“We are seeing a vast increase in the amount of carbon dioxide reaching the atmosphere… The result is that change in future is likely to be more fundamental and more widespread than anything we have known hitherto.” UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher warns in a 1989 speech to the UN
FWC asks beachgoers to help survey spawning horseshoe crabs
Photos available on FWC’s Flickr site: https://flic.kr/s/aHsk9g2oJk
Suggested Tweet: Biologists at @MyFWC invite people to assist in horseshoe crab surveys at beaches! http://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/FLFFWCC/bulletins/f837c5 #Florida
As spring approaches, horseshoe crabs congregate to spawn along sandy beaches and shallow coastal waters throughout the state.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) biologists are asking the public to assist in the
FWC’s survey effort by reporting horseshoe crab sightings and other useful information.
Although horseshoe crabs mate year-round, spring is the peak season to see them aggregate on beaches and in bays.
Citizen scientists interested in contributing to the survey should have the best luck sighting horseshoe crabs around high tide
within three days of a new or full moon, March 20 and April 4 respectively.
The FWC asks people to report sightings by using the online form listed under “Horseshoe Crab Nesting Activity”
by going to MyFWC.com/Contact. You can also email findings to horseshoe@MyFWC.com or call the FWC at 866-252-9326.
Observers should note the number of horseshoe crabs they see and whether those horseshoe crabs are mating.
Mating crabs “pair up,” with the smaller male on top of the larger female.
Other male crabs may be present around the mating pair.
If possible, the observer should specify roughly how many horseshoe crabs are mating adults and how many are juveniles (4 inches wide or smaller).
Biologists are also interested in the date, time and location of your sighting as well as the habitat type.
Through Dec. 31, 2014, the FWC has received 3,097 reports since the survey program began in April 2002.
Although horseshoe crabs have been around for approximately 450 million years, their populations
have declined in recent decades due to overfishing and loss of habitat.
It takes female horseshoe crabs about 10 years to reach sexual maturity before they are able to lay about 80,000 eggs per year.
The eggs are an important food source for migrating shorebirds, and larger crabs are often consumed by loggerhead sea turtles.
The FWC is grateful when people report sightings.
If you see a horseshoe crab on its back, gently pick it up (holding both sides of the shell) and release it back into the water.
Simple actions like this help conserve the species and the countless other species that depend on it.
Support Wildlife Conservation When You Travel
Planning a trip? Looking for somewhere to stay?
If you reserve your room through our Intercontinental Hotel Group affiliate link,
IHG will match 5% of your room rate and give it back to the Wildlife Foundation of Florida.
This program applies to IHG Hotels throughout the world!
So no matter where you are in the world YOU can support Florida’s wildlife!
Thanks for your support!
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission|3/16/15
The Mounts Botanical Garden of Palm Beach County Invites the Public to Eight Fun & Informative Horticultural Events in April:
* Season of Bamboo Trilogy, Part III – April 6
* Butterflies of South Florida & Native Plants – April 12
* Book Discussion Series – April 14
* Butterfly Fest – April 18
* Creating a Butterfly Garden – April 18
* Orchid Care 101: Repotting Your Orchid – April 19
* Spring Plant Sale – April 25-26
* Space Invaders: How to Deal with Invasive Plants – April 30
(West Palm Beach, FL – March 16, 2015) The Friends of Mounts Botanical Garden will be hosting eight fun,
horticulturally informative and family friendly public events during April 2015.
Season of Bamboo Trilogy, Part III
The Art of Bamboo:
An Evening with a Contemporary Master
Monday, April 6 – 6:30 to 9 pm
Exhibit Hall A
$30 for members; $40 for nonmembers
Speaker: Shouchiko Tanabe, Master Bamboo Artist
Shouchiko Tanabe is a fifth-generation contemporary bamboo artist.
After graduating from the Department of Sculpture at Tokyo University of the Arts,
Tanabe took part in a two-year training program at the Oita Prefectural Bamboo Craft and Training Support Center.
His renowned Tsunagari series of bamboo crafts utilize the inherent pliancy of bamboo,
while adopting the traditional methods of bamboo crafts passed down from mentor Tanabe Chikuunsai I.
This approach captures the essence of the medium in both concept and visual presentation,
evident by the many exhibitions showcasing his work overseas,
including Golden Week on Japanese Art (Seattle Asian Art Museum) in 2006,
New Bamboo Contemporary Masters (Japan Society in New York) in 2008, and Modern Master (Bayem Gallery, Munich) in 2012.
Butterflies of South Florida
& Their Connections to Native Plants
Sunday, April 12 – 10 am to noon
Exhibit Hall A
$30 for members; $40 for nonmembers
Speaker: Jeff Nurge, Florida Native Gardening & Native Choice Nursery
In this popular and visually captivating presentation,
learn how easy it is to attract local butterflies to your yard and have them stay year-round.
Our native plant expert and contributing writer for the Palm Beach Post’s column Native Roots
will describe in detail which native plants are suitable for this area and how to grow them successfully.
Mounts Botanical Garden Book Discussion Series
Tuesday, April 14 – 7 to 8:30 pm
Clayton Hutcheson Complex – Conference Room
In partnership with the Palm Beach County Library System,
this new series provides an opportunity for book and garden enthusiasts to meet together to
experience exciting fiction and non-fiction titles related to all aspects of gardening and horticulture.
The featured book in April will be Florida Butterfly Encounters published by the University of Florida Press.
Saturday, April 18 – 9 to 11 am
Mounts – Butterfly Garden
FREE for members; $5 for nonmembers
In collaboration with the Audubon Society of Florida and Atala-NABA
Celebrate butterflies with fun and educational activities throughout the Garden.
Butterfly walks led by interpreters will explore Mounts and feature the butterfly garden in partnership
with members of the South Florida Audubon Society and the North American Butterfly Association, Atala Chapter.
Master gardeners and NABA members will be on-hand to answer questions about how to attract butterflies
and other pollinators to your yard. Children in butterfly or insect costumes will receive a free gift while supplies last.
Creating a Butterfly Garden
Saturday, April 18 – 10 to 11:30 am
Clayton Hutcheson Complex – Conference Room
$20 for members; $30 for nonmembers
Speaker: Alan Chin Lee, Nature Photographer
Creating a butterfly garden is easy and fun if you know a few basics about butterflies.
Learn interesting facts about these beautiful “flowers of the air.”
Find out what plants our local butterflies need at all stages of their life cycle, including host plants and nectar plants.
This workshop includes a docent-led tour of our Butterfly Garden, and butterfly plants will be for sale.
Butterfly gardening is good for the environment and good for the soul.
Orchid Care 101:
Repotting Your Orchid
Sunday, April 19 – 10 am to 1 pm
Mounts Auditorium, Garden & Pavilion
$30 for members; $40 for nonmembers
Speaker: Sandi Jones, Broward Orchid Supply and Bonnet House Museum & Gardens
Spring Plant Sale
Saturday, April 25 – 9 am to 5 pm
Sunday, April 26- 9 am to 3 pm
Throughout the Garden
$10 per person
This annual Spring Plant Sale features over 80 vendors with an amazing assortment of quality plants and goods.
This is a great opportunity to learn about the plants that grow well in South Florida and find something new for the garden.
Rare and hard-to-find palms, orchids, begonias, bromeliads, fruit trees will be available for purchase at their booths.
The PBC Wood Turners will be selling a large selection of beautiful wood turnings.
How to Deal with Invasive Plants
Thursday, April 30 – 5:30 to 7 pm
$20 for members; $30 for nonmembers
Speaker: Laurie Albrecht, UF/IFAS Cooperative Extension Agent
Discover how to protect your landscape from invasive plants while preserving native Florida flora.
In this free workshop, attendees will learn how to identify the area’s worst plant marauders
and find out the best methods for their removal and disposal.
They’ll also explore the devastating impacts prohibited plants can have on property, pocketbook, and Palm Beach County’s natural areas.
The workshop includes a hands-on identification segment.
To register for any of the events and workshops at The Mounts Botanical Garden of Palm Beach County, please call 561.233.1757.
Events at Mounts are accessible to people with disabilities.
About The Mounts Botanical Garden of Palm Beach County:
With a mission to inspire the public, Mounts Botanical Garden is Palm Beach County’s oldest and largest botanical garden,
offering gorgeous displays of tropical and sub-tropical plants, plus informative classes, workshops, and other fun-filled events.
The Garden contains more than 2,000 species of plants, including Florida native plants, exotic and tropical fruit trees, herbs, palms, bromeliads and more.
Mounts Botanical Garden is a facility of the Palm Beach County Extension Service, which is in partnership with the University of Florida and the Friends of Mounts Botanical Garden.
Located at 531 North Military Trail in West Palm Beach, The Mounts Botanical Garden of Palm Beach County is open Monday-Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.
The suggested donation for entry to the Garden is $5 per person. For more information, please call 561.233.1757 or visit www.mounts.org .
Audubon of Southwest Florida
Join us for a morning of Bird Photography with Bob Blanchard, Wildlife Photographer, on Saturday, April 4, 2015, at 8:30 am.
Bob will conduct a beginning bird photography class at Bowditch Point Regional Park (http://www.leeparks.org/Facility_info?Project_num=0111)
This is a Lee County Park – please go to their website for more information on location and parking.
Vehicles with Lee County Parks passes park for free, otherwise there is a parking fee.
Bring your camera and be ready to learn!
Saturday, April 4th, 8:30 a.m.
Due to limited capacity, reservations for 20 people will be taken on a first come first served basis.
To reserve, please send an email including your name and phone number to firstname.lastname@example.org
FWC Bear Management Plan
Managed Species Black Bear for Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission information has recently been updated, and is now available.
Of Interest to All
Fukushima Radiation Found in Sample of Green Tea from Japan
Four years after the multiple explosions and melt-downs at Fukushima, it seems the scary stories have only just begun to surface.
Given that Japan’s authoritarian regime of Shinzo Abe has cracked down on the information flow from Fukushima with a repressive state secrets act, we cannot know for certain what’s happening at the site.
We do know that 300 tons of radioactive water have been pouring into the Pacific every day. And that spent fuel rods are littered around the site. Tokyo Electric power may or may not have brought down all the fuel rods from Unit Four, but many hundreds almost certainly remain suspended in the air over Units One, Two and Three.
We also know that Abe is pushing refugees to move back into the Fukushima region. Thyroid damage rates—including cancer—have skyrocketed among children in the region. Radiation “hot spots” have been found as far away as Tokyo. According to scientific sources, more than 30 times as much radioactive Cesium was released at Fukushima as was created at the bombing of Hiroshima.
Some of those isotopes turned up in at least 15 tuna caught off the coast of California. But soon after Fukushima, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration stopped testing Pacific fish for radiation. The FDA has never fully explained why.
But now a small amount of Fukushima’s radiation has turned up in green tea shipped from Japan to Hong Kong. This is a terrifying development, casting doubt on all food being exported from the region.
According to the New York Times:
“A sample of powdered tea imported from the Japanese prefecture of Chiba, just southeast of Tokyo, contained traces of radioactive cesium 137, the Hong Kong government announced late Thursday evening, but they were far below the legal maximum level.
The discovery was not the first of its kind. The government’s Center for Food Safety found three samples of vegetables from Japan with “unsatisfactory” levels of radioactive contaminants in March 2011, the month that nuclear reactors in Fukushima, northeast of Tokyo, suffered partial meltdowns following a powerful earthquake and tsunami.”
Should every meal you are served now be accompanied with a radiation monitor?
Harvey Wasserman|March 16, 2015
Rising seas bring heavy burden to Florida coastal economy.
Florida is a coastal state. Nearly 80% of its 20 million residents live near the coast on land just a few feet above sea level, and over a hundred million tourists visit the beaches and stay in beach-front hotels every year. The coastal economy in Florida is estimated to account for 79% of the state’s gross domestic product, a measure of direct revenue into the economy.
People living and working on the Florida coast face threats from hurricanes and storm surge, sometimes more than once a year. Scouring of beaches by wind and waves takes away sand, and beaches must be nourished with new sand, as often as yearly, in areas with high erosion. Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties now have problems obtaining near-shore, low-cost sand. This means that they will have to use considerably more expensive alternatives to native sand that may negatively impact sea turtles or beach plants, diminish the quality of the beach environment and have adverse impacts to local communities that pay for beach re-nourishment.
The threats aren’t reserved just for coastal residents. People in south Florida who live farther inland have homes and businesses on former wetlands that were drained in the middle of the 20th century. After a heavy rainfall, canals carry water to the sea. Should those canals fail, there would be massive flooding. Those canals also maintain a freshwater “head,” or buffer, that prevents salt water from intruding into the well fields that supply drinking water to the millions of residents.
In this precarious situation, how is sea-level rise affecting coastal Florida, and what can we expect in the future?
An important reality is that sea-level rise is not a future phenomenon. It has been happening slowly over the past decades, at about one inch every ten years. That’s a half foot since the 1960’s and already it is taking a toll. Areas of Miami now have flooding at high tide – a situation not observed in the past. The drainage system in south Florida is starting to fail. Flood control structures that take away rainwater by gravity sometimes cannot flow when the ocean side of the flood gates have a higher level of salt water than the upstream fresh water sides.
Why does one inch matter? When I lived in coastal Florida, one time a major rain event coincided with high tide, which made it difficult for water to quickly exit to the ocean. When water levels rose one half of an inch from the storm, my entire neighborhood flooded and water nearly entered my house. As we hastily tried to block all of the doors with tape and towels, it hit home what a difference one more inch of sea level would have meant – the difference between no damage and perhaps thousands of dollars of damage to our home. However, over many decades, we are looking at feet, not inches of rising sea levels.
What we know now
Three years ago, leading researchers convened at a climate change summit hosted by Florida Atlantic University, the research program Florida Sea Grant and the University of Florida to discuss the future of Florida under projected climate change and sea-level rise conditions. The picture these researchers paint is bleak. Between now and 2100, floods that happen every 100 years are projected to start happening every 50, then every 20, then every 5, until large areas of coastal Florida are under water.
These experts’ discussions considered such dire things as: how to strategically abandon large areas of the Florida Keys; how animals that now live in low-lying areas will move to higher ground when human populations are vying for the same territory; and even how to reconfigure Miami into a series of islands on a historical ridge along the southeast Florida coast, knowing that at some point, even those ridges will be part of the ocean.
A report by the Florida Oceans and Coastal Council, a body established by the state’s legislature and on which I serve, developed a comprehensive report on the probable and possible effects of sea-level rise on coastal Florida. Major findings of that report included:
Sea level is likely to rise by 20 to 40 inches by 2100. If there is major melting of polar and glacier ice, sea level could rise as much as 80 inches this century
During hurricanes, higher sea levels may boost storm surge, causing greater scouring of beaches and in the worst case scenario, inundation of barrier islands and loss of coastal properties
There will be increased pressure to armor shorelines with seawalls to protect buildings from waves, but at some point this may not be effective because of escalating costs and the porous rock that underlies most of Florida, which will allow sea water to seep under seawalls.
Rising seas will shift the beach inland, imperiling coastal roads, homes and businesses.
Rising seas will stress coastal infrastructure (buildings, roads and bridges) because salt water will affect structural integrity.
Saltwater intrusion will become more common in freshwater well fields near the coast. A sea rise of just six inches will require water conservation, waste water reuse, stormwater storage facilities and alternative water supplies including desalinization.
It now is widely accepted that climate change is causing an unprecedented rise in sea levels around the world, and that locations such as Florida, where huge infrastructure and large populations live right on the coast, are especially vulnerable.
As noted in the Oceans and Coastal Council report, the risks compel us to seek a more thorough understanding of the impacts, and provide current and future generations with the information needed to adapt. Ignoring climate change or dismissing it as ‘not settled science’ will only lead to more costly and complex decisions in the future and cause greater harm to our people and our economy.
While the challenges presented by climate change and sea-level rise are great, challenges also bring opportunity.
As Florida seeks to adapt to the changing future, it is an opportunity for us to engage in vibrant discussions at the local, regional, state and federal levels about the nature of our communities, how we want them to look in the future, and how to achieve our goals. Engaging in such conversations will help us learn and work together for the best possible future for our communities.
Many communities around the state are already doing this. Southeast Florida has its Climate Change Compact, northeast Florida is working together under the Public Private Regional Resilience Initiative, southwest Florida and Punta Gorda as far back as 2009 developed the City of Punta Gorda Adaptation Plan. With such work, we can move towards a future which, while filled with challenges and different than the past, need not be only about loss, but also about what we can accomplish.
Professor Karl Havens|Director of Florida Sea Grant|University of Florida|March 16 2015
An Amazing New Pacific Island Emerges in Tonga
Planet Earth is constantly shifting and changing: oceans are created and destroyed; mountains are formed under the sea, but then lifted up to great heights. In general, we humans aren’t aware of these shifts, as they take place over millions of years. However, last month the people of Tonga experienced just how geologically dynamic the earth is, as an ongoing volcanic eruption under the ocean created a new cone-shaped island about 40 miles northwest of Tonga’s capital, Nukualofa.
Specifically, experts believe that a volcano exploded underwater and then expanded until an island formed.
Tonga is a Polynesian sovereign state and archipelago comprising 177 islands with a total surface area of about 290 square miles, scattered over 270,000 square miles of the southern Pacific Ocean. Fifty two islands are inhabited by its 103,000 people, and seventy percent of Tongans reside on the main island of Tongatapu.
The new island is about one mile long, eight tenths of a mile wide, and rises over 300 feet above the sea–and it is still growing.
You can see the first amazing photographs of this newly formed island by clicking here. They were taken by G.P. Orbassano, a local man who, along with two others, climbed to the peak of the new land mass earlier this month. Apparently the surface was still hot and the green lake in the crater smelt strongly of sulphur. “It was a perfect day, with fantastic views – bright blue sky and the sea was the same color as the sky,” Orbassano told Tonga’s Matangi Online.
Orbassano said he believed the island was high enough for it to remain for some time, and potentially attract tourists. “There are thousands of seabirds – all kinds, laying eggs on the island,” he said. This is by no means the first area to witness such an amazing event.
On November 20, 2013, an island of approximately 600 feet in diameter emerged 600 miles south of Tokyo, Japan, in the Ogasawara Islands. This new island, originally called Niijima, was created by volcanic activity along the western edge of the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire.’ A month later, NASA images revealed that the newly formed island had tripled in size. In fact, it kept growing so much that it “ate up” its neighboring island, Nishino-shima, which had formed in 1973. The two islands merged in December 2013. Since then, the island has started producing its own weather, and lava flows have transformed bays into lakes.
Another example of this amazing phenomenon happened recently in Pakistan. You may remember that the country experienced a devastating 7.7 earthquake in September, 2013. After the shaking stopped, the people of Gwadar, on the Balochistan coast, were amazed to see that three new islands had emerged from the Arabian Sea.
Earthquakes and volcanic activity clearly played their part in producing these dramatic changes. The newly emerging islands are also a stunning reminder that our planet is definitely alive, and always shifting!
Judy Molland|March 17, 2015
Amendment 1 Spending Plan Lands Mixed Reviews
Florida’s natural springs would get $50 million, the Kissimmee River is in line for $30 million, and a wastewater plan for the Florida Keys is up for $25 million, under a newly released House proposal that would help carry out a voter-approved increase in conservation dollars.
But there are few other clearly outlined projects in a $772.1 million proposal for next fiscal year released Tuesday by the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee. The proposal is focused more on land management and water projects than on new land acquisitions.
The plan quickly drew mixed reviews from conservationists, whose reactions included that it was “a good starting point” for negotiations and that lawmakers disregarded the intent of voters who supported a constitutional amendment, known as Amendment 1, in November.
“The recommendation ignores what the voters thought that they were voting for, which was to put money into land acquisition for parks and wildlife habitat and trails,” said Audubon Florida Executive Director Eric Draper, a lobbyist on environmental issues.
Among the House funding proposals were $191 million for debt service for the Florida Forever program, Everglades restoration and water-management districts; $100 million for Everglades restoration bonding; $91.6 million for management of state parks, greenways and wildlife management areas; $35 million for water farming; $25 million for beach restoration; $15 million for an agricultural project on the west side of Lake Okeechobee; and $800,000 for an increase in pay for Forest Service firefighters.
“There is some serious funding in there to solve some serious problems,” said subcommittee Chairman Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula. “We focused on the things that we think have to do with helping the environment, helping out ecosystems and providing for quality land management.”
The proposed spending plan is about $30 million more than state economists have projected will be available.
The Senate’s proposal for the Amendment 1 money will be released Thursday by the General Government Appropriations Subcommittee.
Sen. Alan Hays, a Umatilla Republican who is chairman of the subcommittee, said Tuesday he had only briefly seen the House proposal, but that he supports the idea of favoring land management over acquisitions.
“I think that’s a move in the right direction,” said Hays, who added that the Senate proposal may offer similar approaches.
The amendment, approved in November by 75 percent of voters, lays out for 20 years an increase in funding for land and water conservation.
The amendment requires 33 percent of the proceeds from a real-estate tax to go for land and water projects. The funding level is currently projected to generate $741 million in next year’s budget, more than $200 million above what lawmakers allocated for such uses in the current year.
Nearly $200 million of the House proposal falls under two categories — water resource development and fund shifts from the General Revenue Fund — that don’t fully indicate how that money will be used.
“That’s mystery money,” Draper said. “You might call that a reserve for lobbyist-driven water projects.”
More importantly, the budget is limited to the state’s springs and the area around Lake Okeechobee, he said.
“If you’re a voter from Tallahassee, outside the capital, or you’re in Miami, or in Orlando, this really doesn’t do anything for you,” Draper said.
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, disagreed, saying the money will get spread statewide to maintain lands the state already owns.
The House proposal addresses the Kissimmee River, some cleanup in the Indian River Lagoon, and includes the Keys wastewater plan, but doesn’t break down further local projects for purchase or management.
Noticeably absent is any indication that there will be funding to buy U.S. Sugar land south of Lake Okeechobee.
Some South Floridians have recently called for the state to complete a 2010 deal to acquire 46,800 acres from U.S. Sugar, of which 26,100 acres would be used for construction of the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir, which would aid in the shifting of water now going east and west to the south.
The deal, estimated at $350 million, must be completed by Oct. 12 or Florida would have to buy an additional 157,000 acres to get the land for the reservoir.
Albritton noted that U.S. Sugar has recently soured on the deal.
“For there to be an agreement consummated, everyone has to want to do it and agree on a price, and I don’t think U.S. Sugar is interested in selling,” Albritton said.
As with most of the Amendment 1 spending plan, spending on local projects must still get hammered out through negotiations with the Senate later in the legislative session.
Janet Bowman of The Nature Conservancy said she was encouraged with the plan enhancing land management, increasing from $5 million to $25 million the annual funding for the Rural and Family Lands program, while putting $105 million into programs that could result in land acquisitions.
“It’s a good starting figure going into conference,” said Bowman
Gov. Rick Scott has offered his own spending plans, some of which have drawn criticism.
While touting a desire to provide funding on a recurring basis for Everglades restoration and springs maintenance, Scott during the upcoming fiscal year wants $150 million for the Everglades, of which $122 million would cover work already under way. He also wants lawmakers to allocate $50 million for springs and $178 million for debt service on bonds tied to the Florida Forever and Save Our Everglades programs. Another $20 million would go for land purchases and restoration of the Kissimmee River.
Scott has drawn criticism for his proposal to use $7.6 million for state park ranger wages and $63 million to cover operating expenses at water-management districts and the Department of Environmental Protection.
JIM TURNER|NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA|March 17, 2015|Copyright Colin Hackley
Obama Calls On Federal Agencies To Reduce Emissions 40 Percent By 2025
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama signed an executive order on Thursday committing the federal government to cutting its own emissions 40 percent by 2025 and pledging to increase the amount of renewable energy used by federal agencies to 30 percent.
The executive order builds on a previous administration directive to cut emissions from federal agencies 28 percent by 2020, compared with 2008 levels. “We are well on our way to meet that goal,” Brian Deese, senior adviser to the president, said in a call with reporters Thursday. “That’s what’s motivating us today to chart out a new and even more aggressive goal going forward.”
The administration is also setting a goal of cutting the per-mile emissions from the agencies’ vehicle fleet 30 percent, it said. It estimates the total commitment across the federal agencies will save taxpayers $18 billion — funds that won’t be spent on energy.
Christy Goldfuss, managing director of the Council on Environmental Quality, said that by the end of 2014, the federal government had cut emissions 17 percent since 2008, putting it well on the way to meeting Obama’s earlier goal. Much of that has come through energy efficiency improvements in federal buildings and with the installation of renewables.
As of the end of 2014, renewable energy accounted for 9 percent of the federal government’s energy use, and Thursday’s directive wants to increase that to 30 percent by 2025. The Department of Defense has set its own goal of deploying 3 gigawatts of solar energy on its installations around the world by 2025.
The federal government is the single largest energy user in the United States, Goldfuss said, with 360,000 buildings and 650,000 vehicles. “Not only is our footprint expansive, our impact is as well,” she said.
The administration also argued that the push to reduce emissions in the federal government has effects across the private sector as well. To that end, the administration also released a scorecard to track emissions from major federal contractors such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing and General Dynamics, which the administration is also calling on to make reductions.
The White House estimates that with reductions from the agency and those of private suppliers, the administration can cut greenhouse gas emissions by 26 million metric tons in the next 10 years.
“These goals will make sure the federal government is leading by example and pushing the envelope on cutting emissions,” said Deese, adding that it will “demonstrate that we are going to stay on offense in pushing our clean energy and climate change objectives.”
PBS Newshour Zooms in on Piping Plover Efforts
Audubon scientists are banding Piping Plovers as they winter in the Bahamas to learn more about this tiny endangered bird.
It was only three years ago that researchers solved the mystery of where endangered Piping Plovers spend their winters, but already Audubon researchers are working, alongside Bahamas National Trust, to preserve the islands in the Bahamas these birds call home this time of year.
The small gray and white shorebird made it onto the endangered species list in 1986, when the population, once in the tens of thousands, dropped below 2,000 individuals. Today, the population has recovered to 8,000 birds, but the plover still faces threats, thanks to climate change, as rising seas might take over some of critical breeding grounds. Audubon’s Birds and Climate Change Report lists the Piping Plover as climate-endangered, meaning it might lose more than 50 percent of its current range by 2050, if global warming continues at its current pace.
So what could help these vulnerable shorebirds? Protecting their winter habitat in Bahamas’ Joulter Cays is high on the list. A team of researchers led by Audubon and members of the International Alliances Program spent several weeks in the Bahamas this winter trying to learn more about the birds and develop ways to protect the critical habitat. They even managed to band 27 birds, with Bahamas-pink tags.
Watch the video from PBS News.hour detailing the work:
Department Of Interior Issues New Rules For Fracking On Public Lands
WASHINGTON — The Department of Interior released new rules for hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas on public lands in the United States on Friday, the first significant update to the regulations in three decades.
“Decades-old regulations don’t take into account current technology for hydraulic fracturing,” said Interior Sec. Sally Jewell in a call with reporters Friday. The new rules will require companies drilling on public lands to disclose the chemicals they are using to the Bureau of Land Management, will set higher standards for the storage of wastewater from the fracking process, and will require validation of well integrity.
There are 100,000 oil and gas wells on public lands across the U.S., according to the department, and 90 percent of those in operation use hydraulic fracturing, a process that uses a high-pressure stream of water, sand and chemicals to tap into oil and gas reserves. Friday’s final rule applies only to development on public lands, however, not to the much more prolific development of state and private land. The Bureau of Land Management oversees 756 million acres of public land across the country.
“It’s important that the public has confidence that it’s being done safely,” said Jewell. “I don’t think anybody would say it’s common sense to keep regulations in place that were created 30 years ago.”
Under the rules, companies drilling on public lands will need to disclose the chemicals they are using through FracFocus, an industry-sponsored website, and submit that information within 30 days of beginning the fracking operation. BLM Director Neil Kornze said that the rule does allow for “limited exceptions for disclosure” under trade secret laws, but that BLM will be able to access a listing of all chemicals in the event of a spill or other accident.
The Department of Interior said it received 1.5 million comments on the draft version of the rules, which were released in May 2013.
Complaints about the new rules came from all directions Friday. A group of five environmental organizations, including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Center for Biological Diversity, issued a statement calling the rules “toothless,” and argued that they give too much leeway for the further development of public lands in an era when climate change considerations should be pushing the U.S. away from fossil fuels.
Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement that the regulation “lets industry off the hook.” “Rather than raising the bar, the Bureau settled for the lowest common denominator … Half measures aren’t a realistic response to the situation we face today,” he said.
But industry backlash has been just as swift. The American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s leading trade organization, criticized the rules as “duplicative.” “Despite the renaissance on state and private lands, energy production on federal lands has fallen, and this rule is just one more barrier to growth,” said Erik Milito, API’s director of upstream and industry operations, in a statement.
The Independent Petroleum Association of America and Western Energy Alliance announced they were filing a lawsuit in the federal district court in Wyoming to block the rules within minutes of their release. Their complaint calls the rules “a reaction to unsubstantiated concerns.”
In the call with reporters, Jewell argued that the rules are good for industry as well as the public. “We really are upholding the public trust here,” said Jewell. “There’s a lot of fear, a lot of public concern, particularly about groundwater and the safety of water supplies … I think the industry recognizes that thoughtful regulation can help them, because it reassures the public that we’re protecting them.”
The rules go into effect 90 days after publication in the Federal Register.
