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Jul 29, 2017, 05:49 AM
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 on: Jul 25, 2017, 05:14 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Dozens of Laotian elephants 'illegally sold to Chinese zoos'

Laos accused of breaching Cites treaty to protect endangered species and China of encouraging trade in live animals

Adam Cruise
Tuesday 25 July 2017 06.00 BST

Dozens of elephants from Laos are being illegally bought by China to be displayed in zoos and safari parks across the country, according to wildlife investigator and film-maker Karl Ammann.

According to Ammann, so-called captive elephants in Laos sell for about £23,000 before being walked across the border into China by handlers or “mahouts” near the border town of Boten. Thereafter they are transported to receiving facilities, which buy them from the agents for up to £230,000 per animal. “That is a nice mark-up,” says Ammann, “and makes it exactly the kind of commercial transaction which under Cites rules is not acceptable.”

Ammann and his crew stumbled on the illicit trade between Laos and China earlier this year, while investigating the sale of 16 Asian elephants from Laos to a safari park in Dubai. None of the elephants had the necessary permits for export. The translocation was stopped by a direct order from the new Laotian prime minister at the last moment, while an Emirates Airlines Cargo 747 was already on the tarmac in Vientiane, the country’s capital.

“We then looked into the background of these elephants and met with several of the owners of the elephants, as well as the local agent who arranged this sale,” explains Ammann. Delving deeper, he and his investigative team discovered that the trade in live elephants from Laos mainly involved China, with almost 100 animals ending up in Chinese zoos and facilities.

Many mahouts told Ammann on camera that their elephants are captive-bred but have been sired by a wild bull elephant. To avoid stud costs, mahouts in Laos tie captive-bred females to trees in the forest so that they can be mated with wild bulls. Under Cites Appendix I, an elephant with a wild parent in an uncontrolled setting is not considered captive-bred and therefore may not be sold commercially.

Almost 100 Asian elephants are believed to have been sold from Laos to China over the past couple of years. Chunmei Hu, an animal welfare advocate in China, says she has already established that six zoos – all government-owned – have a confirmed 38 elephants from Laos, with 50 more likely to be Laotian. But the trade in live Asian elephants contravenes international regulations. Like African elephants, Asian elephants are considered a species threatened with extinction. All international trade is prohibited by the Convention in the Trade of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) unless it is not for commercial purposes, or unless the elephants originate from a Cites-approved facility of captive-bred animals.

Laos does not have a single Cites-approved breeding facility, however, and, Ammann says, the transactions have been commercial. Some zoos have paid Chinese middlemen up to 10 times as much as the latter paid owners in Laos.

Elephants are a popular and renumerative attraction at Chinese circuses, zoos and safari parks - they are still expected to perform in some places, although this is increasingly controversial. Conditions can be poor - some reviewers on Tripadvisor describe elephants confined in small concrete boxes. The elephants are sourced from a number of places. In 2015, and again in 2016, amid a global outcry, Chinese zoos and safari parks flew in more than 60 baby African elephants taken from their families in the wild in Zimbabwe. The elephants are now at the Shanghai Wild Animal Park, the Beijing Wildlife Park and the Hangzhou Safari Park, among other venues.

This would not be the first time Laos had breached Cites requirements. In July last year, the Cites secretariat highlighted “gaps in implementation under Article XIII of the convention” and recommended that Laos improve its compliance ability and law enforcement of illegal wild animal and plant trafficking.

One of the measures available to Cites is to recommend that wildlife trade is suspended with Laos, says John Scanlon, the Cites secretary general. But he adds that the measure is used only “as a last resort, as our primary goal is to work with and assist Cites parties in the effective implementation of the convention”.

A Cites technical committee is in Laos at the moment to verify the country’s progress. Scanlon adds: “Our comment on the alleged export of Asian elephants from Laos will entirely depend on the nature of the trade and details of the particular transaction.”

Ammann is sceptical that action will be taken. “The Cites secretariat should have recommended the suspension of Laos for non-compliance and lack of enforcement a long time ago,” he says, “but they are a UN body and rocking the boat is not in their nature, even though suspension is a vital enforcement tool at their disposition and re-admission is an option once compliance has been achieved.”

While Laos still has considerable distance to go in stopping the trade, Ammann believes that China also needs to be held accountable. “China has been on the front lines of importing iconic live species from rhino to killer whales, elephants, and recently 150 chimps – all totally illegal – and Article VIII of the convention dictates that parties involved in the illegal import be prosecuted, the animals in question confiscated and, if possible, repatriated. But this does not seem to apply to China,” he says.

 on: Jul 25, 2017, 05:11 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Escaped wolf shot dead in Cotswolds

Staff at wildlife park say killing three-year-old female was a last resort after she escaped from her enclosure

Sarah Marsh
Tuesday 25 July 2017 10.01 BST

A wolf has been shot dead by staff at Cotswold Wildlife Park after it escaped from its enclosure.

Visitors to the park in Oxfordshire were told to stay indoors after it emerged that the female, called Ember, had managed to get past the perimeter fence at 11am on Friday.

A statement from the park described the death as “devastating” and said the shooting was a last resort. Staff tried to tranquilise the three-year-old Eurasian wolf, but she was out of range and near a busy road.

Ember gave birth to five cubs earlier this year – the first wolves to arrive in the park’s 47-year history.
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Dr Daniel Allen, an animal geographer, criticised the park’s actions on Twitter, writing: “Appears to be another example of a British zoo which doesn’t value the lives of those in their care.”

Anneka Svenska, a wildlife TV presenter and film-maker, said: “Ember was a mum to pups and you shot her instead of tranquilising her?”

A statement from Cotswold Wildlife Park said if it had been possible to save Ember they would have done. It added that the safety of visitors and the public was the priority. “Keepers were put in an unenviable position of making a decision that no animal lover should have to make,” it said.

The park assured visitors that it had taken measures to increase security checks and ensure a similar incident did not happen again. It said the animal’s death was “felt by all who had the pleasure to know her”.

The wolf was found outside the park’s fence, towards the A361. The park said the animal was euthanised quickly and professionally, adding that a full investigation would be carried out.

