Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect. ~Chief Seattle, 1855
Cuba Bird Survey
Survey birds with us in Cuba February 6-15, 2016!
BirdWatching magazine and the Caribbean Conservation Trust will lead a bird-survey trip to Cuba this February, and you’re invited to come along!
Join Editor Chuck Hagner, famed Cuban ornithologist Arturo Kirkconnell, and other expert Cuban naturalists as they observe and count birds as part of conservation
efforts in Cuba’s western mountains, the Zapata Swamp, and Atlantic Archipelago — some of the best bird habitat on the island.
Our legal, licensed 10-day program is coordinated under U.S. government authorization, and our leaders have over 19 years’ experience
negotiating and navigating Cuba. We’ll enjoy excellent birding without sacrificing comfort. Come with us!
Find trip details, information about the conservation program, prices, a complete itinerary, and a registration form on BirdWatchingDaily.com.
Questions? For more information, contact Gary Markowski, Executive Director, Caribbean Conservation Trust, at email@example.com or (203) 733-1162.
Of Interest to All
Pipeline Spews 21,000 Gallons of Oil Along California Coast
A broken pipeline spewed oil into the Pacific Ocean Tuesday, creating an oil slick four miles long on some of the state’s most beautiful coastline at Refugio State Beach just north of Santa Barbara. An estimated 21,000 gallons of oil spilled, according to an early Coast Guard estimate. Refugio State Beach and area fisheries are closed, and it is unknown when the beach will reopen.
“I’m a surfer, I’m a fisherman—I like sitting out here and breathing it in,” construction worker Josh Marsh, who was part of the clean-up crew, told the Los Angeles Times. “To see it like this, to see it destroyed—it hurts.”
After people reported a foul smell, Santa Barbara first responders found an onshore pipeline spilling into a culvert and then into a storm drain that empties into the ocean. It was shut off by a Coast Guard crew about three hours after discovery.
“Channelkeeper is sickened to learn of the oil spill in the Santa Barbara Channel and is extremely concerned about its inevitable impacts on water quality and marine life,” said Kira Redmond, executive director of the environmental watchdog group Santa Barbara Channelkeeper. “We will be out on the water to investigate the extent and impacts of the spill, monitor the containment efforts, keep the public updated, provide any assistance we can with the clean-up and ultimately ensure that the responsible party cleans up the oil that has marred our precious beaches, ocean and marine life.”
That “responsible party” is Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline. It issued a statement saying, “Plains deeply regrets this release has occurred and is making every effort to limit its environmental impact.”
“Oil spills are never accidents. They are the direct result of substandard oversight of fossil fuel companies who put their profits above human and environmental impacts,” Greenpeace Executive Director Annie Leonard said. “Now is the time for our leaders to take responsibility for the oil companies they let run rampant in our country. This doesn’t have to be our future. If our leaders don’t have the courage to stand up to the oil industry, we’ll continue to see spills from California to Alaska and beyond. We must demand better from President Obama as he looks forward in greenlighting risky drilling projects like Arctic drilling that endanger our oceans and the climate.”
The Sierra Club said that the incident illustrates the unreliability of oil infrastructure and the danger it presents to the surrounding environment.
“Every time we hear about an oil spill, we hold our breath and hope it won’t get worse,” said the group’s California director Kathryn Phillips. “So now we are hoping this Santa Barbara spill is rapidly contained and cleaned up. Just weeks ago, we learned that the state agencies have been allowing the oil industry to inject dirty oil waste water into clean groundwater. Now we have this spill that nobody caught until several barrels of oil had already tumbled into the ocean. How many more signals do we need from the oil industry that public health and the environment aren’t at the top of its list when it decides how much to invest in creating its products? It’s time we all demand better from this incredibly wealthy industry.”
“Unfortunately with accidents and oil development, it is not a question of if, but of when,” said Owen Bailey, executive director of the Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center. “But to see this level of spill into such a sensitive and treasured environment is devastating to watch. These waters are known as the Galapagos of North America with numerous species of endangered whales migrating through marine protected areas and off the iconic and beloved Gaviota Coast.”
Yesterday’s spill occurred in the same oil-rich waters as a major spill in January 1969 when an offshore oil rig blew out, dumping 3 million gallons of oil into the ocean and killing thousands of seabirds and marine animals. It was the worst oil spill in U.S. waters at the time and still ranks third behind 1989’s Exxon Valdez incident in Alaska and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. It is widely credited with being a key impetus behind the modern environmental movement.
“The oil spill near Refugio State Beach is a stark reminder of the dangerous risks expanded oil drilling poses to Santa Barbara County’s environment and its residents’ quality of life,” said Food & Water Watch’s Santa Barbara County organizer Becca Claassen. “This incident is all the more reason to ban fracking both offshore and onshore to help prevent future spills and protect Santa Barbara’s beautiful beaches and coastal environment.”
Anastasia Pantsios|May 20, 2015
Announcing the 2015 Audubon Photography Awards
Calls to Action
Say NO to Monsanto’s Dream Bill – here
URGE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION TO START Using the HUGE IMPACT OF SUN – – here
President Obama Must Step In to Protect the Bees – here
Tell your Senators: PROTECT LITTLE LUNGS FROM SMOG. – here
Ban Monsanto’s artificial growth hormone in milk – here
Tell EPA to protect clean air from oil and gas pollution! – here
Protect the Endangered Species Act from political attacks – here
Tell Mt Laurel Township Council Starving Feral Cats is Not Okay – here
Birds and Butterflies
Why ‘Boreal Birds Need Half’
On International Migratory Bird Day, a new campaign showcases the importance of Canada’s boreal forest as an avian sanctuary
© Connor Stefanison/BIA/Getty Images
Red-necked grebes nest in marshes on small boreal lakes.
“For as long as we human beings can remember, we’ve been looking up. Over our heads went the birds—free as we were not, singing as we tried to.” Margaret Atwood
For billions of migratory birds, spring is the season of flight, of journeys that begin with the fresh promise of renewal.
As warming temperatures break winter’s grip on North America’s coldest lands, skies fill with birds making their annual trip to distant summer nesting grounds. Some travel overland in flocks large and small, forming classic geometric patterns against backdrops of blue sky.
Others—such as the tiny blackpoll warbler or the Hudsonian godwit shorebird—take a longer and lonelier path from winter homes as far away as Central and South America. Often out of sight, these avian endurance champions fly high over the Gulf of Mexico or the Caribbean Sea on their long trips north.
Whatever flyway they follow, the destination is often the same—the boreal forest. The vast boreal region, stretching from Alaska and across Canada from the Yukon to Newfoundland and Labrador, has been aptly dubbed North America’s bird nursery.
Each spring, 1 billion to 3 billion birds wing their way to the boreal. After a successful breeding season, as many as 3 billion to 5 billion make return trips south.
This northern forest plays a crucial role in sustaining healthy bird populations throughout North, Central and South America. Its importance as a refuge and breeding ground for birds is among the many reasons The Pew Charitable Trusts has been working since 2000 to conserve 1 billion acres of boreal forest in Canada.
To mark International Migratory Bird Day on May 9, Pew is supporting the Boreal Birds Need Half campaign, an important new effort to build broader support for protecting 50 percent of the region from industrial development.
The campaign was launched in March by the Boreal Songbird Initiative and Ducks Unlimited, partners with Pew in the International Boreal Conservation Campaign. Organizers aim to enlist support from individuals, conservation groups, and businesses in Canada and the United States.
In a 2014 science report, the two organizations recommended that at least half the boreal forest remain free of large-scale industrial disturbance and that leading-edge, sustainable development principles be applied on the remainder. The Boreal Birds Need Half campaign also recommends that any protections and development proceed only with the “free, prior, and informed consent” of Indigenous communities.
“Modern conservation science shows that protecting at least 50 percent of the boreal forest is necessary to preserve the ecological health of the forest and its biodiversity,” said Jeff Wells, Ph.D., who is science director for the Boreal Songbird Initiative and an adviser to Pew.
“The importance of boreal forest habitat for birds will only increase in the future because climate change has already begun pushing bird ranges farther north. The boreal forest will be an important refuge—a ‘Noah’s Ark’ for birds,” Wells added.
In all, more than 300 bird species rely on the boreal forest for nesting or migratory stopover habitat. Nearly 100 species are particularly reliant on the boreal, with the region serving as the breeding grounds for more than 50 percent of their populations.
Here are seven species that need a healthy, intact boreal forest for their survival:
© Getty Images
The threatened Canada warbler has suffered an 80 percent population decline in recent decades.
With its steel blue back and bright yellow breast overlaid with a necklace of black stripes, the Canada warbler has a striking appearance that makes it a favorite among birders. But this iconic species is in trouble: It has lost more than 80 percent of its population over the last four decades and faces threats from forestry, mining exploration, and conversion of breeding habitat to urban or agricultural use. It is listed as threatened under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. An estimated 64 percent of the Canada warbler’s population breeds in the boreal forest. The bird winters in northwestern South America.
About 70 percent of the rusty blackbird’s North American population breeds in Canada’s boreal forest.
The rusty blackbird is listed as a species of special concern under Canada’s Species at Risk Act and faces threats in both its Canadian breeding grounds and its winter home in the southern United States. It has experienced one of the steepest declines of any North American bird, with estimates that more than 85 percent of its population has been lost over the past 40 years. In summer, it nests in wetlands throughout the boreal region.
© Glenn Bartley/Getty Images
The olive-sided flycatcher has the longest migration of any North American flycatcher.
This little-known songbird is listed as threatened under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. It is notable for its emphatic three-note whistled song, which some say sounds like “quick-THREE-beers.” The Canadian government says the causes of its population decline are unclear but “are likely related to habitat loss and alteration.” An estimated 57 percent of its global population breeds within the boreal forest.
© Tom Vezo/Getty Images
The surf scoter is also known as the “skunk head.”
The surf scoter derives its nickname from the white patches on its forehead and nape. Found only in North America, an estimated 83 percent of its population breeds in the boreal forest. It winters almost entirely on the ocean. According to Ducks Unlimited, surf scoter populations are thought to be declining.
True to its name, the solitary sandpiper rarely associates in flocks.
The solitary sandpiper migrates to the boreal region each spring from as far south as Argentina. Ninety percent of its global population nests in the boreal during the summer. Its populations are thought to be stable but estimated at roughly 25,000. The species is facing threats from changes to its preferred wetland habitats in the boreal.
The common loon, which is featured on Canada’s $1 “loonie” coin, is arguably the most iconic bird in Canada.
The eerie, late-night call of the common loon is one of the most recognizable sounds of Canada’s boreal forest. The naturalist John Muir described it as “a strange, sad, mournful, unearthly cry, half laughing, half wailing.” About three-quarters of its North American population breeds in the boreal forest. The species is widespread but faces threats from recreational development around boreal lakes.
The whooping crane stands almost 5 feet tall and has a 7-foot wingspan.
Driven to near extinction in the mid-20th century, the whooping crane has made a comeback thanks to intensive habitat protection, assisted migration, and captive breeding. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates the species’ overall population at just over 600, compared to only 16 in 1941. Whooping cranes remain listed as endangered in Canada and the United States. The species nests and breeds within Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta and the Northwest Territories. It migrates between the boreal forest and wintering grounds on the Gulf Coast of Texas and the Arkansas National Wildlife Refuge.
International Boreal Conservation Campaign|May 08, 2015
Panther depredation update
The FWC has updated the “Panther Pulse” page with depredation information through May 18, 2015. Panthers are a top predator and prey on a variety of wildlife such as deer, hogs, raccoons, armadillos and rabbits. Unfortunately, they sometimes prey on domesticated animals such as goats, sheep, calves and even pets. When a panther or other wild animal preys upon or injures a pet or domestic livestock it is called a depredation. Depredation information can be viewed at: http://www.floridapanthernet.org/index.php/pulse/
People can protect pets and other backyard animals from panthers and other predators by following the advice available at: http://www.floridapanthernet.org/index.php/handbook/LivingInPantherCountry/.”
Today, May 23rd, is World Turtle Day.
A picture of loneliness: you are looking at the last male northern white rhino
The image of Sudan the rhino, surrounded by the armed guards who protect him from poachers, shows how little humans have learned since the ice age
‘Sudan doesn’t know how precious he is. His eye is a sad black dot in his massive wrinkled face as he wanders the reserve with his guards.’ Photograph: CB2/ZOB/Brent Stirton/National Geographic
[This article was amended on May 14, 2015 to clarify that Sudan had his horn cut off to deter poachers.]
What is it like to look at the very last of something? To contemplate the passing of a unique wonder that will soon vanish from the face of the earth? You are seeing it. Sudan is the last male northern white rhino on the planet. If he does not mate successfully soon with one of two female northern white rhinos at Ol Pejeta conservancy, there will be no more of their kind, male or female, born anywhere. And it seems a slim chance, as Sudan is getting old at 42 and breeding efforts have so far failed. Apart from these three animals there are only two other northern white rhinos in the world, both in zoos, both female.
It seems an image of human tenderness that Sudan is lovingly guarded by armed men who stand vigilantly and caringly with him. But of course it is an image of brutality. Even at this last desperate stage in the fate of the northern white rhino, Sudan is under threat from poachers who kill rhinos and hack off their horns to sell them on the Asian medicine market – despite the fact that he has had his horn cut off to deter them.
Sudan doesn’t know how precious he is. His eye is a sad black dot in his massive wrinkled face as he wanders the reserve with his guards. His head is a marvelous thing. It is a majestic rectangle of strong bone and leathery flesh, a head that expresses pure strength. How terrible that such a mighty head can in reality be so vulnerable. It is lowered melancholically beneath the sinister sky, as if weighed down by fate. This is the noble head of an old warrior, his armor battered, his appetite for struggle fading.
Today, immense love is invested in rhinos, yet they are being slaughtered in ever greater numbers
Under his immense looming shoulder, his legs protrude like squat columns from the tough tank of his body. The way his foreleg emerges from his thick coat of skin reminds us how long human beings have been wondering at the natural spectacle that is the rhino. For Sudan does not look so different from the rhinoceros that Albrecht Dürer portrayed in 1515. They have the same little legs stuck out of a majestic body and they even lower their heads in the same contemplative way. Dürer was a Renaissance artist picturing an exotic beast from the exotic lands that Europe was starting to see more and more of. In 1515 a live Indian rhinoceros was sent by the ruler of Gujarat to the king of Portugal: he in turn sent it to the Pope, but on the way it died in a shipwreck.
Human beings – we always kill the things we love. We have been doing so since the ice age. There are beautiful pictures of European woolly rhinos in caves in France, that were painted up to 30,000 years ago. These ancient relatives of Sudan share his heroic bulk, mighty power and paradoxical air of gentleness. A woolly rhino in Chauvet cave seems agile and young, a creature full of life. But the same people who painted such sensitive portraits of ice age rhinos helped to kill them off. As climate turned against the woolly megafauna with the end of the last ice age, human spears probably delivered the coup de grace.
Today, immense love is invested in rhinos, yet they are being slaughtered in ever greater numbers. The northern white rhino is the rarest species of African rhino. There are far greater numbers of southern white rhinos and black rhinos. But the demand in Asian countries such as Vietnam for rhino horn as a traditional medicine believed to cure everything from flu to cancer is fuelling a boom in poaching. From 2007, when just 13 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa, the killings have grown horrifically. Last year 1,215 rhinos were slaughtered for their horns in South Africa. This year already looks certain to beat that dreadful record.
This is a photograph from the front line of a crisis. The vulnerable northern white rhino has been hunted virtually to extinction – in spite of every precaution, in spite of these guards and their guns – and other varieties of African rhino are under a sustained attack from poachers that is totally out of control. The Javan rhinoceros is also on the verge of extinction. India has successfully protected the Indian rhinoceros after it was almost wiped out by British hunters in colonial times, but here too poaching is a menace. What a majestic creature this picture records, and what futile human destructiveness. Have we learned nothing since the ice age? Can the better angels of our nature not defeat the impulse to kill?
Jonathan Jones|12 May 2015
Hong Kong Says No to Shark Fin Soup
Survey results, government actions show rising support for shark conservation and stronger management
In the past five years, almost 70 percent of Hong Kong residents have reduced or entirely stopped eating shark fin soup, and 81 percent of those who have decreased consumption of the luxury dish said they have done so because of environmental concerns. The welcome news comes from a survey conducted by the Social Sciences Research Centre of the University of Hong Kong. The work was done in collaboration with BLOOM, a marine conservation organization, and supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts, as a follow-up to a similar study in 2009.
On April 16, I took part in a Hong Kong press conference about the survey results with Stan Shea, BLOOM’s chief marine program coordinator, and John Bacon-Shone, director of the Social Sciences Research Centre at the University of Hong Kong. And the results are truly astonishing.
Consider this: In just five years, the acceptability of excluding shark fin soup from wedding menus increased from 78 percent in 2009 to 92 percent in 2014. In addition, a large majority of respondents said they were using other foods, such as vegetarian shark fin soup, instead. Less than 1 percent, meanwhile, said they see shark fin soup as an irreplaceable part of a banquet.
Action by the Hong Kong government on marine conservation issues has helped spur this good news. About 93 percent of those surveyed found the government’s 2013 decision to stop serving shark fin soup at all official functions acceptable, and almost 92 percent agreed that the government should do more to regulate the international trade in sharks.
“The momentum we are gaining for the goal of sustainable shark resourcing is encouraging,” Shea said, though he cautioned that there is more to be done. “As long as endangered species of shark and other marine species are still being traded, review and enforcement of trade regulations are necessary.”
But there is good news on this front, too. Despite the fact that Hong Kong is one of the world’s largest traders of shark fin-related products and handles about 50 percent of the globally traded volume every year, its government now plays an important part in efforts to save these threatened species.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) voted in 2013 to protect five species of sharks—oceanic whitetip, three species of hammerhead, and porbeagle. These protections require tight global trade regulations, and each of the 181 countries that are parties to CITES must enforce them.
Pew teams have traveled the world since 2013 to help countries implement these trade protections; Hong Kong has been front and center in this work. Megan O’Toole, who works on international policy for Pew’s global shark campaign, helped host an implementation workshop in late April in Hong Kong, along with Shea and Debbie Abercrombie, a shark expert from Stony Brook University in New York.
The workshop, held with officers from Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department (AFCD), focused on shark fin identification. One hundred twenty participants learned how to identify the fins of the CITES-listed species, a skill essential to ensuring that illegally traded fins do not enter the market.
Taken together, the survey results and the AFCD workshop demonstrate shifting attitudes about sharks in Hong Kong. Despite a long tradition of shark fin consumption, opinions are changing, and decision-makers are enforcing the new laws. As vital steps are taken to stem the consumption of shark fins and meat, it’s possible to imagine that Hong Kong will one day no longer be seen as the hub of the world’s shark fin trade.
Imogen Zethoven|director of global shark conservation|Pew Charitable Trusts.
Good News For These 4 Amazing Animals
Finding terrible news about the animals around us is, sadly, incredibly easy. It seems every day a new story emerges where wildlife is suffering and humans are likely to blame. Let’s take a few minutes and celebrate the positive stories about the animals around us.
Asiatic Lion Population on the Rise
Although the Asiatic Lion’s territory used to stretch from the Middle East to Central Asia, the Gir Forest National Park, located on the west coast of India, is the only place in the world where you can still find them. For years, conservationists worried over how to increase their numbers, especially when populations fell to only a dozen in the wild.
Yet there’s been a great increase in the Asiatic Lion, and today’s census puts the number around 525, with a large number of offspring. In fact, in just the past five years alone there has been a 27 percent increase in these lions.
A drop in hunting, combined with better environmental protections are to thank for the population growth. The Prime Minister Narendra Modi even took to Twitter to celebrate the news saying, “News that made me very happy- 27% increase in Asiatic lions. Kudos to locals, officials & wildlife lovers whose efforts led to this.”
Uganda’s Elephants Enjoy Greater Safety
War is very difficult on wildlife, and the 1970s-1990s in Uganda saw three wars that hit nature particularly hard. Afraid of gunfire and poachers, parks that were once teeming with wildlife grew desolate.
However, in the relative safety since the LRA insurgency was driven out of Uganda, the Uganda Wildlife Authority began to witness something amazing. In areas of national parks, where it was once thought large mammals no longer existed, elephants began to emerge in startling numbers. Almost as if they’d been hiding throughout the conflict.
Out west near the border with the DRC, Uganda has also experienced a large migration of elephant herds who came into Queen Elizabeth National Park and decided to stay. This is likely thanks to the relative peace and safety of the area, where increased ranger patrol and training has slashed poaching by 70 percent in the past five years.
Urban Coyotes Enjoy Greater Freedom
If you live in an American city, chances are, you’re not that far from a coyote. And these wandering carnivores are now learning how to coexist in many American towns. Although coyotes have a bad reputation for going after family pets and into people’s garbage cans, it’s largely undeserved. In fact, coyotes do a lot more good than most realize, helping stave off troublesome infestations of rodents.
This is because the majority of an urban coyote’s diet is made up of rodents (42 percent) with fruit, deer and rabbits making up the rest. In fact, when the scat of urban coyotes was studied, just 2 percent of the scat had human created trash, while just 1.3 percent had any cat remains.
Urban Coyote stick mostly to parks, and coexistence plans have gone up around the nation thanks to Project Coyote who helps create understood barriers between the animals and humans (and vice versa). In Denver, where a number of coyotes began to “trot” after runners in the parks, Project Coyote set up a non-lethal system to deter these unwanted behaviors with great success; meaning animals and humans can happily share these spaces.
Humpback Whales Surge in Population
Humpback whales have just about found their way off the Endangered Species List thanks to a tremendous population growth. Hunted for oil, cosmetic filler and fertilizer, their numbers fell by a staggering 90 percent before 1966 when hunting was banned.
Now, in 2015, it looks like the whales have made a grand comeback. According to one report, “In 1966, there were only about 1,400 humpback whales in the North Pacific Ocean. Today, that number has risen to approximately 21,000 humpbacks.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) put out a release in late April praising conservation efforts, and proposing scientists begin to target different populations specifically (since a number of populations had seen a large regrowth and no longer qualify as endangered). Eileen Sobeck, an assistant NOAA administrator hailed the progress, saying, “The return of the iconic humpback whale is an ESA success story.”
Lizabeth Paulat|May 17, 2015
Emirates Airlines Bans Hunting Trophies of Lions, Rhinos
The world’s biggest international carrier joins South African Airways in banning transport of trophies of exotic wildlife such as elephants and rhinos.
Emirates Airlines will no longer transport sport-hunted trophy animals such as elephants, shown here in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, and rhinos.
Emirates Airlines will stop carrying hunting trophies of elephants, rhinos, lions, or tigers on its planes, the company announced this week.
The decision is meant as a step “to eliminate illegal trade and transportation of hunting trophies worldwide and save wildlife heritage,” according to a statement from Emirates.
By banning trophies on their flights the airline is essentially leapfrogging the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which regulates and allows for the sale of certain animal species.
“As part of our efforts to prevent the illegal trade of hunting trophies of elephant, rhinoceros, lion and tiger,” said an Emirates SkyCargo spokesperson, the airline “has decided that effective 15th May 2015, we will not accept any kind of hunting trophies of these animals for carriage on Emirates services, irrespective of CITES appendix.”
Lion trophies in particular have become increasingly popular among wealthy foreign hunters visiting Africa, who pay large fees to shoot wild or captive-bred animals, have their bodies stuffed, then take the trophies home. (Read: “Is Captive Lion Hunting Really Helping to Save the Species?”)
Emirates’ decision comes as a movement to end the practice of lion hunting in South Africa seems to be gaining traction. In March, Australia banned the importation of hunting trophies, and talks are now under way with officials in the European Parliament to also instigate a ban.
Elephants, tigers, rhinos, and lions are all threatened in the wild to varying degrees because of poaching and illicit international trading in their body parts.
Even so, under CITES, hunting of lions, elephants, and rhinos is still sanctioned by some countries, including the United States.
In March, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service controversially approved permits to import two black rhino trophies from hunts sanctioned in Namibia. (Read: “US Will Allow Hunters to Bring Home Rhino Trophies.”)
This week’s decision by Emirates Airlines follows a recent ban on the transport of hunting trophies on all flights operated by by South African Airways (SAA) Cargo.
South African Airways made the decision after a consignment of illegal ivory on one of its flights was intercepted while in transit in Australia. In South Africa, the shipment, destined for Malaysia, had been declared as machinery spare parts.
Tlali Tlali, an SAA Cargo spokesman, said the airline had to “act swiftly to curb the problem of illegal transportation of animals.”
In a separate statement, SAA’s country manager for Australasia, Tim Clyde-Smith, said the carrier would “no longer support game hunters by carrying their trophies back to their country of origin.”
Now, an onlinepetition is calling for Delta Airlines—the only United States carrier flying direct to South Africa—to ban the transport of exotic animal trophies. So far, 60,000 people have signed it.
Chris Green, who initiated the petition, is a Delta frequent flyer and chair of the American Bar Association’s Animal Law Committee. He called on the airline’s CEO, Richard Anderson, to “refuse to play a role in the wildlife trafficking supply chain.”
Delta Airlines has not responded to requests for comment.
Chris Mercer, head of the global Campaign Against Canned Hunting, is impressed by the airlines’ boldness in making independent decisions.
“When public anger causes corporate social responsibility to leapfrog CITES,” he said, “then conservation authorities should understand that they’re making themselves irrelevant, and it’s time for a radical shake-up and restructuring of the whole conservation regime.”
Paul Steyn|National Geographic|May 14, 2015
WHITE HOUSE RELEASES HISTORIC POLLINATOR PROTECTION STRATEGY
Xerces applauds the White House for the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, released today, which we hope will lead to better habitat protection and management as well as improved pesticide regulation.
Pollinators are an essential part of both productive agriculture and a healthy environment and the White House’s action places their protection squarely on the national stage. Protecting, restoring, and enhancing habitat for bees and butterflies, including the monarch, is a major focus of this national strategy.
“Pollinator conservation is an issue of national importance and I am very pleased that the White House has taken a leadership role,” said Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the Xerces Society and an ex officio member of the U.S. Monarch Butterfly High Level Working Group. “The success of this strategy lies in adequate funding and appropriate implementation. We will continue to work with and support the White House and federal agencies as they move forward.”
The Xerces Society has long-established partnerships with several of the key federal agencies tasked with implementing the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators. Our work includes:
- A team of pollinator specialists working jointly with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to provide technical support and training to NRCS staff nationwide;
- A conservation biologist working jointly with the Fish and Wildlife Service on the conservation of monarch butterflies and milkweeds in the Pacific Northwest;
- A multi-year partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to manage land for rare butterflies, work which led to the partners receiving the Wings Across the Americas 2012 Butterfly Conservation Award;
- Collaboration with NatureServe to write a report, “Conservation Status and Ecology of the Monarch Butterfly in the United States,” for the U.S. Forest Service;
- Participation in the U.S. Geological Survey Powell Center Monarch Butterfly Workshop to work toward a conservation plan for the monarch; and
- Membership of the U.S. Monarch Butterfly High Level Working Group.
“Working closely with the NRCS and other agencies has shown me that these agencies are full of highly skilled and motivated staff,” noted Mace Vaughan, pollinator program co-director at the Xerces Society and Joint Pollinator Conservation Specialist at the NRCS. “I am confident that implementation of the White House strategy will be in good hands.”
One area where the pollinator strategy falls short is protecting pollinators from pesticides, especially systemic insecticides like neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids are the most widely used insecticides in the world and there are demonstrated links between their use and declines in bees and other wildlife. We had hoped that the Environmental Protection Agency would take strong comprehensive action to address the risk that these insecticides pose to pollinators.
“The national strategy includes valuable long-term plans that could, over time, strengthen the pesticide regulatory system,” stated Xerces Society pesticide program coordinator Aimee Code. “But, it fails to offer pesticide mitigations to address issues currently facing pollinators.”
For over forty years, the Xerces Society has worked to protect invertebrates and their habitat, and in the last twenty years has built an internationally respected pollinator conservation program. The Society now has the largest pollinator conservation team in the world.
Record rhino horn seizure reported in Mozambique
A staggering 65 rhinos horns, together with 1.1 tons of elephant ivory, have been reportedly seized by police in Mozambique.
One Asian national is said to have been arrested on the outskirts of the capital Maputo at a house where the stash was stored.
Official details from the case are sketchy, but if the reports are confirmed, the 65 horns would make this the largest ever rhino horn seizure made anywhere during the current rhino poaching crisis that commenced in 2008.
