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 on: Oct 21, 2016, 06:00 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
We are approaching the Trumpocene, a new epoch where climate change is just a big scary conspiracy

Graham Readfearn

Websites pushing climate science denial are growing their audience in an era where populist rhetoric and the rejection of expertise is gaining traction

Friday 21 October 2016 05.11 BST

For years now geologists have been politely but forcefully arguing over the existence or otherwise of a new epoch – one that might have started decades ago.

Some of the world’s most respected geologists and scientists reckon humans have had such a profound impact on the Earth that we’ve now moved out of the Holocene and into the Anthropocene.

It’s not official. But it’s close.

Dropping nuclear bombs and burning billions of tonnes of fossil fuels will do that to a planet, as will clearing

That’s all in the real world though, and sometimes you might get the horrible, chilling idea that when it comes to the production of our thoughts and ideas, that’s not the place a lot of us live anymore.

So I’d like to also propose the idea of an impending new epoch – the Trumpocene – that in the spirit of the era itself is based solely on a few thoughts held loosely together with hyperlinks and a general feeling of malaise.

In the Trumpocene, the epoch-defining impacts of climate change are nothing more than a conspiracy. Even if these impacts are real, then they’re probably good for us.

The era is named, of course, for the phenomenon that is Donald Trump, the Republican pick for US president whose candidacy has been defined by a loose grasp of facts, jingoistic posturing, populist rhetoric, his amazing hair and his treatment of women.

So what are the things that might define the Trumpocene?

Is it the point at which large numbers of people started to reject the views of large groups of actual experts – people with university qualifications and things – in exchange for the views of anyone who agrees with them? (Brexit, anyone?)

How about that point when a critical mass of people have become convinced that they can Google their way out of the laws of physics?

Let’s go and dig for evidence of the Trumpocene.

A few months ago, Trump gave an interview to polemicist and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who could be the angriest person on the internet.

Jones has a regular online radio and TV show called Infowars that has expanded beyond being a vehicle for Jones’s cult personality to include regular news bulletins and a line in “alternative” health therapies.

Jones thinks that climate change is a scam being forced on us by the United Nations, which, in turn, is a totalitarian regime and kingpin of a new world order.

The a fervent Trump supporter has told his viewers that the both US president, Barack Obama, and the Democrat nominee, Hilary Clinton, were “literal demons” who smelt of sulphur. I kid you not.

In Australia, we have a senator who similarly sees climate change as a thing made up by the UN. Our top-rating radio host, Alan Jones (no relation), has said climate science is “witchcraft”.

Now, before I go on, there’s a prevailing view (often expressed in the comments of this blog) that climate science deniers and oddballs like Alex Jones should be ignored. In some ways, those commenters are right.

But then you look at the popularity of people like Jones and see that, to increasing numbers of people, they are not people to be ignored, but are paragons of fearless truth-telling.

There’s a demographic to which rhetoric from people like Jones and, more broadly, Trump, appeals.

Jones’s YouTube account has about 1.6 million subscribers and is growing. He has 1.2m likes on his Facebook account. His website, according to SimilarWeb, was getting 27m pageviews a month back in February. Now it’s at 36m.

Earlier this year Jones snagged a rare interview with the conservative blogger Matt Drudge. Jones and Drudge expressed mutual admiration.

Drudge’s news and opinion aggregator website, the Drudge Report, is a genuine web phenomenon and considered hugely influential.

With about 1.37bn page views a month, the Drudge Report is the second-ranked media site in the United States — 600m views behind but 300m ahead of Google’s news page.

The Drudge Report also tends to link to news items that disparage any action to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

There’s now a whole media ecosystem that climate science denialism can exist inside, where there’s little scrutiny of the views of deniers. US-based sites like the Drudge Report, Infowars, Breitbart and Daily Caller are part of that ecosystem.

As the Guardian’s Roy Greenslade notes, Breitbart “has the dubious honour of challenging Fox News’s status as America’s most influential conservative media outlet”.

