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 61 
 on: Oct 18, 2017, 05:17 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
'The threats continue​’: murder of retired couple chills fellow activists in Turkey

The killing of two activists who successfully campaigned to shut down a mine has shocked environmentalists in Turkey who fear their deaths will embolden others to kill to protect their profits

Jonathan Watts
Guardian
Wednesday 18 October 2017 05.00 BST

Cedar branches whisper in the Anatolian breeze. Twigs crunch underfoot. A truck rumbles from a distant marble quarry. The crack of a hunter’s rifle echoes through the forest.

The sounds of tranquility and violence intermingle at the remote hillside home of Aysin and Ali Büyüknohutçu, the Turkish beekeepers and environmental defenders whose murder in Finike earlier this year has sent a chill through the country’s conservation movement.

If the killings of the retired couple were not shocking enough, the aftermath – a dubious judicial investigation and the alleged suicide of the key suspect – have raised questions in parliament and the media about the priorities of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who increasingly seems to care more about the economy and concrete than lives and the environment.

Ali and Aysin were organic farmers who moved to a remote forest home so that they could be closer to nature after they retired.

A hand-painted sign above their gate reads “Ali Baba Çiftliği” (Father Ali’s Farm), a joking reference to the ditty that Turkish children sing to the tune of Old MacDonald. Their two-storey house and garden – carefully laid out in neat rows of vegetables – sits in a clearing among cedar and pine trees.

Their house itself is testimony to the couple’s commitment to each other, their country, their family and the environment. Two cups sit by a kettle on the stove next to an open sugar bowl. Pride of place on the wall is a portrait of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who founded the Turkish Republic out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire. Below it are several stacks of books – bedtime stories for their grandchildren, and publications on global issues: Can a City Be Sustainable?, Worldwatch Institute on the State of the World 2016 and A Guide to Organic Farming.

Moving there was the realisation of a long-held ambition. In his youth, Ali had written a poem in which he declared, “My only wish is a big garden with cheerful children.”

“This was their dream retirement,” said a source close to the family, who asked to remain anonymous due to fear of reprisals. “They moved there for inner peace. Then they came up against the marble companies.”

They could not avoid them. The road up to their home passes from the turquoise coastline of the Aegean through pomegranate and orange groves to a dusty orange quarry – one of more than a dozen in Finike.

The opencast mines divert rivers, blast rocks with TNT and stir up dust that chokes the surrounding vegetation.

When the couple discovered that some had also been opened close to heritage sites in contravention of licensing regulations, they took action.

Long involved in leftwing politics, consumer rights groups and residents associations, the couple linked up with several friends to form a group called Toraçder.

“Our initial aim was to educate people about the environment. Then when we realised the quarries were damaging the forest, we started to campaign against them,” said Bayram Taşel, a co-founder. “I knew it was dangerous, but I didn’t think it would lead to murder.”

They were up against powerful business interests. Turkey boasts 40% of the world’s marble reserves and nine out of 10 quarries are found in Anatolia. They are a mainstay of the regional economy and the country’s $2bn-a-year natural stone export business. China is currently the biggest customer, but Turkish marble is also found in Disneyland, the White House, the Vatican, Burj Khalifa, the Bundestag and luxury hotels across the world.

Among those with family connections to the industry are the Finike mayor and the head of the Turkey Marble, Natural Stone and Machinery Association Selahattin Onur.

Undaunted, Ali, Aysin and their fellow campaigners launched a successful challenge that shut down two marble companies Bartu Mermer and Bahçeci. Bartu Mermer fought back with a defamation lawsuit against Ali. But he won again in March 2017. The judge not only acquitted him, but also cancelled the company’s operating license.

Hailing the victory, Ali predicted it would be the first of many. “Before, citizens were scared to sue companies – now the decision will encourage all environmentalists,” he declared.

Two months later, he and his wife were dead.

Today, the murder scene has been cleaned up, but the hallway wall is pocked with pellet marks as is the window over the threshold. Police say Ali was gunned down with a sawn-off shotgun as he opened the front door and shone a torch towards the intruder. He then fell to the ground, close to where he had earlier discarded his beekeeping gloves, hat and veil – which still lie in a heap on the stairs.

The killer is then assumed to have chased Aysin to the verandah, where she had gone to scream for help. Strangely, she was found with her arms above her head as though she has been dragged to the site and her body was face up although forensic experts say she was shot from behind. The neighbours – who live out of sight but within earshot – say they heard nothing.

A suspect – Ali Ymaç – was quickly found and arrested. He confessed to carrying out the execution in return, he said, for a promise of 50,000 lire (£10,000) from a quarry owner who he knew only by the alias “Çirkin” (Ugly). Yumaç said he was paid 3,000 lire up front and promised the rest on completion. He was instructed to make the killing look like a robbery.

That ought to have been where the Turkish justice system cranked into high gear to track down those behind the assassination. Instead, it was the starting point for months of delays, obfuscations and another death that has frightened and frustrated activists and raised wider questions about the country’s slide away from democratic rule of law.

Within weeks of his imprisonment, Yumaç changed his testimony to say he acted alone. Police concluded he wanted to rob the couple to buy heroin. The killer had a history of drug-related arrests, but it was odd that the laptop and other electronic goods taken from the home were dumped in the well instead of sold. There were other mysteries that were not adequately explained by the official report: Where was the murder weapon that he said he had stolen? How had he climbed the five-foot-high barbed-wire fence, as he claimed? How had he entered without disturbing the two fierce Anatolian shepherds that the Büyüknohutçu’s kept as guard dogs?

Doubts grew with the publication of a letter smuggled out of prison by Yumaç’s wife that she later handed over to the prosecutor. It was addressed to a marble company owner. The contents – now posted online – read, “Pay the money as you promised me. If you don’t I will tell the truth on judgment day. You said ‘kill them and we will pay’. Why are you waiting? In 10 days if you don’t pay, your life will be in my pocket.”

Last month, the public prosecutor was finally ready to submit his indictment, which meant the family’s legal team would get their first opportunity to question Yumaç on the record. He had told them he was ready to reveal everything.

He never got the chance. Days later Yumaç reportedly committed suicide in a high-security prison where he had been moved for his safety. Guards claimed he hung himself in a toilet with elastic from his clothing. Many find this incredible.

“It was a top-security L-type prison that had been designed “suicide proof” and where prisoners were watched around the clock,” said an activist, who asked to remain nameless. “I don’t believe he killed himself. I think he was silenced.”

The family’s lawyer Eser Dursun said the prospects for justice were now slim. “This is a very important case, but we cannot win because the murderer is dead. Under Turkish law that means the case is closed.”

For Turkey’s environmental campaigners, this is part of a broader alarming trend.

Onur Akgül, a campaigner for the Northern Forests Defence conservation group put the case in the broader context of Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian rule and drive to boost the economy at all costs.