“While authorities in Mozambique are to be warmly congratulated on this significant seizure, it is now absolutely vital for a full and thorough investigation to be carried out, both by enforcement authorities in Mozambique and with their counterparts in whichever Asian and other countries are implicated in this seizure,” said Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC’s rhino expert.
“The opportunity must not be squandered to exploit fully this unique opportunity for smashing an international rhino and ivory trafficking syndicate and we hope that INTERPOL will become involved.”
International criminal syndicates have long used Mozambique as a major hub for conducting illegal trade in wildlife, especially elephant ivory and rhino horn.
“Mozambique currently has the opportunity to be at the forefront of international efforts to tackle wildlife crime,” said Milliken.
“TRAFFIC hopes this huge and highly significant seizure and arrest signals a new chapter in Mozambique’s history of wildlife trade law enforcement.”
3D Printing Gives Sea Turtle a New Jaw
We’ve seen the miracles that 3D printing has brought to the medical field, from custom hip implants to “magic arms” for a young girl, but a large proportion of 3D printing medical interventions are happening in animals.
The technology works so well in these cases because it’s fully customizable to the exact injury, and species, at hand. The latest example is a sea turtle that was injured after being hit by a boat propeller off the coast of Turkey. It’s beak was shattered and the turtle was found floating almost lifeless in the sea.
It was brought to Dalyan Iztuzu Pamukkale University (PAU), Sea Turtle Research, Rescue and Rehabilitation Center where it was given medical attention and fed by hand. It was on its way to recovery, but without any way to survive in the wild without a working jaw. That’s where Turkey’s medical 3D printing company, BTech, stepped in.
The company had plenty of experience creating custom 3D printed implants for human patients, but this would be its first animal recipient. The company performed CT scans on the turtle and converted the scans into 3D models. Working with veterinarians and surgeons, the BTech team designed a replica of the turtle’s beak that recreated its powerful upper and lower jaws and their specific movements.
The beak was then 3D printed in medical-grade titanium and airmailed to the surgical team. The turtle had to undergo a long and tedious surgery, but it was a success. The world has seen its first 3D printed turtle jaw implant.
The turtle is still recovering from surgery and receiving antibiotics, but he’s doing so well his caretakers plan to release him back into the wild once he has fully healed.
Below is a video about the sea turtle’s operation. It’s in Turkish, but a commenter on the page transcribed it into English, although the images tell the story just as well.
Megan Treacy|TreeHugger|May 18, 2015
New remedy helps bats survive white-nose syndrome
Scientists have successfully treated and released dozens of bats that had white-nose syndrome, an invasive fungal epidemic that’s wiping out some of North America’s most important insect-eaters.
The fungal epidemic has killed about 6 million bats in 26 U.S. states and five Canadian provinces since 2006, pushing several species near the brink of extinction. Losing any species is bad, but bats are especially helpful to humans. One little brown bat can eat hundreds of mosquitoes per hour on summer nights, and insect-eating bats overall save U.S. farmers an estimated $23 billion per year by eating crop pests like moths and beetles. Many insects simply avoid areas where they hear bat calls.
But while the outlook is still bleak for North America’s bats, there are finally a few glimmers of hope. In one of the brightest glimmers yet, scientists released several dozen bats in Missouri on May 19 after successfully ridding them of white-nose syndrome. The disease often wipes out entire bat colonies in a single winter, and it has long defied our best efforts to control it, so that’s a pretty big deal.
“We are very, very optimistic” about this new treatment, says U.S. Forest Service researcher Sybill Amelon, one of the scientists who helped heal the infected bats. “Cautious, but optimistic.”
White-nose syndrome (WNS) is caused by a cold-loving fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, that attacks bats while their body temperatures are low during hibernation. It’s named after the telltale white fuzz that grows on the noses, ears and wings of infected bats. After its 2006 debut at a cave in New York, the fungus is now obliterating bat colonies from Ontario to Alabama, threatening to wipe out some species forever. Scientists think P. destructans invaded North America from Europe, where hibernating bats seem resistant to similar fungi. It’s not clear how it crossed the Atlantic, but a leading theory suggests traveling spelunkers unwittingly carried spores on their shoes, clothes or equipment.
From saving bananas to saving bats
So how did the Missouri bats survive? The researchers enlisted a common bacterium, Rhodococcus rhodochrous (strain DAP-96253), that’s native to an array of North American soils. Humans already use R. rhodochrous for a few industrial purposes like bioremediation and food preservation, and microbiologist Chris Cornelison of Georgia State University found its bat-saving potential on a whim.
“Originally, we were investigating the bacteria for various industrial activities,” Cornelison tells MNN. “In some of those earliest experiments, in addition to delaying the ripening of bananas, we noticed the bananas also had a lower fungal burden. I was just learning about white-nose syndrome at the time. But I thought that if this bacterium could prevent mold from growing on a banana, perhaps it could prevent mold from growing on a bat.”
Apparently it can. And while another team of researchers also recently identified bat-wing bacteria that suppress WNS, Cornelison has shown that R. rhodochrous can help bats recover without even touching them. That’s because the bacteria produce certain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that stop P. destructans from growing. That’s a key detail, since applying any medicine directly to entire colonies of hibernating bats is inefficient at best. It’s also not easy to find a treatment that kills P. destructans without also killing harmless native fungi or otherwise disrupting the cave ecosystem.
Cornelison began studying R. rhodochrous and WNS in 2012, along with Amelon and wildlife biologist Dan Linder, also of the Forest Service. Backed by funding from Bat Conservation International, he published a study about R. rhodochrous last year, describing the discovery as “a major milestone in the development of viable biological control options” for WNS. Since then, he has worked at caves in northeastern Missouri with Amelon and Linder to investigate how these VOCs affect bats with WNS.
A wing and a prayer
“The bats were treated for 48 hours, and they were exposed in the same areas where they hibernate,” Amelon says. “We put the bats into small mesh containers where they’re comfortable. Then we put them inside a cooler, and placed volatiles in the cooler but not in direct contact, so the volatiles filled the air.”
The researchers did this with 150 bats, about half of which were released May 19 at Mark Twain Cave in Hannibal, Missouri. Those six dozen — mostly little brown bats, but also some northern long-eareds — are seemingly cured of WNS, with no detectable signs of the fungus or the disease, and they all took test flights before the release. Still, Amelon adds, it’s too soon to know if they’re really out of the woods.
“It’s a complicated process with this disease,” she says. “These guys could certainly be considered survivors of this winter. But we are not sure if they have any long-term benefits, or whether they could redevelop the disease next season. Prevention is much better than a cure in this case.”
Cornelison agrees, noting that rehabilitating and releasing sick bats isn’t the long-term plan. Now that they’ve shown what R. rhodochrous can do, the real goal is to stop WNS before it gets out of hand. “We think it has the highest potential for prevention,” he says. “We’re exploring a number of different application technologies that target the spores. If you can prevent the spores from germinating and proliferating, you can greatly reduce transmission and disease severity.”
The researchers decided to release some of the treated bats now because May is when they’d normally emerge from hibernation. Some of the treated bats have too much wing damage to be released, but some healthy ones are also being kept for further study of their long-term recovery. The released bats are wearing ID tags on their forearms, so researchers will be keeping an eye on their progress, too.
There hasn’t been much good news about WNS in the past decade, so breakthroughs like this are cause for celebration. But the epidemic is still spreading ferociously across the continent, and with lots of physical and ecological variables at bat caves, it’s unlikely a silver bullet will be found. Instead, Cornelison says, we’ll need a deep arsenal of science to fend off this fungus.
“It’s very promising, but what we need are a variety of tools to take an integrated disease-management approach,” he says. “They use a lot of diverse habitats and different hibernacula, so we may need to use a lot of different tools. And the more tools we have, the more flexibility we have.”
First Loggerhead Turtle Nest of Season Spotted
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM Research Reserve) Marine Turtle Patrol volunteers have spotted the first loggerhead sea turtle nest of the nesting season, which runs from May to September.
The Marine Turtle Patrol program is a volunteer-based effort for monitoring and evaluating sea turtle nests on the GTM Research Reserve’s beach. In April, volunteers began monitoring and evaluating sea turtle nests seven days a week. Volunteers also educate the community about sea turtles and the patrol program through interactions with beachgoers and the reserve’s educational lecture series.
“Our Marine Turtle Patrol volunteers are very dedicated,” said Shannon Rininger, volunteer coordinator at the GTM Research Reserve. “Some drive long distances and arrive before the sun is up to prepare for their morning patrol.”
The Marine Turtle Patrol begins at dawn each morning, traversing the almost 8 miles of reserve beach looking for new turtle crawls. When a new crawl is located, the patrol team determines if it’s a nest or a false crawl, which is when nesting turtles come onto the beach but do not lay eggs. Nest locations are documented with a GPS reading and then staked and ribboned off to protect the section from surface disturbance. The nest is numbered, and a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission sign is placed at the site, informing individuals that those who disturb the nest are subject to fines and imprisonment according to Florida Law Chapter 370 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
An average marine turtle nest contains between 80 and 120 eggs. If incubation goes well with little to no predation or overwashing, hatchlings will emerge 50 to 60 days later. Three to five days after the hatching, the patrol returns to the nest to determine its success rate: how many eggs hatched or did not and the status of any remaining hatchlings. If found early enough in the morning, any remaining hatchlings will be released on the beach to find their way to the water. This action helps the turtles imprint on their natal beach, where they will return in about 30 years to nest on their own.
Loggerhead turtles are considered an endangered species and are the largest of all hard-shelled turtles, with characteristic large heads, strong jaws and a reddish-brown shell or carapace. During the three months that a female loggerhead breeds, she will travel hundreds of miles to nest, lay more than 35 pounds of eggs and swim back to her home foraging area, all without a significant meal.
During sea turtle nesting season, the public is encouraged to avoid any interaction with nesting turtles and remain clear of all marked sea turtle nests. Beachgoers are encouraged to flatten sandcastles, fill in any holes dug in the sand and take all personal items such as chairs or toys when leaving the beach. These items can become obstacles to nesting turtles and could cause them to abort their nesting attempt or could cause the turtle to become entangled. Residences on or near the beach must adhere to a “lights off” policy for beach-facing lights or use special fixtures to shield the lights from the beach after 9 p.m. Artificial lighting can deter females from nesting or cause emerging hatchlings to become disoriented, risking desiccation and death.
For more information about volunteering for the Marine Turtle Patrol program, click here or contact Shannon Rininger, volunteer coordinator at 904-823-4500.
To fight bee decline, Obama proposes more land to feed bees
A new federal plan aims to reverse America’s declining honeybee and monarch butterfly populations by making millions of acres of federal land more bee-friendly, spending millions of dollars more on research and considering the use of fewer pesticides.
While putting different type of landscapes along highways, federal housing projects and elsewhere may not sound like much in terms of action, several bee scientists told The Associated Press that this a huge move. They say it may help pollinators that are starving because so much of the American landscape has been converted to lawns and corn that don’t provide foraging areas for bees.
“This is the first time I’ve seen addressed the issue that there’s nothing for pollinators to eat,” said University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum, who buttonholed President Barack Obama about bees when she received her National Medal of Science award last November. “I think it’s brilliant.”
Environmental activists who wanted a ban on a much-criticized class of pesticide said the Obama administration’s bee strategy falls way short of what’s needed to save the hives.
Scientists say bees — crucial to pollinate many crops — have been hurt by a combination of declining nutrition, mites, disease, and pesticides. The federal plan is an “all hands on deck” strategy that calls on everyone from federal bureaucrats to citizens to do what they can to save bees, which provide more than $15 billion in value to the U.S. economy, according to White House science adviser John Holdren.
“Pollinators are struggling,” Holdren said in a blog post, citing a new federal survey that found beekeepers lost more than 40 percent of their colonies last year, although they later recovered by dividing surviving hives. He also said the number of monarch butterflies that spend the winter in Mexico’s forests is down by 90 percent or more over the past two decades, so the U.S. government is working with Mexico to expand monarch habitat in the southern part of that country.
The plan calls for restoring 7 million acres of bee habitat in the next five years. Numerous federal agencies will have to find ways to grow plants on federal lands that are more varied and better for bees to eat because scientists have worried that large land tracts that grow only one crop have hurt bee nutrition.
The plan is not just for the Department of Interior, which has vast areas of land under its control. Agencies that wouldn’t normally be thought of, such as Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Transportation, will have to include bee-friendly landscaping on their properties and in grant-making.
That part of the bee plan got praise from scientists who study bees.
“Here, we can do a lot for bees, and other pollinators,” University of Maryland entomology professor Dennis van Englesdorp, who led the federal bee study that found last year’s large loss. “This I think is something to get excited and hopeful about. There is really only one hope for bees and it’s to make sure they spend a good part of the year in safe healthy environments. The apparent scarcity of these areas is what’s worrying. This could change that.”
University of Montana bee expert Jerry Bromenshenk said the effort shows the federal government finally recognizes that land use is key with bees.
“From my perspective, it’s a wake-up call,” Bromenshenk wrote in an email. “Pollinators need safe havens, with adequate quantities of high-quality resources for food and habitat, relatively free from toxic chemicals, and that includes pollutants as well as pesticides and other agricultural chemicals.”
Berenbaum said what’s impressive is that the plan doesn’t lay the problem or the solution just on agriculture or the federal government: “We all got into this mess and we’re going to have to work together to get out of it,” she said.
The administration proposes spending $82.5 million on honeybee research in the upcoming budget year, up $34 million from now.
The Environmental Protection Agency will step up studies into the safety of widely used neonicotinoid pesticides, which have been temporarily banned in Europe. It will not approve new types of uses of the pesticides until more study is done, if then, the report said.
“They are not taking bold enough action; there’s a recognition that there is a crisis,” said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director for the advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity. She said the bees cannot wait, comparing more studies on neonicotinoids to going to a second and third mechanic when you’ve been told the brakes are shot.
“Four million Americans have called on the Obama administration to listen to the clear science demanding that immediate action be taken to suspend systemic bee-killing pesticides, including seed treatments,” Friends of the Earth food program director Lisa Archer said in statement. “Failure to address this growing crisis with a unified and meaningful federal plan will put these essential pollinators and our food supply in jeopardy.”
But CropLife America, which represents the makers of pesticides, praised the report for its “multi-pronged coordinated approach.”
The report talks of a fine line between the need for pesticides to help agriculture and the harm they can do to bees and other pollinators.
Lessening “the effects of pesticides on bees is a priority for the federal government, as both bee pollination and insect control are essential to the success of agriculture,” the report said.
Seth Borenstein|AP|May 19,2015
Monsanto joining forces with bee supervillain
Agrochemical giant Monsanto is poised to take over Syngenta, another massive pesticide company. This monster merger would give Monsanto an iron grip on farmers around the world — gravely threatening
This is the deal that could create the ultimate super villain. Monsanto wants to launch a takeover bid of its key competitor Syngenta, one of the biggest pushers of bee-killing pesticides in the world. The new megacorp would boast a combined revenue of $30 billion and control over 35% of the world’s seed supply.
Imagine this: Monsanto eliminates one of its biggest competitors and tightens its grip on the global farming industry. Our precious wildlife like bees, birds, and butterflies suffer as Monsanto spreads its pesticides further and wider. More and more small-scale farmers are bullied if they refuse to buy Monsanto’s seeds.
The deal’s not sealed and we can stop this now. Syngenta shareholders have already rejected Monsanto’s initial $45 billion offer, but Monsanto’s planning a new offer. Anti-trust regulators in the US and Europe are already skeptical of big corporate mergers, and have the power to stop this. With strong, targeted pressure from a concerned public, we can make this deal unravel.
No single corporation should be allowed to wield the sort of power that comes from a near-monopoly on our global food system. And from the very beginning, the SumOfUs community has been working hard to fight back against both Monsanto and Syngenta and limit the power of massive agribusiness corporations.
We’ve been piling pressure onto Monsanto and its toxic pesticides, terminator seeds, and chronic, aggressive abuse of local farmers — and we’ve been making waves. In January, a whopping 1 out of 5 shareholders (that’s 20%!) supported a SumOfUs-backed shareholder proposal calling out Monsanto’s CEO for being his own boss and pushing for independent management oversight.
And what about Syngenta — Monsanto’s soon-to-be partner in crime? Syngenta asked United States regulators for a 40,000% increase in the legal limit of bee-killing neonicotinoids. But we’re well on the way to curbing its destructive practices — nearly a million SumOfUs members stood up to home improvement chain Lowe’s and got it to drop neonics from its stores worldwide.
Together, we’ve stopped monster mergers that would give way to massive monopolies. Recently, we helped stop a potential monster merger between Time Warner and Comcast in the United States, which would have given Comcast a monopoly over the Internet.
Monsanto already had its initial offer rejected, but it’s not backing down. Our impact is in numbers, and we can stop this nightmare of a merger if we come together to demand that international regulators stop Monsanto’s destructive ambitions in its tracks now.
Wild & Weird
Rats will help to save fellow rats in trouble
Far from deserting a sinking ship, rats will help save a mate from possible drowning
Researchers have found that rats are more altruistic than previously thought and will save other members of their species even if doing so is not particularly to its advantage.
For example, if one rat is in danger of drowning, another will extend a helping paw to rescue it. This seemed to be especially true for rats that had experience of a similar dangerous situation themselves, says Nobuya Sato and colleagues of the Kwansei Gakuin University in Japan, published in Springer’s journal Animal Cognition.
Sato’s team conducted three sets of experiments involving a pool of water. Rats dislike being soaked but one swimming in the pool could only gain access to a dry and safe area in the cage if its cage mate opened a door for it.
The team found that rats quickly learned that to help their fellow rat they had to open the door, and they only opened the door when there was actually a distressed cage mate nearby who needed to be saved.
The experiments also showed that those rats which had a previous experience of being immersed in water were much quicker at learning how to save a cage mate than those who had not been immersed.
The researchers also watched what happened when rats had to choose between opening the door to help their distressed cage mate or accessing a different door to obtain a chocolate treat for themselves.
In most cases, rats chose to help their cage mate before going for the food. According to Sato this suggests that, for a rat, the relative value of helping others is of greater benefit than a food reward.
The results indicate that rats show empathy and can share in the emotional state of members of their own species.
“Our findings suggest that rats can behave pro-socially and that helper rats may be motivated by empathy-like feelings towards their distressed cage mate,” says Sato, who believes that studies of sociality, such as empathy in rodents, are important for understanding the underlying neural basis of pro-social behavior as well as evolutionary aspects.
Watch Cows Listening to Live Music
Why it Rains Spiders in This Australian Town
Providing nightmare fodder for arachnophobes everywhere, millions of spiders floated down from the sky recently in a phenomenon known as “spider rain.”
Pity the poor spider-fearing souls with the misfortune of living in the arachnid-rich town of Goulburn, Australia. Last week, millions, yes millions, of tiny spiders reportedly fell from the sky along with swaths of their silky threads.
“If you look toward the sun there are millions of them and really high up here, like over 100 meters [325 feet] or more up, there is also a cotton like substance coming down that is kinda like spider web but not exactly…” wrote local resident Ian Watson on a Goulburn Community Forum Facebook page.
Cloudy with a chance of spiders. Egad. How in the world do millions of spiders pour down from the heavens? If this doesn’t scream “the end is near,” nothing does.
Fortunately, we have brave scientists who study spiders to explain such scenarios of arachnopocolypse. Live Science talked to Rick Vetter, a retired arachnologist at the University of California, Riverside, who said the spider storm was likely a form of spider transportation known as ballooning. Spider migration techniques like this, experts believe, are why spiders can be found on every continent.
“Ballooning is a not-uncommon behavior of many spiders. They climb some high area and stick their butts up in the air and release silk. Then they just take off,” Vetter says. “This is going on all around us all the time. We just don’t notice it.”
The reason this doesn’t generally doesn’t turn into the newsworthy stuff of bad LSD trips is that it’s uncommon for this behavior to happen amongst millions of spiders simultaneously and then for them to the land in the same area, says Todd Blackledge, a biology professor at the University of Akron in Ohio.
“In these kinds of events, what’s thought to be going on is that there’s a whole cohort of spiders that’s ready to do this ballooning dispersal behavior, but for whatever reason, the weather conditions haven’t been optimal and allowed them to do that. But then the weather changes, and they have the proper conditions to balloon, and they all start to do it,” Blackledge told Live Science.
In the area of New South Wales where the recent spider rain occurred, however, it happens several times a year. There are a number of small spider species and hatchlings of larger species that balloon during May; and so although they might generally all go about it on their own schedule, given weather changes or an unusual wind pattern and the whole spider shebang balloons together and lands in the same godforsaken area.
Though residents of Goulburn need not fear much personal harm from the invasion, the vast blanket of spider silk could pose a threat to crops by inhibiting sunlight. But at the very least, it must be quite a sight to see. As Watson told Yahoo, “The whole place was covered in these little black spiderlings and when I looked up at the sun it was like this tunnel of webs going up for a couple of hundred metres into the sky.”
Melissa Breyer|Treehugger|May 18, 2015
Negron to pursue money for land south of Lake Okeechobee despite death of U.S. Sugar option
State Sen. Joe Negron said Friday he’ll continue “full-speed ahead” seeking $500 million to buy land south of Lake Okeechobee, even though the option of getting it from the U.S. Sugar Corp. is dead.
On Thursday, the South Florida Water Management District board voted unanimously to terminate its option to buy 46,800 acres of U.S. Sugar land by October. The land includes a 21,600-acre parcel for a proposed reservoir to hold excess lake water and send it south to Everglades National Park rather than to the St. Lucie River, where the water causes widespread environmental damage.
District officials estimated the U.S. Sugar land would have cost from $500 million to $700 million.
Negron said he didn’t support the board’s decision: “I would have preferred that the U.S. Sugar land still be one of our options.”
During the state Legislature’s regular session this spring, Negron proposed using Amendment 1 money to issue bonds to generate up to $500 million to buy land to help reduce environmentally destructive Lake O discharges to the St. Lucie River. Now he’ll try to get the money approved during the upcoming special session scheduled to meet June 1 to 20.
Tyler Treadway|TCPalmTreadway|Matt Dixon May 15, 2015
Water Quality Issues
8 Shocking Facts About Water Consumption
Water is a finite resource. And its preciousness has been driven home by water wars in California, where record drought has agricultural users, fracking interests and home consumers vying for the same supply; in the southwest where the water levels in the rivers, aquifers and reservoirs that provide waters to major communities like Phoenix and Las Vegas are dropping; and in the battles being fought over withdrawing water from the Great Lakes. Reducing our water footprint is essential to conserving this life-giving substance.
We actually have two water footprints: direct and indirect. Many of us are familiar with direct water-use footprint, and mat already be taking steps to reduce it: taking shorter showers, not letting the water run while we’re brushing our teeth, doing fewer loads of laundry, flushing the toilet less often or even installing low-flush toilets.
We probably don’t think of our indirect water footprint often if at all, which involved the water used to make the products and services we use. Author Stephen Leahy, an Ontario-based environmental journalist, wrote about some of them in his book Your Water Footprint: The Spublished earlier this year.
“A ‘water footprint’ is the amount of fresh water used to produce the goods and services we consume, including growing, harvesting, packaging and shipping,” he says. “From the foods we eat to the clothes we wear to the books we read and the music we listen to, all of it costs more than what we pay at the checkout.”
Here are some things you can do to reduce your indirect water footprint.
1. Leahy reveals that 95 percent of our water footprint is hidden in our meals. While a pound of lettuce costs about 15 gallons of freshwater and a slice of bread only 10 gallons, chocolate can cost an astronomical 2,847 gallons a pound and beef can run us 2,500 gallons. Given that raising livestock is particularly water-intensive, eating vegetarian is one good way to reduce your water footprint. Better yet, go vegan: all animal products, including cheese, eggs, butter and milk take a lot of water to produce. Chicken has a much lower water footprint than beef though, so even giving up red meat can help.
2. Think about what you drink. Tell people you’re passing on the soft drink and going for a beer because its water footprint is lower. And it is. A beer takes about 20 gallons of water to create, while soft drinks can be close to 50, depending on packaging and what sugars are used. And drink tea instead of coffee. Coffee consumes about 37 gallons of water in the production process, tea takes only 9 gallons.
3. The clothes we wear also consume vast amounts of freshwater to produce with cotton T-shirts and denim jeans exceptionally high in water use. One pound of cotton requires 700 gallons of water. Shop secondhand, thrift and vintage stores, or buy well-made clothes intended to last.
4. Actually, buying to last is a good way to reduce water consumption in general. Virtually all manufactured products consume a lot of water in the process. To manufacture a smartphone requires 240 gallons of water. Do you really need to trade in your phone every time a new model comes out?
5. Take public transportation (or better yet walk.) Not only do cars consume tens of thousands of gallons of water during manufacturing, but the gas required to run them uses more than a gallon of water for each gallon of gas.
6. Don’t install or use a garbage disposal. It’s water intensive. Compost instead.
7. Cut your plastic use! Making one pound of plastic requires 24 gallons of water. Use less and recycle what you can. Look for items with less packaging.
8. If you have a garden, install rain barrels to conserve water instead using that hose. Rain barrels hook up to your downspouts and collect rain water to reuse. You can make one from a 55-gallon drums (more recycling) and a easy-to-find little hardware. There’s a big movement among artists to paint rain barrels so that you can also have a distinctive and colorful work of art outside your house.
“The saying that ‘nothing is free’ applies more to water than anything else we consume, considering just three percent of the world’s water is drinkable and that we are using more of it than ever before,” says Leahy. “Many experts predict dire water shortages if we continue on our current path. Factor in climate change, population growth and pollution and we have an unsustainable situation.”
There’s lots more information about your water footprint and what you can do to reduce it at WaterFootprint.org. They even have a calculator so you can figure out your own water footprint.
Anastasia Pantsios|December 15, 2014
Corps cuts Lake O releases pending toxic-algae lab test results
The Army Corps of Engineers intends to cut the flow of water it is dumping from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie Estuary and Caloosahatchee River on Friday.
According to a news release issued by the corps this morning, releases to the estuary will be cut by about 70 percent, from a weekly average of 700 cubic feet per second to 200 cubic feet per second. The corps also plans to reduce flows to the Caloosahatchee River on the west side of the lake.
The announcement comes two days after Sewall’s Point Commissioner Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch and Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society in Stuart, asked the corps to cut all releases of lake water into the estuary because of recent algal blooms.
A toxic algal bloom in April prompted Martin County Health Department officials to post warnings against touching the water near the lock and dam that controls water that is released from the lake. Results from water samples collected earlier this week are expected to be released today or tomorrow.
Christine Stapleton|Staff Writer|Palm Beach Post|May 21, 2015
Great Lakes & Inland Waters
Review finds successes in protecting Great Lakes
Efforts to prevent water diversion proving successful
Protections put in place about a decade ago to prevent large-scale diversion of Great Lakes water have been successful. However, the Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces must remain vigilant and utilize emerging technologies and scientific advances to maintain the positive momentum of the past decade, according to the consultants reviewing the measures.
The protections were installed following a Canadian entrepreneur’s plan to export Lake Superior water via tanker ships to Asia in 1998. The Ontario Ministry of the Environment approved that plan before public outcry scuttled it.
The Canadian and U.S. governments asked the International Joint Commission — which oversees Great Lakes water issues — to examine how to protect the lakes from large-scale diversions, and the agency issued recommendations in a 2000 report. The governments required the IJC to review progress after three years and every 10 years thereafter. This year marks the first of the 10-year reviews.
The review was conducted by Ralph Pentland, President of Ralbet Enterprises and acting chairman of the Canadian Water Issues Council at the University of Toronto, and Dr. Alex Mayer, Professor of Environmental and Geological Engineering at Michigan Technological University.
They found many areas of success:
The policy gaps identified in 2000 have largely been filled.
The eight states and two Canadian provinces on the Great Lakes have made significant progress in implementing water protection measures, especially the Great Lakes Compact and parallel agreement with Ontario and Quebec.
Consumptive uses of Great Lakes water have declined in the past decade.
“Moving forward, it is important to remember that there really is no ‘surplus’ water in the Great Lakes Basin. From an ecosystem perspective, it is all in use, even in periods of high supply,” the consultants’ report states.
Great Lakes governments must be mindful of uncertainties that can impact the Great Lakes going forward, such as climate change and “the sheer threat of the unexpected,” the report states.
The public can read the 10-year review and comment on it at the IJC’s website, http://ijc.org/en_/submit _comment_protection_of_the_waters.