Not only is the outlet having influence, but its executive chairman, Stephen Bannon, is running Trump’s campaign.

Breitbart too is growing its audience, according to those SimilarWeb statistics. In February 2016 the site registered 89m page views. In August, it was up to 143m.

Another characteristic of the Trumpocene might be the heightened levels of hubris combined with triumphant rhetoric and the tendency towards insults.

The Breitbart writer James Delingpole, for example, rejects the evidence of human-caused climate change. Last week he described a Royal Society fellow and climate scientist as a “puffed-up missy”.

“What a bunch of disgraceful, money-grubbing, charlatans the climate alarmists are,” wrote Delingpole, before then trying to link “climate alarmists” with child abusers.

For a while, maybe the Trumpocene and the Anthropocene can coexist.

But even though they exist on separate plains, can we really afford to dismiss the impact of either of them?

 on: Oct 21, 2016, 05:57 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
US energy shakeup continues as solar capacity set to triple

Solar expected to almost triple in less than three years by 2017 as coal continues to fall, solidifying gas as country’s chief electricity source, reports Climate Central

Bobby Magill for Climate Central, part of the Guardian Environment Network
Friday 21 October 2016 12.15 BST

Solar power capacity in the US will have nearly tripled in size in less than three years by 2017 amid an energy shakeup that has seen natural gas solidify its position as the country’s chief source of electricity and coal power continue to fade, according to monthly data published by the US Department of Energy.

Cutting carbon dioxide emissions from electric power plants is a major part of the US strategy for tackling climate change as the country seeks to meet its obligations under the Paris climate agreement and keep global warming from exceeding more than 2C (3.6°F).

Reducing those emissions requires changing the fuels used to produce electricity, including using more natural gas and renewables than coal, historically the country’s largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change.

Renewables still make up only a fraction of the US power supply – 8% this year. That’s expected to grow to 9% next year, and the biggest driver of that growth is solar.

Solar power has been on a tear in recent years partly because of cheaper solar panels and a federal tax credit for solar installations. Congress extended the solar tax credit early this year, helping to fuel a 39% annual growth rate for solar power-producing capacity, to 27 gigawatts by next year from about 10 gigawatts in 2014, or enough to power about 3.5m homes, the data show.

“Because of pent-up demand due to uncertainty over the federal tax credit, solar had a record year in 2016,” said Doug Vine, senior energy fellow at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. “Solar capacity buildout is expected to be similar next year.”

By contrast, wind power generating capacity is expected to grow by about 8% next year after growing nearly 15.5% in 2016.

For most of the past century, coal has been king in the electric power industry. But it has begun to falter as a major energy source in the US because falling natural gas prices have encouraged electric power companies to build more gas-fired power plants.

At the same time, new mercury pollution regulations for coal-fired power plants have taken effect, renewable energy has become cheaper to produce and electric power companies have begun to gear up for the Clean Power Plan – the Obama administration’s climate policy aiming to slash carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.

For the first time in history, more electricity is produced using natural gas than with coal. That has helped to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because natural gas releases roughly half the carbon dioxide as coal.

This year, 35% of US electricity is expected to be produced using natural gas, and 30% will be produced using coal, according to the data. Last year, each produced about 33% of US electricity.

With natural gas prices rising, the share of US electricity produced with coal is expected to rise slightly to 31% in 2017. But with natural gas expected to generate 34% of America’s electricity next year, it is expected to remain the biggest player for the second year.

“Coal is now in many markets the marginal player,” said Daniel Cohan, professor of environmental engineering at Rice University. “There’s definitely been switching from coal to gas, and many analysts think that the majority of coal power plants are losing money.”

As more and more companies are required to install expensive scrubbers on their coal-fired power plants to reduce mercury and other air pollution, the future of coal plants in many areas is likely grim, he said.