“The murder of Ali and Aysin is a sign of the new climate in Turkey,” he said. “Ecologists strongly suspect there is more to this case than individual motives. The attack on the environment now is the biggest in our country’s history. Their murder can be seen as a message to others. It shows how far some interests are willing to go.”

Erdoğan refutes such claims. He says his pro-business policies are in the national interest and accuses those who try to impede development as traitors and terrorists.

Environmental defenders have been under suspicion since 2013 when a small group of activists tried to resist plans to turn Istanbul’s Gezi Park into a shopping mall. Their demonstration morphed into the biggest anti-government protest in memory with hundreds of thousands taking to Taksim Square and streets around the country.

Eight people died and thousands were injured in clashes between the riot police. “For what?” a scornful Erdoğan asked afterwards. “For 12 trees!” Since then, he has pushed ahead with several massive infrastructure projects – a third airport, a third bridge over the Bosphorus and a new canal – that environmentalists say has led to the felling of 100 million trees.

Those who stand in the way of these and other projects feel vulnerable.

“Now that two activists have been assassinated, we fear there will be more,” said Melike Vergili, a founder of the Phaselis Initiative NGO. Her group – which has campaigned to conserve the coastline in Antalya against hotel developers – joined rallies calling for justice after the couple were killed. “To be an activist in Turkey is to be constantly worried. We have to protect ourselves as well as the environment.”

Nobody is feeling the pressure more than Tuğba Günal and Birhan Erkutlu, who have been campaigning against a cascade of hydroelectric dams near their home in the Alakır Valley in Antalya. The dreadlocked, nature-loving couple have received death threats, been accused in defamation suits and labelled terrorists. Last month, shots were fired at their home. They believe the murders of Ali and Aysin have emboldened those willing to break the law to push through projects.

“Maybe one day they will kill us. They can if they want, but we will keep defending innocent lives. We are not afraid,” Birhan told the Guardian. “The government and the police do nothing to protect environmental protectors. They are not willing to punish those who threaten us. That’s why the threats continue.”

With forest conservation now such a sensitive political subject, supporters of Ali and Aysin are in a difficult position. They plan to turn the dead couple’s home into a eco-residency, to establish a memorial park in Antalya, and to continue the campaign against the quarries and to get justice for the killings.

“This is the first time two people have died trying to protect nature in Turkey. If we win, it will set a precedent that will help others in a similar position,” said one of those close to the campaign. “It would be a big step for Turkey. Ali and Aysin may be dead but they can still help the living.”

 62 
 on: Oct 18, 2017, 05:13 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Regreening the planet could cut as much carbon as halting oil use – report

Natural solutions such as tree planting, protecting peatlands and better land management could account for 37% of all cuts needed by 2030, says study

Reuters
18 October 2017 12.22 BST

Planting forests and other activities that harness the power of nature could play a major role in limiting global warming under the 2015 Paris agreement, an international study showed on Monday.

Natural climate solutions, also including protection of carbon-storing peatlands and better management of soils and grasslands, could account for 37% of all actions needed by 2030 under the 195-nation Paris plan, it said.

Combined, the suggested “regreening of the planet” would be equivalent to halting all burning of oil worldwide, it said.

“Better stewardship of the land could have a bigger role in fighting climate change than previously thought,” the international team of scientists said of findings published in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The estimates for nature’s potential, led by planting forests, were up to 30% higher than those envisaged by a UN panel of climate scientists in a 2014 report, it said.

Trees soak up heat-trapping carbon dioxide as they grow and release it when they burn or rot. That makes forests, from the Amazon to Siberia, vast natural stores of greenhouse gases.

Overall, better management of nature could avert 11.3bn tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year by 2030, the study said, equivalent to China’s current carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use.

The Paris climate agreement, weakened by US president Donald Trump’s decision in June to pull out, seeks to limit a rise in global temperature to “well below” 2C above pre-industrial times.

Current government pledges to cut emissions are too weak to achieve the 2C goal, meant to avert more droughts, more powerful storms, downpours and heat waves.

“Fortunately, this research shows we have a huge opportunity to reshape our food and land use systems,” Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, said in a statement of Monday’s findings.

Climate change could jeopardise production of crops such as corn, wheat, rice and soy even as a rising global population will raise demand, he said.

The study said that some of the measures would cost $10 a tonne or less to avert a tonne of carbon dioxide, with others up to $100 a tonne to qualify as “cost-effective” by 2030.

“If we are serious about climate change, then we are going to have to get serious about investing in nature,” said Mark Tercek, chief executive officer of The Nature Conservancy, which led the study.

 63 
 on: Oct 18, 2017, 05:11 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

While Puerto Rico Fights For Aid, This Long-Forgotten Island Remains 'Slum of the Pacific’

By Whitney Webb
Ecowatch
10/18/2017

Since Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico, the U.S. territory—which rarely garners much attention from the national media—has received widespread coverage which has focused on the Trump administration's slow response to the disaster.

The situation in Puerto Rico is undoubtedly dire, as many struggle without power and access to basic necessities for more than a week after the storm struck. In addition, the Trump administration's response has been notably lackluster in several regards, which has brought renewed scrutiny to its attitudes and performance.

Other islands under the U.S.' thumb have, however, lived for years with the deplorable conditions that Puerto Rico now faces. Yet, these places are the victims not of a natural disaster, but rather of a long-standing federal policy of "benign neglect."

One such territory is the Pacific island of Ebeye, found within the Marshall Islands and often referred to by its unfortunate nickname—"the Slum of the Pacific."

Once a pristine and sparsely populated sandbar island, Ebeye is now one of the most densely populated places in the world with over 15,000 residents crammed into less than 80 acres of land (31 hectares). Many of its residents are refugees from other islands throughout the Marshall Islands—islands that were rendered uninhabitable or completely destroyed by the U.S. government's tests of 67 atomic bombs over a twelve-year period, following its seizure of the territory from the Japanese after World War II.

Some of those islands have since been cleared by the federal government as "safe" to inhabit. However, local leaders remain skeptical that this is the case, given that the government made such assurances to the Marshallese before, only to have the inhabitants unwittingly become part of a massive human experiment on the effects of environmental radiation exposure over time. In the meantime, the displaced make their living in "a shameful slum," as Ebeye was once called by author and journalist Simon Winchester.

Since assuming control of the island in 1944, the U.S. government was tasked with administering the governing body of the Marshall Islands, of which Ebeye is part. Though the Marshall Islands ostensibly gained "independence" in 1986, since 1983 its sovereignty has been dictated by a "Compact of Free Association," which did little to change its status. Per this compact, the Marshall Islands leased most of its land to the U.S. military for bases and other installations in exchange for U.S. economic assistance to the islands.