Ember arrived at Cotswold Wildlife Park from Sweden in October 2016. She came with a two-year-old male wolf, Ash, as part of a breeding programme.

    CotswoldWildlifePark (@CotsWildTweets)

    Wonderful news! First #Wolf cubs born at the Park #wolfcubs #cotswolds Photos: Jackie Thomas pic.twitter.com/9dXFRuxHzU
    July 13, 2017

Anthony Haighway from conservation group Wolf Watch UK said: “We were very sad to hear this [news] ... and I have offered our help if it is needed in respect of the wolf cubs.

“In terms of what they need, it may be human intervention in providing ... time, care and attention that would otherwise have been carried out by their mother.”

 on: Jul 25, 2017, 05:08 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
These 21 kids taking on Trump could be our best hope for climate action

25 Jul 2017 at 10:44 ET                  

The best shot at large-scale climate action under the Trump administration might lie with a lawsuit set to go to trial early next year.

Juliana v. United States has a plot suitable for a Disney movie: An eclectic group of 21 kids (and their lawyers) fighting to save the world by forcing the federal government to adopt a science-based plan to reduce emissions. Their lawsuit got a boost this past week when climate scientist James Hansen published a paper in support of their cause.

The time may be right for Juliana and other lawsuits like it to gather real momentum, paving the way for meaningful victories, says Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University. He says that a “groundswell of litigation” could put “real pressure” on industries and governments to pay for local adaptation projects and make firm commitments to reduce emissions, all within Trump’s first term.

Legal experts say Juliana has helped open a new front in the battle against climate change in the United States and around the world. It’s the culmination of years of legal strategizing by Our Children’s Trust, the advocacy group that helped organize the effort. Our Children’s Trust has brought related suits in all 50 states, as part of a buckshot strategy to get one of them to break through.

“This case is especially crucial in the fight against climate disruption,” says Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. Cases like Juliana, she says, empower young people to advocate for their rights, and that “drives social change.”

The buzz about Juliana comes amid a flurry of legal challenges to the Trump administration’s efforts to dismantle environmental rules. Just this week, a series of lawsuits were filed in California as a direct challenge to the oil industry on climate change grounds, using a legal theory similar to the landmark tobacco industry lawsuits of the 1990s. The administration’s quest to roll back or reverse pending Obama-era EPA regulations is also getting blocked in the courts.

When it comes to climate change, “so far, the Trump administration is losing more frequently than it’s winning,” says Burger.

At the heart of this suit is the principle of intergenerational equity. In essence, the 21 plaintiffs in Juliana say that the federal government’s refusal to take serious action against climate change unlawfully puts the well-being of current generations ahead of future generations.

This argument might have helped spur legal action abroad, too. Since Juliana was filed in 2015, similar lawsuits have been brought by youth in Pakistan, New Zealand, and India, Burger says.

“Worldwide, there is a great deal of interest in the Juliana case not just because of the practical outcome that it might or might not achieve, but because of what it represents,” he says. “Deeply held values about environmental protection, about intergenerational equity, about the need to address climate change — these things can be linked to specific legal rights embodied in constitutions or in common law.”

So far, the courts agree. In November, they scored their first major victory, when a federal district court allowed the suit to go to trial. Judge Ann Aiken set a judicial precedent in her decision, ruling that climate change may pose an unconstitutional burden on younger generations. “I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society,” she wrote.

Late last month, a trial date for the Juliana case was scheduled for next February in Eugene, Oregon. It’s sure to set a dramatic spectacle of the kids and their lawyers on one side of the room against representatives of the Trump administration on the other, with the future of the climate on the line.

In his paper published on Wednesday, Hansen — whose granddaughter Sophie Kivlehan is a plaintiff in the case — presented an updated scientific basis for the suit’s claims. The new study, which has 14 coauthors from around the world, concludes that the burden climate change has placed on younger generations is now so huge that continuing on a high-emissions scenario would cost a minimum of $89 trillion (and as much as $535 trillion) to clean up by the end of this century. And that cleanup job would rely mainly on the still-unproven technology of negative emissions — literally sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Such a burden “unarguably sentences young people to either a massive, implausible cleanup or growing deleterious climate impacts or both,” the paper argues. The best alternative, Hansen says, is a court-ordered mandate to reduce emissions now.

After decades working as a NASA climate scientist and at times being politically pressured into silence, Hansen quit his post in 2013 in part to help build the scientific evidence backing the Juliana case. “It’s hard to solve this politically,” he said on a conference call with the media this week. “That’s why we need to take advantage of the fact that the judiciary is less subject to that pressure.”

To be sure, the ultimate success of Juliana hinges on the composition of the Supreme Court, if the case makes it that far. That fact makes Burger and his colleague, Michael Gerrard, less optimistic. “I can’t foresee a scenario where there are five votes to uphold such a ruling,” says Gerrard. Burger called success in a Supreme Court during Trump’s first term “a near impossibility.”

But victory in the Supreme Court isn’t the only objective for the kids and their lawyers. This is a trailblazing case, designed to pave the way for future success of other cases, too.

“This is strategic impact litigation,” says Burger. “As you can see from the global interest, it’s already had a real impact. It’s starting to shape the conversation about climate change.”


US Senators call for probe into claims government scientists moved from jobs over climate change

'Any suggestion that the Department is reassigning ... employees to force them to resign, to silence their voices, or to punish them for conscientious performance of their public duties is extremely troubling'

Ian Johnston Environment Correspondent
Tuesday 25 July 2017 11:30 BST

Eight US senators have called for an official investigation into claims that up to 50 federal officials have been moved to different jobs because of their stance on climate change, saying any suggestion that this had been done to force them to resign or silence them was “extremely troubling”.

The news came after one US government scientist in the Interior Department, Joel Clement, wrote an article in The Washington Post in which he accused the Trump administration of favouring “silence over science” after he was reassigned from his job helping communities in Alaska cope with the changing climate to an “unrelated job in the accounting office”.

“I am not an accountant – but you don't have to be one to see that the administration's excuse for a reassignment such as mine doesn’t add up,” Mr Clement said.  