Obama Signs Executive Order to Cut Government Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 40 Percent
“As part of his commitment to lead by example to curb the emissions that are driving climate change, today President Obama will issue an executive order that will cut the federal government’s greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent over the next decade from 2008 levels—saving taxpayers up to $18 billion in avoided energy costs—and increase the share of electricity the Federal Government consumes from renewable sources to 30 percent,” said a White House statement. “Complementing this effort, several major federal suppliers are announcing commitments to cut their own GHG emissions.”
The new actions and commitments are expected to reduce GHG emissions by 26 million metric tons from 2008 levels by 2025. The administration is also releasing its Federal Supplier Greenhouse Gas Management Scorecard where the public can track GHG emissions for all major federal suppliers and their progress in reducing them. Together, these suppliers receive more than 40 percent of all federal contract dollars, more than $187 billion dollars, with Lockheed Martin, which already has and discloses emissions targets, leading the list at more than $32 billion.
The government itself spends more than $445 billion on goods and services, making the impact of this executive order even greater.
“The President’s action today will build on the federal government’s significant progress in reducing emissions to drive further sustainability actions through the next decade,” according to the White House statement. “In addition to cutting emissions and increasing the use of renewable energy, the Executive Order outlines a number of additional measures to make the Federal Government’s operations more sustainable, efficient and energy-secure while saving taxpayer dollars.”
Those measures include making sure that 25 percent of their energy comes from renewable sources by 2025, reducing energy use in federal buildings by 2.5 percent a year and reducing water intensity in federal buildings by 2 percent a year in the next decade, and reducing per-mil GHG emissions from federal vehicle fleets by 30 percent by 2015, including increasing the percentage of zero-emission and plug-in hybrid vehicles.
“Earthjustice applauds President Obama for issuing an Executive Order today that aims to make a significant cut in carbon pollution—the pollution responsible for climate change—from the government sector,” said Abigail Dillen, Earthjustice’s vice president of litigation for Climate & Energy. “The President recognizes that the federal government can lead the way in expanding our use of clean, renewable energy, a key step on the path to end our nation’s unnecessary dependence on fossil fuels that harm our health and the environment.”
The administration also hosted a roundtable today to bring together some large government suppliers to talk about their GHG reduction targets or make public their first-ever commitments to such targets. The White House release a detailed fact sheet explaining the actions they intend to take.
The companies participating in today’s roundtable include IBM, GE, Honeywell, SRA International, Humana, CSC, AECOM, Northrup Gruman and Batelle, among others. All revealed their GHG emissions reduction targets and other sustainability goals. IBM, for instance, announced two new goals. The company said it would reduce carbon emissions from its energy use by 30 percent over 2005 levels by the end of 2020, a reduction of 20 percent over its previous goal. And it said that it would get 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020 and that these will be purchases directly matched to its operations, not offsets. Other companies announced similar goals.
Though the President’s executive order is a step in the right direction, Greenpeace points out that a policy banning coal, oil and gas extraction on public lands would have an even bigger impact on the climate crisis.
“It’s good to see President Obama call for more renewable energy to reduce carbon pollution from the federal government’s operations, but his administration needs to get serious about the federal government’s much bigger carbon problem—fueling the climate crisis by giving away our coal, oil and gas from federal lands and waters,” said Greenpeace climate and energy campaign director Kelly Mitchell.
“President Obama and Interior Secretary Jewell can take immediate steps that would have a real impact: rejecting Shell’s plans to drill for oil in the Arctic and putting a moratorium on the sale of federal coal. We also need a comprehensive plan to address the broader problems of federal fossil fuels and climate change, but our land, water, and climate are threatened by fossil fuel companies and outdated federal rules right now, and these are two immediate steps the Obama administration could take.”
Earlier this week, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell delivered a speech calling for “an honest and open conversation” about the federal coal program and climate change. According to a Greenpeace report, last year the federal coal program leased 2.2 billion tons of taxpayer-owned coal during the Obama administration, unlocking 3.9 billion metric tons of carbon pollution. The report also found that the average price per ton for those coal leases was only $1.03, while each ton will cause damages estimated at between $22 and $237, using the federal government’s social cost of carbon estimates.
A new report today from the Center for American Progress and the Wilderness Society provides new data, including that, “Federal lands and waters could have accounted for 24 percent of all energy-related GHG emissions in the United States in 2012.”
Last June, President Obama and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency unveiled their historic Clean Power Plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. power plants—the country’s largest source of GHG emissions—cutting carbon emissions by 30 percent over 2005 levels by 2025.
Obama said then, “Right now, there are no national limits to the amount of carbon pollution that existing plants can pump into the air we breathe—none. We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury, sulfur and arsenic that power plants put in our air and water. But they can dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air.”
His announcement today of the government’s own actions demonstrates the importance of such goals, a rebuke to the dozen states suing the federal government claiming that the Clean Power Plan is illegal and a burden to the states.
Senate panel deals second blow to U.S. Sugar buy
A Senate proposal on how to spend Amendment 1 dollars released Thursday funds springs, Everglades and beach restoration.
But the item Treasure Coast officials and several environmental groups hoped would be there is missing: money to buy 46,800 acres from U.S. Sugar Corp. to move Lake Okeechobee water south and help reduce discharges into the St. Lucie River.
There was little expectation lawmakers would include the purchase in their plan after leaders, such as House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, said they oppose the purchase and U.S. Sugar said it would be a “waste” of taxpayers’ money. A House proposal released Tuesday doesn’t buy the land either.
Also missing in the $714.1 million proposal unveiled by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government is increased money for preservation land acquisition under the Florida Forever program, which received only $2 million, an 84 percent cut from last year, said Will Abberger, campaign manager for Florida’s Water and Land Legacy, a coalition of environmental and civic groups that sponsored Amendment 1. Another $20 million buys land for Kissimmee River restoration.
Sen. Thad Altman, R-Rockledge, a committee member who represents northern Indian River County said the Senate plan contradicts what 75 percent of voters had in mind when they approved the constitutional amendment last year.
Matt Dixon|Isadora Rangel|March 19, 2015
Calls to Action
Protect the Southern Everglades and Florida Bay – here
Stop Monsanto’s attack on GMO labeling – here
Tell the Dept of Energy NO GE Trees or Crops for Energy – here
Protect our lungs against dangerous smog – here
Tell the Florida Legislature to buy critical land south of Lake Okeechobee – here
Tell Jeb Bush It’s Time to Stop Attacks on Science – here
Protect our national monuments, parks, and wilderness areas – here
Tell the Brazilian government to cancel misguided dam project – here
Tell Congress – Don’t Give Away Our National Forests – here
Say NO to corporate welfare for Big Oil and YES to fighting climate change – here
Ban Fracking on Public Lands – here
Birds and Butterflies
10 Plants for a Bird-Friendly Yard
Choose native plants like these to beautify your real estate and provide food for birds.
Looking to spruce up your yard this spring? Try growing more native plants – plants that naturally occur in the area where you live. Gardening with native plants has many benefits: They’re beautiful, they’re already adapted to your precipitation and soil conditions, and they don’t need artificial fertilizers or pesticides. Of course the biggest benefit might be that native plants are great for birds and other wildlife.
Native plants provide nectar for hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees. They provide nourishing seeds and irresistible fruits for your feathered neighbors, and they offer places to nest and shelter from harm. They’re also a critical part of the food chain—insects evolved to feed on native plants, and by and large, backyard birds raise their young on insects, explains Douglas Tallamy, the author of Bringing Nature Home. Take the Carolina Chickadee: A single clutch of four to six chicks will gobble up more than 9,000 caterpillars in the 16 days between when they hatch and when they leave the nest. So thriving insects mean thriving birds.
The key is to pick the right plants for your area. Here are 10 great plants to get you thinking about the possibilities—but remember, there are thousands of native plants out there (more resources below).
Native Flowering Plants:
Purple Coneflowers (Echinacea spp.) Coneflowers are a tried-and-true garden staple, and wildlife are drawn to them, too.
Birds that love them: These beautiful blooms attract butterflies and other pollinators during the summer and provide seeds for goldfinches and other birds in the fall.
Where they’re native: Some of these species, like Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea pallida, are great native plants to grow in the plains states. Coneflowers grow well most places, so check for the species native to your region.
Sunflowers (Helianthus spp.) Sunflowers may signify loyalty and longevity for people, but they mean food for many birds.
Birds that love them: Birds often use the sunflower seeds to fuel their long migrations.
Where they’re native: Helianthus ciliaris in the Southwest and central United States and Helianthus angustifolius in the eastern United States produce seeds in bulk.
Milkweed (Asclepias spp.) Milkweed is best known for hosting monarch butterfly caterpillars, but they attract loads of insects that are great for birds, too. Bonus: the flowers are gorgeous.
Birds that love them: Some birds, like the American Goldfinch, use the fiber from the milkweed to spin nests for its chicks. Goldfinches, and other birds, also use the downy part of the seed to line their nests.
Where they’re native: It’s likely one or more species of milkweed is native to your area—try butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) in hot dry areas, while swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is great in wet areas or gardens.
Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) The cardinal flower’s bright red petals resemble the flowing robes worn by Roman Catholic cardinals, after which it was named.
Birds that love them: While few insects can navigate the long tubular flowers, hummingbirds feast on the cardinal flower’s nectar with their elongated beaks.
Where they’re native: This moisture-loving plant is native across large portions of the country, including the East, Midwest, and Southwest.
Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) One of the top most well-behaved vines to plant in your garden, the multitudes of red tubular flowers are magnets for hummingbirds.
Birds that love them: This vine’s nectar attracts hummingbirds while many birds like Purple Finches and Hermit Thrushes eat their fruit. During migration, Baltimore Orioles get to the nectar by eating the flowers.
Where they’re native: Trumpet honeysuckle grows natively in the northeast, southeast, and midwest portions of the United States. The sweetly scented Japanese honeysuckle is actually an exotic invasive—but if you swap it with native trumpet honeysuckle, you’ll attract plenty of birds.
Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinqefolia) The Virginia creeper, also known as woodvine, may be best known for its similarity to poison ivy, but its leaves are harmless to your skin. While people may intentionally avoid it, many birds rely on its fruit during the winter.
Birds that love them: It’s a key food source for fruit-eating birds, such as mockingbirds, nuthatches, woodpeckers and blue jays.
Where they’re native: Parthenocissus vitacea, a related species known as thicket creeper, is native to the American West while Parthenocissus quinqefolia can be found in the Great Plains and eastern United States.
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) Showy flowers and fruit make buttonbush a popular choice in native gardens and along pond shores.
Birds that love them: In addition to beautifying a pond, they also provide seeds for ducks and other waterfowl. Their magnificent flowers also attract butterflies—and other pollinators.
Where they’re native: The buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis, is native to the wetlands of California and the eastern half of the United States.
Elberberry (Sambucus canadensis) Elderberry is a versatile plant that has been used to make dye and medicine by people across the United States, as well as being a showy shrub for the landscape.
Birds that love them: Its bright dark blue fruits (which we use for jam) provide food for many birds within its range, including the Brown Thrasher and Red-eyed Vireo, and dozens of other birds.
Where they’re native: Sambucus canadensis is native to most of the eastern United States, while red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) is found in most states except for those south of Nebraska and those along the Gulf of Mexico.
Oak (Quercus spp.) From southern live oaks to California black oaks, these large beautiful trees are a favorite for many people across the country—not to mention the great summer shade they provide. These trees are also an integral part of the food chain, so planting just one really helps your yard’s diversity.
Birds that love them: Similarly, many species of birds use the cavities and crooks of these trees for nesting and shelter. Birds are also drawn to the abundance of insects and acorns that are found on oaks—to learn more, check out Doug Tallamy’s work.
Where they’re native: If you want to plant an oak, be sure to plant one native to your area, such as the shumard oak in the Southeast or the Oregon white oak in the Pacific Northwest.
Dogwoods (Cornus spp.) Nothing says spring quite like a dogwood full of newly-bloomed flowers.
Birds that love them: Cardinals, titmice, and bluebirds all dine on the fleshy fruit of dogwood trees.
Where they’re native: If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you can grow native Cornus nuttallii and for those in the eastern United States, choose either the Cornus alternifolia or the Cornus florida.
By incorporating native plants into your landscape, you’re creating a sanctuary that benefits wildlife.
The 10 plants listed are a great starting point—they’re easy to grow, they’re great for birds, and most can be found at nurseries. Check your local Audubon Center or Native Plant Society for specific native plant sales, for these and a larger selection of the native plant palette!
Once you’ve mastered the basics, here are a few resources to take you to the next step:
Bringing Nature Home…Doug Tallamy
The Living Landscape….Doug Tallamy and Rick Darke
The American Woodland Garden….Rick Darke
Gardening and Propagating Wildflowers, Growing and Propagating Native Trees and Shrubs….William Cullina
Greg Mably|Mar 13, 2015|Additional reporting by Shannon Palus and Tessa Stuart.
Bird Flu Confirmed Further East
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has confirmed a deadly strain of avian flu further east than before, leaving poultry producers to worry that the disease could spread to high production states east of the Mississippi.
Wild birds can carry influenza with them as they migrate and while the disease doesn’t harm them, it can devastate commercial flocks. It destroyed a turkey flock last month at a farm in Minnesota, before turning up in Missouri and Arkansas.
The vast majority of turkeys and chickens in the U.S. are raised indoors. In states like Georgia, the country’s leading producer of broilers, their water source usually is a well, rather than pond or other open water.
Still, the disease obviously can spread despite those biosecurity measures.
Minnesota confirmed its outbreak March 4, the first H5N2 found in the Mississippi flyway, a major bird migration route. The Missouri and Arkansas cases were confirmed last week week. Experts can’t know for sure whether the disease was spread by migrating birds – the sites in Minnesota, Missouri and Arkansas all share the Mississippi Flyway – or by workers who inadvertently carried the disease away from the farm. But producers are tightening biosecurity measures meant to keep the disease from spreading.
Other recent outbreaks of highly pathogenic strains in commercial turkey and chicken farms, backyard flocks and wild birds were along the Northwest’s Pacific Flyway. The first of those cases was confirmed at a mixed poultry farm in Oregon in December; since then nine other cases have been confirmed along the Pacific Flyway.
While the poultry industry has a strong program for testing and containing any influenza, states where a case is confirmed could take a financial hit. Dozens of countries have banned poultry imports from affected states.
People can contract some strains of avian influenza, but only by handling animals or eating undercooked meat.
Minnesota, Missouri and Arkansas followed rapid response protocols from the federal government and poultry industry. Once H5N2 was confirmed at the farms, all birds were killed and the farms within six miles were quarantined. Tests at nearby farms found no signs of other infected flocks.
“At least right now we’re breathing a little easier,” Missouri Department of Agriculture Director Richard Fordyce said.
Allison Floyd|March 16th, 2015
MILKWEED BUTTERFLIES OF NORTH AMERICA
While late-season ice storms seem to have cancelled spring in some parts of the U.S., the monarch butterflies know that the seasons are changing. Soon they will leave their winter roosts in the oyamel firs of Mexico and return to their breeding grounds, starting in Texas. As milkweed specialists — while adults nectar on a variety of flowers, their larvae only eat plants in the genus Asclepias — their future relies on finding milkweeds along the way.
But monarchs aren’t the only milkweed butterfly. There are four butterflies that occur in North America and share the same reliance on milkweed for their caterpillars. One, the Caribbean queen (Danaus cleophile), can be found only on the islands of Hispaniola and Jamaica. The other three, the monarch (Danaus plexippus), queen (Danaus gilippus), and soldier (Danaus eresimus), are more widespread and will be encountered on the continental mainland. Monarchs can be found across much of North America, while queens have a more southern distribution. The queen’s range starts in Central America and ends in the American southwest. The soldier butterfly’s heartland is smaller, occupying northern Mexico and the subtropical U.S. It’s possible to see all three species side by side in the southernmost parts of Texas and Florida, but even then, soldiers are the least common.
Because queens, soldiers, and monarchs are all very similar in appearance, it is important to be wise to their field markings before attempting to track them down. We have some tips to help you in your search.
Flashy and readily spotted, monarch butterflies can be found from South America to Canada, although in much smaller numbers recently due to habitat loss in much of North America. They are the only milkweed butterfly with a confirmed long-distance migration, and are much larger than both queens and soldiers. Easily distinguished by the combination of their size and bright orange coloration; black veins contrast boldly against orange on both upper and lower sides of their wings.
Queen butterflies are smaller, more brown than orange, and lack the contrasting black venation visible on monarchs’ dorsal (top) side. They have two lines of white dots on the dorsal side of their forewing (leading wing), versus the single line observed in soldiers. Overall, their color is darker and duller than the monarch’s. Queens are quite common in the parts of southern Texas visited by Xerces staff, and are much more frequently found than monarchs along the coast there. They are more of a southwestern species.
Distinguishing between queen and soldier butterflies is more difficult than separating the two from the monarch, their larger cousin. Soldier butterflies are encountered less frequently than the other two — they are a veritable four-leaf clover in the field! Sometimes straying into southern Arizona, they primarily inhabit the subtropical areas of the U.S. and northern Mexico. They are differentiated from queens by the single (rather than double) line of white dots on their forewings, and have a dusky, dark patch in the middle of their hindwing. Overall, soldiers are a rich shade of chestnut.
Good luck in your search for butterflies this spring, and keep your eyes peeled for monarchs as they spread northwards over the next few months!
Feds Ban Imports on Four Large Constrictor Snakes
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has just made it illegal to import four kinds of nonnative constrictor snakes — or sell them across state lines — by adding them to the list of “injurious” wildlife under a law called the Lacey Act. This should prevent widespread introduction of these exotic animals, which can be extremely destructive to U.S. ecosystems and our own native species.
In 2010 scientists identified nine snakes as posing an unacceptable risk of establishing invasive populations; two years later the agency said four of those species would be listed as “injurious”: Burmese pythons, yellow anacondas, and northern and southern African pythons. And now the Service has announced that it will list four of the remaining five snakes under the Lacey Act — the reticulated python, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda and Beni anaconda.
Last summer the Center for Biological Diversity posed rule that identified numerous scientific studies documenting the risk posed by exotic constrictor snakes. About 30,000 Center supporters backed our efforts, writing to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to ask that the remaining snakes be listed as injurious. The Center — and the snakes that won’t be trafficked — thank you.
Read more in The New York Times.
Conservationists Fight to Give Manatees Some Space From Us
Manatee viewing is a popular activity in Florida’s coastal waters, but our desire to get all up close and personal with them is causing the gentle giants unnecessary harm.
That’s the premise behind the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility’s (PEER) recent announcement that it intends to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for not providing enough protection to manatees, something they say is in violation of the Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Refuge Administration Act.
Manatees were granted federal protection as endangered species decades ago, but even though their numbers have slightly rebounded they still face a number of threats: from boat strikes to susceptibility to sudden cold spells, and in addition to red tides which were responsible for killing a record number of manatees in 2013.
Under any other circumstance engaging with an endangered species would be off limits, but instead of acting to prevent harm or harassment under the laws intended to protect manatees, the FWS continues to issue permits to tourist operations that allow people to swim and interact with them at Florida’s Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge and other areas.
Now a growing number of tourists who want to enjoy close encounters through these “swim with” programs are encroaching on what limited habitat manatees have left. According to PEER’s notice, last year alone 265,000 visitors went to the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge–a refuge that was set up specifically to provide protection for manatees.
Even though people might not be intending to cause any harm, our continued and overwhelming presence (see video) is causing a number of problems from altering their behaviors and hindering their ability to communicate with each other, to causing them to flee when they are disturbed, which could send them into areas that are dangerously cold (see video).
“Five years ago, we served a similar notice but agreed to hold off suing because the Service promised to make improvements,” PEER Counsel Laura Dumais said in a statement. “In the succeeding years, the problems have only gotten worse and it has become clear that the Service has no intention of taking meaningful corrective action.”
The FWS did recently announce some changes, but PEER argues they’re not strong enough to provide meaningful protection. The organization isn’t trying to shut down opportunities to see manatees, or tourism in manatee hotspots, but it does want to see more respectful activities that offer a hands-off approach.
“People do not need to pet manatees to learn about or appreciate them,” said Dumais. “We aim to ensure that the Service can no longer avoid addressing this widespread, obvious, and illegal harassment of endangered marine mammals.”
According to a statement, the goals of the potential lawsuit, which is being supported by residents and eco-tourism professionals, are to ban “swim-with” programs and get a 10-foot buffer between manatees and us put in place across the state, to expand no-human-access sanctuary areas so that manatees would have unimpeded access to Crystal Springs and Three Sisters Springs throughout the winter, and to get all of Kings Bay, Three Sisters Springs and Homosassa Springs designated as critical manatee habitat.
The FWS now has 60-days to respond before PEER can move forward. Until then, we can be mindful that these lovable “sea cows” rely on warm water springs for their survival and don’t have any other options if they need to get away, but we have the option to respect them and their habitat and we should if we don’t want to see them disappear forever.
Alicia Graef|March 14, 2015
FWC News Release: Biologists tally a record high manatee count
Photos available on FWC’s Flickr site: https://flic.kr/s/aHsk8cSyyN
Suggested Tweet: Break in cold spells results in record high #manatee count by @MyFWC and partners! http://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/FLFFWCC/bulletins/f834e7 #Florida
Biologists tally a record high manatee count
Warm temperatures and clear, sunny days between some of the coldest weather of the year assisted FWC biologists and partners in counting an all-time high number of manatees during this year’s statewide aerial survey.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reported a preliminary count of 6,063 manatees statewide. During the February count, a team of 20 observers from 11 organizations counted 3,333 manatees on Florida’s east coast and 2,730 on the west coast of the state. This year’s synoptic survey count exceeded the previous high count for 2010 by almost 1,000 animals.
“Manatees used warm-water sites and other winter habitat areas to cope with a strong cold front that recently moved through the region,” said FWC biologist Holly Edwards. “In many of the regions surveyed, warm, sunny weather caused manatees to rest at the water’s surface, which facilitated our efforts to count them in these areas. Calm waters and high visibility also contributed to the high count.”
“We were very fortunate to have near-optimal conditions for our survey this year,” said FWRI Director Gil McRae. “The high count this year is especially encouraging, given the large-scale mortality events that resulted in over 800 deaths in 2013.”
Aerial surveys are conducted annually, weather permitting, to provide researchers with a count of manatees visible in Florida waters at the time of the survey. Because researchers have no way to estimate the number of manatees that were not visible during these surveys, scientists consider these results a minimum count of the statewide population. While this year’s results do not mean that the manatee population grew by nearly 1,000 animals in a single year, they do tell researchers there are at least 6,000 manatees in Florida waters.
“Counting this many manatees is wonderful news,” said FWC Chairman Richard Corbett. “The high count this year shows that our long-term conservation efforts are working.”
You can show your support for manatees by purchasing a manatee license plate at BuyaPlate.com and a manatee decal at MyFWC.com/ManateeSeaTurtleDecals. Funds from the license plate and decal support manatee research and conservation.
To report a dead or distressed manatee, call the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission|3/16/15
Bats are harmed rather than helped by street lights
The bright lights of London could be affecting bats’ navigation and their success at feeding
New research at the University of Exeter and Bat Conservation Ireland has given the lie to the popular belief that streetlights are attractive to our common bat species because of the insect life they attract.
The study found that in fact bat activity was lower in street-lit areas than in dark locations with similar habitat. And, in fact, the scientists have concluded bright lights are having a detrimental effect on bats.
Despite frequently being depicted as blind, bats have good eyesight that is adapted for low light conditions.
Dr Fiona Mathews from the University of Exeter says: “When we walk out of a lit house into the dark, it takes a while for our eyes to adapt to the darkness.
“The same is true in bats – they are dazzled by bright light and it takes time for their eyes to re-adjust. This could affect their ability to navigate.
“People rarely see bats, and when they do it is usually because they are silhouetted by a light.
“Because clouds of insects accumulate around lights, there has been an assumption that the bats were getting an easy lunch.
“However, it seems that their ability to hunt insects is reduced in the light. So although a bat may be seen flying round and round a streetlamp, it may actually be struggling to catch anything.”
The findings have important implications for conservation, overturning the previous assumption that common bats benefited from artificial lights for feeding.
The research, published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, found that the activity of soprano pipistrelle, noctule and serotine bats was similar or lower in areas with street lighting compared to dark areas.
The only species for which lighting appeared favourable was Leisler’s bat, a species common in Ireland but rare in Britain.
An increase in the activity of our most common bat, the common pipistrelle, was only seen in locations where there was also a good amount of shelter from trees or hedgerows.
Dr Mathews says: “What our work shows is that they are actually usually just as active, if not more so, in adjacent dark areas.
“We already knew that lighting was bad news for rare species such as horseshoe bats. Now we have demonstrated that, for the common species which are of vital importance to our ecosystem, lighting is not helpful.
“Over recent decades, the number of streetlights, and the brightness of lighting, has grown enormously. We also use increasingly powerful lights to illuminate outdoor areas around our homes.
“We urgently need to reverse this trend.”
The research analysed large-scale surveys conducted in Britain and Ireland, involving more than 265,000 bat calls at over 600 locations.
The links between lighting and bats were explored at several spatial scales including car-surveys conducted by volunteers across Ireland, to shorter surveys conducted by bicycle, and detailed monitoring over multiple nights at specific sites.
Dr Niamh Roche of Bat Conservation Ireland commented: “Leisler’s bat is considered very special in Ireland since its population here is of international importance, so it is good to know that this species at least may not be so negatively impacted by street lighting.
“Nonetheless, we are extremely concerned that, with just one out of our nine Irish species showing a positive association with street lighting, much more needs to be done to lessen negative impacts of lighting.
“This can be achieved by considering lighting scheme designs more thoroughly from the planning stage.”
Mystery surge in starving sea lion pups washing up on Californian shores, as rescue centers struggle to cope with weight of numbers
Rescue centers are struggling to cope with a mystery surge in the numbers of starving sea lion pups which have washed up on Californian shores since January.
More than 1,100 starving and sick pups have been rescued from California’s beaches, as well as public bathrooms, behind buildings and along railroad tracks since the beginning of the year.
The number is almost five times higher than the 250 pups which would usually be expected in the key monitoring period between January and April – and no one knows why.
Crisis: More than 1,100 sick or starving sea lion pups have washed up on Californian shores this year
- More than 1,100 starving or sick sea lion pups rescued since January
- Rescue centers would usually expect to only see about 250 in the period
- Situation so dire California’s SeaWorld has suspended its sea lion show
- Famous attraction treating 400 pups in two specially constructed pools
- Rising sea temperatures could be one cause of the surge in numbers
It’s not unusual to have some sea lions wash up each spring as the pups leave their mothers, but Keith A. Matassa, executive director at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, said they started getting calls in December.
His center, in Laguna Beach, is currently rehabilitating 115 sea lion pups.
On a recent day, over the course of two hours, five suffering animals came in. One was brought in by a police officer, three more came in with an animal control team and the fifth was called in by a couple walking along beach.
The last pup, at almost a year old, weighed just 23 pounds – a third of what it should have. It was so ill, staff had no choice but to put it down.
Matassa explained pups that should be gaining 20 to 40 pounds in a two-month period have put on just two pounds.
‘These animals are coming in really desperate. They’re at the end of life. They’re in a crisis … and not all animals are going to make it,’ he said.
An hour down the coast, the situation is so bad that SeaWorld, in San Diego, suspended its sea lion show so it can focus on rescue efforts.
The theme park has treated 400 pups – more than twice the number it would care for in a typical year – and constructed two temporary pools to house them.
Scientists aren’t sure what’s causing the crisis, but suspect that warmer waters from this winter’s mild El Nino weather pattern are impacting the sea lion birthing grounds along the Channel Islands off the Southern California coast.
The warm water is likely pushing prime sea lion foods – market squid, sardines and anchovies – further north, forcing the mothers to abandon their pups for up to eight days at a time in search of sustenance.
The pups, scientists believe, are weaning themselves early out of desperation and setting out on their own despite being underweight and ill-prepared to hunt.
‘They’re leaving with a very low tank of gas and when they get over here, they’re showing up on the beach basically … starving to death,’ said Justin Viezbicke, a coordinator with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s California Stranding Network.
For rescue centers like Pacific Marine Mammal, that translates into round-the-clock, back-breaking work for dozens of volunteers who’ve arrived from all over the U.S. to help.
The center in one of Southern California’s premiere beach communities has rescued more than 213 pups since the beginning of the year and has treated ones that weighed as little as 14 pounds at eight-months-old.
Volunteers have been arriving from all over the U.S. to help with the escalating crisis.
Crates holding animals awaiting assessment are crammed into every corner, including the laundry room, as those already housed in communal pens barked and bleated in a deafening racket as mealtime approached.
Each incoming pup has its temperature taken and is weighed, measured and given a blood sugar test before the team decides if they can save it.
Most of them are so weak they barely resist.
Those that make the cut are tube-fed a gruel of pureed herring, Pedialyte, vitamins and milk three or four times a day after starting out with a simple broth of hydrating fluids and dextrose.
Those that graduate to whole fish are playfully called ‘feeders’ and those that can once more compete for fish tossed into a pool are called ‘fighters.’
The goal is to get the pups strong enough to swim free again – but the volunteers who nurse them back to health may never know if they make it in the wild.
Only a handful will be fitted with expensive tracking devices. The rest are tagged with a number and fall off the radar unless they are rescued again.
‘The tricky part is we’re putting them back into the same environment that they just came from. And that’s going to be a challenge for them,’ Viezbicke said.
Flora Drury|For Mailonline|16 March 2015
How Tchimpounga Is Saving Wild Chimpanzees
The Jane Goodall Institute’s (JGI) Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center in the Republic of the Congo has provided lifetime care for orphaned and rescued chimpanzees for over 20 years.
After two decades, JGI is now caring for over 150 chimpanzees in a sanctuary originally designed to hold only 30. Luckily, our recent island expansion project will create room for even more chimpanzees in need of rescue.