Lurking below these technicalities and legalities is the reality that Ebeye has essentially been rented to its populace by the U.S., primarily to serve the needs of the U.S. military and its base on neighboring Kwajalein. Independence means little without the resources or wherewithal to provide for the needs of one's people. Ebeye's sewer system has not worked for nearly four decades—it did not work prior to "independence," and it has not worked subsequent to "independence." As a result, raw sewage often pools in the streets while human waste is often pumped into a lagoon near where children swim. Lesions and sores on islanders are common, as are periodic outbreaks of cholera and dengue fever.

Clean drinking water has to be brought in by ferry from nearby islands. The only health center on the island struggles with insect infestations. The nearest hospital, located on a different island, does not include any oncologists despite the fact that cancer is rampant as a result of radiation exposure. Indeed, there is not a single oncologist in all of the Marshall Islands.

Ebeye—even though a large portion of its population is under the age of 18—has no functional schools and no parks. It is also exceedingly overcrowded. The shacks that line its streets can house up to 40 people, often extended family members, who take shifts sleeping due to the lack of space. Almost a decade ago, the island ran out of space to bury its dead, forcing grieving families to place coffins on top of existing graves. Numerous housing units essentially share space with the island's open-air garbage dump.

The lack of space has also made it impossible for the island to grow its own food, forcing islanders to eat imported junk food—like Spam and Cheetos—because that's all that is available. As a result, the adult population has the highest rate of diabetes in the world, obesity is rampant, and children often fail to grow to their normal size due to malnutrition.

Most of Ebeye's population is unemployed, making poverty not only common but often inescapable. The local economy is dependent largely on the U.S. military base just three miles away, a base that boasts all of the amenities of modern living in a resplendent microcosm of American suburbia. About 1,000 Ebeye residents are ferried there on a daily basis to serve the American soldiers, military contractors and their families. They make $10 to $12 an hour, significantly more than the Marshall Islands' minimum wage of just $2 an hour.

The military base—part of the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site, on the nearby island of Kwajalein—is worlds apart from Ebeye, despite their geographical proximity. The island is more than 3,000 acres in area, nearly 40 times larger than Ebeye, yet houses just 1,300 Americans who work for the U.S. military, along with their families.

The Americans live a "wonderfully luxurious country-club existence" where they are "utterly segregated" from the native islanders. The base boasts a golf course, movie theaters, a country club, a bowling alley, a skate park and a yacht club, among other amenities. It also has an elementary and junior/senior high school, a childhood development center, and adult enrichment programs.

Marshallese, however, are not permitted to live on the island, including those who lived there prior to the base's construction; nor are they permitted to freely visit or enjoy any of the amenities offered at the base. The base is accessible only to the handful of Marshallese who work there and only for work-related purposes.

Only a small fenced-in area near the dock, complete with barbed wire and security guards, is open to the Marshallese. It holds the only laundromat available to residents of Ebeye, as well as an "American eatery" that serves fried chicken and mashed potatoes.

Journalist Simon Winchester described the situation to ABC national radio as follows:

"When the people from Ebeye, which is the third or fourth most densely populated [island] on the planet … want to go to the laundromat, they don't have one on their island, so they have to come to a little chain-link-fence-corralled section of the American island and wash their clothes there, while five feet from them there are people living in total luxury."

Occasionally, islanders are permitted entry to the Ebeye hospital, which is not located on Ebeye but rather on Kwajalein. However, the hospital caters to the American population and the services it offers to the Marshallese are minimal.

As one Ebeye resident told journalist John Pilger, "They don't treat them [the Marshallese] with medicine. They just go there for taking the blood and then X-rays." When someone on Ebeye is seriously ill, the hospital is "unable" to help them.

If that weren't enough, the base itself poses a threat to Ebeye. Several times a year, missiles are fired from military bases in California and Alaska towards the Kwajalein Atoll, which includes Ebeye—tests that some have called a "a multi-million-dollar game of darts," as the nuclear-capable missiles have been known to occasionally veer off course.

Every missile fired on the Marshall Islands and from the Kwajalein military base costs at least $100 million. Meanwhile, Ebeye lacks even the most basic necessities.

The U.S. government is well aware of Ebeye's troubles. In the 1970s, the Army surveyed Ebeye, finding that the sewers, water and electrical systems were nonfunctional. Nothing was done.

Then, in 2010, the U.S. Army was warned that Ebeye's lack of infrastructure was a major health risk to its residents. That advice, however, was ignored for six years until the U.S. government announced that it and Australia would spend $50 million on restoring the island's nonfunctional sewage and water systems. Though the project has yet to make real progress, it is supposedly set to end what the U.S. government refers to a period of "benign neglect" that has resulted in Ebeye's woes.

Everyday Puerto Ricans, themselves victims of U.S. neo-colonialism, now find themselves—in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria—living in conditions comparable to those the Marshallese on Ebeye have endured for decades. Puerto Rico will likely receive increased aid, spurred by harsh media criticism of the Trump administration's handling of the matter, and will eventually be able to rebuild. Yet Ebeye continues to languish in the shadow of the Kwajalein military base, as its people remain voiceless and without recourse.

 64 
 on: Oct 18, 2017, 05:08 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Farm animals can eat insects and algae to prevent deforestation

WWF says alternatives to industrially farmed animal feed must be developed to stop biodiversity loss
A farmer feeds a cow with GM food supplement.

Bibi van der Zee
Guardian
18 October 2017 18.09 BST

Farm animals could be fed on insects and algae, potentially preventing significant amounts of deforestation and water and energy waste, according to environmental campaigners.

“We’re a bit squeamish about eating insects in the UK,” said WWF’s food policy manager Duncan Williamson at the Extinction and Livestock conference in London. “But we can feed them to our animals. We are going to need animal feed for the foreseeable future, but algae and insects are an alternative to the current system.”

Growing and capturing feed for industrially farmed animals – soy, maize, fish – is an inefficient use of the world’s resources, according to a WWF report released for the conference. According to scientist Katherine Richardson, one of 15 experts commissioned by the UN to report on their sustainability goals, we have now broken through four out of nine of the planetary boundaries defined as a precondition to sustainable development “because of agriculture”.

Many corporations believe the public don’t care or know about the problem with feed, said Williamson. “I have lost count of the times I have gone to companies who have said our customers don’t care about feed – it’s so far from what they’re eating. They don’t care about the impacts on biodiversity – they think the fields of England are biodiverse.” But, he pointed out, “the intensive system has a global impact on biodiversity … it’s the number one cause of biodiversity loss.”

Using insects and algae for animal feed would require far less land and resources. One company, Entocycle, makes feed of black soldier flies fed on waste food, while algae can be grown in far smaller areas to a comparative amount of soy and is nutritionally superior.

Work on alternative materials for feeds has been happening for a number of years now, according to Kate Wolfenden of Project X, a WWF offshoot, and alternative feeds are still significantly more expensive than grains and soys and not yet at the volumes required to shift entire industries. But the market is now maturing, and Project X’s Feed-X programme aims to enable 10% of the global industry to be able to commit to procuring alternative sustainable feeds, at scale, by 2020.