“A few days after my reassignment, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testified before Congress that the department would use reassignments as part of its effort to eliminate employees; the only reasonable inference from that testimony is that he expects people to quit in response to undesirable transfers.”

He added that he believed he was being “retaliated against for speaking out publicly about the dangers that climate change poses to Alaska Native communities”.

In a letter to Mary Kendall, deputy inspector general of the Interior Department, the eight senators – all Democrats – wrote of “troubling newspaper reports of the arbitrary reassignment of as many as 50 Senior Executive Service employees”.

“Any suggestion that the Department is reassigning SES employees to force them to resign, to silence their voices, or to punish them for conscientious performance of their public duties is extremely troubling and calls for the closest examination,” they added.

“We believe that any reassignment of highly trained, highly competent senior executives within the Department from the positions in which they may best use their training and competence to accomplish the Department’s mission and best serve the public interest to sinecures where their talents are wasted would constitute a serious act of mismanagement, a gross waste of public funds, and an abuse of authority.”

The senators suggested that moving staff in this way might be against the law.

“The law establishing the SES requires that the SES be administered ‘to attract and retain highly competent senior executives’, to ‘protect senior executives from arbitrary and capricious actions’ and to ‘maintain a merit personnel system free of prohibited personal practices,’” they wrote.

“Although the law allows the head of an agency to reassign senior executives, it contemplates that reassignments be made to ‘to best accomplish the agency’s mission’, consistent with the law’s requirements that the SES … ‘provides for an executive system which is guided by the public interest and free from improper political interference.’”


Meet the Rural Pennsylvania Town at the Forefront of Environmental Law

By Jeremy Deaton and Mariana Surillo

Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. And sometimes the game is rigged. When that happens, you can give up—or you can try to change the game.

A small town in rural Pennsylvania is doing precisely that.

In 2012, Grant Township became a target for fracking waste. Oil and gas producer Pennsylvania General Energy (PGE) applied for a permit to pump toxic chemicals used in drilling operations into an injection well beneath the community. Residents were alarmed. Injections can induce earthquakes, and wells can leak, contaminating water supplies. The chemicals used in fracking have been linked to cancer, infertility and birth defects.

"We live in an area that doesn't have public water. We all live off springs and private wells," said Judy Wanchism, 74-year-old native of Grant Township. "You ruin our water, our home is no good anymore. Nothing. You have to have water in order to live, to water your plants, to drink, to bathe, everything … I don't know how else to say it. Water is life, and without water, you don't have a life."

Wanchism and her neighbors shared their concerns with officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to no avail. Regulators must listen to the public, but they don't have to take those concerns into account. The EPA issued the permit to PGE. The people of Grant Township couldn't win. "We thought they would protect us. They wouldn't," said Wanchism. "You have to figure out ways to protect yourself, and that is basically what we did."

Wanchism enlisted the help of Chad Nicholson, an organizer with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), a public interest nonprofit law firm based in Pennsylvania. "It's called a 'regulatory system' for a reason. They don't actually stop the harm from being inflicted on the environment. They regulate the rate or the flow of the harm," said Nicholson. "Why are we left arguing over the terms of the permit and how much harm we are going to get? Why can't we just say 'no'?"

Rather than accept that a certain amount of pollution was inevitable, Wanchism and her neighbors worked with CELDF to craft an ordinance that asserted the "residents of Grant Township, along with natural communities and ecosystems within the Township, possess the right to clean air, water and soil." They then banned activities—including the operation of injection wells—that infringed on those rights.

Major environmental laws like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act protect human health and property, but they don't recognize the intrinsic value of ecosystems. "If you want to try to protect a river from pollution upstream, you have to say that you own property on the river and your property values are being decreased," said Nicholson. "If you don't have an immediate property interest or economic interest that's being harmed, it's very difficult for you to try to use those other laws."

Asserting the rights of "natural communities and ecosystems"—a controversial idea, to say the least—allowed Grant Township to target a broad set of environmental threats. The town drafted laws that prohibit pollution "not based on how many trucks per day, not based on how much impact it's going to have on the waterway or things like that—but prohibit it as a violation of the rights of the people that live in the community," said Nicholson.

"They have rights to clean air and clean water. They have rights to self-government. They have rights to a sustainable future," he said.

In 2015, a federal judge overturned the part of the ordinance blocking the operation of an injection well. Grant Township, she said, had exceeded its authority as a second-class township. Residents responded by adopting a home-rule charter, which gave the community more legal authority.

In an ironic twist, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is now suing Grant Township, arguing its home-rule charter violates state law. "We shouldn't be fighting the DEP," said Wanchism. "The DEP should be protecting us and helping us."

Grant Township is now countersuing the DEP for failing to protect the community. A state court will hear oral arguments this fall. Residents are also dealing with legal fallout of the original ordinance. PGE claims Grant Township owes the company for damages incurred by blocking the injection well.

"Sometimes, I talk about it as sustainability actually being illegal," said Nicholson. "If you try to put into place sustainable energy policies for your community, you can be sued by the industry that would be aggrieved by these sustainable policies."

At the root of the conflict is a question of rights. Corporations are protected by state and federal laws. They are legally permitted to pollute. But, Nicholson contends that laws protecting polluters are not legitimate because they violate citizens' right to clean air and water. International law recognizes the right to a healthy environment. And, while the U.S. Constitution does not explicitly afford this right, the Pennsylvania Constitution does.

"We draw a distinction between legal and legitimate," he said. "If the state or federal government is implementing policies that would allow corporations or other actors to engage in activities that violate rights, then those policies are illegitimate."

This argument appears to be gaining traction. A group of young Americans is currently suing the federal government for failing to address climate change, which threatens the rights of U.S. citizens.

"This intergenerational injustice violates the rights of young people and future generations to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and property, without due process of law," said Sophie Kivlehan, one the plaintiffs.

Polluters can only operate with the consent of the government, but Grant Township isn't playing along. Civic leaders are now using every available tool to stop polluters. Last year, they legalized nonviolent direct action. Residents can now prevent trucks full of fracking waste from accessing the injection well. The town is nowhere near ready to back down from this fight.