Offshore & Ocean
See why it is important to protect our oceans
Restoring The Marinescape At Biscayne National Park
The deafening roar of the 225-horsepower Mercury engine propelled our skiff across the turquoise expanse of Biscayne Bay. It was hard to imagine that less than an hour earlier I’d been sipping a café cubano in the heart of downtown Miami. Here we were though, making headway toward an offshore reef to explore some of South Florida’s renowned marine habitat.
The early morning sun glistened atop the ocean waterscape before us, backlighting the salty spray of the waves as they broke across our bow. According to the forecast, poor weather would move in by the early afternoon, so with the rough chop already hammering our little boat, and the intended destination another 4 miles offshore, we decided to moor at one of the closer reefs.
We were eager to explore, and donned our snorkel gear and made the plunge into the pleasantly warm 76° F water. We floated on the surface, above the colorful marine oasis. It provided a sense of tranquility. Streaks of sunlight illuminated the anemones, which swayed gently back and forth on the seafloor, mesmerizingly in the rolling swell. It was a stark contrast to the rough voyage just moments before. The only sound was the soft rumble of the waves, and a steady rhythm with each breath: in and out.
While most national parks are dominated by landscapes, Biscayne National Park is unique in that 95 percent is covered by water. There are 10,000 years of colorful human history here nestled among mangrove forests, coral reefs, sea grass meadows, lighthouses, and shipwrecks. The setting has been shaped by Native Americans, farmers, smugglers, fishermen, pirates, and presidents.
The watery underworld has historically featured a wondrous and bountiful array of species, from bonefish, tarpon and oysters to groupers, barracuda, spiny lobster, and lustrous parrotfish. However, of the few hundred species that inhabit the park’s waters, 150 have faced population pressures from recreational and commercial fishing, according to the National Park Service.
It’d been 10 months since I had been on the ocean, since departing my home on the east coast of Australia. It felt great to be back in the water. With the guidance of our Park Service companions, we identified several Purplemouth Morays, Sergeant Majors, Gray Angelfish, and plenty of invasive lionfish, not to mention a beautiful conch species. We explored the reef, and later, a sunken pontoon boat. It was an exhilarating experience, one I never wanted to end. What was missing, unfortunately, were larger species that I’d seen just a week earlier in Key West.
According to the National Parks Conservation Association, “Coral reef health and fish populations in Biscayne National Park have been on the decline for decades due to overfishing and over-use, leaving some species on the verge of collapse.” That explains it. In 2001, scientists warned that the park’s fisheries were facing “imminent collapse” without immediate help and protection.
Preservation is one of the National Park Service’s foremost of goals, so how had this come about? True, when the National Park Service was created in 1916 its mission also called for providing a public place, “or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” But the National Park Service Organic Act also emphasized that the “fundamental purpose of the parks is to conserve the scenery; natural and historic objects; and the wildlife therein,” thus leaving them “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”
With that in mind, a proactive protection plan for Biscayne National Park would seem relatively straightforward. Unfortunately, for the past 15 years officials, environmentalists, anglers, and boaters have struggled to agree on an appropriate strategy, leaving the future of America’s largest marine park, and part of the only tropical coral reef system in the continental United States, unresolved.
“Biscayne is a national park,” Superintendent Brian Carlstrom told The New York Times late last year. “If this were national park land there would be no question of what resources can be extracted from here.”
Though managed by a federal agency, the park’s enabling legislation places much of Biscayne’s waters under regulations from the State of Florida. An exception has been given that allows Park Service rule-making authority for areas that fall within the boundaries of the original Biscayne National Monument when it was established in 1968. Thus, politics and economics have become entwined to cast an ecosystem out of balance.
With the nation’s fourth-largest metropolitan area within sight of the park, fishing stocks are under immense pressure not only from South Florida’s booming population but also commercial operations. Advancements in fishing technology have made it easier to locate and catch fish than ever before.
Fortunately, the state and federal governments appear to have reached a compromise, with a finalized General Management Plan (GMP) expected to be released this summer. To date there have been seven proposed alternatives, each with varying levels of effectiveness and complexity. In a very public debate, members of the public and other stakeholders were encouraged to comment on each.
While the public comment period ended on February 20, 2014, integrating the comments — with no small amount of political pressure — into a final GMP hasn’t been quick or easy. With so many different voices and proposed alternatives, many in the community couldn’t keep track.
Caroline McLaughlin, NCPA’s Biscayne restoration program analyst, told me, “I think one of the problems is a lack of information, or misinformation going around. This is really an opportunity to preserve the resources of Biscayne, address problems in relation to a significant decline in reef ecosystem health, and fisheries populations, in order to preserve those ecosystems for the future.”
Many in the fishing community, continued McLaughlin, had actually shown “a great deal of support” for tighter regulations in the form of a “no-take” Marine Reserve Zone (MRZ) at some of the critically affected areas within the park’s boundaries, noting that in other MRZs the fishing was often best just outside those areas.
Vanessa McDonough, Biscayne National Park’s fishery and marine biologist, sympathized with the need for an MRZ, as well as increased public awareness and education on some of the issues facing the park. She noted that restrictions at land-based national parks are generally understood and accepted, but people often don’t apply the same ideology to underwater resources. “You can’t shoot bison in Yellowstone,” she said. “National parks should be held to a higher standard.”
Exactly how the final GMP will integrate an MRZ is unclear. But going into the final draft, the proposed MRZ would cover approximately 7 percent of the park’s waters, or 10,522 acres, and protect 2,663 acres of the park’s coral reefs. Significantly, placing that acreage of coral reefs into a marine reserve would contribute towards the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force’s goal of having 20 percent of Florida’s reefs within such reserves.
Under an MRZ designation—which could be applied to areas within the original Biscayne National Monument’s boundaries—recreational and commercial fishing would be banned to encourage long-term protection and recovery of the reef ecosystem, although recreational boating, snorkeling, and diving would be permitted.
This approach has been scientifically proven as the preferred course of action, according to environmentalists. An open letter, co-signed by Jean-Michel Cousteau founder of the Ocean’s Future Society, National Geographic Explorer- in-Residence Sylvia Earle, and Senior Scientist Emeritus Jeremy Jackson at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell stressed this: “The establishment of a marine reserve is the best, most effective method for protecting Biscayne’s severely threatened coral reef ecosystem.”
Proof of the ecological benefits of such a reserve can be found off of Florida’s southern tip at Dry Tortugas National Park. That park’s Research Natural Area has led to “increases in the size and abundance of many overexploited species within the reserve areas and spillover of more and larger fish occurred outside of reserve boundaries,” the letter adds.
A combination of draft Alternative 4 (creation of a Marine Reserve Zone) and Alternative 7 (a special recreation zone that would prohibit some types of fishing year-round and close recreational fishing during the summer months) outlined in the supplemental draft GMP appears to preview what General Management Plan likely will look like.How it will be received by the state, and the angling public, will go a long way to determining how soon Biscayne’s defining aspect can heal itself from decades of overuse.
Jameson Clifton|May 17, 2015
Water quality efforts boost Tampa Bay’s sea grasses to levels not seen since 1950s
MANATEE — Even with the amount of development occurring in the Tampa Bay region, seagrass levels have returned to the levels that existed in the 1950s when there was a lot less population and development, officials say.
“This is a unique situation in Tampa Bay,” said Robert Brown, Manatee County’s environmental protection division manager in the parks and natural resources department. “If you look nationally and worldwide, most of our estuaries in coastal waters are degrading, going backwards, getting worse. I can’t think of any other ones where we are seeing development going on and seeing improvements at the same time. It just shows the management strategies we’ve implemented are working.”
Today, Tampa Bay has 40,294 acres of seagrass baywide, an increase of more than 5,650 acres between 2012 and 2014, according to the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s 2014 seagrass survey released last week. SWFWMD’s Surface Water Improvement and Management Program assesses seagrass coverage in the bay about every two years.
With the seagrass levels being restored to levels in the 1950s, the water quality in Tampa Bay has improved, because seagrass acts as a measure to determine the bay’s water quality, Brown
said. They are also working to maintain Sarasota Bay’s seagrass levels.
“This is a remarkable achievement, made even more so when you consider that the bay region has grown by more than 1 million people in the last 15 years,” Tampa Bay Estuary Program Director Holly Greening said in a news release.
With seagrass levels around 25,000 acres in 1995, the Tampa Bay Estuary Program set out a goal to restore levels to the baywide total of 38,000 acreages that existed in the 1950s. The seagrass levels today are more than 2,000 acres above the goal set more than 20 years ago.
The 1950s were selected because it was before a lot of development took place and aerial photos documenting the conditions existed.
“The conditions in the bay are similar to what they were prior to major development and influx of millions of people in the Tampa Bay area,” Brown said, noting that the struggle will be maintaining the levels as growth continues.
The restoration of the bay’s seagrass levels was a joint effort among various sectors of the Tampa Bay community, including local governments, industries, community groups and citizens, totaling in more than 500 projects and actions that have been implemented to result in bay water clarity levels similar to the 1950s.
Among those efforts in Manatee County include the county’s fertilizer ordinance, agriculture drip irrigation and multiple restoration projects along the coast, including Robinson Preserve. The management program in Tampa Bay has been a model for other agencies.
“We will continue on that management strategy to develop programs to reduce nitrogen loads in the future,” Brown said.
Nutrients are the main culprit in seagrass loss. To help maintain the levels, the public should be mindful of things such as pet waste, grass clippings and fertilizer from entering the bay, Brown said.
Without the collaboration, the goal couldn’t have been achieved.
“It couldn’t happen without all the partners,” Brown said. “Without that collaboration with all the stakeholders, it wouldn’t be possible to do that. It is a monumental achievement when you really think about it.”
CLAIRE ARONSON|bradenton.com|May 19, 2015
Divers remove thousands of tires from failed reef
State environmental officials are undertaking a massive two-year project to remove 90,000 tires from the bottom of the ocean floor in Fort Lauderdale.
The failed 1970s tire reef project off Hugh Taylor Birch State Park was an attempt dispose of tires in an environmentally friendly way. An estimated 700,000 tired were dropped into the ocean in hopes of attracting fish and providing a foundation for corals to grow. The project kicked off with great fanfare in 1972 when more than 100 boats full of tires were dumped into the water while the minesweeper USS Thrush looked on.
But few corals grew and, even worse, the tire bundles broke apart and drifted onto the natural reefs and kill coral. Now the lifeless vista of tires stretches across 35 acres.
“There are just tires for as far as you can see,” said Pat Quinn, a biologist for Broward County who is serving as local project manager. “People who see it for the first time come to the surface and say, ‘Oh, my God.'”
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection budgeted $1.6 million for the work and the Sun Sentinel (http://tinyurl.com/l2l6qek ) reports divers started cleaning up the mess this past week. Military divers removed 72,000 tires several years ago, meaning half a million tires will still be left on the ocean floor after the project is completed.
Scuba divers, tethered to a barge, are removing the tires from a strip of ocean floor about 1,000 feet long and 150 feet wide, next to the edge of the middle reef.
“They’re piled on top of each other up to five deep,” Quinn said.
But some tires will stay for now because they would be extremely difficult to remove and may be crusted with marine life and would stir up silt as they came up. As for the loose ones, Quinn said, “We’re going to evaluate our options.”
Once retrieved, the tires are dropped off at Port Everglades where they travel by truck to the Tampa area to be burned for electricity.
Massive Swarms of Jellyfish Are Wreaking Havoc on Fish Farms and Power Plants
As the oceans get warmer, jellyfish are causing pain beyond their sting.
The marine animals have shut power plants from Sweden to the U.S. while killing thousands of farmed fish in pens held off the U.K. coast. GPS devices normally used to track the behavior of house cats were attached to 18 barrel-jellyfish off the coast of northern France. The study upended previous assumptions about their movement.
Climate change may be one reason more jellyfish are congregating in large numbers known as blooms, which can encompass millions of the creatures over tens of kilometers. Researchers are seeking to develop a system, akin to weather forecasting, to help predict their movement and prevent fish deaths, such as the loss of 300,000 salmon off Scotland last year, or power outages that shut a Swedish nuclear plant in 2013.
“Jellyfish blooms may be increasing as a result of climate change and overfishing,” Graeme Hays, the leader of the group from Deakin University in Australia and Swansea University in the U.K. that did the research, said by phone Jan. 28. “They have a lot of negative impacts — clogging power station intakes, stinging people and killing fish in farms.”
The study was conducted in 2011 with results published online in January by the journal Current Biology. Hays plans to replicate the work in Tasmania, Australia, where salmon farming is an industry valued at about A$550 million ($430 million) a year.
Combined land and ocean surface temperatures have warmed 0.85 of a degree Celsius since 1880, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group established in 1988 by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization to review information relevant to climate change. Global warming is “unequivocal” and many observed changes since the 1950s are “unprecedented over decades to millennia,” it said in a 2014 report.
“Warmer water is a dream come true for jellyfish,” Lisa-ann Gershwin, a marine scientist who has studied the creatures for about 25 years and author of Stung!: On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean, said by phone Feb. 4. “It amps up their metabolism so they grow faster, eat more, breed more and live longer.”
A bloom of jellyfish from the genus Aurelia, known as Moon Jelly, that can grow as large as 40 centimeters (16 inches) in diameter, shut Sweden’s biggest nuclear reactor on the Baltic coast for two days in 2013 after blocking the cooling water inlet. The creatures caused similar outages in the U.S., Japan and Scotland, including at Electricite de France SA’s Torness plant in 2011.
“It’s a very rare phenomenon and on average has affected us only once every ten years,” Sue Fletcher, a spokeswoman for EDF, said by e-mail Feb. 6.
While local fisherman helped EDF clear the jellyfish that halted Torness, power plants employ a number of methods to try and stop marine creatures. Diablo Canyon, a nuclear station on the California coast operated by PG&E Corp., has automated screens that remove the animals at the intake, and can deploy an air bubble curtain system to disperse and deflect incoming hordes, the company said in an e-mail Feb. 20.
The lack of long-term data makes it difficult to conclude if blooms are increasing as oceans warm, according to scientists Hays and Gershwin. While more study is required, jellyfish continue to disrupt operations, contributing to the death of salmon at a Loch Duart Ltd. farm off Scotland in November.
“Once the bloom is at the net, you’ve really got a problem,” Nick Joy, the managing director of Loch Duart, which lost almost 20 percent of its stock after a horde of Pelagia noctiluca invaded pens and stung the fish, said by phone Feb. 13. “A prediction system would be as useful to us as a weather forecast, it would be crucial.”
Jellyfish of various sizes affect aquatic farms. Smaller creatures can slip through the mesh of a pen and clog or sting gills, while larger animals can push up against a net and restrict the flow of water, starving the fish of oxygen, Marine Harvest, the world’s largest grower, said by e-mail Feb. 14.
The research group that monitored the barrel-jellyfish off France established that the marine creatures can swim against the current, rather than drift passively, providing an insight into how they form blooms, according to Deakin University’s Hays. Further study is required to determine if this is a feature of all, or only some species, Hays said.
The ocean globally will continue to warm during the 21st century and marine organisms will face progressively lower oxygen levels, the UN panel said in its report. Jellyfish have the ability to store oxygen in their tissue, allowing them to survive in a deficient environment, according to Gershwin, director of the Australian Marine Stinger Advisory Services.
“Blooms are our best visible indicator that something is wrong with the ocean,” she said. “Stinging is the least of our worries.”
Brevard County Gets Permit To Dredge Muck In Indian River
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA — The Brevard County Natural Resources Management Office has received a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit to allow muck removal from the mouth of Turkey Creek.
With this permit in hand, the Turkey Creek project will be the first muck removal funded by the Florida Legislature to benefit the Indian River Lagoon.
The Lagoon is suffering from the cumulative impacts of more than a century of various types of pollution. There is no quick or simple solution.
Sustainable lagoon restoration is possible but requires a multi-faceted approach that includes Reducing current sources of pollution, Removing old deposits of pollution, and Restoring the lagoon’s natural filters.
The specific actions we take to Reduce, Remove and Restore should be based on Research.
Old pollution deposits can be removed by dredging out the muck. Due to the regional and national importance of this estuary, the County continues to seek financial assistance from outside Brevard County for dredging costs.
After successfully obtaining the federal permit, the first muck dredging project is anticipated to begin in July at the mouth of Turkey Creek, funded by the Florida Legislature. Up to 240,000 cubic yards of muck will be removed, subject to available funding.
Muck dredging in Cocoa Beach will begin a bit later, pending federal permits.
Dave Netterstrom, Mayor of Cocoa Beach said, “the City of Cocoa Beach is looking forward to partnering with Brevard County and the Florida Legislature to help the Indian River Lagoon through muck removal.”
The city continues to work diligently toward acquiring the necessary federal permit. Additional funds are being sought through the state legislature to assure completion of the Turkey Creek project and also remove muck from other priority sites throughout the lagoon.
Beyond the muck dredging efforts, Brevard County has embarked on an aggressive restoration strategy for the lagoon to reduce excess nutrient inputs, restore the filtration system (oysters, clams and wetlands) and ensure that sound research is the basis of the effort.
As part of this restoration strategy, the removal of the legacy load (muck) is critical to overall success.
Space Coast Daily|May 20, 2015
Are Seals Really to Blame for Cod Shortages in Scotland’s Waters?
Over-fishing has been pegged as the prime culprit for many fish shortages, but a new study suggests that grey seals actually may be to blame for extenuating cod shortages in Scottish waters.
Researchers from the University of Strathclyde wanted to investigate why cod stocks are not recovering at the rate that had been expected now that the EU’s heavy restrictions on fishing have been in place for some time.
In recent decades cod stocks have plummeted as a result of over-fishing and the EU was forced to devise a recovery plan that limits the amount of fishing that can be done for those particular fish. The fishing industry as a whole has a respected that recovery plan and has taken steps to limit by-catch which could have inadvertently still impacted cod numbers.
However, since grey seals were granted protection status in the 1970s, their numbers have increased and they are now estimated to have a population around 40,000 to 50,000.
Publishing this month in the Journal of Applied Ecology, the Strathclyde researchers say that their figures show that while cod fishing has halved, this growing population of seals is potentially taking more than 40 percent of the total stock of cod fish.
Using a variety of models the study demonstrates that up until 2005 fishing was the main factor that dramatically destroyed cod numbers. It’s worth repeating that fishing, not seals, was one of the main reasons that cod numbers dropped so low in the first place. However, at those reduced rates, the study shows that cod numbers probably can’t recover because of seal predation, and that’s despite the fact that cod isn’t even the seal’s main food source.
Dr. Robin Cook who led the study is quoted as saying that:
In recent years, cod stocks off the west coast of Scotland had declined to barely 5% of the value they had in 1981. … It appears that fishing played a major part in the decline of the cod but increasing predation by seals is preventing the stock from recovering, even though the amount of fishing has reduced. Fishery managers face striking a difficult balance. With high predation by seals, the cod stock will struggle to improve and the recovery plan may not deliver the expected results. We may have to live with smaller cod stocks if we want to protect our seals.
The fishing industry has blamed seals for a number of fish shortages. In nearly every case, and particularly in the case of Atlantic cod stocks plummeting off eastern Canada, those accusations have been unfounded or have had a partial truth but, as in this case, were usually the result of over-fishing which drove fish numbers dangerously low in the first place. Still, the fishing industry is calling for intervention, and no one can ignore that one of the measures the industry has lobbied for in other areas has been a controlled cull.
The research does not suggest a course of action in this regard. What it does say is that the EU has to factor in predation by seals in order to help cod stand a chance of recovering, presumably to a level where wider-scale fishing might once again be a possibility.
So is this study evidence enough to back a controlled cull? The answer is most definitely not. We’ve already altered the food chain in our seas by driving cod stocks so low. The problem is, if we were to cull grey seals we do not know what the effect would be on other fish stocks and the way in which this in turn might alter biodiversity in our seas–indeed, that could even end up harming other commercial fishing interests.
There are steps that can be taken to investigate this problem to see if a solution might present itself, for instance if creating non-lethal exclusion zones around known cod areas could help to bolster the fish stocks without harming the seals, but these are very difficult to implement. Animal wildlife groups though are expected to heavily resist any calls for any change in the law which might allow for a controlled cull.
The hard fact for the fishing industry now though is that thanks to irresponsible fishing cod numbers have been driven far too low, and while grey seals may be stopping a return to pre-population exhaustion numbers, that’s not the seals’ fault. The industry may just have to accept that the days of wide-scale fishing for cod in Scottish waters is now over.
Steve Williams|May 20, 2015
Wildlife and Habitat
Single-crop farming is leaving wildlife with no room to turn
Monocultures – vast expanses of a single crop – may look pretty, but mounting research shows they are likely bad for environment. And in turn that’s bad news for farms as well.
Rolling plains of wheat, endless fields of flowering canola, row upon row of fruit trees: these agricultural landscapes are the stuff of stunning photographs.
Filling these paddocks with just one crop, known as monoculture, is a relatively easy, common and efficient way to produce food and fiber.
But international research shows that these monocultures can be bad for the environment and production through effects on soil quality, erosion, plants and animals, and ultimately declining crop yields. Research I have published this week in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability shows a possible link between monoculture landscapes and fewer wild pollinators.
Is there a better way to grow our food?
Monocultures don’t exist in nature. Natural ecosystems that appear to be dominated by one plant or tree species (such as grasslands or some temperate forests) also have many other plant species growing under and around them.
This diversity of plant species and sizes supports diverse wildlife communities, and this diversity supports ecosystem services such as pollination and biological control.
When this diversity disappears, the results can be disastrous. The Dust Bowl years on the American Great Plains showed us what can happen when natural ecosystems are overwhelmed by intensive, single-crop farming.
My research focuses particularly on almond orchards. Large fruit tree plantations differ from field crops because they are permanently embedded in the landscape for more than 10 years. Therefore, they may have more serious, long-term impacts on the environment than an annual crop.
If a plantation is inhospitable to an animal species, it won’t be able to move through the plantation to find food or shelter. This essentially creates a landscape barrier for that species.
Such effects have been found on bird, ground beetle, reptile and marsupial species living in landscapes dominated by pine plantations in south-eastern Australia.
Unlike pine trees, fruit trees rely on insect pollination, an ecosystem service, to produce fruit. But very little research has looked out how plantations of fruit trees might affect the ecosystems around them, and in turn the pollinators that the fruit trees depend on. With all the agricultural stressors influencing honey bee colony losses in other parts of the world, understanding how wild pollinators respond to farming practices is critical.
In the mallee woodlands and shrublands of southern Australia, probably one of the most understudied and important ecosystems for conservation, almond plantations are rapidly expanding.
Research from California on commercial almond plantations shows that numbers of wild pollinator and parasitoid insects (unmanaged insects that enhance yields through pollination and biological control) increased with plant diversity.
My PhD research has found similar effects in north western Victoria: there were more pollinators where there were more types of plants.
What does this diversity mean? Monoculture crops are intensively managed to remove as many plants that aren’t crops as possible. In the middle of a monoculture almond plantation, for instance, you will see little else but almond trees and bare soil for hundreds of hectares around you.
In the new paper, I found a possible link between more wild pollinators and more complex landscapes.
In a “simple” landscape dominated by multiple monoculture almond plantations, native bees and hoverflies (both important pollinator groups) were only found near almond trees within 100 metres of native mallee vegetation.
In contrast, in a “complex” agricultural landscape made up of small mosaic patches of many different crops, gardens and remnant native vegetation, native bees and hoverflies were found at almond trees further than 100 metres from native vegetation.
The critical difference was the diversity of resources available to wild pollinators throughout the year. In “complex” landscapes food, water and nesting resources were all available to pollinators within their typical home range (usually less than 1-2 km).
A sustainable farm isn’t just efficient to manage or designed to produce maximum yields per hectare. It also depends on conservation of biodiversity, ecosystem function and diversification of crops and/or livestock.
Maintaining biodiversity in plantations supports important ecosystem services that can increase yields, such as unmanaged pollination, biological control and waste disposal services. This agroecological approach to food production minimises risks through stable yields and limited resource use. It is good for the farmer and the environment.
Research and development of agroecological systems are now internationally recognised as vital to sustainable food and fiber production. France recently incorporated agroecology into their legal and political frameworks, while academic institutions in the UK and USA are leading the way with ground-breaking research into ecologically-sustainable agriculture.
With our unique natural environment and strong agricultural communities, Australia is uniquely-placed to contribute to the global discussion on sustainable agriculture.
Manu Saunders|May 13 2015|Post-doctoral Research Fellow (Ecology)|Charles Sturt University
Agreements working to stop beef ranches destroying Brazil rainforest says study
The destruction of large areas of rainforest in Brazil to provide pasture for beef herds has been positively affected by “zero deforestation agreements” between the Brazilian government and ranchers.
A recent study conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and published in the journal Conservation Letters, assesses the impact of these agreements on the country’s rainforests.
The team found that these zero deforestation agreements prompted ranchers to swiftly register their properties in an environmental registry, led slaughterhouses to actively block purchases from ranches with recent deforestation, and saw lower deforestation rates among supplying ranches.
“We show that concurrent public and private supply-chain pressures could be a game changer, and help to finally break the link between deforestation and beef production,” says Holly Gibbs, a professor of geography and environmental studies in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment, who led the study.
Gibbs suggests that further investment by the beef industry and the Brazilian government to improve the agreements would pay high dividends for forest conservation.
Historically, expansion of cattle pastures has driven deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, where these pastures cover about two-thirds of all the deforested land. The state of Para, where the study was based, has the largest cattle herd in the Amazon biome.
In 2009, under concurrent pressure from Greenpeace-Brazil and the federal prosecutor’s office in Para, the region’s largest slaughterhouse owners publicly committed to buy cattle only from those ranchers who ceased clearing rainforests and who registered their properties with Brazil’s rural environmental registry.
The three largest companies — JBS, Marfrig, and Minerva — also vowed to set up monitoring systems to track deforestation on their supplying properties.
Gibbs and her team focused on JBS, the world’s largest meatpacking company, and began by mapping the locations and land use histories of every cattle ranch that sold to JBS, before the agreements and after.
They also interviewed ranchers to gain on-the-ground perspective about the changes they were or were not making following the agreements.
They found that prior to the agreements, only two per cent of JBS’ suppliers had registered their properties. However, 60 per cent were registered within the first five months of the zero-deforestation agreements and, by 2013, nearly all suppliers were registered.
While saying these are important and encouraging results, Gibbs also says much work remains to be done, since many ranchers are able to bypass the agreements. For example, the study found that slaughterhouses currently only monitor the fattening ranches from which they directly buy.
“In Brazil, cows are moved around to multiple farms before they reach the final fattening farm that sells directly to the slaughterhouse,” says Gibbs.
Nevertheless, Gibbs is encouraged by the findings and the potential for industry to help drive change through such market-driven agreements. She has observed what she calls “a gradual sea change”, which has gained momentum over the last year or two.
For instance, another research study she recently published in Science describes the impact of an agreement brought about with support from major retailers, like Walmart and McDonald’s, to stop buying from producers in the Brazilian Amazon that clear tropical rainforest to grow soy.
“Every few weeks we see a major global corporation come forward and commit to removing deforestation from their supply chain,” says Gibbs. “These multinational companies have long profited from the exploitation of tropical forests, but they’re now at the forefront of an environmental movement to reduce the deforestation caused by agricultural expansion.”
More information about the link between deforestation agreements and the cattle industry can be found at a new website created by the National Wildlife Federation at www.zerodeforestationcattle.org
Global Warming and Climate Change
A 10,000-Year-Old Ice Shelf May Soon Disappear Before Our Eyes
Environmental history is happening right before our eyes. And unfortunately, it’s not positive: Antarctica’s Larsen B. Ice Shelf could be completely shattered by the end of the decade.
Shatter Into Hundreds of Icebergs
As reported in Phys.org, a NASA study reveals that by the end of the decade, Antarctica’s Larsen B ice shelf will most likely shatter into hundreds of icebergs. You might remember that in 2002, the ice shelf partially collapsed. Since then, Larsen B has only become weaker and thinner.
The ice shelf has stood the test of time for over 10,000 years. Soon it will be reduced to hundreds of icebergs. While scientists are awed by the rare event, it’s not a spectacle that we should exactly celebrate.
It’s bad for our planet, and it’s bad for us. Ice shelves, like Larsen B, are vital gatekeepers between glaciers and the ocean; the shelves keep the glaciers from moving directly into the ocean from Antarctica. Ala Khazendar from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) led the study, and Khazendar remarks, “What is really surprising about Larsen B is how quickly the changes are taking place. Change has been relentless.”