However, Tchimpounga has an even greater part to play in chimpanzee conservation rather than simply acting as a home for these vulnerable chimpanzees; specifically in regard to curbing the illegal bushmeat and exotic pet trades. Both of these markets for chimpanzees, alive and deceased, are contributing to the decimation of wild chimp populations.
To find out more about how Tchimpounga aids chimpanzee conservation efforts, check out JGI’s Chimpanzee Blog!
State continues to follow reckless path on wolves
After being given a do-over on managing the state’s small wolf population, Michigan politicians and bureaucrats are following a familiar path of reckless behavior with their effort to restore trophy hunting of the now-endangered animals.
Last November, Michigan voters sent policymakers a strong message by defeating Proposal 1 (naming wolves as a game species) and Proposal 2 (giving the politically appointed Natural Resources Commission the power to decide which species can be hunted). Proposal 2 was rejected in 69 of Michigan’s 83 counties and in all 15 congressional districts.
Six weeks later, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell restored federal protection (after a three-year hiatus) for the Great Lakes gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act, while chastising wildlife managers in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota for killing more than 1,500 wolves in “virtually unregulated” hunting and trapping.
The judge’s decision bans further wolf hunting and trapping in those three states for the foreseeable future. It also prohibits killing problem wolves in Michigan and Wisconsin that threaten livestock or domestic animals.
There is a pathway forward and a middle-ground on this controversial issue. The Humane Society of the United States and 21 other animal protection and conservation groups, including the Detroit Zoo and Detroit Audubon Society, have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to “downlist” gray wolves from endangered to threatened. This would retain federal protections for wolves, but also provide more flexible management so wildlife officials could kill or remove the occasional problem wolf.
Seventy-nine members of Congress sent a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell urging her to support the petition. And more than 50 world renowned wildlife biologists and scientists, including nine from Michigan, sent a letter to Congress urging members to oppose stripping federal protections from wolves. Presented with a reasonable compromise that would respect the will of Michigan voters who wanted wolf protection, but also provide practical assistance to farmers in the U.P. who are dealing with wolf conflicts, Michigan politicians turned a blind eye to it.
Sen. Tom Casperson, the state’s leading wolf hunt supporter, convinced his fellow Republicans to approve a resolution, full of inaccuracies and distortions, urging Congress to remove g ray wolves from the Endangered Species Act. Apparently the Upper Peninsula lawmaker’s cronies forgot about his five-minute apology speech in November 2013 for fabricating a story about wolves appearing “multiple times in the backyard of a daycare center” in the text of a similar resolution he authored in 2011.
T he Michigan Department of Natural Resources filed an appeal of the federal court ruling. DNR Director Keith Creagh said, “Returning wolf management to wildlife professionals … is critical to retaining a recovered, healthy and socially-accepted wolf population in our state” — conveniently forgetting the overwhelming vote of the people rejecting wolf hunting.
It’s obvious that Sen. Casperson and Director Creagh didn’t consult Michigan’s 12 federally recognized Indian tribes, who have the most experience in co-existing with wolves. The United Tribes of Michigan recently adopted a resolution opposing the removal of federal protections for wolves and calling on people to recognize their historical and ecological significance.
To these Native Americans, wolves are sacred animals who taught their ancestors the importance of families and how to hunt and forage for food.
It’s unfortunate our state officials thumb their noses at Michigan voters, reject practical compromises and problem solving on this issue and ignore wildlife experts, all in the name of trophy hunting and trapping a shy animal that is just beginning to recover from near extermination.
Jill Fritz|director|Keep Michigan Wolves Protected
How Honey Bees Can Alleviate World Hunger
Humans will miss more than the honey if bee die-offs continue
Bees have a lot going against them, most notably colony-collapse disorder, which many researchers now believe is the result of widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides. The great bee die-off caused honey production in the U.S. to decline by one-third between 2000 and 2011. But what would a life without bees actually look like?
Wild and managed pollinators like honey bees are essential to the production of 75 percent of the 115 major global crops. Take a moment and consider your life without another:
No juicy peaches in the summer time. No apricot marmalade on toast. No pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. These are the fruits that are especially reliant on pollination. Eliminate the bees, and crop yields dwindle. To make matters worse, these scrumptious plants are the primary source of vitamin A, iron and folate for billions of people around the world, according to a new study by the Royal Society. Declines in pollinator populations could mean more than just shrunken produce departments—it’s an issue of global malnutrition.
Areas already suffering from poor nutrition also happen to be areas dependent on bees and wild insects to pollinate their main food crops—talk about bad luck. Typically, it’s poor, tropical areas that are hit hardest. Bee population’s decline, fruit production drops, farmers are malnourished and less food is produced. “It’s a vicious cycle,” said Megan Mueller, the nutrition consultant who worked on the study. “It’s happening in areas that are already poverty stricken.”
Vitamin A deficiency, which can lead to blindness, is 30 percent more common in pollinator-dependent areas, such as Southeast Asia. Iron deficiency, particularly among pregnant women, is 15 percent more common in these areas and can lead to still-births and birth defects.
“A lot of people say, ‘Why can’t you just take a vitamin?’” said Emily Dobek, analyst for the study. Fresh fruits, such as mangoes, deliver not only vitamins, but also fiber and other nutrients. And vulnerable communities simply don’t have access to supplements—they eat what they grow.
“These are the people who have the least amount of flexibility and purchasing power,” said Becky Chaplin-Kramer, lead researcher of the study. They can’t just go to the store. Communities could plant more pollinator-independent crops like carrots, corn and potatoes, but in most places this isn’t as simple as it seems. “It has to do with culture, and people not wanting to give up their pumpkins,” said Chaplin-Kramer.
Communities that rely on native and traditional crops for their cuisine are reluctant to switch what they grow.
“We’re not going to feed the world on rice and corn alone,” Dobek said.
The problem is sticky with cultural complexity and regional economics. But the answer is tiny: bees. Beekeeping directly helps stabilize crop production. Managed colonies also strengthen wild pollinator populations by providing competition.
Chaplin-Kramer and Dobeck think more policy makers should regard bee conservation as an issue of environmental justice. Saving bees, whether by reducing pesticide use or donning a veil and starting a hive, unites conservation and public health strategies; and the benefits could be global.
Mikey Jane Moran|3/19/15
Wood Bison, North America’s Largest Land Mammal, Will Soon Return To Alaskan Wilderness
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska wildlife officials are preparing to release North America’s largest land mammal into its native U.S. habitat for the first time in more than a century.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game on Sunday plans to begin moving wood bison from a conservation center south of Anchorage to the village of Shageluk, the staging area for the animals’ release into the Innoko Flats about 350 miles southwest of Fairbanks.
A hundred wood bison will be released after they’re acclimated in a few weeks.
“This has been an incredibly long project — 23 years in the making,” biologist Cathie Harms said. “To say we’re excited is an understatement.”
Wood bison are the larger of two subspecies of American bison but did not roam in Lower 48 states. The smaller subspecies are plains bison, which were not native to Alaska but were introduced to the state in 1928, where they have thrived.
Bull wood bison weigh 2,000 pounds and stand 6-feet-tall at the shoulder. They feed on grasses, sedges and forbs and wider variety of other plants, including Alaska’s abundant willow.
Wood bison flourished for thousands of years in Alaska but disappeared in the 1800s or early 1900s. No one knows why.
The state had a strong interest in reintroduction as a source of food for subsistence hunters and as a game animal for sport hunting, but plans ran into a political snag.
In 2008, the state imported 53 wood bison from a national park in Canada, adding to a smaller herd that was held at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage.
However, wood bison are a threatened species and state officials worried that the federal government would designate their new home in the wild as critical habitat, requiring consultation with federal agencies before oil and gas drilling or other development could occur.
The problems were worked out. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2013 declared that wood bison reintroduced in Alaska would be considered an experimental population not essential to the continued existence of the species. Wood bison will be managed by state wildlife officials and exempt from certain restrictions in the Endangered Species Act.
The bison will be flown in 20-foot containers that can hold seven adult cows in individual stalls or up to 17 younger bison. Two containers will be trucked Sunday to Anchorage and flown by commercial carrier for the hour flight to Shageluk. A C-130 from Lynden Air Cargo, one of the multiple corporate sponsors involved, can carry two containers each flight.
Half the initial herd moved will be adult cows. About 25 are pregnant.
The rest of the initial herd will be juveniles 2 years old or younger. Bulls will be barged to the area in summer.
The Fish and Game Department does not expect predators to be a problem. Canada has reintroduced five herds, Harms said.
“Wolves don’t seem to know what to do with them,” she said, and Alaska did not record a bear or a wolf killing a plains bison until nearly 30 years after they were introduced 87 years ago.
The state hopes to complete the flights by Tuesday but will proceed slowly if there are snags. Wood bison are very large, very powerful wild animals, Harms said.
“We’re making them do something they don’t want to do,” she said. “Calming agents” will be available to sedate bison if needed.
Once in Shageluk, the bison will be kept in pens several acres large before release in two or three weeks.
“When they’re in good shape, that’s when we’re going to start opening the door and letting them go,” Harms said.
Cornwall Has its First Pine Marten Sighting in Over 50 Years
A pine marten was recorded in West Country, an area where this animal was presumed as extinct, by a student with a night-vision camera. This is the first pine marten sighting in over fifty years.
The Cornwall student, Jack Merritt, had set up the camera near his home in Bude, and that is how he was able to spot the pine marten.
Merritt said of his rare pine marten sighting: “I knew I had captured something different. I had no idea of its significance to start with. I spoke to a few friends who had some suggestions but decided to send it to someone who may have a better idea of what it was all about.”
Merritt then sent the footage to a wildlife expert, Derek Gow, based out of Devon, to get the scoop on this infrequently seen critter, and that is when the little animal’s identity was revealed to him. It is clear that Merritt has caught the attention and excitement of the wild animal guru.
“It’s amazing. It’s definitely a pine marten,” said Gow. The wildlife specialist also expressed that he has no idea where it came from, but thinks that perhaps someone had deliberately moved pine martens from Scotland and released them in Cornwall. Gow explains, “That part of Cornwall is well suited for them – remote and very scrubby. People sometimes think they need coniferous forests but they don’t – that area would be fine for them.”
Pine martens are still found in Scotland, and it is believed that there are a few groups of them in the far north of England. The pine marten has been extinct in this particular southern Britain region and hasn’t been seen here since the 1960s. Pine martens belong to the mustelid category, the same family as mink, otter, badger, wolverine and weasel. They only weigh between one to three pounds, and primarily eat voles, but have also been known to eat mice, birds, flying squirrels, reptiles, rabbits, honey, insects, conifer seeds, worms, eggs and even berries.
Spottings like this one highlight the amazing progress that we’ve made in areas of preserving extinct and diminished population animals. This pine marten sighting can also be thought of as a hopeful sign that conservation is working. Due to wildlife conservation efforts, we are actually seeing endangered species numbers go up, when they were once dwindling. We’ve seen this recently, with some examples being the Indian tigers, the big cat populations in the eastern Serengeti, and interestingly with the beaver population led by Gow himself. Gow’s successful campaign allowed the West Country beavers to stay and thrive; they are now back when they were once considered extinct in the area.
We must continue to aggressively conserve and protect wildlife, eliminating illegal hunting, poaching and all other obstacles that these animals face. Eliminating criminal activity against these animals and also participating in wildlife conservation in an assertive way might mean that we’ll see a lot more of these promising cases.
Catherine Gill|March 19, 2015
Wild & Weird
Seattle Girl Befriends Neighborhood Crows, Making Bird Lovers Everywhere Jealous
In return for food, Gabi Mann gets some bizarre gifts from her feathered allies.
What if we could be friends with wild birds? Seattle-native Gabi Mann seems to have achieved that goal with one of the smartest species on the planet: the American Crow. Never mind that she’s only 8-years old. This imaginative kid has a unique relationship with her neighborhood corvids, as told in a story by the BBC News Magazine.
It all started two years ago, when Gabi began feeding local flocks of crows. At first it was haphazard—a dropped chicken nugget here, a crumb from a sandwich there. But the crows took notice, and soon enough Gabi’s hospitality went from being accidental to intentional. These days, Gabi’s crows perch nearby whenever she’s outside, hoping for a feast or even just a morsel. But the spirit of giving inhabits both the girl and the beast. Soon enough, the crows were showering Gabi with all sorts of loot.
Every day, Gabi leaves out food (mostly peanuts, which are a big hit) in the backyard for her groupies. In return, they leave her gifts—shiny baubles like polished sea-glass, and odder trinkets, like a rusty screw or tube of chapstick. In what could have been a coincidence or a lovely curiosity, the crows promptly returned a lens cap that Gabi had lost while taking some photographs (of a bird, naturally) in an alleyway. And so the plot thickened.
Crows, and all other members of the corvid family (which also includes jays, magpies, and ravens), are renowned for their intelligence. They’re known to be prodigious tool-users, and are more adept with tools than all other animals short of the great apes. Even their social behavior mirrors ours in some ways; they’ve been observed performing funeral rites for their deceased members of their murder (it’s the name for a group of crows—not sinister at all!).
Gift-giving isn’t uncommon among crows; John Marzluff, a professor of wildlife science at the University of Washington who studies the relationship between crows and people, said in an interview with the BBC, “I can’t say they always will [give presents], but I have seen an awful lot of things crows have brought people.” (Dead birds are one grisly example.) Sometimes those gifts aren’t entirely welcome: Gabi’s mother once had to throw out a rotting crab claw that the crows had so lovingly bestowed upon her daughter. But Gabi doesn’t seem to be perturbed by the oddities she receives; she keeps all her gifts carefully labeled and stored, treasuring them like precious jewels. “You may take a few close looks,” she said to the BBC reporter, “but don’t touch.”
Dan Nosowitz|Mar 02, 2015
Everglades rescue plan lags far behind schedule
At halfway point, restoration projects for vast wetlands continue to languish
WASHINGTON – Fifteen years ago, officials in Florida and Washington announced a bold partnership to restore the Everglades by 2030. Today, with that ambitious effort to save one of the world’s ecological jewels nearing the halfway point, the finish line still appears decades away. None of the 68 projects originally included in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan has been completed, and only 13 have been authorized.
The project’s original price tag of $7.8 billion has nearly doubled and continues to rise.
The Great Recession is partly to blame for squeezing federal and state spending, and an increasingly fractious Congress has failed to pass bills authorizing water-related projects.
“There hasn’t been a sense of urgency,” said former Florida Gov. Bob Graham, a Democrat and former U.S. senator who cosponsored the restoration law.
The Everglades, the largest subtropical wetland ecosystem in the world, once stretched over 8 million acres — from the southern suburbs of present day Orlando down to the Florida Keys. As recently as the early 1900s, the southern interior “was a vast and foreboding swampland, largely inaccessible,” according to the South Florida Water Management District, the state agency that oversees the restoration.
That changed when hurricanes in the 1920s struck communities around Lake Okeechobee, prompting calls for drainage and flood-control measures designed to protect lives and property. By the 1940s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had begun designing the patchwork of canals and other “plumbing ” components that fostered massive growth in the region.
The Everglades began shrinking as human activity increased. Thanks mainly to expanded farming and creeping development, it has lost more than half its acreage.
There have been a few recent signs that the effort to get the plan back on course might be gaining momentum.
Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott unveiled a budget in January that includes $130 million for key components of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.
And in November, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved amending the state’s constitution to require that the state devote one-third of certain real estate transaction fees to water conservation projects. One catch: The amendment doesn’t require that any of the revenue be spent on the Everglades specifically.
There’s also talk in Congress that bipartisan passage of a water bill last year could pave the way for a new water bill by 2016 that could mean hundreds of millions more in federal aid for Everglades restoration. Advocates say any real progress depends on the state’s willingness to exercise an option it holds to buy land owned by U.S. Sugar Corp. that’s considered vital to the project’s future. Those 46,800 acres are in addition to 26,000 acres the state bought from U.S. Sugar several years ago that already are being used for water quality efforts. The state must exercise the option by mid-October or lose control of the land, which is vital for the water storage capacity at the heart of restoration efforts.
It’s not clear whether Scott will exercise the option.
Ledyard King|USA TODAY|3/15/15
GOV. Scott: Tamiami Trail Project Will Help Move Water South
TALLAHASSEE – Governor Scott today announced that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection recently issued a permit to the Department of Interior’s National Park Service, Everglades National Park, for the construction of 2.6 miles of bridging and road raising along the Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41) in Miami-Dade County. The project will deconstruct a section of the Tamiami Trail and replace it with a bridge so that water north of the road may flow into the Everglades, providing needed water to the Everglades National Park. This project will result in enhanced movement of water south from Lake Okeechobee.
Governor Rick Scott said, “Restoring the Florida Everglades and protecting Florida’s natural treasures is incredibly important to protect the natural beauty of our state. The Tamiami Trail project will help move more water south from Lake Okeechobee which directly benefits the Everglades, as well as the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Estuaries. On top of completing critical projects, we have proposed a dedicated source of revenue that will provide more than $5 billion for Everglades restoration over the next 20 years. This funding will ensure that future generations of Floridians can enjoy our state’s natural beauty.”
The Tamiami Trail currently inhibits water flowing south into Everglades National Park. By constructing bridges, water will be able to flow more naturally to the Park.
DEP Secretary Jon Steverson said, “This is a huge step forward in our efforts to restore the Everglades. Moving water south through the Everglades is critical for wildlife, and keeping it out of the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Estuaries is vital to protecting these important waterbodies.”
The total cost of the 2.6 mile Bridge Phase of the project is estimated to be $144 million. Governor Scott has committed up to $30 million/year over three years or $90 million total for this project.
In addition to long term investments, the department is working with the South Florida Water Management District and local partners to take aggressive action on both coasts to improve the quantity, quality, timing and distribution of water in Florida.
Governor Rick Scott’s 2015-2016 “KEEP FLORIDA WORKING” budget provides a total of $150 million for Everglades restoration, including $20 million for Kissimmee River restoration. The “KEEP FLORIDA WORKING” budget also creates a dedicated source of revenue for Everglades restoration that provides more than $670 million for ecosystem restoration over the next four years and more than $5 billion over the next 20 years. This means that during the Governor’s second term alone, South Florida’s families will know the state has the ability to fund its share of the restoration of the Kissimmee River and the construction of the C-43 and C-44 reservoirs – projects that will provide almost 100 billion gallons of storage to protect Florida estuaries.
DEP Grants Permit for Rolling Meadows Restoration Project
TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection issued a permit to the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) for the first phase of the Rolling Meadows Restoration Project. The project will restore about 2,000 acres of natural wetland habitat and reconnect hydrologic flows to Lake Hatchineha, ultimately restoring water flow into the Kissimmee River and helping restore Lake Okeechobee.
“Restoring the health of the Lake Okeechobee watershed is a challenging and important undertaking,” said DEP Deputy Secretary for Ecosystem Restoration Drew Bartlett. “Restoring the Rolling Meadows property is an essential step in promoting healthy water flow from the Kissimmee Lakes into Lake Okeechobee.”
The Rolling Meadows Restoration Project is part of a statewide effort to restore and protect Florida’s water quality. It is the first new restoration project to be permitted within the Lake Okeechobee Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP), since the restoration plan’s adoption in December 2014. The Lake Okeechobee BMAP identifies a variety of projects to relieve the lake of large influxes of phosphorus-rich water.
“We have seen great success to date with Kissimmee River restoration and continue to focus efforts on this crucial area in the headwaters of the Everglades,” said Jeff Kivett, SFWMD division director of operations, engineering and construction. “We can now get to work on Rolling Meadows and its designed improvements to water quality and for additional water storage north of Lake Okeechobee.”
The Rolling Meadows Restoration Project is located on property that encompasses approximately 5,787 acres in eastern Polk County, bordered to the north by Lake Hatchineha, to the west by Catfish Creek and to the south by Camp Mack Road. It is part of the federally authorized Kissimmee Headwaters Revitalization Project, under the larger Kissimmee River Restoration Project that is being undertaken by the SFWMD in conjunction with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The construction portion of project is scheduled to occur from May 2015 to July 2016.
Water Quality Issues
California only has one year’s worth of its water supply left, NASA scientist warns
Plagued by prolonged drought, California now has only enough water to get it through the next year, according to NASA.
In an op-ed published Thursday by the Los Angeles Times, Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, painted a dire picture of the state’s water crisis. California, he writes, has lost around 12 million acre-feet of stored water every year since 2011. In the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins, the combined water sources of snow, rivers, reservoirs, soil water and groundwater amounted to a volume that was 34 million acre-feet below normal levels in 2014. And there is no relief in sight.
“As our ‘wet’ season draws to a close, it is clear that the paltry rain and snowfall have done almost nothing to alleviate epic drought conditions. January was the driest in California since record-keeping began in 1895. Groundwater and snowpack levels are at all-time lows” Famiglietti writes. “We’re not just up a creek without a paddle in California, we’re losing the creek too.”
On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that one-third of the monitoring stations in California’s Cascades and Sierra Nevada mountains have recorded the lowest snowpack ever measured.
“Right now the state has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs, and our strategic backup supply, groundwater, is rapidly disappearing,” Famiglietti writes.
He criticized Californian officials for their lack of long-term planning for how to cope with this drought, and future droughts, beyond “staying in emergency mode and praying for rain.”
Last month, new research by scientists at NASA, Cornell University and Columbia University pointed to a “remarkably drier future” for California and other Western states amid a rapidly-changing climate. “Megadroughts,” the study’s authors wrote, are likely to begin between 2050 and 2099, and could each last between 10 years and several decades.
With that future in mind, Famiglietti says, “immediate mandatory water rationing” should be implemented in the state, accompanied by the swift formation of regulatory agencies to rigorously monitor groundwater and ensure that it is being used in a sustainable way—as opposed to the “excessive and unsustainable” groundwater extraction for agriculture that, he says, is partly responsible for massive groundwater losses that are causing land in the highly irrigated Central Valley to sink by one foot or more every year.
Various local ordinances have curtailed excessive water use for activities like filling fountains and irrigating lawns. But planning for California’s “harrowing future” of more and longer droughts “will require major changes in policy and infrastructure that could take decades to identify and act upon,” Famiglietti writes. “Today, not tomorrow, is the time to begin.”
Zoë Schlanger|Newsweek|13 Mar 2015
Designing Wetlands to Remove Drugs and Chemical Pollutants
Drinking water supplies around the world often contain trace amounts of pharmaceuticals and synthetic compounds that may be harmful to human health. One solution being tried in the U.S. and Europe is to construct man-made wetlands that naturally degrade these contaminants.
Rising high in the San Bernardino Mountains in Southern California, the Santa Ana River flows westward through cities and towns with a total population of nearly 5 million. Along the way, it receives so much sewage that 90 percent of its flow during the dry summer season is effluent, which is cleaned again and again at several dozen wastewater treatment plants.
Near the end of its 96-mile course, the Santa Ana comes to a seeming standstill in the Prado Wetlands. Covering 425 acres, the wetlands site — designed by engineers — consists of a series of rectangular ponds, through which the river’s gentle flow is controlled by dam-like weir boxes. It takes about a week for water to traverse the wetlands, during which time cattails and other vegetation help remove nitrogen, phosphorous, and other contaminants.
Today, the Prado Wetlands, which are operated by the Orange County Water District, are part of a new project to remove a different kind of pollution: the residues of medical drugs and synthetic organic compounds, such as herbicides, that are found in small concentrations in rivers but that may affect endocrine activity, metabolism, and development in humans. A year-old pilot project at the Prado Wetlands channels river water through three ponds, each about the length of five Olympic swimming pools. Sunlight and bacteria degrade residues of antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, sex hormones, and other drugs and man-made chemicals before the Santa Ana reaches Anaheim, 20 miles downstream. There the river provides the drinking water for 2.5 million people in northern Orange County.
Concern has risen about the potential danger that may come from drinking water tainted by small concentrations of pharmaceuticals that pass through our bodies and are flushed down the toilet, not to mention other synthetic compounds discharged by agriculture and industry. Research has shown that endocrine disruptors and antidepressants may harm reproduction in fish, and endocrine-disrupting compounds also have been linked to adverse health effects in humans. Scientists also fear that the persistence of antibiotics in the environment could promote the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Currently, there are no U.S. regulations for medical drugs under the Safe Drinking Water Act, and only a few for the residues from consumer products. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Contaminant Candidate List, which establishes what chemicals should be evaluated for possible regulation, in 2009 included several endocrine disruptors called estradiols, found in products such as birth control pills. The list also included erythromycin, an antibiotic. The European Commission placed two types of estradiols and a painkiller called diclofenac on a similar watch list in 2013.
As a result of growing concerns, scientists and government authorities in the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere are experimenting with the use of so-called “constructed wetlands” to remove these pharmaceuticals and chemicals from effluent released by wastewater treatment plants.
Constructed wetlands have been used for several decades in the United States and Europe to remove nitrogen and other traditional pollutants from wastewater. In the U.S., roughly 250 constructed wetlands have been built to treat effluent from wastewater treatment plants, and in Europe thousands of constructed wetlands exist, mainly for treating wastewater from smaller communities.
”There are a lot of potential applications of this technology to give communities a more cost-effective treatment than traditional approaches,” says Larry Barber, a researcher at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
About 10 years ago, thanks to the development of sensitive detection methods, it became possible to measure trace levels of these compounds in surface water bodies such as rivers. Tests reveal that many of the compounds survive passage through wastewater treatment plants. The EPA is currently investigating how well facilities that treat drinking water remove pharmaceutical products, and whether retrofitting these plants with steps such as reverse osmosis could improve removal. But there are financial and practical drawbacks. Reverse osmosis systems are expensive, and constructed wetlands need tens to hundreds of acres to process large volumes of wastewater.
One of the early indications that constructed wetlands could help treat pharmaceuticals and other synthetic contaminants came from a study of nonylphenol, which is widely present in laundry detergents. Nonylphenol is an endocrine disruptor and has been shown to have potent toxicity in fish. When a research team led by the USGS was testing the ability of a small-scale wetlands system outside of Phoenix, Arizona, to diminish nitrogen levels in the wastewater treatment effluent, they noticed that nonylphenol and its breakdown products were also reduced, some by 90 percent.
Since those tests, the team has built a full-scale, 380-acre constructed wetlands at the site, called the Tres Rios Wetlands. It is one of the largest in the U.S. and provides water for irrigation and wildlife habitat. It also has three main ponds that remove chlorine, heavy metals, herbicides, nitrogen, and nonylphenol.
Numerous studies have shown the effectiveness of constructed wetlands in removing such contaminants. A 2004 study of the Prado Wetlands found that the site helped reduce levels of ibuprofen and organic chemicals found in pesticides and flame retardants. Scientists in Spain have reported that natural systems efficiently removed a number of anti-inflammatory drugs and pesticides.
Still, many compounds, including some estradiols and antibacterials, are more resistant to treatment in constructed wetlands, with their levels dropping by only about half. “In my mind you definitely want more than 50 percent removal, or why bother?” says David Sedlak, a professor of environmental science and engineering at the University of California, Berkeley.
Sedlak and his collaborators are behind the pilot project at the Prado Wetlands. Inspired by experiments showing that drugs are degraded by sunlight as they move down a river, they worked on developing a new type of constructed wetland design specifically to remove these compounds.
In typical constructed wetland designs, weedy aquatic plants are the focal point, because of the myriad ways they break down contaminants. But they also overshadow, literally, the contribution of sunlight. So about a year ago, Sedlak’s team started testing what they call open-water units at the Prado Wetlands. Now, before wastewater enters the series of cattail-filled ponds, it drifts through one of three large ponds over the course of a day or two. To prevent plant growth, engineers used a simple approach: They put down a tarp along the bottom of the ponds.
Although the researchers are still in the first phase of data collection, the new ponds at the Prado Wetlands seem to work as well as a similar pilot-scale system in Discovery Bay near San Francisco that has been operating for about seven years. Early data suggest that open-water units at Discovery Bay remove 90 percent of sulfamethoxazole, an antibiotic often resistant to removal in waste treatment plants. An unexpected benefit is that a layer of algae and bacteria that grows on the tarp-covered pond bottoms appears to bind and degrade compounds.
Ponds similar to open-water units will also be incorporated into the Brazos River Demonstration Wetland, a 12-acre site that engineers started building in January in Waco, Texas. Construction should finish later this year. The project marks the first constructed wetlands designed to optimize the breakdown of drugs while also removing traditional contaminants found in wastewater treatment plant discharge. Brazos will not rely solely on photo-degradation to remove compounds. Water will travel through weedy ponds to remove nitrogen and then through subsurface wetlands with very low oxygen levels to help strip out chemicals.
Barber, the USGS geologist who worked on the Tres Rios wetlands in Arizona and also helped design the Brazos site, hopes that what they learn will improve design of small constructed wetlands nationwide, as well as larger wetlands that treat wastewater treatment effluent.
Recent research in Europe supports the idea that hybrid constructed wetlands — a combination of surface-level and subsurface ponds that do not freeze in colder climates — most effectively remove endocrine disruptors and other compounds. Environmental agencies in countries such as Denmark, Austria, and Germany currently provide guidelines and set standards for removal of nitrogen, phosphorus, and other contaminants in constructed wetlands. Researchers do not expect official guidelines on levels of drugs and other micro-contaminants until those substances are regulated.
Even without regulations, some communities are willing to invest in constructed wetlands, as evidenced by the Brazos site. “It’s about being proactive in terms of the right way to do water reuse,” says Barber.
Sao Paulo Could Run Out of Water by June
Yesterday we told you about a NASA scientist who estimates that the state of California has about one year left of water, which is bad, but not nearly as bad as São Paulo.