"This requires an exhaustive amount of time and energy, mostly on the computer doing research, just trying to figure out who do I call, where do I get help," said Wanchism. "You have to just keep going, because what you allow will continue if you don't try to stop it."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.


Nestlé Wants to Suck Even More Water Out of Michigan

By Sami Mericle

Given that Michigan, the "Great Lakes State," is practically surrounded by water, the state sure has trouble managing its water.

Five state officials were recently charged with involuntary manslaughter for their roles in a public health crisis that has left the city of Flint without drinkable tap water for years following widespread lead poisoning and an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease. In another highly publicized case, during the last several years thousands of Detroit residents found their water disconnected for nonpayment in what United Nations experts deemed a violation of human rights.

The battle over fresh water has now reached Osceola Township, a town of barely 1,000 residents, where Nestlé Waters North America wants to increase its pumping of spring water from the White Pines Spring. Currently, Nestlé pumps about 250 gallons per minute from the spring; the company hopes to increase that to 400 gallons per minute—a total of 210 million gallons per year. Nestlé pays nothing for the water, which it sells in the Midwest under its Ice Mountain label.

"We live in the Great Lakes state," said David Holtz, chair of the Michigan Sierra Club. "And yet we have a community like Flint [where] residents don't have access to clean, affordable, safe drinking water. And at the same time, we're giving water away to Nestlé to sell for profit."

Nestlé's application to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has been met with public opposition since MLive broke the story last October. The proposed increase comes in conjunction with a $36 million expansion to Nestlé's Ice Mountain bottling plant in nearby Stanwood.

Reports commissioned by Nestlé predict no significant adverse effects on streamflow, local wetlands or aquatic habitats as a result of the increased pumping. But environmental groups contest that conclusion. They argue that neither Nestlé nor the MDEQ has considered the aggregate impacts of the company's activities at a total of seven wells in Osceola County and neighboring Mecosta County.

"These are all little nibbles, it's a cumulative impact on all our natural resources," said Mike Ripley, environmental coordinator at the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority. The organization represents five Native American nations that are worried about ecological changes caused by the water extraction. The tribes say any environmental damage will violate the 1836 treaty that gives them the right to hunt and fish in the area. Under the treaty and subsequent court-affirmed consent decrees, the state of Michigan must protect ecosystems for tribal uses like gathering medicinal plants and subsistence fishing and hunting.

Nestlé examined 17 years' worth of data from approximately 100 different monitoring locations to conclude that the increased withdrawals will have no negative environmental effects, said Arlene Anderson-Vincent, natural resource manager at Nestlé Waters North America's Ice Mountain facility. The company began collecting data—including groundwater levels, streamflow and aquatic surveys—when the well was first constructed in 2000.

"It [the data collection] is completely unprecedented in the state of Michigan," Anderson-Vincent said. "There are thousands of wells that are permitted by the state that do not gather groundwater level data, let alone streamflow data, or conduct all the other environmental studies that we do."

Environmental advocates, however, are reluctant to trust Nestlé's self-reporting, and they are demanding that the state conduct its own independent research.

"The process we have for evaluating these permits is seriously flawed," said Holtz of the Michigan Sierra Club. "They haven't done on-site inspections and research. They relied on computer models and information from consultants hired by Nestlé. They don't really take a holistic view, an aggregate view, of all the different permits over the years that Nestlé has gotten."

A similar dispute over a well in Mecosta County resulted in a 2009 court order that required Nestlé to reduce pumping from 400 to 218 gallons per minute after the environmental group Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation sued.

"Back then, there wasn't a lot of data, it was really just projections and predictions of what might happen and different opinions on that," Anderson-Vincent said. She maintains that 17 years worth of data and stricter regulations ensure that there will be no environmental degradation in this case.

Groundwater is difficult to study, largely because it's, well, underground. If the MDEQ were to conduct its own research on the watershed, as environmental groups have requested, it would take years to develop an accurate picture of how Nestlé's activity may affect the local environment.

Ice Mountain is one of Nestlé's six regional spring water brands in the U.S. It differs from Pure Life, another Nestlé brand, in that Ice Mountain is only minimally processed in order to maintain a taste characteristic of Michigan water. In contrast, water sold as Pure Life is pumped from municipal water sources all over the country, stripped of its natural minerals, and then has Nestlé's own recipe of minerals added back in so it tastes the same no matter where it originates.

The expansion of the Stanwood factory is fueled by increased consumer demand. Despite its well-known environmental burden, bottled water outsold soda for the first time last year to become the most popular beverage in the country.

Nestlé is quick to point out that it is far from the greatest consumer of water in Michigan. According to MDEQ data, it ranked 85th in state water usage in 2015, preceded by factories, mines and other industrial operations. The difference is that most of those companies eventually return extracted water to the watershed, while Nestlé ships water out of the area.

At the heart of the issue is how communities manage their natural resources. "Should we even be in the business of allowing for-profit corporations to withdraw water and export it and sell it for profit? Should that even be something we allow?" Holtz asked.

Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.


Senators Urged to Join Bernie Sanders in Opposing Dirty Energy Bill

By Jessica Corbett

As Senate Democrats stay silent on an energy bill that environmental groups call "a pro-fracking giveaway to oil and gas interests that would commit America to decades more of dangerous fossil fuel dependence," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is receiving applause for speaking out against it.

"As a nation, our job is to move away from fossil fuels toward sustainable energy and energy efficiency. This bill does the opposite," Sanders said in a statement.

Sanders' opposition to the bill was praised by environmental advocates who continue to pressure Democrats with thousands of phone calls to their Congressional offices.

"Once again, Bernie Sanders shows that he is a champion of the American people by reminding the Senate that clean renewable energy, not obedience to industry executives, is the future of our country," said Bill Snape, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter called on others lawmakers to follow Sanders' lead.

"By coming out in opposition to the dirty energy bill currently looming before the Senate, Senator Sanders has once again demonstrated the real progressive leadership that is too often hard to find in Washington," Hauter said. "With our climate and a livable future hanging in the balance, Senate Democrats need to wake up, state their sensible opposition to this foolish energy bill now, and ensure it doesn't see the light of day."