“If they’re losing money or breaking even, it’s not going to make sense for them to put in scrubbers,” Cohan said. “It’s likely to tip a growing number of coal plants to shut down.”

 on: Oct 21, 2016, 05:56 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Nigerian president leads tributes to oil activist Ken Wiwa

The Ogoni leader and son of renowned Niger delta environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa has died from a stroke in London, aged 47

John Vidal
Thursday 20 October 2016 16.21 BST

The president of Nigeria has joined politicians, environmental activists and others to pay tribute to Ken Wiwa, the Ogoni leader and critic of Shell and other western oil companies in the Niger delta, who has died from a stroke in London.

Wiwa, the eldest son of Nigerian author Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was executed in 1995 after leading a peaceful uprising by the Ogoni people to stop Shell from polluting their oil-rich area of the delta, was a journalist with the Guardian who later became an adviser to three Nigerian presidents.

“Wiwa was an ardent believer in the unity, progress and stability of his community. I urge family, friends and associates to honour his memory by making his dream of an environmentally safe, secured and prosperous Ogoniland a reality,” said President Muhammadu Buhari.

As an aide to ex-presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan, Wiwa, 47, raised international awareness of the scale of devastation in the delta and helped secure international funding to clean it up.

Wiwa and the families of the other eight Ogoni leaders who were also executed by the Nigerian government in 1994, won $15.5m from Shell in 2009 as compensation for their deaths.

Last year, he wrote in the Guardian: “If my father were alive today he would be dismayed that Ogoniland still looks like the devastated region that spurred him to action. There is little evidence to show that it sits on one of the world’s richest deposits of oil and gas.”

A 2011 UN report said Nigeria’s Ogoniland region could take 30 years to recover fully from the damage caused by 50 years of oil spills. The study said complete restoration could entail the world’s “most wide-ranging and long-term oil clean-up”.

Goodluck Diigbo, president of Ogoni Central Indigenous Authority, said: “The perspective of ‘junior’, as he was popularly addressed by the Ogoni, was that every problem and every conflict has a solution. This belief guarded his own quiet approach in tackling the dilemma of the Ogoni people.”

 on: Oct 21, 2016, 05:54 AM 
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Europe's offshore wind industry booming as costs fall

The European Union’s push away from fossil fuels toward renewables, along with falling costs, has seen offshore wind thrive with turbines being installed from the Irish to the Baltic Seas, reports Environment 360

Christian Schwägerl for Environment 360, part of the Guardian Environment Network
Thursday 20 October 2016 16.29 BST

On a sunny October morning, our boat passes the run-down relicts of Liverpool’s maritime past and heads down the river Mersey and into the Irish Sea. As we steam offshore, I see in the distance a cluster of tall structures that soon reveal themselves to be towers of a wind turbine array. Arriving at the windfarm, six miles offshore, the turbines rise as high as 650ft, taller than the tallest church in the world. Each of the turbines’ three shiny metallic rotor blades is nearly 300ft long.

“A single rotation of an eight-megawatt turbine will cover the daily electricity consumption of an average British household,” says Benj Sykes, vice president of Dong Energy Wind Power, the company that is constructing and co-owns this wind project, as the boat rocks in five-foot swells.

Workers have been busy at the Burbo Bank extension, named for this patch of the Irish Sea, since June, using gigantic cranes to drive foundations 50ft into the sea floor. With a design capacity of eight megawatts each, the 32 turbines are the most powerful ever installed at a commercial offshore windfarm. Once the rotors start spinning later this year, the Burbo Bank windfarm will be able to power 230,000 households – enough to run Liverpool city, with its 466,000 inhabitants.

In Europe, offshore wind farms like the one at Burbo Bank are undergoing a boom. While still significantly outnumbered by windfarms on land, the importance of windfarms at sea has grown dramatically in the past several years. Until 2011, between 5 and 10% of newly installed wind energy capacity in Europe was offshore. Last year, almost every third new wind turbine went up offshore. That growth has helped boost the share of wind energy in the European Union’s electricity supply from 2% in the year 2000 to 12% today, according to WindEurope, a business advocacy group.