The water situation in São Paulo is so bad, that South America’s largest city will likely run out of water in June. As in about 2-and-a-half months from now.
That is the estimate set forth by Brazil’s own government.
According to Climate.Gov, the region is experiencing its worst drought in 80 years.
“The reservoirs that service the metro area of São Paulo and its 20 million residents were only at 8.9 percent of capacity during the middle of February, a shockingly low level.”
The Associated Press reported in January that the biggest problem may be the Cantareira water system. That system is the largest of six reservoirs that provide water to nearly one-third of the people living in the metropolitan area of São Paulo city.
“The water supply situation is critical and could become even more critical if the lack of rain and hot weather continue and effective demand management techniques are not created,” Mario Thadeu Leme de Barros, head of the University of São Paulo’s hydraulic engineering and environmental department, told the AP by phone in January.
Good news? Some rain at the end of February bumped them up to 11 percent.
As Climate.gov notes, low water levels are affecting more than just the drinkable stuff.
“The low water levels have also impacted electricity outputs, as hydroelectric dams simply cannot produce as much energy with reduced water flows.”
The government has announced a potential water rationing program to help stem the issue as well as announced planned blackouts to conserve electricity.
This year’s water issue is compounded as it’s actually the second year in a row that the region has faced severe droughts during what is normally considered their rainy season.
PRI notes that in August of 2014, the city turned off the water supply to area homes.
Residents were forced to use public taps, and “neighbors fought neighbors as dozens of people swarmed around the faucet. The outage went on for weeks, stretching into September.”
Eventually water trucks were called in to bring water to homes, but never to the city’s poorer neighborhoods and favelas. Elsa Barbosa, who lives in the favela of Chácaras Reunidas Ypê, told PRI that she eventually had to to use water from a disused old well. “We had to boil it a lot,” she said. “There were stomach aches and vomiting.”
This time, the drought has become so severe that some Brazilians have taken any rainstorm as an opportunity to bathe themselves. As RYOT reported in February, “when rain hit São Paulo, residents took to the streets to shower and clean their cars.”
What’s to blame for this drought? A mix of Mother Nature and humans.
Delcio Rodrigues, physicist with the Alliance for Water, told API that an unusually hot air mass above much of South America, paired with the fact that nearly 20 percent of the Amazon rainforest has now been deforested, was the perfect recipe for disaster.
Worst of all, none of this was a surprise. In fact, the Brazilian government released a warning six years ago predicting this exact scenario in this exact timeframe.
The warning’s solution to the issue then? Stop deforestation now. Perhaps this time, people will listen.
Stacey Leasca|RYOT |March 16, 2015
This post originally appeared on RYOT.
Water Hoarding Begins in Brazil as One of the World’s Largest Cities Runs Out of Water
The historic drought gripping South America’s largest nation is deepening, leading to rationing and forcing residents in one of the world’s biggest cities to hoard water.
As reported by Reuters, besides hoarding, Brazilians in Sao Paulo are drilling homemade wells and implementing additional emergency measures ahead of forced rationing that could lead to water being shut off at taps for as long as five days a week.
In Sao Paulo, a major metropolitan city of 20 million, the main water reservoir has fallen to just 6 percent of its capacity, and the peak of the rainy season has recently passed.
The drought is more heavily concentrated around Sao Paulo, but other cities in Brazil’s southeast, which is heavily populated, are also facing shortages and could eventually experience some rationing as well. Rio de Janeiro, a favorite tourist spot, is one of the cities that is facing less dire drought conditions.
As Reuters further reported:
Uncertainty over the drought and its consequences on jobs, public health and overall quality of life have further darkened Brazilians’ mood at a time when the economy is struggling and President Dilma Rousseff’s popularity is at an all-time low.
J. D. Heyes|naturalnews.com|March 15, 2015
World Could Have 40 Percent Water Shortfall By 2030, UN Warns
NEW DELHI (AP) — The world could suffer a 40 percent shortfall in water in just 15 years unless countries dramatically change their use of the resource, a U.N. report warned Friday.
Many underground water reserves are already running low, while rainfall patterns are predicted to become more erratic with climate change. As the world’s population grows to an expected 9 billion by 2050, more groundwater will be needed for farming, industry and personal consumption.
The report predicts global water demand will increase 55 percent by 2050, while reserves dwindle. If current usage trends don’t change, the world will have only 60 percent of the water it needs in 2030, it said.
Having less available water risks catastrophe on many fronts: crops could fail, ecosystems could break down, industries could collapse, disease and poverty could worsen, and violent conflicts over access to water could become more frequent.
“Unless the balance between demand and finite supplies is restored, the world will face an increasingly severe global water deficit,” the annual World Water Development Report said, noting that more efficient use could guarantee enough supply in the future.
The report, released in New Delhi two days before World Water Day, calls on policymakers and communities to rethink water policies, urging more conservation as well as recycling of wastewater as is done in Singapore. Countries may also want to consider raising prices for water, as well as searching for ways to make water-intensive sectors more efficient and less polluting, it said.
In many countries including India, water use is largely unregulated and often wasteful. Pollution of water is often ignored and unpunished. At least 80 percent of India’s population relies on groundwater for drinking to avoid bacteria-infested surface waters.
In agriculture-intense India, where studies show some aquifers are being depleted at the world’s fastest rates, the shortfall has been forecast at 50 percent or even higher. Climate change is expected to make the situation worse, as higher temperatures and more erratic weather patterns could disrupt rainfall.
Currently, about 748 million people worldwide have poor access to clean drinking water, the report said, cautioning that economic growth alone is not the solution — and could make the situation worse unless reforms ensure more efficiency and less pollution.
“Unsustainable development pathways and governance failures have affected the quality and availability of water resources, compromising their capacity to generate social and economic benefits,” it said. “Economic growth itself is not a guarantee for wider social progress.”
Great Lakes & Inland Waters
Sturgeon population estimated at 50,000
There are more lake sturgeon in the waters touching St. Clair County than in any other spot in the Great Lakes — and the population of the threatened species appears to be growing.
“Our best current estimate is in the 50,000-fish ballpark,” Mike Thomas, a fisheries biologist with the Department of Natural Resources in Harrison Township, said in an email.
He said the largest known spawning area in the Great Lakes is at Port Huron’s doorstep — the St. Clair River just south of the Blue Water Bridge.
“It is likely that this spawning site has been the critical habitat feature t hat has allowed this major sturgeon population to survive while most other sturgeon populations around the Great Lakes have been exterminated or greatly reduced in abundance,” he said.
The Blue Water Sturgeon Festival is May 30, during the sturgeon spawning run. The festival is in its third year.
“It’s unique to the area,” said Sherri Faust, environmental health educator at the St. Clair County Health Department and president of the Friends of the St. Clair River, the nonprofit that is host to the festival. “That’s what makes it so exciting and such a neat opportunity. Families should come down and see the sturgeon.
“We have more sturgeon here than any other place in the Great Lakes,” she said. “It’s a narrow window of time when they migrate through for spawning. That’s what we’re capitalizing on, the opportunity.”
The event includes demonstrations where people can touch a live sturgeon. The Huron Lady II will offer three sturgeon cruises, trolling a diver with a camera so people can watch live video of sturgeon. Seymour Sturgeon, the festival mascot, will be in costume.
“That’s the whole purpose of it,” said Jim Felgenauer, president of St. Clair-Detroit River Sturgeon for Tomorrow, one of the groups collaborating to produce the sturgeon festival. “To bring the sturgeon to the people.
“People who normally don’t get a chance to interact with the fish, to see the fish, are going to get an opportunity to view them up close.”
The sturgeon festival this year will include a 5K race and a 1K fun run. Runners who sign up today for the 5K can participate for $20. Proceeds will be split between the Friends of the St. Clair River and St. Clair-Detroit River Sturgeon for Tomorrow “We hope that brings more families down to the sturgeon festival that might not otherwise participate,” Faust said.
The 5K race and the 1K fun run are at 9 a.m. — an hour before the start of the sturgeon festival. Both runs start at Vantage Point and proceed south along the Blue Water River Walk. The price of the fun run will remain $10. The price of the race goes up to $25 after today and possibly to $30, Faust said, the day of the race. The price includes a T-shirt; fun run participants also get a medal.
Felgenauer said he expects about 5,000 people to attend the festival, which is in its third year.
“We like to bring people to Port Huron to spend money,” he said.
He started fishing for sturgeon in 2003. In all that time, he’s harvested one fish — the rest have been catch and release.
“We encourage fishing,” he said. “The best experience is when people catch one of these fish and get to handle and hold it. They typically don’t want to kill it.”
The sturgeon season is July 16 through Sept. 30. Felgenauer fishes in the lower St. Clair River most nights during those 77 days.
“We like to call Clay Township the sturgeon angling capital of the Great Lakes,” he said.
Thomas said the lower river and delta area has more lake sturgeon than any other area in the state, and local anglers have developed techniques targeting the big fish.
“As a result, more fishing effort for lake sturgeon takes place here than in any other waters of the state, and more lake sturgeon are caught and released here than in any other place in the state,” he said Catching a fish that weighs more than 100 pounds and is more than six feet long is the thrill of a lifetime, Felgenauer said.
“It’s pretty exciting when you have a six-foot fish three feet out of the water behind the back of your boat,” he said.
B ut he said sturgeon are more than an exciting gamefish.
“Everybody should care, and I’ll tell you why that is,” Felgenauer said. “They are considered a keystone species. If you manage for sturgeon, all the other fish will thrive.
“If the lake sturgeon goes bye-bye, that means we have something unhealthy happening in the environment, and we’re going to be affected by what that is.”
BOB GROSS|TIMES HERALD|3/15/15
Offshore & Ocean
Protected Pitcairn Seas Are 3 Times Size of U.K.
Today, the United Kingdom government announced the creation of the Pitcairn Islands Marine Reserve, the largest fully protected marine park on the planet. Here, in one of the world’s most remote places, more than 322,000 square miles of South Pacific waters will be fully protected.
Why does it matter? Because large, highly protected marine reserves help counter the global effects of overfishing, pollution, and development.
Two West Coast Marine Sanctuaries More Than Doubled in Size
After more than a decade of efforts to expand protection for California’s coastal ecosystems, the White House has announced approval of a plan that will more than double the size of two major marine sanctuaries in the region.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which just published the final rule, the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, located 42 miles north of San Francisco, will be expanded from 529 square miles to 1,286 square miles, while the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary will be expanded from 1,282 square miles to 3,295 square miles of ocean and coastal waters that will include areas as varied as estuarine wetlands, rocky intertidal habitat, open ocean and shallow marine banks.
Image Credit: NOAA
“We are thrilled to announce the expansion of two of our sanctuaries in California,” said Holly Bamford, Ph.D., acting assistant secretary of conservation and management and NOAA’s deputy administrator. “It’s important to conserve these special places that encourage partnerships in science, education, technology, management and community.”
Dubbed the “blue Serengeti” by scientists, these sanctuaries are home to an incredibly diverse array of species, including 25 endangered or threatened species, 36 marine mammals, more than 300 species of fish and more than a quarter million breeding seabirds, the largest colony of seabirds in the United States.
These sanctuaries have also been identified as some of the most nutrient-rich upwelling zones in North America, where nutrients from deeper, colder water come to the surface to support the numerous species who call them home.
Life there ranges from coral reefs, sea stars and tiny invertebrates, to some of the world’s largest animals. Some of the species who will now have an expanded haven to live and breed in, and to migrate through, include leatherback turtles, pacific white-sided dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, northern fur seals, northern elephant seals, Steller sea lions and harbor porpoises, in addition to a variety of whales including beaked, minke, blue, humpback, fin, gray and orca. This area is also believed to be home to the most significant population of great white sharks on the planet.
Previous legislative efforts brought by the state’s congressional representatives Senator Barbara Boxer and former Rep. Lynn Woolsey were thwarted by pushback from the oil and gas industry, but despite opposition these sanctuaries will now be permanently off-limits to offshore drilling and other disturbances. Boxer, who will retire in less than two years, told the San Francisco Chronicle the expansion will be one of her top legacies.
“This expansion is the outcome of a tremendous collaborative effort by government, local communities, academia and elected officials to provide additional protection for critical marine resources,” said Daniel J. Basta, director of the NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “It presents a bold vision for protecting the waters off the northern California coast for current and future generations.”
According to NOAA, the new boundaries will take effect after a review period of 45 days of a continuous session of Congress that began on March 12.
Alicia Graef|March 17, 2015
Humans Killed Nearly 3 Million Whales In The 20th Century
It’s long been known that whales were seriously endangered during the 20th century, but new research shows just how close we came to wiping them out completely.
A study published in the March 4 issue of “Marine Fisheries Review” shows that, between 1900 and 1999, a staggering 2.9 million whales were killed commercially for food, oil or bone.
“Remarkably, despite the importance of industrial whaling to several economies and more recently as a symbol of human misuse of the world’s resources, there has until now been no attempt to estimate the total catch for the 20th century,” the study, entitled “Emptying the Oceans: A Summary of Industrial Whaling Catches in the 20th Century,” says.
Using current data from the International Whaling Commission, along with data from the USSR (which hunted whales illegally for 30 years) the researchers found that 276,442 whales were killed in the North Atlantic, 563,696 in the North Pacific and 2,053,956 in the Southern Hemisphere.
Researchers only counted whales killed industrially and found the numbers peaked in the 1960s and 1970s. (The number of whales killed for sustenance by native communities was a negligible amount in comparison.) Amazingly, the number of sperm whales killed between 1900 and 1962 was the same number of sperm whales killed in all of the 18th and 19th centuries combined. That record was then repeated in the decade spanning 1962 and 1972.
Howard Rosenbaum, the director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Ocean Giants Program, told NBC News that the question facing researchers now is, “given the state of today’s oceans and the status of some whales, can depleted populations recover to their pre-whaling historical levels?”
According to the study, Southern Ocean blue whales are said to be at less than 1 percent of their pre-whaling numbers, and while no species was brought to extinction as a result of industrialized whaling, some subpopulations were completely destroyed (such as a community of humpbacks off the coast of South Georgia from 1904 to 1915).
Public opinion turned against whale hunting in the early ’70s. Judy Collins released “Whales and Nightingales,” an album featuring duets with Collins and the recordings of humpback whale songs, and Rex Weyler, then-director of Greenpeace, set a new agenda for conservation efforts.
“Saving the whales became the issue that we believed would introduce humanity to the idea of ecology and saving nature,” Weyler told NPR in December.
Other organizations joined Greenpeace, and by 1985, there was a moratorium on commercial deep-sea whaling.
Norway, Japan and Iceland still hunt whales for commercial reasons, and others for aboriginal sustenance.
Today, there are only about 500,000 whales left in the ocean.
“The total number of whales we killed is a really important number,” Stephen Palumbi, a marine ecologist at Stanford University in California, told Nature about the study’s findings. “It does make a difference to what we do now: it tells us the number of whales the oceans might be able to support.”
James Cave|The Huffington Post|03/18/2015
Wildlife and Habitat
Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition Completes 900+ Mile Journey at Gulf Islands National Seashore
The Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition has been on the trail for 900+ miles and nearly 70 days. On March 19th, they will complete their epic journey which led the team through some of Florida’s most beautiful ecosystems including the Rainbow River Springs made famous by the recent congregation of hundreds of manatees.
The Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition team welcomes you to join them as they complete their journey at Gulf Islands National Seashore — Fort Pickens at Battery Langdon Pavilion. Join the expedition team on Thursday, March 19 from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. CDT as the team celebrates their final miles of their expedition. To RSVP to the finale, please click here.
Although the Glades to Gulf Expedition is almost complete, the work of Florida Wildlife Corridor is far from over. The passage of Amendment 1 and the awareness of the need for wildlife corridors is just the beginning.
In 2014, more than 93 million people traveled to see the natural beauty we have here in Florida. We are more than just beaches. Florida is home to coral reefs, oyster beds. dunes, marshes, swamps, hardwood hammocks, mangroves, pinelands and scrubs. With Florida becoming one of the most populated states in the country, the journey has not ended in connecting, protecting and restoring corridors of conserved lands and waters that are essential for the survival of Florida’s diverse wildlife.
To learn more about the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition, the team members and the mission of the journey, please visit www.floridawildlifecorridor.org.
Suit Launched to Protect Pollinators, Frogs From New Pesticide
The Center for Biological Diversity and other public-interest groups notified the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday of our intent to sue over its failure to protect a range of federally protected species — including bees, butterflies, amphibians and birds — from a powerful, newly approved insecticide called “flupyradifurone.”
Even though the EPA recognized the chemical could harm endangered species, it didn’t consult with any wildlife agencies to protect those species. The insect poison could be particularly harmful to solitary bees that are often important crop pollinators — 4,000 species of which live in the United States.
“This systemic insecticide makes a plant highly toxic to any birds, butterflies and bees that feed on it, but the EPA has turned a blind eye and approved it without considering how it will hurt imperiled wildlife like the endangered Karner blue butterfly,” said Lori Ann Burd, director of the Center’s new Environmental Health program. “It’s our government’s duty to investigate how dangerous insecticides might affect wildlife — not just rubberstamp their approval.”
Read more in The Oregonian.
This ecologist wants to plant a “pop-up” forest in Times Square
Marielle Anzelone, a botanist and urban ecologist, wants to grow a forest in Times Square … overnight.
Anzelone launched a Kickstarter campaign today, asking backers to help raise $25,000 by April 17 to transform a chunk of the glitziest block on Earth into a forest. The installation, which she’s calling PopUP Forest: Times Square, would feature shipping containers filled with trees, flowers, and soil, with the sounds of birds and other wildlife piped in from nearby woods.
The goal, said Anzelone, is to put the spotlight on the thousands of acres of New York City that are not paved over, and need additional protection. “At the end of the day it’s about helping people see that nature exists in cities,” said Anzelone, “and its real nature, not necessarily weeds.”
If the campaign makes its fundraising goal, the money will go toward creating a design and a prototype in Brooklyn. After that, she’ll seek sponsorship money to find the final project — and of course the green light from the Times Square Alliance board. (But hey, they have experience handling outlandish projects like this — after all, they’ve dropped a giant ball from a skyscraper every year since 1904.)
If the project proposal is approved, the forest will pop up in June 2016, staying up for three weeks before being dissembled, its parts distributed around local parks and schoolyards. Anzelone hopes the final result will be “a crazy PR event for nature.”
“Nature gets so little attention, but biodiversity loss is at the same crisis level as climate change,” she said. “I want to get people’s attention — and what’s one way to get attention? Grabbing public space, and setting up a forest in the most incongruous place imaginable.”
Imagine: You’re heading to your office job in Manhattan when you glance up from your iPhone to see a full-grown forest where, yesterday, there was only a hundred-foot wristwatch ad. Instead of being barraged by horns, you’re serenaded by a springtime warbler.
I don’t know about you, but I’d do just about anything to trade billboards for spruce trees on my morning commute.
Liz Core|16 Mar 2015
[The importance of urban forests cannot be over-emphasized.]
Dog and Drones Battle Deadly Avocado Fungus
In just a few weeks, redbay ambrosia beetles will be on the move in Florida, a major concern for the state’s multimillion dollar avocado industry. Florida International University researchers believe a combination of drones and dogs could be game-changers in the fight to stop a deadly fungus spread by these invasive pests.
The beetles, which first appeared in the United States in 2000, carry the fungus Raffaelea lauricola, which causes a vascular disease in trees called laurel wilt. With devastating effects on avocado groves, more than 90 percent of trees die within six weeks of infection.
Detection is a major challenge. Diseased trees can begin to wilt within two weeks, and by the time symptoms are visible, the fungus has likely spread to nearby trees via root grafting. This is a particular problem in commercial groves, where trees are planted close together.
As part of an FIU research program, three specially trained canines were recently deployed in a grove where the beetles were suspected. The dogs identified three infected trees, though the trees were not yet showing symptoms.
FIU Provost and Executive Vice President Kenneth G. Furton and Biological Sciences Professor DeEtta Mills have developed the detection program, which couples drone surveillance with canine scent detection. Furton, a forensic chemist, has spent most of his career studying scent and canine detection. Mills, a forensic biologist, specializes in DNA research.
“This isn’t just a Florida problem,” Furton said. “From California to Latin America, there are growing concerns about how to respond to this aggressive disease.”
FIU’s hunt begins with the drones. The vehicles carry thermal digital imaging instruments that search for stressed trees before symptoms are visible. However, the drones cannot identify the cause of the stress. That’s where the dogs come in.
Canines have up to 50 times more olfactory receptors than humans and can be hundreds to thousands of times more sensitive to detecting odors. By using drones to isolate areas of concern, it provides manageable areas for a dog to search. The research team includes a certified dog trainer, drone operator and FIU graduate students.
Of the recently deployed dogs, all alerted to the same three trees in the commercial grove during separate searches. Students from Mills’ lab conducted DNA tests on samples to look for the laurel wilt fungus. The DNA tests confirmed the trees were infected, meaning the dogs detected the pathogen much earlier than any other method available. Currently, diseased trees must be removed, along with surrounding trees. More than 6,000 of Miami’s 74,000 avocado trees have been destroyed due to laurel wilt. But early detection could mean fewer surrounding trees would require extraction. In some cases, diseased trees could even be treated if the laurel wilt is detected early enough.
The research is funded by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Furton and Mills believe the unique detection program could have far-reaching applications for the entire agriculture industry.
Florida International University|March 18th, 2015
Brazil: the fight is on to save millions of trees
The Mundurukú people are fighting for their ancestral land
The planned São Luiz do Tapajós dam looms over the future of millions of trees and numerous villages. The government of Brazil is pushing ahead ruthlessly to tame Amazônia’s rivers and generate cheap electricity for mines and aluminum smelters – a healthy environment and the rights of indigenous peoples are clearly lower priorities.
The forests along the Tapajós river are among the most biodiverse in the world. If the dams are realized, it would be the death of the region as we know it.
Reinhard Behrend|Rainforest Rescue|3/18/15
[Please sign #8 in “Calls to Action” above.]
Global Warming and Climate Change
New documentary exposes the corporate-backed ‘experts’ who lie about climate change
For Naomi Oreskes, professor of scientific history at Harvard, there’s no more vivid illustration of the bitter war between science and politics than Florida’s ban on state employees using terms such as “climate change” and “global warming”. No matter that the low-lying state is critically vulnerable to rises in sea level, or that 97% of peer-reviewed climate studies confirm that climate change is occurring and human activity is responsible, the state’s Republican governor, Rick Scott, instructed state employees not to discuss it as it is not “a true fact”.
In one sense, news of the Florida directive could not have come at a better time – a hard-hitting documentary adaptation of Oreskes’s 2010 book Merchants of Doubt is just hitting US cinemas. In another sense, she says, it is profoundly depressing: the tactics now being used to prevent action over global warming are the same as those used in the past – often to great effect – to obfuscate and stall debates over evolutionary biology, ozone depletion, the dangers of asbestos or tobacco, even dangerous misconceptions about childhood vaccinations and autism.
Scott’s de facto ban is, she tells the Observer, “a grim state of affairs straight out of a George Orwell novel. So breathtaking that you don’t really know how to respond to it.”
It is also a display of just the kind of prevarication and intransigence that Oreskes studied to establish her formidable scholarly reputation. Each argument – if that is the correct term – has followed a strikingly similar path, and in each case, scientists have been drawn into debates that have little to do with a sound-science, rigorous exchange of knowledge.
Directed by Robert Kenner, best known for the hard-hitting Food, Inc., and backed by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, the Merchants of Doubt film exposes the tactics of climate change “experts”, who are often in the employ of think tanks funded by industries invested in maintaining the status quo.
It’s a fascinating look at how overwhelming certainty acquired through rigorous scientific enquiry has been time and again upended and delayed by a small group of spin doctors. As one scientist points out in the film, they have to prove their case while their opponents only have to sow the seeds of doubt. Nowhere is that more keenly felt than in climate change, with a massive disconnect between public acceptance and the political will to act.
“The scientific community feels it worked incredibly hard on this issue,” Oreskes says. “It has done exactly what it is supposed to do, which is study the question carefully from many angles, publish the results in peer-reviewed journals, explain it to the public and in reports. Yet it has gained no traction. Or worse – scientists are facing active attempts to deny, discredit, harass and, in some cases, sully their reputations.”
The political split on the issue grew last week when secretary of state John Kerry warned climate-change deniers and obfuscators – presumably including 2016 presidential contender Jeb Bush (who accepts global warming but not that it is disproportionately caused by human activity) – that there is no time to waste on debating the subject. Fail to act, he said, and future generations will want to know how world leaders could have been “so blind or so ignorant or so ideological or so dysfunctional and, frankly, so stubborn”.
As a historian of science, Oreskes is better-positioned than research scientists to challenge the situation. She recently suggested that the threat of climate change is so extreme, and time to curb its accelerating effects so short, that the scientific community should abandon its conservative, 95% confidence standard – which, she argues, is an unfair burden of proof that has no actual basis in nature. The science community is unlikely to back Oreskes in that opinion but her point is clearly made: there is no debate, and by entering the semantics of a debate, you’ve already lost.
Yet the cost to moderate Republicans of bucking approved party thinking are well-known. The filmmakers visit Bob Inglis , a South Carolina congressman who lost his seat four years ago after being targeted by the Tea Party following a radio interview in which he said he believed humans were contributing to climate change.
Oreskes’s study in Merchants of Doubt centered on a group of distinguished scientists, veterans of the cold war arms race, who came out in support of the tobacco industry and later cropped up opposing climate-change science. Since the research science on both issues is so clear, how could they be confused on the subject?
“We found that they really believed they were defending the freedom, free-market capitalism, liberty and lifestyle they believe go with a laissez-faire economy,” says Oreskes. “It’s essentially a slippery-slope argument. If you allow the government to regulate tobacco or restrict the use of carbon-based fuels, it’s a step toward tyranny.”
And that, Oreskes points out, goes back to Milton Friedman, and Freidrich von Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom . “The original argument was authentic, if misguided. In recent years it has been cynically manipulated by the Tea Party and others supported by vested interests.” (Oreskes mentions Charles and David Koch, the industrialists who have already pledged to contribute $1bn toward influencing the 2016 elections.)
In short, it’s a perversion of American notions of freedom, one that scientists are ill-equipped to counter. “The argument is, if you allow government to impose a carbon tax, then you’re going to surrender your liberty, personal freedom and individual choice,” says Oreskes. “That helps explain why this is such an American pathology. It plays into the cultural valences of individualism and choice.”
At times, the argument has become entirely obfuscated and contorted by politics. It was, after all, George HW Bush who introduced the idea of carbon emissions trading . Liberals and Democrats opposed it. When it was found to work, and environmentalists embraced it, conservatives turned against it. That showed that Republicans have no serious interest in negotiating on this issue, says Oreskes. “They rejected their own principles!” [Emphasis added.]
Clearly there’s more than enough blame to go round. In the US, one green advocacy group recently ran ads asking: “How many light bulbs does it take to change an American?”
Oreskes comments: “If you tell people it’s about changing them, it’s not helpful. We need to say, ‘Look, this is a problem we could actually fix if we stopped being in denial about it.’” She argues that the media is also to blame. The idea of presenting balanced arguments – to give an opposing view – does not serve an issue such as climate change well, especially when social media has power to transmit discredited or perilous misconceptions. “Sometimes the evidence and the data are all on one side,” Oreskes points out.
Last week she found herself on the receiving end of climate deniers’ outrage. Ninety-year-old Fred Singer, profiled at length in Merchants of Doubt, threatened to sue Oreskes and Kenner, following a pattern of response often used to raise the profile of climate contrarians.
But it is becoming harder to imagine a happy conclusion. In her most recent book, The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View From the Future , Oreskes and co-author Erik Conway imagine looking back on the world in 2093 from the year 2393. It’s a dismal view of floods, droughts, mass migrations and the depopulation of entire continents. In Merchants of Doubt Oreskes writes that industrial society has been “dining out” on fossil fuels for 150 years, and now we’ve equated ideals of freedom with the right to a lifestyle that those fuels permit.
Even those who profess to be on the green side of the debate, including Hillary Clinton, are prevaricating on their opposition to the XL pipeline , designed to carry dirty tar sands oil into the US from Canada. Prevarication paid off for the tobacco industry, which profitably resisted science and government regulation for half a century, and it is paying off now for the oil industry. Rising temperatures are making previously inhospitable regions, including the Arctic, accessible to exploration and drilling.
But it’s with no pleasure that Oreskes reports that the very groups that most detest regulation will ultimately see more of it when the consequences of inaction on climate change become unavoidable.
“This story is riven with ironies, and that’s one of the most profound if we don’t get this situation under control.”
Edward Helmore|The Guardian|14 Mar 2015
Climate change is baking Alaska
Earlier this winter, Monica Zappa packed up her crew of Alaskan sled dogs and headed south, in search of snow. “We haven’t been able to train where we live for two months,” she told me.
Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, which Zappa calls home, has been practically tropical this winter. Rick Thoman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Alaska, has been dumbfounded. “Homer, Alaska, keeps setting record after record, and I keep looking at the data like: Has the temperature sensor gone out or something?”
Something does seem to be going on in Alaska. Last fall, a skipjack tuna, which is more likely to be found in the Galápagos than near a glacier, was caught about 150 miles southeast of Anchorage, not far from the Kenai. This past weekend, race organizers had to truck in snow to the ceremonial Iditarod start line in Anchorage. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK.) tweeted a photo of one of the piles of snow with the hashtag #wemakeitwork.