Earlier this month, more than 350 green groups sent a letter to pressure Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to oppose the bill. However, according to recent reporting by Bloomberg, "no Democrat has publicly voiced opposition" to the legislation, which is nearly 900 pages, even though it "would entrench natural gas into the U.S. energy portfolio for years to come."

The bill, Sanders said, "would make us more reliant on fracking for natural gas for decades to come by expediting the review process for natural gas pipelines and liquefied natural gas. It would also provide millions of taxpayer dollars to research new offshore natural gas extraction techniques."

Supporters of the legislation are quick to point to its power grid updates, as well as cyber security, public lands, and energy efficiency provisions. Some senators also see it as an opportunity to work across the aisle.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), often considered one of the Senate's major advocates for the environment, told Bloomberg: "There's been no slaking of the thirst for bipartisan work because none's been available, and I think in energy, there are areas where we can work together… We're not going to agree on everything, but it's worth a try."

Environmental advocates and organizations disagree, and said in their letter to Schumer:

    No energy legislation is better than bad energy legislation that serves to increase our dependence on dirty fossil fuel production instead of advancing energy efficiency to reduce the amount of energy we utilize and building on successful policies to expand clean energy sources such as solar and wind.... In light of the current administration's overt efforts to make it easier for the fossil fuel industry to pollute our air and water, it is more essential than ever that Congress resist efforts to increase fossil fuel production.

"The Senate dirty energy bill would further Trump's extreme agenda by increasing fracking. Resisting Trump means resisting fossil fuels," said Ben Schreiber, a senior political strategist at Friends of the Earth.

"By opposing this bill, Senator Sanders continues to be a real climate leader in Congress," said actor and environmental advocate Mark Ruffalo. "There can be no more trading off a few good conservation provisions in a bill for increased coal projects and fracking. We must transition swiftly to renewable clean energy. Our time is running out."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

 on: Jul 25, 2017, 04:58 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Coral Reef in Cancún Becomes World's First to Have Its Own Insurance Policy


A reef off the coast of Cancún will become the first in the world with its own insurance policy, testing a new strategy meant to encourage local investment in the wellbeing of the reef.

Under the policy, created by insurance company Swiss Re and the Nature Conservancy, local hotels and other organizations dependent on tourism will pay into the policy, receiving reimbursements to repair the reef and local beaches after natural disasters.

Mexico isn't the only place where reefs are getting their own bank accounts: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently awarded Hawaii $715,000 to encourage local actions to promote reef resiliency. Half of the coral reefs in the state were killed in bleaching events between 2014 and 2015.

"Public-private partnerships are the key," Mark Tercek, chief executive of the Nature Conservancy, told the Guardian. Tercek predicted that the business model in Cancún will be an inspiring example for other governments, businesses and insurance firms around the world.

"I used to get very frustrated that not enough was happening [to protect the environment]," Tercek said. "We have to push business leaders to go further, to stick their neck out to tackle issues beyond the short term."

 on: Jul 25, 2017, 04:52 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Humans Have Created 9 Billion Tons of Plastic in the last 67 Years

By Tim Radford

Scientists have calculated yet another item on the human shopping list that makes up the modern world: plastics. They have estimated the mass of all the plastic bottles, bags, cups, toys, instruments and fabrics ever produced and tracked its whereabouts, as yet another index of the phenomenal change to the face of the planet made by recent human advance.

Altogether, since about 1950, with the birth of a new industry, more than 8.3 billion tonnes (or 9.1 tons) of synthetic organic polymers have been generated, distributed and discarded. Of that total, 6.3 billion tonnes are classified as waste.

Of that waste, only 9 percent has been recycled, 12 percent incinerated and 79 percent of what is essentially indestructible man-made material is either in landfill or polluting the environment.

And much of that waste is now in the sea: in 2010, according to a new study in the journal Science Advances, plastic debris has now been found in all the world's oceans. In 2010, an estimated eight million tonnes was swept downriver or blown by the winds into the sea. By 2050 landfill sites could be holding 12 billion tonnes.

Altered geology

"Most plastics don't biodegrade in any meaningful sense, so the plastic waste humans have generated could be with us for hundreds or even thousands of years," said Dr. Jenna Jambeck, an engineer at the University of Georgia, Athens, and one of the partners in the study.

"Our estimates underscore the need to think critically about the materials we use and our waste management practices."

In the last two centuries, humans have become the greatest earth-moving force on the planet, and in paving roads and erecting office blocks, tenements, ports, factories and other structures have created a "technosphere" with a mass of 30 trillion tonnes.

In the course of doing so they have changed the planet so comprehensively that many millions of years from now, evidence of human presence will be marked by at least one geological stratum containing fossilized evidence that could have been left by no other lifeform.

Such changes have been so profound that earth scientists now propose a new name for this geological epoch: the Anthropocene.

After 1945

Although polymers such as Bakelite appeared early in the 20th century, large-scale production did not begin until after World War II, and plastics made from fossil hydrocarbons grew to become the third biggest manmade fabric output, after cement and steel.

In 1960, plastic made up less than one percent of municipal solid waste; by 2005, in middle and high income countries, it made up more than 10 percent.

The researchers combed through the industry data to compile production statistics worldwide for resins, fibers and additives and to use these to work out the types of plastics now in the environment, most of it as discarded packaging: half of all plastic output becomes waste within four years of use. And in the years from 1950 to 2015, nearly half of all human plastic production was in the last 13 years.

"There are people alive today who remember a world without plastics. But they have become so ubiquitous that you can't go anywhere without finding plastic waste in our environment, including our oceans," Jambeck said.

The researchers make the point that plastics do not decompose; they may fracture and divide into ever smaller granules, but they accumulate, often with horrific consequences for wildlife, to create spoilheaps of discarded plastic cups, bottles and bags and other indestructible waste almost everywhere on the ocean shores.

This waste is now an ecological problem: the latest study has at least established the scale of the problem.

"What we are trying to do is to create the foundation for sustainable materials management," said Roland Geyer, of the University of California Santa Barbara, who led the study.