New investments for offshore projects totaled $15.5bn in the first half of 2016 alone, according to WindEurope, and newly installed offshore wind energy capacity will double to 3.7 gigawatts this year compared to 2015. More than 3,300 grid-connected turbines now exist in the North Sea, the Baltic Sea, and the Irish Sea, and 114 new wind turbines were linked to the grid in European waters in the first half of this year alone. This is in stark contrast to the US and Asia, where offshore wind use is only just getting started.

The offshore wind boom is part of a wider move from fossil fuels to renewable energy across the European Union. The overall share of renewable electricity sources in the EU – hydropower, wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal – has gone up from about 15% in 2004 to roughly 33% in 2014, according to data from Eurostat and Entso-E, the association of grid operators. Along with solar photovoltaic power, wind energy is driving this expansion. Newly installed wind energy capacity amounted to 13 gigawatts in 2015, twice as much as newly installed fossil fuel and nuclear capacity combined. WindEurope claims that all European wind turbines taken together can now generate enough electricity for 87m households.

This is not only a result of government subsidies and incentives, but also of dramatically reduced production costs for wind energy. The price for a megawatt hour is now between €50 and €96 for onshore wind and €73 to €140 for offshore wind, compared to around €65 to €70 for gas and coal. Electricity generated from onshore windfarms is now the cheapest among newly installed power sources in the UK and many other countries. If environmental costs are considered, the picture looks even more favorable for wind power.

Germany now meets one-third of its electricity demand with renewable energy, Denmark 42%, and Scotland as much as 58%. On some sunny or very windy days, renewables can now fully supply the electricity demand in these countries.

The picture isn’t entirely rosy, though. The European wind industry says that grid and storage infrastructure hasn’t expanded fast enough to soak up surplus wind energy, and that the fossil fuel and nuclear industries are trying to sabotage what is called Energiewende, Germany’s transition from coal and nuclear power to renewable energy. The wind energy boom, with its recurrent surges of surplus energy, has led to a dramatic decline in electricity prices in spot market trading at the European Electricity Exchange, with the price per kilowatt hour falling by as much as 50% in the last five years. With preferential treatment from EU governments, wind energy is now outcompeting coal-fired power plants, posing major challenges for utilities heavily invested in fossil fuels.

Out in the Irish Sea, however, Dong Energy’s Sykes shows no mercy for the fossil fuel industry. “Wind power on land is becoming the cheapest form of newly installed electricity capacity,” he says. “And even out here at sea, we can’t say anymore that there are technical hurdles.”

Dong Energy – co-owned by the Danish state, Goldman Sachs, shareholders, and two pension funds – is the European leader in offshore wind projects, surpassing competing companies like RWE Innogy, Iberdrola and Northland Power. Its full name – Danish Oil and Natural Gas – reflects its less-than-green history. Sykes personifies this transition. Before he joined Dong in 2012, the Cambridge University-trained geologist spent almost 20 years exploring for oil and gas reserves for large fossil fuel companies like Shell and the Hess Corporation. He says he left the fossil fuel industry and joined the wind business in part because of criticism from his environmentally minded children.

The reasons for the European offshore wind energy boom are manifold: For one, European governments and the EU as a whole have supported wind projects with favorable incentives as part of their CO2 reduction goals. In addition, the cost per megawatt hour has dropped by about 50% in the last few years alone for many projects, with a record low of $81 for Dong’s Borssele 1 and 2 projects – two soon-to-be-built wind farms off the Dutch coast. That’s compared to $155 for offshore wind installations just a few years ago.

Costs have fallen because production of wind turbines has become more industrialized and standardized and the size of turbines and generators has increased, thus harvesting wind more efficiently. In addition, offshore wind projects can reap the stronger winds found at sea, compared to land, and are far less likely to attract protests by neighbors who often object to their presence. There are also environmental concerns about how these industrial facilities affect sea birds and marine life, but so far this has not limited the expansion of offshore wind.