But the truth is that a transformation of the entire food system will be necessary, says Richardson. “We are living what might be the most exciting time of human history – a time of great transition,” she told the conference, pointing out that there have been times in the past when we have realised that we are going to have to create rules for dealing with our waste at local, regional and national levels. “We, as a society, are now recognising that we need to manage our resources at the global level.”

Philip Lymbery, the head of Compassion in World Farming, one of the organisers of the conference, had called earlier for a UN convention on food and farming. “Our intention is that this conference will be the start of a global conversation. Scientists warn we are facing a mass extinction event not seen since the dinosaurs. Much of the current biodiversity loss is driven by the way we produce food.”

The conference was partly, he said, held to celebrate the 50th birthday of CIWF. “We do not intend to celebrate our 100th. We intend to end factory farming long before that comes.”

 65 
 on: Oct 18, 2017, 05:04 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
New airplane biofuels plan would 'destroy rainforests', warn campaigners

Plan to accelerate production of biofuels for passenger planes would lead to clearing of rainforests to produce ‘vast’ amount of necessary crops

Arthur Neslen
Guardian
18 October 2017 18.17 BST

A new plan to accelerate production of biofuels for passenger planes has drawn stinging criticism from environmentalists who argue that most of the world’s rainforests might have to be cleared to produce the necessary crops.

Aviation is one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions, with an 8% leap reported in Europe last year and a global fourfold increase in CO2 pollution expected by 2050.

To rein this back, the industry has promised carbon neutral growth by 2020 – to be met by biofuels, if a blueprint is approved at an International Civil Aviation Organisation (Icao) conference in Mexico City tomorrow.

The “green jet fuel” plan would ramp up the use of aviation biofuels to 5m tonnes a year by 2025, and 285m tonnes by 2050 – enough to cover half of overall demand for international aviation fuel.

But this is also three times more biofuels than the world currently produces, and advanced biofuels are still at too early a stage of development to make up the difference.

Environmentalists say that the most credible alternative fuel source would be hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO), even though this would probably trigger a boom in palm oil plantations and a corresponding spike in deforestation.

Klaus Schenk of Rainforest Rescue said: “Citizens around the world are very concerned about burning palm oil in planes. The vast use of palm oil for aviation biofuels would destroy the world’s rainforests, the basis of life for local people and the habitats of endangered species such as orangutans. We urge Icao to scrap its misguided biofuels plan.”

It is impossible to quantify the precise extent of deforestation that the proposal could cause, but based on the Malaysian Palm Oil Council’s crude palm oil yields and Total conversion figures, Biofuelwatch estimate that 82.3m hectares of land (316,603 sq miles) would be needed to meet the target, if it were sourced from palm oil alone. That is more than three times the size of the UK.

Carlos Calvo Ambel, a spokesman for Transport and Environment, said: “Most biofuels are worse for the climate than jet fuel. Quality should always go before quantity. Establishing a goal even before the rules are set out is putting the cart before the horse. The European experience has been that biofuels targets sucked in palm oil exports whose emissions were far greater than those of fossil fuels.”

T&E, Oxfam and Friends of the Earth are among nearly 100 environmental groups protesting the proposal, while 181,000 people have signed a petition calling for the initiative to be scrapped.

Inside the conference hall, several states are also opposing the biofuels pitch which, if passed, is expected to go on to an Icao assembly for formal adoption within two years.

Brazil and Indonesia strongly support the plan but China has questioned its feasibility, the EU wants more robust sustainability criteria, and the US says it will not support globally coordinated emissions reductions targets.

An industry proposal to limit the biofuels target to 2025 is one possible compromise, but others may emerge before the plan is put to a vote.

Almuth Ernsting, a spokeswoman for Biofuelwatch, said the current proposed target was “so huge that it would be unlikely to be fulfilled – but you could still have massive negative impacts from much smaller uses of palm oil”.

Within four years of the EU setting a binding target to source 10% of its transport fuel from renewable sources in 2009, studies show that European investors had bought 6m hectares of land for biofuels production in sub-Saharan Africa.

The EU took very little of its biofuel feedstock from Africa in the end, but the use of palm oil from elsewhere for biodiesel had soared 500% by 2014, according to industry trade figures.

 66 
 on: Oct 18, 2017, 05:01 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
This is what America's eco city of the future looks like

Georgetown mayor Dale Ross is ‘a good little Republican’ – but ever since his city weaned itself off fossil fuels, he has become a hero to environmentalists

by Tom Dart in Georgetown, Texas
Guardian
18 October 2017 12.49 BST

When the caller said he worked for Harry Reid and the former Senate majority leader wanted a word, Dale Ross assumed it was a joke. “OK, which of my buddies are messing with me today?” he wondered.

He shouldn’t have been so surprised. Ross is the mayor of Georgetown, population 65,000, and he has become a minor celebrity in environmental circles as a result of a pioneering decision in 2015 to get all the city’s electricity from renewable sources.

Georgetown’s location in oil-and-gas-centric Texas and Ross’s politics add to the strangeness of the tale. The mayor is a staunch Republican at a time when a Republican president – and his Environmental Protection Agency administrator – reject the scientific consensus on climate change and are trying to revive the declining coal industry.

Ross has appeared in a National Geographic documentary, a forthcoming film about clean energy for HBO directed by James Redford (son of Robert) and in this year’s follow-up to An Inconvenient Truth, which saw the advocate and former vice-president Al Gore visit Georgetown.

The day after we met at city hall, just off Georgetown’s charming main square, Ross was set to fly to Utah to introduce a screening of An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. Then it was on to Las Vegas to reunite with Gore, a fellow speaker at Friday’s National Clean Energy Summit, an event co-hosted by Reid, a Democrat from Nevada. Next week, a conference in Oakland, California. Next month, a green energy panel in Nova Scotia.

“You should see the fan mail that I get, especially with the movies,” Ross grinned. The 58-year-old said the decision to follow the lead of Burlington, Vermont – the first US city to run solely on renewable energy – was not the product of liberal do-gooder vapours wafting up Interstate 35 from nearby Austin. It was based on cold-eyed pragmatism, the fruit of the kind of careful numerical analysis he performs in his day job as a certified public accountant.

“The revolution is here,” he said. “And I’m a good little Republican, a rightwing fiscal conservative, but when it comes to making decisions based on facts, that’s what we do.”

    When it comes to making decisions based on facts, that's what we do
    Dale Ross

The facts, Ross said, are that when Georgetown negotiated power supply deals the cost was about the same between natural gas and wind and solar, but the natural gas option would provide only a seven-year guaranteed contract whereas 20-25 year proposals were on the table from renewable providers.

Georgetown officials decided to lock in a long-term rate to eliminate price volatility, mindful of the risk that future government actions might send fossil fuel costs soaring.