"Put simply, you can't manage what you don't measure, and so we think policy discussions will be more informed and fact-based now that we have these numbers."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.


Wow! Shocking Video Shows Astonishing Amount of Plastic Polluting Our Planet


The colossal mass of throwaway plastic—from straws to bags to bottles—has grown much faster than recycling and disposal efforts can contain it. You might even say this is obvious, no matter where you look.

As a result, places that were once considered pristine—such as Antarctica and the ocean floors of Australia—have become inundated with plastic waste.

Check out this video from National Geographic to watch underwater photographer Huai Su film a diver collecting an endless amount of plastic bottles that litter the seafloor off Xiaoliuqiu Island, Taiwan.

Click to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jyLjUEOcLgg

 on: Jul 25, 2017, 04:48 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Climate scientists may have been underestimating global warming, finds study

The Earth's average temperature could have risen by up to 1.2C, rather than about 1C

Ian Johnston Environment Correspondent

Preventing global warming from becoming “dangerous” may have just got significantly harder after new research suggested climate scientists have been using the wrong baseline temperature.

The amount of global warming is often measured relative to the late 19th century even though this is about 100 years after the start of the industrial revolution, when humans started burning large amounts of fossil fuels.

Now an international team of scientists has suggested that the Earth’s true “pre-industrial” temperature could be up to 0.2 degrees Celsius cooler.

That would mean that instead of about 1C of global warming, the planet’s average temperature may have risen by up to 1.2C.

According to the Paris Agreement on climate change, the world should try to limit global warming to as close to 1.5C as possible to avoid its worst effects, such as deadly heatwaves, sea level rise that threatens coastal cities and more violent storms.

One of the researchers, Professor Michael Mann, said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had been using a definition of pre-industrial “that is likely underestimating the warming that has already taken place”.

“That means we have less carbon to burn than we previously thought, if we are to avert the most dangerous changes in climate,” he said.

“When the IPCC says that we’ve warmed 1C relative to pre-industrial, that’s probably incorrect. It’s likely as much as 1.2C.”
The study, described in a paper in the journal Nature Climate Change, found that anything from 0.02C to 0.21C of warming could already have taken place before the late 19th century.

The lower end of that range would mean the current use of the late 19th century is reasonably accurate, but the upper end would be a substantial change.

Professor Mann, of Pennsylvania State University, said that either the Paris targets “have to be revised” or the world could simply decide that they only wanted to restrict warming relative to the 19th century.

His colleague, Dr Andrew Schurer, of Edinburgh University, told The Independent: “If we assume there has been warming up to the late 19th century, those targets become slightly tighter and therefore harder to reach.”

But he said that defining the targets was more a matter for policymakers, based on the available evidence and risks, than scientists.

“I don’t think the findings will necessarily mean that climate change will be made worse than it was previously … it’s a slightly abstract concept,” Dr Schurer said.

“It really needs to be defined better in order that we know where we are in terms of reaching the target.”

If there had already been 0.2C of global warming by the late 19th century, the researchers calculated this would increase the chance of exceeding the 1.5C target rose from 61 to 88 per cent – even if humans dramatically reduced greenhouse gas emissions. The chance of breaching 2C increased from 25 to 30 per cent.

“Mitigation targets based on the use of a late-19th century baseline are probably overly optimistic and potentially substantially underestimate the reductions in carbon emissions necessary to avoid 1.5C or 2C warming of the planet relative to pre-industrial,” the scientists wrote in the paper.

“While pre-industrial temperature remains poorly defined, a range of different answers can be calculated for the estimated likelihood of global temperatures reaching certain temperature values.

“We would therefore recommend that a consensus be reached as to what is meant by pre-industrial temperatures to reduce the chance of conclusions that appear contradictory being reached by different studies and to allow for a more clearly defined framework for policymakers and stakeholders.”

 on: Jul 25, 2017, 04:42 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Hanoi is choking on the fumes of 5m motorbikes, but can ban break its habit?

The roads of Vietnam’s capital have been taken over by the two-wheeled horde, but bringing in a ban by 2030 will be a tough ask

Kate Hodal in Hanoi
25 July 2017 00.05 BST

It is easy to spot a foreigner in Hanoi. Cowering at intersections, staring in awe as the traffic hurtles past, tourists wait for a break in the flow of motorcycles, bicycles, carts, cars and buses – or for a kind driver to stop and bestow them the right of way – so that they may finally cross the road.

That break never comes, of course, which is why the Vietnamese capital’s chaotic congestion is a phenomenon that hotel concierges often address with first-time visitors. The New York Times even published a how-to guide for tourists on safely crossing the road. With 5m motorbikes on the city’s streets – many of them carrying entire families, or stacked up with boxes, window frames or flowers – Hanoi has long been either a thrilling, or terrifying, experience for the uninitiated.

But all that is about to change. The department of transport and the city council have agreed to ban motorbikes and scooters by 2030 to ease congestion and air pollution. Citing an “alarming” increase in the number of two-wheeled vehicles – traffic is at nearly four times the capacity of roads in crowded areas – the government has decided to invest heavily in public transport instead, including a £40m bus rapid transit system, or BRT, and monorail, due to open next year.

“If rates were to continue as they have been, then by 2030 we would have 1.9m cars and 7.5m motorbikes on the road – but there’s conflict between the development of our infrastructure and the transportation needs of our residents,” Vietnam’s transport minister, Vu Van Vien, tells the Observer from a government plenary room in Hanoi, where a bronze statue of Ho Chi Minh stands in the corner.

“If we don’t act now, we will face a serious problem: an overload of our infrastructure and a high level of pollution impacting our city air. We must ensure both the mobility and life quality of Hanoi’s residents.”

Vu points to a survey earlier this year of the city’s levels of PM2.5 – smog particles responsible for throat and lung damage – which found that the city of seven million residents had already passed World Health Organisation regulations in the first three months of this year. Vu says that it is the city’s motorbikes, only a handful of which are electric, that are largely responsible, owing to their age and failure to meet modern environmental regulations.