It’s not the good kind of change, either. Hundreds of shattered icebergs rushing into our oceans will only dangerously raise our sea levels, reports Climate Central. While Larsen B is in the worst predicament, it isn’t the only weak ice shelf; they’re all thinning thanks, in part to, global warming. Ice shelves are big — bigger than the state of California — and they’re optimally very thick. This wouldn’t happen overnight, but hypothetically “Antarctica holds enough ice, if it all melted, to raise sea levels more than 200 feet.” That would take between a few hundred to a few thousand years to happen, but it’s still a scary idea.
Amidst our global warming crisis, researchers, like the coauthor of the NASA study Eric Rignot, hope that tracking Larsen B can prepare us for the next ice shelf crisis, particularly “how the ice shelves farther south, which hold much more land ice, will react to a warming climate.”
3 Easy Ways You Can Fight Global Warming
We don’t want another ice shelf crisis anytime soon. So we’re going to have to do our part to stall global warming. Here are three easy ways that you can help the global warming cause:
1. Go veg: There are so many reasons to eliminate, or reduce, your consumption of animal products, and global warming is one of them.
2. Use eco commonsense: Reducing, reusing and recycling works. And in this time of drought, saving water is just the smart thing to do (desalination won’t solve all of our problems).
3. Commute smarter: In a perfect world, we’d all be cruising in fuel-efficient, low-greenhouse gas vehicle cars. But even if that’s something you can’t (or don’t want to do), you can always make eco-friendlier choices: walking, biking, public transportation, carpooling, etc.
For more tips and information on what you can do, visit the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
Jessica Ramos|May 18, 2015
Alaska’s Famous ‘Ice Road’ Is Closed By Extreme Flooding
Traffic along Alaska’s famous Dalton Highway has stalled at a time when hundreds of truckers would typically be transporting critical supplies to the state’s northern oil fields. The highway known as the Ice Road in the popular History channel series “Ice Road Truckers” is the only overland route to these lucrative operations, but the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities closed a stretch of the road Monday morning due to extreme flooding. The road is covered by up to 2 feet of water in places and the agency expects it will remain closed for four days to a week.
Earlier this spring, the Dalton was closed for a week when overflow from the Sagavanirktok River froze on the roadway in thick layers of ice. On an average day, at least 100 truckers travel the corridor — it runs more than 400 miles from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay — to supply more than a dozen companies including ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and BP that operate at nearby oil fields.
The route represents a key source of revenue for both oil companies and Alaska’s state government, which is largely funded by oil tax revenue. The flooding comes at a time when low oil prices are shredding the state’s budget. Gov. Bill Walker vetoed $3 billion in spending on Monday in a $5 billion proposed budget put forth by legislators. Walker has proposed moving $90 million from a $10 billion reserve fund to cover the shortage but the legislature remains divided on that idea. He has warned state employees that they could face layoffs if lawmakers do not approve a budget by July 1.
There is no sign that the flooding will threaten oil production since companies keep their facilities well-stocked with reserves of food and fuel to account for such interruptions. Once the water subsides, the Department of Transportation expects to see erosion and damage to the highway. Before the closure, the agency had already planned a project to elevate the road to 7 feet above its present grade, and that much-needed lift is still on track for this summer.
Amy Nordrum|ibtimes.com|May 19 2015
President Obama: Climate Change Is an ‘Immediate Risk to Our National Security’
When President Obama delivered the keynote address at the Coast Guard Academy graduation ceremonies Wednesday, the theme was one he’s been hitting with increasing frequency as he nears the end of his time in office: climate change. He has emphasized its impact on the economy, public health and national security. He focused on the latter at the Coast Guard ceremony, with an increased sense of urgency.
As Republicans in Congress fight against Obama’s climate measures such as the Clean Power Plan while also raising the alarm about terrorism and trying to position themselves as the party best equipped to fight it, the President appears to be painting them into a corner.
“This cannot be subject to the usual politics and the usual rhetoric,” said Obama to the Coast Guard graduates, even as Republicans are applying ideological rhetoric to virtually every environmental issue.
The President stressed the importance of the missions that the graduates will participate in, saying, “We need you to safeguard our ports against all threats, including terrorism. We need you to respond in times of disaster or distress and lead your rescue teams as they jump out of perfectly good helicopters. We need you in the Middle East; in the Gulf; alongside our Navy; in places like West Africa, where you helped keep the ports open so that the world could fight a deadly disease. We need you in the Asia Pacific, to help our partners train their own coast guards to uphold maritime security and freedom of navigation in waters vital to our global economy.”
Then he said, “This brings me to the challenge I want to focus on today—one where our Coast Guardsmen are already on the front lines, and that, perhaps more than any other, will shape your entire—and that’s the urgent need to combat and adapt to climate change. As a nation, we face many challenges, including the grave threat of terrorism. And as Americans, we will always do everything in our power to protect our country. Yet even as we meet threats like terrorism, we cannot, and we must not, ignore a peril that can affect generations.”
“Cadets, the threat of a changing climate cuts to the very core of your service,” he continued. “You know the beauty of the sea, but you also know its unforgiving power. Here at the Academy, climate change—understanding the science and the consequences—is part of the curriculum, and rightly so, because it will affect everything that you do in your careers. Some of you have already served in Alaska and aboard icebreakers, and you know the effects. As America’s Maritime Guardian, you’ve pledged to remain always ready—Semper Paratus—ready for all threats. And climate change is one of those most severe threats.”
He then moved into the meat of his presentation.
“I’m here today to say that climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security,” he said. “And make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country.”
Climate change, he said, “will shape how every one of our services plan, operate, train, equip and protect their infrastructure, their capabilities, today and for the long term.” And given that so many military facilities are coastal, that could threaten their readiness for action, he said.
He pointed out some of the risks that today’s and tomorrow’s Coast Guard might have to cope with. They included rising seas forcing people from their homes and creating more refugees.
“I guarantee you the Coast Guard will have to respond,” he said, just as they are part of the international relief teams responding to humanitarian disasters such as Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.
He pointed to food shortages due to drought and increases competition for resources as another threat and mentioned two instances of instability and violence they’d led to: “Severe drought helped to create the instability in Nigeria that was exploited by the terrorist group Boko Haram. It’s now believed that drought and crop failures and high food prices helped fuel the early unrest in Syria, which descended into civil war in the heart of the Middle East.”
He said that responding to the impacts of climate change would ultimately not be enough: “As men and women in uniform, you know that it can be just as important, if not more important, to prevent threats before they can cause catastrophic harm. And only way—the only way—the world is going to prevent the worst effects of climate change is to slow down the warming of the planet. The world has to finally start reducing its carbon emissions—now.”
The President enumerated again the steps he’s already proposed to do so, including making building more energy efficient, investing more in research on renewable technologies, cutting carbon emissions from power plants and working with other countries to strike international greenhouse gas reduction agreements.
He hit one jarring note, given his recent approval of Shell’s plan to drill for oil in the fragile Arctic seas ecosystem, a move widely condemned by environmental groups.
“Climate change means Arctic sea ice is vanishing faster than ever,” he said. “We’re witnessing the birth of a new ocean—new sea lanes, more shipping, more exploration, more competition for the vast natural resources below. The U.S. is an Arctic nation, and we have a great interest in making sure that the region is peaceful, that its indigenous people and environment are protected, and that its resources are managed responsibly in partnership with other nations. I believe that our interests in the Arctic demand that we continue to invest in an enduring Coast Guard icebreaking capacity.”
Obama took another sly stab at the climate deniers in Congress.
“Now, I know there are still some folks back in Washington who refuse to admit that climate change is real,” he said. “And on a day like today, it’s hard to get too worried about it. There are folks who will equivocate. They’ll say, ‘You know, I’m not a scientist.’ Well, I’m not either. But the best scientists in the world know that climate change is happening. Our analysts in the intelligence community know climate change is happening. Our military leaders—generals and admirals, active duty and retired—know it’s happening. Our homeland security professionals know it is happening. And our Coast Guard knows it’s happening.”
Anastasia Pantsios|May 21, 2015
Droughts, Floods and Heatwaves: Blame It on Climate Change
As temperatures soar to record heights, blame it on global warming—but only about three-quarters of the time. And when the rain comes down by the bucketful, you can attribute one downpour in five to climate change.
Yet another team of research scientists has looked at the probabilities, and has linked extremes of weather with global warming.
A dried-out reservoir in California, which is already in the grip of ongoing severe drought.
Photo credit: Ian Abbott / Flickr
Extremes have always happened and are, by definition, rare events. So, for the last 30 years, climate scientists have carefully explained that no particular climate event could be identified as the consequence of a rise in global average temperatures driven by the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels.
But some events that were once improbable have now become statistically more probable because of global warming, according to Erich Fischer and Reno Knutti, climate scientists at ETH Zurich—the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.
They report in Nature Climate Change that they looked at simulations of probabilities and climate records for the period 1901 to 2005, and projections for the period 2006 to 2100.
Rise in temperatures
Then they settled down to calculate the likelihood that a proportion of past heatwaves or floods could be linked to a measured average rise in planetary temperatures so far of 0.85°C.
They worked out how these proportions would change if the average planetary temperatures reach 2°C above the “normal” of the pre-industrial world, and they found that human-induced global warming could already be responsible for 18 percent of extremes of rain or snow, and 75 percent of heatwaves worldwide.
If the temperatures go up to the 2°C that nations have agreed should be the limit, then the probability of precipitation extremes that could be blamed on global warming rises to 40 percent. They are less precise about heatwaves, but any rise could be sharp.
“If temperatures rise globally by 2°C, we would expect twice as many extreme heat events worldwide than we would with a 1.5 percent increase,” Dr Fischer says.
“These global warming targets, which are discussed in climate negotiations and which differ little at first glance, therefore have a great influence on the frequency of extremes.”
The researchers are talking about probabilities: it will still be difficult ever to say that one event was a random happening, and another a result of climate change. In such research, there are definition problems. What counts as extreme heat in northern England would not be extreme in India or Saudi Arabia.
But such distinctions could become increasingly academic for people who live in the path of unusual heat and extended drought, or flash floods and catastrophic hailstorms.
A scientist recently told the European Geosciences Union that some regions of the planet will see unprecedented drought, driven once again by climate change, before 2050.
Yusuke Satoh, of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, warned that under the notorious business-as-usual scenario −where nations ignore such warnings and just go on burning fossil fuels—13 of 26 global regions would see “unprecedented hydrological drought levels” by 2050. Some would see this parching much earlier—the Mediterranean by 2027, and the western U.S. as early as 2017.
Such studies are calculated to help provoke governments, states and water authorities into preparing for climate change, but it just may be that the western U.S. is already feeling the heat. California, in particular, has been in the grip of unprecedented drought, and researchers have already linked this to climate change.
Reservoirs and irrigation systems are built on historical data. “But in the next few decades, these historical data may no longer give us accurate information about current conditions,” Dr Satoh says. “The earlier we take this seriously, the better we will be able to adapt.”
Tim Radford|Climate News Network|May 17, 2015
5 Signs the California Drought Could Get Worse
California is entering its fourth year of drought, with high temperatures, water shortages and increased wildfires. The state has taken some steps to address the impacts of that, including addressing greenhouse gas emissions and rationing its diminishing water supply. But there are signs that the impacts of drought on the state could get even worse.
1. A new study shows that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at current rates, some parts of Los Angeles area could be experiencing temperatures over 95 degrees for periods as long as two to three months by the end of the century, up from about 12 days now. Researchers at UCLA’s Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences found that downtown Los Angeles could see many many as 54 such days, up from an average of four, while desert areas could see many more. And in the surrounding mountainous areas, days with temperatures below freezing could be cut in half.
2. Fewer freezing days in mountainous areas will certainly impact the snow pack which is currently at record lows. Its April assessment set a record for the lowest level in the state’s history, triggering Gov. Jerry Brown’s order that residents and governments cut water use by 25 percent. Shuttered ski resorts are the least of the resulting problems. The runoff from the snow pack melting in the spring replenishes the state’s rivers, streams and reservoirs—but not so much anymore. In an L.A. Times editorial, NASA scientist Jay Famiglietti warned that California reservoirs have only a year’s supply of water left in them. With the rate of replenishment dropping, that spells trouble.
3. Many Californians are up in arms that certain businesses are continuing to use water like the supply was unlimited. Bottled water companies in particular have drawn outrage from activists as they tap into city water supplies and private wells, while citizens are being told to cut back their water use. While their water use is only a drop in the bucket, so to speak, the optics are really bad, so bad that Starbucks’ Ethos Water brand has announced it will move west coast bottling operation out of the state to Pennsylvania. A group called the Crunch Nestle Alliance has mounted protests against the Nestle bottled water plant near Sacramento, which buys water from the Sacramento municipal system and ships spring water from northern California. Meanwhile, Crystal Geyser is opening a new plant in Mount Shasta that will draw water from an aquifer that feeds the Sacramento River, which provides drinking water for millions of people.
4. Another business that continues unabated in its water use is the fossil fuel extraction industry. California has traditionally been an oil-producing state, but in recent years, it’s stepped up its oil extraction through the water-intensive fracking process. Again, while the amount is small compared to uses such as agriculture, which consumes 80 percent of the state’s available water supply, fracking itself is regarded negatively by much of the public. And it doesn’t help that there have been signs that fracking fluid—wastewater containing toxic chemicals used in the fracking process—could be leaching into aquifers and contaminating already scarce drinking water supplies.
5. Companies are looking for extreme solutions to a potentially extreme problem. There are more than a dozen projects under consideration to build desalination plants along the California coast to turn ocean water into usable water for drinking and agricultural purposes. Some have dismissed the idea as expensive and unfeasible on a large scale, while others claim the costs are falling rapidly enough to make the idea viable. The technology is already in use in the Middle East and Australia. A plant is currently under construction in Carlsbad, California that is expected to be up and running by sometime in 2016 to produce 50 million gallons of water a day and provide seven percent of the drinking water consumed by San Diego. It would be the largest such plant in the Western Hemisphere. The privately built plant would be paid for with rate increases on San Diego water customers; the cost to the county is double the price of its currently most expensive water source and it’s on the hook whether it needs the water or not.
Anastasia Pantsios|May 18, 2015
Tornado Alley earns its name as storms roar in
Little relief was in sight Sunday for nine states where violent storms and tornadoes damaged and destroyed homes, flipped cars and downed power lines this weekend.
The storms, including 31 reported tornadoes, and flash flooding raked across parts of Minnesota, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Iowa, Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, AccuWeather senior meteorologist Tom Kines said.
The angry weather roared through the heartland just one week after a line of storms and tornadoes blasted the nation‘ s Tornado Alley, killing five people in Arkansas and Texas. No deaths or injuries had been reported this weekend.
In beleaguered Johnson County, Texas, just south of Dallas-Fort Worth, authorities reported “multiple swift-water rescues” from homes and vehicles, some with National Guard assistance. The county already had been under a disaster declaration after several tornadoes touched down there April 26.
“Crews have responded to 10 water rescues, three are on going to include one down in Rio Vista,” the county emergency management department tweeted early Sunday. And hours later: “The last rescue was complete by Texas Military Forces. There are no pending rescue calls.”
A National Guard helicopter plucked Bill Kastel and his wife to safety after their mobile home was swamped by floodwaters, WFAA-TV reported.
“My wife looked out the window and said, “Oh my God, the water’s under the house!’ ” Bill Kastel told WFAA Chief Meteorologist Pete Delkus. “We’ve been living here for 20-25 years, and we never experienced any flooding like this.”
Tornadoes were reported early Sunday in Iowa and Louisiana as a line of storms ripped down the middle of the nation, The Weather Channel reported.
“The severe weather threat is moving farther north,” Kines said Sunday. “The primary threat will be wind and hail in Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, probably down into Arkansas late Sunday.”
The National Weather Service warned of “large hail, damaging winds, and perhaps a few tornadoes are possible, especially from southeastern Minnesota into northern Illinois.”
JOHN BACON|USA TODAY
Washington State Is In A Drought ‘Unlike Any We’ve Ever Experienced’
Citing historically low snowpack, falling river levels, and rising temperatures, Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) declared a statewide drought emergency for Washington on Friday.
“We’re really starting to feel the pain from this snowpack drought. Impacts are already severe in several areas of the state,” Inslee said. “Difficult decisions are being made about what crops get priority water and how best to save fish.”
Sectors that rely heavily on melting snowpack, like agriculture and wildlife, are expected to be hit hardest by the drought, with the Washington Department of Agriculture anticipating $1.2 billion in crop losses this year.
Statewide, snowpack levels are currently 16 percent of normal, ten percent lower than the last time a statewide drought emergency was declared in 2005. Of 98 snow sites measured at the beginning of the month by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), 66 were snow free — 11 of them for the first time in history. Along with record low snowpack, the NRCS found that 17 of 34 long-term measuring sites recorded their earliest peak on record, occurring on average 48 days earlier than normal.
“This drought is unlike any we’ve ever experienced,” Maia Bellon, director of the Washington Department of Ecology, said. “Rain amounts have been normal but snow has been scarce. And we’re watching what little snow we have quickly disappear.”
A map showing drought conditions in Washington state as of May 12, 2015.
CREDIT: National Drought Mitigation Center
Bellon’s department has called for $9.5 million in funding for drought relief, to be split between things like agricultural irrigation projects, municipal emergency funding, salmon and trout protection, and conservation education. To preserve remaining water resources, some irrigation districts in the Yakima Basin — the state’s most productive agricultural region — are shutting off water deliveries to farmers for weeks at a time. State officials are hoping to minimize agricultural losses with a kind of triage, according to the New York Times, diverting water to high-value crops like cherries or wine-grapes while allowing certain seasonal crops to go fallow.
For the state’s salmon and trout populations, dwindling snowpack and low stream flows hinder their migration to spawning grounds. In April, the U.S. Geological Survey reported that 78 percent of the state’s streams were running below normal, with some reaching historic lows. Some wildlife managers are planning on creating temporary channels to help the fish navigate low waters, but others might have no choice but to trap the salmon and trout and move them to cooler spawning grounds upstream.
“We’re working hard to help farmers, communities and fish survive this drought,” Bellon said.
The drought is also expected to contribute to a particularly volatile wildfire season, as wildfire managers expect the season to begin earlier and at higher elevations than normal. Last year, Washington experienced the largest wildfire in the state’s history, which burned an area 4.5 times the size of Seattle. Even before the drought emergency was declared, forecasters predicted that below-average precipitation might translate into an especially difficult wildfire season throughout much of the Northwest.
Areas like the Olympic Mountains and the Cascades, which are usually some of the wettest areas of the state, are especially dry this year, providing wildfires with fuel necessary to turn a routine burn into a blaze.
“There’s a lot of heavy fuel out [on the Olympic Peninsula],” Peter Goldmark, Washington’s commissioner of public lands, told the Seattle Times. “The stream flows are going to be low, and barring a miracle, that landscape’s going to be bone dry.”
Cities like Seattle or Tacoma, which rely largely on rain-based reservoirs, aren’t expected to bear the brunt of the drought. In addition to being lucky with rainwater, Inslee said, urban water systems have been investing in water storage and collection, which help urban areas weather periods of low snowpack.
Washington isn’t the only Northwest state dealing with drought despite normal rainfall amounts. Seven counties in Oregon are already under a governor-declared drought emergency, with eight more already submitted to Gov. Kate Brown (D-OR) for consideration. Unlike California’s current drought — brought on by a combination of heat and lack of precipitation — both Washington and Oregon’s droughts have been called “wet droughts,” characterized by normal precipitation but above-average temperatures that cause winter snow to fall as rain instead.
With the Pacific Northwest expected to warm between three and ten degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, this year’s record-breaking winter — the warmest on record for Washington and the second-warmest for Oregon — could become the region’s new normal.
Natasha Geiling|May 18, 2015
Extreme Heat Exposure Up 4 to 6 Times by Mid-Century
Heat kills. Vulnerable populations, like the elderly and children, are highly affected — but the hazard extends to workplaces too, where heat has significant economic costs in addition to costing otherwise healthy workers their lives each year.
I came across a new study by The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) on the same day I found the usual late Spring reminder on the issue of heat hazards in the workplace in my email. The folks at Industrial Safety and Hygiene News (ISHN) succinctly highlight the risk:
“If the body cannot rid itself of excess heat, it will store it. When this happens, the body’s core temperature rises and the individual becomes sick. As the body temperature approaches 104ºF., the situation becomes life-threatening. At 106ºF, brain death begins.”
UCAR predicts “the average annual exposure to extreme heat in the United States during the study period (2041-2070) is expected to be between 10 and 14 billion person-days, compared to an annual average of 2.3 billion person-days between 1971 and 2000.” The UCAR study takes a two-pronged approach: it looks not just at warming due to climate change, but also at population trends.
They found that increased exposures to extreme heat due to climate change alone account for only about a third of the projected trend. Another third can be attributed to a combination of increasing temperatures and the growth of populations in those locations where that warming will result in extreme heat days. A final third of the increase in at-risk person days comes from population growth alone — higher birth rates in and people migrating to areas that have higher heat exposure.
Obviously, the population growth trends may reverse if the extreme heat gets too hot, and that could change the bright colors on the growth charts considerably. But this also comes at an economic cost: areas that become too hot to handle will find their populations dwindling.
Where people can manage the heat waves with air conditioning, economic costs and hospitalizations may be reined in, but the vicious cycle of using energy for air conditioning and increases to the urban heat island effects will contribute to both global and local warming.
Taken altogether, this study should get people thinking about how warming will impact people as well as how businesses and political centers can plan for the future.
Christine Lepisto|TreeHugger|May 20, 2015|This post originally appeared on TreeHugger.
Genetically Modified Organisms
Is Glyphosate in the Food on My Plate?
As Chipotle goes GMO-free, Monsanto’s worst fear is coming true
Next to MacDonalds, Burger King and KFC, Chipotle’s Mexican Grill is a minnow, writes Jonathan Latham. But its decision to go GMO-free will ultimately compel all America’s consumer-facing food brands to follow suit – because that’s what their customers want. Could this be the beginning of the end of GMOs? That’s what Monsanto, Dupont, Bayer and Syngenta fear.
A race to match Chipotle and get GMOs out of their product lines is a strong possibility. And for agribusiness titans who have backed GMOs, like Monsanto, Dupont, Bayer and Syngenta, that’s the ultimate nightmare scenario.
The decision of the Chipotle restaurant chain to make its product lines GMO-free is not most people’s idea of a world-historic event. Especially since Chipotle, by US standards, is not a huge operation.
A clear sign that the move is significant, however, is that Chipotle’s decision was met with a tidal-wave of establishment media abuse.
Despite the company’s clear and rational explanation of its move, Chipotle has been called irresponsible, anti-science, irrational, and much more by the Washington Post, Time Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the LA Times, and many others.
A business deciding to give consumers what they want was surely never so contentious.
The media lynching of Chipotle has an explanation that is important to the future of GMOs. The cause of it is that there has long been an incipient crack in the solid public front that the food industry has presented on the GMO issue.
GMOs are essential to agribusiness – but not to consumer-facing brands
The crack originates from the fact that while agribusiness sees GMOs as central to their business future, the brand-oriented and customer-sensitive ends of the food supply chain do not.
The brands who sell to the public, such as Nestle, Coca-Cola, Kraft, etc., are therefore much less committed to GMOs. They have gone along with their use, probably because they wish to maintain good relations with agribusiness, who are their allies and their suppliers. Possibly also they see a potential for novel products in a GMO future.
However, over the last five years, as the reputation of GMOs has come under increasing pressure in the US, the cost to food brands of ignoring the growing consumer demand for GMO-free products has increased. They might not say so in public, but the sellers of top brands have little incentive to take the flack for selling GMOs.
From this perspective, the significance of the Chipotle move becomes clear. If Chipotle can gain market share and prestige, or charge higher prices, from selling non-GMO products and give (especially young) consumers what they want, it puts traditional vendors of fast and processed food products in an invidious position.
Who’s next? Kraft? MacDonalds?
Kraft and MacDonalds, and their traditional rivals can hardly be left on the sidelines selling outmoded products to a shrinking market. They will not last long. MacDonald’s already appears to be in trouble, and it too sees the solution as moving to more up-market and healthier products.
For these much bigger players, a race to match Chipotle and get GMOs out of their product lines, is a strong possibility. That may not be so easy, in the short term, but for agribusiness titans who have backed GMOs, like Monsanto, Dupont, Bayer and Syngenta; a race to be GMO-free is the ultimate nightmare scenario.
Until Chipotle’s announcement, such considerations were all behind the scenes. But all of a sudden this split has spilled out into the food media.
On 8th May NY-based Hain Celestial, which describes itself as “a leading natural and organic food and personal care products company in North America and Europe” told The Food Navigator: “We sell organic products … gluten-free products and … natural products. [But] where the big, big demand is, is GMO-free … “
He added that 99% of the company’s products already contain no GMOs, 500 have been formally verified as GMO-free, another 650 are undergoing verification, and many more are in the pipeline.
According to the article, unlike Heinz, Kraft, and many others, Hain Celestial is actively seeking to meet this demand. Within the food industry, important decisions, for and against GMOs, are taking place.
Significantly, Chipotle is also working to take its GMO-free policy a stage further by sourcing only beef from pure grass-fed herds – and thus avoiding the GMO corn and soya based animal feeds that most cattle are fattened up on.
Herbicide residues – why the pressure to remove GMOs will grow
The other factor in all this turmoil is that the GMO technology wheel has not stopped turning. New GMO products are coming on stream that will likely make crop biotechnology even less popular than it is now. This will further ramp up the pressure on brands and stores to go GMO-free. There are several contributory factors.
The first issue follows from the recent US approvals of GMO crops resistant to the herbicides 2,4-D and Dicamba. These traits are billed as replacements for Roundup-resistant traits whose effectiveness has declined due to the spread of weeds resistant to Roundup (Glyphosate).
The causes of the problem, however, lie in the technology itself. The introduction of Roundup-resistant traits in corn and soybeans led to increasing Roundup use by farmers (Benbrook 2012).
Increasing Roundup use led to weed resistance, which led to further Roundup use, as farmers increased applications and dosages. This translated into escalated ecological damage and increasing residue levels in food. Roundup is now found in GMO soybeans intended for food use at levels that even Monsanto used to call “extreme“ (Bøhn et al. 2014).
The two new herbicide-resistance traits are set to recapitulate this same story of increasing agrochemical use. But they will also amplify it significantly.
A trajectory of ever-more herbicide on GMO crops
The specifics are worth considering. First, the spraying of 2,4-D and Dicamba on the newer herbicide-resistant crops will not eliminate the need for Roundup, whose use will not decline (see Figure).
That is because, unlike Roundup, neither 2,4-D nor Dicamba are broad-spectrum herbicides. They will have to be sprayed together with Roundup, or with each other (or all of them together) to kill all weeds. This vital fact has not been widely appreciated.
Confirmation comes from the companies themselves. Monsanto is stacking (i.e. combining) Dicamba resistance with Roundup resistance in its Xtend crops and Dow is stacking 2,4-D resistance with Roundup resistance in its Enlist range. Notably, resistance to other herbicides, such as glufosinate, are being stacked in all these GMO crops too.
The second issue is that the combined spraying of 2,4-D and Dicamba and Roundup, will only temporarily ease the weed resistance issues faced by farmers. In the medium and longer terms, they will compound the problems. That is because new herbicide-resistant weeds will surely evolve.
In fact, Dicamba-resistant and 2,4-D-resistant weeds already exist. Their spread, and the evolution of new ones, can be guaranteed (Mortensen et al 2012). This will bring greater profits for herbicide manufacturers, but it will also bring greater PR problems for GMOs and the food industry.
GMO soybeans and corn will likely soon have “extreme levels” of at least three different herbicides, all of them with dubious safety records (Schinasi and Leon 2014).
The first time round, Monsanto and Syngenta’s PR snow-jobs successfully obscured this, not just from the general public, but even within agronomy. But it is unlikely they will be able to do so a second time. 2,4-D and Dicamba-resistant GMOs are thus a PR disaster waiting to happen.
A pipeline full of problems: risk and perception
The longer term problem for GMOs is that, despite extravagant claims, their product pipeline is not bulging with promising ideas. Mostly, it is more of the same: herbicide resistance and insect resistance.
The most revolutionary and innovative part of that pipeline is a technology and not a trait. Many products in the GMO pipeline are made using RNA interference technologies that rely on double-stranded RNAs (dsRNAs).
dsRNA is a technology with two problems. One is that products made with it (such as the ‘Arctic’ apple, the ‘Innate’ potato, and Monsanto’s ‘Vistive Gold’ soybeans) are unproven in the field. Like its vanguard, a Brazilian virus-resistant bean, they may never work under actual farming conditions.