But it’s unclear how long that will be possible. Alaska is heating up at twice the rate of the rest of the country — a canary in our climate coal mine. A new report shows that warming in Alaska, along with the rest of the Arctic, is accelerating as the loss of snow and ice cover begins to set off a feedback loop of further warming. Warming in wintertime has been the most dramatic — more than 6 degrees F in the past 50 years. And this is just a fraction of the warming that’s expected to come over just the next few decades.
Of course, it’s not just Alaska. Last month was the most extreme February on record in the Lower 48, and it marked the first time that two large sections of territory (more than 30 percent of the country each) experienced both exceptional cold and exceptional warmth in the same month, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. All-time records were set for the coldest month in dozens of Eastern cities, with Boston racking up more snow than the peaks of California’s Sierra Nevada. A single January snowstorm in Boston produced more snow than Anchorage has seen all winter. The discrepancy set off some friendly banter recently between the Anchorage, Boston, and San Francisco offices of the National Weather Service.
Alaska is at the front lines of climate change. This year’s Iditarod has been rerouted — twice — due to the warm weather. The race traditionally starts in Anchorage, which has had near-record low snowfall so far this winter. The city was without a single significant snowstorm between October and late January, so race organizers decided to move the start from the Anchorage area 360 miles north to Fairbanks. But when the Chena River, which was supposed to be part of the new route’s first few miles, failed to sufficiently freeze, the starting point had to move again to another location in Fairbanks.
On March 9, Zappa and her dogs set out on the 1,000-mile race across Alaska as one of 78 mushers in this year’s Iditarod. A burst of cold and snow are in the forecast this week, but for most of the winter, the weather across the interior of the state has also been abnormally warm. To train, many teams of dogs and their owners had to travel, often “outside” — away from Alaska. Zappa ended up going to the mountains of Wyoming.
For Iditarod entrants, the warm weather can mean life or death. Last month, along the Iditarod route, a snow-mobiler had to be rescued after unknowingly trying to cross open water. A recent study said that Alaska’s rivers and melting glaciers are now outputting more water than the Mississippi River. Last year was Alaska’s warmest on record and the warm weather has continued right on into 2015. This winter, Anchorage has essentially transformed into a less sunny version of Seattle. As of March 9, the city has received less than one-third of its normal amount of snow. In its place? Rain. Lots of rain. In fact, schools in the Anchorage area are now more likely to cancel school due to rain and street flooding than cold and snow.
Of course, it wasn’t always this way. Alaska’s recent surge of back-to-back warm winters comes after a record-snowy 2012, in which the National Guard was employed to help dig out buried towns. Then, about two years ago, something in the climate system switched. The state’s recent brush with extreme weather is more than just year-to-year weather variability. Alaska is at the point where the long-term trend of warming has begun to trump seasonal weather fluctuations. A recent shift toward warmer offshore ocean temperatures is essentially adding more fuel to the fire, moving the state toward more profound tipping points like the irreversible loss of permafrost and increasingly violent weather. If the current warm ocean phase (which began in 2014) holds for a decade or so, as is typical, Alaska will quickly become a different place.
The Pacific Ocean near Alaska has been record-warm for months now. This year is off to a record-wet start in Juneau. Kodiak has recorded its warmest winter on record. A sudden burst of ocean warmth has affected statewide weather before, but this time feels different, residents say. In late February, National Weather Service employees spotted thundersnow in Nome — a city just 100 miles south of the Arctic Circle. “As far as I know, that’s unprecedented,” Thoman told me. Thunderstorms of any kind require a level of atmospheric energy that’s rarely present in cold climates. To get that outside of the summer is incredibly rare everywhere, let alone in Alaska.
Climate scientists are starting to link the combination of melting sea ice and warm ocean temperatures to shifts in the jet stream. For the past few winters, those shifts have brought surges of tropical moisture toward southern Alaska via potent atmospheric rivers. This weather pattern has endured so long it’s even earned its own name: the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge. The persistent area of high pressure stretching from Alaska to California has shunted wintertime warmth and moisture northward into the Arctic while the eastern half of the continent is plunged into the deep freeze, polar-vortex style.
The warm water is making its way north into the Arctic Ocean, where, as of early March, sea ice levels are at their record lowest for the date. The resurgent heating of the Pacific (we’re officially in an El Niño year now) is also expected to give a boost to global warming over the next few years by releasing years of pent-up oceanic energy into the atmosphere, pushing even more warm water toward the north, melting Alaska from all sides.
That means Alaska’s weather, according to one Alaska meteorologist, is “broken.” Dave Snider, who reports statewide weather daily for the National Weather Service’s Alaska office in Anchorage, tweeted the sentiment back in mid-January. Snider emphasizes that this isn’t the official view of the National Weather Service, “of course.” Snider told me he made the comment “sort of in jest” but points to the nearly snow-free Iditarod start as evidence.
Here’s another example he could have used: In early November, Super Typhoon Nuri morphed into a huge post-tropical cyclone, passing through the Aleutians very near Shemya Island on its way to becoming Alaska’s strongest storm on record. Despite winds near 100 mph, Shemya emerged relatively unscathed. A few days later, the remnants of that storm actually altered the jet stream over much of the continent, ushering in a highly amplified “omega block” pattern that dramatically boosted temperatures across the state and sent wave after wave of Arctic cold toward the East Coast. Barrow was briefly warmer than Dallas or Atlanta.
The warm weather isn’t all bad news. The city of Anchorage has saved an estimated $1 million on snow removal this year and is instead pouring the money into fixing potholes and other backlogged maintenance issues. But getting around the rest of the state hasn’t been so easy.
There are few roads in rural Alaska, so winter travel is often done by snowmobiles over frozen rivers. Not this year. Warm temperatures in February led to thin ice and open water in the southwest part of the state near Galena and Bethel. David Hulen, managing editor for the Alaska Dispatch News in Anchorage, has spent nearly 30 years in the state. He says the freeze-thaw cycle is out of whack, “changing the nature of the place.” Usually, things freeze in the fall and unfreeze in the spring; this winter, they’ve seen a nearly constant back-and-forth between freezing and thawing.
That’s made it difficult for skiers and those enjoying other outdoor activities, like riding fat-tire bikes attuned to the snow. Julie Saddoris, of the Bike Me Anchorage Meetup, says attendance in her group is down this winter. Because of the lack of snow and ubiquitous slick ice, “riding conditions [are] very poor and hazardous,” she wrote in an email. Hulen agrees that it’s been frustrating. “I mean, what’s living in Alaska if it’s not cold and snowy?”
Those are city problems. Meanwhile, along the state’s west coast, some native coastal villages are facing an existential threat, as sea levels rise in response to the warm water. Earlier this winter, the Washington Post’s climate reporter Chris Mooney visited Kivalina, one of the six villages considering plans to relocate due to climate change. “Here, climate change is less a future threat and more a daily force, felt in drastic changes to weather, loss of traditional means of sustenance like whale hunting, and the literal vanishing of land,” Mooney wrote. Another village, Newtok, is a bit further along in the relocation process, with construction on their new village — Mertarvik — already under way.
The rapid change has brought U.S. Arctic policy to a crossroads. The United States is set to take over a rotating two-year chairmanship of the Arctic Council next month — a mini-United Nations of the north — and has listed climate change as a top agenda item. At the same time, it’s also laying the ground rules for increased oil and gas exploration. In a warmer 21st century, Alaska may be more important than ever — which explains the increased pressure for a boosted military presence there.
But for now, the most visible change is still in the shifting habitats of the fish, birds, trees, and animals. Permafrost still covers 85 percent of the state, but “almost everywhere, the depth of the active layer is increasing over the last few decades,” said Thoman. Since the active layer — the zone of soil above the permafrost that thaws out each summer — now penetrates deeper down, that means landforms are shifting, lakes are draining, and new forests are springing up.
Patricia Owen is a biologist at Denali National Park and Preserve who studies grizzly bears. Last winter, warm weather brought blueberry blossoms earlier than normal. The blossoms then froze, making foraging for food more challenging for bears. Mother bears need to have good health in the fall to support their cubs during the long winter months of hibernation. Owen is seeing evidence of other changes within Denali: More episodes of freezing rain are having a big impact on sheep, which have to scrape through ice to eat. In low snow years like this one, wolves seem to suffer, since caribou and moose can escape more quickly. Studying these changes is difficult because the scientists don’t want to disturb the animals more than necessary. “It takes a while to really see the effect of some of these things,” Owen told me.
Recent warming appears to have pushed Denali’s poplar forests across a threshold toward rapid expansion. Carl Roland, a Denali plant ecologist who has compiled a trove of repeat photographs around the park spanning decades of environmental change, says that what he’s seeing is “dramatic.” Still, says Roland, “it’s kind of a complicated story, because you have patches of the landscape that have remained pretty much exactly the same, and then you’ve got other patches that have gone off in this other direction.”
Once the permafrost goes, Roland says to expect a “regime shift” in the park and across the state. The northward spread of tree-killing insects is also a “really big unknown” in interior Alaska. Last spring, a huge forest fire in a beetle kill area of the Kenai Peninsula sent smoke plumes hundreds of miles northward toward Fairbanks.
For southern Alaska, fire season has been coming earlier in recent years, and 2015 looks to be no exception. Melvin Slater, a representative for the Alaska Fire Service, told me that the agency is making changes in response to the warm, nearly snow-free winter. “AFS will accelerate the availability of eight smokejumpers and a smokejumper aircraft by April 9, with an additional eight smokejumpers available by April 16,” Slater wrote in an email. That’s about 30 days earlier than normal. A few years ago, the Alaska Division of Forestry moved the start of the fire season up from May 1 to April 1 “as a result of climate change,” Tim Mowry, a division spokesman told me. The changes were intended to elicit “a sense of urgency,” Mowry says.
But there’s a kink in these plans. Alaska government is strongly dependent on oil revenue — and falling fuel prices are forcing budget cuts to state agencies like the Division of Forestry.
But for now, the Iditarod will continue. “Honestly, I’m thinking of moving, whether it be further north in Alaska or somewhere where they can guarantee snow,” Zappa said. “If you’re going to be a dog musher, you need snow. That’s the bottom line.”
Eric Holthaus|13 Mar 2015
This story was originally published by Slate and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration; this article is part of Future Tense, a collaboration among Arizona State University, New America, and Slate.
Big news: CO2 emissions flatlined last year
Solar, wind, and other renewables are making such a big difference in greenhouse gas emissions worldwide that global emissions from the energy sector flatlined during a time of economic growth for the first time in 40 years.
The International Energy Agency announced Friday that energy-related CO2 emissions last year were unchanged from the year before, totaling 32.3 billion metric tons of CO2 in both 2013 and 2014. It shows that efforts to reduce emissions to combat climate change may be more effective than previously thought.
“This is both a very welcome surprise and a significant one,” IEA Chief Economist and incoming IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said in a statement. “It provides much-needed momentum to negotiators preparing to forge a global climate deal in Paris in December. For the first time, greenhouse gas emissions are decoupling from economic growth.”
Following an announcement earlier this week that China’s CO2 emissions fell 2 percent in 2014, the IEA is crediting 2014’s progress to China using more solar, wind, and hydropower while burning less coal. Western Europe’s focus on sustainable growth, energy efficiency, and renewables has shown that emissions from energy consumption can fall even as economies grow globally, according to the IEA.
Global CO2 emissions stalled or fell in the early 1980s, 1992, and 2009, each time correlating with a faltering global economy. In 2014, the economy grew 3 percent worldwide.
In the U.S., energy-related CO2 emissions fell during seven of the past 23 years, most notably during the recession of 2009, U.S. Energy Information Administration data show. Emissions in 2013 — the most recent year for which U.S. data is available — were higher than they were in the previous year, but 10 percent lower than they were in 2005.
At the same time, the carbon intensity of the U.S. economy — CO2 emissions per dollar of GDP — has been trending downward over the past 25 years, according to the administration.
Steven Cohen, executive director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, said the globe is starting to see the benefits of energy efficiency and the use of renewables, but those improvements may not last.
“The decline in oil prices and the massive increase in fossil fuel use in China and India will push in the opposite direction in 2015,” he said. “We still need to develop a transformative renewable energy technology that is less expensive than fossil fuels and can match the reliability and convenience of fossil fuel technology. I believe we will develop such a technology, but the sooner the better. Our goal should be to drive fossil fuels from the marketplace.”
The IEA will release a more detailed analysis of global energy-related CO2 emissions in a special energy and climate report to be released in June.
“The latest data on emissions are indeed encouraging, but this is no time for complacency and certainly not the time to use this positive news as an excuse to stall further action,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said in a statement.
Bobby Magill|13 Mar 2015|Cross-posted from Climate Central
How does climate activism differ in the U.S. and Germany?
A survey of American climate activists by Grist inspired us to conduct our own survey on the priorities of German activists. Both surveys include a dozen or so leading figures of the climate movement in each country. Before comparing the two, let’s first look at what sticks out in each country’s survey.
The causes of and solutions for climate change are highly complex, so it is not surprising that responses vary. Across the 15 answers from the United States, however, we identified the following common themes for priorities in 2015:
1. Grow the climate movement: The top priority for American activists is building and strengthening the U.S. climate movement. It should not only become bigger, but also become more inclusive. More than half of the responses argued that the movement should go beyond tackling climate change and also address social justice and diversity.
2. Fight fossil fuels: Many groups have joined the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline, against fracking, and against allowing oil and gas companies to drill on more land or off the coasts.
3. Enforce existing climate policies: A number of respondents mentioned their support for President Obama’s plan to limit emissions from power plants — the main federal climate program — and called for it to be implemented in a strong and fair way. Only a couple called for new federal climate legislation, likely because the current Republican-controlled Congress would be sure to reject any such new proposal. A few also called for new aggressive policy at the state level, where there’s more of a possibility of success.
The word cloud above shows how often issues were mentioned in U.S. responses. Other priorities noted include preparing for the next presidential election, working on energy efficiency, and making the U.N. climate talks in Paris a success. From a German perspective, one gap seems obvious: None of the U.S. activists talked about the role of nuclear power.
The responses from the 11 German climate activists and researchers also ranged across the whole action toolkit for tackling climate change. But also here, clear priorities can be identified:
1. Accelerating a coal phase-out: The top priority for German activists for 2015 is new legislation to speed up a phase-out of coal power, such as a climate action program, a new electricity market design, and the E.U.’s cap-and-trade program.
2. Making the U.N. climate negotiations in Paris a success: Mentioned by more than half of respondents, a new climate treaty is the second highest priority for German activists.
3. Expanding the energy transition beyond the power sector: Almost half of respondents called for the Energiewende, Germany’s shift to cleaner energy, to get going in the heating/cooling and transportation sectors.
Interestingly, the above word cloud made from the German responses also reveals the different governance levels that Energiewende activists have to navigate: German, European, and international.
A comparison of the two surveys reveals a few salient differences:
1. The American activists are fighting stronger opponents. The main natural resource left in Germany to exploit is lignite, the dirtiest form of coal. The passage of the Renewable Energy Act in 2000 enabled citizenry to compete with incumbent electric utilities profitably, thereby breaking the stranglehold on energy markets. Furthermore, money is not nearly as influential in German politics as in the United States. The U.S., on the other hand, is still home to very powerful oil, gas, and coal companies (the Germans never had enough oil or gas to bring forth big firms in those sectors). American activists therefore still fight the further expansion of fossil fuels. They have a much more uphill battle than their German colleagues, and this fiercer opposition must be kept in mind before we overly praise the Germans for what looks like greater progress on renewables. Simply put, the Germans have had weaker opponents.
2. German activists have made up their mind on saying “Auf Wiedersehen” to nuclear power. The American public continues to debate the role of nuclear, and it is interesting that nuclear is not included in the U.S. responses. Only the executive director of the Sierra Club mentions that “nukes” are often more expensive than “clean energy” — a subtle indication that, at least for him, the latter does not include the former. The Germans, on the other hand, are vocal in rejecting a simple decarbonization strategy if nuclear is a part of it.
3. U.S. activists set a greater focus on racial equality. Heavily emphasized by U.S. activists, this aspect was not mentioned at all in Germany. Why the silence? Germany is clearly multicultural today, the second biggest country for immigrants after only the U.S. In 2012, roughly 400,000 people moved to Germany, a trend that is expected to continue. Foreigners now make up nearly 10 percent of the German population. One possible reason that German activists aren’t focused on this: Dirty energy infrastructure is not disproportionately dumped on immigrants and minorities in Germany the way it is in the U.S.
4. U.S. activists set a greater focus on the impact on the poor. Most German activists see energy poverty as a subset of poverty, which is a social issue. They therefore address energy poverty with social policy, not energy policy. In the midst of rising electricity prices, the Germans did not add coverage of power bills to welfare programs, which already cover heating bills, but rather implemented the country’s first nationwide minimum wage. The goal was to ameliorate the condition of the working poor in general. In addition, the budget for energy auditors who visit households was doubled this year. So Germany is reacting to energy poverty by giving citizens greater spending power and helping them reduce consumption.
5. The German responses reveal a more international focus. Only a couple of U.S. responses mentioned the upcoming climate summit in Paris, while many more of the Germans highlighted it. The U.S. is largely free to design its own energy policy, with some coordination with Canada. In contrast, Germany physically borders on nine countries and has additional grid connections with Norway and Sweden. More importantly, as a member of the European Union, Germany is institutionally embedded in European federalism, so German policy makers and activists keep an eye on E.U. regulation, coordinate energy policy with other E.U. member states, and forge international alliances to pursue interests.
6. German activists focus on new legislation, while U.S. activists focus on enforcing existing legislation and building a stronger movement. German activists’ biggest achievement has been the political consensus around the Energiewende on moving beyond fossil fuels and nuclear power. But it didn’t come overnight; it was hard work over many years. A strong movement came about by including faith groups, unions, farmers, and even manufacturers. This broad political consensus allows the German activists to focus on pushing through new or improving existing climate and energy legislation, both on the national and European level. German and European lawmakers are responsive and willing to act. In contrast, U.S. activists face a political roadblock in Congress. The 2010 climate bill was the last serious attempt in the United States to implement new comprehensive climate legislation on the federal level.
Overall, the American activists have clearly identified steps that will make a difference. In several respects, the Germans have already taken such steps, so the success has been demonstrated. Several of the Americans in the survey talk about engaging with and protecting communities. One secret to the success of the German grassroots energy transition is that communities were the drivers. Ordinary citizens came together to create new energy cooperatives for their own wind, solar, and biomass projects when the energy sector and public officials showed little interest. But we should not oversimplify the matter by leaving the impression that the Germans are a decade or two ahead of Americans. In reality, activists in the two countries face quite different situations, particularly in terms of moneyed resistance.
Finally, the question posed by Grist — “What should climate activists focus on this year?” – might have been posed differently if the idea had originated in Germany. Because Germany has a clear energy policy laid out through 2050 — the Energiewende — it is likely that the question in Germany would have been, “What should be done to speed up the Energiewende this year?” The U.S. is still debating fundamental directional issues, while the Germans are debating details about the direction already decided on. For instance, Americans argue about whether the Keystone XL pipeline is needed for domestic energy security. In contrast, the Germans are not debating whether they need coal power or not, but how specifically it can be phased out.
Craig Morris and Arne Jungjohann|15 Mar 2015
Obama: It’s ‘Disturbing’ That A Climate Change Denier Chairs Senate Environmental Committee
President Barack Obama told Vice News in an interview released on Monday that it was “disturbing” that the chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works denied the existence of climate change.
Obama was referring to Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who threw a snowball on the Senate floor earlier this month to help make his case that climate change isn’t real. Even though Inhofe cited record low temperatures across the country as evidence that climate change was overplayed, the country has actually been experiencing a warmer than average winter.
“That’s disturbing,” Obama said when Vice’s Shane Smith pointed out that the stunt would have been funny if it weren’t for Inhofe’s chairmanship.
Inhofe, who wrote the book The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, has also cited Scripture as part of his argument for why climate change isn’t real.
Obama said he couldn’t fault people who were concerned about gas prices and that climate change was a difficult political issue address because it had no immediate payoff. But he also attributed some of the challenge to the influence that the oil and gas industry holds with elected officials.
“In some cases, though, you have elected officials who are shills for the oil companies or the fossil fuel industry and there’s a lot of money involved,” he said. “Typically in Congress the committees of jurisdiction, like the energy committees, are populated by folks from places that pump a lot of oil and pump a lot of gas.”
As president, Obama said that he hoped to get the country to get the country to see climate change “as a serious, immediate threat, not some distant vague thing.”
Obama added that he recognized that even if he was able to secure international commitments on climate change and improve fuel and appliance efficiency standards, climate change would still be a big problem when he left office.
“If I’m able to do all those things now, when I’m done we’re still gonna have a heck of a problem, but we will have made enough progress that the next president and the next generation can start building on it and you start getting some momentum.”
The way that his daughters understood the science of climate change, Obama said, gave him hope that future generations would force politicians to take on the threat.
“I guarantee you that the Republican party will have to change its approach to climate change because voters will insist upon it,” he said.
Sam Levine|The Huffington Post|03/16/2015
Florida Environmental Staffer Says He Was Reprimanded For Talking About Climate Change
A Florida Department of Environmental Protection land manager says he was sent home and formally reprimanded for speaking about climate change and the Keystone XL pipeline at an inter-agency meeting last month.
The Tallahassee Democrat reported on the disciplinary measures Thursday, following a complaint filed on the employee’s behalf by the Florida chapter of the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER.
Bart Bibler, a land management plan coordinator, was served with an official reprimand “concerning his discussion of climate change, together with his position that the Keystone XL Pipeline would further aggravate this environmental problem,” according to the complaint filed with the DEP inspector general. Bibler was placed on personal leave, was told to stay out of the office for two days, and was “directed to seek what appears to be a mental health evaluation from his doctor to verify his ‘fitness for duty,'” the PEER complaint says.
The sanctions against Bibler follow reports from former DEP staffers that Gov. Rick Scott (R) had barred state employees from using the words “climate change” or “global warming.” Scott has denied prohibiting the use of the terms.
Jerry Phillips, the Florida PEER director, argued in the complaint that Bibler’s reprimand is emblematic of the state’s approach to climate change and “underlines the extent to which it demonstrates the fear that employees have in being made to appear as though they wish to discuss climate change or global warming.”
Bibler was disciplined after a Florida Coastal Managers Forum on Feb. 27, according to the complaint. “[A]fter the meeting agenda had been largely discussed by every other participant, Mr. Bibler was asked to introduce himself and provide an agency update,” the complaint states. “He provided that update and also expressed his opinion that the Keystone XL Pipeline, if built, would further jeopardize the stability of our climate, which would also negatively impact the State of Florida.”
Lauren Engel, DEP communications director, said in a statement Thursday that Bibler “was reprimanded for violating three DEP standards of conduct, including poor performance, insubordination and conduct unbecoming a public employee.”
Engel said Bibler “engaged in personal political advocacy related to the Keystone XL pipeline,” even though the pipeline wasn’t on the meeting agenda. She said Bibler “failed to provide an accurate summary of the meeting” to his supervisor and “instead responded in a disrespectful and argumentative fashion by simply providing an attachment with the ‘Keystone XL Pipeline’ with a red circle and a cross through it.” She said the department’s leaders “respect all our employees’ personal beliefs,” but “expect them to perform their duties in an impartial and appropriate manner and to stay focused and engaged on job-related activities during work hours.”
The complaint alleges that Bibler’s manager was upset about references to climate change in his written summary of the meeting. Bibler said he was asked to change the summary to exclude “any hot button issues, especially explicit references to climate change.” He refused, he said, “because it would have been untrue.” He said he added a symbol meant to express “Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline” in response to a request to change the summary.
PEER has requested protection for Bibler under Florida’s Whistle-blower’s Act.
China, U.S. May Be Moving Closer To A Climate Deal
BEIJING (AP) — A U.S. envoy for climate change said Friday that China and the U.S. are working more closely than ever ahead of a conference this year in Paris that raises hopes for a global plan to cut greenhouse emissions.
Special Envoy Todd Stern told reporters in Beijing that he still expects hard negotiations between many countries in advance of the U.N. summit. But he told reporters there’s “a greater level of convergence on some very important structural issues” compared to the months before the last major U.N. climate summit, which ended without a significant agreement in 2009.
With China emitting more greenhouse gases than any other country, and the U.S. a distant second, many are watching if the two countries can agree to a plan before the Paris meeting.
“I think we’re on the same page on some issues, not every issue probably,” Stern said of the U.S. and China. “But we are working I think in a closer and more cooperative basis than we ever have before.”
Similar bilateral meetings resulted in major announcements by both countries in November of landmark climate change plans, including China’s pledge to peak carbon emissions by around 2030.
In response to a reporter’s question, Stern said he hadn’t seen any sign from his Chinese counterparts that they planned to advance that deadline, although some experts say China’s emissions need to peak much earlier to stave off major climate consequences.
“We didn’t have any sense from within the (Chinese) government that there were views on their readiness to announce 2025 or 2020″ as a peak date, Stern said.
He said Chinese and U.S. negotiators also hadn’t discussed how quickly, or even if, Chinese emissions would begin dropping after reaching their peak.
Stern said the U.S. would like a Paris deal to set hard immediate carbon reduction targets and then a series of future reduction targets as well as pledges to generally move economies away from fossil fuels and other sources of carbon emissions.
JACK CHANG| |03/20/2015
10 Places You Have to Visit Before They’re Gone
There are some places in this world that are uniquely beautiful, but are very likely to disappear soon. I comprised a list of the top 10 places you should visit before they’re gone.
1. The Alaskan Tundra – The coldest biome in the world, Alaska’s Tundra is severely affected by global warming and is at risk of disappearing very soon.
2. The Great Barrier Reef – At 500,000 years old, it is the world’s most complex ecosystem, larger than the Great Wall of China, the Great Barrier Reef is slowly dying due to pollution and climate change.
3. The Dead Sea – The lowest place on earth, the Dead Sea is also a natural wonder. Its water’s healing properties and renowned and its below-sea-level altitude makes it one of the only places people with psoriasis can get out in the sun without suffering. Sadly, with diversion of water from the Jordan River as well as industrial harvesting of the salt, the Dead Sea has been shrinking. Visitors today can see hotels and resorts that were once on the shoreline, now hundreds of meters away.
4. Madagascar - World-famous for its lemurs, Madagascar has over 20 different species of lemurs and 80% of the flora and fauna on the island are unique to Madagascar. Sadly, the island’s entire eco system is being destroyed because of logging, poaching and land-burning (a way to clear land for farming). It is estimated that if nothing is done to stop this, Madagascar’s eco system will disappear in 30 years.
5. The Maldives – A Chain of roughly 1,900 islands in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives are a small taste of paradise. Most of the land in the Maldives is no higher than 5ft (1.5 meters), and with predicted rise in water levels, there is a great chance they’ll disappear in the next 10 years.
6. Glacier National Park – Located in Montana, the park is losing its signature glaciers at an alarming rate. Where once there were 150 glaciers, nowadays there are 25 left with experts warning that they might be gone by the end of the decade.
7. Patagonia - The largest ice fields in the world after Antarctica and Greenland, are in Patagonia. A recent study found that about 90 percent of the mountain glaciers in the region are melting up to 100 times faster than at any time in the past 350 years, and at least a dozen glacier-fed lakes have vanished virtually overnight in the last five years alone.
8. The Taj Mahal - One of the 7 wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal attracts over 3 million people every year. Sadly, due to air pollution and the crowds its white stone facade is slowly eroding. It has become so problematic that tourism officials are considering closing this monument to the public by 2020.
9. Venice – With origins as far back as the 2nd century C.E., Venice is one of the most renowned cities in the world, made famous for its canals and gondolas. Venice makes this list because it’s still sinking. At a rate of 2 millimeters a year (0.02 inches), the city is likely to either sink slowly to its final rest under the Adriatic Sea, or crumble as the sea-water corrodes the foundations of the buildings. And if that wasn’t enough, scientists now discovered that the city is also tilting to the east…
10. The Florida Everglades - The largest subtropical wilderness in America and the largest mangrove ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere. With urbanization and water diversion, thousands of acres have disappeared, leaving the Everglades half the size it was a century ago. There is a national plan to save the Everglades, but whether it happens or not, only time will tell.
Cyclone hits Vanuatu islands ‘like a bomb’
Cyclone Pam, possibly the worst cyclone in the Pacific’s history, slammed directly into the tiny South Pacific archipelago Vanuatu early Saturday, killing at least eight people and leaving thousands homeless, according to aid organizations.
The sheer size of the devastation is only beginning to trickle out because almost all power and communications have been cut to much of Vanuatu, a string of 65 islands a quarter of the way from Australia to Hawaii.
Its population of 267,000 is spread over the islands, with about 47,000 living in the capital, Port Vila.
Save the Children’s Nicola Krey told CBS Radio News that she expects many homeless as rescue teams fan out across the archipelago.
“Today we’ve only counted 1,500 people in an evacuation center in Port Vila,” she said. “That leaves tens of thousands of people unprotected from that type of storm.”
Save the Children’s director, Tom Skirrow, told Reuters the conservative figure of eight dead so far came from the country’s National Disaster Management Office and was based on reports from hospitals and paramedic services.
Oxfam, the international aid agency, said its staff in Vanuatu reported a “complete destruction of homes,” with three-story- high trees uprooted and small communities left with almost no homes standing.
“We have no power or running water and are still not able to move around freely,” Collett van Rooyen, Oxfam’s Vanuatu director, reported. “The scale of this disaster is unprecedented in this country and the proud people of Vanuatu are going to need a lot of help to rebuild their homes and their lives.”
UNICEF New Zealand Executive Director Vivien Maidaborn said the disaster “could potentially be one of the worst in Pacific history,” The New Zealand Herald reported.
The huge cyclone, as hurricanes are called in the Pacific, hit Vanuatu dead center after a change of course to the west.