Sykes’ colleagues in the wind energy industry are more cautious about the future. At the WindEurope Summit in Hamburg last month, where several hundred industry representatives gathered, Giles Dickson, chief executive officer of WindEurope, said that European political and administrative leaders hadn’t come up with detailed plans of how each nation will achieve the goal to generate 27% of all energy (including transport and heat) from renewable sources by 2030, which would mean renewables would have to generate 47% of the continent’s electricity.

Maroš Šefčovič, vice president of the European commission, the union’s administrative body, said that while Europe has created 300,000 jobs in the wind industry, China, the US, and India are catching up fast.

Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s former environment minister turned economics and energy minister, said it was time for the continent’s wind industry to rely less on subsidies and incentives and become more independent. “After years of guaranteed prices and feed-in tariffs,” Gabriel told the meeting, “the wind industry doesn’t need a puppy license any more.”

Analysts say that the main obstacle to further rapid expansion of Europe’s wind sector, offshore in particular, stems largely from political failure. European governments have yet to build up the new electricity grid infrastructure that could transport large quantities of renewable energy from often sparsely populated northern coastal areas to the industrial centers farther south. Germany, in particular, has not created favorable conditions for additional wind expansion. Despite being at the heart of Europe geographically and being a driving force in renewable advances, the country’s federal and state governments were not able so far to build long-promised north-south “power autobahns” to expand grid capacity and transport offshore wind to areas with heavy electricity consumption. Politicians have often given in to local opposition to new power lines, while putting cables underground, as is now envisaged in Germany, is costly and experiencing long delays.

This grid bottleneck means that in 2015 alone, 4,100 gigawatt hours of wind electricity – enough to power 1.2m households – could not be transported through the grid, according to the German Federal Grid Agency. “What is lacking in particular is a smooth expansion of grid connections and grid capacity to take up the electricity we produce,” Dickson said at the wind energy summit. What he got from Gabriel in response wasn’t a promise to speed up power line construction, but a policy statement on limiting newly installed capacity for offshore and onshore wind.

“In the past, our goal was maximum expansion and the motto was ‘the faster the better,’” said Gabriel. “But we have now reached limitations as the expansion of the grid system hasn’t kept pace.”

While in the past investors were able to simply add wind turbines to the grid and receive feed-in tariffs for their electricity, they now have to bid for a limited grid capacity.

A second obstacle is a lack of major storage sites for surplus wind energy. For many years now, European governments have pledged to support new storage technologies, such as large-scale batteries or using the growing network of electric cars for storage. Yet projects haven’t succeeded beyond pilot phases because of technological and economic challenges.

To long-term players in the field such as Henrik Stiesdal, a Danish wind power pioneer and former chief technology officer of Siemens Wind power, the situation is ironic: “While there were warnings in the past that wind energy would never be able to meet demands, politicians are now confronted with its abundance,” he said. Stiesdal sees storage technologies and better grid integration as opportunities, rather than problems – wind energy’s “golden bullets”.

“Once these problems are solved, wind will be able to cover the greatest part of the world’s electricity needs,” he says. The WindEurope business group says it could easily double the amount of wind electricity for EU consumption to almost 30% by the year 2030. The group argues that the recent ratification of the Paris agreement on climate change means the EU will have to pursue a more ambitious energy transition.

A visit to Dong Energy’s Burbo Bank project demonstrates the rapid progress the industry has made from its modest beginnings in the 1990s. It will take engineers and workers just a few months to assemble a facility that will provide electricity for a quarter-million households.

Like Stiesdal, Dong’s Sykes sees a bright future for offshore wind. He expects no impact from the UK’s Brexit and notes that the Burbo Bank extension is co-owned by an unlikely player in power production: the parent company of Lego, the toymaker. “Offshore is a reliable and increasingly cheap source of energy, with no lasting harm to the environment,” Sykes says. “It will soon be simply unbeatable.”

 on: Oct 21, 2016, 05:52 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Rare birds thriving on Scilly Isles after scheme rids islands of rats

Number of nesting Manx shearwaters almost triples in three years after a project, backed by Prince Charles, sucessfully kills off the rats that eat the birds’ chicks and eggs

Hazel Southam
Friday 21 October 2016 11.56 BST

A scheme to kill rats on two of the Isles of Scilly, backed by Prince Charles, has led to a resurgence in rare sea birds.