But if they do work, there is a clear problem with their safety which is explained in detail here (PDF).
In outline, the problem is this: the long dsRNA molecules needed for RNA interference were rejected long ago as being too hazardous for routine medical use (Anonymous, 1969). The scientific literature even calls them “toxins”, as in a 1969 paper in Nature by Absher & Stinebring (see references).
As further evidence of this, long dsRNAs are now used in medicine to cause autoimmune disorders in mice, in order to study these disorders (Okada et al 2005).
The Absher and Stinebring paper comes from a body of research built up many years ago, but its essential findings have been confirmed and extended by more modern research. We now know why dsRNAs cause harm.
They trigger destructive anti-viral defence pathways in mammals and other vertebrates and there is a field of specialist research devoted to showing precisely how this damages individual cells, whole tissues, and results in auto-immune disease in mice (Karpala et al. 2005).
The conclusion therefore, is that dsRNAs that are apparently indistinguishable from those produced in, for example, the Arctic apple and Monsanto’s Vistive Gold Soybean, have strong negative effects on vertebrate animals (but not plants). These vertebrate effects are found even at low doses.
Have they forgotten that humans are ‘vertebrate animals’?
Consumers are vertebrate animals. They may not appreciate the thought that their healthy fats and forever apples also contain proven toxins. And on a business front, consumer brands will not relish defending dsRNA technology once they understand the reality. They may not wish to find themselves defending the indefensible.
The bottom line is this. Either dsRNAs will sicken or kill people, or, they will give opponents of biotechnology plenty of ammunition. The scientific evidence, as it currently stands, suggests they will do both. dsRNAs, therefore, are a potentially huge liability.
The last pipeline problem stems from the first two. The agbiotech industry has long held out the prospect of ‘consumer benefits’ from GMOs. Consumer benefits (in the case of food) are most likely to be health benefits (improved nutrition, altered fat composition, etc).
The problem is that the demographic of health-conscious consumers no doubt overlaps significantly with the demographic of those most wary of GMOs. Show a consumer a ‘healthy GMO’ and they are likely to show you an oxymoron.
The likely health market in the US for customers willing to pay more for a GMO has probably evaporated in the last few years as GMOs have become a hot public issue.
The end-game for GMOs?
The traditional chemical industry approach to such a problem is a familiar repertoire of intimidation and public relations. Fifty years ago, the chemical industry outwitted and outmaneuvered environmentalists after the death of Rachel Carson (see the books Toxic Sludge is Good for You and Trust Us We’re Experts).
But that was before email, open access scientific publication, and the internet. Monsanto and its allies have steadily lost ground in a world of peer-to-peer communication. GMOs have become a liability, despite their best efforts.
The historic situation is this: in any country, public acceptance of GMOs has always been based on lack of awareness of their existence. Once that ignorance evaporates and the scientific and social realities start to be discussed, ignorance cannot be reinstated. From then on the situation moves into a different, and much more difficult phase for the defenders of GMOs.
Nevertheless, in the US, those defenders have not yet given up. Anyone who keeps up with GMOs in the media knows that the public is being subjected to an unrelenting and concerted global blitzkrieg.
Pro-GMO advocates and paid-for journalists, presumably financed by the life-science industry, sometimes fronted by non-profits such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are being given acres of prominent space to make their case.
Liberal media outlets such as the New York Times, the National Geographic, the New Yorker, Grist magazine, the Observer newspaper, and any others who will have them (which is most) have been deployed to spread its memes. Cornell University has meanwhile received a $5.6 million grant by the Gates Foundation to “depolarize” negative GMO publicity.
The anti-GMO movement is only growing in strength and numbers
But so far there is little sign that the growth of anti-GMO sentiment in Monsanto’s home (US) market can be halted. The decision by Chipotle is certainly not an indication of faith that it can.
For Monsanto and GMOs the situation suddenly looks ominous. Chipotle may well represent the beginnings of a market swing of historic proportions. GMOs may be relegated to cattle-feed status, or even oblivion, in the USA. And if GMOs fail in the US, they are likely to fail elsewhere.
GMO roll-outs in other countries have relied on three things: the deep pockets of agribusinesses based in the United States, their political connections, and the notion that GMOs represent ‘progress’.
If those three disappear in the United States, the power to force open foreign markets will disappear too. The GMO era might suddenly be over.
Jonathan Latham|20th May 2015
No weeds are in the lawn,
dandelions are gone.
A potent dose of glyphosate,
that’s what sealed their fate.
There are no honey bees
in flowers or in trees.
Were they slain by glyphosate?
Is that why they’ve been absent as of late?
Soda pop, chicken, eggs and meat,
all the things that we love to eat,
everything on our plate
is laced with glyphosate.
The milk in the cow’s teat,
every slab of meat,
all foods made from corn or wheat,
glyphosate is in everything we eat.
If your gut’s all bloated and wound up
is it because lunch had traces of Roundup?
Monsanto’s name for glyphosate,
it was likely in everything you ate.
It is a baneful truism:
cancer, chronic disease and autism
have increased at a dire rate
since the earth was bathed in glyphosate.
Is humanity doomed to the weeds’ fate?
Does our extinction have a firm date?
Or can we rally–if it’s not too late–
and liberate our world from glyphosate?
Floyd D. Anderson|May 17th, 2015
GMH: Genetically Modified Humans?
In addition to the ethical questions and the serious unintended health consequences, this would also open the door to patenting human DNA.
Late last month, a group of Chinese scientists published a study that tried to answer the question, “Is it possible to edit the genetic makeup of human embryos?”
It’s a question that has occupied scientists and medical researchers for some time. An estimated 12 million Americans are affected by genetic disorders like hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease, and many others. While treatments exist for some of these, other conditions have no known cure. This has led to research in genetic manipulation as a means of curing disease.
Scientists recently developed CRISPR, which stands for “Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat.” The Chinese scientists used this genome-editing technique in their study to target and manipulate specific genes.
The idea for CRISPR came from studying bacteria’s ability to fight viruses. Bacteria create molecules that can attack specific stretches of a virus’s DNA. Why not use this, the scientists reasoned, as a way to attack and replace the mutated genes that are causing disease in humans with properly functioning DNA? Or, to go one step further, why not attempt to “fix the mistake” early on in the embryo and replace the faulty genes from the outset?
This is precisely what the Chinese scientists set out to accomplish. Using defective embryos that would never grow into babies, the team hoped to end with an embryo that had precisely altered DNA in each cell and no other damage.
Out of eighty-six human embryos, not a single one met that criteria of success by the end of the study. Seventy-one embryos survived long enough to study, but most of these either died before the study was completed, or else the target gene never altered. In a few cases the researchers were able to successfully alter the gene—but these resulted in potentially disastrous problems with wide-reaching implications, like unintended mutations and genetic “mosaics” where some cells in the embryo were edited while others were not.
The study caused quite a controversy in the scientific community. One of the Chinese researchers said their study was rejected by the journals Nature and Science for ethical reasons. Dr. George Daley, an expert in stem cell research at Harvard Medical School, said, “Their study should be a stern warning to any practitioner who thinks the technology is ready for testing to eradicate disease genes.” Before the study was even published, a group of scientists published a letter in Science warning that this was dangerous ground. A few days after the study was published, the National Institutes for Health reaffirmed its ban on funding any research that involves gene editing in embryos.
Setting aside the widely publicized trepidation of many scientists and government agencies about the ethics of experiments like this, there are other major concerns about this type of research:
- Even if the government agrees not to fund embryo gene-editing research, there are other ways for the research to continue. In fact, there is at least one US genetics center using CRISPR on abnormal embryos rejected by in-vitro fertilization clinics—and this center is far less transparent about its work.
- We recently reported that the US Patent and Trade Office (USPTO) is considering a different framework for determining the patent eligibility for natural substances. If a patent claim describes “a law of nature, a natural phenomenon, or an abstract idea,” it must amount to “significantly more” than what is found in nature to be eligible for a patent. The Supreme Court has previously struck down patents on human genes, but if a company is able to successfully create a novel process of genetic alteration of human DNA, this sort of loose definition of “natural” could be enough to give that company a patent. As we’ve noted before, the change in USPTO’s framework could also allow Big Pharma to steal natural supplements and monopolize previously affordable substances like bioidentical estriol and 17P.
- While some of the more alarming scenarios are still a long way off, there are more immediate dangers in editing human genes. Genetic manipulation in humans, rather than curing disease, could create a host of new and even more dangerous diseases and genetic mutations. Changing the genetic makeup of the germ line—which includes the egg, sperm, and embryo—could have severe consequences for a research subject’s descendants. Scientists simply do not know what the effect will be of genetic alterations passed down from generation to generation.
anh-usa|GMO News|May 19, 2015
In unusual move, German scientists lobby for GM labeling
BERLIN—When it comes to labeling genetically modified (GM) food, the battle lines are usually clear: Those who oppose genetic engineering want it labeled, and those who support it see no need. But today, a group of German scientists and other proponents of GM organisms launched a campaign to require labeling of anything that contains or has been produced with the help of GM organisms.
Their unusual plea is a political gamble; rather than making it more difficult for GM products to reach consumers, they hope the new law will show Germans just how widespread such products already are—whether it’s in food, clothes, drugs, or washing powder—and that there is nothing to be afraid of.
The petition to the German parliament, which will go online tomorrow, asks the German government to prepare a law that requires GM labeling for all food, feed, drugs, textiles, chemicals, and other products that have been produced using genetic engineering. The petition also calls on the government to advocate a similar law at the E.U. level.
The text was written by Horst Rehberger, who leads a group called Forum Grüne Vernunft (Forum Green Reason), and has the backing of several prominent scientists, including Nobel Prize winner Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, as well as some politicians. If it receives more than 50,000 signatures in the next 4 weeks, the German parliament has to consider the proposal.
Germany already requires GM crops to be labeled as such; the same is true for foods produced directly from them, such as oil made from GM soy beans. Yet many products in which genetic modification played an indirect role require no labeling. Pork can be certified GM-free, for instance, if the animals didn’t eat GM feed in the 4 months prior to slaughter. “The current system is inadequate and sometimes even misleading,” Rehberger says.
Greenpeace and several other environmental groups agree that products from animals raised on GM feed require labeling, but not many other products in which genetic modification played some minor role; that would distract consumers from the real issues, they say. “There is a difference between a piece of tofu produced from 100% genetically modified soy beans and milk from a cow that as a calf received vitamins, one of which was produced with the help of a genetically modified bacterium in a closed system,” says Stephanie Töwe-Rimkeit of Greenpeace in Hamburg. The proposal is designed to negate these differences, making consumer decisions harder instead of easier, she charges.
The proposal does not specify what the labels should look like. Several scientists supporting the petition say labeling needs to be graded, distinguishing for instance whether a product contains GM organisms or has just been processed by them. “I think we just need to be honest and transparent to consumers,” says Wilfried Schwab, a professor of biotechnology of natural products at Technische Universität München.
The proposal is a chance to change the conversation about GM organisms, says geneticist Hans-Jörg Jacobsen, who helped develop pea plants resistant to several fungi. Jacobsen, who retired last year, says his line of research has become all but impossible in Europe; his peas are now being field-tested in Canada. “I think it was a mistake not to label GM food from the beginning,” Jacobsen says.
How consumers would react if GM labels proliferated on supermarket shelves is unclear; there is some research suggesting that they might not be as concerned as genetic modification proponents believe. In one study, consumers in Germany and five other countries were offered three options at a fruit stall: “organic,” “conventional,” and “spray-free genetically modified” fruit. When prices were the same, one-fifth of the consumers opted for GM fruit. Modeling suggested that if GM fruit was sold at a 15% discount and organic fruit at a 15% premium—which the authors say is most likely—GM products would get more popular; in three countries, including Germany, they might even have the highest market share.
With time, a GM label could even become a positive sign, Jacobsen says, just like “Made in Germany,” which was originally introduced in Great Britain to mark inferior import products. “Look how that turned out,” he says.
THERE IS NO SCIENTIFIC CONSENSUS ON THE SAFETY OF GMOs
GMO LABELING MUST BE MANDATORY
Though the debates continue, experts agree that there is no consensus on the safety of GMOs. Organizations aligned with the agrichemical/biotech industry often mislead the public with claims of absolute safety when, in fact, the safety of GMOs is fully inconclusive. In the absence of a consensus on the safety of GMOs, it is recommended that mandatory labeling standards be enacted to allow the public a choice whether they consume Genetically Engineered/GM food or not.
Agrichemical/biotech proponents say that the scientific consensus is that GMO foods are safe, but the truth is that the IAASTD Global Report, co-sponsored by the WHO (World Health Organization) and six other world organizations, says GMOs have NOT been proven safe. Following are 124 other health or science related organizations from around the world that are in agreement with the IAASTD report, and/or support mandatory GMO labeling.
Also, read Food & Water Watch’s September 2014 Issue Brief titled “The So-Called Scientific ‘Consensus': Why the Debate on GMO Safety Is Not Over” to learn how GMO advocates misinform the public. Download the Issue Brief PDF HERE.
Chipotle Under Attack for Going GMO Free
Since when do the mainstream news media, in a country that worships at the altar of capitalism and the free market, launch a coordinated attack against a company for selling a product consumers want? When that company dares to cross the powerful biotech industry. How else to explain the unprecedented negative coverage of Chipotle, merely because the successful restaurant chain will eliminate genetically modified foods (GMOs)?
The biotech industry has a long history of discrediting scientists who challenge the safety of GMOs. That intimidation campaign worked well until consumers connected the dots between GMO foods (and the toxic chemicals used to grow them) and health concerns. Once consumers demanded labels on GMO foods, the biotech industry responded with a multimillion dollar public relations campaign.
Yet despite spending millions to influence the media, and millions more to prevent laws requiring labels on products the industry claims are safe, Monsanto has lost the hearts and minds of consumers. The latest polls show that 93 percent of Americans support mandatory labeling of GMO foods.
Chipotle has made a sound business decision, which has forced the biotech industry to stoop to a new low: vilifying businesses. Sadly, the mainstream media appear all too happy (manipulated?) to go along with the attack.
Only in the U.S. does the biotech industry wield such power, which is arguably having a negative effect on the free market. Take McDonald’s. In the U.S., the fast-food chain is in trouble. In Britain (and other countries), where McDonald’s is GMO-free, it is profitable.
In March, 17 leading cancer researchers concluded that glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, widely used on GMO crops, is a “probable” carcinogen. In 1985, Environmental Protection Agency scientists drew the same conclusion. According to hundreds of scientists worldwide, there is no consensus on the safety of GMO foods.
A growing number of consumers don’t want GMO foods. Chipotle is responding to that demand. Biotech’s attack on Chipotle is an act of desperation. The mainstream media’s complicity is a failure of the institution of journalism.
Ronnie Cummins|May 20, 2015
Did We Almost Lose New York?
For the third time in a decade, a major fire/explosion has ripped apart a transformer at the Indian Point reactor complex.
News reports have taken great care to emphasize that the accident happened in the “non nuclear” segment of the plant.
Ironically, the disaster spewed more than 15,000 gallons of oil into the Hudson River, infecting it with a toxic sheen that carried downstream for miles. Entergy, the nuke’s owner, denies there were PCBs in this transformer.
It also denies numerous studies showing serious radioactive health impacts on people throughout the region.
You can choose whether you want to believe the company in either case.
But PCBs were definitely spread by the last IP transformer fire. They re-poisoned a precious liquid lifeline where activists have spent decades dealing with PCBs previously dumped in by General Electric, which designed the reactors at Fukushima.
Meanwhile, as always, the nuclear industry hit the automatic play button to assure us all that there was “no danger” to the public and “no harmful release” of radiation.
But what do we really know about what happened and could have happened this time around?
At an integrated system like a reactor complex, are there really any significant components whose impacts are totally removed from the ability to touch off a nuclear disaster?
A “non nuclear” earthquake, 120 kilometers away, caused Fukushima One to melt, and then explode. “Non nuclear” backup power sources failed after being flooded by a “non nuclear” tsunami, leading to still more melt-downs and explosions. “Non nuclear” air crashes, either accidental or as at 9/11, or bombs or terror attacks could rapidly convert Indian Point and any other commercial reactor into an unimaginable nuclear disaster.
At Indian Point, “non nuclear” gas pipelines flow dangerously close to highly vulnerable reactors. In an utterly insane proposal that almost defies description, corporate powers want to run another gas pipeline more than 40 inches in diameter within a scant few yards of the reactor epicenters. An explosion that could obliterate much of the site would of course be “non nuclear” in origin. But the consequences could be sufficiently radioactive to condemn millions of humans to horrifying health consequences and render the entire region a permanent wasteland. Indian Point, in Buchanan, New York, is about 45 miles north of Manhattan.
The real dangers of this most recent fiasco are impossible to assess. But Indian Point sits all-to-near the “non nuclear” Ramapo seismic fault line which is more than capable of reducing much of it to rubble. Twice now—in Ohio and Virginia—earthquakes have done significant damage to American reactors. With 20 million people close downwind and trillions of dollars worth of dense-packed property, a Fukushima-scale hit at Indian Point would easily qualify as an Apocalyptic event.
But its owners would not be financially liable beyond the sliver of cash they’ve contributed to the $12-odd billion federal fund meant to cover such events. Likely damage to health and property would soar into the trillions, but this is none of Entergy’s concern. Small wonder the company has no real incentive to spend on safety, especially when a captured regulatory agency lets it do pretty much whatever it wants.
Aside from the magnitude of its kill zone, Indian Point is unique in its level of opposition. Andrew Cuomo, governor of the nation’s fourth-most populous state (behind California, Texas and Florida), has been demanding its closure for years. New York and numerous downwind cities, towns and counties have gone to court on issues ranging from water quality to evacuation to earthquake dangers and more.
Even the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) concedes that Indian Point—among other reactors—has been out of compliance on simple fire protection standards for years. To “cure” the problem, the NRC—which depends financially on the industry it’s meant to regulate—has simply issued waivers allowing Indian Point to operate without meeting established fire safety standards.
Unique (so far) among American reactors, Indian Point Unit Two doesn’t even have a license to operate.
But Unit Three’s is about to expire, with no hint the NRC might actually shut either. So if America’s atomic reactors are now allowed to operate without actual licenses, and with known safety violations, what’s the point of any regulation at all?
Meanwhile the paltry power generated by these antiquated clunkers can be gotten far more reliably, cheaply, cleanly and safely from renewable sources and increased efficiency. But since that doesn’t fit Entergy’s peculiar bottom line, and since its parent industry still has sufficient political pull to keep going, we all remain at risk.
So in an industry where technical information is closely held, we can’t fully evaluate the threat imposed by this latest malfeasance. The only thing certain is that it will happen again.
This newest fire at Indian Point should remind us that we are all hostage to an industry that operates in open defiance of the laws of the public, the economy and basic physics.
Sooner or later all three will demand their due. We can passively hope our planet and our species will survive the consequences.
Or we can redouble our efforts to make sure all these reactors are shut before such a reckoning dumps us into the abyss.
Harvey Wasserman|May 14, 2015
Indian Point Fire Raises Huge Concerns Over Siting of Spectra Pipeline
The recent transformer fire at the aging Indian Point nuclear power facility in Buchanan, New York in Westchester County just 30 miles north of New York City, garnered wide coverage in the global media including a visit to the site by New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Throughout the coverage, there was little mention of Spectra Energy’s proposed new 42-inch diameter, high-pressure gas pipeline which presents a serious new hazard to the troubled plant that has been on the federal list of the nation’s worst nuclear power plants and has had its share of accidents since its operations began in 1973.
For over a year, local, county, state and federal elected officials, as well as the public, have joined the calls by pipeline, nuclear power and medical disaster and safety experts for a full independent risk assessment of the siting of a massive new gas pipeline 105 feet from vital structures at the aging nuclear plant. In fact, Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties and several municipalities passed resolutions last year calling for independent health and risk assessments and other protective measures prior to any decisions about the pipeline that were dismissed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
Both FERC and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) signed off on the project despite numerous unresolved questions and unverifiable claims made by Entergy, the nuclear power plant’s operator, in its own internal analysis of the safety of the plant in connection with the risk posed by Spectra Energy’s Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) high pressure gas pipeline. The transformer fire last week dramatically demonstrates that a comprehensive, independent and transparent risk assessment must be implemented immediately and the findings fully addressed before the pipeline company takes further action. NRC and FERC approvals for the AIM project warrant immediate retraction in the absence of a thorough independent risk analysis.
Rick Kuprewicz of Accufacts, a renowned pipeline expert, engaged by the town of Cortlandt to evaluate the project’s impacts on the Indian Point plant, and Paul Blanch, a nuclear power expert with more than 45 years of nuclear safety experience, analyzed the Entergy hazard study that was confirmed by the NRC, and believe the analyses severely underestimate the risk of catastrophic failure at the plant in the event of a pipeline rupture. Kuprewicz said, “in the event of a pipeline rupture in this sensitive location, the system dynamics will substantially delay the recognition and appropriate shutoff and responses such that the gas will explode and burn for quite a period of time.”
Blanch submitted a formal petition to the NRC in October 2014 and was recently notified by the Petition Review Board that “the staff’s overall conclusion is that both Indian Point units could safely shut down.” Blanch strongly disagrees with this conclusion and stated, “The gas isolation valves designed to terminate gas flow and prevent core damage must be designed and operated in accordance with NRC’s requirements specified within 10 CFR Part 50. The NRC is delegating its exclusive responsibility for nuclear safety requirements and enforcement to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). The NRC position is unacceptable, unprecedented and unparalleled in the history of commercial nuclear power.” Blanch has requested a local public venue near Indian Point for a final presentation to the Petition Review Board. A local meeting would be in compliance with NRC guidelines regarding public participation because it would enable all stakeholders, including U.S. Senators Schumer and Gillibrand of New York, Congresswoman Lowey, Gov. Cuomo and the public, to attend this critically important presentation.
The more than 20 million residents living within the 50 mile radius of the Indian Point nuclear power facility are keenly aware of the fact that the plant has been under scrutiny for many years and that there are many problems associated with its operation. For example, concerns regarding Indian Point’s location in a significant seismic zone and its highest risk of earthquake damage of any nuclear power plant in the country became even more concerning after the Fukushima disaster in 2011. Last spring, the NRC ordered Entergy to do a full seismic study that will not be completed until June 2017. Just a few months later in July, a 2.5 magnitude earthquake occurred only 10 miles from the plant. The introduction of a major risk from the new gas pipeline is unfathomable. As Gov. Cuomo stated at the site on Sunday, “This plant is the nuclear plant that is closest to the most densely populated area on the globe. If something goes wrong here, it can go very wrong for a lot of people. So it’s always been a priority for us.”
Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Earth Institute and professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University expressed concern about the proposed plan to expand the Algonquin pipeline without a thorough, objective review of the environmental impact and potential public health risks that might be posed by this project and stated, “Of particular concern is the proximity of the project to a significant seismic zone and the Indian Point nuclear plant. This combination of factors presents a real risk of major disaster with profound, long-term impact on the region.” He further stated, “I truly hope that the time and resources will be made available to assess the safety of the project and reassure the public that every possible risk has been properly examined.”
Thousands of New York tri-state area residents have been calling upon Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, Congresswoman Lowey, Gov. Cuomo and other leaders to fulfill their most fundamental responsibility to protect the health and safety of more than 20 million people who live and work in the region by publicly insisting that the NRC allow Blanch to present locally, that FERC rescind its approval of the AIM project immediately and that an independent and transparent risk assessment be fully implemented.
The public’s awareness is growing about the alarming rates of unintended gas pipeline failures. According to the DOT’s Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, there were 119 incidents in gas transmission pipelines in 2014 alone. Research reveals that almost 100 percent of pipeline ruptures result in ignition, yet, the document confirmed by the NRC inexplicably claims the probability of an explosion after a pipeline rupture is only 5 percent, a number that is not supported in any of the cited references.
Entergy’s document, approved by the NRC, claims that in the event of a pipeline rupture, the gas flow could be shut down in three minutes. According to Blanch, “There’s absolutely no basis for the number; we don’t know where it came from. A more realistic number is between 30 minutes and three hours.”
It took 95 minutes to shut down gas flow in 2010 when a San Bruno, California pipeline explosion that involved a 36-inch diameter pipeline with much lower pressure killed eight people, injured close to 60 and destroyed or damaged more than 100 homes. Gas flow shutdown took three hours when a 36-inch diameter pipeline ruptured in Edison, New Jersey in 1994 that injured more than 100 people and destroyed more than 300 homes.
With no local shut off valves on the AIM pipeline, operations are remotely controlled 1,000 miles away at Spectra Energy’s facilities in Houston, Texas. A pipeline rupture within 120 feet of Indian Point’s fuel oil tank, switchyard and other vital structures and within several hundred feet of its 40 years of highly radioactive spent fuel rods could have catastrophic impacts. The most basic question has yet to be answered. In the event of a pipeline rupture, could the nuclear reactors at Indian Point be safely and securely shut down? According to the safety experts, someone needs to demonstrate that would not be a problem, but no one has done that.
Ellen Weininger|May 19, 2015
How Fossil Fuel Companies get Paid to Pollute
You may have seen a new ad from the American Petroleum Institute, telling us that oil and gas companies cannot afford to–and don’t want to–spend money to clean up their pollution. Using outright lies to bolster their position, they claim that strong smog protections are expensive, and unnecessary.
But here’s what they don’t want to advertise: American taxpayers are supporting fossil fuel companies–to the tune of billions–while they are making record profits.
This is an industry that spent 1.8 BILLION DOLLARS on lobbying between 2010 and 2014.
A few examples, as recently reported by The Guardian news team:
Shell gets $1.6 billion from Pennsylvania taxpayers for a proposed petrochemical refinery–a deal made in 2012 when Shell made $26.8 billion in annual profits.
ExxonMobil gets $119 million from Louisiana taxpayers to upgrade a refinery–starting in 2011, when ExxonMobil made $14 billion in profit.
Marathon Petroleum gets $78 million from Ohio taxpayers for a jobs subsidy scheme–starting in 2011, when Marathon made $2.4 billion in profit.
Every minute, $10 million in subsidies–that’s taxpayer money–are going to fossil fuel companies.
We are giving companies our money while they are making record profits–and paying nothing for the harm they do us with their pollution.
These are the companies that are against subsidies for clean energy–but they’ll take subsidies for dirty fuel.
They are against strong smog standards–and they’ll ignore the significant health benefits of such standards when they “calculate” the costs.
They are against pollution control–and they’ll spend millions on a PR campaign to avoid paying for the damage they do to our health.
They are against taking action on climate change–and they’ll try to convince you it’s not their job to clean up the pollution that’s wreaking havoc on our world.
So what does the American Petroleum Institute stand for, exactly?
We know what we stand for: Health. Clean air. A stable climate.
Fossil fuels subsidized by $10m a minute, says IMF
‘Shocking’ revelation finds $5.3 trillion subsidy estimate for 2015 is greater than the total health spending of all the world’s governments
Fossil fuel companies are benefitting from global subsidies of $5.3tn (£3.4tn) a year, equivalent to $10m a minute every day, according to a startling new estimate by the International Monetary Fund.
The IMF calls the revelation “shocking” and says the figure is an “extremely robust” estimate of the true cost of fossil fuels. The $5.3tn subsidy estimated for 2015 is greater than the total health spending of all the world’s governments.
The vast sum is largely due to polluters not paying the costs imposed on governments by the burning of coal, oil and gas. These include the harm caused to local populations by air pollution as well as to people across the globe affected by the floods, droughts and storms being driven by climate change.
Shell, ExxonMobil and Marathon Petroleum got subsidies granted by politicians who received significant campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry, Guardian investigation reveals
Nicholas Stern, an eminent climate economist at the London School of Economics, said: “This very important analysis shatters the myth that fossil fuels are cheap by showing just how huge their real costs are. There is no justification for these enormous subsidies for fossil fuels, which distort markets and damages economies, particularly in poorer countries.”
Lord Stern said that even the IMF’s vast subsidy figure was a significant underestimate: “A more complete estimate of the costs due to climate change would show the implicit subsidies for fossil fuels are much bigger even than this report suggests.”
The IMF, one of the world’s most respected financial institutions, said that ending subsidies for fossil fuels would cut global carbon emissions by 20%. That would be a giant step towards taming global warming, an issue on which the world has made little progress to date.
Ending the subsidies would also slash the number of premature deaths from outdoor air pollution by 50% – about 1.6 million lives a year.
