that time is being spent to dismantle the building properly,” he said. “When it’s a project of this magnitude there are things that are often unexpected that come up, but I think progress is moving along well.”
As for the future of the site, Damman said the city is hoping for a mix of commercial and hospitality.
“We have reached out to some well-known, but local restaurants to determine whether or not they would be interested on coming on to the premises,” Damman said. “We would like to ultimately see a destination area with a hotel, restaurants, retail space and a marine — someplace that pulls people from our area and outside of the area to the site.”
NICOLE HAYDEN|TIMES HERALD|8/27/15
[This is the plant that supplied my family’s electricity when I was growing up. It was an extremely large coal-fired plant that stored coal in a pile that covered 25 acres at around 75 feet high. Glad to see it go.]
Risk of large wildfires rises, study finds
This year’s catastrophic wildfire season — more than 7.6million acres already burned — could be just a glimpse at what the future holds.
The risk of so-called “very large wildfires” could increase as much as six times in the U.S. by mid-century as a result of man-made global warming, researchers concluded in a study announced Wednesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“Very large fires” are defined as the top 10 percent of fires based on acreage. Such blazes account for the majority of burned acres across the U.S. each year. There are currently 66 large fires burning, a step down from “very large.”
Climate change is expected both to intensify fire-friendly weather conditions — such as heat and drought — and to lengthen the season during which these fires tend to spread, according to the study, published in the International Journal of Wildland Fire.
Huge sections of the West would see the risk of very large fires increase by as much as 200 to 500 percent.
A healthy environment nurtures healthy people
If a home is not cleaned and cared for, it will become rundown and less habitable or even unlivable. It’s no different with our broader surroundings, from the immediate environment to the entire planet.
If we disconnect from the natural world, we become disconnected from who we are — to the detriment of our health and the health of the ecosystems on which our well-being and survival depend.
Understanding that we’re part of nature and acting on that understanding makes us healthier and happier, and encourages us to care for the natural systems around us. A growing body of science confirms this, including two recent studies that explore the ways nature benefits human health.
A Toronto-based study, published in Nature and co-authored by a team including University of Chicago psychologists Omid Kardan and Marc Berman and David Suzuki Foundation scientist Faisal Moola, examined the relationship between urban trees and human health. According to “Neighborhood greenspace and health in a large urban center”, people living in areas with many trees, especially large trees, report feeling healthier than people in areas with fewer trees.
The other study, published in Ecosystem Services and co-authored by scientists from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, reviewed a range of previous research to explore “observed and potential connections among nature, biodiversity, ecosystem services and human health and well-being.” The authors of “Exploring connections among nature, biodiversity, ecosystem services, and human health and well-being” concluded, “the signiﬁcance of biodiversity to human welfare is immense.”
According to the Toronto study, adding 10 or more trees to a city block offered benefits to individuals equivalent to earning $10,000 more a year, moving to a neighborhood with $10,000 higher median income or being seven years younger. As well as self-reporting of health and well-being, the study also found reduced rates of heart conditions, cancer, mental health problems and diabetes in areas with more trees.
The NOAA study delved even deeper into specific physical and mental health outcomes, finding that people living in areas with abundant green space live longer and experience lower rates of “anxiety and depression (especially), upper respiratory tract infections, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), severe intestinal complaints, and infectious disease of the intestine” than people deprived of nature.
The researchers concluded that increased exposure to nature “can have positive effects on mental/psychological health, healing, heart rate, concentration, levels of stress, blood pressure, behavior, and other health factors.”
They also found that, although evaluating nature according to the services it provides to humans “may lead to a human-centric view of the biosphere,” preserving these ecosystems and natural biodiversity for our own benefit will improve ecosystem health and the natural services other species need to survive and thrive.
As noted in a Toronto Star article, the Toronto research also found that, “within cities, urban tree lines often follow the fault lines of social, economic, political and ecological disparity.” In other words, protecting and increasing green spaces and improving access to them is a social justice as well as a health issue.
This isn’t news to anyone who gets outside regularly. People who spend at least 30 minutes a day in nature for 30 consecutive days as part of the David Suzuki Foundation’s annual 30X30 Nature Challenge report numerous benefits, including improved mood and vitality and a greater interest in the natural world. It’s why the Foundation is launching the Back to School Superhero Challenge on September 21 to encourage kids, families, students and teachers to get outdoors, learn about environmental issues and make a difference.
Science is giving us a better understanding of the many ways preserving, caring for and restoring natural spaces can improve the lives of humans and other beings — and how connecting with nature increases our desire to protect and reduce our negative impacts on our surroundings.
Earth is our only home. But it’s more than that. We’re a part of the natural systems that make up our planet and its atmosphere, and what we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves — as I conveyed in my book
By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.
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