The number of Manx shearwaters has risen to 73 nesting pairs this year, the highest in living memory and almost triple the number of nesting birds just three years ago. The birds appear to be breeding successfully, with 30 chicks spotted on the popular holiday islands. Another species of rare ground-nesting birds, storm petrels, have also returned to the Scillies.

The Manx shearwater shares the burrows of rabbits on the tussocky slopes of the Scilly Islands of St Agnes and Gugh, while the storm petrel nests in cracks in rocks, beneath the local pub. But this made them vulnerable to rats, which ate both their eggs and chicks.

There is archeological evidence of Manx shearwaters on the islands dating back to 2,000 BC. By the 13th century, they were so common that they were used as currency. Annual rents were paid in 30 ‘pufons’ (either puffins or Manx shearwaters) to the Duchy of Cornwall.

But it was the rats rather than the Duchy that caused the birds’ decline. It is thought that brown rats arrived on the islands in the 17th century, from the many shipwrecks that dot the coast of the Scillies.

By 2014 there were only 24 nesting pairs of Manx shearwaters left and a chick had not survived in some 100 years.

In 2013 the 84 islanders worked together to eradicate the rats under a £750,000 scheme backed by Prince Charles. Farmers cleaned out sheds and barns. New, sturdy refuse bins were supplied to every household. And islanders started taking waste to the local tip just once a week.

All 11 children at the school on St Agnes were taught about rats, storm petrels and shearwaters.

Then for three weeks in November 2013 more than 1,000 baiting boxes were laced with poison. Some 3,000 rats were killed. Now, with the islands rat-free, the rare migratory birds are flourishing.

Jaclyn Pearson from the RSPB, who managed the project said: “We are thrilled that these seabirds are thriving since the rat removal.

“All the hard work which everyone has put into the project has been well worth it when you know that a species has been returned to a habitat which is rightfully theirs,” she said.

The sparrow-sized storm petrel is the smallest seabird in the world, and the Isles of Scilly is just one of two places in England where they are found. But, because of the rats there had been no sighting of them in St Agnes and Gugh in living memory.

There are an estimated 280,000 Manx shearwaters in the world, and Britain acts as home to the majority of them during summer months. The birds make an annual 20,000-mile migration from South America to breed on the islands, finding their way by star-gazing.

Chicks are said to spend several days at the mouth of their burrows on the Scilly Isles gazing at the stars before making their perilous first flight south, and are then believed to find their way back to that same burrow by following the alignment of the stars above it.

Plans are underway to extend the scheme to the islands of Tresco, St Martin’s and Bryher, if funding can be found. “We know it’s feasible,” said Jaclyn. “The birds are coming here, so we have a responsibility for them.”

 on: Oct 21, 2016, 05:49 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Injured baby donkey rescued; watch her mama's reaction

Animal Aid Unlimited, India

A tiny baby donkey had been attacked by a wild animal and suffered more than a dozen bites all over her body. Watch her amazing recovery!

Click to watch:

 on: Oct 21, 2016, 05:39 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
After coking plant's last gasp, a feast for nature

Rother valley, Derbyshire The malign dragon’s breath ceased, the air cleared, then a corner of the vast works became a nature reserve

Ed Douglas
Friday 21 October 2016 05.30 BST

As a boy, rushing south from Chesterfield on the train, I remember how the farmland was interrupted by the Avenue coking works breathing fire and acrid smoke like a malign dragon. Eight hundred people worked there, producing fuel for steel works, along with sulphuric acid and tar, in one of the most contaminated industrial sites in Europe.

The coking chimney and cooling tower – and all the rest of it – came down more than 10 years ago, and the air cleared. I had barely thought of it since, until, passing recently, I noticed through the carriage window reed ponds and luxuriant scrub.