Furthermore, the IMF said the resources freed by ending fossil fuel subsidies could be an economic “game-changer” for many countries, by driving economic growth and poverty reduction through greater investment in infrastructure, health and education and also by cutting taxes that restrict growth.
Another consequence would be that the need for subsidies for renewable energy – a relatively tiny $120bn a year – would also disappear, if fossil fuel prices reflected the full cost of their impacts.
“These [fossil fuel subsidy] estimates are shocking,” said Vitor Gaspar, the IMF’s head of fiscal affairs and former finance minister of Portugal. “Energy prices remain woefully below levels that reflect their true costs.”
David Coady, the IMF official in charge of the report, said: “When the [$5.3tn] number came out at first, we thought we had better double check this!” But the broad picture of huge global subsidies was “extremely robust”, he said. “It is the true cost associated with fossil fuel subsidies.”
The IMF estimate of $5.3tn in fossil fuel subsidies represents 6.5% of global GDP. Just over half the figure is the money governments are forced to spend treating the victims of air pollution and the income lost because of ill health and premature deaths. The figure is higher than a 2013 IMF estimate because new data from the World Health Organisation shows the harm caused by air pollution to be much higher than thought.
Coal is the dirtiest fuel in terms of both local air pollution and climate-warming carbon emissions and is therefore the greatest beneficiary of the subsidies, with just over half the total. Oil, heavily used in transport, gets about a third of the subsidy and gas the rest.
The biggest single source of air pollution is coal-fired power stations and China, with its large population and heavy reliance on coal power, provides $2.3tn of the annual subsidies. The next biggest fossil fuel subsidies are in the US ($700bn), Russia ($335bn), India ($277bn) and Japan ($157bn), with the European Union collectively allowing $330bn in subsidies to fossil fuels.
The costs resulting from the climate change driven by fossil fuel emissions account for subsidies of $1.27tn a year, about a quarter, of the IMF’s total. The IMF calculated this cost using an official US government estimate of $42 a ton of CO2 (in 2015 dollars), a price “very likely to underestimate” the true cost, according to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The direct subsidizing of fuel for consumers, by government discounts on diesel and other fuels, account for just 6% of the IMF’s total. Other local factors, such as reduced sales taxes on fossil fuels and the cost of traffic congestion and accidents, make up the rest. The IMF says traffic costs are included because increased fuel prices would be the most direct way to reduce them.
Christiana Figueres, the UN’s climate change chief charged with delivering a deal to tackle global warming at a crunch summit in December, said: “The IMF provides five trillion reasons for acting on fossil fuel subsidies. Protecting the poor and the vulnerable is crucial to the phasing down of these subsidies, but the multiple economic, social and environmental benefits are long and legion.”
Barack Obama and the G20 nations called for an end to fossil fuel subsidies in 2009, but little progress had been made until oil prices fell in 2014. In April, the president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, told the Guardian that it was crazy that governments were still driving the use of coal, oil and gas by providing subsidies. “We need to get rid of fossil fuel subsidies now,” he said.
Reform of the subsidies would increase energy costs but Kim and the IMF both noted that existing fossil fuel subsidies overwhelmingly go to the rich, with the wealthiest 20% of people getting six times as much as the poorest 20% in low and middle-income countries. Gaspar said that with oil and coal prices currently low, there was a “golden opportunity” to phase out subsidies and use the increased tax revenues to reduce poverty through investment and to provide better targeted support.
Subsidy reforms are beginning in dozens of countries including Egypt, Indonesia, Mexico, Morocco and Thailand. In India, subsidies for diesel ended in October 2014. “People said it would not be possible to do that,” noted Coady. Coal use has also begun to fall in China for the first time this century.
On renewable energy, Coady said: “If we get the pricing of fossil fuels right, the argument for subsidies for renewable energy will disappear. Renewable energy would all of a sudden become a much more attractive option.”
Shelagh Whitley, a subsidies expert at the Overseas Development Institute, said: “The IMF report is yet another reminder that governments around the world are propping up a century-old energy model. Compounding the issue, our research shows that many of the energy subsidies highlighted by the IMF go toward finding new reserves of oil, gas and coal, which we know must be left in the ground if we are to avoid catastrophic, irreversible climate change.”
Developing the international cooperation needed to tackle climate change has proved challenging but a key message from the IMF’s work, according to Gaspar, is that each nation will directly benefit from tackling its own fossil fuel subsidies. “The icing on the cake is that the benefits from subsidy reform – for example, from reduced pollution – would overwhelmingly accrue to local populations,” he said.
“By acting local, and in their own best interest, [nations] can contribute significantly to the solution of a global challenge,” said Gaspar. “The path forward is clear: act local, solve global.”
Damian Carrington|18 May 2015
It’s Official: Texas Prohibits Local Fracking Bans
Yesterday Texas Gov. Abbott signed HB 40 into law. Written by former ExxonMobil lawyer Shannon Ratliff, the statute forces every Texas municipality wanting common sense limits on oil and gas development to demonstrate its rules are “commercially reasonable.” It effectively overturns a Denton ballot initiative banning fracking that passed last November.
“HB 40 was written by the oil and gas industry, for the oil and gas industry, to prevent voters from holding the oil and gas industry accountable for its impacts,” said Earthworks’ Texas organizer Sharon Wilson. Wilson, who played a key role in the Denton ballot initiative, continued, “It was the oil and gas industry’s contempt for impacted residents that pushed Denton voters to ban fracking in the first place. And now the oil and gas industry, through state lawmakers, has doubled down by showing every city in Texas that same contempt.”
By a 59-41 percent vote, including 70 percent of straight ticket Republican voters, the residents of Denton banned hydraulic fracturing within city limits. The ban was a last resort after more than five years of fruitlessly petitioning oil and gas companies, the city and the state for help. “By signing HB40 into law, Governor Abbott just declared that industry profits are more important than our health, our homes and our kids,” said Adam Briggle, president of the Denton Drilling Awareness Group and a leader in the Frack Free Denton effort. He continued, “The letter of Texas law now says no city can ‘effectively prevent an oil and gas operation from occurring,’ no matter the threat to families’ health and safety or damage to private property.”
Earthworks|Denton Drilling Awareness Group|Earthjustice|Natural Resources Defense Council|May 19, 2015
Activists blockade Seattle port to protest Shell’s Arctic drilling plans
For the second time in three days, Seattle is the vibrant center of the global climate movement. On Saturday, hundreds of “kayaktivists” took to the water to protest the recent arrival of a Shell oil drilling rig. On Monday, hundreds of activists blocked road traffic to the port where the rig is stationed, preventing the majority of port workers from getting to their jobs.
The immediate target of protest is Shell’s Polar Pioneer rig, which arrived in Puget Sound last Thursday. Shell intends to use Seattle as a staging ground for oil drilling operations in the Arctic. Activists are concerned about the high potential for spills and accidents in the remote, icy area off the Alaska coast, but they’re particularly outraged that Shell plans to drill for oil in the melting Arctic. Climate scientists have said Arctic oil must stay in the ground if we’re to prevent the worst of climate change. And they’re furious that Shell is bringing its dirty business to green Seattle.
The protesters began marching into the Port of Seattle before 7 a.m. on Monday. They successfully blocked traffic on the West Seattle bridge early in the morning and then created a blockade at the port’s Terminal 5, where the Polar Pioneer is parked. They were serious about their cause — but also serious about having some fun.
Rallying cries of “Shell No!” rang out across the terminal, activists displayed beautifully hand-painted banners and picket signs, local DJs started blasting some tunes and began a dance party, a flock of humans dressed as pelicans showed their moves, and two Alaskan natives performed traditional songs and told stories about their tribes’ ways of life. The terminal was flanked by Seattle police officers on bikes; both they and the protesters remained peaceful and no arrests were made.
The #ShellNo protests came together without any designated leadership, said Ahmed Gaya, an organizer for Rising Tide Seattle, an environmental activist organization.
“The fact that we turned about 500 people out at 7 a.m. … to come down and risk arrest from the Port, I mean that in and of itself is a tremendous show of strength. We said we were going to hold a festival of resistance at Terminal 5 and I think we’ve definitely made do [on that]. We’ve successfully blockaded the gates and created a festive environment that is open and welcoming. You see families here, kids here. We’ve made this very aggressive action accessible to a wide range of people and that’s been really beautiful,” Gaya said.
And indeed the protestors were a diverse group of people –university students, old-school activists, professionals in suits, and even a corgi or two.
“In my two and a half years of organizing in Seattle, I have never seen anything like this,” said Emily Johnston, an organizer with 350 Seattle. “Everybody has jumped in, everybody is passionate, everybody is pretty unified.”
Zoe Buckley Lennox, a Greenpeace activist who scaled and camped out on the Polar Pioneer drilling rig last month while it was en route to Seattle, was excited by the turnout. “It’s fulfilling that the story is going and people are still fighting this,” she said.
People who couldn’t attend in person tracked the #ShellNo action via social media. Two supporters from the East Coast even had pizzas delivered to the protesters, said Johnston.
George Pletnikoff, an Alaskan native from St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea, said the Seattle protests have been inspiring to him and the Unangan community in the Aleutian Islands. In Alaska, the climate movement is on the rise, he said, because people are seeing the impacts of global warming first-hand.
Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant also attended the protest. Sawant, a staunch advocate of workers’ rights and economic justice, was elected to the Seattle City Council in 2013 running on a platform advocating raising Seattle’s minimum wage to $15 per hour. A version of her proposal passed last year and started going into effect at the start of this year. She has since broadened her scope and become a vocal anti-Shell advocate, as have many other city leaders.
“We’re here today because elected leadership at every level has failed … If you look globally, if you observe who are the worst hit with environmental devastation, you will see that it’s systematically low-income people, the poor, those who are politically marginalized. … There is no doubt that the movement for environmental sanity really is a movement for environmental justice,” said Sawant.
While activists who attended the event marked the protest as a victory, they all know that the fight has just begun. They hope to get the Polar Pioneer ejected from the Port of Seattle. Port commissioners approved Shell’s plan in January, but the mayor and the city council oppose it. Two weeks ago, Mayor Ed Murray declared that the Port of Seattle must reapply for a new permit to lease terminal space to Shell, which could delay the company’s Arctic drilling plans by weeks or months.
Meanwhile, activists will be cooking up more protests and direct actions, so expect Seattle to remain in the spotlight for a while.
Ana Sofia Knauf|18 May 2015
Flagler Commissioners Formalize Opposition to Fracking and Seismic Testing for Oil and Gas
Two weeks ago Flagler County commissioners said they wanted to formalize their opposition to off-shore oil and gas drilling and to fracking, the technique of drilling for oil through hydraulic fracturing of soil and rock beneath the surface. This evening, commissioners are expected to approve to resolutions to that effect.
Currently, some 90 percent of federally owned coastal waters are closed to drilling. Drilling off of Florida’s Gulf coast is banned until at least 2022.
But in January, the Obama administration—in a surprise—presented a plan that would allow oil and gas drilling off the Atlantic coast along the coastline of southern states. Leases would be issued in waters starting in Virginia and ending in Georgia, but not off of Florida. That followed a move by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management last summer to allow seismic testing related to oil and gas exploration offshore along the entire coast—including off of Florida waters.
Sen. Bill Nelson, the Florida Democrat, sees the seismic testing allowance as a first step toward actual drilling. He failed to get the administration to back off of such testing. In late April, he filed a bill, S. 1171, that would impose an open-ended moratorium on oil and gas-related seismic activity. The moratorium would be lifted only if the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration determines that such activity’s effects on individuals or populations of marine mammals, sea turtles, or fish “are minimal.”
“Drilling off Florida’s Atlantic coast would be unwise and impractical,” Nelson said. “It would interfere with military operations off of Jacksonville and rocket launches from Kennedy Space Center and Patrick Air Force base, not to mention the environmental hazards it would pose. If you’re not going to drill there, then why do the seismic testing?”
Seismic testing triggers largely unknown effects on marine life. In March, 75 leading ocean scientists wrote Obama, urging him to halt the use of seismic testing off the Atlantic coast, claiming the activity “represents a significant threat to marine life throughout the region.” Gov. Rick Scott, too, asked the administration in late March to halt testing.
At a May 4 Flagler County Commission meeting, Commissioner Barbara Revels asked the county administrator to draft a resolution supporting Nelson’s and the governor’s opposition to seismic testing, and urging Congress to pass Nelson’s bill. The “enormity of environmental and ecological risk, in addition to that of public health and human safety,” the Flagler resolution reads, “surpass the desire to expand oil and gas exploration and drilling in the advancement of strategic private business goals and objectives.”
The resolution makes note of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and ties the county’s opposition to oil and gas drilling to Flagler’s tourism industry.
“Long term damage to marine life, ecosystems, business, and tourism around Florida’s Panhandle and along the coast has illustrated the gravity of economic and environmental danger oil and gas related catastrophes pose for the entire State should well-drilling in this region be permitted by Congress,” the administrator’s memo to the commission reads. “Flagler County is a hub for tourism in Florida and as a Coastal County, relies heavily on a clean ocean and beach environment to attract this new business both local and abroad.”
Revels also sought a similar statement opposing fracking, even though no such exploration appears likely in the county in the near future.
“I’m trying to think if you can even do fracking in Flagler County,” Commission Chairman Frank Meeker said.
But fracking has been drawing increasing attention and causing controversy because of its potential to heavily damage the environment, even though out of view. Fracking is conducted by drilling beneath the soil’s surface and injecting shale layers with mixtures of water and chemicals at extremely high pressures to release oil and gas trapped in rock. The relatively new exploration method led to a surge in oil and gas production in the United States, especially in North Dakota, Wyoming and Texas, but it has also been tied to small earthquakes and to the poisoning of water aquifers.
A bill filed in the Florida Legislature in the last, abbreviated session would have called for studies on fracking’s effects. The bill died.
“You talk about Florida’s water system, and all of our porous lime rock, and they start pumping that goo into our state and we will never have” clean water, Revels said.
And the problem with the limestone is it so easily can dissolve and collapse, and all of a sudden I’ve got a building falling,” Meeker said.
It is “the sense of this Board that the potential high-risk negative impact on the local and regional environment imposed by the process of mass hydraulic fracturing in the State of Florida is too perilous to allow these practices before the conclusion of a responsible scientific study and a potential moratorium by the people of this State,” the Flagler resolution reads.
The same day Flagler commissioners said they wanted to make the local government’s position known on fracking, the Texas legislature passed a bill prohibiting local governments from banning any sort of oil and gas drilling within their boundaries, including fracking. It was a hint of what’s ahead in the political debate over oil and gas exploration.
FlaglerLive|May 18, 2015
AP: Wind Turbines Being Installed in Sensitive Bird Habitat on Massive Scale
New research supported by American Bird Conservancy (ABC) shows that more than 30,000 wind turbines have been installed in areas critical to the survival of federally-protected birds in the United States and that more than 50,000 additional turbines are planned for construction in similar areas. More than 27,000 of these turbines exist in or are planned for federally identified or designated areas, including 24,000 turbines in the migration corridor of the Whooping Crane, one of the nation’s rarest and most spectacular birds, and, almost 3,000 turbines in breeding strongholds for Greater Sage-Grouse, a rapidly declining species recently considered for Endangered Species Act protection.
“Attempts to manage the wind industry with voluntary as opposed to mandatory permitting guidelines are clearly not working,” said Dr. Michael Hutchins, Director of ABC’s Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign. “Wind developers are siting turbines in areas of vital importance to birds and other wildlife, and this new data shows that the current voluntary system needs to be replaced with a mandatory permitting system.”
The Associated Press (AP) independently calculated data on which the ABC based its report and reached a similar conclusion that large numbers of turbines are being built in important bird habitats. The AP report is available at http://www.bostonherald.com/business/business_markets/2015/05/advocacy_group_wind_turbine_rules_needed_to_protect_birds.
The analysis was based on an interactive Wind Development Bird Risk Map produced by ABC that identifies specific areas across the United States where birds are likely to be particularly vulnerable to impacts from wind energy development. These include major migratory routes, breeding areas, and other sensitive bird habitats. Key areas on the map are colored red or orange to indicate the level of potential risk to birds, with red areas regarded to be of “Critical Importance”—the highest level of risk. According to ABC, these red areas have high potential for negative impacts on federally protected birds, but comprise less than nine percent of the total U.S. land area.
Locations of wind turbines analyzed in the study were derived from data supplied publicly by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for proposed turbines, and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) for existing turbines. These data sets provide specific locations for individual wind turbines in GIS format.
In February 2015, ABC updated and re-filed an earlier petition with the federal government requesting that it regulate the wind industry with regard to bird impacts. It now appears that they are beginning to see the shortcomings in the current federal guidelines for the wind industry. In December 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) solicited comments on the government’s efforts to manage the wind industry and stated: “We are currently in the process of evaluating the efficacy and use of the Guidelines, and the Service is considering regulatory options.” Additionally, FWS commented that the current guidelines, in some cases, have not been “…successful in preventing wind energy facilities from being constructed in areas of high risk to wildlife.”
Because of the threat of rising bird mortality and the explosive growth of the wind industry, ABC and a coalition of more than 70 conservation organizations earlier requested that the U.S. Department of the Interior develop a National Programmatic Wind Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to identify appropriate areas for wind energy development, as well as areas where development should be avoided completely to conserve federally protected birds and especially sensitive habitats. However, in a letter dated July 31, 2014, Interior responded that they “currently do not have the resources to undertake the nationwide process.” Such resources, however, could be made available under a paid permitting system already proposed by ABC.
By 2030, it is estimated that more than 1.4 million birds could be killed annually by wind turbines, not including losses at associated transmission lines and towers. There is currently a once-only opportunity to minimize this mortality through mandatory permitting, leading to proper siting and mitigation for bird fatalities before tens of thousands more turbines are built. Read more about the study at http://www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/policy/collisions/wind_siting.html.
From Steve Holmer|American Bird Conservancy
Department of Energy: Taller turbines would bring wind energy to Florida
Florida has wind-energy potential with new breed of turbines.
The U.S. Department of Energy reported that Florida could exploit wind energy by installing super-tall wind machines called turbines. So far, wind energy is mostly unknown in Florida. Here’s how a turbine works. (Source: Department of Energy)
Long dismissed as a wasteland by wind-energy producers, it turns out Florida does have enough breeze to generate lots of electricity — but it will take some reaching to get it, according to new federal findings.
The U.S. Department of Energy released a report Tuesday that argues wind energy can spread from 39 states to the rest of the nation by installing taller generators.
Those propellers on poles would have to be more than incrementally higher to tap profitable winds at higher altitudes. They would need to grow from a typical 260 feet tall to as much as 460 feet tall.
Those heights merely are at a hub that anchors three blades. With one of those blades pointing up, the machine, called a turbine, would be nearly 660 feet tall, or more than 200 feet taller than Orlando’s tallest building, the SunTrust Center.
Jose Zayas, DOE director for Wind and Water Power Technologies, said the study found wind velocities at higher altitudes that would make it economically worthwhile to install a new breed of turbines.
Wind supplies more than 4 percent of the nation’s electricity, with most wind farms spread along a swath of the nation’s interior, in California and Oregon and in Texas, the nation’s biggest producer.
“States primarily in the Southeast, as well as in the West and the Northeast, really started glowing, per se, with a potential that many believed did not exist,” Zayas said of the report’s conclusions.
In Midwestern states, turbines chop away at robust winds that can blow around the clock.
Release of the DOE report was pegged to the annual American Wind Energy Association in Orlando this week.
Solar and wind are touted as clean forms of energy that are free of emissions linked to smog, acid rain and climate change, and consume little water. But they also are dogged by criticism by some as visual blight and for taking a large toll on a variety of birds, including eagles.
Under development in Europe now, the super-tall turbines would need technology advances for transporting such large pieces of machinery in the U.S. and for keeping them standing in Florida during a hurricane. Also needed would be a new generation of monster construction cranes.
Advocates think those challenges will be conquered soon.
“Wind-turbine technology has advanced in just a few decades from the Model T era to more like that of a Tesla Model S,” association CEO Tom Kiernan said.
A leading maker of turbines, Siemens Corp., is ready to share its tall-turbine experience in Europe.
“Taller wind towers represent a significant growth opportunity for wind energy in the United States,” said Orlando-based Jacob Andersen, CEO of Siemens Wind Power and Renewables Onshore Americas.
Gulf Power became the leading Florida utility in wind energy recently by agreeing to buy electricity from the Kingfisher Wind plant in Oklahoma, which goes into production this year. The Panhandle utility will buy the output of 89 turbines, or enough to supply nearly 51,000 homes.
The parent company of Florida Power & Light Co., NextEra Energy, describes itself as the biggest owner of wind energy in North America, producing enough power for a city the size of Chicago.
But FPL nixed a major test of wind energy and has not opted to import wind-generated electricity, choosing to rely on natural gas, nuclear and a small but growing amount of solar. The company has not reviewed the DOE report, a spokeswoman said.
Orlando Utilities Commission is considering a small-scale test of wind technology.
“In reality we wish we had wind,” said Byron Knibbs, OUC vice president. He said it would be a good fit with the utility’s pursuit of solar because wind can make power at night and during cloudy weather.
“But I’m looking out from my office right now, and I can’t see a leaf move,” Knibbs said.
Kevin Spear|Orlando Sentinel|5/20/15
[South Florida Audubon Society opposes wind turbines in Florida because of the proximity to the Atlantic Migratory Flyway. These 460’ turbines with their 200’ long blades turning at 18 RPM would spin at a minimum peripheral speed of 129 MPH, making contact with one of them lethal if a bird should fly into it.]
Advocates: Turbine rules needed to protect birds
Voluntary approach falls short, say leaders
PORT AUSTIN — Federal guidelines from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service urge wind energy developers to locate turbines with special care in places such as the “Thumb” region of Michigan’s mitten-shaped Lower Peninsula — or avoid them altogether, to prevent fatal collisions between birds and the towers’ whirring blades.
But an advocacy group says the government’s voluntary approach is allowing too many wind farms to be built or planned in important nesting areas and flight paths across large sections of the nation.
A new analysis by the American Bird Conservancy said more than 30,000 of the existing 48,000 turbines are in places that government agencies or nonprofit organizations such as the National Audubon Society describe as having special significance to birds. More than 50,000 others are planned for construction in such locations — about half of all turbines on the drawing board nationwide, according to the study, which the conservancy provided to The Associated Press.
Locations that the group considers sensitive range from the Prairie Pothole region of the Great Plains, home to the threatened piping plover, to the entire state of Hawaii, where 32 bird species that exist only there are listed as endangered or threatened. Another is Huron County, at the tip of Michigan’s Thumb, where 328 turbines already generate power and local officials have approved 50 more.
Preaches ‘bird smart’ energy
“Wind turbines are among the fastest-growing threats to our nation’s birds,” said Michael Hutchins, coordinator of a conservancy program that encourages “bird smart” wind energy production.
The AP produced similar results after independently calculating data on which the conservancy based its report. The group used data from the U.S. Geological Survey, which keeps records of existing turbines, and the Federal Aviation Administration, which developers are required to notify before building new ones.
The conservancy said more than 96,000 planned turbines nationwide were listed in the FAA database, even after eliminating those it considered likely to be canceled because the agency designated them as posing a high-risk to air traffic. But the American Wind Energy Association, which represents the industry, said even that adjusted total is overstated.
Wind industry disputes numbers
A spokesman for the wind association, Tom Vinson, said the FAA figures aren’t meaningful because many will be scrapped because of wildlife concerns, inability to find a purchaser for the power or secure land agreements, high transmission costs or other reasons. “It won’t be anywhere near 96,000, and certainly not over the next several years,” Vinson said.
Spokesman Paul Takemoto said the FAA doesn’t track which projects on its list eventually are completed, although developers are required to remove ones from the list that are abandoned.
The wind industry also said some of the high-risk areas are too broadly defined, and some birds fly high enough not to be endangered by turbines.
Location is important — but how much is an unsettled question, said Andrew Farnsworth, a bird migration expert with the Cornell University ornithology laboratory. There is little peer-reviewed scientific research about the relative risk posed by the density of turbines in an area, their siting and height, nocturnal lighting and the habitat needs of particular bird species, he said.
Estimated death toll
What’s certain is that lots of birds have fatal encounters with turbines, Farnsworth said. Studies have produced varying numbers, he said, but the most recent and comprehensive analysis estimated the annual death toll between 140,000 and 328,000. The wind energy association says that’s a small number compared to the millions that collide with buildings and telecommunications towers or are killed by cats. Parr said the conservancy is concerned about all those threats but is focusing on wind power because it’s a “large-scale, newly developing threat to birds,” especially during migration.
JOHN FLESHER|ASSOCIATED PRESS|5/20/15
[It may be a small number in comparison to other lethal actions, but it is still a number, and one that wouldn’t exist without the turbines. The preceding article points out that to be effective in Florida, the height of the turbines should be increased to 460’, which, with their 200’ long blades, puts their overall height at 660’, increasing the potential number of strikes with birds that fly higher than the lower turbines.]
Wind Power Without The Mills
Vortex Bladeless is a radical company. It wants to completely change the way we get energy from the wind. Think wind stick instead of a massive tower with blades that capture blowing winds.
Wind stick. Really. Lest you think I’m mad, I’ve included a picture of this bladeless generator that helps with the visualization and explains the company name.
See? There are no blades. What that “stick” (the company prefers, mast) does is capitalize on an effect of the wind which has been a very serious problem for architects and engineers for decades.
When wind hits a structure and flows over its surfaces the flow changes and generates a cyclical pattern of vortices at the tail end of the flow. This is known as the vortex shedding effect which creates something known as vorticity and that is what Vortex Bladeless uses to generate energy. For those who need a explanation that exceeds my ability to fully explain, check out this link from Columbia University on the subject and then come back and join the rest of us who won’t wait for you. (you’re clearly ahead of us anyway)
If you are still here with me, the company likes to give a classic example of vorticity that is immediately understandable; the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge that came apart three months after it opened in 1940. This clip posted on YouTube from a film made as the bridge undulated, wavered and ultimately shows the very dramatic effect of vortex shedding. Powerful stuff. Engineers immediately changed the way they designed and built bridges as a result of this incident.
What the engineers at Vortex Bladeless are doing is embracing this effect instead of avoiding the aerodynamic instabilities to capitalize on the oscillation and therefore capture the energy. The mast is designed to oscillate in the wind (which is very different from Blowing in the Wind). As you can see in the picture above, this is not your usual wind turbine. It consists of a fixed mast, a power generator that has no moving parts which come into contact with each other and a semi-rigid fiberglass cylinder. The power generator is a system of magnetic coupling devices which means there are no gears needing lubrication and an overall system needing less maintenance.
According to David Suriol Puigvert, one of the company’s co-founders (there are 3), the costs of a Votex system are dramatically lower than traditional wind turbines. The company publically claims maintenance costs that are 80% below a traditional wind turbine with manufacturing costs that are 53% lower. The lower maintenance & manufacturing costs add up an estimated lower cost per kilowatt.
In addition to the lower carbon footprint of a wind turbine, Vortex claims even further reductions. Because there are no spinning blades, no birds are caught up and sent to their deaths in the name of greener energy. And the lack of blades means something else; much lower noise. Did you know there is a bi-annual conference for the purpose of resolving noise complaints from the large utility-scale turbines? I didn’t. Having driven by large wind farms in the mid-west I can say that I never noticed a problem yet it’s good to know a lot of attention is being given to the issue.
The fly in this very cool ointment is that the technology is a proven concept and is currently is being tested and fine tuned in the field. This means we are about a year away from the reality of Vortex generated electricity. Initially, the co-founders were looking at large generating devices. That remains a longer-term goal but a much shorter range goal is a device of 4kW Vortex that would be about 13 meters tall (40’) and weigh about 220lbs. The company sees this generator being used in conjunction with solar generation for homes that are either off the grid or want to be off the grid. They are also developing a 100W device that will stand about 3 meters (9’) tall weighing about 22lbs. It is named the Vortex Atlantis and the company believes it can be used in off-grid areas to bring power to third world/developing villages where power could be a matter of life and again, used with solar generation. Those devices are forecast to be on the market in roughly a year.A 1MW generator is currently forecast to be about 3 years from market.
Just a quick word about the company before wrapping up. Vortex is a Spanish tech start-up. Its funding, so far, has come from a Repsol Foundation Grant, a loan from the Spanish Government and venture capitalists in Spain (Spanish Angels). In February of this year, Vortex Bladeless relocated to Boston. Here it is working with Harvard University, SunEdison, IDEO and is working with venture capitalists for its next round of Series A funding. Due to public interest in investing in the company, they will launch a crowdfunding campaign on June 1. As always, look before you leap. This is very exciting technology but let your brain guide your investing not your excitement.