Alice Clements, a spokeswoman for UNICEF in Port Vila, said, “It looks like a bomb’s gone off,” NZME News Service reported. “Tourists who have been to Port Vila wouldn’t recognize it.”
Authorities in New Zealand are preparing for the storm, which is forecast to pass north of the country Sunday.
Doug Stanglin|USA TODAY|3/15/15|Contributing: Associated Press
Update: Pacific nation reeling from Cyclone Pam
Vanuatu death estimates vary; destruction challenges communication, access to water
Communities were in a shambles, communications remained near zero and access to clean water was a severe challenge Sunday on the Vanuatu archipelago, almost two days after Cyclone Pam blasted through the remote South Pacific island chain, the International Red Cross said Sunday.
Estimates on the death toll varied widely, with some officials reporting at least six dead while unconfirmed reports put the death toll at more than 40. The immense devastation, damage to the communications systems and remote nature of the chain of 65 inhabited islands made damage assessments difficult. Pacific Red Cross chief Aurelia Balpe told The Australian that a pilot flew over the islands, reporting that on the southern island of Tanna, many buildings were destroyed. The southern end of the chain appeared to take the direct hit.
“What he told me is that he could land — that was the first positive,” Balpe said. “But as they flew in and out they saw lots of trees uprooted and, what was most striking, all corrugated iron structures were destroyed as far as the eye could see.”
CATEGORY 5 STORM
Cyclone Pam, possibly the worst cyclone in the Pacific’s history, slammed into Vanuatu late Friday. Wind speeds of more than 165 mph made Pam a Category 5 storm.
Vanuatu, about a quarter of the way from Australia to Hawaii, has a population of 267,000. About 34,000 live on Tanna and tiny nearby islands at the south of the chain.
But the entire nation appeared to be devastated. The New Zealand Herald reported that 90 percent of homes in Port Vila, with a population of almost 50,000, were damaged or destroyed.
“The immediate concern is for a very high death toll but also an enormous amount of destruction,” Sune Gudnitz, regional director for the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Assistance (UNOCHA), told Reuters.
There were unconfirmed reports that 44 people had died in Panama province in the northeast of Vanuatu, UNOCHA said in a statement quoted by Reuters.
Oxfam, the international aid agency, said its staff on the ground in Vanuatu reported a “complete destruction of homes,” with three-story-high trees uprooted and small communities left with almost no homes standing.
“We have no power or running water and are still not able to move around freely,” Collett van Rooyen, Oxfam’s Vanuatu country director, reported. “The scale of this disaster is unprecedented in this country, and the proud people of Vanuatu are going to need a lot of help t o rebuild their homes and their lives.”
Vivien Maidaborn, New Zealand executive director for the relief organization UNICEF, said early reports indicate the disaster “could potentially be one of the worst in Pacific history.”
The huge cyclone, as hurricanes are called in the Pacific, hit Vanuatu dead-center after a last minute change of course to the west.
Alice Clements, a spokeswoman for UNICEF in Port Vila, said the capital had been devastated.
“It looks like a bomb’s gone off,” she told NZME News Service. “Tourists who have been to Port Vila wouldn’t recognize it.”
John Bacon and Doug Stanglin|USA TODAY
Update: Climate Change to Blame for Devastating Cyclone, Says President of Vanuatu
You may never have heard of the republic of Vanuatu, an island nation located in the south Pacific. But, like many island nations, it’s on the front lines of climate activism because of its vulnerability to climate change.
Just how vulnerable it is was demonstrated last week. Category 5 Cyclone Pam swept across Vanuatu on Friday with winds more than 200 mph, damaging or destroying virtually every building on the main island of Port Vila, wrecking most of its infrastructure and killing at least 10 people. The damage, death and injury toll is still being assessed, especially on outlying islands where communication is limited. Seventy percent of its population lives in these very poor remote areas, which already have minimal infrastructure. It’s said to be one of the worst disasters in the region’s history.
Tropical Cyclone Pam eventually grew to winds of more than 200 mph by the time it hit the islands that comprise Vanuatu. Image credit: @NOAASatellites.
“This is a very devastating cyclone in Vanuatu,” Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale to Al Jazeera. “I term it as a monster, a monster. It’s a setback for the government and for the people of Vanuatu.”
Lonsdale put out a call for humanitarian aid for the most basic necessities, including drinking water, medicine, clothing, eating utensils and other household items. Australia, New Zealand and the UK have already responded to his pleas.
And in an interview with Associated Press, Lonsdale put the blame squarely on climate change.
“Climate change is contributing to the disasters in Vanuatu,” he said. “We see the level of sea rise. Change in weather patterns. This year we have heavy rain more than every year.”
Anote Tong, president of the Pacific island nation of Kiribati, whose existence is jeopardized by rising sea levels, which was hit by Cyclone Pam to a lesser extent, agreed, saying, “Climate change has exacerbated the severity of natural disasters and frequency, that’s worsening the impacts on different communities. I put forward this argument that climate change and disasters are so integrated and so related.”
When the hurricane hit, Lonsdale and other Vanuatu government officials were in Sendai, Japan, attending the 3rd World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. They immediately headed home, where action was needed more than conversation.
And World Bank vice president and special envoy for climate change Rachel Kyte told Agence France Press that those at the conference seemed not to connect climate policy and the growing number of extreme weather events such as Cyclone Pam.
“I worry that a sense of urgency and a sense of shared ambition is not at the right level,” she told AFP at the Disaster Risk Reduction Conference. “It’s hugely ironic that this storm should hit Vanuatu while we are all here. If we truly care for those people, we have to respond. I think we have to hold ourselves accountable.”
“I don’t think I would say climate change caused (Cyclone) Pam, but I would say the fact is in the past three or four years we’ve seen category fives coming with a regularity we’ve never seen before,” added Kyte. “And that has some relationship with climate change. It is undisputable that part of the Pacific Ocean is much warmer today than in previous years, so these storms are intensifying. We may have helped communities become resilient to the kinds of storms we experienced in the past, but resilience to a storm with wind speed of up to 300 kilometres per hour— that’s a whole new intensity.
Anastasia Pantsios|March 16, 2015
Vanuatu Islanders Running Out Of Food, Water After Cyclone
TANNA, Vanuatu, March 17 (Reuters) – Residents of the southern Vanuatu island of Tanna said they were running out of food and basic supplies on Tuesday, after a huge cyclone tore across the South Pacific nation wreaking widespread devastation but not the heavy death toll initially feared.
Relief workers were still battling to reach many of the islands pummel by Cyclone Pam’s gusts of more than 300 kph (185 mph) on Friday and Saturday.
With communications cut off and reconnaissance flights revealing destroyed houses, shredded forests and damaged buildings, international aid agencies had been particularly worried about Tanna, which bore the full force of the storm.
A Reuters witness on the island of 29,000 people, about 200 km (125 miles) south of the capital, said that while damage was extensive, it appeared most of the population had survived by sheltering in schools, churches and other sturdy buildings.
“People sheltered in school buildings. We were helping one another,” Ropate Vuso, 67, told Reuters in Tanna township.
“We are running short of food, water, shelter and electricity. We have no communications, we are still waiting for the people from parliament, the chief and the president, but still nobody is coming.”
There were unconfirmed reports of four deaths in and around the main town of Tanna.
Daniel Dieckhaus, an adviser for USAid, said hard-hit communities were showing remarkable resilience.
“You can see them out there now, rebuilding with whatever they have,” he said.
The United Nations said on Tuesday the official death toll from the cyclone was 11, revising down its earlier figure of 24, but many officials anticipate that number would rise once they are able to more thoroughly inspect the outer islands of the scattered archipelago.
“The aerial reconnaissance flights confirmed significant damage in the southern islands, particularly Tanna island, where it appears that more than 80 percent of houses and buildings have been partially or completely destroyed,” Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told reporters in Canberra.
In Vanuatu capital Port Vila the clean-up was progressing after trees were uprooted and homes flattened, but there were worries about food scarcity and health after the main local food market was destroyed and the city’s hospital severely damaged.
Bishop said Australia was sending a 20-strong emergency medical assistance team of doctors, nurses, paramedics and a pharmacist. They plan to set up a temporary ward in the car park of the damaged Port Vila hospital capable of treating up to 40 patients. Thousands are still staying in shelters overnight, with a 6pm-6am curfew in place to prevent looting.
The majority of locals rely on foods sold at the downtown market such as taro, island cabbage, bananas, kumara and yams for their staple diet.
Shops selling tinned food were open and stocked in the capital, but many locals do not have the money to buy them.
“We have water, but the situation is very bad because people don’t have local food,” shop owner Colette Calvo said. “All they can eat is food like bananas that they pick up off the ground and they can get sick.”
Australia, which has already sent five planes with personnel and humanitarian supplies, dispatched another three planes on Tuesday. It also began loading its emergency response ship HMAS Tobruk, which is capable of driving onto beaches, for possible deployment. A French navy ship was also being sent from nearby New Caledonia, while a U.S Marine Corps-based Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief team was also being made ready, Australian defense officials said.
Formerly known as the New Hebrides, Vanuatu, one of the world’s poorest nations, is a sprawling cluster of more than 80 islands and 260,000 people, 2,000 km (1,250 miles) northeast of the Australian city of Brisbane.
Perched on the geologically active “Ring of Fire,” it suffers from frequent earthquakes and tsunamis and has several active volcanoes, in addition to threats from storms and rising sea levels.
Tourism, which accounts for about 40 percent of Vanuatu’s economy, has been badly affected, with Port Vila closed to cruise liners indefinitely.
“We are keen to go back as soon as possible, given how important this industry is to the Vanuatu economy, but we won’t go back until the authorities give us the all clear,” said David Gray, a spokesman for the Australian arm of cruise company Carnival Corp.
Almost 200 people, most of whom were Australian tourists or workers, were evacuated on two Australian military flights. Australia had another plane on standby on Tuesday to evacuate the elderly, the sick, pregnant women and children.
Aid officials said the storm was comparable in strength to Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines in 2013 and killed more than 6,000 people.
Stephen Coates|Reuters|03/17/2015 (Additional reporting by Jane Wardell, Lincoln Feast and Colin Packham in Sydney, Gyles Beckford in Wellington; Editing by G Crosse and Will Waterman)
Al Gore at SXSW: We Need to ‘Punish Climate-Change Deniers’ and ‘Put a Price on Carbon’
The South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival is happening now in Austin, Texas. Running from March 9 to 22, it’s a massive film, interactive and music festival that is nearly 20 years old. The festival brings together designers, developers, investors, entrepreneurs and politicians for panels and discussions about technology and innovation.
For the third time in the last few years, Al Gore, founder and chairman of the Climate Reality Project, spoke at the festival on Friday. Naturally, his interactive discussion focused on addressing the climate crisis. The former vice president focused on the need to “punish climate-change deniers, saying politicians should pay a price for rejecting ‘accepted science,’” said the Chicago Tribune.
Gore said forward-thinking investors are moving away from companies that invest in fossil fuels and towards companies investing in renewable energy. “We need to put a price on carbon to accelerate these market trends,” Gore told the Chicago Tribune, referring to a proposed federal cap-and-trade system that would penalize companies that exceeded their carbon-emission limits. “And in order to do that, we need to put a price on denial in politics.”
He called on the tech-minded SXSW crowd, which is dominated by Millenials, to harness technology to launch a grassroots movement to tackle climate change and call out climate deniers. “We have this denial industry cranked up constantly,” Gore said. “In addition to 99 percent of the scientists and all the professional scientific organizations, now Mother Nature is weighing in.”
Years from now, Gore said the next generation will look back at us and ask: “How did you change?,” according to Macworld. “Part of the answer may well be that a group of people came to South by Southwest in Austin, Texas in 2015 and helped to make a revolution,” Gore said.
Gore wanted these young, tech-savvy attendees to start a grassroots movement using social media like they did when “net neutrality was threatened or when the Stop Online Piracy Act threatened to blacklist websites that offered so-called illegal content,” said Macworld. That means signing petitions to fight climate change, utilizing social media to call out climate deniers in Congress and streaming the Live Earth Road to Paris concert on June 18, an event designed to draw attention to the climate talks in Paris this December.
The former Veep even gave a nod to Pope Francis during his talk, showing a slide of the pontiff and saying “How about this Pope?” Pope Francis celebrated his two-year anniversary as Pope on Friday, riding a wave of popularity “that has reinvigorated the Catholic Church in ways not seen since the days of St. John Paul II,” said the Chicago Tribune. Gore said he was looking forward to the Pope’s highly anticipated encyclical on the environment which is due to be released in June or July. “I’m not a Catholic,” Gore said, “but I could be persuaded to become one.”
Cole Mellino|March 16, 2015
Arctic Sea Ice Hits Record Low Winter Maximum, Points To Evidence Of Long-Term Climate Change
OSLO, March 19 (Reuters) – Arctic sea ice this year is the smallest in winter since satellite records began in 1979, in a new sign of long-term climate change, U.S. data showed on Thursday.
The ice floating on the Arctic Ocean around the North Pole reached its maximum annual extent of just 14.54 million square kms (5.61 million sq miles) on Feb. 25 – slightly bigger than Canada – and is now expected to shrink with a spring thaw.
“This year’s maximum ice extent was the lowest in the satellite record, with below-average ice conditions everywhere except in the Labrador Sea and Davis Strait,” the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) said in a statement.
A late season surge in ice was still possible, it said. The ice was 1.1 million sq kms smaller than the 1981-2010 average, and below the previous lowest maximum in 2011.
With the return of the sun to the Arctic after months of winter darkness, the ice shrinks to a minimum in September.
The U.N. panel of climate scientists links the long-term shrinkage of the ice, by 3.8 percent a decade since 1979, to global warming and says Arctic summertime sea ice could vanish in the second half of the century.
“The majority of models point in the same direction – less ice,” said Sebastian Gerland, an expert at the Norwegian Polar Institute. And he said far less ice was surviving more than one winter – such ice is often thickest and most resilient.
The U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization says 2014 was the warmest year since records began in the 19th century. Almost 200 nations have agreed to work out a deal in December in Paris to slow global warming.
The Arctic thaw is disrupting indigenous hunting lifestyles in the Arctic while making the region more accessible. But low oil prices have discouraged exploration and tensions between the West and Russia have limited interest in Arctic shipping.
“This new data on sea ice loss sends a clear message to the global community that the Arctic is unraveling, warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet,” Rafe Pomerance, chair of Arctic 21, a group of environmental groups, said in a statement.
At the other end of the planet, the NSIDC said earlier this month that sea ice around Antarctica was the fourth-smallest for summer. Climate scientists say the apparently contradictory trend may be tied to changing winds and currents.
Reuters|03/19/2015|Reporting by Alister Doyle|Editing by Tom Heneghan and Susan Fenton
Genetically Modified Organisms
MONSANTO LOSES GMO PERMIT IN MEXICO – JUDGE SIDES WITH THE BEES
A number of countries around the world have now completely banned GM food and the pesticides that go with them, or have severe restrictions against them. This comes after the world has experienced a massive resistance against Monsanto and other biotech giants that manufacture GMOs and pesticides.
It’s [the resistance] also a result of numerous studies that have emerged showing the environmental and health dangers that are associated with pesticides, as well as health dangers that could be associated with GMOs.
The latest country to make headlines with regards to banning Monsanto products is Mexico, as a group of beekeepers was successful in stopping Monsanto from the planting of soybeans that are genetically modified to resist their Round-up herbicide.
MONSANTO LOSES MEXICAN PERMIT
Monsanto had received a permit to plant its seeds on over 250,000 hectares of land, which equates to approximately 620,000 acres. That’s a lot of land, and they managed to get the permit despite thousands of citizens, beekeepers, Greenpeace, Mayan farmers, The National Institute of Ecology and other major environmental groups protesting against it.
According to The Guardian:
“A district judge in the state of Yucatán last month overturned a permit issued to Monsanto by Mexico’s agriculture ministry, Sagarpa, and environmental protection agency, Semarnat, in June 2012 that allowed commercial planting of Round-up ready Soybeans. In withdrawing the permit, the judge was convinced by the scientific evidence presented about the threats posed by GM soy crops to honey production in the Yucatán peninsula, which includes Campeche, Quintana Roo and Yucatán states. Co-existence between honey production and GM soybeans is not possible, the judge ruled.” (source)
Mexico is the fourth largest honey producer and fifth largest honey exporter in the world.
GMO Science Deniers: Monsanto and the USDA
Perhaps no group of science deniers has been more ridiculed than those who deny the science of evolution. What you may not know is that Monsanto and our United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) are among them. That’s right: for decades, Monsanto and its enablers inside the USDA have denied the central tenets of evolutionary biology, namely natural selection and adaptation. And this denial of basic science by the company and our government threatens the future viability of American agriculture.
Third Grade Science
Let’s start with interrelated concepts of natural selection and adaptation. This is elementary school science. In fact, in Washington D.C. it is part of the basic third grade science curriculum.
As we all remember from biology class, when an environment changes, trait variation in a species could allow some in that species to adapt to that new environment and survive. Others will die out. The survivors are then able to reproduce and even thrive under the new environmental conditions. For example, if a drought were to occur, some plants might have traits that allow them to survive while other plants in the same species would perish. The drought-resistant plants then become the “evolved” species, and they are able to reproduce in the drought environment.
Obvious, you are thinking. But let’s explore how Monsanto’s top scientists and government regulators would have failed a third grade science class in D.C. and the dire consequences that it is bringing to us all.
Biotech’s Dirty Little Secret
First a little background. Since the early 1980s, Monsanto has endlessly hyped genetically engineered (GE) crops they claim could reduce hunger, reduce pesticide use, and survive droughts. In reality, no such “miracle” crops exist. No significantly greater yielding crops, no more effective drought resistance crops. And as for the claim of less pesticide use, behind this myth lies the “dirty little secret” of agricultural biotechnology. Namely, that GE crops actually add hundreds of millions of pounds of pesticides to our fields and crops, and create greater agrochemical residues on our food. Why? Because around 85 percent of all genetically engineered crops in the United States and around the world have been engineered to withstand massive doses of herbicides, mostly Monsanto’s Roundup. Usually, if toxic weed-killing chemicals such as Roundup come into contact with a crop they will destroy it as well as the weeds around it. But Monsanto scientists genetically engineered a cassette of bacterial and viral DNA into plants that allowed them to tolerate these herbicides. So the weeds are killed, but the crops remain.
In the United States, more than 50 percent of all our cropland is devoted to GE corn, soy and cotton. They are commodity crops that feed cars, animals in industrial meat production and are used for additives like high fructose corn syrup. Almost none directly feeds people. So rather than feeding the hungry, this technology is about chemical companies selling more chemicals, a lot more chemicals. So as noted, each year 115 million more pounds of Roundup are spread on our farmlands because of these altered crops.
Profits versus Science: Science loses
If half of our nation’s cropland is doused year after year with a particular herbicide, that is a significant change in the environment. The accompanying problem of adaptation and selection has probably already occurred to you. Wouldn’t that massive increase in Roundup use over that huge a portion of our cropland cause some weed populations to develop resistance? Wouldn’t weeds with natural resistance thrive in this new environment? Wouldn’t these new “superweeds” eventually become a major problem for U.S. farmers, overrunning their crops?
As government regulators were considering whether to approve these plants in the mid-1990s, they asked Monsanto just that question. No doubt considering the billions they were going to make selling more Roundup, this is a moment when Monsanto’s scientists seemed to find it convenient to their bottom line to deny basic evolutionary science. They stated, “Evolution of weed resistance to glyphosate (Roundup’s active ingredient) appears to be an unlikely event.” They also suggested that massive use of Roundup would lead to “no resistant weeds.” Independent scientists were aghast. They mocked Monsanto’s view that Roundup was somehow “invincible” from the laws of natural selection, and pointed out that the company’s scientists purposely ignored numerous studies that showed there would be weed resistance. But incredibly, despite the strong contrary evidence, the USDA regulators just nodded in science denying agreement with Monsanto.
Of course, adaptation and natural selection did take place. As a result, in less than 20 years, more than half of all U.S. farms have some Roundup resistant “superweeds,” weeds that now infest 70 million acres of U.S farmland, an area the size of Wyoming. Each year we see major expansion of this “superweed” acreage. Texas has gone so far as to declare a state of emergency for cotton farmers. Superweeds are already causing major economic problems for farmers with a current estimate of $1 billion lost in damages to crops so far.
Last year in a panel discussion with Robert Fraley, Chief Technology Officer for Monsanto and a founder of these herbicide tolerant crops, I confronted him. How could he and the other Monsanto scientists have claimed that natural selection would not take place? How could they ignore basic evolutionary science and clear contrary evidence? He just shook his head and said “You’re right, weeds have evolved resistance.” But apparently, Monsanto and their government regulators still haven’t learned this third grade science lesson. They’re denying science once again, and the stakes are even higher.
“Agent Orange Crops” and More Science Denial
Now Monsanto and Dow Chemical have received government approval to market new genetically engineered corn, soy and cotton, that are “stacked” with engineered DNA that make them resistant to Roundup as well as 2,4-D (one of the chief elements of “Agent Orange”). Monsanto has also gained approval from the USDA for the same three crops that can tolerate Dicamba. 2,4-D and Dicamba are older, more toxic herbicides than Roundup, and these companies are reverting to them because they have brought us to the point of peak herbicides. They simply don’t have any new ones, similar to the current crisis in antibiotics.
But won’t the weeds simply become resistant to these herbicides as well? Not according to the science deniers at Monsanto and Dow Chemical. Despite predictions that their new crops will add hundreds of millions more pounds of these herbicides each year, they say not to worry. They claim — as they did 20 years ago — that natural selection will not happen; that it is extremely unlikely for weeds to survive simultaneous attacks from two or more different herbicides with different methods.
Weed scientists have shredded this argument, noting that weeds in the past, through adaption, have done this and will almost certainly do it again. So in a few years we will be overrun with “superweeds” that are virtually indestructible by any known chemical. But by then Monsanto and Dow will have made billions selling their chemicals and can leave the “superweed” agronomic nightmare for others to solve. Nor will they have to deal with the other nightmares that could possibly occur: increased rates of cancer and diseases like Parkinson’s associated with exposure to these herbicides.
A Better Way
A science-based, and safer, way forward is to abandon this doomed-to-fail chemical arms race against weeds and use ecologically based weed control. There are proven organic and agroecological approaches that emphasize weed management rather than weed eradication, soil building rather than soil supplementing. Crop rotation and cover crops can return productive yields without ridding the land of genetic biodiversity, and could reduce herbicide use by 90 percent.
So it’s long past due that our government required real and rigorous science when regulating GE crops. It’s time for them to say “no” to these herbicide-promoting crops, and prevent the looming agronomic disaster they will inevitably bring with them.
In the meantime, the next time you read hear about “GMO science deniers” — think of 70 million acres of superweeds; think cancer, Parkinson’s and other diseases caused by this growing use of herbicides; think Monsanto and its enablers at the USDA.
Andrew Kimbrell|Founder and Executive Director|Center for Food Safety|03/20/2015
Big Oil’s business model is broken
Many reasons have been provided for the dramatic plunge in the price of oil to about $60 per barrel (nearly half of what it was a year ago): slowing demand due to global economic stagnation; overproduction at shale fields in the United States; the decision of the Saudis and other Middle Eastern OPEC producers to maintain output at current levels (presumably to punish higher-cost producers in the U.S. and elsewhere); and the increased value of the dollar relative to other currencies. There is, however, one reason that’s not being discussed, and yet it could be the most important of all: the complete collapse of Big Oil’s production-maximizing business model.
Until last fall, when the price decline gathered momentum, the oil giants were operating at full throttle, pumping out more petroleum every day. They did so, of course, in part to profit from the high prices. For most of the previous six years, Brent crude, the international benchmark for crude oil, had been selling at $100 or higher. But Big Oil was also operating according to a business model that assumed an ever-increasing demand for its products, however costly they might be to produce and refine. This meant that no fossil fuel reserves, no potential source of supply — no matter how remote or hard to reach, how far offshore or deeply buried, how encased in rock — was deemed untouchable in the mad scramble to increase output and profits.
In recent years, this output-maximizing strategy had, in turn, generated historic wealth for the giant oil companies. Exxon, the largest U.S.-based oil firm, earned an eye-popping $32.6 billion in 2013 alone, more than any other American company except for Apple. Chevron, the second biggest oil firm, posted earnings of $21.4 billion that same year. State-owned companies like Saudi Aramco and Russia’s Rosneft also reaped mammoth profits.
How things have changed in a matter of mere months. With demand stagnant and excess production the story of the moment, the very strategy that had generated record-breaking profits has suddenly become hopelessly dysfunctional.
To fully appreciate the nature of the energy industry’s predicament, it’s necessary to go back a decade, to 2005, when the production-maximizing strategy was first adopted. At that time, Big Oil faced a critical juncture. On the one hand, many existing oil fields were being depleted at a torrid pace, leading experts to predict an imminent “peak” in global oil production, followed by an irreversible decline. On the other, rapid economic growth in China, India, and other developing nations was pushing demand for fossil fuels into the stratosphere. In those same years, concern over climate change was also beginning to gather momentum, threatening the future of Big Oil and generating pressures to invest in alternative forms of energy.
A “Brave New World” of tough oil
No one better captured that moment than David O’Reilly, the chair and CEO of Chevron. “Our industry is at a strategic inflection point, a unique place in our history,” he told a gathering of oil executives that February. “The most visible element of this new equation,” he explained in what some observers dubbed his “Brave New World” address, “is that relative to demand, oil is no longer in plentiful supply.” Even though China was sucking up oil, coal, and natural gas supplies at a staggering rate, he had a message for that country and the world: “The era of easy access to energy is over.”
To prosper in such an environment, O’Reilly explained, the oil industry would have to adopt a new strategy. It would have to look beyond the easy-to-reach sources that had powered it in the past and make massive investments in the extraction of what the industry calls “unconventional oil” and what I labeled at the time “tough oil”: resources located far offshore, in the threatening environments of the far north, in politically dangerous places like Iraq, or in unyielding rock formations like shale. “Increasingly,” O’Reilly insisted, “future supplies will have to be found in ultradeep water and other remote areas, development projects that will ultimately require new technology and trillions of dollars of investment in new infrastructure.”
For top industry officials like O’Reilly, it seemed evident that Big Oil had no choice in the matter. It would have to invest those needed trillions in tough-oil projects or lose ground to other sources of energy, drying up its stream of profits. True, the cost of extracting unconventional oil would be much greater than from easier-to-reach conventional reserves (not to mention more environmentally hazardous), but that would be the world’s problem, not theirs. “Collectively, we are stepping up to this challenge,” O’Reilly declared. “The industry is making significant investments to build additional capacity for future production.”
On this basis, Chevron, Exxon, Royal Dutch Shell, and other major firms indeed invested enormous amounts of money and resources in a growing unconventional oil and gas race, an extraordinary saga I described in my book The Race for What’s Left. Some, including Chevron and Shell, started drilling in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico; others, including Exxon, commenced operations in the Arctic and eastern Siberia. Virtually every one of them began exploiting U.S. shale reserves via hydro-fracking.
Only one top executive questioned this drill-baby-drill approach: John Browne, then the chief executive of BP. Claiming that the science of climate change had become too convincing to deny, Browne argued that Big Energy would have to look “beyond petroleum” and put major resources into alternative sources of supply. “Climate change is an issue which raises fundamental questions about the relationship between companies and society as a whole, and between one generation and the next,” he had declared as early as 2002. For BP, he indicated, that meant developing wind power, solar power, and biofuels.
Browne, however, was eased out of BP in 2007 just as Big Oil’s output-maximizing business model was taking off, and his successor, Tony Hayward, quickly abandoned the “beyond petroleum” approach. “Some may question whether so much of the [world’s energy] growth needs to come from fossil fuels,” he said in 2009. “But here it is vital that we face up to the harsh reality [of energy availability].” Despite the growing emphasis on renewables, “we still foresee 80 percent of energy coming from fossil fuels in 2030.”
Under Hayward’s leadership, BP largely discontinued its research into alternative forms of energy and reaffirmed its commitment to the production of oil and gas, the tougher the better. Following in the footsteps of other giant firms, BP hustled into the Arctic, the deep water of the Gulf of Mexico, and Canadian tar sands, a particularly carbon-dirty and messy-to-produce form of energy. In its drive to become the leading producer in the Gulf, BP rushed the exploration of a deep offshore field it called Macondo, triggering the Deepwater Horizon blow-out of April 2010 and the devastating oil spill of monumental proportions that followed.
Over the cliff
By the end of the first decade of this century, Big Oil was united in its embrace of its new production-maximizing, drill-baby-drill approach. It made the necessary investments, perfected new technology for extracting tough oil, and did indeed triumph over the decline of existing, “easy oil” deposits. In those years, it managed to ramp up production in remarkable ways, bringing ever more hard-to-reach oil reservoirs online.
According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the U.S. Department of Energy, world oil production rose from 85.1 million barrels per day in 2005 to 92.9 million in 2014, despite the continuing decline of many legacy fields in North America and the Middle East. Claiming that industry investments in new drilling technologies had vanquished the specter of oil scarcity, BP’s latest CEO, Bob Dudley, assured the world only a year ago that Big Oil was going places and the only thing that had “peaked” was “the theory of peak oil.”
That, of course, was just before oil prices took their leap off the cliff, bringing instantly into question the wisdom of continuing to pump out record levels of petroleum. The production-maximizing strategy crafted by O’Reilly and his fellow CEOs rested on three fundamental assumptions that, year after year, demand would keep climbing; that such rising demand would ensure prices high enough to justify costly investments in unconventional oil; and that concern over climate change would in no significant way alter the equation. Today, none of these assumptions holds true.