Prices in the city, Ross said, have declined from 11.4¢ per kilowatt hour in 2008 to 8.5¢ this year. Georgetown sources most of its power from a wind farm 500 miles away in Amarillo and will get solar energy from a farm in west Texas that is expected to be finished next June, meaning the city can attain its 100% renewable goal even when the wind isn’t blowing. This year, Ross said, the tally is about 90%, down from 100% in 2016.

“I think it’s a big step for Texas, for Georgetown,” said Christian Soeffker, who runs a toy shop on the square. “We just like the idea of being in a town that is in some ways special because we’ve got all that green energy.”

Georgetown makes headlines not only because so few US cities run entirely on renewables, but because it has a conservative mayor willing to make compromises and fraternise with high-profile Democrats in a hyper-partisan era where climate change is one of the most divisive subjects.

“How is anybody going to compete with wind and solar?” said Ross, who has ordered an electric-powered BMW scooter from California and plans to fit solar panels at his home and office.

All the same, he voted for coal’s biggest champion in last November’s presidential election – Trump was “like, my eighth or ninth choice” in the primary, he said – and went to his inauguration, which he said was “phenomenal”, even if it cost $700 for a basic hotel room. His support is not unquestioning, though.

    Isn’t that sort of like putting a Band-Aid on somebody that has terminal cancer?
    Ross on Trump's promise to bring back coal jobs

“When Trump was campaigning he was talking about clean coal and we’re going to bring coal jobs back? That is a mirage, that is not going to happen,” he said. “Coal is one of the most expensive forms of fossil fuels to produce. And those jobs are never going to come back, ever. They’re done.”

As for any policies the federal government might enact to boost the coal industry, such as the decision announced on Tuesday to scrap the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan?

“Isn’t that sort of like putting a Band-Aid on somebody that has terminal cancer?” Ross said. “I’m not the smartest guy in the room but it’s not that complicated, OK? How’s fossil fuels going to compete in the next five years? They’re not going to be able to compete.”

‘We have so much that is ideal for solar’

Texas is the US leader in wind energy capacity, even as many of its politicians maintain absolute fealty to fossil fuels that are a key economic driver and still the supplier of most of the state’s electricity. It has lagged behind other states in solar capacity but is starting to realise its potential.

“We have so much area in Texas that’s ideal for solar,” said Joey Romano, a 35-year-old with a small solar farm 50 miles west of downtown Houston. “Solar and wind, unsubsidised, today already can compete with coal,” he said.

Local Sun has about 100 residential customers. Completed at the end of 2015, the farm is located in a rural county that gave Trump 79% of the vote. But Romano said local officials recognised the potential for jobs and revenue and were happy to help the project get off the ground. Beehives stand among the 15,000 panels.

“We call the programme ‘farm-to-market solar energy’,” Romano said, at his office in central Houston.

Local Sun is a boutique operation in partnership with MP2 Energy, a retail company owned by Shell, and it is designed to attract those willing to pay a small premium for an eco-conscious local product, much as food shoppers might spend a little more for organic groceries.

However modest, its very existence feels like a significant marker in a city that is known as America’s oil and gas capital but is in fact the nation’s biggest municipal user of green power.

On the other hand, environmental activists worry that solar’s growth will be stunted in Texas and across the country if, as appears likely, the Trump White House imposes prohibitive tariffs on imported solar panels.

“They may harm thousands of installation jobs in favour of a few hundred manufacturing jobs, so that could hurt,” said Jim Marston of the Environmental Defense Fund, who believes renewable energy will thrive even if federal incentives end and barriers are erected.

“You can’t stop the technology. It’s too good, the prices are too good, and people want it,” he said.

Ross agrees that market forces will prevail. On Friday, the day of the clean energy summit, Texas’s largest electricity producer announced it would close two more coal-fuelled power plants in the state.

Luminant cited challenging economic conditions including low wholesale and natural gas prices and the growth of renewables. A week earlier, the company said that in January it will retire a large coal-powered plant in east Texas.

“We were on the frontier of the fossil fuel business, oil and gas,” Ross said. “And now Texas again is on the frontier of the new energy that’s going to be the future.”

 67 
 on: Oct 18, 2017, 04:58 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Wild is the wind: the resource that could power the world

Wind isn’t just mysterious, destructive and exhilarating – capturing just 2% of it would solve the planet’s energy needs at a stroke. And as the windiest country in Europe, Britain is at the forefront of this green revolution

by Paula Cocozza
Guardian
18 October 2017 14.00 BST

The wind rips along the Humber estuary in Hull. It’s the kind that presses your coat to your back and pushes you on to your toes. “A bit too windy,” shouts Andy Sykes, before his words are swept away. He is the head of operational excellence at the Siemens Gamesa factory, which supplies blades – the bits that turn – to windfarms in the North Sea. At 75 metres long, they are hard to manoeuvre when it’s gusting.

Inside the vast factory hall, the blades lie in various states of undress. Several hundred layers of fibreglass and balsa wood are being tucked into giant moulds by hand. There are “naked” blades that require paint and whose bodies have the patina of polished tortoiseshell. Look through the hollow blades from the broadest part, and a pale green path, the tinge of fibreglass, snakes down the long tunnel, tapering to a small burst of daylight at its tip.

“Alice in Wonderland,” Sykes says. “That’s how I feel. That’s the emotion coming through. It’s 75 metres long. We know that. But stood here the perspective is just fantastic. It’s my favourite view.” Down this strange green rabbithole is a glimpse of a greener future, the possibility of a world powered by wind.

This is not as fanciful a vision as it once seemed. In the UK, the wind energy industry is celebrating. Last month, the cost of renewable energy dropped dramatically to undercut by almost half the government’s projections for 2025. At £57.50 per megawatt-hour (MWh), it is far cheaper than the state-backed price of £92.50 awarded in 2016 to Hinkley nuclear power station. The speed of wind’s progress is extreme and inarguable.

Emma Pinchbeck, executive director of RenewableUK, and a former climate change activist, can’t keep the happiness from her voice. But she is happy for new reasons. What’s really exciting, she says, is the fact that she “is not having to talk to officials about decarbonisation any more as a starting point. Windfarms are low carbon. But that’s not why we want to build them. We want to build them because they’re bloody cheap!”

Wind is in the news. And not just in terms of the energy it provides. One after another, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate have devastated the Caribbean and parts of the US mainland. In the UK, with a turbulent autumn looming, this month marks the 30th anniversary of 1987’s great storm, which felled 15 million trees in one night. A book exploring this event, Windblown: Landscape, Legacy and Loss, sold in a keenly contested auction last year and has just been published. Another new book, Where the Wild Winds Are, sees its author, Nick Hunt, walk the “invisible pathways” of Europe’s winds. In short, wind is in the air. But why do lay people know so little about it – and can it really power the world?