We cannot accept risky loopholes in oil-drilling legislation
One thing we have learned from irresponsible oil drilling practices that took place at the Hogan well in Collier County is that fracking-like activities in Florida can come in many forms. Our unique geology of very porous limestone allows drillers to fracture (aka “frack”) or dissolve rock underground with acids. They then pump toxic chemicals underground for stimulating increased oil production.
The Dan A. Hughes Co. used both at the Hogan well. However, the state regulatory agency did not object to the acid stimulation method, even though it used many of the same dangerous fracking chemicals as when the well was later fracked.
Legislation filed this session also turned a blind eye to acid stimulation with toxic fracking fluids – only addressing some forms of fracking that involves “high-pressure well stimulation” using more than100,000 gallons of fluid total.
The problem is that this would exclude regulating two of the three forms of fracking-like activity that actually were pursued or performed at the Hogan well: one encompassing fracking with less than 100,000 gallons total and another involving acid stimulation with fracking chemicals but without high pressure.
California has recognized that acid stimulation with fracking chemicals, otherwise known as acidization, is potentially as dangerous as acid fracking or standard fracking. California passed legislation in 2013 to study and regulate all of these well-stimulation techniques. The first part of the California study recently released states that acid stimulation is more effective in carbonate reservoirs, which California doesn’t have. However, Florida does – including right here in Southwest Florida.
Wh ile some assert these acid stimulation techniques with fracking fluids have been done for decades here, it is the very different acid well cleaning that has been done for decades. No one is suggesting our legislation should require studying and suspending acid cleanings. But without the definition in Florida’s current legislation broadened to remove the 100,000-gallon and high pressure thresholds, we will be regulating only a small subset of fracking-like techniques.
Meanwhile, fracking using less than 100,000 gallons of fluid total and fracking-like acid stimulation using the same toxic chemicals will not be studied, suspended or the chemicals used appropriately disclosed.
Instead, they will continue to be allowed virtually unregulated and in almost complete secrecy – posing a continual unacceptable risk to our public water supplies.
Legislation that only addresses some forms of dangerous fracking-like techniques and not others can provide false assurance that the public is getting basic regulatory protection that it is not.
While it has been stated that some legislation is better than none so we should accept and support the current legislation, we at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida will not support legislation that lacks these most minimal of safeguards to regulate the various well-stimulation methods that use toxic chemicals.
The silver lining of the bills not passing in regular session is there is still the potential to improve them. Having these bills come back next session, or perhaps even in special session next month, gives our community a second chance to push for the legislation we need and deserve.
Getting more meaningful legislation to study and regulate all forms of fracking-like extraction, however, will require a concerted effort among all public interest stakeholders including the Collier County Commission.
The Conservancy has been willing to compromise on many important elements to work together in a good-faith effort toward achieving that.
Unfortunately, the commission (with the exception of Commissioner Penny Taylor) instead decided recently to send the Legislature a letter expressing support for the current bills, stating they will not be lobbying for amendments to address deficiencies that even their own staff characterized as “loopholes” in the bills.
We call upon the commission, and all those in this community who believe in promoting responsible resource extraction that does not jeopardize our water supplies or quality of life, to come together to use this opportunity to get more meaningful legislation passed.
We appreciate the efforts to advance legislation to address this issue, but proposed bills that do not close these significant loopholes leave our community and natural resources at risk. We cannot be lulled into complacency by bills that fall short in the most fundamental ways, for if they pass, it will not be a step in the right direction so much as an excuse to move on to other issues – leaving us without knowing where and when these other dangerous techniques are being used or the power to do anything about it.
Rob Moher|President and CEO|Conservancy of Southwest Florida
Born from Disaster: Japan Establishes First Microgrid Community
Following the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan, one city decided to transition to a clean, renewable future and became Japan’s first microgrid community.
Although Japan’s Fukushima prefecture is most commonly associated with the 2011 disaster due to the nuclear power melt-down, Miyazaki prefecture, located north of Fukushima, suffered the largest death toll, close to 10,000, and the largest flood damage in the nation.
Located on the coast, Higashimatsushima city was no exception. It had a catastrophic tsunami-caused flood, which put 65 percent of the city under water, with over 1,100 lives lost. Approximately 10,000 residents lost their homes and were forced to evacuate.
“After the disaster, some parts of the town didn’t get electricity for up to three months,” said Tohoru Ishigaki at the office of Future City Initiative under the city’s Department of Disaster Recovery Policy. “We strongly felt [after the disaster] that our responsibility was to provide reliable energy.”
Turn Local Tragedy Into a New and Vibrant Vision
To create a safe, resilient and sustainable society for the remaining population of 40,000, the city decided to deploy distributed, clean renewable energy sources. Under post-disaster recovery and reconstruction plans, the city set a bold goal to become a Net Zero Energy City by 2022, supplying the entire city with locally produced energy.
As a first step, the city turned a flood-affected former city park into a 2-MW solar photovoltaic (PV) project. This project symbolizes the city’s commitment to energy self-sufficiency. Mitsui & Co., Ltd, one of the largest trading company in Japan, completed this system in the summer 2013. The company also built PV carport systems with a total capacity of 270 kW at three locations on high ground, away from the vulnerable coastline. These sites are designated for evacuations and solar power will provide emergency power.
Higashimatsushima city is currently building Japan’s first microgrid community called Higashimatsushima Disaster-Prepared, Smart Eco-Town. The community not only can provide backup power for the grid in case of emergencies, but can allow the community to be more energy independent and environmentally friendly.
This microgrid community is a joint project between the city and Sekisui House, the Japan’s leading house developer, with a research funding from the Ministry of Environment. The community consists of 70 detached, single-family homes and 15 multifamily apartment buildings, all of which are owned by the city and are rented to 85 families who lost homes four years ago.
“The homes are earthquake-resistant, high-insulating steel framed buildings with advanced energy efficiency,” explained a Public Relation manager at Sekisui House. The homebuilder had already built three Zero Net Energy (ZNE) housing communities in other disaster-affected areas in Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures. The community in Fukushima, which includes solar, fuel cell, and energy storage systems, was the first ZNE community ever built in Fukushima.
Sekisui House is currently finishing up constructions at the Smart Eco-Town, and by this August it will be open for new tenants who are eagerly looking forward to coming back to the hometown.
The community also includes four hospitals, a few public buildings and a park. Energy loads at this community will be served by the integration of distributed, clean energy — PV systems (470 kW) and bio-diesel generator (500 kW) together with a large-scale energy storage (500 kWh). When the centralized power grid becomes unavailable, the community will be able to function autonomously.
There are three PV systems in this community: a 400-kW PV system over a reservoir, a 60-kW system on the apartment buildings, and a 10-kW system at the assembly hall, which serves as a community-gathering place in case of emergencies. Any excess electricity generated from these PV systems during the day will be stored in the battery system and used at night.
When disconnected from the traditional grid, the town can supply three day’s worth of everyday energy needs for residents and buildings in the town. During a prolonged power failure, the town can still provide minimum energy needs for the hospitals and assembly hall.
City Operated Electrical Grid Infrastructure
What is more unique about this project is the town’s electrical grid infrastructure is developed and owned by the city, instead of by a regional electric power company, which operates as a regulated monopoly. “The city has invested in a smart grid infrastructure, building grid lines, poles, distribution substations, and smart meters for this town,” said Ishigaki.
Having its own distribution system, the city will get an electricity supply contract with Tohoku Electric Company (the regional utility) or renewable energy independent power producers (IPPs) and distribute electricity to each 85 households in the town.
With a Community Energy Management System (CEMS), the city can monitor electricity consumption and generation data via individual smart meters, manage energy storage system for peak-demand shaving, and bill customers. During emergencies, the system will start the biodiesel generator and control and balance energy needs with solar and energy storage.
The city can also lower electricity costs by negotiating electricity contracts on behalf of the entire town. “It is cheaper if we get one contract from electricity providers than having 85 separate contracts,” said Ishigaki. “We will invest the money saved by consolidating electricity contracts into other infrastructures of the town. Eventually we would like to create a community-based, retail electricity provider business (out of the city-owned grid system) to create much needed jobs in the town.”
Zero Net Energy City by 2022
The city of Shigashimatsushima is making a huge transition with an ambitious plan to replace the traditional centralized energy grid with an interactive grid, which would deliver energy from cleaner, more sustainable sources generated from distributed power systems.
“Most importantly, first we need to improve our energy efficiency from the residential and industrial sectors in the city to reduce our carbon footprints, then deploy renewable energy,” said Ishigaki. The city has a goal to reduce its foot print by 8 percent from the 2010 level by 2020.
Furthermore, for the city to provide 100 percent of electricity needs by 2022, it will need to install between 33 and 44 MW of renewable energy capacity from solar, wind, and biomass generation. Currently, the city is conducting extensive feasibility studies on the local renewable resources to address climate change while stimulating a local economy.
Junko Movellan|Correspondent|May 18, 2015
Coast to Coast and Across the Electric System, Microgrids Provide Benefits to All
Microgrids are getting a lot of attention. Yet how they’re developed could dramatically alter today’s electricity system.
At the most obvious level, microgrids could disrupt today’s utilities and their regulated-monopoly business model, because they challenge the centralized paradigm. In a nutshell, microgrids are localized power grids that have the ability to disconnect from the main, centralized grid to operate independently when the main power grid experiences disturbances. This significantly boosts grid resilience. For almost a century, large centralized power plants have generated electricity and delivered that energy over high-voltage transmission lines to customers. But with microgrids, all that could change.
Less obviously, microgrids challenge the basic assumption that the power grid must be controlled by a monopoly electric utility. Multiple microgrids on the south side of Chicago, for example, could be owned by different entities (not just a utility or even a platform provider, which would provide an exchange between customers and distributed energy generators) with contract arrangements among them controlling the sharing of power. Put another way, microgrids open the distribution system to some level of competition and, thereby, engage entrepreneurs and advance innovation.
Types of Microgrids
Interest in microgrids grew substantially after Hurricane Sandy wiped out much of the centralized infrastructure and power lines throughout the Northeast. Even before that major storm, however, concerns were increasing about power grid failures, 80-90 percent of which start at the distribution level, or with local lines. These outages cost the U.S. economy $336 billion between 2003 and 2012.
Microgrids are attractive since they offer the ability to isolate outages and increase reliability. Yet they also have the potential to reduce pollution, embrace clean energy sources, beef up cyber security, and cut costs for utilities and their customers.
These small-scale versions of today’s centralized power grid come in numerous shapes and sizes. Most frequently they are organized around a single campus, such as a hospital or university (e.g., Illinois Institute of Technology), but they could be within an industrial park (e.g., Eastman Business Park) or a mixed-use community (e.g., Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood).
Difference of Opinions, Benefits for All
Stakeholders have different views on microgrids, but most agree, microgrids offer tangible benefits. Environmentalists, for example, tend to see them as opportunities to enable clean, distributed generation, such as community solar farms, yet they want to ensure the microgrid isn’t fueled by dirty, diesel-fired units exclusively. Third-party developers tend to have a similar perspective and hope microgrids offer new business opportunities. Municipalities and rural communities think microgrids enhance reliability, as well as expand local economic development.
Even a growing number of utilities see microgrids as complements to their business models, particularly as they roll out smart meters and advanced wires infrastructure. Commonwealth Edison (ComEd), for instance, just introduced legislation that would allow it to invest $300 million to build several microgrids, including at the Illinois Medical District, the Aurora FAA facility, and the Chicago Heights water pumping and treatment facility.
Yet ComEd, not surprisingly, wants to control the microgrids and own the distributed generators (e.g., solar arrays and cogeneration units) within them, thereby expanding its monopoly to these decentralized power plants, as well as wires. And, utility interest in building, owning, and operating microgrids is spreading across the country: from Central Hudson Gas & Electric in New York to Duke Energy in North Carolina, DTE Energy in Michigan, and Southern California Edison.
While microgrids can advance clean, distributed energy, resiliency, and innovation, their future depends upon policies that ensure market signals advance such goals and minimize monopoly barriers. Microgrids, in fact, force us to confront certain questions: will we support the status quo of centralized, monopoly-owned power plants or embrace innovation and competition? Will we rely solely on regulation or also on contracts to advance clean energy?
Dick Munson|Environmental Defense Fund|May 14, 2015
Where does nuclear power fit in our future?
The debate over nuclear power doesn’t usually appear on the front pages, but when it does, it…
The debate over nuclear power doesn’t usually appear on the front pages, but when it does, it tends to be swamped by mythology and fact-free politics.
One of the many things Americans take for granted is the cheap and plentiful supply of electricity. How long our electricity supply remains so will probably depend on the future of nuclear power generation in America. But what Americans may not realize is that nuclear power itself is as sustainable and inexpensive as any power source.
So why isn’t America investing in nuclear energy?
Our country uses about 25 percent of the electricity used in the world. Today, 99 nuclear power plants operating in 30 U.S. states generate just under 20 percent of America’s total electricity supply.
And yet, as many as 25 of the 99 reactors may be shut down in the next five years. Moreover, the federal Energy Information Administration predicts that about 20 percent of our coal-fired electricity plants may also be closed down by 2020. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., says the coal closings could be replaced by 48 new 1,259 megawatt nuclear reactors. However, it’s very unlikely that those reactors will be built.
Advocates of nuclear power point out that as America’s population and economy grow, so must the electricity supply. They say that such growth must result in a renaissance in nuclear power because it’s safe, efficient and lacks carbon emissions. They say, correctly, that nuclear power is cheaper than renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. And they point to innovations such as those from the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works scientists and engineers who have produced a prototype of a small fusion reactor that they claim could power a city of 50,000 to 100,000 people and would fit on the back of a large tractor-trailer truck.
The opponents say there shouldn’t be an expansion of nuclear power because it’s not safe. They point to the 1979 Three Mile Island incident, to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and to the 2011 Fukushima incident in Japan to prove their case.
Opponents support sustainable power generation — by which they mean only solar and wind power — because those generation methods don’t burn fossil fuels or emit carbon dioxide (Under that definition, nuclear power is equally “sustainable”). Opponents of nuclear power also claim that the costs of wind and solar power are being reduced sufficiently to make them economically viable.
Before Japan’s Fukushima incident, many developed nations were betting heavily on nuclear power. In the Fukushima events, an earthquake and tidal wave resulted in a substantial release of radioactive gas when three reactor cores melted down because their supply of cooling water was interrupted. Although there were no deaths from radiation sickness, about 100,000 people were displaced for varying periods of time. In Fukushima’s aftermath, Japan began to shut down all of its nuclear power plants. The cost of electricity to Japanese consumers rose almost 60 percent. Now, Japan is reportedly trying to bring many of its nuclear power plants back online.
After Fukushima, German Chancellor Angela Merkel decided to close all of her nation’s nuclear plants by 2022 and shift to sustainable or green power sources such as solar and wind.
But, simply put, the numbers don’t work for Germany or any other advocates of sustainable electric power sources. According to the World Nuclear Association, the cost of generating electricity in 2012 was about 23 cents per kilowatt hour for oil, 4 cents per kWh for coal and gas, about 3.5 cents per kWh for nuclear and about 0.85 per kWh for hydroelectric power. The federal EIA estimate the cost of wind power at over 8 cents per kWh (depending on how hard the wind blows). And, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the price of solar power is between 12 and 30 cents per kWh.
What about safety? Fears over public health and safety have caused politicians in many nations to block development of nuclear power, despite the fact that it is extraordinarily safe. The Soviet Union’s Chernobyl disaster caused at least 50 deaths from radiation poisoning and perhaps thousands more from long-term effects — contrast that with the only major nuclear accident in the United States, the 1979 partial meltdown of the Pennsylvania Three Mile Island nuclear plant. in which a quantity of radioactive gas was released.
An important distinction is that no people were injured by the Three Mile Island event. The Soviet reactors that melted down at Chernobyl were vastly less safe than those built in the West because the standards to which they were built were much lower than U.S. nuclear plants, including Three Mile Island. And in the nearly 30 years since Three Mile Island, U.S. nuclear safety standards have become even more stringent.
When you consider the example set by the U.S. Navy, America’s nuclear power safety record shouldn’t surprise anyone.
Since the first nuclear-powered ship, the submarine USS Nautilus, was launched in 1954, the Navy hasn’t had any significant accidents caused by its shipboard nuclear reactors. That record is the result of what retired Navy Rear Adm. Rich O’Hanlon says are the three pillars of Navy nuclear propulsion. O’Hanlon is the former skipper of the nuclear-powered USS Theodore Roosevelt and former commander of Naval Forces Atlantic.
The first pillar is engineering design. In simplest terms, O’Hanlon told the Washington Examiner, electronic and mechanical safeguards are designed into the reactor so that even if its human operators fail to follow established procedures, it will shut down before it can melt down. The second pillar is procedural compliance. The Navy demands and enforces — to the level of specifying the method in which every order is given — procedural compliance at every step of reactor operation. The third pillar is training.
O’Hanlon, like every other nuclear-qualified officer, had to take a 15-month course to qualify to operate a reactor or to command a nuclear-powered ship. That training is followed by continuous retraining and inspection.
The Navy’s practices boil down to the biggest difference between the Navy and the private sector’s nuclear power plants: The Navy is virtually self-regulating. In contrast, the civilian nuclear industry is regulated as a utility by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, state agencies and the most potent regulatory force: politics.
There should be a burgeoning effort to build new nuclear power plants — to which even the global warmists such as President Obama can’t object — because these plants don’t emit carbon dioxide. They’re entirely sustainable because they only have to be refueled about every five years or so.
So why isn’t there any foreseeable nuclear renaissance on the horizon? As Jack Spencer, vice president of the Heritage Foundation’s Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity told the Examiner, the reason for a lack of enthusiasm for nuclear power is antiquated government laws and regulations that add up to a failed national nuclear power policy.
In fact, Spencer said that we really don’t even know how much nuclear power costs because of the overregulated and government-limited market policies.
Spencer pointed to the 2005 Energy Policy Act, which presumed that if a few new nuclear plants were subsidized, support within the private sector would take off and many more would be built. But, as Spencer said, the Act only served to spur the building of the five reactors that it subsidized. (They are two in Georgia, two in South Carolina and one in Tennessee.)
Are we, then, in an endless loop of government regulation, consuming both time and money, that will continue to prevent new nuclear power plants from being built? Spencer thinks the loop can be broken if the government’s legal and regulatory heavy hand is lifted, thereby removing the obstacles that block free market forces.
The problem boils down to this: If there was a strong political movement that demanded more nuclear power, the government’s stifling of market forces could be overcome. But there isn’t one. Until there is, the government’s heavy hand will continue to limit what the nuclear power industry can do. And the cost of electricity to industry and consumers will continue to rise.
Jed Babbin|May 18, 2015
[ it has long been my contention that nuclear power is not safe, as pointed out above, it is not sustainable, because the nuclear fuel (uranium) is a finite resource and it is not clean because it produces a by-product that we cannot safely store.]
Big Oil’s astronomical hand-out: Fossil fuels receive $5.3 trillion in global subsidies each year
We’re not paying the true cost of oil, gas and coal
If fossil fuels are “cheap” — or even affordable — it’s only because the world’s governments are subsidizing the true cost of their impacts.
Those subsidies amount, according to a new report from researchers at the International Monetary Fund, to an astounding $5.3 trillion in benefits per year — or, if you need another way of picturing such an astronomical figure, $10 million per minute.
That means that for every minute during which climate-altering greenhouse gases are being pumped into the atmosphere, protestors are decrying the further development of fossil fuels and politicians are debating whether this global warming thing is even real, we’re forking over cash to help fossil fuel companies preserve the status quo.
The report takes for granted that “subsidies” include more than the money traditionally bestowed upon the industry — a collective $88 billion from the G-20 nations, according to one estimate — to the consequences of burning fossil fuels, which governments are left to deal with. Those include health and environmental impacts both local, as with air pollution, and global, such as sea level rise and extreme weather linked to climate change.
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It was the former, in fact, that contributed to three-quarters of the final figure arrived at by the IMF researchers. “While the large size of our new estimates may be surprising, it is important to put in perspective just how many health problems are linked to energy consumption and air quality,” Benedict Clements, of the IMF’s fiscal affairs department, explained. (One in eight global deaths can be attributed to air pollution, according to the World Health Organization.) It suggests that even beyond the climate benefits of the entire world working together to wean Big Oil and Gas off subsidies, any one government’s work to keep fossil fuels in the ground will carry significant health — and monetary — benefits at a local level.
Indeed, the report found that ending the subsidies could cut in half the number of deaths attributed to outdoor air pollution, saving 1.6 million lives each year. And the money, naturally, could be put to better use: the report cites health, education and infrastructure as areas to which it could be redirected, helping to combat poverty and drive economic growth. It could also, of course, be invested in energy efficiency and renewable energy.
In a nutshell: we’ve just been handed 5.3 trillion more reasons to start saying no to the fossil fuel industry.
State of Emergency in California
Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency in Santa Barbara County due to the effects of an oil spill at Refugio State Beach. Up to 105,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from an onshore pipe on Tuesday and approximately 21,000 gallons reached the open water before the pipe was sealed.
“This emergency proclamation cuts red tape and helps the state quickly mobilize all available resources,” Brown said. “We will do everything necessary to protect California’s coastline.”
While the oil companies save face, Environment California will do everything necessary to save our coasts from the real dangers of drilling. This latest spill just reiterates what we already know: We can’t extract oil and transport it without putting our beaches, wildlife, and coastal communities at risk.
The Refugio State Beach spill, which now covers at least 9 miles of California’s natural coastline, is not the first to hit Santa Barbara County. The infamous Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969 spewed an estimated 3 million gallons of crude oil into the ocean, creating an oil slick 35 miles long and killing thousands of birds, fish and sea mammals. It also gave birth to the modern environmental movement.
Unfortunately, it appears we are still fighting the same fight we fought more than 45 years ago. Oil companies and state government pledge to protect our coastline, but overlook the obvious solution: clean, renewable energy.
Our remaining natural coastline is too precious to risk to the dangers of drilling—and we know no amount of safety regulations can prevent a disaster. The sad fact is: when you drill, you spill.
Dan Jacobson|Legislative Director|Environment California
Company whose pipeline burst in Santa Barbara has extensive record of safety violations
Since 2006, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has logged more than 175 maintenance and safety violations by the company whose pipeline burst in Santa Barbara County, California, Tuesday night. That makes its rate of incidents per mile of pipe more than three times the national average, according to an analysis by the Los Angeles Times, which found only four companies with worse records. But those infractions only generated $115,600 in fines against the company, Plains All American Pipeline, even though the incidents caused more than $23 million in damage.
It was initially reported that 500 barrels of oil had leaked from the broken pipe, but authorities later said the total could be in the realm of 2,500 barrels, 105,000 gallons. The leak contaminated a portion of Refugio State Beach and nearby patches of ocean. A crew from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is handling clean-up on land, while the U.S. Coast Guard is handling the job on the water.
Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state emergency, a move which frees up emergency state money and resources for the cleanup. Authorities shut down both Refugio and El Capitan beaches, but most people camping in the popular area had already fled because of fumes from the leak. Camping reservations have been canceled through May 28.
Julie Cart, Jack Dolan and Doug Smith report:
The company, which transports and stores crude oil, is part of Plains All American Pipeline, which owns and operates nearly 18,000 miles of pipe networks in several states. It reported $43 billion in revenue in 2014 and $878 million in profit.
The company’s infractions involved pump failure, equipment malfunction, pipeline corrosion and operator error. None of the incidents resulted in injuries. According to federal records, since 2006 the company’s incidents caused more than $23 million in property damage and spilled more than 688,000 gallons of hazardous liquid. […]
Plains Pipeline has also been cited for failing to install equipment to prevent pipe corrosion, failing to prove it had completed repairs recommended by inspectors and failing to keep records showing inspections of “breakout tanks,” used to ease pressure surges in pipelines.
The area tainted by the leak is popular for camping, fishing, surfing, kayaking and watching seals, sea lions and numerous species of birds. Until 2013, the state was responsible for monitoring and inspecting some 2,000 of the 6,000 miles of pipelines in California, but that task was then turned over the federal Department of Transportation.
The company has expressed its regrets for the leak. Perhaps it would regret the situation more if fines for its repeated violations did more than empty out the petty cash drawer for the weekend.
Alaska’s Tricky Intersection of Obama’s Energy and Climate Legacies
WASHINGTON — President Obama’s move to open up vast, untouched Arctic waters to oil and gas drilling as he pursues an ambitious plan to fight climate change illustrates the inherent tensions in his environmental and energy agenda.
As the first president to seriously tackle climate change, Mr. Obama has proposed aggressive new rules to cut planet-warming carbon emissions from the nation’s power plants and is pushing for a major global warming accord. He has also overseen an extraordinary boom in domestic energy production that has made the United States the world’s leading oil producer.
The result, until now, has been an uneasy balance between Mr. Obama’s leadership on climate change and his efforts to ensure that the United States benefits from its newfound oil and gas wealth. But in this latest decision, some oil companies and top energy experts agree with environmentalists that drilling in the Arctic is dangerous enough to upset the balance and put Mr. Obama’s environmental legacy at risk.
The oil industry and environmentalists say that the Chukchi Sea, where Shell intends to explore for oil, is one of the most perilous places in the world to drill. Environmentalists and oil industry officials say that a drilling accident among the icy waters and 50-foot waves of the Chukchi could lead to a disaster far worse than the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion, which killed 11 and sent millions of barrels of oil spewing through the Gulf of Mexico.
“He has done a lot on global warming,” said James Thurber, the director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University and a former adviser to the Energy Department. “But if there is an accident in the Arctic, especially if it’s sooner rather than later, that becomes the history of his environmental work. If that happens, this president will not be known as an environmental president.”
In the administration’s view, the decision to drill in the waters off the Alaska coast is a calculated risk that addresses environmental concerns, continues domestic oil production and manages legal obligations. Mr. Obama, administration officials say, chose to move forward with the Arctic drilling only after pairing the approval with tough new safety regulations.
Before giving conditional permission to Shell, the Interior Department put forward three major new drilling regulations, designed to prevent disasters like the 2010 explosion, and it has granted Shell the right to drill only if it clears additional regulatory hurdles, including acquiring permits from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and authorizations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
“This is an administration that truly believes in its technocratic capacity,” said Paul Bledsoe, a former Interior Department official who was a senior policy adviser on the Presidential Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. “It believes proper regulatory oversight can overcome technical challenges. After the Deepwater Horizon, they decided to set up the most stringent oil and gas regulations in the world — and that they were going to expand leasing.”
Throughout the six years of Mr. Obama’s presidency, the nation’s oil and gas development has surged, creating jobs and lowering electricity prices. While Mr. Obama has pushed policies designed to lower the nation’s demand for the fossil fuels that cause climate change, he has also gained politically from the economic benefit of increased supply.
“The president has been pushing hard throughout his time in office to do what he can on climate change,” said Dan Utech, a White House adviser on energy and climate change. “But at the same time, he sees the benefits of domestic fossil fuel production in terms of jobs and revenue. We’ve seen this huge boom in production, and that’s had significant benefits for our economy.”
Aides also point out that while Mr. Obama has opened some new federal waters to drilling, including off the southeastern Atlantic coast, his hand was in part forced on Arctic drilling by his predecessor. The George W. Bush administration was the first to sell federal oil drilling leases in the Chukchi Sea, and Shell, which bought its leases from the Bush administration for $2.1 billion, then applied to the Obama administration for a permit to drill.
Advisers to Mr. Obama say that legally, the administration probably had no choice but to process that permit. If he had wanted to block the drilling, Mr. Obama could have faced legal challenges from Shell and may also have had to buy the leases back from the company at a loss to taxpayers.
“If there was a cost to the government of not moving forward, then that would weigh on him,” said Carol Browner, Mr. Obama’s senior energy and climate change adviser in his first term. “He would consider that. He is very practical in that way.”
The Obama administration had initially granted Shell a permit to begin offshore Arctic drilling in 2012, but the company’s first forays were plagued with numerous safety and operational problems. In 2013, the Interior Department said the company could not resume drilling until all safety issues were addressed.
Even with new safety rules in place, opponents of the Arctic drilling worry that the area is extremely remote, with no roads connecting to major cities or deepwater ports within hundreds of miles, making it difficult for cleanup and rescue workers to reach it in case of an accident.
The closest Coast Guard station with equipment for responding to a spill is more than 1,000 miles away. The weather is extreme, with major storms, icy waters and waves up to 50 feet high. The sea is also a major migration route and feeding area for marine mammals, including bowhead whales and walruses.