While residents agree that pollution is a massive problem, and most motorbike users wear respiratory face masks, many of them are not convinced that the ban will improve congestion or pollution.

“It’s a big issue,” says Le Thį Huong, 45, a barista at a cafe that overlooks one of Hanoi’s busiest intersections, Xa Dan, where 10 heavily trafficked roads intertwine, just one block over from the new monorail.

“It’s true that there are far too many xe may [motorbikes] on the road, and there’s far too much pollution, but my motorbike is my only form of transport. The traffic can be a nightmare – sometimes I’m stuck for an hour, just to go a few blocks – but I’d be lost without it: I take my kids to school, I go to work, I use it to see friends. I used to take the bus, but I’d have to get a xe om [mototaxi] just to get to the bus stop, and then I’d have to change the bus a few times to get to work,” Le said. “The journey took one and a half hours, whereas with my bike it takes only 20 minutes.”

The capital has already placed a daytime ban on trucks and lorries in order to ease congestion, Vu says, while the motorbike ban is not likely to be city-wide, but only within the most heavily trafficked areas. Hanoi may also decide to enact a congestion charge for all vehicles, similar to London’s, to help ease traffic in the future.

But for a city struggling with congestion, it is odd that officials have suggested that taxis and cars – in conjunction with public transport – should be used to replace the capital’s ubiquitous two wheels. Hanoi’s masterplan sees public transport taking on only 55% of the city’s needs by 2030, and Vu – bafflingly – thinks that those who do not live close enough to the new monorail and bus systems should simply drive, or be driven, to the closest bus or rail stop.

“We plan for 80% of those living in the city limits to have access to some form of public transport within 500 metres of their home,” he says. “And the other 20% will have access to a taxi, or private car or bicycle.”

As annual wages increase, many Vietnamese are now spurning motorbikes for cars, which means congestion may not ease by 2030, but worsen. While planned government subsidies to use public transport may help, there is no scrappage scheme to buy off the motorbikes and scooters that residents will soon need to hand over – and many residents, including ministers interviewed by the Observer, have as many as four motorbikes per household (one for every member of the family). The BRT stations, all shiny and new, are largely empty, and the BRT-only traffic lanes are crowded with motorbikes zooming past each other.

Perhaps the largest impediment to Hanoi’s plan to ease congestion is drivers’ behaviour: the roads are good, the rules are good, but “the drivers are bad”, says Vu, “they don’t follow the rules”. That’s why, for now, the only rule is to go your own way, he says – whether you are a pedestrian or a driver.

 on: Jul 25, 2017, 04:41 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Rome facing water rationing as Italy suffers driest spring for 60 years

Rainfalls 80% below normal have affected farming across the country and could result in the capital’s famous fountains being turned off

Associated Press

Scarce rain and chronically leaky aqueducts have combined to put Romans at risk of drastic water rationing as soon as this week.

Sky TG24 TV meteorologists noted on Sunday that Italy had experienced one of its driest springs in some 60 years and that some parts of the country had seen rainfall totals 80% below normal. Among the hardest-hit regions was Sardinia, which is seeking natural disaster status.

Farmers’ lobby Coldiretti last week estimated €2bn ($2.3bn) worth of damage had been done to Italian agriculture so far. Dairy farmers are lamenting drops in milk production. Among those suffering are farmers growing canning tomatoes in the southeastern region of Puglia, wine grapes throughout much of Italy and those cultivating olives – all signature crops for the nation.

Another afflicted area was the province in Parma, an area in north-central Italy renowned for Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and prized prosciutto.

Rome’s water supply worries have turned political. Last week, the governor of Lazio region, which includes the Italian capital, ordered that no more water be drawn from Lake Bracciano, which supplies some of the Italian capital, because the drastically decreasing water level posed danger to the aquatic life of the lake.

The lake, 40km from Rome, used to be used only for backup water supply but recent years have seen it being tapped on a regular basis.

Rome water company ACEA warned that without the lake, drastic rationing loomed. Italian media said staggered water supply shutdowns could last as long as eight hours daily in alternating neighbourhoods and start as soon as Wednesday. Rome’s famed fountains risk being turned off.

The move put populist 5-Star Movement Mayor Virginia Raggi under pressure, since the city of Rome is a major shareholder in Acea. Michele Meta, a Democratic party lawmaker from Rome, demanded to know why Acea “doesn’t have other solutions besides rationing and staggering the capital’s water” supply?

Rome had 26 rainy days in this year’s first six months, compared to 88 in the first half of 2016, with precipitation totals in those same periods more than four times higher last year than this year.

But water supply pipelines in the Rome area – famed in ancient Roman times for its aqueducts, segments of which still stand – are notoriously leaky.

La Stampa daily reported on Sunday that water, energy and environment companies lobby Utilitalia analysed companies serving roughly half of Italy’s population and concluded that the water loss rate from inadequate infrastructure, often decades-old, ranged from 26% in the north to 46% in the central and southern parts of the country.

 on: Jul 25, 2017, 04:37 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Smallpox could return as Siberia's melting permafrost exposes ancient graves

Last known case of the deadly disease was in Somalia in 1977, but Russian scientists investigating an anthrax outbreak have found the virus's DNA in corpses once entombed in the frozen ground

Ian Johnston Environment Correspondent

Smallpox – a deadly disease eradicated from the world in 1977 – could return as the frozen tundra of Siberia melts and releases the virus from the corpses of people who died in a major epidemic about 120 years ago, experts have warned.

The disease was once one of the most feared in the world. Up to 30 per cent of people who caught it would die, according to the World Health Organisation, after experiencing symptoms including a high fever and the characteristic pus-filled spots.

Spores of potentially fatal anthrax from dead people and reindeer that had been entombed in the permafrost are already thought to have infected 24 patients currently in hospital in Salekhard near Russia’s north coast.

But health experts told the Siberian Times this was a warning sign that there could be worse to come.

Boris Kershengolts, of the Siberian branch of the Academy of Sciences, said: “Back in the 1890s, there occurred a major epidemic of smallpox. There was a town where up to 40 per cent of the population died.

“Naturally, the bodies were buried under the upper layer of permafrost soil, on the bank of the Kolyma River.