The wind energy sector is certainly booming. Across the river from the Siemens Gamesa factory in Hull, in this long windy corridor of development on the east coast of the windiest country in Europe, there’s the Dong Energy hub, the screens of its operation room flickering with the data of wind captured by blades turning in the North Sea. Next month, the company will change its name – short for Danish Oil and Natural Gas – to Ørsted, after the celebrated Danish scientist who discovered that electric currents create magnetic fields, to reflect its near complete shift from black energy to green.

Dong was among the companies that achieved the landmark price of £57.50, and Emma Toulson, who works in their Grimsby office, explains how they did it.

Since the government ruled out new onshore windfarms in England – a promise in its 2015 manifesto – energy companies have been forced offshore, making the UK the world’s offshore leader. Allowed to develop beyond the vision of land-dwellers who see windfarms as a blot on the countryside, the turbines have grown steadily larger, as have the farms to which they belong. Dong’s Hornsea Project Two will span 480 sq km, and Toulson’s PowerPoint outlines a large jagged blue diamond for Project Three and an even larger blue rocket shape for Four.

Toulson has a slide that shows one very clear reason for the falling cost of wind energy. Over time, the diameter of the blades have enlarged. A turbine commissioned in 2002 swept 80 metres; in 2005, that figure rose to 90 metres; in 2011, it was 120 metres. By 2020, it will be 180 metres.

Of course, the supply chain has improved, and there have been engineering refinements. But put baldly, wind energy costs less, and will go on costing less, because the turbines are growing taller and the blades longer. The manufacturers of these machines are in a race to produce the largest.

Making something bigger in each incarnation seems a very basic idea of advancement. How much of a future is there in a pursuit of progress through perpetual excess?

Andrew Garrad co-founded Garrad Hassan, which has grown to become the world’s largest wind consultancy. “When I started, in 1984, I could carry the biggest wind turbine blade on my back,” he says. “I’ve made all sorts of embarrassing pronouncements about how big the blades can get … Never bigger than 50 metres or 70 metres or 90 metres, and I’m always wrong.”

One limit is that if a blade can’t support its own weight, it buckles. And the size at which this would happen? Garrad laughs. “About 1.5km in length.”

To add to the sense of the fantastical, last week two scientists from the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University, California, published a study that suggested a windfarm the size of India, in the North Atlantic, could power the world.

“A generation doesn’t last long in wind,” Garrad says. A new one is born every three to four years. Progress has been so fast that this year saw the first decommissioning of an offshore windfarm, Vindeby, in Denmark. At 25 years old, it is practically ancient, its entire output exceeded by that of a single 8MW Vestas turbine.

And yet despite the size of its gargantuan machines, the offshore wind industry is still in its infancy. Wind turbines may look alike, but as Garrad points out, “we are a long way from a design consensus”. There are fixed turbines and floating turbines, which can access deeper seas, turbines with gears and turbines without. The sight of three blades harmoniously turning has become commonplace. But there is no reason why offshore turbines should look like this. They could operate with a single blade (ruled out on land because one blade, whirring faster, is noisy), or with two blades (ruled out on land because an optical illusion makes them appear to pause as they pass the tower, flummoxing passersby). Offshore, there would be only the gulls to offend, and the people who will live, in four-weekly shifts, on the new accommodation vessels that are being deployed to manage the farms’ growing distance from shore.

The open ocean is a blank blue slate. “An engineer’s dream,” Garrad muses, who built his first windmill from old bicycle parts in his back garden when he was 17. When he was older, he climbed to the top of one of the first giant turbines and stuck his head out of the nacelle – the bit near the blades that houses the components – just to feel the wind in his hair.

“You poke your head through the trapdoor and you get the most fantastic feeling of the power of the wind,” he says, his voice growing faster, louder. “You can feel the torque on the rotor, feel the blades bending, and the whole machine taking the power out of the wind … That first primordial step from the wind itself into the rotating shaft.”

Wind has long had a transformative power in myths and legends. From Aeolus, the keeper of the winds in Greek mythology, to Vayu, the Hindu god of wind and Native American legends, humans have toyed with the idea of capturing it. (This preoccupation can be seen in object form at the Bora wind museum in Trieste, Italy: it has an exhibition of gusts trapped in bottles, sent in by wind lovers from around the world.)

Wind is a metaphor for change, the passage of time, the past and the future (“The answer, my friend …”). It blows through the art of Van Gogh, through Hokusai to the far western tip of Cornwall and Gill Watkiss, whose landscapes are peopled by figures permanently bent, snapped over by the wind, hair whipped. “I like to feel it playing havoc with me,” she says. “You feel alive.”

Humans have a complex relationship with the wind. We have many names for rain, from mizzle to drizzle, torrents to downpours. But wind is different. “There are no borders to the wind. It blows across land, across oceans. It’s bigger than we can imagine,” says Tamsin Treverton Jones, who wrote Windblown. We know it by how it sounds or feels, which is severe enough in places for scientists to have explored the link between strong winds and suicide, and by the damage it leaves behind.

Poets aside, we have few words for the wind between a breeze and a gale. Even the Beaufort scale, which measures wind speed, categorises it specifically in relation to its impact on objects. Ted Hughes knew a “brunt wind”. Robert Macfarlane knows a “katrizper”, an Orcadian wind derived from the Norse for cat scratches. Watkiss, the Cornish artist, tells “exhilarating” wind by the way the telegraph wires hum. Debra Nicholson at the Wind Energy Museum in Great Yarmouth, with its bunting gently flapping over an assortment of 20th-century windmills, cites a 45-degree wind – one that gusts so hard, you have to walk into it at that angle. And a few miles away at E.ON’s Scroby Sands windfarm visitor centre, there’s talk of a “scowl”, a wind that whips around in all directions. Just along the promenade a kiosk sells children’s windmills and, at the dock, hulking Siemens Gamesa blades lie ready to be taken to sea.

But while most of us know what wind does and how it sounds, we don’t know what it is, or why it blows when air at the earth’s surface moves to equalise low and high pressure areas. There is much still to understand.

Ken Caldeira is one of the two Stanford climate scientists behind the idea of a North Atlantic windfarm the size of India. To understand the significance of his discovery, he says, it is important to know that when wind turbines are arrayed in rows, the extraction of wind by the first row reduces the amount of wind available for the second row, and so on. Row by row, the wind’s potential diminishes.

To counter this effect, turbines need to extract energy from the wind that’s above them. What Caldeira found was that that is exactly what can happen in parts of the North Atlantic, where heat “pours out of the ocean”, causing greater “cyclonic activity”. But could a farm the size of India really be built in open ocean? “You wouldn’t want to,” he says. Better to have many very large ones (China currently has the largest). A wind power station that size “would be a climate change in itself”. For one thing, “pulling that much energy out of the sky shifts the direction of wind”.

The challenges facing the wind energy industry remain immense. These include global political challenges: the presence of a climate-change sceptic in the White House, the UK government’s dislike of onshore wind (cheaper and so far more productive than offshore) and the potential impact of Brexit.