Senior executives at Total, a French oil giant, and other major oil companies have publicly expressed doubts about the risks of drilling in Alaskan Arctic waters, saying that the costs of preparing for environmental disasters make such operations too costly. They note that the prospects of high oil prices in the future are in doubt and that there are plentiful shale oil prospects on land in the United States and abroad. ConocoPhillips and Statoil, a Norwegian oil company, acquired leases in the Alaskan Arctic but suspended their drilling plans after Shell had its array of logistical problems.
“The dangers of drilling in the Arctic just dwarf those of most other locations,” said David Goldston, the director of the government affairs program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.
CORAL DAVENPORT|MAY 12, 2015|Clifford Krauss contributed reporting from Houston.
[President Obama qualified his decision by stating that Shell has developed anti-spill strategies and that, as long as we must continue using fossil fuels in the transition to alternative energy, he would rather see it come from the United States sources. I would rather see it left in the ground.]
Developers push growth on environmentally sensitive land
A windows-down drive on the eastern side of Corkscrew Road during a humid Florida afternoon takes you away from shopping malls and gated communities and toward farmland, country homes, dusty mines and acres upon acres of preservation land.
Since the early 1990s, South Lee’s sprawling suburbs stayed left of an invisible county firewall known locally as the DRGR, which stands for Density Reduction Groundwater Resource area. Lee created the DRGR, in part, to protect the county’s drinking water supply.
But as Lee’s population creeps toward more than 1 million residents by 2040, county officials are contemplating a shift in the way they control growth and conservation in rural southeastern Lee.
The county has offered two developers legal pathways to increase the number of homes they can build on DRGR land. In exchange, the developers are promising millions of dollars worth of environmental perks, such as wildlife corridors and pricey wetland restoration projects.
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida supports this public-private strategy, even though the group concedes it will bring more rooftops to the DRGR and continue Corkscrew Road’s transition into an urban corridor.
“It’s a trade off,” April Olson, a growth management expert for the Conservancy, said. “The county could not afford to do this kind of restoration.”
Private Equity Group owns WildBlue, a 2,960-acre former mining site at the edge of the DRGR, between Alico and Corkscrew Roads. The Fort Myers firm has asked to build 1,100 single-family homes there, which is 768 residences more than the property is zoned for now.
WildBlue’s developer has said it will complete $7.4 million in restoration work and donate 471 acres – worth another $2.8 million – to Lee County for a regional park.
Camerata Companies, also of Fort Myers, wants to develop a gated community called Corkscrew Farms on a 1,360-acre property that is more than six miles east of Interstate 75 on Corkscrew Road.
According to Camerata’s application, up to 1,325 homes of different types would be built on Corkscrew Farms, ending any chance for mining to occur on land the county has identified as highly desirable for restoration.
Lee Community Development staff has proposed creating individually-tailored zoning overlay districts that reward both developers with extra density to offset restoration costs, said Paul O’Connor, former county planning director.
“We’re trying to come up with a solution that will help the county, that will protect the resource and will restore native habitat,” said O’Connor, who retired in May. “We’re looking at this as an opportunity to take developer dollars and have those good things done that the county has been striving (to do) for 25 years now.”
Wednesday, Lee commissioners unanimously approved sending WildBlue’s application to the state for review. A similar hearing for Corkscrew Farms is expected this summer.
Meanwhile, opposition to the county’s plan is building in the Village of Estero.
East of its interchange with I-75, Corkscrew Road narrows to two lanes. The village council said it is concerned WildBlue and Corkscrew Farms – which would be just outside of the municipality’s jurisdiction but would use the same roads as its residents – would exacerbate traffic problems that existing residents face every day.
Under the conditions of each zoning overlay, the developers would agree to pitch in money for a holistic traffic study of the Corkscrew Road corridor. The deadline for the study is in 2017.
Councilor Jim Wilson, whose represents Estero’s easternmost district, said the traffic study should be done before any proposed neighborhoods are built.
“The cart is probably before the horse, and the cart is the road,” Wilson said. “If we just keep building out on that corridor, eventually Corkscrew Road will have to be six lanes.”
Vice Mayor Howard Levitan has pledged to write a resolution to express Estero’s concerns to the county. Levitan said he personally is against approval of either DRGR overlay.
“This is going to destroy the concept we have for the DRGR,” Levitan said. “You got to stand up and be counted on the environment and be opposed to things that are going to cause considerable sprawl.”
Donald R. Schrotenboer, president of the group that proposed WildBlue, said DRGR policies have failed. If Private Equity stuck with current approvals – known as the “Ginn Plan” for the property’s previous owner – the developer could build more than 332 spread out, single-family homes that would each use septic tanks and wells, he said.
“Which is literally 332 toilets and 332 straws in the ground,” Schrotenboer said.
Instead, WildBlue homes would use water and sewer lines, reducing demand on water resources and minimizing pollution risk, he said.
By clustering development around two lakes on smaller lots, WildBlue will impact fewer acres of land than the Ginn Plan, Schrotenboer said. WildBlue also got rid of the Ginn Plan golf course and replaced it with a tree farm, he said.
Private developers are capable of sustainable, smart growth, he said. WildBlue “sets the bar very high for those who want to follow, and we’re proud of that fact,” he said.
When asked about the possibility that other developers might abuse the overlay concept, Schrotenboer said he cannot “predict the future.”
But, he said, it is his experience that plenty of people are watching developers who want to build on the DRGR.
“You are not going to be able to be reckless,” Schrotenboer said.
The Hole in the Ozone Layer Appears to Be Closing
The ozone is crucial for us here on Earth because it shields us from some of the Sun’s most damaging radiation. In the 1980s it was confirmed that a host of chemicals like CFCs that we had been using in manufacturing and, in particular in aerosols, had been breaking down that ozone layer, creating several holes including a worryingly large hole over the Arctic. In the long term our CFC use threatened to destroy this vital shield completely if we did not act.
Fortunately, and in a move that might seem rather rare today, politicians did listen to scientists and in 1989 the Montreal Protocol was brought into force as an international agreement to dramatically cut down on CFCs and begin phasing them out entirely. The Montreal Protocol wasn’t and isn’t a perfect solution, as we’ve detailed previously here, but it was at least a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to gauge the impact of our ozone saving efforts–that is, until now.
A new report based on data gained via NASA’s AURA satellite shows a long term trend that, barring unforeseen hiccups, should see the hole over the Arctic shrink to less than 8 million square miles within the next thirty years. At the moment the hole is about 12 million square smiles, so that represents a rapid rate of repair. What’s more, the rate of repair suggests that the hole could be entirely gone by the end of the 21st century.
The following animation video illustrates how the ozone layer was damaged, and gives an insight into how much we have managed to shrink that large ozone hole today:
NASA has also been able to calculate what might have happened if we hadn’t enacted the Montreal Protocol, and those calculations suggest that today we would be on course for an ozone depletion level of some 67 percent within the next 50 years. That would have meant more exposure to the Sun’s dangerous radiation and, as a result, an almost certain rise in cancer rates among all animals. (For those particularly interested in the details, the model predicts a somewhat surprising collapse of the ozone layer above the tropics, which would hasten overall depletion levels.)
But we did act, and we did have a meaningful impact on this problem. This is excellent news, and it should inform how we approach other environmental issues, a sentiment that has been championed by scientists across the world including a man who was part of the team that confirmed our ozone layer depletion problem three decades ago, Jon Shanklin of the British Antarctic Survey. Shanklin issued a stark warning in April, saying that where once the major environmental issue was ozone layer depletion, today it is greenhouse gasses and, unfortunately, the world isn’t treating this issue with the seriousness it deserves:
“Yes, an international treaty was established fairly quickly to deal with the ozone hole, but really the main point about its discovery was that it shows how incredibly rapidly we can produce major changes to our atmosphere and how long it takes for nature to recover from them,” Shanklin told the Guardian.“Clearly, we still do not understand the full consequences of what we did then because we are still inflicting major changes on the atmosphere. Then it was chlorofluorocarbons; today it is greenhouse gases.”
With ozone depletion we were, in some ways, fortunate because the action that was required of us was relatively (if not politically) simple: we had to stop using products that release ozone depleting gases like CFCs. That enabled us to take robust action relatively quickly. Even so, NASA is predicting it will take until the end of the century before the ozone hole over the Arctic is fully repaired.
Shanklin says that even if we could can sustain and improve on global cooperative efforts to tackle greenhouse gasses and climate change–which, with a Republican controlled Congress in the US and a climate change-skeptic Tory government in the UK, to name just a few problems, isn’t a guarantee–it will take many more years if not centuries before we can reverse the damage we have caused by contributing to changing the Earth’s climate. Even so, we have to commit to doing that because otherwise the problem is only going to get worse.
Fortunately, with climate talks coming up at the end of the year and an agenda that is for perhaps the first time really putting the issue of greenhouse gasses at the top of our global issues, we may be about to make meaningful progress. What the ozone layer fight shows is that together our governments are capable of meeting environmental challenges, and we’ll need more of that same robust action as was shown in the ozone depletion fight if we are to get a handle on greenhouse gases and climate change.
Steve Williams|May 17, 2015
Decade-long study wins Heinz Award after findings include link between air pollution, obesity
Air pollution can make your children fat.
That was just one of the more surprising findings of a decade-long public health study by Frederica Perera, an environmental health researcher at Columbia University and one of five winners of this year’s Heinz Awards.
Dr. Perera’s research tracked the pre- and post-natal health of 720 mother-child pairs in New York City.
She found that in addition to causing infant mortality, low birth weight, allergies, asthma, slower brain development and respiratory illnesses, there is also a correlation between exposure to air pollutants and childhood obesity.
“Exposure to endocrine disruptors in the air can alter the normal hormonal signalling and affect growth and development, so there is a tendency for some children to become more obese,” said Dr. Perera who reviewed the findings of that study, first reported in 2013, at one of four public presentations by Heinz Award winners on Wednesday in Pittsburgh.
Dr. Perera, who founded and is the director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health, said Pittsburgh’s air quality remains a serious public health problem for regional residents, and noted that the region is the sixth worst nationally for airborne particle pollution.
“We are concerned about pre-natal exposures because they can cause greater absorption and retention of toxics in the developing child,” she said. “Because such children have immature biological defenses against exposures, chronic diseases that affect someone later in life can be seeded.”
She was joined at the Wednesday event by Philip Johnson, Heinz Endowments director for science and environment, who said the region’s industrial and mobile sources, along with residential wood burning, are producing some of the most polluted air in the nation.
And Deborah Gentile, an allergist and immunologist at Allegheny General Hospital and director of research in the Allegheny Health Network’s Division of Allergies, Asthma and Immunology, said a soon-to-be-released study will show that a quarter to one-third of students in several area school districts have asthma and air pollution can trigger attacks.
Other recipients of the 20th annual Heinz Awards are Aaron Wolf in the public policy category for his work in water resource allocation; illustrator and cartoonist Roz Chast in arts and humanities; William McNulty and Jacob Wood in the Human Condition category for founding Team Rubicon, a program to engage military veterans in global disaster relief efforts; and Sangeeta Bhatia, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher who was recognized in the Technology, Economy and Employment category for her tissue engineering, including the first cultivation of liver cells outside the human body.
The awards are given annually by the Heinz Family Foundation to honor the memory of Sen. John Heinz, who died in a plane-helicopter collision in eastern Pennsylvania in 1991. Each award includes a $250,000 prize.
Tesla E-motorcycles Complement SolarCity Microgrids
Batteries are the renewed focus of attention given the launch of Tesla’s PowerWall on April 30. What or where might the next major application be? Utility scale storage appears to be one. My thesis is that launching Tesla e-motorcycles is an equally high-impact, timely, and worthy challenge.
Transport and Electricity Go Together
Though electric vehicles and hybrids — the Tesla Sedan S, Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, Toyota Prius, Mahindra Reva, and others — are regarded as good for the environment, they would be more so if their battery charging used solar power. This is possible, but the solution is not convenient yet. We use grid electricity for charging. Since electricity generation depends on fossil fuels, we pour coal into our cars instead of gasoline when driving electric vehicles.
It is an open question whether electric cars (EV) are more ecofriendly than internal combustion engine (ICE) ones. Should we increase the miles/gallon (km/liter) of regular cars, or encourage hybrids and e-cars? In driving electric cars, we shift the source of emissions from automobile tailpipes to chimneystacks.
Transport and electricity generation each account for ~40 percent of all CO2 emissions in the United States. Interestingly, transport emissions get lesser emphasis in climate change discussions when compared to emissions from electricity. As the proportion of grid electricity supplied by renewables increases, due to Renewable Portfolio Standards, for example, we improve the “green”-ness of both electricity and transport. Electric vehicles thus do represent progress, though not as significant as we would wish.
If personal clean transport is the goal, it is far easier to charge e-motorcycle batteries with solar panels than cars, and such charging complements solar on rooftops, a Tesla sister company SolarCity’s main business. The complementarities are even greater when the charging is a part of microgrids, as I explain below.
The prime markets for solar charging and e-motorcycles are the BRIC nations, South Africa, and other middle-income countries. In the coming decades emissions by these nations, especially India, will increase. Solar electricity is all very well — and India plans to deploy 100 GW by 2022, an impressive number — but transport-related emissions need to be addressed too, through encouraging solar charging of personal transport.
I propose Tesla and others develop batteries for e-motorcycles, e-scooters, and e-bikes, in that order ideally, even simultaneously, and package their sales with matching solar panels-based charging systems.
Solar panels may be installed outside homes, terraces, or in open spaces where the vehicles are parked, and at the destination sites, say, office buildings or factories, with a suitable battery pack. Tesla has already integrated electric motors in their cars; incorporating, electric motors into e-motorcycles may be relatively easy. Many of the design challenges are well described on Honda EV-neo scooter’s website.
When I visited Mahindra Reva’s electric car factory in Bangalore, right at the entrance to the facility were charging “trees,” with cars parked beneath them. Battery powered motorcycles may be similarly accommodated. Of course, solar panels may not be the exclusive, but the preferred way for charging. The e-motorcycles may be charged on mains.
E-motorcycle marketing may parallel what was done for the Tesla Model S. At first introduce a high-end e-motorcycle with exceptional performance, at relatively high prices, say, US $3,000. Follow up by launching a model at the median price point for the everyday user.
The e-motorcycle must give great performance — a sense of power, even when climbing hills, control, and look elegant. It should appeal to the young professionals and college students.
Extreme usability is a must. Anybody should be able to drive the e-motorcycle without training. Standardized charging stations must become ubiquitous. Rapid charging must be supported. “Range anxiety” must be eliminated; the e-motorcycle should include a display indicating the level of charge, and the number of miles left before recharging.
Product-Market: Transport Vehicle and Charging Ecosystem As a Dyad
The e-motorbike must be considered as a complement to and an integral part of the charging ecosystem, neither may be viewed in isolation. The combination represents a new personal transport category, a new ecosystem, and a new product-market. It may not be positioned as an e-bicycle, e-moped, e-scooter, or as a battery-powered e-motorcycle alone, for the marketing challenge of selling, not only the product, but also the ecosystem, is unprecedented.
Positioning must emphasize the benefits of no fuel costs, no visits to gasoline stations, no need to wait in lines, and easily accessible charging. It should emphasize the solution as an answer to known challenges, and under-emphasize, even mask the innovation embodied in the e-motorbike ecosystem. Segway’s experiences are instructive — their product novelty was too visible for ordinary people to readily accept it and undertake the needed new learning.
The early launch segment is clear — students on campuses. And campuses are ideal customers for microgrids, including SolarCity’s own GridLogic microgrid. It is time to launch SolarCity and Tesla e-motorcycles in the BRIC nations, in India in particular, where the sun is plentiful, and students drive motorcycles in the millions.
Mahesh Bhave|Contributor|May 20, 2015
What’s the most bike-friendly city in the U.S.? Not what you’d guess
Wanna know how bike-friendly your city is, for real? The brainiacs at Walk Score got your back. These are the folks who have spent years easing the pain of finding an apartment on Craigslist by figuring out how walkable our neighborhoods are. In 2012, they launched Bike Score, a rating system is driven by real live data — and not just the miles of bike lanes painted on the streets, unlike some of the more subjective ratings you’ll find bouncing around the interwebs.
To compile its annual list of America’s most cycling-friendly cities, the company takes into account bike-lane availability, plus the number of hills in a city, bike-commuting rates, and how often bikers have to de-saddle along their routes, among other factors. This year’s list, which includes 154 cities, has a few surprises.
Sure, there were a handful of unsurprising list-toppers: The beach towns of Santa Cruz and Santa Monica, hippieville Berkeley, and outdoorsy hipster-filled Boulder. Minneapolis is there, too, despite its crazy snow. But Cambridge, Mass. — home of the Car Talk guys? (Er, guy. R.I.P. Tom.) Who would have guessed they’d land at the top of the list!? Just below the top 10 were a couple of real oddballs: Hoboken, N.J. (WHAT) and Arlington, Va. (“Suburban HELL,” according to a Grist staffer who shall remain unnamed). These relatively small-town underdogs beat out the whole dang country!
Here are the top 10, scored out of 100 points:
1) Cambridge, Mass. (92.8)
2) Davis, Calif. (89.3)
3) Berkeley, Calif. (88.8)
4) Boulder, Colo. (86.2)
5) Santa Cruz, Calif. (83.8)
6) Santa Monica, Calif. (82.6)
7) Minneapolis, Minn. 81.3)
8) Fort Collins, Colo. (80.1)
9) State College, Penn. (77.4)
10) Iowa City, Iowa (77.2)
More weirdness: Few major cities, which one would expect to be pretty bikeable, ranked all that high. San Francisco only earned a 75.1 and Portland, Ore., (!) scraped by with a 72. Denver, Boston, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., didn’t even make the top 20.
Heck, Grist’s hometown of Seattle barely made the top 50, coming in at No. 45 on the list with a score of 63. This is a city with a self-proclaimed bike obsession, vibrant bike polo scene, and swarms of business folk donning bike shorts en route to the office, fer cryin’ out loud! The next time I feel like dying as I’m attempting to bike uphill, I’ll just keep Walk Score’s list in mind. Maybe that tiny bit of reassurance will make my calves burn a little less.
To see where your city’s bikeability ranks, check out the full list here.
Ana Sofia Knauf|20 May 2015
5 Chemicals in Lawn Fertilizer You Want To Avoid
Lawn chemicals are designed to kill weeds and bugs. But they can harm people, too, which is why so many communities are banning or minimizing their use. According to BeyondPesticides.org, suburban lawns and gardens receive more pesticide applications per acre (3.2-9.8 lbs) than agriculture (2.7 lbs per acre on average). That’s not even the bad news. According to their site, “Of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides 19 have studies pointing toward carcinogens, 13 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 15 with neurotoxicity, 26 with liver or kidney damage, 27 are sensitizers and/or irritants, and 11 have the potential to disrupt the endocrine (hormonal) system. “
Wildlife are at risk, too. Fifteen million birds are estimated to die each year from pesticide contamination, reports the Poughkeepsie Journal.
If you want to have a lawn but avoid dangerous chemicals, read the label on the fertilizer bag before you buy. Look for these chemicals of greatest concern:
Bifenthrin – This is the key ingredient in many grub- and insect-control products. It’s listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a possible carcinogen and is toxic to fish. It is already banned in several counties in southern New York State.
2,4-dichlorophenoxy acetic acid, or 2,4-D – This weed killer is linked in some studies to increased cancer risk (though it’s not classified as a carcinogen by the EPA).
Glyphosate – Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s RoundUp. It is also used to pre-treat seeds as a way to inoculate them against pests and disease. Because it is used so widely, it is inevitably showing up in our air and water. The impacts on human health could be serious. The Pesticide Action Network says that glyphosate can “activate the estrogen receptor in a breast cancer cell line, which means it may be able to mimic the function of the key sex hormone estrogen.” Research also shows it could deform the heads in developing frog and chicken embryos.
Atrazine – This herbicide is used to control broadleaf weeds. It is one of the most widely used herbicides in the U.S., but was banned by the European Union in 2004, when the EU found groundwater levels exceeding the limits set by regulators. Studies suggest it is an endocrine disruptor, which means that it could alter people’s natural hormonal system.
Carbaryl – This chemical is used primarily as an insecticide. It is sold under the brand name Sevin. While it kills mosquitoes, it also targets honeybees, whose populations are under siege nationwide. Carbaryl is illegal to use in the United Kingdom, Germany, and Sweden, but it’s still applied to over a hundred crops in the U.S. It is often produced using the chemical compound methyl isocyanate (MIC). A leak of MIC used to produce carbaryl caused the Bhopal disaster in India, a catastrophe that led to 11,000 deaths and over 500,000 injuries.
In place of these and other toxic chemicals, use organic means to control pests. Beneficial insects and organic fungicides can keep pests and disease under control. It’s also advised to plant native grasses that resist fungus. Corn gluten is a popular organic option to control weeds. Get additional suggestions from your lawn and garden center and your local county extension agency.
Ultimately, the best strategy may be to replace lawns with ground covers, gardens, decorative stones, woodchips, and other materials that require no fertilizers.
Diane MacEachern|May 17, 2015
Environmental Justice Crusader Is New Sierra Club President
This past weekend, the Sierra Club’s national board of directors elected longtime environmental justice advocate and civil rights leader Aaron Mair of Schenectady, New York, as the Club’s new president. The first African American to hold the office, Mair got his start in environmental activism more than 30 years ago, fighting a waste incinerator in Albany that was disproportionately affecting black residents of the city. He was also a grassroots leader in the fight to clean up the Hudson River, and key to getting the Sierra Club involved in that campaign.
If You Don’t Have a Rain Barrel, You’re Losing Water and Money
Rain barrels have been popping up all over my neighborhood lately. I live in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., and water is expensive here. It can also be scarce in the summer, especially in the hot months of July and August, when flowers are in full bloom and trees and bushes are supposed to be growing. None of that happens if the plants don’t get enough water. In fact, I’ve had a lot of vegetables, azaleas, hydrangeas and even hundred-year-old oak trees die for lack of moisture.
We’ve turned to rain barrels as a free way to collect water, reduce our water bill, and minimize run-off. A rain barrel is a big barrel, usually a 55 gallon drum made from heavy duty plastic or wood, that collects and stores rainwater from a roof. The barrel is attached to a gutter that drains water off a roof. A lid keeps mosquitoes and debris out. A hose connects to the bottom of the barrel to make it easy to drain the water out. You can install a rain barrel at each corner of your house, a garage, a shed, a barn, or any other structure with a roof.
The U.S. EPA says rain barrels can save most homeowners about 1,300 gallons of water during the peak summer months. Lawn and garden watering make up nearly 40% of total household water use during the summer, so using a rain barrel to get water for free is pretty much a no-brainer. Plus, capturing rain water from your gutters rather than letting it flow aimlessly onto your property or into storm drains significantly reduces the impact of runoff into streams. A rain barrel is an easy way to get clean, fresh water to use outdoors for free.
Most hardware stores and stores with gardening departments sell rain barrels, including Ace, Lowe’s, Home Depot and Wal-Mart. You can also find them online if you search “where to buy rain barrels.” Gardener’s Supply sells options that include a double barrel system with the couplings you need for your hoses. Plow & Hearth sells a beautiful terra cotta urn whose top serves as a decorative planter to hold flowers.
Rain barrels can cost over $100, and upwards of $200 or more. You’ll eventually save that money on your water bill. But you can also make your own water barrel. Care2 shows you how here.
Diane MacEachern|May 18, 2015
Atacama: Where Desert Bursts Into Colorful Flowers
Beyond Yellowstone: 8 Unexpected Parks for Wildlife-Watching
Toxic chemicals you know nothing about
Tens of thousands of untested industrial chemicals are used in products we touch and consume every day.
It’s wrong. And there’s an effort to fix it in Congress. But we have to act now to make sure this change is driven by science, not corporate greed.
America found out the hard way that formaldehyde is deadly. A lax chemical “safety” law passed in the 1970s exempted it from safety testing, much to the relief of manufacturers.
Companies kept using it in carpets, makeup, medicines, and cigarettes. Only years later did we find out it was giving people cancer.
Formaldehyde is just one of 62,000 chemicals that Congress exempted from testing.Only 250 have been tested since. Imagine the health impacts from tens of thousands of chemicals we know almost nothing about.
It’s wrong. And we’re fighting to change it. As we speak, a chemical safety reform bill is moving quickly through Congress. You can help make sure it’s driven by science and truly protects our families’ health by pitching in with a gift to support our campaign to make sure that bill is as strong and effective as possible.
Of the 62,000 unregulated chemicals, fewer than one percent have been tested for safety. We’re fighting for a strong bill that would require chemical companies to prove their products are safe before they can sell them as additives to stuff we touch and smell all day—food packaging, car seats, carpets, and more.
Our biggest single obstacle is the American Chemistry Council, a major trade group representing giants like Dow, Dupont, and Proctor & Gamble.
The Council has been protecting lax chemical safety laws for years, and we are using this history to discredit the Council as a reliable source in the media. We’re organizing scientists to pressure the Council’s member companies to reject underhanded, anti-science tactics. We’re also meeting with key lawmakers and their staff to warn them about loopholes buried in the bill.
And we’ll back up all of these efforts with grassroots pressure from UCS supporters like you. We’ve already delivered nearly 22,000 letters from UCS activists to Congress, and we’re helping scientists prepare to meet with lawmakers—all to ensure the Council isn’t the only voice in the room.
We pride ourselves on using only the most solid science to guide our work. Because of that, corporations, industry groups, and politicians find it hard to refute us. When we combine our expertise with grassroots support from hundreds of thousands of UCS activists, we make big things happen.
Together, we pressured Pfizer to drop its membership in the anti-science Heartland Institute. We did the same convincing Facebook and British Petroleum (BP) to leave the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—a group that goes all around the country lobbying against laws that protect our health and environment. Our work sends a message that everyday Americans will no longer tolerate corporate support for science denial. And we’ve secured major policy changes to clean up auto pollution, promote renewable energy development, stop tropical deforestation, and more.
UCS members won’t let corporate lobbyists put profits over safety. We never have. We never will. Thank you for fighting for science, and for you generous support.
Ken Kimmell|President|Union of Concerned Scientists
Why California Should Ban Plastic Microbeads
Skin and beauty products that feature microbeads are popular among consumers thanks to their exfoliating properties, but they’ve also caught some heat from California legislators. Later this week, California Assembly members will consider legislation to ban microbeads because of their negative effects on the ecosystem. If you agree with eliminating microbeads, you can encourage California lawmakers to approve this legislation by signing this petition.
While microbeads might be nice and clean for your face, they’re ultimately making rivers, lakes and streams that much more dirty. Obviously, you don’t want these small morsels of plastic to stay on your face, and the trouble begins once they wash down the sink. Because of the beads’ tiny size, most filtration systems cannot separate them out, leaving the bits of plastic to indefinitely linger in oceans and other bodies of water.
From there, marine life ingests some of the plastic — which people end up ingesting in turn when they consume fish — and the rest slowly releases toxins into the water. Either way, the damage is significant enough that consumers ought to find another way to exfoliate. Some conscientious companies have already replaced plastic beads with natural alternatives like cocoa beans or fruit pits and shells.
Last year, California politicians took a close look at plastic microbeads and the Assembly voted to ban them throughout the state. Alas, the plastic industry reached out to Republican state senators before the other chamber could vote and effectively shut the legislation down.
Now California has a second chance to get this right. Awareness on the environmental impacts of microbeads has only increased, so with some extra pressure from the public, there’s hope the legislation could become a reality this time around.
California wouldn’t be the first state to pass microbead-focused legislation, but it could still be the first to do it meaningfully. States like Illinois, New Jersey and Maine have had their own laws compromised thanks to amendments snuck in by friends of the plastic lobby. Basically, the laws grant exceptions to products with biodegradable microbeads.
The problem is that there are no legal definitions of “biodegradable” in place in these states to hold manufacturers accountable. With no timeline for how fast a microbead must biodegrade, that still leaves plenty of time for them to be swallowed and pollute before disintegrating. Additionally, since no research exists confirming that the “biodegradable” microbeads companies are using are actually any safer for the environment, many are skeptical of these products anyway.
If a state as large as California rejects these products, we might not even need laws in all of the smaller ones, as companies will be forced to adjust their products’ ingredients to accommodate the law. That’s why it’s pivotal that we encourage California lawmakers to get rid of microbeads – with no Kevin Mathews|May 20, 2015exceptions.
Kevin Mathews|May 20, 2015
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