Demand will continue to rise — that’s undeniable, given expected growth in world income and population — but not at the pace to which Big Oil has become accustomed. Consider this: In 2005, when many of the major investments in unconventional oil were getting under way, the EIA projected that global oil demand would reach 103.2 million barrels per day in 2015; now, it’s lowered that figure for this year to only 93.1 million barrels. Those 10 million “lost” barrels per day in expected consumption may not seem like a lot, given the total figure, but keep in mind that Big Oil’s multibillion-dollar investments in tough energy were predicated on all that added demand materializing, thereby generating the kind of high prices needed to offset the increasing costs of extraction. With so much anticipated demand vanishing, however, prices were bound to collapse.
Current indications suggest that consumption will continue to fall short of expectations in the years to come. In an assessment of future trends released last month, the EIA reported that, thanks to deteriorating global economic conditions, many countries will experience either a slower rate of growth or an actual reduction in consumption. While still inching up, Chinese consumption, for instance, is expected to grow by only 0.3 million barrels per day this year and next — a far cry from the 0.5 million barrel increase it posted in 2011 and 2012 and its 1 million barrel increase in 2010. In Europe and Japan, meanwhile, consumption is actually expected to fall over the next two years.
And this slowdown in demand is likely to persist well beyond 2016, suggests the International Energy Agency (IEA), an arm of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (the club of rich industrialized nations). While lower gasoline prices may spur increased consumption in the United States and a few other nations, it predicted, most countries will experience no such lift and so “the recent price decline is expected to have only a marginal impact on global demand growth for the remainder of the decade.”
This being the case, the IEA believes that oil prices will only average about $55 per barrel in 2015 and not reach $73 again until 2020. Such figures fall far below what would be needed to justify continued investment in and exploitation of tough-oil options like Canadian tar sands, Arctic oil, and many shale projects. Indeed, the financial press is now full of reports on stalled or cancelled mega-energy projects. Shell, for example, announced in January that it had abandoned plans for a $6.5 billion petrochemical plant in Qatar, citing “the current economic climate prevailing in the energy industry.” At the same time, Chevron shelved its plan to drill in the Arctic waters of the Beaufort Sea, while Norway’s Statoil turned its back on drilling in Greenland.
There is, as well, another factor that threatens the well-being of Big Oil: Climate change can no longer be discounted in any future energy business model. The pressures to deal with a phenomenon that could quite literally destroy human civilization are growing. Although Big Oil has spent massive amounts of money over the years in a campaign to raise doubts about the science of climate change, more and more people globally are starting to worry about its effects — extreme weather patterns, extreme storms, extreme drought, rising sea levels, and the like — and demanding that governments take action to reduce the magnitude of the threat.
Europe has already adopted plans to lower carbon emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020 and to achieve even greater reductions in the following decades. China, while still increasing its reliance on fossil fuels, has at least finally pledged to cap the growth of its carbon emissions by 2030 and to increase renewable energy sources to 20 percent of total energy use by then. In the United States, increasingly stringent automobile fuel-efficiency standards will require that cars sold in 2025 achieve an average of 54.5 miles per gallon, reducing U.S. oil demand by 2.2 million barrels per day. (Of course, the Republican-controlled Congress — heavily subsidized by Big Oil — will do everything it can to eradicate curbs on fossil fuel consumption.)
Still, however inadequate the response to the dangers of climate change thus far, the issue is on the energy map and its influence on policy globally can only increase. Whether Big Oil is ready to admit it or not, alternative energy is now on the planetary agenda and there’s no turning back from that. “It is a different world than it was the last time we saw an oil-price plunge,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven in February, referring to the 2008 economic meltdown. “Emerging economies, notably China, have entered less oil-intensive stages of development … On top of this, concerns about climate change are influencing energy policies [and so] renewables are increasingly pervasive.”
The oil industry is, of course, hoping that the current price plunge will soon reverse itself and that its now-crumbling maximizing-output model will make a comeback along with $100-per-barrel price levels. But these hopes for the return of “normality” are likely energy pipe dreams. As van der Hoeven suggests, the world has changed in significant ways, in the process obliterating the very foundations on which Big Oil’s production-maximizing strategy rested. The oil giants will either have to adapt to new circumstances, while scaling back their operations, or face takeover challenges from more nimble and aggressive firms.
Michael T. Klare|14 Mar 2015|Cross-posted from Tom Dispatch
Legendary Coal Miner Says We Must Stop the Insane Practice of Mountaintop Removal
With mountaintop removal mining on the ropes, as the last bank financiers ditch lending support amid new scientific research that demonstrates “solid evidence that dust collected from residential areas near mountaintop removal sites causes cancerous changes to human lung cells,” residents from across central Appalachia’s coal country are converging today on the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection headquarters in Charleston to demand an end to new permits.
A day of reckoning is arriving in Appalachia.
In the aftermath of last year’s world attention on the state’s handling of the coal chemical disaster on Elk River, and with the once invincible “dark lord” of mountaintop removal Don Blankenship facing criminal conspiracy charges, a renewed coalition of citizens groups called the People’s Foot movement is confronting state and federal agencies directly for their complicity in ignoring the growing and indisputable evidence on health damages from mountaintop removal mining.
“Our politicians and all government agencies need to stop running from the truth that we are forced to live and die with everyday,” said Maria Gunnoe, the Goldman Prize recipient and an organizer with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition in West Virginia. “The science shows that mountaintop removal kills people. Why is mountaintop removal still being permitted? Is it because we don’t matter or is it because someone’s financial status depends on us dying quietly one activist at a time?”
The writing is on the wall—and in two dozen peer-reviewed scientific studies: Newspapers will one day feature stories about “wrongful death settlements with the coal companies—such as last summer’s $26 billion verdict against the tobacco companies for lung cancer—and criminal charges of negligent homicide by policymakers and politicians who have openly allowed such a health crisis to take place,” as I’ve noted before.
No one knows this better than Stanley Sturgill, the legendary retired coal miner and mine inspector from Harlan County, Kentucky, who served 41 years in the mines.
“I’m traveling from Harlan County, Kentucky because I want to lend (100 percent) my hand in support of trying to stop the insane practice called mountaintop removal mining,” Sturgill said. “This practice of coal mining is not only killing the folks down stream of these mines, but also the very miners that blast our mountains away. ”
Now suffering with black lung disease, a preventable malady that still kills three coal miners daily, Sturgill has testified in hearings across the country, including the recent Climate March in New York City, occupied the Kentucky governor’s office, and been arrested on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC for simply requesting a meeting with his member of Congress to discuss the devastating impact of mountaintop removal operations on his community, his fellow miners and the environment.
Sturgill’s statement at today’s People’s Foot rally puts the state of West Virginia, and the nation, on notice:
Hello, my name is Stanley Sturgill and I am 69 years old. I’m a retired and very proud UMWA coal miner and federal coal mine inspector (MSHA) with 41 years of service to the coal industry.
I fully support all of our miners, I work for their health and safety every day, but in no way, do I support the mining method of MTR, whether it’s scab or UMWA doing the mining. That’s why I plan to attend the “People’s Foot” rally in Charleston, WVA. I’m traveling from Harlan County, Kentucky because I want to lend (100 percent) my hand in support of trying to stop the insane practice called mountaintop removal mining. This practice of coal mining is not only killing the folks down stream of these mines, but also the very miners that blast our mountains away.
I know coal bought politicians and King Coal don’t believe in science and scientific studies that prove mountaintop removal is killing people and they also refuse to stop this type of coal mining. So today I would like to let them know of one thing, there is no statutes of limitations on killing people, even the folks here in Appalachia.
Jeff Biggers|March 16, 2015
Researchers Discover New Material to Produce Clean Energy
Researchers at the University of Houston have created a new thermoelectric material, intended to generate electric power from waste heat — from a vehicle tailpipe, for example, or an industrial smokestack — with greater efficiency and higher output power than currently available materials.
The material, germanium-doped magnesium stannide, is described in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Zhifeng Ren, lead author of the article and M.D. Anderson Chair professor of physics at UH, said the new material has a peak power factor of 55, with a figure of merit — a key factor to determine efficiency — of 1.4.
The new material — the chemical compound is Mg2Sn0.75Ge0.25 — is important in its own right, Ren said, and he has formed a company, called APower, to commercialize the material, along with frequent collaborator Gang Chen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and two former students.
But he said another key point made in the paper is the importance of looking for materials with a high power factor, or output power density, in addition to the traditional focus on a high figure of merit, or efficiency, commonly referred to as ZT.
“Everyone pursued higher ZT,” he said. “That’s still true. But the way everybody pursued higher ZT is by reducing thermal conductivity. We were, too. But the reduction of thermal conductivity is limited. We need to increase the power factor. If thermal conductivity remains the same and you increase the power factor, you get higher ZT.”
Chart showing temperature-dependent thermal properties and ZT values.
Thermoelectric materials produce electricity by exploiting the flow of current from a warmer area to a cooler area. In the germanium-doped magnesium stannide, the current is carried by electrons.
“Pursuing high ZT has been the focus of the entire thermoelectric community …” the researchers wrote. “However, for practical applications, efficiency is not the only concern, and high output power density is as important as efficiency when the capacity of the heat source is huge (such as solar heat), or the cost of the heat source is not a big factor (such as waste heat from automobiles, steel industry, etc.)”
Germanium-doped magnesium stannide has a fairly standard figure of merit, at 1.4, but a high power factor, at 55, the researchers report. That, coupled with a raw material cost of about $190 per kilogram, according to the U.S. Geological Survey Data Series, makes it commercially viable, they said.
Ren, who also is a principal investigator at the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH, said several competing materials have lower power factors and also more expensive raw materials.
The material was created through mechanical ball milling and direct current-induced hot pressing. It can be used with waste-heat applications and concentrated solar energy conversion at temperatures up to 300 degrees Centigrade, or about 572 degrees Fahrenheit, Ren said. He said typical applications would include use in a car exhaust system to convert heat into electricity to power the car’s electric system, boosting mileage, or in a cement plant, capturing waste heat from a smokestack to power the plant’s systems.
Jeannie Kever|University of Houston|March 06, 2015
China Targets Big Oil In Wars On Corruption, Pollution
BEIJING — What do China’s “war on pollution” and campaign against corruption have in common? They’ve both placed China’s coal and oil empires in their crosshairs, and they’re firing away.
Over the past two years anti-corruption squads have investigated dozens of high-ranking officials in coal and oil bureaucracies, with the latest detention announced Monday night: The vice chairman of China National Petroleum Corp., Liao Yongyuan, was placed under investigation for “serious violations of discipline,” Communist Party-speak for corruption. In China, the announcement of corruption investigations virtually guarantees an eventual conviction.
When he assumed power at the end of 2012, Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to purge the Chinese Communist Party of rampant corruption, and he’s since executed an anti-corruption campaign that has decimated patronage networks ranging from the coal industry to the People’s Liberation Army. As that anti-corruption campaign continued to gather steam in 2014, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang responded to the putrid haze blanketing Beijing by publicly “declaring war” on air pollution.
Though the parallel campaigns haven’t been explicitly linked by Chinese leadership, the drives to clean up China’s skies and the Communist Party leadership have both hit hardest in the country’s vast coal and oil empires. Over the past two years coal-rich provinces and CNPC, the fourth-largest company in the world by revenue, have respectively racked up some of the highest tallies of corruption detentions. At the same time, the central government has imposed strikingly ambitious targets for slashing coal consumption.
China incinerates nearly as much coal as the rest of the world combined, and fumes from low-quality gasoline contribute to air pollution that chokes the skies of northern China. Last year the mayor of Beijing described his own city as “unlivable” because of the pollution.
China’s two major state-owned oil companies — Sinopec and CNPC (also known as PetroChina) — came in for a scathing treatment in a viral pollution documentary released earlier this month. The film, “Under the Dome” — which was largely blocked from the Internet by government censors after one week — accuses the firms of stymying pollution controls and milking their duopoly position for corrupt profits.
The film was produced by former Chinese state television journalist Chai Jing, and China’s new minister of Environmental Protection compared it to Silent Spring, the book credited with helping launch environmentalism in the U.S. in the 1960s. In the film, an anonymous official with China’s main economic planning agency claims that the oil firms even threatened to cut off gasoline supplies if their demands weren’t met.
“You can’t control them,” the official from China’s National Development and Reform Commission said. “Say you have an only child and this child is picking up some bad behaviors. As his mother, what can you do? All you can do is give him one good beating, but you can’t beat him every day.”
This year corruption inspectors have vowed to deliver such beatings to corrupt officials at state-owned enterprises (SOEs), the bureaucratic and often monopolistic businesses that dominate key sectors like telecommunications, media and energy. SOEs intermingle government responsibilities and business functions, but they’ve also shown the ability to resist or twist directives from the central government. Monday’s investigation announcements included Liao from CNPC and Chairman Xu Jianyi from FAW, one of China’s largest state-owned automakers.
“Each [SOE] tends to be a mini empire,” professor Dali Yang, who researches Chinese politics at the University of Chicago, told The WorldPost. “They have become very powerful vested interests in the Chinese system, so anti-corruption is not only useful in fighting against corruption but … makes it possible for Xi’s agenda, for the agenda of the Communist Party, to be carried out, to be obeyed.”
Academics have long debated the true motivation for Xi’s corruption crackdown. Is it a move to clean up the party from within? A front for knocking off political rivals? A strategy to clear the way for ambitious reforms?
“All of the above and then some,” said Yang.
Just two years into office, Xi has already earned a reputation as the most powerful Chinese leader in decades. He has waged an extensive campaign to limit domestic dissent, and has put anti-corruption, major economic reforms and pollution alleviation at the center of his public agenda.
2014 proved to be a landmark year for curbing both corruption and pollution. As coal-intensive industries slumped and strict pollution controls started to bite, China saw its first fall in both coal use and carbon emissions in over 15 years. China’s air was made marginally more breathable, but coal-dependent northern provinces fell into deep economic ruts. Coal powerhouse Shanxi province barely achieved half of its 9 percent growth target.
At the same time, anti-corruption investigators had a heyday raking through Shanxi’s political circles: Last year the province reportedly ranked first in its percentage of high officials to be probed for corruption, with nearly one-third of the the province’s party committee coming under investigation. Last week, the governor of Shanxi said coal empires are deeply entwined with the province’s corruption cases.
But no bureaucracy has proved as ripe for investigators as CNPC. According to Chinese media reports, more than 45 CNPC employees and officials have come under investigation. Online news portal Sina Finance reports that CNPC has even instituted a policy to deal with a wave of secret detentions: High-ranking employees all have designated back-ups who will take over duties if they have gone missing for a set period of time.
Much of that activity has reportedly swirled around the patronage networks of Zhou Yongkang, the ex-security czar who last year became the highest-ranking official to come under investigation since the establishment of the People’s Republic in 1949. Zhou spent decades rising through the ranks of China’s oil bureaucracy, serving as the Chinese Communist Party secretary of CNPC before climbing into the Politburo Standing Committee, the most powerful body in China.
Anti-corruption investigators have spent over two years detaining and questioning many of Zhou’s associates, and on Monday, Liao became the latest in a long line of CNPC officials to fall. Liao had reportedly been nicknamed CNPC’s “Northwest Tiger” for his performance exploiting oil fields in China’s far western deserts.
His dismissal came just weeks after the spread of the pollution documentary “Under the Dome,” in which the filmmaker argues that CNPC and Sinopec essentially set their own fuel standards, and that their duopoly breeds corruption and stifles innovation in cleaner-burning natural gas.
At a press conference on Sunday marking the end of China’s annual National People’s Congress, The WorldPost asked Premier Li Keqiang if he agreed with the now-banned film’s depiction of Sinopec and CNPC as obstructing environmental reforms. Li didn’t mention the film or state oil companies in his reply, but called for continued vigilance in combating pollution.
“No one should use his power to meddle with law enforcement in this regard,” Li said.
Thirty-two hours later, the Chinese Communist Party’s anti-corruption commission issued a short notice on its website announcing that CNPC’s vice chairman had been placed under investigation.
Fracking opponents push statewide ban
Activists gathered Tuesday at the Capitol to push for a bill that would ban fracking in Florida and speak out against legislation they say would lay the groundwork for the controversial form of natural-gas extraction to occur.
Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando and sponsor of the bill (SB 166) that would ban the practice, said fracking would cause environmental damage and harm the tourism industry. Soto spoke during a news conference hosted by ReThink Energy Florida and the Sierra Club Florida.
“When you look at the fact that we get our water from underneath the ground, the fact that tourism is a major, major employer — the biggest industry we have here — we can’t afford not only to have a spill or an issue here but even the perception that Florida is slacking in preserving our environment,” Soto said.
The bill hasn’t been heard in committee yet, but Soto said Senate President Andy Gardiner committed to giving the bill “an up-or-down look.” Soto also said he could attach amendments to relevant bills for moratoriums, increased fines and public-notice requirements.
“If we continue to stand up and we continue to protest, it puts a chilling effect on people wanting to come here,” he said. “So we’re not going to give up no matter what happens.”
Hydraulic fracturing is a process in which water, sand and chemicals are injected under high pressure into rock formations to extract natural gas. Acid fracturing, used in places with porous limestone, employs acidic chemicals at lower pressure to release natural gas.
On Tuesday, members of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee approved a measure (HB 1205) that critics say would set up a regulatory framework for fracking in Florida. Activists spoke out against the bill, which is supported by the oil and gas industry.
Proponents say hydraulic fracturing is boosting domestic oil supplies and reducing the county’s dependence on foreign oil. But opponents say it causes great harm to the environment and people’s health.
Dr. Ray Bellamy of Tallahassee, a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility, said fracking poses a grave risk to Florida’s groundwater supply at a time when the state is already facing a water crisis. He said millions of gallons of water can be used for just one fracking episode and that the back flow, roughly half of the water used, comes back contaminated with heavy metals, radioactive substances and carcinogens.
“There are complaints in the thousands from people who feel their water’s been contaminated, their kids have been made sick and their farm animals have died,” he said.
David Cullen, lobbyist for the Sierra Club, said regulation isn’t the answer.
“We don’t think there is a regulatory regime that will protect Florida’s aquifers from contamination due to fracking,” he said. “And with the alternatives that are available now in terms of renewable energy and energy efficiency, we don’t need to put Florida’s residents and visitors at risk from water contamination.”
Brian Lee, director of research and policy for ReThink Energy Florida, said he is aware of only one instance of fracking in Florida, which occurred in late 2013 in rural Collier County, not far from the Everglades. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection fined the Dan A. Hughes Co. $25,000 for violating its permit and ordered it to conduct groundwater testing after it used a procedure that critics called fracking.
Lee, a Leon Soil and Water Conservation District supervisor, said regulations proposed in the House and Senate are inadequate because they wouldn’t have prevented the fracking episode. And while proposed fines for violations would go up under the House bill, Lee said they wouldn’t be cost-prohibitive for energy companies.
“That’s why we need a ban,” he said.
Jeff Burlew|Tallahassee Democrat|March 17, 2015
San Leandro City Council Says No to Dangerous Oil Train Project
San Leandro, Calif., became the latest city to oppose a proposed Phillips 66 oil train offloading facility in San Luis Obispo County when its city council unanimously passed a resolution Monday urging county supervisors to deny the project’s permit. The San Leandro Teachers’ Association and San Leandro Unified School District are also opposed.
If approved the facility would bring mile-long oil trains, carrying 2.5 million gallons of crude, through densely populated areas nearly every day. Oil train traffic in the United States has increased more than 4,000 percent since 2008 — bringing with it a steep rise in derailments, spills and explosions, with more oil spilled in rail accidents in 2013 than in the previous four decades combined.
“I look out my classroom door every day at the trains going by on the Capitol Corridor,” said schoolteacher Claudia McDonagh. “With the recent exploding derailments in West Virginia and Illinois it becomes easy to imagine one of those mile-long oil bomb trains coming off the tracks and into my classroom.”
Read more in our press release.
Center for Biological Diversity
Federal Gov.’s Proposed 5-Year Offshore Drilling Plan
By now most of you have heard about the Obama administration’s proposed 5-year plan for offshore oil and gas development, setting some areas in the Arctic Ocean off limits, but opening up a large chunk of the Atlantic Ocean for drilling along the East Coast off Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia. Here’s the map:
Map showing areas in Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean (orange) proposed for oil and gas development in draft 5-year plan. Atlantic drilling areas begin 50 miles offshore. Source: BOEM.
And here is another interesting map, showing the cumulative oil slick “footprint” of BP’s 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico, superimposed on the Atlantic coast, assuming an out-of-control well located more than 50 miles offshore:
Cumulative 2010 BP oil slick “footprint” overlain on Atlantic coast. Source: Center for American Progress.
And here’s yet another map, showing the tracks of hurricanes along the Eastern seaboard from 2000 to 2013:
Tracks of hurricanes in the western Atlantic Ocean from 2000 to 2013. Source: NOAA.
In case you’ve missed our many posts on this topic, there is a continuous leak of oil in the Gulf of Mexico from the site of an oil platform that was knocked down by Hurricane Ivan more than 10 years ago. We’ve observed the slick at this location dozens of times since we “discovered” it in 2010, it’s been documented on over-flights by the Gulf Monitoring Consortium and others, and it’s been sampled by scientists from Florida State University. Our most recent observation of the leak at that site last month showed a slick about 13 miles long. At times the slick has been more than 20 miles long (big enough to span the Beltway, for you DC-area readers). Cumulatively, we now estimate this leak has spilled anywhere from 300,000 gallons to nearly 1.4 million gallons of oil.
Not a very comforting prospect for those who live along the coast where new offshore drilling is being contemplated. By the way, you are encouraged to let the feds know what you think about this plan.
Go here to submit your comments. The public comment period closes on March 30.
Skytruth|February 25, 2015
Ignoring Voter Intent
As of today, both the Florida Senate and the House have released their draft budgets for Amendment 1 spending. Unfortunately, neither of them come close to what voters intended, which is renewed funding for the acquisition of parks and undisturbed natural areas. Instead, both proposed budgets provide millions to cover existing agency operating expenses and other spending that doesn’t meet the intent of the voters. This is starting to feel like the Lottery Amendment all over again.
The Tampa Tribune summed it up well:
“… for lawmakers and industry representatives to now proclaim that the state — where growth is back in the passing lane again — doesn’t need to preserve more land reflects a stunning disregard for Florida’s needs, Amendment 1’s language and the voters’ will.”
So, what can you do? Call the Speaker of the House, Rep. Steve Crisafulli, and Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government, Sen. Alan Hays. Before the draft budgets progress to the next committee stop, they need to hear from you!
It only takes a few minutes to make the call. Every call is a reminder to our legislators that they are accountable to the voters.
We know how invested you are in seeing more money go toward protecting our environment and conserving the natural treasures we hold dear. That is the purpose of Amendment 1 and that’s why we need you to get on the phone and call these lawmakers to give them a piece of your mind.
They need to hear from us to know that we won’t take this blatant disregard for the voters’ will without a fight.
South Florida Water Management District’s US Sugar Purchase and Options
The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) closed on the purchase of land from the United States Sugar Corporation, providing 26,800 acres of strategically located property south of Lake Okeechobee for Everglades restoration, on Oct. 12, 2010. The $194 million acquisition placed 42 square miles of agricultural land into public ownership for the construction of water quality improvement projects that will bring meaningful environmental benefits to the famed River of Grass.
Highlights of the acquisition include:
- Acquisition of 17,900 citrus acres in Hendry County to improve water quality in the C-139 Basin, where phosphorus loads have been historically high. This parcel, just west of thousands of acres of existing constructed wetlands, can be used for additional water storage and treatment facilities that would improve the quality of water flowing into the Everglades.
- Purchase of 8,900 acres of sugarcane land in Palm Beach County to benefit the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge by expanding existing Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs) and increasing water quality treatment for the S-5A Basin, just southeast of Lake Okeechobee.
The agreement contains options to purchase another 153,000 acres for up to 10 years should future economic conditions allow. The options to acquire additional lands, which provide further opportunities to benefit the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, include:
- An exclusive 3-year option to purchase either a specifically identified 46,800 acres or the entire 153,000 acres at a fixed price of $7,400 per acre expired on Oct. 12, 2013.
- A subsequent 2-year, non-exclusive option to purchase the approximately 46,800 acres at Fair Market Value expires on Oct. 12, 2015. U.S. Sugar can sell all or a part of the option property, but subject to a Right of First Refusal by the District.
- A subsequent 7-year, non-exclusive option to purchase the remaining acres at Fair Market Value. U.S. Sugar could sell all or a part of the option property, but subject to a Right of First Refusal by the District.
Documents relating to the U.S. Sugar acquisition are posted online at www.sfwmd.gov/riverofgrass
Florida State Legislation Urged to “Trust the Voters”
As the 2015 Florida Legislative Session kicks off, lawmakers have the important task of implementing Amendment 1, Florida’s Water and Land Conservation Amendment.
Audubon Florida helped lead the petition effort and campaign to make sure the amendment was approved last November. Now, Audubon Florida is leading the effort at the Capitol in Tallahassee to make sure Legislators trust the voters’ decision. The ballot was crystal-clear: “Water and Land Conservation – Dedicates funds to acquire and restore Florida conservation and recreation lands.”
Audubon’s message to Legislators is simple:
Trust voters by funding existing conservation programs, such as land acquisition, management, and Everglades restoration. Do not trust lobbyists who are arriving at the Capitol with shopping lists of projects that do not fit into the purposes of Amendment 1.
This Legislative Session will be a fight for what Amendment 1 stands for. The Audubon community stepped up to get the Amendment on the ballot. They stepped up to help get out the vote. And now they need to step up again to make sure Florida’s Legislators trust the voters.
Manage state land better AND buy more. It’s not either/or
Rep. Steve Crisafulli suggests the state needs to take better care of its land before buying any more with Amendment 1 money.
Amendment 1, approved by 75 percent of voters statewide in November, is expected to provide $757 million for water and land conservation programs in the coming year.
Crisafulli, a Republican from Merritt Island, told House members during the opening day of the Legislative Session on March 3 that “stewardship is much more than ownership.”
“Buying up land we cannot care for, that falls into disrepair or becomes a breeding ground for harmful invasive species, is not a legacy that I am interested in leaving,” Crisafulli said.
But some environmentalists say that there doesn’t need to be a choice between buying and taking care of what the state already owns. A University of Florida professor who served on a state panel overseeing state lands said land management is being used as a political scapegoat.
Crisafulli told reporters that the message coming from the state agencies is that better land management is needed before buying more.
Nick Wiley, executive director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, says he doesn’t quite put it in those black-and-white terms, though he also doesn’t disagree.
“Taking care of the lands we have should be our first priority,” Wiley said.
“I don’t think we’ve put it quite that, ‘Don’t get any more lands until we can do land management,’” he continued. “But If I had to make a choice, I would make that choice.”
And he also explained that spending by his agency on land management was down about 40 percent from five years ago. It’s not because the Legislature cut spending, he said, but revenue from documentary stamp taxes was down during the economic decline.
An annual state land management report shows that spending increased last year for visitor services and capital improvements, such as bathrooms and parking lots, while spending for resource management decreased by 14.4 percent.
Florida had the largest land-buying program in the nation from 1990 until 2009, when its budget was slashed. With voter approval of Amendment 1 in November, environmental groups are pushing for more land-buying – in addition to improved land management.
“We view Amendment 1 as an opportunity to address unmet (land management) needs,” said Janet Bowman, The Nature Conservancy’s director of legislative policy and strategies. “But that’s not to say they (state agencies) are doing a bad job.”
Peter Frederick, who recently left the state Acquisition and Restoration Council after six years, said land management has become a political scapegoat. He is a research professor in the University of Florida’s Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation.
The state agencies that manage parks, forests and other state lands need relief from budget cuts in recent years, Frederick said.
Vehicles need to be repaired or replaced, he said. Many of the state jobs in land management are vacant. And he said those that are filled usually are low-paying, leading people out of state government into better paying federal jobs.
“We need some money in the system,” Frederick said. “It has traditionally been squeezed by the legislature with, ‘We can do more with less.’ I think we are well beyond the breaking point.”
Bruce Ritchie|editor,Floridaenvironments.com.|Mar 15, 2015|Column courtesy of Context Florida.
State Purchases Conservation Lands in Washington County
TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection closed on the acquisition of 348 acres of conservation lands in Washington County within Florida’s First Magnitude Springs Florida Forever project.
The project, which cost $781,545, was ranked No. 1 in the Florida Forever Partnerships and Regional Incentives project category, and contains a third magnitude spring known as Brunson Landing Spring. It also includes two small unnamed seeps, which flow into Holmes Creek.
Holmes Creek is primarily a spring-fed creek containing a total of 51 springs within a 25-mile radius. The acquisition will ensure greater spring protection, while maintaining the current public access for fishing, hunting, canoeing, kayaking, boating and hiking. The Choctawhatchee River Water Management Area and Glover Conservation Easement are adjacent publicly-owned properties.
“Acquiring this land will help to protect the natural resources and water quality of Holmes Creek and the more than 50 springs that feed it,” said DEP Secretary Jon Steverson.
“The District is proud to be a partner with the department and FWC toward the shared goal of protecting this important resource for Florida and its visitors,” said Brett Cyphers, the executive director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District.
The Northwest Florida Water Management District will manage the property as part of the Choctawhatchee River Water Management Area in cooperation with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Three Recreational Trail Projects to Begin
TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Recreational Trails Program announces the execution of three contracts for the development and renovation of trails in south Florida. After being awarded competitive-grant funds during the 2014 submission cycle, these three projects can now begin construction.
The Recreational Trails Program provides competitive-grant funds to local communities to renovate, develop or maintain recreational trails and trail-side facilities.