At the end of a narrow lane, on the fringes of Wingerworth, a corner of the vast complex had been turned into a nature reserve split by the railway tracks and taking in a stretch of the Rother.

The old branch line that once fed coal to the plant now allows easy access for wheelchairs and a view across the ponds; in winter there are teal and wigeon.

I was drawn to the thick clumps of shrubs and trees – dog roses studded with hips tangled with a hawthorn smothered in haws, apple trees thick with fruit, a gnarled, low, ash still with its leaves.

Such a rich source of food brought scores of birds: a flock of goldfinches describing shallow dips though the air, half a dozen chaffinches and, deep in the green, trapped in a sudden burst of evening sunshine, the brilliant yellow of a siskin.

The Rother is a narrow stream here, half hidden against the railway. It must have suffered badly from its proximity to the coking plant. Now it is clear and vibrant, thick with weed. I can well believe there are water voles living here, despite the shiny abandoned microwave splitting the current like a reef.

Scraps of garbage and concrete barriers make for a semi-industrial wild space but I emerged from the tunnel beneath the tracks to a scene of wonder – a female sparrowhawk slicing between two trees, the scrub noisy with alarm calls and a shower sweeping in from the moors to the west.

 on: Oct 21, 2016, 05:35 AM 
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Hundreds of snow leopards being killed every year, report warns

Figure of 220-450 annual deaths could be even higher, as killings by poachers or farmers often go undetected in the remote mountains of central Asia

Damian Carrington
Friday 21 October 2016 05.01 BST

Hundreds of snow leopards are being killed every year across the mountains of central Asia, threatening the already endangered big cat, according to a new report.

There are as few as 4,000 of the solitary and elusive cat remaining and numbers have fallen by a fifth in the last 16 years.

But between 220 and 450 are killed each year, found the report from Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network, published on Friday ahead of a meeting on the crisis at the UN in New York. The number could be much higher, the NGO warned, as killings in remote mountain areas often go undetected.

Over half the so-called “ghosts of the mountains” are killed by farmers in retaliation for attacks on livestock and 20% are trapped by snares set for other creatures. Another 20% are killed for the illegal fur trade, though pelts from snow leopards killed for other reasons are often sold on.

To reduce the killings, the report’s authors recommend the roll-out of leopard-proof corrals for yaks and horses and insurance schemes for farmers. Such schemes are already being tested, for example in a village in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. The natural prey of snow leopards are Himalayan blue sheep and ibex, but their numbers have fallen as their habitat is converted to farmland.

Stronger law enforcement is also needed, said Traffic, with less than a quarter of known cases of snow leopard poaching investigated and just one in seven prosecuted.

Snow leopards live in 12 nations but more than 90% of the reported snow leopard poaching takes place in five countries: China and Mongolia, which host most snow leopards, as well as Pakistan, India and Tajikistan, which each have just a few hundred of the animals.

The report found up to 200 snow leopards are being illegally traded each year, with China and Russia the most frequent destinations for animals poached in other countries and Afghanistan also a major illegal market. But the number of pelts seized has fallen sharply in recent years, particularly in China, perhaps because of increasing enforcement.

“Even if there is reduced demand for snow leopard skins, the killing will continue unless we all work together to drastically reduce human-wildlife conflict and ensure that mountain communities can co-exist with snow leopards,” said Rishi Sharma, from WWF and a co-author of the report. “Compensation schemes and innovative predator-proof corrals are making a difference but we urgently need to expand these to benefit communities – and snow leopards – across Asia’s high mountains.”

The leopards at also at risk from climate change, with warming temperatures threatening to leave a third of their habitat uninhabitable as the tree line shifts up the mountains and causes farmers to plant crops and graze livestock at higher altitudes.

 on: Oct 21, 2016, 05:32 AM 
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Australia joins bid to outlaw large-scale commercial and 'scientific' whaling

International Whaling Commission meeting in Slovenia follows Japan’s recent slaughter of more than 300 minke whales

Michael Slezak
Friday 21 October 2016 03.52 BST

Australia has thrown its weight behind a bid to outlaw large-scale commercial and so-called “scientific” whaling at a summit next week.