“Now, a little more than 100 years later, Kolyma's floodwaters have started eroding the banks.”

The melting of the permafrost has speeded up this erosion process.

After anthrax spores have been found Yamal peninsula near Salekhard, experts from the Novosibirsk-based Virology and Biotechnology Centre have been testing for other diseases.

They found corpses that bore sores that look like the marks left by smallpox.

While the experts – dressed in protective clothing because of the risks – did not find the virus itself, they did detect fragments of its DNA.

The permafrost of the Yakutia region usually melts to between 30 to 60cm, but this year it was more than a metre, according to Mikhail Grigoriev, the deputy director of the Permafrost Studies Institute.

“The rock and soil that forms the Yamal Peninsula contains much ice,” he said told The Siberian Times.

“Thawing may loosen the soil rather quickly, so the probability is high that old cattle graves may come to the surface.

“Some graves dug in the past may be just three meters deep, covered by a very thin layer of soil. The spores of the disease [anthrax] are now on the loose.”

There are also fears that the Siberian permafrost could release vast amounts of methane gas, which has a much greater greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere, in a vicious circle that could dramatically increase the rate of global warming.

 on: Jul 25, 2017, 04:33 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
The seven most extreme planets ever discovered

The Conversation
25 Jul 2017 at 08:51 ET                   

Scientists recently discovered the hottest planet ever found – with a surface temperature greater than some stars. As the hunt for planets outside our own solar system continues, we have discovered many other worlds with extreme features. And the ongoing exploration of our own solar system has revealed some pretty weird contenders, too. Here are seven of the most extreme.

The hottest

How hot a planet gets depends primarily on how close it is to its host star – and on how hot that star burns. In our own solar system, Mercury is the closest planet to the sun at a mean distance of 57,910,000km. Temperatures on its dayside reach about 430°C, while the sun itself has a surface temperature of 5,500°C.

But stars more massive than the sun burn hotter. The star HD 195689 – also known as KELT-9 – is 2.5 times more massive than the sun and has a surface temperature of almost 10,000°C. Its planet, KELT-9b, is much closer to its host star than Mercury is to the sun.

Though we cannot measure the exact distance from afar, it circles its host star every 1.5 days (Mercury’s orbit takes 88 days). This results in a whopping 4300°C – which is hotter than many of the stars with a lower mass than our sun. The rocky planet Mercury would be a molten droplet of lava at this temperature. KELT-9b, however, is a Jupiter-type gas giant. It is shrivelling away as the molecules in its atmosphere are breaking down to their constituent atoms – and burning off.

The coldest

At a temperature of just 50 degrees above absolute zero – -223°C – OGLE-2005-BLG-390Lb snatches the title of the coldest planet. At about 5.5 times the Earth’s mass it is likely to be a rocky planet too. Though not too distant from its host star at an orbit that would put it somewhere between Mars and Jupiter in our solar system, its host star is a low mass, cool star known as a red dwarf.

The planet is popularly referred to as Hoth in reference to an icy planet in the Star Wars franchise. Contrary to its fictional counterpart, however, it won’t be able to sustain much of an atmosphere (nor life, for that matter). This because most of its gases will be frozen solid – adding to the snow on the surface.

The biggest

If a planet can be as hot as a star, what then makes the difference between stars and planets? Stars are so much more massive than planets that they are ignited by fusion processes as a result of the huge gravitational forces in their cores. Common stars like our sun burn by fusing hydrogen into helium. But there is a form of star called a brown dwarf, which are big enough to start some fusion processes but not large enough to sustain them. Planet DENIS-P J082303.1-491201 b with the equally unpronounceable alias 2MASS J08230313-4912012 b has 28.5 times the mass of Jupiter – making it the most massive planet listed in NASA’s exoplanet archive. It is so massive that it is debated whether it still is a planet (it would be a Jupiter-class gas giant) or whether it should actually be classified as a brown dwarf star. Ironically, its host star is a confirmed brown dwarf itself.

The smallest

Just slightly larger than our moon and smaller than Mercury, Kepler-37b is the smallest exoplanet yet discovered. A rocky world, it is closer to its host star than Mercury is to the sun. That means the planet is too hot to support liquid water and hence life on its surface.
The oldest

PSR B1620-26 b, at 12.7 billion years, is the oldest known planet. A gas giant 2.5 times the mass of Jupiter it has been seemingly around forever. Our universe at 13.8 billion years is only a billion years older.
Artist’s impression of the biggest planet known.

PSR B1620-26 b has two host stars rotating around each other – and it has outseen the lives of both. These are a neutron star and a white dwarf, which are what is left when a star has burned all its fuel and exploded in a supernova. However, as it formed so early in the universe’s history, it probably doesn’t have enough of the heavy elements such as carbon and oxygen (which formed later) needed for life to evolve.

The youngest

The planetary system V830 Tauri is only 2m years old. The host star has the same mass as our sun but twice the radius, which means it has not fully contracted into its final shape yet. The planet – a gas giant with three quarters the mass of Jupiter – is likewise probably still growing. That means it is acquiring more mass by frequently colliding with other planetary bodies like asteroids in its path – making it an unsafe place to be.

The worst weather

Because exoplanets are too far away for us to be able to observe any weather patterns we have to turn our eyes back to our solar system. If you have seen the giant swirling hurricanes photographed by the Juno spacecraft flying over Jupiter’s poles, the largest planet in our solar system is certainly a good contender. However, the title goes to Venus. A planet the same size of Earth, it is shrouded in clouds of sulfuric acid.

The ConversationThe atmosphere moves around the planet much faster than the planet rotates, with winds reaching hurricane speeds of 360km/h. Double-eyed cyclones are sustained above each pole. Its atmosphere is almost 100 times denser than Earth’s and made up of over 95% carbon dioxide. The resulting greenhouse effect creates hellish temperatures of at least 462°C on the surface, which is actually hotter than Mercury. Though bone-dry and hostile to life, the heat may explain why Venus has fewer volcanoes than Earth.

By Christian Schroeder, Lecturer in Environmental Science and Planetary Exploration, University of Stirling

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