“As the demand for affordable recreation and trail development continues to grow, we are pleased the Recreational Trails Program can help communities in south Florida build upon previous investments and expand their recreational trail systems,” said Rick Mercer, director of DEP’s Office of Operations.
The three south Florida contracts are as follows:
- The city of Deerfield Beach – Funding will be used to renovate 7,000 linear feet of trail and to extend the existing trail system at Johnnie McKeithen Park. Once complete, this system will enhance connectivity between the northern and southern annexes of the park and adjacent neighborhoods. Additional fitness stations are also being added along the trail.
- The city of Fort Lauderdale – Funding will be used to construct the Snyder Park Bike Trail, which is being designed for intermediate-level cyclists to hone their skills before advancing to the more challenging existing trails at other parks. Project elements include construction of 1,800 linear feet of 6-foot wide, compacted rock bicycle trail, with signage and related support facilities.
- The village of Royal Palm Beach – Funding will be used for the construction of 5,000 linear feet of 8-foot-wide concrete multi-use trail and the installation of benches and related support facilities. Once the “Commons Park Trail” is complete, residents of the surrounding neighborhoods will be able to access the project site by its connection to Bobbie Jo Lauter Park and the existing recreational trails system.
The Recreational Trails Program is a federally funded assistance program of the United States Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration. A portion of the grant awards must be matched by the grantee. In Florida, the competitive-grant program is administered by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Land and Recreation Grants section within the Office of Operations.
U.S. and Indiana Settle Clean Air Act Case with Muncie Smelter to Reduce Lead Emissions
Chicago (March 16, 2015) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today that Exide Technologies has agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by the United States and the State of Indiana alleging Clean Air Act violations at the company’s lead smelter in Muncie, Indiana. Exide Technologies has agreed to spend over $3.9 million to install state-of-the-art pollution control equipment to reduce harmful air pollution from the facility. The settlement will resolve claims that the facility’s failure to comply with national emission standards resulted in the release of excess lead in an area that does not meet the federal health-based air quality standard for lead.
“This settlement will protect Muncie residents from excess lead emissions from the Exide Technologies smelter and prevent future violations of the Clean Air Act,” said EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman. “Exposure to lead can impair children’s health and their ability to learn.”
“Addressing the complicated environmental and legal issues here required a carefully structured settlement agreement with this employer so that the public and nearby residents can be protected into the future. My office and our client the Indiana Department of Environmental Management worked closely with our colleagues at EPA in successfully bringing this case to a conclusion,” said Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, whose office represented IDEM in court as the state government’s lawyer.
EPA expects that the actions required by the settlement will reduce harmful emissions of lead, particulate matter (soot), total hydrocarbons and dioxin/furans. The settlement also requires the company to pay a civil penalty of $820,000.
Lead and soot, the predominant pollutants emitted from secondary lead smelters, have numerous adverse effects on human health. Lead can affect almost every organ in the body, but is most detrimental to the nervous system. For children, lead exposure can result in permanent damage to the brain and nervous system, leading to behavior and learning problems, lower IQ, hearing problems, slowed growth and anemia. In adults, lead affects the nervous and cardiovascular systems, and causes decreased kidney function. Soot contributes to irritation of the airways, coughing and difficulty breathing, decreased lung function, aggravated asthma, chronic bronchitis, irregular heartbeat, nonfatal heart attacks, and premature death in people with heart or lung disease.
The settlement was lodged with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana and is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. The consent decree will be available for review at www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.
Reducing Mercury Use for Your Family and Our Global Community
At EPA, we work every day to reduce the use of mercury in products and processes, making them safer for you and your family. Lowering levels of mercury in our environment is important because at high levels, mercury can harm the brains, hearts, kidneys, lungs and immune systems of people of all ages. In the bloodstream of unborn babies and young children, high levels of methylmercury may harm the developing nervous system, making the child less able to think and learn.
We’ve been making great strides in the United States – over the last 30 years, our domestic use of mercury in products has declined more than 97 percent. The use of mercury in industrial processes has also fallen drastically. Unfortunately, large amounts of mercury are still used in products and manufacturing processes worldwide, even though there are effective alternatives available. This is important to us both personally and professionally, since we want to make sure that children at home and around the world are not exposed.
Since mercury pollution has no boundaries, the United States joined the Minamata Convention on Mercury, a global environmental agreement designed to curb the production, use, and emissions of mercury around the world. In addition to provisions to reduce and eliminate mercury use in a wide range of products and processes, the Convention calls for control of mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants and boilers, waste incineration, cement production, and non-ferrous metals production.
Worldwide, one of the largest man-made sources of mercury pollution is artisanal and small scale gold mining. Although many of these miners use mercury, it is possible to safely and economically recover gold without it. Many are achieving high rates of gold recovery without mercury, benefitting their health, the health of their communities, and the environment.
To help miners reduce their mercury use, last week we launched a new website describing techniques for gold mining not requiring mercury. With the Argonne National Laboratory, we have also developed and field tested a mercury vapor capture system for gold processing shops, which can be used to reduce a significant source of mercury emissions. EPA also leads the UNEP Global Mercury Partnership Products Area, which aims to reduce and eventually eliminate the use of mercury in products. The partnership has completed numerous global projects to improve and monitor data baselines, and to demonstrate mercury-free alternatives. For example, we have worked with Health Care without Harm and the World Health Organization to reduce the use of mercury-added instruments in health care facilities worldwide.
We also want to address the remaining uses of mercury in the United States. To get started, EPA recently released the EPA Strategy to Address Mercury‐Containing Products. We will gather and analyze data about how mercury is used in products and certain processes in the United States, plan and prioritize additional mercury reduction activities, and take action to further reduce mercury use.
Mercury can cause serious health challenges in the United States and around the world. Our efforts are leading to safer products and a cleaner environment for you, and for all the members of our global community.
Marianne Bailey and Karissa Kovner|2015 March 17
2014 was a record year for transit, but that’s not as rad as it sounds
We Americans have beaten our own record for riding public transportation! Gold stars all around!
Last year was a record year for mass transit ridership in the U.S., according to numbers released earlier this week by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). We took 10.8 billion trips in 2014, up from 10.65 billion rides in 2013.
Pretty sweet right? Well, not really.
That “record year” title is rather misleading, as Grist’s Ben Adler reported last year, after APTA made a similar claim. Why? Because the group is comparing 2014’s trips to ridership levels in 1956 … when there were roughly half as many people in the U.S. So public transit usage has really just gone from crap to mildly-better.
But no. I’m not done raining on your public transportation parade! CityLab dropped yet another reality check earlier this week:
APTA figures show 101.1 million new transit trips across the country from 2013 to 2014. We tally 98.2 million new trips from metropolitan New York alone—or 97 percent of the total.
That’s right, all but 2 percent of our “progress” comes from just one metro area. And this has been true for a while. Last year, APTA reported that trips on public transit had increased by 115 million from 2012, but the Washington Post pointed out that New York City alone had 123 million trips: “In other words, transit use outside New York declined in absolute terms [in 2013]. This fact shows how crucial public transportation is to our largest city and how small a role it plays in most other Americans’ lives.”
Still, we are actually getting better at this alt-transit thing. More from CityLab about the numbers from 2014:
APTA says 18 local agencies set ridership records. Minneapolis light rail use jumped 57 percent on the strength of its new Green Line. Subway use increased in 8 of 15 cities (led by San Francisco’s 6 percent rise). Commuter rail increased 3 percent across the board, with huge bumps in Salt Lake City (16 percent) and Seattle (10 percent).
Here in Seattle, nearly 70 percent of commuters are opting to get to work by means other than a car. Granted, it’s because traffic here is horrendous, but still, it’s something. And we’re doing this despite cheap gas prices, so maybe we do deserve a few gold stars!
Still, it seems to me that outside the Big Apple, we have a long way to go in terms of actually using our cities’ modes of public transport. So do your sanity a favor and commit to using public transit more frequently. Besides, wouldn’t you rather be listening to Radiolab podcasts rather than another driver in the midst of a road-rage rant? Methinks yes.
Ana Sofia Knauf|13 Mar 2015
Solar Roadways: A Real Possibility, or Just a Pipe Dream?
Few people question the value of renewable energy sources, as our world continues on a rampage of consumption and environmental damage. The problem with renewable energy is its viability. Methods such as wind turbines create unique hazards to wildlife, and dams require a large amount of money to create with only a handful of suitable places for them to be built.
Solar energy offers a low-cost solution that can be applied anywhere the sun reaches, but it requires a large amount of area to become viable. This is where the proposal for solar roadways enters in. Solar roadways may be the way to overcome the land area requirement that solar energy needs, but are they truly a viable solution?
The Idea behind Solar Roadways
Solar roadways are much like normal roadways, save for the fact that they have solar panels built into the roads. This gives them a few unique advantages when compared to standard roads.
For example, they are able to translate a large amount of photons into usable electrical energy. They can be constructed from materials that aren’t prone to cracking or creating potholes like current road materials are, and they can have lighted lane markers to help drivers at night.
These types of roads could revolutionize renewable energy, but they still have a few distinct challenges to overcome.
Dixie Somers|March 19, 2015
8 Ways We Are Killing the Planet and Don’t Even Realize It
You know an invention has its drawbacks when even the guy who invented it says he’s sorry he did so.
That would be John Sylvan, inventor of the easy-to-use Keurig coffee maker—an invention deemed “the most wasteful form of coffee” on the planet.
Sylan says he regrets the creation largely due to its severe ecological impact. The Keurig uses disposable plastic coffee pods, called “K-Cups,” which are not easily recyclable or biodegradable.
“I don’t have one,” Sylvan said of the Keurig. “They’re kind of expensive to use. Plus it’s not like drip coffee is tough to make.”
Convenience-obsessed America is the world’s largest coffee consumer. Nearly 85 percent of adults in America drink coffee. According to the National Coffee Association, nearly 1 in 5 adults drink single-cup-brewed coffee in a single day.
Last year, Keurig Green Mountain sold a whopping 9.8 billion K-Cups—enough to circle the Earth more than a dozen times. Keurig says it wants all K-Cups to be recyclable by 2020, but by then it could be too late.
Egg Studios CEO Mike Hachey created the viral video “Kill the K-Cup” last month, which highlights the fact that 13 billion K-Cups went into landfills last year.
“Do you feel OK contributing to that?” Hachey asks.
K-Cups are not the only culprits affecting the environment. America represents only 5 percent of the world’s population, but generates nearly a quarter of the world’s trash.
Many everyday items that we take for granted have a significant impact on Mother Earth. Here are a few humble household supplies that hurt the environment more than you’d expect:
1. Anti-bacterial soap
Nearly 75 percent of anti-bacterial liquid soaps and body washes in the US include an ingredient called triclosan. Research shows that small quantities of triclosan persist after being flushed down the drain, and even after water is treated at sewage plants.
These small quantities then end up in streams and other bodies of water. They can disrupt algae’s ability to perform photosynthesis and build up in fatty tissues of animals higher up in the food chain.
2. Lawn mowers
Mowing the lawn is actually terrible for the environment. According to a Swedish study, a lawn mower produces nearly the same amount of oily air pollution as a 100-mile car trip.
“Lawn and garden equipment really does add to air pollution,” Cathy Milbourn, spokeswoman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), told ABC last year. “People can reduce the impact it has by using [lawn equipment] in the early morning or in the late afternoon. Or perhaps not at all.”
3. Tea bags
Most of the tea brewed in America is made with tea bags, which means that an average tea drinker consuming 5 cups a day gets through about 13 sq meters of perforated paper every year.
According to a report by Which? Gardening, teabags produced by the some of the top tea manufacturers—including Twinnings, Tetley and PG Tips—are only about 75 percent biodegradable.
While most teabags are made with paper fiber, they also include plastic polypropylene—an ingredient that makes teabags heat-resistant but is not fully biodegradable.
Whitney Kakos, the sustainability manager for Teadirect, says the use of polypropylene is an “industry-wide practice.” There are also the luxurious silken (basically plastic) tea bags. Supposedly of higher quality and visually appealing, these bags are actually harmful to consumers and contribute to landfill waste.
4. Plastic bottles
About 50 billion bottles of water are consumed every year, 30 million of which are consumed in the US alone. Nearly 1,500 water bottles are consumed per second in America. About 17 million barrels of oil are used every year to produce these bottles.
The national recycle rate for PETs, or bottles made with polyethylene terephthalate, is only 23 percent—which means 80 percent of plastic water bottles end up in landfills. And even if we were on our environmentally best behavior, not all plastic bottles placed in designated containers are recycled because only certain types of plastic can be recycled in limited municipalities.
Found in everything from toothpaste to exfoliating face washes and body scrubs, microbeads actually wreak havoc on the environment.
According to a recent study by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, these tiny pieces of plastic find their way down our drains through filtration systems to the ocean. Soaking up toxins like a sponge, they then contribute to the plastic pollution of water bodies, potentially starve coral reefs of proper food and negatively affect other marine organisms.
6. Disposable razors
According to the U.S. EPA, about 2 billion razors are thrown away every year. Although you can recycle the steel blades, your good ol’ disposable razor most likely makes its way to the landfill.
Add that to the higher environmental cost of production using raw materials and the water used while actually shaving and you’ve got one of the most wasteful bathroom products around.
7. Paper cups
If you think your morning paper cup of coffee is recyclable and environmentally friendly, think again.
Every year, Americans toss out more than 80 billion single-use cups, thanks to our morning coffee runs. These cups are also coated with low-density, heat-resistant polyethylene that is not biodegradable. In addition to these cups’ heading for a landfill and taking more than 20 years to decompose, the very process of making them is extremely harmful to the environment. Production consumes forests and large volumes of water, and expels dirty water.
8. Wooden chopsticks from restaurants
About 3.8 million trees are cut down to produce a staggering 57 billion disposable pairs of chopsticks every year, half of which are used within China. About 77 percent are exported to Japan, 21 percent to South Korea and 2 percent to America.
But despite taxes levied in 2006 and warnings of government regulations to monitor production in 2010, disposable chopstick use, production and discard is on the rise and continues to devastate forests in China at an alarming rate.
Hyacinth Mascarenhas|Mint Press News|March 10, 2015
Animal Activists Get Bull Running Booted From California
Thanks to the efforts of the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), California will never again play host to the Great Bull Run.
A Pamplona-style event, the Great Bull Run travels around the country to various venues, putting on an Americanized “running of the bulls.” Here’s what happens at a typical event.
The Great Bull Run transports a group of three dozen bulls by truck from state to state to participate in these shows. That means that in addition to the noisy, scary run itself, they must endure the discomfort of being dragged around the country from event to event. Organizers set up a large fenced-in track and release as many as 35 bulls weighing as much as 1,500 lbs. each. Those huge, frightened animals speed down the course, encouraged along by riders on horses behind them. The assembled crowd screams and hoots all around.
Participants line up along the fence, where run organizers urge them to run alongside the bulls, not in front of them. Do they listen? Not so much. Have they been drinking? For some, probably yes.
Meanwhile, the bulls just run, clearly not understanding what all the surrounding furor is. The paying participants run with them and in front of them, trying to avoid being trampled and injured. Not everyone succeeds. All this happens multiple times at each event. To see what a run is like from a participant’s point of view, watch this video taken at a 2014 event in Pennsylvania:
After one such 2014 event in Alameda, California, PETA and ADLF joined forces to see if they could put a stop to this madness. In California, at least, they’ve succeeded.
In March 2014 PETA and ALDF brought a lawsuit under the state’s Unfair Competition Law. In California, anti-cruelty laws prohibit causing bulls unnecessary suffering and forbid staging “bloodless” bullfights or similar exhibitions. PETA and ADLF asserted that the Great Bull Run violated these state laws.
“As a bovine veterinarian, I can confirm that these bull runs are extremely stressful for the bulls and present substantial risk of injury to them, as well as an enormous public safety risk to the humans participating,” Dr. Holly Cheever, veterinarian and vice president of the New York State Humane Association, told the ALDF.
Ultimately, the parties settled this case out of court. In exchange for getting the suit dropped, the Great Bull Run agreed not to bring its bull running event to California again.
Oddly, the CEO of the Great Bull Run, Robert Dickens, is spinning this settlement as something of a victory for his company. He says the PETA and ADLF didn’t present any real evidence of animal abuse and “didn’t intend to win the suit. They simply wanted to waste our time and money in Federal Court — a game we were unwilling to play,” he told Reuters.
Spin it any way you want, but this is a win for the bulls and we all know it. Animal rights advocates got what they wanted.
Susan Bird|March 13, 2015
Spider monkeys point to new understanding of hand dominance
Spider monkeys aren’t the hook-handed primates scientists always believed they were.
FIU psychologist Eliza L. Nelson has observed several of the lanky-armed monkeys using individual fingers to grab food.
Previous work suggested the spider monkey hand operated like a hook. But in Nelson’s study the spider monkeys also were able to insert one or two fingers into a tube to grab a serving of peanut butter. It is the first time this type of independent digit control has been reported for this species.
The unexpected observation occurred during Nelson’s research study evaluating measures of handedness – the tendency to use one hand more naturally than the other – in nonhuman primates. Spider monkeys’ hands are not like most other primates – they have four fingers and no thumb – making them an interesting model for studying grasping and motor function.
“In this study, we used two popular measures that had never been administered to this type of spider monkey before,” Nelson said. “We collected a large number of data points on each measure to allow for analyses.
Nelson’s team analyzed reach and coordination – both of which are particularly difficult for spider monkeys given their unique hand structure. Comparing results of both tasks is critical for understanding the evolution of hand-use preferences in primates.
Contrary to predictions and previous findings, Nelson’s research shows multiple measures are needed to fully characterize the concept of handedness – the tendency to use one hand more naturally than the other. Nelson determined a single handedness test cannot effectively predict hand preference in nonhuman primates. The findings were recently published in the journal Animal Cognition.
“When we’re thinking about measuring handedness in any species, including humans, measures should assess multiple components of hand function,” Nelson said. “Handedness is not unique to humans, and this kind of work in cognition helps us understand how the primate brain works and how it has changed over time.”
Handedness is one example of hemispheric specialization – when a particular function is localized to one side, or hemisphere, of the brain. In the motor system, each hemisphere largely controls the opposite side of the body. It is important to understand patterns of how or why one hemisphere is dominant (lateralization) because a number of human disorders including autism, schizophrenia and developmental coordination disorder are associated with atypical lateralization.
“By studying how the hands are used using easily measurable behaviors, we can learn about how the brain is organized and also how it has changed over evolutionary time,” Nelson said. “I hope to make an important case for standardizing measures in this field as well as fill a gap in our knowledge of handedness in primates.”
Nelson is the director of FIU’s HANDS Lab focusing on motor skill research in children and nonhuman primates, specifically how the hands are controlled. Her work examines links between motor abilities and cognition including reasoning, communication and language. Nelson’s study was conducted at Monkey Jungle in Miami, Fla., with oversight from the DuMond Conservancy.
Ayleen Barbel Fattal|03/13/2015
Florida Park Service Volunteers Log 1.3 Million Hours to Help Visitors Enjoy Nature
TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Park Service recognizes the invaluable contribution of the members of the Florida State Parks volunteer corps. More than 30,717 volunteers help with a variety of tasks, including picking up litter, landscaping park grounds and driving a tour boat. Last year, volunteers contributed 1,307,005.5 hours to the state park system.
“Florida’s state parks and trails are fortunate to have the most passionate and dedicated volunteers. We thank our volunteers for their time and expertise in helping us manage, protect and interpret Florida’s natural and cultural resources,” said Donald Forgione, director of the Florida Park Service.
At special events around the state, the Friends of Florida State Parks, Inc. have presented annual awards to individuals and groups whose volunteerism has made a significant impact in the past year.
The 2014 winners are as follows:
- Dr. Madeline Carr of Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park, adult female volunteer of the year
- Al Pendergrass of Silver Springs State Park, adult male volunteer of the year
- Anna Reeves of Oscar Scherer State Park, youth female volunteer of the year
- Justin Lee of Savannas Preserve State Park, youth male volunteer of the year
- Friends of Silver Springs State Park, Citizen Support Organization of the year
- Great Outdoors Adventure Day at Lovers Key State Park, special event of the year
- Marine Railway Restoration and Replica Skiff Construction at the Barnacle Historic State Park, long-term project of the year
- Event Tent and Parking Lot Lights Project at Dudley Farm Historic State Park, short-term project of the year
- Maintenance Team at Silver Springs State Park, team of the year
Last fiscal year, more than 27.1 million people visited Florida’s award-winning state parks and trails, generating nearly $2.1 billion in direct economic impact. Florida State Parks and Trails support 29,396 jobs for Floridians. For more information on Florida’s state parks and trails, click here.
Ecological engineering: a breath of life for marine ecosystems
Low oxygen levels in the oceans can dramatically change the community of organisms that live there — but new techniques to re-introduce oxygen have given a breath of life to a Swedish fjord.
Oxygen is essential for many life forms. But we don’t often give it the attention it deserves because we assume that it is always there. While oxygen is ubiquitous in our atmosphere, it is not necessarily the case for many bodies of water like rivers, lakes or even oceans. Here a lack of oxygen can result in significant impacts on the ecosystem like the killing of fish that subsequently float to the surface. But artificially oxygenating water can breathe new life, as we found recently while working with a fjord in Sweden.
Lack of oxygen and the death of wildlife is a phenomenon that can be observed not only in lakes but also in marine environments – which might seem surprising given the mixing of water by ocean currents. Oceans generally contain oxygen – we call them “oxic” – but we easily forget that this has not always been the case.
If we look back in Earth’s history the original oceans were without oxygen (anoxic) and had a significantly different water chemistry than today. With the advent of photosynthetic bacteria, the oceans became oxygenated over time. Initially the oxygen concentrations were fairly low (hypoxic) compared to present-day levels, but over time oxygen increased in the water and the atmosphere. This meant that hypoxic and anoxic areas were more and more on the retreat.
Nowadays, areas with hypoxic and anoxic waters are re-appearing all around the globe, from the eastern Pacific (several places on the west coast of Canada, the US, Central America, Chile, and Peru), to the Bay of Bengal (India), the Arabian Sea, the Black Sea, the Baltic and the Namibian shelf.
How do oxygen-deprived waters develop?
Different mechanisms drive the development of hypoxic and anoxic waters in different regions and will result in different water chemistries. In areas with upwelling of cold water to the surface (for example off the coasts of Peru and Chile), nutrient-rich deep water is transported to the surface. This causes blooms of photosynthetic bacteria and algae to form. The increased organic carbon in the water serves as a nutrient source for other microbes, and they in turn lower the oxygen concentration by respiration, creating hypoxic water.
In contrast, places like the Baltic have large and deep basins that have a naturally low frequency of water exchange (for example with the North Sea) and therefore receive little input of oxygen-rich water from outside. This often results in hypoxic conditions in these basins. In addition, non-treated waste-water, nutrient runoff from farmland and the dumping of organic waste increase the nutrient loading of Baltic waters. This results in blooms of photosynthetic bacteria and algae and, subsequently, the increased abundance of other bacteria which eat them. Their respiration draws down the oxygen concentration to a point where no oxygen is left.
Obviously, really low levels of oxygen (or its total absence) will be harmful to fish and many other life forms. Additionally, microbial processes that don’t require oxygen take over in waters where there isn’t any, creating further problems such as massive decreases in available nitrogen. When huge blooms of toxic cyanobacteria form, it is more likely that toxins will come into contact with humans.
Increasing surface temperatures in the oceans as a result of climate change will further decrease the oxygen content in surface waters, leading to the expansion of already known low to nil oxygen marine waters, and the formation of new ones. This is more than an ecological problem: the economy also suffers due to detrimental effects on fisheries, tourism and water quality.
Are there solutions? Yes and no. In some regions there is no obvious way to address the challenge. In others, such as the Baltic, remediation is possible and several ways to solve the problem have been suggested. Reducing the input of nutrients into the Baltic, for example, would treat the cause of the problem, and initiatives to improve waste-water treatment have been introduced.
Oxygenating the water
But we can also treat the symptom itself. One idea is to oxygenate the water by increasing the frequency of naturally occurring inflows of oxygen-rich water from the North Sea with the help of wind-driven pumps in an ecological engineering project.
Our Swedish colleagues tested this idea in a large-scale experiment in the Swedish Byford. Electrically-driven pumps were installed and the water column was mixed by pumping surface water to outlets in the basin that lacked oxygen. While the capacity of the pump was not high enough to introduce sufficient oxygen to completely oxygenate the basin, the disturbance of the water column triggered inflows of oxygen-rich water from a neighbouring oxygen-rich fjord. This resulted in a significant increase in oxygen throughout the water column, including the anoxic basin. Throughout this process we monitored the response of the bacterial community in the fjord using molecular methods.
Testing the waters
Our recent work shows that oxygen-requiring bacteria, initially only present in surface waters, could also be found in the deep basin after oxygenation. They replaced the community of anaerobic bacteria observed there previously, showing that oxygen had reached the depths of the fjord and was supporting life. Overall it became clear that the change of the bacterial community was similar to what could have been expected in a natural oxygenation event, such as the mixing of waters.
Could ecological engineering to oxygenate anoxic marine zones be the solution for the future? Maybe. Reducing human inputs of nutrients into these zones is important, and these programs should be continued as they address the root of the problem. However, ecological engineering is another option to oxygenate certain marine zones. This will especially help in systems where large amounts of nutrients are stored in the sediments; these would take a long time to be restored naturally even if all further nutrient input were stopped immediately.
But especially for the Baltic, the question is not only whether an oxygenation project is technically feasible or ecologically meaningful, but also whether it is economically viable and whether there is the political will to commit to a long-term project such as this.
Alexander Treusch|Associate Professor at University of Southern Denmark|March 17 2015
Bee Doctors: A New Way to Protect Fruit?
When it comes to ministering to plants, who better than a bee?
The hazards of spraying fungicides and pesticides on fruit and vegetables are well known: increased resistance to their efficacy by pests and weeds, expense of fuel, machinery and labor to apply them and the environmental hazards of runoff and spray drift.
Over the last several years, European fruit farmers have discovered that putting a tray of a safe fungicide powder in front of a hive allows departing bees to get it on their bodies and deliver it more precisely to fruiting flowers than any spray.
Finnish agricultural zoology professor Heikki M.T. Hokkanen first pilot-tested the process against one of the strawberry industry’s greatest nuisances, gray mold, at a strawberry farm in 2006. Gray mold has regularly destroyed between 10-20 percent of the Finnish strawberry crop, costing growers up to EUR 5 million.
Hokkanen devised a beehive attachment—a so-called “two-way dispenser”—that he uses with a bio-control agent called Prestop-Mix, which was designed by Finnish firm Verdera Oy for fungus control and is approved by the European Union for use in organic farming. Hokkanen says the dispenser allows the bees to exit only through the opening that takes them through the microbial powder; the separate hive entrance at the top has no dusting of Prestop. Thus, he says, the bees do not transport the agent “in the wrong direction” (into the hive), but come in with clean feet, having rubbed off the product during their foraging.
Since the pilot, researchers and fruit growers of greenhouse strawberries and raspberries, as well as orchard apples, pears and cherries in Europe and Australia have adopted or least tested the practice. They use products from both Hokkanen’s own company Aasatek Oy and Belgian bumblebee producer Biobest. Although figures on exactly how much less fungicide bee doctoring uses compared with chemical spraying were not immediately available, Hokkanen’s peer-reviewed paper on the pilot says the process is approximately one-third the cost of chemical control.
Jouko Mönkkönen, the strawberry farmer in Leppävirta, Finland who piloted Hokkanen’s “bee doctor” test, says the practice has also improved his strawberry yields: “When I first started cultivating strawberries 20 years ago, we moved yields per hectare to about 5000 kilos. When the farm started bee farming 10 years ago, that increased yields to between 6,000-9,000 kg. Now, for the last four years, it has not gone below 10,000 kilograms [per hectare].”
But it is the lessened environmental impact on the land that prompted the Finnish Government to subsidize its strawberry, raspberry and apple growers by 500 Euro per hectare if they switch to bee doctoring, says Dr. Katja Hogendoorn, a bee researcher at the University of Adelaide’s School of Agriculture, Food and Wine.
Hogendoorn organized the first demonstration of bee doctoring in Australia last fall with the Cherry Growers Association of South Australia at Lennane Orchards in Montacute. “Brown rot is caused by a fungus, which significantly impacts the $150-million Australian cherry industry through costs of applying fungicide, yield loss and fruit spoilage,” she says. She also used Hokkanen’s hives and Prestop.
Using bees to deliver bio-agents that kill plant disease could clearly cause some to question whether the practice is safe for bees. Hokkanen asserts that Prestop-Mix poses no risk to the bees and does no harm to the berries. Hogendoorn said she lost only one of 20 hives in her cherry orchard test to meat ants and that most of the hives were very heavy, indicating thriving populations.
Both Hokkanen and Hogendoorn say tests have shown that honey from bee doctors contains no traces of the bio-agent or strange flavors.
Biobest presented the bee-doctoring concept to the Bio-Pesticide Industry Alliance (BPIA) conference about 18 months ago. (Aasatek has no sales presence in North America.) However, Dominique Demers, sales manager for Biobest Canada & U.S., says it is only selling the dispenser for its commercial bumblebee hives, as no bio-pesticide in the U.S. is yet approved for use by either honeybees or bumblebees.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Biopesticides and Pollution Prevention Division (BPPD) said it does not have any guidance on new technology to use bees to deliver biological agents that control diseases in fruit, and has received no application for its use. “If we receive a submission for this use, we will evaluate it under the standards of FIFRA (Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act),” the agency said.
Marsha Johnston|March 18, 2015
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