The International Whaling Commission meeting in Slovenia follows Japan’s recent slaughter of more than 300 minke whales, many of them pregnant, when they resumed so-called scientific whaling after a hiatus because the International Court of Justice ruled the hunts were not scientific and should cease.

Australia has put forward a resolution to the conference that would require Japan to get approval from the IWC for its “scientific” quotas.

Japan is also expected to again face criticism from other countries for its whaling in the Southern Ocean, in defiance of the court ruling.

On Friday the federal environment minister, Josh Frydenberg, said he would call for global protection of whales, saying the government “strongly supports the global moratorium and will continue to work towards a permanent end to all forms of commercial and so-called ‘scientific’ whaling”.

“For too long, the commission has deferred responsibility for so-called ‘scientific’ whaling to its scientific committee,” Frydenberg said. “The commission must be more engaged on this important and divisive issue and form its own conclusions.”

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the global moratorium on commercial whaling and 70 years since the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling was made.

In 2008 the Australian federal court found Japanese whaling in the Australian Whale Sanctuary to be in breach of Australian law and Japanese whaling company Kyodo was fined $1m in 2015. Attempts to recover the money have so far failed.

Kitty Block, the vice-president of the Humane Society International, which was part of the Australian legal action, said: “Japan’s unilateral resumption of its so-called ‘scientific’ hunt in the Southern Ocean last year is a slap in the face not just for the International Whaling Commission but also for the rule of law, as the international court of justice clearly ruled Japan’s previous Antarctic ‘research’ program to be illegal.”

Humane Society International program manager Alexia Wellbelove said: “With both the international courts and Australia’s federal court condemning Japan’s actions, it is time the international community at IWC strongly criticise Japan for its so-called ‘scientific’ whaling program.”

 on: Oct 21, 2016, 05:30 AM 
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Park ranger murdered while trying to protect Congo's rare gorillas

Munganga Nzonga Jacques died in a region of Kahuzi Biega national park previously believed to be safe for the gorillas, Mongabay reports

Shreya Dasgupta for Mongabay, part of the Guardian Environment Network
Thursday 20 October 2016 15.43 BST

On October 4, a park ranger was killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Kahuzi Biega national park while trying to protect the park’s rare Grauer’s gorillas.

The ranger, Munganga Nzonga Jacques, died at the age of 26. He was killed in the Tshivanga region of the park — an area that was previously believed to be safe for the gorillas, according to a statement by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

Jacques is the second ranger to be killed in Kahuzi Biega in the last six months. On 31 March 2016, rebel groups fatally shot another park ranger, Oscar Byamungu Mianziro, in Kahuzi Biega.

“We are very concerned about these increased threats to the rangers and their families and to the protection of these animals,” said Andrew Plumptre, WCS Senior Conservation Scientist for Africa, in a statement.

The Grauer’s gorilla — the world’s largest ape and a subspecies of the eastern gorilla found only in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo — is now facing an extremely high risk of extinction.

Wild gorilla numbers have declined by at least 77 percent over a single generation (~20 years), a recent study found, from an estimated 16,900 individuals in 1994 to about 3,800 animals now.

Their population collapse, which has resulted in up-listing of their status to Critically Endangered, is largely due to illegal hunting and civil unrest, conservationists say.

“The civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo has led to the wide availability of arms and created a plethora of militia groups who control different territories in the east of the country,” Andrew Plumptre, senior conservation scientist for the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Africa Program, told PLoS One in an interview. “This has been terrible for conservation of its wildlife.”

Plumptre added that the civil war has resulted in an increase in artisanal mining sites deep inside the forests that are controlled by armed militias. These miners rely mostly on bush meat for food, and gorillas make an easy target.

Kahuzi Biega National Park is believed to be the last stronghold of grauer’s gorillas. So the murder of Jacques has conservationists worried about the future of the rangers as well as the gorillas.

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