There are technical challenges, too, such as the difficulty of storing the energy captured. Batteries for this purpose – such as the E.ON facility that opened in Sheffield last week – are still developing and are crucial to securing the supply, making it reliable. But still, the possibilities are immense.

“The total amount of power in winds globally is something like 50 times bigger than the total amount of power used by human civilisation,” Caldeira reckons. “If we were to power civilisation by winds, we would need to capture about 2% of winds today,” he says, sounding a little like Odysseus on his way home from Troy, bag of winds in hand.

And if the ocean is a blank blue state, there is another one above. The idea has been floated. Wind turbines on kites are in research and development. The jet stream, for Caldeira, is “the largest, most concentrated renewable energy source on the planet, 20 times as potent in every square metre as direct sunlight in the middle of the day”.

No one thinks that wind alone offers the answer to the world’s energy needs. But for now, at least, the possibilities are boundless.

 68 
 on: Oct 18, 2017, 04:53 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
UK vows to close all coal power plants by 2025

UK will 'champion a global alliance' on a transition to coal-free power generation

Harry Cockburn
Independent
10/18/2017  

The UK has committed to a programme that will phase coal out of all electricity generation by 2025.

Canada has also said it will close its coal power stations by 2030, and both countries are urging others to put a stop to coal-powered energy generation.

The commitment follows an earlier pledge by Amber Rudd to phase out coal by 2025.

It was “perverse” and “simply not sustainable” for Britain to be so dependent on the “dirtiest fossil fuel”, she said in a speech in November last year.

The government’s new vow comes five months after it was discovered ministers were considering allowing coal-fired power stations to continue to operate if they could reduce their emissions by a certain amount using carbon capture and storage technology.

Coal provided the UK with 9 per cent of all power generation in 2016, down from 22 per cent in 2015.

On 21 April 2017, Britain went a full day without using coal power for the first time since the industrial revolution.

The number of coal power stations in Britain has dwindled in recent years with the closure of three power stations last year at Rugeley, Ferrybridge and Longannet.
  
Meanwhile wind farms and solar parks have proliferated across the country as a result of green subsidies, falling costs and the UK’s legally binding targets to cut greenhouse gases by a minimum of 80 per cent from 1990 levels by 2050.

The firm commitment to end coal in the UK follows a meeting between Canada’s minister for the environment Catherine McKenna and UK climate minister Claire Perry met at the Houses of Parliament in London.

The pair released a joint statement calling for an end to the use of coal.

“Phasing unabated coal power out of the energy mix and replacing it with cleaner technologies will significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, improve the health of our communities, and benefit generations to come,” the statement said.

“We are doing our part, but we recognise the need to accelerate the international transition from burning coal to using cleaner power sources.”

 “Today, we announce that Canada and the UK will champion a global alliance on the transition from unabated coal-fired electricity.”

The term “unabated” references the earlier consideration of using carbon capture and storage techniques to keep a small amount of coal power generation remaining, which will now not be used.

***************

UK Government pledges £2.5bn to tackle climate change

The UK Government outlines plans on how it will reduce emmissions by 2050

Shafi Musaddique
Independent
10/18/2017
    
The UK Government announced on Thursday that it will invest £900m in renewables and nuclear to meet a 2050 emissions reduction target.

The Government said it will spend £100m on technology that enables the capture of emissions and carbon dioxide on a national scale.

It also said that it aims to cut 20 per cent of UK emissions by 2030, through supporting businesses to improve their energy efficiency, as part of an overall target to cut greenhouse gases by 80 per cent by 2050.
    
According to the Government,  businesses and industry contributed a quarter of the UK’s total emissions in 2015, more than greenhouse gases from all vehicles on the road.

It also outlined plans to spend an additional £1bn helping consumers to switch to low carbon vehicles and £80m on building electric charging points along motorways and roads, after Prime Minister Theresa May announced plans in July to ban new petrol and diesel cars by 2040.

The Government says that overall it will allocate £2.5bn of funding – which includes the £900m and the £1bn – towards research and development for new low-carbon technology for housing, transport and the power grid. It also said that a further £62m of private funding would be available to support energy-based startups.

The Government is legally bound by the UK’s Climate Change Act, passed by Parliament in 2008, to set budgets geared towards achieving its 2050 target. In 2016, the energy and power sector recorded its biggest annual fall since 1990.

Claire Perry, minister for Climate Change and Industry, said the UK is starting its clean energy plan “from a position of strength”.

“The Clean Growth Strategy is an important milestone in the UK’s work to cut emissions and grow the economy”, she added. “But it is not the end of the process. Clean technology is developing at a rapid pace and costs are falling faster than many predicted - for example, the cost of offshore wind has halved in two years”.

Gareth Redmond-King, head of energy and climate at environmental campaign group WWF, welcomed the Government’s strategy but said the plan “fails to set out the details that underpin how this [energy efficiency] will be will be delivered”.

“This is all very welcome, but there is no support for onshore wind generally or for large-scale solar”, he added. “We also need clarity on small-scale renewables support beyond 2019 – not least because of the jobs that count on this all around the country.”

 69 
 on: Oct 18, 2017, 04:43 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Nearly 400,000 Gallons of Oil Spews Into Gulf of Mexico, Could Be Largest Spill Since Deepwater Horizon

Ecowatch
10/18/2017

Last week, a pipe owned by offshore oil and gas operator LLOG Exploration Company, LLC spilled up to 393,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, reminding many observers of the Deepwater Horizon explosion seven years ago that spewed approximately 210 million gallons of crude into familiar territory.

Now, a report from Bloomberg suggests that the LLOG spill could be the largest in the U.S. since the 2010 BP blowout, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE).

While at a much smaller scale than the nation's worst accidental oil spill, the Delta House floating production facility, located about 40 miles southeast of Venice, Louisiana, released between 7,950 to 9,350 barrels starting from Wednesday to Thursday due to a fractured pipeline.

The flow has been contained and cleanup is underway, according to LLOG officials. No shoreline impacts have been reported and there are no reports of personnel injuries, BSEE noted.

On Monday, BSEE Gulf of Mexico Region Director Lars Herbst initiated a five-member panel of inspectors, engineers and accident investigators into the oil release.

"BSEE places great emphasis on making certain all oil and gas operations on America's Outer Continental Shelf are safe," Herbst said. "This panel investigation is a critical step in ensuring BSEE determines the cause, or causes, of the incident and develops recommendations to prevent similar events from occurring in the future.

 70 
 on: Oct 18, 2017, 04:42 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
As badger culls begin, could one pioneering vet’s bovine TB test end the slaughter?

Research at a secret location in Devon may help eradicate bovine tuberculosis without a single badger being killed, says leading vet

Patrick Barkham
Guardian
18 October 2017 00.04 BST

A pretty stone farmhouse sits in a bucolic green valley, surrounded by airy cowsheds. It looks like a timeless west country scene but is actually a pioneering farm, where cutting-edge science is helping to solve the hugely controversial, multimillion-pound problem of bovine tuberculosis (bTB).

As an expanded badger cull gets under way this autumn, in which 33,500 animals will be killed to help stop the spread of the disease, a leading vet, Dick Sibley, believes this Devon farm demonstrates a way to eradicate the disease in cattle – without slaughtering any badgers.

Sibley’s trial, at a secret location, was halted earlier this year when two new tests to better identify bTB in cattle were deemed illegal. But government regulators have now given the vet permission to continue. His work is backed by rock star-turned-activist Brian May, whose Save Me Trust last week began a four-year programme of vaccinating badgers at the farm against bTB.

The family that owns the farm, which has 300 milking cows, turned to Sibley in despair after being virtually shut down with bTB for five years. Because of the disease, their cattle cannot be sold on the open market.

“We had nothing to lose,” said the fourth-generation farmer, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of interference from extremists on both sides of the argument. “We want to get rid of TB, it’s costing us a lot. Any technology would be better than the old bTB test.”

Despite four years of badger culling, bTB continues to rise in England, and 30,980 cows were slaughtered in the year up to June in attempts to control it, an increase of 4%. Farmers, as well as wildlife campaigners, are increasingly critical of the cattle test for bTB, which misses many cases, leaving undiagnosed cows to spread the disease within herds. In 2015, 16% of English bTB “breakdowns” were only detected in abattoirs, after supposedly healthy cows had been slaughtered.

Sibley is pioneering two new tests. The phage test, developed by microbiologist Cath Rees of Nottingham University, uses a bTB-invading virus to “hunt” for the live bacterium. It is detecting bTB in cows on the Devon farm months before they test positive with the traditional “skin test”: 85 cows have tested positive with the phage test despite all being found disease-free by the conventional test.

Farmers then need to know if infected cows are infectious. For this, Sibley uses a second test, qPCR, developed by Liz Wellington, life sciences professor at Warwick University. It detects bTB in dung, showing if a cow is “shedding” – spreading – the disease. If it is, the cow is slaughtered even though the conventional test suggests it is healthy.

Both professors have given Sibley free use of their new technologies, and the tests have shown that supposedly healthy cows are the “hidden reservoir” of bTB on the farm. But Sibley said what farms need as well as better testing is better risk management and more resilient cows. “I’ve never cured a cow with a test,” he said.

    We have to accept that the badgers are a risk. We either kill them, fence them out or vaccinate them
    Dick Sibley

The farm is an intensive dairy operation that keeps its cattle indoors once they are fully grown and milks them robotically – some cows produce 15,000 litres of milk each year. “If you don’t give that cow everything she needs, and keep the disease away from her, she will crash and burn,” said Sibley. “It’s just like athletes: if there’s a bit of E coli in the Olympic village, they all go down.”

TB – in cows as well as humans – is traditionally a disease of bad living conditions, so the farm’s barns are airy. There are fewer cows in each barn compared with a typical dairy farm, walkways are cleaned three times a day, and regularly changed drinking water is held in “tipping troughs” that are kept scrubbed clean. Dung falling into troughs is likely to be a key transmitter of the disease.

After studying each cow’s history, Sibley believes mothers often spread the disease to their calves at birth. The farm is combatting this by building a new maternity unit with rubber floors that will be disinfected after every delivery. Colostrum – the crucial first milk that boosts a calf’s immune system – is harvested from each mother but pasteurised before it is fed to each calf, so it won’t spread disease.

After being “shut down” for five years, the farm had its first clear test last year. It hopes to be clear of all restrictions within 12 months. But Sibley says that removing the disease from cows without tackling diseased badgers is like “crossing the road and only looking one way”.

Farm CCTV reveals that no badgers come close to the cattle sheds, but Wellington’s qPCR technology tested badger latrines and found local badgers were shedding the disease: 30% of 273 faecal samples contained the bacterium. Young grazing cows are potentially exposed to the disease.

“We have to accept that the badgers are a risk,” said Sibley. “We either kill them, fence them out or, more constructively, vaccinate them to reduce the risk of infection in the environment.”

May’s Save Me Trust is funding badger vaccination around the farm. The Queen guitarist became a hate-figure for some farmers when he suggested that if bTB was such a problem they should stop rearing cattle. But he has been working behind the scenes for several years to support farmers.

“I’m very, very hopeful that Dick Sibley has the answer,” said May. “I hope it works out, not just for this farm but for the whole of Britain. That would take away this awful polarisation between farmers and the public and animal welfare groups.”

A global shortage of BCG vaccine stopped May vaccinating badgers last year and he points out that the farm has virtually banished the disease without touching a single badger. “If badgers are running around with bTB and the herd has been cleaned up with advanced testing, that really makes you wonder whether badgers are contributing to the disease,” said May.

While some epidemiologists have privately expressed frustration that the government has not yet adopted new cattle-testing technologies, Sibley said the regulators move slowly. “The authorities must have rock-solid evidence in case they end up in court. I predict that in five years time phage and qPCR will be in the toolbox for farmers.”

Other bTB-hit farms are interested in Sibley’s approach and May’s charity has pledged to help meet veterinary costs. In Wales, farms with chronic bTB are receiving special support from the Welsh government and could be among the first to adopt the new techniques. Christianne Glossop, Wales’ chief vet, said: “I have known Dick for many years and have great respect for his work. I am also well aware of his current trials and will be keeping a close eye on the results of his pilot in Devon exploring innovative new testing methods.”

The Devon farmer admits he has been surprised by his success. “This test is showing the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m excited that it could help us get clear of the disease and help other farmers in the future.”

THE CULLING DEBATE

A zoonotic disease – one that can jump from animals to humans – bovine tuberculosis (bTB) caused thousands of human deaths until the pasteurisation of milk began in the 1920s. It was then almost eradicated from British cows with the widespread slaughter of herds in the 1950s.

However, in 1971 it was discovered that cows had passed the disease to badgers after a dead badger was found on a farm in Gloucestershire. The find led to five decades of debate and scientific uncertainty, and it is still not known what proportion – if any – of cattle TB cases are caused by badgers. The scientific consensus is that cows and badgers pass the disease between them but the precise method of transmission is also not known. Epidemiologists believe it is most likely via animal faeces.

Cattle TB has risen steadily since the 1980s and cost £500m in compensation to farmers in the decade up to 2013. That year, badger culling began in two “zones” in Gloucestershire and Somerset. It has since expanded to 21 zones in England. Ireland, the only other country with a bTB problem, also culls badgers.

Pro-cull farmers argue that reducing badger numbers will reduce bTB in the environment. No data has been published on the impact of four years of badger culling on cattle TB, but many scientists question the cull’s effectiveness.

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